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Contents: Country By-Ways
Atlantic Monthly Text
from Country By-Ways
It was a cold day early in December, and already almost dark, though the sun had just gone down, leaving a tinge of light red, the least beautiful of all the sunset colors, on the low gray clouds in the southwest. The weather was forlorn and windy, and there had already been a light fall of snow, which partly covered the frozen ground, and was lying in the hollows of the fields and pastures and alongside the stone walls, where the wind had blown it to get it out of its way. The country was uneven and heavily wooded; the few houses in sight looked cold and winterish, as if the life in them shared the sleep of the grass and trees, and would not show itself again until spring. Yet winter is the leisure time of country people, and it is then, in spite of the frequent misery of the weather, that their social pleasures come into stunted bloom. The young people frolic for a while, but they soon outgrow it, and each rising generation is looked upon with scorn by its elders and betters for thinking there is any pleasure in being out-of-doors in cold weather. No wonder that a New England woman cheers herself by leaving her own sewing and going to the parish society to sit close to an air-tight stove and sew for other people; how should she dance and sing like an Italian peasant under a blue and kindly sky! There should have been another Sphinx on some vast northern waste where it is forever cold weather, and the great winds always blow, and generations after generations of people have lived and died. Life is no surprise on the banks of the fertile old Nile, it could not help being, but the spirit of the North seems destructive; life exists in spite of it.
Along the country road a short, stout-built woman, well wrapped with shawls, was going from her own home, a third of a mile back, to the next house, where there were already lights in one of the upper and one of the lower rooms. She said to herself, "He must be livin' yet," and stepped a little faster, even climbing a low wall and going across a field to shorten the distance. She seemed to be in a great hurry, and as she went she left behind her a track of broken-down golden-rod stalks and dry stems of grass which had been standing, frozen and dry, with the thin snow about their roots. "Land sakes, how this field has run out!" said she, not without contempt; "but I don' know 's I ever expect to see it bettered."
She opened the side door of the house and went into the kitchen, where several persons were sitting. There was a great fire blazing in the fire-place, and a little row of mugs and two bowls, each covered with a plate, stood at one side of the hearth to keep warm, as if there were somebody ill in the house. And sure enough there was, for old Stephen Dennett, its master, was nearly at the end of his short last sickness. There were three women and two men in the kitchen, and they greeted the new-comer with subdued cordiality, as was befitting; it was a little like a funeral already, and they did not care to be found cheerful, though, to tell the truth, just before Mrs. Haynes came in they solemnly drank a pitcher of old Mr. Dennett's best cider, urging each other to take some, for there was no knowing that there might not be a good deal for them all to do before long. With this end in view of keeping up their strength, they had also shared a mince pie and a large quantity of cheese. "We'd better eat while we can," said old Betsey Morris, who was hostess, having been housekeeper at the farm for a good many years. "I don't feel 's if I could lay the table," said she, with unaffected emotion, and the mourners in prospective begged her not to think of it; but they were hungry, hard-working men and women, and were all glad to have something to eat. When some doughnuts were brought out they ate those also, all trying in vain to think of some apology for such good appetites at such a moment; but since they had to be silent the feast was all the more solemn.
It was evident that the sickness was either sudden, or had become serious within a very short time, for the family affairs had gone on as usual. It seemed as if the household had been taken unawares by the messenger of Death, and surprised in the midst of fancied security. It was Wednesday, and the clothes-horse, covered with the white folds of yesterday's ironing, stood in one corner of the kitchen, while the smaller horse, which Betsey Morris always facetiously called the colt, was nearer the fire, with its burden of flannels and blue yarn stockings. It was a comfortable old kitchen, with a beam across its ceiling, and two solid great tables, and a settle at one side the fire, where the two men sat who were going to watch. The fire-place took up nearly all one side of the room; the wood-work around it was painted black, and at one side the iron door of the brick oven looked as if it might be the entrance to a very small dungeon. There was a high and narrow mantel-shelf, where a row of flat-irons were perched like birds gone to roost; also a match-box, and a turkey-wing, and a few very dry red peppers; while a yellow-covered Thomas's Almanac, -- much worn, it being December, -- was hanging on its nail at one corner. There was a tall clock in the room, which ticked so slowly that one fancied it must always make waiting seem very tiresome, and that one of its hours must be as long as two. On one of the tables there was a spare-rib which had been brought in to thaw. Jonas Beedle and Nathan Martin sat on the settle, while Mrs. Beedle and Mrs. Goodsoe and Betsey Morris were at different distances from the fire in splint-bottomed chairs. They had seen Mrs. Haynes coming across the field, -- it was still light enough out-doors for that, -- but they had not spoken of it to each other, though they put the cider-jug and the rest of the doughnuts into the closet as quickly as possible.
"I told 'em one day last week," said Jonas Beedle, "that Stephen seemed to be all wizened up since cold weather come. Why, here's Mis' Haynes! Take a cheer right close to the fire, now won't ye[?] It's a dreadful chilly night. We've just ben a-havin' some ci -- "
"Yes," said his wife, nudging and interrupting him desperately. "We was just a-sayin' we wondered where you was, but I misdoubted you wasn't able to be out on account of your neurology."
"I went over to Ann's this morning," said Mrs. Haynes, still a little out of breath from her walk." One o' her children's took down with throat distemper, and she expects the rest'll get it. Joseph, he brought in word after dinner that somebody goin' by said Mr. Dennett had a shock this morning, and wa'n't likely to come out of it, and I told 'em I must get right home. I felt 's if 't was one o' my own folks. How does he seem to be?"
"Laying in a sog," said Betsey Morris for the twentieth time that day. "The doctor says there ain't much he can do. He had me make some broth and teas, and he left three kinds o' medicine, -- there's somethin' steeping now in them mugs, in case he revives up. He said we could feed him a little to a time if he come to any, and if we could keep his strength up he might get out of it. He's coming again about six. He was took dreadful sudden. I was washin' up the dishes after breakfast, and he said he was goin' over to the Corners: there was a selec'men's meeting. He eat as good a breakfast as common, but he seemed sort of heavy. He went out and put the hoss in, and left him in the barn, and come back to get his coat. Says he, 'Is there anything you're in need of from the store, Betsey? It looks like foul weather.' And I says, No. I little thought it was the last time he'd speak to me," and she stopped to dry her eyes with her apron, while the sympathetic audience was quiet in the firelight, and the tea-kettle began to sing as if it had no idea of what had happened. "He always was the best o' providers. It was only one day last week he was a-joking and saying he was going to keep me better this year than ever he did. Says he, 'I'm going to take my comfort and live well long 's I do live.' There's everything in the house; we killed early, and there's the other hog he set for the first o' January; and he's put down a kag of excellent beef. The sullar's got enough in it for a rigiment, I told him only yesterday; and says he, 'Betsey, don't you know it's better to have some to spare than some to want?' I can see him laugh now."
"There's plenty will need it, if he don't," said Mrs. Goodsoe, who was a dismal, grasping soul, and sat farthest from the fire.
Mrs. Haynes gathered herself up scornfully, -- she did not like her neighbor. "You were a-sayin' he was going to the selec'men's meeting," said she.
"Yes," said Betsey. "He said he'd got to get some papers, and I offered to fetch 'em; but he never wanted to be waited on; and he went up-stairs, - I s'pose to that old chist o' drawers overhead. I heard a noise like something heavy a-falling; and my first thought was he'd tipped the chist o' drawers over, for I know the lower drawers, where the sheets and pillow-cases is kept, sticks sometimes; and then something started me, and come across me, quick as a flash, that there was something wrong, and I got up-stairs as quick as ever I could, and found him laying on the floor."
"I s'pose he didn't know nothin'?" asked Mrs. Haynes.
