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Titel: Coniston — Complete
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First I am to write a love-story of long ago, of a time some little while after General Jackson had got into the White House and had shown the world what a real democracy was. The Era of the first six Presidents had closed, and a new Era had begun. I am speaking of political Eras. Certain gentlemen, with a pious belief in democracy, but with a firmer determination to get on top, arose,—and got in top. So many of these gentlemen arose in the different states, and they were so clever, and they found so many chinks in the Constitution to crawl through and steal the people's chestnuts, that the Era may be called the Boss-Era. After the Boss came along certain Things without souls, but of many minds, and found more chinks in the Constitution: bigger chinks, for the Things were bigger, and they stole more chestnuts. But I am getting far ahead of my love-story—and of my book.
The reader is warned that this first love-story will, in a few chapters, come to an end: and not to a happy end—otherwise there would be no book. Lest he should throw the book away when he arrives at this page, it is only fair to tell him that there is another and a much longer love story later on, if he will only continue to read, in which, it is hoped, he may not be disappointed.
The hills seem to leap up against the sky as I describe that region where Cynthia Ware was born, and the very old country names help to summon up the picture. Coniston Mountain, called by some the Blue Mountain, clad in Hercynian forests, ten good miles in length, north and south, with its notch road that winds over the saddle behind the withers of it. Coniston Water, that oozes out from under the loam in a hundred places, on the eastern slope, gathers into a rushing stream to cleave the very granite, flows southward around the south end of Coniston Mountain, and having turned the mills at Brampton, idles through meadows westward in its own green valley until it comes to Harwich, where it works again and tumbles into a river. Brampton and Harwich are rivals, but Coniston Water gives of its power impartially to each. From the little farm clearings on the western slope of Coniston Mountain you can sweep the broad valley of a certain broad river where grew (and grow still) the giant pines that gave many a mast to King George's navy as tribute for the land. And beyond that river rises beautiful Farewell Mountain of many colors, now sapphire, now amethyst, its crest rimmed about at evening with saffron flame; and, beyond Farewell, the emerald billows of the western peaks catching the level light. A dozen little brooks are born high among the western spruces on Coniston to score deep, cool valleys in their way through Clovelly township to the broad music of the water and fresh river-valleys full of the music of the water and fresh with the odor of the ferns.
To this day the railroad has not reached Coniston Village—nay, nor Coniston Flat, four miles nearer Brampton. The village lies on its own little shelf under the forest-clad slope of the mountain, and in the midst of its dozen houses is the green triangle where the militia used to drill on June days. At one end of the triangle is the great pine mast that graced no frigate of George's, but flew the stars and stripes on many a liberty day. Across the road is Jonah Winch's store, with a platform so high that a man may step off his horse directly on to it; with its checker-paned windows, with its dark interior smelling of coffee and apples and molasses, yes, and of Endea rum—for this was before the days of the revivals.
How those checker-paned windows bring back the picture of that village green! The meeting-house has them, lantern-like, wide and high, in three sashes—white meeting-house, seat alike of government and religion, with its terraced steeple, with its classic porches north and south. Behind it is the long shed, and in front, rising out of the milkweed and the flowering thistle, the horse block of the first meeting-house, where many a pillion has left its burden in times bygone. Honest Jock Hallowell built that second meeting-house—was, indeed, still building it at the time of which we write. He had hewn every beam and king post in it, and set every plate and slip. And Jock Hallowell is the man who, unwittingly starts this chronicle.
At noon, on one of those madcap April days of that Coniston country, Jock descended from his work on the steeple to perceive the ungainly figure of Jethro Bass coming toward him across the green. Jethro was about thirty years of age, and he wore a coonskin cap even in those days, and trousers tacked into his boots. He carried his big head bent forward, a little to one aide, and was not, at first sight, a prepossessing-looking person. As our story largely concerns him and we must get started somehow, it may as well be to fix a little attention on him.
"Heigho!" said Jock, rubbing his hands on his leather apron.
"H-how be you, Jock?" said Jethro, stopping.
"Heigho!" cried Jock, "what's this game of fox and geese you're a-playin' among the farmers?"
"C-callate to git the steeple done before frost?" inquired Jethro, without so much as a smile. "B-build it tight, Jock—b-build it tight."
"Guess he'll build his'n tight, whatever it is," said Jock, looking after him as Jethro made his way to the little tannery near by.
Let it be known that there was such a thing as social rank in Coniston; and something which, for the sake of an advantageous parallel, we may call an Established Church. Coniston was a Congregational town still, and the deacons and dignitaries of that church were likewise the pillars of the state. Not many years before the time of which we write actual disestablishment had occurred, when the town ceased—as a town—to pay the salary of Priest Ware, as the minister was called. The father of Jethro Bass, Nathan the currier, had once, in a youthful lapse, permitted a Baptist preacher to immerse him in Coniston Water. This had been the extent of Nathan's religion; Jethro had none at all, and was, for this and other reasons, somewhere near the bottom of the social scale.
"Fox and geese!" repeated Jock, with his eyes still on Jethro's retreating back. The builder of the meetinghouse rubbed a great, brown arm, scratched his head, and turned and came face to face with Cynthia Ware, in a poke bonnet.
Contrast is a favorite trick of authors, and no greater contrast is to be had in Coniston than that between Cynthia Ware and Jethro Bass. In the first place; Cynthia was the minister's daughter, and twenty-one. I can summon her now under the great maples of the village street, a virginal figure, gray eyes that kindled the face shaded by the poke bonnet, and up you went above the clouds.
"What about fox and geese, Jock?" said Cynthia.
"Jethro Bass," said Jock, who, by reason of his ability, was a privileged character. "Mark my words, Cynthy, Jethro Bass is an all-fired sight smarter that folks in this town think he be. They don't take notice of him, because he don't say much, and stutters. He hain't be'n eddicated a great deal, but I wouldn't be afeard to warrant he'd make a racket in the world some of these days."
