Part 3 out of 8
ground so lightly!
While Mark was performing this service, (and evidently with as much
deliberation as possible,) Gilbert could do no less than offer his aid
to Martha Deane, whose sudden apparition he had almost incredulously
realized. A bright, absorbing joy kindled his sad, strong features into
beauty, and Martha felt her cheeks grow warm, in spite of herself, as
their eyes met. The hands that touched her waist were firm, but no hands
had ever before conveyed to her heart such a sense of gentleness and
tenderness, and though her own gloved hand rested but a moment on his
shoulder, the action seemed to her almost like a caress.
"How kind of you--all--to come!" said Gilbert, feeling that his voice
expressed too much, and his words too little.
"The credit of coming is not mine, Gilbert," she answered. "We overtook
Sally, and gave her our company for the sake of hers, afterwards. But I
shall like to take a look at your place; how pleasant you are making
"You are the first to say so; I shall always remember that!"
Mary Potter now advanced, with grave yet friendly welcome, and would
have opened her best room to the guests, but the bowery porch, with its
swinging scarlet bloom, haunted by humming-birds and hawk-moths, wooed
them "o take their seats in its shade. The noise of a plunging cascade,
which restored the idle mill-water to its parted stream, made a mellow,
continuous music in the air. The high road was visible at one point,
across the meadow, just where it entered the wood; otherwise, the
seclusion of the place was complete.
"You could not have found a lovelier home, M--Mary," said Martha,
terrified to think how near the words "Mrs. Potter" had been to her
lips. But she had recovered herself so promptly that the hesitation was
"Many people think the house ought to be upon the road," Mary Potter
replied, "but Gilbert and I like it as it is. Yes, I hope it will be a
good home, when we can call it our own."
"Mother is a little impatient," said Gilbert, "and perhaps I am also.
But if we have health, it won't be very long to wait."
"That's a thing soon learned!" cried Mark. "I mean to be impatient. Why,
when I was doing journey-work, I was as careless as the day's long, and
so from hand to mouth didn't trouble me a bit; but now, I ha'n't been
undertaking six months, and it seems that I feel worried if I don't get
all the jobs going!"
Martha smiled, well pleased at this confession of the change, which she
knew better how to interpret than Mark himself. But Sally, in her
"Oh Mark! that isn't right."
"I suppose it isn't. But maybe you've got to wish for more than you get,
in order to get what you do. I guess I take things pretty easy, on the
whole, for it's nobody's nature to be entirely satisfied. Gilbert, will
you be satisfied when your farm's paid for?"
"No!" answered Gilbert with an emphasis, the sound of which, as soon as
uttered, smote him to the heart. He had not thought of his mother. She
clasped her hands convulsively, and looked at him, but his face was
"Why, Gilbert!" exclaimed Sally.
"I mean," he said, striving to collect his thoughts, "that there is
something more than property"--but how should he go on? Could he speak
of the family relation, then and there? Of honor in the community, the
respect of his neighbors, without seeming to refer to the brand upon his
and his mother's name? No; of none of these things. With sudden energy,
he turned upon himself, and continued:
"I shall not feel satisfied until I am cured of my own impatience--until
I can better control my temper, and get the weeds and rocks and stumps
out of myself as well as out of my farm."
"Then you've got a job!" Mark laughed. "I think your fields are pretty
tolerable clean, what I've seen of 'em. Nobody can say they're not well
fenced in. Why, compared with you, I'm an open common, like the
Wastelands, down on Whitely Creek, and everybody's cattle run over me!"
Mark's thoughtlessness was as good as tact. They all laughed heartily at
his odd continuation of the simile, and Martha hastened to say:
"For my part, I don't think you are quite such an open common, Mark, or
Gilbert so well fenced in. But even if you are, a great many things may
be hidden in a clearing, and some people are tall enough to look over a
high hedge. Betsy Lavender says some men tell all about themselves
without saying a word, while others talk till Doomsday and tell
"And tell nothing," gravely repeated Mark, whereat no one could repress
a smile, and Sally laughed outright.
Mary Potter had not mingled much in the society of Kennett, and did not
know that this imitation of good Miss Betsy was a very common thing, and
had long ceased to mean any harm. It annoyed her, and she felt it her
duty to say a word for her friend.
"There is not a better or kinder-hearted woman in the county," she said,
"than just Betsy Lavender. With all her odd ways of speech, she talks
the best of sense and wisdom, and I don't know who I'd sooner take for a
guide in times of trouble."
"You could not give Betsy a higher place than she deserves," Martha
answered. "We all esteem her as a dear friend, and as the best helper
where help is needed. She has been almost a mother to me."
Sally felt rebuked, and exclaimed tearfully, with her usual impetuous
candor,--"Now you know I meant no harm; it was all Mark's doing!"
"If you've anything against me, Sally, I forgive you for it. It isn't in
my nature to bear malice," said Mark, with so serious an air, that poor
Sally was more bewildered than ever. Gilbert and Martha, however, could
not restrain their laughter at the fellow's odd, reckless humor,
whereupon Sally, suddenly comprehending the joke, sprang from her seat.
Mark leaped from the porch, and darted around the house, followed by
Sally with mock-angry cries and brandishings of her riding-whip.
The scene was instantly changed to Gilbert's eyes. It was wonderful!
There, on the porch of the home he so soon hoped to call his own, sat
his mother, Martha Deane, and himself. The two former had turned towards
each other, and were talking pleasantly; the hum of the hawk-moths, the
mellow plunge of the water, and the stir of the soft summer breeze in
the leaves, made a sweet accompaniment to their voices. His brain grew
dizzy with yearning to fix that chance companionship, and make it the
boundless fortune of his life. Under his habit of repression, his love
for her had swelled and gathered to such an intensity, that it seemed he
must either speak or die.
Presently the rollicking couple made their appearance. Sally's foot had
caught in her riding-skirt as she ran, throwing her at full length on
the sward, and Mark, in picking her up, had possessed himself of the
whip. She was not hurt in the least, (her life having been a succession
of tears and tumbles,) but Mark's arm found it necessary to encircle her
waist, and she did not withdraw from the support until they came within
sight of the porch.
It was now time for the guests to leave, but Mary Potter must first
produce her cakes and currant-wine,--the latter an old and highly
superior article, for there had been, alas! too few occasions which
called for its use.
"Gilbert," said Mark, as they moved towards the gate, "why can't you
catch and saddle Roger, and ride with us? You have nothing to do?"
"No; I would like--but where are you going?"
"To Falconer's; that is, the girls; but we won't stay for supper--I
don't fancy quality company."
"Nor I," said Gilbert, with a gloomy face. "I have never visited
Falconer's, and they might not thank you for introducing me."
He looked at Martha, as he spoke. She understood him, and gave him her
entire sympathy and pity,--yet it was impossible for her to propose
giving up the visit, solely for his sake. It was not want of
independence, but a maidenly shrinking from the inference of the act,
which kept her silent.
Mark, however, cut through the embarrassment. "I'll tell you what,
Gilbert!" he exclaimed, "you go and get Roger from the field, while we
ride on to Falconer's. If the girls will promise not to be too long
about their patterns and their gossip, and what not, we can be back to
the lane-end by the time you get there; then we'll ride up t' other
branch o' Redley Creek, to the cross-road, and out by Hallowell's. I
want to have a squint at the houses and barns down that way; nothing
like business, you know!"
Mark thought he was very cunning in thus disposing of Martha during the
ride, unconscious of the service he was offering to Gilbert. The
latter's eagerness shone from his eyes, but still he looked at Martha,
trembling for a sign that should decide his hesitation. Her lids fell
before his gaze, and a faint color came into her face, yet she did not
turn away. This time it was Sally Fairthorn who spoke.
"Five minutes will be enough for us, Mark," she said. "I'm not much
acquainted with Fanny Falconer. So, Gilbert, hoist Martha into her
saddle, and go for Roger."
He opened the gate for them, and then climbed over the fence into the
hill-field above his house. Having reached the crest, he stopped to
watch the three riding abreast, on a smart trot, down the glen. Sally
looked back, saw him, and waved her hand; then Mark and Martha turned,
giving no sign, yet to his eyes there seemed a certain expectancy in the
Roger came from the farthest corner of the field at his call, and
followed him down the hill to the bars, with the obedient attachment of
a dog. When he had carefully brushed and then saddled the horse, he went
to seek his mother, who was already making preparations for their early
"Mother," he said, "I am going to ride a little way."
She looked at him wistfully and questioningly, as if she would fain have
asked more; but only said,--
"Won't you be home to supper, Gilbert?"
"I can't tell, but don't wait a minute, if I'm not here when it's
He turned quickly, as if fearful of a further question, and the next
moment was in the saddle.
The trouble in Mary Potter's face increased. Sighing sorely, she
followed to the bridge of the barn, and presently descried him, beyond
the mill, cantering lightly down the road. Then, lifting her arms, as in
a blind appeal for help, she let them fall again, and walked slowly back
to the house.
THE EVENTS OF AN EVENING.
At the first winding of the creek, Gilbert drew rein, with a vague,
half-conscious sense of escape. The eye which had followed him thus far
was turned away at last.
For half a mile the road lay through a lovely solitude of shade and
tangled bowery thickets, beside the stream. The air was soft and
tempered, and filled the glen like the breath of some utterly peaceful
and happy creature; yet over Gilbert's heart there brooded another
atmosphere than this. The sultriness that precedes an emotional crisis
weighed heavily upon him.
No man, to whom Nature has granted her highest gift,--that of
expression,--can understand the pain endured by one of strong feelings,
to whom not only this gift has been denied, but who must also wrestle
with an inherited reticence. It is well that in such cases a kindly law
exists, to aid the helpless heart. The least portion of the love which
lights the world has been told in words; it works, attracts, and binds
in silence. The eye never knows its own desire, the hand its warmth, the
voice its tenderness, nor the heart its unconscious speech through
these, and a thousand other vehicles. Every endeavor to hide the special
fact betrays the feeling from which it sprang.
Like all men of limited culture, Gilbert felt his helplessness keenly.
His mind, usually clear in its operations, if somewhat slow and
cautious, refused to assist him here; it lay dead or apathetic in an air
surcharged with passion. An anxious expectancy enclosed him with
stifling pressure; he felt that it must be loosened, but knew not how.
His craving for words--words swift, clear, and hot as lightning, through
which his heart might discharge itself--haunted him like a furious
The road, rising out of the glen, passed around the brow of a grassy
hill, whence he could look across a lateral valley to the Falconer
farm-house. Pausing here, he plainly descried a stately "chair" leaning
on its thills, in the shade of the weeping-willow, three horses hitched
side by side to the lane-fence, and a faint glimmer of color between the
mounds of box which almost hid the porch. It was very evident to his
mind that the Falconers had other visitors, and that neither Mark nor
Sally, (whatever might be Martha Deane's inclination,) would be likely
to prolong their stay; so he slowly rode on, past the lane-end, and
awaited them at the ford beyond.
