« AnteriorContinuar »
all about the fam'ly, right off. I should n't think you'd like to!"
Jerry quailed, attributing the bad taste of his conduct to his general inferiority as compared with this "remarkable woman." His mind had a liberality not always found in men of more liberal education; he could conceive the legitimate existence of feelings he by no means understood. He dutifully kept silence on the prohibited subject. But who knows whether it was really a fine sense of the sacredness of "fam'ly" matters, or a desire that her daughter should enjoy to the full certain further advantages," that edged the protesting tongue of Mrs. Hand?
Frank saw Herc'less but once more during his stay; the latter was shy, and inclined to avoid Jerry's hearth while a guest sat thereby. He had on the occasion of their second meeting the same uninterested demeanor; walking, talking, even laughing,- though he rarely laughed,— all as if he were tired. It seemed impossible that this cold-looking, dull-colored life had had any part in the hot glow of the war; yet it was a gray crumbling ash, not a stone. This man had hoped, had exulted, had burned with courage, with fervid religion, with love; it was all over now, one would have said; the fire quite out. Yet sometimes a little bloom of orange light creeps along the side of a whitened ember that is blown upon; and had Frank chanced to note Herc'less turning his face towards the pleasant sound of Sarah's voice, he might have perceived a somewhat similar effect.
But while this voice was speaking, the young man was noting little except the brilliant red lips whence it came. Decidedly Jerry's daughter had sufficient rounded and warm-tinted beauty to impart to the ugliest lines of stiff calico some" grace and glimmer of romance"; and to such beauty one is not slow in surrendering unconditionally, if he have a love for rosy cheeks and an admiration for coral lips, unhampered by the possession of any intellectual ideal of his "not impossible she."
This dull young fellow was ill at ease in the society of the dainty maidens constituting the set into which his father pushed him. He was not disliked by these young ladies, whose complexities so bewildered him; they simply felt that he was not of their world, and he often, in red and hot humiliation, felt it too. But to Sarah Hand honest Frank was a Prince Charming, here his narratives of boat-races and regatta-dinners and sparring-matches were fresh and fascinating; here he warmed himself-he stretched out his spiritual soles to the congenial fire of admiration, and was straightway singed. Sarah had no ambition; she had inherited Jerry's sweet, easy, drifting
nature; but had she " gone beyond" her mother in "management" as well as in "booklearning," she could not have builded better than she now did unconsciously, on the foundation-stone of Frank's boyish egotism.
He made another though necessarily a brief visit to Welshtown in November; and some ten days before Christmas ran down again, to get, he said, "a last crack at the birds before the law was up." But if this was what he wished, he was unfortunate; for on the evening of his arrival a heavy snow-storm began, continuing several days: to clinch the necessity of his remaining indoors, Frank had taken a severe cold. Yet under these afflictions he was singularly patient, and bore like a martyr the moldy anecdotes brought from the crypt of Jerry's memory. He had a number of delicious interviews with Sarah: it was the longest of these talks that was interrupted by the entrance of Jerry, stamping, shaking, and presently steaming plenteously, one afternoon when he had gone, from a superstitious compunction, to look up Herc'less. Jerry, who rarely dreamed, had had the night before an uncanny vision concerning his kinsman, which he had elaborately described in the morning, so that the family had breakfasted full of horrors. He had found Herc'less suffering from rheumatism, and as usual without society more inspiriting than that of Peter Slade, the taciturn, loutish fellow who helped him on the small farm. There was a pathos about this uncomplaining Herc'less that melted Jerry's heart in one spot, and somehow correspondingly hardened it in another. Why, Frank's cold was being most considerately treated: at the very moment when Jerry burst in upon that cozy kitchen chat, a little saucepan of "stewed Quaker," prepared by Sarah at the suggestion of the thoughtful Mrs. Hand, was bubbling on the stove; and close to this same stove- and consequently not very far from each other- these two young people were sitting, the flickering candle light, for it was now near supper-time, sufficing to show in their faces the peculiar expression which indicates that its wearers are on an enchanted island together, and must cross, startled, to you at your hail, for you cannot go to them. Jerry's eyebrows came together in a frown.
