Part 7 out of 8
The effect was greater than he had imagined. Old Barton's face was so
convulsed, that, for a few minutes, the Doctor feared an attack of
complete paralysis. He became the physician again, undid his work as
much as possible, and called Miss Ann into the room, to prevent any
renewal of the discussion. He produced his stores of entertaining
gossip, and prolonged his stay until all threatening symptoms of the
excitement seemed to be allayed. The old man returned to his ordinary
mood, and listened, and made his gruff comments, but with temporary fits
of abstraction. After the Doctor's departure, he scarcely spoke at all,
for the remainder of the evening.
A day or two afterwards, when Alfred Barton returned in the evening from
a sale in the neighborhood, he was aware of a peculiar change in his
father's manner. His first impression was that the old man, contrary to
Dr. Deane's orders, had resumed his rations of brandy, and exceeded the
usual allowance. There was a vivid color on his flabby cheeks; he was
alert, talkative, and frequently chuckled to himself, shifting the
hickory staff from hand to hand, or rubbing his gums backward and
forward on its rounded end.
He suddenly asked, as Alfred was smoking his pipe before the fire,--
"Know what I've been thinkin' of, to-day, boy?"
"No, daddy; anything about the crops?"
"Ha! ha! a pretty good crop for somebody it'll be! Nearly time for me to
make my will, eh? I'm so old and weak--no life left in me--can't last
He laughed with a hideous irony, as he pronounced these words. His son
stared at him, and the fire died out in the pipe between his teeth. Was
the old man getting childish? he asked himself. But no; he had never
looked more diabolically cunning and watchful.
"Why, daddy," Alfred said at last, "I thought--I fancied, at least,
you'd done that, long ago."
"Maybe I have, boy; but maybe I want to change it. I had a talk with the
Doctor when he came down to bleed me, and since there's to be no match
between you and the girl"--
He paused, keeping his eyes on his son's face, which lengthened and grew
vacant with a vague alarm.
"Why, then," he presently resumed, "_you_'re so much poorer by the
amount o' her money. Would it be fair, do you think, if I was to put
that much to what I might ha' meant for you before? Don't you allow you
ought to have a little more, on account o' your disapp'intment?
"If you think so, dad, it's all right," said the son, relighting his
pipe. "I don't know, though what Elisha'd say to it; but then, he's no
right to complain, for he married full as much as I'd ha' got."
"That he did, boy; and when all's said and done, the money's my own to
do with it what I please. There's no law o' the oldest takin' all. Yes,
yes, I'll have to make a new will!"
A serene joy diffused itself through Alfred Barton's breast. He became
frank, affectionate, and confidential.
"To tell you the truth, dad," he said, "I was mighty afraid you'd play
the deuce with me, because all's over between me and Martha Deane. You
seemed so set on it."
"So I was--so I was," croaked the old man, "but I've got over it since I
saw the Doctor. After all I've heerd, she's not the wife for you; it's
better as it is. You'd rayther have the money without her, tell the
truth now, you dog, ha! ha!"
"Damme, dad, you've guessed it!" Alfred cried, joining in the laugh.
"She's too high-flown for me. I never fancied a woman that's ready to
take you down, every other word you say; and I'll tell you now, that I
hadn't much stomach for the match, at any time; but you wanted it, you
know, and I've done what I could, to please you."
"You're a good boy, Alfred,--a mighty good boy."
There was nothing very amusing in this opinion, but the old man laughed
over it, by fits and starts, for a long time.
"Take a drop o' brandy, boy!" he said. "You may as well have my share,
till I'm ready to begin ag'in."
This was the very climax of favor. Alfred arose with a broad beam of
triumph on his face, filled the glass, and saying,--"Here's long life to
you, dad!" turned it into his mouth.
"Long life?" the old man muttered. "It's pretty long as it
is,--eighty-six and over; but it may be ninety-six, or a hundred and
six; who knows? Anyhow, boy, long or short, I'll make a new will."
Giles was now summoned, to wheel him into the adjoining room and put him
to bed. Alfred Barton took a second glass of brandy (after the door was
closed), lighted a fresh pipe, and seated himself again before the
embers to enjoy the surprise and exultation of his fortune. To think
that he had worried himself so long for that which finally came of
itself! Half his fear of the old man, he reflected, had been needless;
in many things he had acted like the veriest fool! Well, it was a
consolation to know that all his anxieties were over. The day that
should make him a rich and important man might be delayed (his father's
strength and vitality were marvellous), but it was certain to come.
Another day or two passed by, and the old man's quick, garrulous,
cheerful mood continued, although he made no further reference to the
subject of the will. Alfred Barton deliberated whether he should suggest
sending for Lawyer Stacy, but finally decided not to hazard his
prospects by a show of impatience. He was therefore not a little
surprised when his sister Ann suddenly made her appearance in the barn,
where he and Giles were mending some dilapidated plough-harness, and
announced that the lawyer was even then closeted with their father.
Moreover, for the first time in his knowledge, Ann herself had been
banished from the house. She clambered into the hay-mow, sat down in a
comfortable spot, and deliberately plied her knitting-needles.
Ann seemed to take the matter as coolly as if it were an every-day
occurrence, but Alfred could not easily recover from his astonishment.
There was more than accident here, he surmised. Mr. Stacy had made his
usual visit, not a fortnight before; his father's determination had
evidently been the result of his conversation with Dr. Deane; and in the
mean time no messenger had been sent to Chester, neither was there time
for a letter to reach there. Unless Dr. Deane himself were concerned in
secretly bringing about the visit,--a most unlikely circumstance,
--Alfred Barton could not understand how it happened.
"How did th' old man seem, when you left the house?" he asked.
"'Pears to me I ha'n't seen him so chipper these twenty years," said
"And how long are they to be left alone?"
"No tellin'," she answered, rattling her needles. "Mr. Stacy'll come,
when all's done; and not a soul is to go any nearder the house till he
gives the word."
Two hours, three hours, four hours passed away, before the summons came.
Alfred Barton found himself so curiously excited that he was fain to
leave the harness to Giles, and quiet himself with a pipe or two in the
meadow. He would have gone up to the Unicorn for a little stronger
refreshment, but did not dare to venture out of sight of the house. Miss
Ann was the perfect image of Patience in a hay-mow, smiling at his
anxiety. The motion of her needles never ceased, except when she counted
the stitches in narrowing.
Towards sunset, Mr. Stacy made his appearance at the barn-door, but his
face was a sealed book.
On the morning of that very day, another mysterious incident occurred.
Jake Fairthorn had been sent to Carson's on the old gray mare, on some
farm-errand,--perhaps to borrow a pick-axe or a post-spade. He had
returned as far as the Philadelphia road, and was entering the thick
wood on the level before descending to Redley Creek, when he perceived
Betsy Lavender leading Gilbert Potter's bay horse through a gap in the
fence, after which she commenced putting up the rails behind her.
"Why, Miss Betsy! what are you doin'?" cried Jake, spurring up to the
"Boys should speak when they're spoken to, and not come where they're
not wanted," she answered, in a savage tone. "Maybe I'm goin' to hunt
"Oh, please, let me go along!" eagerly cried Jake, who believed in
"Go along! Yes, and be eat up." Miss Lavender looked very much annoyed.
Presently, however, her face became amiable; she took a buckskin purse
out of her pocket, selected a small silver coin, and leaning over the
fence, held it out to Jake.
"Here!" she said, "here's a 'levenpenny-bit for you, if you'll be a good
boy, and do exackly as I bid you. Can you keep from gabblin', for two
days? Can you hold your tongue and not tell anybody till day after
to-morrow that you seen me here, goin' into the woods?"
"Why, that's easy as nothin'!" cried Jake, pocketing the coin. Miss
Lavender, leading the horse, disappeared among the trees.
But it was not quite so easy as Jake supposed. He had not been at home
ten minutes, before the precious piece of silver, transferred back and
forth between his pocket and his hand in the restless ecstasy of
possession, was perceived by Joe. Then, as Jake stoutly refused to tell
where it came from, Joe rushed into the kitchen, exclaiming,--
"Mammy, Jake's stole a levy!"
This brought out Mother Fairthorn and Sally, and the unfortunate Jake,
pressed and threatened on all sides, began to cry lamentably.
"She'll take it from me ag'in, if I tell," he whimpered.
"She? Who?" cried both at once, their curiosity now fully excited; and
the end of it was that Jake told the whole story, and was made wretched.
"Well!" Sally exclaimed, "this beats all! Gilbert Potter's bay horse,
too! Whatever could she be after? I'll have no peace till I tell Martha,
and so I may as well go up at once, for there's something in the wind,
and if she don't know already, she ought to!"
Thereupon Sally put on her bonnet, leaving her pewters half scoured, and
ran rather than walked to the village. Martha Deane could give no
explanation of the circumstance, but endeavored, for Miss Lavender's
sake, to conceal her extreme surprise.
"We shall know what it means," she said, "when Betsy comes home, and if
it's anything that concerns me, I promise, Sally, to tell you. It may,
however, relate to some business of her own, and so, I think, we had
better quietly wait and say nothing about it."
Nevertheless, after Sally's departure, Martha meditated long and
uneasily upon what she had heard. The fact that Miss Lavender had come
back from the Potter farmhouse in so unusual a frame of mind, borrowed
Gilbert's horse, and set forth on some mysterious errand, had already
disquieted her. More than the predicted week of absence had passed, and
now Miss Lavender, instead of returning home, appeared to be hiding in
the woods, anxious that her presence in the neighborhood should not be
made known. Moreover she had been seen by the landlord of the Unicorn,
three days before, near Logtown, riding towards Kennett Square.
These mysterious movements filled Martha Deane with a sense of anxious
foreboding. She felt sure that they were connected, in some way, with
Gilbert's interests, and Miss Lavender's reticence now seemed to
indicate a coming misfortune which she was endeavoring to avert. If
these fears were correct, Gilbert needed her help also. He could not
come to her; was she not called upon to go to him?
Her resolution was soon taken, and she only waited until her father had
left on a visit to two or three patients along the Street Road. His
questions, she knew, would bring on another painful conflict of will,
and she would save her strength for Gilbert's necessities. To avoid the
inferences of the tavern loungers, she chose the longer way, eastward
out of the village to the cross-road running past the Carson place.
All the sweet, faint tokens of Spring cheered her eyes and calmed the
unrest of her heart, as she rode. Among the dead leaves of the woods,
the snowy blossoms of the blood-root had already burst forth in starry
clusters; the anemones trembled between the sheltering knees of the old
oaks, and here and there a single buttercup dropped its gold on the
meadows. These things were so many presentiments of brighter days in
Nature, and they awoke a corresponding faith in her own heart.
As she approached the Potter farm she slackened her horse's pace, and
deliberated whether she should ride directly to the house or seek for
Gilbert in the fields. She had not seen Mary Potter since that eventful
Sunday, the previous summer, and felt that Gilbert ought to be consulted
before a visit which might possibly give pain. Her doubts were suddenly
terminated by his appearance, with Sam and an ox-cart, in the road
Gilbert could with difficulty wait until the slow oxen had removed Sam
out of hearing.
