Part 3 out of 18
and quietly between her and anything that threatened to try or annoy her
too much. Fleda felt it with grateful admiration. Yet she noticed, too,
that he was a very different person at this dinner-table from what he had
been the other day at her grandfather's. Easy and graceful, always, he
filled his own place, but did not seem to care to do more; there was even
something bordering on haughtiness in his air of grave reserve. He was not
the life of the company here; he contented himself with being all that the
company could possibly require of him.
On the whole Fleda was exceedingly well pleased with her day, and thought
all the people in general very kind. It was quite late before she set out
to go home again; and then Mrs. Evelyn and Mrs. Carleton were extremely
afraid lest she should take cold, and Mr. Carleton without saying one
word about it wrapped her up so very nicely after she got into the wagon,
in a warm cloak of his mother's. The drive home, through the gathering
shades of twilight, was to little Fleda thoroughly charming. It was
almost in perfect silence, but she liked that; and all the way home her
mind was full of a shadowy beautiful world that seemed to lie before and
It was a happy child that Mr. Carleton lifted from the wagon when they
reached Queechy. He read it in the utter lightheartedness of brow and
voice, and the spring to the ground which hardly needed the help of
"Thank you, Mr. Carleton," she said when she had reached her own door; (he
would not go in) "I have had a very nice time!"
"Good night," said he. "Tell your grandfather I will come to-morrow to see
him about some business."
Fleda ran gayly into the kitchen. Only Cynthia was there.
"Where is grandpa, Cynthy?"
"He went off into his room a half an hour ago. I believe he's laying down.
He ain't right well, I s'pect. What's made you so late?"
"O they kept me," said Fleda. Her gayety suddenly sobered, she took off
her bonnet and coat and throwing them down in the kitchen stole softly
along the passage to her grandfather's room. She stopped a minute at the
door and held her breath to see if she could hear any movement which might
tell her he was not asleep. It was all still, and pulling the iron latch
with her gentlest hand Fleda went on tiptoe into the room. He was lying on
the bed, but awake, for she had made no noise and the blue eyes opened and
looked upon her as she came near.
"Are you not well, dear grandpa?" said the little girl.
Nothing made of flesh and blood ever spoke words of more spirit-like
sweetness,--not the beauty of a fine organ, but such as the sweetness of
angel-speech might be; a whisper of love and tenderness that was hushed by
its own intensity. He did not answer, or did not notice her first
question; she repeated it.
"Don't you feel well?"
"Not exactly, dear!" he replied.
There was the shadow of somewhat in his tone, that fell upon his little
granddaughter's heart and brow at once. Her voice next time, though not
suffered to be anything but clear and cheerful still, had in part the
clearness of apprehension.
"What is the matter?"
"Oh--I don't know, dear!"
She felt the shadow again, and he seemed to say that time would shew her
the meaning of it. She put her little hand in one of his which lay outside
the coverlets, and stood looking at him; and presently said, but in a very
different key from the same speech to Mr. Carleton,
"I have had a very nice time, dear grandpa."
Her grandfather made her no answer. He brought the dear little hand to
his lips and kissed it twice, so earnestly that it was almost
passionately; then laid it on the side of the bed again, with his own
upon it, and patted it slowly and fondly and with an inexpressible kind
of sadness in the manner. Fleda's lip trembled and her heart was
fluttering, but she stood so that he could not see her face in the dusk,
and kept still till the rebel features were calm again and she had
schooled the heart to be silent.
Mr. Ringgan had closed his eyes, and perhaps was asleep, and his little
granddaughter sat quietly down on a chair by the bedside to watch by him,
in that gentle sorrowful patience which women often know but which hardly
belongs to childhood. Her eye and thoughts, as she sat there in the dusky
twilight, fell upon the hand of her grandfather which still fondly held
one of her own; and fancy travelled fast and far, from what it was to what
it had been. Rough, discoloured, stiff, as it lay there now, she thought
how it had once had the hue and the freshness and the grace of youth, when
it had been the instrument of uncommon strength and wielded an authority
that none could stand against. Her fancy wandered over the scenes it had
known; when it had felled trees in the wild forest, and those fingers,
then supple and slight, had played the fife to the struggling men of the
Revolution; how its activity had outdone the activity of all other hands
in clearing and cultivating those very fields where her feet loved to run;
how in its pride of strength it had handled the scythe and the sickle and
the flail, with a grace and efficiency that no other could attain; and how
in happy manhood that strong hand had fondled and sheltered and led the
little children that now had grown up and were gone!--Strength and
activity, ay, and the fruits of them, were passed away;--his children were
dead;--his race was run;--the shock of corn was in full season, ready to
be gathered. Poor little Fleda! her thought had travelled but a very
little way before the sense of these things entirely overcame her; her
head bowed on her knees, and she wept tears that all the fine springs of
her nature were moving to feed--many, many,--but poured forth as quietly
as bitterly; she smothered every sound. That beautiful shadowy world with
which she had been so busy a little while ago,--alas! she had left the
fair outlines and the dreamy light and had been tracking one solitary path
through the wilderness, and she saw how the traveller foot-sore and
weather-beaten comes to the end of his way. And after all, he comes to
_the end_.--"Yes, and I must travel through life and come to the end,
too," thought little Fleda,--"life is but a passing through the world; my
hand must wither and grow old too, if I live long enough, and whether or
no, I must come to _the end_.--Oh, there is only one thing that ought to
be very much minded in this world!"
That thought, sober though it was, brought sweet consolation. Fleda's
tears, if they fell as fast, grew brighter, as she remembered with
singular tender joy that her mother and her father had been ready to see
the end of their journey, and were not afraid of it, that her grandfather
and her aunt Miriam were happy in the same quiet confidence and she
believed she herself was a lamb of the Good Shepherd's flock. "And he
will let none of his lambs be lost," she thought. "How happy I am! How
happy we all are!"
Her grandfather still lay quiet as if asleep, and gently drawing her hand
from under his, Fleda went and got a candle and sat down by him again to
read, carefully shading the light so that it might not awake him.
He presently spoke to her, and more cheerfully.
"Are you reading, dear?"
"Yes, grandpa!" said the little girl looking up brightly. "Does the candle
"No, dear!--What have you got there?"
"I just took up this volume of Newton that has the hymns in it."
Fleda read Mr. Newton's long beautiful hymn, "The Lord will provide;" but
with her late thoughts fresh in her mind it was hard to get through the
"No strength of our own,
Or goodness we claim;
But since we have known
The Saviour's great name,
In this, our strong tower,
For safety we hide:
The Lord is our power,
The Lord will provide.
"When life sinks apace,
And death is in view,
This word of his grace
Shall comfort us through.
No fearing nor doubting,--
With Christ on our side,
We hope to die shouting,
The Lord will provide."
The little reader's voice changed, almost broke, but she struggled
through, and then was quietly crying behind her hand.
"Read it again," said the old gentleman after a pause.
There is no 'cannot' in the vocabulary of affection. Fleda waited a
minute or two to rally her forces, and then went through it again, more
steadily than the first time.
"Yes--" said Mr. Ringgan calmly, folding his hands,--"that will do! That
trust won't fail, for it is founded upon a rock. 'He is a rock; and he
knoweth them that put their trust in him!' I have been a fool to doubt
ever that he would make all things work well--The Lord will provide!"
"Grandpa," said Fleda, but in an unsteady voice, and shading her face with
her hand still,--"I can remember reading this hymn to my mother once when
I was so little that 'suggestions' was a hard word to me."
"Ay, ay,--I dare say," said the old gentleman,--"your mother knew that
Rock and rested her hope upon it,--where mine stands now. If ever there
was a creature that might have trusted to her own doings, I believe she
was one, for I never saw her do anything wrong,--as I know. But she knew
Christ was all. Will you follow him as she did, dear?"
Fleda tried in vain to give an answer.
"Do you know what her last prayer for you was, Fleda?"
"It was that you might be kept 'unspotted from the world.' I heard her
make that prayer myself." And stretching out his hand the old gentleman
laid it tenderly upon Fleda's bowed head, saying with strong earnestness
and affection, even _his_ voice somewhat shaken, "God grant that
prayer!--whatever else he do with her, keep my child from the evil!--and
bring her to join her father and mother in heaven!--and me!"
He said no more;--but Fleda's sobs said a great deal. And when the sobs
were hushed, she still sat shedding quiet tears, sorrowed and disturbed by
her grandfather's manner. She had never known it so grave, so solemn; but
there was that shadow of something else in it besides, and she would have
feared if she had known what to fear. He told her at last that she had
better go to bed, and to say to Cynthy that he wanted to see her. She was
going, and had near reached the door, when he said,
She hastened back to the bedside.
He let her do so twice, without moving, and then holding her to his
breast he pressed one long earnest passionate kiss upon her lips, and
Fleda told Cynthy that her grandfather wished her to come to him, and then
mounted the stairs to her little bedroom. She went to the window and
opening it looked out at the soft moonlit sky; the weather was mild again
and a little hazy, and the landscape was beautiful. But little Fleda was
tasting realities, and she could not go off upon dream-journeys to seek
the light food of fancy through the air. She did not think to-night about
the people the moon was shining on; she only thought of one little sad
anxious heart,--and of another down stairs, more sad and anxious still,
she feared;--what could it be about? Now that Mr. Jolly had settled all
that troublesome business with McGowan?--
As she stood there at the window, gazing out aimlessly into the still
night,--it was very quiet,--she heard Cynthy at the back of the house
calling out, but as if she were afraid of making too much noise,
The sound had business, if not anxiety, in it. Fleda instinctively held
her breath to listen. Presently she heard Watkins reply; but they were
round the corner, she could not easily make out what they said. It was
only by straining her ears that she caught the words,
"Watkins, Mr. Ringgan wants you to go right up on the hill to Mis'
Plumfield's and tell her he wants her to come right down--he thinks"--the
voice of the speaker fell, and Fleda could only make out the last
words,--"Dr. James." More was said, but so thick and low that she could
She had heard enough. She shut the window, trembling, and fastened again
the parts of her dress she had loosened; and softly and hastily went down
the stairs into the kitchen.
"Cynthy!--what is the matter with grandpa?"
"Why ain't you in bed, Flidda?" said Cynthy with some sharpness. "That's
what you had ought to be. I am sure your grandpa wants you to be abed."
"But tell me," said Fleda anxiously.
"I don't know as there's anything the matter with him," said Cynthy.
"Nothing much, I suppose. What makes you think anything is the matter?"
"Because I heard you telling Watkins to go for aunt Miriam." Fleda could
not say,--"and the doctor."
