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
Copyright © 2001-5 by Terry Heller
As Doris and her cavalier turned out of the yard and drove down the road, they were both silent for a minute or two. The evening was very dark, and Doris lost all thought of her companion as she instinctively assumed a certain responsibility and kept watch before her. In a little while, however, her strong eyes became independent of the shadows, and as the horse's feet struck the smooth track of the highway she leaned back in the carriage, and her attention became diverted to the interests of the occasion. Dan Lester was a dim figure at her side; he had seen his way all the time and felt no uneasiness, and now turned to look at Doris with entire satisfaction. He knew perfectly well that nothing served his purpose better than to be able to claim Doris's companionship on the slightest pretext. Doris herself was so shy of love-makers that he did not mean to startle her by any premature avowal of his true affection for her. This very evening his heart gave a happy beat, as he told himself that she could not have gone to the village very well without him; indeed, she might have to give up more than one pleasure if he were not always ready and glad to serve her; some day she would surely find out that she could not get along without him any better than he could without her. And the good fellow leaned over and smoothed the lap-robe, and tucked it in more closely. Most of the maidens whom he had known were willing to be agreeable, and to smile upon him and his attentions, and he was not averse to being smiled upon; but Doris Owen's lack of self-consciousness and quiet dignity attracted him, and kept him eager to follow and to win her. He could not remember a time when he did not feel for her a tenderness that nothing should change. To-night he reassured himself that at last he was able to marry a wife whenever he chose, and suddenly found it more difficult than ever to bide his time. Dan was quite aware that the neighbors had long ago ceased to feel any excitement about so natural and proper a match; they had talked it over and over, and settled his future for him, and even spoken to him on the subject without the least hesitation. But, strange to say, in these days, when he continually told himself that all obstacles had been removed, the lover became for the first time disturbed and uncertain. Doris was so friendly and sisterly, and unlike other girls who thought of marriage. Yet it was not impossible that she was quiet and sweet, and untroubled even by love; and Dan Lester grew scarlet all at once in the sheltering darkness, because he was possessed by an eager desire to risk asking the great question that very night. Perhaps Doris was waiting for him to declare himself; was wishing to hear the words he found it so hard to say.
At that instant the girl herself spoke, and he was instantly possessed by a sense of disappointment; there was evidently a complete unconsciousness of such an exciting possibility. "I was not sure that you would come," she said. "I hope you didn't feel obliged to keep the promise, if you were tired. I wasn't counting on it greatly, and haying is hard work."
Lester laughed uneasily. "'T would take more than haying to beat me," he answered, and touched his horse unnecessarily with the whip, after which his thoughts returned to a subject which had provoked his curiosity while he waited in the farmhouse yard. "Have you had company come?" he asked. "I saw a stranger at supper with the rest of the folks."
Doris was glad to have a new topic for conversation suggested. She half feared that it was an unwelcome tax upon Dan to drive her to the village that evening. He was unusually silent, and she had begun to be the least bit uncomfortable.
She hoped that he would not feel bound to her, yet her woman's heart had become aware that one element in their relation to each other was fast growing more conspicuous than any other; and she had lately both dreaded and enjoyed being alone with him. Dan had been her brother Israel's crony, and was a near neighbor. It was perfectly natural that he should be at the farm often.
"Mother told me that the young man's name is Dale," she answered, cordially. "I don't know anything about him, except that he was painting a picture somewhere near here to-day, and they forgot to come for him from Dunster; so he came up to the house, and asked to stay over night. They think he looks a good deal as Israel did," Doris added softly. "Father seemed to want him to stay. I didn't like to come away and leave mother with so much to do, but this morning she was very anxious to get word to Temp'rance; we were to let her know when we began to get the salt hay in. Mother said a little while ago that perhaps we'd better let her stay another day or two, or go over to-morrow and get her; but I was afraid she would be all tired out. You know what mother is when there's a great deal extra to do."
Dan Lester eagerly insisted that Doris had done exactly right. He had quickly understood Mrs. Owen's change of opinion, and found it enough to rouse a flame of jealousy. "Temp'rance has been away 'most [most] a fortnight," he remarked as quietly as he could. "She never gets any rest over at her sister's, any way."
He could not be sufficiently thankful that Doris was not at home that evening, being suspicious of the unknown rival, and unpleasantly sure that Mrs. Owen was filled with ambitions for her daughter's future that overtopped and slighted his own claims. There was something ominous in the stranger's appearance at this critical time, and poor Lester wished that he were already sure that Doris belonged to him; he must settle it right away. But while he tried to gain courage to speak to her, Doris, who was in uncommonly good spirits, talked about one every-day thing after another until they reached the minister's door.
When the choir-meeting was over, fate would insist that a cousin, who lived half a mile or more beyond his own house, should ask to make a third passenger homeward in the new buggy. Dan was amazingly ungracious for the first few minutes, but the girls, who were good friends, gossiped together serenely all the way.
The various excitements of the evening apparently exhausted Mrs. Owen's reserve fund of good-humor, for she came downstairs the next morning looking older than usual and very despondent. Her husband, on the contrary, was in a cheerful frame of mind, and even hummed a tune as he waited for his breakfast. Whenever his companion had occasion to go to the kitchen closet, just behind the chair where he sat, she gave a deep and ostentatious sigh. The farmer was always an early riser, and had already fed the horses and cattle; he asked now, with mild interest, if none of his assistants had yet appeared.
There was no answer to such an unnecessary question, and a vague thought flitted through the good man's mind that perhaps this had been one of the idle words for which he must give account. It was hardly a rebuke to himself, but rather a theological view of an unimportant mistake. He still waited patiently, giving his best attention to his interlaced fingers, matching one thumb to the other, and wondering, also, what "mother" had on her mind now. He had known these signs of storm to precede even so reasonable an event as her going to the village to pay an afternoon visit, and a general overturning of affairs always preceded the more serious enterprise of deciding upon new clothes. He assured himself that the clouds were likely to blow over, and smiled suddenly at his own philosophy. It was half-past five o'clock; the morning was chilly and misty, and would have promised to an inland farmer anything but a good hay-day.
