Saxe Holm's Stories/Draxy Miller's Dowry
DRAXY MILLER'S DOWRY
WHEN Draxy Miller's father was a boy, he read a novel in which the heroine was a Polish girl, named Darachsa. The name stamped itself indelibly upon his imagination; and when, at the age of thirty-five, he took his first-born daughter in his arms, his first words were—"I want her called Darachsa."
"What!" exclaimed the doctor, turning sharply round, and looking out above his spectacles; "what heathen kind of a name is that?"
"Oh, Reuben!" groaned a feeble voice from the baby's mother; and the nurse muttered audibly, as she left the room, "There ain't never no luck comes of them outlandish names."
The whole village was in a state of excitement before night. Poor Reuben Miller had never before been the object of half so much interest. His slowly dwindling fortunes, the mysterious succession of his ill-lucks, had not much stirred the hearts of the people. He was a reticent man; he loved books, and had hungered for them all his life; his townsmen unconsciously resented what they pretended to despise; and so it had slowly come about that in the village where his father had lived and died, and where he himself had grown up, and seemed likely to live and die, Reuben Miller was a lonely man, and came and went almost as a stranger might come and go. His wife was simply a shadow and echo of himself; one of those clinging, tender, unselfish, will-less women, who make pleasant, and affectionate, and sunny wives enough for rich, prosperous, unsentimental husbands, but who are millstones about the necks of sensitive, impressionable, unsuccessful men. If Jane Miller had been a strong, determined woman, Reuben would not have been a failure. The only thing he had needed in life had been persistent purpose and courage. The right sort of wife would have given him both. But when he was discouraged, baffled, Jane clasped her hands, sat down, and looked into his face with streaming eyes. If he smiled, she smiled; but that was just when it was of least consequence that she should smile. So the twelve years of their married life had gone on slowly, very slowly, but still surely, from bad to worse; nothing prospered in Reuben's hands. The farm which he had inherited from his father was large, but not profitable. He tried too long to work the whole of it, and then he sold the parts which he ought to have kept. He sunk a great portion of his little capital in a flour-mill, which promised to be a great success, paid well for a couple of years, and then burnt down, uninsured. He took a contract for building one section of a canal, which was to pass through part of his land; sub-contractors cheated him, and he, in his honesty, almost ruined himself to right their wrong. Then he opened a little store; here, also, he failed. He was too honest, too sympathizing, too inert. His day-book was a curiosity; he had a vein of humor which no amount of misfortune could quench; and he used to enter under the head of "given" all the purchases which he knew were not likely to be paid for. It was at sight of this book, one day, that Jane Miller, for the first and only time in her life, lost her temper with Reuben.
"Well, I must say, Reuben Miller, if I die for it," said she, "I haven't had so much as a pound of white sugar nor a single lemon in my house for two years, and I do think it's a burnin' shame for you to go on sellin' 'em to them shiftless Greens, that'll never pay you a cent, and you know it!"
Reuben was sitting on the counter smoking his pipe and reading an old tattered copy of Dryden's translation of Virgil. He lifted his clear blue eyes in astonishment, put down his pipe, and, slowly swinging his long legs over the counter, caught Jane by the waist, put both his arms round her, and said,—
"Why, mother, what's come over you! You know poor little Eph's dyin' of that white swellin'. You wouldn't have me refuse his mother anything we've got, would you?"
Jane Miller walked back to the house with tears in her eyes, but her homely sallow face was transfigured by love as she went about her work, thinking to herself,—
"There never was such a man's Reuben, anyhow. I guess he'll get interest one o' these days for all he's lent the Lord, first and last, without anybody's knowin' it."
But the Lord has His own system of reckoning compound interest, and His ways of paying are not our ways. He gave no visible sign of recognition of indebtedness to Reuben. Things went harder and harder with the Millers, until they had come to such a pass that when Reuben Miller went after the doctor, in the early dawn of the day on which little Draxy was born, he clasped his hands in sorrow and humiliation before he knocked at the doctor's door; and his only words were hard words for a man of sensitiveness and pride to speak:—
"Doctor Cobb, will you come over to my wife? I don't dare to be sure I can ever pay you; but if there's anything in the store"—
"Pshaw, pshaw, Reuben, don't speak of that; you'll be all right in a few years," said the kind old doctor, who had known Reuben from his boyhood, and understood him far better than any one else did.
And so little Draxy was born.
"It's a mercy it's a girl at last," said the village gossips. "Mis' Miller's had a hard time with them four great boys, and Mr. Miller so behindhand allers."
"And who but Reuben Miller'd ever think of givin' a Christian child such a name!" they added.
But what the name was nobody rightly made out; nor even whether it had been actually given to the baby, or had only been talked of; and between curiosity and antagonism, the villagers were so drawn to Reuben Miller's store, that it began to look quite like a run of custom.
"If I hold out a spell on namin' her," said Reuben, as in the twilight of the third day he sat by his wife's bedside; "if I hold out a spell on namin' her, I shall get all the folks in the district into the store, and sell out clean," and he laughed quizzically, and stroked the little mottled face which lay on the pillow. "There's Squire Williams and Mis' Conkey both been in this afternoon; and Mis' Conkey took ten pounds of that old Hyson tea you thought I'd never sell; and Squire Williams, he took the last of those new-fangled churns, and says he, 'I expect you'll want to drive trade a little brisker, Reuben, now there's a little girl to be provided for; and, by the way, what are you going to call her?'
"'Oh, it's quite too soon to settle, that,' said I, as if I hadn't a name in my head yet. And then Mis' Conkey spoke up and said: 'Well, I did hear you were going to name her after a heathen goddess that nobody over heard of, and I do hope you will consider her feelings when she grows up.'
"'I hope I always shall, Mis' Conkey,' said I; and she didn't know what to say next. So she picked up her bundle of tea, and they stepped off together quite dignified.
"But I think we'll call her Darachsa, in spite of 'em all, Jane," added Reuben with a hesitating half laugh.
"Oh, Reuben!" Jane said again. It was the strongest remonstrance on which she ever ventured. She did not like the name; but she adored Reuben. So when the baby was three months old, she was carried into the meeting-house in a faded blue cashmere cloak, and baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, "Darachsa Lawton Miller."
Jane Miller's babies always thrived. The passive acquiescence of her nature was a blessing to them. The currents of their blood were never rendered unhealthful by overwrought nerves or disturbed temper in their mother. Their infancy was as placid and quiet as if they had been kittens. Not until they were old enough to understand words, and to comprehend deprivations, did they suffer because of their poverty. Then a serious look began to settle upon their faces; they learned to watch their father and mother wistfully, and to wonder what was wrong; their childhood was very short.
Before Draxy was ten years old she had become her father's inseparable companion, confidant, and helper. He wondered, sometimes almost in terror, what it meant, that he could say to this little child what he could not say to her mother; that he often detected himself in a desire to ask of this babe advice or suggestion which he never dreamed of asking from his wife.
But Draxy was wise. She had the sagacity which comes from great tenderness and loyalty, combined with a passionate nature. In such a woman's soul there is sometimes an almost supernatural instinct. She will detect danger and devise safety with a rapidity and ingenuity which are incredible. But to such a nature will also come the subtlest and deepest despairs of which the human heart is capable. The same instinct which foresees and devises for the loved ones will also recognize their most hidden traits, their utmost possibilities, their inevitable limitations, with a completeness and infallibility akin to that of God Himself. Jane Miller, all her life long, believed in the possibility of Reuben's success; charged his failures to outside occasions, and hoped always in a better day to come. Draxy, early in her childhood, instinctively felt, what she was far too young consciously to know, that her father would never be a happier man; that "things" would always go against him. She had a deeper reverence for the uprightness and sweet simplicity of his nature than her mother ever could have had. She comprehended, Jane believed; Draxy felt, Jane saw. Without ever having heard of such a thing as fate, little Draxy recognized that her father was fighting with it, and that fate was the stronger! Her little arms clasped closer and closer round his neck, and her serene blue eyes, so like his, and yet so wondrously unlike, by reason of their latent fire and strength, looked this unseen enemy steadfastly in the face, day by day.
She was a wonderful child. Her physical health was perfect. The first ten years of her life were spent either out of doors, or in her father's lap. He would not allow her to attend the district school; all she knew she learned from him. Reuben Miller had never looked into an English grammar or a history, but he knew Shakespeare by heart, and much of Homer; a few odd volumes of Walter Scott's novels, some old voyages, a big family Bible, and a copy of Byron, were the only other books in his house. As Draxy grew older, Reuben now and then borrowed from the minister books which he thought would do her good; but the child and he both loved Homer and the Bible so much better than any later books, that they soon drifted back to them. It was a little sad, except that it was so beautiful, to see the isolated life these two led in the family. The boys were good, sturdy, noisy boys. They went to school in the winter and worked on the farm in the summer, like all farmers' boys. Reuben, the oldest, was eighteen when Draxy was ten; he was hired, by a sort of indenture, for three years, on a neighboring farm, and came home only on alternate Sundays. Jamie, and Sam, and Lawton were at home; young as they were, they did men's service in many ways. Jamie had a rare gift for breaking horses, and for several years the only ready money which the little farm had yielded was the price of the colts which Jamie raised and trained so admirably that they sold well. The other two boys were strong and willing, but they had none of their father's spirituality, or their mother's gentleness. Thus, in spite of Reuben Miller's deep love for his children, he was never at ease in his boys' presence; and, as they grew older, nothing but the influence of their mother's respect for their father prevented their having an impatient contempt for his unlikeness to the busy, active, thrifty farmers of the neighborhood.
It was a strange picture that the little kitchen presented on a winter evening. Reuben sat always on the left hand of the big fire-place, with a book on his knees. Draxy was curled up on an old-fashioned cherry-wood stand close to his chair, but so high that she rested her little dimpled chin on his head. A tallow candle stood on a high bracket, made from a fungus which Reuben had found in the woods. When the candle flared and dripped, Draxy sprang up on the stand, and, poised on one foot, reached over her father's head to snuff it. She looked like a dainty fairy half-floating in the air, but nobody knew it. Jane sat in a high-backed wooden rocking-chair, which had a flag bottom and a ruffled calico cushion, and could only rock a very few inches back and forth, owing to the loss of half of one of the rockers. For the first part of the evening, Jane always knitted; but by eight o'clock the hands relaxed, the needles dropped, the tired head fell back against the chair, and she was fast asleep.
The boys were by themselves in the farther corner of the room, playing checkers or doing sums, or reading the village newspaper. Reuben and Draxy were as alone as if the house had been empty. Sometimes he read to her in a whisper; sometimes he pointed slowly along the lines in silence, and the wise little eyes from above followed intently. All questions and explanations were saved till the next morning, when Draxy, still curled up like a kitten, would sit mounted on the top of the buckwheat barrel in the store, while her father lay stretched on the counter, smoking. They never talked to each other, except when no one could hear; that is, they never spoke in words; there was mysterious and incessant communication between them whenever they were together, as there is between all true lovers.
At nine o'clock Reuben always shut the book, and said, "Kiss me, little daughter." Draxy kissed him, and said, "Good-night, father dear," and that was all. The other children called him "pa," as was the universal custom in the village. But Draxy even in her babyhood had never once used the word. Until she was seven or eight years old she called him "Farver;" after that, always "father dear." Then Reuben would wake Jane up, sighing usually, "Poor mother, how tired she is!" Sometimes Jane said when she kissed Draxy, at the door of her little room, "Why don't you kiss your pa for good-night?"
"I kissed father before you waked up, ma," was always Draxy's quiet answer.
And so the years went on. There was much discomfort, much deprivation in Reuben Miller's house. Food was not scarce; the farm yielded enough, such as it was, very coarse and without variety; but money was hard to get; the store seemed to be absolutely unremunerative, though customers were not wanting; and the store and the farm were all that Reuben Miller had in the world. But in spite of the poor food; in spite of the lack of most which money buys; in spite of the loyal, tender, passionate despair of her devotion to her father, Draxy grew fairer and fairer, stronger and stronger. At fourteen her physique was that of superb womanhood. She had inherited her body wholly from her father. For generations back, the Millers had been marked for their fine frames. The men were all over six feet tall, and magnificently made; and the women were much above the average size and strength. On Draxy's fourteenth birthday she weighed one hundred and fifty pounds, and measured five feet six inches in height. Her coloring was that of an English girl, and her bright brown hair fell below her waist in thick masses. To see the face of a simple-hearted child, eager but serene, determined but lovingly gentle, surrounded and glorified by such splendid physical womanhood, was a rare sight. Reuben Miller's eyes filled with tears often as he secretly watched his daughter, and said to himself, "Oh, what is to be her fate! what man is worthy of the wife she will be?" But the village people saw only a healthy, handsome girl, "overgrown," they thought, and "as queer as her father before her," they said, for Draxy, very early in life, had withdrawn herself somewhat from the companionship of the young people of the town.
As for Jane, she loved and reverenced Draxy, very much as she did Reuben, with touching devotion, but without any real comprehension of her nature. If she sometimes felt a pang in seeing how much more Reuben talked with Draxy than with her, how much more he sought to be with Draxy than with her, she stifled it, and, reproaching herself for disloyalty to each, set herself to work for them harder than before.
In Draxy's sixteenth year the final blow of misfortune fell upon Reuben Miller's head.
A brother of Jane's, for whom, in an hour of foolish generosity, Reuben had indorsed a note of a considerable amount, failed. Reuben's farm was already heavily mortgaged. There was nothing to be done but to sell it. Purchasers were not plenty nor eager; everybody knew that the farm must be sold for whatever it would bring, and each man who thought of buying hoped to profit somewhat, in a legitimate and Christian way, by Reuben's extremity.
Reuben's courage would have utterly forsaken him now, except for Draxy's calmness. Jane was utterly unnerved; wept silently from morning till night, and implored Reuben to see her brother's creditors, and beg them to release him from his obligation. But Draxy, usually so gentle, grew almost stern when such suggestions were made.
"You don't understand, ma," she said, with flushing cheeks. "It is a promise. Father must pay it. He cannot ask to have it given back to him."
But with all Draxy's inflexibility of resolve, she could not help being disheartened. She could not see how they were to live; the three rooms over the store could easily be fitted up into an endurable dwelling-place; but what was to supply the food which the farm had hitherto given them? There was literally no way open for a man or a woman to earn money in that little farming village. Each family took care of itself and hired no service, except in the short season of haying. Draxy was an excellent seamstress, but she knew very well that the price of all the sewing hired in the village in a year would not keep them from starving. The store must be given up, because her father would have no money with which to buy goods. In fact, for a long time, most of his purchases had been made by exchanging the spare produce of his farm at large stores in the neighboring towns. Still Draxy never wavered, and because she did not waver Reuben did not die. The farm was sold at auction, with the stock, the utensils, and all of the house-furniture which was not needed to make the store chambers habitable. The buyer boasted in the village that he had not given more than two thirds of the real value of the place. After Reuben's debts were all paid, there remained just one thousand dollars to be put into the bank.
"Why, father! That is a fortune," said Draxy, when he told her. "I did not suppose we should have anything, and it is glorious not to owe any man a cent."
