SAXE HOLM'S STORIES
[by Helen Hunt Jackson]
Draxy Miller's Dowry The Elder's Wife Whose Wife Was She? The One-Legged Dancers How One Woman Kept Her Husband Esther Wynn's Love-Letters
Draxy Miller's Dowry.
When Draxy Miller's father was a boy, he read a novel in which the heroine was a Polish girl, named Darachsa. The name stamped itself indelibly upon his imagination; and when, at the age of thirty-five, he took his first-born daughter in his arms, his first words were—"I want her called Darachsa."
"What!" exclaimed the doctor, turning sharply round, and looking out above his spectacles; "what heathen kind of a name is that?"
"Oh, Reuben!" groaned a feeble voice from the baby's mother; and the nurse muttered audibly, as she left the room, "There ain't never no luck comes of them outlandish names."
The whole village was in a state of excitement before night. Poor Reuben Miller had never before been the object of half so much interest. His slowly dwindling fortunes, the mysterious succession of his ill-lucks, had not much stirred the hearts of the people. He was a retice'nt man; he loved books, and had hungered for them all his life; his townsmen unconsciously resented what they pretended to despise; and so it had slowly come about that in the village where his father had lived and died, and where he himself had grown up, and seemed likely to live and die, Reuben Miller was a lonely man, and came and went almost as a stranger might come and go. His wife was simply a shadow and echo of himself; one of those clinging, tender, unselfish, will-less women, who make pleasant, and affectionate, and sunny wives enough for rich, prosperous, unsentimental husbands, but who are millstones about the necks of sensitive, impressionable, unsuccessful men. If Jane Miller had been a strong, determined woman, Reuben would not have been a failure. The only thing he had needed in life had been persistent purpose and courage. The right sort of wife would have given him both. But when he was discouraged, baffled, Jane clasped her hands, sat down, and looked into his face with streaming eyes. If he smiled, she smiled; but that was just when it was of least consequence that she should smile. So the twelve years of their married life had gone on slowly, very slowly, but still surely, from bad to worse; nothing prospered in Reuben's hands. The farm which he had inherited from his father was large, but not profitable. He tried too long to work the whole of it, and then he sold the parts which he ought to have kept. He sunk a great portion of his little capital in a flour-mill, which promised to be a great success, paid well for a couple of years, and then burnt down, uninsured. He took a contract for building one section of a canal, which was to pass through part of his land; sub-contractors cheated him, and he, in his honesty, almost ruined himself to right their wrong. Then he opened a little store; here, also, he failed. He was too honest, too sympathizing, too inert. His day-book was a curiosity; he had a vein of humor which no amount of misfortune could quench; and he used to enter under the head of "given" all the purchases which he knew were not likely to be paid for. It was at sight of this book, one day, that Jane Miller, for the first and only time in her life, lost her temper with Reuben.
"Well, I must say, Reuben Miller, if I die for it," said she, "I haven't had so much as a pound of white sugar nor a single lemon in my house for two years, and I do think it's a burnin' shame for you to go on sellin' 'em to them shiftless Greens, that'll never pay you a cent, and you know it!"
Reuben was sitting on the counter smoking his pipe and reading an old tattered copy of Dryden's translation of Virgil. He lifted his clear blue eyes in astonishment, put down his pipe, and, slowly swinging his long legs over the counter, caught Jane by the waist, put both his arms round her, and said,—
"Why, mother, what's come over you! You know poor little Eph's dyin' of that white swellin'. You wouldn't have me refuse his mother anything we've got, would you?"
Jane Miller walked back to the house with tears in her eyes, but her homely sallow face was transfigured by love as she went about her work, thinking to herself,—
"There never was such a man's Reuben, anyhow. I guess he'll get interest one o' these days for all he's lent the Lord, first and last, without anybody's knowin' it."
But the Lord has His own system of reckoning compound interest, and His ways of paying are not our ways. He gave no visible sign of recognition of indebtedness to Reuben. Things went harder and harder with the Millers, until they had come to such a pass that when Reuben Miller went after the doctor, in the early dawn of the day on which little Draxy was born, he clasped his hands in sorrow and humiliation before he knocked at the doctor's door; and his only words were hard words for a man of sensitiveness and pride to speak:—
"Doctor Cobb, will you come over to my wife? I don't dare to be sure I can ever pay you; but if there's anything in the store "—
"Pshaw, pshaw, Reuben, don't speak of that; you'll be all right in a few years," said the kind old doctor, who had known Reuben from his boyhood, and understood him far better than any one else did.
And so little Draxy was born.
"It's a mercy it's a girl at last," said the village gossips. "Mis' Miller's had a hard time with them four great boys, and Mr. Miller so behindhand allers."
"And who but Reuben Miller'd ever think of givin' a Christian child such a name!" they added.
But what the name was nobody rightly made out; nor even whether it had been actually given to the baby, or had only been talked of; and between curiosity and antagonism, the villagers were so drawn to Reuben Miller's store, that it began to look quite like a run of custom.
"If I hold out a spell on namin' her," said Reuben, as in the twilight of the third day he sat by his wife's bedside; "if I hold out a spell on namin' her, I shall get all the folks in the district into the store, and sell out clean," and he laughed quizzically, and stroked the little mottled face which lay on the pillow. "There's Squire Williams and Mis' Conkey both been in this afternoon; and Mis' Conkey took ten pounds of that old Hyson tea you thought I'd never sell; and Squire Williams, he took the last of those new-fangled churns, and says he, 'I expect you'll want to drive trade a little brisker, Reuben, now there's a little girl to be provided for; and, by the way, what are you going to call her?'
"'Oh, it's quite too soon to settle, that,' said I, as if I hadn't a name in my head yet. And then Mis' Conkey spoke up and said: 'Well, I did hear you were going to name her after a heathen goddess that nobody over heard of, and I do hope you will consider her feelings when she grows up.'
"'I hope I always shall, Mis' Conkey,' said I; and she didn't know what to say next. So she picked up her bundle of tea, and they stepped off together quite dignified.
"But I think we'll call her Darachsa, in spite of 'em all, Jane," added Reuben with a hesitating half laugh.
"Oh, Reuben!" Jane said again. It was the strongest remonstrance on which she ever ventured. She did not like the name; but she adored Reuben. So when the baby was three months old, she was carried into the meeting-house in a faded blue cashmere cloak, and baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, "Darachsa Lawton Miller."
Jane Miller's babies always thrived. The passive acquiescence of her nature was a blessing to them. The currents of their blood were never rendered unhealthful by overwrought nerves or disturbed temper in their mother. Their infancy was as placid and quiet as if they had been kittens. Not until they were old enough to understand words, and to comprehend deprivations, did they suffer because of their poverty. Then a serious look began to settle upon their faces; they learned to watch their father and mother wistfully, and to wonder what was wrong; their childhood was very short.
Before Draxy was ten years old she had become her father's inseparable companion, confidant, and helper. He wondered, sometimes almost in terror, what it meant, that he could say to this little child what he could not say to her mother; that he often detected himself in a desire to ask of this babe advice or suggestion which he never dreamed of asking from his wife.
But Draxy was wise. She had the sagacity which comes from great tenderness and loyalty, combined with a passionate nature. In such a woman's soul there is sometimes an almost supernatural instinct. She will detect danger and devise safety with a rapidity and ingenuity which are incredible. But to such a nature will also come the subtlest and deepest despairs of which the human heart is capable. The same instinct which foresees and devises for the loved ones will also recognize their most hidden traits, their utmost possibilities, their inevitable limitations, with a completeness and infallibility akin to that of God Himself. Jane Miller, all her life long, believed in the possibility of Reuben's success; charged his failures to outside occasions, and hoped always in a better day to come. Draxy, early in her childhood, instinctively felt, what she was far too young consciously to know, that her father would never be a happier man; that "things" would always go against him. She had a deeper reverence for the uprightness and sweet simplicity of his nature than her mother ever could have had. She comprehended, Jane believed; Draxy felt, Jane saw. Without ever having heard of such a thing as fate, little Draxy recognized that her father was fighting with it, and that fate was the stronger! Her little arms clasped closer and closer round his neck, and her serene blue eyes, so like his, and yet so wondrously unlike, by reason of their latent fire and strength, looked this unseen enemy steadfastly in the face, day by day.
She was a wonderful child. Her physical health was perfect. The first ten years of her life were spent either out of doors, or in her father's lap. He would not allow her to attend the district school; all she knew she learned from him. Reuben Miller had never looked into an English grammar or a history, but he knew Shakespeare by heart, and much of Homer; a few odd volumes of Walter Scott's novels, some old voyages, a big family Bible, and a copy of Byron, were the only other books in his house. As Draxy grew older, Reuben now and then borrowed from the minister books which he thought would do her good; but the child and he both loved Homer and the Bible so much better than any later books, that they soon drifted back to them. It was a little sad, except that it was so beautiful, to see the isolated life these two led in the family. The boys were good, sturdy, noisy boys. They went to school in the winter and worked on the farm in the summer, like all farmers' boys. Reuben, the oldest, was eighteen when Draxy was ten; he was hired, by a sort of indenture, for three years, on a neighboring farm, and came home only on alternate Sundays. Jamie, and Sam, and Lawton were at home; young as they were, they did men's service in many ways. Jamie had a rare gift for breaking horses, and for several years the only ready money which the little farm had yielded was the price of the colts which Jamie raised and trained so admirably that they sold well. The other two boys were strong and willing, but they had none of their father's spirituality, or their mother's gentleness. Thus, in spite of Reuben Miller's deep love for his children, he was never at ease in his boys' presence; and, as they grew older, nothing but the influence of their mother's respect for their father prevented their having an impatient contempt for his unlikeness to the busy, active, thrifty farmers of the neighborhood.
