ALLUSION was made in “ The Schoolmaster’s Story,” told in these pages last month, to two old bachelors. I am one of them. Early this morning, while taking my walk, I saw, growing about a rock, some little blue flowers, such as I used to pick when a child. I had broken off a few, and was stooping for more, when some one near said, “ Good morning, Captain Joseph ! ”
It was Mrs. Maylie, the minister’s wife, going home from watching. After a little talk, she told me, in her pleasant way, that I had two things to do, of which, by the doing, I should make but one: I was to write a story, and to showgood reason for keeping myself all to myself.
“ Mrs. Maylie,” said I, “ do I look like a person who has had a story ? I am a lonely old man, — a hard old man. A story should have warmth. Don’t you see I’m an icicle ? ”
“ Not quite,” said she. “ I know of two warm spots. I see you every day watching the children go past; and then, what have you there ? Icicles never cling to flowers ! ”
. After she had gone, I began thinking what a beautiful story mine might have been, if things had been different, — if I had been different. And at last it occurred to me that a relation of some parts of it might be useful reading for young men ; also, that it might cause our whole class to be more kindly looked upon.
Suppose it is not a pleasant story. Life is not all brightness. See how the shadows chase each other across our path! To-day our friend weeps with us; to-morrow we weep with our friend. The hearse is a carriage which stops at every door.
No picture is without its shading. We have before us the happy experiences of my two friends. By those smiling groups let there stand one dark, solitary figure, pointing out the moral of the whole.
There is one thing, however, in the story of my neighbor Browne, pleasant as it is, which reminds me of a habit of my own. I mean, his liking to watch pretty faces. I do, when they belong to children.
This practice of mine, which I find has been noticed by my valued friend, Mrs. Maylie, is partly owing to the memories of my own childhood.
When the past was so suddenly recalled, on that stormy day, — as mentioned by my friend Allen, — I felt as I have often felt upon the sea, when, after hours of dull sailing, through mist and darkness, I have looked back upon the lights of the town we were leaving.
My life began in brightness. And now, amid that brightness, appear fresh, happy little faces, which haunt me more and more, as I become isolated from the humanity about me, until at times it is those only which are real, while living forms seem but shadows.
I see whole rows of these young faces in an old school-house, far from here, close by the sea, — can see the little girls running in, when the schoolma’am knocked, and settling down in their forms, panting for breath.
One of these the boys called my girl.
I liked her, because she had curls and two rows of cunning teeth, and because she never laughed when the boys called me “ Spunky Joe.” For I was wilful, and of a hasty temper. Her name was Margaret. My father took me a long voyage with him, and while I was gone she moved down East. I never saw her afterwards. If living, it must have been a score of years since she bought her first glasses.
No doubt I should have been of a pleasanter disposition, had I not been the only boy and the youngest child. I was made too much of. Aunt Chloë, who was aunt to the neighborhood, and did its washing, said I was “ humored to death.”
We had a great family of girls, but Mary was the one I loved best. She was a saint. Her face made you think of “ Peace on earth, and good-will to men.” Aunt Chloë used to say that “ Mary Bond was pretty to look at, and facultied; pity she had n't the ‘ one thing needful.’ ” For Mary was not a professor.
I went pretty steadily to school until about sixteen. At that time I had a misunderstanding with father. I got the idea that he looked upon me as an incumbrance, and declared I would go to sea.
Mother and the girls were full of trouble, but I was n’t used to being crossed, and to sea I went. I knew afterwards that father had set his heart upon my getting learning.
He said going to sea was a dog’s life. But I liked it, and followed it up. I think it was in my twentieth year that I shipped on board the Eliza Ann, Capfain Saunders, bound from Boston to Calcutta. This was my first long voyage as a sailor. Among the crew was one they called Jamie, as smart as a steel-trap, and handsome as a picture. He was not our countryman. I think he was part Scotch. The passengers were always noticing him. One day, when He stood leaning against the foremast, with his black hair blowing out in the wind, a young man with a portfolio got me to keep him there, still, for a while : he was an artist, and wanted to make a drawing of him. The sailors all liked him because he was so clever, and so lively, and knew so many songs, and could hop about the rigging, light as a bird. Only a few knew him. They said he had no home but the sea.
He afterwards told me this himself, one dark night, when we were leaning together over the rail, as if listening to the splash of the water. He began his sea-life by running away. he said but little, and that in a mournful way that made me pity him, and wonder he could be so lively. I did n’t know then that sometimes people have to laugh to keep from crying. “ I was all she had,” said he ; “ and I left her. I never thought how much she cared for me until I got among all strangers; then I wanted my mother.” At another time he told me about his return home and finding no mother. And I told him of my own home and my great flock of sisters.
After this he rather clung to me. And thus it happened, from my liking Jamie’s handsome face, and from Jamie’s telling me his trouble, that we became fast friends.
When the ship arrived in Boston, I took him home with me. Father had left off going to sea ; but some of the girls were married, and mother called her family small. I knew she would take the homeless boy into her great motherly heart, along with the rest of us.
We could n’t have arrived at a better time. Thanksgiving was just at hand, work was plenty, and Jamie soon in the thickest of it. ’T was so good to him, being in a home, though none of his. The girls were glad enough of his help and his company ; for he was _ full of his fun, and never at a loss for a word. We never had so much light talk in the house before. Mother was rather serious, and father did his laughing at the stores.
