Part 12 out of 18
might as well know all my weak points at once."
"Miss Ringgan will break nothing to-night, Mr. Stackpole--she promised me
she would not."
"Not even her silence?" said the gentleman.
"Is she always so desperately industrious?" said Mr. Thorn.
"Miss Ringgan, Mr. Stackpole," said Constance, "is subject to occasional
fits of misanthropy, in which cases her retreating with her work to the
solitude of the centre-table is significant of her desire to avoid
conversation,--as Mr. Thorn has been experiencing."
"I am happy to see that the malady is not catching, Miss Constance."
"Mr. Stackpole!" said Constance,--"I am in a morose state of mind!--Miss
Ringgan this morning received a magnificent bouquet of roses which in the
first place I rashly appropriated to myself; and ever since I discovered
my mistake I have been meditating the renouncing of society--it has
excited more bad feelings than I thought had existence in my nature."
"Mr. Stackpole," said Mrs. Evelyn, "would you ever have supposed that
roses could be a cause of discord?"
Mr. Stackpole looked as if he did not exactly know what the ladies were
"There have five thousand emigrants arrived at this port within a week!"
said he, as if that were something worth talking about.
"Poor creatures! where will they all go?" said Mrs. Evelyn comfortably.
"Country's large enough," said Thorn.
"Yes, but such a stream of immigration will reach the Pacific and come
back again before long: and then there will be a meeting of the waters!
This tide of German and Irish will sweep over everything."
"I suppose if the land will not bear both, one party will have to seek
other quarters," said Mrs. Evelyn with an exquisite satisfaction which
Fleda could hear in her voice. "You remember the story of Lot and Abraham,
Mr. Stackpole,--when a quarrel arose between them?--not about roses."
Mr. Stackpole looked as if women were--to say the least--incomprehensible.
"Five thousand a week!" he repeated.
"I wish there was a Dead Sea for them all to sheer off into!" said Thorn.
"If you had seen the look of grave rebuke that speech called forth, Mr.
Thorn," said Constance, "your feelings would have been penetrated--if you
"I had forgotten," he said, looking round with a bland change of
manner,--"what gentle charities were so near me."
"Mamma!" said Constance with a most comic shew of indignation,--"Mr.
Thorn thought that with Miss Ringgan he had forgotten all the gentle
charities in the room!--I am of no further use to society!--I will trouble
you to ring that bell, Mr. Thorn, if you please. I shall request candles
and retire to the privacy of my own apartment!"
"Not till you have permitted me to expiate my fault!" said Mr.
"It cannot be expiated!--My worth will be known at some future day.--Mr.
Carleton, _will_ you have the goodness to summon our domestic attendant?"
"If you will permit me to give the order," he said smiling, with his hand
on the bell. "I am afraid you are hardly fit to be trusted alone."
"May I delay obeying you long enough to give my reasons?"
"Because," said he coming up to her, "when people turn away from the world
in disgust they generally find worse company in themselves."
"Mr. Carleton!--I would not sit still another minute, if curiosity didn't
keep me. I thought solitude was said to be such a corrector?"
"Like a clear atmosphere--an excellent medium if your object is to take an
observation of your position--worse than lost if you mean to shut up the
windows and burn sickly lights of your own."
"Then according to that one shouldn't seek solitude unless one
doesn't want it."
"No," said Mr. Carleton, with that eye of deep meaning to which Constance
always rendered involuntary homage,--"every one wants it;--if we do not
daily take an observation to find where we are, we are sailing about
wildly and do not know whither we are going."
"An observation?" said Constance, understanding part and impatient of not
catching the whole of his meaning.
"Yes," he said with a smile of singular fascination,--"I mean, consulting
the unerring guides of the way to know where we are and if we are sailing
safely and happily in the right direction--otherwise we are in danger of
striking upon some rock or of never making the harbour; and in either
case, all is lost."
The power of eye and smile was too much for Constance, as it had happened
more than once before; her own eyes fell and for a moment she wore a look
of unwonted sadness and sweetness, at what from any other person would
have roused her mockery.
"Mr. Carleton," said she, trying to rally herself but still not daring to
look up, knowing that would put it out of her power,--"I can't understand
how you ever came to be such a grave person."
"What is your idea of gravity?" said he smiling. "To have a mind so at
rest about the future as to be able to enjoy thoroughly all that is worth
enjoying in the present?"
"But I can't imagine how _you_ ever came to take up such notions."
"May I ask again, why not I?"
"O you know--you have so much to make you otherwise."
"What degree of present contentment ought to make one satisfied to leave
that of the limitless future an uncertain thing?"
"Do you think it can be made certain?"
"Undoubtedly!--why not? the tickets are free--the only thing is to make
sure that ours has the true signature. Do you think the possession of that
ticket makes life a sadder thing? The very handwriting of it is more
precious to me, by far, Miss Constance, than everything else I have."
"But you are a very uncommon instance," said Constance, still unable to
look up, and speaking without any of her usual attempt at jocularity.
"No, I hope not," he said quietly.
"I mean," said Constance, "that it is very uncommon language to hear from
a person like you."
"I suppose I know your meaning," he said after a minute's pause;--"but,
Miss Constance, there is hardly a graver thought to me than that power and
responsibility go hand in hand."
"It don't generally work so," said Constance rather uneasily.
"What are you talking about, Constance?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"Mr. Carleton, mamma,--has been making me melancholy."
"Mr. Carleton," said Mrs. Evelyn, "I am going to petition that you will
turn your efforts in another direction--I have felt oppressed all the
afternoon from the effects of that funeral service I was attending--I am
only just getting over it. The preacher seemed to delight in putting
together all the gloomy thoughts he could think of."
"Yes!" said Mr. Stackpole, putting his hands in his pockets,--"it is the
particular enjoyment of some of them, I believe, to do their best to make
other people miserable."
Mr. Thorn said nothing, being warned by the impatient little hammering of
Fleda's worsted needle upon the marble, while her eye was no longer
considering her work, and her face rested anxiously upon her hand.
"There wasn't a thing," the lady went on,--"in anything he said, in his
prayer or his speech,--there wasn't a single cheering or elevating
consideration,--all he talked and prayed for was that the people there
might be filled with a sense of their wickedness--"
"It's their trade, ma'am," said Mr. Stackpole,--"it's their trade! I
wonder if it ever occurs to them to include themselves in that petition."
"There wasn't the slightest effort made in anything he said or prayed
for,--and one would have thought that would have been so natural!--there
was not the least endeavour to do away with that superstitious fear of
death which is so common--and one would think it was the very occasion to
do it;--he never once asked that we might be led to look upon it
rationally and calmly.--It's so unreasonable, Mr. Stackpole--it is so
dissonant with our views of a benevolent Supreme Being--as if it could be
according to _his_ will that his creatures should live lives of
tormenting themselves--it so shews a want of trust in his goodness!"
"It's a relic of barbarism, ma'am," said Mr. Stackpole;--"it's a popular
delusion--and it is like to be, till you can get men to embrace wider and
more liberal views of things."
"What do you suppose it proceeds from?" said Mr. Carleton, as if the
question had just occurred to him.
"I suppose, from false notions received from education, sir."
"Hardly," said Mr. Carleton;--"it is too universal. You find it
everywhere; and to ascribe it everywhere to education would be but
shifting the question back one generation."
"It is a root of barbarous ages," said Mr. Stackpole,--"a piece of
superstition handed down from father to son--a set of false ideas
which men are bred up and almost born with, and that they can hardly
get rid of."
"How can that be a root of barbarism, which the utmost degree of
intelligence and cultivation has no power to do away, nor even to lessen,
however it may afford motive to control? Men may often put a brave face
upon it and shew none of their thoughts to the world; but I think no one
capable of reflection has not at times felt the influence of that dread."
"Men have often sought death, of purpose and choice," said Mr. Stackpole
dryly and rubbing his chin.
"Not from the absence of this feeling, but from the greater momentary
pressure of some other."
"Of course," said Mr. Stackpole, rubbing his chin still,--there is a
natural love of life--the world could not get on if there was not."
"If the love of life is natural, the fear of death must be so, by the
"Undoubtedly," said Mrs. Evelyn, "it is natural--it is part of the
constitution of our nature."
"Yes," said Mr. Stackpole, settling himself again in his chair with his
hands in his pockets--"it is not unnatural, I suppose,--but then that is
the first view of the subject--it is the business of reason to correct
many impressions and prejudices that are, as we say, natural."
"And there was where my clergyman of to-day failed utterly," said Mrs.
Evelyn;--"he aimed at strengthening that feeling and driving it down as
hard as he could into everybody's mind--not a single lisp of anything to
do it away or lessen the gloom with which we are, naturally as you say,
disposed to invest the subject."
"I dare say he has held it up as a bugbear till it has become one to
himself," said Mr. Stackpole.
"It is nothing more than the mere natural dread of dissolution," said
"I think it is that," said Mrs. Evelyn,--"I think that is the
"Is there not besides an undefined fear of what lies beyond--an
uneasy misgiving that there may be issues which the spirit is not
prepared to meet?"
