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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
Doris's mother stood in the yard at least two minutes, in the bright sunlight, shading her eyes with her hand, and watching the young people drive away together. She was evidently much gratified with the sight, and nodded her head soberly as if in acquiescence, as she returned to the house. Temperance Kipp glanced at her superior officer once or twice with some curiosity, but said nothing.
The two women resumed their work, and the kitchen soon gave evidence of unusual industry. Israel Owen and Jim Fales, with the man called Allen, who had again been hired for a week, were to be away all day, finishing a piece of ditching which the farmer had planned in anticipation of the spring freshets. This was likely to be an undisturbed morning, and the good women had begun various enterprises, chiefly because they were sure of having the house to themselves.
If an outsider could have observed Temperance's honest countenance, he would have quickly understood that she was waiting for a good chance to say something to her companion. The relation between Mrs. Owen and herself was not recognized as that of mistress and servant except upon rare and inharmonious occasions. Ordinarily they looked upon each other as colleagues, and, to do her justice, the dependent was as heartily interested in the welfare of the Marsh Island and its inhabitants as any member of the family. Temperance was busy just now scrubbing some tin ware, a pile of which she had brought from the pantry, and worked away busily with soap and sand, sometimes holding off a big pan at arm's length to detect its imperfections. She watched Martha Owen cautiously, listening eagerly every time she spoke, but for some time answering her questions or remarks with a shade of disappointment or lack of interest. It was evident that she hoped to discern a frame of mind hospitable to some information she was ready to impart, or wished Mrs. Owen herself to introduce the subject of which her own mind was full.
But Mrs. Owen seemed preoccupied, and not so ready to discuss men and things as usual; she was busy now with her rolling-pin and flour-board at the farther end of the pantry, next the narrow window, from whence one could look across the flag-stoned court and up the hillside. This window opened only a little way; the two upper panes of glass were but half as tall as the rest, and the framework was absurdly heavy. The mistress had often threatened to have such a piece of antiquity replaced, though Dale had lately taken the trouble to make a sketch of it, with the curious outside coping or cornice. There were no two of the windows alike in that row at the back of the house, and some quaint, short curtains of old East Indian cottons were put there, where they would not often be seen and mocked. Dick had extorted a confession that there had once been a voluminous drapery of that really beautiful material for the best four-posted bedstead, and his hostess remembered now that she had promised to look among her possessions to see if there were not still a good piece of it. She smiled again at his admiration of the ugly old stuff that was so aggravatingly durable, and gave a more indulgent look than usual to the small curtain near by. "'T is pretty colored," she meditated, "but such a dreadful homely pattern. I do believe, if he had his way, he'd set the old house back to just where 't was when I come here; old-fashioned as a dry-land ark."
Temperance saw the smile that followed this thought, and grew hopeful. "I expect they'll find it pleasant getting to Sussex this forenoon," she ventured. "'T ain't so sightly along the ma'shes unless the tide is full." The whole family liked to have their country appear its best, and had constantly apologized to Dick for any defect in the weather.
"Yes," answered Mrs. Owen, thumping away at her pie crust, "they'll have it pleasant, certain. Temperance," with renewed importance of tone, - "Temperance, why wouldn't it be a good plan to have up the stone jars, - the lard pots that's empt'ed, and all them? We may not have such another good day, and 't is well to sun 'em out while we git a chance. Land, what a little while 't will be before we kill again! I never hear a squeal out o' the sty except I think what a piece o' work I've got afore me."
"Well," said Temperance, gathering up her shining pans to carry them out to the yard, "I did think of sweepin', but there's no haste, and these tins weren't so bad as I thought for. I'll take the stone ware next. I don' know, 'f I was you, as I would cross that bridge afore I come to it, about the hogs. 'T is a good three months yet." But Mrs. Owen responded with a somewhat ostentatious sigh, and abandoned herself to further reflection.
It was not until Miss Kipp had paraded her pots and pans in a beaming row along the garden fence that her opportunity arrived. "I declare, I never set out them lard and butter pots without thinking of pore Isr'el, that time he caught all the cats and kittens about the place, and shut one into each, and set the tops on, and I went and found 'em when I was going to take 'em in on account of a shower. I was dreadful put out, and I had to laugh, too. There he was a-watching of me from the wood-house, and never dared to come in to his supper till going on eight o'clock. He wa'n't over six year old."
"I declare, I'd forgotten about that," said the mother. "I know one spell he used to play us plenty o' tricks," and she laughed a little, "him and Dan Lester. Do you know how they got some old clothes and things once, that was up garrit, and dressed themselves up, and come knocking to the door?"
"They'd made themselves to look like the minister and his wife," responded Temperance, with alacrity, "and I declare, you'd known they meant them anywhere. I'd no idea, though, when I see them first standin' on the doorstep, and I let 'em right in, for the joke of it, to where Parson Nash and his wife was setting, going to stop an' take tea. Land, how he laughed; but she was put out. Isr'el looked too much like her, and had just her walk and the way she held her head stepping up the aisle Sunday mornings. He said he didn't see who she was through them great spectacles. She went and got her a new bunnit afore the week was out. She was dreadful close. I don't think there ever was an amiabler man than the minister, though."
"I believe she's alive yet," said Mrs. Owen. "She had some money left her, you recollect, and I expect she'll live as long as she can, for fear o' somebody else getting it."