"Jock Hallowell!" cried Cynthia, the gray beginning to dance, "I suppose you think Jethro's going to be President."
"All right," said Jock, "you can laugh. Ever talked with Jethro?"
"I've hardly spoken two words to him in my life," she replied. And it was true, although the little white parsonage was scarce two hundred yards from the tannery house.
"Jethro's never ailed much," Jock remarked, having reference to Cynthia's proclivities for visiting the sick. "I've seed a good many different men in my time, and I tell you, Cynthia Ware, that Jethro's got a kind of power you don't often come acrost. Folks don't suspicion it."
In spite of herself, Cynthia was impressed by the ring of sincerity in the builder's voice. Now that she thought of it, there was rugged power in Jethro's face, especially when he took off the coonskin cap. She always nodded a greeting when she saw him in the tannery yard or on the road, and sometimes he nodded back, but oftener he had not appeared to see her. She had thought this failure to nod stupidity, but it might after all be abstraction.
"What makes you think he has ability?" she asked, picking flowers from a bunch of arbutus she held.
"He's rich, for one thing," said Jock. He had not intended a dissertation on Jethro Bass, but he felt bound to defend his statements.
"Wal, he hain't poor. He's got as many as thirty mortgages round among the farmers—some on land, and some on cattle."
"How did he make the money?" demanded Cynthia, in surprise.
"Hides an' wool an' bark—turned 'em over an' swep' in. Gits a load, and Lyman Hull drives him down to Boston with that six-hoss team. Lyman gits drunk, Jethro keeps sober and saves."
Jock began to fashion some wooden pegs with his adze, for nails were scarce in those days. Still Cynthia lingered, picking flowers from the bunch.
"What did you mean by 'fox and geese' Jock?" she said presently.
Jock laughed. He did not belong to the Establishment, but was a Universalist; politically he admired General Jackson. "What'd you say if Jethro was Chairman of the next Board of Selectmen?" he demanded.
No wonder Cynthia gasped. Jethro Bass, Chairman of the Board, in the honored seat of Deacon Moses Hatch, the perquisite of the church in Coniston! The idea was heresy. As a matter of fact, Jock himself uttered it as a playful exaggeration. Certain nonconformist farmers, of whom there were not a few in the town, had come into Jonah Winch's store that morning; and Jabez Miller, who lived on the north slope, had taken away the breath of the orthodox by suggesting that Jethro Bass be nominated for town office. Jock Hallowell had paused once or twice on his work on the steeple to look across the tree-tops at Coniston shouldering the sky. He had been putting two and two together, and now he was merely making five out of it, instead of four. He remembered that Jethro Bass had for some years been journeying through the town, baying his hides and wool, and collecting the interest on his mortgages.
Cynthia would have liked to reprove Jock Hallowell, and tell him there were some subjects which should not be joked about. Jethro Bass, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen!
"Well, here comes, young Moses, I do believe," said Jock, gathering his pegs into his apron and preparing to ascend once more. "Callated he'd spring up pretty soon."
"Jock, you do talk foolishly for a man who is able to build a church," said Cynthia, as she walked away. The young Moses referred to was Moses Hatch, Junior, son of the pillar of the Church and State, and it was an open secret that he was madly in love with Cynthia. Let it be said of him that he was a steady-going young man, and that he sighed for the moon.
"Moses," said the girl, when they came in sight of the elms that, shaded the gable of the parsonage, "what do you think of Jethro Bass?"
"Jethro Bass!" exclaimed honest Moses, "whatever put him into your head, Cynthy?" Had she mentioned perhaps, any other young man in Coniston, Moses would have been eaten with jealousy.
"Oh, Jock was joking about him. What do you think of him?"
"Never thought one way or t'other," he answered. "Jethro never had much to do with the boys. He's always in that tannery, or out buyin' of hides. He does make a sharp bargain when he buys a hide. We always goes shares on our'n."
Cynthia was not only the minister's daughter,—distinction enough,—her reputation for learning was spread through the country roundabout, and at the age of twenty she had had an offer to teach school in Harwich. Once a week in summer she went to Brampton, to the Social library there, and sat at the feet of that Miss Lucretia Penniman of whom Brampton has ever been so proud—Lucretia Penniman, one of the first to sound the clarion note for the intellectual independence of American women; who wrote the "Hymn to Coniston"; who, to the awe of her townspeople, went out into the great world and became editress of a famous woman's journal, and knew Longfellow and Hawthorne and Bryant. Miss Lucretia it was who started the Brampton Social Library, and filled it with such books as both sexes might read with profit. Never was there a stricter index than hers. Cynthia, Miss Lucretia loved, and the training of that mind was the pleasantest task of her life.
Curiosity as a factor has never, perhaps, been given its proper weight by philosophers. Besides being fatal to a certain domestic animal, as an instigating force it has brought joy and sorrow into the lives of men and women, and made and marred careers. And curiosity now laid hold of Cynthia Ware. Why in the world she should ever have been curious about Jethro Bass is a mystery to many, for the two of them were as far apart as the poles. Cynthia, of all people, took to watching the tanner's son, and listening to the brief colloquies he had with other men at Jonah Winch's store, when she went there to buy things for the parsonage; and it seemed to her that Jock had not been altogether wrong, and that there was in the man an indefinable but very compelling force. And when a woman begins to admit that a man has force, her curiosity usually increases. On one or two of these occasions Cynthia had been startled to find his eyes fixed upon her, and though the feeling she had was closely akin to fear, she found something distinctly pleasurable in it.
