Part 6 out of 8
new loan in his own neighborhood, where the spirit of speculation had
not yet reached.
The advice was prudent and not unfriendly, although of a kind more easy
to give than to carry into execution. Mark's money-belt had been
restored, greatly against the will of the good-hearted fellow (who would
have cheerfully lent Gilbert the whole amount had he possessed it), and
there was enough grain yet to be threshed and sold, to yield something
more than a hundred dollars; but this was all which Gilbert could count
upon from his own resources. He might sell the wagon and one span of
horses, reducing by their value the sum which he would be obliged to
borrow; yet his hope of recovering the money in another year could only
be realized by retaining them, to continue, from time to time, his
occupation of hauling flour.
Although the sympathy felt for him was general and very hearty, it never
took the practical form of an offer of assistance, and he was far too
proud to accept that plan of relief which a farmer, whose barn had been
struck by lightning and consumed, had adopted, the previous year,--going
about the neighborhood with a subscription-list, and soliciting
contributions. His nearest friends were as poor as, or poorer than,
himself, and those able to aid him felt no call to tender their
Martha Deane knew of this approaching trouble, not from Gilbert's own
lips, for she had seen him but once and very briefly since his return
from the chase of Sandy Flash. It was her cousin Mark, who, having
entered into an alliance, offensive and defensive, with her lover,
betrayed (considering that the end sanctioned the means) the confidence
reposed in him.
The thought that her own coming fortune lay idle, while Gilbert might be
saved by the use of a twentieth part of it, gave Martha Deane no peace.
The whole belonged to him prospectively, yet would probably be of less
service when it should be legally her own to give, than the fragment
which now would lift him above anxiety and humiliation. The money had
been bequeathed to her by a maternal aunt, whose name she bore, and the
provisions by which the bequest was accompanied, so light and reasonable
be fore, now seemed harsh and unkind. The payment of the whole sum, or
any part of it, she saw, could not be anticipated. But she imagined
there must be a way to obtain a loan of the necessary amount, with the
bequest as security. With her ignorance of business matters, she felt
the need of counsel in this emergency; yet her father was her guardian,
and there seemed to be no one else to whom she could properly apply. Not
Gilbert, for she fancied he might reject the assistance she designed,
and therefore she meant to pay the debt before it became due, without
his knowledge; nor Mark, nor Farmer Fairthorn. Betsy Lavender, when
appealed to, shook her head, and remarked,--
"Lord bless you, child! a wuss snarl than ever. I'm gittin' a bit
skeary, when you talk o' law and money matters, and that's the fact. Not
that I find fault with your wishin' to do it, but the contrary, and
there might be ways, as you say, only I'm not lawyer enough to find 'em,
and as to advisin' where I don't see my way clear, Defend me from it!"
Thus thrown back upon herself, Martha was forced to take the alternative
which she would gladly have avoided, and from which, indeed, she hoped
nothing,--an appeal to her father. Gilbert Potter's name had not again
been mentioned between them. She, for her part, had striven to maintain
her usual gentle, cheerful demeanor, and it is probable that Dr. Deane
made a similar attempt; but he could not conceal a certain coldness and
stiffness, which made an uncomfortable atmosphere in their little
"Well, Betsy," Martha said (they were in her room, upstairs), "Father
has just come in from the stable, I see. Since there is no other way, I
will go down and ask his advice."
"You don't mean it, child!" cried the spinster.
Martha left the room, without answer.
"She's got _that_ from him, anyhow," Miss Betsy remarked, "and which o'
the two is stubbornest, I couldn't undertake to say. If he's dead-set on
the wrong side, why, she's jist as dead-set on the right side, and that
makes a mortal difference. I don't see why I should be all of a trimble,
that only sets here and waits, while she's stickin' her head into the
lion's mouth; but so it is! Isn't about time for _you_ to be doin'
somethin', Betsy Lavender!"
Martha Deane entered the front sitting-room with a grave, deliberate
step. The Doctor sat at his desk, with a pair of heavy silver-rimmed
spectacles on his nose, looking over an antiquated "Materia Medica." His
upper lip seemed to have become harder and thinner, at the expense of
the under one, which pouted in a way that expressed vexation and
ill-temper. He was, in fact, more annoyed than he would have confessed
to any human being. Alfred Barton's visits had discontinued, and he
could easily guess the reason. Moreover, a suspicion of Gilbert Potter's
relation to his daughter was slowly beginning to permeate the
neighborhood; and more than once, within the last few days, all his
peculiar diplomacy had been required to parry a direct question. He
foresaw that the subject would soon come to the notice of his elder
brethren among the Friends, who felt self-privileged to rebuke and
remonstrate, even in family matters of so delicate a nature.
It was useless, the Doctor knew, to attempt coercion with Martha. If any
measure could succeed in averting the threatened shame, it must be
kindly persuasion, coupled with a calm, dispassionate appeal to her
understanding. The quiet, gentle way in which she had met his anger, he
now saw, had left the advantage of the first encounter on her side. His
male nature and long habit of rule made an equal self-control very
difficult, on his part, and he resolved to postpone a recurrence to the
subject until he should feel able to meet his daughter with her own
weapons. Probably some reflection of the kind then occupied his mind, in
spite of the "Materia Medica" before him.
"Father," said Martha, seating herself with a bit of sewing in her hand,
"I want to ask thee a few questions about business matters."
The Doctor looked at her. "Well, thee's taking a new turn," he remarked.
"Is it anything very important?"
"Very important," she answered; "it's about my own fortune."
"I thought thee understood, Martha, that that matter was all fixed and
settled, until thee's twenty-five, unless--unless"--
Here the Doctor hesitated. He did not wish to introduce the sore subject
of his daughter's marriage.
"I know what thee means, father. Unless I should sooner marry, with thy
consent. But I do not expect to marry now, and therefore do not ask thy
permission. What I want to know is, whether I could not obtain a loan of
a small sum of money, on the security of the legacy?"
"That depends on circumstances," said the Doctor, slowly, and after a
long pause, during which he endeavored to guess his daughter's design.
"It might be,--yes, it might be; but, Martha, surely thee doesn't want
for money? Why should thee borrow?"
"Couldn't thee suppose, father, that I need it for some good purpose?
I've always had plenty, it is true; but I don't think thee can say I
ever squandered it foolishly or thoughtlessly. This is a case where I
wish to make an investment,--a permanent investment."
"Ah, indeed? I always fancied thee cared less for money than a prudent
woman ought. How much might this investment be?"
"About six hundred dollars," she answered.
"Six hundred!" exclaimed the Doctor; "that's a large sum to venture, a
large sum! Since thee can only raise it with my help, thee'll certainly
admit my right, as thy legal guardian, if not as thy father, to ask
where, how, and on what security the money will be invested?"
Martha hesitated only long enough to reflect that her father's assertion
was probably true, and without his aid she could do nothing. "Father,"
she then said, "_I_ am the security."
"I don't understand thee, child."
"I mean that my whole legacy will be responsible to the lender for its
repayment in three years from this time. The security _I_ ask, I have in
advance; it is the happiness of my life!"
"Martha! thee doesn't mean to say that thee would"--
Dr. Deane could get no further. Martha, with a sorrowful half-smile,
took up his word.
"Yes, father, I would. Lest thee should not have understood me right, I
repeat that I would, and will, lift the mortgage on Gilbert Potter's
farm. He has been very unfortunate, and there is a call for help which
nobody heeds as he deserves. If I give it now, I simply give a part in
advance. The whole will be given afterwards."
Dr. Deane's face grew white, and his lip trembled, in spite of himself.
It was a minute or two before he ventured to say, in a tolerably steady
"Thee still sets up thy right (as thee calls it) against mine, but mine
is older built and will stand. To help thee to this money would only be
to encourage thy wicked fancy for the man. Of course, I can't do it; I
wonder thee should expect it of me. I wonder, indeed, thee should think
of taking as a husband one who borrows money of thee almost as soon as
he has spoken his mind!"
For an instant Martha Deane's eyes flashed. "Father!" she cried, "it is
not so! Gilbert doesn't even know my desire to help him. I must ask this
of thee, to speak no evil of him in my hearing. It would only give me
unnecessary pain, not shake my faith in his honesty and goodness. I see
thee will not assist me, and so I must endeavor to find whether the
thing cannot be done without thy assistance. In three years more the
legacy will be mine, I shall go to Chester, and consult a lawyer,
whether my own note for that time could not be accepted!"
"I can spare thee the trouble," the Doctor said. "In case of thy death
before the three years are out, who is to pay the note? Half the money
falls to me, and half to thy uncle Richard. Thy aunt Martha was wise. It
truly seems as if she had foreseen just what has happened, and meant to
baulk thy present rashness. Thee may go to Chester, and welcome, if thee
doubts my word; but unless thee can give positive assurance that thee
will be alive in three years' time, I don't know of any one foolish
enough to advance thee money."
The Doctor's words were cruel enough; he might have spared his
triumphant, mocking smile. Martha's heart sank within her, as she
recognized her utter helplessness. Not yet, however, would she give up
the sweet hope of bringing aid; for Gilbert's sake she would make
"I won't charge thee, father, with being intentionally unkind. It would
almost seem, from thy words, that thee is rather glad than otherwise,
because my life is uncertain. If I _should_ die, would thee not care
enough for my memory to pay a debt, the incurring of which brought me
peace and happiness during life? _Then_, surely, thee would forgive; thy
heart is not so hard as thee would have me believe; thee wishes me
happiness, I cannot doubt, but thinks it will come in _thy_ way, not in
mine. Is it not possible to grant me this--only this--and leave
everything else to time?"
Dr. Deane was touched and softened by his daughter's words. Perhaps he
might even have yielded to her entreaty at once, had not a harsh and
selfish condition presented itself in a very tempting form to his mind.
"Martha," he said, "I fancy that thee looks upon this matter of the loan
in the light of a duty, and will allow that thy motives may be weighty
to thy own mind. I ask thee to calm thyself, and consider things
clearly. If I grant thy request, I do so against my own judgment,
yea,--since it concerns thy interests,--against my own conscience. This
is not a thing to be lightly done, and if I should yield, I might
reasonably expect some little sacrifice of present inclination--yet all
for thy future good--on thy part. I would cheerfully borrow the six
hundred dollars for thee, or make it up from my own means, if need be,
to know that the prospect of thy disgrace was averted. Thee sees no
disgrace, I am aware, and pity that it is so; but if thy feeling for the
young man is entirely pure and unselfish, it should be enough to know
that thee had saved him from ruin, without considering thyself bound to
him for life."
The Doctor sharply watched his daughter's face while he spoke. She
looked up, at first, with an eager, wondering light of hope in her
eyes,--a light that soon died away, and gave place to a cloudy, troubled
expression. Then the blood rose to her cheeks, and her lips assumed the
clear, firm curve which always reflected the decisions of her mind.
"Father," she said, "I see thee has learned how to tempt, as well as
threaten. For the sake of doing a present good, thee would have me bind
myself to do a life-long injustice. Thee would have me take an external
duty to balance a violation of the most sacred conscience of my heart.
