Part 7 out of 18
had walked a little way.
"No--she will not expect that--but Barby will want a different kind of
managing from those Irish women of yours. She won't bear to be spoken
to in a way that don't suit her notions of what she thinks she deserves;
and perhaps your aunt and uncle will think her notions rather high--I
"There is no difficulty with aunt Lucy," said Fleda;--"and I guess I can
manage uncle Rolf--I'll try. _I_ like her very much."
"Barby is very poor," said Mrs. Plumfield; "she has nothing but her own
earnings to support herself and her old mother, and now I suppose her
sister and her child; for Hetty is a poor thing--never did much, and now I
suppose does nothing."
"Are those Finns poor, aunt Miriam?"
"O no--not at all--they are very well off."
"So I thought--they seemed to have plenty of everything, and silver spoons
and all. But why then do they go out to work?"
"They are a little too fond of getting money I expect," said aunt Miriam.
"And they are a queer sort of people rather--the mother is queer and the
children are queer--they ain't like other folks exactly--never were."
"I am very glad we are to have Barby instead of that Lucy Finn," said
Fleda. "O aunt Miriam! you can't think how much easier my heart feels."
"Poor child!" said aunt Miriam looking at her. "But it isn't best, Fleda,
to have things work too smooth in this world."
"No, I suppose not," said Fleda sighing. "Isn't it very strange, aunt
Miriam, that it should make people worse instead of better to have
everything go pleasantly with them?"
"It is because they are apt then to be so full of the present that they
forget the care of the future."
"Yes, and forget there is anything better than the present, I suppose,"
"So we mustn't fret at the ways our Father takes to keep us from hurting
ourselves?" said aunt Miriam cheerfully.
"O no!" said Fleda, looking up brightly in answer to the tender manner in
which these words were spoken;--"and I didn't mean that _this_ is much of
a trouble--only I am very glad to think that somebody is coming
Aunt Miriam thought that gentle unfretful face could not stand in need of
Wise men alway
Affyrme and say,
That best is for a man
For to apply,
The business that he can.
Fleda waited for Barby's coming the next day with a little anxiety. The
introduction and installation however were happily got over. Mrs.
Rossitur, as Fleda knew, was most easily pleased; and Barby Elster's quick
eye was satisfied with the unaffected and universal gentleness and
politeness of her new employer. She made herself at home in half an hour;
and Mrs. Rossitur and Fleda were comforted to perceive, by unmistakeable
signs, that their presence was not needed in the kitchen and they might
retire to their own premises and forget there was another part of the
house. Fleda had forgotten it utterly, and deliciously enjoying the rest
of mind and body she was stretched upon the sofa, luxuriating over some
volume from her remnant of a library; when the inner door was suddenly
pushed open far enough to admit the entrance of Miss Elster's head.
"Where's the soft soap?"
Fleda's book went down and her heart jumped to her mouth, for her uncle
was sitting over by the window. Mrs. Rossitur looked up in a maze and
waited for the question to be repeated.
"I say, where's the soft soap?"
"Soft soap!" said Mrs. Rossitur,--"I don't know whether there is
any.--Fleda, do you know?"
"I was trying to think, aunt Lucy. I don't believe there is any."
"_Where_ is it?" said Barby.
"There is none, I believe," said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Where _was_ it, then?"
"Nowhere--there has not been any in the house," said Fleda, raising
herself up to see over the back of her sofa.
"There ha'n't been none!" said Miss Elster, in a tone more significant
than her words, and shutting the door as abruptly as she had opened it.
"What upon earth does the woman mean?" exclaimed Mr. Rossitur, springing
up and advancing towards the kitchen door. Fleda threw herself before him.
"Nothing at all, uncle Rolf--she doesn't mean anything at all--she
doesn't know any better."
"I will improve her knowledge--get out the way, Fleda."
"But uncle Rolf, just hear me one moment--please don't!--she didn't mean
any harm--these people don't know any manners--just let me speak to her,
please uncle Rolf!--" said Fleda laying both hands upon her uncle's
arms,--"I'll manage her."
Mr. Rossitur's wrath was high, and he would have run over or knocked down
anything less gentle that had stood in his way; but even the harshness of
strength shuns to set itself in array against the meekness that does not
_oppose_; if the touch of those hands had been a whit less light, or the
glance of her eye less submissively appealing, it would have availed
nothing. As it was, he stopped and looked at her, at first scowling, but
then with a smile.
"_You_ manage her!" said he.
"Yes," said Fleda laughing, and now exerting her force she gently pushed
him back towards the seat he had quitted,--"yes, uncle Rolf--you've enough
else to manage--don't undertake our 'help.' Deliver over all your
displeasure upon me when anything goes wrong--I will be the conductor to
carry it off safely into the kitchen and discharge it just at that point
where I think it will do most execution. Now will you, uncle
Rolf?--Because we have got a new-fashioned piece of firearms in the other
room that I am afraid will go off unexpectedly if it is meddled with by an
unskilful hand;--and that would leave us without arms, you see, or with
only aunt Lucy's and mine, which are not reliable."
"You saucy girl!"--said her uncle, who was laughing partly at and partly
with her,--"I don't know what you deserve exactly.--Well--keep this
precious new operative of yours out of my way and I'll take care to keep
out of hers. But mind, you must manage not to have your piece snapping in
my face in this fashion, for I won't stand it."
And so, quieted, Mr. Rossitur sat down to his book again; and Fleda
leaving hers open went to attend upon Barby.
"There ain't much yallow soap neither," said this personage,--"if this is
all. There's one thing--if we ha'n't got it we can make it. I must get
Mis' Rossitur to have a leach-tub sot up right away. I'm a dreadful hand
for havin' plenty o' soap."
"What is a leach-tub?" said Fleda.
"Why, a leach-tub, for to leach ashes in. That's easy enough. I'll fix it,
afore we're any on us much older. If Mr. Rossitur'll keep me in good hard
wood I sha'n't cost him hardly anything for potash."
"I'll see about it," said Fleda, "and I will see about having the
leach-tub, or whatever it is, put up for you. And Barby, whenever you want
anything, will you just speak to me about it?--and if I am in the other
room ask me to come out here. Because my aunt is not strong, and does not
know where things are as well as I do; and when my uncle is in there he
sometimes does not like to be disturbed with hearing any such talk. If
you'll tell me I'll see and have everything done for you."
"Well--you get me a leach sot up--that's all I'll ask of you just now,"
said Barby good-humouredly; "and help me to find the soap-grease, if there
is any. As to the rest, I don't want to see nothin' o' him in the kitchen
so I'll relieve him if he don't want to see much o' me in the parlour.--I
shouldn't wonder if there wa'n't a speck of it in the house."
Not a speck was there to be found.
"Your uncle's pockets must ha' had a good hole in 'em by this time,"
remarked Barby as they came back from the cellar. "However, there never
was a crock so empty it couldn't be filled. You get me a leach-tub sot up,
and I'll find work for it."
From that time Fleda had no more trouble with her uncle and Barby. Each
seemed to have a wholesome appreciation of the other's combative qualities
and to shun them. With Mrs. Rossitur Barby was soon all-powerful. It was
enough that she wanted a thing, if Mrs Rossitur's own resources could
compass it. For Fleda, to say that Barby had presently a perfect
understanding with her and joined to that a most affectionate careful
regard, is not perhaps saying much; for it was true of every one without
exception with whom Fleda had much to do. Barby was to all of them a very
great comfort and stand-by.
It was well for them that they had her within doors to keep things, as she
called it, "right and tight;" for abroad the only system in vogue was one
of fluctuation and uncertainty. Mr. Rossitur's Irishman, Donohan, staid
his year out, doing as little good and as much at least negative harm as
he well could; and then went, leaving them a good deal poorer than he
found them. Dr. Gregory's generosity had added to Mr. Rossitur's own small
stock of ready money, giving him the means to make some needed outlays on
the farm. But the outlay, ill-applied, had been greater than the income; a
scarcity of money began to be more and more felt; and the comfort of the
family accordingly drew within more and more narrow bounds. The temper of
the head of the family suffered in at least equal degree.
From the first of Barby's coming poor Fleda had done her utmost to prevent
the want of Mons. Emile from being felt. Mr. Rossitur's table was always
set by her careful hand, and all the delicacies that came upon it were,
unknown to him, of her providing. Even the bread. One day at breakfast Mr.
Rossitur had expressed his impatient displeasure at that of Miss Elster's
manufacture. Fleda saw the distressed shade that came over her aunt's
face, and took her resolution. It was the last time. She had followed her
plan of sending for the receipts, and she studied them diligently, both at
home and under aunt Miriam. Natural quickness of eye and hand came in aid
of her affectionate zeal, and it was not long before she could trust
herself to undertake any operation in the whole range of her cookery book.
But meanwhile materials were growing scarce and hard to come by. The
delicate French rolls which were now always ready for her uncle's plate in
the morning had sometimes nothing to back them, unless the unfailing water
cress from the good little spring in the meadow. Fleda could not spare her
eggs, for perhaps they might have nothing else to depend upon for dinner.
It was no burden to her to do these things; she had a sufficient reward in
seeing that her aunt and Hugh eat the better and that her uncle's brow was
clear; but it _was_ a burden when her hands were tied by the lack of
means; for she knew the failure of the usual supply was bitterly felt, not
for the actual want, but for that other want which it implied and
On the first dismissal of Donohan Fleda hoped for a good turn of affairs.
