Friend Barton's "Concern" by Mary Hallock Foote
It had been "borne in" upon him, more or less, during the long winter; it had not relaxed when the frosts unlocked their hold and the streams were set free from their long winter's silence, among the hills. He grew restless and abstracted under "the turnings of the Lord's hand upon him," and his speech unconsciously shaped itself into the Biblical cadences which came to him in his moments of spiritual exercise.
The bedrabbled snows of March shrank away before the keen, quickening sunbeams; the hills emerged, brown and sodden, like the chrysalis of the new year; the streams woke in a tumult, and all day and night their voices called from the hills back of the mill: the waste-weir was a foaming torrent, and spread itself in muddy shallows across the meadow, beyond the old garden where the robins and bluebirds were house-hunting. Friend Barton's trouble stirred with the life-blood of the year, and pressed upon him sorely; but as yet he gave it no words. He plodded about, among his lean kine, tempering the winds of March to his untimely lambs, and reconciling unnatural ewes to their maternal duties.
Friend Barton had never heard of the doctrine of the survival of the fittest, though it was the spring of 1812, and England and America were investigating the subject on the seas, while the nations of Europe were practically illustrating it. The "hospital tent," as the boys called an old corn-basket, covered with carpet, which stood beside the kitchen chimney, was seldom without an occupant,--a brood of chilled chickens, a weakly lamb, or a wee pig (with too much blue in its pinkness), that had been left behind by its stouter brethren in the race for existence. The old mill hummed away through the day, and often late into the evening if time pressed, upon the grists which added a thin, intermittent stream of tribute to the family income. Whenever work was "slack," Friend Barton was sawing or chopping in the woodshed adjoining the kitchen; every moment he could seize or make he was there, stooping over the rapidly growing pile.
"Seems to me, father, thee's in a great hurry with the wood this spring. I don't know when we've had such a pile ahead."
"'T won't burn up any faster for being chopped," Friend Barton said; and then his wife Rachel knew that if he had a reason for being "forehanded" with the wood, he was not ready to give it.
One rainy April afternoon, when the smoky gray distances began to take a tinge of green, and through the drip and rustle of the rain the call of the robins sounded, Friend Barton sat in the door of the barn, oiling the road-harness. The old chaise had been wheeled out and greased, and its cushions beaten and dusted.
An ox-team with a load of grain creaked up the hill and stopped at the mill door. The driver, seeing Friend Barton's broad-brimmed drab felt hat against the dark interior of the barn, came down the short lane leading from the mill, past the house and farm-buildings.
"Fixin' up for travelin', Uncle Tommy?"
Vain compliments, such as worldly titles of Mr. and Mrs., were unacceptable to Thomas Barton, and he was generally known and addressed as "Uncle Tommy" by the world's people of a younger generation.
"It is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps, neighbor Jordan. I am getting myself in readiness to obey the Lord, whichever way He shall call me."
Farmer Jordan cast a shrewd eye over the premises. They wore that patient, sad, exhumed look which old farm-buildings are apt to have in early spring. The roofs were black with rain, and brightened with patches of green moss. Farmer Jordan instinctively calculated how many "bunches o' shingle" would be required to rescue them from the decline into which they had fallen, indicated by these hectic green spots.
"Wal, the Lord calls most of us to stay at home and look after things, such weather as this. Good plantin' weather; good weather for breakin' ground; fust-rate weather for millin'! This is a reg'lar miller's rain, Uncle Tommy. You'd ought to be takin' advantage of it. I've got a grist back here; wish ye could manage to let me have it when I come back from store."
The grist was ground and delivered before Friend Barton went in to his supper that night. Dorothy Barton had been mixing bread, and was wiping her white arms and hands on the roller towel by the kitchen door, as her father stamped and scraped his feet on the stones outside.
"There! I do believe I forgot to toll neighbor Jordan's rye," he said, as he gave a final rub on the broom Dorothy handed out to him. "It's wonderful how careless I get!"
"Well, father, I don't suppose thee'd ever forget, and toll a grist twice!"
"I believe I've been mostly preserved from mistakes of that kind," said Friend Barton gently. "Well, well! To be sure," he continued musingly. "It may be the Lord who stays my hand from gathering profit unto myself while his lambs go unfed."
Dorothy put her hands on her father's shoulders: she was almost as tall as he, and could look into his patient, troubled eyes.
"Father, I know what thee is thinking of, but do think long. It will be a hard year; the boys ought to go to school; and mother is so feeble!"
Friend Barton's "concern" kept him awake that night. His wife watched by his side, giving no sign, lest her wakeful presence should disturb his silent wrestlings. The tall, cherry-wood clock in the entry measured the hours, as they passed, with its slow, dispassionate tick.
At two o'clock Rachel Barton was awakened from her first sleep of weariness by her husband's voice, whispering heavily in the darkness.
"My way is hedged up! I see no way to go forward. Lord, strengthen my patience, that I murmur not, after all I have seen of thy goodness. I find daily bread is very desirable; want and necessity are painful to nature; but shall I follow Thee for the sake of the loaves, or will it do to forsake Thee in times of emptiness and abasement?"
There was silence again, and restless tossings and sighings continued the struggle.
"Thomas," the wife's voice spoke tremulously in the darkness, "my dear husband, I know whither thy thoughts are tending. If the Spirit is with thee, do not deny it for our sakes, I pray thee. The Lord did not give thee thy wife and children to hang as a millstone round thy neck. I am thy helpmeet, to strengthen thee in his service. I am thankful that I have my health this spring better than usual, and Dorothy is a wonderful help. Her spirit was sent to sustain me in thy long absences. Go, dear, and serve our Master, who has called thee in these bitter strivings! Dorothy and I will keep things together as well as we can. The way will open--never fear!" She put out her hand and touched his face in the darkness; there were tears on the furrowed cheeks. "Try to sleep, dear, and let thy spirit have rest. There is but one answer to this call."
With the first drowsy twitterings of the birds, when the crescent-shaped openings in the board shutters began to define themselves clearly in the shadowy room, they arose and went about their morning tasks in silence. Friend Barton's step was a little heavier than usual, and the hollows round his wife's pale brown eyes were a little deeper. As he sat on the splint-bottomed chair by the kitchen fireplace, drawing on his boots, she placed her hands on his shoulders, and touched with her cheek the worn spot on the top of his head.
"Thee will lay this concern before meeting to-morrow, father?"
"I had it on my mind to do so,--if my light be not quenched before then."
Friend Barton's light was not quenched. Words came to him, without seeking,--a sure sign that the Spirit was with him,--in which to "open the concern" that had ripened in his mind, of a religious visit to the meeting constituting the yearly meetings of Philadelphia and Baltimore. A "minute" was given him, encouraging him in the name, and with the full concurrence, of the monthly meetings of Nine Partners and Stony Valley, to go wherever the Truth might lead him.
While Friend Barton was thus freshly anointed, and "abundantly encouraged," his wife, Rachel, was talking with Dorothy, in the low upper chamber known as the "wheel-room."
Dorothy was spinning wool on the big wheel, dressed in her light calico short gown and brown quilted petticoat; her arms were bare, and her hair was gathered away from her flushed cheeks and knotted behind her ears. The roof sloped down on one side, and the light came from a long, low window under the eaves. There was another window (shaped like a half-moon, high up in the peak), but it sent down only one long beam of sunlight, which glimmered across the dust and fell upon Dorothy's white neck.
The wheel was humming a quick measure and Dorothy trod lightly back and forth, the wheel-pin in one hand, the other holding the tense, lengthening thread, which the spindle devoured again.
"Dorothy, thee looks warm: can't thee sit down a moment, while I talk to thee?"
