THERE lived a few years ago in one of the small seaport towns of New England a solitary, friendless man, of the name of John Chidlaw,— a gray-headed, stoop-shouldered, hollow-chested person of about fifty years of age at the time our story begins. He was sober, steady, and industrious, and always had been so since his first appearance in the place, but somehow he never got ahead. He was thrift less, people used to say, and they got in the habit of calling him “Johnny,” and then “ Old Johnny,” until nobody called him anything else, unless it were here and there some poor child or sympathetic woman, who said “ Uncle Johnny,” with that sort of gentle kindness that is never bestowed on the prosperous.
He did not resent anything, even pity, but took his hard fortune as a matter of course, and the heavier the burden, why, the more he bent his shoulders, but he did not complain. Nobody had ever asked his history, — the history of a man who has patches at his knees, and whose elbows are out, is not, by those more fortunate persons who have no patches at their knees, and whose elbows are not out, generally supposed to be of an interesting character. John Chidlaw was, therefore, never bothered with questions.
Could he lift a heavy log? Could he tend a saw-mill ? Could he drive a team, or carry a hod of bricks ? These, and the like, were the questions that were asked him mostly; and as he could say yes to any and all of these, and as people did not require him to say more, he seldom did say more, but lifted the log, or drove the team, as the case might be, in silence.
He looked a good deal older than he was, — not that his head was so gray, and not that his shoulders bent so much, but the rather that there was an utter absence of buoyancy, an indurated and inflexible style and expression about the whole man, as if, in fact, he had been born old. You could not think of him as having ever been a boy, with cherry cheeks, and laughing eyes, and steps that were careless and fleet as the wind, but he had had his boyhood and his boyhood's dream, as will appear by and by.
It had happened to him at one time that a saw had gone into his hand, and left a jagged and ugly scar across the back ; another time it had happened that his horse had run away, upsetting his cart, and breaking one of his legs, so that he limped thereafter, and was disabled from some of the harder kinds of work he had been used to do. He had been dismissed by one and another, in consequence of his inability to make a full day's work, and was sitting one day on a pile of bricks in the outer edge of the town where he lived, quite down-hearted, and chewing, not the cud of sweet and bitter fancies, but, instead thereof, a bit of pine stick, which he held partly in and partly out of his mouth.
His eyes looked solemnly out from under his gray eyebrows as now and then a whistling teamster drove by, throwing a whole cloud of hot, suffocating dust over him. Sometimes a pedler, or some stroller with a monkey on his shoulder and an organ on his back, would nod to him as he passed ; but the pedler did not think of exhibiting his wares, nor the organman of grinding out a tune, or of setting his monkey to playing tricks, for the like of old Johnny. The sun was growing large toward the setting, and nothing had turned up, when all at once there was a wild whirl of wheels, and a crying and shouting and holding up of hands by all the men and boys along the road. A horse was running away. On he came, galloping furiously, while the old heavytopped buggy to which he was attached rattled and creaked and swayed from side to side frightfully, — frightfully, because it was in imminent danger of being crushed all to pieces; and sitting still and solemnly upright, swaying with the buggy, and in imminent danger of being crushed to pieces too, was a child, — a beautiful little girl, with a cloud of yellow curls rippling down her bare shoulders. Her white dress fluttered in the wind, and her hat was swimming on the pond half a mile in the rear ; but still she sat, sober and quiet as though she had been on her mother’s knees, and not so much as puckering her pretty lip for all the tumult and fright.
A dozen men were in the road, some with rails in their arms, with which they no doubt intended to intercept the mad creature; but the best intentions fail sometimes, and the men with rails in their arms threw them down, and got themselves out of the way, as soon as the danger came near them.
John Chidlaw went into the road among the rest, but without a rail in his arms. He did not, however, get himself out of the way, — not he. He threw himself with might and main upon the neck of the frightened beast, and there he held, and was dragged along, — half the time, as it seemed, under his very feet.
“ That ’s you, Johnny ! ” “ Go it! ” “Good for you!” were the cheers and calls of encouragement that followed him. The horse was valuable, and he was in danger of breaking his neck ; and what matter about John Chidlaw ! He had no friends !
He required not to be thus stimulated, if they had but known it: he had been stimulated sufficiently already, by the tossing hair and fair face of the little girl, to peril his life, and he was not the man to look back when he had his hand to the plough.
