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Constance Fenimore Woolson was an American novelist, poet, and short story writer. She was a grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper, and is best known for fictions about the Great Lakes region, the American South, and American expatriates in Europe.Collection of 12 Works of Constance Fenimore Woolson________________________________________AnneCastle NowhereDorothy and other Italian StoriesEast AngelsFor the MajorHorace ChaseJupiter LightsMentone Cairo and CorfuRodman the KeeperSolomonThe Front Yard and the other Italian storiesThe Old Stone House
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The Premium Complete Collection of Constance Fenimore Woolson
Detailed Biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson
Dorothy and other Italian Stories
For the Major
Mentone Cairo and Corfu
Rodman the Keeper
The Front Yard and the other Italian stories
The Old Stone House
Constance FenimoreWoolson was born 1840, in Claremont, NH. Three older sisters died from scarlet fever soon after Constance's birth, and the family decided to move west to start a new life. They relocated in Cleveland, Ohio, where Constance grew up. She attended Cleveland Female Seminary, and finished off her education at a fashionable boarding school in New York.
Woolson acquired a taste for travel at an early age. She accompanied her father on business trips throughout Ohio and Wisconsin, her family vacationed on Mackinac Island, where they owned a summer cottage, she went to school in New York, visited Cooperstown, and toured New England. On these trips, Woolson encountered a variety of regional types and terrains--her keen eye for place and her interest in cultural differences would later find expression in her fiction and travel pieces.
The Civil War was the central event of Woolson's young adulthood, and became for her an emotional fulcrum against which she measured later times. She called it "the heart and spirit of my life" in letter to her friend Edmund Clarence Stedman, and remarked that "everything has seemed tame to me since." She eventually wrote a number of stories set in the Reconstruction South; these often hinge on the strong feelings evoked by the War and are some of her most emotion-laden works.
By the War's end, Woolson already assumed she would never marry. In 1869 her father died; the following year Woolson became a steady contributor to literary magazines. She had written for her own amusement since childhood, but now she began to write seriously, and to think of herself as an author. Her pride in her kinship to James Fenimore Cooper, her mother's uncle, perhaps helped her from the first to envision writing as an artistic calling, not a business venture.
Woolson was a literary success almost from the start, and soon her stories, poetry, and sketches were appearing regularly in periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Scribner's. Her best early work were stories set in the Great Lakes region; many featured characters who lived lives of isolation in inaccessible wildernesses. Woolson's detailed descriptions of landscape and a tough-minded realism put her in the ranks of early local colorists such as Bret Harte, whose fiction she greatly admired.
Woolson became her mother's companion after her father's death, and she accompanied her when she left Cleveland to relocate in New York. In 1873 her mother's doctor advised a warmer climate, and Constance and her mother began a pattern of summering in New York and wintering in Florida, a state Woolson grew to love. Years after Woolson had left the United States to live abroad, she would tell friends she planned one day to return to Florida.
Saint Augustine was the usual base of these Southern sojourns; from this hub Woolson made side trips to Virginia, the North Carolina mountains, and up the Eastern coast to Charleston and beyond. In 1875 her first collection of short stories, Castle Nowhere: Lake-Country Sketches, appeared, bringing together the best of her Great Lakes tales. Her newer stories, however, now featured Southern landscapes and people. These Southern stories and travel pieces carefully distinguished between regional types within the South, and cotton country planters, Florida Minorcans, and mountain people each came to represent different themes and attitudes in Woolson's works.
Woolson wintered in Florida from 1873 until her mother's death in 1879. Devastated by the loss of her mother, she moved abroad, spending time first in London, then France and finally Italy. She immediately took up a pattern she would maintain the rest of her life, living in hotels, staying in one location for several months at a time, and then moving on. She wrote home explaining, "So I shall see Europe slowly, and by no means extensively; but I shall see and enjoy thoroughly the places I do see..." Although she had no permanent home, Woolson established a routine of sorts, often spending falls and winters in Florence, springs in Venice, and summers in Switzerland or Germany. She would set up residence, then use this as a homebase for side trips and tours.
In Italy Woolson met and became a close and lifelong friend of Henry James. Their friendship no doubt flourished in part because of the similarity of their literary tastes and themes. James was a great admirer of Woolson both as a writer and friend.
Woolson was occasionally plagued by health problems during her European years. Moreover, hearing difficulties she had experienced for some time worsened; her deafness deepened throughout her life, increasingly isolating her. She was also prone to depressions. Nonetheless, she remained productive. Her second collection of stories, Rodman the Keeper: Southern Sketches, was published in 1880, and installments of her novel Anne began to appear that same year. She continued to contribute regularly to American periodicals, now with short stories set in Italy and England, and serialized novels with American locales. Over the next thirteen years she produced a steady flow of materials for her publishers in the States.
In early 1894, suffering from a severe bout with influenza, Woolson either leaped or fell from her second-story bedroom window. She died from the injuries. By this time Woolson had written four novels, a novella, four collections of short stories, and numerous uncollected stories, in addition to her early poetry, travel pieces, and articles of literary criticism. A collection of short stories and one of travel sketches were published posthumously. Woolson's reputation in her day was solid: both Henry James and William Dean Howells thought her one of America's finest writers, and her work was always a popular as well as a critical success. It would not be until the 20th century that her reputation would fade during the rise of New Criticism, when so many women writers were dropped from the American canon.
Woolson returned time and again to favorite themes in her fiction. A tourist most of her life, she was always alert to outsider/insider dynamics within communities, and to regional and ethnic differences among persons. She frequently positions her narrative center of consciousness with the outsider. For instance, in her Southern stories, her narrator is often a transplanted Northerner who cannot feel at home in the culture around him. In her stories about artists, the outsider is often a woman not accepted as an equal by a male artist who represents the artistic establishment. Her stories often concern isolated individuals--people living at edges of civilization; misfits; persons set apart by their value systems.
