THE next morning, while Ford sat, after breakfast, at his writing-table, trying to put bis mind upon his work, one of the little Shaker boys came to say that Friend Boynton wished to see him. He obeyed the summons with a stricture at the heart. The boy could not say whether Boynton was better or worse, but Ford conceived that he was called in a final moment. He did not think of refusing to go, and could not have done so if the duty laid upon him had been indefinitely heavier. As it was, it was sore enough. He had never seen any one die, and all through his childhood and his earlier youth the thought of death had been agony to him, probably because it was related to fears of the life after death, which survived in his blood long after they ceased to be any part of his belief. The confirmed health of his adolescence, as well as his accepted theories of existence, had now for years quieted these fears. The sleep and the forgetting which the future had been reasoned so clearly to be could not be terrible to any man of good health, and in the rare moments in which he lifted his mind from the claims of duty here it reposed tranquilly enough in the logical refuge of nullity provided for it. Annihilation was not dreadful, but the instant preceding it, the last breath of consciousness in which his personality should be called to cease, to release its strong clutch upon reality, might contain an essential anguish, to which an eternity of theologically fancied pangs were nothing. He did not shrink from the consequences of his own mental position ; there could be no consequences of belief or disbelief ; but he was cold with the thought of confronting the image of his own dissolution in another. Life was not a good, he knew that; but he felt now that it was something, and beyond it there was not even evil. He touched first the swelling muscle of one arm, and then of the other ; he laid his hand upon the trunk of a large maple as he passed; he swept the sky with a glance ; he smiled to find himself behaving like a man on his way to execution ; if he had himself been about to die, he could not have realized more intensely the preciousness of the substance which was slipping into shadow from the grasp of yonder stricken man.
If his face expressed anything of this dark sympathy when he entered the room where Boynton lay, the sick man did not see it. His doctor was there, seated at the bedside, and Boynton lifted one of the limp hands that lay upon the coverlet and gave it to Ford, saying, with his blandness diluted by physical debility, “ You ’ll excuse my sending for you, Mr. Ford ; but I fancied that you would like to see that I was not in such bad case as I might be.”
“ You are very good,” said Ford, touching his hand, and then taking the chair which the country doctor set for him. The exchange of civilities relieved the tension of his feelings, and he found it no longer possible to regard Boynton with the solemnity with which he had approached him.
“ Dr. Wilson and I,” Boynton continued, “ are treating my case together. By that means we draw the sting of the old proverb about having a fool for one’s patient, and we get the benefit of our combined experience. The doctor is inclined to take an optimistic view of my condition, which I don’t find myself able to share. I have spent a summer — I may almost say a year — of intense excitements, and I am sure that an obscure affection of the heart with which I was once troubled has made rapid progress.” He spoke of it with a courteous lightness and haste, as if not to annoy his listener, while Ford gazed at him dumbly. “ I have been anxious to say that I regretted the expressions — the exasperation — into which I was betrayed on first meeting you, the other morning.” Dr. Wilson rose. “ Ah ! Going, doctor ? ” asked Boynton. “ Don’t let me send you away. Mr. Ford and I have no confidences to make each other. I am only offering him the reparation which is due between gentlemen where there has been a misunderstanding.”
“ Thank you,” said Dr. Wilson, “ I must go, now. I will see you again tomorrow.”
“ And in the mean time we will continue the same treatment ? Good-morning, doctor. Dr. Wilson,” he added, when the latter had withdrawn, “ is a man of uncommon qualifications for his profession. I have been much pleased with the manner in which he has taken hold of my case, though we could not agree in all points of our diagnosis.” Boynton’s voice was feeble, and from time to time he paused from weakness ; but he was careful as ever to round his sentences and polish his diction. “ As I was saying,” he continued, “ I used certain expressions for which I wish to apologize.”
“ There is no occasion for that,” Ford began.
“ Oh, I beg your pardon, but there is ! ” retorted the other. “ My language, even in view of your possible intention of antagonizing me, was ridiculous and unjustifiable; for I ought to have been only too glad of the solution of a painful mystery which your presence afforded me. The fact is,” he explained, “ I met you yesterday after the entire failure of an experiment in psychology which I had been making here under conditions more favorable than I could expect to recur if I should live a thousand years. The experiment was by no means of an advanced character ; it was of the simplest character, — the exhibition of a few of the most ordinary phenomena of animal magnetism, in which mere tyros succeed. The failure dumfounded me. At sight of you, my theory of your opposite control, of the necessary antagonism of your sphere, rushed into my mind, and I yielded to an impulse to resent my failure, when I ought, logically, to have hailed your presence as relief, as rescue from an annihilating despair.”
“ I am very sorry,” Ford began again.
“ Not at all, not at all! ” cried Boynton. “ Was I right in supposing that you had spent the previous evening in this vicinity ? ”
“ Mr. Phillips and I had slept at the office — you call it?”
“ Is it possible ! ” Boynton lay quiet for a moment, before he added, musingly, “Yes, that might account for it, if my premises were correct. But,” he continued sadly, “ it is impossible to verify them now. Some one else must take up my work at the very point — You here, and under conditions favorable to the most complete and thorough investigation ! This question of antagonization could be settled in a manner absolutely final; and here I lie, fettered and manacled ! ” He heaved a passionate sigh, and Ford, in spite of the fact that he knew himself regarded for the moment as a mere instrumentality, an impersonal force, felt a sharp regret for the overthrow of this absurd dreamer.
“ Is there — is there any way in which I can be of use to you, Dr. Boynton ?” he asked presently,
Boynton did not reply at once. He moved his head uneasily on the pillow, and weakly knotted his fingers together. Then he said, “ Yes, there is. I would rather you transacted the business than any of our good friends here, for I am afraid that it might get from them to my daughter. In fact, I should not know how to communicate with them without alarming her.”
He looked beseechingly at Ford, who said, “ Well ? ”
“ What are your religious beliefs?”
“ I have none,” said Ford.
“ At your age I had none,” rejoined Boynton. “Afterward, in circumstances of great sorrow, I embraced the philosophy of spiritualism, because it promised immediate communion and reunion with the wife I had lost. Neither before nor since that time has my theory admitted the necessity of certain — certain — formalities to which the Christian world attaches importance. But the influence of early teachings is very strong, and I cannot resist an inclination— It is entirely illogical, upon either hypothesis, I know! If there is no life hereafter, then it is of no consequence whatever whether any reconciliation takes place. If there is a life hereafter, and it is a mere continuation of this, a progress, a development, under certain new conditions, then the reconciliation can take place there as well as here. This is what my reason tells me, and yet I am not at rest. My dear friend, if you were about to die,” — the hand which Boynton unexpectedly laid upon Ford’s sent a thrill to his heart, — “ and you had parted with some one upon terms of mutual injury, what should you wish ?”
“ I should wish to see him before I died,” answered Ford, gravely.
“ And make peace with him, — ask and offer forgiveness. Precisely. There is no doubt an element of superstition in the impulse ; it seems childish and unreasonable; and yet I cannot help it. What is it ? First, be reconciled to thy brother, . . . agree with thine adversary quickly — I don’t remember. My adversary is the father of my child’s mother. We quarreled very bitterly, about this — this philosophy of mine. I think he used me harshly; but he is an old man, and doubtless I grieved and thwarted him more than I understood. I don’t justify myself. I would like to see him again, and ask him to forgive. I wish you would be so good, Mr. Ford, as to telegraph him — there’s an office at Vardley Station — that I am seriously sick, and would like to see him.” Ford could not reply, and Boynton took his silence for reluctance. “ I hope I have n’t asked too much of you ? ”
“ Oh, no ! No. What,” he contrived to ask, “is your father-in-law’s name?” Boynton gave the name and that of the village in which he lived, and Ford mechanically took them down in his notebook. He remained with this in his hand, seated beside the bed, and not knowing what to do ; but he rose at last, and murmured something about not losing time, when Egeria entered. He would have passed her with a bow, but the cheery voice of Boynton turned him motionless.
“ Egeria,” he said, as the girl went up to his bedside, “ I have been asking a favor of Mr. Ford, — something that I intended for a surprise and pleasure to you. But I think that the surprise might be too much, — might alarm you, — and I had better not let it be a surprise. Don’t you think that if your grandfather knew that I was so disposed he would like to make up our little quarrel ? Mr. Ford is going to telegraph him to come here ! There is no occasion for anxiety ” —
Egeria turned upon Ford, with swift self-betrayal. “ They telegraphed yesterday. Have n’t they heard ? ” Ford glanced at her father in despair, and bent on her a look of compassion that he was conscious became an appeal for her pity. “Oh, what is it?” she cried, quivering under his imploring scrutiny. “ Won’t he come? Oh, he is harder than I ever believed ! Yes, yes ! You were right, father; I will never forgive him ! ”
“I think I had better tell you the truth,” Ford said. “ Some one must do it. Your grandfather is dead.”
A light of relief, almost of joy, shone in her face. “ Oh ! I was afraid — I was afraid — Oh, poor grandfather ! How could I think it! ” She put up her hands to her face, like a child, and wept with sobs that shook the young man’s heart.
“ When did he die ? ” she asked at last.
“ Two months ago. The telegram was from the minister. He promised to write.”
“ Do you hear ? ” cried Egeria. “ He would have come, but — he is dead ! ” “Oh!” breathed her father, speaking for the first time, “ I am very sorry ! ”
“ And now, now do you forgive him ? ” demanded the girl. “ Now ” — “ Oh, poor soul! I wanted him to forgive me” said Boynton. “ Well, well ! I must wait.”
