This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1896
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

the rock set there to wound them. She began to feel blindly that God was not alone the keeper of eternal Sabbaths, but the germinant heat at the heart of the world. If she were a young girl, like Phoebe, there would be shame. Even a thought of him would be a stretching forth her hand to touch him, saying, “Look at me! I am here!” but for her it was quite different. It would be like a dream, some grandmother dreamed in the sun, of rosy youth and the things that never came to pass. No one would be harmed, and the sleeper would have garnered one hour’s joy before she took up her march again on the lonesomest road of all,–so lonesome, although it leads us, home! Thus she thought, half sleeping, until the night-dews clung in drops upon her hair; then she went in to bed, still wrapped about with the drapery of her dreams.

Next morning, when Dorcas carried in her father’s breakfast, she walked with a springing step, and spoke in a voice so full and fresh it made her newly glad.

“It’s a nice day, father! There’ll be lots of folks out to meeting.”

“That’s a good girl!” This was his commendation, from hour to hour; it made up the litany of his gratitude for what she had been to him. “But I dunno’s I feel quite up to preachin’ to-day, Dorcas!”

“That’ll be all right, father. We’ll get somebody.”

“You bring me out my sermon-box after breakfast, an’ I’ll pick out one,” said he, happily. “Deacon Tolman can read it.”

But, alas! Deacon Tolman had been dead this many a year!

A little later, the parson sat up in bed, shuffling his manuscript about with nervous hands, and Dorcas, in the kitchen, stood washing her breakfast dishes. That eager interest in living still possessed her. She began humming, in a timid monotone. Her voice had the clearness of truth, with little sweetness; and she was too conscious of its inadequacy to use it in public, save under the compelling force of conscience. Hitherto, she had only sung in Sunday-school, moved, as in everything, by the pathetic desire of “doing her part;” but this morning seemed to her one for lifting the voice, though not in Sunday phrasing. After a little thought, she began thinly and sweetly,–

“Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, I heard a maid sing in the valley below: ‘O don’t deceive me! O never leave me
How could you use a poor maiden so?'”

A gruff voice from the, doorway broke harshly in upon a measure.

“Yes! yes! Well! well! Tunin’ up a larrady, ain’t ye?”

Dorcas knew who it was, without turning round,–a dark, squat woman, broad all over; broad in the hips, the waist, the face, and stamped with the race-mark of high cheekbones. Her thick, straight black hair was cut “tin-basin style;” she wore men’s boots, and her petticoats were nearly up to her knees.

“Good morning, Nancy!” called Dorcas, blithely, wringing out her dishcloth. “Come right in, and sit down.”

Nance Pete (in other words, Nancy the wife of Pete, whose surname was unknown) clumped into the room, and took a chair by the hearth. She drew forth a short black pipe, looked into it discontentedly, and then sat putting her thumb in and out of the bowl.

“You ‘ain’t got a mite o’ terbacker about ye? Hey what?” she asked.

Dorcas had many a time been shocked at the same demand. This morning, something humorous about it struck her, and she laughed.

“You know I haven’t, Nancy Pete! Did you mend that hole in your skirt, as I told you?”

Nance laboriously drew a back breadth of her coarse plaid skirt round to the front, and displayed it, without a word. A three-cornered tear of the kind known as a barn-door had been treated by tying a white string well outside it, and gathering up the cloth, like a bag. Dorcas’s sense of fitness forbade her to see anything humorous in so original a device. She stood before the woman in all the moral excellence of a censor fastidiously clad.

“O Nancy Pete!” she exclaimed. “How could you?”

Nance put her cold pipe in her mouth, and began sucking at the unresponsive stem.

“You ‘ain’t got a bite of anything t’ eat, have ye?” she asked, indifferently.

Dorcas went to the pantry, and brought forth pie, doughnuts and cheese, and a dish of cold beans. The coffee-pot was waiting on the stove. One would have said the visitor had been expected. Nance rose and tramped over to the table. But Dorcas stood firmly in the way.

“No, Nancy, no! You wait a minute! Are you going to meeting to-day?”

“I ‘ain’t had a meal o’ victuals for a week!” remarked Nance, addressing no one in particular.

“Nancy, are you going to meeting?”

“Whose seat be I goin’ to set in?” inquired Nance, rebelliously, yet with a certain air of capitulation.

“You can sit in mine. Haven’t you sat there for the last five years? Now, Nancy, don’t hinder me!”

“Plague take it, then! I’ll go!”

At this expected climax, Dorcas stood aside, and allowed her visitor to serve herself with beans. When Nance’s first hunger had been satisfied, she began a rambling monologue, of an accustomed sort to which Dorcas never listened.

“I went down to peek into the Poorhouse winders, this mornin’. There they all sut, like rats in a trap. ‘Got ye, ‘ain’t they?’ says I. Old Sal Flint she looked up, an’ if there’d been a butcher-knife handy, I guess she’d ha’ throwed it. ‘It’s that Injun!’ says she to Mis’ Giles. ‘Don’t you take no notice!’ ‘I dunno’s I’m an Injun,’ says I, ‘I dunno how much Injun I be. I can’t look so fur back as that. I dunno’s there’s any more Injun in me than there is devil in you!’ I says. An’ then the overseer he come out, an’ driv’ me off. ‘You won’t git me in there,’ says I to him, ‘not so long’s I’ve got my teeth to chaw sassafras, an’ my claws to dig me a holler in the ground!’ But when I come along, he passed me on the road, an’ old Sal Flint sut up by him on the seat, like a bump on a log. I guess he was carryin’ her over to that Pope-o’-Rome meetin’ they’ve got over to Sudleigh.”

Dorcas turned about, in anxious interest.

“Oh, I wonder if he was! How _can_ folks give up their own meeting for that?”

Nance pushed her chair back from the table.

“Want to see all kinds, I s’pose,” she said, slyly. “Guess I’ll try it myself, another Sunday!”

“Anybody to home?” came a very high and wheezy voice from the doorway. Dorcas knew that also, and so did Nance Pete.

“It’s that old haddock’t lives up on the mountain,” said the latter, composedly, searching in her pocket, and then pulling out a stray bit of tobacco and pressing it tenderly into her pipe.

An old man, dressed in a suit of very antique butternut clothes, stood at the sill, holding forward a bunch of pennyroyal. He was weazened and dry; his cheeks were parchment color, and he bore the look of an active yet extreme old age. He was totally deaf. Dorcas advanced toward him, taking a bright five-cent piece from her pocket. She held it out to him, and he, in turn, extended the pennyroyal; but before taking it, she went through a solemn pantomime. She made a feint of accepting the herb, and then pointed to him and to the road.

“Yes, yes!” said the old man, irritably. “Bless ye! of course I’m goin’ to meetin’. I’ll set by myself, though! Yes, I will! Las’ Sunday, I set with Jont Marshall, an’ every time I sung a note, he dug into me with his elbow, till I thought I should ha’ fell out the pew-door. My voice is jest as good as ever ’twas, an’ sixty-five year ago come spring, I begun to set in the seats.”

The coin and pennyroyal changed ownership, and he tottered away, chattering to himself in his senile fashion.

“Look here, you!” he shouted back, his hand on the gate. “Heerd anything o’ that new doctor round here? Well, he’s been a-pokin’ into my ears, an’ I guess he’d ha’ cured me, if anybody could. You know I don’t hear so well’s I used to. He went a-peekin’ an’ a-pryin’ round my ears, as if he’d found a hornet’s nest. I dunno what he see there; I know he shook his head. I guess we shouldn’t ha’ got no such a man to settle down here if he wa’n’t so asthmy he couldn’t git along where he was. That’s the reason he come, they say. He’s a bright one!”

Dorcas left her sweeping, and ran out after him. For the moment, she forgot his hopeless durance in fleshly walls.

“Did he look at ’em?” she cried. “Did he? Tell me what he said!”

“Why, of course I don’t hear no better yit!” answered old Simeon, testily, turning to stump away, “but that ain’t no sign I sha’n’t! He’s a beauty! I set up now, when he goes by, so’s I can hear him when he rides back. I put a quilt down in the fore-yard, an’ when the ground trimbles a mite, I git up to see if it’s his hoss. Once I laid there till ‘leven. He’s a beauty, he is!”

He went quavering down the road, and Dorcas ran back to the house, elated afresh. An unregarded old man could give him the poor treasure of his affection, quite unasked. Why should not she?

Nance was just taking her unceremonious leave. Her pockets bulged with doughnuts, and she had wrapped half a pie in the Sudleigh “Star,” surreptitiously filched from the woodbox.

“Well, I guess I’ll be gittin’ along towards meetin’,” she said, in a tone of unconcern, calculated to allay suspicion. “I’m in hopes to git a mite o’ terbacker out o’ Hiram Cole, if he’s settin’ lookin’ at his pigs, where he is ‘most every Sunday. I’ll have a smoke afore I go in.”

“Don’t you be late!”

“I’m a-goin’ in late, or not at all!” answered Nance, contradictorily. “My bunnit ain’t trimmed on the congregation side, an’ I want to give ’em a chance to see it all round. I’m a-goin’ up the aisle complete!”

Dorcas finished her work, and, having tidied her father’s room, sat down by his bedside for the simple rites that made their Sabbath holy. With the first clanging stroke of the old bell, not half a mile away, they fell into silence, waiting reverently through the necessary pause for allowing the congregation to become seated. Then they went through the service together, from hymn and prayer to the sermon. The parson had his manuscript ready, and he began reading it, in the pulpit-voice of his prime. At that moment, some of his old vigor came back to him, and he uttered the conventional phrases of his church with conscious power; though so little a man, he had always a sonorous delivery. After a page or two, his hands began to tremble, and his voice sank.