"Is it anything important, mother? I want to get my twenty knots before dinner." She paused as she joined a long tress of wool at the spindle. "Is it anything about father?"
"Yes, it's about father, and all of us."
"I know," said Dorothy, with a sigh. "He's going away again!"
"Yes, dear. He feels that he is called. It is a time of trouble and contention everywhere: 'the harvest,' truly, 'is plenteous, but the laborers are few.'"
"There are not so many 'laborers' here, mother, though to be sure, the harvest"--
"Dorothy, my daughter, don't let a spirit of levity creep into thy speech. Thy father has striven and wrestled with his urgings. I've seen it working on him all winter. He feels, now, it is the Lord's will."
"I don't see how he can be so sure," said Dorothy, swaying gloomily to and fro against the wheel. "I don't care for myself, I'm not afraid of work, but thee's not able to do what thee does now, mother. If I have outside things to look after, how can I help thee as I should? And the boys are about as much dependence as a flock of barn swallows!"
"Don't thee fret about me, dear; the way will open. Thy father has thought and planned for us. Have patience while I tell thee. Thee knows that Walter Evesham's pond is small and his mill is doing a thriving business?"
"Yes, indeed, I know it!" Dorothy exclaimed. "He has his own share, and ours too, most of it!"
"Wait, dear, wait! Thy father has rented him the ponds, to use when his own gives out. He is to have the control of the water, and it will give us a little income, even though the old mill does stand idle."
"He may as well take the mill, too. If father is away all summer it will be useless ever to start it again. Thee'll see, mother, how it will end, if Walter Evesham has the custom and the water all summer. I think it's miserable for a young man to be so keen about money."
"Dorothy, seems to me thee's hasty in thy judgments. I never heard that said of Walter Evesham. His father left him with capital to improve his mill. It does better work than ours; we can't complain of that. Thy father was never one to study much after ways of making money. He felt he had no right to more than an honest livelihood. I don't say that Walter Evesham's in the wrong. We know that Joseph took advantage of his opportunities, though I can't say that I ever felt much unity with some of his transactions. What would thee have, my dear? Thee's discouraged with thy father for choosing the thorny way, which we tread with him; but thee seems no better satisfied with one who considers the flesh and its wants'"
"I don't know, mother, what I want for myself; that doesn't matter; but for thee I would have rest from all these cruel worries thee has borne so long."
She buried her face in her mother's lap and put her strong young arms about the frail, toil-bent form.
"There, there, dear. Try to rule thy spirit, Dorothy. Thee's too much worked up about this. They are not worries to me. I am thankful we have nothing to decide one way or the other, only to do our best with what is given us. Thee's not thyself, dear. Go downstairs and fetch in the clothes, and don't hurry; stay out till thee gets more composed."
Dorothy did not succeed in bringing herself into unity with her father's call, but she came to a fuller realization of his struggle. When he bade them good-by his face showed what it had cost him; but Rachel was calm and cheerful. The pain of parting is keenest to those who go, but it stays longer with those that are left behind.
"Dorothy, take good care of thy mother!" Friend Barton said, taking his daughter's face between his hands and gravely kissing her brow between the low-parted ripples of her hair.
"Yes, father," she said, looking into his eyes; "Thee knows I'm thy eldest son."
They watched the old chaise swing round the corner of the lane, then the pollard willows shut it from sight.
"Come, mother," said Dorothy, hurrying her in at the gate. "I'm going to make a great pot of mush, and have it hot for supper, and fried for breakfast, and warmed up with molasses for dinner, and there'll be some cold with milk for supper, and we shan't have any cooking to do at all!"
They went around by the kitchen door. Rachel stopped in the woodshed, and the tears rushed to her eyes.
"Dear father! How he has worked over that wood, early and late, to spare us!"
We will not revive Dorothy's struggles with the farm-work, and with the boys. They were an isolated family at the mill-house; their peculiar faith isolated them still more, and they were twelve miles from meeting and the settlement of Friends at Stony Valley. Dorothy's pride kept her silent about her needs, lest they might bring reproach upon her father among the neighbors, who would not be likely to feel the urgency of his spiritual summons.
The summer heats came on apace and the nights grew shorter. It seemed to Dorothy that she had hardly stretched out her tired young body and forgotten her cares, in the low, attic bedroom, before the east was streaked with light and the birds were singing in the apple-trees, whose falling blossoms drifted in at the window.
One day in early June, Friend Barton's flock of sheep (consisting of nine experienced ewes, six yearlings, and a sprinkling of close-curled lambs whose legs had not yet come into mature relations with their bodies) was gathered in a wattled inclosure, beside the stream that flowed into the mill-head. It was supplied by the waste from the pond, and, when the gate was shut, rambled easily over the gray slate pebbles, with here and there a fall just forcible enough to serve as a douche-bath for a well-grown sheep. The victims were panting in their heavy fleeces, and mingling their hoarse, plaintive tremolo with the ripple of the water and the sound of young voices in a frolic. Dorothy had divided her forces for the washing to the best advantage. The two elder boys stood in midstream to receive the sheep, which she, with the help of little Jimmy, caught and dragged to the bank.
The boys were at work now upon an elderly ewe, while Dorothy stood on the brink of the stream braced against an ash sapling, dragging forward by the fleece a beautiful but reluctant yearling. Her bare feet were incased in a pair of moccasins that laced around the ankle; her petticoats were kilted, and her broad hat bound down with a ribbon; one sleeve was rolled up, the other had been sacrificed in a scuffle in the sheep-pen. The new candidate for immersion stood bleating and trembling with her forefeet planted against the slippery bank, pushing back with all her strength while Jimmy propelled from the rear.
"Boys!" Dorothy's clear voice called across the stream. "Do hurry! She's been in long enough, now! Keep her head up, can't you, and squeeze the wool hard! You're not half washing! Oh, Reuby! thee'll drown her! Keep her head up!"
Another unlucky douse and another half-smothered bleat,--Dorothy released the yearling and plunged to the rescue. "Go after that lamb, Reuby!" she cried with exasperation in her voice. Reuby followed the yearling, that had disappeared over the orchard slope, upsetting an obstacle in its path, which happened to be Jimmy. He was wailing now on the bank, while Dorothy, with the ewe's nose tucked comfortably in the bend of her arm, was parting and squeezing the fleece, with the water swirling round her. Her stout arms ached, and her ears were stunned with the incessant bleatings; she counted with dismay the sheep still waiting in the pen. "Oh, Jimmy! Do stop crying, or else go to the house!"
"He'd better go after Reuby," said Sheppard Barton, who was now Dorothy's sole dependence.
"Oh yes, do, Jimmy, that's a good boy. Tell him to let the yearling go and come back quick."
The water had run low that morning in Evesham's pond. He shut down the mill, and strode up the hills, across lots, to raise the gate of the lower Barton pond, which had been heading up for his use. He passed the cornfield where, a month before, he had seen pretty Dorothy Barton dropping corn with her brothers. It made him ache to think of Dorothy with her feeble mother, the boys as wild as preachers' sons proverbially are, and the old farm running down on her hands; the fences all needed mending, and there went Reuben Barton, now, careering over the fields in chase of a stray yearling. His mother's house was big, and lonely, and empty; and he flushed as he thought of the "one ewe-lamb" he coveted out of Friend Barton's rugged pastures.
