"ONE more horse to shoe, Sandy. The man’s late, but he’s come a matter of ten mile, perhaps, over the cross road by Derby, yonder. Lead the critter up, boy, and give a look at the furnace.”
I stooped to replenish the glowing fire, then turned toward the door, made broad and high for entrance of man and beast, and giving a coarse frame to the winter landscape without. The trees fluttered their snow-plumed wings in the chill wind ; on the opposite hill a red light glared a response to our glowing smithy. It was the eye of elegant luxury confronting the eye of toil; for it shone from the windows of the only really fine mansion for miles around. I had always felt grateful to those stone walls for standing there, surrounded by old trees on lawn and woodland, an embodiment to my imagination of all I had heard or read of stately homes, and a style of life remote from my own, and fascinating from its very mystery.
But I anticipate. My glance travelled over the intervening stretch of level country, wrapped in its winding-sheet of snow, and stopped at a tall figure confronting me, leading by the bridle the finest horse I had ever seen.
“Well, young man, shall you or I lead in the horse?” he asked, haughtily; “that light on the hill must be reached before an hour goes by, if I would keep an engagement” ; and tossing me the bridle, as he spoke, he drew carelessly toward the forge.
The few villagers whose day’s -work was ended, or whose business called them to the smithy, suddenly remembered waiting wives and children at home, the bit of supper spread for their return, or the evening gossip at tire tavern ; and thinking the matter they came for could wait the morning, since the smith was busy, gave way, and left only the stranger, my master, myself, and the noble horse grouped around the forge.
“ Look alive, Sandy! you ’d better keep at it steady, if you want to git to your schoolin’ to-night,” growled the blacksmith, in an undertone ; for he, too, had a memory for the smoking dish at home, and would gladly stop work to eat of it.
So I busied myself at once collecting the needed materials, while the smith proceeded to lift the horse’s leg and examine the foot. The animal resisted the attempt, however, by plunging in the most violent manner.
“ Confound the beast! ” muttered the blacksmith, as he dodged to escape a kick.
“ I thought as much,” said the stranger, quietly. “ The horse is very particular as to who handles him. I shall have to hold his foot, I suppose” ; and with rather a scornful smile, as if the dislike of his horse to my master confirmed his own, he stepped up and held out a slender brown hand.
The horse lifted his foot, and gently dropped it on the outstretched palm. No bird ever settled more trustfully on its nest.
My master swore an oath or two by way of astonishment, and then, seizing his shoe, approached again. But the scene was repeated with even more violence on the part of the horse : he pranced, reared, shook his head, and snorted at the smith, who again drew off.
“ I sha’n’t get off to-night,” murmured the stranger, impatiently.
“ Let me try,” I said. “ Horses have their fancies, as well as people. He 'll like me, may-be.”
“May-be he will,” laughed my master, hoarsely; “ but you re not a boss at puttin’ a shoe on. A dumb critter might take a shine to you, who’s one of their kind.” And again he laughed at his own wit.
“Step up and try,” exclaimed the stranger, impatiently.
I grasped the leg firmly in my hand ; the horse made no resistance, and I began my work.
“ Well, seein’ as you 've made friends with the critter, I ’ll be the gainer and take a bit of supper,” said my master, after a dogged stare. “ Be sure you put it on strong, Sandy. I don’t say as I ’ll charge any more, though I ’d make a man pay for showin’ he ’d a spite agin me, let alone a dumb critter.” And taking his hat from a peg, he walked off, leaving me, with the sparks flying from the forge, busy at the shoe, and the stranger, with one arm across the neck of the horse, watching me.
Ten minutes of silent work, and, as I loosened my grasp on the leg for a moment, I met the eye of the gentleman, who, I was conscious, had been watching me narrowly.
“ The horse likes you,” he said, pleasantly, here again as though he shared the feeling.
“ Yes,” I replied. “ Is he in the habit of doing as he did to-night with strangers ? ”
“ He is fastidious, if you know what that means, — as fond of gentlemen as his master,” he returned, so pleasantly, that, when I looked up, reddening at the cool assumption of the speech, blacksmith’s apprentice though I was, my eye fell beneath the amused glance of his.
“ I ’m not a gentleman,” I said, after a pause, — a little resentfully, I fear; “but I ’m not a clown, tike my master.”
“ No, that one can see at a glance,” he replied. “ You may be a gentleman for aught I see to the contrary ; but it requires a great deal to make one.— What school was that the blacksmith spoke of?”
“ It is a village class kept by a young lady who rides over from the hillside twice a week to teach us poor fellows something. I ’m learning to draw,” I added, — the frankness coaxed out of me by a sympathy implied rather than expressed.
“ And you are sorry enough to lose any of this lesson,” he said, kindly, as I put the horse’s foot, firmly shod, upon the ground. “ There is the regular pay which goes to the smith, I suppose; and here is a ten-dollar bill for you, if you have the sense to take it. I don’t know what kind of a youth you may be ; but you have a good head and face, and evidently are superior to the people about you. You don’t feel obliged to use their language or lead their life because you are thrown with them, I suppose ; but neither are you obliged to leave this work because you are better than the man who calls himself your master. Learn all you can and get a smithy of your own. A good blacksmith is as respectable as a good artist,” he said, looking at me keenly, as he mounted his horse, and then rode rapidly through the village street.
I WAS no proud-spirited hero to work my way independently in the world, but a poor blacksmith’s apprentice, glad of every penny honestly earned or kindly given ; so I handled my bill over and over again with real pleasure. Amos Bray, my master, was about as well to do as any man in the village, its doctor excepted ; but I doubted if Amos ever had a ten-dollar bill over and above the quarter’s expenses to spend as he liked.
The smithy often glowed with the double fire of its forge and my fancy. I walked about with a picture-gallery in my brain, and was usually led into its rather meagre display whenever the past was recalled or the future portrayed. The smithy hung there, in warmth and brightness, a genuine Rembrandt of light and shadow, filled with many an odd, picturesque group on winter evenings, or just at twilight, when the fire had died away to its embers. My master had gone home, and work was over ; the village children in gay woollen garments and with ruddy faces crowded round the door, fringing brightly the canopy of darkness within.
Again, when, after days of monotonous work, I felt a benumbing sense of being but a part of the world’s giant machinery, chosen because the mobility and suppleness of human material worked by the steam-power of the brain were more than a match even for the durability and unwearied stroke of steel or iron, the warm blood rushed back, life throbbed again with its endless ebbs and flows of desire and disappointment, as my master’s daughter, with her golden hair and innocent eyes, summoned us to dinner, breaking like blue sky and sunshine through the cloud-rifts of our toil.
But now the smithy was not merely idealized, it was transformed. The stranger, whose haughty bearing and address had changed to kindly and appreciative words, had filled it with a new presence and excited new hopes.
Pleased as I was with the unexpected gift of money, the stranger’s hint of my superiority to those around me was a more generous bounty still. I had been jeered at for years by the village boys, because I never followed my master to the tavern in the evenings to listen to the gossip there and learn to drink my mug of beer, and because I rarely talked with any one except a few of the village children more modest than the rest.
The alphabet of my mind, like that of the race, was first found in the hieroglyphics of the pencil ; and by its aid I communicated with my little friends more frequently than by word, drawing pictures for them with chalk on the rude walls of the smithy, and carving images of the various devices my experience or imagination suggested out of wood with master’s jack-knife.
From this group of children had arisen a constant companion and sympathizer in my master’s daughter. In leisure hours we explored the woods together, or she sat beside me while I pored over the few old books which were my father’s sole legacy to me.
