“On garde long temps son premier amant, quand on n’en prend point de second.”
Maximes Morales du Due de la Rochefoucauld.
IT is not suffering alone that wears out our lives. We sometimes are in a state when a sharp pang would be hailed almost as a blessing, —when, rather than bear any longer this living death of calm stagnation, we would gladly rush into action, into suffering, to feel again the warmth of life restored to our blood, to feel it at least coursing through our veins with something like a living swiftness.
This death-in-life comes sometimes to the most earnest men, to those whose life is fullest of energy and excitement. It is the reaction, the weariness which they name Ennui, — foul fiend that eats fastest into the heart’s core, that shakes with surest hand the sands of life, that makes the deepest wrinkles on the cheeks and deadens most surely the lustre of the eyes.
But what are the occasional visits of this life - consumer, this vampire that sucks out the blood, to his constant, never-failing presence? There are those who feel within themselves the power of’ living fullest lives, of sounding every chord of the full diapason of passion and feeling, yet who have been so hemmed around, so shut in by adverse and narrowing circumstances, that never, no, not once in their half-century of years which stretch from childhood to old age, have they been free to breathe out, to speak aloud the heart that was in them. Ever the same wasting indifference to the things that are, the same ill-repressed longing for the things that might be. Long days of wearisome repetition of duties in which there is no life, followed by restless nights, when Imagination seizes the reins in her own hands, and paints the out-blossoming of those germs of happiness and fulness of being of whose existence within us we carry about always the aching consciousness.
And such things I have known from the moment when I first stepped from babyhood into childhood, from the time when life ceased to be a play and came to have its duties and its sufferings. Always the haunting sense of a happiness which I was capable of feeling, faint glimpses of a paradise of which I was a horn denizen,—and always, too, the stern knowledge of the restraints which held me prisoner, the idle longings of an exile. But would no strong effort of will, no energy of heart or mind, break the bonds that held me down,— no steady perseverance of purpose win me a way out of darkness into light? No, for I was a woman, an ugly woman, whose girlhood had gone by without affection, and whose womanhood was passing without love,—a woman, poor and dependent on others for daily bread, and yet so bound by conventional duties to those around her that to break from them into independence would he to outrage all the prejudices of those who made her world.
I could plan such escape from my daily and yearly narrowing life, could dream of myself walking steadfast and unshaken through labor to independence, could picture a life where, if the heart were not fed, at least the tastes might be satisfied, could strengthen myself through all the imaginary details of my goingforth from the narrow surroundings which made my prison-walls; but when the time came to take the first step, my courage failed. I could not go out into that world which looked to me so wide and lonely; the necessity for love was too strong for me, I must dwell among mine own people. There, at least, was the bond of custom, there was the affection which grows out of habit; but in the world what hope had I to win love from strangers, with my repellent looks, awkward movements, and want of personal attractions?
Few persons know that within one hundred and fifty miles of the Queen City of the West, bounded on both sides by highly cultivated tracts of country, looking out westwardly on the very garden of Kentucky, almost in the range of railroad and telegraph, in the very geographical centre of our most populous regions, there lie some thousand square miles of superb woodland, rolling, hill above hill, in the beautiful undulations which characterize the country bordering on the Ohio, watered by fair streams which need only the clearing away of the few obstructions incident to a new country to make them navigable, and yet a country where the mail passes only once a week, where all communication is by horse-paths or by the slow course of the flat-boat, where schools are not known and churches are never seen, where the Methodist itinerant preacher gives all the religious instruction, and a stray newspaper furnishes all the political information. Does any one doubt my statement ? Then let him ask a passage, up-stream in one of the flat-boats that supply the primitive necessities of the small farmers who dwell on the banks of the Big Sandy, in that debatable border-land which lies between Kentucky and Virginia; or let him, if he have a taste for adventure, hire his horse at Catlcttsburg, at the mouth of the river, and lose his way among the blind bridlepaths that lead to Louisa and to Prestonburg. If he stops to ask a night’s lodging at one of the farm-houses that are to be found at the junction of the creeks with the rivers, log-houses with their primitive out-buildings, their halfconstructed rafts of lumber ready to float down-stream with the next rise, their ‘dug-outs’ for the necessities of river-intercourse, and their rough oxcarts for hauling to and from the mill, he will see before him such a home as that in which I passed the first twenty years of my life.
I had little claim on the farmer with whom I lived. I was the child by a former marriage of his wife, who had brought me with her into this wilderness, a puny, ailing creature of four years, and into the three years that followed was compressed all the happiness I could remember. The free life in the open air, the nourishing influence of the rich natural scenery by which I was surrounded, the grand, silent trees with their luxuriant foliage, the fresh, strong growth of the vegetation, all seemed to breathe health into my frame, and with health came the capacity for enjoyment. I was happy in the mere gift of existence, happy in the fulness of content, with no playmate but the kindly and lovely mother Earth from whose bosom I drew fulness of life.
But in my seventh year my mother died, worn out by the endless, unvarying round of labors which break down the constitutions of our small farmers’ wives. She grew sallow and thin under repeated attacks of chills and fever, brought into the world, one after another, three puny infants, only to lay them away from her breast, side by side, under the sycamore that overshadowed our cornfield, and visibly wasted away, growing more and more feeble, until, one winter morning, we laid her, too, at rest by her babies. Before the year was out, my father (so I called him) was married again.
My step-mother was a good woman, and meant to do her duty by me. Nay, she was more than that: she was, as far as her poor light went, a Christian. She had experienced religion in the great revival of 18—, which was felt all through Western Kentucky, under the preaching of the Reverend Peleg Dawson, and when she. married my father and went to bury herself in the wilds of “ Up Sandy” was a shining light in the Methodist church, a class-leader who had had and had told experiences.
But all that glory was over now; it had flashed its little day : for there is a glow in the excitement of our religious revivals as potent in its effect on the imaginations of women and young men as ever were the fastings and penances which brought the dreams and reveries, the holy visions and the glorious revealings, of the Catholic votaries. In this short, triumphanttime of spiritual pride lay the whole romance of my step-mother’s life. Perhaps it was well for her soul that she was taken from the scene of her triumphs and brought again to the hard realities of life. The selfexaltation, the ungodly pride passed away ; but there was left the earnest, prayerful desire to do her duty in her way and calling, and the first path of duty which opened to her zeal was that which led to the care of a motherless child, the saving of an immortal soul. And in all sincerity and uprightness did site strive to walk in it. But what woman of fiveand-thirty, who has outlived her youth and womanly tenderness in the loneliness and hardening influences of a single life, and who marries at last for a shelter in old age, knows the wants of a little child ? Indeed, what but a mother’s love has the long - enduring patience to support the never ceasing calls for forbearance and perseverance which a child makes upon a grown person ? Those little ones need the nourishment of love and praise, but such milk for babes can come only from a mother’s breast. I got none of it. On the contrary, my dearly loved independence, my wild-wood life, where Nature had become to me my nursing - mother, was exchanged for one of never ceasing supervision. “ Little girls must learn to be useful,” was the phrase that greeted my unwilling ears fifty times a day, which pursued me through my daily round of dish-washings, floor-sweepings, bed-making and potato-peeling, to overtake me at last in the very moment when I hoped to reap the reward of my diligence in a free afternoon by the river-side in the crotch of the water-maple that hung over the stream, clutching me and fastening me down to the hated square of patchwork, which bore, in the spots of red that defaced its white, purity in following the line of my stitches, the marks of the wounds that my awkward hands inflicted on themselves with their tiny weapon.
And so the years went on. It was a pity that no babies came to soften our hearts, my step-mother’s and mine, and to draw us nearer together as only the presence of children can. A household without children is always hard and angular, even when surrounded by all the softening influences of refinement and education. What was ours with its poverty and roughness, its every-day cares and its endless discomforts ? One day was like all the rest, and in their wearying succession they rise up in my memory like ghosts of the past coming to lay their cold, death-like hands on the feebly kindling hopes of the present. I see myself now, as I look back, a tall, awkward girl of fifteen, with my long, straggling, sunburnt hair, my sallow, yet pimply complexion, my small, weak-looking blue eyes, that every exposure to the sun and wind would redden, and my long, lean hands and arms, that offended my sense of beauty constantly, as I dwelt on their hopelessly angular turns. I had one beauty ; so my little paper-framed glass, that rested on the rough rafter that edged the sloping roof of my garret, told me, whenever I took it, down to gaze in it, which, but for that beauty, would have been but seldom. It was a finely cut and firmly set mouth and chin. There was, and I felt it, beauty and character in the curves of the lips, in the rounding of the chin; there was even a healthy ruddiness in the lips, and something of delicacy in the even, well-set teeth that showed themselves when they parted.
The gazing at these beauties gave me great pleasure, not for any effect they might ever produce in others,—what did I know of that ? — but because I had in myself a strong love of the beautiful, a passion for grace of form and brilliancy of color which made doubly distasteful to me our bare, uncouth walls, with their ugly, straight - backed chairs, and their frightfully painted yellow or red tables and chests-of-drawers.
My step-mother’s appearance, too, was a constant offence to my beauty-loving eye, — with her lank, tall figure, round which clung those narrow skirts of “ bit" calico, dingy red or dreary brown, — her feet shod in the heavy store-shoes which were brought us from Catlettsburg by the returning flat-boat men, — her sharpfeatured face, the forehead and cheeks covered with brown, mouldy - looking spots, the eyes deep-set, with a livid, dyspeptic ring around them, and the lips thin and pinched,—the whole face shaded by the eternal sun-bonnet, which never left her head from early sunrise till late bedtime (no Sandy woman is ever seen without her sun-bonnet). All these were perpetual annoyances to me ; they made me discontented withoutkuowing why; they filled me with disgust, a disgust which my respect for her good qualities could not overcome.