"Martha! were you coming to me?" he asked.
"As I promised, Gilbert," she said. "But do not look so anxious. If
there really is any trouble, I must learn it of you."
She then related to him what she had noticed in Miss Lavender's manner,
and learned of her movements. He stood before her, listening, with his
hand on the mane of her horse, and his eyes intently fixed on her face.
She saw the agitation her words produced, and her own vague fears
"Can you guess her business, Gilbert?" she asked.
"Martha," he answered, "I only know that there is something in her mind,
and I believe it concerns me. I am afraid to guess anything more,
because I have only my own wild fancies to go upon, and it won't do to
give 'em play!"
"What are those fancies, Gilbert? May I not know?"
"Can you trust me a little, Martha?" he implored. "Whatever I know, you
shall know; but if I sometimes seek useless trouble for myself, why
should I seek it for you? I'll tell you now one fear I've kept from you,
and you'll see what I mean."
He related to her his dread that Sandy Flash might prove to be his
father, and the solution of it in the highwayman's cell. "Have I not
done right?" he asked.
"I am not sure, Gilbert," she replied, with a brave smile; "you might
have tested my truth, once more, if you had spoken your fears."
"I need no test, Martha; and you won't press me for another, now. I'll
only say, and you'll be satisfied with it, that Betsy seemed to guess
what was in my mind, and promised, or rather expected, to come back with
"Then," said Martha, "I must wait until she makes her appearance."
She had hardly spoken the words, before a figure became visible between
the shock-headed willows, where the road crosses the stream. A bay
horse--and then Betsy Lavender herself!
Martha turned her horse's head, and Gilbert hastened forward with her,
both silent and keenly excited.
"Well!" exclaimed Miss Betsy, "what are you two a-doin' here?"
There was news in her face, both saw; yet they also remarked that the
meeting did not seem to be entirely welcome to her.
"I came," said Martha, "to see whether Gilbert could tell me why you
were hiding in the woods, instead of coming home."
"It's that--that good-for-nothin' serpent, Jake Fairthorn!" cried Miss
Lavender. "I see it all now. Much Gilbert could tell you, howsever, or
you him, o' _my_ business, and haven't I a right to it, as well as other
folks; but never mind, fine as it's spun it'll come to the sun, as they
say o' flax and sinful doin's; not that such is mine, but you may think
so if you like, and you'll know in a day or two, anyhow!"
Martha saw that Miss Lavender's lean hands were trembling, and guessed
that her news must be of vital importance. "Betsy," she said, "I see you
don't mean to tell us; but one word you can't refuse--is it good or
"Good or bad?" Miss Lavender repeated, growing more and more nervous, as
she looked at the two anxious faces. "Well, it isn't bad, so peart
yourselves up, and ask me no more questions, this day, nor yet
to-morrow, maybe; because if you do, I'll just screech with all my
might; I'll holler, Gilbert, wuss 'n you heerd, and much good that'll do
you, givin' me a crazy name all over the country. I'm in dead earnest;
if you try to worm anything more out o' me, I'll screech; and so I was
goin' to bring your horse home, Gilbert, and have a talk with your
mother, but you've made me mortal weak betwixt and between you; and I'll
ride back with Martha, by your leave, and you may send Sam right away
for the horse. No; let Sam come now, and walk alongside, to save me from
Miss Lavender would not rest until this arrangement was made. The two
ladies then rode away through the pale, hazy sunset, leaving Gilbert
Potter in a fever of impatience, dread, and hope.
The next morning, at daybreak, Dr. Deane was summoned in haste to the
Barton farm-house. Miss Betsy Lavender, whose secrets, whatever they
were, had interfered with her sleep, heard Giles's first knock, and
thrust her night-cap out the window before he could repeat it. The old
man, so Giles announced, had a bad spell,--a 'plectic fit, Lawyer Stacy
called it, and they didn't know as he'd live from one hour to another.
Miss Lavender aroused the Doctor, then dressed herself in haste, and
prepared to accompany him. Martha, awakened by the noise, came into the
spinster's room in her night-dress.
"Must you go, Betsy?" she asked.
"Child, it's a matter o' life and death, more likely death; and Ann's a
dooless critter at best, hardly ever off the place, and need o' Chris'en
help, if there ever was such; so don't ask me to stay, for I won't, and
all the better for me, for I daresn't open my lips to livin' soul till
I've spoke with Mary Potter!"
Miss Lavender took the foot-path across the fields, accompanied by
Giles, who gave up his saddled horse to Dr. Deane. The dawn was
brightening in the sky as they reached the farm-house, where they found
Alfred Barton restlessly walking backwards and forwards in the kitchen,
while Ann and Mr. Stacy were endeavoring to apply such scanty
restoratives--consisting principally of lavender and hot bricks--as the
An examination of the eyes and the pulse, and a last abortive attempt at
phlebotomy, convinced Dr. Deane that his services were no longer needed.
Death, which so many years before had lamed half the body, now asserted
his claim to the whole. A wonderfully persistent principle of vitality
struggled against the clogged functions, for two or three hours, then
yielded, and the small fragment of soul in the old man was cast adrift,
with little chance of finding a comfortable lodging in any other world.
Ann wandered about the kitchen in a dazed state, dropping tears
everywhere, and now and then moaning,--"O Betsy, how'll I ever get up
the funeral dinner?" while Alfred, after emptying the square bottle of
brandy, threw himself upon the settle and went to sleep. Mr. Stacy and
Miss Lavender, who seemed to know each other thoroughly at the first
sight, took charge of all the necessary arrangements; and as Alfred had
said,--"_I_ can't look after anything; do as you two like, and don't
spare expense!" they ordered the coffin, dispatched messengers to the
relatives and neighbors, and soothed Ann's unquiet soul by selecting the
material for the dinner, and engaging the Unicorn's cook.
When all was done, late in the day, Miss Lavender called Giles and
said,--"Saddle me a horse, and if no side-saddle, a man's'll do, for go
I must; it's business o' my own, Mr. Stacy, and won't wait for me; not
that I want to do more this day than what I've done. Goodness knows; but
I'll have a fit, myself, if I don't!"
She reached the Potter farm-house at dark, and both mother and son were
struck with her flushed, excited, and yet weary air. Their supper was
over, but she refused to take anything more than a cup of tea; her
speech was forced, and more rambling and disconnected than ever. When
Mary Potter left the kitchen to bring some fresh cream from the
spring-house, Miss Lavender hastily approached Gilbert, laid her hand on
his shoulder, and said,--
"Lad, be good this once't, and do what I tell you. Make a reason for
goin' to bed as soon as you can; for I've been workin' in your interest
all this while, only I've got that to tell your mother, first of all,
which you mustn't hear; and you may hope as much as you please, for the
news isn't bad, as'll soon be made manifest!"
Gilbert was strangely impressed by her solemn, earnest manner, and
promised to obey. He guessed, and yet feared to believe, that the long
release of which his mother had spoken bad come at last; how else, he
asked himself, should Miss Lavender become possessed of knowledge which
seemed so important? As early as possible he went up to his bedroom,
leaving the two women alone. The sound of voices, now high and hurried,
now, apparently, low and broken, came to his ears. He resisted the
temptation to listen, smothered his head in the pillow to further muffle
the sounds, and after a long, restless struggle with his own mind, fell
asleep. Deep in the night he was awakened by the noise of a shutting
door, and then all was still.
It was very evident, in the morning, that he had not miscalculated the
importance of Miss Lavender's communication. Was this woman, whose face
shone with such a mingled light of awe and triumph, his mother? Were
these features, where the deep lines of patience were softened into
curves of rejoicing, the dark, smouldering gleam of sorrow kindled into
a flashing light of pride, those he had known from childhood? As he
looked at her, in wonder renewed with every one of her movements and
glances, she took him by the hand and said,--
"Gilbert, wait a little!"
Miss Lavender insisted on having breakfast by sunrise, and as soon as
the meal was over demanded her horse. Then first she announced the fact
of Old-man Barton's death, and that the funeral was to be on the
"Mary, you must be sure and come," she said, as she took leave; "I know
Ann expects it of you. Ten o'clock, remember!"
Gilbert noticed that his mother laid aside her sewing, and when the
ordinary household labor had been performed, seated herself near the
window with a small old Bible, which he had never before seen in her
hands. There was a strange fixedness in her gaze, as if only her eyes,
not her thoughts, were directed upon its pages. The new expression of
her face remained; it seemed already to have acquired as permanent a
stamp as the old. Against his will he was infected by its power, and
moved about in barn and field all day with a sense of the unreality of
things, which was very painful to his strong, practical nature.
The day of the old man's funeral came. Sam led up the horses, and waited
at the gate with them to receive his master's parting instructions.
Gilbert remarked with surprise that his mother placed a folded paper
between the leaves of the Bible, tied the book carefully in a linen
handkerchief, and carried it with her. She was ready, but still
hesitated, looking around the kitchen with the manner of one who had
forgotten something. Then she returned to her own room, and after some
minutes, came forth, paler than before, but proud, composed, and firm.
"Gilbert," she said, almost in a whisper, "I have tried you sorely, and
you have been wonderfully kind and patient. I have no right to ask
anything more; I _could_ tell you everything now, but this is not the
place nor the time I had thought of, for so many years past. Will you
let me finish the work in the way pointed out to me?"
"Mother," he answered, "I cannot judge in this matter, knowing nothing.
I must be led by you; but, pray, do not let it be long?"
"It will not be long, my boy, or I wouldn't ask it. I have one more duty
to perform, to myself, to you, and to the Lord, and it must be done in
the sight of men. Will you stand by me, not question my words, not
interfere with my actions, however strange they may seem, but simply
believe and obey?"
"I will, mother," he said, "because you make me feel that I must."
They mounted, and side by side rode up the glen. Mary Potter was silent;
now and then her lips moved, not, as once, in some desperate appeal of
the heart for pity and help, but as with a thanksgiving so profound that
it must needs be constantly renewed, to be credited.
After passing Carson's, they took the shorter way across the fields, and
approached the Barton farm-house from below. A large concourse of people
was already assembled; and the rude black hearse, awaiting its burden in
the lane, spread the awe and the gloom of death over the scene. The
visitors were grouped around the doors, silent or speaking cautiously in
subdued tones; and all new-comers passed into the house to take their
last look at the face, of the dead.
The best room, in which the corpse lay, was scarcely used once in a
year, and many of the neighbors had never before had occasion to enter
it. The shabby, antiquated furniture looked cold and dreary from disuse,
and the smell of camphor in the air hardly kept down the musty, mouldy
odors which exhaled from the walls. The head and foot of the coffin
rested on two chairs placed in the centre of the room; and several
women, one of whom was Miss Betsy Lavender, conducted the visitors back
and forth, as they came. The members of the bereaved family were stiffly
ranged around the walls, the chief mourners consisting of the old man's
eldest son, Elisha, with his wife and three married sons, Alfred, and
Mary Potter took her son's arm, and they passed through the throng at
the door, and entered the house. Gilbert silently returned the nods of
greeting; his mother neither met nor avoided the eyes of others. Her
step was firm, her head erect, her bearing full of pride and decision.