He was far from any conception of the situation based upon, or even including, the idea of a social inequality between his daughter and Frank Mallard. He had, moreover, a thoroughly trustful liking for the hearty-mannered young man. It was the manifest unfairness of things that afflicted him. "Now where, I want to know," his thought ran," does Herc'less's rights come in?" This consideration wrought him up to a resolve; it seemed para
"Ye-es," said Jerry genially. "Ye-es; but 'tain't altergether that- not altergether-is it, Sarer? There'll be some one to ca-er for him then, as I may say," he continued with great meaning.
But having developed this point, he delivered a fresh cargo of nourishment with his knife and relapsed into a masterly inactivity, influenced, not by the discouraging front of his wife, but by a single quick, appealing glance from Sarah's light-brown eyes,-- a glance that had sought him like a frightened bird.
He stubbornly outsat, that evening, his wife and daughter, who would remain upon the scene, the former determined, as long as they could. Frank was moody, and shied nervously from one of the disinterred anecdotes. Jerry fell to his last resource, the slow and hard-breathing perusal of a book - Sarah's, of course. Her few books were principally works of fiction, representing love as a pleasant adjunct to strictly orthodox religion. Jerry generally stigmatized them as "tomfoolishness." But this night he sat holding one firmly, with his great horny thumbs uppermost; his respiration gradually became louder; his head dropped by degrees; his lips opened.
"I think," said his wife sarcastically, as he straightened himself with a Jack-in-the-box movement, "if I was beat out I'd go to bed, and not set gappin' like a catfish and snorin' like a don'-know-what."
heat might comfort his feet, clad in huge blue woolen socks. "As for me, I wan't even asleep," he said in an injured tone rare with him, "let alone snore."
His wife withdrew her forces. The door once shut, Frank, who had sat, with his chair tilted back, abstractedly smoking a cigar, now looked hard at Jerry. Jerry glanced up calmly at him.
"I hain't never told you," he said slowly, "not supposing 't 'd interrest you, that Herc'less and Sarer was a-going to git married next spring." Frank said nothing.
"I s'pose you 're surprised. We-ell, I will say," continued Jerry fairly, "that when he first began coming around with a' apparient view to mattermony, I was supprised. And Mrs. H she was supprised; and she did n't favor it largely. But when she see Sarer's mind was sot" (Frank's teeth clinched on his cigar), "she says, wait till spring; so they 've waited. She says, says Mrs. H, 't was all Sarer's soft-heartedness; and I hain't denyin' it, Sarer has got a soft heart. Durn a young woman that hain't! But she was sot; and I wan't sorry. It's a good thing for him, sir; and as I see it, it's a good thing for her."
"Why?" said Frank explosively.
"We-ell," said Jerry sagaciously, "you hain't seen much of Herc'less; I 've re-marked that he staid away while you was he-er. He hain't no hand to make acquaintances. But I know Herc'less wer-ry well. He's a square man, sir; a square man." He nodded with a pleasant sense of his grasp of character.
"Is that a reason," cried Frank irritably, "to hand over a pretty girl like Sarah to a man fifteen years older- fifteen years!". his voice broke like an angry boy's; his face was a bright pink,-" and all broke down as he is?"
Jerry pondered upon Frank with his big light-blue eyes. "All that ails Herc'less, sir," he declared, slapping his knee, "is that he hain't completely cheered up yet." He always clung to this expression in a kind of surprise at his own acuteness in having invented anything so comprehensive. "And he's wer-ry well fixed; wer-ry well; wot 's he had to spend fur? He kin afford, sir, to take unto himself a wife; and Man!" He paused to let his not rapid imagination present an agreeable fireside picture.