The blood besmeared his face, and streamed down his neck, and wet his shirt-bosom and sleeves, and still the voices cried, “Hold on, Johnny!” They thought he was being battered to death, though the blood was from the mouth of the horse, for the entire weight of the man was being dragged by the bit.
At the toll-gate an old woman ran out with a broom, — she could have shut the gate, but did not, — and when Johnny had stopped the horse, which he did a little farther on, she told him that but for his being in the way she could have stopped the beast at once, and that, if he was as badly battered as he seemed, she would be at the pains of getting the poor-house cart, and seeing that he was carted away ! The old carriage was surrounded in a few minutes, and the child lifted out, and kissed and coaxed, and petted and praised, and fed with candies and cakes, and handed from the arms of one to another ; and the feet and legs of the horse were carefully examined, and he was dashed with cool water, and combed and rubbed, and petted and patted, and given a variety of either grand or endearing names ; but nobody looked after Johnny, and the only kindness shown him was that of the old woman with the broom.
But even Fortune tires of frowning at last, and the time of her relenting toward John Chidlaw was at hand.
He was washing the blood from his face in a wayside puddle, when the man who owned the horse and buggy came breathlessly up. “ My good friend,” he said, slapping him on the shoulder, “you have saved my child’s life! ” And then his hand slipped from shoulder to waist, and he positively hugged the astonished Johnny, who was almost awe-struck at first, for the hugger was well to do, and he that was hugged was exceeding poor, as the reader knows.
“ My name,” he said, introducing himself, “ is Hilton, David Hilton, and I keep the ferry at the lower end of the town ; should n’t wonder if I could put business in your way ! You can turn your hand to a’most anything, I reckon, — a man of your build mostly can.”
A fortnight later, and John Chidlaw was the master of a little black sailboat not much bigger than a canoe, and his business was to carry butchers’ meat, bread, poultry, and vegetables from the market-town in which he lived to the great hotels situated on the hills above the opposite shore. His boat had, therefore, in his eyes, somewhat the dignity of a merchantman ; and as he was entitled to a part of the profits of the trade he carried on, he was at once a proud and a happy man. He had christened his boat “ The Rose Rollins,” and kept her as neat and trim as she could be. He wore a sailor’s jacket, from professional pride, and used all the nautical phrases he could muster. His shoulders got the better of their stoop, and his chest of its hollowness, in a wonderfully short time ; and one day, when he was asked about the scar on his hand, he answered that he had been bitten by a whale when he was a young man at sea. It will be perceived that he was gaining confidence, and growing in worldly wisdom. The questioner was a very timid person, but she said she guessed she could trust herself with an old sailor like that, and at once went aboard. She was a milliner, laden with boxes for the ladies in the opposite hotels, and was the first female passenger the master of the Rose had had; — for his legitimate trade was merchandise, and not the transportation of men and women ; but occasionally, as his confidence grew, he had taken a passenger or two across the ferry, on his own hook, as he phrased it.
“ I took such a wiolent fancy to the name o’ your wessel,” says the milliner, “ and that is how I come to take passage with you. Ain’t she a nice little thing, though ? ”
“Trim as a gal o’ sixteen !” says John. “But had n’t you better unlade yourself o’ your merchandise, and fix to enjoy the sail some?” — and he began taking the boxes from her lap.
“ O sir, you ’re wery good ! ” says the milliner, quite blushing. And then she adjusted her skirts, and flirted them about as she adjusted them, and then she untied her bonnet-strings and knotted them up again, for nothing in the world but the pleasure of tying knots in ribbon apparently; but John Chidlaw thought he had never in his life seen such a graceful and enchanting performance. He brought his jacket directly, and offered to spread it over the board on which she was sitting.
“ Oh, you ’re wery good, wery good, I am sure, sir,—but I ’m a-givin’ you too much trouble!” — and, saying so, she partly rose and allowed the seat to be cushioned as proposed. The wind caught the bright ribbons, and fluttered them in the man’s face as he was thus employed.
“ Oh ! ” says the milliner, with a little start; and then she says, “The nasty winds have such a wulgar way of catchin’ up a body’s things ” ; and she pulls back the innocent strings and holds them against her bosom by main force.
“ Pray, miss, don’t haul ’em round that way on my account ; they did n’t hurt me none ! Why, I thought ’t was a butterfly at fust, and then I thought ’t was a hummin’-bird, and them was allers pleasin’ things to me, both on ’em.”
