Part 9 out of 18
little family; a cordial which Mrs. Rossitur drank and grew strong upon in
the very act of reading. It is pity the medicine of kind words is not more
used in the world--it has so much power. Then, having folded up her
treasure and talked a little while about it, Mrs. Rossitur caught up the
Magazine like a person who had been famished in that kind; and soon she
and it and her tallow candle formed a trio apart from all the world again.
Fleda and Hugh were safe to pass most mysterious-looking little papers
from hand to hand right before her, though they had the care to read them
behind newspapers, and exchanges of thought and feeling went on more
swiftly still, and softly, across the fire.
Looks, and smiles, and whispers, and tears too, under cover of a Tribune
and an Express. And the blaze would die down just when Hugh had got to
the last verse of something, and then while impatiently waiting for the
new pine splinters to catch he would tell Fleda how much he liked it, or
how beautiful he thought it, and whisper enquiries and critical
questions; till the fire reached the fat vein and leaped up in defiant
emulation of gas-lights unknown, and then he would fall to again with
renewed gusto. And Fleda hunted out in her portfolio what bits to give
him first, and bade him as she gave them remember this and understand
that, which was necessary to be borne in mind in the reading. And through
all the brightening and fading blaze, and all the whispering,
congratulating, explaining, and rejoicing going on at her side, Mrs.
Rossitur and her tallow candle were devoted to each other, happily and
engrossingly. At last, however, she flung the Magazine from her and
turning from the table sat looking into the fire with a rather uncommonly
careful and unsatisfied brow.
"What did you think of the second piece of poetry there, mother?" said
Hugh;--"that ballad?--'The wind's voices' it is called."
"'The wind's voices'?--I don't know--I didn't read it, I believe."
"Why mother! I liked it very much. Do read it--read it aloud."
Mrs. Rossitur took up the Magazine again abstractedly, and read--
"'Mamma, what makes your face so sad?
The sound of the wind makes me feel glad;
But whenever it blows, as grave you look,
As if you were reading a sorrowful book.'
"'A sorrowful book I am reading, dear,--
A book of weeping and pain and fear,--
A book deep printed on my heart,
Which I cannot read but the tears will start.
"'That breeze to my ear was soft and mild,
Just so, when I was a little child;
But now I hear in its freshening breath
The voices of those that sleep in death.'
"'Mamma,' said the child with shaded brow,
'What is this book you are reading now?
And why do you read what makes you cry?'
'My child, it comes up before my eye.
"'Tis the memory, love, of a far-off day
When my life's best friend was taken away;--
Of the weeks and months that my eyes were dim
Watching for tidings--watching for him.
"'Many a year has come and past
Since a ship sailed over the ocean fast,
Bound for a port on England's shore,--
She sailed--but was never heard of more.'
"'Mamma'--and she closer pressed her side,--
'Was that the time when my father died?--
Is it his ship you think you see?--
Dearest mamma--won't you speak to me?'
"The lady paused, but then calmly said,
'Yes, Lucy--the sea was his dying bed,
And now whenever I hear the blast
I think again of that storm long past.
"'The winds' fierce bowlings hurt not me,
But I think how they beat on the pathless sea,--
Of the breaking mast--of the parting rope,--
Of the anxious strife and the failing hope.'
"'Mamma,' said the child with streaming eyes,
'My father has gone above the skies;
And you tell me this world is mean and base
Compared with heaven--that blessed place.'
"'My daughter, I know--I believe it all,--
I would not his spirit to earth recall.
The blest one he--his storm was brief,--
Mine, a long tempest of tears and grief.
"'I have you, my darling--I should not sigh.
I have one star more in my cloudy sky,--
The hope that we both shall join him there,
In that perfect rest from weeping and care.'"
"Well, mother,--how do you like it?" said Hugh whose eyes gave tender
witness to _his_ liking for it.
"It is pretty--" said Mrs. Rossitur.
Hugh exclaimed, and Fleda laughing took it out of her hand.
"Why mother!" said Hugh,--"it is Fleda's."
"Fleda's!" exclaimed Mrs. Rossitur, snatching the Magazine again. "My dear
child, I was not thinking in the least of what I was reading. Fleda's!--"
She read it over anew, with swimming eyes this time, and then clasped
Fleda in her arms and gave her, not words, but the better reward of kisses
and tears. They remained so a long time, even till Hugh left them; and
then Fleda released from her aunt's embrace still crouched by her side
with one arm in her lap.
They both sat thoughtfully looking into the fire till it had burnt itself
out and nothing but a glowing bed of coals remained.
"That is an excellent young man!" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Mr. Olmney. He sat with me some time after you had gone."
"So you said before," said Fleda, wondering at the troubled expression of
her aunt's face.
"He made me wish," said Mrs. Rossitur hesitating,--"that I could be
something different from what I am--I believe I should be a great deal
The last word was hardly spoken. Fleda rose to her knees and putting both
arms about her aunt pressed face to face, with a clinging sympathy that
told how very near her spirit was; while tears from the eyes of both fell
"Dear aunt Lucy--_dear_ aunt Lucy--I wish you would!--I am sure you would
be a great deal happier--"
But the mixture of feelings was too much for Fleda; her head sank lower on
her aunt's bosom and she wept aloud.
"But I don't know anything about it!" said Mrs. Rossitur, as well as she
could speak,--"I am as ignorant as a child!--"
"Dear aunty! that is nothing--God will teach you if you ask him; he has
promised. Oh ask him, aunt Lucy! I know you would be happier!--I know it
is better--a million times!--to be a child of God than to have everything
in the world--If they only brought us that, I would be very glad of all
our troubles!--indeed I would!"
"But I don't think I ever did anything right in my life!" said poor
"Dear aunt Lucy!" said Fleda, straining her closer and with her very heart
gushing out at these words,--"_dear_ aunty--Christ came for just such
sinners!--for just such as you and I."
"_You,_"--said Mrs. Rossitur, but speech failed utterly, and with a
muttered prayer that Fleda would help her, she sunk her head upon her
shoulder and sobbed herself into quietness, or into exhaustion. The
glow of the firelight faded away till only a faint sparkle was left in
There was not another word spoken, but when they rose up, with such kisses
as gave and took unuttered affection, counsel and sympathy, they bade each
Fleda went to her window, for the moon rode high and her childish habit
had never been forgotten. But surely the face that looked out that night
was as the face of an angel. In all the pouring moonbeams that filled the
air, she could see nothing but the flood of God's goodness on a dark
world. And her heart that night had nothing but an unbounded and
unqualified thanksgiving for all the "gentle discipline" they had felt;
for every sorrow and weariness and disappointment;--except besides the
prayer, almost too deep to be put into words, that its due and hoped-for
fruit might be brought forth unto perfection.
I become not a cart as well as another man, a plague on my bringing up.
Every day could not be as bright as the last, even by the help of pitch
pine knots. They blazed indeed, many a time, but the blaze shone upon
faces that it could not sometimes light up. Matters drew gradually within
a smaller and smaller compass. Another five dollars came from uncle Orrin,
and the hope of more; but these were carefully laid by to pay Philetus;
and for all other wants of the household excepting those the farm supplied
the family were dependent on mere driblets of sums. None came from Mr.
Rossitur. Hugh managed to collect a very little. That kept them from
absolute distress; that, and Fleda's delicate instrumentality. Regular
dinners were given up, fresh meat being now unheard-of, unless when a kind
neighbour made them a present; and appetite would have lagged sadly but
for Fleda's untiring care. She thought no time nor pains ill bestowed
which could prevent her aunt and Hugh from feeling the want of old
comforts; and her nicest skill was displayed in varying the combinations
of their very few and simple stores. The diversity and deliciousness of
her bread stuffs, Barby said, was "beyond everything!" and a cup of rich
coffee was found to cover all deficiencies of removes and entremets; and
this was always served, Barby said further, as if the President of the
United States was expected. Fleda never permitted the least slackness in
the manner of doing this or anything else that she could control.
Mr. Plumfield had sent down an opportune present of a fine porker. One
cold day in the beginning of February Fleda was busy in the kitchen making
something for dinner, and Hugh at another table was vigorously chopping
"I should like to have some cake again," said Fleda.
"Well, why don't you?" said Hugh, chopping away.
"No eggs, Mr. Rossitur,--and can't afford 'em at two shillings a dozen. I
believe I am getting discontented--I have a great desire to do something
to distinguish myself--I would make a plum pudding if I had raisins, but
there is not one in the house."
"You can get 'em up to Mr. Hemps's for sixpence a pound," said Barby.
But Fleda shook her head at the sixpence and went on moulding out her
"I wish Philetus would make his appearance with the cows--it is a
very odd thing they should be gone since yesterday morning and no
news of them."
"I only hope the snow ain't so bright it'll blind his eyes," said Barby.
"There he is this minute," said Hugh. "It is impossible to tell from his
countenance whether successful or not."
"Well where are the cows, Mr. Skillcorn?" said Barby as he came in.
"I have went all over town," said the person addressed, "and they ain't
"Have you asked news of them, Philetus?"
"I have asked the hull town, and I have went all over, 'till I was a'most
beat out with the cold,--and I ha'n't seen the first sight of 'em yet!"
Fleda and Hugh exchanged looks, while Barby and Mr. Skillcorn entered into
an animated discussion of probabilities and impossibilities.
"If we should be driven from our coffee dinners to tea with no milk in
it!"--said Hugh softly in mock dismay.
"Wouldn't!" said Fleda. "We'd beat up an egg and put it in the coffee."
"We couldn't afford it," said Hugh smiling.
"Could!--cheaper than to keep the cows. I'll have some sugar at any rate,
I'm determined. Philetus!"
"I wish, when you have got a good pile of wood chopped, you would make
some troughs to put under the maple trees--you know how to make them,
"I wish you would make some--you have pine logs out there large enough,
"They hadn't ought to want much of it--there's some gregious big ones!"
"I don't know how many we shall want, but a hundred or two at any rate;
and the sooner the better. Do you know how much sugar they make from
"Wall I don't," said Mr. Skillcorn, with the air of a person who was at
fault on no other point;--"the big trees give more than the little ones--"
Fleda's eyes flashed at Hugh, who took to chopping in sheer desperation;
and the muscles of both gave them full occupation for five minutes.