When Thanksgiving-Day came, however, and the married ones began to flock in with their families, he spoke of going, — of not belonging. But we persuaded him, and the girls did all they could to take up his mind, knowing what his feelings must be.
The Thanksgiving dinner was a beautiful sight to see. I mean, of course, the people round it. Father talked away, and could eat. But mother sat in her frilled cap, looking mildly about, with the tears in her eyes, making believe eat, helping everybody, giving the children two pieces of pie, and letting them talk at table. This last, when we were little, was forbidden. Mother never scolded. She had a placid, saintly face, something like Mary’s. But if we ever giggled at table, she used to say, “ Sho! girls ! Don’t laugh over your victuals.”
At sunset we missed Jamie. I found him in the hay-mow, crying as if his heart would break. “ Oh, Joseph,” said he, “ she was just as pleasant as your mother ! ” It was sunset when he first ran away, and sunset when he returned to find his mother dead. He told me that “God brought him home at that hour to make him feel.”
Our ship was a long while repairing. Then freights were dull, and so it lingered along, week after week. Jamie often spoke of going, hut nobody would let him. Father said he had always wanted another boy. Mother told him I should be lonesome without him. The girls said as much as they thought it would do for girls to say, and he stayed on. I knew he wanted to badly enough, for I saw he liked Mary. I thought, too, that she liked him, because she said so little about his staying. To be sure, they were in nothing alike ; but then, as Aunt Chloë said, “Opposites are more harmonious.”
My sister Cynthia was going to be published soon, and all the rest were helping her “ make her fix.” Coverlets were being got into the loom, and the great wheel and little wheel going all day. Jamie liked to help them “quill,” But the best of all, both for him and me, were the quiltings ; for these brought all the young folks together.
Our nearest neighbor was a large, stout-looking man, by the name of Wilbur. He was called Mr. Nathaniel, to distinguish him from his brother. His house was next ours, with a hill between. He was a good, jolly soul, had no children of his own, and was always begging mother for a few of her girls. Nothing suited him better than a good time. If there was anything going on at our house,he was always on the spot.
One December evening, our kitchen was full of young people. The best bedquilt had been quilted, and Jamie and I had been helping “ roll over,” all the afternoon. In the evening, as soon as the young men came, we hung over the molasses, and set Mr. Nathaniel stirring it. We all sat around, naming apples. All at once he called out, “Which of you chaps has got pluck enough to ride over to Swampsey. Village to-morrow, after a young woman he never saw ? ”
They all looked up, especially the girls who had beaux present. Then came questions,— “ Who is she ? ” “ Give her
name ” ; “ Good - looking ? ” and many others.
“ Be thinking it over awhile,” said he, and kept on stirring. But when he was pulling the candy, he explained, dropping a few words at every pull.
“ The girl,” said he, “ is a nice girl, and I ’ll be bound she’s handsome. I used to have dealings with her father, while he kept store in Boston. We’ve never let the acquaintance die out. When he wrote me that he was going to take his wife a journey South, and inquired if I knew of a safe, quiet family where he could leave his daughter, wifey and I concluded to take her ourselves. We could n’t think of a quieter family, or one where daughters were more needed. I promised to meet her at Swampsey Village ; but if any of you young men want the chance, you can have it.”
There was one fellow in the company who hardly ever spoke. He was looked upon as a sort of crooked stick. As he sat in the corner, paring his apple, he said in a drawling voice, without looking up,—
“ Better send Joe.”
“ Oh, he won’t go, I ’ll bet anything,” said two or three at once.
“ What ’ll you bet ? ” said I.
“ Bet a kiss from the prettiest girl in the room! ”
“ Done ! ” said I, and jumped up as if to pick out the girl. But they all cried out, “ Wait till you’ve done it.”
They thought I would n’t go, because I ’d never been particular to any girl.
After we went to bed that night, Jamie offered to go in my stead. But I had made up my mind, and was not so easily turned.
Early next morning, Mr. Nathaniel drove up to the door in his Yellow-bottomed chaise. The wheeling was better than the sleighing, except in the woods.
“ Here,” he said, “ I ’ve ballasted your craft, and made out your papers. You go in ballast, but ’ll have good freight back. When you get to Swampsey-Village meeting-house, turn off to the left, and it’s the second house. The roof behind slants almost to the ground.”
The “ ballast ” was heated stones. The “papers” consisted of a letter, addressed to “Miss Margaret Holden, at the house of Mr. Oliver Barrows.”
The road to Swampsey Village, after running a few miles along by the sea, branched off to the southwest, over a range of high, wooded hills, called “ The Mountains.” ’I was a long ride, and I could n’t help guessing what manner of girl would in a few hours be sitting by my side. Would she be sober, or sociable ? pretty, or homely? I hoped she would n’t be citified, all pride and politeness. And of all things, I hoped she would not be bashful. Two dummies, one in each corner, riding along in the cold!
“ Any way,” I thought at last, “ it’s no affair of mine. I 'm only sent of an errand. It’s all the same as going for a sheep or a bag of corn.” And with this idea, I whipped up. But the sight of the slanting roof made me slacken the reins; and when I found myself really hitching my horse, I was sorry I came.
