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Page 172

29. XXIX.

The wedding did not take place till Spring.
And then Kavanagh and his Cecilia departed on
their journey to Italy and the East,—a sacred
mission, a visit like the Apostle's to the Seven
Churches, nay, to all the Churches of Christendom;
hoping by some means to sow in many
devout hearts the desire and prophecy that filled
his own,—the union of all sects into one universal
Church of Christ. They intended to be absent
one year only; they were gone three. It seemed
to their friends that they never would return.
But at length they came,—the long absent, the
long looked for, the long desired,—bearing with
them that delicious perfume of travel, that genial,
sunny atmosphere, and soft, Ausonian air, which
returning travellers always bring about them.


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It was night when they reached the village,
and they could not see what changes had taken
place in it during their absence. How it had
dilated and magnified itself,—how it had puffed
itself up, and bedizened itself with flaunting,
ostentatious signs,—how it stood, rotund and
rubicund with brick, like a portly man, with his
back to the fire and both hands in his pockets,
warm, expansive, apoplectic, and entertaining a
very favorable opinion of himself,—all this they
did not see, for the darkness; but Kavanagh
beheld it all, and more, when he went forth on
the following morning.

How Cecilia's heart beat as they drove up the
avenue to the old house! The piny odors in the
night air, the solitary light at her father's window,
the familiar bark of the dog Major at the sound of
the wheels, awakened feelings at once new and
old. A sweet perplexity of thought, a strange
familiarity, a no less pleasing strangeness! The
lifting of the heavy brass latch, and the jarring of
the heavy brass knocker as the door closed, were
echoes from her childhood. Mr. Vaughan they
found, as usual, among his papers in the study;—
the same bland, white-haired man, hardly a day
older than when they left him there. To Cecilia


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the whole long absence in Italy became a dream,
and vanished away. Even Kavanagh was for the
moment forgotten. She was a daughter, not a
wife;—she had not been married, she had not
been in Italy!

In the morning, Kavanagh sallied forth to find
the Fairmeadow of his memory, but found it not.
The railroad had completely transformed it. The
simple village had become a very precocious
town. New shops, with new names over the
doors; new streets, with new forms and faces in
them; the whole town seemed to have been taken
and occupied by a besieging army of strangers.
Nothing was permanent but the work-house,
standing alone in the pasture by the river; and,
at the end of the street, the school-house, that
other work-house, where in childhood we pick
and untwist the cordage of the brain, that, later in
life, we may not be obliged to pull to pieces the
more material cordage of old ships.

Kavanagh soon turned in despair from the main
street into a little green lane, where there were
few houses, and where the barberry still nodded
over the old stone wall;—a place he had much
loved in the olden time for its silence and seclusion.
He seemed to have entered his ancient


Page 175
realm of dreams again, and was walking with his
hat drawn a little over his eyes. He had not
proceeded far, when he was startled by a woman's
voice, quite sharp and loud, crying from the opposite
side of the lane. Looking up, he beheld a
small cottage, against the wall of which rested a
ladder, and on this ladder stood the woman from
whom the voice came. Her face was nearly
concealed by a spacious gingham sun-bonnet, and
in her right hand she held extended a large brush,
with which she was painting the front of her
cottage, when interrupted by the approach of
Kavanagh, who, thinking she was calling to him,
but not understanding what she said, made haste
to cross over to her assistance. At this movement
her tone became louder and more peremptory;
and he could now understand that her cry
was rather a warning than an invitation.

“Go away!” she said, flourishing her brush.
“Go away! What are you coming down here
for, when I am on the ladder, painting my house?
If you don't go right about your business, I will
come down and—”

“Why, Miss Manchester!” exclaimed Kavanagh;
“how could I know that you would be
going up the ladder just as I came down the


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“Well, I declare! if it is not Mr. Kavanagh!”

And she scrambled down the ladder backwards
with as much grace as the circumstances permitted.
She, too, like the rest of his friends in the
village, showed symptoms of growing older. The
passing years had drunk a portion of the light
from her eyes, and left their traces on her cheeks,
as birds that drink at lakes leave their foot-prints
on the margin. But the pleasant smile remained,
and reminded him of the by-gone days, when she
used to open for him the door of the gloomy
house under the poplars.

Many things had she to ask, and many to tell;
and for full half an hour Kavanagh stood leaning
over the paling, while she remained among the
hollyhocks, as stately and red as the plants themselves.
At parting, she gave him one of the
flowers for his wife; and, when he was fairly out
of sight, again climbed the perilous ladder, and
resumed her fresco painting.

Through all the vicissitudes of these later years,
Sally had remained true to her principles and
resolution. At Mrs. Archer's death, which occured
soon after Kavanagh's wedding, she had
retired to this little cottage, bought and paid for


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by her own savings. Though often urged by
Mr. Vaughan's man, Silas, who breathed his
soul out upon the air of Summer evenings
through a keyed bugle, she resolutely refused to
marry. In vain did he send her letters written
with his own blood,—going barefooted into the
brook to be bitten by leeches, and then using
his feet as inkstands: she refused again and
again. Was it that in some blue chamber,
or some little warm back parlour, of her heart,
the portrait of the inconstant dentist was still
hanging? Alas, no! But as to some hearts it
is given in youth to blossom with the fragrant
blooms of young desire, so others are doomed
by a mysterious destiny to be checked in Spring
by chill winds, blowing over the bleak common
of the world. So had it been with her desires
and thoughts of love. Fear now predominated
over hope; and to die unmarried had become
to her a fatality which she dared not resist.

In the course of his long conversation with Miss
Manchester, Kavanagh learned many things about
the inhabitants of the town. Mrs. Wilmerdings
was still carrying on her labors in the “Dunstable
and eleven-braid, open-work and colored
straws.” Her husband had taken to the tavern,


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and often came home very late, “with a brick
in his hat,” as Sally expressed it. Their son
and heir was far away in the Pacific, on board
a whale-ship. Miss Amelia Hawkins remained
unmarried, though possessing a talent for matrimony
which amounted almost to genius. Her
brother, the poet, was no more. Finding it impossible
to follow the old bachelor's advice, and
look upon Miss Vaughan as a beautiful statue,
he made one or two attempts, but in vain, to
throw himself away on unworthy objects, and
then died. At this event, two elderly maidens
went into mourning simultaneously, each thinking
herself engaged to him; and suddenly went out
of it again, mutually indignant with each other,
and mortified with themselves. The little taxidermist
was still hopping about in his aviary,
looking more than ever like his gray African
parrot. Mrs. Archer's house was uninhabited.