AT nine next morning, prayers and breakfast being despatched, — during which Parson Brummem had determined to leave Reuben to the sting of his conscience, — the master appears in the school-room with his wristbands turned up, and his ferule in hand, to enforce judgment upon the culprit. It had been a frosty night, and the cool October air had not tempted the boys to any wide movement out of doors, so that no occupant of the parsonage had as yet detected the draggled white banner that hung from the prison-window.
Through Keziah, the parson gave orders for Master Johns to report himself at once in the school-room. The maid returned presently, clattering down the stairs in a great fright, —
“ Reuben's gone, Sir ! ”
“Gone?” says the tall master, astounded. He represses a wriggle of healthful satisfaction on the part of his pupils by a significant lift of his ferule, then moves ponderously up the stairs for a personal visit to the chamber of the culprit. The maid had given true report; there was no one there. Never had he been met with such barefaced rebellion. Truants, indeed, there had been in days gone by; but that a pupil under discipline should have tied together Mistress Brummem’s linen and left it draggling in this way, in the sight of every passer-by, was an affront to his authority which he had not deemed possible.
An hour thereafter, and he had assigned the morning’s task to the boys (which he had ventured to lengthen by a third, in view — as he said, with a grim humor — of their extremely cheerful spirits); established Mistress Brummem in temporary charge, and was driving his white-faced nag down the road which led toward Ashfield. The frosted pools crackled under the wheels of the old chaise ; the heaving horse wheezed as the stern parson gave his loins a thwack with the slackened reins and urged him down the turnpike which led away through the ill-kept fields, from the rambling, slatternly town. Stone walls that had borne the upheaval of twenty winters reeled beside the way. Broad scars of ochreous earth, from which the turnpike-menders had dug material to patch the wheel-track, showed ooze of yellow mud with honeycombs of ice rimming their edges, and supporting a thin film of sod made up of lichens and the roots of five-fingers. Raw, shapeless stones, and bald, gray rocks, only half unearthed, cumbered the road ; while bunches of dwarfed birches, browsed by straying cattle, added to the repulsiveness of the scene. Nor were the inclosed lands scarcely more inviting. Lean shocks of corn that had swayed under the autumn winds stretched at long intervals across fields of thin stubble ; a few half-ripened pumpkins, hanging yet to the seared vines, — whose leaves had long since been shrivelled by the frost, —showed their shining green faces on the dank soil. In other fields, overrun with a great shaggy growth of rag-weed, some of the parson’s flock — father and blue-nosed boys — were lifting poor crops of “bilewhites” or “merinos.” From time to time, a tall house jutted upon the road, with unctuous pig-sty under the lee of the garden-fence and wood-pile sprawling into the highway, where the parson would rein up his nag, and make inquiry after the truant Reuben.
A half-dozen of these stops and inquiries proved wholly vain; yet the sturdy parson urged his poor, heaving nag forward, until he had come to the little gatehouse which thrust itself quite across the high road at some six miles’ distance from Bolton Church. No stray boy had passed that day. Thereupon the parson turned, and, after retracing his way for two miles or more, struck into a cross-road which led westward. There were the same fruitless inquiries here at the scattered houses, and when he came at length upon the great riverroad along which the boy had passed at the first dawn there was no one who could tell anything of him ; and by noon the parson reëntered the village, disconsolate and hungry. He was by no means a vindictive man, and could very likely have forgiven Reuben the blow he had struck. He had no conception of the hidden causes which had wrought in the lad such burst of anger. He conceived only that Satan had taken hold of him, and he had strong faith in the efficacy of the rod for driving Satan out.
After dinner he administered a sharp lecture to his pupils, admonishing them of the evils of disobedience, and warning them that “ God sometimes left bad boys to their own evil courses, and to run like the herd of swine into which the unclean spirits entered, — of which account might be found in Mark v. 13, — down a steep place, and be choked.”
The parson still had hope that Reuben might appear at evening ; and he forecast a good turn which he would make, in such event, upon the parable of the Prodigal Son (with the omission, however, of the fatted calf). But the prodigal did not return. Next day there was the same hope, but fainter. Still, the prodigal Reuben did not return. Whereupon the parson thought it his duty to write to Brother Johns, advising him of the escape of Reuben,—“ he having stolen away in the night, tying together and much draggling Mrs. Brummem's pair of company sheets, (no other being out of wash,) and myself following after vainly, the best portion of a day, much perturbed in spirit, in my chaise. I duly instructed my parishioners to report him, if found, which has not been the case. I trust that in the paternal home, if he has made his way thither, he may be taught to open his ‘ear to discipline,’ and ‘return from iniquity.’ Job xxxvi. 10.”
