The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 2/No. 2/The Kinloch Estate, and How it Was Settled
|The Atlantic Monthly
The Kinloch Estate, and How it Settled
"Mildred, my daughter, I am faint. Run and get me a glass of cordial from the buffet."
The girl looked at her father as he sat in his bamboo chair on the piazza, his pipe just let fall on the floor, and his face covered with a deadly pallor. She ran for the cordial, and poured it out with a trembling hand.
"Shan't I go for the doctor, father?" she asked.
"No, my dear, the spasm will pass off presently." But his face grew more ashy pale, and his jaw drooped.
"Dear father," said the frightened girl, "what shall I do for you? Oh, dear, if mother were only at home, or Hugh, to run for the doctor!"
"Mildred, my daughter," he gasped with difficulty, "the blacksmith,--send for Ralph Hardwick,--quick! In the ebony cabinet, middle drawer, you will find----Oh! oh!--God bless you, my daughter!--God bless"----
The angels, only, heard the conclusion of the sentence; for the speaker, Walter Kinloch, was dead, summoned to the invisible world without a warning and with hardly a struggle.
But Mildred thought he had fainted, and, raising the window, called loudly for Lucy Ransom, the only female domestic then in the house.
Lucy, frightened out of her wits at the sudden call, came rushing to the piazza, flat-iron in hand, and stood riveted to the spot where she first saw the features on which the awful shadow of death had settled.
"Rub his hands, Lucy!" said Mildred. "Run for some water! Get me the smelling-salts!"
Lucy attempted to obey all three orders at once, and therefore did nothing.
Mildred held the unresisting hand. "It is warm," she said. "But the pulse,--I can't find it."
"Deary, no," said Lucy, "you won't find it."
"Why, you don't mean"----
"Yes, Mildred, he's dead!" And she let fall her flat-iron, and covered her face with her apron.
But Mildred kept chafing her father's temples and hands,--calling piteously, in hopes to get an answer from the motionless lips. Then she sank down at his feet, and clasped his knees in an agony of grief.
A carriage stopped at the door, and a hasty step came up the walk.
"Lucy Ransom," said Mrs. Kinloch, (for it was she, just returned from her drive,) "Lucy Ransom, what are you blubbering about? Here on the piazza, and with your flat-iron! What is the matter?"
"Matter enough!" said Lucy. "See!--see Mr."----But the sobs were too frequent. She became choked, and fell into an hysterical paroxysm.
By this time Mrs. Kinloch had stepped upon the piazza, and saw the drooping head, the dangling arms, and the changed face of her husband. "Dead! dead!" she exclaimed. "My God! what has happened? Mildred, who was with him? Was the doctor sent for? or Squire Clamp? or Mr. Rook? What did he say to you, dear?" And she tried to lift up the sobbing child, who still clung to the stiffening knees where she had so often climbed for a kiss.
"Oh, mother! _is_ he dead?--no life left?"
"Calm yourself, my dear child," said Mrs. Kinloch. "Tell me, did he say anything?"
Mildred replied, "He was faint, and before I could give him the cordial he asked for he was almost gone. 'The blacksmith,' he said, 'send for Ralph Hardwick'; then he said something of the ebony cabinet, but could not speak the words which were on his lips." She could say no more, but gave way to uncontrollable tears and sobs.
By this time, Mrs. Kinloch's son, Hugh Branning, who had been to the stable with the horse and carriage, came whistling through the yard, and cutting off weeds or twigs along the path with sharp cuts of his whip.
"Which way is the wind now?" said he, as he approached; "the governor asleep, Mildred crying, and you scolding, mother?" In a moment, however, the sight of the ghastly face transfixed the thoughtless youth, as it had done his mother; and, dropping his whip, he stood silent, awe-struck, in the presence of the dead.
"Hugh," said Mrs. Kinloch, speaking in a very quiet tone, "go and tell Squire Clamp to come over here."
In a few minutes the dead body was carried into the house by George, the Asiatic servant, aided by a villager who happened to pass by. Squire Clamp, the lawyer of the town, came and had a conference with Mrs. Kinloch respecting the funeral. Neighbors came to offer sympathy, and aid, if need should be. Then the house was put in order, and crape hung on the door- handle. The family were alone with their dead.
On the village green the boys were playing a grand game of "round ball," for it was a half-holiday. The clear, silvery tones of the bell were heard, and we stopped to listen. Was it a fire? No, the ringing was not vehement enough. A meeting of the church? In a moment we should know. As the bell ceased, we looked up to the white taper spire to catch the next sound. One stroke. It was a death, then,--and of a man. We listened for the age tolled from the belfry. Fifty-five. Who had departed? The sexton crossed the green on his way to the shop to make the coffin, and informed us. Our bats and balls had lost their interest for us; we did not even ask our tally-man, who cut notches for us on a stick, how the game stood. For Squire Walter Kinloch was the most considerable man in our village of Innisfield. Without being highly educated, he was a man of reading and intelligence. In early life he had amassed a fortune in the China trade, and with it he had brought back a deeply bronzed complexion, a scar from the creese of a Malay pirate, and the easy manners which travel always gives to observant and sensible men. But his rather stately carriage produced no envy or ill-will among his humbler neighbors, for his superiority was never questioned. Men bowed to him with honest good-will, and boys, who had been flogged at school for confounding Congo and Coromandel, and putting Borneo in the Bight of Benin, made an awkward obeisance and stared wonderingly, as they met the man who had actually sailed round the world, and had, in his own person, illustrated the experiment of walking with his head downwards among the antipodes. His house had no rival in the country round, and his garden was considered a miracle of art, having, in popular belief, all the fruits, flowers, and shrubs that had been known from the days of Solomon to those of Linnaeus. Prodigious stories were told of his hoard of gold, and some of the less enlightened thought that even the outlandish ornaments of the balustrade over the portico were carven silver. Curious vases adorned the hall and side-board; and numberless quaint trinkets, whose use the villagers could not even imagine, gave to the richly-furnished rooms an air of Oriental magnificence. Tropical birds sang or chattered in cages, and a learned but lawless parrot talked, swore, or made mischief, as he chose. The tawny servant George, brought by Mr. Kinloch from one of the islands of the Pacific, completed his claims upon the admiration of the untravelled.
