Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Valerine Blas and PG Distributed
THE BENT TWIG, THE SQUIRREL CAGE, ETC.
WITH OCCASIONAL VERMONT VERSES
SARAH N. CLEGHORN
HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN (Poem)
AT THE FOOT OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
PETUNIAS--THAT'S FOR REMEMBRANCE
THE HEYDAY OF THE BLOOD
AS A BIRD OUT OF THE SNARE
PORTRAIT OF A PHILOSOPHER
FLINT AND FIRE
A SAINT'S HOURS (Poem)
IN MEMORY OF L.H.W.
IN NEW NEW ENGLAND
NOCTES AMBROSIANAE (Poem)
HILLSBORO'S GOOD LUCK
SALEM HILLS TO ELLIS ISLAND (Poem)
BY ABANA AND PHARPAR (Poem)
A VILLAGE MUNCHAUSEN
WHO ELSE HEARD IT? (Poem)
A DROP IN THE BUCKET
THE GOLDEN TONGUE OF IRELAND (Poem)
Wide and shallow in the cowslip marshes
Floods the freshet of the April snow.
Late drifts linger in the hemlock gorges,
Through the brakes and mosses trickling slow
Where the Mayflower,
Where the painted trillium, leaf and blow.
Foliaged deep, the cool midsummer maples
Shade the porches of the long white street;
Trailing wide, Olympian elms lean over
Tiny churches where the highroads meet.
Fields of fireflies
Wheel all night like stars among the wheat.
Blaze the mountains in the windless autumn
Frost-clear, blue-nooned, apple-ripening days;
Faintly fragrant in the farther valleys
Smoke of many bonfires swells the haze;
Plod with lowing up the meadowy ways.
Roaring snows down-sweeping from the uplands
Bury the still valleys, drift them deep.
Low along the mountain, lake-blue shadows,
Sea-blue shadows in the hollows sleep.
High above them
Blinding crystal is the sunlit steep.
By orange grove and palm-tree, we walked the southern shore,
Each day more still and golden than was the day before.
That calm and languid sunshine! How faint it made us grow
To look on Hemlock Mountain when the storm hangs low!
To see its rocky pastures, its sparse but hardy corn,
The mist roll off its forehead before a harvest morn;
To hear the pine-trees crashing across its gulfs of snow
Upon a roaring midnight when the whirlwinds blow.
Tell not of lost Atlantis, or fabled Avalon;
The olive, or the vineyard, no winter breathes upon;
Away from Hemlock Mountain we could not well forego,
For all the summer islands where the gulf tides flow.
AT THE FOOT OF HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN
"In connection with this phase of the problem of transportation it must be
remembered that the rush of population to the great cities was no temporary
movement. It is caused by a final revolt against that malignant relic of
the dark ages, the country village and by a healthy craving for the deep,
full life of the metropolis, for contact with the vitalizing stream of
humanity."--Pritchell's "Handbook of Economics," page 247.
Sometimes people from Hillsboro leave our forgotten valley, high among the
Green Mountains, and "go down to the city," as the phrase runs, They always
come back exclaiming that they should think New Yorkers would just die of
lonesomeness, and crying out in an ecstasy of relief that it does seem so
good to get back where there are some folks. After the desolate isolation
of city streets, empty of humanity, filled only with hurrying ghosts, the
vestibule of our church after morning service fills one with an exalted
realization of the great numbers of the human race. It is like coming into
a warmed and lighted room, full of friendly faces, after wandering long
by night in a forest peopled only with flitting shadows. In the
phantasmagoric pantomime of the city, we forget that there are so many real
people in all the world, so diverse, so unfathomably human as those who
meet us in the little post-office on the night of our return to Hillsboro.
Like any other of those gifts of life which gratify insatiable cravings of
humanity, living in a country village conveys a satisfaction which is
incommunicable. A great many authors have written about it, just as a great
many authors have written about the satisfaction of being in love, but in
the one, as in the other case, the essence of the thing escapes. People
rejoice in sweethearts because all humanity craves love, and they thrive in
country villages because they crave human life. Now the living spirit of
neither of these things can be caught in a net of words. All the foolish,
fond doings of lovers may be set down on paper by whatever eavesdropper
cares to take the trouble, but no one can realize from that record
anything of the glory in the hearts of the unconscious two. All the queer
grammar and insignificant surface eccentricities of village character may
be ruthlessly reproduced in every variety of dialect, but no one can guess
from that record the abounding flood of richly human life which pours along
the village street.
This tormenting inequality between the thing felt and the impression
conveyed had vexed us unceasingly until one day Simple Martin, the town
fool, who always says our wise things, said one of his wisest. He was
lounging by the watering-trough one sunny day in June, when a carriage-load
of "summer folk" from Windfield over the mountain stopped to water their
horses. They asked him, as they always, always ask all of us, "For mercy's
sake, what do you people _do_ all the time, away off here, so far from
Simple Martin was not irritated, or perplexed, or rendered helplessly
inarticulate by this question, as the rest of us had always been. He
looked around him at the lovely, sloping lines of Hemlock Mountain, at the
Necronett River singing in the sunlight, at the familiar, friendly faces
of the people in the street, and he answered in astonishment at the
ignorance of his questioners, "_Do_? Why, we jes' _live_!"
We felt that he had explained us once and for all. We had known that, of
course, but we hadn't before, in our own phrase, "sensed it." We just
live. And sometimes it seems to us that we are the only people in America
engaged in that most wonderful occupation. We know, of course, that we
must be wrong in thinking this, and that there must be countless other
Hillsboros scattered everywhere, rejoicing as we do in an existence which
does not necessarily make us care-free or happy, which does not in the
least absolve us from the necessity of working hard (for Hillsboro is
unbelievably poor in money), but which does keep us alive in every fiber
of our sympathy and thrilling with the consciousness of the life of others.
A common and picturesque expression for a common experience runs, "It's so
noisy I can't hear myself think." After a visit to New York we feel that
its inhabitants are so deafened by the constant blare of confusion that
they can't feel themselves live. The steady sufferers from this complaint
do not realize their condition. They find it on the whole less trouble
_not_ to feel themselves live, and they are most uneasy when chance forces
them to spend a few days (on shipboard, for instance) where they are not
protected by ceaseless and aimless activity from the consciousness that
they are themselves. They cannot even conceive the bitter-sweet, vital
taste of that consciousness as we villagers have it, and they cannot
understand how arid their existence seems to us without this unhurried,
penetrating realization of their own existence and of the meaning of their
acts. We do not blame city dwellers for not having it; we ourselves lose
it when we venture into their maelstrom. Like them, we become dwarfed by
overwhelming numbers, and shriveled by the incapacity to "sense" the
humanity of the countless human simulacra about us. But we do not stay
where we cannot feel ourselves live. We hurry back to the shadow of
Hemlock Mountain, feeling that to love life one does not need to be what
Is usually called happy, one needs only to live.
It cannot be, of course, that we are the only community to discover this
patent fact; but we know no more of the others than they of us. All that
we hear from that part of America which is not Hillsboro is the wild yell
of excitement going up from the great cities, where people seem to be
doing everything that was ever done or thought of except just living. City
dwellers make money, make reputations (good and bad), make museums and
subways, make charitable institutions, make with a hysteric rapidity, like
excited spiders, more and yet more complications in the mazy labyrinths of
their lives, but they never make each others' acquaintances ... and that
is all that is worth doing in the world.
We who live in Hillsboro know that they are to be pitied, not blamed, for
this fatal omission. We realize that only in Hillsboro and places like it
can one have "deep, full life and contact with the vitalizing stream of
humanity." We know that in the very nature of humanity the city is a small
and narrow world, the village a great and wide one, and that the utmost
efforts of city dwellers will not avail to break the bars of the prison
where they are shut in, each with his own kind. They may look out from the
windows upon a great and varied throng, as the beggar munching a crust may
look in at a banqueting hall, but the people they are forced to live with
are exactly like themselves; and that way lies not only monomania but an
ennui that makes the blessing of life savorless.
If this does not seem the plainest possible statement of fact take a
concrete instance. Can a banker in the city by any possibility come to
know what kind of an individual is the remote impersonal creature who
waits on him in a department store? Most bankers recognize with a
misguided joy this natural wall between themselves and people who are not
bankers, and add to it as many stones of their own quarrying as possible;
but they are not shut off from all the quickening diversity of life any
more effectually than the college-settlement, boys' Sunday-school, brand
of banker. The latter may try as hard as he pleases, he simply cannot
achieve real acquaintanceship with a "storekeeper," as we call them, any
more than the clerk can achieve real acquaintanceship with him.
Lack of any elements of common life form as impassable a barrier as lack
of a common language, whereas with us in Hillsboro all the life we have is
common. Everyone is needed to live it.
There can be no city dweller of experience who does not know the result of
this herding together of the same kind of people, this intellectual and
moral inbreeding. To the accountant who knows only accounts, the world
comes to seem like one great ledger, and account-keeping the only vital
pursuit in life. To the banker who knows only bankers, the world seems one
great bank filled with money, accompanied by people. The prison doors of
uniformity are closed inexorably upon them.
And then what happens? Why, when anything goes wrong with their trumpery
account books, or their trashy money, these poor folk are like blind men
who have lost their staves. With all the world before them they dare not
continue to go forward. We in Hillsboro are sorry for the account-keepers
who disappear forever, fleeing from all who know them because their
accounts have come out crooked, we pity the banker who blows out his
brains when something has upset his bank; but we can't help feeling with
this compassion an admixture of the exasperated impatience we have for
those Prussian school boys who jump out of third-story windows because
they did not reach a certain grade in their Latin examinations. Life is
not accounts, or banks, or even Latin examinations, and it is a sign of
inexperience to think it so. The trouble with the despairing banker is
that he has never had a chance to become aware of the comforting vastness
of the force which animates him in common with all the rest of humanity,
to which force a bank failure is no apocalyptic end of Creation, but a
mere incident or trial of strength like a fall in a slippery road.
Absorbed in his solitary progress, the banker has forgotten that his
business in life is not so much to keep from falling as to get up again
and go forward.
If the man to whom the world was a bank had not been so inexorably shut
away from the bracing, tonic shock of knowing men utterly diverse, to whom
the world was just as certainly only a grocery store, or a cobbler's bench,
he might have come to believe in a world that is none of these things and
is big enough to take them all in; and he might have been alive this
minute, a credit to himself, useful to the world, and doubtless very much
more agreeable to his family than in the days of his blind arrogance.
The pathetic feature of this universal inexperience among city dwellers of
real life and real people is that it is really entirely enforced and
involuntary. At heart they crave knowledge of real life and sympathy with
their fellow-men as starving men do food. In Hillsboro we explain to
ourselves the enormous amount of novel-reading and play-going in the great
cities as due to a perverted form of this natural hunger for human life.
If people are so situated they can't get it fresh, they will take it
canned, which is undoubtedly good for those in the canning business; but
we feel that we who have better food ought not to be expected to treat
their boughten canned goods very seriously. We can't help smiling at the
life-and-death discussions of literary people about their preferences in
style and plot and treatment ... their favorite brand on the can, so to
To tell the truth, all novels seem to us badly written, they are so faint
and faded in comparison to the brilliant colors of the life which
palpitates up and down our village street, called by strangers, "so quaint
and sleepy-looking." What does the author of a novel do for you, after
all, even the best author? He presents to you people not nearly so
interesting as your next-door neighbors, makes them do things not nearly
so exciting as what happened to your grandfather, and doles out to you in
meager paragraphs snatches of that comprehending and consolatory
philosophy of life, which long ago you should have learned to manufacture
for yourself out of every incident in your daily routine. Of course, if
you don't know your next-door neighbors, and have never had time to listen
to what happened to your grandfather and are too busy catching trains to
philosophize on those subjects if you did know them, no more remains to be
said. By all means patronize the next shop you see which displays in its
show windows canned romances, adventures, tragedies, farces, and the like
line of goods. Live vicariously, if you can't at first hand; but don't be
annoyed at our pity for your method of passing blindfold through life.