The woman was flattered. In the first place she was not young, — not much younger than he, in fact, — and he had addressed her as “miss ” ; and in the next place his comparing her ribbons to butterflies and hummingbirds seemed the same as a personal compliment.
“ O Captain ! ” she says, coloring up, “did you think so, werily?”—and then she changes the subject, and talks about the appearance of the clouds, and the prospect of rain. “ I suppose you old sailors can tell, purty much,” she says, “whether it’s a-goin’ to rain, or whether the clouds will ewaporate into mist ; and I should really walue your judgment, for if my things should git wet, you see, it would cost me a wery considerable sum !"
“I 'll just take an observation !” says John ; and he set his foot on a breadbasket, and cocked up one eye. He had never given the sound of w to his v before, but he had noticed that his fair passenger did so, and he adopted the pronunciation, partly in gallantry, partly because it struck him as elegant. While he was taking the observation, a bright thought came to him. “ I guess we shall have foul weather afore long,” says he. “When the clouds hev sich disjinted shapes as they hev this mornin’, it’s generally portentous ; but I can knock up a canvas kiver in a minute, and if it still looks like fur rain when we go into port, why, I would adwise you just to stay aboard, — it sha'n't cost you a cent more, not if you make a dozen trips ! ”
“ I ’m sure I’m wery much obliged, Captain, and I ’ll take your adwice when we come to port, and if the weather still looks wacillating, I won’t wenter ashore. It would n’t be worth while to risk my goods, — some of’em welwets, too, of great walue ! ”
“ The keepin’ on ’em aboard sha’n't cost you nothin’,” says John, “if that ’ll be any object to you.”
He wished to convey the idea, that, to a person of her fabulous wealth, dealing in velvets and the like, a fare more or less could not possibly be an object, and at the same time to show a magnanimous disposition on his own part.
“ Money is money,” says the milliner, “ there is no denying of that; and it has its adwantages, on account o’ which I set a certain walue upon it; but just for its own sake I can’t say that I do walue it, — not over and above ! ”
“ I hev n’t hed no great on’t,” says John, “but I’ve hed enough, sense I’ve come into business, to know that if I hed to keep it a-chinkin’ into my pocket I should n’t value it much."
Then he corrected himself, and said walue.
“ I ’ll tell you how money is waluable to me.” says the milliner, “if I may wenter so far ? ”
“Most certainly!” exclaimed John. You could n't venter nothin’ that would n’t be to your credit,— I ’ll vouch a fippenny bit on that! ”
Then he repeated himself, substituting wenter, and wouch, in the places of the words previously used.
“ Dear me ! I should become wain o’ myself if I thought your compliment was walid,” says the milliner, dropping her eyes ; but the next moment she gives her bonnet-strings a little flirt, and goes on in the sprightliest way about a hundred trifles, — one of which had no connection with another.
“You’ve forgot what you sot out on! ” says John, interrupting her at last ; “ and you kerried me away so, I was a-forgittin’ on ’t too. Howsever, it’s no odds, as I know on, — you make whatever you touch so interestin’ ! ”
“O Captain! how you do warnish me up ! I shall certainly wacate the premises when we come to port, if you don't stop sich things ! — that is, if there’s a single westige o’ clear sky. But we were talking of the walue of money, was n’t we ? ” She cast down her eyes again, and spoke with a sweet seriousness. “ I walue money,” she says, “ when I see I can make another happy with it.” And then she says her lot in life has been a wery lonely and sad one, — wersatile, but on the whole lonely, sometimes to the wery werge of despair !
“You don't say?” says John. “I certainly should n’t ’a’ thought it possible ! Why, you don’t mean to say you’ve allers been alone in the world ?”
Then she tells him how she thought she fell in love, at seventeen, with a green-grocer that turned out to be a miserable wagabond, inwesting all her earnings in whiskey and rum, and drinking them himself.
“The villain!” cried John; —and then, finding that he had not done justice to his feelings, he repeated, with great stress of indignation, “ The willain ! the black-hearted willain ! But he never dared to lay violent — wiolent, I mean —hands onto you ! ”
“ Dear me, how my heart wibrates ! ” says the woman, — “not so much with the memory of what I have suffered as that — that anybody should manifest such a — such a wery kind feeling toward me now ! ”
“ How anybody that seen you should ’a’ helpt from doin’ on ’t,” says the boatman, “is awful curus to me!”
