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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
Early the next morning Doris and her father set forth on their long drive to the outer shore. It would have been hard to say which of them was most pleased with the prospect of this expedition. Doris had looked unwontedly gratified, and even relieved, when she accepted the invitation, as they sat together at breakfast, and indeed was ready some time before there was any need of it, and stood waiting in the yard with almost childish impatience. Israel Owen was in a most placid and serene mood, but tried to take the unusual pleasure as indifferently as possible, and consulted his wife with gratifying deference as to the best bargain that might be made for some hay. He was going to hold a solemn business conference with the overseer and manager of a large estate on the neighboring sea-coast.
Mrs. Owen was mildly excited, and called loudly after her husband, when he was fairly out of the yard, not to make an out-and-out present of his hay-mow to those who would never thank him for it; then she returned to the kitchen, and became stolid and silent. Temperance Kipp was also silent for a time, but increasingly energetic, and kept hurrying from room to room, driving before her an alarmed flock of resourceless flies. She complained of this unseasonable escort, and bewailed the fact once or twice that when fall flies hived into the house in that fashion they were always a sign of changing weather. "I urged the 'Square not to ride way over there in the open wagon," she mentioned reproachfully, "and all he had to say was that he wanted the sun on him. I hope 't won't come on a cold rain this afternoon." But the mistress of the house preserved a scornful indifference, as if she had resolved never to make another futile protest against waywardness and folly.
There was a great deal to be done that day, but neither of the elder women had offered the slightest opposition to Doris's taking a holiday, or seemed offended by her absence. Indeed, it was an evident relief for the time being, and the current of affairs presently flowed with its usual tranquility. Temperance would have liked to put more of her thoughts into speech, but Martha Owen judiciously continued to hold her peace and conceal whatever excitement she may have felt.
"Seems to me it feels like old times," Temperance ventured, as she bent over the ironing-board. "There, I should really miss doin' up Mr. Dale's shirts, if he was to go away. They do polish so handsome. This one's a-beginnin' to crack out a little. Everything he buys is good quality, and it's the best economy, certain. I wonder if he's goin' to get back before afternoon?"
Meanwhile, Doris was growing more and more pleased with the day's enterprise. To be sure, there were clouds in the sky, but they afforded a subject for discussion rather than alarm, and the weather suited exactly. The young girl looked pale at first, but the light wind and warm sunshine soon brought a flicker of bright color into her cheeks, where her father quickly saw it and rejoiced. "They've tormented her about to pieces, amongst them," he assured himself, and struck at a bee, which had alighted on the horse's neck, with his clumsy, long-lashed whip. "Let them work, I say. Young folks will be young folks;" and presently, where the Sussex road branched off, he determinedly passed it by, though the other highway made their journey two or three miles longer. "I thought I'd just look in to see how Asher's folks are gettin' on," he explained. "We might as well make a good day of it, and go one road and come the other. Don't you say so, Doris?"
Doris smiled assent. "What a long while it is since we have been over this way, father!" she said.
"The country does look handsome, for the time of the year," the farmer announced. "I believe I feel just like having a play-time myself. It makes me think of when you used to go ridin' about with me, when you were a little girl. I recollect one time I thought I couldn't get along without you. Why, you used to want to be set up on the horse's back and ride forwards an' back in the furrows, when I was ploughing; and one spell you used to get right on to the plough, and roll off sometimes, too," and they both laughed at this reminiscence.
Doris remembered that she had been with her father less than usual the last few months, and felt very sorry. She would not forget his pleasure in that way again. He must have missed her more than she had suspected; but he was in unusually good spirits that morning.
"Seems to me you're dressed up pretty smart to go travelin' with a rusty old farmer like me. I believe I should ha' put on my best co't," said Israel; and they laughed together again, and looked at one another affectionately.
"I like you best as you are," the girl answered shyly. "I should think we felt strange:" but she did not meet her father's eyes again; they were both too conscious of each other's thought.
Many a man and woman gave the travelers a pleasant greeting, as they jogged along. They stopped before other doors than Asher's, and told the news and heard it with equal satisfaction. One observant neighbor took a shrewd look at Doris, and gave an opinion that she was looking a little peaked; at which Mr. Owen was startled, and stole a glance at his daughter, who eagerly insisted that she was very well. The father had a somewhat uncanny gift for understanding secrets that were not told him; especially those concealed with the care which is complete betrayal to such intuition. He seemed possessed to-day by an unusual spirit of observation, and presently, after neither had spoken for a few minutes, Doris found him directing significant glances at her hands, which were clasped together, holding the pair of unused gloves which her mother had suggested at the last moment before they left home.
"Seems to me some o' the rest of 'em might do the apple-parin'," he said, half to himself. "You'll spile your pretty fingers, Doris."
"Why, father!" exclaimed the girl, appealingly; and Israel Owen was much disturbed by the alarm and surprised awakening of her tone.
"'T wa'n't wise," he reflected, and struck at the horse's ear again. "I don't know what my wits are about to-day;" and then he laughed aloud, as unconcernedly as possible, and said, "Blamed if I don't hit him next time!" as if the eluding bee were really his chief object of thought. The father and daughter had been seldom troubled by such self-consciousness. The even flow of their home-life had lately been fretted by unaccustomed currents, and it was impossible to keep a straight course. But Doris smiled when the whip-lash proved itself invincible, and the horse, bewildered by such unusual strokes, darted along the road. The bee had done old Major no harm by lighting so persistently on his already thickened coat, but its presence served the driver an excellent turn.
"I declare, I do feel glad to be out-of-door to-day," said the farmer, quite himself again. "I've been under cover seeing to the fruit, and so on, and I begun to feel sort of hustled. You brought along something besides this little cape o' yourn, didn't you, sister? We're likely to have it cooler down to the shore. I declare, this is a sightly place!" and he stopped the horse at the top of a hill, under a great maple-tree, while a flock of the early fallen leaves came racing toward them along the ground, like a crowd of children at play. "There, you get a plain view here, if you do anywhere; the country lays itself out like a map. See the shipping down Westmarket way. The masts are in thick as bean-poles, all ready to take a lot of poor fellows out an' sink 'em," the old landsman grumbled, as he looked toward the white town clustered about a distant harbor side.
"I never noticed before what a little ways it is from home right across. It can't be half so far as it is by the nearest road," said Doris, as they went on again. "See, father, you get across our marsh, and then row over to the great white beach, and cross the sand heaps to the back river and go up over the quarry hills, and right down into Westmarket!"