How little thee knows me! It is not alone that I am necessary to Gilbert
Potter's happiness, but also that he is necessary to mine. Perhaps it is
the will of Heaven that so great a bounty should not come to me too
easily, and I must bear, without murmuring, that my own father is set
against me. Thee may try me, if thee desires, for the coming three
years, but I can tell thee as well, now, what the end will be. Why not
rather tempt me by offering the money Gilbert needs, on the condition of
my giving up the rest of the legacy to thee? That would be a temptation,
"No!" he exclaimed, with rising exasperation, "if thee has hardened thy
heart against all my counsels for thy good, I will at least keep my own
conscience free. I will not help thee by so much as the moving of a
finger. All I can do is, to pray that thy stubborn mind may be bent, and
gradually led back to the Light!"
He put away the book, took his cane and broad-brimmed hat, and turned to
leave the room. Martha rose, with a sad but resolute face, and went
up-stairs to her chamber.
Miss Betsy Lavender, when she learned all that had been said, on both
sides, was thrown into a state of great agitation and perplexity of
mind. She stared at Martha Deane, without seeming to see her, and
muttered from time to time such fragmentary phrases as,--"If I was
right-down sure," or, "It'd only be another weepon tried and throwed
away, at the wust."
"What are you thinking of, Betsy?" Martha finally asked.
"Thinkin' of? Well, I can't rightly tell you. It's a bit o' knowledge
that come in my way, once't upon a time, never meanin' to make use of it
in all my born days, and I wouldn't now, only for your two sakes; not
that it concerns you a mite; but never mind, there's ten thousand ways
o' workin' on men's minds, and I can't do no more than try my way."
Thereupon Miss Lavender arose, and would have descended to the encounter
at once, had not Martha wisely entreated her to wait a day or two, until
the irritation arising from her own interview had had time to subside in
her father's mind.
"It's puttin' me on nettles, now that I mean fast and firm to do it; but
you're quite right, Martha," the spinster said.
Three or four days afterwards she judged the proper time had arrived,
and boldly entered the Doctor's awful presence. "Doctor," she began,
"I've come to have a little talk, and it's no use beatin' about the
bush, plainness o' speech bein' one o' my ways; not that folks always
thinks it a virtue, but oftentimes the contrary, and so may you, maybe;
but when there's a worry in a house, it's better, whatsoever and
whosoever, to have it come to a head than go on achin' and achin', like
a blind bile!"
"H'm," snorted the Doctor, "I see what thee's driving at, and I may as
well tell thee at once, that if thee comes to me from Martha, I've heard
enough from her, and more than enough."
"More 'n enough," repeated Miss Lavender. "But you're wrong. I come
neither from Martha, nor yet from Gilbert Potter; but I've been thinkin'
that you and me, bein' old,--in a measure, that is,--and not so direckly
concerned, might talk the thing over betwixt and between us, and maybe
come to a better understandin' for both sides."
Dr. Deane was not altogether disinclined to accept this proposition.
Although Miss Lavender sometimes annoyed him, as she rightly
conjectured, by her plainness of speech, he had great respect for her
shrewdness and her practical wisdom. If he could but even partially win
her to his views, she would be a most valuable ally.
"Then say thy say, Betsy," he assented.
"Thy say, Betsy. Well, first and foremost, I guess we may look upon Alf.
Barton's courtin' o' Martha as broke off for good, the fact bein' that
he never wanted to have her, as he's told me since with his own mouth."
"What?" Dr. Deane exclaimed.
"With his own mouth." Miss Lavender repeated. "And as to his reasons for
lettin' on, I don't know 'em. Maybe you can guess 'em, as you seem to
ha' had everything cut and dried betwixt and between you; but that's
neither here nor there--Alf. Barton bein' out o' the way, why, the
coast's clear, and so Gilbert's case is to be considered by itself; and
let's come to the p'int, namely, what you've got ag'in him?"
"I wonder thee can ask, Betsy! He's poor, he's base-born, without
position or influence in the neighborhood,--in no way a husband for
Martha Deane! If her head's turned because he has been robbed, and
marvellously saved, and talked about, I suppose I must wait till she
comes to her right senses."
"I rather expect," Miss Lavender gravely remarked, "that they were
bespoke before all that happened, and it's not a case o' suddent fancy,
but somethin' bred in the bone and not to be cured by plasters. We won't
talk o' that now, but come back to Gilbert Potter, and I dunno as you're
quite right in any way about his bein's and doin's. With that farm o'
his'n, he can't be called poor, and I shouldn't wonder, though I can't
give no proofs, but never mind, wait awhile and you'll see, that he's
not base-born, after all; and as for respect in the neighborhood,
there's not a man more respected nor looked up to,--so the last p'int's
settled, and we'll take the t' other two; and I s'pose you mean his farm
"Thee's right," Dr. Deane said. "As Martha's guardian, I am bound to
watch over her interests, and every prudent man will agree with me that
her husband ought at least to be as well off as herself."
"Well, all I've got to say, is, it's lucky for you that Naomi Blake
didn't think as you do, when she married you. What's sass for the goose
ought to be sass for the gander (meanin' you and Gilbert), and every
prudent man will agree with me."
This was a home-thrust, which Dr. Deane was not able to parry. Miss
Lavender had full knowledge whereof she affirmed, and the Doctor knew
"I admit that there might be other advantages," he said, rather
pompously, covering his annoyance with a pinch of snuff,--"advantages
which partly balance the want of property. Perhaps Naomi Blake thought
so too. But here, I think, it would be hard for thee to find such. Or
does thee mean that the man's disgraceful birth is a recommendation?"
"Recommendation? No!" Miss Lavender curtly replied.
"We need go no further, then. Admitting thee's right in all other
respects, here is cause enough for me. I put it to thee, as a sensible
woman, whether I would not cover both myself and Martha with shame, by
allowing her marriage with Gilbert Potter?"
Miss Lavender sat silently in her chair and appeared to meditate.
"Thee doesn't answer," the Doctor remarked, after a pause.
"I dunno how it come about," she said, lifting her head and fixing her
dull eyes on vacancy; "I was thinkin' o' the time I was up at Strasburg,
while your brother was livin', more 'n twenty year ago."
With all his habitual self-control and gravity of deportment, Dr. Deane
could not repress a violent start of surprise. He darted a keen, fierce
glance at Miss Betsy's face, but she was staring at the opposite wall,
apparently unconscious of the effect of her words.
"I don't see what that has to do with Gilbert Potter," he presently
said, collecting himself with an effort.
"Nor I, neither," Miss Lavender absently replied, "only it happened that
I knowed Eliza Little,--her that used to live at the Gap, you know,--and
just afore she died, that fall the fever was so bad, and I nussin' her,
and not another soul awake in the house, she told me a secret about your
brother's boy, and I must say few men would ha' acted as Henry done, and
there's more 'n one mighty beholden to him."
Dr. Deane stretched out his hand as if he would close her mouth. His
face was like fire, and a wild expression of fear and pain shot from his
"Betsy Lavender," he said, in a hollow voice, "thee is a terrible woman.
Thee forces even the secrets of the dying from them, and brings up
knowledge that should be hidden forever. What can all this avail thee?
Why does thee threaten me with appearances, that cannot now be
explained, all the witnesses being dead?"
"Witnesses bein' dead," she repeated. "Are you sorry for that?"
He stared at her in silent consternation.
"Doctor," she said, turning towards him for the first time, "there's no
livin' soul that knows, except you and me, and if I seem hard, I'm no
harder than the knowledge in your own heart. What's the difference, in
the sight o' the Lord, between the one that has a bad name and the one
that has a good name? Come, you set yourself up for a Chris'en, and so I
ask you whether you're the one that ought to fling the first stone;
whether repentance--and there's that, of course, for you a'n't a nateral
bad man, Doctor, but rather the contrary--oughtn't to be showed in
deeds, to be wuth much! You're set ag'in Martha, and your pride's
touched, which I can't say as I wonder at, all folks havin' pride, me
among the rest, not that I've much to be proud of, Goodness knows; but
never mind, don't you talk about Gilbert Potter in that style, leastways
During this speech, Dr. Deane had time to reflect. Although aghast at
the unexpected revelation, he had not wholly lost his cunning. It was
easy to perceive what Miss Lavender intended to do with the weapon in
her hands, and his aim was to render it powerless.
"Betsy," he said, "there's one thing thee won't deny,--that, if there
was a fault, (which I don't allow), it has been expiated. To make known
thy suspicions would bring sorrow and trouble upon two persons for whom
thee professes to feel some attachment; if thee could prove what thee
thinks, it would be a still greater misfortune for them than for me.
They are young, and my time is nearly spent. We all have serious burdens
which we must bear alone, and thee mustn't forget that the same
consideration for the opinion of men which keeps thee silent, keeps me
from consenting to Martha's marriage with Gilbert Potter. We are bound
"We're not!" she cried, rising from her seat. "But I see it's no use to
talk any more, now. Perhaps since you know that there's a window in you,
and me lookin' in, you'll try and keep th' inside o' your house in
better order. Whether I'll act accordin' to my knowledge or not, depends
on how things turns out, and so sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof, or however it goes!"
With these words she left the room, though foiled, not entirely
"It's like buttin' over an old stone-wall," she said to Martha. "The
first hit with a rammer seems to come back onto you, and jars y'r own
bones, and may be the next, and the next; and then little stones git out
o' place, and then the wall shakes, and comes down,--and so we've been
a-doin'. I guess I made a crack to-day, but we'll see."
THE LAST OF SANDY FLASH.
The winter crept on, February was drawing to a close, and still Gilbert
Potter had not ascertained whence the money was to be drawn which would
relieve him from embarrassment. The few applications he had made were
failures; some of the persons really had no money to invest, and others
were too cautious to trust a man who, as everybody knew, had been
unfortunate. In five weeks more the sum must be made up, or the mortgage
would be foreclosed.
Both Mary Potter and her son, in this emergency, seemed to have adopted,
by accident or sympathy, the same policy towards each other,--to cheer
and encourage, in every possible way. Gilbert carefully concealed his
humiliation, on returning home from an unsuccessful appeal for a loan,
and his mother veiled her renewed sinking of the heart, as she heard of
his failure, under a cheerful hope of final success, which she did not
feel. Both had, in fact, one great consolation to fall back upon,--she
that he had been mercifully saved to her, he that he was beloved by a
All the grain that could be spared and sold placed but little more than
a hundred dollars in Gilbert's hands, and he began seriously to consider
whether he should not be obliged to sell his wagon and team. He had been
offered a hundred and fifty dollars, (a very large sum, in those days,)
for Roger, but he would as soon have sold his own right arm. Not even to
save the farm would he have parted with the faithful animal. Mark Deane
persisted in increasing his seventy-five dollars to a hundred, and
forcing the loan upon his friend; so one third of the amount was secure,
and there was still hope for the rest.
It is not precisely true that there had been no offer of assistance.