It was not long--though the wood on the western hill already threw its
shadow into the glen--before the sound of voices and hoofs emerged from
the lane. Sally's remark reached him first:
"They may be nice people enough, for aught I know, but their ways are
not my ways, and there's no use in trying to mix them."
"That's a fact!" said Mark. "Hallo, here's Gilbert, ahead of us!"
They rode into the stream together, and let their horses drink from the
clear, swift-flowing water. In Mark's and Sally's eyes, Gilbert was as
grave and impassive as usual, but Martha Deane was conscious of a
strange, warm, subtle power, which seemed to envelop her as she drew
near him. Her face glowed with a sweet, unaccustomed flush; his was
pale, and the shadow of his brows lay heavier upon his eyes. Fate was
already taking up the invisible, floating filaments of these two
existences, and weaving them together.
Of course it happened, and of course by the purest accident, that Mark
and Sally first reached the opposite bank, and took the narrow
wood-road, where the loose, briery sprays of the thickets brushed them
on either side. Sally's hat, and probably her head, would have been
carried off by a projecting branch, had not Mark thrown his arm around
her neck and forcibly bent her forwards. Then she shrieked and struck at
him with her riding-whip, while Mark's laugh woke all the echoes of the
"I say, Gilbert!" he cried, turning back in his saddle, "I'll hold _you_
responsible for Martha's head; it's as much as _I_ can do to keep
Sally's on her shoulders."
Gilbert looked at his companion, as she rode slowly by his side, through
the cool, mottled dusk of the woods. She had drawn the strings of her
beaver through a buttonhole of her riding-habit, and allowed it to hang
upon her back. The motion of the horse gave a gentle, undulating grace
to her erect, self-reliant figure, and her lips, slightly parted,
breathed maidenly trust and consent. She turned her face towards him and
smiled, at Mark's words.
"The warning is unnecessary," he said. "You will give me no chance to
take care of you, Martha."
"Is it not better so?" she asked.
He hesitated; he would have said "No," but finally evaded a direct
"I would be glad enough to do you a service--even so little as that,"
were his words, and the tender tone in which they were spoken made
itself evident to his own ears.
"I don't doubt it, Gilbert," she answered, so kindly and cordially that
he was smitten to the heart. Had she faltered in her reply,--had she
blushed and kept silence,--his hope would have seized the evidence and
rushed to the trial; but this was the frankness of friendship, not the
timidity of love. She could not, then, suspect his passion, and ah, how
the risks of its utterance were multiplied!
Meanwhile, the wonderful glamour of her presence--that irresistible
influence which at once takes hold of body and spirit--had entered into
every cell of his blood. Thought and memory were blurred into
nothingness by this one overmastering sensation. Riding through the
lonely woods, out of shade into yellow, level sunshine, in the odors of
minty meadows and moist spices of the creekside, they twain seemed to
him to be alone in the world. If they loved not each other, why should
not the leaves shrivel and fall, the hills split asunder, and the sky
rain death upon them? Here she moved at his side--he could stretch out
his hand and touch her; his heart sprang towards her, his arms ached for
very yearning to clasp her,--his double nature demanded her with the
will and entreated for her with the affection! Under all, felt though
not suspected, glowed the vast primal instinct upon which the strength
of manhood and of womanhood is based.
Sally and Mark, a hundred yards in advance, now thrown into sight and
now hidden by the windings of the road, were so pleasantly occupied with
each other that they took no heed of the pair behind them. Gilbert was
silent; speech was mockery, unless it gave the words which he did not
dare to pronounce. His manner was sullen and churlish in Martha's eyes,
he suspected; but so it must be, unless a miracle were sent to aid him.
She, riding as quietly, seemed to meditate, apparently unconscious of
his presence; how could he know that she had never before been so
vitally conscious of it?
The long rays of sunset withdrew to the tree-tops, and a deeper hush
fell upon the land. The road which had mounted along the slope of a
stubble-field, now dropped again into a wooded hollow, where a tree,
awkwardly felled, lay across it. Roger pricked up his ears and leaped
lightly over. Martha's horse followed, taking the log easily, but she
reined him up the next moment, uttering a slight exclamation, and
stretched out her hand wistfully towards Gilbert.
To seize it and bring Roger to a stand was the work of an instant. "What
is the matter, Martha?" he cried.
"I think the girth is broken," said she. "The saddle is loose, and I was
nigh losing my balance. Thank you, I can sit steadily now."
Gilbert sprang to the ground and hastened to her assistance.
"Yes, it is broken," he said, "but I can give you mine. You had better
dismount, though; see, I will hold the pommel firm with one hand, while
I lift you down with the other. Not too fast, I am strong; place your
hands on my shoulders--so!"
She bent forward and laid her hands upon his shoulders. Then, as she
slid gently down, his right arm crept around her waist, holding her so
firmly and securely that she had left the saddle and hung in its support
while her feet had not yet touched the earth. Her warm breath was on
Gilbert's forehead; her bosom swept his breast, and the arm that until
then had supported, now swiftly, tenderly, irresistibly embraced her.
Trembling, thrilling from head to foot, utterly unable to control the
mad impulse of the moment, he drew her to his heart and laid his lips to
hers. All that he would have said--all, and more than all, that words
could have expressed--was now said, without words. His kiss clung as if
it were the last this side of death--clung until he felt that Martha
feebly strove to be released.
The next minute they stood side by side, and Gilbert, by a revulsion
equally swift and overpowering, burst into a passion of tears.
He turned and leaned his head against Roger's neck. Presently a light
touch came upon his shoulder.
He faced her then, and saw that her own cheeks were wet. "Martha!" he
cried, "unless you love me with a love like mine for you, you can never
She came nearer; she laid her arms around him, and lifted her face to
his. Then she said, in a tender, tremulous whisper,--
"Gilbert--Gilbert! I forgive you."
A pang of wonderful, incredulous joy shot through his heart. Exalted by
his emotion above the constraints of his past and present life, he arose
and stood free and strong in his full stature as a man. He held her
softly and tenderly embraced, and a purer bliss than the physical
delight of her warm, caressing presence shone upon his face as he
"Knowing what I am?"
"Because I know what you are, Gilbert!"
He bowed his head upon her shoulder, and she felt softer tears--tears
which came this time without sound or pang--upon her neck. It was
infinitely touching to see this strong nature so moved, and the best
bliss that a true woman's heart can feel--the knowledge of the boundless
bounty which her love brings with it--opened upon her consciousness. A
swift instinct revealed to her the painful struggles of Gilbert's
life,--the stern, reticent strength they had developed,--the anxiety
and the torture of his long-suppressed passion, and the power and purity
of that devotion with which his heart had sought and claimed her. She
now saw him in his true character,--firm as steel, yet gentle as dew,
patient and passionate, and purposely cold only to guard the sanctity of
The twilight deepened in the wood, and Roger, stretching and shaking
himself, called the lovers to themselves. Gilbert lifted his head and
looked into Martha's sweet, unshrinking eyes.
"May the Lord bless you, as you have blessed me!" he said, solemnly.
"Martha, did you guess this before?"
"Yes," she answered, "I felt that it must be so."
"And you did not draw back from me--you did not shun the thought of me!
He paused; was there not blessing enough, or must he curiously question
Martha, however, understood the thought in his mind. "No, Gilbert!" she
said, "I cannot truly say that I loved you at the time when I first
discovered your feeling towards me. I had always esteemed and trusted
you, and you were much in my mind; but when I asked myself if I could
look upon you as my husband, my heart hesitated with the answer. I did
not deserve your affection then, because I could not repay it in the
same measure. But, although the knowledge seemed to disturb me,
sometimes, yet it was very grateful, and therefore I could not quite
make up my mind to discourage you. Indeed, I knew not what was right to
do, but I found myself more and more strongly drawn towards you; a power
came from you when we met, that touched and yet strengthened me, and
then I thought, 'Perhaps I _do_ love him.' To-day, when I first saw your
face, I knew that I did. I felt your heart calling to me like one that
cries for help, and mine answered. It has been slow to speak, Gilbert,
but I know it has spoken truly at last!"
He replaced the broken girth, lifted her into the saddle, mounted his
own horse, and they resumed their ride along the dusky valley. But how
otherwise their companionship now!
"Martha," said Gilbert, leaning towards her and touching her softly as
he spoke, as if fearful that some power in his words might drive them
apart,--"Martha, have you considered what I am called? That the family
name I bear is in itself a disgrace? Have you imagined what it is to
love one so dishonored as I am?"
The delicate line of her upper lip grew clear and firm again,
temporarily losing its relaxed gentleness. "I have thought of it," she
answered, "but not in that way. Gilbert, I honored you before I loved
you. I will not say that this thing makes no difference, for it does--a
difference in the name men give you, a difference in your work through
life (for you must deserve more esteem to gain as much as other
men)--and a difference in my duty towards you. They call me
'independent,' Gilbert, because, though a woman, I dare to think for
myself; I know not whether they mean praise by the word, or no; but I
think it would frighten away the thought of love from many men. It has
not frightened you; and you, however you were born, are the faithfullest
and best man I know. I love you with my whole heart, and I will be true
With these words, Martha stretched out her hand. Gilbert took and held
it, bowing his head fondly over it, and inwardly thanking God that the
test which his pride had exacted was over at last. He could reward her
truth, spare her the willing sacrifice,--and he would.
"Martha," he said, "if I sometimes doubted whether you could share my
disgrace, it was because I had bitter cause to feel how heavy it is to
bear. God knows I would have come to you with a clean and honorable
name, if I could have been patient to wait longer in uncertainty. But I
could not tell how long the time might be,--I could not urge my mother,
nor even ask her to explain"--
"No, no, Gilbert! Spare _her!"_ Martha interrupted.
"I _have,_ Martha,--God bless you for the words!--and I _will_; it would
be the worst wickedness not to be patient, now! But I have not yet told
A loud halloo rang through the dusk.
"It is Mark's voice," said Martha; "answer him!"
Gilbert shouted, and a double cry instantly replied. They had reached
the cross-road from New-Garden, and Mark and Sally, who had been
waiting impatiently for a quarter of an hour, rode to meet them. "Did
you lose the road?" "Whatever kept you so long?" were the simultaneous
"My girth broke in jumping over the tree," Martha answered, in her
clear, untroubled voice. "I should have been thrown off, but for
Gilbert's help. He had to give me his own girth, and so we have ridden
slowly, since he has none."
"Take my breast-strap," said Mark.
"No," said Gilbert, "I can ride Roger bareback, if need be, with the
saddle on my shoulder."