During the last winter and this, however, my evenings had been almost constantly occupied in study and sketching at the class to which I have alluded, What an endless store of drawing-materials now loomed before me ! And what a swelling of heart I experienced at the thought that the aims for which I had been taunted by the villagers were acknowledged by my new friend as a ground of superiority !
I was startled from these pleasing dreams by my master’s voice.
“ Hullo there, Sandy! where ’s the money for that job ? He ’s a mean one, if he a’n’t made it double.”
Instinctively I thrust my ten-dollar bill into one pocket, as I drew the pay for the horseshoeing from the other. He swore a little as I handed it to him, but he knew me well enough never to doubt my honesty ; and, as I was leaving, he called, with a gruff kindness, ' the only approach to courtesy of which he was capable, —
“ Hurry up, Sandy; Miss Bray can t git Sary Ann to bed till she sees you, and you ’re late for your schoolin besides.”
So I ground my way quickly through the snow, choosing the middle of the street, because it was less worn, and helped me better to work off my unusual excitement.
My master’s cottage stood on the same street with his smithy. In fact, this Main Street was, as its name indicated, the principal thoroughfare of Warren; the real village life all centred here ; and it contained, besides the stores and the church, the dwellings of the more prosperous inhabitants. The smithy being at one end, on the outskirts, as it were, of the social and gay life, Mr. Bray had been able to rent it for a low sum, although more pleasantly situated than any other building on the street. Here the land made a slight ascent, giving a more extended view of the valley and distant hills than at any other point. The business chaiacter of this street mingled oddly in summer with the rural life around it. At several right-angles, green and mossy lanes, arched by venerable elms, seemed to be offering their crooked elbows to lead it back to the simple pastoral life from which it sprang.
Bordering these sequestered paths, which were dignified by the title of streets, were cottages surrounded by small inclosures, whose proprietors cultivated vegetables, hens, pigs, and cows, —these last being, quite unconsciously, the true surveyors of Warren; for, in direct obedience to pathways they had worn when traversing the fields to and from their homes, chewing the quiet cud of meditation, had the buildings been erected. Outside these lanes, again, were the larger land-owners, whose farms formed the outer circle of our life.
Annie Bray was fond of penetrating beyond these various circles of social existence, and wandering far off to the woods and hills, whose ring of emerald, studded now and then with the turquoise of some forest-lake, inclosed us as in a basin.
As I entered the kitchen of the cottage, Mrs. Bray, a stout woman of forty, the oracle of her sex in the village as to matters of domestic economy and dress, — which last was of a more costly and varied material than the others could afford, abounding in many-colored prints, and a stuff gown for Sunday wear,—made her appearance, her apron covered with flour, an incrustation of dough on each particular finger, which it always destroyed my appetite to see.
“ Well, Sandy, I’m glad you’ve come. You 've jest sp'iled Sary Ann. There she sets a-nid-nid-noddin’ on that stool, and won’t stir to bed till she sees Sandy.”
There, by the stove, sat the blacksmith's blue-eyed daughter, a proof that God sometimes interferes with hereditary botch-work, and makes a child fresh and fair, letting her, like a delicate flower in noisome marsh or stagnant water, draw pure, nourishing juices out of elements poisonous to anything less impregnated with Himself.
To be sure, through ignorance of the nature of the child intrusted to them, the blacksmith and his wife blundered with her tender soul and beautiful body. One of their most heinous crimes against her, in my estimation, had been in the bestowal of the name of Sary Ann, — a filial compliment paid by Mrs. Bray to the mother who bore her. Then they dressed her in the brightest of red or orange, so that Nature, which had tinted her complexion brightly, though delicately, seemed forever to be put to shame by the brazen garments which infolded her. They called her ‘sp’iled,’ when her innocent eyes filled with tears at her father’s oaths or her mother’s coarse scolding ; and though her tender beauty touched the rough smith with a kind of awe, he often said, “ Such pootty gals a’n’t of much use. I mistrust it Sary Ann will ever ’arn her livin’.”
Anxious as I was to get to my class this evening, I could not neglect my little friend ; so, going hurriedly to her, I said, as I bent over the head which at every breath of sleep waved like a pale golden flower on its stalk, —
“ Good night, Annie. To-morrow evening I ’ll be home earlier, and then we can have our lesson together.”
And she, quite satisfied, held up her face for a kiss, and rose to leave the room.
“Your supper is a-warmin' in the stove, Sandy,” said Mrs. Bray; but I did not wait either to eat it or to chat with her about the stranger whose horse I had shod, and who interested her because she thought he might have given “Amos” extra pay. Reminding her of my lesson, I pushed up the rickety stairs to my attic, and began as quickly as possible to make those preparations for meeting the teacher which the young men of the class, impelled by a rude kind of gallantry, never failed to observe, and which they described by the expressive term of “ smartenin’ up.”
THE class met in the village schoolhouse ; and when I entered, Miss Darry, our teacher, was seated at her desk, talking to about a dozen rough country youths, of ages ranging from fourteen to twenty-five, and of occupations as diverse as the trades of the village afforded.
She was of medium height, rather full than slim, with clear, intelligent, dark eyes, a broad, open forehead, a nose somewhat delicately cut, a wide mouth, with thin lips, and teeth of dazzling whiteness. Her whole aspect was that of physical and mental health, not only removed from morbid sensitiveness, but as far from sentiment even as a breezy spring wind, and yet as prompt to fathom it in others as the wind to search out violets.
One would think that even an ordinary nature might have so revealed itself through such a face as to give an impression of unusual beauty ; yet such was not the case, — and this, it seemed to me, because she had no feminine consciousness of personal beauty or attractiveness. I know that unconsciousness is regarded as the first element of fascination ; and it may be, when it pervades the entire character: but Miss Darry was conscious of mental power, of the ability to wrest from the world many of its choicest gilts, to taste the delights of scholarship, of self-supporting independence and charity to range freely over the whole domain where man is usually sole victor ; and thus one felt the shock of a vigorous nature before recognizing the fact that it was clad in the butterfly robes of a woman’s loveliness.
Her evening teaching of us was purely a labor of love. Fortunately, she was not of that shrinking nature which dreads contact with persons less refined than itself. There was a world of sympathy in her frank, good-natured smile, which placed her at once more in harmony with her scholars than I, who had passed my life among them. There was, too, a dash and spirit about this young woman, in which I, as a man, was entirely lacking ; and it was this element which held her rough pupils in subordination.
I was the only one of them who had not been communicative with her. My lessons were always better prepared and understood than those of the others, yet I talked less with her about them ; and in the half-hour after recitation, which she devoted to my drawing, I rarely uttered a word not called forth by my occupation at the moment.
To-night, however, I must have betrayed my new mood to the first glance of her keen eye ; for, after the other scholars had stumbled noisily out of the room, she turned to me, saying,—
“ Well, Sandy, often as you have been here, I have never seen your visor of reserve or diffidence lifted until to-night. Do you mean to let me share your happiness ? Bob Tims has been telling me that the rosy-faced girl up by Fresh Pond has smiled upon him ; and 1 racy Waters says he’s ' going to hoe his own row next year, and not spend his strength for Dad any longer ’: they are both happy in their way, but, mind, I don't expect such confidences from you, Sandy. ’
Miss Darry spoke without satire. She sympathized with these rough natures far more than with many of the more polished whom she met in society, and I could not withhold my confidence from the cordial smile and ready ear which waited to receive it.
So I related the incident of the afternoon, revealing unconsciously, I suppose, many a budding hope, which waited only the warm sun of opportunity and encouragement to burst into blossom.
“ I am very glad for you, Sandy,” she said, giving me her hand, as I concluded. “ Your village friends would probably advise you to hoard the money as so much towards a forge ; while others, less judicious than your new friend, would say, ' Give up your trade, and support yourself by your brain'; but I say, support yourself by your forge, and let what surplus power you have be expended on your mind.”