There was _one_, which Gilbert half-suspected had been instigated by
Betsy Lavender. On a Saturday afternoon, as he visited Kennett Square to
have Roger's fore-feet shod, he encountered Alfred Barton at the
blacksmith's shop, on the same errand.
"The man I wanted to see!" cried the latter, as Gilbert dismounted.
"Ferris was in Chester last week, and he saw Chaffey, the constable, you
know, that helped catch Sandy; and Chaffey told him he was sure, from
something Sandy let fall, that Deb. Smith had betrayed him out of
revenge, because he robbed you. I want to know how it all hangs
Gilbert suddenly recalled Deb. Smith's words, on the day after his
escape from the inundation, and a suspicion of the truth entered his
mind for the first time.
"It must have been so!" he exclaimed. "She has been a better friend to
me than many people of better name."
Barton noticed the bitterness of the remark, and possibly drew his own
inference from it. He looked annoyed for a moment, but presently
beckoned Gilbert to one side, and said,--
"I don't know whether you've given up your foolish suspicions about me
and Sandy; but the trial comes off next week, and you'll have to be
there as a witness, of course, and can satisfy yourself, if you please,
that my explanation was nothing but the truth. I've not felt so jolly in
twenty years, as when I heard that the fellow was really in the jug!"
"I told you I believed your words," Gilbert answered, "and that settles
the matter. Perhaps I shall find out how Sandy learned what you said to
me that evening, on the back-porch of the Unicorn, and if so, I am bound
to let you know it."
"See here, Gilbert!" Barton resumed. "Folks say you must borrow the
money you lost, or the mortgage on your farm will be foreclosed. Is that
so? and how much money might it be, altogether, if you don't mind
"Not so much, if those who have it to lend, had a little faith in
me,--some four or five hundred dollars."
"That ought to be got, without trouble," said Barton. "If I had it by
me, I'd lend it to you in a minute; but you know I borrowed from Ferris
myself, and all o' my own is so tied up that I couldn't move it without
the old man getting on my track. I'll tell you what I'll do, though;
I'll indorse your note for a year, if it can be kept a matter between
ourselves and the lender. On account of the old man, you understand."
The offer was evidently made in good faith, and Gilbert hesitated,
reluctant to accept it, and yet unwilling to reject it in a manner that
might seem unfriendly.
"Barton," he said at last, "I've never yet failed to meet a money
obligation. All my debts, except this last, have been paid on the day I
promised, and it seems a little hard that my own name, alone, shouldn't
be good for as much as I need. Old Fairthorn would give me his
indorsement, but I won't ask for it; and I mean no offence when I say
that I'd rather get along without yours, if I can. It's kind in you to
make the offer, and to show that I'm not ungrateful, I'll beg you to
look round among your rich friends and help me to find the loan."
"You're a mighty independent, fellow, Gilbert, but I can't say as I
blame you for it. Yes, I'll look round in a few days, and maybe I'll
stumble on the right man by the time I see you again."
When Gilbert returned home, he communicated this slight prospect of
relief to his mother. "Perhaps I am a little too proud," he said; "but
you've always taught me, mother, to be beholden to no man, if I could
help it; and I should feel more uneasy under an obligation to Barton
than to most other men. You know I must go to Chester in a few days, and
must wait till I'm called to testify. There will then be time to look
around, and perhaps Mr. Trainer may help me yet."
"You're right, boy!" Mary Potter cried, with flashing eyes. "Keep your
pride; it's not of the mean kind! Don't ask for or take any man's
Two days before the time when Gilbert was summoned to Chester, Deb.
Smith made her appearance at the farm. She entered the barn early one
morning, with a bundle in her hand, and dispatched Sam, whom she found
in the stables, to summon his master. She looked old, weather-beaten,
and haggard, and her defiant show of strength was gone.
In betraying Sandy Flash into the hands of justice, she had acted from a
fierce impulse, without reflecting upon the inevitable consequences of
the step. Perhaps she did not suspect that she was also betraying
herself, and more than confirming all the worst rumors in regard to her
character. In the universal execration which followed the knowledge of
her lawless connection with Sandy Flash, and her presumed complicity in
his crimes, the merit of her service to the county was lost. The popular
mind, knowing nothing of her temptations, struggles, and sufferings, was
harsh, cold, and cruel, and she felt the weight of its verdict as never
before. A few persons of her own ignorant class, who admired her
strength and courage in their coarse way, advised her to hide until the
first fury of the storm should be blown over. Thus she exaggerated the
danger, and even felt uncertain of her reception by the very man for
whose sake she had done the deed and accepted the curse.
Gilbert, however, when he saw her worn, anxious face, the eyes, like
those of a dumb animal, lifted to his with an appeal which she knew not
how to speak, felt a pang of compassionate sympathy.
"Deborah!" he said, "you don't look well; come into the house and warm
"No!" she cried, "I won't darken your door till you've heerd what I've
got to say. Go 'way, Sam; I want to speak to Mr. Gilbert, alone."
Gilbert made a sign, and Sam sprang down the ladder, to the stables
under the threshing-floor.
"Mayhap you've heerd already," she said. "A blotch on a body's name
spreads fast and far. Mine was black enough before, God knows, but
they've blackened it more."
"If all I hear is true," Gilbert exclaimed, "you've blackened it for my
sake, Deborah. I'm afraid you thought I blamed you, in some way, for not
preventing my loss; but I'm sure you did what you could to save me from
"Ay, lad, that I did! But the devil seemed to ha' got into him. Awful
words passed between us, and then--the devil got into _me_, and--you
know what follered. He wouldn't believe the money was your'n, or I don't
think he'd ha' took it; he wasn't a bad man at heart, Sandy wasn't, only
stubborn at the wrong times, and brung it onto himself by that. But you
know what folks says about me?"
"I don't care what they say, Deborah!" Gilbert cried. "I know that you
are a true and faithful friend to me, and I've not had so many such in
my life that I'm likely to forget what you've tried to do!"
Her hard, melancholy face became at once eager and tender. She stepped
forward, put her hand on Gilbert's arm, and said, in a hoarse, earnest,
"Then maybe you'll take it? I was almost afeard to ax you,--I thought
you might push me away, like the rest of 'em; but you'll take it, and
that'll seem like a liftin' of the curse! You won't mind how it was got,
will you? I had to git it in that way, because no other was left to me!"
"What do you mean, Deborah?"
"The money, Mr. Gilbert! They allowed me half, though the constables was
for thirds, but the Judge said I'd arned the full half,--God knows, ten
thousand times wouldn't pay me!--and I've got it here, tied up safe.
It's your'n, you know, and maybe there a'n't quite enough, but as fur as
it goes; and I'll work out the amount o' the rest, from time to time, if
you'll let me come onto your place!"
Gilbert was powerfully and yet painfully moved. He forgot his
detestation of the relation in which Deb. Smith had stood to the
highwayman, in his gratitude for her devotion to himself. He felt an
invincible repugnance towards accepting her share of the reward, even as
a loan; it was "blood-money," and to touch it in any way was to be
stained with its color; yet how should he put aside her kindness without
inflicting pain upon her rude nature, made sensitive at last by abuse,
persecution, and remorse?
His face spoke in advance of his lips, and she read its language with
"Ah!" she cried, "I mistrusted how it'd be; you don't want to say it
right out, but I'll say it for you! You think the money'd bring you no
luck,--maybe a downright curse,--and how can I say it won't? Ha'n't it
cursed me? Sandy said it would, even as your'n follered him. What's it
good for, then? It burns my hands, and them that's clean, won't touch
it. There, you damned devil's-bait,--my arm's sore, and my heart's sore,
wi' the weight o' you!"
With these words she flung the cloth, with its bunch of hard silver
coins, upon the threshing-floor. It clashed like the sound of chains.
Gilbert saw that she was sorely hurt. Tears of disappointment, which she
vainly strove to hold back, rose to her eyes, as she grimly folded her
arms, and facing him, said,--
"Now, what am I to do?"
"Stay here for the present, Deborah," he answered.
"Eh? A'n't I summonsed? The job I undertook isn't done yet; the wust
part's to come! Maybe they'll let me off from puttin' the rope round his
neck, but I a'n't sure o' that!"
"Then come to me afterwards," he said, gently, striving to allay her
fierce, self-accusing mood. "Remember that you always have a home and a
shelter with me, whenever you need them. And I'll take your money," he
added, picking it up from the floor,--"take it in trust for you, until
the time shall come when you will be willing to use it. Now go in to my
The woman was softened and consoled by his words. But she still
"Maybe she won't--she won't"--
"She will!" Gilbert exclaimed. "But if you doubt, wait here until I come
Mary Potter earnestly approved of his decision, to take charge of the
money, without making use of it. A strong, semi-superstitious influence
had so entwined itself with her fate, that she even shrank from help,
unless it came in an obviously pure and honorable form. She measured the
fulness of her coming justification by the strict integrity of the means
whereby she sought to deserve it. Deb. Smith, in her new light, was no
welcome guest, and with all her coarse male strength, she was still
woman enough to guess the fact; but Mary Potter resolved to think only
that her son had been served and befriended. Keeping that service
steadily before her eyes, she was able to take the outcast's hand, to
give her shelter and food, and, better still, to soothe her with that
sweet, unobtrusive consolation which only a woman can bestow,--which
steals by avenues of benevolent cunning into a nature that would repel a
direct expression of sympathy.
The next morning, however, Deb. Smith left the house, saying to
Gilbert,--"You won't see me ag'in, without it may be in Court, till
after all's over; and then I may have to ask you to hide me for awhile.
Don't mind what I've said; I've no larnin', and can't always make out
the rights o' things,--and sometimes it seems there's two Sandys, a good
'un and a bad 'un, and meanin' to punish one, I've ruined 'em both!"
When Gilbert reached Chester, the trial was just about to commence. The
little old town on the Delaware was crowded with curious strangers, not
only from all parts of the county, but even from Philadelphia and the
opposite New-Jersey shore. Every one who had been summoned to testify
was beset by an inquisitive circle, and none more so than himself. The
Court-house was packed to suffocation; and the Sheriff, heavily armed,
could with difficulty force a way through the mass. When the clanking of
the prisoner's irons was heard, all the pushing, struggling, murmuring
sounds ceased until the redoubtable highwayman stood in the dock.
He looked around the Court-room with his usual defiant air, and no one
observed any change of expression, as his eyes passed rapidly over Deb.
Smith's face, or Gilbert Potter's. His hard red complexion was already
beginning to fade in confinement, and his thick hair, formerly
close-cropped for the convenience of disguises, had grown out in not
ungraceful locks. He was decidedly a handsome man, and his bearing
seemed to show that he was conscious of the fact.
The trial commenced. To the astonishment of all, and, as it was
afterwards reported, against the advice of his counsel, the prisoner
plead guilty to some of the specifications of the indictment, while he
denied others. The Collectors whom he had plundered were then called to
the witness-stand, but the public seemed to manifest less interest in
the loss of its own money, than in the few cases where private
individuals had suffered, and waited impatiently for the latter.
