The Undiscovered Country
EGERIA and her father had reached the station an hour before their train was to start; and the time, after the first flush of their arrival, began to hang heavy on her father’s hands. Now that he had set his face homeward, he was intolerant of delay. He looked at the waiting-room clock, and compared it with the clock above the tracks outside ; he blamed Hatch for not being there to meet them, and fretted lest he should not come at all. It would be extremely embarrassing to be left behind, he said; he complained that it had the effect of placing him in a dependent position, and that Hatch had taken advantage of his temporary destitution to inflict a humiliation upon him. He said he would go out and look about the station while waiting, and he impatiently permitted Egeria to go with him. An idle throng were hanging about the draw of the Charlestown bridge, watching some men in a barge who were supplying air to a submarine diver at the bottom of the dock. The locality of the diver was indicated by the bubbles that rose and broke on the surface and floated away on the swift tide.
“ Egeria,” said her father, with instant speculation, “ if it were possible to isolate a medium thus absolutely from all adverse influences, great results might be expected. A speaking-tube of rubber, running from the mouth of the submerged medium ” — He looked at the girl, who smiled faintly.
“ I should not have the courage to go under the water, — I should be afraid of the fish.”
“ At first, no doubt,” replied her father. “ But I was not thinking of you. I should like to see the experiment tried with Mrs. Le Roy.”
Boynton was not jesting, and his daughter did not laugh at a proposal which would doubtless have amused the seeress herself. “ How strange,” said Egeria, as they turned away, “ the western sky is! ”
“ Yes; the wind has changed to the east. The Probabilities, this morning, promised a storm.”
“ And the frames of all these railroad draw-bridges against that strange sky ” —
“Yes, yes,” said her father; “they look like so many gibbets. It’s a homicidal sight,— or suicidal.” He gave a little shiver, and they walked back into the station, where the train they were to take was just making up. Dr. Boynton looked about for Hatch, but was arrested in his impatient scrutiny of the others by the presence of two men, whose peaceful faces no less than their quaint dress distinguished them from the rest of the thickening crowd. They wore lowcrowned, broad-brimmed bats of beaver ; one was habited in a straight-skirted coat of drab, and the other in a like garment of dark blue ; their feet, in broad, flat shoes, protruded from pantaloons of a conscientiously unfashionable pattern. Their hair hung long in their necks, and when one lifted his hat to wipe his forehead he showed his hair cut in front like a young lady’s bang. They seemed quite at their ease under the glance of the passers, and talked quietly on, even when Dr. Boynton, expressing a doubt as to whether they were Quakers, halted Egeria, and lingered near them.
“ That is so, Joseph,” said one who seemed the younger, and was much the graver of the two. “It began with our people, and I think it will get its only true development among us. In the world outside, its professors are as bad as the hireling priesthood of the churches.”
“ Yee,” assented he called Joseph, with that quaint corruption through which the people of his sect fail in the scriptural injunction they strive to obey.
“ As soon as the money element touched it, it began to degenerate, and now it’s a trade, like any other. They are tempted all the while to eke it out with imposture.”
“ Nay, Elihu, not in all cases. At least, they don’t yield to the temptation in all cases. You must not let your judgment be too much swayed by the siugle case that has come to your knowledge.”
“ They can’t be Quakers,” said Egeria, in a low voice; “ they say ‘ you,’ and not ‘ thee ’ and ‘ thou.’ ”
Her father did not answer; he pressed her hand to make her keep silence, and insensibly drew her a little nearer to the men.
“ Yee,” replied the younger, “ it is well to avoid a hasty judgment; but it is foolish to blind one’s self to the facts. And the facts are that in such hands as this gift has fallen into in the world outside it is mere sorcery, — a spell to conjure with.”
“ Nay, it is something better than that. It is still a proof of life hereafter to those who could receive no other evidence.”
“ Yee, that may be. But I feel that it cannot truly prosper except with those who are leading the angelic life, here and now.”
These words, these phrases, had visibly made a great impression upon Boynton. His daughter saw that he was longing to accost the speakers. But at that moment she caught sight of Hatch coming out of the ladies’ room, and looking anxiously about as if seeking them.
“ Oh ! ” she cried gladly, “ there’s Mr. Hatch! ” and she pulled her father away with her.
The two men turned at the sound of their going, and gazed after them.
“ That is a strange couple,” said he called Joseph. “ Did you notice them as they stood here ? ”
“ Yee, I saw them. They seemed to be listening. But we were not saying anything to be ashamed of, and I thought they could not receive any harm from overhearing us. They looked like stage players to me : before I was gathered in, I used often to see such folks.”
“ Do you think they are man and wife?”
“ Nay, I don’t know.”
“ He seemed too old to he her husband.”
“ That often happens in the world.”
“ Yee,” said Joseph ; “ but I never like to see a young wife with an old husband. And there is something pleasing in a pretty young couple : they seem happy.”
“ Nay,” returned the other, “ what does it matter to us how they mate together ? ”
They stood looking after Egeria and her father, whom Hatch had now joined. “ They seem to have found friends,” said Joseph. “ I don’t think she is the elderly man’s wife.”
Hatch hurried them into the waitingroom ; and then he went to buy their tickets, and have their baggage checked.
“ I' ve got your trunks checked clear through, doctor,” he said, when he returned and sat down beside them. “ But you ’ll have to change cars at Ayer Junction. You won’t have any trouble, though : you just walk out of the end of the depot, and take the train standing across the track of the one you’ve come on. You can stop at Portland, when you get there, or you can make the connection, and push right through, and be home by morning. I' ve been looking it all up for you in this Guide.” He drew a book out of his pocket.
“ Oh, we shall want to push right through, sha’n’t we, father ? ” asked Egeria.
But her father had apparently lost all concern in the return home for which he had but now been so eager. He had listened with apathy to Hatch’s excuses for his delay, and he had received with indifference the checks and tickets the young man had brought him. “We will see how we feel when we get to Portland,” he answered testily, handing the money he had borrowed to Egeria. “ Mr. Hatch,” he added, presently, with the mystery in which he liked to involve simple things, “ are you pressed for time ? ”
“ I have all the time there is,” replied Hatch, cheerily.
“ Then oblige me by remaining here for a moment with Egeria, — for one moment only.”
He left them, and they looked blankly at each other.
“Your father,” Hatch began, “seems a little off the notion of going back.”
“ Yes,” assented Egeria, dispiritedly.
“Well, of course; that’s the reaction. But he ’ll be all right again when the train’s started. I know how that is. Miss Egeria,” he added, looking down at the neat valise between his feet, “ I did n’t tell the doctor, but I hope you won’t object to company part of your journey. I’m going on your train as far as Ayer Junction.” He met her look of amaze with one of triumphant kindliness. “ Yes. You know I can go West Hoosac Tunnel way.”
“ I did n’t know,” said Egeria.
“Well, I can. And I thought I might be of use to you in changing cars at the Junction, and so I ’in going.”
“ I don’t know what to say to you,” Egeria murmured, brokenly.
“ I thought you’d be glad,” said Hatch.
“ Yes ; only you do too much,” returned the girl.
