Part 8 out of 18
"Ten dollars!--The devil!"
"Have you come to counting your dollars by the tens?"
"We have counted our sixpences so a good while," said Hugh quietly.
Charlton strode about the room again in much perturbation. Then came in
Fleda, looking as bright as if dollars had been counted by the thousand,
and bearing his boots.
"What on earth did you do that for?" said he angrily. "I could have gone
for them myself."
"No harm done," said Fleda lightly,--"only I have got something else
instead of the thanks I expected."
"I can't conceive," said he, sitting down and sulkily drawing on his
foot-gear, "why this piece of punctiliousness should have made any more
difficulty about bringing me my boots than about blacking them."
A sly glance of intelligence, which Charlton was quick enough to detect,
passed between Fleda and Hugh. His eye carried its question from one to
the other. Fleda's gravity gave way.
"Don't look at me so, Charlton," said she laughing;--"I can't help it,
you are so excessively comical!--I recommend that you go out upon the
grass-plat before the door and turn round two or three times."
"Will you have the goodness to explain yourself? Who _did_ black
"Never pry into the secrets of families," said Fleda. "Hugh and I have a
couple of convenient little fairies in our service that do things
"I blacked them, Charlton," said Hugh.
Capt. Rossitur gave his slippers a fling that carried them clean into the
corner of the room.
"I will see," he said rising, "whether some other service cannot be had
more satisfactory than that of fairies!"
"Now Charlton," said Fleda with a sudden change of manner, coming to him
and laying her hand most gently on his arm,--"please don't speak about
these things before uncle Rolf or your mother--Please do
not!--Charlton!--It would only do a great deal of harm and do no good."
She looked up in his face, but he would not meet her pleading eye, and
shook off her hand.
"I don't need to be instructed how to speak to my father and mother; and I
am not one of the household that has submitted itself to your direction."
Fleda sat down on her bench and was quiet, but with a lip that trembled a
little and eyes that let fall one or two witnesses against him. Charlton
did not see them, and he knew better than to meet Hugh's look of reproach.
But for all that there was a certain consciousness that hung about the
neck of his purpose and kept it down in spite of him; and it was not till
breakfast was half over that his ill-humour could make head against this
gentle thwarting and cast it off. For so long the meal was excessively
dull. Hugh and Fleda had their own thoughts; Charlton was biting his
resolution into every slice of bread and butter that occupied him; and Mr.
Rossitur's face looked like anything but encouraging an inquiry into his
affairs. Since his son's arrival he had been most uncommonly gloomy; and
Mrs. Rossitur's face was never in sunshine when his was in shade.
"You'll have a warm day of it at the mill, Hugh," said Fleda, by way of
saying something to break the dismal monotony of knives and forks.
"Does that mill make much?" suddenly inquired Charlton.
"It has made a new bridge to the brook, literally," said Fleda gayly; "for
it has sawn out the boards; and you know you mustn't speak evil of what
carries you over the water."
"Does that mill pay for the working?" said Charlton, turning with the
dryest disregard from her interference and addressing himself
determinately to his father.
"What do you mean? It does not work gratuitously," answered Mr. Rossitur,
with at least equal dryness.
"But, I mean, are the profits of it enough to pay for the loss of
"If Hugh judges they are not, he is at liberty to let it alone."
"My time is not lost," said Hugh; "I don't know what I should do with it."
"I don't know what we should do without the mill," said Mrs. Rossitur.
That gave Charlton an unlucky opening.
"Has the prospect of farming disappointed you, father?"
"What is the prospect of your company?" said Mr. Rossitur, swallowing half
an egg before he replied.
"A very limited prospect!" said Charlton,--"if you mean the one that went
with me. Not a fifth part of them left."
"What have you done with them?"
"Shewed them where the balls were flying, sir, and did my best to shew
them the thickest of it."
"Is it necessary to shew it to us too?" said Fleda.
"I believe there are not twenty living that followed me into Mexico," he
went on, as if he had not heard her.
"Was all that havoc made in one engagement?" said Mrs. Rossitur, whose
cheek had turned pale.
"Yes, mother--in the course of a few minutes."
"I wonder what would pay for _that_ loss!" said Fleda indignantly.
"Why, the point was gained! and it did not signify what the cost was so we
did that. My poor boys were a small part of it."
"What point do you mean?"
"I mean the point we had in view, which was taking the place."
"And what was the advantage of gaining the place."
"Pshaw!--The advantage of doing one's duty."
"But what made it duty?" said Hugh.
"I grant you," said Fleda,--"I understand that--but bear with me,
Charlton,--what was the advantage to the army or the country?"
"The advantage of great honour if we succeeded, and avoiding the shame
"Is that all?" said Hugh.
"All!" said Charlton.
"Glory must be a precious thing when other men's lives are so cheap to
buy it," said Fleda.
"We did not risk theirs without our own," said Charlton colouring.
"No,--but still theirs were risked for you."
"Not at all;--why this is absurd! you are saying that the whole war was
"What better than nothing was the end of it? We paid Mexico for the
territory she yielded to us, didn't we, uncle Rolf?"
"Twenty millions, I believe."
"And what do you suppose the war has cost?"
"Hum--I don't know,--a hundred."
"A hundred million! besides--how much besides!--And don't you suppose,
uncle Rolf, that for half of that sum Mexico would have sold us peaceably
what she did in the end?"
"It is possible--I think it is very likely."
"What was the fruit of the war, Capt. Rossitur?"
"Why, a great deal of honour to the army and the nation at large."
"Honour again! But granting that the army gained it, which they certainly
did, for one I do not feel very proud of the nation's share."
"Why they are one" said Charlton impatiently.
"In an unjust war"
"It was _not_ an unjust war!"
"That's what you call a knock-downer," said Fleda laughing. "But I confess
myself so simple as to have agreed with Seth Plumfield, when I heard him
and Lucas disputing about it last winter, that it was a shame to a great
and strong nation like ours to display its might in crushing a weak one."
"But they drew it upon themselves. _They_ began hostilities."
"There is a diversity of opinion about that."
"Not in heads that have two grains of information."
"I beg your pardon. Mrs. Evelyn and Judge Sensible were talking over that
very question the other day at Montepoole; and he made it quite clear to
my mind that we were the aggressors."
"Judge Sensible is a fool!" said Mr. Rossitur.
"Very well!" said Fleda laughing;--"but as I do not wish to be
comprehended in the same class, will you shew me how he was wrong, uncle?"
This drew on a discussion of some length, to which Fleda listened with
profound attention, long after her aunt had ceased to listen at all, and
Hugh was thoughtful, and Charlton disgusted. At the end of it Mr. Rossitur
left the table and the room, and Fleda subsiding turned to her cold
"I didn't know you ever cared anything about politics before," said Hugh.
"Didn't you?" said Fleda smiling, "You do me injustice."
Their eyes met for a second, with a most appreciating smile on his part;
and then he too went off to his work. There was a few minutes' silent
pause after that.
"Mother," said Charlton looking up and bursting forth, "what is all this
about the mill and the farm?--Is not the farm doing well?"
"I am afraid not very well," said Mrs. Rossitur, gently.
"What is the difficulty?"
"Why, your father has let it to a man by the name of Didenhover, and I am
afraid he is not faithful; it does not seem to bring us in what it ought."
"What did he do that for?"
"He was wearied with the annoyances he had to endure before, and thought
it would be better and more profitable to have somebody else take the
whole charge and management. He did not know Didenhover's character at
"Engaged him without knowing him!"
Fleda was the only third party present, and Charlton unwittingly allowing
himself to meet her eye received a look of keen displeasure that he was
not prepared for.
"That is not like him," he said in a much moderated tone. "But you must be
changed too, mother, or you would not endure such anomalous service in
"There are a great many changes, dear Charlton," said his mother, looking
at him with such a face of sorrowful sweetness and patience that his mouth
was stopped. Fleda left the room.
"And have you really nothing to depend upon but that child's strawberries
and Hugh's wood-saw?" he said in the tone he ought to have used from the
Charlton stifled two or three sentences that rose to his lips, and began
to walk up and down the room again. His mother sat musing by the tea-board
still, softly clinking her spoon against the edge of her tea-cup.
"She has grown up very pretty," he remarked after a pause.
"Pretty!" said Mrs. Rossitur.
"No one that has seen much of Fleda would ever describe her by that name."
Charlton had the candour to think he had seen something of her that
"Poor child!" said Mrs. Rossitur sadly,--"I can't bear to think of her
spending her life as she is doing--wearing herself out, I know,
sometimes--and buried alive."
"Buried!" said Charlton in his turn.
"Yes--without any of the advantages and opportunities she ought to have. I
can't bear to think of it. And yet how should I ever live without
her!"--said Mrs. Rossitur, leaning her face upon her hands. "And if she
were known she would not be mine long. But it grieves me to have her go
without her music that she is so fond of, and the books she wants--she and
Hugh have gone from end to end of every volume there is in the house, I
believe, in every language, except Greek."