"Bless you, no! I tried to get him up, and I found I couldn't. I thought he was dead, but I see Jim Pierce a-goin' by, -- he was some use for once in his life, -- and I sent him for help. Mis' Beedle come right over, bein' so near, and Jim met the doctor up the road, and we got him into bed, and there he lays. It give me a dreadful start. I ain't myself yet."
"Andrer's here, I s'pose," said Mrs. Haynes, as if she thought it of very little consequence.
"Yes," said Betsey. "He'd walked over to the saw-mill right after breakfast to carry word about some boards his uncle wanted, but he got back just as the doctor was leavin'. He's been real faithful; he ain't left the old gentleman a minute. He's all broke down, he feels so. I never saw him so distressed; he ain't one that shows his feelin's much of any."
"I think likely he'll be married right away now," said Mr. Martin. "Stephen told me in the summer that he'd left him about everything. He ain't no such a man as his uncle, but I don't know no harm of Andrew." A silence fell between the guests, and the fire snapped once in a while and made such a light that the one little oil lamp might have been blown out for all the good it did; nobody would have missed it.
"I told our folks last night there was going to be a death over this way," said Mrs. Goodsoe. "I was a-looking out o' the window over this way last night just before I went to bed, and I see a great bright light come down; and I says, There's a great blaze fallen over Dennett's way, and my father always said it was a sure sign of a death. 'He' laughed, and says my eyes was dazzled from setting before the fire. I'd like to know what he'll say when he hears o' this," -- triumphantly. "He went up to the wood lot, chopping, before day."
"I did hear a death-tick in the wall after I went to bed, two or three nights ago," said Betsey Morris; and then there was another pause.
"I s'pose I might go up easy and jist look in, bein' a connection," ventured Mrs. Haynes meekly; and luckily nobody opposed her. In fact, they had all had that satisfaction.
"You might ask Andrer if he couldn't rise his uncle's head by and by, so I could give him a little o' the broth; he ain't eat the value o' nothin' since morning, and he's a hearty man when he's about," suggested Betsey.
"You ought to help natur' all you can," said Nathan Martin; and armed with this sufficient excuse Mrs. Haynes went up-stairs softly.
Andrew Phillips sat by the bedside, looking as dismal as possible, -- a thin, dark young man with a pleasant sort of face, yet you always felt at once that you could get on just as well without him. "Perhaps we had better wait now until the doctor comes," answered he when he heard the message from Betsey." Do sit down, Mrs. Haynes. I have been wishing somebody would come up, -- it's lonesome since it got dark. Susan hasn't sent any word, has she? I sent Jim Pierce over right after dinner, but I suppose he stopped in at every house"--
"Not as I've heard of," said Mrs. Haynes. "I've only just got here. I was over to Ann's to spend a day or so, and I never got word about y'r uncle till past two o'clock. How does he seem to be?"
"I don't know," said the young man. "He's lost that red look, but he seems to have failed all away;" and they both went close to the bed to look at the face on the pillow, which showed at once that Death had come very near. The old man's eyes were shut, and he looked pinched and sunken, and as if he were ten years older than in the morning. One hand that lay outside the bed moved a little, and the fingers picked at the blanket. "He hasn't stirred all day except his arm, and that hand once in a while, as you see it now."
Mrs. Haynes knew better than he what it meant, and she gave a long look and turned away with a heavy sigh. "He's death-struck," she whispered, "but he may hold out for a good spell yet. He's been a master strong man; I should ha' said yesterday he had as good a chance as any one of us. He's been the best neighbor I ever had, I know that," and she sat down by the fire, and did not speak for a while. She had not taken it in that her old neighbor was nearing his end until she saw him, and her excitement and curiosity at hearing the news gave way to sincere sorrow. "He'll be a great loss," said she in a changed voice, after some little time. "I do' know but I shall miss him more than anybody, except it was one of our own folks."
"He's been like father and mother both to me," answered the young man, sorrowfully. "I can't bear to think of getting along without him."
"Yes, you'll have to look out for yourself now, Andrer," said Mrs. Haynes. "I don't know 's you're to blame for not being of a turn for farming, but I s'pose you'll have a wife to look after, and it's a poor sort of a man that can't keep what's give to him. Susan's a good smart girl; it'll be a great thing for you to have a stirrin' wife." Andrew winced at this thrust, which had not been given through any malice, for Mrs. Haynes was a kind-hearted woman, if she did happen to be a little wanting in tact. "You'll have to put right to it, next summer, to fetch the place up. I come across the seven-acre piece to save time as I come along, and it's run out dreadfully within a year or two. It didn't look to me as if it would be fit for much more than pasture, unless it had a sight laid out on it. I don't see how the old gentleman come to neglect it so; he used to take a good deal of pains with that piece years ago, -- he cut a sight of hay off of it one spell."
It seemed heartless to young Phillips that she should speak slightingly of the man who lay there unable to defend himself. "He has been breaking up this good while," said he, "but I never seemed to see it before."
Down in the kitchen the neighbors were talking together. The pitcher of cider had come from the very oldest barrel in the cellar, and it had set the tongues of the company wagging. Mrs. Goodsoe had gone home; she said with a heavy sigh that there was nobody but herself to do anything, and she would be over again before bed-time if her lameness wasn't too bad. She tied a great brown-checked gingham handkerchief over her head, and pinned a despairing old black shawl tight round her thin shoulders, and went out into the night.
"If you can make it convenient, I hope you'll be over in the morning, Mis' Goodsoe," said Betsey.
"If it's so that I can," groaned the departing guest.
"She wouldn't miss of it," snapped Mrs. Beedle, as the door was shut. And Betsey answered, --
"There! I didn't want her no more 'n an old fly and she always did make my flesh creep, but I knew Mr. Dennett wouldn't want nobody's feelings hurt."
"I don't see what folks always wants to be complaining for," said Mrs. Beedle. "She always was just so when she was a girl. Nothin' ever suits her. She ain't had no more troubles to bear than the rest of us, but you never see her that she didn't have a chapter to lay before ye. I've got 's much feelin' as the next one, but when folks drives in their spiggits and wants to draw a bucketful o' compassion every day right straight along, there does come times when it seems as if the bar'l was getting low."
Mr. Beedle and Betsey chuckled a little over this, approvingly. Mr. Martin was dozing at his end of the settle, but presently he roused himself, and asked Mr. Beedle, drowsily, "Do ye know what Otis got for them sticks o' rock-maple?"
"I don't," said Mr. Beedle; "they're for ship timber, I understood. I heard yisterday he was going to cut some o' them white oaks near his house, the second-sized ones; they was extra nice ones for keels o' vessels, I was told."
"They ain't suitable for keels," said Nathan scornfully. He had once worked in a ship-yard, and was always delighted to parade his superior knowledge before his land-locked neighbors. "They might be going to use them for kilsons or sister-kilsons." This was added after grave reflection, and Mr. Beedle tried to remember what part of a ship a sister-keelson was but he could not do it; and he asked Betsey Morris for the lantern, and the two men went out to the barn to look after the cattle, leaving the women alone together.
"Mis' Haynes seems to be stopping up-stairs quite a while," said Mrs. Beedle.
"I expect Andrer's glad to have her; he ain't much used to sickness. Poor Andrer! I expect he'll take it very hard, losing of his uncle," said Betsey.
"Well, I tell ye a fat sorrow's a good sight easier to bear than a lean one; and then he's got Susan. How that girl, that might have taken her pick, ever come to take up with Andrer Phillips is more 'n I know." (Mrs. Beedle's own daughter had at one time paid Andrew a good deal of attention.) "She wa'n't one to drop like a ripe apple off a bough the first time she got asked."
