Susan Warner.

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Produced by Daniel Fromont









"Know well, my soul, God's hand controls
Whate'er thou fearest;
Round Him in calmest music rolls
Whate'er thou hearest.

"What to thee is shadow, to Him is day,
And the end He knoweth;
And not on a blinded, aimless way
The spirit goeth."











































I am thinking of a little brown house, somewhere in the wilds of New
England. I wish I could make my readers see it as it was, one June
afternoon some years ago. Not for anything very remarkable about it;
there are thousands of such houses scattered among our hills and
valleys; nevertheless one understands any life story the better for
knowing amid what sort of scenes it was unfolded. Moreover, such a
place is one of the pleasant things in the world to look at, as I
judge. This was a small house, with its gable end to the road, and a
lean-to at the back, over which the long roof sloped down
picturesquely. It was weather-painted; that was all; of a soft dark
grey now, that harmonized well enough with the gayer colours of meadows
and trees. And two superb elms, of New England's own, stood beside it
and hung over it, enfolding and sheltering the little old house, as it
were, with their arms of strength and beauty. Those trees would have
dignified anything. One of them, of the more rare weeping variety,
drooped over the door of the lean-to, shading it protectingly, and
hiding with its long pendant branches the hard and stiff lines of the
building. So the green draped the grey; until, in the soft mingling of
hues, the light play of sunshine and shadow, it seemed as if the
smartness of paint upon the old weather-boarding would have been an
intrusion, and not an advantage. In front of the house was a little
space given to flowers; at least there were some irregular patches and
borders, where balsams and hollyhocks and pinks and marigolds made a
spot of light colouring; with one or two luxuriantly-growing blush
roses, untrained and wandering, bearing a wealth of sweetness on their
long, swaying branches. There was that spot of colour; all around and
beyond lay meadows, orchards and cultivated fields; till at no great
distance the ground became broken, and rose into a wilderness of hills,
mounting higher and higher. In spots these also showed cultivation; for
the most part they were covered with green woods in the depth of June
foliage. The soft, varied hilly outline filled the whole circuit of the
horizon; within the nearer circuit of the hills the little grey house
sat alone, with only one single exception. At the edge of the meadow
land, half hid behind the spur of a hill, stood another grey
farm-house; it might have been half a mile off. People accustomed to a
more densely populated country would call the situation lonesome;
solitary it was. But Nature had shaken down her hand full of treasures
over the place. Art had never so much as looked that way. However, we
can do without art on a June afternoon.

The door of the lean-to looked towards the road, and so made a kind of
front door to the kitchen which was within. The door-sill was raised a
single step above the rough old grey stone which did duty before it;
and sitting on the doorstep, in the shadow and sunlight which came
through the elm branches and fell over her, this June afternoon, was
the person whose life story I am going to try to tell. She sat there as
one at home, and in the leisure of one who had done her work; with arms
crossed upon her bosom, and an air of almost languid quiet upon her
face. The afternoon was quiet-inspiring. Genial warm sunshine filled
the fields and grew hazy in the depth of the hills; the long hanging
elm branches were still; sunlight and shadow beneath slept in each
other's arms; soft breaths of air, too faint to move the elms, came
nevertheless with reminders and suggestions of all sorts of sweetness;
from the leaf-buds of the woods, from the fresh turf of the meadows,
from a thousand hidden flowers and ferns at work in their secret
laboratories, distilling a thousand perfumes, mingled and untraceable.
Now and then the breath of the roses was quite distinguishable; and
from fields further off the delicious scent of new hay. It was just the
time of day when the birds do not sing; and the watcher at the door
seemed to be in their condition.