It was early in April when the Millers moved into the "store chambers." The buyer of their farm was a hard-hearted, penurious man, a deacon of the church in which Draxy had been baptized. He had never been known to give a penny to any charity excepting Foreign Missions. His wife and children had never received at his hands the smallest gift. But even his heart was touched by Draxy's cheerful acquiescence in the hard change, and her pathetic attempts to make the new home pleasant. The next morning after Deacon White took possession, he called out over the fence to poor Reuben, who stood listlessly on the store steps, trying not to look across at the house which had been his.
"I say, Miller, that gal o' your'n is what I call the right sort o' woman, up an' down. I hain't said much to her, but I've noticed that she set a heap by this garding; an' I expect she'll miss the flowers more'n anything; now my womenfolks they won't have anythin' to do with such truck; an' if she's a mind to take care on't jest's she used ter, I'm willin'; I guess we shall be the gainers on't."
"Thank you, Deacon White; Draxy'll be very glad," was all Reuben could reply. Something in his tone touched the man's flinty heart still more; and before he half knew what he was going to say, he had added,—
"An' there's the vegetable part on't, too, Miller. I never was no hand to putter with garden sass. If you'll jest keep that up and go halves, fair and reg'lar, you're welcome."
This was tangible help. Reuben's face lighted up.
"I thank you with all my heart," he replied. "That'll be a great help to me; and I reckon you'll like our vegetables, too," he said, half smiling, for he knew very well that nothing but potatoes and turnips had been seen on Deacon White's table for years.
Then Reuben went to find Draxy; when he told her, the color came into her face, and she shut both her hands with a quick, nervous motion, which was habitual to her under excitement.
"Oh, father, we can almost live off the garden," said she. "I told you we should not starve."
But still new sorrows, and still greater changes, were in store for the poor, disheartened family. In June a malignant fever broke out in the village, and in one short month Reuben and Jane had laid their two youngest boys in the grave-yard. There was a dogged look, which was not all sorrow, on Reuben's face as he watched the sexton fill up the last grave. Sam and Jamie, at any rate, would not know any more of the discouragement and hardship of life.
Jane, too, mourned her boys not as mothers mourn whose sons have a birthright of gladness. Jane was very tired of the world.
Draxy was saddened by the strange, solemn presence of death. But her brothers had not been her companions. She began suddenly to feel a sense of new and greater relationship to them, now that she thought of them as angels; she was half terrified and bewildered at the feeling that now, for the first time, they were near to her.
On the evening after Sam's funeral, as Reuben was sitting on the store steps, with his head buried in his hands, a neighbor drove up and threw him a letter.
"It's been lyin' in the office a week or more, Merrill said, and he reckoned I'd better bring it up to you," he called out, as he drove on.
"It might lie there forever, for all my goin' after it," thought Reuben to himself, as he picked it up from the dust; "it's no good news, I'll be bound."
But it was good news. The letter was from Jane's oldest sister, who had married only a few years before, and gone to live in a sea-port town on the New England coast. Her husband was an old captain, who had retired from his seafaring life with just money enough to live on, in a very humble way, in an old house which had belonged to his grandfather. He had lost two wives; his children were all married or dead, and in his loneliness and old age he had taken for his third wife the gentle, quiet elder sister who had brought up Jane Miller. She was a gray-haired, wrinkled spinster woman when she went into Captain Melville's house; but their life was by no means without romance. Husband and home cannot come to any womanly heart too late for sentiment and happiness to put forth pale flowers.
Emma Melville wrote offering the Millers a home; their last misfortune had but just come to her knowledge, for Jane had been for months too much out of heart to write to her relatives. Emma wrote:—
"We are very poor, too; we haven't anything but the house, and a little money each year to buy what we need to eat and wear, the plainest sort. But the house is large; Captain Melville and me never so much as set foot up-stairs. If you can manage to live on the upper floor, you're more than welcome, we both say; and we hope you won't let any pride stand in the way of your coming. It will do us good to have more folks in the house, and it ain't as if it cost us anything, for we shouldn't never be willing, neither me nor Captain Melville, to rent the rooms to strangers, not while we've got enough to live on without."
There was silence for some minutes between Reuben and Jane and Draxy after this letter had been read. Jane looked steadily away from Reuben. There was deep down in the patient woman's heart, a latent pride which was grievously touched. Reuben turned to Draxy; her lips were parted; her cheeks were flushed; her eyes glowed. "Oh, father, the sea!" she exclaimed. This was her first thought; but in a second more she added, "How kind, how good of Aunt Emma's husband!"
"Would you like to go, my daughter?" said Reuben, earnestly.
"Why, I thought of course we should go!" exclaimed Draxy, turning with a bewildered look to her mother, who was still silent. "What else is the letter sent for? It means that we must go."
Her beautiful simplicity was utterly removed from any false sense of obligation. She accepted help as naturally from a human hand as from the sunshine; she would give it herself, so far as she had power, just as naturally and just as unconsciously.
There was very little discussion about the plan. Draxy's instinct overbore all her father's misgiving, and all her mother's unwillingness.
"Oh, how can you feel so, Ma," she exclaimed more than once. "If I had a sister I could not. I love Aunt Emma already next to you and father; and you don't know how much we can do for her after we get there, either. I can earn money there, I know I can; all we need."
Mrs. Melville had written that there were many strangers in the town in the summer, and that she presumed Draxy could soon find all the work she wished as seamstress; also that there were many chances of work for a man who was accustomed to gardening, as, of course, Reuben must be.
Draxy's sanguine cheerfulness was infectious; even Jane began to look forward with interest to the new home; and Reuben smiled when Draxy sang. Lawton and Reuben were to be left behind; that was the only regret; but it was merely anticipating by a very little the separation which was inevitable, as the boys had both become engaged to daughters of the farmers for whom they had been working, and would very soon take their positions as sons-in-law on these farms.
The store was sold, the furniture packed, and Reuben Miller, with his wife and child, set his face eastward to begin life anew. The change from the rich wheat fields and glorious forests of Western New York, to the bare stony stretches of the Atlantic sea-board, is a severe one. No adult heart can make it without a struggle. When Reuben looked out of the car windows upon the low gray barrens through which he was nearing his journey end, his soul sank within him. It was sunset; the sea glistened like glass, and was as red as the sky. Draxy could not speak for delight; tears stood in her eyes, and she took hold of her father's hand. But Reuben and Jane saw only the desolate rocks, and treeless, shrubless, almost—it seemed to them—grassless fields, and an unutterable sense of gloom came over them. It was a hot and stifling day; a long drought had parched and shriveled every living thing; and the white August dust lay everywhere.
Captain Melville lived in the older part of the town near the water. The houses were all wooden, weather-beaten, and gray, and had great patches of yellow lichen on their walls and roofs; thin rims of starved-looking grass edged the streets, and stray blades stood up here and there among the old sunken cobble-stones which made the pavements.
The streets seemed deserted; the silence and the sombre color, and the strange low plashing of the water against the wharves, oppressed even Draxy's enthusiastic heart. Her face fell, and she exclaimed involuntarily, "Oh, what a lonesome place!" Checking herself, she added, "but it's only the twilight makes it look so, I expect."
They had some difficulty in finding the house. The lanes and streets seemed inextricably tangled; the little party was shy of asking direction, and they were all disappointed and grieved, more than they owned to themselves, that they had not been met at the station. At last they found the house. Timidly Draxy lifted the great brass knocker. It looked to her like splendor, and made her afraid. It fell more heavily than she supposed it would, and the clang sounded to her over-wrought nerves as if it filled the whole street. No one came. They looked at the windows. The curtains were all down. There was no sign of life about the place. Tears came into Jane's eyes. She was worn out with the fatigue of the journey.
"Oh dear, oh dear," she said, "I wish we hadn't come."
"Pshaw, mother," said Reuben, with a voice cheerier than his heart, "very likely they never got our last letter, and don't know we were to be here to-day," and he knocked again.
Instantly a window opened in the opposite house, and a jolly voice said, "My gracious," and in the twinkling of an eye the jolly owner of the jolly voice had opened her front door and run bareheaded across the street, and was shaking hands with Reuben and Jane and Draxy, all three at once, and talking so fast that they could hardly understand her.
"My gracious I my gracious! Won't Mrs. Melville be beat! Of course you're her folks she was expecting from the West, ain't you? I mistrusted it somehow as soon as I heard the big knock. Now I'll jest let you in the back door. Oh my, Mis' Melville'll never get over this; to think of her be'n' away, an' she's been lookin' and looking and worryin' for two weeks, because she didn't hear from you; and only last night Captain Melville he said 'he'd write to-day if they didn't hear.'"
"We wrote," said Draxy, in her sweet, low voice, "we wrote to Aunt Emma that we'd come to-day."
"Now did you!" said the jolly voice. "Well, that's jest the way. You see your letter's gone somewhere else, and now Mis' Melville she's gone to"—the rest of the sentence was lost, for the breathless little woman was running round the house to the back door.
In a second more the upper half of the big old-fashioned door had swung open, to Draxy's great delight, who exclaimed, "Oh, father, we read about such doors as this in that Knickerbocker book, don't you remember?"
But good Mrs. Carr was drawing them into the house, giving them neighborly welcome, all the while running on in such voluble ejaculatory talk that the quiet, saddened, recluse-like people were overwhelmed with embarrassment, and hardly knew which way to turn. Presently she saw their confusion and interrupted herself with—
"Well, well, you're jest all tired out with your journey, an' a cup o' tea's the thing you want, an' none o' my talk; but you see Mis' Melville 'n me's so intimate that I feel's if I'd known you always, 'n I'm real glad to see you here, real glad; 'n I'll bring the tea right over; the kettle was a boilin' when I run out, 'n I'll send Jim right down town for Captain Melville; he's sure to be to the library. Oh, but won't Mis' Melville be beat," she continued, half way down the steps; and from the middle of the street she called back, "'an she ain't coming home till to-morrow night."
Reuben and Jane and Draxy sat down with as bewildered a feeling as, if they had been transported to another world. The house was utterly unlike anything they had ever seen; high ceilings, wainscoted walls, wooden cornices and beams, and wooden mantels with heads carved on the corners. It seemed to them at first appallingly grand. Presently they observed the bare wooden floors, the flag-bottomed chairs, and faded chintz cushions, the row of old tin utensils, and plain, cheap crockery in the glass-doored cupboard, and felt more at home.
"You know Aunt Emma said they were poor, too," said Draxy, answering her own unspoken thought as well as her father's and mother's.
Reuben pushed his hair off his warm forehead and sighed.
"I suppose we might go up-stairs, mother," he said; "that's to be our house, as I understand it"
Draxy bounded at the words. With flying steps she ascended the stairs and opened the first door. She stood still on the threshold, unable to move from astonishment. It was still light enough to see the room. Draxy began to speak, but broke down utterly, and bursting out crying, threw herself into the arms of her father who had just reached the top of the stairs.
"Oh, father, it's all fixed for a sitting-room! Father dear, I told you!"
This was something they had not dreamed of. They had understood the offer to be merely of rooms in which they could live rent-free. In fact, that had been Captain Melville's first intention. But his generous sailor's heart revolted from the thought of stripping the rooms of furniture for which he had no use. So Emma had rearranged the plain old-fashioned things, and adding a few more which could be spared as well as not, had fitted up a sitting-room and two bed-rooms with all that was needed for comfort. Reuben and Jane and Draxy were all crying when Mrs. Carr came back with her pitcher of smoking tea. Reuben tried to explain to her why they were crying, but she interrupted him with,—
"Well, now, I understand it jest's if 'twas to me it'd all happened; an' I think it's lucky after all that Mis' Melville wasn't here, for she's dreadful easy upset if people take on. But now you drink your tea, and get all settled down's quick's you can, for Captain Melville 'll be here any minute now I expect, an' he don't like tantrums."
This frightened Draxy, and made a gloomy look come on Reuben's face. But the fright and the gloom disappeared in one minute and forever when the door burst open, and a red-faced, white-haired old man, utterly out of breath, bounced into the room, and seizing Reuben by the hand gasped out, puffing between the words like a steam-engine:—
"Wreck me, if this isn't a hard way to make port. Why, man, we've been looking for some hail from you for two weeks, till we began to think you'd given us the go-by altogether. Welcome to Melville Harbor, I say, welcome!" and he had shaken Reuben's hand, and kissed Jane and turned to Draxy all in a breath. At the first full sight of Draxy's face he started and felt dumb. He had never seen so beautiful a woman. He pulled out a red silk handkerchief and wiped his face nervously as she said, "Kiss me too, uncle," but her warm lips were on his cheek before he had time to analyze his own feelings. Then Reuben began to say something, about gratitude, and the old sailor swore his favorite oath again: "Now, may I be wrecked if I have a word o' that. We're glad enough to get you all here; and as for the few things in the rooms, they're of no account anyhow."
"Few things! Oh, uncle," said Draxy, with a trembling voice, and before he knew what she was about to do she had snatched his fat, weather-beaten old hand and kissed it. No woman had ever kissed John Melville's hand before. From that moment he looked upon Draxy as a princess who had let him once kiss hers!
Captain Melville and Reuben were friends before bed-time. Reuben's gentle simplicity and unworldliness, and patient demeanor, roused in the rough sailor a sympathy like that he had always felt for women. And to Reuben the hearty good cheer, and brisk, bluff sailor ways were infinitely winning and stimulating.
The next day Mrs. Melville came home. In a short time the little household had adjusted itself, and settled down into its routine of living. When, in a few days, the great car-load of the Millers' furniture arrived, Capt. Melville insisted upon its all going to the auction-rooms excepting the kitchen furniture, and a few things for which Jane had especial attachment. It brought two hundred dollars, which, in addition to the price of the farm, and the store and its stock, gave Reuben just nineteen hundred dollars to put in the Savings Bank.
"And I am to be counted at least two thousand more, father dear, so you are not such a very poor man after all," said Draxy, laughing and dancing around him.
Now Draxy Miller's real life began. In after years she used to say, "I was born first in my native town; second, in the Atlantic Ocean!" The effect of the strong sea air upon her was something indescribable; joy seemed to radiate from her whole being. She smiled whenever she saw the sea. She walked on the beach; she sat on the rocks; she learned to swim in one lesson, and swam so far out that her uncle dared not follow, and called to her in imploring terror to return. Her beauty grew more and more radiant every day. This the sea gave to her body. But there was a far subtler new life than the physical, a far finer new birth than the birth of beauty,—which came to Draxy here. This, books gave to her soul. Only a few years before, a free library had been founded in this town, by a rich and benevolent man. Every week hundreds of volumes circulated among the families where books were prized, and could not be owned. When Draxy's uncle first took her into this library, and explained to her its purpose and regulations, she stood motionless for a few moments, looking at him—and at the books: then, with tears in her eyes, and saying, "Don't follow me, uncle dear; don't mind me, I can't bear it," she ran swiftly into the street, and never stopped until she had reached home and found her father. An hour later she entered the library again, leading her father by the hand. She had told him the story on the way. Reuben's thin cheeks were flushed. It was almost more than he too could bear. Silently the father and daughter walked up and down the room, looking into the alcoves. Then they sat down together, and studied the catalogue. Then they rose and went out, hand in hand as they had entered, speaking no word, taking no book. For one day the consciousness of this wealth filled their hearts beyond the possibility of one added desire. After that, Draxy and her father were to be seen every night seated at the long table in the reading-room. They read always together, Draxy's arm being over the back of her father's chair. Many a man and many a woman stopped and looked long at the picture. But neither Draxy nor her father knew it.