"Now Mis' Beedle," said Betsey with a good deal of spirit, "Andrer ain't the worst fellow that ever was. She might ha' done a good deal worse, even if he wa'n't expectin' property. I don't doubt she had an eye to the means, myself, but he's stiddy as a clock, and his uncle always said he had a good mind. He ain't had to work for his livin'; and the old sir never was one that wanted to give up the reins. He expected the boy to live here after him, and he never had it on his mind to put him to a trade. He'll make a farmer yet; there's a sight o' girls turns out good housekeepers that never had no care before they was married. And Andrer's got a sight o' book-learnin'."
"Book-learnin'!" said Mrs. Beedle, with a jerk of her head. "He's a book-fool, if ever there was one. But I ain't goin' to set in judgment," she added in a different tone, suddenly mindful that the young man was likely to be her nearest and richest neighbor in a few hours. "I always set everything by his mother. Her and me was the same year's child'n, and was fetched up together. Don't ever hint I said anything that wasn't pleasant. I ain't one that wants to make trouble, and he'll find me a good neighbor. Anybody has to speak out sometimes."
"I ain't one to make trouble, neither," said Betsey. "I've wondered sometimes, myself, he didn't spudge up and be somebody; his uncle never would ha' thwarted him, but then he never give a sign he wasn't satisfied. And Andrer never give him a misbeholden word, -- I can answer for that."
The doctor came and went, telling the women that he could not say how long the patient might last.
"I s'pose folks knows of it all over town?" asked Betsey, meekly conscious of the importance of the occasion and her own consequence.
"Yes, yes," said the doctor, who stood warming his great fur coat before the fire, having declined the offer of supper or something hot, for he was in a hurry to get home. His gig rattled away out of the yard, and silence once more fell on the house. Andrew came down-stairs for a little while, looking grieved and tired, and said that he meant to watch, at least until midnight; the doctor thought that his uncle might be conscious before he died. Then Mrs. Haynes came down, and after a while Mrs. Beedle and Betsey tiptoed up the stairs, and as they listened outside the door they heard some one speaking.
"You don't suppose he's got his reason?" whispered one to the other, and they waited a minute or two; it was very cold in the little entry.
"Yes, sir," they heard Andrew say gently, "you've had an ill turn;" and then all was silent again.
"I mustn't forget those town orders. I can't seem to think where they are," said a weak voice that was as unlike as possible the cheerful loud tone in which Mr. Dennett had usually spoken.
"Don't try to think, uncle," said Andrew. "Don't you feel as if you could eat a little broth?" But there was no answer.
"I sha'n't stand for selec'man another year; it's a good deal o' trouble," said the weak voice, after a minute or two.
"He thinks it's this mornin', poor creatur'," whispered Betsey. "I guess I'll step down and get that broth; what do you think? Perhaps he would take a little." But when she came back she found it was not wanted. Mrs. Beedle had gone in, and the master of the house lay dying. They stood by the bedside watching, with awe-struck faces, while the mortal part of him fought fiercely for a minute to keep its soul, which had gently and surely taken itself away. There was this minute of distress and agony, and afterward the tired and useless body was still. The old man's face took on a sweet and strange look of satisfaction, -- a look of rest, as if it found its sleep of death most welcome and pleasant. So soon it was over, the going away which the bravest of us shudder at sometimes and dread; but dying seems after all, to those who watch it oftenest, a simple and natural and blessed thing, and one forgets the lifeless body in a sudden eagerness to follow the living soul into the new world.
The funeral was appointed for Saturday, and everybody was busy. Andrew instinctively took command, and Betsey and the women who came to help her consulted him with unwonted deference. The house had to be swept and dusted and put in order, and there were great preparations going on in the kitchen; for old Mr. Dennett had been a hospitable man, and it should not be said that any one went away from his house hungry.
"I declare, it don't seem more than yesterday it was Thanksgiving, and he made me make up double the mince pies I did last year. I little thought what they was going to be for," said Betsey Morris, whose heart was very sad.
The morning after Mr. Dennett had died, a letter came for him from an old friend in Boston, who had left that part of the country in his boyhood, and had made his fortune and become rich and prominent. None of his own family were living there, and he claimed Mr. Dennett's hospitality on the score of their early friendship and the occasional business letters which had passed between them since. Andrew was a little afraid at first to tell Betsey of this additional care, but she received the news graciously. She said, mournfully, how pleased the old gentleman would have been; but she thought also that she would show the city guest that they knew how to do things if they did live in the country, and since her pride as a housekeeper was put to its utmost test, she was not sorry to have so worthy a spectator among her audience.
But a new interest quickly followed this, for one of the women whispered to another that Andrew could not find the will. He had supposed that it was safe in the keeping of old Mr. Estes, who was the only lawyer in that region; but Mr. Estes had happened to say that two or three weeks before, Mr. Dennett had taken it home with him. Andrew was told that it was written on a sheet of blue letter-paper, and sealed with a wafer.
"I looked all through the papers in the desk up-stairs," said he to Mrs. Haynes, "and in my uncle's coat pockets, but I can't seem to find it." It was an evident relief to tell this, and Mrs. Haynes was at once much interested. "It must have slipped between some of the other things, or he may have tied it up with some old bills, or something, by mistake. I suppose Betsey don't know?"
But she did not, and was deeply concerned, for she had long indulged hopes of a legacy. She helped Andrew look all through the pigeon-holes again, and in every likely and unlikely place they could think of; but it was no use, and the fear took possession of them that Mr. Dennett might have destroyed it, meaning to make another will, and never had done so.
"He told me only a week or two ago," said Andrew, "that everything was going to be mine, and I might do as I chose. I was speaking to him about the barn; you know he had set his mind on altering it. I don't know what to think," and he went to the bedside and lifted the sheet from the dead man's face; but he looked white and indifferent, and kept his secrets.
The days crept by until Saturday, and each night two neighbors came to watch, after the old custom; and those who were lying awake in the house could hear them every little while tramp up the stairs and down again, and the grumble of their voices as they talked together in the kitchen, trying to keep themselves awake. On Friday Mr. Dunning came, and was shocked to find that the only person he really cared very much to see had so lately died; but he accepted Andrew's invitation, and made up his mind to stay until the funeral, discovering that it was expected of him and looked upon as desirable. There was a strange contrast between him and his old friend; the city man looked much younger in his well-fitting clothes, and his quick, business-like manner gave him an air of youth which was in great contrast to Mr. Dennett's slow, farmer-like ways. As he had grown older he had found himself thinking more and more about the people he had known when he was a boy, and the places where he had worked and played. It seemed strange at first to see hardly any familiar faces, and he had a curious sense of loneliness as he sat, himself an object of great interest, among the mourners; and the pomp and piety of the old-fashioned country funeral interested him not a little. The people gathered from far and near to pay respect to the good man who had died; and they came in by twos and threes, with solemn faces, to look at him, and many of them touched his face, lest they might have bad dreams of him. It was the first time his friends had come to his house and he had not welcomed them, but he lay in his coffin unmindful of them all, looking strange and priest-like in the black robe in which they had shrouded him. It was a bleak, cold day, and he would have looked more comfortable, and certainly more familiar, in his own old coat that was faded a little on the shoulders.
Betsey Morris was dressed in proper black, and was crying softly, with a big pocket handkerchief held close to her face, which she occasionally moved aside a little as the people came in, to dart a glance at them. Andrew looked worn and anxious. Every one told him that the will must be found, but he was by no means certain, and if it did not come to light he was left penniless. He was only the nephew of Stephen Dennett's wife, and though he had been always treated as a son he had never been formally adopted. Several people noticed that he had a manly look that they never had seen before, but for his part he felt helpless and adrift.