"I suppose there is," said Mrs. Evelyn,--"but sir--"
"Why that is the very thing," said Mr. Stackpole,--"that is the mischief
of education I was speaking of--men are brought up to it."
"You cannot dispose of it so, sir, for this feeling is quite as universal
as the other; and so strong that men have not only been willing to render
life miserable but even to endure death itself, with all the aggravation
of torture, to smooth their way in that unknown region beyond."
"It is one of the maladies of human nature," said Mr. Stackpole,--"that
it remains for the progress of enlightened reason to dispel."
"What is the cure for the malady?" said Mr. Carleton quietly.
"Why sir!--the looking upon death as a necessary step in the course of our
existence which simply introduces us from a lower to a higher
sphere,--from a comparatively narrow to a wider and nobler range of
feeling and intellect."
"Ay--but how shall we be sure that it is so?"
"Why Mr. Carleton, sir," said Mrs. Evelyn,--"do you doubt that? Do you
suppose it possible for a moment that a benevolent being would make
creatures to be anything but happy?"
"You believe the Bible, Mrs. Evelyn?" he said smiling slightly.
"Certainly, sir; but Mr. Carleton, the Bible I am sure holds out the same
views of the goodness and glory of the Creator; you cannot open it but you
find them on every page. If I could take such views of things as some
people have," said Mrs. Evelyn, getting up to punch the fire in her
extremity,--"I don't know what I should do!--Mr. Carleton, I think I would
rather never have been born, sir!"
"Every one runs to the Bible!" said Mr. Stackpole. "It is the general
armoury, and all parties draw from it to fight each other."
"True," said Mr. Carleton,--"but only while they draw partially. No man
can fight the battle of truth but in the whole panoply; and no man so
armed can fight any other."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"I mean that the Bible is not a riddle, neither inconsistent with
itself; but if you take off one leg of a pair of compasses the measuring
power is gone."
"But Mr. Carleton, sir," said Mrs. Evelyn,--"do you think that reading
the Bible is calculated to give one gloomy ideas of the future?"
"By no means," he said with one of those meaning-fraught smiles,--"but
is it safe, Mrs. Evelyn, in such a matter, to venture a single grasp of
hope without the direct warrant of God's word?"
"Well, ma'am,--that says, 'the soul that sinneth, it shall die.'"
"That disposes of the whole matter comfortably at once," said Mr.
"But, sir," said Mrs. Evelyn,--"that doesn't stand alone--the Bible
everywhere speaks of the fulness and freeness of Christ's salvation?"
"Full and free as it can possibly be," he answered with something of a sad
expression of countenance;--"but, Mrs. Evelyn, _never offered but with
"What conditions?" said Mr. Stackpole hastily.
"I recommend you to look for them, sir," answered Mr. Carleton,
gravely;--"they should not be unknown to a wise man."
"Then you would leave mankind ridden by this nightmare of fear?--or what
is your remedy?"
"There is a remedy, sir," said Mr. Carleton, with that dilating and
darkening eye which shewed him deeply engaged in what he was thinking
about;--"it is not mine. When men feel themselves lost and are willing to
be saved in God's way, then the breach is made up--then hope can look
across the gap and see its best home and its best friend on the other
side--then faith lays hold on forgiveness and trembling is done--then, sin
being pardoned, the sting of death is taken away and the fear of death is
no more, for it is swallowed up in victory. But men will not apply to a
physician while they think themselves well; and people will not seek the
sweet way of safety by Christ till they know there is no other; and so, do
you see, Mrs. Evelyn, that when the gentleman you were speaking of sought
to-day to persuade his hearers that they were poorer than they thought
they were, he was but taking the surest way to bring them to be made
richer than they ever dreamed."
There was a power of gentle earnestness in his eye that Mrs Evelyn could
not answer; her look fell as that of Constance had done, and there was a
Thorn had kept quiet, for two reasons--that he might not displease Fleda,
and that he might watch her. She had left her work, and turning half round
from the table had listened intently to the conversation, towards the last
very forgetful that there might be anybody to observe her,--with eyes
fixed, and cheeks flushing, and the corners of the mouth just indicating
delight,--till the silence fell; and then she turned round to the table
and took up her worsted-work. But the lips were quite grave now, and
Thorn's keen eyes discerned that upon one or two of the artificial roses
there lay two or three very natural drops.
"Mr. Carleton," said Edith, "what makes you talk such sober things?--you
have set Miss Ringgan to crying."
"Mr. Carleton could not be better pleased than at such a tribute to his
eloquence," said Mr. Thorn with a saturnine expression.
"Smiles are common things," said Mr. Stackpole a little maliciously; "but
any man may be flattered to find his words drop diamonds."
"Fleda my dear," said Mrs. Evelyn, with that trembling tone of concealed
ecstasy which always set every one of Fleda's nerves a jarring,--"you may
tell the gentlemen that they do not always know when they are making an
unfelicitous compliment--I never read what poets say about 'briny drops'
and 'salt tears' without imagining the heroine immediately to be something
like Lot's wife."
"Nobody said anything about briny drops, mamma," said Edith. "Why there's
Her entrance made a little bustle, which Fleda was very glad of.
Unkind!--She was trembling again in every finger. She bent down over her
canvas and worked away as hard as she could. That did not hinder her
becoming aware presently that Mr. Carleton was standing close beside her.
"Are you not trying your eyes?" said he.
The words were nothing, but the tone was a great deal, there was a kind of
quiet intelligence in it. Fleda looked up, and something in the clear
steady self-reliant eye she met wrought an instant change in her feeling.
She met it a moment and then looked at her work again with nerves quieted.
"Cannot I persuade them to be of my mind?" said Mr. Carleton, bending down
a little nearer to their sphere of action.
"Mr. Carleton is unreasonable, to require more testimony of that this
evening," said Mr. Thorn;--"his own must have been ill employed."
Fleda did not look up, but the absolute quietness of Mr. Carleton's manner
could be felt; she felt it, almost with sympathetic pain. Thorn
immediately left them and took leave.
"What are you searching for in the papers, Mr. Carleton?" said Mrs. Evelyn
presently coming up to them.
"I was looking for the steamers, Mrs. Evelyn."
"How soon do you think of bidding us good-bye?"
"I do not know, ma'am," he answered coolly--"I expect my mother."
Mrs. Evelyn walked back to her sofa.
But in the space of two minutes she came over to the centre-table again,
with an open magazine in her hand.
"Mr. Carleton," said the lady, "you must read this for me and tell me
what you think of it, will you sir? I have been shewing it to Mr.
Stackpole and he can't see any beauty in it, and I tell him it is his
fault and there is some serious want in his composition. Now I want to
know what you will say to it."
"An arbiter, Mrs. Evelyn, should be chosen by both parties."
"Read it and tell me what you think!" repeated the lady, walking away to
leave him opportunity. Mr. Carleton looked it over.
"That is something pretty," he said putting it before Fleda. Mrs. Evelyn
was still at a distance.
"What do you think of that print for trying the eyes?" said Fleda laughing
as she took it. But he noticed that her colour rose a little.
"How do you like it?"
"I like it,--pretty well," said Fleda rather hesitatingly.
"You have seen it before?"
"Why?" Fleda said, with a look up at him at once a little startled and a
little curious;--"what makes you say so?"
"Because--pardon me--you did not read it."
"Oh," said Fleda laughing, but colouring at the same time very frankly, "I
can tell how I like some things without reading them very carefully."
Mr. Carleton looked at her, and then took the magazine again.
"What have you there, Mr. Carleton?" said Florence.
"A piece of English on which I was asking this lady's opinion, Miss
"Now, Mr. Carleton!" exclaimed Constance jumping up,--"I am going to ask
you to decide a quarrel between Fleda and me about a point of English"--
"Hush, Constance!" said her mother,--"I want to speak to Mr. Carleton--Mr.
Carleton, how do you like it?"
"Like what, mamma?" said Florence.
"A piece I gave Mr. Carleton to read. Mr. Carleton, tell how you
like it, sir."
"But what is it, mamma?"
"A piece of poetry in an old Excelsior--'The Spirit of the Fireside.' Mr.
Carleton, won't you read it aloud, and let us all hear--but tell me first
what you think of it."
"It has pleased me particularly, Mrs. Evelyn."
"Mr. Stackpole says he does not understand it, sir."
"Fanciful," said Mr. Stackpole,--"it's a little fanciful--and I can't
quite make out what the fancy is."
"It has been the misfortune of many good things before not to be prized,
Mr. Stackpole," said the lady funnily.
"True, ma'am," said that gentleman rubbing his chin--"and the converse is
also true unfortunately,--and with a much wider application."
"There is a peculiarity of mental development or training," said Mr.
Carleton, "which must fail of pleasing many minds because of their wanting
the corresponding key of nature or experience. Some literature has a
hidden freemasonry of its own."
"Very hidden indeed!" said Mr. Stackpole;--"the cloud is so thick that I
can't see the electricity!"
"Mr. Carleton," said Mrs. Evelyn laughing, "I take that remark as a
compliment, sir. I have always appreciated that writer's pieces--I enjoy
them very much."
"Well, won't you please read it, Mr. Carleton?" said Florence, "and let us
know what we are talking about."