She was a young woman, full grown, but young. Her dress was the common
print working dress of a farmer's daughter, with a spot or two of wet
upon her apron showing that she had been busy, as her dress suggested.
Her sleeves were still rolled up above her elbows, leaving the crossed
arms full in view. And if there is character in faces, so there is in
arms; and everybody knows there is in hands. These arms were after the
model of the typical woman's arm; not chubby and round and fat, but
moulded with beautiful contour, showing muscular form and power, with
the blue veins here and there marking the clear delicate skin. Only
look at the arm, without even seeing the face, and you would feel there
was nervous energy and power of will; no weak, flabby, undecided action
would ever come of it. The wrist was tapering enough, and the hand
perfectly shaped, like the arm; not quite so white. The face, - you
could not read it at once; possibly not till it had seen a few more
years. It was very reposeful this afternoon. Yet the brow and the head
bore tokens of the power you would expect; they were very fine; and the
eyes under the straight brow were full and beautiful, a deep blue-grey,
changing and darkening at times. But the mouth and lower part of the
face was as sweet and mobile as three years old; playing as innocently
and readily upon every occasion; nothing had fixed those lovely lines.
The combination made it a singular face, and of course very handsome.
But it looked very unconscious of that fact.

Within the kitchen another woman was stepping about actively, and now
and then cast an unsatisfied look at the doorway. Finally came to a
stop in the middle of the floor to speak.

"What are you sittin' there for, Diana?"

"Nothing, that I know of."

"If I was sittin' there for nothin', seems to me I'd get up and go
somewheres else."

"Where?" said the beauty languidly.

"Anywhere. Goodness! it makes me feel as if nothin' would ever get
done, to see you sittin' there so."

"It's all done, mother."



"Have you got out the pink china?"


"Is your cake made?"

"Yes, mother; you saw me do it."

"I didn't see you bakin' it, though."

"Well, it is done."

"Did it raise light and puffy?"


"And didn't get burned?"

"Only the least bit, in the corner. No harm."

"Have you cut the cheese and shivered the beef?"

"All done."

"Then I think you had better go and dress yourself."

"There's plenty of time. Nobody can be here for two hours yet."

"I wouldn't sit and do nothin', if I was you."

"Why not, mother? when there is really nothing to do."

"I don't believe in no such minutes, for my part. They never come to
me. Look at what I've done to-day, now. There was first the lighting
the fire and getting breakfast. Then I washed up, and righted the
kitchen and set on the dinner. Then I churned and brought the butter
and worked _that_. Then there was the dairy things. Then I've been in
the garden and picked four quarts of ifs-and-ons for pickles; got 'em
all down in brine, too. Then I made out my bread, and made biscuits for
tea, and got dinner, and eat it, and cleared it away, and boiled a ham."

"Not since dinner, mother?"

"Took it out, and that; and got all my pots and kettles put away; and
picked over all that lot o' berries, I think I'd make preserves of 'em,
Diana; when folks come to sewing meeting for the missionaries they
needn't have all creation to eat, seems to me. They don't sew no better
for it. _I_ believe in fasting, once in a while."

"What for?"

"What for? Why, to keep down people's stomach; take off a slice of
their pride."

"Mother! do you think eating and people's pride have anything to do
with each other?"

"I guess I do! I tell you, fasting is as good as whipping to take down
a child's stomach; let 'em get real thin and empty, and they'll come
down and be as meek as Moses. Folks ain't different from children."

"You never tried that with me, mother," said Diana, half laughing.

"Your father always let you have your own way. I could ha' managed
_you_, I guess; but your father and you was too much at once. Come,
Diana do - get up and go off and get dressed, or something."

But she sat still, letting the soft June air woo her, and the scents of
flower and field hold some subtle communion with her. There was a
certain hidden harmony between her and them; and yet they stirred her
somehow uneasily.

"I wonder," she said after a few minutes' silence, "what a nobleman's
park is like?"

The mother stood still again in the middle of the kitchen.

"A park!"

"Yes. It must be something beautiful; and yet I cannot think how it
could be prettier than this."

"Than what?" said her mother impatiently.

"Just all this. All this country; and the hayfields, and the
cornfields, and the hills."

"A park!" her mother repeated. "I saw a 'park' once, when I was down to
New York; you wouldn't want to see it twice. A homely little mite of a
green yard, with a big white house in the middle of it; and homely
enough _that_ was too. It might do very well for the city folks; but
the land knows I'd be sorry enough to live there. What's putting parks
in your head?"

But the daughter did not answer, and the mother stood still and looked
at her, with perhaps an inscrutable bit of pride and delight behind her
hard features. It never came out.