The good parson was a type of not a few retired country ministers in New England forty years ago: a heavyminded, right-meaning man ; utterly inaccessible to any of the graces of life ; no bird ever sang in his ear ; no flower ever bloomed for his eye ; a man to whom life was only a serious spiritual toil, and all human joys a vanity to be spurned ; preaching tediously long sermons, and counting the fatigue of the listeners a fitting oblation to spiritual truth ; staggering through life with a great burden of theologies on his back, which it was his constant struggle to pack into smaller and smaller compass, — not so much, we fear, for the relief of others as of himself. Let us hope that the burden — like that of Christian in the “Pilgrim’s Progress”— slipped away before he entered the Celestial Presence, and left him free to enjoy and admire, more than he found time to do on earth, the beauty of that blessed angel in the higher courts whose name is Charity.
REUBEN, meantime, pushed boldly down the open road, until broad sunlight warned him to a safer path across the fields. He had been too much of a rambler during those long Saturday afternoons at Ashfield, to have any dread of a tramp through swamp-land or briers. “ Who cared for wet feet or a scratch ? Who cared for a rough scramble through the bush, or a wade (if it came to that) through ever so big a brook ? Who cared for old Brummem and his whitefaced nag ? ” In fact, he had the pleasure of seeing the parson’s venerable chaise lumbering along the public road at a safe distance away, an hour before noon ; and he half wished he were near enough to give the jolly old nag a good switching across the flanks. He had begged a bit of warm breakfast in the morning at an outlying house, and at the hour when he caught sight of his pursuer he was lying under the edge of a wood, lunching upon the gingerbread Keziah had provided, and beginning to reckon up soberly what was to be done.
His first impulse had been simply to escape a good flogging and the taunts of the boys. He had shunned the direct Ashfield turnpike, because he knew pursuit— if there were any —would lead off in that direction. From the river road he might diverge into that, if he chose. But if he went home, — what then ? The big gray eyes of Aunt Eliza he knew would greet him at the door, looking thunderbolts. Adèle, and maybe Rose, would welcome him in kindly way enough, — but very pityingly, when the Doctor should summon him quietly into his low study. For they knew, and he knew, that the big rod would presently come down from its place by the Major’s sword, — a rod that never came down, except it had some swift office to perform. And next day, perhaps, — whatever might be the kindly pleadings of Adèle, (thus far he flattered himself,) the old horse Dobbins would be in harness to carry him back to Bolton Hill, where of a surety some new birch was already in pickle for the transgressor. Or, if this mortification were spared, there would be the same weary round of limitations and exactions from which he longed to break away. And as he sits there under the lee of the wood, — seeing presently Brummem’s heavy cavalry wheel and retire from pursuit, — the whole scene of his last altercation in the study at Ashfield drifts before him again clear as day.
“ I ’m bad,” (this was the way he broke out upon the old man alter the usual discipline,)— “ I know I ’m bad, and all the worse for the way you try to make me good. There’s Phil Elderkin, now,— you say to me, over and over, ‘See Phil, he does n't do so.’ But he does, — only his father knows he does ; he a n’t punished, if he is n’t in at nine o’clock for prayers, without telling where he 's been. It 's all underhanded with me, and with Phil it ’s all aboveboard. I have to read proper books that I don t care a copper about, and so I steal ’em into my chamber ; and Aunt Eliza, prying about, finds ' Arabian Nights’ hid under the sheets ; and then there ’s a row ! Phil reads ’em ; and there’s nobody forever looking over his shoulder to see what he s reading. I think Phil's father trusts him more than you do me.”
“But, my son, you tell me you are bad, and that I can’t trust you.”
“You can’t, because you don't; and that makes me feel the Devil in me.”
“ My son ! ”
“ I know it ; you think it ’s a bad word ; but Phil says Devil ; and it ’s true. And besides, you forbid my going where the other boys go, and that maddens me and makes me swear, and the fellows laugh ; and because I can't go, I do something worse.”
“ My poor Reuben, do you know where such badness will lead you ? ”
“ Oh, yes, I know ; I 've heard it often enough ; it 'll lead to hell, I guess.”