Mr. Carleton obeyed, standing where he was by the centre-table.
"By the old hearthstone a Spirit dwells,
The child of bygone years,--
He lieth hid the stones amid,
And liveth on smiles and tears.
"But when the night is drawing on,
And the fire burns clear and bright,
He Cometh out and walketh about,
In the pleasant grave twilight.
"He goeth round on tiptoe soft,
And scanneth close each face;
If one in the room be sunk in gloom,
By him he taketh his place.
"And then with fingers cool and soft,
(Their touch who does not know)
With water brought from the well of Thought,
That was dug long years ago,
"He layeth his hand on the weary eyes--
They are closed and quiet now;--
And he wipeth away the dust of the day
Which had settled on the brow.
"And gently then he walketh away
And sits in the corner chair;
And the closed eyes swim--it seemeth to _him_
The form that once sat there.
"And whispered words of comfort and love
Fall sweet on the ear of sorrow;--
'Why weepest thou?--thou art troubled now,
But there cometh a bright to-morrow.
"'We too have passed over life's wild stream
In a frail and shattered boat,
But the pilot was sure--and we sailed secure
When we seemed but scarce afloat.
"'Though tossed by the rage of waves and wind,
The bark held together still,--
One arm was strong--it bore us along,
And has saved from every ill.'
"The Spirit returns to his hiding-place,
But his words have been like balm.
The big tears start--but the fluttering heart
Is soothed and softened and calm."
"I remember that," said Florence;--"it is beautiful."
"Who's the writer?" said Mr. Stackpole.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Evelyn,--"it is signed 'Hugh'--there have been
a good many of his pieces in the Excelsior for a year past--and all of
"Hugh!" exclaimed Edith springing forward,--"that's the one that wrote the
Chestnuts!--Fleda, won't you read Mr. Carleton the Chestnuts?"
"Why no, Edith, I think not."
"Ah do! I like it so much, and I want him to hear it,--and you know mamma
says they're all pretty. Won't you?"
"My dear Edith, you have heard it once already to day."
"But I want you to read it for me again."
"Let me have it, Miss Edith," said Mr. Carleton smiling,--"I will read
it for you."
"Ah but it would be twice as good if you could hear her read it," said
Edith, fluttering over the leaves of the magazine,--"she reads it so well.
It's so funny--about the coffee and buckwheat cakes."
"What is that, Edith?" said her mother.
"Something Mr. Carleton is going to read for me, mamma."
"Don't you trouble Mr. Carleton."
"It won't trouble him, mamma--he promised of his own accord."
"Let us all have the benefit of it, Mr. Carleton," said the lady.
It is worthy of remark that Fleda's politeness utterly deserted her during
the reading of both this piece and the last. She as near as possible
turned her back upon the reader.
"Merrily sang the crickets forth
One fair October night;--
And the stars looked down, and the northern crown
Gave its strange fantastic light.
"A nipping frost was in the air,
On flowers and grass it fell;
And the leaves were still on the eastern hill
As if touched by a fairy spell.
"To the very top of the tall nut-trees
The frost-king seemed to ride;
With his wand he stirs the chestnut burs,
And straight they are opened wide.
"And squirrels and children together dream
Of the coming winter's hoard;
And many, I ween, are the chestnuts seen
In hole or in garret stored.
"The children are sleeping in feather-beds--
Poor Bun in his mossy nest,--
_He_ courts repose with his tail on his nose.
On the others warm blankets rest.
"Late in the morning the sun gets up
From behind the village spire;
And the children dream, that the first red gleam
Is the chestnut trees on fire!
"The squirrel had on when he first awoke
All the clothing he could command;
And his breakfast was light--he just took a bite
Of an acorn that lay at hand;
"And then he was off to the trees to work;--
While the children some time it takes
To dress and to eat what _they_ think meet
Of coffee and buckwheat cakes.
"The sparkling frost when they first go out,
Lies thick upon all around;
And earth and grass, as they onward pass,
Give a pleasant crackling sound.
"O there is a heap of chestnuts, see!'
Cried the youngest of the train;
For they came to a stone where the squirrel had thrown
What he meant to pick up again.
"And two bright eyes from the tree o'erhead,
Looked down at the open bag
Where the nuts went in--and so to begin,
Almost made his courage flag.
"Away on the hill, outside the wood,
Three giant trees there stand;
And the chestnuts bright that hang in sight,
Are eyed by the youthful band.
"And one of their number climbs the tree,
And passes from bough to bough,--
And the children run--for with pelting fun
The nuts fall thickly now.
"Some of the burs are still shut tight,--
Some open with chestnuts three,--
And some nuts fall with no burs at all--
Smooth, shiny, as nuts should be.
"O who can tell what fun it was
To see the prickly shower!
To feel what a whack on head or back.
Was within a chestnut's power!--
"To run beneath the shaking tree,
And then to scamper away;
And with laughing shout to dance about
The grass where the chestnuts lay.
"With flowing dresses, and blowing hair,
And eyes that no shadow knew,--
Like the growing light of a morning bright---
The dawn of the summer blue!
"The work was ended--the trees were stripped--
The children were 'tired of play.'
And they forgot (but the squirrel did not)
The wrong they had done that day."
Whether it was from the reader's enjoyment or good giving of these lines,
or from Edith's delight in them, he was frequently interrupted with bursts
"I can understand _that_" said Mr. Stackpole, "without any difficulty."
"You are not lost in the mysteries of chestnuting in open daylight," said
"Mr. Carleton," said Edith, "wouldn't you have taken the squirrel's
"I believe I should, Miss Edith,--if I had not been hindered."
"But what would have hindered you? don't you think it was right?"
"Ask your friend Miss Ringgan what she thinks of it," said he smiling.
"Now Mr. Carleton," said Constance as he threw down the magazine, "will
you decide that point of English between Miss Ringgan and me?"
"I should like to hear the pleadings on both sides, Miss Constance."
"Well, Fleda, will you agree to submit it to Mr. Carleton?"
"I must know by what standards Mr. Carleton will be guided before I agree
to any such thing," said Fleda.
"Standards! but aren't you going to trust anybody in anything without
knowing what standards they go by?"
"Would that be a safe rule to follow in general?" said Fleda smiling.
"You won't be a true woman if you don't follow it, sooner or later, my
dear Fleda," said Mrs. Evelyn. "Every woman must."
"The later the better, ma'am, I cannot help thinking."
"You will change your mind," said Mrs. Evelyn complacently.
"Mamma's notions, Mr. Stackpole, would satisfy any man's pride, when she
is expatiating upon the subject of woman's dependence," said Florence.
"The dependence of affection," said Mrs. Evelyn. "Of course! It's their
lot. Affection always leads a true woman to merge her separate judgment,
on anything, in the judgment of the beloved object."
"Ay," said Fleda laughing,--"suppose her affection is wasted on an
object that has none?"
"My dear Fleda!" said Mrs. Evelyn with a funny expression,--"that
can never be, you know--don't you remember what your favourite
Longfellow says--'affection never is wasted'?--Florence, my love,
just hand me 'Evangeline' there--I want you to listen to it, Mr.
Stackpole--here it is--
'Talk not of wasted affection; affection never was wasted;
If it enrich not the heart of another, its waters returning
Back to their springs shall fill them full of refreshment.
That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain.'"
"How very plain it is that was written by a man!" said Fleda.
"Why?" said Mr. Carleton laughing.
"I always thought it was so exquisite!" said Florence.
"_I_ was so struck with it," said Constance, "that I have been looking
ever since for an object to waste _my_ affections upon."
"Hush, Constance!" said her mother. "Don't you like it, Mr. Carleton?"
"I should like to hear Miss Ringgan's commentary," said Mr. Stackpole;--"
I can't anticipate it. I should have said the sentiment was quite soft and
tender enough for a woman."
"Don't you agree with it, Mr. Carleton," repeated Mrs. Evelyn.
"I beg leave to second Mr. Stackpole's motion," he said smiling.
"Fleda my dear, you must explain yourself,--the gentlemen are at a stand."
"I believe, Mrs. Evelyn," said Fleda smiling and blushing,--I am of the
mind of the old woman who couldn't bear to see anything wasted."
"But the assertion is that it _isn't_ wasted," said Mr. Stackpole.
"'That which the fountain sends forth returns again to the fountain,'"
said Mrs. Evelyn.
"Yes, to flood and lay waste the fair growth of nature," said Fleda with a
little energy, though her colour rose and rose higher.
"Did it never occur to you, Mrs. Evelyn, that the streams which fertilize
as they flow do but desolate if their course be checked?"
"But your objection lies only against the author's figure," said Mr.
Stackpole;--"come to the fact."
"I was speaking as he did, sir, of the fact under the figure--I did not
mean to separate them."
Both the gentlemen were smiling, though with very different expression.
"Perhaps," said Mr. Carleton, "the writer was thinking of a gentler and
more diffusive flow of kind feeling, which however it may meet with barren
ground and raise no fruit there, is sure in due time to come back,
heaven-refined, to refresh and replenish its source."
"Perhaps so," said Fleda with a very pleased answering look,--"I do not
recollect how it is brought in--I may have answered rather Mrs. Evelyn
than Mr. Longfellow."
