Part 16 out of 18
want to ask how they are at home."
In answer to her nod of recognition Mr. Douglass came to the side of the
vehicle; but till he was there, close, gave her no other answer by word or
sign; when there, broke forth his accustomed guttural,
"How d'ye do!"
"How d'ye do, Mr. Douglass," said Fleda. "How are they all at home?"
"Well, there ain't nothin' new among 'em, as I've heerd on," said Earl,
diligently though stealthily at the same time qualifying himself to make a
report of Mr. Carleton,--"I guess they'll be glad to see you. _I_ be."
"Thank you, Mr. Douglass. How is Hugh?"
"He ain't nothin' different from what he's been for a spell back--at least
I ain't heerd that he was.--Maybe he is, but if he is I han't heerd speak
of it, and if he was, I think I should ha' heerd speak of it. He _was_
pretty bad a spell ago--about when you went away--but he's been better
sen. So they say. I ha'n't seen him.--Well Flidda," he added with somewhat
of a sly gleam in his eye,--"do you think you're going to make up your
mind to stay to hum this time?"
"I have no immediate intention of running away, Mr. Douglass," said Fleda,
her pale cheeks turning rose as she saw him looking curiously up and down
the edges of the black fox. His eye came back to hers with a good-humoured
intelligence that she could hardly stand.
"It's time you was back," said he. "Your uncle's to hum,--but he don't do
me much good, whatever he does to other folks--nor himself nother, as far
as the farm goes; there's that corn"--
"Very well, Mr. Douglass," said Fleda,--"I shall be at home now and I'll
see about it."
"_Very_ good!" said Earl as he stepped back,--"Queechy can't get along
without you, that's no mistake."
They drove on a few minutes in silence.
"Aren't you thinking, Mr. Carleton," said Fleda, "that my countrymen are a
"I was not thinking of them at all at this moment. I believe such a notion
has crossed my mind."
"It has crossed mine very often," said Fleda.
"How do you read them? what is the basis of it?"
[Illustration: "How are they all at home?"]
"I think,--the strong self-respect which springs from the security and
importance that republican institutions give every man. But," she added
colouring, "I have seen very little of the world and ought not to judge."
"I have no doubt you are quite right," said Mr. Carleton smiling. "But
don't you think an equal degree of self-respect may consist with giving
honour where honour is due?"
"Yes--" said Fleda a little doubtfully,--"where religion and not
republicanism is the spring of it."
"Humility and not pride," said he. "Yes--you are right."
"My countrymen do yield honour where they think it is due," said Fleda;
"especially where it is not claimed. They must give it to reality, not to
pretension. And I confess I would rather see them a little rude in their
independence than cringing before mere advantages of external
position;--even for my own personal pleasure."
"I agree with you, Elfie,--putting perhaps the last clause out of the
"Now that man," said Fleda, smiling at his look,--"I suppose his address
must have struck you as very strange; and yet there was no want of respect
under it. I am sure he has a true thorough respect and even regard for me,
and would prove it on any occasion."
"I have no doubt of that."
"But it does not satisfy you?"
"Not quite. I confess I should require more from any one under my
"Oh nobody is under control here," said Fleda. "That is, I mean,
individual control. Unless so far as self-interest comes in. I suppose
that is all-powerful here as elsewhere."
"And the reason it gives less power to individuals is that the greater
freedom of resources makes no man's interest depend so absolutely on one
other man. That is a reason you cannot regret. No--your countrymen have
the best of it, Elfie. But do you suppose that this is a fair sample of
the whole country?"
"I dare not say that," said Fleda. "I am afraid there is not so much
intelligence and cultivation everywhere. But I am sure there are many
parts of the land that will bear a fair comparison with it."
"It is more than I would dare say for my own land."
"I should think--" Fleda suddenly stopped.
"What?--" said Mr. Carleton gently.
"I beg your pardon, sir,--I was going to say something very presumptuous."
"You cannot," he said in the same tone.
"I was going to say," said Fleda blushing, "that I should think there
might be a great deal of pleasure in raising the tone of mind and
character among the people,--as one could who had influence over a large
His smile was very bright in answer.
"I have been trying that, Elfie, for the last eight years."
Fleda's eye looked now eagerly in pleasure and in curiosity for more. But
he was silent.
"I was thinking a little while ago," he said, "of the time once before
when I rode here with you--when you were beginning to lead me to the
problem I have been trying to work out ever since.--When I left you in
Paris I went to resolve with myself the question, What I had to do in the
world?--Your little Bible was my invaluable help. I had read very little
of it when I threw aside all other books; and my problem was soon solved.
I saw that the life has no honour nor value which is not spent to the
glory of God. I saw the end I was made for--the happiness I was fitted
for--the dignity to which even a fallen creature may rise, through his
dear Redeemer and surety."
Fleda's eyes were down now. Mr. Carleton was silent a moment, watching one
or two bright witnesses that fell from them.
"The next conclusion was easy,--that my work was at home.--I have wanted
my good fairy," Mr. Carleton went on smiling. "But I hope she will be
contented to carry the standard of Christianity, without that of
"But Christianity tends directly to republicanism, Mr. Carleton," said
Fleda, trying to laugh.
"I know that," said he smiling, "and I am willing to know it. But the
leaven of truth is one thing, and the powder train of the innovator
Fleda sat thinking that she had very little in common with the layers of
powder trains. She did not know the sleigh was passing Deepwater Lake,
till Mr. Carleton said,--
"I am glad, my dear Elfie, for your sake, that we are almost at the end of
"I should think you might be glad for your own sake, Mr. Carleton."
"No--my journey is not ended--"
"No--it will not be ended till I get back to New York, or rather till I
find myself here again--I shall make very little delay there--"
"But you will not go any further to-night?" said Fleda, her eye this time
meeting his fully.
"Yes--I must take the first train to New York. I have some reason to
expect my mother by this steamer."
"Back to New York!" said Fleda. "Then taking care of me has just hindered
you in your business."
But even as she spoke she read the truth in his eye and her own fell in
"My business?" said he smiling;--"you know it now, Elfie. I arrived at
Mrs. Evelyn's just after you had quitted it, intending to ask you to take
the long talked of drive; and learned to my astonishment that you had left
the city, and as Edith kindly informed me, under no better guardianship
than that in which I found you. I was just in time to reach the boat."
"And you were in the boat night before last?"
"I should have felt a great deal easier if I had known that," said Fleda.
"So should I," said he, "but you were invisible, till I discerned you in
the midst of a crowd of people before me in the car."
Fleda was silent till the sleigh stopped and Mr. Carleton had
handed her out.
"What's going to be done
"I will send somebody down to help you with it," said Fleda. "It is too
heavy for one alone."
"Well I reckon it is," said he. "I guess you didn't know I was a
cousin, did you?"
"No," said Fleda.
"I believe I be."
"Who are you?"
"I am Pierson Barnes. I live to Quarrenton for a year back. Squire Joshua
Springer's your uncle, ain't he?"
"Yes, my father's uncle."
"Well he's mine too. His sister's my mother."
"I'll send somebody to help you, Mr. Barnes."
She took Mr. Carleton's arm and walked half the way up to the house
without daring to look at him.
"Another specimen of your countrymen," he said smiling.
There was nothing but quiet amusement in the tone, and there was not the
shadow of anything else in his face. Fleda looked, and thanked him
mentally, and drew breath easier. At the house door he made a pause.
"You are coming in, Mr. Carleton?"
"It is a long drive to Greenfield, Mr. Carleton;--you must not turn away
from a country house till we have shewn ourselves unworthy to live in it.
You will come in and let us give you something more substantial than those
Quarrenton oysters. Do not say no," she said earnestly as she saw a
refusal in his eye,--"I know what you are thinking of, but they do not
know that you have been told anything--it makes no difference."
She laid her gentle detaining hand, as irresistible in its way as most
things, upon his arm, and he followed her in.
Only Hugh was in the sitting-room, and he was in a great easy-chair by the
fire. It struck to Fleda's heart; but there was no time but for a flash of
thought. He had turned his face and saw her. Fleda meant to have
controlled herself and presented Mr. Carleton properly, but Hugh started
up, he saw nothing but herself, and one view of the ethereal delicacy of
his face made Fleda for a moment forget everything but him. They were in
each other's arms, and then still as death. Hugh was unconscious that a
stranger was there, and though Fleda was very conscious that one was there
who was no stranger,--there was so much in both hearts, so much of sorrow
and joy, and gratitude and tenderness, on the one part and on the other,
so much that even if they had been alone lips could only have said
silently,--that for a little while they kissed each other and wept in a
passionate attempt to speak what their hearts were too full of.