It was a strange picture that the little kitchen presented on a winter evening. Reuben sat always on the left hand of the big fire-place, with a book on his knees. Draxy was curled up on an old-fashioned cherry-wood stand close to his chair, but so high that she rested her little dimpled chin on his head. A tallow candle stood on a high bracket, made from a fungus which Reuben had found in the woods. When the candle flared and dripped, Draxy sprang up on the stand, and, poised on one foot, reached over her father's head to snuff it. She looked like a dainty fairy half-floating in the air, but nobody knew it. Jane sat in a high-backed wooden rocking-chair, which had a flag bottom and a ruffled calico cushion, and could only rock a very few inches back and forth, owing to the loss of half of one of the rockers. For the first part of the evening, Jane always knitted; but by eight o'clock the hands relaxed, the needles dropped, the tired head fell back against the chair, and she was fast asleep.
The boys were by themselves in the farther corner of the room, playing checkers or doing sums, or reading the village newspaper. Reuben and Draxy were as alone as if the house had been empty. Sometimes he read to her in a whisper; sometimes he pointed slowly along the lines in silence, and the wise little eyes from above followed intently. All questions and explanations were saved till the next morning, when Draxy, still curled up like a kitten, would sit mounted on the top of the buckwheat barrel in the store, while her father lay stretched on the counter, smoking. They never talked to each other, except when no one could hear; that is, they never spoke in words; there was mysterious and incessant communication between them whenever they were together, as there is between all true lovers.
At nine o'clock Reuben always shut the book, and said, "Kiss me, little daughter." Draxy kissed him, and said, "Good-night, father dear," and that was all. The other children called him "pa," as was the universal custom in the village. But Draxy even in her babyhood had never once used the word. Until she was seven or eight years old she called him "Farver;" after that, always "father dear." Then Reuben would wake Jane up, sighing usually, "Poor mother, how tired she is!" Sometimes Jane said when she kissed Draxy, at the door of her little room, "Why don't you kiss your pa for good-night?"
"I kissed father before you waked up, ma," was always Draxy's quiet answer.
And so the years went on. There was much discomfort, much deprivation in Reuben Miller's house. Food was not scarce; the farm yielded enough, such as it was, very coarse and without variety; but money was hard to get; the store seemed to be absolutely unremunerative, though customers were not wanting; and the store and the farm were all that Reuben Miller had in the world. But in spite of the poor food; in spite of the lack of most which money buys; in spite of the loyal, tender, passionate despair of her devotion to her father, Draxy grew fairer and fairer, stronger and stronger. At fourteen her physique was that of superb womanhood. She had inherited her body wholly from her father. For generations back, the Millers had been marked for their fine frames. The men were all over six feet tall, and magnificently made; and the women were much above the average size and strength. On Draxy's fourteenth birthday she weighed one hundred and fifty pounds, and measured five feet six inches in height. Her coloring was that of an English girl, and her bright brown hair fell below her waist in thick masses. To see the face of a simple-hearted child, eager but serene, determined but lovingly gentle, surrounded and glorified by such splendid physical womanhood, was a rare sight. Reuben Miller's eyes filled with tears often as he secretly watched his daughter, and said to himself, "Oh, what is to be her fate! what man is worthy of the wife she will be?" But the village people saw only a healthy, handsome girl, "overgrown," they thought, and "as queer as her father before her," they said, for Draxy, very early in life, had withdrawn herself somewhat from the companionship of the young people of the town.
As for Jane, she loved and reverenced Draxy, very much as she did Reuben, with touching devotion, but without any real comprehension of her nature. If she sometimes felt a pang in seeing how much more Reuben talked with Draxy than with her, how much more he sought to be with Draxy than with her, she stifled it, and, reproaching herself for disloyalty to each, set herself to work for them harder than before.
In Draxy's sixteenth year the final blow of misfortune fell upon Reuben Miller's head.
A brother of Jane's, for whom, in an hour of foolish generosity, Reuben had indorsed a note of a considerable amount, failed. Reuben's farm was already heavily mortgaged. There was nothing to be done but to sell it. Purchasers were not plenty nor eager; everybody knew that the farm must be sold for whatever it would bring, and each man who thought of buying hoped to profit somewhat, in a legitimate and Christian way, by Reuben's extremity.
Reuben's courage would have utterly forsaken him now, except for Draxy's calmness. Jane was utterly unnerved; wept silently from morning till night, and implored Reuben to see her brother's creditors, and beg them to release him from his obligation. But Draxy, usually so gentle, grew almost stern when such suggestions were made.
"You don't understand, ma," she said, with flushing cheeks. "It is a promise. Father must pay it. He cannot ask to have it given back to him."
But with all Draxy's inflexibility of resolve, she could not help being disheartened. She could not see how they were to live; the three rooms over the store could easily be fitted up into an endurable dwelling-place; but what was to supply the food which the farm had hitherto given them? There was literally no way open for a man or a woman to earn money in that little farming village. Each family took care of itself and hired no service, except in the short season of haying. Draxy was an excellent seamstress, but she knew very well that the price of all the sewing hired in the village in a year would not keep them from starving. The Store must be given up, because her father would have no money with which to buy goods. In fact, for a long time, most of his purchases had been made by exchanging the spare produce of his farm at large stores in the neighboring towns. Still Draxy never wavered, and because she did not waver Reuben did not die. The farm was sold at auction, with the stock, the utensils, and all of the house-furniture which was not needed to make the store chambers habitable. The buyer boasted in the village that he had not given more than two thirds of the real value of the place. After Reuben's debts were all paid, there remained just one thousand dollars to be put into the bank.
"Why, father! That is a fortune," said Draxy, when he told her. "I did not suppose we should have anything, and it is glorious not to owe any man a cent."
It was early in April when the Millers moved into the "store chambers." The buyer of their farm was a hard-hearted, penurious man, a deacon of the church in which Draxy had been baptized. He had never been known to give a penny to any charity excepting Foreign Missions. His wife and children had never received at his hands the smallest gift. But even his heart was touched by Draxy's cheerful acquiescence in the hard change, and her pathetic attempts to make the new home pleasant. The next morning after Deacon White took possession, he called out over the fence to poor Reuben, who stood listlessly on the store steps, trying not to look across at the house which had been his.
"I say, Miller, that gal o' your'n is what I call the right sort o' woman, up an' down. I hain't said much to her, but I've noticed that she set a heap by this garding; an' I expect she'll miss the flowers more'n anything; now my womenfolks they won't have anythin' to do with such truck; an' if she's a mind to take care on't jest's she used ter, I'm willin'; I guess we shall be the gainers on't."
"Thank you, Deacon White; Draxy'll be very glad," was all Reuben could reply. Something in his tone touched the man's flinty heart still more; and before he half knew what he was going to say, he had added,—
"An' there's the vegetable part on't, too, Miller. I never was no hand to putter with garden sass. If you'll jest keep that up and go halves, fair and reg'lar, you're welcome."
This was tangible help. Reuben's face lighted up.
"I thank you with all my heart," he replied. "That'll be a great help to me; and I reckon you'll like our vegetables, too," he said, half smiling, for he knew very well that nothing but potatoes and turnips had been seen on Deacon White's table for years.
Then Reuben went to find Draxy; when he told her, the color came into her face, and she shut both her hands with a quick, nervous motion, which was habitual to her under excitement.
"Oh, father, we can almost live off the garden," said she. "I told you we should not starve."
But still new sorrows, and still greater changes, were in store for the poor, disheartened family. In June a malignant fever broke out in the village, and in one short month Reuben and Jane had laid their two youngest boys in the grave-yard. There was a dogged look, which was not all sorrow, on Reuben's face as he watched the sexton fill up the last grave. Sam and Jamie, at any rate, would not know any more of the discouragement and hardship of life.
Jane, too, mourned her boys not as mothers mourn whose sons have a birthright of gladness. Jane was very tired of the world.
Draxy was saddened by the strange, solemn presence of death. But her brothers had not been her companions. She began suddenly to feel a sense of new and greater relationship to them, now that she thought of them as angels; she was half terrified and bewildered at the feeling that now, for the first time, they were near to her.
On the evening after Sam's funeral, as Reuben was sitting on the store steps, with his head buried in his hands, a neighbor drove up and threw him a letter.
"It's been lyin' in the office a week or more, Merrill said, and he reckoned I'd better bring it up to you," he called out, as he drove on.
"It might lie there forever, for all my goin' after it," thought Reuben to himself, as he picked it up from the dust; "it's no good news, I'll be bound."
But it was good news. The letter was from Jane's oldest sister, who had married only a few years before, and gone to live in a sea-port town on the New England coast. Her husband was an old captain, who had retired from his seafaring life with just money enough to live on, in a very humble way, in an old house which had belonged to his grandfather. He had lost two wives; his children were all married or dead, and in his loneliness and old age he had taken for his third wife the gentle, quiet elder sister who had brought up Jane Miller. She was a gray-haired, wrinkled spinster woman when she went into Captain Melville's house; but their life was by no means without romance. Husband and home cannot come to any womanly heart too late for sentiment and happiness to put forth pale flowers.
