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A Marsh Island
Sarah Orne Jewett
This text duplicates the text of the first printing,
Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company
The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1885
Introduction Chapters 8-10 Chapters 11-14 Chapters 1-3 Chapters 15-18 Chapters 4-7 Chapters 19-23
One August afternoon the people who drove along the east road of a pleasant Sussex County town were much interested in the appearance of a young man who was hard at work before a slender easel near the wayside. Most of the spectators felt a strong desire to linger; if any had happened to be afoot they would surely have looked over the artist's shoulder; as it was, they inspected with some contempt the bit of scenery which was honored with so much attention. This was in no way remarkable. They saw a familiar row of willows and a foreground of pasture, broken here and there by gray rocks, while beyond a tide river the marshes seemed to stretch away to the end of the world.
Almost everybody who drove along would have confidently directed the stranger to a better specimen of the natural beauties of the town, yet he seemed unsuspicious of his mistake, and painted busily. Sometimes he strolled away, apparently taking aimless steps, but always keeping his eyes fixed upon the landscape, while once he flung himself impatiently at full length on the soft grass, in the shade of the nearest tree. One would have said that such enthusiastic interest in his pursuit was exceptional rather than common with him; but he presently took a new view of his subject from this point, and after some reflection rose and went nearer to a slender birch-tree which stood in his left foreground. There was a touch of uncommon color on some of its leaves, which had been changed early, and he held the twig in his hand, rustled it, and looked up at the topmost branches, which seemed all a-shiver at this strange attention. The light breeze passed over; the young tree was still again. A boy might have bent it, and cut and trimmed it with his jack-knife, for an afternoon's fishing, and the artist reached out and for a moment held the stem, which had lately put on its first white dress; then he let it spring away from him. Trees that grow alone have a great deal more individuality than those which stand in companies; the young man gave another look at the charming outline of this one, and went back toward his easel. As he turned he was suddenly attracted by the beauty of the landscape which had been behind him all the afternoon. The moorland-like hills were beginning to grow purple, and a lovely light had gathered into the country which lay between him and the western sky. He condemned himself for having been so easily suited with his point of view, and felt dissatisfied and displeased for the moment with his day's work.
At his feet grew an enticing crop of mushrooms, and with a sigh at the evasiveness of Art he stooped to gather the little harvest, and filled a handkerchief with the delicate pink and white fungi; tossing away the sunburnt ones of yesterday's growth, and biting two or three of the smallest buttons with a good relish. "If I only had some salt, now!" he said to himself. "I wonder what time it is;" then he looked somewhat eagerly along the road, as if he expected a companion.
Nobody could be discovered. It was some time since any traveler had passed that way; the few wagons that had gone to market early in the morning had long since returned, and the greater part of the men and horses were busy on the marshes, - for this was the time of year for cutting the salt hay. When he looked at his sketch again it made him forget his other thoughts, and holding his brush at arm's length, and again stepping to and fro lightly, he put in some necessary touches with most delicate intention and pleasure. "Not so bad!" he said half aloud, "though my birch-tree does not look as if she could flit away if I frightened her, as the real one does."
There was a pervading flavor of idleness and of pleasure about the young man's industry. The olive-like willows and the birch-tree and the shining water seemed to lend themselves to his apparent holiday-making. Not a great distance away, the mowers wished it were still nearer sundown, as they went slowly back and forward on the marsh. This was a hot day for out-of-door work; the scythes could not be kept sharp enough, and the sun was dazzling everybody's eyes as it went down in the west. Even the good-natured jokes of some workmen could not shame away the frequent grumbling of others.
The artist could sometimes see the shine of a scythe, and hear a far-away peal of laughter or a shout, and this gave him a pleasant sense of companionship. He would have thought it was the charming weather that made him so happy and his work so prosperous if he had thought anything at all about it. He was too well used to good fortune to make any special note of this day, being endowed with a disposition which is not troubled by bad weather of any sort, and only waits, bird-like and meditative, to fly forth again when the sun is out. In fact, while the serenity of his personal atmosphere possessed a certain impenetrability for its enemies, friends could share it, and were attracted by the cheerful magnet at the centre. This young man had usually found his fellow-creatures wonderfully pleasant and ready to further his projects. He was called lucky, and sometimes selfish, by those who envied him, while his friends insisted that he gave them pleasure of the best and most unselfish sort. His virtues came of moral excellence, no doubt; still, the mysterious electric currents are at the root of our likes and dislikes. His nature was attractive, and everywhere admirers, and even friends, flocked to the standard of this curly-haired and cheerful knight, while one castle gate after another opened before him as he went his way through life. To be not uncomfortably young, to be boyishly hungry and enviably enthusiastic, to find the world interesting, and, on the whole, faithful to its promises, were happy conditions. A respectable gift for water-color painting and an admirable ambition to excel in the use of oil colors made sufficient business responsibilities. If sometimes existence seemed to lead nowhere in particular, and his hopes and projects were directed toward results too close at hand, it was because our hero felt an impatience for the great motive power of his life to take possession of him. He had a dim sense of his best self, as if it were a sort of spiritual companionship, and had once said that he believed he was waiting orders; confessing also that he had checked himself in various indiscretions, because he should not like to carry a bad record to his noble future. The friend who listened to this, being an older man, smiled under cover of the darkness, and called Dick Dale a girlish fellow, but a good one, before he laughed aloud, and wished him good fortune in a way that implied there was really no such thing.