"I have followed that road many a time, when I was younger," answered Mr. Owen, turning to look back at the lowlands. "I used to think 't was a good deal farther than need be, too, when I was travelin' back and forwards from the harbor, courtin' your mother. The folks at home thought I wasn't old enough to know my own mind, and didn't favor us no great;" and Israel Owen smiled with an unforgotten sense of triumph, while Doris grew sober again. It had been very comfortable to forget herself for a few minutes.
"Somehow, everything looks pleasant to-day," she said. "Perhaps you'll get through in time to go to Westmarket. I want to do some shopping, and mother always likes to hear from there."
"The days aren't so long as they have been," said the farmer sagely. "We'll see what we can do, Doris," and presently they were in the lower country again.
It was a famous day for crows: from one field after another a flight of them took heavily to their wings, and, as if unwillingly, mounted to the higher air. They cawed loudly, and appeared to have business of a public nature on hand. Some were migrating, and others were contemptuously rebuking these wanderers, and making their arrangements to winter in their familiar woods: it was all a great chatter and clatter and commotion. The affairs of human beings were but trivial in comparison. Helpless creatures, who crept to and fro on the face of the earth, and were drawn about by captive animals of lesser intellect, were not worth noticing, and the great black birds sailed magnificently down the sky, with the fresh breeze cool in their beaks and the sunlight shining on their sombre wings. Whatever might be said of their morals, they were masters of the air, and could fly, while men could not. Doris watched them with childlike pleasure, perhaps with a faint instinctive recognition of the ancient auspices; the home people had always laughed at her fancy for the crows ever since she could remember.
The end of the journey was reached; the business talk was promptly begun, and, finding that the owners of the great house has gone away to town, Doris left the wagon, and went strolling toward the shore. The noise of the sea sounded louder and nearer than usual, as if a storm were coming or the tide just turning; the gray snow-birds were fluttering and calling one another in the thickets, as she went by. It was not the first time that she had driven to this place with her father. He had sold hay here for many years, and the Marsh Island was one of the reservoirs upon which the luxurious housekeeping depended for its supplies. The people themselves sometimes came over to the farm, and there was a pleasant bond of interest and respect between the two families. Mrs. Owen had fretted and planned about Doris's appearance, but the girl herself was glad when she saw the great house deserted and in winter order, though she looked at it with a new curiosity and eagerness which she could hardly have explained.
The horse had been fastened and the two men had disappeared before Doris was fairly across the lawn, and she was glad enough. She liked the freedom of her solitary ramble, and presently went round to the side of the house next the sea, and seated herself on the broad balustrade, among the frost-bitten vines that had shaded and adorned the wide piazza all summer. Below, on a terrace, the hardier flowers were still blooming, and she wondered that any home could seem more enticing than this. It had almost an appealing look to her, with its deserted garden and so noble an outlook and surrounding. She never had felt so close a sympathy with this more involved and complex mode of existence. This all belonged in a way to Mr. Dale, and was familiar to him; it was the sort of life he had always lived, and she was familiar with Mr. Dale.
A quick flush showed itself for a moment on her cheek, as she spoke his name in her thoughts. She looked along the house front, and rose to peep wistfully in at the heart-shaped hole of the nearest window shutter; but this was not the most satisfactory thing in the world, and she turned to break a blossoming tendril of the late morning-glories that had sheltered themselves under the cornice. Then she went down the steps that were littered with fallen leaves, and along the path that led to the cliffs and the sea. The great hemlocks and pines had conquered their territory, and stood strong and vigorous among the ledges; the barberry bushes were bright with fruit, and the song-sparrows played at summer sports and kept a famous holiday. Doris stopped in the tennis court to hear them sing, and looked round delightedly at the quaint place, with its high walls of the rough stone of the hill on three sides, and the fading hollyhocks that had stood discreetly back out of the way of the players all summer. The grass was smooth and as green as ever; a tall poplar that stood on the ledge above had been dropping down some of its yellow leaves, and the warm sunshine was filling every corner of the windless pleasure-ground. Nothing had ever spoken so plainly to this girl of the pursuit of amusement which belongs to many lives. She thought with almost contempt of the idle ways of rich people, having been brought face to face with a sterner fashion of things; and then a more generous sense of the added care and responsibility of such householding as this made her go on her way bewildered and yet contented. Just beyond Doris found a seat for herself on the brown pine needles, beside a great green juniper, where she could look down over the rocks and see the white waves come tumbling in from the open sea. One might say of her that she had been confronted with a materialization of her vague ambitions and hopes, and that these shapes of luxury and worldly consequence were by no means without power. The crows kept up a desperate argument with each other overhead, and for the first time in her life Doris thought them too clamorous and obtrusive, as they balanced themselves clumsily on the high branches of the pine-trees. What should she do, - or rather, what was going to be done with her? Her life was not familiar and easily lived any more, poor Doris! She shrank from the great blue sea as if it were her own future of surprise and uncertainty; the friendly country-side of her childhood all lay behind her. She felt as if she were on the verge of a greater sea, which might prove either wonderful happiness or bitter misery; and confused and dismayed by her loyalty to both her lovers, she hid her face in her hands. If she only knew what to do! Yet it was too plain that she must and could do nothing. Poor Dan! - and she rose quickly to her feet, frightened at the first sober thought of him. Nothing should make her hurt his feelings again; there was a great gulf between her and the realization of such silly dreams of splendor. Dan was part of herself, and closer than she knew to all her pleasure. An odd, choking tenderness possessed her at the remembrance of his words the last time they had been together. No matter if there were somebody by to hear, the very next time she saw Dan she would tell him how it happened that she had been out in the boat with Mr. Dale Sunday morning. Dan would be sure to come round; he never had been so bad-tempered before, and his fits of anger, ever since she could remember, had been quick to come and quick to go. Dan's honest cheerfulness, his generosity, his merry laughter, were much more familiar than this late uncharacteristic behavior. The situation already seemed less tragical, and by the time her father came to look for her Doris was quite herself again.
Mr. Owen had evidently made a good bargain without any painful preliminaries or opposition, for he was in excellent spirits, and exchanged time-honored jokes with his patron on the propriety of hauling the hay in wet weather, to make it weigh more. The guardian of the place looked at Doris with undisguised admiration, and at parting presented her with a noble bunch of hot-house grapes.