"Well your grandpa thought he'd like to have her come down, and he don't
feet right well,--so I sent Watkins up; but you'd better go to bed,
Flidda; you'll catch cold if you sit up o'night."
Fleda was unsatisfied, the more because Cynthy would not meet the keen
searching look with which the little girl tried to read her face. She was
not to be sent to bed, and all Cynthy's endeavours to make her change her
mind were of no avail. Fleda saw in them but fresh reason for staying, and
saw besides, what Cynthy could not hide, a somewhat of wandering and
uneasiness in her manner which strengthened her resolution. She sat down
in the chimney corner, resolved to wait till her aunt Miriam came; there
would be satisfaction in her, for aunt Miriam always told the truth, the
whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
It was a miserable three-quarters of an hour. The kitchen seemed to wear a
strange desolate look, though seen in its wonted bright light of fire and
candles, and in itself nice and cheerful as usual. Fleda looked at it also
through that vague fear which casts its own lurid colour upon everything.
The very flickering of the candle blaze seemed of ill omen, and her
grandfather's empty chair stood a signal of pain to little Fleda whenever
she looked at it. She sat still, in submissive patience, her cheek pale
with the working of a heart too big for that little body. Cynthia was
going in and out of her grandfather's room, but Fleda would not ask her
any more questions, to be disappointed with word-answers; she waited, but
the minutes seemed very long,--and very sad.
The characteristic outward calm which Fleda had kept, and which belonged
to a nature uncommonly moulded to patience and fortitude, had yet perhaps
heightened the pressure of excited fear within. When at last she saw the
cloak and hood of aunt Miriam coming through the moonlight to the kitchen
door, she rushed to open it, and quite overcome for the moment threw her
arms around her and was speechless. Aunt Miriam's tender and quiet voice
"You up yet, Fleda! Hadn't you better go to bed? 'Tisn't good for you."
"That's what I've been a telling her," said Cynthy, "but she wa'n't a mind
to listen to me."
But the two little arms embraced aunt Miriam's cloak and wrappers and the
little face was hid there still, and Fleda's answer was a half smothered
"I am _so_ glad you are come, dear aunt Miriam!"
Aunt Miriam kissed her again, and again repeated her request.
"O no--I can't go to bed," said Fleda crying;--"I can't till I know--I am
_sure_ something is the matter, or Cynthy wouldn't look so. _Do_ tell me,
"I can't tell you anything, dear, except that grandpa is not well--that
is all I know--I am going in to see him. I will tell you in the morning
how he is."
"No," said Fleda, "I will wait here till you come out. I couldn't sleep."
Mrs. Plumfield made no more efforts to persuade her, but rid herself of
cloak and hood and went into Mr. Ringgan's room. Fleda placed herself
again in her chimney corner. Burying her face in her hands, she sat
waiting more quietly; and Cynthy, having finished all her business, took a
chair on the hearth opposite to her. Both were silent and motionless,
except when Cynthy once in a while got up to readjust the sticks of wood
on the fire. They sat there waiting so long that Fleda's anxiety began to
"Don't you think the doctor is a long time coming, Cynthy?" said she
raising her head at last. Her question, breaking that forced silence,
"It seems kind o' long," said Cynthy. "I guess Watkins ha'n't found
him to hum."
Watkins indeed presently came in and reported as much, and that the wind
was changing and it was coming off cold; and then his heavy boots were
heard going up the stairs to his room overhead; but Fleda listened in vain
for the sound of the latch of her grandfather's door, or aunt Miriam's
quiet foot-fall in the passage; listened and longed, till the minutes
seemed like the links of a heavy chain which she was obliged to pass over
from hand to hand, and the last link could not be found. The noise of
Watkins' feet ceased overhead, and nothing stirred or moved but the
crackling flames and Cynthia's elbows, which took turns each in resting
upon the opposite arm, and now and then a tell-tale gust of wind in the
trees. If Mr. Ringgan was asleep, why did not aunt Miriam come out and see
them,--if he was better, why not come and tell them so. He had been asleep
when she first went into his room, and she had come back for a minute then
to try again to get Fleda to bed; why could she not come out for a minute
once more. Two hours of watching and trouble had quite changed little
Fleda; the dark ring of anxiety had come under each eye in her little pale
face; she looked herself almost ill.
Aunt Miriam's grave step was heard coming out of the room at last,--it did
not sound cheerfully in Fleda's ears. She came in, and stopping to give
some direction to Cynthy, walked up to Fleda. Her face encouraged no
questions. She took the child's head tenderly in both her hands, and told
her gently, but it was in vain that she tried to make her voice quite as
usual, that she had better go to bed--that she would be sick.
Fleda looked up anxiously in her face.
"How is he?"
But her next word was the wailing cry of sorrow,--"Oh grandpa!--"
The old lady took the little child in her arms and they both sat there by
the fire until the morning dawned.
Patience and sorrow strove
Who should express her goodliest.
When Mr. Carleton knocked at the front door the next day about two o'clock
it was opened to him by Cynthy. He asked for his late host.
"Mr. Ringgan is dead."
"Dead!" exclaimed the young man much shocked;--"when? how?"
"Won't you come in, sir?" said Cynthy;--"maybe you'll see Mis' Plumfield."
"No, certainly," replied the visitor. "Only tell me about Mr. Ringgan."
"He died last night."
"What was the matter with him?"
"I don't know," said Cynthy in a business-like tone of voice,--"I
s'pose the doctor knows, but he didn't say nothing about it. He died
"Was he alone?"
"No--his sister was with him; he had been complaining all the evening
that he didn't feel right, but I didn't think nothing of it and I didn't
know as he did; and towards evening he went and laid down, and Flidda was
with him a spell, talking to him; and at last he sent her to bed and
called me in and said he felt mighty strange and he didn't know what it
was going to be, and that he had as lieve I should send up and ask Mis'
Plumfield to come down, and perhaps I might as well send for the doctor
too. And I sent right off, but the doctor wa'n't to hum, and didn't get
here till long after. Mis' Plumfield, she come; and Mr. Ringgan was
asleep then, and I didn't know as it was going to be anything more after
all than just a turn, such as anybody might take; and Mis' Plumfield went
in and sot by him; and there wa'n't no one else in the room; and after a
while he come to, and talked to her, she said, a spell; but he seemed to
think it was something more than common ailed him; and all of a sudden he
just riz up half way in bed and then fell back and died,--with no more
warning than that."
"And how is the little girl?"
"Why," said Cynthy, looking off at right angles from her visitor, "she's
middling now, I s'pose, but she won't be before long, or else she must be
harder to make sick than other folks.--We can't get her out of the room,"
she added, bringing her eyes to bear, for an instant, upon the young
gentleman,--"she stays in there the hull time since morning--I've tried,
and Mis' Plumfield's tried, and everybody has tried, and there can't none
of us manage it; she will stay in there and it's an awful cold room when
there ain't no fire."
Cynthy and her visitor were both taking the benefit of the chill blast
which rushed in at the open door.
"_The room_?" said Mr. Carleton. "The room where the body lies?"
"Yes--it's dreadful chill in there when the stove ain't heated, and she
sits there the hull time. And she ha'n't 'got much to boast of now: she
looks as if a feather would blow her away."
The door at the further end of the hall opened about two inches and a
voice called out through the crack,
"Cynthy!--Mis' Plumfield wants to know if that is Mr. Carleton?"
"Well she'd like to see him. Ask him to walk into the front room,
Cynthy upon this shewed the way, and Mr. Carleton walked into the same
room where a very few days before he had been so kindly welcomed by his
fine old host. Cold indeed it was now, as was the welcome he would have
given. There was no fire in the chimney, and even all the signs of the
fire of the other day had been carefully cleared away; the clean empty
fireplace looked a mournful assurance that its cheerfulness would not soon
come back again. It was a raw disagreeable day, the paper window shades
fluttered uncomfortably in the wind, which had its way now; and the very
chairs and tables seemed as if they had taken leave of life and society
for ever. Mr. Carleton walked slowly up and down, his thoughts running
perhaps somewhat in the train where poor little Fleda's had been so busy
last night, and wrapped up in broadcloth as he was to the chin, he
shivered when he heard the chill wind moaning round the house and rustling
the paper hangings and thought of little Fleda's delicate frame, exposed
as Cynthia had described it. He made up his mind it must not be.
Mrs. Plumfield presently came in, and met him with the calm dignity of
that sorrow which needs no parade and that truth and meekness of character
which can make none. Yet there was nothing like stoicism, no affected or
proud repression of feeling; her manner was simply the dictate of good
sense borne out by a firm and quiet spirit. Mr. Carleton was struck with
it, it was a display of character different from any he had ever before
met with; it was something he could not quite understand. For he wanted
the key. But all the high respect he had felt for this lady from the first
was confirmed and strengthened.
After quietly receiving Mr. Carleton's silent grasp of the hand, aunt
"I troubled you to stop, sir, that I might ask you how much longer you
expect to stop at Montepoole."
Not more than two or three days, he said.
"I understood," said aunt Miriam after a minute's pause, "that Mrs.
Carleton was so kind as to say she would take care of Elfleda to France
and put her in the hands of her aunt."
"She would have great pleasure in doing it," said Mr. Carleton. "I can
promise for your little niece that she shall have a mother's care so long
as my mother can render it."
Aunt Miriam was silent, and he saw her eyes fill.
"You should not have had the pain of seeing me to-day," said he gently,
"if I could have known it would give you any; but since I am here, may I
ask, whether it is your determination that Fleda shall go with us?"
"It was my brother's," said aunt Miriam, sighing;--"he told me--last
night--that he wished her to go with Mrs. Carleton--if she would still be
so good as to take her."
"I have just heard about her, from the housekeeper," said Mr, Carleton,
"what has disturbed me a good deal. Will you forgive me, if I venture to
propose that she should come to us at once. Of course we will not leave
the place for several days--till you are ready to part with her."
Aunt Miriam hesitated, and again the tears flushed to her eyes.
"I believe it would be best," she said,--"since it must be--I cannot get
the child away from her grandfather--I am afraid I want firmness to do
it--and she ought not to be there--she is a tender little creature--"
For once self-command failed her--she was obliged to cover her face.
"A stranger's hands cannot be more tender of her than ours will be," said
Mr. Carleton, his warm pressure of aunt Miriam's hand repeating the
promise. "My mother will bring a carriage for her this afternoon, if you
"If you please, sir,--since it must be, it does not matter a day sooner or
later," repeated aunt Miriam,--"if she can be got away.--I don't know
whether it will be possible."
Mr. Carleton had his own private opinion on that point. He merely promised
to be there again in a few hours and took his leave.