"There, now!" said Temperance Kipp, seizing this first chance and quite inadequate excuse for telling her secret, "I know I'm a-breakin' trust so to do, but when I was out last night I stopped in to Mrs. Lawton's, and she let on that they'd got expectations o' means above what she ever counted on. There was some land out West that old Lawton bought with some o' Dan's money. You know folks was always bejugglin' him into things. They've always paid taxes on it, no great till last year, and then it was ris', and Dan was awful pleased, but she expected him to be put out, and didn't dare show him the bill for quite a spell. He had sense to see 't was ris' in value, and now they've got word of the growth o' the place, and he's had an offer o' six thousand dollars down for it. She read the letter to me; it come day before yisterday, and she's been wantin' a chance to send it over. If Doris had been going by, I should have told her to call an' see if there was anything. But now don't you say a word, even to the 'Square. She made me give my pledge I wouldn't hint a word of it to nobody, but I thought I should bu'st if I had to keep it all to myself."
"I won't tell no secrets," said Martha Owen, doggedly, her black eyes shining, but not with pleasure. "I expect Dan'll be the big man o' the town yet. I hope he ain't one o' them that's sp'iled if they get nine shillin's ahead. I used to like Dan when he was growing up, and him and Isr'el was so much together, too; but last time he come here I hoped 't would be some time before he favored us again."
"You had your wish, then," suggested Temperance good-naturedly. She had always liked Dan, and meant to do him a kindness in telling his good fortune. "I have a kind of notion that him and Doris have had a quarrel, and that she's going to make it up with him this morning over to Sussex;" and the adventurous handmaiden gave a sly glance across the kitchen.
Mrs. Owen never had openly declared her opposition. There were many reasons before Mr. Dale's arrival upon the scene why she had not cared to do so, and she restrained herself with a great effort now, though her face flushed, and the very expression of her broad back was vindictive as she bent over the table. "I don't know 's Doris need be in any hurry: she's well provided for as she is. And I want her to marry well when she does marry; but I expect she'll have her own way, and other folks must make the best of it."
"She'll never want to leave the farm, I don't believe," ventured Temperance. "I never see anybody have such a passion for anything as she has for the old place. Her father don't hold a candle to her, when all's said and done. Dan's wonted here, too, and would seem sort o' natural. I guess they'll make it up, fast enough," and she disappeared with another jar, while the mistress of the house wheeled about just too late, looking more angry than can be described; but when the placid countenance of Miss Kipp reappeared, Martha Owen had turned to the table again, and made no comment.
"I guess there's enough would snap at him if Doris lets him go for good and all." But this was putting patience to too great a strain.
"There, don't run on no longer, Temp'rance," said the mistress, contemptuously; "you wear me out. There's plenty besides to concern ourselves with. I'm glad Dan's property is prospering," she added, generously; "but like 's not some starvin' lawyer out there wants a bid to do some work, and then 't will turn out to be a mistake."
Temperance held her peace. She would have liked to say more, but there was a decided barrier for the time being. She believed, herself, that Dan Lester was masterful enough to secure Doris, and it seemed an inevitable and proper thing that he should be the next owner of the farm. She was aware of the present mistress's fancies and ambitions, but she did not respect them much; they appeared to her unworthy of the judgment and experience of so sensible a woman. We have more patience with our friends' wickedness than with their foolishness, in this world; and for her part, Temperance thought the marriage of Doris and Dan Lester had been already too long delayed. She felt sure that a little encouragement and out-and-out talk about it were all that was necessary to precipitate so desirable a conclusion. But the mother, mindful of her daughter's beauty, though she had always striven, on fancied moral grounds, to betray no consciousness of it, and mindful more than most country women of the great world outside her own narrow horizons, was eager through Doris to come into connection with other society. She had always looked forward to a relation with better things, but she had made a common mistake in thinking these were wholly outward, and dependent upon anything but her own growth and development. The Martha Owen of the Marsh Island would be the same in whatever scenes or circumstances she found herself, and not transformed to match her new vicinity. A good soul, but stationary, it was a great pity she had not been wise enough to love the place where she had been kindly planted.
The morning went by. The pies were baked, and the pots and pans still a-sunning, and once or twice their guardian walked along the row, and tilted one more directly toward the sun, and gathered a few distracted grasshoppers from their prisons. She glanced down the road, and went to the outside of a window once to look in at the clock. The simple dinner was arranged for, and after this Martha Owen came out of the kitchen door for the first time since she had seen the wagon driven away, and went sauntering up the yard, much to the needless excitement of some idle hens, and finally, after a moment's hesitation and reflection, she climbed the short stairway to the spinning-room.
The little place looked very inviting; it was cool and quiet, and held an atmosphere of repose and reticence. The hot kitchen which she had just left kept too many associations with drudgery and monotony; and Temperance was in that mildly aggressive frame of mind which could not be too deeply resented. She was a faithful creature, was Tempy, but full of the notion that it depended upon herself to set the world right.
The apple-trees seemed to grow closer than ever about the windows. Their boughs were bending low with a great weight of fruit, and made the good woman sigh to think of the apple paring and drying which were near at hand. Doris knew only the favorable side of farm life, after all; she had chosen her work almost always, and every day there was some task that was lighter, pleasanter, than the rest. The mother's heart grew heavy as she pictured her only child growing faded and changed year after year, tired and worried more and more with the hard round and petty responsibility. Doris had it in her to grow beyond it all, as she herself had once; to do something else and something better; to be somebody, as she told herself with pathetic disappointment. Men folks were slow at understanding how a woman felt about such dull doings and lack of entertainment, the long winters and the endless, busy days of summer. She wished that Doris might be spared all this, even if Doris could grow fastest and be happiest in the very conditions which had fettered her own self.