"Diana, do you calculate to be ready for the sewin' meetin'?"

"Yes, mother."

"Since they must come, we may as well make 'em welcome; and they won't
think it, if you meet 'em in your kitchen dress. Is the new minister
comin', do you s'pose?"

"I don't know if anybody has told him."

"Somebody had ought to. It won't be much of a meetin' without the
minister; and it 'ud give him a good chance to get acquainted. Mr.
Hardenburgh used to like to come."

"The new man doesn't look much like Mr. Hardenburgh."

"It'll be a savin' in biscuits, if he ain't."

"I used to like to see Mr. Hardenburgh eat, mother."

"I hain't no objection - when I don't have the biscuits to make. Diana,
you baked a pan o' them biscuits too brown. Now you must look out, when
you put 'em to warm up, or they'll be more'n crisp."

"Everybody else has them cold, mother."

"They won't at my house. It's just to save trouble; and there ain't a
lazy hair in me, you ought to know by this time."

"But I thought you were for taking down people's pride, and keeping the
sewing society low; and here are hot biscuits and all sorts of thing,"
said Diana, getting up from her seat at last.

"'The cream'll be in the little red pitcher - so mind you don't go and
take the green one. And do be off, child, and fix yourself; for it'll
be a while yet before I'm ready, and there'll be nobody to see folks
when they come."

Diana went off slowly up-stairs to her own room. There were but two,
one on each side of the little landing-place at the head of the stair;
and she and her mother divided the floor between them. Diana's room was
not what one would have expected from the promise of all the rest of
the house. That was simple enough, as the dwelling of a small farmer
would be, and much like the other farm-houses of the region. But
Diana's room, a little one it was, had one side filled with
bookshelves; and on the bookshelves was a dark array of solid and
ponderous volumes. A table under the front window held one or two that
were apparently in present use; the rest of the room displayed the more
usual fittings and surroundings of a maiden's life. Only in their
essentials, however; no luxury was there. The little chest of drawers,
covered with a white cloth, held a brush and comb, and supported a tiny
looking-glass; small paraphernalia of vanity. No essences or perfumes
or powders; no curling sticks or crimping pins; no rats or cats,
cushions or frames, or skeletons of any sort, were there for the help
of the rustic beauty; and neither did she need them. So you would have
said if you had seen her when her toilette was done. The soft outlines
of her figure were neither helped nor hidden by any artificial
contrivances. Her abundant dark hair was in smooth bands and a
luxuriant coil at the back of her head - woman's natural crown; and she
looked nature-crowned when she had finished her work. Just because
nature had done so much for her and she had let nature alone; and
because, furthermore, Diana did not know or at least did not think
about her beauty. When she was in order, and it did not take long, she
placed herself at the table under the window before noticed, and
opening a book that lay ready, forgot I dare say all about the sewing
meeting; till the slow grating of wheels at the gate brought her back
to present realities, and she went down-stairs.

There was a little old green waggon before the house, with an old horse
and two women, one of whom had got down and was tying the horse's head
to the fence.

"Are you afraid he will run away?" said the voice of Diana gaily from
the garden.

"Massy! no; but he might hitch round somewheres, you know, and get
himself into trouble. Thank ye - I am allays thankful and glad when I
get safe out o' this waggin."

So spoke the elder lady, descending with Diana's help and a great deal
of circumlocution from her perch in the vehicle. And then they went
into the bright parlour, where windows and doors stood open, and chairs
had been brought in, ready to accommodate all who might come.

"It's kind o' sultry," said the same lady, wiping her face. "I declare
these ellums o' yourn do cast an elegant shadder. It allays sort o'
hampers me to drive, and I don't feel free till I can let the reins
fall; that's how I come to be so heated. Dear me, you do excel in
notions!" she exclaimed, as Diana presented some glasses of cool water
with raspberry vinegar. "Ain't that wonderful coolin'!"

"Will the minister come to the meeting, Diana?" asked the other woman.

"He'd come, if he knowed he could get anything like this," said the
other, smacking her lips and sipping her glass slowly. And then came in
her hostess.

