Contents: Country By-Ways
Good Company Text
Good Luck: A Girl's Story.
Sarah Orne Jewett
It seems very odd now to remember that we talked over going to Windy-walls for so many weeks before we could make up our minds to it. We thought of all imaginable reasons why we had better not go, and we all felt a good deal like martyrs when we were forced to decide at last that we had better spend the summer there. It was nine miles from a railroad and four from a post-office, and the house might be uncomfortable; beside, if my mother were to be ill nobody knew anything about the doctors. The truth was we wished to spend the summer at the sea-shore. We had spent the greater part of the last four or five summers in town, but in the old days when we were prosperous we lived in a house by the sea which we always had missed sadly, and now, when we found we must leave the city, the thought of three or four months at the shore was most alluring. But my elder brother, who is the most sensible member of the family, was the one who decided it, for he convinced us that it would be much better for my mother to be inland. At first it had been a question of boarding somewhere in the country, but one day my brother Park came home with the news that the people who had been living in an old house of ours in New Hampshire were going to leave it, and that it would be vacant the first of June. It had belonged to a grand-uncle of my father and we had known very little about it; the tenants were elderly people and had been there so long that it seemed to belong to them more than to us. My younger brother Tom and I were dismayed at first, but we took more kindly to the new plan when my mother proposed that we should go together to put the house in order, a few days before the general flitting from town.
There are four of us, my mother, my two brothers, -- Parkhurst, who was then in the medical school, and Tom, who was to enter college the next year, -- and myself. I do not know anything more unhappy than not having an elder and a younger brother. It is a favorite joke of mine that standing between them one pulls me up and the other pulls me down, and so my character develops symmetrically, and I ought not to be wanting in sympathy or experience. When we were all younger we had lived entirely at our ease, but of late years we have had reverses of fortune, and the Boston fire served us as it did many of our friends. It has been very close sailing, with the three of us to send to school and to college, and the frightful taxes on real estate to be paid. My mother insisted that we should not part with our dear old home if we could possibly help it, and, indeed, property had decreased so much in value that it could have been sold only at a great sacrifice, although it was so comfortable and stood in such a pleasant part of the town. I have no doubt it was thought extravagant by some people that we should stay there, though we managed to live on without getting in debt, but now that Tom was to enter college we knew we must rent the old house and so increase our income. Park had had money enough of his own to pay the expenses of his education, and he hoped to go over to Europe the next winter; then my mother and I were to board somewhere and Tom would be in Cambridge. We hated to think of breaking up, it seemed very hard to us, and we knew that we might never again be together in the dear old fashion, even though my mother could ever take the house again, which was, to say the least, doubtful. She was often in ill health and the change would be very sad. My brothers and I would have given anything if in any way we could have made it possible for her to stay; if we could have made sure she might always have everything she needed. I do not think we should have minded being poor half as much if it had not been for her.
I can see now what a blessing these years were to us; we know the worth of money a thousand times better, and we are richer now in a great many ways because we were once poor, my brothers and I; while we have friends whose love for us nothing can make us doubt. I am willing to say that we often used to grumble, but I find there are just as many things I want that I cannot buy now, even though I have more money. One does not naturally go into such personalities as these, but for the sake of my story I wished you to know something of its characters to begin with.
We grew more and more resigned to the thought of taking Uncle Kinlock's house. Tom was seen looking over his fishing-tackle in the hope of finding trout-brooks, and I began to think more kindly of the summer in the country, and to make little plans of my own. Tom and I thought it the best fun in the world to go to Hilton a week before the rest to put the house in order; indeed, I think it was the pleasantest week of the whole summer. I should like to tell you the whole story of it, but I remember that we reached the village late one evening, and in the morning Tom came to the door of the country hotel with a weather-beaten old horse, and after we had collected some provision from the shops, and had loaded part of our luggage into the back of the wagon, we started off for the five miles' drive, feeling ourselves master and mistress of the house already. It was a perfect day; I had seen almost nothing of the country all the spring, and I think I had never felt more pleasure at being alive than I did that morning; the wind that blew about among the hills was so fresh and sweet, and it was one of the June days which make you feel as one does in October weather. The clover and daisies were all in bloom; I never saw so many birds together in all my life. I began to long for my mother to come, and I said over and over again how glad I was that she was going to spend the summer there. I remembered delightedly, what I had often forgotten before, that she was so fond of the country. Tom and I sang a good deal at the top of our voices, there being no audience, and we were sorry we had no farther to go, though the horse was slow and the road was rough, and up hill and down all the way. We watched the great white clouds blow over, and caught sight of one mountain or great hill after another, far and near -- and sometimes we stopped a little while to let the horse rest where it was so pleasant that we really could not go on. Tom saw some woods which gave fair promises of game, and brooks which he said were just the places for whole congregations of trout, and he thought it was the most delightful bit of country he ever had seen in his life. Some children whom we met on their way to school looked at us with great curiosity and interest, and even the least of the shy sun-bonnets knew that we were strangers and foreigners, and they all stood still to look after us when we had passed.
