The Buckley Lady
The dark slate stones that now slant to their falls in the old burying-ground, or are fallen already, then stood straight. The old inscriptions, now blurred over by moss and lichen, or worn back into the face of the stone by the wash of the heavy coast rains, were then quite plain. The winged cherubim and death-heads — the terrible religious symbols of the Old Testament, made realistic by New England minds under stress of grief — were quite fresh from the artist's hands.
The funeral urns and weeping-willows, a very art of sorrow in themselves, with their every curve the droop of a mourner's head, and all their flowing lines of tears, were still distinct. Indeed, the man who had graven many of them was still alive, and not yet past his gloomy toil. He lived in his little house not far beyond the burying-ground, and his name was Ichabod Buckley. He had a wife Sarah, a son Ichabod, and three daughters, Submit, Rebecca, and Persis. When Persis was twelve years old a great change and a romance came into her life. She was the youngest of the family; her brother was ten years older than she; her sisters were older still. She had always been to a certain extent petted and favored from her babyhood; however, until she was twelve, she had not been exempt from her own little duties and privations. She had gathered drift-wood on the shore, her delicate little figure buffeted and shaken by rough winds. She had dug quahaugs, wading out in the black mud, with her petticoats kilted high over her slender childish legs. She had spun her daily stint, and knitted faithfully harsh blue yarn socks for her father and brother. In the early autumn, when she was twelve years old, all that was changed.
One morning in September it was hot inland, but cool on the point of land reaching out into the sea where the Buckley house stood. The son, Ichabod, had gone to sea in a whaling-vessel; the father was at home, working in the little slanting shed behind the house. One could hear the grating slide of his chisel down the boughs of a weeping-willow on a new gravestone. A very old woman of the village had died that week.
At the left of the house there was a bright unexpected glint from a great brass kettle which the eastern sun struck. Ichabod Buckley's wife had her dye-kettle out there on forked sticks over a fire. She was dyeing some cloth an indigo-blue, and her two elder daughters were helping her. The two daughters Submit and Rebecca looked like their mother. The three, from their figures, seemed about of an age — all tall and meagre and long-limbed, moving in their scanty petticoats around the kettle with a certain dry pliability, like three tall brown weeds on the windy marsh.
Persis came up from the shore at the front of the house with her arms full of drift-wood. She was just crossing the front yard when she heard a sound that startled her, and she stood still and listened, inclining her head towards the woods on the right. In the midst of these woods was the cleared space of the graveyard; the rough path to the main road ran past it.
Seldom any but horseback riders came that way; but now Persis was sure that she heard the rumble of carriage-wheels, as well as the tramp of horses' feet. She turned excitedly to run to her mother and sisters; but all at once the splendid coach and four emerged with a great flourish on the open space before the house, and she stood still.
The short coarse grass in the yard had gotten a perpetual slant from the wind. Just now it was still, but that low bending sweep of the grass towards the west made it seem as if the wind were transfixed there. Persis stood in the midst of this still show of wind, her slender childish figure slanting a little also. All her fair hair was tucked away tidily beneath a little blue hood tied under her chin. The oval of her face showed like the oval of a pearl in this circle of blue, and it had a beauty that could draw the thoughts of people away from their own hearts. Even the folk of this old New England village, who had in their stern doctrines no value for a fair face, turned for a second, as if by some compelling gleam of light under their eyelids, when this little Buckley maid entered the meeting-house; and her mother and sisters, although they saw her every day, would stop sometimes their work or speech when her face came suddenly before their eyes.
Persis had her little looking-glass. She looked in it when she had washed her face to see if it were clean, and when she braided her hair to see if it were smooth. Sometimes she paused, herself, and eyed her face with innocent wonder, but she did not know its value. She was like a child with a precious coin which had its equivalent in goods beyond her ken.
To-day Persis had no idea why these fine strangers in the grand coach sat still with their eyes riveted upon her face.
She stood there in the windy grass, in her little straight blue gown, clasping her bundle of drift-wood to her breast, and stared, turning her back altogether upon her own self, at the coach and the trappings, and the black coachman in his livery, with his head like a mop of black sheep's wool, and his white rolling eyes, which half frightened her. She looked a little more curiously at this black coachman than at the gentleman and lady in the coach, although they were grand enough; and, moreover, the gentleman was very handsome, and not old. He thrust his fair head, which had a slight silvery sheen of powder, out of the coach window, and the pale old face and velvet hood of the lady showed over his shoulder, and they both stared at Persis's face.
Then the gentleman spoke, and Persis started, and blushed, and dropped a courtesy. She had forgotten that until now, and felt overcome with shame. “Good-day, my pretty maid,” said the gentleman; and as he spoke he stepped out of the coach and approached Persis. She saw, with half-dazzled eyes, his grand fair head, his queue tied with a blue silk ribbon, his jewelled knee-buckles and silk hose, his flowered waistcoat, and the deep falls of lace over his long white hands. No such fine gentleman as this had ever come within her vision. She courtesied again, and looked up in his face when he reached her. Then she looked down again quickly, and the strange salt savor of the drift-wood, overpowering a sweet perfume about the stranger's rich attire, came up in her blushing face. The gentleman looked very kind, and his eyes were very gay and blue, yet somehow she was frightened and abashed. It was as if he saw something within herself of which she had not dreamed, and suddenly forced her to see it also, to her own confusion.
The gentleman laughed softly when she looked down. “Is it the first time you have had another pair of eyes for your looking-glass, little maid?” he asked, with a kind of mocking caress in his tone.
Persis did not lift her eyes from the drift-wood. She blushed more deeply, and her sweet mouth trembled.
“Nay, tease not the child. Ask if her father be in the house,” called the lady's soft voice, with a little impatient ring in it, from the coach.
“'Tis but the fault of my eyes, your ladyship,” retorted the gentleman, gayly. “They are ever as lakes reflecting flowers in the presence of beauty, and I doubt much if this little maid hath ever seen herself so clearly before — if eyes like mine have come in her way.”
Persis's mouth quivered more. She wanted to run away, and did not dare; but suddenly the gentleman spoke again, quite gravely and coldly, and all the gay banter in his voice was gone.
“Is your father, Ichabod Buckley, within, my good maid?” he said.
Persis felt as if a spell which had been cast over her were broken. She dropped a courtesy.
“Please, sir, my father is yonder, cutting a weeping-willow on old Widow Nye's gravestone,” she replied, pointing towards the rear of the house; and she spoke with that punctilious courtesy with which she had been taught to address strangers.
“Will you bid him come this way? I would speak with him,” said the gentleman.
“And bid him hasten, for this air from the sea is full cold for me!” called the lady from the coach.
Persis dipped another affirmative courtesy towards her, then fled swiftly around the corner of the house. She met her mother and her sister Submit face to face, with a shock. They had been peeping around the corner at the grand folk. Rebecca had run into the house to put on her shoes and a clean kerchief, in case one of the elder women had to go forward to speak to them.
“Father! the gentleman wants father,” said Persis, with soft pants. “Oh, mother!”
Her mother caught her arm with a jerk. “Who be they?” she hissed in her ear.
“I — don't know — such — grand folks, and — the coach and the four, and the black man — oh, mother!”
“Go bid your father come quick.”
