Part 4 out of 4
Besides, it's just my fate!"
"Why, Kate," began Carry, in serious concern.
"Hush! Miss Walker is saying something," said Kate, laughing.
"The young ladies will please give attention," said a slow,
perfunctory voice. "Miss Carry Tretherick is wanted in the
Meantime Mr. Jack Prince, the name given on the card, and various
letters and credentials submitted to the Rev. Mr. Crammer, paced
the somewhat severe apartment known publicly as the "reception
parlor," and privately to the pupils as "purgatory." His keen eyes
had taken in the various rigid details, from the flat steam
"radiator," like an enormous japanned soda-cracker, that heated one
end of the room, to the monumental bust of Dr. Crammer, that
hopelessly chilled the other; from the Lord's Prayer, executed by a
former writing-master in such gratuitous variety of elegant
calligraphic trifling as to considerably abate the serious value of
the composition, to three views of Genoa from the Institute, which
nobody ever recognized, taken on the spot by the drawing-teacher;
from two illuminated texts of Scripture in an English Letter, so
gratuitously and hideously remote as to chill all human interest,
to a large photograph of the senior class, in which the prettiest
girls were Ethiopian in complexion, and sat, apparently, on each
other's heads and shoulders. His fingers had turned listlessly the
leaves of school-catalogues, the "Sermons" of Dr. Crammer, the
"Poems" of Henry Kirke White, the "Lays of the Sanctuary" and
"Lives of Celebrated Women." His fancy, and it was a nervously
active one, had gone over the partings and greetings that must have
taken place here, and wondered why the apartment had yet caught so
little of the flavor of humanity; indeed, I am afraid he had almost
forgotten the object of his visit, when the door opened, and Carry
Tretherick stood before him.
It was one of those faces he had seen the night before, prettier
even than it had seemed then; and yet I think he was conscious of
some disappointment, without knowing exactly why. Her abundant
waving hair was of a guinea-golden tint, her complexion of a
peculiar flower-like delicacy, her brown eyes of the color of
seaweed in deep water. It certainly was not her beauty that
Without possessing his sensitiveness to impression, Carry was, on
her part, quite as vaguely ill at ease. She saw before her one of
those men whom the sex would vaguely generalize as "nice," that is
to say, correct in all the superficial appointments of style,
dress, manners and feature. Yet there was a decidedly unconventional
quality about him: he was totally unlike any thing or anybody that
she could remember; and, as the attributes of originality are often
as apt to alarm as to attract people, she was not entirely
prepossessed in his favor.
"I can hardly hope," he began pleasantly, "that you remember me.
It is eleven years ago, and you were a very little girl. I am
afraid I cannot even claim to have enjoyed that familiarity that
might exist between a child of six and a young man of twenty-one.
I don't think I was fond of children. But I knew your mother very
well. I was editor of 'The Avalanche' in Fiddletown, when she took
you to San Francisco."
"You mean my stepmother: she wasn't my mother, you know,"
interposed Carry hastily.
Mr. Prince looked at her curiously. "I mean your stepmother," he
said gravely. "I never had the pleasure of meeting your mother."
"No: MOTHER hasn't been in California these twelve years."
There was an intentional emphasizing of the title and of its
distinction, that began to coldly interest Prince after his first
astonishment was past.
"As I come from your stepmother now," he went on with a slight
laugh, "I must ask you to go back for a few moments to that point.
After your father's death, your mother--I mean your stepmother--
recognized the fact that your mother, the first Mrs. Tretherick,
was legally and morally your guardian, and, although much against
her inclination and affections, placed you again in her charge."
"My stepmother married again within a month after father died, and
sent me home," said Carry with great directness, and the faintest
toss of her head.
Mr. Prince smiled so sweetly, and apparently so sympathetically,
that Carry began to like him. With no other notice of the
interruption he went on, "After your stepmother had performed this
act of simple justice, she entered into an agreement with your
mother to defray the expenses of your education until your
eighteenth year, when you were to elect and choose which of the two
should thereafter be your guardian, and with whom you would make
your home. This agreement, I think, you are already aware of, and,
I believe, knew at the time."