And then our life, how dreary! The rising in the cold, gray dawn to prepare the breakfast of corn - dodgers and bacon for my father and his men, — the spreading the table-cloth, stained with the soil-spots of yesterday’s meal, — the putting upon it the ugly, unmatched crockery, — the straggling-in of the unwashed. uncombed men in their coarse working-clothes, redolent of the week’s unwholesome toil,—their washings, combings. and low talk close by my side,—the varied uses to which our household utensils were put,—the dipping of dirty knives into the salt and of dirty fingers into the meat-dish,—all filled me then, and fill me now, with loathing.
There was a relief when the men left the house; but then came the dreary “ slicking-up,” almost more disgusting, in its false, superficial show of cleanliness, than had been the open carelessness of the workmen.
But there was no time for rest; my step-mother’s sharp, high-pitched voice was heard calling, “ Janet! ” and I followed her to the garden to dig the potatoes from the hills or to the cornfield to pull and husk the three dozen ears of corn, which made our chief dish at dinner. Then came the week’s washing, the apple-peeling, the pork-salting, work varied only with the varying season, until the blowing of the born at twelve brought back the men to dinner, after which came again the clearing up, again the day’s task, and again the supper.
I often thought that the men around us were always more cheerful and merry than the women. They worked as hard, they endured as many hardships, but they had, certainly, more pleasures. There was the evening lounge by the fire in winter, the sitting on the fence or at the door-step in summer, when, pipe or cigar in mouth, knife and whittling - stick in hand, jest and gibe would pass round among them, and the boisterous laugh would go up, reaching me, as I lay, tired out, on my little cot, or leaned disconsolate at my garret-window, looking with longing eyes far out into the darkness of the woods. No such gatherings-together of the women did I ever see. I f one of our neighbors dragged her weary steps to our kitchen, and sat herself down, baby in lap, on the upturned tub or flagbottomed chair that I dusted off with my apron, it was to commence the querulous complaint of the last week’s chill or the heavy washing of the day before, the ailing baby or the troublesome child, all told in the same winning voice. Even the choice hit of gossip which roused us at rare intervals always had its dark side, on which these poor women dwelt with a perverse pleasure.
In short, life was too hard for them ; it brought its constant cares without any alleviating pleasures. Their homes were only places of monotonous labor, — their husbands so many hard taskmasters, who exacted from them more than their strength could give, —their children, who should have been the delight of their mothers’ hearts, so many additional burdens, the bearing and nursing of which broke down their poor remaining health ; the glorious and lavish Nature in which they lived only brought to them added labor, and shut them out from the few social enjoyments that they knew of.
I was old enough to feel all this,—not to reason on it as I can now, but to rebel against it with all the violence of a vehe-ment nature which feels its strength only in the injuries it inflicts upon itself in its useless struggles for freedom. Bitter tears did I shed sometimes, as I lay with my head on my arms, leaning on that narrow window-sill, — tears of passionate regret that I was not a boy, a man, that I might, by the very force of my right arm, hew my way out of that encircling forest into the world of which I dreamed,—tears, too, that, being as I was, only an ugly, ignorant girl, I could not be allowed to care only for myself, and dream away my life in this same forest, which charmed me while it hemmed me in. My rude, chaotic nature had something of force in it, strength which I knew would stand me in good stead, could I ever find an outlet for it; it had also a power of enjoyment, keen, vivid, could I ever get leave to enjoy.
At length came the opening, the glimpse of sunlight. I remember, as if it were but yesterday, that afternoon which first showed to my physical sight something of that full life of which my imagination had framed a rude, faint sketch. I was standing at the end of the meadow, just where the rails had been thrown down for the cows, when, looking up the path that led through the wood by the river, I saw, almost at my side, a man on horseback. He stopped, and, half raising his hat, a motion I had never seen before, said, —
“ Is this Squire Board era’s place ? ”
I pushed back my sun-bonnet, and looked up at him. I see him now as I saw him then ; for my quick, startled glance took in the whole face and figure, which daguerreotyped themselves upon my memory. A frank, open face, with well-cut and well-defined features and large hazel eyes, set off by curling brown hair, was smiling down upon me, and, throwing himself from his horse, a young man of about five-and-twenty stood beside me. He had to repeat his question before I gained presence of mind enough to answer him.
“ Is this Squire Boarders’s house, and do you think I could get a night’s lodging here ? ”
It was no unusual thing for us to give a night’s lodging to the boatmen from the river, or to the farmers from the backcountry,. as they passed to or from Catlettsburg; but what accommodation had we for such a guest as here presented ? I walked before him up the path to the house, and, shyly pointing to my stepmother, who stood on the porch, said,—
“ That’s Miss Boarders; you can ask her.”
And then, before he had time to answer, I fled in an agony of bashfulness to rny refuge under the water-maple behind the house. I lingered there as long as I dared, — longer, indeed, than I had any right to linger, for I heard my mother’s voice crying, “Janet!” and I well knew that there was nobody but myself to mix the corn-cake, spread the table, or run the dozen errands that would be needed. I slipped in by the back-door, and, escaping my step-mother’s peevish complaints, passed into the little closet which served us for pantry, and, scooping up the meal, began diligently to mix it.
The window by which I stood opened on the porch. My father and his men had come in, and, tipping their chairs against the wall, or mounted on the porchrailing, were smoking their cigars, laughing, joking, talking, — and there in the midst of them sat the stranger, smoking too, and joining in their talk with an easy earnestness that seemed to win them at once. Our country-people do not spare their questions. My father took the lead, the men throwing in a remark now and then.
“ I calculate you have never been in these parts before ? ”
“ No, never. You have a beautiful country here.”
“ The country ’s well enough, if we could clear off some of them trees that stop a man every way he turns. Hid you come up from Lowiza to-day ? ”
“ No; I have only ridden from the mouth of Blackberry, I believe you call it. I have left a boat and crew there, who will be up in the morning.”
“ What truck have you got on your boat? ”
“ Lumber and so forth, and plenty of tools of one sort or other.”
“ Damn me if I don’t believe you ’re the man who is coming up here to open the coal mines on Burgess’s land ! ” And the whole crowd gathered round him.
He laughed good-naturedly.
“ Yes, I am coming to live among you. I hope you ’ll give me a welcome.”
There was a cheery sound of welcome from the men, but my father shook his head.
“ We don’t like no new-fangled notions, noways, up here, and I ’ll not say that I’m glad you ’re bringing them in ; but, at any rate, you ’re welcome here to-night.”
The young man held out his hand.
“ We are to be close neighbors, Squire Boarders, and I hope we shall be good friends; but I ought to tell you all about myself. Mr. Burgess’s land has been bought by a company, who intend to open the coal mines, as you know, and I am sent up here as their agent, to make ready for the miners and the workmen. We shall clear away a little, and put up some rough shanties, to make our men comfortable before we go to work. We shall bring a new set of people among you, those Scotch and Welsh miners; but I believe they are a peaceable set, and we ’ll try to be friendly with each other.”
The frank speech and the free, open face seemed to mollify my father.
“ And how do you call yourself, stranger, when you are at home ? ”
“ My name is George Hammond.”
“ Well, as I was telling you, you ’re welcome here to-night, and I don’t know as I ’ve anything against your settling over the river on Burgess’s land. The people round here have been telling me your coming will be a good thing for us farmers, because you ’ll bring us a market for our corn and potatoes: but I don’t, see no use of raising more corn than we want for ourselves. We have enough selling to do with our lumber, and you ’ll be thinning out the trees. — But there’s my old woman’s got her supper ready.”
I listened as I waited on the table. The talk varied from farming to mining and the state of the river, merging at last into the politics of the country, and through the whole of it I watched the stranger: noticed how different was his language from anything I had ever heard before ; marked the clear tones of his voice and the distinctness of his utterance, contrasting with the heavy, thick gutturals, the running of words info each other, the slovenly drawl of my father and his men; watched his manner of eating, his neat disposition of his food on his plate; saw him move his chair back with a slight expression of annoyance, unmarked by any one else, as Will Foushee spit on the floor beside him. All this I observed, in a mood half envious, half sullen,—a mood which pursued me that night into my little attic, as I peevishly questioned with myself wherein lay the difference between us.
“ Why is this man any better than Will Foushee or Ned Burgess? He is no stronger nor better able to do a day’s work. Why am I afraid of him, when I don’t care an acorn for the others? Whydo my father and the men listen to him and crowd round him ? What makes him stand among them as if he did not belong to them, even when he talks of what they know better than he ? There is not a man round Sandy that could make me feel as ashamed as that gentleman did when he spoke to me this afternoon. Is it because he is a gentleman ? ” And sullenly I resolved that I would be put down by no airs. I was as good as he, and would show him to-morrow morning that I felt so. Then came the bitter acknowledgment, “I am not as good as he is. I am a stupid, ugly girl, who knows nothing but hateful housework and a little of the fields and trees; and he, — I suppose he has been to school, and read plenty of books, and lived among quality.” And I cried myself to sleep before I had made up my mind fully to acknowledge his superiority.
It was one of my greatest pleasures to get up early. Our people were not early risers, except when work pressed upon them, and I often secured my only leisure hour for the day by stealing down the staircase, out into the woods, by early sunrise, when, wrapped in an old shawl, and sheltered from the dew by climbing into the lower branches of my pet maple, I would watch the fog reaching up the opposite hills, putting forth as it were an arm, by which, stretched far out over the trees, it seemed to lift itself from the valley,—or perhaps carrying with me one of the few books which made my library, I would spell out the sentences and attempt to extract their meaning.
