BY HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD
THE broad shoulders were bent a little more that morning than toil had bent them, and the sun-browned, many-lined face wore an apprehensive look which troubled the kindly eyes regarding it.
"Ef I hedn't ben so shore of her, mother, in the fust place," said the farmer, "I wouldn't ever have let her gone,"—biting at the grass straw in his hand.
"She'd hev gone just the same," said his wife. "Wen a girl sets her mind on schoolin', she's boun' ter hev it, ef the angel with the flamin' sword stan's in the way."
"Wal, she's got it."
"Yes; and ef it's the right sort, you no need to trouble."
"But I can't feel jes shore of her now."
"I feel jes shore of her now."
"Wy, it stan's ter reason, mother—"
"That a good girl 'll look down on her own folks because she knows verbs and angles and languages an' they don't! I know Lally, at any rate, better 'n that. Now you go 'long back ter your mowin', afore the dew's all off the grass. It's the third time you've ben in about this notion," said his wife, rubbing the crumbs of flour off her hands. "Ef we can't trust our own child, the world can't come to an end too soon!"
"That's jes w'at I'm thinkin'," he said. "And I don't want it to come to an end. It's ben a pleasant world; an' the thought of her comin' home has ben the pleasantest part of it—I mean, of course, the pleasantest sence them old days w'en I merried you! But I've ben doin' a sight of thinkin' lately,—an' w'en a girl's ben gone all these years, an' ben amongst the folks thet knows everything an' comes back home to the folks thet don't know much of anythin'—"
"They're her folks, though. An' blood's thicker 'n water. An' she's Lally."
"Yes, she's Lally. But I—but you—I've tried, mother,—I've spelt over them books she's sent home; but I can't make nothin' out'n 'em. My glasses don't noways fit my eyes—"
"Now, father! It ain't likely but Lally's seen enough of the folks that can read them books. She don't love us because we can read books or can't read 'em. She loves us because we're ourselves. I wouldn't own her if she didn't!"
"That's jest it. You'll be gittin' put out 'ith her, an' there'll be trouble—"
"Now, Sam, you go right back to the mowin'-field! I gotter git my work done. I jes sent down some molasses an' ginger water, and it 'll be all warm,—and I sent some apple patties, too, an' you won't git your share,—and, anyway, you go along!"
Her husband dispiritedly pulled himself together. "I can't say as I git much encouragement from you," he said.
"Encouragement for what?" she asked. "For doubtin' your own child? That ain't what ye want." And she laid her floury hand on his shoulder. "Sam," she said, "we've allus got each other."
"It ain't enough," he said, with something like a sob. "It ain't enough without her."
"Well, I guess that's right," said his wife.
"Emerline, I don't mean"—turning about again—"I—"
"Oh, I know what you mean! Now if you don't make tracks that timothy 'll be the thickness of rushes!" And he went out slowly, his shoulders stooped as if carrying a load.
His wife sat down and cried a little then. If you know why, it is more than she did. And then she bustled about till old Fuzz found his safe refuge under the stove, and the pantry shelves bent with the weight of pies and crullers and pound-cakes and the cold roast lamb. The men had had their dinner in the mowing-field; and when her husband came home, she was sitting, pale but placid, in her lilac calico, her gray hair smooth as satin, her foot in the stirrup of her cabbage-netting, and Fuzz purring on the window-sill beside her.
"Ain't ye goin' ter dress up, Emerline?" he asked, querulously.
"What for?" she said, calmly.
"You got a black silk," he said, as if challenging her to deny it, "and a gold chain—"
"I'd look pretty gittin' supper in a silk gownd and a gold chain!"
"You look pretty anyway, Emerline. But w'en we're expectin' company—"
"My daughter ain't company."
"But I wanted to put on my Sunday coat—"
"Do you s'pose Lally thinks of us in our Sunday clo'es, or jes 's we be?"
"But she's ben seein' folks in better 'n our best."