And don't expect to find such a shop in our village. To open one there
would be like trying to crowd out the great trees on Hemlock Mountain by
planting a Noah's Ark garden among them. Romances, adventures, tragedies,
and farces ... why, we are the characters of those plots. Every child who
runs past the house starts a new story, every old man whom we leave
sleeping in the burying-ground by the Necronsett River is the ending of
another ... or perhaps the beginning of a sequel. Do you say that in the
city a hundred more children run past the windows of your apartment than
along our solitary street, and that funeral processions cross your every
walk abroad? True, but they are stories written in a tongue
incomprehensible to you. You look at the covers you may even flutter the
leaves and look at the pictures but you cannot tell what they are all
about. You are like people bored and yawning at a performance of a tragedy
by Sophocles, because the actors speak in Greek. So dreadful and moving a
thing as a man's sudden death may happen before your eyes, but you do not
know enough of what it means to be moved by it. For you it is not really a
man who dies. It is the abstract idea of a man, leaving behind him
abstract possibilities of a wife and children. You knew nothing of him,
you know nothing of them, you shudder, look the other way, and hurry
along, your heart a little more blunted to the sorrows of others, a little
more remote from your fellows even than before.
All Hillsboro is more stirred than that, both to sympathy and active help,
by the news that Mrs. Brownell has broken her leg. It means something
unescapably definite to us, about which we not only can, but must take
action. It means that her sickly oldest daughter will not get the care she
needs if somebody doesn't go to help out; it means that if we do not do
something that bright boy of hers will have to leave school, just when he
is in the way of winning a scholarship in college; it means, in short, a
crisis in several human lives, which by the mere fact of being known calls
forth sympathy as irresistibly as sunshine in May opens the leaf buds.
Just as it is only one lover in a million who can continue to love his
mistress during a lifetime of absolute separation from her, so it is one
man in a million who can continue his sympathy and interest in his
fellow-men without continual close contact with them. The divine feeling
of responsibility for the well-being of others is diluted and washed away
in great cities by the overwhelming impersonal flood of vast numbers; in
villages it is strengthened by the sight, apparent to the dullest eyes,
of immediate personal and visible application. In other words, we are not
only the characters of our unwritten stories, but also part authors.
Something of the final outcome depends upon us, something of the creative
instinct of the artist is stirred to life within every one of
us ... however unconscious of it in our countrified simplicity we may be.
The sympathy we feel for a distressed neighbor has none of the impotent
sterility of a reader's sympathy for a distressed character in a book.
There is always a chance to try to help, and if that fail, to try again
and yet again. Death writes the only _Finis_ to our stories, and since a
chance to start over again has been so unfailingly granted us here, we
cannot but feel that Death may mean only turning over another page.
I suppose we do not appreciate the seriousness of fiction-writing, nor its
importance to those who cannot get any nearer to real life. And yet it is
not that we are unprogressive. Our young people, returning from college,
or from visits to the city, freshen and bring up to date our ideas on
literature as rigorously as they do our sleeves and hats; but after a
short stay in Hillsboro even these conscientious young missionaries of
culture turn away from the feeble plots of Ibsen and the tame inventions
of Bernard Shaw to the really exciting, perplexing, and stimulating events
in the life of the village grocer.
In "Ghosts," Ibsen preaches a terrible sermon on the responsibility of one
generation for the next, but not all his relentless logic can move you to
the sharp throb of horrified sympathy you feel as you see Nelse
Pettingrew's poor mother run down the street, her shawl flung hastily over
her head, framing a face of despairing resolve, such as can never look at
you out of the pages of a book. Somebody has told her that Nelse has been
drinking again and "is beginning to get ugly." For Hillsboro is no model
village, but the world entire, with hateful forces of evil lying in wait
for weakness. Who will not lay down "Ghosts" to watch, with a painfully
beating heart, the progress of this living "Mrs. Alving" past the house,
pleading, persuading, coaxing the burly weakling, who will be saved from a
week's debauch if she can only get him safely home now, and keep him quiet
till "the fit goes by."
At the sight everybody in Hillsboro realizes that Nelse "got it from his
father," with a penetrating sense of the tragedy of heredity, quite as
stimulating to self-control in the future as Ibsen is able to make us feel
in "Ghosts." But we know something better than Ibsen, for Mrs. Pettingrew
is no "Mrs. Alving." She is a plain, hard-featured woman who takes in
sewing for a living, and she is quite unlettered, but she is a general in
the army of spiritual forces. She does not despair, she does not give up
like the half-hearted mother in "Ghosts," she does not waste her strength
in concealments; she stands up to her enemy and fights. She fought the
wild beast in Nelse's father, hand to hand, all his life, and he died a
better man than when she married him. Undaunted, she fought it in Nelse as
a boy, and now as a man; and in the flowering of his physical forces when
the wind of his youth blows most wildly through the hateful thicket of
inherited weaknesses she generally wins the battle.
And this she has done with none of the hard, consistent strength and
intelligence of your make-believe heroine in a book, so disheartening an
example to our faltering impulses for good. She has been infinitely human
and pathetically fallible; she has cried out and hesitated and complained
and done the wrong thing and wept and failed and still fought on, till to
think of her is, for the weakest of us, like a bugle call to high
endeavor. Nelse is now a better man than his father, and we shut up
"Ghosts" with impatience that Ibsen should have selected that story to
tell out of all the tales there must have been in the village where _he_
Now imagine if you can ... for I cannot even faintly indicate to
you ... our excitement when Nelse begins to look about him for a wife. In
the first place, we are saved by our enforced closeness to real people
from wasting our energies in the profitless outcry of economists that
people like Nelse should be prohibited from having children. It occurs to
us that perhaps the handsome fellow's immense good-humor and generosity
are as good inheritance as the selfishness and cold avarice of priggish
young Horace Gallatin, who never drinks a drop. Perhaps at some future
date all people who are not perfectly worthy to have children will be kept
from it by law. In Hillsboro, we think, that after such a decree the human
race would last just one generation; but that is not the point now. The
question is, will Nelse find a wife who will carry on his mother's work,
or will he not?
If you think you are excited over a serial story because you can't guess
if "Lady Eleanor" really stole the diamonds or not, it is only because you
have no idea of what excitement is. You are in a condition of stagnant
lethargy compared to that of Hillsboro over the question whether Nelse
will marry Ellen Brownell, "our Ellen," or Flossie Merton, the ex-factory
girl, who came up from Albany to wait at the tavern, and who is said to
have a taste for drink herself.
Old Mrs. Perkins, whom everybody had thought sunk in embittered discontent
about the poverty and isolation of her last days, roused herself not long
ago and gave Ellen her cherished tortoise-shell back-comb, and her pretty
white silk shawl to wear to village parties; and racked with rheumatism,
as the old woman is, she says she sits up at night to watch the young
people go back from choir rehearsal so that she can see which girl Nelse
is "beauing home." Could the most artfully contrived piece of fiction more
blessedly sweep the self-centered complainings of old age into generous
and vitalizing interest in the lives of others?
As for the "pity and terror," the purifying effects of which are so
vaunted in Greek tragedies, could Aeschylus himself have plunged us into a
more awful desolation of pity than the day we saw old Squire Marvin being
taken along the street on his way to the insane asylum? All the self-made
miseries of his long life were in our minds, the wife he had loved and
killed with the harsh violence of a nature he had never learned to
control, the children he had adored unreasonably and spoiled and turned
against, and they on him with a violence like his own, the people he had
tried to benefit with so much egotistic pride mixed in his kindness that
his favors made him hated, his vanity, his generosity, his despairing
outcries against the hostility he had so well earned ... at the sight of
the end of all this there was no heart in Hillsboro that was not wrung
with a pity and terror more penetrating and purifying even than
Shakespeare has made the centuries feel for Lear.
Ah, at the foot of Hemlock Mountain we do not need books to help us feel
the meaning of life!
Nor do we need them to help us feel the meaning of death. You, in the
cities, living with a feverish haste in the present only, and clutching at
it as a starving man does at his last crust, you cannot understand the
comforting sense we have of belonging almost as much to the past and
future as to the present. Our own youth is not dead to us as yours is,
from the lack of anything to recall it to you, and people we love do not
slip quickly into that bitter oblivion to which the dead are consigned by
those too hurried to remember. They are not remembered perfunctorily for
their "good qualities" which are carved on their tombstones, but all the
quaint and dear absurdities which make up personality are embalmed in the
leisurely, peaceable talk of the village, still enriched by all that they
brought to it. We are not afraid of the event which men call death,
because we know that, in so far as we have deserved it, the same homely
immortality awaits us.
Every spring, at the sight of the first cowslip, our old people laugh and
say to each other, "Will you _ever_ forget how Aunt Dorcas used to take us
children out cowslipping, and how she never thought it 'proper' to lift
her skirt to cross the log by the mill, and always fell in the brook?" The
log has moldered away a generation ago, the mill is only a heap of
blackened timbers, but as they speak, they are not only children again,
but Aunt Dorcas lives again for them and for us who never saw
her ... dear, silly, kind old Aunt Dorcas, past-mistress in the lovely art
of spoiling children. Just so the children we have spoiled, the people we
have lived with, will continue to keep us living with them. We shall have
time to grow quite used to whatever awaits us after the tangled rosebushes
of Hillsboro burying-ground bloom over our heads, before we shall have
gradually faded painlessly away from the life of men and women. We
sometimes feel that, almost alone in the harassed and weary modern world,
we love that life, and yet we are the least afraid to leave it.
It is usually dark when the shabby little narrow-gauge train brings us
home to Hillsboro from wanderings in the great world, and the big pond by
the station is full of stars. Up on the hill the lights of the village
twinkle against the blurred mass of Hemlock Mountain, and above them the
stars again. It is very quiet, the station is black and deserted, the road
winding up to the village glimmers uncertainly in the starlight, and dark
forms hover vaguely about. Strangers say that it is a very depressing
station at which to arrive, but we know better. There is no feeling in the
world like that with which one starts up the white road, stars below him
in the quiet pool, stars above him in the quiet sky, friendly lights
showing the end of his journey is at hand, and the soft twilight full of
voices all familiar, all welcoming.
Poor old Uncle Abner Rhodes, returning from an attempt to do business in
the city, where he had lost his money, his health, and his hopes, said he
didn't see how going up to Heaven could be so very different from walking
up the hill from the station with Hemlock Mountain in front of you. He
said it didn't seem to him as though even in heaven you could feel more
than then that you had got back where there are some folks, that you had
got back home.
Sometimes when the stars hang very bright over Hemlock Mountain and the
Necronsett River sings loud in the dusk, we remember the old man's speech,
and, though we smile at his simplicity, we think, too, that the best which
awaits us can only be very much better but not so very different from what
we have known here.
PETUNIAS--THAT'S FOR REMEMBRANCE
It was a place to which, as a dreamy, fanciful child escaping from
nursemaid and governess, Virginia had liked to climb on hot summer
afternoons. She had spent many hours, lying on the grass in the shade of
the dismantled house, looking through the gaunt, uncovered rafters of the
barn at the white clouds, like stepping-stones in the broad blue river of
sky flowing between the mountain walls.
Older people of the summer colony called it forlorn and desolate--the
deserted farm, lying high on the slope of Hemlock Mountain--but to the
child there was a charm about the unbroken silence which brooded over the
little clearing. The sun shone down warmly on the house's battered shell
and through the stark skeleton of the barn. The white birches, strange
sylvan denizens of door and barnyard, stood shaking their delicate leaves
as if announcing sweetly that the kind forest would cover all the wounds
of human neglect, and soon everything would be as though man had not
lived. And everywhere grew the thick, strong, glistening grass, covering
even the threshold with a cushion on which the child's foot fell as
noiselessly as a shadow. It used to seem to her that nothing could ever
have happened in this breathless spot.