But Mr. Rossitur, disgusted with his first experiment, resolved this
season to be his own head man; and appointed Lucas Springer the second in
command, with a posse of labourers to execute his decrees. It did not work
well. Mr. Rossitur found he had a very tough prime minister, who would
have every one of his plans to go through a kind of winnowing process by
being tossed about in an argument. The arguments were interminable, until
Mr. Rossitur not unfrequently quit the field with, "Well, do what you like
about it!"--not conquered, but wearied. The labourers, either from want of
ready money or of what they called "manners" in their employer, fell off
at the wrong times, just when they were most wanted. Hugh threw himself
then into the breach and wrought beyond his strength; and that tried Fleda
worst of all. She was glad to see haying and harvest pass over; but the
change of seasons seemed to bring only a change of disagreeableness, and
she could not find that hope had any better breathing-time in the short
days of winter than in the long days of summer. Her gentle face grew more
gentle than ever, for under the shade of sorrowful patience which was
always there now its meekness had no eclipse.
Mrs. Rossitur was struck with it one morning. She was coming down from her
room and saw Fleda standing on the landing-place gazing out of the window.
It was before breakfast one cold morning in winter. Mrs. Rossitur put her
arms round her softly and kissed her.
"What are you thinking about, dear Fleda?--you ought not to be
"I was looking at Hugh," said Fleda, and her eye went back to the window.
Mrs. Rossitur's followed it. The window gave them a view of the ground
behind the house; and there was Hugh, just coming in with a large armful
of heavy wood which he had been sawing.
"He isn't strong enough to do that, aunt Lucy," said Fleda softly.
"I know it," said his mother in a subdued tone, and not moving her eye,
though Hugh had disappeared.
"It is too cold for him--he is too thinly clad to bear this exposure,"
said Fleda anxiously.
"I know it," said his mother again.
"Can't you tell uncle Rolf?--can't you get him to do it? I am afraid Hugh
will hurt himself, aunt Lucy."
"I did tell him the other day--I did speak to him about it," said Mrs.
Rossitur; "but he said there was no reason why Hugh should do it,--there
were plenty of other people--"
"But how can he say so when he knows we never can ask Lucas to do anything
of the kind, and that other man always contrives to be out of the way when
he is wanted?--Oh what is he thinking of?" said Fleda bitterly, as she saw
Hugh again at his work.
It was so rarely that Fleda was seen to shed tears that they always were a
signal of dismay to any of the household. There was even agony in Mrs.
Rossitur's voice as she implored her not to give way to them. But
notwithstanding that, Fleda's tears came this time from too deep a spring
to be stopped at once.
"It makes me feel as if all was lost, Fleda, when I see you do so,"--
Fleda put her arms about her neck and whispered that "she would not"--that
"she should not"--
Yet it was a little while before she could say any more.
"But, aunt Lucy, he doesn't know what he is doing!"
"No--and I can't make him know. I cannot say anything more, Fleda--it
would do no good. I don't know what is the matter--he is entirely changed
from what he used to be--"
"I know what is the matter," said Fleda, now turning comforter in her turn
as her aunt's tears fell more quietly, because more despairingly, than her
own,--"I know what it is--he is not happy;--that is all. He has not
succeeded well in these farm doings, and he wants money, and he is
worried--it is no wonder if he don't seem exactly as he used to."
"And oh, that troubles me most of all!" said Mrs. Rossitur. "The farm is
bringing in nothing, I know,--he don't know how to get along with it,--I
was afraid it would be so;--and we are paying nothing to uncle Orrin--and
it is just a dead weight on his hands;--and I can't bear to think of
it!--And what will it come to!--"
Mrs. Rossitur was now in her turn surprised into shewing the strength of
her sorrows and apprehensions. Fleda was fain to put her own out of sight
and bend her utmost powers to soothe and compose her aunt, till they could
both go down to the breakfast table. She had got ready a nice little dish
that her uncle was very fond of; but her pleasure in it was all gone; and
indeed it seemed to be thrown away upon the whole table. Half the meal was
over before anybody said a word.
"I am going to wash my hands of these miserable farm affairs," said
"Are you?" said his wife.
"Yes,--of all personal concern in them, that is. I am wearied to death
with the perpetual annoyances and vexations, and petty calls upon my
time--life is not worth having at such a rate! I'll have done with it."
"You will give up the entire charge to Lucas?" said Mrs. Rossitur.
[Illustration: "O uncle Rolf, don't have anything to do with him."]
"Lucas!--No!--I wouldn't undergo that man's tongue for another year if
he would take out his wages in talking. I could not have more of it in
that case than I have had the last six months. After money, the thing
that man loves best is certainly the sound of his own voice; and a most
insufferable egotist! No,--I have been talking with a man who wants
to take the whole farm for two years upon shares--that will clear me of
There was sober silence for a few minutes, and then Mrs. Rossitur asked
who it was.
"His name is Didenhover."
"O uncle Rolf, don't have anything to do with him!" exclaimed Fleda.
"Because he lived with grandpa a great while ago, and behaved very ill.
Grandpa had a great deal of trouble with him."
"How old were you then?"
"I was young, to be sure," said Fleda hanging her head, "but I remember
very well how it was."
"You may have occasion to remember it a second time," said Mr. Rossitur
dryly, "for the thing is done. I have engaged him."
Not another word was spoken.
Mr. Rossitur went out after breakfast, and Mrs. Rossitur busied herself
with the breakfast cups and a tub of hot water, a work she never would let
Fleda share with her and which lasted in consequence long enough, Barby
said, to cook and eat three breakfasts. Fleda and Hugh sat looking at the
floor and the fire respectively.
"I am going up the hill to get a sight of aunt Miriam," said Fleda,
bringing her eyes from the fire upon her aunt.
"Well, dear, do. You have been shut up long enough by the snow. Wrap
yourself up well, and put on my snow-boots."
"No indeed!" said Fleda. "I shall just draw on another pair of stockings
over my shoes, within my India-rubbers--I will take a pair of Hugh's
"What has become of your own?" said Hugh.
"My own what? Stockings?"
"Worn out, Mr. Rossitur! I have run them to death, poor things. Is that a
slight intimation that you are afraid of the same fate for your socks?"
"No," said Hugh, smiling in spite of himself at her manner,--"I will lend
you anything I have got, Fleda."
His tone put Fleda in mind of the very doubtful pretensions of the socks
in question to be comprehended under the term; she was silent a minute.
"Will you go with me, Hugh?"
"No dear, I can't;--I must get a little ahead with the wood while I can;
it looks as if it would snow again; and Barby isn't provided for more than
a day or two."
"And how for this fire?"
Hugh shook his head, and rose up to go forth into the kitchen. Fleda went
too, linking her arm in his and bearing affectionately upon it, a sort of
tacit saying that they would sink or swim together. Hugh understood it
"I am very sorry you have to do it, dear Hugh--Oh that wood-shed!--If it
had only been made!--"
"Never mind--can't help it now--we shall get through the winter by and
"Can't you get uncle Rolf to help you a little?" whispered Fleda;--"It
would do him good."
But Hugh only shook his head.
"What are we going to do for dinner, Barby?" said Fleda, still holding
Hugh there before the fire.
"Ain't much choice," said Barby. "It would puzzle anybody to spell much
more out of it than pork and ham. There's plenty o' them. _I_ shan't
starve this some time."
"But we had ham yesterday and pork the day before yesterday and ham
Monday," said Fleda. "There is plenty of vegetables, thanks to you and me,
Hugh," she said with a little reminding squeeze of his arm. "I could make
soups nicely, if I had anything to make them of!"
"There's enough to be had for the catching," said Barby. "If I hadn't a
man-mountain of work upon me, I'd start out and shoot or steal something."
"_You_ shoot, Barby!" said Fleda laughing.
"I guess I can do most anything I set my hand to. If I couldn't I'd shoot
myself. It won't do to kill no more o' them chickens."
"O no,--now they are laying so finely. Well, I am going up the hill, and
when I come home I'll try and make up something, Barby."
"Earl Douglass'll go out in the woods now and then, of a day when he
ha'n't no work particular to do, and fetch hum as many pigeons and
woodchucks as you could shake a stick at."
"Hugh, my dear," said Fleda laughing, "it's a pity you aren't a hunter--I
would shake a stick at you with great pleasure. Well, Barby, we will see
when I come home."
"I was just a thinkin," said Barby;--"Mis' Douglass sent round to know if
Mis' Rossitur would like a piece of fresh meat--Earl's been killing a
sheep--there's a nice quarter, she says, if she'd like to have it."
"A quarter of mutton?"--said Fleda,--"I don't know--no, I think not,
Barby; I don't know when we should be able to pay it back again.--And
yet--Hugh, do you think uncle Rolf will kill another sheep this winter?"
"I am sure he will not," said Hugh;--"there have so many died."
"If he only knowed it, that is a reason for killing more," said Barby,--"
and have the good of them while he can."
"Tell Mrs. Douglass we are obliged to her, but we do not want the
Hugh went to his chopping and Fleda set out upon her walk; the lines of
her face settling into a most fixed gravity so soon as she turned away
from the house. It was what might be called a fine winter's day; cold and
still, and the sky covered with one uniform grey cloud. The snow lay in
uncompromising whiteness thick over all the world; a kindly shelter for
the young grain and covering for the soil; but Fleda's spirits just then
in another mood saw in it only the cold refusal to hope and the barren
check to exertion. The wind had cleared the snow from the trees and
fences, and they stood in all their unsoftened blackness and nakedness,
bleak and stern. The high grey sky threatened a fresh fall of snow in a
few hours; it was just now a lull between two storms; and Fleda's spirits,
that sometimes would have laughed in the face of nature's soberness,
to-day sank to its own quiet. Her pace neither slackened nor quickened
till she reached aunt Miriam's house and entered the kitchen.