After a long and solemn silence the old minister rose to speak of the departed pillar of the church and town, as he called Mr. Dennett, and the old clock in the kitchen ticked louder than ever in the hush that followed. After the remarks were ended he lifted the great Bible which was lying ready on the light stand, and read slowly and reverently the short and solemn last chapter of Ecclesiastes; and, though there were fewer young people to heed the preacher's warning than old people to regret their long delay, it seemed to fit the occasion best. "Or even the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl broken," he read in his trembling voice; "for man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets." He thought of his kind friend and generous parishioner, and it was said afterward that, though the old parson was an able preacher and gifted in prayer, he never had spoken as he did that day. He knew this chapter by heart; he had read it at many a funeral before and he repeated the last few verses, lowering the Bible as he held it in his arms, for it was heavy, and out from between the leaves slid a thin folded paper, which went wavering through the air to the floor; it was sealed with a big red wafer, and one or two persons who sat close by and saw it, knew by a sudden instinct that it was the missing will.
Andrew Phillips turned very pale for a moment, and then as suddenly flushed. He started from his chair, but his respect for the time and place checked him, and with great propriety he nodded to the old woman at whose feet it had fallen, -- a distant connection of the family, a feeble, wheezing old creature, -- who had made a great effort to be present. She stooped over stiffly and picked it up; she looked as if it were only a commonplace paper, which must not litter the floor on such a day. The minister had already begun his prayer, but when he besought the Lord that the memory of the departed might be a lesson, and that the young man on whom his mantle was to fall might prove himself worthy of it, Andrew prayed for himself still more heartily, and before the coffin-lid was screwed down he bent over and kissed his uncle's forehead. Some of the women's eyes filled with tears; he might not be a go-ahead young man, but his fondness for his uncle was unaffected, and, being his uncle's heir and standing in his place, his feelings were much more to be respected than if he were still a dependent.
When the mourners were called out he meant, as he went by old Mrs. Towner's chair, to take the will. He had tried to call her attention, and make her understand that he wanted the paper; but she was dull of sight, and sat there watching the proceedings with intense interest. Andrew was shy, and he had a horror of seeming anxious about the property before all the people; and when he and Betsey were called (Mr. Lysander Dennett and family, the only cousins, not responding), he went out into the yard, a little uneasy at heart, to take his place at the head of the procession.
They walked two by two across the wind-blown field to the little family burying-ground. It was a long procession, and the doctor was one of the mourners; he had pleaded in vain critical cases in the next town, for his wife, mindful of the exactions of society, would not hear to any excuses. He shivered and grumbled as he walked with her to the grave. "I shall be out every night for a week after this, looking after lung fevers," said he. "I don't see why people must go through with just so much!" and he hastily brushed away a cold tear that had started down his cheek when he caught sight of the clumsy coffin as it was carried unevenly along in the hands of the bearers. He had been deeply attached to old Mr. Dennett, but the people who walked before him thought he showed very little feeling. When they were nearing the house again some one came running out and spoke to the doctor, who followed him hurriedly; the word was passed from one to another that old widow Towner was in some kind of a fit, and Andrew's first thought was of the will, for it was she who had it in her pocket.
She had stayed behind to keep the house, being so feeble, and spent with a long walk in the cold. "Foolish for old people to be out in such perishing weather," said the doctor to himself as he bent over her. "She's gone, poor soul," he told the startled people who were crowding round him. She was lying near the fire-place, on the kitchen floor; she had been putting on some wood. "I've been expecting this, -- she's had a heart complaint these twenty years," said the doctor.
And the will had disappeared again. They looked in her pocket, but it was not there, and there was no trace of it anywhere; only at the side of the fire were some scraps of half-burnt writing paper, -- the order in which people had been called out to take their places in the procession. "I meant to keep that," said Betsey Morris, almost angrily. Whether the old widow had been a little dazed and had burnt the will also, nobody knew, but it was certainly gone. She had been trying to put the house in order a little; some of the borrowed chairs were already standing outside the door, for she was familiar with the contents of the house. Poor little drudge! she had worked to the very end.
It was almost too great an excitement for the towns-people; most of them had just heard of the missing will for the first time, and the crowd of wagons disappeared slowly. This sudden death was a great drawback to the funeral feast, but Betsey managed skillfully to muster those guests who were to stay, for that was an important part of the rites. Poor old widow Towner was comfortably disposed of, and wrapped in some coverlids, and carried away on the floor of a wagon to the desolate little black house where she had lived alone for many years; and then the tables were laid, and the company gravely ate and drank their fill.
Andrew saw his lady-love alone only for a minute after the funeral. "I wish I could stay and help you look for it," said she, "but father says there's a storm coming and we'd better get home." It annoyed him to find that her only thought was of the will. To be sure, it was uppermost in his own mind, but he had too lately seen his oldest and kindest friend put into a frozen grave to be quite forgetful of him, and he would have liked best for Susan to sympathize with the better part of his thoughts. It flashed through his mind that he had once heard some one say that Susan had an eye to the windward, but he held her hand the more affectionately for a moment, as he helped her into her father's wagon, and tucked in the buffalo skin with care by way of making amends for such injustice. There had been times when it had seemed to him that Susan could not understand his best thoughts, and that she was a little bored if he talked about subjects instead of people, and he sighed a little and felt lonely as he went back to the house. "The higher you climb, the fewer you have for company," he said to himself; and it struck him as being a very fine thought.
There was a good deal of conversation going on in the house, and as he opened the kitchen door, where the women were busy clearing away the supper, there was a sudden hush. To tell the truth, they had been taking sides on the question of Susan's being willing to marry him if the will could not be found.
"You needn't tell me," said our friend Mrs. Beedle, as she stood at the closet putting away some plates. "Susan never'd had him in the world if it hadn't been for the property. I always thought she'd a looked another way if the dollars hadn't shone in her eyes. I don't blame her. I shouldn't pick out Andrer for his self alone. I'd as soon live on b'iled rice the year round. I like to see a young fellow that's got some snap to him."
"But there, now he's got to be his own master he may start up," suggested some one. "I always thought well of Andrer."
"Land, so did I!" said Mrs. Beedle, with surprise. "I ain't saying nothing against him. What do you guess old lady Towner could a done with the will? It don't seem like her to have burnt it. But she needn't have burnt the paper o' names for the procession; they're usually kept. I know we've got 'em to our house for every funeral that's been since I can remember: gran'ther's, and grandma'am's, and old Aunt Hitty's, and all. She had an awful sight o' folks follow her. You know she wa'n't but half-sister to grand'ther, and owned half the farm. 'T was her right to have a good funeral, and she had it; they set out the best there was. Her own mother was a Shepley, and she had over thirty own cousins on the Shepley side, and they were a dreadful clannish set. I know we set the supper table over five times[;] mother always said it was a real pleasant occasion; 't was in September, and a beautiful day for a funeral, and all the family gathered together. I don't more 'n just remember it myself. Aunt Hitty was in her ninety-fourth year, and of course her death wasn't no calamity, for she hadn't had her mind for above two years. I was small, but I can see just how she looked. She'd get a word fixed in her mind in the morning, and she'd keep it a-going all day; sometimes she'd call grand'ther by name, and I rec'lect one day she said divil, divil, divil, till it seemed as if we couldn't stand it no longer."
"I do hope I sha'n't out-live my usefulness," whined a thin little old woman in black. "I always had a dread o' being a burden to others."
"I say," said Mrs. Beedle stoutly, "that old folks has a right to be maintained and done for; it ain't no favor to them. It looks dreadful hard to me, that after you've toiled all your good years, and laid up what you could, and stood in your lot and place as long as you had strength, the minute you get feeble you're begrudged the food you eat and the chair you set in. What's the use of scanting yourself and laying up a little somethin', and seeing other folks spend it! Some ain't got no feelin's for the old, but for my part I like to make 'em feel of consequence."
"Poor old Mis' Towner!" said a pleasant-faced woman. "It keeps coming over me about her; somehow it seems to me as if she had been dreadful desolate [hesolate], livin' all alone so. She would do it; many's the time we've asked her to our house to stop through a cold spell or a storm, but she never seemed inclined. I thought when I see her coming in to-day she'd better be to home; but she always was a great hand to go to funerals when she could, and then bein' a connection, too. Mis' Ash and Mis' Thompson said they'd hurry home and be to her place by the time they got her there."