May came, and the pools dried up, the orchards were pink and white, the birches and the maples were all yellow-green on the mountain sides against the dark pines, and Cynthia was driving the minister's gig to Brampton. Ahead of her, in the canon made by the road between the great woods, strode an uncouth but powerful figure—coonskin cap, homespun breeches tucked into boots, and all. The gig slowed down, and Cynthia began to tremble with that same delightful fear. She knew it must be wicked, because she liked it so much. Unaccountable thing! She felt all akin to the nature about her, and her blood was coursing as the sap rushes through a tree. She would not speak to him; of that she was sure, and equally sure that he would not speak to her. The horse was walking now, and suddenly Jethro Bass faced around, and her heart stood still.
"H-how be you, Cynthy?" he asked.
"How do you do, Jethro?"
A thrush in the woods began to sing a hymn, and they listened. After that a silence, save for the notes of answering birds quickened by the song, the minister's horse nibbling at the bushes. Cynthia herself could not have explained why she lingered. Suddenly he shot a question at her.
"Where be you goin'?"
"To Brampton, to get Miss Lucretia to change this book," and she held it up from her lap. It was a very large book.
"Wh-what's it about," he demanded.
"Who was be?"
"He was a very strong man. He began life poor and unknown, and fought his way upward until he conquered the world."
"C-conquered the world, did you say? Conquered the world?"
"Guess there's somethin' wrong about that book—somethin' wrong. Conquer the United States?"
Cynthia smiled. She herself did not realize that we were not a part of the world, then.
"He conquered Europe; where all the kings and queens are, and became a king himself—an emperor."
"I want to-know!" said Jethro. "You said he was a poor boy?"
"Why don't you read the book, Jethro?" Cynthia answered. "I am sure I can get Miss Lucretia to let you have it."
"Don't know as I'd understand it," he demurred.
"I'll try to explain what you don't understand," said Cynthia, and her heart gave a bound at the very idea.
"Will You?" he said, looking at her eagerly. "Will you? You mean it?"
"Certainly," she answered, and blushed, not knowing why. "I-I must be going," and she gathered up the reins.
"When will you give it to me?"
"I'll stop at the tannery when I come back from Brampton," she said, and drove on. Once she gave a fleeting glance over her shoulder, and he was still standing where she had left him.
When she returned, in the yellow afternoon light that flowed over wood and pasture, he came out of the tannery door. Jake Wheeler or Speedy Bates, the journeyman tailoress, from whom little escaped, could not have said it was by design—thought nothing, indeed, of that part of it.
"As I live!" cried Speedy from the window to Aunt Lucy Prescott in the bed, "if Cynthy ain't givin' him a book as big as the Bible!"
Aunt Lucy hoped, first, that it was the Bible, and second, that Jethro would read it. Aunt Lucy, and Established Church Coniston in general, believed in snatching brands from the burning, and who so deft as Cynthia at this kind of snatching! So Cynthia herself was a hypocrite for once, and did not know it. At that time Jethro's sins were mostly of omission. As far as rum was concerned, he was a creature after Aunt Lucy's own heart, for he never touched it: true, gaunt Deacon Ira Perkins, tithing-man, had once chided him for breaking the Sabbath—shooting at a fox.
To return to the book. As long as he lived, Jethro looked back to the joy of the monumental task of mastering its contents. In his mind, Napoleon became a rough Yankee general; of the cities, villages, and fortress he formed as accurate a picture as a resident of Venice from Marco Polo's account of Tartary. Jethro had learned to read, after a fashion, to write, add, multiply, and divide. He knew that George Washington and certain barefooted companions had forced a proud Britain to her knees, and much of the warring in the book took color from Captain Timothy Prescott's stories of General Stark and his campaigns, heard at Jonah Winch's store. What Paris looked like, or Berlin, or the Hospice of St. Bernard—though imaged by a winter Coniston—troubled Jethro not at all; the thing that stuck in his mind was that Napoleon—for a considerable time, at least—compelled men to do his bidding. Constitutions crumble before the Strong. Not that Jethro philosophized about constitutions. Existing conditions presented themselves, and it occurred to him that there were crevices in the town system, and ways into power through the crevices for men clever enough to find them.
A week later, and in these same great woods on the way to Brampton, Cynthia overtook him once more. It was characteristic of him that he plunged at once into the subject uppermost in his mind.
"Not a very big place, this Corsica—not a very big place."
"A little island in the Mediterranean," said Cynthia.
"Hum. Country folks, the Bonapartes—country folks?"
"I suppose you might call them so," she said. "They were poor, and lived out of the world."
"He was a smart man. But he found things goin' his way. Didn't have to move 'em."
"Not at first;" she admitted; "but he had to move mountains later. How far have you read?"
"One thing that helped him," said Jethro, in indirect answer to this question, "he got a smart woman for his wife—a smart woman."
Cynthia looked down at the reins in her lap, and she felt again that wicked stirring within her,—incredible stirring of minister's daughter for tanner's son. Coniston believes, and always will believe, that the social bars are strong enough. So Cynthia looked down at the reins.
"Poor Josephine!" she said, "I always wish he had not cast her off."
"C-cast her off?" said Jethro. "Cast her off! Why did he do that?"
"After a while, when he got to be Emperor, he needed a wife who would be more useful to him. Josephine had become a drag. He cared more about getting on in the world than he did about his wife."
Jethro looked away contemplatively.
"Wa-wahn't the woman to blame any?" he said.
"Read the book, and you'll see," retorted Cynthia, flicking her horse, which started at all gaits down the road. Jethro stood in his tracks, staring, but this time he did not see her face above the hood of the gig. Presently he trudged on, head downward, pondering upon another problem than Napoleon's. Cynthia, at length, arrived in Brampton Street, in a humor that puzzled the good Miss Lucretia sorely.
