PAULINE BYNNER was a girl of great good sense. She understood people, and nobody could obtain an advantage over her. She could listen and keep still, and then she had talk, too, at command to occupy the idlest hours of her friends. She liked society, but the open hospitality of her father’s house displeased her. “ it is like living in a public-house,” she would say, and she by no means smiled on all the guests who came and went. She could discriminate. Her father would have said of her that one of the most successful results of her training was that she could see an advantage, and make the most of it. If poor Nanny said once of her daughter, “ I do not understand Pauline,” she said it a hundred times. And it was true, she did not understand her ; she was incapable of understanding the elegant, refined selfishness of her child.
It was easy to persuade Pauline that her boy-lover, though well born and highly educated, was really no match for her. Though with him she gave up all the tenderness, all the generous love of which her nature was capable, she found no difficulty, and it would have been as easy to give up, for any good reason, father or mother. Advantage gained was the one thing to be considered and sought, under all circumstances. Pauline could have looked down and talked down all the beautiful sentiments of a legion of angels, if such had seen fit to oppose her will in anything. Mark Bynner was more proud of Pauline than of his horses ; he saw himself in her, polished and brightened to beauty, educated, the equal of the best.
When his expectation was realized, and the Doctor had asked him for Pauline, and the gift had been conferred, Mark said : “ I will give you ten thousand dollars with the girl, and I hope you will make it ten hundred thousand before long. You could stand it easy, and Pauline is n’t afraid of money.” Ghost of Ephraim Butler, you may now take yourself out of his way !
The Doctor had already perceived that all that Mark Bynner’s name was good for was at his service, and he answered unexpectedly: “ You must settle the portion on Pauline, sir. Then I shall be able to work with both hands, and feel easy about her. It would cramp me to think that possibly I might make a mistake some time, and so give her an anxiety. You understand me ? ”
“ Yes,” said Bynner, “ but I wish you would let it be the other way. It would be better for Pauline to have to look to you, than to feel that she was driving a separate team. I have n’t but the one, and you must n’t make me feel that I have n’t a life-interest in my girl.”
“ I should be fit for the gallows if I could,” returned the Doctor, with feeling ; “ but let it be as I say,” he added quietly; and Mark saw that it must be as this gentlest of men would have it.
But this thing the fond father would have clearly understood ; so he said, hesitating: “You won’t take Pauline away from us, Doctor ? The house is big enough for you, I am sure, and half a dozen beside. What would my wife and I do left alone in it ? We lost our son. It’ll all be squared when Nanny and I get to be cumberers of the ground, and Pauline has to turn round and take care of us. She never had her mother’s knack at cooking.”
Trenton said, “ Father Bynner, I hope I may be able to make you feel less the great loss of that dear boy of yours.”
The two men looked at each other through not unmoistened eyes. They saw only the best of each other then.
Mark did not like to tell Miss Nan how all this money matter was to be arranged, yet he did tell her.
“ Then it can’t be helped,” she said, and not a word beside ; but that look of anxiety, which made people sometimes say that Mrs. Bynner had n’t the least comfort of her life, so intent was she on nursing and serving sickness and misery; that look which Bynner understood too well, and which almost enraged him at times, forthwith appeared.
The marriage settlement was one of those transactions which he would have liked to talk over until other conclusions were reached than those which they now both held. So he began with something like complaint : “ You don’t talk like yourself, Miss Nan. You seem to expect all the while that something ’s going to make a dive at you from the dark.”
“ That’s it, Mark. I do,” said she. “ I am always expecting. We got more than we reckoned on, for ourselves and our children.”
“ Folks can scare up as many nightmares for themselves as they please,” said he. “ If you’d quit saying such things you ’d quit thinking ’em, I know. It makes me mad, Miss Nan, now I tell you. The Doctor is right; he can’t tell what’ll happen to his business, — no man can. He wants to feel easy, just you make up your mind that this is his lookout and mine, and let us manage.”