The stories below are representative samples from each of Woolson's three major periods: "Peter the Parson" and "Jeannette" are Great Lakes stories. "Peter the Parson" is one of her earliest tales, and shows the influence of Bret Harte, whom Woolson greatly admired. "Jeannette" is a good example of Woolson's response to what she labeled "sweet" stories by women; although she wrote some romances with conventional endings, her best stories, like "Jeannette," play against this tradition.
"King David" and "Rodman the Keeper" are from Woolson's Southern period. "King David," one of Woolson's most disturbing stories, is a revelation of the racism beneath David's desire to uplift newly emancipated Southern blacks, but the story also uncovers Woolson's own racism. "Rodman the Keeper" is a powerful tale that highlights the irreconcilable differences between Northern and Southern cultures, with dignity and sympathy allotted to representative characters of both worlds.
"In Sloane Street," a work of psychological realism, comes from Woolson's European period. The story explores the relationship of a spinster to the couple with whom she is staying. Miss Remington admires the writer husband and has the intelligence and longing to foster his talent, unlike his wife, who has little appreciation of her husband's talent or of literature in general. But the writer repays Miss Remington's support with condescension, and the wife alternately ignores and criticizes her. The solidarity of the mismatched couple makes Miss Remington's isolation in their midst all the more ironic and acute.
BY CONSTANCE FENIMORE WOOLSON
ILLUSTRATED BY C. S. REINHART
NEW YORK HARPER & BROTHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1882, by HARPER & BROTHERS, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
All rights reserved.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"I PUT MY ARMS ROUND HER" Frontispiece.
"THE GIRL PAUSED AND REFLECTED A MOMENT" To face Page 18
"AS SHE BENT OVER THE OLD VOLUME" " 42
LOIS HINSDALE " 62
"AND IT ENDED IN THEIR RACING DOWN TOGETHER" " 84
"ALARMED, HE BENT OVER HER" " 104
"SHE SAT THERE HIGH IN THE AIR WHILE THE STEAMER BACKED OUT FROM THE PIERS" " 120
"YOU KNOW I TOO MUST GO FAR AWAY" " 132
TITA LISTENING " 136
"DEAR ME! WHAT CAN BE DONE WITH SUCH A YOUNG SAVAGE?" " 152
IN THE WOODS " 186
"HE TOOK HIS BEST COAT FROM HIS LEAN VALISE" " 208
"HE WAS MERELY NOTING THE EFFECT" " 226
"SHE BATHED HER FLUSHED CHEEKS" " 234
"SHE STARTED SLIGHTLY" " 254
"SHE BURIED HER FACE TREMBLINGLY IN HER HANDS" " 262
"ANNE DREW A CHAIR TO THE BEDSIDE, AND SAT DOWN WITH HER BACK TO THE MOONLIGHT" " 284
"WHILE HER MAID WAS COILING HER FAIR HAIR" " 308
"IT IS, OR SHOULD BE, OVER THERE" " 328
"MISS LOIS SIGHED DEEPLY" " 350
"JULY WALKED IN FRONT, WITH HIS GUN OVER HIS SHOULDER" " 374
"SHE TRIED TO RISE, BUT HE HELD HER ARM WITH BOTH HANDS" " 386
"WEAK, HOLDING ON BY THE TREES" " 392
"SAW HER SLOWLY ASCEND THE HOUSE STEPS" " 408
"ANNE, STILL AS A STATUE" " 432
"HE ROSE, AND TOOK HER COLD HANDS IN HIS" " 460
"HE OBEYED WITHOUT COMMENT" " 498
"THE SECOND BOAT, WHICH WAS FARTHER UP THE LAKE, CONTAINED A MAN" " 514
"HE REACHED THE WINDOWS, AND PEEPED THROUGH A CRACK IN THE OLD BLIND" " 530
"Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy; But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy. The youth who daily farther from the East Must travel, still is Nature's priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended; At length the man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day."
"It is but little we can do for each other. We accompany the youth with sympathy and manifold old sayings of the wise to the gate of the arena, but it is certain that not by strength of ours, or by the old sayings, but only on strength of his own, unknown to us or to any, he must stand or fall."--EMERSON.
"Does it look well, father?"
"Does this look well?"
William Douglas stopped playing for a moment, and turned his head toward the speaker, who, standing on a ladder, bent herself to one side, in order that he might see the wreath of evergreen, studded with cones, which she had hung on the wall over one of the small arched windows.
"It is too compact, Anne, too heavy. There should be sprays falling from it here and there, like a real vine. The greenery, dear, should be either growing naturally upward or twining; large branches standing in the corners like trees, or climbing vines. Stars, stiff circles, and set shapes should be avoided. That wreath looks as though it had been planed by a carpenter."
"Miss Lois made it."
"Ah," said William Douglas, something which made you think of a smile, although no smile was there, passing over his face, "it looks like her work; it will last a long time. And there will be no need to remove it for Ash-Wednesday, Anne; there is nothing joyous about it."
"I did not notice that it was ugly," said the girl, trying in her bent posture to look at the wreath, and bringing one eye and a portion of anxious forehead to bear upon it.
"That is because Miss Lois made it," replied William Douglas, returning to his music.
Anne, standing straight again, surveyed the garland in silence. Then she changed its position once or twice, studying the effect. Her figure, poised on the round of the ladder, high in the air, was, although unsupported, firm. With her arms raised above her head in a position which few women could have endured for more than a moment, she appeared as unconcerned, and strong, and sure of her footing, as though she had been standing on the floor. There was vigor about her and elasticity, combined unexpectedly with the soft curves and dimples of a child. Viewed from the floor, this was a young Diana, or a Greek maiden, as we imagine Greek maidens to have been. The rounded arms, visible through the close sleeves of the dark woollen dress, the finely moulded wrists below the heavy wreath, the lithe, natural waist, all belonged to a young goddess. But when Anne Douglas came down from her height, and turned toward you, the idea vanished. Here was no goddess, no Greek; only an American girl, with a skin like a peach. Anne Douglas's eyes were violet-blue, wide open, and frank. She had not yet learned that there was any reason why she should not look at everything with the calm directness of childhood. Equally like a child was the unconsciousness of her mouth, but the full lips were exquisitely curved. Her brown hair was braided in a heavy knot at the back of her head; but little rings and roughened curly ends stood up round her forehead and on her temples, as though defying restraint. This unwritten face, with its direct gaze, so far neutralized the effect of the Diana-like form that the girl missed beauty on both sides. The usual ideal of pretty, slender, unformed maidenhood was not realized, and yet Anne Douglas's face was more like what is called a baby face than that of any other girl on the island. The adjective generally applied to her was "big." This big, soft-cheeked girl now stood irresolutely looking at the condemned wreath.