“ Reuben ! Reuben ! what does this mean ? ”
“ I can’t help it, father. There ’s Phil and Gus Hapgood went chestnutting the other Saturday, and because you were afraid I should n’t be back before sundown you kept me at home. I know I was ten times worse than if I ’d been out chestnutting all night and half Sunday. I hate Sunday!”
“ That, Reuben, is because you are wicked.”
“ Yes, I suppose so.”
“ I am glad, my son, that you see your sins and admit them.”
“ There’s not much comfort in that,” Reuben had said. “ I ’m none the better for it.”
“ It’s the first step, my son, toward repentance.”
Reuben laughed a bitter laugh,—a laugh that made his father shudder.
“ Sit down with me now, Reuben, and read a chapter in God’s word ; and after it we will pray for His help.”
“ There it is again ! ” the boy had replied. “ I knew it would come to that! ”
“ And do you refuse, Reuben ? ”
“ No, Sir, I don’t, because I know it would n't be any use ; for if I did, I should have to go up stairs and mope in my chamber, and have Aunt Eliza staring in upon me as if I was a murderer. But I sha’n’t know what you read five minutes after.”
“ My son, don’t you know that will be an offence against God ? ”
“ I can’t help it.”
“ You can help it, my son !—you can !”
And at this the Doctor, in an agony of spirit, (the boy recalled it perfectly,) had risen and paced back and forth in his study; then, after a little, threw himself upon his knees near to Reuben, and prayed silently, with his hands clasped.
The boy had melted somewhat at this, and still more when the father rose with traces of a tear in his eye.
“ Are you not softened now, my son ? ”
“ I always am when I see you going on that way,” said Reuben.
“ My poor son ! ”—and he had drawn the boy to him, gazing into the face from which the blue eyes of the lost Rachel looked calmly out, moved beyond himself.
If, indeed, the lost Rachel had been really there between the two, to interpret the heart of the son to the father !
Is Reuben whimpering as the memory of this last tender episode comes to his memory ? What would Phil or the rest of the Ashfield fellows say to a runaway boy sniffling under the edge of the wood ? Not he, by George ! And he munches at his roll of gingerbread with a new zest,—confirming his vagabond purpose, that just now wavered, with a thought of those tedious Saturday nights and the “ reasons annexed,” and Aunt Eliza’s sharp elbow nudging him upon the hard pew-benches, as she gives a muffled, warning whisper, — “ Attend to the sermon, Reuben ! ”
And so, with glorious visions of Sindbad the Sailor in his mind, and a cheery remembrance of Crusoe when he cut himself adrift from home and family for his wonderful adventures, Reuben pushes gallantly on through the woods in the direction of the river. He knows that somewhere, up or down, a sloop will be found bound for New York. From the heights around Ashfield, he has seen, time and again, their white sails specking some distant field of blue. Once, too, upon a drive with the Doctor, he had seen these marvellous vessels from a nearer point, and had looked wistfully upon their white decks and green companion-ways.
Overhead the jays cried from the bare chestnut-trees ; from time to time the whirr of a brood of partridges startled him ; the red squirrels chattered ; still he pushed on, catching a chance dinner at a wayside farm-house, and by night had come within plain sight of the water. The sloop Princess lay at the Glastenbury dock close by, laden with wood and potatoes, and bound for New York the next morning. The kind-hearted skipper, who was also the owner of the vessel, took a sudden fancy to the sore-footed, blue-eyed boy who came aboard to bargain for a passage to the city. The truant was not, indeed, overstocked with ready money, but was willing to pawn what valuables he had about him, and hinted at a rich aunt in the city who would make good what moneys were lacking. The skipper has a shrewd suspicion how the matter stands, and, with a kindly sympathy for the lad, consents to give him passage on condition he drops a line into the mail to tell his friends which way he has gone ; and taking a dingy sheet of paper from the locker under his berth, he seats Reuben with pen in hand at the cabin-table, whereupon the boy writes, —
“ DEAR FATHER,— I have come away from school. I don't know as you will like it much. I walked all the way from Bolton, and my feet are very sore ; I don’t think I could walk home. Captain Saul says he will take me by the way of New York. I can go and see Aunt Mabel. I will tell her you are all well.
“ How is Adèle and Phil and Rose and the others ? I hope you won’t be very angry. I don’t think Mr. Brummem's is much of a school. I don't learn so much there as I learned at home. I don’t think the boys there are good companions. I think they are wicked boys sometimes. Mr. Brummem says they are. And he whips awful hard.