Something in his voice struck Mark and Sally singularly. It was grave
and subdued, yet sweet in its tones as never before; he had not yet
descended from the solemn exaltation of his recent mood. But the dusk
sheltered his face, and its new brightness was visible only to Martha's
Mark and Sally again led the way, and the lovers followed in silence up
the hill, until they struck the Wilmington road, below Hallowell's. Here
Gilbert felt that it was best to leave them.
"Well, you two are cheerful company!" exclaimed Sally, as they checked
their horses. "Martha, how many words has Gilbert spoken to you this
"As many as I have spoken to him," Martha answered; "but I will say
three more,--Good-night, Gilbert!"
"Good-night!" was all he dared say, in return, but the pressure of his
hand burned long upon her fingers.
He rode homewards in the starlight, transformed by love and gratitude,
proud, tender, strong to encounter any fate. His mother sat in the
lonely kitchen, with the New Testament in her lap; she had tried to
read, but her thoughts wandered from the consoling text. The table was
but half-cleared, and the little old teapot still squatted beside the
Gilbert strove hard to assume his ordinary manner, but he could not hide
the radiant happiness that shone from his eyes and sat upon his lips.
"You've not had supper?" Mary Potter asked.
"No, mother! but I'm sorry you kept things waiting; I can do well enough
"It's not right to go without your regular meals, Gilbert. Sit up to the
She poured out the tea, and Gilbert ate and drank in silence. His mother
said nothing, but he knew that her eye was upon him, and that he was the
subject of her thoughts. Once or twice he detected a wistful,
questioning expression, which, in his softened mood, touched him almost
like a reproach.
When the table had been cleared and everything put away, she resumed her
seat, breathing an unconscious sigh as she dropped her hands into her
lap. Gilbert felt that he must now speak, and only hesitated while he
considered how he could best do so, without touching her secret and
"Mother!" he said at last, "I have something to tell you."
"Maybe it'll seem good news to you; but maybe not. I have asked Martha
Deane to be my wife!"
He paused, and looked at her. She clasped her hands, leaned forward, and
fixed her dark, mournful eyes intently upon his face.
"I have been drawn towards her for a long time," Gilbert continued. "It
has been a great trouble to me, because she is so pretty, and withal so
proud in the way a girl should be,--I liked her pride, even while it
made me afraid,--and they say she is rich also. It might seem like
looking too high, mother, but I couldn't help it."
"There's no woman too high for you, Gilbert!" Mary Potter exclaimed.
Then she went on, in a hurried, unsteady voice: "It isn't that--I
mistrusted it would come so, some day, but I hoped--only for your good,
my boy, only for that--I hoped not so soon. You're still young--not
twenty-five, and there's debt on the farm;--couldn't you ha' waited a
"I have waited, mother," he said, slightly turning away his head, that
he might not see the tender reproach in her face, which her question
seemed to imply. "I _did_ wait--and for that reason. I wanted first to
be independent, at least; and I doubt that I would have spoken so soon,
but there were others after Martha, and that put the thought of losing
her into my head. It seemed like a matter of life or death. Alfred
Barton tried to keep company with her--he didn't deny it to my face; the
people talked of it. Folks always say more than they know, to be sure,
but then, the chances were so much against _me,_ mother! I was nigh
crazy, sometimes. I tried my best and bravest to be patient, but to-day
we were riding alone,--Mark and Sally gone ahead,--and--and then it came
from my mouth, I don't know how; I didn't expect it. But I shouldn't
have doubted Martha; she let me speak; she answered me--I can't tell you
her words, mother, though I'll never forget one single one of 'em to my
dying day. She gave me her hand and said she would be true to me
Gilbert waited, as if his mother might here speak, but she remained
"Do you understand, mother?" he continued. "She pledged herself to
me--she will be my wife. And I asked her--you won't be hurt, for I felt
it to be my duty--whether she knew how disgraced I was in the eyes of
the people,--whether my name would not be a shame for her to bear? She
couldn't know what we know: she took me even with the shame,--and she
looked prouder than ever when she stood by me in the thought of it! She
would despise me, now, if I should offer to give her up on account of
it, but she may know as much as I do, mother? She deserves it."
There was no answer. Gilbert looked up.
Mary Potter sat perfectly still in her high rocking-chair. Her arms hung
passively at her sides, and her head leaned back and was turned to one
side, as if she were utterly exhausted. But in the pale face, the closed
eyes, and the blue shade about the parted lips, he saw that she was
unconscious of his words. She had fainted.
TWO OLD MEN.
Shortly after Martha Deane left home for her eventful ride to
Falconer's, the Doctor also mounted his horse and rode out of the
village in the opposite direction. Two days before, he had been summoned
to bleed "Old-man Barton," on account of a troublesome buzzing in the
head, and, although not bidden to make a second professional visit,
there was sufficient occasion for him to call upon his patient in the
capacity of a neighbor.
Dr. Deane never made a step outside the usual routine of his business
without a special and carefully considered reason. Various causes
combined to inspire his movement in the present instance. The
neighborhood was healthy; the village was so nearly deserted that no
curious observers lounged upon the tavern-porch, or sat upon the
horse-block at the corner-store; and Mr. Alfred Barton had been seen
riding towards Avondale. There would have been safety in a much more
unusual proceeding; this, therefore, might be undertaken in that secure,
easy frame of mind which the Doctor both cultivated and recommended to
the little world around him.
The Barton farm-house was not often molested by the presence of guests,
and he found it as quiet and lifeless as an uninhabited island of the
sea. Leaving his horse hitched in the shade of the corn-crib, he first
came upon Giles, stretched out under the holly-bush, and fast asleep,
with his head upon his jacket. The door and window of the family-room
were open, and Dr. Deane, walking softly upon the thick grass, saw that
Old-man Barton was in his accustomed seat. His daughter Ann was not
visible; she was at that moment occupied in taking out of the drawers of
her queer old bureau, in her narrow bedroom up-stairs, various bits of
lace and ribbon, done up in lavender, and perchance (for we must not be
too curious) a broken sixpence or a lock of dead hair.
The old man's back was towards the window, but the Doctor could hear
that papers were rustling and crackling in his trembling hands, and
could see that an old casket of very solid oak, bound with iron, stood
on the table at his elbow. Thereupon he stealthily retraced his steps to
the gate, shut it with a sharp snap, cleared his throat, and mounted the
porch with slow, loud, deliberate steps. When he reached the open door,
he knocked upon the jamb without looking into the room. There was a
jerking, dragging sound for a moment, and then the old man's snarl was
Dr. Deane entered, smiling, and redolent of sweet-marjoram. "Well,
Friend Barton," he said, "let's have a look at thee now!"
Thereupon he took a chair, placed it in front of the old man, and sat
down upon it, with his legs spread wide apart, and his ivory-headed cane
(which he also used as a riding-whip) bolt upright between them. He was
very careful not to seem to see that a short quilt, which the old man
usually wore over his knees, now lay in a somewhat angular heap upon the
"Better, I should say,--yes, decidedly better," he remarked, nodding his
head gravely. "I had nothing to do this afternoon,--the neighborhood is
very healthy,--and thought I would ride down and see how thee's getting
on. Only a friendly visit, thee knows."
The old man had laid one shaking arm and crooked hand upon the edge of
the quilt, while with the other he grasped his hickory staff. His face
had a strange, ashy color, through which the dark, corded veins on his
temples showed with singular distinctness. But his eye was unusually
bright and keen, and its cunning, suspicious expression did not escape
the Doctor's notice.
"A friendly visit--ay!" he growled--"not like Doctors' visits generally,
eh? Better?--of course I'm better. It's no harm to tap one of a
full-blooded breed. At our age, Doctor, a little blood goes a great
"No doubt, no doubt!" the Doctor assented. "Especially in thy case. I
often speak of thy wonderful constitution."
"Neighborly, you say, Doctor--only neighborly?" asked the old man. The
Doctor smiled, nodded, and seemed to exhale a more powerful herbaceous
"Mayhap, then, you'll take a bit of a dram?--a thimble-full won't come
amiss. You know the shelf where it's kep'--reach to, and help yourself,
and then help me to a drop."
Dr. Deane rose and took down the square black bottle and the diminutive
wine-glass beside it. Half-filling the latter,--a thimble-full in
verity,--he drank it in two or three delicate little sips, puckering his
large under-lip to receive them.
"It's right to have the best, Friend Barton," he said, "there's more
life in it!" as he filled the glass to the brim and held it to the slit
in the old man's face.
The latter eagerly drew off the top fulness, and then seized the glass
in his shaky hand. "Can help myself," he croaked--"don't need waitin'
on; not so bad as that!"
His color presently grew, and his neck assumed a partial steadiness.
"What news, what news?" he asked. "You gather up a plenty in your
goin's-around. It's little I get, except the bones, after they've been
gnawed over by the whole neighborhood."
"There is not much now, I believe," Dr. Deane observed.
"Jacob and Leah Gilpin have another boy, but thee hardly knows them, I
think. William Byerly died last week in Birmingham; thee's heard of
him,--he had a wonderful gift of preaching. They say Maryland cattle
will be cheap, this fall: does Alfred intend to fatten many? I saw him
riding towards New-Garden."
"I guess he will," the old man answered,--"must make somethin' out o'
the farm. That pastur'-bottom ought to bring more than it does."
"Alfred doesn't look to want for much," the Doctor continued. "It's a
fine farm he has."
"_Me_, I say!" old Barton exclaimed, bringing down the end of his stick
upon the floor. "The farm's mine!"
"But it's the same thing, isn't it?" asked Dr. Deane, in his cheeriest
voice and with his pleasantest smile.
The old man looked at him for a moment, gave an incoherent grunt, the
meaning of which the Doctor found it impossible to decipher, and
presently, with a cunning leer, said.--
"Is all your property the same thing as your daughter's?"
"Well--well," replied the Doctor, softly rubbing his hands, "I should
hope so--yes, I should hope so."
"Besides what she has in her own right?"
"Oh, thee knows that will be hers without my disposal. What I should do
for her would be apart from that. I am not likely, at my time of life,
to marry again--but we are led by the Spirit, thee knows; we cannot
say, I will do thus and so, and these and such things shall happen, and
those and such other shall not."
"Ay, that's my rule, too, Doctor," said the old man, after a pause,
during which he had intently watched his visitor, from under his
"I thought," the Doctor resumed, "thee was pretty safe against another
marriage, at any rate, and thee had perhaps made up thy mind about
providing for thy children.
"It's better for us old men to have our houses set in order, that we may
spare ourselves worry and anxiety of mind. Elisha is already established
in his own independence, and I suppose Ann will give thee no particular
trouble; but if Alfred, now, should take a notion to marry, he couldn't,
thee sees, be expected to commit himself without having some idea of
what thee intends to do for him."