The sun was setting, and poured a flood of clear yellow light through the little west windows; the man at the organ was playing a sober, steadfast German choral, without exultation, yet full of a resolute purpose which defied even death and the grave. Out through the eastern windows stretched the frozen straits, the snow-covered islands, and below rang out the bugle. "It will be dark in a few moments," said Anne to herself; "I will do it."
She moved the ladder across to the chancel, mounted to its top again, and placed the wreath directly over the altar, connecting it deftly with the numerous long lines of delicate wreathing woven in thread-like green lace-work which hung there, waiting for their key-stone--a place of honor which the condemned wreath was to fill. It now crowned the whole. The little house of God was but an upper chamber, roughly finished and barren; its only treasure was a small organ, a gift from a father whose daughter, a stranger from the South, had died upon the island, requesting that her memorial might be music rather than a cold stone. William Douglas had superintended the unpacking and placing of this gift, and loved it almost as though it had been his own child. Indeed, it was a child, a musical child--one who comprehended his varying moods when no one else did, not even Anne.
"It makes no difference now," said Anne, aloud, carrying the ladder toward the door; "it is done and ended. Here is the ladder, Jones, and please keep up the fires all night, unless you wish to see us frozen stiff to-morrow."
A man in common soldier's uniform touched his cap and took the ladder. Anne went back. "Now for one final look, father," she said, "and then we must go home; the children will be waiting."
William Douglas played a few more soft strains, and turned round. "Well, child," he said, stroking his thin gray beard with an irresolute motion habitual with him, and looking at the small perspective of the chapel with critical gaze, "so you have put Miss Lois's wreath up there?"
"Yes; it is the only thing she had time to make, and she took so much pains with it I could not bear to have her disappointed. It will not be much noticed."
"Yes, it will."
"I am sorry, then; but it can not be moved. And to tell the truth, father, although I suppose you will laugh at me, I think it looks well."
"It looks better than anything else in the room, and crowns the whole," said Douglas, rising and standing by his daughter's side. "It was a stroke of genius to place it there, Anne."
"Was it?" said the girl, her face flushing with pleasure. "But I was thinking only of Miss Lois."
"I am afraid you were," said Douglas, with his shadowy smile.
The rough walls and beams of the chapel were decorated with fine spray-like lines of evergreen, all pointing toward the chancel; there was not a solid spot upon which the eye could rest, no upright branches in the corners, no massed bunches over the windows, no stars of Bethlehem, anchors, or nondescript Greek letters; the whole chapel was simply outlined in light feathery lines of green, which reached the chancel, entered it, played about its walls, and finally came together under the one massive wreath whose even circle and thick foliage held them all firmly in place, and ended their wanderings in a restful quiet strength. While the two stood gazing, the lemon-colored light faded, and almost immediately it was night; the red glow shining out under the doors of the large stoves alone illuminated the room, which grew into a shadowy place, the aromatic fragrance of the evergreens filling the warm air pungently, more perceptible, as fragrance always is, in the darkness. William Douglas turned to the organ again, and began playing the music of an old vigil.
"The bugle sounded long ago, father," said Anne. "It is quite dark now, and very cold; I know by the crackling noise the men's feet make across the parade-ground."
But the father played on. "Come here, daughter," he said; "listen to this waiting, watching, praying music. Do you not see the old monks in the cloisters telling the hours through the long night, waiting for the dawn, the dawn of Christmas? Look round you; see this dim chapel, the air filled with fragrance like incense. These far-off chords, now; might they not be the angels, singing over the parapet of heaven?"
Anne stood by her father's side, and listened. "Yes," she said, "I can imagine it. And yet I could imagine it a great deal better if I did not know where every bench was, and every darn in the chancel carpet, and every mended pane in the windows. I am sorry I am so dull, father."
"Not dull, but unawakened."
"And when shall I waken?" pursued the girl, accustomed to carrying on long conversations with this dreaming father, whom she loved devotedly.
"God knows! May He be with you at your wakening!"
"I would rather have you, father; that is, if it is not wicked to say so. But I am very often wicked, I think," she added, remorsefully.
William Douglas smiled, closed the organ, and, throwing his arm round his tall young daughter, walked with her down the aisle toward the door.
"But you have forgotten your cloak," said Anne, running back to get it. She clasped it carefully round his throat, drew the peaked hood over his head, and fastened it with straps of deer's hide. Her own fur cloak and cap were already on, and thus enveloped, the two descended the dark stairs, crossed the inner parade-ground, passed under the iron arch, and made their way down the long sloping path, cut in the cliff-side, which led from the little fort on the height to the village below. The thermometer outside the commandant's door showed a temperature several degrees below zero; the dry old snow that covered the ground was hardened into ice on the top, so that boys walked on its crust above the fences. Overhead the stars glittered keenly, like the sharp edges of Damascus blades, and the white expanse of the ice-fields below gave out a strange pallid light which was neither like that of sun nor of moon, of dawn nor of twilight. The little village showed but few signs of life as they turned into its main street; the piers were sheets of ice.
Nothing wintered there; the summer fleets were laid up in the rivers farther south, where the large towns stood on the lower lakes. The shutters of the few shops had been tightly closed at sunset, when all the inhabited houses were tightly closed also; inside there were curtains, sometimes a double set, woollen cloth, blankets, or skins, according to the wealth of the occupants. Thus housed, with great fires burning in their dark stoves, and one small lamp, the store-keepers waited for custom until nine o'clock, after which time hardly any one stirred abroad, unless it was some warm-blooded youth, who defied the elements with the only power which can make us forget them.
