Part 2 out of 8
was in your mind, of course."
"And not in yours, Martha?"
"If any man was seriously in my mind, Sally, do you think I would take
the Bible and the door-key in order to find out his name?"
Sally was not adroit in speech: she felt that her question had not been
answered, but was unable to see precisely how the answer had been
"I certainly was beginning to think that you liked Gilbert," she said.
"So I do. Anybody may know that who cares for the information." And
Martha laughed cheerfully.
"Would you say so to Gilbert himself?" Sally timidly suggested.
"Certainly; but why should he ask? I like a great many young men."
"Oh, Sally!--and so do you. But there's this I will say: if I were to
love a man, neither he nor any other living soul should know it, until
he had told me with his own lips that his heart had chosen me."
The strength of conviction in Martha's grave, gentle voice, struck Sally
dumb. Her lips were sealed on the delicious secret she was longing, and
yet afraid, to disclose. _He_ had not spoken: she hoped he loved her,
she was sure she loved him. Did she speak now, she thought, she would
lower herself in Martha's eyes. With a helpless impulse, she threw one
arm over the latter's neck, and kissed her cheek. She did not know that
with the kiss she had left a tear.
"Sally," said Martha, in a tender whisper, "I only spoke for myself.
Some hearts must be silent, while it is the nature of others to speak
out. You are not afraid of me: it will be womanly in you to tell me
everything. Your cheek is hot: you are blushing. Don't blush, Sally
dear, for I know it already."
Sally answered with an impassioned demonstration of gratitude and
affection. Then she spoke; but we will not reveal the secrets of her
virgin heart. It is enough that, soothed and comforted by Martha's wise
counsel and sympathy, she sank into happy slumber at her side.
THE NEW GILBERT.
This time the weather, which so often thwarts the farmer's calculations,
favored Gilbert Potter. In a week the two fields were ploughed, and what
little farm-work remained to be done before the first of April, could
be safely left to Sam. On the second Monday after the chase, therefore,
he harnessed his four sturdy horses to the wagon, and set off before the
first streak of dawn for Columbia, on the Susquehanna. Here he would
take from twelve to sixteen barrels of flour (according to the state of
the roads) and haul them, a two days' journey, to Newport, on the
Christiana River. The freight of a dollar and a half a barrel, which he
received, yielded him what in those days was considered a handsome
profit for the service, and it was no unusual thing for farmers who were
in possession of a suitable team, to engage in the business whenever
they could spare the time from their own fields.
Since the evening when she had spoken to him, for the first time in her
life, of the dismal shadow which rested upon their names, Mary Potter
felt that there was an indefinable change in her relation to her son. He
seemed suddenly drawn nearer to her, and yet, in some other sense which
she could not clearly comprehend, thrust farther away. His manner,
always kind and tender, assumed a shade of gentle respect, grateful in
itself, yet disturbing, because new in her experience of him. His head
was slightly lifted, and his lips, though firm as ever, less rigidly
compressed. She could not tell how it was, but his voice had more
authority in her ears. She had never before quite disentangled the man
that he was from the child that he had been; but now the separation,
sharp, sudden, and final, was impressed upon her mind. Under all the
loneliness which came upon her, when the musical bells of his team
tinkled into silence beyond the hill, there lurked a strange sense of
relief, as if her nature would more readily adjust itself during his
Instead of accepting the day with its duties, as a sufficient burden,
she now deliberately reviewed the Past. It would give her pain, she
knew; but what pain could she ever feel again, comparable to that which
she had so recently suffered? Long she brooded over that bitter period
before and immediately succeeding her son's birth, often declaring to
herself how fatally she had erred, and as often shaking her head in
hopeless renunciation of any present escape from the consequences of
that error. She saw her position clearly, yet it seemed that she had so
entangled herself in the meshes of a merciless Fate, that the only
reparation she could claim, either for herself or her son, would be
thrown away by forestalling--after such endless, endless submission and
suffering--the Event which should set her free.
Then she recalled and understood, as never before, Gilbert's childhood
and boyhood. For his sake she had accepted menial service in families
where he was looked upon and treated as an incumbrance. The child, it
had been her comfort to think, was too young to know or feel this,--but
now, alas! the remembrance of his shyness and sadness told her a
different tale. So nine years had passed, and she was then forced to
part with her boy. She had bound him to Farmer Fairthorn, whose good
heart, and his wife's, she well knew, and now she worked for him, alone,
putting by her savings every year, and stinting herself to the utmost
that she might be able to start him in life, if he should live to be his
own master. Little by little, the blot upon her seemed to fade out or be
forgotten, and she hoped--oh, how she had hoped!--that he might be
spared the knowledge of it.
She watched him grow up, a boy of firm will, strong temper, yet great
self-control; and the easy Fairthorn rule, which would have spoiled a
youth of livelier spirits, was, providentially, the atmosphere in which
his nature grew more serene and patient. He was steady, industrious, and
faithful, and the Fairthorns loved him almost as their own son. When he
reached the age of eighteen, he was allowed many important privileges:
he hauled flour to Newport, having a share of the profits, and in other
ways earned a sum which, with his mother's aid, enabled him to buy a
team of his own, on coming of age.
Two years more of this weary, lonely labor, and the one absorbing aim of
Mary Potter's life, which she had impressed upon him ever since he was
old enough to understand it, drew near fulfilment. The farm upon which
they now lived was sold, and Gilbert became the purchaser. There was
still a debt of a thousand dollars upon the property, and she felt that
until it was paid, they possessed no secure home. During the year which
had elapsed since the purchase, Gilbert, by unwearied labor, had laid up
about four hundred dollars, and another year, he had said, if he should
prosper in his plans, would see them free at last! Then,--let the world
say what it chose! They had fought their way from shame and poverty to
honest independence, and the respect which follows success would at
least be theirs.
This was always the consoling thought to which Mary Potter returned,
from the unallayed trouble of her mind. Day by day, Gilbert's new figure
became more familiar, and she was conscious that her own manner towards
him must change with it The subject of his birth, however, and the new
difficulties with which it beset her, would not be thrust aside. For
years she had almost ceased to think of the possible release, of which
she had spoken; now it returned and filled her with a strange, restless
Gilbert, also, had ample time to review his own position, during the
fortnight's absence. After passing the hills and emerging upon the long,
fertile swells of Lancaster, his experienced leaders but rarely needed
the guidance of his hand or voice. Often, sunk in revery, the familiar
landmarks of the journey went by unheeded; often he lay awake in the
crowded bedroom of a tavern, striving to clear a path for his feet a
little way into the future. Only men of the profoundest culture make a
deliberate study of their own natures, but those less gifted often act
with an equal or even superior wisdom, because their qualities operate
spontaneously, unwatched by an introverted eye. Such men may be dimly
conscious of certain inconsistencies, or unsolved puzzles, in
themselves, but instead of sitting down to unravel them, they seek the
easiest way to pass by and leave them untouched. For them the material
aspects of life are of the highest importance, and a true instinct shows
them that beyond the merest superficial acquaintance with their own
natures lie deep and disturbing questions, with which they are not
fitted to grapple.
There comes a time, however, to every young man, even the most
uncultivated, when he touches one of the primal, eternal forces of life,
and is conscious of other needs and another destiny. This time had come
to Gilbert Potter, forcing him to look upon the circumstances of his
life from a loftier point of view. He had struggled, passionately but at
random, for light,--but, fortunately, every earnest struggle is towards
the light, and it now began to dawn upon him.
He first became aware of one enigma, the consideration of which was not
so easy to lay aside. His mother had not been deceived: there was a
change in the man since that evening. Often and often, in gloomy
breedings over his supposed disgrace, he had fiercely asserted to
himself that _he_ was free from stain, and the unrespect in which he
stood was an injustice to be bravely defied. The brand which he wore,
and which he fancied was seen by every eye he met, existed in his own
fancy; his brow was as pure, his right to esteem and honor equal, to
that of any other man. But it was impossible to act upon this reasoning;
still when the test came he would shrink and feel the pain, instead of
trampling it under his feet.
Now that the brand _was_ removed, the strength which he had so
desperately craved, was suddenly his. So far as the world was concerned,
nothing was altered; no one knew of the revelation which his mother had
made to him; he was still the child of her shame, but this knowledge was
no longer a torture. Now he had a right to respect, not asserted only to
his own heart, but which every man would acknowledge, were it made
known. He was no longer a solitary individual, protesting against
prejudice and custom. Though still feeling that the protest was just,
and that his new courage implied some weakness, he could not conceal
from himself the knowledge that this very weakness was the practical
fountain of his strength. He was a secret and unknown unit of the great
There was another, more intimate subject which the new knowledge touched
very nearly; and here, also, hope dawned upon a sense akin to despair.
With all the force of his nature, Gilbert Potter loved Martha Deane. He
had known her since he was a boy at Fairthorn's; her face had always
been the brightest in his memory; but it was only since the purchase of
the farm that his matured manhood had fully recognized its answering
womanhood in her. He was slow to acknowledge the truth, even to his own
heart, and when it could no longer be denied, he locked it up and sealed
it with seven seals, determined never to betray it, to her or any one.
Then arose a wild hope, that respect might come with the independence
for which he was laboring, and perhaps he might dare to draw
nearer,--near enough to guess if there were any answer in her heart. It
was a frail support, but he clung to it as with his life, for there was
Now,--although his uncertainty was as great as ever,--his approach could
not humiliate her. His love brought no shadow of shame; it was proudly
white and clean. Ah! he had forgotten that she did not know,--that his
lips were sealed until his mother's should be opened to the world. The
curse was not to be shaken off so easily.
By the time he had twice traversed the long, weary road between Columbia
and Newport, Gilbert reached a desperate solution of this difficulty.
The end of his meditations was: "I will see if there be love in woman as
in man!--love that takes no note of birth or station, but, once having
found its mate, is faithful from first to last." In love, an honest and
faithful heart touches the loftiest ideal. Gilbert knew that, were the
case reversed, no possible test could shake his steadfast affection, and
how else could he measure the quality of hers? He said to himself:
"Perhaps it is cruel, but I cannot spare her the trial." He was prouder
than he knew,--but we must remember all that he endured.
It was a dry, windy March month, that year, and he made four good trips
before the first of April. Returning home from Newport, by way of
Wilmington, with seventy-five dollars clear profit in his pocket, his
prospects seemed very cheerful. Could he accomplish two more months of
hauling during the year, and the crops should be fair, the money from
these sources, and the sale of his wagon and one span, would be
something more than enough to discharge the remaining debt. He knew,
moreover, how the farm could be more advantageously worked, having used
his eyes to good purpose in passing through the rich, abundant fields of
Lancaster. The land once his own,--which, like his mother, he could not
yet feel,--his future, in a material sense, was assured.
Before reaching the Buck Tavern, he overtook a woman plodding slowly
along the road. Her rusty beaver hat, tied down over her ears, and her
faded gown, were in singular contrast to the shining new scarlet shawl
upon her shoulders. As she stopped and turned, at the sound of his
tinkling bells, she showed a hard red face, not devoid of a certain
coarse beauty, and he recognized Deb. Smith, a lawless, irregular
creature, well known about Kennett.