His daughter dropped on her knees beside his bed, and hid her face in the coverlet. “ Poor grandfather ! Poor grandfather ! ” she moaned. “ How could you think he wouldn’t come?” she said, lifting her face. “ Do you think now that he was cruel ? ”
“ We quarreled,” answered her father. “ I was to blame.”
“ No, you were not to blame,” she retorted, with swift revulsion. “ You believed you did right, and you never pretended that you did n’t. Oh, if you could only have seen each other again ! ” “ Yes,” answered the sick man ; “ the wish to see him has been heavy on my soul ever since I came to myself.”
The word recalled her, and she looked fondly into her father’s face. “ Oh, father, have I made you feel badly ? I am so sorry for grandfather ” —
“ No, my poor girl! I know better than that. I can sympathize with your feeling about him; I can understand, it.” He smoothed her hair with his gentle, weak, small hand. “ I can understand, and I can approve of your feeling. But don’t be troubled. Your grandfather and I will be friends when we meet. It will make little difference there what theories or creeds we hold. They cannot separate us.”
“ Why, father ! ” exclaimed the girl. “ What do you mean ? You are not going to die ! The doctor said ” —
Boynton smiled in recovering himself. “ We are all mortal. Dr. Wilson is very hopeful about me. I am not going to die at once.”
He took one of her hands while she bent over him. “ I had mentioned to our good friend here,” he said, indicating Ford, “ in requesting him to notify your grandfather, my special reasons for wishing to see him, and some little statement — explanation — was necessary in regard to the terms of our separation. I was saying that I wished they had been different. But in the light of this new fact, does my part really appear worse to you than it did before ? You can speak freely ; I can bear — I ought even to court — the truth.”
The girl threw her arms about his neck. “ Father! You never had one selfish thought in it. I know that, and I always knew it. I did n’t mean to blame you; I only wanted you to excuse him. Oh, nobody needs excusing but me ! I stood up before them all, that night, and denied you. I am the one to blame ! ”
“ No, no,” protested her father, “ you were true to yourself. In the long run we could have succeeded upon no other conditions. You did right.”
“ Oh, I did long so to please you ! You can’t think how hard I tried! But something kept me”— She rose and looked at Ford, the obstruction of whose involuntary presence no effort of his had sufficed to remove, and panted, as if about to make some appeal to him. But her lips could not shape it; a piteous, formless, low cry broke from them, and she ran from the room, leaving him in a frowning daze.
“ I hope, my dear sir,” said Boynton, “ that you will be able to make allowance for the excitement under which we have been laboring. My daughter’s distress on my account, and her affection for her grandfather — But we don’t intend to make you the victim of our unhappiness.”
“ Oh, not at all,” said Ford, not knowing what else to say.
“ You were very considerate, with regard to me,” said Boynton gratefully. “ I thank you for your good feeling relative to the telegram. But it is well that I should know the worst at once. In asking your patience for what has just occurred, I am sure that I am only anticipating my daughter’s wish. I am by no means as confident as I have been,” he added, “that I was correct in my theory of your influence. But you have somehow been strangely involved in our destiny. It is something that I hardly know how to apologize for.”
“ There is no necessity,” said Ford.
“Thanks.” The doctor lifted his hand in gratitude, and Ford took it. “ Are you comfortable in your quarters ? It was a place that I had sometimes thought, under happier auspices, of devoting to my investigations; but now— My dear sir, I appreciate your kindness, your delicacy, in staying! ”
Ford made a murmur of civility, and Sister Frances came in. Then, with a parting pressure of the hand which Boynton had kept in his, he went out. He half dreaded to encounter Egeria again, at the outer threshold ; but she was not there.
They came to those last fervid days to which August often reverts after the shiver that passes over her at the beginning of her second fortnight. The noons were cloudless, and the nights were lit with a moon that hung lightly, like an airy ball, in the sky, whose unfathomable blue the vision must search for the faint stars. The unbroken splendor of these days and nights would be intolerably silent but for the hissing of the grasshoppers in the sun, and the hollow din in which the notes of the crickets sum themselves under the moon. While Ford was busy in the morning he could resist certain influences at work upon him, but at other times he was the prey of a wild restlessness, which he could not charge to his shaken health, for he had begun to grow strong again. He said to himself, as he lay under the sun-smit ten pines, or when he walked beneath the maples that broke the glare of the moon on the village street, that he was waiting here for a man to die, and he tried to quell his restlessness with that cold fact. But he was not able to keep Boynton’s danger in his thoughts. There was, indeed, a suspense in Boynton’s condition for which neither he nor his fellow physician could account. His mind even grew more vivid under such peril as threatened his body, and in his immunity from pain he was more cheerfully speculative than ever. As the days passed, a curious sort of affectionate confidence grew up between Ford and the fantastic theorist, and the young man listened to his talk with a kindliness which he did not trouble himself to reason. He submitted patiently to the analysis which Boynton made of him and of his metaphysical condition, and heard without a smile certain analogies which he discovered. “ Yes,” Boynton said, one day, “ I find a great similarity of mind and temperament in us. At your age, I thought and felt as you do. There is a fascination, which I can still recognize, in the clean surface which complete negation gives. The refusal of science to believe what it cannot subject to its chemic tests has its sublime side. It is at least absolute devotion to the truth, and it involves martyrdom, like the devotion to any other religion. For it is a religion, and you cannot get away from religion. Whether you say, I believe, or whether you say, I do not believe, still you formulate a creed. The question whether we came from the Clam or the Ancient of Days, whether we shall live forever, or rot forever, remains ; you cannot put it aside by saying there is no such question. From this vantage-ground of mine—a sickbed is a vantage-ground — I can see that when I stood where you are I occupied a position not essentially different from that which I assumed afterwards. Light shone on me from one side, and I cast a shadow in this direction; light shone on me from the other side, and I cast a shadow in that direction. My mistake was to fancy at both times that the shadow was I.”
Ford evaded the issue as to the identity of their opinions. He admitted that faith in a second life might nerve a man to greater enterprises here ; and that one might not so often flag in the pursuit of truth if the horizon did not shut down so close all round. But he said that we had the comfort of knowing that the work of each was delegated to the whole race, and that whoever failed his work could not fail.
“ Ah, don’t delude yourself ! ” cried Boynton. “ There is no comfort in that. What is the race to you or me? You are the race ; I am the race; and no one else of all the myriad atoms of humanity could take up our work and keep it the same work.”
“ You said just now,” said Ford, with a smile, “ that you and I were the same.”
“ I was wrong,” promptly admitted Boynton. “ We are not the same, and could not be, to all eternity. But if you admit the hypothesis of a second life, in which the objects of this shall remain dear to us, you establish an infrangible, a perpetual, continuity of endeavor. The man with whom a great idea has its inception becomes a disembodied spirit. By influx from the spirit world to which he goes, he becomes the partner of the man to whom his work falls here ; and that man dying enlarges the partnership in his turn, and so on ad infinitum. It must be in this way that civilization is advanced, that the world-reforms are accomplished.”
Boynton’s eyes shone, and Ford listened with kindly neutrality. On some sides he was compelled to respect Boynton’s extraordinary alertness. In many things he was grotesquely ignorant; he was a man of very small literature, and he had the limitations of a country-bred person in his conceptions of the world ; but his mind, in the speculations on which it habitually dwelt, had a vast and bold sweep, and his theories sprang up fully formed, under his breath, like those plants which the Japanese conjurer fans to flower in the moment after he has put the seed in the ground.
He tossed his head upon the pillow impatiently. “ When I think of those things,” he said, “ I can hardly wait for the slow process of decay to unfold the truth to me. Perhaps I approached the unseen world with too arrogant a confidence,” he continued. “At any rate, I have been found unworthy, and my progress on earth has been arrested forever.”
Ford could not withhold the expression of the senseless self-accusal in his heart. “ I should be very sorry,” he said, “ if I had been the means of crossing your purposes.”
“You never were willfully so,” said Boynton. “ Besides, as I told you, I have begun to have my misgivings as to my theory of you. I suspect that I may have exaggerated my daughter’s powers ; that they were of a limited nature, terminable by the lapse of time. What do you think,” he asked, after a silence, as if willing to break away from these thoughts, “ of our Shaker friends ? Does their life strike you as the solution of the great difficulty ? ”
“ No,” said Ford ; “it strikes me as begging the question.”
“ Yes, so it is,” assented Boynton ; “ so it is, in some views. It is a life for women rather than men.”
An indefinable pang seized Ford. “I don’t quite understand you. Do you think it is a happy life for a woman ?”
“ There is no happy life for a woman — except as she is happy in suffering for those she loves, and in sacrificing herself to their pleasure, their pride and ambition. The advantage that the world offers her — and it does not always offer that — is her choice in self-sacrifice ; the Shakers prescribe it for her.”
Ford said nothing for a time, while the pain still rankled. Then he asked, " Don’t you think the possible power of choosing is a great advantage ? I don’t know that as a man I expect to be happy ; but I like to make my ventures in unhappiness. It saves me from the folly of accusing fate. If I surrendered myself to Shakerism, I should feel myself a prisoner ; I should not run the risk of wounds, but I should have no chance of escape.”
“ A woman does n’t like to fight,” replied Boynton. " Besides, there are no irrevocable vows in Shakerism. When you do not like it you leave it. It is no bad fate for a woman. For most women it would be a beneficent fate.”
An image of Egeria in the Shaker garb, with her soft young throat hidden to the chin, and the tight gauze cap imprisoning her beautiful hair, rose in the young man’s thought, and would not pass at his willing. It was with something like the relief of waking from an odious dream that he saw the girl enter the room in her usual dress, He involuntarily rose.