We were in a great hurry to see the house, and the last mile or two seemed long. We had been told that it was on a hill, and we looked for it in vain for some time and thought it must have burned down, until we had come through some thick woods and the road had turned, and then it was in full view half a mile beyond. It certainly was not charming at first sight. It looked gray as if it had never been painted, and there were a few tall, sharp spruces in a row at one side. It was a square, blindless house with two great chimneys, and it stood nearly at the top of a hill which would have looked higher anywhere else than there at the outskirts of the mountains. The road wound along at the side of the hill, and down below us we could hear the noise of a small river at the bottom of the valley. The house looked squarer and grayer as we came nearer, and we agreed it was exactly like Uncle Kinlock himself, whom neither of us had ever seen within our recollection. There were two or three other houses in sight within a third of a mile, and it was like coming into a village at last, for the last three miles had been almost entirely through the woods. The fields were very green, and the slopes were most beautiful in the sunshine, and all the wild roses were in bloom. It was certainly a very pleasant country; one could not find fault with anything out of doors, and there must be room enough at any rate in the old square-roofed house, and that was a good thing. I had almost been sure of a room under the roof too low for me to stand straight in.
We had to go to the nearest neighbor's for the key, and had a hearty welcome from the mistress of the farm-house, who seemed as glad to see us and as kind as if we had belonged to her. She begged us to come back to dinner and to supper, and even wished us to sleep at her house until ours was fairly in order; but since our chief pleasure in coming first had been the prospect of keeping house ourselves, we thanked her and said No. There could not be any trouble about our staying in the house from dampness or anything like that, for the people had not been long gone and it had been dry weather, and Mrs. Birney told us she had kept the windows open a good deal since she had known we were coming.
We hurried back and unlocked the door, and Tom said quickly, with a little whistle, "It isn't bad, Polly;" but I confess that the first impression I had was of its being very dismal. There was a narrow hall, with an awful blue-gray paper covered with fountains which looked as if they had frozen the winter before and had never thawed out. There was a prim mahogany table and some straight-backed chairs along the wall, and as for the parlor it was so dark that I rushed to open the shutters. The furniture was not bad of its kind, but it was not old enough to be picturesque or quaint; it was an entirely dull and commonplace country house of the better class. We went about from one room to another; everything was gray and brown and black, so I longed for the bright rugs we meant to bring, and to put flowers in the rooms, and for some of our own possessions to make it look a little home-like. It was a place to be homesick in, if one ever was homesick anywhere, so there was great need for us to do everything we could think of to brighten it up. It was with great wisdom that Tom said how many people would go out of town that summer and spend no end of money in far less comfortable places. I do not know whether my brave-hearted young brother was trying to make the best of things at that moment, or whether he really liked the place from the very first, as he always insists now that he did.
There were four rooms on each floor: two large ones and two somewhat smaller, beside the kitchen; and there was a garden which was beginning to show a royal crop of weeds though the flowers were blooming too; all the early-summer company of old-fashioned flowers. Indeed, one might grow strongly attached to this old place in time, as I certainly did, but I am willing to confess that I was dreadfully disappointed in it at first. Some friends of mine, Kate Lancaster and Nelly Denis, had once spent a delightful summer at a fine old house by the sea and I had been with them for a week or two, so I had foolishly framed my expectations on the memory of that. However, there was no use in being dismal, and our house might have been worse. We named it Windy-walls before we finished our lunch, which was the first thing to be thought of after we had opened the shutters everywhere and Tom had unharnessed the horse and unloaded the wagon. Tom thought it was a very good name; I had seen it in a novel once. We had lunch very early; there really was not a great deal to do until a load of goods could be brought up from the village; however, we were busy enough, and the old place soon cheered up a little, as if it had been a lonely old person who had felt the need of young company.