Before I reached the door, it opened, and there stood a white-haired old man, leaning upon two canes. He wanted to See who had come. I told my errand. He asked me into the kitchen. As I entered, I looked slyly about, to see what I could see. But there was only a short old woman. She was running candles. She looked straight in my face. The old man stooped down and shouted in her ear, —
“He’s come arter Peggy! where is she ? ”
“ Denno,” said she, toddling along to the window, and looking up and down the road. “ Denno. Mile off, mebbe. Master critter to be on the go! ”
“There she is!” cried Mr. Barrows, from a back-window,—“ in the parster, slidin’ down-hill on her jumper. Guess you ’ll have to go look her, young man ; the old woman’s poorly, an’ so be I.”
But the old woman told me to sit up to the fire and warm my feet; said she would hang out a cloth, and Peggy would be in directly. I would have gone very willingly; for, after expecting to be introduced to Miss Margaret Holden, being sent out after Peggy was just nothing.
’T was but a little while before we heard the jumper rattling along, and then a stamping in the porch. Then we heard her hand upon the latch.
“ She’s a little young thing,” said the old man, almost in a whisper; “ but she’s knowin’. — Peggy,” he continued, as she entered, “ you’m sent for.”
That was the first time I ever saw Margaret. She had on some little child’s hood, and an old josey-coat, which covered her all over. The hood was red, and ruffled about the border, which made her face look like a little girl’s.
“ To go to Mr. Wilbur’s? ” she asked, looking towards me.
I rose to explain, and handed the letter.
She threw off her things, opened it, and began reading. When I saw the smile spreading over her face, I knew Mr. Nathaniel had been writing some of his nonsense.
“ Perhaps,” said I, as she was folding it up, “ you don’t know Mr. Nathaniel He says anything. I don’t know what he’s been writing, but”—
“Oh, nothing bad,” said she, laughing. “ lie only says you are a nice young man.”
“Ah!” I replied. “Well, he does sometimes speak the truth.”
Then we both laughed, and, for new acquaintances, seemed on pretty good terms.
There was something about her face which made me think of the little Mragaret who had moved away. She had the same pretty laugh, the same innocentlooking mouth,—only the child Margaret was not so fair-complexioned. Her figure, and the way of carrying her head, reminded me of the West-India girls, as I had seen them riding out in their volantes. I decided that I was pleased with her. When she was ready to go, with her blue silk pelisse and the plumes in her hat, I was glad I came, and thought, “ How much better is a girl than a sheep! ”
The old man made us stay to dinner ; but then he hurried us off, that we might be over The Mountains before dark.
The air was chilly when we started, and a few snow-flakes were flying. But we had everything to make us comfortable. The old horse always stepped quick, going home; the wind was in our favor ; our chaise had a boot which came up, and a top which tipped down. We should soon be home. There is nothing very bad, after all, in being sent for a girl you never saw !
And we were not two dummies. She was willing to do her part in talking, and I could always hold my own, if no more.
She seemed, in conversation, not at all like a “ little young thing,” — so that I kept turning round to see if the look of the child Margaret was still in her face. Oh, how that face played the mischief with me! And in more ways than one.
We were speaking oflarge families ; I had told her about ours. All at once she exclaimed at a big rock ahead, which overhung the road.
The moment I placed my eye on it, I turned the horse’s head.
“Wrong road,” said I.
The horse had turned off, when I was n’t minding, and was taking us to Cutler’s Mills. We tried several ways to set ourselves right by a short cut, but were finally obliged to go all the way back to where we turned off. In a summer day this would only have been lengthening out a pleasant ride. But the days were at the shortest. Snow-flakes fell thicker, and, what was worse, the wind changed, and blew them straight into our faces. By the time we reached the foot of The Mountains it was nearly dark, and snowing furiously. I never knew a storm come on faster. 'I was a regular, old-fashioned, driving snow-storm, with the wind to the eastward.
Margaret seemed noways down-hearted. But I feared she would suffer. I shook the snow from the blanket and wrapped her in it. I drew it over her head, pinned it under her chin, and tucked it all about her.
’T was hard pulling for the old horse, but he did well. I felt uneasy, thinking about the blind roads, which led nowhere but to wood-lots. ’T was quite likely that the horse would turn into one of these, and if he did, ive should be taken into the very middle of the woods.
It seemed to me we were hours creeping on in the dark, right in the teeth of the storm. ’T was an awful night; terribly cold; seemed as it it was windowglass beating against our faces.
By the time I judged we had reached the top of The Mountains, the wind blew a hurricane. Powerful gusts came tearing through the trees, whirling the snow upon us in great smothering heaps. The chaise was full. My hands grew numb, and I began slapping them upon my knees. Margaret threw off the blanket with a jerk, and seized the reins.
“ Stupid ! ” said she, “ to be sitting here wrapped up, letting you freeze ! ”
But the horse felt a woman’s hand upon the reins, and stopped short.
I urged him on a few yards, but we were in a cleared place, and the snow had drifted. 'T was no use. He was tired out.
“ Take him out! ” cried Margaret;
“ we can ride horseback.”
I sprang out, knowing that no time should be lost. Margaret had not complained. But I was chilled through. My feet were like blocks of wood. I knew she must be half frozen. It seemed as if I never should do anything with the tackling. My fingers were numb, and I could hardly stand up, the wind blew so.
With the help of my jack-knife I cleared the horse. I rode him round to the chaise, and took Margaret up in front of me, then let him take his own course.
I asked Margaret if she was cold. She said, “Yes,” in a whisper. Throwing open the blanket had let in the snow upon her, and the sharp wind. The horse floundered about in the drifts. Every minute I expected to be thrown off. Time never seemed so long before.
