Helen Hunt Jackson
Part 2 out of 3
groves of larch and pine.
"Never knew I that the woods were so beautiful thus early in the year,"
said the honest Willan.
"Nor I, till to-day," said the artful Victorine, who knew well enough
what Willan did not know himself.
"Dost thou ride here alone?" asked Willan. "It is a wild place for thee
to be alone."
"If I came not alone, I could not come at all," replied Victorine,
sorrowfully. "My grandfather is too busy, and my aunt likes not to ride
except she must, on a market day or to go to church. No one but thou
hast ever walked or ridden with me," she added in a low voice, sighing;
"and now after two days or three thou wilt be gone."
Willan sighed also, but did not speak. The words, "I will always ride by
thy side, Victorine," were on his lips, but he felt himself still
withheld from speaking them.
The visit at the mill was unsatisfactory. The elder Gaspard was away,
and young Pierre was curt and surly. The sight of Victorine riding
familiarly, and with an evident joyous pride, by the side of one of the
richest men in the country, and a young man at that,--and a young man,
moreover, who looked and behaved as if he were in love with his
companion,--how could the poor miller be expected to be cordial and
unconstrained with such a sight before his eyes! Annette also was more
overawed even than Victorine had desired she should be by the sight of
the handsome stranger,--so overawed, and withal perhaps a little
curious, that she was dumb and awkward; and as for _Mere_ Gaspard, she
never under any circumstances had a word to say. So the visit was very
stupid, and everybody felt ill at ease,--especially Willan, who had lost
his temper in the beginning at a speech of Pierre's to Victorine, which
seemed to his jealous sense too familiar.
"I thought thou never wouldst take leave," he said ill-naturedly to
Victorine, as they rode away.
Victorine turned towards him with an admirably counterfeited expression
of surprise. "Oh, sir," she said, "I did think I ought to wait for thee
to take leave. I was dying with the desire I had to be back in the woods
again; and only when I could not bear it any longer, did I bethink me to
say that my aunt expected us back to dinner."
Long they lingered on the river-banks on their way home. Even the
plotting brain of Victorine was not insensible to the charm of the sky,
the air, the budding foliage, and the myriads of blossoms. "Oh, sir,"
she said, "I think there never was such a day as this before!"
"I know there never was," replied Willan, looking at her with an
expression which was key to his words. But the daughter of Jeanne Dubois
was not to be wooed by any vague sentimentalisms. There was one sentence
which she was intently waiting to hear Willan Blaycke speak. Anything
short of that Mademoiselle Victorine was too innocent to comprehend.
"Sweet child!" thought Willan to himself, "she doth not know the speech
of lovers. I mistrust that if I wooed her outright, she would be
It was long past noon when they reached the Golden Pear. Dinner had
waited till the hungry Victor and Jeanne could wait no longer; but a
very pretty and dainty little repast was ready for Willan and Victorine.
As she sat opposite him at the table, so bright and beaming, her whole
face full of pleasure, Willan leaned both his arms on the table and
looked at her in silence for some minutes.
"Victorine!" he said. Victorine started. She was honestly very hungry,
and had been so absorbed in eating her dinner she had not noticed
Willan's look. She dropped her knife and sprang up.
"What is it, sir?" she said; "what shall I fetch?" Her instantaneous
resumption of the serving-maid's relation to him jarred on Willan at
that second indescribably, and shut down like a floodgate on the words
he was about to speak.
"Nothing, nothing," said he. "I was only going to say that thou must
sleep this afternoon; thou art tired."
"Nay, I am not tired," said Victorine, petulantly. "What is a matter of
six leagues of a morning? I could ride it again between this and sunset,
and not be tired."
But she was tired, and she did sleep, though she had not meant to do so
when she threw herself on her bed, a little later; she had meant only to
rest herself for a few minutes, and then in a fresh toilette return to
Willan. But she slept on and on until after sunset, and Willan wandered
aimlessly about, wondering what had become of her. Jeanne saw him, but
forebore to take any note of his uneasiness. She had looked in upon
Victorine in her slumber, and was well content that it should be so.
"The girl will awake refreshed and rosy," thought Jeanne; "and it will
do no harm, but rather good, if he have missed her sorely all the
Supper was over, and the evening work all done when Victorine waked. It
was dusk. Rubbing her eyes, she sprang up and went to the window. Jeanne
heard her steps, and coming to the foot of the stairs called: "Thou
need'st not to come down; all is done. What shall I bring thee to eat?"
"Why didst thou not waken me?" replied Victorine, petulantly; "I meant
not to sleep."
"I thought the sleep was better," replied her aunt. "Thou didst look
tired, and it suits no woman's looks to be tired."
Victorine was silent. She saw Willan walking up and down under the
pear-tree. She leaned out of her window and moved one of the
flower-pots. Willan looked up; in a second more he had bounded up the
staircase, and eagerly said: "Art thou there? Wilt thou never come
Victorine was uncertain in her own mind what was the best thing to do
next; so she replied evasively: "Thou wert right, after all. I did not
feel myself tired, but I have slept until now."
"Then thou art surely rested. Canst thou not come and walk with me in
the pear orchard?" said Willan.
"I fear me I may not do that after nightfall," replied Victorine. "My
aunt would be angry."
"She need not know," replied the eager Willan. "Thou canst come down by
this stairway, and it is already near dark."
Victorine laughed a little low laugh. This pleased her. "Yes," she said,
"I have often come down by, that post from my window; but truly, I fear
I ought not to do it for thee. What should I say to my aunt if she
"Oh, she thinks thee asleep," said Willan. "She told me at supper that
she would not waken thee."
All of which Mistress Jeanne heard distinctly, standing midway on the
wide staircase, with Victorine's supper of bread and milk in her hand.
She had like to have spilled the whole bowlful of milk for laughing. But
she stood still, holding her breath lest Victorine should hear her, till
the conversation ceased, and she heard Victorine moving about in her
room again. Then she went in, and kissing Victorine, said: "Eat thy
supper now, and go to bed; it is late. Good-night. I'll wake thee early
enough in the morning to pay for not having called thee this afternoon.
Then Jeanne went down to her own room, blew out her candle, and seated
herself at the window to hear what would happen.
"My aunt's candle is out; she hath gone to bed," whispered Victorine, as
holding Willan's hand she stole softly down the outer stair. "I do doubt
much that I am doing wrong."
"Nay, nay," whispered Willan. "Thou sweet one, what wrong can there be
in thy walking a little time with me? Thy aunt did let thee ride with me
all the day." And he tenderly guided Victorine's steps down the steep
"Pretty well! pretty well!" laughed Mistress Jeanne behind her casement;
and as soon as the sound of Willan's and Victorine's steps had died
away, she ran downstairs to tell Victor what had happened. Victor was
not so pleased as Jeanne; he did not share her confidence in Victorine's
"Sacre!" he said; "what wert thou thinking of? Dost want another niece
to be fetched up in a convent? Thou mayst thank thyself for it, if thou
art grandmother to one. I trust no man out of sight, and no girl. The
man's in love with the girl, that is plain; but he means no marrying."
"That thou dost not know," retorted Jeanne. "I tell thee he is an
honorable, high-minded man, and as pure as if he were but just now
weaned. I know him, and thou dost not. He will marry her, or he will
leave her alone."
"We shall see," muttered the coarse old man as he walked away,--"we
shall see. Like mother, like child. I trust them not." And in a thorough
ill-humor Victor betook himself to the courtyard. What he heard there
did not reassure him. Old Benoit had seen Willan and Victorine going
down through the poplar copse toward the pear orchard. "And may the
saints forsake me," said Benoit, "if I do not think he had his arm
around her waist and her head on his shoulder. Think'st thou he will
"Nay," growled Victor; "he's no fool. That Jeanne hath set her heart on
it, and thinketh it will come about; but not so I."
"He seems of a rare fine-breeding and honorable speech," said Benoit.
"Ay, ay," replied Victor, "words are quick said, and fine manners come
easy to some; but a man looks where he weds."
"His father did not have chance for much looking," sneered Benoit.
"This is another breed, even if his father begot him," replied Victor.
"He goeth no such way as that." And thoroughly disquieted, Victor
returned to the house to report to Jeanne what Benoit had seen. She was
"Thou wilt see," was her only reply; and the two sat down together in
the porch to await the lovers' return. Hour after hour passed; even
Jeanne began to grow alarmed. It was long after midnight.
"I fear some accident hath befallen them," she said at last. "Would it
be well, thinkest thou, to go in search of them?"
"Not a step!" cried Victor. "He took her away, and he must needs bring
her back. We await them here. He shall see whether he may tamper with
the granddaughter of Victor Dubois."
"Hush, father!" said Jeanne, "here they come."
Walking very slowly, arm in arm, came Willan and Victorine. They had
evidently no purpose of entering the house clandestinely, but were
approaching the front door.
"Hoity, toity!" muttered Victor; "he thinks he can lord it over us,
"Be quiet, father!" entreated Jeanne. Her quick eye saw something new in
the bearing of both Willan and Victorine. But Victor was not to be
quieted. With an angry oath, he sprung forward from the porch, and began
to upbraid Willan in no measured tones.
Willan lifted his right hand authoritatively. "Wait!" he said. "Do not
say what thou wilt repent, Victor Dubois. Thy granddaughter hath
promised to be my wife."
So the new generation avenged the old; and Willan Blaycke, in the prime
of his cultured and fastidious manhood, fell victim to a spell less
coarsely woven but no less demoralizing than that which had imbittered
the last years of his father's life.
[Footnote: Note.--"The Inn of the Golden Pear" includes three chapters
of a longer story entitled "Elspeth Pynevor,"--a story of such
remarkable vigor and promise, and planned on such noble and powerful
lines as to deepen regret that its author's death left it but half
finished. A single sentence has been added by another hand to round the
episode of Willan Blaycke's infatuation to conclusion.]
The Mystery of Wilhelm Ruetter.
It was long past dusk of an August evening. Farmer Weitbreck stood
leaning on the big gate of his barnyard, looking first up and then down
the road. He was chewing a straw, and his face wore an expression of
deep perplexity. These were troublous times in Lancaster County. Never
before had the farmers been so put to it for farm service; harvest-time
had come, and instead of the stream of laborers seeking employment,
which usually at this season set in as regularly as river freshets in
spring, it was this year almost impossible to hire any one.
The explanation of this nobody knew or could divine; but the fact was
indisputable, and the farmers were in dismay,--nobody more so than
Farmer Weitbreck, who had miles of bottom-lands, in grain of one sort
and another, all yellow and nodding, and ready for the sickle, and
nobody but himself and his son John to swing scythe, sickle, or flail on
"Never I am caught this way anoder year," thought he, as he gazed
wearily up and down the dark, silent road; "but that does to me no goot
this time that is now."