Since advancement and glory are the reward of one's own definite effort, young Dale was as far as ever from possessing them. He was apparently unambitious, but his life was remarkably free from reproach, while he was often proved useful and always agreeable by his next neighbors. His smallest daily duties and pleasures were considered with increasing zest and respectfulness. Society valued him and instinctively paid him deference, as if it understood how sincerely he respected himself. He had often smiled when his fellows achieved early distinction and renown; if he had been poor, some croakers said, he would have made his mark, but those persons who knew him best laughed at the idea of its already being too late.
The day's work, or play, whichever it might have been, was finished, and, his excitement having fairly burnt itself out, the painter looked along the road eagerly, and began to put his brushes and colors together for transportation. Then he went to the top of a hillock near by, hoping to get a wider view of the vacant road. Afterward, resigning himself to patience and looking hopelessly at his stopped watch, he sat down for a quarter of an hour, and diligently tried to make a whistle from a willow twig; but the autumn bark proved disobligingly dry, and would not slip nor lend itself to sweet sounds.
The scythes had all disappeared from the distant meadow. It seemed at last as if our friend were left sole tenant of the country, for the sun was almost down, and the shadows were damp and chilly as they gathered fast in the low ground. He tried wistfully once or twice to see if a friendly haymaker could not be summoned. He grew more and more angry with the boy who had left him there late in the morning, with orders to come for him again at four o'clock. It appeared like a forsaken neighborhood, and Mr. Dale desperately climbed the shattered fence, and, having shouldered his artistic belongings as best he might, set forth with a limping gait toward the only house in sight. The road was perfectly level, and deep in white dust. The house looked a good way off; perhaps it was two thirds of a mile. The whole region seemed to be wild or reclaimed marsh land, except this farm, which covered a hill with its orchards and upland fields and pastures.
It was like a high, fruitful island in that sea of grass, the wayfarer thought; the salt inlets, indeed, surrounded it, though in some places one could leap the narrow ditches easily. The nearer he approached, the more picturesque and enticing he thought the farm. There was a great red barn well settled in the hillside, and a bluish-green company of willows, with some poplars and an elm or two, were clustered about the hospitable-looking dwelling. Pleasantest of all, at that moment, a straight plume of smoke was going up from one of the chimneys, most supper-like in its suggestion.
Notes for Chapter 1
Sussex County: Sandra Blanchard points out that Sussex County and the town of Sussex, mentioned later, are based on Essex County and the town of Essex in Massachusetts (Sarah Orne Jewett 164).
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salt hay: a main feed crop of salt-marsh farms.
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mysterious electric currents: Jewett apparently shared some form of popular belief that electricity was a medium of spiritual transfer and communication. See for example her 1894 letter from Spring House to Annie Fields (#62 at this site).
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croakers: Though this odd use of the word may suggest grumblers or a comparison with croaking animals, like frogs, it may also allude to those negative critics of John Keats, whom Jewett refers to as croaking in "The Courting of Sister Wisby."
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The warm yellow glow of the sun shone out once more through the haze, and filled the orchard and all the shaded places of the Marsh Island with a flood of golden light. The apple-trees and the willows were transfigured for a few minutes, and as the young man saw a bright reflection on the window panes of the house he felt a great longing to paint the scene before him, and seized every possible detail of it with his delighted eyes. It did not seem so late, now that the sun was out again, and he turned once, a little reluctant, to look down the road; for he might have been too impatient for the coming of the boy.
The slow horse and rattling wagon were, happily, not approaching, and he assured himself that his only resource was the good-will of the farmhouse. Perhaps he could find shelter there for the night, and make another sketch in the morning. There was not a more picturesque bit of country in America!
Mrs. Owen, the mistress of this thriving homestead, came to stand in the doorway just at that moment, being influenced by the beauty of the sunset, yet not consciously recognizing the fact. She discovered her husband, who had left the marshes earlier than the rest of the mowers, standing still, half-way across the dooryard.
"You've had a good day's work, for such an old gentleman," she said, with affectionate raillery. "What are you a-watchin'? I declare, these trees have so overgrown we might 's well live in the woods." But she noticed with considerable curiosity the pleased way in which the gray-haired farmer looked up through the topmost willow boughs to see the sunlight fade and disappear.
"'T was pretty, wasn't it?" he answered. "I think the old place never looks so well as it does in one of these yaller, fallish sundowns."