The sun had dropped behind the mountain, leaving Coniston in amethystine shadow, and the last bee had flown homeward from the apple blossoms in front of Aunt Lucy Prescott's window, before Cynthia returned. Aunt Lucy was Cynthia's grandmother, and eighty-nine years of age. Still she sat in her window beside the lilac bush, lost in memories of a stout, rosy lass who had followed a stalwart husband up a broad river into the wilderness some seventy years agone in Indian days—Weathersfield Massacre days. That lass was Aunt Lucy herself, and in just such a May had Timothy's axe rung through the Coniston forest and reared the log cabin, where six of her children were born. Likewise in review passed the lonely months when Timothy was fighting behind his rugged General Stark for that privilege more desirable to his kind than life—self government. Timothy Prescott would pull the forelock to no man, would have such God-fearing persons as he chose make his laws for him.
Honest Captain Timothy and his Stark heroes, Aunt Lucy and her memories, have long gone to rest. Little did they dream of the nation we have lived to see, straining at her constitution like a great ship at anchor in a gale, with funnels belching forth smoke, and a new race of men thronging her decks for the mastery. Coniston is there still behind its mountain, with its rusty firelocks and its hillside graves.
Cynthia, driving back from Brampton in the gig, smiled at Aunt Lucy in the window, but she did not so much as glance at the tannery house farther on. The tannery house, be it known, was the cottage where Jethro dwelt, and which had belonged to Nathan, his father; and the tannery sheds were at some distance behind it, nearer Coniston Water. Cynthia did not glance at the tannery house, for a wave of orthodox indignation had swept over her: at any rate, we may call it so. In other words, she was angry with herself: pitied and scorned herself, if the truth be told, for her actions—an inevitable mood.
In front of the minister's barn under the elms on the hill Cynthia pulled the harness from the tired horse with an energy that betokened activity of mind. She was not one who shrank from self-knowledge, and the question put itself to her, "Whither was this matter tending?" The fire that is in strong men has ever been a lure to women; and many, meaning to play with it, have been burnt thereby since the world began. But to turn the fire to some use, to make the world better for it or stranger for it, that were an achievement indeed! The horse munching his hay, Cynthia lingered as the light fainted above the ridge, with the thought that this might be woman's province, and Miss Lucretia Penniman might go on leading her women regiments to no avail. Nevertheless she was angry with Jethro, not because of what he had said, but because of what he was.
The next day is Sunday, and there is mild excitement in Coniston. For Jethro Bass, still with the coonskin cap, but in a brass-buttoned coat secretly purchased in Brampton, appeared at meeting! It made no difference that he entered quietly, and sat in the rear slip, orthodox Coniston knew that he was behind them: good Mr. Ware knew it, and changed a little his prayers and sermon: Cynthia knew it, grew hot and cold by turns under her poke bonnet. Was he not her brand, and would she not get the credit of snatching him? How willingly, then, would she have given up that credit to the many who coveted it—if it were a credit. Was Jethro at meeting for any religious purpose?
Jethro's importance to Coniston lay in his soul, and that soul was numbered at present ninety and ninth. When the meeting was over, Aunt Lucy Prescott hobbled out at an amazing pace to advise him to read chapter seven of Matthew, but he had vanished: via the horse sheds; if she had known it, and along Coniston Water to the house by the tannery, where he drew breath in a state of mind not to be depicted. He had gazed at the back of Cynthia's poke bonnet for two hours, but he had an uneasy feeling that he would have to pay a price.
The price was paid, in part, during the next six days. To do Jethro's importance absolute justice, he did inspire fear among his contemporaries, and young men and women did not say much to his face; what they did say gave them little satisfaction. Grim Deacon Ira stopped him as he was going to buy hides, and would have prayed over him if Jethro had waited; dear Aunt Lucy did pray, but in private. In six days orthodox Coniston came to the conclusion that this ninety and ninth soul were better left to her who had snatched it, Cynthia Ware.
As for Cynthia, nothing was farther from her mind. Unchristian as was the thought, if this thing she had awakened could only have been put back to sleep again, she would have thought herself happy. But would she have been happy? When Moses Hatch congratulated her, with more humor than sincerity, he received the greatest scare of his life. Yet in those days she welcomed Moses's society as she never had before; and Coniston, including Moses himself, began thinking of a wedding.
Another Saturday came, and no Cynthia went to Brampton. Jethro may or may not have been on the road. Sunday, and there was Jethro on the back seat in the meetinghouse: Sunday noon, over his frugal dinner, the minister mildly remonstrates with Cynthia for neglecting one who has shown signs of grace, citing certain failures of others of his congregation: Cynthia turns scarlet, leaving the minister puzzled and a little uneasy: Monday, Miss Lucretia Penniman, alarmed, comes to Coniston to inquire after Cynthia's health: Cynthia drives back with her as far as Four Corners, talking literature and the advancement of woman; returns on foot, thinking of something else, when she discerns a figure seated on a log by the roadside, bent as in meditation. There was no going back the thing to do was to come on, as unconcernedly as possible, not noticing anything,—which Cynthia did, not without a little inward palpitating and curiosity, for which she hated herself and looked the sterner. The figure unfolded itself, like a Jack from a box.
"You say the woman wahn't any to blame—wahn't any to blame?"
The poke bonnet turned away. The shoulders under it began to shake, and presently the astonished Jethro heard what seemed to be faint peals of laughter. Suddenly she turned around to him, all trace of laughter gone.
"Why don't you read the book?"
"So I am," said Jethro, "so I am. Hain't come to this casting-off yet."
"And you didn't look ahead to find out?" This with scorn.
"Never heard of readin' a book in that fashion. I'll come to it in time—g-guess it won't run away."
Cynthia stared at him, perhaps with a new interest at this plodding determination. She was not quite sure that she ought to stand talking to him a third time in these woods, especially if the subject of conversation were not, as Coniston thought, the salvation of his soul. But she stayed. Here was a woman who could be dealt with by no known rules, who did not even deign to notice a week of marked coldness.
"Jethro," she said, with a terrifying sternness, "I am going to ask you a question, and you must answer me truthfully."
"G-guess I won't find any trouble about that," said Jethro, apparently not in the least terrified.