Fleda at last whispered to Hugh that somebody else was there and turned
to make as well as she might the introduction. But Mr. Carleton did not
need it, and made his own with that singular talent which in all
circumstances, wherever he chose to exert it, had absolute power. Fleda
saw Hugh's countenance change, with a kind of pleased surprise, and
herself stood still under the charm for a minute; then she recollected she
might be dispensed with. She took up her little spaniel who was in an
agony of gratulation at her feet, and went out into the kitchen.
"Well do you mean to say you are here at last?" said Barby, her grey eyes
flashing pleasure as she came forward to take the half hand which, owing
to King's monopoly, was all Fleda had to give her. "Have you come home to
"I am tired enough to be quiet," said Fleda. "But dear Barby, what have
you got in the house?--I want supper as quickly as it can be had."
"Well you do look dreadful bad," said Barby eying her. "Why there ain't
much particular, Fleda; nobody's had any heart to eat lately; I thought I
might a'most as well save myself the fuss of getting victuals. Hugh lives
like a bird, and Mis' Rossitur ain't much better, and I think all of 'em
have been keeping their appetites till you came back; 'cept Philetus and
me; we keep it up pretty well. Why you're come home hungry, ain't you?"
"No, not I," said Fleda, "but there's a gentleman here that came with me
that must have something before he goes away again. What have you Barby?"
"Who is he?" said Barby.
"A friend that took care of me on the way--I'll tell you about it,--but in
the mean time, supper, Barby."
"Is he a New Yorker, that one must be curious for?"
"As curious as you like," said Fleda, "but he is not a New Yorker."
"Where _is_ he from, then?" said Barby, who was busily putting on the
"England!" said Barby facing about. "Oh if he's an Englishman I don't care
for him, Fleda."
"But you care for me," said Fleda laughing; "and for my sake don't let our
hospitality fail to somebody who has been very kind to me, if he is an
Englishman; and he is in haste to be off."
"Well I don't know what we're a going to give him," said Barby looking at
her. "There ain't much in the pantry besides cold pork and beans that
Philetus and me made our dinner on--they wouldn't have it in there, and
eat nothing but some pickerel the doctor sent down--and cold fish ain't
good for much."
"None of them left uncooked?"
"Yes, there's a couple--he sent a great lot--I guess he thought there
was more in the family--but two ain't enough to go round; they're
"No, but put them down and I'll make an omelette. Just get the things
ready for me, Barby, will you, while I run up to see aunt Lucy. The hens
have begun to lay?"
"La yes--Philetus fetches in lots of eggs--he loves 'em, I reckon--but you
ain't fit this minute to do a thing but rest, Fleda."
"I'll rest afterwards. Just get the things ready for me, Barby, and an
apron; and the table--I'll be down in a minute. And Barby, grind some
coffee, will you?"
But as she turned to run up stairs, her uncle stood in her way, and the
supper vanished from Fleda's head. His arms were open and she was silently
clasped in them, with so much feeling on both sides that thought and well
nigh strength for anything else on her part was gone. His smothered words
of deep blessing overcame her. Fleda could do nothing but sob, in
distress, till she recollected Barby. Putting her arms round his neck then
she whispered to him that Mr. Carleton was in the other room and shortly
explained how he came to be there, and begged her uncle would go in and
see him till supper should be ready. Enforcing this request with a parting
kiss on his cheek, she ran off up stairs. Mr. Rossitur looked extremely
moody and cloudy for a few minutes, and then went in and joined his guest.
Mrs. Rossitur and her daughter could not be induced to shew themselves.
Little Rolf, however, had no scruples of any kind. He presently edged
himself into the room to see the stranger whom he no sooner saw than with
a joyous exclamation he bounded forward to claim an old friend.
"Why, Mr. Carleton," exclaimed Mr. Rossitur in surprise, "I was not aware
that this young gentleman had the honour of your acquaintance."
"But I have!" said Rolf.
"In London, sir, I had that pleasure," said Mr. Carleton.
"I think it was _I_ had the pleasure," said Rolf, pounding one hand upon
Mr. Carleton's knee.
"Where is your mother?"
"She wouldn't come down," said Rolf,--"but I guess she will when she knows
who is here--"
And he was darting away to tell her, when Mr. Carleton, within whose arms
he stood, quietly restrained him, and told him he was going away
presently, but would come again and see his mother another time.
"Are you going back to England, sir?"
"By and by."
"But you will come here again first?"
"Yes--if Mr. Rossitur will let me."
"Mr. Carleton knows he commands his own welcome," said that gentleman
somewhat stately. "Go and tell your aunt Fleda that tea is ready, Rolf."
"She knows," said Rolf. "She was making an omelette--I guess it was for
Whose name he was not clear of yet. Mr. Rossitur looked vexed, but Hugh
laughed and asked if his aunt gave him leave to tell that. Rolf entered
forthwith into discussion on this subject, while Mr. Carleton who had not
seemed to hear it engaged Mr. Rossitur busily in another; till the
omelette and Fleda came in. Rolf's mind however was ill at ease.
"Aunt Fleda," said he, as soon as she had fairly taken her place at the
head of the table, "would you mind my telling that you made the omelette
for this gentleman?"
Fleda cast a confused glance first at the person in question and then
round the table, but Mr. Carleton without looking at her answered
"Don't you understand, Rolf, that the same kindness which will do a favour
for a friend will keep him in ignorance of it?"
Rolf pondered a moment and then burst forth,
"Why, sir, wouldn't you like it as well for knowing she made it?"
It was hardly in human gravity to stand this. Fleda herself laughed, but
Mr. Carleton as unmoved as possible answered him, "Certainly not!"--and
Rolf was nonplussed.
The supper was over. Hugh had left the room, and Mr. Rossitur had before
that gone out to give directions about Mr. Carleton's horses. He and Fleda
were left alone.
"I have something against you, fairy," said he lightly, taking her hand
and putting it to his lips. "You shall not again do me such honour as you
have done me to-day--I did not deserve it, Elfie."
The last words were spoken half reproachfully. Fleda stood a moment
motionless, and then by some curious revulsion of feeling put both her
hands to her face and burst into tears.
She struggled against them, and spoke almost immediately,
"You will think me very foolish, Mr. Carleton,--I am ashamed of
myself--but I have lived here so long in this way,--my spirits have grown
so quieted by different things,--that it seems sometimes as if I could not
bear anything.--I am afraid--"
"Of what, my dear Elfie?"
But she did not answer, and her tears came again.
"You are weary and spent," he said gently, repossessing himself of one of
her hands. "I will ask you another time what you are afraid of, and rebuke
all your fears."
"I deserve nothing but rebuke now," said Fleda.
But her hand knew, by the gentle and quiet clasp in which it lay, that
there was no disposition to give it.
"Do not speak to me for a minute," she said hastily as she heard some
She went to the window and stood there looking out till Mr. Carleton came
to bid her good-bye.
"Will you permit me to say to Mrs. Evelyn," he said in a low tone, "that
you left a piece of your property in her house and have commissioned me to
bring it you?"
"Yes--" said Fleda, hesitating and looking a little confused,--"but--will
you let me write a note instead, Mr. Carleton?"
"Certainly!--but what are you thinking of, Elfie? what grave doubt is
lying under your brow?"
All Fleda's shadows rolled away before that clear bright eye.
"I have found by experience," she said, smiling a little but looking
down,--"that whenever I tell my secret thoughts to anybody I have some
reason afterwards to be sorry for it."
"You shall make me an exception to your rule, however, Elfie."
Fleda looked up, one of her looks half questioning, half fearing, and then
answered, a little hesitating,
"I was afraid, sir, that if you went to Mrs. Evelyn's on that errand--I
was afraid you would shew them you were displeased."
"And what then?" said he quietly.
"Only--that I wanted to spare them what always gives me a cold chill."
"Gives you!" said Mr. Carleton.
"No sir--only by sympathy--I thought my agency would be the gentlest."
"I see I was right," she said, looking up as he did not answer,--"they
don't deserve it,--not half so much as you think. They talk--they don't
know what. I am sure they never meant half they said--never meant to annoy
me with it, I mean,--and I am sure they have a true love for me; they have
shewn it in a great many ways. Constance especially never shewed me
anything else. They have been very kind to me; and as to letting me come
away as they did, I suppose they thought I was in a greater hurry to get
home than I really was--and they would very likely not have minded
travelling so themselves; I am so different from them that they might in
many things judge me by themselves and yet judge far wrong."