"But granting that it is an error," said Mr. Stackpole, "as you understood
it,--what shews it to have been made by a man?"
"Its utter ignorance of the subject, sir."
"You think _they_ never waste their affections?" said he.
"By no means! but I think they rarely waste so much in any one direction
as to leave them quite impoverished."
"Mr. Carleton, how do you bear that, sir?" said Mrs. Evelyn. "Will you let
such an assertion pass unchecked?"
"I would not if I could help it, Mrs. Evelyn."
"That isn't saying much for yourself," said Constance;--"but Fleda my
dear, where did you get such an experience of waste and desolation?"
"Oh, 'man is a microcosm,' you know," said Fleda lightly.
"But you make it out that only one-half of mankind can appropriate that
axiom," said Mr. Stackpole. "How can a woman know _men's_ hearts so well?"
"On the principle that the whole is greater than a part?" said Mr.
"I'll sleep upon that before I give my opinion," said Mr. Stackpole. "Mrs.
"Well Mr. Carleton!" said Constance, "you have said a great deal for
"Some women's minds," he said with a smile.
"And some men's minds," said Fleda. "I was speaking only in the general."
Her eye half unconsciously reiterated her meaning as she shook hands with
Mr. Carleton. And without speaking a word for other people to hear, his
look and smile in return were more than an answer. Fleda sat for some
time after he was gone trying to think what it was in eye and lip which
had given her so much pleasure. She could not make out anything but
approbation,--the look of loving approbation that one gives to a good
child; but she thought it had also something of that quiet
intelligence--a silent communication of sympathy which the others in
company could not share.
She was roused from her reverie by Mrs. Evelyn.
"Fleda my dear, I am writing to your aunt Lucy--have you any
message to send?"
"No Mrs. Evelyn--I wrote myself to-day."
And she went back to her musings.
"I am writing about you, Fleda," said Mrs. Evelyn, again in a few minutes.
"Giving a good account, I hope, ma'am," said Fleda smiling.
"I shall tell her I think sea-breezes have an unfavourable effect upon
you," said Mrs. Evelyn;--"that I am afraid you are growing pale; and that
you have clearly expressed yourself in favour of a garden at Queechy
rather than any lot in the city--or anywhere else;--so she had better send
for you home immediately."
Fleda tried to find out what the lady really meant; but Mrs. Evelyn's
delighted amusement did not consist with making the matter very
plain. Fleda's questions did nothing but aggravate the cause of them,
to her own annoyance; so she was fain at last to take her light and
go to her own room.
She looked at her flowers again with a renewal of the first pleasure and
of the quieting influence the giver of them had exercised over her that
evening; thought again how very kind it was of him to send them, and to
choose them so; how strikingly he differed from other people; how glad she
was to have seen him again, and how more than glad that he was so happily
changed from his old self. And then from that change and the cause of it,
to those higher, more tranquilizing, and sweetening influences that own no
kindred with earth's dust and descend like the dew of heaven to lay and
fertilize it. And when she laid herself down to sleep it was with a spirit
grave but simply happy; every annoyance and unkindness as unfelt now as
ever the parching heat of a few hours before when the stars are abroad.
A snake bedded himself under the threshold of a country house.
To Fleda's very great satisfaction Mr. Thorn was not seen again for
several days. It would have been to her very great comfort too if he could
have been permitted to die out of mind as well as out of sight; but he was
brought up before her "lots of times," till poor Fleda almost felt as if
she was really in the moral neighbourhood of the Dead Sea, every natural
growth of pleasure was so withered under the barren spirit of raillery.
Sea-breezes were never so disagreeable since winds blew; and nervous and
fidgety again whenever Mr. Carleton was present, Fleda retreated to her
work and the table and withdrew herself as much as she could from notice
and conversation; feeling humbled,--feeling sorry and vexed and ashamed,
that such ideas should have been put into her head, the absurdity of
which, she thought, was only equalled by their needlessness. "As much as
she could" she withdrew; but that was not entirely; now and then interest
made her forget herself, and quitting her needle she would give eyes and
attention to the principal speaker as frankly as he could have desired.
Bad weather and bad roads for those days put riding out of the question.
One morning she was called down to see a gentleman, and came eschewing in
advance the expected image of Mr. Thorn. It was a very different person.
"Charlton Rossitur! My dear Charlton, how do you do? Where did you
"You had better ask me what I have come for," he said laughing as he shook
hands with her.
"What have you come for?"
"To carry you home."
"Home!" said Fleda.
"I am going up there for a day or two, and mamma wrote me I had better act
as your escort, which of course I am most willing to do. See what mamma
says to you."
"When are you going, Charlton?" said Fleda as she broke the seal of the
note he gave her.
"That is too sudden a notice, Capt. Rossitur," said Mrs. Evelyn. "Fleda
will hurry herself out of her colour, and then your mother will say there
is something in sea-breezes that isn't good for her; and then she will
never trust her within reach of them again,--which I am sure Miss Ringgan
would be sorry for."
Fleda took her note to the window, half angry with herself that a kind of
banter in which certainly there was very little wit should have power
enough to disturb her. But though the shaft might be a slight one it was
winged with a will; the intensity of Mrs. Evelyn's enjoyment in her own
mischief gave it all the force that was wanting. Fleda's head was in
confusion; she read her aunt's note three times over before she had made
up her mind on any point respecting it.
"My Dearest Fleda,
Charlton is coming home for a day or two--hadn't you better take the
opportunity to return with him? I feel as if you had been long away, my
dear child--don't you feel so too? Your uncle is very desirous of seeing
you; and as for Hugh and me we are but half ourselves. I would not still
say a word about your coming home if it were for your good to stay; but I
fancy from something in Mrs. Evelyn's letter that Queechy air will by this
time do you good again; and opportunities of making the journey are very
uncertain. My heart has grown lighter since I gave it leave to expect you.
Yours, my darling,
"P.S. I will write to Mrs. E. soon."
"What string has pulled these wires that are twitching me home?" thought
Fleda, as her eyes went over and over the words which the feeling of the
lines of her face would alone have told her were unwelcome. And why
unwelcome?--"One likes to be moved by fair means and not by foul," was the
immediate answer. "And besides, it is very disagreeable to be taken by
surprise. Whenever, in any matter of my staying or going, did aunt Lucy
have any wish but my pleasure?" Fleda mused a little while; and then with
a perfect understanding of the machinery that had been at work, though an
extremely vague and repulsed notion of the spring that had moved it, she
came quietly out from her window and told Charlton she would go with him.
"But not to-morrow?" said Mrs. Evelyn composedly. "You will not hurry her
off so soon as that, Capt. Rossitur?"
"Furloughs are the stubbornest things in the world, Mrs. Evelyn; there is
no spirit of accommodation about them. Mine lies between to-morrow morning
and one other morning some two days thereafter; and you might as soon
persuade Atlas to change his place. Will you be ready, coz?"
"I will be ready," said Fleda; and her cousin departed.
"Now my dear Fleda" said Mrs. Evelyn, but it was with that funny face, as
she saw Fleda standing thoughtfully before the fire,--you must be very
careful in getting your things together--"
"Why, Mrs. Evelyn?"
"I am afraid you will leave something behind you, my love."
"I will take care of that, ma'am, and that I may I will go and see about
it at once."
Very busy till dinner-time; she would not let herself stop to think about
anything. At dinner Mr. Evelyn openly expressed his regrets for her going
and his earnest wishes that she would at least stay till the holidays
"Don't you know Fleda better, papa," said Florence, "than to try to make
her alter her mind? When she says a thing is determined upon, I know there
is nothing to do but to submit, with as good a grace as you can."
"I tried to make Capt. Rossitur leave her a little longer," said Mrs.
Evelyn; "but he says furloughs are immovable, and his begins to-morrow
morning--so he was immovable too. I should keep her notwithstanding,
though, if her aunt Lucy hadn't sent for her."
"Well see what she wants, and come back again," said Mr. Evelyn.
"Thank you, sir," said Fleda smiling gratefully,--"I think not
"There are two or three of my friends that will be confoundedly taken
aback," said Mr. Evelyn, carefully helping himself to gravy.
"I expect that an immediate depopulation of New York will commence," said
Constance,--"and go on till the heights about Queechy are all thickly
settled with elegant country-seats,--which is the conventional term for a
species of mouse trap!"
"Hush, you baggage!" said her father. "Fleda, I wish you could spare her a
little of your common-sense, to go through the world with."
"Papa thinks, you see, my dear, that you have _more than enough_--which is
not perhaps precisely the compliment he intended."
"I take the full benefit of his and yours," said Fleda smiling.
After dinner she had just time to run down to the library to bid Dr.
Gregory good-bye; her last walk in the city. It wasn't a walk she
"Going to-morrow," said he. "Why I am going to Boston in a week--you had
better stay and go with me."
"I can't now, uncle Orrin--I am dislodged--and you know there is nothing
to do then but to go."
"Come and stay with me till next week."
But Fleda said it was best not, and went home to finish her preparations.
