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The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 105/The Great Doctor

< The Atlantic Monthly‎ | Volume 18‎ | Number 105
 

THE GREAT DOCTOR.

A STORY IN TWO PARTS.

PART I.

“Hello! hello! which way now, Mrs. Walker? It'll rain afore you git there, if you've got fur to go. Hadn't you better stop an' come in till this thunder-shower passes over?"

"Well, no, I reckon not, Mr. Bowen. I'm in a good deal of a hurry. I've been sent for over to John's." And rubbing one finger up and down the horn of her saddle, for she was on horseback, Mrs. Walker added, "Johnny's sick, Mr. Bowen, an' purty bad, I'm afeard." Then she tucked up her skirts, and, gathering up the rein, that had dropped on the neck of her horse, she inquired in a more cheerful tone, "How's all the folks,—Miss Bowen, an' Jinney, an' all?"

By this time the thunder began to growl, and the wind to whirl clouds of dust along the road.

"You'd better hitch your critter under the wood-shed, an' come in a bit. My woman'll be glad to see you, an' Jinney too,—there she is now, at the winder. I'll warrant nobody goes along the big road without her seein' 'em." Mr. Bowen had left the broad kitchen-porch from which he had hallooed to the old woman, and was now walking down the gravelled path, that, between its borders of four-o'clocks and other common flowers, led from the front door to the front gate. "We're all purty well, I'm obleeged to you," he said, as, reaching the gate, he leaned over it, and turned his cold gray eyes upon the neat legs of the horse, rather than the anxious face of the rider.

"I'm glad to hear you're well," Mrs. Walker said; "it a'most seems to me that, if I had Johnny the way he was last week, I wouldn't complain about anything. We think too much of our little hardships, Mr. Bowen,—a good deal too much!" And Mrs. Walker looked at the clouds, perhaps in the hope that their blackness would frighten the tears away from her eyes. John was her own boy,—forty years old, to be sure, but still a boy to her,—and he was very sick.

"Well, I don't know," Mr. Bowen said, opening the mouth of the horse and looking in it; "we all have our troubles, an' if it ain't one thing it's another. Now if John wasn't sick, I s'pose you'd be frettin' about somethin' else; you mustn't think you're particularly sot apart in your afflictions, any how. This rain that's getherin' is goin' to spile a couple of acres of grass for me, don't you see?"

Mrs. Walker was hurt. Her neighbor had not given her the sympathy she expected; he had not said anything about John one way nor another; had not inquired whether there was anything he could do, nor what the doctor said, nor asked any of those questions that express a kindly solicitude.

"I am sorry about your hay," she answered, "but I must be going."

"Don't want to hurry you; but if you will go, the sooner the better. That thunder-cloud is certain to bust in a few minutes." And Mr. Bowen turned toward the house.

"Wait a minute, Mrs. Walker," called a young voice, full of kindness; "here's my umberell. It'll save your bonnet, any how; and it's a real purty one. But didn't I hear you say somebody was sick over to your son's house?"

"Yes, darlin'," answered the old woman as she took the umbrella; "it's Johnny himself; he's right bad, they say. I just got word about an hour ago, and left everything, and started off. They think he's got the small-pox."

Jenny Bowen, the young girl who had brought the umbrella, looked terribly frightened. "They won't let me go over, you know," she said, nodding her head toward the house, "not if it's really small-pox!" And then, with the hope at which the young are so quick to catch, she added, "May be it isn't small-pox. I haven't heard of a case anywhere about. I don't believe it is." And then she told Mrs. Walker not to fret about home. "I will go," she said, "and milk the cow, and look after things. Don't think one thought about it." And then she asked if the rest of them at John Walker's were well.

"If it's Hobert you want to know about," the grandmother said, smiling faintly, "he's well; but, darlin', you'd better not think about him: they'll be ag'in it, in there!" and she nodded toward the house as Jenny had done before her.

The face of the young girl flushed,—not with confusion, but with self-asserting and defiant brightness that seemed to say, "Let them do their worst." The thunder rattled sharper and nearer, bursting right upon the flash of the lightning, and then came the rain. But it proved not one of those bright, brief dashes that leave the world sparkling, but settled toward sunset into a slow, dull drizzle.