Sarah Buckley gave her daughter a push, and Persis flew on towards the shed where her father kept his stock of gravestones and worked. But Rebecca had already given him the alarm, and he was at the well washing the slate dust from his hands.
“Go quick, father; they want you!” panted Persis.
“Who be they?” queried Ichabod Buckley. His voice was as nervous as a woman's, and he was small and delicately made like one. He shook the water from his small hands, his fingers twitching. The muscles on the backs glanced under the thin brown skin; the muscles on his temples and neck glanced also. Ichabod Buckley had, when nervously excited, a look as if his whole body were based on a system of brown wires.
Persis danced up and down before him, as if his nervous excitement communicated itself to her. “I know not who they be,” she panted; “but, oh, father, they be such grand folk!”
When Ichabod Buckley, striving to pace with solemn dignity, as befitted his profession, but breaking, in spite of himself, into nervous runs, went around to the front of the house, Persis slunk at his heels, but her mother arrested her at the corner. “Stay where you be, and not go out there staring at the gentle-folk like a bold hussy!” she ordered. So Persis stayed, peeping around the corner with her mother and Submit; and presently Rebecca in her shoes, with her kerchief pinned over her lean bosom, joined them.
Once Persis, advancing her beautiful face a little farther around the corner, caught the gentleman's gay blue eyes full upon her, and she drew back with a great start and a blush.
Listen as they might, the women could not catch one word of Ichabod Buckley's and the gentleman's discourse — they stood too far away. But presently they saw the black coachman turn the coach and four around with a wide careful sweep, and then the gentleman got in beside the lady, and Ichabod beside the coachman, and then the horses leaped forward, and the whole was out of sight behind the spray of pine woods.
Ichabod Buckley was gone about three-quarters of an hour. When he returned he at once told his curious women-folks somewhat that had passed, but his face was locked over more. “You have not told us all,” said his wife, sharply. “It may well be, as you say, that the gentle-folk wished to find the grave of the man who was their kin, and died here in the first of the town, but that is not all.”
“I pointed out the grave to them beyond a question,” said Ichabod, “though there was no stone to it. I knew it well from hearsay. And I am to make at once a fine stone, with a round top and a winged head, and here is the pay already.”
Ichabod jingled for the dozenth time a gold coin and some small silver ones in his nervous hand, and his wife frowned.
“You have told us all this before,” said she. “There is something else that you keep back.”
Ichabod was smiling importantly, he could not control his mouth; but he went back without another word to old Widow Nye's gravestone, and the weeping-willow thereon grew apace under his hands.
However, he could not keep anything to himself long, least of all from his wife, with her imperative curiosity. After dinner that noon he beckoned her into the front room.
“What do you want of me?” she said. “I have the work to do.” She felt that his previous silence demanded some show of dignity upon her part.
Ichabod glanced at his staring daughters, and beckoned beseechingly.
“Well, I can't waste much time,” said Sarah; but she followed him eagerly into the front room. They were shut in there some time. The daughters, tidying up the kitchen, could hear the low murmur of their parents' voices, but that was all. Persis was polishing the brasses on the hearth — the andirons and the knobs on the shovel and tongs. That was always her task. It roughened her small hands, but nobody ever minded that. To-day, as she was scouring away sturdily, her mother came suddenly out of the front room and caught her plying arm.
“There!” said she; “you need do no more of this. 'Twill get your hands all out of shape, and make them rough. They are too small for such work. Submit, come here and finish scouring the brasses.”
Persis looked up at her mother and then at her little red grimy hands in a bewildered way.
“Go and wash your hands, and then rub some Injun meal on them, and see if it will not make them a little softer,” ordered her mother. “Submit, make haste.”
Submit, although she was herself puzzled, and might well have been resentful, knelt obediently down on the hearth, and fell to work on the brasses, rubbing vigorously with salt and vinegar.
Persis washed her hands as her mother bade her, and afterwards rubbed on some Indian meal. Then she was ordered to put on her pink-flowered chintz gown, and sit down in the front room with her sampler. Her mother braided her fair hair for her in two tight smooth braids, and crossed them neatly at the back. She even put her own beautiful high tortoise-shell comb in her daughter's head.
“You may wear it a spell if you want to,” said she.
Persis smiled delightedly. Her chief worldly ambition had been to wear a shell comb like her mother's.
The window was open. She could hear faintly the rasp of her father's chisel upon the boughs of old Widow Nye's weeping-willow. She could hear the voices of her mother and sisters, who had gone back to their work over the dye-kettle. After a while she saw Submit going down to the shore for more drift-wood. “That is my work,” she thought to herself with wonder. She could not understand her mother's treatment of her. It was very pleasant and grand to be sitting in state in the best room, with the tortoise-shell comb in her hair, working her sampler, and be rid of all ruder toil, yet she finally grew uneasy.
She laid down her sampler, and pulled open the front door, which was seldom used, and hard to move, being swollen with the sea dampness. Then she stole around the house towards the group at the dye-kettle. She felt scared and uncertain without knowing why. Her mother called out sharply when she caught sight of her, and waved her back. “Can't I go down for more drift-wood?” pleaded Persis, timidly.
“Back into the house!” ordered her mother, speaking against the wind, which was now blowing hard. “Back with ye! Out here in this wind! Would you be as black as an Injun? Go back to your sampler!”
Persis crept back, bewildered. The other two daughters looked at each other. Then Rebecca spoke out boldly.
“Mother, what is all this?” said she.
“Perhaps you will know sometime,” replied Sarah Buckley, smiling mysteriously, and she would say no more.
Persis continued to sit at the front-room window with her sampler in her hands. She cross-stitched a letter forlornly and laboriously, with frequent glances out at the rosy wind-swept marshes and the blue dazzle of sea beyond. She never dreamed of disputing her mother's wishes further. Persis Buckley, although full of nervous force, had also a strange docility of character. She stitched on her sampler all the afternoon. When it came time to prepare supper, her mother would not even then let her out in the kitchen to help, as was her wont. “Stay where you be,” said she, when Persis appeared on the threshold. And the little maid remained in her solitary state until the meal was ready, and she was bidden forth to it. There was a little sweet cake beside her plate on the table, one of those which her mother kept in a stone jar for company. Nobody else had one. Persis looked at it doubtfully when she had finished her bread. “Eat it,” said her mother, and Persis ate it, but it tasted strange to her. She wondered if her mother had put anything different in the sweet cake.
Persis had lately sat up until the nine-o'clock bell rang, knitting or paring sweet apples to dry, but now her mother sent her off to bed at half past seven.
“Can't I sit up and help Submit and Rebecca pare apples?” she begged, but her mother was inexorable.
“I am not going to have your hands spoilt with apple juice,” said she. “Besides, if you go to bed early 'twill make you grow faster and keep your cheeks red.” There was an unusual softness in Sarah Buckley's voice, and she colored and smiled foolishly, as if she were ashamed of it.
Ichabod Buckley sat on the hearth whittling chips with lightning jerks of his clasp-knife. He did everything swiftly. “Do as your mother bids you,” he said to Persis. He chuckled nervously, and looked meaningly at his wife.
Persis went laggingly out of the room.
“Stand up straight,” ordered her mother. “The first thing you know you'll be all bent over like an old woman.”