“You read a spell, Dorcas,” he whispered, in pathetic apology. “I’ll rest me a minute.” So Dorcas read, and he listened. Presently he fell asleep, and she still went on, speaking the words mechanically, and busy with her own tumultuous thoughts. Amazement possessed her that the world could be so full of joy to which she had long been deaf. She could hear the oriole singing in the elm; his song was almost articulate. The trees waved a little, in a friendly fashion, through the open windows; friendly in the unspoken kinship of green things to our thought, yet remote in their own seclusion. One tall, delicate locust, gowned in summer’s finest gear, stirred idly at the top, as if through an inward motion, untroubled by the wind. Dorcas’s mind sought out the doctor, listening to the sermon in her bare little church, and she felt quite content. She had entered the first court of love, where a spiritual possession is enough, and asks no alms of bodily nearness. When she came to the end of the sermon, her hands fell in her lap, and she gave herself up without reserve to the idle delight of satisfied dreaming. The silence pressed upon her father, and he opened his eyes wide with the startled look of one who comprehends at once the requirements of time and place. Then, in all solemnity, he put forth his hands; and Dorcas, bending her head, received the benediction for the congregation he would never meet again. She roused herself to bring in his beef-tea, and at the moment of carrying away the tray, a step sounded on the walk. She knew who it was, and smiled happily. The lighter foot keeping pace beside it, she did not hear.

“Dorcas,” said her father, “git your bunnit. It’s time for Sunday-school.”

“Yes, father.”

The expected knock came at the door. She went forward, tying on her bonnet, and her cheeks were pink. The doctor stood on the doorstone, and Phoebe was with him. He smiled at Dorcas, and put out his hand. This, according to Tiverton customs, was a warm demonstration at so meaningless a moment; it seemed a part of his happy friendliness. It was Phoebe who spoke.

“I’ll stay outside while the doctor goes in. I can sit down here on the step. Your father needn’t know I am here any more than usual. I told the doctor not to talk, coming up the walk.”

The doctor smiled at her. Phoebe looked like a rose in her Sunday white, and the elder woman felt a sudden joy in her, untouched by envy of her youth and bloom. Phoebe only seemed a part of the beautiful new laws to which the world was freshly tuned, Dorcas coveted nothing; she envied nobody. She herself possessed all, in usurping her one rich kingdom.

“All right,” she said. “The doctor can step in now, and see father. I’ll hurry back, as soon as Sunday-school is over.” She walked away, glancing happily at the flowers on either side of the garden-path. She wanted to touch all their leaves, because, last night, he had praised them.

Returning, when her hour was over, she walked very fast; her heart was waking into hunger, and she feared he might be gone. But he was there, sitting on the steps beside Phoebe, and when the gate swung open, they did not hear. Phoebe’s eyes were dropped, and she was poking her parasol into the moss-encrusted path; the doctor was looking into her face, and speaking quite eagerly. He heard Dorcas first, and sprang up. His eyes were so bright and forceful in the momentary gleam of meeting hers, that she looked aside, and tried to rule her quickening breath.

“Miss Dorcas,” said he, “I’m telling this young lady she mustn’t forget to eat her dinner at school. I find she quite ignores it, if she has sums to do, or blots to erase. Why, it’s shocking.”

“Of course she must eat her dinner!” said Dorcas, tenderly. “Why, yes, of course! Phoebe, do as he tells you. He knows.”

Phoebe blushed vividly.

“Does he?” she answered, laughing. “Well, I’ll see. Good-by, Miss Dorcas. I’ll come in for Friday night meeting, if I don’t before. Good-by.”

“I’ll walk along with you,” said the doctor. “If you’ll let me,” he added, humbly.

Phoebe turned away with a little toss of her head, and he turned, too, breaking a sprig of southernwood. Dorcas was glad to treasure the last sight of him putting to his lips the fragrant herb she had bruised for his sake. It seemed to carry over into daylight the joy of the richer night; it was like seeing the silken thread on which her pearls were strung. She called to them impetuously,–

“Pick all the flowers you want to, both of you!” Then she went in, but she said aloud to herself, “They’re all for you–” and she whispered his name.

“Dorcas,” said her father, “the doctor’s been here quite a spell. He says there was a real full meetin.’ Even Nancy Pete, Dorcas! I feel as if my ministration had been abundantly blessed.”

Then, in that strangest summer in Dorcas’s life, time seemed to stand still. The happiest of all experiences had befallen her; not a succession of joys, but a permanent delight in one unchanging mood. The evening of his coming had been the first day; and the evening and the morning had ever since been the same in glory. He came often, sometimes with Phoebe, sometimes alone; and, being one of the men on whom women especially lean, Dorcas soon found herself telling him all the poor trials of her colorless life. Nothing was too small for his notice. He liked her homely talk of the garden and the church, and once gave up an hour to spading a plot where she wanted a new round bed. Dorcas had meant to put lilies there, but she remembered he loved ladies’-delights; so she gathered them all together from the nooks and corners of the garden, and set them there, a sweet, old-fashioned company. “That’s for thoughts!” She took to wearing flowers now, not for the delight of him who loved them, but merely as a part of her secret litany of worship. She slept deeply at night, and woke with calm content, to speak one name in the way that forms a prayer. He was her one possession; all else might be taken away from her, but the feeling inhabiting her heart must live, like the heart itself.

By the time September had yellowed all the fields, there came a week when Phoebe’s aunt, down at the Hollow, was known to be very ill; so Phoebe no longer came to care for the parson through the Sunday-school hour. But the doctor appeared, instead.

“I’m Phoebe,” he said, laughing, when Dorcas met him at the door. “She can’t come; so I told her I’d take her place.”

These were the little familiar deeds which gilded his name among the people. Dorcas had been growing used to them. But on the’ next Sunday morning, when she was hurrying about her kitchen, making early preparations for the cold mid-day meal, a daring thought assailed her. Phoebe might come to-day, and if the doctor also dropped in, she would ask them both to dinner. There was no reason for inviting him alone; besides, it was happier to sit by, leaving him to some one else. Then the two would talk, and she, with no responsibility, could listen and look, and hug her secret joy.

“I ain’t a-goin’ to meetin’ to-day!” came Nance Pete’s voice from the door. She stood there, smoking prosperously, and took out her pipe, with a jaunty motion, at the words. “I stopped at Kelup Rivers’, on the way over, an’ they gi’n me a good breakfast, an’ last week, that young doctor gi’n me a whole paper o’ fine-cut. I ain’t a-goin’ to meetin’! I’m goin’ to se’ down under the old elm, an’ have a real good smoke.”

“O Nancy!” Dorcas had no dreams so happy that such an avalanche could not sweep them aside. “Now, do! Why, you don’t want me to think you go to church just because I save you some breakfast!”

Nance turned away, and put up her chin to watch a wreath of smoke.

“I dunno why I don’t,” said she. “The world’s nothin’ but buy an’ sell. You know it, an’ I know it!’ ‘Tain’t no use coverin’ on’t up. You heerd the news? That old fool of a Sim Barker’s dead. The doctor, sut up all night with him, an’ I guess now he’s layin’ on him out. I wouldn’t ha’ done it! I’d ha’ wropped him up in his old coat, an’ glad to git rid on him! Well, he won’t cheat ye out o’ no more five-cent pieces, to squander in terbacker. You might save ’em up for me, now he’s done for!” Nance went stalking away to the gate, flaunting a visible air of fine, free enjoyment, the product of tobacco and a bright morning. Dorcas watched her, annoyed, and yet quite helpless; she was outwitted, and she knew it. Perhaps she sorrowed less deeply over the loss to her pensioner’s immortal soul, thus taking holiday from spiritual discipline, than the serious problem involved in subtracting one from the congregation. Would a Sunday-school picnic constitute a bribe worth mentioning? Perhaps not, so far as Nance was concerned; but her own class might like it, and on that young blood she depended, to vivify the church.

A bit of pink came flashing along the country road. It was Phoebe, walking very fast.

“Dear heart!” said Dorcas, aloud to herself, as the girl came hurriedly up the path. She was no longer a pretty girl, a nice girl, as the commendation went. Her face had gained an exalted lift; she was beautiful. She took Miss Dorcas by the arms, and laughed the laugh that knows itself in the right, and so will not be shy.

“Miss Dorcas,” she said, “I’ve got to tell you right out, or I can’t do it at all. What should you say if I told you I was married?–to the doctor?”

Dorcas looked at her as if she did not hear.

“It’s begun to get round,” went on Phoebe, “and I wanted to give you the word myself. You see, auntie was sick, and when he was there so much, she grew to depend on him, and one day, when we’d been engaged a week, she said, why shouldn’t we be married, and he come right to the house to live? He’s only boarding, you know. And nothing to do but it must be done right off, and so I–I said ‘yes! And we were married, Thursday. Auntie’s better, and O Miss Dorcas! I think we’re going to have a real good time together.” She threw her arms about Dorcas, and put down her shining brown head upon them.

Dorcas tried to answer. When she did speak, her voice sounded thin and faint, and she wondered confusedly if Phoebe could hear.

“I didn’t know–” she said. “I didn’t know–“

“Why, no, of course not!” returned Phoebe, brightly. “Nobody did. You’d have been the first, but I didn’t want the engagement talked about till auntie was better. Oh, I believe that’s his horse’s step! I’ll run out, and ride home with him. You come, too, Miss Dorcas, and just say a word!”

Dorcas loosened the girl’s arms about her, and, bending to the bright head, kissed it twice. Phoebe, grown careless in her joy, ran down the walk to stop the approaching wagon; and when she looked round, Dorcas had shut the door and gone in. She waited a moment for her to reappear, and then, remembering the doctor had had no breakfast, she stepped into the wagon, and they drove happily away.

Dorcas went to her bedroom, touching the walls, on the way, with her groping hands. She sat down on the floor there, and rested her head against a chair. Once only did she rouse herself, and that was to go into the kitchen and set away the great bowl of _blanc-mange_ she had been making for dinner. She had not strained it all, and the sea-weed was drying on the sieve. Then she went back into the bedroom, and pulled down the green slat curtains with a shaking hand. Twice her father called her to bring his sermons, but she only answered, “Yes, father!” in dull acquiescence, and did not move. She was benumbed, sunken in a gulf of shame, too faint and cold to save herself by struggling. Her poor innocent little fictions made themselves into lurid writings on her brain. She had called him hers while another woman held his vows, and she was degraded. Her soul was wrecked as truly as if the whole world knew it, and could cry to her “Shame!” and “Shame!” The church-bells clanged out their judgment of her. A new thought awakened her to a new despair. She was not fit to teach in Sunday-school any more. Her girls, her innocent, sweet girls! There was contagion in her very breath. They must be saved from it; else when they were old women like her, some sudden vice of tainted blood might rise up in them, no one would know why, and breed disease and shame. She started to her feet. Her knees trembling under her, she ran out of the house, and hid herself behind the great lilac-bush by the gate.