A kind of argument which Nanny had herself sometimes attempted to use ; but the transferring of responsibility was a more difficult feat than she could accomplish. As Mark used it, it did not prove more weighty. The nearer she found herself drawn towards him, the more closely was she identified with him. They were one, yet two ; between them was this dreadful variance.
The Doctor could express himself on points not dissimilar from those which gave rise to this variance in a way that met with Bynner’s profound approval.
“ Nature is my God,” he would say, “and I don’t know any other. I tell you, sir, tobacco and whiskey are among the necessities of our civilization. Men can’t live without them. We shall all be burned up, and there ’ll be the end. Temperance societies ? Go talk to the sloth and armadillo. You may organize as many as you please, all the laws of men won’t be able to interfere materially with the laws of nature. The race has got to going, and nothing can stop it. Congress can’t legislate for necessity, until men know more than they do know.”
Mark was a firm believer in the tobacco-and-whiskey doctrine, he could see that the work laid out for the century was to be done by the aid of stimulants ; but Miss Nan was not to be hindered by such talk from breaking her heart over the question whether an offended Being — said not to exist — could be transformed into a friend. The wedding was over, and the talkers had talked out the wonder and admiration excited by the Bynner munificence. Pauline had seen her bridal paraphernalia well commented on in the “ Witness,” even the neighborhood feasting was nearly at an end, when, returning home, after an absence of a couple of days, Mark was met by the Doctor, who thus addressed him : “ Eph Butler’s brother is here, and Lord of heavens ! I wish he were back where he came from. He is a beggar and a sot. Pauline is disgusted with me and my friends, but your wife behaves like an angel. She is Saint Elizabeth over again.”
“ There’s room enough here,” said Bynner, a little serious, yet amused too, by the Doctor’s boyish explosion; “ for your friends, anyway.”
“ Don’t say my friends again, or I ’ll run away. I am mortified to death.”
“ But they ’re your own words. Has the lad fallen among thieves ? ”
“ Yes, and worse. It turned out as I feared. They have literally devoured his substance; and how he had wit enough or money enough to find his way here I have n’t been able to discover yet; what Eph would say to him, if he saw him in this plight, I don’t know. I am just beginning to believe that he is Butler’s brother. But he has been put through a severe course of questions. I thought he must be an impostor who had got hold of my letter by some infernal piece of luck. I hoped he was, but he is n’t.”
There was little for others to say when the Doctor took this visitation in such mood.
“ I didn’t suppose, when I told him I could give him work, and to come here if he wanted it, that I was encouraging anything like this into my hands. He is n’t fit for any place, except a hole under ground,” he said, after Mark had seen the newcomer.
“ Nanny will work wonders,” Mark answered, quietly ; “ we won’tgain anything by being hard on him. There’s no end to Nanny’s kindness. It looks like a bad case, but she will have her way. I ’m willing.”
He was, in fact, more than willing.
“ You see how it works,” said Nanny to him, when they were alone together.
Mark did not answer. He was in a maze.
“ If we can set the poor creetur on his feet again,” she said, “it will be easy to make all square.”
Last year, when money had not half the value to him, or to any business man it now had, it might have been “ easy,” and this year “ tight,” as it was, it might still have been “easy,” but for this representative of the Butlers, whom, Mark believed, not Nanny or any other woman would be able to prop up into the likeness of a man. He could see the joy Nanny had in her enterprise. “ Old woman,” he said, “ do you expect to set him on his feet again ? You’ve got a devilish hard job before you.”
“ If you will make Pauline stop fretting about it, I will manage the rest,” said she, quite confidently.
“ Pauline don’t like to see you so put upon,” said Mark, kindly.
But Nanny knew it was not on her account that Pauline fretted. It was making the house like a tavern to take in every straggler who happened to come along. Hemlock Creek was a humiliating, an exasperating recollection to her.
“ If I cure him, Mark, will you promise me ? ”
“ What ? ”
“ To pay him.”
“ What ! over again ? ”
“ He has nothing to do with the settlement on Pauline.”