"I was a mere child then," said Carry.
"Certainly," said Mr. Prince, with the same smile. "Still the
conditions, I think, have never been oppressive to you nor your
mother; and the only time they are likely to give you the least
uneasiness will be when you come to make up your mind in the choice
of your guardian. That will be on your eighteenth birthday,--the
20th, I think, of the present month."
Carry was silent.
"Pray do not think that I am here to receive your decision, even if
it be already made. I only came to inform you that your stepmother,
Mrs. Starbottle, will be in town to-morrow, and will pass a few days
at the hotel. If it is your wish to see her before you make up your
mind, she will be glad to meet you. She does not, however, wish to
do any thing to influence your judgment."
"Does mother know she is coming?" said Carry hastily.
"I do not know," said Prince gravely. "I only know, that, if you
conclude to see Mrs. Starbottle, it will be with your mother's
permission. Mrs. Starbottle will keep sacredly this part of the
agreement, made ten years ago. But her health is very poor; and
the change and country quiet of a few days may benefit her." Mr.
Prince bent his keen, bright eyes upon the young girl, and almost
held his breath until she spoke again.
"Mother's coming up to-day or to-morrow," she said, looking up.
"Ah!" said Mr. Prince with a sweet and languid smile.
"Is Col. Starbottle here too?" asked Carry, after a pause.
"Col. Starbottle is dead. Your stepmother is again a widow."
"Dead!" repeated Carry.
"Yes," replied Mr. Prince. "Your step-mother has been singularly
unfortunate in surviving her affections."
Carry did not know what he meant, and looked so. Mr. Prince smiled
Presently Carry began to whimper.
Mr. Prince softly stepped beside her chair.
"I am afraid," he said with a very peculiar light in his eye, and a
singular dropping of the corners of his mustache,--"I am afraid you
are taking this too deeply. It will be some days before you are
called upon to make a decision. Let us talk of something else. I
hope you caught no cold last evening."
Carry's face shone out again in dimples.
"You must have thought us so queer! It was too bad to give you so
"None, whatever, I assure you. My sense of propriety," he added
demurely, "which might have been outraged, had I been called upon
to help three young ladies out of a schoolroom window at night, was
deeply gratified at being able to assist them in again." The door-
bell rang loudly, and Mr. Prince rose. "Take your own time, and
think well before you make your decision." But Carry's ear and
attention were given to the sound of voices in the hall. At the
same moment, the door was thrown open, and a servant announced,
"Mrs. Tretherick and Mr. Robinson."
The afternoon train had just shrieked out its usual indignant
protest at stopping at Genoa at all, as Mr. Jack Prince entered the
outskirts of the town, and drove towards his hotel. He was wearied
and cynical. A drive of a dozen miles through unpicturesque
outlying villages, past small economic farmhouses, and hideous
villas that violated his fastidious taste, had, I fear, left that
gentleman in a captious state of mind. He would have even avoided
his taciturn landlord as he drove up to the door; but that
functionary waylaid him on the steps. "There's a lady in the
sittin'-room, waitin' for ye." Mr. Prince hurried up stairs, and
entered the room as Mrs. Starbottle flew towards him.
She had changed sadly in the last ten years. Her figure was wasted
to half its size. The beautiful curves of her bust and shoulders
were broken or inverted. The once full, rounded arm was shrunken
in its sleeve; and the golden hoops that encircled her wan wrists
almost slipped from her hands as her long, scant fingers closed
convulsively around Jack's. Her cheek-bones were painted that
afternoon with the hectic of fever: somewhere in the hollows of
those cheeks were buried the dimples of long ago; but their graves
were forgotten. Her lustrous eyes were still beautiful, though the
orbits were deeper than before. Her mouth was still sweet,
although the lips parted more easily over the little teeth, and
even in breathing, and showed more of them than she was wont to do
before. The glory of her blonde hair was still left: it was finer,
more silken and ethereal, yet it failed even in its plenitude to
cover the hollows of the blue-veined temples.
"Clara!" said Jack reproachfully.