He was just ready to enjoy the evening of life, when the night of death closed upon him with tropic suddenness. He left one child only, his daughter Mildred, then just turned of eighteen; and as Mrs. Kinloch had only one son to claim her affection, the motherless girl would seem to be well provided for. Mildred was sweet-tempered, and her step-mother had hitherto been discreet and kind.
The funeral was over, and the townspeople recovered from the shock which the sudden death had caused. Administration was granted to the widow conjointly with Squire Clamp, the lawyer, and the latter was appointed guardian for Mildred during her minority.
Squire Clamp was an ill-favored man, heavy-browed and bald, and with a look which, in a person of less consequence, would have been called "hang- dog,"--owing partly, no doubt, to the tribulation he had suffered from his vixen spouse, whose tongue was now happily silenced. He was the town's only lawyer, (a fortunate circumstance,) so that he could frequently manage to receive fees for advice from both parties in a controversy. He made all the wills, deeds, and contracts, and settled all the estates he could get hold of. But no such prize as the Kinloch property had ever before come into his hands.
If Squire Clamp's reputation for shrewdness had belonged to an irreligious man, it would have been of questionable character; but as he was a zealous member of the church, he was protected from assaults upon his integrity. If there were suspicions, they were kept close, not bruited abroad.
He was now an almost daily visitor at the widow Kinloch's. What was the intricate business that required the constant attention of a legal adviser? The settlement of the estate, so far as the world knew, was an easy matter. The property consisted of the dwelling-house, a small tract of land near the village, a manufactory at the dam, by the side of Ralph Hardwick's blacksmith's shop, and money, plate, furniture, and stocks. There were no debts. There was but one child, and, after the assignment of the widow's dower, the estate was Mildred's. Nothing, therefore, could be simpler for the administrators. The girl trusted to the good faith of her stepmother and the justice of the lawyer, who now stood to her in the place of a father. She was an orphan, and her innocence and childlike dependence would doubtless be a sufficient spur to the consciences of her protectors. So the girl thought, if she thought at all,--and so all charitable people were bound to think.
How wearily the days passed during the month after the funeral! The shadow of death seemed to darken everything. Doors creaked dismally when they were opened. The room where the body had been laid seemed to have grown a century older than the other parts of the once bright and cheerful house, --its atmosphere was so stagnant and full of mould. The family spoke only in suppressed tones; their countenances were as sad as their garments. All this was terrible to the impressible, imaginative, and naturally buoyant temper of Mildred. It was like dwelling in a tomb, and her heart cried out for very loneliness. She must do something to take her mind out of the sunless vault,--she must resume her relations with the dwellers in the upper air. All at once she thought of her father's last words,--of Ralph Hardwick, and the ebony cabinet. It was in the next room. She opened the door, half expecting to see some bodiless presence in the silent space. She could hear her own heart beat between the tickings of the great Dutch clock, as she stepped across the floor. How still was everything! The air tingled in her ears as though now disturbed for the first time.
She opened the cabinet, which was not locked, and pulled out the middle drawer. She found nothing but a dried rose-bud and a lock of sunny hair wrapped in a piece of yellowed paper. Was it her mother's hair? As Mildred remembered her mother, the color of her hair was dark, not golden. Still it might have been cut in youth, before its hue had deepened. And what a world of mystery, of feeling, of associations there was in that scentless and withered rose-bud! What fair hand had first plucked it? What pledge did it carry? Was the subtile aroma of love ever blended with its fragrance? Had her father borne it with him in his wanderings? The secret was in his coffin. The struggling lips could not utter it before they were stiffened into marble. Yet she could not believe that these relics were the sole things to which he had referred. There must have been something that more nearly concerned her,--something in which the blacksmith or his nephew was interested.
In order to show the position of Mrs. Kinloch and her son in our story, it will be necessary to make the reader acquainted with some previous occurrences.
Six years before this date, Mrs. Kinloch was the Widow Branning. Her husband's small estate had melted like a snow-bank in the liquidation of his debts. She had only one child, Hugh, to support; but in a country town there is generally little that a woman can do to earn a livelihood; and she might often have suffered from want, if the neighbors had not relieved her. If she left her house for any errand, (locks were but seldom used in Innisfield,) she would often on her return find a leg of mutton, a basket of apples or potatoes, or a sack of flour, conveyed there by some unknown hands. In winter nights she would hear the voices of Ralph Hardwick, the village blacksmith, and his boys, as they drew sled-loads of wood, ready cut and split, to keep up her kitchen fire. Other friends ploughed and planted her garden, and performed numberless kind offices. But, though aided in this way by charity, Mrs. Branning never lost her self-respect nor her standing in the neighborhood.
Everybody knew that she was poor, and she knew that everybody knew it; yet so long as she was not in absolute want, and the poor-house, that bugbear of honest poverty, was yet far distant, she managed to keep a cheerful heart, and visited her neighbors on terms of entire equality.