Gustavus Weitbreck had lived so long on his Pennsylvania farm that he
even thought in English instead of in German, and, strangely enough, in
English much less broken and idiomatic than that which he spoke. But his
phraseology was the only thing about him that had changed. In modes of
feeling, habits of life, he was the same he had been forty years ago,
when he farmed a little plot of land, half wheat, half vineyard, in the
Mayence meadows in the fatherland,--slow, methodical, saving, stupid,
upright, obstinate. All these traits "Old Weitbreck," as he was called
all through the country, possessed to a degree much out of the ordinary;
and it was a combination of two of them--the obstinacy and the
savingness--which had brought him into his present predicament.
In June he had had a good laborer,--one of the best known, and eagerly
sought by every farmer in the county; a man who had never yet been
beaten in a mowing-match or a reaping. By his help the haying had been
done in not much more than two thirds the usual time; but when John
Weitbreck, like a sensible fellow, said, "Now, we would better keep Alf
on till harvest; there is plenty of odds-and-ends work about the farm he
can help at, and we won't get his like again in a hurry," his father had
"Mein Gott! It is that you tink I must be made out of money! I vill not
keep dis man on so big wages to do vat you call odd-and-end vork. We do
odd-and-end vork ourself."
There was no discussion of the point. John Weitbreck knew better than
ever to waste his time and breath or temper in trying to change a
purpose of his father's or convince him of a mistake. But he bided his
time; and he would not have been human if he had not now taken secret
satisfaction, seeing his father's anxiety daily increase as the August
sun grew hotter and hotter, and the grain rattled in the husks waiting
to be reaped, while they two, straining their arms to the utmost, and in
long days' work, seemed to produce small impression on the great fields.
"The women shall come work in field to-morrow," thought the old man, as
he continued his anxious reverie. "It is not that they sit idle all day
in house, when the wheat grows to rattle like the peas in pod. They can
help, the muetter and Carlen; that will be much help; they can do." And
hearing John's steps behind him, the old man turned and said,--
"Johan, dere comes yet no man to reap. To-morrow must go in the field
Carlen and the muetter; it must. The wheat get fast too dry; it is more
as two men can do."
John bit his lips. He was aghast. Never had he seen his mother and
sister at work in the fields. John had been born in America; and he was
American, not German, in his feeling about this. Without due
consideration he answered,--
"I would rather work day and night, father, than see my mother and
sister in the fields. I will do it, too, if only you will not make them
The old man, irritated by the secret knowledge that he had nobody but
himself to blame for the present dilemma, still more irritated, also, by
this proof of what was always exceedingly displeasing to him,--his son's
having adopted American standards and opinions,--broke out furiously
with a wrath wholly disproportionate to the occasion,--
"You be tam, Johan Weitbreck. You tink we are fine gentlemen and ladies,
like dese Americans dat is too proud to vork vid hands. I say tam dis
country, vere day say all is alike, an' vork all; and ven you come here,
it is dat nobody vill vork, if he can help, and vimmins ish shame to be
seen vork. It is not shame to be seen vork; I vork, mein vife vork too,
an' my childrens vork too, py tam!"
John walked away,--his only resource when his father was in a passion.
John occupied that hardest of all positions,--the position of a
full-grown, mature man in a father's home, where he is regarded as
nothing more than a boy.
As he entered the kitchen and saw his pretty sister Carlen at the high
spinning-wheel, walking back and forth drawing the fine yarn between
her chubby fingers, all the while humming a low song to which the
whirring of the wheel made harmonious accompaniment, he thought to
himself bitterly: "Work, indeed! As if they did not work now longer than
we do, and quite as hard! She's been spinning ever since daylight, I
"Is it hard work spinning, Liebchen?" he asked.
Carlen turned her round blue eyes on him with astonishment. There was
something in his tone that smote vaguely on her consciousness. What
could he mean, asking such a question as that?
"No," she said, "it is not hard exactly. But when you do it very long it
does make the arms ache, holding them so long in the same position; and
it tires one to stand all day!"
"Ay," said John, "that is the way it tires one to reap; my back is near
broke with it to-day."
"Has no one come to help yet?" she said.
"No!" said John, angrily, "and that is what I told father when he let
Alf go. It is good enough for him for being so stingy and short-sighted;
but the brunt of it comes on me,--that's the worst of it. I don't see
what's got all the men. There have always been plenty round every year
"Alf said he shouldn't be here next year," said Carlen, each cheek
showing a little signal of pink as she spoke; but it was a dim light the
one candle gave, and John did not see the flush. "He was going to the
west to farm; in Oregon, he said."
"Ay, that's it!" replied John. "That's where everybody can go but me!
I'll be going too some day, Carlen. I can't stand things here. If it
weren't for you I'd have been gone long ago."
"I wouldn't leave mother and father for all the world, John," cried
Carlen, warmly, "and I don't think it would be right for you to! What
would father do with the farm without you?"
"Well, why doesn't he see that, then, and treat me as a man ought to be
treated?" exclaimed John; "he thinks I'm no older than when he used to
beat me with the strap."
"I think fathers and mothers are always that way," said the gentle,
cheery Carlen, with a low laugh. "The mother tells me each time how to
wind the warp, as she did when I was little; and she will always look
into the churn for herself. I think it is the way we are made. We will
do the same when we are old, John, and our children will be wondering at
John laughed. This was always the way with Carlen. She could put a man
in good humor in a few minutes, however cross he felt in the beginning.
"I won't, then!" he exclaimed. "I know I won't. If ever I have a son
grown, I'll treat him like a son grown, not like a baby."
"May I be there to see!" said Carlen, merrily,--
"And you remember free
The words I said to thee.
"Hold the candle here for me, will you, that's a good boy. While we have
talked, my yarn has tangled."
As they stood close together, John holding the candle high over Carlen's
head, she bending over the tangled yarn, the kitchen door opened
suddenly, and their father came in, bringing with him a stranger,--a
young man seemingly about twenty-five years of age, tall, well made,
handsome, but with a face so melancholy that both John and Carlen felt a
shiver as they looked upon it.
"Here now comes de hand, at last of de time, Johan," cried the old man.
"It vill be that all can vel be done now. And it is goot that he is from
mine own country. He cannot English speak, many vords; but dat is
nothing; he can vork. I tolt you dere vould be mans come!"
John looked scrutinizingly at the newcomer. The man's eyes fell.
"What is your name?" said John.
"Wilhelm Ruetter," he answered.
"How long have you been in this country?"
"Where are your friends?"
"I haf none."
These replies were given in a tone as melancholy as the expression of
Carlen stood still, her wheel arrested, the yarn between her thumb and
ringer, her eyes fastened on the stranger's face. A thrill of
unspeakable pity stirred her. So young, so sad, thus alone in the world;
who ever heard of such a fate?
"But there were people who came with you in the ship?" said John. "There
is some one who knows who you are, I suppose."
"No, no von dat knows," replied the newcomer.
"Haf done vid too much questions," interrupted Farmer Weitbreck. "I haf
him asked all. He stays till harvest be done. He can vork. It is to be
easy see he can vork."
John did not like the appearance of things. "Too much mystery here," he
thought. "However, it is not long he will be here, and he will be in the
fields all the time; there cannot be much danger. But who ever heard of
a man whom no human being knew?"
As they sat at supper, Farmer Weitbreck and his wife plied Wilhelm with
questions about their old friends in Mayence. He was evidently familiar
with all the localities and names which they mentioned. His replies,
however, were given as far as possible in monosyllables, and he spoke no
word voluntarily. Sitting with his head bent slightly forward, his eyes
fixed on the floor, he had the expression of one lost in thoughts of the
"Make yourself to be more happy, mein lad," said the farmer, as he bade
him good-night and clapped him on the shoulder. "You haf come to house
vere is German be speaked, and is Germany in hearts; dat vill be to you
A strange look of even keener pain passed over the young man's face, and
he left the room hastily, without a word of good-night.
"He's a surly brute!" cried John; "nice company he'll be in the field! I
believe I'd sooner have nobody!"
"I think he has seen some dreadful trouble," said Carlen. "I wish we
could do something for him; perhaps his friends are all dead. I think
that must be it, don't you think so, muetter?"
Frau Weitbreck was incarnate silence and reticence. These traits were
native in her, and had been intensified to an abnormal extent by thirty
years of life with a husband whose temper and peculiarities were such as
to make silence and reticence the sole conditions of peace and comfort.
To so great a degree had this second nature of the good frau been
developed, that she herself did not now know that it was a second
nature; therefore it stood her in hand as well as if she had been
originally born to it, and it would have been hard to find in Lancaster
County a more placid and contented wife than she. She never dreamed that
her custom of silent acquiescence in all that Gustavus said--of waiting
in all cases, small and great, for his decision--had in the outset been
born of radical and uncomfortable disagreements with him. And as for
Gustavus himself, if anybody had hinted to him that his frau could
think, or ever had thought, any word or deed of his other than right, he
would have chuckled complacently at that person's blind ignorance of the
"Mein frau, she is goot," he said; "goot frau, goot muetter. American
fraus not goot so she; all de time talk and no vork. American fraus,
American mans, are sheep in dere house."
But in regard to this young stranger, Frau Weitbreck seemed strangely
stirred from her usual phlegmatic silence. Carlen's appeal to her had
barely been spoken, when, rising in her place at the head of the table,
the old woman said solemnly, in German,--
"Yes, Liebchen, he goes with the eyes like eyes of a man that saw always
the dead. It must be as you say, that all whom he loves are in the
grave. Poor boy! poor boy! it is now that one must be to him mother and
father and brother."
"And sister too," said Carlen, warmly. "I will be his sister."
"And I not his brother till he gets a civiller tongue in his head," said
"It is not to be brother I haf him brought," interrupted the old man.
"Alvays you vimmen are too soon; it may be he are goot, it may be he are
pad; I do not know. It is to vork I haf him brought."
"Yes," echoed Frau Weitbreck; "we do not know."
It was not so easy as Carlen and her mother had thought, to be like
mother and sister to Wilhelm. The days went by, and still he was as much
a stranger as on the evening of his arrival. He never voluntarily
addressed any one. To all remarks or even questions he replied in the
fewest words and curtest phrases possible. A smile was never seen on his
face. He sat at the table like a mute at a funeral, ate without lifting
his eyes, and silently rose as soon as his own meal was finished. He had
soon selected his favorite seat in the kitchen. It was on the right-hand
side of the big fireplace, in a corner. Here he sat all through the
evenings, carving, out of cows' horns or wood, boxes and small figures
such as are made by the peasants in the German Tyrol. In this work he
had a surprising skill. What he did with the carvings when finished, no
one knew. One night John said to him,--
"I do not see, Wilhelm, how you can have so steady a hand after holding
the sickle all day. My arm aches, and my hand trembles so that I can but
just carry my cup to my lips."
Wilhelm made no reply, but held his right hand straight out at arm's
length, with the delicate figure he was carving poised on his
forefinger. It stood as steady as on the firm ground.