Jenny had her milking, and all the other evening chores, done betimes, and with an alertness and cheerfulness in excess of her usual manner, that might have indicated an unusual favor to be asked. She had made her evening toilet; that is, she had combed her hair, tied on a pair of calf-skin shoes, and a blue checked apron, newly washed and ironed; when she said, looking toward a faint light in the west, and as though the thought had just occurred to her, "It's going to break away, I see. Don't you think, mother, I had better just run over to Mrs. Walker's, and milk her cow for her?"

"Go to Miss Walker's!" repeated the mother, as though she were as much outraged as astonished. She was seated in the door, patching, by the waning light, an old pair of mud-spattered trousers, her own dress being very old-fashioned, coarse, and scanty,—so scant, in fact, as to reveal the angles of her form with ungraceful definiteness, especially the knees, that were almost suggestive of a skeleton, and now, as she put herself in position, as it were, stood up with inordinate prominence. Her hands were big in the joints, ragged in the nails, and marred all over with the cuts, burns, and scratches of indiscriminate and incessant toil. But her face was, perhaps, the most sadly divested of all womanly charm. It had, in the first place, the deep yellow, lifeless appearance of an old bruise, and was expressive of pain, irritation, and fanatical anxiety.

"Go to Miss Walker's!" she said again, seeing that Jenny was taking down from its peg in the kitchen-wall a woollen cloak that had been hers since she was a little girl, and her mother's before her.

"Yes, mother. You know John Walker is very sick, and Mrs. Walker has been sent for over there. She's very down-hearted about him. He's dangerous, they think; and I thought may be I'd come round that way as I come home, and ask how he was. Don't you think I'd better?"

"I think you had better stay at home and tend to your own business. You'll spile your clothes, and do no good that I can see by traipsin' out in such a storm."

"Why, you would think it was bad for one of our cows to go without milking," Jenny said, "and I suppose Mrs. Walker's cow is a good deal like ours, and she is giving a pailful of milk now."

"How do you know so much about Miss Walker's cow? If you paid more attention to things at home, and less to other folks, you'd be more dutiful."

"That's true, mother, but would I be any better?"

"Not in your own eyes, child; but you're so much wiser than your father and me, that words are throwed away on you."

"I promised Mrs. Walker that I would milk for her to-night," Jenny said, hesitating, and dropping her eyes.

"O yes, you've always got some excuse! What did you make a promise for, that you knowed your father wouldn't approve of? Take your things right off now, and peel the potaters, and sift the meal for mush in the morning; an' if Miss Walker's cow must be milked, what's to hender that Hobe, the great lazy strapper, shouldn't go and milk her?"

"You forget how much he has to do at home now; and one pair of hands can't do everything, even if they are Hobert Walker's!"

Jenny had spoken with much spirit and some bitterness; and the bright defiant flush, before noticed, came into her face, as she untied the cloak and proceeded to sift the meal and peel the potatoes for breakfast. She did her work quietly, but with a determination in every movement that indicated a will not easily overruled.

It was nearly dark, and the rain still persistently falling, when she turned the potato-peelings into the pig-trough that stood only a few yards from the door, and, returning, put the cloak about her shoulders, tied it deliberately, turned the hood over her head, and, without another word, walked straight out into the rain.

"Well, I must say! Well, I must say!" cried the mother, in exasperated astonishment. "What on airth is that girl a-comin' to?" And, resting her elbows on her knees, she leaned her yellow face in her hands, and gathered out of her hard, embittered heart such consolation as she could.