"I s'pose likely she had a little something laid up?" asked Betsey Morris.
"Enough to bury her, it's likely. I know of her having thirty-eight dollars she got for some wood a spell ago. You know she owned a little wood-lot over in the Kimball tract. She picked up a little now and then sellin' eggs, but I guess she ain't earnt anything tailoring this good while, her eyes have been failin' her so."
The will had not been mentioned since Andrew had come in and seated himself on the settle, which had been pushed back from its usual place. It had grown dark, and people had said it was no use to hunt any longer, and he had not the courage to go on with the search; beside, he could only look in the same places over again. He could not help feeling worried; he was impatient for the morrow to come. It seemed to him that all this suffering and loss was felt by himself alone. It was like a tornado that had blown through his life, but everybody else appeared to be on the whole enjoying it, and to have a great deal to talk about. He thought, as he listened to the busy, gossiping women, how cheerless and friendless an old age must be when there was no money in a man's pocket, and for the first time in his life he felt poor, and fearful of the future, which had always seemed secure until then. He remembered how often his uncle had said, "It's a cold world when you've nothing to give it;" and somehow there was a great difference in his own mind between his sitting there, uncertain and almost unnoticed, and his receiving the people earlier in the afternoon, as the chief mourner and his uncle's heir. He was the master of the house for the time being; to be sure, the will was missing then, but now it had disappeared almost before his face and eyes. This sudden change in his fortune seemed very strange and sad to him, and he wished Susan had not gone home. Their love for each other was left, at any rate, and he was rich again in the thought that she was his; and then a dreadful doubt came, -- what if she had an eye to the windward? But he crushed this serpent of a thought instantly.
Later Mr. Dunning came in; he had gone home with some old acquaintances who lived not far away, and had spent part of the evening. The snow had already begun to sift down as if there were a long storm coming; the people had all gone away, and Andrew and Betsey Morris and their guest were left to themselves.
"Now tell me what this trouble is about the will," said Mr. Dunning; and Andrew went over the story briefly.
"It looks dark for you," said Mr. Dunning, "but it doesn't seem as if anybody in their senses would burn such a thing without knowing what it was; however, she may not have been in her senses. It is a pity you did not take it yourself before you left the house." Betsey thought so too, and could have mentioned that everybody said it was just like him. "It seems to me that she might have put it back in the Bible again, thinking it was a family record, or something of that kind."
"I thought of that, and I looked there, but I could not find it," said Andrew; but he went into the best room and brought out the Bible, and looked through it carefully, leaf by leaf.
"Who is the heir at law?" asked Mr. Dunning; and he was told that it was a cousin of Mr. Dennett's, old Lysander Dennett, who lived seventeen or eighteen miles away. It would have been a great sorrow to the old gentleman if he had thought of his property going in that direction.
"He would have given what he had to the State sooner than have such a thing happen!" said Betsey, excitedly. "I believe he'd turn over in his grave. You know he was a very set man, but he did have excellent judgment."
"I wish I had come a little sooner; I should like to have seen Stephen again," said Mr. Dunning; and they were all silent for a time.
"Why don't you put your uncle's death in the Bible, now you've got it right here, Andrer?" asked Betsey, and she brought the little stone bottle of ink, and Andrew carefully wrote the name and date. "He was the last of them," said Betsey mournfully, "and they was always respectable folks. I suppose you remember the old people well as I do, Mr. Dunning?" --
Mr. Dunning was not used to feeling sleepy at half-past nine, though that hour was unusually late for his entertainers, and finding that he seemed disposed to linger, Andrew put more wood on the fire, and drew some cider, and brought some apples from the cellar, and the guest seemed very comfortable. It was like old times, he said. He asked Andrew a great many questions about the old dwellers in the town, - what had become of the boys and girls he used to know; and at last he asked the young man some questions about himself, and suddenly said, with a directness that was startling, "In case of the will's not turning up, what do you mean to do?"
"I have hardly had time to think," said Andrew, flushing; and then, being sure of sympathy, he opened his heart to the gray-headed man, who seemed to him to be finishing his life while he was just beginning. "I believe I haven't a very good reputation, Mr. Dunning, but I feel sure I could make something of myself if I had the chance. I never have had anything to do that I liked to do. I never took to farming; my uncle never wanted to give up the reins, and I didn't want him to. He couldn't bear the thought of my going away and leaving him, and you know there isn't much business in a farming town like this for a young man. I don't know which way to turn," said poor Andrew, a sense of the misery of the situation coming over him as it never had before. "I don't want to blame the best friend I ever had, but I wish now he had put me to some business or other."
"Yes, yes," answered Mr. Dunning absently. "It would have made it easier for you, perhaps; but if you didn't start of your own accord, he probably didn't want to push you; he was glad to have you here. My boys are all scattered;" and then he said no more for a while. Andrew felt half rebuked, and half convinced that it had been right to stay at home. He suspected that his guest was thinking of his own affairs, and wished he had not told so long a story.
All night long Andrew turned and tossed in his bed, and thought about his troubles, until his head ached, and it was a relief when it was time to get up in the early dark morning and go out to feed the cattle. As soon as it was light and breakfast was over, they all hunted again for the will, high and low, up-stairs and down, but it was no use; and later they went decorously to meeting. The neighbors came in, and Mr. Dunning was the hero of the hour, and was treated with great ceremony and honor. He was a well-known man, and his coming was taken as a great favor. Mr. Dennett's fame had been only provincial, and Andrew's perplexities would wait to be considered later. It was a very exciting time, and the people met together in the farm-house kitchens and had a great deal to say to one another. One day had been much like another for a great while before that week, and life had been like reading one page of a book over and over again.
Early Monday morning Mr. Dunning went away. Andrew drove him over to the village to take the stage. He used to dream in his boyhood that he would come back some day a rich man; the dream had come true; but there was after all a dreary pathos in it. Everybody had made a king of him, and had seemed proud if he remembered them, and yet, -- he did not care as he used to think he should. He said he meant to come back in the summer, and he told Andrew that he hoped to find him master of the place; and Andrew made a desperate effort to smile. "If I can do anything for you, you must let me know, my boy," said he. "I thought a great deal of your uncle; he did me some good turns when we were young together."
"I have often heard him say that he wished he could see you again," said the young man. "He would have been so pleased to have this visit. He used to speak of your sitting together always at school, and he used to be so proud when he read your name in the papers."
Mr. Dunning coughed a little and looked away and asked the name of one of the hills which he had forgotten. "Yes, I wish I could have seen him once more," he said after a few minutes; and then he was forced to think of his own schemes and plans, for he was on his way back to his every-day world again.
It was only two or three days before Betsey Morris heard the sound of bells, and looked out of the window to see Mr. Lysander Dennett coming in from the road, driving a lame white horse in an old high-backed sleigh. Andrew had gone to see Susan Mathes, so she was all alone. She told herself that Mr. Dennett might have waited a full week before he came spying round, and she would not go to the door to welcome him; so he was a long time putting his horse under a shed and covering him with the buffalo robe, which was worn until it looked fit for only a blacksmith's apron. He stamped the snow off his boots and flapped his arms to get the stiffness out, for it was very cold; the sky looked as if there were another storm coming. He dallied as long as possible, hoping that somebody would come out; but at last he summoned courage, and crossed the yard to the house and knocked at the door. Betsey had been slyly watching him through the window with a grim chuckle, but she kept him waiting a few minutes longer, and then met him with affected surprise. She was apparently hospitable, but she placed a chair for him almost into the fire itself, and entreated him to lay off his coat and stop, it was so long since he had been over, -- a cruel thrust at him for not having been at the funeral." He never did come 'less it was after money, mean-spirited old toad!" thought she.