At times, early in the evening, the door of one of these shops opened, and a figure entered through a narrow crack; for no islander opened a door widely--it was giving too much advantage to the foe of his life, the weather. This figure, enveloped in furs or a blanket, came toward the stove and warmed its hands with deliberation, the merchant meanwhile remaining calmly seated; then, after some moments, it threw back its hood, and disclosed the face of perhaps an Indian, perhaps a French fisherman, perhaps an Irish soldier from the barracks. The customer now mentioned his errand, and the merchant, rising in his turn, stretched himself like a shaggy dog loath to leave the fire, took his little lamp, and prepared to go in quest of the article desired, which lay, perhaps, beyond the circle of heat, somewhere in the outer darkness of the dim interior. It was an understood rule that no one should ask for nails or any kind of ironware in the evening: it was labor enough for the merchant to find and handle his lighter goods when the cold was so intense. There was not much bargaining in the winter; people kept their breath in their mouths. The merchants could have made money if they had had more customers or more energy; as it was, however, the small population and the cold kept them lethargically honest.
Anne and her father turned northward. The southern half of the little village had two streets, one behind the other, and both were clogged and overshadowed by the irregular old buildings of the once-powerful fur company. These ancient frames, empty and desolate, rose above the low cottages of the islanders, sometimes three and four stories in height, with the old pulleys and hoisting apparatus still in place under their peaked roofs, like gallows ready for the old traders to hang themselves upon, if they came back and saw the degeneracy of the furless times. No one used these warehouses now, no one propped them up, no one pulled them down; there they stood, closed and empty, their owners being but so many discouraged bones under the sod; for the Company had dissolved to the four winds of heaven, leaving only far-off doubtful and quarrelling heirs. The little island could not have the buildings; neither could it pull them down. They were dogs in the manger, therefore, if the people had looked upon them with progressive American eyes; but they did not. They were not progressive; they were hardly American. If they had any glory, it was of that very past, the days when those buildings were full of life. There was scarcely a family on the island that did not cherish its tradition of the merry fur-trading times, when "grandfather" was a factor, a superintendent, a clerk, a hunter; even a voyageur had his importance, now that there were no more voyageurs. Those were gay days, they said; they should never look upon their like again: unless, indeed, the past should come back--a possibility which did not seem so unlikely on the island as it does elsewhere, since the people were plainly retrograding, and who knows but that they might some time even catch up with the past?
North of the piers there was only one street, which ran along the water's edge. On the land side first came the fort garden, where successive companies of soldiers had vainly fought the climate in an agricultural way, redcoats of England and blue-coats of the United States, with much the same results of partially ripened vegetables, nipped fruits, and pallid flowers; for the island summer was beautiful, but too short for lusciousness. Hardy plants grew well, but there was always a persistent preference for those that were not hardy--like delicate beauties who are loved and cherished tenderly, while the strong brown maids go by unnoticed. The officers' wives made catsup of the green tomatoes, and loved their weakling flowers for far-away home's sake; and as the Indians brought in canoe-loads of fine full-jacketed potatoes from their little farms on the mainland, the officers could afford to let the soldiers do fancy-work in the government fields if it pleased the exiled ladies. Beyond the army garden was the old Agency house. The Agency itself had long been removed farther westward, following the retreating, dwindling tribes of the red men farther toward the Rocky Mountains; but the old house remained. On its door a brass plate was still fixed, bearing the words, "United States Agency." But it was now the home of a plain, unimportant citizen, William Douglas.
Anne ran up the path toward the front door, thinking of the children and the supper. She climbed the uneven snow-covered steps, turned the latch, and entered the dark hall. There was a line of light under the left-hand door, and taking off her fur-lined overshoes, she went in. The room was large; its three windows were protected by shutters, and thick curtains of red hue, faded but cheery; a great fire of logs was burning on the hearth, lighting up every corner with its flame and glow, and making the poor furniture splendid. In its radiance the curtains were damask, the old carpet a Persian-hued luxury, and the preparations for cooking an Arabian Nights' display. Three little boys ran forward to meet their sister; a girl who was basking in the glow of the flame looked up languidly. They were odd children, with black eyes, coal-black hair, dark skins, and bold eagle outlines. The eldest, the girl, was small--a strange little creature, with braids of black hair hanging down behind almost to her ankles, half-closed black eyes, little hands and feet, a low soft voice, and the grace of a young panther. The boys were larger, handsome little fellows of wild aspect. In fact, all four were of mixed blood, their mother having been a beautiful French quarter-breed, and their father--William Douglas.
"Annet, Annet, can't we have fried potatoes for supper, and bacon?"
"Annet, Annet, can't we have coffee?"
"It is a biting night, isn't it?" said Tita, coming to her sister's side and stroking her cold hands gently. "I really think, Annet, that you ought to have something substantielle. You see, I think of you; whereas those howling piggish bears think only of themselves."
All this she delivered in a soft, even voice, while Anne removed the remainder of her wrappings.
"I have thought of something better still," said William Douglas's eldest daughter, kissing her little sister fondly, and then stepping out of the last covering, and lifting the heap from the floor--"batter cakes!"