She had no chance till late, for several gentlemen spent the evening with
them. Mr. Carleton was there part of the time, but he was one of the first
to go; and Fleda could not find an opportunity to say that she should not
see him again. Her timidity would not allow her to make one. But it
At last she escaped to her own room, where most of her packing was still
to do. By the time half the floor and all the bed was strewn with
neat-looking piles of things, the varieties of her modest wardrobe,
Florence and Constance came in to see and talk with her, and sat down on
the floor too; partly perhaps because the chairs were all bespoken in the
service of boxes and baskets, and partly to follow what seemed to be the
prevailing style of things.
"What do you suppose has become of Mr. Thorn?" said Constance. "I have a
presentiment that you will find him cracking nuts sociably with Mr.
Rossitur or drinking one of aunt Lucy's excellent cups of coffee--in
comfortable expectation of your return."
"If I thought that I should stay here," said Fleda. "My dear, those were
_my_ cups of coffee!"
"I wish I could make you think it then," said Constance.
"But you are glad to go home, aren't you, Fleda?" said Florence.
"She isn't!" said her sister. "She knows mamma contemplates making a
grand entertainment of all the Jews as soon as she is gone. What _does_
mamma mean by that, Fleda?--I observe you comprehend her with most
"I should be puzzled to explain all that your mother means," said Fleda
gently, as she went on bestowing her things in the trunk. "No--I am not
particularly glad to go home--but I fancy it is time. I am afraid I have
grown too accustomed to your luxury of life, and want knocking about to
harden me a little."
"Harden you!" said Constance. "My dear Fleda, you are under a delusion.
Why should any one go through an indurating process?--will you inform me?"
"I don't say that every one should," said Fleda,--"but isn't it well for
those whose lot does not lie among soft things?"
There was extreme sweetness and a touching insinuation in her manner, and
both the young ladies were silent for sometime thereafter watching
somewhat wistfully the gentle hands and face that were so quietly busy;
till the room was cleared again and looked remarkably empty with Fleda's
trunk standing in the middle of it. And then reminding them that she
wanted some sleep to fit her for the hardening process and must therefore
send them away, she was left alone.
One thing Fleda had put off till then--the care of her bunch of flowers.
They were beautiful still. They had given her a very great deal of
pleasure; and she was determined they should be left to no servant's hands
to be flung into the street. If it had been summer she was sure she could
have got buds from them; as it was, perhaps she might strike some
cuttings; at all events they should go home with her. So carefully taking
them out of the water and wrapping the ends in some fresh earth she had
got that very afternoon from her uncle's garden, Fleda bestowed them in
the corner of her trunk that she had left for them, and went to bed,
feeling weary in body, and in mind to the last degree quiet.
In the same mind and mood she reached Queechy the next afternoon. It was a
little before January--just the same time that she had come home last
year. As then, it was a bright day, and the country was again covered
thick with the unspotted snow; but Fleda forgot to think how bright and
fresh it was. Somehow she did not feel this time quite so glad to find
herself there. It had never occurred to her so strongly before that
Queechy could want anything.
This feeling flew away before the first glimpse of her aunt's smile, and
for half an hour after Fleda would have certified that Queechy wanted
nothing. At the end of that time came in Mr. Rossitur. His greeting of
Charlton was sufficiently unmarked; but eye and lip wakened when he
turned to Fleda.
"My dear child," he said, holding her face in both his hands,--how lovely
you have grown!"
"That's only because you have forgotten her, father," said Hugh laughing.
[Illustration: "My dear child," he said, holding her face in both his
It was a very lovely face just then. Mr. Rossitur gazed into it a moment
and again kissed first one cheek and then the other, and then suddenly
withdrew his hands and turned away, with an air--Fleda could not tell
what to make of it--an air that struck her with an immediate feeling of
pain; somewhat as if for some cause or other he had nothing to do with
her or her loveliness. And she needed not to see him walk the room for
three minutes to know that Michigan agencies had done nothing to lighten
his brow or uncloud his character. If this had wanted confirmation Fleda
would have found it in her aunt's face. She soon discovered, even in the
course of the pleasant talkative hours before supper, that it was not
brightened as she had expected to find it by her uncle's coming home; and
her ears now caught painfully the occasional long breath, but half
smothered, which told of a burden upon the heart but half concealed.
Fleda supposed that Mr. Rossitur's business affairs at the West must have
disappointed him; and resolved not to remember that Michigan was in the
map of North America.
Still they talked on, through the afternoon and evening, all of them
except him; he was moody and silent. Fleda felt the cloud overshadow sadly
her own gayety; but Mrs. Rossitur and Hugh were accustomed to it, and
Charlton was much too tall a light to come under any external obscuration
whatever. He was descanting brilliantly upon the doings and prospects at
Fort Hamilton where he was stationed, much to the entertainment of his
mother and brother. Fleda could not listen to him while his father was
sitting lost in something not half so pleasant as sleep in the corner of
the sofa. Her eyes watched him stealthily till she could not bear it any
longer. She resolved to bring the power of her sunbeam to bear, and going
round seated herself on the sofa close by him and laid her hand on his
arm. He felt it immediately. The arm was instantly drawn away to be put
around her and Fleda was pressed nearer to his side, while the other hand
took hers; and his lips were again on her forehead.
"And how do you like me for a farmer, uncle Rolf?" she said looking up at
him laughingly, and then fearing immediately that she had chosen her
subject ill. Not from any change in his countenance however,--that
decidedly brightened up. He did not answer at once.
"My child--you make me ashamed of mankind!"
"Of the dominant half of them, sir, do you mean?" said Charlton,--"or is
your observation a sweeping one?"
"It would sweep the greatest part of the world into the background, sir,"
answered his father dryly, "if its sense were the general rule."
"And what has Fleda done to be such a besom of desolation?"
Fleda's laugh set everybody else a going, and there was immediately more
life and common feeling in the society than had been all day. They all
seemed willing to shake off a weight, and even Fleda, in the endeavour to
chase the gloom that hung over others, as it had often happened, lost half
of her own.
"But still I am not answered," said Charlton when they were grave again.
"What has Fleda done to put such a libel upon mankind?"
"You should call it a _label_, as Dr. Quackenboss does," said Fleda in a
fresh burst,--"he says he never would stand being labelled!"--
"But come back to the point," said Charlton,--"I want to know what is the
_label_ in this case, that Fleda's doings put upon those of other people?"
"Insignificance," said his father dryly.
"I should like to know how bestowed," said Charlton.
"Don't enlighten him, uncle Rolf," said Fleda laughing,--"let my doings
remain in safe obscurity,--please!"
"I stand as a representative of mankind," said Charlton, "and I demand an
"Look at what this slight frame and delicate nerves have been found
equal to, and then tell me if the broad shoulders of all your mess would
have borne half the burden or their united heads accomplished a quarter
He spoke with sufficient depth of meaning, though now with no unpleasant
expression. But Charlton notwithstanding rather gathered himself up.
"O uncle Rolf," said Fleda gently,--"nerves and muscles haven't much to do
with it--after all you know I have just served the place of a mouth-piece.
Seth was the head, and good Earl Douglass the hand."
"I am ashamed of myself and of mankind," Mr. Rossitur repeated, "when I
see what mere weakness can do, and how proudly valueless strength is
contended to be. You are looking, Capt. Rossitur,--but after all a cap and
plume really makes a man taller only to the eye."
"When I have flung my plume in anybody's face, sir," said Charlton rather
hotly, "it will be time enough to throw it back again."
Mrs. Rossitur put her hand on his arm and looked her remonstrance.
"Are you glad to be home again, dear Fleda?" she said turning to her.
But Fleda was making some smiling communications to her uncle and did not
seem to hear.
"Fleda does it seem pleasant to be here again?"
"Very pleasant, dear aunt Lucy--though I have had a very pleasant
"On the whole you do not wish you were at this moment driving out of town
in Mr. Thorn's cabriolet?" said her cousin.
"Not in the least," said Fleda coolly. "How did you know I ever did
such a thing?"
"I wonder what should bring Mr. Thorn to Queechy at this time of year,"
Fleda started at this confirmation of Constance's words; and what was very
odd, she could not get rid of the impression that Mr. Rossitur had started
too. Perhaps it was only her own nerves, but he had certainly taken away
the arm that was round her.
"I suppose he has followed Miss Ringgan," said Charlton gravely.
"No," said Hugh, "he has been here some little time."
"Then he preceded her, I suppose, to see and get the sleighs in order."
"He did not know I was coming," said Fleda.
"No--I have not seen him for several days."
"My dear little cousin," said Charlton laughing,--"you are not a witch in
your own affairs, whatever you may be in those of other people."
"You are no adept in the art of concealment."
"I have nothing to conceal," said Fleda. "How do you know he is
"I was anxiously asked the other day," said Hugh with a slight smile,
"whether you had come home; and then told that Mr. Thorn was in Queechy.
There is no mistake about it, for my imformant had actually seen him, and
given him the direction to Mr. Plumfield's, for which he was inquiring."
"The direction to Mr. Plumfield's!" said Fleda.
"What's your old friend Mr. Carleton doing in New York?" said Charlton.
"Is he there still?" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"As large as life," answered her son.