He came, with his mother, about five o'clock in the afternoon. They were
shewn this time into the kitchen, where they found two or three neighbours
and friends with aunt Miriam and Cynthy. The former received them with the
same calm simplicity that Mr. Carleton had admired in the morning, but
said she was afraid their coming would be in vain; she had talked with
Fleda about the proposed plan and could not get her to listen to it. She
doubted whether it would be possible to persuade her. And yet--
Aunt Miriam's self-possession seemed to be shaken when she thought of
Fleda; she could not speak of her without watering eyes.
"She's fixing to be sick as fast as ever she can," remarked Cynthia dryly,
in a kind of aside meant for the audience;--"there wa'n't a grain of
colour in her face when I went in to try to get her out a little while
ago; and Mis' Plumfield ha'n't the heart to do anything with her, nor
"Mother, will you see what you can do?" said Mr. Carleton.
Mrs. Carleton went, with an expression of face that her son, nobody else,
knew meant that she thought it a particularly disagreeable piece of
business. She came back after the lapse of a few minutes, in tears.
"I can do nothing with her," she said hurriedly;--"I don't know what to
say to her; and she looks like death. Go yourself, Guy; you can manage her
if any one can."
Mr. Carleton went immediately.
The room into which a short passage admitted him was cheerless indeed. On
a fair afternoon the sun's rays came in there pleasantly, but this was a
true November day; a grey sky and a chill raw wind that found its way in
between the loose window-sashes and frames. One corner of the room was
sadly tenanted by the bed which held the remains of its late master and
owner. At a little table between the windows, with her back turned towards
the bed, Fleda was sitting, her face bowed in her hands, upon the old
quarto bible that lay there open; a shawl round her shoulders.
Mr. Carleton went up to the side of the table and softly spoke her name.
Fleda looked up at him for an instant, and then buried her face in her
hands on the book as before. That look might have staggered him, but that
Mr. Carleton rarely was staggered in any purpose when he had once made up
his mind. It did move him,--so much that he was obliged to wait a minute
or two before he could muster firmness to speak to her again. Such a
look,--so pitiful in its sorrow, so appealing in its helplessness, so
imposing in its purity,--he had never seen, and it absolutely awed him.
Many a child's face is lovely to look upon for its innocent purity, but
more commonly it is not like this; it is the purity of snow, unsullied,
but not unsullyable; there is another kind more ethereal, like that of
light, which you feel is from another sphere and will not know soil. But
there were other signs in the face that would have nerved Mr. Carleton's
resolution if he had needed it. Twenty-four hours had wrought a sad
change. The child looked as if she had been ill for weeks. Her cheeks were
colourless; the delicate brow would have seemed pencilled on marble but
for the dark lines which weeping and watching, and still more sorrow, had
drawn underneath; and the beautiful moulding of the features shewed under
the transparent skin like the work of the sculptor. She was not crying
then, but the open pages of the great bible had been wet with very many
tears since her head had rested there.
[Illustration: Fleda was sitting, her face bowed in her hands.]
"Fleda," said Mr. Carleton after a moment,--"you must come with me."
The words were gently and tenderly spoken, yet they had that tone which
young and old instinctively know it is vain to dispute. Fleda glanced up
again, a touching imploring look it was very difficult to bear, and her
"Oh no--I cannot,"--went to his heart. It was not resistance but entreaty,
and all the arguments she would have urged seemed to lie in the mere tone
of her voice. She had no power of urging them in any other way, for even
as she spoke her head went down again on the bible with a burst of sorrow.
Mr. Carleton was moved, but not shaken in his purpose. He was silent a
moment, drawing back the hair that fell over Fleda's forehead with a
gentle caressing touch; and then he said, still lower and more tenderly
than before, but without flinching, "You must come with me, Fleda."
"Mayn't I stay," said Fleda, sobbing, while he could see in the tension of
the muscles a violent effort at self-control which he did not like to
see,--"mayn't I stay till--till--the day after to-morrow?"
"No, dear Fleda," said he, still stroking her head kindly,--"I will bring
you back, but you must go with me now, Your aunt wishes it and we all
think it is best. I will bring you back."--
She sobbed bitterly for a few minutes. Then she begged in smothered words
that he would leave her alone a little while. He went immediately.
She checked her sobs when she heard the door close upon him, or as soon as
she could, and rising went and knelt down by the side of the bed. It was
not to cry, though what she did could not be done without many tears,--it
was to repeat with equal earnestness and solemnity her mother's prayer,
that she might be kept pure from the world's contact. There beside the
remains of her last dear earthly friend, as it were before going out of
his sight forever, little Fleda knelt down to set the seal of faith and
hope to his wishes, and to lay the constraining hand of Memory upon her
conscience. It was soon done,--and then there was but one thing more to
do. But oh, the tears that fell as she stood there before she could go on;
how the little hands were pressed to the bowed face, as if _they_ would
have borne up the load they could not reach; the convulsive struggle,
before the last look could be taken, the last good-by said! But the sobs
were forced back, the hands wiped off the tears, the quivering features
were bidden into some degree of calmness; and she leaned forward, over the
loved face that in death had kept all its wonted look of mildness and
placid dignity. It was in vain to try to look through Fleda's blinded
eyes; the hot tears dropped fast, while her trembling lips kissed--and
kissed,--those cold and silent that could make no return; and then feeling
that it was the last, that the parting was over, she stood again by the
side of the bed as she had done a few minutes before, in a convulsion of
grief, her face bowed down and her little frame racked with feeling too
strong for it; shaken visibly, as if too frail to bear the trial to which
it was put.
Mr. Carleton had waited and waited, as he thought long enough, and now at
last came in again, guessing how it was with her. He put his arm round the
child and gently drew her away, and sitting down took her on his knee; and
endeavoured rather with actions than with words to soothe and comfort her;
for he did not know what to say. But his gentle delicate way, the soft
touch with which he again stroked back her hair or took her hand, speaking
kindness and sympathy, the loving pressure of his lips once or twice to
her brow, the low tones in which he told her that she was making herself
sick,--that she must not do so,--that she must let him take care of
her,--were powerful to soothe or quiet a sensitive mind, and Fleda felt
them. It was a very difficult task, and if undertaken by any one else
would have been more likely to disgust and distress her. But his spirit
had taken the measure of hers, and he knew precisely how to temper every
word and tone so as just to meet the nice sensibilities of her nature. He
had said hardly anything, but she had understood all he meant to say, and
when he told her at last, softly, that it was getting late and she must
let him take her away, she made no more difficulty; rose up and let him
lead her out of the room without once turning her head to look back.
Mrs. Carleton looked relieved that there was a prospect of getting away,
and rose up with a happy adjusting of her shawl round her shoulders. Aunt
Miriam came forward to say good-by, but it was very quietly said. Fleda
clasped her round the neck convulsively for an instant, kissed her as if a
kiss could speak a whole heartful, and then turned submissively to Mr.
Carleton and let him lead her to the carriage.
There was no fault to be found with Mrs. Carleton's kindness when they
were on the way. She held the forlorn little child tenderly in her arm,
and told her how glad she was to have her with them, how glad she should
be if she were going to keep her always; but her saying so only made Fleda
cry, and she soon thought it best to say nothing. All the rest of the way
Fleda was a picture of resignation; transparently pale, meek and pure, and
fragile seemingly, as the delicatest wood-flower that grows. Mr. Carleton
looked grieved, and leaning forward he took one of her hands in his own
and held it affectionately till they got to the end of their journey. It
marked Fleda's feeling towards him that she let it lie there without
making a motion to draw it away. She was so still for the last few miles
that her friends thought she had fallen asleep; but when the carriage
stopped and the light of the lantern was flung inside, they saw the grave
hazel eyes broad open and gazing intently out of the window.
"You will order tea for us in your dressing-room, mother?" said Mr.
"_Us_--who is _us?_"
"Fleda and me,--unless you will please to make one of the party."
"Certainly I will, but perhaps Fleda might like it better down stairs.
Wouldn't you, dear?"
"If you please, ma'am," said Fleda. "Wherever you please."
"But which would you rather, Fleda?" said Mr. Carleton.
"I would _rather_ have it up-stairs," said Fleda gently, "but it's
"We will have it up-stairs," said Mrs. Carleton. "We will be a nice little
party up there by ourselves. You shall not come down till you like."
"You are hardly able to walk up," said Mr. Carleton tenderly. "Shall I
The tears rushed to Fleda's eyes, but she said no, and managed to mount
the stairs, though it was evidently an exertion. Mrs. Carleton's
dressing-room, as her son had called it, looked very pleasant when they
got there. It was well lighted and warmed and something answering to
curtains had been summoned from its obscurity in store-room or garret and
hung up at the windows,--"them air fussy English folks had made such a
pint of it," the landlord said. Truth was, that Mr. Carleton as well as
his mother wanted this room as a retreat for the quiet and privacy which
travelling in company as they did they could have nowhere else. Everything
the hotel could furnish in the shape of comfort had been drawn together to
give this room as little the look of a public house as possible. Easy
chairs, as Mrs. Carleton remarked with a disgusted face, one could not
expect to find in a country inn; there were instead as many as half a
dozen of "those miserable substitutes" as she called rocking-chairs, and
sundry fashions of couches and sofas, in various degrees of elegance and
convenience. The best of these, a great chintz-covered thing, full of
pillows, stood invitingly near the bright fire. There Mr. Carleton placed
little Fleda, took off her bonnet and things, and piled the cushions about
her just in the way that would make her most easy and comfortable. He said
little, and she nothing, but her eyes watered again at the kind tenderness
of his manner. And then he left her in peace till the tea came.
The tea was made in that room for those three alone. Fleda knew that Mr.
and Mrs. Carleton staid up there only for her sake, and it troubled her,
but she could not help it. Neither could she be very sorry so far as one
of them was concerned. Mr. Carleton was too good to be wished away. All
that evening his care of her never ceased. At tea, which the poor child
would hardly have shared but for him, and after tea, when in the absence
of bustle she had leisure to feel more fully her strange circumstances and
position, he hardly permitted her to feel either, doing everything for
her ease and pleasure and quietly managing at the same time to keep back
his mother's more forward and less happily adapted tokens of kind feeling.