Cousin Lysander was slow of speech; he unwound a long, dingy, yarn comforter from his throat, and then he bent forward and rubbed his hands together before the fire. He had a curious, narrow face, with a nose like a beak, and thin straggling hair and whiskers, with two great ears that stood out as if they were a schooner's sails wing-and-wing. Betsey drew her chair to the other side of the fire-place, and began to knit angrily.
"We was dreadful concerned to hear o' cousin Stephen's death," said the poor man. "He went very sudden, didn't he? Gre't loss he is."
"Yes," said Betsey, "he was very much looked up to;" and it was some time before the heir plucked up courage to speak again.
"Wife and me was lotting on getting over to the funeral; but it's a gre't ways for her to ride, and it was a perishin' day that day. She's be'n troubled more than common with her phthisic since cold weather come. I was all crippled up with the rheumatism; we wa'n't neither of us fit to be out" (plaintively). "'T was all I could do to get out to the barn to feed the stock while Jonas and Tim was gone. My boys was over, I s'pose ye know? I don' know 's they come to speak with ye; they're backward with strangers, but they're good stiddy fellows."
"Them was the louts that was hanging round the barn, I guess," said Betsey to herself.
"They're the main-stay now; they're ahead of poor me a'ready. Jonas, he's got risin' a hundred dollars laid up, and I believe Tim's got something too, -- he's younger, ye know?"
But Betsey gave her chair an angry hitch at this mixture of humility and brag, and then was a little ashamed of herself, for the memory of old Mr. Dennett's kindness and patience rebuked her. "I've always heard they was good boys," she said. "Mr. Dennett was speakin' of 'em only last week; he thought Jonas must be about out of his time."
"Next June," said Lysander, taking heart.
("I come just as near saying that he spoke of leavin' them something," said Betsey afterward, "but I didn't. I thought he might as well tell right out what he come for.")
"Andrer's away, I take it?"
And Betsey answered yes, but that he would be back early. "He went off before dinner; he's got to be home to see some folks that's coming. You'd better stop, now you're over," she said, and her tone was milder. She was a tender-hearted soul, and she had made him uncomfortable until she was miserable herself.
"I tell you I dread to see Andrer," said the old man sincerely, in almost a whisper. "I thought I might as well come and have it over with, but I tell you when I got into the yard I wished I was home again. Sometimes I don't feel as if I had a mite o' right to what Stephen meant to give to somebody else; but Andrer ain't got his proofs, and my boys has had a hard chance. Somehow or 'nother, it's always been up-hill work to our place, and I feel 's if the law gives it to me, it's the will o' Providence, and I ain't got no right to set my will ag'inst it. But I want to make things pleasant with Andrer; I thought if I come right over, and we talked it over pleasant together, we could fix it someway for the best. I mean well, Betsey, I tell ye honest I do; and if we find out what Stephen calc'lated to do for you, you shall have every cent, if it has to come out o' my part."
"I ain't thought no great about that," said Betsey, who was already considering what there was in the house to make a hearty supper for him, he looked so starved and timid, like an old white rabbit. "But I do feel for Andrer, -- you know how he has been brought up. There he is now, I declare, and he's fetched Susan with him," and she bustled out to greet them, leaving the visitor more unhappy and at a loss than ever. He had thought that everything was getting on comfortably, and he meant to lay his case before Betsey Morris, and then steal away lest he might encounter Andrew, and the idea of meeting Susan was particularly unpleasant. But he reflected that it would all have to be gone through with some time or other, and he sat up as straight as he could in his chair, prepared to hold his own.
Betsey shut the kitchen door after her, and went out a few steps to speak to them before they drove on into the shed. "Lysander's come," -- and for the life of her she could not help a smile. "I was mad at first, but when I come to see how meachin' he was I turned to and pitied him, just as your uncle used to. He'd scold dreadfully when he see him a-coming, but he always loaded up his old wagon for him when he went home. I guess you can have things pretty much as you want 'em [em]."
Andrew frowned. He had to go through same process of mind as Betsey, but he achieved it in about the same length of time; and though he was very angry at first, after he had put up his own horse he gave the lame white beast a big measure of corn and a pitchforkful of hay, and put her in the warmest stall. He still felt as if he would like to ill-treat her master as he went into the house. Old Lysander looked more meaching than ever, as Betsey had expressed herself, and Susan sat near the fire, looking cross and cold. She was a pretty girl, but not a very good-tempered one, and it had been a serious annoyance to her to find that there was some danger of her having to come down from the high perch she had taken as mistress in prospect of the Dennett farm. Andrew had been laughed at for his old-fashioned, sober ways, and for his mind's habit of wool-gathering. Some blunders he had made were kept alive as great jokes, and he had suffered from contrast with a smart young fellow who had come from the nearest large town, and was clerk at the country store and post-office. He had a "way" with him, and Andrew had not, and Susan's heart had been pulled in both directions.
Andrew shook hands cordially with the old man; he looked a little like Mr. Dennett, and it seemed as if some thin and weather-beaten likeness of him were sitting there, forlorn, before his own fire, or as if he had come back unsuccessful from his adventure into the next world. "You'll stop all night, of course," said the young man. "It's rough traveling, and it's getting dark now. You won't think of going home. I put up your horse. I suppose you want to have a little talk about business, too." It was hard work to say this, and Susan's eyes snapped and grew very black. "I wonder he don't ask him right off if he can't stop here himself," she muttered, and Betsey thought he was too free-spoken altogether. Lysander was evidently touched by this great civility. He had expected to he treated dreadfully, and to tell the truth, though his wife had started him off early in the morning, he had lingered all day at one place and another along the road.
It grew dark very soon, and Andrew went out to bring in the wood for the night and to do his usual work; and after a while he came in, looking pleasanter than before, which made Susan crosser. She was an honest and just girl according to her lights, and she would not have wished her lover to keep what was not his, but it was her way to make everybody feel that it was injustice, and that Andrew was making somebody else an out-and-out present for his conscience's [conscience'] sake. She was treating poor Lysander's attempts at conversation with lofty disdain, and he grew more and more humble, and consequently disagreeable. He felt that he was creeping into this good luck by a very crooked way, and it did not behoove him to put on airs and march in upon his possessions with his banners flying; and though he said to himself over and over that the law makes the best will after all; that he was certainly Stephen's next of kin and always had had a hard time, and that Andrew had been given many favors by somebody who was no blood relation, yet he was very sorry for the young fellow, and showed his sympathy as well as he knew how.
"I come over a purpose to say to ye that I mean to do what's right about this," he said at last, at the end of a long and awkward pause. "I've asked advice, and I find the property comes to me by the law. But I know Stephen had it in his mind to give you the best part of what he had, and I want to do what's fair and right, and so does my woman and the boys. We'll leave it out to anybody you name, or you may have your say, or we'll share even. I don't want to have no trouble. The first thing I says when I got wind of it was I never'd touch a cent by claim; but when I come to think it over, it's come by law, and our folks haven't laid up nothin' to speak of; it's been so we couldn't. My sons are smart, stiddy fellows, and I'd like to let the youngest one have some schooling; he always took to his book. I don't want to be a drag on 'em, when it gets so I can't work. I want ye to think well about it and let me know. I won't hurry ye, and we'll make out the papers all square whenever you say."
"Whining old thing!" said Susan to herself; and Betsey left her chair and hurried to the closet, impatiently, for nothing whatever, and gave the door a little slam when she shut it again.
Andrew moved a little in his chair. "No, Mr. Dennett," said he, bravely. "I couldn't touch a cent unless the will was found. If I had ever seen it, and knew for certain what was in it, perhaps I should act different; but as it is I should feel as if I was living on you, and I shouldn't like that. The law gives you the property, as you say, and I hope you and your folks will be comfortable here. I want to speak about one thing: my uncle told me he had left Betsey five hundred dollars; he spoke to me about it several times, and I promised I would see to it when anything happened to him. He said he wanted to feel she would be comfortable when she got to be old. I'm much obliged to you for what you say, and for coming right over and talking fair and kind."