Persis threw back her weak girlish shoulders until her slender back hollowed. She had been trained to obedience. She clattered slowly up the stairs in her little heavy shoes, still trying to keep her shoulders back, when her mother called again.
“Come back here, Persis,” called her mother, and Persis returned to the kitchen. “Sit down here,” said her mother, pointing to a chair, and Persis sat down. She did not ask any questions; she felt a curious terror and intimidation. She waited, sitting meekly with her eyes cast down. She heard the snip of shears and the rattle of stiff paper at her back, then she felt a sharp tug at her hair. She winced a little.
“You keep still,” said her mother at her back, rolling a lock of hair vigorously. “I ain't going to have your hair as straight as a broom if I can help it.”
When Persis went to bed her head was covered with hard papered knots of hair, all straining painfully at the roots. When she laid her head uncomfortably on her pillow, she remembered in a bewildered way how her mother had smoothed and smoothed and smoothed her hair in former days, and how she had said many a time that rough and frowsly locks were not modest or becoming. Her first conviction of the inconsistency of the human heart was upon little Persis Buckley, and she was dazed. The whole of this strange experience did not seem real enough to last until the next day.
But the days went on and on, and she continued to live a life as widely different from her old one as if she had been translated into another world. She sat at the front-room window, with her beautiful face looking out meekly from under her crown of curl-papers. Her mother had a theory that a long persistency in the use of the papers might produce a lasting curl, and Persis was seldom freed from them. She walked abroad on a pleasant day at a genteel pace, with a thick black embroidered veil over her face to protect her complexion. She never ran barefoot, and even her thick cowhide shoes were discarded. She wore now dainty high-heeled red morocco shoes, which made her set her feet down as delicately as some little pink-footed pigeon. All her coarse home-spun gowns were laid away in a chest. She wore now fine chintz or soft boughten wool of a week-day, and she even had a gown of silken stuff and a fine silk pelisse for Sabbath days.
Going into the meeting-house beside her soberly clad parents and sisters, she looked like some gay-feathered bird which had somehow gotten into the wrong nest. All the Buckley family seemed to have united in a curious reversed tyranny towards this beautiful child. She was set up as a queen among them, whether she would or no, and she was made to take the best in their lot, whether she wanted it or not.
When Persis was fourteen, her sister Rebecca went some fifty miles away to keep house for a widowed uncle and take care of his family of children. She was not needed at home, and in this way the cost of her support was saved for Persis. Submit was a dull woman, and hard work was making her duller. She broadened her patient back for her own and her sister's burdens without a murmur, and became a contented drudge that Persis might sit in state in the front room, keeping her hands soft and white.
As for Persis's brother Ichabod, nearly all his savings were given to her, but, after all, not with any especial self-denial. This beautiful young sister represented all the faint ambition in his life; he had none left for himself, and nobody had tried to arouse any. He made perilous voyages on a whaling-ship for his living. When he came home, with his face browned and stiffened by his hard fight with the icy winds of the North Atlantic, he sat down by the fire in his father's kitchen. Then he chewed tobacco, and never stirred if he could help it until his next voyage.
At thirty, Ichabod had become as old as his father. All the dreams of youth had gone out of him, and he slumbered in the present like a very old man. Always as he sat chewing by the fire his face wore that look of set resistance, as if the lash of the North Atlantic wind still threatened it. Ever since she could remember, Persis Buckley had seen her brother sit there between his voyages, a dull reflective bulk before the hearth, like some figure-head of a stranded whaler.
The morning after his return from his voyage, Persis, passing her brother, would be arrested by an inarticulate command, and would pause while he dragged out his old leather bag, heavy with his hard-earned coins. Then Persis would hold up her apron by the two lower corners, and he would pour in a goodly portion of his wealth, while his face looked more smiling and animated than she ever saw it at any other time. “'Twill buy you something as good as anybody when you go among the grand folk,” he would say, with a half-chuckle, when Persis thanked him.
Sarah Buckley hid away all this money for Persis in the till of the chest. “It will come handy some day,” she would remark, with a meaning smile. This fund was not drawn upon for the purchase of Persis's daily needs and luxuries. Her father's earnings and her mother's thrift provided them, and with seemingly little stint. People said that the materials for Persis Buckley's crewel-work alone cost a pretty sum. After she had finished her sampler she worked a mourning-piece, and after that a great picture, all in cross-stitch, which was held to be a marvel.
Persis's very soul flagged over the house and the green trees, the river, and the red rose-bushes, and the blue sky, all wrought with her needle, stitch by stitch. Once in the depths of her docile heart a sudden wish, which seemed as foreign to her as an impious spirit, leapt up that all this had never been created, since she was forced to reproduce it in cross-stitch.
“I wish,” said Persis, quite out loud to herself when she was all alone in the front room — “ I wish the trees had never been made, nor the roses, nor the river, nor the sky; then I shouldn't have had to work them.” Then she fairly trembled at her wickedness, and counted the stitches in a corner of the sky with renewed zeal and faithfulness.
When Persis was sixteen, her mother, in her anxiety to provide her with accomplishments, went a step beyond all previous efforts, and a piano was bought for her. It was the very first piano which had ever come to this little seaport town. Ichabod had commissioned a sea-captain to purchase it in England.
When it was set up on its slender fluted legs in the Buckley front room, all the people came and craved permission to see it, and viewed its satiny surface and inlaid-work in mother-of-pearl with admiration and awe. Then they went away, and discoursed among themselves as to the folly and sinful extravagance of Ichabod Buckley and his wife.
There was in the village an ancient maiden lady who had lived in Boston in her youth, and had learned to play several tunes on the harpsichord. These, for a small stipend, she imparted to Persis. They were simple and artless melodies, and Persis had a ready ear. In a short time she had learned all the maiden lady knew. She could sing three old songs, innocently imitating her teacher's quaver with her sweet young voice, and she could finger out quite correctly one battle piece and two jigs. The two jigs she played very slowly, according to her teacher's instructions. Persis herself did not know why, but this elderly maiden was astute. She did not wish Ichabod Buckley and his family to be tormented with scruples themselves, neither did she wish to he called to account for teaching light and worldly tunes.
“Play these very slowly, my dear,” she said. She shook the two bunches of gray curls which bobbed outside her cap over her thin red cheeks; her old blue eyes winked with a light which Persis did not understand.
“Be they psalm tunes?” she inquired, innocently.
“'Tis according to the way you play them,” replied her teacher, evasively.
And Persis never knew, nor any of her family, that she played jigs. However, one worldly amusement, which was accounted distinctly sinful, was Persis taught with the direct connivance of her parents.
This old maiden lady, although she was constant in the meeting-house on the Sabbath day, and was not seen to move a muscle of dissent when the parson proclaimed the endless doom of the wicked, had Unitarian traditions, and her life in her youth had been more gayly and broadly ordered than that of those about her. It had always been whispered that she had played cards, and had even danced, in days gone by. To the most rigidly sanctified nostrils there was always perceptible a faint spiritual odor of past frivolity when she came into the meeting-house, although she seemed to subscribe faithfully to all the orthodox tenets. The parson often felt it his duty to call upon her, and enter into wordy expounding of the truth, and tempt her with argument. She never questioned his precepts, and never argued, yet a suspicion as to her inmost heresy was always abroad. Had it not been so, Sarah Buckley would never have dared make one proposition to her with regard to her daughter's accomplishments.