Though she knew he was constantly occupied with her Fleda could not feel
oppressed; his kindness was as pervading and as unobtrusive as the summer
air itself; she felt as if she was in somebody's hands that knew her wants
before she did, and quietly supplied or prevented them, in a way she could
not tell how. It was very rarely that she even got a chance to utter the
quiet and touching "thank you," which invariably answered every token of
kindness or thoughtfulness that permitted an answer. How greatly that
harsh and sad day was softened to little Fleda'a heart by the good feeling
and fine breeding of one person. She thought when she went to bed that
night, thought seriously and gratefully, that since she must go over the
ocean and take that long journey to her aunt, how glad she was, how
thankful she ought to be, that she had so very kind and pleasant people to
go with. Kind and pleasant she counted them both; but what more she
thought of Mr. Carleton it would be hard to say. Her admiration of him was
very high, appreciating as she did to the full all that charm of manner
which she could neither analyze nor describe.
Her last words to him that night, spoken with a most wistful anxious
glance into his face, were,
"You will take me back again, Mr. Carleton?"
He knew what she meant.
"Certainly I will. I promised you, Fleda."
"Whatever Guy promises you may be very sure he will do," said his mother
with a smile.
Fleda believed it. But the next morning it was very plain that this
promise he would not be called upon to perform; Fleda would not be well
enough to go to the funeral. She was able indeed to get up, but she lay
all day upon the sofa in the dressing-room. Mr. Carleton had bargained for
no company last night; to-day female curiosity could stand it no longer;
and Mrs. Thorn and Mrs. Evelyn came up to look and gossip openly and to
admire and comment privately, when they had a chance. Fleda lay perfectly
quiet and still, seeming not much to notice or care for their presence;
they thought she was tolerably easy in body and mind, perhaps tired and
sleepy, and like to do well enough after a few days. How little they knew!
How little they could imagine the assembly of Thought which was holding in
that child's mind; how little they deemed of the deep, sad, serious look
into life which that little spirit was taking. How far they were from
fancying while they were discussing all manner of trifles before her,
sometimes when they thought her sleeping, that in the intervals between
sadder and weighter things her nice instincts were taking the gauge of
all their characters; unconsciously, but surely; how they might have been
ashamed if they had known that while they were busy with all affairs in
the universe but those which most nearly concerned them, the little child
at their side whom they had almost forgotten was secretly looking up to
her Father in heaven, and asking to be kept pure from the world! "Not unto
the wise and prudent;"--how strange it may seem in one view of the
subject,--in another, how natural, how beautiful, how reasonable!
Fleda did not ask again to be taken to Queechy. But as the afternoon drew
on she turned her face away from the company and shielded it from view
among the cushions, and lay in that utterly motionless state of body which
betrays a concentrated movement of the spirits in some hidden direction.
To her companions it betrayed nothing. They only lowered their tones a
little lest they should disturb her.
It had grown dark, and she was sitting up again, leaning against the
pillows and in her usual quietude, when Mr. Carleton came in. They had not
seen him since before dinner. He came to her side and taking her hand made
some gentle inquiry how she was.
"She has had a fine rest," said Mrs. Evelyn.
"She has been sleeping all the afternoon," said Mrs. Carleton,--"she
lay as quiet as a mouse, without stirring;--you were sleeping, weren't
Fleda's lips hardly formed the word "no," and her features were quivering
sadly. Mr. Carleton's were impenetrable.
"Dear Fleda," said he, stooping down and speaking with equal gravity and
kindliness of manner,--"you were not able to go."
Fleda's shake of the head gave a meek acquiescence. But her face was
covered, and the gay talkers around her were silenced and sobered by the
heaving of her little frame with sobs that she could not keep back. Mr.
Carleton secured the permanence of their silence for that evening. He
dismissed them the room again and would have nobody there but himself and
Instead of being better the next day Fleda was not able to get up; she was
somewhat feverish and exceedingly weak. She lay like a baby, Mrs. Carleton
said, and gave as little trouble. Gentle and patient always, she made no
complaint, and even uttered no wish, and whatever they did made no
objection. Though many a tear that day and the following paid its faithful
tribute to the memory of what she had lost, no one knew it; she was never
seen to weep; and the very grave composure of her face and her passive
unconcern as to what was done or doing around her alone gave her friends
reason to suspect that the mind was not as quiet as the body. Mr. Carleton
was the only one who saw deeper; the only one that guessed why the little
hand often covered the eyes so carefully, and read the very, very grave
lines of the mouth that it could not hide.
As soon as she could bear it he had her brought out to the
dressing-room again, and laid on the sofa; and it was several days
before she could be got any further. But there he could be more with
her and devote himself more to her pleasure; and it was not long before
he had made himself necessary to the poor child's comfort in a way
beyond what he was aware of.
He was not the only one who shewed her kindness. Unwearied care and most
affectionate attention were lavished upon her by his mother and both her
friends; they all thought they could not do enough to mark their feeling
and regard for her. Mrs. Carleton and Mrs. Evelyn nursed her by night and
by day. Mrs. Evelyn read to her. Mrs. Thorn would come often to look and
smile at her and say a few words of heart-felt pity and sympathy. Yet
Fleda could not feel quite at home with any one of them. They did not see
it. Her manner was affectionate and grateful, to the utmost of their wish;
her simple natural politeness, her nice sense of propriety, were at every
call; she seemed after a few days to be as cheerful and to enter as much
into what was going on about her as they had any reason to expect she
could; and they were satisfied. But while moving thus smoothly among her
new companions, in secret her spirit stood aloof; there was not one of
them that could touch her, that could understand her, that could meet the
want of her nature. Mrs. Carleton was incapacitated for it by education;
Mrs. Evelyn by character; Mrs. Thorn by natural constitution. Of them all,
though by far the least winning and agreeable in personal qualifications,
Fleda would soonest have relied on Mrs. Thorn, could soonest have loved
her. Her homely sympathy and kindness made their way to the child's heart;
Fleda felt them and trusted them. But there were too few points of
contact. Fleda thanked her, and did not wish to see her again. With Mrs.
Carleton Fleda had almost nothing at all in common. And that
notwithstanding all this lady's politeness, intelligence, cultivation, and
real kindness towards herself. Fleda would readily have given her credit
for them all; and yet, the nautilus may as soon compare notes with the
navigator, the canary might as well study Maelzel's Metronome, as a child
of nature and a woman of the world comprehend and suit each other. The
nature of the one must change or the two must remain the world wide apart.
Fleda felt it, she did not know why. Mrs. Carleton was very kind, and
perfectly polite; but Fleda had no pleasure in her kindness, no trust in
her politeness; or if that be saying too much, at least she felt that for
some inexplicable reason both were unsatisfactory. Even the tact which
each possessed in an exquisite degree was not the same in each; in one it
was the self-graduating power of a clever machine,--in the other, the
delicateness of the sensitive plant. Mrs. Carleton herself was not without
some sense of this distinction; she confessed, secretly, that there was
something in Fleda out of the reach of her discernment, and consequently
beyond the walk of her skill; and felt, rather uneasily, that more
delicate hands were needed to guide so delicate a nature. Mrs. Evelyn came
nearer the point. She was very pleasant, and she knew how to do things in
a charming way; and there were times, frequently, when Fleda thought she
was everything lovely. But yet, now and then a mere word, or look, would
contradict this fair promise, a something of _hardness_ which Fleda could
not reconcile with the soft gentleness of other times; and on the whole
Mrs. Evelyn was unsure ground to her; she could not adventure her
With Mr. Carleton alone Fleda felt at home. He only, she knew, completely
understood and appreciated her. Yet she saw also that with others he was
not the same as with her. Whether grave or gay there was about him an air
of cool indifference, very often reserved and not seldom haughty; and the
eye which could melt and glow when turned upon her, was sometimes as
bright and cold as a winter sky. Fleda felt sure however that she might
trust him entirely so far as she herself was concerned; of the rest she
stood in doubt. She was quite right in both cases. Whatever else there
might be in that blue eye, there was truth in it when it met hers; she
gave that truth her full confidence and was willing to honour every
draught made upon her charity for the other parts of his character.
He never seemed to lose sight of her. He was always doing something for
which Fleda loved him, but so quietly and happily that she could neither
help his taking the trouble nor thank him for it. It might have been
matter of surprise that a gay young man of fashion should concern himself
like a brother about the wants of a little child; the young gentlemen down
stairs who were not of the society in the dressing-room did make
themselves very merry upon the subject, and rallied Mr. Carleton with the
common amount of wit and wisdom about his little sweetheart; a raillery
which met the most flinty indifference. But none of those who saw Fleda
ever thought strange of anything that was done for her; and Mrs. Carleton
was rejoiced to have her son take up the task she was fain to lay down. So
he really, more than any one else, had the management of her; and Fleda
invariably greeted his entrance into the room with a faint smile, which
even the ladies who saw agreed was well worth working for.
If large possessions, pompous titles, honourable charges, and
profitable commissions, could have made this proud man happy, there
would have been nothing wanting.--L'Estrange.
Several days had passed. Fleda'a cheeks had gained no colour, but she had
grown a little stronger, and it was thought the party might proceed on
their way without any more tarrying; trusting that change and the motion
of travelling would do better things for Fleda than could be hoped from
any further stay at Montepoole. The matter was talked over in an evening
consultation in the dressing-room, and it was decided that they would set
off on the second day thereafter.
Fleda was lying quietly on her sofa, with her eyes closed, having had
nothing to say during the discussion. They thought she had perhaps not
heard it. Mr. Carleton's sharper eyes, however, saw that one or two tears
were glimmering just under the eyelash. He bent down over her and
"I know what you are thinking of Fleda, do I not?"
"I was thinking of aunt Miriam," Fleda said in an answering whisper,
without opening her eyes.
"I will take care of that."
Fleda looked up and smiled most expressively her thanks, and in five
minutes was asleep. Mr. Carleton stood watching her, querying how long
those clear eyes would have nothing to hide,--how long that bright purity
could resist the corrosion of the world's breath; and half thinking that
it would be better for the spirit to pass away, with its lustre upon it,
than stay till self-interest should sharpen the eye, and the lines of
diplomacy write themselves on that fair brow. "Better so; better so."
"What are you thinking of so gloomily, Guy?" said his Mother.
"That is a tender little creature to struggle with a rough world."
"She won't have to struggle with it," said Mrs. Carleton.
"She will do very well," said Mrs. Evelyn.
"I don't think she'd find it a rough world, where _you_ were, Mr.
Carleton," said Mrs. Thorn.
"Thank you ma'am," he said smiling. "But unhappily my power reaches very
"Perhaps," said Mrs. Evelyn with a sly smile,--"that might be arranged
differently--Mrs. Rossitur--I have no doubt--would desire nothing better
than a smooth world for her little niece--and Mr. Carleton's power might
be unlimited in its extent."
There was no answer, and the absolute repose of all the lines of the
young gentleman's face bordered too nearly on contempt to encourage the
lady to pursue her jest any further.