"Oh, forgive me, Jack!" she said, falling into a chair, but still
clinging to his hand, "forgive me, dear; but I could not wait
longer. I should have died, Jack,--died before another night.
Bear with me a little longer (it will not be long), but let me
stay. I may not see her, I know; I shall not speak to her: but
it's so sweet to feel that I am at last near her, that I breathe
the same air with my darling. I am better already, Jack, I am
indeed. And you have seen her to-day? How did she look? What did
she say? Tell me all, every thing, Jack. Was she beautiful? They
say she is. Has she grown? Would you have known her again? Will
she come, Jack? Perhaps she has been here already; perhaps," she
had risen with tremulous excitement, and was glancing at the door,--
"perhaps she is here now. Why don't you speak, Jack? Tell me all."
The keen eyes that looked down into hers were glistening with an
infinite tenderness that none, perhaps, but she would have deemed
them capable of. "Clara," he said gently and cheerily, "try and
compose yourself. You are trembling now with the fatigue and
excitement of your journey. I have seen Carry: she is well and
beautiful. Let that suffice you now."
His gentle firmness composed and calmed her now, as it had often
done before. Stroking her thin hand, he said, after a pause, "Did
Carry ever write to you?"
"Twice, thanking me for some presents. They were only school-girl
letters," she added, nervously answering the interrogation of his
"Did she ever know of your own troubles? of your poverty, of the
sacrifices you made to pay her bills, of your pawning your clothes
and jewels, of your"--
"No, no!" interrupted the woman quickly: "no! How could she? I
have no enemy cruel enough to tell her that."
"But if she--or if Mrs. Tretherick--had heard of it? If Carry
thought you were poor, and unable to support her properly, it might
influence her decision. Young girls are fond of the position that
wealth can give. She may have rich friends, maybe a lover."
Mrs. Starbottle winced at the last sentence. "But," she said
eagerly, grasping Jack's hand, "when you found me sick and helpless
at Sacramento, when you--God bless you for it, Jack!--offered to
help me to the East, you said you knew of something, you had some
plan, that would make me and Carry independent."
"Yes," said Jack hastily; "but I want you to get strong and well
first. And, now that you are calmer, you shall listen to my visit
to the school."
It was then that Mr. Jack Prince proceeded to describe the
interview already recorded, with a singular felicity and discretion
that shames my own account of that proceeding. Without suppressing
a single fact, without omitting a word or detail, he yet managed to
throw a poetic veil over that prosaic episode, to invest the
heroine with a romantic roseate atmosphere, which, though not
perhaps entirely imaginary, still, I fear, exhibited that genius
which ten years ago had made the columns of "The Fiddletown
Avalanche" at once fascinating and instructive. It was not until
he saw the heightening color, and heard the quick breathing, of his
eager listener, that he felt a pang of self-reproach. "God help
her and forgive me!" he muttered between his clinched teeth, "but
how can I tell her ALL now!"
That night, when Mrs. Starbottle laid her weary head upon her
pillow, she tried to picture to herself Carry at the same moment
sleeping peacefully in the great schoolhouse on the hill; and it
was a rare comfort to this yearning, foolish woman to know that she
was so near. But at this moment Carry was sitting on the edge of
her bed, half undressed, pouting her pretty lips, and twisting her
long, leonine locks between her fingers, as Miss Kate Van Corlear--
dramatically wrapped in a long white counterpane, her black eyes
sparkling, and her thorough-bred nose thrown high in air,--stood
over her like a wrathful and indignant ghost; for Carry had that
evening imparted her woes and her history to Miss Kate, and that
young lady had "proved herself no friend" by falling into a state
of fiery indignation over Carry's "ingratitude," and openly and
shamelessly espousing the claims of Mrs. Starbottle. "Why, if the
half you tell me is true, your mother and those Robinsons are
making of you not only a little coward, but a little snob, miss.
Respectability, forsooth! Look you, my family are centuries before
the Trethericks; but if my family had ever treated me in this way,
and then asked me to turn my back on my best friend, I'd whistle
them down the wind;" and here Kate snapped her fingers, bent her
black brows, and glared around the room as if in search of a
recreant Van Corlear.