Deacon Caleb Rivers came jogging past, late for church, but driving none the less moderately. His placid-faced wife sat beside him; and Dorcas, stepping out to stop them, wondered, with a wild pang of perplexity over the things of this world, if ‘Mandy Rivers had ever known the feeling of death in the soul. Caleb pulled up.

“I can’t come to Sunday-school, to-day,” called Dorcas, stridently. “You tell them to give Phoebe my class. And ask her if she’ll keep it. I sha’n’t teach any more.”

“Ain’t your father so well?” asked Mrs. Rivers, sympathetically, bending forward and smoothing her mitts. Dorcas caught at the reason.

“I sha’n’t leave him any more,” she said. “You tell ’em so. You fix it.”

Caleb drove on, and she went back into the house, shrinking under the brightness of the air which seemed to quiver so before her eyes. She went into her father’s room, where he was awake and wondering.

“Seems to me I heard the bells,” he said, in his gentle fashion. “Or have we had the ‘hymns, an’ got to the sermon?”

Dorcas fell on her knees by the bedside.

“Father,” she began, with difficulty, her cheek laid on the bedclothes beside his hand, “there was a sermon about women that are lost. What was that?”

“Why, yes,” answered the parson, rousing to an active joy in his work. “‘Neither do I condemn thee!’ That was it. You git it, Dorcas! We must remember such poor creatur’s; though, Lord be praised! there ain’t many round here. We must remember an’ pray for ’em.”

But Dorcas did not rise.

“Is there any hope for them, father?” she asked, her voice muffled. “Can they be saved?”

“Why, don’t you remember the poor creatur’ that come here an’ asked that very question because she heard I said the Lord was pitiful? Her baby was born out in the medder, an’ died the next day; an’ she got up out of her sickbed at the Poorhouse, an’ come totterin’ up here, to ask if there was any use in her sayin’, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ An’ your mother took her in, an’ laid her down on this very bed, an’ she died here. An’ your mother hil’ her in her arms when she died. You ask her if she didn’t!” The effort of continuous talking wearied him, and presently he dozed off. Once he woke, and Dorcas was still on her knees, her head abased. “Dorcas!” he said, and she answered, “Yes, father!” without raising it; and he slept again. The bell struck, for the end of service. The parson was awake. He stretched out his hand, and it trembled a moment and then fell on his daughter’s lowly head.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ–” the parson said, and went clearly on to the solemn close.

“Father,” said Dorcas. “Father!” She seemed to be crying to One afar. “Say the other verse, too. What He told the woman.”

His hand still on her head, the parson repeated, with a wistful tenderness stretching back over the past,–

“‘Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.'”


It was the lonesome time of the year: not November, that accomplishment of a gracious death, but the moment before the conscious spring, when watercourses have not yet stirred in awakening, and buds are only dreamed of by trees still asleep but for the sweet trouble within their wood; when the air finds as yet no response to the thrill beginning to creep where roots lie blind in the dark; when life is at the one dull, flat instant before culmination and movement. I had gone down post-haste to my well-beloved Tiverton, in response to the news sent me by a dear countrywoman, that Nancy Boyd, whom I had not seen since my long absence in Europe, was dying of “galloping consumption.” Nancy wanted to bid me good-by. Hiram Cole met me, lean-jawed, dust-colored, wrinkled as of old, with the overalls necessitated by his “sleddin'” at least four inches too short. Not the Pyramids themselves were such potent evidence that time may stand still, withal, as this lank, stooping figure, line for line exactly what it had been five years before. Hiram helped me into the pung, took his place beside me, and threw a conversational “huddup” to the rakish-looking sorrel colt. We dashed sluing away down the country road, and then I turned to look at my old friend. He was steadfastly gazing at the landscape ahead, the while he passed one wiry hand over his face, to smooth out its broadening smile. He was glad to see me, but his private code of decorum forbade the betrayal of any such “shaller” emotion.

“Well, Hiram,” I began, “Tiverton looks exactly the same, doesn’t it? And poor Nancy, how is she?”

“Nancy’s pretty low,” said Hiram, drawing his mitten over the hand that had been used to iron out his smile, and giving critical attention to the colt’s off hind-leg. “She hil’ her own all winter, but now, come spring, she’s breakin’ up mighty fast. They don’t cal’late she’ll live more’n a day or two.”

“Her poor husband! How will he get along without her!”

Hiram turned upon me with vehemence.

“Why, don’t you know?” said he. “‘Ain’t nobody told ye? She ‘ain’t got no husband.”

“What? Is the Cap’n dead?”

“Dead? Bless ye, he’s divorced from Nancy, an’ married another woman, two year ago come this May!”

I was amazed, and Hiram looked at me with the undisguised triumph of one who has news to sell, be it good or bad.

“But Nancy has written me!” I said. “She told me the neighborhood gossip; why didn’t she tell me that?”

“Pride, I s’pose, pride,” said Hiram. “You can’t be sure how misery’ll strike folks. It’s like a September gale; the best o’ barns’ll blow down, an’ some rickety shanty’ll stan’ the strain. But there! Nancy’s had more to bear from the way she took her troubles than from the troubles themselves. Ye see, ’twas this way. Cap’n Jim had his own reasons for wantin’ to git rid of her, an’ I guess there was a time when he treated her pretty bad. I guess he as good’s turned her out o’ house an’ home, an’ when he sued for divorce for desertion, she never said a word; an’ he got it, an’ up an’ married, as soon as the law’d allow, Nancy never opened her head, all through it. She jest settled down, with a bed an’ a chair or two, in that little house she owned down by Wilier Brook, an’ took in tailorin’ an’ mendin’. One spell, she bound shoes. The whole town was with her till she begun carryin’ on like a crazed creatur’, as she did arterwards.”

My heart sank. Poor Nancy! if she had really incurred the public scorn, it must have been through dire extremity.

“Ye see,” Hiram continued, “folks were sort o’ tried with her from the beginnin’. You know what a good outfit she had from her mother’s side,–bureaus, an’ beddin’, an’ everything complete? Well, she left it all right there in the house, for Jim to use, an’ when he brought his new woman home, there the things set jest the same, an’ he never said a word. I don’t deny he ought to done different, but then, if Nancy wouldn’t look out for her own interests, you can’t blame him so much, now can ye? But the capsheaf come about a year ago, when Nancy had a smart little sum o’ money left her,–nigh onto a hunderd dollars. Jim he’d got into debt, an’ his oxen died, an’ one thing an’ another, he was all wore out, an’ had rheumatic fever; an’ if you’ll b’lieve it, Nancy she went over an’ done the work, an’ let his wife nuss him. She wouldn’t step foot into the bedroom, they said; she never see Jim once, but there she was, slavin’ over the wash-tub and ironin’-board,–an’ as for that money, I guess it went for doctor’s stuff an’ what all, for Jim bought a new yoke of oxen in the spring.”

“But the man! the other wife! how could they?”

“Oh, Jim’s wife’s a pretty tough-hided creatur’, an’ as for him, I al’ays thought the way Nancy behaved took him kind o’ by surprise, an’ he had to give her her head, an’ let her act her pleasure. But it made a sight o’ town talk. Some say Nancy ain’t quite bright to carry on so, an’ the women-folks seem to think she’s a good deal to blame, one way or another. Anyhow, she’s had a hard row to hoe. Here we be, an’ there’s Hannah at the foreroom winder. You won’t think o’ goin’ over to Nancy’s till arter supper, will ye?”

When I sat alone beside Nancy’s bed, that night, I had several sides of her sad story in mind, but none of them lessened the dreariness of the tragedy. Before my brief acquaintance with her, Nancy was widely known as a travelling-preacher, one who had “the power.” She must have been a strangely attractive creature, in those early days, alert, intense, gifted with such a magnetic reaching into another life that it might well set her aside from the commoner phases of a common day, and crowned, as with flame, by an unceasing aspiration for the highest. At thirty, she married a dashing sailor, marked by the sea, even to the rings in his ears; and when I knew them, they were solidly comfortable and happy, in a way very reassuring to one who could understand Nancy’s temperament; for she was one of those who, at every step, are flung aside from the world’s sharp corners, bruised and bleeding.

As to the storm and shipwreck of her life, I learned no particulars essentially new. Evidently her husband had suddenly run amuck, either from the monotony of his inland days, or from the strange passion he had conceived for a woman who was Nancy’s opposite.

That night, I sat in the poor, bare little room, beside the billowing feather-bed where Nancy lay propped upon pillows, and gazing with bright, glad eyes into my face, one thin little hand clutching mine with the grasp of a soul who holds desperately to life. And yet Nancy was not clinging to life itself; she only seemed to be, because she clung to love.

“I’m proper glad to see ye,” she kept saying, “proper glad.”

We were quite alone. The fire burned cheerily in the kitchen stove, and a cheap little clock over the mantel ticked unmercifully fast; it seemed in haste for Nancy to be gone. The curtains were drawn, lest the thrifty window-plants should be frostbitten, and several tumblers of jelly on the oilcloth-covered table bore witness that the neighbors had put aside their moral scruples and their social delicacy, and were giving of their best, albeit to one whose ways were not their ways. But Nancy herself was the centre and light of the room,–so frail, so clean, with her plain nightcap and coarse white nightgown, and the small checked shawl folded primly over her shoulders. Thin as she was, she looked scarcely older than when I had seen her, five years ago; yet since then she had walked through a blacker valley than the one before her.

“Now don’t you git all nerved up when I cough,” she said, lying back exhausted after a paroxysm. “I’ve got used to it; it don’t trouble me no more’n a mosquiter. I want to have a real good night now, talkin’ over old times.”

“You must try to sleep,” I said. “The doctor will blame me, if I let you talk.”

“No, he won’t,” said Nancy, shrewdly. “He knows I ‘ain’t got much time afore me, an’ I guess he wouldn’t deny me the good on’t. That’s why I sent for ye, dear; I ‘ain’t had anybody I could speak out to in five year, an’ I wanted to speak out, afore I died. Do you remember how you used to come over an’ eat cold b’iled dish for supper, that last summer you was down here?”