One day the shutters in the Buckley front room were carefully closed, as if some one lay dead therein; the candles were lighted, and this ancient maiden lady, holding with both hands her petticoats above her thin ankles in their black silk hose, taught Persis Buckley some dancing steps. That, nobody in the village ever knew. All the parties concerned would have been brought before the church had that secret been disclosed. The Buckleys scarcely dared mention it to one another.
This old teacher of Persis Buckley had still some relatives left in Boston, and now and then she went to them on a visit. On one of these occasions Sarah Buckley commissioned her to purchase some books for Persis. All the literature in the Buckley house consisted of the Bible, Watts's Hymns, and Doddridge's Rise and Progress, and Sarah fancied that another book or two of possibly an ornamental and decorative tendency might be of use in her daughter's education.
When Mistress Tabitha Hopkins returned from Boston she brought with her a volume of Young's Night Thoughts and one of Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe. The first she presented with confidence, the second with some excuses.
“I know well that the poetry is of a nature that will elevate her soul and tend to form her mind,” said she, “and I have myself no doubt as to the other. If it be a tale, 'tis one she can read to her profit, and the pleasure she may take in it may lead her to peruse it more closely. 'Tis well sometimes to season hard doctrines with sugar if you would have them gulped down at all.” Mistress Hopkins made a wry face, as if the said doctrines were even then like bitter pills in her mouth, and Sarah Buckley glanced at her suspiciously. However, she took the books, and paid for them a goodly sum, and Persis was henceforth made acquainted with the lofty admonitions to Lorenzo and the woes of the unfortunate and virtuous Clarissa.
It might well have been that Tabitha Hopkins's recommendation of the story of poor Clarissa Harlowe and her desperate experience at the hands of a faithless lover had its object. Mistress Tabitha Hopkins's single life had not predisposed her to implicit reliance upon the good faith or the motives of gay gallants who, in the course of some little trip out of their world, chanced to notice a beautiful rustic maiden. Everybody in the village knew now the reason for Ichabod Buckley's and his wife's strange treatment of their daughter Persis. They knew that the grand gentleman who had come to town with the coach and four had seen Persis, and cried out at her beauty, and made her father give his promise that she should be kept for him until she was grown up, when he would come over seas from England and marry her.
Ichabod had vainly tried to keep this secret, but he had told it before a week had passed to old Thomas Knapp, who was helping him to set Widow Nye's gravestone.
Then the sun had not set before the news was widely spread. Marvellous tales were told of this gentleman and his lady mother, who had come in the coach with him. Persis, when she was wedded, would dwell in marble halls, wear satin and velvet of a week-day, and eat off gold and silver dishes. No wonder that Ichabod Buckley and his wife Sarah were doing their poor best to fit their daughter for such a high estate! No wonder that they kept her all day in the best room embroidering and reading poetry and playing music! No wonder that they never let her walk abroad without morocco shoes and a veil over her face!
“It ain't likely,” said old man Knapp, “that she'll ever have any call to so much as dye a hank of yarn or dip a candle arter she's married.”
Still, although people acquiesced in the wisdom of fitting Persis for this grand station, if there were any prospect of her reaching it, they were mostly incredulous or envious.
The incredulous said quite openly that Ichabod Buckley always did hear things five times as big as they were, and they doubted much if the grand gentleman ever really meant to or said he would come back for Persis. The envious declared that if he did come they mistrusted that it would not be for any good and honest purpose, for he would never think Persis Buckley his equal, in spite of all her fine accomplishments and her gaudy attire. And her face might by that time be no more beautiful than some others, after all.
The incredulous moved the parson to preach many a discourse upon the folly of worldly ambition and trust in the vain promises of princes. The envious instigated sermons upon the sin of any other ornament or accomplishment than a meek and quiet spirit for the daughters of Zion.
Poor little Persis, in her silken attire, lifting her wonderful face to the parson, never dreamed that the discourse was directed at her and her parents, but Ichabod and Sarah knew, and sat up with bristling stiffness. After that they withdrew themselves largely from intercourse with their neighbors. They felt as if the spiritual watch-dog had been set upon them, and they were justly indignant. Sarah Buckley had always been given to staying at home and minding the affairs of her own household; now she kept herself more close than ever. Ichabod was by nature sociable, and liked to fraternize with his kind; but now almost his only dealing with people outside his own family lay in his work upon their gravestones.
The Buckleys lived by themselves in their little house on the windy land past the graveyard, following out their own end in life, and all the time were under a subtle spiritual bombardment of doubt and envy and disapproval from their neighbors in the village.
People talked much about Submit's patient drudgery, and felt for her the resentment which she did not feel for herself. “It is a shame the way they make that poor girl do all the work to keep her sister in idleness!” said they. They began to call Persis in derision “The Buckley Lady.”
Poor Persis Buckley, shut out of the free air and away from all the mates of her youth, was leading the life of a forlorn princess in a fairy tale. She would have given all the money which her brother Ichabod brought her for his privilege of a cruise over the wild seas. Year after year she waited in her prison, cast about and bound, body and spirit, by the will and ambition of her parents, like steel cobwebs, for the prince who never came.
At first the romance of it all had appealed to her childish imagination. When the high destiny which awaited her had been disclosed, her heart leapt. She had been amused and pleased. She liked to watch out for that grand coach and four. When she remembered the gay blue flash of that grand gentleman's eyes she blushed, and laughed to herself.
But after a while all that failed. She did not grow incredulous, for she had a simple and long-suffering faith in her parents, but quietly and secretly frightened at the prospect before her. Poor Persis Buckley sometimes felt herself turn fairly cold with dread at the thought of entering that splendid coach and driving away forever out of her old life at that strange gentleman's side. He became to her as cold and formless as a moving column of mist on the marsh, and even the dreams which sprang of themselves in her girlish heart could not invest him with love and life again.
She did not dare confide her fears to her mother. Sometimes her mother filled her with a vague alarm. Sarah Buckley in ten years grew old, and the eagerness in her face waxed so bright and sharp that one shrank before it involuntarily, as before some blinding on-coming headlight of spirit.
All those years she waited and watched and listened for that grand coach and four which would bring her fortune in her daughter's. All the ambition of her earthly life, largely balked for herself, had centred in this. Her lot in the world had been to tread out a ceaseless round of sordid toil in her poor little home on the stormy coast, but her beautiful daughter could take a flight above it, and something of herself could follow her.
She never gave up, although year after year she watched and listened in vain; but finally her body failed under this long strain of the spirit. When Persis was twenty-three her mother died, after a short illness. Then Persis found her father as keen a guardian as her mother had been. Sarah had given him her farewell charges, and during her lifetime had imbued his nervous receptive nature with a goodly portion of her own spirit.
He wrought for his dead wife a fine tall stone, and set thereon a verse of his own composition. Ichabod Buckley was somewhat of a poet, publishing himself his effusions upon his gloomy stone pages. Then he fulfilled his own and her part towards their daughter Persis.
Sarah Buckley had been dead two years, and the Buckley Lady was twenty-five years old, sitting at her window in the front room, watching for the prince who never came.
“The fine gentleman will find an old maid waiting for him if he does not come before long,” people said, with sniffs.