Philetus stood comfortably warming himself at the fire, looking first at
one and then at the other, as if they were a show and he had paid for it.
Barby grew impatient.
"I guess this cold weather makes lazy people of me!" she said bustling
about her fire with an amount of energy that was significant. It seemed
to signify nothing to Philetus. He only moved a little out of the way.
"Didenhover's cleared out," he burst forth at length abruptly.
"What!" said Fleda and Barby at once, the broom and the biscuits
"What of him?"
"He has tuk himself off out o" town."
"I can't tell you where teu--he ain't coming back, 'tain't likely."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause he's tuk all his traps and went, and he said farming didn't pay
and he wa'n't a going to have nothin' more to deu with it;--he telled Mis'
Simpson so--he lived to Mis' Simpson's; and she telled Mr. Ten Eyck."
"Are you sure, Philetus?"
"Sure as 'lection!--he telled Mis' Simpson so, and she telled Mr. Ten
Eyck; and he's cleared out."
Fleda and Hugh again looked at each other. Mr. Skillcorn having now
delivered himself of his news went out to the woodyard.
"I hope he ha'n't carried off our cows along with him," said Barby, as she
too went out to some other part of her premises.
"He was to have made us quite a payment on the first of March,"
"Yes, and that was to have gone to uncle Orrin," said Hugh.
"We shall not see a cent of it. And we wanted a little of it for
ourselves.--I have that money from the Excelsior, but I can't touch a
penny of it for it must go to Philetus's wages. What Barby does without
hers I do not know--she has had but one five dollars in six months. Why
she stays I cannot imagine; unless it is for pure love."
"As soon as the spring opens I can go to the mill again," said Hugh after
a little pause. Fleda looked at him sorrowfully and shook her head as she
withdrew her eyes.
"I wish father would give up the farm," Hugh went on under his breath. "I
cannot bear to live upon uncle Orrin so."
Fleda's answer was to clasp her hands. Her only words were, "Don't say
anything to aunt Lucy."
"It is of no use to say anything to anybody," said Hugh. "But it weighs me
to the ground, Fleda!"
"If uncle Rolf doesn't come home by spring--I hope, I hope he will!--but
if he does not, I will take desperate measures. I will try farming myself,
Hugh. I have thought of it, and I certainly will. I will get Earl Douglass
or somebody else to play second fiddle, but I will have but one head on
the farm and I will try what mine is worth."
"You could not do it, Fleda."
"One can do anything!--with a strong enough motive."
"I'm afraid you'd soon be tired, Fleda."
"Not if I succeeded--not so tired as I am now."
"Poor Fleda! I dare say you are tired."
"It wasn't _that_ I meant," said Fleda, slightly drawing her breath;--"I
meant this feeling of everything going wrong, and uncle Orrin, and all--"
"But you _are_ weary," said Hugh affectionately. "I see it in your face."
"Not so much body as mind, after all. Oh Hugh! this is the worst part of
being poor!--the constant occupation of one's mind on a miserable
succession of trifles. I am so weary sometimes!--If I only had a nice
book to rest myself for a while and forget all these things--I would give
so much for it!--"
"Dear Fleda! I wish you had!"
"That was one delight of being in New York--I forgot all about money from
one end of it to the other--I put all that away;--and not having to think
of meals till I came to eat them. You can't think how tired I get of
ringing the changes on pork and flour and Indian meal and eggs and
Fleda looked tired and pale; and Hugh looked sadly conscious of it.
"Don't tell aunt Lucy I have said all this!" she exclaimed after a moment
rousing herself,--"I don't always feel so--only once in a while I get such
a fit--And now I have just troubled you by speaking of it!"
"You don't trouble any one in that way very often, dear Fleda," said Hugh
"I ought not at all--you have enough else to think of--but it is a kind of
relief sometimes. I like to do these things in general,--only now and then
I get tired, as I was just now, I suppose, and then one sees everything
through a different medium."
"I am afraid it would tire you more to have the charge of Earl Douglass
and the farm upon your mind;--and mother could be no help to you,--nor I,
if I am at the mill."
"But there's Seth Plumfield. O I've thought of it all. You don't know what
I am up to, Mr. Rossitur. You shall see how I will manage--unless uncle
Rolf comes home, in which case I will very gladly forego all my honours
and responsibilities together."
"I hope he will come!" said Hugh.
But this hope was to be disappointed. Mr. Rossitur wrote again about the
first of March, saying that he hoped to make something of his lands in
Michigan, and that he had the prospect of being engaged in some land
agencies which would make it worth his while to spend the summer there. He
bade his wife let anybody take the farm that could manage it and would
pay; and to remit to Dr. Gregory whatever she should receive and could
spare. He hoped to do something where he was.
It was just then the beginning of the sugar season; and Mrs. Douglass
having renewed and urged Earl's offer of help, Fleda sent Philetus down to
ask him to come the next day with his team. Seth Plumfield's, which had
drawn the wood in the winter, was now busy in his own sugar business. On
Earl Douglass's ground there happpened to be no maple trees. His lands
were of moderate extent and almost entirely cultivated as a sheep farm;
and Mr. Douglass himself though in very comfortable circumstances was in
the habit of assisting, on advantageous terms, all the farmers in the
Philetus came back again in a remarkably short time; and announced that he
had met Dr. Quackenboss in the way, who had offered to come with _his_
team for the desired service.
"Then you have not been to Mr. Douglass's?"
"I have not," said Philetus;--"I thought likely you wouldn't calculate to
want him teu."
"How came the doctor to know what you were going for?"
"I told him."
"But how came you to tell him?"
"Wall I guess he had a mind to know," said Philetus, "so I didn't keep it
no closer than I had teu."
"Well," said Fleda biting her lips, "you will have to go down to Mr.
Douglass's nevertheless, Philetus, and tell him the doctor is coming
to-morrow, but I should be very much obliged to him if he will be here
next day. Will you?"
"Now dear Hugh, will you make me those little spouts for the trees!--of
some dry wood--you can get plenty out here. You want to split them up with
a hollow chisel about a quarter of an inch thick, and a little more than
half an inch broad. Have you got a hollow chisel?"
"No, but I can get one up the hill. Why must it be hollow?"
"To make little spouts, you know,--for the sap to run in. And then, my
dear Hugh! they must be sharpened at one end so as to fit where the chisel
goes in--I am afraid I have given you a day's work of it. How sorry I am
you must go to-morrow to the mill!--and yet I am glad too."
"Why need you go round yourself with these people?" said Hugh. "I don't
see the sense of it."
"They don't know where the trees are," said Fleda.
"I am sure I do not. Do you?"
"Perfectly well. And besides," said Fleda laughing, "I should have great
doubts of the discreetness of Philetus's auger if it were left to his
simple direction. I have no notion the trees would yield their sap as
kindly to him as to me. But I didn't bargain for Dr. Quackenboss."
Dr. Quackenboss arrived punctually the next morning with his oxen and
sled; and by the time it was loaded with the sap-troughs, Fleda in her
black cloak, yarn shawl, and grey little hood came out of the house to the
wood-yard. Earl Douglass was there too, not with his team, but merely to
see how matters stood and give advice.
"Good day, Mr. Douglass!" said the doctor. "You see I'm so fortunate as to
have got the start of you."
"Very good," said Earl contentedly,--"you may have it;--the start's one
thing and the pull's another. I'm willin' anybody should have the start,
but it takes a pull to know whether a man's got stuff in him or no."
"What do you mean?" said the doctor.
"I don't mean nothin' at all. You make a start to-day and I'll come ahint
and take the pull to-morrow. Ha' you got anythin' to boil down in,
Fleda?--there's a potash kittle somewheres, ain't there? I guess there is.
There is in most houses."
"There is a large kettle--I suppose large enough," said Fleda.
"That'll do, I guess. Well what do you calculate to put the syrup in--ha'
you got a good big cask, or plenty o' tubs and that? or will you sugar
off the hull lot every night and fix it that way? You must do one thing
or t'other, and it's good to know what you're a going to do afore you
come to do it."
"I don't know, Mr. Douglass," said Fleda;--"whichever is the best way--we
have no cask large enough, I am afraid."
"Well I tell you what I'll do--I know where there's a tub, and where
they ain't usin' it nother, and I reckon I can get 'em to let me have
it--I reckon I can--and I'll go round for't and fetch it here to-morrow
mornin' when I come with the team. 'Twon't be much out of my way. It's
more handier to leave the sugarin' off till the next day; and it had
ought to have a settlin' besides. Where'll you have your fire built?--in
doors or out?"
"Out--I would rather, if we can. But can we?"
"La, 'tain't nothin' easier--it's as easy out as in--all you've got to do
is to take and roll a couple of pretty sized billets for your fireplace
and stick a couple o' crotched sticks for to hang the kittle over--I'd as
lieve have it out as in, and if anythin' a leetle liever. If you'll lend
me Philetus, me and him'll fix it all ready agin you come back--'tain't no
trouble at all--and if the sticks ain't here we'll go into the woods after
'em, and have it all sot up."
But Fleda represented that the services of Philetus were just then in
requisition, and that there would be no sap brought home till to-morrow.
"Very good!" said Earl amicably,--"_very_ good! it's just as easy done one
day as another--it don't make no difference to me, and if it makes any
difference to you, of course we'll leave it to-day, and there'll be time
enough to do it to-morrow; me and him'll knock it up in a whistle.--What's
them little shingles for?"
Fleda explained the use and application of Hugh's mimic spouts. He turned
one about, whistling, while he listened to her.
"That's some o' Seth Plumfield's new jigs, ain't it. I wonder if he thinks
now the sap's a goin to run any sweeter out o' that 'ere than it would off
the end of a chip that wa'n't quite so handsome?"
"No, Mr. Douglass," said Fleda smiling,--"he only thinks that this will
catch a little more."
"His sugar won't never tell where it come from," remarked Earl, throwing
the spout down. "Well,--you shall see more o' me to-morrow. Good-bye, Dr.