The thought was suggested to her, as she surveyed the little room, that different uses might be made of the same materials. She could not help recognizing the charm of the place, although its furnishing was selected from her own disdained belongings. She left the three-cornered chair where she sat, and stepped about softly, glancing at the sketches which were displayed about the room. It was a strange thing to be looking at such familiar surroundings through another person's eyes, and she smiled at the likeness of one corner of the farm after another; the roofs and chimneys, the windows, the kitchen, the seldom-used front door, with the clustered rose-bushes almost blockading the way, and the row of bull's-eye panes of glass overhead. There was even the side of the small room where Mr. Dale still slept, with the sword over the narrow mantel-piece, and the table and chair near the window, and even the faint coloring of the landscape outside. She thought he must be some famous artist in disguise, as she saw the cleverness of the little pictures, all so amazing and impossible to a looker-on like herself. But most interesting of all was a diminutive looking-glass that hung on the yellow-washed wall, with a withered twig of cider-apples put into its frame. She had given him the mirror herself; the glass was spotted and dull, and she had been amused with his satisfaction and gratitude. Doris had worn the little apples in her belt the very night before, and he must have picked them up from the grass beside the door as he went up to the spinning-room that morning. She recognized them with a thrill of hope and pleasure. Somehow, she never had taken so good a look at the studio; she was not embarrassed now by anybody's presence. The young man's possessions were scattered about in luxurious disorder. Here was a well-browned pipe on the window-sill beside her, and a handful of letters which he had received the night before were lying on the seat of the nearest chair. She took up a book and opened it at a fly leaf, to see R. Dale written there in odd, twisted letters, and Venice underneath, with the date of a year or two before. He had lately been reading this foreign language, for one of his letters was between the pages, and Dick's new acquaintance looked at the strange words with distrust and suspicion. After all, how little they really knew about this stranger! He appeared to be a good fellow, but he might be poor and unsuccessful, - that is, poor for his station in life; and Mrs. Owen left the farm and the sketches far behind in her next adventurous reverie. Wonderful to relate, she thought with ever-growing interest of the news about Dan Lester's Western property. Temperance would have felt entirely rewarded if she had known how important her betrayed secret had become.
Note for Chapter 11
close: stingy, careful with money.
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Dan Lester had gone back to his anvil, had drawn an almost melting piece of iron from the forge, and beaten it until the sparks had flown across the shop to where one of the younger workmen stood, patiently filing and fitting a bit of steel. He called back angrily, and Dan did not notice him, but beat the harder and looked the crosser; finally he laughed aloud at nothing at all, and then whistled in a shrill and aggravating manner.
"Wasn't that old Isr'el Owen's girl?" asked the apprentice needlessly. "Who was that furriner she was drivin' out? Some o' their folks?"
"No," snapped Dan; "'t was a painter fellow they've taken to board."
"Kind of smilin'-lookin', 's if he was enjoyin' hisself this morning, wa'n't he? Pretty snug harbor there for one o' them swell gentlemen that lives by their wits," remarked the apprentice further, at the same time trying to shape a sharp jarring point of the steel with too coarse a file.
Lester dropped his own tools among the cinders, and strode across the shop to give the presumptuous youth a severe lesson in his trade; then he threw off his leather apron, and, taking some bolts as if he were going to the schooner, went out-of-doors. He felt as if the two or three men he passed on the bridge were laughing at his discomfiture, and grew more and more angry with Doris for having paraded her admirer through the town, and flaunted Dale in his very face. "I've made myself too cheap, that's a fact," growled Dan to himself. "I've waited on her year in and year out, and followed her about like a dog," and the tears filled the poor fellow's eyes. . . . He climbed to the schooner's deck presently, and was glad to find it deserted; he could not bear to be watched, and it was well that the workmen were down below, or out of sight caulking, or planing plank in the ship-yard.
Dan leaned over the rail, and looked down at the white chips that covered the bank of the tide river. The shop had been hot and close, but here there was a fine fresh breeze from across the marshes, and presently his quick temper had burnt itself out like a straw fire. He found himself more sorry than angry after a few minutes of silence, and began to accuse himself of haste and unkindness. After all, what right had he to blame Doris Owen? She never had given a single sign that she loved or meant to marry him; she had never heard from his own lips that he loved her, though it was impossible to believe that she was anything but sure of that. How could she doubt it, when he had told her his love in every way that he knew beside speech! There might never be a chance to speak now, he told himself bitterly; he had been a fool all the time; but when you felt like a girl's brother and lover too, and had known her always, it was a great deal harder to begin your love-making. And then it might not have been Doris's fault that the artist came with her. Of course the fellow liked her, and was captured by her looks, and probably she had taken the first chance she could to come to Sussex, just as he hoped, though, after his fancied slight on that last evening, he had made up his mind to trouble her no further. The wrath that had been kindled then had been smouldering ever since, though only that morning he had made up his mind to go home to spend Sunday. Now the ashes had shown their hidden spark, and the fire of his jealousy and pain had blazed ungenerously, and burnt away Doris's dear efforts at reconciliation.