Miss Lavender, who met her with a questioning glance at the door, walked
beside her to the room of death, and then--what was remarkable in
her--became very pale.
They stood by the coffin. It was not a peaceful, solemn sight, that
yellow face, with its wrinkles and creases and dark blotches of
congealed blood, made more pronounced and ugly by the white shroud and
cravat, yet a tear rolled down Mary Potter's cheek as she gazed upon it.
Other visitors came, and Gilbert gently drew her away, to leave the
room; but with a quick pressure upon his arm, as if to remind him of his
promise, she quietly took her seat near the mourners, and by a slight
motion indicated that he should seat himself at her side.
It was an unexpected and painful position; but her face, firm and calm,
shamed his own embarrassment. He saw, nevertheless, that the grief of
the mourners was not so profound as to suppress the surprise, if not
indignation, which the act called forth. The women had their
handkerchiefs to their eyes, and were weeping in a slow, silent,
mechanical way; the men had handkerchiefs in their hands, but their
faces were hard, apathetic, and constrained.
By-and-by the visitors ceased; the attending women exchanged glances
with each other and with the mourners, and one of the former stepped up
to Mary Potter and said gently,--
"It is only the family, now."
This was according to custom, which required that just before the coffin
was closed, the members of the family of the deceased should be left
alone with him for a few minutes, and take their farewell of his face,
undisturbed by other eyes. Gilbert would have risen, but his mother,
with her hand on his arm, quietly replied,--
"We belong to the family."
The woman withdrew, though with apparent doubt and hesitation, and they
were left alone with the mourners.
Gilbert could scarcely trust his senses. A swift suspicion of his
mother's insanity crossed his mind; but when he looked around the room
and beheld Alfred Barton gazing upon her with a face more livid than
that of the dead man, this suspicion was followed by another, no less
overwhelming. For a few minutes everything seemed to whirl and spin
before his eyes; a light broke upon him, but so unexpected, so
incredible, that it came with the force of a blow.
The undertaker entered the room and screwed down the lid of the coffin;
the pall-bearers followed and carried it to the hearse. Then the
mourners rose and prepared to set forth, in the order of their relation
to the deceased. Elisha Barton led the way, with his wife; then Ann,
clad in her Sunday black, stepped forward to take Alfred's arm.
"Ann," said Mary Potter, in a low voice, which yet was heard by every
person in the room, "that is my place."
She left Gilbert and moved to Alfred Barton's side. Then, slightly
turning, she said,--"Gilbert, give your arm to your aunt."
For a full minute no other word was said. Alfred Barton stood
motionless, with Mary Potter's hand on his arm. A fiery flush succeeded
to his pallor; his jaw fell, and his eyes were fixed upon the floor. Ann
took Gilbert's arm in a helpless, bewildered way.
"Alfred, what does all this mean?" Elisha finally asked.
He said nothing; Mary Potter answered for him,--"It is right that he
should walk with his wife rather than his sister."
The horses and chairs were waiting in the lane, and helping neighbors
were at the door; but the solemn occasion was forgotten, in the shock
produced by this announcement. Gilbert started and almost reeled; Ann
clung to him with helpless terror; and only Elisha, whose face grew dark
and threatening, answered.
"Woman," he said, "you are out of your senses! Leave us; you have no
She met him with a proud, a serene and steady countenance. "Elisha," she
answered, "we are here to bury your father and my father-in-law. Let be
until the grave has closed over him; then ask Alfred whether I could
dare to take my rightful place before to-day."
The solemn decision of her face and voice struck him dumb. His wife
whispered a few words in his ear, and he turned away with her, to take
his place in the funeral procession.
It was Alfred Barton's duty to follow, and if it was not grief which
impelled him to bury his face in his handkerchief as they issued from
the door, it was a torture keener than was ever mingled with grief,--the
torture of a mean nature, pilloried in its meanest aspect for the public
gaze. Mary, (we must not call her Potter, and cannot yet call her
Barton,) rather led him than was led by him, and lifted her face to the
eyes of men. The shame which she might have felt, as his wife, was lost
in the one overpowering sense of the justification for which she had so
long waited and suffered.
When the pair appeared in the yard, and Gilbert followed with Miss Ann
Barton on his arm, most of the funeral guests looked on in stupid
wonder, unable to conceive the reason of the two thus appearing among
the mourners. But when they had mounted and were moving off, a rumor of
the startling truth ran from lip to lip. The proper order of the
procession was forgotten; some untied their horses in haste and pushed
forward to convince themselves of the astonishing fact; others gathered
into groups and discussed it earnestly. Some had suspected a relation of
the kind, all along, so they said; others scouted at the story, and were
ready with explanations of their own. But not a soul had another thought
to spare for Old-man Barton that day.
Dr. Deane and Martha heard what had happened as they were mounting their
horses. When they took their places in the line, the singular
companionship, behind the hearse, was plainly visible. Neither spoke a
word, but Martha felt that her heart was beating fast, and that her
thoughts were unsteady.
Presently Miss Lavender rode up and took her place at her side. Tears
were streaming from her eyes, and she was using her handkerchief freely.
It was sometime before she could command her feelings enough to say, in
a husky whisper,--
"I never thought to ha' had a hand in such wonderful doin's, and how I
held up through it, I can't tell. Glory to the Lord, the end has come;
but, no--not yet--not quite; only enough for one day, Martha; isn't
"Betsy," said Martha, "please ride a little closer, and explain to me
how it came about. Give me one or two points for my mind to rest on, for
I don't seem to believe even what I see."
"What I see. No wonder, who could? Well, it's enough that Mary was
married to Alf. Barton a matter o' twenty-six year ago, and that he
swore her to keep it secret till th' old man died, and he's been her
husband all this while, and knowed it!"
"Father!" Martha exclaimed in a low, solemn voice, turning to Dr. Deane,
"think, now, what it was thee would have had me do!"
The Doctor was already aware of his terrible mistake. "Thee was led,
child," he answered, "thee was led! It was a merciful Providence."
"Then might thee not also admit that I have been led in that other
respect, which has been so great a trial to thee?"
He made no reply.
The road to Old Kennett never seemed so long; never was a corpse so
impatiently followed. A sense of decency restrained those who were not
relatives from pushing in advance of those who were; yet it was, very
tantalizing to look upon the backs of Alfred Barton and Mary, Gilbert
and Ann, when their faces must be such a sight to see!
These four, however, rode in silence. Each, it may be guessed, was
sufficiently occupied with his or her own sensations,--except, perhaps,
Ann Barton, who had been thrown so violently out of her quiet, passive
round of life by her father's death, that she was incapable of any great
surprise. Her thoughts were more occupied with the funeral-dinner, yet
to come, than with the relationship of the young man at her side.
Gilbert slowly admitted the fact into his mind, but he was so unprepared
for it by anything in his mother's life or his own intercourse with
Alfred Barton, that he was lost in a maze of baffled conjectures. While
this confusion lasted, he scarcely thought of his restoration to honor,
or the breaking down of that fatal barrier between him and Martha Deane.
His first sensation was one of humiliation and disappointment. How often
had he been disgusted with Alfred Barton's meanness and swagger! How
much superior, in many of the qualities of manhood, was even the
highwayman, whose paternity he had so feared! As he looked at the broad,
heavy form before him, in which even the lines of the back expressed
cowardice and abject shame, he almost doubted whether his former
disgrace was not preferable to his present claim to respect.
Then his eyes turned to his mother's figure, and a sweet, proud joy
swept away the previous emotion. Whatever the acknowledged relationship
might be to him, to her it was honor--yea, more than honor; for by so
much and so cruelly as she had fallen below the rights of her pure name
as a woman, the higher would she now be set, not only in respect, but in
the reverence earned by her saintly patience and self-denial. The
wonderful transformation of her face showed him what this day was to her
life, and he resolved that no disappointment of his own should come
between her and her triumph.
To Gilbert the way was not too long, nor the progress too slow. It gave
him time to grow familiar, not only with the fact, but with his duty. He
forcibly postponed his wandering conjectures, and compelled his mind to
dwell upon that which lay immediately before him.
It was nearly noon before the hearse reached Old Kennett meeting-house.
The people of the neighborhood, who had collected to await its arrival,
came forward and assisted the mourners to alight. Alfred Barton
mechanically took his place beside his wife, but again buried his face
in his handkerchief. As the wondering, impatient crowd gathered around,
Gilbert felt that all was known, and that all eyes were fixed upon
himself and his mother, and his face reflected her own firmness and
strength. From neither could the spectators guess what might be passing
in their hearts. They were both paler than usual, and their resemblance
to each other became very striking. Gilbert, in fact, seemed to have
nothing of his father except the peculiar turn of his shoulders and the
strong build of his chest.
They walked over the grassy, briery, unmarked mounds of old graves to
the spot where a pile of yellow earth denoted Old Barton's
resting-place. When the coffin had been lowered, his children, in
accordance with custom, drew near, one after the other, to bend over and
look into the narrow pit. Gilbert led up his trembling aunt, who might
have fallen in, had he not carefully supported her. As he was
withdrawing, his eyes suddenly encountered those of Martha Deane, who
was standing opposite, in the circle of hushed spectators. In spite of
himself a light color shot into his face, and his lips trembled. The
eager gossips, who had not missed even the wink of an eyelid, saw this
fleeting touch of emotion, and whence it came. Thenceforth Martha shared
their inspection; but from the sweet gravity of her face, the untroubled
calm of her eyes, they learned nothing more.
When the grave had been filled, and the yellow mound ridged and patted
with the spade, the family returned to the grassy space in front of the
meeting-house, and now their more familiar acquaintances, and many who
were not, gathered around to greet them and offer words of condolence.
An overpowering feeling of curiosity was visible upon every face; those
who did not venture to use their tongues, used their eyes the more.
Alfred Barton was forced to remove the handkerchief from his face, and
its haggard wretchedness (which no one attributed to grief for his
father's death), could no longer be hidden. He appeared to have suddenly
become an old man, with deeper wrinkles, slacker muscles, and a
helpless, tottering air of weakness. The corners of his mouth drooped,
hollowing his cheeks, and his eyes seemed unable to bear up the weight
of the lids; they darted rapidly from side to side, or sought the
ground, not daring to encounter, for more than an instant, those of
There was no very delicate sense of propriety among the people, and very
soon an inquisitive old Quaker remarked,--
"Why, Mary, is this true that I hear? Are you two man and wife?"
"We are," she said.
"Bless us! how did it happen?"
The bystanders became still as death, and all ears were stretched to
catch the answer. But she, with proud, impenetrable calmness, replied,--
"It will be made known."
And with these words the people were forced, that day to be satisfied.
