Part 3 out of 5
A great many girls in those days fell into declines and died. Of course,
nobody knows the reason for most of the cases, but it seems as plain as
the nose on my face that Ann Mary's sickness was entirely Hannah's fault
for not letting her sister do her share of the household work. There she
was--pretty and ignorant and idle--with nothing to interest her, and
nothing to look forward to, for in those days marriage was the only thing
a girl could look forward to, and in the workaday little world of pioneer
Hillsboro nobody would dare to think of marrying a girl who looked like a
tea-rose and did not know how to make soft soap. No wonder she lost her
It might not have gone any further, however, if Hannah, distracted with
anxiety, had not run to all the old women in town about her sick sister.
Every one of them had had a niece, or a daughter--or at least a
granddaughter--who had died in a decline; so, of course, they knew just
what to do for Ann Mary, and they came and did it.
Then poor Ann Mary was sick, indeed, I promise you! They shut her up in
the inner room of the little log house, although it was the end of May,
and the weather was fit for the angels. They darkened the one window, and
kept the door closed, and put the sick girl to bed between two mountains
of feathers. They gave her "sut" (soot) tea and "herb-drink" and steeped
butternut bark, and goodness knows what else; and they tiptoed in and out,
and stared at her mournfully, and shook their heads and pursed up their
lips, until it is a wonder to me that Ann Mary did not die at once.
Very likely she would have died, if one day in June there had not come
through Hillsboro a trader on his way from "over the mountain" up to
Canada, looking for furs. That morning, when Hannah got up, she found the
fire in their big fireplace completely extinguished. She snatched up the
warming-pan--not a polished brass one with a smooth, turned handle, like
those you see in Colonial museums, but a common iron pan, fastened to a
hickory sapling; and she went as fast as she could, without running--for
girls never ran "before folks" in those days--over to the nearest
neighbor, to "borrow a handful of fire."
The neighbors were just getting up, and their fire was too low to spare
any, so Hannah had to wait until some hardwood sticks got well to burning.
While she waited, the trader, who was staying overnight in that house,
went on with a long story about an Indian herb-doctor, of whose cures he
had heard marvelous tales, three days' journey back. It seemed that the
Indian's specialty was curing girls who had gone into a decline, and that
he had never failed in a single case he had undertaken.
You can imagine how Hannah's loving, anxious heart leaped up, and how
eagerly she questioned the trader about the road to the settlement where
the Indian lived. It was in a place called Heath Falls, on the Connecticut
River, the trader told her; but he could not find words strong enough to
advise her against trying the trip.
The trail lay through thick woods, filled with all the terrors of early
New Englanders--bears and wolves and catamounts. And when she got to Heath
Falls, she would find it a very different place from Hillsboro, where
people took you in gladly for the sake of the news you brought from the
outside world. No, the folks in Heath Falls were very grand. They traveled
themselves, and saw more strangers than a little. You had to pay good
money for shelter and food, and, of course, the doctor did not cure for
nothing. He was a kind man, the trader, and he did his best to keep Hannah
from a wildly foolish enterprise.
But his best was not good enough. She went home and looked at her poor Ann
Mary, as white as a snowdrift, her big dark eyes ringed with black
circles, and Hannah knew only two things in the world--that there was a
doctor who could cure her sister, and that she must get her to him. She
was only a child herself; she had no money, no horses, no experience; but
nothing made any difference to her. Ann Mary should go to the doctor, if
Hannah had to carry her every step!
A spirit like that knows no obstacles. Although Hillsboro held up hands
of horror, and implored John Sherwin to assert his parental authority and
forbid his girl such a rash, unmaidenly, bold undertaking, the end of it
was that Hannah got her father's permission. He loved his daughters
dearly, did John Sherwin, and, although he could not see how the thing was
to be managed, he told Hannah she might go if she could.
Now it happened that the wife of one of their neighbors had long coveted
the two great feather-beds between which Ann Mary lay sweltering. Hannah
went to her, and said that she could have them if she would loan her son,
a sturdy boy of fourteen, and two horses, for the trip to Heath Falls. The
neighbor-woman hesitated; but when Hannah threw in the two pewter
candlesticks, which came from her mother's family, she could resist no
longer. In her own family they had only spike-iron candlesticks, and it
was her one chance of acquiring a pair of fine ones. So she wheedled her
husband into agreeing to the bargain; and there was Hannah with her
As soon as it was definitely settled that she was to make the long
journey, people began to; take rather a proud interest in her grit. As
everybody liked her, they gave what they could toward helping her get
ready--all but the old women, who were furious that Ann Mary was to be
taken away from their care.
There was in town a saddle with a pillion back of it, and this was loaned
for Remember Williams, the neighbor's boy, to ride and carry Ann Mary
behind him. Hannah folded a blanket across her horse's back, and sat on
sideways as best she could. Behind her was a big bundle of extra clothing,
and food, and an iron pot--or, as she called it, a "kittle"--for cooking
their noonday meals. Her father brought out all the money he had--one
large four-shilling piece--and Hannah was sure that so much wealth as that
would buy anything in the world. The old women had prophesied that Ann
Mary would not be strong enough to sit upon a horse, even clinging to
Remember Williams's thick waist; but, judging from what grandmother says,
I surmise that Ann Mary, without being really aware of it, was a little
sick of being sick. At any rate, she took a great interest in the
preparations. She asked over and over again about the girls the
herb-doctor had cured; and when the day for their departure came she was
quite pleased and excited, and walked out through the crowd of sympathetic
neighbors. To be sure, she leaned weakly on her father, but there was a
little faint color in her cheeks.
"A very bad sign!" the old women whispered. "She'll never live the journey
out. If only Hannah were not so headstrong and obstinate! But then you
can't blame the child for it--all the Sherwins are that way!"
As for Ann Mary, she sat up quite straight and looked as pretty as
possible when the little company rode off. After all, she had been
"declining" only about a month, and people had vigorous constitutions in
You may think it odd that she was not afraid to make the long journey, but
there are advantages in being of a dependent nature. Hannah had always
done everything for her, and had kept her safe from harm. Hannah was with
her now, so there was nothing to fear. She left all that to Hannah, who
did it, poor child, with the greatest thoroughness!
Now that the excitement of overcoming Hillsboro opposition was passed; now
that they were really started, with herself as sole leader and guide,
responsibility fell like a black cloud upon her young heart. There was
nothing she did _not_ fear--for Ann Mary, of course--from wolves and
Indians to fatigue or thunderstorms.
A dozen times that day, as they paced slowly over the rough trail, she
asked her sister anxiously if she were not too hot or too cold, or too
tired or too faint, imitating as best she could the matter and manner of
the doctoring old women. However, Ann Mary surprised herself, as well as
Hannah, by being none of the uncomfortable things that her sister kept
suggesting to her she might very well be. It was perfect June weather,
they were going over some of the loveliest country in the world, and Ann
Mary was out of doors for the first time in four weeks or more.
She "kept up" wonderfully well, and they made good time, reaching by dusk,
as they had hoped to do, a farmer's house on the downward dip of the
mountain to the east. Here, their story being told, they were hospitably
received, and Ann Mary was clapped into the airless inner room and fed
with gruel and dipped toast. But she had had fresh air and exercise all
day, and a hearty meal of cold venison and corn bread at their noonday
rest, so she slept soundly.
The next day they went across a wide, hilly valley, up another range of
low mountains, and down on the other side. The country was quite strange
to them, and somehow, before they knew it, they were not on the road
recommended to them by their hosts of the night before. Night overtook
them when they were still, as the phrase has come down in our family, "in
a miserable, dismal place of wood."
Hannah's teeth chattered for very terror as she saw their plight; but she
spoke cheerfully to Ann Mary and the boy, who looked to her for courage,
and told them that they were to have the fun of sleeping under the stars.
Boys were the same then as now, and Remember Williams was partly shivering
with dread of bears and Indians and things, and partly glowing with
anticipatory glory of telling the Hillsboro boys all about the adventure.
Hannah soothed the first and inflamed the second emotion until she had
Remember strutting about gathering firewood, as brave as a lion.
Very probably Ann Mary would have been frightened to death, if she had not
been so sleepy from her long day out of doors that she could not keep her
eyes open. And then, of course, everything must be all right, because
there was Hannah!
This forlorn terrified little captain wrapped the invalid in all the extra
clothing, managed to get a fire started, and cooked a supper of hot
cornmeal mush in her big iron "kittle." Ann Mary ate a great deal of this,
sweetened as it was with maple sugar crumbled from the big lump Hannah Had
brought along and immediately afterward she fell sound asleep.
Soon the soft night air of June was too strong a soporific for Remember's
desire to keep awake and hear the catamounts scream, as he had heard they
did in those woods. Hannah was left quite alone to keep watch and to tend
the fire, her heart in her mouth, jumping and starting at every shadow
cast by the flames.
She knew that wild beasts would not come near them if a big fire burned
briskly; and all that night she piled on the wood, scraped away the ashes,
and watched Ann Mary to see that she did not grow chilly. Hannah does not
seem to have been much inclined to talk about her own feelings, and there
is no record of what she suffered that night; but I think we may be sure
that it seemed a long time to her before the sky began to whiten in the
As soon as she could see plainly, she cooked a hearty breakfast of broiled
bacon and fried mush, and wakened her two charges to eat it. They made a
very early start, and there is nothing more to tell about their journey
except that at about seven o'clock that evening the two tired
horses crept into the main street of Heath Falls, and a very much excited
girl asked the first passer-by where the Indian herb-doctor lived.
They found him in a little old house of logs--the only one that looked
natural to them in the prosperous settlement. When Hannah knocked at the
door, he opened it himself. He was a small, very old, dark-brown, and
prodigiously wrinkled individual, who held up a candle and looked at
Hannah with the most impassive eyes she had ever seen--like little pools
of black water unstirred by any wind.
Hannah's breath came fast.
"Is this the Indian herb-doctor?" she asked.
"Aye," he answered.
When you remember that Hannah was only a little girl, and that she thought
she had come to the end of a nightmare of responsibility, it will not
surprise you to learn that she now began to cry a little, out of
"I have brought Ann Mary," she said, "my sister, to be cured. She is in a
decline. Will you cure her?"
The herb-doctor showed no surprise. He set the candle down on the shelf,
and went out in the bright starlight to where Ann Mary clung to Remember
Williams's waist. When he put up his brown old hands to her, she slid down
into them and upon the ground. He still held one wrist, and this he
continued to do for some moments, looking at the white, drooping girl
without moving a muscle of his solemn old face. Then he turned to Hannah,
who had stopped crying and was holding her breath in suspense.
"Aye," he said.
At this Hannah caught her sister around the neck, sobbing joyfully:
"He will cure you, Ann Mary; he will cure you!" Then she asked the doctor:
"And how long will it take? We can stay but a few days, for the boy and
the horses must get back soon."