Now she was a grown woman, she told herself, twenty-three years old and
had had, she often thought, as full a life as any one of her age could
have. Her college course had been varied with vacations in Europe; she had
had one season in society; she was just back from a trip around the world.
Her busy, absorbing life had given her no time to revisit the narrow green
Valley where she had spent so many of her childhood's holidays But now a
whim for self-analysis, a desire to learn if the old glamour about the
lovely enchanted region still existed for her weary, sophisticated
maturity, had made her break exacting social engagements and sent her back
alone, from the city, to see how the old valley looked in the spring.
Her disappointment was acute. The first impression and the one which
remained with her, coloring painfully all the vistas of dim woodland
aisles and sunlit brooks, was of the meagerness and meanness of the
desolate lives lived in this paradise. This was a fact she had not noticed
as a child, accepting the country people as she did all other
incomprehensible elders. They had not seemed to her to differ noticeably
from her delicate, esthetic mother, lying in lavender silk negligees on
wicker couches, reading the latest book of Mallarme, or from her
competent, rustling aunt, guiding the course of the summer colony's social
life with firm hands. There was as yet no summer colony, this week in May.
Even the big hotel was not open. Virginia was lodged in the house of one
of the farmers. There was no element to distract her mind from the narrow,
unlovely lives of the owners of that valley of beauty.
They were grinding away at their stupefying monotonous tasks as though the
miracle of spring were not taking place before their eyes. They were
absorbed in their barnyards and kitchen sinks and bad cooking and worse
dressmaking. The very children, grimy little utilitarians like their
parents, only went abroad in the flood of golden sunshine, in order to
rifle the hill pastures of their wild strawberries. Virginia was no longer
a child to ignore all this. It was an embittering, imprisoning thought
from which she could not escape even in the most radiant vision of May
woods. She was a woman now, with a trained mind which took in the
saddening significance of these lives, not so much melancholy or tragic as
utterly neutral, featureless, dun-colored. They weighed on her heart as
she walked and drove about the lovely country they spoiled for her.
What a heavenly country it was! She compared it to similar valleys in
Switzerland, in Norway, in Japan, and her own shone out pre-eminent with a
thousand beauties of bold skyline, of harmoniously "composed" distances,
of exquisitely fairy-like detail of foreground. But oh! the wooden
packing-boxes of houses and the dreary lives they sheltered!
The Pritchard family, her temporary hosts, summed up for her the human
life of the valley. There were two children, inarticulate, vacant-faced
country children of eight and ten, out from morning till night in the
sunny, upland pastures, but who could think of nothing but how many quarts
of berries they had picked and what price could be exacted for them. There
was Gran'ther Pritchard, a doddering, toothless man of seventy-odd, and
his wife, a tall, lean, lame old woman with a crutch who sat all through
the mealtimes speechlessly staring at the stranger, with faded gray eyes.
There was Mr. Pritchard and his son Joel, gaunt Yankees, toiling with
fierce concentration to "get the crops in" after a late spring. Finally
there was Mrs. Pritchard, worn and pale, passing those rose-colored spring
days grubbing in her vegetable garden. And all of them silent, silent as
the cattle they resembled. There had been during the first few days of her
week's stay some vague attempts at conversation, but Virginia was soon
aware that they had not the slightest rudiments of a common speech.
A blight was on even those faint manifestations of the esthetic spirit
which they had not killed out of their bare natures. The pictures in the
house were bad beyond belief, and the only flowers were some petunias,
growing in a pot, carefully tended by Grandma Pritchard. They bore a mass
of blossoms of a terrible magenta, like a blow in the face to anyone
sensitive to color. It usually stood on the dining-table, which was
covered with a red cloth. "Crimson! Magenta! It is no wonder they are lost
souls!" cried the girl to herself.
On the last day of her week, even as she was trying to force down some
food at the table thus decorated, she bethought herself of her old haunt
of desolate peace on the mountainside. She pushed away from the table with
an eager, murmured excuse, and fairly ran out into the gold and green of
the forest, a paradise lying hard by the pitiable little purgatory of the
farmhouse. As she fled along through the clean-growing maple-groves,
through stretches of sunlit pastures, azure with bluets, through dark
pines, red-carpeted by last year's needles, through the flickering,
shadowy-patterned birches, she cried out to all this beauty to set her
right with the world of her fellows, to ease her heart of its burden of
But there was no answer.
She reached the deserted clearing breathless, and paused to savor its
slow, penetrating peace. The white birches now almost shut the house from
view; the barn had wholly disappeared. From the finely proportioned old
doorway of the house protruded a long, grayed, weather-beaten tuft of hay.
The last utilitarian dishonor had befallen it. It had not even its old
dignity of vacant desolation. She went closer and peered inside. Yes, hay,
the scant cutting from the adjacent old meadows, had been piled high in
the room which had been the gathering-place of the forgotten family life.
She stepped in and sank down on it, struck by the far-reaching view from
the window. As she lay looking out, the silence was as insistent as a
heavy odor in the air.
The big white clouds lay like stepping-stones in the sky's blue river,
just as when she was a child. Their silver-gleaming brightness blinded
her ... "_Ueber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh ... warte nur ... balde ... ruhest
... du ..." she began to murmur, and stopped, awed by the immensity of
the hush about her. She closed her eyes, pillowed her head on her
upthrown arms, and sank into a wide, bright reverie, which grew
dimmer and vaguer as the slow changeless hours filed by.
She did not know if it were from a doze, or but from this dreamy haze that
she was wakened by the sound of voices outside the house, under the window
by which she lay. There were the tones of a stranger and those of old Mrs.
Pritchard, but now flowing on briskly with a volubility unrecognizable.
Virginia sat up, hesitating Were they only passing by, or stopping? Should
She show herself or let them go on? In an instant the question was settled
for her. It was too late. She would only shame them if they knew her
there. She had caught her own name. They were talking of her.
"Well, you needn't," said the voice of Mrs. Pritchard "You can just save
your breath to cool your porridge You can't get nothin' out'n her."
"But she's traveled 'round so much, seems's though ..." began the other
"_Don't_ it?" struck in old Mrs. Pritchard assentingly, "But 'tain't so!"
The other was at a loss. "Do you mean she's stuck-up and won't answer
you?" Mrs. Pritchard burst into a laugh, the great, resonant good-nature
of which amazed Virginia. She had not dreamed that one of these sour,
silent people could laugh like that. "No, _land_ no, Abby! She's as
soft-spoken as anybody could be, poor thing! She ain't got nothin' to say.
That's all. Why, I can git more out'n any pack-peddler that's only been
from here to Rutland and back than out'n her ... and she's traveled all
summer long for five years, she was tellin' us, and last year went around
"Good land! Think of it!" cried the other, awestruck. "China! An' Afriky!
"That's the way we felt! That's the reason we let her come. There ain't no
profit in one boarder, and we never take boarders, anyhow. But I thought
'twould be a chance for the young ones to learn something about how
foreign folks lived." She broke again into her epic laugh. "Why, Abby,
'twould ha' made you die to see us the first few days she was there,
tryin' to get somethin' out'n her. Italy, now ... had she been there? 'Oh,
yes, she _adored_ Italy!'" Virginia flushed at the echo of her own
exaggerated accent. "Well, we'd like to know somethin' about Italy. What
did they raise there? Honest, Abby, you'd ha' thought we'd hit her side
th' head. She thought and she _thought_, and all she could say was
'olives,' Nothing else? 'Well, she'd never noticed anything else ... oh,
yes, lemons.' Well, that seemed kind o' queer vittles, but you can't never
tell how foreigners git along, so we thought maybe they just lived off'n
olives and lemons; and Joel he asked her how they raised 'em, and if they
manured heavy or trusted to phosphate, and how long the trees took before
they began to bear, and if they pruned much, and if they had the same
trouble we do, come harvest time, to hire hands enough to git in th'
She paused. The other woman asked, "Well, what did she say?"
The echoes rang again to the old woman's great laugh. "We might as well
ha' asked her 'bout the back side of th' moon! So we gave up on olives and
lemons! Then Eben he asked her 'bout taxes there. Were they on land mostly
and were they high and who 'sessed 'em and how 'bout school tax. Did the
state pay part o' that? You see town meetin' being so all tore up every
year 'bout taxes, Eben he thought 'twould be a chance to hear how other
folks did, and maybe learn somethin'. Good land, Abby, I've set there and
'most died, trying to keep from yellin' right out with laugh to see our
folks tryin' to learn somethin' 'bout foreign parts from that woman that's
traveled in 'em steady for five years. I bet she was blind-folded and
gagged and had cotton in her ears the hull time she was there!"
"Didn't she tell you anythin' 'bout taxes?"
"Taxes? You'd ha' thought 'twas bumble-bees' hind legs we was askin'
'bout! She ackshilly seemed s'prised to be asked. Land! What had she ever
thought 'bout such triflin' things as taxes. She didn't know how they was
taxed in Italy, or _if_ they was ... nor anywhere else. That what it come
down to, every time. She didn't know! She didn't know what kind of schools
they had, nor what the roads was made of, nor who made 'em. She couldn't
tell you what hired men got, nor _any_ wages, nor what girls that didn't
get married did for a living, nor what rent they paid, nor how they 'mused
themselves, nor how much land was worth, nor if they had factories, nor if
there was any lumberin' done, nor how they managed to keep milk in such
awful hot weather without ice. Honest, Abby, she couldn't even say if the
houses had cellars or not. Why, it come out she never was _in_ a real
house that anybody lived in ... only hotels. She hadn't got to know a
single real person that b'longed there. Of course she never found out
anything 'bout how they lived. Her mother was there, she said, and her
aunt, and that Bilson family that comes to th' village summers, an' the
Goodriches an' the Phippses an' the ... oh, sakes alive, you know that
same old crowd that rides 'roun' here summers and thinks to be sociable by
sayin' how nice an' yellow your oats is blossomin'! You could go ten times
'roun' the world with them and know less 'bout what folks is like than
when you started. When I heard 'bout them being there, I called Eben and
Joel and Em'ly off and I says, 'Now, don't pester that poor do-less
critter with questions any more. How much do the summer folks down to th'
village know 'bout the way we live?' Well, they burst out laughin', of
course. Well, then,' I says, ''tis plain to be seen that all they do in
winter is to go off to some foreign part and do the same as here,' so I
says to them, same's I said to you, Abby, a while back, that they'd better
save their breath to cool their porridge. But it's awful solemn eatin'
now, without a word spoke."
The other woman laughed. "Why, you don't have to talk 'bout foreign parts
or else keep still, do ye?"
"Oh, it's just so 'bout everythin'. We heard she'd been in Washington last
winter, so Eben he brisked up and tried her on politics. Well, she'd never
heard of direct primaries, they're raisin' such a holler 'bout in York
State; she didn't know what th' 'nsurgent senators are up to near as much
as we did, and to judge by the way she looked, she'd only just barely
heard of th' tariff." The word was pronounced with true New England
reverence. "Then we tried bringin' up children, and lumberin' an' roads,
an' cookin', an' crops, an' stock, an' wages, an' schools, an' gardenin',
but we couldn't touch bottom nowhere. Never a word to be had out'n her. So
we give up and now we just sit like stotin' bottles, an' eat--an' do our
visitin' with each other odd minutes afterward."
"Why, she don't look to be half-witted," said the other.
"She ain't!" cried Mrs. Pritchard with emphasis. "She's got as good a
headpiece, natchilly, as anybody. I remember her when she was a young one.
