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Page 138


When I opened school on Monday morning, I had some
twenty pupils, mostly the younger children of the neighboring
farmers. The late autumn was unusually clear and
mild, and the larger boys were still needed in the fields. I
was glad of this chance, as it enabled me the more easily to
get the machinery of the school in motion and familiarize
myself with my duties. I recollected enough of our commencement-days
at the Cross-Keys to form my pupils into
classes and arrange the order of exercises. So far as the
giving of instruction was concerned, I had no misgivings,
but I feared the natural and universal rebellion of children
against rules which impose quiet and application of mind.
Accordingly, I took the master's seat at my desk on a small
raised platform, with stern gravity of countenance, and instantly
checked the least tendency to whisper or giggle
among my subjects. The process was exhausting, and I
should like to know which side felt the greatest relief when
the first day came to an end.

In a short time, however, as I came to know the faces
and dispositions of the children, I found it necessary to relax
something of this assumed strictness. Dr. Dymond's
method, which I had found so pleasant, seemed to me better
adapted to their needs, also, and I frequently interrupted
the regular sequence of the lessons in order to communicate
general intelligence, especially of a geographical or historical
character, wherein they were all lamentably deficient.


Page 139
I had a great liking for oral narrative, and perhaps some
talent in constructing it, for I always found these breaks
more efficient to preserve order than my sternest scolding.

I soon saw that the children enjoyed my method of instruction.
Many a bell-flower and fall pippin was laid upon
my desk in the morning, and some of the girls, noticing
that I gathered gentians and late asters in the meadows
during their nooning, brought me bunches of chrysanthemums
from their mothers' flower-beds. I should have soon
found my place insupportable, had I been surrounded by
hostile hearts, children's though they were, and was therefore
made happy by seeing that my secret favorites returned
my affection in their own shy way. Mrs. Yule, who had a
magnetic ear for hearing everything that was said within a
radius of two miles, informed me that I was much better
liked by the pupils than last winter's master, though some
of the parents thought that I told them too many “fancy

This was the sunny side of the business, so far as it had
one. On the other hand I grew weary to death of enlightening
the stupidity of some of the boys, and disgusted with
their primitive habits. I shuddered when I was obliged to
touch their dirty, sprawling, warty hands, or when my eyes
fell upon the glazed streaks on their sleeves. They surrounded
me with unwashed smells, and scratched their
heads more than was pleasant to behold. Physical beauty
was scarce among them, and natural refinement, in any sensible
degree, entirely absent. A few had frank, warm
hearts, and hints of undeveloped nobility in their natures,
but coarseness and selfishness were predominant. My experience
convinced me that I should never become a benefactor
of the human race. It was not the moral sentiment
in the abstract, but that of certain individuals, which inspired
me with interest.

My home at the white house behind the willows was a
very agreeable one. There was a grand old kitchen, paved


Page 140
with flag-stones, and with a chimney large enough to contain
a high-backed wooden settle, on either side of the fire.
Here the old miller and Dan smoked their pipes after supper,
while Mrs. Yule and Susan pared apples, or set the
bread to rise, or mixed buckwheat-batter for next morning's
cakes. I could place my tallow-candle in a little niche,
or pocket, of the jamb, and read undisturbed, until some
quaint lore of the neighborhood drew me from the book.
The windows of my room in the southeastern corner of the
house were wrapped about with the trailing willow-boughs;
but, as their leaves began to fall, I discovered that I should
have a fine winter view down the valley.

The miller was one of those quiet, unmarked natures,
which, like certain grays in painting, are agreeable through
their very lack of positive character. He suggested health
— nothing else; and his son Dan was made in his likeness.
I did not know, then, why I liked Dan, but I suspect now
it must have been because he had not an over-sensitive
nerve in his body. His satisfied repose was the farthest
vibration from my restless, excitable temperament. Susan
was a bright, cheerful, self-possessed girl, in whose presence
the shyest youth would have felt at ease. She was not cultivated,
but neither was she ashamed of her ignorance.
Her only æsthetic taste was for flowers; there were no such
pot gillyflowers and geraniums as hers in all Upper Samaria.
She sewed buttons on my shirts and darned the heels
of my stockings before my very eyes. It was rumored that
she was engaged to Ben Hannaford, a young farmer over
the hill to the north; but she spoke of him in so straightforward
and unembarrassed a way that I judged it could
not be possible. Still, it was a fact that a fire was made in
the best sitting-room every Sunday night, and that both
Ben and Susan somehow disappeared from the kitchen.