"Good-day, Deborah!" said he; "if you are going my way, I can give you a
"He calls me 'Deborah,'" she muttered to herself; then aloud--"Ay, and
thank ye, Mr. Gilbert."
Seizing the tail of the near horse with one hand, she sprang upon the
wagon-tongue, and the next moment sat upon the board at his side. Then,
rummaging in a deep pocket, she produced, one after the other, a short
black pipe, an eel-skin tobacco-pouch, flint, tinder, and a clumsy
knife. With a dexterity which could only have come from long habit, she
prepared and kindled the weed, and was presently puffing forth rank
streams, with an air of the deepest satisfaction.
"Which way?" asked Gilbert.
"Your'n, as far as you go,--always providin' you takes me."
"Of course, Deborah, you're welcome. I have no load, you see."
"Mighty clever in you, Mr. Gilbert; but you always was one o' the clever
ones. Them as thinks themselves better born"--
"Come, Deborah, none of that!" he exclaimed.
"Ax your pardon," she said, and smoked her pipe in silence. When she had
finished and knocked the ashes out against the front panel of the wagon,
she spoke again, in a hard, bitter voice,--
"'Tisn't much difference what _I_ am. I was raised on hard knocks, and
now I must git my livin' by 'em. But I axes no'un's help, I'm _that_
proud, anyways. I go my own road, and a straighter one, too, damme, than
I git credit for, but I let other people go their'n. You might have wuss
company than me, though _I_ say it."
These words hinted at an inward experience in some respects so
surprisingly like his own, that Gilbert was startled. He knew the
reputation of the woman, though he would have found it difficult to tell
whereupon it was based. Everybody said she was bad, and nobody knew
particularly why. She lived alone, in a log-cabin in the woods; did
washing and house-cleaning; worked in the harvest-fields; smoked, and
took her gill of whiskey with the best of them,--but other vices, though
inferred, were not proven. Involuntarily, he contrasted her position, in
this respect, with his own. The world, he had recently learned, was
wrong in his case; might it not also be doing her injustice? Her pride,
in its coarse way, was his also, and his life, perhaps, had only
unfolded into honorable success through a mother's ever-watchful care
and never-wearied toil.
"Deborah," he said, after a pause, "no man or woman who makes an honest
living by hard work, is bad company for me. I am trying to do the same
thing that you are,--to be independent of others. It's not an easy thing
for anybody, starting from nothing, but I can guess that it must be much
harder for you than for me."
"Yes, you're a man!" she cried. "Would to God I'd been one, too! A man
can do everything that I do, and it's all right and proper. Why did the
Lord give me strength? Look at that!" She bared her right arm--hard,
knitted muscle from wrist to shoulder--and clenched her fist. "What's
that for?--not for a woman, I say; I could take two of 'em by the necks
and pitch 'em over yon fence. I've felled an Irishman like an ox when he
called me names. The anger's in me, and the boldness and the roughness,
and the cursin'; I didn't put 'em there, and I can't git 'em out now, if
I tried ever so much. Why did they snatch the sewin' from me when I
wanted to learn women's work, and send me out to yoke th' oxen? I do
believe I was a gal onc't, a six-month or so, but it's over long ago.
I've been a man ever since!"
She took a bottle out of her pocket, and offered it to Gilbert. When he
refused, she simply said: "You're right!" set it to her mouth, and drank
long and deeply. There was a wild, painful gleam of truth in her words,
which touched his sympathy. How should he dare to judge this unfortunate
creature, not knowing what perverse freak of nature, and untoward
circumstances of life had combined to make her what she was? His manner
towards her was kind and serious, and by degrees this covert respect
awoke in her a desire to deserve it. She spoke calmly and soberly,
exhibiting a wonderful knowledge as they rode onwards, not only of
farming, but of animals, trees, and plants.
The team, knowing that home and rest were near, marched cheerily up and
down the hills along the border, and before sunset, emerging from the
woods, they overlooked the little valley, the mill, and the nestling
farmhouse. An Indian war-whoop rang across the meadow, and Gilbert
recognized Sam's welcome therein.
"Now, Deborah," said he, "you shall stop and have some supper, before
you go any farther."
"I'm obliged, all the same," said she, "but I must push on. I've to go
beyond the Square, and couldn't wait. But tell your mother if she wants
a man's arm in house-cleanin' time to let me know. And, Mr. Gilbert, let
me say one thing: give me your hand."
The horses had stopped to drink at the creek. He gave her his right
She held it in hers a moment, gazing intently on the palm. Then she bent
her head and blew upon it gently, three times.
"Never mind: it's my fancy," she said. "You're born for trial and
good-luck, but the trials come first, all of a heap, and the good luck
afterwards. You've got a friend in Deb. Smith, if you ever need one.
Good-bye to ye!"
With these words she sprang from the wagon, and trudged off silently up
the hill. The horses turned of themselves into the lane leading to the
barn, and Gilbert assisted Sam in unharnessing and feeding them before
entering the house. By the time he was ready to greet his mother, and
enjoy, without further care, his first evening at home, he knew
everything that had occurred on the farm during his absence.
OLD KENNETT MEETING.
On the Sunday succeeding his return, Gilbert Potter proposed to his
mother that they should attend the Friends' Meeting at Old Kennett.
The Quaker element, we have already stated, largely predominated in this
part of the county; and even the many families who were not actually
members of the sect were strongly colored with its peculiar
characteristics. Though not generally using "the plain speech" among
themselves, they invariably did so towards Quakers, varied but little
from the latter in dress and habits, and, with very few exceptions,
regularly attended their worship. In fact, no other religious attendance
was possible, without a Sabbath journey too long for the well-used
farm-horses. To this class belonged Gilbert and his mother, the
Fairthorns, and even the Bartons. Farmer Fairthorn had a birthright, it
is true, until his marriage, which having been a stolen match, and not
performed according to "Friends' ceremony," occasioned his
excommunication. He might have been restored to the rights of membership
by admitting his sorrow for the offence, but this he stoutly refused to
do. The predicament was not an unusual one in the neighborhood; but a
few, among whom was Dr. Deane, Martha's father, submitted to the
required humiliation. As this did not take place, however, until after
her birth, Martha was still without the pale, and preferred to remain
so, for two reasons: first, that a scoop bonnet was monstrous on a young
woman's head; and second, that she was passionately fond of music, and
saw no harm in a dance. This determination of hers was, as her father
expressed himself, a "great cross" to him; but she had a habit of
paralyzing his argument by turning against him the testimony of the
Friends in regard to forms and ceremonies, and their reliance on the
guidance of the Spirit.
Herein Martha was strictly logical, and though she, and others who
belonged to the same class, were sometimes characterized, by a zealous
Quaker, in moments of bitterness, as being "the world's people," they
were generally regarded, not only with tolerance, but in a spirit of
fraternity. The high seats in the gallery were not for them, but they
were free to any other part of the meeting-house during life, and to a
grave in the grassy and briery enclosure adjoining, when dead. The
necessity of belonging to some organized church was recognized but
faintly, if at all; provided their lives were honorable, they were
considered very fair Christians.
Mary Potter but rarely attended meeting, not from any lack of the need
of worship, but because she shrank with painful timidity from appearing
in the presence of the assembled neighborhood. She was, nevertheless,
grateful for Gilbert's success, and her heart inclined to thanksgiving;
besides, he desired that they should go, and she was not able to offer
any valid objection. So, after breakfast, the two best horses of the
team were very carefully groomed, saddled, and--Sam having been sent off
on a visit to his father, with the house-key in his pocket--the mother
and son took the road up the creek.
Both were plainly, yet very respectably, dressed, in garments of the
same home-made cloth, of a deep, dark brown color, but Mary Potter wore
under her cloak the new crape shawl which Gilbert had brought to her
from Wilmington, and his shirt of fine linen displayed a modest ruffle
in front. The resemblance in their faces was even more strongly marked,
in the common expression of calm, grave repose, which sprang from the
nature of their journey. A stranger meeting them that morning, would
have seen that they were persons of unusual force of character, and
bound to each other by an unusual tie.
Up the lovely valley, or rather glen, watered by the eastern branch of
Redley Creek, they rode to the main highway. It was an early spring, and
the low-lying fields were already green with the young grass; the
weeping-willows in front of the farm-houses seemed to spout up and fall
like broad enormous geysers as the wind swayed them, and daffodils
bloomed in all the warmer gardens. The dark foliage of the cedars
skirting the road counteracted that indefinable gloom which the
landscapes of early spring, in their grayness and incompleteness, so
often inspire, and mocked the ripened summer in the close shadows which
they threw. It was a pleasant ride, especially after mother and son had
reached the main road, and other horsemen and horsewomen issued from the
gates of farms on either side, taking their way to the meeting-house.
Only two or three families could boast vehicles,--heavy, cumbrous
"chairs," as they were called, with a convex canopy resting on four
stout pillars, and the bulging body swinging from side to side on huge
springs of wood and leather. No healthy man or woman, however, unless he
or she were very old, travelled otherwise than on horseback.
Now and then exchanging grave but kindly nods with their acquaintances,
they rode slowly along the level upland, past the Anvil Tavern, through
Logtown,--a cluster of primitive cabins at the junction of the
Wilmington Road,--and reached the meeting-house in good season. Gilbert
assisted his mother to alight at the stone platform built for that
purpose near the women's end of the building, and then fastened the
horses in the long, open shed in the rear. Then, as was the custom, he
entered by the men's door, and quietly took a seat in the silent
The stiff, unpainted benches were filled with the congregation, young
and old, wearing their hats, and with a stolid, drowsy look upon their
faces. Over a high wooden partition the old women in the gallery, but
not the young women on the floor of the house, could be seen. Two
stoves, with interminable lengths of pipe, suspended by wires from the
ceiling, created a stifling temperature. Every slight sound or
motion,--the moving of a foot, the drawing forth of a pocket-
handkerchief, the lifting or lowering of a head,--seemed to disturb the
quiet as with a shock, and drew many of the younger eyes upon it; while
in front, like the guardian statues of an Egyptian temple, sat the older
members, with their hands upon their knees or clasped across their laps.
Their faces were grave and severe.
After nearly an hour of this suspended animation, an old Friend rose,
removed his broad-brimmed hat, and placing his hands upon the rail
before him, began slowly swaying to and fro, while he spoke. As he rose
into the chant peculiar to the sect, intoning alike his quotations from
the Psalms and his utterances of plain, practical advice, an expression
of quiet but almost luxurious satisfaction stole over the faces of his
aged brethren. With half-closed eyes and motionless bodies, they drank
in the sound like a rich draught, with a sense of exquisite refreshment.
A close connection of ideas, a logical derivation of argument from text,
would have aroused their suspicions that the speaker depended rather
upon his own active, conscious intellect, than upon the moving of the
Spirit; but this aimless wandering of a half-awake soul through the
cadences of a language which was neither song nor speech, was, to their
minds, the evidence of genuine inspiration.