Dr. Deane, having at last taken up his position and uncovered his front
of attack, waited for the next movement of his adversary. He was even
aware of a slight professional curiosity to know how far the old man's
keen, shrewd, wary faculties had survived the wreck of his body.
The latter nodded his head, and pressed the top of his hickory stick
against his gums several times, before he answered. He enjoyed the
encounter, though not so sure of its issue as he would have been ten
"I'd do the fair thing, Doctor!" he finally exclaimed; "whatever it
might be, it'd be fair. Come, isn't that enough?"
"In a general sense, it is. But we are talking now as neighbors. We are
both old men, Friend Barton, and I think we know how to keep our own
counsel. Let us suppose a case--just to illustrate the matter, thee
understands. Let us say that Friend Paxson--a widower, thee knows--had a
daughter Mary, who had--well, a nice little penny in her own right,--and
that thy son Alfred desired her in marriage. Friend Paxson, as a prudent
father, knowing his daughter's portion, both what it is and what it will
be,--he would naturally wish, in Mary's interest, to know that Alfred
would not be dependent on her means, but that the children they might
have would inherit equally from both. Now, it strikes me that Friend
Paxson would only be right in asking thee what thee would do for thy
son--nay, that, to be safe, he would want to see some evidence that
would hold in law. Things are so uncertain, and a wise man guardeth his
The old man laughed until his watery eyes twinkled. "Friend Paxson is a
mighty close and cautious one to deal with," he said. "Mayhap he'd like
to manage to have me bound, and himself go free?"
"Thee's mistaken, indeed!" Dr. Deane protested. "He's not that kind of a
man. He only means to do what's right, and to ask the same security from
thee, which thee--I'm sure of it, Friend Barton!--would expect _him_ to
The old man began to find this illustration uncomfortable; it was
altogether one-sided. Dr. Deane could shelter himself behind Friend
Paxson and the imaginary daughter, but the applications came personally
home to him. His old patience had been weakened by his isolation from
the world, and his habits of arbitrary rule. He knew, moreover, the
probable amount of Martha's fortune, and could make a shrewd guess at
the Doctor's circumstances; but if the settlements were to be equal,
each must give his share its highest valuation in order to secure more
from the other. It was a difficult game, because these men viewed it in
the light of a business transaction, and each considered that any
advantage over the other would be equivalent to a pecuniary gain on his
"No use beatin' about the bush, Doctor," the old man suddenly said. "You
don't care for Paxson's daughter, that never was; why not put your
Martha in her place. She has a good penny, I hear--five thousand, some
"Ten, every cent of it!" exclaimed Dr. Deane, very nearly thrown off his
guard. "That is, she will have it, at twenty-five; and sooner, if she
marries with my consent. But why does thee wish particularly to speak of
"For the same reason you talk about Alfred. He hasn't been about your
house lately, I s'pose, hey?"
The Doctor smiled, dropping his eyelids in a very sagacious way. "He
_does_ seem drawn a little our way, I must confess to thee," he said,
"but we can't always tell how much is meant. Perhaps thee knows his mind
better than I do?"
"Mayhap I do--know what it will be, if _I_ choose! But I don't begrudge
sayin' that he likes your girl, and I shouldn't wonder if he'd showed
"Then thee sees, Friend Barton," Dr. Deane continued, "that the case is
precisely like the one I supposed; and what I would consider right for
Friend Paxson, would even be right for myself. I've no doubt thee could
do more for Alfred than I can do for Martha, and without wrong to thy
other children,--Elisha, as I said, being independent, and Ann not
requiring a great deal,--and the two properties joined together would be
a credit to us, and to the neighborhood. Only, thee knows, there must be
some legal assurance beforehand. There is nothing certain,--even thy
mind is liable to change,--ah, the mind of man is an unstable thing!"
The Doctor delivered these words in his most impressive manner,
uplifting both eyes and hands.
The old man, however, seemed to pay but little attention to it. Turning
his head on one side, he said, in a quick, sharp voice: "Time enough for
that when we come to it How's the girl inclined? Is the money hers,
anyhow, at twenty-five,--how old now? Sure to be a couple, hey?--settle
Dr. Deane crossed his legs carefully, so as not to crease the cloth too
much, laid his cane upon them, and leaned back a little in his chair.
"Of course I've not spoken to Martha," he presently said; "I can only
say that she hasn't set her mind upon anybody else, and that is the main
thing. She has followed my will in all, except as to joining the
Friends, and there I felt that I couldn't rightly command, where the
Spirit had not spoken. Yes, the money will be hers at twenty-five,--she
is twenty-one now,--but I hardly think it necessary to take that into
consideration. If thee can answer for Alfred, I think I can answer for
"The boy's close about _his_ money," broke in the old man, with a sly,
husky chuckle. "What he has, Doctor, you understand, goes toward
balancin' what she has, afore you come onto me, at all. Yes, yes, I know
what I'm about. A good deal, off and on, has been got out o' this farm,
and it hasn't all gone into _my_ pockets. I've a trifle put out, but you
can't expect me to strip myself naked, in my old days. But I'll do
what's fair--I'll do what's fair!"
"There's only this," the Doctor added, meditatively, "and I want thee to
understand, since we've, somehow or other, come to mention the matter,
that we'd better have another talk, after we've had more time to think
of it. Thee can make up thy mind, and let me know _about_ what thee'll
do; and I the same. Thee _has_ a starting-point on my side, knowing the
amount of Martha's fortune--_that_, of course, thee must come up to
first, and then we'll see about the rest!"
Old-man Barton felt that he was here brought up to the rack. He
recognized Dr. Deane's advantage, and could only evade it by accepting
his proposition for delay. True, he had already gone over the subject,
in his lonely, restless broodings beside the window, but this encounter
had freshened and resuscitated many points. He knew that the business
would be finally arranged, but nothing would have induced him to hasten
it. There was a great luxury in this preliminary skirmishing.
"Well, well!" said he, "we needn't hurry. You're right there, Doctor. I
s'pose you won't do anything to keep the young ones apart?"
"I think I've shown my own wishes very plainly, Friend Barton. It is
necessary that Alfred should speak for himself, though, and after all
we've said, perhaps it might be well if thee should give him a hint.
Thee must remember that he has never yet mentioned the subject to me."
Dr. Deane thereupon arose, smoothed his garments, and shook out, not
only sweet marjoram, but lavender, cloves, and calamus. His
broad-brimmed drab hat had never left his head during the interview.
There were steps on the creaking floor overhead, and the Doctor
perceived that the private conference must now close. It was nearly a
drawn game, so far; but the chance of advantage was on his side.
"Suppose I look at thy arm,--in a neighborly way, of course," he said,
approaching the old man's chair.
"Never mind--took the bean off this mornin'--old blood, you know, but
lively yet. Gad, Doctor! I've not felt so brisk for a year." His eyes
twinkled so, under their puffy lids, the flabby folds in which his mouth
terminated worked so curiously,--like those of a bellows, where they run
together towards the nozzle,--and the two movable fingers on each hand
opened and shut with such a menacing, clutching motion, that for one
moment the Doctor felt a chill, uncanny creep run over his nerves.
"Brandy!" the old man commanded. "I've not talked so much at once't for
months. You might take a little more, maybe. No? well, you hardly need
it. Good brandy's powerful dear, these times."
Dr. Deane had too much tact to accept the grudging invitation. After the
old man had drunk, he carefully replaced the bottle and glass on their
accustomed shelf, and disposed himself to leave. On the whole, he was
well satisfied with the afternoon's work, not doubting but that he had
acted the part of a tender and most considerate parent towards his
Before they met, she also had disposed of her future, but in a very
Miss Ann descended the stairs in time to greet the Doctor before his
departure. She would have gladly retained him to tea, as a little relief
to the loneliness and weariness of the day; but she never dared to give
an invitation except when it seconded her father's, which, in the
present case, was wanting.
DOUBTS AND SURMISES.
Gilbert's voice, sharpened by his sudden and mortal fear, recalled Mary
Potter to consciousness. After she had drunk of the cup of water which
he brought, she looked slowly and wearily around the kitchen, as if some
instinct taught her to fix her thoughts on the signs and appliances of
her every-day life, rather than allow them to return to the pang which
had overpowered her. Little by little she recovered her calmness and a
portion of her strength, and at last, noticing her son's anxious face,
"I have frightened you, Gilbert; but there is no occasion for it. I
wasn't rightly prepared for what you had to say--and--and--but, please,
don't let us talk any more about it to-night. Give me a little time to
think--if I _can_ think. I'm afraid it's but a sad home I'm making for
you, and sure it's a sad load I've put upon you, my poor boy! But oh,
try, Gilbert, try to be patient a little while longer,--it can't be for
long,--for I begin to see now that I've worked out my fault, and that
the Lord in Heaven owes me justice!"
She clenched her hands wildly, and rose to her feet. Her steps tottered,
and he sprang to her support.
"Mother," he said, "let me help you to your room. I'll not speak of this
again; I wouldn't have spoken to-night, if I had mistrusted that it
could give you trouble. Have no fear that I can ever be impatient again;
patience is easy to me now!"
He spoke kindly and cheerfully, registering a vow in his heart that his
lips should henceforth be closed upon the painful theme, until his
mother's release (whatever it was and whenever it might come) should
But competent as he felt in that moment to bear the delay cheerfully,
and determined as he was to cast no additional weight on his mother's
heart, it was not so easy to compose his thoughts, as he lay in the
dusky, starlit bedroom up-stairs. The events of the day, and their
recent consequences, had moved his strong nature to its very
foundations. A chaos of joy, wonder, doubt, and dread surged through
him. Over and over he recalled the sweet pressure of Martha Deane's lip,
the warm curve of her bosom, the dainty, delicate firmness of her hand.
Was this--could this possession really be his? In his mother's
mysterious secret there lay an element of terror. He could not guess why
the revelation of his fortunate love should agitate her so fearfully,
unless--and the suspicion gave him a shock--her history were in some way
involved with that of Martha Deane.
This thought haunted and perplexed him, continually returning to disturb
the memory of those holy moments in the twilight dell, and to ruffle the
bright current of joy which seemed to gather up and sweep away with it
all the forces of his life. Any fate but to lose her, he said to
himself; let the shadow fall anywhere, except between them! There would
be other troubles, he foresaw,--the opposition of her father; the rage
and hostility of Alfred Barton; possibly, when the story became known
(as it must be in the end), the ill-will or aversion of the
neighborhood. Against all these definite and positive evils, he felt
strong and tolerably courageous, but the Something which evidently
menaced him through his mother made him shrink with a sense of
Hand in hand with this dread he went into the world of sleep. He stood
upon the summit of the hill behind Falconer's farm-house, and saw Martha
beckoning to him from the hill on the other side of the valley. They
stretched and clasped hands through the intervening space; the hills
sank away, and they found themselves suddenly below, on the banks of the
creek. He threw his arms around her, but she drew back, and then he saw
that it was Betsy Lavender, who said: "I am your father--did you never
guess it before?" Down the road came Dr. Deane and his mother, walking
arm in arm; their eyes were fixed on him, but they did not speak. Then
he heard Martha's voice, saying: "Gilbert, why did you tell Alfred
Barton? Nobody must know that I am engaged to both of you." Betsy
Lavender said: "He can only marry with my consent--Mary Potter has
nothing to do with it." Martha then came towards him smiling, and said:
"I will not send back your saddle-girth--see, I am wearing it as a
belt!" He took hold of the buckle and drew her nearer; she began to
weep, and they were suddenly standing side by side, in a dark room,
before his dead mother, in her coffin.