“Oh, don’t I, Nancy! there never was anything like it. Such cold potatoes–“

“B’iled in the pot-liquor!” she whispered, a knowing gleam in her blue eyes. “That’s the way; on’y everybody don’t know. An’ do you remember the year we had greens way into the fall, an’ I wouldn’t tell you what they was? Well, I will, now; there was chickweed, an’ pusley, an’ mustard, an’ Aaron’s-rod, an’ I dunno what all.”

“Not Aaron’s-rod, Nancy! it never would have been so good!”

“It’s truth an’ fact! I b’iled Aaron’s-rod, an’ you eat it. That was the year Mis’ Blaisdell was mad because you had so many meals over to my house, an’ said it was the last time she’d take summer boarders an’ have the neighbors feed ’em.”

“They were good old days, Nancy!”

“I guess they were! yes, indeed, I guess so! Now, dear, I s’pose you’ve heard what I’ve been through, sence you went away?”

I put the thin hand to my cheek.

“Yes,” I said, “I have heard.”

“Well, now, I want to tell you the way it ‘pears to me. You’ll hear the neighbors’ side, an’ arter I’m gone, they’ll tell you I was under-witted or bold. They’ve been proper good to me sence I’ve been sick, but law! what do they know about it, goin’ to bed at nine o’clock, an’ gittin’ up to feed the chickens an’ ride to meetin’ with their husbands? No more’n the dead! An’ so I want to tell ye my story, myself. Now, don’t you mind my coughing dear! It don’t hurt, to speak of, an’ I feel better arter it.

“Well, I dunno where to begin. The long an’ short of it was, dear, James he got kind o’ uneasy on land, an’ then he was tried with me, an’ then he told me, one night, when he spoke out, that he didn’t care about me as he used to, an’ he never should, an’ we couldn’t live no longer under the same roof. He was goin’ off the next day to sea, or to the devil, he said, so he needn’t go crazy seein’ Mary Ann Worthen’s face lookin’ at him all the time. It ain’t any use tryin’ to tell how I felt. Some troubles ain’t no more ‘n a dull pain, an’ some are like cuts an’ gashes. You can feel your heart drop, drop, like water off the eaves. Mine dropped for a good while arter that. Well, you see I’d been through the fust stages of it. I’d been eat up by jealousy, an’ I’d slaved like a dog to git him back; but now it had got beyond such folderol. He was in terrible trouble, an’ I’d got to git him out. An’ I guess ’twas then that I begun to feel as if I was his mother, instid of his wife. ‘Jim,’ says I, (somehow I have to Say ‘James,’ now we’re separated!) ‘don’t you fret. I’ll go off an’ leave ye, an’ you can get clear o’ me accordin’ to law, if you want to. I’m sure you can. I sha’n’t care.’ He turned an’ looked at me, as if I was crazed or he was himself, ‘You won’t care?’ he says. ‘No,’ says I, ‘I sha’n’t care.’ I said it real easy, for ’twas true. Somehow, I’d got beyond carin’. My heart dropped blood, but I couldn’t bear to have him in trouble. ‘They al’ays told me I was cut out for an old maid,” I says, ‘an’ I guess I be. Housekeepin’ ‘s a chore, anyway. You let all the stuff set right here jest as we’ve had it, an’ ask Cap’n Fuller to come an’ bring his chist; an’ I’ll settle down in the Willer Brook house an’ make button-holes. It’s real pretty work.’ You see, the reason I was so high for it was ‘t I knew if he went to sea, he’d git in with a swearin’, drinkin’ set, as he did afore, an’ in them days such carryin’s-on were dretful to me. If I’d known he’d marry, I dunno what course I should ha’ took; for nothin’ could ha’ made that seem right to me, arter all had come and gone. But I jest thought how James was a dretful handy man about the house, an’ I knew he set by Cap’n Fuller. The Cap’n ‘ain’t no real home, you know, an’ I thought they’d admire to bach it together.”

“Did you ever wonder whether you had done right? Did you ever think it would have been better for him to keep his promises to you? For him to be unhappy?”

A shade of trouble crossed her face.

“I guess I did!” she owned. “At fust, I was so anxious to git out o’ his way, I never thought of anything else; but when I got settled down here, an’ had all my time for spec’latin’ on things, I was a good deal put to ‘t whether I’d done the best anybody could. But I didn’t reason much, in them days; I jest felt. All was, I couldn’t bear to have James tied to me when he’d got so’s to hate me. Well, then he married–“

“Was she a good woman?”

“Good enough, yes; a leetle mite coarse-grained, but well-meanin’ all through. Well, now, you know the neighbors blamed me for lettin’ her have my things. Why, bless you, I didn’t need ’em! An’ Jim had used ’em so many years, he’d ha’ missed ’em if they’d been took away. Then he never was forehanded, an’ how could he ha’ furnished a house all over ag’in, I’d like to know? The neighbors never understood. The amount of it was, they never was put in jest such a place, any of ’em.”

“O Nancy, Nancy!” I said, “you cared for just one thing, and it was gone. You didn’t care for the tables and chairs that were left behind!”

Two tears came, and dimmed her bright blue eyes. Her firm, delicate mouth quivered.

“Yes,” she said, “you see how ’twas. I knew you would. Well, arter he was married, there was a spell when ’twas pretty tough. Sometimes I couldn’t hardly help goin’ over there by night an’ peekin’ into the winder, an’ seein’ how they got along. I went jest twice. The fust time was late in the fall, an’ she was preservin’ pears by lamplight. I looked into the kitchin winder jest as she was bendin’ over the stove, tryin’ the syrup, an’ he was holdin’ the light for her to see. I dunno what she said, but ’twas suthin’ that made ’em both laugh out, an’ then they turned an’ looked at one another, proper pleased. I dunno why, but it took right hold o’ me, an’ I started runnin’ an’ I never stopped till I got in, here an’ onto my own bed. I thought ‘twould ha’ been massiful if death had took me that night, but I’m glad it didn’t, dear, I’m glad it didn’t! I shouldn’t ha’ seen ye, if it had, an’ there’s a good many things I shouldn’t ha’ had time to study out. You jest put a mite o’ cayenne pepper in that cup, an’ turn some hot water on it. It kind o’ warms me up.”

After a moment’s rest, she began again.

“The next time I peeked was the last, for that night they’d had some words, an’ they both set up straight as a mack’rel, an’ wouldn’t speak to one another. That hurt me most of anything. I never’ve got over the feelin’ that I was James’s mother, an’ that night I felt sort o’ bruised all through, as if some stranger’d been hurtin’ him. So I never went spyin’ on ’em no more. I felt as if I couldn’t stan’ it. But when I went to help her with the work, that time he was sick, I guess the neighbors thought I hadn’t any sense of how a right-feelin’ woman ought to act. I guess they thought I was sort o’ coarse an’ low, an’ didn’t realize what I’d, been through. Dear, don’t you never believe it. The feelin’ that’s between husband an’ wife’s like a live creatur’, an’ when he told me that night that he didn’t prize me no more, he wounded it; an’ when he married the other woman, he killed it dead. If he’d ha’ come back to me then, an’ swore he was the same man I married, I could ha’ died for him, jest as I would this minute, but he never should ha’ touched me. But suthin’ had riz up in the place o’ the feelin’ I had fust, so’t I never could ha’ helped doin’ for him, any more’n if he’d been my own child.”

“‘In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage!'”

“I guess that’s it,” said Nancy. “On’y you have to live through a good deal afore you understand it. Well, now, dear, I’m nearin’ the end. There’s one thing that’s come to me while I’ve been livin’ through this, that I ‘ain’t never heard anybody mention; an’ I want you to remember it, so’s you can tell folks that are in great trouble, the way I’ve been. I’ve been thinkin’ on’t out that there’s jest so much of everything in the world,–so much gold, so much silver, so many di’monds. You can’t make no more nor no less. All you can do is to pass ’em about from hand to hand, so’t sometimes here’ll be somebody that’s rich, an’ then it’ll slip away from him, an’ he’ll be poor. Now, accordin’ to my lights, it’s jes’ so with love. There’s jest so much, an’ when it’s took away from you, an’ passed over to somebody else, it’s alive, it’s there, same as ever it was. So ‘t you ain’t goin’ to say it’s all holler an’ empty, this world. You’re goin’ to say, ‘Well, it’s som’er’s, if ’tain’t with me!'”

Nancy had straightened herself, without the support of her pillows. Her eyes were bright. A faint flush had come upon her cheeks. A doctor would have told me that my devoted friendship had not saved me from being a wretched nurse.

“My home was broke up,” she went on, “but there’s a nice, pretty house there jest the same. There’s a contented couple livin’ in it, an’ what if the wife ain’t me? It ain’t no matter. P’r’aps it’s a lot better that somebody else should have it, somebody that couldn’t git along alone; an’ not me, that can see the rights o’ things. Jest so much love, dear–don’t you forgit that–no matter where ’tis! An’ James could take his love away from me, but the Lord A’mighty himself can’t take mine from him. An’ so ’tis, the world over. You can al’ays love folks, an’ do for ’em, even if your doin’ ‘s only breakin’ your heart an’ givin’ ’em up. An’ do you s’pose there’s any sp’ere o’ life where I sha’n’t be allowed to do somethin’ for James? I guess not, dear, I guess not, even if it’s only keepin’ away from him.”

Nancy lived three days, in a state of delighted content with us and our poor ministrations; and only once did we approach the subject of that solemn night. As the end drew near, I became more and more anxious to know if she had a wish unfulfilled, and at length I ventured to ask her softly, when we were alone,–

“Would you like to see him?”

Her bright eyes looked at me, in a startled way.

“No, dear, no,” she said, evidently surprised that I could ask it. “Bless you, no!”


In Tiverton, when reminiscences are in order, we go back to one very rich year; then the circus and strolling players came to town, and the usual camp-meeting was followed by an epidemic of scarlet fever, which might have stood forth as the judgment of heaven, save that the newly converted were stricken first and undoubtedly fared hardest. Hiram Cole said it was because they’d “got all their nerve-juice used up, hollerin’ hallelujah.” But that I know not. This theory of nerve-juice, was a favorite one with Hiram: he contended that it had a powerful hand in determining the results of presidential elections; and, indeed, in swaying the balance of power among the nations of the earth.