Deb. Smith had so long borne the curious gaze of hundreds of eyes,
whenever she lifted her head, that when her turn came, she was able to
rise and walk forward without betraying any emotion. Only when she was
confronted with Sandy Flash, and he met her with a wonderfully strange,
serious smile, did she shudder for a moment and hastily turn away. She
gave her testimony in a hard, firm voice, making her statements as brief
as possible, and volunteering nothing beyond what was demanded.
On being dismissed from the stand, she appeared to hesitate. Her eyes
wandered over the faces of the lawyers, the judges, and the jurymen, as
if with a dumb appeal, but she did not speak. Then she turned towards
the prisoner, and some words passed between them, which, in the general
movement of curiosity, were only heard by the two or three persons who
"Sandy!" she was reported to have said, "I couldn't help myself; take
the curse off o' me!"
"Deb., it's too late," he answered. "It's begun to work, and it'll work
Gilbert noticed the feeling of hostility with which Deb. Smith was
regarded by the spectators,--a feeling that threatened to manifest
itself in some violent way, when the restraints of the place should be
removed. He therefore took advantage of the great interest with which
his own testimony was heard, to present her character in the light which
her services to him shed upon it. This was a new phase of the story, and
produced a general movement of surprise. Sandy Flash, it was noticed,
sitting with his fettered hands upon the rail before him, leaned forward
and listened intently, while an unusual flush deepened upon his cheeks.
The statements, though not strictly in evidence, were permitted by the
Court, and they produced the effect which Gilbert intended. The
excitement reached its height when Deb. Smith, ignorant of rule,
suddenly rose and cried out,--
"It's true as Gospel, every word of it! Sandy, do you hear?"
She was removed by the constable, but the people, as they made way,
uttered no word of threat or insult. On the contrary, many eyes rested
on her hard, violent, wretched face with an expression of very genuine
The trial took its course, and terminated with the result which
everybody--even the prisoner himself--knew to be inevitable. He was
pronounced guilty, and duly sentenced to be hanged by the neck until he
Gilbert employed the time which he could spare from his attendance at
the Court, in endeavoring to make a new loan, but with no positive
success. The most he accomplished was an agreement, on the part of his
creditor, that the foreclosure might be delayed two or three weeks,
provided there was a good prospect of the money being obtained. In
ordinary times he would have had no difficulty; but, as Mr. Trainer had
written, the speculation in western lands had seized upon capitalists,
and the amount of money for permanent investment was already greatly
He was preparing to return home, when Chaffey, the constable, came to
him with a message from Sandy Flash. The latter begged for an interview,
and both Judge and Sheriff were anxious that Gilbert should comply with
his wishes, in the hope that a full and complete confession might be
obtained. It was evident that the highwayman had accomplices, but he
steadfastly refused to name them, even with the prospect of having his
sentence commuted to imprisonment for life.
Gilbert did not hesitate a moment. There were doubts of his own to be
solved,--questions to be asked, which Sandy Flash could alone answer.
He followed the constable to the gloomy, high-walled jail-building, and
was promptly admitted by the Sheriff into the low, dark, heavily barred
cell, wherein the prisoner sat upon a wooden stool, the links of his
leg-fetters passed through a ring in the floor.
Sandy Flash lifted his face to the light, and grinned, but not with his
old, mocking expression. He stretched out his hand which Gilbert
took,--hard and cold as the rattling chain at his wrist. Then, seating
himself with a clash upon the floor, he pushed the stool towards his
visitor, and said,--
"Set down, Potter. Limited accommodations, you see. Sheriff, you needn't
wait; it's private business."
The Sheriff locked the iron door behind him, and they were alone.
"Potter," the highwayman began, "you see I'm trapped and done for, and
all, it seems, on account o' that little affair o' your'n. You won't
think it means much, now, when I say I was in the wrong there; but I
swear I was! I had no particular spite ag'in Barton, but he's a swell,
and I like to take such fellows down; and I was dead sure you were
carryin' his money, as you promised to."
"Tell me one thing," Gilbert interrupted; "how did you know I promised
to take money for him?"
"I knowed it, that's enough; I can give you, word for word, what both o'
you said, if you doubt me."
"Then, as I thought, it was Barton himself!" Gilbert cried.
Sandy Flash burst into a roaring laugh. "_Him!_ Ah-ha! you think we go
snacks, eh? Do I look like a fool? Barton'd give his eye-teeth to put
the halter round my neck with his own hands! No, no, young man; I have
ways and ways o' learnin' things that you nor him'll never guess."
His manner, even more than his words, convinced Gilbert Barton was
absolved, but the mystery remained. "You won't deny that you have
friends?" he said.
"Maybe," Sandy replied, in a short, rough tone. "That's nothin' to you,"
he continued; "but what I've got to say is, whether or no you're a
friend to Deb., she thinks you are. Do you mean to look after her,
once't in a while, or are you one o' them that forgits a good turn?"
"I have told her," said Gilbert, "that she shall always have a home and
a shelter in my house. If it's any satisfaction to you, here's my hand
"I believe you, Potter. Deb.'s done ill by me; she shouldn't ha' bullied
me when I was sore and tetchy, and fagged out with _your_ curst huntin'
of me up and down! But I'll do that much for her and for you. Here; bend
your head down; I've got to whisper."
Gilbert leaned his ear to the highwayman's mouth.
"You'll only tell _her,_ you understand?"
"Say to her these words,--don't forgit a single one of 'em!--Thirty
steps from the place she knowed about, behind the two big
chestnut-trees, goin' towards the first cedar, and a forked sassyfrack
growin' right over it. What she finds, is your'n."
"Sandy!" Gilbert exclaimed, starting from his listening posture.
"Hush, I say! You know what I mean her to do,--give you your money back.
I took a curse with it, as you said. Maybe that's off o' me, now!"
"It is!" said Gilbert, in a low tone, "and forgiveness--mine and my
mother's--in the place of it. Have you any"--he hesitated to say the
words--"any last messages, to her or anybody else, or anything you would
like to have done?"
"Thank ye, no!--unless Deb. can find my black hair and whiskers. Then
you may give 'em to Barton, with my dutiful service."
He laughed at the idea, until his chains rattled.
Gilbert's mind was haunted with the other and darker doubt, and he
resolved, in this last interview, to secure himself against its
recurrence. In such an hour he could trust the prisoner's words.
"Sandy," he asked, "have you any children?"
"Not to my knowledge; and I'm glad of it."
"You must know," Gilbert continued, "what the people say about my birth.
My mother is bound from telling me who my father was, and I dare not ask
her any questions. Did you ever happen to know her, in your younger
days, or can you remember anything that will help me to discover his
The highwayman sat silent, meditating, and Gilbert felt that his heart
was beginning to beat painfully fast, as he waited for the answer.
"Yes," said Sandy, at last, "I did know Mary Potter when I was a boy,
and she knowed me, under another name. I may say I liked her, too, in a
boy's way, but she was older by three or four years, and never thought
o' lookin' at me. But I can't remember anything more; if I was out o'
this, I'd soon find out for you!"
He looked up with an eager, questioning glance, which Gilbert totally
"What was your other name?" he asked, in a barely audible voice.
"I dunno as I need tell it," Sandy answered; "what'd be the good?
There's some yet livin', o' the same name, and they wouldn't thank me."
"Sandy!" Gilbert cried desperately, "answer this one question,--don't go
out of the world with a false word in your mouth!--You are not my
The highwayman looked at him a moment, in blank amazement. "No, so help
me God!" he then said.
Gilbert's face brightened so suddenly and vividly that Sandy muttered to
himself,--"I never thought I was that bad."
"I hear the Sheriff at the outside gate," he whispered again. "Don't
forgit--thirty steps from the place she knowed about--behind the two
big chestnut-trees, goin' towards the first cedar--and a forked
sassyfrack growin' right over it! Good-bye, and good-luck to the whole
o' your life!"
The two clasped hands with a warmth and earnestness which surprised the
Sheriff. Then Gilbert went out from his old antagonist.
That night Sandy Flash made an attempt to escape from the jail, and very
nearly succeeded. It appeared, from some mysterious words which he
afterwards let fall, and which Gilbert alone could have understood, that
he had a superstitious belief that something he had done would bring him
a new turn of fortune. The only result of the attempt was to hasten his
execution. Within ten days from that time he was transformed from a
living terror into a romantic name.
Gilbert Potter felt such an implicit trust in Sandy Flash's promise of
restitution, that, before leaving Chester, he announced the forthcoming
payment of the mortgage to its holder. His homeward ride was like a
triumphal march, to which his heart beat the music. The chill March
winds turned into May-breezes as they touched him; the brown meadows
were quick with ambushed bloom. Within three or four months his life had
touched such extremes of experience, that the fate yet to come seemed to
evolve itself speedily and naturally from that which was over and gone.
Only one obstacle yet remained in his path,--his mother's secret.
Towards that he was powerless; to meet all others he was brimming with
strength and courage.
Mary Potter recognized, even more keenly and with profounder faith than
her son, the guidance of some inscrutable Power. She did not dare to
express so uncertain a hope, but something in her heart whispered that
the day of her own deliverance was not far off, and she took strength
It was nearly a week before Deb. Smith made her appearance. Gilbert, in
the mean time, had visited her cabin on the Woodrow farm, to find it
deserted, and he was burning with impatience to secure, through her, the
restoration of his independence. He would not announce his changed
prospects, even to Martha Deane, until they were put beyond further
risk. The money once in his hands, he determined to carry it to Chester
without loss of time.
When Deb. arrived, she had a weary, hunted look, but she was unusually
grave and silent, and avoided further reference to the late tragical
episode in her life. Nevertheless, Gilbert led her aside and narrated to
her the particulars of his interview with Sandy Flash. Perhaps he
softened, with pardonable equivocation, the latter's words in regard to
her; perhaps he conveyed a sense of forgiveness which had not been
expressed; for Deb. more than once drew the corners of her hard palms
across her eyes. When he gave the marks by which she was to recognize a
certain spot, she exclaimed,--
"It was hid the night I dreamt of him! I knowed he must ha' been nigh,
by that token. O, Mr. Gilbert, he said true! I know the place; it's not
so far away; this very night you'll have y'r money back!"
After it was dark she set out, with a spade upon her shoulder,
forbidding him to follow, or even to look after her. Both mother and son
were too excited to sleep. They sat by the kitchen-fire, with one
absorbing thought in their minds, and speech presently became easier
"Mother," said Gilbert, "when--I mean _if_--she brings the money, all
that has happened will have been for good. It has proved to us that we
have true friends (and I count my Roger among them), and I think that
our independence will be worth all the more, since we came so nigh
losing it again."
"Ay, my boy," she replied; "I was over-hasty, and have been lessoned.
When I bend my mind to submit, I make more headway than when I try to
take the Lord's work into my own hands. I'm fearsome still, but it seems
there's a light coming from somewhere,--I don't know where."