They were a strange medley, my books : some belonging to my step-mother, and others borrowed or begged from the neighbors, or brought to me by the men, with whom I was a favorite, and who knew my passion for reading. My mother’s books were mostly religious: a life of Brainerd, the missionary, whose adventures roused within me a gleam of religious enthusiasm; some sermons of the leading Methodist clergy, which, to her horror, I pronounced stupid; and a torn copy of the “ Imitation of Christ,” a book which she threatened to take from me, because she believed it had something to do with the Papists, but to which, for that very reason, I clung with a tenacity and read with an earnestness which brought at last its own beautiful fruits. Then, there was the “ Scottish Chiefs,” a treasure-house of delight to me,—two or three trashy novels, given me by Tom Salyers, of which my mother knew nothing, — and (the only poetry I had ever seen) a song-book, which had, scattered among its vulgarisms and puerilities, some gems of Burns and Moore. These my natural, unvitiated taste had singled out, and I would croon them over to myself, set them to a tune of my own composing, and half sing, half chant them, when at work out-of-doors, till my mother declared I was going crazy.
This morning I did not read. I sat looking down into the water from my perch, carrying on the inward discussion of the night before, and wishing that breakfast-time were come, that I might try my strength and show that I was not to be put down by any assumption of superiority, when suddenly a voice near me made me start so that I almost lost my balance. Mr. Hammond was standing beneath. He laughed, and held out his hand to help me down; but I sprang past him and was on my way to the house, when suddenly my brave resolutions came back to my mind, and I stood still with a feeling of defiance. I wondered what he would dare to say. Would he tell me how stupid he thought us all, how like the very pigs we lived? or would he describe his own grand house and the great places he had seen ? I scowled up sullenly.
“ Will you tell me where to find a towel, that I may wash my face here by the river-side ? ”
I laughed aloud, and with that laugh fled my sullenness, He looked a little puzzled, but went on, —
“ I went to bed so early that I cannot sleep any longer ; and if I could only find some way of getting across the river, I could get things under way a little before my men come up.”
There were ways, then, in which I could help him, —he was not so immeasurably above me, — and down went my defiant spirit. The towel, a crash roller, luckily clean, was brought at once, and, gathering courage as I stood by and saw him finish his washing, I said, —
“ I can scull you over the river in a few minutes, if you will go in our skiff.”
“ You? can you manage that shell of a thing? will your father let you take it, Miss Boarders ? ”
“ My ‘name is Janet Rainsford, and Squire Boarders is not my father,” said I, some of my sullenness returning.
“If you will take me, Janet,” said he, with the frank, open-hearted tone which had won my step-father the night before,—a tone before which my sullenness melted.
I jumped in, and, letting him pass me before I threw off the rope, sculled the little dug-out into the middle of the river. No boatman on the Sandy was more skilful than I in the management of the little vessel, for in it most of my leisure time had been passed for the last year or two. My step-mother had scolded, my father grumbled, and the farmers’ wives and daughters had shaken their heads and “ allowed that Janet Rainsford would come to no good, if she was let fool about here and there, like a boy.” But on that point I was incorrigible; the boat was my one escape from my daily drudgery, and late at night and early in the morning I went up and down among the shoals and bars, under the trees and over the ripples, till every turn of the current was familiar to me, I knew all the boatmen, too, up and down the river, would pull along-side their rafts or pushing-boats, and get from them a slice of their corn-bread or a cup of coffee, or at least a pleasant word or jest. And none but pleasant words did I ever receive * from the rough, but honorable men whom I met. They respected, as the roughest men will always do, my lonely girlhood, and felt a sort of pride in the daring, adventurous spirit that I showed.
My knowledge of the river stood Mr. Hammond in good stead that morning, as soon as I understood that he was looking for a place where his men could land easily. It was only to sweep round a small bluff that jutted into the river, and carry the skiff into the mouth of Nat’s Creek, where the bank sloped gradually down to the water from a level bit of meadow-land that extended back some rods before the hills began to rise. Mr. Hammond leaped out.
“ The very place, — and here, on this point, shall be my saw-mill. I ’ll run the load through here and up the creek to the mining-ground, and build my store under the ledge there, and my shanties on each side the road.”
I caught his enthusiasm, and, my shyness all gone, I found myself listening and suggesting : more than that, I found my suggestions attended to. I knew the river well; I knew what points of land would be overflowed in the June rise; I knew how far the backwater would reach up the creek ; I knew the least obstructed paths through the woods; I could even tell where the most available timber was to be found. I felt, too, that my knowledge was appreciated. George Hammond had that one best gift that belongs to all successful leaders, whether of armies, colonies, or bands of miners: he recognized merit when he saw it. From that morning a feeling of self-respect dawned upon me, I was not so altogether ignorant as I had thought myself, I had some available knowledge; and with that feeling came the determination to raise myself out of that slough of despond into which I had fallen the night before.
From that time a sort of friendship sprang up between George Hammond and myself. Every morning I rowed him across the river, and, in the early" morning light, before the workmen were out of bed, he talked over, partly to himself and partly to me, his plans for the day and his vexations of the day before, until I began to offer advice and make suggestions, which made him laughingly call me his little counsellor.
Then in the evenings (he slept at my father’s) he would pick up my books and amuse himself with talking to me about them, laugh at my crude enthusiasms, clear up some diflcult passage, prune away remorselessly the trash that had crept into my little collection, until, one day, returning from Cincinnati, where business had called him, he brought with him a store of books inexhaustible to my inexperienced eyes, and declared himself my teacher for the winter.
“Never mind Janet’s knitting and mending, Mrs. Boarders,” said he, in reply to my mother’s complaints ; “ she is a smart girl, and may be a school-mistress yet, and earn more money' than any woman on Sandy.”
“ But I am afraid,” my step-mother answered, “ that the books she reads are not godly, and have no grace in them. They look to me like players’ trash. I ’ve tried to do my duty to Janet,” she continued, plaintively"; “but I hope the Lord won’t hold me accountable for her headstrong ways.”
Meantime, as I read in one of my books, and repeated to myself over and over again in my fulness of content, —
“ How happily the days
Of Thalaba went by! ”
How rapidly fled that winter, and how soon came the spring, that would bring me, I thought, new hopes, new interests, new companions !
How changed a scene did I look upon, that bright April morning, when I went over the river to see that all was in readiness for the boats from below which were to bring Esther Hammond to her new home ! She was to keep her brother’s house ; and furniture, books, and pictures, such as I had never dreamed of, had been sent up by the last-returning boatmen, all of which I had helped Mr. Hammond to arrange in the little two-story’ cottage which stood on the first rise of the hill behind the store.
A little plat of ground was hedged in with young Osage-orange shrubs, and within it one of the miners, who had formerly been an under-gardener in a great house in Scotland, had already' prepared some flower-beds and sodded carefully the little lawn, laying down the walks with bright-colored tan, which contrasted pleasantly with the lively green of the grass. From the gate one might look up and down the road, bordered on one side by the trees that hung over the river, and on the other by the miners’ houses, one-story cottages, each with its small inclosure, and showing every degree of cultivation, from the neat vegetable-patch and whitewashed porch of the Scotch families to the neglected waste ground and slovenly potato-patch of the Irishmen. There were some Sandians among the hands, but they never could be made to take one of the houses prepared for the miners. They lived back on the creeks, generally on their own lands, raised their corn and tobacco, cut their lumber, and hunted or rode the country, taking jobs only when they felt so inclined, but showing themselves fully able to compete with the best hands both in skill and in endurance, when they were willing to work.
On the side of the hill across the creek could be seen the entrance to the mines, and down that hill were passing constantly the cars, loaded with earth and stone taken from the tunnel, which fell with a thundering sound into the valley beneath. Below me was the store, gay with its multifarious goods, which supplied all the needs of the miners and their wives, from the garden-tools and seeds for the afternoon-work to the gay-colored dresses for the Sunday leisure,—where, too, on Saturday night, whiskey was to be had in exchange for the scrip in which their wages were paid, and where, sometimes, the noise waxed fast and furious, till Mr. Hammond would cut off the supply of liquor, as the readiest means of stilling the tumult.
On this side the river all was changed. But as I looked that morning across the stream towards my step-father’s farm, my own home, everything there lay as wild and unimproved as I had known it since the first day my mother brought me there, comfortless and disorderly as it was when, child as I was, I could remember the tears of fatigue and discouragement which she dropped upon my face as she put me for the first time into my little crib; but there, too, were still (and my heart exulted as I saw them) the glorious water-maples, the giant sycamores, and the bright-colored chestnut-trees, which I had known and loved so long. Would Miss Hammond see how beautiful they were ? would she praise them as her brother had done ? would she listen as kindly to my rhapsodies about them ? and would she say, as he had said, that I was a poet by nature, with a poet’s quick appreciation of beauty and the poet’s gift of enthusiastic expression ? I could not tell whether Esther Hammond would be to me the friend her brother had been, with the added blessing, that, being a woman, I could go freely to her with my deficiencies in sure dependence upon her aid and sympathy,—or if she would come to stand between me and him, to take away from me my friend and teacher. Time alone would show; and meanwhile I must be busy with my preparations, for the boats were expected at noon, and Mr. Hammond, who had ridden down to Louisa to meet them, had said that he depended upon me to have things cheerful and in order when they arrived.
Two hours’ hard work saw everything in its place, the furniture arranged to the best of my ability, but wanting, as I sorely felt, the touch of a mistress’s hand to give it a home-like look. I had done my best, but what did I know of the arrangement of a lady’s house ? I hardly knew the use of half the things I touched. But I would not let my old spirit of discontent creep over me now ; so, betaking myself to the woods, which were full of the loveliest, spring flowers, I brought back such a profusion of violets, spring-beauties, and white bloodroot-blossoms, that the whole room was brightened with their beauty, while their faint, delicate perfume filled the air.
“ Surely these must please her,” I said to myself, as I put the last saucerful on the table, and stepped back to see the result of my work.
“ They certainly will, Janet,” said George Hammond, who had entered behind me. “ How well you have worked, and how pleasant everything looks! Esther will be so much obliged to you. She is just below, in the boat. Will you not come with me and help her up the bank ? ”
But I hung back, bashful and frightened, while he called some of the men to his assistance, and, hurrying down to the river, landed the boat, and was presently seen walking toward the house with a lady leaning upon his arm. I saw her from the window. A tall, dignified woman, with a face —yes, beautiful, certainly, for there were the regular features, the dark eyes, with their straight brows, the heavy, dark hair, parted over the fair, smooth forehead, but so quiet, so cold, so almost haughty, that my heart stood still with an undefined alarm.