Even in the early spring, there had been several cases of fever at Sudleigh; and so, when the circus made application for a license to take possession of the town, according to olden custom, the public authorities very wisely refused. Tiverton, however, was wroth at this arbitrary restriction. For more years than I can say, she had driven over to Sudleigh “to see the caravan;” and now, through some crack-brained theory of contagion, the caravan was to be barred out. We never really believed that the town-fathers had taken their highhanded measure on account of scarlet fever. We saw in it some occult political significance, and referred ominously to the butter we carried there on Saturdays, and to the possibility that, if they cast us off, a separation might affect them far more seriously than it would us. But to our loud-voiced delight, the caravan, finding that it was to be within hailing distance, and unwilling to pass on without further tribute, extended the sceptre to Tiverton herself; and Brad Freeman joyfully discussed the project of making a circus ground of his old race-course, which, he declared, he had purposed planting with tobacco. We never knew whether to believe this or not, though we had many times previously gone over Brad’s calculation, by which he figured that he could sell at least three tons of fine-cut from one summer’s produce. To that specious logic, we always listened with unwilling admiration; but when we could shake off the glamour inseparable from a problem made to come out right, we were accustomed to turn to one another, demanding with cold scepticism, “Where’d he git his seed?”

In spite of the loss of this potential crop, however, Brad was magnanimously willing to let his field; and Tiverton held her head high, in the prospect of having a circus of her own. We intimated that it would undoubtedly be fair weather, owing to our superior moral desert as compared with that of Sudleigh, which was annually afflicted with what had long been known as “circus-weather.” For Sudleigh had sinned, and Nature was thenceforth deputed to pay her back, in good old Hebrew style. One circus-day–before the war, as I believe–Sudleigh fenced up the spring in a corner of her grounds, and with a foolish thrift sold ice-water to the crowd, at a penny a glass. Tiverton was furious, and so, apparently, were the just heavens; for every circus-day thereafter it rained, in a fashion calculated to urge any forehanded Noah into immediate action. We of Tiverton never allowed our neighbor to forget her criminal lapse. When, on circus-afternoon, we met one of the rival township, dripping as ourselves, we said, with all the cheerfulness of conscious innocence,–

“Water enough for everybody, to-day! Guess ye won’t have to peddle none out!”

“Seems to be comin’ down pretty fast! You better build a platfoam over that spring! Go hard with ye if’t overflowed!”

Strange to say, Sudleigh seemed to regard these time-licensed remarks with little favor; she even intimated that they smacked of the past, and were wearisome in her nostrils. But not for that did we halt in their distribution. Moreover, we flaunted our domestic loyalty by partaking of no Sudleigh fluid within the grounds. We carried tea, coffee, lemonade, milk, an ambitious variety of drinks, in order that even our children might be spared the public disgrace of tasting Sudleigh water; and it was a part of our excellent fooling to invite every Sudleighian to drink with us. Even the virtues, however, spare their votaries no pang; and in every family, this unbending fealty resulted in the individual members’ betaking themselves to the pump or well, immediately on getting home, even before attempting to unharness. About five o’clock, on circus-afternoon, there would be a general rumbling of buckets and creaking of sweeps, while a chorus rose to heaven, “My! I was ‘most choked!”

But our _fete_-day dawned bright and speckless. We rose before three o’clock, every man, woman and child of us, to see the procession come into town. It would leave the railway at Sudleigh, and we had a faint hope of its forming in regulation style, and sweeping into Tiverton, a blaze of glittering chariots surmounted by queens of beauty, of lazy beasts of the desert sulking in their cages, and dainty-stepping horses, ridden by bold amazons. For a time, the expectation kept us bright and hopeful, although most of us had only taken a “cold bite” before starting; but as the eastern saffron pencilled one line of light and the bird chorus swelled in piercing glory, we grew cross and all unbefitting the smiling morn. Only Dilly Joyce looked sunshiny as ever, for she had no domestic cares to beckon her; she and Nance Pete, who was in luck that day, having a full pipe. Dilly had nestled into a rock, curved in the form of a chair, and lay watching the eastern sky, a faint smile of pleasure parting her lips when the saffron hardened into gold.

“Nice, dear, ain’t it?” she said, as I paused a moment near her, “I al’ays liked the side o’ the road. But it’s kind o’ disturbin’ to have so much talk. I dunno’s you can help it, though, where there’s so many people. Most o’ the time, I’m better on’t to home, but I did want to see an elephant near to!”

The sky broadened into light, and the birds jeered at us, poor, draggled folk who lived in boxes and were embarrassed by the morn. The men grew nervous, for milking-time was near, and in imagination I have no doubt they heard the lowing of reproachful kine.

“Well, ’tain’t no use,” said Eli Pike, rising from the stone-wall, and stretching himself, with decision. “I’ve got to ‘tend to them cows, whether or no!” And he strolled away on the country-road, without a look behind. Most of the other men, as in honor bound, followed him; and the women, with loud-voiced protest against an obvious necessity, trailed after them, to strain the milk. Only we who formed the gypsy element were left behind.

“I call it a real shame!” announced Mrs. Pike, gathering her summer shawl about her shoulders, and stepping away with an offended dignity such as no delinquent elephant could have faced. “I warrant ye, they wouldn’t ha’ treated Sudleigh so. They wouldn’t ha’ dared!”

“I dunno’s Sudleigh’s any more looked up to’n we be,” said Caleb Rivers, who had been so tardy in bestirring himself that he formed a part of the women’s corps. “I guess, if the truth was known, Tiverton covers more land’n Sudleigh does, on’y Sudleigh’s all humped up together into a quart bowl. I guess there’s countries that ‘ain’t heard o’ Sudleigh, an’ wouldn’t stan’ much in fear if they had!”

And so Tiverton dispersed, unamiably, and with its public pride hurt to the quick. I tried to take pattern by Dilly Joyce, and steal from nature a little of the wonderful filial enjoyment which came to her unsought. When Dilly watched the sky, I did, also; when she brightened at sound of a bird hitherto silent, I tried to set down his notes in my memory; and when she closed her eyes, and shut out the world, to think it over, I did the same. But the result was different. Probably Dilly opened hers again upon the lovely earth, but I drifted off into dreamland, and only awoke, two hours after, to find the scenes marvellously changed. It was bright, steady morning, the morning come to stay. Tiverton had performed its dairy rites, and returned again, enlivened by a cup of tea; and oh, incredible joy! there was a grunting and panting, a swaying of mighty flanks. The circus was approaching, from Sudleigh way. Instantly I was alert and on my feet, for it would have been impossible to miss the contagion of the general joy. I knew how we felt, not as individuals, but as Tivertonians alone. We were tolerant potentates, waiting, in gracious majesty, to receive a deputation from the farther East. It grieves me much to stop here and confess, with a necessary honesty, that this was but a sorry circus, gauged by the conventional standards; else, I suppose, it had never come to Tiverton at all. The circus-folk had evidently dressed for travelling, not for us. The chariots, some of them still hooded in canvas, were very small and tarnished. There were but three elephants, two camels, and a most meagre display of those alluring cages made to afford even the careless eye a sudden, quickening glimpse of restless, tawny form, or slothful hulk within. Yet why depreciate the raw material whereof Fancy has power divine to build her altogether perfect heights? Here was the plain, homely setting of our plainer lives, and right into the midst of it had come the East. The elephants affected us most; we probably thought little about the immemorial mystery, the vague, occult tradition wrapped in that mouse-colored hide; but even to our dense Western imagination such quickening suggestion was vividly apparent. We knew our world; usually it seemed to us the only one, even when we looked at the stars. But at least one other had been created, and before us appeared its visible sign,–my lord the elephant! There he was, swaying along, conscious philosopher, conscious might, yet holding his omniscience in the background, and keeping a wary eye out for the peanuts with which we simple country souls had not provided ourselves. There was one curious thing about it all. We had seen the circus at Sudleigh, as I have said, yet the fact of entertaining it within our borders made it seem exactly as if we had never laid eyes upon it before. This was our caravan, and God Almighty had created the elephant for us. Dilly Joyce slipped her hand quickly in mine and pressed it hard. She was quite pale. Yet it was she who acted upon the first practical thought. She recovered herself before my lord went by, took a ginger cookie from her pocket, and put it into Davie Tolman’s hand.

“Here,” she said, pushing him forward, “you go an’ offer it to him. He’ll take it. See’f he don’t!”

Davie accepted the mission with joy, and persisted in it until he found himself close beside that swaying bulk, and saw the long trunk curved enticingly toward him. Then he uttered one explosive howl, and fell back on the very toes of us who were pressing forward to partake, by right of sympathy, in the little drama.

“Lordy Massy, keep still!” cried out Nance Pete; and she snatched him up bodily, and held him out to the elephant. I believe my own pang at that moment to have been general. I forgot that elephants are not carnivorous, and shuddered back, under the expectation of seeing Davie devoured, hide and hair. But Nance had the address to stiffen the little arm, and my lord took the cookie, still clutched in the despairing hand, and passed on. Then Davie wiped his eyes, after peeping stealthily about to see whether any one was disposed to jeer at him, and took such courage that he posed, ever after, as the hero of the day.

The procession had nearly passed us when we saw a sight calculated to animate us anew with a justifiable pride. Sudleigh itself, its young men and maidens, old men and children, was following the circus into our town. It would not have a circus of its own, forsooth, but it would share in ours! We, as by one consent, assumed an air of dignified self-importance. We were the hosts of the day; we bowed graciously to such of our guests as we knew, and, with a mild tolerance, looked over the heads of those who were unfamiliar. Yet nothing checked our happy companionship with the caravan; still we followed by the side of the procession, through tangles of blackberry vine, and over ditch and stubble. Some of the boys mounted the walls, and ran wildly, dislodging stones as they went, and earning no reproof from the fathers who, on any other day, would have been alive to a future mowing and the clashing of scythe and rock. There was, moreover, an impression abroad that our progress could by no means be considered devoid of danger.

“S’pose that fellar should rise up, an’ wrench off them bars!” suggested Heman Blaisdell, pointing out one cage where a great creature, gaudy in stripes, paced back and forth, throwing us an occasional look of scorn and great despite. “I wouldn’t give much for my chances! Nor for anybody else’s!”

“My soul an’ body!” ejaculated a woman. “I hope they don’t forgit to lock them cages up! Folks git awful careless when they do a thing every day! I forgot to shet up the hins last week, an’ that was the night the skunk got in.”