“ He has a great deal to do with it. How many ten thousands do you think I have to spare ? I must keep afloat in my business.”
“ You and I don’t want anything, Mark. Not anything for ourselves.”
“ Yes we do, Miss Nan, we want as much as anybody. A sight of good it would do to put money in the hands of that fellow! Besides, as the Doctor says, who knows that he is n’t an impostor ? ”
“ I know it. I looked at that other face long enough. I am always looking at it. If he had never said he was a brother, I would have said it.”
“Well, things work queer.”
“ It’s the Lord that does it.”
“Well, I shall get him to think better of himself, if I can. And if I do, and we have n’t any money left, Mark, he has me for the rest of his life. I ’ll never forsake him. He’s my lost son.”
“ Now you talk like Miss Nan,” said Mark. “ I won’t go against you in that. But I won’t go shares with you in it. The Doctor is my boy.”
That was the one word he had spoken which was like a strong staff to Nanny. He had as good as promised that she should have her way !
Such a kind face as hers was to meet the eyes of a man who, coming to a sense of his fallen condition, daily became more ashamed of himself! There was never a day nor an hour when this youth did not feel that he had at least one friend in the world. He found it easy to explain himself to Mrs. Bynner. How quickly she understood, how thoroughly she appreciated, how constantly she sympathized ! If she did not understand his moods, he had but to speak, and a word had an effect equivalent to the results which would have sprung from the profoundest knowledge. The Doctor might have understood him better, and the Doctor was kindly, but no kindness of man dealing with infirmity, weakness, wickedness, could equal that of this woman.
And the Doctor had his own absorbing thoughts, great responsibilities whose weight he felt constantly, complications which he must guard against or disentangle when they surprised him ; he could not sit down with a despairing brother and dress his wounds, and calm his fears, and arouse his hope, and plant again securely the tattered banner of life. It was too much to expect of him or of Pauline, that they could waste time in restoring to the world a being who had not proved himself worthy of restoration. But Nanny ! as if there were no other work expected of her in this world, she sat down in obscurity with the poor fellow and listened, and solaced, and encouraged, and became happy in the work which absorbed her. Zebulon was her son. God had given him to her as certainly as he had given Pauline.
Anybody would have felt at liberty to prophecy that all would go well with Pauline and Dr. Trenton, that bright young pair. The alliance was between strong spirits, and all would have gone well but for the immense miscalculation which the Doctor had made in his great undertaking. It was a leviathan swallowing all the money he could find to invest; and presently it began to give quite other indications than those of return. And of course with him, associated as he was, business success must be, as it was with Pauline and Pauline’s father, the one success which marked a man.
The consolidation of the stage routes and the projection of the railway would have secured the ends the Doctor anticipated, had not other parties, possessed of equal courage and larger capital, entered into the lists and won the prize. After a desperate but brief struggle, in which he attempted with his few thousands to fight against apparently exhaustless resources, Dr. Trenton was obliged to own to himself that he was defeated ; and as failure, according to his mode of looking at it, was irretrievable ruin for which neither tobacco nor whiskey had sufficient consolations, he provided himself with an air-gun, and blew his incompetent brains into the nothingness which they so richly merited.
People said that the wheels of enterprise must stand still in Howesbury when that brain ceased to project and act. But the lamentation of the community, however extravagant, could never have expressed Mark Bynner’s disappointment and grief. What risks he had incurred, what losses sustained, to secure advantage to the man whom he had with unutterable pride of heart called his son. Those risks and losses did not now receive a regretful thought; he proceeded at once to offer costly sacrifices to the honor of the dead.
The Doctor, he perceived, would be remembered as a man who had attempted a great work and— not succeeded ; attempted a great work and failed. But no man should be able to say that he had suffered loss by trusting Dr. Trenton.
For this reason, with an almost insane ardor, Mark Bynner bestirred himself to collect all accounts against his son, pledging himself to make good all the obligations which had been incurred, and in this activity he did not flag until he had nearly beggared himself.