"Well, she looks pretty happy and contented, mother."
"I don't know!" said Mrs. Rossitur shaking her head.
"Isn't she happy?"
"I don't know," said Mrs. Rossitur again;--"she has a spirit that is happy
in doing her duty, or anything for those she loves; but I see her
sometimes wearing a look that pains me exceedingly. I am afraid the way
she lives and the changes in our affairs have worn upon her more than we
know of--she feels doubly everything that touches me, or Hugh, or your
father. She is a gentle spirit!--"
"She seems to me not to want character," said Charlton.
"Character! I don't know who has so much. She has at least fifty times as
much character as I have. And energy. She is admirable at managing
people--she knows how to influence them somehow so that everybody does
what she wants."
"And who influences her?" said Charlton.
"Who influences her? Everybody that she loves. Who has the most influence
over her, do you mean?--I am sure I don't know--Hugh, if anybody,--but
_she_ is rather the moving spirit of the household."
Capt. Rossitur resolved that he would be an exception to her rule.
He forgot, however, for some reason or other, to sound his father any
more on the subject of mismanagement. His thoughts indeed were more
pleasantly taken up.
My lord Sebastian,
The truth you speak doth lack some gentleness
And time to speak it in: you rub the sore.
When you should bring the plaster.
The Evelyns spent several weeks at the Pool; and both mother and daughters
conceiving a great affection for Fleda kept her in their company as much
as possible For those weeks Fleda had enough of gayety. She was constantly
spending the day with them at the Pool, or going on some party of
pleasure, or taking quiet sensible walks and rides with them along or with
only one or two more of the most rational and agreeable people that the
place could command. And even Mrs. Rossitur was persuaded, more times than
one, to put herself in her plainest remaining French silk and entertain
the whole party, with the addition of one or two of Charlton's friends, at
her Queechy farm-house.
Fleda enjoyed it all with the quick spring of a mind habitually bent to
the patient fulfilment of duty and habitually under the pressure of rather
sobering thoughts. It was a needed and very useful refreshment. Charlton's
being at home gave her the full good of the opportunity more than would
else have been possible. He was her constant attendant, driving her to and
from the Pool, and finding as much to call him there as she had; for
besides the Evelyns his friend Thorn abode there all this time. The only
drawback to Fleda's pleasure as she drove off from Queechy would be the
leaving Hugh plodding away at his saw-mill. She used to nod and wave to
him as they went by, and almost feel that she ought not to go on and enjoy
herself while he was tending that wearisome machinery all day long. Still
she went on and enjoyed herself; but the mere thought of his patient smile
as she passed would have kept her from too much elation of spirits, if
there had been any danger. There never was any.
"That's a lovely little cousin of yours," said Thorn one evening, when he
and Rossitur, on horseback, were leisurely making their way along the up
and down road between Montepoole and Queechy.
"She is not particularly little," said Rossitur with a dryness that
somehow lacked any savour of gratification.
"She is of a most fair stature," said Thorn;--"I did not mean anything
against that,--but there are characters to which one gives instinctively a
"Are there?" said Charlton.
"Yes. She is a lovely little creature."
"She is not to compare to one of those girls we have left behind us at
Montepoole," said Charlton.
"Hum--well perhaps you are right; but which girl do you mean?--for I
profess I don't know."
"The second of Mrs. Evelyn's daughters--the auburn-haired one."
"Miss Constance, eh?" said Thorn. "In what isn't the other one to be
compared to her?"
"In anything! Nobody would ever think of looking at her in the same room?"
"Why not?" said Thorn coolly.
"I don't know why not," said Charlton, "except that she has not a tithe of
her beauty. That's a superb girl!"
For a matter of twenty yards Mr. Thorn went softly humming a tune to
himself and leisurely switching the flies off his horse.
"Well,"--said he,--"there's no accounting for tastes--
'I ask no red and white
To make up my delight,
No odd becoming graces,
Black eyes, or little know-not-what in faces.'"
"What _do_ you want then?" said Charlton, half laughing at him, though his
friend was perfectly grave.
"A cool eye, and a mind in it."
"A cool eye!" said Rossitur.
"Yes. Those we have left behind us are arrant will-o'the-wisps--dancing
"I can tell you there is fire sometimes in the other eyes," said Charlton.
"Very likely," said his friend composedly,--"I could have guessed as much;
but that is a fire you may warm yourself at; no eternal
phosphorescence;--it is the leaping up of an internal fire, that only
shews itself upon occasion."
"I suppose you know what you are talking about," said Charlton, "but I
can't follow you into the region of volcanos. Constance Evelyn has superb
eyes. It is uncommon to see a light blue so brilliant."
"I would rather trust a sick head to the handling of the lovely lady than
the superb one, at a venture."
"I thought you never had a sick head," said Charlton.
"That is lucky for me, as the hands do not happen to be at my service. But
no imagination could put Miss Constance in Desdemona's place, when Othello
complained of his headache,--you remember, Charlton,--
''Faith, that's with watching--'twill away again--
Let me but bind this handkerchief about it hard.'"
Thorn gave the intonation truly and admirably.
"Fleda never said anything so soft as that," said Charlton.
"You speak--well, but _soft_!--do you know what you are talking
"Not very well," said Charlton. "I only remember there was nothing soft
about Othello,--what you quoted of his wife just now seemed to me to smack
of that quality."
"I forgive your memory," said Thorn, "or else I certainly would not
forgive you. If there is a fair creation in all Shakespeare it is
Desdemona, and if there is a pretty combination on earth that nearly
matches it, I believe it is that one."
"Your pretty cousin."
Charlton was silent.
"It is generous in me to undertake her defence," Thorn went on, "for she
bestows as little of her fair countenance upon me as she can well help.
But try as she will, she cannot be so repellant as she is attractive."
Charlton pushed his horse into a brisker pace not favourable to
conversation; and they rode forward in silence, till in descending the
hill below Deepwater they came within view of Hugh's workplace, the saw
mill. Charlton suddenly drew bridle.
"There she is."
"And who is with her?" said Thorn. "As I live!--our friend--what's his
name?--who has lost all his ancestors.--And who is the other?"
"My brother," said Charlton.
"I don't mean your brother, Capt. Rossitur," said Thorn throwing himself
off his horse.
He joined the party, who were just leaving the mill to go down towards the
house. Very much at his leisure Charlton dismounted and came after him.
"I have brought Charlton safe home, Miss Ringgan," said Thorn, who leading
his horse had quietly secured a position at her side.
"What's the matter?" said Fleda laughing. "Couldn't he bring
"I don't know what's the matter, but he's been uncommonly dumpish--we've
been as near as possible to quarrelling for half a dozen miles back."
"We have been--a--more agreeably employed," said Dr. Quackenboss looking
round at him with a face that was a concentration of affability.
"I make no doubt of it, sir; I trust we shall bring no unharmonious
interruption.--If I may change somebody else's words," he added more low
to Fleda,--"disdain itself must convert to courtesy in your presence."
"I am sorry disdain should live to pay me a compliment," said Fleda. "Mr.
Thorn, may I introduce to you Mr. Olmney?"
Mr. Thorn honoured the introduction with perfect civility, but then fell
back to his former position and slightly lowered tone.
"Are you then a sworn foe to compliments?"
"I was never so fiercely attacked by them as to give me any occasion."
"I should be very sorry to furnish the occasion,--but what's the harm in
them, Miss Ringgan?"
"Chiefly a want of agreeableness."
"Of agreeableness!--Pardon me--I hope you will be so good as to give me
the rationale of that?"
"I am of Miss Edgeworth's opinion, sir," said Fleda blushing, "that a lady
may always judge of the estimation in which she is held by the
conversation which is addressed to her."
"And you judge compliments to be a doubtful indication of esteem?"
"I am sure you do not need information on that point, sir."
"As to your opinion, or the matter of fact?" said he somewhat keenly.
"As to the matter of fact," said Fleda, with a glance both simple and
acute in its expression.
"I will not venture to say a word," said Thorn smiling. "Protestations
would certainly fall flat at the gates where _les douces paroles_ cannot
enter. But do you know this is picking a man's pocket of all his silver
pennies and obliging him to produce his gold."
"That _would_ be a hard measure upon a good many people," said Fleda
laughing. "But they're not driven to that. There's plenty of small
"You certainly do not deal in the coin you condemn," said Thorn bowing.
"But you will remember that none call for gold but those who can exchange
it, and the number of them is few. In a world where cowrie passes current
a man may be excused for not throwing about his guineas."
"I wish you'd throw about a few for our entertainment," said Charlton, who
was close behind. "I haven't seen a yellow-boy in a good while."
"A proof that your eyes are not jaundiced," said his friend without
turning his head, "whatever may be the case with you otherwise. Is he out
of humour with the country life you like so well, Miss Ringgan, or has he
left his domestic tastes in Mexico? How do you think he likes Queechy?"
"You might as well ask myself," said Charlton.