We found that there were fire-places in almost every room, but they were either closed up or had air-tight stoves before them, and I told my brother that we must get those out of the way before my mother came and have the fire-places open, it would be so much pleasanter; so we went to work at once in the room we had chosen for hers; and if ever there were two forlorn-looking creatures they were Tom and I when we had finished, for there was an amazing quantity of soot and ashes, and we decided we would not try to do all in one day. In the sitting-room there was a great Franklin stove which we wisely left, as it had a gallant array of brass ornaments, and we brought in a quantity of dry wood and made fires everywhere. In the parlor we had great trouble because the chimney seemed so choked, and you cannot imagine our sorrow and dismay when a clumsy, half-fledged chimney-swallow tumbled down -- luckily into the cold ashes at one side the fire, and lay there, giving miserable chirps now and then. We put out that fire quickly enough! and when we found that the poor bird was badly hurt by its fall Tom killed it and we took a little vacation in order to attend its funeral under a currant bush in the garden.
"But we ought to have some andirons," said I, as we went back to the house, "there must be some, somewhere; everybody used to have andirons." And Tom said perhaps there were some in the garret, so to the garret we went; and here was a great satisfaction, for the oldest furniture, as was not long since the fashion, had been stored under the rafters, and we found some fine old chairs which only needed a little brushing to be made again the chief pride and ornament of the house. There were andirons enough, both iron and brass; but the latter had become various shades of green and black, and our first question to Mrs. Birney, our neighbor, who just then came up the creaking stairs, was who could we get to rub them bright again. She seemed much amused at our enthusiasm over our discoveries, for one could make up a history of the household customs of the last seventy-five years in that garret. I did not know the use of half the things until Mrs. Birney told me; there were spinning wheels for wool and flax, and foot-stoves, and all the apparatus for cooking before an open fire; and there were flax combs and wool cards and candle molds, and various reels and trays, and all the lanterns that had lighted the footsteps of successive generations. We carried down the best of the chairs, but we should have liked to stay in the garret and rummage in the chests until dark, if there had not been our own rooms to put in order. Mrs. Birney had taken such good care of the house since its tenants, an old uncle and aunt of her own, had gone away that we found little to do, and we were very much obliged to her because she asked us to drink tea at her house where we had a very good time. I made friends at once with her niece, who was a pale-faced, dark-haired girl, who was just home from a seminary where she was fitting herself to be a teacher. She seemed all tired out, and I was so sorry for her. I felt as if she were really a great deal older than I, though there was not much difference in our ages, for she seemed to have lost every bit of her girlhood. I think one advantage of city life is that there is much more to entertain and amuse people than in the country. I never before had had the chance to know country girls intimately, as I did that summer; but the more thoughtful ones among them seem to me to be much more thrown in upon themselves and to be more given to narrow routine and a certain formality of life than city girls are. I found this new friend of mine knew a great deal more than I about schoolbooks; I only wish I were half so good a scholar; but the more I thought about her and talked with her the more I wished she would read novels all her summer vacation; good-tempered, well-bred English society novels, and no matter if some of them were naughty, for she could only see how much better it is to be good. I wished her to know another sort of people beside the teachers and scholars she was always with, and I wished to make her world a little larger, I liked her so very much. Tom had found a crony in Mrs. Birney's son, who seemed a very good fellow and a sportsman by nature, and I heard them already planning a long tramp in search of trout; for, though one could find some in almost any of the brooks, there was capital fishing in more remote streams among the hills, and I could see Tom's eyes flash as he talked in half whispers, and I was no longer afraid of his growing tired of Windywalls and its surrounding country.