During the homeward journey from the grave, Gilbert and his mother were
still the central figures of interest. That the members of the Barton
family were annoyed and humiliated, was evident to all eyes; but it was
a pitiful, undignified position, which drew no sympathy towards them,
while the proud, composed gravity of the former commanded respect. The
young men and women, especially, were unanimously of the opinion that
Gilbert had conducted himself like a man. They were disappointed, it was
true, that he and Martha Deane had not met, in the sight of all. It was
impossible to guess whether she had been already aware of the secret, or
how the knowledge of it would affect their romantic relation to each
Could the hearts of the lovers have been laid bare, the people would
have seen that never had each felt such need of the other,--never had
they been possessed with such restless yearning. To the very last,
Gilbert's eyes wandered from time to time towards the slender figure in
the cavalcade before him, hoping for the chance of a word or look; but
Martha's finer instinct told her that she must yet hold herself aloof.
She appreciated the solemnity of the revelation, saw that much was yet
unexplained, and could have guessed, even without Miss Lavender's
mysterious hints, that the day would bring forth other and more
As the procession drew nearer Kennett Square, the curiosity of the
funeral guests, baulked and yet constantly stimulated, began to grow
disorderly. Sally Fairthorn was in such a flutter that she scarcely knew
what she said or did; Mark's authority alone prevented her from dashing
up to Gilbert, regardless of appearances. The old men, especially those
in plain coats and broad-brimmed hats, took every opportunity to press
near the mourners; and but for Miss Betsy Lavender, who hovered around
the latter like a watchful dragon, both Gilbert and his mother would
have been seriously annoyed. Finally the gate at the lane-end closed
upon them, and the discomfited public rode on to the village, tormented
by keen envy of the few who had been bidden to the funeral-dinner.
When Mary alighted from her horse, the old lawyer approached her.
"My name is Stacy, Mrs. Barton," he said, "and Miss Lavender will have
told you who I am. Will you let me have a word with you in private?"
She slightly started at the name he had given her; it was the first
symptom of agitation she had exhibited. He took her aside, and began
talking earnestly in a low tone. Elisha Barton looked on with an amazed,
troubled air, and presently turned to his brother.
"Alfred," he said, "it is quite time all this was explained."
But Miss Lavender interfered.
"It's your right, Mr. Elisha, no denyin' that, and the right of all the
fam'ly; so we've agreed to have it done afore all together, in the
lawful way, Mr. Stacy bein' a lawyer; but dinner first, if you please,
for eatin' 's good both for grief and cur'osity, and it's hard tellin'
which is uppermost in this case. Gilbert, come here!"
He was standing alone, beside the paling. He obeyed her call.
"Gilbert, shake hands with your uncle and aunt Mr. Elisha, this is your
nephew, Gilbert Barton, Mr. Alfred's son."
They looked at each other for a moment. There was that in Gilbert's face
which enforced respect. Contrasted with his father, who stood on one
side, darting stealthy glances at the group from the corners of his
eyes, his bearing was doubly brave and noble. He offered his hand in
silence, and both Elisha Barton and his wife felt themselves compelled
to take it. Then the three sons, who knew the name of Gilbert Potter,
and were more astonished than shocked at the new relationship, came up
and greeted their cousin in a grave but not unfriendly way.
"That's right!" exclaimed Miss Lavender. "And now come in to dinner, all
o' ye! I gev orders to have the meats dished as soon as the first horse
was seen over the rise o' the hill, and it'll all be smokin' on the
Though the meal was such as no one had ever before seen in the Barton
farm-house, it was enjoyed by very few of the company. The sense of
something to come after it made them silent and uncomfortable. Mr.
Stacy, Miss Lavender, and the sons of Elisha Barton, with their wives,
carried on a scattering, forced conversation, and there was a general
feeling of relief when the pies, marmalade, and cheese had been
consumed, and the knives and forks laid crosswise over the plates.
When they arose from the table, Mr. Stacy led the way into the parlor. A
fire, in the mean time, had been made in the chill, open fireplace, but
it scarcely relieved the dreary, frosty aspect of the apartment. The
presence of the corpse seemed to linger there, attaching itself with
ghastly distinctness to the chair and hickory staff in a corner.
The few dinner-guests who were not relatives understood that this
meeting excluded them, and Elisha Barton was therefore surprised to
notice, after they had taken their seats, that Miss Lavender was one of
"I thought," he said, with a significant look, "that it was to be the
"Miss Lavender is one of the witnesses to the will," Mr. Stacy answered,
"and her presence is necessary, moreover, as an important testimony in
regard to some of its provisions."
Alfred Barton and Gilbert both started at these words, but from very
different feelings. The former, released from public scrutiny, already
experienced a comparative degree of comfort, and held up his head with
an air of courage; yet now the lawyer's announcement threw him into an
agitation which it was not possible to conceal. Miss Lavender looked
around the circle, coolly nodded her head to Elisha Barton, and said
Mr. Stacy arose, unlocked a small niche let into the wall of the house,
and produced the heavy oaken casket in which the old man kept the
documents relating to his property. This he placed upon a small table
beside his chair, opened it, and took out the topmost paper. He was
completely master of the situation, and the deliberation with which he
surveyed the circle of excited faces around him seemed to indicate that
he enjoyed the fact.
"The last will and testament of Abiah Barton, made the day before his
death," he said, "revokes all former wills, which were destroyed by his
order, in the presence of myself and Miss Elizabeth Lavender."
All eyes were turned upon the spinster, who again nodded, with a face of
"In order that you, his children and grandchildren," Mr. Stacy
continued, "may rightly understand the deceased's intention in making
this last will, when the time comes for me to read it, I must first
inform you that he was acquainted with the fact of his son Alfred's
marriage with Mary Potter."
Alfred Barton half sprang from his seat, and then fell back with the
same startled, livid face, which Gilbert already knew. The others held
their breath in suspense,--except Mary, who sat near the lawyer, firm,
cold, and unmoved.
"The marriage of Alfred Barton and Mary Potter must therefore be
established, to _your_ satisfaction," Mr. Stacy resumed, turning towards
Elisha. "Alfred Barton, I ask you to declare whether this woman is your
lawfully wedded wife?"
A sound almost like a groan came from his throat, but it formed the
"Further, I ask you to declare whether Gilbert Barton, who has until
this day borne his mother's name of Potter, is your lawfully begotten
"To complete the evidence," said the lawyer, "Mary Barton, give me the
paper in your hands."
She untied the handkerchief, opened the Bible, and handed Mr. Stacy the
slip of paper which Gilbert had seen her place between the leaves that
morning. The lawyer gave it to Elisha Barton, with the request that he
would read it aloud.
It was the certificate of a magistrate at Burlington, in the Colony of
New Jersey, setting forth that he had united in wedlock Alfred Barton
and Mary Potter. The date was in the month of June, 1771.
"This paper," said Elisha, when he had finished reading, "appears to be
genuine. The evidence must have been satisfactory to you, Mr. Stacy, and
to my father, since it appears to have been the cause of his making a
new will; but as this new will probably concerns me and my children, I
demand to know why; if the marriage was legal, it has been kept secret
so long? The fact of the marriage does not explain what has happened
Mr. Stacy turned towards Gilbert's mother, and made a sign.
"Shall I explain it in my way, Alfred?" she asked, "or will you, in
"There's but one story," he answered, "and I guess it falls to your
place to tell it." "It does!" she exclaimed. "You, Elisha and Ann, and
you, Gilbert, my child, take notice that every word of what I shall say
is the plain God's truth. Twenty-seven years ago, when I was a young
woman of twenty, I came to this farm to help Ann with the house-work.
You remember it, Ann; it was just after your mother's death. I was poor;
I had neither father nor mother, but I was as proud as the proudest, and
the people called me good-looking. You were vexed with me, Ann, because
the young men came now and then, of a Sunday afternoon; but I put up
with your hard words. You did not know that I understood what Alfred's
eyes meant when he looked at me; I put up with you because I believed I
could be mistress of the house, in your place. You have had your revenge
of me since, if you felt the want of it--so let that rest!"
She paused. Ann, with her handkerchief to her eyes, sobbed out,--"Mary,
I always liked you better 'n you thought."
"I can believe it," she continued, "for I have been forced to look into
my heart and learn how vain and mistaken I then was. But I liked Alfred,
in those days; he was a gay young man, and accounted good-looking, and
there were merry times just before the war, and he used to dress
bravely, and was talked about as likely to marry this girl or that. My
head was full of him, and I believed my heart was. I let him see from
the first that it must be honest love between us, or not at all; and the
more I held back, the more eager was he, till others began to notice,
and the matter was brought to his father's ears."
"I remember that!" cried Elisha, suddenly.
"Yet it was kept close," she resumed. "Alfred told me that the old man
had threatened to cut him out of his will if he should marry me, and I
saw that I must leave the farm; but I gave out that I was tired of the
country, and wanted to find service in Philadelphia. I believed that
Alfred would follow me in a week or two, and he did. He brought news I
didn't expect, and it turned my head upside down. His father had had a
paralytic stroke, and nobody believed he'd live more than a few weeks.
It was in the beginning of June, and the doctors said he couldn't get
over the hot weather. Alfred said to me, Why wait?--you'll be taking up
with some city fellow, and I want you to be my wife at once. On my side
I thought, Let him be made rich and free by his father's death, and
wives will be thrown in his way; he'll lose his liking for me, by little
and little, and somebody else will be mistress of the farm. So I agreed,
and we went to Burlington together, as being more out of the way and
easier to be kept secret; but just before we came to the Squire's, he
seemed to grow fearsome all at once, lest it should be found out, and he
bought a Bible and swore me by my soul's salvation never to say I was
married to him until after his father died. Here's the Bible, Alfred! Do
you remember it? Here, here's the place where I kissed it when I took
She rose from her seat, and held it towards him. No one could doubt the
solemn truth of her words. He nodded his head mechanically, unable to
speak. Still standing, she turned towards Elisha Barton, and
"_He_ took the same oath, but what did it mean to him! What does it mean
to a man? I was young and vain; I thought only of holding fast to my
good luck! I never thought of--of"--(here her faced flushed, and her
voice began to tremble)--"of _you_, Gilbert! I fed my pride by hoping
for a man's death, and never dreamed I was bringing a curse on a life
that was yet to come! Perhaps he didn't then, either; the Lord pardon me
if I judge him too hard. What I charge him with, is that he held me to
my oath, when--when the fall went by and the winter, and his father
lived, and his son was to be born! It was always the same,--Wait a
little, a month or so, maybe; the old man couldn't live, and it was the
difference between riches and poverty for us. Then I begged for poverty
and my good name, and after that he kept away from me. Before Gilbert
was born, I hoped I might die in giving him life; then I felt that I
must live for his sake. I saw my sin, and what punishment the Lord had
measured out to me, and that I must earn His forgiveness; and He
mercifully hid from my sight the long path that leads to this day; for
if the release hadn't seemed so near, I never could have borne to wait!"
All the past agony of her life seemed to discharge itself in these
words. They saw what the woman had suffered, what wonderful virtues of
patience and faith had been developed from the vice of her pride, and
there was no heart in the company so stubborn as to refuse her honor.