It's the fool way they're brung up! Everythin' that's any fun or intrust,
they hire somebody else to do it for 'em. Here she is a great strappin'
woman of twenty-two or three, with nothing in the world to do but to
traipse off 'cross the fields from mornin' to night--an' nobody to need
her there nor here, nor anywhere. No wonder she looks peaked. Sometimes
when I see her set and stare off, so sort o' dull and hopeless, I'm so
sorry for her I could cry! Good land! I'd as lief hire somebody to chew my
vittles for me and give me the dry cud to live off of, as do the way those
kind of folks do."
The distant call of a steam-whistle, silvered by the great distance into a
flute-like note, interrupted her. "That's the milk-train, whistling for
the Millbrook cross in'," she said. "We must be thinkin' of goin' home
before long. Where be those young ones?" She raised her voice in a call as
unexpectedly strong and vibrant as her laugh. "_Susie! Eddie_! Did they
answer? I'm gittin' that hard o' hearin' 'tis hard for me to make out."
"Yes, they hollered back," said the other. "An' I see 'em comin' through
the pasture yonder. I guess they got their pails full by the way they
"That's good," said Mrs. Pritchard with satisfaction. "They can get
twenty-five cents a quart hulled, off'n summer folks. They're savin' up to
help Joel go to Middletown College in the fall."
"They think a lot o' Joel, don't they?" commented the other.
"Oh, the Pritchards has always been a family that knew how to set store by
their own folks," said the old woman proudly, "and Joel he'll pay 'em back
as soon as he gets ahead a little."
The children had evidently now come up, for Virginia heard congratulations
over the berries and exclamations over their sun-flushed cheeks. "Why,
Susie, you look like a pickled beet in your face. Set down, child, an'
cool off. Grandma called you an' Eddie down to tell you an old-timey
There was an outbreak of delighted cries from the children and Mrs.
Pritchard said deprecatingly, "You know, Abby, there never was children
yet that wasn't crazy 'bout old-timey stories. I remember how I used to
hang onto Aunt Debby's skirts and beg her to tell me some more.
"The story I'm goin' to tell you is about this Great-aunt Debby," she
announced formally to her auditors, "when she was 'bout fourteen years old
and lived up here in this very house, pretty soon after th' Rev'lution.
There was only just a field or two cleared off 'round it then, and all
over th' mounting the woods were as black as any cellar with pines and
spruce. Great-aunt Debby was the oldest one of five children and my
grandfather--your great-great-grandfather--was the youngest. In them days
there wa'n't but a few families in the valley and they lived far apart, so
when Great-aunt Debby's father got awful sick a few days after he'd been
away to get some grist ground, Aunt Debby's mother had to send her 'bout
six miles through th' woods to the nearest house--it stood where the old
Perkins barn is now. The man come back with Debby, but as soon as he saw
great-grandfather he give one yell--'smallpox!'--and lit out for home.
Folks was tur'ble afraid of it then an' he had seven children of his own
an' nobody for 'em to look to if he died, so you couldn't blame him none.
They was all like that then, every fam'ly just barely holdin' on, an'
scratchin' for dear life.
"Well, he spread the news, and the next day, while Debby was helpin' her
mother nurse her father the best she could, somebody called her over
toward th' woods. They made her stand still 'bout three rods from 'em and
shouted to her that the best they could do was to see that the fam'ly had
vittles enough. The neighbors would cook up a lot and leave it every day
in the fence corner and Debbie could come and git it.
"That was the way they fixed it. Aunt Debby said they was awful faithful
and good 'bout it and never failed, rain or shine, to leave a lot of the
best stuff they could git in them days. But before long she left some of
it there, to show they didn't need so much, because they wasn't so many to
"First, Aunt Debby's father died. Her mother an she dug the grave in
th' corner of th' clearin', down there where I'm pointin'. Aunt Debby said
she couldn't never forget how her mother looked as she said a prayer
before they shoveled the dirt back in. Then the two of 'em took care of
the cow and tried to get in a few garden seeds while they nursed one of
the children--the boy that was next to Debby. That turned out to be
smallpox, of course, and he died and they buried him alongside his father.
Then the two youngest girls, twins they was, took sick, and before they
died Aunt Debby's mother fell over in a faint while she was tryin' to
spade up the garden. Aunt Debby got her into the house and put her to bed.
She never said another thing, but just died without so much as knowin'
Debby. She and the twins went the same day, and Debby buried 'em in one
"It took her all day to dig it, she said. They was afraid of wolves in
them days and had to have their graves deep. The baby, the one that was to
be my grandfather, played 'round while she was diggin', and she had to
stop to milk the cow and git his meals for him. She got the bodies over to
the grave, one at a time, draggin' 'em on the wood-sled. When she was
ready to shovel the dirt back in, 'twas gettin' to be twilight, and she
said the thrushes were beginnin' to sing--she made the baby kneel down and
she got on her knees beside him and took hold of his hand to say a prayer.
She was just about wore out, as you can think, and scared to death, and
she'd never known any prayer, anyhow. All she could think to say was
'Lord--Lord--Lord!' And she made the baby say it, over and over. I guess
'twas a good enough prayer too. When I married and come up here to live,
seems as though I never heard the thrushes begin to sing in the evening
without I looked down there and could almost see them two on their knees.
"Well, there she was, fourteen years old, with a two-year-old baby to look
out for, and all the rest of the family gone as though she'd dreamed 'em.
She was sure she and little Eddie--you're named for him, Eddie, and don't
you never forget it--would die, of course, like the others, but she wa'n't
any hand to give up till she had to, and she wanted to die last, so to
look out for the baby. So when she took sick she fought the smallpox just
like a wolf, she used to tell us. She had to live, to take care of Eddie.
She gritted her teeth and _wouldn't_ die, though, as she always said,
'twould ha' been enough sight more comfortable than to live through what
"Some folks nowadays say it couldn't ha' been smallpox she had, or she
couldn't ha' managed. I don't know 'bout that. I guess 'twas plenty bad
enough, anyhow. She was out of her head a good share of th' time, but she
never forgot to milk the cow and give Eddie his meals. She used to fight
up on her knees (there was a week when she couldn't stand without fallin'
over in faint) and then crawl out to the cow-shed and sit down flat on
the ground and reach up to milk. One day the fever was so bad she was
clear crazy and she thought angels in silver shoes come right out there,
in the manure an' all, and milked for her and held the cup to
"An' one night she thought somebody, with a big black cape on, come and
stood over her with a knife. She riz up in bed and told him to '_git out_!
She'd _have_ to stay to take care of the baby!' And she hit at the knife
so fierce she knocked it right out'n his hand. Then she fainted away agin.
She didn't come to till mornin', and when she woke up she knew she was
goin' to live. She always said her hand was all bloody that morning from a
big cut in it, and she used to show us the scar--a big one 'twas, too. But
I guess most likely that come from something else. Folks was awful
superstitious in them days, and Aunt Debby was always kind o' queer.
"Well, an' so she did live and got well, though she never grew a mite from
that time. A little wizened-up thing she was, always; but I tell you folks
'round here thought a nawful lot of Aunt Debby! And Eddie, if you'll
believe it, never took the sickness at all. They say, sometimes, babies
"They got a fam'ly to come and work the farm for 'em, and Debby she took
care of her little brother, same as she always had. And he grew up and got
married and come to live in this house and Aunt Debby lived with him.
They did set great store by each other! Grandmother used to laugh and say
grandfather and Aunt Debby didn't need no words to talk together. I was
eight, goin' on nine--why, Susie, just your age--when Aunt Debby died. I
remember as well the last thing she said. Somebody asked her if she was
afraid. She looked down over the covers--I can see her now, like a old
baby she looked, so little and so light on the big feather-bed, and she
said, 'Is a grain o' wheat scared when you drop it in the ground?' I
always thought that wa'n't such a bad thing for a child to hear said.
"She'd wanted to be buried there beside the others and grandfather did it
so. While he was alive he took care of the graves and kept 'em in good
order; and after I married and come here to live I did. But I'm gettin' on
now, and I want you young folks should know 'bout it and do it after I'm
"Now, here, Susie, take this pot of petunias and set it out on the head of
the grave that's got a stone over it. And if you're ever inclined to think
you have a hard time, just you remember Aunt Debby and shut your teeth and
_hang on_! If you tip the pot bottom-side up, and knock on it with a
stone, it'll all slip out easy. Now go along with you. We've got to be
starting for home soon."
There was a brief pause and then the cheerful voice went on: "If there's
any flower I do despise, it's petunias! But 'twas Aunt Debby's 'special
favorite, so I always start a pot real early and have it in blossom when
her birthday comes 'round."
By the sound she was struggling heavily to her feet. "Yes, do, for
goodness' sakes, haul me up, will ye? I'm as stiff as an old horse.
I don't know what makes me so rheumaticky. My folks ain't, as a
There was so long a silence that the girl inside the house wondered if
they were gone, when Mrs. Pritchard's voice began again: "I do like to
come up here! It 'minds me of him an' me livin' here when we was young. We
had a good time of it!"
"I never could see," commented the other, "how you managed when he went
away t' th' war."
"Oh, I did the way you do when you _have_ to! I'd felt he ought to go, you
know, as much as he did, so I was willin' to put in my best licks. An' I
was young too--twenty-three--and only two of the children born then--and I
was as strong as a ox. I never minded the work any. 'Twas the days after
battles, when we couldn't get no news, that was the bad part. Why, I could
go to the very spot, over there where the butternut tree stands--'twas
our garden then--where I heard he was killed at Gettysburg."
"What did you do?" asked the other.
"I went on hoein' my beans. There was the two children to be looked out
for, you know. But I ain't mindin' tellin' you that I can't look at a
bean-row since without gettin' sick to my stomach and feelin' the
goose-pimples start all over me."
"How did you hear 'twan't so?"
"Why, I was gettin' in the hay--up there where the oaks stand was our
hay-field. I remember how sick the smell of the hay made me, and when the
sweat run down into my eyes I was glad to feel 'em smart and sting--well,
Abby, you just wait till you hear your Nathan'l is shot through the head
and you'll know how it was--well, all of a sudden--somebody took the fork
out'n my hand an'--an' said--'here, you drive an' I'll pitch '--and
"Why, Grandma Pritchard! You're----"
"No, I ain't, either; I ain't such a fool, I hope! Why, see me cry like a
old numskull! Ain't it ridic'lous how you can talk 'bout deaths and
buryin's all right, and can't tell of how somebody come back from the
grave without--where in th' nation is my handkerchief! Why, Abby, things
ain't never looked the same to me from that minute on. I tell you--I tell
you--_I was real glad to see him_!
"Good land, what time o' day do you suppose it can be? Susie! Eddie! Come,
git your berries and start home!"
The two voices began to sound more faintly as the old woman's crutch rang
on the stones. "Well, Abby, when I come up here and remember how I farmed
it alone for four years, I say to myself that 'twan't only th' men that
set the slaves free. Them that stayed to home was allowed to have their
share in the good----" The syllables blurred into an indistinguishable hum
and there fell again upon the house its old mantle of silence.
As if aroused by this from an hypnotic spell, the girl on the hay sat up
suddenly, pressing her hands over her eyes; but she did not shut out a
thousand thronging visions. There was not a sound but the loud throbbing
of the pulses at her temples; but never again could there be silence for
her in that spot. The air was thick with murmurs which beat against her
ears. She was trembling as she slipped down from the hay and, walking
unsteadily to the door, stood looking half-wildly out into the haunted
The faint sound of the brook rose liquid in the quiet evening air.
There, where the butternut tree stood, had been the garden!
The white birches answered with a rustling stir in all their lightly
Up there, where the oaks were, had been the hay-field!
The twilight darkened. Through the forest, black on the crest of the
overhanging mountain, shone suddenly the evening star.