When the old man sat down, a woman arose and chanted forth the
suggestions which had come to her in the silence, in a voice of
wonderful sweetness and strength. Here Music seemed to revenge herself
for the slight done to her by the sect. The ears of the hearers were so
charmed by the purity of tone, and the delicate, rhythmical cadences of
the sentences, that much of the wise lessons repeated from week to week
failed to reach their consciousness.
After another interval of silence, the two oldest men reached their
hands to each other,--a sign which the younger members had anxiously
awaited. The spell snapped in an instant; all arose and moved into the
open air, where all things at first appeared to wear the same aspect of
solemnity. The poplar-trees, the stone wall, the bushes in the corners
of the fence, looked grave and respectful for a few minutes. Neighbors
said, "How does thee do?" to each other, in subdued voices, and there
was a conscientious shaking of hands all around before they dared to
indulge in much conversation.
Gradually, however, all returned to the out-door world and its
interests. The fences became so many posts and rails once more, the
bushes so many elders and blackberries to be cut away, and the
half-green fields so much sod for corn-ground. Opinions in regard to
the weather and the progress of spring labor were freely interchanged,
and the few unimportant items of social news, which had collected in
seven days, were gravely distributed. This was at the men's end of the
meeting-house; on their side, the women were similarly occupied, but we
can only conjecture the subjects of their conversation. The young
men--as is generally the case in religious sects of a rigid and
clannish character--were by no means handsome. Their faces all bore the
stamp of _repression_, in some form or other, and as they talked their
eyes wandered with an expression of melancholy longing and timidity
towards the sweet, maidenly faces, whose bloom, and pure, gentle beauty
not even their hideous bonnets could obscure.
One by one the elder men came up to the stone platform with the stable
old horses which their wives were to ride home; the huge chair, in which
sat a privileged couple, creaked and swayed from side to side, as it
rolled with ponderous dignity from the yard; and now, while the girls
were waiting their turn, the grave young men plucked up courage,
wandered nearer, greeted, exchanged words, and so were helped into an
atmosphere of youth.
Gilbert, approaching with them, was first recognized by his old friend,
Sally Fairthorn, whose voice of salutation was so loud and cheery, as to
cause two or three sedate old "women-friends" to turn their heads in
grave astonishment. Mother Fairthorn, with her bright, round face,
followed, and then--serene and strong in her gentle, symmetrical
loveliness--Martha Deane. Gilbert's hand throbbed, as he held hers a
moment, gazing into the sweet blue of her eyes; yet, passionately as he
felt that he loved her in that moment, perfect as was the delight of her
presence, a better joy came to his heart when she turned away to speak
with his mother. Mark Deane--a young giant with curly yellow locks, and
a broad, laughing mouth--had just placed a hand upon his shoulder, and
he could not watch the bearing of the two women to each other; but all
his soul listened to their voices, and he heard in Martha Deane's the
kindly courtesy and respect which he did not see.
Mother Fairthorn and Sally so cordially insisted that Mary Potter and
her son should ride home with them to dinner, that no denial was
possible. When the horses were brought up to the block the yard was
nearly empty, and the returning procession was already winding up the
hill towards Logtown.
"Come, Mary," said Mother Fairthorn, "you and I will ride together, and
you shall tell me all about your ducks and turkeys. The young folks can
get along without us, I guess."
Martha Deane had ridden to meeting in company with her cousin Mark and
Sally, but the order of the homeward ride was fated to be different. Joe
and Jake, bestriding a single horse, like two of the Haymon's-children,
were growing inpatient, so they took the responsibility of dashing up to
Mark and Sally, who were waiting in the road, and announcing,--
"Cousin Martha says we're to go on; she'll ride with Gilbert."
Both well knew the pranks of the boys, but perhaps they found the
message well-invented if not true; for they obeyed with secret
alacrity, although Sally made a becoming show of reluctance. Before they
reached the bottom of the hollow, Joe and Jake, seeing two school-mates
in advance, similarly mounted, dashed off in a canter, to overtake them,
and the two were left alone.
Gilbert and Martha naturally followed, since not more than two could
conveniently ride abreast. But their movements were so quiet and
deliberate, and the accident which threw them together was accepted so
simply and calmly that no one could guess what warmth of longing, of
reverential tenderness, beat in every muffled throb of one of the two
Martha was an admirable horsewoman, and her slender, pliant figure never
showed to greater advantage than in the saddle. Her broad beaver hat was
tied down over the ears, throwing a cool gray shadow across her clear,
joyous eyes and fresh cheeks. A pleasanter face never touched a young
man's fancy, and every time it turned towards Gilbert it brightened away
the distress of love. He caught, unconsciously, the serenity of her
mood, and foretasted the peace which her being would bring to him if it
were ever intrusted to his hands.
"Did you do well by your hauling, Gilbert," she asked, "and are you now
home for the summer?"
"Until after corn-planting," he answered. "Then I must take two or three
weeks, as the season turns out. I am not able to give up my team yet."
"But you soon will be, I hope. It must be very lonely for your mother to
be on the farm without you."
These words touched him gratefully, and led him to a candid openness of
speech which he would not otherwise have ventured,--not from any
inherent lack of candor, but from a reluctance to speak of himself.
"That's it, Martha," he said. "It is her work that I have the farm at
all, and I only go away the oftener now, that I may the sooner stay with
her altogether. The thought of her makes each trip lonelier than the
"I like to hear you say that, Gilbert. And it must be a comfort to you,
withal, to know that you are working as much for your mother's sake as
your own. I think I should feel so, at least, in your place. I feel my
own mother's loss more now than when she died, for I was then so young
that I can only just remember her face."
"But you have a father!" he exclaimed, and the words were scarcely out
of his mouth before he became aware of their significance, uttered by
his lips. He had not meant so much,--only that she, like him, still
enjoyed one parent's care. The blood came into his face; she saw and
understood the sign, and broke a silence which would soon have become
"Yes," she said, "and I am very grateful that he is spared; but we seem
to belong most to our mothers."
"That is the truth," he said firmly, lifting his head with the impulse
of his recovered pride, and meeting her eyes without flinching. "I
belong altogether to mine. She has made me a man and set me upon my
feet. From this time forward, my place is to stand between her and the
Martha Deane's blood throbbed an answer to this assertion of himself. A
sympathetic pride beamed in her eyes; she slightly bent her head, in
answer, without speaking, and Gilbert felt that he was understood and
valued. He had drawn a step nearer to the trial which he had resolved to
make, and would now venture no further.
There was a glimmering spark of courage in his heart. He was surprised,
in recalling the conversation afterwards, to find how much of his plans
he had communicated to her during the ride, encouraged by the kindly
interest she manifested, and the sensible comments she uttered. Joe and
Jake, losing their mates at a cross-road, and finding Sally and Mark
Deane not very lively company for them, rode back and disturbed these
confidences, but not until they had drawn the two into a relation of
acknowledged mutual interest.
Martha Deane had always, as she confessed to Sally, _liked_ Gilbert
Potter; she liked every young man of character and energy; but now she
began to suspect that there was a rarer worth in his nature than she had
guessed. From that day he was more frequently the guest of her thoughts
than ever before. Instinct, in him, had performed the same service which
men of greater experience of the world would have reached through keen
perception and careful tact,--in confiding to her his position, his
labors and hopes, material as was the theme and seemingly unsuited to
the occasion, he had in reality appreciated the serious, reflective
nature underlying her girlish grace and gayety. What other young man of
her acquaintance, she asked herself, would have done the same thing?
When they reached Kennett Square, Mother Fairthorn urged Martha to
accompany them, and Sally impetuously seconded the invitation. Dr.
Deane's horse was at his door, however, and his daughter, with her eyes
on Gilbert, as if saying "for my father's sake," steadfastly declined.
Mark, however, took her place, but there never had been, or could be,
too many guests at the Fairthorn table.
When they reached the garden-wall, Sally sprang from her horse with such
haste that her skirt caught on the pommel and left her hanging, being
made of stuff too stout to tear. It was well that Gilbert was near, on
the same side, and disengaged her in an instant; but her troubles did
not end here. As she bustled in and out of the kitchen, preparing the
dinner-table in the long sitting-room, the hooks and door-handles seemed
to have an unaccountable habit of thrusting themselves in her way, and
she was ready to cry at each glance of Mark's laughing eyes. She had
never heard the German proverb, "who loves, teases," and was too
inexperienced, as yet, to have discovered the fact for herself.
Presently they all sat down to dinner, and after the first solemn
quiet,--no one venturing to eat or speak until the plates of all had
been heaped with a little of everything upon the table,--the meal became
very genial and pleasant. A huge brown pitcher of stinging cider added
its mild stimulus to the calm country blood, and under its mellowing
influence Mark announced the most important fact of his life,--he was to
have the building of Hallowell's barn.
As Gilbert and his mother rode homewards, that afternoon, neither spoke
much, but both felt, in some indefinite way, better prepared for the
life that lay before them.
AT DR. DEANE'S.
As she dismounted on the large flat stone outside the paling, Martha
Deane saw her father's face at the window. It was sterner and graver
The Deane mansion stood opposite the Unicorn Tavern. When built, ninety
years previous, it had been considered a triumph of architecture; the
material was squared logs from the forest, dovetailed, and overlapping
at the corners, which had the effect of rustic quoins, as contrasted
with the front, which was plastered and yellow-washed. A small portico,
covered with a tangled mass of eglantine and coral honeysuckle, with a
bench at each end, led to the door; and the ten feet of space between it
and the front paling were devoted to flowers and rose-bushes. At each
corner of the front rose an old, picturesque, straggling cedar-tree.
There were two front doors, side by side,--one for the family
sitting-room, the other (rarely opened, except when guests arrived) for
the parlor. Martha Deane entered the former, and we will enter with her.
The room was nearly square, and lighted by two windows. On those sides
the logs were roughly plastered; on the others there were partitions of
panelled oak, nearly black with age and smoke, as were the heavy beams
of the same wood which formed the ceiling. In the corner of the room
next the kitchen there was an open Franklin stove,--an innovation at
that time,--upon which two or three hickory sticks were smouldering into
snowy ashes. The floor was covered with a country-made rag carpet, in
which an occasional strip of red or blue listing brightened the
prevailing walnut color of the woof. The furniture was simple and
massive, its only unusual feature being a tall cabinet with shelves
filled with glass jars, and an infinity of small drawers. A few bulky
volumes on the lower shelf constituted the medical library of Dr. Deane.
This gentleman was still standing at the window, with his hands clasped
across his back. His Quaker suit was of the finest drab broadcloth, and
the plain cravat visible above his high, straight waistcoat, was of
spotless cambric. His knee-and shoe-buckles were of the simplest
pattern, but of good, solid silver, and there was not a wrinkle in the
stockings of softest lamb's-wool, which covered his massive calves.