"You go an' wash, father, an' put on a clean shirt, an' slick your hair—"
"W'y, I've ben 'lottin' all day on gittin' into my other thin's, Emerline. I shaved this mornin' a-purpose."
"You ain't much, time ter lose, then. I'll be a-settin' the table."
When her husband came back, fresh and rosy with the soap and water and the clean shirt, his coat hanging over his arm, he sat down by the stove dejectedly, while she bustled about, opening the oven door lest the biscuit browned too soon, lifting the griddles to moderate the heat, bringing the lamb and the mint sauce from the pantry, pouring the boiling water off the potatoes and setting them back that they might burst their skins.
"It's dretfle waitin' so," said her husband. And he stretched his arm and took down the accordion from the shelf above—the mother-of-pearl keys always seeming to him things of beauty and part of the melody—and began playing a plaintive "ditty of no tune." Presently he paused. "You know, Emerline," he said, "there was Peters's Aba that come home too high an' mighty fer her folks."
"Lally isn't a Peters."
"No, Lally isn't a Peters," he repeated, as if that were some comfort, and fell to playing softly again. "No, Lally's Lally," he said, pausing again.
"I'm sure I hope so!" cried a gay voice behind him; and two hands were laid upon his eyes. "I give you three guesses who it is, Father James! And the forfeit's kisses!"
"It's my girl! It's my girl!" he cried, upsetting his chair as he sprang to his feet and caught her to himself, the accordion falling forgotten. And the girl, a tall young birch-tree of a girl, couldn't speak for the tears that were half laughing and half crying.
"Oh, I'm so glad to be here again!" she said then, as she broke away from him and ran to her mother. "Oh, mother, everything's just the same! I don't know how many nights I've dreamed about it! Oh, if it hadn't been for the dreams of those nights, I don't know how I could have stayed away!"
"And it's the same little girl, Emerline! Don't you see? You can't grow thorns on an apple-tree!"
"It's the same dear people! Oh, I'm so glad you're my people!" And she threw off her hat and jacket, and had an arm round each of them again.
"We ain't the sort of people you've ben goin' with, Lally," said her father, with a slight relapse into doubt.
"You're a thousand times better! There's nobody like you!" And she kissed the tear off his face. "Oh, here's dear old Fuzz! He remembers me—I really think he does—after all these years! And the old clock's ticking just the same! Wait till I run up to my room, and I'll help you get tea, mother."
"I set some white laylocks there," said her father, when she was gone. "I thought 'twould make it seem brighter like. She's ben havin' thin's nice." And then he added, anxiously, "You don't s'pose she's puttin' anythin' on, do you, mother?"
"Mr. James, you do beat all! Goin' about lookin' for trouble. Can you see that face an' think she's makin' b'lieve? Puttin' thin's on! Now we'll dish up 'fore she's back,—she's gotter explore every corner of the garret fust,—and I'll blow the horn jes 's I useter w'en she was down to the medder lot. We've got our child back, father!"
"Wal, p'r'aps we hev. I guess we hev. You do find a way of makin' thin's comfortable, mother. I s'pose I'd better put my coat on 'fore we sit?"
"It's dretfle warm."
"She's ben useter coats and all that, you was sayin'?"
"Yes. And I guess she'd feel it wuss 'n I do. Emerline, you've got a collar on!"
"I don' know where your eyes be, Mr. James. Ever sence you come home from the war with your bounty-money an' back-pay, an' we hed the house painted an' the front-door porch built on, I've hed a collar w'en I fixed up after the day's work."
"I s'pose you couldn't churn an' bake in one? I don' know how I can cut that line o' lamb 'ith these sleeves a-pullin'—"
"It don't need much cuttin'. It's tender 's a snow-apple."
"I don' know," with a sigh. "I don' know. By gracious!" he cried, suddenly, glancing through the open door, "there's that young shorthorn in the new corn again! Does seem as if everythin' come to once, and w'en you least expect it most!" And the sight acting like a quick pick-me-up, he was after the shorthorn, a pair of swift feet pattering behind him, and he came back from a triumphant rescue of the corn with Lally on his arm, quite another man.