This dream, absurd and incoherent as it was, made a strange impression
upon Gilbert's mind. He was not superstitious, but in spite of himself
the idea became rooted in his thoughts that the truth of his own
parentage affected, in some way, some member of the Deane family. He
taxed his memory in vain for words or incidents which might help him to
solve this doubt. Something told him that his obligation to his mother
involved the understanding that he would not even attempt to discover
her secret; but he could not prevent his thoughts from wandering around
it, and making blind guesses as to the vulnerable point.
Among these guesses came one which caused him to shudder; he called it
impossible, incredible, and resolutely barred it from his mind. But with
all his resolution, it only seemed to wait at a little distance, as if
constantly seeking an opportunity to return. What if Dr. Deane were his
own father? In that case Martha would be his half-sister, and the stain
of illegitimacy would rest on her, not on him! There was ruin and
despair in the supposition; but, on the other hand, he asked himself why
should the fact of his love throw his mother into a swoon? Among the
healthy, strong-nerved people of Kennett such a thing as a swoon was of
the rarest occurrence, and it suggested some terrible cause to Gilbert's
mind. It was sometimes hard for him to preserve his predetermined
patient, cheerful demeanor in his mother's presence, but he tried
bravely, and succeeded.
Although the harvest was well over, there was still much work to do on
the farm, in order that the month of October might be appropriated to
hauling,--the last time, Gilbert hoped, that he should be obliged to
resort to this source of profit. Though the price of grain was sure to
decline, on account of the extraordinary harvest, the quantity would
make up for this deficiency. So far, his estimates had been verified. A
good portion of the money was already on hand, and his coveted freedom
from debt in the following spring became now tolerably secure. His
course, in this respect, was in strict accordance with the cautious,
plodding, conscientious habits of the community in which he lived. They
were satisfied to advance steadily and slowly, never establishing a new
mark until the old one had been reached.
Gilbert was impatient to see Martha again, not so much for the delight
of love, as from a sense of the duty which he owed to her. His mother
had not answered his question,--possibly not even heard it,--and he did
not dare to approach her with it again. But so much as he knew might be
revealed to the wife of his heart; of that he was sure. If she could but
share his confidence in his mother's words, and be equally patient to
await the solution, it would give their relation a new sweetness, an
added sanctity and trust.
He made an errand to Fairthorn's at the close of the week, hoping that
chance might befriend him, but almost determined, in any case, to force
an interview. The dread he had trampled down still hung around him, and
it seemed that Martha's presence might dissipate it. Something, at
least, he might learn concerning Dr. Deane's family, and here his
thoughts at once reverted to Miss Betsy Lavender. In her he had the true
friend, the close mouth, the brain crammed with family intelligence!
The Fairthorns were glad to see their "boy," as the old woman still
called him. Joe and Jake threw their brown legs over the barn-yard fence
and clamored for a ride upon Roger. "Only along the level, t'other side
o' the big hill, Gilbert!" said Joe, whereupon the two boys punched each
other in the sides and nearly smothered with wicked laughter. Gilbert
understood them; he shook his head, and said: "You rascals, I think I
see you doing that again!" But he turned away his face, to conceal a
smile at the recollection.
It was, truly, a wicked trick. The boys had been in the habit of taking
the farm-horses out of the field and riding them up and down the
Unionville road. It was their habit, as soon as they had climbed "the
big hill," to use stick and voice with great energy, force the animals
into a gallop, and so dash along the level. Very soon, the horses knew
what was expected of them, and whenever they came abreast of the great
chestnut-tree on the top of the hill, they would start off as if
possessed. If any business called Farmer Fairthorn to the Street Road,
or up Marlborough way, Joe and Jake, dancing with delight, would dart
around the barn, gain the wooded hollow, climb the big hill behind the
lime-kiln, and hide themselves under the hedge, at the commencement of
the level road. Here they could watch their father, as his benign,
unsuspecting face came in sight, mounting the hill, either upon the gray
mare, Bonnie, or the brown gelding, Peter. As the horse neared the
chestnut-tree, they fairly shook with eager expectancy--then came the
start, the astonishment of the old man, his frantic "Whoa, there, whoa!"
his hat soaring off on the wind, his short, stout body bouncing in the
saddle, as, half-unseated, he clung with one hand to the mane and the
other to the bridle!--while the wicked boys, after breathlessly watching
him out of sight, rolled over and over on the grass, shrieking and
yelling in a perfect luxury of fun.
Then they knew that a test would come, and prepared themselves to meet
it. When, at dinner, Farmer Fairthorn turned to his wife and said:
"Mammy," (so he always addressed her) "I don't know what's the matter
with Bonnie; why. she came nigh runnin' off with me!"--Joe. being the
oldest and boldest, would look up in well-affected surprise, and ask,
"Why, how, Daddy?" while Jake would bend down his head and
whimper,--"Somethin' 's got into my eye." Yet the boys were very good-
hearted fellows, at bottom, and we are sorry that we must chronicle so
many things to their discredit.
Sally Fairthorn met Gilbert in her usual impetuous way. She was glad to
see him, but she could not help saying: "Well, have you got your tongue
yet, Gilbert? Why, you're growing to be as queer as Dick's hat-band! I
don't know any more where to find you, or how to place you; whatever is
"Nothing, Sally," he answered, with something of his old playfulness,
"nothing except that the pears were very good. How's Mark?"
"Mark!" she exclaimed with a very well assumed sneer. "As if I kept an
account of Mark's comings and goings!" But she could not prevent an
extra color from rising into her face.
"I wish you did, Sally," Gilbert gravely remarked. "Mark is a fine
fellow, and one of my best friends, and he'd be all the better, if a
smart, sensible girl like yourself would care a little for him."
There was no answer to this, and Sally, with a hasty "I'll tell mother
you're here!" darted into the house.
Gilbert was careful not to ask many questions during his visit; but
Sally's rattling tongue supplied him with all he would have been likely
to learn, in any case. She had found Martha at home the day before, and
had talked about him, Gilbert. Martha hadn't noticed anything "queer" in
his manner, whereupon she, Sally, had said that Martha was growing
"queer" too; then Martha remarked that--but here Sally found that she
had been talking altogether too fast, so she bit her tongue and blushed
a little. The most important piece of news, however, was that Miss
Lavender was then staying at Dr. Deane's.
On his way to the village, Gilbert chose the readiest and simplest way
of accomplishing his purpose. He would call on Betsy Lavender, and ask
her to arrange her time so that she could visit his mother during his
approaching absence from home. Leaving his horse at the hitching-post in
front of the store, he walked boldly across the road and knocked at Dr.
The Doctor was absent. Martha and Miss Lavender were in the
sitting-room, and a keen, sweet throb in his blood responded to the
voice that bade him enter.
"Gilbert Potter, I'll be snaked!" exclaimed Miss Lavender, jumping up
with a start that overturned her footstool.
"Well, Gilbert!" and "Well, Martha!" were the only words the lovers
exchanged, on meeting, but their hands were quick to clasp and loath to
loose. Martha Deane was too clear-headed to be often surprised by an
impulse of the heart, but when the latter experience came to her, she
never thought of doubting its justness. She had not been fully, vitally
aware of her love for Gilbert until the day when he declared it, and
now, in memory, the two circumstances seemed to make but one fact. The
warmth, the beauty, the spiritual expansion which accompany love had
since then dawned upon her nature in their true significance. Proudly
and cautiously as she would have guarded her secret from an intrusive
eye, just as frank, tender, and brave was she to reveal every emotion of
her heart to her lover. She was thoroughly penetrated with the
conviction of his truth, of the integral nobility of his manhood; and
these, she felt, were the qualities her heart had unconsciously craved.
Her mind was made up inflexibly; it rejoiced in his companionship, it
trusted in his fidelity, and if she considered conventional
difficulties, it was only to estimate how they could most speedily be
overthrown. Martha Deane was in advance of her age,--or, at least, of
the community in which she lived.
They could only exchange common-places, of course, in Miss Lavender's
presence; and perhaps they were not aware of the gentle, affectionate
way in which they spoke of the weather and similar topics. Miss Lavender
was; her eyes opened widely, then nearly closed with an expression of
superhuman wisdom; she looked out of the window and nodded to the
lilac-bush, then exclaiming in desperate awkwardness: "Goodness me, I
must have a bit o' sage!" made for the garden, with long strides.
Gilbert was too innocent to suspect the artifice--not so Martha. But
while she would have foiled the inference of any other woman, she
accepted Betsy's without the least embarrassment, and took Gilbert's
hand again in her own before the door had fairly closed.
"O Martha!" he cried, "if I could but see you oftener--but for a minute,
every day! But there--I won't be impatient. I've thought of you ever
since, and I ask myself, the first thing when I wake, morning after
morning, is it really true?"
"And I say to myself, every morning, it _is_ true," she answered. Her
lovely blue eyes smiled upon him with a blissful consent, so gentle and
so perfect, that he would fain have stood thus and spoken no word more.
"Martha," he said, returning to the thought of his duty, "I have
something to say. You can hear it now. My mother declares that I am her
lawful son, born in wedlock--she gave me her solemn word--but more than
that she will not allow me to ask, saying she's bound for a time, and
something, I don't know what, must happen before she can set herself
right in the eyes of the world. I believe her, Martha, and I want that
you should believe her, for her sake and for mine. I can't make things
clear to you, now, because they're not clear to myself; only, what she
has declared is and must be true! I am not base-born, and it'll be made
manifest, I'm sure; the Lord will open her mouth in his own good
time--and until then, we must wait! Will you wait with me?"
He spoke earnestly and hurriedly, and his communication was so
unexpected that she scarcely comprehended its full import. But for his
sake, she dared not hesitate to answer.
"Can you ask it, Gilbert? Whatever your mother declares to you, must be
true; yet I scarcely understand it."
"Nor can I! I've wearied my brains, trying to guess why she can't speak,
and what it is that'll give her the liberty at last. I daren't ask her
more--she fainted dead away, the last time."
"Strange things sometimes happen in this world," said Martha, with a
grave tenderness, laying her hand upon his arm, "and this seems to be
one of the strangest. I am glad you have told me, Gilbert,--it will make
so much difference to you!"