There was always a faint odor of lavender, bergamot, or sweet marjoram
about him, and it was a common remark in the neighborhood that the sight
and smell of the Doctor helped a weak patient almost as much as his
In his face there was a curious general resemblance to his daughter,
though the detached features were very differently formed. Large,
unsymmetrical, and somewhat coarse,--even for a man,--they derived much
of their effect from his scrupulous attire and studied air of wisdom.
His long gray hair was combed back, that no portion of the moderate
frontal brain might be covered; the eyes were gray rather than blue, and
a habit of concealment had marked its lines in the corners, unlike the
open, perfect frankness of his daughter's. The principal resemblance was
in the firm, clear outline of the upper lip, which alone, in his face,
had it been supported by the under one, would have made him almost
handsome; but the latter was large and slightly hanging. There were
marked inconsistencies in his face, but this was no disadvantage in a
community unaccustomed to studying the external marks of character.
"Just home, father? How did thee leave Dinah Passmore?" asked Martha, as
she untied the strings of her beaver.
"Better," he answered, turning from the window; "but, Martha, who did I
see thee riding with?"
"Does thee mean Gilbert Potter?"
"I do," he said, and paused. Martha, with her cloak over her arm and
bonnet in her hand, in act to leave the room, waited, saying,--
So frank and serene was her bearing, that the old man felt both relieved
"I suppose it happened so," he said. "I saw his mother with Friend
Fairthorn. I only meant thee shouldn't be seen in company with young
Potter, when thee could help it; thee knows what I mean."
"I don't think, father," she slowly answered, "there is anything against
Gilbert Potter's life or character, except that which is no just
reproach to _him_."
"'The sins of the parents shall be visited upon the children, even to
the third and fourth generation.' That is enough, Martha."
She went up to her room, meditating, with an earnestness almost equal to
Gilbert's, upon this form of the world's injustice, which he was
powerless to overcome. Her father shared it, and the fact did not
surprise her; but her independent spirit had already ceased to be
guided, in all things, by his views. She felt that the young man
deserved the respect and admiration which he had inspired in her mind,
and until a better reason could be discovered, she would continue so to
regard him. The decision was reached rapidly, and then laid aside for
any future necessity; she went down-stairs again in her usual quiet,
During her absence another conversation had taken place.
Miss Betsy Lavender (who was a fast friend of Martha, and generally
spent her Sundays at the Doctor's,) was sitting before the stove, drying
her feet. She was silent until Martha left the room, when she suddenly
"Doctor! Judge not that ye be not judged."
"Thee may think as thee pleases, Betsy," said he, rather sharply: "it's
thy nature, I believe, to take everybody's part."
"Put yourself in his place," she continued,--"remember them that's in
bonds as bound with 'em,--I disremember exackly how it goes, but no
matter: I say your way a'n't right, and I'd say it seven times, if need
be! There's no steadier nor better-doin' young fellow in these parts
than Gilbert Potter. Ferris, down in Pennsbury, or Alf Barton, here, for
that matter, a'n't to be put within a mile of him. I could say something
in Mary Potter's behalf, too, but I won't: for there's Scribes and
Dr. Deane did not notice this thrust: it was not his habit to get angry.
"Put _thyself_ in _my_ place, Betsy," he said. "He's a worthy young man,
in some respects, I grant thee, but would thee like _thy_ daughter to be
seen riding home beside him from Meeting? It's one thing speaking for
thyself, and another for thy daughter."
"Thy daughter!" she repeated. "Old or young can't make any difference,
as I see."
There was something else on her tongue, but she forcibly withheld the
words. She would not exhaust her ammunition until there was both a
chance and a necessity to do some execution. The next moment Martha
reentered the room.
After dinner, they formed a quiet group in the front sitting-room. Dr.
Deane, having no more visits to make that day, took a pipe of choice
tobacco,--the present of a Virginia Friend, whose acquaintance he had
made at Yearly Meeting,--and seated himself in the arm-chair beside the
stove. Martha, at the west window, enjoyed a volume of Hannah More, and
Miss Betsy, at the front window, labored over the Psalms. The sun shone
with dim, muffled orb, but the air without was mild, and there were
already brown tufts, which would soon be blossoms, on the lilac twigs.
Suddenly Miss Betsy lifted up her head and exclaimed, "Well, I never!"
As she did so, there was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" said Dr. Deane, and in came Mr. Alfred Barton, resplendent in
blue coat, buff waistcoat, cambric ruffles, and silver-gilt buckles.
But, alas! the bunch of seals--topaz, agate, and cornelian--no longer
buoyed the deep-anchored watch. The money due his father had been
promptly paid, through the agency of a three-months' promissory note,
and thus the most momentous result of the robbery was overcome. This
security for the future, however, scarcely consoled him for the painful
privation of the present. Without the watch, Alfred Barton felt that
much of his dignity and importance was lacking.
Dr. Deane greeted his visitor with respect, Martha with the courtesy due
to a guest, and Miss Betsy with the offhand, independent manner, under
which she masked her private opinions of the persons whom she met.
"Mark isn't at home, I see," said Mr. Barton, after having taken his
seat in the centre of the room: "I thought I'd have a little talk with
him about the wagon-house. I suppose he told you that I got Hallowell's
new barn for him?"
"Yes, and we're all greatly obliged to thee, as well as Mark," said the
Doctor. "The two jobs make a fine start for a young mechanic, and I hope
he'll do as well as he's been done by: there's luck in a good
beginning. By the bye, has thee heard anything more of Sandy Flash's
Mr. Barton fairly started at this question. His own misfortune had been
carefully kept secret, and he could not suspect that the Doctor knew it;
but he nervously dreaded the sound of the terrible name.
"What is it?" he asked, in a faint voice.
"He has turned up in Bradford, this time, and they say has robbed Jesse
Frame, the Collector, of between four and five hundred dollars. The
Sheriff and a posse of men from the Valley hunted him for several days,
but found no signs. Some think he has gone up into the Welch Mountain;
but for my part, I should not be surprised if he were in this
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Barton, starting from his chair.
"Now's your chance," said Miss Betsy. "Git the young men together who
won't feel afraid o' bein' twenty ag'in one: you know the holes and
corners where he'll be likely to hide, and what's to hinder you from
"But he must have many secret friends," said Martha, "if what I have
heard is true,--that he has often helped a poor man with the money which
he takes only from the rich. You know he still calls himself a Tory, and
many of those whose estates have been confiscated, would not scruple to
harbor him, or even take his money."
"Take his money. That's a fact," remarked Miss Betsy, "and now I dunno
whether I want him ketched. There's worse men goin' round, as
respectable as you please, stealin' all their born days, only cunnin'ly
jukin' round the law instead o' buttin' square through it. Why, old Liz
Williams, o' Birmingham, herself told me with her own mouth, how she was
ridin' home from Phildelphy market last winter, with six dollars, the
price of her turkeys--and General Washin'ton's cook took one of 'em, but
that's neither here nor there--in her pocket, and fearful as death when
she come to Concord woods, and lo and behold! there she was overtook by
a fresh-complected man, and she begged him to ride with her, for she had
six dollars in her pocket and Sandy was known to be about. So he rode
with her to her very lane-end, as kind and civil a person as she ever
see, and then and there he said, 'Don't be afeard, Madam, for I, which
have seen you home, is Sandy Flash himself, and here's somethin' more to
remember me by,'--no sooner said than done, he put a gold guinea into
her hand, and left her there as petrified as Lot's wife. Now _I_ say,
and it may be violation of the law, for all I know, but never mind, that
Sandy Flash has got one corner of his heart in the right place, no
matter where the others is. There's honor even among thieves, they say."
"Seriously, Alfred," said Dr. Deane, cutting Miss Betsy short before she
had half expressed her sentiments, "it is time that something was done.
If Flash is not caught soon, we shall be overrun with thieves, and there
will be no security anywhere on the high roads, or in our houses. I wish
that men of influence in the neighborhood, like thyself, would come
together and plan, at least, to keep Kennett clear of him. Then other
townships may do the same, and so the thing be stopped. If I were
younger, and my practice were not so laborious, I would move in the
matter, but thee is altogether a more suitable person."
"Do you think so?" Barton replied, with an irrepressible reluctance,
around which he strove to throw an air of modesty. "That would be the
proper way, certainly, but I,--I don't know,--that is, I can't flatter
myself that I'm the best man to undertake it."
"It requires some courage, you know," Martha remarked, and her glance
made him feel very uncomfortable, "and you are too dashing a fox-hunter
not to have that. Perhaps the stranger who rode with you to
Avondale--what was his name?--might be of service. If I were in your
place, I should be glad of a chance to incur danger for the good of the
Mr. Alfred Barton was on nettles. If there were irony in her words his
intellect was too muddy to detect it: her assumption of his courage
could only be accepted as a compliment, but it was the last compliment
he desired to have paid to himself, just at that time.
"Yes," he said, with a forced laugh, rushing desperately into the
opposite extreme, "but the danger and the courage are not worth talking
about. Any man ought to be able to face a robber, single-handed, and as
for twenty men, why, when it's once known, Sandy Flash will only be too
glad to keep away."
"Then, do thee do what I've recommended. It may be, as thee says, that
the being prepared is all that is necessary," remarked Dr. Deane.
Thus caught, Mr. Barton could do no less than acquiesce, and very much
to his secret dissatisfaction, the Doctor proceeded to name the young
men of the neighborhood, promising to summon such as lived on the lines
of his professional journeys, that they might confer with the leader of
the undertaking. Martha seconded the plan with an evident interest, yet
it did not escape her that neither her father nor Mr. Barton had
mentioned the name of Gilbert Potter.
"Is that all?" she asked, when a list of some eighteen persons had been
suggested. Involuntarily, she looked at Miss Betsy Lavender.
"No, indeed!" cried the latter. "There's Jabez Travilla, up on the
ridge, and Gilbert Potter, down at the mill."
"H'm, yes; what does thee say, Alfred?" asked the Doctor.
"They're both good riders, and I think they have courage enough, but we
can never tell what a man is until he's been tried. They would increase
the number, and that, it seems to me, is a consideration."
"Perhaps thee had better exercise thy own judgment there," the Doctor
observed, and the subject, having been as fully discussed as was
possible without consultation with other persons, it was dropped,
greatly to Barton's relief.
But in endeavoring to converse with Martha he only exchanged one
difficulty for another. His vanity, powerful as it was, gave way before
that instinct which is the curse and torment of vulgar natures,--which
leaps into life at every contact of refinement, showing them the gulf
between, which they know not how to cross. The impudence, the aggressive
rudeness which such natures often exhibit, is either a mask to conceal
their deficiency, or an angry protest against it. Where there is a drop
of gentleness in the blood, it appreciates and imitates the higher
This was the feeling which made Alfred Barton uncomfortable in the
presence of Martha Deane,--which told him, in advance, that natures so
widely sundered, never could come into near relations with each other,
and thus quite neutralized the attraction of her beauty and her ten
thousand dollars. His game, however, was to pay court to her, and in so
pointed a way that it should be remarked and talked about in the
neighborhood. Let it once come through others to the old man's ears, he
would have proved his obedience and could not be reproached if the
result were fruitless.