The smile reflected from his observation of the in-door weather seemed to deepen Mrs. Owen's sense of displeasure. "I'm getting the breakfast ready as fast 's I can," she said, in a most offended tone. "You just try to do all your farm work with one pair o' hands, and see how you make out."
"I didn't know as anybody was ever in the habit of usin' two pair," suggested Israel Owen mildly. "None of us is expected to do any more than we can do. Don't overtax yourself, Marthy," he added, placidly. "I declare, I don't know when I've ever been so sharp-set for breakfast, though. I think most like it may be on account of the weather's being cooler. What's goin' on with you to-day? I hope Temp'rance 'll get home good an' early."
"'T will be the first day since she's been gone that she could wear her new thick dress. I told her 't was all nonsense to toil so over it. Anybody might know 't was like to be too warm weather to have any good of such a thick material. She thought she'd have it ready for winter if she got it done now, in leisure time, before we begun to get the ma'sh hay in. An' she didn't have a notion that you would begin till Monday. I must say I hate to spoil her visit, sending and getting of her home."
"We're going over on the south ma'sh," said the farmer, tilting his chair, "and most likely won't be back before seven or eight o'clock. You might take the old horse and jog up Dunster way, and fetch Temp'rance home yourself, - 't will be a change."
The cause of Mrs. Owen's despondency was at once apparent, and the discovery of her plan seemed to excite great anger: "I'd just like to know how I'm going over there without a decent thing to wear over my shoulders. Nobody would expect that I belonged to folks who had means. I've got some pride, if you ain't. There's Temp'rance's folks from the West all there. I do consider they are weak about dress, and lo'd on too much of it without respect to occasion: but I don't feel happy when I've got nothin' to wear over me except old things that's only fit, and ought by good rights to be took, for rug-rags."
"They used to tell a story - I do' know but you've heard it - about old Sergeant Copp an' his wife, that was always quarrelin'," said the farmer, in a tone of great satisfaction. "Somebody heard her goin' on one day. Says she, 'I do wish somebody'd give me a lift as fur as Westmarket. I do feel 's if I ought to buy me a cap. I ain't got a decent cap to my back: if I was to die to-morrow, I ain't got no cap that's fit to lay me out in!' 'Blast ye!' says he, 'why didn't ye die when ye had a cap?'"
Martha Owen tried to preserve her severe expression, but began to laugh in spite of herself, and her companion knew that this was an end of present discomfort. "It's your own fault if you an' Doris don't have what you want to wear," he added. "I'm sure I always make you free to spend what money you need, but you're always a-sufferin' for somethin'."
"Well, there, it's more the trouble of gettin' clothes than anything else," said the good woman. "I s'pose I can go over an' get Temp'rance. We'll have an early dinner soon as Doris gets back from Dunster with the young man. I shall have to send her off soon as we get breakfast cleared away," said the crafty mother. "There won't be a bit of tea in the house after to-morrow morning. We shall use up a sight with the three men, and now I suppose we must keep this new one. I don't know as he will make much trouble. They used to think Doris had a pretty taste for drawing; perhaps he will give her some lessons."
"He won't stay here long, at this time of the year," said the father. "We don't know a word about him, neither. I don't expect there's anything wrong in him; he couldn't look ye so straight in the eye. Doris ought to be coming down; it ain't usual with her to be so behindhand;" but at that minute her footfall was heard on the stairs.
Israel Owen's face brightened as he saw his daughter. "I thought 't was about time for you," he said affectionately.
Doris looked up at the clock, and then smiled at him without speaking.
"I don't know but quarter to six is full early enough," he answered. "I think hired men are apt to take it out in nooning, if they don't loiter all through the day, when you try to start 'em out too early. Your mother here has been hard at it since a little past five, though;" and this seemed like an attempt at reproach.
If Mrs. Owen had been allowed to speak her sorrows first, she could have made good use of the occasion; but as it was, she instantly defended her daughter, though in a manner which let both her companions understand that Doris had something else to answer for.
"You couldn't have done anything until now, unless it was to open the fore-room windows before the young man comes down," she said; but after a minute's reflection and a glance at her father, Doris fell into line with the usual preparations for breakfast, and by six o'clock the family had assembled round the table. The sun had broken through the morning mists, and the kitchen seemed a very comfortable and smiling place. The company was much more prosaic and business-like than it had been the evening before, at supper-time, for the beginning of a busy day has not the leisure that the close of it offers as part of the worker's reward. Yet there has been a certain spirit of adventure at every breakfast table, whether it were surrounded by knights who were eager for the tournament, or bronze-faced haymakers ready to prove their prowess with the armies of straight-stemmed marsh grasses. The evening ought to find men tired, and it may find them disappointed and defeated; in the morning success seems possible, for who knows the treasures and surprises a new day may hold in its keeping?
As Dick Dale came through the clock-room he found the damp morning air very pleasant. There was no chill; only a sharp freshness, that gave an additional spur to his cheerful readiness to meet the world. The old farmer had opened the windows himself, and a straying branch of the cinnamon rosebush outside had been turned by the light wind, and was lying across one of the window sills, as if it were eager to come inside. The young man crossed the room quickly as he heard the sound of voices, and paused for a minute on the threshold of the kitchen, held by a pleased artistic sense. He had become somewhat familiar with such rural interiors in England and France, but the homelike quality of this, the picturesque grouping and good coloring, were a great surprise and satisfaction: he noted the bronzed faces of the men, the level rays of the pale sunlight, the dull gleam of the brass mountings of a chest of drawers at the shaded side of the room, and the central figure of the girl, who brought a tall coffee-pot with both hands, as if it were an urn of classic shape. Her delicate features and clear color seemed to intensify themselves as he looked, - Doris would make a picture by herself. He must surely do the best he could at making a sketch of her.