“I’m glad Brad brought his gun,” said another, in the tone of one who would have crossed herself had there been a saint to help. And thereafter we kept so thickly about Brad, walking with his long free stride, that his progress became impeded, and he almost fell over us. Suddenly, from the front, a man’s voice rose in an imperative cry,–

“Turn round! turn round!”

Quite evidently the mandate was addressed to us, and we turned in a mass, fleeing back into Sudleigh’s very arms. For a moment, it was like Sparta and Persia striving in the Pass; then Sudleigh turned also, such as were on foot, and fled with us. We pressed up the bank, as soon as we could collect our errant wits; some of us, with a sense of coming calamity, mounted the very wall, and there we had a moment to look about us. The caravan was keeping steadily on, like fate and taxes, and facing it stood a carryall attached to a frightened horse. On the front seat, erect in her accustomed majesty, sat Aunt Melissa Adams; and Uncle Hiram, ever a humble charioteer, was by her side. They, too, had driven out to see the circus, but alas! it had not struck them that they might meet it midway, with no volition of drawing up at the side of the road and allowing it to pass. The old horse, hardened to the vicissitudes of many farming seasons, had necessarily no acquaintance with the wild beasts of the Orient; no past experience, tucked away in his wise old head, could explain them in the very least. He plunged and reared; he snorted with fear, and Aunt Melissa began to emit shrieks of such volume and quality that the mangy lion, composing himself to sleep in his cage, rose, and sent forth a cry that Tiverton will long remember. We did not stop to explain our forebodings, but we were sure that, in some mysterious way, Aunt Melissa was doomed, and that she had brought her misfortune on herself. A second Daniel, she had no special integrity to stand her in need. And still the circus advanced, and the horse snorted and backed. He was a gaunt old beast, but in his terror, one moment of beauty dignified him beyond belief. His head was high, his eyes were starting.

“Turn round!” cried the men, but Uncle Hiram was paralyzed, and the reins lay supine in his hands, while he screamed a wheezy “Whoa!” Then Brad Freeman, as usual in cases outside precedent, became the good angel of Tiverton. He forced his gun on the person nearest at hand–who proved to be Nance Pete–and dashed forward. Seizing the frightened horse by the head, he cramped the wheel scientifically, and turned him round. Then he gave him a smack on the flank, and the carryall went reeling and swaying back into Tiverton, the _avant-courrier_ of the circus. You should have heard Aunt Melissa’s account of that ride, an epic moment which she treasured, in awe, to the day of her death. According to her, it asked no odds from the wild huntsman, or the Gabriel hounds. Well, we cowards came down from the wall, assuring each other, with voices still shaking a little, that we knew it was nothing, after all, and that nobody but Aunt Melissa would make such a fuss. How she did holler! we said, with conscious pride in our own self-possession when brought into unexpectedly close relations with wild beasts; and we trudged happily along through the dust stirred by alien trampling, back to Tiverton Street, and down into Brad Freeman’s field. It would hardly be possible to describe our joy in watching the operation of tent-raising, nor our pride in Brad Freeman, when he assumed the character of host, and not only made the circus-folk free of the ground they had hired, but hurried here and there, helping with such address and muscular vigor that we felt defrauded in never having known how accomplished he really was. The strollers recognized his type, in no time; they were joking with him and clapping him on the back before the first tent had been unrolled. Now, none of us had ever seen a circus performer, save in the ring; and I think we were disappointed, for a moment, at finding we had in our midst no spangled angels in rosy tights, no athletes standing on their heads by choice, and quite preferring the landscape upside down, but a set of shabbily dressed, rather jaded men and women, who were, for all the world, just like ourselves, save that they walked more gracefully, and spoke in softer voice. But when the report went round that the cook was getting breakfast ready–out of doors, too!–we were more than compensated for the loss of such tinsel joys. Chattering and eager, we ran over to the dining-tent, and there, close beside it, found the little kitchen, its ovens smoking hot, and a man outside, aproned and capped, cutting up chops and steaks, with careless deftness, and laying them in the great iron pans, preparatory to broiling.

“By all ‘t’s good an’ bad!” swore Tom McNeil, a universal and sweeping oath he much affected, “they’ve got a whole sheep an’ a side o’ beef! Well, it’s high livin’, an’ no mistake!”

We who considered a few pies a baking, watched this wholesale cookery in bewildered fascination. A savory smell arose to heaven. I never was so hungry in my life, and I believe all Tiverton would own to the same craving. Perhaps some wild instinct sprang up in us with the scent of meat in out-door air, but at any rate, we became much exhilarated, and our attention was only turned from the beguiling chops by Mrs. Wilson’s saying, in a low tone, to her husband,–

“Lothrop, if there ain’t Lucindy, an’ that Molly McNeil with her! What’s Lucindy got? My sake alive! you might ha’ known she’d do suthin’ to make anybody wish they’d stayed to home. If you can git near her, you keep a tight holt on her, or she’ll be jumpin’ through a hoop!”

I turned, with the rest. Yes, there was Miss Lucindy, tripping happily across the level field. Molly McNeil hastened beside her, and between them they carried a large clothes-basket, overflowing with flaming orange-red; a basket heaped with sunset, not the dawn! They were very near me when I guessed what it was; so near that I could see the happy smile on Lucindy’s parted lips, and note how high the rose flush had risen in her delicate cheek, with happiness and haste.

“Stortions!” broke out a voice near me, in virile scorn,–Nance Pete’s,–“stortions! Jes’ like her! Better picked ’em a mess o’ pease!”

It was, indeed, a basket of red nasturtiums, and the sun had touched them into a glory like his own. For one brief moment, we were ashamed of Lucindy’s “shallerness” and irrelevancy; but the circus people interpreted her better. They rose from box and hamper where they had been listlessly awaiting their tardy breakfast, and crowded forward to meet her. They knew, through the comradeship of all Bohemia, exactly what she meant.

“My!” said Miss Lucindy, smiling full at them as they came,–her old, set smile had been touched, within a year, by something glad and free,–“set ’em down now, Molly. My! are you the folks? Well, I thought you’d seem different, somehow, but anyway, we brought you over a few blooms. We thought you couldn’t have much time, movin’ round so, to work in your gardins, especially the things you have to sow every year. Yes, dear, yes! Take a good handful. Here’s a little mignonette I put in the bottom, so’t everybody could have a sprig. Yes, there’s enough for the men, too. Why, yes, help yourself! Law, dear, why don’t you take off your veil? Hot as this is!” for the bearded lady, closely masked in black _barege_, had come forward and hungrily stretched out a great hand for her share.

We never knew how it all happened, but during this clamor of happy voices, the chops were cooked and the coffee boiled; the circus people turned about, and trooped into the tent where the tables were set, and they took Miss Lucindy with them. Yes, they did! Molly McNeil stayed contentedly outside; for though she had brought her share of the treasure, quite evidently she considered herself a friendly helper, not a partner in the scheme. But Miss Lucindy was the queen of the carnival. We heard one girl say to another, as our eccentric townswoman swept past us, in the eager crowd, “Oh, the dear old thing!” We saw a sad-eyed girl bend forward, lift a string of Miss Lucindy’s apron (which, we felt, should have been left behind in the kitchen) and give it a hearty kiss. Later, when, by little groups, we peeped into the dining-tent, we saw Miss Lucindy sitting there at the table, between two women who evidently thought her the very nicest person that had ever crossed their wandering track. There she was, an untouched roll and chop on her plate, a cup of coffee by her side. She was not talking. She only smiled happily at those who talked to her, and her eyes shone very bright. We were ashamed; I confess it. For was not Sudleigh, also, there to see?

“Oh, my soul!” exclaimed Mrs. Wilson, in fretful undertone. “I wish the old Judge was here!”

Her husband turned and looked at her, and she quailed; not with fear of him, but at the vision of the outraged truth.

“Well, no,” she added, weakly, “I dunno’s I wish anything so bad as that, but I do declare I think there ought to be somebody to keep a tight grip on Lucindy!”

Who shall deem himself worthy to write the chronicle of that glorious day? There were so many incidents not set down in the logical drama; so many side-shows of circumstance! We watched all the mysterious preparations for the afternoon performance, so far as we were allowed, with the keenness of the wise, who recognize a special wonder and will not let it pass unproved. We surrounded Miss Lucindy, when she came away from her breakfast party, and begged for an exact account of all her entertainers had said; but she could tell us nothing. She only reiterated, with eyes sparkling anew, that they were “proper nice folks, proper nice! and she must go home and get Ellen. If she’d known they were just like other folks she’d have brought Ellen this morning; but she’d been afraid there’d be talk that little girls better not hear.”

At noon, we sat about in the shade of the trees along the wall, and ate delicious cold food from the butter-boxes and baskets our men-folks had brought over during the forenoon lull; and we assiduously offered Sudleigh a drink, whenever it passed the counter where barrels of free spring-water had been set. And then, at the first possible moment, we paid our fee, and went inside the tent to see the animals. That scrubby menagerie had not gained in dignity from its transference to canvas walls. The enclosure was very hot and stuffy; there was a smell of dust and straw. The lion stretched himself, from time to time, and gave an angry roar for savage, long-lost joys. One bear, surely new to the business, kept walking up and down, up and down, moaning, in an abandon of homesickness. Brad Freeman stood before the cage when I was there.

“Say, Brad,” said the Crane boy, slipping his arm into the hunter’s, in a good-fellowship sure to be reciprocated. “Davie Tolman said you’s goin’ to fetch over your fox, an’ sell him to the circus. Be you?”

“My Lord!” answered Brad, very violently for him, the ever-tolerant. “No! I’m goin’ to let him go. _Look at that!_” And while the Crane boy, unconcerned, yet puzzled, gave his full attention to the bear, Brad passed on.

There was a wolf, I remember, darting about his cage, slinking, furtive, ever on a futile prowl. He especially engaged the interest of Tom McNeil, who said admiringly, as I, too, looked through the bars, “Ain’t he a prompt little cuss?” I felt that with Tom it was the fascination of opposites; he never could understand superlative energy.