The ways of the neighborhood were exceedingly social.
There were frequent “gatherings” (“getherin's” was the
popular term) of the younger people, generally on Saturday


Page 141
evenings. The first which I attended was given by Miss
Amanda Bratton, about three weeks after my arrival. The
impulse thereto was furnished, I imagine, by the arrival of
the new piano from Philadelphia. Everybody on the main
road, from Carterstown up to the Buck Tavern, had seen
the wagon with the great box lying on trusses of straw, as
it passed along, and the news had gone far to right and left
before it was announced that “Squire Bratton's” house
would be open. Pianos were not common in Upper Samaria;
indeed there were none nearer than Carterstown,
and the young men and women were unaccustomed to
other music than the flute and violin. Miss Amanda, on
her father's hint, was profuse in her invitations; he knew
that the party would be much talked about, both before
and after its occurrence.

I walked over with Dan and Susan Yule, at dusk, and
found the company already arriving. The hall-door was
open, and we were received at the entrance to the parlor by
Miss Amanda, who looked lovely in a pale-violet silk. She
gave me her hand with the composure of an old acquaintance,
and I took it with a thrill of foolish happiness.

He 's not come yet, Sue,” said she. “Mr. Godfrey, let
me introduce you to the gentlemen.”

I was presented to five or six sturdy fellows, each of
whom gave me a tremendous grip of a large, hard hand, and
then sat down in silence. They were ranged along one side
of the parlor-wall, while the ladies formed a row on the opposite
side, occasionally whispering to each other below
their breath. I took my seat at one end of the male column,
and entered into conversation with my neighbor, which
he accepted in a friendly and subdued manner. No one, I
think, quite ventured to use his natural volume of voice except
young Septimus, or Sep Bratton, who dodged back
and forth with loud explosions of shallow wit and unjustifiable
laughter. Many eyes were directed to the piano, which
stood open at the end of the room, and it was evident that


Page 142
the tone of the company would be solemn expectation until
the instrument had been heard.

Squire Bratton, in a high stock and sharp, standing collar,
moved majestically about, greeting each fresh arrival
with a mixture of urbanity and condescension. When all
the chairs which could be comfortably placed were filled
and the gentlemen were obliged to stand, the company
began to break into groups and grow more animated.
Then Miss Amanda was importuned to play.

“Oh, I 'm really afraid, before so many!” she exclaimed,
with a modesty which charmed me; “besides, the piano is
hardly fit to be played on, is it, Pa?”

“Hm — well,” said her father, “I believe it is a little
out of chune, from being jolted on the road, but I guess our
friends would make allowance for that.”

“Oh, yes!” “We sha'n't notice it!” eagerly burst from
a dozen voices.

After some further solicitation, Miss Amanda took her
seat, and a breathless silence filled the room. She struck
two or three chords, then suddenly ceased, saying, “Oh, I
can't! I shall shock you; the G is so flat!”

“Go on!” “It 's splendid!” and various other encouraging
cries again arose.

I happened to be standing near the piano, and she
caught my eye, expressing its share of the general expectancy.

Must I, indeed, Mr. Godfrey?” she asked, in a helpless,
appealing tone. “What shall it be?”

Your favorite air, Miss Bratton,” I answered.

She turned to the keys again, and, after a short prelude,
played the Druids' March from “Norma,” boldly and with
a strongly accented rhythm. I was astonished at the delicacy
of her ear, for I should not have known but that the
instrument was in very good tune.

When she had finished, the expressions of delight were
loud and long, and “more” was imperiously demanded,
coupled with a request for a song.


Page 143

This time she gave us “Oh, come o'er the Moonlit
Sea, Love,” and “The Dream is Past”; and I knew not
which most to admire, — the airy, dancing, tinkling brilliancy
of the first, or the passion and sorrow of the second.
No one, I thought, could sing that song without feeling the
words in their tragic intensity: Miss Bratton must have a
heart like Zuleika or Gulnare.

