University of Virginia Library

Search this document 



Page 75


Why should I enter into all the dreary details of the
funeral preparations, — of those black summer days, which
still lie, an unfaded blot, in the soft and tender light of
resignation now shining over my sorrow? I passed through
the usual experience of one struck by sudden and bitter
calamity: my heart was chilled and benumbed by its inability
to comprehend the truth. My dull, silent, apathetic
mood must have seemed, to the shallow-judging neighbors,
a want of feeling; only Neighbor Niles and her husband
guessed the truth. I saw men and women, as trees, come
and go; some of them spoke to me, and when I was forced
to speak in turn, it was with painful unwillingness. I
heard my voice, as if it were something apart from myself;
I even seemed, through some strange extraverted sense, to
stand aside and contemplate my own part in the solemnities.

When I look back, now, I see a slender youth, dressed
in an ill-fitting black suit, led through the gate in the low
churchyard wall by my uncle Woolley. It is not myself;
but I feel at my heart the numb, steady ache of his, which
shall outlast a sharper grief. His eyes are fixed on the
ground, but I know — for I have often been told so — that
they are like my mother's. His hair cannot be described
by any other color than dark auburn, and hangs, long and
loose, over his ears; his skin is fair, but very much
freckled, and his features, I fancy, would wear an earnest,
eager expression in any happier mood. I see this boy as


Page 76
some mysterious double of mine, standing, cold and pale,
beside the open grave; but the stupor of his grief is harder
to bear, even in memory, than the keen reality to which I
afterwards awoke.

I let things take their course, knowing that the circumstances
of my immediate future were already arranged.
My uncle Woolley, as my guardian and the executor of my
mother's little estate, assumed, without consulting me, the
disposal of the cottage and furniture. Mr. Rand purchased
the former, as a convenient tenant-house for some of his
farm-hands, and the latter, with the exception of mother's
rocking-chair, which she bequeathed to Neighbor Niles, was
sold at auction. This, however, took place after my return
to the school, and I was spared the pain of seeing my home
broken to pieces and its fragments scattered to the winds.
My uncle probably gave me less credit for a practical comprehension
of the matter than I really deserved. His first
conversation with me had been unfortunate, both in point
of time and subject, and neither of us, I suspect, felt inclined,
just then, to renew the attempt at an intimacy befitting
our mutual relation.

In a few days I found myself back again at Honeybrook
Academy. The return was a relief, in every way. The
knowledge of my bereavement had, of course, preceded me,
and I was received with the half-reverential kindness which
any pack of boys, however rough and thoughtless, will never
fail to accord, in like circumstances. Miss Hitchcock, it is
true, gave me a moment's exasperation by her awkward attempt
at condolence, quoting the hackneyed “pallida mors,
&c., but Mother Dymond actually dropped a few tears from
her silly eyes as she said, “I 'm so sorry, Godfrey; I quite
took to her that time she was here.”

Penrose met me with a long, silent pressure of the hand,
and the stolid calm with which I had heard the others
melted for the first time. My eyes grew suddenly dim, and
I turned away.


Page 77

I had already profited by nearly two years' experience of
human nature, or, rather, boy-nature, and was careful not
to let my knowledge of his sympathy lead me into advances
which might, notwithstanding all that had happened, be
repelled. I had a presentiment that he esteemed me because
I imitated his own reticence, and that he was suspicious
of any intimacy which did not proceed from himself.
In spite of his beauty, which seemed to be dimly felt and
respected by the whole school, and the tender spot in my
heart, kindling anew whenever I recalled the night he had
taken me to his breast, I was not sure that I could wholly
like and trust him — could ever feel for him the same open,
unquestioning affection which I bestowed, for example, on
Bob Simmons.