Just as we were trooping into the larger tent (there were no three rings, I beg to say, maliciously calculated to distract the attention! One, of a goodly size, was quite enough for us!) a little voice piped up, “The snake’s got loose!” How we surged and panted, and fought one another for our sacred lives! In vain were we urged to stand still; we strove the more. And when a bit of rope perversely and maliciously coiled itself round Rosa Tolman’s ankle, she gave a shriek so loud and despairing that it undid us anew. If Sheriff Holmes had not come forward and sworn at us, I believe we should have trampled one another out of existence; but he seemed so palpably the embodiment of authority, and his oath the oath undoubtedly selected by legislature for that very occasion, that we paused, and on the passionate asseveration of a circus man that the snake was safely in his cage, consented to be calm. But Aunt Melissa Adams, unstrung by her earlier experience, would trust no doubtful circumstance. She plodded back into the animal-tent, assured herself, with her own eyes, of the snake’s presence at his own hearthstone, and came back satisfied, just as the clown entered the ring. The performance needs no bush. We had palmleaf fans offered us, pop-corn, and pink lemonade. We sweltered under the blazing canvas, laughed at the clown’s musty fooling, which deserved rather the reverence due old age, and wondered between whiles if there would be a shower, and if tent-poles were ever struck. Then it was all over, and we trailed out, in great bodily discomfort and spiritual joy, to witness, quite unlooked for, the most vivid drama of the day. Young Dana Marden was there, he and his wife who lived down in Tiverton Hollow. Dana was a nephew of Josh, of hapless memory, and “folks said” that, like Josh, he had “all the Marden setness, once git him riled.” But Mary Worthen had not been in the least afraid of that when she married him. Before their engagement, some one had casually mentioned Dana’s having inherited “setness” for his patrimony.

“I know it,” she said, “and if I had anything to do with him, I’d break him of it, or I’d break his neck!”

Tiverton had been very considerate in never repeating that speech to Dana; and his wife, in all their five years of married life, had not fulfilled her threat. As we were making ready to leave the grounds, that day, and those who had horses were “tacklin up,” we became aware that Dana, a handsome, solid, fresh-colored fellow, sat in his wagon with pretty Mary beside him, and that they evidently had no intention of moving on. Of course we approached, to find out what the trouble might be.

“We can send word to have Tom Bunker milk the cows,” said Dana, with distinct emphasis, “an’ we can stay for the evenin’ performance. Or we can go now. Only, you’ve got to say which!”

“I don’t want to say,” returned Mary, placidly, “because I don’t know which you’d rather have. You just tell me _so_ much!”

A frown contracted his brow; he looked a middle-aged man. When he spoke, his voice grated.

“You tell which, or we’ll set here all night, an’ I don’t speak another word to you till you do!”

But Mary said nothing.

“My soul!” whispered Mrs. Rivers to me. “She’s got herself into it now, jest as they say Lyddy Ann Marden done, with Josh. She’ll have to back down!”

Several more of those aimless on-lookers, ever ready for the making of crowds, surged forward. The wagon was blocking the way. We realised with shame that Sudleigh, too, was here, to say nothing of sister towns less irritating to our pride. It was Uncle Eli Pike who stepped into the breach.

“Here, Dana!” he called, and, as we were glad to remember, all the aliens in the crowd could hear, “I guess that hoss o’ yourn’s gittin’ a mite balky. I’ll lead him a step, if you say so.” And without a word of assent from Dana, he guided the horse out of the grounds, and started him on the road. We watched the divided couple, on their common way. Dana was driving, it is true; but we knew, with a heavy certainty, that he was not speaking to his wife. He was a Marden, and nothing would make him speak.

This slight but very significant episode sent us home in a soberer mind than any of us had anticipated, after the gaudy triumphs of the day. We could not quell our curiosity over the upshot of it all, and that night, after the chores were done, we sat in the darkness, interspersing our comments on the spangled butterflies of horse and hoop with an awed question, now and then, while the minute-hand sped, “S’pose they’ve spoke yit?”

Alas! the prevailing voice was still against it; and when we went to market, and met there the people from the Hollow (who were somewhat more bucolic than we), they passed about the open secret. Dana did not speak to his wife. Again we knew he never would. The summer waned; the cows were turned into the shack, and the most “forehanded” among us began to cut boughs for banking up the house, and set afoot other preparations for winter’s cold. Still Dana had not spoken. But the effect on Mary was inexplicable to us all. We knew she loved him deeply, and that the habits of their relationship were very tender; we expected her to sink and fail under the burden of this sudden exile of the heart, just as Lyddy Ann had done, so many years ago. But Mary held her head high, and kept her color. She even “went abroad” more than usual; ostentatiously so, we thought, for she would come over to Tiverton to pass the afternoon, after the good, old-fashioned style, with women whom she knew but slightly. And, most incredible of all, though Dana would not speak to her, she spoke to him! Once, in driving past, I heard her clear voice (it seemed now a dauntless voice!) calling,–

“Dana, dinner’s ready!” Dana dropped the board he was carrying, and went in, a fierce yet dogged look upon his face, as if it needed hourly schooling to mirror his hard heart. Then the agent of the Sudleigh “Star,” who was canvassing for a new domestic paper, had also his story to tell. He went to the Mardens’, and Mary, who admitted him, put down her name, and then called blithely into the kitchen,–

“Dana, I’m all out o’ change. Will you hand me a dollar ‘n’ a quarter?”

Dana, flushed red and overwhelmed by a pitiable embarrassment, came to the door and gave the money; and Mary, with that proud unconsciousness which made us wonder anew every time we saw it in her, thanked him, and dismissed the visitor, as if nothing were wrong. The couple went as usual to church and sociable. Certain lines deepened in Dana’s face, but Mary grew every day more light-heartedly cheerful. Yet the one-sided silence lived, with the terrible tenacity of evil.

So the days went on until midwinter snows began to blow, and then we learned, with a thrill of pride, that the International Dramatic Company proposed coming to our own little hall, for a two weeks’ engagement. Some said Sudleigh Opera House was too large for it, and too expensive; but we, the wiser heads, were grandly aware that, with unusual acumen, the drama had at last recognized the true emporium of taste. We resolved that this discriminating company should not repent its choice. A week before the great first night, magnificent posters in red and blue set before us, in very choice English, the dramatic performances, “Shakespearean and otherwise,” destined to take place among us. The leading parts were to be assumed by Mr. and Mrs. Van Rensellaer Wilde, “two of the foremost artists in the stellar world, supported by an adequate company.”

The announcement ended with the insinuating alliteration, “Popular prices prevail.” The very first night, we were at the door, an excited crowd, absolutely before it was open; but early as we went, the hospitable pianist held the field before us; the hall resounded with his jocund banging at the very moment when the pioneer among us set foot within. I have never seen anywhere, either on benefit or farewell night, a cordiality to be compared with that which presided over our own theatre in Tiverton Hall. Mr. Van Rensellaer Wilde himself stood within the doorway, to greet us as we came; a personable man, with the smooth, individual face of his profession, a moist and beery eye, a catholic smile, tolerant enough to include the just and the unjust, a rusty, old-fashioned stock, and the very ancientest brown Prince Albert coat still in reputable existence,–a strange historical epitome of brushings and spongings, of camphor exile and patient patching. Quite evidently he was not among the prosperous, even in his stellar world. But not for that would he repine. This present planet was an admirable plot of ground, and here he stood, cheerfully ready to induct us, the Puritan-born, into the fictitious joys thereof. And popular prices prevailed; the floor of the hall itself confirmed it. It was divided, by chalk-lines, into three sections. Enter the first division, and a legend at your feet indicated the ten-cent territory. Advance a little, and “twenty-five cents” met the eye; and presently, approaching the platform, you were in the seats of the scornful, thirty-five cents each. The latter, by common consent, were eschewed by the very first comers, not alone for reasons of thrift, but because we thought they ought to be left for old folks, “a leetle mite hard o’ hearin’,” or the unfortunates who were “not so fur-sighted” as we. So we seated ourselves in delight already begun, for was not Mr. Gad Greenfield performing one of the “orchestral pieces” which the programme had led us to expect? The piano was an antique, accustomed to serve as victim at Sudleigh’s dancing-school and sociables. I have never heard its condition described, on its return to Sudleigh; I only know that, from some eccentric partiality, Gad Greenfield’s music was all _fortissimo_. Sally Flint, brought thither by the much-enduring overseer, for the sake of domestic peace, seemed to be the only one who did not regard Gad’s performance with unquestioning awe. She was heard to say aloud, in a penetrating voice,–

“My soul an’ body! what a racket!”

Whereupon she deliberately pulled some wool from the tassel of her chinchilla cloud, and stuffed a little wad into each ear. We were sorry for the overseer, thus put to shame by his untutored charge, and delicately looked away, after making sure Sally had “r’ared as high” as she proposed doing. She was the overseer’s cross; no one could help him bear it.