"I thought it seemed clouded over a while ago," remarked the wife, after a moment's reflection, "but the sun must have burnt it off. I think likely you'll have another good hay-day to-morrow," and she took a shrewd look at the heavens wherever they were visible from the doorstep, and finally came forward, past the corner of the house, in order to get a fair look at the west. She was a round-faced, pleasant-looking woman, who had by no means lost all her youthful charms, though she stepped heavily, and was nearer sixty than fifty; one would have thought her much younger than her husband.
"Where's Doris?" he asked presently.
"Right up there in her room. She's been sewing on my new dress this afternoon. I thought likely it might come cool any day now, and I should need it. I told her I'd get supper, if she wanted to finish. Doris is one that doesn't like to let the ends o' work lay over, just like me. And she's promised to be off this evenin'."
The farmer was beginning to ask a question, as they walked toward the door together, when his wife turned back at the sound of approaching footsteps. "Sakes alive, there comes a peddler!" she exclaimed. "You just tend to him, Isr'el. I must put the tea on; the men'll be here before we know it," and she hurried into the house to establish herself behind the nearest window blind, and make sure what the stranger and foreigner wished to offer before she allowed herself to be interviewed in person.
Doris also looked out of the window just above, at the sound of a strange voice. The young man carried a picture carefully in his hand, and a bundle of sticks and other paraphernalia beside. He was asking if he could be driven to the next town, or, better still, if he could have a night's lodging at the farm, and laughingly explained his forsaken condition. "I would have walked back, and thought nothing of it," he concluded, "but I was thrown from a horse not long ago, and I am a little lame yet."
"I'll speak to mother first," said the host. "She must have her say about keepin' ye;" but he was most favorably inclined toward the stranger, and called his wife, who waited a few moments before replying, and then took the farthest way, all round the kitchen, from her window to the door close beside it.
"This young man wants to know if you can keep him over night?" the farmer inquired, with a sort of appealing decisiveness, while Mrs. Owen, moved by proper wisdom, regarded the wayfarer with stern scrutiny. He was undeniably a gentleman, which was both an incentive and a shock to her housekeeping instincts. It involved the use of a spare bedroom and some difference in the supper; but after all, she might as well take the chance of good society and earning a dollar as anybody else. The poor fellow looked anxious, and with the air of granting a favor Mrs. Owen nodded and gave her permission.
There was a word or two of hearty thanks, as the stranger put down his burden; but the decision having been given, he seemed to become one of the household at once, and looked up at his landlady with a frank friendliness which brought a tinge of girlish color into her solid cheek. "Here are some mushrooms I found in the pasture," he said, and handed her the knotted handkerchief which had been slung to one of the rods of the easel.
Mrs. Owen looked doubtful, but pleased, and proceeded to examine them at once. "Dear me, I don't want none of them," she answered. "I should expect to be p'isoned, certain sure. Perhaps you're acquainted with them where you come from, but we don't eat such about here."
"Oh, but they're too good to be thrown away," protested the hungry young fellow. "I can cook them myself, if you don't mind."
"Bless you, lad, I'll get you a good supper, and welcome," announced Mrs. Owen, with an air of confidence in her own powers. "Doris, Doris!" she called, lifting her face toward the upper window. "Won't you come down? I'll show you your room quick as I can," she added to the guest, as she disappeared within the door.
"'Doris?'" he repeated questioningly to the farmer, who had been listening with a pleased smile to the conversation. "What a pretty name!"
"That's my daughter, - all the girl we've got," said Mr. Owen. "'T is a good name; 't was my mother's, and her mother's before her. . . . What might I call you?" was added presently, in a half-confidential way, though, to judge from the tone, the motive was interest instead of curiosity.
"Dale," answered the young man. "And you're Mr. Owen, I believe. I asked that young scalawag who drove me over this noon. I noticed the farm when we were crossing the marshes."
"Isr'el Owen is right. I'm owin' only in name, though;" and the guest laughed promptly at the time-honored joke, and even gave an admiring glance at the comfortable old house and its surroundings. "We'd better come in now; 't is getting damp. The women'll show you a place for your picture. Well, that's very pretty, I declare," as it was turned into view. "I'm glad I left that little white birch for ye. I was obliged to clear up the pasture some this last fall, but somehow or 'nother I didn't meddle with that. They're tender-lookin' things, them little birches, though they'll catch on to the rocks where nothing else will. The old willers, too, - you've got 'em complete. Follow it for a trade, do ye?" But the answer seemed to be taken for granted, while Dick was wondering what he had better say.