The herb-doctor considered for a moment.
"It is now the end of June month. By the end of September month she will
be cured--not before."
I think I know that that was a black moment for Hannah. She said nothing
at all, but the sick girl fell to weeping.
"But, Master Doctor, we cannot stay--we cannot! And now, after all, I
shall not be cured!"
Hannah could not bear to see her sweet Ann Mary in tears, and she cried
"Yes, you shall, too! Remember can take the horses back without us, and
tell our father. Somehow--I can earn--oh, we _must_!" Then a new fear
sprang into her heart. "Oh, sir," she cried to the doctor, "is it dear,
your cure? Must one have much silver for it?"
The stolid little old gnome did not look toward her or change his position
as he said:
"It costs time--no silver," He moved toward the house. "Go to the
minister's to-night," he called from his doorstep. "It is the house of
brick." Just before he closed his door he added: "Come here to-morrow
When they reached the great brick house, the other two hung back, afraid
of so much grandeur; but three days of travel through the dangers of a
primitive forest had hardened Hannah to the lesser fear of strange people.
To the old minister and his wife she told their story very briefly, with a
desperate kind of self-possession, so concerned about poor Ann Mary, tired
and hungry, waiting out in the night air, that she did not remember to be
afraid of the minister's fine linen and smooth, white hands, or of the
laces and dark silk of his handsome, white-haired wife, or of the gold
braid and red coat of a dark young man with a quick eye who sat in the
The young man said nothing until after the old people had gone out to
bring in the wanderers. Then:
"You must be fond, indeed, of your sister, my little lass," he said
"Sir," said Hannah, "you should _see_ my sister!"
And just then he did see her. Ann Mary came into the brightly lighted
room, her eyes wide and dark from the dusk outside, her long black hair,
shaken loose from its fastenings, curling up beautifully with the dew, and
making a frame for the pearl-like oval of her face. I have seen a
miniature of Ann Mary in her youth, and I can guess how she must have
looked to the young officer that evening.
The minister's wife gave them all a hot supper, and hurried them off to
bed with motherly authority. For the first time in her life, Hannah found
herself between linen sheets. She tried to call her sister's attention to
this astonishing magnificence, but fell asleep in the middle of the
sentence, and did not wake until late the next morning. Ann Mary had been
awake for some time, but did not dare get up, so overcome was she by
shyness and reverence for the grandeur of the room and of her hosts.
"Oh, Hannah! Would it not be like heaven to live always in such a place?"
Hannah could not stop to be shy, or to think about how she would like
mahogany beds all the time. She had too much on her mind. They must go at
once to the herb-doctor's--they should have been there before--and they
must hurry through their breakfast. It is, perhaps, worthy of note that
both girls came down the stairs backward, ladders having been, up to that
time, their only means of reaching elevations.
During their breakfast, the dark young man, who turned out to be a cousin
of the minister's, sat in a corner, playing with his dog's ears, and
looking at Ann Mary until she was quite abashed, although the younger
girl, at whom he glanced smilingly from time to time, thought he looked
very good-natured. After this, Hannah sent Remember Williams home with the
horses, giving him fresh and elaborate directions about the right road to
take. Then she marched Ann Mary to the herb-doctor's.
"Here, Master Necronsett," she said, "here is Ann Mary to be cured!"
When the doctor told them about his system, Hannah did not like the sound
of it at all. Not a drop of "sut tea" or herb-drink was mentioned, but the
invalid was to eat all the hearty food Hannah could earn for her. Then, so
far from sleeping in a decently tight room, their bed was to stand in a
little old shed, set up against Master Necronsett's house. One side of the
shed was gone entirely, so that the wind and the sun would come right in
on poor, delicate Ann Mary, and there was only an awning of woven
bark-withes to let down when it rained.
But even that was not the worst. Hannah listened with growing suspicion
while Master Necronsett explained the rest of it. All his magic consisted
in the use of a "witch plant," the whole virtue of which depended on one
thing. The sick person must be the only one to handle or care for it, from
the seed up to the mature plant.
He took them up to his garret, where row after row of dried plants hung,
heavy with seed-pods, and with the most careful precautions to avoid
touching them himself, or having Hannah do so, he directed Ann Mary to fill
a two-quart basin with the seed.
"That will plant a piece of ground about six paces square," he said. "That
will raise enough seed for you."
"But who is to dig the ground, and plant, and weed, and water, and all?"
asked Hannah. "If I am to be earning all day, when--"
"The sick person must do all," said the herb-doctor.
Hannah could not believe her senses. Her Ann Mary, who could not even
brush her own hair without fatigue, she to take a spade in her--
"Oh, Master Doctor," she cried, "can I not do it for her?"
The old Indian turned his opaque black eyes upon her.
"Nay," he said dryly, "you cannot."
And with that he showed them where the witch garden was to be, close
before their little sleeping-hut. That was why, he explained, the patient
must spend all her time there, so that by night, as well as by day, she
could absorb the magical virtues of the growing plant Hannah thought those
were the first sensible words she had heard him say.
She had promised the minister's wife to be back at a certain hour to see
about employment, so she dared not stay longer, though it was with a
sinking heart that she left her sister to that grim old savage, with his
brusque lack of sympathy. However, the minister's wife reassured her with
stories of all the other girls from far and near whom he had cured by that
same foolish, silly method; so Hannah turned all her energies upon the
spinning which a neighbor-woman had set her to do.
Hired workers have been the same from the days of the Psalmist down to our
own, and Hannah, putting her whole heart into her work, accomplished, so
her surprised employer told her, twice as much spinning as any
serving-girl she had ever hired.
"And excellent good thread, too!" she said, examining it.
If Hannah kept up to _that_, she added, she could have all the work she
had time for. She gave the little girl two pennies--two real pennies, the
first money Hannah had ever earned. With a head spinning with triumph, she
calculated that at that rate she could earn fourpence a day!
She spent a farthing for some fish a little boy brought up from the river,
and a halfpenny for some fresh-baked bread, and a part of her precious
four-shilling piece for an iron fry-pan, or "spider." Laden with these,
she hurried back to see how Ann Mary had endured the old doctor's
roughness. She found her sister very tired, but, proudly anxious to show a
little spot, perhaps six feet; square, which she had spaded up with
intervals of rest.
"The herb-doctor says that I have done well, and that I will finish the
spading in a week, or perhaps even less," she said: "and I _like_ Master
Necronsett! He is a good old man, and I know that he will cure me. He
makes me feel very rested when he comes near."
Hannah felt a little pang to think that her sister should not miss her own
brooding care, but when Ann Mary cried out joyfully at the sight of the
food, "Oh, how hungry I am!" everything but pleasure was immediately
swept away from the little sister's loyal heart.
They cooked their supper--Hannah still had some of the cornmeal and the
flitch of bacon their Hillsboro friends had given them--and went to bed
directly on the queer, hard bed, with a straw tick and no feathers, which
Dr. Necronsett had prescribed, warmly wrapped up in the pair of heavy
Indian blankets he had loaned them. They were so close to the house that
they heard the old doctor moving around inside, and they could see the
light of his candle, so they were not afraid.
Indeed, the two sisters were so sleepy that even if they had been timorous
it could scarcely have kept them from the deep slumber into which they
fell at once, and which lasted until the sun shone in on them the next
That was the first day of that wonderful summer, and most of the days
which followed were like it. Every morning Hannah rose early, made a
little open fire, cooked their breakfast, and was off to her spinning.
Just as her first employer had said, there was no lack of work for a
spinner who worked as fast and yet as carefully as if it were for herself.
In Hannah's thread there were never any thin places which broke as soon as
the weaver stretched it on the loom, nor yet any thick lumps where the
wool had insisted, in grandmother's phrase, "on going all kim-kam."
At first, she went about to people's houses; but, seeing her so neat and
careful, the minister's wife loaned her one of her own wheels, and the
minister had an old granary cleared out for her workroom. Here, day after
day, the wheel whirred unceasingly, like a great bee, and Hannah stepped
back and forth, back and forth, on her tireless young feet, only glancing
out through the big door at the bright glories of the summer weather, and
never once regretting her imprisonment.
Indeed, she said, all her life afterward, that she was so happy, that
summer, it seemed heaven itself could hold no greater joy for her. Of
course, first always in her thoughts was Ann Mary, pulling weeds and
tending her witch garden, and growing plump and rosy, and so strong that
she laughed and ran about and sang as never in her life before.
Hannah put very little faith in the agricultural part of the cure. She
thought that very probably it was nothing more than a blind, and that
Master Necronsett came out at night and said charms and things over Ann
Mary as she slept. However that might be, she could have kissed his funny,
splay feet every time she looked at her sister's bright eyes and red lips;
and when she thought of the joy it would be to her father, she could have
kissed his ugly, wrinkled old face.
But, besides her joy over her sister's health, the summer was for Hannah
herself a continual feast of delight Captain Winthrop, the minister's
young cousin, was staying in Heath Falls to recover from an arrow-wound
got in a skirmish with the Indians in Canada. He was very idle, and very
much bored by the dullness of the little town, which seemed such a
metropolis to the two girls from Hillsboro. One day, attracted by Hannah's
shining face of content, he lounged over to the step of her granary, and
began to talk to her through the open doorway.
It happened to come out that the little spinner, while she knew her
letters from having worked them into a sampler, and could make shift to
write her name, could not read or write, and had never had the slightest
instruction in any sort of book-learning. Thereupon the young officer
good-naturedly proposed to be her teacher, if Hannah would like.
Would she _like_! She turned to him a look of such utter ecstasy that he
was quite touched, and went off at: once to get an old "A-B, ab" book.
That was the beginning of a new world to Hannah. She took her young
instructor's breath away by the avidity with which she devoured the
lessons he set her. By the rapt air of exultation with which Hannah
recited them, stepping back and forth by her wheel, you would have
thought that "c-a-t, cat; r-a-t, rat," was the finest poetry ever written.
And in no time at all it was no longer "c-a-t, cat," but "parallel,"
and "phthisis," and such orthographical atrocities, on which the eager
scholar was feeding; for, Hannah's mind was as fresh as her round, rosy
face, and as vigorous as her stout little body.
Captain Winthrop had several reasons for being interested in Hannah; and
when he found her so quick at her spelling, he said he was willing to
occupy some of his enforced leisure in giving her instruction in other
branches. Hannah fell to at this feast of knowledge like a young bear in a
But there were some difficulties. Like the spelling, arithmetic was all
very well, since she could do that in her head while she spun; but reading
and writing were different. She would not stop her work for them, and so
Captain Winthrop fell into the habit of going over to Master Necronsett's
house in the afternoon with his books, and being there, all ready for a
lesson, when Hannah came hurrying back after she had finished her day's
"stint." As long as there was light to see, she pored over her writing and
reading, while the young officer sat by, ready to help, and talking in a
low tone to Ann Mary.