I believe I made a good appearance, as contrasted with
the other young men present. I had fastened my cravat
with a small coral pin which had belonged to my mother,
and this constituted a distinguishing mark which drew
many eyes upon me. Little by little, I was introduced to
all the company, and was drawn into the lively chatter
which, in such communities, takes the place of wit and
sentiment. Among others, Susan Yule presented me to
Miss Verbena Cuff, a plump, rattling girl, who was not
afraid to poke a fellow in the ribs with her forefinger, and
say, “Oh, go 'long, now!” when anything funny was said.
She had the fullest, ripest lips, the largest and whitest
teeth, and the roundest chin, of any girl there.

After the refreshments — consisting of lemonade, new
cider, and four kinds of cakes — were handed around, we
all became entirely merry and unconstrained. I had never
before “assisted” at a party of the kind, except as a juvenile
spectator, and my enjoyment was therefore immense.
Nothing more was needed to convince me that I was a full-grown
man. Whenever I put my hand to my chin I was
conscious of a delightful, sand-papery feeling, which showed
that the down I so carefully scraped off was beginning to
acquire strength, and would soon display masculine substance
and color. My freckles were all gone, and, as
Neighbor Niles had always prophesied, left a smooth, fair
skin behind them. I was greatly delighted on hearing one
of the girls whisper, “He 's quite good-looking.” Of course
she referred to me.

Miss Amanda's album, gilt-edged and gorgeously bound


Page 144
in red morocco, lay upon a side-table under the mirror. I
picked it up and looked over its contents, in company
with Miss Verbena Cuff. The leaves were softly tinted
with pink, green, buff, and blue, and there were both steel
engravings and bunches of flowers lithographed in colors.
Miss Verbena stayed my hand at one of the pictures, representing
a youth in Glengarry bonnet and knee-breeches,
with one arm round a maiden, whose waist came just under
her shoulders, while he waved the other arm over a
wheat-field. In the air above them two large birds were

The title of the picture was, “Now Westlin' Win's.”

“Mr. Godfrey,” said Miss Verbena, “I want you to tell
me what this picture means; she won't. I say `Westlin”
is the name of one o' the birds; they 're flyin' a race, and
he thinks `Westlin” will win it. What do you say?”

I looked up, and saw that “she” was standing near us,
listening. I smiled significantly, with a side-glance at Miss
Verbena. My smile was returned, yet with an expression
of tender deprecation, which I interpreted as saying,
“Don't expose her ignorance.” I accordingly answered,
with horrid hypocrisy, —

“You may be right, Miss Cuff. I never saw the picture
before.” Again we exchanged delicious glances.

I turned over the leaves, and presently stumbled on the
name of “Susan Yule.” She had written —

“Oh, Amanda, when I 'm far away,
To taste the scenes of other climes,
And when fond Memory claims its sway,
And tells thee then of happier times, —
Oh, let a Tear of Sorrow blend
With memory of thy absent Friend.”

I was greatly diverted with the idea of good, plain,
simple-hearted Susan Yule, whose thoughts never crossed
the township-line of Upper Samaria, going away to taste
the scenes of other climes, but I did my best, for her sake,


Page 145
to preserve a serious countenance. I was rather surprised
to find, on looking further, that both Mattie McElroy and
Jemima Ann Hutchins had written precisely the same

“Why,” I exclaimed, “here it is again! I thought the
verse was original. There must be a great scarcity of
album poetry, Miss Bratton.”

“Ye-e-es,” she answered, in a gentle drawl. “We all
found it so at school. I 'm sure I went over the `Elegant
Extracts' ever so many times, but there was so little that
would suit. I think it 's so much nicer to have original
poetry! don't you?”

I assented most enthusiastically.

“Perhaps you write poetry, Mr. Godfrey?” she continued.

I blushed and stammered, longing, yet shy to confess
the blissful truth.

“He, he!” giggled Miss Verbena Cuff, giving me a
poke with her forefinger; “he does! he does! I 'll bet
anything on it. Make him write something in your book,

Won't you?” murmured Miss Amanda, fixing her soft,
pale eyes full upon mine.

I blushed all over, this time. The red flushed my skin
down to my very toes. My eyelids fell before the angelic
gaze, and I muttered something about being very happy,
and I would try, but I was afraid she would n't be satisfied
with it afterwards.

“But it must be right out of your own head, mind,”
Miss Cuff insisted.

Of course,” said Miss Bratton, with slight but very becoming

“And then you must write something for me. We won't
say anything about it to the other girls, 'Manda, till they 're

I was n't very well pleased with this proposition, and it


Page 146
seemed to me, also, that the merest gossamer of a shade
flitted across Miss Bratton's smooth brow. Still, it was
impossible to refuse, and I endeavored to promise with a
good grace.