Fleda was going on, but she suddenly became aware that the eye to which
she was speaking had ceased to look at the Evelyns, even in imagination,
and she stopped short.
"Will you trust me, after this, to see Mrs. Evelyn without the note?" said
But Fleda gave him her hand very demurely without raising her eyes again,
and he went.
Barby who had come in to clear away the table took her stand at the
window to watch Mr. Carleton drive off. Fleda had retreated to the fire.
Barby looked in silence till the sleigh was out of sight.
"Is he going back to England now?" she said coming back to the table.
Barby gathered a pile of plates together and then enquired,
"Is he going to settle in America?"
"Why no, Barby! What makes you ask such a thing?"
"I thought he looked as if he had dressed himself for a cold climate,"
said Barby dryly.
Fleda sat down by Hugh's easy-chair and laid her head on his breast.
"I like your Mr. Carleton very much," Hugh whispered after awhile.
"Do you?" said Fleda, a little wondering at Hugh's choice of that
particular pronominal adjective.
"Very much indeed. But he has changed, Fleda?"
"Yes--in some things--some great things."
"He says he is coming again," said Hugh.
Fleda's heart beat. She was silent.
"I am very glad," repeated Hugh, "I like him very much. But you won't
leave me, Fleda,--will you?"
"Leave you?" said Fleda looking at him.
"Yes," said Hugh smiling, and drawing her head down again;--I always
thought what he came over here for. But you will stay with me while I want
"While you want me!" said Fleda again.
"Yes.--It won't be long."
"What won't be long?"
"I," said Hugh quietly. "Not long. I am very glad I shall not leave you
alone, dear Fleda--very glad!--promise me you will not leave me any more."
"Don't talk so, dear Hugh!"
"But it is true, Fleda," said Hugh gently. "I know it. I sha'n't be here
but a little while. I am so glad you are come home, dear Fleda!--You will
not let anybody take you away till I am gone first?"
Fleda drew her arm close around Hugh's neck and was still,--still even to
his ear,--for a good while. A hard battle must be fought, and she must not
be weak, for his sake and for everybody's sake. Others of the family had
come or were coming into the room. Hugh waited till a short breath, but
freer drawn, told him he might speak.
"Fleda--" he whispered.
"I am very happy.--I only want your promise about that."
"I can't talk to you, Hugh."
"No, but promise me."
"That you will not let anybody take you away while I want you."
"I am sure he would not ask it," said Fleda, hiding her cheeks and eyes at
once in his breast.
Do you think I shall not love a sad Pamela as well as a joyful?
Mr. Carleton came back without his mother; she had chosen to put off her
voyage till spring. He took up his quarters at Montepoole, which, far
though it was, was yet the nearest point where his notions of ease could
have freedom enough.
One would have thought that saw him,--those most nearly concerned almost
did think,--that in his daily coming to Queechy Mr. Carleton sought
everybody's pleasure rather than his own. He was Fleda's most gentle and
kind assistant in taking care of Hugh, soon dearly valued by the sick one,
who watched for and welcomed his coming as a bright spot in the day; and
loved particularly to have Mr. Carleton's hand do anything for him. Rather
than almost any other. His mother's was too feeling; Fleda's Hugh often
feared was weary; and his father's, though gentle to him as to an infant,
yet lacked the mind's training. And though Marion was his sister in blood,
Guy was his brother in better bonds. The deep blue eye that little Fleda
had admired Hugh learned to love and rest on singularly.
To the rest of the family Mr. Carleton's influence was more soothing and
cheering than any cause beside. To all but the head of it. Even Mrs.
Rossitur, after she had once made up her mind to see him, could not bear
to be absent when he was in the house. The dreaded contrast with old times
gave no pain, either to her or Marion. Mr. Carleton forgot so completely
that there was any difference that they were charmed into forgetting it
too. But Mr. Rossitur's pride lay deeper, or had been less humbled by
sorrow; the recollections that his family let slip never failed to gall
him when Mr. Carleton was present; and if now and then for a moment these
were banished by his guest's graces of mind and manner, the next breath
was a sigh for the circles and the pleasures they served to recall, now
seeming for ever lost to him. Mr. Carleton perceived that his company
gave pain and not pleasure to his host and for that reason was the less in
the house, and made his visits to Hugh at times when Mr. Rossitur was not
in the way. Fleda he took out of the house and away with him, for her good
and his own.
To Fleda the old childish feeling came back, that she was in somebody's
hands who had a marvellous happy way of managing things about her and even
of managing herself. A kind of genial atmosphere, that was always doing
her good, yet so quietly and so skilfully that she could only now and then
get a chance even to look her thanks. Quietly and efficiently he was
exerting himself to raise the tone of her mind, to brighten her spirits,
to reach those sober lines that years of patience had drawn round her eye
and mouth, and charm them away. So gently, so indirectly, by efforts so
wisely and gracefully aimed, he set about it, that Fleda did not know what
he was doing; but _he_ knew. He knew when he saw her brow unbend and her
eye catch its old light sparkle, that his conversation and the thoughts
and interests with which he was rousing her mind or fancy, were working,
and would work all he pleased. And though the next day he might find the
old look of patient gravity again, he hardly wished it not there, for the
pleasure of doing it away. Hugh's anxious question to Fleda had been very
uncalled for, and Fleda's assurance was well-grounded; that subject was
never touched upon.
Fleda's manner with Mr. Carleton was peculiar and characteristic. In the
house, before others, she was as demure and reserved as though he had been
a stranger; she never placed herself near him, nor entered into
conversation with him, unless when he obliged her; but when they were
alone there was a frank confidence and simplicity in her manner that most
happily answered the high-bred delicacy that had called it out.
One afternoon of a pleasant day in March Fleda and Hugh were sitting alone
together in the sick room. Hugh was weaker than usual, but not confined to
his bed; he was in his great easy-chair which had been moved up-stairs for
him again. Fleda had been repeating hymns.
"You are tired," Hugh said.
"There's something about you that isn't strong," said Hugh fondly. "I
wonder where is Mr. Carleton to-day. It is very pleasant, isn't it?"
"Very pleasant, and warm; it is like April; the snow all went off
yesterday, and the ground is dry except in spots."
"I wish he would come and give you a good walk. I have noticed how you
always come back looking so much brighter after one of your walks or rides
"What makes you think so, dear Hugh?" said Fleda a little troubled.
"Only my eyes," said Hugh smiling. "It does me as much good as you,
"I _never_ want to go and leave you, Hugh."
"I am very glad there is somebody to take you. I wish he would come. You
want it this minute."
"I don't think I shall let him take me if he comes."
"Whither? and whom?" said another voice.
"I didn't know you were there, sir," said Fleda suddenly rising.
"I am but just here--Rolf admitted me as he passed out."
Coming in between them and still holding the hand of one Mr. Carleton bent
down towards the other.
"How is Hugh, to-day?"
It was pleasant to see, that meeting of eyes,--the grave kindliness on the
one side, the confident affection on the other. But the wasted features
said as plainly as the tone of Hugh's gentle reply, that he was passing
"What shall I do for you?"
"Take Fleda out and give her a good walk. She wants it."
"I will, presently. You are weary--what shall I do to rest you?"
"Nothing--" said Hugh, closing his eyes with a very placid look;--"unless
you will put me in mind of something about heaven, Mr. Carleton."
"Shall I read to you?--Baxter,--or something else?"
"No--just give me something to think of while you're gone,--as you have
done before, Mr. Carleton."
"I will give you two or three of the Bible bits on that subject; they are
but hints and indications you know--rather rays of light that stream out
from the place than any description of it; but you have only to follow one
of these indications and see whither it will lead you. The first I
recollect is that one spoken to Abraham, 'Fear not--I am thy shield, and
thy exceeding great reward.'"
"Don't go any further, Mr. Carleton," said Hugh with a smile. "Fleda--do
They sat all silent, quite silent, all three, for nobody knew how long.
"You were going to walk," said Hugh without looking at them.
Fleda however did not move till a word or two from Mr. Carleton had backed
Hugh's request; then she went.
"Is she gone?" said Hugh. "Mr. Carleton, will you hand me that
It was his own. Mr. Carleton brought it. Hugh opened it and took out a
folded paper which he gave to Mr. Carleton, saying that he thought he
ought to have it.
"Do you know the handwriting, sir?"
"Ah she has scratched it so. It is Fleda's."
Hugh shut his eyes again and Mr. Carleton seeing that he had settled
himself to sleep went to the window with the paper. It hardly told him
anything he did not know before, though set in a fresh light.
