George Streynsham Master.

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ford, ye haint said nothin' tew me about
the farm, so I thought I'd come 'roun' an'
find out what yer plans is."

" I haven't made any," said Thirza, as he
paused.

" Oh — ^ye haint ? Well, ye know I've been
a-workin' on't on shares fur yer aunt Abi-
gail, goin' on five year, an' I'm ready ter

dew the same fiir you ; that is " and

here Mr. Stebbins hitched a little nearer,
while a smile, which displayed not only all
his teeth, but no little gum as well, spread
itself over his bucolic features, "that is, if
we can't make no other arrangements more
pleasin'."

There was no mistaking his intentions

now ; they spoke from every feature of his

shrewdly smiling countenance, from his

*a«^ed knees and elbows, and from the



uneasy hands and feet which seemed strug-
gling to detach themselves from their lank
continuations and abscond then and there.

Thirza looked her wooer calmly in the
face. Her imperturbability embarrassed but
did not dishearten him.

"Thar aint no use in foolin' round the
stump ! " he continued. " I might jest as
well come out with it, plain an' squar ! I'na
ready an' willin' to take the hull farm oflf
yer hands if you're agreeable. You jest
marry me, Thirzy, an' that settles the hull
question slick as a whistle 1 " and Mr. Steb-
bins settled back in his chair with a look as
if he had just elucidated a long-mooted
problem in social science.

Thirza rose: there was a litde red spot
on each cheek, and an unwonted sparkle in
her soft eyes; but her manner was otherwise
unruffled as she answered :

" You are really very kind, Mr. Stebbins,
but I think I shaU find some other way out
of the dilemma. I couldn't think of troub-
ling j'lw."

"Oh " he stammered, "taint — ^no

trouble— at all ! "

But Thirza was gone.

For a moment the Adonis of Jones' Hill
doubted his identity. He stared blankly at
the open door awhile, and then his eyes
wandered vacantly over the carpet and wall,
finally coming to rest upon the toes of his
substantial boots. He sat for some time
thus, repeating Thirza's words as nearly
as he could recall them, endeavoring to
extract the pith of meaning from the sur-
rounding fibers of polite language. Had
she actually refused him ? Mr. Stebbins,
by a long and circuitous mental process,
arrived at length at the conclusion that she
had, and accordingly rose, walked out of
the front door and down the narrow path,
in a state of mind best known to rejected
suitors. As he closed the gate he cast one
sheepish look toward the house.

" I'll be darned I " he muttered, " I'U be
darned if I haint got the mitten!" and,
discomfited and sore, he disappeared in the
evening shadows.

Jane was watching his departure from
behind the curtain of the sitting-room win-
dow. In all probability her gentle bosom
had never been the scene of such a struggle
as was now going on beneath the chaste
folds of her striped calico gown. She could
not doubt the object of Mr. Stebbins's visit,
nor its obvious result. Astonishment, in-
credulity, curiosity, in turn possessed her.

" Wall I " she soliloquized, as the curtain



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THIRZA.



429









fell from her trembling fingers, "the way
some folks fly in the face of Providence do
beat the master ! "

Thirza, too, had observed her suitor as
he strode away, with an expression of scorn
upon her face which finally gave way to one
of amusement, ending in a laugh — a curious
hysterical laugh. A moment later she had
thrown herself upon the bed, and Jane,
who in a state of curiosity bordering on
asphyxia, came up to the door soon after,
heard a sound of sobbing, and considerately
went away.

Thirza had her cry out; every woman
knows what that means, and knows, too,
the mingled sense of relief and exhaustion
which follows. It was fully an hour later
when she arose and groped her way down
into the sitting-room where Jane sat knitting
zealously by the light of a small lamp.
That person's intemsd struggles commenced
afi-esh, and a feeling of indignation quite
comprehensible burnt in her much-vexed
bosom as Thirza, after lighting another lamp,
bade her " good-night," and went out of the
room, leaving her cravings for fuller mfor-
mation unassuaged.