We were very hungry at supper time, as Mrs. Birney had evidently expected us to be, we were very merry, and afterward Annie Birney, the niece, and I talked a while. I found she was an orphan, and I wondered if she did not mind coming back there from her school, for it was such a bare house, so orderly and clean, and in a way so comfortable; but there was only a great yellow county map on the wall of the sitting-room where they lived, and the few books I saw were not at all in the line of her really fine scholarship. I wondered if she did not find life uncomfortable; her education had led her away from her family, yet what she had got from her books was a dry and useless sort of learning, unless for the sake of its being imparted to possible scholars by and by. She was certainly no happier, and her life did not reach out to other people's lives any more because of it. It did not seem to me that she was meant for a teacher, but I suppose she would not have been contented with any other employment. It seems to me that nature designs very few people to be scholars, but when so many make a failure of life we are greatly surprised. But we are apt to say that they had a good education, when in reality it was the worst education in the world for them, since they were not fitted to do their work. The result of education should be to elevate one's uses, but sometimes a student reminds one of the cheap wooden box in which his books are packed. We certainly have different capacities for assimilation of mental food, and I think that to be gifted with a tenacious memory and a brain that is not constructive, and a little heart that will always be poor and have nothing to give, is a most melancholy state of affairs. There is a certain kind of character, which, if it tries to be a scholar, is a miser with its wealth, because it does not know how to spend and make use of it.
I think Annie Birney wanted to get out of the rut she was in, and that being with young people who took great pleasure in life was the best thing that could happen to her. I found she had a great capacity for enjoyment, and she added a great deal to our pleasure at Windywalls.
I knew that my brother wished to go fishing that very next day, but he was very good and said nothing about it, and we were busy until night putting things to rights, for early in the morning our possessions came over from the village. The few days we were alone went by very fast, and at last I was waiting impatiently for my mother, whom Tom had gone to bring over from the train. It was nearly tea-time when they reached the house, and I was delighted when I saw how pleased my mother was. I had flowers in a dozen places, and some wild sweet-brier roses for which she had a great liking, in her own room. We had found the curtains that belonged on the high-posted beds, and Mrs. Birney and I had put them up, and I had unpacked the books and placed them always with the bright red and blue ones on top. The weather had luckily given sufficient excuse for a little fire on the hearth in the dining-room, which was the most picturesque part of the house, with its tall clock and slender-legged sideboard, and there was some pretty willow-pattern crockery to put on the table, and you may be sure we had found somebody to rub the andirons, and had filled a gingerpot with daisies. I think I never was so tired in my life as I was that night, but it was all forgotten and I was more than paid for it. Nancy, an old servant who had always lived with us and who came up with my mother, praised Tom and me to the skies and said she should think we had been at housekeeping for a year, though I am afraid when she inspected her own realm she did not have so much respect for us as at first. I am afraid there were distinct traces of the means by which we had reached the results she had admired, and we did not know how to keep order in our kitchen. We had bought some wild strawberries for tea from a little girl who came knocking at the door, and kind Mrs. Birney had brought us a pitcher of cream and another neighbor farther down the road had sent us some fresh eggs, and we felt already as if we belonged to the neighborhood. It was pleasant weather day after day, and we felt at first, until the weather changed, as if Windywalls had been an ill-deserved name for the bleak old house from which even the trees stood back. In-doors it grew more and more home-like, and we sent for some striped awnings which we had had in the city and put them over the southern windows to keep out the glare of the sun, and they made the house look as if it were a grave old lady in a young girl's gay trappings. I grew very fond of the hills, and we were continually discovering new drives and walks. There was one mountain which I always saw first when I waked in the morning and which at last seemed like a friend to me. I think we all tried to live as entirely a country life as we could, and not to be city people who had come to the country for a little while, meaning to keep apart from its ways as much as possible. Of course there were inconveniences, and I confess that I was lonely sometimes, but does not that feeling come to one anywhere in this world, after all? People came to visit us now and then, and I sincerely wish I could spend a part of every summer at Windywalls, in spite of its having seemed very forlorn and a real trouble when I first knew that I must go there. I had time to do so many things which were always crowded out in Boston, and I do like housekeeping, and I must confess to being very fond of doing the every-day things which most girls in these days think very stupid.