“Mine has the language of flowers,” said Verbena; “I 'm
so sorry that the Rose is already writ. I 'd have liked you
to take that. There 's Pink and Honeysuckle left, and
something else that I disremember. I 'll show you the
book first.”

Later in the evening it happened that Miss Bratton and
I came together again, with nobody very near us. I made
instant use of the opportunity, to confirm the confidential
relation which I imagined was already established between
us. “I understood you,” I said; “did you ever hear such
an absurd idea as she had?”

She was evidently puzzled, but not startled. Nothing,
in fact, seemed to agitate her serene, self-poised, maidenly
nature. “Oh, the picture?” she said, at last; “very absurd,

“You know the poem, of course?” I continued.

“Yes,” (slightly smiling,) “I read it, long ago, but I 've
forgotten how it goes. Won't you write it down for me?”

I assented at once, though to do so implied the purchase
of a copy of Burns, which I did not possess. How grateful
it was to find one in that material crowd who knew and
reverenced the immortal bards among whom I hoped to
inscribe my name!

“I 'll bring it over to you, some evening!” I exclaimed.

She smiled sweetly, but said nothing.

“I am so glad you are fond of poetry! Do you ever see
the Saturday Evening Post?

“Yes; Pa takes it for me. There are such sweet poems
in it, — and the tales, too!”

Here we were interrupted, but I had heard enough to
turn my head. She had certainly read “The Unknown
Bard” and all the other productions of “Selim”! They


Page 147
were among the poems, and, of course, they too were

The party broke up at midnight, and I had the pleasure
of escorting Miss Verbena Cuff across the stream to Yule's
Mill, where her brother Tom had left his horse and vehicle.
We started with Dan and Susan Yule, but had scarcely
left Bratton's veranda, before Miss Verbena took my arm
and whispered, “Let 's hang back a little; I want to tell
you something.”

I hung back, as desired, and we were soon alone under
the dark, starry sky. I was wrapped in dreams of Miss
Amanda Bratton, the touch of whose slender fingers still
burned on my right palm. Hence I did not manifest the
curiosity which my companion no doubt awaited, for after
walking a few rods in silence, she said, giving me a jog
of her elbow, —

“Well — what do you think it is?”

Thus admonished, I confessed my inability to guess.

“I 'll tell you, but don't you tell nobody. Tom 's going
to set the last kiln a-burning, Friday morning, and there 'll
be a bully blaze by Saturday night. You know our house,
don't you? — stands on the left, a mile and a half this side
of Carterstown, — stone, with brick chimbleys, and the barn
t' other side of the road: you can't miss it. Now, I want
you to come, and we 'll have some fun. There won't be
many, and I don't want it to get out, — I 'd rather it would
seem accidental like. We had a getherin' three weeks
ago, but, you know, when the kiln 's afire, it seems to 'liven
people up. Some say, the more the merrier, but it a'n't
always so.”

Here she gave my arm an interrogative clutch; and I,
thinking of Milton's “fit audience, though few,” answered,
“No, indeed, Miss Cuff; it 's also true that the fewer the
nearer in heart.”

“Then you 'll come? You 'll be sure and keep your


Page 148

I had not yet given my word, but the prospect of a select
few assembled around the burning lime-kiln was weird,
poetic, and by no means unwelcome. Of course Amanda
Bratton would be one of the few, and I already speculated
how wonderfully her calm face would appear in the blue
gleam of the fire, against a background of night. I therefore
exclaimed, —

“Oh, I shall be delighted!”

“And you won't say anything?”

“Not a word!”

“Don't even tell Yules. I like Susan very much, but
her fortune 's made, they say, and I only want them that
can take an interest in each other. You understand, don't

Again I felt the powerful squeeze of her arm, and involuntarily
returned it. She hung upon and leaned against
me quite alarmingly after that, but a few more steps
brought us around the mill to the hitching-post at Yule's
gate, where Tom Cuff, whip in hand, stood awaiting her.

“It 's late, Sis, and we must be off. Finish your sparkin',
quick,” he growled, in a coarse voice.