The next day Fleda was well enough to bear moving. Mr. Carleton had her
carefully bundled up, and then carried her down stairs and placed her in
the little light wagon which had once before brought her to the Pool.
Luckily it was a mild day, for no close carriage was to be had for love or
money. The stage coach in which Fleda had been fetched from her
grandfather's was in use, away somewhere. Mr. Carleton drove her down to
aunt Miriam's, and leaving her there he went off again; and whatever he
did with himself it was a good two hours before he came back. All too
little yet they were for the tears and the sympathy which went to so many
things both in the past and in the future. Aunt Miriam had not said half
she wished to say, when the wagon was at the gate again, and Mr. Carleton
came to take his little charge away.
He found her sitting happily in aunt Miriam's lap. Fleda was very grateful
to him for leaving her such a nice long time, and welcomed him with even a
brighter smile than usual. But her head rested wistfully on her aunt's
bosom after that; and when he asked her if she was almost ready to go, she
hid her face there and put her arms about her neck. The old lady held her
close for a few minutes, in silence.
"Elfleda," said aunt Miriam gravely and tenderly,--"do you know what was
your mother's prayer for you?"
"What was it?"
"That I--might be kept--"
"Unspotted from the world!" repeated aunt Miriam, in a tone of tender and
deep feeling;--"My sweet blossom!--how wilt thou keep so? Will you
remember always your mother's prayer?"
"I will try."
"How will you try, Fleda?
"I will pray."
Aunt Miriam kissed her again and again, fondly repeating, "The Lord hear
thee!--The Lord bless thee!--The Lord keep thee!--as a lily among thorns,
my precious little babe;--though in the world, not of it.--"
"Do you think that is possible?" said Mr. Carleton significantly, when a
few moments after they had risen and were about to separate. Aunt Miriam
looked at him in surprise and asked,
"To live in the world and not be like the world?"
She cast her eyes upon Fleda, fondly smoothing down her soft hair with
both hands for a minute or two before she answered,
"By the help of one thing sir, yes!"
"And what is that?" said he quickly.
"The blessing of God, with whom all things are possible."
His eyes fell, and there was a kind of incredulous sadness in his half
smile which aunt Miriam understood better than he did. She sighed as she
folded Fleda again to her breast and whisperingly bade her "Remember!" But
Fleda knew nothing of it; and when she had finally parted from aunt Miriam
and was seated in the little wagon on her way home, to her fancy the best
friend she had in the world was sitting beside her.
Neither was her judgment wrong, so far as it went. She saw true where she
saw at all. But there was a great deal she could not see.
Mr. Carleton was an unbeliever. Not maliciously,--not wilfully,--not
stupidly;--rather the fool of circumstance. His skepticism might be traced
to the joint workings of a very fine nature and a very bad education. That
is, education in the broad sense of the term; of course none of the means
and appliances of mental culture had been wanting to him.
He was an uncommonly fine example of what nature alone can do for a man. A
character of nature's building is at best a very ragged affair, without
religion's finishing hand; at the utmost a fine ruin--no more. And if that
be the _utmost_, of nature's handiwork, what is at the other end of the
scale?--alas! the rubble stones of the ruin; what of good and fair nature
had reared there was not strong enough to stand alone. But religion cannot
work alike on every foundation; and the varieties are as many as the
individuals. Sometimes she must build the whole, from the very ground; and
there are cases where nature's work stands so strong and fair that
religion's strength may be expended in perfecting and enriching and
carrying it to an uncommon height of grace and beauty, and dedicating the
fair temple to a new use.
Of religion Mr. Carleton had nothing at all, and a true Christian
character had never crossed his path near enough for him to become
acquainted with it. His mother was a woman of the world; his father had
been a man of the world; and what is more, so deep-dyed a politician that
to all intents and purposes, except as to bare natural affection, he was
nothing to his son and his son was nothing to him. Both mother and father
thought the son a piece of perfection, and mothers and fathers have very
often indeed thought so on less grounds. Mr. Carleton saw, whenever he
took time to look at him, that Guy had no lack either of quick wit or
manly bearing; that he had pride enough to keep him from low company and
make him abhor low pursuits; if anything more than pride and better than
pride mingled with it, the father's discernment could not reach so far. He
had a love for knowledge too, that from a child made him eager in seeking
it, in ways both regular and desultory; and tastes which his mother
laughingly said would give him all the elegance of a woman, joined to the
strong manly character which no one ever doubted he possessed. _She_
looked mostly at the outside, willing if that pleased her to take
everything else upon trust; and the grace of manner which a warm heart and
fine sensibilities and a mind entirely frank and above board had given
him, from his earliest years had more than met all her wishes. No one
suspected the stubbornness and energy of will which was in fact the
back-bone of his character. Nothing tried it. His father's death early
left little Guy to his mother's guardianship. Contradicting him was the
last thing she thought of, and of course it was attempted by no one else.
If she would ever have allowed that he had a fault, which she never would,
it was one that grew out of his greatest virtue, an unmanageable truth of
character; and if she ever unwillingly recognised its companion virtue,
firmness of will, it was when she endeavoured to combat certain
troublesome demonstrations of the other. In spite of all the grace and
charm of manner in which he was allowed to be a model, and which was as
natural to him as it was universal, if ever the interests of truth came in
conflict with the dictates of society he flung minor considerations behind
his back and came out with some startling piece of bluntness at which his
mother was utterly confounded. These occasions were very rare; he never
sought them. Always where it was possible he chose either to speak or be
silent in an unexceptionable manner. But sometimes the barrier of
conventionalities, or his mother's unwise policy, pressed too hard upon
his integrity or his indignation; and he would then free the barrier and
present the shut-out truth in its full size and proportions before his
mother's shocked eyes. It was in vain to try to coax or blind him; a
marble statue is not more unruffled by the soft air of summer; and Mrs.
Carleton was fain to console herself with the reflection that Guy's very
next act after one of these breaks would be one of such happy fascination
that the former would be forgotten; and that in this world of
discordancies it was impossible on the whole for any one to come nearer
perfection. And if there was inconvenience there were also great comforts
about this character of truthfulness.
So nearly up to the time of his leaving the University the young heir
lived a life of as free and uncontrolled enjoyment as the deer on his
grounds, happily led by his own fine instincts to seek that enjoyment in
pure and natural sources. His tutor was proud of his success; his
dependants loved his frank and high bearing; his mother rejoiced in his
personal accomplishments, and was secretly well pleased that his tastes
led him another way from the more common and less safe indulgences of
other young men. He had not escaped the temptations of opportunity and
example. But gambling was not intellectual enough, jockeying was too
undignified, and drinking too coarse a pleasure for him. Even hunting and
coursing charmed him but for a few times; when he found he could out-ride
and out leap all his companions, he hunted no more; telling his mother,
when she attacked him on the subject, that he thought the hare the
worthier animal of the two upon a chase; and that the fox deserved an
easier death. His friends twitted him with his want of spirit and want of
manliness; but such light shafts bounded back from the buff suit of cool
indifference in which their object was cased; and his companions very soon
gave over the attempt either to persuade or annoy him, with the conclusion
that "nothing could be done with Carleton."
The same wants that had displeased him in the sports soon led him to
decline the company of those who indulged in them. From the low-minded,
from the uncultivated, from the unrefined in mind and manner, and such
there are in the highest class of society as well as in the less-favoured,
he shrank away in secret disgust or weariness. There was no affinity. To
his books, to his grounds, which he took endless delight in overseeing, to
the fine arts in general, for which he had a great love and for one or two
of them a great talent,--he went with restless energy and no want of
companionship; and at one or the other, always pushing eagerly forward
after some point of excellence or some new attainment not yet reached, and
which sprang up after one another as fast as ever "Alps on Alps," he was
happily and constantly busy. Too solitary, his mother thought,--caring
less for society than she wished to see him; but that she trusted would
mend itself. He would be through the University and come of age and go
into the world as a matter of necessity.
But years brought a change--not the change his mother looked for. That
restless active energy which had made the years of his youth so happy,
became, in connection with one or two other qualities, a troublesome
companion when he had reached the age of manhood and obeying manhood's
law had "put away childish things." On what should it spend itself? It
had lost none of its strength; while his fastidious notions of excellence
and a far-reaching clear-sightedness which belonged to his truth of
nature, greatly narrowed the sphere of its possible action. He could not
delude himself into the belief that the oversight of his plantations and
the perfecting his park scenery could be a worthy end of existence; or
that painting and music were meant to be the stamina of life; or even
that books were their own final cause. These things had refined and
enriched him;--they might go on doing so to the end of his days;--but
_for what_? For what?
It is said that everybody has his niche, failing to find which nobody
fills his place or acts his part in society. Mr. Carleton could not find
his niche, and he consequently grew dissatisfied everywhere. His mother's
hopes from the University and the World, were sadly disappointed.
At the University he had not lost his time. The pride of character which
joined with less estimable pride of birth was a marked feature in his
composition, made him look with scorn upon the ephemeral pursuits of one
set of young men; while his strong intellectual tastes drew him in the
other direction; and the energetic activity which drove him to do
everything well that he once took in hand, carried him to high
distinction. Being there he would have disdained to be anywhere but at the
top of the tree. But out of the University and in possession of his
estates, what should he do with himself and them?
A question easy to settle by most young men! very easy to settle by Guy,
if he had had the clue of Christian truth to guide him through the
labyrinth. But the clue was wanting, and the world seemed to him a world
A certain clearness of judgment is apt to be the blessed handmaid of
uncommon truth of character; the mind that knows not what it is to play
tricks upon its neighbours is rewarded by a comparative freedom from
self-deception. Guy could not sit down upon his estates and lead an insect
life like that recommended by Rossitur. His energies wanted room to expend
themselves. But the world offered no sphere that would satisfy him; even
had his circumstances and position laid all equally open. It was a busy
world, but to him people seemed to be busy upon trifles, or working in a
circle, or working mischief; and his nice notions of what _ought to be_
were shocked by what he saw _was_, in every direction around him. He was
disgusted with what he called the drivelling of some unhappy specimens of
the Church which had come in his way; he disbelieved the truth of what
such men professed. If there had been truth in it, he thought, they would
deserve to be drummed out of the profession. He detested the crooked
involvments and double-dealing of the law. He despised the butterfly life
of a soldier; and as to the other side of a soldier's life, again he
thought, what is it for?--to humour the arrogance of the proud,--to pamper
the appetite of the full,--to tighten the grip of the iron hand of
power;--and though it be sometimes for better ends, yet the soldier cannot
choose what letters of the alphabet of obedience he will learn. Politics
was the very shaking of the government sieve, where if there were any
solid result it was accompanied with a very great flying about of chaff
indeed. Society was nothing but whip syllabub,--a mere conglomeration of
bubbles,--as hollow and as unsatisfying. And in lower departments of human
life, as far as he knew, he saw evils yet more deplorable. The Church
played at shuttlecock with men's credulousness, the law with their
purses, the medical profession with their lives, the military with their
liberties and hopes. He acknowledged that in all these lines of action
there was much talent, much good intention, much admirable diligence and
acuteness brought out--but to what great general end? He saw in short that
the machinery of the human mind, both at large and in particular, was out
of order. He did not know what was the broken wheel the want of which set
all the rest to running wrong.