Aunt Miriam was in high tide of business over a pot of boiling lard, and
the enormous bread-tray by the side of the fire was half full of very
tempting light-brown cruller, which however were little more than a kind
of sweet bread for the workmen. In the bustle of putting in and taking out
aunt Miriam could give her visitor but a word and a look. Fleda pulled off
her hood and sitting down watched in unusual silence the old lady's
"And how are they all at your house to-day?" aunt Miriam asked as she was
carefully draining her cruller out of the kettle.
Fleda answered that they were as well as usual, but a slight hesitation
and the tell-tale tone of her voice made the old lady look at her more
narrowly. She came near and kissed that gentle brow and looking in her
eyes asked her what the matter was?
"I don't know,--" said Fleda, eyes and voice wavering alike,--"I am
foolish, I believe,--"
Aunt Miriam tenderly put aside the hair from her forehead and kissed it
again, but the cruller was burning and she went back to the kettle.
"I got down-hearted somehow this morning," Fleda went on, trying to steady
her voice and school herself.
"_You_ down-hearted, dear? About what?"
There was a world of sympathy in these words, in the warmth of which
Fleda's shut-up heart unfolded itself at once.
"It's nothing new, aunt Miriam,--only somehow I felt it particularly this
morning,--I have been kept in the house so long by this snow I have got
dumpish I suppose.--"
Aunt Miriam looked anxiously at the tears which seemed to come
involuntarily, but she said nothing.
"We are not getting along well at home."
"I supposed that," said Mrs. Plumfield quietly. "But anything new?"
"Yes--uncle Rolf has let the farm--only think of it!--he has let the farm
to that Didenhover."
"For two years."
"Did you tell him what you knew about him?"
"Yes, but it was too late--the mischief was done."
Aunt Miriam went on skimming out her cruller with a very grave face.
"How came your uncle to do so without learning about him first?"
"O I don't know!--he was in a hurry to do anything that would take the
trouble of the farm off his hands,--he don't like it."
"On what terms has he let him have it?"
"On shares--and I know, I know, under that Didenhover it will bring us in
nothing, and it has brought us in nothing all the time we have been here;
and I don't know what we are going to live upon."--
"Has your uncle nor your aunt no property at all left?"
"Not a bit--except some waste lands in Michigan I believe, that were left
to aunt Lucy a year or two ago; but they are as good as nothing."
"Has he let Didenhover have the saw-mill too?"
"I don't know--he didn't say--if he has there will be nothing at all left
for us to live upon. I expect nothing from Didenhover,--his face is
enough. I should have thought it might have been for uncle Rolf. O if it
wasn't for aunt Lucy and Hugh I shouldn't care!--"
"What has your uncle been doing all this year past?"
"I don't know, aunt Miriam,--he can't bear the business and he has left
the most of it to Lucas; and I think Lucas is more of a talker than a
doer. Almost nothing has gone right. The crops have been ill managed--I do
not know a great deal about it, but I know enough for that; and uncle Rolf
did not know anything about it but what he got from books. And the sheep
are dying off--Barby says it is because they were in such poor condition
at the beginning of winter, and I dare say she is right."
"He ought to have had a thorough good man at the beginning, to get
"O yes!--but he hadn't, you see; and so we have just been growing poorer
every month. And now, aunt Miriam, I really don't know from day to day
what to do to get dinner. You know for a good while after we came we used
to have our marketing brought every few days from Albany; but we have run
up such a bill there already at the butcher's as I don't know when in the
world will get paid; and aunt Lucy and I will do anything before we will
send for any more; and if it wasn't for her and Hugh I wouldn't care, but
they haven't much appetite, and I know that all this takes what little
they have away--this, and seeing the effect it has upon uncle Rolf----"
"Does he think so much more of eating than of anything else?" said
"Oh no, it is not that!" said Fleda earnestly,--"it is not that at all--he
is not a great eater--but he can't bear to have things different from what
they used to be and from what they ought to be--O no, don't think that! I
don't know whether I ought to have said what I have said, but I couldn't
Fleda's voice was lost for a little while.
"He is changed from what he used to be--a little thing vexes him now, and
I know it is because he is not happy;--he used to be so kind and pleasant,
and he is still, sometimes; but aunt Lucy's face--Oh aunt Miriam!--"
"Why, dear?" said aunt Miriam, tenderly.
"It is so changed from what it used to be!"
Poor Fleda covered her own, and aunt Miriam came to her side to give
softer and gentler expression to sympathy than words could do; till the
bowed face was raised again and hid in her neck.
"I can't see thee do so my child--my dear child!--Hope for brighter days,
"I could bear it," said Fleda after a little interval, "if it wasn't for
aunt Lucy and Hugh--oh that is the worst!--"
"What about Hugh?" said aunt Miriam, soothingly.
"Oh he does what he ought not to do, aunt Miriam, and there is no help for
it,--and he did last summer--when we wanted men; and in the hot
haying-time, he used to work, I know, beyond his strength,--and aunt Lucy
and I did not know what to do with ourselves!--"
Fleda's head which had been raised sunk again and more heavily.
"Where was his father?" said Mrs. Plumfield.
"Oh he was in the house--he didn't know it--he didn't think about it."
"Didn't think about it!"
"No--O he didn't think Hugh was hurting himself, but he was--he shewed it
for weeks afterward.--I have said what I ought not now," said Fleda
looking up and seeming to check her tears and the spring of them at once.
"So much security any woman has in a man without religion!" said aunt
Miriam, going back to her work. Fleda would have said something if she
could; she was silent; she stood looking into the fire while the tears
seemed to come as it were by stealth and ran down her face unregarded.
"Is Hugh not well?"
"I don't know,--" said Fleda faintly,--"he is not ill--but he never was
very strong, and he exposes himself now I know in a way he ought not.--I
am sorry I have just come and troubled you with all this now, aunt
Miriam," she said after a little pause,--"I shall feel better by and by--I
don't very often get such a fit."
"My dear little Fleda!"--and there was unspeakable tenderness in the old
lady's voice, as she came up and drew Fleda's head again to rest upon
her;--"I would not let a rough wind touch thee if I had the holding of
it.--But we may be glad the arranging of things is not in my hand--I
should be a poor friend after all, for I do not know what is best. Canst
thou trust him who does know, my child?"
"I do, aunt Miriam,--O I do," said Fleda, burying her face in her
bosom;--"I don't often feel so as I did to-day."
"There comes not a cloud that its shadow is not wanted," said aunt
Miriam. "I cannot see why,--but it is that thou mayest bloom the
brighter, my dear one."
"I know it,--" Fleda's words were hardly audible,--"I will try--"
"Remember his own message to every one under a cloud--'cast all thy care
upon him, for he careth for thee;'--thou mayest keep none of it;--and then
the peace that passeth understanding shall keep thee. 'So he giveth his
Fleda wept for a minute on the old lady's neck, and then she looked up,
dried her tears, and sat down with a face greatly quieted and lightened of
its burden; while aunt Miriam once more went back to her work. The one
wrought and the other looked on in silence.
The cruller were all done at last; the great bread-trough was filled and
set away; the remnant of the fat was carefully disposed of, and aunt
Miriam's handmaid was called in to "take the watch." She herself and her
visitor adjourned to the sitting-room.
"Well," said Fleda, in a tone again steady and clear,--"I must go home to
see about getting up a dinner. I am the greatest hand at making something
out of nothing, aunt Miriam, that ever you saw. There is nothing like
practice. I only wish the man uncle Orrin talks about would come along
once in a while."
"Who was that?" said aunt Miriam.
"A man that used to go about from house to house," said Fleda laughing,
"when the cottages were making soup, with a ham-bone to give it a relish,
and he used to charge them so much for a dip, and so much for a wallop."
"Come, come, I can do as much for you as that," said aunt Miriam,
proceeding to her store-pantry,--"see here--wouldn't this be as good as a
ham-bone?" said she, bringing out of it a fat fowl;--"how would a wallop
of this do?"
"Admirably!--only--the ham-bone used to come out again,--and I am
confident this never would."
"Well I guess I'll stand that," said aunt Miriam smiling,--"you wouldn't
mind carrying this under your cloak, would you?"
"I have no doubt I shall go home lighter with it than without it,
ma'am,--thank you, dear aunty!--dear aunt Miriam!"
There was a change of tone, and of eye, as Fleda sealed each thank
with a kiss.
"But how is it?--does all the charge of the house come upon you, dear?"
"O, this kind of thing, because aunt Lucy doesn't understand it and can't
get along with it so well. She likes better to sew, and I had quite as
lief do this."
"And don't you sew too?"
"O--a little. She does as much as she can," said Fleda gravely.
"Where is your other cousin?" said Mrs. Plumfield abruptly.
"Marion?--she is in England I believe;--we don't hear from her very
"No, no, I mean the one who is in the army?"
"Charlton!--O he is just ordered off to Mexico," said Fleda sadly, "and
that is another great trouble to aunt Lucy. This miserable war!--"
"Does he never come home?"
"Only once since we came from Paris--while we were in New York. He has
been stationed away off at the West."
"He has a captain's pay now, hasn't he?"