"Which, though you might not suppose it, aunt Lucy, is about the height of
Capt. Rossitur, with--I should judge--a trifle less weight."
"Your eyes are observant!" said Charlton.
"Of a good many things," said Fleda lightly.
"He is _not_ my height by half an inch," said Charlton;--"I am just six
feet without my boots."
"An excellent height!" said Fleda,--"'your six feet was ever the
"Who said that?" said Charlton.
"Isn't it enough that I say it?"
"What's he staying here for?"
"I don't know really," said Fleda. "It's very difficult to tell what
people do things for."
"Have you seen much of him?" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Yes ma'am--a good deal--he was often at Mrs. Evelyn's."
"Is he going to marry one of her daughters?"
"Oh no!" said Fleda smiling,--"he isn't thinking of such a thing;--not in
America--I don't know what he may do in England."
"No!" said Charlton.--"I suppose he would think himself contaminated by
matching with any blood in this hemisphere."
"You do him injustice," said Fleda, colouring;--"you do not know him,
"Much better than that."
"And he is not one of the most touch-me-not pieces of English birth and
wealth that ever stood upon their own dignity?"
"Not at all!" said Fleda;--"how people may be misunderstood!--he is one
of the most gentle and kind persons I ever saw."
"To everybody that deserves it."
"Humph!--And not proud?"
"No, not as you understand it,"--and she felt it was very difficult to
make him understand it, as the discovery involved a very offensive
implication;--"he is too fine a character to be proud."
"That _is_ arguing in a circle with a vengeance!" said Charlton.
"I know what you are thinking of," said Fleda, "and I suppose it passes
for pride with a great many people who cannot comprehend it--he has a
singular power of quietly rebuking wrong, and keeping impertinence at a
distance--where Capt. Rossitur, for instance, I suppose, would throw his
cap in a man's face, Mr. Carleton's mere silence would make the offender
doff his and ask pardon."
The manner in which this was said precluded all taking offence.
"Well," said Charlton shrugging his shoulders,--"then I don't know what
pride is--that's all!"
"Take care, Capt. Rossitur," said Fleda laughing,--"I have heard of such a
thing as American pride before now."
"Certainly!" said Charlton, "and I'm quite willing--but it never reaches
quite such a towering height on our side the water."
"I am sure I don't know how that may be," said Fleda, "but I know I have
heard a lady, an enlightened, gentle-tempered American lady, so called,--I
have heard her talk to a poor Irish woman with whom she had nothing in the
world to do, in a style that moved my indignation--it stirred my
blood!--and there was nothing whatever to call it out. 'All the blood of
all the Howards,' I hope would not have disgraced itself so."
"What business have you to 'hope' anything about it?"
"None--except from the natural desire to find what one has a right to look
for. But indeed I wouldn't take the blood of all the Howards for any
security--pride as well as high-breeding is a thing of natural not
adventitious growth--it belongs to character, not circumstance."
"Do you know that your favourite Mr. Carleton is nearly connected with
those same Howards, and quarters their arms with his own?"
"I have a very vague idea of the dignity implied in that expression of
'quartering arms,' which comes so roundly out of your mouth, Charlton,"
said Fleda laughing. "No, I didn't know it. But in general I am apt to
think that pride is a thing which reverses the usual rules of
architecture, and builds highest on the narrowest foundations."
"What do you mean?"
"Never mind," said Fleda,--"if a meaning isn't plain it isn't worth
looking after. But it will not do to measure pride by its supposed
materials. It does not depend on them but on the individual. You
everywhere see people assert that most of which they feel least sure, and
then it is easy for them to conclude that where there is so much more of
the reality there must be proportionably more of the assertion. I wish
some of our gentlemen, and ladies, who talk of pride where they see and
can see nothing but the habit of wealth--I wish they could see the
universal politeness with which Mr. Carleton returns the salutes of his
inferiors. Not more respectfully they lift their hats to him than he lifts
his to them--unless when he speaks."
"You have seen it?"
"In England--at his own place--among his own servants and dependents. I
remember very well--it struck even my childish eyes."
"Well, after all, that is nothing still but a refined kind of
"It is a kind that I wish some of our Americans would copy," said Fleda.
"But dear Fleda," said Mrs. Rossitur, "all Americans are not like that
lady you were talking of--it would be very unfair to make her a sample. I
don't think I ever heard any one speak so in my life--you never heard me
"Dear aunt Lucy!--no,--I was only giving instance for instance. I have no
idea that Mr. Carleton is a type of Englishmen in general--I wish he were.
But I think it is the very people that cry out against superiority, who
are the most happy to assert their own where they can; the same jealous
feeling that repines on the one hand, revenges itself on the other."
"Superiority of what kind?" said Charlton stiffly.
"Of any kind--superiority of wealth, or refinement, or name, or standing.
Now it does not follow that an Englishman is proud because he keeps
liveried servants, and it by no means follows that an American lacks the
essence of haughtiness because he finds fault with him for doing so."
"I dare say some of our neighbours think we are proud," said Hugh,
"Because we use silver forks instead of steel."
"Because we're _too good for steel forks_, you ought to say," said Fleda.
"I am sure they think so. I have been given to understand as much. Barby,
I believe, has a good opinion of us and charitably concludes that we mean
right; but some other of our country friends would think I was far gone in
uppishness if they knew that I never touch fish with a steel knife; and it
wouldn't mend the matter much to tell them that the combination of
flavours is disagreeable to me--it hardly suits the doctrine of liberty
and equality that my palate should be so much nicer than theirs."
"Absurd!" said Charlton.
"Very," said Fleda; "but on which side, in all probability, is the pride?"
"It wasn't for liveried servants that I charged Mr. Carleton," said her
cousin. "How do the Evelyns like this paragon of yours?"
"O everybody likes him," said Fleda smiling,--"except you and your friend
"Thorn don't like him, eh?"
"I think not."
"What do you suppose is the reason?" said Charlton gravely.
"I don't think Mr. Thorn is particularly apt to like anybody," said Fleda,
who knew very well the original cause of both exceptions but did not like
to advert to it.
"Apparently you don't like Mr. Thorn?" said Mr. Rossitur, speaking for the
"I don't know who does, sir, much,--except his mother."
"What is he?"
"A man not wanting in parts, sir, and with considerable force of
character,--but I am afraid more for ill than for good. I should be very
sorry to trust him with anything dear to me."
"How long were you in forming that opinion?" said Charlton looking at her
"It was formed, substantially, the first evening I saw him, and I hare
never seen cause to alter it since."
The several members of the family therewith fell into a general muse, with
the single exception of Hugh, whose eyes and thoughts seemed to be
occupied with Fleda's living presence. Mr. Rossitur then requested that
breakfast might be ready very early--at six o'clock.
"Six o'clock!" exclaimed Mrs. Rossitur.
"I have to take a long ride, on business, which must be done early
in the day."
"When will you be back?"
"Not before night-fall."
"But going on _another_ business journey!" said Mrs. Rossitur. "You have
but just these few hours come home from one."
"Cannot breakfast be ready?"
"Yes, uncle Rolf," said Fleda bringing her bright face before him,--"ready
at half-past five if you like--now that _I_ am to the fore, you know."
He clasped her to his breast and kissed her again; but with a face so very
grave that Fleda was glad nobody else saw it.
Then Charlton went, averring that he wanted at least a night and a half
of sleep between two such journeys as the one of that day and the one
before him on the next,--especially as he must resign himself to going
without anything to eat. Him also Fleda laughingly promised that precisely
half an hour before the stage time a cup of coffee and a roll should be
smoking on the table, with whatever substantial appendages might be within
the bounds of possibility, or the house.
"I will pay you for that beforehand with a kiss," said he.
"You will do nothing of the kind," said Fleda stepping back;--"a kiss is
a favour taken, not given; and I am entirely ignorant what you have done
to deserve it."
"You make a curious difference between me and Hugh," said Charlton, half
in jest, half in earnest.
"Hugh is my brother, Capt. Rossitur," said Fleda smiling,--and that is an
honour you never made any pretensions to."
"Come, you shall not say that any more," said he, taking the kiss that
Fleda had no mind to give him.
Half laughing, but with eyes that were all too ready for something else,
she turned again to Hugh when his brother had left the room and looked
wistfully in his face, stroking back the hair from his temples with a
"You are just as you were when I left you!--" she said, with lips that
seemed too unsteady to say more, and remained parted.
"I am afraid so are you," he replied;--"not a bit fatter. I hoped you
"What have you been smiling at so this evening?"
"I was thinking how well you talked."
"Why Hugh!--You should have helped me--I talked too much."
"I would much rather listen," said Hugh. "Dear Fleda, what a different
thing the house is with you in it!"
Fleda said nothing, except an inexplicable little shake of her head which
said a great many things; and then she and her aunt were left alone. Mrs.
Rossitur drew her to her bosom with a look so exceeding fond that its
sadness was hardly discernible. It was mingled however with an expression
of some doubt.
"What has made you keep so thin?"
"I have been very well, aunt Lucy,--thinness agrees with me."
"Are you glad to be home again, dear Fleda?"
"I am very glad to be with you, dear aunt Lucy!"