After a time there grew up a regular routine for Captain Winthrop. In the
mornings he went out to the granary and read aloud to Hannah from a book
called "The Universal Preceptor; being a General Grammar of Art, Science,
and Useful Knowledge." Out of this he taught her about "mechanical powers"
and "animated nature" and astronomy and history and geography--almost
anything that came to his hand.
Up in our garret we have the very book he used, and modern research and
science have proved that there is scarcely a true word in it. But don't
waste any pity on Hannah for having such a mistaken teacher, for it is
likely enough, don't you think, that research and science a hundred years
from now will have proved that there is scarcely a word of truth in our
school-books of to-day? It really doesn't seem to matter much.
At any rate, those were the things of which Captain Winthrop talked to
Hannah in the mornings. In the afternoon, he went over to an apple-tree by
the edge of the witch garden, and there he found Ann Mary; and what he
talked to her about nobody knew but herself, although Master Necronsett
passed back and forth so often in his herb-gathering that it is likely he
may have caught something. It seems not improbable, from what happened
afterward, that the young man was telling the young girl things which did
not come out of a book, and which are consequently safe from science and
research, for they are certainly as true to-day as they were then.
Once, in her anxiety to have everything exactly right for her sister,
Hannah asked Master Necronsett about Captain Winthrop's being there so
"Master Doctor, will not Captain Winthrop absorb, perchance, some of the
great virtue of the plant away from Ann Mary? Will he not hurt her cure?"
Grandmother never says so, but I have always imagined that even that
carven image of an old aborigine must, have smiled a little as he told
"Nay, the young man will not hurt your sister's cure."
At the end of September, something tremendously exciting happened to
Hannah. She had been so busy learning the contents of that old calf-bound
book that she had never noticed how a light seemed to shine right through
Ann Mary's lovely face every time Captain Winthrop looked at her. The
little student was the most surprised girl in the world when the young
soldier told her, one morning in the granary, that he wanted her sister
to marry him, and that Ann Mary wanted it, too, if Hannah would allow it.
He laughed a little as he said this last, but he looked anxiously at her,
for Ann Mary, who was as sweet as she was pretty and useless, had felt it
to be a poor return for Hannah's devotion, now after all, just to go off
and desert her. She had said that, if Hannah thought she ought to, she
would go back to Hillsboro, and they would have to wait ever so long. So
now Captain Winthrop looked very nervously at Ann Mary's little sister.
But he did not know Hannah. She gave a little cry, as if someone had
stabbed her, turned very pale, and, leaving her wheel still whirling, she
ran like the wind toward Dr. Necronsett's. She wanted to see her sister;
she wanted to _see_ if this----
Close to the minister's house she met Ann Mary, who could not wait any
longer, and was coming to meet her. After one glimpse of that beautiful,
radiant face, Hannah fell a weeping for very joy that her dear Ann Mary
was so happy, and was to marry the grand and learned and goodly Captain
There was not a thought in Hannah's mind, then or later, that she must
lose Ann Mary herself. Grandmother explains here that the truth is that a
heart like Hannah's cannot lose anything good; and perhaps that is so.
Thus, hand in hand, laughing and crying together, the two girls came back
to the granary, where Ann Mary's lover took her in his arms and kissed her
many times out of light-heartedness that Hannah would put no obstacle in
the way. This made little Hannah blush and feel very queer. She looked
away, and there was her wheel still languidly stirring a little. Dear me!
How many, many times have I heard the next detail in the story told!
"And, without really, so to speak, sensing what she was doing, didn't she
put her hand to the rim and start it up again? And when the other two
looked around at her, there she was, spinning and smiling, with the tears
in her eyes. It had all happened in less time than it takes a spin-wheel
to run down."
After that day things happened fast. Captain Winthrop rode off over the
mountains to Hillsboro, to ask John Sherwin if he might marry his
daughter; and when he came back, there was John Sherwin himself riding
along beside him, like an old friend. And when he saw his two dear
daughters--Ann Mary, who had gone away like a lily, now blooming like a
rose, and Hannah, stout little Hannah, with her honest blue eyes
shining--when he saw his two daughters, I say--well, I'm sure I have no
idea what happened, for at this point grandmother always takes off her
glasses, and sniffs hard, and wipes her eyes before she can go on.
So there was a wedding at the minister's house, and everybody in Heath
Falls was invited, because Hannah said they had been so good to her.
Everybody came, too, except old Master Necronsett, and that was nothing,
because he never went anywhere except to the woods.
I know just what the bride and Hannah wore, for we have pieces of the
material in our oldest cedar chest; but, of course, as they weren't your
own great-great-great-grandmother and aunt, perhaps you wouldn't care to
have me tell you all about their costumes. It was a grand occasion,
however--that you can take from me; and the family tradition is that Ann
Mary looked like a wonderful combination of an angel and a star.
And then Captain and Mrs. Winthrop rode off in one direction, and Hannah
and her father in another, and there were a great many tears shed, for all
everybody; was so happy.
Hannah went home with her head full of new ideas, and with four books in
her saddle-bags--which, for those days, was a large library. These were
the Bible, the "Universal Preceptor," a volume of the Shakespeare
comedies, and Plutarch's "Lives." Armed with these weapons, how she did
stir things up in Hillsboro! She got the children together into a school,
and taught them everything she had learned in Heath Falls; and that was
so much--what with the studying which she always kept up by herself--that
from our little scrap of a village three students went down to the college
at William's Town, in Massachusetts, the first year it was started, and
there has been a regular procession of them ever since.
After a time she married Giles Wheeler, and began to teach her own
children--she had nine--and very well instructed they were. She was too
busy, then, to go into the schoolroom to teach; but never, then or later,
even when she was an old, old woman, did she take her vigilant eyes and
her managing hand off the schools of our county.
It was due to her that Hillsboro could boast for so long that its
percentage of illiterates was zero. If, by chance, anyone grew up without
knowing how to read, Aunt Hannah pounced on him and made him learn,
whether he would or not. She loaned about, to anyone who would read them,
the books she brought from Heath Falls; and in time she started a little
library. Remembering the days when Captain Winthrop had read aloud to her
in the granary, she had her children go about to read aloud to sick
people, and to busy seamstresses or spinners who had no time for books.
And the number of girls in declines she cured by Master Necronsett's
system! You would not believe it, if I told you. And she had our river
named after that wise old heathen, and we think it the prettiest name
possible for a river.
All this time, Ann Mary's position was getting grander and grander, for
Captain Winthrop was on the American side when the Revolution came, and
grew to be a very important man. Ann Mary dressed in brocade every day and
all day, and went to Philadelphia, where she met General and Mrs.
Washington, and ever so many more famous people.
Wherever she went, she was admired and loved for her beauty and
gentleness; but she did not forget Hannah. Nearly every traveler from the
South brought a message or a present from Madam Winthrop to Mistress
Wheeler, and once she and General Winthrop came and made a long visit in
Grandmother's grandmother was old enough, by that time, to remember the
visit very clearly; and it was from talk between the two sisters that she
learned all about this story. She said she never saw a more beautiful
woman than Madam Winthrop, nor heard a sweeter voice. But how Hannah had
to hush the unmannerly surprise of her brood of quick-witted youngsters
when they found out that elegant Aunt Ann Mary did not know her letters,
and had never heard of Julius Caesar or Oliver Cromwell! For marriage did
not change Ann Mary very much; but as her husband was perfectly satisfied
with her, I dare say it was just as well.
However, when the Winthrop cousins begin to put on airs, and to talk about
autograph letters from Benjamin Franklin and Jefferson addressed to their
great-great-great-grandmother, and to show beautiful carved fans and
lace handkerchiefs which she carried at State balls in Philadelphia and
New York, I have to bite my tongue to keep from reminding them that they
have no autograph letters of _hers_!
Then I go up into our garret, and look at Hannah's shabby old books, and I
ride over to the place on the road where she tended the fire that night,
and I think of the number of Hillsboro boys and girls to whom she opened
the great world of books, and--somehow, I am just as well pleased that it
was not the lovely Ann Mary who came back to our town and became my
"I shall not die, but live; and declare the works of the Lord."
The great lady pointed with a sigh of pleasure to the canvas hung between
a Greuze and a Watteau! "Ah, is there anyone like LeMaury! Alone in the
eighteenth century he had eyes for the world of wood and stream.
You poets and critics, why do you never write of him? Is it true that no
one knows anything of his life?"
The young writer hesitated. "I do not think I exaggerate, madame, when I
say that I alone in Paris know his history. He was a compatriot of mine."
"Oh, come, Mr. Everett, LeMaury an American! With that name!"
"He called himself LeMaury after his protector, the man who brought him
to France. His real name was Everett, like my own. He was cousin to one of
"Ah, an old family story. That is the best kind. You must tell it to me."
"I will write it for you, madame."
At the foot of Hemlock Mountain spring came late that year, now a century
and a half gone by, as it comes late still to the remote back valley,
lying high among the Green Mountains; but when it came it had a savor of
enchantment unknown to milder regions. The first day of spring was no
uncertain date in Hillsboro, then as now. One morning generally about the
middle of May, people woke up with the sun shining in their eyes, and the
feeling in their hearts that something had happened in the night. The
first one of the family dressed, who threw open the house-door, felt the
odor of stirring life go to his head, was the Reverend Mr. Everett
himself. In the little community of Puritans, whose isolation had
preserved intact the rigidity of faith which had begun to soften somewhat
in other parts of New England, there was no one who openly saluted the
miracle of resurrection by more than the brief remark, "Warm weather's
come"; but sometimes the younger men went back and kissed their wives. It
was an event, the first day of spring, in old-time Hillsboro.
In the year of our Lord 1756 this event fell upon a Sabbath, a fact which
the Reverend Mr. Everett commemorated by a grim look out at the budding
trees, and by taking from his store of sermons a different one from that
he had intended to preach. It was his duty to scourge natural man out of
the flock committed to his charge by an angry and a jealous God, and he
had felt deep within him a damnable stirring of sensual pleasure as the
perfumed breath of the new season had blown across his face. If the
anointed of the Lord had thus yielded to the insidious wiles of
unregenerate nature what greater dangers lay in wait for the weaklings
under his care! The face of his son Nathaniel, as he came back from the
brook, his slender body leaning sideways from the weight of the dripping
bucket, told the shepherd of souls that he must be on his guard against
the snares of the flesh.
The boy's thin, dark face, so astonishingly like his father's, was lifted
toward the sky as he came stumbling up the path, but his eyes were
everywhere at once. Just before he reached the door, he set the bucket
down with a cry of ecstasy and darted to the edge of the garden, where the
peas were just thrusting green bowed heads through the crumbling earth. He
knelt above them breathless, he looked up to the maple-twigs, over which a
faint reddish bloom had been cast in the night, beyond to the lower slopes
of the mountain, delicately patterned with innumerable white stems of
young birch-trees, and clasped his hands to see that a shimmer of green
hung in their tops like a mist. His lips quivered, he laid his hand upon a
tuft of grass with glossy, lance-like blades, and stroked it.