"Cold blew the east wind
And thick fell the rain,
I looked for the tops
Of the mountains in vain;
Twilight was gathering
And dark grew the west,
And the woodfire's crackling
Toned well with the rest.
"Speak fire and tell me--
Thy flickering flame
Fell on me in years past--
Say, am I the same?
Has my face the same brightness
In those days it wore?--
My foot the same lightness
As it crosses the floor?
"Methinks there are changes--
Am weary to-night,--
I once was as tireless
As the bird on her flight;
My bark in full measure
Threw foam from the prow;--
Not even for pleasure
Would I care to move now.
"Tis not the foot only
That lieth thus still,--
I am weary in spirit,
I am listless in will.
My eye vainly peereth
Through the darkness, to find
Some object that cheereth--
Some light for the mind.
"What shadows come o'er me--
What things of the past,--
Bright things of my childhood
That fled all too fast,
The scenes where light roaming
My foot wandered free,
Come back through the gloamin'--
Come all back to me.
"The cool autumn evening,
The fair summer morn,--
The dress and the aspect
Some dear ones have worn,--
The sunshiny places--
The shady hill-side--
The words and the faces
That might not abide.--
"Die out little fire--
Ay, blacken and pine!--
So have paled many lights
That were brighter than thine.
I can quicken thy embers
Again with a breath,
But the others lie cold
In the ashes of death."
Mr. Carleton had read near through the paper before Fleda came in.
"I have kept you a long time, Mr. Carleton," she said coming up to the
window; "I found aunt Lucy wanted me."
But she saw with a little surprise the deepening eye which met her, and
which shewed, she knew, the working of strong feeling. Her own eye went to
the paper in search of explanation.
"What have you there?--Oh, Mr. Carleton," she said, putting her hand over
it,--"Please to give it to me!"
Fleda's face was very much in earnest. He took the hand but did not give
her the paper, and looked his refusal.
"I am ashamed you should see that!--who gave it to you?"
"You shall wreak your displeasure on no one but me," he said smiling.
"But have you read it?"
"I am very sorry!"
"I am very glad, my dear Elfie."
"You will think--you will think what wasn't true,--it was just a mood I
used to get into once in a while--I used to be angry with myself for it,
but I could not help it--one of those listless fits would take me now
"I understand it, Elfie."
"I am very sorry you should know I ever felt or wrote so."
"It was very foolish and wrong--"
"Is that a reason for my not knowing it?"
"No--not a good one--But you have read it now,--won't you let me have it?"
"No--I shall ask for all the rest of the portfolio, Elfie," he said as he
put it in a place of security.
"Pray do not!" said Fleda most unaffectedly.
"Because I remember Mrs. Carleton says you always have what you ask for."
"Give me permission to put on your bonnet, then," said he laughingly,
taking it from her hand.
The air was very sweet, the footing pleasant. The first few steps of the
walk were made by Fleda in silence, with eager breath and a foot that grew
lighter as it trod.
"I don't think it was a right mood of mind I had when I wrote that," she
said. "It was morbid. But I couldn't help it.--Yet if one could keep
possession of those words you quoted just now, I suppose one never would
have morbid feelings, Mr. Carleton?"
"Perhaps not; but human nature has a weak hold of anything, and many
things may make it weaker."
"Mine is weak," said Fleda. "But it is possible to keep firm hold of those
words, Mr. Carleton?"
"Yes--by strength that is not human nature's--And after all the firm hold
is rather that in which we are held, or ours would soon fail. The very
hand that makes the promise its own must be nerved to grasp it. And so it
is best, for it keeps us looking off always to the Author and Finisher of
"I love those words," said Fleda. "But Mr. Carleton, how shall one be
_sure_ that one has a right to those other words--those I mean that you
told to Hugh? One cannot take the comfort of them unless one is _sure_."
Her voice trembled.
"My dear Elfie, the promises have many of them their _double_--stamped
with the very same signet--and if that sealed counterpart is your own, it
is the sure earnest and title to the whole value of the promise."
"Well--in this case?" said Fleda eagerly.
"In this case,--God says, 'I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great
reward.' Now see if your own heart can give the countersign,--'_Thou art
my portion, O Lord_!'"
Fleda's head sank instantly and almost lay upon his arm.
"If you have the one, my dear Elfie, the other is yours--it is the note of
hand of the maker of the promise--sure to be honoured. And if you want
proof here it is,--and a threefold cord is not soon broken.--'Because he
hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on
high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will
answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour
him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.'"
There was a pause of some length. Fleda had lifted up her head, but walked
along very quietly, not seeming to care to speak.
"Have you the countersign, Elfie?"
Fleda flashed a look at him, and only restrained herself from
"Yes.--But so I had then, Mr. Carleton--only sometimes I got those fits
of feeling--I forgot it, I suppose."
"When were these verses written?"
"Last fall;--uncle Rolf was away, and aunt Lucy unhappy,--and I believe I
was tired--I suppose it was that."
For a matter of several rods each was busy with his own musings. But Mr.
Carleton bethought himself.
"Where are you, Elfie?"
"Where am I?"
"Yes--Not at Queechy?"
"No indeed," said Fleda laughing. "Far enough away."
"At Paris--at the Marche des Innocens."
"How did you get to Paris?"
"I don't know--by a bridge of associations, I suppose, resting one end on
last year, and the other on the time when I was eleven years old."
"Very intelligible," said Mr. Carleton smiling.
"Do you remember that morning, Mr. Carleton?--when you took Hugh and me to
the Marche des Innocens?"
"I have thanked you a great many times since for getting up so early
"I think I was well paid at the time. I remember I thought I had seen one
of the prettiest sights I had even seen in Paris."
"So I thought!" said Fleda. "It has been a pleasant picture in my
imagination ever since."
There was a curious curl in the corners of Mr. Carleton's mouth which
made Fleda look an inquiry--a look so innocently wistful that his
gravity gave way.
"My dear Elfie!" said he, "you are the very child you were then."
"Am I?" said Fleda. "I dare say I am, for I feel so. I have the very same
feeling I used to have then, that I am a child, and you taking the care of
me into your own hands."
"One half of that is true, and the other half nearly so."
"How good you always were to me!" Fleda said with a sigh.
"Not necessary to balance the debtor and creditor items on both sides," he
said with a smile, "as the account bids fair to run a good while."
A silence again, during which Fleda is clearly _not_ enjoying the
landscape nor the fine weather.
"Elfie,--what are you meditating?"
She came back from her meditations with a very frank look.
"I was thinking,--Mr. Carleton,--of your notions about female education."
They had paused upon a rising ground. Fleda hesitated, and then looked up
in his face.
"I am afraid you will find me wanting, and when you do, will you put me in
the way of being all you wish me to be?"
Her look was ingenuous and tender, equally. He gave her no answer, except
by the eye of grave intentness that fixed hers till she could meet it no
longer and her own fell. Mr. Carleton recollected himself.
"My dear Elfie," said he, and whatever the look had meant Elfie was at no
loss for the tone now,--"what do you consider yourself deficient in?"
Fleda spoke with a little difficulty.
"I am afraid in a good many things--in general reading,--and in what are
"You shall read as much as you please by and by," said he, "provided you
will let me read with you; and as for the other want, Elfie, it is rather
a source of gratification to me."
Elfie very naturally asked why?
"Because as soon as I have the power I shall immediately constitute myself
your master in the arts of riding and drawing, and in any other art or
acquisition you may take a fancy to, and give you lessons diligently."
"And will there be gratification in that?" said Fleda.
His answer was by a smile. But he somewhat mischievously asked her, "Will
there not?"--and Fleda was quiet.
Friends, I sorrow not to leave ye;
If this life an exile be,
We who leave it do but journey
Homeward to our family.
The first of April came.
Mr. Rossitur had made up his mind not to abide at Queechy, which only held
him now by the frail thread of Hugh's life. Mr. Carleton knew this, and
had even taken some steps towards securing for him a situation in the West
Indies. But it was unknown to Fleda; she had not heard her uncle say
anything on the subject since she came home; and though aware that their
stay was a doubtful matter, she still thought it might be as well to have
the garden in order. Philetus could not be trusted to do everything wisely
of his own head, and even some delicate jobs of hand could not be safely
left to his skill; if the garden was to make any headway Fleda's head and
hand must both be there, she knew. So as the spring opened she used to
steal away from the house every morning for an hour or two, hardly letting
her friends know what she was about, to make sure that peas and potatoes
and radishes and lettuce were in the right places at the right times, and
to see that the later and more delicate vegetables were preparing for. She
took care to have this business well over before the time that Mr.