But Persis had really grown more and more beautiful. Her complexion, although she had lived so much within-doors, was not sickly, but pale and fine as a white lily. Her eyes were like dark stars, and her hair was a braided cap of gold, with light curls falling from it around her face and her sweet neck. Of late Persis had rebelled upon one minor point: she never, even of a morning, would sit at the window with her hair rolled up in curl-papers. She argued with her father, with a duplicity which was unlike her, that should the gentleman arrive suddenly, she would have no time to take them down before he saw her. But that was not the reason. Ichabod never suspected, neither did the stupid Submit, padding faithfully in her household tracks; the son, Ichabod, was away at sea. Nobody knew how the Buckley Lady, sitting in her window watching, had seen Darius Hopkins pass by, with never a coach and four, but striding bravely along on his own stalwart young legs, and how her heart had gone out to him and followed him, whether she would or not.
Darius Hopkins was Mistress Tabitha Hopkins's nephew, and he had come from Boston to pay his aunt a visit. People whispered that he had expectations, and had come with a purpose. Mistress Tabitha had received within two years a legacy, nobody knew how large, by the death of a relative. However that may have been, the young man treated his aunt with exceeding deference and tenderness. Her pride and delight were great. She held her head high, and swung out her slim foot with almost the motion of her old dancing steps when she went up the meeting-house aisle on a Sabbath day, leaning on her nephew's arm. Darius was finely dressed, and he was also a personable young man of whom she might well be proud. She kept glancing at him almost with the shy delight of a sweetheart. Darius had a glossy dark head and a dark complexion, but his eyes were blue and light, and somewhat, as she fondly thought, like her own.
Darius had arrived on a Thursday, and it was on that day Persis Buckley had seen him, and he had seen her at her window. Tabitha Hopkins's house was past the Buckleys', fairly out at sea, on the point, across the marshy meadows.
The young man glanced up carelessly at the Buckley house as he passed; then he started, and fairly stopped, and his heart leapt almost with fear, for it actually seemed to him that he saw the face of an angel in the window.
“Who was the maid in the window of the house back yonder?” he said to his aunt as soon as he had greeted her. He waved his hand carelessly backward, and tried to speak as carelessly, but his aunt gave him a sharp look.
“It must have been Persis Buckley,” said she.
“There is not another face like that in the whole country,” said the young man, and in spite of himself his tongue betrayed him.
“Yes, it is generally considered that she has a fair face,” said Tabitha, dryly. “She has accomplishments also. She can play music, and she has a pretty voice for a song. She can dance, though that's not to be spoke of in this godly town, and she is well versed in polite literature. Persis Buckley is fitted to adorn any high estate to which she may be called.”
There was a mysterious tone in Tabitha's voice, and her nephew looked at her with eager inquiry.
“What mean you, aunt?” he said.
“What I have said,” replied she, aggravatingly, and would tell him no more. She was secretly a little jealous that her nephew had shortened his greeting to her to inquire about Persis. Old single woman though she was, her feminine birth-right of jealousy of the love of men, be they lovers or sons or nephews, still survived in her heart.
The young man dared not ask her any more questions, but the next day he passed the Buckley house many a time with sidelong glances at the window where Persis sat. He would not stare too boldly at that fair vision. And in the evening he stole out and strolled slowly over the meadows, and came to the Buckley house again. She was not at the window then, but the sweet tinkle of her piano came out to him from the candle-lit room, and he listened in rapture to her tender little voice trilling and quavering. Then peeping cautiously, he saw her graceful head thrown back, and her white throat swelling with her song like a bird's.
When he returned, his aunt looked at him sharply, but she did not ask where he had been. When he took his candle to retire for the night, her old blue eyes twinkled at him suddenly.
“How did the little bird sing to-night?” she said.
The young man stared at her a second, then he blushed and laughed. “Bravely, aunt, bravely,” he replied.
“'Tis a bird in the bush, nephew,” said she, and her voice was mocking, yet shrewdly tender.
Darius's face fell. “What do you mean, aunt?” he said.
“'Tis a bird that will always sing in the bush, and never in hand.”
Darius made as if he would question his aunt further, but he did not. He bade her good-night in a downcast and confused manner, and was out of the room like a shy girl.
Mistress Tabitha chuckled to herself, then she looked grave, and sat in her rocking-chair for a long time thinking.
Darius Hopkins marvelled much what his aunt could mean by her warning, and was uneasy over it. But the next day also he had many an errand across the meadows, down the forest road, to the village, and always he saw, without seeming to see, Persis at the window, and always she saw, without seeming to see, him.
On the Sabbath day, when he and his aunt went by the Buckley house on their way to meeting, Persis was not at the window. His aunt surprised his sly glances. “They go to meeting early,” said she, demurely. Darius laughed in a shamefaced fashion.
After he and his aunt were seated in the meeting-house, he scarcely dared look up for a while, for he feared, should he see Persis suddenly and near at hand, his face might alter in spite of himself. And, in truth, when he did look up, and saw Persis close before him in a pew at the side of the pulpit, a tremor ran over him, his lips twitched, and all the color left his face. His aunt pressed her bottle of salts into his hand, and he pressed it back almost sharply, and turned red as a girl to the roots of his black hair. Then he sat up straight and looked over almost defiantly at Persis. Her face in her blue satin bonnet, with its drooping blue plume and lace veil thrown to one side, was fair enough to stir the heart of any mortal man who looked at her.
There were, indeed, in that meeting-house, certain godly men who kept their eyes sternly turned away, and would not look upon her, thinking it a sin, although it was a sin to their own hearts alone.
But many a young man besides Darius Hopkins, although he had seen her in that selfsame place Sabbath after Sabbath, still regarded her furtively with looks of almost startled adoration. Not one of them had ever spoken to her or heard her speak, or seen her except in the meeting-house, or at her window, or thickly veiled on the village street.
Persis to-day kept her eyes fixed upon the parson, exhorting under his echoing sounding-board. She never looked around, although she knew that Darius was sitting beside his aunt in her pew. She also was afraid, and she never recovered courage, like Darius. Her father, Ichabod, fiercely intent upon the discourse, his nervous face screwed to a very point of attention, sat on one side; her sister Submit, her back bowed like an old woman's, on the other.
When meeting was over, Ichabod shot down the aisle, with his daughters following, as was his wont, and reached the door before many that sat farther back.
When Darius and his aunt came out of the meeting-house, the Buckleys were quite out of sight. When they emerged from the road past the graveyard through the woods, Persis was already at the window, with her bonnet off, but she kept her head turned far to one side, as if intent upon something in the room, and only the pink curve of one cheek was visible.
Darius had grown bold in the meeting-house; this time he looked, and forgot himself in looking.
“She is a pretty maid, but she is not for you, nor for any other young man unless he come for her with a coach and four, with a black gentleman a-driving,” said his aunt's voice half mockingly at his side.
Then the young man turned and questioned her quite boldly. “I beg of you to tell me what you mean, aunt,” he said.
Then Mistress Tabitha Hopkins, holding her Sabbath gown high above her hooped satin petticoat as she stepped along, unfolded to her nephew Darius Hopkins the strange romance of Persis Buckley's life.
“'Tis a shame!” cried the young man, indignantly, when she had finished — “a shame, to keep her a prisoner in this fashion!”