"Do you contemplate the refining process?" said the doctor, as they
"I have often contemplated the want of it," said Fleda; "but it is best
not to try to do too much. I should like to make sure of something worth
refining in the first place."
"Mr. Douglass and I," said the doctor,--"I hope--a--he's a very
good-hearted man, Miss Fleda, but, ha! ha!--he wouldn't suffer loss from a
little refining himself.--Haw! you rascal--where are you going! Haw! I
"I am very sorry, Dr. Quackenboss," said Fleda when she had the power and
the chance to speak again,--"I am very sorry you should have to take this
trouble; but unfortunately the art of driving oxen is not among Mr.
"My dear Miss Ringgan!" said the doctor, "I--I--nothing I assure you could
give me greater pleasure than to drive my oxen to any place where you
would like to have them go."
Poor Fleda wished she could have despatched them and him in one direction
while she took another; the art of driving oxen _quietly_ was certainly
not among the doctor's accomplishments. She was almost deafened. She tried
to escape from the immediate din by running before to shew Philetus about
tapping the trees and fixing the little spouts, but it was a longer
operation than she had counted upon, and by the time they were ready to
leave the tree the doctor was gee-hawing alongside of it; and then if the
next maple was not within sight she could not in decent kindness leave him
alone. The oxen went slowly, and though Fleda managed to have no delay
longer than to throw down a trough as the sled came up with each tree
which she and Philetus had tapped, the business promised to make a long
day of it. It might have been a pleasant day in pleasant company; but
Fleda's spirits were down to set out with, and Dr. Quackenboss was not the
person to give them the needed spring; his long-winded complimentary
speeches had not interest enough even to divert her. She felt that she was
entering upon an untried and most weighty undertaking; charging her time
and thoughts with a burthen they could well spare. Her energies did not
flag, but the spirit that should have sustained them was not strong enough
for the task.
It was a blustering day of early March; with that uncompromising
brightness of sky and land which has no shadow of sympathy with a heart
overcast. The snow still lay a foot thick over the ground, thawing a
little in sunny spots; the trees quite bare and brown, the buds even of
the early maples hardly shewing colour; the blessed evergreens alone doing
their utmost to redeem the waste, and speaking of patience and fortitude
that can brave the blast and outstand the long waiting and cheerfully bide
the time when "the winter shall be over and gone." Poor Fleda thought they
were like her in their circumstances, but she feared she was not like them
in their strong endurance. She looked at the pines and hemlocks as she
passed, as if they were curious preachers to her; and when she had a
chance she prayed quietly that she might stand faithfully like them to
cheer a desolation far worse and she feared far more abiding than snows
could make or melt away. She thought of Hugh, alone in his mill-work that
rough chilly day, when the wind stalked through the woods and over the
country as if it had been the personification of March just come of ape
and taking possession of his domains. She thought of her uncle, doing
what?--in Michigan,--leaving them to fight with difficulties as they
might,--why?--why? and her gentle aunt at home sad and alone, pining for
the want of them all, but most of him, and fading with their fortunes. And
Fleda's thoughts travelled about from one to the other and dwelt with them
all by turns till she was heart-sick; and tears, tears, fell hot on the
snow many a time when her eyes had a moment's shield from the doctor and
his somewhat more obtuse coadjutor. She felt half superstitiously as if
with her taking the farm were beginning the last stage of their falling
prospects, which would leave them with none of hope's colouring. Not that
in the least she doubted her own ability and success; but her uncle did
not deserve to have his affairs prosper under such a system and she had no
faith that they would.
"It is most grateful," said the doctor with that sideway twist of his jaw
and his head at once, in harmony,--"it is a most grateful thing to see
such a young lady--Haw I there now I--what are you about? haw,--haw
then!--It is a most grateful thing to see--"
But Fleda was not at his side; she had bounded away and was standing
under a great maple tree a little ahead, making sure that Philetus screwed
his auger _up_ into the tree instead of _down_, which he had several times
shewed an unreasonable desire to do. The doctor had steered his oxen by
her little grey hood and black cloak all the day. He made for it now.
"Have we arrived at the termination of our--a--adventure?" said he as he
came up and threw down the last trough.
"Why no, sir," said Fleda, "for we have yet to get home again."
"'Tain't so fur going that way as it were this'n," said Philetus. "My!
ain't I glad."
"Glad of what?" said the doctor. "Here's Miss Ringgan's walked the whole
way, and she a lady--ain't you ashamed to speak of being tired?"
"I ha'n't said the first word o' being tired!" said Philetus in an
injured tone of voice,--"but a man ha'n't no right to kill hisself, if he
ain't a gal!"
"I'll qualify to your being safe enough," said the doctor. "But
Miss Ringgan, my dear, you are--a--you have lost something since
you came out--"
"What?" said Fleda laughing. "Not my patience?"
"No," said the doctor, "no,--you're--a--you're an angel! but your cheeks,
my dear Miss Ringgan, shew that you have exceeded your--a--"
"Not my intentions, doctor," said Fleda lightly. "I am very well satisfied
with our day's work, and with my share of it, and a cup of coffee will
make me quite up again. Don't look at my cheeks till then."
"I shall disobey you constantly," said the doctor;--"but, my dear Miss
Fleda, we must give you some felicities for reaching home, or Mrs.
Rossitur will be--a--distressed when she sees them. Might I propose--that
you should just bear your weight on this wood-sled and let my oxen and me
have the honour--The cup of coffee, I am confident, would be at your lips
"The sun won't be a great haighth by the time we get there," said Philetus
in a cynical manner; "and I ha'n't took the first thing to-day!"
"Well who has?" said the doctor; "you ain't the only one. Follow your nose
down hill, Mr. Skillcorn, and it'll smell supper directly. Now, my dear
Miss Ringgan!--will you?"
Fleda hesitated, but her relaxed energies warned her not to despise a
homely mode of relief. The wood-sled was pretty clean, and the road
decently good over the snow. So Fleda gathered her cloak about her and sat
down flat on the bottom of her rustic vehicle; too grateful for the rest
to care if there had been a dozen people to laugh at her; but the doctor
was only delighted, and Philetus regarded every social phenomenon as
coolly and in the same business light as he would the butter to his bread,
or any other infallible every-day matter.
Fleda was very glad presently that she had taken this plan, for besides
the rest of body she was happily relieved from all necessity of speaking.
The doctor though but a few paces off was perfectly given up to the care
of his team, in the intense anxiety to shew his skill and gallantry in
saving her harmless from every ugly place in the road that threatened a
jar or a plunge. Why his oxen didn't go distracted was a question; but the
very vehemence and iteration of his cries at last drowned itself in
Fleda's ear and she could hear it like the wind's roaring, without
thinking of it. She presently subsided to that. With a weary frame, and
with that peculiar quietness of spirits that comes upon the ending of a
days work in which mind and body have both been busily engaged, and the
sudden ceasing of any call upon either, fancy asked no leave and dreamily
roved hither and thither between the material and the spirit world; the
will too subdued to stir. Days gone by came marshalling their scenes and
their actors before her; again she saw herself a little child under those
same trees that stretched their great black arms over her head and swaying
their tops in the wind seemed to beckon her back to the past. They talked
of their old owner, whose steps had so often passed beneath them with her
own light tread,--light now, but how dancing then!--by his side; and of
her father whose hand perhaps had long ago tapped those very trees where
she had noticed the old closed-up soars of the axe. At any rate his
boyhood had rejoiced there, and she could look back to one time at least
in his manhood when she had taken a pleasant walk with him in summer
weather among those same woods, in that very ox-track she believed.
Gone--two generations that she had known there; hopes and fears and
disappointments, akin to her own, at rest,--as hers would be; and how
sedately the old trees stood telling her of it, and waving their arms in
grave and gentle commenting on the folly of anxieties that came and went
with the wind. Fleda agreed to it all; she heard all they said; and her
own spirit was as sober and quiet as their quaint moralizing. She felt as
if it would never dance again.
The wind had greatly abated of its violence; as if satisfied with the shew
of strength it had given in the morning it seemed willing to make no more
commotion that day. The sun was far on his way to the horizon, and many a
broad hill-side slope was in shadow; the snow had blown or melted from off
the stones and rocks leaving all their roughness and bareness unveiled;
and the white crust of snow that lay between them looked a cheerless waste
in the shade of the wood and the hill. But there were other spots where
the sunbeams struck and bright streams of light ran between the trees,
smiling and making them smile. And as Fleda's eye rested there another
voice seemed to say, "At evening-time it shall be light,"--and "Sorrow may
endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." She could have cried,
but spirits were too absolutely at an ebb. She knew this was partly
physical, because she was tired and faint, but it could not the better be
overcome. Yet those streaks of sunlight were pleasant company, and Fleda
watched them, thinking how bright they used to be once; till the oxen and
sled came out from the woods, and she could see the evening colours on the
hill-tops beyond the village, lighting up the whole landscape with promise
of the morrow. She thought her day had seen its brightest; but she thought
too that if she must know sorrows it was a very great blessing to know
them at Queechy.
The smoke of the chimney-tops came in sight, and fancy went home,--a few
minutes before her.
"I wonder what you'll take and do to yourself next!" said Barby in extreme
vexation when she saw her come in. "You're as white as the wall,--and as
cold, ain't you? I'd ha' let Philetus cut all the trees and drink all the
sap afterwards. I wonder which you think is the worst, the want o' you or
the want o' sugar."
A day's headache was pretty sure to visit Fleda after any over-exertion or
exhaustion, and the next day justified Barby's fears. She was the quiet
prisoner of pain. But Earl Douglass and Mr. Skillcorn could now do without
her in the woods; and her own part of the trouble Fleda always took with
speechless patience. She had the mixed comfort that love could bestow;
Hugh's sorrowful kiss and look before setting off for the mill, Mrs.
Rossitur's caressing care, and Barby's softened voice, and sympathizing
hand on her brow, and hearty heart-speaking kiss, and poor little King lay
all day with his head in her lap, casting grave wistful glances up at his
mistress's face and licking her hand with intense affection when even in
her distress it stole to his head to reward and comfort him. He never
would budge from her side, or her feet, till she could move herself and he
knew that she was well. As sure as King came trotting into the kitchen
Barby used to look into the other room and say, "So you're better, ain't
you, Fleda? I knowed it!"