"Why, father," said Lally, as they sat down at the table, "what have you got that thick coat on for, in this weather? You take it right off, and mother and I'll make you a linen one instead. You've got a dickey on, too! It's just because I was coming! But it's mighty becoming." An order from the Governor wouldn't have hindered Mr. James from wearing the becoming article next morning. "I should think I was a queen, to see you!" she said. "Did you put on a dickey the day I was born?"
"The day you was born," said her father, solemnly, and laying down his knife, "ef I'd hed a dickey on 'twould 'a' ben like a piece o' wet paper,—the way 'twill be w'en I come in fum mowin' to-morrer."
"Father James! You wouldn't wear a dickey out mowing?"
"I don' know. Wouldn't ye?"
"Of course I wouldn't!"
"Wal, I don't s'pose the king wears his crown ter bed. Yes," after a moment's thought and the disappearance of a buttered biscuit, "the day you was born—it was jes the gray of the dawnin', and a great star hung in the east—I guess a star hangs in the east before all best blessings come—"
"You're a blessing yourself, Father James!"
"Guess your mother don't think so," with a shy glance across the table.
"Sometimes I do, father. Sometimes," said the calm voice there.
"An' by the time they fetched ye into the room where I was stan'in' by the winder the sky of a sudding flamed up the color of an evening-primrose, an' you was a-starin' stret out 'ith them big eyes o' yourn, an' fust ye blinked an' then ye sneezed. I vum, the bobolinks whistlin' down in the medder lot never made half so sweet a sound as thet little sneeze! But somehow it skeered me, too. You warn't nothin' but a mite, a handful of live dust; but there was suthin' sort of awesome in that handful. You wasn't there a minute ago, and now you was, an' the thin's that make life an' death was there, too. I tell ye, I was limp. 'Sam,' sez your mother, w'en I see her, 'it's a 'mortal sperrit.' And I didn't darst kiss ye."
"You do now, don't you?" the 'mortal spirit cried, and she sprang up and darted round to hug him. "Did I choke you with these arms, Father James?" she said, as he emerged red from the embrace.
"They're dear arms," said Father James.
"They're strong ones. That's what gymnasium, and basket-ball, and rowing, and lifting dead-weights of women in the hospital do for you. Oh, I'll show you how I can rake the hay to-morrow!"
"I guess we didn't send ye to college ter hev ye come home an' rake hay," said her father, majestically. "Say! you ain't looked in the keepin'-room!"
"Yes, I did. And you've gone and got an organ, and I can't play on it!"
"I can," said her father.
"You darling old Father James! You can? Oh, won't that be the best yet! Only think of it! Mother and I will sing hymns and you will play them, Sunday nights. I never dreamed of that! How did you learn to do it, father?"
"Learned myself," he said, somewhat loftily. "Picked it out, an' pegged away. Found out some fum w'at I knowed of the accordeon. Here, I'll show ye!" And he left the table and threw open the door of the best room and the lid of the little house-organ; and bent laboriously over keyboard and pedal, he played the air of "Federal Street," if with a certain sameness in the left hand. And presently the two voices, young and old, were braided together with the droning harmony in a strain of music that could only have been pleasant in heavenly ears, however critical might have been earthly ones.
"I always knew you were full of music, Father James," said Lally, when they were finishing their supper more leisurely. "But how you contrived all this, I can't imagine. I'm just as proud as a peacock!"
"Wal, I hed a try at them books ye sent home, and I found 'twas no go. And I'd bought the organ for you to have, an' there was the old book of hymn tunes, an' 'ith the help o' that an' w'at your mother an' me learned to singin'-schule, I made out. An' sometimes 'twas like havin' courtin' days over again—warn't it, mother?"
"You're a genius! That's what you are. And mother's a master hand at biscuit. I don't know when I've tasted anything like them."
"There's a little too much shortening," said her mother.