He thereupon turned his back, and Miss Verbena, giving
me her hand, looked into my face in a momentary attitude
of expectation which I did not understand. She jerked
away her hand again rather hastily, whispered — “Don't
forget — next Saturday night!” and then added, aloud,
“Good night, Mr. Godfrey!”

“Good night, Miss Cuff!” I replied, and they drove
away as I was mounting the projecting steps in the stone

That week I made use of “the master's” privilege, and,
beside a fire in my bedroom, devoted myself to the composition
of a poem for Miss Bratton's album. I wrote four,
and was then uncertain which to choose, or whether any
one of them was worthy of its destined place. I finally
fixed upon one entitled “A Parable,” which represented


Page 149
a wandering bird of sweet song in a cold, dark forest where
the trees paid no heed to his lays. But just as he was becoming
silent forever, from despair of a listener, he saw a
lovely flower lift up its head, open the lips of its blushing
petals, and ask him to sing; so he built his nest at her feet,
and piped his sweetest song in the fragrance of her being.

She will understand it!” I said to myself, in triumph;
“and to the obscure, unpoetic minds around her it will
simply be a bit of fancy. What a godlike art is the Poet's!”
Then I sang, to a tune of my own invention, —

“Drink to her who long
Has waked the Poet's sigh,
The girl who gave to song
What Gold could never buy!”

Meanwhile, the week drew to an end, and as Saturday
afternoon was always a holiday for the school, I had ample
time to prepare myself for the visit to Cuff's. Inasmuch
as the Yule family was ignorant of the proposed calcareous
party, I was a little puzzled how to get away without being
observed. Also, how to get into the house, if I should not
return before midnight. I made up my mind, at last, to
inform Dan, upon whose silence I knew I could rely. I
found him in the mill, white with the dust of floating meal,
and the hopper made such a clatter that I was forced to
put my mouth to his ear, and half scream the fact that I
expected to be away from home in the evening. He nodded
and smiled, remarking the sheepish expression of my
face, and, coming close to me, said, “Shall I leave the
back-entry door open?”

“And don't say anything about it, please?” I added.

His simple grin was as good as anybody else's oath; so,
completely assured, I made myself ready during the afternoon,
in every respect but the coat, which I whipped on
after supper. Stealing out by the back door, I jumped
over the garden-wall and took my way down the valley.

It was a sharp, frosty night in the beginning of December,


Page 150
and I walked briskly forward, busy with imaginary
scenes and conversations, in which Amanda Bratton had
an important share. It was a habit of my mind — and still
is — to create all presumed situations in advance, and prepare
myself for the part I expected to play in them. I
must frankly confess to the reader, however, that the interference
of some avenging Nemesis always darkens this voluntary
clairvoyance, and spoils my tags and cues. Hence
all my best remarks have never been uttered, my most
brilliant humor has rusted in its sheath, and with undoubted
capacity to sparkle in conversation (if the occasions would
only arise as I project them in advance), I have never
achieved more than an average reputation as a talker.
How my anticipations on this particular evening were fulfilled,
I shall now proceed to relate.

As the distance to Carterstown was four miles, Cuff's
house and lime-kiln must therefore be two and a half miles
from Yule's Mill, a walk of three quarters of an hour. I
had not been down the road before, but I supposed that
the burning kiln would be as a banner hung out, afar off,
to guide my steps. On I went, passing many houses on one
side of the road, with their barns on the other, but no blue
blaze showed itself, and I began to suspect that I was on
the wrong road. A wide stream, coming down through the
hills on the left, arrested my way, until I discovered a high
log and hand-rail on one side, and felt my way over in the
dark. Just beyond this stream stood another house on the
left, on a bold knoll, through which the road was cut. The
shrubs in the front yard rustled darkly over the top of a
lofty stone wall.

As I approached this point, a huge dog sprang down from
above and commenced barking furiously. Having no means
of defence, I stood still, and the animal planted himself in
the middle of the road as if determined to bar my advance.
Presently I heard a whistle from the top of the wall, and a
stern female voice exclaimed, “Be quiet, Roger!”


Page 151

I started. It was surely the voice of Miss Verbena Cuff.
The next moment she herself suddenly appeared in the
road at my side, and I heard a whisper, “Is it you?”

“Yes,” I said; “do you live here? I was afraid I should
not find the house.”

Taking my hand, she led me to a break in the wall, up
which ran a steep flight of stone steps. When I had gained
the top, I found myself on the knoll in front of the house,
and saw a flickering cone of blue and scarlet fire at the
foot of the slope beyond.