She had a spray of sumac in her hand, and she put it lightly beside her father on the bed. The leaves were already deeply tinged with crimson. " Ah, yes,” he said, taking it up and holding it before him, " I am glad you found it. I thought I saw it the last time I walked that way; but it was only partly red, then. I had intended to get it for you. After my daughter was sick here, this spring,” he added, turning his eyes upon Ford, " she showed a singular predilection during her convalescence for wild flowers. They would n’t come fast enough for her ; all the family were set to looking for them. Do you remember, Egeria, the day when we got you out under the apple-blossoms ? What is the apple-tree like, now ? Some yellow leaves on it, here and there ? ”
“ Yes, but the red apples burn like live coals among them,” said Egeria.
“ Fruition, fruition,” murmured her father dreamily. " Not so sweet as hope. But autumn was always my favorite season,— my favorite season. I suppose the long grass is limp and the cloverheads are black in the alleys of the orchard. All those aspects of nature — The sumac is first to feel the fall. Have you seen any other red leaves, Egeria ? ”
“I saw a young maple in the swamp that was almost as red in places as this,” said Egeria. " But they were too high for me to reach.”
“ Ah,” returned her father, " they will soon be red enough everywhere.”
“ Could n’t Miss Boynton tell me where her maple is? ” Ford interposed. “I could get you the leaves.”
“ Oh, no, — no,” began the doctor.
“ I do a certain amount of walking every day. If Miss Boynton will tell me where the maple is, and begin with the swamp ” —
“ The swamp,” said Egeria, " is just back of the south pasture ; but I should have to look for the tree myself.”
“ Take me with you then,” said the young man, with what he thought a great boldness.
“I could do that,” returned Egeria, siruplv. “If Frances were here, I could go with you now. It is n’t far.”
“I don’t need any one, now, my dear,” said her father. " You can put the bell here by my pillow, and I can ring.”
“Well,” said Egeria to Ford. " We will stop at the office, and tell them, father,” she added. Frances promised to listen for the bell, and stood at the office door watching them as they walked away together.
“ I think you can easily bend the tree,” Egeria said. “ It’s very slim, and I thought at first I could bend it myself. I should hate to have you break it.”
“ I will try not to break it,” answered Ford.
They crossed the meadow in desultory talk, but before they reached the edge of the swamp she abruptly halted him, and said with a sort of fearful resolution, “ Did you know that my father was here when you came?” She searched his face with a piercing intensity of gaze, her lips apart with eagerness and her breathing futtered.
“ No,” said Ford, “ my coming here was purely accidental.” Her eyes studied his a moment longer ; then she dropped them, and hurried on again as abruptly as she had stopped. “ But I always hoped I might see you again,” he continued, “and tell you — I went to tell your father in Boston — that I never dreamt it was you I hurt there, that night. I wanted to tell him that nothing in the world — But we quarreled ” — “ I know, I know,” interrupted the girl. “There is the tree,” she said, hastily, pointing out a young maple with reddened boughs, that stood some yards beyond the wall. “ Do you think you can get to it ? Do you think you can bend it down ? ”
Every nerve in him thrilled with the wrench of having half said what had been long in his heart; but he must obey her will. “ I think so,” he replied, and he got over the wall. He stepped from one quaking bed of mossy decay to another, till he reached the tree. He caught it about the slender stem well up towards the limbs, and, bending it over, began to break them away and fling them on the ground.
“ Oh, no ! ” cried Egeria from where she stood. “ Don’t! ”
“ Don’t what ? ” asked Ford, turning half round, without releasing the tree.
“ You seemed to tear it so. You have enough. That branch at the top ” —
“Shall I break it off?”
“No — no. Let it stay.”
“ Would you like it ? ”
Ford took out his knife, and slitted the branch from the tree with a downward stroke, and drove the blade into the thick of the hand with which he held the tree. He gathered up the branches, and putting them into the wounded hand gripped it with the other, and returned to Egeria.
She started at sight of the blood. “ I made you cut yourself.”
“ I don’t see how that is,” answered Ford. “ But I cut myself.” He stood holding his hand, while the blood dropped to the ground.
“ I will tie it up for you,” said Egeria, quelling a shudder. “ You ought to have something wet next to it. That will keep it from inflaming.”
“ Yes ? ” said Ford.
She made search for her handkerchief, and drew forth the stout square of linen which the kindness of the community had provided for her. She shook out its tough expanse. “ That is a Shaker handkerchief,” she said.
“ It looks rather grandiose for the purpose,” Ford remarked. “If you will take mine ” — He touched as nearly as he could the breast pocket of his coat with his elbow. She soberly obeyed his gesture, and pulled it out. “ Can you tear it ? ”
“ I need n’t tear it,” she answered, folding it into a narrow strip. “ I can wet this end in the water, here, and wrap the rest round it.”
She stooped to a little pool near the wall, and dipped the handkerchief into it ; then she laid the wet corner over the cut, which he had washed in the same pool, and folded the dry part firmly around it. Her finger-tips, soft and warm, left the sensation of their touch upon his hand.
They walked rapidly away. “ Better hold it up,” she said, seeing that he let his arm hang at his side.
“ Oh,” he answered stupidly, and obeyed for a moment, and then dropped his hand again.
“ You ’re forgetting,” she said.
“ Yes, I was,” replied Ford, recollecting himself. “ I was thinking that it must have seemed as if some savage beast had torn you.”
He looked at the hand on which she wore her ring, and she hid the hand in the folds of her dress, and turned her head away. Then she glanced at him, as if about to answer, but she only said, “ When you get home, you must wet the cloth again.”
“ Thanks,” said Ford ; “ it will have to look after itself when it stops stinging.”
She looked troubled. “ Does it hurt you very badly ? ”
“ I suppose it’s going through the usual formalities.”
“You had better show it to father — Oh!” she cried, blushing, “I have forgotten the leaves for him.” She almost ran in retracing her steps.
Ford pursued her. “ Miss Boynton, let me go and get them.”
“No, no, I can get them. You must n’t come. I don’t wish you to come.” She looked over her shoulder, and saw him standing irresolute. “ Don’t wait for me ; I can take them home.”
He lingered a moment, looking after her, and then turned and walked away, He did not go back to the infirmary, but kept on towards his own house, and arrived with a vague smile on his lips, which he found had shaped them ever since he left her. He scarcely realized then that she had been quick to avail herself of a chance to be alone with him, and that once with him she had been willing to delay their parting. A jarring sensation of alternate abandon and reserve was what remained of the interview in his nerves.
In the morning, when he walked up into the village, he found her coming out of the office gate. She faltered at sight of him, and glanced anxiously towards him. He had meant to stop at the office, but now he had a senseless impulse to keep on his way. He hesitated, and then crossed to where she stood. She had a small basket in her hand, and she said that Elder Joseph had given her leave to look over his vines, and see if there were any grapes ripe enough yet for her father to eat. There was an indefinable intention in her manner to detain him, which he felt as inarticulately, and there was something more intangible still,—something between fearful question and utter trust of him; something that chiefly intimated itself in the appeal with which her eyes rested on his when she first looked up. He dropped his own eyes before the gaze which he knew to be unconscious on her part, and she said suddenly, as if recollecting herself, “ Oh ! Will you show your hand to father ? How is it ? ”
“ That’s all right,” answered Ford, putting it into his pocket. She began to walk towards the garden, and he walked with her. “It is n’t my work hand.”
“ Work ? ” she asked.
“ I keep up my scribbling. I write for the papers,” he explained further, at a glance of inquiry from her.
“ Some of the brothers and sisters write, too,” she said. “ The Shakers have a paper.”
“ Yes, I have seen it,” said Ford. “ They write for pleasure and from duty. I am sorry to say that my work is mostly for the pay it brings. I’m hoping to do something in another way by and by. In the mean time I write and sell my work. It’s what they call pot-boiling.”
“ I did n’t know they paid for writing ! ”
“ They do, — a little. You can starve very decently on it.’'
“ Father used to write for the paper at home, but they never paid him anything. He is slow getting well,” she added, with a sad inconsequence, “ and I suppose he will never be quite so strong again. But it must be a good sign when he has these cravings. It seems as if he could n’t wait till the grapes are ripe; the doctor says he can have all the fruit he wants. Have you ever been in this garden before?” she asked, as they entered the bounds of Brother Joseph’s peculiar province.
“No,” replied Ford, looking round him with a pleasure for which he could not account. “ But I feel as if I might have been here always.”
“Yes. I suppose it looks like everybody’s garden. It’s like our garden at home.” He glanced about it with her, as they stood in the planked path together. At one side of the beds of pot-herbs, and apart from the ranks of sweet-corn, the melons, the beans, the faded peas, and the long rows of beets and carrots, was a space allotted to flowers, the simple annuals that have long been driven from our prim parterres. “ Our garden ran back of the house down to the river ; but it was all neglected and run wild. There was a summer-house on the edge of the terrace, and the floor was rotten; the trellises for the grapes were slanting every which way.”
She seemed to be recalling these aspects in a fond reverie, rather than addressing him; but they gave him a vivid sense of her past. He saw her in this old garden by the river-side, before any blight had fallen upon her life. He imagined her a very happy young girl, there; not romantic, but simple and good, and even gay. “ I know that sort of a garden,” he said.
“ Yes,” she continued, looking dreamily at Brother Joseph’s flower-beds, “ here is prince’s feather, and coxcomb, that I hated to touch when I was little, because it seemed like flesh and blood. And here is bachelor’s button, and mourning bride, and marigolds, and touch-me-not.”
“I had forgotten them,” said Ford. “ I suppose I used to see them when I was a boy. But it’s a long time since I was in the country.”
“ You must be glad to get back.”