She was gentle and serene, and undisturbed by small disasters; but her lover had learned through long association that her anger and prejudice were as slow to disappear as they were difficult to arouse. He was farther away from his happiness than ever, and all through his own folly. He fancied that Mr. Dale had looked at him with wondering disdain, and struck his clenched fist fiercely on the ship's rail at the thought. Poor Dan! he was very unreasonable. He looked haggard and old as he turned, in answer to a call from the bewildered and curious apprentice, who had been waiting for work until he was out of patience, in the middle of what had promised to be a busy morning.
Dan went on with his own work with less spirit than usual, though he joked and teased the undeceived stripling, for fear he should suspect there was any trouble. Once he leaned on his big hammer, and in the humility of his honest love reflected that Doris deserved a better man than himself. The stranger might be able to make her happier than any one else ever could. There was something very taking about Dale, though Dan himself never wanted anything to do with such a Miss Nancy. Old Mr. Owen thought he favored Israel, but Israel was worth two of that sort. It was not likely he would marry Doris, - that was the worst of it; he only liked to play with her; and by and by everybody would say Dan Lester was glad to get another man's leavings. No, he would go off out West, and make his way alone. There was that piece of land that was rising in value every day. He always meant to farm it some day or other, and to give up this makeshift of a trade. He would rather handle a good smooth live field and make it do its best than a lump of dirty dead iron. And at this the great hammer was swung aside angrily, and the crooked bar went to the forge again.
Visions of his broken plans came flocking up to tease him; his whole life had brought him steadily toward a certain goal, only to show him something like the brink of a precipice instead. In spite of the attempted kindness of his thoughts toward Mr. Dale, he could have stamped him into the dust after the schoolmistress had told him blandly, with a sidewise glance, at dinner-time, that Doris Owen and the boarder had stopped and treated the children to apples at recess-time that day, and they seemed to be having a sight of fun together. "They were splendid pippins," she added, indiscreetly, a few minutes afterward, to increase the effect of her first announcement. But Dan cast a contemptuous glance at her in return, and then felt shaky and accused himself afresh. Doris was bringing them to him. She always laughed because he liked them so much and hunted for them in the apple bins. Doris liked him now, if she had ever liked him, and he grew more eager to see her again, if only to know the width of the breach his ugly actions had put between them.
Note for Chapter 12
a Miss Nancy: an effeminate man.
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Late Saturday evening, Mrs. Lawton, Dan's mother, heard with great joy the sound of wheels in her narrow yard, and quickly taking a light, though the moon was at its full, she went to the side door. Dan greeted her with unusual cheerfulness as she asked, in a worn and feeble voice that contrasted poorly with his own, if he had received the summons she had sent him in the morning.
"I suppose you've got a split shingle on the shed-roof, or some such heavy piece of work," he answered. "Mrs. Dennell said you were all right yourself, so far as she could see."
The wagon shafts fell to the ground, and Dan was already clattering at the stable door; then the horse stumbled up the single step, and his master spoke to him now and then in loud tones, as he moved about, impatient with the delay of his supper. Mrs. Lawton still stood at the door holding the lamp, though the wind had blown it out some minutes before, when her son came toward her, along the moonlighted path. He laughed at the useless lamp, and the eager woman was filled with confusion; then they went into the small house together.
Dan threw his hat on a side table, pushed up a window, and seated himself beside it; the old cat came crying to his side, and not receiving at once the desired recognition, jumped into his lap and nestled down, purring loudly. Mrs. Lawton was busy trying to light the lamp again, but she let one match go out, and dropped another on the floor, and finally upset the match-box itself with a loud clatter. The moon shone into the room, and Dan looked round compassionately, and began to laugh at her disasters. She had not seen him in such good spirits for several weeks, and it was a great reward for her anxiety to have him at home again in such good trim. In her solitary, uneventful days, she had plenty of time to worry about Dan. Her past experience of life had certainly given good cause for some fear of the future.
"Never mind the light," he said; "it's as bright as day here. Come and sit down, and don't flitter about so, mother; you make me think of a singed moth-miller. I've had my supper, you know. I didn't get away much before seven o'clock."
There was finally a successful attempt at illumination, and the little woman came toward her son and put her hand on his shoulder. "Now I've got something to tell you, Danny," she said, and her voice was shaking with excitement.
The man's mind was filled with one thought, and something made him fear to hear news of Doris Owen and another lover than himself.
"Is Doris" - He spoke fiercely, but could not finish his sentence, and the mother's quick intuition possessed itself of his secret in that single moment.
"'Doris?'" she repeated, wonderingly; for why should he have thought of her then, even though he always thought of her most? "No. I had a letter from out West yesterday; that is, it came for you, and I didn't send it over. I was afraid something might happen; a letter is so easy to lose. That's why I sent word, to be sure you'd come home. It's about that property Simeon invested some of your father's means in; it's all of it yours, you know. They say it's getting to have a great value. Poor Simeon, I always thought he meant to do for the best."
Dan stood up suddenly, and the cat fell to the floor, much to her surprise and displeasure. "Where is the letter?" he asked.
"I'll find it in a minute. I put it somewhere so I could lay my hand right on it the minute you got here," and she made a fruitless excursion to her bedroom, which was next the room where they were. "I've found it!" she exclaimed at last, delightedly. "Here's the lamp." She stood beside him, watching his face while he read.