“'Tis only a prince with a coach and four can set her free. A prince from over seas, with a black gentleman a-driving,” said his aunt.
Darius turned, and stared back across the flat meadow-land at Ichabod Buckley's house. It was late August now, and the meadow had great rosy patches of marsh-rosemary flung upon it like silken cloaks of cavaliers, and far-seen purple plumes of blazing-star. Darius studied slowly the low gray walls and long slant of gray roofs in the distance.
“A strong right arm and a willing heart might free her, were he prince or not!” said he. And he flung out his own right arm as if it were the one to do it.
“Were the maid willing to be freed,” said Mistress Tabitha, softly.
Darius colored. “That is true, aunt,” he said, with a downcast and humbled air, and he turned and went on soberly.
Mistress Tabitha looked at her nephew's handsome face, and thought to herself, with loving but jealous pride, that no maid could refuse him as a deliverer. But she would not tell him so, for her heart was still sore at his preference of Persis to herself.
Darius Hopkins had an uneasy visit at his aunt Tabitha's. He did not speak again of Persis Buckley, but he thought the more. Useless, as he told himself, as either hopes or fears were, they sprang up in his heart like persistent flames, and could not be trodden out.
He told himself that it was not sensible to think that the grand Englishman would ever come for Persis after all these years, and that it was nothing to him if he did. Yet he often trembled when he came in sight of her house lest he see a coach and four standing before it, and see her carried away before his very eyes.
And sometimes he would look at his own comely face in the glass, and look into his own heart, and feel as if the love therein must compel her even against her will; for she was not an angel or a goddess, after all, beautiful as she was, but only a mortal woman. “She cannot love this man whom she has not seen since she was a child, and he must be an old man now,” reasoned Darius, viewing his own gallant young face in the glass. And he smiled with hope, although he knew that he could not reasonably expect to have more of Persis than the sight of her face in the meeting-house or at the window were he to stay in the village a year.
For a long time Darius was not sure that Persis even noticed him when he passed by, but there came a day when he had that at least for his comfort. That day he had not passed her house until late; on the day before her face had been so far turned from the window that his heart had sunk. He had said to himself that he would be such a love-cracked fool no longer; he would not pass her house again unless of a necessity. So all that day he had sat moodily with his aunt, but just before dusk his resolution had failed him. He had strolled slowly across the meadow, while his aunt watched him from her window, smiling shrewdly.
He had not meant to glance even when he passed the Buckley house, but in spite of himself his eyes turned. And there was Persis at the window, leaning towards him, with her face all radiant with joy. It was only a second, and she was gone. Darius had no time for anything but that one look, but that was enough. He felt as if he had already routed the gallant with the coach and four. He meditated all sorts of audacious schemes as he went home. What could he not do, if Persis would only smile upon him? He felt like marching straight upon her house, like a soldier upon a castle, and demanding her of her father, who was her jailer.
But the next day his heart failed him again, for she was not at her window — nor the next, nor the next. He could not know that she was peeping through the crack in the shutter, and that her embroidery and her reading and her old thoughts were all thrown aside for his sake. Persis Buckley could do nothing, day nor night, but think of Darius Hopkins, and watch for him to pass her window.
She did not know why, but she did not like to look fairly out of the window at him any longer. She could only peep through the crack in the shutter, with her color coming and going, and her heart beating loud in her ears.
But when Darius saw no more of Persis at the window, he told himself that his conceit had misled him; that no such marvellous creature as that could have looked upon him as he had thought, and that his bold stare had affronted her.
So he did not pass the Buckley house for several days, and Persis watched in vain. One afternoon she rose up suddenly, with her soft cheek all creased where she had leaned it against the shutter. “He will not come; I will watch no longer,” she said to herself, half angrily. And she got out her green silk pelisse and her bonnet, and prepared to walk abroad. She went through the kitchen, and her sister Submit stared up at her from the hearth, which she was washing.
“You have not got on your veil, Persis,” said she.
“I want no veil,” Persis returned, impatiently.
“But you will get burned in the wind; father will not like it,” said Submit, with wondering and dull remonstrance.
“Well,” sighed Persis, resignedly. And Submit got the black-wrought veil, and tied it over her sister's beautiful face.
Poor Persis, when she was out of the house, glanced hastily through the black maze of leaves and flowers across the meadow, but she saw no one coming. Then she strolled on away down the road through the woods. Just that side of the burying-ground there was an oak grove, and she went in there and sat down a little way from the road, with her back against a tree. It was very cool for the time of year, but the sun shone bright. All the oak-trees trilled sharply with the insects hidden in them, and the leaves rustled together.
Persis sat very stiffly under the oak-tree. Her petticoat was of green flowered chintz, and her pelisse and her bonnet of green silk. She was as undistinguishable as a green plant against the trunk of the tree, and neither Darius Hopkins nor his aunt Tabitha saw her when they passed. Persis heard their voices before they came in sight. She scarcely breathed. She seemed to be fairly hiding within herself, and forcing her very thoughts away from the eyes of Darius and his aunt.
Mistress Tabitha came down the wood, stepping with her fine mincing gait, and leaning upon her nephew's arm. They never dreamed that Persis was near. The green waving lines of the forest met their eyes on either hand, but all unnoted, being as it were the revolutions of that green wheel of nature of which long acquaintance had dimmed their perception. Only an unusual motion therein could arouse their attention when their thoughts were elsewhere, and they were talking busily.
As they came opposite Persis, Mistress Tabitha cried out suddenly, and her voice was full of dismay. “Not to-morrow!” she cried out. “You go not to-morrow, Darius!”
And Darius replied, sadly: “I must, Aunt Tabitha. I must go back to Boston by the Thursday stage-coach, and to-day is Wednesday.”
Persis heard no more. She felt faint, and there was a strange singing in her ears. As soon as the aunt and nephew were well past, she got up and hastened back to the house. She took off her bonnet and pelisse, and sat down in her old place at the window, where she had watched so many years through her strange warped youth. When she saw Darius and his aunt returning, all her soul seemed to leap forward and look out of her great dark eyes. But Darius never glanced her way. He knew she was there, for his aunt said, “There is Persis Buckley,” and nodded; but he dared not look, for fear lest he look too boldly, and she be offended.
Persis did not nod in response to Mistress Tabitha. She only looked, and looked at the slight, straight figure of the young man moving past her and out of her life. She thought that it was the last time that she should ever see him — the Boston stage left at daybreak. It seemed to her that he would never come again; and if he did, that she could not live until the time, but should ride away first from her old home forever, in gloomier state than had been planned for so many years.
When Darius and his aunt were out of sight she heard her father's voice in the kitchen, and she arose and went out there with a sudden resolve. “Father,” she said, standing before Ichabod.
He looked at her in a curious startled way. There was a strange gleam in her soft eyes, and a strange expression about her docile mouth.
“What is it?” he said.
“He will never come, father. I want to be different.”
“Who will never come? What do you mean, Persis?”
“The — gentleman — the grand gentleman with — the coach and four. He will never come for me now. I want to be different, father. I want to work with Submit, and not stay in there by myself. If I have to any longer I shall die, I think. I want to be different. He will never come now, father.”
Ichabod Buckley trembled with long convulsive tremors, which seemed to leave him rigid and stiff as they passed. “He will come!” he returned, and he shouted out the words like an oath.