After hours of suffering the fit was at last over; and in the evening,
though looking and feeling racked, Fleda would go out to see the
sap-boilers. Earl Douglass and Philetus had had a very good day of it,
and now were in full blast with the evening part of the work. The weather
was mild, and having the stay of Hugh's arm Fleda grew too amused to
It was a very pretty scene. The sap-boilers had planted themselves near
the cellar door on the other side of the house from the kitchen door and
the wood-yard; the casks and tubs for syrup being under cover there; and
there they had made a most picturesque work-place. Two strong crotched
sticks were stuck in the ground some six or eight feet apart and a pole
laid upon them, to which by the help of some very rustic hooks two
enormous iron kettles were slung. Under them a fine fire of smallish split
sticks was doing duty, kept in order by a couple of huge logs which walled
it in on the one side and on the other. It was a dark night, and the fire
painted all this in strong lights and shadows; threw a faint fading Aurora
like light over the snow, beyond the shade of its log barriers; glimmered
by turns upon the paling of the garden fence, whenever the dark figures
that were passing and repassing between gave it a chance; and invested the
cellar-opening and the outstanding corner of the house with striking and
unwonted dignity, in a light that revealed nothing except to the
imagination. Nothing was more fancifully dignified or more quaintly
travestied by that light than the figures around it, busy and flitting
about and shewing themselves in every novel variety of grouping and
colouring. There was Earl Douglass, not a hair different from what he was
every day in reality, but with his dark skin and eyes, and a hat that like
its master had concluded to abjure all fashions and perhaps for the same
reason, he looked now like any bandit and now in a more pacific view could
pass for nothing less than a Spanish shepherd at least, with an iron ladle
in lieu of crook. There was Dr. Quackenboss, who had come too, determined
as Earl said, "to keep his eend up," excessively bland and busy and
important, the fire would throw his one-sidedness of feature into such
aspects of gravity or sternness that Fleda could make nothing of him but a
poor clergyman or a poor schoolmaster alternately. Philetus, who was kept
handing about a bucket of sap or trudging off for wood, defied all
comparison; he was Philetus still; but when Barby came once or twice and
peered into the kettle her strong features with the handkerchief she
always wore about her head were lit up into a very handsome gypsy. Fleda
stood some time unseen in the shadow of the house to enjoy the sight, and
then went forward on the same principle that a sovereign princess shews
herself to her army, to grace and reward the labours of her servants. The
doctor was profuse in enquiries after her health and Earl informed her of
the success of the day.
"We've had first rate weather," he said;--"I don't want to see no better
weather for sugar-makin'; it's as good kind o' weather as you need to
have. It friz everythin' up tight in the night, and it thew in the sun
this mornin' as soon as the sun was anywhere; the trees couldn't do no
better than they have done. I guess we ha'n't got much this side o' two
hundred gallon--I ain't sure about it, but that's what I think; and
there's nigh two hundred gallon we've fetched down; I'll qualify to better
than a hundred and fifty, or a hundred and sixty either. We should ha' had
more yet if Mr. Skillcorn hadn't managed to spill over one cask of it--I
reckon he wanted it for sass for his chicken."
"Now, Mr. Douglass!"--said Philetus, in a comical tone of deprecation.
"It is an uncommonly fine lot of sugar trees," said the doctor, "and they
stand so on the ground as to give great felicities to the oxen."
"Now, Fleda," Earl went on, busy all the while with his iron ladle in
dipping the boiling sap from one kettle into the other,--"you know how
this is fixed when we've done all we've got to do with it?--it must be
strained out o' this biler into a cask or a tub or somethin'
'nother,--anythin' that'll hold it,--and stand a day or so;--you may
strain it through a cotton cloth, or through a woollen cloth, or through
any kind of a cloth!--and let it stand to settle; and then when it's biled
down--Barby knows about bilin' down--you can tell when it's comin' to the
sugar when the yellow blobbers rises thick to the top and puffs off, and
then it's time to try it in cold water,--it's best to be a leetle the
right side o' the sugar and stop afore it's done too much, for the
molasses will dreen off afterwards--"
"It must be clarified in the commencement," put in the doctor.
"O' course it must be clarified," said Earl,--"Barby knows about
clarifyin'--that's when you first put it on--you had ought to throw in a
teeny drop o' milk fur to clear it,--milk's as good as a'most
anything,--or if you can get it calf's blood's better "--
"Eggs would be a more preferable ingredient on the present occasion, I
presume," said the doctor. "Miss Ringgan's delicacy would be--a--would
shrink from--a--and the albumen of eggs will answer all the same purpose."
"Well anyhow you like to fix it," said Earl,--"eggs or calf's blood--I
won't quarrel with you about the eggs, though I never heerd o' blue ones
afore, 'cept the robin's and bluebird's--and I've heerd say the swamp
black bird lays a handsome blue egg, but I never happened to see the nest
myself;--and there's the chippin' sparrow,--but you'd want to rob all the
birds' nests in creation to get enough of 'em, and they ain't here in
sugar time, nother; but anyhow any eggs'll do I s'pose if you can get
'em--or milk'll do if you ha'n't nothin' else--and after it is turned out
into the barrel you just let it stand still a spell till it begins to
grain and look clean on top"--
"May I suggest an improvement?" said the doctor. "Many persons are of the
opinion that if you take and stir it up well from the bottom for a length
of time it will help the coagulation of the particles. I believe that is
the practice of Mr. Plumfield and others."
"'Tain't the practice of as good men as him and as good sugar-bilers,
besides," said Earl; "though I don't mean to say nothin' agin Seth
Plumfield nor agin his sugar, for the both is as good as you'd need to
have; he's a good man and he's a good farmer--there ain't no better man in
town than Seth Plumfield, nor no better farmer, nor no better sugar
nother; but I hope there's as good; and I've seen as handsome sugar that
wa'n't stirred as I'd want to see or eat either."
"It would lame a man's arms the worst kind!" said Philetus.
Fleda stood listening to the discussion and smiling, when Hugh suddenly
wheeling about brought her face to face with Mr. Olmney.
"I have been sitting some time with Mrs. Rossitur," he said, "and she
rewarded me with permission to come and look at you. I mean!--not that I
wanted a reward, for I certainly did not--"
"Ah Mr. Olmney!" said Fleda laughing, "you are served right. You see
how dangerous it is to meddle with such equivocal things as
compliments. But we are worth looking at, aren't we? I have been
standing here this half hour."
He did not say this time what he thought.
"Pretty, isn't it?" said Fleda. "Stand a little further back, Mr.
Olmney--isn't it quite a wild-looking scene, in that peculiar light and
with the snowy background? Look at Philetus now with that bundle of
sticks--Hugh! isn't he exactly like some of the figures in the old
pictures of the martyrdoms, bringing billets to feed the fire?--that old
martyrdom of St. Lawrence--whose was it--Spagnoletto!--at Mrs.
Decatur's--don't you recollect? It is fine, isn't it, Mr. Olmney?"
"I am afraid," said he shaking his head a little, "my eye wants training.
I have not been once in your company I believe without your shewing me
something I could not see."
"That young lady, sir," said Dr. Quackenboss from the far side of the
fire, where he was busy giving it more wood,--"that young lady, sir, is a
pattron to her--a--to all young ladies."
"A patron!" said Mr. Olmney.
"Passively, not actively, the doctor means," said Fleda softly.
"Well I won't say but she's a good girl," said Mr. Douglass in an
abstracted manner, busy with his iron ladle,--"she means to be a good
girl--she's as clever a girl as you need to have!"
Nobody's gravity stood this, excepting Philetus, in whom the principle of
fun seemed not to be developed.
"Miss Ringgan, sir," Dr. Quackenboss went on with a most benign expression
of countenance,--"Miss Ringgan, sir, Mr. Olmney, sets an example to all
ladies who--a--have had elegant advantages. She gives her patronage to the
agricultural interest in society."
"Not exclusively, I hope?" said Mr. Olmney smiling, and making the
question with his eye of Fleda. But she did not meet it.
"You know," she said rather quickly, and drawing back from the fire, "I am
of an agricultural turn perforce--in uncle Rolf's absence I am going to be
a farmer myself."
"So I have heard--so Mrs. Rossitur told me,--but I fear--pardon me--you do
not look fit to grapple with such a burden of care."
Hugh sighed, and Fleda's eyes gave Mr. Olmney a hint to be silent.
"I am not going to grapple with any thing, sir; I intend to take
"I wish I could take an agricultural turn too," said he smiling, "and be
of some service to you."
"O I shall have no lack of service," said Fleda gayly;--"I am not going
unprovided into the business. There is my cousin Seth Plumfield, who has
engaged himself to be my counsellor and instructor in general; I could not
have a better; and Mr. Douglass is to be my right hand; I occupying only
the quiet and unassuming post of the will, to convey the orders of the
head to the hand. And for the rest, sir, there is Philetus!"
Mr. Olmney looked, half laughing, at Mr. Skillcorn, who was at that moment
standing with his hands on his sides, eying with concentrated gravity the
movements of Earl Douglass and the doctor.
"Don't shake your head at him!" said Fleda. "I wish you had come an hour
earlier, Mr. Olmney."
"I was just thinking of coming out here," said Fleda, her eyes flashing
with hidden fun,--"and Hugh and I were both standing in the kitchen, when
we heard a tremendous shout from the woodyard. Don't laugh, or I can't go
on. We all ran out, towards the lantern which we saw standing there, and
so soon as we got near we heard Philetus singing out, 'Ho, Miss
Elster!--I'm dreadfully on't!'--Why he called upon Barby I don't know,
unless from some notion of her general efficiency, though to be sure he
was nearer her than the sap-boilers and perhaps thought her aid would come
quickest. And he was in a hurry, for the cries came thick--'Miss
Elster!--here!--I'm dreadfully on't'--"
"I don't understand--"
"No," said Fleda, whose amusement seemed to be increased by the
gentleman's want of understanding,--"and neither did we till we came up to
him. The silly fellow had been sent up for more wood, and splitting a log
he had put his hand in to keep the cleft, instead of a wedge, and when he
took out the axe the wood pinched him; and he had the fate of Milo before
his eyes, I suppose, and could do nothing but roar. You should have seen
the supreme indignation with which Barby took the axe and released him
with 'You're a smart man, Mr. Skillcorn!'"