"Your mother took fust prize to the County Fair," said her father, with an air, yet with pleasant condescension from his recent pedestal, "for her loaf-bread an' her creamer-tarter, an' her butter, an' her currant jell, an' her darnin'!"
"I think Mis' Peters hed orter hed it for the jell," said the mother, modestly. "She puts a piece o' rose-geranium leaf in hern."
"And I took on thet consarned shorthorn heifer and on the colt!"
"That poor colt will never grow up. You've had the premium on him for the last five years."
"No. Lemme see. Only three. But he's a Morgan, an' there ain't any other Morgans in the county. He's a beauty—sleek as satting—an' w'at he don't know ain't wuth knowin'. There ain't any knot he can't ontie with his teeth. I ben in the habit o' takin' up Neighbor Burrage an' givin' him a lift. Burrage is ruther hefty, an' the colt don't like it for a cent. And one day I'd left him a-stan'in' in the market, an' he see a big sailor come along that looked like Burrage, an' he walks across, wagon an' all, and opens his mouth, an' takes the sailor by the scruff of the neck an' throws 'im down. An' then he stan's an' gives a reg'lar laugh, he was so pleased 'ith himself. Oh, he's a great one! If I thought well o' racing—but then I don't," he said, ruefully. "Well, you shell hev a ride behind 'im to-morrer an' see. That is, ef we finish the hayin'—an', by glory! ef we don't!"
"Now, mother, you go and sit down," said Lally. "I'm going to clear up. And I'm going to skim the milk and scald the pans. I don't believe there's anything makes you feel so rich as skimming the cream does. You lift the thick skins and you can't bear to leave an atom. Except it is when you're hunting eggs and find two in a nest."
"No, no, now, Lally. I don't want you to. I'm useter it! 'Tain't nothin' at all. And I don't want your hands all roughed up!"
"I guess my hands can stand it if yours can."
"That's right, Lally," said her father. "Them old han's o' hern was as white as yours be once. Our han's hev growed old together, wife. With the wearin' o' years an' the wearin' o' work." And he took one of them and held it on his arm a moment, in spite of her reluctance. It was over a house full of happy peace that the soft summer night fell. Now and then a breath from the salt marshes mixed the fresh sea-scents with the heavy richness of the lilacs, and mounted and stirred drowsily in the tops of the great elm that housed all a world of small life in the depths of its green shadow; and a golden robin waked with a gush of song; and down in the cool dew of the grass a sparrow for an instant dreamed that it was morning; and like the shield of some great spirit the moon came up, and the faint mists fled before her; and far off from farm to farm through the wide obscurity a dog bayed in the deep of the night.
"You 'sleep, mother?" said Father James in a hollow whisper.
"No. Be you?"
"I ain't closed an eye. Seems though I didn't know how to say I'm thankful enough to hev her back. Say—she ain't changed a mite."
"You can't change gold," said his wife. " 'Twill allus be gold."
"Thet's so. She's pretty 's a pink, now, ain't she? She puts me in mind of you, Emerline, w'en we fust begun to keep company."
"What talk! You go to sleep."
"But, Emerline—she's so—so—like a flower. Do you s'pose, jest s'pose, she'll ever be keepin' company 'ith anybody?"
"I should hope so! Sometime."
"Well, I don' know, mother. I don' know 's I want ter give her up to the best man goin'. And he mightn't be the best man goin'. I—I don't feel as if the Angel Gabriel 'd be more 'n good enough for her. And I'd ruther he didn't come round. I tell ye, w'en you've done yer best for your child, an' sot your heart on her, an' look forrud to her holdin' the light to yer old age, 'tain't easy ter see another man come along an' snake her away from ye. I don' know 's I'd like ter see her any man's wife—"
"She'd be your daughter still ef she was ten men's wives."
"Ten men's wives! Why, mother—"
"Mr. James, your piller's full of live-geese feathers. It 'll be sunup in no time. An' there's the long medder to-morrer."
"You're talking about me! I know you are!" cried a gay voice at the top of the stairs above. "If you don't stop I shall come down and talk too!"