This was a strange train of thought for a very young man, but Guy had
lived much alone, and in solitude one is like a person who has climbed a
high mountain; the air is purer about him, his vision is freer; the eye
goes straight and clear to the distant view which below on the plain a
thousand things would come between to intercept. But there was some
morbidness about it too. Disappointment in two or three instances where he
had given his full confidence and been obliged to take it back had
quickened him to generalize unfavourably upon human character, both in the
mass and in individuals. And a restless dissatisfaction with himself and
the world did not tend to a healthy view of things. Yet truth was at the
bottom; truth rarely arrived at without the help of revelation. He
discerned a want he did not know how to supply. His fine perceptions felt
the jar of the machinery which other men are too busy or too deaf to hear.
It seemed to him hopelessly disordered.
This habit of thinking wrought a change very unlike what his mother had
looked for. He mingled more in society, but Mrs. Carleton saw that the eye
with which he looked upon it was yet colder than it wont to be. A cloud
came over the light gay spirited manner he had used to wear. The charm of
his address was as great as ever where he pleased to shew it, but much
more generally now he contented himself with a cool reserve, as impossible
to disturb as to find fault with. His temper suffered the same eclipse. It
was naturally excellent. His passions were not hastily moved. He had never
been easy to offend; his careless good-humour and an unbounded proud
self-respect made him look rather with contempt than anger upon the things
that fire most men; though when once moved to displeasure it was stern and
abiding in proportion to the depth of his character. The same good-humour
and cool self-respect forbade him even then to be eager in shewing
resentment; the offender fell off from his esteem and apparently from the
sphere of his notice as easily as a drop of water from a duck's wing, and
could with as much ease regain his lost lodgment, but unless there were
wrong to be righted or truth to be vindicated he was in general safe from
any further tokens of displeasure. In those cases Mr. Carleton was an
adversary to be dreaded. As cool, as unwavering, as persevering there as
in other things, he there as in other things no more failed of his end.
And at bottom these characteristics remained the same; it was rather his
humour than his temper that suffered a change. That grew more gloomy and
less gentle. He was more easily irritated and would shew it more freely
than in the old happy times had ever been.
Mrs. Carleton would have been glad to have those times back again. It
could not be. Guy could not be content any longer in the Happy Valley of
Amhara. Life had something for him to do beyond his park palings. He had
carried manly exercises and personal accomplishments to an uncommon point
of perfection; he knew his library well and his grounds thoroughly, and
had made excellent improvement of both; it was in vain to try to persuade
him that seed-time and harvest were the same thing, and that he had
nothing to do but to rest in what he had done; shew his bright colours
and flutter like a moth in the sunshine, or sit down like a degenerate
bee in the summer time and eat his own honey. The power of action which
he knew in himself could not rest without something to act upon. It
longed to be doing.
Conscience is often morbidly far-sighted. Mr. Carleton had a very large
tenantry around him and depending upon him, in bettering whose condition,
if he had but known it, all those energies might have found full play. It
never entered into his head. He abhorred _business_,--the detail of
business; and his fastidious taste especially shrank from having anything
to do among those whose business was literally their life. The eye
sensitively fond of elegance, the extreme of elegance, in everything, and
permitting no other around or about him, could not bear the tokens of
mental and bodily wretchedness among the ignorant poor; he escaped from
them as soon as possible; thought that poverty was one of the
irregularities of this wrong-working machine of a world, and something
utterly beyond his power to do away or alleviate; and left to his steward
all the responsibility that of right rested on his own shoulders.
And at last unable to content himself in the old routine of things he
quitted home and England, even before he was of age, and roved from place
to place, trying, and trying in vain, to soothe the vague restlessness
that called for a very different remedy.
"On change de ciel,--l'on ne change point du sol."
Faire Christabelle, that ladye bright,
Was had forth of the towre:
But ever she droopeth in her minde,
As, nipt by an ungentle winde,
Doth some faire lillye flowre.
That evening, the last of their stay at Montepoole, Fleda was thought well
enough to take her tea in company. So Mr. Carleton carried her down,
though she could have walked, and placed her on the sofa in the parlour.
Whatever disposition the young officers might have felt to renew their
pleasantry on the occasion, it was shamed into silence. There was a pure
dignity about that little pale face which protected itself. They were
quite struck, and Fleda had no reason to complain of want of attention
from any of the party. Mr. Evelyn kissed her. Mr. Thorn brought a little
table to the side of the sofa for her cup of tea to stand on, and handed
her the toast most dutifully; and her cousin Rossitur went back and forth
between her and the tea-urn. All of the ladies seemed to take immense
satisfaction in looking at her, they did it so much; standing about the
hearth-rug with their cups in their hands, sipping their tea. Fleda was
quite touched with everybody's kindness, but somebody at the back of the
sofa whom she did not see was the greatest comfort of all.
"You must let me carry you up-stairs when you go, Fleda," said her cousin.
"I shall grow quite jealous of your friend Mr. Carleton."
"No," said Fleda smiling a little,--"I shall not let any one but him carry
me up,--if he will."
"We shall all grow jealous of Mr. Carleton," said Thorn "He means to
monopolize you, keeping you shut up there up-stairs."
"He didn't keep me shut up," said Fleda.
Mr. Carleton was welcome to monopolize her, if it depended on her vote.
"Not fair play, Carleton," continued the young officer, wisely shaking his
head,--"all start alike, or there's no fun in the race. You've fairly
distanced us--left us nowhere."
He might have talked Chinese and been as intelligible to Fleda, and as
interesting to Guy, for all that appeared.
"How are we going to proceed to-morrow, Mr. Evelyn?" said Mrs. Carleton.
"Has the missing stage-coach returned yet? or Will it be forthcoming in
"Promised, Mrs. Carleton. The landlord's faith stands pledged for it."
"Then it won't disappoint us, of course. What a dismal way of travelling!"
"This young country hasn't grown up to post-coaches yet," said Mrs.
"How many will it hold?" inquired Mrs. Carleton.
"Hum!--Nine inside, I suppose."
"And we number ten, with the servants.
"Just take us," said Mr. Evelyn. "There's room on the box for one."
"It will not take me," said Mr. Carleton.
"How will you go? ride?" said his mother "I should think you would, since
you have found a horse you like so well."
"By George! I wish there was another that _I_ liked," said Rossitur, "and
I'd go on horseback too. Such weather. The landlord says it's the
beginning of Indian summer."
"It's too early for that," said Thorn.
"Well, eight inside will do very well for one day," said Mrs. Carleton.
"That will give little Fleda a little more space to lie at her ease."
"You may put Fleda out of your calculations too, mother," said Mr.
Carleton. "I will take care of her."
"How in the world," exclaimed his mother,--"if you are on horseback?"
And Fleda twisted herself round so as to give a look of bright inquiry at
his face. She got no answer beyond a smile, which however completely
satisfied her. As to the rest he told his mother that he had arranged it
and they should see in the morning. Mrs. Carleton was far from being at
ease on the subject of his arrangements, but she let the matter drop.
Fleda was secretly very much pleased. She thought she would a great deal
rather go with Mr. Carleton in the little wagon than in the stage-coach
with the rest of the people. Privately she did not at all admire Mr. Thorn
or her cousin Rossitur. They amused her though; and feeling very much
better and stronger in body, and at least quiet in mind, she sat in
tolerable comfort on her sofa, looking and listening to the people who
were gayly talking around her.
In the gaps of talk she sometimes thought she heard a distressed sound in
the hall. The buzz of tongues covered it up,--then again she heard
it,--and she was sure at last that it was the voice of a dog. Never came
an appeal in vain from any four-footed creature to Fleda's heart. All the
rest being busy with their own affairs, she quietly got up and opened the
door and looked out, and finding that she was right went softly into the
hall. In one corner lay her cousin Rossitur's beautiful black pointer,
which she well remembered and had greatly admired several times. The poor
creature was every now and then uttering short cries, in a manner as if he
would not, but they were forced from him.
"What is the matter with him?" asked Fleda, stepping fearfully towards
the dog, and speaking to Mr. Carleton who had come out to look after
her. As she spoke the dog rose and came crouching and wagging his tail
to meet them.
"O Mr. Carleton!" Fleda almost screamed,--"look at him! O what is the
matter with him! he's all over bloody! Poor creature!"--
"You must ask your cousin, Fleda," said Mr. Carleton, with as much cold
disgust in his countenance as it often expressed; and that is saying a
Fleda could speak in the cause of a dog, where she would have been silent
in her own. She went back to the parlour and begged her cousin with a
face of distress to come out into the hall,--she did not say for what.
Both he and Thorn followed her. Rossitur's face darkened as Fleda
repeated her inquiry, her heart so full by this time as hardly to allow
her to make any.
"Why the dog didn't do his duty and has been punished," he said gloomily.
"Punished?" said Fleda.
"Shot," said Mr. Carleton coolly.
"Shot!" exclaimed Fleda, bursting into heart-wrung tears,--"Shot!--O how
_could_ any one do it! Oh how could you, how could you, cousin Charlton?"
It was a picture. The child was crying bitterly, her fingers stroking the
poor dog's head with a touch in which lay, O what tender healing, if the
will had but had magnetic power. Carleton's eye glanced significantly from
her to the young officers. Rossitur looked at Thorn.
"It was not Charlton--it was I, Miss Fleda," said the latter. "Charlton
lent him to me to-day, and he disobeyed me, and so I was angry with him
and punished him a little severely; but he'll soon get over it."
But all Fleda's answer was, "I am very sorry!--I am very sorry!--poor
dog!!"--and to weep such tears as made the young gentlemen for once
ashamed of themselves. It almost did the child a mischief. She did not get
over it all the evening. And she never got over it as far as Mr. Thorn was
Mrs. Carleton hoped, faintly, that Guy would come to reason by the next
morning and let Fleda go in the stage-coach with the rest of the people.