"How do you think he likes Queechy, Miss Ringgan?"
"I am afraid something after the fashion of Touchstone," said Fleda
laughing;--"he thinks that 'in respect of itself it is a good life; but in
respect that it is a shepherd's life it is naught. In respect that it is
solitary, he likes it very well; but in respect that it is private, it is
a very vile life. Now in respect it is in the fields, it pleaseth him
well; but in respect it is not in the court, it is tedious.'"
"There's a guinea for you, Capt. Rossitur," said his friend. "Do you know
out of what mint?"
"It doesn't bear the head of Socrates," said Charlton.
"'Hast no philosophy in thee,' Charlton?" said Fleda laughing back at him.
"Has not Queechy--a--the honour of your approbation, Capt. Rossitur?" said
"Certainly sir--I have no doubt of its being a very fine country."
"Only he has imbibed some doubts whether happiness be an indigenous crop,"
"Undoubtedly," said the doctor blandly,--"to one who has roamed over the
plains of Mexico, Queechy must seem rather--a--rather flat place."
"If he could lose sight of the hills," said Thorn.
"Undoubtedly, sir, undoubtedly," said the doctor; "they are a marked
feature in the landscape, and do much to relieve--a--the charge of
"Luckily," said Mr. Olmney smiling, "happiness is not a thing of
circumstance; it depends on a man's self."
"I used to think so," said Thorn;--"that is what I have always subscribed
to; but I am afraid I could not live in this region and find it so long."
"What an evening!" said Fleda. "Queechy is doing its best to deserve our
regards under this light. Mr. Olmney, did you ever notice the beautiful
curve of the hills in that hollow where the sun sets?"
"I do notice it now" he said.
"It is exquisite!" said the doctor. "Capt. Rossitur, do you observe,
sir?--in that hollow where the sun sets?--"
Capt. Rossitur's eye made a very speedy transition from the hills to
Fleda, who had fallen back a little to take Hugh's arm and placing herself
between him and Mr. Olmney was giving her attention undividedly to the
latter. And to him she talked perseveringly, of the mountains, the
country, and the people, till they reached the courtyard gate. Mr. Olmney
then passed on. So did the doctor, though invited to tarry, averring that
the sun had gone down behind the firmament and he had something to attend
to at home.
"You will come in, Thorn," said Charlton.
"Why--I had intended returning,--but the sun has gone down indeed, and as
our friend says there is no chance of our seeing him again I may as well
go in and take what comfort is to be had in the circumstances. Gentle
Euphrosyne, doth it not become the Graces to laugh?"
"They always ask leave, sir," said Fleda hesitating.
"A most Grace-ful answer, though it does not smile upon me," said Thorn.
"I am sorry, sir," said Fleda, smiling now, "that you have so many silver
pennies to dispose of we shall never get at the gold."
"I will do my very best," said he.
So he did, and made himself agreeable that evening to every one of the
circle; though Fleda's sole reason for liking to see him come in had been
that she was glad of everything that served to keep Charlton's attention
from home subjects. She saw sometimes the threatening of a cloud that
But the Evelyns and Thorn and everybody else whom they knew left the Pool
at last, before Charlton, who was sufficiently well again, had near run
out his furlough; and then the cloud which had only shewed itself by turns
during all those weeks gathered and settled determinately upon his brow.
He had long ago supplied the want of a newspaper. One evening in September
the family were sitting in the room where they had had tea, for the
benefit of the fire, when Barby pushed open the kitchen door and came in.
"Fleda will you let me have one of the last papers? I've a notion to
look at it."
Fleda rose and went to rummaging in the cupboards.
"You can have it again in a little while," said Barby considerately.
The paper was found and Miss Elster went out with it.
"What an unendurable piece of ill-manners that woman is!" said Charlton.
"She has no idea of being ill-mannered, I assure you," said Fleda.
His voice was like a brewing storm--hers was so clear and soft that it
made a lull in spite of him. But he began again.
"There is no necessity for submitting to impertinence. I never
would do it."
"I have no doubt you never will," said his father. "Unless you can't help
"Is there any good reason, sir, why you should not have proper servants in
"A very good reason," said Mr. Rossitur. "Fleda would be in despair."
"Is there none beside that?" said Charlton dryly.
"None--except a trifling one," Mr. Rossitur answered in the same tone.
"We cannot afford it, dear Charlton," said his mother softly.
There was a silence, during which Fleda moralized on the ways people take
to make themselves uncomfortable.
"Does that man--to whom you let the farm--does he do his duty?"
"I am not the keeper of his conscience."
"I am afraid it would be a small charge to any one," said Fleda.
"But are you the keeper of the gains you ought to have from him? does he
deal fairly by you?"
"May I ask first what interest it is of yours?"
"It is my interest, sir, because I come home and find the family living
upon the exertions of Hugh and Fleda and find them growing thin and pale
"You, at least, are free from all pains of the kind, Capt. Rossitur."
"Don't listen to him, uncle Rolf!" said Fleda going round to her uncle,
and making as she passed a most warning impression upon Charlton's
arm,--"don't mind what he says--that young gentleman has been among the
Mexican ladies till he has lost an eye for a really proper complexion.
Look at me!--do I look pale and thin?--I was paid a most brilliant
compliment the other day upon my roses--Uncle, don't listen to him!--he
hasn't been in a decent humour since the Evelyns went away."
She knelt down before him and laid her hands upon his and looked up in his
face to bring all her plea; the plea of most winning sweetness of entreaty
in features yet flushed and trembling. His own did not unbend as he gazed
at her, but he gave her a silent answer in a pressure of the hands that
went straight from his heart to hers. Fleda's eye turned to Charlton
"Is it necessary," he repeated, "that that child and this boy should spend
their days in labour to keep the family alive?"
"If it were," replied Mr. Rossitur, "I am very willing that their
exertions should cease. For my own part I would quite as lief be out of
the world as in it."
"Charlton!--how can you!--" said Fleda, half beside herself,--you should
know of what you speak or be silent!--Uncle, don't mind him! he is talking
wildly--my work does me good."
"You do not understand yourself," said Charlton obstinately;--"it is
more than you ought to do, and I know my mother thinks so too."
[Illustration: She knelt down before him.]
"Well!" said Mr. Rossitur,--"it seems there is an agreement in my own
family to bring me to the bar--get up, Fleda,--let us hear all the charges
to be brought against me, at once, and then pass sentence. What have your
mother and you agreed upon, Charlton?--go on!"
Mrs. Rossitur, now beyond speech, left the room, weeping even aloud. Hugh
followed her. Fleda wrestled with her agitation for a minute or two, and
then got up and put both arms round her uncle's neck.
"Don't talk so, dear uncle Rolf!--you make us very unhappy--aunt Lucy did
not mean any such thing--it is only Charlton's nonsense. Do go and tell
her you don't think so,--you have broken her heart by what you said;--do
go, uncle Rolf!--do go and make her happy again! Forget it all!--Charlton
did not know what he was saying--won't you go, dear uncle Rolf?--"
The words were spoken between bursts of tears that utterly overcame her,
though they did not hinder the utmost caressingness of manner. It seemed
at first spent upon a rock. Mr. Rossitur stood like a man that did not
care what happened or what became of him; dumb and unrelenting; suffering
her sweet words and imploring tears, with no attempt to answer the one or
stay the other. But he could not hold out against her beseeching. He was
no match for it. He returned at last heartily the pressure of her arms,
and unable to give her any other answer kissed her two or three times,
such kisses as are charged with the heart's whole message; and disengaging
himself left the room.
For a minute after he was gone Fleda cried excessively; and Charlton, now
alone with her, felt as if he had not a particle of self-respect left to
stand upon. One such agony would do her more harm than whole weeks of
labour and weariness. He was too vexed and ashamed of himself to be able
to utter a word, but when she recovered a little and was leaving the room
he stood still by the door in an attitude that seemed to ask her to speak
a word to him.
"I am sure, Charlton," she said gently, "you will be sorry to-morrow for
what you have done."
"I am sorry now," he said. But she passed out without saying
Capt. Rossitur passed the night in unmitigated vexation with himself. But
his repentance could not have been very genuine, since his most painful
thought was, what Fleda must think of him.
He was somewhat reassured at breakfast to find no traces of the evening's
storm; indeed the moral atmosphere seemed rather clearer and purer than
common. His own face was the only one which had an unusual shade upon it.
There was no difference in anybody's manner towards himself; and there was
even a particularly gentle and kind pleasantness about Fleda, intended, he
knew, to soothe and put to rest any movings of self-reproach he might
feel. It somehow missed of its aim and made him feel worse; and after on
his part a very silent meal he quitted the house and took himself and his
discontent to the woods.
Whatever effect they had upon him, it was the middle of the morning before
he came back again. He found Fleda alone in the breakfast-room, sewing;
and for the first time noticed the look his mother had spoken of; a look
not of sadness, but rather of settled patient gravity; the more painful to
see because it could only have been wrought by long-acting causes, and
might be as slow to do away as it must have been to bring. Charlton's
displeasure with the existing state of things had revived as his remorse
died away, and that quiet face did not have a quieting effect upon him.