Mrs. Owen thought the guest was experiencing an attack of awkwardness, and was not sure of his place at the table, and at once signified the seat which had been given him the evening before. After a few minutes the interruption was forgotten, and the regular progress of the breakfast went on, as if it had been a brook into which somebody had lately thrown a stone. Dale was half amused and half gratified with his new position. He had felt very much like other people until the evening before, but so sensitive a nature was aware that it had suddenly become the most interesting fact to several minds; that he represented an only half-understood order of things, and was looked upon with mingled suspicion and envy. It was not beyond his power to make his common humanity more apparent than the difference in experience and local values. Being, indeed, a man who was not ruled by the decorations of character, he had a true sympathy with his fellows, which gave him the advantage of feeling at home in almost any place; and with another glance at Doris, who sat by his side and next her father, without a word of entreaty to his companions, he began to lay the best claim he could to equal rights with the rest of the household. Busy Mrs. Owen could hardly spare time for her morning meal, and presently bustled away into the pantry to finish packing the dinner baskets. The farmer laid down his knife and fork, next, and carried the cider jug to the cellar, protesting that he had nearly forgotten it, which made the company smile; and two of the haymakers nodded at each other and grinned a moment later, when they heard their favorite beverage gurgling from its cask in the depths below. Then they went out together. There were a few reproachful cries at a restless horse, and a hurry and clatter and general excitement in the yard. The farmer came back again to the door to say that he should have to leave Mr. Dale to the favor of the women folks; but if he felt like strolling over to the marshes by and by he could find a welcome, especially if it looked like rain. The stranger himself laughed in response, and in a few minutes the stir was over, and quiet had again settled down upon the house. After a minute's hesitation Dick wandered back into the clock-room, and stood before the sketch he had made the day before. This was disappointing, after all; the little birch-tree was more like a tree and less like Doris than he had hoped to find it. Yet he was not sure that he felt exactly like going on with that bit of work; perhaps it would be better to look about the farm, and see what he could discover in the way of subjects. He had found his room at the north side of the house a little damp and cheerless that morning, and had doubted whether it were worth while to linger long in this rural neighborhood; but all trace of such want of hardiness had been dispelled by his comfortable breakfast. It really seemed his duty to forget inconveniences which could not be worth mentioning beside those he had encountered elsewhere in pursuit of his art. One did not happen upon such rich hunting-grounds every day, and he gave a complacent glance at a Washington pitcher of most rewarding quality, which held some durable dahlias and late summer flowers, on the narrow table under the blurred mirror in its twisted frame. He was a trifle ashamed of his grasping worldliness, as he stood in the old room. The master of the house was most attractive; he and his daughter were of a different fibre from the other inmates of the household. The girl had a fine repose and dignity of manner. She seemed equal to her duties, but she was grave and brooding; like some women whom he had known among the French peasants, with her serene expectancy and steadfastness and careful expenditure of enthusiasm. She was an economist by nature, but rich with power and strength, the young man thought, as he wondered if there were any one who had the gift of sounding the depths of her faithful heart. He was ready to read much romance and sentiment between the straight, plain lines of this new character. Evidently nothing of any great interest had happened to Doris yet, but it could not be possible that she was made only for fading out and growing old, undeveloped by these dull fashions of country life.
As he went up the broad green sloping yard toward the orchard, a little later, Mrs. Owen's voice reached him as she sang a high droning psalm tune behind the wilted scarlet runners of the pantry window. She had sung in the church choir in her early years, and had agreed with her neighbors that her gift was quite uncommon; but it was impossible now for the listener to resist a smile at some of her ambitious excursions among the higher notes. She was rolling out a new supply of the substantial ginger cakes that her dependents so much admired, and doughnuts also must be provided afresh; but she noticed with pleasure that her guest was going in the same direction from which Doris would presently be returning, and rejoiced to think they were sure to meet.
Nothing would give her daughter a better suggestion than such an acquaintance as this. It was Mrs. Owen's darling project that Doris should see something of the world. She dimly recognized that the world had a claim upon the girl's beauty and good sense, and she wished to hear her praised and see her take a rightful place. Her own most womanly perception had not been unconscious of young Dale's interest in her child's good looks. Dale himself was pleasant to look at; young Israel Owen might have truly been something like him, if he had grown older under such evidently prosperous worldly conditions; and the tears started to this mother's eyes, as she watched the stranger out of sight. She must ask him some time to give further particulars of the accident which had lamed him. He seemed to have difficulty in using his left foot, and limped a good deal now as he disappeared among the old trees of the orchard. Presently he came into view again, this time allured to the family burying-ground at the edge of the field. The good woman could see, as he had seen, the faded color of the little flag which since the last Decoration Day had fluttered in every breeze above the soldier's grave.
Notes for Chapter 5
idle words for which he must give account: See Matthew 12:35.
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sharp-set: very hungry, keen appetite. Perhaps derived from a metaphor for the setting of teeth on a saw blade.
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rug-rags: Old clothing was cut into strips to be braided or woven into throw rugs.
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cinnamon rosebush: a species of rose (R. cinnamonea). Biographer Francis Matthiessen reports that as a child, Jewett would make a coddle of cinnamon rose petals with cinnamon and brown sugar. See Chapter 1.
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Washington Pitcher: Washington ware came from the pottery of Captain John Mullowny in Philadelphia, PA, where he and apprentices made a variety of tea-pots, coffee-pots, pitchers and other domestic utensils in the early years of the Nineteenth Century. Though various legends circulated about Mullowny's work in later years, John Spargo in Early American Pottery (1926) affirms that Washington ware was good but ordinary pottery. (Research: Liane Kido)
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scarlet runners: scarlet-runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus, a bean with showy scarlet flowers, also called Spanish bean and scarlet runner.
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Decoration Day: Celebrated on May 30 to honor the dead of the American Civil War by decorating their graves. Later became Memorial Day, on which all deceased American veterans are remembered.