At this period Walter Kinloch's wife died, leaving an only child. During her sickness, Mrs. Branning had been sent for to act as nurse and temporary house-keeper, and, at the urgent request of the widower, remained for a time after the funeral. Weeks passed, and her house was still tenantless. Mildred had become so much attached to the motherly widow and her son, that she would not allow the servants to do anything for her. So, without any definite agreement, their relations continued. By-and-by the village gossips began to query and surmise. At the sewing- society the matter was fully discussed.
Mrs. Greenfield, the doctor's wife, admitted that it would be an excellent match, "jest a child apiece, both on 'em well brought up, used to good company, and all that; but, land's sakes! he, with his mint o' money, a'n't a-goin' to marry a poor widder that ha'n't got nothin' but her husband's pictur' and her boy,--not he!"
Others insinuated that Mrs. Branning knew what she was about when she went to Squire Kinloch's, and his wife was 'most gone with consumption. "'Twasn't a mite strange that little Mildred took to her so kindly; plenty of women could find ways to please a child, if so be they could have such a chance to please themselves."
The general opinion seemed to be that Mrs. Branning would marry the Squire, if she could get him; but that as to his intentions, the matter was quite doubtful. Nevertheless, after being talked about for a year, the parties were duly published, married, and settled down into the quiet routine of country life.
Doubtless the accident of daily contact was the secret of the match. Had Mrs. Branning been living in her own poorly-furnished house, Mr. Kinloch would hardly have thought of going to seek her. But as mistress of his establishment she had an opportunity to display her house-wifely qualities, as well as to practise those nameless arts by which almost any clever woman knows how to render herself agreeable.
The first favorable impression deepened, until the widower came to believe that the whole parish did not contain so proper a person to be the successor of Mrs. Kinloch, as his housekeeper. Their union, though childless, was as happy as common; there was nothing of the romance of a first attachment,--little of the tenderness that springs from fresh sensibilities, for she at least was of a matter-of-fact turn. But there was a constant and hearty good feeling, resulting from mutual kindness and deference.
If the step-mother made any difference in her treatment of the two children, it was in favor of the gentle Mildred. And though the Squire naturally felt more affection for his motherless daughter, yet he was proud of his step-son, gave him the advantages of the best schools, and afterwards sent him for a year to college. But the lad's spirits were too buoyant for the sober notions of the Faculty. He was king in the gymnasium, and was minutely learned in the natural history and botany of the neighborhood; at least, he knew all the haunts of birds, rabbits, and squirrels, as well as the choicest orchards of fruit.
After repeated admonitions without effect, a letter was addressed to his stepfather by vote at a Faculty-meeting. A damsel at service in the President's house overheard the discussion, and found means to warn the young delinquent of his danger; for she, as well as most people who came within the sphere of his attraction, felt kindly toward him.
The stage-coach that conveyed the next morning's mail to Innisfield carried Hugh Branning as a passenger. Alighting at the post-office, he took out the letter superscribed in the well-known hand of the President, pocketed it, and returned by the next stage to college. This prank only moved the Squire to mirth, when he heard of it. He knew that Hugh was a lad of spirit,--that in scholarship he was by no means a dunce; and as long as there was no positive tendency to vice, he thought but lightly of his boyish peccadilloes. But it was impossible for such irregularities to continue, and after a while Mr. Kinloch yielded to his step-son's request and took him home.
Next year it was thought best that the young man should go to sea, and a midshipman's commission was procured for him. Now, for the second time, after an absence of three years, Hugh was at home in all the dignity of navy blue, anchor buttons, glazed cap, and sword.
"I have brought you the statement of the property, Mrs. Kinloch," said Mr. Clamp. "It is merely a legal form, embracing the items which you gave to me; it must be returned at the next Probate term."
Mrs. Kinloch took the paper and glanced over it.
"This statement must be sworn to, Mrs. Kinloch."
"We are joined in the administration, and both must swear to it."
There was a pause. Mrs. Kinloch, resting her hands on her knee, tossed the hem of her dress with her foot, as though meditating.
"I shall of course readily make oath to the schedule," he continued,--"at least, after you have done so; for I have no personal knowledge of the effects of the deceased."
His manner was decorous, but he regarded her keenly. She changed the subject.
"People seem to think I have a mint in the house; and _such_ bills as come in! Sawin, the cabinet-maker, has sent his to-day, as soon as my husband is fairly under ground: forty dollars for a cherry coffin, which he made in one day. Cleaver, the butcher, too, has sent a bill running back for five years or more. Now I _know_ that Mr. Kinloch never had an ounce of meat from him that he didn't pay for. If they all go on in this way, I sha'n't have a cent left. Everybody tries to cheat the widow"----
"And orphan," interposed Mr. Clamp.
She looked at him quietly; but he was imperturbable.
"We must begin to collect what is due," she continued.
"Did you refer to the notes from Ploughman?" asked Mr. Clamp. "He is perfectly good; and he will pay the interest till we want to use the money."
"I wasn't thinking of Ploughman," she replied, "but of Mark Davenport, Uncle Ralph Hardwick's nephew. They say he is a teacher in one of the fashionable schools in New York,--and he must be able to pay, if he's ever going to."
"Well, when he comes on here, I will present the notes."
"But I don't intend to wait till he comes; can't you send the demands to a lawyer where he is?"
"Certainly, if you wish it; but that course will necessarily be attended with some expense."
"I choose to have it done," said Mrs. Kinloch, decisively. "Mildred, who has always been foolishly partial to the young upstart, insists that her father intended to give up the notes to Mark, and she thinks that was what he wanted to send for Uncle Ralph about, just before he died. I don't believe it, and I don't intend to fling away _my_ money upon such folks."