Frank rose, with a savage, inarticulate sound of protest, flung down the remains of the cigar he had bitten in two, and stalking to the other side of the room began to examine his breechloader, which he had brought downstairs that afternoon. He glowered at it for some minutes before it seemed borne in upon him what
he was looking at; then he carried it up once or twice as a gun-lover will. Perhaps it was pointed at the offending image of Herc'less. "I guess I'll go to bed. Good-night," he said sulkily, putting the gun over his shoulder. "Sleep sound and hearty," said Jerry amiably. When Frank had gone, he shook his head for some minutes. "Man!" he said to himself, "he 's wer-ry hasty." He looked at the door with a forlorn smile. He did not feel disposed to hasten to awaiting retribution. Half an hour's cool thought had, however, brought Mrs. Hand to the conclusion that her husband's mutiny was rather well-timed. She construed Frank's gloom as a favorable sign. Jerry was therefore permitted to sleep without the expected reading of the domestic riot act. The sleepless eyes under this rustic roof were younger eyes; now fully opened to a delicious, perplexing, pathetic state of affairs. To the girl, who had simply drifted on a sunny sea, her own feeling at the reminder to herself and disclosure to Frank of her true position-which had without art on her part been allowed to remain in the background-was a revelation. Doubt, shame, sudden angry pride, irrational joy, a tender remorse towards the man whom her pity had permitted to claim her, all these sang no lullabies in Sarah's soul.
And Frank? His tossing thoughts were not occupied with Herc'less at all. For this figure, which he found abject, his young contempt was profound. The prominent fact brought out by his instinctive and involuntary resentment of Jerry's words was that he, Frank Mallard, was in love. (The good old-fashioned, indestructible phrase! What an idea of entering a new medium it conveys!)
But alas! a shadow fell athwart this bright fact, quenching the sparkle of the small foolish memories and hopes that danced through Frank's brain like glorified motes in a sunbeam. It was the shadow that had stretched across all his otherwise easy life since the death of the mother who had petted and spoiled him, the cold, tall shadow of his father.
It fell between the son and the girl whom he loved,-loved as in him lay. It never occurred to Frank to doubt that he could marry Sarah Hand if he chose; her promise to Herc'less he regarded no more than a bond of straw. But afterward? The question came to his bed side and stood looking at him and through him with his father's eyes. So potent was the influence of the stronger soul that the young man almost saw that well-known face beside him the thin, frosty-whiskered face, the sharp glance through the clear spectacles. Frank feared his father's anger all the more that it
was certain to be an icy kind of anger, with an edge of ridicule. He was morbidly sensitive to sarcasm; his slow wits quickened to meet with understanding the jest or the slur, yet were unable by prompt retort to relieve the frenzy into which they goaded him. Ah, he knew quite well the gist of what his father would say of this matter, though he could not foresee exactly what superfine torturing twist that malevolent, incalculable cleverness of his would give the words!
A misalliance?-it would be none. Frank felt this truth; though he, of course, based his self-complacent reasoning on the natural desert of Sarah's beauty, considering that "the proudest place would fit her face," and not on his own unfitness for any finer mate. But his father would consider it a misalliance, and would act accordingly his father, whose money and influence had helped him in business to that modest height where, to do him justice, he now stood gallantly. Suppose this force all at once opposed — these props all at once withdrawn? There was a weak spot at the core of Frank's confidence. superficially so great as to be almost laughable-in his own unassisted business faculty.
In any critical moment his manliness was unreliable, as his associates in amusement well knew. He was not, they said, a "stayer." He had once been known, though in perfect physical condition, to "weaken" in a boatrace from sheer doubt of his own powers, causing his crew to be defeated by inferior men. Perhaps some of the coarsest of his rough-and-ready comrades connected his lack of "sand" with a certain clean good-boyishness which made them smile. The same mediocrity that kept him from doing active right often kept him too from doing positive wrong; he was just common clay for a potter's hand, and fate had provided the potter.
Now, as before, Frank weakened.
He passed under Jerry's roof another day, rendered sufficiently miserable by the pale but now self-possessed Sarah's complete avoidance of him, to impress upon him the need for immediate action of some sort. Retreat seemed best, as the least decisive and irretrievable step. He had some reason for starting nervously at the footfall of Mrs. Hand as she went about her work; she kept him in the corner of her eye; something was expected of him.
Late in the afternoon, Jerry brought him up from the station a city letter, which set forth certain matters requiring his personal attention. He had made up his mind to return the next day; yet, on learning that he must do so, found himself ill-used. He crumpled the letter up in his hand, scowling.
"I find I've got to go back to-morrow, Jerry," he declared suddenly in a high key.
"W'y," said Jerry, "you hain't had a durn shot! It's a-cle-arin' like a bell."
had decided to sacrifice his feelings to his sense of honor, in the latter's behalf. Jerry would have been capable of doing that himself; and he warmed towards the poor fellow at his side,
"I've got to go," said Frank, with a sullen who now sat dull-eyed and sullen, inwardly change of tone.