"What was the fate of Milo?" said Mr. Olmney presently.
"Don't you remember,--the famous wrestler that in his old age trying to
break open a tree found himself not strong enough; and the wood closing
upon his hands held him fast till the wild beasts came and made an end
of him. The figure of our unfortunate wood-cutter though, was hardly so
dignified as that of the old athlete in the statue.--Dr. Quackenboss,
and Mr. Douglass,--you will come in and see us when this troublesome
business is done?"
"It'll be a pretty spell yet," said Earl;--"but the doctor, he can go
in,--he ha'n't nothin' to do. It don't take more'n half a dozen men to
keep one pot a bilin'."
"Ain't there ten on 'em, Mr. Douglass?" said Philetus.
He that has light within his own clear breast,
May sit i' the centre and enjoy bright day.
The farming plan succeeded beyond Fleda's hopes; thanks not more to her
wisdom than to the nice tact with which the wisdom was brought into play.
The one was eked out with Seth Plumfield's; the other was all her own.
Seth was indefatigably kind and faithful. After his own day's work was
done he used to walk down to see Fleda, go with her often to view the
particular field or work just then in question, and give her the best
counsel dictated by great sagacity and great experience. It was given too
with equal frankness and intelligence, so that Fleda knew the steps she
took and could maintain them against the prejudice or the ignorance of her
subordinates. But Fleda's delicate handling stood her yet more in stead
than her strength. Earl Douglass was sometimes unmanageable, and held out
in favour of an old custom or a prevailing opinion in spite of all the
weight of testimony and light of discovery that could be brought to bear
upon him. Fleda would let the thing go. But seizing her opportunity
another time she would ask him to try the experiment, on a piece of the
ground; so pleasantly and skilfully that Earl could do nothing but shut
his mouth and obey, like an animal fairly stroked into good humour. And as
Fleda always forgot to remind him that she had been right and he wrong, he
forgot it too, and presently took to the new way kindly. In other matters
he could be depended on, and the seed-time and harvest prospered well.
There was hope of making a good payment to Dr. Gregory in the course of a
As the spring came forward Fleda took care that her garden should,--both
gardens indeed. There she and Philetus had the game in their own hands,
and beautifully it was managed. Hugh had full occupation at the mill. Many
a dollar this summer was earned by the loads of fine fruit and vegetables
which Philetus carried to Montepoole; and accident opened a new source of
revenue. When the courtyard was in the full blaze of its beauty, one day
an admiring passer-by modestly inquired if a few of those exquisite
flowers might be had for money. They were given him most cheerfully that
time; but the demand returned, accompanied by the offer, and Fleda obliged
herself not to decline it. A trial it was to cut her roses and jessamines
for anything but her own or her friends' pleasure, but according to custom
she bore it without hesitation. The place became a resort for all the
flower-lovers who happened to be staying at the Pool; and rose-leaves were
changed into silver pennies as fast as in a fairy-tale.
But the delicate mainspring that kept all this machinery in order suffered
from too severe a strain. There was too much running, too much
considering, too much watchfulness. In the garden pulling peas and seeing
that Philetus weeded the carrots right,--in the field or the woodyard
consulting and arranging or maybe debating with Earl Douglass, who
acquired by degrees an unwonted and concentrated respect for womankind in
her proper person; breakfast waiting for her often before she came in; in
the house her old housewifery concerns, her share in Barby's cares or
difficulties, her sweet countenancing and cheering of her aunt, her
dinner, her work;--then when evening came, budding her roses or tying her
carnations or weeding or raking the ground between them, (where Philetus
could do nothing,) or training her multiflora and sweet-briar
branches;--and then often after all, walking up to the mill to give Hugh a
little earlier a home smile and make his way down pleasant. No wonder if
the energies which owed much of their strength to love's nerving, should
at last give out, and Fleda's evening be passed in wearied slumbers. No
wonder if many a day was given up to the forced quietude of a headache,
the more grievous to Fleda because she knew that her aunt and Hugh always
found the day dark that was not lightened by her sunbeam. How brightly it
shone out the moment the cloud of pain was removed, winning the shadow
from their faces and a smile to their lips, though solitude always saw her
own settle into a gravity as fixed as it was soft.
"You have been doing too much, Fleda," said Mrs. Rossitur one morning when
she came in from the garden.
"I didn't know it would take me so long," said Fleda drawing a long
breath;--"but I couldn't help it. I had those celery plants to prick
out,--and then I was helping Philetus to plant another patch of corn."
"He might have done that without help I should think."
"But it must be put in to-day, and he had other things to do."
"And then you were at your flowers?--"
"O well!--budding a few roses--that's only play. It was time they were
done. But I _am_ tired; and I am going up to see Hugh--it will rest me
and him too."
The gardening frock and gloves were exchanged for those of ordinary wear,
and Fleda set off slowly to go up to the saw-mill.
She stopped a moment when she came upon the bridge, to look off to the
right where the waters of the little run came hurrying along through a
narrow wooded chasm in the hill, murmuring to her of the time when a
little child's feet had paused there and a child's heart danced to its
music. The freshness of its song was unchanged, the glad rush of its
waters was as joyous as ever, but the spirits were quieted that used to
answer it with sweeter freshness and lighter joyousness. Its faint echo of
the old-time laugh was blended now in Fleda's ear with a gentle wail for
the rushing days and swifter fleeing delights of human life;--gentle,
faint, but clear,--she could hear it very well. Taking up her walk again
with a step yet slower and a brow yet more quiet, she went on till she
came in sight of the little mill; and presently above the noise of the
brook could hear the saw going. To her childish ears what a signal of
pleasure that had always been; and now,--she sighed, and stopping at a
little distance looked for Hugh. He was there; she saw him in a moment
going forward to stop the machinery, the piece of timber in hand having
walked its utmost length up to the saw; she saw him throwing aside the
new-cut board, and adjusting what was left till it was ready for another
march up to headquarters. When it stopped the second time Fleda went
forward. Hugh must have been busy in his own thoughts, for he did not see
her until he had again adjusted the log and set the noisy works in motion.
She stood still. Several huge timbers lay close by, ready for the saw; and
on one of them where he had been sitting Fleda saw his Bible lying open.
As her eye went from it to him it struck her heart with a pang that he
looked tired and that there was a something of delicacy, even of
fragility, in the air of face and figure both.
He came to meet her and welcomed her with a smile that coming upon this
feeling set Fleda's heart a quivering. Hugh's smile was always one of very
great sweetness, though never unshadowed; there was often something
ethereal in its pure gentleness. This time it seemed even sweeter than
usual, but though not sadder, perhaps less sad, Fleda could hardly
command herself to reply to it. She could not at the moment speak; her eye
glanced at his open book.
"Yes, it rests me," he said, answering her.
"Rests you, dear Hugh!--"
He smiled again. "Here is somebody else that wants resting, I am afraid,"
said he, placing her gently on the log; and before she had found anything
to say he went off again to his machinery. Fleda sat looking at him and
trying to clear her bosom of its thick breathing.
"What has brought you up here through the hot sun?" said he, coming back
after he had stopped the saw, and sitting down beside her.
Fleda's lip moved nervously and her eye shunned meeting his. Softly
pushing back the wet hair from his temples, she said,
"I had one of my fits of doing nothing at home--I didn't feel very bright
and thought perhaps you didn't,--so on the principle that two negatives
make an affirmative--"
"I feel bright," said Hugh gently.
Fleda's eye came down to his, which was steady and clear as the reflection
of the sky in Deepwater lake,--and then hers fell lower.
"Why don't you, dear Fleda?"
"I believe I am a little tired," Fleda said, trying but in vain to command
herself and look up,--"and there are states of body when anything almost
is enough to depress one--"
"And what depresses you now?" said he, very steadily and quietly.
"O--I was feeling a little down about things in general," said Fleda in a
choked voice, trying to throw off her load with a long breath;--"it's
because I am tired, I suppose--"
"I felt so too, a little while ago," said Hugh. "But I have concluded to
give all that up, Fleda."
Fleda looked at him. Her eyes were swimming full, but his were clear and
gentle as ever, only glistening a little in sympathy with hers.
"I thought all was going wrong with us," he went on. "But I found it was
only I that was wrong; and since that I have been quite happy, Fleda."
Fleda could not speak to him; his words made her pain worse.
"I told you this rested me," said he reaching across her for his book;
"and now I am never weary long. Shall I rest you with it? What have you
been troubling yourself about to-day?"
She did not answer while he was turning over the leaves, and he then said,
"Do you remember this, Fleda?--'_Truly God is good to Israel, even to them
that are of a clean heart_.'"
Fleda bent her head down upon her hands.
"I was moody and restless the other day," said Hugh,--"desponding of
everything;--and I came upon this psalm; and it made me ashamed of myself.
I had been disbelieving it, and because I could not see how things were
going to work good I thought they were going to work evil. I thought we
were wearing out our lives alone here in a wearisome way, and I forgot
that it must be the very straightest way that we could get home. I am sure
we shall not want anything that will do us good; and the rest I am willing
to want--and so are you, Fleda?"
Fleda squeezed his hand,--that was all. For a minute he was silent, and
then went on, without any change of tone.
"I had a notion awhile ago that I should like it if it were possible for
me to go to college; but I am quite satisfied now. I have good time and
opportunity to furnish myself with a better kind of knowledge, that I
shall want where college learning wouldn't be of much use to me; and I can
do it, I dare say, better here in this mill than if we had stayed in New
York and I had lived in our favourite library."
"But dear Hugh," said Fleda, who did not like this speech in any sense of
it,--"the two things do not clash. The better man the better Christian
always, other things being equal. The more precious kind of knowledge
should not make one undervalue the less?"