“ Well, I’m a little in debt to your father, yet; and I would do anything for — for your father. I hope you ’ll make him push straight through to-night. I don’t think your father’s quite well, Miss Egeria. He needs rest. He ought to be home.”
“ Yes, he needs rest,” said Egeria sadly. “ I’m glad we ’re going home. But you know how it is, there, between him and grandfather,” she added, reluctantly. “ I don’t know just where we ’ll go. We can’t go to our old house ; there are people in it; and father would n't go to grandfather’s, after what’s passed.”
“Oh, you’ll find friends there,” said Hatch, hopefully. “ At any rate, you ’ll be among your own kind of folks, and that’s something. And that reminds me: here’s a little note I want you to give your grandfather for me. I always liked the old gentleman,” he added, giving her a letter. “ He and I got along first-rate together. And I guess you can patch it up between him and your father.”
“Mr. Hatch,” said Egeria, looking at the letter. — “ Or no, no matter.”
“ What is it ? ”
“ Nothing; merely something I was going to ask you, — to ask your advice. But it’s done now, and so it would be of no use.”
Hatch laughed. “ That’s the time ladies usually apply for advice, — after a thing’s done. And, as you say, it ain't of much use then, — at least, not for that occasion.”
Egeria smiled sadly. “I suppose I wanted you to think I had done right.”
“ Well, I think that without your asking me.”
Egeria put the letter away in her handbag, and put that carefully behind her on the seat, before she asked, a little tremulously, “ Mr. Hatch, what do you think made him change his mind about it after he talked with you ? ”
An angry flush passed over Hatch’s face, as he followed her meaning, and recalled the encounter of the morning. “ I don’t know. Such a man as that would n’t need any reason. Perhaps he did n’t change his mind. He might n’t choose to let me know what he intended to do.”
Boynton returned from the outside, and interrupted their talk.
“ I went to see if I could find those two men,” he said to Egeria. “ Some remarks that they dropped had a peculiar interest for me. But they were gone. Did you notice them, Mr. Hatch ? They stood near us when we first caught sight of you.”
“ Parties in broad-brims ? Yes, I saw them. But I did n’t notice them particularly. What were they talking about ? ” “ The life hereafter,” said Dr. Boynton solemnly, “ and the angelic life on earth.”
“ Well, I don’t know about the last, but the first is a good subject for a railroad depot. Makes you think whether you’ve bought your insurance ticket. Quakers, I suppose.”
“ No, they were not Quakers,” answered the doctor, with dry offense.
“ Well, they looked it,” said Hatch. “ Perhaps they belonged to some of the new religious brotherhoods. I’ve seen fellows going round with skirts down to their heels ; I believe they ’re pretty good fellows, too ; they take care of the sick and poor. But I don’t see why they can’t do it in sack coats.”
“ It’s possible that these are of the brotherhood you mean,” said the doctor. “ I wish I could see them again.” He looked vexed and disappointed.
“ Well, you may run across ’em,” returned Hatch easily. “ Perhaps they ’ll be on our train.” lie added, at the doctor’s inquiring look, “ I ’in going to Troy by the tunnel route ; I shall be with you as far as Ayer Junction.”
“ Oh,” returned the doctor, with a little surprise, but with as little interest. Is n’t it time to go on board ? ”
“ Guess we might as well,” said Hatch, gathering up Egeria’s things and her father’s, beside his own compact luggage, and following Boynton, as he went out free-handed. Hatch had taken his berth in the sleeping-car, and he got them seats in this luxurious vehicle as far as the Junction. Dr. Boynton stared anxiously about the car, and walked up and down the aisle. “ Remain here with Mr. Hatch a moment, Egeria,” he said. “ I will be back, presently.”
Egeria made a little start of protest, but Hatch repressed her with a touch. “ Let him go,” he whispered, as the doctor pushed off. “ He’s after those Corsican Brothers. They can’t do him any harm, and they’ll occupy his mind. Who did you think they were?”
“ I could n’t tell,” said Egeria. “ I was sure they were Quakers ; but they didn’t use the plain language. I think father thought they were talking about the spirits,” she added, dejectedly.
“ Well, I’m sorry for that,” replied Hatch. “ I think he’s got enough of the spirits for one while. But probably they were n’t, if they ’re any of those new kind of brothers. If they are, I hope he ’ll find ’em. They can give him some talk on the other side.”
The doctor came back, and sat down with an air of satisfaction. “ I’ve found them, Egeria,” he said. “ But the seats all about them were occupied, so that I could n’t get a place near them. I overheard them say that they were going to Ayer, where friends are to meet them.”
“ Well, that’s lucky,” Hatch interposed. “ You may get a glimpse of them there. You ’ll have to wait twenty minutes for connections. It’s surprising how much you can do in twenty minutes when you ’re on the road. Why, twenty minutes on the road are as long as the good old twenty minutes a fellow used to have when he was a boy. But they won’t go any further in the way of time, generally, than twenty dollars will in the way of money, nowadays; we seem to have got an irredeemable paper currency in both things, since I grew up. I wish we could get back to a gold basis. I should like to see half a day or half a dollar of the old size. Why, doctor, you must remember when they were both as big as the full moon ! ”
The weather had been growing colder since morning, and though they had run out under clearer skies than those of the sea-board, the sun set at last in a series of cloudy bars, through which his red face looked as through the bars of a visor, before it dipped out of sight, and left the west pale and ashen. The lengthening twilight of the season prevailed over the landscape, sodden from long snow, and showing as yet no consciousness of the spring. It was sad and bare, and it was from its cold melancholy that the girl shrank towards Hatch; she did not withdraw when her father rose and went into the next car.
“ Going to make sure of his Brothers,” said the young man. He looked at his watch. “ We ’re a little late ; but I shall have time to see you on board the Portland train when we get to the Junction. We ought to have had the twenty minutes there together; but we sha’n’t; my train leaves before yours does. I wish I was going on the whole way with you ! ”
“ I wish you were,” responded Egeria. “ But you mustn’t lose any time when we get to the Junction ; you might miss your own train.”
“ I could n’t afford to do that. But there ’ll be time. Now, I ’ll tell you what, Miss Egeria : I want you to write to me when you get home. You know I shall want to know you’ve got there.”
“ Yes, I will,” answered Egeria.
“ There ! ” said Hatch, tearing a leaf from his pocket-book, in which he had written, “ that ’ll fetch me. I shall be a fortnight in Omaha before I push on to California. When I get hack, in June, I ’m coming to see you ! ”
“ You may he sure we shall be glad to have you,” answered Egeria, putting the address in her bag. “ I ’m so eager to get home, it seems as if I could fly. I ’d rather be in the grave-yard there than lead the life we have the last three months. I hope I shall never come away again ! ” she added, passionately, while the tears started to her eyes.
“ Well, I hope you won’t, if you don’t want to,” said Hatch. “ But I guess we won’t talk about grave-yards in that connection. I’m coming back to find you strong and well, and your father in the good old track again.”
“ Yes,” murmured the girl
The doctor came in and resumed his seat.
“ Corsican Brothers all right ? ” asked Hatch.
“They are still there,” replied the doctor, gravely accepting the designation.
“ Well, you ’ll have to cut it shorter than I thought for at Ayer,” said Hatch. “ We ’re a little behind time. But I guess you can transact all the business you have with them in fifteen minutes.”