“A'n't that a blaze?” said Miss Verbena; “I never get
tired a-looking at it. It 's Tom's turn to tend the fire tonight,
so he won't be in the way. Tom 's rather rough, he

“`Men scarcely know how beautiful fire is,'” I said,
quoting Shelley. “It looks as if a little volcano had broken
up out of the earth. See, that 's the crater, at the top.
Are you not afraid of the lava bursting out?”

“Go along, you!” was her answer, as she gave me a poke
in the ribs. “Come in the side-door, into the setting-room.
I did n't make a fire in the parlor, because I was n't quite
sure you 'd come. But I 'll bring in some wood, right away,
and then run up-stairs and fix myself in no time.”

She ushered me into the sitting-room, which was dimly
lighted by a single tallow-candle. An old woman, with a
curious cap and no upper teeth, sat in a high-backed rocking-chair,
knitting. She must have been very deaf, for
Miss Verbena stooped down and shouted in her ear, “Mother,
this is Mr. Godfrey, the schoolmaster at Yule's Mill!”

The old woman looked at me with a silly smile, nodded,
and murmured to herself as she resumed her knitting,
“Yes, yes; young people will be young people. I s'pose
I 'm in the way now.”

In a few minutes she rose and retired to the kitchen, and
Miss Verbena, following her, soon reappeared with an armful
of sticks and chips, and a piece of candle which she


Page 152
managed to hold between two of her fingers. I ought to
have gone and opened the parlor-door for her, but I was
struck dumb at my reception, and sat like a fool while she
pressed down the handle of the lock with her elbow and
pushed the door open with her foot. Good heavens! I
thought, what does it all mean? There is nobody else here,
and it looks as if nobody was expected! She is making a
fire in the parlor and she is going to “fix herself in no
time” — only for me? Why, when the old woman goes
into the kitchen, and the big brother stays at the lime-kiln,
and the young man and the young woman sit by themselves
in the best parlor, it 's “keeping company” — it 's “courting”!

Instead of trembling with delight, I shivered with fear.
Miss Verbena Cuff was no longer a buxom, rollicking damsel,
but a young ogress, who had lured me into her den and
would tear me with relentless claws until I purchased my
deliverance with sweet words and caresses. I knew that
“courting” implied such familiarities; I had often heard
that even candles were not necessary to its performance;
and in my boyish ignorance I had always supposed that the
sentiment of love, upon one side at least, must precede the
custom. I did not know that in many parts of the country
it was a common expedient, indifferently practised, to determine
whether the parties were likely to love each other.
A kiss or a hug, now and then, was not looked upon as a
committal of the heart to a serious attachment; such things
were cheap coins, used publicly in forfeits and other games,
and might be exchanged privately without loss to either's
emotional property.

No; I was haunted by a softer and sweeter image than
that of Verbena Cuff, — a pure, ideal flame, which her lips,
red and full as they were, seemed pursed to blow out.
Every fibre of my heart tingled and trembled with alarm.

When she returned from the parlor, she brought her
album and gave it to me. The back was covered with


Page 153
green and brown calico, to preserve the morocco binding.
“That 's the flower I could n't remember,” said she, opening
the book at a lithographed ranunculus; “it looks just
like our butter-ball in the garden.”

On turning over the leaves, my eye caught the name of
Amanda Bratton. Ah, I said to myself, let me read her
selection. It commenced, —

“Verbena, when I 'm far away,” &c.

“What exquisite irony!” I thought. “She is too cultivated
to cast pearls before swine.”

All at once Tom Cuff came in, with a black jug in one
hand. He twisted his mouth when he saw me, but gave
me his hand and said, “How are you, Master Godfrey?”

I returned his greeting with a dignified air.

“Sis!” he called, “more cider! It 's mortal hot work,
and makes a fellow dry. Bring Godfrey a swig, while
you 're about it.”

The cider was soon forthcoming, and so sharp and hard
that it made me wink. Tom took up his jug and started,
but halted at the door and said to me, “When you 're tired
talking to Sis, you may come down and look at the kiln.
I 've put in some big chunks, and it 's burnin' like all hell!”

“I 'll come!” I answered; “I want to see it.”