"What on earth is going on!" he began rather abruptly as soon as he
entered the room. "What horrible cookery is on foot?"
"I venture to recommend that you do not inquire," said Fleda. "It was set
on foot in the kitchen and it has walked in here. If you open the window
it will walk out."
"But you will be cold?"
"Never mind--in that case I will walk out too, into the kitchen."
"Into the thick of it!--No--I will try some other way of relief. This is
Fleda looked, but made no other remonstrance, and not heeding the look Mr.
Charlton walked out into the kitchen, shutting the door behind him.
"Barby," said he, "you have got something cooking here that is very
disagreeable in the other room."
"Is it?" said Barby. "I reckoned it would all fly up chimney I guess the
draught ain't so strong as I thought it was."
"But I tell you it fills the house!"
"Well, it'll have to a spell yet," said Barby, "'cause if it didn't, you
see, Capt. Rossitur, there'd be nothing to fill Fleda's chickens with."
"Chickens!--where's all the corn in the land?"
"It's some place besides in our barn," said Barby. "All last year's is
out, and Mr. Didenhover ha'n't fetched any of this year's home; so I
made a bargain with 'em they shouldn't starve as long as they'd eat
"What do you give them?"
"'Most everything--they ain't particler now-a days--chunks o' cabbage, and
scarcity, and pun'kin and that--all the sass that ain't wanted."
"And do they eat that?"
"Eat it!" said Barby. "They don't know how to thank me for't!"
"But it ought to be done out of doors," said Charlton, coming back from a
kind of maze in which he had been listening to her. "It is unendurable!"
"Then I guess you'll have to go some place where you won't know it," said
Barby;--"that's the most likely plan I can hit upon; for it'll have to
stay on till it's ready."
Charlton went back into the other room really down-hearted, and stood
watching the play of Fleda's fingers.
"Is it come to this!" he said at length. "Is it possible that you are
obliged to go without such a trifle as the miserable supply of food your
"That's a small matter!" said Fleda, speaking lightly though she smothered
a sigh. "We have been obliged to do without more than that."
"What is the reason?"
"Why this man Didenhover is a rogue I suspect, and he manages to spirit
away all the profits that should come to uncle Rolf's hands--I don't know
how. We have lived almost entirely upon the mill for some time."
"And has my father been doing nothing all this while?"
"Nothing on the farm."
"And what of anything else?"
"I don't know," said Fleda, speaking with evident unwillingness. "But
surely, Charlton, he knows his own business best. It is not our affair."
"He is mad!" said Charlton, violently striding up and down the floor.
"No," said Fleda with equal gentleness and sadness--"he is only
unhappy;--I understand it all--he has had no spirit to take hold of
anything ever since we came here."
"Spirit!" said Charlton;--"he ought to have worked off his fingers to
their joints before he let you do as you have been doing!"
"Don't say so!" said Fleda, looking even pale in her eagerness--"don't
think so, Charlton! it isn't right. We cannot tell what he may have had to
trouble him--I know he has suffered and does suffer a great deal.--Do not
speak again about anything as you did last night!--Oh," said Fleda, now
shedding bitter tears,--"this is the worst of growing poor! the difficulty
of keeping up the old kindness and sympathy and care for each other!--"
"I am sure it does not work so upon you," said Charlton in an
"Promise me, dear Charlton," said Fleda looking up after a moment and
drying her eyes again, "promise me you will not say any more about these
things! I am sure it pains uncle Rolf more than you think. Say you will
not,--for your mother's sake!"
"I will not, Fleda--for your sake. I would not give _you_ any more trouble
to bear. Promise me; that you will be more careful of yourself in future."
"O there is no danger about me," said Fleda with a faint smile and taking
up her work again.
"Who are you making shirts for?" said Charlton after a pause.
"You do everything for Hugh, don't you?"
"Little enough. Not half so much as he does for me."
"Is he up at the mill to-day?"
"He is always there," said Fleda sighing.
There was another silence.
"Charlton," said Fleda looking up with a face of the loveliest
insinuation.--"isn't there something _you_ might do to help us a little?"
"I will help you garden, Fleda, with pleasure."
"I would rather you should help somebody else," said she, still
looking at him.
"What, Hugh?--You would have me go and work at the mill for him, I
"Don't be angry with me, Charlton, for suggesting it," said Fleda looking
"Angry!"--said he. "But is that what you would have me do?"
"Not unless you like,--I didn't know but you might take his place once in
a while for a little, to give him a rest,--"
"And suppose some of the people from Montepoole that know me should come
by? What are you thinking of?" said he in a tone that certainly justified
"Well!"--said Fleda in a kind of choked voice,--"there is a strange rule
of honour in vogue in the world!"
"Why should I help Hugh rather than anybody else?"
"He is killing himself!--" said Fleda, letting her work fall and hardly
speaking the words through thick tears. Her head was down and they came
fast. Charlton stood abashed for a minute.
"You sha'n't do so, Fleda," said he gently, endeavouring to raise
her,--"you have tired yourself with this miserable work!--Come to the
window--you have got low-spirited, but I am sure without reason about
Hugh,--but you shall set me about what you will--You are right, I dare
say, and I am wrong; but don't make me think myself a brute, and I will do
anything you please."
He had raised her up and made her lean upon him. Fleda wiped her eyes and
tried to smile.
"I will do anything that will please you, Fleda."
"It is not to please _me_,--" she answered meekly.
"I would not have spoken a word last night if I had known it would have
grieved you so."
"I am sorry you should have none but so poor a reason for doing right,"
said Fleda gently.
"Upon my word, I think you are about as good reason as anybody need have,"
She put her hand upon his arm and looked up,--such a look of pure rebuke
as carried to his mind the full force of the words she did not
speak,--'Who art thou that carest for a worm which shall die, and
forgettest the Lord thy Maker!'--Charlton's eyes fell. Fleda turned gently
away and began to mend the fire. He stood watching her for a little.
"What do you think of me, Fleda?" he said at length.
"A little wrong-headed," answered Fleda, giving him a glance and a smile.
"I don't think you are very bad."
"If you will go with me, Fleda, you shall make what you please of me!"
He spoke half in jest, half in earnest, and did not himself know at the
moment which way he wished Fleda to take it. But she had no notion of any
depth in his words.
"A hopeless task!" she answered lightly, shaking her head, as she got down
on her knees to blow the fire;--"I am afraid it is too much for me. I
have been trying to mend you ever since you came, and I cannot see the
slightest change for the better!"
"Where is the bellows?" said Charlton in another tone.
"It has expired--its last breath," said Fleda. "In other words, it has
lost its nose."
"Well, look here," said he laughing and pulling her away,--"you will stand
a fair chance of losing your face if you put it in the fire. You sha'n't
do it. Come and shew me where to find the scattered parts of that old wind
instrument and I will see if it cannot be persuaded to play again."
I dinna ken what I should want
If I could get but a man.
Capt. Rossitur did no work at the saw-mill. But Fleda's words had not
fallen to the ground. He began to shew care for his fellow-creatures in
getting the bellows mended; his next step was to look to his gun; and
from that time so long as he staid the table was plentifully supplied
with all kinds of game the season and the country could furnish. Wild
ducks and partridges banished pork and bacon even from memory; and Fleda
joyfully declared she would not see another omelette again till she was
While Charlton was still at home came a very urgent invitation from Mrs.
Evelyn that Fleda should pay them a long visit in New York, bidding her
care for no want of preparation but come and make it there. Fleda
demurred, however, on that very score. But before her answer was written,
another missive came from Dr. Gregory, not asking so much as demanding her
presence, and enclosing a fifty-dollar bill, for which he said he would
hold her responsible till she had paid him with,--not her own hands,--but
her own lips. There was no withstanding the manner of this entreaty. Fleda
packed up some of Mrs. Rossitur's laid-by silks, to be refreshed with an
air of fashion, and set off with Charlton at the end of his furlough.
To her simple spirit of enjoyment the weeks ran fast; and all manner of
novelties and kindnesses helped them on. It was a time of cloudless
pleasure. But those she had left thought it long. She wrote them how
delightfully she kept house for the old doctor, whose wife had long been
dead, and how joyously she and the Evelyns made time fly. And every
pleasure she felt awoke almost as strong a throb in the hearts at home.
But they missed her, as Barby said, "dreadfully;" and she was most dearly
welcomed when she came back. It was just before New Year.
For half an hour there was most gladsome use of eyes and tongues. Fleda
had a great deal to tell them.
"How well--how well you are looking, dear Fleda!" said her aunt for the
third or fourth time.
"That's more than lean say for you and Hugh, aunt Lucy. What have you been
doing to yourself?"
"Nothing new," they said, as her eye went from one to the other.
"I guess you have wanted me!" said Fleda, shaking her head as she kissed
them both again.