Emma Melville wrote offering the Millers a home; their last misfortune had but just come to her knowledge, for Jane had been for months too much out of heart to write to her relatives. Emma wrote:—
"We are very poor, too; we haven't anything but the house, and a little money each year to buy what we need to eat and wear, the plainest sort. But the house is large; Captain Melville and me never so much as set foot up-stairs. If you can manage to live on the upper floor, you're more than welcome, we both say; and we hope you won't let any pride stand in the way of your coming. It will do us good to have more folks in the house, and it ain't as if it cost us anything, for we shouldn't never be willing, neither me nor Captain Melville, to rent the rooms to strangers, not while we've got enough to live on without."
There was silence for some minutes between Reuben and Jane and Draxy after this letter had been read. Jane looked steadily away from Reuben. There was deep down in the patient woman's heart, a latent pride which was grievously touched. Reuben turned to Draxy; her lips were parted; her cheeks were flushed; her eyes glowed. "Oh, father, the sea!" she exclaimed. This was her first thought; but in a second more she added, "How kind, how good of Aunt Emma's husband!"
"Would you like to go, my daughter?" said Reuben, earnestly.
"Why, I thought of course we should go!" exclaimed Draxy, turning with a bewildered look to her mother, who was still silent. "What else is the letter sent for? It means that we must go."
Her beautiful simplicity was utterly removed from any false sense of obligation. She accepted help as naturally from a human hand as from the sunshine; she would give it herself, so far as she had power, just as naturally and just as unconsciously.
There was very little discussion about the plan. Draxy's instinct overbore all her father's misgiving, and all her mother's unwillingness.
"Oh, how can you feel so, Ma," she exclaimed more than once. "If I had a sister I could not. I love Aunt Emma already next to you and father; and you don't know how much we can do for her after we get there, either. I can earn money there, I know I can; all we need."
Mrs. Melville had written that there were many strangers in the town in the summer, and that she presumed Draxy could soon find all the work she wished as seamstress; also that there were many chances of work for a man who was accustomed to gardening, as, of course, Reuben must be.
Draxy's sanguine cheerfulness was infectious; even Jane began to look forward with interest to the new home; and Reuben smiled when Draxy sang. Lawton and Reuben were to be left behind; that was the only regret; but it was merely anticipating by a very little the separation which was inevitable, as the boys had both become engaged to daughters of the farmers for whom they had been working, and would very soon take their positions as sons-in-law on these farms.
The store was sold, the furniture packed, and Reuben Miller, with his wife and child, set his face eastward to begin life anew. The change from the rich wheat fields and glorious forests of Western New York, to the bare stony stretches of the Atlantic sea-board, is a severe one. No adult heart can make it without a struggle. When Reuben looked out of the car windows upon the low gray barrens through which he was nearing his journey end, his soul sank within him. It was sunset; the sea glistened like glass, and was as red as the sky. Draxy could not speak for delight; tears stood in her eyes, and she took hold of her father's hand. But Reuben and Jane saw only the desolate rocks, and treeless, shrubless, almost—it seemed to them—grassless fields, and an unutterable sense of gloom came over them. It was a hot and stifling day; a long drought had parched and shriveled every living thing; and the white August dust lay everywhere.
Captain Melville lived in the older part of the town near the water. The houses were all wooden, weather-beaten, and gray, and had great patches of yellow lichen on their walls and roofs; thin rims of starved-looking grass edged the streets, and stray blades stood up here and there among the old sunken cobble-stones which made the pavements.
The streets seemed deserted; the silence and the sombre color, and the strange low plashing of the water against the wharves, oppressed even Draxy's enthusiastic heart. Her face fell, and she exclaimed involuntarily, "Oh, what a lonesome place!" Checking herself, she added, "but it's only the twilight makes it look so, I expect."
They had some difficulty in finding the house. The lanes and streets seemed inextricably tangled; the little party was shy of asking direction, and they were all disappointed and grieved, more than they owned to themselves, that they had not been met at the station. At last they found the house. Timidly Draxy lifted the great brass knocker. It looked to her like splendor, and made her afraid. It fell more heavily than she supposed it would, and the clang sounded to her over-wrought nerves as if it filled the whole street. No one came. They looked at the windows. The curtains were all down. There was no sign of life about the place. Tears came into Jane's eyes. She was worn out with the fatigue of the journey.
"Oh dear, oh dear," she said, "I wish we hadn't come."
"Pshaw, mother," said Reuben, with a voice cheerier than his heart, "very likely they never got our last letter, and don't know we were to be here to-day," and he knocked again.
Instantly a window opened in the opposite house, and a jolly voice said, "My gracious," and in the twinkling of an eye the jolly owner of the jolly voice had opened her front door and run bareheaded across the street, and was shaking hands with Reuben and Jane and Draxy, all three at once, and talking so fast that they could hardly understand her.
"My gracious I my gracious! Won't Mrs. Melville be beat! Of course you're her folks she was expecting from the West, ain't you? I mistrusted it somehow as soon as I heard the big knock. Now I'll jest let you in the back door. Oh my, Mis' Melville'll never get over this; to think of her be'n' away, an' she's been lookin' and looking and worryin' for two weeks, because she didn't hear from you; and only last night Captain Melville he said he'd write to-day if they didn't hear.'"
"We wrote," said Draxy, in her sweet, low voice, "we wrote to Aunt Emma that we'd come to-day."
"Now did you!" said the jolly voice. "Well, that's jest the way. You see your letter's gone somewhere else, and now Mis' Melville she's gone to"—the rest of the sentence was lost, for the breathless little woman was running round the house to the back door.
In a second more the upper half of the big old-fashioned door had swung open, to Draxy's great delight, who exclaimed, "Oh, father, we read about such doors as this in that Knickerbocker book, don't you remember?"
But good Mrs. Carr was drawing them into the house, giving them neighborly welcome, all the while running on in such voluble ejaculatory talk that the quiet, saddened, recluse-like people were overwhelmed with embarrassment, and hardly knew which way to turn. Presently she saw their confusion and interrupted herself with—
"Well, well, you're jest all tired out with your journey, an' a cup o' tea's the thing you want, an' none o' my talk; but you see Mis' Melville 'n me's so intimate that I feel's if I'd known you always, 'n I'm real glad to see you here, real glad; 'n I'll bring the tea right over; the kettle was a boilin' when I run out, 'n I'll send Jim right down town for Captain Melville; he's sure to be to the library. Oh, but won't Mis' Melville be beat," she continued, half way down the steps; and from the middle of the street she called back, "'an she ain't coming home till to-morrow night."
Reuben and Jane and Draxy sat down with as bewildered a feeling as, if they had been transported to another world. The house was utterly unlike anything they had ever seen; high ceilings, wainscoted walls, wooden cornices and beams, and wooden mantels with heads carved on the corners. It seemed to them at first appallingly grand. Presently they observed the bare wooden floors, the flag-bottomed chairs, and faded chintz cushions, the row of old tin utensils, and plain, cheap crockery in the glass-doored cupboard, and felt more at home.
"You know Aunt Emma said they were poor, too," said Draxy, answering her own unspoken thought as well as her father's and mother's.
Reuben pushed his hair off his warm forehead and sighed.
"I suppose we might go up-stairs, mother," he said; "that's to be our house, as I understand it"
Draxy bounded at the words. With flying steps she ascended the stairs and opened the first door. She stood still on the threshold, unable to move from astonishment. It was still light enough to see the room. Draxy began to speak, but broke down utterly, and bursting out crying, threw herself into the arms of her father who had just reached the top of the stairs.
"Oh, father, it's all fixed for a sitting-room! Father dear, I told you!"
This was something they had not dreamed of. They had understood the offer to be merely of rooms in which they could live rent-free. In fact, that had been Captain Melville's first intention. But his generous sailor's heart revolted from the thought of stripping the rooms of furniture for which he had no use. So Emma had rearranged the plain old-fashioned things, and adding a few more which could be spared as well as not, had fitted up a sitting-room and two bed-rooms with all that was needed for comfort. Reuben and Jane and Draxy were all crying when Mrs. Carr came back with her pitcher of smoking tea. Reuben tried to explain to her why they were crying, but she interrupted him with,—
"Well, now, I understand it jest's if 'twas to me it'd all happened; an' I think it's lucky after all that Mis' Melville wasn't here, for she's dreadful easy upset if people take on. But now you drink your tea, and get all settled down's quick's you can, for Captain Melville 'll be here any minute now I expect, an' he don't like tantrums."
This frightened Draxy, and made a gloomy look come on Reuben's face. But the fright and the gloom disappeared in one minute and forever when the door burst open, and a red-faced, white-haired old man, utterly out of breath, bounced into the room, and seizing Reuben by the hand gasped out, puffing between the words like a steam-engine:—
"Wreck me, if this isn't a hard way to make port. Why, man, we've been looking for some hail from you for two weeks, till we began to think you'd given us the go-by altogether. Welcome to Melville Harbor, I say, welcome!" and he had shaken Reuben's hand, and kissed Jane and turned to Draxy all in a breath. At the first full sight of Draxy's face he started and felt dumb. He had never seen so beautiful a woman. He pulled out a red silk handkerchief and wiped his face nervously as she said, "Kiss me too, uncle," but her warm lips were on his cheek before he had time to analyze his own feelings. Then Reuben began to say something, about gratitude, and the old sailor swore his favorite oath again: "Now, may I be wrecked if I have a word o' that. We're glad enough to get you all here; and as for the few things in the rooms, they're of no account anyhow."