"You are quite right, ma'am," said the lawyer. "The inconsiderate generosity of school-children would be a poor basis for the transactions of business."
"And besides," continued Mrs. Kinloch, "I want the young man to remember the blacksmith's shop that he came from, and get over his ridiculous notion of looking up to our family."
"Oh ho!" said Mr. Clamp, "that is it? Well, you are a sagacious woman,"-- looking at her with unfeigned admiration.
"I _can_ see through a millstone, when there is a hole in it," said Mrs. Kinloch. "And I mean to stop this nonsense."
"To be sure,--it would be a very unequal match in every way. Besides, I'm told that he isn't well-grounded in doctrine. He even goes to Brooklyn to hear Torchlight preach." And Mr. Clamp rolled up his eyes, interlocking his fingers, as he was wont when at church-meeting he rose to exhort.
"I don't pretend to be a judge of doctrine, further than the catechism goes," said the widow; "but Mr. Rook says that Torchlight is a dangerous man, and will lead the churches off into infidelity."
"Yes, Mrs. Kinloch, the free-thinking of this age is the fruitful parent of all evil,--of Mormonism, Unitarianism, Spiritualism, and of all those forms of error which seek to overthrow"----
There was a crash in the china-closet. Mrs. Kinloch went to the door, and leading out Lucy Ransom, the maid, by the ear, exclaimed, "You hussy, what were you there for? I'll teach you to be listening about in closets," (giving the ear a fresh tweak,) "you eavesdropper!"
"Quit!" cried Lucy. "I didn't mean to listen. I was there rubbin' the silver 'fore you come. Then I didn't wanter come out, for I was afeard."
"What made the smash, then?" demanded Mrs. Kinloch.
"I was settin' things on the top shelf, and the chair tipped over."
"Don't make it worse by fibbing! If that was so, how came the chair to tip the way it did? You were trying to peep over the door. Go to the kitchen!"
Lucy went out with fallen plumes. Mr. Clamp took his hat to go also.
"Don't go till I get you the notes," said Mrs. Kinloch.
As she brought them, he said, "I will send these by the next mail, with instructions to collect."
While his hand was on the latch, she spoke again:--
"Mr. Clamp, did you ever look over the deed of the land we own about the dam where the mill stands?"
"No, ma'am, I have never seen it."
"I wish you would have the land surveyed according to this title," she said. "Quite privately, you know. Just have the line run, and let me know about it. Perhaps it will be as well to send over to Riverbank and get Gunter to do it; he will keep quiet about it."
Mr. Clamp stood still a moment. Here was a woman whom he was expecting to lead like a child, but who on the other hand had fairly bridled and saddled _him_, so that he was driven he knew not whither.
"Why do you propose this, may I ask, Mrs. Kinloch?"
"Oh, I have heard," she replied, carelessly, "that there was some error in the surveys. Mr. Kinloch often talked of having it corrected, but, like most men, put it off. Now, as we may sell the property, we shall want to know what we have got."
"Certainly, Mrs. Kinloch, I will follow your prudent suggestions,"--adding to himself, as he walked away, "I shall have to be tolerably shrewd to get ahead of that woman. I wonder what she is driving at."
Ralph Hardwick was the village blacksmith. His shop stood on the bank of the river, not far from the dam. The great wheel below the flume rolled all day, throwing over its burden of diamond drops, and tilting the ponderous hammer with a monotonous clatter. What a palace of wonders to the boys was that grim and sooty shop!--the roar of the fires, as they were fed by the laboring bellows; the sound of water, rushing, gurgling, or musically dropping, heard in the pauses; the fiery shower of sparkles that flew when the trip-hammer fell; and the soft and glowing mass held by the smith's tongs with firm grasp, and turning to some form of use under his practised eye! How proud were the young amateur blacksmiths when the kind-hearted owner of the shop gave them liberty to heat and pound a bit of nail-rod, to mend a skate or a sled-runner, or sharpen a pronged fish- spear! Still happier were they, when, at night, with his sons and nephew, they were allowed to huddle on the forge, sitting on the bottoms of old buckets or boxes, and watching the fire, from the paly blue border of flame in the edge of the damp charcoal, to the reddening, glowing column that shot with an arrowy stream of sparks up the wide-throated chimney. How the dark rafters and nail-pierced roof grew ruddy as the white-hot ploughshare or iron bar was drawn from the fire!--what alternations of light and shadow! No painter ever drew figure in such relief as the blacksmith presented in that wonderful light, with his glistening face, his tense muscles, and his upraised arm.
Alas! the hammer is still; the wheel dashes no more the glittering spray; the fire has died out in the forge; the blacksmith's long day's work is done!
He settled in Innisfield when it was but a district attached to a neighboring town. There were but three or four houses in the now somewhat populous village. He came on foot, driving his cow; his wife following in the wagon, with their little stock of household goods,--not forgetting his hammer, more potent than Prospero's wand. The minister, the doctor, and Squire Kinloch, who constituted the aristocracy, yielded precedence in date to Ralph Hardwick, Knight of the Ancient Order of the Anvil.
So he toiled, faithful to his calling. By day the din of his hammer rarely ceased, and by night the flame and sparks from his chimney were a Pharos to all travellers approaching the town. Children were born to him, for which he blessed God, and worked the harder. He attained a moderate prosperity, secure from want, but still dependent upon labor for bread. At length his wife died; he wept like a true and faithful husband as he was, and thenceforth was both mother and father to his babes.