“ Yr affect. son,
And the skipper, taking the letter ashore to post it, adds upon the margin, —
“ I opened the within to see who the boy was ; and this is to say, I shall take him aboard, and shall be off Chatham Red Quarries to-morrow night and next day morning, and, if you signal from the dock, can send him ashore. Or, if this don’t come in time, my berth is Peck Slip, in York.
“ JOHN SAUL, Sloop Princess.”
Next day they go drifting down the river. A quiet, smoky October day; the distant hills all softened in the haze ; the near shores green with the freshspringing aftermath. Reuben lounged upon the sunny side of the mainsail, thinking, with respectful pity, of the poor fagged fellows in roundabouts who were seated at that hour before the red desks in Parson Brummem’s schoolroom. At length he was enjoying a taste of that outside life of which he had known only from travellers’ books, or from such lucky ones as the accomplished Tavern Boody. Henceforth he, too, would have his stories to tell. The very rustle of the water around the prow of the good sloop Princess was full of Sindbad echoes. Was it not remotely possible that he, too, like Captain Saul sitting there on the taffrail smoking his pipe, should have his vessel at command some day, and sail away wherever Fortune, with her iris-hued streamers, might beckon ? Not much of sentiment in the boy as yet, beyond the taste of freedom, or —what is equivalent to it in the half-taught — vagabondage. As for Rose, what does she know of sloops and the world ? And Adèle ? Well, from this time forth at least, the boy can match her nautical experience with an experience of his own. Possibly his humiliation and conscious ignorance at the French girl's story of the sea were, as much as anything, at the bottom of this wild vagary of his. For ten hours the Captain lies off Chatham Quarries, taking on additional freight there ; but there is no signal from the passenger-dock. The next morning the hawsers were cast off, and the mainsail run up again, while the Princess surged away into the middle of the current.
“ Now, my boy, we 're in for a sail! ” said Captain Saul.
" I ’m glad,” said Reuben, who would have been doubly glad, if he had known of his narrow escape at the last landing.
“ I suppose you have n’t much of a kit ? ” said the Captain.
The truth is, that a pocket-comb was the extent of Reuben’s equipment for the voyage. It came out on further talk with the Captain ; and the boy was mortified to make such small show of appliances.
‘‘Well, well,” says the Captain, “we must keep this toggery for the city, you know”; and he finds a blue woollen shirt, — for the boy is of good height for his years, — and a foremast hand shortens in a pair of old duck trousers for him, in which Reuben paces up and down the deck, with a mortal dread at first lest the boom may make a dash against the wind and knock him overboard, in quite sailorly fashion. The beef is hard indeed ; but a page or two out of “ Dampier’s Voyages,” of which an old copy is in the cabin, makes it seem all right. The shores, too, are changing from hour to hour ; a brig drifts within hail of them, which Reuben watches, half envying the fortunate fellows in red shirts and tasselled caps aboard, who are bound to Cuba, and in a fortnight’s time can pluck oranges off the trees there, to say nothing of pineapples and sugar-cane.
Over the Saybrook Bar there is a plunging of the vessel which horrifies him somewhat ; but smooth weather follows, with long lines of hills half-faded on the rim of the water, and the country sounds at last all dead. A day or two of this, with only a mild autumnal breeze, and then a sharp wind, with the foam flying over forecastle and wood-pile, between the winding shores, toward Flushing Bay, brings sight of great white houses with green turf coming down to the rocks, where the waves play and break among the drifted sea-weed. Captain Saul is fast at his helm, while the big boom creaks and crashes from side to side as he beats up the narrowing channel, rounding Throg's Point, where the light-house and old whitewashed fort stand shining in the sun, — skirting low rocky islands, doubling other points, dashing at halftide through the roar and whirl of Hell Gate, — Reuben glowing with excitement, and mindful of Kidd and of his buried treasure along these shores. Then came the turreted Bridewell, and at last the spires, the forest of masts, with all that prodigious, crushing, bewildering effect with which the first sight of a great city weighs upon the thought of a country-taught boy.
“ Now mind the rogues, Reuben,” said Captain Saul, when they were fairly alongside the dock; “and keep by your bunk for a day or two, boy. Don’t stray too far from the vessel, — Princess, Captain Saul, remember.”