His father came to the door and called him. "Nathaniel!"
He sprang up with guilty haste and went toward the house. A shriveling
change of expression came over him.
The minister began, "A wise son heareth his father's instructions; but a
scorner heareth not rebuke."
"I hear you, father."
"Why did you linger in the garden and forget your duty?"
"I--I cannot tell you, father."
"Do you mean you do not know why?"
"I cannot say I do not know."
"Then answer me."
Nathaniel broke out desperately, "I _cannot_, father--I know no words--I
was--it is so warm--the sun shines--the birches are out--I was glad----"
The minister bowed his head sadly. "Aye, even as I thought. Sinful lust of
the eye draggeth you down to destruction. You whose salvation even now
hangs in the balance, for whose soul I wrestle every night in prayer that
you may be brought to the conviction of sin, 'you were glad.' Remember the
words, 'If I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy, may my tongue cleave
to the roof of my mouth.'"
Nathaniel made no reply. He caught at the door, looking up wretchedly at
his father. When the minister turned away without speaking again, he drew
a long breath of relief.
Breakfast was always a silent meal in the Everett house, but on Sabbath
mornings the silence had a heavy significance. The preacher was beginning
then to work himself up to the pitch of storming fervor which made his
sermons so notable, and his wife and son cowered under the unspoken
emanations of the passion which later poured so terribly from the pulpit.
The Reverend Mr. Everett always ate very heartily on Sabbath mornings, but
Nathaniel usually pushed his plate away.
As a rule he walked to church between his father and his mother, like a
little child, although he was now a tall lad of sixteen, but to-day he was
sent back for a psalm-book, forgotten in the hurry of their early start.
When he set out again the rest of the village folk were all in the
meeting-house. The sight of the deserted street, walled in by the forest,
lying drowsily in the spring sunshine, was like balm to him. He loitered
along, free from observation, his eyes shining. A fat, old negro woman
sat on a doorstep in the sun, the only other person not in meeting. She
was a worn-out slave, from a Connecticut seaport, who had been thrown in
for good measure in a sharp bargain driven by the leading man of
Hillsboro. A red turban-like cloth was bound above her black face, she
rested her puffy black arms across her knees and crooned a monotonous
refrain. Although the villagers regarded her as imbecile, they thought her
harmless, and Nathaniel nodded to her as he passed. She gave him a rich
laugh and a "Good morrow, Marse Natty, _good_ morrow!"
A hen clucking to her chicks went across the road before him. The little
yellow balls ran briskly forward on their wiry legs, darting at invisible
insects, turning their shiny black eyes about alertly and filling the air
with their sweet, thin pipings. Nathaniel stopped to watch them, and as he
noticed the pompously important air with which one of the tiny creatures
scratched the ground with his ineffectual little feet, cocking his eye
upon the spot afterward as if to estimate the amount of progress made, the
boy laughed out loud. He started at the sound and glanced around him
hurriedly, moving on to the meeting-house from which there now burst forth
a harshly intoned psalm. He lingered for a moment at the door, gazing back
at the translucent greens of the distant birches gleaming against the
black pines. A gust of air perfumed with shad-blossom blew past him, and
with this in his nostrils he entered the whitewashed interior and made his
way on tiptoe up the bare boards of the aisle.
After meeting the women and children walked home to set out the cold
viands for the Sabbath dinner, while the men stood in a group on the green
before the door for a few minutes' conversation.
"Verily, Master Everett, the breath of the Almighty was in your words this
day as never before," said one of them. "One more such visitation of the
anger of God and your son will be saved."
"How looked he when they bore him out?" asked the minister faintly. His
face was very white.
The other continued, "Truly, reverend sir, your setting forth of the devil
lying in wait for the thoughtless, and the lake burning with brimstone,
did almost affright me who for many years now have known myself to be of
the elect. I could not wonder that terrors melted the soul of your son."
"How looked he when they bore him out?" repeated the minister impatiently.
The other answered encouragingly, "More like death than life, so the women
say." The minister waved the men aside and went swiftly down the street.
The hen and chickens fled with shrill cries at his approach, and the old
negress stopped her song. After he had passed she chuckled slowly to
herself, thrust her head up sideways to get the sun in a new place, and
began her crooning chant afresh.
"How is the boy?" asked the minister of his wife as he stepped inside the
door. "Not still screaming out and----"
Mistress Everett shook her head reassuringly. "Nay, he is quiet now, up in
Nathaniel lay on his trundle bed, his eyes fixed on the rafters, his pale
lips drawn back. At the sight his father sat down heavily on the edge of
the bed. The boy sprang upon him with a cry, "Oh, father, I see fire
always there--last winter when I burned my finger--oh, always such pain!"
The minister's voice broke as he said, "Oh, Nathaniel, the blessed ease
when all this travail is gone by and thou knowest thyself to be of the
Nathaniel screamed out at this, a fleck of froth showing on his lips.
"That is the horrible thing--I know I am not one of the saved. My heart is
all full of carnal pleasures and desires. To look at the sun on the
hillside--why I love it so that I forget my soul--hell--God--"
His father gave a deep shocked groan and put his hand over the quivering
lips. "Be not a bitterness to him that begot you. Hush!"
The fever of excitement left the boy and he fell down with his face in the
pillow to lie there motionless until his parents went out for second
meeting, leaving him alone in the house. "Confidence must be rooted out of
his tabernacle," said his father sternly. "The spirit of God is surely
working in his heart in which I see many of my own besetting sins."
Nathaniel sprang up, when he heard the door shut, with a distracted idea
of escape, now that his jailers were away, and felt an icy stirring in the
roots of his hair at the realization that his misery lay within, that the
walls of his own flesh and blood shut it inexorably into his heart
forever. He threw open the window and leaned out.
The old negress came out of the woods at the other end of the street, her
turban gleaming red. She moved in a cautious silence past the
meeting-house, but when she came opposite the minister's house, thinking
herself alone, she burst into a gay, rapid song, the words of which she so
mutilated in her barbarous accent that only a final "Oh, Molly-oh!" could
be distinguished. She carried an herb-basket on her arm now, into which,
from time to time, she looked with great satisfaction.
Nathaniel ran down the stairs and out of the door calling. She paused,
startled. "How can you sing and laugh and walk so lightly?" he cried out.
She cocked her head on one side with her turtle-like motion. "Why should
she not sing?" she asked in her thick, sweet voice. She had never learned
the difference between the pronouns. "She's be'n gatherin' yarbs in the
wood, an' th' sun is warm," she blinked at it rapidly, "an' the winter it
is pas', Marse Natty, no mo' winter!"
Nathaniel came close up to her, laying his thin fingers on her fat, black
arm. His voice quivered. "But they say if you love those things and if
they make you glad you are damned to everlasting brimstone fire. Tell me
how you dare to laugh, so that I will dare too."
The old woman laughed, opening her mouth so widely that the red lining to
her throat showed moistly, and all her fat shook on her bones. "Lord love
ye, chile, dat's white folks' talk. Dat don't scare a old black woman!"
She shifted her basket to the other arm and prepared to go on. "You're
bleeged to be keerful 'bout losin' yo' soul. Black folks ain't got no
souls, bless de Lord! When _dey_ dies dey _dies_!"
She shuffled along, laughing, and began to sing again. Nathaniel looked
after her with burning eyes. After she had disappeared between the tree
trunks of the forest, the breeze bore back to him a last joyous whoop of
"_Oh_, Molly-oh!" He burst into sobs, and shivering, made his way back
into his father's darkening, empty house.
At the breakfast table the next morning his father looked at him
neutrally. "This day you shall go to salt the sheep in the Miller lot," he
announced, "and you may have until the hour before sundown to walk in the
"Oh, _father_, really!"
"That is what I said," repeated the minister dryly, pushing away from the
After the boy had gone, carrying the bag of salt and the little package of
his noonday meal, the minister sighed heavily. "I fear my weak heart
inclines me to too great softness to our son." To his wife he cried out a
moment later, "Oh, that some instance of the wrath of Jehovah could come
before us now, while our son's spirit is softened. Deacon Truitt said
yesterday that one more visitation would save him."
Nathaniel walked along soberly, his eyes on the road at his feet, his face
quite pale, a sleepless night evidently behind him. He came into the
birches without noticing them at first, and when he looked up he was for a
moment so taken by surprise that he was transfigured. The valley at his
feet shimmered like an opal through the slender white pillars of the
trees. The wood was like a many-columned chapel, unroofed and open to the
sunlight. Nathaniel gave a cry of rapture, and dropped the bag of salt.
"Oh!" he cried, stretching out his arms, and then again, "Oh!"
For a moment he stood so, caught into a joy that was almost anguish, and
then at a sudden thought he shrank together, his arm crooked over his
eyes. He sank forward, still covering his eyes, into a great bed of fern,
just beginning to unroll their whitey-green balls into long, pale plumes.
There he lay as still as if he were dead.
Two men came riding through the lane, their horses treading noiselessly
over the leaf-mold. They had almost passed the motionless, prostrate
figure when the older reined in and pointed with his whip. "What is that,
At the unexpected sound the boy half rose, showing a face so convulsed
that the other horseman cried out alarmed, "It ees a man crazed! Ride on,
_mon colonel_!" He put spurs to his horse and sprang forward as he spoke.
The old soldier laughed a little, and turned to Nathaniel. "Why, 'tis the
minister his son. I know you by the look of your father in you. What bad
dream have we waked you from, you pretty boy?"
"You have not waked me from it," cried Nathaniel. "I will never wake as
long as I live, and when I die--!"
"Why, LeMaury is right. The poor lad is crazed. We must see to this."
He swung himself stiffly from the saddle and came limping up to Nathaniel.
Kneeling by the boy he brought him up to a sitting position, and at the
sight of the ashen face and white, turned-back eyeballs he sat down
hastily, drawing the young head upon his shoulder with a rough tenderness.
"Why, so lads look under their first fire, when they die of fear. What
frights you so?"
Nathaniel opened great solemn eyes upon him. "I suppose it is the
conviction of sin. That is what they call it."
For an instant the old man's face was blank with astonishment, and then it
wrinkled into a thousand lines of mirth. He began to laugh as though he
would never stop. Nathaniel had never heard anyone laugh like that. He
clutched at the old man.
"How dare you laugh!"
The other wiped his eyes and rocked to and fro, "I laugh--who would
not--that such a witless baby should talk of his sin. You know not what
sin is, you silly innocent!"
At the kindliness of the tone an aching knot in the boy's throat relaxed.