In my studies I obtained, at least, a temporary release
from sorrow. The boys found it natural that I should not
join in the sports of play-hours, or the wild, stolen expeditions
in which I had formerly taken delight. When I closed
my Lempriere and Leverett, I wandered off to the nearest
bit of woodland, flung myself on the brown moss under
some beech-tree, and listened idly to the tapping of the
woodpecker, or the rustle of squirrels through the fallen

There was a little shaded dell, in particular, which was
my favorite haunt. A branch of Cat Creek (as the stream
in the valley was called) ran through it, murmuring gently
over stones and dead tree-trunks. Here, in moist spots,
the trillium hung its crimson, bell-like fruit under the horizontal
roof of its three broad leaves, and the orange orchis
shot up feathery spikes of flowers, bright as the breast of
an oriole. In the thickest shade of this dell, a large tree
had fallen across the stream from bank to bank, above a
dark, glassy trout-pool. One crooked branch, rising in the
middle, formed the back of a rough natural chair; and hither
I came habitually, bringing some work borrowed from Dr.
Dymond's library. I remember reading there Mrs. Hemans's


Page 78
“Forest Sanctuary,” with a delight which, alas! the
poem can never give again, even with such accessories.

One day I was startled from my book by hearing the
dead twigs on the higher bank snap under the step of some
one descending into the glen. I looked up and saw Penrose
coming leisurely down, cutting now and then at a woodmoth
or dragon-fly with a switch of leather-wood. Almost
at the same moment he espied me.

“Hallo, Godfrey! Are you there?” he said, turning
towards my perch. “You show a romantic taste, upon my

The irony, if he meant it for such, went no further. The
mocking smile vanished from his lips, and his face became
grave as he sprang upon the log and took a seat carelessly
against the roots. For a minute he bent forward and looked
down into the glassy basin.

“Pshaw!” said he, suddenly, striking the water with his
switch, so that it seemed to snap like the splitting of a real
mirror, — “only my own face! I 'm no Narcissus.”

“You could n't change into a flower, with your complexion,
anyhow,” I remarked.

“Curse my complexion!” he exclaimed; “it 's a kind
that brings bad blood, — my father has it, too!”

I was rather startled at this outbreak, and said nothing.
He, too, seemed to become conscious of his vehemence.
“Godfrey,” he asked, “do you remember your father?
What kind of a man was he?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I remember him very well. I was
eight years old when he died. He was quiet and steady.
I can't recall many things that he said; but as good
and honest a man as ever lived, I believe. If he had n't
been, mother could n't have loved him so, to the very end
of her life.”

“I have no doubt of it,” he said, after a pause, as if
speaking to himself; “there are such men. I 'm sorry you
lost your mother, — no need to tell you that. You 're going


Page 79
to leave school at the end of the term. Where will
you go? You have other relations, of course?”

Encouraged by the interest which Penrose showed in my
condition, I related to him what had been decided upon by
my mother and my uncle, without concealing the unfavorable
impression which the latter had made upon me, or my
distaste at the prospect before me.

“But you must have other aunts and uncles,” he said,
“or relatives a little further off. On your father's side, for

“I suppose so,” I answered; “but they never visited
mother, and I shall not hunt them up now. Aunt Peggy is
mother's only living sister. Grandfather Hatzfeld had a
son, — my uncle John, after whom I was named, — but he
never married, and died long ago.”

“Hatzfeld? Was your mother's name Hatzfeld?”


Penrose relapsed into a fit of silence. “It would be
strange,” he said to himself; then, lifting his head, asked:

“Had your grandfather Hatzfeld brothers and sisters?”

“Oh, yes. Aunt Christina was his sister: she left mother
our little place at the Cross-Keys when she died. Now, I
recollect, I have heard mother speak of another aunt, Anna,
who married and settled somewhere in New Jersey; I forget
her name, — it began with D. Grandfather had an
older brother, too, but I think he went to Ohio. Mother
never talked much about him: he did n't act fairly towards

“D?” asked Penrose, with a curious interest. “Would
you know the name if you were to heart it? Was it Denning?”

“Yes, that 's it!” I exclaimed; “why, how could you
guess” —

“Because Anna Denning was my grandmother — my
mother's mother! When you mentioned the name of Hatzfeld,
it all came into my mind at once. Why, Godfrey,


Page 80
your mother and mine were first cousins, — we are cousins,

He sat upright on the log and stretched out his hand,
which I took and held. “Penrose!” I exclaimed, “can it
be possible?”

“Plain as a pike-staff.”

