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Uncle John growled good-naturedly from the mist of business cares and projects that always enveloped him ;—
"Nonsense, child! go to Saratoga with your aunt and cousin, and enjoy yourself."
"But, uncle, I am as tired of enjoying myself as ever was a convict of the treadmill, I want quiet and rest.”
Surprised, Uncle John came out of the mist, and, for the first time in six weeks, brought the eyes of his mind to bear on me.
"I should think you did!" he muttered, after a brief inspection. "What on earth have you done with your roses? Why, Belle, the child is as pale and thin as a ghost! What is the matter with her?"
"Nothing, uncle," I hastened to say, "but too much of Madame La Mode, and too many calls and balls and receptions. Only let me go to Shiloh for the summer, and I will bring you back my roses, in the fall."
"Be off with you, then! and mind you keep your promise."
Nineteen twentieths of my journey were performed swiftly by rail, the remaining fraction slowly in the farmer's wagon. If I saw anything on the way, I forget what it was; my mind was still wandering, in a dazed and aim less manner, among the ruins of the Past.
The first object that made any impression on my consciousness, was the cheery, kindly, sensible face of Mrs. Divine, framed in the dark doorway of the venerable old farm-house, to whose gate the lapse of an hour had brought me. She led me to a large, airy chamber, fragrant with cleanliness, and of a most comfortable aspect, and left me to myself. Which opportunity I improved by taking myself to task for my moodiness and apathy. "That dream is over," I said, giving myself a moral shake; "no amount of brooding will bring it back. Now you have to do with realities." And then Bona, Mala, and I, strolled out to the gate, and looked about us.
Evidently, Shiloh was neither town nor village, as it presented to view no public-house, nor store, nor contigu ity of roofs; but merely an ancient neighborhood of well. to-do farm-houses; each standing apart within its own principality of orchards, gardens, cornfields, meadows, barns, stacks, and whatever gives the broadest idea of rural plenty; and all with a certain freshness and peacefulness about them, as not being touched by the dust, nor the turmoil, of the highway. Right before me rose a huge rampart of a hill; steep, but smooth and grass-grown to the top; where its vivid green met the rosy horizon-line of the sky.
On its left crest, a farm-house, painted red, dazzled me with the splendor of its sun-gilded windows; and below it was a long slope covered with mosaic work of corn and potato fields and orchards; falling off suddenly to a deep dell or ravine, I concluded,-for I saw the bossy tops of large trees just beyond the corn, and, apparently, on a level with it. On the right crest, a small white church lifted a square yard of belfry and a modest triangle of spire into the rose-ripples of the sky; and a bowed and decrepit school-house crept humbly close to the hill's foot, other shade being inscrutably withheld from it and its sun-burned occupants.
"A cosy and a peaceful spot," said Bona. "Brimful of the goodness of God, and nowise spoiled by man. There can be no excuse for sinning here."
MALA. And every excuse for rusting and rotting; not a soul worth speaking to; none of that inspiring contact with refined and cultured minds, which is the great advan tage of city life.
I (sarcastically). Such as a morning spent with Madame La Mode, settling about the width of our flounces !
MALA (taking no notice of the interruption). To be sure, these woods and rocks are well enough in their way, and you had better content yourself with their society.
BONA (in dismay). Thope you have rought no pharisaical that is to say, aristocratic-notions hither. Why, every leaf, laying its cheek softly to its neighbor leaf, every dew-drop, caring not whether it falls on rosebud or potato stalk, so it refreshes something, will be a sharp rebuke to you.
I. Be easy, Bona; I never had less of the not-as-othermen spirit.
MALA (soothingly). But you are weary, and sore, and sorrowful, and have no heart for society. And society in Shiloh, surely, has no claim upon you. It did without you before you came, and need not miss you when you go. Lead as idle and isolated a life as you please, free from all bonds and burdens, and so gather strength for the future's needs.
BONA. An idle, isolated life never gave strength to any human soul. Bonds and burdens are ordained of God; and strength is found in bearing, not in shirking, them. It is a good and safe rule to sojourn in every place as if you meant to spend your life there, never omitting an opportunity of doing a kindness, or speaking a true word, or making a friend; seeds thus sown by the wayside often bring forth an abundant harvest. You might so spend your summer among this people, that they and their descendants should be better and happier, through time and eternity, for your works and your example.