"You just talk this way, because you have taken a fancy to that Mr.
Prince," said Carry.
In the debasing slang of the period, that had even found its way
into the virgin cloisters of the Crammer Institute, Miss Kate, as
she afterwards expressed it, instantly "went for her."
First, with a shake of her head, she threw her long black hair over
one shoulder, then, dropping one end of the counterpane from the
other like a vestal tunic, she stepped before Carry with a
purposely-exaggerated classic stride. "And what if I have, miss!
What if I happen to know a gentleman when I see him! What if I
happen to know, that among a thousand such traditional, conventional,
feeble editions of their grandfathers as Mr. Harry Robinson, you
cannot find one original, independent, individualized gentleman like
your Prince! Go to bed, miss, and pray to Heaven that he may be
YOUR Prince indeed. Ask to have a contrite and grateful heart, and
thank the Lord in particular for having sent you such a friend as
Kate Van Corlear." Yet, after an imposing dramatic exit, she
re-appeared the next moment as a straight white flash, kissed Carry
between the brows, and was gone.
The next day was a weary one to Jack Prince. He was convinced in
his mind that Carry would not come; yet to keep this consciousness
from Mrs. Starbottle, to meet her simple hopefulness with an equal
degree of apparent faith, was a hard and difficult task. He would
have tried to divert her mind by taking her on a long drive; but
she was fearful that Carry might come during her absence; and her
strength, he was obliged to admit, had failed greatly. As he
looked into her large and awe-inspiring clear eyes, a something he
tried to keep from his mind--to put off day by day from
contemplation--kept asserting itself directly to his inner
consciousness. He began to doubt the expediency and wisdom of his
management. He recalled every incident of his interview with
Carry, and half believed that its failure was due to himself. Yet
Mrs. Starbottle was very patient and confident: her very confidence
shook his faith in his own judgment. When her strength was equal
to the exertion, she was propped up in her chair by the window,
where she could see the school and the entrance to the hotel. In
the intervals she would elaborate pleasant plans for the future,
and would sketch a country home. She had taken a strange fancy, as
it seemed to Prince, to the present location; but it was notable
that the future, always thus outlined, was one of quiet and repose.
She believed she would get well soon: in fact, she thought she was
now much better than she had been; but it might be long before she
should be quite strong again. She would whisper on in this way
until Jack would dash madly down into the bar-room, order liquors
that he did not drink, light cigars that he did not smoke, talk
with men that he did not listen to, and behave generally as our
stronger sex is apt to do in periods of delicate trials and
The day closed with a clouded sky and a bitter, searching wind.
With the night fell a few wandering flakes of snow. She was still
content and hopeful; and, as Jack wheeled her from the window to
the fire, she explained to him, how, that, as the school-term was
drawing near its close, Carry was probably kept closely at her
lessons during the day, and could only leave the school at night.
So she sat up the greater part of the evening, and combed her
silken hair, and, as far as her strength would allow, made an
undress toilet to receive her guest. "We must not frighten the
child, Jack," she said apologetically, and with something of her
It was with a feeling of relief, that, at ten o'clock, Jack
received a message from the landlord, saying that the doctor would
like to see him for a moment down stairs. As Jack entered the
grim, dimly-lighted parlor, he observed the hooded figure of a
woman near the fire. He was about to withdraw again, when a voice
that he remembered very pleasantly said,--
"Oh, it's all right! I'm the doctor."
The hood was thrown back; and Prince saw the shining black hair,
and black, audacious eyes, of Kate Van Corlear.
"Don't ask any questions. I'm the doctor and there's my
prescription," and she pointed to the half-frightened, half-sobbing
Carry in the corner--"to be taken at once."
"Then Mrs. Tretherick has given her permission?"
"Not much, if I know the sentiments of that lady," replied Kate
"Then how did you get away?" asked Prince gravely.
"BY THE WINDOW."
When Mr. Prince had left Carry in the arms of her stepmother, he
returned to the parlor.
"Well?" demanded Kate.