During all his life he kept Sunday with religious scrupulousness, and with his family went to the house of worship in all weathers. From the very first he had been leader of the choir, and had given the pitch with a fork hammered and tuned by his own hands. With a clear and sympathetic voice, he had such an instinctive taste and power of expression, that his song of penitence or praise was far more devotional than the labored efforts of many more highly cultivated singers. Music and poetry flowed smoothly and naturally from his lips, but in uttering the common prose of daily life his organs were rebellious. The truth must be spoken,--he stammered badly, incurably. Whether it was owing to the attempt to overcome his impediment by making his speech musical, or to the cadences of his hammer beating time while his brain was shaping its airy fancies, his thoughts ran naturally in verse.
Do not smile at the thought of Vulcan's callused fingers touching the chords of the lyre to delicate music. The sun shone as lovingly upon the swart face of the blacksmith in his shop-door, as upon the scholar at his library-window. "Poetry was an angel in his breast," making his heart glad with her heavenly presence; he did not "make her his drudge, his maid-of- all-work," as professional verse-makers do.
Mr. Hardwick's younger sister was married to a hard-working, stern, puritanical man named Davenport, (not her first love,) who removed to a Western State when it was almost a wilderness, cleared for himself a farm, and built a log-house. The toil and privations of frontier life soon wrought their natural effects upon Mrs. Davenport's delicate constitution. She fell into a rapid decline and died. Her husband was seized with a fever the summer after, and died also, leaving two children, Mark and Anna. The blacksmith had six motherless children of his own; but he set out for the West, and brought the orphans home with him. He thenceforth treated them like his own offspring, manifesting a woman's tenderness as well as a father's care for them.
Mark was a comely lad, with the yellow curling hair, the clear blue eyes, and the marked symmetry of features that belonged to his uncle. He had an inborn love of reading and study; he was first in his class at every winter's school, and had devoured all the books within his reach. Then he borrowed an old copy of Adam's Latin Grammar from Dr. Greenfield, and committed the rules to memory without a teacher. That was his introduction to the classics.
But Mr. Hardwick believed in the duty and excellence of work, and Mark, as well as his cousins, was trained to make himself useful. So the Grammar was studied and Virgil read at chance intervals, when a storm interrupted out-door work, or while waiting at the upper mill for a grist, or of nights at the shop by the light of the forge fire. The paradigms were committed to memory with an anvil accompaniment; and long after, he never could scan a line of Homer, especially the oft-repeated
[Greek: Tou d'au | Taelema | chos pep | numenos | antion | aeuda],
without hearing the ringing blows of his uncle's hammer keeping tune to the verse.
At sixteen years of age he was ready to enter college, though he had received little aid in his studies, except when some schoolmaster who was versed in the humanities chanced to be hired for the winter. But his uncle was not able to support him at any respectable university, and the lad's prospects for such an education as he desired seemed to be none of the best.
At this point an incident occurred which changed the course of our hero's life, and as it will serve to explain how he came to give his notes to Mr. Kinloch, on which the administrators are about to bring suit, it should properly be related here.
Mark Davenport was at work on a farm a short distance from the village. He hoped to enter college the following autumn, and he knew no means to obtain money for a portion of his outfit except by the labor of his hands. He could get twenty dollars a month for the summer season. Sixty, or possibly seventy dollars!--what ideas of opulence were suggested by the sound of those words!
It was a damp, drizzly day; there was not a settled rain, yet it was too wet to work in the corn. Mark was therefore busy in picking loose stones from the surface of a field cultivated the year before, and now "seeded down" for grass. A portion of the field bordered on a pond, and the alders upon its margin formed a dense green palisade, over which might be seen the gray surface of the water freckled by the tiny drops of rain. Low clouds trailed their gauzy robes over the top of Mount Quobbin, and flecks of mist swept across the blue sides of the loftier Mount Elizabeth.
"What a perfect day for fishing!" thought Mark. "If I had my tackle here, and a frog's leg or a shiner, I would soon have a pickerel out from under those lilypads."
But he kept at work, and, having his basket full of stones, carried them to the pond and plumped them in. A growl of anger came up from behind the bushes.
"What the Devil do you mean, you lubber, throwing stones over here to scare away the fish?"
The bushes parted at the same time, showing Hugh Branning sitting in the end of his boat, and apparently just ready to fling out his line.
"If I had known you were there fishing," said Mark, "I shouldn't have thrown the stones into the water. But," he continued, while every fibre tingled with indignation, "I will have you to know that I am not to be talked to in that way by you or anybody else."
"I would like to know how you are going to help yourself," said Hugh, stepping ashore and advancing.
"You will find out, Mr. Insolence, if you don't leave this field. You a'n't on the quarter-deck yet, bullying a tar with his hat off."
"Bless me! how the young Vulcan talks!"
"I have talked all I am going to. Now get into your boat and be off!"
"I don't propose to be in a hurry," said Hugh, with provoking coolness, standing with his arms a-kimbo.
The remembrance of Hugh's usual patronizing airs, together with his insulting language, was too much for Mark's impetuous temper. He was in a delirium of rage, and he rushed upon his antagonist. Hugh stood warily upon the defensive, and parried Mark's blows with admirable skill; he had not the muscle nor the endurance of the young blacksmith, but he had considerable skill in boxing, and was perfectly cool; and though Mark finally succeeded in grappling and hurling to the ground his lithe and resolute foe, it was not until he had been pretty severely pommelled himself, especially in his face. Mark set his knee on the breast of his adversary and waited to hear "Enough." Hugh ground his teeth, but there was no escape; no feint nor sudden movement could reverse their positions; and, out of breath, he gave up in sullen despair.
"Let me up," he said, at length. Mark arose, and being by this time thoroughly sobered, he walked off without a word and picked up his basket.