I (uneasily). Let me alone, both of you. I do not mean to make a fool of myself, Mala, by putting on airs in this out-of-the-way place. Neither, Bona, did I come here with any Quixotic idea of reforming or elevating a community which has gotten on thus far without me; and will, doubtless, till the end of time. I came here for rest, and I must have it. Such persons as I meet I intend to treat civillykindly, if you will have it so,-but I will not be drawn into any relations which must force me into action now, and may be inconvenient entanglements hereafter. I de
sign to make friends chiefly with woods, and meadows, and brooks; to study good Mrs. Divine, who is as original a character as can be found outside of Dickens's stories; and to lead a leisurely, thoughtful, restful life under this mossgrown old roof
I turned to get a clearer idea of the gray, quaint, weatherbeaten dwelling, and forgot to finish my sentence. Its side was turned toward the street, showing the long slope of the back roof, coated all over from high ridge-pole to low eaves with a soft, verdant mossiness, and mottled with the greenish-gray growth of scaly lichens,-all fed, doubtless, by mouldy accretions from the breath of bygone generations. The ridge-pole was somewhat depressed in the middle, and one corner-post bulged out noticeably; as if these portions of its framework had grown a little weary of their age-long task, and did not set themselves thereto with all the vigor of youth. A wide-open door, in the lean-to, gave the passing wayfarer a pleasant look right into the heart of its domestic life, viz., the low-studded, time-darkened kitchen-with its bare floor, scrubbed white; its old-fashioned dresser, displaying orderly rows of pol ished pewter plates, and dark blue cups and saucers; its grim old clock, in a tall case of carved oak, whose loud, slow tick seemed to mark the tread of inexorable Fate; and its enormous fireplace, in the corners of which one could sit on a chilly night, between a dusky jamb and a pile of blazing logs, and watch the slow march of the stars across the mouth of the huge, irregular, stone chimney. He could see, too, the brisk, blithe mistress, passing to and fro between pantry and oven, with scant skirts and flying capborders; or pausing in the doorway, and lifting her spectacles, the better to see if he were likely to prefer any claim upon her acquaintance or her charity.
The whole place was thickly and lovingly shaded. A grand old maple, of whose birth Time had lost the record, flung a broad shadow over the gate and the lean-to door;
a group of gnarled, knotty, vagabond cherry-trees made a quivering network of sunlight and shade at one corner; and a century-old pear tree, whose fruit was famed in all the country round, darkened the front roof and the second story windows,-up to whose worm-eaten sills thick clumps of lilacs lifted their pointed leaves and odorous blossoms.
Looking at the old house thus narrowly, it was difficult to regard it as an inanimate object. It seemed to have a life and history of its own; more placid, meditative, and enduring than any human existence; but sympathetic and kindly still; rich with long experience of sunshine, shadow, and storm,-birth, marriage and death,-wherewith it had rejoiced and sorrowed, and whose memories made fragrant its atmosphere and sweet and mellow its ripe old heart. The combined physiognomies of a whole acre of city houses could not give one so much of a home feeling; nor so subtly infect one with a sense of some mysterious, sympathetic friendliness and companionship in mere stone and timber.
My description would be incomplete without due notice of a sunny square of garden, upon which the house fronted, a sort of cultivated wilderness, inhabited by scattered. tufts of marigolds, peonies, sweet-williams, and other oldfashioned favorites,-a small clique of sage, thyme, and summer-savory, a riotous rabble of raspberry and gooseberry bushes,-a few scared strawberry plants, hiding in the grass, a knot of quince trees, drawn apart in a corner, some sturdy ranks of homely vegetables,-and guarded all round by a row of currant bushes, that had miraculously preserved some notion of order and discipline. And it would be an unpardonable omission, on the side of the picturesque, were I to forget two wells,-one, at the front, and another, at the rear, of the house, each with its weather-beaten curb, its lichened crotch, its long, stoneweighted sweep, and its pole, from which depended one of that family of oaken, iron-bound, moss-grown buckets, im mortalized in song.