There, before the door, had stood the waiting wood-sled!
The girl caught through the gathering dusk a gleam of magenta from the
corner of the clearing.
Two hermit thrushes, distant in the forest, began to send up their
poignant antiphonal evening chant.
THE HEYDAY OF THE BLOOD
The older professor looked up at the assistant, fumbling fretfully with a
pile of papers. "Farrar, what's the _matter_ with you lately?" he said
The younger man started, "Why...why..." the brusqueness of the other's
manner shocked him suddenly into confession. "I've lost my nerve,
Professor Mallory, that's what the matter with me. I'm frightened to
death," he said melodramatically.
"What _of_?" asked Mallory, with a little challenge in his tone.
The flood-gates were open. The younger man burst out in exclamations,
waving his thin, nervous, knotted fingers, his face twitching as he spoke.
"Of myself...no, not myself, but my body! I'm not well...I'm getting worse
all the time. The doctors don't make out what is the matter...I don't
sleep ... I worry...I forget things, I take no interest in life...the
doctors intimate a nervous breakdown ahead of me...and yet I rest ... I
rest...more than I can afford to! I never go out. Every evening I'm in bed
by nine o'clock. I take no part in college life beyond my work, for fear
of the nervous strain. I've refused to take charge of that summer-school
in New York, you know, that would be such an opportunity for me ... if I
could only sleep! But though I never do anything exciting in the
evening ... heavens! what nights I have. Black hours of seeing myself in a
sanitarium, dependent on my brother! I never ... why, I'm in
hell ... that's what the matter with me, a perfect hell of ignoble
He sat silent, his drawn face turned to the window. The older man looked
at him speculatively. When he spoke it was with a cheerful, casual quality
in his voice which made the other look up at him surprised.
"You don't suppose those great friends of yours, the nerve specialists,
would object to my telling you a story, do you? It's very quiet and
unexciting. You're not too busy?"
"Busy! I've forgotten the meaning of the word! I don't dare to be!"
"Very well, then; I mean to carry you back to the stony little farm in the
Green Mountains, where I had the extreme good luck to be born and raised.
You've heard me speak of Hillsboro; and the story is all about my
great-grandfather, who came to live with us when I was a little boy."
"Your great-grandfather?" said the other incredulously. "People don't
remember their great-grandfathers!"
"Oh, yes, they do, in Vermont. There was my father on one farm, and my
grandfather on another, without a thought that he was no longer young, and
there was 'gran'ther' as we called him, eighty-eight years old and just
persuaded to settle back, let his descendants take care of him, and
consent to be an old man. He had been in the War of 1812--think of that,
you mushroom!--and had lost an arm and a good deal of his health there. He
had lately begun to get a pension of twelve dollars a month, so that for
an old man he was quite independent financially, as poor Vermont farmers
look at things; and he was a most extraordinary character, so that his
arrival in our family was quite an event.
"He took precedence at once of the oldest man in the township, who was
only eighty-four and not very bright. I can remember bragging at school
about Gran'ther Pendleton, who'd be eighty-nine come next Woodchuck day,
and could see to read without glasses. He had been ailing all his life,
ever since the fever he took in the war. He used to remark triumphantly
that he had now outlived six doctors who had each given him but a year to
live; 'and the seventh is going downhill fast, so I hear!' This last was
his never-failing answer to the attempts of my conscientious mother and
anxious, dutiful father to check the old man's reckless indifference to
any of the rules of hygiene.
"They were good disciplinarians with their children, and this naughty old
man, who would give his weak stomach frightful attacks of indigestion by
stealing out to the pantry and devouring a whole mince pie because he had
been refused two pieces at the table--this rebellious, unreasonable,
whimsical old madcap was an electric element in our quiet, orderly life.
He insisted on going to every picnic and church sociable, where he ate
recklessly of all the indigestible dainties he could lay his hands on,
stood in drafts, tired himself to the verge of fainting away by playing
games with the children, and returned home, exhausted, animated, and quite
ready to pay the price of a day in bed, groaning and screaming out with
pain as heartily and unaffectedly as he had laughed with the pretty girls
the evening before.
"The climax came, however, in the middle of August, when he announced his
desire to go to the county fair, held some fourteen miles down the valley
from our farm. Father never dared let gran'ther go anywhere without
himself accompanying the old man, but he was perfectly sincere in saying
that it was not because he could not spare a day from the haying that he
refused pointblank to consider it. The doctor who had been taking care of
gran'ther since he came to live with us said that it would be crazy to
think of such a thing. He added that the wonder was that gran'ther lived
at all, for his heart was all wrong, his asthma was enough to kill a
young man, and he had no digestion; in short, if father wished to kill his
old grandfather, there was no surer way than to drive fourteen miles in
the heat of August to the noisy excitement of a county fair.
"So father for once said 'No,' in the tone that we children had come to
recognize as final. Gran'ther grimly tied a knot in his empty sleeve--a
curious, enigmatic mode of his to express strong emotion--put his one hand
on his cane, and his chin on his hand, and withdrew himself into that
incalculable distance from the life about him where very old people spend
so many hours.
"He did not emerge from this until one morning toward the middle of
fair-week, when all the rest of the family were away--father and the
bigger boys on the far-off upland meadows haying, and mother and the girls
off blackberrying. I was too little to be of any help, so I had been left
to wait on gran'ther, and to set out our lunch of bread and milk and
huckleberries. We had not been alone half an hour when gran'ther sent me
to extract, from under the mattress of his bed, the wallet in which he
kept his pension money. There was six dollars and forty-three cents--he
counted it over carefully, sticking out his tongue like a schoolboy doing
a sum, and when he had finished he began to laugh and snap his fingers and
sing out in his high, cracked old voice:
"'We're goin' to go a skylarkin'! Little Jo Mallory is going to the county
fair with his Granther Pendleton, an' he's goin' to have more fun than
ever was in the world, and he--'
"'But, gran'ther, father said we mustn't!' I protested, horrified.
"'But I say we _shall_! I was your gre't-gran'ther long before he was your
feyther, and anyway I'm here and he's not--so, _march_! Out to the barn!'
"He took me by the collar, and, executing a shuffling fandango of triumph,
he pushed me ahead of him to the stable, where old white Peggy, the only
horse left at home, looked at us amazed.
"'But it'll be twenty-eight miles, and Peg's never driven over eight!' I
cried, my old-established world of rules and orders reeling before my
"'Eight--and--twenty-eight! But I--am--_eighty-eight_!'
"Gran'ther improvised a sort of whooping chant of scorn as he pulled the
harness from the peg. 'It'll do her good to drink some pink lemonade--old
Peggy! An' if she gits tired comin' home, I'll git out and carry her part
"His adventurous spirit was irresistible. I made no further objection, and
we hitched up together, I standing on a chair to fix the check-rein, and
gran'ther doing wonders with his one hand. Then, just as we
were--gran'ther in a hickory shirt, and with an old hat flapping over his
wizened face, I bare-legged, in ragged old clothes--so we drove out of the
grassy yard, down the steep, stony hill that led to the main valley road,
and along the hot, white turnpike, deep with the dust which had been
stirred up by the teams on their way to the fair. Gran'ther sniffed the
air jubilantly, and exchanged hilarious greetings with the people who
constantly overtook old Peg's jogging trot. Between times he regaled me
with spicy stories of the hundreds of thousands--they seemed no less
numerous to me then--of county fairs he had attended in his youth. He was
horrified to find that I had never been even to one.
"'Why, Joey, how old be ye? 'Most eight, ain't it? When I was your age I
had run away and been to two fairs an' a hangin'.' "'But didn't they lick
you when you got home?' I asked shudderingly.
"'You _bet_ they did!' cried gran'ther with gusto.
"I felt the world changing into an infinitely larger place with every word
"'Now, this is somethin' _like_!' he exclaimed, as we drew near to
Granville and fell into a procession of wagons all filled with country
people in their best clothes, who looked with friendly curiosity at the
little, shriveled cripple, his face shining with perspiring animation, and
at the little boy beside him, his bare feet dangling high above the floor
of the battered buckboard, overcome with the responsibility of driving a
horse for the first time in his life, and filled with such a flood of new
emotions and ideas that he must have been quite pale."
Professor Mallory leaned back and laughed aloud at the vision he had been
evoking--laughed with so joyous a relish in his reminiscences that the
drawn, impatient face of his listener relaxed a little. He drew a long
breath, he even smiled a little absently.
"Oh, that was a day!" went on the professor, still laughing and wiping his
eyes. "Never will I have such another! At the entrance to the grounds
gran'ther stopped me while he solemnly untied the knot in his empty
sleeve. I don't know what kind of hairbrained vow he had tied up in it,
but with the little ceremony disappeared every trace of restraint, and we
plunged head over ears into the saturnalia of delights that was an
old-time county fair.
"People had little cash in those days, and gran'ther's six dollars and
forty-three cents lasted like the widow's cruse of oil. We went to see the
fat lady, who, if she was really as big as she looked to me then, must
have weighed at least a ton. My admiration for gran'ther's daredevil
qualities rose to infinity when he entered into free-and-easy talk with
her, about how much she ate, and could she raise her arms enough to do up
her own hair, and how many yards of velvet it took to make her gorgeous,
gold-trimmed robe. She laughed a great deal at us, but she was evidently
touched by his human interest, for she confided to him that it was not
velvet at all, but furniture covering; and when we went away she pressed
on us a bag of peanuts. She said she had more peanuts than she could
eat--a state of unbridled opulence which fitted in for me with all the
other superlatives of that day.
"We saw the dog-faced boy, whom we did not like at all; gran'ther
expressing, with a candidly outspoken cynicism, his belief that 'them
whiskers was glued to him.' We wandered about the stock exhibit, gazing at
the monstrous oxen, and hanging over the railings where the prize pigs
lived to scratch their backs. In order to miss nothing, we even
conscientiously passed through the Woman's Building, where we were very
much bored by the serried ranks of preserve jars.
"'Sufferin' Hezekiah!' cried gran'ther irritably 'Who cares how gooseberry
jel _looks_. If they'd give a felly a taste, now--'
"This reminded him that we were hungry, and we went to a restaurant under
a tent, where, after taking stock of the wealth that yet remained of
gran'ther's hoard, he ordered the most expensive things on the bill of
Professor Mallory suddenly laughed out again. "Perhaps in heaven, but
certainly not until then, shall I ever taste anything so ambrosial as that
fried chicken and coffee ice-cream! I have not lived in vain that I have
such a memory back of me!"
This time the younger man laughed with the narrator, settling back in his
chair as the professor went on:
"After lunch we rode on the merry-go-round, both of us, gran'ther clinging
desperately with his one hand to his red camel's wooden hump, and crying
out shrilly to me to be sure and not lose his cane. The merry-go-round had
just come in at that time, and gran'ther had never experienced it before.
After the first giddy flight we retired to a lemonade-stand to exchange
impressions, and finding that we both alike had fallen completely under
the spell of the new sensation, gran'ther said that we 'sh'd keep on
a-ridin' till we'd had enough! King Solomon couldn't tell when we'd ever
git a chance again!' So we returned to the charge, and rode and rode and
rode, through blinding clouds of happy excitement, so it seems to me now,
such as I was never to know again. The sweat was pouring off from us, and
we had tried all the different animals on the machine before we could tear
ourselves away to follow the crowd to the race-track.
"We took reserved seats, which cost a quarter apiece, instead of the
unshaded ten-cent benches, and gran'ther began at once to pour out to me a
flood of horse-talk and knowing race-track aphorisms, which finally made a
young fellow sitting next to us laugh superciliously. Gran'ther turned on
"'I bet-che fifty cents I pick the winner in the next race!' he said
sportily, "'Done!' said the other, still laughing.