"Do you feel that way, mother?" he exclaimed. "Do you think--let me
mention it this once!--that the day is near when you will be free to
speak? Will there be anything more you can tell me, when we stand free
upon our own property?"
Mary Potter looked upon his bright, wistful, anxious face, and sighed.
"I can't tell--I can't tell," she said. "Ah, my boy, you would
understand it, if I dared say one thing, but that might lead you to
guess what mustn't be told; and I will be faithful to the spirit as well
as the letter. It must come soon, but nothing you or I can do would
hasten it a minute."
"One word more, mother," he persisted, "will our independence be no help
"A great help," she answered, "or, maybe, a great comfort would be the
true word. Without it, I might be tempted to--but see, Gilbert, how can
I talk? Everything you say pulls at the one thing that cuts my mouth
like a knife, because it's shut tight on it! And the more because I owe
it to you,--because I'm held back from my duty to my child,--maybe,
every day putting a fresh sorrow into his heart! Oh, it's not easy,
Gilbert; it don't grow lighter from use, only my faith is the stronger
and surer, and that helps me to bear it."
"Mother, I meant never to have spoken of this again," he said. "But
you're mistaken; it is no sorrow; I never knew what it was to have a
light heart, until you told me your trouble, and the question came to my
mouth to-night because I shall soon feel strong in my own right as a
man, and able to do more than you might guess. If, as you say, no man
can help you, I will wait and be patient with you."
"That's all we can do now, my child. I wasn't reproaching you for
speaking, for you've held your peace a long while, when I know you've
been fretting; but this isn't one of the troubles that's lightened by
speech, because all talking must go around the outside, and never touch
the thing itself."
"I understand," he said, and gazed for a long time into the fire,
Mary Potter watched his face, in the wavering light of the flame. She
marked the growing decision of the features, the forward, fearless
glance of the large, deep-set eye, the fuller firmness and sweetness of
the mouth, and the general expression, not only of self-reliance, but of
authority, which was spread over the entire countenance. Both her pride
in her son, and her respect for him, increased as she gazed. Heretofore,
she had rather considered her secret as her own property, her right to
which he should not question; but now it seemed as if she were forced to
withhold something that of right belonged to him. Yet no thought that
the mysterious obligation might be broken ever entered her mind.
Gilbert was thinking of Martha Deane. He had passed that first timidity
of love which shrinks from the knowledge of others, and longed to tell
his mother what noble fidelity and courage Martha had exhibited. Only
the recollection of the fearful swoon into which she had fallen bound
his tongue; he felt that the first return to the subject must come from
her. She lay back in her chair and seemed to sleep; he rose from time to
time, went out into the lane and listened,--and so the hours passed
Towards midnight a heavy step was heard, and Deb. Smith, hot, panting,
her arms daubed with earth, and a wild light in her eyes, entered the
kitchen. With one hand she grasped the ends of her strong tow-linen
apron, with the other she still shouldered the spade. She knelt upon the
floor between the two, set the apron in the light of the fire, unrolled
the end of a leathern saddle-bag, and disclosed the recovered treasure.
"See if it's all right!" she said.
Mary Potter and Gilbert bent over the rolls and counted them. It was the
entire sum, untouched.
"Have you got a sup o' whiskey, Mr. Gilbert?" Deb. Smith asked. "Ugh!
I'm hot and out o' breath, and yet I feel mortal cold. There was a
screech-owl hootin' in the cedar; and I dunno how't is, but there always
seems to be things around, where money's buried. You can't see 'em, but
you hear 'em. I thought I'd ha' dropped when I turned up the sassyfrack
bush, and got hold on it; and all the way back I feared a big arm'd come
out o' every fence-corner, and snatch it from me!" [Footnote: It does
not seem to have been generally known in the neighborhood that the money
was unearthed. A tradition of that and other treasure buried by Sandy
Flash, is still kept alive; and during the past ten years two midnight
attempts have been made to find it, within a hundred yards of the spot
indicated in the narrative.]
Mary Potter set the kettle on the fire, and Deb. Smith was soon
refreshed with a glass of hot grog. Then she lighted her pipe and
watched the two as they made preparations for the journey to Chester on
the morrow, now and then nodding her head with an expression which
chased away the haggard sorrow from her features.
This time the journey was performed without incident. The road was safe,
the skies were propitious, and Gilbert Potter returned from Chester an
independent man, with the redeemed mortgage in his pocket. His first
care was to assure his mother of the joyous fact; his next to seek
Martha Deane, and consult with her about their brightening future.
On the way to Kennett Square, he fell in with Mark, who was radiant with
the promise of Richard Rudd's new house, secured to him by the shrewd
assistance of Miss Betsy Lavender.
"I tell you what it is, Gilbert," said he; "don't you think I might as
well speak to Daddy Fairthorn about Sally? I'm gettin' into good
business now, and I guess th' old folks might spare her pretty soon."
"The sooner, Mark, the better for you; and you can buy the wedding-suit
at once, for I have your hundred dollars ready."
"You don't mean that you wont use it, Gilbert?"
Who so delighted as Mark, when he heard Gilbert's unexpected story? "Oh,
glory!" he exclaimed; "the tide's turnin', old fellow! What'll you bet
you're not married before I am? It's got all over the country that you
and Martha are engaged, and that the Doctor's full o' gall and wormwood
about it; I hear it wherever I go, and there's more for you than there
is against you, I tell you that!"
The fact was as Mark had stated. No one was positively known to have
spread the rumor, but it was afloat and generally believed. The result
was to invest Gilbert with a fresh interest. His courage in confronting
Sandy Flash, his robbery, his wonderful preservation from death, and his
singular connection, through Deb. Smith, with Sandy Flash's capture, had
thrown a romantic halo around his name, which was now softly brightened
by the report of his love. The stain of his birth and the uncertainty of
his parentage did not lessen this interest, but rather increased it; and
as any man who is much talked about in a country community will speedily
find two parties created, one enthusiastically admiring, the other
contemptuously depreciating him, so now it happened in this case.
The admirers, however, were in a large majority, and they possessed a
great advantage over the detractors, being supported by a multitude of
facts, while the latter were unable to point to any act of Gilbert
Potter's life that was not upright and honorable. Even his love of
Martha Deane was shorn of its presumption by her reciprocal affection.
The rumor that she had openly defied her father's will created great
sympathy, for herself and for Gilbert, among the young people of both
sexes,--a sympathy which frequently was made manifest to Dr. Deane, and
annoyed him not a little. His stubborn opposition to his daughter's
attachment increased, in proportion as his power to prevent it
We may therefore conceive his sensations when Gilbert Potter himself
boldly entered his presence. The latter, after Mark's description, very
imperfect though it was, of Martha's courageous assertion of the rights
of her heart, had swiftly made up his mind to stand beside her in the
struggle, with equal firmness and equal pride. He would openly seek an
interview with her, and if he should find her father at home, as was
probable at that hour, would frankly and respectfully acknowledge his
love, and defend it against any attack.
On entering the room, he quietly stepped forward with extended hand, and
saluted the Doctor, who was so taken by surprise that he mechanically
answered the greeting before he could reflect what manner to adopt
towards the unwelcome visitor.
"What might be thy business with me?" he asked, stiffly, recovering from
the first shock.
"I called to see Martha," Gilbert answered. "I have some news which she
will be glad to hear."
"Young man," said the Doctor, with his sternest face and voice, "I may
as well come to the point with thee, at once. If thee had had decency
enough to apply to me before speaking thy mind to Martha, it would have
saved us all a great deal of trouble. I could have told thee then, as I
tell thee now, that I will never consent to her marriage with thee. Thee
must give up all thought of such a thing." "I will do so," Gilbert
replied, "when Martha tells me with her own mouth that such is her will.
I am not one of the men who manage their hearts according to
circumstances. I wish, indeed, I were more worthy of Martha; but I am
trying to deserve her, and I know no better way than to be faithful as
she is faithful. I mean no disrespect to you, Dr. Deane. You are her
father; you have every right to care for her happiness, and I will admit
that you honestly think I am not the man who could make her happy. All I
ask is, that you should wait a little and know me better. Martha and I
have both decided that we must wait, and there is time enough for you to
watch my conduct, examine my character, and perhaps come to a more
favorable judgment of me."
Dr. Deane saw that it would be harder to deal with Gilbert Potter than
he had imagined. The young man stood before him so honestly and
fearlessly, meeting his angry gaze with such calm, frank eyes, and
braving his despotic will with such a modest, respectful opposal, that
he was forced to withdraw from his haughty position, and to set forth
the same reasons which he had presented to his daughter.
"I see," he said, with a tone slightly less arrogant, "that thee is
sensible, in some respects, and therefore I put the case to thy
understanding. It's too plain to be argued. Martha is a rich bait for a
poor man, and perhaps I oughtn't to wonder--knowing the heart of man as
I do--that thee was tempted to turn her head to favor thee; but the
money is not yet hers, and I, as her father, can never allow that thy
poverty shall stand for three years between her and some honorable man
to whom her money would be no temptation! Why, if all I hear be true,
thee hasn't even any certain roof to shelter a wife; thy property, such
as it is, may be taken out of thy hands!"
Gilbert could not calmly hear these insinuations. All his independent
pride of character was aroused; a dark flush came into his face, the
blood was pulsing hotly through his veins, and indignant speech was
rising to his lips, when the inner door unexpectedly opened, and Martha
entered the room.
She instantly guessed what was taking place, and summoned up all her
self-possession, to stand by Gilbert, without increasing her father's
exasperation. To the former, her apparition was like oil on troubled
waters. His quick blood struck into warm channels of joy, as he met her
glowing eyes, and felt the throb of her soft, elastic palm against his
own. Dr. Deane set his teeth, drew up his under lip, and handled his
cane with restless fingers.
"Father," said Martha, "if you are talking of me, it is better that I
should be present. I am sure there is nothing that either thee or
Gilbert would wish to conceal from me."
"No, Martha!" Gilbert exclaimed; "I came to bring you good news. The
mortgage on my farm is lifted, and I am an independent man!"
"Without my help! Does thee hear that, father?"
Gilbert did not understand her remark; without heeding it, he
"Sandy Flash, after his sentence, sent for me and told me where the
money he took from me was to be found. I carried it to Chester, and have
paid off all my remaining debt. Martha, your father has just charged me
with being tempted by your property. I say to you, in his presence, put
it beyond my reach,--give it away, forfeit the conditions of the
legacy,--let me show truly whether I ever thought of money in seeking
"Gilbert," she said, gently, "father doesn't yet know you as I do.
Others will no doubt say the same thing, and we must both make up our
minds to have it said; yet I cannot, for that, relinquish what is mine
of right. We are not called upon to sacrifice to the mistaken opinions
of men; your life and mine will show, and manifest to others in time,
whether it is a selfish tie that binds us together."
"Martha!" Dr. Deane exclaimed, feeling that he should lose ground,
unless this turn of the conversation were interrupted; "thee compels me
to show thee how impossible the thing is, even if this man were of the
richest. Admitting that he is able to support a family, admitting that
thee waits three years, comes into thy property, and is still of a mind
to marry him against my will, can thee forget--or has he so little
consideration for thee as to forget--that he bears his mother's name?"