The Owens' guest had made friends with many a country household, but this episode promised to be most charming, and an unreasonable satisfaction filled his mind at every new feature of such homely life. He had been graciously invited to step into the clock-room, and he could see through the gathering twilight an assemblage of old furnishings and a general aspect of rural dignity and self-respect. He was already impatient of his countrymen's habit of following a beaten track, having learned to travel more sensibly abroad. This was evidently the home of an old-fashioned farmer of the best sort, and Dick Dale became blissfully enthusiastic as he planned a short residence in such a delightful region. It seemed a great while since he had first driven along these roads, and made up his mind that some day or other he must come back quietly by himself to make some sketches. This was like a dream's coming true. He had just changed his plans on a sudden impulse, meaning to have only a day or two for himself before he kept a half engagement to join some acquaintances in town. Was not he his own master? And what difference would a delicious week or two here make to anybody but himself? He had a simple fondness for a summer's round of visits, and yet had persuaded himself lately that he was wasting his time. "How a fellow does tie himself hand and foot for six weeks together!" he sagely reflected. "This is like a bit of freedom," and he listened for a moment to the steady ticking of the monarch of the clock-room. It was a mere chance that he was here. The sketching of the day before had been unsuccessful, and he was blaming himself for his nonsense as he came away from the next town that very morning. He had after all taken hold of the golden string. The old farmer was a man of whom one should make the most. Once Dick had known another of exactly the same sort, in Devonshire; they might be brothers. And Doris, too, - there was Doris; the young man's heart gave an impatient bound. If she proved to be the flower of this fine old growth, his adventure would be worth having.
Somebody was stepping quickly about in the room overhead, but Mr. Dale at that moment ceased his vague anticipations, and went out, as if he were quite familiar with his position, to find Mrs. Owen in the kitchen.
"I s'pose you're getting sharp set enough by this time," said the hostess; "but you make yourself at home, and I won't keep you waiting a great while. 'T is later than we commonly set down to supper, but when the men folks are getting in the salt hay it keeps everything at odds. Isr'el's most through milkin', he says. He fetched the cows up early, but he come out, just as we saw you, to look an' see if the sun set all right. He's too fanciful for such an old creatur', I tell him," and she looked up at the young man's face for the sympathy and intelligence she was sure to find.
"Oh, I'll make myself at home," Dale answered. "Something would happen to that boy if he came after me now. I should like very much indeed to stay a day or two here, instead of over night. It would be so near my - work."
"We shall have to think that over, I expect, - all of us," the busy woman answered, hurrying to the stove. "But you're welcome to-night, certain. There, Doris, you take Mr. Dale up and show him his bedroom, and we won't waste time on apologies, for you've got to take us as you find us."
A door had opened at the foot of a flight of stairs, and a tall young woman half withdrew in her surprise at meeting the stranger unexpectedly. It would not be proper to show him to his room except by the front staircase, and so she came down into the kitchen. "You will almost want a candle," she said, in a clear, fine voice, and led the way through the clock-room with perfect composure, and finally left him in a small chamber, whose single window was open to the faded western sky.
"Doris, Doris," the young man said to himself softly. "She is something new; it is like finding a garden flower growing in a field."
The very twilight in the house had helped to make the sight of her surprising. She walked before him, slender and stately; there was a perfection about her which made him scornfully reflect upon the ill-development, the incompleteness and rudimentariness, of most members of the human race. He could hardly wait to see her again, and an eagerness to make himself attractive to her took possession of him. The natural reverence which a truly beautiful woman can always inspire was by no means wanting, and so sweet a mystery as Doris must be solved as soon as possible.
The lower room and the entry through which they had come had been dark, so that the stranger stumbled once or twice, to his great displeasure, and might at last have gone headlong into the little bedroom if Doris had not said, "Mind the step!" with an air of gentle patience. His guide left him at the door, and as he looked about the room he thought it quiet and orderly enough to have been her own. After the darkness they had just left it seemed well lighted by the sunset, which was now all faint rose-color and gray. There was a plump-looking bed, like a well-risen loaf, and a straight-backed chair or two, and a small three-cornered washstand, toward which his paint-streaked hands led him at once. He lifted the water-jug with admiration. It held very little, but it was of an adorable shape and quality of ancient English crockery, and he reminded himself that he might find a way through old Mrs. Owen's heart to her closets; for who knew what unappreciated treasures might be hidden away? Over the narrow mantelpiece there hung a sword, and, as well as the guest could see, an army commission or discharge in a simple frame. Perhaps Doris had lost a lover, and a thrill of sympathy filled this new admirer's mind; but on second thought he concluded that it was much better for him than her having a present lover. She seemed too young to have known much of the war, and this might have been the property of an elder brother or an uncle, or even the trophy of Farmer Owen himself. There was no reason why the sword should not have been there since the days of the Revolution, for that matter; the house was certainly old enough, and looked, so far as he had seen, as if there had been few changes during the last half century. There was a state of complete surrender to fate involved by the absence of any personal property, and after taking a long look from the narrow window, which made him more in love with the countryside than ever, Dick Dale attempted to return to the society of his new friends. A fear of lurking pitfalls of back staircases made him advance slowly, but with entire safety to himself. He thought once with great amusement that he was capable of making the most of a slight twist to his ankle in order to secure a week's stay at the farm. Art might be his excuse, at any rate, for he was quite sincere in wishing to carry away some sketches of the Sussex neighborhood. This was not a very purposeful young man: those who were growing old already among his comrades might laugh or scold at him for his apparent neglect of life's great opportunities, but nobody could accuse him of not making the most of the days as they came. His idleness might have made him wiser than their business had made them, but this was hardly proved to most people's satisfaction. If he did nothing for himself, a few had said sneeringly, everybody was the more ready to serve him. But the rest knew that he was only an idle hero, and loved him and believed in him, and had need of patience.