"She will stay--YOU will, I hope, also--to-night."
"As I shall not be eighteen, and my own mistress on the 20th, and
as I haven't a sick stepmother, I won't."
"Then you will give me the pleasure of seeing you safely through
the window again?"
When Mr. Prince returned an hour later, he found Carry sitting on a
low stool at Mrs. Starbottle's feet. Her head was in her
stepmother's lap; and she had sobbed herself to sleep. Mrs.
Starbottle put her finger to her lip. "I told you she would come.
God bless you, Jack! and good-night."
The next morning Mrs. Tretherick, indignant, the Rev. Asa Crammer,
principal, injured, and Mr. Joel Robinson, sen., complacently
respectable, called upon Mr. Prince. There was a stormy meeting,
ending in a demand for Carry. "We certainly cannot admit of this
interference," said Mrs. Tretherick, a fashionably dressed,
indistinctive looking woman. "It is several days before the
expiration of our agreement; and we do not feel, under the
circumstances, justified in releasing Mrs. Starbottle from its
conditions." "Until the expiration of the school-term, we must
consider Miss Tretherick as complying entirely with its rules and
discipline," imposed Dr. Crammer. "The whole proceeding is
calculated to injure the prospects, and compromise the position, of
Miss Tretherick in society," suggested Mr. Robinson.
In vain Mr. Prince urged the failing condition of Mrs. Starbottle,
her absolute freedom from complicity with Carry's flight, the
pardonable and natural instincts of the girl, and his own assurance
that they were willing to abide by her decision. And then with a
rising color in his cheek, a dangerous look in his eye, but a
singular calmness in his speech, he added,--
"One word more. It becomes my duty to inform you of a circumstance
which would certainly justify me, as an executor of the late Mr.
Tretherick, in fully resisting your demands. A few months after
Mr. Tretherick's death, through the agency of a Chinaman in his
employment, it was discovered that he had made a will, which was
subsequently found among his papers. The insignificant value of
his bequest--mostly land, then quite valueless--prevented his
executors from carrying out his wishes, or from even proving the
will, or making it otherwise publicly known, until within the last
two or three years, when the property had enormously increased in
value. The provisions of that bequest are simple, but unmistakable.
The property is divided between Carry and her stepmother, with the
explicit condition that Mrs. Starbottle shall become her legal
guardian, provide for her education, and in all details stand to her
in loco parentis."
"What is the value of this bequest?" asked Mr. Robinson. "I cannot
tell exactly, but not far from half a million, I should say,"
returned Prince. "Certainly, with this knowledge, as a friend of
Miss Tretherick, I must say that her conduct is as judicious as it
is honorable to her," responded Mr. Robinson. "I shall not presume
to question the wishes, or throw any obstacles in the way of
carrying out the intentions, of my dead husband," added Mrs.
Tretherick; and the interview was closed.
When its result was made known to Mrs. Starbottle, she raised
Jack's hand to her feverish lips. "It cannot add to MY happiness
now, Jack; but tell me, why did you keep it from her?" Jack
smiled, but did not reply.
Within the next week the necessary legal formalities were
concluded; and Carry was restored to her stepmother. At Mrs.
Starbottle's request, a small house in the outskirts of the town
was procured; and thither they removed to wait the spring, and Mrs.
Starbottle's convalescence. Both came tardily that year.
Yet she was happy and patient. She was fond of watching the
budding of the trees beyond her window,--a novel sight to her
Californian experience,--and of asking Carry their names and
seasons. Even at this time she projected for that summer, which
seemed to her so mysteriously withheld, long walks with Carry
through the leafy woods, whose gray, misty ranks she could see
along the hilltop. She even thought she could write poetry about
them, and recalled the fact as evidence of her gaining strength;
and there is, I believe, still treasured by one of the members of
this little household a little carol so joyous, so simple, and so
innocent, that it might have been an echo of the robin that called
to her from the window, as perhaps it was.