The weather did what it could to prosper the dwellers on the Marsh Island, and Dick Dale more than once assured himself that it was too heavenly beautiful for a man to do anything but enjoy life in idleness. There was a sturdiness and royalty about the stout-stemmed fruit-trees. He looked along delightful vistas between their rows, and when he had followed the hillside a short distance he discovered, as he turned to look behind him, a view of the farmhouse roofs and chimneys against the willows, with a far distance of shore and sea and clouds beyond, which appeared to him of inestimable beauty and value. He forgot, as he looked across the country, that he had ever known any interest in existence save that connected with his paints and brushes, and would have hurried back for the best of them if he had not remembered, almost with impatience, that Doris would be ready to drive him to Dunster at eight o'clock. It was now a little past seven, and there never had been a better beginning of a day, with such wealth of time yet to look forward to. If Dale had been a more energetic person, he might have seized that perfection of morning light, and made sure of his sketch directly; but he looked back lovingly again and again instead, was sorry that the family plans seemed too important and inevitable to be disarranged, and strolled on through the open field. The aftermath here was wet with the heavy dew of the night before, and he kept to the cart track, along which the workmen had evidently passed earlier in the day. One of the ruts was well trodden and much used as a footpath. He wondered whither it led: it must be to the creek, and there was sure to be a fine view of the marshes after one reached the top of the slope beyond.
A salter breeze than any he had met blew the drier grasses of the hill-top, and for his lame foot's sake he stopped, and then looked about eagerly. A wide, low country stretched away northward and eastward, with some pale blue hills on its horizon. The marshes looked as if the land had been raveled out into the sea, for the tide creeks and inlets were brimful of water, and some gulls were flashing their wings in the sunlight, as if they were rejoiced at the sight of the sinking and conquered shore. The far-away dunes of white sand were bewildering to look at, and their shadows were purple even at that distance. One might be thankful that he had risen early that morning, and had climbed a hill to see the world. Far away the haymaking was going on. In another direction some old haystacks looked soft and brown; and then Dale discovered a second group of men floating down the creeks, and was puzzled to know which were his friends. He felt like a leaf that drifts down a slow stream; he grew serenely contented in his delight, and dared to look the August sun full in its face, and then threw a stone with all his might at a bird that flew by. He blinked his dazzled eyes angrily because he could not tell whether the shot had been of any avail, and then laughed at himself, and felt like a boy on a stolen holiday. Just then he heard a noise of heavy footsteps, and behind some bushes, farther along the path he had been following, he was surprised to see Doris approaching, walking quickly beside two farm horses, whose harness was hanging about them, unfastened and clinking as they came. She was holding the near horse by his bit, and leaned backward to check the honest creatures, who were impatient to finish their breakfasts. The color flickered more brightly in her cheeks as she saw Dale, and watched him eagerly come down the slope to meet her.
The clumsy horses were filled with the spirit and excitement of the clear morning, and were ready to take advantage of any excuse for prancing a little. They raised their heads and looked at the stranger, and the off horse capered at the sight; the dangling harness struck them unexpectedly, and their slender teamster was suddenly in danger. At least, Dale thought so, and hastened to the rescue. Doris lost sight of him, but presently had the horses well in hand again, and a moment afterward she was shocked to see the painter try to get up from the turf. He had stumbled and fallen ignominiously, but looked pale, as if he were really hurt. The conquered horses stood still now, at the girl's command. They were docile creatures, of great experience, who would stand in the hot sunshine all day, or follow the long spring furrows without impatience. They would not have struck their young mistress for all the cracked corn in the bin, and waited now, looking after her uneasily as she went toward the stranger.
"It is only this confounded ankle of mine!" growled Dale. "I believe I never shall get it strong;" and though he felt more and more disgusted and ashamed of himself and wished he were a thousand miles away, an unpleasant faintness was creeping over him. No, he would not be such a baby! But at this point the bright sky turned black, he felt the ground lift itself up and the short grass prick his cheek, and there was a pause altogether.
Only a minute went by before life resumed its course, and he opened his eyes, quite a languid and white-faced person now, instead of the stalwart admirer of the country who had come up the hill. "You had better lie still a little while," said Doris softly. He need not have felt such a sense of inferiority and silliness, for her face was very sober and distressed. The horses had become totally indifferent to their surroundings, except as they tried to brush away a fly now and then. Dale sat up presently, and leaned his head on one hand while he felt his disabled ankle with the other, and then tied his handkerchief tightly about it. He felt sorry it was not the clean one which he had filled with mushrooms the day before; this looked miserably the worse for wear. Somehow, he never could remember to beg for paint rags before he started out for a day's sketching.
Doris looked on compassionately. She was standing close beside him, and he was sure she had stooped to take off his hat, which had been uncomfortably misplaced over his eyes as he lay down; but she had not lifted his head on her arm, or behaved at all as maidens do when their lovers, or even their friends, faint in the story-books. He was obliged to confess that she was very sensible and very kind, however, and that she looked sorry for him.
"I shall be all right directly," he said, with his best smile. "I must insist that I haven't fainted before since I was a boy. Could you ask" - and Dale hesitated: there was nobody at the farmhouse save Mrs. Owen. "Can you get me a stick, do you think, so that I can hobble back to the house?"