The boys gave a shout of delight, and danced up and down on the hearth; Tita went back to her corner and sat down, clasping her little brown hands round her ankles, like the embalmed monkeys of the Nile. Her corner was made by an old secretary and the side of the great chimney; this space she had lined and carpeted with furs, and here she sat curled up with her book or her bead-work all through the long winter, refusing to leave the house unless absolutely ordered out by Anne, who filled the place of mother to these motherless little ones. Tita was well satisfied with the prospect of batter cakes; she would probably eat two if Anne browned them well, and they were light and tender. But as for those boys, those wolf-dogs, those beasts, they would probably swallow dozens. "If you come any nearer, Louis, I shall lay open the side of your head," she announced, gently, as the boys danced too near her hermitage; they, accustomed alike to her decisions and her words, danced farther away without any discussion of the subject. Tita was an excellent playmate sometimes; her little moccasined feet, and long braids streaming behind, formed the most exciting feature of their summer races; her blue cloth skirt up in the tops of the tallest trees, the provocative element in their summer climbing. She was a pallid little creature, while they were brown; small, while they were large; but she domineered over them like a king, and wreaked a whole vocabulary of roughest fisherman's terms upon them when they displeased her. One awful vengeance she reserved as a last resort: when they had been unbearably troublesome she stole into their room at night in her little white night-gown, with all her long thick black hair loose, combed over her face, and hanging down round her nearly to her feet. This was a ghostly visitation which the boys could not endure, for she left a lamp in the hall outside, so that they could dimly see her, and then she stood and swayed toward them slowly, backward and forward, without a sound, all the time coming nearer and nearer, until they shrieked aloud in terror, and Anne, hurrying to the rescue, found only three frightened little fellows cowering together in their broad bed, and the hairy ghost gone.
"How can you do such things, Tita?" she said.
"It is the only way by which I can keep the little devils in order," replied Tita.
"Do not use such words, dear."
"Mother did," said the younger sister, in her soft calm voice.
This was true, and Tita knew that Anne never impugned the memory of that mother.
"Who volunteers to help?" said Anne, lighting a candle in an iron candlestick, and opening a door.
"I," said Louis.
"I," said Gabriel.
"Me too," said little André.
They followed her, hopping along together, with arms interlinked, while her candle shed a light on the bare walls and floors of the rooms through which they passed, a series of little apartments, empty and desolate, at the end of which was the kitchen, inhabited in the daytime by an Irishwoman, a soldier's wife, who came in the morning before breakfast, and went home at dusk, the only servant William Douglas's fast-thinning purse could afford. Anne might have had her kitchen nearer what Miss Lois called the "keeping-room"; any one of the five in the series would have answered the purpose as well as the one she had chosen. But she had a dream of furnishing them all some day according to a plan of her own, and it would have troubled her greatly to have used her proposed china closet, pantry, store-room, preserve closet, or fruit-room for culinary purposes. How often had she gone over the whole in her mind, settling the position of every shelf, and deliberating over the pattern of the cups! The Irishwoman had left some gleams of fire on the hearth, and the boys immediately set themselves to work burying potatoes in the ashes, with the hot hearth-stone beneath. "For of course you are going to cook in the sitting-room, Annet," they said. "We made all ready for you there; and, besides, this fire is out."
"You could easily have kept it up," said the sister, smiling. "However, as it is Christmas-eve, I will let you have your way."
The boys alertly loaded themselves with the articles she gave them, and went hopping back into the sitting-room. They scorned to walk on Christmas-eve; the thing was to hop, and yet carry every dish steadily. They arranged the table, still in a sort of dancing step, and sang together in their shrill childish voices a tune of their own, without any words but "Ho! ho! ho!" Tita, in her corner, kept watch over the proceedings, and inhaled the aroma of the coffee with indolent anticipation. The tin pot stood on the hearth near her, surrounded by coals; it was a battered old coffee-pot, grimy as a camp-kettle, but dear to all the household, and their principal comforter when the weather was bitter, provisions scarce, or the boys especially troublesome. For the boys said they did not enjoy being especially troublesome; they could not help it any more than they could help having the measles or the whooping-cough. They needed coffee, therefore, for the conflict, when they felt it coming on, as much as any of the household.
Poor Anne's cooking utensils were few and old; it was hard to make batter cakes over an open fire without the proper hanging griddle. But she attempted it, nevertheless, and at length, with scarlet cheeks, placed a plateful of them, brown, light, and smoking, upon the table. "Now, Louis, run out for the potatoes; and, Tita, call father."
This one thing Tita would do; she aspired to be her father's favorite. She went out with her noiseless step, and presently returned leading in the tall, bent, gray-haired father, her small brown hand holding his tightly, her dark eyes fixed upon him with a persistent steadiness, as if determined to isolate all his attention upon herself. William Douglas was never thoroughly at ease with his youngest daughter; she had this habit of watching him silently, which made him uncomfortable. The boys he understood, and made allowances for their wildness; but this girl, with her soft still ways, perplexed and troubled him. She seemed to embody, as it were, his own mistakes, and he never looked at her little pale face and diminutive figure without a vague feeling that she was a spirit dwelling on earth in elfish form, with a half-developed contradictory nature, to remind him of his past weakness. Standing at the head of the table, tall and straight, with her nobly poised head and clear Saxon eyes, his other daughter awaited him, and met his gaze with a bright smile; he always came back to her with a sense of comfort. But Tita jealously brought his attention to herself again by pulling his hand, and leading him to his chair, taking her own place close beside him. He was a tall man, and her head did not reach his elbow, but she ruled him. The father now asked a blessing; he always hesitated on his way through it, once or twice, as though he had forgotten what to say, but took up the thread again after an instant's pause, and went on. When he came to the end, and said "Amen," he always sat down with a relieved air. If you had asked him what he had said, he could not have told you unless you started him at the beginning, when the old formula would have rolled off his lips in the same vague, mechanical way. The meal proceeded in comparative quiet; the boys no longer hummed and shuffled their feet; they were engaged with the cakes. Tita refrained from remarks save once, when Gabriel having dropped buttered crumbs upon her dress, she succinctly threatened him with dismemberment. Douglas gazed at her helplessly, and sighed.
"She will be a woman soon," he said to his elder daughter, when, an hour or two later, she joined him in his own apartment, and drew from its hiding-place her large sewing-basket, filled with Christmas presents.
"Oh no, father, she is but a child," answered Anne, cheerfully. "As she grows older these little faults will vanish."
"How old is she?" said Douglas.
The father played a bar of Mendelssohn noiselessly on the arm of his chair with his long thin fingers; he was thinking that he had married Tita's mother when she was hardly three years older. Anne was absorbed in her presents.
"See, father, will not this be nice for André? And this for Gabriel? And I have made such a pretty doll for Tita."
"Will she care for it, dear?"