And what a satisfaction through all this in the thought that, whatever might happen to himself, Pauline and her boy were secured from want; Trenton’s boy was sure of education. Never a woman more tender and fond than he became, looking on Trenton’s boy. He began to calculate how old he himself would be when the child should have come to manhood. He had seen the sun set and darkness cover the earth ; the sun would never again rise for him, but he looked forward for the dawn ; he wanted to live that he might see that infant a man. That would be seeing Trenton over again ! He wanted to tell the youth what his father was, as nobody except himself could tell him ; for nobody, Mark was persuaded, nobody ever had seen Trenton as he really was, nobody save himself. So the poor dreamer dreamed, and under that hope he found his only place of shelter and rest. “ I shall live,” he said to himself, “ I shall see the child a man.” But meanwhile people were saying about him, “How frightfully he changes ! he looks like the ghost of himself! Nobody has seen him smile since the Doctor killed himself. We thought he could stand anything. This blow will be the death of him.”
He fought against the attacks of sickness on his system. Rheumatism laid him on the rack ; fever consumed him ; but he must live to see that infant of age. Had Nature so slight an acquaintance with her man as to think he would succumb ? He arose from one attack after another to look into Trenton’s business, and, as before stated, he continued the investigation until he had nearly beggared himself.
And now he and Nanny were living with Pauline. Yes, and their son Butler also. Up to the time of the Doctor’s death the daughter had dwelt in her father’s house. Does the reader perceive a difference, or understand how Mark and Miss Nan should have felt it ? The brother of her husband’s friend was the burden Pauline manifested least patience in bearing. It was not long ere Nanny held the position of his advanced guard, forever on the outlook to parry any blow, ward off any shot, guard against any surprise, intended for him. “ Mother had better apply for a situation as an attendant in some asylum or hospital.” “ Mother seemed bent on encouraging shiftlessness, and on making a tavern of the house.” That might be even easier to say now when Pauline was mistress of the mansion than it had been before, but it was less difficult to hear quietly.
Nanny said to her husband, “ Does Pauline mean to drive poor Zeb away ?”
Bynner did not know ; he made no answer. He was surprised at Pauline, vexed at his wife, enraged at fortune ; he didn’t care what became of “poor Zeb,” who slunk about so, arrested in his progress towards himself by that terrible shock which seemed to ruin them all, — the Doctor’s violent death.
Soon it was only Nanny who had a word or a look for Zeb. He ceased his painful efforts to make himself recognized as an existing presence at the table or around the house. He even ceased to play with little Ephy. Slowly fastened on him the conviction that he must go away.
It seemed as if Nanny had some apprehension lest he should take this thought into his head. She tried to manage that he should seldom be out of her sight; became a talker, and a gossip, which she had never been, so to amuse and interest him, and to draw him out. She even asked Pauline to let him take care of the garden flowers and the conservatory, saying he was fond of flowers and was dreadfully in need of occupation.
“ Why don’t he get something to do, then, fit for a man of his years ? I don’t want my gardener sitting at my table, and associating with my child as an equal,” answered Pauline.
“ He would do no harm to Ephy,” ventured the mother. “ The baby is only six months old.”
“ It makes no difference if he is not six days old,” returned Pauline, impatiently. “ I like John better. Besides, mother, I may as well say I don’t intend this house shall be filled with hangers-on. You and father are different ; but you must let me keep house according to my own liking.”
That was a remark that did not admit of reply.
One day Nanny asked Zebulon to assist her in separating a clump of oleanders which were to be potted anew. While they were about their cheerful work she said to him, because she perceived that if she did not say it others would, and less kindly, “What would you like to be best, Zeb, if you could have your way about it ? ”
“ Dead,” said he.
“ O, now, —with your chances ! ”
Nanny appeared to be so surprised, that Zebulon was almost assured she had not spoken in jest, making sport of him. Something like a ghastly smile appeared on his face, though he answered, “ What chance have I ? Everybody despises me and I despise myself more than any one can.”
“ That might be, in the old country, if you became unfortunate,” said she ; “but here in this country, where women and everybody have a chance, don’t say you haven’t one. It’s going against light and knowledge.”