As Evesham raised the gate, and leaned to watch the water swirl and gurgle through the "trunk," sucking the long weeds with it, and thickening with its tumult the clear current of the stream, the sound of voices and the bleating of sheep came up from below. He had not the farming instincts in his blood; the distant bleating, the hot June sunshine and cloudless sky did not suggest to him sheep-washing; but now came a boy's voice shouting and a cry of distress, and he remembered with a thrill that Friend Barton used the stream for that peaceful purpose. He shut down the gate and tore along through the ferns and tangled grass till he came to the sheep-pen, where the bank was muddy and trampled. The prisoners were bleating drearily and looking with longing eyes across to the other side, where those who had suffered were now straying and cropping the short turf through the lights and shadows of the orchard.
There was no other sign of life, except a broad hat with a brown ribbon buffeted about in an eddy among the stones. The stream dipped now below the hill, and the current, still racing fast with the impetus he had given it, shot away amongst the hazel thickets that crowded close to the brink. He was obliged to make a detour by the orchard and to come out below at the "mill-head," a black, deep pool with an ugly ripple setting across it to the head-gate. He saw something white clinging there, and ran round the brink. It was the sodden fleece of the old ewe, which had been drifted against the head-gate and held there to her death. Evesham, with a sickening contraction of the heart, threw off his jacket for a plunge, when Dorothy's voice called rather faintly from the willows on the opposite bank.
"Don't jump! I'm here," she said. Evesham searched the willows and found her seated in the sun, just beyond, half buried in a bed of ferns.
"I shouldn't have called thee," she said shyly, as he sank pale and panting beside her, "but thee looked--I thought thee was going to jump into the mill-head!"
"I thought you were there, Dorothy!"
"I was there quite long enough. Shep pulled me out; I was too tired to help myself much." Dorothy held her palm pressed against her temple and the blood trickled from beneath, streaking her pale, wet cheek.
"He's gone to the house to get me a cloak. I don't want mother to see me, not yet," she said.
"I'm afraid you ought not to wait, Dorothy. Let me take you to the house, won't you? I'm afraid you'll get a deadly chill."
Dorothy did not look in the least like death. She was blushing now, because Evesham would think it so strange of her to stay, and yet she could not rise in her wet clothes, that clung to her like the calyx to a bud.
"Let me see that cut, Dorothy!"
"Oh, it's nothing. I don't wish thee to look at it!"
"But I will! Do you want to make me your murderer, sitting there in your wet clothes with a cut on your head?"
He drew away her hand; the wound, indeed, was no great affair, but he bound it up deftly with strips of his handkerchief. Dorothy's wet curls touched his fingers and clung to them, and her eyelashes drooped lower and lower.
"I think it was very stupid of thee. Didn't thee hear us from the dam? I'm sure we made noise enough."
"Yes, I heard you when it was too late. I heard the sheep before, but how could I imagine that you, Dorothy, and three boys as big as cockerels, were sheep-washing? It's the most preposterous thing I ever heard of!",
"Well, I can't help being a woman, and the sheep had to be washed. I think there ought to be more men in the world when half of them are preaching and fighting."
"If you'd only let the men who are left help you a little, Dorothy."
"I don't want any help. I only don't want to be washed into the mill-head."
They both laughed, and Evesham began again entreating her to let him take her to the house.
"Hasn't thee a coat or something I could put around me until Shep comes?" said Dorothy. "He must be here soon."
"Yes, I've a jacket here somewhere."
He sped away to find it, and faithless Dorothy, as the willows closed between them, sprang to her feet and fled like a startled Naiad to the house.
When Evesham, pushing through the willows, saw nothing but the bed of wet, crushed ferns and the trail through the long grass where Dorothy's feet had fled, he smiled grimly to himself, remembering that "ewe-lambs" are not always as meek as they look.
That evening Rachel had received a letter from Friend Barton and was preparing to read it aloud to the children. They were in the kitchen, where the boys had been helping Dorothy in a desultory manner to shell corn for the chickens; but now all was silence while Rachel wiped her glasses and turned the large sheet of paper, squared with many foldings, to the candle.
She read the date, "'London Grove, 5th month, 22d.--Most affectionately beloved.'" "He means us all," said Rachel, turning to the children with a tender smile. "It's spelled with a small b."
"He means thee!" said Dorothy, laughing. "Thee's not such a very big beloved."
There was a moment's silence. "I don't know that the opening of the letter is of general interest," Rachel mused, with her eyes traveling slowly down the page. "He says: 'In regard to my health, lest thee should concern thyself, I am thankful to say I have never enjoyed better since years have made me acquainted with my infirmities of body, and I earnestly hope that my dear wife and children are enjoying the same blessing.
"'I trust the boys are not deficient in obedience and helpfulness. At Sheppard's age I had already begun to take the duties of a man upon my shoulders.'"
Sheppard giggled uncomfortably, and Dorothy laughed outright.
"Oh, if father only knew how good the boys are! Mother, thee must write and tell him about their 'helpfulness and obedience'! Thee can tell him their appetites keep up pretty well; they manage to take their meals regularly, and they are always out of bed by eight o'clock to help me hang up the milking-stool!"
"Just wait till thee gets into the mill-head again, Dorothy Barton! Thee needn't come to me to help thee out!"
"Go on, mother. Don't let the boys interrupt thee!"
"Well," said Rachel, rousing herself, "where was I? Oh, 'At Sheppard's age'! Well, next come some allusions to the places where he has visited and his spiritual exercises there. I don't know that the boys are quite old enough to enter into this yet. Thee'd better read it thyself, Dorothy. I'm keeping all father's letters for the boys to read when they are old enough to appreciate them."
"Well, I think thee might read to us about where he's been preachin'. We can understand a great deal more than thee thinks we can," said Shep in an injured voice. "Reuby can preach some himself. Thee ought to hear him, mother. It's almost as good as meetin'."
"I wondered how Reuby spent his time," said Dorothy, and the mother hastened to interpose.
"Well! here's a passage that may be interesting: 'On sixth day attended the youths' meeting here, a pretty favored time on the whole. Joseph' (that's Joseph Carpenter; he mentions him aways back) 'had good service in lively testimony, while I was calm and easy without a word to say. At a meeting at Plumstead we suffered long, but at length we felt relieved. The unfaithful were admonished, the youth invited, and the heavy-hearted encouraged. It was a heavenly time.' Heretofore he seems to have been closed up with silence a good deal, but now the way opens continually for him to free himself. He's been 'much favored,' he says, 'of late.' Reuby, what's thee doing to thy brothers?" (Shep and Reuby, who had been persecuting Jimmy by pouring handfuls of corn down the neck of his jacket until he had taken refuge behind Dorothy's chair, were now recriminating with corn-cobs on each other's faces.) "Dorothy, can't thee keep those boys quiet?"
"Did thee ever know them to be quiet?" said Dorothy, helping Jimmy to relieve himself of his corn.
"Well now, listen." Rachel continued placidly, "'Second day, 27th' (of fifth month, he means; the letter's been a long time coming), 'attended their mid-week meeting at London Grove, where my tongue, as it were, clave to the roof of my mouth, while Hannah Husbands was much favored and enabled to lift up her voice like the song of an angel'"--
"Who's Hannah Husbands?" Dorothy interrupted.
"Thee doesn't know her, dear. She was second cousin to thy father's stepmother; the families were not congenial, I believe, but she has a great gift for the ministry."
"I should think she'd better be at home with her children, if she has any. Fancy thee, mother, going about to strange meetings and lifting up thy voice"--
"Hush, hush, Dorothy! Thy tongue's running away with thee. Consider the example thee's setting the boys."
"Thee'd better write to father about Dorothy, mother. Perhaps Hannah Husbands would like to know what she thinks about her preachin'."