Submit, who was preparing supper, stopped, and stood pale and staring.
Persis quailed a little, but she spoke again.
“It is too long now, father,” she said. “He has forgotten me. He has married another in England. He will never come, and I want to be different. And should he come, after all, I should be sorely afraid to go with him now. I could never go with him now, father.”
Ichabod turned upon her, and spoke with such force that she shrank, as if before a stormy blast. “I tell ye he will come!” he shouted, hoarsely. “He will come, and you shall go with him, whether you will or no! He will come, and you shall sit there in that room and wait for him until he comes! You should wait there until you were dead, if he came not before. But he will, I tell ye — he will come!”
Persis fled before her father back to the best room, and sat there in the gathering dusk. Across the meadows the light of Tabitha Hopkins's evening candle shone out suddenly like a low-hung star, and Persis sat watching it. When Submit called, in a scared voice, that supper was ready, she went out at once, and took her place at the table. There were pink spots in her usually pale cheeks; she spoke not a word, and scarcely tasted the little tid-bits grouped as usual around her plate. Her father swallowed his food with nervous gulps, then he left the table and went out. Soon Persis heard the grate of his tools on the gravestone slate, and knew that he had gone to work by candle-light, something he seldom did.
“Father is put out,” Submit said, with a half-scared, half-reproachful look at Persis.
“Oh, Submit!” Persis cried out, with the first appeal she had ever made in her life to her slow-witted elder sister, “I must be different, or I think I shall die!”
“Maybe he will come soon,” said Submit, who did not understand her sister's appeal. “Maybe he will come soon, Persis. Father thinks so,” she repeated, as she rose from the table and padded heavily about, removing the supper dishes.
Then she added something which filled her sister's soul with fright and dismay.
“Father he dreamt a dream last night,” said Submit, in her thick drone. “He dreamt that the grand gentleman came with the coach and four, and the black gentleman a-driving, and the grand lady in a velvet hood, just as he came before, and you got in and rode away. And he dreamt he came on a Thursday.”
“To-morrow is Thursday,” gasped Persis.
Submit nodded. “Father thinks he will come to-morrow,” said she. “He bade me not tell you, but I will for your comfort.”
Submit stared wonderingly at her sister's distressed face as she ran out of the room; then she went on with her work. She presently, in sweeping the hearth, made a long black mark thereon, and straightway told herself that there was another sign that the gentleman was coming. Submit was well versed in New England domestic superstition, that being her only exercise of imagination.
Persis did not light the candles in the best room. She sat at the window in the dark, and watched again Mistress Tabitha's candle-light across the meadow. She also stared from time to time in a startled way in the other direction towards the woodland road. Persis also was superstitious. She feared lest her father's dream come true. She seemed to almost see now and then that stately equipage emerge as of old from the woods. She almost thought that she heard the far-away rumble of the wheels. She kept reminding herself that it was Wednesday, and her father's dream said Thursday; but what if she did have to go away forever with that strange gentleman only the next day! She thought suddenly, not knowing why, of Clarissa Harlowe and Lovelace in her book. Mistress Tabitha's purpose had not wholly failed in its effect. A great vague horror of something which she was too ignorant to see fairly came over her. The face of that fine strange gentleman, dimly remembered before through all the years, shaped itself suddenly and plainly out of the darkness like the face of a demon. Persis looked away, shuddering, to the candle-gleam over the meadow, and Darius Hopkins's eyes seemed to look wistfully and lovingly into hers.
Persis Buckley arose softly, groped her way across the room in the dark, sliding noiselessly like a shadow, felt for the latch of the door that led into the front entry, lifted it cautiously, stole out into the entry, then opened the outer door with careful pains by degrees, and was out of the house.
Persis fled then past the plumy gloom of the pine-trees that skirted the wood, over the meadow, straight towards that candle-gleam in the Hopkins window.
There was a dry northeaster blowing, and it struck her as she fled, and lashed her clothing about her. She had on no outer wraps, and her head and her delicate face, which had always been veiled before a zephyr, were now all roughened and buffeted by this strong wind, which carried the sting of salt in it.
She never thought of it nor minded it. She fled on and on like a love-compelled bird, with only one single impulse in her whole being. The measure of freedom is always in proportion to the measure of previous restraint. Persis Buckley had been under a restraint which no maiden in this New England village had ever suffered, and she had gotten from it an impetus for a deed which they would have blushed to think of.
She fled on, forcing her way against the wind, which sometimes seemed to meet her like a moving wall, and sometimes like the rushing legions of that Prince of the Powers of the Air of whom she had read in the Bible, making as if they would lift her up bodily and carry her away among them into unknown tumult and darkness.
When Persis reached Tabitha Hopkins's door, she was nearly spent. Her life had not trained her well for a flight in the teeth of the wind. She leaned against the door for a minute faint and gasping.
Then she raised the knocker, and it fell with only a slight clang; but directly she heard an inner door open, and a step.
Then the door swung back before her, and Darius Hopkins stood there in the dim candle-light shining from the room within.
He could not see Persis's face plainly at first, only her little white hands reaching out to him like a child's from the gloom.
“Who is it?” he asked, doubtfully, and his voice trembled.
Persis made a little panting sound that was half a sob. Darius bent forward, peering out. Then he cried out, and caught at those little beseeching hands.
“It is not you!” he cried. “It is not you! You have not come to me! It is not you!”
Darius Hopkins, scarcely knowing what he did, he was so stirred with joy and triumph and doubt and fear, led Persis into the house and the candle-lit room. Then, when he saw in truth before him that beautiful face which he had worshipped from afar, the young man trembled and fell down upon his knees before Persis as if she were indeed a queen, or an angel who had come to bless him, and kissed her hand.
But Persis stood there, trembling and pale, before him, with the tears falling from her wonderful eyes, and her sweet mouth quivering. “Do not let him carry me away,” she pleaded, faintly.
Then Darius sprang to his feet and put his arms around her. “Who is it would carry you away?” he said, angrily and tenderly. “No one shall have you. Who is it?”
“The — gentleman — from over-seas,” whispered Persis. Her soft wet cheek was pressed against Darius's.
“He has not come?” he questioned, starting fiercely.
“No; but — father has dreamed that he will — to-morrow.”
Then Darius laughed gayly. “Dreams go by contraries,” he said.
“Do not let him carry me away,” Persis pleaded again, and she sobbed on his shoulder, and clung to him.
Darius held her more closely. “He shall never carry you away, even if he comes, against your will,” he said. “Do not fear.”
“I will go with nobody but you,” whispered Persis in his ear.
And he trembled, scarcely believing that he heard aright. And, indeed, he scarcely believed even yet that he was not dreaming, and that he held this beautiful creature in his arms, and, more than all, that she had come to him of her own accord.
“You — do — not — mean — You cannot — oh, you cannot mean — You are an angel. There is no one like you. You cannot — you cannot feel so about me?” he whispered, brokenly, at length.
Persis nodded against his breast.
“And — that was why — you came?”
Persis nodded again.
Darius bent her head back until he could see her beautiful, tearful face. He gazed at it with reverent wonder, then he kissed her forehead, and gently loosed her arm from his neck, and led her over to a chair.