And here let me hold the thread of my story a moment, to express my sense of the wisdom of Miss Darry’s advice. It would be well, perhaps, if more men, when striving to elevate their condition, should still rely upon the occupation to which they have been trained, as a stepping-stone to something better. Now and then comes an exceptional character, a David Grey, who must follow the bent of his genius, and listen so intently to the melody to which his soul is set that the coarser sounds of daily toil are dumb for him; but usually the Elihu Burritt who strikes hard blows with hands and brain alike is the man to achieve success.
“ Your friend may be worth far more to you than his money,” continued Miss Darry, thoughtfully. “ He can do much more for you than I, if he only will.”
“Do you know him?” I exclaimed. “Tell me who he is.”
“ A tall, dark-eyed gentleman, on a magnificent horse,” she replied, playfully. “ I shall know him, Sandy, from your description, if I meet him.”
And she placed my crayon-study before me, changing so entirely from confidential friend to teacher, that I had no resource but to relapse into my customary shyness.
After the lesson, we consulted as to the purchases to which my money had best be applied. She offered to buy the books I needed in the city, to which she was going soon for a visit, but she insisted on supplying me with drawing-materials as before. Our good-bye was said more cordially than usual, and I drew on my overcoat and closed the door with the comfortable feeling that my welfare was becoming a matter of interest to others besides myself.
THE man who drove over from the hillside with Miss Darry was always waiting in the sleigh when I went out from my lesson. To-night, however, he was not to be seen. Supposing he had merely stopped for one more glass than usual at the tavern, I walked down the street, but, finding that-he did not appear, and disliking to leave Miss Darry alone in the school-house, so late in the evening, I resolved, as I approached the turn which led into Main Street, to go back and investigate the matter. The tavern was beyond the school-house, at a little distance from the village, — as, indeed, it should have been, to insure sleep to its quiet-loving inhabitants. As I approached the school-house again, I saw Miss Darry, warmly muffled for the drive home, walking also in the direction of the tavern. “ She surely cannot know what rough men go there,” I thought, and, conquering my awkwardness, I ran after her.
“ Miss Darry ! ” I cried, when within a few steps of her. She turned, and I strode to her side. “ I am going to the tavern to look after your driver ; it will never do for you to go there alone. Had n't you better go back to the school-house and wait for me ? ” I said.
“ You must have a great deal of native gallantry, Sandy. One would imagine, from your lot in life, you had not been used to seeing women shielded from disagreeable duties. I will go on with you, and wait outside,” she answered, smiling. So we walked on together.
The sleigh stood before the taverndoor. A warm buffalo was thrown over the horse, who was, nevertheless, pawing impatiently in the snow, as if aware that it was time to go home. Asking Miss Darry to get into the sleigh, for I would not have taken the liberty of assisting her for the world, I hastened up the low wooden steps, and, pushing open the door, stood inside the barroom. I had heard snatches of song, as we drew near, and, afraid lest they should reach Miss Darry’s ear also, I closed it after me. A few of the village loafers were there, with the addition of one or two less harmless characters, who, strolling through the country, had tarried here for refreshment and a frolic: among the latter was the man for whom Miss Darry was waiting, stretched in a state of intoxication on the floor. I made my exit as soon as by a glance I comprehended matters, yet not soon enough to escape the recognition of the villagers, who cried out. “ Come on, Sandy Allen ! — don’t slink off that way ! — let’s have a drink ! ”
As I stood by the sleigh, explaining to Miss Darry the condition of her driver, a crowd of the half-drunken fellows came out of the tavern, and staggered down the path toward us. I had not the courage to offer to drive her home, but she did not wait for me to grow bolder.
" “Jumpin, Sandy,—no, noton the front seat,—here by me. I am afraid of those men. Besides, I want to talk with you.”
So I seated myself next her, drew the warm robe over us both, and just as one of the men attempted to seize the reins, declaring he had himself promised to carry the lady home, I caught them from him, and we drove rapidly up the street.
Somehow Miss Carry’s confession of a little feminine timidity put me more at ease with her than I had ever been before. I was a strong, muscular fellow of nineteen, perfectly able to defend myself in circumstances of ordinary danger, and proud that a woman so superior to me should trust in my readiness to protect her. Life and vigor tingled in every nerve of my body ; the clear, stinging winter air, exhilarating to healthy, as wine is to enfeebled bodies, thrilled me with enjoyment; and I was seated beside the most intelligent and appreciative companion I had ever known.
How much of my life, with its restless desires and unsatisfied tastes, must have revealed itself in that ride, which seemed only too short, as she asked me to drive up the avenue leading to the stone house, whose beacon I had looked at that same evening from the forge!
“ Do you live here ? ” I asked, in surprise, as we drove swiftly along.
“ Yes, I teach Miss Merton’s little sisters.”
We had no time for further words. The horse stopped before the house, whose great hall-door swung open, letting a flood of light stream over the stone steps. A young girl, wrapped in an ermine cape, ran down to us, followed by the stranger whose appearance in the forge that afternoon had created such a tumult in my mind.
The scene was a beautiful one. Every shrub and tree on the lawn was enveloped in a garment of more dazzling purity than the ermine before me. The moonlight was radiant, the stars sparkled lustrously in the steel cold sky, the earth was carpeted and canopied with a beauty more resplendent than the graceful luxuriance of summer. Miss Darry probably ascribed my immovable position to artistic enjoyment of the landscape, for I remained perfectly quiet while she explained the cause of her detention to Miss Merton.
“ We have been quite anxious about you,” said the gentleman, as she concluded ; and turning to me, “Why, we are indebted for your safe return to the young man by whom my horse was shod this evening ! ”
And before I could stammer a reply, Miss Darry exclaimed, —
“Jump out, if you please, Sandy. I should like to do the same.”
I did so, mechanically, and was about to stand aside for the gentleman to offer his hand, but she extended hers to me, and sprang lightly beside me.
“ You will surely take cold, Alice,” said the gentleman, drawing Miss Merton’s hand within his arm, and turning to ascend the steps. Then, first, I awoke from mingled surprise and admiration sufficiently to say quietly, —
“ I must go home. Good evening.”
“ Not at all,” exclaimed the gentleman, turning round ; “ it is nearly twelve o’clock, and I verily believe you think of walking back to Warren to-night. You must take the horse and sleigh, if you go. Shall he not, Alice ? ”
Miss Merton, thus appealed to, replied by saying to me, —
“ Come in with us, Mr. Allen, and get warmed at least. I have heard Miss Darry speak of you as the one of her class in whom she is especially interested ; so you see we are not strangers, after all.”
There was no condescension in the gentle voice and smile for even my sensitiveness to detect. I had never been addressed as Mr. Allen before ; and this of itself would have confused me sometimes, but now I forgot myself in admiration of her.
That face was of perfect contour. Small and delicately fair, soft bands of light-brown hair shaded the low, smooth brow and large gray eyes, and the full red lips were tremulous with varying expression. Her hands and figure were of the same delicate outline as her face. And as her cape blew aside, I noticed the violet silk she wore, of that blended blue and purple so becoming to blondes.
It were surely a narrow view, to ascribe this grace of expression and manner, so peculiarly womanly, this evident desire to please even, betrayed in careful attention to the artistic finish and details of dress, to vanity or coquetry merely,—it is so often the outgrowth of a beauty-loving nature, to be found in some of the most sensitive and refined of the other sex.
Looking at Miss Merton, therefore, I seemed to have a vision of what Annie Bray might become, if she were developed from within and surrounded from without by that halo of refinement which crowned the lady before me. Already I was developing an Epicurean taste for that spirit of beauty which flooded Annie Bray’s humble life as well as her own.