She came in and sat down in one of the chairs without taking the least notice of me. Mr. Hammond spoke, —
“ This is Janet Rainsford, my little friend that I told you of, Esther. I hope you will be as good friends as we have been. She will show you every beautiful place around the country, and make you acquainted with the people, too.”
Miss Hammond looked at me with a steadiness of gaze under which my eyes sank.
“ I shall not trouble the young person much, since I shall only walk when you can go with me ; and as for the people, it is not necessary for me to know them, I suppose.”
George Hammond bit his lip.
“ Janet has taken great pains to put everything in order for us here. I should hardly know the room, it is so improved since I left it this morning.”
“ She is very kind,” said his sister, languidly ; “but, George, how horribly this furniture is arranged,—the sofa across the window, the centre-table in the corner!”
“ Oh, you will have plenty of time to arrange it, Esther. Come, let me show you your own room ; you will want to rest while your Dutch girl—what’s her name ? Catrine ? — gets us something to eat.”
Miss Hammond followed her brother to her room, while, mortified and angry with her, with myself, I escaped from the house, jumped into my skiff’, and hardly Stopped to breathe till I had reached my own little garret. I flung myself on my bed, and burst into bitter tears of resentment and despair. So, after all my pains, after my endeavors to improve myself, after all I had done, I was not worth the notice of a real lady. I supposed I was an uncouth, awkward girl, disagreeable enough to her; she would not want to see me near her. All I had done was miserable; it would have been better to let things alone. I never would go near her again, — that was certain, — she should not be troubled by me ; — and my tears fell hot and fast upon my pillow. Then came my old sullenness. Why was she any better than I ? Her brother thought me worth talking to; could she not find me worthy of at least a kind look? Perhaps she knew more than I did of books; but what of that ? She had not half the useful knowledge wherewith to make her way here in the woods. And what right had she to bring her haughty looks and proud ways here among our people ? My sullenness gave way before my bitter disappointment and my offended pride. I was only a child of sixteen, sensitive and distrustful of myself, and her cold looks and colder words had keenly wounded me.
A week passed, in which I gave myself most earnestly to the household tasks, going through them with dogged pertinacity, and accomplishing an amount of work which made my step - mother declare that Janet was coming back to her senses after all. It was only my effort to forget my disappointment.
On the Saturday evening when I sat tired out with my exertions, Mr. Hammond came up the path. How my heart leaped at seeing him ! How good he was to come! His sister had not taught him to despise me. But when he asked me to come over, the next day, and see what he had done to his house and garden, the demon of sullen pride took possession of me again. I would not go. I had too much to do; my mother would want me to get the dinner. In short, I could not go. He bore it good-naturedly, though I think he understood it, and, leaving with me a package of books which he had promised me, said he must go, as Esther would be waiting tea for him.
Many another endeavor did George Hammond make to bring his sister and myself together, but the first impression had been too strong for me, and Miss I Iammond made no effort to remove it. I do not believe it ever crossed her mind to try to do so. Little was it to her whether or no she made herself pleasant to a stupid, ugly girl. She had her books, her light household cares, her letter-writing, her gardening, her walks and drives with her brother, and she felt and showed little interest in anything else. Very unpopular she was among the people around her, who contrasted her cold reserve with her brother’s frank cordiality ; but she troubled herself not at all about her unpopularity. For me, I kept shyly out of her way, and fell back into my old habits.
I had not lost my friend, Mr. Hammond. He did not read with me regularly as before, but he kept me supplied with books, and the very infrequency of his: lessons stimulated me to redoubled effort, that I might surprise him by my progress when we met again. Then there was scarcely a day that some business did not take him past our house, or that I did not meet him by the river-bank or at the store. Sometimes he would ask me to row him down the stream on some errand, sometimes he would take me with him in his rides. I was a fearless horsewoman, and Miss Hammond did not ride. In all those, meetings he was frank and kind as ever ; he told me of his plans, his annoyances, his projects. No, I had not lost my friend, as I had feared, and when assured of this, I could do without Miss Hammond.
And so the weeks glided into months, and the months into years, and I was nineteen years old. Four years had passed since the morning when George Hammond first awakened my self-esteem, first gave me the impulse to raise myself out of my awkwardness and ignorance, to make of myself something better than one of the worn, depressed, dispirited women I saw around me. Had I done anything for myself? I asked. I was not educated, I had no acquirements, socalled ; but I had read, and read well, some good and famous books, and I know that I had made their contents my own. I was richer for their beauties and excellences. With my self-respect had come, too, a desire to improve my surroundings, and, as far as they lay under my control, they had been improved. Our household was more orderly; some little attempt at neatness and decoration was to be seen around and in the house, and my own room, where I had full sway, was beautiful in its rustic adornment.
My glass, too, the poor little three-cornered, paper - framed companion of my girlhood, showed me some change. The complexion had cleared, the hair had taken a decided brown, and the angular figure had rounded and filled. It was hardly a week since, standing in Miss Hammond’s kitchen counting over with her servant - girl the basketful of fresh eggs which were sent from our house every week, I had overheard Mr. Hammond say to his sister,—
“ Really, Janet Rainsford has improved so much that she is almost pretty. Her brown hair tones so well with her quiet eyes ; and as to her mouth, it is really lovely, so finely cut, and with so much character in it.”
What was it to me that Miss Hammond’s cold voice answered, —
“ I think you make a fool of yourself, George, and of that girl too, going on as you do about her. She will be entirely unfitted for her state of life, and for the people she must live with.”
Her words had hardly time to chill my heart when it bounded again, as I turned hurriedly away and passed under the window on my way out, at hearing her brother’s answer : —
“ There is too much in her to be spoiled. I like her. She has talent and character, and I cannot understand, Esther, why you are so prejudiced against her.”
There were others besides Mr. Hammond who thought me improved and who liked me. Tom Salyers never let an evening pass without dropping into our house on his way home from the store, where he was a sort of overseer or salesman,—never failed to bring in its season the earliest wild-flower or the freshest fruit,—had thoroughly searched Catlettsburg for books to please me, — nay, had once sent an indefinite order to a Cincmnati bookseller to put up twenty dollars’ worth of the best books for a lady, which order was filled by a collection of the Annuals of six years back and a few unsalable modern novels. I read them all most conscientiously and gratefully, and would not listen for a moment to Mr. Hammond’s jests about them; but, a few weeks afterwards, I almost repented of my complaisance, when Tom Salyers took me at an advantage while rowing me down to Louisa one afternoon, and, seeing a long stretch of river before him without shoal or sand-bar, leisurely laid up his oars, and, letting the boat float with the stream, asked me, abruptly, to marry him, and go with him up into the country to a new place which he meant to clear and farm.
I laughed at him at first, but he persisted till I was forced to believe him in earnest; and then I told him how foolish he was to fancy an ugly, sallow-looking girl like me, who had no father nor mother, when he might take one of John Mills’s rosy daughters, or go down to Catlettsburg and get somebody whose father would give him a farm already cleared.
“ You are laughing at me, Janet,” he said. “ I know I am not smart enough for you, nor hardly fit to keep company with you, now that Hammond has taught you so many things that are proper for a lady to know ; but I love you true, and if you can only fancy me, I ’ll work so hard that you ’ll be able to keep a hired girl and have all your time for reading and going about the woods as you like to do. And you ’ll be in your own house, instead of under Squire Boarders and his sharpspoken wife. Could n’t you fancy me after a while ? I 'd do anything you said to make myself agreeable and fit company for you.”
“ You are very fit company for me now, Tom,” I said, “ and you are of a great deal more use in the world than I am; you know more that is worth knowing than I do. Only let us be good friends, as we have always been, and do not talk about anything else.”
I will not talk any more of it now,” said he, “ if so be it don’t please you, and if you ’ll promise never to say any more to me about the Mills gals, or any of them critters down in Catlettsburg,— I can’t abide the sight of them, — and if you ’ll let me come and see you all the same, and row you about and take you to the mill when you want Hour.”
I held out my hand to Tom with the earnest assurance that I always liked to see him and talk to him, and that there was nobody whom I would sooner ask to do me a kindness.
The poor fellow choked a little as he thanked me, and then, recovering himself. rowed a few strokes in silence, when, looking round as if to assure himself that there was nothing near us but the quiet trees, he said suddenly, —
“ I ’ll tell you what, Janet, I ’ve a great mind to tell you something, seeing how you ’re not a woman that can’t hold her tongue, and then you think so much of Hammond.”
I started with a quick sense of alarm, but Tom went, doggedly on.
“ You know -what a hard winter we’ve had, with this low water and no January rise, and all that ice in the Ohio. They say they ’re starving for coal down in Cincinnati, and here we ’ve no end of it stacked up. Well, Hammond, he ’s had hard work enough to keep the men along through the winter. Many another man would have turned them off, but he would n’t do it; so he’s shinned here and shinned there to get money to pay them their wages, and they’ve had scrip, and we ’ve fairly brought goods up to the store overland, on horseback and every kind of way, just for their convenience; and now the damned Irish rascals, with some of the Sandy boys for leaders, have made up their minds to strike for higher wages the minute we have a rise, just when we ’ll need all hands to get the coal off, and all those boats laying at the mouth, too. I heard it day before yesterday, by chance like, when Jim Foushee and the two O’Lcarys were sitting smoking on the fence behind the store. The O’Learys were tight with the Redeye they had aboard, and let it out in their stupid ‘colloguing,’ as they call it; but Jim Foushee saw me standing at the window, and right away called in two or three of the Sandy men and threatened my life if I told Hammond. They have watched me like a eat ever since, and never left me and Hammond alone together. They are with Hammond now, launching a coal-boat, or I ’d never have got off with you.”