Carlen looked at him admiringly. "It is good to be so steady-handed,"
she said; "you must be strong, Wilhelm."
"Yes," he said, "I haf strong;" and went on carving.
Nothing more like conversation than this was ever drawn from him. Yet he
seemed not averse to seeing people. He never left the kitchen till the
time came for bed; but when that came he slipped away silent, taking no
part in the general good-night unless he was forced to do so. Sometimes
Carlen, having said jokingly to John, "Now, I will make Wilhelm say
good-night to-night," succeeded in surprising him before he could leave
the room; but often, even when she had thus planned, he contrived to
evade her, and was gone before she knew it.
He slept in a small chamber in the barn,--a dreary enough little place,
but he seemed to find it all sufficient. He had no possessions except
the leather pack he had brought on his back. This lay on the floor
unlocked; and when the good Frau Weitbreck, persuading herself that she
was actuated solely by a righteous, motherly interest in the young man,
opened it, she found nothing whatever there, except a few garments of
the commonest description,--no book, no paper, no name on any article.
It would not appear possible that a man of so decent a seeming as
Wilhelm could have come from Germany to America with so few personal
belongings. Frau Weitbreck felt less at ease in her mind about him after
she examined this pack.
He had come straight from the ship to their house, he had said, when he
arrived; had walked on day after day, going he knew not whither, asking
mile by mile for work. He did not even know one State's name from
another. He simply chose to go south rather than north,--always south,
He did not know.
He was indeed strong. The sickle was in his hand a plaything, so
swift-swung that he seemed to be doing little more than simply striding
up and down the field, the grain falling to right and left at his steps.
From sunrise to sunset he worked tirelessly. The famous Alf had never
done so much in a day. Farmer Weitbreck chuckled as he looked on.
"Vat now you say of dat Alf?" he said triumphantly to John; "vork he as
dis man? Oh, but he make swing de hook!"
John assented unqualifiedly to this praise of Wilhelm's strength and
skill; but nevertheless he shook his head.
"Ay, ay," he said, "I never saw his equal; but I like him not. What
carries he in his heart to be so sour? He is like a man bewitched. I
know not if there be such a thing as to be sold to the devil, as the
stories say; but if there be, on my word, I think Wilhelm has made some
such bargain. A man could not look worse if he had signed himself away."
"I see not dat he haf fear in his face," replied the old man.
"No," said John, "neither do I see fear. It is worse than fear. I would
like to see his face come alive with a fear. He gives me cold shivers
like a grave underfoot. I shall be glad when he is gone."
Farmer Weitbreck laughed. He and his son were likely to be again at
odds on the subject of a laborer.
"But he vill not go. I haf said to him to stay till Christmas, maybe
John's surprise was unbounded.
"To stay! Till Christmas!" he cried. "What for? What do we need of a man
in the winter?"
"It is not dat to feed him is much, and all dat he make vid de knife is
mine. It is home he vants, no oder ting; he vork not for money."
"Father," said John, earnestly, "there must be something wrong about
that man. I have thought so from the first. Why should he work for
nothing but his board,--a great strong fellow like that, that could make
good day's wages anywhere? Don't keep him after the harvest is over. I
can't bear the sight of him."
"Den you can turn de eyes to your head von oder way," retorted his
father. "I find him goot to see; and," after a pause, "so do Carlen."
John started. "Good heavens, father!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, you need not speak by de heavens, mein son!" rejoined the old man,
in a taunting tone. "I tink I can mine own vay, vidout you to be help. I
was not yesterday born!"
John was gone. Flight was his usual refuge when he felt his temper
becoming too much for him; but now his steps were quickened by an
impulse of terrible fear. Between him and his sister had always been a
bond closer than is wont to link brother and sister. Only one year apart
in age, they had grown up together in an intimacy like that of twins;
from their cradles till now they had had their sports, tastes, joys,
sorrows in common, not a secret from each other since they could
remember. At least, this was true of John; was he to find it no longer
true of Carlen? He would know, and that right speedily. As by a flash of
lightning he thought he saw his father's scheme,--if Carlen were to wed
this man, this strong and tireless worker, this unknown, mysterious
worker, who wanted only shelter and home and cared not for money, what
an invaluable hand would be gained on the farm! John groaned as he
thought to himself how little anything--any doubt, any misgiving,
perhaps even an actual danger--would in his father's mind outweigh the
one fact that the man did not "vork for money."
As he walked toward the house, revolving these disquieting conjectures,
all his first suspicion and antagonism toward Wilhelm revived in full
force, and he was in a mood well calculated to distort the simplest
acts, when he suddenly saw sitting in the square stoop at the door the
two persons who filled his thoughts, Wilhelm and Carlen,--Wilhelm
steadily at work as usual at his carving, his eyes closely fixed on it,
his figure, as was its wont, rigidly still; and Carlen,--ah! it was an
unlucky moment John had taken to search out the state of Carlen's
feeling toward Wilhelm,--Carlen sitting in a posture of dreamy reverie,
one hand lying idle in her lap holding her knitting, the ball rolling
away unnoticed on the ground; her other arm thrown carelessly over the
railing of the stoop, her eyes fixed on Wilhelm's bowed head.
John stood still and watched her,--watched her long. She did not move.
She was almost as rigidly still as Wilhelm himself. Her eyes did not
leave his face. One might safely sit in that way by the hour and gaze
undetected at Wilhelm. He rarely looked up except when he was addressed.
After standing thus a few moments John turned away, bitter and sick at
heart. What had he been about, that he had not seen this? He, the loving
comrade brother, to be slower of sight than the hard, grasping parent!
"I will ask mother," he thought. "I can't ask Carlen now! It is too
He found his mother in the kitchen, busy getting the bountiful supper
which was a daily ordinance in the Weitbreck religion. To John's
sharpened perceptions the fact that Carlen was not as usual helping in
this labor loomed up into significance.
"Why does not Carlen help you, muetter?" he said hastily. "What is she
doing there, idling with Wilhelm in the stoop?"
Frau Weitbreck smiled. "It is not alvays to vork, ven one is young," she
said. "I haf not forget!" And she nodded her head meaningly.
John clenched his hands. Where had he been? Who had blinded him? How had
all this come about, so soon and without his knowledge? Were his father
and his mother mad? He thought they must be.
"It is a shame for that Wilhelm to so much as put his eyes on Carlen's
face," he cried. "I think we are fools; what know we about him? I doubt
him in and out. I wish he had never darkened our doors."
Frau Weitbreck glanced cautiously at the open door. She was frying sweet
cakes in the boiling lard. Forgetting everything in her fear of being
overheard, she went softly, with the dripping skimmer in her hand,
across the kitchen, the fat falling on her shining floor at every step,
and closed the door. Then she came close to her son, and said in a
whisper, "The fader think it is goot." At John's angry exclamation she
raised her hand in warning.
"Do not loud spraken," she whispered; "Carlen will hear."
"Well, then, she shall hear!" cried John, half beside himself. "It is
high time she did hear from somebody besides you and father! I reckon
I've got something to say about this thing, too, if I'm her brother.
By----, no tramp like that is going to marry my sister without I know
more about him!" And before the terrified old woman could stop him, he
had gone at long strides across the kitchen, through the best room, and
reached the stoop, saying in a loud tone: "Carlen! I want to see you."
Carlen started as one roused from sleep. Seeing her ball lying at a
distance on the ground, she ran to pick it up, and with scarlet cheeks
and uneasy eyes turned to her brother.
"Yes, John," she said, "I am coming."
Wilhelm did not raise his eyes, or betray by any change of feature that
he had heard the sound or perceived the motion. As Carlen passed him her
eyes involuntarily rested on his bowed head, a world of pity,
perplexity, in the glance. John saw it, and frowned.
"Come with me," he said sternly,--"come down in the pasture; I want to
speak to you."
Carlen looked up apprehensively into his face; never had she seen there
so stern a look.
"I must help muetter with the supper," she said, hesitating.
John laughed scornfully. "You were helping with the supper, I suppose,
sitting out with yon tramp!" And he pointed to the stoop.
Carlen had, with all her sunny cheerfulness, a vein of her father's
temper. Her face hardened, and her blue eyes grew darker.
"Why do you call Wilhelm a tramp," she said coldly.
"What is he then, if he is not a tramp?" retorted John.
"He is no tramp," she replied, still more doggedly.
"What do you know about him?" said John.
Carlen made no reply. Her silence irritated John more than any words
could have done; and losing self-control, losing sight of prudence, he
poured out on her a torrent of angry accusation and scornful reproach.
She stood still, her eyes fixed on the ground. Even in his hot wrath,
John noticed this unwonted downcast look, and taunted her with it.
"You have even caught his miserable hangdog trick of not looking anybody
in the face," he cried. "Look up now! look me in the eye, and say what
you mean by all this."
Thus roughly bidden, Carlen raised her blue eyes and confronted her
brother with a look hardly less angry than his own.
"It is you who have to say to me what all this means that you have been
saying," she cried. "I think you are out of your senses. I do not know
what has happened to you." And she turned to walk back to the house.
John seized her shoulders in his brawny hands, and whirled her round
till she faced him again.
"Tell me the truth!" he said fiercely; "do you love this Wilhelm?"
Carlen opened her lips to reply. At that second a step was heard, and
looking up they saw Wilhelm himself coming toward them, walking at his
usual slow pace, his head sunk on his breast, his eyes on the ground.
Great waves of blushes ran in tumultuous flood up Carlen's neck, cheeks,
forehead. John took his hands from her shoulders, and stepped back with
a look of disgust and a smothered ejaculation. Wilhelm, hearing the
sound, looked up, regarded them with a cold, unchanged eye, and turned
in another direction.
The color deepened on Carlen's face. In a hard and bitter tone she said,
pointing with a swift gesture to Wilhelm's retreating form: "You can see
for yourself that there is nothing between us. I do not know what craze
has got into your head." And she walked away, this time unchecked by her
brother. He needed no further replies in words. Tokens stronger than any
speech had answered him. Muttering angrily to himself, he went on down
to the pasture after the cows. It was a beautiful field, more like New
England than Pennsylvania; a brook ran zigzagging through it, and here
and there in the land were sharp lifts where rocks cropped out, making
miniature cliffs overhanging some portions of the brook's-course. Gray
lichens and green mosses grew on these rocks, and belts of wild flag and
sedges surrounded their base. The cows, in a warm day, used to stand
knee-deep there, in shade of the rocks.