Miss Darry spoke to me, as we went up the steps; but to what I assented I do not know. I listened to the low tones in front of me. I have always possessed a preternaturally quick ear; but I confess I might have used it to better purpose on that occasion.
“Now, Hamilton, of course he must stay all night,” she whispered, as she leaned on the gentleman’s arm; “and I want you to make him feel perfectly comfortable in doing so.”
“ Certainly, if he will; but pray don’t spoil him, Alice, darling. Because he is a youth of some scholarship, a good deal of refinement, and develops a talent for drawing, it is no reason he should be made to forget he :s a blacksmith.”
“ It is too late for theories to-night, Hamilton,” she replied, playfully. “ I have none, you know, like you and Frank Darry. I only wish to treat him considerately. We can afford to forget distinctions which undoubtedly seem a great barrier to him. If he stays, he shares our hospitality like any other guest.”
The answer I did not catch. I had heard enough, however, to feel both grateful and irritated.
I went in and warmed myself by the coal-fire in the library. 1 looked covertly at books and Miss Merton while toasting my hands, and answered intelligently, I believe, Mr. Hamilton Lang's questions as to the village and my pursuits there. I did not neglect to speak a few cordial, yet respectful, words to Miss Darry, at parting ; but all I clearly recall is the fact that I insisted upon going home that night, and that Miss Merton, kindly offering to lend me any books I could find time to read, laid her little hand in my rough palm at parting.
THERE was a variety-store on Main Street, with “JANE DINSMORE ” painted in letters of mingled blue and orange on the sign above its door. Miss Dinsmore boarded in one of those green lanes whose inhabitants formed the second circle of Warren society. To this fact it may have been partly due that she was less appealed to than Mrs. Bray on all questions of social etiquette ; but undoubtedly a more sufficient reason was to be found in Miss Dinsmore herself, who, though more beloved than any other woman in the village, bad a suppressed, quiet manner, not at all adapted for leadership. Her reputation was that of having been a pretty, giddy young girl, a farmer’s daughter; but some great crisis had swept over her life, muffling all the tinkling melodies, the ringing laugh, the merry coquettings of the village belle. It was rumored that the old story of disappointed love had changed the current of her life. Jenny Dinsmore, though humbly born and bred, had been fastidious ; the uncouth advances of her rustic admirers were not agreeable to her; and so the romance of the fresh young heart was expended on a college youth, who found his way to Warren from classic halls for the renovation of physical and moral health, and who, attracted by her pretty face and figure, made his rustication less burdensome by devotion to her.
Jenny had not one of those weak natures whose influence dies away in absence. She had inherited some of the old farmer’s sturdy traits of character, and her affections had a clinging tenacity of hold which would not suffer the young scholar to throw her off so easily. When he returned to college, he walked the grounds more than once, summoning through the avenues of embowering elms the slender figure, the smiling face, with the glow of the setting sun upon it, which had so often awaited his coming at the stile of the old orchard.
However, parental authority, and the prospect of an ample fortune on good behavior, soon convinced the young man of his folly. Let us be thankful, who note this brief sketch of their mingled fortunes, that he had a tender care for Jenny’s trusting nature, and removed the sting from the sorrow he inflicted by making her believe it inevitable. Thus this little wellspring of romance forever watered and kept fresh her otherwise withered life ; it subdued, she was not bitter; and no one can tell how the thin, wan face renewed its youth, and the wrinkled cheeks their pinkish bloom, caught in that far-off spring-time in her father’s orchards, as, sitting in her solitary room, she remembered the man, now occupying a prominent position in life, who said, as he bade her tenderly good-bye, that he would never forget her, no matter what woman reigned by his fireside, or what children played on his hearth. Perhaps, in his stately library, no book was so welcome on a winter’s evening as an idyl of rural life, no picture so pleasing as that of some Maud Muller raking hay or receiving the dumb caresses of the cows she milked.
What would the elegant woman, with her costly jewels, India shawls, and splendid equipage, have thought of this whilom rival, who issued every summer morning from the lane, in her hand a bunch of those simple flowers, occupying, as she did, the border-ground between the wild hemlock and honeysuckle of the wilderness and the exotic of the parterre, the bachelor’s-button, mulberry-pink, southernwood, and bee-larkspur, destined to fill a tumbler on an end of the counter where she displayed her most attractive goods ?
She prided herself upon the tastefulness and variety of her selections : ribbons and gowns, pins, needles, soap, and matches for all; jars of striped candy for well, and hoarhound for sick children ; and a little fragrant Old Hyson and San Domingo for venerable customers. She walked about gently ; was never betrayed into any bustle by the excitement of traffic ; liked all sweet, shy, woodland natures, from Annie Bray to squirrels; and contracted an affection for me because of my diffidence and devotion to the former.
Whenever she came to the cottage, she poured oil upon the turbulent waters of its domestic life; coaxed up Amos as daintily and charily as a child would proffer crumbs to a bear in a menagerie ; pleased Mrs. Bray by accounts of her city shopping ; and petted Annie, giving her occasionally, in a shy way, some bow or bit of silk, of an especially brilliant hue, which had caught her eye in town. She was a very useful member of the Methodist Society, for she had always innumerable odds and ends for pin-cushions and needle-books ; and although her religious experiences did not seek those stormy channels which the Reverend Mr. Purdo believed to have been elected for the saints, yet her sympathies were so ready, her heart so kind, that, when he saw her after a day of activity collect her bunch of flowers again in her hand, and start, as she often did, for one of the lanes or outlying farms, to watch through the night with some sick woman or child, he was fain to remember that “ faith without works is dead.
Miss Dinsmore’s store was exceedingly attractive to the young people of the village. She lent a cordial ear to every matrimonial scheme ; was quite willing that all preliminaries for such arrangements should be settled within her precincts ; and many a tender word and glance, doubtless, received its inspiration from a conspicuous stand for bonnets, whose four pegs were kept supplied with those of Miss Dinsmore’s own manufacture, originally white, but so seldom demanded for village wear that the honey-moon in Warren shed its pale yellow beams on this crowning article of bridal attire long before it was donned by the happy wearer. These bonnets were severally labelled on modest slips of paper, after city nomenclature, “Bridal Hat”; and Miss Dinsmore would on no account have parted with them for any less occasion, however festive ; so that one consulting her stand had as accurate a knowledge of impending marriages as could have been obtained from the “publishing-list” of the “ meeting-house.”
Moreover, Miss Dinsmore herself was laboring under that hallucination, not infrequent with maiden ladies rather advanced, that her own spring-time was perennial; and though by no means disposed to displace the hero of her youth from his supremacy in her heart, she yet accepted, with the ordinary feminine serenity, gallant attentions from youths over whose infant slumbers she had, in times of domestic disturbance, often presided. Hence it happened that the “Variety Store” often afforded the first introduction to Warren society; indeed, so sharp was the rivalry between it, as a lounging-place, and the tavern, that, when a youth was won over from the bar-room to its counter fascinations, his work of regeneration was regarded by Mr. Purdo as begun ; and the walk round the corner to the parsonage (which Miss Dinsmore’s hats suggested) made his calling and election sure.