"Let me speak, Martha," said Gilbert, lifting his head, which had
drooped for a moment. His voice was earnest and sorrowful, yet firm. "It
is true that I bear my mother's name. It is the name of a good, an
honest, an honorable, and a God-fearing woman. I wish I could be
certain that the name which legally belongs to me will be as honorable
and as welcome. But Martha knows, and you, her father, have a right to
know, that I shall have another. I have not been inconsiderate. I
trampled down my love for her, as long as I believed it would bring
disgrace. I will not say that now, knowing her as I do, I could ever
give her up, even if the disgrace was not removed,"--
"Thank you, Gilbert!" Martha interrupted.
"But there is none, Dr. Deane," he continued, "and when the time comes,
my birth will be shown to be as honorable as your own, or Mark's."
Dr. Deane was strangely excited at these words. His face colored, and he
darted a piercing, suspicious glance at Gilbert. The latter, however,
stood quietly before him, too possessed by what he had said to notice
the Doctor's peculiar expression; but it returned to his memory
"Why," the Doctor at last stammered, "I never heard of this before!"
"No," Gilbert answered, "and I must ask of you not to mention it
further, at present. I must beg you to be patient until my mother is
able to declare the truth."
"What keeps her from it?"
"I don't know," Gilbert sadly replied.
"Come!" cried the Doctor, as sternly as ever, "this is rather a likely
story! If Potter isn't thy name, what is?"
"I don't know," Gilbert repeated.
"No; nor no one else! How dare thee address my daughter,--talk of
marriage with her,--when thee don't know thy real name? What name would
thee offer to her in exchange for her own? Young man, I don't believe
"I do," said Martha, rising and moving to Gilbert's side.
"Martha, go to thy room!" the Doctor cried. "And as for thee, Gilbert
Potter, or Gilbert Anything, I tell thee, once and for all, never speak
of this thing again,--at least, until thee can show a legal name and an
honorable birth! Thee has not prejudiced me in thy favor by thy devices,
and it stands to reason that I should forbid thee to see my
daughter,--to enter my doors!"
"Dr. Deane," said Gilbert, with sad yet inflexible dignity, "it is
impossible, after what you have said, that I should seek to enter your
door, until my words are proved true, and I am justified in your eyes.
The day may come sooner than you think. But I will do nothing secretly;
I won't promise anything to you that I can't promise to myself; and so I
tell you, honestly and above-board, that while I shall not ask Martha to
share my life until I can offer her my true name, I must see her from
time to time. I'm not fairly called upon to give up that."
"No, Gilbert," said Martha, who had not yet moved from her place by his
side, "it is as necessary to my happiness as to yours. I will not ask
you to come here again; you cannot, and must not, even for my sake; but
when I need your counsel and your sympathy, and there is no other way
left, I will go to you."
"Martha!" Dr. Deane exclaimed; but the word conveys no idea of his wrath
"Father," she said, "this is thy house, and it is for thee to direct,
here. Within its walls, I will conduct myself according to thy wishes; I
will receive no guest whom thee forbids, and will even respect thy views
in regard to my intercourse with our friends; but unless thee wants to
deprive me of all liberty, and set aside every right of mine as an
accountable being, thee must allow me sometimes to do what both my heart
and my conscience command!"
"Is it a woman's place," he angrily asked, "to visit a man?"
"When the two have need of each other, and God has joined their hearts
in love and in truth, and the man is held back from reaching the woman,
then it is her place to go to him!"
Never before had Dr. Deane beheld upon his daughter's sweet, gentle face
such an expression of lofty spiritual authority. While her determination
really outraged his conventional nature, he felt that it came from a
higher source than his prohibition. He knew that nothing which he could
urge at that moment would have the slightest weight in her mind, and
moreover, that the liberal, independent customs of the neighborhood, as
well as the respect of his sect for professed spiritual guidance,
withheld him from any harsh attempt at coercion. He was powerless, but
As for Martha, what she had said was simply included in what she was
resolved to do; the greater embraced the less. It was a defiance of her
father's authority, very painful from the necessity of its assertion,
but rendered inevitable by his course. She knew with what tenacity he
would seize and hold every inch of relinquished ground; she felt, as
keenly as Gilbert himself, the implied insult which he could not resent;
and her pride, her sense of justice, and the strong fidelity of her
woman's heart, alike impelled her to stand firm.
"Good-bye, Martha!" Gilbert said, taking her hand "I must wait."
"We wait together, Gilbert!"
MISS LAVENDER MAKES A GUESS.
There were signs of spring all over the land, and Gilbert resumed his
farm-work with the fresh zest which the sense of complete ownership
gave. He found a purchaser for his wagon, sold one span of horses, and
thus had money in hand for all the coming expenses of the year. His days
of hauling, of anxiety, of painful economy, were over; he rejoiced in
his fully developed and recognized manhood, and was cheered by the
respect and kindly sympathy of his neighbors.
Meanwhile, the gossip, not only of Kennett, but of Marlborough,
Pennsbury, and New-Garden, was as busy as ever. No subject of country
talk equalled in interest the loves of Gilbert Potter and Martha Deane.
Mark, too open-hearted to be intrusted with any secret, was drawn upon
wherever he went, and he revealed more (although he was by no means
Martha's confidant) than the public had any right to know. The idlers at
the Unicorn had seen Gilbert enter Dr. Deane's house, watched his return
therefrom, made shrewd notes of the Doctor's manner when he came forth
that evening, and guessed the result of the interview almost as well as
if they had been present.
The restoration of Gilbert's plundered money, and his hardly acquired
independence as a landholder, greatly strengthened the hands of his
friends. There is no logic so convincing as that of good luck; in
proportion as a man is fortunate (so seems to run the law of the world),
he attracts fortune to him. A good deed would not have helped Gilbert so
much in popular estimation, as this sudden and unexpected release from
his threatened difficulties. The blot upon his name was already growing
fainter, and a careful moral arithmetician might have calculated the
point of prosperity at which it would cease to be seen.
Nowhere was the subject discussed with greater interest and excitement
than in the Fairthorn household. Sally, when she first heard the news,
loudly protested her unbelief; why, the two would scarcely speak to each
other, she said; she had seen Gilbert turn his back on Martha, as if he
couldn't bear the sight of her; it ought to be, and she would be glad if
it was, but it wasn't!
When, therefore, Mark confirmed the report, and was led on, by degrees,
to repeat Gilbert's own words, Sally rushed out into the kitchen with a
vehemence which left half her apron hanging on the door-handle, torn off
from top to bottom in her whirling flight, and announced the fact to her
Joe, who was present, immediately cried out,--
"O, Sally! now I may tell about Mark, mayn't I?"
Sally seized him by the collar, and pitched him out the kitchen-door.
Her face was the color of fire.
"My gracious, Sally!" exclaimed Mother Fairthorn, in amazement; "what's
But Sally had already disappeared, and was relating her trouble to Mark,
who roared with wicked laughter, whereupon she nearly cried with
"Never mind," said he; "the boy's right. I told Gilbert this very
afternoon that it was about time to speak to the old man; and he allowed
it was. Come out with me and don't be afeard--I'll do the talkin'."
Hand in hand they went into the kitchen, Sally blushing and hanging back
a little. Farmer Fairthorn had just come in from the barn, and was
warming his hands at the fire. Mother Fairthorn might have had her
suspicions, but it was her nature to wait cheerfully, and say nothing.
"See here, Daddy and Mammy!" said Mark, "have either o' you any
objections to Sally and me bein' a pair?"
Farmer Fairthorn smiled, rubbed his hands together, and turning to his
wife, asked,--"What has Mammy to say to it?"
She looked up at Mark with her kindly eyes, in which twinkled something
like a tear, and said,--"I was guessin' it might turn out so between you
two, and if I'd had anything against you, Mark, I wouldn't ha' let it
run on. Be a steady boy, and you'll make Sally a steady woman. She's had
pretty much her own way."
Thereupon Farmer Fairthorn, still rubbing his hands, ventured to
remark,--"The girl might ha' done worse." This was equivalent to a
hearty commendation of the match, and Mark so understood it. Sally
kissed her mother, cried a little, caught her gown on a corner of the
kitchen-table, and thus the betrothal was accepted as a family fact. Joe
and Jake somewhat disturbed the bliss of the evening, it is true, by
bursting into the room from time to time, staring significantly at the
lovers, and then rushing out again with loud whoops and laughter.
Sally could scarcely await the coming of the next day, to visit Martha
Deane. At first she felt a little piqued that she had not received the
news from Martha's own lips, but this feeling speedily vanished in the
sympathy with her friend's trials. She was therefore all the more
astonished at the quiet, composed bearing of the latter. The tears she
had expected to shed were not once drawn upon.
"O, Martha!" she cried, after the first impetuous outburst of
feeling,--"to think that it has all turned out just as I wanted! No, I
don't quite mean that; you know I couldn't wish you to have crosses; but
about Gilbert! And it's too bad--Mark has told me dreadful things, but I
hope they're not all true; you don't look like it; and I'm so glad, you
Martha smiled, readily untangling Sally's thoughts, and said,--"I
mustn't complain, Sally. Nothing has come to pass that I had not
prepared my mind to meet. We will only have to wait a little longer than
you and Mark."
"No you won't!" Sally exclaimed. "I'll make Mark wait, too! And
everything must be set right--somebody must do something! Where's Betsy
"Here!" answered the veritable voice of the spinster, through the open
door of the small adjoining room.
"Gracious, how you frightened me!" cried Sally. "But, Betsy, you seem to
be able to help everybody; why can't you do something for Martha and
"Martha and Gilbert. That's what I ask myself, nigh onto a hundred times
a day, child. But there's things that takes the finest kind o' wit to
see through, and you can't make a bead-purse out of a sow's-ear, neither
jerk Time by the forelock, when there a'n't a hair, as you can see, to
hang on to. I dunno as you'll rightly take my meanin'; but never mind,
all the same, I'm flummuxed, and it's the longest and hardest flummux o'
Miss Betsy Lavender, it must here be explained, was more profoundly
worried than she was willing to admit. Towards Martha she concealed the
real trouble of her mind under the garb of her quaint, jocular speech,
which meant much or little, as one might take it. She had just returned
from one of her social pilgrimages, during which she had heard nothing
but the absorbing subject of gossip. She had been questioned and
cross-questioned, entreated by many, as Sally had done, to do something
(for all had great faith in her powers), and warned by a few not to
meddle with what did not concern her. Thus she had come back that
morning, annoyed, discomposed, and more dissatisfied with herself than
ever before, to hear Martha's recital of what had taken place during her
In spite of Martha's steady patience and cheerfulness, Miss Lavender
knew that the painful relation in which she stood to her father would
not be assuaged by the lapse of time. She understood Dr. Deane's nature
quite as well as his daughter, and was convinced that, for the present,
neither threats nor persuasions would move his stubborn resistance.