The letter was not long, and the young man smiled as he gave it back to her. "I should like more of the same sort," he said. "I'm not going to sell it, either, until I know more than this. They'd try to get the land as low as they could, and most like take advantage, if the owner was as far off as I am. I may have to go out there," he added, with a tone of pride and determination.
"I should take advice of Israel Owen," said the mother gravely. "You haven't had much experience in such things."
"Don't be fearful," said Dan, wishing all the while it were not too late to go to the farm that very evening. "I'm equal to managing my own affairs," he added, with feigned disregard of any such desire.
"Yes," said Mrs. Lawton, "you're all I could ask, my son. I shall be pleased to see you a well-off man. I haven't anything to hope for myself. You've kept me better than you need this good while. But there, it's natural you should be thinking about somebody else besides me." She sighed somewhat wistfully, and wished for a moment that she could always know that her son was her very own, and see no other woman caring for him and taking the first place. It was not very often they felt so near each other as they did that night, and she pushed back her chair to give him space, as he went walking to and fro, only a few steps each way, in the low room. He was a fine-looking fellow; any mother might be proud of him. Now he could live on his own place, and give up his trade, no matter if it were so enviable a place as master smith of the best ship-yard. Now he would be likely to marry. He was proud, Dan was, and had not meant, she was already sure, to speak to Doris Owen until he was independent.
"I wonder if Doris will feel pleased?" she said, almost unconsciously; and Dan stood still, with a smouldering light in his eyes, which looked black and stormy.
"I should have said so a month ago, mother," he answered defiantly; "but I don't know now. There's no telling about you women. I never have cared for nobody but her, though I've made no talk about it. I shouldn't to-night if you didn't speak first. If I can't marry her, I shall live single, - that's all; and the harder I have to work, the better. I shall want something to make me forget I've lost what I've always wanted. I'll let the money go hang."
The troubled and startled woman rose, and went quickly to her son's side. Dan sat by the square table, and had dropped his head on his arms. She patted his shoulder with a light hand that trembled a little; somehow, her pleasures were apt to have a bitter ending and go wrong. She wondered if he were crying, - Dan never cried; but presently she heard a sob; and the broad shoulder shook under her touch. "Don't, dear, don't!" she whispered, anxiously; "'t will all come right. You're just like your father, and I couldn't have said him nay. Girls will be girls, Dan, and she's waiting, most like, for you to speak. There ain't a thing that's unworthy about Doris. She favors the Owens, and I know 'em root an' branch."
Dan looked up presently. His eyes were blue again, now, and when his mother's hand had stroked his hair, and he felt the worn, thin fingers touch his neck, it had sent a thrill of comfort to his very heart. Poor little mother! He stooped down and kissed her as tenderly as if she were Doris, before he went to bed. "Faint heart never won fair lady," he said, and tried to laugh; but her shock of delight and surprise at his unwonted caress reflected itself back to him, and as he stood looking down at her, his own eyes were suddenly and provokingly blurred. She was so little and frail in her scant old dress, and had such a patient, hard-worked look; he remembered that people said she had been a pretty girl. He wondered if he had not been too rough for her sometimes; she was the kind of woman that cannot stand alone, and wants to be taken care of. Confound old Lawton, who made a drudge of her! But Dan all at once understood why the lonely woman had been persuaded to yoke herself to him. After all, this piece of land might serve a good turn. And Doris, - was she really waiting for him to speak, after all? What a fool he had been! Her eyes had sought his face pleadingly when he went snarling to the wagon to speak to her.
It was long to wait until the morrow; and the white, bright moonlight kept him awake, as if some fate insisted on prolonging the delay. The wind was blowing a little, and a lilac bush outside brushed against the clapboards just as it did when he was a boy. Sometimes, even then, he used to lie awake and think of Doris Owen, and he remembered a dream which had seemed very real: for the boy Israel, his dear playmate, had come to him, - not in his soldier clothes, but wearing his old school-boy jacket and boyish face, - and stood by the bedside, and begged him to go and live at the farm. Dan Lester had gone to the war, too; he had seen his playmate fall, and had dragged him back within the lines at the peril of his own life. His thoughts were rarely so busy as in this still night, as he grew by turns hopeful and fearful of his fate.
Note for Chapter 13
moth-miller: any moth having powdery wings.
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Early the next morning, Dale disappeared from the farmhouse, meaning to spend most of the day out-of-doors. Doris's boat did not usually leave its anchorage on Sunday, so he borrowed it without hesitation, and drifted seaward with the ebbing tide along the winding highways of the marshes, changing his point of view just fast enough, and idly watching the clouds and the landscape in his slow progress. He was not uncomfortable, leaning back against an oar which he had put behind him across the boat, and he wielded the other oar skillfully to push the light craft off the shore, against which it not seldom came to a full stop. The country was brilliant with autumn tints, and often the glimpses of it were charming to his eyes; for the water was low in the creeks, and the black mud at the sides, topped by the still luxuriant bending grasses, made a pleasant framing. The day promised to be hot, but it was cool weather in the deep channels, and he had a sense of being sheltered and hidden securely. The great dragon-flies followed him, as if they had left everything in their surprise and excitement, and sometimes three or four alighted together, glistening against his dull-colored clothes like fairy marauders in full armor. As he leaned over the side of the boat, the small fishes and occasional crabs did not seem disturbed by the gliding shadow; they might have thought it a natural part of their calm existence, until the plash of an oar sent them off in alarm. After half the morning was spent, this leisurely navigator found himself fairly stranded at an absurdly short distance from the Marsh Island; but the tide being almost out, there was nothing to do but to go ashore and wait for it to rise again. The bank sloped conveniently, and he scrambled up and providently pulled the light dory after him, and fastened the painter to a bush. He had often looked across from the farm uplands to this smaller island in the salt grass; but it was larger than he had fancied it, and the beech and oak-trees had reached a good size, and were dropping their ungathered nuts into the thickets and coarse grass beneath. Two or three squirrels scolded at him from a safe distance. He seated himself in the shade, and looked across the level reaches of the sea-meadows, which had begun to shimmer in the summer-like heat. The small beech-trees that grew near made the light purple and soft that fell on the frayed whitish carpeting of their last year's leaves, and presently he grew drowsy, and turned over to put his arm under his head; and there he lay, sound asleep, at his lazy length, - a fair, untroubled knight, one would say, though his mind had lately perplexed itself harshly enough.