It was a favorite place of Wilhelm's. He sometimes lay on the top of one
of these rocks the greater part of the night, looking down into the
gliding water or up into the sky. Carlen from her window had more than
once seen him thus, and passionately longed to go down and comfort his
It was indeed true, as she had said to her brother, that there was
"nothing between" her and Wilhelm. Never a word had passed; never a look
or tone to betray that he knew whether she were fair or not,--whether
she lived or not. She came and went in his presence, as did all others,
with no more apparent relation to the currents of his strange veiled
existence than if they or he belonged to a phantom world. But it was
also true that never since the first day of his mysterious coming had
Wilhelm been long absent from Carlen's thoughts; and she did indeed find
him--as her father's keen eyes, sharpened by greed, had observed--good
to look upon. That most insidious of love's allies, pity, had stormed
the fortress of Carlen's heart, and carried it by a single charge. What
could a girl give, do, or be, that would be too much for one so
stricken, so lonely as was Wilhelm! The melancholy beauty of his face,
his lithe figure, his great strength, all combined to heighten this
impression, and to fan the flames of the passion in Carlen's virgin
soul. It was indeed, as John had sorrowfully said to himself, "too late"
to speak to Carlen.
As John stood now at the pasture bars, waiting for the herd of cows,
slow winding up the slope from the brook, he saw Wilhelm on the rocks
below. He had thrown himself down on his back, and lay there with his
arms crossed on his breast. Presently he clasped both hands over his
eyes as if to shut out a sight that he could no longer bear. Something
akin to pity stirred even in John's angry heart as he watched him.
"What can it be," he said, "that makes him hate even the sky? It may be
it is a sweetheart he has lost, and he is one of that strange kind of
men who can love but once; and it is loving the dead that makes him so
like one dead himself. Poor Carlen! I think myself he never so much as
A strange reverie, surely, for the brother who had so few short moments
ago been angrily reproaching his sister for the disgrace and shame of
caring for this tramp. But the pity was short-lived in John's bosom. His
inborn distrust and antagonism to the man were too strong for any
gentler sentiment toward him to live long by their side. And when the
family gathered at the supper-table he fixed upon Wilhelm so suspicious
and hostile a gaze that even Wilhelm's absent mind perceived it, and he
in turn looked inquiringly at John, a sudden bewilderment apparent in
his manner. It disappeared, however, almost immediately, dying away in
his usual melancholy absorption. It had produced scarce a ripple on the
monotonous surface of his habitual gloom. But Carlen had perceived all,
both the look on John's face and the bewilderment on Wilhelm's; and it
roused in her a resentment so fierce toward John, she could not forbear
showing it. "How cruel!" she thought. "As if the poor fellow had not all
he could bear already without being treated unkindly by us!" And she
redoubled her efforts to win Wilhelm's attention and divert his
thoughts, all in vain; kindness and unkindness glanced off alike,
powerless, from the veil in which he was wrapped.
John sat by with roused attention and sharpened perception, noting all.
Had it been all along like this? Where had his eyes been for the past
month? Had he too been under a spell? It looked like it. He groaned in
spirit as he sat silently playing with his food, not eating; and when
his father said, "Why haf you not appetite, Johan?" he rose abruptly,
pushed back his chair, and leaving the table without a word went out and
down again into the pasture, where the dewy grass and the quivering
stars in the brook shimmered in the pale light of a young moon. To John,
also, the mossy rocks in this pasture were a favorite spot for rest and
meditation. Since the days when he and Carlen had fished from their
edges, with bent pins and yarn, for minnows, he had loved the place:
they had spent happy hours enough there to count up into days; and not
the least among the innumerable annoyances and irritations of which he
had been anxious in regard to Wilhelm was the fact that he too had
perceived the charm of the field, and chosen it for his own melancholy
As he seated himself on one of the rocks, he saw a figure gliding
swiftly down the hill.
It was Carlen.
As she drew near he looked at her without speaking, but the loving girl
was not repelled. Springing lightly to the rock, she threw her arms
around his neck, and kissing him said: "I saw you coming down here,
John, and I ran after you. Do not be angry with me, brother; it breaks
A sudden revulsion of shame for his unjust suspicion filled John with
"Mein Schwester," he said fondly,--they had always the habit of using
the German tongue for fond epithets,--"mein Schwester klein, I love you
so much I cannot help being wretched when I see you in danger, but I am
Nestling herself close by his side, Carlen looked over into the water.
"This is the very rock I fell off of that day, do you remember?" she
said; "and how wet you got fishing me out! And oh, what an awful beating
father gave you! and I always thought it was wicked, for if you had not
pulled me out I should have drowned."
"It was for letting you fall in he beat me," laughed John; and they
both grew tender and merry, recalling the babyhood times.
"How long, long ago!" cried Carlen.
"It seems only a day," said John.
"I think time goes faster for a man than for a woman," sighed Carlen.
"It is a shorter day in the fields than in the house."
"Are you not content, my sister?" said John.
Carlen was silent.
"You have always seemed so," he said reproachfully.
"It is always the same, John," she murmured. "Each day like every other
day. I would like it to be some days different."
John sighed. He knew of what this new unrest was born. He longed to
begin to speak of Wilhelm, and yet he knew not how. Now that, after
longer reflection, he had become sure in his own mind that Wilhelm cared
nothing for his sister, he felt an instinctive shrinking from
recognizing to himself, or letting it be recognized between them, that
she unwooed had learned to love. His heart ached with dread of the
suffering which might be in store for her.
Carlen herself cut the gordian knot.
"Brother," she whispered, "why do you think Wilhelm is not good?"
"I said not that, Carlen," he replied evasively. "I only say we know
nothing; and it is dangerous to trust where one knows nothing."
"It would not be trust if we knew," answered the loyal girl. "I believe
he is good; but, John, John, what misery in his eyes! Saw you ever
anything like it?"
"No," he replied; "never. Has he never told you anything about himself,
"Once," she answered, "I took courage to ask him if he had relatives in
Germany; and he said no; and I exclaimed then, 'What, all dead!' 'All
dead,' he answered, in such a voice I hardly dared speak again, but I
did. I said: 'Well, one might have the terrible sorrow to lose all one's
relatives. It needs only that three should die, my father and mother and
my brother,--only three, and two are already old,--and I should have no
relatives myself; but if one is left without relatives, there are always
friends, thank God!' And he looked at me,--he never looks at one, you
know; but he looked at me then as if I had done a sin to speak the word,
and he said, 'I have no friends. They are all dead too,' and then went
away! Oh, brother, why cannot we win him out of this grief? We can be
good friends to him; can you not find out for me what it is?"
It was a cruel weapon to use, but on the instant John made up his mind
to use it. It might spare Carlen grief, in the end.
"I have thought," he said, "that it might be for a dead sweetheart he
mourned thus. There are men, you know, who love that way and never smile
Short-sighted John, to have dreamed that he could forestall any
conjecture in the girl's heart!
"I have thought of that," she answered meekly; "it would seem as if it
could be nothing else. But, John, if she be really dead--" Carlen did
not finish the sentence; it was not necessary.
After a silence she spoke again: "Dear John, if you could be more
friendly with him I think it might be different. He is your age. Father
and mother are too old, and to me he will not speak." She sighed deeply
as she spoke these last words, and went on: "Of course, if it is for a
dead sweetheart that he is grieving thus, it is only natural that the
sight of women should be to him worse than the sight of men. But it is
very seldom, John, that a man will mourn his whole life for a
sweetheart; is it not, John? Why, men marry again, almost always, even
when it is a wife that they have lost; and a sweetheart is not so much
as a wife."
"I have heard," said the pitiless John, "that a man is quicker healed of
grief for a wife than for one he had thought to wed, but lost."
"You are a man," said Carlen. "You can tell if that would be true."
"No, I cannot," he answered, "for I have loved no woman but you, my
sister; and on my word I think I will be in no haste to, either. It
brings misery, it seems to me."
If Carlen had spoken her thought at these words, she would have said,
"Yes, it brings misery; but even so it is better than joy." But Carlen
was ashamed; afraid also. She had passed now into a new life, whither
her brother, she perceived, could not follow. She could barely reach
his hand across the boundary line which parted them.
"I hope you will love some one, John," she said. "You would be happy
with a wife. You are old enough to have a home of your own."
"Only a year older than you, my sister," he rejoined.
"I too am old enough to have a home of my own," she said, with a gentle
dignity of tone, which more impressed John with a sense of the change in
Carlen than all else which had been said.
It was time to return to the house. As he had done when he was ten, and
she nine, John stood at the bottom of the steepest rock, with
upstretched arms, by the help of which Carlen leaped lightly down.
"We are not children any more," she said, with a little laugh.
"More's the pity!" said John, half lightly, half sadly, as they went on
hand in hand.
When they reached the bars, Carlen paused. Withdrawing her hand from
John's and laying it on his shoulder, she said: "Brother, will you not
try to find out what is Wilhelm's grief? Can you not try to be friends
John made no answer. It was a hard thing to promise.
"For my sake, brother," said the girl. "I have spoken to no one else but
you. I would die before any one else should know; even my mother."
John could not resist this. "Yes," he said; "I will try. It will be
hard; but I will try my best, Carlen. I will have a talk with Wilhelm
And the brother and sister parted, he only the sadder, she far happier,
for their talk. "To-morrow," she thought, "I will know! To-morrow! oh,
to-morrow!" And she fell asleep more peacefully than had been her wont
for many nights.
On the morrow it chanced that John and Wilhelm went separate ways to
work and did not meet until noon. In the afternoon Wilhelm was sent on
an errand to a farm some five miles away, and thus the day passed
without John's having found any opportunity for the promised talk.
Carlen perceived with keen disappointment this frustration of his
purpose, but comforted herself, thinking, with the swift forerunning
trust of youth: "To-morrow he will surely get a chance. To-morrow he
will have something to tell me. To-morrow!"
When Wilhelm returned from this errand, he came singing up the road.
Carlen heard the voice and looked out of the window in amazement. Never
before had a note of singing been heard from Wilhelm's voice. She could
not believe her ears; neither her eyes, when she saw him walking
swiftly, almost running, erect, his head held straight, his eyes gazing
free and confident before him.
What had happened? What could have happened? Now, for the first time,
Carlen saw the full beauty of his face; it wore an exultant look as of
one set free, triumphant. He leaped lightly over the bars; he stooped
and fondled the dog, speaking to him in a merry tone; then he whistled,
then broke again into singing a gay German song. Carlen was stupefied
with wonder. Who was this new man in the body of Wilhelm? Where had
disappeared the man of slow-moving figure, bent head, downcast eyes,
gloom-stricken face, whom until that hour she had known? Carlen clasped
her hands in an agony of bewilderment.
"If he has found his sweetheart, I shall die," she thought. "How could
it be? A letter, perhaps? A message?" She dreaded to see him. She
lingered in her room till it was past the supper hour, dreading what she
knew not, yet knew. When she went down the four were seated at supper.
As she opened the door roars of laughter greeted her, and the first
sight she saw was Wilhelm's face, full of vivacity, excitement. He was
telling a jesting story, at which even her mother was heartily laughing.
Her father had laughed till the tears were rolling down his cheeks. John
was holding his sides. Wilhelm was a mimic, it appeared; he was
imitating the ridiculous speech, gait, gestures, of a man he had seen in
the village that afternoon.