But he was as unreasonable as ever, and stuck to his purpose. She had
supposed however, with Fleda, that the difference would be only an open
vehicle and his company instead of a covered one and her own. Both of
them were sadly discomfited when on coming to the hall door to take their
carriages it was found that Mr. Carleton's meaning was no less than to
take Fleda before him on horseback. He was busy even then in arranging a
cushion on the pommel of the saddle for her to sit upon. Mrs. Carleton
burst into indignant remonstrances; Fleda silently trembled.
But Mr. Carleton had his own notions on the subject, and they were not
moved by anything his mother could say. He quietly went on with his
preparations; taking very slight notice of the raillery of the young
officers, answering Mrs. Evelyn with polite words, and silencing his
mother as he came up with one of those looks out of his dark eyes to
which she always forgave the wilfulness for the sake of the beauty and
the winning power. She was completely conquered, and stepped back with
even a smile.
"But, Carleton!" cried Rossitur impatiently,--"you can't ride so! you'll
find it deucedly inconvenient."
"Possibly," said Mr. Carleton.
"Fleda would be a great deal better off in the stage-coach."
"Have you studied medicine, Mr. Rossitur?" said the young man. "Because I
am persuaded of the contrary."
"I don't believe your horse will like it," said Thorn.
"My horse is always of my mind, sir; or if he be not I generally succeed
in convincing him."
"But there is somebody else that deserves to be consulted," said Mrs.
Thorn. "I wonder how little Fleda will like it."
"I will ask her when we get to our first stopping-place," said Mr.
Carleton smiling. "Come, Fleda!"
Fleda would hardly have said a word if his purpose had been to put her
under the horse's feet instead of on his back. But she came forward with
great unwillingness and a very tremulous little heart. He must have
understood the want of alacrity in her face and manner, though he took no
notice of it otherwise than by the gentle kindness with which he led her
to the horse-block and placed her upon it. Then mounting, and riding the
horse up close to the block, he took Fleda in both hands and bidding her
spring, in a moment she was safely seated before him.
At first it seemed dreadful to Fleda to have that great horse's head so
near her, and she was afraid that her feet touching him would excite his
most serious disapprobation. However a minute or so went by and she could
not see that his tranquillity seemed to be at all ruffled, or even that he
was sensible of her being upon his shoulders. They waited to see the
stage-coach off, and then gently set forward. Fleda feared very much again
when she felt the horse moving under her, easy as his gait was, and
looking after the stagecoach in the distance, now beyond call, she felt a
little as if she was a great way from help and dry land, cast away on a
horse's back. But Mr. Carleton's arm was gently passed round her, and she
knew it held her safely and would not let her fall, and he bent down his
face to her and asked her so kindly and tenderly, and with such a look
too, that seemed to laugh at her fears, whether she felt afraid?--and with
such a kind little pressure of his arm that promised to take care of
her,--that Fleda's courage mounted twenty degrees at once. And it rose
higher every minute; the horse went very easily, and Mr. Carleton held her
so that she could not be tired, and made her lean against him; and before
they had gone a mile Fleda began to be delighted. Such a charming way of
travelling! Such a free view of the country!--and in this pleasant weather
too, neither hot nor cold, and when all nature's features were softened by
the light veil of haze that hung over them and kept off the sun's glare.
Mr. Carleton was right. In the stage-coach Fleda would have sat quiet in a
corner and moped the time sadly away, now she was roused, excited,
interested, even cheerful; forgetting herself, which was the very thing of
all others to be desired for her. She lost her fears; she was willing to
have the horse trot or canter as fast as his rider pleased; but the
trotting was too rough for her, so they cantered or paced along most of
the time, when the hills did not oblige them to walk quietly up and down,
which happened pretty often. For several miles the country was not very
familiar to Fleda. It was however extremely picturesque; and she sat
silently and gravely looking at it, her head lying upon Mr. Carleton's
breast, her little mind very full of thoughts and musings, curious, deep,
sometimes sorrowful, but not unhappy.
"I am afraid I tire you, Mr. Carleton!" said she in a sudden fit of
recollection, starting up.
His look answered her, and his arm drew her back to her place again.
"Are _you_ not tired, Elfie?"
"Oh no!----You have got a new name for me, Mr. Carleton,' said she a
moment after, looking up and smiling.
"Do you like it?"
"You are my good genius," said he,--"so I must have a peculiar title for
you, different from what other people know you by."
"What is a genius, sir?" said Fleda.
"Well a sprite then," said he smiling.
"A sprite!" said Fleda.
"I have read a story of a lady, Elfie, who had a great many little
unearthly creatures, a kind of sprites, to attend upon her. Some sat in
the ringlets of her hair and took charge of them; some hid in the folds of
her dress and made them lie gracefully; another lodged in a dimple in her
cheek, and another perched on her eyebrows, and so on."
"To take care of her eyebrows?" said Fleda laughing.
"Yes--to smooth out all the ill-humoured wrinkles and frowns, I suppose."
"But am I such a sprite?" said Fleda.
"Something like it."
"Why what do I do?" said Fleda, rousing herself in a mixture of
gratification and amusement that was pleasant to behold.
"What office would you choose, Elfie? what good would you like to do me?"
It was a curious wistful look with which Fleda answered his question, an
innocent look, in which Mr. Carleton read perfectly that she felt
something was wanting in him, and did not know exactly what. His smile
almost made her think she had been mistaken.
"You are just the sprite you would wish to be, Elfie," he said.
Fleda's head took its former position, and she sat for some time musing
over his question and answer, till a familiar waymark put all such
thoughts to flight. They were passing Deepwater Lake, and would presently
be at aunt Miriam's. Fleda looked now with a beating heart. Every foot of
ground was known to her. She was seeing it perhaps for the last time. It
was with even an intensity of eagerness that she watched every point and
turn of the landscape, endeavouring to lose nothing in her farewell view,
to give her farewell look at every favourite clump of trees and old rock,
and at the very mill-wheels, which for years whether working or at rest
had had such interest for her. If tears came to bid their good-by too,
they were hastily thrown off, or suffered to roll quietly down; _they_
might bide their time; but eyes must look now or never. How pleasant, how
pleasant, the quiet old country seemed to Fleda as they went long!--in
that most quiet light and colouring; the brightness of the autumn glory
gone, and the sober warm hue which the hills still wore seen under that
hazy veil. All the home-like peace of the place was spread out to make it
hard going away. Would she ever see any other so pleasant again? Those
dear old hills and fields, among which she had been so happy,--they were
not to be her home any more; would she ever have the same sweet happiness
anywhere else?--"The Lord will provide!" thought little Fleda with
It was hard to go by aunt Miriam's. Fleda eagerly looked, as well as she
could, but no one was to be seen about the house. It was just as well. A
sad gush of tears must come then, but she got rid of them as soon as
possible, that she might not lose the rest of the way, promising them
another time. The little settlement on "the hill" was passed,--the
factories and mills and mill-ponds, one after the other; they made Fleda
feel very badly, for here she remembered going with her grandfather to see
the work, and there she had stopped with him at the turner's shop to get
a wooden bowl turned, and there she had been with Cynthy when she went to
visit an acquaintance; and there never was a happier little girl than
Fleda had been in those old times. All gone!--It was no use trying to help
it; Fleda put her two hands to her face and cried at last a silent but not
the less bitter leave-taking of the shadows of the past.
She forced herself into quiet again, resolved to look to the last. As they
were going down the hill past the saw-mill Mr. Carleton noticed that her
head was stretched out to look back at it, with an expression of face he
could not withstand. He wheeled about immediately and went back and stood
opposite to it. The mill was not working to-day. The saw was standing
still, though there were plenty of huge trunks of trees lying about in all
directions waiting to be cut up. There was a desolate look of the place.
No one was there; the little brook, most of its waters cut oft', did not
go roaring and laughing down the hill, but trickled softly and plaintively
over the stones. It seemed exceeding sad to Fleda.
"Thank you, Mr. Carleton," she said after a little earnest fond looking at
her old haunt;--"you needn't stay any longer."
But as soon as they had crossed the little rude bridge at the foot of the
hill they could see the poplar trees which skirted the courtyard fence
before her grandfather's house. Poor Fleda's eyes could hardly serve her.
She managed to keep them open till the horse had made a few steps more
and she had caught the well-known face of the old house looking at her
through the poplars. Her fortitude failed, and bowing her little head she
wept so exceedingly that Mr. Carleton was fain to draw bridle and try to
"My dear Elfie!--do not weep so," he said tenderly. "Is there anything you
would like?--Can I do anything for you?"
He had to wait a little. He repeated his first query.
"O--it's no matter," said Fleda, striving to conquer her tears, which
found their way again,--"if I only could have gone into the house once
more!--but it's no matter--you needn't wait, Mr. Carleton--"
The horse however remained motionless.
"Do you think you would feel better, Elfie, if you had seen it again?"
"Oh yes!--But never mind, Mr. Carleton,--you may go on."
Mr. Carleton ordered his servant to open the gate, and rode up to the back
of the house.
"I am afraid there is nobody here, Elfie," he said; "the house seems
all shut up."
"I know how I can get in," said Fleda,--"there's a window down stairs--I
don't believe it is fastened,--if you wouldn't mind waiting, Mr.
Carleton,--I won't keep you long?"
The child had dried her tears, and there was the eagerness of something
like hope in her face. Mr. Carleton dismounted and took her off.
"I must find a way to get in too, Elfie,--I cannot let you go alone."
"O I can open the door when I get in," said Fleda.
"But you have not the key."
"There's no key--it's only hoi ted on the inside, that door. I can open
She found the window unfastened, as she had expected; Mr. Carleton held it
open while she crawled in and then she undid the door for him. He more
than half questioned the wisdom of his proceeding. The house had a dismal
look; cold, empty, deserted,--it was a dreary reminder of Fleda's loss,
and he feared the effect of it would be anything but good. He followed and
watched her, as with an eager business step she went through the hall and
up the stairs, putting her head into every room and giving an earnest
wistful look all round it. Here and there she went in and stood a moment,
where associations were more thick and strong; sometimes taking a look out
of a particular window, and even opening a cupboard door, to give that
same kind and sorrowful glance of recognition at the old often resorted to
hiding place of her own or her grandfather's treasures and trumpery. Those
old corners seemed to touch Fleda more than all the rest; and she turned
away from one of them with a face of such extreme sorrow that Mr. Carleton
very much regretted he had brought her into the house. For her sake,--for
his own, it was a curious show of character. Though tears were sometimes
streaming, she made no delay and gave him no trouble; with the calm
steadiness of a woman she went regularly through the house, leaving no
place unvisited, but never obliging him to hasten her away. She said not
a word during the whole time; her very crying; was still; the light tread
of her little feet was the only sound in the silent empty rooms; and the
noise of their footsteps in the halls and of the opening and shutting
doors echoed mournfully through the house.