So we settled ourselves down in peace and quietness for the long summer among the hills; and now it must be told that, before my mother came, while Tom and I were busy getting the house ready and Mrs. Birney was helping us, our curiosity was intensely excited by what she said of Uncle Kinlock. We were surprised and delighted to find that he had been considered a most singular man, and it seemed that the people in the country round about were a good deal in awe of him, as he was unfortunately subject to violent fits of bad temper and had very strange ways. It was believed that he was enormously rich, though we poor Leslies who were his heirs had had no very good evidence of that, and we heard it was believed that he had hidden most of his money before he died. He had lived alone with an old servant, whose death had quickly followed his own, but she had told a great many curious stories about him; that sometimes he would disappear for hours together when she knew he had not gone out of the house; that he would go up-stairs and she could not find him though she had often taken pains to search, and after a time he would come down the staircase just as usual, and would laugh if he were good-natured or swear if he were not when she asked him where he had been. She insisted that somewhere in the house he had a secret room, and you may imagine the delight with which Tom and I listened to such a bit of gossip as this. I think this old relative of ours must have been a little crazy, for we heard that sometimes he would not speak to any one for days together.
One chilly evening we were all together in the sitting-room, reading or talking before the fire; it had been raining all day, and my mother said with a smile, what a pleasant day it had been in the house, and, after all, this was just the weather we had dreaded so much when we talked about coming to Hilton, and she added by way of warning to her eager and easily provoked children, that it was almost always so in life; that most of our misery comes from our fearing and disliking things that never happen at all. My brother Park looked up from a medical book of ostentatious size, and repeated philosophically the old French proverb, "Nothing is certain to happen but the unforeseen." I was reading a little and watching Tom make some new trout-flies as he sat by me at the table where the lights were.
"O Mary," said he, suddenly, "did you ever tell mother that Mrs. Birney says Uncle Kinlock had a secret room somewhere up-stairs, and that he hid a great deal of money there and nobody ever found it?"
My mother laughed heartily: "O Tom, how foolish! -- he never had a great deal of money to hide, and where could there have been a secret room in this square plain house? I wish there had been more good closets; I don't wonder that people's garrets used to be so filled in old times, for they never had any other place to put things. But I really do remember your father's having heard this story and laughing about it, too."
"Mrs. Birney said that Uncle Kinlock used to go up-stairs and disappear, and the old woman who lived with him used to hunt for him everywhere, and after a while he would come down and she never knew where he went. Some people said he must be in league with the devil," said Tom solemnly, "and an old fellow who hangs round the blacksmith's shop over in the village asked me yesterday if we ever found the secret chamber. He said there really was one; his elder brother who used to work here told him so; and he said, too, that Uncle Kinlock had been paid for some woodland he had sold a few days before he died, and he had not sent the money to the bank and nobody could find it in the house."
"There were several people here during his illness," said my mother. "Your father found everything in confusion when he came; I am afraid the money may have been too strong a temptation."
"But where could there possibly be another room?" said I, trying again to puzzle it out, though Tom and I had made a careful survey together, days before. "There are the four rooms on each floor, and the halls, and the garrets, and the closets." And Park said: "I dare say the old fellow's time hung heavily in rainy weather and he played hide and seek with the housekeeper. I don't doubt he was under that great four-poster in the room overhead, and came chuckling out after she went away, with feathers all over his coat."
"Oh, my dear!" said mamma, with an amused little laugh, "if you had ever seen him! the crossest, stiffest old man in the world!"
But the next day Tom and I were off on a long walk together, and as we were toiling up a hill he said: "Don't you wish that story would come true about Uncle Kinlock's money? It would be such a lark if we found it and we could stay on at the house in town and Park could go abroad with all sails set, and we would have a pair of saddle-horses."
"I should like to find the room, at any rate," said I; "it makes me think of the regicide judges, and I lie awake at night thinking about it and wondering where it could be. But we have looked everywhere, unless it is in one of the chimneys."
"There is that little garret-room over the outer kitchen, where the little four-paned window is," said Tom. "I put a ladder up the other day and looked in, but there was nothing there."