Jenny, meantime, tucked up her petticoats, and, having left a field or two between her and the homestead, tripped lightly along, debating with herself whether or not she should carry out her will to the full, and return by the way of Mr. John Walker's,—a question she need hardly have raised, if unexpected events had not interfered with her predeterminations. At Mrs. Walker's gate she stopped and pulled half a dozen roses from the bush that was almost lying on the ground with its burden,—they seemed, somehow, brighter than the roses at home,—and, with them swinging in her hand, had wellnigh gained the door, before she perceived that it was standing open. She hesitated an instant,—perhaps some crazy wanderer or drunken person might have entered the house,—when brisk steps, coming up the path that led from the milking-yard, arrested her attention, and, looking that way, she recognized through the darkness young Hobert Walker, with the full pail in his hand.

"O Jenny," he said, setting down the pail, "we are in such trouble at home! The doctor says father is better, but I don't think so, and I ain't satisfied with what is being done for him. Besides, I had such a strange dream,—I thought I met you, Jenny, alone, in the night, and you had six red roses in your hand,—let me see how many have you." He had come close to her, and he now took the roses and counted them. There were six, sure enough. "Humph!" he said, and went on. "Six red roses, I thought; and while I looked at them they turned white as snow; and then it seemed to me it was a shroud you had in your hand, and not roses at all; and you, seeing how I was frightened, said to me, 'What if it should turn out to be my wedding-dress?' And while we talked, your father came between us, and led you away by a great chain that he put round your neck. But you think all this foolish, I see." And, as if he feared the apprehension he had confessed involved some surrender of manhood, he cast down his eyes, and awaited her reply in confusion. She had too much tact to have noticed this at any time; but in view of the serious circumstances in which he then stood, she could not for the life of her have turned any feeling of his into a jest, however unwarranted she might have felt it to be.

"My grandmother was a great believer in dreams," she said, sympathetically; "but she always thought they went by contraries; and, if she was right, why, yours bodes ever so much good. But come, Hobert, let us go into the house: it's raining harder."

"How stupid of me, Jenny, not to remember that you were being drowned, almost! You must try to excuse me: I am really hardly myself to-night."

"Excuse you, Hobert! As if you could ever do anything I should not think was just right!" And she laughed the little musical laugh that had been ringing in his ears so long, and skipped before him into the house.

He followed her with better heart; and, as she strained and put away the milk, and swept the hearth, and set the house in order, he pleased himself with fancies of a home of which she would be always the charming mistress.

And who, that saw the sweet domestic cheer she diffused through the house with her harmless little gossip about this and that, and the artfully artless kindnesses to him she mingled with all, could have blamed him? He was given to melancholy and to musing; his cheek was sometimes pale, and his step languid; and he saw, all too often, troublesome phantoms coming to meet him. This disposition in another would have incited the keenest ridicule in the mind of Jenny Bowen, but in Hobert it was well enough; nay, more, it was actually fascinating, and she would not have had him otherwise. These characteristics—for her sake we will not say weaknesses—constantly suggested to her how much she could be to him,—she who was so strong in all ways,—in health, in hope, and in enthusiasm. And for him it was joy enough to look upon her full bright cheek, to see her compact little figure before him; but to touch her dimpled shoulder, to feel one tress of her hair against his face, was ecstasy; and her voice,—the tenderest trill of the wood-dove was not half so delicious! But who shall define the mystery of love? They were lovers; and when we have said that, is there anything more to be said? Their love had not, however, up to the time of which we write, found utterance in words. Hobert was the son of a poor man, and Jenny was prospectively rich, and the faces of her parents were set as flints against the poor young man. But Jenny had said in her heart more than once that she would marry him; and if the old folks had known this, they might as well have held their peace. Hobert did not dream that she had talked thus to her heart, and, with his constitutional timidity, he feared she would never say anything of the kind. Then, too, his conscientiousness stood in his way. Should he presume to take her to his poor house, even if she would come? No, no, he must not think of it; he must work and wait, and defer hope. This hour so opportune was also most inopportune,—such sorrow at home! He would not speak to-night,—O no, not to-night! And yet he could bear up against everything else, if she only cared for him! Such were his resolves, as she passed to and fro before him, trifling away the time with pretence of adjusting this thing and that; but at last expedients failed, and reaching for her cloak, which hung almost above him as he sat against the wall, she said it was time to go. As frostwork disappears in the sunshine, so his brave resolutions vanished when her arm reached across his shoulder, and the ribbon that tied her beads fluttered against his cheek. With a motion quite involuntary, he snatched her hand. "No, Jenny, not yet,—not quite yet!" he said.