Gilbert's eyes were fixed on her face with an absorbing expression of
reverence; he neither knew nor heeded that there were tears on his
cheeks. The women wept in genuine emotion, and even the old lawyer was
obliged to wipe his dimmed spectacles.
Elisha rose, and approaching Alfred, asked, in a voice which he strove
to make steady,--"Is all this true?"
Alfred sank his head; his reply was barely audible,--
"She has said no more than the truth."
"Then," said Elisha, taking her hand, "I accept you, Mary Barton, and
acknowledge your place in our family."
Elisha's wife followed, and embraced her with many tears, and lastly
Ann, who hung totteringly upon her shoulder as she cried,--
"Indeed, Mary, indeed I always liked you; I never wished you any harm!"
Thus encouraged, Alfred Barton made a powerful effort. There seemed but
one course for him to take; it was a hard one, but he took it.
"Mary," he said, "you have full right and justice on your side. I've
acted meanly towards you--meaner, I'm afraid, than any man before ever
acted towards his wife. Not only to you, but to Gilbert; but I always
meant to do my duty in the end. I waited from month to month, and year
to year, as you did; and then things got set in their way, and it was
harder and harder to let out the truth. I comforted myself--that wasn't
right, either, I know,--but I comforted myself with the thought that you
were doing well; I never lost sight of you, and I've been proud of
Gilbert, though I didn't dare show it, and always wanted to lend him a
helping hand, if he'd let me."
She drew herself up and faced him with flashing eyes.
"How did you mean to do your duty by me? How did you mean to lend
Gilbert a helping hand? Was it by trying to take a second wife during my
lifetime, and that wife the girl whom Gilbert loves?"
Her questions cut to the quick, and the shallow protestations he would
have set up were stripped off in a moment, leaving bare every cowardly
shift of his life. Nothing was left but the amplest confession.
"You won't believe me, Mary," he stammered, feebly weeping with pity of
his own miserable plight, "and I can't ask to--but it's the truth! Give
me your Bible! I'll kiss the place you kissed, and swear before God that
I never meant to marry Martha Deane! I let the old man think so, because
he hinted it'd make a difference in his will, and he drove me--he and
Dr. Deane together--to speak to her. I was a coward and a fool that I
let myself be driven that far, but I couldn't and wouldn't have married
"The whole snarl's comin' undone," interrupted Miss Lavender. "I see the
end on't. Do you mind that day, Alf. Barton, when I come upon you
suddent, settin' on the log and sayin' 'I can't see the way,'--the very
day, I'll be snaked, that you spoke to the Doctor about Martha
Deane!--and then _you_ so mortal glad that she wouldn't have you! You
_have_ acted meaner 'n dirt; I don't excuse him, Mary; but never mind,
justice is justice, and he's told the truth this once't."
"Sit down, friends!" said Mr. Stacy. "Before the will is read, I want
Miss Lavender to relate how it was that Abiah Barton and myself became
acquainted with the fact of the marriage."
The reading of the will had been almost forgotten in the powerful
interest excited by Mary Barton's narrative. The curiosity to know its
contents instantly revived, but was still subordinate to that which the
lawyer's statement occasioned. The whole story was so singular, that it
seemed as yet but half explained.
"Well, to begin at the beginnin'," said Miss Lavender, "it all come o'
my wishin' to help two true-lovyers, and maybe you'll think I'm as
foolish as I'm old, but never mind, I'll allow that; and I saw that
nothin' could be done till Gilbert got his lawful name, and how to get
it was the trouble, bein' as Mary was swore to keep secret. The long and
the short of it is, I tried to worm it out o' her, but no use; she set
her teeth as tight as sin, and all I did learn was, that when she was in
Phildelphy--I knowed Gilbert was born there, but didn't let on--she
lived at Treadwells, in Fourth Street Then turnin' over everything in my
mind, I suspicioned that she must be waitin' for somebody to die, and
that's what held her bound; it seemed to me I must guess right away, but
I couldn't and couldn't, and so goin' up the hill, nigh puzzled to
death, Gilbert ploughin' away from me, bendin' his head for'ard a
little--there! turn round, Gilbert! turn round, Alf. Barton I Look at
them two sets o' shoulders!"
Miss Lavender's words were scarcely comprehensible, but all saw the
resemblance between father and son, in the outline of the shoulders, and
managed to guess her meaning.
"Well," she continued, "it struck me then and there, like a streak o'
lightnin'; I screeched and tumbled like a shot hawk, and so betwixt the
saddle and the ground, as the sayin' is, it come to me--not mercy, but
knowledge, all the same, you know what I mean; and I saw them was Alf.
Barton's shoulders, and I remembered the old man was struck with palsy
the year afore Gilbert was born, and I dunno how many other things come
to me all of a heap; and now you know, Gilbert, what made me holler. I
borrowed the loan o' his bay horse and put off for Phildelphy the very
next day, and a mortal job it was; what with bar'ls and boxes pitched
hither and yon, and people laughin' at y'r odd looks,--don't talk o'
Phildelphy manners to me, for I've had enough of 'em!--and old Treadwell
dead when I did find him, and the daughter married to Greenfield in the
brass and tin-ware business, it's a mercy I ever found out anything."
"Come to the point, Betsy," said Elisha, impatiently.
"The point, Betsy. The p'int 's this: I made out from the Greenfield
woman that the man who used to come to see Mary Potter was the perfect
pictur' o' young Alf. Barton; then to where she went next, away down to
the t'other end o' Third Street, boardin', he payin' the board till just
afore Gilbert was born--and that's enough, thinks I, let me get out o'
this rackety place. So home I posted, but not all the way, for no use to
tell Mary Potter, and why not go right to Old-man Barton, and let him
know who his daughter-in-law and son is, and see what'll come of it? Th'
old man, you must know, always could abide me better 'n most women, and
I wasn't a bit afeard of him, not lookin' for legacies, and wouldn't
have 'em at any such price; but never mind. I hid my horse in the woods
and sneaked into the house across the fields, the back way, and good
luck that nobody was at home but Ann, here; and so I up and told the old
man the whole story."
"The devil!" Alfred Barton could not help exclaiming, as he recalled his
father's singular manner on the evening of the day in question.
"Devil!" Miss Lavender repeated. "More like an angel put it into my
head. But I see Mr. Elisha's fidgetty, so I'll make short work o' the
rest. He curst and swore awful, callin' Mr. Alfred a mean pup, and I
dunno what all, but he hadn't so much to say ag'in Mary Potter; he
allowed she was a smart lass, and he'd heerd o' Gilbert's doin's, and
the lad had grit in him. 'Then,' says I, 'here's a mighty wrong been
done, and it's for you to set it right afore you die, and if you manage
as I tell you, you can be even with Mr. Alfred;' and he perks up his
head and asks how, and says I 'This way'--but what I said'll be made
manifest by Mr. Stacy, without my jumpin' ahead o' the proper time. The
end of it was, he wound up by sayin',--'Gad, if Stacy was only here!'
'I'll bring him!' says I, and it was fixed betwixt and between us two,
Ann knowin' nothin' o' the matter; and off I trapesed back to Chester,
and brung Mr. Stacy, and if that good-for-nothin' Jake Fairthorn hadn't
ha' seen me"--
"That will do, Miss Lavender," said Mr. Stacy, interrupting her. "I have
only to add that Abiah Barton was so well convinced of the truth of the
marriage, that his new will only requires the proof which has to-day
been furnished, in order to express his intentions fully and completely.
It was his wish that I should visit Mary Barton on the very morning
afterwards; but his sudden death prevented it, and Miss Lavender
ascertained, the same evening, that Mary, in view of the neglect and
disgrace which she had suffered, demanded to take her justification into
her own hands. My opinion coincided with that of Miss Lavender, that she
alone had the right to decide in the matter, and that we must give no
explanation until she had asserted, in her own way, her release from a
most shameful and cruel bond."
It was a proud moment of Miss Lavender's life, when, in addition to her
services, the full extent of which would presently be known, a lawyer of
Mr. Stacy's reputation so respectfully acknowledged the wisdom of her
"If further information upon any point is required," observed the
lawyer, "it may be asked for now; otherwise, I will proceed to the
reading of the will."
"Was--was my father of sound mind,--that is, competent to dispose of his
property?" asked Elisha Barton, with a little hesitation.
"I hope the question will not be raised," said Mr. Stacy, gravely; "but
if it is I must testify that he was in as full possession of his
faculties as at any time since his first attack, twenty-six years ago."
He then read the will, amid the breathless silence of the company. The
old man first devised to his elder son, Elisha Barton, the sum of twenty
thousand dollars, investments secured by mortgages on real estate; an
equal amount to his daughter-in-law, Mary, provided she was able to
furnish legal proof of her marriage to his son, Alfred Barton; five
thousand dollars each to his four grand-children, the three sons of
Elisha, and Gilbert Barton; ten thousand dollars to his daughter Ann;
and to his son Alfred the occupancy and use of the farm during his life,
the property, at his death, to pass into the hands of Gilbert Barton.
There was also a small bequest to Giles, and the reversions of the
estate were to be divided equally among all the heirs. The witnesses to
the will were James Stacy and Elizabeth Lavender.
Gilbert and his mother now recognized, for the first time, what they
owed to the latter. A sense of propriety kept them silent; the fortune
which had thus unexpectedly fallen into their hands was the least and
poorest part of their justification. Miss Lavender, also, was held to
silence, but it went hard with her. The reading of the will gave her
such an exquisite sense of enjoyment that she felt quite choked in the
hush which followed it.
"As the marriage is now proven," Mr. Stacy said, folding up the paper,
"there is nothing to prevent the will from being carried into effect."
"No, I suppose not," said Elisha; "it is as fair as could be expected."
"Mother, what do you say?" asked Gilbert, suddenly.
"Your grandfather wanted to do me justice, my boy," said she. "Twenty
thousand dollars will not pay me for twenty-five years of shame; no
money could; but it was the only payment he had to offer. I accept this
as I accepted my trials. The Lord sees fit to make my worldly path
smooth to my feet, and I have learned neither to reject mercy nor
She was not elated; she would not, on that solemn day, even express
gratification in the legacy, for her son's sake. Though her exalted mood
was but dimly understood by the others, they felt its influence. If any
thought of disputing the will, on the ground of his father's
incompetency, had ever entered Elisha Barton's mind, he did not dare,
then or afterwards, to express it.
The day was drawing to a close, and Elisha Barton, with his sons, who
lived in the adjoining township of Pennsbury, made preparations to
leave. They promised soon to visit Gilbert and his mother. Miss
Lavender, taking Gilbert aside, announced that she was going to return
to Dr. Deane's.
"I s'pose I may tell her," she said, trying to hide her feelings under a
veil of clumsy irony, "that it's all up betwixt and between you, now
you're a rich man; and of course as she wouldn't have the father, she
can't think o' takin' the son."
"Betsy," he whispered, "tell her that I never yet needed her love so
much as now, and that I shall come to her tomorrow."
"Well, you know the door stands open, even accordin' to the Doctor's
As Gilbert went forth to look after the horses, Alfred Barton followed
him. The two had not spoken directly to each other during the whole day.