“ Does anybody think so besides you ? Does Mrs. Trenton ? ”
“ Why of course she does ! How could she help it ? Everybody knows it is so. You are a right smart young man. And does n’t it say in the Declaration of Independence, — I could tell you the time when I felt these words come home to me first; I was a girl then, it was one Fourth of July, — that we all have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ? ”
“ That may do for native-born citizens,” answered he ; “ but you know it don’t apply to me.”
“ Yes it does, to adopted citizens just as well, all men, and I am sure you are an adopted citizen, just as you are my adopted son. Why, you can even vote, if you please.”
He shook his head. Nanny became desperate ; was there no word, look, or argument by which she might draw him out of his despondency ? ”
“ But what will you take up ? ” she asked. “ If you can’t do anything you please, what will you do because you must ?”
“Tell me,” he said, with an imploring look. “ I am sure I don’t know. I was going to be an engineer, Eph expected me to come to this country. He said I could get employment anywhere, that railways were always building.”
“Well, so they are,” said Nanny, eagerly. “ Be what he wanted you to be.”
He shook his head again and said to himself, “ She means to have me go, and I will.”
The thought had no sooner passed through his mind, than Nanny seemed to be aware of it, and she hastened to say : “ I want to see you happy, doing something. That is the way with us in this country, you know. We have to be doing something, or else we ain’t happy. The poor Doctor used to say it was the climate was the matter of us all. Howesbury is a growing place, with all these iron-works here, and so on. I’m sure there’s something you could do right here ; and I ’ll tell you one thing, Zebulon, you will do ten times better at the work you find for yourself than you would at any other. You look about, now, make other people see it’s in you plain as I see it. I would n’t let anybody go ahead of me if I were a young man like you ! I lost my boy. I expect great things of you, Zebulon. You don’t know what a comfort you are to me.”
The poor fellow stood staring at Nanny, fairly looking at her, face to face, almost for the first time since he knew her ; more and more he seemed to be astonished by her words. When she ended with this declaration, everything — voice, manner, countenance — attesting to her sincerity, he could bear it no longer ; throwing his arms around her neck he burst into tears, and wept until it seemed as if all the dross of his nature must be swept out before that flood.
It was the last opportunity Nanny had to console and encourage him. Spurred on by her confidence in the possibility of his final success, Zeb sought for occupation ; and when he failed to find it, urged on by the vague hope that elsewhere he might realize the hope of this good woman, he walked out of Howesbury without a dollar in his pocket, and was never seen again within its limits.
That was a heavy blow for Nanny Bynner. Ought she not to have known that the recollection of what she had done for him, and said to him, had kept him steadfast to his determination that he would find work to do, until he found it ? and till at last he was able to look in the face of any honest, upright citizen as a peer, a rightful participant in all the civil and the social rights of man ?
It was a bitter reflection for Nanny, “If Pauline could know that to make her rich we have made him poor! She is easy and respectable at his cost ! ”
The time had passed when it would be possible to speak even to Mark in this strain. Mark had ruined himself in endeavoring to meet those obligations which the Doctor had incurred, and he was, moreover, proving that the necessities of the age of which the Doctor used to talk were at least his necessities.
Everybody in Howesbury knew that he was a man of fallen fortunes and a falling man. Everybody in his own house, or rather in his daughter’s house, knew it. He was drinking hard, people said, getting besotted, and would never again be good for anything in this world.
But it was not his ruined fortunes that troubled Mark Bynner. It was his daughter. Where was his child ? The ends of the earth seemed nearer to him than she.
He noticed, as well as Nanny, that she wore the ring which he had given the Doctor when it suddenly became the reminder of a lost friend. It was all stuff, this talk about retribution, nobody knew that better than he ; nevertheless, he would have rewarded the thief who had robbed Pauline of that ring. Perhaps if she could lose it, she and they all might find the invisible net broken which enclosed them in the toils of their adversary.