At the end of two years, Draxy Miller had culture. She was ignorant still, of course; she was an uneducated girl; she wept sometimes over her own deficiencies; but her mind was stored with information of all sorts; she had added Wordsworth to her Shakespeare; she had journeyed over the world with every traveller whose works she could find; and she had tasted of Plato and Epictetus. Reuben's unfailing simplicity and purity of taste saved her from the mischiefs of many of the modern books. She had hardly read a single novel; but her love of true poetry was a passion.
In the mean time she had become the favorite seamstress of the town. Her face, and voice, and smile would alone have won way for her; but in addition to those, she was a most dexterous workwoman. If there had only been twice as many days in a year, she would have been—glad. Her own earnings in addition to her father's, and to their little income from the money in the bank, made them comfortable; but with Draxy's expanded intellectual life had come new desires: she longed to be taught.
One day she said to her father, "Father dear, what was the name of that canal contractor who borrowed money of you and never paid it?"
Reuben looked astonished, but told her.
"Is he alive yet?"
"Oh, yes," said Reuben, "and he's rich now. There was a man here only last week who said he'd built him a grand house this year."
Draxy shut her hands nervously. "Father, I shall go and get that money."
"You, child! Why it's two days' journey; and he'd never pay you a cent. I tried times enough," replied Reuben.
"But I think perhaps he would be more likely to pay it to a woman; he would be ashamed," said Draxy, "especially if he is rich now, and I tell him how much we need it."
"No, no, child; I shouldn't hear to your going; no more would mother; and it would be money wasted besides," said Reuben, with sternness unusual for him.
Draxy was silent. The next morning she went to the railway station and ascertained exactly how much the journey would cost. She was disheartened at the amount. It would be difficult for her to save so much out of a whole year's earnings. That day Draxy's face was sad. She was sewing at the house of one of her warmest friends. All her employers were her friends, but this one was a woman of rare intelligence and culture, who had loved Draxy ever since the day she had found her reading a little volume of Wordsworth, one of the Free Library books, while she was eating her dinner in the sewing-room.
"Why, child," she exclaimed, "what are you doing!"
"Oh, ma'am, I don't take any longer for my dinner," said poor Draxy, "but I do love the poetry so, and I have so little time to read."
That night when Draxy went home she found a beautiful copy of Wordsworth's poems waiting for her. Written on the fly-leaf were the words, "For Draxy Miller, with the cordial regards of Mrs. White." From that day Draxy received double pay for all sewing she did in Mrs. White's house, and was comfortably clothed from her wardrobe.
"What is the matter, Draxy?" said Mrs. White on this mornings "you look ill."
"No, ma'am," said Draxy.
"But I am sure you are. You don't look like yourself."
"No, ma'am," said Draxy.
Mrs. White was an impulsive woman. She seized the work from Draxy's hands, and sat down before her.
"Now tell me," she said.
Then Draxy told her story.
"How much did this man owe your father?" asked Mrs. W.
"Twenty-five hundred dollars," said Draxy.
"That is worth trying for, dear. I think you are right to go. He will pay it to you on sight if he is a mortal man!" added Mrs. White, mentally. But she went on—"Thirty dollars is very easily raised."
"Oh, twenty will do," interrupted Draxy.
"No; you ought not to go with less than thirty," said Mrs. W.; "and you shall have it. All your friends will be glad to help."
Draxy looked her gratitude, but said nothing. Not the least of her charms, to the well-bred people who employed her, was her exquisite reticence, her gentle and unconscious withdrawal into herself, in spite of all familiarity with which she might be treated.
A few days later Mrs. White sent a note to Draxy with the thirty dollars inclosed, and this note to Mr. Miller:—
"Mr. Miller—Dear Sir:—
"This money has been contributed, by Draxy's friends. You do not know how much we all prize and esteem your daughter and wish to help her. I hope you will be willing that she should use this money for the journey on which her heart is so set. I really advise you as a friend to let her make the effort to recover that money; I think she will get it.
"Truly, your friend,
This note brought tears of pride to Reuben's eyes. Draxy watched him closely, and said:—
"Father dear, I should like to go to-morrow."
Her preparations had already been made. She knew beforehand that her cause was won; that her father's sense of justice would not let him interfere with her use of the gift for the purpose for which it was made.
It was on a clear cold morning in January that Draxy set out. It was the second journey of her life, and she was alone for the first time; but she felt no more fear than if she had been a sparrow winging its way through a new field. The morning twilight was just fading away; both the east and the west were clear and glorious; the east was red, and the west pale blue; high in the west stood the full moon, golden yellow; below it a long narrow bar of faint rose-color; below that, another bar of fainter purple; then the low brown line of a long island; then an arm of the sea; the water was gray and still; the ice rims stretched far out from the coast, and swayed up and down at the edges, as the waves pulsed in and out. Flocks of gulls were wheeling, soaring in the air, or lighting and floating among the ice fragments, as cold and snowy as they. Draxy leaned her head against the side of the car and looked out on the marvelous beauty of the scene with eyes as filled with calm delight as if she had all her life journeyed for pleasure, and had had nothing to do but feed and develop her artistic sense.
A company of travelling actors sat near her; a dozen tawdry women and coarse men, whose loud voices and vulgar jests made Draxy shudder. She did not know what they could be; she had never seen such behavior; the men took out cards and began to play; the women leaned over, looked on, and clapped the men on their shoulders. Draxy grew afraid, and the expression of distress on her face attracted the conductor's notice. He touched her on the shoulder.
"I'll take you into the next car, Miss, if you don't like to be near these people. They're only actors; there's no harm in them, but they're a rough set."
"Actors," said Draxy, as the kind conductor lifted her from one platform to another. "I never thought they were like that. Do they play Shakespeare?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," said the conductor, puzzled enough: "but I dare say they do."
"Then I'm glad I never went to the theatre," thought Draxy, as she settled herself in her new seat. For a few moments she could not banish her disturbed and unhappy feeling. She could not stop fancying some of the grand words which she most loved in Shakespeare, repeated by those repulsive voices.
But soon she turned her eyes to the kindling sky, and forgot all else. The moon was slowly turning from gold to silver; then it would turn from silver to white cloud, then to film, then vanish away. Draxy knew that day and the sun would conquer. "Oh, if I only understood it," sighed Draxy. Then she fell to thinking about the first chapter in Genesis; and while she looked upon that paling moon, she dreamed of other moons which no human eyes ever saw. Draxy was a poet; but as yet she had never dared to show even to her father the little verses she had not been able to help writing. "Oh, how dare I do this; how dare I?" she said to herself, as alone in her little room, she wrote line after line. "But if nobody ever knows, it can do no harm. It is strange I love it, though, when I am so ashamed."
This morning Draxy had that mysterious feeling as if all things were new, which so often comes to poetic souls. It is at once the beauty and the burden, the exhaustion and the redemption of their lives. No wonder that even common men can sometimes see the transfiguration which often comes to him before whose eyes death and resurrection are always following each other, instant, perpetual, glorious. Draxy took out her little diary. Folded very small, and hid in the pocket of it, was a short poem that she had written the year before on a Tiarella plant which had blossomed in her window. Mrs. White had brought it to her with some ferns and mosses from the mountains; and all winter long it had flowered as if in summer. Draxy wondered why this golden moon reminded her of the Tiarella. She did not know the subtle underlying bonds in nature. These were the Tiarella verses:—
My little Tiarella,
If thou art my own,
Tell me how thus in winter
Thy shining flowers have blown.
Art thou a fairy smuggler,
Didst take of last year's summer
More than summer saw?
Or hast thou stolen frost-flakes
Secretly at night?
Thy stamens tipped with silver,
Thy petals spotless white,
Are so like those which cover
Wilt thou, like them, turn back at noon
To drops again?
Oh, little Tiarella,
Thy silence speaks;
No more my foolish question
Thy secret seeks.
The sunshine on my window
Lies all the day.
How shouldst thou know that summer
Has passed away?
The frost-flake's icy silver
Is dew at noon for thee.
O winter sun! O winter frost,
Make summer dews for me!
After reading these over several times, Draxy took out her pencil, and very shyly screening herself from all observation, wrote on the other side of the paper these lines:
THE MORNING MOON.
The gold moon turns to white;
The white moon fades to cloud;
It looks so like the gold moon's shroud,
It makes me think about the dead,
And hear the words I have heard read,
By graves for burial rite.
I wonder now how many moons
In just such white have died;
I wonder how the stars divide
Among themselves their share of light;
And if there were great years of night
Before the earth saw noons.
I wonder why each moon, each sun,
Which ever has been or shall be,
In this day's sun and moon I see;
I think perhaps all of the old
Is hidden in each new day's hold;
So the first day is not yet done!
And then I think—our dust is spent
Before the balances are swung;
Shall we be loneliest among
God's living creatures? Shall we dare
To speak in this eternal air
The only discontent?
Then she shut the book resolutely, and sat up straight with a little laugh, saying to herself, "This is a pretty beginning for a business journey!"
Far better than you knew, sweet Draxy! The great successes of life are never made by the men and women who have no poetic comprehension in their souls.
Draxy's first night was spent at the house of a brother of Captain Melville's, to whom her uncle had given her a letter. All went smoothly, and her courage rose. The next day at noon she was to change cars in one of the great railroad centres; as she drew near the city she began to feel uneasy. But her directions were explicit, and she stepped bravely out into the dismal, dark, underground station, bought her ticket, and walked up and down on the platform with her little valise in her hand, waiting for the train.
In a few moments it thundered in, enveloped in a blinding, stifling smoke. The crowd of passengers poured out. "Twenty minutes for refreshments," was shouted at each car, and in a moment more there was a clearing up of the smoke, and a lull in the trampling of the crowd. Draxy touched the conductor on the arm.
"Is this the train I am to take, sir?" she said showing him her ticket.
He glanced carelessly at it. "No, no," said he; "this is the express; don't stop there. You must wait till the afternoon accommodation."
"But what time will that train get there?" said Draxy, turning pale.
"About ten o'clock, if it's on time," said the conductor, walking away. He had not yet glanced at Draxy, but at her "Oh, what shall I do!" he turned back; Draxy's face held him spellbound, as it had held many a man before. He stepped near her, and taking the ticket from her hand, turned it over and over irresolutely. "I wish I could stop there, Miss," he said. "Is it any one who is sick?"—for Draxy's evident distress suggested but one explanation.
"Oh no," replied Draxy, trying in vain to make her voice steady. "But I am all alone, and I know no one there, and I am afraid—it is so late at night. My friends thought I should get there before dark."
"What are you going for, if you don't know anybody?" said the conductor, in a tone less sympathizing and respectful. He was a man more used to thinking ill than well of people.
Draxy colored. But her voice became very steady.
"I am Reuben Miller's daughter, sir, and I am going there to get some money which a bad man owed my father. We need the money, and there was no one else to go for it."
The conductor had never heard of Una, but the tone of the sentence, "I am Reuben Miller's daughter," smote upon his heart, and made him as reverent to the young girl as if she had been a saint.
"I beg your pardon, Miss," he said involuntarily.
Draxy looked at him with a bewildered expression, but made no reply. She was too childlike to know that for the rough manner which had hurt her he ought to ask such pardon.
The conductor proceeded, still fingering the ticket:—
"I don't see how I can stop there. It's a great risk for me to take. If there was only one of the Directors on board now." Draxy looked still more puzzled. "No," he said, giving her back the ticket: "I can't do it no how;" and he walked away.
Draxy stood still in despair. In a few minutes he came back. He could not account for its seeming to him such an utter impossibility to leave that girl to go on her journey at night.
"What shall you do?" said he.
"I think my father would prefer that I should find some proper place to spend the night here, and go on in the morning," replied Draxy; "do you not think that would be better, sir?" she added, with an appealing, confiding tone which made the conductor feel more like her knight than ever.
"Yes, I think so, and I will give you my card to take to the hotel where I stay," said he, and he plunged into the crowd again.
Draxy turned to a brakeman who had drawn near.
"Has the conductor the right to stop the train if he chooses?" said she.
"Why yes, Miss, he's right enough, if that's all. Of course he's got to have power to stop the train any minute. But stoppin' jest to let off a passenger, that's different."
Draxy closed her lips a little more firmly, and became less pale. When the conductor came back and gave her his card, with the name of the hotel on it, she thanked him, took the card, but did not stir. He looked at her earnestly, said "Good day, Miss," lifted his hat, and disappeared. Draxy smiled. It yet wanted ten minutes of the time for the train to go. She stood still, patiently biding her last chance. The first bell rang—the steam was up—the crowd of passengers poured in; at the last minute but one came the conductor. As he caught sight of Draxy's erect, dignified figure, he started; before he could speak, Draxy said, "I waited, sir, for I thought at the last minute a director might come, or you might change your mind."
The conductor laughed out, and seizing Draxy's valise, exclaimed, "By George, I will stop the train for you, Miss Miller! Hang me if I don't; jump in!" and in one minute more Draxy was whirling out of the dark station into the broad sunlight, which dazzled her.
When the conductor first came through the car he saw that Draxy had been crying. "Do her good," he thought to himself; "it always does do women good; but I'll be bound she wouldn't ha' cried if I'd left her."
Half an hour later he found her sound asleep, with her head slipping uneasily about on the back of the seat. Half ashamed of himself, he brought a heavy coat and put it under her head for a pillow. Seeing a supercilious and disagreeable smile on the face of a fashionable young man in the seat before Draxy, he said sharply: "She's come a long journey, and was put under my care."
"I guess that's true enough to pass muster," he chuckled to himself as he walked away. "If ever I'd ha' believed a woman could make me stop this train for her! An', by George, without askin' me to either!"
Draxy slept on for hours. The winter twilight came earlier than usual, for the sky was overcast. When she waked, the lamps were lighted, and the conductor was bending over her, saying: "We're most there, Miss, and I thought you'd better get steadied on your feet a little before you get off, for I don't calculate to make a full stop."
Draxy laughed like a little child, and put up both hands to her head as if to make sure where she was. Then she followed the conductor to the door and stood looking out into the dim light.
The sharp signal for "down brakes," made experienced passengers spring to their feet. Windows opened; heads were thrust out. What had happened to this express train? The unaccustomed sound startled the village also. It was an aristocratic little place, settled by wealthy men whose business was in a neighboring city. At many a dinner-table surprised voices said: "Why, what on earth is the down express stopping here for? Something must have broken."
"Some director or other to be put off," said others; "they have it all their own way on the road."
In the mean time Draxy Miller was walking slowly up the first street she saw, wondering what she should do next. The conductor had almost lifted her off the train; had shaken her hand, said "God bless you, Miss," and the train was gone, before she could be sure he heard her thank him. "Oh, why did I not thank him more before we stopped," thought Draxy.