“ Law mercy, how selfish I am, never offering you a seat all this while ! ” says the artful woman. And she hitched along, and smoothed out the jacket.
“Well, whatever your trouble’s been,” says John, “ I hope your red on ’t ! ”
It was an ingenious method of saying he hoped the vagabond was out of the way.
He turned toward her as he spoke, and the wind once more fluttered the gay ribbons in his face. She lifted her hand to draw them back. “ Don’t you be a-mindin’ on ’em,” says John ; “ they ’re just as sweet as rose-leaves, and I like to hev em a-blowin’ over me so.”
You may smile, reader, if you will, but you would not smile if you had seen the soul yearning in the eyes of the. man, if you had heard the pleading in the sad sincerity of his tone. He was fifty years old now, and I dare say a woman’s ribbon had never touched him till then. He was wrinkled and gray, and old to look upon, but his heart in its tender sentiment was as fresh and young as a boy’s.
So, with the ribbons fluttering on his cheek, and his boat drifting as it would, John Chidlaw listened to the story of the woman’s life, and as Desdemona loved the Moor for the dangers he had passed, so he loved her for the sorrows she had borne.
" Yes, Captain,” she says, “ my troubles is over now, pretty much. I’ve been a widder this ten year,” — (he hitched a little closer.) — “I ’ve been a widder, and I ’ve had peace o’ mind, and I ’ve laid up money ; but, law me when a body has nobody to lay up for, what’s the use ? ”
“ Sure enough, what is the use on ’t?” says John.
“Why, it’s no use,” she answers; “ it’s wanity and wexation ! that’s what it is!”
“ Wanity and wexation ! ” he repeats.
And then she says, if anybody had ever showed a warm heart toward her, she ’d ’a’ been a different woman to what she is.
“ A different woman ! ” says John. “ How different to what you be ? ” He could not conceive of the possibility of a difference for the better.
“ Why, I would ’a’ been ten year younger and ten year smarter,” says the widow, “and then may be somebody might ’a’ took a notion to me! Who knows ? We women never cease to hope, you know ! ”
“ And hev n’t they, as ’t is ? ” says John, eagerly bending toward her.
“ What a saucy Captain you are, to ask me such questions ! ”— and she put him gently back with her white hand. “ But here we are almost ashore ! ” — and she began gathering up her bandboxes and paper parcels with great energy.
“ I thought you said you was a-goin’ to take my advice?” says John, with a soft reproach in his voice.
“ Did I ? O, then I will ! ” she answers, with the most innocent air possible, and leaning quite across his knee to replace one of her boxes. “ What is your adwice, now ? But you must bear in mind the walue of the welwets. I’ve one bonnet in the lot, of a wermilion color, that’s worth a wast deal; and you know welwet, when it’s once wet, looks just like a drownded cat. No dressing can make anything of it. Some ladies wears it, but my ladies does n’t.”
“ I never knew clouds look like them,” says John, “ when it did n't pour ; and, if you take my adwice, you ’ll stay just where you be.”
“ I ’ll take your adwice,” says the widow, touching his hand lightly with her soft fingers, and smiling upon him with that unpremeditated coquetry that always makes a woman charming. It was especially charming to this man, for no woman had ever smiled upon him like that; and then to think she had asked and accepted his advice, withal! It was enough to turn his head, and it did.
“ I ’ll take your adwice, Captain,” she says, “and keep the welwets dry, for it would cost a pretty penny to replace that wermilion, to be sure ! I shall lose some time by it ; and time is money. But what’s money but wanity and wexation, when nobody has a warm heart toward us ? ”
John Chidlaw sighed a long, long sigh, and then he turned his boat about and they sailed back again. By and by, as if to push him toward his fate, there flashed down a few big drops of rain. The sun was shining all the while, but he bestirred himself, and worked with a will, and the widow lent her little hindering help, and directly the canvas was spread and securely drawn down, and they were sitting beneath it, side by side, cosey as could be. She became more communicative now, and told him in what street she was born and who her father was.
“ What! not-Street, of our town here ? And your father’s name Peter Rollins, too ? ”
“Yes, Peter Rollins, coffin-maker, satin-lined and silver-screwed! The wery tiptop. None but quality come to him. When I was a little girl, I used to get into ’em, when we played hide and seek. Why, if you believe me, I ’ve been into many a hundred-dollar one, and had my head into the satin piller of it! That’s the way I happened to cultiwate a taste for satins and welwets and the like, I guess.”