All at once it occurred to me that Margaret was very quiet. I asked again if she was cold. She said, “ No; only sleepy.” I knew in a minute what that meant. That was a terrible moment. Freezing as I was, the sweat started out at everv pore. The pretty, delicate thing would die ! And I, great strong man, could n’t save her!
But I would n’t despair. I made her talk. Kept asking her questions: If the wind had not gone down ? If she heard the surf upon the beach ? If she saw a light ?
“ Yes,” said she at last,—“ I see a light.”
At first I was frightened, thinking her mind wandered. But directly I saw that towards the right, and a little in advance of us, was a misty spot of light.
When we were near enough to see where it came from, it seemed as if all my strength left me at once, — the relief was so sudden.
’T was a squaw’s hut. I knew then just where we were. I climbed up the bank, with Margaret in my arms, and pounded with all my might upon the side ot the hut, calling out, “ For God’s sake, open the door ! ” A latch rattled close to my ears, and a door flew open, I was Old Suke. I had, many a time, when a boy, called out to her, “ Black clouds arising ! ”—for we always would torment the colored folks, when they came down with their brooms.
I pushed past her into the hut, — into the midst of rushes, brooms, and baskets, — into a shelter. I never knew before what the word meant.
The fireplace was full of blazing pineknots, which made the room as light as day. Old Suke showed herself a Christian. She told me where to find a shed for my horse; and while I was gone, she took the wet things off Margaret, and rubbed her hands and feet with snow. She took red peppers from a string over the fireplace, boiled them in milk, and made us drink it. I thought of “ heaping coals of fire.” She dipped up hulled corn from a pot on the hearth, and made ns eat. I felt like singing the song of Mungo Park.
Margaret kept pretty still. I knew the reason. The warm blood was rushing back to her fingers and toes, and they ached like the toothache. Mine did. ’T was a long while before Old Suke would let us come nearer the fire. Her old mother was squatting upon the hearth. She looked to be a hundred and fifty. Her face was like a baked apple, — for she was part Indian, not very black. She had a check-handkerchief tied round her head, and an old pea-jacket over her shoulders, with the sleeves hanging. She hardly noticed us, but sat smoking her pipe, looking at the coals. ’T was curious to see Margaret’s face by hers in the firelight.
A little after midnight the storm abated, and by four o’clock the stars were out. I asked Margaret if she would be afraid to stay there, while I went home to tell the folks what had become of us.
“ Oh, no,” she said. “ ’T was just what she’d been thinking about. She would be making baskets.” — Some girls would never have dared stay in such a place.
I promised to be back as soon as possible, and left her there by the old woman.
’T was just about daylight when I came in sight of father’s. Mr. Nathaniel was walking about the yard, looking up the road at every turn. He hurried towards me.
“All safe ! ” I called out.
“ Thank God ! ” he cried. “ It has been a dreadful night.”
Jamie was in the house. They two had been sitting up. They would n’t hear of my going back, but put me into bed, almost by main strength. Then they started with fresh horses. They took a pillion for Margaret, and a shovel to dig through the drifts when they could n’t go round.
Mother gave me warm drinks, and piled on the bed-clothes. But I could n’t sleep for worrying about Margaret. I was afraid the exposure would be the death of her.
About noon Mary came running up to tell me they had just gone past. The window was near my bed. I pulled aside the curtain, and looked out. They were just going over the hill, — Jamie, with Margaret on the pillion, and Mr. Nathaniel along-side.
I often think what a mysterious Providence it was that made me the means of bringing together the two persons who, as it turned, controlled my whole life. In fact, it seems as if it were only then that my real life began.
Nobody could have been more pleased with a bright, beautiful, grown-up daughter than was Mr. Nathaniel. He was always bragging about her. And well he might, — for never was a better-dispositioned girl, or a livelier. She entered right into our country-life, was merry with the young folks and wise with the old ones. Aunt Chloë said she was good company for anybody.
She was a real godsend to our neighborhood, especially at the merry-makings; for she could make fun for a roomful, and tell us what they played at the Boston parties.
Of course, that long ride with her in the snow-storm had given me an advantage over the other young men. It seemed to be taken for granted by them, that, as I brought her to town, I should be the one privileged to wait upon her about. ’T was a privilege I was glad enough to claim, and she never objected. Many would have been glad to be in my place, but they never tried to cut me out. Margaret was sociable enough with them, — sometimes I thought too much so. But then I knew ’t was only her pleasant way. When we two were walking home together, she dropped her fun, and seemed like another person. I felt pleased that she kept the best part of herself for me.
I was pleased, too, to see that she took to Mary, and Mary to her. The women were hurried with their sewing, and Margaret used to be often at our house helping. Cynthia was glad enough of her help, because she knew the fashions, and told how weddings were carried on in Boston. Thus it happened that she and Mary were brought much together; and before winter was over they were like two sisters.
And before winter was over, what was I? Certainly not the same Joseph who went to Swampsey Village. My eagerness to be on the sea, my pride, my temper, were gone; and all I cared for was to see the face and hear the voice of Margaret Holden.
At first, I would not believe this thing of myself; said it was folly to be so led about by a woman. But the very next moment, her sitting down by my side would set me trembling. I did n’t know myself; it seemed as if I were wrong side up, and all my good feelings had come to the top.
Our names were always called together, but I felt noways sure. I could n’t think that a girl every way so desirable as Margaret should take up with a fellow so undesirable as myself. I felt that she was too good for me. I thought then that this was peculiar to our case. But I have since observed, that, as a general thing, all women are too good for all men.