If Mrs. Starling was hard-favoured, it cannot be denied that she had a
certain style about her. Some ugly people do. Country style, no doubt;
but these things are relative; and in a smart black silk, with sheer
muslin neckerchief and a close-fitting little cap, her natural
self-possession and self-assertion were very well set off. Very
different from Diana's calm grace and simplicity; the mother and
daughter were alike in nothing beyond the fact that each had character.
Perhaps that is a common fact in such a region and neighbourhood; for
many of the ladies who now came thronging in to the meeting looked as
if they might justly lay claim to so much praise. The room filled up;
thimbles and housewives came out of pockets; work was produced from
baskets and bags; and tongues went like mill-clappers. They put the
June afternoon out of countenance. Mrs. Barry, the good lady who had
arrived first, took out her knitting, and in a corner went over to her
neighbour all the incidents of her drive, the weather, the getting out
of the waggon, the elm-tree shadow, and the raspberry vinegar. Mrs.
Carpenter, a well-to-do farmer's wife, gave the details of her dairy
misfortunes and success to _her_ companion on the next seat. Mrs.
Flandin discussed missions. Mrs. Bell told how the family of Mr.
Hardenburgh had got away on their journey to their new place of abode.

"I always liked Mr. Hardenburgh," said Mrs. Carpenter.

"He had a real good wife," remarked Miss Gunn, the storekeeper's
sister, "and that goes a great way. Mrs. Hardenburgh was a right-down
good woman."

"But you was speakin' o' _Mr._ Hardenburgh, the dominie," said Mrs.
Salter. "He was a man as there warn't much harm in, I've allays said.
'Tain't a man's fault if he can't make his sermons interestin', I

"Mr. Hardenburgh preached real good sermons, now, always seemed to me,"
rejoined Mrs. Carpenter. "He meant right; that's what he did."

"That's _so!_" chimed in Mrs. Mansfield, a rich farmer in her own

"There was an owl up in one of our elm-trees one night," began Mrs.

"Du tell! so nigh's that!" said Mrs. Barry from her corner.

" - And I took up Josiah's gun and _meant_ to shoot him; but I didn't."

"He was awful tiresome - there!" exclaimed Mrs. Boddington. "What's the
use of pretendin' he warn't? Nobody couldn't mind what his sermons was
about; I don't believe as he knew himself. Now, a minister had ought to
know what he means, whether any one else does or not, and I like a
minister that makes _me_ know what he means."

"Why, Mrs. Boddington," said Mrs. Flandin, "I didn't know as you cared
anything about religion, one way or another."

"I've got to go to church, Mrs. Flandin; and I'd a little rayther be
kep' awake while I'm there without pinching my fingers. I'd prefer it."

"Why, has anybody _got_ to go to church that doesn't want to go?"
inquired Diana. But that was like a shell let off in the midst of the
sewing circle.

"Hear that, now!" said Mrs. Boddington. "Ain't that a rouser!" Mrs.
Boddington was a sort of a cousin, and liked the fun; she lived in the
one farm-house in sight of Mrs. Starling's.

"She don't mean it," said Mrs. Mansfield.

"Trust Di Starling for meaning whatever she says," returned the other.
"You and I mayn't understand it, but that's all one, you know."

"But what _do_ she mean?" said Mrs. Salter.

"Yes, what's the use o' havin' a church, ef folks ain't goin' to it?"
said Mrs. Carpenter.

"No," said Diana, laughing; "I only asked why any one _must_ go, if he
don't want to? Where's the _must?_"

"When we had good Mr. Hardenburgh, for example," chimed in Mrs.
Boddington, "who was as loggy as he could be; good old soul! and put us
all to sleep, or to wishin' we could. My! hain't I eaten quarts o' dill
in the course o' the summer, trying to keep myself respectably awake
and considerin' o' what was goin' on! Di says, why _must_ any one eat
all that dill that don't want to?"

"Cloves is better," suggested Miss Gunn.

Some laughed at this; others looked portentously grave.

"It's just one o' Di's nonsense speeches," said her mother; "what they
mean I'm sure I don't know. She reads too many books to be just like
other folks."

"But the books were written by other folks, mother."

"La! some sort, child. Not our sort, I guess."