I sat breathless. I knew it was ruin to let the expected rise pass without getting the coal-boats down; but what could be done ?
“ Don’t look so pale, Janet. You can tell Hammond, you know, and he ’ll find a way to circumvent them. And it was to tell you all this that I brought you out here this afternoon, only my unlucky tongue would talk of what I see it’s too soon to talk of yet. But here’s Louisa, right ahead. Make haste and get your traps, while I settle my business, and we ’ll be back, perhaps, in time for you to manage some way to see Hammond tonight. Nobody knows you went with me, and you ’ll never be suspected.”
Not Tom Salyers’s most rapid and vigorous rowing could make our little skill keep pace with my impatience; but, thanks to his efforts, the sun was still high when he landed me in the little cove behind our house, where I could run up through the woods to our back-door, while he pulled boldly up to the store-landing and called some of the men to help him carry his purchases up the bank. I did not stop for a word with my step-mother, but, passing rapidly through the house, threw my parcels on the bed in the sitting-room, and, running down the walk to the maple-tree under which my dugout was always tied, jumped into it and sculled out into the river. The coal-boat had just been launched, and George Hammond was standing on the bank superintending the calking of the seams which the water made visible. I pushed up to the bank, and called to him as I neared, —
“ Can you not come, Mr. Hammond, a little way up-stream with me ? I have found those young tulip-trees that you want for your garden; they are just round the bend above Nat’s Creek. Jim Foushee will see to that work, and I have just time to show them to you before supper.”
I was a favorite with Jim Foushee. He laughed a joking welcome to me, as he said, —
“ I ’ll see to this, Sir, if you want to go with Janet Rainsford. She’s the gal that knows the woods. A splendid Sandy wife you 'll make some young fellow, Janet, if you don’t get too book-learned.”
In five minutes we were off and had rounded the point out of sight and hearing. In a few hurried words I told my story, but at first Mr. Hammond would not believe it.
“ Those men that I’ve done so much for and worked so hard for this winter ! ”
At last, convinced, his face set with the determined look that I had seen on it once or twice before.
“ I ’ll not raise the wages of a single man, and, what ’s more, I’d turn them all off the place, if only I could find others. But those boats at Catlettsburg, they are the most important. The Company would send me up men from Cincinnati, if only I could get word to them ; but these rascals will stop any letter I send. Those Sandians are capable of it, — or rather they are capable of putting the Irishmen up to doing their dirty work for them.”
“ A letter would be safe, if it once reached Catlettsburg ? ” I asked.
“ Certainly. But how to get it there? ”
“ I can take it. Nobody will suspect me. Give me the letter to-night, and I will go to-morrow.”
“ You, Janet ? you are crazy ! ”
“ No, indeed. I often ride to Louisa ; what is to hinder me from having errands to Catlettsburg. I could go down there in one day, and take two days back, if my father thinks it is too much for old Bill to take it through in one.”
“ Oh, you could borrow Swiftfoot. I have often lent him to you, and he would carry you safely and surely. I don’t believe any harm would come to you, and so much depends upon it.”
I turned the skiff decidedly.
“ You have only to get your letter ready and give it to me when I come over in the morning to borrow Swiftfoot. I will take care of all the rest.”
And, sculling rapidly, we were at the wharf again before he had time to raise objections. I knew that I could persuade my mother into letting me go to Louisa again the next day, for we needed all our spring purchases, —and once there, it, was easy to find it necessary to go to the mouth. I had never been alone, but often with my lather or some of our hands ; besides, I was too well able to take care of myself, too accustomed to have my own way, to anticipate any anxiety about my not returning.
And so it proved. The next morning saw me mounted on Swiftfoot, the letter safe in my bosom, and a long list of articles wanted in my pocket. What a lovely ride that was, with the gentle, spirited horse of which I was so fond for a companion and my own beautiful forests in all their loveliest spring green around me, with just enough of mystery and danger in the expedition to add an exhilarating excitement, and w ith the happy consciousness that I was doing something for Mr. Hammond, who had done so much for me, to urge me on ! I cantered merrily past Jim Foushee’s cornfield, and, nodding to him, as he stood in the door of his log-house, I enjoyed telling him that I was going to Louisa on a shopping expedition. “ Should I get anything for him ? He could see. that Mr. Hammond had lent me Swiftfoot, so that I should soon be back, if I could buy all I wanted in Louisa ; if not, I did believe I should go on to Catlettsburg : the ride would be so glorious ! ”
And glorious it was. I was happy in myself, happy in my thoughts of ray friend, happy in the physical enjoyment of the air, the woods, the sun, the shade. Let me dwell on that ride. I have not had many happy days, but that was one which had its fulness of content. And I succeeded in putting Mr. Hammond’s letter into the Catlettsburg post-office, made my little purchases, and turned my horse’s head homeward, reaching the end of my journey before my father or step-mother had time to be anxious for me, and having a chance to whisper, “ All right,” to Tom Salyers, as he took my horse from me at the door of the store.
The long-expected rise came, and the strike came, — Jim Foushee heading it, and standing sullen and determined in the midst of his party. Mr. Hammond was prepared for them. The malcontents came to him in the store, where he was filling Tom’s place ; for he had sent Tom to Catlettsburg, avowedly to prepare the boats there to meet the rise, really to have him out of the way. Their first word was met coolly enough.
“ You will not work another stroke, unless I give you higher wages, I understand, Foushee ? And these men say the same thing? You are their spokesman ? Very well, I am satisfied ; you can quit work to-morrow. I have other hands at the mouth for the boats there, and there is no hurry about the coal that lies here.”
Foushee burst out with an oath, —
“ That damned Salyers is the traitor ! mean, cowardly rascal! ”
But Mr. Hammond would not tell me more of what passed; perhaps he was afraid of frightening me. This only he told me that night, when thanking me with glance, voice, and pressure of the hand for all I had done for him. The blood rushed quick and hot through my veins, I was delirious with an undreamedof happiness, which took away from me all power of answering, of even raising my eyes to his face, and the same delirium followed me to my pillow. He had called me his friend, his little Janet, who was so quick and ready, so fertile in invention, so brave in execution: what should he have done without me ? I repeated his words to myself till they lost all their meaning ; they were only replete with blissful content, and filled me with their music till I dropped asleep for very weariness in saying them over.
The next morning, before I waked, George Hammond had gone. He had left for Catlettsburg to direct the new hands. The works lay idle, the men (those who had been dismissed) lounged around gloomy and sullen, and so passed the week. Then came the news that Mr. Hammond and Tom Salyers had gone to Cincinnati, and would not return for the present, and that such men as were satisfied with the former wages were to be put to work again. Readily did the miners come back to their duty, all but a few of the Sandy men, who returned to their own homes, and all fell into the usual train.
And I ? There was first the calm sense of happy security, then the impatience to test again its reality, then the longing homesickness of the heart. As weeks passed on and I saw nothing of him, as I heard of his protracted stay, as I saw Miss Hammond make her preparations to join him, as I watched the boat which carried her away, my sense of loneliness became too heavy for me, and the same pillow on which I had known those happy slumbers was wet with tears of bitter despondency.
And yet. I understood neither the happiness nor the tears. I did not know (how should I ?) what were the new feelings which made my heart beat at George Hammond’s name. I did not know why I yearned towards his sister with a warmth of love that would fain show itself in kindly word or deed. I did not know why the news that he was coming again, which greeted me after long weeks of weariness, brightened with joyful radiance everything that I saw, and glorified the aspect of my little garret, as I had seen a brilliant bunch of flowers glorify and refine with a light of beauty the every-day ugliness of our sitting-room.
I sang my merriest songs that night, and my feet kept time to their music in almost dancing measures. The next day, yes, by noon, he would be at home. I could see his boat land from my little window, and then, giving Miss Hammond time to be safely housed, I would row myself over to the store and meet him there. How much I should have to tell him, how much to hear !
The morning came, and with it came a nervous bashfulness. I should never dare to go over to see him. No, I would wait quietly until night, when he would surely come himself to see me. Still I could watch his boat. And nervously did I stand, my face pressed against the window-pane, through the long morning hours, my sewing dropped neglected in my lap at the risk of a scolding from my mother, watching the slow-passing river, and the leaves hanging motionless over it in the stillness of the summer noon. At last there was a stir on the opposite shore. Yes, the boat must be in sight ; I could even hear the shouts of the boatmen ; and there, rounding the bluff, she was ; there, too, was Mr. Hammond in the stern, with the rudder in his hand ; there sat Miss Hammond, book in hand, with her usual look of listless disdain. But whose was that girlish face raised towards Mr. Hammond, while he pointed out so eagerly the surrounding objects ? whose that slight, girlish figure crowned with the light garden-hat, with its wealth of golden hair escaping from under it ?
A sharp pang shot through me. Some one was coming to disturb my happy hours with my teacher and friend; and the chill of disappointment was on me already. I saw the boat land, saw George Hammond assist carefully every step of the strange girl, saw an elderly gentleman step also upon the bank and give his hand to Miss Hammond, and in two minutes the trees of the landing hid them from my sight.
And how slowly went the hours of that afternoon ! how nervously I listened to every tread, to every click of the gate ! nay, my sharpened hearing took note of every sway of the branches. But the day passed, the night, and no one came. The next morning brought with it an impatience which mastered me. I must go, I must see him, and in five minutes I was pushing my boat from its cove under the water-maple.
But I needed not to have left my room; my visit would be useless; for, lifting my eyes, as my boat came out from under the leaves, there, on the path by the river-side opposite, I saw the strange lady mounted on Swiftfoot, her light figure set off by a cloth riding-habit such as I had never seen before, the graceful folds of which struck me even then with a sense of beauty and fitness. I could even distinguish the golden curls again, which fell close on George Hammond’s face, as he stood by her side arranging her stirrup, his own horse’s bridle over his arm. A backward motion of the oar sent my boat under the branches again, and I sat motionless, watching them as they rode away.