The country wagons had just rattled churchward along the East Road, their two seats crowded full for the most part, with small children wedged between the grown people, much hotter than was comfortable already. For a wonder, Doris had pleaded fatigue, and announced her intention of staying at home. It was a long drive to the village, and Israel Owen and his wife decided to spend the noon at a cousin's, as was not infrequently their custom. Temperance Kipp always passed the day of rest with her sister, and Jim Fales had gone to his mother's, a mile or two away. Doris would keep house, she said. There was always a cold lunch at noon on Sundays at the farm. Nobody knew when Mr. Dale would be likely to return, and the unused horses had been led out early to join their four-footed companions in the pasture. There would really be nothing to do. Martha Owen looked over her shoulder once or twice at Doris, as she drove away. The girl seemed unlike herself, and had been pale and intent ever since she came home from Sussex, though she answered her mother's questions about the expedition, and even her interview with Dan Lester, with her usual frankness. The more the elder woman revolved in her mind Temperance's bit of news, the more respect she was inclined to pay it. Dan Lester was almost like one of themselves already, though she had not been pleased with him of late; he would be very well off now. The castles in the air, of which she had fancied young Dale the ruler, began to betray their unsubstantial foundation, and Dan's cause ventured to assert a likeness to the bird in the hand which is valued by all persons of discretion. And when, at a cross-road, they met Dan in his shining new buggy, driving his mother to meeting, Mrs. Owen gave him a most friendly salutation.
Alas that Dan, disappointed at seeing the vacant place on the front seat beside the kind old farmer, should have fancied the greeting to be one of exultation and defiance, or approval of the fact that Doris had stayed at home, to enjoy the artist's company.
Doris had seen Dick Dale turn to the eastward as he went up through the orchard, and instinctively set her own face to the westward when she also wandered out-of-doors. The house had seemed hot, for a wonder, and the crickets and their relations of the harsh voices chirped and hissed with August-like fervor outside the windows. She tried to read, but presently the paper slid to the floor, and as she passed out of the door the old clock ticked louder than usual, as if it were calling her back: "Don't - Do - ris - don't - Do - ris," but she willfully went away, for all that. She did not like the stillness of the old place, - an empty house of that age grows full of the presences that are felt, but not seen, - and she kept on her way steadily up the hill, and left the doors open behind her, so that whoever chose might go in and keep holiday.
This was true, that she felt the vague pain and sense of discomfort which are apt to foretell the great changes of our lives. She wished that her existence might have swept on in the familiar fashion of which she had never complained. Was love a happiness, or life a satisfaction, or friendship a certainty, if Dan Lester, whose affection had been so constant and so evident, could doubt her and shame her before a stranger? The gentleness and courtesy of Mr. Dale himself might be safer qualities to rely upon. She had neither promised Dan anything nor given him cause for jealousy. There was no need that he should call to her in the way he did before the haymakers, that night at the landing, but she had been sorry enough if she had shown unkind resentment. Indeed, she could think of a dozen times when she had spoken with more impatience, and even slighted him and teased him far more. Why could not people be more generous to you when they loved you than when they were simply friends? She could not forgive Dan's surliness. If she had cared less for him, she would not have gone to him there in Sussex; and the blood crimsoned her cheeks at the thought of such undeserved humiliation. The natural instinct that had waited and reached out unconsciously for a lover was wounded and thrust back, to be recognized with shame and sorrow. Doris Owen was a woman who would be comparatively useless in a solitary life. Hers was a nature incomplete without its mate, and incapable of reaching its possible successes alone. She had been more ready to make the great choice than she thought, and nearer the solution of the problem which now seemed entirely new and strange. Perhaps it was necessary that she should apparently take a step backward and approach the crisis again before consenting irrevocably to her fate.