“In fifteen minutes ? ” Boynton looked doubtful and unhappy.
“ Why,” said Hatch, with a laugh, “I’ll see that you get the whole time. I ’ll find your train with Miss Egeria, and put her into it. You ought to have some supper, though. I 'II ask the Brothers to hold on till you’ve had a cup of tea.”
“ I shall want nothing to eat,” replied the doctor, excitedly. “ If you will take charge of Egeria, I shall be obliged to you. I must speak to them.”
“ All right,” said Hatch. “ Don’t be anxious,” he whispered to Egeria, as they emerged into the crowd and clamor at the Junction. Locomotives were fuming and fretting under cover of the station ; without, their bells were bleating everywhere ; people ran to and fro, and were pushed about by men with long trucks; the baggage men hurled the trunks from one train to another, and called out the check numbers in metallic nasals. Hatch made his way with Egeria to the train standing across the Fitchburg track, and piled up her things in a seat. “ Remember the train and car,” he said, making her look round, when they came out again. “ Now come get something to eat.”He hurried her into the eating-room, and ordering supper for both, he left her and went to find the doctor. It was some minutes before he returned with him, crest-fallen and disappointed.
“ Did you see them ? ” asked Egeria, interpreting his gloom aright.
“ No,” said her father, “ I have missed them.”
“ Good-by, doctor; good-by, Miss Egeria,” said Hatch, who had been paying for the supper. “ That’s my train,” he added, at the sound of a bell. “ Good luck to you ! ”
Egeria clung to his hand. “ But your supper!”
“That’s the doctor’s supper. I shall snatch a bite at Fitchburg.”
“ Oh! ” moaned Egeria. But he was gone, and she turned to urge her father to eat.
“ Oh, I want nothing, — I want nothing,” he said, impatiently; but the girl pressed him, and after she had made him drink a cup of tea, she followed him out of the eating-room. At the door, he gave a joyful start. There, not ten paces away, were the men whom he had seen at the depot in Boston, and whom he had been so anxiously seeking. A third, dressed like them, and of a like placidity of countenance, was talking with them. Nothing now could prevent Boynton from accosting them. He launched himself towards them with an excitement strangely contrasting with their own calm.
“ Gentlemen,” he said, “ I must beg your pardon for addressing you. But I saw you in the depot at Boston ” —
“ Yee,” interrupted he called Elihu, tranquilly, “we saw you there.”
“ And — and — I chanced to overhear something in your conversation ” —
“ Yee,” said the other, as before, “ we Baw you listening.”
“ Well, well! I confess it, — I confess it! ” cried the doctor, even more impatient than disconcerted. “ I felt constrained to listen: your words seemed to me a message, a prophecy, a revelation. May I ask, gentlemen, if you were talking about spiritualism ? ” “ Yee, we were.”
“ Father, — father, we shall lose our train ! ” pleaded Egeria.
The three strange men, from studying the doctor intently, turned and looked kindly at her, while he continued, “ And were you —you were — Gentlemen, this is a subject that interests me greatly, — vitally, I may say. Pardon me if I seem too bold. You were saying that this science, this dispensation, — this — this — call it what you will, — originated with some society of which you are members ? ”
The bell was ringing for their train to start; Egeria essayed another meek appeal of “Father, our train is going!” and was hushed with a harsh “ Silence ! ” from the doctor, who eagerly pursued, “ And this society — this — Gentlemen, what are you ? ”
“ We are of the people called Shakers,” replied Joseph.
“ Exactly ! Exactly ! I see it, — I understand it all ! I understand now how you can make the only just claim to the development of these phenomena. In your community alone is the unselfish, the self-devoted, basis to be found, without which we can rear no superstructure to the skies. I have wasted my life ! ” he cried, passionately, — “ wasted my life ! Does your community live near here? ”
“ Yee,” answered the eldest Shaker, cautiously, “ some miles back. This brother has come down to drive us home.”
“ I wish to be one of you ! ” said the doctor.
“ Nay,” answered the Shaker, “ that needs reflection.”
A train began to cross the front of the station. Egeria’s long - suffering broke in tears. At sight of her distress, the Shaker added, “ Friend, there goes your train.”
“ Well, well! ” exclaimed Boynton, distractedly, you shall hear from me ! ” He turned with Egeria, and ran towards the cars, the Shakers following, and making signals to the engineer. The train moved slowly, and Egeria and her father scrambled aboard. She led the way to the rear car, in which her things were left; but on going to the seat midway of it which Hatch had chosen for her, she could not find them. She sank down, stupefied. Her father noticed neither her loss nor her distress. She waited hopelessly for the conductor’s coming, and when he appeared she asked him timidly if he had seen her things. He said he would ask the brakeman about them, and added in the tone of formal demand, “ Tickets ! ” The doctor surrendered them without looking at the conductor. “ These tickets are for Portland,” said the conductor. “ You ’re on the wrong train, — this is the down train.”
“ Oh, put us off then, please,” implored Egeria, “ and we ’ll walk back.”
“ Up train left before this did,” said the man, “and you could n’t get it, any way.”
“ Oh, what shall we do! ” lamented the girl, “ How shall we ever get home ? ”
“ I can take you on to Egerton; train does n’t stop till we get there. You can go up on the morning express.”
“ But we can’t pay ! ” gasped Egeria. “ Our money was all in one of my bags! ”
The conductor looked as if this might or might not be true. He glanced at Egeria’s shabby dress, and his face hardened as he said, “ I can take you to Egerton,” and passed on.
Boynton had shown little concern in the matter, as if it were no affair of his. Egeria did not appeal to him for counsel or comfort, but sank back into her seat, and wept silently. In the twilight her tears could not be seen ; when it grew darker, and the lamps were turned up, she averted her face, and stared out of the black window with streaming eyes. When the train stopped, and the brakeman called “ Egerton,” she led her father from the car, and began to walk with him from the station up into the village.
Egerton is a village that presens a winning aspect to the summer visitor when he goes thither in June, and finds it at peace with all the world, in the shadow of immemorial, uncankerwormed elms. Its chief street wanders quaintly, with a pleasant rise and fall, and on either hand are the large square mansions of a former day, and the trim, well-kept Freneh-roof villas of ours. Hammocks, with girls reading novels in them, are swung between door-yard trees ; swift buggies go by on the wide, dustless street; the children of summer visitors, a little too well dressed, play in the cool paths; all day long there is lounging and light literature and smoking and flirtation on the piazzas of the big summer hotel. But the place is far from being a mere summer resort; it is a village, with its own life, expressed in comfortable homes, in a post-office, an apothecary’s, a local bank, and various stores, all elm-embowered. A lovely country lies about it, dipping to a fertile valley on one side, and stretching on the other level and far, with an outlook to yet farther hills.
On the chilly April eve when Egeria and her father walked aimlessly away from the station up into the village, it did not wear the welcome it gives the summer visitor. Here and there a lamp pierced the gathering night, and about the stores and post-office there was a languid stir; but the houses darkled away into the gloom of the country. A wind was rising; it took the elms over the street, and swung their long, pendulous boughs about under the sky, dully luminous with coining storm.