"I hope she'll get her money," thought the conductor. "I'd like to see the man that wouldn't give her what she asked for."
So the benediction and protection of good wishes, from strangers as well as from friends, floated on the very air through which Draxy walked, all unconscious of the invisible blessings.
She walked a long way before she met any one of whom she liked to ask direction. At last she saw an elderly man standing under a lamp-post, reading a letter. Draxy studied his face, and then stopped quietly by his side without speaking. He looked up.
"I thought as soon as you had finished your letter, sir, I would ask you to tell me where Stephen Potter lives."
It was marvelous what an ineffable charm there was in the subtle mixture of courtesy and simplicity in Draxy's manner.
"I am going directly by his house myself, and will show you," replied the old gentleman. "Pray let me take your bag, Miss."
"Was it for you," he added, suddenly recollecting the strange stopping of the express train, "was it for you the express train stopped just now?"
"Yes, sir," said Draxy. "The conductor very kindly put me off."
The old gentleman's curiosity was strongly roused, but he forbore asking any further questions until he left Draxy on the steps of the house, when he said: "are they expecting you?"
"Oh no, sir," said Draxy quietly. "I do not know them."
"Most extraordinary thing," muttered the old gentleman as he walked on. He was a lawyer, and could not escape from the professional habit of looking upon all uncommon incidents as clews.
Draxy Miller's heart beat faster than usual as she was shown into Stephen Potter's library. She had said to the servant simply, "Tell Mr. Potter that Miss Miller would like to see him alone."
The grandeur of the house, the richness of the furniture, would have embarrassed her, except that it made her stern as she thought of her father's poverty. "How little a sum it must be to this man," she thought.
The name roused no associations in Stephen Potter; for years the thought of Reuben Miller had not crossed his mind, and as he looked in the face of the tall, beautiful girl who rose as he entered the room, he was utterly confounded to hear her say,—
"I am Reuben Miller's daughter. I have come to see if you will pay me the money you owe him. We are very poor, and need it more than you probably can conceive."
Stephen Potter was a bad man, but not a hard-hearted bad man. He had been dishonest always; but it was the dishonesty of a weak and unscrupulous nature, not without generosity. At that moment a sharp pang seized him. He remembered the simple, upright, kindly face of Reuben Miller. He saw the same look of simple uprightness, kindled by strength, in the beautiful face of Reuben Miller's daughter. He did not know what to say. Draxy waited in perfect composure and silence. It seemed to him hours before he spoke. Then he said, in a miserable, shuffling way,—
"I suppose you think me a rich man."
"I think you must be very rich," said Draxy, gently.
Then, moved by some strange impulse in the presence of this pure, unworldly girl, Stephen Potter suddenly spoke out, for the first time since his boyhood, with absolute sincerity.
"Miss Miller, you are your father over again. I reverenced your father. I have wronged many men without caring, but it troubled me to wrong him. I would give you that money to-night, if I had it, or could raise it. I am not a rich man. I have not a dollar in the world. This house is not mine. It may be sold over my head any day. I am deep in trouble, but not so deep as I deserve to be," and he buried his face in his hands.
Draxy believed him. And it was true. At that moment Stephen Potter was really a ruined man, and many others were involved in the ruin which was impending.
Draxy rose, saying gravely, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter. We heard that you were rich, or I should not have come. We are very poor, but we are not unhappy, as you are."
"Stay, Miss Miller, sit down; I have a thing which might be of value to your father;" and Mr. Potter opened his safe and took out a bundle of old yellow papers. "Here is the title to a lot of land in the northern part of New Hampshire. I took it on a debt years ago, and never thought it was worth anything. Very likely it has run out, or the town has taken possession of the land for the taxes. But I did think the other day, that if worst came to worst, I might take my wife up there and try to farm it. But I'd rather your father should have it if it's good for anything. I took it for three thousand dollars, and it ought to be worth something. I will have the legal transfer made in the morning, and give it to you before you leave."
This was not very intelligible to Draxy. The thin and tattered old paper looked singularly worthless to her. But rising again, she said simply as before, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter; and I thank you for trying to pay us! Will you let some one go and show me to the hotel where I ought to sleep?"
Stephen Potter was embarrassed. It cut him to the heart to send this daughter of Reuben Miller's out of his house to pass the night. But he feared Mrs. Potter very much. He hesitated only a moment.
"No, Miss Miller. You must sleep here. I will have you shown to your room at once. I do not ask you to see my wife. It would not be pleasant for you to do so." And he rang the bell. When the servant came, he said,—
"William, have a fire kindled in the blue room at once; as soon as it is done, come and let me know."
Then he sat down near Draxy and asked many questions about her family, all of which she answered with childlike candor. She felt a strange sympathy for this miserable, stricken, wicked man. When she bade him good-night, she said again, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter. My father would be glad if he could help you in any way."
Stephen Potter went into the parlor where his wife sat, reading a novel. She was a very silly, frivolous woman, and she cared nothing for her husband, but when she saw his face she exclaimed, in terror, "What was it, Stephen?"
"Only Reuben Miller's daughter, come two days' journey after some money I owe her father and cannot pay," said Stephen, bitterly.
"Miller? Miller?" said Mrs. Potter, "one of those old canal debts?"
"Yes," said Stephen.
"Well, of course all those are outlawed long ago," said she. "I don't see why you need worry about that; she can't touch you."
Stephen looked scornfully at her. She had a worse heart than he. At that moment Draxy's face and voice, "I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter," stood out in the very air before him.
"I suppose not," said he, moodily; "I wish she could! But I shall give her a deed of a piece of New Hampshire land which they may get some good of. God knows I hope she may," and he left the room, turning back, however, to add, "She is to sleep here to-night. I could not have her go to the hotel. But you need take no trouble about her."
"I should think not, Stephen Potter," exclaimed Mrs. Potter, sitting bolt upright in her angry astonishment; "I never heard of such impudence as her expecting"—
"She expected nothing. I obliged her to stay," interrupted Stephen, and was gone.
Mrs. Potter's first impulse was to go and order the girl out of her house. But she thought better of it. She was often afraid of her husband at this time; she dimly suspected that he was on the verge of ruin. So she sank back into her chair, buried herself in her novel, and soon forgot the interruption.
Draxy's breakfast and dinner were carried to her room, and every provision made for her comfort. Stephen Potter's servants obeyed him always. No friend of the family could have been more scrupulously served than was Draxy Miller. The man-servant carried her bag to the station, touched his hat to her as she stepped on board the train, and returned to the house to say in the kitchen: "Well, I don't care what she come for; she was a real lady, fust to last, an' that's more than Mr. Potter's got for a wife, I tell you."
When Stephen Potter went into his library after bidding Draxy good-by, he found on the table a small envelope addressed to him. It held this note:—
"I am very sorry for you, Mr. Potter, and I hope you will become happy again. Draxy Miller."
"Mr. Potter:—I would not take the paper [the word 'money' had been scratched out and the word 'paper' substituted] for myself; but I think I ought to for my father, because it was a true debt, and he is an old man now, and not strong.
Draxy had intended to write, "I hope you will be 'good' again," but her heart failed her. "Perhaps he will understand that 'happy' means good," she said, and so wrote the gentler phrase. Stephen Potter did understand; and the feeble outreachings which, during the few miserable years more of his life, he made towards uprightness, were partly the fruit of Draxy Miller's words.
Draxy's journey home was uneventful. She was sad and weary. The first person she saw on entering the house was her father. He divined in an instant that she had been unsuccessful. "Never mind, little daughter," he said, gleefully, "I am not disappointed; I knew you would not get it, but I thought the journey 'd be a good thing for you, may be."
"But I have got something, father dear," said Draxy; "only I'm afraid it is not worth much."
"'Taint likely to be if Steve Potter gave it," said Reuben, as Draxy handed him the paper. He laughed scornfully as soon as he looked at it. "'Taint worth the paper it's writ on," said he, "and he knew it; if he hain't looked the land up all these years, of course 'twas sold at vendue long ago."
Draxy turned hastily away. Up to this moment she had clung to a little hope.
When the family were all gathered together in the evening, and Draxy had told the story of her adventures, Reuben and Captain Melville examined the deed together. It was apparently a good clear title; it was of three hundred acres of land. Reuben groaned, "Oh, how I should like to see land by the acre once more." Draxy's face turned scarlet, and she locked and unlocked her hands, but said nothing. "But it's no use thinking about it," he went on; "this paper isn't worth a straw. Most likely there's more than one man well under way on the land by this time."
They looked the place up on an atlas. It was in the extreme northeast corner of New Hampshire. A large part of the county was still marked "ungranted," and the township in which this land lay was bounded on the north by this uninhabited district. The name of the town was Clairvend.
"What could it have been named for?" said Draxy. "How pleasantly it sounds."
"Most likely some Frenchman," said Captain Melville. "They always give names that 're kind o' musical."
"We might as well burn the deed up. It's nothing but a torment to think of it a lyin' round with it's three hundred acres of land," said Reuben in an impulsive tone, very rare for him, and prolonging the "three hundred" with a scornful emphasis; and he sprang up to throw the paper into the fire.
"No, no, man," said Captain Melville; "don't be so hasty. No need of burning things up in such a roomy house's this! Something may come of that deed yet. Give it to Draxy; I'm sure she's earned it, if there's anything to it. Put it away for your dowry, dear," and he snatched the paper from Reuben's hands and tossed it into Draxy's lap. He did not believe what he said, and the attempt at a joke brought but a faint smile to any face. The paper fell on the floor, and Draxy let it lie there till she thought her father was looking another way, when she picked it up and put it in her pocket.
For several days there were unusual silence and depression in the household. They had really set far more hope than they knew on this venture. It was not easy to take up the old routine and forget the air castle. Draxy's friend, Mrs. White, was almost as disappointed as Draxy herself. She had not thought of the chance of Mr. Potter's being really unable to pay. She told her husband, who was a lawyer, the story of the deed, and he said at once: "Of course it isn't worth a straw. If Potter didn't pay the taxes, somebody else did, and the land's been sold long ago."
Mrs. White tried to comfort herself by engaging Draxy for one month's steady sewing, and presenting her with a set of's novels. And Draxy tried steadily and bravely to forget her journey, and the name of Clairvend.
About this time she wrote a hymn, and showed it to her father. It was the first thing of the kind she had ever let him see, and his surprise and delight showed her that here was one way more in which she could brighten his life. She had not thought, in her extreme humility, that by hiding her verses she was depriving him of pleasure. After this she showed him all she wrote, but the secret was kept religiously between them.
I cannot think but God must know
About the thing I long for so;
I know He is so good, so kind,
I cannot think but He will find
Some way to help, some way to show
Me to the thing I long for so.
I stretch my hand—it lies so near:
It looks so sweet, it looks so dear.
"Dear Lord," I pray, "Oh, let me know
If it is wrong to want it so?"
He only smiles—He does not speak:
My heart grows weaker and more weak,
With looking at the thing so dear,
Which lies so far, and yet so near.
Now, Lord, I leave at thy loved feet
This thing which looks so near, so sweet;
I will not seek, I will not long—
almost fear I have been wrong.
I'll go, and work the harder, Lord,
And wait till by some loud, clear word
Thou callest me to thy loved feet,
To take this thing so dear, so sweet.
As the spring drew near, a new anxiety began to press upon Draxy. Reuben drooped. The sea-shore had never suited him. He pined at heart for the inland air, the green fields, the fragrant woods. This yearning always was strongest in the spring, when he saw the earth waking up around him; but now the yearning became more than yearning. It was the home-sickness of which men have died. Reuben said little, but Draxy divined all. She had known it from the first, but had tried to hope that he could conquer it.
Draxy spent many wakeful hours at night now. The deed of the New Hampshire land lay in her upper bureau drawer, wrapped in an old handkerchief. She read it over, and over, and over. She looked again and again at the faded pink township on the old atlas. "Who knows," thought she, "but that land was overlooked and forgotten? It is so near the 'ungranted lands,' which must be wilderness, I suppose!" Slowly a dim purpose struggled in Draxy's brain. It would do no harm to find out. But how? No more journeys must be taken on uncertainties. At last, late one night, the inspiration came. Who shall say that it is not an unseen power which sometimes suggests to sorely tried human hearts the one possible escape? Draxy was in bed. She rose, lighted her candle, and wrote two letters. Then she went back to bed and slept peacefully. In the morning when she kissed her father good-by, she looked wistfully in his face. She had never kept any secret from him before, except the secret of her verses. "But he must not be disappointed again," said Draxy; "and there is no real hope."
She dropped her letter into the post-office and went to her work.
The letter was addressed—
"To the Postmaster of Clairvend,
It was a very short letter.
"Dear Sir:—I wish to ask some help from a minister in your town. If there is more than one minister, will you please give my letter to the kindest one.
The letter inclosed was addressed—
"To the Minister of Clairvend."
This letter also was short.
"Dear Sir:—I have asked the Postmaster to give this letter to the kindest minister in the town.
"I am Reuben Miller's daughter. My father is very poor. He has not known how to do as other men do to be rich. He is very good, sir. I think you can hardly have known any one so good. Mr. Stephen Potter, a man who owed him money, has given us a deed of land in your town. My father thinks the deed is not good for anything. But I thought perhaps it might be; and I would try to find out. My father is very sick, but I think he would get well if he could come and live on a farm. I have written this letter in the night, as soon as I thought about you; I mean as soon as I thought that there must be a minister in Clairvend, and he would be willing to help me.
"I have not told my father, because I do not want him to be disappointed again as he was about the deed.
"I have copied for you the part of the deed which tells where the land is; and I put in a stamp to pay for your letter to me, and if you will find out for us if we can get this land, I shall be grateful to you all my life. Draxy Miller."
Inclosed was a slip of paper on which Draxy had copied with great care the description of the boundaries of the land conveyed by the deed. It was all that was necessary. The wisest lawyer, the shrewdest diplomatist in the land never put forth a subtler weapon than this simple girl's simple letter.
It was on the morning of the 3d of April that Draxy dropped her letter in the office. Three days later it was taken out of the mail-bag in the post-office of Clairvend. The post-office was in the one store of the village. Ten or a dozen men were lounging about the store, as usual, smoking and talking in the inert way peculiar to rural New England. An old window had been set up on one end of the counter, and a latticed gate shut off that corner of the space behind to make the post-office.
Now and then one of the men flattened his face against the dusty panes and peered through; but there was small interest in the little mail; nobody expected letters in Clairvend, and generally nobody got them. In a few moments the sorting was all over, but as the postmaster took up the last letter he uttered an ejaculation of surprise. "Well, that's queer," said he, as he proceeded to open it.
"What is it, John?" said two or three of the bystanders at once.
Mr. Turner did not answer; he was turning the letter over and over, and holding it closer to the smoky kerosene lamp.
"Well, that's queer enough, I vow. I'd like to know if that's a girl or a boy?" he went on.
"Jest you read that letter loud," called some one, "if it ain't no secret."