"Of course she will. Did I not play with my own dear doll until I was fourteen years old--yes, almost fifteen?" said the girl, with a little laugh and blush.
"And you are now--"
"I am over sixteen."
"A great age," said Douglas, smoothing her thick brown hair fondly, as she sat near him, bending over her sewing.
The younger children were asleep up stairs in two old bedrooms with rattling dormer windows, and the father and elder daughter were in a small room opposite the sitting-room, called the study, although nothing was ever studied there, save the dreams of his own life, by the vague, irresolute, imaginative soul that dwelt therein, in a thin body of its own, much the worse for wear. William Douglas was a New England man of the brooding type, sent by force of circumstances into the ranks of United States army surgeons. He had married Anne's mother, who had passionately loved him, against the wishes of her family, and had brought the disinherited young bride out to this far Western island, where she had died, happy to the last--one of those rare natures to whom love is all in all, and the whole world well lost for its dear and holy sake. Grief over her death brought out all at once the latent doubts, hesitations, and strange perplexities of William Douglas's peculiar mind--perplexities which might have lain dormant in a happier life. He resigned his position as army surgeon, and refused even practice in the village. Medical science was not exact, he said; there was much pretense and presumption in it; he would no longer countenance deception, or play a part. He was then made postmaster, and dealt out letters through some seasons, until at last his mistakes roused the attention of the new officers at the fort; for the villagers, good, easy-tempered people, would never have complained of such trifles as a forgotten mail-bag or two under the counter. Superseded, he then attended nominally to the highways; but as the military authorities had for years done all that was to be done on the smooth roads, three in number, including the steep fort hill, the position was a sinecure, and the superintendent took long walks across the island, studying the flora of the Northern woods, watching the birds, noticing the clouds and the winds, staying out late to experiment with the flash of the two light-houses from their different distances, and then coming home to his lonely house, where the baby Anne was tenderly cared for by Miss Lois Hinsdale, who superintended the nurse all day, watched her charge to bed, and then came over early in the morning before she woke. Miss Lois adored the baby; and she watched the lonely father from a distance, imagining all his sadness. It was the poetry of her life. Who, therefore, can picture her feelings when, at the end of three years, it was suddenly brought to her knowledge that Douglas was soon to marry again, and that his choice was Angélique Lafontaine, a French quarter-breed girl!
Angélique was amiable, and good in her way; she was also very beautiful. But Miss Lois could have borne it better if she had been homely. The New England woman wept bitter, bitter tears that night. A god had come down and showed himself flesh; an ideal was shattered. How long had she dwelt upon the beautiful love of Dr. Douglas and his young wife, taking it as a perfect example of rare, sweet happiness which she herself had missed, of which she herself was not worthy! How many times had she gone up to the little burial-ground on the height, and laid flowers from her garden on the mound, whose stone bore only the inscription, "Alida, wife of William Douglas, aged twenty-two years." Miss Lois had wished to have a text engraved under this brief line, and a date, but Dr. Douglas gently refused a text, and regarding a date he said: "Time is nothing. Those who love her will remember the date, and strangers need not know. But I should like the chance visitor to note that she was only twenty-two, and, as he stands there, think of her with kindly regret, as we all think of the early dead, though why, Miss Lois, why, I can not tell, since in going hence early surely the dead lose nothing, for God would not allow any injustice, I think--yes, I have about decided in my own mind that He does not allow it."
Miss Lois, startled, looked at him questioningly. He was then a man of thirty-four, tall, slight, still noticeable for the peculiar refined delicacy of face and manner which had first won the interest of sweet, impulsive Alida Clanssen.
"I trust, doctor, that you accept the doctrines of Holy Scripture on all such subjects," said Miss Lois. Then she felt immediately that she should have said "of the Church"; for she was a comparatively new Episcopalian, having been trained a New England Presbyterian of the severest hue.
Dr. Douglas came back to practical life again in the troubled gaze of the New England woman's eyes. "Miss Lois," he said, turning the subject, "Alida loved and trusted you; will you sometimes think of her little daughter?"
And then Miss Lois, the quick tears coming, forgot all about orthodoxy, gladly promised to watch over the baby, and kept her word. But now her life was shaken, and all her romantic beliefs disturbed and shattered, by this overwhelming intelligence. She was wildly, furiously jealous, wildly, furiously angry--jealous for Alida's sake, for the baby's, for her own. It is easy to be humble when a greater is preferred; but when an inferior is lifted high above our heads, how can we bear it? And Miss Lois was most jealous of all for Douglas himself--that such a man should so stoop. She hardly knew herself that night as she harshly pulled down the curtains, pushed a stool half across the room, slammed the door, and purposely knocked over the fire-irons. Lois Hinsdale had never since her birth given way to rage before (nor known the solace of it), and she was now forty-one years old. All her life afterward she remembered that night as something akin to a witch's revel on the Brocken, a horrible wild reign of passion which she trembled to recall, and for which she did penance many times in tears. "It shows the devil there is in us all," she said to herself, and she never passed the fire-irons for a long time afterward without an unpleasant consciousness.
The limited circle of island society suggested that Miss Lois had been hunting the loon with a hand-net--a Northern way of phrasing the wearing of the willow; but if the New England woman loved William Douglas, she was not conscious of it, but merged the feeling in her love for his child, and for the memory of Alida. True, she was seven years older than he was: women of forty-one can answer whether that makes any difference.