"We ain't spoke your name!" cried her father.
"Burrage's dogs keepin' ye awake, Lally?" said her mother.
"Oh no. But I'm so happy I can't sleep! I'll try again, though. Good night."
"I'd like ter hed her come down, jes ter see ef 'twas really her," whispered her father. "Mother, you put yer hand on my eyes, an' mebbe I'll go off. I guess that's w'at's the matter of me—I'm too happy ter sleep." And under the calm, cool touch he was presently lost in happy dreams.
The bobolink's nest down on the floor of the long meadow, in its tangle of sunbeams and the shadow of tall grasses, with the soft flower-scented wind stirring just above it, did not hold more happiness than this old farm-cottage held. But one day the shadow of a man fell athwart the grass and shut the sun away; and the bobolink knew it meant the morrow's mowing, and ruin. And one day Father James saw the shadow of a man fall across the farm.
It was in the shape of a letter handed to him in the village, where he had gone to sell his asparagus and rhubarb stalks. He had taken the letter between his thumb and finger as if it were a reptile, reading the boldly written address, "Miss Laura James," without his glasses, and with a feeling that some one was taking a liberty with his daughter's name; and he tucked it under the seat before driving home, the colt being in an antic mood.
"There was a letter for you, Lally," he said, when he came in. "But I put it under the cushing, an' 'tain't there now. Must 'a' joggled out. Dinner mos' ready, mother?"
"Father James!" cried Lally, stopping suddenly with the colander of pease in her hands. "Have you lost my letter? Oh, you don't mean so!"
"Wal, never mind. Le's hev dinner, an' then I'll go back an' find it, ef you say so."
But Lally, waiting for no dinner, had snatched her hat from the entry nail while he spoke, and was off down the dust of the highway, searching both sides as she ran, coming back contentedly before very long, the driver of a team following her father's having found the treasure and given it to her. She had sat down in a broken part of the stone wall, where the wild sweetbrier and blackberry vines climbed all about, and had read the letter, and looking round swiftly, had kissed the sheet before she read it, and afterward. And her father knew in his intimate consciousness that she had done so—whether by the flush on her cheek deep as a damask rose, by the blaze in her eyes like blue diamonds, or by some inner unknown sympathy.
She was swinging her hat, and coming leisurely through the hot sunshine. "I found it, father," she cried, joyously, as she saw him sitting on the door-stone. "Why, you needn't look so serious, dear. It's no matter now. And you've been waiting dinner!"
"I ain't no appertite," said her father, ruefully.
"Well, I have!"
"Lally!" he said, staying her as she would have stepped past him, and looking straight into her wondering eyes. "Have you got a feller?"
"What's a feller, father?" her head on one side in a pretty mimicry of ignorance.
"A man that will take you away fum me!"
"There isn't any man alive who can take me away from you!" she said. And putting her arm over his shoulder, she went in with him, and ate her dinner in spirits that were almost contagious.
"Oh, how good this cherry pie is!" she exclaimed. "What is there better than a cherry pie?"
"Two cherry pies," said her father.
" 'The boy guessed right the very first time,' " she sang.
"Laura James, child," said her mother, "you're at the table."
"So are you, mother," said the child, who would have been spoiled if love could spoil anything, beginning to clear away the dishes. Her father had not moved, but sat with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands. Lally ran out to bring in her dish-towels from the grass.
"I s'pose you know w'at's happened, mother?" he said. "She's hed a letter. And it's jes the beginnin' of the end. I don' know but I'd as lives she'd never ben born—"
"Mr. James, I'm ashamed of you!" said his wife. "It's temptin' Proverdunce. If we'd never hed any more of her than jes the happiness of this last week, we'd hev hed enough to be grateful for the rest of our lives!"
Coming back for the hot water, Lally began singing again, half under her breath this time:
There was a certain father
Who thought that he would rather
His daughter should stay single all her life,
Than be happy with a husband—
Husband—husband—oh, there isn't any rhyme to husband!"