"We-ell, Mr. Mal-lard. business is business," said Jerry sympathetically, as though himself overwhelmed with affairs. "But, Man!"
The next morning was, as he had prophesied, beautifully clear; an intensely still winter day, the pines making moveless bluish shadows on the snow. Perhaps the thought that he had had no sport intensified Frank's irritation; sport certainly had a high seat among his in
Mrs. Hand bade him good-by very coolly; she felt instinctively her failure: the due punishment of Jerry's insubordination was doled out to him daily for months. As for Sarah, Frank indeed saw her alone for a minute; but she was engaged in feeding chickens, and he felt severely injured by the small proportion of attention which she allotted to him. As he got into Jerry's low, rough board sleigh, his heart was swelling with strong selfpity. I am afraid he had kicked away the too affectionate Fan, who ran off howling and was comforted by Sarah. Flash was of a less fawning disposition, and the happier dog.
Man, I wisht you could stay; and failin' that, I wisht you could say when we 'd see ye ag'in," said Jerry cordially as the old sorrel sped along at a very respectable pace. "I'd like," he said in a lower, meditative tone, "to see ye to the weddin': Man, we 'll have great times to the weddin'. But now I consider, you hain't no heart in that; you was a-sayin' that our Sarer was too young and too pretty for Herc'less."
This was the last straw. "Oh, hang it, Jerry, let me alone! Can't you let me alone?" said Frank volcanically; but the imprecation he actually used was much more forcible.
Jerry rubbed his nose with his forefinger. His perceptions were not keen; but the fiery handwriting on the wall was doubtless visible, though not intelligible, to the most obtuse individual at the feast of Belshazzar. As fiery was the writing of the moment on the young man's face. Jeremiah Hand was no subtle interpreter: the idea of Frank's true state of mind was as far from occurring to him as if he had been an emperor, ready to dower his daughter with a dukedom. His magnanimity leaped the gulf of all other possible constructions straight to a conclusion that seemed to him very natural: Frank loved Sarah, and would himself have been her suitor; but on learning of her engagement to Herc'less he VOL. XXXV.—92.
sore at his own foolish outburst.
"I'll send for the pups by and by; they 're better here than in a stable in the city," said Frank hurriedly as the train came in. Jerry nodded, and made his farewell hand-grasp a painfully full expression of sympathy. The locomotive moved off, hoarsely wheezing; he looked after it with an awed feeling of the stern justice of the event.
"It would n't be hardly fair to Herc'less, would it now?" he said to himself with his head on one side; "not after all the sorrers he's had-and only jest beginning to git cheered up!"
HERC'LESS, since his quiet wooing of Sarah, had never been demonstrative; had spoken little of their future; had not frequented her society with the customary regularity of an accepted suitor. These peculiarities seemed to increase upon him rather than to diminish as the spring approached; but an evident uneasiness took the place of his former impassive behavior. The girl noticed this, and shrank within herself; she was conscious of an increasing hardness towards him, the rapid growth of which was quite beyond her control.
One day in April, Jerry had a long, lowtoned conversation with Herc'less. He was puzzled and disturbed. Some unconsidered word of his had been followed by an astonishing outbreak from his daughter. "And I says, 'Don't it seem jest like a dream? There's where he set and smoked his cig-gay-ret.' And with that she up and bursted into tears. Now, Herc'less, I leave it out to you if the po-sition of things hain't altered some?"
"I felt this a-coming," said Herc'less. "He's a dum scoundrel, if his gun kin beat mine.” But he said this with more melancholy than anger. It was as if he felt it all, Frank's condemned scoundrelism included, to be foreordained.
"Now I say 'No' to that, Herc'less Jimpson!" said Jerry warmly. "So far forth as I kin see, Mr. Mal-lard is a square man; a square man, sir!" He went on to describe the last scenes of Frank's stay, unconsciously coloring the story somewhat with his own interpretation.
Herc'less listened sadly. "Well," he commented with a queer smile, "I guess I'm a square man too."