Downstairs in the kitchen Israel Owen and his wife had been discussing this interesting young man who had suddenly demanded their hospitality. Guests were by no means rare in summer weather, but the list of relatives and friends had been shortened in the last few years, and many of the old aunts and cousins had died who used to depend upon a visit at the farm. Doris was not one who made many acquaintances, her mother had often said, with regret. She had been sent to Westmarket to school, and stood well in her classes, beside having the advantage of good society at the cousin's house where she boarded; but she had seemed entirely contented to be at home ever since. Mrs. Owen possessed a most social nature, and always wished for more excitement and news than it was possible to find. She would have liked a village life best, with plenty of visiting from house to house and great authority in parish matters. She truly loved her husband, but when she married him it was with a firm determination to persuade him to sell the farm before many years, and the marsh island was but a stepping-stone for her ambition. She had stood there disappointed ever since, for the fancied stepping-stone had proved to be a pedestal. She had requested earnestly, in early life, that they might go to some centre of civilization, for the children's sake; but of late years, when Doris was found to be, as was often asserted, just such a slow-coach as her father, Martha Owen had resigned herself to her fate. Nobody knew better than she that she was looked upon with envy by all her neighbors. She had money enough and to spare, but for all that she was secretly grieved and dissatisfied because she spent her days as a farmer's wife. Her acquaintances were well used to her complaints. She was a cheerful, friendly soul, even in her fault-finding, and a listener was more apt to laugh at than to pity her smaller troubles. However, the undercurrent of dislike was sure to be felt by those who lived with her, and her family recognized a day now and then when it was best to step gently on their way, and notventure upon the discussion of even a trifling subject.
"He's no strolling fellow," she was saying of her guest. "You just look at that handkerchief with the toadstools in it. No finer linen ever came into this house. And even his initials on it, like a girl's. Most likely 't is some fancy led him here painting pictures. I don't believe he follows it for a trade, but he may. I wish I'd told him to throw these things out," she added, looking at the contents of the handkerchief with considerable awe. "I'll let him take care of 'em, any way. I don't want 'em round the kitchen."
"What's one man's meat's another man's p'ison," sagely observed one of the young haymakers, who had drenched his head well at the pump, and sat fanning himself with his frayed straw hat on the doorstep. "I used to work over to the quarries with an old Frenchman, who pretty near lived on 'em while they lasted. He give me some one day on a piece of bread, and they tasted first rate. I never saw such a chowder as he could set on to the table. Didn't know what it was when he first caught sight of it, either."
"The French is born cooks, I've always heard," said Mrs. Owen, not wishing to be instructed by this stripling, while her husband chivalrously resented so limited a view of the great nation, and said meditatively that he didn't doubt that Bonaparte could have cooked if he tried. He did everything else he undertook for a time.
"The boys used to rough that old fellow on account of eatin' frogs," Jim Fales asserted, as if he were determined to be the ally of his hostess. He was waiting impatiently for his supper at that moment.
"The young man spoke about bein' kept longer than over night, didn't he?" asked the master of the house softly, as if he favored the idea. "I declare, Marthy, he makes me think of Isr'el a little. He's got a pleasant way with him. I don't know but what I should say yes; if you feel to, that is."
"We needn't urge him quick as he gets downstairs," came the answer from the pantry. "We're noways obliged to keep boarders; and we're a-cuttin' the ma'sh hay, that always makes extry work; and it's inconvenient havin' Temp'rance off, though Doris and I get along well enough without her so far. I suppose he'd be willin' to pay high board; but there, we may never hear nothing more about it. I do' know but what he does favor Isr'el a little about his forehead an' eyes," she added, in a lower tone. "Now, Jim Fales, do call in Mr. Jenks and Allen, and have your supper. You've been lookin' hungry enough at me to scare anybody, like the old cat yisterday, after she'd been shut up in the apple sullar since Wednesday. She was follerin' me the whole forenoon."
"Where's Doris?" asked the farmer again. "Why ain't she helpin' of you?"
"She's had some supper, - all she wanted," replied the mother, bustling more than ever, and retreating to the outer kitchen, where the stove had its summer residence. "They've got to git there earlier 'n common. This is the night she promised to go over to the minister's with Dan Lester. Some of the young folks" -
"That's all right," and Mr. Owen's voice had a more satisfied tone than his wife's. "But I thought 't was Thursday nights they went. I forgot about the parson's being away this week."
"'T would have been just as well for me if she'd kept at home to-night, but I ain't one to complain. Dan Lester takes a good deal for granted lately, seems to me."
"He's been working smart all day," said the farmer. "Dan's a willin' fellow, and there were others knew that I was short of help. I'd fetched him home to supper if I had remembered about to-night."
"He couldn't ride over there with his haying rig on," replied the mistress, scornfully taking her place at the head of the table, and pouring a steaming cup of tea for anybody who would come to claim it. All the haymakers filed in at the door at that minute, and began to help themselves before they were fairly seated.