The doctor had seemed carelessly.indifferent about all that had happened; indeed, scarcely cognizant of it. he looked vaguely round as they passed through the space in front of the hotel. “Where are you going, Egeria?” he asked.
“ I don’t know. We have no money.”
“ No money ? ”
“ You gave me the money, and I put it into my bag that was carried off on the train to Portland.”
“ Ah, true, true,” responded her father, as if he granted the trivial point for argument’s sake. He added, with a sort of philosophical interest in the fact, “ Well, we are beggars now, — houseless beggars, who don’t know how to beg! Yet I have no doubt there are doors enough on this street that would fly open at our touch, if it were known that we were without shelter and in need. Where shall we apply, my dear ? ”
“ Oh, I don't know, — I don’t know.”
“ All the houses seem dark,” mused Boynton aloud. “ If we rang, and made them the trouble of lighting hall and parlor lamps in the belief we were visitors, it would have a bad effect. We will stop at the first house where we see a light at the front windows.” But when they came to such a house, it seemed too brightly lighted, and they walked wearily by. At last, they paused before a door where the illumination was neither too brilliant nor too faint; and while they stood questioning themselves as to the form of their petition, the lamp at the window was suddenly blown out. They did not speak, but turned and kept on their way. They had passed through the denser part of the village, and the houses began to straggle at wider and wider intervals along the road. Presently they found themselves in the open country, between meadows and fields, with what seemed a long stretch of woodland before them. But before they reached it they came to a wayside country store, in front of which they mechanically halted.
“ I have an idea, Egeria,” said her father. “ I will step into this store and pledge your ring for a night’s lodging.”
“ Well,” said Egeria, yielding it with dull indifference. She went with him to the door, and lingered there while he addressed the man behind the counter with his airy flourish. It required time for the situation to make itself intelligible. Then the man took the ring extended to him, and looked coldly, not at it, but at Boynton. When the rustic leisure of the establishment had gathered itself about the transaction, he returned it. “ I ain’t no goldsmith,” he said.
“ I beg your pardon ? ” queried Boynton.
The man lifted his voice : “ May be it’s gold, and may be it’s brass.”
“ Brass ? ”
“ Well, you ’d ought to know. Anyhow, I guess we can’t trade.” The spectators admired a fellow citizen’s cool ability to deal with a confidence man.
Boynton turned away with dignity, and addressed a young fellow in the group. “ Can you tell me,” he said politely, “my shortest way to Ayer Junction ? I was brought here by mistaking the downward for the upward train, at that point.” The listeners grinned at the shallow imposture, but the young man answered civilly that if he was going to walk he had better take the road to Vardley, keeping due northward on that street. He came to the door to be more explicit, and, throwing it open, discovered Egeria to the others.
“ Funny pair of tramps,” said one of them, loud enough for the wanderers to hear.
“ I guess they ain’t any tramps,” said the store-keeper, darkly.
“ Why ?” asked the other.
“ Well, I guess they ain’t tramps,” repeated the man in authority. His success in coping with the doctor made the rest feel that he had a meaning withheld for the present from regard for the public good ; they kept silent; his interlocutor spread out his hands as in an act of submission above the stove. He did not speak again, but after a while another took up the word.
“ They say them Shakers at Vardley keeps a house a pu’pose for lodgin’ tramps,” he said, holding his knee between his clasped hands, as he sat, and striking the heel of his boot against the side of the stove.
Another silence followed, while a lounger on the other side of the stove worked his lips for expectoration against the iron; but it was too lukewarm to hiss.
“ The old gentleman can put up with ’em, and keep his ring, if he steps along pretty spry. Tain’t more ’n about five mile, is it Parker ? ”
After a decent pause, “ Well, I don’t know what the country’s comin’ to,” sighed a local pessimist.
“ Oh, I guess it ’ll all come out right in the end,” returned a local optimist. This put the pessimist down ; the talk had wandered from horses, at the doctor’s appearance, and now it reverted to horses.
The young fellow who had gone to the door with the Boyntons did not return within ; he walked a little way up the street with him and Egeria, and recollected to warn them about a turning to the right which they were not to take. When he parted with them at a corner, he stood and gazed after them, with perhaps a kindly impulse in his heart fainting through bashfulness and doubt, while they held their way till they drew near the edge of the forest. It looked black and dreadful under the darkened sky ; they stopped before reaching it at a little house which stood upon its borders.
“ We must ask here,” said Egeria desperately.
“ Well, you ask, then, my dear,” said her father. “ They won’t deny a woman.”
Egeria knocked, and after a long interval the light from the rear of the house disappeared, and, the door being opened, was held scarily aloft above the head of an elderly woman who surveyed them with an excited face.
Egeria briefly told their story, and ended with a prayer for a night’s shelter, “Just let us sit by your fire. We won’t trouble you, and in the morning we will go on.”
The woman did not change countenance. “ You hain’t any of them that’s escaped from the reform school ? ” she demanded, in a high, frightened voice.
Egeria again explained their case. “ I don’t know where the reform school is. This is my father, and we are honest people ! ” she added indignantly.
“ Well,” said the woman, in the same key as before, and clinging to her preconception, I guess you better go back. The off’cers is sure to catch you.”
“ Oh, and won't you let us in ? ”
“ Why, I could n’t, you know, — I could n’t. You just keep right along. It’s early yet, and there’s a tavern up this road, — well, it ain’t more ’n four mile, if it’s that; you can put up there.”
“ Is this the road to Vardley ? ” asked the doctor.
“ Yes, yes, — straight along,” said the woman, who had been making the aperture between them smaller and smaller; she now finally closed the door with a quick bang, and bolted it.
“ What shall we do ? ” whispered Egeria.
“ I don’t know,” her father faltered, in reply.
“ Let us go back to the station,” said the girl. “ They will let us stay there, and then in the morning we can take the train — Oh, but we have n’t any money to pay our way back ! ” She broke out into a wild sobbing.
“ Don’t cry, don’t cry,” said her father, soothingly. “ We will walk on. Some one must receive us. Or, if not, we can’t starve in a single night, and at this season we can’t perish of cold.” As they resumed their way, something struck lightly in their faces. “ Rain ? ” said the doctor, stretching out his hand.
“ No,” answered Egeria, “ snow.”
Neither spoke as they entered the deep shadow of the forest, which in this part of Massachusetts covers miles of country, where the farmer has ceased to coax his wizened crops from the sterile soil and has abandoned it in despair to the wilderness from which his ancestors conquered it.
The road before the wanderers began to whiten. “ Oh, when shall we come to a house?” moaned the girl, shrinking closer to her father, and clinging more heavily to his arm.
She started at the sound of voices and the red glare that came from a sheltered hollow of the woods beside the valley into which the road descended. Around a large fire crouched a party of tramps: one held a tilted bottle to his mouth, and another clutched at it; the rest were shouting and singing. As Egeria and her father came into the range of the firelight, the men saw them. They yelled to them to stop and have a drink. The one who had the bottle snatched up a brand from the fire with his left hand and ran toward them. His foot must have caught in some root or vine ; he fell, rolling over his bottle and torch, and while he screamed out that he was burning up, and the rest rushed upon him with laughter for his mishap and curses for the loss of his bottle, Egeria and her father fled into the shadows beyond the light.