"Few things! Oh, uncle," said Draxy, with a trembling voice, and before he knew what she was about to do she had snatched his fat, weather-beaten old hand and kissed it. No woman had ever kissed John Melville's hand before. From that moment he looked upon Draxy as a princess who had let him once kiss hers!
Captain Melville and Reuben were friends before bed-time. Reuben's gentle simplicity and unworldliness, and patient demeanor, roused in the rough sailor a sympathy like that he had always felt for women. And to Reuben the hearty good cheer, and brisk, bluff sailor ways were infinitely winning and stimulating.
The next day Mrs. Melville came home. In a short time the little household had adjusted itself, and settled down into its routine of living. When, in a few days, the great car-load of the Millers' furniture arrived, Capt. Melville insisted upon its all going to the auction-rooms excepting the kitchen furniture, and a few things for which Jane had especial attachment. It brought two hundred dollars, which, in addition to the price of the farm, and the store and its stock, gave Reuben just nineteen hundred dollars to put in the Savings Bank.
"And I am to be counted at least two thousand more, father dear, so you are not such a very poor man after all," said Draxy, laughing and dancing around him.
Now Draxy Miller's real life began. In after years she used to say, "I was born first in my native town; second, in the Atlantic Ocean!" The effect of the strong sea air upon her was something indescribable; joy seemed to radiate from her whole being. She smiled whenever she saw the sea. She walked on the beach; she sat on the rocks; she learned to swim in one lesson, and swam so far out that her uncle dared not follow, and called to her in imploring terror to return. Her beauty grew more and more radiant every day. This the sea gave to her body. But there was a far subtler new life than the physical, a far finer new birth than the birth of beauty,—which came to Draxy here. This, books gave to her soul. Only a few years before, a free library had been founded in this town, by a rich and benevolent man. Every week hundreds of volumes circulated among the families where books were prized, and could not be owned. When Draxy's uncle first took her into this library, and explained to her its purpose and regulations, she stood motionless for a few moments, looking at him—and at the books: then, with tears in her eyes, and saying, "Don't follow me, uncle dear; don't mind me, I can't bear it," she ran swiftly into the street, and never stopped until she had reached home and found her father. An hour later she entered the library again, leading her father by the hand. She had told him the story on the way. Reuben's thin cheeks were flushed. It was almost more than he too could bear. Silently the father and daughter walked up and down the room, looking into the alcoves. Then they sat down together, and studied the catalogue. Then they rose and went out, hand in hand as they had entered, speaking no word, taking no book. For one day the consciousness of this wealth filled their hearts beyond the possibility of one added desire. After that, Draxy and her father were to be seen every night seated at the long table in the reading-room. They read always together, Draxy's arm being over the back of her father's chair. Many a man and many a woman stopped and looked long at the picture. But neither Draxy nor her father knew it.
At the end of two years, Draxy Miller had culture. She was ignorant still, of course; she was an uneducated girl; she wept sometimes over her own deficiencies; but her mind was stored with information of all sorts; she had added Wordsworth to her Shakespeare; she had journeyed over the world with every traveller whose works she could find; and she had tasted of Plato and Epictetus. Reuben's unfailing simplicity and purity of taste saved her from the mischiefs of many of the modern books. She had hardly read a single novel; but her love of true poetry was a passion.
In the mean time she had become the favorite seamstress of the town. Her face, and voice, and smile would alone have won way for her; but in addition to those, she was a most dexterous workwoman. If there had only been twice as many days in a year, she would have been—glad. Her own earnings in addition to her father's, and to their little income from the money in the bank, made them comfortable; but with Draxy's expanded intellectual life had come new desires: she longed to be taught.
One day she said to her father, "Father dear, what was the name of that canal contractor who borrowed money of you and never paid it?"
Reuben looked astonished, but told her.
"Is he alive yet?"
"Oh, yes," said Reuben, "and he's rich now. There was a man here only last week who said he'd built him a grand house this year."
Draxy shut her hands nervously. "Father, I shall go and get that money."
"You, child! Why it's two days' journey; and he'd never pay you a cent. I tried times enough," replied Reuben.
"But I think perhaps he would be more likely to pay it to a woman; he would be ashamed," said Draxy, "especially if he is rich now, and I tell him how much we need it."
"No, no, child; I shouldn't hear to your going; no more would mother; and it would be money wasted besides," said Reuben, with sternness unusual for him.
Draxy was silent. The next morning she went to the railway station and ascertained exactly how much the journey would cost. She was disheartened at the amount. It would be difficult for her to save so much out of a whole year's earnings. That day Draxy's face was sad. She was sewing at the house of one of her warmest friends. All her employers were her friends, but this one was a woman of rare intelligence and culture, who had loved Draxy ever since the day she had found her reading a little volume of Wordsworth, one of the Free Library books, while she was eating her dinner in the sewing-room.
Draxy looked her gratitude, but said nothing. Not the least of her charms, to the well-bred people who employed her, was her exquisite reticence, her gentle and unconscious withdrawal into herself, in spite of all familiarity with which she might be treated.
A few days later Mrs. White sent a note to Draxy with the thirty dollars inclosed, and this note to Mr. Miller:—
"MR. MILLER—DEAR SIR:—
"This money has been contributed, by Draxy's friends. You do not know how much we all prize and esteem your daughter and wish to help her. I hope you will be willing that she should use this money for the journey on which her heart is so set. I really advise you as a friend to let her make the effort to recover that money; I think she will get it.
"Truly, your friend,
This note brought tears of pride to Reuben's eyes. Draxy watched him closely, and said:—
"Father dear, I should like to go to-morrow."
Her preparations had already been made. She knew beforehand that her cause was won; that her father's sense of justice would not let him interfere with her use of the gift for the purpose for which it was made.
It was on a clear cold morning in January that Draxy set out. It was the second journey of her life, and she was alone for the first time; but she felt no more fear than if she had been a sparrow winging its way through a new field. The morning twilight was just fading away; both the east and the west were clear and glorious; the east was red, and the west pale blue; high in the west stood the full moon, golden yellow; below it a long narrow bar of faint rose-color; below that, another bar of fainter purple; then the low brown line of a long island; then an arm of the sea; the water was gray and still; the ice rims stretched far out from the coast, and swayed up and down at the edges, as the waves pulsed in and out. Flocks of gulls were wheeling, soaring in the air, or lighting and floating among the ice fragments, as cold and snowy as they. Draxy leaned her head against the side of the car and looked out on the marvelous beauty of the scene with eyes as filled with calm delight as if she had all her life journeyed for pleasure, and had had nothing to do but feed and develop her artistic sense.
A company of travelling actors sat near her; a dozen tawdry women and coarse men, whose loud voices and vulgar jests made Draxy shudder. She did not know what they could be; she had never seen such behavior; the men took out cards and began to play; the women leaned over, looked on, and clapped the men on their shoulders. Draxy grew afraid, and the expression of distress on her face attracted the conductor's notice. He touched her on the shoulder.
"I'll take you into the next car, Miss, if you don't like to be near these people. They're only actors; there's no harm in them, but they're a rough set."
"Actors," said Draxy, as the kind conductor lifted her from one platform to another. "I never thought they were like that. Do they play Shakespeare?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," said the conductor, puzzled enough: "but I dare say they do."
"Then I'm glad I never went to the theatre," thought Draxy, as she settled herself in her new seat. For a few moments she could not banish her disturbed and unhappy feeling. She could not stop fancying some of the grand words which she most loved in Shakespeare, repeated by those repulsive voices.
But soon she turned her eyes to the kindling sky, and forgot all else. The moon was slowly turning from gold to silver; then it would turn from silver to white cloud, then to film, then vanish away. Draxy knew that day and the sun would conquer. "Oh, if I only understood it," sighed Draxy. Then she fell to thinking about the first chapter in Genesis; and while she looked upon that paling moon, she dreamed of other moons which no human eyes ever saw. Draxy was a poet; but as yet she had never dared to show even to her father the little verses she had not been able to help writing. "Oh, how dare I do this; how dare I?" she said to herself, as alone in her little room, she wrote line after line. "But if nobody ever knows, it can do no harm. It is strange I love it, though, when I am so ashamed."
This morning Draxy had that mysterious feeling as if all things were new, which so often comes to poetic souls. It is at once the beauty and the burden, the exhaustion and the redemption of their lives. No wonder that even common men can sometimes see the transfiguration which often comes to him before whose eyes death and resurrection are always following each other, instant, perpetual, glorious. Draxy took out her little diary. Folded very small, and hid in the pocket of it, was a short poem that she had written the year before on a Tiarella plant which had blossomed in her window. Mrs. White had brought it to her with some ferns and mosses from the mountains; and all winter long it had flowered as if in summer. Draxy wondered why this golden moon reminded her of the Tiarella. She did not know the subtle underlying bonds in nature. These were the Tiarella verses:—
My little Tiarella, If thou art my own, Tell me how thus in winter Thy shining flowers have blown. Art thou a fairy smuggler, Defying law? Didst take of last year's summer More than summer saw? Or hast thou stolen frost-flakes Secretly at night? Thy stamens tipped with silver, Thy petals spotless white, Are so like those which cover My window-pane; Wilt thou, like them, turn back at noon To drops again?