"Well, I reckon there is a secret; but it's inside the inside letter," said the postmaster; "there ain't no great secret in mine," and then he read aloud Draxy's simple words to the postmaster of Clairvend.
The men gathered up closer to the counter and looked over.
"It's a gal's writing," said one; "but that ain't no gal's name."
"Wal, 'd ye ever hear of it's bein' a boy's name nuther?" said a boy, pressing forward. But the curiosity about the odd name was soon swallowed up in curiosity as to the contents of the letter. The men of Clairvend had not been so stirred and roused by anything since the fall election. Luckily for Draxy's poor little letter, there was but one minister in the village, and the only strife which rose was as to who should carry him the letter. Finally, two of the most persistent set out with it, both declaring that they had business on that road, and had meant all along to go in and see the Elder on their way home.
Elder Kinney lived in a small cottage high up on a hill, a mile from the post-office, and on a road very little travelled. As the men toiled up this hill, they saw a tall figure coming rapidly towards them.
"By thunder! there's the Elder now! That's too bad," said little Eben Hill, the greatest gossip in the town.
The Elder was walking at his most rapid rate; and Elder Kinney's most rapid rate was said to be one with which horses did not easily keep up. "No, thank you, friend, I haven't time to ride to-day," he often replied to a parishioner who, jogging along with an old farm-horse, offered to give him a lift on the road.
"Elder! Elder! here's a letter we was a bringin' up to you!" called out both of the men at once as he passed them like a flash, saying hurriedly "Good evening! good evening!" and was many steps down the hill beyond them before he could stop.
"Oh, thank you!" he said, taking it hastily and dropping it into his pocket. "Mrs. Williams is dying, they say; I cannot stop a minute," and he was out of sight while the baffled parishioners stood confounded at their ill-luck.
"Now jest as like's not we shan't never know what was in that letter," said. Eben Hill, disconsolately. "Ef we'd ha'gone in and set down while he read it, we sh'd ha' had some chance."
"But then he mightn't ha' read it while we was there," replied Joseph Bailey resignedly; "an' I expect It ain't none o' our business anyhow, one way or t'other."
"It's the queerest thing's ever happened in this town," persisted Eben; "what's a girl—that is, if 'tis a girl—got to do writin' to a minister she don't know? I don't believe it's any good she's after."
"Wal, ef she is, she's come to the right place; and there's no knowin' but that the Lord's guided her, Eben; for ef ever there was a man sent on this airth to do the Lord's odd jobs o' looking arter folks, it's Elder Kinney," said Joseph.
"That's so," answered Eben in a dismal tone, "that's so; but he's dreadful close-mouthed when he's a mind to be. You can't deny that!"
"Wal, I dunno's I want ter deny it," said Joseph, who was beginning, in Eben's company, to grow ashamed of curiosity; "I dunno's it's anything agin him," and so the men parted.
It was late at night when Elder Kinney went home from the bedside of the dying woman. He had forgotten all about the letter. When he undressed, it fell from his pocket, and lay on the floor. It was the first thing he saw in the morning. "I declare!" said the Elder, and reaching out a long arm from the bed, he picked it up.
The bright winter sun was streaming in on the Elder's face as he read Draxy's letter. He let it fall on the scarlet and white counterpane, and lay thinking. The letter touched him unspeakably. Elder Kinney was no common man; he had a sensitive organization and a magnetic power, which, if he had had the advantages of education and position, would have made him a distinguished preacher. As a man, he was tender, chivalrous, and impulsive; and even the rough, cold, undemonstrative people among whom his life had been spent had, without suspecting it, almost a romantic affection for him. He had buried his young wife and her first-born still-born child together in this little village twelve years before, and had ever since lived in the same house from which they had been carried to the grave-yard. "If you ever want any other man to preach to you," he said to the people, "you've only to say so to the Conference. I don't want to preach one sermon too many to you. But I shall live and die in this house; I can't ever go away. I can get a good livin' at farmin'—good as preachin', any day!"
The sentence, "I am Reuben Miller's daughter," went to his heart as it had gone to every man's heart who had heard it before from Draxy's unconscious lips. But it sunk deeper in his heart than in any other.
"If baby had lived she would have loved me like this perhaps," thought the Elder, as he read the pathetic words over and over. Then he studied the paragraph copied from the deed. Suddenly a thought flashed into his mind. He knew something about this land. It must be—yes, it must be on a part of this land that the sugar-camp lay from which he had been sent for, five years before, to see a Frenchman who was lying very ill in the little log sugar-house. The Elder racked his brains. Slowly it all came back to him. He remembered that at the time some ill-will had been shown in the town toward this Frenchman; that doubts had been expressed about his right to the land; and that no one would go out into the clearing to help take care of him. Occasionally, since that time, the Elder had seen the man hanging about the town. He had an evil look; this was all the Elder could remember.
At breakfast he said to old Nancy, his housekeeper: "Nancy, did you ever know anything about that Frenchman who had a sugar-camp out back of the swamp road? I went to see him when he had the fever a few years ago."
Nancy was an Indian woman with a little white blood in her veins. She never forgot an injury. This Frenchman had once jeered at her from the steps of the village store, and the village men had laughed.
"Know anythin' about him? Yes, sir. He's a son o' Satan, an' I reckon he stays to hum the great part o' the year, for he's never seen round here except jest sugarin' time."
The Elder laughed in spite of himself. Nancy's tongue was a member of which he strongly disapproved; but his efforts to enforce charity and propriety of speech upon her were sometimes rendered null and void by his lack of control of his features. Nancy loved her master, but she had no reverence in her composition, and nothing gave her such delight as to make him laugh out against his will. She went on to say that the Frenchman came every spring, bringing with him a gang of men, some twelve or more, "all sons o' the same father, sir; you'd know 'em's far's you see 'em." They took a large stock of provisions, went out into the maple clearing, and lived there during the whole sugar season in rough log huts. "They do say he's jest carried off a good thousand dollar's worth o' sugar this very week," said Nancy.
The Elder brought his hand down hard on the table and said "Whew!" This was Elder Kinney's one ejaculation. Nancy seldom heard it, and she knew it meant tremendous excitement. She grew eager, and lingered, hoping for further questions; but the Elder wanted his next information from a more accurate and trustworthy source than old Nancy. Immediately after breakfast he set out for the village; soon he slackened his pace, and began to reflect. It was necessary to act cautiously; he felt instinctively sure that the Frenchman had not purchased the land. His occupation of it had evidently been acquiesced in by the town for many years; but the Elder was too well aware of the slack and unbusinesslike way in which much of the town business was managed, to attach much weight to this fact. He was perplexed—a rare thing for Elder Kinney. He stopped and sat down on the top of a stone wall to think. In a few minutes he saw the steaming heads of a pair of oxen coming up the hill. Slowly the cart came in sight: it was loaded with sugar-buckets; and there, walking by its side, was—yes! it was—the very Frenchman himself.
Elder Kinney was too much astonished even to say "Whew!"
"This begins to look like the Lord's own business," was the first impulsive thought of his devout heart. "There's plainly something to be done. That little Draxy's father shall get some o' the next year's sugar out o' that camp, or my name isn't Seth Kinney;" and the Elder sprang from the wall and walked briskly towards the Frenchman. As he drew near him, and saw the forbidding look on the fellow's face, he suddenly abandoned his first intention, which was to speak to him, and, merely bowing, passed on down the hill.
"He's a villain, if I know the look of one," said honest Elder. "I'll think a little longer. I wonder where he stores his buckets. Now, there's a chance," and Elder Kinney turned about and followed the plodding cart up the hill again. It was a long pull and a tedious one; and for Elder Kinney to keep behind oxen was a torture like being in a straight waistcoat. One mile, two miles, three miles! the Elder half repented of his undertaking; but like all wise and magnetic natures, he had great faith in his first impulses, and he kept on.
At last the cart turned into a lane on the right-hand side of the road.
"Why, he's goin' to old Ike's," exclaimed the Elder. "Well, I can get at all old Ike knows, and it's pretty apt to be all there is worth knowin'," and Elder Kinney began, in his satisfaction, to whistle
"Life is the time to serve the Lord,"
in notes as clear and loud as a bob-o'-link's.
He walked on rapidly, and was very near overtaking the Frenchman, when a new thought struck him. "Now, if he's uneasy about himself,—and if he knows he ain't honest, of course he's uneasy,—he'll may be think I'm on his track, and be off to his 'hum,' as Nancy calls it," and the Elder chuckled at the memory, "an' I shouldn't have any chance of ketchin' him here for another year." The Elder stood still again. Presently he jumped a fence, and walking off to the left, climbed a hill, from the top of which he could see old Ike's house. Here, in the edge of a spruce grove, he walked back and forth, watching the proceedings below. "Seems little too much like bein' a spy," thought the good man, "but I never felt a clearer call in a thing in my life than I do in this little girl's letter," and he fell to singing
"Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings,"
till the crows in the wood were frightened by the strange sound, and came flying out and flapping their great wings above his head.
The Frenchman drove into old Ike's yard. Ike came out of the house and helped him unload the buckets, and carry them into an old corn-house which stood behind the barn: As soon as the Frenchman had turned his oxen's head down the lane, the Elder set out for the house, across the fields. Old Ike was standing in the barn-door. When he saw the tall figure striding through the pasture, he ran to let down the bars, and hurried up to the Elder and grasped both his hands. Not in all Elder Kinney's parish was there a single heart which beat so warmly for him as did the heart of this poor lonely old man, who had lived by himself in this solitary valley ever since the Elder came to Clairvend.
"Oh, Elder, Elder," said he, "it does me reel good to see your face. Be ye well, sir?" looking closely at him.
"Yes, Ike, thank you, I'm always well," replied the Elder absently. He was too absorbed in his errand to have precisely his usual manner, and it was the slight change which Ike's affectionate instinct felt. But Ike saved him all perplexity as to introducing the object of his visit by saying at once, picking up one of the sugar-buckets which had rolled off to one side, "I'm jest pilin' up Ganew's sugar-buckets for him. He pays me well for storin' 'em, but I kind o' hate to have anythin' to do with him. Don't you remember him, sir—him that was so awful bad with the fever down'n the clearin' five years ago this month? You was down to see him, I know."
"Yes, yes, I remember," said the Elder, with a manner so nonchalant that he was frightened at his own diplomacy. "He was a bad fellow, I thought,"
Ike went on: "Wall, that's everybody's feelin' about him: and there ain't no great thing to show for 't nuther. But they did say a while back that he hadn't no reel right to the land. He turned up all of a sudden, and paid up all there was owin' on the taxes, an' he's paid 'em regular ever sence. But he hain't never showed how the notes come to be signed by some other name. Yes, sir, the hull lot—it's nigh on ter three hundred acres, such's 'tis; a good part on't 's swamp though, that ain't wuth a copper—the hull lot went to a man down in York State, when the Iron Company bust up here, and for two or three year the chap he jest sent up his note for the taxes, and they've a drefful shiftless way o' lettin' things go in this ere town, 's you know, sir; there wan't nobody that knowed what a sugar orchard was a lyin' in there, or there'd been plenty to grab for it; but I don't s'pose there's three men in the town'd ever been over back o' Birch Hill till this Ganew he come and cut a road in, and had his sugar-camp agoin' one spring, afore anybody knew what he was arter. But he's paid all up reg'lar, and well he may, sez everybody, for he can't get his sugar off, sly's he is, w'thout folks gettin' some kind o' notion about it, an' they say's he's cleared thousands an' thousands o' dollars. I expect they ain't overshot the mark nuther, for he's got six hundred new buckets this spring, and Bill Sims, he's been in with 'em the last two years, 'n he says there ain't no sugar orchard to compare, except Squire White's over in Mill Creek, and he's often taken in three thousand pounds off his'n."
Ike sighed as he paused, breathless. "It's jest my luck, allers knockin' about 'n them woods 's I am, not to have struck trail on that air orchard. I could ha' bought it's well's not in the fust on't, if it had been put up to vendue, 's 't oughter ben, an' nobody knowin' what 'twas wuth."
Elder Kinney was almost overcome by this unhoped-for corroboration of his instincts; clearing up of his difficulties. His voice sounded hoarse in his own ears as he replied:—
"Well, Ike, the longest lane has a turnin'. It's my belief that God doesn't often let dishonest people prosper very long. We shall see what becomes of Ganew. Where does he live? I'd like to see him."
"Well, he don't live nowhere, 's near's anybody can find out. He's in the camp with the gang about six weeks, sometimes eight; they say's it's a kind of settlement down there, an' then he's off again till sugarin' comes round; but he's dreadful sharp and partikler about the taxes, I tell you, and he's given a good deal too, fust and last, to the town. Folks say he wants to make 'em satisfied to let him alone. He's coming up here again to-morrow with two more loads of buckets, sir: if 'twouldn't be too much trouble for you to come here agin so soon," added poor Ike, grasping at the chance of seeing the Elder again.
"Well, I think perhaps I'll come," replied the Elder, ashamed again of the readiness with which he found himself taking to tortuous methods, "if I'm not too busy. What time will he be here?"
"About this same time," said Ike. "He don't waste no time, mornin' nor evenin'."
The Elder went away soon, leaving poor Ike half unhappy.
"He's got somethin' on his mind, thet's plain enough," thought the loving old soul. "I wonder now ef it's a woman; I've allus thought the Elder war'nt no sort of man to live alone all his days."
"Dear, good little Draxy," thought the Elder, as he walked down the road. "How shall I ever tell the child of this good luck, and how shall I manage it all for the best for her?"
Draxy's interests were in good hands. Before night Elder Kinney had ascertained that there had never been any sale of this land since it was sold to "the New York chap," and that Ganew's occupation of it was illegal. After tea the Elder sat down and wrote two letters.
The first one was to Draxy, and ran as follows:—
"My Dear Child:—
"I received your letter last night, and by the Lord's help I have found out all about your father's land today. But I shall write to your father about it, for you could not understand.
"I wish the Lord had seen fit to give me just such a daughter as you are.
The letter to Reuben was very long, giving in substance the facts which have been told above, and concluding thus:—
"I feel a great call from the Lord to do all I can in this business, and I hope you won't take it amiss if I make bold to decide what's best to be done without consulting you. This fellow's got to be dealt with pretty sharp, and I, being on the ground, can look after him better than you can. But I'll guarantee that you'll have possession of that land before many weeks." He then asked Reuben to have an exact copy of the deed made out and forwarded to him; also any other papers which might throw light on the transfer of the property, sixteen years back. "Not that I calculate there'll be any trouble," he added; "we don't deal much in lawyer's tricks up here, but it's just as well to be provided."
The Elder went to the post-office before breakfast to post this letter. The address did not escape the eyes of the postmaster. Before noon Eben Hill knew that the Elder had written right off by the first mail to a "Miss Draxy Miller."
Meantime the Elder was sitting in the doorway of old Ike's barn waiting for the Frenchman; ten o'clock came, eleven, twelve—he did not appear.
The Elder's uneasiness grew great, but he talked on and on till poor Ike was beside himself with delight. At last the distant creak of the wheels was heard. "There he is," exclaimed Ike. "I'm thinking, sir, that it's a kind o' providential dispensation thet's hendered him all this time; it's done me such a sight o' good to hear you talk."