"But not glad to be home?"
"Yes I am," said Fleda,--"but somehow--I don't know--I believe I have got
a little spoiled--it is time I was at home I am sure.--I shall be quite
glad after a day or two, when I have got into the works again. I am glad
now, aunt Lucy."
Mrs. Rossitur seemed unsatisfied, and stroked the hair from Fleda's
forehead with an absent look.
"What was there in New York that you were so sorry to leave?"
"Nothing ma'am, in particular,"--said Fleda brightly,--"and I am not
sorry, aunt Lucy--I tell you I am a little spoiled with company and easy
living--I am glad to be with you again."
Mrs. Rossitur was silent.
"Don't you get up to uncle Rolf's breakfast to-morrow, aunt Lucy."
"I sha'n't unless I want to--but there'll be nothing for you to do, and
you must just lie still. We will all have our breakfast together when
Charlton has his."
"You are the veriest sunbeam that ever came into a house," said her aunt
My flagging soul flies under her own pitch.
Fleda mused as she went up stairs whether the sun were a luminous body to
himself or no, feeling herself at that moment dull enough. Bright, was
she, to others? nothing seemed bright to her. Every old shadow was darker
than ever. Her uncle's unchanged gloom,--her aunt's unrested face,--Hugh's
unaltered delicate sweet look, which always to her fancy seemed to write
upon his face, "Passing away!"--and the thickening prospects whence sprang
the miasm that infected the whole moral atmosphere--alas, yes!--"Money is
a good thing," thought Fleda;--"and poverty need not be a bad thing, if
people can take it right;--but if they take it wrong!--"
With a very drooping heart indeed she went to the window. Her old childish
habit had never been forgotten; whenever the moon or the stars were abroad
Fleda rarely failed to have a talk with them from her window. She stood
there now, looking out into the cold still night, with eyes just dimmed
with tears--not that she lacked sadness enough, but she did lack spirit
enough to cry. It was very still;--after the rattle and confusion of the
city streets, that extent of snow-covered country where the very shadows
were motionless--the entire absence of soil and of disturbance--the rest
of nature--the breathlessness of the very wind--all preached a quaint kind
of sermon to Fleda. By the force of contrast they told her what should
be;--and there was more yet,--she thought that by the force of example
they shewed what might be. Her eyes had not long travelled over the
familiar old fields and fences before she came to the conclusion that she
was home in good time,--she thought she had been growing selfish, or in
danger of it; and she made up her mind she was glad to be back again among
the rough things of life, where she could do so much to smooth them for
others and her own spirit might grow to a polish it would never gain in
the regions of ease and pleasure. "To do life's work!"--thought Fleda
clasping her hands,--"no matter where--and mine is here. I am glad I am
in my place again--I was forgetting I had one."
It was a face of strange purity and gravity that the moon shone upon, with
no power to brighten as in past days; the shadows of life were upon the
child's brow. But nothing to brighten it from within? One sweet strong ray
of other light suddenly found its way through the shadows and entered her
heart. "The Lord reigneth! let the earth be glad!"--and then the moonbeams
pouring down with equal ray upon all the unevennesses of this little world
seemed to say the same thing over and over. Even so! Not less equally his
providence touches all,--not less impartially his faithfulness guides.
"The Lord reigneth! let the earth be glad!" There was brightness in the
moonbeams now that Fleda could read this in them; she went to sleep, a
very child again, with these words for her pillow.
It was not six, and darkness yet filled the world, when Mr. Rossitur came
down stairs and softly opened the sitting-room door. But the home fairy
had been at work; he was greeted with such a blaze of cheerfulness as
seemed to say what a dark place the world was everywhere but at home; his
breakfast-table was standing ready, well set and well supplied; and even
as he entered by one door Fleda pushed open the other and came in from the
kitchen, looking as if she had some strange spirit-like kindred with the
cheery hearty glow which filled both rooms.
"Fleda!--you up at this hour!"
"Yes, uncle Rolf," she said coming forward to put her hands upon
his,--"you are not sorry to see me, I hope."
But he did not say he was glad; and he did not speak at all; he busied
himself gravely with some little matters of preparation for his journey.
Evidently the gloom of last night was upon him yet. But Fleda had not
wrought for praise, and could work without encouragement; neither step nor
hand slackened, till all she and Barby had made ready was in nice order on
the table and she was pouring out a cup of smoking coffee.
"You are not fit to be up," said Mr. Rossitur, looking at her,---"you are
pale now, Put yourself in that arm chair, Fleda, and go to sleep--I will
do this for myself."
"No indeed, uncle Rolf," she answered brightly,--"I have enjoyed getting
breakfast very much at this out-of-the-way hour, and now I am going to
have the pleasure of seeing you eat it. Suppose you were to take a cup of
coffee instead of my shoulder."
He took it and sat down, but Fleda found that the pleasure of seeing him
was to be a very qualified thing. He ate like a business man, in unbroken
silence and gravity; and her cheerful words and looks got no return. It
became an effort at length to keep either bright. Mr. Rossitur's sole
remarks during breakfast were to ask if Charlton was going back that day,
and if Philetus was getting the horse ready.
Mr. Skillcorn had been called in good time by Barby at Fleda's suggestion,
and coming down stairs had opined discontentedly that "a man hadn't no
right to be took out of bed in the morning afore he could see himself."
But this, and Barby's spirited reply, that "there was no chance of his
doing _that_ at any time of day, so it was no use to wait,"--Fleda did not
repeat. Her uncle was in no humour to be amused.
She expected almost that he would go off without speaking to her. But he
came up kindly to where she stood watching him.
"You must bid me good-bye for all the family, uncle Rolf, as I am the only
one here," she said laughing.
But she was sure that the embrace and kiss which followed were very
exclusively for her. They made her face almost as sober as his own.
"There will be a blessing for you," said he,--"if there is a blessing
"If, uncle Rolf?" said Fleda, her heart swelling to her eyes.
He turned away without answering her.
Fleda sat down in the easy chair then and cried. But that lasted very few
minutes; she soon left crying for herself to pray for him, that he might
have the blessing he did not know. That did not stop tears. She remembered
the poor man sick of the palsy who was brought in by friends to be healed,
and that "Jesus seeing _their_ faith, said unto the sick of the palsy,
'Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.'" It was a handle that faith took hold of
and held fast while love made its petition. It was all she could do, she
thought; _she_ never could venture to speak to her uncle on the subject.
Weary and tired, tears and longing at length lost themselves in sleep.
When she awaked she found the daylight broadly come, little King in her
lap, the fire, instead of being burnt out, in perfect preservation, and
Barby standing before it and looking at her.
"You ha'n't got one speck o' good by _this_ journey to New York," was Miss
Elster's vexed salutation.
"Do you think so?" said Fleda rousing herself. "_I_ wouldn't venture to
say as much as that, Barby."
"If you have, 'tain't in your cheeks," said Barby decidedly. "You look
just as if you was made of anything that wouldn't stand wear, and that
isn't the way you used to look."
"I have been up a good while without breakfast--my cheeks will be a better
colour when I have had that, Barby--they feel pale."
The second breakfast was a cheerfuller thing. But when the second
traveller was despatched, and the rest fell back upon their old numbers,
Fleda was very quiet again. It vexed her to be so, but she could not
change her mood. She felt as if she had been whirled along in a dream and
was now just opening her eyes to daylight and reality. And reality--she
could not help it--looked rather dull after dreamland. She thought it was
very well she was waked up; but it cost her some effort to appear so. And
then she charged herself with ingratitude, her aunt and Hugh were so
exceedingly happy in her company.
"Earl Douglass is quite delighted with the clover hay, Fleda," said Hugh,
as the three sat at an early dinner.
"Is he?" said Fleda.
"Yes,--you know he was very unwilling to cure it in your way--and he
thinks there never was anything like it now."
"Did you ever see finer ham, Fleda?" inquired her aunt. "Mr. Plumfield
says it could not be better."
"Very good!" said Fleda, whose thoughts had somehow got upon Mr.
Carleton's notions about female education and were very busy with them.
"I expected you would have remarked upon our potatoes, before now,"
said Hugh. "These are the Elephants--have you seen anything like them
in New York?"
"There cannot be more beautiful potatoes," said Mrs. Rossitur.
"We had not tried any of them before you went away, Fleda, had we?"
"I don't know, aunt Lucy!--no, I think not."
"You needn't talk to Fleda, mother," said Hugh laughing,--"she is quite
beyond attending to all such ordinary matters--her thoughts have learned
to take a higher flight since she has been in New York."
"It is time they were brought down then," said Fleda smiling; "but they
have not learned to fly out of sight of home, Hugh."
"Where were they, dear Fleda?" said her aunt.
"I was thinking a minute ago of something I heard talked about in New
York, aunt Lucy; and afterwards I was trying to find out by what possible
or imaginable road I had got round to it."
"Could you tell?"
Fleda said no, and tried to bear her part in the conversation. But she did
not know whether to blame the subjects which had been brought forward, or
herself, for her utter want of interest in them. She went into the kitchen
feeling dissatisfied with both.
"Did you ever see potatoes that would beat them Elephants?" said Barby.