"I sent you to village sooner as dis, if I haf known vat you are like
ven you come back," said Farmer Weitbreck, wiping his eyes.
And John echoed his father. "Upon my word, Wilhelm, you are a good
actor. Why have you kept your light under a bushel so long?" And John
looked at him with a new interest and liking. If this were the true
Wilhelm, he might welcome him indeed as a brother.
Carlen alone looked grave, anxious, unhappy. She could not laugh. Tale
after tale, jest after jest, fell from Wilhelm's lips. Such a
story-teller never before sat at the Weitbreck board. The old kitchen
never echoed with such laughter.
Finally John exclaimed: "Man alive, where have you kept yourself all
this time? Have you been ill till now, that you hid your tongue? What
has cured you in a day?"
Wilhelm laughed a laugh so ringing, it made him seem like a boy.
"Yes, I have been ill till to-day," he said; "and now I am well." And he
rattled on again, with his merry talk.
Carlen grew cold with fear; surely this meant but one thing. Nothing
else, nothing less, could have thus in an hour rolled away the burden of
Later in the evening she said timidly, "Did you hear any news in the
village this afternoon, Wilhelm?"
"No; no news," he said. "I had heard no news."
As he said this a strange look flitted swiftly across his face, and was
gone before any eye but a loving woman's had noted it. It did not escape
Carlen's, and she fell into a reverie of wondering what possible double
meaning could have underlain his words.
"Did you know Mr. Dietman in Germany?" she asked. This was the name of
the farmer to whose house he had been sent on an errand. They were
new-comers into the town, since spring.
"No!" replied Wilhelm, with another strange, sharp glance at Carlen. "I
saw him not before."
"Have they children?" she continued. "Are they old?"
"No; young," he answered. "They haf one child, little baby."
Carlen could not contrive any other questions to ask. "It must have been
a letter," she thought; and her face grew sadder.
It was a late bedtime when the family parted for the night. The
astonishing change in Wilhelm's manner was now even more apparent than
it had yet been. Instead of slipping off, as was his usual habit,
without exchanging a good-night with any one, he insisted on shaking
hands with each, still talking and laughing with gay and affectionate
words, and repeating, over and again, "Good-night, good-night." Farmer
Weitbreck was carried out of himself with pleasure at all this, and
holding Wilhelm's hand fast in his, shaking it heartily, and clapping
him on the shoulder, he exclaimed in fatherly familiarity: "Dis is goot,
mein son! dis is goot. Now are you von of us." And he glanced meaningly
at John, who smiled back in secret intelligence. As he did so there went
like a flash through his mind the question, "Can Carlen have spoken with
him to-day? Can that be it?" But a look at Carlen's pale, perplexed face
quickly dissipated this idea. "She looks frightened," thought John. "I
do not much wonder. I will get a word with her." But Carlen had gone
before he missed her. Running swiftly upstairs, she locked the door of
her room, and threw herself on her knees at her open window. Presently
she saw Wilhelm going down to the brook. She watched his every motion.
First, he walked slowly up and down the entire length of the field,
following the brook's course closely, stopping often and bending over,
picking flowers. A curious little white flower called "Ladies'-Tress"
grew there in great abundance, and he often brought bunches of it to
"Perhaps it is not for me this time," thought Carlen, and the tears came
into her eyes. After a time Wilhelm ceased gathering the flowers, and
seated himself on his favorite rock,--the same one where John and Carlen
had sat the night before. "Will he stay there all night?" thought the
unhappy girl, as she watched him. "He is so full of joy he does not want
to sleep. What will become of me! what will become of me!"
At last Wilhelm arose and came toward the house, bringing the bunch of
flowers in his hand. At the pasture bars he paused, and looked back over
the scene. It was a beautiful picture, the moon making it light as day;
even from Carlen's window could be seen the sparkle of the brook.
As he turned to go to the barn his head sank on his breast, his steps
lagged. He wore again the expression of gloomy thought. A new fear arose
in Carlen's breast. Was he mad? Had the wild hilarity of his speech and
demeanor in the evening been merely a new phase of disorder in an
unsettled brain? Even in this was a strange, sad comfort to Carlen. She
would rather have him mad, with alternations of insane joy and gloom,
than know that he belonged to another. Long after he had disappeared in
the doorway at the foot of the stairs which led to his sleeping-place in
the barn-loft, she remained kneeling at the window, watching to see if
he came out again. Then she crept into bed, and lay tossing, wakeful,
and anxious till near dawn. She had but just fallen asleep when she was
aroused by cries. It was John's voice. He was calling loudly at the
window of their mother's bedroom beneath her own.
"Father! father! Get up, quick! Come out to the barn!"
Then followed confused words she could not understand. Leaning from her
window she called: "What is it, John? What has happened?" But he was
already too far on his way back to the barn to hear her.
A terrible presentiment shot into her mind of some ill to Wilhelm.
Vainly she wrestled with it. Why need she think everything that happened
must be connected with him? It was not yet light; she could not have
slept many minutes. With trembling hands she dressed, and running
swiftly down the stairs was at the door just as her father appeared
"What is it? What is it, father?" she cried. "What has happened?"
"Go back!" he said in an unsteady voice. "It is nothing. Go back to bed.
It is not for vimmins!"
Then Carlen was sure it was some ill to Wilhelm, and with a loud cry she
darted to the barn, and flew up the stairway leading to his room.
John, hearing her steps, confronted her at the head of the stairs.
"Good God, Carlen!" he cried, "go back! You must not come here. Where is
"I will come in!" she answered wildly, trying to force her way past
him. "I will come in. You shall not keep me out. What has happened to
him? Let me by!" And she wrestled in her brother's strong arms with
strength almost equal to his.
"Carlen! You shall not come in! You shall not see!" he cried.
"Shall not see!" she shrieked. "Is he dead?"
"Yes, my sister, he is dead," answered John, solemnly. In the next
instant he held Carlen's unconscious form in his arms; and when Farmer
Weitbreck, half dazed, reached the foot of the stairs, the first sight
which met his eyes was his daughter, held in her brother's arms,
apparently lifeless, her head hanging over his shoulder.
"Haf she seen him?" he whispered.
"No!" said John. "I only told her he was dead, to keep her from going
in, and she fainted dead away."
"Ach!" groaned the old man, "dis is hard on her."
"Yes," sighed the brother; "it is a cruel shame."
Swiftly they carried her to the house, and laid her on her mother's
bed, then returned to their dreadful task in Wilhelm's chamber.
Hung by a stout leathern strap from the roof-tree beam, there swung the
dead body of Wilhelm Ruetter, cold, stiff. He had been dead for hours; he
must have done the deed soon after bidding them good-night.
"He vas mad, Johan; it must be he vas mad ven he laugh like dat last
night. Dat vas de beginning, Johan," said the old man, shaking from head
to foot with horror, as he helped his son lift down the body.
"Yes!" answered John; "that must be it. I expect he has been mad all
along. I do not believe last night was the beginning. It was not like
any sane man to be so gloomy as he was, and never speak to a living
soul. But I never once thought of his being crazy. Look, father!" he
continued, his voice breaking into a sob, "he has left these flowers
here for Carlen! That does not look as if he was crazy! What can it all
On the top of a small chest lay the bunch of white Ladies'-Tress, with a
paper beneath it on which was written, "For Carlen Weitbreck,--these,
and the carvings in the box, all in memory of Wilhelm."
"He meant to do it, den," said the old man.
"Yes," said John.
"Maybe Carlen vould not haf him, you tink?"
"No," said John, hastily; "that is not possible."
"I tought she luf him, an' he vould stay an' be her mann," sighed the
disappointed father. "Now all dat is no more."
"It will kill her," cried John.
"No!" said the father. "Vimmins does not die so as dat. She feel pad
maybe von year, maybe two. Dat is all. He vas great for vork. Dat Alf
vas not goot as he."
The body was laid once more on the narrow pallet where it had slept for
its last few weeks on earth, and the two men stood by its side,
discussing what should next be done, how the necessary steps could be
taken with least possible publicity, when suddenly they heard the sound
of horses' feet and wheels, and looking out they saw Hans Dietman and
his wife driving rapidly into the yard.
"Mein Gott! Vat bring dem here dis time in day," exclaimed Farmer
Weitbreck. "If dey ask for Wilhelm dey must all know!"
"Yes," replied John; "that makes no difference. Everybody will have to
know." And he ran swiftly down to meet the strangely arrived neighbors.
His first glance at their faces showed him that they had come on no
common errand. They were pale and full of excitement, and Hans's first
word was: "Vere is dot man you sent to mine place yesterday?"
"Wilhelm?" stammered Farmer Weitbreck.
"Wilhelm!" repeated Hans, scornfully. "His name is not 'Wilhelm.' His
name is Carl,--Carl Lepmann; and he is murderer. He killed von
man--shepherd, in our town--last spring; and dey never get trail of
him. So soon he came in our kitchen yesterday my vife she knew him; she
wait till I get home. Ve came ven it vas yet dark to let you know vot
man vas in your house."
Farmer Weitbreck and his son exchanged glances; each was too shocked to
speak. Mr. and Mrs. Dietman looked from one to the other in
bewilderment. "Maype you tink ve speak not truth," Hans continued.
"Just let him come here, to our face, and you will see."
"No!" said John, in a low, awe-stricken voice, "we do not think you are
not speaking truth." He paused; glanced again at his father. "We'd
better take them up!" he said.
The old man nodded silently. Even his hard and phlegmatic nature was
shaken to the depths.
John led the way up the stairs, saying briefly, "Come." The Dietmans
followed in bewilderment.
"There he is," said John, pointing to the tall figure, rigid, under the
close-drawn white folds; "we found him here only an hour ago, hung from
A horror-stricken silence fell on the group.
Hans spoke first. "He know dat we know; so he kill himself to save dat
de hangman have trouble."
John resented the flippant tone. He understood now the whole mystery of
Wilhelm's life in this house.
"He has never known a happy minute since he was here," he said. "He
never smiled; nor spoke, if he could help it. Only last night, after he
came back from your place, he laughed and sang, and was merry, and
looked like another man; and he bade us all good-night over and over,
and shook hands with every one. He had made up his mind, you see, that
the end had come, and it was nothing but a relief to him. He was glad to
die. He had not courage before. But now he knew he would be arrested he
had courage to kill himself. Poor fellow, I pity him!" And John smoothed
out the white folds over the clasped hands on the quiet-stricken breast,
resting at last. "He has been worse punished than if he had been hung in
the beginning," he said, and turned from the bed, facing the Dietmans as
if he constituted himself the dead man's protector.
"I think no one but ourselves need know," he continued, thinking in his
heart of Carlen. "It is enough that he is dead. There is no good to be
gained for any one, that I see, by telling what he had done."