“ No,” replied Ford. “ I can’t honestly say that I am. I wanted to get away from it too badly for that. The country is for the pleasure of people born in town.”
“ I don’t know what you mean.”
“ Nothing very definite. When I began to grow up, I found the country in my way. I dare say I should have been uncomfortable anywhere. I was very uncomfortable in the country.”
“ I have never been much in the city,” she said. “ But I did n’t like it.”
He remembered that he had helped to make the city hateful to her, though she seemed to have forgotten it, and he said, in evasion of this recollection, “It’s different with a man. I had my way to make, and the city was my chance.”
“And didn’t you ever feel homesick ? ” she asked.
“ I used to dream about the place after I came away. I used to dream that I had gone back there to live. That was my nightmare. It always woke me up.”
“ And did you never go back ? ”
“ No. I have never looked on those hills since I left them, and I never will if I can help it. I suppose it’s a matter of association,” he continued. “ My associations of not getting on are with the country ; my associations of getting on in some sort are with the city. That is enough to account for my hating the one and liking the other.”
“ Yes,” said Egeria, “ that is true.” She added after a moment, “ Have they ever told you what Joseph’s associations with this region are ?”
“ No. I should like to know.”
“ He saw it in a dream, years before he came here. When he first visited the Vardley Shakers he recognized it, and took it for a sign that he was to stay.”
“ That was remarkable,” said Ford. Egeria was silent. “ Do you believe in such things, Miss Boynton ? ” he asked.
She turned away, as if she had not heard him, and began to search the vines for ripe grapes. She went down one side of the long trellis, and he followed down the other. Between the leaves and twisting stems he caught glimpses of her yellow hair and her blue eyes.
“ Do you find any ? ” she asked.
“ Any what ? ”
“ I had n’t looked.”
She sighed. “ It’s about as well. There don’t seem to be any.” After a while she stopped, and he saw her glance at him through the leaves. “ I don’t know whether I believe in those things or not. Do you ? ”
“ The Shakers do. They all think they have had some sign. But I shouldn’t like to know things beforehand. It would n’t help you to bear the bad. Besides, it does n’t seem to leave you free, somehow. I think the great thing is to be free.”
“ It’s the first thing.”
“Yes ; that is what I always felt. It was slavery, even if it was true.” He knew what she meant; but he said nothing, though she waited for him to speak. “ It was what I tried to say sometimes ; but I could n’t express it. And I could n’t have made him understand.” With that screen of vines between them, and each other’s faces imperfectly seen through the leaves and tendrils, it was easier to be frank. “It cut us off from everybody in the world. It was what made the quarrel with grandfather.”
She waited again, and now Ford said, “ Yes, your father said it was that.”
“It made everybody suspect us. I did n’t care so much for myself after I got away from home, where they did n’t know us; but I cared for father. He suffered so from the things he had to bear. You can’t think what they were.”
“I’m ashamed to think what some of them were,” said Ford.
She paused a moment. “You mean what you said to him in Boston ? ”
“ Yes, that hurt him,” she said, simply. “ He had been very proud of the interest you took the first time you came. He said you were the only man of science that had taken any notice of him. Afterwards — he couldn’t make it out.”
“ I don’t wonder ! ” cried Ford. “ It was incredible. But I ought to say that I never came to threaten him.”
“ He was more puzzled when you would n’t meet him in that public séance. Why would n’t you ? ”
“ Why?” demanded Ford, in dismay.
“ Yes, why ? ”
“I don’t know that I can say.”
“ But you had some reason. Was it because you thought you would fail ? ”
Ford did not answer directly. “ Can you believe that I wanted to consider him in the matter ? ” he asked, in turn.
“ Yes, that is what I did believe.” She drew a long breath, and hid herself wholly behind a thick mass of the vine. “ Did you — did you get a letter from me ? ”
“ Yes,” said Ford.
“ I thought that I ought to write it; I didn’t know whether to do it. But I could n’t help it. I was glad you refused.”
“ I was glad you wrote the letter. It was n’t always a comfort to me, though. I had no right to any thanks from you. I felt as if I had extorted it.”
“ Extorted it! ” she repeated, with the same eager persistence with which she had pressed him for his reason in refusing to meet her father. “ Do you mean—do you mean that you tried to make me write the letter ? ”
“ How could I try to make you write me a letter ? ” demanded the young man, stupefied.
“ I don’t know. I was not sure that I understood. I can’t tell you — now. Did you destroy it ?”
“ Destroy what ? ”
“ The letter.”
“ No ; I kept it.”
“ Oh — will you give it back to me ? ”
“ Certainly.” Ford unfolded a pocket-book, and took out a worn - looking scrap of paper, which he passed through an open space in the trellis. Her hand appeared at the aperture and received it. A hesitation made itself felt through the vines. “ Will you give it back to me, Miss Boynton ? ”
“ There’s nothing to be ashamed of in it,” she said, and her hand reappeared at the open space with the letter.
“ Thanks,” said Ford.
“ They will think I am a long time looking for a few grapes,” said Egeria.
“ They’ve no idea how few there are, and how long it takes to find them,” answered Ford.
She laughed. “ Are they scarce on your side, too ? ”
“ There are no ripe bunches at all. Shall I pick single ones ? ”
“ Oh, yes ; any that you can get. It’s rather early for them yet.”
“ Is it ? I thought it was about the right time.”
“ That shows you have n’t lived in the country for a good while. You’ve forgotten.”
“Yes,” assented Ford. “I haven’t seen grapes on the vines for ten years.”
“ Have n’t you been out of the city in that time ? ”
“Not if I could help it.”
“ And why can’t you help it now ? ”
“ They told me I was n’t well, and I’d better go to the mountains.” He sketched in a few words his course in coming to Vardley.
“ I thought you looked pale, when you first came,” she said. After a little while she added, “ You can bear it if you ’re getting better, I suppose.”
He laughed. “ Oh, it is n’t so disagreeable here. I’m interested in your Shaker friends.”
“ They think they are living the true life,” said the girl.
“ Do you ? ” asked Ford.
“ They are very good ; but I have seen good people in the world outside,” she answered. “ I think they are the kind that would be good anywhere. I should n’t like having things in common with others. I should like a house of my own. And I should like a world of my own.”
“ Yes,” said Ford, laughing. “I should like the private house, too. But I don’t think I could manage a whole world.”
“ I mean a world that is for the people that live in it. When they die, they have their own world, and they ought n’t to try to come back into ours.”
“ Oh, decidedly, I agree with you there ! ” cried the young man.
She seemed not to like his light tone. “ I know that I don’t express it well.”
“ It could n’t be expressed better.”
“ I meant that I hoped any friend of mine would be too well off to be willing to come back,”
They found themselves at the end of the trellis, and face to face. He dropped his grapes into the basket, where some loose berries rolled about. She looked ruefully at the result of their joint labors.
“ Well! ” she said, and they walked out of the garden together.
At the gate Ford took out his watch, and stopped with a guilty abruptness. “ Miss Boynton, I am going away, — I am going to Boston, this afternoon. I” —
“ Going away ? ”
“ Yes, I have business in Boston.
Can I do anything for your father or — for you — there ? ”
“ No,” she said, looking at him in bewilderment. “ Will you come and say good-by to him ? Or perhaps you had better not,” she faltered.
“ I ’m coming back this evening ! ” he cried in astonishment. “ Will you lend me this basket ? ” he asked.
“ Why, yes. It belongs to Rebecca.”
“ Don’t tell her I borrowed it. I must go, now. Good-by ! ”
“ Good-by.” She stood looking after him till a turn of the road to Vardley Village hid him.
“ When he reached Boston, he found that the year had turned from summer to autumn with a distinctness which he had not noted in the country. The streets, where his nerves expected the fierce heat in which he had left them, were swept by cool inland airs. The crowds upon the pavement had perceptibly increased ; a tide of women, fresh from their sojourn at the sea-side and in the country, was pouring down Winter Street, reanimated for shopping, and with their thoughts set upon ribbons with a vividness that shone in their faces. The third week of the fall season was placarded at the Museum ; and in the Public Garden, which he crossed upon an errand to his lodging, there was a blaze of autumnal flowers in place of the summer bloom which he had left. He met here and there groups of publicschool children loitering homeward with their books. The great, toiling majority who never go out of town were there, of course; the many whose vacations and purses are short had all returned; it would be some weeks yet before the few who can indulge the luxury of the colored leaves and the peculiar charm of still September days out of town would come home. It was the moment in which Ford had ordinarily the most content in his city. He liked to renew his tacit companionship with all these returning exiles; the promise of winter snugness brought him almost a domestic joy ; the keen sparkle of the early-lighted gas in the street lamps and the shopwindows was a pleasure as distinct as it was inarticulate. But now he felt estranged amid the cheerful spectacle of the September afternoon. The country quiet, which he used to hate, tenderly appealed to him ; the quaint life of the Shaker village, of which he had, without knowing it, become a part, reclaimed him; the cry of a jay that strutted down an overhanging branch to defy him as he walked along the road, after parting with Egeria, was still in his ears ; his vision was full of the sunny glisten of meadows where the Shakers’ hired men were cutting the rowan, and of roadsides fringed with golden-rod and asters. He was impatient till he could be off again, and he made haste back to the fruiterer’s where he had left his basket with an order to fill it with grapes. He was vexed to find it standing empty in a corner.
“ You did n’t say what kind you wanted,” explained the fruiterer.
“ Put in what you like, — the best kind,” said Ford. “You can judge; they ’re for a sick person.”
“ All right.” The man filled the basket, and Ford went to another counter, and took up a bouquet which he added to his purchase.