THE Doctor is not a little shocked by the note which he receives from Reuben, and which comes too late for the interception of the boy upon the river. He writes to Mrs. Brindlock, begging the kind offices of her husband in looking after the lad, until such time as he can come down for his recovery. The next day, to complete his mortification, he receives the epistle of Brother Brummem.
The good Doctor cannot rightly understand, in his simplicity, how such apparent headlong tendency to sin should belong to this child of prayer. At times he thinks he can trace back somewhat of the adventurous spirit of the poor lad to the restless energy of his father, the Major; was it not possible also—’and the thought weighed upon him grievously — that he inherited from him besides a waywardness in regard to spiritual matters, and that “ the sins of the fathers ” were thus visited terribly upon the children ? The growing vagabondage of the boy distressed him the more by reason of his own responsible connection with the little daughter of his French friend. How should he, who could not guide in even courses the child of his own loins, presume to conduct the little exile from the heathen into paths of piety ?
And yet, strange to say, the character of the blithe Adèle, notwithstanding the terrible nature of her early associations, seems to fuse more readily into agreement with the moral atmosphere about her than does that of the recreant boy. There may not be, indeed, perfect accord ; but there are at least no sharp and fatal antagonisms to overcome. If the lithe spirit of the girl bends under the grave teachings of the Doctor, it bends with a charming grace, and rises again smilingly, when sober speech is done, like the floweret she is. And if her mirth is sometimes irrepressible through the long hours of their solemn Sundays, it breaks up like bubbles from the deep quiet bosom of a river, cheating even the grave parson to a smile that seems scarcely sinful.
“ Oh, that sermon was so long, — so long to-day, New Papa ! I am sure Dame Tourtelot pinched the Deacon, or he would never, never have been awake through it all.”
Or, may-be, she steals a foot out of doors on a Sunday to the patch of violets, gathering a little bunch, and appeals to the Doctor, who comes with a great frown on his face,—
“New Papa, is it most wicked to carry flowers or fennel to church ? Godmother always gave me a flower on holydays.”
And the Doctor is cheated of his rebuke ; nay, he sometimes wonders, in his self-accusing moments, if the ArchEnemy himself has not lodged under cover of that smiling face of hers, and is thus winning him to a sinful gayety. There are times, too, when, after some playful badinage of hers which has touched too nearly upon a grave theme, she interrupts his solemn admonition with a sudden rush toward him, and a tap of those little fingers upon his furrowed cheek: —
“ Don’t look so solemn, New Papa. Nobody will love you, if you look in that way.”
What if this, too, be some temptation of the Evil One, withdrawing him from the grave thought of eternal things, diverting him from the solemn aims of his mission ?
There were snatches, too, of Latin hymns, taught her by the godmother, and only half remembered, — hymns of glorious rhythm, which, as they tripped from her halting tongue, brought a great burden of sacred meanings, and were full of the tenderest associations of her childhood. To these, too, the Doctor was half pained to And himself listening, sometimes at nightfall of a Sunday, with an indulgent ear, and stoutly querying with himself if Satan could fairly lurk in such holy words as
Adèle, as we have said, had accepted the duties of attendance upon the somewhat long sermons of the Doctor and of weekly instructions in the Catechism, with a willing spirit, and had gone through them cheerfully,— not, perhaps, with the grave air of devotion which by education and inheritance belonged to the sweet face of her companion, Rose. Nay, she had sometimes rallied Rose upon the exaggerated seriousness which fastened upon her face whenever the Bible tasks came up. But Adèle, with that strong leaning which exists in every womanly nature toward religious faith of some kind, had grown into a respect for even the weightiest of the Christian gravities around her ; not that they became the sources of a new trust, but, through a sympathy that a heart like hers could not resist, they rallied an old childish one into fresh action. The strange, serious worship of those about her was only a new guise —so at least it seemed to her simplicity — in which to approach the same good God whom the godmother with herself had praised with chants that rang once under the dim arches of the old chapel, smoky with incense and glowing with pictures ot saints, at Marseilles. And if sometimes, as the shrill treble of Miss Almira smote upon her ear, she craved a better music, and remembered the fragrant cloud rising from the silver censers as something more grateful than the smoke leaking from the joints of the stove-pipe in Ashfield meeting-house, and would have willingly given up Miss Eliza’s stately praises of her recitation for one good hug of the godmother,—she yet saw, or thought she saw, the same serene trust that belonged to her in the eyes of good Mistress Onthank, in the kind face of Mrs. Elderkin, and in the calm look of the Doctor when he lifted his voice every night at the parsonage in prayer for “all God’s people.”