He began to talk hurriedly, in a desperate whisper, his hands like little
birds' claws gripping the other's great gauntleted fist. "You do not know
how wicked I am--I am so wholly forward the wonder is the devil does not
take me at once. I live only in what my father calls the lust of the eye.
I--I would rather look at a haw-tree in bloom than meditate on the
Almighty!" He brought out this awful confession with a gasp at its
enormity, but hurried on to a yet more terrible climax. "I cannot be
righteous, but many times there are those who cannot--but oh, worse than
that, I cannot even _wish_ to be! I can only wish to be a painter."
At this unexpected ending the old man gave an exclamation of extreme
"But, boy, lad, what's your name? However did you learn that there are
painters in the world, here in this prison-house of sanctity?"
Nathaniel had burrowed into his protector's coat as though hiding from the
imminent wrath of God. He now spoke in muffled tones. "Two years ago, when
I was but a little child, there came a man to our town, a Frenchman, they
said, and his horse fell lame, and he stopped two days at my Uncle
Elzaphan's. My Uncle Elzaphan asked him what business did he in the world,
and he said he put down on cloth or paper with brushes and colors all the
fair and comely things he saw. And he showed a piece of paper with on it
painted the row of willows along our brook. I sat in the chimney-corner
and no one heeded me. I saw--oh, then I _knew_! I have no paint, but ever
since I have made pictures with burnt sticks on birchbark--though my
father says that of all the evil ways of evil men none lead down more
swift to the chambers of death and the gates of hell than that. Every
night I make a vow unto the Lord that I will sin no more; but in the
morning the devil whispers in my ear and I rise up and sin again--no man
knows this--and I am never glad unless I think I have done well with my
pictures, and I hate the meeting-house and--" His voice died away
"Two years ago, was't?" asked the old man. "And the man was French?"
The old soldier shifted his position, stretched out a stiff knee with a
grimace of pain, and pulled the tall lad bodily into his lap like a child.
For some time the two were silent, the sun shining down warmly on them
through the faint, vaporous green of the tiny leaves. The old horse
cropped the young shoots with a contented, ruminative air, once in a while
pausing to hang his head drowsily, and bask motionless in the warmth.
Then the old man began to speak in a serious tone, quite different from
his gentle laughter. "Young Everett, of all the people you have seen, is
there one whom you would wish to have even a moment of the tortures of
Nathaniel looked at him horrified. "Why, no!" he cried indignantly.
"Then do you think your God less merciful than you?"
Nathaniel stared long into the steady eyes. "Oh, do you mean it is not
_true_?" He leaned close in an agony of hope. "Sometimes I have thought it
_could_ not be true!"
The old soldier struck him on the shoulder inspiritingly, his
weather-beaten face very grave. "Aye, lad, I mean it is not true. I am an
old man and I have learned that they lie who say it is true. There is no
hell but in our own hearts when we do evil; and we can escape a way out of
that by repenting and doing good. There is no devil but our evil desires,
and God gives to every man strength to fight with those. There is only
good in your love for the fair things God made and put into the world for
us to love. No man but only your own heart can tell you what is wrong and
what is right. Only _do not fear_, for all is well."
The scene was never to fade from Nathaniel Everett's eyes. In all the
after crises of his life the solemn words rang in his ears.
The old man suddenly smiled at him, all quaint drollery again. "And now
wait." He put hand to mouth and hallooed down the lane. "Ho there!
As the Frenchman came into sight, the old man turned to Nathaniel, "Is
this the gentleman who painted your willows?"
"Oh, aye!" cried Nathaniel.
The Frenchman dismounted near them with sparkling glances of inquiry.
"See, LeMaury, this is young Master Everett, whom you have bewitched with
your paint-pots. He would fain be an artist--_de gustibus_--! Perhaps you
have in him an apprentice for your return to France."
The artist looked sharply at Nathaniel. "Eh, so? Can young master draw?
Doth he know aught of _chiaroscuro_?"
Nathaniel blushed at his ignorance and looked timidly at his protector.
"Nay, he knows naught of your painter's gibberish. Give him a crayon and a
bit of white bark and see can he make my picture. I'll lean my head back
and fold my hands to sleep."
In the long sunny quiet that followed, the old man really slipped away
into a light doze, from which he was awakened by a loud shout from
LeMaury. The Frenchman had sprung upon Nathaniel and was kissing his
cheeks, which were now crimson with excitement. "Oh, it is Giotto come
back again. He shall be anything--Watteau."
Nathaniel broke away and ran toward the old man, his eyes blazing with
"What does he mean?" he demanded.
"He means that you're to be a painter and naught else, though how a man
can choose to daub paint when there are swords to be carried--well, well,"
he pulled himself painfully to his feet, wincing at gouty twinges, "I will
go and see your father about--"
"_Mais, Colonel Hall, dites_! How can I arrange not to lose this pearl
At the name, for he had not understood the title before, pronounced as it
was in French, the boy fell back in horrified recognition. "Oh! you are
Colonel Gideon Hall!"
"Aye, lad, who else?" The old soldier swung himself up to the saddle,
groaning, "Oh, damn that wet ground! I fear I cannot sit the nag home."
"But then you are the enemy of God--the chosen one of Beelzebub----"
"Do they call me _that_ in polite and pious Hillsboro?"
The Frenchman broke in, impatient of this incomprehensible talk. "See,
boy, you--Everett--I go back to France now soon. I lie next Friday night
at Woodburn. If you come to me there we will go together to France--to
Paris--you will be the great artist----"
He was silenced by a gesture from the colonel, who now sat very straight
on his horse and beckoned to Nathaniel. The boy came timorously. "You have
heard lies about me, Everett. Be man enough to trust your own heart." He
broke into a half-sad little laugh at Nathaniel's face of fascinated
"You can laugh now," whispered the boy, close at his knee, "but when you
come to die? Why, even my father trembles at the thought of death. Oh, if
I could but believe you!"
"Faugh! To fear death when one has done his best!"
He had turned his horse's head, but Nathaniel called after him, bringing
out the awful words with an effort. "But they say--that you do not believe
The colonel laughed again. "Why, lad, I'm the only man in this damn town
who does." He put his horse into a trot and left Nathaniel under the
birch-trees, the sun high over his head, the bag of salt forgotten at his
A little before sundown the next day the minister strode into his house,
caught up his Bible, and called to his wife, "Deborah, the Lord hath
answered me in my trouble. Call Nathaniel and bring him after me to the
house of Gideon Hall."
Mistress Everett fell back, her hand at her heart, "To _that_ house?"
"Aye, even there. He lieth at the point of death. So are the wicked
brought into desolation. Yesterday, as he rode in the wood, his horse cast
him down so that it is thought he may not live till dark. I am sent for by
his pious sisters to wrestle with him in prayer. Oh, Deborah, now is the
time to strike the last blow for the salvation of our son. Let him see how
the devil carries off the transgressor into the fires of hell, or let him
see how, at the last, the proudest must make confession of his wicked
He hurled himself through the door like a javelin, while his wife turned
to explain to Nathaniel the reason for the minister's putting on his
Sabbath voice of a week-day morning. He cried out miserably, "Oh, mother,
_don't_ make me go there!"
"Nay, Nathaniel, there is naught new. You have been with us before to many
a sickbed and seen many a righteous death. This is an ill man, whose
terrors at the reward of his unbelief will be like goodly medicine to your
sick soul, and teach you to lay hold on righteousness while there is yet
"But, mother, my Uncle Elzaphan said--I asked him this morning about
Colonel Hall--that he had done naught but good to all men, that he had
fought bravely with French and Indians, that the poor had half of his
She took him by the hand and dragged him relentlessly out upon the street.
"Your Uncle Elzaphan is a man of no understanding, and does not know that
the devil has no more subtile lure than a man who does good works but who
is not of the true faith. Aye, he maketh a worse confusion to the simple
than he who worketh iniquity by noonday."
She led him through the village street, through a long curving lane where
he had never been before, and down an avenue of maple-trees to a house at
which he had always been forbidden even to look. Various of the neighbor
women were hurrying along in the same direction. As they filed up the
stairs he trembled to hear his father's voice already raised in the
terrible tones of one of his inspired hours. At the entrance to the sick
chamber he clung for a moment to the door, gazing at the wild-eyed women
who knelt about the room, their frightened eyes fixed on his father. His
knees shook under him. He had a qualm of nausea at the slimy images of
corruption and decay which the minister was trumpeting forth as the end to
all earthly pride.
His mother pushed him inexorably forward into the room, and then, across
the nightmare of frenzy, he met the calm gaze of the dying man. It was the
turning-point of his life.
He ran to the bed, falling on his knees, clasping the great knotty hand
and searching the eyes which were turned upon him, gently smiling. The
minister, well pleased with this evidence of his son's emotion, caught his
breath for another flight of eloquence which should sear and blast the
pretensions of good works as opposed to the true faith. "See how low the
Lord layeth the man who thinks to bargain with the Almighty, and to ransom
his soul from hell by deeds which are like dust and ashes to Jehovah."
Nathaniel crept closer and whispered under cover of his father's
thunderings, "Oh, you are truly not afraid?"
The dying man looked at him, his eyes as steady as when they were in the
woods. "Nay, little comrade, it is all a part of life."
After that he seemed to sink into partial unconsciousness. Nathaniel felt
his hand grow colder, but he still held it, grasping it more tightly when
he felt the fumes of his father's reeking eloquence mount to his brain.
The women were all sobbing aloud. A young girl was writhing on the floor,
her groans stifled by her mother's hand. The air of the room was stifling
with hysteria. The old sister of the dying man called out, "Oh, quick,
Master Everett. He is going. Exhort him now to give us some token that at
the last he repents of his unbelief."
The minister whirled about, shaking with his own violence. The sweat was
running down his face. "Gideon Hall, I charge you to say if you repent of
There was a pause. The silence was suffocating.
The old man gradually aroused himself from his torpor, although he did not
open his eyes. "Aye, truly I repent me of my sins," he whispered mildly,
"for any unkindness done to any man, or----"
The minister broke in, his voice mounting shrilly, "Nay, not so, thou
subtle mocker. Dost thou repent thee of thy unbelief in the true faith?"
Colonel Gideon Hall opened his eyes. He turned his head slowly on the
pillow until he faced the preacher, and at the sight of his terrible eyes
and ecstatic pallor he began to laugh whimsically, as he had laughed in
the wood with Nathaniel. "Why, man, I thought you did but frighten women
with it--not yourself too. Nay, do not trouble about me. _I_ don't believe
in your damned little hell."
The smile on his face gradually died away into a still serenity, which was
there later, when the minister lifted his son away from the dead man's
The four old men walked sturdily forward with their burden, although at
intervals they slipped their tall staves under the corners and rested,
wiping their foreheads and breathing hard. As they stood thus silent,
where the road passed through a thicket of sumac, a boy came rapidly
around the curve and was upon them before he saw that he was not alone.