Two hours afterward they stopped at our gate, and I heard George Hammond’s voice calling me. The blood rushed to my forehead. Had I been alone, I would not have heard; but my mother was in the room, and I had no excuse for not going forward. He leaned from his horse and shook hands cordially, while, at the same time, he said, —
“ I have brought Miss Worthington to see you. Janet. She has heard so much of your kindness to me, and of your courage last spring, that she was anxious to know you.
“ This is Janet Rainsford, Amy,” he continued, turning to her.
The lovely, bright young face was bent towards me, the tiny hand stretched out to mine, and I heard a gentle voice say, —
“ Mr. Hammond has told me so much of you, Janet, I may call you Janet, may I not ?) that I was determined to come and see you. I hope wo shall know each other.”
A great fear seized me then, — a fear which seemed to clutch my heart and stop its beatings, leaving me without any power of reply. I only stammered a few words, and Mr. Hammond, pitying what he thought my bashfulness, rode on with a nod of farewell and some words, I could not take in their sense, which seemed to be requests that I would teach Miss Worthington all that I knew of the woods and the country.
I sat down with a stunned feeling, dizzied with the knowledge that seemed to blaze upon me with that horrid fear. Yes, I knew now what it all meant, — the happiness, the loneliness of the past weeks, the shrinking bashfulness of yesterday morning, and the chill that fell upon me when I first saw the stranger in the boat.
I loved George Hammond, — I, the country-girl, without one beauty, one accomplishment, so ignorant, so beneath him. I had been fool enough to fling away my heart, — and now, now that it was gone from me, there came this terrible fear. What was this young girl to him ? Were my intuitions right ? Did he love her ? Would she take him away from me ? take away even that poor friendship which was all I asked ?
That night,— I cannot tell of it, — the rapid, wearying walk from side to side of my little garret, the despairing flinging myself on the bed, the restlessness that would bring me to my feet again, the pressing my hot face against the cool window - pane, the convulsive sobs with which the struggle ended, the heavy, unrefreshing sleep that came at last, and the dull wakening in the morning, when nothing seemed left about my heart but a dead weight of insensibility. But with the brightening hours came again the restlessness. I would at least know the worst; let me face all my wretchedness; it could not be but strength would come to me when the worst was over.
And so I went doggedly through my morning tasks, and the early afternoon saw me at the store. I would not go to Miss Hammond’s house, but I was sure to hear something of the new-comers among the gossiping miners and workmen,—or, if not there, I had only to drop into some of the cottages, to learn from their wives all that they knew or imagined. How little I learned, — how little compared to what my fierce, craving heart asked !
“ Miss Worthington was here with her father ; they had come to see the mines, so they said ; but who knows the truth '? More like it was to be a wedding between the young folks, and the father wanted to see the Sandy country before he let his daughter come into it. She was a sweet-spoken young thing,—not like Miss Hammond, with her proud, quality airs.”
But all this was only conjecture, and I must have certainty. The certainty came that evening. Mr. Hammond passed the store as I was standing by the counter, and insisted that I should go home to tea with him. I had often done so before, and had no excuse, even when he said, —
“ I want so much to make Miss Worthington like our Sandy people, Janet. I want her father to see that there are people worth knowing even here. You will tell her of all the pleasures we have, ‘ —our walks, our rides. You cannot be afraid of her, dear Janet,—she is so gentle, so lovely.”
A strange feeling seized me, one mingled of gentleness and bitterness. Yes, for his sake, I would help him. I would do all I could to welcome to his home her who was to be its blessing, and (here my good angel left me and some evil one whispered) I would show her, too, that I was not so altogether to be contemned ; she should see that I was not merely the poor country-girl she thought me. And all I had of thought or feeling, all that George Hammond had called my inborn poetry, came out that evening. I talked, I talked well, for I was talking of what I understood, — of my own forests and streams, of the flowers whose haunts I knew so well, of the changing seasons in their varying beauty,—nay, as I gained courage, as I saw that I commanded attention, the books that I had read so well, the thoughts of those great writers that I had made my own, came to my aid, and quotation and allusion pressed readily to my lips.
I saw Esther Hammond’s cold look fixed upon my face, but I dared it back again, and my color rose and my eye sparkled from the excitementI felt my triumph when I saw the surprise on Mr. Hammond’s face, when I heard the patronizing tone of Mr. Worthington’s voice changed to one of equality, as he said, —
“ You are a worthy champion of Sandy life, Miss Janet. I believe Amy will be tempted to try it.”
There was a quick blush on Amy’s face as I turned to look at it, and a glance of proud affection towards her from George Hammond, which took away my false strength as I stood, leaving me, weak and trembling, to seek my home in the evening twilight.
That evening’s short-lived triumph cost me dear. It betrayed my scarcely selfacknowledged secret to another. Miss Hammond’s woman’s-eye had read the poor fool who laid her heart open before her. I was made to feel my weakness before her the next morning, when, walking into our kitchen, she asked, with her hard, vet dignified calmness, that I should gather for her some of the Summer Sweetings that hung so thick on the tree behind our house.
She followed me to the orchard. I gathered the apples diligently and spoke no word, but not for that did I escape. She stood calmly looking on till I had finished, then began with that terrible opening from which we all shrink.
“ I should like to speak to y?u a few moments, Janet.”
I quailed before her, for I had somehow a perception of what she was going to say, though I scarcely dreamed of the hardness with which it would be said. The blow came, however.
“ My brother has been in the habit of taking notice of you ever since he has been on the Sandy, and he has been of great advantage to you; but you must be aware that such notice as he gave you when you were a mere child cannot be continued now that you are a woman.”
I bowed my head, and my lips formed something like a “Yes.”
She went on.
“ I say this to you because I was surprised to find by your behavior last night that you had allowed yourself to presume upon that notice, and I do not suppose you know how unbecoming this is, from a person in your position, especially before Miss Worthington.”
I was stung into a reply.
“ What is Miss Worthington to me ? ” came out sullenly from my lips.
“ Nothing to you, certainly, nor can she ever be; hut as the future wife of my brother, she is something to me.”
It was true, then ; but so fully had I felt the truth before that this certainty gave me no added pang. From its very depths of despair I drew strength, and, my courage rising, I had power even to look full at Miss Hammond, and say, —
“ You may be sure I shall never intrude myself on Mr. Hammond’s wife or sister, nor upon him, unless he desires it, except, indeed, to wish him happiness.”
My unexpected calmness roused her worst feelings, her pride, her jealousy, and, with a woman’s keen aim, she sent the next dart home. So calmly she spoke, too, with such command of herself,—with a lady-like self-control that I, alas ! knew not how to reach.
“ I am happy to hear' you say so, for there have been times when your singular manner has made me fear that you nourished some very false and idle dreams, — follies that I have sometimes thought it my duty as a woman to warn you against”; and with one keen look at my burning face, she took up the basket and walked away.
I think at that moment I could have killed her, so bitter was the hatred which I felt towards her ; but the next brought its crushing shame, taking away from me all but the desire to hide myself from every eye. Where should I go ? Somewhere where nobody could find me, where I could be insured perfect solitude. It was not difficult to bury myself in the forest that pressed around me on every side, and a few minutes saw me struggling with the embarrassments of the tangled vines which obstructed the path up our steepest hill. There was in the very difficulties to be overcome something that seemed to bring me relief; they forced my mind from myself. On, on I went, as if my life depended upon my struggles, till, breathless and utterly exhausted, I had reached the top of the hill, the highest point for miles around.
I sank down on the cool grass, the fresh wind blowing on my face, and, too wearied to think, shut my eyes against the beautiful Nature around me, alive only to my own overpowering misery. How long I lay there I never knew. I was safe and alone. I could be wretched as I pleased, away from Miss Hammond’s mocking eye, away from the sight of George Hammond’s happiness. But, strangely enough, out of the very freedom to be miserable came at last a sense of relief, I looked my wretchedness full in the face. Could I not bear it ? And there rose within me a strength I had not known before. I was young, I had a long life before me ; it could not be but that this great sorrow would pass away. At least, I would not nourish it. I would do what I could to help myself. Help myself! For the first time in my life I put up an earnest prayer for help out of myself. The words, coming as such words come but few times in life, out from the very depths of the heart, brought with them their softening influence. The tears sprung forth, those tears which I thought I should never shed again, and I burst into a passionate fit of crying, the passionate crying of a child. It shook me from head to foot with its hysterical convulsions, but it left me at last calmer, soothed into stillness, with only now and then those choking aftersobs which I, child like, sent forth there on the bosom of the only mother I had ever known,—our kindly mother Earth.
The sun was going down when I rose up, soothed and comforted, and strengthened, too, for a time. I would do what I could. I would live down this grief: how I knew not, but the way would come to me. And gathering up my hair, which had fallen around me, I stopped, on my way home, by a running stream, and bathed my eyes and forehead until I was fit to appear before my step-mother. She did not question me; she was too used to my unexplained absences since I had grown out of her control. Sufficient for her that my tasks were always performed ; sufficient for her, that, that very evening, I threw myself with an apparently untiring energy into the household work, — that I never rested a moment till she herself closed the house and insisted that I should go to bed. I slept that night, — after such fatigue, it was impossible but that I should,—and woke in the morning with a renewed determination to struggle against my sorrow.
Alas! alas ! I thought I had only to resolve. I thought the struggle would be but once. How little I knew of the daily, almost hourly, changes of feeling, — of the despondency, the despair, that would come, I knew not why, directly upon my most earnest resolves, my hardest struggles, — of the weakness that would make me at times give up all struggling as useless, — of the mad hope that would sometimes arise that something, some outward change, I did not dare to say what, would bring me some relief!
I had at least the courage to keep away from the sight of all that was so miserable to me. I did not see George Hammond for weeks, and he — ah ! there was the bitterness — he did not miss me.