"Gilbert," said the father, putting his hand on the son's shoulder, "you
know, now, why it always cut me, to have you think ill of me. I deserve
it, for I've been no father to you; and after what you've heard to-day,
I may never have a chance to be one. But if you _could_ give me a
chance--if you could"--
Here his voice seemed to fail. Gilbert quietly withdrew his shoulder
from the hand, hesitated a moment, and then said,--"Don't ask me
anything now, if you please. I can only think of my mother to-day."
Alfred Barton walked to the garden-fence, leaned his arms upon it, and
his head upon them. He was still leaning there, when mother and son rode
by in the twilight, on their way home.
Both mother and son made the homeward ride in silence. A wide space, a
deep gulf of time, separated them from the morning. The events of the
day had been so startling, so pregnant with compressed fate, the
emotions they had undergone had been so profound, so mixed of the
keenest elements of wonder, pain, and pride, that a feeling of
exhaustion succeeded. The old basis of their lives seemed to have
shifted, and the new foundations were not yet firm under their feet.
Yet, as they sat together before the hearth-fire that evening, and the
stern, proud calm of Gilbert's face slowly melted into a gentler and
tenderer expression, his mother was moved to speak.
"This has been my day," she said; "it was appointed and set apart for me
from the first; it belonged to me, and I have used it, in my right, from
sun to sun. But I feel now, that it was not my own strength alone that
held me up. I am weak and weary, and it almost seems that I fail in
thanksgiving. Is it, Gilbert, because you do not rejoice as I had hoped
"Mother," he answered, "whatever may happen in my life, I can never feel
so proud of myself, as I felt to-day, to be your son. I do rejoice for
your sake, as I shall for my own, no doubt, when I get better used to
the truth. You could not expect me, at once, to be satisfied with a
father who has not only acted so cruelly towards you, but whom I have
suspected of being my own rival and enemy. I don't think I shall ever
like the new name as well as the old, but it is enough for me that the
name brings honor and independence to you!"
"Perhaps I ought to ha' told you this morning, Gilbert I thought only of
the justification, not of the trial; and it seemed easier to speak in
actions, to you and to all men at once, as I did, than to tell the story
quietly to you alone. I feared it might take away my strength, if I
didn't follow, step by step, the course marked out for me."
"You were right, mother!" he exclaimed. "What trial had I, compared with
yours? What tale had I to tell--what pain to feel, except that if I had
not been born, you would have been saved twenty-five years of
"No, Gilbert!--never say, never think that! I see already the suffering
and the sorrow dying away as if they'd never been, and you left to me
for the rest of life the Lord grants; to me a son has been more than a
"Then," he asked in an anxious, hesitating tone, "would you consider
that I was not quite so much a son--that any part of my duty to you was
lost--if I wished to bring you a daughter, also?".
"I know what you mean, Gilbert Betsy Lavender has told me all. I am glad
you spoke of it, this day; it will put the right feeling of thanksgiving
into my heart and yours. Martha Deane never stood between us, my boy; it
was I that stood between you and her!"
"Mother!" he cried, a joyous light shining from his face, "you love her?
You are willing that she should be my wife?"
"Ay, Gilbert; willing, and thankful, and proud."
"But the very name of her struck you down! You fell into a deadly faint
when I told you I had spoken my mind to her!"
"I see, my boy," she said; "I see now why you never mentioned her name,
from that time. It was not Martha Deane, but the name of the one you
thought wanted to win her away from you,--your father's name,
Gilbert,--that seemed to put a stop to my life. The last trial was the
hardest of all, but don't you see it was only the bit of darkness that
comes before the daylight?"
While this new happiness brought the coveted sense of thanksgiving to
mother and son, and spread an unexpected warmth and peace over the close
of the fateful day, there was the liveliest excitement in Kennett
Square, over Miss Lavender's intelligence. That lady had been waylaid by
a dozen impatient questioners before she could reach the shelter of Dr.
Deane's roof; and could only purchase release by a hurried statement of
the main facts, in which Alfred Barton's cruelty, and his wife's
wonderful fidelity to her oath, and the justice done to her and Gilbert
by the old man's will, were set forth with an energy that multiplied
itself as the gossip spread.
In the adjoining townships, it was reported and believed, the very next
day, that Alfred Barton had tried to murder his wife and poison his
father--that Mary had saved the latter, and inherited, as her reward,
the entire property.
Once safely housed, Miss Lavender enjoyed another triumph. She related
the whole story, in every particular, to Martha Deane, in the Doctor's
presence, taking especial care not to omit Alfred's words in relation to
his enforced wooing.
"And there's one thing I mustn't forgit, Martha," she declared, at the
close of her narrative. "Gilbert sends word to you that he needs your
true-love more 'n ever, and he's comin' up to see you to-morrow; and
says I to him, The door's open, even accordin' to the Doctor's words;
and so it is, for he's got his true name, and free to come. You're a man
o' your word, Doctor, and nothin' 's been said or done, thank Goodness,
that can't be easy mended!"
What impression this announcement made upon Dr. Deane could not be
guessed by either of the women. He rose, went to the window, looked into
the night for a long time without saying a word, and finally betook
himself to his bed.
The next morning, although there were no dangerous cases on his hands,
he rode away, remarking that he should not be home again until the
evening. Martha knew what this meant, and also what Miss Lavender meant
in hurrying down to Fairthorn's, soon after the Doctor's departure. She
became restless with tender expectation; her cheeks burned, and her
fingers trembled so that she was forced to lay aside her needle-work. It
seemed very long since she had even seen Gilbert; it was a long time (in
the calendar of lovers) since the two had spoken to each other. She
tried to compare the man he had been with the man he now was,--Gilbert
poor, disgraced and in trouble, with Gilbert rich and honorably born;
and it almost seemed as if the latter had impoverished her heart by
taking from it the need of that faithful, passionate sympathy which she
had bestowed upon the former.
The long hour of waiting came to an end. Roger was once more tethered at
the gate, and Gilbert was in the room. It was not danger, this time,
beyond the brink of which they met, but rather a sudden visitation of
security; yet both were deeply and powerfully agitated. Martha was the
first to recover her composure. Withdrawing herself from Gilbert's arms,
"It was not right that the tests should be all on my side. Now it is my
turn to try you, Gilbert!"
Even her arch, happy smile did not enlighten him. "How, Martha?" he
"Since you don't know, you are already tested. But how grave you look!
Have I not yet learned all of this wonderful, wonderful history? Did
Betsy Lavender keep something back?"
"Martha!" he cried, "you shame me out of the words I had meant to say.
But they were doubts of my own position, not of you. Is my new name
better or worse in your ears, than my old one?"
"To me you are only Gilbert," she answered, "as I am Martha to you. What
does it matter whether we write Potter or Barton? Either is good in
itself, and so would any other name be; but Barton means something, as
the world goes, and therefore we will take it. Gilbert, I have put
myself in your place, since I learned the whole truth. I guessed you
would come to me with a strange, uncertain feeling,--not a doubt, but
rather a wonder; and I endeavored to make your new circumstances clear
to my mind. Our duty to your mother is plain; she is a woman beside whom
all other women we know seem weak and insignificant. It is not that
which troubled you, I am sure, when you thought of me. Let me say, then,
that so far as our relation to your father is concerned, I will be
guided entirely by your wishes."
"Martha," he said, "that _is_ my trouble,--or, rather, my
disappointment,--that with my true name I must bring to you and fasten
upon you the whole mean and shameful story! One parent must always be
honored at the expense of the other, and my name still belongs to the
one that is disgraced."
"I foresaw your feeling, Gilbert. You were on the point of making
another test for me; that is not fair. The truth has come too
suddenly,--the waters of your life have been stirred too deeply; you
must wait until they clear. Leave that to Alfred Barton and your mother.
To me, I confess, he seems very weak rather than very bad. I can now
understand the pains which his addresses to me must have cost him. If I
ever saw fear on a man's face, it was on his when he thought I might
take him at his word. But, to a man like you, a mean nature is no better
than a bad one. Perhaps I feel your disappointment as deeply as you can;
yet it is our duty to keep this feeling to ourselves. For your mother's
sake, Gilbert; you must not let the value of her justification be
lessened in her eyes. She deserves all the happiness you and I can give
her, and if she is willing to receive me, some day, as a daughter"--
Gilbert interrupted her words by clasping her in his arms. "Martha!" he
exclaimed, "your heart points out the true way because it is true to the
core! In these things a woman sees clearer than a man; when I am with
you only, I seem to have proper courage and independence--I am twice
myself! Won't you let me claim you--take you--soon? My mother loves you;
she will welcome you as my wife, and will your father still stand
Martha smiled. "My father is a man of strong will," she said, "and it is
hard for him to admit that his judgment was wrong. We must give him a
little time,--not urge, not seem to triumph, spare his pride, and trust
to his returning sense of what is right. You might claim reparation,
Gilbert, for his cruel words; I could not forbid you; but after so much
strife let there be peace, if possible."
"It is at least beyond his power," Gilbert replied, "to accuse me of
sordid motives. As I said before, Martha, give up your legacy, if need
be, but come to me!"
"As _I_ said before, Gilbert, the legacy is honestly mine, and I will
come to you with it in my hands."
Then they both began to smile, but it was a conflict of purpose which
drew them nearer together, in both senses,--an emulation of unselfish
love, which was compromised by clasping arms and silent lips.
There was a sudden noise in the back part of the house. A shrill voice
was heard, exclaiming,--"I will--I will! don't hold me!"--the door burst
open, and Sally Fairthorn whirled into the room, with the skirt of her
gown torn loose, on one side, from the body. Behind her followed Miss
Lavender, in a state of mingled amusement and anger.
Sally kissed Martha, then Gilbert, then threw an arm around the neck of
each, crying and laughing hysterically: "O Martha! O Gilbert! you'll be
married first,--I said it,--but Mark and I must be your bridesmaids;
don't laugh, you know what I mean; and Betsy wouldn't have me break in
upon you; but I waited half an hour, and then off, up here, she after
me, and we're both out o' breath! Did ever, ever such a thing happen!"
"You crazy thing!" cried Miss Lavender. "No, such a thing never
happened, and wouldn't ha' happened this time, if I'd ha' been a little
quicker on my legs; but never mind, it serves me right; you two are to
blame, for why need I trouble my head furder about ye? There's cases,
they say, where two's company, and three's overmuch; but you may fix it
for yourselves next time, and welcome; and there's one bit o' wisdom
I've got by it,--foller true-lovyers, and they'll wear your feet off,
and then want you to go on the stumps!"
"We won't relieve you yet, Betsy," said Gilbert; "will we, Martha? The
good work you've done for us isn't finished."
"Isn't finished. Well, you'll gi' me time to make my will, first. How
long d' ye expect me to last, at this rate? Is my bones brass and my
flesh locus'-wood? Am I like a tortle, that goes around the fields a
"No," Gilbert answered, "but you shall be like an angel, dressed all in
white, with roses in your hair. Sally and Mark, you know, want to be the
Sally interrupted him with a slap, but it was not very violent, and he
did not even attempt to dodge it.