It was late the next afternoon, and Sarah, who had gone to the nearest village on an errand, was returning along a wood-path,
when she heard footsteps behind her. A glance showed her that Herc'less was following her. She was as frightened at the approach of her affianced lover as if he had been some evil-eyed stranger, and dropped the bunch of white and purple lilacs her village friend had given her.
"Sarer," he said as he came up, "I want to have a talk with you." He stooped, and picked up the flowers.
"This ain't the time," she said with a touch of her mother's sharpness; "I've got to be getting home now."
"I'll go your way," he said gently and reproachfully, and began to walk by her side. "Sarer," he began confidentially, "I've been thinking things over."
It flashed across her that the things he had been thinking over were matters to be arranged for their simple housekeeping. The cold look that swept over her face, like a cloud over a hill, hurt Herc'less so that when he spoke next the tremor of his voice was noticeable.
"I'm a good deal older 'n you, Sarer," he said; "a good deal."
She thought this was the tone of advice, and resented it. Could it be that he was about to speak to her of Frank?
"'N' I been through so much more," he went on. "I rec'lect so much that you hain't got no part in. I have spells when it all comes over me. Of a starry night, f'r instance, I'll look up and I'll feel old-like. And these laylocks - the smell of 'em carries me away back to other times. I s'pose it ain't no more to you than any other sweet smell."
He paused. Her relief as he passed from dangerous ground had been succeeded by a chill. Why did he bring these memories to her? It was like a rush of damp air from a tomb, the grotesqueness of this broken bridegroom, with his "spells" when the ghosts of dead happiness and dead sorrow alike talked with him! Could she endure an indefinite prolongation of this? But he had not yet reached his climax.
Sarer," he said in a deep, hushed voice that hardly seemed his own, "I'd like to show you something." He plunged far down into a breast-pocket of his old coat, and brought up something wrapped in pink paper. He unfolded it very reverently with his hairy-backed hands. "That's Mirandy!" he said as he held it before her. The thin, mild face of the photograph, with the little dab of faded carmine disfiguring its cheeks, was to him sacredthe face of the Blessed Damozel who leaned and looked in his retrospective moments "from the gold bar of heaven."
Sarah recoiled from him- from them.
Would not this figure stand by her, a kind of ghostly bridesmaid, during the ceremony against which her warm youth now cried out loudly? She was on the point of exclaiming passionately, "It can't be—it can't ever be!" But he was before her.
"I ain't never spoke to you like this before, Sarer," he said solemnly. "It 's because I want you should see what I see myself, now we 've got right down to it. It can't ever be!" She started at the echo of her own thought. "There 's this between us!"
Having said this, he folded up the picture carefully in its absurdly incongruous rosecolored wrapping, and laid it softly away in his pocket again.
"O Herc'less," she stammered, with the tears running down her face, "you 're so alone!"
"No, Sarer," he said kindly, "I ain't. And anyway, I 'm too broke down a man for you. Not but what I'd 'a' done my dooty by ye. But that ain't all you want. I could make a guess, now, at the kind of a man you want." He looked at her markedly; she was sobbing hard now. He drew her head against his shoulder as if she had been a child; she did not resist; all her repugnance was gone.
"Don't ye cry, Sarer," he said soothingly. "You only jest make me feel bad."
It was all over. He had "done his dooty" by her. All that he had said was in a sense true. She could never know that he had persuaded himself so to bring an infrequent mood into the foreground as to dwarf in her sight the mild love for her which had long been his daily companion. She could never know that this meek flower of his later life was as dear to his impoverished soul as the last blue gentian to the fading year.
Summer dragged by, and still the little country household had but one new sign of Frank's existence,— a few scrawled lines in an envelope containing money. Frank himself had had time for recovery, and was, he thought, quite healed; though he yet delayed the severing of the last unromantic tie that bound him to the Hand family. His first sensation was one of amusement rather than of jealousy, when on a certain November afternoon an unlooked-for visitor appeared at his office. It was Herc'less.
He was clad in a new collection of garments which he had bought at a large ready-made clothing "emporium" that morning. The salesman had improved his peculiar opportunities. The coat was of a mulberry color, and much too small for him; the trousers, cut with a floating generosity of pattern, were of a material which the same salesman had assured him was "a fine genuine Scotch mixture": it