According to the judgment of the world (the older part of it, at least),
he had still right on his side. Facts were wanted; or, rather, the _one_
fact upon which resistance was based must be removed.
With all this trouble, Miss Lavender had a presentiment that there was
work for her to do, if she could only discover what it was. Her faith in
her own powers of assistance was somewhat shaken, and she therefore
resolved to say nothing, promise nothing, until she had both hit upon a
plan and carried it into execution.
Two or three days after Sally's visit, on a mild, sunny morning in the
beginning of April, she suddenly announced her intention of visiting the
"I ha'n't seen Mary since last fall, you know, Martha," she said; "and
I've a mortal longin' to wish Gilbert joy o' his good luck, and maybe
say a word to keep him in good heart about you. Have you got no message
to send by me?"
"Only my love," Martha answered; "and tell him how you left me. He knows
I will keep my word; when I need his counsel, I will go to him."
"If more girls talked and thought that way, us women'd have fairer
shakes," Miss Lavender remarked, as she put on her cloak and pattens.
When she reached the top of the hill overlooking the glen, she noticed
fresh furrows in the field on her left. Clambering through the fence,
she waited until the heads of a pair of horses made their appearance,
rising over the verge of the hill. As she conjectured, Gilbert Potter
was behind them, guiding the plough-handle. He was heartily glad to see
her, and halted his team at the corner of the "land."
"I didn't know as you'd speak to me," said she, with assumed grimness.
"Maybe you wouldn't, if I didn't come direct from _her._ Ah, you needn't
look wild; it's only her love, and what's the use, for you had it
already; but never mind, lovyers is never satisfied; and she's chipper
and peart enough, seein' what she has to bear for your sake, but she
don't mind that, on the contrary, quite the reverse, and I'm sure you
don't deserve it!"
"Did she tell you what passed between us, the last time?" Gilbert asked.
"The last time. Yes. And jokin' aside, which often means the contrary in
my crooked ways o' talkin', a'n't it about time somethin' was done?"
"What can be done?"
"I dunno," said Miss Lavender, gravely. "You know as well as I do what's
in the way, or rather none of us knows _what_ it is, only _where_ it is;
and a thing unbeknown may be big or little; who can tell? And latterly
I've thought, Gilbert, that maybe your mother is in the fix of a man
I've heerd tell on, that fell into a pit, and ketched by the last bush,
and hung on, and hung on, till he could hold on no longer; so he gev
himself up to death, shet his eyes and let go, and lo and behold! the
bottom was a matter o' six inches under his feet! Leastways, everything
p'ints to a sort o' skeary fancy bein' mixed up with it, not a thing to
laugh at, I can tell you, but as earnest as sin, for I've seen the
likes, and maybe easy to make straight if you could only look into it
yourself; but you think there's no chance o' that?"
"No," said Gilbert. "I've tried once too often, already; I shall not try
"Try again," Miss Lavender repeated. "Then why not?"--but here she
paused, and seemed to meditate. The fact was, she had been tempted to
ask Gilbert's advice in regard to the plan she was revolving in her
brain. The tone of his voice, however, was discouraging; she saw that he
had taken a firm and gloomy resolution to be silent,--his uneasy air
hinted that he desired to avoid further talk on this point. So, with a
mental reprimand of the indiscretion into which her sympathy with him
had nearly betrayed her, she shut her teeth and slightly bit her tongue.
"Well, well," she said; "I hope it'll come out before you're both old
and sour with waitin', that's all! I don't want such true-love as your'n
to be like firkin-butter at th' end; for as fresh, and firm, and
well-kep' as you please, it ha'n't got the taste o' the clover and the
sweet-grass; but who knows? I may dance at your weddin', after all,
sooner'n I mistrust; and so I'm goin' down to spend the day with y'r
She strode over the furrow and across the weedy sod, and Gilbert resumed
his ploughing. As she approached the house, Miss Lavender noticed that
the secured ownership of the property was beginning to express itself in
various slight improvements and adornments. The space in front of the
porch was enlarged, and new flower-borders set along the garden-paling;
the barn had received a fresh coat of whitewash, as well as the trunks
of the apple-trees, which shone like white pillars; and there was a
bench with bright straw bee-hives under the lilac-bush. Mary Potter was
at work in the garden, sowing her early seeds.
"Well, I do declare!" exclaimed Miss Lavender, after the first cordial
greetings were over. "Seems almost like a different place, things is so
snugged up and put to rights."
"Yes," said Mary Potter; "I had hardly the heart, before, to make it
everything that we wanted; and you can't think what a satisfaction I
have in it now."
"Yes, I can! Give me the redishes, while you stick in them beets. I've
got a good forefinger for plantin' 'em,--long and stiff; and I can't
stand by and see you workin' alone, without fidgets."
Miss Lavender threw off her cloak and worked with a will. When the
gardening was finished, she continued her assistance in the house, and
fully earned her dinner before she sat down to it. Then she insisted on
Mary Potter bringing out her sewing, and giving her something more to
do; it was one of her working-days, she said; she had spent rather an
idle winter; and moreover, she was in such spirits at Gilbert's good
fortune, that she couldn't be satisfied without doing something for him,
and to sew up the seams of his new breeches was the very thing! Never
had she been so kind, so cheerful, and so helpful, and Mary Potter's
nature warmed into happy content in her society.
No one should rashly accuse Miss Lavender if there was a little design
in this. The task she had set herself to attempt was both difficult and
delicate. She had divided it into two portions, requiring very different
tactics, and was shrewd enough to mask, in every possible way, the one
from which she had most hopes of obtaining a result. She made no
reference, at first, to Gilbert's attachment to Martha Deane, but seemed
to be wholly absorbed in the subject of the farm; then, taking wide
sweeps through all varieties of random gossip, preserving a careless,
thoughtless, rattling manner, she stealthily laid her pitfalls for the
"I was over't Warren's t' other day," she said, biting off a thread,
"and Becky had jist come home from Phildelphy. There's new-fashioned
bonnets comin' up, she says. She stayed with Allen's, but who they are I
don't know. Laws! now I think on it, Mary, you stayed at Allen's, too,
when you were there!"
"No," said Mary Potter, "it was at--Treadwell's."
"Treadwell's? I thought you told me Allen's. All the same to me, Allen
or Treadwell; I don't know either of 'em. It's a long while since I've
been in Phildelphy, and never likely to go ag'in. I don't fancy trampin'
over them hard bricks, though, to be sure, a body sees the fashions; but
what with boxes tumbled in and out o' the stores, and bar'ls rollin',
and carts always goin' by, you're never sure o' y'r neck; and I was
sewin' for Clarissa Lee, Jackson that was, that married a dry goods man,
the noisiest place that ever was; you could hardly hear yourself talk;
but a body gets used to it, in Second Street, close't to Market, and
were you anywheres near there?"
"I was in Fourth Street," Mary Potter answered, with a little
hesitation. Miss Lavender secretly noticed her uneasiness, which, she
also remarked, arose not from suspicion, but from memory.
"What kind o' buttons are you goin' to have, Mary?" she asked. "Horn
splits, and brass cuts the stuff, and mother o' pearl wears to eternity,
but they're so awful dear. Fourth Street, you said? One street's like
another to me, after you get past the corners. I'd always know Second,
though, by the tobacco-shop, with the wild Injun at the door, liftin'
his tommyhawk to skulp you--ugh!--but never mind, all the same, skulp
away for what I care, for I a'n't likely ever to lay eyes on you ag'in!"
Having thus, with perhaps more volubility than was required, covered up
the traces of her design, Miss Lavender cast about how to commence the
second and more hopeless attack. It was but scant intelligence which she
had gained, but in that direction she dared not venture further. What
she now proposed to do required more courage and less cunning.
Her manner gradually changed; she allowed lapses of silence to occur,
and restricted her gossip to a much narrower sweep. She dwelt, finally,
upon the singular circumstances of Sandy Flash's robbery of Gilbert, and
the restoration of the money.
"Talkin' o' Deb. Smith," she then said, "Mary, do you mind when I was
here last harvest, and the talk we had about Gilbert? I've often thought
on it since, and how I guessed right for once't, for I know the ways o'
men, if I am an old maid, and so it's come out as I said, and a finer
couple than they'll make can't be found in the county!"
Mary Potter looked up, with a shadow of the old trouble on her face.
"You know all about it, Betsy, then?" she asked.
"Bless your soul, Mary, everybody knows about it! There's been nothin'
else talked about in the neighborhood for the last three weeks; why,
ha'n't Gilbert told you o' what passed between him and Dr. Deane, and
how Martha stood by him as no woman ever stood by a man?"
An expression of painful curiosity, such as shrinks from the knowledge
it craves, came into Mary Potter's eyes. "Gilbert has told me nothing,"
she said, "since--since that time."
"That time. I won't ask you _what_ time; it's neither here nor there;
but you ought to know the run o' things, when it's common talk." And
therewith Miss Lavender began at the beginning, and never ceased until
she had brought the history, in all its particulars, down to that very
day. She did not fail to enlarge on the lively and universal Interest in
the fortunes of the lovers which was manifested by the whole community.
Mary Potter's face grew paler and paler as she spoke, but the tears
which some parts of the recital called forth were quenched again, as it
seemed, by flashes of aroused pride.
"Now," Miss Lavender concluded, "you see just how the matter stands. I'm
not hard on you, savin' and exceptin' that facts is hard, which they
sometimes are I don't deny; but here we're all alone with our two
selves, and you'll grant I'm a friend, though I may have queer ways o'
showin' it; and why shouldn't I say that all the trouble comes o'
Gilbert bearin' your name?"
"Don't I know it!" Mary Potter cried. "Isn't my load heaped up heavier
as it comes towards the end? What can I do but wait till the day when I
can give Gilbert his father's name?"
"His father's name! Then you can do it, some day? I suspicioned as much.
And you've been bound up from doin' it, all this while,--and that's
what's been layin' so heavy on your mind, wasn't it?"
"Betsy," said Mary Potter, with sudden energy, "I'll say as much as I
dare, so that I may keep my senses. I fear, sometimes, I'll break
together for want of a friend like you, to steady me while I walk the
last steps of my hard road. Gilbert was born in wedlock; I'm not bound
to deny that; but I committed a sin,--not the sin people charge me
with,--and the one that persuaded me to it has to answer for more than I
have. I bound myself not to tell the name of Gilbert's father,--not to
say where or when I was married, not to do or say anything to put others
On the track, until--but there's the sin and the trouble and the
punishment all in one. If I told that, you might guess the rest. You
know what a name I've had to bear, but I've taken my cross and fought my
way, and put up with all things, that I might deserve the fullest
justification the Lord has in His hands. If I had known all beforehand,
Betsy,--but I expected the release in a month or two, and it hasn't come
in twenty-five years!"
"Twenty-five years!" repeated Miss Lavender, heedless of the drops
running down her thin face. "If there was a sin, Mary, even as big as a
yearlin' calf, you've worked off the cost of it, years ago! If you break
your word now, you'll stand justified in the sight o' the Lord, and of
all men, and even if you think a scrimption of it's left, remember your
dooty to Gilbert, and take a less justification for his sake!"