"No," said Mrs. Dietman, tearfully; but her husband exclaimed, in a
"I see not why it is to be covered in secret. He is murderer. It is to
be sent vord to Mayence he vas found."
"Yes, they ought to know there," said John, slowly; "but there is no
need for it to be known here. He has injured no one here."
"No," exclaimed Farmer Weitbreck. "He haf harm nobody here; he vas goot.
I haf ask him to stay and haf home in my house."
It was a strange story. Early in the spring, it seemed, about six weeks
before Hans Dietman and his wife Gretchen were married, a shepherd on
the farm adjoining Gretchen's father's had been murdered by a
fellow-laborer on the same farm. They had had high words about a dog,
and had come to blows, but were parted by some of the other hands, and
had separated and gone their ways to their work with their respective
This was in the morning. At night neither they nor their flocks
returned; and, search being made, the dead body of the younger shepherd
was found lying at the foot of a precipice, mutilated and wounded, far
more than it would have been by any accidental fall. The other
shepherd, Carl Lepmann, had disappeared, and was never again seen by any
one who knew him, until this previous day, when he had entered the
Dietmans' door bearing his message from the Weitbreck farm. At the first
sight of his face, Gretchen Dietman had recognized him, thrown up her
arms involuntarily, and cried out in German: "My God! the man that
killed the shepherd!" Carl had halted on the threshold at hearing these
words, and his countenance had changed; but it was only for a second. He
regained his composure instantly, entered as if he had heard nothing,
delivered his message, and afterward remained for some time on the farm
chatting with the laborers, and seeming in excellent spirits.
"And so vas he ven he come home," said Farmer Weitbreck; "he make dat ve
all laugh and laugh, like notings ever vas before, never before he open
his mouth to speak; he vas like at funeral all times, night and day. But
now he seem full of joy. It is de most strange ting as I haf seen in my
"I do not think so, father," said John. "I do not wonder he was glad to
be rid of his burden."
It proved of no use to try to induce Hans Dietman to keep poor Carl's
secret. He saw no reason why a murderer should be sheltered from
disgrace. To have his name held up for the deserved execration seemed to
Hans the only punishment left for one who had thus evaded the hangman;
and he proceeded to inflict this punishment to the extent of his
Finding that the tale could not be kept secret, John nerved himself to
tell it to Carlen. She heard it in silence from beginning to end, asked
a few searching questions, and then to John's unutterable astonishment
said: "Wilhelm never killed that man. You have none of you stopped to
see if there was proof."
"But why did he fly, Liebchen?" asked John.
"Because he knew he would be accused of the murder," she replied. "They
might have been fighting at the edge of the precipice and the shepherd
fell over, or the shepherd might have been killed by some one else, and
Wilhelm have found the body. He never killed him, John, never."
There was something in Carlen's confident belief which communicated
itself to John's mind, and, coupled with the fact that there was
certainly only circumstantial evidence against Wilhelm, slowly brought
him to sharing her belief and tender sorrow. But they were alone in this
belief and alone in their sorrow. The verdict of the community was
unhesitatingly, unqualifiedly, against Wilhelm.
"Would a man hang himself if he knew he were innocent?" said everybody.
"All the more if he knew he could never prove himself innocent," said
John and Carlen. But no one else thought so. And how could the truth
ever be known in this world?
Wilhelm was buried in a corner of the meadow field he had so loved.
Before two years had passed, wild blackberry vines had covered the grave
with a thick mat of tangled leaves, green in summer, blood-red in the
autumn. And before three more had passed there was no one in the place
who knew the secret of the grave. Farmer Weitbreck and his wife were
both dead, and the estate had passed into the hands of strangers who had
heard the story of Wilhelm, and knew that his body was buried somewhere
on the farm; but in which field they neither asked nor cared, and there
was no mourner to tell the story. John Weitbreck had realized his dream
of going West, a free man at last, and by no means a poor one; he looked
out over scores of broad fields of his own, one of the most fertile of
the Oregon valleys.
Alf was with him, and Carlen; and Carlen was Alf's wife,--placid,
contented wife, and fond and happy mother,--so small ripples did there
remain from the tempestuous waves beneath which Carl Lepmann's life had
gone down. Some deftly carved boxes and figures of chamois and their
hunters stood on Carlen's best-room mantel, much admired by her
neighbors, and longed for by her toddling girl,--these, and a bunch of
dried and crumbling blossoms of the Ladies' Tress, were all that had
survived the storm. The dried flowers were in the largest of the boxes.
They lay there side by side with a bit of carved abalone shell Alf had
got from a Nez Perce Indian, and some curious seaweeds he had picked up
at the mouth of the Columbia River. Carlen's one gilt brooch was kept in
the same box, and when she took it out of a Sunday, the sight of the
withered flowers always reminded her of Wilhelm. She could not have told
why she kept them; it certainly was not because they woke in her breast
any thoughts which Alf might not have read without being disquieted. She
sometimes sighed, as she saw them, "Poor Wilhelm!" That was all.
But there came one day a letter to John that awoke even in Carlen's
motherly and contented heart strange echoes from that past which she had
thought forever left behind. It was a letter from Hans Dietman, who
still lived on the Pennsylvania farm, and who had been recently joined
there by a younger brother from Germany.
This brother had brought news which, too late, vindicated the memory of
Wilhelm. Carlen had been right. He was no murderer.
It was with struggling emotions that Carlen heard the tale; pride, joy,
passionate regret, old affection, revived. John was half afraid to go
on, as he saw her face flushing, her eyes filling with tears, kindling
and shining with a light he had not seen in them since her youth.
"Go on! go on!" she cried. "Why do you stop? Did I not tell you so? And
you never half believed me! Now you see I was right! I told you Wilhelm
never harmed a human being!"
It was indeed a heartrending story, to come so late, so bootless now, to
the poor boy who had slept all these years in the nameless grave, even
its place forgotten.
It seemed that a man sentenced in Mayence to be executed for murder had
confessed, the day before his execution, that it was he who had killed
the shepherd of whose death Carl Lepmann had so long been held guilty.
They had quarrelled about a girl, a faithless creature, forsworn to both
of them, and worth no man's love or desire; but jealous anger got the
better of their sense, and they grappled in fight, each determined to
kill the other.
The shepherd had the worst of it; and just as he fell, mortally hurt,
Carl Lepmann had come up,--had come up in time to see the murderer leap
on his horse to ride away.
In a voice, which the man said had haunted him ever since, Carl had
cried out: "My God! You ride away and leave him dead! and it will be I
who have killed him, for this morning we fought so they had to tear us
Smitten with remorse, the man had with Carl's help lifted the body and
thrown it over the precipice, at the foot of which it was afterward
found. He then endeavored to persuade the lad that it would never be
discovered, and he might safely return to his employer's farm. But
Carl's terror was too great, and he had finally been so wrought upon by
his entreaties that he had taken him two days' journey, by lonely ways,
the two riding sometimes in turn, sometimes together,--two days' and two
nights' journey,--till they reached the sea, where Carl had taken ship
"He was a good lad, a tender-hearted lad," said the murderer. "He might
have accused me in many a village, and stood as good chance to be
believed as I, if he had told where the shepherd's body was thrown; but
he could be frightened as easily as a woman, and all he thought of was
to fly where he would never be heard of more. And it was the thought of
him, from that day till now, has given me more misery than the thought
of the dead man!"
Carlen was crying bitterly; the letter was just ended, when Alf came
into the room asking bewilderedly what it was all about.
The name Wilhelm meant nothing to him. It was the summer before Wilhelm
came that he had begun this Oregon farm, which he, from the first, had
fondly dedicated to Carlen in his thoughts; and when he went back to
Pennsylvania after her, he found her the same as when he went away, only
comelier and sweeter. It would not be easy to give Alf an uncomfortable
thought about his Carlen. But he did not like to see her cry.
Neither, when he had heard the whole story, did he see why her tears
need have flowed so freely. It was sad, no doubt, and a bitter shame
too, for one man to suffer and go to his grave that way for the sin of
another. But it was long past and gone; no use in crying over it now.
"What a tender-hearted, foolish wife it is!" he said in gruff fondness,
laying his hand on Carlen's shoulder, "crying over a man dead and buried
these seven years, and none of our kith or kin, either. Poor fellow! It
was a shame!"
But Carlen said nothing.
Little Bel's Supplement.
"Indeed, then, my mother, I'll not take the school at Wissan Bridge
without they promise me a supplement. It's the worst school i' a' Prince
"I doubt but ye're young to tackle wi' them boys, Bel," replied the
mother, gazing into her daughter's face with an intent expression in
which it would have been hard to say which predominated,--anxiety or
fond pride. "I'd sooner see ye take any other school between this an'
Charlottetown, an' no supplement."
"I'm not afraid, my mother, but I'll manage 'em well enough; but I'll
not undertake it for the same money as a decent school is taught.
They'll promise me five pounds' supplement at the end o' the year, or
I'll not set foot i' the place."
"Maybe they'll not be for givin' ye the school at all when they see
what's yer youth," replied the mother, in a half-antagonistic tone.
There was between this mother and daughter a continual undercurrent of
possible antagonism, overlain and usually smothered out of sight by
passionate attachment on both sides.
Little Bel tossed her head. "Age is not everything that goes to the
makkin o' a teacher," she retorted. "There's Grizzy McLeod; she's
teachin' at the Cove these eight years, an' I'd shame her myself any day
she likes wi' spellin' an' the lines; an' if there's ever a boy in a
school o' mine that'll gie me a floutin' answer such's I've heard her
take by the dozen, I'll warrant ye he'll get a birchin'; an' the
trustees think there's no teacher like Grizzy. I'm not afraid."
"Grizzy never had any great schoolin' herself," replied her mother,
piously. "There's no girl in all the farms that's had what ye've had,
"It isn't the schoolin', mother," retorted little Bel. "The schoolin' 's
got nothin' to do with it. I'd teach a school better than Grizzy McLeod
if I'd never had a day's schoolin'."
"An' now if that's not the talk of a silly," retorted the quickly
angered parent. "Will ye be tellin' me perhaps, then, that them that
can't read theirselves is to be set to teach letters?"
Little Bel was too loyal at heart to her illiterate mother to wound her
further by reiterating her point. Throwing her arms around her neck, and
kissing her warmly, she exclaimed: "Eh, my mother, it's not a silly that
ye could ever have for a child, wi' that clear head, and the wise things
always said to us from the time we're in our cradles. Ye've never a
child that's so clever as ye are yerself. I didn't mean just what I
said, ye must know, surely; only that the schoolin' part is the smallest
part o' the keepin' a school."
"An' I'll never give in to such nonsense as that, either," said the
mother, only half mollified. "Ye can ask yer father, if ye like, if it
stands not to reason that the more a teacher knows, the more he can
teach. He'll take the conceit out o' ye better than I can." And good
Isabella McDonald turned angrily away, and drummed on the window-pane
with her knitting-needles to relieve her nervous discomfort at this
slight passage at arms with her best-beloved daughter.