"I guess we have," said Hugh, "but don't fancy we have grown thin upon
"But where's uncle Rolf? you didn't tell me."
"He is gone to look after those lands in Michigan."
"In Michigan!--When did he go?"
"Very soon after you."
"And you didn't let me know!--O why didn't you? How lonely you must
"Let you know indeed!" said Mrs. Rossitur, wrapping her in her arms
again;--"Hugh and I counted every week that you staid with more and
pleasure each one."
"I understand!" said Fleda laughing under her aunt's kisses. "Well I am
glad I am at home again to take care of you. I see you can't get along
"People have been very kind, Fleda," said Hugh.
"Yes--thinking we were desolate I suppose. There has been no end to aunt
Miriam's goodness and pleasantness."
"O aunt Miriam, always!" said Fleda. "And Seth."
"Catherine Douglass has been up twice to ask if her mother could do
anything for us; and Mrs. Douglass sent us once a rabbit and once a
quantity of wild pigeons that Earl had shot. Mother and I lived upon
pigeons for I don't know how long. Barby wouldn't eat 'em--she said she
liked pork better; but I believe she did it on purpose."
"Like enough," said Fleda, smiling, from her aunt's arms where she
"And Seth has sent you plenty of your favourite hickory nuts, very fine
ones; and I gathered butternuts enough for you near home."
"Everything is for me," said Fleda. "Well, the first thing I do shall be
to make some butternut candy for you. You won't despise that, Mr. Hugh?"--
Hugh smiled at her, and went on.
"And your friend Mr. Olmney has sent us a corn-basket full of the
superbest apples you ever saw. He has one tree of the finest in
Queechy, he says."
"_My_ friend!" said Fleda, colouring a little.
"Well I don't know whose he is if he isn't yours," said Hugh. "And even
the Finns sent us some fish that their brother had caught, because, they
said, they had more than they wanted. And Dr. Quackenboss sent us a goose
and a turkey. We didn't like to keep them, but we were afraid if we sent
them back it would not be understood."
"Send them back!" said Fleda. "That would never do! All Queechy would have
rung with it."
"Well, we didn't," said Hugh. "But so we sent one of them to Barby's old
mother for Christmas."
"Poor Dr. Quackenboss!" said Fleda. "That man has as near as possible
killed me two or three times. As for the others, they are certainly the
oddest of all the finny tribes. I must go out and see Barby for a minute."
It was a good many minutes, however, before she could get free to do any
"You ha'n't lost no flesh," said Barby shaking hands with her anew. "What
did they think of Queechy keep, down in York?"
"I don't know--I didn't ask them," said Fleda. "How goes the world with
"I'm mighty glad you are come home, Fleda," said Barby lowering her voice.
"Why?" said Fleda in a like tone.
"I guess I ain't all that's glad of it," Miss Elster went on, with a
glance of her bright eye.
"I guess not," said Fleda reddening a little;--"but what is the matter?"
"There's two of our friends ha'n't made us but one visit a piece
since--oh, ever since some time in October!"
"Well never mind the people," said Fleda. "Tell me what you were
going to say."
"And Mr. Olmney," said Barby not minding her, "he's took and sent us a
great basket chock full of apples. Now wa'n't that smart of him, when he
knowed there wa'n't no one here that cared about 'em?"
"They are a particularly fine kind," said Fleda.
"Did you hear about the goose and turkey?"
"Yes," said Fleda laughing.
"The doctor thinks he has done the thing just about right this time, I
s'pect. He had ought to take out a patent right for his invention. He'd
feel spry if he knowed who eat one on 'em."
"Never mind the doctor, Barby. Was this what you wanted to see me for?"
"No," said Barby changing her tone. "I'd give something it was. I've been
all but at my wit's end; for you know Mis' Rossitur ain't no hand about
anything--I couldn't say a word to her--and ever since he went away we
have been just winding ourselves up. I thought I should clear out, when
Mis' Rossitur said maybe you wa'n't a coming till next week."
"But what is it Barby? what is wrong?"
"There ha'n't been anything right, to my notions, for a long spell," said
Barby, wringing out her dishcloth hard and flinging it down to give
herself uninterruptedly to talk;--"but now you see, Didenhover nor none of
the men never comes near the house to do a chore; and there ain't wood to
last three days; and Hugh ain't fit to cut it if it was piled up in the
yard; and there ain't the first stick of it out of the woods yet."
Fleda sat down and looked very thoughtfully into the fire.
"He had ought to ha' seen to it afore he went away, but he ha'n't done it,
and there it is."
"Why who takes care of the cows?" said Fleda.
"O never mind the cows," said Barby;--"they ain't suffering; I wish we was
as well off as they be;--but I guess when he went away he made a hole in
our pockets for to mend his'n. I don't say he hadn't ought to ha' done it,
but we've been pretty short ever sen, Fleda--we're in the last bushel of
flour, and there ain't but a handful of corn meal, and mighty little
sugar, white or brown.--I did say something to Mis' Rossitur, but all the
good it did was to spile her appetite, I s'pose; and if there's grain in
the floor there ain't nobody to carry it to mill,--nor to thresh it,--nor
a team to draw it, fur's I know."
"Hugh cannot cut wood!" said Fleda;--"nor drive to mill either, in
"I could go to mill," said Barby, "now you're to hum, but that's only the
beginning; and it's no use to try to do everything--flesh and blood must
"No indeed!" said Fleda. "We must have somebody immediately."
"That's what I had fixed upon," said Barby. "If you could get hold o' some
young feller that wa'n't sot up with an idee that he was a grown man and
too big to be told, I'd just clap to and fix that little room up stairs
for him and give him his victuals here, and we'd have some good of him;
instead o' having him streakin' off just at the minute when he'd ought to
"Who is there we could get, Barby?"
"I don't know," said Barby; "but they say there is never a nick that there
ain't a jog some place; so I guess it can be made out. I asked Mis'
Plumfield, but she didn't know anybody that was out of work; nor Seth
Plumfield. I'll tell you who does,--that is, if there _is_ anybody,--Mis'
Douglass. She keeps hold of one end of 'most everybody's affairs, I tell
her. Anyhow she's a good hand to go to."
"I'll go there at once," said Fleda. "Do you know anything about making
maple sugar, Barby?"
"That's the very thing!" exclaimed Barby ecstatically. "There's lots o'
sugar maples on the farm and it's murder to let them go to loss; and they
ha'n't done us a speck o' good ever since I come here. And in your
grandfather's time they used to make barrels and barrels. You and me and
Hugh, and somebody else we'll have, we could clap to and make as much
sugar and molasses in a week as would last us till spring come round
again. There's no sense into it! All we'd want would be to borrow a team
some place. I had all that in my head long ago. If we could see the last
of that man Didenhover oncet, I'd take hold of the plough myself and see
if I couldn't make a living out of it! I don't believe the world would go
now, Fleda, if it wa'n't for women. I never see three men yet that didn't
try me more than they were worth."
"Patience, Barby!" said Fleda smiling. "Let us take things quietly."
"Well I declare I'm beat, to see how you take 'em," said Barby, looking at
"Don't you know why, Barby?"
"I s'pose I do," said Barby her face softening still more,--"or I
"Because I know that all these troublesome things will be managed in the
best way and by my best friend, and I know that he will let none of them
hurt me. I am sure of it--isn't that enough to keep me quiet?"
Fleda's eyes were filling and Barby looked away from them.
"Well it beats me," she said taking up her dishcloth again, "why _you_
should have anything to trouble you. I can understand wicked folks being
plagued, but I can't see the sense of the good ones."
"Troubles are to make good people better, Barby."
"Well," said Barby with a very odd mixture of real feeling and seeming
want of it,--"it's a wonder I never got religion, for I will say that all
the decent people I ever see were of that kind!--Mis' Rossitur ain't
though, is she?"
"No," said Fleda, a pang crossing her at the thought that all her aunt's
loveliness must tell directly and heavily in this case to lighten
religion's testimony. It was that thought and no other which saddened her
brow as she went back into the other room.
"Troubles already!" said Mrs. Rossitur. "You will be sorry you have come
back to them, dear."
"No indeed!" said Fleda brightly; "I am very glad I have come home. We
will try and manage the troubles, aunt Lucy."
There was no doing anything that day, but the very next afternoon Fleda
and Hugh walked down through the snow to Mrs. Douglass's. It was a long
walk and a cold one and the snow was heavy; but the pleasure of being
together made up for it all. It was a bright walk, too, in spite of
In a most thrifty-looking well-painted farm-house lived Mrs. Douglass.
"Why 'tain't you, is it?" she said when she opened the door,--"Catharine
said it was, and I said I guessed it wa'n't, for I reckoned you had made
up your mind not to come and see me at all.--How do you do?"
The last sentence in the tone of hearty and earnest hospitality. Fleda
made her excuses.
"Ay, ay,--I can understand all that just as well as if you said it. I know
how much it means too. Take off your hat."
Fleda said she could not stay, and explained her business.