And then, without warning, there dropped from Heaven a day so
tender, so mystically soft, so dreamily beautiful, so throbbing,
and alive with the fluttering of invisible wings, so replete and
bounteously overflowing with an awakening and joyous resurrection
not taught by man or limited by creed, that they thought it fit to
bring her out, and lay her in that glorious sunshine that sprinkled
like the droppings of a bridal torch the happy lintels and doors.
And there she lay beatified and calm.
Wearied by watching, Carry had fallen asleep by her side; and Mrs.
Starbottle's thin fingers lay like a benediction on her head.
Presently she called Jack to her side.
"Who was that," she whispered, "who just came in?"
"Miss Van Corlear," said Jack, answering the look in her great
"Jack," she said, after a moment's silence, "sit by me a moment,
dear Jack: I've something I must say. If I ever seemed hard, or
cold, or coquettish to you in the old days, it was because I loved
you, Jack, too well to mar your future by linking it with my own.
I always loved you, dear Jack, even when I seemed least worthy of
you. That is gone now. But I had a dream lately, Jack, a foolish
woman's dream,--that you might find what I lacked in HER," and she
glanced lovingly at the sleeping girl at her side; "that you might
love her as you have loved me. But even that is not to be, Jack,
is it?" and she glanced wistfully in his face. Jack pressed her
hand, but did not speak. After a few moments' silence, she again
said, "Perhaps you are right in your choice. She is a good-hearted
girl, Jack--but a little bold."
And with this last flicker of foolish, weak humanity in her
struggling spirit, she spoke no more. When they came to her a
moment later, a tiny bird that had lit upon her breast flew away;
and the hand that they lifted from Carry's head fell lifeless at
A JERSEY CENTENARIAN
I have seen her at last. She is a hundred and seven years old, and
remembers George Washington quite distinctly. It is somewhat
confusing, however, that she also remembers a contemporaneous
Josiah W. Perkins of Basking Ridge, N. J., and, I think, has the
impression that Perkins was the better man. Perkins, at the close
of the last century, paid her some little attention. There are a
few things that a really noble woman of a hundred and seven never
It was Perkins, who said to her in 1795, in the streets of
Philadelphia, "Shall I show thee Gen. Washington?" Then she said
careless-like (for you know, child, at that time it wasn't what it
is now to see Gen. Washington), she said, "So do, Josiah, so do!"
Then he pointed to a tall man who got out of a carriage, and went
into a large house. He was larger than you be. He wore his own
hair--not powdered; had a flowered chintz vest, with yellow
breeches and blue stockings, and a broad-brimmed hat. In summer he
wore a white straw hat, and at his farm at Basking Ridge he always
wore it. At this point, it became too evident that she was
describing the clothes of the all-fascinating Perkins: so I gently
but firmly led her back to Washington. Then it appeared that she
did not remember exactly what he wore. To assist her, I sketched
the general historic dress of that period. She said she thought he
was dressed like that. Emboldened by my success, I added a hat of
Charles II., and pointed shoes of the eleventh century. She
indorsed these with such cheerful alacrity, that I dropped the
The house upon which I had stumbled, or, rather, to which my horse--
a Jersey hack, accustomed to historic research--had brought me,
was low and quaint. Like most old houses, it had the appearance of
being encroached upon by the surrounding glebe, as if it were
already half in the grave, with a sod or two, in the shape of moss
thrown on it, like ashes on ashes, and dust on dust. A wooden
house, instead of acquiring dignity with age, is apt to lose its
youth and respectability together. A porch, with scant, sloping
seats, from which even the winter's snow must have slid
uncomfortably, projected from a doorway that opened most
unjustifiably into a small sitting-room. There was no vestibule,
or locus poenitentiae, for the embarrassed or bashful visitor: he
passed at once from the security of the public road into shameful
privacy. And here, in the mellow autumnal sunlight, that,
streaming through the maples and sumach on the opposite bank,
flickered and danced upon the floor, she sat and discoursed of
George Washington, and thought of Perkins. She was quite in
keeping with the house and the season, albeit a little in advance
of both; her skin being of a faded russet, and her hands so like
dead November leaves, that I fancied they even rustled when she
For all that, she was quite bright and cheery; her faculties still
quite vigorous, although performing irregularly and spasmodically.