Oh, little Tiarella, Thy silence speaks; No more my foolish question Thy secret seeks. The sunshine on my window Lies all the day. How shouldst thou know that summer Has passed away? The frost-flake's icy silver Is dew at noon for thee. O winter sun! O winter frost, Make summer dews for me!
After reading these over several times, Draxy took out her pencil, and very shyly screening herself from all observation, wrote on the other side of the paper these lines:
The Morning Moon.
The gold moon turns to white; The white moon fades to cloud; It looks so like the gold moon's shroud, It makes me think about the dead, And hear the words I have heard read, By graves for burial rite.
I wonder now how many moons In just such white have died; I wonder how the stars divide Among themselves their share of light; And if there were great years of night Before the earth saw noons.
I wonder why each moon, each sun, Which ever has been or shall be, In this day's sun and moon I see; I think perhaps all of the old Is hidden in each new day's hold; So the first day is not yet done!
And then I think—our dust is spent Before the balances are swung; Shall we be loneliest among God's living creatures? Shall we dare To speak in this eternal air The only discontent?
Then she shut the book resolutely, and sat up straight with a little laugh, saying to herself, "This is a pretty beginning for a business journey!"
Far better than you knew, sweet Draxy! The great successes of life are never made by the men and women who have no poetic comprehension in their souls.
Draxy's first night was spent at the house of a brother of Captain Melville's, to whom her uncle had given her a letter. All went smoothly, and her courage rose. The next day at noon she was to change cars in one of the great railroad centres; as she drew near the city she began to feel uneasy. But her directions were explicit, and she stepped bravely out into the dismal, dark, underground station, bought her ticket, and walked up and down on the platform with her little valise in her hand, waiting for the train.
In a few moments it thundered in, enveloped in a blinding, stifling smoke. The crowd of passengers poured out. "Twenty minutes for refreshments," was shouted at each car, and in a moment more there was a clearing up of the smoke, and a lull in the trampling of the crowd. Draxy touched the conductor on the arm.
"Is this the train I am to take, sir?" she said showing him her ticket.
He glanced carelessly at it. "No, no," said he; "this is the express; don't stop there. You must wait till the afternoon accommodation."
"But what time will that train get there?" said Draxy, turning pale.
"About ten o'clock, if it's on time," said the conductor, walking away. He had not yet glanced at Draxy, but at her "Oh, what shall I do!" he turned back; Draxy's face held him spellbound, as it had held many a man before. He stepped near her, and taking the ticket from her hand, turned it over and over irresolutely. "I wish I could stop there, Miss," he said. "Is it any one who is sick?"—for Draxy's evident distress suggested but one explanation.
"Oh no," replied Draxy, trying in vain to make her voice steady. "But I am all alone, and I know no one there, and I am afraid—it is so late at night. My friends thought I should get there before dark."
"What are you going for, if you don't know anybody?" said the conductor, in a tone less sympathizing and respectful. He was a man more used to thinking ill than well of people.
Draxy colored. But her voice became very steady.
"I am Reuben Miller's daughter, sir, and I am going there to get some money which a bad man owed my father. We need the money, and there was no one else to go for it."
The conductor had never heard of Una, but the tone of the sentence, "I am Reuben Miller's daughter," smote upon his heart, and made him as reverent to the young girl as if she had been a saint.
"I beg your pardon, Miss," he said involuntarily.
Draxy looked at him with a bewildered expression, but made no reply. She was too childlike to know that for the rough manner which had hurt her he ought to ask such pardon.
The conductor proceeded, still fingering the ticket:—
"I don't see how I can stop there. It's a great risk for me to take. If there was only one of the Directors on board now." Draxy looked still more puzzled. "No," he said, giving her back the ticket: "I can't do it no how;" and he walked away.
Draxy stood still in despair. In a few minutes he came back. He could not account for its seeming to him such an utter impossibility to leave that girl to go on her journey at night.
"What shall you do?" said he.
"I think my father would prefer that I should find some proper place to spend the night here, and go on in the morning," replied Draxy; "do you not think that would be better, sir?" she added, with an appealing, confiding tone which made the conductor feel more like her knight than ever.
"Yes, I think so, and I will give you my card to take to the hotel where I stay," said he, and he plunged into the crowd again.
Draxy turned to a brakeman who had drawn near.
"Has the conductor the right to stop the train if he chooses?" said she.
"Why yes, Miss, he's right enough, if that's all. Of course he's got to have power to stop the train any minute. But stoppin' jest to let off a passenger, that's different."
Draxy closed her lips a little more firmly, and became less pale. When the conductor came back and gave her his card, with the name of the hotel on it, she thanked him, took the card, but did not stir. He looked at her earnestly, said "Good day, Miss," lifted his hat, and disappeared. Draxy smiled. It yet wanted ten minutes of the time for the train to go. She stood still, patiently biding her last chance. The first bell rang—the steam was up—the crowd of passengers poured in; at the last minute but one came the conductor. As he caught sight of Draxy's erect, dignified figure, he started; before he could speak, Draxy said, "I waited, sir, for I thought at the last minute a director might come, or you might change your mind."
The conductor laughed out, and seizing Draxy's valise, exclaimed, "By George, I will stop the train for you, Miss Miller! Hang me if I don't; jump in!" and in one minute more Draxy was whirling out of the dark station into the broad sunlight, which dazzled her.
When the conductor first—came through the car he saw that Draxy had been crying. "Do her good," he thought to himself; "it always does do women good; but I'll be bound she wouldn't ha' cried if I'd left her."
Half an hour later he found her sound asleep, with her head slipping uneasily about on the back of the seat. Half ashamed of himself, he brought a heavy coat and put it under her head for a pillow. Seeing a supercilious and disagreeable smile on the face of a fashionable young man in the seat before Draxy, he said sharply: "She's come a long journey, and was put under my care."
"I guess that's true enough to pass muster," he chuckled to himself as he walked away. "If ever I'd ha' believed a woman could make me stop this train for her! An', by George, without askin' me to either!"
Draxy slept on for hours. The winter twilight came earlier than usual, for the sky was overcast. When she waked, the lamps were lighted, and the conductor was bending over her, saying: "We're most there, Miss, and I thought you'd better get steadied on your feet a little before you get off, for I don't calculate to make a full stop."
Draxy laughed like a little child, and put up both hands to her head as if to make sure where she was. Then she followed the conductor to the door and stood looking out into the dim light.
The sharp signal for "down brakes," made experienced passengers spring to their feet. Windows opened; heads were thrust out. What had happened to this express train? The unaccustomed sound startled the village also. It was an aristocratic little place, settled by wealthy men whose business was in a neighboring city. At many a dinner-table surprised voices said: "Why, what on earth is the down express stopping here for? Something must have broken."
"Some director or other to be put off," said others; "they have it all their own way on the road."
In the mean time Draxy Miller was walking slowly up the first street she saw, wondering what she should do next. The conductor had almost lifted her off the train; had shaken her hand, said "God bless you, Miss," and the train was gone, before she could be sure he heard her thank him. "Oh, why did I not thank him more before we stopped," thought Draxy.
"I hope she'll get her money," thought the conductor. "I'd like to see the man that wouldn't give her what she asked for."
So the benediction and protection of good wishes, from strangers as well as from friends, floated on the very air through which Draxy walked, all unconscious of the invisible blessings.
She walked a long way before she met any one of whom she liked to ask direction. At last she saw an elderly man standing under a lamp-post, reading a letter. Draxy studied his face, and then stopped quietly by his side without speaking. He looked up.
"I thought as soon as you had finished your letter, sir, I would ask you to tell me where Stephen Potter lives."
It was marvelous what an ineffable charm there was in the subtle mixture of courtesy and simplicity in Draxy's manner.
"I am going directly by his house myself, and will show you," replied the old gentleman. "Pray let me take your bag, Miss."
"Was it for you," he added, suddenly recollecting the strange stopping of the express train, "was it for you the express train stopped just now?"
"Yes, sir," said Draxy. "The conductor very kindly put me off."
The old gentleman's curiosity was strongly roused, but he forbore asking any further questions until he left Draxy on the steps of the house, when he said: "are they expecting you?"
"Oh no, sir," said Draxy quietly. "I do not know them."
"Most extraordinary thing," muttered the old gentleman as he walked on. He was a lawyer, and could not escape from the professional habit of looking upon all uncommon incidents as clews.
Draxy Miller's heart beat faster than usual as she was shown into Stephen Potter's library. She had said to the servant simply, "Tell Mr. Potter that Miss Miller would like to see him alone."
The grandeur of the house, the richness of the furniture, would have embarrassed her, except that it made her stern as she thought of her father's poverty. "How little a sum it must be to this man," she thought.
The name roused no associations in Stephen Potter; for years the thought of Reuben Miller had not crossed his mind, and as he looked in the face of the tall, beautiful girl who rose as he entered the room, he was utterly confounded to hear her say,—
"I am Reuben Miller's daughter. I have come to see if you will pay me the money you owe him. We are very poor, and need it more than you probably can conceive."
Stephen Potter was a bad man, but not a hard-hearted bad man. He had been dishonest always; but it was the dishonesty of a weak and unscrupulous nature, not without generosity. At that moment a sharp pang seized him. He remembered the simple, upright, kindly face of Reuben Miller. He saw the same look of simple uprightness, kindled by strength, in the beautiful face of Reuben Miller's daughter. He did not know what to say. Draxy waited in perfect composure and silence. It seemed to him hours before he spoke. Then he said, in a miserable, shuffling way,—
"I suppose you think me a rich man."