Little Bel's face flushed, and with compressed lips she turned silently
to the little oaken-framed looking-glass that hung so high on the wall
she could but just see her chin in it. As she slowly tied her pink
bonnet strings she grew happier. In truth, she would have been a maiden
hard to console if the face that looked back at her from the quaint oak
leaf and acorn wreath had not comforted her inmost soul, and made her
again at peace with herself. And as the mother looked on she too was
comforted; and in five minutes more, when Little Bel was ready to say
good-by, they flung their arms around each other, and embraced and
kissed, and the daughter said, "Good-by t' ye now, mother. Wish me well,
an' ye'll see that I get it,--supplement an' all," she added slyly. And
the mother said, "Good luck t' ye, child; an' it's luck to them that
gets ye." That was the way quarrels always ended between Isabella
McDonald and her oldest daughter.
The oldest daughter, and yet only just turned of twenty; and there were
eight children younger than she, and one older. This is the way among
the Scotch farming-folk in Prince Edward Island. Children come tumbling
into the world like rabbits in a pen, and have to scramble for a living
almost as soon and as hard as the rabbits. It is a narrow life they
lead, and full of hardships and deprivations, but it has its
compensations. Sturdy virtues in sturdy bodies come of it,--the sort of
virtue made by the straitest Calvinism, and the sort of body made out of
oatmeal and milk. One might do much worse than inherit both.
It seemed but a few years ago that John McDonald had wooed and won
Isabella McIntosh,--wooed her with difficulty in the bosom of her family
of six brothers and five sisters, and won her triumphantly in spite of
the open and contemptuous opposition of one of the five sisters. For
John himself was one of seven in his father's home, and whoever married
John must go there to live, to be only a daughter in a mother-in-law's
house, and take a daughter's share of the brunt of everything. "And
nothing to be got except a living, and it was a poor living the McDonald
farm gave beside the McIntosh," the McIntosh sisters said. And,
moreover: "The saint did not live that could get on with John McDonald's
mother. That was what had made him the silent fellow he was, always
being told by his mother to hold his tongue and have done speaking; and
a fine pepper-pot there'd be when Isabella's hasty tongue and temper
were flung into that batch!"
There was no gainsaying all this. Nevertheless, Isabella married John,
went home with him into his father's house, put her shoulder against her
spoke in the family wheel, and did her best. And when, ten years later,
as reward of her affectionate trust and patience, she found herself sole
mistress of the McDonald farm, she did not feel herself ill paid. The
old father and mother were dead, two sisters had died and two had
married, and the two sons had gone to the States to seek better fortunes
than were to be made on Prince Edward Island. John, as eldest son, had,
according to the custom of the island, inherited the farm; and Mrs.
Isabella, confronting her three still unmarried sisters, was able at
last triumphantly to refute their still resentfully remembered
objections to her choice of a husband.
"An' did ye suppose I did not all the time know that it was to this it
was sure to come, soon or late?" she said, with justifiable complacency.
"It's a good thing to have a house o' one's own an' an estate. An' the
linen that's in the house! I've no need to turn a hand to the flax-wheel
for ten years if I've no mind. An' ye can all bide your times, an' see
what John'll make o' the farm, now he's got where he can have things his
own way. His father was always set against anything that was new, an'
the place is run down shameful; but John'll bring it up, an' I'm not an
old woman yet."
This last was the unkindest phrase Mrs. John McDonald permitted herself
to use. There was a rebound in it which told on the Mclntosh sisters;
for they, many years older than she, were already living on tolerance
in their father's house, where their oldest brother and his wife ruled
things with an iron hand. All hopes of a husband and a home of their own
had quite died out of their spinster bosoms, and they would not have
been human had they not secretly and grievously envied the comely,
blooming Isabella her husband, children, and home.
But, with all this, it was no play-day life that Mrs. Isabella had led.
At the very best, and with the best of farms, Prince Edward Island
farming is no high-road to fortune; only a living, and that of the
plainest, is to be made; and when children come at the rate of ten in
twenty-two years, it is but a small showing that the farmer's bank
account makes at the end of that time. There is no margin for fineries,
luxuries, small ambitions of any kind. Isabella had her temptations in
these directions, but John was firm as a rock in withstanding them. If
he had not been, there would never have been this story to tell of his
Little Bel's school-teaching, for there would never have been money
enough in the bank to have given her two years' schooling in
Charlottetown, the best the little city afforded,--"and she boardin'
all the time like a lady," said the severe McIntosh aunts, who
disapproved of all such wide-flying ambitions, which made women
discontented with and unfitted for farming life.
"And why should Isabella be setting her daughters up for teachers?" they
said. "It's no great schoolin' she had herself, and if her girls do as
well as she's done, they'll be lucky,"--a speech which made John
McDonald laugh out when it was reported to him. He could afford to laugh
"I mind there was a day when they thought different o' me from that," he
said. "I'm obliged to them for nothin'; but I'd like the little one to
have a better chance than the marryin' o' a man like me, an' if
anything'll get it for her, it'll be schoolin'."
The "boardin' like a lady," which had so offended the Misses Mclntosh's
sense of propriety, was not, after all, so great an extravagance as they
had supposed; for it was in his own brother's house her thrifty father
had put her, and had stipulated that part of the price of her board was
to be paid in produce of one sort and another from the farm, at market
rates; "an' so, ye see, the lass 'll be eatin' it there 'stead of here,"
he said to his wife when he told her of the arrangement, "an' it's a
sma' difference it'll make to us i' the end o' the two years."
"An' a big difference to her a' her life," replied Isabella, warmly.
"Ay, wife," said John, "if it fa's out as ye hope; but it's main
uncertain countin' on the book-knowledge. There's some it draws up an'
some it draws down; it's a millstone. But the lass is bright; she's as
like you as two peas in a pod. If ye'd had the chance she's had--"
Rising color in Isabella's face warned John to stop. It is a strange
thing to see how often there hovers a flitting shadow of jealousy
between a mother and the daughter to whom the father unconsciously
manifests a chivalrous tenderness akin to that which in his youth he had
given only to the sweetheart he sought for wife. Unacknowledged,
perhaps, even unmanifested save in occasional swift and unreasonable
petulances, it is still there, making many a heartache, which is none
the less bitter that it is inexplicable to itself, and dares not so much
as confess its own existence.
"It's a better thing for a woman to make her way i' the world on the
book-learnin' than to be always at the wheel an' the churn an' the
floors to be whitened," replied Isabella, sharply. "An' one year like
another, till the year comes ye're buried. I look for Bel to marry a
minister, or maybe even better."
"Ye'd a chance at a minister yersel', then, my girl," replied the wise
John, "an' ye did not take it." At which memory the wife laughed, and
the two loyal hearts were merry together for a moment, and young again.
Little Bel had, indeed, even before the Charlottetown schooling, had a
far better chance than her mother; for in her mother's day there was no
free school in the island, and in families of ten and twelve it was only
a turn and turn about that the children had at school. Since the free
schools had been established many a grown man and woman had sighed
curiously at the better luck of the youngsters under the new regime. No
excuse now for the poorest man's children not knowing how to read and
write and more; and if they chose to keep on, nothing to hinder their
dipping into studies of which their parents never heard so much as the
And this was not the only better chance which Little Bel had had. John
McDonald's farm joined the lands of the manse; his house was a short
mile from the manse itself; and by a bit of good fortune for Little Bel
it happened that just as she was growing into girlhood there came a new
minister to the manse,--a young man from Halifax, with a young bride,
the daughter of an officer in the Halifax garrison,--gentlefolks, both
of them, but single-hearted and full of fervor in their work for the
souls of the plain farming-people given into their charge. And both Mr.
Allan and Mrs. Allan had caught sight of Little Bel's face on their
first Sunday in church, and Mrs. Allan had traced to her a flute-like
voice she had detected in the Sunday-school singing; and before long, to
Isabella's great but unspoken pride, the child had been "bidden to the
manse for the minister's wife to hear her sing;" and from that day there
was a new vista in Little Bel's life.
Her voice was sweet as a lark's and as pure, and her passionate love
for music a gift in itself. "It would be a sin not to cultivate it,"
said Mrs. Allan to her husband, "even if she never sees another piano
than mine, nor has any other time in her life except these few years to
enjoy it; she will always have had these, and nothing can separate her
from her voice."
And so it came to pass that when, at sixteen, Little Bel went to
Charlottetown for her final two years of study at the High School, she
played almost as well as Mrs. Allan herself, and sang far better. And in
all Isabella McDonald's day-dreams of the child's future, vague or
minute, there was one feature never left out. The "good husband" coming
always was to be a man who could "give her a piano."
In Charlottetown Bel found no such friend as Mrs. Allan; but she had a
young school-mate who had a piano, and--poor short-sighted creature that
she was, Bel thought--hated the sight of it, detested to practise, and
shed many a tear over her lessons. This girl's parents were thankful to
see their daughter impressed by Bel's enthusiasm for music; and so well
did the clever girl play her cards that before she had been six months
in the place, she was installed as music-teacher to her own
schoolfellow, earning thereby not only money enough to buy the few
clothes she needed, but, what to her was better than money, the
privilege of the use of the piano an hour a day.
So when she went home, at the end of the two years, she had lost
nothing,--in fact, had made substantial progress; and her old friend and
teacher, Mrs. Allan, was as proud as she was astonished when she first
heard her play and sing. Still more astonished was she at the forceful
character the girl had developed. She went away a gentle, loving,
clinging child; her nature, like her voice, belonging to the order of
birds,--bright, flitting, merry, confiding. She returned a woman, still
loving, still gentle in her manner, but with a new poise in her bearing,
a resoluteness, a fire, of which her first girlhood had given no
suggestion. It was strange to see how similar yet unlike were the
comments made on her in the manse and in the farmhouse by the two
couples most interested in her welfare.
"It is wonderful, Robert," said Mrs. Allan to her husband, "how that
girl has changed, and yet not changed. It is the music that has lifted
her up so. What a glorious thing is a real passion for any art in a
human soul! But she can never live here among these people. I must take
her to Halifax."
"No," said Mr. Allan; "her work will be here. She belongs to her people
in heart, all the same. She will not be discontented."
"Husband, I'm doubtin' if we've done the right thing by the child, after
a'," said the mother, tearfully, to the father, at the end of the first
evening after Bel's return. "She's got the ways o' the city on her, an'
she carries herself as if she'd be teachin' the minister his own self. I
doubt but she'll feel herself strange i' the house."
"Never you fash yourself," replied John. "The girl's got her head,
that's a'; but her heart's i' the right place. Ye'll see she'll put her
strength to whatever there's to be done. She'll be a master hand at
teachin', I'll wager!"