I am very sure I have seen something of the kind in print.
Then there was another feeling which worked itself in by degrees, — one which would come back as often as I drove it away. And once admitted, it gained strength. ’T was not a pleasant feeling, and it had to do with Jamie.
I had all along felt sure that he was attached to Mary. I had therefore never thought anything of his being on pretty good terms with Margaret. They were both of a lively turn, and thrown much together. But by degrees the idea got possession of me that there was a secret understanding between them about something. They had long talks and walks together. And, in fact, I observed many little tilings, trifling in themselves, but much to me after my thoughts were once turned that way.
Sometimes I think, that, if I had never gone to sea, or had never met Jamie, or had not brought him home, my life might have been very different. But then, if we once begin upon the “ ifs,” we might as well go back to the beginning, and say, “ If we had never been born.”
Jealousy. And my proud, flashy temper. That was it.
Jamie was like a brother to me. He was a noble fellow, with a pleasant word and smile for everybody. Not a family in the place but was glad to see him enter their doors. It looks strange now that I could have distrusted him so. Still, I must say, there seemed some cause.
But it’s not pleasant dwelling on this. The daily events which stirred me up so then seem too trifling to mention. I don't like to call up all those dead feelings, now I ‘m an old man, and ashamed of them.
Jamie and Margaret became a mystery to me. And I was by no means one to puzzle it out, as I would a sum in the rule-of-three. ’T was not all headwork. However, I said nothing. I ivas mean enough to watch, and too proud to question.
At last I began to ask myself what I really knew about Jamie. He was only a poor sailor-boy, whom I had picked up and befriended. And, once put upon thought, what did I know of Margaret ? What did anybody in the place ? Even Mr. Nathaniel only knew her father. Her simple, childish ways might be all put on. For she could act. I had seen her, one evening, for our entertainment, imitate the actresses upon the stage. First, she was a little girl, in a white frock, with a string of coral about her neck, and curls hanging over her pretty shoulders. She said a little hymn, and her voice sounded just like a child’s. Afterwards, she was a proud princess, in laces and jewels, a long train, and a bright crown. Dressed in this way, with her head thrown back, h’er bosom heaving, and reciting something she had heard on the stage, we hardly knew our Margaret.
It was at our house, one stormy evening. Mother would never allow it again. She said it was countenancing the theatre. Besides, I thought she’d rather not have me look at Margaret when under the excitement of acting, for the next day she cautioned me against earthly idols. But Margaret was my idol.
It was because she was so bewitching to me that I thought it could not be but that Jamie must be bewitched as well. And it was because he was so taking in his manner that I felt certain she must be taken with him. Thus I puzzled on from day to day, drifting about among my doubts and fears, like a ship in a fog.
I knew that Margaret thought my conduct strange. Sometimes I seemed scarcely to live away from her; then I would change about, and not go near her for days. To Jamie, too, I was often unfriendly, for it maddened me to think he might be playing a double game. Mary seemed just as she always did. But then she was simple-minded, and would never suspect anything or anybody. It was astonishing, the state of excitement I finally worked myself into. That was my make. Once started upon a road, I would run its whole length.
February and March passed, and still we were not sent for to join our ship. Jamie was getting uneasy, living, as he said, so long upon strangers. Besides, I knew my manner troubled him.
One evening, as we were sitting around our kitchen-fire, Margaret with the rest, Mr. Nathaniel came in, all of a breeze, scolding away about his fishermen. His schooner was all ready for The Banks, and two of his men had run off, with all their fitting-out.
“ Come, you two lazy chaps,” said he, “you will just do to fill their places.”
“Agreed!” said Jamie. “I ’ll go, if Joseph will.”
“I ’ll go,” said I. For I thought in a minute that he would rather not leave me behind, and I knew he needed the chance.
The women all began to exclaim against it,—all but Margaret. She turned pale, and kept silence. That was Friday. The vessel would sail Monday. Mother was greatly troubled, but said, if I would go, she must make me comfortable; and all night I could hear her opening and shutting the bureau-drawers. Margaret stopped with Mary: I think they sewed till near morning.
The next evening the singers met in the vestry, to practise the tunes for the Sabbath. We all sat in the singingseats. I played the small bass-viol. Jamie sang counter, and the girls treble. Margaret had a sweet voice,—not very powerful. She sat in the seats because the other girls did.
I went home with her that night. She seemed so sad, so tender in her manner, that I came near speaking, — came near telling her how much she was to me, and owning my feeling about Jamie. But I did n’t quite. Something kept me from it. If there is such a thing as fate; ’t was that.
Going home, however, I made a resolution that the next night I would certainly know, from her own lips, whether it was me she liked, or Jamie.
I walked slowly home, and directly upstairs to bed. I lay awake a long time, heard father and mother go to their chamber, then Mary and Sophy to theirs. At last I wondered what had become of Jamie.
I pushed aside the window-curtain and looked out. ’T was bright moonlight. I saw Jamie coming over the hill from Mr. Nathaniel’s, He came in softly. I pretended sleep. He was still so long that I looked up to see what he could be doing. He was leaning his elbow on the desk, looking straight at the floor, thinking.
All that night I lay awake, staring at the moonlight on the curtains. I was again on the old track, for I could not possibly imagine what he should have to say to Margaret at that hour.
Towards morning I fell asleep, and never woke till the people were getting ready for meeting. I hurried, for the instruments met before the rest to practise.
