“ HERE comes Jeremiah Razee. I ’ll just run an’ ask him to take the yarn to the village, if you ’ll get it ready, Hester.”
So saying, Mrs. Burrill rushed out bare-headed to the road, stopped the farmer as he came along in his market wagon, and explained to him that Mr. Burrill was busy with all the men, and if the yarn was not taken to the weavers soon, Patience and Wait would have no dresses ready for winter. As she chatted on, Hester Arnold came out of the house, and brought two large bundles, which she handed with an ungracious air to Mr. Razee, who said he would leave them with John Mowry, the weaver.
“ Tell him,” said Mrs. Burrill, “ to weave one piece all blue, an’ have the warp red an’ the fillin’ blue in the other.”
“I guess I ’ll remember,” said Mr. Razee, stowing away the bundles, and adding, as he leaned over the wagon seat, with his face turned from her, “How do ye do, Hester? Stayin’ with Mis’ Burrill ? ”
“Yes,” answered Hester, shortly.
“ Shubael’s kinder poorly,” pursued the farmer, with apparent irrelevancy. “It’s dretful onconvenient, his bein’ sick jest now; but, somehow, Shubael never was handy at choosin’ the right time for doin’ anything.” Hester flushed angrily ; the farmer smiled grimly, and went on : “ ’T ain’t near so bad as havin’ Jabez sick would ha’ been ; but then Jabez wouldn’t ha’ been sick afore the fall work was done.”
“You and he are pretty smart,” said Mrs. Burrill.
“ Bear our years putty well ? Yes, I’m more of a hand at work now than Shubael when he’s well, for all he’s twenty years younger ’n me. I expec’ it was the pettin’ mother gin Shubael, he bein’ her baby, that kep’ him from toughenin’. A good seasonin’ to work an’ worry don’t hurt no boy, an’ often makes the man. Wal, I guess I must be goin’! ”
“I sent word,” said Mrs. Burrill, “to Shubael, this mornin’, to come here an’ make us all some shoes, as soon as he could. Otis got in the leather last week.”
“ Oh, I guess he’s well enough to do that now,” said Mr. Razee, thoughtfully. “I’ll see that he comes round to-morrow.”
The farmer gathered up his reins, nodded, and drove off. Mrs. Burrill turned to Hester.
“ Come in, now,” she said, “ an’ we ’ll go to work in airnest to make the hog puddin’, so we can dip candles to-morrow, an’ get through before Saturday’s bakin’.”
Hester Arnold was the tailoress from the village. She was a straight, tall, dark, handsome woman of thirty-five. Just now an angry light glittered in her eyes. She knew what Farmer Razee meant by saying that Shubael had never chosen the right time to do anything. She remembered very well the day, fifteen years before, when Shubael had asked her to marry him, and she, furious from some quarrel with Jeremiah, who also courted her, had refused the man she had loved ever since she had fought childish battles for him. Shubael had no energy, and when Hester, his sole moral support, the only person, except his mother, who had ever believed in him, fell away from him angrily he was utterly downcast, and sank at once into the character he had ever since maintained of harmless ne’er-do-well. Hester long hoped he would come back to her, but he never had the courage. Jabez never married. Jeremiah, after Hester had refused him, straightway took a wife, who toiled for him several years, and then died childless, — a desert life that left no trace! Shubael helped do the farm work, made shoes at odd times, and solaced his dreary days by writing doggerel verses, which, when written, he hid carefully from the scornful eyes of his brothers.
When Mrs. Burrill and Hester Arnold reëntered the kitchen, they found a brass kettle that would hold half a dozen gallons swinging over the fire. It was nearly full of milk, and a tall, gaunt woman stood busily stirring it. She looked up, and said, “ It ’s all ready for the things to go in. Sech a beautiful kettle! I never seed nothin’ so lovely. I can’t keep my eyes off it. Wal, things does go in a curious, contrary way in this world. If I had married the man o’ my ch’ice, I might ha’ had a brass kettle ; but now I’m nothin’ but poor, forlorn, forsaken Mose Almy’s wife, — nothin’ to cook, an’ nothin’ to cook it in.”
With this dismal lament, the woman who had come in to “ help ” turned back to her stirring.