"So you ha'n't come to see me after all. Well now take off your hat,
'cause I won't have anything to say to you till you do. I'll give you
supper right away."
"But I have left my aunt alone, Mrs. Douglass;--and the afternoons are so
short now it would be dark before we could get home."
"Serve her right for not coming along! and you sha'n't walk home in the
dark, for Earl will harness the team and carry you home like a streak--the
horses have nothing to do--Come, you sha'n't go."
And as Mrs. Douglass laid violent hands on her bonnet Fleda thought best
to submit. She was presently rewarded with the promise of the very person
she wanted--a boy, or young man, then in Earl Douglass's employ; but his
wife said "she guessed he'd give him up to her;" and what his wife said,
Fleda knew, Earl Douglass was in the habit of making good.
"There ain't enough to do to keep him busy," said Mrs. Douglass. "I told
Earl he made me more work than he saved; but he's hung on till now."
"What sort of a boy is he, Mrs. Douglass?"
"He ain't a steel trap. I tell you beforehand," said the lady, with one of
her sharp intelligent glances,--"he don't know which way to go till you
shew him; but he's a clever enough kind of a chap--he don't mean no harm.
I guess he'll do for what you want."
"Is he to be trusted?"
"Trust him with anything but a knife and fork," said she, with another
look and shake of the head. "He has no idea but what everything on the
supper-table is meant to be eaten straight off. I would keep two such men
as my husband as soon as I would Philetus."
"Philetus!" said Fleda,--"the person that brought the chicken and thought
he had brought two?"
"You've hit it," said Mrs. Douglass. "Now you know him. How do you like
our new minister?"
"We are all very much pleased with him."
"He's very good-looking, don't you think so?"
"A very pleasant face."
"I ha'n't seen him much yet except in church; but those that know say he
is very agreeable in the house."
"Truly, I dare say," answered Fleda, for Mrs. Douglass's face looked for
"But I think he looks as if he was beating his brains out there among
his books--I tell him he is getting the blues, living in that big house
"Do you manage to do all your work without help, Mrs. Douglass?" said
Fleda, knowing that the question was "in order" and that the affirmative
answer was not counted a thing to be ashamed of.
"Well I guess I'll know good reason," said Mrs. Douglass complacently,
"before I'll have any help to spoil _my_ work. Come along, and I'll let
you see whether I want one."
Fleda went, very willingly, to be shewn all Mrs. Douglass's household
arrangements and clever contrivances, of her own or her husband's
devising, for lessening or facilitating labour. The lady was proud, and
had some reason to be, of the very superb order and neatness of each part
and detail. No corner or closet that might not be laid open fearlessly to
a visitor's inspection. Miss Catharine was then directed to open her piano
and amuse Fleda with it while her mother performed her promise of getting
an early supper; a command grateful to one or two of the party, for
Catharine had been carrying on all this while a most stately tete-a-tete
with Hugh which neither had any wish to prolong. So Fleda filled up the
time good-naturedly with thrumming over the two or three bits of her
childish music that she could recall, till Mr. Douglass came in and they
were summoned to sit down to supper; which Mrs. Douglass introduced by
telling her guests "they must take what they could get, for she had made
fresh bread and cake and pies for them two or three times, and she wa'n't
a going to do it again."
Her table was abundantly spread however, and with most exquisite neatness,
and everything was of excellent quality, saving only certain matters which
call for a free hand in the use of material. Fleda thought the pumpkin
pies must have been made from that vaunted stock which is said to want no
eggs nor sugar, and the cakes she told Mrs. Rossitur afterwards would have
been good if half the flour had been left out and the other ingredients
doubled. The deficiency in one kind however was made up by superabundance
in another; the table was stocked with such wealth of crockery that one
could not imagine any poverty in what was to go upon it. Fleda hardly knew
how to marshal the confusion of plates which grouped themselves around her
cup and saucer, and none of them might be dispensed with. There was one
set of little glass dishes for one kind of sweetmeat, another set of ditto
for another kind; an army of tiny plates to receive and shield the
tablecloth from the dislodged cups of tea, saucers being the conventional
drinking vessels; and there were the standard bread and butter plates,
which besides their proper charge of bread and butter and beef and cheese,
were expected, Fleda knew, to receive a portion of every kind of cake that
might happen to be on the table. It was a very different thing however
from Miss Anastasia's tea-table or that of Miss Flora Quackenboss. Fleda
enjoyed the whole time without difficulty.
Mr. Douglass readily agreed to the transfer of Philetus's services.
"He's a good boy!" said Earl,--"he's a good boy; he's as good a kind of a
boy as you need to have. He wants tellin'; most boys want tellin'; but
he'll do when he _is_ told, and he means to do right."
"How long do you expect your uncle will be gone?" said Mrs. Douglass.
"I do not know," said Fleda.
"Have you heard from him since he left?"
"Not since I came home," said Fleda. "Mr. Douglass, what is the first
thing to be done about the maple trees in the sugar season?"
"Why, you calculate to try makin' sugar in the spring?"
"Perhaps--at any rate I should like to know about it."
"Well I should think you would," said Earl, "and it's easy done--there
ain't nothin' easier, when you know the right way to set to work about it;
and there's a fine lot of sugar trees on the old farm--I recollect of them
sugar trees as long ago as when I was a boy--I've helped to work them
afore now, but there's a good many years since--has made me a leetle
older--but the first thing you want is a man and a team, to go about and
empty the buckets--the buckets must be emptied every day, and then carry
it down to the house."
"Yes, I know," said Fleda, "but what is the first thing to be done to
"Why la! 'tain't much to do to the trees--all you've got to do is to
take an axe and chip a bit out and stick a chip a leetle way into the
cut for to dreen the sap, and set a trough under, and then go on to the
next one, and so on;--you may make one or two cuts in the south side of
the tree, and one or two cuts in the north side, if the tree's big
enough, and if it ain't, only make one or two cuts in the south side of
the tree; and for the sap to run good it had ought to be that kind o'
weather when it freezes in the day and thaws by night;--I would
say!--when it friz in the night and thaws in the day; the sap runs more
bountifully in that kind o' weather."
It needed little from Fleda to keep Mr. Douglass at the maple trees till
supper was ended; and then as it was already sundown he went to harness
It was a comfortable one, and the horses if not very handsome nor
bright-curried were well fed and had good heart to their work. A two mile
drive was before them, and with no troublesome tongues or eyes to claim
her attention Fleda enjoyed it fully. In the soft clear winter twilight
when heaven and earth mingle so gently, and the stars look forth brighter
and cheerfuller than ever at another time, they slid along over the fine
roads, too swiftly, towards home; and Fleda's thoughts as easily and
swiftly slipped away from Mr. Douglass and maple sugar and Philetus and an
unfilled wood-yard and an empty flour-barrel, and revelled in the pure
ether. A dark rising ground covered with wood sometimes rose between her
and the western horizon; and then a long stretch of snow, only less pure,
would leave free view of its unearthly white light, dimmed by no
exhalation, a gentle, mute, but not the less eloquent, witness to Earth of
what Heaven must be.
But the sleigh stopped at the gate, and Fleda's musings came home.
"Good night!" said Earl, in reply to their thanks and adieus;--"'tain't
anything to thank a body for--let me know when you're a goin' into the
sugar making and I'll come and help you."
"How sweet a pleasant message may make an unmusical tongue," said Fleda,
as she and Hugh made their way up to the house.
"We had a stupid enough afternoon," said Hugh.
"But the ride home was worth it all!"
'Tis merry, 'tis merry, in good green wood,
So blithe Lady Alice is singing;
On the beech's pride, and the oak's brown side,
Lord Richard's axe is ringing.
Lady of the Lake.
Philetus came, and was inducted into office and the little room
immediately; and Fleda felt herself eased of a burden. Barby reported him
stout and willing, and he proved it by what seemed a perverted inclination
for bearing the most enormous logs of wood he could find into the kitchen.
"He will hurt himself!" said Fleda.
"I'll protect him!--against anything but buckwheat batter," said Barby
with a grave shake of her head. "Lazy folks takes the most pains, I tell
him. But it would be good to have some more ground, Fleda, for Philetus
says he don't care for no dinner when he has griddles to breakfast, and
there ain't anything much cheaper than that."
"Aunt Lucy, have you any change in the house?" said Fleda that same day.
"There isn't but three and sixpence," said Mrs. Rossitur with a pained
conscious look. "What is wanting, dear?"
"Only candles--Barby has suddenly found we are out, and she won't have any
more made before to-morrow. Never mind!"
"There is only that," repeated Mrs. Rossitur. "Hugh has a little money due
to him from last summer, but he hasn't been able to get it yet. You may
take that, dear."
"No," said Fleda,--"we mustn't. We might want it more."
"We can sit in the dark for once," said Hugh, "and try to make an uncommon
display of what Dr. Quackenboss calls 'sociality.'"