"I will come back and help you, if you will wait right here for me," said the girl, flushing slightly, while, leading the horses the side of the path, she sprang upon the back of the nearer one, and went jolting toward the barns with entire composure. She was apparently familiar with this uncomfortable mode of travel; she did not turn her head, though Dale turned his, and saw her strike first the leader and then his mate with the end of the heavy leather reins. He wondered if she would not be hurt against the low boughs of the old apple-trees; he had been obliged to stoop more than once as he had walked under them. It was very odd that he should have been talking nonsense to himself the night before about being invalided upon the Marsh Island. Somehow, the reality was not so pleasant, and he felt like a shipwrecked sailor, and unwontedly destitute at that. He could not go to Dunster now; perhaps he must ask Doris to bring a doctor. This was a dismal end to his triumphant morning; but his ankle was in a wretched way, and with an angry cry of misery, which nothing would have forced from him had he not been alone, he seized it with both hands, and soliloquized at intervals until Doris reappeared. Even in his suffering condition he felt a great joy, because she ran so lightly and so fast, as not one woman in ten thousand can run, with fleet-footed directness and grace. She was slow, she herself thought, - she had been afraid that he might faint again; and when she reached his side, and Dale leaned upon her firm arm and stopped to break a stick from a wild-cherry thicket, she thought him uncomplaining and even heroic. She was much disturbed, but the painter thought her very placid and quite motherly in her attentions and feeling toward him. She was a soulless creature, after all; beautiful to look at as a fawn and unconscious as a flower, but as a human being utterly commonplace. The confession must be made that when they reached the hot kitchen, and Dale deposited himself wearily in a padded rocking-chair, which he wished to be out of directly, Mrs. Owen was much more equal to the occasion in her expressions of sympathy than her daughter had been. "For mercy's sake, Doris," she demanded, "why didn't you slip one of the hosses into the old wagon, and not make Mr. Dalewalk all the way? He may have het up the bone so 't will be stiff as a stake." But Doris looked so convicted and distressed that Dick announced gallantly his complete repugnance to being cruelly jolted over the uneven surface of a hillside field.
Dan Lester was happily unconscious of the devotion which was spent upon his rival that day at the farmhouse. The family doctor was seen coming along the road, and was called in with great eagerness. He looked at his patient with much surprise, and recognized him as having sometimes been a guest at one of the fine houses on the shore, at the other extremity of his range of practice. The doctor had served as surgeon in the army during the war, and was a man of excellent acquirements and quick perceptions.
"I have seen you before, I think, at Mrs. Winchester's, Mr. Dale?" he said carelessly, when the bandage had fallen short, and Mrs. Owen had hurried away with thumping footsteps for more old cotton. "It was when a little grandson of hers had a bad fall in the stable," he explained, holding the strip of cloth with firm fingers.
"Yes," replied Dick Dale uneasily. "I thought I had seen you. If you run across any of my people, don't speak of my being here. I stopped to make a sketch or two, and meant to be away to-day. I have promised to visit my aunt later in the season," he added more boldly. He was unaccustomed to apologizing for his plans, and wondered, as he spoke, why he felt now a little at odds with propriety.
The doctor nodded, and seemed indisposed to criticise the deeds of any young man, especially an artist. "You could not find a more picturesque bit of country," he said, with considerable enthusiasm. "There were two or three artists staying at the east village in June. I dare say they might have been friends of yours."
Mrs. Owen had returned with a stout roll of linen and a damaged sheet, which she offered submissively for inspection. "There's plenty more where this come from," she announced, a little out of breath; and the doctor smilingly responded that she had better not let any of the hospitals hear of her; they were always beggared for want of such things.
"Will he be laid up a good while, do you suppose?" she asked the hurried surgeon, with a shade of anxiety, as she followed him to the door, and hardly knew whether she was most relieved or disappointed when the doctor answered that this sprain was only slight; it was a miserable weak ankle; the fellow had used it too soon after the first injury.
The morning went by slowly, and Dale grew more and more dissatisfied and impatient with himself. He had heard the doctor's verdict upon his case, and did not anticipate any long delay; but his foot ached badly, and the bandage felt tight and bungling, though it looked so smooth and irreproachable. He had been established in a high-backed wooden rocking-chair in the clock-room, with his lame foot on another chair, cushioned by a small and fluffy pillow, with a cover so long that it drooped to the floor and looked like a baby's skimpy-frock. He was left to himself for a time. Doris was going to Dunster without him, and would bring back Temperance Kipp, the maid servant, and his own portmanteau. Dale could see her in the yard harnessing a horse into a light wagon. Presently her mother joined her, looking heated from her work in the kitchen. She was a fine, straight woman for her years, a most kind creature, the young man thought gratefully, and smiled as he heard her tell Doris what the doctor had said, and add that the disabled foot was as soft and white as a child's. Doris seemed impatient to be off. The young horse she drove was impatient, also, and whirled the wagon round a corner of the yard and down the road. Dale leaned forward to see better. Doris looked quickly up at the window, and their eyes exactly met; the next moment she was hidden by the willow boughs, but it was so still about the farm that the sound of wheels could be heard for some minutes.
Mrs. Owen looked in, every little while, and always said that they were going to have a regular dog-day. The tall clock ticked excitedly, as if it were not pleased with this intrusion upon its own apartment. The county paper lay upon the table under the looking-glass, with the Massachusetts Ploughman and the semi-weekly Tribune, which Dale selected with satisfaction. After looking over its pages with sad quickness, he made use of it to beat away the flies which were flocking in from the kitchen. Mrs. Owen had unguardedly left the door half open, and they seemed eager to prove the truth of her repeated statement about the weather. From his seat by the window he could see the hillside and the orchard, with the small, pathetic crowd of gray and white headstones in the family burying-place. One might fancy that these stones were a sort of prosaic disguise, under which the former dwellers in the old farmhouse stood apart together to watch and comment gloomily upon their descendants. The faded little flag alone signified any active interest. There was a kind of hopeful beckoning and inspiration about its slight movements and flutterings.
In the dullest of the morning hours Dick was assured that he must communicate with his aunt, and make use of her hospitality. Later, he reflected that, however reasonable such an arrangement might appear, it would be also a great bore. The house was always well filled at this time of the summer. There was sure to be a flock of his aunt's grandchildren, and they were noisy and clamorous enough if a man were well, and he was not disposed to put himself at their mercy now, confounded little beggars! They were all extremely fond of him, and hitherto he had returned their affection with a more or less spasmodic warmth. Dick jerked his shoulders suddenly, as if a first-cousin, once removed, had unsympathetically tried to climb upon them. He would wait a day or two, and see how the ankle got on; indeed, he had often spent a week or two in a duller place than this. But he wondered idly, more than once, if it were not time for Doris to be at home again.