She did not heed the intimation of her companion that he had known her father, but went on for half an hour without once stopping to take breath.
“Ah, Captain,” she says, “ I’ve been dethroned in the world ! I was born to riches and a proud position, but I married beneath me, a poor green-grocer that turned out a wagabond ; and in my trials with him, I lost all my good looks ; for I may say, without wanity, that I was good-looking in my girlish days, and lost all my wiwacity, and come to be the sober, staid old woman you see me.”
“ Old woman, to be sure ! ” says John. “Why, nobody would think o’ callin’ you old. You look a’most like a girl o’ sixteen to me ! ”
“ O Captain ! ” says the widow ; and then she says his sight must be failing, though his eyes do look so uncommon bright; and then she says, with a little sigh, that she is upwards of forty.
She had observed John’s wrinkled face, and her confession was not without method, though she might have added five to the forty years, if she had chosen to be very accurate.
“ Up’ards o’ forty ! ” says John, charmed alike with her sincerity and her well-preserved beauty. “Why, I snum, you might marry a man o’ twenty-five any day, if you had a mind.”
“Ah, Captain, but I have n’t the mind. I want a man — that is, if I ever wenter to marry agin — who is older than myself, — say from ten to fifteen year older. I would n’t be so wery particular.” And then she says to John, — for a possibility crosses her mind, — “ Does your family live hereabouts ? ”
John blushed up to his eyes. “ Family ! ” says he. “ I never was so fortinate as to hev one.”
“ Not even a wife, to be sure ? ”
“No, miss.” And then he says he never expects to hev one.
“ Law, Captain, why ? if I may wenter.”
“ Cause nobody ’d hev me, miss ; and to say truth, I never thought on ’t much till sense we ’ve been a-takin’ this voyage ” ; and he glanced at her slyly, and touched the ends of her ribbon.
“ And what could ’a’ put it into your head now, Captain Chidlaw ?”
“ Can you ask me that in airnest ? ” says John, still holding the ribbons as for dear life. “ Then I must tell you to just look into the glass, and you ’ll see what.”
“ O Captain, you ought to be ashamed to plague a poor lone woman like me that way ; it ’s wery bad of you, wery, and I ’ve a great mind to box your ears ! and she put out her little hand to him in a sweetly menacing manner.
John seized the hand and kissed it, and then, frightened at himself, ran to the other end of the boat and looked hard at the clouds.
“ O, come back ! come back! ” screamed the widow; “ the boat ’ll upset, with me at one end and you at the other!”
“ Sure enough ! ” says John, and he went sheepishly back, and again seated himself by her side.
She gave him a little tap on the ear, and asked him if he would promise never to run away and frighten her so again.
John said he would promise her anything in the world that was in his power to grant ; and he looked at her with such adoration that the woman overcame the coquette, or the coquette the woman, — which shall I say ? — and she went as far from the “ dangerous edge of things ” as possible, and told him demurely that the only promise she exacted was, that he should listen to the long and techin’ story of her life. It all came back upon her, and she felt as if she must tell it to somebody. “ May be, though, you don’t want to hear it ? ” says she-
“ May be I don’t want to hear it ! How can you ?” says John, edging up. And she began : —
“ I told you, Captain, that I had been dethroned, and I have, — wilely dethroned, and brought low, by my own woluntary act.”
“ Dear heart! ” says John, “ so much the worse, if it was woluntary, so few pities you.”
“ Ah, that ’s it,” says the widow ; “nobody pities me,—nobody in the wide world has got a warm heart toward me.” She broke quite down, and the tears came to her eyes.
“ What may your name be ? ” says John, seizing both her hands and gazing tenderly in her face.
“ Why do you ask ? I’m but a transient wisitor to your boat; you can’t have no interest in me ; and, besides, my name is hateful to me.”
“ But I must call you somethin’ !”
“Well, then, inwent a name. My maiden name reminds me of the royal hours when my father’s position gave me rank, and before the wicissitudes of fortune brought me low ; I cannot therefore consent to be called by that; and my married name is the name of a wagabond, and I despise it. O sir, inwent a name, for mercy’s sake ! ”
“ I 'll inwent it for love’s sake,” says John, slipping his arm round her waist, and drawing her close to him ; “ and I ’ll call you my dove, coz you see you’ve got all the timidity and gentleness o’ that lovely bird, and your voice is sweeter than the turtle’s, I ’m sure.”