"He makes a sight of money there," said the farmer, as they drove away toward Westmarket. "He's a single man, too," and crafty Israel stole a sly look at his daughter to see if she were displeased, whereupon she laughed aloud, in spite of herself, her hopes and fears, and even her grave responsibilities. All the way to Westmarket they talked with great freedom and satisfaction, and each apparently forgot the constraint that had bound them earlier in the day. They visited a cousin in the town, and enjoyed better than usual the brief association with a more bustling life than was known within the farm limits. Doris's father inclined toward lavish generosity when they were in the shops together, and seemed as pleased as a boy with the holiday. There was a new schooner lying at one of the wharves near the street, and he stopped the horse to take a good look at the pretty craft, with her clean white sails and unused rigging. There were men busy aloft, and hurrying to and fro on the deck. "Seems to me they're in a great drive," said the farmer. "She won't look so smart when they git her back here, if ever. Doris, another year I shouldn't wonder if you and me and mother went to New York, or somewheres off. She's always desirin' to travel, mother is, and I don't know but 't would keep the barnacles off of us. Young Dale was saying the other day that whenever I'd come he'd show me all round everywhere, and make me enjoy myself the best he could. What do you say now?" and without waiting for an answer to his enthusiastic proposal, the good man started his horse quickly up the street, as if that were the first stage of such a distinguished journey.
Notes for Chapter 19
morals ... ancient auspices: Crows are commonly characterized as thieves. See for example, Jewett's "A Landlocked Sailor." While crows and other birds often appear in prophetic roles in ancient literature, Jewett may refer to the raven that Noah sent from the ark to learn when the great flood had subsided. See Genesis 8:7.
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barberry bushes ... song sparrows: The barberry is "A shrub (Berberis vulgaris) found native in Europe and N. America, with spiny shoots, and pendulous racemes of small yellow flowers, succeeded by oblong, red, sharply acid berries; the bark yields a bright yellow dye." (Source: Oxford English Dictionary). The song sparrow is "A common North American song-bird of the genus Melospiza, esp. M. fasciata (or melodia) and cinerea." (Source: Oxford English Dictionary).
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Supper was an unusually grave occasion that evening, and somehow everybody was made to feel responsible for the general infelicity. Mr. Owen alone made gallant attempts to be cheerful and talkative, but his wife did not come to the table at all, being pretentiously busy in the outer kitchen, and still in that frame of mind which did not invite friendly intercourse. The artist had been far afield all the afternoon, but, contrary to his usual habit, he put away his sketches without displaying them, and came down from the studio after dark, looking quite frost-bitten. The weather had grown very bleak and cold toward night, and the farmer several times bewailed the effect of a possible black frost upon his ungathered fruit. There was, altogether, a disheartening suggestion of approaching winter, and even the door of the outer kitchen, which Mrs. Owen kept throwing open in a willful, aggressive way, admitted a provoking draught of chilly air.
If Doris were chief offender of the family peace, her companions could not find it hard to be forgiving: she never had been more appealing in her gentleness and power of attraction. The bit of morning-glory vine still clung to her belt; the leaves were hardly wilted, and the lamp-light brought out a faint fleck of color on one of the crumpled blossoms. She felt a strange sense of security, as if she had come to a quiet place in the current which had so lately swept her along and beaten her to and fro. This evening was like a peaceful reach of still water; indeed, her thoughts kept wandering back to the quiet August night when she had waited for the haymakers at the landing-place, before the first sign had been given of any misunderstanding between Dan and herself. The soft air, the faint color of the western sky, the sweet notes of the thrushes, - she remembered everything with a glow of pleasure, and smiled more than once unconsciously. The slight change and restfulness of the holiday had done her good, and Dick thought she had not looked so serene and untroubled for many an evening before. Her father gave a pleased glance at Doris from time to time, after he had wisely relapsed into silence. He ate his supper with an excellent appetite; but Dale felt himself upon the brink of a crisis, and pushed back his chair presently without a word, and went into the clock-room. Temperance made great eyes at the half-opened door, and shook her head as if in mournful foreboding; while Israel Owen gave a reproachful look in his wife's direction, as if to say accusingly that she had been destroying the household peace and harmony in his absence. In this disagreeable moment of suspense and uncertainty Temperance took a candle from the high mantel-piece, and disappeared down the cellar stairs; raising a hymn as she went, as if to protect her from evil spirits on her way. The farmer and Doris looked at each other with amused sympathy; there was something so absurdly unnecessary and incongruous in the outburst of psalmody. Temperance must have had the boldness of a pirate, but it was impossible for two of her audience not to accept the diversion with gratitude.
The light from the kitchen shone bright into the clock-room, where there was only a newly kindled fire on the hearth of the Franklin stove, and Dick summoned his host to join him in a comforting evening smoke. It was a serious loss that they could no longer keep each other company on the side-door step, for their conversation had become more conventional since they had been shut within four walls. The farmer was always sympathetic in his moods, and tilted himself backward in his chair now, while they both looked toward the kitchen; it may have been that one was as glad as the other when Doris flitted before the doorway. "Where's Jim Fales?" they heard her ask; and a surly voice from the outer kitchen made a mysterious reply. If the listeners had only known it, Dan Lester's most ardent champion at present was the mistress of the Marsh Island. She was indignant with everybody, but most of all with Doris, and she said to herself, with ever-increasing decision, that the poor fellow should have his rights. There were no half-way measures with Martha Owen.
"You should come on and make us a visit in the winter," Israel Owen was saying to his guest. "I tell you we keep amazin' warm and comfortable here, to what some folks can."