But Mark was long in coming to such dismal thoughts about his daughter as he now entertained. Why, she had been as the apple of his eye, his darling, his pride ; what could she mean by her words so unloving, her acts so unkind ? It almost seemed to offend her that he should love to be with little Ephy. He and Nanny had given everything into her hands ; was it because they now had nothing, that they were contemptible in her eyes ?
Pauline might easily have led her father away from the edge of the precipice on which he stood ; even he felt that; had she called to him with love in her voice, he would have turned back, proud to obey her. Yes, he would have been strong enough in his will to control powerful habit for her sake.
But at last, at last, only this conviction was possible to the wretched man, that their daughter’s house was no place for him and Nanny, and that they had best be gone. He ventured to interpret the gloom of his wife’s face by that of his own heart. She, too, felt a stranger in the house of her child, and the bread of dependence seemed better adapted to destroy life than to sustain it. He must help Miss Nan out of this trouble.
One day, when he was recovering from one of his rheumatic attacks, he beckoned her to his bedside, and said : “ We must get away from this, — you and I, old woman.”
She responded so instantly as to surprise him, “ Yes, Mark.”
He paused a moment on this ; perhaps a brief opposition on her part would have pleased him better ; it would have said better things for Pauline. But he merely asked, “ Where ? ”
“ Where shall we go ? No matter where,” she answered, “ but somewhere, quick.”
“ Hemlock Creek ? ”
Poor old man ! the scene of his early labors, where at least he had been able to earn his bread, was the one place to which his thoughts turned now.
“ No, not there,” she said, shuddering.
Yet, because all the rest of the world looked strange and threatening to him, as soon as Mark Bynner was on his feet again he set out for Hemlock Creek, feeling, when he had shut the door of his daughter’s house, that he could go on easier if first he shook the dust of it from his feet.
He had said to his wife : " I ’ll send for you. You ’ll come when you get word. We ain’t so old that we can’t begin over again.” And Nanny knew how to smile still. The cheer of her smile was with her husband through many a mile of his journey. But when he was gone she felt troubled. He was old and broken to undertake a journey alone. What if he should never return ? What if she should never hear of him again ? Travellers sometimes perished by the wayside, and those who lovedthem never knew ! She began to watch day and night.
“ Why, mother,” Pauline would say, " how absurd! You talk as if father were incapable of taking care of himself. Of course it is all right.”
Nanny answered: “Your father is very feeble. I ought to have gone with him.”
“ What nonsense ! ” Pauline, it almost seemed, could browbeat King Death himself.
Mark Bynner set out for Hemlock Creek. The old place first, in spite of what Nanny had said. But he blundered in his confusion when he took the stage, and after twenty-five miles over a strange road he discovered that he was going to Hemlock Lake. The driver reconciled him when he at last understood the state of things. “ You can’t get back to Lee Station, where you started from with me, short of two days, unless you foot it,” said he. “ There ain’t no stage going. You 're hard on to the prettiest place on earth ; the millennium has come there, they say. I can set you down within haif a mile of it ; they won’t let me come no nearer.”
“ I ’ll go there, then,” said Mark. “ Perhaps there is n't any mistake, after all.” For, after all, so it was away from Howesbury, east, west, north, or south, made little difference.
So it was that on the evening of the day he left his daughter’s house, Mark Bynner was set down at a point which seemed to him as remote from Howesbury as if he had gone half round the world. “ Straight ahead,” said the driver, “you can’t go amiss; it’s like walking in a garding all the way. You ’ll know when you get there.”
So it was like a garden all the way. By and by Mark, from going straight ahead, intent chiefly on arriving, began to take notice. He breathed the sweetest perfumes with which summer air was ever freighted ; he heard birds sing ; he stepped on more briskly ; he thought he should surely come to himself and to his strength again. So long he had lived in a different world, a world in which tobacco and whiskey were necessities, a world in which despair and pain and misery were sovereignly at home, — O, what sphere was this? It seemed to him a world on which business had never set its relentless grip. And yet what but labor had made the desert here to blossom as the rose ? Ah ! but the hand of contented labor, not that of the demon Gain, who cares ever less for means and methods than for the end, success.