"I've been tempted that way, Betsy, but the end I wanted has been set in
my mind so long I can't get it out. I've seen the Lord's hand so
manifest in these past days, that I'm fearsome to hurry His judgments.
And then, though I try not to, I'm waiting from day to day,--almost from
hour to hour,--and it seems that if I was to give up and break my vow,
He would break it for me the next minute afterwards, to punish my
"Why," Miss Lavender exclaimed, "it must be your husband's death you're
Mary Potter started up with a wild look of alarm. "No--no--not his
death!" she cried. "I should want him to--be living! Ask me no more
questions; forget what I've said, if it don't incline you to encourage
me! That's why I've told you so much!"
Miss Lavender instantly desisted from further appeal. She rose, put her
arm around Mary Potter's waist, and said,--"I didn't mean to frighten or
to worry you, deary. I may think your conscience has worked on itself,
like, till it's ground a bit too sharp; but I see just how you're fixed,
and won't say another word, without it's to give comfort. An open
confession's good for the soul, they say, and half a loaf's better than
no bread, and you haven't violated your word a bit, and so let it do you
In fact, when Mary Potter grew calm, she was conscious of a relief the
more welcome because it was so rare in her experience. Miss Lavender,
moreover, hastened to place Gilbert's position in a more cheerful light,
and the same story, repeated for a different purpose, now assumed quite
another aspect. She succeeded so well, that she left behind her only
gratitude for the visit.
Late in the afternoon she came forth from the farmhouse, and commenced
slowly ascending the hill. She stopped frequently and looked about her;
her narrow forehead was wrinkled, and the base of her long nose was set
between two deep furrows. Her lips were twisted in a pucker of great
perplexity, and her eyes were nearly closed in a desperate endeavor to
solve some haunting, puzzling question.
"It's queer," she muttered to herself, when she had nearly reached the
top of the hill,--"it's mortal queer! Like a whip-poor-will on a
moonlight night: you hear it whistlin' on the next fence-rail, it
doesn't seem a yard off; you step up to ketch it, and there's nothin'
there; then you step back ag'in, and 'whip-poor-will! whip-poor-will!'
whistles louder 'n ever,--and so on, the whole night, and some folks
says they can throw their voices outside o' their bodies, but that's
neither here nor there.
"Now why can't I ketch hold o' this thing? It isn't a yard off me, I'll
be snaked! And I dunno what ever she said that makes me think so, but I
feel it in my bones, and no use o' callin' up words; it's one o' them
things that comes without callin', when they come at all, and I'm so
near guessin' I'll have no peace day or night."
With many similar observations she resumed her walk, and presently
reached the border of the ploughed land. Gilbert's back was towards her;
he was on the descending furrow. She looked at him, started, suddenly
lost her breath, and stood with open mouth and wide, fixed eyes.
Loud and shrill her cry rang across the valley. It was like the yell of
a war-horse, scenting the battle afar off. All the force of her lungs
and muscles expended itself in the sound.
The next instant she dropped upon the moist, ploughed earth, and sat
there, regardless of gown and petticoat. "Good Lord!" she repeated to
herself, over and over again. Then, seeing Gilbert approaching, startled
by the cry, she slowly arose to her feet.
"A good guess," she said to herself, "and what's more, there's ways o'
provin' it. He's comin', and he mustn't know; you're a fool, Betsy
Lavender, not to keep your wits better about you, and go rousin' up the
whole neighborhood; good look that your face is crooked and don't show
much o' what's goin' on inside!"
"What's the matter, Betsy?" asked Gilbert.
"Nothin'--one o' my crazy notions," she said. "I used to holler like a
kildeer when I was a girl and got out on the Brandywine hills alone, and
I s'pose I must ha' thought about it, and the yell sort o' come of
itself, for it just jerked me off o' my feet; but you needn't tell
anybody that I cut such capers in my old days, not that folks'd much
wonder, but the contrary, for they're used to me."
Gilbert laughed heartily, but he hardly seemed satisfied with the
explanation. "You're all of a tremble," he said.
"Am I? Well, it's likely,--and my gownd all over mud; but there's one
favor I want to ask o' you, and no common one, neither, namely, the loan
of a horse for a week or so."
"A horse?" Gilbert repeated.
"A horse. Not Roger, by no means; I couldn't ask that, and he don't know
me, anyhow; but the least rough-pacin' o' them two, for I've got
considerable ridin' over the country to do, and I wouldn't ask you, but
it's a busy time o' year, and all folks isn't so friendly."
"You shall have whatever you want, Betsy," he said. "But you've heard
"Nothin' o' one sort or t'other. Make yourself easy, lad."
Gilbert, however, had been haunted by new surmises in regard to Dr.
Deane. Certain trifles had returned to his memory since the interview,
and rather than be longer annoyed with them, he now opened his heart to
A curious expression came over her face. "You've got sharp eyes and ears
Gilbert," she said. "Now supposin' I wanted your horse o' purpose to
clear up your doubts in a way to satisfy you, would you mind lettin' me
"Take even Roger!" he exclaimed.
"No, that bay'll do. Keep thinkin' _that's_ what I'm after, and ask me
no more questions."
She crossed the ploughed land, crept through the fence, and trudged up
the road. When a clump of bushes on the bank had hid Gilbert from her
sight, she stopped, took breath, and chuckled with luxurious
"Betsy Lavender," she said, with marked approval, "you're a cuter old
thing than I took you to be!"
The next morning Sam took Gilbert's bay horse to Kennett Square, and
hitched him in front of Dr. Deane's door. Miss Lavender, who was on the
look-out, summoned the boy into the house, to bring her own side-saddle
down from the garret, and then proceeded to pack a small valise, with
straps corresponding to certain buckles behind the saddle. Martha Deane
looked on with some surprise at this proceeding, but as Miss Lavender
continued silent, she asked no questions.
"There!" exclaimed the spinster, when everything was ready, "now I'm
good for a week's travel, if need be! You want to know where I'm goin',
child, I see, and you might as well out with the words, though not much
use, for I hardly know myself."
"Betsy," said Martha, "you seem so strange, so unlike yourself, ever
since you came home last evening. What is it?"
"I remembered somethin', on the way up; my head's been so bothered that
I forgot things, never mind what, for I must have some business o' my
own or I wouldn't seem to belong to myself; and so I've got to trapes
round considerable,--money matters and the likes,--and folks a'n't
always ready for you to the minute; therefore count on more time than
what's needful, say I."
"And you can't guess when you will be back?" Martha asked.
"Hardly under a week. I want to finish up everything and come home for a
good long spell."
With these words she descended to the road, valise in hand, buckled it
to the saddle, and mounted the horse. Then she said good-bye to Martha,
and rode briskly away, down the Philadelphia road.
Several days passed and nothing was heard of her. Gilbert Potter
remained on his farm, busy with the labor of the opening spring; Mark
Deane was absent, taking measurements and making estimates for the new
house, and Sally Fairthorn spent all her spare time in spinning flax for
a store of sheets and table-cloths, to be marked "S. A. F." in red silk,
when duly woven, hemmed, and bleached.
One afternoon, during Miss Lavender's absence, Dr. Deane was again
called upon to attend Old-man Barton. It was not an agreeable duty, for
the Doctor suspected that something more than medical advice was in
question. He had not visited the farm-house since his discovery of
Martha's attachment to Gilbert Potter,--had even avoided intercourse
with Alfred Barton, towards whom his manner became cold and constrained.
It was a sore subject in his thoughts, and both the Bartons seemed to
be, in some manner, accessory to his disappointment.
The old man complained of an attack of "buzzing in the head," which
molested him at times, and for which bleeding was the Doctor's usual
remedy. His face had a flushed, congested, purple hue, and there was an
unnatural glare in his eyes; but the blood flowed thickly and sluggishly
from his skinny arm, and a much longer time than usual elapsed before he
"Gad, Doctor!" he said, when the vein had been closed, "the spring
weather brings me as much fulness as a young buck o' twenty. I'd be
frisky yet, if't wasn't for them legs. Set down, there; you've news to
"I think, Friend Barton," Dr. Deane answered, "thee'd better be quiet a
spell. Talking isn't exactly good for thee."
"Eh?" the old man growled; "maybe you'd like to think so, Doctor. If I
am house-bound, I pick up some things as they go around. And I know why
you let our little matter drop so suddent."
He broke off with a short, malicious laugh, which excited the Doctor's
ire. The latter seated himself, smoothed his garments and his face,
became odorous of bergamot and wintergreen, and secretly determined to
repay the old man for this thrust.
"I don't know what thee may have heard, Friend Barton," he remarked, in
his blandest voice. "There is always plenty of gossip in this
neighborhood, and some persons, no doubt, have been too free with my
name,--mine and my daughter's, I may say. But I want thee to know that
that has nothing to do with the relinquishment of my visits to thee. If
thee's curious to learn the reason, perhaps thy son Alfred may be able
to give it more circumstantially than I can."
"What, what, what!" exclaimed the old man. "The boy told you not to
"Not in so many words, mind thee; but he made it unnecessary,--quite
unnecessary. In the first place, he gave me no legal evidence of any
property, and until that was done, my hands were tied. Further, he
seemed very loath to address Martha at all, which was not so singular,
considering that he never took any steps, from the first, to gain her
favor; and then he deceived me into imagining that she wanted time,
after she had positively refused his addresses. He is mistaken, and thee
too, if you think that I am very anxious to have a man of no spirit and
little property for my son-in-law!"
The Doctor's words expressed more than he intended. They not only stung,
but betrayed his own sting. Old-man Barton crooked his claws around his
hickory staff, and shook with senile anger; while his small, keen eyes
glared on his antagonist's face. Yet he had force enough to wait until
the first heat of his feeling subsided.
"Doctor," he then said, "mayhap my boy's better than a man o' no name
and no property. He's worth, anyways, what I choose to make him worth.
Have you made up y'r mind to take the t'other, that you've begun to run
him down, eh?"
They were equally matched, this time. The color came into Dr. Deane's
face, and then faded, leaving him slightly livid about the mouth. He
preserved his external calmness, by a strong effort, but there was a
barely perceptible tremor in his voice, as he replied,--
"It is not pleasant to a man of my years to be made a fool of, as I have
every reason to believe thy son has attempted. If I had yielded to his
persuasions, I should have spent much time--all to no purpose, I doubt
not--in endeavoring to ascertain what thee means to do for him in thy
will. It was, indeed, the only thing he seemed to think or care much
about. If he has so much money of his own, as thee says, it is certainly
not creditable that he should be so anxious for thy decease."
The Doctor had been watching the old man as he spoke, and the increasing
effect of his words was so perceptible that he succeeded in closing with
an agreeable smile and a most luxurious pinch of snuff. He had not
intended to say so much, at the commencement of the conversation, but he
had been sorely provoked, and the temptation was irresistible.