Doris felt rather than thought these things as she climbed the easy ascent; she would have been too much shocked if her true ideas had been put into words. Where the hill grew steeper, she changed her direction, and left the shade of the great apple-trees to go through the peach orchard. Here the sunshine was steeping everything through and through; the fruits stored it away, and in return gave out into the air something of their fine fragrance and mellowness. The slender trees were filled with a rare vigor and elasticity, and held up their too heavy burden of half-faded leaves and delicate laden branches as if they were getting a new lease of life. The thick grass was spotted with brilliant windfalls, and bees went buzzing by, rich with their plunder from this late harvest. Doris walked lightly among the company of trees, and presently her drooped head was also lifted up, as if the kind sun had drawn and strengthened it, and her face began to free itself from clouds, like a clearing sky. A fair young girl of out-door growth and flower-like fashioning, a sweet-faced wife for any man to win and cherish, she passed fleet-footed over the autumn grass. Her light dress flitted between the peach-trees and hid itself behind the hedge-row of hazel-nut bushes and young wild-cherries. At last Doris stood on a high slope, a white figure against the blue sky, where the sea-breeze found her; and since the inland country looked warm and inhospitable, this zephyr turned, and went no further.
There was no reason why she should go back to the house for a long time yet. Her half-outgrown childish love of wandering far and wide took possession of her, and remembering all in a moment that the beech-nuts on the small island nearest her must be nearly ripe, and that the tide was out, she went slowly down the pasture and across the marsh. She had told Mr. Dale once that she thought the most beautiful time of the year was the late spring, when the marshes were growing green, but her own country-side never had seemed more delightful than it did that Sunday morning. She questioned, with pain and foreboding, if she must ever leave it. She put aside so needless a fear, and was grateful to the stranger within the gates for teaching her by his own delight to see the beauty that she had never half understood. Doris wondered where he had gone, - he was sure to be keeping one of the ten commandments and doing no work. . . . They could not be too thankful to so kind a friend, who valued their friendship and service beyond what it was worth, and returned it in every way thrice over. He was like the young men in the best stories that Doris knew, - she had often told herself that, - and her heart gave a little flutter of uncertainty. Poor Dan! he was really just as kind at heart and full of pleasant thoughts; but he was a country fellow, and lacked the ways of the world and the gift of ready speech. She could not think what had made him behave so strangely, and the recent hurt began to ache again.
The noonday sun was very hot, after all, and she was glad at last to reach the shelter of the spreading trees of the little island. The young beeches at the edge of the thicket were turning yellow, but inside they were untouched by frost or ripening. The oaks were dull red here and there on the outer branches, and Doris laughed at a squirrel which felt it necessary to perch on a fallen tree and menace her with whisking tail and indignant chatter. The squirrels had always acted as if this island were their own; it was a favorite trapping-ground of Israel's. She gathered some late blackberries, as she went pushing her way through the tangle; she well remembered a grassy place under the largest beech on the seaward side, where the air might be cooler. Just as she could look out through the drooping boughs at the bright, hot levels beyond, she was startled at the sight of the bow of her own small white boat with the blue stripe, drawn up on the bank of the narrow creek, and here, almost at her feet, lay Mr. Richard Dale, sound asleep.
She turned instantly, but the rustle and cracking of the bushes had waked him. He sprang to his feet, looking quite stupid and amazed, and slowly caught a spider that was spinning down from his hair. Then he regained his wits entirely, and looked at his disturber with a laugh. "Where did you come from, Doris?" he asked. "You must have taken the hay-boat; the other was gone, so I had to steal yours. The tide must be quite out by this time."
"The tide is coming in," said the girl. "I must hurry back, or I cannot cross some of the low places. I walked over the marsh; it isn't very far, and easy enough if you only know the way. When the tide is half high, you must take a longer way round."
"I should lose myself, at any rate," answered Dick; "at least, I should never escape by land. There is something mysterious about the marshes to me. Sit down," he said, more gently. "How hot it has grown! Why not wait until the creek fills again, and we can go back in the boat together? I am by no means sure I know the way;" at which they both laughed, and felt more at ease. Dick shook himself like a wet dog; he was adorned with dead leaves and bits of twig, and sleepy yet, if the truth were told. Then he sat down on the grass, and Doris followed his example, and as she leaned back against the beech-tree's broad trunk, she was not displeased with the unexpected turn of affairs. Dick picked up a sound beech-nut that some squirrel had dropped by mistake, and, cutting off one of the trig three-cornered sides, offered it to his guest.
"I wish I had brought some peaches," she said. "I just came through the orchard."
"It was very odd that we both should have come to this same spot of ground," the young man observed meditatively. "Sometimes I think there are all sorts of powers and forces doing what they please with us, for good or bad reasons of their own."
"We are taught to believe that one power is, aren't we?" asked Doris timidly. "But always for our own good."
"Yes," slowly assented Dick, as if the fact were not always so clear to him as he wished; and then, with renewed interest, "I always liked the notion of our having guardian angels. I should like to know if it is true?"
Doris flushed: she was not used to talking in a familiar way of such grave subjects, but she could not help answering, "I always have thought so ever since I was a little girl," she began hesitatingly. "It always seems as if there were one angel who follows me all the time, and tries to keep me back when I am going to do wrong, and is set to take care of me. Don't you know" - and she became very earnest - "that when you forget things, or can't remember where you leave things, something outside yourself reminds you? Not your memory or your conscience; something outside you," Doris repeated. "I wonder if we don't have friends in the unseen world."
"Perhaps," the young man said gravely. "I really don't know why not." He was touched by the strange beauty of Doris's face now when she was deeply moved. She was paler than usual, even after her walk; she was like another creature from the busy week-day girl who went and came with the elder women at the farmhouse. She almost always had a grave sweetness. There was surely a most uncommon quality in both her nature and her father's.
"Doris," said Dick, in a brotherly way, "I think you did not like me when I first came to the farm."