"I'll speak to the young man," said Mr. Owen; but just at that moment the door opened, and Mr. Richard Dale made his appearance.
The three hungry men who had taken one side of the supper table to themselves paused for an instant to regard the stranger; then they all looked down again, and went on eating.
"You see we give you welcome to what we have, and make no stranger of you, my lad," said the master of the house, with fine old-fashioned courtesy; while Dale nodded and smiled, and began to prove himself as hungry as the rest.
"I hope I shall not frighten you, Mrs. Owen," he ventured to say presently, for there was a chilling silence upon the little company. "The truth is, I have had nothing to eat since breakfast;" at which the good woman's hospitable heart was touched, and she leaned over to see if his plate lacked anything. She had breakfasted before six o'clock, which was early enough at that time of year, when the mornings were much shorter than in June. Dale had had an advantage of three hours, or more, but the day since then seemed long; such a good supper as this was worth waiting for, and he stated the fact most sincerely. Soon the shyest member of the party was quite at his ease again, and the stranger was making each man his friend. His small adventure was rendered more amusing than it had really seemed at the time, and an ingenious threat and argument against the delinquent small boy served to entertain the company to such a degree that there was a merry shout of laughter. Jim Fales thought he had done this delightful companion a great wrong at first, and began to admire him intensely. The haymakers presently resumed a discussion of the probable length of a snake which had been seen at the edge of the marsh that day; but Mr. Jenks, the senior workman, continued to eat his supper, as if he considered that the most important duty of the moment. He resembled a sailor: there were small gold rings in his ears, and he had a foreign look, - acquired, it must have been, for he was unmistakably a New Englander to begin with. Dale soon found himself influenced by the deference which the rest of the party paid to Mr. Jenks, and looked up with pleased expectancy when the old farmer said, "Jenks, give us the particulars of that big raskill. You was one of three that killed him over on the Six-Mile Ma'sh. Don't set there lookin' as innycent as a man that's drivin' a new hoss!" Whereupon silent Mr. Jenks was induced to tell his best story, though not without much precision and unnecessary delay.
It seemed very dark now, out-of-doors, and when some one drove quickly into the yard, toward the close of this unexpectedly festive occasion, the guest of the household felt a sudden dismay. He was enjoying himself with all his heart, and savagely assured himself that the boy might turn about and go back again. He would neither be driven into a ditch nor try to find his own way over unfamiliar roads.
Nobody seemed to be concerned with the arrival, however, and our friend went on eating his hot gingerbread with its crisp crust. He observed that a shadow overspread Mrs. Owen's countenance for a moment, and presently took heart, and thought he need not have been so angry, after all. There was no sound of approaching footsteps, though he had distinctly heard some one leap to the ground; but directly the door at the foot of the stairway, which had received more than one hopeful glance, was opened, and Doris appeared again, ready for a drive. She was plainly dressed, and the second view of her was by no means disappointing. "I don't feel right to be leaving you, mother," she said, pausing a moment, "but I finished the dress." The elder woman hardly listened as she looked at her daughter with motherly pride, and then at the young stranger, who had risen and stood ready to escort Doris a little way; to open a door for her, perhaps, though the one which led to the yard was already open. He was strangely envious of the cavalier outside, and came quietly back to his place at the table. Everybody listened as the two voices - the girl's and was it her lover's? - exchanged greetings, and then the wheels trundled away down the road. The horse was not one that would stand well, but an excellent beast on the road, Mr. Owen at length mentioned, with a little reluctance at being obliged to speak first; and then there was another pause, and the crickets chirped louder than ever, and a rising breeze swayed the great willows and blew their faint fragrance through the wide kitchen.
Mrs. Owen had been embarrassed and a little flustered, as she would have expressed it, by the gallantry the handsome stranger had shown her daughter; the girl herself had accepted it without surprise. There was a charming dignity and simplicity about Doris, and if there were a chance, though Dick Dale was not experienced in figure-drawing, he would try to make a sketch of her, for her father's sake, before he went away. The old man's pathetic face grew more and more attractive to him, also, and altogether he was glad to be at the farm. He had not seen anything of such life as this since he was a boy.
Notes for Chapter 2
Devonshire: a county on the southwestern coast of England.
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getting sharp set: very hungry, keen appetite. Perhaps derived from a metaphor for the setting of teeth on a saw blade.
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the war: The American Civil War, 1861-1865.
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the Revolution: The American Revolutionary War (1776-1783).
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Sussex: See notes for Chapter 1.
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slow-coach: A slow coach stops at every town and picks up passengers wherever they may appear along its route; an express coach does not stop between designated points.
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strolling fellow: usually refers to an itinerant actor, but in this case, to a tramp.
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another man's p'ison: See Lucretious, De Rerum Natura, IV, l. 637. Source: Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Fifteenth Edition.
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outer kitchen: a small building away from the house for summer cooking.