"I want you to tell me why you are going to meeting."
"To see you," said Jethro, promptly, "to see you."
"Don't you know that that is wrong?"
"H-hadn't thought much about it," answered Jethro.
"Well, you should think about it. People don't go to meeting to—to look at other people."
"Thought they did," said Jethro. "W-why do they wear their best clothes—why do they wear their best clothes?"
"To honor God," said Cynthia, with a shade lacking in the conviction, for she added hurriedly: "It isn't right for you to go to church to see—anybody. You go there to hear the Scriptures expounded, and to have your sins forgiven. Because I lent you that book, and you come to meeting, people think I'm converting you."
"So you be," replied Jethro, and this time it was he who smiled, "so you be."
Cynthia turned away, her lips pressed together: How to deal with such a man! Wondrous notes broke on the stillness, the thrush was singing his hymn again, only now it seemed a paean. High in the azure a hawk wheeled, and floated.
"Couldn't you see I was very angry with you?"
"S-saw you was goin' with Moses Hatch more than common."
Cynthia drew breath sharply. This was audacity—and yet she liked it.
"I am very fond of Moses," she said quickly.
"You always was charitable, Cynthy," said he.
"Haven't I been charitable to you?" she retorted.
"G-guess it has be'n charity," said Jethro. He looked down at her solemnly, thoughtfully, no trace of anger in his face, turned, and without another word strode off in the direction of Coniston Flat.
He left a tumultuous Cynthia, amazement and repentance struggling with anger, which forbade her calling him back: pride in her answering to pride in him, and she rejoicing fiercely that he had pride. Had he but known it, every step he took away from her that evening was a step in advance, and she gloried in the fact that he did not once look back. As she walked toward Coniston, the thought came to her that she was rid of the thing she had stirred up, perhaps forever, and the thrush burst into his song once more.
That night, after Cynthia's candle had gone out, when the minister sat on his doorsteps looking at the glory of the moon on the mountain forest, he was startled by the sight of a figure slowly climbing toward him up the slope. A second glance told him that it was Jethro's. Vaguely troubled, he watched his approach; for good Priest Ware, while able to obey one-half the scriptural injunction, had not the wisdom of the serpent, and women, as typified by Cynthia, were a continual puzzle to him. That very evening, Moses Hatch had called, had been received with more favor than usual, and suddenly packed off about his business. Seated in the moonlight, the minister wondered vaguely whether Jethro Bass were troubling the girl. And now Jethro stood before him, holding out a book. Rising, Mr. Ware bade him good evening, mildly and cordially.
"C-come to leave this book for Cynthy," said Jethro.
Mr. Ware took it, mechanically.
"Have you finished it?" he asked kindly.
"All I want," replied Jethro, "all I want."
He turned, and went down the slope. Twice the words rose to the minister's lips to call him back, and were suppressed. Yet what to say to him if he came? Mr. Ware sat down again, sadly wondering why Jethro Bass should be so difficult to talk to.
The parsonage was of only one story, with a steep, sloping roof. On the left of the doorway was Cynthia's room, and the minister imagined he heard a faint, rustling noise at her window. Presently he arose, barred the door; could be heard moving around in his room for a while, and after that all was silence save for the mournful crying of a whippoorwill in the woods. Then a door opened softly, a white vision stole into the little entry lighted by the fan-window, above, seized the book and stole back. Had the minister been a prying man about his household, he would have noticed next day that Cynthia's candle was burned down to the socket. He saw nothing of the kind: he saw, in fact, that his daughter flitted about the house singing, and he went out into the sun to drop potatoes.
No sooner had he reached the barn than this singing ceased. But how was Mr. Ware to know that?
Twice Cynthia, during the week that followed, got halfway down the slope of the parsonage hill, the book under her arm, on her way to the tannery; twice went back, tears of humiliation and self-pity in her eyes at the thought that she should make advances to a man, and that man the tanner's son. Her household work done, a longing for further motion seized her, and she walked out under the maples of the village street. Let it be understood that Coniston was a village, by courtesy, and its shaded road a street. Suddenly, there was the tannery, Jethro standing in front of it, contemplative. Did he see her? Would he come to her? Cynthia, seized by a panic of shame, flew into Aunt Lucy Prescott's, sat through half an hour of torture while Aunt Lucy talked of redemption of sinners, during ten minutes of which Jethro stood, still contemplative. What tumult was in his breast, or whether there was any tumult, Cynthia knew not. He went into the tannery again, and though she saw him twice later in the week, he gave no sign of seeing her.
On Saturday Cynthia bought a new bonnet in Brampton; Sunday morning put it on, suddenly remembered that one went to church to honor God, and wore her old one; walked to meeting in a flutter of expectancy not to be denied, and would have looked around had that not been a cardinal sin in Coniston. No Jethro! General opinion (had she waited to hear it among the horse sheds or on the green), that Jethro's soul had slid back into the murky regions, from which it were folly for even Cynthia to try to drag it.
To prove that Jethro's soul had not slid back into the murky regions, and that it was still indulging in flights, it is necessary to follow him (for a very short space) to Boston. Jethro himself went in Lyman Hull's six-horse team with a load of his own merchandise—hides that he had tanned, and other country produce. And they did not go by the way of Truro Pass to the Capital, but took the state turnpike over the ranges, where you can see for miles and miles and miles on a clear summer day across the trembling floors of the forest tops to lonely sentinel mountains fourscore miles away.