"So did I," I said. "It is no use, Tom; but I wish we could find out how the story started. I wish we did have more money. I am sorriest when I think of mamma's having to give up the house. I know she dreads it. I almost wish we could go over to Paris with Park in the fall. I think she would like to go abroad again, and it wouldn't seem half so bad as breaking up and having to board in town. We could have a little apartment for the winter, you know, and it would be pleasant for Park to live with us," but poor Tom's face lengthened so at the prospect of being left alone, that I said nothing more of my plan. I think he was much fonder of home than either Park or I, though that was saying a great deal.
"I am going to grow rich as fast as I can," said he, presently. "I wish I were ten years older, and you and mamma should do just exactly as you like. When I think she misses anything she used to have I am awfully sorry, and it keeps costing her more and more for me, so I know that other things have to be given up."
"Never mind, Tom," said I, "everybody knows it is money well spent. I only wish there were twice as much for you."
And Tom, who was tender-hearted but very reluctant to let it be noticed, said, abruptly: "I wish we had brought a lunch; I didn't have half enough breakfast I was in such a hurry; it was like dropping a biscuit down a well."
"There is one thing we must do, Tom," said I, after a while, "before Aunt Alice comes; you know, we have never opened the fire-place in that room, and she is apt to be chilly. I think she would like a little blaze on the hearth. Suppose we get it ready after dinner while the others are out driving. I think there is only a fire-board to be taken away and we could have it all in order before they come back. I'll rub one andiron if you will the other."
"There aren't any more brass ones," said Tom, "but we can give her the funny iron dogs; yes, of course we will do it; are you sure it isn't bricked up?"
Park was going to drive my mother to the village, and they started after an early dinner and Tom and I were just beginning our work, when an old clergyman who lived some distance away came to call upon mamma, and of course we wished to fill her place as well as possible in giving him hospitality, but we were dreadfully afraid he would stay all the afternoon, though we were really so glad to see him. When he had gone, promising to come back to drink tea with us after making some other calls, we hurried up-stairs and were soon busy again, and Tom pulled away the fire-board which had always rattled when there was a breeze, and found the fire-place was open, so there would be only the pile of soot and ashes to carry down-stairs. But it was a miserably shallow fire-place, not half so deep as those in the other rooms. Tom was on his knees before it, when suddenly he stopped and seemed to be lost in thought. "What is it?" said I, with a good deal of curiosity, but he did not answer, as he rose and opened the closet door which was on that side of the room. There was nothing inside but some blankets; it was a shallow closet with two shelves at the top and some pegs underneath, and Tom said, eagerly, "Come round here, Polly," and I followed him out into the hall and into the other corner-room at the back of the chimney, where he opened the opposite closet door; looked in at Park's coats, and gave a shout and caught me by the shoulders and behaved as if he had gone crazy. "I wish I knew how to get in; it's Uncle Kinlock's den, don't you see?" said he. "There must be a place at the side of the chimney between the closets, they don't take up half the room; don't you see the chimney goes way through and the back of this closet isn't the back of the other? Hi yi!" and my brother went hopping about on one foot by way of expressing his joy at such a discovery. I could not understand what he meant at first, but I thought of Kate Lancaster at once. There was no knowing what we might find, and there had not been a sign of a secret closet in the house at Deephaven. Tom began at once to take down the coats from their pegs; Park was very orderly, but we threw them all about the room. We looked carefully, but there was no sign of any way to get through, and at last we gave up and went back to the front-room closet, and searched there for some sign of a door or sliding panel. It was very exciting, and Tom at last mounted a chair and looked along the shelves as if he thought the way in was like the entrance to a dove-cote, but at last I saw him reach over and pull at something; and he threw a bit of wood on the floor and then another and pulled out the shelf a little way, and kicked the back of the closet which seemed to be loosened, and I helped him push it along toward the chimney and saw a dark place behind it.
We could not get the door far back enough for any light to go in, and it was close quarters at any rate, to push through. "You may fall, Tom," said I fearfully, my courage failing me all of a sudden.
"Down into the china closet!" said my brother with a very scornful air, as if he thought I ought to know the architecture of the house better than that. "Let's have a light, though; there's a candle over on the dressing-table," and I hurried across the room to get it.
That was a miserable moment, for I looked out of the window to see mamma and Parkhurst driving slowly toward home with the old clergyman following them, blissfully unconscious of their being most unwelcome.