On a brilliant, sparkling, clear June morning William Douglas went down to the little Roman Catholic church and married the French girl. As he had resigned his position in the army some time before, and as there was a new set of officers at the fort, his marriage made little impression there save on the mind of the chaplain, who had loved him well when he was surgeon of the post, and had played many a game of chess with him. The whole French population of the island, however, came to the marriage. That was expected. But what was not expected was the presence there of Miss Lois Hinsdale, sitting severely rigid in the first pew, accompanied by the doctor's child--a healthy, blue-eyed little girl, who kissed her new mamma obediently, and thought her very sweet and pretty--a belief which remained with her always, the careless, indolent, easy-tempered, beautiful young second wife having died when her step-daughter was eleven years old, leaving four little ones, who, according to a common freak of nature, were more Indian than their mother. The Douglas family grew poorer every year; but as every one was poor there, poverty was respectable; and as all poverty is comparative, they always esteemed themselves comfortable. For they had the old Agency for a home, and it was in some respects the most dignified residence on the island; and they had the remains of the furniture which the young surgeon had brought with him from the East when his Alida was a bride, and that was better than most of the furniture in use in the village. The little stone fort on the height was, of course, the castle of the town, and its commandant by courtesy the leader of society; but the infantry officers who succeeded each other at this distant Northern post brought little with them, camping out, as it were, in their low-ceilinged quarters, knowing that another season might see them far away. The Agency, therefore, preserved an air of dignity still, although its roof leaked, its shutters rattled, although its plastering was gone here and there, and its floors were uneven and decayed. Two of its massive outside chimneys, clamped to the sides of the house, were half down, looking like broken columns, monuments of the past; but there were a number left. The Agency originally had bristled with chimneys, which gave, on a small scale, a castellated air to its rambling outline.
Dr. Douglas's study was old, crowded, and comfortable; that is, comfortable to those who have consciousness in their finger-ends, and no uncertainty as to their feet; the great army of blunderers and stumblers, the handle-everything, knock-over-everything people, who cut a broad swath through the smaller furniture of a room whenever they move, would have been troubled and troublesome there. The boys were never admitted; but Tita, who stepped like a little cat, and Anne, who had a deft direct aim in all her motions, were often present. The comfort of the place was due to Anne; she shook out and arranged the curtains, darned the old carpet, re-covered the lounge, polished the andirons, and did all without disturbing the birds' wings, the shells, the arrow-heads, the skins, dried plants, wampum, nets, bits of rock, half-finished drawings, maps, books, and papers, which were scattered about, or suspended from the walls. William Douglas, knowing something of everything, was exact in nothing: now he stuffed birds, now he read Greek, now he botanized, now he played on the flute, now he went about in all weathers chipping the rocks with ardent zeal, now he smoked in his room all day without a word or a look for anybody. He sketched well, but seldom finished a picture; he went out hunting when the larder was empty, and forgot what he went for; he had a delicate mechanical skill, and made some curious bits of intricate work, but he never mended the hinges of the shutters, or repaired a single article which was in daily use in his household.
[Illustration: "THE GIRL PAUSED AND REFLECTED A MOMENT."]
By the careful attention of Anne he was present in the fort chapel every Sunday morning, and, once there, he played the organ with delight, and brought exquisite harmonies from its little pipes; but Anne stood there beside him all the time, found the places, and kept him down to the work, borrowing his watch beforehand in order to touch him when the voluntary was too long, or the chords between the hymn verses too beautiful and intricate. Those were the days when the old buckram-backed rhymed versions of the psalms were steadfastly given out at every service, and Anne's rich voice sang, with earnest fervor, words like these:
"His liberal favors he extends, To some he gives, to others lends; Yet when his charity impairs, He saves by prudence in affairs,"
while her father followed them with harmony fit for angels. Douglas taught his daughter music in the best sense of the phrase; she read notes accurately, and knew nothing of inferior composers, the only change from the higher courts of melody being some of the old French chansons of the voyageurs, which still lingered on the island, echoes of the past. She could not touch the ivory keys with any skill, her hands were too much busied with other work; but she practiced her singing lessons as she went about the house--music which would have seemed to the world of New York as old-fashioned as Chaucer.
The fire of logs blazed on the hearth, the father sat looking at his daughter, who was sewing swiftly, her thoughts fixed upon her work. The clock struck eleven.
"It is late, Anne."
"Yes, father, but I must finish. I have so little time during the day."
"My good child," said Douglas, slowly and fondly.
Anne looked up; his eyes were dim with tears.
"I have done nothing for you, dear," he said, as she dropped her work and knelt by his side. "I have kept you selfishly with me here, and made you a slave to those children."
"My own brothers and my own little sister, father."
"Do you feel so, Anne? Then may God bless you for it! But I should not have kept you here."
"This is our home, papa."
"A poor one."
"Is it? It never seemed so to me."
"That is because you have known nothing better."
"But I like it, papa, just as it is. I have always been happy here."
"Really happy, Anne?"
The girl paused, and reflected a moment. "Yes," she said, looking into the depths of the fire, with a smile, "I am happy all the time. I am never anything but happy."
William Douglas looked at her. The fire-light shone on her face; she turned her clear eyes toward him.
"Then you do not mind the children? They are not a burdensome weight upon you?"
"Never, papa; how can you suppose it? I love them dearly, next to you."
"And will you stand by them, Anne? Note my words: I do not urge it, I simply ask."
"Of course I will stand by them, papa. I give a promise of my own accord. I will never forsake them as long as I can do anything for them, as long as I live. But why do you speak of it? Have I ever neglected them or been unkind to them?" said the girl, troubled, and very near tears.
"No, dear; you love them better than they or I deserve. I was thinking of the future, and of a time when,"--he had intended to say, "when I am no longer with you," but the depth of love and trust in her eyes made him hesitate, and finish his sentence differently--"a time when they may give you trouble," he said.
"They are good boys--that is, they mean no harm, papa. When they are older they will study more."
"Certainly," said Anne, with confidence. "I did. And as for Tita, you yourself must see, papa, what a remarkable child she is."
Douglas shaded his face with his hand. The uneasy sense of trouble which always stirred within him when he thought of his second daughter was rising to the surface now like a veiled, formless shape. "The sins of the fathers," he thought, and sighed heavily.
Anne threw her arms round his neck, and begged him to look at her. "Papa, speak to me, please. What is it that troubles you so?"
"Stand by little Tita, child, no matter what she does. Do not expect too much of her, but remember always her--her Indian blood," said the troubled father, in a low voice.
A flush crossed Anne's face. The cross of mixed blood in the younger children was never alluded to in the family circle or among their outside friends. In truth, there had been many such mixtures on the island in the old times, although comparatively few in the modern days to which William Douglas's second marriage belonged.