Hugh, on the other hand, was more and more angry every minute. The indignity he had suffered was not to be tamely submitted to. He got into the boat and took his oar; he looked back and saw Mark commencing work again; the temptation was too strong. He picked up one of the largest of the stones that Mark had emptied into the shallow margin of the pond; he threw it with all his force, and hurriedly pushed off from shore without stopping to ascertain the extent of the mischief he had done. He knew that the stone did not miss, for he saw Mark fall heavily to the ground, and that was enough. The injury was serious. Mark was carried to the farm- house and was confined to his bed for six weeks with a brain fever, being delirious for the greater part of the time. Hugh Branning found the town quite uncomfortable; the eyes of all the people he met seemed to scorch him. He was bold and self-reliant; but no man can stand up singly against the indignation of a whole community. He went on a visit to Boston, and not long after, to the exceeding grief of his mother, entered the navy.
When Mark was recovering, Mr. Rook, the clergyman, called and offered to aid him in his college course, if he would agree to study for the ministry. But the young man declined the proposal, because he thought himself unfitted for the sacred calling.
"No," he added, with a smile, "I'm not made for an evangelist; not much like the beloved disciple at all events, but rather like peppery Peter,-- ready, if provoked, to whisk off an ignoble ear."
Mr. Rook returned home sorrowful; and at the next meeting of the sewing- circle the unfortunate Mark received a full share of attention; for the offer of aid came partly from this society. When this matter had been the talk of the village for a day or two, Squire Kinloch made some errand to the house where Mark was. What passed between them the young man did not choose to relate, but he showed his Uncle Hardwick the Squire's check for two hundred and fifty dollars, and told him he should receive a similar sum each year until he finished his collegiate course.
The promise was kept; the yearly supply was furnished; and Mark graduated with honor, having given notes amounting to a thousand dollars. With cheerful alacrity he commenced teaching in a popular seminary, intending to pay his debts before studying a profession.
It was Saturday night, and Mr. Hardwick was closing his shop. A customer was just leaving, his horse's feet newly rasped and white, and a sack of harrow-teeth thrown across his back. The boys, James and Milton, had been putting a load of charcoal under cover, for the wind was southerly and there were signs of rain. Of course they had become black enough with coal-dust,--not a streak of light was visible, except around their eyes. They were capering about and contemplating each other's face with uproarious delight, while the blacksmith, though internally chuckling at their antics, preserved a decent gravity, and prepared to go to his house. He drew a bucket of water, and bared his muscular arms, then, after washing them, soused his curly hair and begrimed face, and came out wonderfully brightened by the operation. The boys continued their sports, racing, wrestling, and putting on grotesque grimaces.
Charlotte, the youngest child, now came to the shop to say that supper was ready.
"C-come, boys, you've ha-had play enough," said Mr. Hardwick. "J-James, put Ch-Charlotte down. M-M-Milton, it's close on to S-Sabba'day. Now w- wash yourselves."
Just as the merriment was highest, Charlotte standing on James's shoulders, and Milton chasing them, while the blacksmith was looking on,-- his honest face glistening with soap and good-humor,--Mildred Kinloch passed by on her way home from a walk by the river. She looked towards the shop-door and bowed to Mr. Hardwick.
"G-good evenin', M-Miss Mildred," said he; "I'm g-glad to see you lookin' so ch-cheerful."
The tone was hearty, and with a dash of chivalrous sentiment rarely heard in a smithy. His look of half-parental, half-admiring fondness was touching to see.
"Oh, Uncle Ralph," she replied, "I am never melancholy when I see you. You have all the cheerfulness of this spring day in your face."
"Y-yes, I hev to stay here in the old shop; b-but I hear the b-birds in the mornin', and all day I f-feel as ef I was out under the b-blue sky, an' rejoicin' with all livin' creaturs in the sun and the s-sweet air of heaven."
"I envy you your happy frame; everything has some form or hue of beauty for you. I must have you read to me again. I never take up Milton without thinking of you."
"I c-couldn't wish to be remembered in any p-pleasanter way."
"Well, good evening. I must hurry home, for it grows damp here by the
mill-race. Tell Lizzy and Anna to come and see me. We are quite lonesome
"P-p'raps Mark'll come with 'em."
"Mark? Is he here? When did he come?"
"H-he'll be here t-to-night."
"You surprise me!"
"'Tis rather s-sudden. He wrote y-yes-terday 't he'd g-got to come on urgent b-business."
"Urgent business?" she repeated, thoughtfully. "I wonder if Squire Clamp"----
The blacksmith nodded, with a gesture towards his children, as though he would not have them hear.
"Yes," he added, in a low tone, "I g-guess that is it."
"I must go home," said Mildred, hurriedly.
"Well, G-God bless you, my daughter! D-don't forgit your old sooty friend. And ef ever y-you want the help of a s-stout hand, or of an old gray head, don't fail to come to the ber-blacksmith's shop."
"Thank you, Uncle Ralph! thank you with all my heart! Good-night!"
She walked lightly up the hill towards the principal street. But she had not gone half a dozen yards before a hand grasped her arm. She turned with a start.
"Mark Davenport!" she exclaimed, "Is it you? How you frightened me!"
"Yes, Mildred, it is Mark, your old friend" (with a meaning emphasis). "I couldn't resist the temptation of giving you a little surprise."
"But when did you come to town?"
"I have just reached here from the station at Riverbank. I went to the house first, and was just going to see Uncle at the shop, when I caught sight of you."
Mark drew her arm within his own, and noticed, not without pleasure, how she yet trembled with agitation.