He knelt down before her then as if she were a queen upon a throne, and held her hands softly. Then he questioned her as to how she had come, and about the expected coming of her strange gentleman suitor, and she answered him like a docile child.
Mistress Tabitha Hopkins stood for quite a time in the doorway, and neither of them saw her. Then she spoke up.
“I want to know what this means,” said she. “How came she here?” She pointed a sharp forefinger at Persis, who shrank before it.
But Darius arose quickly and went forward, blushing, but full of manly confidence. “Come out with me a moment, Aunt Tabitha,” he said; “I have something to say to you privately.” He took his aunt's arm and led her out of the room, and, as he went, smiled back at Persis. “Do not be afraid, sweetheart,” he said.
“Sweetheart!” sniffed Mistress Tabitha, before the door closed.
Persis Buckley had been gone no longer than an hour from her own home when Darius and his aunt Tabitha escorted her back. She was wrapped then in a warm cloak of Mistress Tabitha's, and clung to her lover's arm, and he leaned between her and the rough wind, and sheltered her. Poor Mistress Tabitha, with her skirts whipping about her and her ears full of wind, forced often by the onset of the gale at her back into staggering runs, pressed along after them. She had declined with some asperity her nephew's proffered assistance. “You look out for her,” she said, shortly. And then she added, to temper her refusal, that she could better keep her cloak around her if both her arms were free. All her life had Mistress Tabitha Hopkins seen love only from the outside, shining in her neighbor's window. It was to her credit to-night if she was not all bitter when its light fell on her solitary old maiden face, but got a certain reflected warmth and joy from it.
Nobody had missed Persis. Submit was fairly knitting in her sleep, by the kitchen fire. Ichabod was still out in his shed at work.
Mistress Tabitha stood back a little while her nephew bade Persis good-by at her door. “Remember, do not be frightened, whatever happens to-morrow,” he whispered in her ear. “If the gentleman comes with the coach and four, go with him, and trust in me.”
“I will do whatever you bid me,” whispered Persis. Then Darius kissed her hand, and she stole softly through the dark doorway into the gloom of the house, while her faith in her lover was as a lamp to all her thoughts.
On the next afternoon there was a sensation in this little seaport town. A grand coach and four, with a black man driving, a fine gentleman's head at one window, and a fine lady's at another, came dashing through the place at two o'clock. The women all ran to the doors and windows. Lounging old men straightened themselves languidly to stare, and turned their vacant faces over their shoulders. A multitude of small lads, with here and there a little petticoat among them, collected rapidly, and pelted along in the wake of this grand equipage. They followed it quite through the town to the road that led through the woods, past the graveyard, to the Buckley house, then up the road, panting but eager, the smaller children dragging at the hands of their elder brothers. When they reached the Buckley house, this small rabble separated itself into decorously silent, primly courtesying rows on either side of the way. Then the grand coach and four at length turned about, and moved between the courtesying rows of children, while Ichabod Buckley stood proudly erect in his best green surtout watching it, and poor Submit, with a scrubbing-cloth in her hand, peeped around the house corner, and the Buckley Lady rode away.
And all the people saw the coach and four dash at a rattling pace back through the town, with the Buckley Lady's face set like a white lily in a window, and her grand suitor's fair head opposite. They also saw another lady beside Persis; her face was well hidden in her great velvet hood and wrought veil, but she sat up with a stately air.
The children followed the coach on the Boston road as far as they were able, then they straggled homeward, and the coach went out of sight in a great billow of dust.
It was several days before the people knew what had really happened — that Persis Buckley had gone away with Darius Hopkins, with a fair wig over his black hair, and the fine lady in the velvet hood had been nobody but Mistress Tabitha.
Darius Hopkins had sent a letter to the parson, and begged him to acquaint Ichabod Buckley with the truth, and humbly to crave his pardon for himself and Persis, who was now his wife, for the deceit they had practised. “But, in truth,” wrote Darius Hopkins, “my beloved wife was not acquaint with the plan at all, it being contrived by my aunt, who hath a shrewd head, and carried out by myself; and I doubt much if she fairly knew with whom she went at the very first, being quite overcome by her fright and bewilderment.” And Darius Hopkins begged the parson also to acquaint Ichabod Buckley, for his comfort, with this fact: Although his daughter Persis had not wedded with a gentleman of high estate from over-seas, yet he, Darius Hopkins, was of no mean birth, and had a not inconsiderable share of this world's goods, with more in expectation, as his esteemed aunt bade him mention. And furthermore, Darius Hopkins stated that had he believed any other way than the one he had taken to be available for the purpose of winning his beloved wife and freeing her from a hard and unhappy lot, he would much have preferred it. But he had taken this, believing there was no other, in all honesty and purity of purpose, and he again humbly begged Ichabod Buckley's pardon.
One afternoon the parson paced solemnly up to the Buckley house with the great red-sealed letter in his hand. Ichabod was not at work. His nervous old face was visible at the window where his daughter's beautiful one had been so long, and the parson went in the front door.
It was two hours before he came out, and went with his head bent gravely down the road. He never told exactly what had passed between himself and Ichabod Buckley, but it was whispered that the parson had striven in prayer for him for the space of an hour and a half, but had not reconciled him to his disappointment.
After his daughter had departed in state, Ichabod Buckley, while not returning to his old garrulous ways, but comporting himself with a dignity that would have befitted a squire, was seen frequently in the store and on the street, and he wore always his best green surtout, which he had heretofore kept for Sabbath days.
But after the truth was revealed to him Ichabod Buckley was seen no more abroad. He shut himself up in his poor workshed, and all day long his chisel rasped on the dark slate. Persis wrote to him, and Darius, and he read the letters, scowling fiercely and painfully through his iron-bowed spectacles, then put them away in his beetling old desk in the kitchen, and fell to work again.
It was not three weeks after Persis went away when Submit, with her apron over her head, went one morning through the woods with lumbering swiftness and called the doctor, for her father lay on his bed as motionless as if he were dead, and could not speak.
They sent for Persis, but her father was dead before she reached her old home and went weeping over the threshold, leaning on her young husband's arm. Not a word did she have of blame or forgiveness from her father's lips; but she knew his last mind towards her when she saw what his work had been since the day she left him.
Out in Ichabod Buckley's workshop stood a tall slate stone, shaped like the one he had erected for his dearly beloved wife. On it were cut his name, and the years of his birth and death, and under that a verse. In his own poor brain, strained almost asunder with its awful stress of one idea in life, he had devised this verse; with his poor old failing hands he had cut it on the stone:
“Stranger, view well this speaking stone, And drop a pitying tear; Ingratitude had overthrown, And Death then laid me here.”
Ichabod Buckley had left a space below, as if he had designed to make still larger his appeal to the pity of those who should pause in the future by his grave; and thereon did Darius Hopkins, to comfort his wife Persis, who grieved as if she could never be comforted when she read the first, cut another verse.
When the stone was set up over Ichabod's grave, people kneeling before it read, after the piteous complaint and prayer for sympathy of the dead man, Darius's verse:
“Who doth his clearer sight possess In brighter realms above, May come his earthly woe to bless, And know that all was Love.”
And it has so happened, because Darius cut with his strong young hands more firmly and deeply his verse in the stone, that his has endured and can be read, while Ichabod's is all worn away by the rain-storms of the years, as it might have been by the tears of mortal life.