"What are you reading, Miss Martha?" he asked, after a long and somewhat
She handed him the book in reply.
"Ah! Hannah More,--a friend of yours? Is she one of the West-Whiteland
Martha could not suppress a light, amused laugh, as she answered: "Oh,
no, she is an English woman."
"Then it's a Tory book," said he, handing it back; "I wouldn't read it,
if I was you."
"It is a story, and I should think you might."
He heard other words than those she spoke. "As Tory as--what?" he asked
himself. "As I am," of course; that is what she means. "Old-man Barton"
had been one of the disloyal purveyors for the British army during its
occupancy of Philadelphia in the winter of 1777-8, and though the main
facts of the traffic wherefrom he had drawn immense profits, never could
be proved against him, the general belief hung over the family, and made
a very disagreeable cloud. Whenever Alfred Barton quarrelled with any
one, the taunt was sure to be flung into his teeth. That it came now, as
he imagined, was as great a shock as if Martha had slapped him in the
face with her own delicate hand, and his visage reddened from the blow.
Miss Betsy Lavender, bending laboriously over the Psalms, nevertheless
kept her dull gray eyes in movement. She saw the misconception, and
fearing that Martha did not, made haste to remark:--
"Well, Mr. Alfred, and do _you_ think it's a harm to read a story? Why,
Miss Ann herself lent me 'Alonzo and Melissa,' and 'Midnight Horrors,'
and I'll be bound you've read 'em yourself on the sly. 'T a'n't much
other readin' men does, save and except the weekly paper, and law enough
to git a tight hold on their debtors. Come, now, let's know what you
"Not much of anything, that's a fact," he answered, recovering himself,
with a shudder at the fearful mistake he had been on the point of
making, "but I've nothing against women reading stories. I was rather
thinking of myself when I spoke to you, Miss Martha."
"So I supposed," she quietly answered. It was provoking. Everything she
said made him think there was another meaning behind the words; her
composed manner, though he knew it to be habitual, more and more
disconcerted him. Never did an intentional wooer find his wooing so
painful and laborious. After this attempt he addressed himself to Doctor
Deane, for even the question of circumventing Sandy Flash now presented
itself to his mind as a relief.
There he sat, and the conversation progressed in jerks and spirts,
between pauses of embarrassing silence. The sun hung on the western hill
in a web of clouds; Martha and Miss Betsy rose and prepared the
tea-table, and the guest, invited perforce, perforce accepted. Soon
after the meal was over, however, he murmured something about cattle,
took his hat and left.
Two or three horses were hitched before the Unicorn, and he saw some
figures through the bar-room window. A bright thought struck him; he
crossed the road and entered.
"Hallo, Alf! Where from now? Why, you're as fine as a fiddler!" cried
Mr. Joel Ferris, who was fast becoming familiar, on the strength of his
"Over the way," answered the landlord, with a wink and a jerk of his
Mr. Ferris whistled, and one of the others suggested: "He must stand a
treat, on that."
"But, I say!" said the former, "how is it you're coming away so soon in
"I went very early in the afternoon," Barton answered, with a
mysterious, meaning smile, as much as to say: "It's all right; I know
what I'm about." Then he added aloud,--"Step up, fellows; what'll you
Many were the jests and questions to which he was forced to submit, but
he knew the value of silence in creating an impression, and allowed them
to enjoy their own inferences.
It is much easier to start a report, than to counteract it, when once
started; but the first, only, was his business.
It was late in the evening when he returned home, and the household were
in bed. Nevertheless, he did not enter by the back way, in his
stockings, but called Giles down from the garret to unlock the
front-door, and made as much noise as he pleased on his way to bed.
The old man heard it, and chuckled under his coverlet.
Steadily and serenely the Spring advanced. Old people shook their heads
and said: "It will be April, this year, that comes in like a lamb and
goes out like a lion,"--but it was not so. Soft, warm showers and
frostless nights repaid the trustfulness of the early-expanding buds,
and May came clothed completely in pale green, with a wreath of lilac
and hawthorn bloom on her brow. For twenty years no such perfect spring
had been known; and for twenty years afterwards the farmers looked back
to it as a standard of excellence, whereby to measure the forwardness of
By the twentieth of April the young white-oak leaves were the size of a
squirrel's ear,--the old Indian sign of the proper time for
corn-planting, which was still accepted by the new race, and the first
of May saw many fields already specked with the green points of the
springing blades. A warm, silvery vapor hung over the land, mellowing
the brief vistas of the interlacing valleys, touching with a sweeter
pastoral beauty the irregular alternation of field and forest, and
lifting the wooded slopes, far and near, to a statelier and more
imposing height. The park-like region of Kennett, settled originally by
emigrants from Bucks and Warwickshire, reproduced to their eyes--as it
does to this day--the characteristics of their original home, and they
transplanted the local names to which they were accustomed, and
preserved, even long after the War of Independence, the habits of their
rural ancestry. The massive stone farm-houses, the walled gardens, the
bountiful orchards, and, more than all, the well-trimmed hedges of
hawthorn and blackthorn dividing their fields, or bordering their roads
with the living wall, over which the clematis and wild-ivy love to
clamber, made the region beautiful to their eyes. Although the large
original grants, mostly given by the hand of William Penn, had been
divided and subdivided by three or four prolific generations, there was
still enough and to spare,--and even the golden promise held out by "the
Backwoods," as the new States of Ohio and Kentucky were then called,
tempted very few to leave their homes.
The people, therefore, loved the soil and clung to it with a fidelity
very rare in any part of our restless nation. And, truly, no one who had
lived through the mild splendor of that spring, seeing, day by day, the
visible deepening of the soft woodland tints, hearing the cheerful
sounds of labor, far and wide, in the vapory air, and feeling at once
the repose and the beauty of such a quiet, pastoral life, could have
turned his back upon it, to battle with the inhospitable wilderness of
the West. Gilbert Potter had had ideas of a new home, to be created by
himself, and a life to which none should deny honor and respect: but now
he gave them up forever. There was a battle to be fought--better here
than elsewhere--here, where every scene was dear and familiar, and every
object that met his eye gave a mute, gentle sense of consolation.
Restless, yet cheery labor was now the order of life on the farm. From
dawn till dusk, Gilbert and Sam were stirring in field, meadow, and
garden, keeping pace with the season and forecasting what was yet to
come. Sam, although only fifteen, had a manly pride in being equal to
the duty imposed upon him by his master's absence, and when the time
came to harness the wagon-team once more, the mother and son walked over
the fields together and rejoiced in the order and promise of the farm.
The influences of the season had unconsciously touched them both:
everything conspired to favor the fulfilment of their common plan, and,
as one went forward to the repetition of his tedious journeys back and
forth between Columbia and Newport, and the other to her lonely labor in
the deserted farm-house, the arches of bells over the collars of the
leaders chimed at once to the ears of both, an anthem of thanksgiving
and a melody of hope.
So May and the beginning of June passed away, and no important event
came to any character of this history. When Gilbert had delivered the
last barrels at Newport, and slowly cheered homewards his weary team, he
was nearly two hundred dollars richer than when he started, and--if we
must confess a universal if somewhat humiliating truth--so much the more
a man in courage and determination.
The country was now covered with the first fresh magnificence of summer.
The snowy pyramids of dog-wood bloom had faded, but the tulip trees were
tall cones of rustling green, lighted with millions of orange-colored
stars, and all the underwood beneath the hemlock-forests by the courses
of streams, was rosy with laurels and azaleas. The vernal-grass in the
meadows was sweeter than any garden-rose, and its breath met that of the
wild-grape in the thickets and struggled for preeminence of sweetness. A
lush, tropical splendor of vegetation, such as England never knew,
heaped the woods and hung the road-side with sprays which grew and
bloomed and wantoned, as if growth were a conscious joy, rather than
blind obedience to a law.
When Gilbert reached home, released from his labors abroad until
October, he found his fields awaiting their owner's hand. His wheat hung
already heavy-headed, though green, and the grass stood so thick and
strong that it suggested the ripping music of the scythe-blade which
should lay it low. Sam had taken good care of the cornfield, garden, and
the cattle, and Gilbert's few words of quiet commendation were a rich
reward for all his anxiety. His ambition was, to be counted "a full
hand,"--this was the _toga virilis,_ which, once entitled to wear, would
make him feel that he was any man's equal.
Without a day's rest, the labor commenced again, and the passion of
Gilbert's heart, though it had only strengthened during his absence,
must be thrust aside until the fortune of his harvest was secured.
In the midst of the haying, however, came a message which he could not
disregard,--a hasty summons from Mark Deane, who, seeing Gilbert in the
upper hill-field, called from the road, bidding him to the raising of
Hallowell's new barn, which was to take place on the following Saturday.
"Be sure and come!" were Mark's closing words--"there's to be both
dinner and supper, and the girls are to be on hand!"
It was the custom to prepare the complete frame of a barn--sills,
plates, girders, posts, and stays--with all their mortices and pins,
ready for erection, and then to summon all the able-bodied men of the
neighborhood to assist in getting the timbers into place. This service,
of course, was given gratuitously, and the farmer who received it could
do no less than entertain, after the bountiful manner of the country,
his helping neighbors, who therefore, although the occasion implied a
certain amount of hard work, were accustomed to regard it as a sort of
holiday, or merry-making. Their opportunities for recreation, indeed,
were so scanty, that a barn-raising, or a husking-party by moonlight,
was a thing to be welcomed.
Hallowell's farm was just half-way between Gilbert's and Kennett Square,
and the site of the barn had been well-chosen on a ridge, across the
road, which ran between it and the farm-house. The Hallowells were what
was called "good providers," and as they belonged to the class of
outside Quakers, which we have already described, the chances were that
both music and dance would reward the labor of the day.
Gilbert, of course, could not refuse the invitation of so near a
neighbor, and there was a hope in his heart which made it welcome. When
the day came he was early on hand, heartily greeted by Mark, who
exclaimed,--"Give me a dozen more such shoulders and arms as yours, and
I'll make the timbers spin!"
It was a bright, breezy day, making the wheat roll and the leaves
twinkle. Ranges of cumuli moved, one after the other, like heaps of
silvery wool, across the keen, dark blue of the sky. "A wonderful
hay-day," the old farmers remarked, with a half-stifled sense of regret;
but the younger men had already stripped themselves to their shirts and
knee-breeches, and set to work with a hearty good-will. Mark, as friend,
half-host and commander, bore his triple responsibility with a mixture
of dash and decision, which became his large frame and ruddy, laughing
face. It was--really, and not in an oratorical sense,--the proudest day
of his life.
There could be no finer sight than that of these lithe, vigorous
specimens of a free, uncorrupted manhood, taking like sport the rude
labor which was at once their destiny and their guard of safety against
the assaults of the senses. As they bent to their work, prying, rolling,
and lifting the huge sills to their places on the foundation-wall, they
showed in every movement the firm yet elastic action of muscles equal to
their task. Though Hallowell's barn did not rise, like the walls of
Ilium, to music, a fine human harmony aided in its construction.