Entering the store, therefore, on one of my leisure evenings, I was not surprised to find there a number of Miss Darry’s class, and the Reverend Mr. Purdo himself, who had evidently walked in to discover what young men had sowed their wild oats and were seeking the “strait and narrer path” between Miss Dinsmore’s counter and the wall. Mr. Purdo was of middle height, and portly; and there was such a sombre hue about the entire man, — black suit of clothes, jet-black hair, eyebrows, and eyes, — that it was a relief to find that Nature had relented in her mourning over making him, and bestowed a sallow complexion, which strove to enliven his aspect by an infusion of orange. He greeted me with a mild and forgiving manner, which at once reminded me of the quiet strolls I occasionally preferred, on a pleasant Sunday, to a prolonged sitting and homily in the church ; but I was glad of his presence, since it would be likely to restrain the boisterous mirth of the young men, when I should make known my errand.
Since seeing Miss Merton, my imagination had been so filled with the idea of how complete a transformation Annie Bray would undergo, if only the ugly garments she wore could be pulled away like weeds from her sweet, flower-like beauty, that I resolved to expend a part of my money in buying her a dress. With diffidence, therefore, I made known my wish to Miss Dinsmore, who responded at once with a ready comprehension of the whole matter.
“ I know jest what ’ll suit you, Sandy. Nothin’ like vi’let for blue eyes and yeller hair ; my own was like June butter once, but of course it ’s been darker since I’ve grown up” (Miss Dinsmore’s gold was fast becoming silver); “ Sary Ann’s is changin’, too, I see. Miss Bray says she is n’t over-fond of stirrin’ round ; and I should n’t wonder if ’t was so. Sary Ann don’t look no more like workin’ than a buttercup; but then, as I tell Miss Bray, corn is made for usin’ and flowers for starin’ at, and I don't know as any special sign is set on either of ’em to show which is the best. Don’t mind them youngsters, Sandy ; they ’re always pretty chipper of an evenin'. You see, I’ve measured off this piece of calico, — nine yard and a finger ; if you like it, seein’ it ’s for you and Annie, and a remnant, I’d want it to go cheap.”
It was as near the shade of Miss. Merton’s dress as the coarser material could copy it; and with all the embarrassment of a novice in such matters, I signified my wish to take it, when the door swung open to admit Annie Bray herself, who had come to make some trifling purchase for her mother.
“ All right, Sandy ; we ’ll settle some other time,” whispered Miss Dinsmore, quite aware that I should scarcely like to make so public a presentation of my gift, and quietly concealing it in a sheet of wrapping-paper, while Annie, surprised and pleased at seeing me, approached the counter.
“ Bless your sweet face, it is n’t often I see it of an evenin’,” was Miss Dinsmore’s welcome to her favorite.
“Beauty ’s but a witherin’ flower,” said Mr. Purdo, by way of professional improvement of the occasion, and pointing the remark by a glance at Miss Dinsmore, whose early bloom he undoubtedly remembered. “ Still it ’s cause for great gratitude, Sary, that your cheeks are so rosy,” — here a general laugh warned him of the dangerous admission, and he added, — “it shows you ’re healthy, and that ’s a most aboundin’ blessin’.”
“ That’s so ! ” exclaimed Tracy Waters. “ You ’re mighty pretty now, Sary Ann ; and it a’n’t no use to look ahead to the time when you won’t he, is it ?”
Annie’s cheeks glowed more deeply still now. She was accomplishing her errand as quickly as possible ; and while Miss Dinsmore tied up her parcel, Tracy Waters bent over her, whispering. It may have been only that “ innate gallantry ” alluded to by Miss Darry that made me reprove his evidently unwelcome admiration.
“Annie is a shy little thing. Don't you see, Tracy, that she does n't like flattery ? ” I exclaimed, angrily approaching them.
“ I see pretty plain that you don't want her to have it from any other fellow than yourself,” he answered, roughly. “ Miss Annie,” he added, in imitation of my manner, “ supposin’ I see you home ? ”
But I pushed past him and went out of the store with her.
“ He says I am to be his little wife by-and-by,” said Annie, a most unusual expression of disgust and alarm ruffling the quiet serenity of her face ; “ but that can never be, unless I wish it, can it, Sandy ? ”
“ I should think not, indeed,” I answered, smiling at her earnestness. “When he speaks of it again, tell him I want you myself.”
“ That would be a good way to stop him,” she replied, accepting graciously this solution of her present difficulty.
Miss DARRY, knowing I could borrow books at Hillside, and that those which I already possessed were the old English classics, bought for me in the city only a Greek Grammar, through whose intricacies she proposed to be my guide, and a box of water-colors, and brought to me some lives of the old painters from Miss Merton’s library.
She bewildered my mind by telling me of all there was in store for it in the way of work and study. Her interest in my progress seemed to have received a new impetus from her visit in town. She described the rooms where were casts of legs and arms, heads and groups of figures, to which I might one day have access, with the privilege of copying ; and in return I showed her two crayon sketches I had made in her absence. Michel Angelo might have relished the knotty, muscular development of the arm I showed her first. If there is beauty and satisfaction in coarse brute strength, this member of my master’s body was worthy of all praise. On another sheet I had drawn, by way of contrast, Annie’s delicately small and fair, but round, arm and hand, which might have served in her infancy as models for those of one of Raphael’s cherubs. She liked them both, and said that I should do as well, perhaps, in the school of Nature as anywhere, for the present.
She desired me to become a sculptor, for form appealed more strongly to her nature than color ; and it seemed to be tacitly decided between us that Art was to be my vocation. She thought that my strong hands, accustomed to labor, could hew my own idea out of the marble for the present, and save the expense of workmen. And then she described to me the beautiful marbles she had seen abroad, where the artist’s inspiration was so chastely uttered by the purity of his material, declaring that a subject which coloring would debase might be worthily treated by the chisel. And when I exclaimed, that Autumn, with her glowing palette, was as pure an artist as the old sculptor Winter, chiselling in unvaried white, she reminded me that Nature was infinite, handling all themes with equal power and purity; but that man, in copying, became, as she thought some of the Preraphaelites had done, a caricaturist, in attempting to follow her too closely. I was unconvinced by her arguments, but held my newly bought color-box as a means of proving to her the wisdom of my choice.
When I was about to leave, she said, —
“ Sandy, pray don’t make an enemy of Tracy Waters on account of any words you had the other evening about the blacksmith’s little girl. He’s a rough, but kind fellow, and your superiority and desire to rise in life will stir up envy enough of themselves. Why not let him show his admiration of the child, if he wanted to ? ” -
“ Oh, have they been telling you about that, Miss Darry ? ” I answered, awkwardly. “ It you knew Annie Bray, you would not ask me why I did n’t let him bend his great rough face over hers. She’s only a child in years, to be sure ; but she has a woman’s modesty.”
"Oh, well, if she shrank from it, of course, as a gentleman, you were bound to take her part ; but don’t spoil your chances in life, Sandy, I beg, by any entanglement with these villagers of which you may repent. A pretty country lassie to smile when you look at her would doubtless be a comforting companion in your struggles. But once attain what you long for in other ways, and you will crave an intelligent friend, whose gaucheries shall not forever put you to the blush.”
Miss Darry, in her appreciation of my abilities, sometimes forgot my lack of attainment. I was not always familiar with her quotations, but now I was more disturbed by her regarding so seriously my brotherly devotion to Annie Bray, and by the depreciating estimate which she held of her.
“ I did not know you looked down so entirely upon our villagers. The only way in which I could expect to differ from them is through my talent for painting, if I prove to have any. My mother was a good woman, gentle and quiet in her ways, but only a farmer's daughter ; and though my father was the village doctor, he studied his profession without any regular training, and I suppose knew less of chemistry and anatomy than you, Miss Darry. Annie Bray is as much a lady, in her childish way, as Miss Merton ; only she is the stone in its native soil, and Miss Merton has been set by the jeweller.”