"Gran'ther picked a big black mare, who came in almost last, but he did
not flinch. As he paid over the half-dollar he said: 'Everybody's likely
to make mistakes about _some_ things; King Solomon was a fool in the head
about women-folks! I bet-che a dollar I pick the winner in _this_ race!'
and 'Done!' said the disagreeable young man, still laughing. I gasped, for
I knew we had only eighty-seven cents left, but gran'ther shot me a
command to silence out of the corner of his eyes, and announced that he
bet on the sorrel gelding.
"If I live to be a hundred and break the bank at Monte Carlo three times a
week," said Mallory, shaking his head reminiscently, "I could not know a
tenth part of the frantic excitement of that race or of the mad triumph
when our horse won. Gran'ther cast his hat upon the ground, screaming like
a steam-calliope with exultation as the sorrel swept past the judges'
stand ahead of all the others, and I jumped up and down in an agony of
delight which was almost more than my little body could hold.
"After that we went away, feeling that the world could hold nothing more
glorious. It was five o'clock and we decided to start back. We paid for
Peggy's dinner out of the dollar we had won on the race--I say 'we,' for
by that time we were welded into one organism--and we still had a dollar
and a quarter left. 'While ye're about it, always go the whole hog!' said
gran'ther and we spent twenty minutes in laying out that money in trinkets
for all the folks at home. Then, dusty, penniless, laden with bundles, we
bestowed our exhausted bodies and our uplifted hearts in the old
buckboard, and turned Peg's head toward the mountains. We did not talk
much during that drive, and though I thought at the time only of the
carnival of joy we had left, I can now recall every detail of the
trip--how the sun sank behind Indian Mountain, a peak I had known before
only through distant views; then, as we journeyed on, how the stars came
out above Hemlock Mountain--our own home mountain behind our house, and
later, how the fireflies filled the darkening meadows along the river
below us, so that we seemed to be floating between the steady stars of
heaven and their dancing, twinkling reflection in the valley.
"Gran'ther's dauntless spirit still surrounded me. I put out of mind
doubts of our reception at home, and lost myself in delightful ruminatings
on the splendors of the day. At first, every once in a while, gran'ther
made a brief remark, such as, ''Twas the hind-quarters of the sorrel I bet
on. He was the only one in the hull kit and bilin' of 'em that his
quarters didn't fall away'; or, 'You needn't tell _me_ that them Siamese
twins ain't unpinned every night as separate as you and me!' But later on,
as the damp evening air began to bring on his asthma, he subsided into
silence, only broken by great gasping coughs.
"These were heard by the anxious, heart-sick watchers at home, and, as old
Peg stumbled wearily up the hill, father came running down to meet us.
'Where you be'n?' he demanded, his face pale and stern in the light of his
lantern. 'We be'n to the county fair!' croaked gran'ther with a last flare
of triumph, and fell over sideways against me. Old Peg stopped short,
hanging her head as if she, too, were at the limit of her strength. I was
frightfully tired myself, and frozen with terror of what father would say.
Gran'ther's collapse was the last straw. I began to cry loudly, but father
ignored my distress with an indifference which cut me to the heart. He
lifted gran'ther out of the buckboard, carrying the unconscious little old
body into the house without a glance backward at me. But when I crawled
down to the ground, sobbing and digging my fists into my eyes, I felt
mother's arms close around me.
"'Oh, poor, naughty little Joey!' she said. 'Mother's bad, dear little
Professor Mallory stopped short.
"Perhaps that's something else I'll know again in heaven," he said
soberly, and waited a moment before he went on: "Well, that was the end of
our day. I was so worn out that I fell asleep over my supper, in spite of
the excitement in the house about sending for a doctor for gran'ther, who
was, so one of my awe-struck sisters told me, having some kind of 'fits,'
Mother must have put me to bed, for the next thing I remember, she was
shaking me by the shoulder and saying, 'Wake up, Joey Your
great-grandfather wants to speak to you. He's been suffering terribly all
night, and the doctor think's he's dying.'
"I followed her into gran'ther's room, where the family was assembled
about the bed. Gran'ther lay drawn up in a ball, groaning so dreadfully
that I felt a chill like cold water at the roots of my hair; but a moment
or two after I came in, all at once he gave a great sigh and relaxed,
stretching out his legs and laying his arms down on the coverlid. He
looked at me and attempted a smile.
"Well, it was wuth it, warn't it, Joey?" he said gallantly, and closed his
eyes peacefully to sleep.
"Did he die?" asked the younger professor, leaning forward eagerly.
"Die? Gran'ther Pendleton? Not much! He came tottering down to breakfast
the next morning, as white as an old ghost, with no voice left, his legs
trembling under him, but he kept the whole family an hour and a half at
the table, telling them in a loud whisper all about the fair, until father
said really he would have to take us to the one next year. Afterward he
sat out on the porch watching old Peg graze around the yard. I thought he
was in one of his absent-minded fits, but when I came out, he called me to
him, and, setting his lips to my ear, he whispered:
"'An' the seventh is a-goin' down-hill fast, so I hear!' He chuckled to
himself over this for some time, wagging his head feebly, and then he
said: 'I tell ye, Joey, I've lived a long time, and I've larned a lot
about the way folks is made. The trouble with most of 'em is, they're
fraid-cats! As Jeroboam Warner used to say--he was in the same rigiment
with me in 1812--the only way to manage this business of livin' is to give
a whoop and let her rip! If ye just about half-live, ye just the same as
half-die; and if ye spend yer time half-dyin', some day ye turn in and die
all over, without rightly meanin' to at all--just a kind o' bad habit
ye've got yerself inter.' Gran'ther fell into a meditative silence for a
moment. 'Jeroboam, he said that the evenin' before the battle of Lundy's
Lane, and he got killed the next day. Some live, and some die; but folks
that live all over die happy, anyhow! Now I tell you what's my motto, an'
what I've lived to be eighty-eight on--'"
Professor Mallory stood up and, towering over the younger man, struck one
hand into the other as he cried: "This was the motto he told me: 'Live
while you live, and then die and be done with it!'"
AS A BIRD OUT OF THE SNARE
After the bargain was completed and the timber merchant had gone away,
Jehiel Hawthorn walked stiffly to the pine-tree and put his horny old fist
against it, looking up to its spreading top with an expression of hostile
exultation in his face. The neighbor who had been called to witness the
transfer of Jehiel's woodland looked at him curiously.
"That was quite a sight of money to come in without your expectin', wa'n't
it?" he said, fumbling awkwardly for an opening to the question he burned
Jehiel did not answer. The two old men stood silent, looking down the
valley, lying like a crevasse in a glacier between the towering white
mountains. The sinuous course of the frozen river was almost black under
the slaty sky of March.
"Seems kind o' providential, havin' so much money come to you just now,
when your sister-in-law's jest died, and left you the first time in your
life without anybody you got to stay and see to, don't it?" commented the
Jehiel made a vague sign with his head.
"I s'pose likely you'll be startin' aout to travel and see foreign parts,
same's you've always planned, won't you--or maybe you cal'late you be too
Jehiel gave no indication that he had heard. His faded old blue eyes were
fixed steadily on the single crack in the rampart of mountains, through
which the afternoon train was just now leaving the valley. Its whistle
echoed back hollowly, as it fled away from the prison walls into the great
The neighbor stiffened in offended pride. "I bid you good-night, Mr.
Hawthorn," he said severely, and stumped down the steep, narrow road
leading to the highway in the valley.
After he had disappeared Jehiel turned to the tree and leaned his forehead
against it. He was so still he seemed a part of the great pine. He stood
so till the piercing chill of evening chilled him through, and when he
looked again about him it was after he had lived his life all through in a
brief and bitter review.
It began with the tree and it ended with the tree, and in spite of the
fever of unrest in his heart it was as stationary as any rooted creature
of the woods. When he was eleven and his father went away to the Civil
War, he had watched him out of sight with no sorrow, only a burning envy
of the wanderings that lay before the soldier. A little later, when it was
decided that he should go to stay with his married sister, since she was
left alone by her husband's departure to the war, he turned his back on
his home with none of a child's usual reluctance, but with an eager
delight in the day-long drive to the other end of the valley. That was the
longest journey he had ever taken, the man of almost three-score thought,
with an aching resentment against Fate.
Still, those years with his sister, filled with labor beyond his age as
they were, had been the happiest of his life. In an almost complete
isolation the two had toiled together five years, the most impressionable
of his life; and all his affection centered on the silent, loving, always
comprehending sister. His own father and mother grew to seem far away and
alien, and his sister came to be like a part of himself. To her alone of
all living souls had he spoken freely of his passion for adventuring far
from home, which devoured, his boy-soul. He was six-teen when her husband
finally came back from the war, and he had no secrets from the young
matron of twenty-six, who listened with such wide tender eyes of sympathy
to his half-frantic outpourings of longing to escape from the dark, narrow
valley where his fathers had lived their dark, narrow lives.
The day before he went back to his own home, now so strange to him, he was
out with her, searching for some lost turkey-chicks, and found one with
its foot caught in a tangle of rusty wire. The little creature had beaten
itself almost to death in its struggle to get away. Kneeling in the grass,
and feeling the wild palpitations of its heart under his rescuing hand, he
had called to his sister, "Oh, look! Poor thing! It's 'most dead, and yet
it ain't really hurt a mite, only desperate, over bein' held fast." His
voice broke in a sudden wave of sympathy: "Oh, ain't it _terrible_ to feel
For a moment the young mother put her little son aside and looked at her
brother with brooding eyes. A little later she said with apparent
irrelevance, "Jehiel, as soon as you're a man grown, I'll help you to get
off. You shall be a sailor, if you like, and go around the world, and
bring back coral to baby and me."
A chilling premonition fell on the lad. "I don't believe it!" he said,
with tears in his eyes. "I just believe I've got to stay here in this hole
all my life."
His sister looked off at the tops of the trees. Finally, "Surely He shall
deliver thee from the snare of the fowler," she quoted dreamily.
When she came to see him and their parents a few months later, she brought
him a little square of crimson silk, on which she had worked in tiny
stitches, "Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler." She
explained to her father and mother that it was a "text-ornament" for
Jehiel to hang up over his desk; but she drew the boy aside and showed him
that the silk was only lightly caught down to the foundation.
"Underneath is another text," she said, "and when your day of freedom
comes I want you should promise me to cut the stitches, turn back the
silk, and take the second text for your motto, so you'll remember to be
properly grateful. This is the second text." She put her hands on his
shoulders and said in a loud, exultant voice, "My soul is escaped as a
bird out of the snare of the fowler. The snare is broken and I am
For answer the boy pulled her eagerly to the window and pointed to a young
pine-tree that stood near the house.
"Sister, that tree's just as old as I be. I've prayed to God, and I've
promised myself that before it's as tall, as the ridge-pole of the house,
I'll be on my way."
As this scene came before his eyes, the white-haired man, leaning against
the great pine, looked up at the lofty crown of green wreathing the
giant's head and shook his fist at it. He hated every inch of its height,
for every inch meant an enforced renunciation that had brought him
bitterness and a sense of failure.
His sister had died the year after she had given him the double text, and
his father the year after that. He was left thus, the sole support of his
ailing mother, who transferred to the silent, sullen boy the irresistible
rule of complaining weakness with which she had governed his father. It
was thought she could not live long, and the boy stood in terror of a
sudden death brought on by displeasure at some act of his. In the end,
however, she died quietly in her bed, an old woman of seventy-three,
nursed by her daughter-in-law, the widow of Jehiel's only brother. Her
place in the house was taken by Jehiel's sister-in-law, a sickly, helpless
woman, alone in the would except for Jehiel, and all the neighbors
congratulated him on having a housekeeper ready to his hand. He said
By that time, indeed, he had sunk into a harsh silence on all topics. He
went through the exhausting routine of farming with an iron-like
endurance, watched with set lips the morning and afternoon trains leave
the valley, and noted the growth of the pine-tree with a burning heart.