"Well, now, be quiet, all of you. Here's something about Dorothy: 'I know that my dear daughter Dorothy is faithful and loving, albeit somewhat quick of speech and restive under obligation. I would have thee remind her that an unwillingness to accept help from others argues a want of Christian Meekness. Entreat her from me not to conceal her needs from our neighbors, if so be she find her work oppressive. We know them to be of kindly intention, though not of our way of thinking in all particulars. Let her receive help from them, not as individuals, but as instruments of the Lord's protection, which it were impiety and ingratitude to deny.'"
"There!" cried Shep. "That means thee is to let Luke Jordan finish the sheep-washing. Thee'd better have done it in the first place. We shouldn't have the old ewe to pick if thee had."
Dorothy was dimpling at the idea of Luke Jordan in the character of an instrument of heavenly protection. She had not regarded him in that light, it must be confessed, but had rejected him with scorn.
"He may, if he wants to," she said; "but you boys shall drive them over. I'll have nothing to do with it."
"And shear them too, Dorothy? He asked to shear them long ago."
"Well, let him shear them and keep the wool too."
"I wouldn't say that, Dorothy," said Rachel Barton. "We need the wool, and it seems as if over-payment might not be quite honest, either."
"Oh, mother, mother! What a mother thee is!" cried Dorothy laughing and rumpling Rachel's cap-strings in a tumultuous embrace.
"She's a great deal too good for thee, Dorothy Barton."
"She's too good for all of us. How did thee ever come to have such a graceless set of children, mother?"
"I'm very well satisfied," said Rachel. "But now do be quiet and let's finish the letter. We must get to bed some time to-night!"
* * * * *
The wild clematis was in blossom now; the fences were white with it, and the rusty cedars were crowned with virgin wreaths; but the weeds were thick in the garden and in the potato patch. Dorothy, stretching her cramped back, looked longingly up the shadowy vista of the farm-lane that had nothing to do but ramble off into the remotest green fields, where the daisies' faces were as white and clear as in early June.
One hot August night she came home late from the store. The stars were thick in the sky; the katydids made the night oppressive with their rasping questionings, and a hoarse revel of frogs kept the ponds from falling asleep in the shadow of the hills.
"Is thee very tired to-night, Dorothy?" her mother asked, as she took her seat on the low step of the porch. "Would thee mind turning old John out thyself?"
"No, mother, I'm not tired. But why? Oh, I know!" cried Dorothy with a quick laugh. "The dance at Slocum's barn. I thought those boys were uncommonly helpful."
"Yes, dear, it's but natural they should want to see it. Hark! we can hear the music from here."
They listened, and the breeze brought across the fields the sound of fiddles and the rhythmic tramp of feet, softened by the distance. Dorothy's young pulses leaped.
"Mother, is it any harm for them just to see it? They have so little fun, except what they get out of teasing and shirking."
"My dear, thy father would never countenance such a scene of frivolity, or permit one of his children to look upon it; through our eyes and ears the world takes possession of our hearts."
"Then I'm to spare the boys this temptation, mother? Thee will trust me to pass the barn?"
"I would trust my boys, if they were thy age, Dorothy; but their resolution is tender like their years."
It might be questioned whether the frame of mind in which the boys went to bed that night under their mother's eye, for Rachel could be firm in a case of conscience, was more improving than the frivolity of Slocum's barn.
"Mother," called Dorothy, looking in at the kitchen window where Rachel was stooping over the embers in the fireplace to light a bedroom candle, "I want to speak to thee."
Rachel came to the window, screening the candle with her hand.
"Will thee trust me to look at the dancing a little while? It is so very near."
"Why, Dorothy, does thee want to?"
"Yes, mother, I believe I do. I've never seen a dance in my life. It cannot ruin me to look just once."
Rachel stood puzzled.
"Thee's old enough to judge for thyself, Dorothy. But, my child, do not tamper with thy inclinations through heedless curiosity. Thee knows thee's more impulsive than I could wish for thy own peace."
"I'll be very careful, mother. If I feel in the least wicked I will come straight away."
She kissed her mother's hand that rested on the window-sill. Rachel did not like the kiss, nor Dorothy's brilliant eyes and flushed cheeks, as the candle revealed them like a fair picture painted on the darkness. She hesitated, but Dorothy sped away up the lane with old John lagging at his halter.
Was it the music growing nearer that quickened her breathing, or only the closeness of the night shut in between the wild grapevine curtains swung from one dark cedar column to another? She caught the sweetbrier's breath as she hurried by, and now a loop in the leafy curtain revealed the pond, lying black in a hollow of the hills with a whole heaven of stars reflected in it. Old John stumbled along over the stones, cropping the grass as he went. Dorothy tugged at his halter and urged him on to the head of the lane, where two farm-gates stood at right angles. One of them was open and a number of horses were tethered in a row along the fence within. They whinnied a cheerful greeting to John as Dorothy slipped his halter and shut him into the field adjoining. Now should she walk into temptation with her eyes and ears open? The gate stood wide, with only one field of perfumed meadow-grass between her and the lights and music of Slocum's barn. The sound of revelry by night could hardly have taken a more innocent form than this rustic dancing of neighbors after a "raisin' bee," but had it been the rout of Comus and his crew, and Dorothy the Lady Una trembling near, her heart could hardly have throbbed more quickly as she crossed the dewy meadow. A young maple stood within ten rods of the barn, and here she crouched in shadow.
The great doors stood wide open and lanterns were hung from the beams, lighting the space between the mows where a dance was set, with youths and maidens in two long rows. The fiddlers sat on barrel-heads near the door; a lantern hanging just behind projected their shadows across the square of light on the trodden space in front, where they executed a grotesque pantomime, keeping time to the music with spectral wavings and noddings. The dancers were Dorothy's young neighbors, whom she had known, and yet not known, all her life, but they had the strangeness of familiar faces seen suddenly in some fantastic dream.
Surely that was Nancy Slocum in the bright pink gown heading the line of girls, and that was Luke Jordan's sunburnt profile leaning from his place to pluck a straw from the mow behind him. They were marching, and the measured tramp of feet keeping solid time to the fiddles set a strange tumult vibrating in Dorothy's blood; and now it stopped, with a thrill, as she recognized that Evesham was there, marching with the young men, and that his peer was not among them. The perception of his difference came to her with a vivid shock. He was coming forward now with his light, firm step, formidable in evening dress and with a smile of subtle triumph in his eyes, to meet Nancy Slocum in the bright pink gown. Dorothy felt she hated pink of all the colors her faith had abjured. She could see, in spite of the obnoxious gown, that Nancy was very pretty. He was taking her first by the right hand, then by the left, and turning her gayly about; and now they were meeting again for the fourth or fifth time in the centre of the barn, with all eyes upon them, and the music lingered while Nancy, holding out her pink petticoats, coyly revolved around him. Then began a mysterious turning and clasping of hands, and weaving of Nancy's pink frock and Evesham's dark blue coat and white breeches in and out of the line of figures, until they met at the door, and, taking each other by both hands, swept with a joyous measure to the head of the barn. Dorothy gave a little choking sigh.
What a senseless whirl it was. She was thrilling with a new and strange excitement, too near the edge of pain to be long endured as a pleasure. If this were the influence of dancing she did not wonder so much at her father's scruples, and yet it held her like a spell.
All hands were lifted now, making an arch through which Evesham, holding Nancy by the hands, raced, stooping and laughing. As they emerged at the door, Evesham threw up his head to shake a brown lock back. He looked flushed and boyishly gay, and his hazel eye searched the darkness with that subtle ray of triumph in it which made Dorothy afraid. She drew back behind the tree and pressed her hot cheek to the cool, rough bark. She longed for the stillness of the starlit meadow, and the dim lane with its faint perfumes and whispering leaves.