"No,"--he said; but the extreme quietness and simplicity of his reply
smote Fleda's fears; it answered her words and waived her thought; she
dared not press him further. She sat looking over the road with an
"You haven't taken enough of my medicine," said Hugh smiling. "Listen,
Fleda--'_All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep
his covenant and his testimonies_.'"
But that made Fleda cry again.
"'All his paths,' Fleda--then, whatever may happen to you, and whatever
may happen to me, or to any of us.--I can trust him. I am willing any
one should have the world, if I may have what Abraham had--'_Fear not;
I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward;_'--and I believe I
shall, Fleda; for it is not the hungry that he has threatened to send
Fleda could say nothing, and Hugh just then said no more. For a little
while, near and busy as thoughts might be, tongues were silent. Fleda was
crying quietly, the utmost she could do being to keep it quiet; Hugh, more
quietly, was considering again the strong pillars on which he had laid his
hope, and trying their strength and beauty; till all other things were to
him as the mist rolling off from the valley is to the man planted on a
His meditations were interrupted by the tramp of horse, and a party of
riders male and female came past them up the hill. Hugh looked on as they
went by; Fleda's head was not raised.
"There are some people enjoying themselves," said Hugh. "After all, dear
Fleda, we should be very sorry to change places with those gay riders. I
would not for a thousand worlds give my hope and treasure for all other
they can possibly have, in possession or prospect."
"No, indeed!" said Fleda energetically, and trying to rouse herself;--"and
besides that, Hugh, we have as it is a great deal more to enjoy than most
other people. We are so happy--"
In each other, she was going to say, but the words choked her.
"Those people looked very hard at us, or at one of us," said Hugh. "It
must have been you, I think, Fleda"
"They are welcome," said Fleda; "they couldn't have made much out of the
back of my sun bonnet."
"Well, dear Fleda, I must content myself with little more than looking at
you now, for Mr. Winegar is in a hurry for his timber to be sawn, and I
must set this noisy concern a going again."
Fleda sat and watched him, with rising and falling hopes and fears,
forcing her lips to a smile when he came near her, and hiding her tears at
other times; till the shadows stretching well to the east of the meridian,
admonished her she had been there long enough; and she left him still
going backward and forward tending the saw.
As she went down the hill she pressed involuntarily her hands upon her
heart, for the dull heavy pain there. But that was no plaster for it;
and when she got to the bridge the soft singing of the little brook was
just enough to shake her spirits from the doubtful poise they had kept.
Giving one hasty glance along the road and up the hill to make sure that
no one was near she sat down on a stone in the edge of the woods, and
indulged in such weeping as her gentle eyes rarely knew; for the habit
of patience so cultivated for others' sake constantly rewarded her own
life with its sweet fruits. But deep and bitter in proportion was the
flow of the fountain once broken up. She struggled to remind herself
that "Providence runneth not on broken wheels," she struggled to repeat
to herself, what she did not doubt that "_all_ the ways of the Lord are
mercy and truth" to his people;--in vain. The slight check for a moment
to the torrent of grief but gave it greater head to sweep over the
barrier; and the self-reproach that blamed its violence and needlessness
only made the flood more bitter. Nature fought against patience for
awhile; but when the loaded heart had partly relieved itself patience
came in again and she rose up to go home. It startled her exceedingly to
find Mr. Olmney standing before her, and looking so sorrowful that
Fleda's eyes could not bear it.
"My dear Miss Ringgan!--forgive me--I hope you will forgive me,--but I
could not leave you in such distress. I knew that in _you_ it could only
be from some very serious cause of grief."
"I cannot say it is from anything new, Mr. Olmney--except to my
"You are all _well_?" he said inquiringly, after they had walked a few
steps in silence.
"Well?--yes, sir,--" said Fleda hesitatingly,--"but I do not think that
Hugh looks very well."
The trembling of her voice told him her thought. But he remained silent.
"You have noticed it?" she said hastily, looking up.
"I think you have told me he always was delicate?"
"And you have noticed him looking so lately, Mr. Olmney?"
"I have thought so,--but you say he always was that. If you will permit me
to say so, I have thought the same of you, Miss Fleda."
Fleda was silent; her heart ached again.
"We would gladly save each other from every threatening trouble," said Mr.
Olmney again after a pause;--"but it ought to content us that we do not
know how. Hugh is in good hands, my dear Miss Ringgan."
"I know it, sir," said Fleda unable quite to keep back her tears,--"and I
know very well this thread of our life will not bear the strain
always,--and I know that the strands must in all probability part
unevenly,--and I know it is in the power of no blind fate,--but that--"
"Does not lessen our clinging to each other. Oh no!--it grows but the
tenderer and the stronger for the knowledge."
Fleda could but cry.
"And yet," said he very kindly,--"we who are Christians may and ought to
learn to take troubles hopefully; for 'tribulation worketh patience; and
patience,' that is, quiet waiting on God, 'works experience' of his
goodness and faithfulness; 'and experience worketh hope; and that hope, we
know, 'maketh not ashamed.'"
"I know it," said Fleda;--"but, Mr. Olmney, how easily the brunt of a new
affliction breaks down all that chain of reasoning!"
"Yes!--" he said sadly and thoughtfully;--"but my dear Miss Fleda, you
know the way to build it up again. I would be very glad to bear all need
for it away from you!"
They had reached the gate. Fleda could not look up to thank him; the hand
she held out was grasped, more than kindly, and he turned away.
Fleda's tears came hot again as she went up the walk; she held her head
down to hide them and went round the back way.
Now, the melancholy god protect thee; and the tailor make thy doublet of
changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal!--Twelfth Night.
"Well what did you come home for?" was Barby's salutation;--"here's
company been waiting for you till they're tired, and I am sure I be."
"Company!!--" said Fleda.
"Yes, and it's ungrateful in you to say so," said Barby, "for she's been
in a wonderful hurry to see you,--or to get somethin' to eat; I don't know
which; a little o' both, I hope in charity."
"Why didn't you give her something to eat? Who is it?"
"I don't know who it is! It's one of your highfliers, that's all I can
make out. She 'a'n't a hat a bit better than a man's beaver,--one 'ud
think she had stole her little brother's for a spree, if the rest of her
was like common folks; but she's got a tail to her dress as long as from
here to Queechy Run; and she's been tiddling in and out here with it
puckered up under her arm sixty times. I guess she belongs to some company
of female militie, for the body of it is all thick with braid and buttons.
I believe she ha'n't sot still five minutes since she come into the house,
till I don't know whether I am on my head or my heels."
"But why didn't you give her something to eat?" said Fleda, who was
hastily throwing off her gloves and smoothing her disordered hair with her
hands into something of composure.
"Did!" said Barby;--"I give her some o' them cold biscuit and butter and
cheese and a pitcher of milk--sot a good enough meal for anybody--but she
didn't take but a crumb, and she turned up her nose at that. Come,
go!--you've slicked up enough--you're handsome enough to shew yourself to
her any time o' day, for all her jig-em-bobs."
"Where is aunt Lucy?"
"She's up stairs;--there's been nobody to see to her but me. She's had the
hull lower part of the house to herself, kitchen and all, and she's done
nothing but go out of one room into another ever since she come. She'll be
in here again directly if you ain't spry."
Fleda went in, round to the west room, and there found herself in the arms
of the second Miss Evelyn, who jumped to meet her and half stifled her
"You wicked little creature! what have you been doing? Here have I been
growing melancholy over the tokens of your absence, and watching the
decline of the sun with distracted feelings these six hours."
"Six hours!" said Fleda smiling.
"My dear little Fleda!--it's so delicious to see you again!" said Miss
Evelyn with another prolonged hug and kiss.
"My dear Constance!--I am very glad--But where are the rest?"
"It's unkind of you to ask after anybody but me, when I came here this
morning on purpose to talk the whole day to you. Now dear little Fleda,"
said Miss Constance, executing an impatient little persuasive caper
round her,--"won't you go out and order dinner? for I'm raging. Your
woman did give me something, but I found the want of you had taken away
all my appetite; and now the delight of seeing you has exhausted me, and
I feel that nature is sinking. The stimulus of gratified affection is
too much for me."
"You absurd child!" said Fleda,--"you haven't mended a bit. But I told
Barby to put on the tea-kettle and I will administer a composing draught
as soon as it can be got ready; we don't indulge in dinners here in the
wilderness. Meanwhile suppose that exhausted nature try the support of
She put her visitor gently into it, and seating herself upon the arm held
her hand and looked at her, with a smiling face and yet with eyes that
were almost too gentle in their welcoming.
"My dear little Fleda!--you're as lovely as you can be! Are you glad
to see me?"
"Why don't you ask after somebody else?"
"I was afraid of overtasking your exhausted energies."
"Come and sit down here upon my lap!--you shall, or I won't say another
word to you. Fleda! you've grown thin! what have you been doing to
"Nothing, with that particular purpose."
"I don't care, you've done something. You have been insanely imagining
that it is necessary for you to be in three or four places at the same
time, and in the distracted effort after ubiquity you are in imminent
danger of being nowhere--there's nothing left of you."
"I don't wonder you were overcome at the sight of me," said Fleda.
"But you are looking charmingly for all that," Constance went on;--"so
charmingly that I feel a morbid sensation creeping all over me while I sit
regarding you. Really, when you come to us next winter if you persist in
being,--by way of shewing your superiority to ordinary human nature,--a
rose without a thorn, the rest of the flowers may all shut up at once. And
the rose reddens in my very face, to spite me!"
"Is 'ordinary human nature' typified by a thorn? You give it rather a
"I never heard of a Thorn that didn't bear an excellent character!" said
"Hush!" said Fleda laughing;--"I don't want to hear about Mr. Thorn.--Tell
me of somebody else."
"I haven't said a word about Mr. Thorn!" said Constance ecstatically, "but
since you ask about him I will tell you. He has not acted like himself
since you disappeared from our horizon--that is, he has ceased to be at
all pointed in his attentions to me; his conversation has lost all the
acuteness for which I remember you admired it; he has walked Broadway in a
moody state of mind all winter, and grown as dull as is consistent with
the essential sharpness of his nature. I ought to except our last
interview, though, for his entreaties to mamma that she would bring you
home with her were piercing."