Nearly all the young folks sat in the seats. Jamie stood at the head of the back row, on the men’s side. His voice was worth all the rest. Margaret came in late. She looked like a beauty that day. Her place was at the head of the first row of girls. I, with my bass-viol, was behind all.
The minister read the hymn beginning with this verse, —
Chosen and made peculiar ground;
A little spot inclosed by grace,
Out of the world’s wide wilderness.”
While he was reading it, I saw her write a little note, and hand it across the alley to Jamie, He smiled, and wrote another back. After meeting, they had a talk. These things sound small enough now. But now I am neither young, nor in love, nor jealous.
That night was our last at home. After supper, I strolled off towards the meeting-house. ’T was about sundown. I walked awhile in the graveyard, and then followed the path into the wood at the back of it.
I see that I have been telling my story in a way to favor myself,—that oven now I am unwilling wholly to expose my folly. I could not, if I tried, tell how that night in the wood I was beset at once by jealousy, pride, love, and anger, and so wellnigh driven mad.
I passed from the wood to the open field, and reached the shore. The vessel lay at the wharf. I climbed the rigging, and watched the moon rising over the water. It must have been near midnight when I reached home.
The vessel sailed early in the morning. I did not see Margaret, — never bid her good-bye. After we were under way, and were out of the windings of the channel, Jamie came and leaned with me against the rail. And there in silence we stood until the homes of those we loved so well had faded from our sight.
Poor Jamie ! I knew afterwards how troubled he was at the way I treated him that summer. He wanted to be friendly, but I stood off. He wanted to speak of the folks at home, but I would never join him. At last he left off trying.
If he had not met with an accident., maybe I should never have spoken another kind word to him. It happened towards the end of the voyage. The schooner had wet her salt, and all hands were thinking of home. I was down in the cabin. I was marking a piece of meat to boil, — for then each fisherman carried his own provisions. All at once I heard something fall upon the deck. Then a great trampling. I hurried up, and saw them lifting up Jamie. He had fallen from the rigging. It was old and rotten. They carried him down, and laid him in his berth. He would n’t have known, if they had dropped him into the sea.
When I saw him stretched out there, every unkind feeling left me. My old love for him came back. All I could think of was what he said in our first talk, — “Then I wanted my mother.” None of us could say whether he would live or die. We feared for his head, because he took no notice, but seemed inclined to sleep. I wanted to do everything for him myself. I had borne him ill-will, but now my strong feelings all set towards him.
It was in the middle of the night that he first came to himself. ’T was a blowy night, and most of the crew were on deck. A couple of men were sleeping in their berths.
The cabin of a fishing-schooner is a dark, stifled place, with everything crowded into it. The berths were like a double row of shelves along the sides. In one of these, with his face not far from the beams overhead, was stretched my poor, ill-treated Jamie. I was so afraid he would die ! I had no pride then.
On this night I stood holding by the side of his berth, to steady myself. I turned away a moment to snuff the candle, and when I stepped back he looked up in my face and smiled. I could n’t help throwing my arms around his neck and kissing him. I never kissed a man before, — nor since.
“ Joseph has come back,” said he, with a smile.
I thought he was wandering, and made no answer. After that he frequently roused from his stupor and seemed inclined to talk.
One stormy night, when all hands were upon deck, he seemed like himself, only very sad, and began of his own accord to talk of what was always in my mind. He spoke low, being weak.
“ Joseph,” said he, “ there is one question I want to ask you.”
“ Hush! ” said I,— “ you must n’t talk, you must be quiet.” For I dreaded his coming to the point.
“ I can’t be quiet,” said he, “ and I must talk. You ’ve something against me. What is it ? ”
I made no answer.
“ But I know,” he continued. “ I have known all along. You’ve heard something about my old life. You think Mary is too good for me. And she is. But she is willing to take me just as I am. I’m not what I was. She has changed me. She will keep me from harm.”
“ Jamie,” said I, “ I don’t know what you mean. I ’ve heard nothing. I’m willing you should have Mary, — want you to.”
He looked perplexed.
“ Then what is it ? ” he asked.
I turned my head away, hardly knowing how to begin. At last I said, —
“I was n’t sure, Jamie, that you wanted Mary. You know there was some one else you were often with.”
He lay for some time without speaking. At last he said, slowly,—“ I see,—I see, —I see,”—three times. Then, turning his eyes away from me, he kept on,— “ What should you think, Joseph, if I were to tell you that I had seen Margaret before she came to your place ? ”
“ Seen Margaret ? ” I repeated.
“ Yes,” he replied; “ and I will tell you where. You see, when I found mother was dead, and nobody cared whether I went up or down in the world, that I turned downwards. I got with a bad set,—learned to drink and gamble. One night, in the streets of Boston, I got into a quarrel with a young man, a stranger. We were both drunk. I don’t remember doing it, but they told me afterwards that I stabbed him. This sobered us both. He was laid on a bod in an upper room in the Lamb Tavern. I was awfully frightened, thinking he would die. That was about two months before I shipped aboard the Eliza Ann.
“ After his wound was dressed, he begged me to go for his sister, and gave me the street and number. His name was Arthur Holden. His sister was your Margaret. Our acquaintance began at his bedside. We took turns in the care of him.
“ They were a family well off in the world, with nothing to trouble them but his wickedness. He would not be respectable, would go with bad company.
“ After he was well enough to be taken home, I never saw Margaret until that morning after the snow-storm.