Terror gave her force, but when she felt herself safe her strength began to fail.
“I can’t go any farther,” she said, releasing her hand from her father’s arm, and sinking upon the wayside bank.
“ We will wait here till morning.”
He made her no answer, but stood looking up and down the road. “ Egeria,” he said at last, “ I fancy that it’s lighter ahead of us than it is behind, and that we ’re near the edge of the woods. Try to come a few steps farther.” He lifted her to her feet, and they moved painfully forward. It was as he said: in a little while the woods broke away on either hand, and they stood in the middle of cross-roads; on one corner was a house. But as they drew near the verge of the open, the sound of voices stayed them ; they were the voices of young men and young girls laughing and calling to one another, as they issued from this house on the corner. “ It’s a school-house,” said her father ; “they 've had some sort of frolic there.”
“ Well, you won’t get the Unabridged for spelling merry, Jim!” shouted one of the youths to another.
“Oh, how does he spell it?” cried one of the girls.
“ He spells it M-a-r-y! ”
The laugh that followed repeated itself in the woods.
“ That’s a good joke for hoot-owls ! ” retorted some one who might be Jim.
“ A spelling-match,” Boynton interpreted.
A noise of joyous screaming and scuffling came from within the house as a light was quenched there, with cries of, “I should think you’d be ashamed! ” and “ Now, you stop ! ” and the like ; and a bevy of young people came scurrying from the door.
“Hello!” shouted one of the young men, “ what about the books ? ”
“ I don’t know,” answered another. “Guess nobody ’ll hurt the books before morning.”
“ I wish they’d steal mine! ” said the gay voice of a girl.
“ But the fire, — we’ve left a roaring fire.”
“ Well, let it burn the old thing down.”
“ All right! ”
They hurried forward, shouting to the party ahead, who answered with a medley of derisive noises.
When they were all gone, and their voices had died away, the wanderers crept to the door of the school-house, which they tried anxiously. It opened, and they entered. A gush of mellow light from the stove door, left open to let the fire die soon, softly illumined the interior. They drew some benches close to the stove, and sank away from the sense of all their misery.
The last thing of which Egeria had been aware before she fell asleep was her own shadow thrown by the firelight against the school-house door. She thought it was this when she looked again. But the door melted away from around the shadow, and the shadow took feature and expression. Rousing herself with a start, she saw that it was a young girl, cloaked and hooded, standing in the open door-wayThe pale, bluish light of a snowy morning filled the school-room. The girl stood still, and looked at Egeria with a stony gaze of fear. The past came back to her ; the situation realized itself. Her father, a shabby, disreputable heap of crumpled clothing and tumbled hair, was still asleep; her own beautiful hair had fallen down her shoulder.
“ We will go, — we will go,” she whispered to the girl in the door-way, with a face as frightened as her own. “ It’s my father. We were walking to Vardley; we did n’t know where we were, and we found the school-house door unlocked, and we came in.” She caught at the wandering coils of her hair, and twisted them into place, and tied on her bonnet.
The girl in the door-way looked as if she would like to run away, but she came in, gasping, and shut the door behind her. “You’re not tramps?” she made out to ask.
“ Oh, no, no, no! ” replied Egeria, and she incoherently poured out the story of their misadventure.
The other girl drew a long breath.
“ And you were going to Vardley Station ? ”
“ That’s more than three miles from here.” Egeria did not say anything, but she turned to wake her father. “Oh, don’t wake him ! ” cried the other girl, with a new start of terror, and a partial flight toward the door. “ I mean,” she added, coming back, with a blush, “let him sleep. I — I’m the teacher; and I ’ve come to build the fire. You can warm by it before you go. The scholars won’t be here yet for an hour.” Every word was visibly a conquest from fear, a fulfillment of duty. The teacher took off her waterproof, the hood of which she had drawn up over her head, and showed herself a short, plain girl, with a homely face full of sense and goodness, Her hair, cut short, clung about her large head in tight rings. She looked at Egeria’s ethereal beauty and the masses of her hair, not enviously, but with a kind of compassionate admiration.
The fire had gone down in the stove, hut there was still imbedded in the ashes a line of live embers keeping the shape of the original maple stick. She raked the coals forward, laid on some splinters and bark, and then logs, and closed the door ; the fire shouted and roared within.
The teacher sat down on a bench across the stove from Egeria, took into her lap the tin pail she had brought with her, and lifted the lid, discovering a smaller pail within, packed round with pieces of mince-pie, doughnuts, and biscuit, with slices of cold meat between the buttered halves. She took this out, and set it on the stove; she tore some leaves out of a copy-book, and laying them on the iron put the slices of pie on them. She did not say anything to Egeria, who had no authority to interfere with her proceedings. “ I’m sorry it is n’t coffee,” she said, looking into the pail on the stove; " but I cau t drink coffee; so it’s only cracked cocoa. Now wake him.’
But the stir of garments, the low voices, and the fragrant smell of the cocoa and mince-pie had already roused Dr. Boynton. He lifted himself, looked at Egeria, and stared at the teacher, to whom presently he made a courteous bow. She replied by pouring some of the cocoa into a saucer, which she took from the bottom of the larger pail, and handing it to him.
“ I beg your pardon ? ” he said sweetly. The tears stood in Egeria’s eyes. This succor had not been offered ; it had been given.
“ There’s another saucer,” said the teacher, evasively ; “ but you 'll have to cat your pie out of them afterwards.
Her father saw Egeria supplied with cocoa, and then drank with the simple greed of a child.
“ This — this lady is the teacher, father,” said Egeria. Boynton, brightened by his draught, bowed again, and the teacher gravely acknowledged his salutation. “ I’ve told her how we came here.”
“ Yes, yes,” said the doctor; “ most disagreeable coincidence. 1 can assure you that in a somewhat checkered career I have never met with a more painful experience. At times, really, I have hardly been able to recognize my own identity. But it’s well for once, no doubt, to find ourselves in the position in which we have often contemplated others.”
The teacher took the pie from the smoking paper and slid a piece into each saucer. “ I presume it is n t very wholesome,” she said, “ but I ve heard that Mr. Emerson says, if you will eat it, you’d best eat it for breakfast, so that you can have the whole day to digest it in.”
“ Emerson,” said the doctor, receiving his saucer with one hand, while he opened his handkerchief and spread it on his knees with the other, “ is a very receptive mind. I fancy that there is a social principle in these matters which is n’t clearly ascertained yet. Where whole communities eat pie, as ours do, there must be an unconscious, coöperative force in its digestion.”
The teacher looked at him, but answered nothing.
“I’m afraid,” said Egeria ruefully, “ that it’s your dinner.”
“ The children always want me to eat part of theirs,” the teacher explained. “ I could n’t think of your asking at a house for your breakfast. The country is overrun with tramps, and they might suppose ” — She stopped and blushed, and then she added with rigid self-justice, “ Well, I don’t know as it was so strange I should.”
“ No,” said Egeria, “ you could n’t have thought anything else. That’s what they took us for everywhere.” She spoke with patience and without bitterness, but she did not eat her breakfast with the hungry relish of the outcast she had been mistaken for.