But now suddenly the music stopped and the dance broke up in a tumult of voices. Dorothy stole backward in the shadow of the tree-trunk, until it joined the darkness of the meadow, and then fled, stumbling along with blinded eyes, the music still vibrating in her ears. Then came a quick rush of footsteps behind her, swishing through the long grass. She did not look back, but quickened her pace, struggling to reach the gate. Evesham was there before her. He had swung the gate to and was leaning with his back against it, laughing and panting.
"I've caught you, Dorothy, you little deceiver! You'll not get rid of me to-night with any of your tricks. I'm going to take you home to your mother and tell her you were peeping at the dancing."
"Mother knows that I came; I asked her," said Dorothy. Her knees were trembling and her heart almost choked her with its throbbing.
"I'm so glad you don't dance, Dorothy. This is much nicer than the barn, and the katydids are better fiddlers than old Darby and his son. I'll open the gate if you will put your hand in mine, so that I can be sure of you, you little runaway."
"I will stay here all night, first," said Dorothy, in a low, quivering voice.
"As you choose. I shall be happy as long as you are here."
Dead silence, while the katydids seemed to keep time to their heart-beats; the fiddles began tuning for another reel, and the horses, tethered near, stretched out their necks with low, inquiring whinnies.
"Dorothy," said Evesham softly, leaning toward her and trying to see her face in the darkness, "are you angry with me? Don't you think you deserve a little punishment for the trick you played me at the mill-head?"
"It was all thy fault for insisting." Dorothy was too excited and angry to cry, but she was as miserable as she had ever been in her life before. "I didn't want thee to stay. People that force themselves where they are not wanted must take what they get."
"What did you say, Dorothy?"
"I say I didn't want thee then. I do not want thee now. Thee may go back to thy fiddling and dancing. I'd rather have one of those dumb brutes for company to-night than thee, Walter Evesham."
"Very well; the reel has begun," said Evesham. "Fanny Jordan is waiting to dance it with me, or if she isn't she ought to be. Shall I open the gate for you?"
She passed out in silence, and the gate swung to with a heavy jar. She made good speed down the lane and then waited outside the fence till her breath came more quietly.
"Is that thee, Dorothy?" Rachel's voice called from the porch. She came out to meet her daughter and they went along the walk together. "How damp thy forehead is, child. Is the night so warm?" They sat down on the low steps and Dorothy slid her arm under her mother's and laid her soft palm against the one less soft by twenty years of toil for others. "Thee's not been long, dear; was it as much as thee expected?"
"Mother, it was dreadful! I never wish to hear a fiddle again as long as I live."
Rachel opened the way for Dorothy to speak further; she was not without some mild stirrings of curiosity on the subject herself, but Dorothy had no more to say.
They went into the house soon after, and as they separated for the night Dorothy clung to her mother with a little nervous laugh.
"Mother, what is that text about Ephraim?"
"Ephraim is joined to idols?" Rachel suggested.
"Yes, Ephraim is joined to his idols," said Dorothy, lifting her head. "Let him go!"
"Let him alone," corrected Rachel.
"Let him alone!" Dorothy repeated. "That is better yet."
"What's thee thinking of, dear?"
"Oh, I'm thinking about the dance in the barn."
"I'm glad thee looks at it in that light," said Rachel calmly.
* * * * *
Dorothy knelt by her bed in the low chamber under the eaves, crying to herself that she was not the child of her mother any more.
She felt that she had lost something, that in truth had never been hers. It was but the unconscious poise of her unawakened girlhood which had been stirred; she had mistaken it for that abiding peace which is not lost or won in a day.
Dorothy could no more stifle the spring thrills in her blood than she could crush the color out of her cheek or brush the ripples out of her bright hair, but she longed for the cool grays and the still waters. She prayed that the "grave and beautiful damsel called Discretion" might take her by the hand and lead her to that "upper chamber, whose name is Peace." She lay awake listening to the music from the barn, and waiting through breathless silences for it to begin again. She wondered if Fanny Jordan had grown any prettier since she had seen her as a half-grown girl, and then she despised herself for the thought. The katydids seemed to beat their wings upon her brain, and all the noises of the night, far and near, came to her strained senses as if her silent chamber were a whispering gallery. The clock struck twelve, and in the silence that followed she missed the music; but voices talking and laughing were coming down the lane. There was the clink of a horse's hoof on the stones: now it was lost on the turf, and now they were all trooping noisily past the house. She buried her head in her pillow and tried to bury with it the consciousness that she was wondering if Evesham were there laughing with the rest.
Yes, Evesham was there. He walked with Farmer Jordan, behind the young men and girls, and discussed with him, somewhat absently, the war news and the prices of grain.
As they passed the dark old house, spreading its wide roofs like a hen gathering her chickens under her wing, he became suddenly silent. A white curtain flapped in and out of an upper window. Evesham looked up and slightly raised his hat, but his instinct failed him there,--it was the window of the boys' room.
"Queer kinks them old Friend preachers gits into their heads sometimes," said Farmer Jordan, as they passed the empty mill. "Now what do you s'pose took Uncle Tommy Barton off right on top of plantin', leavin' his wife 'n' critters 'n' child'en to look after themselves? Mighty good preachin' it ought to be to make up for such practicin'. Wonderful set ag'in the war, Uncle Tommy is. He's a-preachin' up peace now. But Lord! all the preachin' sense Moses won't keep men from fightin' when their blood's up and there's ter'tory in it."
"It makes saints of the women," said Evesham shortly.
"Wal, yes. Saints in heaven before their time, some of 'em. There's Dorothy, now. She'll hoe her row with any saint in the kingdom or out of it. I never see a hulsomer-lookin' gal. My Luke, he run the furrers in her corn-patch last May. Said it made him sick to see a gal like that a-staggerin' after a plough. She wouldn't more 'n half let him. She's a proud little piece. They're all proud, Quakers is. I never could see no 'poorness of spirit,' come to git at 'em. And they're wonderful clannish, too. My Luke, he'd a notion he'd like to run the hull concern, Dorothy 'n' all; but I told him he might's well p'int off. Them Quaker gals don't never marry out o' meetin'. Besides, the farm's too poor."
"Good-night, Mr. Jordan," said Evesham suddenly. "I'm off across lots." He leaped the fence, crashed through the alder hedgerow, and disappeared in the dusky meadow.
Evesham was by no means satisfied with his experiments in planetary distances. Somewhere, he felt sure, either in his orbit or hers, there must be a point where Dorothy would be less insensible to the attraction of atoms in the mass. Thus far she had reversed the laws of the spheres, and the greater had followed the less. When she had first begun to hold a permanent place in his thoughts he had invested her with something of that atmosphere of peace and cool passivity which hedges in the women of her faith. It had been like a thin, clear glass, revealing her loveliness, but cutting off the magnetic currents. A young man is not long satisfied with the mystery his thoughts have woven around the woman who is their object. Evesham had grown impatient; he had broken the spell of her sweet remoteness. He had touched her and found her human, deliciously, distractingly human, but with a streak of that obduracy which history has attributed to the Quakers under persecution. In vain he haunted the mill-dam, and bribed the boys with traps and pop-guns, and lingered at the well-curb to ask Dorothy for water that did not reach his thirst. She was there in the flesh, with her arms aloft balancing the well-sweep, while he stooped with his lips at the bucket; but in spirit she was unapproachable. He felt, with disgust at his own persistence, that she even grudged him the water. He grew savage and restless, and fretted over the subtle changes that he counted in Dorothy as the summer waned. She was thinner and paler; perhaps with the heats of harvest, which had not, indeed, been burdensome from its abundance. Her eyes were darker and shyer, and her voice more languid. Was she wearing down with all this work and care? A fierce disgust possessed him that this sweet life should be cast into the breach between faith and works.