"No," said Fleda, who had stood busily thinking,--"I am going to send
Philetus down to the post-office for the paper, and when it comes I am not
to be balked of reading it--I've made up my mind! We'll go right off into
the woods and get some pine knots, Hugh--come! They make a lovely light.
You get us a couple of baskets and the hatchet--I wish we had two--and
I'll be ready in no time. That'll do!"
It is to be noticed that Charlton had provided against any future
deficiency of news in his family. Fleda skipped away and in five minutes
returned arrayed for the expedition, in her usual out-of-door working
trim, namely,--an old dark merino cloak, almost black, the effect of which
was continued by the edge of an old dark mousseline below, and rendered
decidedly striking by the contrast of a large whitish yarn shawl worn over
it; the whole crowned with a little close-fitting hood made of some old
silver-grey silk, shaped tight to the head, without any bow or furbelow to
break the outline. But such a face within side of it! She came almost
dancing into the room.
"This is Miss Ringgan!--as she appeared when she was going to see the pine
trees. Hugh, don't you wish you had a picture of me?"
"I have got a tolerable picture of you, somewhere," said Hugh.
"This is somebody very different from the Miss Ringgan that went to see
Mrs. Evelyn, I can tell you," Fleda went on gayly.
"Do you know, aunt Lucy, I have made up my mind that my visit to New York
was a dream, and the dream is nicely folded away with my silk dresses. Now
I must go tell that precious Philetus about the post-office--I am _so_
comforted, aunt Lucy, whenever I see that fellow staggering into the house
under a great log of wood! I have not heard anything in a long time so
pleasant as the ringing strokes of his axe in the yard. Isn't life made up
of little things!"
"Why don't you put a better pair of shoes on?"
"Can't afford it, Mrs. Rossitur! You are extravagant!"
"Go and put on my India-rubbers."
"No ma'am!--the rocks would cut them to pieces. I have brought my mind
down to--my shoes."
"It isn't safe, Fleda; you might see somebody."
"Well ma'am!--But I tell you I am not going to see anybody but the
chick-a-dees and the snow-birds, and there is great simplicity of manners
prevailing among them."
The shoes were changed, and Hugh and Fleda set forth, lingering awhile
however to give a new edge to their hatchet, Fleda turning the grindstone.
They mounted then the apple-orchard hill and went a little distance along
the edge of the table-land before striking off into the woods. They had
stood still a minute to look over the little white valley to the
snow-dressed woodland beyond.
"This is better than New York, Hugh," said Fleda.
"I am very glad to hear you say that," said another voice. Fleda turned
and started a little to see Mr. Olmney at her side, and congratulated
herself instantly on her shoes.
"Mrs. Rossitur told me where you had gone and gave me permission to follow
you, but I hardly hoped to overtake you so soon."
"We stopped to sharpen our tools," said Fleda. "We are out on a foraging
"Will you let me help you?"
"Certainly!--if you understand the business. Do you know a pine knot when
you see it?"
He laughed and shook his head, but avowed a wish to learn.
"Well, it would be a charity to teach you anything wholesome," said Fleda,
"for I heard one of Mr. Olmney's friends lately saying that he looked like
a person who was in danger of committing suicide."
"Suicide!--One of my friends!"--he exclaimed in the utmost astonishment.
"Yes," said Fleda laughing;--"and there is nothing like the open air for
clearing away vapours."
"You cannot have known that by experience," said he looking at her.
Fleda shook her head and advising him to take nothing for granted, set off
into the woods.
They were in a beautiful state. A light snow but an inch or two deep had
fallen the night before; the air had been perfectly still during the day;
and though the sun was out, bright and mild, it had done little but
glitter on the earth's white capping. The light dry flakes of snow had not
stirred from their first resting-place. The long branches of the large
pines were just tipped with snow at the ends; on the smaller evergreens
every leaf and tuft had its separate crest. Stones and rocks were smoothly
rounded over, little shrubs and sprays that lay along the ground were all
doubled in white; and the hemlock branches, bending with their feathery
burthen, stooped to the foreheads of the party and gave them the freshest
of salutations as they brushed by. The whole wood-scene was particularly
fair and graceful. A light veil of purity, no more, thrown over the
wilderness of stones and stumps and bare ground,--like the blessing of
charity, covering all roughnesses and unsightlinesses--like the innocent
unsullied nature that places its light shield between the eye and whatever
is unequal, unkindly, and unlovely in the world.
"What do you think of this for a misanthropical man, Mr. Olmney? there's a
better tonic to be found in the woods than in any remedies of man's
"Better than books?" said he.
"I have to learn that yet."
"So I suppose," said Fleda. "The very danger to be apprehended, as I hear,
sir, is from your running a tilt into some of those thick folios of yours,
head foremost.--There's no pitch there, Hugh--you may leave it alone. We
must go on--there are more yellow pines higher up."
"But who could give such a strange character of me to you?" said
"I am sure your wisdom would not advise me to tell you that, sir. You will
find nothing there, Mr. Olmney."
They went gayly on, careering about in all directions and bearing down
upon every promising stump or dead pine tree they saw in the distance.
Hugh and Mr. Olmney took turns in the labour of hewing out the fat pine
knots and splitting down the old stumps to get at the pitchy heart of the
wood; and the baskets began to grow heavy. The whole party were in
excellent spirits, and as happy as the birds that filled the woods and
whose cheery "chick-a-dee-dee-dee," was heard whenever they paused to rest
and let the hatchet be still.
"How one sees everything in the colour of one's own spectacles,"
"May I ask what colour yours are to-day?" said Mr. Olmney.
"Rose, I think," said Hugh.
"No," said Fleda, "they are better than that--they are no worse colour
than the snow's own--they shew me everything just as it is. It could not
"Then we may conclude, may we not," said Mr. Olmney, "that you are not
sorry to find yourself in Queechy again?"
"I am not sorry to find myself in the woods again. That is not pitch,
"It has the same colour,--and weight."
"No, it is only wet--see this and smell of it--do you see the difference?
Isn't it pleasant?"
"Everything is pleasant to-day," said he smiling.
"I shall report you a cure. Come, I want to go a little higher and shew
you a view. Leave that, Hugh, we have got enough--"
But Hugh chose to finish an obstinate stump, and his companions went on
without him. It was not very far up the mountain and they came to a fine
look-out point; the same where Fleda and Mr. Carleton had paused long
before on their quest after nuts. The wide spread of country was a white
waste now; the delicate beauties of the snow were lost in the far view;
and the distant Catskill shewed wintrily against the fair blue sky. The
air was gentle enough to invite them to stand still, after the exercise
they had taken, and as they both looked in silence Mr. Olmney observed
that his companion's face settled into a gravity rather at variance with
the expression it had worn.
"I should hardly think," said he softly, "that you were looking through
white spectacles, if you had not told us so."
"O--a shade may come over what one is looking at you know," said Fleda.
But seeing that he still watched her inquiringly she added,
"I do not think a very wide landscape is ever gay in its effect upon the
"Perhaps--I do not know," said he, his eyes turning to it again as if to
try what the effect was.
"My thoughts had gone back," said Fleda, "to a time a good while ago,
when I was a child and stood here in summer weather--and I was thinking
that the change in the landscape is something like that which years make
in the mind."
"But you have not, for a long time at least, known any very acute sorrow?"
"No--" said Fleda, "but that is not necessary. There is a gentle kind of
discipline which does its work I think more surely."
"Thank God for _gentle_ discipline!" said Mr. Olmney; "if you do not know
what those griefs are that break down mind and body together."
"I am not unthankful, I hope, for anything," said Fleda gently; "but I
have been apt to think that after a crushing sorrow the mind may rise up
again, but that a long-continued though much lesser pressure in time
breaks the spring."
He looked at her again with a mixture of incredulous and tender interest,
but her face did not belie her words, strange as they sounded from so
young and in general so bright-seeming a creature.
"'There shall no evil happen to the just,'" he said presently and with
Fleda flashed a look of gratitude at him--it was no more, for she felt her
eyes watering and turned them away.
"You have not, I trust, heard any bad news?"
"No sir--not at all!"
"I beg pardon for asking, but Mrs. Rossitur seemed to be in less good
spirits than usual."
He had some reason to say so, having found her in a violent fit of
"You do not need to be told," he went on, "of the need there is that a
cloud should now and then come over this lower scene--the danger that if
it did not our eyes would look nowhere else?"
There is something very touching in hearing a kind voice say what one has
often struggled to say to oneself.
"I know it, sir," said Fleda, her words a little choked,--"and one may not
wish the cloud away,--but it does not the less cast a shade upon the face.
I guess Hugh has worked his way into the middle of that stump by this
time, Mr. Olmney."
They rejoined him; and the baskets being now sufficiently heavy and arms
pretty well tired they left the further riches of the pine woods
unexplored and walked sagely homewards. At the brow of the table-land Mr.
Olmney left them to take a shorter cut to the high-road, having a visit to
make which the shortening day warned him not to defer.