Would it be strange, too, if in the heart of a girl taught as she had been, who had never known a mother’s tenderness, there should be some hidden leaning toward those traditions of the Romish faith in which a holy mother appeared as one whose favor was to be supplicated ? The worship of the Virgin was, indeed, too salient an object of attack among the heresies which the New England teachers combated, not to inspire a salutary caution in Adèle and entire concealment of any respect she might still feel for the Holy Mary. Nor was it so much a respect that shaped itself tangibly among her religious beliefs as a secret craving for that outpouring of maternal love denied her on earth, — a craving which found a certain repose and tender alleviation in entertaining fond regard for the sainted mother of Christ.
When, therefore, on one occasion, Miss Eliza had found among the toilet treasures of Adèle a little lithographic print of the Virgin, with the Christ’s head surrounded by a nimbus of glory, and in her chilling way had sneered at it as a heathen vanity, the poor child had burst into tears, and carried the treasure to her bosom to guard it from sacrilegious touch.
The spinster, rendered watchful, perhaps, by this circumstance, had on another day been still more shocked to find in a corner of the escritoire of Adèle a rosary, and with a very grave face had borne it down for the condemnation of the Doctor.
“ Adaly, my child, I trust you do not let this bawble bear any part in your devotions ? ”
And the Doctor made a movement as if he would have thrown it out of the window.
“No, New Papa ! ” said Adèle, darting toward him, and snatching it from his hand, with a fire in her eye he had never seen there before,—a welling-up for a moment of the hot Provençal blood in her veins ; “ de grâce ! je vous en prie! ” (in ecstatic moments her tongue ran to her own land and took up the echo of her first speech,) — then growing calm, as she held it, and looked into the pitying, wondering eyes of the poor Doctor, said only, “It was my mother’s.”
Of course the kind old gentleman never sought to reclaim such a treasure, but in his evening prayer besought God fervently “to overrule all things, — our joys, our sorrows, our vain affections, our delight in the vanities of this world, our misplaced longings, — to overrule all to His glory and the good of those that love Him.”
The Doctor writes to his friend Maverick at about this date, —
“ Your daughter is still in the enjoyment of excellent health, and is progressing with praiseworthy zeal in her studies. I cannot too highly commend her general deportment, by which she has secured the affection and esteem of all in the parish who have formed an acquaintance with her. In respect of her religious duties, she is cheerful and punctual in the performance of them ; and I find it hard to believe that they should prove only a ‘ savor of death unto death.’ She listens to ray discourse, on most occasions, with a commendable patience, and seems kindly disposed toward my efforts. Still I could wish much to see in her a little more burdensome sense of sin and of the enormity of her transgressions. We hope that she may yet be brought to a realizing sense of her true condition.
“She is fast becoming a tall and graceful girl, and it may soon be advisable to warn her against the vanities that overtake those of her age who are still engrossed with carnal things. This advice would come with a good grace, perhaps, from the father.
“ A little rosary found among her effects has been the occasion of some anxieties to my sister and myself, lest she might still have a leaning toward the mockeries of the Scarlet Woman of Babylon ; and I was at first disposed to remove it out of her way. But being advised that it is cherished as a gift of her mother, I have thought it not well to take from her the only memento of so near and, I trust, dear a relative.
“ May God have you, my friend, in His holy keeping ! ”
REUBEN, taking the advice of Captain Saul, with whom he would cheerfully have gone to China, had the sloop been bound thither, came back to his bunk on the first night after a wandering stroll through the lower part of the city. It is quite possible that he would have done the same, viewing the narrowness of his purse, upon the second night, had he not encountered at noon a gentleman in close conversation with the Captain, whom he immediately recognized — though he had seen him but once before — as Mr. Brindlock. This person met him very kindly, and with a hearty shake of the hand, “ hoped he would do his Aunt Mabel the honor of coming to stay with them.”