"Yes, but he doesn't know at all how things are at home--he hasn't an idea
of it,--and he will not have. Well good-bye, dear aunt Miriam--I must run
home to take care of my chicken."
She ran away; and if her eyes many a time on the way down the hill filled
and overflowed, they were not bitter nor dark tears; they were the
gushings of high and pure and generous affections, weeping for fulness,
not for want.
That chicken was not wasted in soup; it was converted into the nicest
possible little fricassee, because the toast would make so much more of
it; and to Fleda's own dinner little went beside the toast, that a greater
portion of the rest might be for her aunt and Hugh.
That same evening Seth Plumfield came into the kitchen while Fleda
"Here is something belongs to you, I believe," said he with a covert
smile, bringing out from under his cloak the mate to Fleda's
fowl;--"mother said somethin' had run away with t'other one and she
didn't know what to do with this one alone. Your uncle at home?"
The next news that Fleda heard was that Seth had taken a lease of the
saw-mill for two years.
Mr. Didenhover did not disappoint Fleda's expectations. Very little could
be got from him or the farm under him beyond the immediate supply wanted
for the use of the family; and that in kind, not in cash. Mrs. Rossitur
was comforted by knowing that some portion of rent had also gone to Dr.
Gregory--how large or how small a portion she could not find out. But
this left the family in increasing straits, which narrowed and narrowed
during the whole first summer and winter of Didenhover's administration.
Very straitened they would have been but for the means of relief adopted
by the two _children_, as they were always called. Hugh, as soon as the
spring opened, had a quiet hint, through Fleda, that if he had a mind to
take the working of the saw-mill he might, for a consideration merely
nominal. This offer was immediately and gratefully closed with; and
Hugh's earnings were thenceforward very important at home. Fleda had her
own ways and means. Mr. Rossitur, more low-spirited and gloomy than ever,
seemed to have no heart to anything. He would have worked perhaps if he
could have done it alone; but to join Didenhover and his men, or any
other gang of workmen, was too much for his magnanimity. He helped nobody
but Fleda. For her he would do anything, at any time; and in the garden
and among her flowers in the flowery courtyard he might often be seen at
work with her. But nowhere else.
Some bring a capon, some a rurall cake,
Some nuts, some apples; some that thinke they make
The better cheeses, bring 'hem; or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands; and whose baskets beare
An embleme of themselves, in plum or peare.
So the time walked away, for this family was not now of those "whom time
runneth withal,"--to the second summer of Mr. Didenhover's term.
One morning Mrs. Rossitur was seated in the breakfast-room at her usual
employment, mending and patching; no sinecure now. Fleda opened the
kitchen door and came in folding up a calico apron she had just taken off.
"You are tired, dear," said Mrs. Rossitur sorrowfully;--"you look pale."
"Do I?"--said Fleda, sitting down. "I am a little tired!"
"Why do you do so?"
"O it's nothing" said Fleda cheerfully;--"I haven't hurt myself. I shall
be rested again in a few minutes."
"What have you been doing?"
"O I tired myself a little before breakfast in the garden, I suppose. Aunt
Lucy, don't you think I had almost a bushel of peas?--and there was a
little over a half bushel last time, so I shall call it a bushel. Isn't
"You didn't pick them all yourself?"
"Hugh helped me a little while; but he had the horse to get ready, and I
was out before him this morning--poor fellow, he was tired from yesterday,
I dare say."
Mrs. Rossitur looked at her, a look between remonstrance and reproach, and
cast her eyes down without saying a word, swallowing a whole heartful of
thoughts and feelings. Fleda stooped forward till her own forehead softly
touched Mrs. Rossitur's, as gentle a chiding of despondency as a very
sunbeam could have given.
"Now aunt Lucy!--what do you mean? Don't you know it's good for me?--And
do you know, Mr. Sweet will give me four shillings a bushel; and aunt
Lucy, I sent three dozen heads of lettuce this morning besides. Isn't that
doing well? and I sent two dozen day before yesterday. It is time they
were gone, for they are running up to seed, this set; I have got another
fine set almost ready."
Mrs. Rossitur looked at her again, as if she had been a sort of
"And how much will you get for them?"
"I don't know exactly--threepence, or sixpence perhaps,--I guess not so
much--they are so easily raised; though I don't believe there are so fine
as mine to be seen in this region.--If I only had somebody to water the
strawberries!--we should have a great many. Aunt Lucy, I am going to send
as many as I can without robbing uncle Rolf--he sha'n't miss them; but the
rest of us don't mind eating rather fewer than usual? I shall make a good
deal by them. And I think these morning rides do Hugh good; don't you
"And what have you been busy about ever since breakfast, Fleda?"
"O--two or three things," said Fleda lightly.
"I had bread to make--and then I thought while my hands were in I would
make a custard for uncle Rolf."
"You needn't have done that, dear! it was not necessary."
"Yes it was, because you know we have only fried pork for dinner to-day,
and while we have the milk and eggs it doesn't cost much--the sugar is
almost nothing. He will like it better, and so will Hugh. As for you,"
said Fleda, gently touching her forehead again, "you know it is of no
"I wish you would think yourself of some consequence," said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Don't I think myself of consequence!" naid Fleda affectionately. "I don't
know how you'd all get on without me. What do you think I have a mind to
do now, by way of resting myself?"
"Well?" said Mrs Rossitur, thinking of something else.
"It is the day for making presents to the minister, you know?"
"Yes, the new minister--they expect him to-day;--you have heard of
it;--the things are all to be carried to his house to-day. I have a great
notion to go and see the fun--if I only had anything in the world I could
possibly take with me--"
"Aren't you too tired, dear?"
"No--it would rest me--it is early yet--if I only had something to
take!--I couldn't go without taking something----"
"A basket of eggs?" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"Can't, aunt Lucy--I can't spare them; so many of the hens are setting
now.--A basket of strawberries!--that's the thing! I've got enough picked
for that and to-night too. That will do!"
Fleda's preparations were soon made, and with her basket on her arm she
was ready to set forth.
"If pride had not been a little put down in me," she said smiling, "I
suppose I should rather stay at home than go with such a petty offering.
And no doubt every one that sees it or hears of it will lay it to anything
but the right reason. So much the world knows about the people it
judges!--It is too bad to leave you all alone, aunt Lucy."
Mrs. Rossitur pulled her down for a kiss, a kiss in which how much was
said on both sides!--and Fleda set forth, choosing as she very commonly
did the old-time way through the kitchen.
"Off again?" said Barby, who was on her knees scrubbing the great
flag-stones of the hearth.
"Yes, I am going up to see the donation party."
"Has the minister come?"
"No, but he is coming to-day, I understand."
"He ha'n't preached for 'em yet, has he?"
"Not yet; I suppose he will next Sunday."
"They are in a mighty hurry to give him a donation party!" said Barby.
"I'd ha' waited till he was here first. I don't believe they'd be quite so
spry with their donations if they had paid the last man up as they ought.
I'd rather give a man what belongs to him, and make him presents
"Why, so I hope they will, Barby," said Fleda laughing. But Barby
said no more.
The parsonage-house was about a quarter of a mile, a little more, from the
saw-mill, in a line at right angles with the main road. Fleda took Hugh
from his work to see her safe there. The road ran north, keeping near the
level of the mid-hill where it branched off a little below the saw-mill;
and as the ground continued rising towards the east and was well clothed
with woods, the way at this hour was still pleasantly shady. To the left
the same slope of ground carried down to the foot of the hill gave them an
uninterrupted view over a wide plain or bottom, edged in the distance with
a circle of gently swelling hills. Close against the hills, in the far
corner of the plain, lay the little village of Queechy Run, hid from sight
by a slight intervening rise of ground; not a chimney shewed itself in the
whole spread of country. A sunny landscape just now; but rich in
picturesque associations of hay-cocks and winnows, spotting it near and
far; and close by below them was a field of mowers at work; they could
distinctly hear the measured rush of the scythes through the grass, and
then the soft clink of the rifles would seem to play some old delicious
tune of childish days. Fleda made Hugh stand still to listen. It was a
warm day, but "the sweet south that breathes upon a bank of violets,"
could hardly be more sweet than the air which coming to them over the
whole breadth of the valley had been charged by the new-made hay.
"How good it is, Hugh," said Fleda, "that one can get out of doors
and forget everything that ever happened or ever will happen within
"Do you?" said Hugh, rather soberly.
"Yes I do,--even in my flower-patch, right before the house-door; but
_here_--" said Fleda, turning away and swinging her basket of strawberries
as she went, "I have no idea I ever did such a thing as make bread!--and
how clothes get mended I do not comprehend in the least!"
"And have you forgotten the peas and the asparagus too?"
"I am afraid you haven't, dear Hugh," said Fleda, linking her arm within
his. "Hugh,--I must find some way to make money."
"More money?" said Hugh smiling.
"Yes--this garden business is all very well, but it doesn't come to any
very great things after all, if you are aware of it; and, Hugh, I want to
get aunt Lucy a new dress. I can't bear to see her in that old merino, and
it isn't good for her. Why, Hugh, she couldn't possibly see anybody, if
anybody should come to the house."
"Who is there to come?" said Hugh.
"Why nobody; but still, she ought not to be so."
"What more can you do, dear Fleda? You work a great deal too hard
already," said Hugh sighing. "You should have seen the way father and
mother looked at you last night when you were asleep on the sofa."
Fleda stifled her sigh, and went on.