And so the weary days went on. It is wonderful what endurance there is in a young heart,—for how long a time it can beat off suffering all day by unceasing labor, and lie awake all night with that same suffering for a bedfellow, and still make no sign that a careless eye can see I look at that time now with wonder. How did I bear that constant occupation by day, alternated only with those sleepless nights, without breaking down entirely ? The crisis came at last, — a sort of stupor, a cessation of suffering indeed, but a cessation, too, of all feeling. I was frightened at myself. Alas! I had no one to be frightened for me. Could it be that I was going to lose my senses ? But no, I passed through that too, and then came a more natural state of mind than any I had known since the blow fell.
My suffering sell seemed like something apart from me, which I could pity and help, could counsel and act for, and this one thing became clear to me. Some change of scene was necessary to me. I could never go on so ; it was idle to attempt it. I could not live any longer face to face with my grief. There was the whole world before me. Was it not possible to go out into it ? I had health, strength, ability, I was sure of it. How often before had I dreamed over the seeking my fortune in that world which looked to me then so full of excitement! Nothing had held me back then but the clinging to home-pleasures, to home-enjoyments, to home-comforts, poor as they were, — nothing but the sense of safety, of protection. What were these to me now ? I cared nothing for them. I only asked to be away from all that reminded me of my suffering, to be so forced to struggle with external difficulties as to have no thought for myself. I did not want to love anybody ; I would rather have nobody care for me. I would go. The only question was how.
A few days and nights of thought solved the problem for me, and, once roused to action, I took my steps rapidly and well. The first thing necessary was money, money enough to take me away, and to support me until I could find employment; and the means of attaining it were within my reach. I owned a watch that had been my mother’s, a pretty trinket, though somewhat old-fashioned, and which had often excited the envy of the young wife of one of the head miners. I knew that her husband was flush of money just then, for he had drawn his wages only the week before,—and I knew, too, that he would give me a good price for my watch, were it only to gratify the bride to whom he had as yet denied nothing.
The sale was made at once. I do not know if I got anything like the value of the watch, but the next day saw me with fifty dollars in my pocket, a small bundle, made up from the most available part of my wardrobe, under my arm, prepared to walk to Louisa, avowedly to buy supplies, but with the secret determination to meet there the coal-boats which were bound for the mouth, ask a passage on them as far as Catlettsburg, and there take the first steamer that passed, and let it carry me whither it would.
There was no pause of regret, no delay for parting looks or words ; from the moment that I had made up my mind to go, I felt nothing but a desperate eagerness to be away, to be in action. The few words necessary to prepare my stepmother for my ostensible errand were soon said, the good-morning calmly spoken, and I passed into the forest-path leading to the town. A pang smote me as I remembered her conscientious discharge of duty toward me for so many years ; but it was duty, not love, that had urged her, and while I said that to myself, I said, too, that time would bring to me the opportunity of repaying her.
Toward the settlement on the opposite shore I turned no look. I would not trust myself; I knew my own weakness too well; this desperate energy which was carrying me on now would fail, if I allowed my heart one moment’s indulgence. Steadily I walked on through the woods, my own woods, which, perhaps, I should never see again, till, wearied out by the exertion, which had preeluded thought, I saw the houses of Louisa rise before me.
The boats lay at the fork above the town. I had informed myself of their movements, and knew they were to start at noon. A few inquiries for groceries and so forth, where I knew they could not be gotten, gave me an excuse ror the proposition to the captain of’ the boats to give me a passage to Catlettsburg. It was readily granted, and the crew, most of them Sandy men, put up a rough awning, and, spreading under it some blankets, did their kind uttermost to make me comfortable.
I remember now, as one looks back into a dream, the afternoon and night that passed before we reached Catlettsburg. I lay perfectly quiet, watching the shadowy trees as we glided past them, noting their varied reflections in the water, marking every peculiarity of shore and stream, hearing the jests and laughter, the words of command and the oaths, that, went round among the boatmen; but all passed as something with which I had nothing to do. To me there was the burning desire to put a great distance between myself and my home, — but with it, too, the consciousness, that, as I could do nothing to expedite our slow progress, so neither could I afford to waste upon it in impatient restlessness the strength which would be so much needed afterwards. The men brought me a cup of coffee from their supper, which gave me strength for the night. The biscuit I could not taste.
But how long was that'night! how tedious the summer dawn ! and how slowly went the hours till we brought up our boats at the landing at Catlettsburg !
I had formed my plans; so, telling the captain that I might perhaps want to go back with him, I hurried into the town. A steamboat lay by the wharfboat. “ The Bostona, for Cincinnati,” said the board displayed over her upper railing. She was to leave at eight o’clock. I walked about the town till halfpast seven; then, returning to the coalboats, gave to the man left in charge a letter I had prepared, in which I told my step-mother, in as few words as possible, that I wanted to see something of the world, and had determined to go for a time either to Cincinnati or to Pittsburg, —that I begged her not to be uneasy about me, I had sold my watch, and had money enough for the present; she should hear from me in due time. The man took the letter, with some remark on my not returning with them, and, with a quiet good-day, 1 left him and walked rapidly toward the steamer. The plank was laid from the wharf-boat, and, without daring to hesitate, I walked over it.
It was done. I was fairly separated from everything I had ever known before ; everything now was new to me; I was ignorant of all around me; each step might be a mistake. I felt this, when a porter, stepping forward and taking my bundle, asked me if I would have a state-room. What was a state-room ? I did not know, but saying, “ Yes,” with a desperate feeling that it might as well be “yes'’ as “no,” I was led back to the ladies’ cabin, a key was turned in one of an infinite number of little doors, and I was ushered into what looked to me like a closet, with shelves made to take the place of beds. Here at least I was alone, and here I could be alone till dinner-time ; till then there was no call for action on my part.
And how precious seemed to me every hour of rest! Singularly enough, my great sorrow did not come back to me in those pauses of action. I seemed then to be entirely absorbed in gathering strength for the next occasion ; my grief was put away for the future, when there would come to me the time to indulge it.
So I lay quiet during that morning, looking sometimes through my little window at the passing shore, listening sometimes to the loud talking in the cabin, sometimes to the noises on the boat, wondering if all those strange creakings and shakings could be right, but finding a sense of security in my very ignorance. Dinner came, and in the course of it I found courage to ask the captain, at whose right hand I was placed, what time we should reach Cincinnati. “ Not till after breakfast,” was his welcome answer ; for I had been haunted by a dread of being set adrift in a great city in the middle of the night, when I might perhaps fall into some den of thieves, I had read of such things in my books. This gave me still the afternoon before it would be necessary to think, some hours more in which to rest mind and body.
The night came at last, and I must decide what step to take next, that, my mind made up, I might perhaps get some sleep. I turned restlessly in my narrow bed, got up, and stood at the window, tried first the upper shelf, and then the lower, but no possible plan presented itself. I still saw before me that terrible city where I should be ten times lonelier than in the midst of our forests, where I should make mistakes at every turn, where I should not know one face out of the many thousands that crowded upon my nervous fancy. I seemed to be afraid of nothing but human beings, and, at the thought of encountering them, my woman’s heart gave way. In vain I reasoned with myself, “ I shall not see all Cincinnati at once, — not more at one time, perhaps, than I saw to-day at dinner.” Still came up those endless streets, all filled with strange faces; still I saw myself pushed, jostled, by a succession of men and women who cared nothing for me. Suddenly came the thought, “Tom Salyers is in Cincinnati. There is one person there that I know. If I could only find him, he would take care of me till I knew how to take care of myself.”
There came no remembrance of our last conversation to check my eager joy. Indeed, it had never made much impression upon me, followed as it had been by so much of nearer interest, I set myself to reflect on the means of finding him. He had gone down in the employ of the coal company. The captain could tell me where to look for him, and, satisfied with that, I laid my weary head on my pillow.
The next morning at breakfast I gained the needed information. “ Did I want to find one of the men in Mr. Hammond’s employment ? I must go to the coalyard ” ; and the direction was written out for me.
And now we neared the city. I stood on the guards and looked wondering at the steamboats that lined the river-hank, at the long rows of houses that stretched before me, the tall chimneys vomiting smoke which obscured the surrounding hills, at the crowd of men and drays on the landing through which I was to make my way ; but my courage rose with the occasion, and, stepping resolutely from the plank, I walked up the hill and stood among the warehouses. I had been told to “ turn to the right and take the first street, I could not miss my way “ ; but somehow I did miss my way again and again, and wandered weary and bewildered, not daring at first to ask for directions, till, gathering strength from my very weariness, I at last saw before me the welcome sign. It was something like home to see it; the familiar names cheered me while they moved me. I entered the office trembling with a wild dread lest I should meet Mr. Hammond there, but the sight of a stranger’s face at the desk gave me courage to ask for Tom Salyers.
“ He is in the yard now. Here, Jim, tell Salyers there’s a person ” — he hesitated — “a lady wants to see him.”
I sat down in a chair which was luckily near me, for my knees trembled so that I could not stand, and as the door opened and Tom’s familiar face was before me, my whole composure gave way and I burst into a violent fit. of crying.
“Janet! is it you? For Heaven’s sake, what is the matter ? ”
But I could only sob in answer.
“ Has anything happened up Sandy ? Did you come for me ? ”
The poor fellow leaned over me, his face pale with surprise and agitation.
“Take me out of here,” was all I could muster composure enough to say.
He opened the door, and I escaped into the open air. We walked side by side through the streets, he silently respecting my agitation with, a, delicacy lor which I had not given him credit, and I struggling to grow calm. At last he opened a little side-gate.
“ Come in here, Janet; we shall be quiet here.”
And I entered a sort of garden: the grounds belonging to the city waterworks I have since known them to be. We sat down on a bench that overlooked the Kentucky hills. I love the seat now. I think the sight of the familiar fields and trees calmed me, and I was able at last to answer Tom’s anxious questions.
“ It is nothing; indeed, it is nothing. I am a foolish coward, and I was frightened walking through the city, and then the sight of a home-face upset me.”