The Elder smiled tenderly on poor old Ike.
"Everything is a dispensation, Ike, accordin' to my way o' thinkin';" and again he thought involuntarily of "little Draxy." Ganew assented with a half-surly civility to Elder Kinney's proposition to ride down with him.
"I've got a matter of business to talk over with you, Mr. Ganew,"—said the Elder, "and I came up here on purpose to find you."
The man turned his stolid black eyes full on the Elder, but made no reply. It was indeed an evil face. The Elder was conscious that impulses which he feared were unchristian were rising rapidly in his breast. He had wished a few times before in his life that he was not a minister. He wished it now. He would have liked to open his conversation with Ganew after the manner of the world's people when they deal with thieves. And again he thought involuntarily of "little Draxy," and her touching "we are very poor."
But when he spoke, he spoke gently and slowly.
"I have some news for you which will be very disagreeable, Mr. Ganew." Here the Frenchman started, with such a terrified, guilty, malignant look on his face, that the Elder said to himself: "Good God, I believe the man knows he's in danger of his life. Stealin's the least of his crimes, I'll venture."
He proceeded still more gently. "The owners of the land which you've been using as your own in this town, have written to inquire about it, and have put the business in my hands."
Ganew was silent for a moment. Then trying to speak in an indignant tone, he said,—
"Using as my own! I don't know what you mean, Mr. Parson. I have paid my taxes all regular, and I've got the title-deeds of the land, every acre of it. I can't help whoever's been writing to you about it; it's all my land."
But his face twitched with nervous excitement, and the fright and anger in his serpent-like black eyes were ugly to see.
"No, Mr. Ganew, it is not," said the Elder; "and you know it. Now you jest listen to me; I know the whole truth about the matter, an' all the time you spend fightin' off the truth'll be wasted, besides addin' lyin' to havin' been a thief. The owners of the land'll be here, I expect before long; but they've put it all in my hands, an' I can let you off if I choose."
"Let me off! What the devil do you mean?" said Ganew.
"Why, you don't suppose there's goin' to be nothin' said about all the thousands o' dollars' wuth of sugar you've carried off here, do"—
The next thing Elder Kinney knew he was struggling up to his feet in the middle of the road; he was nearly blinded by blood trickling from a cut on his forehead, and only saw dimly that Ganew was aiming another blow at him with his heavy-handled ox-goad.
But the Frenchman had reckoned without his host. Elder Kinney, even half stunned, was more than a match for him. In a very few minutes Ganew was lying in the bottom of his own ox-cart, with his hands securely tied behind him with a bit of his own rope and the Elder was sitting calmly down on a big boulder, wiping his forehead and recovering his breath; it had been an ugly tussle, and the Elder was out of practice.
Presently he rose, walked up to the cart, and leaning both his arms on the wheel, looked down on his enemy.
The Frenchman's murderous little black eyes rolled wildly, but he did not struggle. He had felt in the first instant that he was but an infant in the Elder's hands.
"Ye poor, miserable, cowardly French,—— —— —— sinner ye," said the Elder, struggling for an epithet not unbecoming his cloth. "Did you think you was goin' to get me out o' yer way's easy's that, 's I dare say ye have better folks than me, before now!"
Ganew muttered something in a tongue the Elder did not understand, but the sound of it kindled his wrath anew.
"Well, call on your Master, if that's what you're doin', 's much's you like. He don't generally look out for anybody much who's so big a fool's you must be, to think you was goin' to leave the minister o' this parish dead in a ditch within stone's throw o' houses and nobody find you out," and the Elder sat down again on the boulder. He felt very dizzy and faint; and the blood still trickled steadily from his forehead. Ganew's face at this moment was horrible. Rage at his own folly, hate of the Elder, and terror which was uncontrollable, all contended on his livid features.
At last he spoke. He begged abjectly to be set free. He offered to leave the town at once and never return if the Elder would only let him go.
"What an' give up all your land ye've got such a fine clear title to?" said the Elder, sarcastically. "No; we'll give ye a title there won't be no disputin' about to a good berth in Mill Creek jail for a spell!"
At this the terror mastered every other emotion in the Frenchman's face. What secret reason he had for it all, no one could know but himself; what iniquitous schemes already waiting him in other places, what complications of dangers attendant on his identification and detention. He begged, he besought, in words so wildly imploring, so full of utter unconditional surrender, that there could be no question as to their sincerity. The Elder began, in spite of himself, to pity the wretch; he began also to ask whether after all it would not be the part of policy to let him go. After some minutes he said, "I can't say I put much confidence in ye yet, Mr. Ganew; but I'm inclined to think it's the Lord's way o' smoothin' things for some o' his children, to let you kind o' slink off," and somehow Elder Kinney fancied he heard little Draxy say, "Oh, sir, let the poor man go." There was something marvelous in his under-current of consciousness of "little Draxy."
He rose to his feet, picked up the heavy ox-goad, struck the near ox sharply on the side, and walking on a little ahead of the team, said: "I'll just take ye down a piece, Mr. Ganew, till we're in sight of Jim Blair's, before I undo ye. I reckon the presence o' a few folks'll strengthen your good resolutions." "An' I mistrust I ain't quite equal to another handlin,'" thought the Elder to himself, as he noted how the sunny road seemed to go up and down under his feet. He was really far more hurt than he knew.
When they were in sight of the house, he stopped the oxen, and leaning again on the wheel, and looking down on Ganew, had one more talk with him, at the end of which he began cautiously to untie the rope. He held the ox-goad, however, firmly grasped in his right hand, and it was not without a little tremor that he loosed the last knots. "Suppose the desperate critter sh'd have a knife," thought the Elder.
He need not have feared. A more crestfallen, subdued, wretched being than Paul Ganew, as he crawled out of that cart, was never seen. He had his own secret terror, and it had conquered him. "It's more'n me he's afraid of," said the Elder to himself. "This is the Lord's doin', I reckon. Now, Mr. Ganew, if you'll jest walk to the heads o' them oxen I'll thank ye," said he: "an' 's I feel some tired, I'll jump into the cart; an' I'll save ye carryin' the ox-goad," he added, as he climbed slowly in, still holding the murderous weapon in his hand. Nothing could extinguish Seth Kinney's sense of humor.
"If we meet any folks," he proceeded, "we've only to say that I've had a bad hurt, and that you're very kindly takin' me home."
Ganew walked on like a man in a dream. He was nearly paralyzed with terror. They met no human being, and very few words passed between them. When the cart stopped at the Elder's door, Ganew stood still without turning his head. The Elder went up to him and said, with real kindness of tone,
"Mr. Ganew, I expect you can't believe it, but I don't bear ye the least ill-will."
A faint flicker of something like grateful surprise passed over the hard face, but no words came.
"I hope the Lord 'll bring ye to himself yet," persisted the good man, "and forgive me for havin' had anything but pity for ye from the first on't. Ye won't forget to send me a writing for Bill Sims that the rest of the buckets in the camp belong to me?"
Ganew nodded sullenly and went on, and the Elder walked slowly into the house.
After dark, a package was left at the Elder's door. It contained the order on Bill Sims, and a letter. Some of the information in the letter proved useful in clearing up the mystery of Ganew's having known of this tract of land. He had been in Potter's employ, it seemed, and had had access to his papers. What else the letter told no one ever knew; but the Elder's face always had a horror-stricken look when the Frenchman's name was mentioned, and when people sometimes wondered if he would ever be seen again in Clairvend, the emphasis of the Elder's "Never! ye may rely on that! Never!" had something solemn in it.
In less than forty-eight hours the whole village knew the story. "The sooner they know the whole on't the better, and the sooner they'll be through talkin'," said the Elder, and nobody could have accused him of being "close-mouthed" now. He even showed "the little gal's letter," as the townspeople called it, to anybody who asked to see it. It hurt him to do this, more than he could see reason for, but he felt a strong desire to have the village heart all ready to welcome "little Draxy" and her father when they should come. And the village heart was ready! Hardly a man, woman, or child but knew her name and rejoiced in her good fortune. "Don't yer remember my tellin' yer that night," said Josiah Bailey to Eben Hill, "that she'd come to the right place for help when she come to Elder Kinney?"
When Draxy took Elder Kinney's letter out of the post-office, her hands trembled. She walked rapidly away, and opened the letter as soon as she reached a quiet street. The Elder had not made it so clear as he thought he had, in his letter to the "child," which way matters had gone. Draxy feared. Presently she thought, "He says 'your father's land.' That must mean that we shall have it." But still she had sad misgivings. She almost decided to read the inclosed letter which was unsealed; she could not have her father disappointed again; but her keen sense of honor restrained her.
Reuben had grown really feeble. There were many days now when he could not work, but sat listlessly on a ledge of rocks near the house, and watched the restless waves with a sense of misery as restless as they. When Draxy reached home this night and found that her father was not in the house, she ran over to the "Black Ledge." There she found him. She sat down by his side, not knowing how to begin. Presently he said: "I wish I loved this water, daughter,—it is very beautiful to look at; but I'm thinkin' it's somethin' like human beings; they may be ever so handsome to look on, but if you don't love 'em you don't, and that's the end on't, an' it don't do ye no sort o' good to be where they are."
"The woods and fields used to do you good, father," said Draxy.
Reuben was astonished. Draxy was not wont to allude to the lost and irrecoverable joys. But he only sighed.
"Read this letter, father dear," said Draxy, hurriedly pushing it into his hand; "I wrote up to a good old minister to find out, and here's his answer."
Reuben looked bewildered. Draxy's words did not make themselves clear. But the first words of Elder Kinney's letter did. The paper fell from his hands.
"Oh, daughter! daughter! it can't be true! It can't!" and Reuben Miller covered his eyes and cried. Draxy did not cry. One of the finest traits in her nature was her instantaneous calmness of exterior under sudden and intense excitement.
"Yes; father, it is true. It must be. I have believed it from the first! Oh do, do read the letter," said Draxy, and she forced the letter into his hands again.
"No, no, daughter. Read it to me. I can't see the words," replied Reuben, still weeping. He was utterly unmanned. Then Draxy read the letter aloud slowly, distinctly, calmly. Her voice did not tremble. She accepted it all, absolutely, unconditionally, as she had accepted everything which had ever happened to her. In Draxy's soul the past never confused the present; her life went on from moment to moment, from step to step as naturally, as clearly, as irrevocably as plants grow and flower, without hinderance, without delay. This it was which had kept her serene, strong: this is true health of nature.
After a time Reuben grew calmer; Draxy's presence always helped him. They sat on the rocks until twilight fell, and the great red lamp in the light-house was lighted.
"Father, dear," said Draxy, "I think there are light-houses all along our lives, and God knows when it is time to light the lamps."
Reuben clasped Draxy's hand tighter, and turned his eyes upon her with a look whose love was almost reverent.
Lights shone until morning from the windows of Captain Melville's house. The little family had sat together until long after midnight, discussing this new and wonderful turn in their affairs. Jane and Reuben were bewildered and hardly happy yet; Draxy was alert, enthusiastic, ready as usual; poor Captain Melville and his wife were in sore straits between their joy in the Millers' good fortune, and their pain at the prospect of the breaking up of the family. Their life together had been so beautiful, so harmonious.
"Oh, Draxy," said the Captain, "how shall we ever live without you?"
"Oh! but you will come up there, uncle." said Draxy; "and we shall keep you after we once get you."
Captain Melville shook his head. He could never leave the sea. But full well he knew that the very salt of it would have lost its best savor to him when this sweet, fair girl had gone out from his house.
The "good-nights" were sadly and solemnly said. "Oh!" thought Draxy, "does joy always bring pain in this world?" and she fell asleep with tears on her cheeks.
Reuben sat up until near dawn, writing to Elder Kinney. He felt strangely strong. He was half cured already by the upland air of the fields he had never seen. The next morning Draxy said, "Do you not think, father, I ought to write a note too, to thank the kind minister, or will you tell him how grateful I am?"
"Put a postscript to my letter, daughter. That will be better," said Reuben.
So Draxy wrote at the bottom of the last page:—
"Dear mr. Kinney:—I do not know any words to thank you in; and I think you will like it better if I do not try. My father seems almost well already. I am sure it was the Lord that helped you to find out about our land. I hope we can come very soon.
"Your grateful friend,
When the Elder read this second note of Draxy's, he said aloud, "God bless her! she's one o' His chosen ones, that child is," and he fell to wondering how she looked. He found himself picturing her as slight and fair, with blue eyes, and hair of a pale yellow. "I don't believe she's more than fourteen at most;" thought he, "she speaks so simple, jest like a child; an' yet, she goes right to the pint, 's straight's any woman; though I don't know, come to think on't, 's ever I knew a woman that could go straight to a pint," reflected the Elder, whose patience was often sorely tried by the wandering and garrulous female tongues in his parish. The picture of "Little Draxy" grew strangely distinct in his mind; and his heart yearned towards her with a yearning akin to that which years before he had felt over the little silent form of the daughter whose eyes had never looked into his.
There was no trouble with the town in regard to the land. If there had been any doubts, Elder Kinney's vigorous championship of the new claimant would have put them down. But the sympathy of the entire community was enlisted on Reuben's side. The whole story from first to last appealed to every man's heart; and there was not a father in town that did not rest his hand more lovingly on his little girl's head at night, when he sat in his door-way talking over "them Millers," and telling about Draxy's "writin' to th' Elder."
Before the first of May all was settled. Elder Kinney had urged Mr. Miller to come at once to his house, and make it a home until he could look about and decide where he would establish himself.
"I am a lonely man," he wrote; "I buried my wife and only child many years ago, and have lived here ever since, with only an old Indian woman to take care of me. I don't want to press you against your will; and there's a house in the village that you can hire; but it will go against me sorely not to have you in my house at the first. I want to see you, and to see your little daughter; I can't help feeling as if the Lord had laid out for us to be friends more than common."
Reuben hesitated. The shyness of his nature made him shrink from other men's houses. But Draxy inclined strongly to the Elder's proposition. "Oh, think father, how lonely he must be. Suppose you hadn't mother nor me, father dear!" and Draxy kissed her father's cheek; "and think how glad you have been that you came to live with uncle," she added.
Reuben looked lovingly at Captain Melville, but said nothing.
"I'll tell ye what I think, Reuben;" said the Captain. "It's my belief that you'n that parson'll take to each other. His letters sound like your talk. Somehow, I've got an uncommon respect for that man, considerin' he's a parson: it's my advice to ye, to take up with his offer."
"And it seems no more than polite, father," persisted Draxy: "after he has done so much for us. We need not say how long we will stay in his house, you know."
"Supposin' you go up first, Draxy," said Reuben, hesitatingly, "an' see how 'tis. I always did hate Injuns."
"Oh!" said Draxy; she had hardly observed the mention of that feature in the Elder's household, and she laughed outright. Her ideas of the ancestral savage were too vague to be very alarming. "If she has lived all these years with this good old minister, she must be civilized and kind," said Draxy. "I'm not afraid of her."