There was an air of irony in this speech which Reuben was quick to perceive ; and the knowing look of Captain Saul at once informed him that all the romance of his runaway voyage was at an end. Both Mr. and Mrs. Brindlock received him at their home with the utmost kindness, and were vastly entertained by his story of the dismal life upon Bolton Hill, the pursuit of the parson with his white-faced nag, and the subsequent cruise in the sloop Princess. Mrs. Brindlock, a good-natured, selfindulgent woman, was greatly taken with the unaffected country naturalness of the lad, and was agreeably surprised at his very presentable appearance : for Reuben at this date — he may have been thirteen or fourteen — was of good height for his years, with a profusion of light, wavy hair, a thoughtful, blue eye, and a lurking humor about the lip which told of a great faculty for mischief. There was such an absence, moreover, in this city home, of that stiffness with which his Aunt Eliza had such a marvellous capacity for investing everything about her, that the lad found himself at once strangely at his ease. Was it, perhaps, (the thought flashed upon him,) because it was a godless home ? The spinster aunt had sometimes expressed a fear of this sort, whenever stories of the Brindlock wealth had reached them. Howbeit, he was on most familiar footing with both master and mistress before two days had gone by.
“Aunt Mabel,” he had said, “ I suppose you ’ll be writing to the old gentleman, and do please take my part. I can’t go back to that abominable Brummem ; if I do, I shall only run away again, and go farther: do tell him so.”
“But why could n’t you have stayed at home, pray ? Did you quarrel with the little French girl ? eh, Reuben ? ”
The boy flushed.
“ Not with Adèle, — never ! ”
Brindlock, a shrewd, successful merchant, was, on his part, charmed with the adventurous spirit of the boy, and with the Captain’s report of the way in which the truant had conducted negotiations for the trip. From all which it came about, that Mrs. Brindlock, in writing to the Doctor to inform him of Reuben’s safe arrival, added an urgent request that the boy might be allowed to pass the winter with them in New York ; in which event he could either attend school, (there being an excellent one in her neighborhood,) or, if the Doctor preferred, Mr. Brindlock could give him some light employment in the countingroom, and try his capacity for business.
At first thought, this proposition appeared very shocking to the Doctor; but, to his surprise, Miss Eliza was strongly disposed to entertain it. Her ambitious views for the family were flattered by it; and she kindly waived, in view of them, her objections to the godless life which she feared her poor sister was leading.
The Doctor was not fully persuaded by her, and took occasion to consult, as was his wont in practical affairs, his friend Squire Elderkin.
“ I rather like the plan,” said the Squire, after some consideration, — “quite like it, Doctor, — quite like it.
“ You see, Doctor,” — and he slipped a finger into a buttonhole of the good parson's, (the only man in the parish who would have ventured upon such familiarity,) — “ I think we ’ve been a little strict with Reuben, — a little strict. He ’s a fine, frank, straight - for'ard lad, but impulsive, — impulsive, Doctor. Your father, the Major, had a little of it, — quicker blood than you or I, Doctor. We can’t wind up every boy like a clock ; there ’s some that go with weights, and there ’s some that go with springs. Then, too, I think, Doctor, there ’s a little of the old Major’s fight in the boy. I think he has broken over a good many of our rules very much because the rules were there, and provoked him to try his strength.
“ Now, Doctor, there ’s been a good deal of this kind of thing, and our Aunt Eliza puts her foot down rather strongly, which won’t be a bugbear to the boy with Mrs. Brindlock; besides which, there’s vour old friend, Rev. Dr. Mowry, at the Fulton-Street Church close by ”—
“ So he is, so he is,” said the Doctor; “ I had forgotten that.”
“And then, to tell the truth, Doctor, between you and I,” (and the Squire was working himself into some earnestness,) “ I don’t believe that all the wickedness in the world is cooped up in the cities. In my opinion, the small towns have a pretty fair sprinkling, — a pretty fair sprinkling, Doctor; and if it ’s contagious, as I 've heard, I think I know of some places in country parishes that might be called infectious. And I tell you what it is Doctor, the Devil ” (and he twitched upon the Doctor's coat as if he were in a political argument)“ does n’t confine himself to large towns. He goes into the rural districts, in my opinion, about as regularly as the newspapers ; and he holds his ground a confounded sight longer.”
How much these views may have weighed with the Doctor it would be impossible to say. If they did not influence directly, they were certainly suggestive of considerations which did have their weight. The result was, that permission was given for the stay of Reuben, on condition that Mr. Brindlock could give him constant occupation, and that he should be regular in his attendance on the Sabbath at the Fulton-Street Church. Shortly after, the Doctor goes to the city, provided, by the watchful care of Miss Eliza, with a complete wardrobe for the truant boy, and bearing kind messages from the household. But chiefly it is the Doctor’s object to give his poor boy due admonition for his great breach of duty, and to insist upon his writing to the worthy Mr. Brummem a full apology for his conduct. He also engages his friend of the Fulton-Street parish to have an eye upon his son, and to report to him at once any wide departure from the good conduct he promises.