"I think you must be very rich," said Draxy, gently.
Then, moved by some strange impulse in the presence of this pure, unworldly girl, Stephen Potter suddenly spoke out, for the first time since his boyhood, with absolute sincerity.
"Miss Miller, you are your father over again. I reverenced your father. I have wronged many men without caring, but it troubled me to wrong him. I would give you that money to-night, if I had it, or could raise it. I am not a rich man. I have not a dollar in the world. This house is not mine. It may be sold over my head any day. I am deep in trouble, but not so deep as I deserve to be," and he buried his face in his hands.
Draxy believed him. And it was true. At that moment Stephen Potter was really a ruined man, and many others were involved in the ruin which was impending.
Draxy rose, saying gravely, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter. We heard that you were rich, or I should not have come. We are very poor, but we are not unhappy, as you are."
"Stay, Miss Miller, sit down; I have a thing which might be of value to your father;" and Mr. Potter opened his safe and took out a bundle of old yellow papers. "Here is the title to a lot of land in the northern part of New Hampshire. I took it on a debt years ago, and never thought it was worth anything. Very likely it has run out, or the town has taken possession of the land for the taxes. But I did think the other day, that if worst came to worst, I might take my wife up there and try to farm it. But I'd rather your father should have it if it's good for anything. I took it for three thousand dollars, and it ought to be worth something. I will have the legal transfer made in the morning, and give it to you before you leave."
This was not very intelligible to Draxy. The thin and tattered old paper looked singularly worthless to her. But rising again, she said simply as before, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter; and I thank you for trying to pay us! Will you let some one go and show me to the hotel where I ought to sleep?"
Stephen Potter was embarrassed. It cut him to the heart to send this daughter of Reuben Miller's out of his house to pass the night. But he feared Mrs. Potter very much. He hesitated only a moment.
"No, Miss Miller. You must sleep here. I will have you shown to your room at once. I do not ask you to see my wife. It would not be pleasant for you to do so." And he rang the bell. When the servant came, he said,—
"William, have a fire kindled in the blue room at once; as soon as it is done, come and let me know."
Then he sat down near Draxy and asked many questions about her family, all of which she answered with childlike candor. She felt a strange sympathy for this miserable, stricken, wicked man. When she bade him good-night, she said again, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter. My father would be glad if he could help you in any way."
Stephen Potter went into the parlor where his wife sat, reading a novel. She was a very silly, frivolous woman, and she cared nothing for her husband, but when she saw his face she exclaimed, in terror, "What was it, Stephen?"
"Only Reuben Miller's daughter, come two days' journey after some money I owe her father and cannot pay," said Stephen, bitterly.
"Miller? Miller?" said Mrs. Potter, "one of those old canal debts?"
"Yes," said Stephen.
"Well, of course all those are outlawed long ago," said she. "I don't see why you need worry about that; she can't touch you."
Stephen looked scornfully at her. She had a worse heart than he. At that moment Draxy's face and voice, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter," stood out in the very air before him.
"I suppose not," said he, moodily; "I wish she could! But I shall give her a deed of a piece of New Hampshire land which they may get some good of. God knows I hope she may," and he left the room, turning back, however, to add, "She is to sleep here to-night. I could not have her go to the hotel. But you need take no trouble about her."
"I should think not, Stephen Potter," exclaimed Mrs. Potter, sitting bolt upright in her angry astonishment; "I never heard of such impudence as her expecting"—
"She expected nothing. I obliged her to stay," interrupted Stephen, and was gone.
Mrs. Potter's first impulse was to go and order the girl out of her house. But she thought better of it. She was often afraid of her husband at this time; she dimly suspected that he was on the verge of ruin. So she sank back into her chair, buried herself in her novel, and soon forgot the interruption.
Draxy's breakfast and dinner were carried to her room, and every provision made for her comfort. Stephen Potter's servants obeyed him always. No friend of the family could have been more scrupulously served than was Draxy Miller. The man-servant carried her bag to the station, touched his hat to her as she stepped on board the train, and returned to the house to say in the kitchen: "Well, I don't care what she come for; she was a real lady, fust to last, an' that's more than Mr. Potter's got for a wife, I tell you."
When Stephen Potter went into his library after bidding Draxy good-by, he found on the table a small envelope addressed to him. It held this note:—
"MR. POTTER:—I would not take the paper [the word 'money' had been scratched out and the word 'paper' substituted] for myself; but I think I ought to for my father, because it was a true debt, and he is an old man now, and not strong.
"I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter, and I hope you will become happy again. DRAXY MILLER."
Draxy had intended to write, "I hope you will be 'good' again," but her heart failed her. "Perhaps he will understand that 'happy' means good," she said, and so wrote the gentler phrase. Stephen Potter did understand; and the feeble outreachings which, during the few miserable years more of his life, he made towards uprightness, were partly the fruit of Draxy Miller's words.
Draxy's journey home was uneventful. She was sad and weary. The first person she saw on entering the house was her father. He divined in an instant that she had been unsuccessful. "Never mind, little daughter," he said, gleefully, "I am not disappointed; I knew you would not get it, but I thought the journey 'd be a good thing for you, may be."
"But I have got something, father dear," said Draxy; "only I'm afraid it is not worth much."
"'Taint likely to be if Steve Potter gave it," said Reuben, as Draxy handed him the paper. He laughed scornfully as soon as he looked at it. "'Taint worth the paper it's writ on," said he, "and he knew it; if he hain't looked the land up all these years, of course 'twas sold at vendue long ago."
Draxy turned hastily away. Up to this moment she had clung to a little hope.
When the family were all gathered together in the evening, and Draxy had told the story of her adventures, Reuben and Captain Melville examined the deed together. It was apparently a good clear title; it was of three hundred acres of land. Reuben groaned, "Oh, how I should like to see land by the acre once more." Draxy's face turned scarlet, and she locked and unlocked her hands, but said nothing. "But it's no use thinking about it," he went on; "this paper isn't worth a straw. Most likely there's more than one man well under way on the land by this time."
They looked the place up on an atlas. It was in the extreme northeast corner of New Hampshire. A large part of the county was still marked "ungranted," and the township in which this land lay was bounded on the north by this uninhabited district. The name of the town was Clairvend.
"What could it have been named for?" said Draxy. "How pleasantly it sounds."
"Most likely some Frenchman," said Captain Melville. "They always give names that 're kind o' musical."
"We might as well burn the deed up. It's nothing but a torment to think of it a lyin' round with it's three hundred acres of land," said Reuben in an impulsive tone, very rare for him, and prolonging the "three hundred" with a scornful emphasis; and he sprang up to throw the paper into the fire.
"No, no, man," said Captain Melville; "don't be so hasty. No need of burning things up in such a roomy house's this! Something may come of that deed yet. Give it to Draxy; I'm sure she's earned it, if there's anything to it. Put it away for your dowry, dear," and he snatched the paper from Reuben's hands and tossed it into Draxy's lap. He did not believe what he said, and the attempt at a joke brought but a faint smile to any face. The paper fell on the floor, and Draxy let it lie there till she thought her father was looking another way, when she picked it up and put it in her pocket.
For several days there were unusual silence and depression in the household. They had really set far more hope than they knew on this venture. It was not easy to take up the old routine and forget the air castle. Draxy's friend, Mrs. White, was almost as disappointed as Draxy herself. She had not thought of the chance of Mr. Potter's being really unable to pay. She told her husband, who was a lawyer, the story of the deed, and he said at once: "Of course it isn't worth a straw. If Potter didn't pay the taxes, somebody else did, and the land's been sold long ago."
Mrs. White tried to comfort herself by engaging Draxy for one month's steady sewing, and presenting her with a set of George Eliot's novels. And Draxy tried steadily and bravely to forget her journey, and the name of Clairvend.
About this time she wrote a hymn, and showed it to her father. It was the first thing of the kind she had ever let him see, and his surprise and delight showed her that here was one way more in which she could brighten his life. She had not thought, in her extreme humility, that by hiding her verses she was depriving him of pleasure. After this she showed him all she wrote, but the secret was kept religiously between them.
I cannot think but God must know About the thing I long for so; I know He is so good, so kind, I cannot think but He will find Some way to help, some way to show Me to the thing I long for so.
I stretch my hand—it lies so near: It looks so sweet, it looks so dear. "Dear Lord," I pray, "Oh, let me know If it is wrong to want it so?" He only smiles—He does not speak: My heart grows weaker and more weak, With looking at the thing so dear, Which lies so far, and yet so near.
Now, Lord, I leave at thy loved feet This thing which looks so near, so sweet; I will not seek, I will not long— almost fear I have been wrong. I'll go, and work the harder, Lord, And wait till by some loud, clear word Thou callest me to thy loved feet, To take this thing so dear, so sweet.
As the spring drew near, a new anxiety began to press upon Draxy. Reuben drooped. The sea-shore had never suited him. He pined at heart for the inland air, the green fields, the fragrant woods. This yearning always was strongest in the spring, when he saw the earth waking up around him; but now the yearning became more than yearning. It was the home-sickness of which men have died. Reuben said little, but Draxy divined all. She had known it from the first, but had tried to hope that he could conquer it.