“ I should think it was more ’n brass kettles might be got by marryin’ the man o’ your choice,” said Hester. When she had said it she flushed a little, and went rapidly to work, bringing molasses, chopped suet, raisins, allspice, and Indian meal, which were to be boiled in the milk.
“ The children must go for oak leaves,” said Mrs. Burrill, as the afternoon wore away; and Hester looked out of the window and said that a great many leaves had fallen the night before.
Rhode Island farmers used very little white flour at this time, and the great loaves of brown bread which they ate, made of rye and Indian meal, were baked in a brick oven on oak leaves. The leaves were laid on a wooden shovel, the dough was built up on them, and then the shovel was pushed into the oven, and dexterously withdrawn, leaving the bread on the leaves, which marked the bottom of the loaves when baked.
“ I 'll go with the children,” said Hester, suddenly.
“ Are you het up ? ” asked Mrs. Burrill, who could imagine no other reason for wanting to take a walk in the cool autumnal afternoon.
Hester said “Yes,” and went out with the little girls. “ Mose Almy’s wife ” put on her faded hood and shawl, and walked with them down the road till they stopped under a wide-spreading oak-tree. Then she plodded on, hoping to get home in time to have her husband’s supper ready, when he should come in from the tin-shop, where he tinkered the worn-out milk pails of the neighborhood. She carried some milk and eggs, the payment of her day’s labor, and inwardly exulted at having something to cook.
Hester and the children had slender sticks, each sharpened at one end and having a crotch at the other. They turned over the fallen leaves, chose the largest and most perfect, and strung them on their sticks. When full, the sticks would be hung up in the Burrill garret, to be used as wanted, till the autumn came again. Hester loved the work, for she and Shubael Razee had, in their childhood, gathered leaves together, and gloated over the beauty of their treasures.
As the three were cheerfully busy, they heard the rumbling of a wagon, and Hester looked up to see Jeremiah Razee driving along the road. On the seat beside him sat Shubael. To her surprise, Jeremiah drew up his horse violently at sight of her, and descended to the ground, throwing the reins to Shubael, who took them without lifting his eyes.
As Jeremiah walked towards Hester, she started away, feeling defiant and alarmed, but he stopped her. “ Hester,” said he in a low tone, “ you may tell Mis’ Burrill I took her yarn an’ gin her message all straight. We ’re on our way now to the village. I want to git my tire reset, an’ Shubael has broke his best awl, an’ must get another ef he’s goin’ to make shoes.”
Hester perceived a slight embarrassment in the farmer’s manner, and grew cool. She answered in loud, clear tones, which the shamefaced man in the wagon could not fail to hear : —
“ I really have n’t the least desire to know why you ’re goin’ to the village, Mr. Razee. I never was particularly interested in your movements, you know; and I can’t say that I am very much concerned about Shubael’s awl neither, as he don’t even take pains to speak to me.”
Shubael raised his head at this, and something like a manly gleam came into his dull eyes.
“ I don’t speak to you now, Hester,” he said, “ but I will when Jeremiah has had his say.”
“ Hold your tongue ! ” shouted Jeremiah, and poor Shubael cowered a little. Hester was certainly made of strange stuff that her heart did not grow cold to the timid man, but there are some women to whom love is like death. Once struck by it, nothing cures them.
“ I don’t see the need of anybody’s saying anything,” said she, inconsequently.
“ But I do! ” growled Jeremiah, coming closer to her. “I want a few things settled afore Shubael goes to Mis’ Burrill’s to make them shoes. Be you ready to listen to me, at last ? You know as well as I do that I hain’t been shif’less nor behindhand in my affairs, an’ you could n’t do better. An’ so the long an’ short of it is, will you marry me ? I hain’t nothin’ to say agin my wife, — she was a good woman an’ a good worker; but you know that I never see the woman that I thought fit to hold a candle to you.”
Hester wickedly let him go on with his declaration till he brought it to a full stop himself. She had a fierce delight in the moment. His agitation and the unseemly manner of his proposal showed her that he feared to have Shubael go to Mrs. Burrill’s while she was there. Perhaps they had had words about her ! Jeremiah’s fear shot hope into Hester’s heart.
She spoke again in a loud,clear tone: “ No, Mr. Razee ; you had my answer long ago.”