"Put down your basket and rest a minute, Hugh," said Fleda. "I had a world
of things to talk to you about, and this blessed man has driven them all
out of my head."
"But you are not sorry he came along with us?"
"O no. We had a very good time. How lovely it is, Hugh! Look at the snow
down there--without a track; and the woods have been dressed by the
fairies. O look how the sun is glinting on the west side of that hillock!"
[Illustration: "How lovely it is, Hugh!"]
"It is twice as bright since you have come home," said Hugh.
"The snow is too beautiful to-day. O I was right! one may grow morbid over
books--but I defy anybody in the company of those chick-a-dees. I should
think it would be hard to keep quite sound in the city."
"You are glad to be here again, aren't you?" said Hugh.
"Very! O Hugh!--it is better to be poor and have one's feet on these
hills, than to be rich and shut up to brick walls!"
"It is best as it is," said Hugh quietly.
"Once," Fleda went on,--"one fair day when I was out driving in New York,
it did come over me with a kind of pang how pleasant it would be to have
plenty of money again and be at ease; and then, as I was looking off over
that pretty North river to the other shore, I bethought me, 'A little that
a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.'"
Hugh did not answer, for the face she turned to him in its half tearful,
half bright submission took away his speech.
"Why you cannot have enjoyed yourself as much as we thought, Fleda, if you
dislike the city so much?"
"Yes I did. O I enjoyed a great many things. I enjoyed being with the
Evelyns. You don't know how much they made of me,--every one of
them,--father and mother and all the three daughters--and uncle Orrin. I
have been well petted, I can tell you, since I have been gone."
"I am glad they shewed so much discrimination," said Hugh; "they would be
puzzled to make too much of you."
"I must have been in a remarkably discriminating society," said Fleda,
"for everybody was very kind!"
"How do you like the Evelyns on a nearer view?"
"Very much indeed; and I believe they really love me. Nothing could
possibly be kinder, in all ways of shewing kindness. I shall never
"Who were you driving with that day?" said Hugh.
"Did you see much of him?"
"Quite as much as I wished. Hugh--I took your advice."
"About what?" said Hugh.
"I carried down some of my scribblings and sent them to a Magazine."
"Did you!" said Hugh looking delighted. "And will they publish them?"
"I don't know," said Fleda, "that's another matter. I sent them, or uncle
Orrin did, when I first went down; and I have heard nothing of them yet."
"You shewed them to uncle Orrin?"
"Couldn't help it, you know. I had to."
"And what did he say to them?"
"Come!--I'm not going to be cross-questioned," said Fleda laughing. "He
did not prevent my sending them."
"And if they take them, do you expect they will give anything for
them?--the Magazine people?"
"I am sure if they don't they shall have no more--that is my only
possible inducement to let them be printed. For my own pleasure, I would
far rather not."
"Did you sign with your own name?"
"My own name!--Yes, and desired it to be printed in large capitals. What
are you thinking of? No--I hope you'll forgive me, but I signed myself
what our friend the doctor calls 'Yugh.'"
"I'll forgive you if you'll do one thing for me."
"Shew me all you have in your portfolio--Do, Fleda--to-night, by the light
of the pitch-pine knots. Why shouldn't you give me that pleasure? And
besides, you know Moliere had an old woman?"
"Well," said Fleda with a face that to Hugh was extremely
satisfactory,--"we'll see--I suppose you might as well read my productions
in manuscript as in print. But they are in a terribly scratchy
condition--they go sometimes for weeks in my head before I find time to
put them down--you may guess polishing is pretty well out of the question.
Suppose we try to get home with these baskets."
Which they did.
"Has Philetus got home?" was Fleda's first question.
"No," said Mrs. Rossitur, "but Dr. Quackenboss has been here and brought
the paper--he was at the post-office this morning, he says. Did you see
"Yes ma'am, and I feel he has saved me from a lame arm--those pine knots
are so heavy."
"He is a lovely young man!" said Mrs. Rossitur with uncommon emphasis.
"I should have been blind to the fact, aunt Lucy, if you had not made me
change my shoes. At present, no disparagement to him, I feel as if a cup
of tea would be rather more lovely than anything else."
"He sat with me some time," said Mrs. Rossitur; "I was afraid he would not
Tea was ready, and only waiting for Mrs. Rossitur to come down stairs,
when Fleda, whose eye was carelessly running along the columns of the
paper, uttered a sudden shout and covered her face with it. Hugh looked up
in astonishment, but Fleda was beyond anything but exclamations, laughing
and flushing to the very roots of her hair.
"What _is_ the matter, Fleda?"
"Why," said Fleda,--"how comical!--I was just looking over the list of
articles in the January number of the 'Excelsior'"--
"The 'Excelsior'?" said Hugh.
"Yes--the Magazine I sent my things to--I was running over their
advertisement here, where they give a special puff of the publication in
general and of several things in particular, and I saw--here they speak
of 'A tale of thrilling interest by Mrs. Eliza Lothbury, unsurpassed,' and
so forth and so forth; 'another valuable communication from Mr.
Charleston, whose first acute and discriminating paper all our readers
will remember; the beginning of a new tale from the infallibly graceful
pen of Miss Delia Lawriston, we are sure it will be so and so; '"_The
wind's voices," by our new correspondent "Hugh," has a delicate sweetness
that would do no discredit to some of our most honoured names!_'--What do
you think of that?"
What Hugh thought he did not say, but he looked delighted; and came to
read the grateful words for himself.
"I did not know but they had declined it utterly," said Fleda,--"it was
so long since I had sent it and they had taken no notice of it; but it
seems they kept it for the beginning of a new volume."
"'Would do no discredit to some of our most honoured names'!" said Hugh.
"Dear Fleda, I am very glad! But it is no more than I expected."
"Expected!" said Fleda. "When you had not seen a line! Hush--My dear
Hugh, aren't you hungry?"
The tea, with this spice to their appetites, was wonderfully relished; and
Hugh and Fleda kept making despatches of secret pleasure and sympathy to
each other's eyes; though Fleda's face after the first flush had faded was
perhaps rather quieter than usual. Hugh's was illuminated.
"Mr. Skillcorn is a smart man!" said Barby coming in with a package,--"he
has made out to go two miles in two hours and get back again safe!"
"More from the post-office!" exclaimed Fleda pouncing upon it,--"oh yes,
there has been another mail. A letter for you, aunt Lucy! from uncle
Rolf!--We'll forgive him, Barby--And here's a letter for me, from uncle
Orrin, and--yes--the 'Excelsior.' Hugh, uncle Orrin said he would send it.
Now for those blessed pine knots! Aunt Lucy, you shall be honoured with
the one whole candle the house contains."
The table soon cleared away, the basket of fat fuel was brought in; and
one or two splinters being delicately insinuated between the sticks on the
fire a very brilliant illumination sprang out. Fleda sent a congratulatory
look over to Hugh on the other side of the fireplace as she cosily
established herself on her little bench at one corner with her letter; he
had the Magazine. Mrs. Rossitur between them at the table with her one
candle was already insensible to all outward things.
And soon the other two were as delightfully absorbed. The bright light of
the fire shone upon three motionless and rapt figures, and getting no
greeting from them went off and danced on the old cupboard doors and paper
hangings, in a kindly hearty joviality that would have put any number of
stately wax candles out of countenance. There was no poverty in the room
that night. But the people were too busy to know how cosy they were; till
Fleda was ready to look up from her note and Hugh had gone twice carefully
over the new poem,--when there was a sudden giving out of the pine
splinters. New ones were supplied in eager haste and silence, and Hugh was
beginning "The wind's voices" for the third time when a soft-whispered
"Hugh!" across the fire made him look over to Fleda's corner. She was
holding up with both hands a five-dollar bank note and just shewing him
her eyes over it.
"What's that?" said Hugh in an energetic whisper.
"I don't know!" said Fleda, shaking her head comically;--"I am told 'The
wind's voices' have blown it here, but privately I am afraid it is a
windfall of another kind."
"What?" said Hugh laughing.
"Uncle Orrin says it is the first fruits of what I sent to the
'Excelsior,' and that more will come; but I do not feel at all sure that
it is entirely the growth of that soil."
"I dare say it is," said Hugh; "I am sure it is worth more than that. Dear
Fleda, I like it so much!"
Fleda gave him such a smile of grateful affection!--not at all as if she
deserved his praise but as if it was very pleasant to have.
"What put it into your head? anything in particular?"
"No--nothing--I was looking out of the window one day and seeing the
willow tree blow; and that looked over my shoulder; as you know Hans
Andersen says his stories did."
"It is just like you!--exactly as it can be."
"Things put themselves in my head," said Fleda, tucking another splinter
into the fire. "Isn't this better than a chandelier?"
"And so much pleasanter for having got it ourselves. What a nice time we
"Very. Now for the portfolio, Fleda--come!--mother is fast; she won't see
or hear anything. What does father say, mother?"
In answer to this they had the letter read, which indeed contained nothing
remarkable beyond its strong expressions of affection to each one of the