He did not see that Rachel Barton had changed, too, with a change that meant more, at her age, than Dorothy's flushings and palings. He did not miss the mother's bent form from the garden, or the bench by the kitchen door where she had been used to wash the milk-things.
Dorothy washed the milk-things now, and the mother spent her days in the sunny east room, between her bed and the easy-chair, where she sat and mused for hours over the five letters that she had received from her husband in as many months. The boys had, in a measure, justified their father's faith in them, since Rachel's illness, and Dorothy was released from much of her out-door work; but the silence of the kitchen, when she was there alone with her ironing and dish washing, was a heavier burden than she had yet known.
Nature sometimes strikes in upon the hopeless monotony of life in remote farmhouses with one of her phenomenal moods. They come like besoms of destruction, but they scatter the web of stifling routine; they fling into the stiffening pool the stone which jars the atoms into crystal.
The storms, that had ambushed in the lurid August skies and circled ominously round the horizon during the first weeks of September, broke at last in an equinoctial which was long remembered in the mill-house. It took its place in the family calendar of momentous dates with the hard winter of 1800, with the late frost that had coated the incipient apples with ice and frozen the new potatoes in the ground in the spring of '97, and with the year the typhus had visited the valley.
The rain had been falling a night and a day; it had been welcomed with thanksgiving, but it had worn out its welcome some hours since, and now the early darkness was coming on without a lull in the storm. Dorothy and the two older boys had made the rounds of the farm-buildings, seeing all safe for the second night. The barns and mill stood on high ground, while the house occupied the sheltered hollow between. Little streams from the hills were washing in turbid currents across the lower levels; the waste-weir roared as in early spring, the garden was inundated, and the meadow a shallow pond. The sheep had been driven into the upper barn floor: the chickens were in the corn-bin; and old John and the cows had been transferred from the stable, that stood low, to the weighing floor of the mill. A gloomy echoing and gurgling sounded from the dark wheel-chamber where the water was rushing under the wheel and jarring it with its tumult. At eight o'clock the woodshed was flooded and water began to creep under the kitchen door. Dorothy and the boys carried armfuls of wood and stacked them in the passage to the sitting-room, two steps higher up. At nine o'clock the boys were sent protesting to bed, and Dorothy, looking out of their window as she fumbled about in the dark for a pair of Shep's trousers that needed mending, saw a lantern flickering up the road. It was Evesham on his way to the mill-dams. The light glimmered on his oilskin coat as he climbed the stile behind the well-curb.
"He raised the flood-gates at noon," Dorothy said to herself. "I wonder if he is anxious about the dams." She resolved to watch for his return, but she was busy settling her mother for the night when she heard his footsteps on the porch. The roar of water from the hills startled Dorothy as she opened the door; it had increased in violence within an hour. A gust of wind and rain followed Evesham into the entry.
"Come in," she said, running lightly across the sitting-room to close the door of her mother's room.
He stood opposite her on the hearth-rug and looked into her eyes, across the estrangement of the summer. It was not Dorothy of the mill-head, or of Slocum's meadow, or the cold maid of the well; it was a very anxious, lonely little girl in a crumbling old house, with a foot of water in the cellar and a sick mother in the next room. She had forgotten about Ephraim and his idols; she picked up Shep's trousers from the rug, where she had dropped them, and, looking intently at her thimble finger, told him she was very glad that he had come.
"Did you think I would not come?" said he. "I'm going to take you home with me, Dorothy,--you and your mother and the boys. It's not fit for you to be here alone."
"Does thee know of any danger?"
"I know of none, but water's a thing you can't depend on. It's an ugly rain; older men than your father remember nothing like it."
"I shall be glad to have mother go, and Jimmy; the house is very damp. It's an awful night for her to be out, though."
"She must go!" said Evesham. "You must all go. I'll be back in half an hour"--
"I shall not go," Dorothy said; "the boys and I must stay and look after the stock."
"What's that?" Evesham was listening to a trickling of water outside the door.
"Oh! it's from the kitchen. The door has blown open, I guess."
Dorothy looked out into the passage; a strong wind was blowing in from the kitchen, where the water covered the floor and washed against the chimney.
"This is a nice state of things! What's all this wood here for?"
"The woodshed's under water."
"You must get yourself ready, Dorothy. I'll come for your mother first in the chaise."
"I cannot go," she said. "I don't believe there is any danger. This old house has stood for eighty years; it's not likely this is the first big rain in all that time." Dorothy's spirits had risen. "Besides, I have a family of orphans to take care of. See here," she said, stooping over a basket in the shadow of the chimney. It was the "hospital tent," and as she uncovered it, a brood of belated chickens stretched out their thin necks with plaintive peeps.
Dorothy covered them with her hands and they nestled with comfortable twitterings into silence.
"You're a kind of special providence, aren't you, Dorothy? But I've no sympathy with chickens who will be born just in time for the equinoctial."
"I didn't want them," said Dorothy, anxious to defend her management. "The old hen stole her nest and she left them the day before the rain. She's making herself comfortable now in the corn-bin."
"She ought to be made an example of; that's the way of the world, however,--retribution doesn't fall always on the right shoulders. I must go now. We'll take your mother and Jimmy first, and then, if you won't come, you shall let me stay with you. The mill is safe enough, anyhow."
Evesham returned with the chaise and a man, who, he insisted, should drive away old John and the cows, so that Dorothy should have less care. The mother was packed into the chaise with a vast collection of wraps, which almost obliterated Jimmy. As they started, Dorothy ran out in the rain with her mother's spectacles and the five letters, which always lay in a box on the table by her bed. Evesham took her gently by the arms and lifted her back across the puddles to the stoop.
As the chaise drove off, she went back into the sitting-room and crouched on the rug, her wet hair shining in the firelight. She took out her chickens one by one and held them under her chin, with tender words and finger-touches. If September chickens have feelings as susceptible as their bodies, Dorothy's orphans must have been imperiled by her caresses.
"Look here, Dorothy! Where's my trousers?" cried Shep, opening the door at the foot of the stairs.
Reuby was behind him, fully arrayed in his own garment aforesaid, and carrying the bedroom candle.
"Here they are--with a needle in them," said Dorothy. "What are you getting up in the middle of the night for?"
"Well, I guess it's time somebody's up. Who's that man driving off our cows?"
"Goosey! It's Walter Evesham's man. He came for mother and all of us, and he's taken old John and the cows to save us so much foddering."
"Ain't we going too?"
"I don't see why we should, just because there happens to be a little water in the kitchen. I've often seen it come in there before."
"Well, thee never saw anything like this before--nor anybody else, either," said Shep.
"I don't care," said Reuby, "I wish there'd come a reg'lar flood. We could climb up in the mill-loft and go sailin' down over Jordan's meadows. Wouldn't Luke Jordan open that big mouth of his to see us heave in sight about cock-crow, wing and wing, and the old tackle a-swingin'!"
"Do hush!" said Dorothy. "We may have to try it yet."
"There's an awful roarin' from our window," said Shep. "Thee can't half hear it down here. Come out on the stoop. The old ponds have got their dander up this time."
They opened the door and listened, standing together on the low step. There was, indeed, a hoarse murmur from the hills, which grew louder as they listened.
"Now she's comin'! There goes the stable-door. There was only one hinge left, anyway," said Reuby. "Mighty! Look at that wave!"
It crashed through the gate, swept across the garden and broke at their feet, sending a thin sheet of water over the floor of the porch.
"Now it's gone into the entry. Why didn't thee shut the door, Shep?"
"Well, I think we'd better clear out, anyhow. Let's go over to the mill. Say, Dorothy, shan't we?"
"Wait. There comes another wave."