No one takes the state turnpike nowadays except crazy tourists who are willing to risk their necks and their horses' legs for the sake of scenery. The tough little Morgans of that time, which kept their feet like cats, have all but disappeared, but there were places on that road where Lyman Hull put the shoes under his wheels for four miles at a stretch. He was not a companion many people would have chosen with whom to enjoy the beauties of such a trip, and nearly everybody in Coniston was afraid of him. Jethro Bass would sit silent on the seat for hours and—it is a fact to be noted that when he told Lyman to do a thing, Lyman did it; not, perhaps, without cursing and grumbling. Lyman was a profane and wicked man—drover, farmer, trader, anything. He had a cider mill on his farm on the south slopes of Coniston which Mr. Ware had mentioned in his sermons, and which was the resort of the ungodly. The cider was not so good as Squire Northcutt's, but cheaper. Jethro was not afraid of Lyman, and he had a mortgage on the six-horse team, and on the farm and the cider mill.
After six days, Jethro and Lyman drove over Charlestown bridge and into the crooked streets of Boston, and at length arrived at a drover's hotel, or lodging-house that did not, we may be sure, front on Mount Vernon Street or face the Mall. Lyman proceeded to get drunk, and Jethro to sell the hides and other merchandise which Lyman had hauled for him.
There was a young man in Boston, when Jethro arrived in Lyman Hull's team, named William Wetherell. By extraordinary circumstances he and another connected with him are to take no small part in this story, which is a sufficient excuse for his introduction. His father had been a prosperous Portsmouth merchant in the West India trade, a man of many attainments, who had failed and died of a broken heart; and William, at two and twenty, was a clerk in the little jewellery shop of Mr. Judson in Cornhill.
William Wetherell had literary aspirations, and sat from morning till night behind the counter, reading and dreaming: dreaming that he was to be an Irving or a Walter Scott, and yet the sum total of his works in after years consisted of some letters to the Newcastle Guardian, and a beginning of the Town History of Coniston!
William had a contempt for the awkward young countryman who suddenly loomed up before him that summer's morning across the counter. But a moment before the clerk had been in a place where he would fain have lingered—a city where blue waters flow swiftly between white palaces toward the sunrise.
Little did William Wetherell guess, when he glanced up at the intruder, that he was looking upon one of the forces of his own life! The countryman wore a blue swallow tail coat (fashioned by the hand of Speedy Bates), a neck-cloth, a coonskin cap, and his trousers were tucked into rawhide boots. He did not seem a promising customer for expensive jewellery, and the literary clerk did not rise, but merely closed his book with his thumb in it.
"S-sell things here," asked the countryman, "s-sell things here?"
"Occasionally, when folks have money to buy them."
"My name's Jethro Bass," said the countryman, "Jethro Bass from Coniston. Ever hear of Coniston?"
Young Mr. Wetherell never had, but many years afterward he remembered his name, heaven knows why. Jethro Bass! Perhaps it had a strange ring to it.
"F-folks told me to be careful," was Jethro's next remark. He did not look at the clerk, but kept his eyes fixed on the things within the counter.
"Somebody ought to have come with you," said the clerk, with a smile of superiority.
"D-don't know much about city ways."
"Well," said the clerk, beginning to be amused, "a man has to keep his wits about him."
Even then Jethro spared him a look, but continued to study the contents of the case.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Bass? We have some really good things here. For example, this Swiss watch, which I will sell you cheap, for one hundred and fifty dollars."
"One hundred and fifty dollars—er—one hundred and fifty?"
Wetherell nodded. Still the countryman did not look up.
"F-folks told me to be careful," he repeated without a smile. He was looking at the lockets, and finally pointed a large finger at one of them—the most expensive, by the way. "W-what d'ye get for that?" he asked.
"Twenty dollars," the clerk promptly replied. Thirty was nearer the price, but what did it matter.
"H-how much for that?" he said, pointing to another. The clerk told him. He inquired about them all, deliberately repeating the sums, considering with so well-feigned an air of a purchaser that Mr. Wetherell began to take a real joy in the situation. For trade was slack in August, and diversion scarce. Finally he commanded that the case be put on the top of the counter, and Wetherell humored him. Whereupon he picked up the locket he had first chosen. It looked very delicate in his huge, rough hand, and Wetherell was surprised that the eyes of Mr. Bass had been caught by the most expensive, for it was far from being the showiest.
"T-twenty dollars?" he asked.
"We may as well call it that," laughed Wetherell.
"It's not too good for Cynthy," he said.
"Nothing's too good for Cynthy," answered Mr. Wetherell, mockingly, little knowing how he might come to mean it.
Jethro Bass paid no attention to this speech. Pulling a great cowhide wallet from his pocket, still holding the locket in his hand, to the amazement of the clerk he counted out twenty dollars and laid them down.
"G-guess I'll take that one, g-guess I'll take that one," he said.
Then he looked at Mr. Wetherell for the first time.
"Hold!" cried the clerk, more alarmed than he cared to show, "that's not the price. Did you think I could sell it for that price?"
"W-wahn't that the price you fixed?"
"You simpleton!" retorted Wetherell, with a conviction now that he was calling him the wrong name. "Give me back the locket, and you shall have your money, again."
"W-wahn't that the price you fixed?"
"G-guess I'll keep the locket—g-guess I'll keep the locket."
Wetherell looked at him aghast, and there was no doubt about his determination. With a sinking heart the clerk realized that he should have to make good to Mr. Judson the seven odd dollars of difference, and then he lost his head. Slipping round the counter to the door of the shop, he turned the key, thrust it in his pocket, and faced Mr. Bass again—from behind the counter.
"You don't leave this shop," cried the clerk, "until you give me back that locket."
Jethro Bass turned. A bench ran along the farther wall, and there he planted himself without a word, while the clerk stared at him,—with what feelings of uneasiness I shall not attempt to describe,—for the customer was plainly determined to wait until hunger should drive one of them forth. The minutes passed, and Wetherell began to hate him. Then some one tried the door, peered in through the glass, perceived Jethro, shook the knob, knocked violently, all to no purpose. Jethro seemed lost in a reverie.
"This has gone far enough," said the clerk, trying to keep his voice from shaking "it is beyond a joke. Give me back the locket." And he tendered Jethro the money again.