Jeremiah started towards her, as if he would stop her scornful mouth, but she laughed bitterly in his face, He grew very white, and stood still looking at her. Shubael, at this moment, sprang from the wagon, and walked rapidly to the woman, and held out his hand.
“ I’m only a broken-down man,” he choked, “ but — will you have me ? ” She silently laid her hand in his.
The elder brother jumped into his wagon, struck the horse heavy blows, and drove away. As the wagon rattled over the brow of the adjacent hill, Hester and Shubael turned to see the two little girls staring, wide-eyed, frightened and amazed.
“ Never mind that old fellow,” said Hester, with a trembling laugh. “ And let’s pick up the oak leaves for Patience and Wait, just as we used to, when we were no bigger ’n they, Shubael.”
So these two were engaged, to the astonishment of the country folk, and Jeremiah’s wrath waxed ever greater as the days went by. The Burrill children reported all they had comprehended of the strange scene they had witnessed, so that it came to be generally understood that Hester had refused Jeremiah in the very presence of his brother. Some jeering speeches about it were made to the old farmer, who swore that he would yet take his revenge on the woman. These threats were reported by Mose Almy’s wife, but Hester only laughed in downright contempt, — a laugh of which, in turn, old Razee was told, and his evil passion blazed yet higher.
The lovers were married five weeks after their engagement. They hired a house with Mose Almy, and set up their humble home. The winter wore happily away. The luckless Moses and the helpless Shubael took kindly to each other. Hester did her own work, and tried to infuse some order into the proceedings of the Almy half of the house. She still took in sewing, but also laid up stores of homely household wealth for herself,—linen and braided mats, and yarn ready to be woven. She was not a demonstrative woman, but the shoemaker whom she served in such a wifely way was nevertheless a living poem to her. His gentle manner, his pathetically feeble fancies, embodied for her all that was beautiful and lovable under heaven, while she seemed to him wholly adorable in her strength and potency.
When spring came, Hester withdrew her money from the village bank and gave it to Shubael, bidding him buy a lot of land and straightway begin to build a house. He stared blankly at her, as she put the savings of years into his hands. She laughed happily, and said, “ That’s the one thing that keeps me from bein’ sorry I didn’t marry you when you asked me first. If I had, I should never have had anything to give you.”
At this tender speech, the Yankee shyness of the husband melted, and he kissed his wife. He had long before spent his paternal inheritance, and before his marriage had lived with his brothers, a mere day-laborer on their land. Now some homesick instinct prompted him, and he bought of them a corner of the old farm on which to erect his humble dwelling. It was a very little house, but in the fall Hester and her husband moved into it with unmixed pride and satisfaction. There they spent six contented months, and then the shoemaker fell ill. It was spring fever, the wife said, as she nursed him ; but spring passed, June came, and he grew no better, till at last a bitter truth forced itself into her consciousness with that unrelenting persistency with which bitter truths will intrude.
When the July heat was fiercest, Shubael sank rapidly. “ I guess,” he said one day, gasping in the hot air that burned his throat, — “I guess heaven ’ll be cooler than this ’ere world, and may be it’ll suit me better, somehow, — may be it will. I was allus a round peg in a square hole here, Hester, except for you;” and his faint, spiritualized smile conveyed his tender gratitude for the love that had “ suited ” his latter days so well. In a moment he spoke again, while the dark, handsome woman hung over him with yearning eyes. “ I guess, Hester,” he said, “ I sha’n’t find nothin’ in heaven that I ’ll like better ’n I’ve liked you. So I hope you won’t keep me waitin’ long.”
“ I'd go with you, if I could,” she whispered.
“ Yes,” he said, smiling feebly again. “ You’d make it seem more home-like among all the angels an’ the jewels an’ the music.”
When the cool of the evening came mercifully down, Hester sat alone by her husband’s body.
Four days after the funeral Jeremiah Razee knocked loudly at the widow’s door. Hester opened it herself, and turned her hard eyes on the farmer’s face. Since her marriage, neither he nor Jabez had come near her. They had not even attended poor Shubael’s funeral.
“ Why do you come now ? ” asked she.
The farmer smiled with slow malice, and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, as he stood on the little stone step, which Shubael and Hester had laid in place together.
“ I come on business,” said he, at last.
“ I hain’t no business with you, nor never mean to have! ” retorted the widow.