The teacher sat looking at them, and a new sense of their forlornness seemed to flash upon her. “ Why, you have no outside things ! ”
“ No,” said Egeria ; “ they all went off on the train we lost.”
The teacher said, like one thinking aloud, “ If you are not telling me the truth about yourselves, it will be your loss, and not mine.” Then she added, “ I don’t want you should try to walk to Ayer; it would kill you, in this snow. You must take the cars at Vardley Station.” She drew out her purse. “There,” she said, handing Egeria some bits of scrip, “ it’s ten cents apiece to the Junction ; and here,” she continued, thriftily putting the biscuit together in a scrap of paper, “ is something for your lunch on the cars.”
Egeria made no reply. From time to time she had lapsed from all apparent sense of what was going on. She now looked blankly at the teacher.
Her father was not so helpless. “My dear young lady,” he exclaimed, “you are perfectly right in your estimate of the consequences and penalties ! If we were deceiving you, we should be the sufferers, and not you. There is a law in these things which no individual will can abrogate. In the end, truth and good always triumph.” He had finished his pie, and he now took a draught of cocoa. “ Have you many pupils ? ” he asked.
“ No,” replied the teacher, “ not many. The old people say there used to be forty or fifty, but now there are only sixteen.”
Boynton shook his head. “Yes, it is this universal tendency to the cities and the large towns which is ruining us. Well, Egeria, shall we be going?” He had eaten and drunken to his apparent refreshment, and he was now ready to push on.
Egeria cast a look out of the window, and rose languidly.
“ I ’d ask you to stay,” said the teacher, taking note of her weariness, “ but the children will be coming very soon, and ” —
“ Oh, no, — no ! We could n’t stay. We must go.”
The teacher took down her waterproof from the peg on which she had hung it, and, eying it a moment thoughtfully, handed it to Egeria. “ I want you should wear this. You ’ll take your death if you go out that way. You can give it to the depot man at Vardley Station, and tell him it’s Miss Thorn’s. He’ll send it back by the stage this afternoon, and I ’ll get it in plenty of time.” Egeria did not reply, but stood looking at the teacher with a jaded and wondering regard.
“ I will take it for her, Miss Thorn,” said the doctor, advancing with a sprightly air, and receiving the cloak. “ I will see that it is duly returned. And let me thank you,” he added, “ for your kindness at a time when, really, we should have been embarrassed without it. My name is Boynton, — Dr. Boynton. Though you can scarcely have heard of it.”
“ No,” said the teacher, reluctantly, but firmly.
“ Ah ! ” returned the doctor. But be did not attempt to enlighten her ignorance. He said, “ Come, Egeria,” and led the way to the door. The girl turned and looked vaguely at the teacher ; but no words of farewell or of thanks passed between them.
The doctor issued cheerfully, even gayly, from the school-house door. The wind had changed, and was blowing from the south. Whiffs of white cloud were sailing far overhead in the vast expanse of blue, from which poured a mellow sunshine. The snow, translucent in the light, and dark blue in the shadow, clung lazily to the trees and the eaves, from which at times the breeze detached it and tossed it away in soft, large clots. Some unseen crows made themselves heard in the distance; near by, on the fence, a little bird stooped and sang.
“ A bluebird ! ” cried Boynton.
“ Yes,” answered the teacher ; “ there were a good many yesterday, before the weather changed. Robins, too.”
He made her an airy bow, and Egeria looked back at her over her shoulder as they walked out into the road. “ Why, the snow-plow has gone by!” he exclaimed, with simple delight in the effect, and the teacher saw him stop and point out to Egeria the drift, massively broken, and flung on either side in moist blocks by the plow. She watched them from the school-house door-way till a turn of the road hid them from sight. Then she went within, and cast a doubtful glance at the peg where her water-proof had hung. But her face changed as her eye fell to the staunch and capacious rubber-boots standing in order below the peg. “I don’t believe that girl had the sign of a rubber! ” she mused aloud, in the excess of her compassion.
The adventure of the day before and the exercise of their night-walk, with the good breakfast he had eaten, seemed to have brightened Boynton past recollection of all the sorrows he had known. He went forward, discoursing hopefully, and developing a plan he had for leaving Egeria with her grandfather, and returning to this region in order to look up the Shaker community, with which he intended to unite for the purpose of spiritual investigation on the true basis. For some time he did not observe that she responded more languidly and indifferently than her wont; then he asked abruptly, “ What is the matter, Egeria ? ”
“ I don’t know. Nothing. I am not very well.”
“ You ought to be, in such air as this. Let me see.” He caught up her wrist. " Rather a quick pulse; it may be the walking. Are you hot ? ”
“ My feet are cold, — they ’re wet.”
He looked down at her shoes, and shook his head in a perplexed fashion. " We must stop somewhere and dry your feet.”
“ They would n’t let us,” said Egeria, in a dull way.
“ We will stop at that tavern. Perhaps we can get a lift there with some one going to the station.” He took her hand under his arm, and helped her on. She did not complain, nor did she show any increasing weariness.
They had been passing through a long reach of woodland that stretched away on either side of the road, when they came to a wide, open plateau, high and bare. It looked old, and like a place where there had once been houses, though none were now in sight; from time to time, in fact, the ruinous traces of former habitations showed themselves by the wayside. A black fringe of pines and hemlocks bordered the plain where it softly rounded away to the eastward ; a vast forest of oak and chestnut formed its western boundary. At its highest point they came in sight of a house on its northern slope, a large, square mansion of brick; an enormous elm almost swept the ground with its boughs, on its eastern side ; before it stood an oldfashioned sign-post, and westward, almost in the edge of the forest, lay its stabling.
“ That must be the tavern,” said Dr. Boynton, instinctively making haste towards it. As they drew near, they saw a light buggy standing at the door, and a man who seemed to unite the offices of host and ostler holding the horse by the head. He turned from smoothing the animal’s nose, and called to some one within, " Come, hurry up, in there ! ” A red-faced man, in the faded and mis shapen clothes which American manufacture and the clothing store supply to our poorer country-folks, issued from the door, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, and slouched away down the road. Then a girl, dressed in extreme fashion, of the sort that never convinces of elegance, nor ever mistakes itself for it, with her large hands cased in white gloves, came out and waited to be helped into the buggy. The thick, hard bloom on her somewhat sunken cheeks was incomparably artificial, till the dyed mustache of the man following her showed itself ; this was of a purple so bold that if his hair had been purple too, and not of a light sandy color, it could not have looked falser. They had a little squabble, half jocose, which the man at the horse’s head admired, before he lifted her to the seat. The landlord handed him the reins.
“ Well, give us another call, Bob,” he said.
The other looked at him over his dyed mustache without answering, while the girl stared round with her wild black eyes, as if startled at finding herself perched so high up in the light of day. Both at the same time caught sight of the doctor and Egeria, who fell behind her father as he approached the doorway. The man leaned toward the girl and whispered something to her, at which she gave him a push and bade him stop his fooling.
“ Can I get a conveyance here to carry us to Vardley Village ? ” asked the doctor, accosting the landlord.
“ I don’t know,” answered the man, looking doubtfully at the doctor and Egeria. He turned his back on them in the manner of some rustics who wish to show a sovereign indifference, and made a pace or two towards the door, before he half faced them again.