"W-wahn't that the price you fixed?" asked Jethro, innocently.
Wetherell choked. The man outside shook the door again, and people on the sidewalk stopped, and presently against the window panes a sea of curious faces gazed in upon them. Mr. Bass's thoughts apparently were fixed on Eternity—he looked neither at the people nor at Wetherell. And then, the crowd parting as for one in authority, as in a bad dream the clerk saw his employer, Mr. Judson, courteously pushing away the customer at the door who would not be denied. Another moment, and Mr. Judson had gained admittance with his private key, and stood on the threshold staring at clerk and customer. Jethro gave no sign that the situation had changed.
"William," said Mr. Judson, in a dangerously quiet voice, "perhaps you can explain this extraordinary state of affairs."
"I can, sir," William cried. "This gentleman" (the word stuck in his throat), "this gentleman came in here to examine lockets which I had no reason to believe he would buy. I admit my fault, sir. He asked the price of the most expensive, and I told him twenty dollars, merely for a jest, sir." William hesitated.
"Well?" said Mr. Judson.
"After pricing every locket in the case, he seized the first one, handed me twenty dollars, and now refuses to give it up, although he knows the price is twenty-seven."
"Then I locked the door, sir. He sat down there, and hasn't moved since."
Mr. Judson looked again at Mr. Bass; this time with unmistakable interest. The other customer began to laugh, and the crowd was pressing in, and Mr. Judson turned and shut the door in their faces. All this time Mr. Bass had not moved, not so much as to lift his head or shift one of his great cowhide boots.
"Well, sir," demanded Mr. Judson, "what have you to say?"
"N-nothin'. G-guess I'll keep the locket. I've, paid for it—I've paid for it."
"And you are aware, my friend," said Mr. Judson, "that my clerk has given you the wrong price?"
"Guess that's his lookout." He still sat there, doggedly unconcerned.
A bull would have seemed more at home in a china shop than Jethro Bass in a jewellery store. But Mr. Judson himself was a man out of the ordinary, and instead of getting angry he began to be more interested.
"Took you for a greenhorn, did he?" he remarked.
"F-folks told me to be careful—to be careful," said Mr. Bass.
Then Mr. Judson laughed. It was all the more disconcerting to William Wetherell, because his employer laughed rarely. He laid his hand on Jethro's shoulder.
"He might have spared himself the trouble, my young friend," he said. "You didn't expect to find a greenhorn behind a jewellery counter, did you?"
"S-surprised me some," said Jethro.
Mr. Judson laughed again, all the while looking at him.
"I am going to let you keep the locket," he said, "because it will teach my greenhorn a lesson. William, do you hear that?"
"Yes, sir," William said, and his face was very red.
Mr. Bass rose solemnly, apparently unmoved by his triumph in a somewhat remarkable transaction, and William long remembered how he towered over all of them. He held the locket out to Mr. Judson, who stared at it, astonished.
"What's this?" said that gentleman; "you don't want it?"
"Guess I'll have it marked," said Jethro, "ef it don't cost extry."
"Marked!" gasped Mr. Judson, "marked!"
"Ef it don't cost extry," Jethro repeated.
"Well, I'll—" exclaimed Mr. Judson, and suddenly recalled the fact that he was a church member. "What inscription do you wish put into it?" he asked, recovering himself with an effort.
Jethro thrust his hand into his pocket, and again the cowhide wallet came out. He tendered Mr. Judson a somewhat soiled piece of paper, and Mr. Judson read:—
"Cynthy," Mr. Judson repeated, in a tremulous voice, "Cynthy, not Cynthia."
"H-how is it written," said Jethro, leaning over it, "h-how is it written?"
"Cynthy," answered Mr. Judson, involuntarily.
"Then make it Cynthy—make it Cynthy."
"Cynthy it shall be," said Mr. Judson, with conviction.
"When'll you have it done?"
"To-night," replied Mr. Judson, with a twinkle in his eye, "to-night, as a special favor."
"What time—w-what time?"
"Seven o'clock, sir. May I send it to your hotel? The Tremont House, I suppose?"
"I-I'll call," said Jethro, so solemnly that Mr. Judson kept his laughter until he was gone.
From the door they watched him silently as he strode across the street and turned the corner. Then Mr. Judson turned. "That man will make his mark, William," he said; and added thoughtfully, "but whether for good or evil, I know not."
What Cynthia may have thought or felt during Jethro's absence in Boston, and for some months thereafter, she kept to herself. Honest Moses Hatch pursued his courting untroubled, and never knew that he had a rival. Moses would as soon have questioned the seasons or the weather as Cynthia's changes of moods,—which were indeed the weather for him, and when storms came he sat with his back to them, waiting for the sunshine. He had long ceased proposing marriage, in the firm belief that Cynthia would set the day in her own good time. Thereby he was saved much suffering.
The summer flew on apace, for Coniston. Fragrant hay was cut on hillsides won from rock and forest, and Coniston Water sang a gentler melody—save when the clouds floated among the spruces on the mountain and the rain beat on the shingles. During the still days before the turn of the year,—days of bending fruit boughs, crab-apples glistening red in the soft sunlight,—rumor came from Brampton to wrinkle the forehead of Moses Hatch as he worked among his father's orchards.
The rumor was of a Mr. Isaac Dudley Worthington, a name destined to make much rumor before it was to be carved on the marble. Isaac D. Worthington, indeed, might by a stretch of the imagination be called the pioneer of all the genus to be known in the future as City Folks, who were, two generations later, to invade the country like a devouring army of locusts.
At that time a stranger in Brampton was enough to set the town agog. But a young man of three and twenty, with an independent income of four hundred dollars a year!—or any income at all not derived from his own labor—was unheard of. It is said that when the stage from over Truro Gap arrived in Brampton Street a hundred eyes gazed at him unseen, from various ambushes, and followed him up the walk to Silas Wheelock's, where he was to board. In half an hour Brampton knew the essentials of Isaac Worthington's story, and Sam Price was on his way with it to Coniston for distribution at Jonah Winch's store.