I was very eager to go for her, for I felt sure, from what Mr. Nathaniel had said during the night, that she was the same.
“ Riding along, she told me all about Arthur’s course, and the grief he had caused them ever since. It had made her mother ill. He was roaming about the country, always in trouble, and it was on his account that she stayed behind, when her father and mother went South. She said he must have some one to befriend him in case of need.
“ And here,” continued he, “ was where I took a wrong step. I begged Margaret not to speak of our former acquaintance. I could not bear to have you all know. I was afraid Mary would despise me, she was so pure.
“ Margaret was willing to keep silence about it, for she would rather not have the people know of her brother, He would have been the talk of the neighborhood. Everybody would have been pitying her. She used to like to speak of him to me, because I was the only one who knew the circumstances.
“ But don’t think,” he continued, earnestly, “ that I would have married Mary and never told her. We had a long, beautiful talk the last evening. I had never before spoken quite freely of my feelings, though she must have seen what they were. But that night I told everything, — my past life, and all. And she forgave all, because she loved me.
“ I meant to tell you as soon as we were off; but you turned the cold shoulder, — you would not talk about home.”
Here he stopped. I hoped he would say no more, for every word he spoke made me feel ashamed. But he went on.
“ The day before we agreed to go this voyage, Margaret told me that Arthur was concealed somewhere in the neighborhood. She did n’t know what he had done, but only that he was running away from an officer. I found him out, and went every night to carry him something to eat.”
“ Why did n’t she tell me ? ” I exclaimed. “ I would have done the same.”
“ She would, perhaps,” said he, “ only that for some time you had acted so strangely. She never said a word, but I knew it troubled her. If I had only known of your feeling so, I would have told everything. But I thought you must see how much I cared for Mary. Everybody else was sure who Margaret loved, if you were not.
“ Oh, Joseph,” he continued, clasping my hand, “ how beautiful it will be, when we get home, now that everything is cleared up ! But I have n’t quite finished. Sunday, if you remember, Margaret came in late to meeting. While the hymn was being read, she wrote me on a slip of paper that Arthur was gone. I wrote her back, 'Good news.’ Afterwards she told me that he came in the night to her bedroom-window to bid her good-bye,—that he had promised her he certainly would do better. Margaret was in better spirits that day than I had seen her for a long while. I thought there had been an explanation between you two. Never fear, Joseph, but that she loves you.”
Jamie seemed tired after talking so much, and soon after fell asleep. I crept into the berth underneath him. I felt like creeping somewhere. Sleep was long coming, and no sooner was I unconscious of things about me than I began to dream bad dreams. I thought I was stumbling along in the dark. ’T was over graves. I fell over a heap of earth, and heard the stones drop down into one newly made. As I was trying to walk away, Margaret came to meet me. “ You did n’t hid me good-bye,” said she, smiling ; “ but it’s not too late now.” Then she held out her hand. I took it, but the touch waked me. ’T was just like a dead hand.
I kept sleeping and waking; and every time I slept, the same dream came to me, — exactly the same. At last I rushed upon deck, seat a man below, and took his place. He was glad to go, and I was glad to be where the wind was blowing and everything in commotion.
The next day I told Jamie my dream. He said it was a lucky one, and he hoped it meant two weddings. So I thought no more of it. I was never superstitious : my mother had taught me better.
We had just started for home, but this gale blew us off our course. Soon after, however, the wind shifted to the eastward, and so kept, for the biggest part of the time, until we sighted Boston Lights. Jamie was nearly well. Still he could not walk much. He was quite lame. The skipper thought some of the small bones of the foot were put out. But Jamie did n’t seem to care anything about his feet. He was just as gay as a lark, singing all day.
As soon as we caught sight of The Mountains, we ran up our flag. It was about noon, and the skipper calculated on dropping anchor in the channel by sundown, at the farthest. And so we should, but, the wind hauled, and we could n’t lay our course. Tacking is slow work, especially all in sight of home. About ten o’clock in the evening we made Wimple’s Creek. Then we had the tide in our favor, and so drifted into the channel. Our bounty was n’t quite out, or we should have gone straight in to the wharf, over everything.
When things were made snug, we pulled ashore in the boat. It being in the night, we went just as we were, in fishermen’s rig. ’T was a wet, drizzly, chilly night, so dark we could hardly make out the landing. We coaxed Jamie to stop under a shed while I went for a horse. I was the only one of the crew who lived beyond the meeting-house. But I had so much to think of, was so happy, thinking I was home again, and that everything would be right, that I never minded being alone. Passing by the graveyard made me remember my dream.
“ Joseph,” said I to myself, “ you don’t dare walk through there !” ’T was only a post-and-rail fence, and I sprang over, to show myself I dared do it. I felt noways agitated until I found, that, on account of its being so dark, I was stumbling just as I had dreamed. I kept on, however; for, by going that way, I could reach home by a short cut. When I got behind the meeting-house I nearly fell down over a heap of earth. My fall started a few stones, and I could hear them drop. Then my courage left me. I shook with fear. I hardly had strength to reach the road. That was the first time it occurred to me that I might not find all as I left them.
As I came to dwelling - houses, however, I grew calm again, ami even smiled at my foolishness, — or tried to.