Reuben writes the apology insisted upon to Mr. Brummem in this style : —
“MY DEAR SIR, — I am sorry that I threw ‘Daboll’ in your face as I did, and hope you will forgive the same.
“ Yours respectfully.”
But after the Doctor's approval of this, the lad cannot help adding a postscript of his own to this effect: —
“ P. S. I hope old Whiteface did n’t lose a shoe when you drove out on the river road ? I saw you ; for I was sitting in the edge of the woods, eating Keziah’s gingerbread. Please thank her, and give my respects to all the fellows.”
Miss Johns considers it her duty to write a line of expostulation to her nephew, which she does, with faultless penmanship, in this strain : —
“ We were shocked to hear of your misconduct toward the worthy Mr. Brummem. I could hardly believe it possible that Master Reuben Johns had been guilty of such an indiscretion. Your running away was, I think, uncalled for, and the embankment upon the sloop, under the circumstances, was certainly very reprehensible. I trust that we shall hear only good accounts of you from this period forth, and that you will be duly grateful for your father's distinguished kindness in allowing you to stay in New York. I shall be happy to have you write to me an occasional epistle, and hope to see manifest a considerable improvement in your handwriting. Does Sister Mabel wear her ermine cape this winter ? I trust we shall hear of your constant attendance at the Fulton Street Church, and hear only commendation of you in whatever duties you may be called to engage. Adèle speaks of you often, and I think misses you very much indeed.”
Yet the spinster aunt was not used to flatter Reuben with any such mention as this. “ What can she mean,” said he, musingly, “by talking such stuff to me?”
Phil Elderkin, too, after a little, writes long letters that are full of the daily boy-life at Ashfield : —how “the chestnutting has been first-rate this year,” and he has a bushel of prime ones seasoning in the garret; — how Sam Throop, the stout son of the old postmaster, has had a regular tussle with the master in school, “ hot and heavy, over the benches, and all about, and Sam was expelled, and old Crocker got a black eye, and, darn him, he's got it yet ” ; — and how "somebody (name unknown) tied a smallish tin kettle to old Hobson’s sorrel mare’s tail last Saturday night, and the way she went down the street was a caution ! ” — and how Nat Boody has got a new fighting-dog, and such a ratter ! — and how Suke, “ the divine Suke, is, they say, going to marry the stagedriver. Sic transit gloria mulie— something,— for I ’ll be hanged, if I know the proper case.”
And there are some things this boisterous Phil writes in tenderer mood : — how “ Rose and Adèle are as thick as ever, and Adèle comes up pretty often to pass an evening, — glad enough, I guess, to get away from Aunt Eliza, — and I see her home, of course. She plays a stiff game of backgammon ; she never throws but she makes a point; she beats me.”
And from such letters the joyous shouts and merry halloos of the Ashfield boys come back to him again ; he hears the rustling of the brook, the rumbling of the mill ; he sees the wood standing on the hills, and the girls at the door-yard gates ; the hum of voices in the old academy catches his ear, and the drowsy song of the locusts coming in at the open windows all the long afternoons of August ; and he watches again the glancing feet of Rose — who was once Amanda — tripping away under the sycamores; and the city Mortimer bethinks him of another Amanda, of browner hue and in coquettish straw, idling along the same street, with reticule lightly swung upon her finger ; and the boy bethinks him of tender things he might have said in the character of Mortimer, but never did say, and of kisses he might have stolen, (in the character of Mortimer,) but never did steal.
And now these sights, voices, vagaries, as month after month passes in his new home, fade, — fade, yet somehow abide. The patter of a thousand feet are on the pavement around him. What wonder, if, in the surrounding din, the tranquillity of Ashfield, its scenes, its sounds, should seem a mere dream of the past? What wonder, if the solemn utterances from the old pulpit should be lost in the roar of the new voices ? The few months he was to spend in their hearing run into a score, and again into another score. Two or three years hence we shall meet him again, — changed, certainly ; but whether for better or for worse the sequel will show.
And Rose ? — and Adèle ?
Well, well, we must not overleap the quiet current of our story. While the May violets are in bloom, let us enjoy them and be thankful; and when the autumn flowers are come to take their places, let us enjoy those, too, and thank God.