Young Mr. Worthington was from Boston—no less; slim, pale, medium height, but with an alert look, and a high-bridged nose. But his clothes! Sam Price's vocabulary was insufficient here, they were cut in such a way, and Mr. Worthington was downright distinguished-looking under his gray beaver. Why had he come to Brampton? demanded Deacon Ira Perkins. Sam had saved this for the last. Young Mr. Worthington was threatened with consumption, and had been sent to live with his distant relative, Silas Wheelock.
The presence of a gentleman of leisure—although threatened with consumption—became an all-absorbing topic in two villages and three hamlets, and more than one swain, hitherto successful, felt the wind blow colder. But in a fortnight it was known that a petticoat did not make Isaac Worthington even turn his head. Curiosity centred on Silas Wheelock's barn, where Mr. Worthington had fitted up a shop, and, presently various strange models of contrivances began to take shape there. What these were, Silas himself knew not; and the gentleman of leisure was, alas! close-mouthed. When he was not sawing and hammering and planing, he took long walks up and down Coniston Water, and was surprised deep in thought at several places.
Nathan Bass's story-and-a-half house, devoid of paint, faced the road, and behind it was the shed, or barn, that served as the tannery, and between the tannery and Coniston Water were the vats. The rain flew in silvery spray, and the drops shone like jewels on the coat of a young man who stood looking in at the tannery door. Young Jake Wheeler, son of the village spendthrift, was driving a lean white horse round in a ring: to the horse was attached a beam, and on the beam a huge round stone rolled on a circular oak platform. Jethro Bass, who was engaged in pushing hemlock bark under the stone to be crushed, straightened. Of the three, the horse had seen the visitor first, and stopped in his tracks.
"Jethro!" whispered Jake, tingling with an excitement that was but natural. Jethro had begun to sweep the finer pieces of bark toward the centre. "It's the city man, walked up here from Brampton."
It was indeed Mr. Worthington, slightly more sunburned and less citified-looking than on his arrival, and he wore a woollen cap of Brampton make. Even then, despite his wavy hair and delicate appearance, Isaac Worthington had the hawk-like look which became famous in later years, and at length he approached Jethro and fixed his eye upon him.
"Kind of slow work, isn't it?" remarked Mr. Worthington.
The white horse was the only one to break the silence that followed, by sneezing with all his might.
"How is the tannery business in these parts?" essayed Mr. Worthington again.
"Thinkin' of it?" said Jethro. "T-thinkin' of it, be you?"
"No," answered Mr. Worthington, hastily. "If I were," he added, "I'd put in new machinery. That horse and stone is primitive."
"What kind of machinery would you put in?" asked Jethro.
"Ah," answered Worthington, "that will interest you. All New Englanders are naturally progressive, I take it."
"W-what was it you took?"
"I was merely remarking on the enterprise of New Englanders," said Worthington, flushing. "On my journey up here, beside the Merrimac, I had the opportunity to inspect the new steam-boiler, the falling-mill, the splitting machine, and other remarkable improvements. In fact, these suggested one or two little things to me, which might be of interest to you."
"Well," said Jethro, "they might, and then again they mightn't. Guess it depends."
"Depends!" exclaimed the man of leisure, "depends on what?"
"H-how much you know about it."
Young Mr. Worthington, instead of being justly indignant, laughed and settled himself comfortably on a pile of bark. He thought Jethro a character, and he was not mistaken. On the other hand, Mr. Worthington displayed a knowledge of the falling-mill and splitting-machine and the process of tanneries in general that was surprising. Jethro, had Mr. Worthington but known it, was more interested in animate machines: more interested in Mr. Worthington than the falling-mill or, indeed, the tannery business.
At length the visitor fell silent, his sense of superiority suddenly gone. Others had had this same feeling with Jethro, even the minister; but the man of leisure (who was nothing of the sort) merely felt a kind of bewilderment.
"Callatin' to live in Brampton—be you?" asked Jethro.
"I am living there now."
"C-callatin' to set up a mill some day?"
Mr. Worthington fairly leaped off the bark pile.
"What makes you say that?" he demanded.
"G-guesswork," said Jethro, starting to shovel again, "g-guesswork."
To take a walk in the wild, to come upon a bumpkin in cowhide boots crushing bark, to have him read within twenty minutes a cherished and well-hidden ambition which Brampton had not discovered in a month (and did not discover for many years) was sufficiently startling. Well might Mr. Worthington tremble for his other ambitions, and they were many.
Jethro stepped out, passing Mr. Worthington as though he had already forgotten that gentleman's existence, and seized an armful of bark that lay under cover of a lean-to. Just then, heralded by a brightening of the western sky, a girl appeared down the road, her head bent a little as in thought, and if she saw the group by the tannery house she gave no sign. Two of them stared at her—Jake Wheeler and Mr. Worthington. Suddenly Jake, implike, turned and stared at Worthington.
"Cynthy Ware, the minister's daughter," he said.
"Haven't I seen her in Brampton?" inquired Mr. Worthington, little thinking of the consequences of the question.
"Guess you have," answered Jake. "Cynthy goes to the Social Library, to git books. She knows more'n the minister himself, a sight more."
"Where does the minister live?" asked Mr. Worthington.
Jake pulled him by the sleeve toward the road, and pointed to the low gable of the little parsonage under the elms on the hill beyond the meeting-house. The visitor gave a short glance at it, swung around and gave a longer glance at the figure disappearing in the other direction. He did not suspect that Jake was what is now called a news agency. Then Mr. Worthington turned to Jethro, who was stooping over the bark.
"If you come to Brampton, call and see me," he said. "You'll find me at Silas Wheelock's."
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