"And why not?" demanded Jenny; for could any woman, however innocent, or rustic, be without her little coquetries? And she added, in a tone that contradicted her words, "I am sure I should not have come if I had known you were coming!"

"I dare say not," replied Hobert, in a voice so sad and so tender withal, as to set the roses Jenny wore in her bosom trembling. "I dare say not, indeed. I would not presume to hope you would go a step out of your way to give me pleasure; only I was feeling so lonesome to-night, I thought may be—no, I didn't think anything; I certainly did n't hope anything. Well, no matter, I am ready to go." And he let go the hand he had been holding, and stood up.

It was Jenny's privilege to pout a little now, and to walk sullenly and silently home,—so torturing herself and her honest-hearted lover; but she was much too generous, much too noble, to do this. She would not for the world have grieved poor Hobert,—not then,—not when his heart was so sick and so weighed down with shadows; and she told him this with a simple earnestness that admitted of no doubt, concluding with, "I only wish, Hobert, I could say or do something to comfort you."

"Then you will stay? Just a moment, Jenny!" And the hand was in his again.

"Dear Jenny,—dear, dear Jenny!" She was sitting on his knee now; and the rain, with its pattering against the window, drowned their heart-beats; and the summer darkness threw over them its sacred veil.

"Shall I tell you, darling, of another dream I have had to-night—since I have been sitting here?" The fair cheek bent itself close to his to listen, and he went on. "I have been dreaming, Jenny, a very sweet dream; and this is what it was. You and I were living here, in this house, with grandmother; and she was your grandmother as well as mine; and I was farmer of the land, and you were mistress of the dairy; and the little room with windows toward the sunrise, and the pretty bureau, and bed with snow-white coverlet and pillows of down,—that was"—perhaps he meant to say "ours," but his courage failed him, and, with a charming awkwardness, he said, "yours, Jenny," and hurried on to speak of the door-yard flowers, and the garden with its beds of thyme and mint, its berry-bushes and hop-vines and bee-hives,—all of which were brighter and sweeter than were ever hives and bushes in any other garden; and when he had run through the catalogue of rustic delights, he said: "And now, Jenny, I want you to tell me the meaning of my dream; and yet I am afraid you will interpret it as your grandmother used to hers."

Jenny laughed gayly. "That is just what I will do, dear Hobert," she said; "for she used to say that only bad dreams went by contraries, and yours was the prettiest dream I ever heard."

The reply to this sweet interpretation was after the manner of all lovers since the world began. And so, forgetting the stern old folks at home,—forgetting everything but each other,—they sat for an hour at the very gate of heaven. How often Hobert called her his sweetheart, and his rosebud, and other fond names, we need not stop to enumerate: how often he said that for her sake he could brave the winter storm and the summer heat, that she should never know rough work nor sad days, but that she should be as tenderly protected, as daintily cared for, as any lady of them all,—how often he said all these things, we need not enumerate; nor need we say with what unquestioning trust, and deafness to all the suggestions of probability, Jenny believed. Does not love, in fact, always believe what it hopes? Who would do away with the blessed insanity that clothes the marriage day with such enchantment? Who would dare to do it?

No royal mantle could have been adjusted with tenderer and more reverent solicitude than was that night the coarse cloak about the shoulders of Jenny. The walk homeward was all too short; and whether the rain fell, or whether the moon were at her best, perhaps neither of them could have told until they were come within earshot of the Bowen homestead; then both suddenly stood still. Was it the arm of Jenny that trembled so? No, no! we must own the truth,—it was the arm through which hers was drawn. At her chamber window, peering out curiously and anxiously, was the yellow-white face of Mrs. Bowen; and, leaning over the gate, gazing up and down the road, the rain falling on his bent shoulders and gray head, was the father of Jenny,—angry and impatient, past doubt.