“Well, good-by, Tommy ! ” said the man in the buggy, drawing his reins, and then checking his horse. “ Look here, will you ? ”
The landlord went back, and the man leaned over the side of the buggy and said something in a low tone.
“ No ! ” cried the landlord.
“ Bet you anything on it! ” said the man. “ Get up! ” He drove away.
“ Come in,” said the landlord to the doctor, “ and I ’ll see.”
Egeria shrunk from following her father, who was mechanically obeying, and murmured something about walking.
“ Oh, come in, come in ! ” said the landlord, more eagerly. “ I guess I can manage for you. Come in and rest ye, any way.”
“ Come, Egeria,” said her father.
The landlord was a short, stout man, with a shock of iron-gray hair and a face of dusky red, coarse and harsh; his blood-shot eyes wandered curiously over Egeria’s figure. He led the way into the parlor of the tavern, which within had an air of former dignity, as if it had not been built for its present uses. The hall was wide and the staircase fine; the chimney-piece and wooden cornice of the parlor showed the nice and patient carpentry of seventy - five years ago. There was a fire in the sheet-iron stove on the hearth, and the lady who had just driven off in the buggy had left proof of a decided taste in perfumes. If Egeria had liked she might have dressed her hair at the glass in which this person had surveyed the effect of her paint, with the public comb and brush on the table before it. There were some claretcolored sporting prints on the wall, and some tattered, thumb - worn illustrated papers on the centre-table.
“ I ’ll tell ye what,” said the landlord, who had briefly disappeared after showing them into this room, and had now returned. “ I hain’tgot any hoss in now, but I'll have one in in about an hour, and then I ’ll set ye over to Vardley.”
“ What will you charge ? ” asked the doctor.
“ It ain’t a-goin’ to cost ye much. I d’ know as I ’ll ask ye anything. I’m going there, any way ; and I guess we can ride three on a seat.”
The doctor expressed a flowery sense of this goodness, but said that they should insist upon paying him for his trouble. Egeria had dropped into the rocking-chair beside the window, and propping her arm on the window-sill supported her averted face on her hand. Her head throbbed, and the thick, foul sweetness of the air made her faint; the glare of the sun from the snow and gathering pools beat into her heavy eyes.
“ Does your head ache ? ” asked her father.
“Yes,” she gasped.
“ I ’ll send in some tea,” said the landlord.
A black man brought it; there seemed to he no women about the house.
The landlord went and came often; through her pain and lethargy, the girl had a dull sense of his vigilance. Her father found her feverish, and no better for the tea she drank. He fretted and repined at her condition, and then he grew tired of looking at her pale face fallen against the chair back, and her closed eyes, that trembled under their lids, and now and then sent out a gush of hot tears. He went into the other room, where the landlord sat with his boots on the low, cast-iron stove, and a white-nosed bull-dog slept suspiciously in a corner. As the time passed, different people appeared within and without the tavern. A man in a blood-stained over-shirt drove a butcher’s wagon to the door ; a tall man, in a silk hat, came with a fish cart painted black and varnished. With a blithe jingle of bells, a young fellow rattled up with a cracker wagon, and having come in for the landlord’s order — the landlord did not find it necessary to take down his feet from the stove, or to disturb the angle at which his hat rested on his head, during the transaction—he danced a figure on the painted floor, and caressed the bulldog with the toe of his boot. “ Next time you put up Pete,” he said, “ I want to bring my brother’s brindle. I want him to wear the belt a spell. Pete must be gittin’ tired of it. Well, I would n’t ever said a dog-fight could be such fun,” he added, with an expression of agreeable reminiscence. “And the old ball-room’s just the place for it.” He spat on the stove, and taking under his arm the empty cracker box, which he had just replaced on its shelf with a full one, he went out as he had come in, without saluting the landlord. He stopped at the open door of the parlor, and catching sight of Egeria made her a bow of burlesque devotion, and turned to include the landlord in the fun with a parting wink.
Egeria had not seen him; her eyes were closed; and her father, where he sat in the office, was looking impatiently out of the window. The sky had begun to thicken again.
“ Do you think it’s going to rain?” he asked, when the cracker wagon had jingled away.
“ Should n’t wonder,” said the landlord.
“ I hope your conveyance will be here soon,” pursued the doctor. “ I’m anxious, on my daughter’s account, not to miss the train from Vardley that connects with the Portland express.”
“ Daughter, eh ? ” said the landlord, with a certain intonation ; but Dr. Boynton observed nothing strange in it.
“ How soou do you think your horse will be here? ” he asked.
“ I can’t tell ye,” said the landlord doggedly.
“You did tell me,” retorted Boynton, “ that it would be here in less than an hour. You have detained us that time already, and now you say you don’t know how much longer I must wait.”
“ Now, look here,” began the other, taking down his feet from the stove.
“ I wish to pay you for what accommodation we have had. I wish to go,” said the doctor, angrily.
“ I don’t want ye should go ! ” replied the other, with a stupid air of secrecy.
“ I’ve nothing to do with that,” said the doctor. " I am going. Here is the money for your tea.” He flung upon the counter the pieces of scrip which the school-teacher had given him.
The landlord rose to his feet. “ Ye can’t go. I might as well have it out first as last. Ye can’t go ! ”
“ Can’t go? You ’re ridiculous ! ” Boynton exclaimed. “ What’s the reason I can’t go ? ”
“ Well, you can go, but the girl can’t, — not till the off'cers comes. I mean to say,” he added, at Dr. Boynton’s look of amaze, " that she’s no more your daughter than she is mine. I d’ know where you picked her up, but she’s one of the girls escaped from the reform school, and she’s goin’ back there as soon as the off’cers gets here. That’s what’s the matter.”
“And do you mean to say that you are going to detain us here against our will?”
“ I don’t know what you call it. I’m going to keep you here.” He had planted his burly bulk in the door-way leading into the hall.
“ Stand aside,” said Boynton, “or I’ll take you by the throat.”
“ I guess not,” returned the landlord coolly. “ Pete ! ” The brute in the corner had opened his whitish, cruel eyes at the sound of angry voices. “ Watch him ! ” The dog came and lay down at his master’s feet, with his face turned toward Boynton. “ There ! I guess you won’t take anybody by the throat much ! ” The man resumed his chair, which he tilted back against the counter at its former comfortable angle.
Boynton quivered with helpless indignation. “ Is it possible,” he exclaimed, “ that an outrage like this can be perpetrated at high noon in the heart of Massachusetts ? ”
“ That’s about the size of it,” returned the landlord, with a grin of brutal exultation.
“ I must submit,” said the doctor. “ But you shall answer for this.” The man was silent, and the doctor fancied that he might perhaps be relenting. He poured out a recital of the whole misadventure that had ended in their coming to his door, and appealed to him not to detain them. “ My daughter has been sick, and she is now far from well. I am most anxious to pursue our journey. We have no friends in this region, and we are out of money. Let us go, now, and I will consent to overlook this outrageous attempt upon our liberty. If we lose the train this afternoon, she may suffer very seriously from the delay and the disappointment.”
“ She ’ll be all right when she gets back to the reform school,” answered the landlord, as if bored by the long story.