Notes for Chapter 6
aftermath: the second crop of grass.
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het up: heated up, excited.
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dog-day: day near the beginning of August. The Oxford English Dictionary says, "The days about the time of the heliacal rising of the Dog-star; noted from ancient times as the hottest and most unwholesome period of the year. The Dog-star usually is identified as Sirius, but Procyon may be used."
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Massachusetts Ploughman ... semi-weekly Tribune: The semi-weekly Tribune is a local newspaper. The Ploughman probably was a real newspaper, and needs further identification.
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Meanwhile work was going forward on the marshes. There had been some delay in transporting the crew of men; the great hay-boat, which had not been used before for some months, was stranded high and dry on the shore at the side of the creek. It had been well beached, and put as far out of reach of the spring tides as possible, lest it should float off across the shallow sea which covered the meadows, and be either wrecked or take up its residence inconveniently far inland. The same spring tide, however, had revenged itself for the loss of its prey by giving the heavy boat a lift and a push which made it swing about and tug at its moorings from the opposite direction. Finally, when the waters receded from their unnatural vantage ground, the craft settled down heavily, with its bow toward the deep channel; and when the huckleberry and bayberry bushes waked up a little later, they struggled and bent their twigs under a weight and obscurity equal to a land-slide, and concluded that it was not spring yet, after all.
The farmer had met such hindrances before, and had laid some persuasive rollers in the way to the water, and the launch was achieved in the early August morning with little difficulty, though with the aid of much shouting at the horses from Jim Fales, beside vigorous pushing from all the haymakers. The tide was in, and the stupid-looking square hay-boat floated lightly, with a somewhat coquettish air of being in its element, while the displaced water splashed among the coarse grass of the shore. A weather-beaten dory was brought up and fastened at the hay-boat's stern; the farmer was carefully putting his scythes and pitchforks on board. One of the men fastened the horses to a small maple-tree, which they browsed industriously. Doris was to come presently to drive them back to the barn.
Jim Fales had worked furiously to aid the launching of the hay-boat, and now stood contemplating it with some scorn. "Ain't she got a sassy bow?" he remarked derisively. "I don't know 's I ever see one that was built more awk'ard. 'T was one o' old Lester's make, wa'n't it? His was all the same pattern."
"You take right holt now, my son, and help git these tools aboard," said Israel Owen serenely. "We're belated more 'n I wish we was a'ready. An' Lester's bo'ts are pretty much all afloat in the ma'shes now, while those that have been made since are mostly split or rotten. He put good stuff into 'em, and they carry well, a good load and well set, if they be square-nosed."
"We'll all be drownded, sure 's fate. I guess I'd better step along on the bank," laughed the young man; "she's leakin' like a sieve."
"Give her a couple of hours in the water and she'll be as dry as a cup," said the farmer. "I know her. But run along ashore if you feel skeary, James," as the youngster leaped lightly over the side. The other men smiled indulgently. Jim Fales was a good fellow, whose faults were those of youth and self-confidence. He was thin and light, quick as a flash, and apt to work beyond his strength in boyish bravado. He was employed at men's wages for the first time this summer, and had proved himself worthy to enter the lists at any sort of farm-work, though some of his comrades could not help wondering how he would hold out. He was frequently designated as the Grasshopper, and was worth at least half his pay for his good spirits and the amusement he afforded his associates.
One would have thought that the boat's builder had measured the width of the creek before he laid her timbers, and then left very little room on either side. The complication which would be involved by one hay-boat's meeting another in the deep and narrow channels of the marsh can hardly be pictured, unless, indeed, the crews were amicably transferred. At some distance, however, a broader inlet was shining in the morning sunlight, and another boat and its company presently emerged from behind a point of the Marsh Island, and floated placidly away to the eastward.
"There goes Bennet's folks," said Mr. Jenks. "They're late this morning, too," and Jim Fales and Allen, who were poling, doubled their diligence, and made haste to signify their presence by loud and echoing outcries.
Farmer Owen had seated himself on the broad gunwale of his valued boat, leaning forward, with his elbows on his knees and his brown hands clasped together before him. Sometimes the tall sedges brushed the faded cambric back of his waistcoat, and once Mr. Jenks reached out and cut two or three cat-tails with his great jack-knife, and selecting the largest proceeded to trim it, and then stuck it in a small auger hole in the stern, where it looked like the mockery of a mast. For some distance the faded square of yellow was visible where the boat had lain on the sloping bank; it made a surprisingly attractive point in the landscape, and Farmer Owen said once, as he looked at it, that the growth underneath would be likely to think there was an early fall. There had been no such high tides for ten years as the spring before, when Lester's masterpiece had been drifted so far ashore.
As they neared a point half-way to the south marsh, a young man was seen standing there, waiting, a solitary figure on the low shore. This was Dan Lester, who, as the hay-boat approached, took a flying leap and landed in what might be called the hold, making a great splash in the six or seven inches of water, which seemed to disconcert neither him nor anybody else.
"I'd better have fetched a mallet and spike along, and caulked up this conveyance," he said soberly, with an inward sense of the scrutiny of Jim Fales's curious eyes. His mind was not at ease, and he tried to behave exactly as usual, without entire success.
"I guess 't will be the end o' the leakage now," Israel Owen announced, after a wondering though brief look at this new member of the crew. "The sides are tight, and 't was only the bottom planks that had shrunk a grain, same 's they do every year. She'll be dry enough if she lays out in this sun till evenin'."