"Don't stand looking any longer, for mercy's sake!" called the querulous voice from the house. "You'll get your death of cold, and then what'll become of us all? Saddle your horse this minute, and ride over to John Walker's,—for there's where you'll find Jinny, the gad-about,—and bring her home at the tail of your critter. I'll see who is going to be mistress here!"

"She's had her own head too long a'ready, I'm afeard," replied the old man, turning from the gate, with intent, probably, to execute his wife's order.

Seeing this, and hearing this, Hobert, as we said, stood still and trembled, and could only ask, by a little pressure of the hand he held, what was to be said or done.

Jenny did not hesitate a moment. "I expected this or something worse," she said. "Don't mind, Hobert; so they don't see you, I don't care for the rest. You must not go one step farther: the lightning will betray us, you see. I will say I waited for the rain to slack, and the two storms will clear off about the same time, I dare say. There, good night!"—and she turned her cheek to him; for she was not one of those impossible maidens we read of in books, who don't know they are in love, until after the consent of parents is obtained, and blush themselves to ashes at the thought of a kiss. To love Hobert was to her the most natural and proper thing in the world, and she did not dream there was anything to blush for. It is probable, too, that his constitutional bashfulness and distrust of himself brought out her greater confidence and buoyancy.

"And how and where am I ever to see you again?" he asked, as he detained her, against her better judgment, if not against her will.

"Trust that to me,"—and she hurried away in time to meet and prevent her father from riding forth in search of her.

Of course there were fault-finding and quarrelling, accusations and protestations, hard demands and sullen pouting,—so that the home, at no time so attractive as we like to imagine the home of a young girl who has father and mother to provide for her and protect her, became to her like a prison-house. At the close of the first and second days after her meeting with Hobert, when the work was all faithfully done, she ventured to ask leave to go over to John Walker's and inquire how the sick man was; but so cold a refusal met her, that, on the evening of the third day, she sat down on the porch-side to while away the hour between working and sleeping, without having renewed her request.

The sun was down, and the first star began to show faintly above a strip of gray cloud in the west, when a voice, low and tender, called to her, "Come here, my child!" and looking up she saw Grandmother Walker sitting on her horse at the gate. She had in the saddle before her her youngest granddaughter, and on the bare back of the horse, behind her, a little grandson, both their young faces expressive of the sorrow at home. Jenny arose on the instant, betraying in every motion the interest and sympathy she felt, and was just stepping lightly from the porch to the ground, when a strong hand grasped her shoulder and turned her back. It was her father who had overtaken her. "Go into the house!" he said. "If the old woman has got any arrant at all, it's likely it's to your mother and me."

Nor was his heart melted in the least when he learned that his friend and neighbor was no more. He evinced surprise, and made some blunt and coarse inquiries, but that was the amount. "The widder is left purty destitute, I reckon," he said; and then he added, the Lord helped them that helped themselves, and we mustn't fly in the face of Providence. She had her son, strong and able-bodied; and of course he had no thoughts of encumbering himself with a family of his own,—young and poverty-struck as he was.

Mrs. Walker understood the insinuation; but her heart could not hold resentment just then. She must relieve her burdened soul by talking of "poor Johnny," even though it were to deaf ears. She must tell what a good boy he had been,—how kind to her and considerate of her, how manly, how generous, how self-forgetful. And then she must tell how hard he had worked, and how saving he had been in order to give his children a better chance in the world than he had had; and how, if he had lived another year, he would have paid off the mortgage, and been able to hold up his head amongst men.