“ No ?” said he, inquiringly. “ Wal,
I’ve business with you. Shall I step in ? ”
“ No. Whatever you have to say, you may say here.”
“ Eh ? Wal, I guess not. I guess I’d rather walk in.”
“ You sha’n’t do no such thing.”
“ Wal, I kin wait a little about that. Shubael did n’t leave no will, did he ? ”
“ It’s none o’ your business ! ” cried Hester.
“ Yes, it is some o’ my business. Because, if he did n’t, the biggest part of this house an’ lot happens to belong to me ’n’ Jabez. I hain’t said nothing about it afore. Waited till now, thinkin’, if there was a will, you’d be glad enough to perduce it. I s’pose you know you’ve only got your widder’s dower, if there ain’t no will.”
“ My widow’s dower ! ” cried she.
“ Why, I gave Shubael every cent he had to buy this land, an’ most of the money for the house ; an’ the rest of it we earned together, he makin’ shoes an’
I sewin’, after we was married. He had n’t but three dollars when lie married me.”
“ No, I calk’lated not. He never was forehanded, an’ never saved nothin’. I allus told him he was a fool not to lay up for a rainy day, but luck stood him in stead of thrift. He was lucky in marryin’ you, — luckier ’n some other folks was, then. But now he’s dead, an’ it ’s my turn.”
Dazed and furious, Hester cried in a low voice, “You wretch! Do you mean to talk of such things, and Shubael only four days in his grave ? ”
Then she turned away, and sobbed as she had never sobbed since her husband died.
“ Wait till you ’re axed, ma’am, afore you think a man wants to marry you,” said Jeremiah, slowly. “ What I mean is that Jabez an’ me owns two thirds of this house an’ lot now, as Shubael’s heirs, an’ you have the use of one third for life, an’ that’s all. You can stay here if you want to, by payin’ rent for the other two thirds. We won’t turn you out, but if you choose to go I’ve got a tenant in my eye, an’ you ’ll have your share of the rent he pays. As for the furniture, you own half, an’ I ’ll send up the officer, this arternoon, to make an inventory, an’ divide it square. I won’t walk in now, as you don’t seem hospitable in your feelin’s; but p’raps you’ll remember, arter I’m gone, how many times you’ve thought you’d got the best of me.”
When he had finished, the farmer turned away, walked through the little yard out into the road, got into his wagon, which waited there, and with a grim smile drove on to the village.
When he was out of sight, Hester went into the house, and, though she knew that her husband had never made a will, searched in every possible and impossible place where one might be hid. After this fruitless task was done, she put on her bonnet and walked to the village. The day was sultry, the air was hot, but her heart was hotter. She stopped on her way, and told her story to Mose Almy’s wife, asking her to go back to the house she had left and keep guard there, lest the man should come while it was empty to make an inventory of the mats she had braided, the linen she had stitched, and the furniture that she and her husband had gathered around them. Mrs. Almy, full of sympathy, willingly left her house in frightful disorder, and her seven small children gloriously happy in the dirt, and departed for Hester’s cottage.
The widow went to Mr. Burgess, the village lawyer, and related her grievance.
“You can’t help yourself,” said he. “ The law is on their side.”
She twisted a fold of her gown in her hand a moment. “ Will you come back with me,” she said at last, “ an’ see that there ain’t no cheating done this afternoon ? ”
They found Mose Almy’s wife standing in the dooryard, gesticulating furiously, and screaming at the top of her voice. Jeremiah Razee and the officer were confronting her doggedly.
“ You sha’n’t come in here, neither on ye,” shrieked Mrs. Almy, — “ not till Hester gets here ! You ’re nothin’ but a couple of mean, sneakin’ thieves, both on ye! ”
Jeremiah turned to Mr. Burgess, as he entered the yard with Hester ; but before he could speak she walked by them all, flung open the house door, and called to them to come in. She followed them round, as they went from room to room. She opened every chest and drawer. She verified every memorandum that the officer made, and finally dismissed him with bitter politeness.
“ He’s only hired,” she said ; then turning to Jeremiah, with blazing eyes, “ but between you ’n’ me the account ain't settled yet.”