There was a plentiful supply of whiskey on hand, but Mark Deane assumed
the charge of it, resolved that no accident or other disturbance should
mar the success of this, his first raising. Everything went well, and by
the time they were summoned to dinner, the sills and some of the
uprights were in place, properly squared and tied.
It would require a Homeric catalogue to describe the dinner. To say that
the table "groaned," is to give no idea of its condition. Mrs. Hallowell
and six neighbors' wives moved from kitchen to dining-room, replenishing
the dishes as fast as their contents diminished, and plying the double
row of coatless guests with a most stern and exacting hospitality. The
former would have been seriously mortified had not each man endeavored
to eat twice his usual requirement.
After the slight rest which nature enforced--though far less than nature
demanded, after such a meal--the work went on again with greater
alacrity, since every timber showed. Rib by rib the great frame grew,
and those perched aloft, pinning the posts and stays, rejoiced in the
broad, bright landscape opened to their view. They watched the roads, in
the intervals of their toil, and announced the approach of delayed
guests, all alert for the sight of the first riding-habit.
Suddenly two ladies made their appearance, over the rise of the hill,
one cantering lightly and securely, the other bouncing in her seat, from
the rough trot of her horse.
"Look out! there they come!" cried a watcher.
"Who is it?" was asked from below.
"Where's Barton? He ought to be on hand,--it's Martha Deane,--and Sally
with her; they always ride together."
Gilbert had one end of a handspike, helping lift a heavy piece of
timber, and his face was dark with the strain; it was well that he dared
not let go until the lively gossip which followed Barton's absence,--the
latter having immediately gone forward to take charge of the
horses,--had subsided. Leaning on the handspike, he panted,--not
entirely from fatigue. A terrible possibility of loss flashed suddenly
across his mind, revealing to him, in a new light, the desperate force
and desire of his love.
There was no time for meditation; his help was again wanted, and he
expended therein the first hot tumult of his heart. By ones and twos the
girls now gathered rapidly, and erelong they came out in a body to have
a look at the raising. Their coming in no wise interrupted the labor; it
was rather an additional stimulus, and the young men were right.
Although they were not aware of the fact, they were never so handsome in
their uneasy Sunday costume and awkward social ways, as thus in their
free, joyous, and graceful element of labor. Greetings were
interchanged, laughter and cheerful nothings animated the company, and
when Martha Deane said,--
"We may be in the way, now--shall we go in?"
"No, Martha! No, girls! I'll get twice as much work out o' my
twenty-five 'jours,' if you'll only stand where you are and look at
"Indeed!" Sally Fairthorn exclaimed. "But we have work to do as well as
you. If you men can't get along without admiring spectators, we girls
The answer which Mark would have made to this pert speech was cut short
by a loud cry of pain or terror from the old half-dismantled barn on the
other side of the road. All eyes were at once turned in that direction,
and beheld Joe Fairthorn rushing at full speed down the bank, making for
the stables below. Mark, Gilbert Potter, and Sally, being nearest,
hastened to the spot.
"You're in time!" cried Joe, clapping his hands in great glee. "I was
awfully afeard he'd let go before I could git down to see him fall. Look
quick--he can't hold on much longer!"
Looking into the dusky depths, they saw Jake, hanging by his hands to
the edges of a hole in the floor above, yelling and kicking for dear
"You wicked, wicked boy!" exclaimed Sally, turning to Joe, "what have
you been doing?"
"Oh," he answered, jerking and twisting with fearful delight, "there was
such a nice hole in the floor! I covered it all over with straw, but I
had to wait ever so long before Jake stepped onto it, and then he
ketched hold goin' down, and nigh spoilt the fun."
Gilbert made for the barn-floor, to succor the helpless victim; but just
as his step was heard on the boards, Jake's strength gave way. His
fingers slipped, and with a last howl down he dropped, eight or ten
feet, upon a bed of dry manure. Then his terror was instantly changed to
wrath; he bounced upon his feet, seized a piece of rotten board, and
made after Joe, who, anticipating the result, was already showing his
heels down the road.
Meanwhile the other young ladies had followed, and so, after discussing
the incident with a mixture of amusement and horror, they betook
themselves to the house, to assist in the preparations for supper.
Martha Deane's eyes took in the situation, and immediately perceived
that it was capable of a picturesque improvement. In front of the house
stood a superb sycamore, beyond which a trellis of grape-vines divided
the yard from the kitchen-garden. Here, on the cool green turf, under
shade, in the bright summer air, she proposed that the tables should be
set, and found little difficulty in carrying her point. It was quite
convenient to the outer kitchen door, and her ready invention found
means of overcoming all other technical objections. Erelong the tables
were transported to the spot, the cloth laid, and the aspect of the
coming entertainment grew so pleasant to the eye, that there was a
special satisfaction in the labor.
An hour before sundown the frame was completed; the skeleton of the
great barn rose sharp against the sky, its fresh white-oak timber gilded
by the sunshine. Mark drove in the last pin, gave a joyous shout, which
was answered by an irregular cheer from below, and lightly clambered
down by one of the stays. Then the black jugs were produced, and passed
from mouth to mouth, and the ruddy, glowing young fellows drew their
shirt-sleeves across their faces, and breathed the free, full breath of
Gilbert Potter, sitting beside Mark,--the two were mutually drawn
towards each other, without knowing or considering why,--had gradually
worked himself into a resolution to be cool, and to watch the movements
of his presumed rival. More than once, during the afternoon, he had
detected Barton's eyes, fixed upon him with a more than accidental
interest; looking up now, he met them again, but they were quickly
withdrawn, with a shy, uneasy expression, which he could not comprehend.
Was it possible that Barton conjectured the carefully hidden secret of
his heart? Or had the country gossip been free with his name, in some
way, during his absence? Whatever it was, the dearer interests at stake
prevented him from dismissing it from his mind. He was preternaturally
alert, suspicious, and sensitive.
He was therefore a little startled, when, as they were all rising in
obedience to Farmer Hallowell's summons to supper, Barton suddenly took
hold of his arm.
"Gilbert," said he, "we want your name in a list of young men we are
getting together, for the protection of our neighborhood. There are
suspicions, you know, that Sandy Flash has some friends hereabouts,
though nobody seems to know exactly who they are; and our only safety is
in clubbing together, to smoke him out and hunt him down, if he ever
comes near us. Now, you're a good hunter"--
"Put me down, of course!" Gilbert interrupted, immensely relieved to
find how wide his suspicions had fallen from the mark. "That would be a
more stirring chase than our last; it is a shame and a disgrace that he
is still at large."
"How many have we now?" asked Mark, who was walking on the other side of
"Twenty-one, with Gilbert," the latter replied.
"Well, as Sandy is said to count equal to twenty, we can meet him
evenly, and have one to spare," laughed Mark.
"Has any one here ever seen the fellow?" asked Gilbert. "We ought to
know his marks."
"He's short, thick-set, with a red face, jet-black hair, add heavy
whiskers," said Barton.
"Jet-black hair!" Mark exclaimed; "why, it's red as brick-dust! And I
never heard that he wore whiskers."
"Pshaw! what was I thinking of? Red, of course--I meant red, all the
time," Barton hastily assented, inwardly cursing himself for a fool. It
was evident that the less he conversed about Sandy Flash, the better.
Loud exclamations of surprise and admiration interrupted them. In the
shade of the sycamore, on the bright green floor of the silken turf,
stood the long supper-table, snowily draped, and heaped with the richest
products of cellar, kitchen, and dairy. Twelve chickens, stewed in
cream, filled huge dishes at the head and foot, while hams and rounds of
cold roast-beef accentuated the space between. The interstices were
filled with pickles, pies, jars of marmalade, bowls of honey, and plates
of cheese. Four coffee-pots steamed in readiness on a separate table,
and the young ladies, doubly charming in their fresh white aprons, stood
waiting to serve the tired laborers. Clumps of crown-roses, in blossom,
peered over the garden-paling, the woodbine filled the air with its
nutmeg odors, and a broad sheet of sunshine struck the upper boughs of
the arching sycamore, and turned them into a gilded canopy for the
banquet. It might have been truly said of Martha Deane, that she touched
nothing which she did not adorn.
In the midst of her duties as directress of the festival, she caught a
glimpse of the three men, as they approached together, somewhat in the
rear of the others. The embarrassed flush had not quite faded from
Barton's face, and Gilbert's was touched by a lingering sign of his new
trouble. Mark, light-hearted and laughing, precluded the least idea of
mystery, but Gilbert's eye met hers with what she felt to be a painfully
earnest, questioning expression. The next moment they were seated at the
table, and her services were required on behalf of all.
Unfortunately for the social enjoyments of Kennett, eating had come to
be regarded as a part of labor; silence and rapidity were its principal
features. Board and platter were cleared in a marvellously short time,
the plates changed, the dishes replenished, and then the wives and
maidens took the places of the young men, who lounged off to the
road-side, some to smoke their pipes, and all to gossip.
Before dusk, Giles made his appearance, with an old green bag under his
arm. Barton, of course, had the credit of this arrangement, and it made
him, for the time, very popular. After a pull at the bottle, Giles began
to screw his fiddle, drawing now and then unearthly shrieks from its
strings. The more eager of the young men thereupon stole to the house,
assisted in carrying in the tables and benches, and in other ways busied
themselves to bring about the moment when the aprons of the maidens
could be laid aside, and their lively feet given to the dance. The moon
already hung over the eastern wood, and a light breeze blew the dew-mist
from the hill.
Finally, they were all gathered on the open bit of lawn between the
house and the road. There was much hesitation at first, ardent coaxing
and bashful withdrawal, until Martha broke the ice by boldly choosing
Mark as her partner, apportioning Sally to Gilbert, and taking her place
for a Scotch reel. She danced well and lightly, though in a more subdued
manner than was then customary. In this respect, Gilbert resembled her;
his steps, gravely measured, though sufficiently elastic, differed
widely from Mark's springs, pigeon-wings, and curvets. Giles played with
a will, swaying head and fiddle up and down and beating time with his
foot; and the reel went off so successfully that there was no hesitation
in getting up the next dance.
Mark was alert, and secured Sally this time. Perhaps Gilbert would have
made the like exchange, but Mr. Alfred Barton stepped before him, and
bore off Martha. There was no appearance of design about the matter, but
Gilbert felt a hot tingle in his blood, and drew back a little to watch
the pair. Martha moved through the dance as if but half conscious of her
partner's presence, and he seemed more intent on making the proper steps
and flourishes than on improving the few brief chances for a
confidential word. When he spoke, it was with the unnecessary laugh,
which is meant to show ease of manner, and betrays the want of it.
Gilbert was puzzled; either the two were unconscious of the gossip which
linked their names so intimately, (which seemed scarcely possible,) or
they were studiedly concealing an actual tender relation. Among those
simple-hearted people, the shyness of love rivalled the secrecy of
crime, and the ways by which the lover sought to assure himself of his
fortune were made very difficult by the shrinking caution with which he
concealed the evidence of his passion. Gilbert knew how well the secret
of his own heart was guarded, and the reflection, that others might be
equally inscrutable, smote him with sudden pain.