After all the ploughing and sowing,—after all the preparation for the gathering in of the harvest,—it seemed very hard, she said, that Johnny must be called away, just as the shining ears began to appear. The circumstances of his death, too, seemed to her peculiarly afflictive. "We had all the doctors in the neighborhood," she said, "but none of them understood his case. At first they thought he had small-pox, and doctored him for that; and then they thought it was liver-complaint, and doctored him for that; and then it was bilious fever, and then it was typhus fever; and so it went on, and I really can't believe any of them understood anything about it. Their way seemed to be to do just what he didn't want done. In the first place, he was bled; and then he was blistered; and then he was bled again and blistered again, the fever all the time getting higher and higher; and when he wanted water, they said it would kill him, and gave him hot drinks till it seemed to me they would drive him mad; and sure enough, they did! The last word he ever said, to know what he was saying, was to ask me for a cup of cold water. I only wish I had given it to him; all the doctors in the world wouldn't prevent me now, if I only had him back. The fever seemed to be just devouring him: his tongue was as dry as sand, and his head as hot as fire. 'O mother!' says he, and there was such a look of beseeching in his eyes as I can never forget, 'may be I shall never want you to do anything more for me. Cold water! give me some cold water! If I don't have it, my senses will surely fly out of my head!' 'Yes, Johnny,' says I,—and I went and brought a tin bucketful, right out of the well, and set it on the table in his sight; for I thought it would do him good to see even more than he could drink; and then I brought a cup and dipped it up full. It was all dripping over, and he had raised himself on one elbow, and was leaning toward me, when the young doctor came in, and, stepping between us, took the cup out of my hand. All his strength seemed to go from poor Johnny at that, and he fell back on his pillow and never lifted his head any more. Still he kept begging in a feeble voice for the water. 'Just two or three drops,—just one drop!' he said. I couldn't bear it, and the doctor said I had better go out of the room, and so I did,—and the good Lord forgive me; for when I went back, after half an hour, he was clean crazy. He didn't know me, and he never knowed me any more."

"It's purty hard, Miss Walker," answered Mr. Bowen, "to accuse the doctors with the murder of your son. A purty hard charge, that, I call it! So John's dead! Well, I hope he is better off. Where are you goin' to bury him?"

And then Mrs. Walker said she didn't charge anybody with the murder of poor Johnny,—nobody meant to do him any harm, she knew that; but, after all, she wished she could only have had her own way with him from the first. And so she rode away,—her little bare-legged grandson, behind her, aggravating her distress by telling her that, when he got to be a man, he meant to do nothing all the days of his life but dig wells, and give water to whoever wanted it.

It is not worth while to dwell at length on the humiliations and privations to which Jenny was subjected,—the mention of one or two will indicate the nature of all. In the first place, the white heifer she had always called hers was sold, and the money tied up in a tow bag. Jenny would not want a cow for years to come. The piece of land that had always been known as "Jenny's Corner" was not thus denominated any more, and she was given to understand that it was only to be hers conditionally. There were obstacles put in the way of her going to meeting of a Sunday,—first one thing, then another; and, finally, the bureau was locked, and the best dress and brightest ribbon inside the drawers. The new side-saddle she had been promised was refused to her, unless she in turn would make a promise; and the long day's work was made to drag on into the night, lest she might find time to visit some neighbor, and lest that neighbor might be the Widow Walker. But what device of the enemy ever proved successful when matched against the simple sincerity of true love? It came about, in spite of all restraint and prohibition, that Jenny and Hobert met in their own times and ways; and so a year went by.

One night, late in the summer, when the katydids began to sing, Jenny waited longer than usual under the vine-covered beech that drooped its boughs low to the ground all round her,—now listening for the expected footstep, and now singing, very low, some little song to her heart, such as many a loving and trusting maiden had sung before her. What could keep Hobert? She knew it was not his will that kept him; and though her heart began to be heavy, she harbored therein no thought of reproach. By the movement of the shadow on the grass, she guessed that an hour beyond the one of appointment must have passed, when the far-away footfall set her so lately hushed pulses fluttering with delight. He was coming,—he was coming! And, no matter what had been wrong, all would be right now. She was holding wide the curtaining boughs long before he came near; and when they dropped, and her arms closed, it is not improbable that he was within them. It was the delight of meeting her that kept him still so long, Jenny thought; and she prattled lightly and gayly of this and of that, and, seeing that she won no answer, fell to tenderer tones, and imparted the little vexing secrets of her daily life, and the sweet hopes of her nightly dreams.