"I am sure there are things that might be done--things for the
booksellers--translating, or copying, or something,--I don't know
exactly--I have heard of people's doing such things. I mean to write to
uncle Orrin and ask him. I am sure he can manage it for me."
"What were you writing the other night?" said Hugh suddenly.
"The other night--when you were writing by the firelight? I saw your
pencil scribbling away at a furious rate over the paper, and you kept your
hand up carefully between me and your face, but I could see it was
something very interesting. Ha?--" said Hugh, laughingly trying to get
another view of Fleda's face which was again kept from him. "Send _that_
to uncle Orrin, Fleda;--or shew it to me first and then I will tell you."
Fleda made no answer; and at the parsonage door Hugh left her.
Two or three wagons were standing there, but nobody to be seen. Fleda went
up the steps and crossed the broad piazza, brown and unpainted, but
picturesque still, and guided by the sound of tongues turned to the right
where she found a large low room, the very centre of the stir. But the
stir had not by any means reached the height yet. Not more than a dozen
people were gathered. Here were aunt Syra and Mrs. Douglass, appointed a
committee to receive and dispose the offerings as they were brought in.
"Why there is not much to be seen yet," said Fleda. "I did not know I was
"Time enough," said Mrs. Douglass. "They'll come the thicker when
they do come. Good-morning, Dr. Quackenboss!--I hope you're a going
to give us something else besides a bow? and I won't take none of
your physic, neither."
"I humbly submit," said the doctor graciously, "that nothing ought to be
expected of gentlemen that--a--are so unhappy as to be alone; for they
really--a--have nothing to give,--but themselves."
There was a shout of merriment.
"And suppos'n that's a gift that nobody wants?" said Mrs, Douglass's sharp
eye and voice at once.
"In that case," said the doctor, "I really--Miss Ringgan, may I--a--may I
relieve your hand of this fair burden?"
"It is not a very fair burden, sir," said Fleda, laughing and
relinquishing her strawberries.
"Ah but, fair, you know, I mean,--we speak--in that sense----Mrs
Douglass, here is by far the most elegant offering that your hands will
have the honour of receiving this day."
"I hope so," said Mrs. Douglass, "or there won't be much to eat for the
minister. Did you never take notice how elegant things somehow made folks
"I guess he'd as leave see something a little substantial," said
"Well now," said the doctor, "here is Miss Ringgan, who is
unquestionably--a--elegant!--and I am sure nobody will say that
In one sense, surely not! There could not be two opinions. But with all
the fairness of health, and the flush which two or three feelings had
brought to her cheeks, there was a look as if the workings of the mind had
refined away a little of the strength of the physical frame, and as if
growing poor in Mrs. Douglass's sense, that is, thin, might easily be the
"What's your uncle going to give us, Fleda?" said aunt Syra.
But Fleda was saved replying; for Mrs. Douglass, who if she was sharp
could be good-natured too, and had watched to see how Fleda took the
double fire upon elegance and poverty, could beat no more trial of that
sweet gentle face. Without giving her time to answer she carried her off
to see the things already stored in the closet, bidding the doctor over
her shoulder "be off after his goods, whether he had got 'em or no."
There was certainly a promising beginning made for the future minister's
comfort. One shelf was already completely stocked with pies, and another
shewed a quantity of cake, and biscuits enough to last a good-sized family
for several meals.
"That is always the way," said Mrs. Douglass;--"it's the strangest thing
that folks has no sense! Now one-half o' them pies'll be dried up afore
they can eat the rest;--'tain't much loss, for Mis' Prin sent 'em down,
and if they are worth anything it's the first time anything ever come out
of her house that was. Now look at them biscuit!"--
"How many are coming to eat them?" said Fleda.
"How large a family has the minister?"
"He ha'n't a bit of a family! He ain't married."
At the grave way in which Mrs. Douglass faced around upon her and
answered, and at the idea of a single mouth devoted to all that closetful,
Fleda's gravity gave place to most uncontrollable merriment.
"No," said Mrs. Douglass, with a curious twist of her mouth but
commanding herself,--"he ain't to be sure--not yet. He ha'n't any family
but himself and some sort of a housekeeper, I suppose; they'll divide the
house between 'em."
"And the biscuits, I hope," said Fleda. "But what will he do with all the
other things, Mrs. Douglass?"
"Sell 'em if he don't want 'em," said Mrs. Douglass quizzically. "Shut up,
Fleda, I forget who sent them biscuit--somebody that calculated to make a
shew for a little, I reckon.--My sakes! I believe it was Mis' Springer
herself!--she didn't hear me though," said Mrs. Douglass peeping out of
the half-open door. "It's a good thing the world ain't all alike;--there's
Mis' Plumfield--stop now, and I'll tell you all she sent;--that big jar of
lard, there's as good as eighteen or twenty pound,--and that basket of
eggs, I don't know how many there is,--and that cheese, a real fine one
I'll be bound, she wouldn't pick out the worst in her dairy,--and Seth
fetched down a hundred weight of corn meal and another of rye flour; now
that's what I call doing things something like; if everybody else would
keep up their end as well as they keep up their'n the world wouldn't be
quite so one-sided as it is. I never see the time yet when I couldn't tell
where to find Mis' Plumfield."
"No, nor anybody else," said Fleda looking happy.
"There's Mis' Silbert couldn't find nothing better to send than a kag of
soap," Mrs. Douglass went on, seeming very much amused;--"I _was_ beat
when I saw that walk in! I should think she'd feel streaked to come here
by and by and see it a standing between Mis' Plumfield's lard and Mis'
Clavering's pork--that's a handsome kag of pork, ain't it? What's that man
done with your strawberries?--I'll put 'em up here afore somebody takes a
notion to 'em.--I'll let the minister know who he's got to thank for 'em,"
said she, winking at Fleda. "Where's Dr. Quackenboss?"
"Coming, ma'am!" sounded from the hall, and forthwith at the open door
entered the doctor's head, simultaneously with a large cheese which he was
rolling before him, the rest of the doctor's person being thrown into the
background in consequence. A curious natural representation of a
wheelbarrow, the wheel being the only artificial part.
"Oh!--that's you, doctor, is it?" said Mrs. Douglass.
"This is me, ma'am," said the doctor, rolling up to the closet
door,--"this has the honour to be--a--myself,--bringing my service to the
feet of Miss Ringgan."
"'Tain't very elegant," said the sharp lady.
Fleda thought if his service was at her feet, her feet should be somewhere
else, and accordingly stepped quietly out of the way and went to one of
the windows, from whence she could have a view both of the comers and the
come; and by this time thoroughly in the spirit of the thing she used her
eyes upon both with great amusement. People were constantly arriving now,
in wagons and on foot; and stores of all kinds were most literally pouring
in. Bags and even barrels of meal, flour, pork, and potatoes; strings of
dried apples, _salt_, hams and beef; hops, pickles, vinegar, maple sugar
and molasses; rolls of fresh butter, cheese, and eggs; cake, bread, and
pies, without end. Mr. Penny, the storekeeper, sent a box of tea. Mr.
Winegar, the carpenter, a new ox-sled. Earl Douglass brought a handsome
axe-helve of his own fashioning; his wife a quantity of rolls of wool. Zan
Finn carted a load of wood into the wood-shed, and Squire Thornton
another. Home-made candles, custards, preserves, and smoked liver, came in
a batch from two or three miles off up on the mountain. Half a dozen
chairs from the factory man. Half a dozen brooms from the other
store-keeper at the Deepwater settlement. A carpet for the best room from
the ladies of the township, who had clubbed forces to furnish it; and a
home-made concern it was, from the shears to the loom.
The room was full now, for every one after depositing his gift turned
aside to see what others had brought and were bringing; and men and women,
the young and old, had their several circles of gossip in various parts of
the crowd. Apart from them all Fleda sat in her window, probably voted
"elegant" by others than the doctor, for they vouchsafed her no more than
a transitory attention and sheered off to find something more congenial.
She sat watching the people; smiling very often as some odd figure, or
look, or some peculiar turn of expression or tone of voice, caught her ear
or her eye.
Both ear and eye were fastened by a young countryman with a particularly
fresh face whom she saw approaching the house. He came up on foot,
carrying a single fowl slung at his back by a stick thrown across his
shoulder, and without stirring hat or stick he came into the room and made
his way through the crowd of people, looking to the one hand and the other
evidently in a maze of doubt to whom he should deliver himself and his
chicken, till brought up by Mrs. Douglass's sharp voice.
"Well, Philetus! what are you looking for?"
"Do, Mis' Douglass!"--it is impossible to express the abortive attempt at
a bow which accompanied this salutation,--"I want to know if the minister
'll be in town to-day?"
"What do you want of him?"
"I don't want nothin' of him. I want to know if he'll be in town to-day?"
"Yes--I expect he'll be along directly--why, what then?"
"Cause I've got ten chickens for him here, and mother said they hadn't
ought to be kept no longer, and if he wa'n't to hum I were to fetch 'em
"Well he'll be here, so let's have 'em," said Mrs. Douglass biting her
"What's become o' t'other one?" said Earl, as the young man's stick was
brought round to the table;--"I guess you've lost it, ha'n't you?"
"My gracious!" was all Philetus's powers were equal to. Mrs. Douglass went
off into fits which rendered her incapable of speaking and left the
unlucky chicken-bearer to tell his story his own way, but all he brought
forth was "Du tell!--I _am_ beat!--"
"Where's t'other one?" said Mrs. Douglass between paroxysms.