“ No,” said the farmer, “ it ain’t. John Bates is the man I spoke of to you this mornin’, as wantin’ to hire the place. He’s concluded that two thirds of the house will do for him. His family ain’t large, an’ he ’ll move in next week, an’ you kin live in the other part without payin’ no rent. There’s six rooms in the house. You kin have any two you like.”
Mrs. Almy gasped with amazement, and Mr. Burgess said, “ I think you 're rather stretching your authority.”
“ We ’ll see,” answered Jeremiah, putting his hands in his pocket. “ You ain’t the only lawyer in the county. Any way, she owes me ’n’ Jabez rent for every day she stays here ’n’ keeps the house empty.”
“ Where is Jabez ? ” asked Mr. Burgess.
Jeremiah looked a little embarrassed, and Hester said quietly, “ I guess he was ashamed to come. It takes such as him ! ” and she pointed at Jeremiah, who fell back slightly cowed.
“ The widow has a right to stay for a time without paying rent,” said Mr. Burgess.
Jeremiah looked up, surprised, and the lawyer explained to him that he could not carry out his plans for some months yet. Mrs. Almy uttered a cry of triumph, but Hester stood in unmoved silence, till the farmer, somewhat discomfited, took his leave. When he had gone, Hester looked at Mr. Burgess and asked simply, “ Will you tell me how it is ? I want to understand all about it, and how it comes that I don’t own the land I bought, nor the house I built.”
The lawyer went over the legal details in a painstaking manner, and dwelt at length on the one mercy the law granted her, that she might stay in the house unquestioned for some time yet.
“ But after that I owe him rent for every day ? ” she asked. He assented, and she said, “ Thank you. That'll do. I understand now. I ’ll pay you, Mr. Burgess, when I've earned some money.”
“ It is no matter,” he said. “ I wish I could do more for you.”
Then he too went away, and Mrs. Almy sought to console Hester, offering to stay all night, and let her spouse and offspring shift for themselves as best they might.
“ I’d rather stay alone, please,” was Hester’s reply ; and gently thanking her for all her kindness, she let the woman go. In the same quiet way she met and dismissed Mr. and Mrs. Burrill, when they came later on an errand of sympathy. When they too had gone, she sat down a little while in the kitchen. From that room she went into the tiny sitting-room, and thence to her own bedroom. In each she stayed a few minutes, sitting quite motionless, and all the time she seemed to see Shubael moving about before her, as he had been wont to do. After a time she dragged out from her room an old chest that had been her husband’s. She had difficulty in getting it through the doors, and she remembered how she and Shubael had tugged at it together to bring it in. She persevered, and pulled it out of the house, through the yard, and across the road. Then she went back, gathered together Shubael’s clothing, a few books, some papers on which he had written his ill-spelt verses, and a few pieces of china. This incongruous collection, with some of her own clothes, she carried and put in the chest. She shut down the lid of the box, and nailed it fast. Next, she rolled and corded the mats, and dragged them and some of the lighter furniture out. She took the tall clock to pieces, and carefully conveyed that also across the road. When she had done this, she stood still, and sobbed once or twice. It was nearly morning now, and Hester’s motions were a little hurried, as she went back into the house, and tied up a bundle of her linen and blankets. When she had done this, she went into the kitchen, and stood still an instant, looking round on the things she had left untouched.
“ I guess,” she said aloud, resting her hands on her hips, —“ I guess I’ve left a full half in value here.”
Then she brought from the woodshed a quantity of small wood, of which she made two great heaps, one on the kitchen floor, and the other in the sitting-room. She emptied round them a barrel of corn-cobs, and strewed about all the paper she could find. She next took a burning stick from the fire-place, where she had been careful to keep alive a fire, carried it to the sitting-room door, and flung it in upon the pile of light wood. With another brand, she deliberately lighted the kindlings on the kitchen floor. Then she drew her skirts close around her, went out of the door, and closed it behind her. She crossed the road, and sat down on Shubael’s chest. She saw a red glow shine through the kitchen window, and a fainter light from the sitting-room. She stared steadily till all the house was lighted. It was half an hour before a flame leaped from the roof, but till she saw it she never turned her eyes away. Then she covered her face, and waited, while the sun rose before her in the east, and sent his beams across the flames.
Ten minutes after sunrise Jeremiah and Jabez Razee came running up the road. Hester, in her black dress, sat quietly, with her household goods around her.