Tom groaned when I told him: "We must be quick and shut it up," said he, and I was only too willing, for we wanted all the glory for ourselves.
"There are all Park's clothes scattered over his floor," said Tom, as he pushed and tugged at the panel, and I flew to put them in their places as well as I could and had just succeeded when I heard mamma come into the lower hall. Tom had gone to the garret for the iron dogs, and was just coming back with them, serenely, when he met her on her way to her room. She laughed to see the plight we were in, for we were gray with ashes, and thanked us for opening the fire-place; it would be so much pleasanter for Aunt Alice. "You are very thoughtful children," said she in her tender way, which always went straight to our hearts, and she put one of her arms round each of us as we stood before her and kissed us. Tom's eyes filled with tears in a minute; he was greatly excited. I did not know what he would do, but he kissed her again in his rough, boyish fashion of two or three years ago, when he had not prided himself on being undemonstrative, and rushed off down-stairs two or three steps at a time.
"What has come over the boy?" said my mother, as I followed her into her own room. "Here are some letters for you, and your Aunt Alice will be here day after to-morrow. I had a letter from Mrs. Phillips, who is in Baltimore, and she tells me that Mrs. Anderson, your grandmother's old friend, is very ill and will probably live only a few days. I wish I could have seen her again, dear old lady," said mamma sadly. "I was so sorry to refuse, this spring, when she wished me to come to her, but it could not be helped."
I knew why she had not gone; I had something of Tom's certainty that we should find a fortune in the secret closet into which we had almost looked, and I hoped that mamma might never have to give up anything again. I remembered that I had gone away for a visit just after she had quietly declined this invitation.
"She was always very fond of me, I think," said my mother. "She always treated me as if I were still a child; I suppose she could not realize the flight of time. I have felt so old most of the time these last ten years that it was pleasant to have somebody think I was young, and it always carried me back to my girlhood to go to see her."
"I wish you could have seen her again," said I, and mamma looked up at me as if she had been unconscious for a minute of my presence; I could see she was much saddened; she always clung closely to her old friends.
"The letter has been remailed two or three times, I ought to have had it days ago," said she, and then I left her to go to dress, and afterward hurried to find Tom, whom I found entertaining our guest with mamma for aid. He was quite himself again, and gave me a careless and triumphant nod. He whispered to me that we must go in that night after the others were asleep, and I was willing; but Mr. Ashurst was soon after persuaded to stay the night with us and occupy that room, to Tom's and my great discomfiture, though perhaps it was just as well, for Park would certainly have heard us rattling in his wall, and mamma was always a light sleeper. It was misery to be obliged to wait until next day.
Next morning I tried to make Tom ready to meet his disappointment, for I did not believe we should find a fortune, but at any rate we were both a good deal excited, and were so persistent in sending my mother and Park to the village for the letters and to do some trumped-up errands of ours, that they at once suspected a plot. We were given to little surprises, as a family, and mamma accepted the situation; and though it was a hot morning she went away with my brother, while Tom and I could hardly wait until they were out of the yard.
"Don't be too sure, old fellow!" said I, for we had flown up-stairs, and I lit two candles while he was unfastening the panel. He pushed his way in and I quickly followed him. It was a close little place, and at first, coming from bright daylight into flickering candle-light, I could not see. It was like a large closet, and part of the space was in the side of the chimney like an arch in a cellar, dark as a pocket, and as we became accustomed to the light we could see an old three-cornered chair before a small, upright desk; there was a queer old lamp fastened to the wall with a candle stuck in it, and some books and newspapers were scattered about, much gnawed by mice. It was very stuffy, and it might have been a safe refuge for a regicide judge, but I could not imagine anybody's wishing to stay there for any other reason than to escape pursuit, which might, after all, have been Uncle Kinlock's motive, for we had already heard that his housekeeper sought for him diligently.
"Hold both the candles, will you?" said Tom, "I'm going to look in the desk," and finding it was locked he wrenched it open to find some pigeon-holes full of old letters and business papers and a great number of cuttings from newspapers, but there was also a worn leather wallet, which we opened in a hurry, to find some money after all; a large roll of old-fashioned bank-bills, and a little silver. "Do you suppose the bills are good for anything?" said I, unkindly; "were not people given a certain time in which to redeem them?" And then we opened a little drawer which was also locked, and found some gold pieces; there were two or three hundred dollars, and most of the coins looked quaint and old, so this was real treasure.