It was somewhat discomposing, I confess, to observe, that at times
her lower jaw would drop, leaving her speechless, until one of the
family would notice it, and raise it smartly into place with a
slight snap,--an operation always performed in such an habitual,
perfunctory manner, generally in passing to and fro in their
household duties, that it was very trying to the spectator. It was
still more embarrassing to observe that the dear old lady had
evidently no knowledge of this, but believed she was still talking,
and that, on resuming her actual vocal utterance, she was often
abrupt and incoherent, beginning always in the middle of a
sentence, and often in the middle of a word. "Sometimes," said her
daughter, a giddy, thoughtless young thing of eighty-five,--
"sometimes just moving her head sort of unhitches her jaw; and, if
we don't happen to see it, she'll go on talking for hours without
ever making a sound." Although I was convinced, after this, that
during my interview I had lost several important revelations
regarding George Washington through these peculiar lapses, I could
not help reflecting how beneficent were these provisions of the
Creator,--how, if properly studied and applied, they might be
fraught with happiness to mankind,--how a slight jostle or jar at a
dinner-party might make the post-prandial eloquence of garrulous
senility satisfactory to itself, yet harmless to others,--how a
more intimate knowledge of anatomy, introduced into the domestic
circle, might make a home tolerable at least, if not happy,--how a
long-suffering husband, under the pretence of a conjugal caress,
might so unhook his wife's condyloid process as to allow the flow
of expostulation, criticism, or denunciation, to go on with
gratification to her, and perfect immunity to himself.
But this was not getting back to George Washington and the early
struggles of the Republic. So I returned to the commander-in-
chief, but found, after one or two leading questions, that she was
rather inclined to resent his re-appearance on the stage. Her
reminiscences here were chiefly social and local, and more or less
flavored with Perkins. We got back as far as the Revolutionary
epoch, or, rather, her impressions of that epoch, when it was still
fresh in the public mind. And here I came upon an incident, purely
personal and local, but, withal, so novel, weird, and uncanny, that
for a while I fear it quite displaced George Washington in my mind,
and tinged the autumnal fields beyond with a red that was not of
the sumach. I do not remember to have read of it in the books. I
do not know that it is entirely authentic. It was attested to me
by mother and daughter, as an uncontradicted tradition.
In the little field beyond, where the plough still turns up musket-
balls and cartridge-boxes, took place one of those irregular
skirmishes between the militiamen and Knyphausen's stragglers, that
made the retreat historical. A Hessian soldier, wounded in both
legs and utterly helpless, dragged himself to the cover of a hazel-
copse, and lay there hidden for two days. On the third day,
maddened by thirst, he managed to creep to the rail-fence of an
adjoining farm-house, but found himself unable to mount it or pass
through. There was no one in the house but a little girl of six or
seven years. He called to her, and in a faint voice asked for
water. She returned to the house, as if to comply with his
request, but, mounting a chair, took from the chimney a heavily-
loaded Queen Anne musket, and, going to the door, took deliberate
aim at the helpless intruder, and fired. The man fell back dead,
without a groan. She replaced the musket, and, returning to the
fence, covered the body with boughs and leaves, until it was
hidden. Two or three days after, she related the occurrence in a
careless, casual way, and leading the way to the fence, with a
piece of bread and butter in her guileless little fingers, pointed
out the result of her simple, unsophisticated effort. The Hessian
was decently buried, but I could not find out what became of the
little girl. Nobody seemed to remember. I trust, that, in after-
years, she was happily married; that no Jersey Lovelace attempted
to trifle with a heart whose impulses were so prompt, and whose
purposes were so sincere. They did not seem to know if she had
married or not. Yet it does not seem probable that such simplicity
of conception, frankness of expression, and deftness of execution,
were lost to posterity, or that they failed, in their time and
season, to give flavor to the domestic felicity of the period.
Beyond this, the story perhaps has little value, except as an
offset to the usual anecdotes of Hessian atrocity.
They had their financial panics even in Jersey, in the old days.