She had left her grandfather's room for the last. Mr. Carleton did not
follow her in there, guessing that she would rather be alone. But she did
not come back, and he was forced to go to fetch her.
The chill desolateness of that room had been too much for poor little
Fleda. The empty bedstead, the cold stove, the table bare of books, only
one or two lay upon the old bible,--the forlorn order of the place that
bespoke the master far away, the very sunbeams that stole in at the
little windows and met now no answering look of gladness or gratitude,--it
had struck the child's heart too heavily, and she was standing crying by
the window. A second time in that room Mr. Carleton sat down and drew his
little charge to his breast and spoke words of soothing and sympathy.
"I am very sorry I brought you here, dear Elfie," he said kindly. "It was
too hard for you."
"O no!"--even through her tears Fleda said,--"she was very glad."
"Hadn't we better try to overtake our friends?" he whispered after
She immediately, almost immediately, put away her tears, and with a quiet
obedience that touched him went with him from the room; fastened the door
and got out again at the little window.
"O Mr. Carleton!" she said with great earnestness when they had almost
reached the horses, "won't you wait for me _one_ minute more?--I just
want a piece of the burning bush "--
[Illustration: She stood back and watched.]
Drawing her hand from him she rushed round to the front of the house. A
little more slowly Mr. Carleton followed, and found her under the burning
bush, tugging furiously at a branch beyond her strength to break off.
"That's too much for you, Elfie," said he, gently taking her hand from
the tree,--"let my hand try."
She stood back and watched, tears running down her face, while he got a
knife from his pocket and cut off the piece she had been trying for,
nicely, and gave it to her. The first movement of Fleda's head was down,
bent over the pretty spray of red berries; but by the time she stood at
the horse's side she looked up at Mr. Carleton and thanked him with a face
of more than thankfulness.
She was crying however, constantly till they had gone several miles on
their way again, and Mr. Carleton doubted he had done wrong. It passed
away, and she had been sitting quite peacefully for some time, when he
told her they were near the place where they were to stop and join their
friends. She looked up most gratefully in his face.
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Carleton, for what you did!"
"I was afraid I had made a mistake, Elfie."
"Oh, no, you didn't."
"Do you think you feel any easier after it, Elfie?"
"Oh yes!--indeed I do," said she looking up again,--"thank you, Mr.
A gentle kind pressure of his arm answered her thanks.
"I ought to be a good sprite to you, Mr. Carleton," Fleda said after
musing a little while,--"you are so very good to me!"
Perhaps Mr. Carleton felt too much pleasure at this speech to make any
answer, for he made none.
"It is only selfishness, Elfie," said he presently, looking down to the
quiet sweet little face which seemed to him, and was, more pure than
anything of earth's mould he had ever seen.--"You know I must take care of
you for my own sake."
Fleda laughed a little.
"But what will you do when we get to Paris?"
"I don't know. I should like to have you always, Elfie."
"You'll have to get aunt Lucy to give me to you," said Fleda.
"Mr. Carleton," said she a few minutes after, "is that story in a book?"
"About the lady and the little sprites that waited on her."
"Yes, it is in a book; you shall see it, Elfie.--Here we are!"
And here it was proposed to stay till the next day, lest Fleda might not
be able to bear so much travelling at first. But the country inn was not
found inviting; the dinner was bad and the rooms were worse;
uninhabitable, the ladies said; and about the middle of the afternoon they
began to cast about for the means of reaching Albany that night. None very
comfortable could be had; however it was thought better to push on at any
rate than wear out the night in such a place. The weather was very mild;
the moon at the full.
"How is Fleda to go this afternoon?" said Mrs. Evelyn.
"She shall decide herself," said Mrs. Carleton. "How will you go, my
Fleda was lying upon a sort of rude couch which had been spread for her,
where she had been sleeping incessantly ever since she arrived, the hour
of dinner alone excepted. Mrs. Carleton repeated her question.
"I am afraid Mr. Carleton must be tired," said Fleda, without
opening her eyes.
"That means that you are, don't it?" said Rossitur.
"No," said Fleda gently.
Mr. Carleton smiled and went out to press forward the arrangements. In
spite of good words and good money there was some delay. It was rather
late before the cavalcade left the inn; and a journey of several hours was
before them. Mr. Carleton rode rather slowly too, for Fleda's sake, so the
evening had fallen while they were yet a mile or two from the city.
His little charge had borne the fatigue well, thanks partly to his
admirable care, and partly to her quiet pleasure in being with him. She
had been so perfectly still for some distance that he thought she had
dropped asleep. Looking down closer however to make sure about it he saw
her thoughtful clear eyes most unsleepily fixed upon the sky.
"What are you gazing at, Elfie?"
The look of thought changed to a look of affection as the eyes were
brought to bear upon him, and she answered with a smile,
"Nothing,--I was looking at the stars."
"What are you dreaming about?"
"I wasn't dreaming," said Fleda,--"I was thinking."
"Thinking of what?"
"O of pleasant things."
"Mayn't I know them?--I like to hear of pleasant things."
"I was thinking,--" said Fleda, looking up again at the stars, which shone
with no purer ray than those grave eyes sent back to them,--"I was
thinking--of being ready to die."
The words, and the calm thoughtful manner in which they were said,
thrilled upon Mr. Carleton with a disagreeable shock.
"How came you to think of such a thing?" said he lightly.
"I don't know,"--said Fleda, still looking at the stars,--"I suppose--I
"What?" said Mr. Carleton, inexpressibly curious to get at the workings of
the child's mind, which was not easy, for Fleda was never very forward to
talk of herself;--"what were you thinking? I want to know how you could
get such a thing into your head."
"It wasn't very strange," said Fleda. "The stars made me think of heaven,
and grandpa's being there, and then I thought how he was ready to go there
and that made him ready to die--"
"I wouldn't think of such things, Elfie," said Mr. Carleton after a
"Why not, sir?" said Fleda quickly.
"I don't think they are good for you."
"But Mr. Carleton," said Fleda gently,--"if I don't think about it, how
shall _I_ ever be ready to die?"
"It is not fit for you," said he, evading the question,--"it is not
necessary now,--there's time enough. You are a little body and should have
none but gay thoughts."
"But Mr. Carleton," said Fleda with timid earnestness,--"don't you think
one could have gay thoughts better if one knew one was ready to die?"
"What makes a person ready to die, Elfie?" said her friend, disliking to
ask the question, but yet more unable to answer hers, and curious to hear
what she would say.
"O--to be a Christian," said Fleda.
"But I have seen Christians," said Mr. Carleton, "who were no more ready
to die than other people."
"Then they were make-believe Christians," said Fleda decidedly.
"What makes you think so?" said her friend, carefully guarding his
countenance from anything like a smile.
"Because," said Fleda, "grandpa was ready, and my father was ready, and my
mother too; and I know it was because they were Christians."
"Perhaps your kind of Christians are different from my kind," said Mr.
Carleton, carrying on the conversation half in spite of himself. "What do
you mean by a Christian, Elfie?"
"Why, what the Bible means," said Fleda, looking at him with innocent
Mr. Carleton was ashamed to tell her he did not know what that was, or he
was unwilling to say what he felt would trouble the happy confidence she
had in him. He was silent; but as they rode on, a bitter wish crossed his
mind that he could have the simple purity of the little child in his arms;
and he thought he would give his broad acres supposing it possible that
religion could be true,--in exchange for that free happy spirit that looks
up to all its possessions in heaven.
Starres are poore books and oftentimes do misse;
This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.
The voyage across the Atlantic was not, in itself, at all notable. The
first half of the passage was extremely unquiet, and most of the
passengers uncomfortable to match. Then the weather cleared; and the rest
of the way, though lengthened out a good deal by the tricks of the wind,
was very fair and pleasant.
Fifteen days of tossing and sea-sickness had brought little Fleda to look
like the ghost of herself. So soon as the weather changed and sky and sea
were looking gentle again, Mr. Carleton had a mattress and cushions laid
in a sheltered corner of the deck for her, and carried her up. She had
hardly any more strength than a baby.
"What are you looking at me so for, Mr. Carleton?" said she, a little
while after he had carried her up, with a sweet serious smile that seemed
to know the answer to her question.
He stooped down and clasped her little thin hand, as reverentially as if
she really had not belonged to the earth.
"You are more like a sprite than I like to see you just now," said he,
unconsciously fastening the child's heart to himself with the magnetism of
those deep eyes.--"I must get some of the sailors' salt beef and sea
biscuit for you--they say that is the best thing to make people well."
"O I feel better already," said Fleda, and settling her little face upon
the cushion and closing her eyes, she added,--"thank you, Mr. Carleton!"
The fresh air began to restore her immediately; she was no more sick, her
appetite came back; and from that time, without the help of beef and
sea-biscuit, she mended rapidly. Mr. Carleton proved himself as good a
nurse on the sea as on land. She seemed to be never far from his
thoughts. He was constantly finding out something that would do her good
or please her; and Fleda could not discover that he took any trouble
about it; she could not feel that she was a burden to him; the things
seemed to come as a matter of course. Mrs. Carleton was not wanting in
any shew of kindness or care, and yet, when Fleda looked back upon the
day, it somehow was Guy that had done everything for her; she thought
little of thanking anybody but him.
There were other passengers that petted her a great deal, or would have
done so, if Fleda's very timid retiring nature had not stood in the way.
She was never bashful, nor awkward; but yet it was only a very peculiar,
sympathetic, style of address that could get within the wall of reserve
which in general hid her from other people. Hid, what it could; for
through that reserve a singular modesty, sweetness, and gracefulness of
spirit would shew themselves. But there was much more behind. There were
no eyes however on board that did not look kindly on little Fleda,
excepting only two pair. The Captain shewed her a great deal of flattering
attention, and said she was a pattern of a passenger; even the sailors
noticed and spoke of her and let slip no occasion of shewing the respect
and interest she had raised. But there were two pair of eyes, and one of
them Fleda thought most remarkably ugly, that were an exception to the
rest; these belonged to her cousin Rossitur and Lieut. Thorn. Rossitur had
never forgiven her remarks upon his character as a gentleman and declared
preference of Mr. Carleton in that capacity; and Thorn was mortified at
the invincible childish reserve which she opposed to all his advances; and
both, absurd as it seems, were jealous of the young Englishman's advantage
over them. Both not the less, because their sole reason for making her a