“ How did it ketch ? ” screamed Jeremiah, while still afar off.
Hester was silent till the brothers were quite near, and then answered, “ I set it on fire. Shall we settle up accounts now, Mr. Razee ? ”
“ You set it on fire ! ” he cried. “ But who saved these things ? ”
“ I brought out my half before I lighted it,” said Hester.
Jeremiah swore. Jabez, who was a church member, uttered a more pious ejaculation.
“ I will settle with you ! ” said Jeremiah, shaking his fist in the woman’s face. She answered with a disdainful look, and the two men turned to see if anything could be done to save the house. A moment’s investigation convinced them that it was too late, and they sat down sullenly near Hester, and stared as she had done at the flames, till in a few minutes a troop of neighbors arrived on the scene; Mose Almy’s wife in front, and the Burrills not far behind.
Jeremiah then rose, and started for the village. In an hour he came back with the constable. Hester was still there, surrounded by her friends. To the consternation of the crowd, she was formally arrested for arson. She had not foreseen this consequence of her act, but instantly perceiving the situation, she rose calmly to follow the officer.
“Take care of them things,” she said quietly to Mrs. Almy. “ You can give ’em store-room while I’m gone, can’t you ? And don't you never let Jeremiah Razee lay his finger on ’em.”
Some women began to cry, and Mr. Burrill stepped up to Jeremiah, and said fiercely, “ You ’re the meanest critter I ever see ! ”
“ That’s my lookout,” answered Jeremiah. “ It ’s the law.”
“ May be it is the law,” said Mr. Burrill, “ that a woman’s own property don’t belong to her ; but as men are all sinners, I s’pose it’s nigh abaoutas easy for ’em to sin makin’ laws as any other way.”
Hester was taken to the county jail in the city, twelve miles off, in due time was brought to trial, and was sentenced to imprisonment for two years. Some of her old neighbors wanted to get her pardoned; but they were simple country people, and hardly knew how to approach the state magnates, so nothing effectual was done, and she was allowed to serve out her dreary sentence.
Jeremiah Razee, thus left to taste the sweets of vengeance, found them less sweet than he had anticipated. His neighbors looked coldly on him. His unsocial heart could have borne that, but there was one thing that grew difficult for him to bear. Work as hard as he could, early and late, busy his mind as he would, calculating profits, he could not shut out from his eyes the sight of Hester as he had last seen her, in her widow’s dress, a prisoner at the bar, under conviction. Her stern, pallid face rose with the dawn and looked at him ; and the sun, sinking while the old man still toiled on his farm, left behind a trail of accusing light which showed that changed countenance to him. How changed ! He remembered the dark-eyed child whose saucy ways had charmed even his morose nature. He drove back and forth over the country roads, as business called him here and there, and memories started up at the top of every hill, in every valley, under the shade of the old trees : memories of a handsome, happy girl, who had walked in the sunshine till he had spoiled her life ; memories, too, of a timid, shrinking lad with beseeching eyes, whose manhood had withered away under his contempt. Once the old farmer had occasion to go to the city, and was forced to pass the jail, He shuddered as he hurried by. In that jail, a disgraced outcast, labored Hester, whom he had known as a little child; a convict now, because she had resented the law which gave to her enemy the fruits of her life’s toil and patience. Jeremiah drove hard all the way home. The next day he astonished Jabez by telling him that he was going over the line to visit the Massachusetts branch of the family.
He went, and in two weeks returned, to his brother’s still greater astonishment, with one of their second cousins as his wife. She was a tall, bony, hardfeatured woman of forty, who spoke her mind freely on any point, and, having thus relieved it, went her way untroubled. When she heard Hester’s story, which she had not known till after she was married, she told her husband emphatically that he ought to be ashamed of himself, and then never gave the matter another serious thought. Jeremiah, however, found that marriage had not driven that haunting face from his mind, and he was still conscious of a force stirring within him that made him less satisfied than of yore in contemplating his cattle and his crops. After a time his wife gave birth to a child, and died in the struggle. Jeremiah was smitten with terror and grief. He had not had a particle of sentiment for his wife; he had married her hoping to distract his mind from thoughts of Hester, but he felt as though her death were a judgment upon him.
The months rolled on, and greatly to his own surprise the old man’s heart, like ice broken by many storms, began to melt and flow tenderly forth around a tiny clinging baby.