The second onset was not so violent; but they hastened to gather together a few blankets, and the boys filled their pockets with cookies, with a delightful sense of unusualness and peril almost equal to a shipwreck or an attack by Indians. Dorothy took her unlucky chickens under her cloak, and they made a rush all together across the road and up the slope to the mill.
"Why didn't we think to bring a lantern?" said Dorothy, as they huddled together on the platform of the scale. "Will thee go back after one, Shep?"
"If Reuby'll go, too."
"Well, my legs are wet enough now. What's the use of a lantern? Mighty Moses! What's that?"
"The old mill's got under way," cried Shep. "She's going to tune up for Kingdom Come."
A furious head of water was rushing along the race; the great wheel creaked and swung over, and with a shudder the old mill awoke from its long sleep. The cogs clenched their teeth, the shafting shook and rattled, the stones whirled merrily round.
"Now she goes it!" cried Shep, as the humming increased to a tremor, and the tremor to a wild, unsteady din, till the timbers shook and the bolts and windows rattled. "I just wish father could hear them old stones hum."
"Oh, this is awful!" said Dorothy. She was shivering and sick with terror at this unseemly midnight revelry of her grandfather's old mill. It was as if it had awakened in a fit of delirium, and given itself up to a wild travesty of its years of peaceful work.
Shep was creeping about in the darkness.
"Look here! We've got to stop this clatter somehow. The stones are hot now. The whole thing'll burn up like tinder if we can't chock her wheels."
"Shep! Does thee mean it?"
"Thee'll see if I don't. Thee won't need any lantern either."
"Can't we break away the race?"
"Oh, there's a way to stop it. There's the tip-trough, but it's downstairs and we can't reach the pole."
"I'll go," said Dorothy.
"It's outside, thee knows. Thee'll get awful wet, Dorothy."
"Well, I'd just as soon be drowned as burned up. Come with me to the head of the stairs."
They felt their way hand in hand in the darkness, and Dorothy went down alone. She had forgotten about the "tip-trough," but she understood its significance. In a few moments a cascade shot out over the wheel, sending the water far into the garden.
"Right over my chrysanthemum bed," sighed Dorothy.
The wheel swung slower and slower, the mocking tumult subsided, and the old mill sank into sleep again.
There was nothing now to drown the roaring of the floods and the steady drive of the storm.
"There's a lantern," Shep called from the door. He had opened the upper half and was shielding himself behind it. "I guess it's Evesham coming back for us. He's a pretty good sort of a fellow after all; don't thee think so, Dorothy? He owes us something for drowning us out at the sheep-washing."
"What does all this mean?" said Dorothy, as Evesham swung himself over the half-door and his lantern showed them to each other in their various phases of wetness.
"There's a big leak in the lower dam; I've been afraid of it all along; there's something wrong in the principle of the thing."
Dorothy felt as if he had called her grandfather a fraud, and her father a delusion and a snare. She had grown up in the belief that the mill-dams were part of Nature's original plan in laying the foundations of the hills; but it was no time to be resentful, and the facts were against her.
"Dorothy," said Evesham, as he tucked the buffalo about her, "this is the second time I've tried to save you from drowning, but you never will wait. I'm all ready to be a hero, but you won't be a heroine."
"I'm too practical for a heroine," said Dorothy. "There! I've forgotten my chickens."
"I'm glad of it. Those chickens were a mistake. They oughtn't to be perpetuated."
Youth and happiness can stand a great deal of cold water; but it was not to be expected that Rachel Barton would be especially benefited by her night journey through the floods. Evesham waited in the hall when he heard the door of her room open next morning. Dorothy came slowly down the stairs; he knew by her lingering-step and the softly closed door that she was not happy.
"Mother is very sick," she answered his inquiry. "It is like the turn of inflammation and rheumatism she had once before. It will be very slow,--and oh, it is such suffering! Why do the best women in the world have to suffer so?"
"Will you let me talk things over with you after breakfast, Dorothy?"
"Oh yes," she said, "there is so much to do and think about. I wish father would come home!"
The tears came into Dorothy's eyes as she looked at him. Rest, such as she had never known or felt the need of till now, and strength immeasurable, since it would multiply her own by an unknown quantity, stood within reach of her hand, but she might not put it out.
Evesham was dizzy with the struggle between longing and resolution. He had braced his nerves for a long and hungry waiting, but fate had yielded suddenly; the floods had brought her to him,--his flotsam and jetsam more precious than all the guarded treasures of the earth. She had come, with all her girlish, unconscious beguilements, and all her womanly cares and anxieties too. He must strive against her sweetness, while he helped her to bear her burdens.
"Now about the boys, Dorothy," he said, two hours later, as they stood together by the fire in the low, oak-finished room, which was his office and book-room. The door was ajar so that Dorothy might hear her mother's bell. "Don't you think they had better be sent to school somewhere?"
"Yes," said Dorothy, "they ought to go to school,--but--well, I may as well tell thee the truth. There's very little to do it with. We've had a poor summer. I suppose I've managed badly, and mother has been sick a good while."
"You've forgotten about the pond-rent, Dorothy."
"No," she said, with a quick flush, "I hadn't forgotten it, but I couldn't ask thee for it."
"I spoke to your father about monthly payments, but he said better leave it to accumulate for emergencies. Shouldn't you call this an 'emergency,' Dorothy?"
"But does thee think we ought to ask rent for a pond that has all leaked away?"
"Oh, there's pond enough left, and I've used it a dozen times over this summer. I should be ashamed to tell you, Dorothy, how my horn has been exalted in your father's absence. However, retribution has overtaken me at last; I'm responsible, you know, for all the damage last night. It was in the agreement that I should keep up the dams."
"Oh!" said Dorothy; "is thee sure?"
"If your father was like any other man, Dorothy, he'd make me 'sure,' when he gets home. I will defend myself to this extent; I've patched and propped them all summer, after every rain, and tried to provide for the fall storms; but there's a flaw in the original plan"--
"Thee said that once before," said Dorothy. "I wish thee wouldn't say it again."
"Because I love those old mill-dams. I've trotted over them ever since I could walk alone."
"You shall trot over them still. We will make them as strong as the everlasting hills. They shall outlast our time, Dorothy."
"Well, about the rent," said Dorothy. "I'm afraid it will not take us through the winter, unless there is something I can do. Mother couldn't possibly be moved now; and if she could, it will be months before the house is fit to live in. But we cannot stay here in comfort, unless thy mother will let me make up in some way. Mother will not need me all the time, and I know thy mother hires women to spin."
"She'll let you do all you like if it will make you any happier. But you don't know how much money is coming to you. Come, let us look over the figures."
He lowered the lid of the black mahogany secretary, placed a chair for Dorothy and opened a great ledger before her, bending down, with one hand on the back of the chair, the other turning the leaves of the ledger. Considering the index and the position of the letter B in the alphabet, he was a long time finding his place. Dorothy looked out of the window over the tops of the yellowing woods to the gray and turbid river below. Where the hemlocks darkened the channel of the glen she heard the angry floods rushing down. The formless rain mists hung low and hid the opposite shore.
"See!" said Evesham, his finger wandering rather vaguely down the page. "Your father went away on the 3d of May. The first month's rent came due on the 3d of June. That was the day I opened the gate and let the water down on you, Dorothy. I'm responsible for everything, you see,--even for the old ewe that was drowned."
His words came in a dream as he bent over her, resting his unsteady hand heavily on the ledger.
Dorothy laid her cheek on the date that she could not see and burst into tears.
"Don't,--please don't!" he said, straightening himself and locking his hands behind him. "I am human, Dorothy."