Here was a chance of escape, and I recovered my courage.
I informed Miss Verbena that I would write something
for her which would suit the lily of the valley. I
should have preferred the verbena, but I saw that somebody
had been before me, — somebody, I added, who no
doubt had a better right.

“Oh, go along, now! shut up! it a'n't so!” cried the
energetic maiden, giving me a poke which took away my

She bustled about a little more, arranging some household
matters, and then came and stood before me, saying,
“Now I 'm done work; don't I look like a fright?”


Page 154

“No: you could n't do that if you were to try,” I gallantly

“None of your soft soap so soon in the evening!” she
retorted. “Now I 'm going up-stairs to fix. You 'd better
sneak into the parlor; it 's nice and warm.”

“I guess I 'll step down and call on Tom. I want to
have a look at the kiln.”

“Well — don't stay more than ten minutes.”

This I promised, solemnly intending to keep my word.
I went out the opposite door, opened a gate in the paling,
and found myself in a sloping field. The top of the kiln
glimmered in wreaths of colored flame, just below me, and
I could see Tom's brawny form moving about in the light
which streamed from the mouth, at the foot of the knoll.
I walked first to the top, inhaled the pungent gas which
arose from the calcining stones, and meditated how I should
escape. The big dog had followed me, and was walking
about, sniffing suspiciously and occasionally uttering a low
growl. To quiet him, first of all, I went down to Tom,
took a pull at his jug, and commented on the grandeur of
the fire.

“Yes, it 's good now for half an hour,” he said. “I 'm
agoin' to take a snooze. You 'd better go back to the
house — Sis 'll be expectin' you.”

“I will go back,” I answered.

He lay down on a warm heap of sand and slaked lime,
and I climbed again to the burning crest of the kiln. The
big dog was there still! but I saw a fence before me, and
knew that the road was beyond. I walked rapidly away,
and had my hand on the topmost rail, when the beast gave
a howl and bounded after me. Over I sprang, and started
to run, but I had totally forgotten that the road had been
cut into the side of the knoll, leaving a bank some fifteen
or twenty feet deep. My first step, therefore, touched air
instead of earth: over and over I went, crashing through
briers and mullein-stalks, and loosening stones, which rattled


Page 155
after me, until I brought up, with a thundering shock,
in the gutter below. I was on my feet in an instant, and
tearing at full speed past the wall in front of the house, on
the top of which I saw the dusky outline of the dog, springing
towards the steps. There was a light at an upper window,
and I fancied that I heard the sash raised. In less
time than it has taken to write these lines, I had reached
the creek and splashed through it, without taking time to
find the log. The water, fortunately, was only mid-leg
deep. Then I rushed forward again, stopping neither to
think nor take breath, until the fainter barking of the dog
showed that he had given up the chase.

How I had escaped cuts, bruises, or broken bones seemed
a miracle, but I was sound in every limb. I cannot now
pretend to unravel the confusion of thought in which I
walked slowly homewards. Was my fine-strung, excitable
nature a blessing or a curse? Had I acted as a wise man
or a fool? I strongly suspected the latter; I had, at least,
betrayed a weakness at utter variance with my pretensions
to manhood, and which would render it impossible for me
ever again to meet either Verbena or Tom Cuff without
feeling abashed and humiliated. I had run away, like a
coward, from the possibility of a situation which, in itself,
would have been, at the worst, a harmless diversion in the
eyes of the world. I was not forced to bestow the kisses
and hugs I foreboded; a little self-possession on my part
was all that was necessary to give the visit a cool, Platonic
character, and I should have carried home my unprofaned
ideal. I imagined what Dan Yule would do in a similar
case, and admitted to myself that he would get out of the
scrape in a much more sensible way than I had done.

On the other hand, the aforementioned ideal was flattered.
I had saved it from even the suspicion of danger,
— had braved ridicule, worse than hostility, for the sake of
keeping it pure. I was made of better clay than the men
around me, and ought to be proud of it.


Page 156

When I reached home, the family had not yet gone to
bed. Nevertheless, I entered by the back-entry door,
which I found unlocked, stole to my room, kindled a fire,
and changed my coat, — my best coat, alas! which was
much soiled, and torn in two or three places. When I had
become composed, I went down to the kitchen, on the pretence
of getting a glass of water, but in reality to make the
family suppose that I had been spending the evening in my
own room.

Dan looked at me with a very queer expression, but he
asked me no questions, and it was many days before I confided
to him my adventure.