"Hain't Di never learned her catechism?" inquired Mrs. Flandin.

"Is there anything about going to church in it?" asked the girl.

"There's most all sorts o' good things in it," answered vaguely Mrs.
Flandin, who was afraid of committing herself. "I thought Di might ha'
learned there something about such a thing as we call _duty_."

"That's so," said Mrs. Mansfield.

"Just what I am asking about," said Di. "That's the thing. Why _is_ it
duty, to go to church when one don't want to go?"

"Well, I'm sure it was time we had a new minister," said Mrs Salter;
"and I'm glad he's come. If he's no better than old Mr. Hardenburgh,
it'll take us a spell to find it out; and that'll be so much gained. He
don't _look_ like him any way."

"He _is_ different, ain't he?" assented Mrs. Boddington. "If we wanted
a change, we've got it. How did you all like his sermon last Sabbath?"

"He was very quiet - " said Mrs. Flandin.

"I like that," said Diana. "When a man roars at me, I never can tell
what he is saying."

"He seemed to kind o' know his own mind," said Mrs. Salter.

"I thought he'd got an astonishin' knowledge o' things in the town, for
the time he's had," said Mrs. Mansfield.

"I wisht he had a family," remarked Miss Gunn; "that's all I've got
agin him. I think a minister had allays ought to have a family."

"He will, - let him alone a while," said Mrs. Boddington. "Time enough.
Who have we got in town that would do for him?"

The fruitful topic of debate and discussion here started, lasted the
ladies for some time. Talk and business got full under weigh. Scissors
and speeches, clipping and chattering, knitting and the interminable
yarn of small talk. The affairs, sickness and health, of every family
in the neighbourhood, with a large discussion of character and
prospects by the way; going back to former history and antecedents, and
forward to future probable consequences and results. Nuts of society;
sweet confections of conversation; of various and changing flavour;
suiting all palates, and warranted never to cloy. Then there were farm
prospects and doings also, with household matters; very interesting to
the good ladies, who all had life interest in them; and the hours moved
on prosperously. Here a rocking-chair tipped gently back and forward,
in harmony with the quiet business enjoyment of its occupant; and there
a pair of heels, stretched out to the farthest limit of their
corresponding members, with toes squarely elevated in the air,
testified to the restful condition of another individual of the party.
See a pair of toes in the air and the heels as nearly as possible
straight under them, one tucked up on the other, and you may be sure
the person they belong to feels comfortable - physically. And Mrs.
Starling in a corner, in her quiet state and black-silk gown, was as
contented as an old hen that sees all her chickens prosperously
scratching for themselves. And the June afternoon breathed in at the
window and upon all those busy talkers; and nobody knew that it was
June. So things went, until Diana left them to put the finishing
touches of readiness to the tea-table. Her going was noticed by some of
the assembly, and taken as a preparatory note of the coming
entertainment; always sure to be worth having and coming for in Mrs.
Starling's house. Needles and tongues took a fresh stir.

"Mis' Starling, are we goin' to hev' the minister?" somebody asked.

"I don't know as anybody has told him, Mis' Mansfield."

"Won't seem like a meetin', ef we don't hev' him."

"He's gone down to Elmfield," said Miss Gunn. "He went down along in
the forenoon some time. Gone to see his cousin, I s'pose."

"They've got their young soldier home to Elmfield," said Miss Barry. "I
s'pect they're dreadful sot up about it."

"They don't want _that_," said Mrs. Boddington. "The Knowltons always
did carry their heads pretty well up, in the best o' times; and now
Evan's got home, I s'pose there'll be no holding 'em in. There ain't, I
guess, by the looks."

"What'll he do now? stay to hum and help his gran'ther?"

"La! no. He's home just for a visit. He's got through his education at
the Military Academy, and now he's an officer; out in the world; but
he'll have to go somewhere and do his work."

"I wonder what work they do hev' to do?" said Mrs. Salter; "there ain't
nobody to fight now, is there?"

"Fight the Injuns," said Mrs. Boddington; "or the Mexicans; or the

Online LibrarySusan WarnerDiana [a novel] → online text (page 1 of 30)