"Nor reason, either," said her mother. "Now, Mr. James, that corn's ben growin' fur all it's wuth these hot nights, and is fairly achin' ter be hoed."
"I'm goin', mother, I'm goin'," he said.
They were all sitting in the porch that evening, the twilight falling and faint stars showing. The Madeira-vine shed its sweet breath, and the fragrance of the clethra-bush in the swamp blew softly about them, and the far-off crickets seemed only the singing of silence. "Isn't it perfect!" said Lally. "Oh, if you had been in the hospital wards as long as I was, with only the smell of drugs, this air would seem to you just blowing out of heaven!"
"I never quite liked your going ter the hospittle, Lally," said her father.
"Well, you see, it was just as I wrote you. If I stayed after I was through college to study medicine—"
"An' be a doctor!"
"It would have taken just as long again, and twice the expense—"
"Oh, consarn the expense!"
"But if I went into the hospital to be trained for a nurse, it would take only two years and no expense at all. And then plenty of work near home, where I could see you and come home for rest—"
"It don't seem jes wuth w'ile ter go ter college ter be a nuss," said her mother.
"Yes, dear. I shall be all the better nurse. That is, if I'm a nurse at all now," hesitatingly. "Perhaps I sha'n't be a nurse now, and you'll think those two years in the hospital have gone for nothing. Only, if I hadn't been in the hospital,"—pulling down a piece of the Madeira-vine about her,—"I never should have met him, maybe."
"Him!" cried her father.
"Dr. Lewis. And knowing how to nurse, I may be of a great deal of use to him. Now I'll tell you all about him!" she exclaimed. "He's—he's—well, he's Dr. Lewis!" getting herself farther into the shadow. "And you can't help liking him; and he'll come out here and settle,—old Dr. Payne's looking for some one to take his place, you know. That is, if he thinks best after looking the ground over."
" 'Tain't good enough for him, mebbe."
"Why, Father James, I shouldn't think this was you!"
"By George! I shouldn't think 'twas! 'Tain't w'at I expected!"
Then an arm was about his neck, and a velvet cheek lay against his face a moment.
"It's the way a bird's wing brushes by in the dark. They all leave the nest, they all leave the nest," he said, and rose stiffly and went in.
"He a'most creaked," said his wife, shortly.
"Oh, mother!" cried Tally, and hid her face in her mother's neck, and poured out her story, and was comforted.
Going to the village the next morning, Mr. James was handed another letter for Tally.
"Guess your Laury's got a beau," said the postmistress.
"Her mother had one at her age," said Mr. James, dryly.
"S'pose she'll be gittin' merried soon,"—a foregone conclusion needing only the affirmative.
"Sooner or later," was the response. And he went home a little happier for having defended Tally from public curiosity.
"Guess the old man don't like it very well, he's so short," said the postmistress to the crony who had happened in.
"Not the leastestest mite. He's allus ben consider'ble ambitioned for Laury. Nobody less 'n the Prince o' Wales 'd do for her."
"He'll have to take up 'ith short o' that," said the other, putting back into the box the postal card she had been spelling over, and turning to her little shop. "She's a good gal an' 'd orter hev a good man. But w'en a gal's father don't think well er the man, she'd better let him be."
"Gals are mighty headstrong nowadays. But I wouldn't 'a' thought—"
"Oh, I ain't sayin' thet I know anything," said the postmistress, her face as blank as if great secrets hid behind it. It is disagreeable to confess you know nothing. You can look as if you knew a great deal.
"I hear, Mr. James," said the minister, drawing up the chaise and pausing on his parochial round that afternoon to look over the stone wall the farmer was mending, "that your daughter will not be long with us. I hope her choice is a wise one."
"First rate!" said Mr. James, taking out his big red handkerchief to wipe his forehead. "Couldn't be better. Me an' her mother think she's done first rate." And there he stood committed.