I was irritated and had spoken warmly, but the bright smile did not leave Miss Darry’s face, as she answered,-
“ Sandy, you have unmistakably the poetic temperament; but use your brush on the canvas, and don’t color every human being you see. I never could comprehend why the practical affairs of life should not be ruled by judgment and reason, —why the mental mansion should not have every needful arrangement for comfort, though a hundred illusions may fresco its ceilings. Every child is charming because it is a child, as every bud is charming because it is a bud, though it may open a poppy or a rose. I have n’t a doubt but tins little friend of yours will develop some qualities of her ignorant ancestors to remove her in a few years far from your ideal of womanhood. The rare gift of genius is as often bestowed on the child of common parentage as on any other ; but the refinement which makes a woman a congenial companion is a mingling of birth, education, and associations, in my opinion. It seems from your own account, that poverty, not choice, apprenticed you to Amos Bray.”
Her good-nature shamed me, and her unselfish labor for my improvement touched me more deeply. So, though we did not agree about my profession or friendship, I said no more.
As I have said, Miss Darry and I differed about Annie Bray. Yet her words, having the weight of her greater knowledge of the world, and really strong, though prejudiced mind, made their impression upon me. Instead of regarding Annie with the old brotherly interest, I looked critically now to see if any sign of rude origin betrayed itself in look or speech. I found only the wayside bloom and sweetness quite peculiar to herself, and many a quaint, rare fancy born of lonely rambles in field and wood ; but at fourteen, with no outward stimulus to act upon her life, she was an undeveloped being, a child to be loved and petted, but no friend for my growing and restless manhood.
In the evenings I worked hard, endeavoring both to improve myself intellectually and to progress in my art. I was supplied with constant reading from the Hillside library; but I had never been there since the evening when I had driven Miss Darry home. The impression made upon me at that time by Mr. Lang had not been wholly pleasant. Notwithstanding his words at the forge, I felt as though he had in some way contended for making me feel the drawbacks of my position.
One mild day in April, the Spring sun lay warm upon the earth, and the wind brought from the woods the delicious scent of early flowers. I had worked very steadily for several days in sole charge of the smithy; for Mr. Bray had been away to visit a sister who lived some thirty miles off. I had handed him quite large profits that morning ; so I ventured to ask for a half-holiday. It was granted, and after dinner I went up to my room to prepare for it. I had practised in water-colors for the last few weeks, and intended to surprise Miss Darry with a picture from Nature as the result of the afternoon’s work. So I thrust my paint-box into the pocket of my portfolio, took a tin cup for water, and ran down stairs.
Annie was sitting on the door-step studying Gray’s Botany, which at odd moments in the winter I had attended to with her. My heart smote me for that egotistic contemplation of myself and my prospects which had led me to neglect her.
“Come, Annie,” I said, “bring your Botany into the woods. We will find plenty of wild-flowers there, and you shall help me, besides, to paint my first picture.”
The little face which had looked so dull a moment before brightened at once. She gained her mother's permission, and was soon walking by my side.
On the slope of the hill which led to the stone house where so many of my dreams centred, we found innumerable bloodroot and anemone blossoms, with a few buds of trailing arbutus just blushing at their edges.
Annie had a wonderful fellowship with Nature, liking even its wildest, most uncouth forms. The snakes, with shining skin and sinuous movement, glistening like streams of water, or lying coiled like stagnant pools amid the rank luxuriance of grass and flowers, were as eagerly watched by her as the most brilliant butterfly that ever fanned a blossom. She had a faculty for tracing resemblances in the material creation, akin to that, perhaps, which causes many to see points of likeness in faces, so that they, as it were, carry their home about with them, and see their friends in the new costume of every land.
Childhood and genius alike look through and over the lattice-work which separates the regions of the natural and the supernatural. She had firm faith in midnight revels in the woods, held by those elves, fairies, and satyrs who come down to us from the dim and shaded life of earlier ages, and whose existence she had eagerly accepted when I hinted its possibility. Her theory of the mutability of species exceeded Darwin’s ; for she fancied that the vegetable world was occasionally endowed with animal life, and that the luxuriant and often poisonous vines, which choked by their rude embrace so many tenderer forms of life, waked up, under some unknown influence, into the snakes, of which she felt as little fear.
As for me, I encouraged this tangle of woodland dreams across her brain, and liked to think she dwelt apart, blind and deaf to all contamination through its simple power.
Annie was to-day, therefore, most happy that Spring was reorganizing her dreamland again ; and while I seated myself on a stone to arrange my materials, she ran to fill the tin cup with water from the brook below. Then she helped me with my paints, and watched curiously all my preparations. When these were completed, I said, —
“ Now, Annie, prepare a little scene for me, and I will paint it.”
At first she was reluctant to make the attempt ; but I insisted, and she did so.
The tiny thread which fed the stream below trickled over a stone beside us, making rich with its silver beads of moisture a cushion of moss beneath. On this Annie heaped bloodroots and anemones, a few early violets, and one or two arbutus-sprays, and then looked up to see if I was satisfied.
“ Yes,” I said, “ if you will sit on that tree-stump, and leave your hand there.”
She laughed merrily, pleased to be in my first painting. I drew out my paper, and rapidly sketched the outlines. Then I took my brush ; the pale spring beauties grew beneath its touch, and lay with careless grace on the soft, damp moss.
Annie had resumed her Botany as the afternoon wore on, reaching forward occasionally to note my progress ; and her hand lay relaxed, the fingers loosely clasping the last violets laid down.
I was giving most affectionate pats of my camel's-hair to the last little pink nail, feeling more elated at this first attempt than at many a better picture since, when I heard the tramp of horses’ feet in the road to the left of the meadow where we sat. I was too intent upon my work to raise my eyes, and Annie sat with her face turned toward the woods, so that I thought nothing more of it until we were startled by a voice at a little distance.
“ Well, my young friend, I suppose this studio is open to visitors ? ”
I looked up, and saw Miss Merton and Mr. Lang.
“We were riding, and called at the forge,” said Miss Merton, with a wondering glance at Annie, whose astonishment had not admitted of a change of position; “and as Mr. Lang heard there you were off on an excursion, we have been expecting to see you, and caught our first glimpse as the horses walked up the hill. Won't you introduce us to your young friend, Mr. Allen ? ”
“ This is Annie Bray, my master’s daughter,” I stammered, with a keen and very unpleasant remembrance of Miss Darry’s remarks.
Annie rose, and returned with natural ease Miss Merton's smile and kindly greeting, while Mr. Lang bent over to look at my painting.
“Alice, look here. This is as pretty a bit of water-color as I ’ve ever seen. A young girl’s hand is a gratifying possession, but I am not sure that I should have stopped with it in the present instance.” And he looked admiringly at Annie’s modest beauty.
Miss Merton walked round the stump, and stood behind me.
“ It is indeed pretty. Miss Annie's hand suggests the idea that these blossoms at least were not ‘born to blush unseen.’ It reminds me of our object in seeking you, Mr. Allen. A friend,” she added, with an arch look at Mr. Lang, “has been audacious enough to give me a costly picture. I am to have a few friends to admire it to-morrow evening. I know you will enjoy it; so I want you to come, too.”
“ You are very kind, but ”-I hesitated.
“ But what ? ” inquired Mr. Lang. “ Speak out boldly, Sandy. ’
“ I should not think you would care to have a poor blacksmith with your friends. Let me come another evening.”
“ I am sorry, that, judging by your own feelings, you have arrived at this conclusion,” answered Mr. Lang, dryly. “ I might have thought, under similar circumstances, you would have treated us in the same way. Do as you choose, of course ; but remember, blacksmith or artist, no one will respect you, unless you so thoroughly respect yourself as to hold your manhood above your profession, and accept every courtesy in the spirit in which it is offered.”