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The haymakers left their seats at the table, and strayed away one by one, and were seen no more that night. The day had been long and very hot for the season, and no doubt they were ready to seek their couches in the close, low-storied kitchen chamber. First, however, it was necessary to have a consultation upon the appearance of the stranger, and to make ingenious guesses at his past history, not omitting also his present circumstances and future plans.
"He never was this way before. Think likely he thought he'd come round and take a look at the heathen," said Jim Fales, who was best acquainted in the neighborhood, and who, by virtue of a four months' residence in the family, could speak with great authority. His employer commonly asserted that James was young, but willing, when it became necessary to allude to him, and the haymakers themselves treated him with a cheerful forbearance which might easily have degenerated into something less. Jim had taken the place of a middle-aged man who had been Mr. Owen's mainstay for many years; but Asa had been persuaded, against the wishes and warnings of his Eastern friends, to join a brother who had long ago settled in the West. The haymakers asked Jim for news of him.
"Thought he'd grow up with the country, I expect," remarked Mr. Jenks, who was sitting at the end of the grindstone frame.
"Asa was well off," said Jim. "We think that his folks had an eye to his means, and expected, if they got him rooted up and planted out there, they could do as they were a mind to. I guess they'll have to set him out in a new spot before he'll shake down much of a crop of his dollars," the young man added smartly, much elated at his comparison.
"Asa was snug," agreed Mr. Jenks, not appearing to notice anything peculiar about the preceding statement. "I wa'n't what you would call well acquainted with him, but I guess he may make out to come back if he don't like. He never could have had no great expense here: he never had nothing special to lay his money out on, so 't was natural it accumulated."
"Some folks can't spend, and more can't save," said Allen, who was busily puffing at his pipe, which seemed to have some trouble with its draft. "They all seem to be open-handed, nice folks here to Owens'. Lord, what a supper I laid away! They live well, don't they?"
"Pretty fair," said Jim mildly, but with evident pleasure, as if he were being personally praised. His own clothes had grown very tight since he took up his residence on the Marsh Island.
It happened that Farmer Owen was also thinking of his own loss and Asa's lack of judgment. He and young Dale sat together in the side doorway, in two of the kitchen chairs, while the mistress of the house clicked and rattled the supper plates, and eclipsed the bright light of the kitchen as she went to and fro. Dick was listening to the crickets and the soft sounds that came out of the warm darkness, when Mr. Owen asked whether he had ever been much to the westward.
"Only once, a good while ago," he answered, a little surprised. But this seemed somewhat unsatisfactory.
"I've been wanting to inquire," said the farmer. "This region never was great for havin' the Western fever, but Asa Bunt, that has lived with us a good many years, - since my father's day 't was, - took a notion to seek his fortune. I guess a pack o' hungry, worthless folks o' his was seekin' theirs; they give him no peace."
Dale did not find himself deeply interested in this statement, and there was a short period of silence.
"My father's brothers and my mother's folks all followed the sea," said Israel Owen presently, "and I think my boy had it in him, for all I dwell so much upon having had him spared to be at home with me."
The listener turned his head, as if eager to know the rest of the story.
"Killed in the war, - all the boy I ever had," was the response. "Only twenty-one, he was, the April before he died in July. Shot dead, so he didn't suffer any, so far as we know. He's laying out here in the orchard, alongside the rest of the folks. I went out South and fetched him home to the old place. I've been thinking ever since I see you that you favor him in your looks: there's something about your forehead and eyes and the way your hair grows. I'll show you a likeness of him in the morning: 't is a rough thing that was taken in camp, that he sent home to me. There are some other pictures of him that his mother keeps, taken younger, but I seem to set the most by mine."
"That was his sword in the room I am to sleep in?" asked Dale, filled with pity, and understanding the pathetic smile of this apparently prosperous man.
"Yes. The folks thought they ought to have it down in the best room, but I didn't seem to want to. That was always his bedroom, and there are some other things there that belonged to him, and I like to keep 'em together. He was first leftenant when he was shot. There were two girls between him an' Doris, but they died very small. Doris is - I couldn't get along without her nohow; but there'd been an Isr'el Owen on the farm for near two hundred years, and now there'll never be another. I ain't a sound man myself, so I wasn't out in the army; but I never felt so cheap in my life as I did the forenoon I see Isr'el marchin' by, an' the rest of 'em. I never got no such news as when I heard he was shot. I've kep' the farm goin' and stood in my lot an' place the best I could, but I tell you it took the heart right out o' me."
Dale was silent; there was nothing he could say. The father had looked his sorrow in the face so long that a stranger's thought of it was not worth expression. Yet he could just remember his own father, and somehow a deep sympathy flashed quick from one man's heart to the other.
"You spoke about stopping in the neighborhood for a few days?" the host said, after a pause, in which they had both listened to the far-away strange cry of a sea-bird down on the marshes. Dale responded with instant gratitude and hopefulness: -
"I should like it very much. I must finish the picture I began to-day, and I wish to make several other sketches. It really would be a great favor if Mrs. Owen could make room for me. I must bring my traps over from Dunster, though. Will any of your people be driving that way in the morning?"