"Why I ha'n't done nothin' to it," said Philetus dismally,--there was
teu on 'em afore I started, and I took and tied 'em together and hitched
'em onto the stick, and that one must ha' loosened itself off some way.--I
believe the darned thing did it o' purpose."
"I guess your mother knowed that one wouldn't keep till it got here," said
The room was now all one shout, in the midst of which poor Philetus took
himself off as speedily as possible. Before Fleda had dried her eyes her
attention was taken by a lady and gentleman who had just got out of a
vehicle of more than the ordinary pretension and were coming up to the
door. The gentleman was young, the lady was not, both had a particularly
amiable and pleasant appearance; but about the lady there was something
that moved Fleda singularly and somehow touched the spring of old
memories, which she felt stirring at the sight of her. As they neared the
house she lost them--then they entered the room and came through it
slowly, looking about them with an air of good-humoured amusement. Fleda's
eye was fixed but her mind puzzled itself in vain to recover what in her
experience had been connected with that fair and lady-like physiognomy and
the bland smile that was overlooked by those acute eyes. The eyes met
hers, and then seemed to reflect her doubt, for they remained as fixed as
her own while the lady quickening her steps came up to her.
"I am sure," she said, holding out her hand, and with a gentle
graciousness that was very agreeable,--"I am sure you are somebody I know.
What is your name?"
"I thought so!" said the lady, now shaking her hand warmly and kissing
her,--"I knew nobody could have been your mother but Amy Charlton! How
like her you look!--Don't you know me? don't you remember Mrs. Evelyn?"
"Mrs. Evelyn!" said Fleda, the whole coming back to her at once.
"You remember me now?--How well I recollect you! and all that old time at
Montepoole. Poor little creature that you were! and dear little creature,
as I am sure you have been ever since. And how is your dear aunt Lucy?"
Fleda answered that she was well.
"I used to love her very much--that was before I knew you--before she
went abroad. _We_ have just got home--this spring; and now we are staying
at Montepoole for a few days. I shall come and see her to-morrow--I knew
you were somewhere in this region, but I did not know exactly where to
find you; that was one reason why I came here to-day--I thought I might
hear something of you. And where are your aunt Lucy's children? and how
"Hugh is at home," said Fleda, "and rather delicate--Charlton is in
"In the army. In Mexico!"--
"In Mexico he has been"--
"Your poor aunt Lucy!"
--"In Mexico he has been, but he is just coming home now--he has been
wounded, and he is coming home to spend a long furlough."
"Coming home. That will make you all very happy. And Hugh is delicate--and
how are you, love? you hardly look like a country-girl. Mr. Olmney!--"
said Mrs. Evelyn looking round for her companion, who was standing quietly
a few steps off surveying the scene,--"Mr. Olmney!--I am going to do you a
favour, sir, in introducing you to Miss Ringgan--a very old friend of
mine. Mr. Olmney,--these are not exactly the apple-cheeks and _robustious_
demonstrations we are taught to look for in country-land?"
This was said with a kind of sly funny enjoyment which took away
everything disagreeable from the appeal; but Fleda conceived a favourable
opinion of the person to whom it was made from the fact that he paid her
no compliment and made no answer beyond a very pleasant smile.
"What is Mrs. Evelyn's definition of a _very old_ friend?" said he with
with another smile, as that lady moved off to take a more particular view
of what she had come to see. "To judge by the specimen before me I should
consider it very equivocal."
"Perhaps Mrs. Evelyn counts friendships by inheritance," said Fleda. "I
think they ought to be counted so."
"'Thine own friend and thy father's friend forsake not'?" said the
Fleda looked up and smiled a pleased answer.
"There is something very lovely in the faithfulness of tried
friendship--and very uncommon."
"I know that it is uncommon only by hearsay," said Fleda, "I have so many
He was silent for an instant, possibly thinking there might be a reason
for that unknown only to Fleda herself.
"Perhaps one must be in peculiar circumstances to realize it," he said
sighing;--"circumstances that leave one of no importance to any one in the
world.--But it is a kind lesson I--one learns to depend more on the one
friendship that can never disappoint."
Fleda's eyes again gave an answer of sympathy, for she thought from the
shade that had come upon his face that these circumstances had probably
been known to himself.
"This is rather an amusing scene," he remarked presently in a low tone.
"Very," said Fleda. "I have never seen such a one before."
"Nor I," said he. "It is a pleasant scene too, it is pleasant to see
so many evidences of kindness and good feeling on the part of all
"There is all the more shew of it, I suppose, to-day," said Fleda,
"because we have a new minister coming;--they want to make a favourable
"Does the old proverb of the 'new broom' hold good here too?" said he,
smiling. "What's the name of your new minister?"
"I am not certain," said Fleda,--"there were two talked of--the last I
heard was that it was an old Mr. Carey; but from what I hear this
morning I suppose it must be the other--a Mr. Ollum, or some such queer
name, I believe."
Fleda thought her hearer looked very much amused, and followed his eye
into the room, where Mrs. Evelyn was going about in all quarters looking
at everything, and finding occasion to enter into conversation with at
least a quarter of the people who were present. Whatever she was saying it
seemed at that moment to have something to do with them, for sundry eyes
turned in their direction; and presently Dr. Quackenboss came up, with
even more than common suavity of manner.
"I trust Miss Ringgan will do me the favour of making me acquainted
with--a--with our future pastor!" said the doctor, looking however not at
all at Miss Ringgan but straight at the pastor in question. "I have great
pleasure in giving you the first welcome, sir,--or, I should say, rather
the second; since no doubt Miss Ringgan has been in advance of me. It is
not un--a--appropriate, sir, for I may say we--a--divide the town between
us. You are, I am sure, a worthy representative of Peter and Paul; and I
am--a--a pupil of Esculapus, sir! You are the intellectual physician, and
I am the external."
"I hope we shall both prove ourselves good workmen, sir," said the young
minister, shaking the doctor's hand heartily.
"This is Dr. Quackenboss, Mr. Olmney," said Fleda, making a tremendous
effort. But though she could see corresponding indications about her
companion's eyes and mouth, she admired the kindness and self-command
with which he listened to the doctor's civilities and answered them;
expressing his grateful sense of the favours received not only from him
but from others.
"O--a little to begin with," said the doctor, looking round upon the room,
which would certainly have furnished _that_ for fifty people;--"I hope we
ain't done yet by considerable--But here is Miss Ringgan, Mr.--a--Ummin,
that has brought you some of the fruits of her own garden, with her own
fair hands--a basket of fine strawberries--which I am sure--a--will make
you forget everything else!"
Mr. Olmney had the good-breeding not to look at Fleda, as he answered, "I
am sure the spirit of kindness was the same in all, Dr. Quackenboss, and I
trust not to forget that readily."
Others now came up; and Mr. Olmney was walked off to be "made acquainted"
with all or with all the chief of his parishioners then and there
assembled. Fleda watched him going about, shaking hands, talking and
smiling, in all directions, with about as much freedom of locomotion as a
fly in a spider's web; till at Mrs. Evelyn's approach the others fell off
a little, and taking him by the arm she rescued him.
"My dear Mr. Olmney!" she whispered, with an intensely amused face,--"I
shall have a vision of you every day for a month to come, sitting down to
dinner with a rueful face to a whortleberry pie; for there are so many of
them your conscience will not let you have anything else cooked--you
cannot manage more than one a day."
"Pies!" said the young gentleman, as Mrs. Evelyn left talking to indulge
her feelings in ecstatic quiet laughing,--"I have a horror of pies!"
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Evelyn nodding her head delightedly as she drew him
towards the pantry,--"I know!--Come and see what is in store for you. You
are to do penance for a month to come with tin pans of blackberry jam
fringed with pie-crust--no, they can't be blackberries, they must be
raspberries--the blackberries are not ripe yet. And you may sup upon cake
and custards--unless you give the custards for the little pig out
there--he will want something."
"A pig!--" said Mr. Olmney in a maze; Mrs. Evelyn again giving out in
distress. "A pig?" said Mr. Olmney.
"Yes--a pig--a very little one," said Mrs. Evelyn convulsively. "I am sure
he is hungry now!--"
They had reached the pantry, and Mr. Olmney's face was all that was
wanting to Mrs. Evelyn's delight. How she smothered it, so that it should
go no further than to distress his self-command, is a mystery known only
to the initiated. Mrs. Douglass was forthwith called into council.
"Mrs. Douglass," said Mr. Olmney, "I feel very much inclined to play the
host, and beg my friends to share with me some of these good things they
have been so bountifully providing."
"He would enjoy them much more than he would alone, Mrs. Douglass," said
Mrs. Evelyn, who still had hold of Mr. Olmney's arm, looking round to the
lady with a most benign face.
"I reckon some of 'em would be past enjoying by the time he got to 'em,
wouldn't they?" said the lady. "Well, they'll have to take 'em in their
fingers, for our crockery ha'n't come yet--I shall have to jog Mr. Flatt's
elbow--but hungry folks ain't curious."
"In their fingers, or any way, provided you have only a knife to cut them
with," said Mr. Olmney, while Mrs. Evelyn squeezed his arm in secret
mischief;--"and pray if we can muster two knives let us cut one of these
cheeses, Mrs. Douglass."
And presently Fleda saw pieces of pie walking about in all directions
supported by pieces of cheese. And then Mrs. Evelyn and Mr. Olmney came
out from the pantry and came towards her, the latter bringing her with his
own hands a portion in a tin pan. The two ladies sat down in the window
together to eat and be amused.