Fleda was unable in spite of herself to keep from laughing, but entreated
that Constance would tell her of somebody else.
"My respected parents are at Montepoole, with all their offspring,--that
is, Florence and Edith,--I am at present anxiously enquired after, being
nobody knows where, and to be fetched by mamma this evening. Wasn't I
good, little Fleda, to run away from Mr. Carleton to come and spend a
whole day in social converse with you?"
"Carleton!" said Fleda.
"Yes--O you don't know who _he_ is! he's a new attraction--there's been
nothing like him this great while, and all New York is topsy-turvy about
him; the mothers are dying with anxiety and the daughters with admiration;
and it's too delightful to see the cool superiority with which he takes it
all;--like a new star that all the people are pointing their telescopes
at,--as Thorn said spitefully the other day. O he has turned _my_ head; I
have looked till I cannot look at anything else. I can just manage to see
a rose, but my dazzled powers of vision are equal to nothing more."
"My dear Constance!--"
"It's perfectly true! Why as soon as we knew he was coming to Montepoole I
wouldn't let mamma rest till we all made a rush after him--and when we got
here first and I was afraid he wasn't coming, nothing can express the
state of my feelings!--But he appeared the next morning, and then I was
quite happy," said Constance, rising and falling in her chair on what must
have been ecstatic springs, for wire ones it had none.
"Constance!--" said Fleda with a miserable attempt at rebuke,--"how can
you talk so!"
"And so we were all riding round here this morning and I had the
self-denial to stop to see you and leave Florence and the Marlboroughs to
monopolize him all the way home. You ought to love me for ever for it. My
dear Fleda!--" said Constance, clasping her hands and elevating her eyes
in mock ecstasy,--"if you had ever seen Mr. Carleton I--"
"I dare say I have seen somebody as good," said Fleda quietly.
"My dear Fleda!" said Constance, a little scornfully this time,--"you
haven't the least idea what you are talking about! I tell you he is an
Englishman--he's of one of the best families in England,--not such as you
ever see here but once in an age,--he's rich enough to count Mr. Thorn
over I don't know how many times."
"I don't like anybody the better for being an Englishman," said Fleda;
"and it must be a small man whose purse will hold his measure."
Constance made an impatient gesture.
"But I tell you it isn't! We knew him when we were abroad, and we know
what he is, and we know his mother very well. When we were in England we
were a week with them down at their beautiful place in ----shire,--the
loveliest time! You see she was over here with Mr. Carleton once before, a
good while ago; and mamma and papa were polite to them, and so they shewed
us a great deal of attention when we were in England. We had the loveliest
time down there you can possibly conceive. And my dear Fleda he wears such
a fur cloak!--lined with the most exquisite black fox."
"But, Constance!" said Fleda, a little vexed though laughing,--"any man
may wear a fur cloak--the thing is, what is inside of it?"
"It is perfectly indifferent to me what is inside of it!" said Constance
ecstatically. "I can see nothing but the edges of the black fox,
especially when it is worn so very gracefully."
"But in some cases there might be a white fox within?"
"There is nothing of the fox about Mr. Carleton!" said Constance
impatiently. "If it had been anybody else I should have said he was a bear
two or three times; but he wears everything as he does his cloak, and
makes you take what he pleases from him; what I wouldn't take from anybody
else I know."
"With a fox lining?" said Fleda laughing.
"Then foxes haven't got their true character, that's all. Now I'll just
tell you an instance--it was at a party somewhere--it was at that tiresome
Mrs. Swinburne's, where the evenings are always so stupid, and there was
nothing worth going or staying for but the supper,--except Mr. Carleton!
and he never stays five minutes, except at two or three places; and it
drives me crazy, because they are places I don't go to very often--"
"Suppose you keep your wits and tell me your story?"
"Well--don't interrupt me!--he was there, and he had taken me into the
supper-room, when mamma came along and took it into her head to tell me
not to take something--I forget what--punch, I believe,--because I had not
been well in the morning. Now you know, it was absurd! I was perfectly
well then, and I told her I shouldn't mind her; but do you believe Mr.
Carleton wouldn't give it to me?--absolutely told me he wouldn't, and told
me why, as coolly as possible, and gave me a glass of water and made me
drink it; and if it had been anybody else I do assure you I would have
flung it in his face and never spoken to him again; and I have been in
love with him ever since. Now _is_ that tea going to be ready?"
"Presently. How long have you been here?"
"O a day or two--and it has poured with rain every single day since we
came, till this one;--and just think!"--said Constance with a ludicrously
scared face,--"I must make haste and be back again. You see, I came away
on principle, that I may strike with the effect of novelty when I appear
again; but if I stay _too_ long, you know,--there is a point--"
"On the principle of the ice-boats," said Fleda, "that back a little to
give a better blow to the ice, where they find it tough?"
"Tough!" said Constance.
"Does Florence like this paragon of yours as well as you do?"
"I don't know--she don't talk so much about him, but that proves nothing;
she's too happy to talk _to_ him.--I expect our family concord will be
shattered by and by!" said Constance shaking her head.
"You seem to take the prospect philosophically," said Fleda, looking
amused. "How long are you going to stay at the Pool?"
Constance gave an expressive shrug, intimating that the deciding of that
question did not rest with her.
"That is to say, you are here to watch the transit of this star over the
meridian of Queechy?"
"Of Queechy!--of Montepoole."
"Very well--of Montepoole. I don't wonder that nature is exhausted. I will
go and see after this refection."
The prettiest little meal in the world was presently set forth for the
two,--Fleda knew her aunt would not come down, and Hugh was yet at the
mill; so she led her visitor into the breakfast-room alone, Constance by
the way again fondly embracing her and repeating, "My dear little
Fleda!--how glad I am to see you!"
The lady was apparently hungry, for there was a minute of silence while
the refection begun, and then Constance exclaimed, perhaps with a sudden
appreciation of the delicious bread and butter and cream and strawberries,
"What a lovely old room this is!--and what lovely times you have here,
don't you, Fleda?"
"Yes--sometimes," Fleda said with a sigh.
"But I shall tell mamma you are growing thin, and the first minute we get
home I shall send for you to come to us. Mrs. Thorn will be amazingly glad
to see you."
"Has she got back from Europe?" said Fleda.
"Ages!--and she's been entertaining the world as hard as she could ever
since. I have no doubt Lewis has confided to the maternal bosom all his
distresses; and there never was anything like the rush that I expect will
be made to our greenhouse next winter. O Fleda, you should see Mr.
"Should I?" said Fleda.
"Dear me! I hope mamma will come!" said Constance with a comical fidgety
shake of herself;--"when I think of those greenhouses I lose my
self-command. And the park!--Fleda, it's the loveliest thing you ever saw
in your life; and it's all that delightful man's doing; only he won't have
a geometric flower-garden, as I did everything I could think of to
persuade him. I pity the woman that will be his wife,--she won't have her
own way in a single thing; but then he will fascinate her into thinking
that his way is the best, so it will do just as well I suppose. Do you
know I can't conceive what he has come over here for? He has been here
before, you know, and he don't seem to me to know exactly what he means to
do; at least I can't find out, and I have tried."
"How long has he been here?"
"O a month or two--since the beginning of April, I believe. He came over
with some friends of his--a Sir George Egerton and his family;--he is
going to Canada, to be established in some post there, I forget what; and
they are spending part of the summer here before they fix themselves at
the North. It is easy to see what _they_ are here for,--they are strangers
and amusing themselves; but Mr. Carleton is at home, and _not_ amusing
himself, at least he don't seem to be. He goes about with the Egertons,
but that is just for his friendship for them; and he puzzles me. He don't
snow whether he is going to Niagara,--he has been once already--and
'perhaps' he may go to Canada,--and 'possibly' he will make a journey to
the West,--and I can't find out that he wants anything in particular."
"Perhaps he don't mean that you shall," said Fleda.
"Perhaps he don't; but you see that aggravates my state of mind to a
distressing degree. And then I'm afraid he will go somewhere where I can't
keep watch of him!--"
Fleda could not help laughing.
"Perhaps he was tired of home and came for mere weariness."
"Weariness! it's my opinion he has no idea there is such a word in the
language,--I am certain if he heard it he would call for a dictionary the
next minute. Why at Carleton it seems to me he was half the time on
horseback, flying about from one end of the country to the other; and
when he is in the house he is always at work at something; it's a piece of
condescension to get him to attend to you at all; only when he does, my
dear Fleda!--he is so enchanting that you live in a state of delight till
next time. And yet I never could get him to pay me a compliment to this
minute,--I tried two or three times, and he rewarded me with some very
"Rude!" said Fleda.
"Yes,--that is, they were the most graceful and fascinating things
possible, but they would have been rudeness in anybody else. Where _is_
mamma!" said Constance with another comic counterfeit of distress "My dear
Fleda, it's the most captivating thing to breakfast at Carleton!--"
"I have no idea the bread and butter is sweeter there than in some other
parts of the world," said Fleda.
"I don't know about the bread and butter," said Constance, "but those
exquisite little sugar dishes! My dear Fleda, every one has his own
sugar-dish and cream-ewer--the loveliest little things!--"
"I have heard of such things before," said Fleda.
"I don't care about the bread and butter," said Constance; "eating is
immaterial, with those perfect little things right opposite to me. They
weren't like any you ever saw, Fleda--the sugar-bowl was just a little
plain oval box, with the lid on a hinge, and not a bit of chasing, only
the arms on the cover; like nothing I ever saw but an old-fashioned silver
tea-caddy; and the cream-jug a little straight up and down thing to match.
Mamma said they were clumsy, but they bewitched me!--"
"I think everything bewitched you," said Fleda smiling. "Can't your head
stand a sugar-dish and milk-cup?"
"My dear Fleda, I never had your superiority to the ordinary weaknesses of
human nature--I can stand _one_ sugar-bowl, but I confess myself overcome
by a dozen. How we have all wanted to see you, Fleda! and papa; you have
captivated papa; and he says--"
"Never mind--don't tell me what he says," said Fleda.