When the time of her sentence was over, Hester came from her prison. Mr. and Mrs. Burrill went for her on the day of her release, and brought her home. They reached the jail early in the morning, so as to get her back before noon. They carried her garments in which to array herself, but were shocked to see how stony and white she looked in the black gown they had brought. At her request they took her to Mose Almy’s.
Mrs. Almy bustled about hospitably, laughing and crying by turns. She told all the country gossip, and proudly showed her newest baby.
“ Ellen,” she said, “ after Mose’s sister that died, —jest two weeks younger ’n Jeremiah Razee’s boy. They do say, Hester, that the old man thinks a sight of that baby. Queer, ain’t it ? Takes care on him nights, jest like an old woman. It seems as ef he was comin’ to his nateral feelin’s at last.”
“ Comin’ out on ’em, I should say,” said Hester. “ All his nateral feelin’s was hateful ones.”
Towards night the widow wandered forth restlessly. She had not taken a walk for two years. It was autumn again, four years since she and Shubael had gathered the red oak leaves with hands that clasped among their spoils. The glory that she saw hurt her. The land was brimming full of sunshine, and its beauty mocked her. The garnered joy of the harvest basked on the hill slopes, — what had been the harvest of her life ? She had reaped a crop she had not sown, and the hazy smile of the Indian summer was not for her.
On she went, till she came to a pasture of the Razee farm, close beside the little inclosure where her home had been. She leaned against the wall, and with heart-sick eyes looked over. The blood rushed to her heart and stopped its beating. She saw a man running from an infuriated bull. She saw other men rising upon her sight from all quarters, rushing to the rescue. She saw the man fall; she saw the animal reach him; she heard sharp reports. The bull rolled over in wounded agony. The pursuers caught up the fallen man. They bore him through the field; Hester climbing the wall, following, reaching them, helping them, till they halted under an old apple-tree close to the wall that separated the pasture from the lot where the ashes of her old home still strewed the ground. Hester had no time to think. She was not conscious of herself at all, till she found that she was sitting under the apple-laden branches, the sunset light all about her, and Jeremiah Razee’s head in her lap. They dared not move him further. He lay very quiet, groaning a little. They feared some internal injury. Some one went for a doctor. Hester sat still, mechanically smoothing his hair.
After a while he opened his eyes, and as he saw her a look of terror came into them, as though he had seen a ghost. He tried to move.
“ Lay still, lay still,” she said ; “ you mustn’t stir. We’re doin’ all we can for you.”
“ Is it really you ? ” he asked, with that frightened look.
“ Yes,” she said. “ Don’t let nothin’ worrit you ; jest keep quiet.”
“ Be you — out ? ”
“ Oh, yes.”
“ I’m — glad,” he said, with a long sigh, and closed his eyes. Sometimes he writhed with pain, but the greater part of the time he lay motionless, almost as if lie were asleep. His attendants worked over him, trying to ascertain the extent of his injuries and relieve them somewhat before the doctor came.
At last he looked up again at Hester’s face. It was flushed, and her emotions gave it a softer aspect than he had seen it wear for long years. He spoke in a weak but determined voice, evidently meaning to have his say, in defiance of pain and ebbing strength; but he paused often, and shut back the groans with set lips.
“ It ain’t no use; I ’m done for. Hester, it’s jest the same as it allus was with me. I ain’t no hand to ax anybody’s pardon, but I never see the woman as I thought fit to stan’ beside you. When you was a leetle red-cheeked gal, — cheeks like apples,—an’ when you was a woman grown, as could n’t abide me, jest the same ; an’ I hated you because I liked you, eur’us as it seems. No, don’t stop me, — I’m ’most done. Hester, there’s that baby of mine. Somehow, a baby takes hold on ye tight with his leetle fists. I’d rather you’d bring him up, nor anybody else. Will ye ? ”
“ Yes, yes, I will,” she cried.
He smiled slowly. “ You kin call him Shubael,” he said ; then he won’t never put ye in mind o’ me.”
She sobbed, “ I ’ll love him as if he was Shubael’s son.”
A little later, Jeremiah Razee, there, in sight of those memorial ashes, died peacefully, his head on Hester’s knees, his gray hair floating over her mourning dress.
S. A. L. E. M