He stopped short and made a guilty motion to hide a bundle that he
carried. The old men stared at him, and reassured by this absence of
recognition he advanced slowly, looking curiously at the great scarlet
flag which hung in heavy folds from their burden.
"Is this the road to Woodburn?" he asked them.
"Aye," they answered briefly.
He had almost passed them when he stopped again, drawing in his breath.
"Oh, are you--is this Colonel--"
"Aye, lad," said the oldest of the bearers, "this is the funeral
procession of the best commander and truest man who ever lived."
"But why--" began the boy, looking at the flag.
"He's wrapped in the flag of the king that he was a loyal servant to,
because the damned psalm-singing hypocrites in the town where he lived of
late would not make a coffin for him--no, nor allow ground to bury
him--no, nor men to bear him out to his grave! We be men who have served
under him in three wars, and we come from over the mountain to do the last
service for him. He saved our lives for us more than once--brave Colonel
They all uncovered at the name, and the boy shyly and awkwardly took his
"May I--may I see him once again?" he asked, dropping his bundle. "He
saved my life too."
Two men put their gnarled old hands to the flag and drew it down from the
head of the bier. The boy did not speak, but he went nearer and nearer
with an expression on his face which one of the old men answered aloud.
"Aye, is he not at peace! God grant we may all look so when the time
They let the flag fall over the dead face again, set their shoulders to
the bier, and moved forward, bringing down their great staves rhythmically
as they walked. The boy stood still looking after them. When they passed
out into the sunshine of the open hillside he ran to the edge of the
thicket so that he could still follow them with his eyes. They plodded on,
growing smaller and smaller in the distance, until as they paused on the
crest of the hill only a spot of red could be seen, brilliant against the
The boy went back and picked up his bundle. When he returned to the edge
of the thicket the spot of red was disappearing over the hill. He took off
his cap and stood there until there was nothing before him but the sun
shining on the hillside.
Then he turned about, and walking steadily, Nathaniel Everett entered into
his own world.
From Hemlock Mountain's barren crest
The roaring gale flies down the west
And drifts the snow on Redmount's breast
In hollows dark with pine.
Full in its path from hill to hill
There stands, beside a ruined mill,
A lonely house, above whose sill
A brace of candles shine.
And there an ancient bachelor
And maiden sister, full three-score,
Sit all forgetful of the roar
Of wind and mountain stream;
Forgot the wind, forgot the snow,
What magic airs about them blow?
They read, in wondering voices low,
The Midsummer Night's Dream!
And, reading, past their frozen hill
In charmed woods they range at will
And hear the horns of Oberon shrill
Above the plunging Tam;--
Yea, long beyond the cock's first crow
In dreams they walk where windflowers blow;
Late do they dream, and liker grow
To Charles and Mary Lamb.
HILLSBORO'S GOOD LUCK
When the news of Hillsboro's good fortune swept along the highroad there
was not a person in the other three villages of the valley who did not
admit that Hillsboro deserved it. Everyone said that in this case
Providence had rewarded true merit, Providence being represented by Mr.
Josiah Camden, king of the Chicago wheat pit, whose carelessly bestowed
bounty meant the happy termination of Hillsboro's long and arduous
The memory of man could not go back to the time when that town had not
had a public library. It was the pride of the remote village, lost among
the Green Mountains, that long before Carnegie ever left Scotland there
had been a collection of books free to all in the wing of Deacon
Bradlaugh's house. Then as now the feat was achieved by the united efforts
of all inhabitants. They boasted that the town had never been taxed a cent
to keep up the library, that not a person had contributed a single penny
except of his own free will; and it was true that the public spirit of the
village concentrated itself most harmoniously upon this favorite feature
of their common life. Political strife might rage in the grocery-stores,
religious differences flame high in the vestibule of the church, and
social distinctions embitter the Ladies' Club, but the library was a
neutral ground where all parties met, united by a common and disinterested
Like all disinterested and generous actions it brought its own reward. The
great social event of the year, not only for Hillsboro, but for all the
outlying towns of Woodville, Greenford, and Windfield, was the annual
"Entertainment for buying new books," as it was named on the handbills
which were welcomed so eagerly by the snow-bound, monotony-ridden
inhabitants of the Necronsett Valley. It usually "ran" three nights so
that every one could get there, the people from over Hemlock Mountain
driving twenty miles. There was no theater for forty miles, and many a
dweller on the Hemlock slopes had never seen a nearer approach to one than
the town hall of Hillsboro on the great nights of the "Library Show."
As for Hillsboro itself, the excitement of one effort was scarcely over
before plans for the next year's were begun. Although the date was fixed
by tradition on the three days after Candlemas (known as "Woodchuck Day"
in the valley), they had often decided what the affair should be and had
begun rehearsals before the leaves had turned in the autumn. There was no
corner of the great world of dramatic art they had not explored, borne up
to the loftiest regions of endeavor by their touchingly unworldly
ignorance of their limitations. As often happens in such cases they
believed so ingenuously in their own capacities that their faith wrought
Sometimes they gave a cantata, sometimes a nigger-minstrel show. The year
the interior of the town hall was changed, they took advantage of the time
before either the first or second floor was laid, and attempted and
achieved an indoor circus. And the year that an orchestra conductor from
Albany had to spend the winter in the mountains for his lungs, they
presented _Il Trovatore_. Everybody sang, as a matter of course, and those
whose best efforts in this direction brought them no glory had their
innings the year it was decided to give a play.
They had done _East Lynne_ and _Hamlet, Uncle Tom's Cabin_ and _Macbeth_,
and every once in a while the local literary man, who was also the
undertaker, wrote a play based on local traditions. Of course they gave
_The Village School_ and _Memory's Garland_, and if you don't remember
those delectable home-made entertainments, so much the worse for you. It
is true that in the allegorical tableau at the end of _Memory's Garland_
the wreath, which was of large artificial roses, had been made of such
generous proportions that when the Muses placed it on the head of slender
Elnathan Pritchett, representing "The Poet," it slipped over his ears,
down over his narrow shoulders, and sliding rapidly toward the floor was
only caught by him in time to hold it in place upon his stomach. That
happened only on the first night, of course. The other performances it was
perfect, lodging on his ears with the greatest precision.
It must not be supposed, however, that the responsibilities of Hillsboro
for the library ended with the triumphant counting out of the money after
the entertainment. This sum, the only actual cash ever handled by the
committee, was exclusively devoted to the purchase of new books. It was
the pride of the village that everything else was cared for without price,
by their own enterprise, public spirit, and ingenuity. When the books, had
overflowed the wing of Deacon Bradlaugh's house, back in 1869, they were
given free lodging in the rooms of the then newly established and
flourishing Post of the G.A.R. In 1896 they burst from this chrysalis into
the whole lower floor of the town hall, newly done over for the purpose.
From their shelves here the books looked down benignly on church suppers
and sociables, and even an occasional dance. It was the center of village
life, the big, low-ceilinged room, its windows curtained with white
muslin, its walls bright with fresh paper and colored pictures, like any
sitting-room in a village home. The firewood was contributed, a load
apiece, by the farmers of the country about, and the oil for the lamps was
the common gift of the three grocery-stores. There was no carpet, but
bright-colored rag rugs lay about on the bare floor, and it was a point of
honor with the Ladies' Aid Society of the church to keep these renewed.
The expense of a librarian's salary was obviated by the expedient of
having no librarian. The ladies of Hillsboro took turns in presiding over
the librarian's table, each one's day coming about once in three weeks.
"Library Day" was as fixed an institution in Hillsboro as "wash day," and
there was not a busy housewife who did not look forward to the long quiet
morning spent in dusting and caring for the worn old books, which were
like the faces of friends to her, familiar from childhood. The afternoon
and evening were more animated, since the library had become a sort of
common meeting-ground. The big, cheerful, sunlighted room full of
grown-ups and children, talking together, even laughing out loud at times,
did not look like any sophisticated idea of a library, for Hillsboro was
as benighted on the subject of the need for silence in a reading-room as
on all other up-to-date library theories. If you were so weak-nerved and
sickly that the noise kept you from reading, you could take your book, go
into Elzaphan Hall's room and shut the door, or you could take your book
and go home, but you could not object to people being sociable.
Elzaphan Hall was the janitor, and the town's only pauper. He was an old
G.A.R. man who had come back from the war minus an arm and a foot, and
otherwise so shattered that steady work was impossible. In order not to
wound him by making him feel that he was dependent on public charity, it
had been at once settled that he should keep the fire going in the
library, scrub the floor, and keep the room clean in return for his food
and lodging. He "boarded round" like the school-teacher, and slept in a
little room off the library. In the course of years he had grown
pathetically and exasperatingly convinced of his own importance, but he
had been there so long that his dictatorial airs and humors were regarded
with the unsurprised tolerance granted to things of long standing, and
were forgiven in view of his devotion to the best interests of the
library, which took the place of a family to him.
As for the expenses of cataloguing, no one ever thought of such a thing.
Catalogue the books? Why, as soon hang up a list of the family so that you
wouldn't forget how many children you had; as soon draw a plan of the
village so that people should not lose their way about. Everybody knew
what and where the books were, as well as they knew what and where the
fields on their farms were, or where the dishes were on the pantry
shelves. The money from the entertainment was in hand by the middle of
February; by April the new books, usually about a hundred in number, had
arrived; and by June any wide-awake, intelligent resident of Hillsboro
would have been ashamed to confess that he did not know the location of
The system of placing on the shelves was simplicity itself. Each year's
new acquisitions were kept together, regardless of subject, and located by
the name of the entertainment which had bought them. Thus, if you wished
to consult a certain book on geology, in which subject the library was
rich, owing to the scientific tastes of Squire Pritchett, you were told by
the librarian for the day, as she looked up from her darning with a
friendly smile, that it was in the "Uncle Tom's Cabin section." The
Shakespeare set, honorably worn and dog's-eared, dated back to the unnamed
mass coming from early days before things were so well systematized, and
was said to be in the "Old Times section"; whereas Ibsen (for some of
Hillsboro young people go away to college) was bright and fresh in the
"East Lynne section."
The books were a visible and sincere symbol of Hillsboro's past and
present. The honest, unpretending people had bought the books they wished
to read, and everyone's taste was represented, even a few French legends
and pious tales being present as a concession to the Roman Catholic
element among the French Canadians. There was a great deal of E.P. Roe,
there was all of Mrs. Southworth--is it possible that anywhere else in the
world there is a complete collection of that lady's voluminous
productions?--but beside them stood the Elizabethan dramatists and a
translation of Dante. The men of the town, who after they were grown up
did not care much for fiction, cast their votes for scientific treatises
on agriculture, forestry, and the like; and there was an informal history
club, consisting of the postmaster, the doctor, and the druggist, who bore
down heavily on history books. The school-teacher, the minister, and the
priest had each, ex officio, the choice of ten books with nobody to
object, and the children in school were allowed another ten with no advice
It would have made a scientific librarian faint, the Hillsboro system, but
the result was that not a book was bought which did not find readers eager
to welcome it. A stranger would have turned dizzy trying to find his way
about, but there are no strangers in Hillsboro. The arrival even of a new
French-Canadian lumberman is a subject of endless discussion.