"There--that's your modesty, that everybody raves about--I wish I could
catch it. Fleda, where did you get that little Bible?--while I was waiting
for you I tried to soothe my restless anticipations with examining all the
things in all the rooms;--where did you get it?"
"It was given me a long while ago," said Fleda.
"But it is real gold on the outside!--the clasps and all--do you know it?
it is not washed."
"I know it," said Fleda smiling; "and it is better than gold inside."
"Wasn't that mamma's favourite Mr. Olmney that parted from you at the
gate?" said Constance after a minute's silence.
"Is he a favourite of yours too?"
"You must define what you mean by a favourite?" said Fleda gravely.
"Well, how do you like him?"
"I believe everybody likes him," said Fleda, colouring and vexed at
herself that she could not help it. The bright eyes opposite her took note
of the fact with a sufficiently wide-awake glance.
"He's very good!" said Constance hugging herself, and taking a fresh
supply of butter,--"but don't let him know I have been to see you or he'll
tell you all sorts of evil things about me for fear you should innocently
be contaminated. Don't you like to be taken care of?"
"Very much," said Fleda smiling,--"by people that know how."
"I can't bear it!" said Constance, apparently with great sincerity;--"I
think it is the most impertinent thing in the world people can do. I can't
endure it--except from--! Oh my dear Fleda! it is perfect luxury to have
him put a shawl round your shoulders!--"
"Fleda," said Earl Douglass putting his head in from the kitchen, and
before he said any more bobbing it frankly at Miss Evelyn, half in
acknowledgment of her presence and half as it seemed in apology for his
own,--"Fleda, will you let Barby pack up somethin' 'nother for the men's
lunch?--my wife would ha' done it, as she had ought to, if she wa'n't down
with the teeth-ache, and Catherine's away on a jig to Kenton, and the men
won't do so much work on nothin', and I can't say nothin' to 'em if they
don't; and I'd like to get that 'ere clover field down afore night--it's
goin' to be a fine spell o' weather. I was a goin' to try to get along
without it; but I believe we can't."
"Very well," said Fleda. "But, Mr. Douglass, you'll try the experiment of
curing it in cocks?"
"Well I don't know," said Earl in a tone of very discontented
acquiescence,--"I don't see how anythin' should be as sweet as the sun
for dryin' hay--I know folks says it is, and I've heerd 'em say it is!
and they'll stand to it and you can't beat 'em off the notion it is;
but somehow or 'nother I can't seem to come into it. I know the sun
makes sweet hay, and I think the sun was meant to make hay, and I don't
want to see no sweeter hay than the sun makes; it's as good hay as you
need to have."
"But you wouldn't mind trying it for once, Mr. Douglass, just for me?"
"I'll do just what you please," said he with a little exculpatory shake
of his head;--"'tain't my concern--it's no concern of mine--the gain or
the loss'll be your'n, and it's fair you should have the gain or the loss,
which ever on 'em you choose to have. I'll put it in cocks--how much heft
should be in 'em?"
"About a hundred pounds--and you don't want to cut any more than you can
put up to-night, Mr. Douglass. We'll try it."
"Very good! And you'll send along somethin' for the men--Barby knows,"
said Earl bobbing his head again intelligently at Fleda,--"there's four on
'em and it takes somethin' to feed 'em--workin' men'll put away a good
deal o' meat."
He withdrew his head and closed the door, happily for Constance, who went
off into a succession of ecstatic convulsions.
"What time of day do your eccentric hay-makers prefer for the rest of
their meals, if they lunch at three o'clock? I never heard anything so
original in my life."
"This is lunch number two," said Fleda smiling; "lunch number one is about
ten in the morning; and dinner at twelve."
"And do they gladden their families with their presence at the other
ordinary convivial occasions?"
"And what do they have for lunch?"
"Varieties. Bread and cheese, and pies, and Quirlcakes; at every other
meal they have meat."
"It is only during haying and harvesting."
"And you have to see to all this! poor little Fleda! I declare, if I was
you--I'd do something!--"
"No," said Fleda quietly, "Mrs. Douglass and Barby manage the lunch
between them. I am not at all desperate."
"But to have to talk to these people!"
"Earl Douglass is not a very polished specimen," said Fleda smiling, "but
I assure you in some of 'these people' there is an amount of goodness and
wit, and shrewd practical sense and judgment, that would utterly distance
many of those that would call them bears."
Constance looked a good deal more than she said.
"My dear little Fleda! you're too sensible for anything; but as I don't
like sense from anybody but Mr. Carleton I would rather look at you in the
capacity of a rose, smiling a gentle rebuke upon me while I talk
And she did talk, and Fleda did smile and laugh, in spite of herself, till
Mrs. Evelyn and her other daughters made their appearance.
Then Barby said she thought they'd have talked the house down; and she
expected there'd be nothing left of Fleda after all the kissing she got.
But it was not too much for Fleda's pleasure. Mrs. Evelyn was so tenderly
kind, and Miss Evelyn as caressing as her sister had been, and Edith, who
was but a child, so joyously delighted, that Fleda's eyes were swimming in
happiness as she looked from one to the other, and she could hardly answer
kisses and questions fast enough.
"Them is good-looking enough girls," said Barby as Fleda came back to the
house after seeing them to their carriage,--"if they knowed how to dress
themselves. I never see this fly away one 'afore--I knowed the old one as
soon as I clapped my eyes onto her. Be they stopping at the Pool again?"
"Well when are you going up there to see 'em?"
"I don't know," said Fleda quietly. And then sighing as the thought of her
aunt came into her head she went off to find her and bring her down.
Fleda's brow was sobered, and her spirits were in a flutter that was not
all of happiness and that threatened not to settle down quietly. But as
she went slowly up the stairs faith's hand was laid, even as her own
grasped the balusters, on the promise,
"All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his
covenant and his testimonies."
She set faith's foot down on those sure stepping-stones; and she
opened her aunt's door and looked in with a face that was neither
troubled nor afraid.
_Ant_. He misses not much.
_Seb_. No; he doth but mistake the truth totally.
It was the very next morning that several ladies and gentlemen were
gathered on the piazza of the hotel at Montepoole, to brace minds or
appetites with the sweet mountain air while waiting for breakfast. As they
stood there a young countryman came by bearing on his hip a large basket
of fruit and vegetables.
"O look at those lovely strawberries!" exclaimed Constance Evelyn running
down the steps.--"Stop if you please--where are you going with these?"
"Marm!" responded the somewhat startled carrier.
"What are you going to do with them?"
"I ain't going to do nothin' with 'em."
"Whose are they? Are they for sale?"
"Well, 'twon't deu no harm, as I know," said the young man making a virtue
of necessity, for the fingers of Constance were already hovering over the
dainty little leaf-strewn baskets and her eyes complacently searching for
the most promising;--"I ha'n't got nothin' to deu with 'em."
"Constance!" said Mrs. Evelyn from the piazza,--"don't take that! I dare
say they are for Mr. Sweet."
"Well, mamma!--" said Constance with great equanimity,--"Mr. Sweet gets
them for me, and I only save him the trouble of spoiling them. My taste
leads me to prefer the simplicity of primitive arrangements this morning."
"Young man!" called out the landlady's reproving voice, "won't you never
recollect to bring that basket round the back way?"
"'Tain't no handier than this way," said Philetus, with so much
belligerent demonstration that the landlady thought best in presence of
her guests to give over the question.
"Where do you get them?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"How?--" said Philetus.
"Where do they come from? Are they fresh picked?"
"Just afore I started."
"Started from where?" said a gentleman standing by Mrs. Evelyn.
"From Mr. Rossitur's down to Queechy."
"Mr. Rossitur's!" said Mrs. Evelyn;--"does he send them here?"
"He doos not," said Philetus;--"he doosn't keep to hum for a long spell."
"Who does send them then?" said Constance.
"Who doos? It's Miss Fliddy Ringgan."
"Mamma!" exclaimed Constance looking up.
"What does she have to do with it?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"There don't nobody else have nothin' to deu with it--I guess she's
pretty much the hull," said her coadjutor. "Her and me was a picking 'em
"All that basketful!"
"'Tain't all strawberries--there's garden sass up to the top."
"And does she send that too?"
"She sends that teu," said Philetus succinctly.
"But hasn't she any help in taking care of the garden?" said Constance.
"Yes marm--I calculate to help considerable in the back garden--she won't
let no one into the front where she grows her posies."
"But where is Mr. Hugh?"
"He's to hum."
"But has he nothing to do with all this? does he leave it all to
"He's to the mill."
"And Miss Ringgan manages farm and garden and all?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"She doos," said Philetus.
And receiving a gratuity which he accepted without demonstration of any
kind whatever, the basket-bearer at length released moved off.
"Poor Fleda!" said Miss Evelyn as he disappeared with his load.
"She's a very clever girl," said Mrs. Evelyn dismissing the subject.
"She's too lovely for anything!" said Constance. "Mr. Carleton,--if you
will just imagine we are in China, and introduct a pair of familiar
chop-sticks into this basket, I shall be repaid for the loss of a
strawberry by the expression of ecstasy which will immediately spread
itself over your features. I intend to patronize the natural mode of
eating in future. I find the ends of my fingers decidedly odoriferous."
He smiled a little as he complied with the young lady's invitation, but
the expression of ecstasy did not come.
"Are Mr. Rossitur's circumstances so much reduced?" he said, drawing
nearer to Mrs. Evelyn.
"Do you know them!" exclaimed both the daughters at once.
"I knew Mrs. Rossitur very well some years ago, when she was in Paris."
"They are all broken to pieces," said Mrs. Evelyn, as Mr. Carleton's eye
went back to her for his answer;--"Mr. Rossitur failed and lost
everything--bankrupt--a year or two after they came home."
"And what has he been doing since?'
"I don't know!--trying to farm it here; but I am afraid he has not
succeeded well--I am afraid not. They don't look like it. Mrs. Rossitur
will not see anybody, and I don't believe they have done any more than
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