"My dear Fleda, I hope you are hungry!" said Mrs. Evelyn, biting her pie
Fleda could not help thinking with an air of good-humoured condescension.
"I am, ma'am," she said laughing.
"You look just as you used to do," Mrs. Evelyn went on earnestly.
"Do I?" said Fleda, privately thinking that the lady must have good eyes
for features of resemblance.
"Except that you have more colour in your cheeks and more sparkles in your
eyes. Dear little creature that you were! I want to make you know my
children. Do you remember that Mr. and Mrs. Carleton that took such care
of you at Montepoole?"
"Certainly I do!--very well."
"We saw them last winter--we were down at their country-place in----
shire. They have a magnificent place there--everything you can think of to
make life pleasant. We spent a week with them. My dear Fleda!--I wish I
could shew you that place! you never saw anything like it."
Fleda eat her pie.
"We have nothing like it in this country--of course--cannot have. One of
those superb English country-seats is beyond even the imagination of an
"Nature has been as kind to us, hasn't she?" said Fleda.
"O yes, but such fortunes you know. Mr. Olmney, what do you think of
those overgrown fortunes? I was speaking to Miss Ringgan just now of a
gentleman who has forty thousand pounds a year income--sterling,
sir;--forty thousand pounds a year sterling. Somebody says, you know, that
'he who has more than enough is a thief of the rights of his
brother,'--what do you think?"
But Mr. Olmney's attention was at the moment forcibly called off by the
"income" of a parishioner.
"I suppose," said Fleda, "his thievish character must depend entirely on
the use he makes of what he has."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Evelyn shaking her head,--"I think the
possession of great wealth is very hardening."
"To a fine nature?" said Fleda.
Mrs. Evelyn shook her head again, but did not seem to think it worth while
to reply; and Fleda was trying the question in her own mind whether wealth
or poverty might be the most hardening in its effects; when Mr. Olmney
having succeeded in getting free again came and took his station beside
them; and they had a particularly pleasant talk, which Fleda who had seen
nobody in a great while enjoyed very much. They had several such talks in
the course of the day; for though the distractions caused by Mr. Olmney's
other friends were many and engrossing, he generally contrived in time to
find his way back to their window. Meanwhile Mrs. Evelyn had a great deal
to say to Fleda and to hear from her; and left her at last under an
engagement to spend the next day at the Pool.
Upon Mr. Olmney's departure with Mrs. Evelyn the attraction which had held
the company together was broken, and they scattered fast. Fleda presently
finding herself in the minority was glad to set out with Miss Anastasia
Finn and her sister Lucy, who would leave her but very little way from her
own door. But she had more company than she bargained for. Dr. Quackenboss
was pleased to attach himself to their party, though his own shortest road
certainly lay in another direction; and Fleda wondered what he had done
with his wagon, which beyond a question must have brought the cheese in
the morning. She edged herself out of the conversation as much as
possible, and hoped it would prove so agreeable that he would not think of
attending her home. In vain. When they made a stand at the cross-roads the
doctor stood on her side.
"I hope, now you've made a commencement, you will come to see us again,
Fleda," said Miss Lucy.
"What's the use of asking?" said her sister abruptly. "If she has a mind
to she will, and if she ha'n't I am sure we don't want her."
They turned off.
"Those are excellent people," said the doctor when they were beyond
"Are they?" said Fleda.
"But your goodness does not look, I am sure, to find--a--Parisian graces
in so remote a circle?"
"Certainly not!" said Fleda.
"We have had a genial day!" said the doctor, quitting the Finns.
"I don't know," said Fleda, permitting a little of her inward merriment to
work off,--"I think it has been rather too hot."
"Yes," said the doctor, "the sun has been ardent; but I referred rather to
the--a--to the warming of affections, and the pleasant exchange of
intercourse on all sides which has taken place. How do you like
"The new-comer,--this young Mr. Ummin?"
Fleda answered, but she hardly knew what, for she was musing whether the
doctor would go away or come in. They reached the door, and Fleda invited
him, with terrible effort after her voice; the doctor having just blandly
offered an opinion upon the decided polish of Mr. Olmney's manners!
Labour is light, where lore (quoth I) doth pay;
(Saith he) light burthens heavy, if far borne.
Fleda pushed open the parlour door and preceded her convoy, in a kind of
tip-toe state of spirits. The first thing that met her eyes was her aunt
in one of the few handsome silks which were almost her sole relic of past
wardrobe prosperity, and with a face uncommonly happy and pretty; and the
next instant she saw the explanation of this appearance in her cousin
Charlton, a little palish, but looking better than she had ever seen him,
and another gentleman of whom her eye took in only the general outlines of
fashion and comfortable circumstances; now too strange to it to go
unnoted. In Fleda's usual mood her next movement would have been made with
a demureness that would have looked like bashfulness. But the amusement
and pleasure of the day just passed had for the moment set her spirits
free from the burden that generally bound them down; and they were as
elastic as her step as she came forward and presented to her aunt "Dr.
Quackenboss,--and then turned to shake her cousin's hand."
"Charlton!--Where did you come from? We didn't expect you so soon."
"You are not sorry to see me, I hope?"
"Not at all--very glad;"--and then as her eye glanced towards the other
new-comer Charlton presented to her "Mr. Thorn;" and Fleda's fancy made a
sudden quick leap on the instant to the old hall at Montepoole and the
shot dog. And then Dr. Quackenboss was presented, an introduction which
Capt. Rossitur received coldly, and Mr. Thorn with something more than
The doctor's elasticity however defied depression, especially in the
presence of a silk dress and a military coat. Fleda presently saw that he
was agonizing her uncle. Mrs. Rossitur had drawn close to her son. Fleda
was left to take care of the other visitor. The young men had both seemed
more struck at the vision presented to them than she had been on her part.
She thought neither of them was very ready to speak to her.
"I did not know," said Mr. Thorn softly, "what reason I had to thank
Rossitur for bringing me home with him to-night--he promised me a supper
and a welcome,--but I find he did not tell me the half of my
"That was wise in him," said Fleda;--"the half that is not expected is
always worth a great deal more than the other."
"In this case, most assuredly," said Thorn bowing, and Fleda was sure not
knowing what to make of her.
"Have you been in Mexico too, Mr. Thorn?"
"Not I!--that's an entertainment I beg to decline. I never felt inclined
to barter an arm for a shoulder-knot, or to abridge my usual means of
locomotion for the privilege of riding on parade--or selling oneself for a
name--Peter Schlemil's selling his shadow I can understand; but this is
really lessening oneself that one's shadow may grow the larger."
"But you were in the army?" said Fleda.
"Yes--It wasn't my doing. There is a time, you know, when one must please
the old folks--I grew old enough and wise enough to cut loose from the
army before I had gained or lost much by it."
He did not understand the displeased gravity of Fleda's face, and went on
"Unless I have lost what Charlton has gained--something I did not know
hung upon the decision--Perhaps you think a man is taller for having iron
heels to his boots?"
"I do not measure a man by his inches," said Fleda.
"Then you have no particular predilection for shooting men?"
"I have no predilection for shooting anything, sir."
"Then I am safe!" said he, with an arrogant little air of satisfaction. "I
was born under an indolent star, but I confess to you, privately, of the
two I would rather gather my harvests with the sickle than the sword. How
does your uncle find it?"
"Find what, sir?"
"The worship of Ceres?--I remember he used to be devoted to Apollo and
"Are they rival deities?"
"Why--I have been rather of the opinion that they were too many for one
house to hold," said Thorn glancing at Mr. Rossitur. "But perhays the
Graces manage to reconcile them!"
"Did you ever hear of the Graces getting supper?" said Fleda. "Because
Ceres sometimes sets them at that work. Uncle Rolf," she added as she
passed him,--"Mr. Thorn is inquiring after Apollo--will you set him right,
while I do the same for the tablecloth?"
Her uncle looked from her sparkling eyes to the rather puzzled expression
of his guest's face.
"I was only asking your lovely niece," said Mr. Thorn coming down from his
stilts,--"how you liked this country life?"
Dr. Quackenboss bowed, probably in approbation of the epithet.
"Well sir--what information did she give you on the subject?"
"Left me in the dark, sir, with a vague hope that you would enlighten me."
"I trust Mr. Rossitur can give a favourable report?" said the
But Mr. Rossitur's frowning brow looked very little like it.
"What do you say to our country life, sir?"
"It's a confounded life, sir," said Mr. Rossitur, taking a pamphlet from
the table to fold and twist as he spoke,--"it is a confounded life; for
the head and the hands must either live separate, or the head must do no
other work but wait upon the hands. It is an alternative of loss and
"The alternative seems to be of--a--limited application," said the doctor,
as Fleda, having found that Hugh and Barby had been beforehand with her,
now came back to the company. "I am sure this lady would not give such a
"About what?" said Fleda, colouring under the fire of so many eyes.
"The blighting influence of Ceres' sceptre," said Mr. Thorn.
"This country life," said her uncle;--"do you like it, Fleda?"
"You know, uncle," said she cheerfully, "I was always of the old
Douglasses' mind--I like better to hear the lark sing than the
"Is that one of Earl Douglass's sayings?" said the doctor.
"Yes sir," said Fleda with quivering lips,--"but not the one you know--an
"Ah!" said the doctor intelligently. "Mr. Rossitur,--speaking of
hands,--I have employed the Irish very much of late years--they are as
good as one can have, if you do not want a head."
"That is to say,--if you have a head," said Thorn.