I began to understand that he would guard me from the vanity and over-sensitiveness which were the natural outgrowth of my position ; yet I reddened at the implied weakness.
“Pray don't mind Mr. Lang’s criticisms,” said Miss Merton, noticing my confusion. “ You certainly do not doubt the sincerity of our invitation ? ”
“ Not at all,” I exclaimed, warmly.
“ Then will you not come to-morrow evening ? ”
Yielding to the fascinating persuasiveness of her manner, l now consented so readily, that Mr. Lang, laughing, asked, in the old friendly tone,—*
“ Did you paint this picture, Sandy, for any special purpose ? ”
“ Only that I might show it to Miss Darry.”
“ Ah, well, let us take it to her. I have another use for it besides. Are there any further touches to be given it?”
I looked ; it might have been improved by more work, but I had not the courage to undertake it before them. So I said I thought it would do.
He lingered a moment, while Miss Merton spoke a few words to Annie, who only waited until they reached the stile to express warmly her admiration of the lovely lady, who had invited her also to come some day to Hillside, to see the air-plants in her conservatory.
WHEN I descended from my room to the kitchen, the next evening, arrayed for my visit, with all the elegance of which my simple wardrobe admitted, Mrs. Bray exclaimed,—
“ Well, Sandy, I protest, you do look smart! But don’t be set up, ’cause you keep high company I s’pose, knowin Amos was a family man, and could n't go visitin’ round, they took a notion to you.”
Annie followed me to the door, saying,—
“You must remember to tell me about the picture, Sandy, and what they say of yours ; and do look at the plants Miss Merton promised to show me, and see just how she looks herself.”
“ And anything more ? ” I asked, laughing.
“ Yes, — what they say to you. You look as handsome to-night, Sandy, as the tall gentleman with Miss Merton,— only such a very different handsome ! ”
“ Then you admired his appearance ? ” I asked, lingering. “ I fancied you were too busy looking at Miss Merton to think of him.”
But Annie continued to unfold her opinion without noticing my remark,
“ I should be afraid he would n’t care for me, if I did n’t look and act just as he wanted me to. I don’t like his way of being handsome, Sandy, so well as yours.”
Unconsciously, Annie was making her first experiment in analysis ; and as I did not quite relish the basis upon which my beauty rested, I bade her good-night, and hurried away.
I knew I was not handsome, yet Annie’s naive admiration undoubtedly braced me to face the evening. In my gray eye there was nothing of the soft, dreamy expression usually supposed to accompany the æsthetic temperament On the contrary, it had the earnest, scrutinizing glance peculiar to a more restless intellect than mine. The intent gaze of some ancestor, perhaps, looked out from these “ windows of my soul.” If so. and his spirit was occasionally permitted to view the world through me, the “fancy gardening” in which I so extensively indulged could scarcely have been congenial to his tastes. The eye was the salient point, however, of a countenance not otherwise noticeable, except from a girlish habit I had of coloring whenever I was suddenly addressed.
When I reached Hillside, I rang the bell with some trepidation, which was increased by the announcement of the servant that the ladies were at the teatable. This trifling annoyance of presenting myself at the tea-hour, when expected to pass the evening, was sufficiently serious to my awkwardness to threaten my enjoyment of the visit; but I had scarcely seated myself in the library when Miss Darry appeared.
“ I hoped you would be in doubt as to the hour of coming, Sandy, and get here early,” she said, smiling brightly. “ You must let me thank you for painting that picture for me to look at; I even admired the little white hand of your plebeian friend, it was so charmingly done.”
I could not be annoyed at this mingling of praise and badinage, especially when she relieved me from all sense of intrusion. Moreover, she looked so brilliant, so sparkling and happy, that I watched her, amazed at the metamorphosis from her ordinarily calm, intellectual conversation and plain appearance.
“ I thought perhaps you would keep the picture to please me, Miss Darry,” I faltered, feeling that I was presenting it to an entirely new character.
She accepted it, however, most graciously, and led me into the conservatory, that I might assist her in arranging some baskets of flowers for the parlor-tables.
“ I never did believe in conservatories,” she exclaimed, as I expressed my admiration of the many rare plants. “ It is as unnatural a life for flowers to be crowded together, each in its little pot of earth, as for human beings in their separate beds in a hospital. The idea of shutting up plants and pictures in a room by themselves, to be visited on State occasions, or when some member of the family in a vagrant mood chances unexpectedly among them, seems to me preposterous.”
Meanwhile she ran in and out among the flower-stands, breaking off branches of flame-colored azalea, creamy, voluptuous-looking callas, and a variety of drooping blossoms and sprays of green, with a reckless handling of their proud beauty, which I involuntarily contrasted with Annie Bray’s timid, half-caressing touch of the wild-flowers.
The umber-colored silk she wore toned down what I, who fancied the delicate sea-shell hue of blondes, should have termed her rather strong colors ; and now, bent on my enjoyment rather than improvement, she looked much younger, and certainly far handsomer, than I had supposed she could. Her entire self-possession, the familiarity with which she approached human beings, Nature, and Art, were to me so many indications of her power, and because of my own awe in the presence of any revelation of beauty or intellect, seemed the more wonderful. In admiration of her ease, I became at ease myself, and was thoroughly enjoying her gay mood, which puzzled while it charmed me, when the glass door opening into the drawing-room was pushed aside, and Mr. Lang entered.
“ Good evening, Sandy. Alice and Mr. Leopold have been inquiring for you. Miss Darry; but don't run away with those baskets so quickly. I want a few blossoms for Alice’s hair. Yours is gorgeous, tropical. Sandy’s here has as much of a wild-wood appearance as exotics will admit of. One would think Nature was in league with Darley in making these ferns ; they are outlines merely; but this rich red japonica in the centre, on its cushion of white flowers, shows you a genuine colorist, Sandy.”
Miss Darry, making some gay reply, gave me a basket, which, designedly or not, made me less awkwardly conscious of my hands, and we entered the drawing-room. Unaccustomed to gayeties of any kind, I was quite dazzled by the sudden and brilliant blaze of light, the few guests already assembled, and by Miss Merton’s beauty enveloped in soft floating folds of gossamer, looking as though the mist itself had woven her a garment. No time, however, was given in which I could relapse into self-consciousness, Miss Darry occupied me with various statuettes and engravings, until Mr. Lang rejoined us, accompanied by a gentleman whom he introduced to me as Mr. Leopold, the painter of the picture which I was to see in the course of the evening. Although my reading had necessarily been limited, Miss Darry’s persistent training, and my own voracious appetite for information in everything relating to the arts, had given me a somewhat superficial knowledge of the pictures, style, and personal appearance of the best old and modern painters. In spite of some obstinate facts tending to a different conclusion, I had imbibed the conventional idea of a genius, that he must dwell in an etherealized body, — and Mr. Leopold’s stalwart frame, full, florid face, and well-rounded features were a surprise and disappointment. I expected the Raphaelesque, — tender grace and melancholy ; but about these frank blue eyes and full red lips lurked the goodnature of a healthy school-boy, the quaint, unchecked humor of a man upon whose life had fallen the sunshine of prosperity.
“ So, you are the young man, Mr. Allen, who painted the Spring Flowers and the Maiden’s Hand,” he said, in a full, rich voice, and with a genial smile. “ It is evident, you, too, are in your spring-time, while I, near my autumn, can afford to refer to the peculiarities of that period. I cannot regret that you have a life of Struggle before you ; for it is not merely the pleasing fancy which paints fine pictures. You would have let a sunbeam play over that little hand, had you possessed the technical knowledge to manage it: now, would n't you ? ”
I crimsoned, assenting as though to a crime.