He bought two or three newspapers, in the cars, and read them on the way back, throwing those he was not reading over the flowers on the seat beside him, so as to hide them.
He got out of the train at Vardley Station with the sense of having committed a public action. He was rescued from this embarrassment, and curiously restored to his self-possession at sight of Egeria, who came driving the old Shaker horse over from the post-office, as the train halted. He was not alarmed to see her, but he asked formally, “ Nothing the matter, I hope, Miss Boynton ? ”
“ Oh, no. I came to get the letters ; and I thought I would wait for you, if you were on this train.”
“ Thanks,” said Ford, putting the basket into the open buggy, and mounting to a place beside her. She looked down at it, but said nothing. He took the reins from her, and drove out of the village before he spoke again. “I have got some grapes for your father.”
She laughed, and lifted the basket at once into her lap. “ I thought you were going for something,” she said, “after you were gone; and I guessed with Sister Frances. I guessed it was grapes, and she guessed it was peaches. You thought he would be disappointed at Elder Joseph’s vines.” She raised the lid of the basket, and after a glance pushed it to again with a quick gesture, and looked gravely at him. “ That is too much,” she said.
“ I hope you don’t think so ! ” he pleaded. “ I counted on your being pleased.”
“ So I am pleased,” she returned. She opened the basket-lid again, and looked within.
“ You must have hated to come back to the country,” she said, after a silence, “ if you like the city so much.”
“ No. For once I was willing to come back. If the country had n’t threatened to keep me, I should n’t have hated it. I never hated the country about here. What have you been doing this afternoon ? It seems a great while.”
“ Does it ? Yes, it does ! I suppose there’s such a sameness here that anything that breaks it up makes the time longer. Sister Frances says that it’s so when any of them are gone. After you went I came in and stayed with father. He did n’t know that I had been trying to get him some grapes. Your going away seemed to fret him, and that made me a little anxious to — to — see if you had come.”
“ I never thought of not coming back.”
“ Yes, I know. Silas went down to the post-office with me; but Humphrey came along in his buggy, and Silas went back with him. He could n’t wait for you, and I said I would.”
“ Thanks. But you took too much trouble. I expected to walk up from the station.”
“ I did n’t believe you’d want to carry the basket.”
“ Yes, I should. But what would you have done if you had had to drive home alone in the dusk ? ”
“ Oh, I knew you would be there.”
The lamps were lit in the office, and the window was red with cheerful light where the doctor lay in the infirmary, when they drew up before the gate, and Ford helped Egeria down. Then he took the paper in which the bouquet was wrapped, and handed it to her. “ There are a few ilowers, too.”
“ I thought it must be flowers,” she said. “ I ’ll put them round the grapes.”
“ The flowers are for you,” said Ford, with dogged resolution.
Laban came across the street from the office, and took the horse by the bridle. “ The sisters want you should take your tea at the office, to-night. They’ve got it ready for you, and they ’ve sent word to Friend Williams not to be expectin’ you.”
While Ford waited a few moments in the office parlor, Egeria came, and he heard her talking with Rebecca and Diantha in the sitting-room. When the latter came to tell him that tea was ready, he perceived that his gift was already a matter of family approval. He sat down at the table, and Egeria came out of the kitchen adjoining with the polished tin tea-pot in her hand. Then he saw that the table was set for two. Her face was flushed, as if she had been near the heat; but she sat down quietly, saying, “ He was asleep, and Frances was with him. I must run back in a minute, for I want him to have them as soon as he wakes.” He knew that she meant the grapes. When she was handing him his cup, she half drew it back. “ I did n’t ask you whether you like cream and sugar both, and I ’ve put them in.”
“ I like it so,” said Ford.
She ate with more appetite than he, and was gayer than he had seen her before. A happy light was in her eyes, and when they met his this light seemed to suffuse her face. She talked, and he listened dreamily. It was very strange to a man of his solitary life. He did not remember to have ever seen any one pour tea. At the boarding-house they came and asked if you would have tea or coffee, and brought it to you in a cup ; at the restaurant they set it before you in a pot, and you helped yourself, or the waiter reached over your shoulder and poured it out. Ford looked round the sincerely bare dining-room; the windows were shut to keep out the evening chill, and the curtains were snugly drawn. The door to the kitchen was open, and he could hear Diantha moving about there ; now and then she made a little rattling at the stove ; once she came in with a plate of rice-cakes, and offered to wait upon them; but Egeria passed the plate to Ford herself, and then gave him the butter and syrup. He tried to make her one with the frightened and joyless creature whom he had first seen in Boston; then he perceived that she had fallen silent under his silent scrutiny.
“ I beg your pardon,” he said, “ is anything the matter ? ”
“ Oh, no ! ” she answered. “ But I must go back to father. Will you come over and see him ? ”
He walked across the road with her under the stars, keen as points of steel in the moonless sky; but at the gate he said, “No, I won’t go in, to-night. I will come to see your father to-morrow.”
She said “ Well,” as if she understood that he wished to delay being thanked.
As he lingered, she faltered too, and they stood confronted without speaking. Then he said, “ Good-night,” and made an offer of offering his hand. She saw it, and stretched hers towards him ; but by this time he had let his hand fall, thinking it unnoticed. The manœuvre was reciprocally repeated; by a common impulse they both broke into a low, nervous laugh, and their hands met in a quick clasp.
“ Thank you for the flowers,” she said, when she had got a few paces away.
A little farther off, he glanced back. She seemed to be standing yet at the door ; but the light was uncertain, and it might have been a shadow. He delayed a little, and then went back; but she was now gone, and he saw her head reflected against the curtain within.
Ford expected that they would meet next in the mood of their parting; but she received him with a sort of defensive scrutiny that puzzled him and estranged her from him. He fancied that she avoided being alone with him, and made haste to shelter herself from him in her father’s presence, where she sat and knitted while they talked. If he glanced at her, he found her eye leaving him with a look of anxious quest. He went away feeling that she was capricious. Other days followed when she was different, and met him with simple and eager welcome ; but then he did not think her capricious, and he forgot from time to time the inquisition that vexed him with her, and that seemed to weary and distress her.
He commonly wrote in the morning and came in the afternoon. She sat on the threshold of the infirmary, and if her father was awake she invited him in-doors; if Boynton was asleep, she drew Ford off a little way into the orchard. There had been a change in Boynton. He never spoke hopefully of his condition to Ford ; but although he still showed a great feebleness, there were often days when he left his bed and sat up in a rocking-chair to receive his visitor. He did not remain long afoot, and he never showed any wish to go out-of-doors. Sometimes Egeria and Frances, in their zeal for his convalescence, urged him in the mild fall weather to go out for the air; but after a glance at the landscape he said, “ Yes, yes, to-morrow, if it’s fair. I’m hardly equal to it to-day.” When Ford was not with him, or some of the more metaphysical of the Shakers, he read or mused in his chair. At first he had wished to talk of the questions that perplexed him with Egeria, but she had fondly evaded them ; later, when she showed herself willing to afford him this resource, he had no longer the wish for it, and did not respond to her promptings.
His mind must have been dwelling upon this change in himself and her, one afternoon, when Ford came in and sat down with him. “ You see,” he said, “ how they have tricked out my room for me ? ” and he indicated the boughs of colored leaves, varied with bunches of wild asters and tops of golden-rod, in which the Shakers had carried him the autumn. “ There is n’t healing in my leaves, as there was in the flowers which they brought Egeria this spring,” he added, with a slight sigh, “ but there is sympathy, — sympathy.” Ford left him to the pleasure he evidently found in the analogy and contrast, and Boynton presently resumed : " There is an experiment which I should have liked to try, if she had continued the same. I should have liked to see if we could not change places, and she exert upon me that influence which I once had over her. There is no telling how sanative it might be in a case like mine, in which there is a certain obscurity of origin and character. But I am convinced that it would be useless to attempt the experiment. I see now that the psychic force must have left her entirely during her sickness. Not a trace of it remains. The fact is a very interesting one, which I should hope to investigate with important results, if I could live to do so. It may be that we approach the other world only through some abnormal condition here. You have observed this remarkable change in my daughter ? ”
“ You know I only saw Miss Boynton two or three times before I came here,” said Ford. “ She seems very much better.”
“ That is the change. Her power has escaped in this return to health. I saw it, — I almost noted its flight. Day by day, after the crisis of her fever, when convalescence began, I perceived that she grew more and more rebellious to my influence, without knowing it. If I had obeyed my intuitions, I should never have put her powers to the final test. I see now that you had nothing to do with our failure here, whatever the effect of your sphere was in Boston. Her gift, rare and wonderful as it was, was the perishable efflorescence of a nervous morbidity. I might have known this before, — perhaps I did know it, and refused to accept it as a fact. It was hard, it was impossible, to relinquish my belief in her continued powers just when I had brought them to the most favorable conditions for their exercise. But I don’t give up my belief in what has been. I know that once she possessed the power that has been withdrawn, if ever it existed on earth. You will get out of the matter very easily by saying that it never did exist,” added Boynton bitterly. “ I should once have said so ; but now I say, whoever keeps it or loses it, this power has never ceased to exist. Has my daughter ever spoken to you of this matter ? ” he demanded abruptly.
“ Yes,” said Ford.
“ It would be intolerable if she knew how great her loss was. But she never realized the preciousness of her gift while she possessed it.”
The color of superiority, of censure, which tinged these words irritated the young man. “ As far as I could understand, she seemed to dislike ghosts.”
“ Yes, I know that. I had that to contend with in her.”
“ It seemed to me that she had a terror of them, and that your researches had cost her ” — Ford stopped.
“ What ? ” asked Boynton.