"Do you hear, Betsy?" said Martha. "It must be as Gilbert says."
"A pretty fool you'd make o' me," Miss Lavender remarked, screwing up
her face to conceal her happy emotion.
Gilbert soon afterwards left for home, but returned towards evening,
determined, before all things, to ascertain his present standing with
Dr. Deane. He did not anticipate that the task had been made easy for
him; but this was really the case. Wherever Dr. Deane had been that day,
whoever he had seen, the current of talk all ran one way. When the first
surprise of the news had been exhausted, and the Doctor had corrected
various monstrous rumors from his own sources of positive knowledge, one
inference was sure to follow,--that now there could be no objection to
his daughter becoming Gilbert Barton's wife. He was sounded, urged,
almost threatened, and finally returned home with the conviction that
any further opposition must result in an immense sacrifice of
Still, he was not ready to act upon that conviction, at once. He met
Gilbert with a bland condescension, and when the latter, after the first
"Have I now the right to enter your house?"
The Doctor answered,--
"Certainly. Thee has kept thy word, and I will willingly admit that I
did thee wrong in suspecting thee of unworthy devices. I may say, also,
that so far as I was able to judge, I approved of thy behavior on the
day of thy grandfather's funeral. In all that has happened heretofore, I
have endeavored to act cautiously and prudently; and thee will grant, I
doubt not, that thy family history is so very far out of the common way,
as that no man could be called upon to believe it without the strongest
evidence. Of course, all that I brought forward against thee now falls
to the ground."
"I trust, then," Gilbert said, "that you have no further cause to forbid
my engagement with Martha. My mother has given her consent, and we both
hope for yours."
Dr. Deane appeared to reflect, leaning back in his chair, with his cane
across his knees. "It is a very serious thing," he said, at last,--"very
serious, indeed. Not a subject for hasty decision. Thee offered, if I
remember rightly, to give me time to know thee better; therefore thee
cannot complain if I were now disposed to accept thy offer."
Gilbert fortunately remembered Martha's words, and restrained his
"I will readily give you time, Dr. Deane," he replied, "provided you
will give me opportunities. You are free to question all who know me, of
course, and I suppose you have done so. I will not ask you to take the
trouble to come to me, in order that we may become better acquainted,
but only that you will allow me to come to you."
"It would hardly be fair to deny thee that much," said the Doctor.
"I will ask no more now. I never meant, from the first, to question your
interest in Martha's happiness, or your right to advise her. It may be
too soon to expect your consent, but at least you'll hold back your
"Thee's a reasonable young man, Gilbert," the Doctor remarked, after a
pause which was quite unnecessary. "I like that in thee. We are both
agreed, then, that while I shall be glad to see thee in my house, and am
willing to allow to Martha and thee the intercourse proper to a young
man and woman, it is not yet to be taken for granted that I sanction
your desired marriage. Remember me kindly to thy mother, and say, if
thee pleases, that I shall soon call to see her."
Gilbert had scarcely reached home that evening, before Deb. Smith, who
had left the farm-house on the day following the recovery of the money,
suddenly made her appearance. She slipped into the kitchen without
knocking, and crouched down in a corner of the wide chimney-place,
before she spoke. Both mother and son were struck by the singular
mixture of shyness and fear in her manner.
"I heerd all about it, to-day," she presently said, "and I wouldn't ha'
come here, if I'd ha' knowed where else to go to. They're after me, this
time, Sandy's friends, in dead earnest; they'll have my blood, if they
can git it; but you said once't you'd shelter me, Mr. Gilbert!"
"So I will, Deborah!" he exclaimed; "do you doubt my word?"
"No, I don't; but I dunno how't is--you're rich now, and as well-born as
the best of 'em, and Mary's lawful-married and got her lawful name; and
you both seem to be set among the folks that can't feel for a body like
me; not that your hearts is changed, only it comes different to me,
"Stay here, Deborah, until you feel sure you're safe," said Mary. "If
Gilbert or I should refuse to protect you, your blood would be upon our
heads. I won't blame you for doubting us; I know how easy it is to lose
faith in others; but if you think I was a friend to you while my name
was disgraced, you must also remember that I knew the truth then as well
as the world knows it now."
"Bless you for sayin' that, Mary! There wasn't much o' my name at any
time; but what little I might ha' had is clean gone--nothin' o' me left
but the strong arm! I'm not a coward, as you know, Mr. Gilbert; I'll
meet any man, face to face, in a fair and open fight. Let 'em come in
broad day, and on the high road!--not lay in wait in bushes and behind
fences, to shoot me down unawares."
They strove to quiet her fears, and little by little she grew composed.
The desperate recklessness of her mood contrasted strangely with her
morbid fear of an ambushed enemy. Gilbert suspected that it might be a
temporary insanity, growing out of her remorse for having betrayed Sandy
Flash. When she had been fed, and had smoked a pipe or two, she seemed
quite to forget it, and was almost her own self when she went up to her
bed in the western room.
The moon, three quarters full, was hanging over the barn, and made a
peaceful, snowy light about the house. She went to the window, opened
it, and breathed the cool air of the April night. The "herring-frogs"
were keeping up an incessant, birdlike chirp down the glen, and nearer
at hand the plunging water of the mill-race made a soothing noise. It
really seemed that the poor creature had found a quiet refuge at last.
Suddenly, something rustled and moved behind the mass of budding lilacs,
at the farther corner of the garden-paling. She leaned forward; the next
moment there was a flash, the crack of a musket rang sharp and loud
through the dell, followed by a whiz and thud at her very ear. A thin
drift of smoke rose above the bushes, and she saw a man's figure
springing to the cover of the nearest apple-tree. In another minute,
Gilbert made his appearance, gun in hand.
"Shoot him, Gilbert!" cried Deb. Smith; "it's Dougherty!"
Whoever it was, the man escaped; but by a singular coincidence, the
Irish ostler disappeared that night from the Unicorn tavern, and was
never again seen in the neighborhood.
The bullet had buried itself in the window-frame, after having passed
within an inch or two of Deb. Smith's head. [Footnote: The hole made by
the bullet still remains in the window-frame of the old farm-house.] To
Gilbert's surprise, all her fear was gone; she was again fierce and
defiant, and boldly came and went, from that night forth, saying that no
bullet was or would be cast, to take her life.
Therein she was right; but it was a dreary life and a miserable death
which awaited her. For twenty-five years she wandered about the
neighborhood, achieving wonders in spinning, reaping and threshing, by
the undiminished force of her arm, though her face grew haggard and her
hair gray; sometimes plunging into wild drinking-bouts with the rough
male companions of her younger days; sometimes telling a new generation,
with weeping and violent self-accusation, the story of her treachery;
but always with the fearful conviction of a yet unfulfilled curse
hanging over her life. Whether it was ever made manifest, no man could
tell; but when she was found lying dead on the floor of her lonely cabin
on the Woodrow farm, with staring, stony eyes, and the lines of
unspeakable horror on her white face, there were those who recalled her
own superstitious forebodings, and believed them.
HUSBAND AND WIFE.
It may readily be guessed that such extraordinary developments as those
revealed in the preceding chapters produced more than a superficial
impression upon a quiet community like that of Kennett and the adjoining
townships. People secluded from the active movements of the world are
drawn to take the greater interest in their own little family
histories,--a feeling which by-and-by amounts to a partial sense of
ownership, justifying not only any degree of advice or comment, but
sometimes even actual interference.
The Quakers, who formed a majority of the population, and generally
controlled public sentiment in domestic matters, through the purity of
their own domestic life, at once pronounced in favor of Mary Barton. The
fact of her having taken an oath was a slight stumbling-block to some;
but her patience, her fortitude, her submission to what she felt to be
the Divine Will, and the solemn strength which had upborne her on the
last trying day, were qualities which none could better appreciate. The
fresh, warm sympathies of the younger people, already given to Gilbert
and Martha, now also embraced her; far and wide went the wonderful
story, carrying with it a wave of pity and respect for her, of contempt
and denunciation for her husband.
The old Friends and their wives came to visit her, in their stately
chairs; almost daily, for a week or two, the quiet of the farm was
invaded, either by them, or by the few friends who had not forsaken her
in her long disgrace, and were doubly welcome now. She received them all
with the same grave, simple dignity of manner, gratefully accepting
their expressions of sympathy, and quietly turning aside the
inconsiderate questions that would have probed too deeply and painfully.
To an aged Friend,--a preacher of the sect,--who plumply asked her what
course she intended to pursue towards her husband, she replied,--
"I will not trouble my season of thanksgiving. What is right for me to
do will be made manifest when the occasion comes."
This reply was so entirely in the Quaker spirit that the old man was
silenced. Dr. Deane, who was present, looked upon her with admiration.
Whatever conjectures Alfred Barton might have made in advance, of the
consequences which would follow the disclosure of his secret marriage,
they could have borne no resemblance to the reality. It was not in his
nature to imagine the changes which the years had produced in his wife.
He looked forward to wealth, to importance in the community, and
probably supposed that she would only be too glad to share the proud
position with him. There would be a little embarrassment at first, of
course; but his money would soon make everything smooth.
Now, he was utterly defeated, crushed, overwhelmed. The public judgment,
so much the more terrible where there is no escape from it, rolled down
upon him. Avoided or coldly ignored by the staid, respectable farmers,
openly insulted by his swaggering comrades of the fox-hunt and the
bar-room, jeered at and tortured by the poor and idle hangers-on of the
community, who took a malicious pleasure in thus repaying him for his
former haughtiness and their own humility, he found himself a moral
outcast. His situation became intolerable. He no longer dared to show
himself in the village, or upon the highways, but slunk about the house
and farm, cursing himself, his father and the miserable luck of his
When, finally, Giles begged to know how soon his legacy would be paid,
and hinted that he couldn't stay any longer than to get possession of
the money, for, hard as it might be to leave an old home, he must stop
going to the mill, or getting the horses shod, or sitting in the Unicorn
bar-room of a Saturday night, and a man might as well be in jail at
once, and be done with it--when Alfred Barton heard all this, he
deliberated, for a few minutes, whether it would not be a good thing to
cut his own throat.
Either that, or beg for mercy; no other course was left.
That evening he stole up to the village, fearful, at every step, of
being seen and recognized, and knocked timidly at Dr. Deane's door.
Martha and her father were sitting together, when he came into the room,
and they were equally startled at his appearance. His large frame seemed
to have fallen in, his head was bent, and his bushy whiskers had become
quite gray; deep wrinkles seamed his face; his eyes were hollow, and the
corners of his mouth drooped with an expression of intolerable misery.
"I wanted to say a word to Miss Martha, if she'll let me," he said,
looking from one to the other.
"I allowed thee to speak to my daughter once too often," Dr. Deane
sternly replied. "What thee has to say now, must be said in my
He hesitated a moment, then took a chair and sat down, turning towards
Martha. "It's come to this," he said, "that I must have a little mercy,
or lay hands on my own life. I haven't a word to say for myself; I
deserve it all. I'll do anything that's wanted of me--whatever Mary
says, or people think is her right that she hasn't yet got, if it's mine
to give. You said you wished me well, Miss Martha, even at the time I
acted so shamefully; I remember that, and so I ask you to help me."