Carleton ever arrived from the Pool.
One morning she was busy in dressing the strawberry beds, forking up the
ground between the plants and filling the vacancies that the severe winter
or some irregularities of fall dressing had made. Mr. Skillcorn was
rendering a somewhat inefficient help, or perhaps amusing himself with
seeing how she worked. The little old silver-grey hood was bending down
over the strawberries, and the fork was going at a very energetic rate.
"Will you bring me that bunch of strawberry plants that lies at the corner
of the beds, in the walk?--and my trowel?"
"I will!--" said Mr. Skillcorn.
It was another hand however that brought them and laid them beside her;
but Fleda very intent upon her work and hidden under her close hood did
not find it out. She went on busily putting in the plants as she found
room for them, and just conscious, as she thought, that Philetus was still
standing at her side she called upon him from time to time, or merely
stretched out her hand, for a fresh plant as she had occasion for it.
"Philetus," she said at length, raising her voice a little that it might
win to him round the edge of her hood without turning her face,--"I wish
you would get the ground ready for that other planting of potatoes--you
needn't stay to help me any longer."
"'Tain't me, I guess," said the voice of Philetus on the other side of
Fleda looked in astonishment to make sure that it really was Mr. Skillcorn
proceeding along the garden path in that quarter, and turning jumped up
and dropped her trowel and fork, to have her hands otherwise occupied. Mr.
Skillcorn walked off leisurely towards the potato ground, singing to
himself in a kind of consolatory aside,--
"I cocked up my beaver, and who but I!--
The lace in my hat was so gallant and so gay,
That I flourished like a king in his own coun_tray_."
"There is one of your countrymen that is an odd variety, certainly," said
Mr. Carleton, looking after him with a very comic expression of eye.
"Is he not!" said Fleda. "And hardly a common one. There never was a line
more mathematically straight than the course of Philetus's ideas; they
never diverge, I think, to the right hand or the left, a jot from his own
"You will be an invaluable help to me, Elfie, if you can read my English
friends as closely."
"I am afraid you will not let me come as close to them," said Fleda
"Perhaps not. I shouldn't like to pay too high a premium for the
knowledge. How is Hugh, to-day?"
Fleda answered with a quick change of look and voice that he was
much as usual.
"My mother has written me that she will be here by the Europa, which is
due to-morrow--I must set off for New York this afternoon; therefore I
came so early to Queechy."
Fleda was instinctively pulling off her gardening gloves, as they walked
towards the house.
"Aunt Miriam wants to see you, Mr. Carleton--she begged I would ask you to
come there some time--"
"With great pleasure--shall we go there now, Elfie?"
"I will be ready in five minutes."
Mrs. Rossitur was alone in the breakfast-room when they went in. Hugh she
reported was asleep, and would be just ready to see Mr. Carleton by the
time they got back. They stood a few minutes talking, and then Fleda went
to get ready.
Both pair of eyes followed her as she left the room and then met with
"Will you give your child to me, Mrs. Rossitur?" said the gentleman.
"With all my heart!" exclaimed Mrs. Rossitur bursting into tears,--"even
if I were left alone entirely--"
Her agitation was uncontrolled for a minute, and then she said, with
feeling seemingly too strong to be kept in,
"If I were only sure of meeting her in heaven, I could be content to be
without her till then!--"
"What is in the way, my dear madam?" said Mr. Carleton, with a gentle
sympathy that touched the very spring he meant it should. Mrs. Rossitur
waited a minute, but it was only till tears would let her speak, and then
said like a child,--
"Oh, it is all darkness!--"
"Except this," said he, gently and clearly, "that Jesus Christ is a
sun and a shield; and those that put themselves at his feet are safe
from all fear, and they who go to him for light shall complain of
darkness no more."
"But I do not know how--"
"Ask him and he will tell you."
"But I am unworthy even to look up towards him," said Mrs. Rossitur,
struggling, it seemed, between doubts and wishes.
"He knows that, and yet he has bid you come to him. He knows that,--and
knowing it, he has taken your responsibility and paid your debt, and
offers you now a clean discharge, if you will take it at his hand;--and
for the other part of this unworthiness, that blood cannot do away, blood
has brought the remedy--'Shall we who are evil give good things to our
children, and shall not our Father which is in heaven give his Holy Spirit
to them that ask him?'"
"But must I do nothing?" said Mrs. Rossitur, when she had remained quiet
with her face in her hands for a minute or two after he had done speaking.
"Nothing but be willing--be willing to have Christ in all his offices, as
your Teacher, your King, and your Redeemer--give yourself to him, dear
Mrs. Rossitur, and he will take care of the rest."
"I am willing!" she exclaimed. Fresh tears came, and came freely. Mr.
Carleton said no more, till hearing some noise of opening and shutting
doors above stairs Mrs. Rossitur hurriedly left the room, and Fleda came
in by the other entrance.
"May I take you a little out of the way, Mr. Carleton?" she said when they
had passed through the Deepwater settlement.--"I have a message to carry
to Mrs. Elster--a poor woman out here beyond the lake. It is not a
"And what if it were?"
"I should not perhaps have asked you to go with me," said Fleda a little
"You may take me where you will, Elfie," he said gently. "I hope to do as
much by you some day."
Fleda looked up at the piece of elegance beside her, and thought what a
change must have come over him if _he_ would visit poor places. He was
silent and grave however, and so was she, till they arrived at the house
they were going to.
Certainly it was not a disagreeable place. Barby's much less strong minded
sister had at least a good share of her practical nicety. The little board
path to the door was clean and white still, with possibly a trifle less
brilliant effect. The room and its old inhabitants were very comfortable
and tidy; the patchwork counterpane as gay as ever. Mrs. Elster was alone,
keeping company with a snug little wood fire, which was near as much
needed in that early spring weather as it had been during the winter.
Mr. Carleton had come back from his abstraction, and stood taking half
unconscious note of these things, while Fleda was delivering her message
to the old woman. Mrs. Elster listened to her implicitly with every now
and then an acquiescing nod or ejaculation, but so soon as Fleda had said
her say she burst out, with a voice that had never known the mufflings of
delicacy and was now pitched entirely beyond its owner's ken. Looking hard
at Mr. Carleton,
"Fleda!--Is _this_ the gentleman that's to be your--_husband?_"
The last word elevated and brought out with emphatic distinctness of
If the demand had been whether the gentleman in question was a follower of
Mahomet, it would hardly have been more impossible for Fleda to give an
affirmative answer; but Mr. Carleton laughed and bringing his face a
little nearer the old crone, answered,
"So she has promised, ma'am."
[Illustration: "Is this the gentleman that's to be your husband?"]
It was curious to see the lines of the old woman's face relax as she
looked at him.
"He's--worthy of you!--as far as looks goes," she said in the same key as
before, apostrophizing Fleda who had drawn back, but not stirring her eyes
from Mr. Carleton all the time. And then she added to him with a little
satisfied nod, and in a very decided tone of information,
"She will make you a good wife!"
"Because she has made a good friend?" said Mr. Carleton quietly. "Will you
let me be a friend too?"
He had turned the old lady's thoughts into a golden channel, whence, as
she was an American, they had no immediate issue in words; and Fleda and
Mr. Carleton left the house without anything more.
Fleda felt nervous. But Mr. Carleton's first words were as coolly and as
gravely spoken as if they had just come out from a philosophical lecture;
and with an immediate spring of relief she enjoyed every step of the way
and every word of the conversation which was kept up with great life, till
they reached Mrs. Plumfield's door.
No one was in the sitting-room. Fleda left Mr. Carleton there and passed
gently into the inner apartment, the door of which was standing ajar.
But her heart absolutely leaped into her mouth, for Dr. Quackenboss and
Mr. Olmney were there on either side of her aunt's bed. Fleda came forward
and shook hands.
"This is quite a meeting of friends," said the doctor blandly, yet with a
perceptible shading of the whilome broad sunshine of his
face.--"Your--a--aunt, my dear Miss Ringgan,--is in a most extraordinary
state of mind!"
Fleda was glad to hide her face against her aunt's and asked her
how she did.
"Dr. Quackenboss thinks it extraordinary, Fleda," said the old lady with
her usual cheerful sedateness,--"that one who has trusted God and had
constant experience of his goodness and faithfulness for forty years
should not doubt him at the end of it."
"You have no doubt--of any kind, Mrs. Plumfield?" said the clergyman.
"Not the shadow of a doubt!" was the hearty, steady reply.