Betsey told herself then that he talked like a fool, but she always insisted afterwards that he did speak up like a man. Susan thought her lover was better looking than he used to be; she really admired him at that moment, but her heart sank within her. "He is dreadful high-flown," she said to herself, with an uneasy sense of what might be required of her as to noble ideas in years to come, if he went on in this way. It was hard, when she had been thinking they would be the two richest young people in town, to find that Andrew had decided to make them almost the poorest. She wished him to go to law; she thought she was fond of him, but people had always known he had no turn for business, and she had trusted to her own wits to make the farm pay well. Andrew had talked to her in a way that touched her heart only that afternoon, as they drove over, and had told her that he meant to be somebody for her sake, and make her proud of him yet; and she had smiled and kissed him with great affection, but it had been almost too cold for love-making, and she was a sadly disappointed girl.
They spent a solemn evening. Old Lysander talked a great deal about the weather and the likelihood of there being more snow before morning, and then he fell asleep and snored; and later Andrew walked over with Susan to her aunt's, where she was going to spend a day or two, as often happened. She was dreading to meet her relatives, but Andrew was on provokingly good terms with himself. He told Susan that she was everything to him, and he didn't care about losing the farm so long as he had her; and she said that she wasn't half good enough for him, and resolved that she wouldn't break his heart now, for he was a well-meaning fellow, but before spring there would be some way she could get out of it.
The short winter days that followed were dreary enough to the hero of this story. His comfortable life had always seemed a certainty to him, and now new cares and perplexities had fallen heavily upon him. He could not help noticing that there was a change in the manner of his neighbors, and Betsey often mentioned that she could not imagine how her sister got on without her, and was evidently in a hurry to settle herself in her new home. The Dennetts had asked them both to stay until spring at the farm, when they meant to make a change, and it seemed the best thing to do; but Andrew kept himself busier than ever before in his life, lest he might be accused of idling and eating another man's bread. He undertook to keep the district school nearby, and succeeded tolerably well, and it was a great satisfaction to be earning something. He hunted far and near for some employment, until he was discouraged. He knew that Susan would despise his hiring out on a farm for the summer, and there seemed to be nothing else, if there were even that. He felt very forlorn, and sometimes there was a chill in Susan's sunshine, which was the saddest thing of all.
One day late in January he made up his mind to write to Mr. Dunning and ask him to find some work for him in Boston, though it was awful to think of going so far away. Susan brightened when he spoke of it, and when a letter was received telling him to come as soon as possible he said good-by to her and went, and some one else finished the town school. He often smiled in after-years to think of the misgivings with which he left his home, and the tremendous distance which seemed to lie between it and the city; it was almost like going off into space. The change to city life was a very great one, and at first he felt as a small boy might who had fastened his sled behind a railway train. However, he proved equal to the place for which Mr. Dunning had recommended him; his steady, painstaking ways found favor with his employers, while he lost some of his natural slowness from being with people who were always in a hurry. He wrote long and edifying letters to Susan, and confided to her his aims and hopes, and his certainty that she would like the city as much as he did. She replied from time to time, but she had by no means the pen of a ready writer; and when, one day, he had been thinking a great deal about her, and wondering gratefully why she had fallen in love with him, a letter came to say that she had decided that they must part. Her father and mother would not consent to her settling so far away, and she hoped they would always be friends; she never had been good enough for him, -- which was not honest, since she thought herself much too good. It was a heavy blow, and Andrew was miserable for some time. The loss of the will had involved this loss also, and life seemed very dismal.
But he did not mourn all his days, as at first he thought he should. His business grew very interesting, and he set his heart upon making a fortune, since other people had done it without any more hard work than he was willing to do; and after a while the news reached his old neighbors that his employers thought highly of him and would soon send him out to China, -- they being in the tea business. Then even Mrs. Beedle said she always knew there was a good deal to Andrew Phillips, and now folks that had laughed at him were going to see. And sure enough, he did make his way steadily upward, as many a country boy has done before and since. He changed little in reality: he dressed well, and behaved himself in the approved fashion, and gained a good knowledge of the world, and his manner, which had been thought awkward, came to be considered good enough. While in his boyhood he had been called stupid and slow-moulded, among his business friends he passed for a reserved and discreet and cautious man. He never was very attractive; his associates found no fault with him, for his life was honorable and just, but he did not make many personal friends, though he was so much respected. You might have a strong feeling of attachment for him after you had known him long, but that was all; he was not a person whom one could be enthusiastic about. His was not the character which rouses enthusiasm, but after his own fashion he made a success of life, and that cannot always be said of men who are more popular with their fellows and more gifted by nature than he.
He married, after a while, an orphan niece of one of the firm, of which in time he rose to be a partner himself, and everybody thought it was a good match for both of them. The fair Susan was never thought of with a sigh; it is oftener in love stories than in real life that such wounds of the heart take long to heal. The world seems to come to an end, and then is begun anew; after people marry, their earlier lovers are seldom thought of with regret, however dear they were in their day. Andrew's wife was a far better wife for him than Susan ever would or could have been, and he always said so to himself when he thought of the matter at all. They had a pleasant house and a pleasant position in society, and our hero often smiled to think of his misery when he found that his uncle's estates were not to be his, after all. It was a good while before it flashed through his mind, one day, that it had been a blessing in disguise. There had been eight thousand dollars beside the farm; there never had been a fortune equal to it in that neighborhood; but his own possessions already covered it over and over again, and it made him fairly wretched to think how small and narrow his life would have been if he had stayed at home on the farm, how much he should have missed, and how much less he could have done for himself and for other people. He said more than once that it had been the making of him, and that the hand of God had plainly shaped his course.
After a good many years he went back to his native place; he had been meaning to do it for a long time, and he was somehow often reminded of Mr. Dunning's visit. It was a pleasant week in late summer, and the old town was little changed; only there seemed to be very few old people and a great many younger ones. He went to see every one whom he knew, and his holidays were after all very pleasant. He called upon Susan, and found her old and homely and complaining, though she had married the smart young man at the store, and had been as fond of him as it was her nature to be of any one. It was odd that he was awkward and lank and slow-moulded now, while Andrew was in her eyes a most distinguished and elegant looking man, and she could not imagine how she ever had the courage to dismiss him. "You know I always set a great deal by you, Mr. Phillips," she said, with a look that made her a little like the Susan of old. He seemed a part of her triumphant youth, and it brought back all her old pride and ambition. She had meant to be somebody and had failed, and perhaps she never exactly understood where her mistake had been until then. It is likely that from that time forward she occasionally said that she might have been riding in her carriage.
Andrew stayed at the Dennett farm; nothing had ever told him so plainly how different a man he was from what he might have been, or how different a life he led, like coming back to the old house. It seemed very strange to wake up in the morning in his old room, which with unwonted sentiment he had asked if he might occupy. Lysander Dennett had not lived long to enjoy his good fortune, but it had been a great blessing to his sons, who were farmers by nature; and now one lived in the old house, and the other in a new one near by, and they worked the farm together, while they were, by reason of their wealth, two of the foremost citizens, and one of them had even been sent to the legislature. The old place was not altered much. Andrew was reminded of his uncle and of his own boyhood at every step, and he offered to buy one or two old pieces of furniture, which were gladly given to him when he was found to be attached to them; and, since they were brass-mounted and claw-footed, his wife welcomed them with joy, and thought his pilgrimage to his native place had not been in vain. There was a son of Jonas Dennett's at the farm who reminded him of himself in his youth, and he made friends in a grave way with the boy, and said to himself that in a year or two he would give him a start in the world.