By and by the walk of half a mile ended, and Mark came to a broad, straight street shaded by great elmtrees, and each great tree was as a bower, and underneath stood a small house, which was a home. The sound of the cricket’s voice was on the still air, the scent of myriads of sweet peas, and of acres of mignonette, seemed to surround and embrace him. As he entered the street he saw a town pump, and beneath the tree which overhung it a wooden bench. There he sat down. He felt that it would be good to rest there. If now Nanny were with him, he would ask for nothing more, — nothing more. Poor Bynner ! For tills ease thou gavest him that night, I thank thee, dear Nature.
Sitting there, he fell asleep. He was more tired than he had supposed, and it was so still. By and by he wakened. A young man had come for a pail of water, and when he turned his lantern round he saw the stranger on the bench asleep ; and it was raining.
He did what any other man in Bolting would have done, he laid his hand on the sleeper’s shoulder and asked him if he wanted a rheumatism, that he sat out there in the rain sleeping so sound.
Mark opened his eyes and endeavored to make out where he was, and who had spoken to him, and what had been said. Then he tried to get up, “ You will have to lend a hand, sir,
I ’m pretty stiff,” said he.
“ I think it is likely,” was the reply. “ Thee does n’t mean to spend the night here, then ? ”
“ Well, not exactly,” answered Mark. “ I’m on a journey, and came in late. The stage set me down.”
“ Thee had better come with me,” said the young man, cutting short the explanation. “ We shall be drenched in no time.”
In the house of that young man Mark Bynner lay for many a day at death’s door. Hither came Nanny to watch over him. Into their sad hearts the young man and the young woman, who had just set up housekeeping for themselves, poured balm.
When the old man — for an old, old man he looked — was able to walk about again, he said to Nanny, “ We ’ll never leave this place. They can find something for us to do” And he talked with Owen Happy, and Owen said, “My wife is good for counsel. Providence has thrown us together. We ought not to be in haste about separating.”
So it was that the children of another generation saw Mark Bynner weaving baskets for the city trade, with his poor misshapen fingers ; and knew in his wife, Nanny, the head and soul of that great co-operative kitchen, where the food of the Bolting angels was prepared.
Nanny died first, and she was lamented. The child she had borne did not follow her to the grave, but Bolting shed tears for her, and made her place of burial bright and pleasant even as she herself had become when Bolting had put work into her husband’s hands, and so helped to heal her wounds.
Mark, lingering five years after, broken in mind as in body, believed she was always with him, and nobody attempted to build up a wall of separation between him and Miss Nan. It was gathered from his talk that he had children alive, and once, but once only, it was suggested to him that to see them might be a pleasure. “Never,” he said, thinking only of Pauline. “ She went away from me before I went away from her.” But the anger which was in his voice when he began to speak died out of it before he had concluded.
“ It plagues him,” said Owen Happy to his wife; “don’t mention it again. He seems not to want anything. He isn’t dead; but he isn’t alive, either; but he would be glad to be dead to be with the old lady again. That’s my opinion.”
The younger people — for they were now no longer young, though they might have been Mark’s children by nature as assuredly they were by grace — were surprised one day to hear the old man address them in this wise: “I would like to get a letter written. I would like to see Ephy. Would you mind writing to Ephy and saying to come down here and get my last word ? I have laid up a little, but that’s yours ; but I have a mind to say something to Ephy. Tell him to come alone. Nobody but Ephy. I shall be getting off now before long, and there’s this thing to say before I go.” Therefore the letter was written, and after a brief wandering reached its destination, and therefore Alick Eph Trenton went out to Bolting.
Arrived there too late, as we have seen. This, Hannah Happy said to him, was the last word of the old gentleman. She had asked him, and she said, What if his boy did not come in time? There might be some delay in his getting the letter ; his boy might be away from home, he might have changed his residence ; she could not pain him by suggesting that he might not be alive.