“ O Captain, my woice is n't a nice woice now-a-days, — my woice went with the rest of my attractions when I was dethroned. I had a nice woice once. If we could have met then ! ”
“ My dove ! ” says John, “ whatever your woice hes ben, I would n’t hev it no sweeter than what it is now ; it kerries me back to the years that hed hope in ’em,— the years when I was a boy, and in love.”
“ Say no more,” says the widow; “ my heart already tells me that you love another,” —and she began to pout.
“ Lord bless us ! ” says John ; “ our boat is aground. I was so took up with you, Rose, that I did n’t see she was driftin’ down stream, and here we be, high and dry, and a storm a-comin’ on ; but you can’t blame me so ha’shly, my dear Rose, as what I blame myself. Can you forgive me ?”
“Forgive you?” cries the widow, reproachfully. “ Can you forget that I am an undertaker’s daughter ? ”
This speech did not convey any veryclear meaning to the mind of John Chidlaw ; but he attributed that to his own dulness, and as this struck him as being very great, somehow or other, though he could not tell how, he bowed his head in shamefaced silence.
In spite of what he had said about being in love in his youth, the widow took great courage. He had said “our boat ” instead of “ my boat,” and he had called her Rose. — her real name,— how should he know that ? She could not tell, but somehow she augured favorably from it; besides, they were aground, and must wait for the rising of the tide, and in the intervening time who knew what might be done ? She would tell all her story ; and its pathos, she fancied, must subjugate the most obdurate heart.
“ Yes,” she renewed, “ I am. or rather was, an undertaker’s daughter, with the most brilliant prospects before me that ever allured a wile wagabond of a fortune-hunter, for such he was who stole me from the satin pillers my young head had played among, and give me a piller of husks, and cold wittles, and wulgar lodgings.”
“ The wretch ! ” cries John. “The wile wretch ! if he yet lived, I would wow myself to wengeance ! ” And, like Jacob of old, he lifted up his voice and wept.
“ Don’t take on so,” says the widow. “I would not cause you a moment’s sorrow for the world.”
“To think any man should have abused the like o’ you ! ” says John. “ But surely he never laid wiolent hands ont’ you ? I think I shall lose my senses if you say that.”
“ Then I won’t say it,” says the widow, tenderly stroking his hand.
“ That touch is wivifying,” says John ; “ so, dear Rose, you may go on and tell the wust on’t.”
Then the widow came to the worst; for after all the trials she had with the old wagabond, she said, she could have put up with him but for one nasty habit,— he walked into his sleep ! “And now a man that walks into his sleep,” says she, “is a trial and a torment to his wife which there is no tongue can tell it.”
“Ah, to be sure,” says John, “you ought to hev been divorced, and to have recovered big damages into the bargain. To think that the willain dared to walk into his sleep, and frighten a poor timid dove like you ! But the hearts o’ some does seem manufactured o’ flints, and his’n was one on ’em, I guess.”
“ Yes, as you say wisely, some is flint,” says the widow; “but then some is n't!” And she dropped her eyes, and gave his hand a confiding little squeeze. And then she says that, once married, diworce is n't got for the asking, — “you are tied for good and all.” And then she says, that brings her to the p’int.