Boynton’s self-command failed him. He burst into tears. “ My God ! ” he sobbed, “ have I fallen so low as this ? — impostor, and tramp, and beggar, and now the captive, the slave, of this ruffian ! It’s too much ! What have I done, — what have I done ! ” He hid his face in his hands, and bowed himself abjectly forward in the chair into which he had sunk.
Some one drove up to the door, and shouted from the outside, “ Heh ! ”
The landlord rose, and saying to his dog, “ Stay there,” went out to the door, and after a brief parley came in again with two other men. Their steps sounded as if they went to the door of the parlor and looked in, while their voices sank to rapid whispers. In his agony of anxiety, Boynton made an involuntary movement forwards ; the dog growled and crept nearer. He was helpless ; but the steps returned to the outer door, and there a voice said, “ No, I don’t want to’ see him, as long as’t ain’t the girl. Somebody ’s made a dumn fool of you, Harris, and you’ve made dumn fools of us. Guess you better wait a while, next time.”
The landlord came sulkily back, and sat down in his chair, which he tilted against the counter as before. Boynton suffered some time to elapse before he asked, “ Well, sir, do you mean to let us go?”
“ Who’s henderin’ you ? ” sullenly demanded the landlord, without moving.
“ Then call away your dog.”
The landlord refused, out of mere brutish wantonness, to comply at once; but he presently did so, and followed Boynton to the parlor. Then, according to Boynton’s report, ensued a series of those events of which the believers in such mysteries fiercely assert the reality, and of which others as strenuously deny the occurrence. The sky darkened ; there was a noise like the straining of the branches of the elms beside the house; but there was no wind, and the boughs were motionless. Presently this straining sound, as if the fibres were twisting and writhing together, was heard in the wood-work of the room.
“ What the hell is that ? ” cried the landlord. The room was full of it, whatever it was; every part of the woodwork — doors, window casings, cornice, wainscot — was now voluble with amuffled detonation.
“ Wait! ” Boynton answered. The sound beat like rain-drops on the floor, at which the landlord stared, with the dog whimpering at his heels. Egeria lay white and still in the rocking-chair by the window. At the sound of their voices she stirred and moaned; then, as Boynton asserted, they saw the marble top of the centre-table lifted three times from its place ; a picture swung out from the wall, as if blowm by a strong gust; and the brush from the table was flung across the room, flying close to the dog’s head ; with a howl, he fled out-of-doors.
“ For God’s sake, man, what is it ? ” gasped the landlord, seizing Boynton’s arm, and cowering close to him.
“ I forgive you, I bless you ! ” cried the other, rapturously. “ It was from your evil that this good came. It’s a miracle ; it’s — it’s the presence of the dead.”
“ No, no ! ” protested the landlord. “ I’ve kept a hard place ; there’s been drinkin’ and fancy folks ; but there hain’t been no murder, — not in my time. I can’t answer for it before that; they always tell about killin’ peddlers in these old houses. Oh ! Lord have mercy ! ” A flash of red light filled the world, and a rending burst of thunder made the house shake. The electricity appeared to rise from the ground, and not to come from the clouds ; it was, as sometimes happens, a sole discharge. The landlord turned, and followed his dog out-of-doors. The negro was already there, looking up at the house.
Egeria started from her chair. “ Did you will it, father, — did you will it ? ” she implored, at sight of Dr. Boynton’s wild face.
“ No ; it has come without motion of mine,” he answered with a solemn joy. “ I have never seen or heard anything like it.” He looked round the room, in which an absolute silence now prevailed.
The girl shuddered. “ I have had a horrible dream. The house seemed full of drunken men — and women — like that girl in the buggy; and we could n’t get away, and you could n’t get to me, and — oh ! ” She shook violently, and hurried on her hat and water-proof. “Come ! I can’t breathe here.”
As they passed out the landlord made no motion to detain them; he even shrank a few paces aside. When Boynton looked back from the next turn of the road, he saw him walking to and fro before the tavern, looking up now and then at its front, and taking unconsciously the cold rain that lashed his own face as he turned eastward again. He was in a frame of high exaltation ; he shouted in talk with Egeria, who scarcely answered, as she pressed forward with her head down.
The snow dissolved under the rain and flooded the road, in which they waded, plunging on and on. They came presently to a lonely country grave-yard, where the soaked pines and spruces dripped upon the stones, standing white and stiffly upright where they were of recent date, and where darkened with the storms of many seasons slanting in various degrees of obliquity to a fall. Here was one of those terrible little houses in which the hearse, the bier, and the sexton’s tools are kept; Boynton tried the door, and when it yielded to his battering he called to his daughter to take shelter with him there.
“No ! ” she shouted back to him, “ I would rather die ! ” She pushed, she knew not whither, down the road that wound into a stretch of pine forest, and he must needs follow her. At last they came to a hollow through which a brook, swollen by the snow and rain, rolled a yellow torrent. They stopped at the brink in despair; there was no house in sight, but on a knoll near by the trees stood so thick that the rain-fall was broken by the densely interwoven boughs.
The doctor led Egeria to this shelter, and placed her in the dryest spot; he felt her shiver, and heard her teeth chatter, as the waves of cold swept over her. He left her fallen on the brown needles, and went and tried the depth of the stream with a stick; the rain dripped from him everywhere, — from his elbows, from the rim of his silk hat, and from the point of his nose ; he looked at once weird and grotesque.
“ Heh ! ” cried a loud voice behind him. In a covered wagon crouched the figure of a young man in manifold capes and wraps of drab and blue, under the sweep of a very wide-brimmed hat. He had almost driven over Boynton. “Tryin’ for water, with a hazel-rod ? Guess you ’ll find it most anywheres to-day.”
The voice was pleasant, and Boynton, looking up, confronted a cheery face in the wagon. “I was seeing if it was too deep to cross.”
“ ’T ain’t for the horses,” said their driver. “ Get in.” He moved hospitably to one side. “ You can’t make me any wetter.”
“ Thank you,” said Boynton. “ I have my daughter here under the pines.”
“Your daughter ?” The young man in the wagon looked at first puzzled, and then, as he craned his neck round the side of the curtain and saw the little cowering heap which was Egeria, he looked daunted, but he only said, “ Bring her, too.”
Boynton gathered her into his arms, and placed her on the seat between him and the driver. “ We were going to Vardley Station,” he explained. “ Is this the way ? ”
“ It’s one way,” said the other, driving through the torrent. “ But I guess you better stop with us till the rain’s over. We ’ll be home in half a mile.”
“ You are very good,” said Boynton, looking at him. “ We must push on. We must get back to the Junction in time for the Portland express.” He once more gave the facts of their mischance.
When he had ended, “ Oh, yee,” said the other; “ you are the friend that was speakin’ to some of our folks at the Junction.”
The doctor started. “ Your folks ? What are you ? ”
“ Egeria! Egeria ! ” shouted her father. “ I have found them ! This gentleman is a Shaker! He is taking us to the community ! I accept, sir, with great pleasure. I shall be glad to stop and see more of your people. Egeria ! ” She made no answer. Her limp and sunken figure rested heavily against the young Shaker; her head had fallen on his shoulder.
“ I guess she’s fainted,” he said.
W. D. Howells.