The figures moved before him in the splendid moonlight, and with every
motion of Martha's slender form the glow of his passion and the torment
of his uncertainty increased. Then the dance dissolved, and while he
still stood with folded arms, Sally Fairthorn's voice whispered eagerly
in his ear,--
"Gilbert--Gilbert! now is your chance to engage Martha for the Virginia
"Let me choose my own partners, Sally!" he said, so sternly, that she
opened wide her black eyes.
Martha, fanning herself with her handkerchief spread over a bent
willow-twig, suddenly passed before him, like an angel in the moonlight.
A soft, tender star sparkled in each shaded eye, a faint rose-tint
flushed her cheeks, and her lips, slightly parted to inhale the
clover-scented air, were touched with a sweet, consenting smile.
The word passed Gilbert's lips almost before he knew he had uttered it.
Almost a whisper, but she heard, and, pausing, turned towards him.
"Will you dance with me now?"
"Am I your choice, or Sally's, Gilbert? I overheard your very
"Mine!" he said, with only half truth. A deep color, shot into his face,
and he knew the moonlight revealed it, but he forced his eyes to meet
hers. Her face lost its playful expression, and she said, gently,--
"Then I accept."
They took their places, and the interminable Virginia reel--under which
name the old-fashioned Sir Roger de Coverley was known--commenced. It so
happened that Gilbert and Mr. Alfred Barton had changed their recent
places. The latter stood outside the space allotted to the dance, and
appeared to watch Martha Deane and her new partner. The reviving warmth
in Gilbert's bosom instantly died, and gave way to a crowd of torturing
conjectures. He went through his part in the dance so abstractedly, that
when they reached the bottom of the line, Martha, out of friendly
consideration for him, professed fatigue and asked his permission to
withdraw from the company. He gave her his arm, and they moved to one of
"You, also, seem tired, Gilbert," she said.
"Yes--no!" he answered, confusedly, feeling that he was beginning to
tremble. He stood before her as she sat, moved irresolutely, as if to
leave, and then, facing her with a powerful effort, heexclaimed,
--"Martha, do you know what people say about Alfred Barton and
"It would make no difference if I did," she answered; "people will say
"But is it--is it true?"
"Is what true?" she quietly asked.
"That he is to marry you!" The words were said, and he would have given
his life to recall them. He dropped his head, not daring to meet her
Martha Deane rose to her feet, and stood before him. Then he lifted his
head; the moon shone full upon it, while her face was in shadow, but he
saw the fuller light of her eye, the firmer curve of her lip.
"Gilbert Potter," she said, "what right have you to ask me such a
"I have no right--none," he answered, in a voice whose suppressed, husky
tones were not needed to interpret the pain and bitterness of his face.
Then he quickly turned away and left her.
Martha Deane remained a minute, motionless, standing as he left her. Her
heart was beating fast, and she could not immediately trust herself to
rejoin the gay company. But now the dance was over, and the inseparable
Sally hastened forward.
"Martha!" cried the latter, hot and indignant, "what is the matter with
Gilbert? He is behaving shamefully; I saw him just now turn away from
you as if you were a--a shock of corn. And the way he snapped me up--it
is really outrageous!"
"It _seems_ so, truly," said Martha. But she knew that Gilbert Potter
loved her, and with what a love.
Due to the abundant harvest of that year, and the universal need of
extra labor for a time, Gilbert Potter would have found his burden too
heavy, but for welcome help from an unexpected quarter. On the very
morning that he first thrust his sickle into the ripened wheat, Deb
Smith made her appearance, in a short-armed chemise and skirt of
"I knowed ye'd want a hand," she said, "without sendin' to ask. I'll
reap ag'inst the best man in Chester County, and you won't begrudge me
my bushel o' wheat a day, when the harvest's in."
With this exordium, and a pull at the black jug under the elder-bushes
in the fence-corner, she took her sickle and bent to work. It was her
boast that she could beat both men and women on their own ground. She
had spun her twenty-four cuts of yarn, in a day, and husked her fifty
shocks of heavy corn. For Gilbert she did her best, amazing him each day
with a fresh performance, and was well worth the additional daily quart
of whiskey which she consumed.
In this pressing, sweltering labor, Gilbert dulled, though he could not
conquer, his unhappy mood. Mary Potter, with a true mother's instinct,
surmised a trouble, but the indications were too indefinite for
conjecture. She could only hope that her son had not been called upon to
suffer a fresh reproach, from the unremoved stain hanging over his
Miss Betsy Lavender's company at this time was her greatest relief, in a
double sense. No ten persons in Kennett possessed half the amount of
confidences which were intrusted to this single lady; there was that in
her face which said: "I only blab what I choose, and what's locked up,
_is_ locked up." This was true; she was the greatest distributor of
news, and the closest receptacle of secrets--anomalous as the two
characters may seem--that ever blessed a country community.
Miss Betsy, like Deb Smith, knew that she could be of service on the
Potter farm, and, although her stay was perforce short, on account of an
approaching house-warming near Doe-Run, her willing arms helped to tide
Mary Potter over the heaviest labor of harvest. There were thus hours of
afternoon rest, even in the midst of the busy season, and during one of
these the mother opened her heart in relation to her son's silent,
"You'll perhaps say it's all my fancy, Betsy," she said, "and indeed I
hope it is; but I know you see more than most people, and two heads are
better than one. How does Gilbert seem to you?"
Miss Betsy mused awhile, with an unusual gravity on her long face. "I
dunno," she remarked, at length; "I've noticed that some men have their
vapors and tantrums, jist as some women have, and Gilbert's of an age
to--well, Mary, has the thought of his marryin' ever come into your
"No!" exclaimed Mary Potter, with almost a frightened air.
"I'll be bound! Some women are lookin' out for daughter-in-laws before
their sons have a beard, and others think theirs is only fit to wear
short jackets when they ought to be raisin' up families. I dunno but
what it'll be a cross to you, Mary,--you set so much store by Gilbert,
and it's natural, like, that you should want to have him all to
y'rself,--but a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto
his wife,--or somethin' like it. Yes, I say it, although nobody clove
Mary Potter said nothing. Her face grew very pale, and such an
expression of pain came into it that Miss Betsy, who saw everything
without seeming to look at anything, made haste to add a consoling word.
"Indeed, Mary," she said, "now I come to consider upon it, you won't
have so much of a cross. You a'n't the mother you've showed yourself to
be, if you're not anxious to see Gilbert happy, and as for leavin' his
mother, there'll be no leavin' needful, in his case, but on the
contrary, quite the reverse, namely, a comin' to you. And it's no bad
fortin', though I can't say it of my own experience; but never mind, all
the same, I've seen the likes--to have a brisk, cheerful daughter-in-law
keepin' house, and you a-settin' by the window, knittin' and restin'
from mornin' till night, and maybe little caps and clothes to make, and
lots o' things to teach, that young wives don't know o' theirselves. And
then, after awhile you'll be called 'Granny,' but you won't mind it, for
grandchildren's a mighty comfort, and no responsibility like your own.
Why, I've knowed women that never seen what rest or comfort was, till
they'd got to be grandmothers!"
Something in this homely speech touched Mary Potter's heart, and gave
her the relief of tears. "Betsy," she said at last, "I have had a heavy
burden to bear, and it has made me weak."
"Made me weak," Miss Betsy repeated. "And no wonder. Don't think I can't
guess that, Mary."
Here two tears trickled down the ridge of her nose, and she furtively
wiped them off while adjusting her high comb. Mary Potter's face was
turned towards her with a wistful, appealing expression, which she
"Mary," she said, "I don't measure people with a two-foot rule. I take a
ten-foot pole, and let it cover all that comes under it. Them that does
their dooty to Man, I guess you won't have much trouble in squarin'
accounts with the Lord. You know how I feel towards you without my
tellin' of it, and them that's quick o' the tongue are always full o'
the heart. Now, Mary, I know as plain as if you 'd said it, that there's
somethin' on your mind, and you dunno whether to share it with me or
not. What I say is, don't hurry yourself; I 'd rather show fellow-
feelin' than cur'osity; so, see your way clear first, and when the
tellin' _me_ anything can help, tell it--not before."
"It wouldn't help now," Mary Potter responded.
"Wouldn't help now. Then wait awhile. Nothin' 's so dangerous as
speakin' before the time, whomsoever and wheresoever. Folks talk o'
bridlin' the tongue; let 'em git a blind halter, say I, and a curb-bit,
and a martingale! Not that I set an example, Goodness knows, for mine
runs like a mill-clapper, rickety-rick, rickety-rick; but never mind, it
may be fast, but it isn't loose!"
In her own mysterious way, Miss Betsy succeeded in imparting a good deal
of comfort to Mary Potter. She promised "to keep Gilbert under her
eyes,"--which, indeed, she did, quite unconsciously to himself, during
the last two days of her stay. At table she engaged him in conversation,
bringing in references, in the most wonderfully innocent and random
manner, to most of the families in the neighborhood. So skilfully did
she operate that even Mary Potter failed to perceive her strategy. Deb
Smith, sitting bare-armed on the other side of the table, and eating
like six dragoons, was the ostensible target of her speech, and Gilbert
was thus stealthily approached in flank. When she tied her bonnet-
strings to leave, and the mother accompanied her to the gate, she left
this indefinite consolation behind her:
"Keep up your sperrits, Mary. I think I'm on the right scent about
Gilbert, but these young men are shy foxes. Let me alone, awhile yet,
and whatever you do, let _him_ alone. There's no danger--not even a
snarl, I guess. Nothin' to bother your head about. You weren't his
mother. Good lack! if I'm right, you'll see no more o' his tantrums in
two months' time--and so, good-bye to you!"
The oats followed close upon the wheat harvest, and there was no respite
from labor until the last load was hauled into the barn, filling its
ample bays to the very rafters. Then Gilbert, mounted on his favorite
Roger, rode up to Kennett Square one Saturday afternoon, in obedience to
a message from Mr. Alfred Barton, informing him that the other gentlemen
would there meet to consult measures for mutual protection against
highwaymen in general and Sandy Flash in particular. As every young man
in the neighborhood owned his horse and musket, nothing more was
necessary than to adopt a system of action.
The meeting was held in the bar-room of the Unicorn, and as every second
man had his own particular scheme to advocate, it was both long and
noisy. Many thought the action unnecessary, but were willing, for the
sake of the community, to give their services. The simplest plan--to
choose a competent leader, and submit to his management--never occurred
to these free and independent volunteers, until all other means of unity
had failed. Then Alfred Barton, as the originator of the measure, was
chosen, and presented the rude but sufficient plan which had been
suggested to him by Dr. Deane. The men were to meet every Saturday
evening at the Unicorn, and exchange intelligence; but they could be
called together at any time by a summons from Barton. The landlord of
the Unicorn was highly satisfied with this arrangement, but no one
noticed the interest with which the ostler, an Irishman named Dougherty,
listened to the discussion.