“To be dethroned was bad enough,” says she ; “ and then to see my royal dowery conwerted into whiskey, which it was dewoured by him, the same being took continual; but what was most intolerable of all was that he walked into his sleep ! I tried every way to contrawene the wile habit that could be inwented. I coaxed and I scolded, and I got up late, and I give him hot winegar with a little whiskey into it, — he would swaller anything that had a drop of whiskey into it,—and I prewailed on him to sing psalms, and, that failing, I prewailed onto him to inwest into a wiolin and play onto that till late into the midnight, thinking by that means his witality would be exhausted, and he would lie into his bed like any other man ; but lo and behold ! he inwested into the wiolin a-Monday, and a-Monday night he played till along towards ten o’clock, and I got clean wore out, and, says I, ‘Do leave off playing onto that wiolin,’ says I, ‘for my head aches like all possess ’ ; and with that he up and went to bed, and after a while I hears something fingering the latch, and I riz onto my elbow, and says, in a whisper, ‘ Dan’l, there’s a man a-trying to break in, as sure as you ’re alive !’ He did n’t answer, and thinks says I, the wiolin has done it, and he is a-sleeping with a wengeance, and then I feels along, and says I, ‘ Dan’l, Dan’l ! ’ but still no answer ; then I felt for the piller, and there was no head onto it, and I scraped a match, and it went out, and I scraped another, and it went out, and I scraped another, and a leetle blue flame just started and flickered, and before I could see what it was a-fumbling at the door, it went out. Thinks says I, I ’ll make sure work now ; and I took two of the nasty things into my hand and scraped so hard I crushed them all up together, and they flashed out and seared my finger-ends and burnt a hole into my nightgownd-sleeve, and, seeing I was like to burn up, I slapped my arm with all my might, and at last I slapped the flame down, and at last, by persewerance, I slapped it out; and yet I had n’t seen a thing, but I could feel the hole into my nightgownd-sleeve, and my arm all burnt into a light blister. ‘ Dan'l! ’ says I again ; but Dan’l did n’t answer, and then I was full sure it was him, and I scraped with a steadier hand, and the match—it was one of them nasty lucifers, may be you know — ”
“Yes, I’ve heerd tell on ’em,” says John.
And the wretched woman went on : “It was one of them nasty lucifers, and it choked me so I could not find the candle ; and though I could just see a ghostly object at the door, I could not tell at all whether it was Dan'l or not, for he never looked like himself when he walked into his sleep ; and the match — they are nothing but splinters, you know — was burning closer and closer to my fingers, and I just dabs it wiolently into the washbowl, and puts it out. And then says I, ‘Dan’l! Dan’l!’ again; and this time he answers, and says he, ‘You wixen,’ says he, ‘shut up your mouth ! ’
“ There was no mistaking that, and all in the dark I wentered after him, and grabbed and ketched him by the end of his neck-tie, and hild with all my might; and at that he began to wociferate at the top of his woice, and, thinks says I, better than rouse all the neighbors and have them broke o’ their rest, I ’ll just let him go and walk into his sleep till he’s satisfied. I took the key out of the door, and then I tried to find my way back, for, thinks says I, I ’ll retire and take my rest anyhow, and, if you believe it, I was so turned round I could n’t find the piller! So I went feeling here and there, and every minute I come back to him, and every time I touched him he wociferated at the top of his woice; and then I ’d say, 1 Dan’l, it was n’t woluntary ! ’ and then I ’d feel and feel by the chairs and the wall, and by one thing and another, as a body will when they can’t see, and the first thing I ’d know I ’d be right back to him agin. My blistered arm, meantime, was a-burning like fire, but, thinks says I, it’s no use, I can’t find the water-pitcher, I ’m so turned round ; and I just sot down where I was, and there I sot till daylight, blowing all my breath away onto my arm, and the minute I could see I made for the pitcher; but, happening to take it by the snout instead of the handle, away it went, and spilt all the water, and broke the pitcher past all mending, — and a fine pitcher, too ! — one that my own father give me in cholera times, when his business was at the best.”
“ I declare,” says John Chidlaw, “ it’s enough to make a body’s blood run cold ! ” And then he says he does n ’t wonder she’s agin matrimony !
Now the widow had said nothing of the sort, and stoutly protested that she had not, but that, on the contrary, she thought it an adwantage to any woman to be married, prowided she could find an indiwidual that had a warm heart toward her; to which John replied that she had found such a one ; and she answered, “ How you do go on ! ” and resumed her story.
“ Well, a-Tuesday night he took to the wiolin again, and played and played and played and played all the old dancing tunes in creation, and I sot by and never said a word till ’leven o’clock come, and then till twelve o’clock come, and then till one o’clock come, and then till two o’clock come, and at last, thinks says I, my brain will go wild, and says I, ‘ Dan’l, I ain’t a bit sleepy, but I do feel some as if I could go to sleep if you’d just keep on a-playing ; I ’ve got kind o’ used to it, and I don’t believe I can go to sleep without it.’ With this he flung the wiolin into the cradle, — my father had presented me with a cradle that he had made out of some boards that had been used once and rejected on account of knots, but just as good, you know, — and then he flounced into bed, and he never walked into his sleep that night! ”
“You cunnin’ little thing!” cries John, overcome with her smartness, and hugging her close. “Who but you would ever ’a’ thought on ’t ? Such a sleek deception!”