"I am very glad to see you," said Mildred; "but isn't your coming sudden?"
"Yes, I had some news from home yesterday which determined me to come, and I started this morning."
"Quick and impetuous as ever!"
"Yes, I don't deliberate long."
There was a pause.
"I wish you had only been here to see father before he died."
"I wish I might have seen him."
"I am sure _he_ would never have desired to put you to any trouble."
"I suppose he would not have _troubled_ me, though I never expected to do less than repay him the money he was so good as to lend me; but I don't think he would have been so abrupt and peremptory as Squire Clamp."
"Why, what has he done?"
"This is what he has done. A lawyer's clerk, as I supposed him to be, called upon me yesterday morning with a statement of the debt and interest, and made a formal demand of payment. I had only about half the amount in bank, and therefore could not meet it. Then the clerk appeared in his true character as a sheriff's officer, drew out his papers, and served a writ upon me, besides a trustee process on the principal of the school, so as to attach whatever might be due to me."
"Oh, Mark, were you treated so?"
"Just so,--entrapped like a wild animal. To be sure, it was a legal process, but one designed only for extreme cases, and which no gentleman ever puts in force against another."
"I don't know what this can mean. Squire Clamp is cruel enough, I know; but mother, surely, would never approve such conduct."
"After all, the mortification is the principal thing; for, with what I have, and what Uncle can raise for me, I can pay the debt. I have said too much already, Mildred. I don't want to put any of my burdens on your little shoulders. In fact, I am quite ashamed of having spoken on the subject at all; but I have so little concealment, that it popped out before I thought twice."
They were approaching the house, both silent, neither seeming to be bold enough to touch the tenderer chords that thrilled in unison.
"Mildred," said Mark, "I don't know how much is meant by this suit. I don't know that I shall be able to see you again, unless it be casually, in the street, as to-night, (blessed accident!)--but remember, that, whatever may happen, I am always the same that I have been to you."
Here his voice failed him. With such a crowd of memories,--of hopes and desires yet unsatisfied,--with the crushing burden of debt and poverty,-- he could not command himself to say what his heart, nevertheless, ached in retaining. Here he was, with the opportunity for which during all his boyhood he had scarcely dared to hope, and yet he was dumb. They were at the gate, under the dense shade of the maples.
"Good-night, dear Mildred!" said Mark.
He took her hand, which was fluttering as by electrical influence, and raised it tenderly to his lips.
"Good-night," he said again.
She did not speak, but grasped his hand with fervor. He walked away slowly towards his uncle's house, but often stopped and looked back at the slender figure whose outlines he could barely see in the gateway under the trees. Then, as he lost sight of her, he remembered with shame the selfish prominence he had given to his own troubles. He was ashamed, too, of the cowardice which had kept him from uttering the words which had trembled on his lips. But in a moment the thought of the future checked that regret. Gloomy as his own lot might be, he could bear it; but he had no right to involve another's happiness. Thus he alternated between pride and abasement, hope and dejection, as many a lover has done before and since.
Sunday was a great day in Innisfield; for there, as in all Puritan communities, religion was the central and engrossing idea. As the bell rang for service, every ear in town heard it, and all who were not sick or kept at home by the care of young children turned their steps towards the house of God. The idea that there could be any choice between going to hear preaching and remaining at home was so preposterous, that it never entered into the minds of any but the openly wicked. Whatever might be their inclinations, few had the hardihood to absent themselves from meeting, still less to ride out for pleasure, or to stroll through the woods or upon the bank of the river. A steady succession of vehicles-- "thorough-braced" wagons, a few more stylish carriages with elliptic springs, and here and there an ancient chaise--tended from all quarters to the meeting-house. The horses, from the veteran of twenty years' service down to the untrimmed and half-trained colt, knew what the proprieties of the day required. They trotted soberly, with faces as sedate as their drivers', and never stopped to look in the fence-corners as they passed along, to see what they could find to be frightened at. Nor would they often disturb worship by neighing, unless they became impatient at the length of the sermon.
Mr. Hardwick and his family, as we have before mentioned, went regularly to meeting; Lizzy and Mark sat with him in the singers' seats, the others in a pew below. The only guardian of the house on Sundays was a large ungainly cur, named Caesar. The habits of this dog deserve a brief mention. On all ordinary occasions he followed his master or others of the family, seeming to take a human delight in their company. Whenever it was desirable to have him remain at home, nothing short of tying him would answer the purpose. After a time he came to know the signs of preparation, and would skulk. Upon setting out, Mr. Hardwick would tell one of the boys to catch Caesar so that he should not follow, but he was not to be found; and in the course of ten minutes he would be trotting after his master as composedly as if nothing had ever happened to interrupt their friendly relations. It was impossible to resist such persevering affection, and at length Mr. Hardwick gave up the contest, and allowed Caesar to travel when and where he chose. But on Sunday he sat on the front-door step, erect upon his haunches, with one ear dropping forward, and the other upright like the point of a starched shirt-collar; and though on week-days he was fond of paying the usual courtesies to his canine acquaintances, and (if the truth must be told) of barking at strange horses occasionally, yet nothing could induce him either to follow any of the family, or accost a dog, or chase after foreign vehicles, on the day of rest. Once only he forgot what was due to his character, and gave a few yelps in holy time. But James, with a glance at his father, who was stoutly orthodox, averred that Caesar's conduct was justifiable, inasmuch as the man he barked at was one of a band of new-light fanatics who worshipped in the school- house, and the horse, moreover, was not shod at a respectable place, but at a tinker's shop in the verge of the township. A dog with such powers of discrimination certainly merits a place in this true history.