"But I think it would be a great deal better for me to go first," she continued, more and more impressed with the new idea. "Then I can be sure beforehand about everything, and get things all in order for you; and there'll be Mr. Kinney to take care of me; I feel as if he was a kind of father to everybody." And Draxy in her turn began to wonder about the Elder's appearance as he had wondered about hers. Her mental picture was quite as unlike the truth as was his. She fancied him not unlike her father, but much older, with a gentle face, and floating white hair. Dim purposes of how she might make his lonely old age more cheerful, floated before her mind. "It must be awful," thought she, "to live years and years all alone with an Indian."
When Elder Kinney read Reuben's letter, saying that they would send their daughter up first to decide what would be best for them to do, he brought his hand down hard on the table and said "Whew!" again.
"Well, I do declare," thought he to himself, "I'm afraid they're dreadful shiftless folks, to send that girl way up here, all alone by herself; and how's such a child's that goin' to decide anything, I should like to know?"
He read again the letter Reuben had written. "My daughter is very young, but we lean upon her as if she was older. She has helped us bear all our misfortunes, and we have more confidence in her opinions than in our own about everything." The Elder was displeased.
"Lean on her;' I should think you did! Poor little girl! Well, I can look out for her; that's one comfort." And the Elder wrote a short note to the effect that he would meet their "child" at the railway station, which was six miles from their town; that he would do all he could to help her; and that he hoped soon to see Mr. and Mrs. Miller under his roof.
The words of the note were most friendly, but there was an indefinable difference between it and all the others, which Draxy felt without knowing that she felt it, and her last words to her father as she bade him good-by from the car window were: "I don't feel so sure as I did about our staying with Mr. Kinney, father. You leave it all to me, do you, dear, even if I decide to buy a house?"
"Yes, daughter," said Reuben, heartily; "all! Nothing but good's ever come yet of your way o' doin' things."
"An' I don't in the least hanker after that Injun," he called out as the cars began to move. Draxy laughed merrily. Reuben was a new man already. They were very gay together, and felt wonderfully little fear for people to whom life had been thus far so hard.
There was not a misgiving in Draxy's heart as she set out again on a two days' journey to an unknown place. "Oh how different from the day when I started before," she thought as she looked out on the water sparkling under the bright May sun. She spent the first night, as before, at the house of Captain Melville's brother, and set out at eight the following morning, to ride for ten hours steadily northward. The day was like a day of June. The spring was opening early; already fruit-trees were white and pink; banks were green, and birds were noisy.
By noon mountains came in sight. Draxy was spellbound. "They are grander than the sea," thought she, "and I never dreamed it; and they are loving, too. I should like to rest my cheek on them."
As she drew nearer and nearer, and saw some tops still white with snow, her heart beat faster, and with a sudden pang almost of conscience-stricken remorse, she exclaimed, "Oh, I shall never, never once miss the sea!"
Elder Kinney had borrowed Eben Hill's horse and wagon to drive over for Draxy. He was at the station half an hour before the train was due. It had been years since the steady currents of his life had been so disturbed and hurried as they were by this little girl.
"Looks like rain, Elder; I 'spect she'll have to go over with me arter all," said George Thayer, the handsomest, best-natured stage-driver in the whole State of New Hampshire. The Elder glanced anxiously at the sky.
"No, I guess not, George," he replied. "'Twon't be anything more'n a shower, an' I've got an umbrella and a buffalo-robe. I can keep her dry."
Everybody at the station knew Draxy's story, and knew that the Elder had come to meet her. When the train stopped, all eyes eagerly scanned the passengers who stepped out on the platform. Two men, a boy, and three women, one after the other; it was but a moment, and the train was off again.
"She hain't come," exclaimed voice after voice. The Elder said nothing; he had stood a little apart from the crowd, watching for his ideal Draxy; as soon as he saw that she was not there, he had fallen into a perplexed reverie as to the possible causes of her detention. He was sorely anxious about the child. "Jest's like's not, she never changed cars down at the Junction," thought he, "an' 's half way to Montreal by this time," and the Elder felt hot with resentment against Reuben Miller.
Meantime, beautiful, dignified, and unconscious, Draxy stood on the platform, quietly looking at face after face, seeking for the white hair and gentle eyes of her trusted friend, the old minister.
George Thayer, with the quick instinct of a stage-driver, was the first to see that she was a stranger.
"Where d'ye wish to go, ma'am?" said he, stepping towards her.
"Thank you," said Draxy, "I expected some one to meet me," and she looked uneasy; but reassured by the pleasant face, she went on: "the minister from Clairvend village was to meet me here."
George Thayer said, two hours afterward, in recounting his share of the adventure, "I tell ye, boys, when she said that ye might ha' knocked me down with a feather. I hain't never heard no other woman's voice that's got jest the sound to't hern has; an' what with that, an' thinkin' how beat the Elder'd be, an' wonderin' who in thunder she was anyhow, I don't believe I opened my dum lips for a full minute; but she kind o' smiled, and sez she, 'Do you know Mr. Kinney?' and that brought me to, and jest then the Elder he come along, and so I introduced 'em."
It was not exactly an introduction, however. The Elder, entirely absorbed in conjecture as to poor little Draxy's probable whereabouts, stumbled on the platform steps and nearly fell at her very feet, and was recalled to himself only to be plunged into still greater confusion by George Thayer's loud "Hallo! here he is. Here's Elder Kinney. Here's a lady askin' for you, Elder!"
Even yet it did not dawn upon Elder Kinney who this could be; his little golden-haired girl was too vividly stamped on his brain; he looked gravely into the face of this tall and fine-looking young woman and said kindly, "Did you wish to see me, ma'am?"
Draxy smiled. She began to understand. "I am afraid you did not expect to see me so tall, sir," she said. "I am Reuben Miller's daughter,—Draxy," she added, smiling again, but beginning in her turn to look confused. Could this erect, vigorous man, with a half-stern look on his dark-bearded face, be the right Mr. Kinney? her minister? It was a moment which neither Elder Kinney nor Draxy ever forgot. The unsentimental but kindly George gave the best description of it which could be given.
"I vow, boys, I jest wish ye could ha' seen our Elder; an' yet, I dunno's I do wish so, nuther. He stood a twistin' his hat, jest like any o' us, an' he kind o' stammered, an' I don't believe neither on 'em knew a word he said; an' her cheeks kep' gittin' redder'n redder, an' she looked's ef she was ready to cry, and yet she couldn't keep from larfin, no how. Ye see she thought he was an old man and he thought she was a little gal, an' somehow't first they didn't either of 'em feel like nobody; but when I passed 'em in the road, jest out to Four Corners, they was talkin' as easy and nateral as could be; an' the Elder he looked some like himself, and she—wall, boys, you jest wait till you see her; that's all I've got to say. Ef she ain't a picter!"
The drive to the village seemed long, however, to both Draxy and the Elder. Their previous conceptions of each other had been too firmly rooted to be thus overthrown without a great jar. The Elder felt Draxy's simplicity and child-like truthfulness more and more with each word she spoke; but her quiet dignity of manner was something to which he was unused; to his inexperience she seemed almost a fine lady, in spite of her sweet and guileless speech. Draxy, on the other hand, was a little repelled by the Elder's whole appearance. He was a rougher man than she had known; his pronunciation grated on her ear; and he looked so strong and dark she felt a sort of fear of him. But the next morning, when Draxy came down in her neat calico gown and white apron, the Elder's face brightened.
"Good morning, my child," he said. "You look as fresh as a pink." The tears came into Draxy's eyes at the word "child," said as her father said it.
"I don't look so old then, this morning, do I, sir?" she asked in a pleading tone which made the Elder laugh. He was more himself this morning. All was well. Draxy sat down to breakfast with a lighter heart.
When Draxy was sitting she looked very young. Her face was as childlike as it was beautiful: and her attitudes were all singularly unconscious and free. It was when she rose that her womanhood revealed itself to the perpetual surprise of every one. As breakfast went on the Elder gradually regained his old feeling about her; his nature was as simple, as spontaneous as hers; he called her "child" again several times in the course of the meal. But when at the end of it Draxy rose, tall, erect, almost majestic in her fullness of stature, he felt again singularly removed from her.
"'Ud puzzle any man to say whether she's a child or a woman," said the Elder to himself. But his face shone with pleasure as he walked by her side out into the little front yard. Draxy was speechless with delight. In the golden east stretched a long range of mountains, purple to the top; down in the valley, a mile below the Elder's house, lay the village; a little shining river ran side by side with its main street. To the north were high hills, some dark green and wooded, some of brown pasture land.
"Oh, sir," said Draxy, "is there any other spot in your mountain land so beautiful as this?"
"No, not one," said the Elder, "not one;" and he, too, looked out silently on the scene.
Presently Draxy exclaimed, with a sigh, "Oh, it makes me feel like crying to think of my father's seeing this!"
"Shall I tell you now about my father, sir?" she continued; "you ought to know all about us, you have been so good."
Then sitting on the low step of the door, while the Elder sat in an arm-chair in the porch, Draxy told the story of her father's life, and, unconsciously, of her own. More than once the Elder wiped his eyes; more than once he rose and walked up and down before the door, gazing with undefined but intense emotion at this woman telling her pathetic story with the simple-hearted humility of a child. Draxy looked younger than ever curled up in the doorway, with her hands lying idle on her white apron. The Elder was on the point of stroking her hair. Suddenly she rose, and said, "But I am taking too much of your time, sir; will you take me now to see the house you spoke of, which we could hire?" She was again the majestic young woman. The Elder was again thrown back, and puzzled.
He tried to persuade her to give up all idea of hiring the house: to make his house their home for the present. But she replied steadfastly, "I must look at the house, sir, before I decide." They walked down into the village together. Draxy was utterly unconscious of observation, but the Elder knew only too well that every eye of Clairvend was at some window-pane studying his companion's face and figure. All whom they met stared so undisguisedly that, fearing Draxy would be annoyed, he said,—
"You mustn't mind the folks staring so at you. You see they've been talkin' the matter all over about the land, an' your comin', for a month, an' it's no more than natural they should want to know how you look;" and he, too, looked admiringly at Draxy's face.
"Oh," said Draxy (it was a new idea to her mind), "I never thought of that."
"I hope they are all glad we are coming, sir," added she, a moment after.
"Oh yes, yes; they're glad enough. 'Taint often anything happens up here, you know, and they've all thought everything of you since your first letter came."
Draxy colored. She had not dreamed of taking a whole village into her confidence. But she was glad of the friendliness; and she met every inquisitive gaze after this with an open, responsive look of such beaming good-will that she made friends of all whom she saw. One or two stopped and spoke; most were afraid to do so, unconsciously repelled, as the Elder had been at first, by something in Draxy's dress and bearing which to their extreme inexperience suggested the fine lady. Nothing could have been plainer than Draxy's cheap gray gown; but her dress always had character: the tiniest knot of ribbon at her throat assumed the look of a decoration; and many a lady for whom she worked had envied her the expression of her simple clothes.
The house would not answer. Draxy shook her head as soon as she saw it, and when the Elder told her that in the spring freshets the river washed into the lower story, she turned instantly away, and said, "Let us go home, sir; I must think of something else."
At dinner Draxy was preoccupied, and anxious. The expression of perplexity made her look older, but no less beautiful. Elder Kinney gazed at her more steadily than he knew; and he did not call her "child" again.
After dinner he took her over the house, explaining to her, at every turn, how useless most of the rooms were to him. In truth, the house was admirably adapted for two families, with the exception that there was but one kitchen. "But that could be built on in a very few days, and would cost very little," said the Elder eagerly. Already all the energies of his strong nature were kindled by the resolve to keep Draxy under his roof.
"I suppose it might be so built that it could be easily moved off and added to our own house when we build for ourselves," said Draxy, reflectively.
"Oh, yes," said the Elder, "no sort o' trouble about that," and he glowed with delight. He felt sure that his cause was gained.
But he found Draxy very inflexible. There was but one arrangement of which she would think for a moment. It was, that the Elder should let to them one half of his house, and that the two families should be entirely distinct. Until the new kitchen and out-buildings were finished, if the Elder would consent to take them as boarders, they would live with him; "otherwise, sir, I must find some one in the village who will take us," said Draxy in a quiet tone, which Elder Kinney knew instinctively was not to be argued with. It was a novel experience for the Elder in more ways than one. He was used to having his parishioners, especially the women, yield implicitly to his advice. This gentle-voiced girl, who said to him, "Don't you think, sir?" in an appealing tone which made his blood quicken, but who afterward, when she disagreed with him, stood her ground immovably even against entreaties, was a phenomenon in his life. He began to stand in awe of her. When some one said to him on the third day after Draxy's arrival: "Well, Elder, I don't know what she'd ha' done without you," he replied emphatically, "Done without me! You'll find out that all Reuben Miller's daughter wants of anybody is jest to let her know exactly how things lay. She ain't beholden to anybody for opinions. She's as trustin' as a baby, while you're tellin' her facts, but I'd like to see anybody make her change her mind about what's best to be done; and I reckon she's generally right; what's more, she's one of the Lord's favorites, an' He ain't above guidin' in small things no mor'n in great."
No wonder Elder Kinney was astonished. In forty-eight hours Draxy had rented one half of his house, made a contract with a carpenter for the building of a kitchen and out-buildings on the north side of it, engaged board at the Elder's table for her parents and herself for a month, and hired Bill Sims to be her father's head man for one year. All the while she seemed as modestly grateful to the Elder as if he had done it all for her. On the afternoon of the second day she said to him:—
"Now, sir, what is the nearest place for me to buy our furniture?"
"Why, ain't you goin' to use mine—at least's far's it goes?" said the poor Elder. "I thought that was in the bargain."
Draxy looked disturbed. "Oh, how careless of me," she said; "I am afraid nothing was said about it. But we cannot do that; my father would dislike it; and as we must have furniture for our new house, we might as well have it now. I have seven hundred dollars with me, sir; father thought I might decide to buy a house, and have to pay something down."
"Please don't be angry with me," she added pleadingly, for the Elder looked vexed. "You know if I am sure my father would prefer a thing, I must do it."
The Elder was disarmed.
"Well, if you are set on buyin' furniture," he said, "I shouldn't wonder if you'd have a chance to buy all you'd want cheap down at Squire Williams's sale in Mill Creek. His wife died the night your first letter came, an' I heard somebody say he was goin' to sell all out; an' they've always been well-to-do, the Williamses, an' I reckon you'd fancy some o' their things better'n anything you'd get at the stores."
Already the Elder began to divine Draxy's tastes; to feel that she had finer needs than the women he had known. In less than an hour he was at the door with Eben Hill's horse and wagon to take Draxy to Squire Williams's house.
"Jest more o' the same Providence that follows that girl," thought he when he saw Draxy's eyes fairly dilate with pleasure as he led her into the old-fashioned parlor, where the furniture was piled and crowded ready for the auction.
"Oh, will they not cost too much for me, dear Mr. Kinney?" whispered Draxy.
"No, I guess not," he said, "there ain't much biddin' at these sort of sales up here," and he mentally resolved that nothing Draxy wanted should cost too much for her.