The fresh morning wind ruffled the surface of the tide river and tossed about the foliage on the shore, lifting the leaves and varying their shades of green skillfully. As the boat slowly rounded a point covered with underbrush, Lester saw a late wild rose almost within reach of his hand, and with the sudden thought of Doris that was always linked in his mind with anything beautiful he tried to catch and break the twig. But he had been carried just too far beyond, and almost fell over into the water. The other men laughed, and he joined them a little ruefully, and watched the flower, as if the loss of it foretold his fate. He had known the misery and anxiety of an unassured lover the night before. He had never until now been really uncertain or in such desperate earnest about winning Doris, and was shaken and hurt by his sleeplessness and fears. Dan was a model of health and vigor. Like men of his nature, he could ill bear suffering of any sort, but he was supported this morning by a noble instinct of heroism. He would die hard before he let himself betray the lack of courage that he sometimes felt. If Doris knew how troubled he was for her sake, she could not help thinking that he deserved her love. Poor fellow! sometimes he needed her tender pity almost as much.
But saucy Jim Fales, with his quick, shrewd eyes, had dared to tell him that he looked afflicted, and was begging him to give the reason. It was a preposterous favor to ask, under the circumstances, and Jim seemed quite abominable. Lester was quick-tempered, and found himself growing very angry, although it would never do to wage open war against the youngster. Mr. Owen was already looking benignly at the faces of his companions, as if he were becoming conscious of the presence of some interest he did not understand.
They were so far away now from the farm that it showed its whole outline and extent from that eastern point of view. The hill which Dick Dale thought a good lookout had lowered itself, and was only a bare, unsheltered pasture upland. Israel Owen could read at a glance all the slopes and hollows of the woodland and fields of the neighboring country, and surveyed with pleasure his own sound fences and the tops of his fruit-trees, which showed themselves over the crest of the island as if they were trying to see what was on the seaward side.
The tide was full; the lines of the creeks made a broad tracery whichever way one looked. Northward and southward from the Marsh Island the great reaches of the Sussex marshes spread themselves level and green, while the nearer hills of the inland country were bronzed and autumn-like, and the distant ones were blue in the morning haze. The sea-birds overhead were crying and calling, as if they besought the salt-hay makers to fly away with them, like reluctant nestlings of their own.
The outlying portion of Israel Owen's property, toward which he was voyaging, was a low bit of the sea country. Even this not unusual tide was submerging its borders, and most of the grass must be taken away to be spread and dried elsewhere. The old farmer with Dan Lester went apart from the other workmen, and all began to mow as fast as possible, so that a good portion of the crop might be put into the boat, ready to carry away when the tide should be high again in the evening. The men stepped forward diligently; the tall grasses fell before their enemies, rank after rank. The tide held itself bravely for a time: it had grasped the land nobly; all that great weight and power were come in and had prevailed. It shone up at the sky; and laughed in the sun's face; then changed its mind, and began to creep away again. It would rise no more that morning, but at night the world should wonder! So the great sea, forsaking its purpose, slid back out of the narrow creeks and ditches, leaving them black and deep, with the green sedge drooping over their edges; and at midday the sun was fierce and hot, and the haymakers brought the small sail of the dory, and made a tent-like shelter of it with their pitchforks, and were ready for their nooning.
"I declare I don't know 's it was ever hotter than this any of the hot days I've seen in my time," said the farmer. "Doris had a notion yisterday that 't would be better for her to bring over the dinner at noontime; she thought she could slip down the west crick in her small bo't, if 't was low water; but I'm glad she didn't." The younger men gave each other a sly look; they would have enjoyed such a visit in the midst of their dull work. Some evil spirit suggested to Jim Fales that it would be good fun to tease Dan Lester.
"Doris!" he exclaimed contemptuously. "She'll be all taken up with the city swell, I expect; she won't have no time to spare for country folks. Perhaps she'll fetch him along over here in her dory, long towards night when it gits cooler, to make a picture of us."
"He looks like my boy Isr'el," said Farmer Owen, unexpectedly. "She's going to take him in to Dunster to git his trunk, - Doris is. Mis' Owen, she's calc'latin' to accommodate him for a spell." And one of the haymakers, who had been hungry enough the moment before, put down what would have been his next mouthful as if the bread were a stone. Jim Fales whistled at the sight, and the lover shot a fierce glance at him. What a fool he was making of himself, he thought piteously, the next minute, and tried to go on with his lunch. Mrs. Owen was a capital cook and provider, but Lester wondered how he could dispose of his share, while young Fales ventured to say satirically that he thought he had seen a snake; and being wonderingly answered by the proprietor that they were never common on the south marsh, held his peace.
Some of the men stretched themselves out for a nap, and Dan Lester feigned to copy their example; but when he left his hard couch, a little later, to join his employer, it was with sullen, tired eyes, and a determination to ask Doris's father a solemn question.
Farmer Owen had apparently taken no notice of Jim Fales's ostentatious discovery of the reptile, nor of the personal character of the talk, but Dan Lester looked dark, and muttered as if he were a strayed thunder-cloud. A light breeze had risen, and the stillness of the unusual heat was over with, but the young man grew flushed and warm, and stood holding his scythe as if it were an aggressive weapon, while he fanned himself with his frayed straw hat. He was a handsome fellow, dark and thin and straight, with a suggestion of French blood in his remote ancestry. A pair of honest blue eyes looked unrelated to his brown cheeks, and an inch or less above them there was a sharp dividing line between his singularly white forehead and the dusky tints below. The old farmer glanced toward him once or twice compassionately, and at last came and laid a heavy hand kindly upon Dan's shoulder.
"Don't cry before ye're hurt, lad," he said. "Don't take no account of that youngster's nonsense, neither; 't ain't wuth your while, as I view it."
Lester flushed again, and looked more angry than before; his first impulse was to accuse his annoyers and defend himself, but luckily he became aware of the opportunity to plead his cause with Doris's father. He choked down his silly wrath, and a gentle, almost pleading expression came into his face; no words could be found for a minute, and the elder man stood waiting patiently. "Come," he said at last, "we must get to work."
"I've been wanting to speak with you," Lester whispered, as if they might be overheard even at that distance from their companions. "I do set everything by Doris. I feel as if I wanted to make certain I had a right to her."