“ But, Janet, why are you here ? Is anything wrong about the works, the men ? Did Mr. Hammond send you down ? ”
“ No, indeed, no ! it was only a fancy of mine to see the world. I am tired of that lonely life, and you know I am not needed there. My mother can get along without me, and I am only a burden to my father.”
“ Not needed ? Why, Janet, what will the Sandy country be without you ? ”
My eyes filled up with tears again.
“ Don’t ask me any more questions, dear Tom; only help me for a little while, till I can help myself. I want to earn my living somehow, but I have money enough to live upon till I can find something to do. Only find me a place to stay quietly in while I am looking for work. You are the only person I know in this great city; and who will help me, if you do not ? ”
“ You know I will help you with my whole heart and soul, Janet,” he said, his voice faltering.
I looked up, and in one moment rushed back upon me the remembrance of his words that day in the boat, and I stood aghast at the new trouble that seemed to rise before me. My voice must have changed as I said, —
“ I only want you to find me a place to live in ; I can take care of myself”; for his countenance fell, and he sat silent for some moments.
At last he spoke : —
“ I know I cannot do much, Janet, but what I can I will. And, first, I will take you to the house of a widow-woman who has a room to let; one of our men wanted me to take it, but it was too far from my work. I went to see the place, though, and it is quiet and respectable; the woman looks kind, too. Would you walk slowly down the street, while I go to the office and get my coat ? he was in his working-dress,— “ and then I ’ll join you.”
I got up, feeling that I had chilled him in some way, and reproaching myself for it. When he rejoined me, we walked silently on. till, after many a turning, we found ourselves in a narrow, quiet street, before a small house, with a tiny yard in front. I do not know how the matter was arranged; he did it all for me. There was the introducing me to a motherlylooking person, as a friend of his from the country ; the going up a narrow staircase to look at a small room of which all that could be said was that it was neat and clean; the bargaining for my board, in which I was obliged to answer “ Yes ” and “ No” as I could best follow his lead; and then Tom left me with a shake of the hand, and the advice that J should lie down and rest after my tedious journey ; he would see me again in the evening.
The quiet dinner with my landlady, the afternoon rest, the fresh toilet, the sort of home-feeling that my room already gave me, all did their part towards bringing back my usual composure, before Tom came in the evening; and then, sitting by the window in the little parlor, I could talk rationally of my plans for the future.
I had money enough for twelve weeks’ board, even if I reserved ten dollars for other expenses. Surely, in that time I could find something to do. And as to what I should do, I had thought that all over before I left home. I might find some sewing, or tend in a store, or, perhaps,—did he think I could ?—I might keep school.
Tom would not hear of my sewing. He knew poor girls that worked their lives out at that. I might tend in a store, if I pleased, but still he did not believe I would like to be tied to one place for twelve hours in the day. Why should n’t I keep school ? he was sure I knew enough, I was so smart, and had read so many books.
I shook my head. I did not believe the books I had read were the kind that school-mistresses studied. Still, I could learn, and certainly I might begin by teaching little children. But where was I to begin ?
‘‘ If only we knew some gentleman, Janet, some city-man, who knew what to do about such things.”
Suddenly a thought struck me.
“ Tom, do you remember those gentlemen who came up to look at the coal mines when they were first opened ? One of them stayed at our house two nights, and saw my books, and talked to me about them. Mr. Kendall was his name.”
“ That’s the very man; and a kindhearted gentleman he seemed, not stuck up or proud. I ’ll find him out for you, Janet, to-morrow; but there’s no need of your hurrying yourself about going to work. You must see the city and the sights.”
And Tom grew enthusiastic in describing to me all that was to be seen in this wonderful place.
Tom had altered, had improved in appearance and manners, since he had known something of city-life. I could not tel! wherein the change lay, but I felt it. He told me of himself, —of his rising to be head-man, a sort of overseer, in the coal-yard,—of his good wages,—of some investments that he had made which had brought him in good returns.
“ So you see, Janet, that, even if you were not so rich yourself, I have plenty of money at your service.”
I thanked him most heartily, and roused myself to show some interest in all that concerned him.
So passed the rest of the week, —quiet days with my landlady, or in my room, where I busied myself in putting my wardrobe into better shape under the direction of Mrs. Barnum, and quiet walks and talks in the evening with, Tom Salyers. It was evident that he was not satisfied with my alleged motives for leaving home, but I so steadily avoided all conversation on this point that he learned to respect my silence. On Sunday he told me he had found out who Mr. Kendall was.
“ One of the stockholders of the Company, and a good man, they say. I'll go to him to-morrow, if you say so, Janet, and ask him anything you want to know.”
“ No, Tom, I shall go myself. It is my business, and I must not let you do so much for me. If you will go with me, though,”— I added.
And so the next morning saw us at Mr. Kendall’s counting-room. It was before business-hours: we had cared for that. We found Mr. Kendall sitting leisurely over his papers, his feet up and his spectacles pushed back. I had been nervous enough during the walk, but a glance at his face reassured me. It was a good, a fatherly face, full of bonhommie, but showing, withal, a spice of business-shrewdness. I left Tom standing at the counting-room door, and, taking my fate in my own hands, walked forward and made myself known.
' “ Oh, yes ! the little girl that Hammond thought so much of, that he talks about so often when he is down here. He thinks a school or two would bring the Sandy people out, and holds you up as an example ; but, for my part, I think you are an exception. There are not many of them that one could do much with.”
I turned quickly.
“ This is Tom Salyers, Sir, head-workman, overseer, at your coal-yard, and he is a Sandy man.”
Mr. Kendall laughed.
“ I see I must not say anything against the Sandy country; nor need I just now. Walk in, Mr. Salyers. So, Miss Janet, you have come down to seek your fortune, earn your living, you say. I suppose Hammond sent you to me. Did you bring me a letter from him ? ”
“ No, Sir. Mr. Hammond was so much occupied when I came away that I had not seen him for a day or two. He has friends staying with him.”
“ True enough, Mr. Worthington has gone up there with his pretty daughter to see whether he can allow her to bury herself in the country. You saw Miss Worthington ? Will she be popular among your people when she is Mrs. Hammond ? ”
I caught a glimpse of Tom’s face, and felt myself turning pale as I answered, with a composure that did not seem to come from my own strength, —
“ Miss Worthington is a very pleasantspoken young lady. The people will like her, because she seems to care for them, just as Mr. Hammond does. But do you think, Sir, that you could put me in the way of teaching school ? Could I learn how to do it ? ”
“ Well, I am just the right person to come to, Miss Janet, for the people have put me on the School Board, and — yes, we shall want some teachers next month in two of the primary departments. Could you wait a month? You might be studying up for your examination ; it ’s not much, but it ’ll not hurt you to go over their arithmetics and grammars. And I must write to Hammond to-day about some business of the Company. I ’ll ask him about your qualifications, and what he thinks of it, and we ’ll see what can be done. I should not wonder if I could get you a place.”
Mr. Kendall shook hands with us both ; and, bidding him good - morning, with many thanks for his kindness, we went out. We walked a square silently. Suddenly Tom turned to me : —
“ You did not tell me, Janet, of this young lady.”
“ And is Mr. Hammond going to marry her ? ”
The blood rushed to my face till it was crimson to the very hair, while I stammered, —
“I do not know, — you heard Mr. Kendall.”
Tom’s voice was as gentle as a mother’s in answer, but his words had little to do with the subject, they were almost as incoherent as mine, — something about his hoping I would like living in Cincinnati, that teaching would not be too tiresome for me. But from that moment George Hammond’s name was never mentioned between us.
I wrote that day to my step-mother, telling her of my plans and prospects, and that evening Tom brought me the needed school-books. He had found them by asking some of the men at the yard whose children went to the public schools, and to the study of them I sat down with a determination that no slight difficulty could subdue. The next week brought a long, kind letter from Mr. Hammond, scolding me for going as I did, and declaring that he missed me every day.
“ But more than all shall I miss you, Janet, when I bring Miss Worthington back as my wife; I bad depended so upon you as a companion for her. But still it is a good thing for you to see something of the world, and you are bright enough to do anything you set out to do. I have written to Mr. Kendall to do all he can for you, and with Tom to take care of you I am sure you will get along. I begin to suspect that your going away was a thing contrived between Tom and yourself. Who knows how soon he may bring you back among us to show the Sandy farmers’ wives how to live more comfortably than some of them do ? Tom has a very pretty place below the mouth of Blackberry, if you would only show him how to take care of it.”
There was comfort in this letter, in spite of the tears it caused me. My secret was safe. Miss Hammond had not been so cruel, so traitorous to her sex, as to betray it. If she had not told it now, she never would tell it, and Tom, if he suspected it, was too good, too noble, to whisper it even to himself. So I laid away my letter, and with a lighter heart turned again to my tasks.
And now three months have passed, for two of which I have been teaching. There are difficulties, yes, and there is hard work; but I can manage the children. I have, the tact, the character, the gift, that nameless something which gives one person control over others; and for the studies, they are as yet a pleasure to me. I see how they will lead me on to other knowledge, how I may bring into form and make available my desultory reading, and there is a great pleasure in the very study itself. And for the rest, if my great grief is never out of my mind, if it is always present to me, at least I can put it back, behind my daily occupations and interests. I begin, too, to see dimly that there are other things in life for a woman to whom the light of life is denied. My heart will always be lonely; but how much there is to five for in my mind, my tastes, my love for the beautiful ! My little room has taken another aspect. I have so few wants that I can readily devote part of my earnings to gratifying myself with books, pictures. Such lovely prints as I find in the printshops! and the flowers—Tom Salyers, who is as kind as a brother, brings me them from the market. And then everything is so new to me; there is so much in life to see, to know. No, I will not be unhappy; happy I suppose I can never be, but I have strength and courage, and a will to rise above this sorrow which once crushed me to the ground. When I wrote the bitter words with which this record begins, I wronged the kind hearts that are around me, I lacked faith in that world wherein I have found help and comfort.