“ She has never complained,” answered the other. “ I could only conjecture ” —
“ Oh, I can believe that she never complained ! ” cried Boynton ; and now he lay a long space silent. At last, “ Yes,” he groaned, with an indescribable intensity of contrition in his tone, “ I see what you mean ! I seized upon a simple, loving nature, good and sweet in its earthliness, and sacred in it, and alienated it from all its possible happiness to the uses of my ambition. I have played the vampire ! ”
Ford rose in alarm at the effect of his words, and essayed what reparation he could. “ No,” he protested. “ The harm is less than you think. I don’t believe that any one but ourselves can do us essential injury here. We may make others unhappy, but we can’t destroy the possibility of happiness in them ; we can only do that in ourselves. Your conscience has to do with your motives ; it judges you by them, and God — if we suppose Him—will not judge you by anything else. The effect of misguided actions belongs to the great mass of impersonal evil.”
It was the second time that he had presumed to distinguish between Boynton and Egeria, and he had again committed a cruel impertinence. He continued with a sort of remorseful rage to launch upon Boynton such fragments of consolation as came into his head; and he hurried from him without knowing that his phrases about impersonal evil had already floated that buoyant spirit beyond the regrets in which he had plunged it.
Still heated and ashamed, he issued from the infirmary, and, as if it were strange that she should be there, he started at sight of Egeria under one of the orchard trees. But in that fascination which makes us hover about the victim of some wrong or the witness of some folly of ours, he pressed towards her. She was leaning against the trunk of the tree, with some knitting in her hand, and he flung himself on the grass at her feet. He thought that he meant to confess to her what had just passed, but he made no attempt to do so. “ Are you so very tired ? ” she asked, smiling down at him.
“ Not very,” he answered, “ but I know no reason why I should n’t sit down, — except one.”
“ What’s that ? ”
“ That you ’re standing.”
It was pretty, and she was a girl, and she softly laughed as she began to knit.
“ That’s work in real earnest,” he said, looking at the substantial gray sock mounted on her needles.
“ Yes; the Shakers sell them,” she explained. “I suppose you’ve got through your work for the day.”
“ I’ve got through my writing, if you call that work. It must he work. It’s so dull it can’t be play.” Again he thought he would speak of what had passed between him and her father, but he did not.
“ Do you write stories ? ” she asked, with her eyes on her knitting.
“ Oh, not so bad as that! I do what they call social topics, — perhaps because I never go into society ; and I do them with difficulty, as I deserve, for I’m only making literature a means. I understand that if you want to be treated well by it you must make it an end, and be very serious and respectful with it.”
“ Oh, yes,” said the girl, as if she did not understand.
“ I’m serious enough,” he continued, “ but I don’t respect my writing as it goes on. It’s as good as most; but it ought to be as good as the least.”
“ What are social topics ? ” she asked presently.
“ I suppose I ’m treating a social topic now. I’m writing about some traits of New England country life. I began it — do you care to hear?”
“ Yes, I should like to hear about it if you will tell me.”
“ It’s nothing. I was telling you the other day of our start from Boston. I could n’t help noticing some things on the way ; my ten years in town had made me a sort of foreigner in the country, and I noticed the people and their way of living ; and after I got here I sent a letter to a newspaper about it. You might think that would end it; but you don’t know the economies of a hack-writer. I’ve taken my letter for a text, and I’m working it over into an article for a magazine. If I were a real literary man I should turn it into a lecture afterwards, and then expand it into a little book.” Egeria knitted on in silence, as if her mind were away, or had not strength to deal with these abstractions. “Who is that?” asked Ford, as a young Shakeress with a gentle face looked out of a window of the nearest family house, and nodded in pleasant salutation to Egeria.
“ That is the school-teacher.”
“ They all look alike to me, — the sisters. I don’t see how you tell them apart, so far off.”
“ Yes, they all have the same expression, — the Shaker look. But they ’re very different.”
“ Why, of course. And the Shaker look is a very good look. It’s peaceful. I suppose they have their bickerings, though.”
“ Not often. They ’re what they seem. That’s their great ambition.”
“ It ’s an immense comfort. You must be quite at home among them.”
“ Yes,” said the girl.
“ Do you mean no ? ”
“ They do everything they can to make me; but they have their own world, and I don’t belong to it. They feel that as well as I do; but they can’t help it.”
“ Of course not. That’s the nature of worlds, big and little. You can’t be at home near them; you have to be in them to be comfortable. I have a world in my own neighborhood that I don’t belong to. I like to abuse it; but it’s quite as good a neighbor as I deserve, and it would be civil if I made an effort to tit into it. But I suppose I was a sort of born outcast.”
“ Does Mr. Phillips write, too?” asked the girl.
The abruptness of the transition was a little bewildering ; but Ford answered, “ My Phillips ? No ; he talks.”
“ But has n’t he any business ? ”
“ None of his own. Did he amuse you ? ”
“ I don’t think I understood him,” said Egeria.
“ He would be charmed with your further acquaintance. He would tell you that he could meet you on common ground, — that he did n’t understand himself.”
She left Phillips by another zigzag. “I suppose,” said she, “you like the influence that a writer has. It must be a pleasure to feel your power over people.”
“ No,” said Ford, “ I don’t care anything about the influence. It shocks me to think of people being turned this way or that by my stuff.”
“ Then you believe,” she said, with that recurrent intensity, “ that we can have power over others without knowing it, and even without wishing it ? ”
“ Oh,” he answered carelessly, “ we all control one another in the absurdest way.”
“ Yes.” She turned quite pale, and looked away, passing her hand over her forehead as if she were giddy. Then she rose quickly, and hurried down the path to the infirmary. The young man followed.
“ Did you think you heard your father’s bell ? ”
“ I’d better see if he rang.” She went into the little house, but came out directly. “ No ; he’s trying to sleep.”
“ Then we must go back, so as not to disturb him.”
“ Yes,” she said, but with an accent of interrogation and reluctance. “ I don’t believe I ought to leave him.”
“ We shall be near enough,” he rejoined with a kind of willfulness. “ Here comes Sister Frances ; she will stay with him.”
“ I might speak to her,” murmured Egeria, hesitating, as Frances came across the road.
“ It is n’t worth while. She will find him alone, and will naturally stay till you come in.” Ford glanced about him. “ Which is the apple-tree they call yours ? ”
“ The one they brought me out under the first day I was well enough ? ”
“ Yes; I have heard a great deal of that tree. It is famous in the community annals.”
“ Oh, it does n’t look the least now as it did then.” She led the way far up the orchard slope. But when they came to the tree, and she said, putting her hand on the trunk, “ This is it,” neither of them spoke of it. She glanced at the hill on the brow of which some chestnuttrees stood.
“ We could get a better view from that place,” he suggested.
“ Do you think so ? ” She climbed half up the wall that divided the orchard from a meagre pasture above, and looked back. He passed her and helped her over the wall. “ I forgot that this meadow was so wet,” she said, hesitat> ing near the wall.
“ But nature never does things by halves,” said Ford. “ Where she makes a sopping meadow, she puts plenty of stones to step on ; and where you are doubtful of your footing she puts me to lend you a helping hand.” He extended his hand to her as he spoke, and drew her lightly to the sloping bowlder on which he stood, and on which she must cling to him for support.
“ Oh, I could get on well enough alone,” she said, laughing nervously.
“ You can get on better with help.”
She followed him, springing from stone to stone, staying herself now by his hand and now by his arm, till they reached the hard, dry top, where the tangled low blackberry vines overran the bowlder heads thickly crusted with lichens.
“ I did n’t suppose it was so bad,” she said, shaking out her skirts.
“ I don’t think it so very bad,” he returned. “It was n’t a great way across.”
“ No. There are some chestnuts. It must be too soon for them.”
“ Let us see,” said Ford. He advanced leisurely, and with a club knocked off some burs. Returning with them to the rock, where she had stood watching him, he hammered the nuts from their cells. They were scarcely in the milk yet. “ These trees are too old,” he said. “The nuts ripen first on the young trees that stand apart in the meadows. There are some in the rye-field just beyond these pine woods, here,” he said, pointing to the growth on their left.
“ That would be too far,” she answered, following his gesture with a glance. “ We had better go back.”
“ We can go back that way. It’s good walking.”
She did not answer, but he led on again, and she followed. “How still and warm it is! ” she cried, with a luxurious surrender to the charm of the place. The slanting sun struck through the slender boles of the trees, and burnished the golden needles under their feet. There was no sound of life save their steps, and their voices which took a lower key; the air was rich with the balsam of the trees. She deeply inhaled it. “ Yes, yes,” she murmured. " It all comes back. I was afraid,” she said, in answer to the look with which he turned upon her, " that I had lost the feeling which I had when I first got well. But I have n’t.”
“ What was it ? ”
“ I don’t know if I can tell. Something as if I belonged in such places — as if they missed me when I came away — I don’t know. It was something very silly ” — She stopped.
“ Don’t grieve the woodland by hurrying through it, then,” said Ford, with a playfulness which, now that he indulged it, seemed natural to him. “ Wait a moment. This rock is a new feature, — I don’t remember this.” A vast bowlder rose at the side of their path, and he walked round it and clambered to the top, from which he bent over to speak to her again. " Would you like to come up? It’s quite easy on this side.”
“ What can you see ? ”
“ Nearly the whole earth.”
She found the opposite side of the rock a slope, broken by some natural steps. He came half-way down, and, reaching her his hand, pulled her strongly up.