"You always did think she was perfection," replied the mother, in a
crisp but not ill-natured tone, "an' I'm not gainsayin' that she's not
as near it as is often seen; but I'm main uneasy to see her carryin'
herself so positive."
If John thought in his heart that Bel had come through direct heredity
on the maternal side by this "carryin' herself positive," he knew better
than to say so, and his only reply was a good-natured laugh, with:
"You'll see! I'm not afraid. She's a good child, an' always was."
Bel passed her examination triumphantly, and got the Wissan Bridge
school; but she got only a contingent promise of the five-pound
supplement. It went sorely against her will to waive this point. Very
keenly Mr. Allan, who was on the Examining Board, watched her face as
she modestly yet firmly pressed it.
The trustees did not deny that the Wissan Bridge school was a difficult
and unruly one; that to manage it well was worth more money than the
ordinary school salaries. The question was whether this very young lady
could manage it at all; and if she failed, as the last incumbent
had,--failed egregiously, too; the school had broken up in riotous
confusion before the end of the year,--the canny Scotchmen of the School
Board did not wish to be pledged to pay that extra five pounds. The
utmost Bel could extract from them was a promise that if at the end of
the year her teaching had proved satisfactory, the five pounds should be
paid. More they would not say; and after a short, sharp struggle with
herself Bel accepted the terms; but she could not restrain a farewell
shot at the trustees as she turned to go. "I'm as sure o' my five pounds
as if ye'd promised it downright, sirs. I shall keep ye a good school at
"We'll make it guineas, then, Miss Bel," cried Mr. Allan,
enthusiastically, looking at his colleagues, who nodded their heads, and
said, laughing, "Yes, guineas it is."
"And guineas it will be," retorted Little Bel, as with cheeks like
peonies she left the room.
"Egad, but she's a fine spirit o' her ain, an' as bonnie a face as I've
seen since I remember," cried old Mr. Dalgetty, the senior member of
the Board, and the one hardest to please. "I'd not mind bein' a pupil at
Wissan Bridge school the comin' term myself." And he gave an old man's
privileged chuckle as he looked at his colleagues. "But she's over-young
for the work,--over-young."
"She'll do it," said Mr. Allan, confidently. "Ye need have no fear. My
wife's had the training of the girl since she was little. She's got the
best o' stuff in her. She'll do it."
Mr. Allan's prediction was fulfilled. Bel did it. But she did it at the
cost of harder work than even she had anticipated. If it had not been
for her music she would never have pulled through with the boys of
Wissan Bridge. By her music she tamed them. The young Marsyas himself
never piped to a wilder set of creatures than the uncouth lads and young
men that sat in wide-eyed, wide-mouthed astonishment listening to the
first song their pretty young schoolmistress sang for them. To have
singing exercises part of the regular school routine was a new thing at
Wissan Bridge. It took like wild-fire; and when Little Bel, shrewd and
diplomatic as a statesman, invited the two oldest and worst boys in the
school to come Wednesday and Saturday afternoons to her boarding-place
to practise singing with her to the accompaniment of the piano, so as to
be able to help her lead the rest, her sovereignty was established. They
were not conquered; they were converted,--a far surer and more lasting
process. Neither of them would, from that day out, have been guilty of
an act, word, or look to annoy her, any more than if they had been rival
lovers suing for her hand. As Bel's good luck would have it,--and Bel
was born to good luck, there is no denying it,--one of these boys had a
good tenor voice, the other a fine barytone; they had both in their
rough way been singers all their lives, and were lovers of music.
"That was more than half the battle, my mother," confessed Bel, when, at
the end of the first term she was at home for a few days, and was
recounting her experiences. "Except for the singin' I'd never have got
Archie McLeod under, nor Sandy Stairs either. I doubt they'd have been
too many for me, but now they're like two more teachers to the fore. I'd
leave the school-room to them for a day, an' not a lad'd dare stir in
his seat without their leave. I call them my constables; an' I'm
teaching them a small bit of chemistry out o' school hours, too, an'
that's a hold on them. They'll see me out safe; an' I'm thinkin' I'll
owe them a bit part o' the five guineas when I get it," she added
"The minister says ye're sure of it," replied her mother. "He says ye've
the best school a'ready in all his circuit. I don't know how ever ye
come to't so quick, child." And Isabella McDonald smiled wistfully,
spite of all her pride in her clever bairn.
"Ye see, then, what he'll say after the examination at New Year's,"
gleefully replied Bel, "if he thinks the school is so good now. It'll be
twice as good then; an' such singin' as was never heard before in any
school-house on the island, I'll warrant me. I'm to have the piano over
for the day to the school-house. Archie and Sandy'll move it in a big
wagon, to save me payin' for the cartin'; an' I'm to pay a half-pound
for the use of it if it's not hurt,--a dear bargain, but she'd not let
it go a shilling less. And, to be sure, there is the risk to be
counted. An' she knew I 'd have it if it had been twice that. But I got
it out of her that for that price she was to let me have all the school
over twice a week, for two months before, to practise. So it's not too
dear. Ye'll see what ye'll hear then."
It had been part of Little Bel's good luck that she had succeeded in
obtaining board in the only family in the village which had the
distinction of owning a piano; and by paying a small sum extra, she had
obtained the use of this piano for an hour each day,--the best
investment of Little Bel's life, as the sequel showed.
It was a bitter winter on Prince Edward Island. By New Year's time the
roads were many of them wellnigh impassable with snow. Fierce winds
swept to and fro, obliterating tracks by noon which had been clear in
the morning; and nobody went abroad if he could help it. New Year's Day
opened fiercest of all, with scurries of snow, lowering sky, and a wind
that threatened to be a gale before night. But, for all that, the
tying-posts behind the Wissan Bridge school-house were crowded full of
steaming horses under buffalo-robes, which must stamp and paw and
shiver, and endure the day as best they might, while the New Year's
examination went on. Everybody had come. The fame of the singing of the
Wissan Bridge school had spread far and near, and it had been whispered
about that there was to be a "piece" sung which was finer than anything
ever sung in the Charlottetown churches.
The school-house was decorated with evergreens,--pine and spruce. The
New Year's Day having fallen on a Monday, Little Bel had had a clear
working-day on the Saturday previous; and her faithful henchmen, Archie
and Sandy, had been busy every evening for a week drawing the boughs on
their sleds and piling them up in the yard. The teacher's desk had been
removed, and in its place stood the shining red mahogany piano,--a new
and wonderful sight to many eyes there.
All was ready, the room crowded full, and the Board of Trustees not yet
arrived. There sat their three big arm-chairs on the raised platform,
empty,--a depressing and perplexing sight to Little Bel, who, in her
short blue merino gown, with a knot of pink ribbon at her throat, and a
roll of white paper (her schedule of exercises) in her hand, stood on
the left hand of the piano, her eyes fixed expectantly on the doors. The
minutes lengthened out into quarter of an hour, half an hour. Anxiously
Bel consulted with her father what should be done.
"The roads are something fearfu', child," he replied; "we must make big
allowance for that. They're sure to be comin', at least some one o'
them. It was never known that they failed on the New Year's examination,
an' it would seem a sore disrespect to begin without them here."
Before he had finished speaking there was heard a merry jingling of
bells outside, dozens and dozens it seemed, and hilarious voices and
laughter, and the snorting of overdriven horses, and the stamping of
feet, and more voices and more laughter. Everybody looked in his
neighbor's face. What sounds were these? Who ever heard a sober School
Board arrive in such fashion as this? But it was the School
Board,--nothing less: a good deal more, however. Little Bel's heart
sank within her as she saw the foremost figure entering the room. What
evil destiny had brought Sandy Bruce in the character of school visitor
that day?--Sandy Bruce, retired school-teacher himself, superintendent
of the hospital in Charlottetown, road-master, ship-owner,
exciseman,--Sandy Bruce, whose sharp and unexpected questions had been
known to floor the best of scholars and upset the plans of the best of
teachers. Yes, here he was,--Sandy Bruce himself; and it was his fierce
little Norwegian ponies, with their silver bells and fur collars, the
admiration of all Charlottetown, that had made such a clatter and
stamping outside, and were still keeping it up; for every time they
stirred the bells tinkled like a peal of chimes. And, woe upon woe,
behind him came, not Bel's friend and pastor, Mr. Allan, but the crusty
old Dalgetty, whose doing it had been a year before, as Bel very well
knew, that the five-pound supplement had been only conditionally
Conflicting emotions turned Bel's face scarlet as she advanced to meet
them; the most casual observer could not have failed to see that dismay
predominated, and Sandy Bruce was no casual observer; nothing escaped
his keen glance and keener intuition, and it was almost with a wicked
twinkle in his little hazel eyes that he said, still shaking off the
snow, stamping and puffing: "Eh, but ye were not lookin' for me,
teacher! The minister was sent for to go to old Elspie Breadalbane,
who's dyin' the morn; and I happened by as he was startin', an' he made
me promise to come i' his place; an' I picked up my friend Dalgetty here
a few miles back, wi' his horse flounderin' i' the drifts. Except for me
ye'd ha' had no board at all here to-day; so I hope ye'll give me no bad
As he spoke he was studying her face, where the color came and went like
waves; not a thought in the girl's heart he did not read. "Poor little
lassie!" he was thinking to himself. "She's shaking in her shoes with
fear o' me. I'll not put her out. She's a dainty blossom of a girl.
What's kept her from being trodden down by these Wissan Bridge
racketers, I'd like to know."
But when he seated himself on the platform, and took his first look at
the rows of pupils in the centre of the room, he was near starting with
amazement. The Wissan Bridge "racketers," as he had mentally called
them, were not to be seen. Very well he knew many of them by sight; for
his shipping business called him often to Wissan Bridge, and this was
not the first time he had been inside the school-house, which had been
so long the dread and terror of school boards and teachers alike. A
puzzled frown gathered between Sandy Bruce's eyebrows as he gazed.
"What has happened to the youngsters, then? Have they all been convarted
i' this twelvemonth?" he was thinking. And the flitting perplexed
thought did not escape the observation of John McDonald, who was as
quick a reader of faces as Sandy himself, and had been by no means free
from anxiety for his little Bel when he saw the redoubtable visage of
the exciseman appear in the doorway.
"He's takin' it in quick the way the bairn's got them a' in hand,"
thought John. "If only she can hold hersel' cool now!"
No danger. Bel was not the one to lose a battle by appearing to quail in
the outset, however clearly she might see herself outnumbered. And
sympathetic and eager glances from her constables, Archie and Sandy,
told her that they were all ready for the fray. These glances Sandy
Bruce chanced to intercept, and they heightened his bewilderment. To
Archie McLeod he was by no means a stranger, having had occasion more
than once to deal with him, boy as he was, for complications with
riotous misdoings. He had happened to know, also, that it was Archie
McLeod who had been head and front of the last year's revolt in the
school,--the one boy that no teacher hitherto had been able to control.
And here stood Archie McLeod, rising in his place, leader of the form,
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