“Well, a-Wednesday night he would n't touch his wiolin, and that night, or rather along towards morning, he walked into his sleep, and a-Thursday night he would n’t play a stroke agin; in wain I put the wiolin into his sight ; and that night he just dewoted himself to walking, — making himself wisible to the neighbors, even. So thinks says I, this won’t do ; and a-Friday night, says I, I says to him, says I, ‘ I hate the old wiolin,’ says I ; 1 and I’ve a good notion to burn it up ! ’
“‘You just wenter!’ says he, and he takes it up and slants it agin his shoulder, and turns his head kind a sideways, all the time a-keeping his eye onto me, and he seesaws and seesaws till I falls asleep into my chair, and then he seesaws and seesaws till I wakes and rubs my eyes, and still his head is kind a sideways, and his wiolin agin his shoulder, aslant like, just as if he had n’t moved; and then I pertends to sleep, and I pertends and pertends and pertends, and at last pertence is clear wore out, and I wakes up like, and I says, says I, ‘ Dan’l, it must be a’most ten o’clock, ain't it?’ — I knew it was daylight. And all at once his wisage changed, and the wiolin fairly dropt from his shoulder, and he hild up his head that had been kind a sideways all that while, and went to bed peaceable as a lamb, he did, and for the rest of the night he did n’t walk into his sleep at all! ”
“ You angel ! ” says John, — “ to get round him so.”
“Just wait,” says the widow; “there’s something a-coming that’ll make you open your eyes. A-Saturday night says I, 1 I feel like dancing,’ says I ; 1 so, Dan’l, give us one of your liveliest tunes!’ and with that I began to hop about like a lark. Of course he was took in, and the wiolin was n’t touched ; but O how he did walk into his sleep ! Wisible to everybody ! In wain I argued that walking into sleep was wulgar, in wain I coaxed, and in wain I cried, — though tears will sometimes prewail when nothing else will, that is, if they ain’t too woluntary. Some women seems to shed ’em woluntary, and then they are not so prewailing, which it was never my case, Captain, never ! I cried for sheer spite and for nothing else ; it was always the way with me, especially after I was dethroned ; and when tears did n’t prewail, thinks says I, I must take adwice, which I took it, — adwice here and adwice there, — and one adwised one thing and one another; but the adwice I took was adwice that it liked to have landed me where I never should have seen the light of this blessed day, nor seen, nor seen, nor seen — you ! ”
John put both arms round her instead of one, and held her fast, lest she might vanish like a phantom.
“ You seem so like a sweet wision of the night! ” he said. And then he asked her what was the wicious adwice.
“ I do feel as if I ’d wanish, sure enough,” says the widow, “ if it was n’t for your wine-like arms a-holding me up so nice, for I never can repeat this part of my sufferings without being quite wanquished, — just a leetle closer, if you please ; now your shoulder, so that it will catch my head if it should happen to fall. You have wisely called the adwice which I was adwised to wicious,” says she; “but what will you say when you hear the adwice which I was adwised ? Nerve yourself up. Captain, but don’t let go of me, not the least bit, I am so liable to be wanquished by my feelings. There, that ’ll do, — the dear knows it’s all because of my fear. Well, the adwice I was adwised was, as you wisely said, wicious, — indeed it was wery wicious, — and yet the woman that she adwised the adwice was a woman of wast experience, — the wife of a wiolent drinker, and the mother of fourteen children. More than this, her father had been constable once, and she wore French thread-lace altogether ! Would you suppose, Captain, considering her adwantages, especially as regards her father and her laces, that she could have adwised me with adwice that it was unadwisable ? ”
“No, I should n't a-dreampt on ’t,” says the Captain ; “ but what was the adwice that she adwised you that warn’t adwisable ? ”
“ I really can't get my consent to tell,” says the widow, “ now that I’ve sot out, for I never expected to reweal it to anybody, unless it was to — well, to some one that either was, or was like to be, my husband. Dear me, I ’ve undertook too much ! ”
“There,” says the enraptured lover; “ now can’t you go on ? ”
“ I don’t know,” says the widow, blushing, but not withdrawing her cheek.
“ Try, for my sake ! ” says the Captain, “ it ’s so interestin’. You've undertook a good deal, but whatever consarns you consarns me.”
“ Well, I won’t wacillate no more, — not if it plagues you! ” And the widow looked fondly in his face, and then, quite supporting herself upon his arm, she drooped her eyelids modestly and resumed.