Draxy spent many wakeful hours at night now. The deed of the New Hampshire land lay in her upper bureau drawer, wrapped in an old handkerchief. She read it over, and over, and over. She looked again and again at the faded pink township on the old atlas. "Who knows," thought she, "but that land was overlooked and forgotten? It is so near the 'ungranted lands,' which must be wilderness, I suppose!" Slowly a dim purpose struggled in Draxy's brain. It would do no harm to find out. But how? No more journeys must be taken on uncertainties. At last, late one night, the inspiration came. Who shall say that it is not an unseen power which sometimes suggests to sorely tried human hearts the one possible escape? Draxy was in bed. She rose, lighted her candle, and wrote two letters. Then she went back to bed and slept peacefully. In the morning when she kissed her father good-by, she looked wistfully in his face. She had never kept any secret from him before, except the secret of her verses. "But he must not be disappointed again," said Draxy; "and there is no real hope."
She dropped her letter into the post-office and went to her work.
The letter was addressed—
"To the Postmaster of Clairvend,
It was a very short letter.
"DEAR SIR:—I wish to ask some help from a minister in your town. If there is more than one minister, will you please give my letter to the kindest one. Yours truly,
The letter inclosed was addressed—
"To the Minister of Clairvend."
This letter also was short.
"DEAR SIR:—I have asked the Postmaster to give this letter to the kindest minister in the town.
"I am Reuben Miller's daughter. My father is very poor. He has not known how to do as other men do to be rich. He is very good, sir. I think you can hardly have known any one so good. Mr. Stephen Potter, a man who owed him money, has given us a deed of land in your town. My father thinks the deed is not good for anything. But I thought perhaps it might be; and I would try to find out. My father is very sick, but I think he would get well if he could come and live on a farm. I have written this letter in the night, as soon as I thought about you; I mean as soon as I thought that there must be a minister in Clairvend, and he would be willing to help me.
"I have not told my father, because I do not want him to be disappointed again as he was about the deed.
"I have copied for you the part of the deed which tells where the land is; and I put in a stamp to pay for your letter to me, and if you will find out for us if we can get this land, I shall be grateful to you all my life. DRAXY MILLER."
Inclosed was a slip of paper on which Draxy had copied with great care the description of the boundaries of the land conveyed by the deed. It was all that was necessary. The wisest lawyer, the shrewdest diplomatist in the land never put forth a subtler weapon than this simple girl's simple letter.
It was on the morning of the 3d of April that Draxy dropped her letter in the office. Three days later it was taken out of the mail-bag in the post-office of Clairvend. The post-office was in the one store of the village. Ten or a dozen men were lounging about curiosity about the odd name was soon swallowed up in curiosity as to the contents of the letter. The men of Clairvend had not been so stirred and roused by anything since the fall election. Luckily for Draxy's poor little letter, there was but one minister in the village, and the only strife which rose was as to who should carry him the letter. Finally, two of the most persistent set out with it, both declaring that they had business on that road, and had meant all along to go in and see the Elder on their way home.
Elder Kinney lived in a small cottage high up on a hill, a mile from the post-office, and on a road very little travelled. As the men toiled up this hill, they saw a tall figure coming rapidly towards them.
"By thunder! there's the Elder now! That's too bad," said little Eben Hill, the greatest gossip in the town.
The Elder was walking at his most rapid rate; and Elder Kinney's most rapid rate was said to be one with which horses did not easily keep up. "No, thank you, friend, I haven't time to ride to-day," he often replied to a parishioner who, jogging along with an old farm-horse, offered to give him a lift on the road.
"Elder! Elder! here's a letter we was a bringin' up to you!" called out both of the men at once as he passed them like a flash, saying hurriedly "Good evening! good evening!" and was many steps down the hill beyond them before he could stop.
"Oh, thank you!" he said, taking it hastily and dropping it into his pocket. "Mrs. Williams is dying, they say; I cannot stop a minute," and he was out of sight while the baffled parishioners stood confounded at their ill-luck.
"Now jest as like's not we shan't never know what was in that letter," said. Eben Hill, disconsolately. "Ef we'd ha'gone in and set down while he read it, we sh'd ha' had some chance."
"But then he mightn't ha' read it while we was there," replied Joseph Bailey resignedly; an' I expect It ain't none o' our business anyhow, one way or t'other."
"It's the queerest thing's ever happened in this town," persisted Eben; "what's a girl—that is, if 'tis a girl—got to do writin' to a minister she don't know? I don't believe it's any good she's after."
"Wal, ef she is, she's come to the right place; and there's no knowin' but that the Lord's guided her, Eben; for ef ever there was a man sent on this airth to do the Lord's odd jobs o' looking arter folks, it's Elder Kinney," said Joseph.
"That's so," answered Eben in a dismal tone, "that's so; but he's dreadful close-mouthed when he's a mind to be. You can't deny that!"
"Wal, I dunno's I want ter deny it," said Joseph, who was beginning, in Eben's company, to grow ashamed of curiosity; "I dunno's it's anything agin him," and so the men parted.
It was late at night when Elder Kinney went home from the bedside of the dying woman. He had forgotten all about the letter. When he undressed, it fell from his pocket, and lay on the floor. It was the first thing he saw in the morning. "I declare!" said the Elder, and reaching out a long arm from the bed, he picked it up.
The bright winter sun was streaming in on the Elder's face as he read Draxy's letter. He let it fall on the scarlet and white counterpane, and lay thinking. The letter touched him unspeakably. Elder Kinney was no common man; he had a sensitive organization and a magnetic power, which, if he had had the advantages of education and position, would have made him a distinguished preacher. As a man, he was tender, chivalrous, and impulsive; and even the rough, cold, undemonstrative people among whom his life had been spent had, without suspecting it, almost a romantic affection for him. He had buried his young wife and her first-born still-born child together in this little village twelve years before, and had ever since lived in the same house from which they had been carried to the grave-yard. "If you ever want any other man to preach to you," he said to the people, "you've only to say so to the Conference. I don't want to preach one sermon too many to you. But I shall live and die in this house; I can't ever go away. I can get a good livin' at farmin'—good as preachin', any day!"
The sentence, "I am Reuben Miller's daughter," went to his heart as it had gone to every man's heart who had heard it before from Draxy's unconscious lips. But it sunk deeper in his heart than in any other.
"If baby had lived she would have loved me like this perhaps," thought the Elder, as he read the pathetic words over and over. Then he studied the paragraph copied from the deed. Suddenly a thought flashed into his mind. He knew something about this land. It must be—yes, it must be on a part of this land that the sugar-camp lay from which he had been sent for, five years before, to see a Frenchman who was lying very ill in the little log sugar-house. The Elder racked his brains. Slowly it all came back to him. He remembered that at the time some ill-will had been shown in the town toward this Frenchman; that doubts had been expressed about his right to the land; and that no one would go out into the clearing to help take care of him. Occasionally, since that time, the Elder had seen the man hanging about the town. He had an evil look; this was all the Elder could remember.
At breakfast he said to old Nancy, his housekeeper: "Nancy, did you ever know anything about that Frenchman who had a sugar-camp out back of the swamp road? I went to see him when he had the fever a few years ago."
Nancy was an Indian woman with a little white blood in her veins. She never forgot an injury. This Frenchman had once jeered at her from the steps of the village store, and the village men had laughed.
"Know anythin' about him? Yes, sir. He's a son o' Satan, an' I reckon he stays to hum the great part o' the year, for he's never seen round here except jest sugarin' time."
The Elder laughed in spite of himself. Nancy's tongue was a member of which he strongly disapproved; but his efforts to enforce charity and propriety of speech upon her were sometimes rendered null and void by his lack of control of his features. Nancy loved her master, but she had no reverence in her composition, and nothing gave her such delight as to make him laugh out against his will. She went on to say that the Frenchman came every spring, bringing with him a gang of men, some twelve or more, "all sons o' the same father, sir; you'd know 'em's far's you see 'em." They took a large stock of provisions, went out into the maple clearing, and lived there during the whole sugar season in rough log huts. "They do say he's jest carried off a good thousand dollar's worth o' sugar this very week," said Nancy.
The Elder brought his hand down hard on the table and said "Whew!" This was Elder Kinney's one ejaculation. Nancy seldom heard it, and she knew it meant tremendous excitement. She grew eager, and lingered, hoping for further questions; but the Elder wanted his next information from a more accurate and trustworthy source than old Nancy. Immediately after breakfast he set out for the village; soon he slackened his pace, and began to reflect. It was necessary to act cautiously; he felt instinctively sure that the Frenchman had not purchased the land. His occupation of it had evidently been acquiesced in by the town for many years; but the Elder was too well aware of the slack and unbusinesslike way in which much of the town business was managed, to attach much weight to this fact. He was perplexed—a rare thing for Elder Kinney. He stopped and sat down on the top of a stone wall to think. In a few minutes he saw the steaming heads of a pair of oxen coming up the hill. Slowly the cart came in sight: it was loaded with sugar-buckets; and there, walking by its side, was—yes! it was—the very Frenchman himself.
Elder Kinney was too much astonished even to say "Whew!"
"This begins to look like the Lord's own business," was the first impulsive thought of his devout heart. "There's plainly something to be done. That little Draxy's father shall get some o' the next year's sugar out o' that camp, or my name isn't Seth Kinney;" and the Elder sprang from the wall and walked briskly towards the Frenchman. As he drew near him, and saw the forbidding look on the fellow's face, he suddenly abandoned his first intention, which was to speak to him, and, merely bowing, passed on down the hill.