"Warm!" exclaimed Mrs. Owen, who looked in disapprovingly at that moment. "I should think you had been burning up the chopping-block now. I'm all of a roast." Dick did not know why, but he had never had such a consciousness of being a foreigner as that night; he was like a cinder in the family eye, and it winked and winked, in the hope of dismissing him. He even felt like an interloper suddenly discovered at the meeting of a secret society. They were all linked together by their prejudices and interests, after all, these friendly Owens, and would no more lend themselves for his idle observation and picture-making, being intent upon their own more important concerns. He, Dick Dale, was out of place; but where was his place? What had been the use of him, and what would be his fate? A man who has been led and encouraged by fortune to complacently avail himself of all sorts of rights and favors is suddenly brought face to face with his duties: what then? Dick, who had always thought a great deal of what he meant to do, was forced to contemplate with great dismay the things he had not done. Fortune had unkindly deserted him, and left him in deep water, after a most inadequate swimming lesson. He was sensitive to such convicting moods and misgivings, and suffered deeply when the demands of life and reproaches of conscience showed him his shortcomings. He had not aimed at reaching one goal, - there had seemed rather to be a succession of goals; and happily at this point there dawned upon his mind a suspicion that all these were simply stations on his great highway, and perhaps he was going in the right direction, after all. That very day a letter had come from Bradish, announcing that he and a few comrades would join Dick at the Marsh Island for a week. There was yet time for such a pilgrimage. They could catch the last tints of the autumn foliage, and no doubt on such marshes there was the best of gunning. In the time of coots, therefore, and of ducks and snipe, they might be expected. Of course the cheerful farmer would stow them away somewhere, and they would not steal Dale's material; they would only look him over, and have a jolly week together. Dick had already answered such inflammatory proposals; he had sent Jim Fales away, on his own responsibility, to the nearest post-office with the letter. To-morrow he would dismantle the spinning-room studio, and the next day he would go back to town; and so the good time would be over with. No doubt the fellows would make it an excuse for a supper when he put in an appearance, and a sickening dislike to the aimless, silly routine of existence possessed this young man whom almost everybody envied and admired. Then Dick lifted his head, and, with his eyes a little dazzled by looking at the glowing coals of the fire, took a good view of the old-fashioned room. The farmer was dozing in the high-backed rocking-chair at his side. Temperance and Doris had joined them, and were talking together in low tones by the lamp. Oh, that beautiful Doris! The truth was that he felt powerless to keep the reins of his self-control; it was all nonsense to pretend to himself that he must go away from her to make sure. He belonged here as much as anywhere, and he could not make a fool of himself any longer. The shape of her head was something exquisite; the sound of her voice thrilled him through and through, and he grew unbearably impatient. No more meditation and philosophy and vague plans for him, with such a woman as this, such a love as theirs might be! No; he would stay until Doris said she would give herself to him, and then they would go out into the wide world together. Here she would be undeveloped on every side save that of the affections, but he could give her the sort of life for which nature had made her fit. One thing had been proved to him by his short absence: that he longed to see her again, and longed to put her in her rightful place, among the books and pictures and silks, among the thoughtful, beauty-loving, and progressive people with whom his own life had been associated. He did not know that Doris herself had been thinking of many things that very day, as she sat on the step of the great house, with the sound of the sea in her ears. He would not have been willing to believe that her serenity to-night came from her decision, instinctive as it was, and almost unrecognized, that she did not belong to the existence or the surroundings so familiar to him, - that there was an unlikeness which never could be bridged over between her and himself.
But some unsilenced monitor kept soberly telling Dick Dale to wait, something kept holding him back; a lack of trust in his own sincerity stung this flower of passion at its heart, and it was already beginning to fade. He had spent a miserable day, poor Dick, as must any man who fears that his love may prove his fall. As for the man who through his love had hoped to rise, he also had been wretched. Doris, the woman around whom so much revolved, on whom so much depended, seemed calm enough; but who knows what knowledge of being a pivot, what fixity and steadfastness, were almost dulling her sense of responsibility! She felt her heart beat heavily at every sound from without the house. It was impossible that Dan should not come that night; she had such a sense of his presence that at one moment she was impelled to go out under the willow boughs, and find him there waiting in the darkness, wishing only for her, and dreading to come in to meet her where the others would watch them curiously. But how late it was growing! What could be keeping him! At last, in her excitement and suspense, she rose, as if the room were too hot, and went to the side-doorway. Indeed, there was a step close by, and Doris started back. "Oh, Jim Fales, is that you?" she said sharply, a moment afterward, and went on to the kitchen, where her mother sat in surly silence, mending the family stockings, which service she never allowed any one else to perform, and always did herself as if it were a penance.
Jim Fales came blundering in with an air of great consequence, and threw his hat on the floor, beside the chair which he drew before the kitchen stove. "Got some news now, I guess," he announced, looking at Martha Owen, who did not vouchsafe the slightest notice of him. "I heard as I come along that Dan Lester's been and shipped for the Banks. They was short o' hands for that new schooner that's just rigged and ready, and he up and said he wanted to go a v'y'ge. If I wa'n't promised here I do' know but I'd gone along too," and Jim looked round, slightly dismayed by the silence of his audience. Temperance was standing in the doorway behind him, casting glances at Doris, who looked shocked and white. "I see Dan myself, as I come along," said Jim, as if he had kept the best of his news to the last. Mrs. Owen had condescended to lay her stocking down. "He had been home to say good-by to the old lady, I expect. Don't know how he settled with her; she always has been so against his follerin' the sea, they said. P'r'aps he was here earlier?" asked the lad suddenly, with a crestfallen countenance. It would be a dreadful blow if he were telling an old story, after all.
"No," said Temperance briskly; and everybody was grateful to her for not being stricken with speechlessness, - "no, we've seen nothing of him hereabouts. When d' you hear they was going to sail?"
"Quick 's they can git away; some said 't was to-morrow mornin' at daybreak," - and Doris turned her face toward the window. "Oh, Dan, Dan!" she thought, as if calling his name in such an agony of pity and remorse would be enough to bring him back again.
"The hoss was peltin' right along, I tell you," pursued Jim Fales. "'Where ye goin'?' says I, and he kind of hauled up and went slow for a minute. 'That you?' says he, and I says Yes; and he waited, kind of, and then says he, 'How's all the folks?' and I told him we was smart, and asked him when he calc'lated Bangs's schooner was goin' to sail; and he says to-morrow, early. They wanted to get her off by daybreak, if 't was so they could. He was goin' right over then; he'd promised to do a little job for the cap'n before they went to sea. 'T was only a minute he stopped, and then drove right along. Gorry! I wished I'd asked him who he was goin' to let keep his hoss. I'd rather have that colt than any I see go by. 'T ain't none o' your Canady lunkheads, that colt ain't!"
But nobody responded to Jim's enthusiasm. Dick Dale followed the farmer to the kitchen, after a minute's reflection and an unworthy feeling of elation and of triumph over his rival. "Dear, dear!" said Mr. Owen ruefully as if to Dick alone. "Hot haste makes a long road back. Well, 't is a great pity. I wouldn't have believed Dan could be such a fool. He's master of a good trade to help him out, and he's got good prospects ashore, but he's of a mind to throw 'em to the four winds, - that's plain."
Martha Owen looked at nobody, and drudged away at her stocking. Dale knew that he was unwelcome. He meekly went back to the clock-room, and listened with a sense of personal responsibility to the murmur of voices which began directly after Jim Fales's heavy boots had been dropped behind the stove, and he had gone softly up the back stairs to bed. Jim must be up early in the morning, in these cider-making days. There was something absurd in the lack of disguise as to the state of affairs. In a city household there would have been a thin icing of general conversation over the dangerous depths of such a misfortune, but here the stranger was not considered, and indeed was made to feel his evident agency in bringing about the disaster. "I don't care who hears me," said his hostess once, in a raised voice, which came as straight to Dick's ears as if there had been no others on the way: "Dan ought n't to have been drove away from his rights. He's just come into a handsome property in the West, and nobody knows whether there'll be a straw of it left when he gets back, if ever he does;" and at this point somebody - Dick thought it might be Doris herself - came nearer, and shut the kitchen door.