It happened the day before he ended his visit was a rainy day, and he was shut up in the house, though between two showers in the morning he had gone over to pay a last call on Mrs. Beedle, who was still living, grown shorter and stouter than ever, until her little head and broad round shoulders made her look like a June bug. She took great pride in Mr. Phillips, who, indeed, had been kind to her in many ways, as well as to Betsey Morris, who had died not long before.
After he had come back he was at his wits' end what to do. Jonas Dennett was away and the women were busy, and at last he asked if there were not an old family Bible somewhere in the house, and was directed to the best room, -- stiff and dismal as ever, -- where it was taken down from the chimney cupboard, as the Bible belonging to the Lysander Dennett branch was occupying the post of honor on the little table in the corner. Andrew caught sight of some other ancient-looking volumes, and he mounted the chair himself, reaching in at arm's-length and taking out one old brown book after another. There was nothing very interesting; they were mostly like Law's Serious Call and the Rise and Progress, and some volumes of old sermons by New England divines. The last book was a great volume of Townsend's Arrangement of the Old Testament. It was almost as large as the Bible itself, and as he took it out it slipped from his hand and fell to the floor. One of the Dennett children, who stood by, stooped to pick it up, and as Andrew came down from the chair, dusty and disappointed in his search, she gave it to him. There was a paper half out between the leaves, which the fall had dislodged, and he pulled it out to replace it more carefully, thinking of something else all the time; but a strange feeling rushed over him at the sight of it, and he sat down, still holding the big book and the paper, and, to the little girl's surprise, he grew very red in the face.
It was strange that after so many years he should have been the one to find the missing will. It was carefully written in his uncle's stiff, precise hand, and the farm and all the money, with the exception of Betsey Morris's legacy, and one to the young Dennetts, and some smaller ones to the church and the old minister, were left to his adopted son.
And now Andrew was the rightful heir when he did not wish to be, and he was anything but happy. He remembered the book, and that he looked in it himself; it used to be on a table in that same room, and poor old Mrs. Towner had carefully replaced the paper in the Bible, as she thought, for this book was not unlike it to her half-blind eyes. Soon after the funeral Betsey had put the room severely to rights and had stored the books away in the chimney cupboard, where they had been ever since. He could not imagine how he and the other people who had searched had overlooked this paper; it must have been fastened between two leaves and hidden somehow. Indeed, it had always been a puzzle to him why the will should have been in the Bible at all; it was not like his uncle to put it there; but after all it is only people in real life who do uncharacteristic things. Andrew went out to the barn and sat there alone for a while, listening to the rain on the shingles overhead and wondering what he should do. He had a great affection for the old place, and he would have liked to think it was his, as his uncle wished it to be. It cost a good deal of effort to give it up; but he knew that his wife would find it very dull for even a little while in the summer, and it was too far from the city for him to think of spending much time there. It would give him a great deal of trouble, too. And Jonas and Tim Dennett would be thrown out of their homes; they were worth five or six thousand dollars apiece and their farm now, but they would have to begin life all over again, -- they and their wives and children. He was a rich man himself and only a little past middle age, and he came to the conclusion that he would not claim the property that his uncle had given him.
And when he went into the house he stood for a minute in the kitchen warming his hands a little over the stove, which to his sorrow had taken the place of the old fire-place; while nobody was looking he tucked a folded paper in at the draught, and saw it light quickly and burn, and the old wafer spluttered a little, while he felt very solemn, and seemed to his hostess all day to have something on his mind. He had a feeling of regret about it from time to time, and he thought sometimes that it would have been just as well to let them know how generous he had been. But he always told himself, whenever he thought of the will afterward, that it was the best thing for him to do.
So he lost his fortune when he wanted it, and found it was his when he would not take it; but he thought of the old place more and more as he grew older, and Jonas Dennett's boy came to the city that next spring.
"Andrew's Fortune" first appeared in Atlantic Monthly (48:20-39, July 1881) and was collected in Country By-Ways, from which this text is taken. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
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Sphinx ... Nile: "A mythical creature that was frequently a subject of ancient Egyptian sculpture, the sphinx combined the body of an animal (usually a lion) with the head of a man, and was usually depicted in a recumbent position.... The most famous Egyptian sphinx lies near the pyramid of Khafre (c.2500 BC) at Giza. Known as the Great Sphinx, it measures 21 m (69 ft) in height and 74 m (243 ft in length) and its face, now badly damaged, is believed to represent King Khafre himself." Giza is on the west bank of the Nile River, near Cairo. (Source: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia.)
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taken unawares by the messenger of Death, and surprised in the midst of fancied security: See The Book of Common Prayer (1928) "The Burial of the Dead," p. 332, "In the midst of life we are in death."
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turkey-wing: a fan made from a turkey's wing.
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Thomas's Almanac: Probably Thomas's Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut Almanac which was published in the early 19th Century.
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splint-bottomed chairs: a woven cane seat (research, Allison Easton).
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neurology: neuralgia or nerve pain, usually acute.
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throat distemper: also known as sore throat distemper, refers to both diphtheria and quinsy (tonsillitis). (Source: Modern Names or Definitions of Illnesses of Our Ancestors; Research, Barbara Martens).
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shock: a stroke.
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sog: a drowsy or lethargic state. The Oxford English Dictionary locates the earliest use of the word in this sense in 1874 and includes an example from Jewett, indicating that this usage belongs to that local time.
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death-tick: Mating sound of several kinds of insects, but typically a beetle in the U.S. The sound is made when the insect hits its head against wood. It is a common superstition that such a sound heard in a house foretells the death of an occupant.
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rock-maple: Also known as the sugar maple or hard maple. A large tree in the maple family native to eastern North America and widely grown as an ornamental and shade tree. (Source: Britannica Online; research, Barbara Martens)
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keelson ... sister-keelson: A keelson is a reinforcing structure running longitudinally along the keel or main beam of a wooden ship. The U.S. Coastguard offers this further information: "Sister - As in sister frame or sister keelson. A member attached to or laid alongside an original member to strengthen it, either as an original construction technique or as a repair."
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a fat sorrow's a good sight easier to bear than a lean one: A fat sorrow is associated with gaining wealth through the death of a relative. See, for example, Jewett's "All My Sad Captains" (The Life of Nancy) where Mrs. Lunn suffers a lean sorrow upon the death of an unsuccessful husband.
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spudge up: get right to work (Research, Allison Easton).
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wafer: a piece of sealing wax used to seal a letter.
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Ecclesiastes ... "Or even the silver cord be loosed,...": See Ecclesastes 12: 5-6.
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"The higher you climb, the fewer you have for company": This sentiment was expressed vividly in a popular poem by Jewett's acquaintance, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "Excelsior" (1842).
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lot and place: This phrase is echoed in a variety of places, for example in Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), "Self-Reliance" (1841), near the beginning, where he admonishes the reader to "Trust thyself" and to accept the place where Providence has placed one. See also Daniel 12:12-13.
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buffalo robe: buffalo skin or robe used as a blanket.
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phthisic: progressive wasting away, usually from tuberculosis.
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about out of his time: He has about finished his apprenticeship.
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meachin': Usually spelled "meechin'." humble, servile. See Paula Blanchard, Sarah Orne Jewett, Chapter 18, for an explanation of this word's range of negative connotations.
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a June bug: one of a variety of large leaf-eating, flying beetles, commonly seen in spring.
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Law's Serious Call ... Rise and Progress ... Townsend's Arrangement of the Old Testament: William Law, (1686-1761), A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life; Adapted to the State and Condition of All Orders of Christians. (London 1729); probably Philip Doddridge, (1702-1751), The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul (date?); George Townsend (1788-1857) The Old Testament: Arranged in Historical & Chronological Order, (On the Basis of Lightfoot's Chronicle)... (London 1821).
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
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