His only recreation was collecting time-tables, prospectuses of steamship
companies, and what few books of travel he could afford. The only society
he did not shun was that of itinerant peddlers or tramps, and occasionally
a returned missionary on a lecture tour.
And always the pine-tree had grown, insolent in the pride of a creature
set in the right surroundings. The imprisoned man had felt himself dwarfed
by its height. But now, he looked up at it again, and laughed aloud. It
had come late, but it had come. He was fifty-seven years old, almost
three-score, but all his life was still to be lived. He said to himself
that some folks lived their lives while they did their work, but he had
done all his tasks first, and now he could live. The unexpected arrival of
the timber merchant and the sale of that piece of land he'd never thought
would bring him a cent--was not that an evident sign that Providence was
with him. He was too old and broken now to work his way about as he had
planned at first, but here had come this six hundred dollars like rain
from the sky. He would start as soon as he could sell his stock.
The thought reminded him of his evening chores, and he set off for the
barn with a fierce jubilation that it was almost the last time he would
need to milk. How far he wondered, could he go on that money? He hurried
through his work and into the house to his old desk. The faded
text-ornament stood on the top shelf, but he did not see it, as he hastily
tumbled out all the time tables and sailing-lists. The habit of looking at
them with the yearning bitterness of unreconciled deprivation was still so
strong on him that even as he handled them eagerly, he hated them for the
associations of years of misery they brought back to him.
Where should he go? He was dazed by the unlimited possibilities before
him. To Boston first, as the nearest seaport. He had taken the trip in his
mind so many times that he knew the exact minute when the train would
cross the State line and he would be really escaped from the net which had
bound him all his life. From Boston to Jamaica as the nearest place that
was quite quite different from Vermont. He had no desire to see Europe or
England. Life there was too much like what he had known. He wanted to be
in a country where nothing should remind him of his past. From Jamaica
where? His stiff old fingers painfully traced out a steamship line to the
Isthmus and thence to Colombia. He knew nothing about that country. All
the better. It would be the more foreign. Only this he knew, that nobody
in that tropical country "farmed it," and that was where he wanted to go.
From Colombia around the Cape to Argentina. He was aghast at the cost, but
instantly decided that he would go steerage. There would be more real
foreigners to be seen that way, and his money would go twice as far.
To Buenos Ayres, then. He did not even attempt to pronounce this name,
though its strange, inexplicable look on the page was a joy to him. From
there by muleback and afoot over the Andes to Chile. He knew something
about that trip. A woman who had taught in the Methodist missionary school
in Santiago de Chile had taken that journey, and he had heard her give a
lecture on it. He was the sexton of the church and heard all the lectures
free. At Santiago de Chile (he pronounced it with a strange distortion of
the school-teacher's bad accent) he would stay for a while and just live
and decide what to do next. His head swam with dreams and visions, and his
heart thumped heavily against his old ribs. The clock striking ten brought
him back to reality. He stood up with a gesture of exultation almost
fierce. "That's just the time when the train crosses the State line!" he
He slept hardly at all that night, waking with great starts, and imagining
himself in strange foreign places, and then recognizing with a scornful
familiarity the worn old pieces of furniture in his room. He noticed at
these times that it was very cold, and lifelong habit made him reflect
that he would better go early to the church because it would be hard to
get up steam enough to warm the building before time for service. After he
had finished his morning chores and was about to start he noticed that the
thermometer stood at four above zero.
That was certainly winter temperature; the snow lay like a heavy shroud on
all the dead valley, but the strange blind instinct of a man who has lived
close to the earth stirred within him. He looked at the sky and the
mountains and held up his bare palm. "I shouldn't be surprised if the
spring break-up was near," he said. "I guess this is about the last winter
day we'll get."
The church was icy cold, and he toiled in the cellar, stuffing wood into
the flaming maw of the steam-heater, till it was time to ring the bell. As
he gave the last stroke, Deacon Bradley approached him. "Jehiel, I've got
a little job of repairing I want you should do at my store," he said in
the loud, slow speech of a man important in the community. "Come to the
store to-morrow morning and see about it." He passed on into his pew,
which was at the back of the church near a steam radiator, so that he was
warm, no matter what the weather was.
Jehiel Hawthorn went out and stood on the front steps in the winter
sunshine and his heart swelled exultingly as he looked across at the
deacon's store. "I wish I'd had time to tell him I'd do no repairs for him
to-morrow, nor any time---that I'm going to travel and see the world."
The last comers disappeared in the church and the sound of singing came
faintly to Jehiel's ears. Although he was the sexton he rarely was in
church for the service, using his duties as an excuse for absence. He felt
that it was not for him to take part in prayer and thanksgiving. As a boy
he had prayed for the one thing he wanted, and what had it come to?
A penetrating cold wind swept around the corner and he turned to go inside
to see about the steam-pipes. In the outer hall he noticed that the
service had progressed to the responsive readings. As he opened the door
of the church the minister read rapidly, "Praised be the Lord who hath not
given us over for a prey unto their teeth."
The congregation responded in a timid inarticulate gabble, above which
rose Deacon Bradley's loud voice,--"Our soul is escaped even as a bird out
of the snare of the fowler. The snare is broken and we are escaped." He
read the responses in a slow, booming roar, at least half a sentence
behind the rest, but the minister always waited for him. As he finished,
he saw the sexton standing in the open door. "A little more steam,
Jehiel," he added commandingly, running the words on to the end of the
Jehiel turned away silently, but as he stumbled through the dark,
unfinished part of the cellar he thought to himself, "Well, that's the
last time he'll give me an order for _one_ while!"
Then the words of the text he had heard came back to his mind with a
half-superstitious shock at the coincidence. He had forgotten all about
that hidden part of the text-ornament. Why, now that had come true! He
ought to have cut the stitches and torn off the old text last night. He
would, as soon as he went home. He wished his sister were alive to know,
and suddenly, there in the dark, he wondered if perhaps she did know.
As he passed the door to the rooms of the Ladies' Auxiliary Society he
noticed that it was ajar, and saw through the crack that there was a
sleeping figure on the floor near the stove--a boy about sixteen. When
Jehiel stepped softly in and looked at him, the likeness to his own sister
struck him even before he recognized the lad as his great-nephew, the son
of the child he had helped his sister to care for all those years ago.
"Why, what's Nathaniel doin' here?" he asked himself, in surprise. He had
not known that the boy was even in town, for he had been on the point of
leaving to enlist in the navy. Family matters could not have detained him,
for he was quite alone in the world since both his father and his mother
were dead and his stepmother had married again. Under his great-uncle's
gaze the lad opened his eyes with a start and sat up confused.
"What's the matter with you, Nat?" asked the older man not ungently. He
was thinking that probably he had looked like that at sixteen. The boy
stared at him a moment, and then, leaning his head on a chair, he began to
cry. Sitting thus, crouched together, he looked like a child.
"Why, Natty, what's the trouble?" asked his uncle alarmed.
"I came off here because I couldn't hold in at home any longer," answered
the other between sobs. "You see I can't go away. Her husband treats her
so bad she can't stay with him. I don't blame her, she says she just
_can't!_ So she's come back and she ain't well, and she's goin' to have a
baby, and I've got to stay and support her. Mr. Bradley's offered me a
place in his store and I've got to give up goin' to the navy." He suddenly
realized the unmanliness of his attitude, rose to his feet, closing his
lips tightly, and faced the older man with a resolute expression of
despair in his young eyes.
"Uncle Jehiel, it does seem to me I _can't_ have it so! All my life I've
looked forward to bein' a sailor and goin' around the world, and all. I
just hate the valley and the mountains! But I guess I got to stay. She's
only my stepmother, I know, but she was always awful good to me, and she
hasn't got anybody else to look after her."
His voice broke, and he put his arm up in a crook over his face. "But it's
awful hard! I feel like a bird that's got caught in a snare."
His uncle had grown very pale during this speech, and at the last words he
recoiled with an exclamation of horror. There was a silence in which he
looked at his nephew with the wide eyes of a man who sees a specter. Then
he turned away into the furnace-room, and picking up his lunch-box brought
it back. "Here, you," he said roughly, "part of what's troublin' you is
that you ain't had any breakfast. You eat this and you'll feel better.
I'll be back in a minute."
He went away blindly into the darkest part of the cellar. It was very
black there, but his eyes stared wide before him. It was very cold, but
drops of sweat stood on his forehead as if he were in the hay-field. He
was alone, but his lips moved from time to time, and once he called out in
some loud, stifled exclamation which resounded hollowly in the vault-like
place. He was there a long time.
When he went back into the furnace cellar, he found Nathaniel sitting
before the fire. The food and warmth had brought a little color into his
pale face, but it was still set in a mask of tragic desolation.
As his uncle came in, he exclaimed, "Why, Uncle Jehiel, you look awful
bad. Are you sick?"
"Yes, I be," said the other harshly, "but 'tain't nothin'. It'll pass
after a while. Nathaniel, I've thought of a way you can manage. You know
your uncle's wife died this last week and that leaves me without any house
keeper. What if your stepmother sh'd come and take care of me and I'll
take care of her. I've just sold a piece of timber land I never thought to
get a cent out of and that'll ease things up so we can hire help if she
ain't strong enough to do the work."
Nathaniel's face flushed in a relief which died quickly down to a somber
hopelessness. He faced his uncle doggedly. "Not _much_, Uncle Jehiel!" he
said heavily, "I ain't a-goin' to hear to such a thing. I know all about
your wantin' to get away from the valley--you take that money and go
yourself and I'll---"
Hopelessness and resolution were alike struck out of his face by the fury
of benevolence with which the old man cut him short. "Don't you dare to
speak a word against it, boy!" cried Jehiel in a labored anguish. "Good
Lord! I'm only doin' it for you because I _have_ to! I've been through
what you're layin' out for yourself an' stood it, somehow, an' now I'm
'most done with it all. But 'twould be like beginnin' it all again to see
you startin' in."
The boy tried to speak, but he raised his voice. "No, I couldn't stand it
all over again. 'Twould cut in to the places where I've got calloused."
Seeing through the other's stupor the beginnings of an irresolute
opposition, he flung himself upon him in a strange and incredible appeal,
crying out, "Oh, you must! You _got_ to go!" commanding and imploring in
the same incoherent sentence, struggling for speech, and then hanging on
Nathaniel's answer in a sudden wild silence. It was as though his next
breath depended on the boy's decision.
It was very still in the twilight where they stood. The faint murmur of a
prayer came down from above, and while it lasted both were as though held
motionless by its mesmeric monotony. Then, at the boom of the organ, the
lad's last shred of self-control vanished. He burst again into muffled
weary sobs, the light from the furnace glistening redly on his streaming
cheeks. "It ain't right, Uncle Jehiel. I feel as though I was murderin'
somethin'! But I can't help it. I'll go, I'll do as you say, but----"
His uncle's agitation went out like a wind-blown flame. He, too, drooped
in an utter fatigue. "Never mind, Natty," he said tremulously, "it'll all
come out right somehow. Just you do as Uncle Jehiel says."
A trampling upstairs told him that the service was over. "You run home now
and tell her I'll be over this afternoon to fix things up."
He hurried up the stairs to open the front doors, but Deacon Bradley was
before him. "You're late, Jehiel," he said severely, "and the church was
"I know, Deacon," said the sexton humbly, "but it won't happen again. And
I'll be around the first thing in the morning to do that job for you." His
voice sounded dull and lifeless.
"What's the matter?" asked the deacon. "Be you sick?"
"Yes, I be, but 'tain't nothin'. 'Twill pass after a while."
That evening, as he walked home after service, he told himself that he had
never known so long a day. It seemed longer than all the rest of his life.