Dick was thoroughly uncomfortable. He was ashamed to quietly disappear, and hide himself in his bed at that early hour. He took one of his own books from the table, and tried to read; but the situation was too startling a combination of tragedy and comedy. It was something, however, to preserve the appearance of a devotion to literature when Temperance reappeared. She looked at him as if he were a blameless but mistaken baby, who had played with matches and beggared its family. When Mr. Richard Dale tried to behave as if nothing had happened, and, looking at his own sketch of the young soldier which hung on the wall before him, ventured at last to say that the younger Israel must have been a fine fellow and a terrible loss, Temperance clicked her knitting-needles vindictively, and made no reply.
"It is a glorious thing to die for one's country," Dale added pensively; and this brought his companion to an expression of her opinion. "That's what everybody s'posed they must remark," she snapped; "but I called it a darned shame, and I always shall:" whereupon Dick took up his book again to conceal his quite unexpected revulsion of feeling. He wished, and yet he feared, to see Doris again that night; but she did not appear, and after lingering a while this unhappy stranger and foreigner took a candle and departed. The old clock ticked in a more leisurely fashion than ever that night, as if to keep a check upon the excited household. It had measured off sadder hours than these many times over. Life should not be spoiled by haste or waste; to-morrow would be a new day. Some younger timekeepers might be saying, Hurry, hurry! but this was one that said, Wait, wait!
Notes for Chapter 20
black frost: a killing frost.
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Franklin stove: type of wood-burning stove, invented by Benjamin Franklin (c. 1740). The Franklin stove burned wood on a grate and had sliding doors that could be used to control the draft (flow of air) through it. Because the stove was relatively small, it could be installed in a large fireplace or used free-standing in the middle of a room by connecting it to a flue. Its design influenced the potbellied stove. (Source: Britannica Online; research, Barbara Martens)
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the Banks: The George's Banks, A productive area for fishing in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
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Doris never had known so long a night. Her poor eyes were worn out with tears, for she accused herself a hundred times of being wholly to blame. She had not meant to be faithless or provoking, and yet she had brought down such calamity upon everybody. She tried to think over Dan's grievances as he had evidently seen them, but she failed to convict herself of any real fault. She liked Mr. Dale; she enjoyed the pleasantness and novelty of the new interests his coming had brought. She had dreamed a little, as girls will, of her future if she should love him. There had been times when she did not shrink from the new atmosphere that had surrounded the young artist and herself, and the remembrance of one moment under the beech-tree would always keep a tender place for him in her heart. But she knew now once for all that she never could belong to anybody but Dan, and Dan was angry with her; he was putting his dear life in peril all for a foolish mistake. The girl was long at her prayers in the cold little chamber. She shivered and cried. She feared, as she never had feared anything before, that this handsome, reckless fellow would be drowned, if he went to sea. She remembered his sad old mother, and grew every hour more alarmed and hopeless. At last she thought of a plan, - or to her it was like the bidding of an angel: she would go herself to Westmarket in the morning, and find Dan Lester, and beg him to stay at home.
The moonlight was clear and bright, and many times Doris looked out of her narrow window to see if there were any signs of dawn. She must get to the schooner by daylight, if she were to be in time. They would be likely to sail at high water from that wharf, for the harbor was shallow near by. She counted the hours, and laid her plan with the intensity of one out of her reason; though once, when from very weariness the exigency of it faded away, it seemed to poor Doris as if the punishment for her fault and foolishness were out of all proportion to its deserts. And if Dan were so unreasonable and jealous the worst was his own. The next minute a sense of his great love, a love that had always been growing, and of his bitter disappointment made her cry with pity for him and for herself. How could they live through so many wretched, silent weeks apart! Perhaps these fishermen, like many others, would never be heard from after they left port; for many a schooner, Doris knew, had been ploughed under by the great prow of a steamship, its little light gone out through carelessness, and the sleeping men drowned in the sea and lost, as if it were a bad dream of danger mingled with their dreams of home.
It was still night when Doris left her comfortless bed, and stepping carefully about the room, so that she would wake nobody, dressed herself in her warmest clothes. Her heart was breaking with fear and shame together. She had determined at last not to wake her father or Jim, to beg them to go with her to Westmarket; neither would she wait even to drive along the highway, as if this were any other errand. The remembrance of the shorter distance across the marshes to the town filled her mind wholly. It was already four o'clock; she had heard the great timekeeper count it out slowly, and there was not a minute to lose. Enough time had been wasted already in fruitless self-reproaches and bewailings, and the relief of action under so great a sense of disaster was a blessing in itself. A little later the girl was fairly out-of-doors, - outside the silent house, outside all protection and precedent also, as if she had been launched off the face of this familiar earth, and must find her way unwelcomed and unheralded through space.
The frost had fallen, and glistened white along the trodden pathway that led up through the dooryard. The window of the spinning-room caught the moonlight, and flashed in her face as she passed by; and Doris turned once and looked at the old house, as if she were asking forgiveness, and wondering if life would ever be the same to her after this dreadful night. She thought of her soldier brother, and wondered, too, if he had not sometimes been brave alone at night, like this, and so would keep her company in love and pity. Oh, there were so many reasons why she must get to Dan in time! Everybody would guess his reason for going; everybody would talk of it, and laugh, and watch her until he came back, and blame her forever, for his poor mother's sake, if he were lost. In time of war and peril women had done such things as this, but Doris could not think of herself as heroic. She only repented the sins for which she must be blamed if she did not get to Westmarket before the schooner sailed. Out of her quiet life and simple thoughts, troubled with pain and sorrow of the keenest sort, she hurried away into the night. After one great shiver she did not feel cold again, but hurried, hurried, over the crisp gray grass, down across the long, clean-swept field, where the moon, sinking low in the sky, hindered her with a trailing shadow that seemed to delay her more and more.
There was a high tide of treacherous-looking water, and when she came to the brink of it she stopped an instant, as if hesitating. The creek was wide here, and it never had looked half so far across; but Doris went carefully along the shore until she came to an old boat, which had been on many an errand, but never in all its life had carried a young girl alone on a night like this. Before long she was afloat. The boat leaked and went heavily; the oars that she had pulled from their familiar hiding-place were short and heavy, and splintering at their handles. But Doris rowed as if this were a race, and looked often over her shoulder, until at last she heard the dry sedges of the farther shore rustle and bend, and she could step on dry land and be on her way again.