“ Effects of sunlight on bright colors are sometimes very striking,” he continued. “A crimson flower wet with dew and nodding in sunshine is a kind of tremulous rainbow, which a man might well like to copy. We must make a compact to help each other, Mr. Allen. I want to study human nature, and would like an introduction to all the oddities of the village.”
I promised to make him acquainted with them, wondering meanwhile that he craved for his culture what I regarded as the chief obstacle to mine.
“ You shall meet Sandy at the forge some day, when work is over, and visit the villagers,” said Mr. Lang. “ Miss Darry, shall you or I take Mr. Allen to see the picture ? He may like a longer inspection of it than some of us.”
I looked imploringly at Miss Darry, who, slipping her hand within my arm, led me into a room corresponding to the conservatory in size and position. The walls were mostly covered with cabinetpictures, and among several larger ones was the recent addition by Mr. Leopold. At my first glance, I was conscious of that sense of disappointment which comes to us when our imagination devises an ideal beauty, which human hands rob of delicacy by the very act of embodiment: moreover, how could I, in my dreamy, undeveloped boy-life, with a fancy just awakened, and revelling in its own tropical creations, appreciate the simple strength, the grand repose of the picture before me ? What appeared barren to me in the man and his works was born of the very depth of a nature which, in copying the Infinite, had learned not only the tender beauty of flowers, the consolations of the clouds, the grandeur of mountains, seas, and rocks, but the beauty of common scenes, the grass and herbage of daily intercourse and use. Touching the world at all points, he had something to give and receive from nearly every one he met; and, as Sydney Smith has said Dr. Chalmers was a thousand men in one, I can say that he had the versatility and power of ten ordinary artists. At the time, however, nothing of all this was in my mind ; only a certain sense of satisfaction took the place of disappointment, as I looked at the picture. He had given clearly the impression of magnitude in the gigantic mass of gray limestone which juts out of the deep blue Spanish sea. Misty flakes of dispersing cloud above suggested the recent rain which had clothed its frequently barren sides with a mantle of verdure. A few bell-shaped blossoms hung over crevices of rock, fearless in the frail foothold of their thread-like stems, as innocent child-faces above a precipice. It was in this simple way, and by the isthmus of sand connecting it to the continent, long and level, like the dash Nature made after so grand a work, before descending to the commonplaces of ordinary creation, that he had toned down the grandeur of stern old Gibraltar.
Miss Darry indulged me long in my desire to look at the first fine picture I had ever seen ; but when other guests entered, we withdrew to the farther side of the room, where I was not left in undisturbed possession of her society, though conscious that she never, for a moment, lost sight of me or my manner of acquitting myself. Miss Merton, Miss Darry, Mr. Lang, Mr. Leopold, and a few others, formed the group of talkers ; and I stood within the circle, a listener, until Miss Darry and Mr. Leopold obliged me to participate. They had an admirable power of drawing each other out, and he seemed greatly attracted by her brilliant criticisms of life and Art. Had I known of the theory which, robbed of its metaphysical subtilties, is advanced in some of our fashionable romances, I should have been convinced that evening that Miss Darry was, intellectually at least, my counterpart. If I faltered in my vocabulary, when expressing an opinion or replying to a question, she supplied the missing word, or by glance and approving smile reassured me to recall it; if my thought lacked shape and completeness, she gave it a few sharp cuts with the chisel of her keen wit and clear intellect, handing it back for me to color as I chose. Miss Merton, lovely as she was, shone with a lesser light that evening in Miss Darry's presence ; yet Mr. Lang, tempted away for a moment, always rejoined her with an admiring smile, well pleased at fascinations less indiscriminately exercised.
A little later, as I again approached Mr. Leopold’s picture, not venturing to return to the parlors, now that Miss Darry was engrossed by other gentlemen, I became an unwilling listener to a few words of conversation between Miss Merton and Mr. Lang, who stood just outside the door.
“What a girl Frank Darry is for accomplishing everything she undertakes!” said Miss Merton, admiringly ; “ how she has improved her protégé! he can talk on subjects where I have to be silent, though I have had what dear mamma used to call a ' finished education.’ ”
“ Yes, darling. She has made his mental growth very rapid ; but, in the process of cultivation, he is gaining a little false pride, which I hope, is not of her planting. He blushes, whenever his trade is alluded to: foolish fellow ! not to see that the very fact of being a blacksmith is his claim to superiority. A thoroughly trained youth might have done far more than he without any special ability.”
“ But, Hamilton, you may misconstrue blushes which are so frequent; he is in a new world, too ; do give him a chance to make himself at home, before you criticize him. You must admit I was right about his not annoying one by any decided awkwardness of behavior.”
“ Oh, yes, dear. A certain sense of fitness goes with the artistic temperament. I suppose old Dr. Johnson, devouring his food and drinking innumerable cups of tea, might be a far more shocking social companion than this blacksmith’s apprentice. You are always drawing out the lovable traits of people, dear Alice,” he added, in a lower tone ; “ and that is a thousand times better than Frank Darry’s intellectual developments.”
They turned away then ; and I, angry at being forced to listen at all to what was not meant for my ear, and the more so that Mr. Lang had spoken of me so depreciatingly, stood burning with shame and indignation. Annie Bray’s undoubting faith and love would have comforted me without a word of spoken confidence ; but she was not here to give it; and, longing for the reassurance of Miss Darry’s presence, I entered the drawing-room, — but would gladly have withdrawn again, for Mr. Lang came quickly toward me.
“Sandy,” he said, “this may not be exactly the time to discuss business matters with you ; but your friends seem to feel that you deserve a better chance in the world. Mr. Bray, to whom I spoke yesterday, says you were not bound to serve him after your eighteenth birthday, but that you have never expressed a wish to leave. Don’t you see what a foolish fellow you are to work for him, when you might be earning for yourself ?”
“ But I have had no money to start with. I have had time for study, too,” I stammered.
“ Two reasons sufficient for an abstracted youth like you, but utterly unpractical. I want you to hire a forge this side of Warren. I will insure you custom enough to warrant the step.”
He looked at me keenly as he spoke, while I colored with the pride and indignation which, since his words to Miss Merton a few moments before, I had been trying to control. Was this to be the end of all my hopes, the object of Miss Darry’s instructions, her flattering encouragements and exaggerated estimate of my “genius,” as she had termed it, that I might have a forge of my own, to which I should be compelled to give undivided attention, and shoe Mr. Lang’s horses, and possibly some others belonging to Miss Merton’s visitors ? Yet, remembering how much had been already, if unwisely, done for me, I held down these thoughts, and, after a momentary pause, professed my willingness to think the matter over, if I could reserve time for other pursuits. His face lighted up, then, with the smile which had charmed me at the forge.
“ You are not spoiled yet, Sandy, I see. If you will only keep to your trade, I will keep you to your art. You must have a boy at the forge, and in the afternoons you can come here and paint under Mr. Leopold’s direction: he makes his home here during the summer, and he says you have a talent worth cultivation.”
The revulsion of feeling was as complete as he could have desired ; and I had not fully expressed my gratitude when Miss Darry appeared. I went with her to bid Miss Merton good-evening, and she stood in the moonlight beside me on the step, as Annie Bray had done a few hours before ; but now I also was a changed character.
“ I am proud of my pupil, Sandy,” she said, with more of her ordinary manner than I had observed during the evening. “ If I can place you in better hands than mine, I shall be willing to give you up.”
“ Give me up ? never ! ” I cried. “ Why, Miss Darry, this evening has proved to me that I could not sustain myself in any untried position without some help from you.”
She smiled, saying I was ridiculously unconscious of my own ability, and yet looking gratified, I fancied, at the confession.
(To be continued.)