The services of Sunday were finished. Those who, with dill and caraway, had vainly struggled against drowsiness, had waked up with a jerk at the benediction, and moved with their neighbors along the aisles, a slow and sluggish stream. The nearest friends passed out side by side with meekly composed faces, and without greeting each other until they reached the vestibule. So slow and solemn was the progress out of church, that merry James Hardwick averred that he saw Deacon Stone, a short fat man, actually dozing, his eyes softly shutting and opening like a hen's, as he was borne along by the crowd. The Deacon had been known to sleep while he stood up in his pew during prayer, but perhaps James's story was rather apocryphal.
Mark Davenport, of course, had been the object of considerable attention during the day, and at the meeting-house-door numbers of his old acquaintances gathered round him. No one was more cordial in manner than Squire Clamp. His face was wrinkled into what were meant for smiles, and his voice was even smoother and more insinuating than usual. It was only by a strong effort that Mark gulped down his rising indignation, and replied civilly.
Sunday in Innisfield ended at sunset, though labor was not resumed until the next day; but neighbors called upon each other in the twilight, and talked over the sermons of the day, and the affairs of the church and parish. That evening, while Mr. Hardwick's family were sitting around the table reading, a long growl was heard from Caesar at the door, followed by an emphatic "Get out!" The growls grew fiercer, and James went to the door to see what was the matter. Squire Clamp was the luckless man. The dog had seized his coat-tail, and had pulled it forward, so that he stood face to face with the Squire, who was vainly trying to free himself by poking at his adversary with a great baggy umbrella. James sent away the dog with a reprimand, but laughed as he followed the angry man into the house. He always cited this afterwards as a new proof of the sagacity of the grim and uncompromising Caesar.
"S-sorry you've had such a t-time with the dog," said Mr. Hardwick; "he don't g-ginerally bark at pup-people."
"Oh, no matter," said the Squire, contemplating the measure of damage in the skirt of his coat. "A good, sound sermon Mr. Rook gave us to-day. The doctrines of the decrees and sovereignty, and the eternal destruction of the impenitent, were strongly set forth."
"Y-yes, I sp-spose so. I d-don't profit so m-much by that inst-struction, however. I th-think more of the e-every-day religion he u-usually preaches."--Mr. Hardwick trotted one foot with a leg crossed and with an air which showed to his children and to Mark plainly enough how impatient he was of the Squire's beginning so far away from what he came to say.
"Why, you don't doubt these fundamental points?" asked Mr. Clamp.
"No, I don't d-doubt, n-nor I don't th-think much about 'em; they're t-too deep for me, and I ler-let 'em alone. We shall all un-know about these things in God's goo-good time. I th-think more about keepin' peace among n-neighbors, bein' kuh-kindly to the poor, h-helpin' on the cause of eddication, and d-doin' ginerally as I would be done by."--Mr. Hardwick's emphasis could not be mistaken, and Squire Clamp was a little uneasy.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Hardwick," he replied, "all the town knows of your practical religion." Then turning to Mark, he said, blandly, "So you came home yesterday. How long do you propose to stay?"
The young man never had the best control of his temper, and it was now rapidly coming up to the boiling-point. "Mr. Clamp," said he, "if you had asked a pickerel the same question, he would probably tell you that you knew best how and when he came on shore, and that for himself he expected to get back into water as soon as he got the hook out of his jaws."
"I am sorry to see this warmth," said Mr. Clamp; "I trust you have not been put to any trouble."
"Really," said Mark, bitterly, "you have done your best to ruin me in the place where I earn my living, but 'trust I have not been put to any trouble'! Your sympathy is as deep as your sincerity."
"Mark," said Mr. Hardwick, "you're sa-sayin' more than is necess-ssary."
"Indeed, he is quite unjust," rejoined the lawyer. "I saw an alteration in his manner to-day, and for that reason I came here. I prefer to keep the friendship of all men, especially of those of my townsmen and brethren in the church whose piety and talents I so highly respect."
"S-sartinly, th-that's right. I don't like to look around, wh-when I take the ker-cup at the Sacrament, and see any man that I've wronged; an' I don't f-feel comf'table nuther to see anybody der-drinkin' from the same cup that I think has tried to w-wrong me or mine."
"You can save yourself that anxiety about Mr. Clamp, Uncle," said Mark. "He is not so much concerned about our Christian fellowship as he is about his fees. He couldn't live here, if he didn't manage to keep on both sides of every little quarrel in town. Having done me what mischief he could, he wants now to salve the wound over."
"My young friend, what is the reason of this heat?" asked Mr. Clamp, mildly.
"I don't care to talk further," Mark retorted. "I might as well explain the pathology of flesh bruises to a donkey who had maliciously kicked me."
Mr. Clamp wiped his bald head, on which the perspiration was beginning to gather. His stock of pious commonplaces was exhausted, and he saw no prospect of calming Mark's rage, or of making any deep impression on the blacksmith. He therefore rose to depart. "Good evening," said he. "I pray you may become more reasonable, and less disposed to judge harshly of your friend and brother."
Mark turned his back on him. Mr. Hardwick civilly bade him good-night. Lizzy and Anna, who had retreated during the war of words, came back, and the circle round the table was renewed.
"Yer-you'll see one thing," said Mr. Hardwick. "He'll b-bring you, and p'r'aps me, too, afore the church for this talk."
"The sooner, the better," said Mark.
"I d'no," said Mr. Hardwick. "Ef we must live in f-fellowship, a der- diffi-culty in church isn't per-pleasant. But 'tis uncomf'table for straight wood to be ker-corded up with such ker-crooked sticks as him."
[To be continued.]