Mr. Nathaniel’s house came before ours. I saw there was a light in the kitchen, and stepped softly through the back-yard, thinking some one might be sick. The windows were small and high. The curtains were made of house-paper. One of them was not quite let down. I looked in underneath it, and saw two old women sitting by the fire. Something to cat was set out on a table, and the teapot was on the hearth. One stick had broken in two. The smoking brands stood up in the corners. There was just a flicker of flame in the candlestick. It went out while I was looking. I saw that the old women were dozing. I opened the outside-door softly, and stood in the porch. There was a latch-string to the inner one. As soon as I pulled it the door opened. In my agitation I forgot there was a step up, and so stumbled forward into the room. They both started to their feet, holding on by the pommels of the chairs. They were frightened.
“ What are you here for ? ” I gasped out.
“ Watching with the dead ! ” whispered one of them.
They looked at each other; they knew me then.
I remember their eyes turning towards the front-room door, of placing my hand on the latch, of standing by a table between the front-windows, of a coffin resting on the white cloth, of people crowding about me,—but nothing more that night. Nothing distinctly for weeks and months. Some confused idea I have of being led about at a funeral, of being told I must sit with the mourners, of the bearers taking off their hats, of being held back from the grave. But a black cloud rests over all. I cannot pierce it. I have no wish to. I can’t even tell whether I really took her cold hand in mine, and bid her good-bye, or whether that was one of the terrible dreams which came to me every night. I know that at last I refused to go to bed, but walked all night in the fields and woods.
I believe that insane people always know the feelings and the plans of those about them. I knew they were thinking of taking me to an asylum. I knew, too, that I was the means of Jamie’s being sick, and that they tried to keep it from me. I read in their faces, — “ Jamie got a fever that wet night at the shore ; but don’t tell Joseph.”
As I look back upon that long gloom, a shadowy remembrance comes to me of standing in the door-way of a darkened chamber. A minister in white bands stood at the foot of the bed, performing the marriage - ceremony. I remember Jamie’s paleness, and the heavenly look in Mary’s face, as she stood at the bedside, holding his right hand in hers. Mother passed her hand over my head, and whispered to me that Mary wanted to take care of him.
One of my fancies was, that a dark bird, like a vulture, constantly pursued me. All day I was trying to escape him, and all the while I slept he was at my pillow.
As I came to myself I found this to be a form given by my excited imagination to a dark thought which would give me no rest. It was the idea that my conduct had been the means of Margaret’s death. I never dared question. They said it was fever,—that others died of the same. If I could but have spoken to her, — could but have seen, once more, the same old look and smile ! This was an ever-present thought.
But I did afterwards. I told her everything. She knows my folly and my grief.
It was in the night-time. I was walking through the woods, on the road to Swampsey Village. Margaret walked beside me for a long way. Just before she left me, she said, —
“ Do you hear the surf on the beach ? ” I said, “ Yes, I hear the surf.”
“ And what is it saying ? ”
I listened a moment, then answered, — “ It says, ‘ Woe ! woe ! woe ! ’ ”
She said, “ Listen again.”
While I was listening, she disappeared. But a moment afterwards I heard a voice speaking in the midst of the surf’s roaring. It was just as plain and distinct as the minister’s from the pulpit. It said, “ Endure ! endure ! endure.”
I might think that all this, even my seeing Margaret, was only a creation of my disordered mind, were it not for something happening afterwards which proved itself.
One evening, about twilight, I walked through the graveyard, and stood leaning against her tombstone. I soon knew that she was coming, for I heard the ringing sound in the air which always came before her. A moment after, she stood beside me. She placed her hand on my heart, and said, “Joseph, all is right here,” — then upon my forehead, and said, “ But here all is wrong.”
Then she told me there was a ship ready to sail from Boston, and that I must go in her, — said it troubled her that I wasted my life so. She gave me the name of the ship and of the captain, and told me when to go.
I did exactly as she said. And it all came true. When the captain saw me, he started back and exclaimed, —
“ What sent you here ? ”
I said, “ An angel.”
“ And an angel told me you were coming,” he replied.
Active work saved me. For years I never dared rest. I shrank back from a leisure hour as from a dark chasm.
The greater part of my life has been passed upon the sea. As I approached middle age, people would joke me upon, my single life. They could never know what a painful chord they struck, and I could never tell them. Beautiful girls were pointed out to me. I could not see them. Margaret’s face always came between.
This bantering a single man is very common. I often wonder that people dare do it. How does the world know what early disappointment he may be mourning over ? Is it anything to laugh about, that he has nobody to love him,— nobody he may call his own, — no home ? Seated in your pleasant family-circle, the bright faces about him fade away, and he sees only a vision of what might have been. Yet nobody supposes we have feeling. No mother, dressing up her little boy for a walk, thinks of our noticing how cunning he looks, with the feather in his hat. No mother, weeping over the coffin of her child, dreams that we have pity and sorrow in our hearts for her.
Thus the world shuts us out from all sympathy with its joys or afflictions. But the world does n’t know everything,— least of all what is passing in the heart of an old bachelor.
Jamie and Mary are old folks now. He never went to sea after his marriage. Father set him up in a store. I should make it my home with them, but they live at the old place, and I am always better away from there.
Mrs. Maylie was right about my noticing children. I like to sit on the stone wall and talk with them. No face comes between theirs and mine, — unless it’s the little girl’s who moved away. Farmer Hill’s is a pleasant family. His grandchildren call me Captain Joseph. I humor them almost as much as he does. When huckleberries come, they wonder why I won’t let them take that little rough - looking basket that hangs over the looking-glass. 'T is the one Margaret made that night in the hut on The Mountains.