She remembered when Dr. White married your cousin Mary--or was it
Susan?--yes, it was Susan. She remembers that your Uncle Harry
brought in an armful of bank-notes,--paper money, you know,--and
threw them in the corner, saying they were no good to anybody. She
remembered playing with them, and giving them to your Aunt Anna--
no, child, it was your own mother, bless your heart! Some of them
was marked as high as a hundred dollars. Everybody kept gold and
silver in a stocking, or in a "chaney" vase, like that. You never
used money to buy any thing. When Josiah went to Springfield to
buy any thing, he took a cartload of things with him to exchange.
That yaller picture-frame was paid for in greenings. But then
people knew jest what they had. They didn't fritter their
substance away in unchristian trifles, like your father, Eliza
Jane, who doesn't know that there is a God who will smite him hip
and thigh; for vengeance is mine, and those that believe in me.
But here, singularly enough, the inferior maxillaries gave out, and
her jaw dropped. (I noticed that her giddy daughter of eighty-five
was sitting near her; but I do not pretend to connect this fact
with the arrested flow of personal disclosure.) Howbeit, when she
recovered her speech again, it appeared that she was complaining of
The seasons had changed very much since your father went to sea.
The winters used to be terrible in those days. When she went over
to Springfield, in June, she saw the snow still on Watson's Ridge.
There were whole days when you couldn't git over to William
Henry's, their next neighbor, a quarter of a mile away. It was
that drefful winter that the Spanish sailor was found. You don't
remember the Spanish sailor, Eliza Jane--it was before your time.
There was a little personal skirmishing here, which I feared, at
first, might end in a suspension of maxillary functions, and the
loss of the story; but here it is. Ah, me! it is a pure white
winter idyl: how shall I sing it this bright, gay autumnal day?
It was a terrible night, that winter's night, when she and the
century were young together. The sun was lost at three o'clock:
the snowy night came down like a white sheet, that flapped around
the house, beat at the windows with its edges, and at last wrapped
it in a close embrace. In the middle of the night, they thought
they heard above the wind a voice crying, "Christus, Christus!" in
a foreign tongue. They opened the door,--no easy task in the north
wind that pressed its strong shoulders against it,--but nothing was
to be seen but the drifting snow. The next morning dawned on
fences hidden, and a landscape changed and obliterated with drift.
During the day, they again heard the cry of "Christus!" this time
faint and hidden, like a child's voice. They searched in vain: the
drifted snow hid its secret. On the third day they broke a path to
the fence, and then they heard the cry distinctly. Digging down,
they found the body of a man,--a Spanish sailor, dark and bearded,
with ear-rings in his ears. As they stood gazing down at his cold
and pulseless figure, the cry of "Christus!" again rose upon the
wintry air; and they turned and fled in superstitious terror to the
house. And then one of the children, bolder than the rest, knelt
down, and opened the dead man's rough pea-jacket, and found--what
think you?--a little blue-and-green parrot, nestling against his
breast. It was the bird that had echoed mechanically the last
despairing cry of the life that was given to save it. It was the
bird, that ever after, amid outlandish oaths and wilder sailor-
songs, that I fear often shocked the pure ears of its gentle
mistress, and brought scandal into the Jerseys, still retained that
one weird and mournful cry.
The sun meanwhile was sinking behind the steadfast range beyond,
and I could not help feeling that I must depart with my wants
unsatisfied. I had brought away no historic fragment: I absolutely
knew little or nothing new regarding George Washington. I had been
addressed variously by the names of different members of the family
who were dead and forgotten; I had stood for an hour in the past:
yet I had not added to my historical knowledge, nor the practical
benefit of your readers. I spoke once more of Washington, and she
replied with a reminiscence of Perkins.
Stand forth, O Josiah W. Perkins of Basking Ridge, N. J. Thou wast
of little account in thy life, I warrant; thou didst not even feel
the greatness of thy day and time; thou didst criticise thy
superiors; thou wast small and narrow in thy ways; thy very name
and grave are unknown and uncared for: but thou wast once kind to a
woman who survived thee, and, lo! thy name is again spoken of men,
and for a moment lifted up above thy betters.