"Exactly" said the doctor, all abroad,--"and when there are not too many
of them together. I had enough of that, sir, some years ago when a
multitude of them were employed on the public works. The Irish were in a
state of mutilation, sir, all through the country."
"Ah!" said Thorn,--"had the military been at work upon them?"
"No sir, but I wish they had, I am sure; it would have been for the peace
of the town. There were hundreds of them. We were in want of an army."
"Of surgeons,--I should think," said Thorn.
Fleda saw the doctor's dubious air and her uncle's compressed lips; and
commanding herself, with even a look of something like displeasure she
quitted her seat by Mr. Thorn and called the doctor to the window to look
at a cluster of rose acacias just then in their glory. He admired, and she
expatiated, till she hoped everybody but herself had forgotten what they
had been talking about. But they had no sooner returned to their seats
than Thorn began again.
"The Irish in your town are not in the same mutilated state now, I
"No sir, no," said the doctor;--"there are much fewer of them to break
each other's bones. It was all among themselves, sir."
"The country is full of foreigners," said Mr. Rossitur with
"Yes sir," said Dr. Quackenboss thoughtfully;--"we shall have none of our
ancestors left in a short time, if they go on as they are doing."
Fleda was beaten from the field, and rushing into the breakfast-room
astonished Hugh by seizing hold of him and indulging in a most prolonged
and unbounded laugh. She did not shew herself again till the company came
in to supper; but then she was found as grave as Minerva. She devoted
herself particularly to the care and entertainment of Dr. Quackenboss till
he took leave; nor could Thorn get another chance to talk to her through
all the evening.
When he and Rossitur were at last in their rooms Fleda told her story.
"You don't know how pleasant it was, aunt Lucy--how much I enjoyed
it--seeing and talking to somebody again. Mrs. Evelyn was so very kind."
"I am very glad, my darling," said Mrs. Rossitur, stroking away the hair
from the forehead that was bent down towards her;--"I am glad you had it
to-day and I am glad you will have it again to-morrow."
"You will have it too, aunt Lucy. Mrs. Evelyn will be here in the
morning--she said so."
"I shall not see her."
"Why? Now aunt Lucy!--you will."
"I have nothing in the world to see her in--I cannot."
"You have this?"
"For the morning? A rich French silk?--It would be absurd. No, no,--it
would be better to wear my old merino than that."
"But you will have to dress in the morning for Mr. Thorn?--he will be here
"I shall not come down to breakfast.--Don't look so, love!--I can't help
"Why was that calico got for me and not for you?" said Fleda, bitterly.
"A sixpenny calico," said Mrs. Rossitur smiling,--"it would be hard if you
could not have so much as that, love."
"And you will not see Mrs. Evelyn and her daughters at all!--and I was
thinking that it would do you so much good!--"
Mrs. Rossitur drew her face a little nearer and kissed it, over and over.
"It will do you good, my darling--that is what I care for much more."
"It will not do me half as much," said Fleda sighing.
Her spirits were in their old place again; no more a tip-toe to-night. The
short light of pleasure was overcast. She went to bed feeling very quiet
indeed; and received Mrs. Evelyn and excused her aunt the next day, almost
wishing the lady had not been as good as her word. But though in the same
mood she set off with her to drive to Montepoole, it could not stand the
bright influences with which she found herself surrounded. She came home
again at night with dancing spirits.
It was some days before Capt. Rossitur began at all to comprehend the
change which had come upon his family. One morning Fleda and Hugh having
finished their morning's work were in the breakfast-room waiting for the
rest of the family, when Charlton made his appearance, with the cloud on
his brow which had been lately gathering.
"Where is the paper?" said he. "I haven't seen a paper since I have
"You mustn't expect to find Mexican luxuries in Queechy, Capt.
Rossitur," said Fleda pleasantly.--"Look at these roses, and don't ask
me for papers!"
He did look a minute at the dish of flowers she was arranging for the
breakfast table, and at the rival freshness and sweetness of the face that
hung over them.
"You don't mean to say you live without a paper?"
[Illustration: "Look at these roses, and don't ask me for papers!"]
"Well, it's astonishing how many things people can live without," said
Fleda rather dreamily, intent upon settling an uneasy rose that would
"I wish you'd answer me really," said Charlton. "Don't you take a
"We would take one thankfully if it would be so good as to come; but
seriously, Charlton, we haven't any," she said changing her tone.
"And have you done without one all through the war?"
"No--we used to borrow one from a kind neighbour once in a while, to make
sure, as Mr. Thorn says, that you had not bartered an arm for a
"You never looked to see whether I was killed in the meanwhile, I
"No--never," said Fleda gravely, as she took her place on a low seat in
the corner,--"I always knew you were safe before I touched the paper."
"What do you mean?"
"I am not an enemy, Charlton," said Fleda laughing. "I mean that I used to
make aunt Miriam look over the accounts before I did."
Charlton walked up and down the room for a little while in sullen silence;
and then brought up before Fleda.
"What are you doing?"
Fleda looked up,--a glance that as sweetly and brightly as possible half
asked half bade him be silent and ask no questions.
"What _are_ you doing?" he repeated.
"I am putting a patch on my shoe."
His look expressed more indignation than anything else.
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say," said Fleda, going on with her work.
"What in the name of all the cobblers in the land do you do it for?"
"Because I prefer it to having a hole in my shoe; which would give me the
additional trouble of mending my stockings."
Charlton muttered an impatient sentence, of which Fleda only understood
that "the devil" was in it, and then desired to know if whole shoes would
not answer the purpose as well as either holes or patches?
"Quite--if I had them," said Fleda, giving him another glance which, with
all its gravity and sweetness, carried also a little gentle reproach.
"But do you know," said he after standing still a minute looking at her,
"that any cobbler in the country would do what you are doing much better
"I am quite aware of that," said Fleda, stitching away.
"Your hands are not strong enough for that work!"
Fleda again smiled at him, in the very dint of giving a hard push to her
needle; a smile that would have witched him into good humour if he had not
been determinately in a cloud and proof against everything. It only
admonished him that he could not safely remain in the region of sunbeams;
and he walked up and down the room furiously again. The sudden ceasing of
his footsteps presently made her look up.
"What have you got there?--Oh, Charlton, don't!--please put that down!--I
didn't know I had left them there.--They were a little wet and I laid them
on the chair to dry."
"What do you call this?" said he, not minding her request.
"They are only my gardening gloves--I thought I had put them away."
"Gloves!" said he, pulling at them disdainfully,--"why here are two--one
within the other--what's that for?"
"It's an old-fashioned way of mending matters,--two friends covering each
other's deficiencies. The inner pair are too thin alone, and the outer
ones have holes that are past cobbling."
"Are we going to have any breakfast to-day?" said he flinging the gloves
down. "You are very late!"
"No," said Fleda quietly,--"it is not time for aunt Lucy to be down yet."
"Don't you have breakfast before nine o'clock?"
"Yes--by half-past eight generally."
"Strange way of getting along on a farm!--Well I can't wait--I promised
Thorn I would meet him this morning--Barby!--I wish you would bring me
Fleda made two springs,--one to touch Charlton's mouth, the other to close
the door of communication with the kitchen.
"Well!--what is the matter?--can't I have them?"
"Yes, yes, but ask me for what you want. You mustn't call upon Barby in
"Why not? is she too good to be spoken to? What is she in the
"She wouldn't be in the kitchen long if we were to speak to her in that
way," said Fleda. "I suppose she would as soon put your boots on for you
as fetch and carry them. I'll see about it."
"It seems to me Fleda rules the house," remarked Capt. Rossitur when she
had left the room.
"Well who should rule it?" said Hugh.
"I don't think she does," said Hugh; "but if she did, I am sure it could
not be in better hands."
"It shouldn't be in her hands at all. But I have noticed since I have been
here that she takes the arrangement of almost everything. My mother seems
to have nothing to do in her own family."
"I wonder what the family or anybody in it would do without Fleda!" said
Hugh, his gentle eyes quite firing with indignation. "You had better know
more before you speak, Charlton."
"What is there for me to know?"
"Fleda does everything."
"So I say; and that is what I don't like."
"How little you know what you are talking about!" said Hugh. "I can tell
you she is the life of the house, almost literally; we should have had
little enough to live upon this summer if it had not been for her."
"What do you mean?"--impatiently enough.
"Fleda--if it had not been for her gardening and management. She has taken
care of the garden these two years and sold I can't tell you how much from
it. Mr. Sweet, the hotel-man at the Pool, takes all we can give him."
"How much does her 'taking care of the garden' amount to?"
"It amounts to all the planting and nearly all the other work, after the
first digging,--by far the greater part of it."
Charlton walked up and down a few turns in most unsatisfied silence.
"How does she get the things to Montepoole?"
"I take them."
"I ride with them there before breakfast. Fleda is up very early to
"You have not been there this morning?"
"Peas and strawberries."
"And Fleda picked them?"
"Yes--with some help from Barby and me."
"That glove of hers was wringing wet."
"Yes, with the pea-vines, and strawberries too; you know they get so
loaded with dew. O Fleda gets more than her gloves wet. But she does not
mind anything she does for father and mother."
"Humph!--And does she get enough when all is done to pay for the trouble?"
"I don't know," said Hugh rather sadly. "_She_ thinks so. It is no
"Which?--the pay or the trouble?"
"Both. But I meant the pay. Why she made ten dollars last year from the
asparagus beds alone, and I don't know how much more this year."