“Oh, are you serious, Penrose? I can hardly believe it.”

I still held his hand, as if the newly-found relationship
might slip away on releasing it. The old mocking light
came into his eyes.

“Do you want me to show the strawberry-mark on my
left arm?” he asked; “or a mole on my breast, with three
long black hairs growing out of it? Cousins are plenty,
and you may n't thank me for the discovery.”

“I am so glad!” I cried; “I have no cousin: it is the
next thing to a brother!”

His face softened again. “You 're a good fellow, Godfrey,”
said he, “or Cousin John, if you like that better.
Call me Alexander, if you choose. Since it is so, I wish I
had known it sooner.”

“If my poor mother could have known it!” I sighed.

“That 's it!” he exclaimed, — “the family likeness between
your mother and mine. It puzzled me when I saw
her. My mother has been dead three years, and there 's
a — I won't say what — in her place. As you 're one of
the family now, Godfrey, you may as well learn it from me
as from some one else, later. My father and mother did n't
live happily together; but it was not her fault. While she
lived, my sister and I had some comfort at home; she has
it yet, for that matter, but I — There 's no use in going
over the story, except this much: it was n't six months after
my mother's death before my father married again. Married
whom, do you think? His cook! — a vulgar, brazen
wench, who sits down to the table in the silks and laces of
the dead! And worse than that, — the marriage brought
shame with it, — if you can't guess what that means, now,


Page 81
you 'll find out after a while; don't ask me to say anything
more! I am as proud as my mother was, and do you think
I could forgive my father this, even if he had not always
treated me like a brute?”

Penrose's eyes flashed through the indignant moisture
which gathered in them. The warm olive of his skin had
turned to a livid paleness, and his features were hard and
cruel. I was almost afraid of him.

“He to demand of me that I should call her `mother'!”
he broke out again, his lip quivering, but not with tenderness,
— “it was forbearance enough that I did not give her
the name she deserved! And my sister, — but I suppose
she is like most women, bent in any direction by anybody
stronger than themselves. She stays at home, — no, not at
home, but with them, — and writes me letters full of very
good advice. Oh, yes, she 's a miracle of wisdom! She 's
a young lady of twenty-one, and — and — The Cook finds
it very convenient to learn fashionable airs of her, and how
to eat, and to enter a room, and hold her fan, and talk without
yelling as if at the house-maid, and all the rest of their
damnable folly! There! How do you like being related
to such a pleasant family as that?”

I tried to stay the flood of bitterness, which revealed to
me a fate even more desolate than my own. “Penrose,” I
said, — “Cousin Alexander, you are so strong and brave,
you can make your own way in the world, without their
help. I 'm less able than you, yet I must do it. I don't
know why God allows some things to happen, unless it 's to
try us.”

“None of that!” he cried, though less passionately;
“I 've worried my brain enough, thinking of it. I 've
come to the conclusion that most men are mean, contemptible
creatures, and their good or bad opinion is n't worth
a curse. If I take care of myself and don't sink down
among the lowest, I shall be counted honest, and virtuous,
and the Lord knows what; but I sometimes think that, if


Page 82
there are such things as honesty and virtue, we must look
for them among the dregs of society. The top, I know, is
nothing but a stinking scum.”

I was both pained and shocked at the cynicism of these
utterances, so harshly discordant with the youth and the glorious
physical advantages of my cousin. Yes! the moment
the new relation between us was discovered and accepted,
it established the bond which I felt to be both natural and
welcome. It interpreted the previous sensation which he
had excited in my nature. Some secret sympathy had
bent, like the hazel wand in the hand of the diviner, to
the hidden rill of blood. But the kinship of blood is not
always that of the heart. “A friend is closer than a
brother,” say the Proverbs; I did not feel sure that he
could be the friend I needed and craved, but cousinship
was a familiar and affectionate tie, existing without our volition,
justifying a certain amount of reciprocal interest,
and binding neither to duties which time and the changes
of life might render embarrassing. The confidence which
Penrose had reposed in me came, therefore, in some degree,
as the right of my relationship. I had paid for it, in
advance, by my own.