"So it don't take you from me, Martha," he groaned, in a return of his
"Only Death can do that--and then but for a little while."
Here Miss Betsy Lavender made her appearance, but without the sage.
"How far a body can see, Martha," she exclaimed, "since the big
gum-tree's been cut down. It lays open the sight o' the road across the
creek, and I seen your father ridin' down the hill, as plain as could
"Betsy," said Gilbert, "I wanted to ask you about coming down our way."
"Our way. Did you? I see your horse hitched over at the store. I've an
arrand,--sewin'-thread and pearl buttons,--and so I'll git my bonnet
and you can tell me on the way."
The lovers said farewell, and Betsy Lavender accompanied Gilbert,
proposing to walk a little way with him and get the articles on her
"Gilbert Potter," she said, when they were out of sight and ear-shot of
the village, "I want you to know that I've got eyes in my head. _I_'m a
safe body, as you can see, though it mayn't seem the proper thing in me
to say it, but all other folks isn't, so look out!"
"Betsy!" he exclaimed, "you seem to know everything about everybody--at
least, you know what I am, perhaps better than I do myself; now suppose
I grant you're right, what do you think of it?"
"Think of it? Go 'long!--you know what you want me to say, that there
never was such a pair o' lovyers under the firmament! Let my deeds prove
what I think, say I--for here's a case where deeds is wanted!"
"You can help me, Betsy--you can help me now! Do you know--can you
guess--who was my father?"
"Good Lord!" was her surprised exclamation--"No, I don't, and that's the
"Who was Martha Deane's mother?"
"A Blake--Naomi, one o' the Birmingham Blakes, and a nice woman she was,
too. I was at her weddin', and I helped nuss her when Martha was born."
"Had Dr. Deane been married before?"
"Married before? Well--no!" Here Miss Betsy seemed to be suddenly put
upon her guard. "Not to that extent, I should say. However, it's neither
here nor there. Good lack, boy!" she cried, noticing a deadly paleness
on Gilbert's face--"a-h-h-h, I begin to understand now. Look here,
Gilbert! Git that nonsense out o' y'r head, jist as soon as _you_ can.
There's enough o' trouble ahead, without borrowin' any more out o' y'r
wanderin' wits. I don't deny but what I was holdin' back somethin', but
it's another thing as ever was. I'll speak _you_ clear o' your
misdoubtin's, if that's y'r present bother. You don't feel quite as much
like a live corpse, now, I reckon, hey?"
"O, Betsy!" he said, "if you knew how I have been perplexed, you
wouldn't wonder at my fancies!"
"I can fancy all that, my boy," she gently answered, "and I'll tell you
another thing, Gilbert--your mother has a heavy secret on her mind, and
I rather guess it concerns your father. No--don't look so eager-like--I
don't know it. All I do know is that you were born in Phildelphy."
"In Philadelphia! I never heard that."
"Well--it's neither here nor there. I've had my hands too full to spy
out other people's affairs, but many a thing has come to me in a nateral
way, or half-unbeknown. You can't do better than leave all sich wild
guesses and misdoubtin's to me, that's better able to handle 'em. Not
that I'm a-goin' to preach and declare anything until I know the rights
of it, whatever and wherever. Well, as I was sayin'--for there's Beulah
Green comin' up the road, and you must git your usual face onto you,
though Goodness knows, mine's so crooked, I've often said nothin' short
o' Death'll ever make much change in it--but never mind, I'll go down a
few days to your mother, when you're off, though I don't promise to do
much, except, maybe, cheer her up a bit; but we'll see, and so remember
me to her, and good-bye!"
With these words and a sharp, bony wring of his hand. Bliss Betsy strode
rapidly back to the village. It did not escape Gilbert's eye that,
strongly as she had pronounced against his secret fear, the detection of
it had agitated her. She had spoken hurriedly, and hastened away as if
desiring to avoid further questions. He could not banish the suspicion
that she knew something which might affect his fortune; but she had not
forbidden his love for Martha--she had promised to help him, and that
was a great consolation. His cheerfulness, thenceforth, was not assumed,
and he rejoiced to see a very faint, shadowy reflection of it, at times,
in his mother's face.
ALFRED BARTON BETWEEN TWO FIRES.
For some days after Dr. Deane's visit, Old-man Barton was a continual
source of astonishment to his son Alfred and his daughter Ann. The signs
of gradual decay which one of them, at least, had watched with the
keenest interest, had suddenly disappeared; he was brighter, sharper,
more talkative than at any time within the previous five years. The
almost worn-out machinery of his life seemed to have been mysteriously
repaired, whether by Dr. Deane's tinkering, or by one of those freaks of
Nature which sometimes bring new teeth and hair to an aged head, neither
the son nor the daughter could guess. To the former this awakened
activity of the old man's brain was not a little annoying. He had been
obliged to renew his note for the money borrowed to replace that which
had been transferred to Sandy Flash, and in the mean time was concocting
an ingenious device by which the loss should not entirely fall on his
own half-share of the farm-profits. He could not have endured his
father's tyranny without the delight of the cautious and wary revenges
of this kind which he sometimes allowed himself to take. Another
circumstance, which gave him great uneasiness, was this: the old man
endeavored in various ways, both direct and indirect, to obtain
knowledge of the small investments which he had made from time to time.
The most of these had been, through the agency of the old lawyer at
Chester, consolidated into a first-class mortgage; but it was Alfred's
interest to keep his father in ignorance of the other sums, not because
of their importance, but because of their insignificance. He knew that
the old man's declaration was true,--"The more you have, the more you'll
The following Sunday, as he was shaving himself at the back
kitchen-window,--Ann being up-stairs, at her threadbare toilet,--Old
Barton, who had been silent during breakfast, suddenly addressed him:
"Well, boy, how stands the matter now?"
The son knew very well what was meant, but he thought it best to ask,
with an air of indifference,--
"What matter, Daddy?"
"What matter, eh? The colt's lame leg, or the farrow o' the big sow?
Gad, boy! don't you ever think about the gal, except when I put it into
"Oh, that!" exclaimed Alfred, with a smirk of well-assumed
satisfaction--"that, indeed! Well, I think I may say, Daddy, that all's
right in that quarter."
"Spoken to her yet?"
"N-no, not right out, that is; but since other folks have found out what
I'm after, I guess it's plain enough to her. And a good sign is, that
she plays a little shy."
"Shouldn't wonder," growled the old man. "Seems to me _you_ play a
little shy, too. Have to take it in my own hands, if it ever comes to
"Oh, it isn't at all necessary; I can do my own courting," Alfred
replied, as he wiped his razor and laid it away.
"Do it, then, boy, in short order! You're too old to stand in need o'
much billin' and cooin'--but the gal's rayther young, and may expect
it--and I s'pose it's the way. But I'd sooner you'd step up to the
Doctor, bein' as I can only take him when he comes here to me loaded and
primed. He's mighty cute and sharp, but if you've got any gumption,
we'll be even with him."
Alfred turned around quickly and looked at his father.
"Ay, boy, I've had one bout with him, last Sunday, and there's more to
"What was it?"
"Set yourself down on that cheer, and keep your head straight a bit, so
that what goes into one ear, don't fly out at the t'other."
While Alfred, with a singular expression of curiosity and distrust,
obeyed this command, the old man deliberated, for the last time, on the
peculiar tactics to be adopted, so that his son should be made an ally,
as against Dr. Deane, and yet be prevented from becoming a second foe,
as against his own property. For it was very evident that while it was
the father's interest to exaggerate the son's presumed wealth, it was
the latter's interest to underrate it. Thus a third element came into
play, making this a triangular game of avarice. If Alfred could have
understood his true position, he would have been more courageous; but
his father had him at a decided advantage.
"Hark ye, boy!" said he, "I've waited e'en about long enough, and it's
time this thing was either a hit or a flash in the pan. The Doctor's
ready for 't; for all his cunnin' he couldn't help lettin' me see that;
but he tries to cover both pockets with one hand while he stretches out
the t'other. The gal's money's safe, ten thousand of it, and we've
agreed that it'll be share and share; only, your'n bein' more than
her'n, why, of course he must make up the difference."
The son was far from being as shrewd as the father, or he would have
instantly chosen the proper tack; but he was like a vessel caught in
stays, and experienced considerable internal pitching and jostling. In
one sense it was a relief that the old man supposed him to be worth much
more than was actually the case, but long experience hinted that a
favorable assumption of this kind often led to a damaging result. So
with a wink and grin, the miserable hypocrisy of which was evident to
his own mind, he said:
"Of course he must make up the difference, and more too! I know what's
fair and square."
"Shut your mouth, boy, till I give you leave to open it. Do you
hear?--the gal's ten thousand dollars must be put ag'inst the ten
thousand you've saved off the profits o' the farm; then, the rest you've
made bein' properly accounted for, he must come down with the same
amount. Then, you must find out to a hair what he's worth of his
own--not that it concerns you, but _I_ must know. What you've got to do
is about as much as you've wits for. Now, open your mouth!"
"Ten thousand!" exclaimed Alfred, beginning to comprehend the matter
more clearly; "why, it's hardly quite ten thousand altogether, let alone
"No lies, no lies! I've got it all in my head, if you haven't. Twenty
years on shares--first year, one hundred and thirty-seven dollars--that
was the year the big flood swep' off half the corn on the bottom; second
year, two hundred and fifteen, with interest on the first, say six on a
hundred, allowin' the thirty-seven for your squanderin's, two hundred
and twenty-one; third year, three hundred and five, with interest,
seventeen, makes three hundred and twenty-two, and twenty, your half of
the bay horse sold to Sam Falconer, forty-two; fourth year"--
"Never mind, Daddy!" Alfred interrupted; "I've got it all down in my
books; you needn't go over it."
The old man struck his hickory staff violently upon the floor. "I _will_
go over it!" he croaked, hoarsely. "I mean to show you, boy, to your own
eyes and your own ears, that you're now worth thirteen thousand two
hundred and forty-nine dollars and fifteen cents! And ten thousand of
it balances the gal's ten thousand, leavin' three thousand two hundred
and forty-nine and fifteen cents, for the Doctor to make up to _you!_
And you'll show him your papers, for you're no son of mine if you've put
out your money without securin' it. I don't mind your goin' your own
road with what you've arned, though, for your proper good, you needn't
ha' been so close; but now you've got to show what's in your hand, if
you mean to git it double!"
Alfred Barton was overwhelmed by the terrors of this unexpected dilemma.
His superficial powers of dissimulation forsook him; he could only
suggest, in a weak voice:
"Suppose my papers don't show that much?"
"You've made that, or nigh onto it, and your papers _must_ show it! If
money can't stick to your fingers, do you s'pose I'm goin' to put more
into 'em? Fix it any way you like with the Doctor, so you square
accounts. Then, afterwards, let him come to me--ay, let him come!"
