Page images
PDF
EPUB

the true proportion of good in a character like his, nor to realize how very small a part of him it is that is heavy with the soil and the weakness of the flesh, and trails in the dust of the world. It is far easier to discern the spots in the sun's dise, than to estimate the good done by his light; less difficult to point out some spot where his rays do not penetrate than to number the myriads of animate and inanimate things that are cheered and vitalized by their influence. Still, I do not expect any worse trouble from this faction than a continual, irritating friction;-chiefly, it must be acknowledged, because its interest in Church affairs is not so strong, nor so sensitive, as to urge it into any violent quarrel in their behalf!

At large, the little stir of life and interest caused by Mr. Taylor's advent, newness, and energy, is fast settling back into the old, sluggish quietude. Mrs. Prescott, to be sure, works on with unflagging zeal, and is, unquestionably, the salt of the parish; without whom, there would be a dire dearth of that active and preservative substance. At present, she is going about armed with a subscription paper designed to raise funds for painting, papering, and otherwise improving the little church on the hill; which seems to have so thoroughly engrossed the major part of her thoughts and affections. She has even pressed me into the service, averring that there are hearts (or pockets) hereabouts, which will open more readily to the knock of a comparative stranger, with the indefinable, but easily recognized air of the city about her, than to her own sharp, well-known rap. So, in the rattling and rusty, but still strong and hearty, Divine wagon,--upon an odd, cumbrous, movable seat, denominated a "chair,"-drawn by the fat, sleek, staid horse accounted safe for "woman-driving," and which Mrs. Prescott complains of as much too safe, even to the point of intolerable laziness ;-we drive round the country, stopping here and there to tell over again the story that we have told so many times before, as to have exhausted invention

in trying to vary it; and receiving fifty cents, or it may be a dollar, by way of liberal response. In some places, we get, in addition, much good will, pressing invitations to take refreshment, and whatever amount of gossip we have time to listen to; in others, the understood fare of beggars -few words, cold looks, and scant courtesy.

But now, I really have something to tell you! To think that here-of all places in the world!—when I thought I had left the little, blind god, with all his belongings, forever behind !—But I will not, as the Shilohites say, "get ahead of my story."

One bright morning, a week ago, Mrs. Divine's voice came up the staircase,

"Some one to see you, Miss Frost."

I descended to the kitchen, and at the farther endwhich serves as a sort of reception room-I found a slight, pale, gentle-looking girl, awaiting me.

"Miss Carrie Thorne-a niece of Miss Caroline Bryer's," said Mrs. Divine, seeing me look inquiringly at my visitor, who was quite unknown to me.

"Ah! I am glad to meet her. Is your aunt well, Miss

Thorne ?"

"Quite well, thank you." And, after a moment's pause, she added; "Mother sends her.compliments to you, Miss Frost, and would like the pleasure of your company to tea this afternoon."

I was so taken by surprise that I had said, "Yes, certainly,--thank you," before I was at all conscious what I was about. The invitation was so unexpected, the "mother" such a very unknown quantity, the messenger so quietly prepossessing, the whole thing so unprecedented! If I had happened to have noticed the expression of Mrs. Divine's face, I should probably have given a different answer. She now asked, in a tone that instantly drew my attention;

"Is your mother expecting other company, Carrie ?”

“Oh, no, ma'am. Only" (and she spoke as if from the fulness of delight) "Rick is coming up."

"O-h!" said Mrs. Divine, prolongedly. "Is he going to stay long?"

66

Only until to-morrow. He will drive up from Haventon to-day, and back to-morrow morning. I will tell mother you are coming, Miss Frost-thank you." And Carrie Thorne departed.

Mrs. Divine and I remained looking at each other in silence, until the sound of her light footsteps died away. Then she burst into a laugh-a laugh with something more than merriment in it.

"I wish you joy of your invitation, Miss Frost! I hope you'll spend a very pleasant afternoon!"

"Mrs. Divine, what does it all mean? Who is this 'mother'?"

"Who?

sister."

66

Mrs. Thorne ? She is Caroline Bryer's

Well, what else? I see there is something behind.” But Mrs. Divine's tongue-which generally runs over the catalogue of her neighbors' virtues and foibles readily enough, and deals out their family history with most unreserved, yet not unkindly, veracity-now seemed glued to her mouth.

"Well!" said she, at last, "I can talk fast enough about my neighbors, when I know them well, and am sure I shan't make mistakes. But I don't know Mrs. Thorne well, and I might give you wrong impressions. To tell the truth, the Bryers are a queer family, take them all in all-though Caroline is as nice a person as you'll find anywhere; and any one can see that there's no harm in that little Carrie, that's just gone from here. Her mother's a widow, and has lately come home to live. She isn't one of our sort, nor one of your sort, either, Miss Frost."

"What sort is she, then?"

"I can't say. If you go up there, you can find out for

yourself. I reckon you're capable of taking her measure, without any help.”

"I cannot conceive," said I, in a tone of vexation, "what made me accept the invitation! Only there was something so winning in that pale girl's face and voice, that it made me forget everything else. But I can send an excuse.'

"Oh, no; go, by all means," returned Mrs. Divine. "You like to study human nature, and there's several sorts up there. There's two idiots-a man and a woman to begin with."

"Yes," interposed Mrs. Prescott, who had entered, and found out the subject of our discourse, "I can tell you something rather funny about that. The Bryers first came to Shiloh when I and my sister Susan were young girls; and we heard, in some roundabout way, that there were two unmarried sons in the family. So we joked each other about them, as girls will, declaring that we should set our caps for them, and win them for husbands. Well, the eldest one came first-Mortimer,-you'll see him there, with his hair all over his shoulders, and his head hanging down, and as silent as a gravestone, he hasn't altered much, only that he's grown old. So I said to Susan, 'You can take that one, Sue, he don't suit me; I'll wait for the next.' And when the next one came, 'twas the idiot!"

XXV.

AMONG THE BRYERS AND THORNES.

[graphic]

SET forth for the Bryer Farm in the dreamy hush of a warm summer afternoon. The breeze had swooned away in the tree-tops, and gave no sign of reviving life. The shade was not a "broad contiguity," but an irregular succession of dark, isolated patches on the arid and dusty highway. I was fain, therefore, to pause for a moment at the farm gateway, and take breath, while I reconnoitered the premises.

The house stood at a considerable distance from the road, in the midst of a verdant mosaic of meadow, orchard, and cornfield. Originally it had been of the better sort of farm-houses; and its white, expansive front must have been a pleasant sight, seen through the green vista of a long avenue of maples and beeches, leading up to the vinewreathed porch. But both the house and its surroundings had plainly fallen an easy prey to Time's omnivorous tooth. Its original white was merged into a dingy gray; its shingled roof and sides were loose, warped, and weathergnawn; and the missing base of one of the pillars of the portico had been replaced by a rough section of a log, with the bark still on. The avenue had become a grass-grown lane, through which a brown thread of footpath went wan dering in a vague, aimless way, and seemed to owe its final arrival at the cracked door-stone chiefly to the agency of

S

« PreviousContinue »