They were seated on a grassy knoll, the moonlight creeping tenderly about their feet, and the leaves of the drooping vines touching their heads like hands of pity, or of blessing. The water running over the pebbly bottom of the brook just made the silence sweet, and the evening dews shining on the red globes of the clover made the darkness lovely; but with all these enchantments of sight and sound about him,—nay, more, with the hand of Jenny, his own true-love, Jenny, folded in his,—Hobert was not happy.

"And so you think you love me!" he said at last, speaking so sadly, and clasping the hand he held with so faint a pressure, that Jenny would have been offended if she had not been the dear, trustful little creature she was.

There was, indeed, a slight reproach in her accent as she answered, "Think I love you, Hobert? No, I don't think anything about it,—I know."

"And I know I love you, Jenny," he replied. "I love you so well that I am going to leave you without asking you to marry me!"

For one moment Jenny was silent,—for one moment the world seemed unsteady beneath her,—then she stood up, and, taking the hand of her lover between her palms, gazed into his face with one long, earnest, steadfast gaze. "You have asked me already, Hobert," she said, "a thousand times, and I have consented as often. You may go away, but you will not leave me; for 'Whither thou goest I will go, where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried.'"

He drew her close to his bosom now, and kissed her with most passionate, but still saddest tenderness. "You know not, my darling," he said, "what you would sacrifice." Then he laid before her all her present advantages, all her bright prospects for the future, —her high chamber with its broad eastern windows, to be given up for the low dingy walls of a settler's cabin, her free girlhood for the hard struggles of a settler's wife! Sickness, perhaps,—certainly the lonesome nights and days of a home remote from neighbors, and the dreariness and hardship inseparable from the working out of better fortunes. But all these things, even though they should all come, were light in comparison with losing him!

Perhaps Hobert had desired and expected to hear her say this. At any rate, he did not insist on a reversal of her decision, as, with his arms about her, he proceeded to explain why he had come to her that night with so heavy a heart. The substance of all he related may be recapitulated in a few words. The land could not be paid for, and the homestead must be sold. He would not be selfish and forsake his mother, and his young brothers and sisters in their time of need. By careful management of the little that could be saved, he might buy in the West a better farm than that which was now to be given up; and there to build a cabin and plant a garden would be easy,—O, so easy!—with the smile of Jenny to light him home when the day's work was done.

In fact, the prospective hardships vanished away at the thought of her for his little housekeeper. It was such easy work for fancy to convert the work-days into holidays, and the thick wilderness into the shining village, where the schoolhouse stood open all the week, and the sweet bells called them to church of a Sunday; easy work for that deceitful elf to make the chimney-corner snug and warm, and to embellish it with his mother in her easy-chair. When they parted that night, each young heart was trembling with the sweetest secret it had ever held; and it was perhaps a fortnight thereafter that the same secret took wing, and flew wildly over the neighborhood.

John Walker's little farm was gone for good and all. The few sheep, and the cows, and the pig, and the fowls, together with the greater part of the household furniture, were scattered over the neighborhood; the smoke was gone from the chimney, and the windows were curtainless; and the grave of John, with a modest but decent headstone, and a rose-bush newly planted beside it, was left to the care of strangers. The last visits had been paid, and the last good-byes and good wishes exchanged; and the widow and her younger children were far on their journey,—Hobert remaining for a day or two to dispose of his smart young horse, as it was understood, and then follow on.

At this juncture, Mr. Bowen one morning opened the stair-door, as was his custom, soon after daybreak, and called harshly out, "Jinny! Jinny! its high time you was up!"

Five minutes having elapsed, and the young girl not having yet appeared, the call was repeated more harshly than before. "Come, Jinny, come! or I'll know what's the reason!"

She did not come; and five minutes more having passed, he mounted the stairs with a quick, resolute step, to know what was the reason. He came down faster, if possible, than he went up. "Mother, mother!" he cried, rushing toward Mrs. Bowen, who stood at the table sifting meal, his gray hair streaming wildly back, and his cheek blanched with amazement, "Jinny's run away!—run away, as sure as you're a livin' woman. Her piller has n't been touched last night, and her chamber's desarted!"

And this was the secret that took wing and flew over the neighborhood.

 

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.