But that was for the outside. In his heart—Lally would never be happy with what was in his heart. And then a new thought struck him with a pang of joy. What if the fellow who had come to see Tally's folks should find things not quite up to his mark?—What! And break Tally's heart? And shame her before the whole parish, too? He threw down his crowbar, in a rage at himself, at Lally, at all the world, and went striding away as if he were trying to escape his shadow. It would not have made his pursuing thoughts calmer had he known that the same thought, if with a difference, had for the first time occurred to Tally.
It was sunset when he found himself sitting on a shelf of rock in the old quarry. The long red light streamed over him and stained the lichens on the wall beyond. Down in the forsaken pit the waters of the pool were black. Well—it was time to go home; the boy had driven the cows up by this, and his wife was waiting for him to milk. There was no such thing as rest for him in this life, nor in the next one, either. He had brought the girl up; he had set his heart on her; he had gone without and spent himself that she might be made the perfect thing she was—and all to give her up now to another man. The perfect thing she was! It was not likely, then, that she would not choose as a perfect thing should. But what odds to him? He was going to lose her, just the same; and more—she would be wrapped up in that husband of hers, and in all the new concerns. That was the way of the world. Love went down; it did not run back. It was what other fathers had to put up with.
Soft purples began to filter through the red of the sunset. He heard a whippoorwill call, far off over the cranberry-swamp; and then there was a silver din of whippoorwills. He remembered the first time Lally ever heard one,—she held out both her little hands to the evening star. "The star is singing!" she had cried. Ah, ah, what a lovely dear she was then!—what a lovely dear she was now! Like a great velvet rose. No wonder she had a lover! Of course, of course—that,too, was the way of the world. He wouldn't have liked it if she hadn't had one, he supposed. All the same, it was hard for him. It was hard for him that she didn't seem to care that it was hard. It was hard for him that he had to lose the daily sight and cheer of her. That it wasn't to him she would come in joy or in trouble. That she put some one else before him.
He knew how it was. His own wife lad left father and mother and cleaved only to him, and never thought strange of it. How had her father and mother felt? He recollected that the mother cried when they left; and the father choked up and turned away quickly. But they had let her go. They wanted her to be happy. They cared more for her happiness than for their own. They knew the time would come when she would not have them and would be alone if she had no husband or child. Why, they loved her better than they loved themselves! They were glad in her happiness, even. And all at once, in his high-wrought mood, like a flash of revelation came a quick acquaintance with the joy of sacrifice. All at once he made it his own. He sat staring before him, as if at a vision of angels, while the rosy afterglow welled up and filled the sky and fell away; and then he saw a star sparkling up at him out of the water, as if glad of his sudden gladness. He climbed to break off half a dozen big boughs of the wild black-cherry, loaded with their pungent fruit, and saw Lyra, blue as a sapphire, up there in the sky above him, looking down into the pool; and all the way home he felt accompanied by something like spiritual and sympathetic sharers of his happy mood.
"Wal," he said to his wife, who was waiting at the gate, "I guess them cows are thinkin' it's high time o' day—"
"That's all right," she said. "Lally's milked. The farrer kicked, though, an' spilled some. Where you ben?"
"I don' know but I've ben a-rasslin' with the angel of the Lord, mother. Anyways, I come off with the blessing. Mother, I'm real pleased at this young man of Lally's. W'y, it 'll be jes the same 's a son to us!"
"I thought you'd feel that way w'en ye come to think," said his wife. "Now we'll have supper right away. I'm afeard the pop-overs are flat as flapjacks, though."
He handed the boughs of black-cherry to Lally as he went in. "There," said he; "they're puckery, but they're good. Only they'll make yer lips so black he won't wanter look at ye!"
To his consternation, Lally burst into tears and sprang into his arms. "I don't care whether he does or not!" she cried. "So long as I have you!"
"Sho! sho! Don't ye go milkin' them cows again. You're all tuckered out. Don't you know—you've got him, and us too!"