"You mistake, my dear madam," said Dr. Quackenboss,--"pardon me--it is not
that--I would be understood to say, merely, that I do not comprehend how
such--a--such security--can be attained respecting what seems
so--a--elevated--and difficult to know."
"Only by believing," said Mrs. Plumfield with a very calm smile. "'He that
believeth on him shall not be ashamed;'--'shall _not_ be ashamed!'" she
Dr. Quackenboss looked at Fleda, who kept her eyes fixed upon her aunt.
"But it seems to me--I beg pardon--perhaps I am arrogant--" he said with a
little bow,--"but it appears to me almost--in a manner--almost
presumptuous, not to be a little doubtful in such a matter until the time
comes. Am I--do you disapprove of me, Mr. Olmney?"
Mr. Olmney silently referred him for his answer to the person he had first
addressed, who had closed her eyes while he was speaking.
"Sir," she said, opening them,--"it can't be presumption to obey God, and
he tells me to rejoice. And I do--I do!--'Let all those that love thee
rejoice in thee and be glad in thee!'--But mind!" she added energetically,
fixing her strong grey eye upon him--"he does not tell _you_ to
rejoice--do not think it--not while you stand aloof from his terms of
peace. Take God at his word, and be happy;--but if not, you have nothing
to do with the song that I sing!"
The doctor stared at her till she had done speaking, and then slunk out
of her range of vision behind the curtains of the bed-post. Not
"But--a--Mr. Olmney," said he hesitating--"don't you think that there is
in general--a--a becoming modesty, in--a--in people that have done
wrong, as we all have,--putting off being sure until they are so? It
seems so to me!"
"Come here, Dr. Quackenboss," said aunt Miriam.
She waited till he came to her side, and then taking his hand and looking
at him very kindly, she said,
"Sir, forty years ago I found in the Bible, as you say, that I was a
sinner, and that drove me to look for something else. I found then God's
promise that if I would give my dependence entirely to the substitute he
had provided for me and yield my heart to his service, he would for
Christ's sake hold me quit of all my debts and be my father, and make me
his child. And, sir, I did it. I abhor every other dependence--the things
you count good in me I reckon but filthy rags. At the same time, I know
that ever since that day, forty years ago, I have lived in his service and
tried to live to his glory. And now, sir, shall I disbelieve his promise?
do you think he would be pleased if I did?"
The doctor's mouth was stopped, for once. He drew back as soon as he could
and said not another word.
Before anybody had broken the silence Seth came in; and after shaking
hands with Fleda, startled her by asking whether that was not Mr. Carleton
in the other room.
"Yes," Fleda said,--"he came to see aunt Miriam."
"Ain't you well enough to see him, mother?"
"Quite--and very happy," said she.
Seth immediately went back and invited him in. Fleda dared not look up
while the introductions were passing,--of "the Rev. Mr. Olmney," and of
"Dr. Quackenboss,"--the former of whom Mr. Carleton took cordially by the
hand, while Dr. Quackenboss conceiving that his hand must be as
acceptable, made his salutation with an indescribable air at once of
attempted gracefulness and ingratiation. Fleda saw the whole in the
advancing line of the doctor's person, a vision of which crossed her
downcast eye. She drew back then, for Mr. Carleton came where she was
standing to take her aunt's hand; Seth had absolutely stayed his way
before to make the said introductions.
Mrs. Plumfield was little changed by years or disease since he had seen
her. There was somewhat more of a look of bodily weakness than there used
to be; but the dignified, strong-minded expression of the face was even
heightened; eye and brow were more pure and unclouded in their
steadfastness. She looked very earnestly at her visiter and then with
evident pleasure from the manner of his look and greeting. Fleda watched
her eye softening with a gratified expression and fixed upon him as he was
gently talking to her.
Mr. Olmney presently came round to take leave, promising to see her
another time, and passing Fleda with a frank grave pressure of the hand
which gave her some pain. He and Seth left the room. Fleda was hardly
conscious that Dr. Quackenboss was still standing at the foot of the bed
making the utmost use of his powers of observation. He could use little
else, for Mr. Carleton and Mrs. Plumfield after a few words on each side,
had as it were by common consent come to a pause. The doctor, when a
sufficient time had made him fully sensible of this, walked up to Fleda,
who wished heartily at the moment that she could have presented the
reverse end of the magnet to him. Perhaps however it was that very thing
which by a perverse sort of attraction drew him towards her.
"I suppose--a--we may conclude," said he with a somewhat saturnine
expression of mischief,--that Miss Ringgan contemplates forsaking the
agricultural line before a great while."
"I have not given up my old habits, sir," said Fleda, a good deal vexed.
"No--I suppose not--but Queechy air is not so well suited for them--other
skies will prove more genial," he said; she could not help thinking,
pleased at her displeasure.
"What is the fault of Queechy air, sir?" said Mr. Carleton,
"Sir!" said the doctor, exceedingly taken aback, though the words had
been spoken in the quietest manner possible,--'it--a--it has no fault,
sir,--that I am particularly aware of--it is perfectly salubrious.
Mrs. Plumfield, I will bid you good-day;--I--a--I _hope_ you will get
"I hope not, sir!" said aunt Miriam, in the same clear hearty tones which
had answered him before.
The doctor took his departure and made capital of his interview with Mr.
Carleton; who he affirmed he could tell by what he had seen of him was a
very deciduous character, and not always conciliating in his manners.
Fleda waited with a little anxiety for what was to follow the doctor's
It was with a very softened eye that aunt Miriam looked at the two who
were left, clasping Fleda's hand again; and it was with a very softened
voice that she next spoke.
"Do you remember our last meeting, sir?"
"I remember it well," he said.
"Fleda tells me you are a changed man since that time?"
He answered only by a slight and grave bow.
"Mr. Carleton," said the old lady,--"I am a dying woman--and this child is
the dearest thing in the world to me after my own,--and hardly after
him.--Will you pardon me--will you bear with me, if that I may die in
peace, I say, sir, what else it would not become me to say?--and it is for
"Speak to me freely as you would to her," he said with a look that gave
her full permission.
Fleda had drawn close and hid her face in her aunt's neck. Aunt Miriam's
hand moved fondly over her cheek and brow for a minute or two in silence;
her eye resting there too.
"Mr. Carleton, this child is to belong to you--how will you guide her?"
"By the gentlest paths," he said with a smile.
A whispered remonstrance from Fleda to her aunt had no effect.
"Will her best interests be safe in your hands?"
"How shall I resolve you of that, Mrs. Plumfield?" he said gravely.
"Will you help her to mind her mother's prayer and keep herself unspotted
from the world?"
"As I trust she will help me."
A rogue may answer questions, but an eye that has never known the shadow
of double-dealing makes no doubtful discoveries of itself. Mrs. Plumfield
read it and gave it her very thorough respect.
"Mr. Carleton--pardon me, sir,--I do not doubt you--but I remember hearing
long ago that you were rich and great in the world--it is dangerous for a
Christian to be so--Can she keep in your grandeur the simplicity of heart
and life she has had at Queechy?"
"May I remind you of your own words, my dear madam? By the blessing of
God all things are possible. These things you speak of are not in
themselves evil; if the mind be set on somewhat else, they are little
beside a larger storehouse of material to work with--an increased
stewardship to account for."
"She has been taking care of others all her life," said aunt Miriam
tenderly;--"it is time she was taken care of; and these feet are very
unfit for rough paths; but I would rather she should go on struggling as
she has done with difficulties and live and die in poverty, than that the
lustre of her heavenly inheritance should be tarnished even a little.--I
would, my darling!--"
"But the alternative is not, so," said Mr. Carleton with gentle grace,
touching Fleda's hand who he saw was a good deal disturbed. "Do not make
her afraid of me, Mrs. Plumfield."
"I do not believe I need," said aunt Miriam, "and I am sure I could
not,--but sir, you will forgive me?"
"No madam--that is not possible."
"One cannot stand where I do," said the old lady, "without learning a
little the comparative value of things; and I seek my child's good,--that
is my excuse. I could not be satisfied to take her testimony--"
"Take mine, madam," said Mr. Carleton. "I have learned the comparative
value of things too; and I will guard her highest interests as carefully
as I will every other--as earnestly as you can desire."
"I thank you, sir," said the old lady gratefully. "I am sure of it. I
shall leave her in good hands. I wanted this assurance. And if ever there
was a tender plant that was not fitted to grow on the rough side of the
world--I think this is one," said she, kissing earnestly the face that yet
Fleda did not dare to lift up.