Here the old man chuckled until he brought on a fit of coughing, which
drove the dark purple blood into his head. His son hastened to restore
him with a glass of brandy.
"There, that'll do," he said, presently; "now you know what's what. Go
up to the Doctor's this afternoon, and have it out before you come home.
I can't dance at your weddin', but I wouldn't mind help nuss another
grandchild or two--eh, boy?"
"Damme, and so you shall, Dad!" the son exclaimed, relapsing into his
customary swagger, as the readiest means of flattering the old man's
more amiable mood. It was an easier matter to encounter Dr. Deane--to
procrastinate and prolong the settlement of terms, or shift the
responsibility of the final result from his own shoulders. Of course the
present command must be obeyed, and it was by no means an agreeable one;
but Alfred Barton had courage enough for any emergency not yet arrived.
So he began to talk and joke very comfortably about his possible
marriage, until Ann, descending to the kitchen in her solemn black gown,
interrupted the conference.
That afternoon, as Alfred took his way by the foot-path to the village,
he seated himself in the shade, on one end of the log which spanned the
creek, in order to examine his position, before venturing on a further
step. We will not probe the depths of his meditations; probably they
were not very deep, even when most serious; but we may readily
conjecture those considerations which were chiefly obvious to his mind.
The affair, which he had so long delayed, through a powerful and perhaps
a natural dread, was now brought to a crisis. He could not retreat
without extreme risk to his prospects of inheritance; since his father
and Dr. Deane had come to an actual conference, he was forced to assume
the part which was appropriate to him. Sentiment, he was aware, would
not be exacted, but a certain amount of masculine anticipation belonged
to his character of lover; should he assume this, also, or meet Dr.
Deane on a hard business ground?
It is a matter of doubt whether any vulgar man suspects the full extent
of his vulgarity; but there are few who are not conscious, now and then,
of a very uncomfortable difference between themselves and the refined
natures with whom they come in contact. Alfred Barton had never been so
troubled by this consciousness as when in the presence of Martha Deane.
He was afraid of her; he foresaw that she, as his wife, would place him
in a more painful subjection than that which his father now enforced. He
was weary of bondage, and longed to draw a free, unworried breath. With
all his swagger, his life had not always been easy or agreeable. A year
or two more might see him, in fact and in truth, his own master. He was
fifty years old; his habits of life were fixed; he would have shrunk
from the semi-servitude of marriage, though with a woman after his own
heart, and there was nothing in this (except the money) to attract him.
"I see no way!" he suddenly exclaimed, after a fit of long and
"Nor I neither, unless you make room for me!" answered a shrill voice at
He started as if shot, becoming aware of Miss Betsy Lavender, who had
just emerged from the thicket.
"Skeered ye, have I?" said she. "Why, how you do color up, to be sure! I
never was that red, even in my blushin' days; but never mind, what's
said to nobody is nobody's business."
He laughed a forced laugh. "I was thinking, Miss Betsy," he said, "how
to get the grain threshed and sent to the mills before prices come down.
Which way are you going?"
She had been observing him through half-closed eyes, with her head a
little thrown back. First slightly nodding to herself, as if assenting
to some mental remark, she asked,--
"Which way are _you_ goin'? For my part I rather think we're changin'
places,--me to see Miss Ann, and you to see Miss Martha."
"You're wrong!" he exclaimed. "I was only going to make a little
neighborly call on the Doctor."
"On the Doctor! Ah-ha! it's come to that, has it? Well, I won't be in
"Confound the witch!" he muttered to himself, as she sprang upon the log
and hurried over.
Mr. Alfred Barton was not acquainted with the Greek drama, or he would
have had a very real sense of what is meant by Fate. As it was, he
submitted to circumstances, climbed the hill, and never halted until he
found himself in Dr. Deane's sitting-room.
Of course, the Doctor was alone and unoccupied; it always happens so.
Moreover he knew, and Alfred Barton knew that he knew, the subject to be
discussed; but it was not the custom of the neighborhood to approach an
important interest except in a very gradual and roundabout manner.
Therefore the Doctor said, after the first greeting,--
"Thee'll be getting thy crops to market soon, I imagine?"
"I'd like to," Barton replied, "but there's not force enough on our
place, and the threshers are wanted everywhere at once. What would you
do,--hurry off the grain now, or wait to see how it may stand in the
Dr. Deane meditated a moment, and then answered with great deliberation:
"I never like to advise, where the chances are about even. It depends,
thee knows, on the prospect of next year's crops. But, which ever way
thee decides, it will make less difference to thee than to them that
depend altogether upon their yearly earnings."
Barton understood this stealthy approach to the important subject, and
met it in the same way. "I don't know," he said; "it's slow saving on
half-profits. I have to look mighty close, to make anything decent."
"Well," said the Doctor, "what isn't laid up _by_ thee, is laid up _for_
thee, I should judge."
"I should hope so, Doctor; but I guess you know the old man as well as I
do. If anybody could tell what's in his mind, it's Lawyer Stacy, and
he's as close as a steel-trap. I've hardly had a fair chance, and it
ought to be made up to me."
"It will be, no doubt." And then the Doctor, resting his chin upon his
cane, relapsed into a grave, silent, expectant mood, which his guest
"Doctor," he said at last, with an awkward attempt at a gay,
confidential manner, "you know what I come for today. Perhaps I'm rather
an old boy to be here on such an errand; I've been a bit afraid lest you
might think me so; and for that reason I haven't spoken to Martha at
all, (though I think she's smart enough to guess how my mind turns,) and
won't speak, till I first have your leave. I'm not so young as to be
light-headed in such matters; and, most likely, I'm not everything that
Martha would like; but--but--there's other things to be considered--not
that I mind 'em much, only the old man, you know, is very particular
about 'em, and so I've come up to see if we can't agree without much
Dr. Deane took a small pinch of Rappee, and then touched his nose
lightly with his lavendered handkerchief. He drew up his hanging
under-lip until it nearly covered the upper, and lifted his nostrils
with an air at once of reticence and wisdom. "I don't deny," he said
slowly, "that I've suspected something of what is in thy mind, and I
will further say that thee's done right in coming first to me. Martha
being an only d--child, I have her welfare much at heart, and if I had
known anything seriously to thy discredit, I would not have permitted
thy attentions. So far as that goes, thee may feel easy. I _did_ hope,
however, that thee would have some assurance of what thy father intends
to do for thee--and perhaps thee has,--Elisha being established in his
own independence, and Ann not requiring a great deal, thee would inherit
considerable, besides the farm. And it seems to me that I might justly,
in Martha's interest, ask for some such assurance."
If Alfred Barton's secret thought had been expressed in words, it would
have been: "Curse the old fool--he knows what the old man is, as well as
I do!" But he twisted a respectful hypocrisy out of his whisker, and
"Ye-e-es, that seems only fair. How am _I_ to get at it, though? I
daren't touch the subject with a ten-foot pole, and yet it stands both
to law and reason that I should come in for a handsome slice o' the
property. You might take it for granted, Doctor?"
"So I might, if _thy_ father would take for granted what _I_ might be
able to do. I can see, however, that it's hardly thy place to ask him;
that might be left to me."
This was an idea which had not occurred to Alfred Barton. A thrill of
greedy curiosity shot through his heart; he saw that, with Dr. Deane's
help, he might be able to ascertain the amount of the inheritance which
must so soon fall to him. This feeling, fed by the impatience of his
long subjection, took complete possession of him, and he resolved to
further his father's desires, without regard to present results.
"Yes, that might be left to me," the Doctor repeated, "after the other
matter is settled. Thee knows what I mean. Martha will have ten thousand
dollars in her own right, at twenty-five,--and sooner, if she marries
with my approbation. Now, thee or thy father must bring an equal sum;
that is understood between us--and I think thy father mentioned that
thee could do it without calling upon him. Is that the case?"
"Not quite--but, yes, very nearly. That is, the old man's been so close
with me, that I'm a little close with him, Doctor, you see! He doesn't
know exactly how much I have got, and as he threatens to leave me
according to what I've saved, why, I rather let him have his own way
about the matter."
A keen, shrewd smile flitted over the Doctor's face.
"But if it isn't quite altogether ten thousand, Doctor," Barton
continued, "I don't say but what it could be easily made up to that
figure. You and I could arrange all that between our two selves, without
consulting the old man,--and, indeed, it's not _his_ business, in any
way,--and so, you might go straight to the other matter at once."
"H'm," mused the Doctor, with his chin again upon his stick, "I should
perhaps be working in thy interest, as much as in mine. Then thee can
afford to come up fair and square to the mark. Of course, thee has all
the papers to show for thy own property?"
"I guess there'll be no trouble about that," Barton answered,
carelessly. "I lend on none but the best security. 'T will take a little
time--must go to Chester--so we needn't wait for that; 't will be all
"Oh, no doubt; but hasn't thee overlooked one thing?"
"That Martha should first know thy mind towards her."
It was true, he had overlooked that important fact, and the suggestion
came to him very like an attack of cramp. He laughed, however, took out
a red silk handkerchief, and tried to wipe a little eagerness into his
"No, Doctor!" he exclaimed, "not forgot, only keeping the best for the
last. I wasn't sure but you might want to speak to her yourself, first;
but she knows, doesn't she?"
"Not to my direct knowledge; and I wouldn't like to venture to speak in
"Then, I'll--that is, you think I'd better have a talk with her. A
little tough, at my time of life, ha! ha!--but faint heart never won
fair lady; and I hadn't thought of going that far to-day, though of
course, I'm anxious,--been in my thoughts so long,--and
"I'll tell thee," said the Doctor, seeming not to notice Barton's
visible embarrassment, which he found very natural; "do thee come up
again next First-day afternoon prepared to speak thy mind. I will give
Martha a hint of thy purpose beforehand, but only a hint, mind thee; the
girl has a smart head of her own, and thee'll come on faster with her if
thee pleads thy own cause with thy own mouth."
"Yes, I'll come then!" cried Barton, so relieved at his present escape
that his relief took the expression of joy. Dr. Deane was a fair judge
of character; he knew all of Alfred Barton's prominent traits, and
imagined that he was now reading him like an open book; but it was like
reading one of those Latin sentences which, to the ear, are made up of
English words. The signs were all correct, only they belonged to another
The heavy wooer shortly took his departure. While on the return path, he
caught sight of Miss Betsy Lavender's beaver, bobbing along behind the
pickets of the hill-fence, and, rather than encounter its wearer in his
present mood, he stole into the shelter of one of the cross-hedges, and
made his way into the timbered bottom below.