And now the curtain went up,–though not on the play, let me tell you! On slighter joys, a fillip to the taste. A juggler, “all complete” in black small-clothes and white kid gloves, stood there ready to burn up our handkerchiefs, change our watches into rabbits, and make omelets in our best go-to-meeting hats. I cannot remember all the wonderful things he did (everything, I believe, judging from the roseate glow left in my mind, everything that juggler ever achieved short of the Hindoo marvel of cutting up maidens and splicing them together again, or planting the magic tree); I only know we were too crafty to help him, and though he again and again implored a volunteer from the audience to come and play the willing victim, we clung to our settees the more, so that Gad of the piano was obliged to fill the gap. And when the curtain came down, and went up again on a drawing-room, with a red plush chair in it, and a lady dressed in a long-tailed white satin gown, where were we? In Tiverton? Nay, in the great world of fashion and of crime. I remember very little now about the order of the plays; very little of their names and drift. I only know we were swept triumphantly through the widest range ever imagined since the “pastoral-comical, historical- pastoral,” of old Polonius. And in all, fat, middle-aged Wilde was the dashing hero, the deep-dyed villain; and his wife, middle-aged as he, and far, oh, far more corpulent! played the lovely heroine, the blooming victim, the queen of hearts. And she was truly beautiful to us, that blowsy dame, through the beguiling witchery of her art. The smarting tears came into our eyes when, in “Caste,” she staggered back, despairing, lost in grief, unable to arm her soldier for the march. Melodrama was her joy, and as we watched her lumbering about the stage in a white muslin dress, with the artificial springiness of a youth that would never return, we could have risen as one man, to snatch her from the toils of villany. She was a cool piece, that swiftly descending star! She had a way of deliberately stepping outside the scenes and letting down her thin black hair, before the tragic moment; then would she bound back again, and tear every passion to tatters, in good old-fashioned style. In “The Octoroon” especially she tore our hearts with it, so that it almost began to seem as if political issues were imminent. For between the acts, men bent forward to their neighbors, and put their heads together, recalling abolition times; and one poor, harmless old farmer from Sudleigh way was glared at in a fashion to which he had once been painfully accustomed, while murmurs of “Copperhead! Yes, Copperhead all through the war!” must have penetrated where he sat. But he was securely locked up in his fortress of deaf old age, and met the hostile glances benignly, quite unconscious of their meaning. In one particular, we felt, for a time, that we had been deceived. The Shakespearean drama had not been touched on as we had been led to expect; but at last, in the middle of the second week, we were rejoiced by the announcement that “Othello” would that night be appropriately set forth. The Moor of Venice! He would never have recognized himself–his great creator would never have guessed his identity–as presented by Mr. Van Rensellaer Wilde. I give you my word for that! From beginning to end of the performance, Tiverton groped about, in a haze of perplexity, rendered ever the more dense by the fact that none of the actors knew their parts. I am inclined to think they had enriched their announcement by this allusion to the Shakespearean drama in a moment of wild ambition, as we gladly commit ourselves to issues far-off and vague; and then, with a chivalrous determination to vindicate their written word; they had embarked on a troublous sea for which they had “neither mast nor sail, nor chart nor rudder.” So they went bobbing about in a tub, and we, with a like paucity of equipment, essayed to follow them.

Othello himself was a veiled mystery in our eyes.

“Ain’t he colored?” whispered Mrs. Wilson to me; and while I hesitated, seeking to frame an answer both terse and true, she continued, although he was at that moment impressing the Senate with his great apology, “Is he free?”

I assured her on that point, and she settled down to a troubled study of the part, only to run hopelessly aground when Desdemona, in her stiff white satin gown, announced her intention of cleaving to the robust blackamoor, in spite of fate and father. That seemed a praiseworthy action, “taken by and large,” but we could not altogether applaud it. “Abolition,” as we were, the deed wounded some race prejudice in us, and Mrs. Hiram Cole voiced the general sentiment when she remarked audibly,–

“One color’s as good as another, come Judgment Day, but let ’em marry among themselves, _I_ say!”

The poverty of the scenery had something to do with our dulness in following the dramatic thread, for how should we know that our own little stage, disguised by a slender tree-growth, was the island of Cyprus, and that Desdemona, tripping through a doorway, in the same satin gown, had just arrived from a long and perilous voyage? “The riches of the ship” had “come on shore,” but for all we knew, it had been in the next room, taking a nap, all the while. In the crucial scene between Cassio and Iago, we got the impression that one was as drunk as the other, and that Cassio acted the better man of the two, chiefly because of his grandiloquent apostrophe relative to the thieving of brains. We approved of that, and looked meaningly round at old Cap’n Fuller, who was at that time taking more hard cider than we considered good for him. But when the final catastrophe came, we, having missed the logical sequence, were totally unprepared. Mr. Wilde, with a blackamoor fury irresistibly funny to one who has seen a city coal-man cursing another for not moving on, smothered his shrieking spouse in a pillow brought over for that purpose from the Blaisdells’, where most of the actors were boarding. We were not inclined to endure this quietly. The more phlegmatic among us moved uneasily in our seats, and one or two men, excitable beyond the ordinary, sprang up, with an oath. Mrs. Wilson dragged her husband down again.

“For massy sake, do set still!” she urged. “He ‘ain’t killed her. Don’t you see them toes a-twitchin’?”

No, Mrs. Wilde was not dead, as her weary appearance in the afterpiece attested; but she had been cruelly abused, and the murmurs, here and there, as we left the hall, went far to show that Othello had done well in voluntarily paying the debt of nature, and that Emilia thought none too ill of him.

“Ought to ha’ been strong up, by good rights,” growled Tiverton. “you can’t find a jury’t would acquit _him_!”

Night after night, we conscientiously sat out the aforesaid afterpiece, innocently supposed to be our due because it had formed a part of the initial performance. However long our weary strollers might delay it, in the empty hope of our going home content, there we waited until the curtain went up. It was a dreary piece of business, varied by horse-play considered “kind o’ rough” by even the more boisterous among us. Sometimes it was given, minstrel-wise, in the time-honored panoply of burnt cork; again, poor weary souls! they lacked even the spirit to blacken themselves, and clinging to the same dialogue, played boldly in Caucasian fairness, with the pathetically futile disguise of a Teuton accent. And last of all, Mr. Wilde would appear before the curtain, and “in behalf of Mrs. Wilde, self and company” thank us movingly for our kind attention, and announce the next night’s bill.

The last half hour was my chosen time for leaning back against the wall, and allowing thought and glance to dwell lovingly on Tiverton faces. O worn and rugged features of the elder generation to whose kinship we are born! What solution, even of Time, the all-potent, shall wash your meaning from the heart? An absolute lack of self-consciousness had quite transformed the gaze they bent upon the stage. A veil had been swept aside, and the true soul shone forth; that soul which ever dwells apart, either from the dignity of its estate or, being wrought of fibre more delicate than air, because it fears recoil and hurt. There were Roxy and her husband, he too well content with life as it is, to be greatly moved by its counterfeit; she sparkling back some artless reply to the challenge of feeble romance and wingless wit. There was Uncle Eli, a little dazed by these strange doings, the hand on his knee shaking, from time to time, under the stimulus of unshared thought. There was Miss Lucindy, with Ellen and all the McNeils, a care-free, happy phalanx, smiling joyously at everything set before them, with that spontaneous rapture so good to see. One night, Nance Pete appeared, and established herself, with great importance, in the first row of the ten-cent seats; but she fell asleep, and snored with embarrassing volume and precision. She never came again, and announced indifferently, to all who cared to hear, that when she “wanted to see a passel o’ monkeys, she’d go to the circus, an’ done with it.” There, too, one night when Comedy burlesqued her own rapt self, was Dana Marden; but he came alone. Mary had a cold, we heard, and “thought she’d better stay in.” Dana sat through the foolish play, unmoved. His brow loomed heavy, like Tragedy’s own mask, and it grew ever blacker while the scene went on. Hiram Cole whispered me,–

“He’ll kill himself afore he’s done with it. He’s gone in for the whole hog, but he ‘ain’t growed to it, as Old Josh had. The Marden blood run emptin’s afore it got to him.”

The last night came of all our blissful interlude, and on that night, by some stroke of fate, the bill was “Oliver Twist.” Of that performance let naught be spoken, save in reverence. For, by divine leading it might seem, and not their own good wit, those poor players had been briefly touched by the one true fire. Shakespeare had beckoned them, and they had passed him by; Comedy and Tragedy had been their innocent sport. How funny their tragedy had been, how sad their comedy, Momus only might tell. But to-night some gleaming wave from a greater sea had lifted them, and borne them on. Still they played, jarringly, for that was their untutored wont. Their speech roared, loud defiance to grammar’s idle saws, their costumes were absurd remnants of an antique past; but a certain, rude, and homely dignity had transfigured them, and enveloped, too, this poor drama which, after all, goes very deep, down to the springs of life and love. There was a dirty and wicked abomination of a Fagin. Wilde himself played Sykes, and we of Tiverton, who know little about the formless monster dwelling under the garnished pavement of every great city, and rising, once in a century or so, to send red riot and ruin through the streets,–even we could read the story of his word and glance. Unconsciously to ourselves, we guessed at Whitechapel and the East End “tough,” and shuddered under the knowledge of evil. Mrs. Wilde, her heavy face many a shade sincerer than when she walked in dirty white satin, was Nancy; and in her death, culminated the grand moment of Tiverton’s looking the drama in the face, and seeing it for what it is,–the living sister of life itself. Sykes really killed her alarmingly well. Round the stage he dragged her, bruised and speechless, with such cruel realism that we women crouched and shivered; and when she staggered to her knees, and told her pitiful lie for the brute she loved, the general shudder of worship and horror thrilled us into a mighty reverence for the tie stronger than death and hell, binding the woman to the man, and lifting Love triumphant on his cross of pain. With Nancy’s final sigh, another swept through the hall, like breath among the trees, and, drawn by what thread I know not, I looked about me, and all unwittingly was present at another great last act. Dana Marden and his wife were in front of me, not three seats away. Mary was very pale, and sat quite motionless, looking down into her lap; but Dana bent forward, gripping the seat in front of him with white and straining hands. His face, drawn and knotted, was a mirror of such anguish as few of us imagine; we only learn its power when it steals upon us in the dark, and our souls wrestle with it for awful mastery. He seemed to be suffering an extremity of physical pain. After that, I gave little heed to the stage. I was only conscious that the curtain had gone down, and that Mr. Wilde was thanking us for our kind attention, and expressing a flattering hope that another year would find him again in our midst. We did not want the farce, that night, even as our rightful due. We got up, and filed out in silence. I was just behind Dana and Mary; so near that I could have touched him when, half-way, down the hall, he put out a clumsy hand and drew her shawl closer about her shoulders. Then he set his face straight forward again, but not before I had noticed how the lips were twitching still, in that dumb protest against the fetters of his birth. Again he turned to her, as suddenly as if a blow had forced his face about. I heard his voice, abrupt, explosive, full of the harshness so near at hand to wait on agony,–

“You got your rubbers on?”

Mary started a little, and a tremor like that of cold, went over her; but she kept her head firmly erect.

“Yes, Dana,” she said, clearly, just as she had spoken to him all those months, “I’ve got ’em on.”

Before eleven o’clock, the next morning, the news had spread all over joyful Tiverton. Dana had spoken at last! But Mary! Within a week, she took to her bed, quite overmastered by a lingering fever. She “came out all right,” as we say among ourselves, though after Dana had suffered such agonies of tenderness over her as few save mothers can know, or those who have injured their beloved. But she has never since been quite so dauntless, quite so full of the joy of life. As Hiram Cole again remarked, it is a serious thing to draw too heavily on the nerve-juice.