Mr. Carleton did not say what he thought. He presently took kind leave of
the old lady and went into the next room, where Fleda soon rejoined him
and they set off homewards.
Fleda was quietly crying all the way down the hill. At the foot of the
hill Mr. Carleton resolutely slackened his pace.
"I have one consolation," he said, "my dear Elfie--you will have the less
to leave for me."
She put her hand with a quick motion upon his, and roused her self.
"She is a beautiful rebuke to unbelief. But she is hardly to be mourned
"Oh I was not crying for aunt Miriam," said Fleda.
"For what then?" he said gently.
"That needs explanation," he said in the same tone. "Let me have
"O--I was thinking of several things," said Fleda, not exactly wishing to
give the explanation.
"Too vague," said Mr. Carleton smiling. "Trust me with a little more of
your mind, Elfie."
Fleda glanced up at him, half smiling, and yet with filling eyes, and then
as usual, yielded to the winning power of the look that met her.
"I was thinking," she said, keeping her head carefully down,--"of some of
the things you and aunt Miriam were saying just now,--and--how good for
nothing I am."
"In what respect?" said Mr. Carleton with praiseworthy gravity.
Fleda hesitated, and he pressed the matter no further; but more unwilling
to displease him than herself she presently went on, with some difficulty;
wording what she had to say with as much care as she could.
"I was thinking--how gratitude--or not gratitude alone--but how one can be
full of the desire to please another,--a fellow-creature,--and find it
constantly easy to do or bear anything for that purpose; and how slowly
and coldly duty has to move alone in the direction where it should be the
swiftest and warmest."
She knew he would take her words as simply as she said them; she was not
disappointed. He was silent a minute and then said gravely,--
"Is this a late discovery, Elfie?"
"No--only I was realizing it strongly just now."
"It is a complaint we may all make. The remedy is, not to love less what
we know, but to know better that of which we are in ignorance. We will be
helps and not hindrances to each other, Elfie."
"You have said that before," said Fleda still keeping her head down.
"About my being a help to you!"
"It will not be the first time," said he smiling,--"nor the second. Your
little hand first held up a glass to gather the scattered rays of truth
that could not warm me into a centre where they must burn."
"Very innocently," said Fleda with a little unsteady feeling of voice.
"Very innocently," said Mr. Carleton smiling. "A veritable lens could
hardly have been more unconscious of its work or more pure of design."
"I do not think that was quite so either, Mr. Carleton," said Fleda.
"It was so, my dear Elfie, and your present speech is nothing against it.
This power of example is always unconsciously wielded; the medium ceases
to be clear so soon as it is made anything but a medium. The bits of truth
you aimed at me wittingly would have been nothing if they had not come
through that medium."
"Then apparently one's prime efforts ought to be directed to oneself."
"One's first efforts, certainly. Your silent example was the first thing
that moved me."
"Silent example!" said Fleda catching her breath a little. "Mine ought to
be very good, for I can never do good in any other way."
"You used to talk pretty freely to me."
"It wasn't my fault, I am certain," said Fleda half laughing. "Besides, I
was sure of my ground. But in general I never can speak to people about
what will do them any good."
"Yet whatever be the power of silent example there are often times when a
word is of incalculable importance."
"I know it," said Fleda earnestly,--"I have felt it very often, and
grieved that I could not say it, even at the very moment when I knew it
"Is that right, Elfie?"
"No," said Fleda, with quick watering eyes,--"It is not right at
all;--but it is constitutional with me. I never can talk to other people
of what concerns my own thoughts and feelings."
"But this concerns other people's thoughts and feelings."
"Yes, but there is an implied revelation of my own."
"Do you expect to include me in the denomination of 'other people'?"
"I don't know," said Fleda laughing.
"Do you wish it?"
Fleda looked down and up, and coloured, and said she didn't know.
"I will teach you," said he smiling.
The rest of the day by both was given to Hugh.
O what is life but a sum of love,
And death but to lose it all?
Weeds be for those that are left behind,
And not for those that fall!
"Here's something come, Fleda," said Barby walking into the sick room one
morning a few days afterwards,--"a great bag of something--more than you
can eat up in a fortnight--it's for Hugh."
"It's extraordinary that anybody should send _me_ a great bag of anything
eatable," said Hugh.
"Where did it come from?" said Fleda.
"Philetus fetched it--he found it down to Mr. Sampion's when he went with
"How do you know it's for me?" said Hugh.
"'Cause it's written on, as plain as a pikestaff. I guess it's a
"Why?" said Fleda; "and what is it?"
"O I don't much think 'twas meant for him," said Barby. "It's oysters."
"Yes--come out and look at 'em--you never see such fine fellows. I've
heerd say," said Barby abstractedly as Fleda followed her out and she
displayed to view some magnificent Ostraceans,--"I've heerd say that an
English shilling was worth two American ones, but I never understood it
rightly till now."
To all intents and purposes those were English oysters, and worth twice as
much as any others Fleda secretly confessed.
That evening, up in the sick room,--it was quite evening, and all the
others of the family were taking rest or keeping Mr. Rossitur company
down stairs,--Fleda was carefully roasting some of the same oysters for
Hugh's supper. She had spread out a glowing bed of coals on the hearth,
and there lay four or five of the big bivalves, snapping and sputtering in
approbation of their quarters in a most comfortable manner; and Fleda
standing before the fire tended them with a double kind of pleasure. From
one friend, and for another, those were most odorous oysters. Hugh sat
watching them and her, the same in happy simplicity that he had been at
eleven years old.
"How pleasant those oysters smell," said he. "Fleda, they remind me so
of the time when you and I used to roast oysters in Mrs. Renney's room
for lunch--do you recollect?--and sometimes in the evening when
everybody was gone out, you know; and what an airing we used to have to
give the dining-room afterwards. How we used to enjoy them, Fleda--you
and I all alone."
"Yes," said Fleda in a tone of doubtful enjoyment. She was shielding her
face with a paper and making self-sacrificing efforts to persuade a large
oyster-shell to stand so on the coals as to keep the juice.
"Don't!" said Hugh;--"I would rather the oysters should burn than you. Mr.
Carleton wouldn't thank me for letting you do so."
"Never mind!" said Fleda arranging the oysters to her satisfaction,--"he
isn't here to see. Now Hugh, my dear--these are ready as soon as I am."
"I am ready," said Hugh. "How long it is since we had a roast
"They look good, don't they?"
A little stand was brought up between them with the bread and butter and
the cups; and Fleda opened oysters and prepared tea for Hugh, with her
nicest, gentlest, busiest of hands; making every bit to be twice as sweet,
for her sympathizing eyes and loving smile and pleasant word commenting.
She shared the meal with him, but her own part was as slender as his and
much less thought of. His enjoyment was what she enjoyed, though it was
with a sad twinge of alloy which changed her face whenever it was where he
could not see it; when turned upon him it was only bright and
affectionate, and sometimes a little too tender; but Fleda was too good a
nurse to let that often appear.
"Mr. Carleton did not bargain for your opening his oysters, Fleda. How
kind it was of him to send them."
"How long will he be gone, Fleda?"
"I don't know--he didn't say. I don't believe many days."
Hugh was silent a little while she was putting away the stand and the
oyster-shells. Then she came and sat down by him.
"You have burnt yourself over those things," said he sorrowfully;--"you
-shouldn't have done it. It is not right."
"Dear Hugh," said Fleda lightly, laying her head on his shoulder,--"I
like to burn myself for you."
"That's just the way you have been doing all your life."
"Hush!" she said softly.
"It is true,--for me and for everybody else. It is time you were taken
better care of, dear Fleda."
"Don't, dear Hugh!"
"I am right though," said he. "You are pale and worn now with waiting upon
me and thinking of me. It is time you were gone. But I think it is well I
am going too, for what should I do in the world without you, Fleda?"
Fleda was crying now, intensely though quietly; but Hugh went on with
feeling as calm as it was deep.
"What should I have done all these years?--or any of us? How you have
tired yourself for everybody--in the garden and in the kitchen and with
Earl Douglass--how we could let you I don't know, but I believe we could
not help it."
Fleda put her hand upon his mouth. But he took it away and went on--
"How often I have seen you sleeping all the evening on the sofa with a
pale face, tired out--Dear Fleda," said he kissing her cheek, "I am glad
there's to be an end put to it. And all the day you went about with such a
bright face that it made mother and me happy to look at you; and I knew
then, many a time, it was for our sakes--
"Why do you cry so, Fleda? I like to think of it, and to talk of it, now
that I know you won't do so any more. I knew the whole truth, and it went
to the bottom of my heart; but I could do nothing but love you--I did
that!--Don't cry so, Fleda!--you ought not.--You have been the sunshine of
the house. My spirit never was so strong as yours; I should have been
borne to the ground, I know, in all these years, if it had not been for
you; and mother--you have been her life."