Mrs. Owen herself was standing near, and answered this, as if she were the only one to be consulted in such important arrangements. "We never have taken folks to board," she replied, "but I don't know as we ought to refuse you, - on Bible grounds," and she laughed good-naturedly.
"I am afraid you will be disappointed if you hope for an angel this time," Dale smiled back again. He was standing in the doorway, and the light from the kitchen shone full in his handsome, boyish face. The farmer sighed, and leaned forward a little as he looked at him wistfully. But Martha Owen hastened to say that Doris was going to Dunster in the morning to have the colt shod, and as likely as not would be glad of company. The men folks would all be off about the salt hay.
Later that evening Dick Dale lay in bed listening again to the crickets, which kept up a ceaseless chirping about the house, and to the sober exclamations of the lonely sea-bird in the low land, not far away. The window was wide open, within reach of his hand, and once or twice he raised himself on his elbow to look up at the stars, which were gleaming and twinkling in a white host, whose armies seemed to cover the sky. The willows reached out their huge branches and made a small cloud of dense darkness, and the damp sea air was flavored with their fragrance and that of the newly mown marshes. There were no sounds, except those made by the faintly rustling leaves and the small chirping creatures, which seemed to have been stationed by the rural neighborhood as a kind of night watchmen to cry, All's well, and mark the time. The great loon was the minute-hand, while the crickets told the seconds with incessant diligence; as for the hours, they seemed so much longer than usual that whether a wind or a falling star announced their close it would be impossible to determine.
Since Israel Owen had made known the history of his dead son, the narrow chamber had become much more interesting. The present tenant of it was usually given to keeping late hours, but he had offered no objection when his host suggested that it was time to go to bed, feeling that it would be impossible to disregard the customs of the family that night, at least. Farmer Owen lingered a moment after he gave the young man a candle in a saucer candlestick, and looked at him as if he wished to say something. He was apparently unable to suit himself with words, however, and turned away with a cheerful "Good-night to ye, my lad;" but the short silence was not unmeaning. The candle had an unpleasant odor, and burned unevenly, letting a small torrent of its substance descend upon the well-brightened brass. Dick wondered, as he stood before it with his hands in his pockets, if Mrs. Owen would consent to part with the old candlestick; he thought it would look well in the studio which he occupied somewhat irregularly with a friend.
There was a square spot of glimmering white on the blue homespun covering of the bed, which proved to be a garment of primitive construction, and Dick inspected it with some amusement, until the thought struck him that it might have been part of the wardrobe of the young soldier. There was a mingled odor of camphor and herbs, as if it were just taken from a chest that was seldom opened. After a moment's reflection he shook it outside the window, and waved it to and fro gently in the mild night air. Then he proceeded to make a circuit of the room, and held the candle high while he read the lieutenant's commission. Dick had been much too young to go to the war himself, though he was thwarted in a fierce ambition to march afield as drummer-boy, and he felt a curious interest in the farmer lad to whom this cheap-looking bit of paper certified a place in history. Only one name among thousands, to be sure, but a name forever kept by his country! A thrill went through the man who read. He was much older than this Israel Owen, but he felt immeasurably younger. There was a dignity and pathos about the unused bedroom, though its present occupant looked round it next to see if there were anything else which it would be possible to read for an hour. A person who was by no means used to early hours could not help feeling wide awake at a little past nine. He had given Farmer Owen his last cigar, as they sat together in the doorway, and was thankful it was a good one; as for his cigarettes, they had failed altogether some hours before. Presently the feeble candle was out, and after the smoke of it had been blown away, and the clean, quiet place seemed only a protected corner of the wide, starlit world, he laughed a little at the unexpectedness of the situation, and then thought, with a shadow of envy, of Doris and the young man, and began to listen for the sound of returning wheels. To-morrow would be Saturday; he must make the most of it. This would be pleasant enough to look back upon; but such a thin pillow and thick bed were worse than the bare ground. The confession must be made, however, that when Dan Lester, the enviable gallant, had helped his companion to descend from the new light carriage, which had been bought chiefly with a view to her pleasure, it was only twenty minutes to ten o'clock, and Mr. Richard Dale was already sound asleep.
Notes for Chapter 3
low-storied kitchen chamber: In nineteenth-century American homes, the kitchen often was a single-storey extension from the main house. But the in New England, "chamber" often referred to the room above the main floor. Hence, a kitchen chamber would be a room above the kitchen.
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grindstone frame: a turning grind stone would sit in a frame, to be spun with a handle or treadle for sharpening tools such as axes.
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lot and place: This phrase is echoed in a variety of places, for example in Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Self-Reliance (1841), near the beginning, where he admonishes the reader to "Trust thyself" and to "Accept the place divine providence has found for you." See also Daniel 12:12-13.
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on Bible grounds ... an angel this time: See Hebrews 13:2.
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Introduction Chapters 8-10 Chapters 11-14 Chapters 1-3 Chapters 15-18 <Chapters 4-7 Chapters 19-23
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