Doris was silent. Then he glanced up, to find her looking at him with surprise and bewilderment; it might have been because she was called back unkindly from some reverie.
"I did not know you," she answered. "I hardly thought about you until you hurt your foot. But we are all so glad you came, now; it has been a great deal of company for father, and mother gets very tired of doing the same things over and over. I think she would like to live where there is more going on."
"Would you like that, too?" asked Dick softly, and then was persuaded that Doris's belief in a spiritual guardian was well founded; he felt such an unexpected sense of remonstrance.
"No, indeed," answered Doris simply. "I like home better every year;" and suddenly an invisible quality in the air, a subtle intoxication that had something to do with Dick's question, sent its influence into Doris's heart, and for the first time she could not look Dick in the face. She wondered how she might escape, not so much from him as from her appalling self.
There was a terrible silence, and the longer it continued the more convicting it grew. Dick Dale did not speak again, - he did not know what hindered him; in that moment his heart beat very fast. Was Doris waiting to hear his voice? Was this his fate and happiness, and was his future in this woman's keeping?
The breath of enchantment was quickly gone, and they became their familiar selves again, yet with a difference. Dale, at any rate, felt a faint sense of mistake and dissappointment, and went away without a word when Doris said that she thought they must go back now, if the boat would float in the creek. She looked at him appealingly as he helped her to her place, and only smiled when he demanded the oars which she had taken.
"I have not rowed for a long time," she said in excuse, and pulled with strong, steady stroke, as if it were a relief and welcome defense against threatened discomfort. "You would not know the meadows in winter," she said once. "They look so dead and desolate, with great black cracks in the ice, like scars; and at night you can hear a noise as if the tide were caught and trying to get itself free. I am always so glad when the gulls and crows are thick, and it is getting near to spring."
"No," said Dale to himself, "I don't believe I could stand the long winter. Town is the place when the snow comes." But he wished, none the less, that he could make the winter delay its coming. He did not like to have Doris row the boat, and a great insecurity and indecision took possession of him. Should he dare to speak to Doris? He wondered what he would think of it to-morrow; but he called himself a coward, as they landed a little later, and he walked back to the still-deserted farmhouse by her side. The old place had arrayed itself against him while he had been away. He felt curiously distinct and separate from his surroundings just then, and yet as if he must use all his powers of resistance if he would keep himself apart. Did fate mean to graft him to this strong old growth, and was the irresistible sap from that centre of life already making its way through his veins? Was an unlocalized, a disestablished human being at the mercy of a possible system of spiritual economies, so that he was to be held to a spot that was lacking in what he might supply? If a man did not see his duty and opportunity with his own eyes, must he be attracted by a magnet-like necessity? But what was this broken, nay, even mutilated, household to him, even though the strange suggestion of his likeness to the young soldier who lay in the orchard burying-ground would flit through his bewildered mind? There was a new glamour over everything: at one moment he reveled in it, and then as suddenly feared and distrusted it, while a faint indignation returned again and again and troubled him because he had been thus taken by surprise.
All the time that Dale's thoughts were attacking him like an angry and desperate mob, Doris walked at his side, so sweet and self-possessed, so staid and Sunday-like, that her presence was the only thing that quieted the confusion she herself was making. Never before had this girl looked so slender and full of life, so kissable and dear. Presently she turned toward him wÿth almost perfect composure; there was only a little look of affectionate solicitude to show that they had just come a long way nearer each other's consciousness.
"I will go up to the orchard and get some peaches for your lunch, Mr. Dale," she said. "The best ones are just getting ripe;" and Doris went away slowly up the hillside, through the long autumn grass, into the shadow of the fruit-trees. Dick could not follow her, but for some minutes he stood still. What a picture for a man to paint! What a woman for a man to love! Ah, if Doris had looked over her shoulder in that minute! But the white dress was lost among the shady apple-trees, Dick sighed, and well he might; the enchantress had passed by, and her spell had passed with her. An eager song-sparrow flew upward, singing bravely, and for once the blessed notes jarred upon the young man's ear.
He climbed the stairs to the spinning-room. The light southwesterly wind sent a cloud of cigar-smoke through the northeasterly window after a few minutes, and as Doris came down the hill she saw this, and smiled. A little later she brought some bread and a blue plate full of great crimson and yellow peaches, and put them on the table. Dick, who held a book in his hand, nodded, and thanked Doris politely, but she had already turned away. She was hardly at the foot of the steep stairway before he had left his chair and dropped the book on the floor. He stood still, eager, irresolute. Was he a fool or a wise man? - but he saw her no more that afternoon. There was enough else to do. He had letters to answer, for one thing; but Dick could not write; he kept making dots and squares and curious little marks with his pen all over the blotting paper, instead. Neither could he read, for he heard the ripe apples fall to the ground, and saw a gray spider spin its web and lie in wait for flies. At last he heard the elder Owens drive into the yard, and bravely appeared as a listener to the news they had brought home from meeting. A strange pleasure filled his heart at the sight of Israel Owen's honest face. The good man seemed more familiar to him than he did to himself.
Notes for Chapter 14
bird in the hand: The proverb has multiple forms, the most familiar to Americans being, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." This is from Cervantes's Don Quixote Part 1 (1605), Book IV, Chapter 4.
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stranger within the gates ... ten commandments:See Exodus 20:8-11 for the fourth commandment.
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trig: neat, trim, sound, in good condition.
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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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