The dawn was glimmering in the east; the moon was almost down; the whole country lay dead and still, as if it would not live again with the morning. Beyond the marshes which Doris must cross there were great drifts of bleached white sand, as if the ghosts of the night had transformed the world to their color, and it had hardly regained its own again. It was a dead fragment of the world, at any rate, - a field where little grew that needed more than rain and air. Doris kept her eyes fixed on the sand dunes, and they appeared to recede as she advanced, mocking her like a mirage, and at last coming close when she thought they were still far away. At length her feet stumbled in the white, shifting, slipping heaps, and she toiled and crept upon them, so slowly, so disappointingly; for they seemed to be planted there as a barrier, raised by enchantment. Alas! this night was all enchantment. Where was the sunshiny yesterday, when she had been secure and peaceful, and almost happy, when one compared those hours with these?
The sky was clear in the east, and fast growing brighter; but each way Doris looked, there was only this desert waste of sand, white as bone, deep and bewildering, and the coarse grass and hungry heather clung to the higher heaps of it here and there. It was like a picture of the misery and emptiness of the girl's future, if her lover went away to sea. For the first time she grew afraid, and her strength left her suddenly, while she looked ahead to where, across more sand and more water and a long slope of upland pastures, the spires of Westmarket were already catching the color of the sunrise. Beside her were some old apple-trees that the shifting dunes had waged war against and defeated. They were discouraged and forlorn in their desolation, like the fig-tree that was cursed. Doris looked pityingly at their dead leaves and mossy tangle of branches; and at that moment a withered, pathetic mockery of fruit fell on the sand at her feet. It was like a conscious gift from these outlawed growths; it somehow gave her a bit of sympathy. Did they indeed know the bitterness of loneliness and the withdrawal of everything that makes life comfortable and dear? They had been walled in and condemned to death, the poor trees, though away in the world people were making merry fearlessly under the same great empty sky.
As the light grew clearer little tracks of birds and small wild creatures could be seen on the drifted sand. Once Doris surprised a fox that was stealing along through the hollows of the dunes. He was hardly startled; he only changed his course a little, and went gliding down toward the marshes, with his brush trailing after him. Doris felt as if she were a wild creature, too. She tried to remind herself of other days than this, to keep her wits together. She wondered once, if she should faint and fall here, how long it would be before any one would come and find her, or if they had missed her yet; her mother and Temperance would be sure to wake her early on this unhappy morning. She thought of herself as if she were still at home in her warm bed under the blue and white counterpane. She dreaded the sound of heavy footsteps in the entry outside. They might leave her to herself that one day, until Mr. Dale and Jim, and even her father, were out of the house. And all the while she was flitting on, on, over the white desert, with a chill autumn sky above her, with a fox and the wondering birds of the air for company.
When she gained the shore of the last inlet, all seemed lost! She had not thought how she could cross there; and she stopped still and looked about her, hoping in vain to see a boat. It was too late to retrace her steps, and go round by the neck of land that joined the sand wastes to some marshes and the mainland; and she sat down, and covered her face with her hands. The tears would come, because she was so tired and so desperate; she had not thought of crying before, but now it was a great comfort. "O God, help me!" said poor Doris, over and over again, and for one moment Dick Dale's eyes looked into hers again, with that same dazzle. If he were only here, he would help her, - anything would be better than this. He was so gentle! But her thoughts went roving away again to her own dear Dan. How many things she had learned of Mr. Dale which she could do for him by and by! Dan would like to have the house pleasant. Dan had a pretty taste, and his mother had always said that his fingers were as quick as a woman's. She should always be sorry that he had not seen Mr. Dale's pictures; he would have liked them better than anybody. Oh, if she were only at home! She never could go all the way back, and they would hunt for her soon, and grow frightened when she could not be found. How could she face them all when she got home? By that time Dan would be out of the harbor. How could he be so angry! - and Doris wished she could die there, and never open her eyes again upon this miserable world.
As the sun rose, a weather-beaten boat, with two boys for crew, came down the river. They were enjoying a stolen pleasure, and it was not surprising to them that in a time of such excitement and tremendous consequence a strange young woman, with a white, scared face, should call to them from the farther shore and ask to be set across. Their cheerful voices and red cheeks and their air of mystery and adventure did Doris good, and she put them on the track of the fox with their clumsy gun, and wished them a fine day's sport. They looked at her furtively as they tugged the old boat through the water; they watched her quickly climb the low hill that rose between them and the town.
It was a bright, sunshiny morning at last, - just the day to begin a voyage. The blue sea sparkled, and dazzled the eyes that looked eastward from the high ground, from whence one could overlook the village roofs and chimneys, with the line of masts between them and the narrow harbor beyond. At one place and another there were white sails hoisted, and a fleet of fishing-smacks were making ready to go out with the tide. As the wives and mothers of the fishermen were astir early in the little town, some of them tearful enough already, they might have seen a slender figure making its way to the shore. They did not know what a fear-stricken, heavy heart was passing by their windows, or how much need of comfort the young stranger had that morning. Would she be too late, after all? Was Dan beyond her reach even now? The schooners would drift quickly away from their moorings, the sails unfurl themselves to the fresh westerly breeze. Unless she could hurry along the harbor side and put off in a dory, there was no chance left, and a vision of the mocking faces of the sailors, and even of Dan's displeasure, made Doris hesitate for one dismayed instant; then she hurried on again. The street looked endlessly long; she felt as if she were in a nightmare, and a dreadful dullness made her go more and more slowly. At last she came near the wharf; round the next corner she could see -
"Doris! Here, Doris!" and for a minute the girl looked bewildered, and the light faded in her eyes. Somebody was coming across the street, also to make his way down the lane that led to the water-side. Could it be Dan himself, in his every-day clothes? There never was a stranger sight; and yet this was truly Dan, not gone to sea at all. Were they there, where nobody was watching them, instead of at the harbor, where people could flout at such a scene?
"Oh, Dan," said the girl faintly, "please take me home as quick as you can. I thought you - Jim Fales said you were going to the George's Banks. I didn't mean to make you feel bad" -
"Take right hold of my arm," said Dan. "Come, we'd better go home, Doris," as if she had been a child. "I love the ground you step on, darlin'. How did you get over here this time o' day? I" - But Dan faltered, and could say no more. He thought it would never do for him to cry there in the street, even if Doris were draggled and wet, and looked so pinched and cold; even, as he knew a little later, if she had come across the marshes, Heaven only knew how, for his unworthy sake.
Notes for Chapter 21
the fig-tree that was cursed: See Matthew 21:19-23.