Little did Dr. Deane suspect the nature of the conversation which had
that morning been held in his daughter's room, between herself and Betsy
When the latter returned from her interview with Gilbert Potter, the
previous evening, she found the Doctor already arrived. Mark came home
at supper-time, and the evening was so prolonged by his rattling tongue
that no room was left for any confidential talk with Martha, although
Miss Betsy felt that something ought to be said, and it properly fell to
her lot to broach the delicate subject.
After breakfast on Sunday morning, therefore, she slipped up to Martha's
room, on the transparent pretence of looking again at a new dress, which
had been bought some days before. She held the stuff to the light,
turned it this way and that, and regarded it with an importance
altogether out of proportion to its value.
"It seems as if I couldn't git the color rightly set in my head," she
remarked; "'t a'n't quiet laylock, nor yit vi'let, and there ought, by
rights, to be quilled ribbon round the neck, though the Doctor might
consider it too gay; but never mind, he'd dress you in drab or slate if
he could, and I dunno, after all"--
"Betsy!" exclaimed Martha, with an impetuousness quite unusual to her
calm nature, "throw down the dress! Why won't you speak of what is in
your mind; don't you see I'm waiting for it?"
"You're right, child!" Miss Betsy cried, flinging the stuff to the
farthest corner of the room; "I'm an awkward old fool, with all my
exper'ence. Of course I seen it with half a wink; there! don't be so
trembly now. I know how you feel, Martha; you wouldn't think it, but I
do. I can tell the real signs from the passin' fancies, and if ever I
see true-love in my born days, I see it in you, child, and in _him."_
Martha's face glowed in spite of herself. The recollection of Gilbert's
embrace in the dusky glen came to her, already for the thousandth time,
but warmer, sweeter at each recurrence. She felt that her hand trembled
in that of the spinster, as they sat knee to knee, and that a tender dew
was creeping into her eyes; leaning forward, she laid her face a moment
on her friend's shoulder, and whispered,--
"It is all very new and strange, Betsy; but I am happy."
Miss Lavender did not answer immediately. With her hand on Martha's
soft, smooth hair, she was occupied in twisting her arm so that the
sleeve might catch and conceal two troublesome tears which were at that
moment trickling down her nose. Besides, she was not at all sure of her
voice, until something like a dry crust of bread in her throat had been
forcibly swallowed down.
Martha, however, presently lifted her head with a firm, courageous
expression, though the rosy flush still suffused her cheeks. "I'm not as
independent as people think," she said, "for I couldn't help myself when
the time came, and I seem to belong to him, ever since."
"Ever since. Of course you do!" remarked Miss Betsy, with her head down
and her hands busy at her high comb and thin twist of hair; "every
woman, savin' and exceptin' myself, and no fault o' mine, must play Jill
to somebody's Jack; it's man's way and the Lord's way, but worked out
with a mighty variety, though I say it, but why not, my eyes bein' as
good as anybody else's! Come now, you're lookin' again after your own
brave fashion; and so, you're sure o' your heart, Martha?"
"Betsy, my heart speaks once and for all," said Martha, with kindling
"Once and for all. I knowed it--and so the Lord help us! For here I
smell wagon-loads o' trouble; and if you weren't a girl to know her own
mind and stick to it, come weal, come woe, and he with a bull-dog's jaw
that'll never let go, and I mean no runnin' of him down, but on the
contrary, quite the reverse, I'd say to both, git over it somehow for it
won't be, and no matter if no use, it's my dooty,--well, it's t'other
way, and I've got to give a lift where I can, and pull this way, and
shove that way, and hold back everybody, maybe, and fit things to
things, and unfit other things,--Good Lord, child, you've made an awful
job for _me!"_
Therewith Miss Betsy laughed, with a dry, crisp, cheerfulness which
quite covered up and concealed her forebodings. Nothing pleased her
better than to see realized in life her own views of what ought to be,
and the possibility of becoming one of the shaping and regulating powers
to that end stirred her nature to its highest and most joyous activity.
Martha Deane, equally brave, was more sanguine. The joy of her expanding
love foretold its fulfilment to her heart. "I know, Betsy," she said,
"that father would not hear of it now; but we are both young and can
wait, at least until I come into my property--_ours,_ I ought to say,
for I think of it already as being as much Gilbert's as mine. What other
trouble can there be?"
"Is there none on his side, Martha?"
"His birth? Yes, there is--or was, though not to me--never to me! I am
so glad, for his sake,--but, Betsy, perhaps you do not know"--
"If there's anything I need to know, I'll find it out, soon or late.
He's worried, that I see, and no wonder, poor boy! But as you say,
there's time enough, and my single and solitary advice to both o' you,
is, don't look at one another before folks, if you can't keep your eyes
from blabbin'. Not a soul suspicions anything now, and if you two'll
only fix it betwixt and between you to keep quiet, and patient, and as
forbearin' in showin' feelin' as people that hate each other like
snakes, why, who knows but somethin' may turn up, all unexpected, to
make the way as smooth for ye as a pitch-pine plank!"
"Patient!" Martha murmured to herself. A bright smile broke over her
face, as she thought how sweet it would be to match, as best a woman
might, Gilbert's incomparable patience and energy of purpose. The tender
humility of her love, so beautifully interwoven with the texture of its
pride and courage, filled her heart with a balmy softness and peace. She
was already prepared to lay her firm, independent spirit at his feet, or
exercise it only as her new, eternal duty to him might require. Betsy
Lavender's warning could not ripple the bright surface of her happiness;
she knew that no one (hardly even Gilbert, as yet) suspected that in her
heart the love of a strong and faithful and noble man outweighed all
other gifts or consequences of life--that, to keep it, she would give up
home, friends, father, the conventional respect of every one she knew!
"Well, child!" exclaimed Miss Lavender, after a long lapse of silence;
"the words is said that can't be taken back, accordin' to _my_ views o'
things, though, Goodness knows, there's enough and enough thinks
different, and you must abide by 'em; and what I think of it all I'll
tell you when the end comes, not before, so don't ask me now; but one
thing more, there's another sort of a gust brewin', and goin' to break
soon, if ever, and that is, Alf. Barton,--though you won't believe
it,--he's after you in his stupid way, and your father favors him. And
my advice is, hold him off as much as you please, but say nothin' o'
This warning made no particular impression upon Martha. She playfully
tapped Miss Betsy's high comb, and said: "Now, if you are going to be so
much worried about me, I shall be sorry that you found it out."
"Well I won't!--and now let me hook your gownd."
Often, after that, however, did Martha detect Miss Betsy's eyes fixed
upon her with a look of wistful, tender interest, and she knew, though
the spinster would not say it, that the latter was alive with sympathy,
and happy in the new confidence between them. With each day, her own
passion grew and deepened, until it seemed that the true knowledge of
love came after its confession. A sweet, warm yearning for Gilbert's
presence took its permanent seat in her heart; not only his sterling
manly qualities, but his form, his face--the broad, square brow; the
large, sad, deep-set gray eyes; the firm, yet impassioned lips--haunted
her fancy. Slowly and almost unconsciously as her affection had been
developed, it now took the full stature and wore the radiant form of her
maiden dream of love.
If Dr. Deane noticed the physical bloom and grace which those days
brought to his daughter, he was utterly innocent of the true cause.
Perhaps he imagined that his own eyes were first fairly opened to her
beauty by the prospect of soon losing her. Certainly she had never
seemed more obedient and attractive. He had not forgotten his promise to
Alfred Barton; but no very convenient opportunity for speaking to her on
the subject occurred until the following Sunday morning. Mark was not at
home, and he rode with her to Old Kennett Meeting.
As they reached the top of the long hill beyond the creek, Martha reined
in her horse to enjoy the pleasant westward view over the fair September
landscape. The few houses of the village crowned the opposite hill; but
on this side the winding, wooded vale meandered away, to lose itself
among the swelling slopes of clover and stubble-field; and beyond, over
the blue level of Tuffkenamon, the oak-woods of Avondale slept on the
horizon. It was a landscape such as one may see, in a more cultured
form, on the road from Warwick to Stratford. Every one in Kennett
enjoyed the view, but none so much as Martha Deane, upon whom its
harmonious, pastoral aspect exercised an indescribable charm.
To the left, on the knoll below, rose the chimneys of the Barton
farm-house, over the round tops of the apple-trees, and in the nearest
field Mr. Alfred's Maryland cattle were fattening on the second growth
"A nice place, Martha!" said Dr. Deane, with a wave of his arm, and a
whiff of sweet herbs.
"Here, in this first field, is the true place for the house," she
answered, thinking only of the landscape beauty of the farm.
"Does thee mean so?" the Doctor eagerly asked, deliberating with himself
how much of his plan it was safe to reveal. "Thee may be right, and
perhaps thee might bring Alfred to thy way of thinking."
She laughed. "It's hardly worth the trouble."
"I've noticed, of late," her father continued, "that Alfred seems to set
a good deal of store by thee. He visits us pretty often."
"Why, father!" she exclaimed, as they, rode onward, "it's rather _thee_
that attracts him, and cattle, and crops, and the plans for catching
Sandy Flash! He looks frightened whenever I speak to him."
"A little nervous, perhaps. Young men are often so, in the company of
young women, I've observed."
Martha laughed so cheerily that her father said to himself: "Well, it
doesn't displease her, at any rate." On the other hand, is was possible
that she might have failed to see Barton in the light of a wooer, and
therefore a further hint would be required.
"Now that we happen to speak of him, Martha," he said, "I might as well
tell thee that, in my judgment, he seems to be drawn towards thee in the
way of marriage. He may be a little awkward in showing it, but that's a
common case. When he was at our house, last First-day, he spoke of thee
frequently, and said that he would like to--well, to see thee soon. I
believe he intends coming up this afternoon."
Martha became grave, as Betsy Lavender's warning took so suddenly a
positive form. However, she had thought of this contingency as a
possible thing, and must prepare herself to meet it with firmness.
"What does thee say?" the Doctor asked, after waiting a few minutes for
"Father, I hope thee's mistaken. Alfred Barton is not overstocked with
wit, I know, but he can hardly be that foolish. He is almost as old as
She spoke quietly, but with that tone of decision which Dr. Deane so
well knew. He set his teeth and drew up his under-lip to a grim pout. If
there was to be resistance, he thought, she would not find him so
yielding as on other points; but he would first try a middle course.
"Understand me, Martha," he said; "I do not mean to declare what Alfred
Barton's sentiments really are, but what, in my judgment, they _might_
be. And thee had better wait and learn, before setting thy mind either
for or against him: It's hardly putting much value upon thyself, to call
"It is a humiliation to me, if thee is right, father," she said.
"I don't see that. Many young women would be proud of it. I'll only say
one thing, Martha; if he seeks thee, and _does_ speak his mind, do thee
treat him kindly and respectfully."
"Have I ever treated thy friends otherwise?" she asked.
"My friends! thee's right--he _is_ my friend."
She made no reply, but her soul was already courageously arming itself