The top was scarcely wide enough for them both ; and while he stood she sat at his feet, and looked out at the landscape which a break in the woods revealed at that height. It was the valley in which the village and farms of the Shakers lay; but it stretched wider than they had ever seen it, and on the other side, beyond the river, the hills rose steeper. The red sunset bathed it in a misty light, through which shone the scarlet of the maples, the gold of the elms by the river, the tender crimson of the young growths in the swamp lands. On the hill-side some of the farm windows had caught the sun, and blazed and flickered with mimic fire. Along a lower slope ran a silent train, marking its course with puffs of white steam.
“ I can confess, now,” said Ford, “ that if I had n’t climbed this rock I should n’t have known just where we were. But here are all the landmarks.” He pointed to the familiar barns and family houses below.
“ How near we are ! ” she cried, looking down. “ I felt as if we were miles away. These woods are not large enough to get lost in, are they ? ”
“ Not now. They were, a minute ago.” He sat down beside her, and they looked at the landscape together. “ It’s rather sightly, as Joseph says.”
“ We had better go down,” she murmured. But neither of them made a movement to go. They sat looking at the valley. “ Now the fire has caught the windows higher up,” she said. They watched the glittering panes as they darkened and kindled. The windows of the highest farm-house flashed intensely, and then slowly blackened. A light blue haze hovered over the valley.
“ The curtain is down,” said Ford.
She started to her feet, and looked round. “ Why, the sun has set! ”
“ Did n’t you know that ? ” he asked.
“ No,” she said, sadly. “ It seemed as if it would last longer. But nothing lasts.”
“ No, nothing lasts,” he repeated. “ But generally things last long enough. I could have stood another hour or two of sunset, however. And sometimes I’ve known days that I would have been willing to have last forever, if I could have had out my eternity in this world.”
“ Is that — is that the way you feel, too ? ” she asked, turning swiftly upon him that strange, searching glance.
“ Why, not always. “What is the matter ? ”
“ Nothing — nothing. Let us go down.” She took his hand, and clung to it, in descending, as if eager to escape to him from some fear of him.
They went on in the direction they had first taken. She walked at his side, and when his pace fell to a slow saunter she did not attempt to hasten it. A red squirrel took shape and motion out of the russet needles, and raced up one of the pines, whose feathery tops he bent in his long leaps from tree to tree; a partridge suddenly whirred up from the path before them; the life was like shadow, the shadow was like life, as the twilight thickened round them. “ Are you tired?” he asked. “Am I making you walk too far ? ”
“ I am not tired,” she answered, but stopping as he stopped.
“ I am. I’m out of breath,” he said. “ Do you know this place ? ”
She glanced round. “ I believe I should know it if I were here alone. It looks familiar. It looks like the place where Laban found us that morning when we were trying to walk to Vardley Station. The brook ought to be running along in the hollow, here. Once he asked me if I knew the place; but I did n’t. Do you think it’s the place ? ” “ How should I know ? You never told me of it before.”
“ Then the fever must have begun,” she mused aloud. “ I thought — I must have thought you — were there ! I ought n’t ” —
“ Oh,” laughed Ford, “we put people in all sorts of places in dreams, feverish or otherwise. But I think the place you mean is lower down. I was in hopes you knew better where we were. I don’t know.”
Egeria laughed also. “ Then we are lost! ”
“ Yes. Are you frightened ? ”
“ I should hate to be lost here alone.” “ I shall go presently and look up our whereabouts. Shall I go now?”
“ If we keep walking we shall get through the woods in a few minutes. Which way are your chestnuts ? ”
“ I don’t know that, now, either. Do you care to look them up ? ”
“ No. I thought you wanted them.”
“ I think it’s better to stay here. No,” he added, capriciously, “ it’s better to go home.”
“ Well,” she responded, with the same trusting content in which she had let all his impulses sway her.
A thrill, very wild and sweet, played through his nerves. “I — I ” — he hegan ; then suddenly, “Wait here ! ” he cried, and ran down to the brow of the hill along which the woodland stretched. “ It’s all right! ” lie called back, and he turned to retrace his steps. But she was no longer where he had left her. He disliked to call out to her; they were very near the house in which he lodged, and he did not wish to make an alarm. He pushed hither and thither through the gathering dusk, but he could not find her; and he blamed himself for having brought her into this embarrassment. He had once seen tramps in those woods ; and now it would be almost dark when they reached home. All at once he came upon her at the foot of a tree, against which she quietly leaned. “ What are you doing here ? ” he demanded impatiently. “ Why did you go away?” He thought he had spoken harshly ; but she only seemed amused.
“ I have n’t moved. This is where you left me.”
They both laughed at that. “ I have been running everywhere, — round and round, as lost people do in the Adirondacks, when they are going to write about it afterwards. It’s absurd to be lost here. It’s like being drowned in a saucer. Were you afraid ? ”
“ No. What should I be afraid of?”
“ Certainly not bears, — till I came up. Will you take my arm ? I must n’t lose you again. Will they be uneasy about you ? ”
“ Oh, they will know that I went away with you, and some of them will see us coming back together.”
“ Yes,” said the young man.
“ Besides, I can tell them that we missed the way.”
“ I ’m afraid if you do that they won’t let you come with me again.”
“ I’m afraid they won’t believe me if I tell them where we got lost,” she said. When they came to open ground, it was much lighter. “ It is n’t so late as I thought.”
“ No,” he answered ; “ we were actually lost in that boundless forest by daylight. But it isn’t so remarkable in my case as it is in yours, Miss Boynton. I don’t know what mysterious influence you are going to say bewildered you.”
“Influence?” she repeated, with a start.
“ What is the matter ? ” he asked.
“ Nothing! ” She withdrew her hand from his arm.
He looked round, and saw that they had reached the great stone bowl of the wayside fountain. A sense of hideous anomaly possessed him. “ Did I become intolerable just here ? ” he demanded, bitterly. “ Why do you endure me ? You and your father ought to hate me. I have done you nothing but harm. Why do you ever speak to me ? I ought to be abominable to you ! ”
“ I don’t know,” she answered vaguely. “ Do you think it is ” —
He laughed harshly. “ Inexplicable! You don’t forget anything?”
“ No,” she reluctantly admitted. “ I don’t forget.”
“ I can understand your father’s position. He suffers me upon some theory of his. But you,—you are a woman, and women don’t forgive very easily. Come, Miss Boynton,” he cried, beginning to mix his wonted self-banter with his pain, “ confess that I am some malignant enchanter, and that I have the power of casting an ugly spell over you, that deprives you of the wholesome satisfaction of telling me that I’m detestable.”
“ A spell,” she began ; but her voice died weakly away, and she stood looking into his face with puzzled entreaty.
“ If you would tell me once for all that I am the greatest ruffian in the world, with neither pity nor decency, it might break the charm, and then I could go away to-morrow morning. I’ve been waiting for that. Will you try ? ”
“ I can’t say that,” she murmured.
“ But you believe it ? ”
“ No ” —
“ That’s part of the sorcery. You must have often tried to believe it.”
She was silent, and he felt that her silence was full of distress. She turned away with a sort of helplessness ; he followed her, trying to retrieve himself. But he could not find anything to say, and they scarcely spoke as they walked back through the village. At the gate of the office her parting with him was almost a flight.
The next day Ford came, and found Egeria on the threshold, where she often met him. At first glance he thought he read in her face something like an impulse to run from him; but she quelled the impulse, if she had it, and greeted him with a resolute coldness, which he would not recognize. He had a broad yellow hickory leaf in one hand, and on this lay a little heap of blackberries; they were long and narrow like mulberries, and they had hung on the canes, hoarding the last sweetness of the year. “ Perhaps your father will like these,” he said; and he told her of the hollow beside the road in which he had found them. “ They’ve got all that was left of the summer in them,” he added. “ Will you have them ? ”
“ I don’t believe they would be good for him,” she said.
Ford tossed them away. “ How is the doctor to-day ?” he asked.
“ He’s better. Will you come in ? ”
“ No, thank you. I am going to the post-office. Good-by.”
“ Good-by,” she said, and they exchanged a look of mutual dismay, which hardened into pride before their eyes dropped.
At the post-office Ford found a letter for Egeria, and carried it to Humphrey, who put it away in his desk, and said he would give it to her when she came in.
“ It don’t seem the same handwriting', as the other. I don’t know,” he said, shutting his desk-lid, “ as you heard that they got a letter this mornin’ from a lawyer down t’ their place. As I understood from Frances,— Egery read it to her, — the gran’father’s left Egery what prop’ty there was. The’ wa’ n’t no great, I guess.”
The fact jarred upon Ford. Against all sense he connected it with her changed manner, for which, till then, he had found reason enough in the terms of their parting the day before. This legacy seemed the world thrusting in between them; it was as if it crossed some purpose, broke some hope, of his.
He stopped mechanically, on his way home, in the hollow of the roadside where he had found the blackberries, and looked idly at the canes. Presently he saw that there were no berries left on them. He was turning away, when a sound like suppressed laughter caught his ear. There was a rustle in a thicket near, and Egeria and one of the youngest Shakeresses came out.
“ We have got them all,” said the former ; she blushed appealingly, while the latter still giggled. “ I did n’t suppose you would come again. When we saw you looking so, Susan could n’t help laughing.” Ford reddened with embarrassment. “ It seems greedy to take them. I did n’t suppose — I never thought of your wanting them. Will you — will you — take some ? ” She offered him her basket.
“ Thanks,” he said, awkwardly refusing, “ I don’t care for them.”
He turned and walked off, leaving her where she stood, with her basket still extended towards him. She watched him out of sight, and then made a few paces after him. On a sudden she dropped her basket, and sinking down hid her face on her knees. The Shakeress picked up the basket and the berries which were jostled out of it, and stood passively near, looking at Egeria for what seemed a long time.
There came a sound of wheels. “Is that you, Susan ? ” called Elihu from the road.