It can be imagined, therefore, how electrified was the village by the
apparition, on a bright June day, of an automobile creaking and wheezing
its slow way to the old tavern. The irritated elderly gentleman who
stepped out and began blaming the chauffeur for the delay announced
himself to Zadok Foster, the tavern-keeper, as Josiah Camden, of Chicago,
and was electrified in his turn by the calmness with which that mighty
name was received.
During the two days he waited in Hillsboro for the repair of his machine
he amused himself first by making sure of the incredible fact that nobody
in the village had ever heard of him, and second by learning with an
astounded and insatiable curiosity all the details of life in this
forgotten corner of the mountains. It was newer and stranger to him than
anything he had seen during his celebrated motor-car trip through the
Soudan. He was stricken speechless by hearing that you could rent a whole
house (of only five rooms, to be sure) and a garden for thirty-six dollars
a year, and that the wealthiest man in the place was supposed to have
inherited and accumulated the vast sum of ten thousand dollars. When he
heard of the public library he inquired quickly how much it cost to run
_that_? Mr. Camden knew from experience something about the cost of public
"Not a cent," said Zadok Foster proudly.
Mr. Camden came from Chicago and not from Missouri, but the involuntary
exclamation of amazed incredulity which burst from his lips was, "Show
So they showed him. The denizen of the great world entered the poor,
low-ceilinged room, looked around at the dreadful chromos on the walls, at
the cheap, darned muslin curtains, at the gaudy rag rugs, at the shabby,
worn books in inextricable confusion on the shelves, and listened with
gleaming eyes to the account given by the librarian for the day of the
years of patient and uncomplaining struggles by which these
poverty-stricken mountaineers had secured this meager result. He struck
one hand into the other with a clap. "It's a chance in a million!" he
When his momentous letter came back from Chicago, this was still the
recurrent note, that nowadays it is so hard for a poor millionaire to find
a deserving object for his gifts, that it is the rarest opportunity
possible when he really with his own eyes can make sure of placing his
money where it will carry on a work already begun in the right spirit. He
spoke in such glowing terms of Hillsboro's pathetic endeavors to keep
their poor little enterprise going, that Hillsboro, very unconscious
indeed of being pathetic, was bewildered. He said that owing to the
unusual conditions he would break the usual rules governing his
benefactions and ask no guarantee from the town. He begged, therefore, to
have the honor to announce that he had already dispatched an architect and
a contractor to Hillsboro, who would look the ground over, and put up a
thoroughly modern library building with no expense spared to make it
complete in equipment; that he had already placed to the credit of the
"Hillsboro Camden Public Library" a sufficient sum to maintain in
perpetuity a well-paid librarian, and to cover all expenses of fuel,
lights, purchase of books, cataloguing, etc.; and that the Library School
in Albany had already an order to select a perfectly well-balanced library
of thirty thousand books to begin with.
Reason recoils from any attempt to portray the excitement of Hillsboro
after this letter arrived. To say that it was as if a gold mine had been
discovered under the village green is the feeblest of metaphors. For an
entire week the town went to bed at night tired out with exclaiming, woke
in the morning sure it had dreamed it all, rushed with a common impulse to
the post-office where the letter was posted on the wall, and fell to
Then the architect and contractor arrived, and Hillsboro drew back into
its shell of somber taciturnity, and acted, the contractor told the
architect, as though they were in the habit of having libraries given them
three times a week regularly.
The architect replied that these mountaineers were like Indians. You
_couldn't_ throw a shock into them that would make them loosen up any.
Indeed, this characterization seemed just enough, in view of the passive
way in which Hillsboro received what was done for it during the months
It was the passivity of stupefaction, however, as one marvel after another
was revealed to them. The first evening the architect sketched the plans
of a picturesque building in the old Norse style, to match the romantic
scenery of the lovely valley. The next morning he located it upon a knoll
cooled by a steady breeze. The contractor made hasty inquiries about
lumber, labor, and houses for his men, found that none of these essentials
were at hand, decided to import everything from Albany; and by noon of the
day after they arrived these two brisk young gentlemen had departed,
leaving Hillsboro still incredulous of its good fortune.
When they returned, ten days later, however, they brought solid and
visible proof in the shape of a trainload of building materials and a
crowd of Italian laborers, who established themselves in a boarding-car on
a sidetrack near the station.
"We are going," remarked the contractor to the architect, "to make the
"We will make things hum," answered the architect, "as they've never
hummed before in this benighted spot."
And indeed, as up to this time they had never hummed at all, it is not
surprising that Hillsboro caught its breath as the work went forward like
Aladdin's palace. The corner-stone was laid on the third of July and on
the first of October the building stood complete. By the first of November
the books had come already catalogued by the Library School and arranged
in boxes so that they could be put at once upon the shelves; and the last
details of the interior decoration were complete. The architect was in the
most naive ecstasy of admiration for his own taste. The outside was
deliciously unhackneyed in design, the only reproduction of a Norwegian
_Stave-Kirke_ in America, he reported to Mr. Camden; and while that made
the interior a little dark, the quaint wooden building was exquisitely in
harmony with the landscape. As for the interior it was a dream! The
reading-room was like the most beautiful drawing-room, an education in
itself, done in dark oak, with oriental rugs, mission furniture, and
reproductions of old masters on the walls. Lace sash-curtains hung at the
windows, covered by rich draperies in oriental design, which subdued the
light to a delightful soberness. The lamps came from Tiffany's.
When the young-lady librarian arrived from Albany and approved
enthusiastically of the stack-room and cataloguing, the architect's cup of
satisfaction fairly ran over; and when he went away, leaving her installed
in her handsome oak-finished office, he could hardly refrain from
embracing her, so exactly the right touch did she add to the whole thing
with her fresh white shirt-waist and pretty, business-like airs. There had
been no ceremony of opening, because Mr. Camden was so absorbed in an
exciting wheat deal that he could not think of coming East, and indeed the
whole transaction had been almost blotted from his mind by a month's
flurried, unsteady market. So one day in November the pretty librarian
walked into her office, and the Hillsboro Camden Public Library was open.
She was a very pretty librarian indeed, and she wore her tailor suits with
an air which made the village girls look uneasily into their mirrors and
made the village boys look after her as she passed. She was moreover as
permeated with the missionary fervor instilled into her at the Library
School as she was pretty, and she began at once to practice all the latest
devices for automatically turning a benighted community into the latest
thing in culture. When Mrs. Bradlaugh, wife of the deacon, and president
of the Ladies' Aid Society, was confined to the house with a cold, she
sent over to the library, as was her wont in such cases, for some
entertaining story to while away her tedious convalescence. Miss Martin
sent back one of Henry James's novels, and was surprised that Mrs.
Bradlaugh made no second attempt to use the library. When the little girls
in school asked for the Elsie books, she answered with a glow of pride
that the library did not possess one of those silly stories, and offered
as substitute, "Greek Myths for Children."
Squire Pritchett came, in a great hurry, one morning, and asked for his
favorite condensed handbook of geology, in order to identify a stone. He
was told that it was entirely out of date and very incomplete, and the
library did not own it, and he was referred to the drawer in the card
catalogue relating to geology. For a time his stubbed old fingers rambled
among the cards, with an ever-rising flood of baffled exasperation. How
could he tell by looking at a strange name on a little piece of paper
whether the book it represented would tell him about a stone out of his
gravel-pit! Finally he appealed to the librarian, who proclaimed on all
occasions her eagerness to help inquirers, and she referred him to a
handsome great Encyclopedia of Geology in forty-seven volumes. He wandered
around hopelessly in this for about an hour, and in the end retreated
unenlightened. Miss Martin tried to help him in his search, but, half
amused by his rustic ignorance, she asked him finally, with an air of
gentle patience, "how, if he didn't know _any_ of the scientific names,
he expected to be able to look up a subject in an alphabetically arranged
book?" Squire Pritchett never entered the library again. His son Elnathan
might be caught by her airs and graces, he said rudely enough in the
post-office, but he was "too old to be talked down to by a chit who didn't
know granite from marble."
When the schoolboys asked for "Nick Carter" she gave them those classics,
"The Rollo Books"; and to the French-Canadians she gave, reasonably
enough, the acknowledged masters of their language, Voltaire, Balzac, and
Flaubert, till the horrified priest forbade from the pulpit any of his
simple-minded flock to enter "that temple of sin, the public library." She
had little classes in art-criticism for the young ladies in town,
explaining to them with sweet lucidity why the Botticellis and Rembrandts
and Duerers were better than the chromos which still hung on the walls of
the old library, now cold and deserted except for church suppers and
sociables. These were never held in the new reading-room, the oriental
rugs being much too fine to have doughnut crumbs and coffee spilled on
them. After a time, however, the young ladies told her that they found
themselves too busy getting the missionary barrels ready to continue
absorbing information about Botticelli's rhythm and Duerer's line.
Miss Martin was not only pretty and competent, but she was firm of
purpose, as was shown by her encounter with Elzaphan Hall, who had
domineered over two generations of amateur librarians. The old man had
received strict orders to preserve silence in the reading-room when the
librarian could not be there, and yet one day she returned from the
stack-room to find the place in a most shocking state of confusion.
Everybody was laughing, Elzaphan himself most of all, and they did not
stop when she brought her severe young face among them. Elzaphan
explained, waving his hand at a dark Rembrandt looking gloomily down upon
them, that Elnathan Pritchett had said that if _he_ had such a dirty face
as that he'd _wash_ it, if he had to go as far as from here to the Eagle
Rock Spring to get the water! This seemed the dullest of bucolic wit to
Miss Martin, and she chilled Elnathan to the marrow by her sad gaze of
disappointment in him. Jennie Foster was very jealous of Miss Martin (as
were all the girls in town), and she rejoiced openly in Elnathan's
witticism, continuing to laugh at intervals after the rest of the room had
cowered into silence under the librarian's eye.
Miss Martin took the old janitor aside and told him sternly that if such
a thing happened again she would dismiss him; and when the old man,
crazily trying to show his spirit, allowed a spelling-match to go on, full
blast, right in library hours, she did dismiss him, drawing on the endless
funds at her disposal to import a young Irishman from Albany, who was soon
playing havoc with the pretty French-Canadian girls. Elzaphan Hall,
stunned by the blow, fell into bad company and began to drink heavily,
paying for his liquor by exceedingly comic and disrespectful imitations of
Miss Martin's talks on art.