It had been a bitter day to Lally. At first a little indignant with her father for the way in which he looked at her lover, she had turned the tables and wondered how her lover would look at her father—he city-bred, his mother's house a place of comparative luxury and elegance; he used to the refinements and graces of life. She had been away from home a long while; peculiarities had been forgotten or had grown strange to her; they were of no consequence. In her love and her reverence for her people, and in her delight in them, they had not worried her. But suddenly, looking at them with a stranger's eyes, they started out like sparks on the blackening ember. And then in turn she was indignant with her lover for seeing them. "If he does!" said Lally to herself, with mysterious, unspoken threat. "Look with disdain on them, indeed! I wouldn't have father know it for a farm! If he does!" And the days of alternate doubt and certainty, of hope and fear, made her so restless that she wished she could go to sleep and not wake till Dr. Lewis came. And then she cried again, in a passion of tenderness for him too. But he should see them just as they were—her mother's toil-worn hands and rustic air; her father eating with his knife; the king's English!
When at last the day brought Dr. Lewis, he had already been to see Dr. Payne, and had satisfied himself concerning the professional outlook. And then the doctor dropped him at the farm. "You're, going to Mr. James's?" the doctor had asked, as they jogged along. "There's a young woman there, just back from college and hospital. One of the men cut himself with his scythe, mowing, and there was nothing left for me to do when I got there. Ah yes—I see. Well, sir, you're in luck. That's so. Yes, you'll be seeing the inside of most of the families within twenty miles, before you come to my years, but I doubt if you find the equal of the Jameses in all your goings and comings. I never have. There's a good deal goes on that's between God and James alone; but, for my part, when I find a man naked to his enemies and just outside the prison gate, I send him up there and James takes him on the farm. Or, if I have anybody sick without a spot to lay her head, I go to Mrs. James, and she brings her home to nurse. Hot nights, dark nights, stormy nights, I don't know what I'd have done in this village without that woman. Sam James could have made his fortune once merely by holding his tongue when the doubt was in his favor; but he spoke—and stayed poor. They sent him to the Legislature one term; but, by King! he was too honest for them! His word is better than another man's bond any day, and so was his father's before him. A childish sort of man, too; womanish; lives in his affections. Yes, they're rough, maybe, the Jameses; but they're rough diamonds. Never brought me much practice, though; nothing ever ails them!"
Dr. Lewis came into the living-room, set about with jars of big green boughs, where a gray-haired woman with a certain shy dignity gave him her roughened hand, where a tall gaunt man with a beaming eye took him by the shoulder and wheeled him round that he might look into his face, and where Lally laughed and cried with one arm about him and one about her father. And then, the simple blessing asked, the plates were heaped, and before they were cleared Dr. Lewis was as much one of the family as if he had been born to it.
"Wait a minute," said Father James, before they rose. "I asked the blessing of the Lord upon this food. But now I want to give thanks for life and health and a new happiness, and a son!"
It was an hour or two later that Lally and her lover went straying through the dark down by the wheat-field, where the fireflies were flashing as if all the stars were falling. "Now," said Lally, "you have come. You have seen me in my home, my people in all their difference from yours. Do you still—"
"And you have been doubting me! I knew there was some bee in your bonnet. Do you suppose I don't know what it is to value people who live so near Nature that they have all her honesty and goodness?"
"And—and the king's English?" she asked, desperately.
"Lally, I wouldn't have thought it of you," he said; but he held her fast. "You distrust me, you distrust them. Oh, you want it all cleared up? Well. Don't you know that every Scotchman speaks in his own dialect! That the Greek poets sang each in his own? That the English language is spoken in its purity only in old Mercia and in Massachusetts; and outside of that, one dialect is no worse than another? I fancy that love and truth are no less love and truth when spoken in this Doric. Lally, it makes me proud to think you born of such simple noble souls as these!"
And Lally dropped his arm, and ran up the path through the blossoming yellow lilies, pale as spirits in the dark, and grasped her mother's hand, and threw herself upon her father's breast. "Oh, he says—he says," she cried—"he says that he is proud to be your son!"