"It is not a very great fortune after all," said I.
"Who ever thought it would be?" said Tom, in his every-day tone. "What do you suppose they will say when they come home? This must be the money that was paid for the land; isn't it silly that no one ever found it before in all these years!" And really I do not think he was half so disappointed as I was. Tom is very clever at adapting himself to circumstances.
There were some old books which would be a delight to my elder brother, who had a great fancy for such things, and we began to wish for his return. We read many of the letters and found very few that were interesting, except one or two from my grandfather, but there were some that my father had written Uncle Kinlock, when he was a boy, which we were very glad to see.
At last we heard the wagon coming back and went in triumph to tell of our discovery. "We have found Uncle Kinlock's secret chamber," said Tom, as if it were of no consequence to him whatever, "and it is a sort of closet in the chimney, a horrid little place, and we found some gold pieces and a lot of bank-bills in an old wallet, but I don't believe those are good for anything. Come up, and we will show it to you."
But I noticed that mamma looked very pale, as if something had happened, and Park seemed excited, and neither of them had a word to say, so I begged them to tell me what was the matter. Mamma came toward Tom and me and held us fast again as she had done the day before. "O my dear girl and boy!" said she, "you will not be poor any more; dear old Mrs. Anderson is dead, and she has left half her money to me for my mother's sake. You have been so kind to me, and you have made me so rich always with your love, and I never knew until now how much I have wished to do for you."
Tom and I were dazed for a minute and we all went into the house; it was a great surprise to us all, and we could not take it in. Tom looked out of the window and whistled a little, and drummed on the sill. "I found two four-leaved clovers this morning," said he, presently, "there they are on the table; I say, Park, will you come up to see the den?"
I do not remember that we changed our fashion of living, after that day, though earlier in the season we had been apt to find fault with it, and to wish for something that we did not have. We had thought, too, that we were staying at Windywalls because we must, but we did not leave there until late in the autumn, and with deep regret even then, which shows the idleness, at least, of quarreling with necessity.
"Good Luck" first appeared in Good Company (4:216-226) in 1879 and was collected in Country By-Ways (1881) from which this text is taken.
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the Boston fire: A major fire did severe damage in Boston in 1872.
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Cambridge: Harvard University is in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Kate Lancaster and Nelly Denis: Kate Lancaster and Helen Denis are main characters in Jewett's first novel, Deephaven (1877), where they spend a summer in a mansion recently inherited from Kate's aunt. Mary (Polly) Leslie is not mentioned in Deephaven.
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Windy-walls ... in a novel once: The phrase "windy walls" occurs in several major works of literature available on-line, though in none of these is it the name of a house. The phrase recurs in Beowulf as translated by Francis B. Gummere, for example: "I saw cliffs, the windy walls of the sea" http://www.ealdormere.sca.org/university/texts/beowulf.html. It also appears in Tennyson's "Geraint and Enid" http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/idyl-ger.htm, and in MacPherson's Ossian, as quoted in Schimanski, Johan. "Om Macphersons Ossian-syklus". Skrift: Skriftserie for litteraturvitenskap ved Universitetet i Oslo 8 (1993): 58-71, http://www.hum.uit.no/a/schimanski/artikler/macoss.
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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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chimney-swallow: Also called the chimney swift, a small sooty-gray bird (chaetura pelagica) with long narrow wings.
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Windywalls: Jewett is inconsistent about hyphenating this word.
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sweet-brier roses: a European rose with big, strong thorns and a single pink blossom; rose hips (the fruit) are a source of vitamin C and are used for jellies and sauces; stands for `poetry' in the nineteenth-century language of flowers. (Research: Ted Eden)
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regicide judges: When the English Revolution ended with the Restoration in 1660, the House of Commons named 84 men to be held responsible for the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Three of these men escaped to New England, and many towns and villages developed stories of one of the regicides hiding nearby. (Research: Michael Davitt Bell).
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Edited and annotated by Linda, Gabe, and Terry Heller, Coe College.
Contents: Country By-Ways
Good Company Text
If you notice errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.