Indeed he felt that some strange and racking change had come upon him
since the morning, as though he were not the same person, as though he had
been away on a long journey, and saw all things with changed eyes. "I feel
as though I'd died," he thought with surprise, "and was dead and buried."
This brought back to his mind the only bitter word he had spoken
throughout the endless day. Nathaniel had said, as an excuse for his haste
(Jehiel insisted on his leaving that night), "You see, mother, it's really
a service to Uncle Jehiel, since he's got nobody to keep house for him."
He had added, in the transparent self-justification of selfish youth, "And
I'll pay it back to him every cent." At this Jehiel had said shortly, "By
the time you can pay it back what I'll need most will be a tombstone. Git
a big one so's to keep me down there quiet."
But now, walking home under the frosty stars, he felt very quiet already,
as though he needed no weight to lie heavy on his restless heart. It did
not seem restless now, but very still, as though it too were dead. He
noticed that the air was milder, and as he crossed the bridge below his
house he stopped and listened. Yes, the fine ear of his experience caught
a faint grinding sound. By tomorrow the river would begin to break up. It
was the end of winter. He surprised himself by his pleasure in thinking of
Before he went into the house after his evening chores were done, he
stopped for a moment and looked back at the cleft in the mountain wall
through which the railroad left the valley. He had been looking longingly
toward that door of escape all his life, and now he said goodby to it.
"Ah, well, 'twan't to be," he said, with an accent of weary finality; but
then, suddenly out of the chill which oppressed his heart there sprang a
last searing blast of astonished anguish. It was as if he realized for the
first time all that had befallen him since the morning. He was racked by a
horrified desolation that made his sturdy old body stagger as if under an
unexpected blow. As he reeled he flung his arm about the pine-tree and so
stood for a time, shaking in a paroxysm which left him breathless when it
passed. For it passed as suddenly as it came. He lifted his head and
looked again at the great cleft in the mountains, with new eyes. Somehow,
insensibly, his heart had been emptied of its fiery draught by more than
mere exhaustion. The old bitter pain was gone, but there was no mere void
in its place. He felt the sweet, weak light-headedness of a man in his
first lucid period after a fever, tears stinging his eyelids in confused
thanksgiving for an unrecognized respite from pain.
He looked up at the lofty crown of the pine-tree, through which shone one
or two of the brightest stars, and felt a new comradeship with it. It was
a great tree, he thought, and they had grown up together. He laid his
hardened palm on it, and fancied that he caught a throb of the silent
vitality under the bark. How many kinds of life there were! Under its
white shroud, how all the valley lived. The tree stretching up its head to
the stars, the river preparing to throw off the icy armor which compressed
its heart--they were all awakening in their own way. The river had been
restless, like himself, the tree had been tranquil, but they passed
together through the resurrection into quiet life.
When he went into the house, he found that he was almost fainting with
fatigue. He sat down by the desk, and his head fell forward on the pile of
pamphlets he had left there. For the first time in his life he thought of
them without a sore heart. "I suppose Natty'll go to every one of them
places," he murmured as he dropped to sleep.
He dreamed strange, troubled dreams that melted away before he could seize
on them, and finally he thought his sister stood before him and called.
The impression was so vivid that he started up, staring at the empty room.
For an instant he still thought he heard a voice, and then he knew it was
the old clock striking the hour. It was ten o'clock.
"Natty's just a-crossin' the State line," he said aloud The text-ornament
caught his eye. Still half asleep, with his sister's long-forgotten voice
ringing in his ears, he remembered vaguely that he had meant to bring the
second text to light. For a moment he hesitated, and then, "Well, it's
come true for Natty, anyhow," he thought.
And clumsily using his heavy jackknife, he began to cut the tiny stitches
which had so long hidden from his eyes the joyous exultation of the
Of all the Elwell family Aunt Mehetabel was certainly the most unimportant
member. It was in the New England days, when an unmarried woman was an old
maid at twenty, at forty was everyone's servant, and at sixty had gone
through so much discipline that she could need no more in the next world.
Aunt Mehetabel was sixty-eight.
She had never for a moment known the pleasure of being important to
anyone. Not that she was useless in her Brother's family; she was
expected, as a matter of course, to take upon herself the most tedious and
uninteresting part of the household labors. On Mondays she accepted as her
share the washing of the men's shirts, heavy with sweat and stiff with
dirt from the fields and from their own hard-working bodies. Tuesdays she
never dreamed of being allowed to iron anything pretty or even
interesting, like the baby's white dresses or the fancy aprons of her
young lady nieces. She stood all day pressing out a tiresome monotonous
succession of dish-cloths and towels and sheets.
In preserving-time she was allowed to have none of the pleasant
responsibility of deciding when the fruit had cooked long enough, nor did
she share in the little excitement of pouring the sweet-smelling stuff
into the stone jars. She sat in a corner with the children and stoned
cherries incessantly, or hulled strawberries until her fingers were dyed
red to the bone.
The Elwells were not consciously unkind to their aunt, they were even in a
vague way fond of her; but she was so utterly insignificant a figure in
their lives that they bestowed no thought whatever on her. Aunt Mehetabel
did not resent this treatment; she took it quite as unconsciously as they
gave it. It was to be expected when one was an old-maid dependent in a
busy family. She gathered what crumbs of comfort she could from their
occasional careless kindnesses and tried to hide the hurt which even yet
pierced her at her brother's rough joking. In the winter when they all sat
before the big hearth, roasted apples, drank mulled cider, and teased the
girls about their beaux and the boys about their sweethearts, she shrank
into a dusky corner with her knitting, happy if the evening passed without
her brother saying, with a crude sarcasm, "Ask your Aunt Mehetabel about
the beaux that used to come a-sparkin' her!" or, "Mehetabel, how was't
when you was in love with Abel Cummings." As a matter of fact, she had
been the same at twenty as at sixty, a quiet, mouse-like little creature,
too timid and shy for anyone to notice, or to raise her eyes for a moment
and wish for a life of her own.
Her sister-in-law, a big hearty housewife, who ruled indoors with as
autocratic a sway as did her husband on the farm, was rather kind in an
absent, offhand way to the shrunken little old woman, and it was through
her that Mehetabel was able to enjoy the one pleasure of her life. Even as
a girl she had been clever with her needle in the way of patching
bedquilts. More than that she could never learn to do. The garments which
she made for herself were the most lamentable affairs, and she was humbly
grateful for any help in the bewildering business of putting them
together. But in patchwork she enjoyed a tepid importance. She could
really do that as well as anyone else. During years of devotion to this
one art she had accumulated a considerable store of quilting patterns.
Sometimes the neighbors would send over and ask "Miss Mehetabel" for such
and such a design. It was with an agreeable flutter at being able to help
someone that she went to the dresser, in her bare little room under the
eaves, and extracted from her crowded portfolio the pattern desired.
She never knew how her great idea came to her. Sometimes she thought she
must have dreamed it, sometimes she even wondered reverently, in the
phraseology of the weekly prayer-meeting, if it had not been "sent" to
her. She never admitted to herself that she could have thought of it
without other help; it was too great, too ambitious, too lofty a project
for her humble mind to have conceived. Even when she finished drawing the
design with her own fingers, she gazed at it incredulously, not daring to
believe that it could indeed be her handiwork. At first it seemed to her
only like a lovely but quite unreal dream. She did not think of putting it
into execution--so elaborate, so complicated, so beautifully difficult a
pattern could be only for the angels in heaven to quilt. But so curiously
does familiarity accustom us even to very wonderful things, that as she
lived with this astonishing creation of her mind, the longing grew
stronger and stronger to give it material life with her nimble old
She gasped at her daring when this idea first swept over her and put it
away as one does a sinfully selfish notion, but she kept coming back to it
again and again. Finally she said compromisingly to herself that she would
make one "square," just one part of her design, to see how it would look.
Accustomed to the most complete dependence on her brother and his wife,
she dared not do even this without asking Sophia's permission. With a
heart full of hope and fear thumping furiously against her old ribs, she
approached the mistress of the house on churning-day, knowing with the
innocent guile of a child that the country woman was apt to be in a good
temper while working over the fragrant butter in the cool cellar.
Sophia listened absently to her sister-in-law's halting, hesitating
petition. "Why, yes, Mehetabel," she said, leaning far down into the huge
churn for the last golden morsels--"why, yes, start another quilt if you
want to. I've got a lot of pieces from the spring sewing that will work in
real good." Mehetabel tried honestly to make her see that this would be no
common quilt, but her limited vocabulary and her emotion stood between her
and expression. At last Sophia said, with a kindly impatience: "Oh, there!
Don't bother me. I never could keep track of your quiltin' patterns,
anyhow. I don't care what pattern you go by."
With this overwhelmingly, although unconsciously, generous permission
Mehetabel rushed back up the steep attic stairs to her room, and in a
joyful agitation began preparations for the work of her life. It was even
better than she hoped. By some heaven-sent inspiration she had invented a
pattern beyond which no patchwork quilt could go.
She had but little time from her incessant round of household drudgery for
this new and absorbing occupation, and she did not dare sit up late at
night lest she burn too much candle. It was weeks before the little square
began to take on a finished look, to show the pattern. Then Mehetabel was
in a fever of impatience to bring it to completion. She was too
conscientious to shirk even the smallest part of her share of the work of
the house, but she rushed through it with a speed which left her panting
as she climbed to the little room. This seemed like a radiant spot to her
as she bent over the innumerable scraps of cloth which already in her
imagination ranged themselves in the infinitely diverse pattern of her
masterpiece. Finally she could wait no longer, and one evening ventured to
bring her work down beside the fire where the family sat, hoping that some
good fortune would give her a place near the tallow candles on the
mantelpiece. She was on the last corner of the square, and her needle flew
in and out with inconceivable rapidity. No one noticed her, a fact which
filled her with relief, and by bedtime she had but a few more stitches to
As she stood up with the others, the square fluttered out of her trembling
old hands and fell on the table. Sophia glanced at it carelessly. "Is that
the new quilt you're beginning on?" she asked with a yawn. "It looks like
a real pretty pattern. Let's see it." Up to that moment Mehetabel had
labored in the purest spirit of disinterested devotion to an ideal, but as
Sophia held her work toward the candle to examine it, and exclaimed in
amazement and admiration, she felt an astonished joy to know that her
creation would stand the test of publicity.
"Land sakes!" ejaculated her sister-in-law, looking at the many-colored
square. "Why, Mehetabel Elwell, where'd you git that pattern?"
"I made it up," said Mehetabel quietly, but with unutterable pride.
"No!" exclaimed Sophia incredulously. "_Did_ you! Why, I never see such a
pattern in my life. Girls, come here and see what your Aunt Mehetabel is
The three tall daughters turned back reluctantly from the stairs. "I don't
seem to take much interest in patchwork," said one listlessly.
"No, nor I neither!" answered Sophia; "but a stone image would take an
interest in this pattern. Honest, Mehetabel, did you think of it yourself?
And how under the sun and stars did you ever git your courage up to start
in a-making it? Land! Look at all those tiny squinchy little seams! Why
the wrong side ain't a thing _but_ seams!"
The girls echoed their mother's exclamations, and Mr. Elwell himself came
over to see what they were discussing. "Well, I declare!" he said, looking
at his sister with eyes more approving than she could ever remember. "That
beats old Mis' Wightman's quilt that got the blue ribbon so many times at
the county fair."
Mehetabel's heart swelled within her, and tears of joy moistened her old
eyes as she lay that night in her narrow, hard bed, too proud and excited
to sleep. The next day her sister-in-law amazed her by taking the huge pan
of potatoes out of her lap and setting one of the younger children to
peeling them. "Don't you want to go on with that quiltin' pattern?" she
said; "I'd kind o' like to see how you're goin' to make the grape-vine
design come out on the corner."
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