It was now about the middle of the winter, and the knoll which in June had
been the center of gratefully cool breezes was raked by piercing north
winds which penetrated the picturesquely unplastered, wood-finished walls
as though they had been paper. The steam-heating plant did not work very
well, and the new janitor, seeing fewer and fewer people come to the
reading-room, spent less and less time in struggling with the boilers, or
in keeping the long path up the hill shoveled clear of snow. Miss Martin,
positively frightened by the ferocity with which winter flings itself upon
the high narrow valley, was helpless before the problem of the new
conditions, and could think of nothing to do except to buy more fuel and
yet more, and to beseech the elusive Celt, city-trained in plausible
excuses for not doing his duty, to burn more wood. Once she remarked
plaintively to Elnathan Pritchett, as she sat beside him at a church
supper (for she made a great point of "mingling with the people"), that it
seemed to her there must be something the _matter_ with the wood in
Everybody within earshot laughed, and the saying was repeated the next day
with shameless mirth as the best joke of the season. For the wood for the
library had had a history distinctly discreditable and as distinctly
ludicrous, at which Hillsboro people laughed with a conscious lowering of
their standards of honesty. The beginning had been an accident, but the
long sequence was not. For the first time in the history of the library,
the farmer who brought the first load of wood presented a bill for this
service. He charged two dollars a cord on the scrawled memorandum, but
Miss Martin mistook this figure for a seven, corrected his total with the
kindest tolerance for his faulty arithmetic, and gave the countryman a
check which reduced him for a time to a paralyzed silence. It was only on
telling the first person he met outside the library that the richness of a
grown person knowing no more than that about the price of wood came over
him, and the two screamed with laughter over the lady's beautifully formed
figures on the dirty sheet of paper.
Miss Martin took the hesitating awkwardness of the next man presenting
himself before her, not daring to ask the higher price and not willing to
take the lower, for rustic bashfulness, and put him at his ease by saying
airily, "Five cords? That makes thirty-five dollars. I always pay seven
dollars a cord." After that, the procession of grinning men driving
lumber-sleds toward the library became incessant. The minister attempted
to remonstrate with the respectable men of his church for cheating a poor
young lady, but they answered roughly that it wasn't her money but
Camden's, who had tossed them the library as a man would toss a penny to a
beggar, who had now quite forgotten about them, and, finally, who had made
his money none too honestly.
Since he had become of so much importance to them they had looked up his
successful career in the Chicago wheat pit, and, undazzled by the millions
involved, had penetrated shrewdly to the significance of his operations.
The record of his colossal and unpunished frauds had put to sleep, so far
as he was concerned, their old minute honesty. It was considered the best
of satires that the man who had fooled all the West should be fooled in
his turn by a handful of forgotten mountaineers, that they should be
fleecing him in little things as he had fleeced Chicago in great. There
was, however, an element which frowned on this shifting of standards, and,
before long, neighbors and old friends were divided into cliques, calling
each other, respectively, cheats and hypocrites. Hillsboro was intolerably
dull that winter because of the absence of the usual excitement over the
entertainment, and in that stagnation all attention was directed to the
new joke on the wheat king. It was turned over and over, forward and back,
and refurbished and made to do duty again and again, after the fashion of
rustic jokes. This one had the additional advantage of lining the pockets
of the perpetrators. They egged one another on to fresh inventions and
variations, until even the children, not to be left out, began to have
exploits of their own to tell. The grocers raised the price of kerosene,
groaning all the time at the extortions of the oil trust, till the
guileless guardian of Mr. Camden's funds was paying fifty cents a gallon
for it. The boys charged a quarter for every bouquet of pine-boughs they
brought to decorate the cold, empty reading-room. The washer-woman charged
five dollars for "doing-up" the lace sash-curtains. As spring came on, and
the damages wrought by the winter winds must be repaired, the carpenters
asked wages which made the sellers of firewood tear their hair at wasted
opportunities. They might have raised the price per cord! The new janitor,
hearing the talk about town, demanded a raise in salary and threatened to
leave without warning if it were not granted.
It was on the fifth of June, a year to a day after the arrival of Mr.
Camden in his automobile, that Miss Martin yielded to this last extortion,
and her action made the day as memorable as that of the year before. The
janitor, carried away by his victory, celebrated his good fortune in so
many glasses of hard cider that he was finally carried home and deposited
limply on the veranda of his boarding-house. Here he slept till the cold
of dawn awoke him to a knowledge of his whereabouts, so inverted and tipsy
that he rose, staggered to the library, cursing the intolerable length of
these damn Vermont winters, and proceeded to build a roaring fire on the
floor of the reading-room. As the varnished wood of the beautiful fittings
took light like a well-constructed bonfire, realization of his act came to
him, and he ran down the valley road, screaming and giving the alarm at
the top of his lungs, and so passed out of Hillsboro forever.
The village looked out of its windows, saw the wooden building blazing
like a great torch, hurried on its clothes and collected around the fire.
No effort was made to save the library. People stood around in the chilly
morning air, looking silently at the mountain of flame which burned as
though it would never stop. They thought of a great many things in that
silent hour as the sun rose over Hemlock Mountain, and there were no
smiles or their faces. They are ignorant and narrow people in Hillsboro,
but they have an inborn capacity unsparingly to look facts in the face.
When the last beam had fallen in with a crash to the blackened cellar-hole
Miss Martin, very pale and shaken, stepped bravely forward. "I know how
terribly you must be feeling about this," she began in her carefully
modulated voice, "but I want to assure you that I _know_ Mr. Camden will
rebuild the library for you if--"
She was interrupted by the chief man of the town, Squire Pritchett, who
began speaking with a sort of bellow only heard before in exciting moments
in town-meeting. "May I never live to see the day!" he shouted; and from
all the tongue-tied villagers there rose a murmur of relief at having
found a voice. They pressed about him closely and drank in his dry, curt
announcement: "As selectman I shall write Mr. Camden, tell him of the
fire, thank him for his kindness, and inform him that we don't want any
more of it" Everybody nodded. "I don't know whether his money is what they
call tainted or not, but there's one thing sure, it ain't done us any
good." He passed his hand over his unshaven jaw with a rasping wipe and
smiled grimly as he concluded, "I'm no hand to stir up lawbreakin' and
disorder, but I want to say right here that I'll never inform against any
Hillsboro man who keeps the next automobile out of town, if he has to take
a ax to it!"
People laughed, and neighbors who had not spoken to one another since the
quarrel over the price of wood fell into murmured, approving talk.
Elnathan Pritchett, blushing and hesitating, twitched at his father's
sleeve. "But, father--Miss Martin--We're keeping her out of a position."
That young lady made one more effort to reach these impenetrable people.
"I was about to resign," she said with dignity. "I am going to marry the
assistant to the head of the Department of Bibliography at Albany."
The only answer to this imposing announcement was a giggle from Jennie
Foster, to whose side Elnathan now fell back, silenced.
People began to move away in little knots, talking as they went. Elzaphan
Hall stumped hastily down the street to the town hall and was standing in
the open door as the first group passed him.
"Here, Mis' Foster, you're forgittin' somethin'," he said roughly, with
his old surly, dictatorial air. "This is your day to the library."
Mrs. Foster hesitated, laughing at the old man's manner.
"It seems foolish, but I don't know why _not_!" she said. "Jennie, you run
on over home and bring a broom for Elzaphan. The book must be in an
When Jennie came back, a knot of women stood before the door, talking to
her mother and looking back at the smoldering ruins. The girl followed the
direction of their eyes and of their thoughts. "I don't believe but what
we can plant woodbine and things around it so that in a month's time you
won't know there's been anything there!" she said hopefully.
SALEM HILLS TO ELLIS ISLAND
A single sleighbell, tinkling down
The virgin road that skirts the wood,
Makes poignant to the lonely town
Its silence and its solitude.
A single taper's feeble flare
Makes darker by its lonely light
The cold and empty farmsteads square
That blackly loom to left and tight;
And she who sews, by that dim flame,
The patient quilt spread on her knees,
Hears from her heirloom quilting-frame
The frolic of forgotten bees.
Yea, all the dying village thrills
With echoes of its cheerful past,
The golden days of Salem Hills;
Its only golden days? Its last?
From Salem Hills a voiceless cry
Along the darkened valley rolls.
Hear it, great ship, and forward ply
With thy rich freight of venturous souls.
Hear it, O thronging lower deck,
Brave homestead-seekers come from far;
And crowd the rail, and crane the neck;
In Salem Hills your homesteads are!
Where flourish now the brier and thorn,
The barley and the wheat shall spring,
And valleys standing thick with corn
(Praise God, my heart!), shall laugh and sing.
The library of Middletown College had been founded, like the college
itself, in 1818, and it was a firm article of undergraduate belief that
the librarian, Mr. J.M. Atterworthy, had sat behind his battered desk
from that date on to the present time. As a matter of fact, he was but
just gliding down-hill from middle age, having behind him the same number
of years as the active and high-spirited president of the college. And yet
there was ground for the undergraduate conviction that "Old J.M." as he
was always called, was an institution whose beginnings dated back into the
mists of antiquity, for of his sixty years he had spent forty-four in
Middletown, and forty as librarian of the college.
He had come down, a shy, lanky freshman of sixteen, from a little village
in the Green Mountains, and had found the only consolation for his
homesick soul in the reading-room of the library. During his sophomore and
junior years, there had sprung up in the bookish lad, shrinking from the
rough fun of his fellows, the first shoots of that passionate attachment
to the library which was later to bind him so irrevocably to the old
building. In those early days there was no regular librarian, the
professors taking turn and turn about in keeping the reading-room open for
a few hours, three or four days a week. In his senior year, "J.M." (even
at that time his real name was sunk in the initials, the significance of
which he jealously concealed) petitioned the faculty to be allowed to take
charge of the reading-room. They gave a shrug of surprise at his
eccentricity, investigated briefly his eminently sober-minded college
career, and heaved a sigh of relief as they granted his extraordinary
On the evening of Commencement day, J.M. went to the president and made
the following statement: He said that his father and his mother had both
died during his senior year, leaving him entirely alone in the world, with
a small inheritance yielding about fifty dollars a month. He had no
leaning to any profession, he shrank with all his being from the savage
struggles of the business world, and he could not bear to return to
Woodville, to find himself lonely and bereaved in the spot where he had
had such a cloudlessly happy childhood. In short, Middletown was the only
place he knew and liked, except Woodville, which he loved too poignantly
to live there with the soul gone out of things; and the library was the
only home he now had. If the president could get the trustees, at their
next meeting, to allow him the use of the three rooms in the library
tower, and if they would vote him a small nominal salary, say thirty
dollars a month, enough to make him a regular member of the college corps,
he would like nothing better than to settle down and be the librarian of
his _alma mater_ for the rest of his life.