"I can't say but I'm willin'," answered the farmer. "I should like to see it come about, far 's I'm concerned. Have ye spoke with her last night, may be?" and he looked hopefully at his would-be son-in-law's transparent countenance. "Your father and me, we was always the best of friends. I'd rather have you master of the old place than anybody about, so long 's poor Isr'el never'll want it."
"I tried to screw me up to say something or 'nuther, so she'd know, as we was ridin' along last evenin'," said Dan, grateful for the listener's confidence. "I don't know 's I'm chicken-hearted, but I couldn't speak my mind. Seems if she must know, too. I wish the women was the ones that spoke first, they'd get over it a sight the easiest;" and Dan tried to laugh, but his mirth was not sincere. "She's too good for me by a long shot, but I never'll let her want for nothin', specially lovin' kindness," he burst out, with such excitement that the next moment a reaction followed his unwonted sentiment, and he felt afraid that his old friend would laugh at him.
"Yes, yes!" the elder man exclaimed somewhat impatiently. "I don't feel uneasy, Dan, an' 't will all come right in time. She ain't sure of her own mind p'rhaps, but 't is set that way. Women's a kind of game: you've got to hunt 'em their own track, an' when you've caught 'em they've got to be tamed some. Strange, ain't it? - they most all on 'em calc'late to git married; and yet it goes sort of against their natur', too, and seems hard to come to, for the most part:" and Mr. Owen shook his head solemnly over this difficult question, and walked away slowly to his work. Lester's mind felt not wholly unburdened, but this was at least a good beginning. "The old gentleman don't make so clean a cut this year as I've seen him," he thought. "I'll borrow some excuse to get him to quit work early;" and then Dan gave his own scythe a vigorous whetting, and mowed with surprising effect all the afternoon. Perhaps the stranger at the farmhouse was gone already. No, the farmer had said that his wife was going to take him to board for some days; and Dan felt an unusual sense of bitterness toward the good woman who seemed to be so unfriendly to his cause. Perhaps the painter was a married man. It was no use to be distressed, and Doris had been very good-humored the evening before, as they drove to the choir-meeting. Yet as the hours went by he grew more and more anxious to see her again.
As for Jim Fales and Mr. Jenks and Allen, they were filled with vain imaginings, and made themselves particularly merry over the lover's exasperation. "Land, how we'll thorn Dan up to-morrow telling how him and her was keeping company in the best room, and walking up in the orchard after dark!" said Jim Fales. "There, now; see the old sir a' clappin' him on the shoulder! He's going to say, Bless you, my child'n, sure 's you're alive."
"He seemed mightily taken with the city chap, it struck me," said Mr. Jenks, who had worked in one of the Sussex shipyards all summer, and had lately been thrown out of employment by the dull season. "And look here, young man, you'd best keep out o' the range of Dan Lester's fist, if you've set your mind on baiting him." Mr. Jenks was a man of few words, and his junior looked disappointed and grave at this unexpected warning.
"I don' know 's we've got to settle everything for 'em this afternoon; but Dan's well stirred up and jealous as sin, ain't he?" inquired Jim, a few minutes afterward, in a serious tone. "I shouldn't wonder myself if it set him on to get matters fixed to his mind. He's been goin' with Doris Owen ever since I can remember. He was a big boy to school when I was a little one in the primer."
"He come from about here, didn't he?" asked Allen, who was a stranger in the neighborhood, though known to Mr. Jenks by means of the shipyards and other commercial interests.
"Right over beyond the cross-roads," answered Fales, "where the crick makes in. His father and grandfather was the best bo't-builders anywhere about; but Dan's father, he died young, and his mother married again to old Lawton, and a mighty poor business 't was," said the young philosopher sagely. "She'd done a sight better to stop where she was. Dan was always warrin' with the old man, and nobody blamed him. Dan had a good property from his father's folks, and his mother didn't know enough to hold on to it, and about all of it leaked away. You never see anybody step cheerfuller than Dan did to the burying-ground, when the old fellow was gathered. He was squiring his mother at the head o' the procession, sleevin' of her handsome, as if he liked it. Dan's well off: he's been an awful lucky fellow, and some of his money that grandsir Lawton didn't borrow turned out first-rate. I shouldn't be surprised if he was worth pretty near five thousand dollars to-day."
"That won't go 's fur as it used to, in maintainin' a wife," said Jenks. His generous lunch seemed to have put him in a talkative temper. "Five thousand dollars used to be called a smart property, but nowadays folks has to have so many notions; everybody must stick a couple o' bay winders out front of their houses, else they ain't considered Christian. Bill Simms had to do it, for all his place was stuck as full o' lights as a lantern a'ready. I guess he finds he's got took in with his new companion. There was plenty warned him, but he wouldn't hear to reason; he'd been told she'd got means."
"She's a homely creatur' enough," spoke Allen eagerly. "I see her out loppin' over the fence middle o' the morning, day before yisterday. Where'd she come from, anyway? Where'd Simms pick her up?"
"I b'lieve 't was over Seabrook way," drawled Mr. Jenks, stooping to take wider reaches at the grass. "I d' know whether she was drove ashore or whether he took her on a trawl, I'm sure, sir;" and this unusual turn of Mr. Jenks's conversation forced his comrades to laugh heartily. Indeed, the sound of their merriment beguiled Israel Owen from his thoughts of the past and Dan Lester from his hopes of the future, and they laughed back again with instinctive sympathy.
Notes for Chapter 7
Grasshopper: Possibly a reference to Aesop's fable, "The Ant and the Grasshopper," in which the Grasshopper is characterized as enjoying pleasure and being improvident.
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was gathered: died.
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squiring ... sleevin' of: Squiring is escorting. Sleeving is hanging upon someone else's sleeve for assistance; or in this case, giving one's arm to help another person walk.
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loppin': Probably in the little used sense of hanging over (like a branch) or drooping.
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Seabrook: a fictional town, like Dunster.
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Introduction Chapters 8-10 Chapters 11-14 Chapters 1-3 Chapters 15-18 Chapters 4-7 Chapters 19-23
Copyright © 2001-5 by Terry Heller