"Never, certainly," said Fleda with a most involuntary smile.
"I never did," said Barby. "They beat all, for bigness and goodness
both. I can't keep 'em together. There's thousands of 'em, and I mean to
make Philetus eat 'em for supper--such potatoes and milk is good enough
for him, or anybody. The cow has gained on her milk wonderful, Fleda,
since she begun to have them roots fed out to her."
"Which cow?" said Fleda.
"Which cow?--why--the blue cow--there ain't none of the others that's
giving any, to speak of," said Barby looking at her. "Don't you know,--the
cow you said them carrots should be kept for?"
Fleda half laughed, as there began to rise up before her the various
magazines of vegetables, grain, hay, and fodder, that for many weeks had
been deliciously distant from her imagination.
"I made butter for four weeks, I guess, after you went away," Barby went
on;--"just come in here and see--and the carrots makes it as yellow and
sweet as June--I churned as long as I had anything to churn, and longer;
and now we live on cream--you can make some cheesecakes just as soon as
you're a mind to,--see! ain't that doing pretty well?--and fine it
is,--put your nose down to it--"
"Bravely, Barby--and it is very sweet."
"You ha'n't left nothing behind you in New York, have you?" said Barby
when they returned to the kitchen.
"Left anything! no,--what do you think I have left?"
"I didn't know but you might have forgotten to pack up your memory," said
Fleda laughed; and then in walked Mr. Douglass.
"How d'ye do?" said he. "Got back again. I heerd you was hum, and so I
thought I'd just step up and see. Been getting along pretty well?"
Fleda answered, smiling internally at the wide distance between her
"getting along" and his idea of it.
"Well the hay's first-rate!" said Earl, taking off his hat and sitting
down in the nearest chair;--"I've been feedin' it out, now, for a good
spell, and I know what to think about it. We've been feedin' it out ever
since some time this side o' the middle o' November;--I never see
nothin' sweeter, and I don't want to see nothin' sweeter than it is! and
the cattle eats it like May roses--they don't know how to thank you
enough for it."
"To thank _you_, Mr. Douglass," said Fleda smiling.
"No," said he in a decided manner,--"I don't want no thanks for it, and I
don't deserve none! 'Twa'n't thanks to none of _my_ fore-sightedness that
the clover wa'n't served the old way. I didn't like new notions--and I
never did like new notions! and I never see much good of 'em;--but I
suppose there's some on 'em that ain't moon-shine--my woman says there is,
and I suppose there is, and after this clover hay I'm willin' to allow
that there is! It's as sweet as a posie if you smell to it,--and all of
it's cured alike; and I think, Fleda, there's a quarter more weight of it.
I ha'n't proved it nor weighed it, but I've an eye and a hand as good as
most folks', and I'll qualify to there being a fourth part more weight of
it;--and it's a beautiful colour. The critters is as fond of it as you and
I be of strawberries."
"Well that is satisfactory, Mr. Douglass," said Fleda. "How is Mrs.
Douglass? and Catherine?"
"I ha'n't heerd 'em sayin' nothin' about it," he said,--"and if there was
anythin' the matter I suppose they'd let me know. There don't much go
wrong in a man's house without his hearin' tell of it. So I think. Maybe
'tain't the same in other men's houses. That's the way it is in mine."
"Mrs. Douglass would not thank you," said Fleda, wholly unable to keep
from laughing. Earl's mouth gave way a very little, and then he went on.
"How be you?" he said. "You ha'n't gained much, as I see. I don't see but
you're as poor as when you went away."
"I am very well, Mr. Douglass."
"I guess New York ain't the place to grow fat. Well, Fleda, there ha'n't
been seen in the whole country, or by any man in it, the like of the crop
of corn we took off that 'ere twenty-acre lot--they're all beat to hear
tell of it--they won't believe me--Seth Plumfield ha'n't shewed as much
himself--he says you're the best farmer in the state."
"I hope he gives you part of the credit, Mr. Douglass;--how much
"I'll take my share of credit whenever I can get it," said Earl, "and I
think it's right to take it, as long as you ha'n't nothing to be ashamed
of; but I won't take no more than my share; and I will say I thought we
was a goin' to choke the corn to death when we seeded the field in that
way.--Well, there's better than two thousand bushel--more or less--and as
handsome corn as I want to see;--there never was handsomer corn. Would
you let it go for five shillings?--there's a man I've heerd of wants the
hull of it."
"Is that a good price, Mr. Douglass? Why don't you ask Mr. Rossitur?"
"Do you s'pose Mr. Rossitur knows much about it?" inquired Earl with a
curious turn of feature, between sly and contemptuous. "The less he has to
do with that heap of corn the bigger it'll be--that's my idee, _I_ ain't
agoin' to ask him nothin'--you may ask him what you like to ask him--but I
don't think he'll tell you much that'll make you and me wiser in the
matter o' farmin'."
"But now that he is at home, Mr. Douglass, I certainly cannot decide
without speaking to him."
"Very good!" said Earl uneasily,--"'tain't no affair of mine--as you
like to have it so you'll have it--just as you please!--But now, Fleda,
there's another thing I want to speak to you about--I want you to let me
take hold of that 'ere piece of swamp land and bring it in. I knew a man
that fixed a piece of land like that and cleared nigh a thousand dollars
off it the first year."
"Which piece?" said Fleda.
"Why you know which 'tis--just the other side of the trees over
there--between them two little hills. There's six or seven acres of
it--nothin' in the world but mud and briars--will you let me take hold of
it? I'll do the hull job if you'll give me half the profits for one
year.--Come over and look at it, and I'll tell you--come! the walk won't
hurt you, and it ain't fur."
All Fleda's inclinations said no, but she thought it was not best to
indulge them. She put on her hood and went off with him; and was treated
to a long and most implicated detail of ways and means, from which she at
length disentangled the rationale of the matter and gave Mr. Douglass the
consent he asked for, promising to gain that of her uncle.
The day was fair and mild, and in spite of weariness of body a certain
weariness of mind prompted Fleda when she had got rid of Earl Douglass, to
go and see her aunt Miriam. She went questioning with herself all the way
for her want of good-will to these matters. True, they were not pleasant
mind-work; but she tried to school herself into taking them patiently as
good life-work. She had had too much pleasant company and enjoyed too much
conversation, she said. It had unfitted her for home duties.
Mrs. Plumfield, she knew, was no better. But her eye found no change for
the worse. The old lady was very glad to see her, and very cheerful and
kind as usual.
"Well are you glad to be home again?" said aunt Miriam after a pause in
"Everybody asks me that question," said Fleda smiling.
"Perhaps for the same reason I did--because they thought you didn't look
"I am glad--" said Fleda,--"but I believe not so glad as I was last year."
"I suppose I had a pleasanter time, I have got a little spoiled, I
believe, aunt Miriam," Fleda said with glistening eyes and an altering
voice,--"I don't take up my old cares and duties kindly at first--I shall
be myself again in a few days."
Aunt Miriam looked at her with that fond, wistful, benevolent look which
made Fleda turn away.
"What has spoiled you, love?"
"Oh!--easy living and pleasure, I suppose--" Fleda said, but said with
"Pleasure?"--said aunt Miriam, putting one arm gently round her. Fleda
struggled with herself.
"It is so pleasant, aunt Miriam, to forget these money cares!--to lift
one's eyes from the ground and feel free to stretch out one's hand--not to
be obliged to think about spending sixpences, and to have one's mind at
liberty for a great many things that I haven't time for here. And
Hugh--and aunt Lucy--somehow things seem sad to me--"
Nothing could be more sympathizingly kind than the way in which aunt
Miriam brought Fleda closer to her side and wrapped her in her arms.
"I am very foolish--" Fleda whispered,--"I am very wrong--I shall get
"I am afraid, dear Fleda," Mrs. Plumfield said after a pause,--"it isn't
best for us always to be without sad things--though I cannot bear to see
your dear little face look sad--but it wouldn't fit us for the work we
have to do--it wouldn't fit us to stand where I stand now and look
"Where you stand?" said Fleda raising her head.
"Yes, and I would not be without a sorrow I have ever known. They are
bitter now, when they are present,--but the sweet fruit comes after."
"But what do you mean by 'where you stand'?"
"On the edge of life."
"You do not think so, aunt Miriam!" Fleda said with a terrified look. "You
are not worse?"
"I don't expect ever to be better," said Mrs. Plumfield with a smile.
"Nay, my love," she said, as Fleda's head went down on her bosom
again,--"not so! I do not wish it either, Fleda. I do not expect to leave
you soon, but I would not prolong the time by a day. I would not have
spoken of it now if I had recollected myself,--but I am so accustomed to
think and speak of it that it came out before I knew it.--My darling
child, it is nothing to cry for."
"I know it, aunt Miriam."
"Then don't cry," whispered aunt Miriam, when she had stroked Fleda's head
for five minutes.
"I am crying for myself, aunt Miriam," said Fleda. "I shall be left
"Alone, my dear child?"
"Yes--there is nobody but you that I feel I can talk to." She would have
added that she dared not say a word to Hugh for fear of troubling him. But
that pain at her heart stopped her, and pressing her hands together she