Barton's horse was hitched beside Gilbert's, and as the two were
mounting, the former said,--
"If you're going home, Gilbert, why not come down our lane, and go
through by Carson's. We can talk the matter over a little; if there's
any running to do, I depend a good deal on your horse."
Gilbert saw no reason for declining this invitation, and the two rode
side by side down the lane to the Barton farm-house. The sun was still
an hour high, but a fragrant odor of broiled herring drifted out of the
open kitchen-window. Barton thereupon urged him to stop and take supper,
with a cordiality which we can only explain by hinting at his secret
intention to become the purchaser of Gilbert's horse.
"Old-man Barton" was sitting in his arm-chair by the window, feebly
brandishing his stick at the flies, and watching his daughter Ann, as
she transferred the herrings from the gridiron to a pewter platter.
"Father, this is Gilbert Potter," said Mr. Alfred, introducing his
The bent head was lifted with an effort, and the keen eyes were fixed on
the young man, who came forward to take the crooked, half-extended hand.
"What Gilbert Potter?" he croaked.
Mr. Alfred bit his lips, and looked both embarrassed and annoyed. But he
could do no less than say,--
"Mary Potter's son."
Gilbert straightened himself proudly, as if to face a coming insult.
After a long, steady gaze, the old man gave one of his hieroglyphic
snorts, and then muttered to him self,--"Looks like her."
During the meal, he was so occupied with the labor of feeding himself,
that he seemed to forget Gilbert's presence. Bending his head sideways,
from time to time, he jerked out a croaking question, which his son,
whatever annoyance he might feel, was forced to answer according to the
old man's humor.
"In at the Doctor's, boy?"
"A few minutes, daddy, before we came together."
"See her? Was she at home?"
"Yes," came very shortly from Mr. Alfred's lips; he clenched his fists
under the table-cloth.
"That's right, boy; stick up to her!" and he chuckled and munched
together in a way which it made Gilbert sick to hear. The tail of the
lean herring on his plate remained untasted; he swallowed the thin tea
which Miss Ann poured out, and the heavy "half-Indian" bread with a
choking sensation. He had but one desire,--to get away from the room,
out of human sight and hearing.
Barton, ill at ease, and avoiding Gilbert's eye, accompanied him to the
lane. He felt that the old man's garrulity ought to be explained, but
knew not what to say. Gilbert spared him the trouble--
"When are we to wish you joy, Barton?" he asked, in a cold, hard voice.
Barton laughed in a forced way, clutched at his tawny whisker, and with
something like a flush on his heavy face, answered in what was meant to
be an indifferent tone:
"Oh, it's a joke of the old man's--don't mean anything."
"It seems to be a joke of the whole neighborhood, then; I have heard it
"Have you?" Barton eagerly asked. "Do people talk about it much? What do
This exhibition of vulgar vanity, as he considered it, was so repulsive
to Gilbert, in his desperate, excited condition, that for a moment he
did not trust himself to speak. Holding the bridle of his horse, he
walked mechanically down the slope, Barton following him.
Suddenly he stopped, faced the latter, and said, in a stern voice: "I
must know, first, whether you are betrothed to Martha Deane."
His manner was so unexpectedly solemn and peremptory that Barton,
startled from his self-possession, stammered,--
"N-no: that is, not yet."
Another pause. Barton, curious to know how far gossip had already gone,
repeated the question:
"Well, what do people say?"
"Some, that you and she will be married," Gilbert answered, speaking
slowly and with difficulty, "and some that you won't. Which are right?"
"Damme, if _I_ know!" Barton exclaimed, returning to his customary
swagger. It was quite enough that the matter was generally talked about,
and he had said nothing to settle it, in either way. But his manner,
more than his words, convinced Gilbert that there was no betrothal as
yet, and that the vanity of being regarded as the successful suitor of a
lovely girl had a more prominent place than love, in his rival's heart.
By so much was his torture lightened, and the passion of the moment
subsided, after having so nearly betrayed itself.
"I say, Gilbert," Barton presently remarked, walking on towards the bars
which led into the meadow-field; "it's time you were looking around in
that way, hey?"
"It will be time enough when I am out of debt."
"But you ought, now, to have a wife in your house."
"I have a mother, Barton."
"That's true, Gilbert. Just as I have a father. The old man's queer, as
you saw--kept me out of marrying; when I was young, and now drives me
to it. I might ha' had children grown"--
He paused, laying his hand on the young man's shoulder. Gilbert fancied
that he saw on Barton's coarse, dull face the fleeting stamp of some
long-buried regret, and a little of the recent bitterness died out of
"Good-bye!" he said, offering his hand with greater ease than he would
have thought possible, fifteen minutes sooner.
"Good-bye, Gilbert! Take care of Roger. Sandy Flash has a fine piece of
horse-flesh, but you beat him once--Damnation! You _could_ beat him, I
mean. If he comes within ten miles of us, I'll have the summonses out in
Gilbert cantered lightly down the meadow. The soft breath of the summer
evening fanned his face, and something of the peace expressed in the
rich repose of the landscape fell upon his heart. But peace, he felt,
could only come to him through love. The shame upon his name--the slow
result of labor--even the painful store of memories which the years had
crowded in his brain--might all be lightly borne, or forgotten, could
his arms once clasp the now uncertain treasure. A tender mist came over
his deep, dark eyes, a passionate longing breathed in his softened lips,
and he said to himself,--
"I would lie down and die at her feet, if that could make her happy; but
how to live, and live without her?" This was a darkness which his mind
refused to entertain. Love sees no justice on Earth or in Heaven, that
includes not its own fulfilled desire.
Before reaching home, he tried to review the situation calmly. Barton's
true relation to Martha Deane he partially suspected, so far as regarded
the former's vanity and his slavish subservience to his father's will;
but he was equally avaricious, and it was well known in Kennett that
Martha possessed, or would possess, a handsome property in her own
right. Gilbert, therefore, saw every reason to believe that Barton was
an actual, if not a very passionate wooer.
That fact, however, was in itself of no great importance, unless Dr.
Deane favored the suit. The result depended on Martha herself; she was
called an "independent girl," which she certainly was, by contrast with
other girls of the same age. It was this free, firm, independent, yet
wholly womanly spirit which Gilbert honored in her, and which (unless
her father's influence were too powerful) would yet save her to him, if
she but loved him. Then he felt that his nervous, inflammable fear of
Barton was incompatible with true honor for her, with trust in her pure
and lofty nature. If she were so easily swayed, how could she stand the
test which he was still resolved--nay, forced by circumstances--to
With something like shame of his past excitement, yet with strength
which had grown out of it, his reflections were terminated by Roger
stopping at the barn-yard gate.
GUESTS AT POTTER'S.
A week or two later, there was trouble, but not of a very unusual kind,
in the Fairthorn household. It was Sunday, the dinner was on the table,
but Joe and Jake were not to be found. The garden, the corn-crib, the
barn, and the grove below the house, were searched, without detecting
the least sign of the truants. Finally Sally's eyes descried a
remarkable object moving over the edge of the hill, from the direction
of the Philadelphia road. It was a huge round creature, something like a
cylindrical tortoise, slowly advancing upon four short, dark legs.
"What upon earth is that?" she cried.
All eyes were brought to bear upon this phenomenon, which gradually
advanced until it reached the fence. Then it suddenly separated into
three parts, the round back falling off, whereupon it was seized by two
figures and lifted upon the fence.
"It's the best wash-tub, I do declare!" said Sally; "whatever have they
been doing with it?"
Having crossed the fence, the boys lifted the inverted tub over their
heads, and resumed their march. When they came near enough, it could be
seen that their breeches and stockings were not only dripping wet, but
streaked with black swamp-mud. This accounted for the unsteady,
hesitating course of the tub, which at times seemed inclined to approach
the house, and then tacked away towards the corner of the barn-yard
wall. A few vigorous calls, however, appeared to convince it that the
direct course was the best, for it set out with a grotesque bobbing
trot, which brought it speedily to the kitchen-door.
Then Joe and Jake crept out, dripping to the very crowns of their heads,
with their Sunday shirts and jackets in a horrible plight. The truth,
slowly gathered from their mutual accusations, was this: they had
resolved to have a boating excursion on Redley Creek, and had abstracted
the tub that morning when nobody was in the kitchen. Slipping down
through the wood, they had launched it in a piece of still water. Joe
got in first, and when Jake let go of the tub, it tilted over; then he
held it for Jake, who squatted in the centre, and floated successfully
down the stream until Joe pushed him with a pole, and made the tub lose
its balance. Jake fell into the mud, and the tub drifted away; they had
chased it nearly to the road before they recovered it.
"You bad boys, what shall I do with you?" cried Mother Fairthorn. "Put
on your every-day clothes, and go to the garret. Sally, you can ride
down to Potter's with the pears; they won't keep, and I expect Gilbert
has no time to come for any, this summer."
"I'll go," said Sally, "but Gilbert don't deserve it. The way he snapped
me up at Hallowell's--and he hasn't been here since!"
"Don't be hard on him, Sally!" said the kindly old woman; nor was
Sally's more than a surface grudge. She had quite a sisterly affection
for Gilbert, and was rather hurt than angered by what he had said in the
fret of a mood which she could not comprehend.
The old mare rejoiced in a new bridle, with a head-stall of scarlet
morocco, and Sally would have made a stately appearance, but for the
pears, which, stowed in the two ends of a grain-bag, and hung over the
saddle, would not quite be covered by her riding-skirt. She trudged on
slowly, down the lonely road, but had barely crossed the level below
Kennett Square, when there came a quick sound of hoofs behind her.
It was Mark and Martha Deane, who presently drew rein, one on either
side of her.
"Don't ride fast, please," Sally begged; "_I_ can't, for fear of
smashing the pears. Where are you going?"
"To Falconer's," Martha replied; "Fanny promised to lend me some new
patterns; but I had great trouble in getting Mark to ride with me."
"Not, if you will ride along, Sally," Mark rejoined. "We'll go with you
first, and then you'll come with us. What do you say, Martha?"
"I'll answer for Martha!" cried Sally; "I am going to Potter's, and it's
directly on your way."
"Just the thing," said Mark; "I have a little business with Gilbert."
It was all settled before Martha's vote had been taken, and she accepted
the decision without remark. She was glad, for Sally's sake, that they
had fallen in with her, for she had shrewdly watched Mark, and found
that, little by little, a serious liking for her friend was sending its
roots down through the gay indifference of his surface mood. Perhaps she
was not altogether calm in spirit at the prospect of meeting Gilbert
Potter; but, if so, no sign of the agitation betrayed itself in her
Gilbert, sitting on the porch, half-hidden behind a mass of blossoming
trumpet-flower, was aroused from his Sabbath reverie by the sound of
hoofs. Sally Fairthorn's voice followed, reaching even the ears of Mary
Potter, who thereupon issued from the house to greet the unexpected
guest. Mark had already dismounted, and although Sally protested that
she would remain in the saddle, the strong arms held out to her proved
too much of a temptation; it was so charming to put her hands on his
shoulders, and to have his take her by the waist, and lift her to the