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George's Banks: A productive area for fishing in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
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When the lovers drove into the farmhouse yard, they were greeted with mingled expressions of relief and astonishment. Dan was instantly received as a member of the family, for it was unmistakable that the young folks had in some way or other "made it up between them." "I must say you have led us a pretty dance," Mrs. Owen said, with a cheerful, bantering air, to her daughter. "We never missed you till just now. I thought likely you was sleeping late, after driving so far yesterday. Now, Dan, I hope Doris and your mother together have persuaded you out o' such schoolboy nonsense as goin' fishin'?" There could be detected a slight impatience with the girl, who was believed to have stolen away so early in the morning to join forces with her lover's mother. Mrs. Owen herself would never have stooped to such a thing, but this was no time to make a bad impression upon so prosperous and evidently victorious a son-in-law. She had been too fearful of losing him the night before.
Doris stole upstairs, grateful and bewildered, but longing only to be quiet for a while. She felt as if she had left the familiar room years ago instead of a few hours, all her life was so changed. The sweet warmth of the sun was pouring in at the window; some late flies buzzed at the panes, as if they wished to escape and share the freedom of the bright October day. Doris heard her lover's voice now and then. It seemed like a Sunday morning out-of-doors. Her thoughts went backward with wonder and delight, finding in every memory some proof and assurance that she and Dan were born to love each other. Their happiness had suddenly burst into bloom; but for all that, the flower's roots had been growing unseen in the darkness, and even the misunderstanding, of the past.
Later, with an air of unusual hilarity, Temperance went out to meet Jim Fales, as he came loitering home from the pasture and a prolonged experience of salting sheep. "Jim Fales," she inquired, with mysterious deference, "I s'pose you don't know of a wanderin' minister of the Orthodox persuasion anywhere about?"
"Lor', yes," said Jim promptly, equal to a joke, but puzzling his brains for the meaning of this. "Got occasion for one right away, Temperance? Who've you picked out since I've been gone?" while at that moment his eyes fell upon Israel Owen and Dan Lester, who were leaning over the garden fence together in friendly intercourse.
Temperance gave an emphatic nod, as her colleague opened his eyes very wide and whistled a wild note; then she turned back toward the house, wearing her most circumspect expression. Her great checked apron fluttered and bulged in the breeze; she seemed to be looking down intently at some white geese feathers that had caught in the dry grass stalks, and were floating lightly like tiny flags of truce. One of the cats came running to meet her. Mrs. Owen was standing in the kitchen doorway, very amiable and friendly, it was plain to see, and offering no apparent objections to a good talk. Young Fales directed his steps toward the barn door, where he had observed the wheels of Lester's buggy, and there he passed a season of wonder and enjoyment. The vehicle bore traces of having been driven at uncommon speed, and the horse, a swift young creature, was drooping his head, and still breathing faster than usual. "Here's some of that blamed red mud that comes from most over to Westmarket," meditated the curious lad. "He's given up goin' fishin', that's plain enough;" and Jim wandered into the kitchen, brimful of sincere interest and good-will, only to be promptly dismissed by Martha Owen, and blamed for hanging round at that time in the morning, when there was everything to be done. "Ain't he goin' to sea?" asked the lad, with uncalled-for sympathy in his tone, and the two women smiled at each other.
"I guess he was only talkin' about it," volunteered Temperance, evidently much amused; but Mrs. Owen gravely explained that Dan's mother was set against it from the first, and Dan himself gave up the notion when he came to find out what kind of a crew they'd shipped.
The triumphant lover stayed to dinner, and that was a day of high festival at the farm, although there were few outward signs of the satisfaction and rejoicing. After a short absence Dan returned with his mother, both dressed in their best, and there was much hand-shaking among the men and a few kisses and tears to show the women's approval. Nobody spoke directly of the great event, - perhaps the Marsh Island's vocabulary did not contain any form of speech for such deep thoughts; but the little group talked together about Dan's Western prospects, as if they were one family already in very truth. Mr. Dale was not slow to offer his congratulations. He tried to forget that there had been the slightest cloud of discomfort over the sky; he imagined that he found it very charming at the studio, and that it seemed more like the first part of his residence on the island than the last. Dick was very sympathetic: he could not help being glad that everybody else was so happy, and there was a certain sort of relief in finding that there was no serious decision to be made after all, and that he had been mistaken in his consciousness of an uncommon responsibility and need of action. He could not bear the thought of Doris's narrow future; perhaps, if the truth were told, he was more concerned for her sake than for his own. And yet -
At supper-time Dick expressed much sorrow to his entertainers because he could not linger a week later. He should like to carry away a sketch or two of the cider-making, having just passed the press at their neighbor Bennet's, and joined the friendly company that surrounded it. He was deeply touched when Mr. Owen turned to him, with an affectionate look, and said, "I must say I hate to part with you, my lad."
"I expect he'll be a great man one of these days," added Mrs. Owen politely. "You must always make it your home here, if you come this way, Mr. Dale. You mustn't get to feelin' above us." After this it seemed to Dick as if the sooner he were gone the better.
That afternoon, as he was putting his sketches together in the spinning-room, he thought a good deal about Doris. He had not seen her since the day before, but he had won a confession of her morning journey from the wistful old father, who alternated complete delight with compassion for even the happy young people themselves. "They don't know life as I know it. But I've calc'lated for a considerable spell on havin' Dan take holt of the farm. He couldn't help weepin', Dan couldn't, - an' I don' know 's I blame him, - when he was tellin' how Doris come after him. He made me promise that I nor nobody else shouldn't ever hint a word about it to her."
Dick nodded. There was no use in saying that he believed the beautiful girl capable of any heroism and masterly scope of achievement, as he knew her equality to all refinements and tenderness. He was bitterly ashamed of his deliberations. He wished more than ever that a strong tide might have assailed him and swept him off the shore where mistaken reason or any aspect of worldliness had given insecure foothold. Doris had seemed younger than her years, and had painted herself upon his consciousness in pale colors, and faint, though always perfectly defined, outlines. But his old knowledge of her seemed now as the enthusiasm and eagerness of a first sketch does to the dignity and fine assertion of a finished picture. One could say easily that Doris and Dan Lester were destined for each other, and console one's self by thinking there was never any chance to win. Alas for those who let the golden moment pass, - who let the gate of opportunity be shut in their faces, while they wait before it trying to muster favoring conditions, or argument and authority, like an army with banners to escort them through.
Farmer Owen thought that Dick looked a good deal older than when he came, as he shook hands with the young man and said good-by. "There, it always seemed more like having a girl about than a man," said the mistress of the Marsh Island, as she watched the wagon, already almost out of sight far down the road. "I expect we shall miss him considerable, he was so pleasant. I believe he took to Doris more 'n he'd let on. I shouldn't wonder if he sent her somethin' real handsome for a weddin' present."