"He's a villain, if I know the look of one," said honest Elder. "I'll think a little longer. I wonder where he stores his buckets. Now, there's a chance," and Elder Kinney turned about and followed the plodding cart up the hill again. It was a long pull and a tedious one; and for Elder Kinney to keep behind oxen was a torture like being in a straight waistcoat. One mile, two miles, three miles! the Elder half repented of his undertaking; but like all wise and magnetic natures, he had great faith in his first impulses, and he kept on.
At last the cart turned into a lane on the right-hand side of the road.
"Why, he's goin' to old Ike's," exclaimed the Elder. "Well, I can get at all old Ike knows, and it's pretty apt to be all there is worth knowin'," and Elder Kinney began, in his satisfaction, to whistle
"Life is the time to serve the Lord,"
in notes as clear and loud as a bob-o'-link's.
He walked on rapidly, and was very near overtaking the Frenchman, when a new thought struck him. "Now, if he's uneasy about himself,—and if he knows he ain't honest, of course he's uneasy,—he'll may be think I'm on his track, and be off to his 'hum,' as Nancy calls it," and the Elder chuckled at the memory, "an' I shouldn't have any chance of ketchin' him here for another year." The Elder stood still again. Presently he jumped a fence, and walking off to the left, climbed a hill, from the top of which he could see old Ike's house. Here, in the edge of a spruce grove, he walked back and forth, watching the proceedings below. "Seems little too much like bein' a spy," thought the good man, "but I never felt a clearer call in a thing in my life than I do in this little girl's letter," and he fell to singing
"Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings,"
till the crows in the wood were frightened by the strange sound, and came flying out and flapping their great wings above his head.
The Frenchman drove into old Ike's yard. Ike came out of the house and helped him unload the buckets, and carry them into an old corn-house which stood behind the barn: As soon as the Frenchman had turned his oxen's head down the lane, the Elder set out for the house, across the fields. Old Ike was standing in the barn-door. When he saw the tall figure striding through the pasture, he ran to let down the bars, and hurried up to the Elder and grasped both his hands. Not in all Elder Kinney's parish was there a single heart which beat so warmly for him as did the heart of this poor lonely old man, who had lived by himself in this solitary valley ever since the Elder came to Clairvend.
"Oh, Elder, Elder," said he, "it does me reel good to see your face. Be ye well, sir?" looking closely at him.
"Yes, Ike, thank you, I'm always well," replied the Elder absently. He was too absorbed in his errand to have precisely his usual manner, and it was the slight change which Ike's affectionate instinct felt. But Ike saved him all perplexity as to introducing the object of his visit by saying at once, picking up one of the sugar-buckets which had rolled off to one side, "I'm jest pilin' up Ganew's sugar-buckets for him. He pays me well for storin' 'em, but I kind o' hate to have anythin' to do with him. Don't you remember him, sir—him that was so awful bad with the fever down'n the clearin' five years ago this month? You was down to see him, I know."
"Yes, yes, I remember," said the Elder, with a manner so nonchalant that he was frightened at his own diplomacy. "He was a bad fellow, I thought,"
Ike went on: "Wall, that's everybody's feelin' about him: and there ain't no great thing to show for 't nuther. But they did say a while back that he hadn't no reel right to the land. He turned up all of a sudden, and paid up all there was owin' on the taxes, an' he's paid 'em regular ever sence. But he hain't never showed how the notes come to be signed by some other name. Yes, sir, the hull lot—it's nigh on ter three hundred acres, such's 'tis; a good part on't 's swamp though, that ain't wuth a copper—the hull lot went to a man down in York State, when the Iron Company bust up here, and for two or three year the chap he jest sent up his note for the taxes, and they've a drefful shiftless way o' lettin' things go in this ere town, 's you know, sir; there wan't nobody that knowed what a sugar orchard was a lyin' in there, or there'd been plenty to grab for it; but I don't s'pose there's three men in the town'd ever been over back o' Birch Hill till this Ganew he come and cut a road in, and had his sugar-camp agoin' one spring, afore anybody knew what he was arter. But he's paid all up reg'lar, and well he may, sez everybody, for he can't get his sugar off, sly's he is, w'thout folks gettin' some kind o' notion about it, an' they say's he's cleared thousands an' thousands o' dollars. I expect they ain't overshot the mark nuther, for he's got six hundred new buckets this spring, and Bill Sims, he's been in with 'em the last two years, 'n he says there ain't no sugar orchard to compare, except Squire White's over in Mill Creek, and he's often taken in three thousand pounds off his'n."
Ike sighed as he paused, breathless. "It's jest my luck, allers knockin' about 'n them woods 's I am, not to have struck trail on that air orchard. I could ha' bought it's well's not in the fust on't, if it had been put up to vendue, 's't oughter ben, an' nobody knowin' what 'twas wuth."
Elder Kinney was almost overcome by this unhoped-for corroboration of his instincts; clearing up of his difficulties. His voice sounded hoarse in his own ears as he replied:—
"Well, Ike, the longest lane has a turnin'. It's my belief that God doesn't often let dishonest people prosper very long. We shall see what becomes of Ganew. Where does he live? I'd like to see him."
"Well, he don't live nowhere, 's near's anybody can find out. He's in the camp with the gang about six weeks, sometimes eight; they say's it's a kind of settlement down there, an' then he's off again till sugarin' comes round; but he's dreadful sharp and partikler about the taxes, I tell you, and he's given a good deal too, fust and last, to the town. Folks say he wants to make 'em satisfied to let him alone. He's coming up here again to-morrow with two more loads of buckets, sir: if 'twouldn't be too much trouble for you to come here agin so soon," added poor Ike, grasping at the chance of seeing the Elder again.
"Well, I think perhaps I'll come," replied the Elder, ashamed again of the readiness with which he found himself taking to tortuous methods, "if I'm not too busy. What time will he be here?"
"About this same time," said Ike. "He don't waste no time, mornin' nor evenin'."
The Elder went away soon, leaving poor Ike half unhappy.
"He's got somethin' on his mind, thet's plain enough," thought the loving old soul. "I wonder now ef it's a woman; I've allus thought the Elder war'nt no sort of man to live alone all his days."
"Dear, good little Draxy," thought the Elder, as he walked down the road. "How shall I ever tell the child of this good luck, and how shall I manage it all for the best for her?"
Draxy's interests were in good hands. Before night Elder Kinney had ascertained that there had never been any sale of this land since it was sold to "the New York chap," and that Ganew's occupation of it was illegal. After tea the Elder sat down and wrote two letters.
The first one was to Draxy, and ran as follows:—
"MY DEAR CHILD:—
"I received your letter last night, and by the Lord's help I have found out all about your father's land today. But I shall write to your father about it, for you could not understand.
"I wish the Lord had seen fit to give me just such a daughter as you are.
The letter to Reuben was very long, giving in substance the facts which have been told above, and concluding thus:—
"I feel a great call from the Lord to do all I can in this business, and I hope you won't take it amiss if I make bold to decide what's best to be done without consulting you. This fellow's got to be dealt with pretty sharp, and I, being on the ground, can look after him better than you can. But I'll guarantee that you'll have possession of that land before many weeks." He then asked Reuben to have an exact copy of the deed made out and forwarded to him; also any other papers which might throw light on the transfer of the property, sixteen years back. "Not that I calculate there'll be any trouble," he added; "we don't deal much in lawyer's tricks up here, but it's just as well to be provided."
The Elder went to the post-office before breakfast to post this letter. The address did not escape the eyes of the postmaster. Before noon Eben Hill knew that the Elder had written right off by the first mail to a "Miss Draxy Miller."
Meantime the Elder was sitting in the doorway of old Ike's barn waiting for the Frenchman; ten o'clock came, eleven, twelve—he did not appear.
The Elder's uneasiness grew great, but he talked on and on till poor Ike was beside himself with delight. At last the distant creak of the wheels was heard. "There he is," exclaimed Ike. "I'm thinking, sir, that it's a kind o' providential dispensation thet's hendered him all this time; it's done me such a sight o' good to hear you talk."
The Elder smiled tenderly on poor old Ike.
"Everything is a dispensation, Ike, accordin' to my way o' thinkin';" and again he thought involuntarily of "little Draxy."
Ganew assented with a half-surly civility to Elder Kinney's proposition to ride down with him.
"I've got a matter of business to talk over with you, Mr. Ganew,"—said the Elder, "and I came up here on purpose to find you."
The man turned his stolid black eyes full on the Elder, but made no reply. It was indeed an evil face. The Elder was conscious that impulses which he feared were unchristian were rising rapidly in his breast. He had wished a few times before in his life that he was not a minister. He wished it now. He would have liked to open his conversation with Ganew after the manner of the world's people when they deal with thieves. And again he thought involuntarily of "little Draxy," and her touching "we are very poor."
But when he spoke, he spoke gently and slowly.
"I have some news for you which will be very disagreeable, Mr. Ganew." Here the Frenchman started, with such a terrified, guilty, malignant look on his face, that the Elder said to himself: "Good God, I believe the man knows he's in danger of his life. Stealin's the least of his crimes, I'll venture."
He proceeded still more gently. "The owners of the land which you've been using as your own in this town, have written to inquire about it, and have put the business in my hands."
Ganew was silent for a moment. Then trying to speak in an indignant tone, he said,—
"Using as my own! I don't know what you mean, Mr. Parson. I have paid my taxes all regular, and I've got the title-deeds of the land, every acre of it. I can't help whoever's been writing to you about it; it's all my land."
But his face twitched with nervous excitement, and the fright and anger in his serpent-like black eyes were ugly to see.