The sale was to be the next day. Draxy made a careful list of the things she would like to buy. The Elder was to come over and bid them off for her.
"Now you just go over 'em again," said the Elder, "and mark off what you'd like to have if they didn't cost anything, because sometimes things go for's good 's nothing, if nobody happens to want 'em." So Draxy made a second list, and laughing a little girlish laugh as she handed the papers to the Elder, pointed to the words "must haves" at the head of the first list, and "would-like-to-haves" at the head of the second. The Elder put them both in his breast-pocket, and he and Draxy drove home.
The next night two great loads of Squire Williams's furniture were carried into Elder Kinney's house. As article after article was taken in, Draxy clapped her hands and almost screamed with delight; all her "would-like-to-haves" were there. "Oh, the clock, the clock! Have I really got that, too!" she exclaimed, and she turned to the Elder, half crying, and said, "How shall I ever thank you, sir?"
The Elder was uncomfortable. He was in a dilemma. He had not been able to resist buying the clock for Draxy. He dared not tell her what he had paid for it. "She'd never let me give her a cent's worth, I know that well enough. It would be just like her to make me take it back," thought he. Luckily Draxy was too absorbed in her new riches, all the next day, to ask for her accounts, and by the next night the Elder had deliberately resolved to make false returns on his papers as to the price of several articles. "I'll tell her all about it one o' these days when she knows me better," he comforted himself by thinking; "I never did think Ananias was an out an' out liar. It couldn't be denied that all he did say was true!" and the Elder resolutely and successfully tried to banish the subject from his mind by thinking about Draxy.
The furniture was, much of it, valuable old mahogany, dark in color and quaint in shape. Draxy could hardly contain herself with delight, as she saw the expression it gave to the rooms; it had cost so little that she ventured to spend a small sum for muslin curtains, new papers, bright chintz, and shelves here and there. When all was done, she herself was astonished at the result. The little home was truly lovely. "Oh, sir, my father has never had a pretty home like this in all his life," said she to the Elder, who stood in the doorway of the sitting-room looking with half-pained wonder at the transformation. He felt, rather than saw, how lovely the rooms looked; he could not help being glad to see Draxy so glad; but he felt farther removed from her by this power of hers to create what he could but dimly comprehend. Already he unconsciously weighed all things in new balances; already he began to have a strange sense of humility in the presence of this woman.
Ten days from the day that Draxy arrived in Clairvend she drove over with the Elder to meet her father and mother at the station. She had arranged that the Elder should carry her father back in the wagon; she and her mother would go in the stage. She counted much on the long, pleasant drive through the woods as an opening to the acquaintance between her father and the Elder. She had been too busy to write any but the briefest letters home, and had said very little about him. To her last note she had added a post-script,—
"I am sure you will like Mr. Kinney, father. He is very kind and very good. But he is not old as we thought."
To the Elder she said, as they drove over, "I think you will love my father, sir, and I know you will do him good. But he will not say much at first; you will have to talk," and Draxy smiled. The Elder and she understood each other very well.
"I don't think there's much danger o' my not lovin' him," replied the Elder; "by all you tell he must be uncommon lovable." Draxy turned on him such a beaming smile that he could not help adding, "an' I should think his bein' your father was enough."
Draxy looked seriously in his face, and said "Oh, Mr. Kinney, I'm not anything by the side of father."
The Elder's eyes twinkled.
It was a silent though joyful group which gathered around the Elder's tea-table that night.
Reuben and Jane were tired, bewildered, but their eyes rested on Draxy with perpetual smiles. Draxy also smiled more than she spoke. The Elder felt himself half out of place and wished to go away, but Draxy looked grieved at his proposal to do so, and he stayed. But nobody could eat, and old Nancy, who had spent her utmost resources on the supper, was cruelly disappointed. She bustled in and out on various pretenses, but at last could keep silence no longer. "Seems to me ye've dreadful slim appetites for folks that's been travellin' all day. Perhaps ye don't like yer victuals," she said, glancing sharply at Reuben.
"Oh yes, madame, yes," said poor Reuben, nervously, "everything is very nice; much nicer than I am used to."
Draxy laughed aloud. "My father never eats when he is tired, Nancy. You'll see how he'll eat to-morrow."
After Nancy had left the room, Reuben wiped his forehead, and Draxy laughed again in spite of herself. Old Nancy had been so kind and willing in helping her, she had grown fond of her, and had quite forgotten her father's dread. When Reuben bade Draxy good-night, he said under his breath, "I like your Elder very much, daughter; but I don't know how I'm ever goin' to stand livin' with that Injun."
"My Elder," said Draxy to herself as she went up-stairs, "he's everybody's Elder—and the Lord's most of all I think," and she went to sleep thinking of the solemn words which she had heard him speak on the last Sunday.
It was strange how soon the life of the new household adjusted itself; how full the days were, and how swift. The summer was close upon them; Reuben's old farmer instincts and habits revived in full force. Bill Sims proved a most efficient helper; he had been Draxy's sworn knight, from the moment of her first interview with him. There would be work on Reuben's farm for many hands, but Reuben was in no haste. The sugar camp assured him of an income which was wealth to their simple needs; and he wished to act advisedly and cautiously in undertaking new enterprises. All the land was wild land—much of it deep swamps. The maple orchard was the only part immediately profitable. The village people came at once to see them. Everybody was touched by Jane's worn face and gentle ways; her silence did not repel them; everybody liked Draxy too, and admired her, but many were a little afraid of her. The village men had said that she was "the smartest woman that had ever set foot in Clairvend village," and human nature is human nature. It would take a great deal of Draxy's kindly good-will to make her sister women forgive her for being cleverer than they. Draxy and Reuben were inseparable. They drove; they walked; even into the swamps courageous Draxy penetrated with her father and Bill Sims, as they went about surveying the land; and it was Draxy's keen instinct which in many cases suggested where improvements could be made.
In the mean time Elder Kinney's existence had become transformed. He dared not to admit himself how much it meant, this new delight in simply being alive, for back of his delight lurked a desperate fear; he dared not move. Day after day he spent more and more time in the company of Draxy and her father. Reuben and he were fast becoming close friends. Reuben's gentle, trustful nature found repose in the Elder's firm, sturdy downrightness, much as it had in Captain Melville's; and the Elder would have loved Reuben if he had not been Draxy's father. But to Draxy he seemed to draw no nearer. She was the same frank, affectionate, merry, puzzling woman-child that she had been at first; yet as he saw more and more how much she knew of books which he did not know, of people, and of affairs of which he had never heard—how fluently, graciously, and even wisely she could talk, he felt himself cut off from her. Her sweet, low tones and distinct articulation tortured him while they fascinated him; they seemed to set her so apart. In fact, each separate charm she had, produced in the poor Elder's humble heart a mixture of delight and pain which could not be analyzed and could not long be borne.
He exaggerated all his own defects of manner, and speech, and education; he felt uncomfortable in Draxy's presence, in spite of all the affectionate reverence with which she treated him; he said to himself fifty times a day, "It's only my bein' a minister that makes her think anythin' o' me." The Elder was fast growing wretched.
But Draxy was happy. She was still in some ways more child than woman. Her peculiar training had left her imagination singularly free from fancies concerning love and marriage. The Elder was a central interest in her life; she would have said instantly and cordially that she loved him dearly. She saw him many times every day; she knew all his outgoings and incomings; she knew the first step of his foot on the threshold; she felt that he belonged to them, and they to him. Yet as a woman thinks of the man whose wife she longs to be, Draxy had never once thought of Elder Kinney.
But when the new kitchen was finished, and the Millers entered on their separate housekeeping, a change came. As Reuben and Jane and Draxy sat down for the first time alone together at their tea-table, Reuben said cheerily:—
"Now this seems like old times. This is nice."
"Yes," replied Jane. Draxy did not speak. Reuben looked at her. She colored suddenly, deeply, and said with desperate honesty,—
"Yes, father; but I can't help thinking how lonely Mr. Kinney must be."
"Well, I declare," said Reuben, conscience-stricken; "I suppose he must be; I hate to think on't. But we'll have him in here's often's he'll come."
Just the other side of the narrow entry sat the Elder, leaning both his elbows on the table, and looking over at the vacant place where the night before, and for thirty nights before, Draxy had sat. It was more than he could bear. He sprang up, and leaving his supper untasted, walked out of the house.
Draxy heard him go. Draxy had passed in that moment into a new world. She divined all.
"He hasn't eaten any supper," thought she; and she listened intently to hear him come in again. The clock struck ten, he had not returned! Draxy went to bed, but she could not sleep. The little house was still; the warm white moonlight lay like summer snow all over it; Draxy looked out of her window; the Elder was slowly coming up the hill; Draxy knelt down like a little child and said, "God bless him," and crept back to bed. When she heard him shut his bedroom door she went to sleep.
The next day Draxy's eyes did not look as they had looked the day before. When Elder Kinney first saw her, she was coming down stairs. He was standing at the foot of the staircase and waited to say "Good morning." As he looked up at her, he started back and exclaimed: "Why, Draxy, what's the matter?"
"Nothing is the matter, sir," said Draxy, as she stepped from the last stair, and standing close in front of him, lifted the new, sweet, softened eyes up to his. Draxy was as simple and sincere in this as in all other emotions and acts of her life. She had no coquetry in her nature. She had no distinct thought either of a new relation between herself and the Elder. She simply felt a new oneness with him; and she could not have understood the suggestion of concealment. If Elder Kinney had been a man of the world, he would have folded Draxy to his heart that instant. If he had been even a shade less humble and self-disrustful, he would have done it, as it was. But he never dreamed that he might. He folded his empty arms very tight over his faithful, aching, foolish heart, and tried to say calmly and naturally, "Are you sure? Seems to me you don't look quite well."
But after that morning he never felt wholly without hope. He could not tell precisely why. Draxy did not seek him, did not avoid him. She was perhaps a little less merry; said fewer words; but she looked glad, and more than glad. "I think it's the eyes," he said to himself again and again, as he tried to analyze the new look on Draxy's face which gave him hope. These were sweet days. There are subtle joys for lovers who dwell side by side in one house, together and yet apart. The very air is loaded with significance to them—the door, the window, the stairway. Always there is hope of meeting; always there is consciousness of presence; everywhere a mysterious sense that the loved one has passed by. More than once Seth Kinney knelt and laid his cheek on the stairs which Draxy's feet had just ascended! Often sweet, guileless Draxy thought, as she went up and down, "Ah, the dear feet that go over these stairs." One day the Elder, as he passed by the wall of the room where he knew Draxy was sitting, brushed his great hand and arm against it so heavily that she started, thinking he had stumbled. But as the firm step went on, without pausing, she smiled, she hardly knew why. The next time he did it she laid down her work, locked and unlocked her hands, and looking toward the door, whispered under her breath, "Dear hands!" Finally this became almost a habit of his; he did not at first think Draxy would hear it; but he felt, as he afterwards told her, "like a great affectionate dog going by her door, and that was all he could do. He would have liked to lie down on the rug."
These were very sweet days; spite of his misgivings, Elder Kinney was happy; and Draxy, in spite of her unconsciousness, seemed to herself to be living in a blissful dream. But a sweeter day came.
One Saturday evening Reuben said to Draxy,—
"Daughter, I've done somethin' I'm afraid'll trouble you. I've told th' Elder about your verses, an' showed him the hymn you wrote when you was tryin' to give it all up about the land."
"Oh, father, how could you," gasped Draxy; and she looked as if she would cry.
Reuben could not tell just how it happened. It seemed to have come out before he knew it, and after it had, he could not help showing the hymn.
Draxy was very seriously disturbed; but she tried to conceal it from her father, and the subject was dropped.
The next morning Elder Kinney preached—it seemed to his people—as he never preached before. His subject was self-renunciation, and he spoke as one who saw the waving palms of the martyrs and heard their shouts of joy. There were few dry eyes in the little meeting-house. Tears rolled down Draxy's face. But she looked up suddenly, on hearing Elder Kinney say, in an unsteady voice,—
"My bretherin, I'm goin' to read to you now a hymn which comes nigher to expressin' my idea of the kind of resignation God likes than any hymn that's ever been written or printed in any hymn-book;" and then he began:—
"I cannot think but God must know," etc.
Draxy's first feeling was one of resentment; but it was a very short-lived one. The earnest tone, the solemn stillness of the wondering people, the peaceful summer air floating in at the open windows,—all lifted her out of herself, and made her glad to hear her own hymn read by the man she loved, for the worship of God. But her surprise was still greater when the choir began to sing the lines to a quaint old Methodist tune. They had been provided with written copies of the hymn, and had practiced it so faithfully that they sang it well. Draxy broke down and sobbed for a few moments, so that Elder Kinney was on the point of forgetting everything, and springing to her side. He had not supposed that anything in the world could so overthrow Draxy's composure. He did not know how much less strong her nerves were now than they had been two months before.
After church, Draxy walked home alone very rapidly. She did not wish to see any one. She was glad that her father and mother had not been there. She could not understand the tumult of her feelings.
At twilight, she stole out of the back door of the house, and walked down to a little brook which ran near by. As she stood leaning against a young maple tree she heard steps, and without looking up, knew that the Elder was coming. She did not move nor speak. He waited some minutes in silence. Then he said "Oh, Draxy! I never once thought o' painin' you! I thought you'd like it. Hymns are made to be sung, dear; and that one o' yours is so beautiful!" He spoke as gently as her father might, and in a voice she hardly knew. Draxy made no reply. The Elder had never seen her like this. Her lips quivered, and he saw tears in her eyes.
"Oh, Draxy, do look up at me—just once! You don't know how hard it is for a man to think he's hurt anybody—like you!" stammered the poor Elder, ending his sentence quite differently from what he had intended.
Draxy smiled through her tears, and looking up, said: "But I am not hurt, Mr. Kinney; I don't know what I am crying for, sir;" and her eyes fell again.
The Elder looked down upon her in silence. Moments passed. "Oh, if I could make her look up at me again!" he thought. His unspoken wish stirred her veins; slowly she lifted her eyes; they were calm now, and unutterably loving. They were more than the Elder could bear."
"Oh, Draxy, Draxy!" exclaimed he, stretching out both his arms towards her.
"My heart grows weaker and more weak
With looking on the thing so dear
Which lies so far, and yet so near!"
Slowly, very slowly, like a little child learning to walk, with her eyes full of tears, but her mouth smiling, Draxy moved towards the Elder. He did not stir, partly because he could not, but partly because he would not lose one instant of the deliciousness of seeing her, feeling her come.
When they went back to the house, Reuben was sitting in the porch. The Elder took his hand and said:
"Mr. Miller, I meant to have asked you first; but God didn't give me time."
"You've's good's asked me a good while back, Elder; an' I take it you haint ever had much doubt what my answer'd be." Then, as Draxy knelt down by his chair and laid her head on his shoulder, he added more solemnly,—
"But I'd jest like once to say to ye, Elder, that if ever I get to heaven, I wouldn't ask anythin' more o' the Lord than to let me see Draxy 'n' you a comin' in together, an' lookin' as you looked jest now when ye come in't that gate!"