"He won't never set the river afire," said Temperance, whose countenance wore a most regretful and sentimental expression. "He wants to have all the town ladders out to git him over a grain o' sand."
"I tell you he's got good grit, now!" exclaimed Mr. Owen fiercely; "there's more to him than you think for. He ain't got a brow an' eye so like pore Israel's all for nothin'. He promised he'd write an' tell me when he'd been an' voted to this next election, too," added the farmer, who was a conscientious politician. "No wonder the country's been goin' to the dogs, when such folks don't think it's wuth their while to take holt." But as the little company separated each could have told the other that Dick's going away reminded them of a far sadder day, not many years before.
Notes for Chapter 22
salting sheep: The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that this would mean simply feeding salt to sheep.
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Orthodox persuasion: In nineteenth-century New England, the Orthodox Church was the Congregational Church.
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"Good-morning, my melancholy Jaques!" said Mr. Bradish, a day or two afterward, looking up from his easel at a friend who had strayed into the studio as if he had left it only an hour or two before. "Are you sure there was no malaria in your paradise?"
Bradish was a sedate-looking young gentleman, with a roundish head, and short black hair, and pathetic brown eyes. He almost never laughed, he rarely even smiled, but he was always called the prince of good fellows by his comrades. There is a well-known chemical process, called the action of presence, where a certain substance produces a radical change in others, but remains unaffected itself. Bradish could make everybody else laugh and take a cheerful view of life. You smiled at the mere sight of him, as if he were some great comedian. At that moment his financial affairs had reached an unprecedented crisis, and he rejoiced to see his best ally at hand, though he painted busily, and apparently paid Dick no further attention for some minutes.
"You might have given a poor beggar a chance," he asserted presently. "I have had frightful luck all summer."
"That sketch doesn't look like it," said Dick, coming nearer, and stepping to and fro to get a better light. "That's better than ever, Bradish, - a first-rate blow-away sky. What's going on? I feel like a hermit dropped down into the middle of the theatre. I came near waiting half the afternoon out here on the sidewalk, to let the crowd get by."
"Welcome home, my love," said Bradish, in a delightful tone of voice. "You must give away those clothes, you know."
"Another aunt of mine frowned upon them," responded Dale meditatively, as he went sauntering about the room. "But wait until I show you my sketches. Ah, here's the box from the farm, now! When did it get here? You would have just lost your head completely. It really was a lovely old place. I used to wish for you with all my heart."
"I thought so."
"Oh, never mind nonsense," and Dick's voice had a strange eagerness. Jim Fales had reckoned on the perils of travel when he drove the nails, and the comrades worked together diligently to loosen them. Dick had not anticipated the little shock, almost like pain, that the sight of his pictures would give him. Life at the farm seemed already very far away. Here was the first sketch of the birch-tree, the willows, and the wide outlook across the green marshes. It was odd that this should have come uppermost, and he held it off and looked at it without a word, while Bradish admired the pretty landscape with eager friendliness.
"This was only the first," said Dale. "I feel like Rip Van Winkle. Look them over, if you like, and say the worst you can. I've had a good solid bit of life, at any rate. It was a good thing to get a look at such a permanent institution as that farm and its inhabitants. I felt all the time like an accident, an ephemeral sort of existence; but I believe we are all a sort of two-stalked vegetable, with a power of locomotion that ought not to be too severely taxed."
Bradish groaned. "I hoped you would forsake your philosophy, when I found you had really taken to painting," he said, and gave his attention to the contents of the flat box. "You rich fellows are always lucky," he added ruefully, a little later, after his enthusiasm had cooled enough to allow his thoughts to express themselves. "The avarice of you in keeping such a mine to yourself was despicable, but there'll be a convention of us there next summer. Of course you even fell in love with the daughter?"
"No," said Dick slowly, - "no. But I wish I had, Bradish, if you want the simple truth."
"I should be wishing I hadn't," answered Bradish, with great gravity. "Cry a little, Dale; it will do you good."
Yet Dick, who was always ready to be amused at his friend's jokes, did not even smile. If there were any difference, existence was a more serious thing now he was back in town than it had been at the Sussex farm. Whether the warmth of his feeling for Doris Owen was equal or not to changing the iron of his character into steel, he was dimly conscious that for each revelation of truth or beauty Heaven demands tribute and better service than before. He had at least gained a new respect for his own life and its possible value.
One day in midwinter Doris went away by herself for a long walk over the crusted snow. She climbed the hill, and looked out across the marshes. They seemed larger than in summer, and there were black cracks in the ice, like scars. She wished that it were spring again, and thought eagerly of all the work she meant to do; being, indeed, happier as a wife than she had ever been as a maiden, and just beginning the very best of her days. The night before, a shower of rain had frozen as it fell, and the world was all sparkling and glistening, as if it were a great arctic holiday. The sky was a clear, dazzling blue, and the air was still and cold. Doris Lester thought of Mr. Dale, and with a quick sympathy imagined how much he would like to see this fantastic, ice-bound country. She could see through and through his feeling for her now, but she knew that he had not gone away and forgotten her; and half wistfully she gave a glance at the smaller island where she had found him asleep on the Sunday morning.
Dan and her father had gone away early in the day to visit a distant piece of woodland, and just as she reached the house they drove into the yard.
"I expected you'd have to go out to see the trees, Doris," said the elder man, smiling. "Don't they look handsome? I wished you was with us up in the country where there's more growth; but I declare, it's as pretty a place here as 't is anywhere."
"I tell you we're just going to make the old farm hum next summer," said Lester, as he stepped out of the high-backed sleigh; but his companion did not follow him at once. "I've got a New York paper in my pocket," Israel Owen told the little audience. "Young Mr. Dale sent it to me, and he marked a place that tells about his pictures being exhibited with the rest of the folks', and that they all come round his like a swarm of bees. There's a long piece about 'em."
Mrs. Owen was listening eagerly. "Now, Doris!" she said. "Don't you wish you was there, a-queenin' it?" But Doris and Dan gave each other a happy look that was answer enough. They could not imagine anything better than life was that very day on their own Marsh Island.
Notes for Chapter 23
Jaques: Jacques is a member of the exiled Duke Senior's court in the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It (1599-1600). He is remembered for his cultivation of melancholy and for his famous speech on the ages of man (II, vii).
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Rip Van Winkle: The protagonist of Washington Irving's (1783-1859) "Rip Van Winkle," from The Sketch Book (1819-1820).
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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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