Hence I was saved, on the one hand, from being drawn,
during the warm, confiding outset of life, into a sneering
philosophy, which I might never have outgrown, and on the
other hand, from judging too harshly of Penrose's inherent
character. It would do no good at present, I saw, to protest
against his expressions; so I merely said, —

“You know more of the world than I do, Alexander;
but I don't like to hear you talk in that strain.”

“Perhaps you 're right, old fellow,” said he; “any way,
I don't include you among the rabble. I might have held
my tongue about my grandmother, if I had chosen; but I
guess you and I are not nearly enough related to fall out.
There goes the bell; pick up your Eclogues, and come


Page 83

We went back to the school, arm in arm, talking familiarly.
From that time forward the recognized, mysterious
circle of Family enclosed us, and Penrose's manner towards
me was commensurate with the change. Never demonstrative,
never even positively affectionate, he stood at least on
level ground with me, and there was no wall between us.
The other boys, of course, noticed the difference in our
relations, and it was not long before the inquisitive Thornton
said, —

“I say, Pen, how is it that you 've got to calling Godfrey
`John,' all at once?”

“Because he is my cousin.”

Thornton's eyes opened very wide. “The devil he is!”
he exclaimed. (Thornton was unnecessarily profane, because
he thought it made him seem more important.)
“When did you find that out?”

“It 's none of your business,” said Penrose, turning on
his heel. Thornton thereupon went off, and communicated
the fact to the whole school in less than ten minutes.

After this, my cousin and I frequently walked out to the
glen together. I was glad to see that the kinship, so inexpressibly
welcome to myself, was also satisfactory to him.
His first fragmentary confidence was completed by the details
of his life, as he recalled them from time to time; but
his bitter, disappointed, unbelieving mood always came to
the surface, and I began to fear that it had already predetermined
the character of his after-life.

One day, when he had been unusually gloomy in his
utterances, he handed me a letter, saying, “Read that.” It
was from his sister, and ran, as nearly as I can recollect, as
follows: —

My dear Brother, — Yours of the 10th is received.
I am now so accustomed to your sarcastic style, that I always
know what to expect when I open one of your epistles.
I wish you joy of your — well, I must say our new


Page 84
cousin, though I am sorry you did not let me know of the
discovery before telling him. He must be gauche and unpresentable
in a degree; but then, I suppose, there 's no
likelihood of his ever getting into our set. It is time your
schooling was finished, so that I might have you for awhile as
my chevalier. Between ourselves, I 'm rather tired of going
about with” (here the word “Mamma” had evidently been
written and then blotted out) “Mrs. Penrose. Not but
what she continues to improve, — only, I am never certain
of her not committing some niaiserie, which quite puts me
out. However, she behaves well enough at home, and I
hope you will overcome your prejudice in the end, for my
sake. When you know as much about Society as I do, you
will see that it 's always best to smooth over what 's irrevocable.
People are beginning to forget the scandal, since
that affair of Denbigh has given them something else to
talk about. We were at Mrs. Delane's ball on Wednesday;
I made her put on blue cut velvet, and she did not
look so bad. Mrs. Vane nodded, and of course she was
triumphant. I think Papa gives me the credit for all that
has been done, — I 'm sure I deserve it. It 's a race between
Mrs. P. and myself which shall have the new India
shawl at Stokes's; but I shall get it, because Mrs. P. knows
that I could teach her to blunder awfully as well as to behave
correctly, and would do it, in spite of Papa's swearing,
if she drives me to desperation. By the by, he has just
come into the room, and says, `You are writing to the cub,
as usual, I suppose, Matilda.' So there you have him, to
the life.”

There was much more, in the same style. I must have
colored, with offended pride, on reading the opening lines,
for on looking up, involuntarily, I saw my cousin smile, but
so frankly and pleasantly that it instantly healed the wound
his sister made. I confess the letter disgusted me; but it
was written by my own cousin also, and I did not dare to


Page 85
express to her brother what I felt. I handed the letter
back to him in silence.

“Come now, John,” said he, — “out with the truth!
Would you not as lief be out of our family again?”

“Not while you are in it, Alexander,” I replied.