She saw that he spoke truth, at last, and all her contempt and disgust
could not keep down the quick sensation of pity which his wretchedness
inspired. But she was unprepared for his appeal, and uncertain how to
"What would you have me do?" she asked.
"Go to Mary on my behalf! Ask her to pardon me, if she can, or say what
I can do to earn her pardon--that the people may know it. They won't be
so hard on me, if they know she's done that. Everything depends on her,
and if it's true, as they say, that she's going to sue for a divorce and
take back her own name for herself and Gilbert, and cut loose from me
forever, why, it'll just"--
He paused, and buried his face in his hands.
"I have not heard of that," said Martha.
"Haven't you?" he asked. "But it's too likely to be true."
"Why not go directly to Mary, yourself?"
"I will, Miss Martha, if you'll go with me, and maybe say a kind word
now and then,--that is, if you think it isn't too soon for mercy!"
"It is never too soon to _ask_ for mercy," she said, coming to a sudden
decision. "I will go with you; let it be tomorrow."
"Martha," warned Dr. Deane, "isn't thee a little hasty?"
"Father, I decide nothing. It is in Mary's hands. He thinks my presence
will give him courage, and that I cannot refuse."
The next morning, the people of Kennett Square were again startled out
of their proprieties by the sight of Alfred Barton, pale, agitated, and
avoiding the gaze of every one, waiting at Dr. Deane's gate, and then
riding side by side with Martha down the Wilmington road. An hour
before, she had dispatched Joe Fairthorn with a note to Gilbert,
informing him of the impending visit. Once on the way, she feared lest
she had ventured too far; it might be, as her father had said, too
hasty; and the coming meeting with Gilbert and his mother disquieted her
not a little. It was a silent, anxious ride for both.
When they readied the gate, Gilbert was on hand to receive them. His
face always brightened at the sight of Martha, and his hands lifted her
as tenderly as ever from the saddle. "Have I done right?" she anxiously
"It is for mother to say," he whispered back.
Alfred Barton advanced, offering his hand. Gilbert looked upon his
father's haggard, imploring face, a moment; a recollection of his own
disgrace shot into his heart, to soften, not to exasperate; and he
accepted the hand. Then he led the way into the house.
Mary Barton had simply said to her son,--"I felt that he would come,
sooner or later, and that I must give him a hearing--better now,
perhaps, since you and Martha will be with me."
They found her awaiting them, pale and resolute.
Gilbert and Martha moved a little to one side, leaving the husband and
wife facing each other. Alfred Barton was too desperately moved to
shrink from Mary's eyes; he strove to read something in her face, which
might spare him the pain of words; but it was a strange face he looked
upon. Not that of the black-eyed, bright-cheeked girl, with the proud
carriage of her head and the charming scorn of her red lip, who had
mocked, fascinated, and bewildered him. The eyes were there, but they
had sunk into the shade of the brows, and looked upon him with an
impenetrable expression; the cheeks were pale, the mouth firm and rigid,
and out of the beauty which seduced had grown a power to resist and
"Will you shake hands with me, Mary?" he faltered.
She said nothing, but moved her right hand slightly towards him. It lay
in his own a moment, cold and passive.
"Mary!" he cried, falling on his knees at her feet, "I'm a ruined,
wretched man! No one speaks to me but to curse; I've no friend left in
the world; the very farmhand leaves me! I don't know what'll become of
me, unless you feel a little pity--not that I deserve any, but I ask it
of you, in the name of God!"
Martha clung to Gilbert's arm, trembling, and more deeply moved than she
was willing to show. Mary Barton's face was convulsed by some passing
struggle, and when she spoke, her voice was hoarse and broken.
"You know what it is, then," she said, "to be disgraced in the eyes of
the world. If you have suffered so much in these two weeks, you may
guess what I have borne for twenty-five years!"
"I see it now, Mary!" he cried, "as I never saw it before. Try me! Tell
me what to do!"
"The Lord has done it, already; there is nothing left."
He groaned; his head dropped hopelessly upon his breast.
Gilbert felt that Martha's agitation ceased. She quietly released her
hold of his arm, lifted her head, and spoke,--
"Mother, forgive me if I speak when I should hold my peace; I would only
remind you that there is yet one thing left. It is true, as you say; the
Lord has justified you in His own way, and at His own time, and has
revenged the wrong done to you by branding the sin committed towards
Himself. Now He leaves the rest to your own heart. Think that He holds
back and waits for the words that shall declare whether you understand
the spirit in which He deals towards His children!"
"Martha, my dear child!" Mary Barton exclaimed,--what can I do?"
"It is not for me to advise you, mother. You, who put my impatient pride
to shame, and make my love for Gilbert seem selfish by contrast with
your long self-sacrifice! What right have I, who have done nothing, to
speak to you, who have done so much that we never can reckon it? But,
remember that in the Lord's government of the world pardon follows
repentance, and it is not for us to exact like for like, to the
Mary Barton sank into a chair, covered her face with her hands, and wept
There were tears in Martha's eyes; her voice trembled, and her words
came with a softness and tenderness that soothed while they pierced:
"Mother, I am a woman like yourself; and, as a woman, I feel the
terrible wrong that has been done to you. It may be as hard for you now
to forget, as then to bear; but it is certainly greater and nobler to
forgive than to await justice! Because I reverence you as a strong and
pure and great-hearted woman--because I want to see the last and best
and sweetest grace of our sex added to your name--and lastly, for
Gilbert's sake, who can feel nothing but pain in seeing his father
execrated and shunned--I ask your forgiveness for your husband!"
"Mary!" Alfred Barton cried, lifting up his head in a last appeal,
"Mary, this much, at least! Don't go to the courts for a divorce! Don't
get back your own name for yourself and Gilbert! Keep mine, and make it
more respectable for me! And I won't ask you to pardon me, for I see you
"It is all clear to me, at last!" said Mary Barton. "I thank you,
Martha, my child, for putting me in the right path. Alfred, don't kneel
to me; if the Lord can pardon, who am I that I should be unforgiving? I
fear me I was nigh to forfeit His mercy. Gilbert, yours was half the
shame; yours is half the wrong; can you join me in pardoning your father
and my husband?"
Gilbert was powerfully moved by the conflict of equally balanced
emotions, and but for the indication which Martha had given, he might
not at once have been able to decide. But it seemed now that his course
was also clear. He said,--
"Mother, since you have asked the question, I know how it should be
answered. If you forgive your husband, I forgive my--my father."
He stepped forward, seized Alfred Barton gently by the shoulder, and
raised him to his feet Mary Barton then took her husband's hand in hers,
and said, in a solemn voice,--
"I forgive you, Alfred, and will try to forget I know not what you may
have heard said, but I never meant to go before the court for a divorce.
Your name is a part of my right, a part of Gilbert's--our son's--right;
it is true that you have debased the name, but we will keep it and make
it honorable! We will not do that to the name of Barton which you have
done to the name of Potter!"
It was very evident that though she had forgiven, she had not yet
forgotten. The settled endurance of years could not be unlearned in a
moment. Alfred Barton felt that her forgiveness implied no returning
tenderness, not even an increase of respect; but it was more than he had
dared to hope, and he felt humbly grateful. He saw that a consideration
for Gilbert's position had been the chief element to which he owed his
wife's relenting mood, and this knowledge was perhaps his greatest
"Mary," he said, "you are kinder than I deserve. I wish I could make you
and Gilbert understand all that I have felt. Don't think my place was
easy; it wasn't. It was a hell of another kind. I have been punished in
my way, and will be now to the end o' my life, while you two will be
looked up to, and respected beyond any in the neighborhood; and if I'm
not treated like a dog, it'll only be for your sakes! Will you let me
say to the people that you have pardoned me? Will you say it
Martha, and perhaps Gilbert also, felt that it was the reflected image
of Alfred Barton's meanness, as it came back to him in the treatment he
had experienced, rather than his own internal consciousness of it, which
occasioned his misery. But his words were true thus far; his life was
branded by it, and the pardon of those he had wronged could not make
that life more than tolerable.
"Why not?" said Gilbert, replying to him. "There has been enough of
secrets. I am not ashamed of forgiveness--my shame is, that forgiveness
Alfred Barton looked from mother to son with a singular, wistful
expression. He seemed uncertain whether to speak or how to select his
words. His vain, arrogant spirit was completely broken, but no finer
moral instinct came in its place to guide him; his impulses were still
coarse, and took, from habit, the selfish color of his nature. There are
some persons whom even humiliation clothes with a certain dignity; but
he was not one of them. There are others whose tact, in such
emergencies, assumes the features of principle, and sets up a feeble
claim to respect; but this quality is a result of culture, which he did
not possess. He simply saw what would relieve him from the insupportable
load of obloquy under which he groaned, and awkwardly hazarded the pity
he had excited, in asking for it.
"Mary," he stammered, "I--I hardly know how to say the words, but you'll
understand me; I want to make good to you all the wrong I did, and there
seems no way but this,--if you'll let me care for you, slave for you,
anything you please; you shall have your own say in house and farm;
Ann'll give up everything to you. She always liked you, she says, and
she's lonely since th' old man died and nobody comes near us--not just
at once, I mean, but after awhile, when you've had time to think of it,
and Gilbert's married. You're independent in your own right, I know, and
needn't do it; but, see! it'd give me a chance, and maybe Gilbert
wouldn't feel quite so hard towards me, and"--
He stopped, chilled by the increasing coldness of his wife's face. She
did not immediately reply; to Martha's eye she seemed to be battling
with some proud, vindictive instinct. But she spoke at last, and calmly:
"Alfred, you should not have gone so far. I have pardoned you, and that
means more than the words. It means that I must try to overcome the
bitterness of my recollections, that I must curb the tongues of others
when they are raised against you, must greet you when we meet, and in
all proper ways show the truth of my forgiveness to the world. Anger and
reproach may be taken from the heart, and yet love be as far off as
ever. If anything ever could lead me back to you it would not be love,
but duty to my son, and his desire; but I cannot see the duty now. I may
never see it. Do not propose this thing again. I will only say, if it be
any comfort to you, that if you try to show your repentance as I my
pardon, try to clean your name from the stain you have cast upon it, my
respect shall keep pace with that of your neighbors, and I shall in this
way, and in no other, be drawn nearer to you!"
"Gilbert," said Alfred Barton, "I never knew your mother before to-day.
What she says gives me some hope, and yet it makes me afraid. I'll try
to bring her nearer, I will, indeed; but I've been governed so long by
th' old man that I don't seem to have any right strength o' my own. I
must have some help, and you're the only one I can ask it of; will you
come and see me sometimes? I've been so proud of you, all to myself, my
boy! and if I thought you could once call me 'father' before I die"--
Gilbert was not proof against these words and the honest tears by which
they were accompanied. Many shy hesitating tokens of affection in his
former intercourse with Alfred Barton, suddenly recurred to his mind,