The old man was a long while answering her, she said ; he lay thinking, and from time to time she repeated the question ; at last he said, smiling on her as she had never seen him smile before, and in a way that made her feel as if perhaps she had never seen his true face before, “You and Miss Nan — you and Miss Nan — you and Miss Nan.” She thought then that he might be losing his reason entirely, but by and by he said, “Tell the boy I have been asking that we may all be forgiven..... Have nothing to do with money. It is no advantage. Let it alone. Stand straight. There’s something besides tobacco and whiskey to keep up a man.” That was all. It was evident that she had recollected every word, and that she had repeated all with something of the old man’s emphasis.
“ Tell me all about him,” said “ Ephy.”
And though the story was so simple, yet it took her long. Strange things happened while Alexander Ephraim sat and listened. He began to see in vision patient Love and Divine Forgiveness. Not without tears he listened to the story, simple as the simplest of pastorals ; how the old pair, his grandparents, had stood beside each other in the years of waning strength and waning reason, until, as all could see, like children they passed through the strait gate into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Others, wiser in the theologies, might have smiled, or perhaps taken offence even, at the narrator’s notion, but the story made a wonderfully deep impression on the young stranger who had keyed himself up on these “Necessities of the Age” to a pitch that enabled him to sound the note of despair.
He wept over the beautiful picture of divine unity presented by that poor pair ; he wept over the story of the humble labors which they diligently pursued, because they determined, when they found that Bolting would harbor them, that theywould owe no man, and would be a burden to none ; wept over the gratitude they expressed that work was given to them ; wept, thinking how the woman had led the man towards peace.
But when Hannah Happy would have held Alexander to the thought that he was his grandsire’s heir, and her husband brought the bag in which Bynner had kept his savings, he put it aside. “ I do not want it,” he said, “ You need not tell me how much there is ; there must be somebody in this place who would not be harmed by a little help. Something can be done here with the money. All I want is a piece of his work, one of those willow flowerstands. And tell me more about them. Tell me more about her.”
And while Hannah talked on, he sat with head bowed, and his heart softening under the knowledge that he was bone of the bone, flesh of the flesh, of this good woman. The exasperation with which he remembered the desertion of his mother died out of him ; he had kindred again, though under ground.
You will never see the flower-stand woven of willow wrought by Mark Bynner’s poor misshapen hands, — the gift which Alexander Trenton carried home to Ellen Hepworth, — without, whatever the season, its tufts of immortelle and amaranth, purple and white.
Poor Pauline ! she never was so fortunate as to find a thief to rob her of her ring. And her successful, yet utterly comfortless career would make one think, almost, that the superstition which her father as well as mother strove against, yet yielded to, had its foundation in some mysterious truth.
It came to pass one day that the junior partner of the firm of Smithby & Co., that is, our Alexander Trenton, engaged in the following remarkable conversation with the silent partner, Mr. Zebulon Butler.
“It has always seemed to me, sir, that when you stood by me the way you did, you must have had some reason for it, a better reason, I mean, than you would have given to anybody that asked you to account for your confidence in me.”
Mr. Butler took his time to answer.
“ I saw you were to be trusted, Ephraim ; there are some signs that cannot be mistaken.”
“ And is that all ? ”
“Tell me where did you go when you made that journey, before you came back to us?”
The junior partner looked a little surprised.
“To Bolting,” said he.
“ You were sent for, but you were not in time. That could hardly have pained you as much as it did me,” said Mr. Butler. “ I saw that letter written to you, and I went down to Bolting too; but they were both gone. Both gone,” he repeated. “It is on your grandmother’s account that I am always thinking of you as though you were my son, Ephraim. You are the only relation I have in this world. She saved my life. You are like her, and she was an honest woman. Did my confidence in you help you? I was determined you should justify it. I could have held out against a great deal worse odds, thinking of her. You are like her, and she was an honest woman. They say I have a knack at holding on. I could n’t have let you go, Ephraim, while I remembered her.”
By this time Ephraim could speak.