"You have been tired too," Fleda whispered.
"Yes at the saw-mill. And then you would come up there through the sun to
look at me, and your smile would make me forget everything sorrowful for
the rest of the day--except that I couldn't help you."
"Oh you did--you did--you helped me always, Hugh."
"Not much. I couldn't help you when you were sewing for me and father till
your fingers and eyes were aching, and you never would own that you were
anything but 'a little' tired--it made my heart ache. Oh I knew it all,
dear Fleda.--I am very, very glad that you will have somebody to take care
of you now that will not let you burn your fingers for him or anybody
else. It makes me happy!"
"You make me very unhappy, dear Hugh."
"I don't mean it," said Hugh tenderly. "I don't believe there is anybody
else in the world that I could be so satisfied to leave you with."
Fleda made no answer to that. She sat up and tried to recover herself.
"I hope he will come back in time," said Hugh, settling himself back in
the easy-chair with a weary look, and closing his eyes.
"In time for what?"
"To see me again."
"My dear Hugh!--he will to be sure, I hope."
"He must make haste," said Hugh. "But I want to see him again very
"For anything in particular?"
"No--only because I love him. I want to see him once more."
Hugh slumbered; and Fleda by his side wept tears of mixed feeling till she
Hugh was right. But nobody else knew it, and his brother was not sent for.
It was about a week after this, when one night a horse and wagon came up
to the back of the house from the road, the gentleman who had been driving
leading the horse. It was late, long past Mr. Skillcorn's usual hour of
retiring, but some errand of business had kept him abroad and he stood
there looking on. The stars gave light enough.
"Can you fasten my horse where he may stand a little while, sir? without
taking him out?"
"I guess I can," replied Philetus, with reasonable confidence,--"if
there's a rope's end some place--"
And forthwith he went back into the house to seek it. The gentleman
patiently holding his horse meanwhile, till he came out.
"How is Mr. Hugh to-night?"
"Well--he ain't just so smart, they say," responded Philetus, insinuating
the rope's end as awkwardly as possible among the horse's head-gear,--"I
believe he's dying."
Instead of going round now to the front of the house, Mr. Carleton knocked
gently at the kitchen door and asked the question anew of Barby.
"He's--Come in, sir, if you please," she said, opening wide the door for
him to enter,--"I'll tell 'em you're here."
"Do not disturb any one for me," said he.
"I won't disturb 'em!" said Barby, in a tone a little though unconsciously
Mr. Carleton neglected the chair she had placed for him, and remained
standing by the mantelpiece, thinking of the scenes of his early
introduction to that kitchen. It wore the same look it had done then;
under Barby's rule it was precisely the same thing it had been under
Cynthia's.--The passing years seemed a dream, and the passing generations
of men a vanity, before the old house more abiding than they. He stood
thinking of the people he had seen gathered by that fireplace and the
little household fairy whose childish ministrations had given such a
beauty to the scene,--when a very light step crossed the painted floor and
she was there again before him. She did not speak a word; she stood still
a moment trying for words, and then put her hand upon Mr. Carleton's arm
and gently drew him out of the room with her.
The family were all gathered in the room to which she brought him. Mr.
Rossitur, as soon as he saw Mr. Carleton come in, shrunk back where he
could be a little shielded by the bed-post. Marion's face was hid on the
foot of the bed. Mrs. Rossitur did not move. Leaving Mr. Carleton on the
near side of the bed Fleda went round to the place she seemed to have
occupied before, at Hugh's right hand; and they were all still, for he was
in a little doze, lying with his eyes closed, and the face as gently and
placidly sweet as it had been in his boyhood. Perhaps Mr. Rossitur looked
at it; but no other did just then, except Mr. Carleton. His eye rested
nowhere else. The breathing of an infant could not be more gentle; the
face of an angel not more peacefully at rest. "So he giveth his beloved
sleep,"--thought the gentleman, as he gazed on the brow from which all
care, if care there had ever been, seemed to have taken flight.
Not yet--not quite yet; for Hugh suddenly opened his eyes and without
seeing anybody else, said,
Mr. Rossitur left the bed-post and came close to where Fleda was standing,
and leaning forward, touched his son's head, but did not speak.
"Father--" said Hugh, in a voice so gentle that it seemed as if strength
must be failing,--"what will you do when you come to lie here?"
Mr. Rossitur put his hands to his face.
"Father--I must speak now if I never did before--once I must speak to
you,--what will you do when you come to lie where I do?--what will you
The person addressed was as motionless as a statue. Hugh did not move his
eyes from him.
"Father, I will be a living warning and example to you, for I know that
I shall live in your memory--you shall remember what I say to you--that
Jesus Christ is a dear friend to those that trust in him, and if he is
not yours it will be because you will not let him. You shall remember my
testimony, that he can make death sweeter than life--in his presence is
fulness of joy--at his right hand there are pleasures for evermore. He
is better,--he is more to me,--even than you all, and he will be to you
a better friend than the poor child you are losing, though you do not
know it now. It is he that has made my life in this world happy--only
he--and I have nothing to look to but him in the world I am going to.
But what will you do in the hour of death, as I am, if he isn't your
Mr. Rossitur's frame swayed, like a tree that one sees shaken by a distant
wind, but he said nothing.
"Will you remember me happily, father, if you come to die without having
done as I begged you? Will you think of me in heaven and not try to come
there too? Father, will you be a Christian?--will you not?--for my
sake--for _little Hugh's_ sake, as you used to call him?--Father?--"
Mr. Rossitur knelt down and hid his face in the coverings; but he did not
utter a word.
Hugh's eye dwelt on him for a moment with unspeakable expression, and his
lip trembled. He said no more; he closed his eyes; and for a little time
there was nothing to be heard but the sobs which could not be restrained,
from all but the two gentlemen. It probably oppressed Hugh, for after a
while he said with a weary sigh and without opening his eyes,
"I wish somebody would sing."
Nobody answered at first.
"Sing what, dear Hugh?" said Fleda, putting aside her tears and leaning
her face towards him.
"Something that speaks of my want," said Hugh.
"What do you want, dear Hugh?"
"Only Jesus Christ," he said with a half smile.
But they were silent as death. Fleda's face was in her hands and her
utmost efforts after self-control wrought nothing but tears. The stillness
had lasted a little while, when very softly and sweetly the notes of a
hymn floated to their ears, and though they floated on and filled the
room, the voice was so nicely modulated that its waves of sweetness broke
gently upon the nearest ear.
"Jesus, the sinner's friend, to Thee,
Lost and undone, for aid I flee;
Weary of earth, myself, and sin,
Open thine arms and take me in.
"Pity and save my sin-sick soul,--
'Tis thou alone canst make me whole;
Dark, till in me thine image shine,
And lost I am, till thou art mine.
"At length I own it cannot be,
That I should fit myself for thee,
Here now to thee I all resign,--
Thine is the work, and only thine.
"What shall I say thy grace to move?--
Lord, I am sin, but thou art love!
I give up every plea beside,--
Lord, I am lost,--but thou hast died!"
They were still again after the voice had ceased; almost perfectly still;
though tears might be pouring, as indeed they were from every eye, there
was no break to the silence, other than a half-caught sob now and then
from a kneeling figure whose head was in Marion's lap.
"Who was that?" said Hugh, when the singer had been silent a minute.
Nobody answered immediately; and then Mr. Carleton bending over him, said,
"Don't you know me, dear Hugh?"
"Is it Mr. Carleton?"
Hugh looked pleased, and clasped both of his hands upon Guy's which he
laid upon his breast. For a second he closed his eyes and was silent.
"Was it you sang?"
"You never sang for me before," he remarked.
He was silent again.
"Are you going to take Fleda away?"
"By and by," said Mr. Carleton gently.
"Will you take good care of her?"
Mr. Carleton hesitated, and then said, so low that it could reach but one
other person's ear,
"What hand and life can."
"I know it," said Hugh. "I am very glad you will have her. You will not
let her tire herself any more."
Whatever became of Fleda's tears she had driven them away and leaning
forward she touched her cheek to his, saying with a clearness and
sweetness of voice that only intensity of feeling could have given her at
"I am not tired, dear Hugh."
Hugh clasped one arm round her neck and kissed her--again and again,
seeming unable to say anything to her in any other way; still keeping his
hold of Mr. Carleton's hand.