“ Yee,” promptly answered the Shakeress.
Egeria sprang to her feet, and seized the basket from her. “ Come ! come ! ” she whispered, and fled farther into the woods.
But the girl did not follow her. She went out into the road, where Elihu sat in his buggy, and stood demurely waiting his question.
“ Was that Egeria ? ”
“ Why did she run away ? ”
“ She was crying,”
“ What made her cry ? ”
The girl was silent.
“ What made her cry ? ” repeated Elihu.
“ She had got all the berries, when Friend Ford came, and he seemed kind of put out.”
“Get in with me,” said Elihu. “You should not be here alone.”
In the evening Elihu went to the office, and joined the office sisters in their sitting-room. One of them took his hat and cane, and the other pulled a rocking-chair towards the air-tight stove, in which a new fire was softly roaring.
“ The evenings begin to be chilly, now,” he said.
“ Yee,” answered Rebecca, “ the days are shortening. Did you find the folks all well at Harshire ? ”
“ Yee,” he said ; and then he sat rocking himself absently and somewhat sadly to and fro, while the sisters, with their hands in their laps, passively waited for him to speak farther. Humphrey, hearing his voice, came in from his room, and Laban followed. Sister Frances, with her pale cheeks a little brightened by her walk across from the infirmary, entered the other door. Elihu lifted his voice. “ But I did n’t find all the folks here so well.”
“ Why, what do you mean, Elihu ? ” cried Diantha. “ Is anybody sick with you ? ”
“ Is Friend Boynton worse ? ” Humphrey asked, turning his head up towards Frances, who was still on foot, while he was seated.
“Nay,” answered Frances, fluttered with anxiety and curiosity ; “ he is uncommon bright and well, to-night.”
“ It is no sickness of the body that I mean, and yet it is a disease of this life only. I hardly know how to say what I suspect, — or rather feel sure of.” His listeners did not interrupt him, but waited in resignation for his next word. He looked round at their faces. “ Egeria is getting foolish about Friend Ford.”
“ For shame, Elihu ! ” exclaimed Frances, with an indignant impulse. The rest stirred uneasily in their chairs, but did not speak.
Elihu looked kindly at Frances, but he did not address her directly in adding, “ As I was coming home this afternoon, I met Friend Ford down at the turn of the road, looking strange and excited. He did n’t seem to see me, and he went on without speaking. I thought I saw Susan among the bushes, and I called to her.”
“ I sent her ! ” Frances broke in. “ I sent her in my place, because I could n’t leave Friend Boynton, and Egery wanted to go and get some late blackberries for him that Friend Edward had told her about.” Frances, by right of her special tenderness for the Boyntons, always spoke of Ford by his first name.
“ Yee,” replied Elihu gently, “ so Susan told me, — she is a good child. She told me that Friend Ford had found them there, and because he had seemed vexed Egeria had shed tears.”
“It was because they had got all the berries, and she thought it would look selfish and greedy to him,” Frances interposed a second time.
“Yee,” Elihu again consented, “so Susan told me. It is not the only time that I feared she had got to feeling foolish about him.”
“ Foolish about him ! ” Frances could not contain herself. “ She would never feel foolish about a young man ! And if she felt foolish about him he would feel foolish about her, too ! ”
“ Yee,” said Elihu. “ They have been driving and walking together, — picking leaves and grapes and berries. He stops in the orchard in the afternoon, and talks with her by the hour.”
“ It’s while her father’s asleep,” explained Frances. “ Whenever Friend Boynton ’s awake, Edward talks with him. You would n’t want him waked up out of his sleep to talk, would you ?”
“ Nay,” said Elihu, while the faintest smile moved his lips, in kindly derision of the inefficiency of Frances’ defense. “ Friend Ford writes in the morning, and Friend Boynton sleeps in the afternoon.”
“ Elihu ! ” cried Frances, angrily.
“ Frances,” returned Elihu, with reestablished gravity, “ will you tell me yourself that you have never thought they were foolish about each other, — what they call being in love ?”
Frances wiped the tears from her eyes with her stout handkerchief, which she had knotted into a ball. “ You are too bad, Elihu. You have no right to ask such a question. You had n’t ought to put me on trial.”
“ You put yourself on trial, Frances,” said Elihu, affectionately. “ You began to talk while I was speaking. But I withdraw the question. I never meant to hurt your feelings. I know you have always done for the best.”
“ I have often heard you say,” Frances quavered reproachfully, “ that the worst thing about our young people, when they get to foolin’, is that they run away. You said that if they would only tell us honestly how they felt we would let them go and be married, and we would be friends with them afterwards. Now, when there are two young folks here that don’t think of runnin’ away, or hidin’ anything, you ’re not satisfied. Do you want Egery and Edward to run away ? ”
“ Nay,” replied Elihu ; “ do you want them to be courting each other here, right under our noses ? ”
“ It is n’t under our noses! ” cried Frances, resenting the phrase.
“Well, our eyes, then,” said Elihu, patiently. “ Do you think it is a good example to the rest of our young folks ? ”
“ They ’re not of our family ! They ’ve never been gathered in ! ”
“ Nay, I know that,” admitted Elihu. “ But does that help the matter, as far as the example goes ? We all know by bitter experience how hard it is for the young to tread the path that leads to the angelic life ; how cruelly it is beset with flints and shards, and how the flesh bleeds with the sting of its brambles. Do you want them mocked with the sight of flowers that tempt them to the earthly pastures ? Egeria is a good girl ” —
“ Oh, she is, she is!” sobbed Frances.
“And I don’t believe she understands herself that she’s foolish about him ” —
“I know she does n’t! It would kill her! ”
“ Nay, I’m not sure of that,” said Elihu, with another flicker of a smile. “ But that makes the case easier to deal with. We need not speak to her at all. We can speak to the young man.”
“ Speak to the young man ! ” cried Frances. “ Tell him that Egery is in love with him before he has ever asked her ” — She stopped in horror.
“ We do not gloss this thing among ourselves,” said Elihu coldly, “ and we need not care for the feints and pretenses used in the world outside. But we can tell him that he ’s foolish about her. I have talked the matter over with Joseph and the ministers, and we have agreed that Friend Ford should be spoken to.” Frances went out of the room, turning her back upon the meditated outrage. “The only question now is,” continued Elihu, without regarding her withdrawal, “ who shall speak to him.”
A perceptible sensation passed through the others, but no one answered. After a moment, Laban said from the corner where he sat, “ Some like bellin’ the cat.” The sisters relieved the tension of their nerves in a low titter, but Elihu and Humphrey remained grave ; and it is doubtful if Laban really intended a joke, though his face relaxed at the merriment of the sisters.
“The ministers,” resumed Elihu, “ were not sure whether it was the province of the elders or the trustees, and I came to consider that point with you, Humphrey.”
Humphrey rose, with his face twisted by an expression as of severe bodily pain. He moved his arms haplessly about, and took off and then put on his spectacles. He tried in vain to smile. “ I d’ know,” he said, “ as I ’m a very good hand at speakin’ to folks. I don’t seem to have any command o’ language. I should think, myself, it was for the elders, some on ’em, to speak.”
“ You have transacted all the business with the young man,” said Elihu. “You have had frequent interviews with him, and you go a good deal into the world, on business. We thought, perhaps, that you would best know how to approach him.”
“ I ain’t one to get acquainted easy,” replied Humphrey, “ and I never felt no ways at home with Friend Ford. He seems to be of a kind of offish disposition.” He sat down again, and hanging his head began to tilt the chair in front of him on its hind legs. “ I should n’t want to intrude no ways into the province of the elders. I don’t seem to feel that it’s so much of a business question as what it is a question of family discipline.”
“ You may be right,” admitted Elihu.
“ If I could see it as my duty, I should n’t be one to shirk it. But it’s like this.” He paused unsuccessfully for a comparison, and then added, “ It’s a question of family discipline. I should ha’ thought it was for the ministers to speak.”
“We should only have recourse to the ministers in extreme cases,” said Elihu. “ Besides, you thought just now it was for the elders to speak.”
“ Well, the elders or the ministers,” returned Humphrey, without looking up.
Elihu compassionated his futility with a moment’s silence. Then he sighed slightly, and said, “I agree with you, Humphrey. But I thought that I ought to give you the opportunity, and if you saw your duty in it I ought to yield to you. I did not want to have the appearance of forth-putting, in such a case, and I certainly don’t covet the task of speaking to Friend Ford. He appears to me a person subject to sudden gusts of anger, and there is no telling how he may take the interference.”
“ That is so,” admitted one of the sisters.
“ There ain’t no question about forthputtin’, Elihu,” said Humphrey, with the cordiality of a great relief. “ Every one’d know ’t you did n’t seek such a duty. But Friend Ford ’ll take it all right; you ’ll see. He ’ll look at it in the same light you do.”
Elihu rose, and took his hat and stick. “ I shall probably find him in his room, now, I suppose.”
Humphrey stood as much aghast as it was in his power to do. “ Was you — you wa’ n’t goin’ to speak to him right away ? ”
“ Yee. Why should I put it off ? He cannot take it any better to-morrow or next week than he would to-night. And the trouble would n’t grow less if we waited till doomsday.” Elihu went out; the closing of the hall door upon him was like an earthquake to those within.
“ I declare for it,” said Laban, “ I ’most feel like goin’ along down to Friend Ford’s, and waitin’ outside.”
“ Well,” observed Rebecca, slighting the bold proposition, “ Elihu never was one to be afraid.”
“ That is so, Rebecca,” said Diantha.
Humphrey said nothing. The accumulation and complication of evils brought upon the family by the Boyntons had long passed his control.
W. D. Howells.