"Tita is French," said Anne, speaking rapidly, almost angrily.
"She is more French than Indian. Still--one never knows." Then, after a pause: "I have been a slothful father, Anne, and feel myself cowardly also in thus shifting upon your shoulders my own responsibilities. Still, what can I do? I can not re-live my life; and even if I could, perhaps I might do the same again. I do not know--I do not know. We are as we are, and tendencies dating generations back come out in us, and confuse our actions."
He spoke dreamily. His eyes were assuming that vague look with which his children were familiar, and which betokened that his mind was far away.
"You could not do anything which was not right, father," said Anne.
She was standing by his side now, and in her young strength might have been his champion against the whole world. The fire-light shining out showed a prematurely old man, whose thin form, bent drooping shoulders, and purposeless face were but Time's emphasis upon the slender, refined, dreamy youth, who, entering the domain of doubt with honest negations and a definite desire, still wandered there, lost to the world, having forgotten his first object, and loving the soft haze now for itself alone.
Anne received no answer: her father's mind had passed away from her. After waiting a few moments in silence she saw that he was lost in one of his reveries, and sitting down again she took up her work and went on sewing with rapid stitches. Poor Anne and her poor presents! How coarse the little white shirts for Louis and André! how rough the jacket for Gabriel! How forlorn the doll! How awkwardly fashioned the small cloth slippers for Tita! The elder sister was obliged to make her Christmas gifts with her own hands; she had no money to spend for such superfluities. The poor doll had a cloth face, with features painted on a flat surface, and a painful want of profile. A little before twelve the last stitch was taken with happy content.
"Papa, it is nearly midnight; do not sit up very late," said the daughter, bending to kiss the father's bent, brooding brow. William Douglas's mind came back for an instant, and looked out through his clouded eyes upon his favorite child. He kissed her, gave her his usual blessing, "May God help the soul He has created!" and then, almost before she had closed the door, he was far away again on one of those long journeyings which he took silently, only his following guardian angel knew whither. Anne went across the hall and entered the sitting-room; the fire was low, but she stirred the embers, and by their light filled the four stockings hanging near the chimney-piece. First she put in little round cakes wrapped in papers; then home-made candies, not thoroughly successful in outline, but well-flavored and sweet; next gingerbread elephants and camels, and an attempt at a fairy; lastly the contents of her work-basket, which gave her much satisfaction as she inspected them for the last time. Throwing a great knot, which would burn slowly all night, upon the bed of dying coals, she lighted a candle and went up to her own room.
As soon as she had disappeared, a door opened softly above, and a small figure stole out into the dark hall. After listening a moment, this little figure went silently down the stairs, paused at the line of light underneath the closed study door, listened again, and then, convinced that all was safe, went into the sitting-room, took down the stockings one by one, and deliberately inspected all their contents, sitting on a low stool before the fire. First came the stockings of the boys; each parcel was unrolled, down to the last gingerbread camel, and as deftly enwrapped again by the skillful little fingers. During this examination there was not so much an expression of interest as of jealous scrutiny. But when the turn of her own stocking came, the small face showed the most profound, almost weazened, solicitude. Package after package was swiftly opened, and its contents spread upon the mat beside her. The doll was cast aside with contempt, the slippers examined and tried on with critical care, and then when the candy and cake appeared and nothing else, the eyes snapped with anger.
The little brown hand felt down to the toe of the stocking: no, there was nothing more. "It is my opinion," said Tita, in her French island patois, half aloud, "that Annet is one stupid beast."
She then replaced everything, hung the stockings on their nails, and stole back to her own room; here, by the light of a secreted candle-end, she manufactured the following epistle, with heavy labor of brains and hand: "Cher papa,--I hav dreemed that Sant Klos has hare-ribbans in his pak. Will you ask him for sum for your little Tita?" This not seeming sufficiently expressive, she inserted "trez affecsionay" before "Tita," and then, folding the epistle, she went softly down the stairs again, and stealing round in the darkness through several unused rooms, she entered her father's bedroom, which communicated with the study, and by sense of feeling pinned the paper carefully round his large pipe, which lay in its usual place on the table. For William Douglas always began smoking as soon as he rose, in this way nullifying, as it were, the fresh, vivifying effect of the morning, which smote painfully upon his eyes and mind alike; in the afternoon and evening he did not smoke so steadily, the falling shadows supplying of themselves the atmosphere he loved. Having accomplished her little manoeuvre, Tita went back up stairs to her own room like a small white ghost, and fell asleep with the satisfaction of a successful diplomatist.
In the mean time Anne was brushing her brown hair, and thoughtfully going over in her own mind the morrow's dinner. Her room was a bare and comfortless place; there was but a small fire on the hearth, and no curtains over the windows; it took so much care and wood to keep the children's rooms warm that she neglected her own, and as for the furniture, she had removed it piece by piece, exchanging it for broken-backed worn-out articles from all parts of the house. One leg of the bedstead was gone, and its place supplied by a box which the old-fashioned valance only half concealed; the looking-glass was cracked, and distorted her image; the chairs were in hospital and out of service, the young mistress respecting their injuries, and using as her own seat an old wooden stool which stood near the hearth. Upon this she was now seated, the rippling waves of her thick hair flowing over her shoulders. Having at last faithfully rehearsed the Christmas dinner in all its points, she drew a long breath of relief, rose, extinguished her light, and going over to the window, stood there for a moment looking out. The moonlight came gleaming in and touched her with silver, her pure youthful face and girlish form draped in white. "May God bless my dear father," she prayed, silently, looking up to the thick studded stars; "and my dear mother too, wherever she is to-night, in one of those far bright worlds, perhaps." It will be seen from this prayer that the boundaries of Anne Douglas's faith were wide enough to include even the unknown.
"Heap on more wood! the wind is chill; But let it whistle as it will, We'll keep our Christmas merry still. The damsel donned her kirtle sheen; The hall was dressed with holly green; Forth to the wood did merry-men go, To gather in the mistletoe."--WALTER SCOTT.
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