The weeks of Rachel's sickness that followed were perhaps the best discipline Evesham's life had ever known. He held the perfect flower of his bliss unclosing in his hand; yet he might barely permit himself to breathe its fragrance. His mother had been a strong and prosperous woman; there had been little he had ever been able to do for her. It was well for him to feel the weight of helpless infirmity in his arms as he lifted Dorothy's mother from side to side of her bed, while Dorothy's hands smoothed the coverings. It was well for him to see the patient endurance of suffering, such as his youth and strength defied. It was bliss to wait on Dorothy and follow her with little watchful homages, received with a shy wonder which was delicious to him; for Dorothy's nineteen years had been too full of service to others to leave much room for dreams of a kingdom of her own. Her silent presence in her mother's sick-room awed him. Her gentle, decisive voice and ways, her composure and unshaken endurance through nights of watching and days of anxious confinement and toil, gave him a new reverence for the powers and mysteries of her unfathomable womanhood.
The time of Friend Barton's return drew near. It must be confessed that Dorothy welcomed it with something of dread, and that Evesham did not welcome it at all. On the contrary, the thought of it roused all his latent obstinacy and aggressiveness. The first day or two after the momentous arrival wore a good deal upon every member of the family, except Margaret Evesham, who was provided with a philosophy of her own, that amounted almost to a gentle obtuseness and made her a comfortable non-conductor, preventing more electric souls from shocking each other.
On the morning of the fourth day, Dorothy came out of her mother's room with a tray of empty dishes in her hands. She saw Evesham at the stair-head and hovered about in the shadowy part of the hall till he should go down.
"Dorothy," he said, "I'm waiting for you." He took the tray from her and rested it on the banisters. "Your father and I have talked over all the business. He's got the impression that I'm one of the most generous fellows in the world. I intend to leave him in that delusion for the present. Now may I speak to him about something else, Dorothy? Have I not waited long enough for my heart's desire?"
"Take care," said Dorothy softly,--"thee'll upset the tea-cups."
"Confound the tea-cups!" He stooped to place the irrelevant tray on the floor, but now Dorothy was halfway down the staircase. He caught her on the landing, and taking both her hands drew her down on the step beside him.
"Dorothy, this is the second time you've taken advantage of my trusting nature. This time you shall be punished. You needn't try to hide your face, you little traitor. There's no repentance in you!"
"If I'm to be punished there's no need of repentance."
"Oh, is that your Quaker doctrine? Dorothy, do you know, I've never heard you speak my name, except once, and then you were angry with me."
"When was that?"
"The night I caught you at the gate. You said, 'I had rather have one of those dumb brutes for company than thee, Walter Evesham.' You said it in the fiercest little voice. Even the 'thee' sounded as if you hated me."
"I did," said Dorothy promptly. "I had reason to."
"Do you hate me now, Dorothy?"
"Not so much as I did then."
"What an implacable little Quaker you are."
"A tyrant is always hated," said Dorothy, trying to release her hands.
"If you will look in my eyes, Dorothy, and call me by my name, just once, I'll let 'thee' go."
"Walter Evesham," said Dorothy, with great firmness and decision.
"No, that won't do! You must look at me, and say it softly, in a little sentence, Dorothy."
"Will thee please let me go, Walter?"
Walter Evesham was a man of his word, but as Dorothy sped away, he looked as if he wished that he was not.
The next evening Friend Barton sat by his wife's easy-chair drawn into the circle of firelight, with his elbows on his knees and his head between his hands.
The worn spot on the top of his head had widened considerably during the summer, but Rachel looked stronger and brighter than she had done for many a day. There was even a little flush on her cheek, but this might have come from the excitement of a long talk with her husband.
"I'm sorry thee takes it so hard, Thomas. I was afraid thee would. But the way didn't seem to open for me to do much. I can see now that Dorothy's inclinations have been turning this way for some time; though it's not likely she would own it, poor child; and Walter Evesham's not one who is easily gainsaid. If thee could only feel differently about it, I can't say but that it would make me very happy to see Dorothy's heart satisfied. Can't thee bring thyself into unity with it, father? He's a nice young man. They're nice folks. Thee can't complain of the blood. Margaret Evesham tells me a cousin of hers married one of the Lawrences, so we are kind of kin after all."
"I don't complain of the blood; they're well enough placed, as far as the world is concerned. But their ways are not our ways, Rachel; their faith is not our faith."
"Well, I can't see such a very great difference, come to live among them. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' To comfort the widow and the fatherless, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world;--thee's always preached that, father. I really can't see any more worldliness here than among many households with us; and I'm sure if we haven't been the widow and the fatherless this summer, we've been next to it."
Friend Barton raised his head: "Rachel," he said, "look at that!" He pointed upward to an ancient sword with belt and trappings which gleamed on the paneled chimney-piece, crossed by an old queen's-arm. Evesham had given up his large, sunny room to Dorothy's mother, but he had not removed all his lares and penates.
"Yes, dear; that's his grandfather's sword--Colonel Evesham, who was killed at Saratoga."
"Why does he hang up that thing of abomination for a light and a guide to his footsteps, if his way be not far from ours?"
"Why, father! Colonel Evesham was a good man. I dare say he fought for the same reason that thee preaches, because he felt it to be his duty."
"I find no fault with him, Rachel. Doubtless he followed his light, as thee says, but he followed it in better ways too. He cleared land and built a homestead and a meeting-house. Why doesn't his grandson hang up his old broadaxe and plowshare and worship them, if he must have idols, instead of that symbol of strife and bloodshed. Does thee want our Dorothy's children to grow up under the shadow of the sword?"
There was a stern light of prophecy in the old man's eyes.
"May be Walter Evesham would take it down," said Rachel simply, leaning back and closing her eyes. "I never was much of a hand to argue, even if I had the strength for it; but it would hurt me a good deal--I must say it--if thee should deny Dorothy in this matter, Thomas. It's a very serious thing for old folks to try to turn young hearts the way they think they ought to go. I remember now,--I was thinking about it last night, and it all came back as fresh--I don't know that I ever told thee about that young Friend who visited me before I heard thee preach at Stony Valley? Well, father, he was wonderful pleased with him, but I didn't feel any drawing that way. He urged me a good deal, more than was pleasant for either of us. He wasn't at all reconciled to thee, Thomas, if thee remembers."
"I remember," said Thomas Barton. "It was an anxious time."
"Well, dear, if father had insisted and had sent thee away, I can't say but life would have been a very different thing to me."
"I thank thee for saying it, Rachel." Friend Barton's head drooped. "Thee has suffered much through me; thee's had a hard life, but thee's been well beloved."
The flames leaped and flickered in the chimney; they touched the wrinkled hands whose only beauty was in their deeds; they crossed the room and lit the pillows where, for three generations, young heads had dreamed and gray heads had watched and wearied; then they mounted to the chimney and struck a gleam from the sword.
"Well, father," said Rachel, "what answer is thee going to give Walter Evesham?"
"I shall say no more, my dear. Let the young folks have their way. There's strife and contention enough in the world without my stirring up more. And it may be I'm resisting the Master's will. I left her in his care; this may be his way of dealing with her."
Walter Evesham did not take down his grandfather's sword. Fifty years later another went up beside it, the sword of a young Evesham who never left the field of Shiloh; and beneath them both hangs the portrait of the Quaker grandmother, Dorothy Evesham, at the age of sixty-nine.
The golden ripples, silver now, are hidden under a "round-eared cap;" the quick flush has faded in her cheek, and fold upon fold of snowy gauze and creamy silk are crossed over the bosom that once thrilled to the fiddles of Slocum's barn. She has found the cool grays and the still waters; but on Dorothy's children rests the "Shadow of the Sword."