Once more in her room, Thirza seated
herself before the glass and began to loosen
the heavy dark braids of her hair. Upon
the bureau lay an open letter, and leaving
the soft tresses half undone, she took it up
and re-read it. When she had finished she
let it fall upon her lap and fell to thinking.
The letter was from her cousin Sue, and
bore a foreign post-mark, and from thinking
over its contents Thirza fell into reflections
upon the diversity of human fate, particu-
larly her own and Sue's. They had com-
menced life under very similar circum-
stances. Both had been bom about the
same time, and in the town of Millbum.
Both were " only " children, the fathers of
both were mechanics of the better class, and
the girls were closely associated up to their
fourteenth year, as play-fellows and school-
mates. Sue was an ordinary sort of a girl,
with a rather pretty blonde face; Thirza,
a bright, original creature, with a mobile,
dark face, which almost every one turned to
take a second look at; a girl who, with
a book, almost any book, became oblivious
of all else. Her father was a man of more
than ordinary intelligence, of a dreamy,
speculative turn of mind, and subject to
periods of intense depression. When she
was about fourteen years old, Thirza went
^ one evening to the bam to call her father
to supper. Receiving no answer to her



call, she entered, and there, in a dim comer,
she saw something suspended fi-om a beam,
— something she could never efface from her
memory. A shaft of sunlight full of dancing
motes fell athwart the distorted face, whose
smile she must now forever miss, and across
the rigid hands which would never again
stroke her hair in the old fond, proud way.
In that moment the child became a woman.
She went to the nearest neighbor, and with-
out scream or sob told what she had seen —
then she went to her mother. Soon after, the
yoimg girl whose school-life was thus early
ended took her place at a loom in one of the
great cotton-mills, and there she remained
for more than ten years, the sole support
and comfort of her weak, complaining
mother, who from the dreadful day that
made her a widow, sank into hopeless in-
vaHdism. One year previously to the com-
mencement of thi^ story she had been laid
to rest. In the meantime Sue had grown up,
and married a " smart fellow," who after a
few years of successftil business life in New
York, had been sent by some great firm to
take charge of a branch estabhshment in
Paris.

Thirza was thinking of these things now,
as she sat with Sue's gossipy letter on her
lap — thinking of them wearily, and even
with some bittemess. It seemed to her
hard and strange that Sue should have
everything, and she only her lonely, toil-
some life, and her dreams. These indeed
remained ; no one could forbid them to her
— no amount of toil and constant contact
with sordid natures could despoil her of
her one priceless treasure, the power to live,
in imagination, brief but exquisite phases
of existence which no one aroimd her ever
suspected. Ah, books! They fumished
an innocent hasheesh, which transported
her out of the stale atmosphere of her
boarding-house into realms of ever new
delight.

But to-night she could not dream. The
interview with Mr. Stebbins had been a
mde shock, a bitter humiliation to her.
She had held herself so proudly aloof from
the men of her acquaintance that none had
ever before ventured to cross the fine line
of reserve she had drawn about her; and
now, this uncouth, mercenary clown had
dared pull down the barrier, and trample
under foot the delicate flowers of sentiment
she had cherished with such secrecy and
care. Her first wooer ! Not thus, in the idle
dreams which come to every maiden's heart,
had Thirza pictured him. That other rose



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THIRZA,



before her now, and strangely enough, it
took on the semblance, as it often had of
late, of one she had almost daily seen — a
handsome face, a true and good one, too ;
and yet the hot blood surged into her
cheeks, and she tried to banish the image
from her mind. It would not go at her
bidding, however, and, as if to hide fix)m
her own eyes in the darkness, Thirza arose
and put out the light.

There was no time for dreaming after
this, for the question of her inheritance must
be setded. So, after a day or two of re-
flection, Thirza drove into town and held a
long consultation with Squire Brooks, the
result of which was that the farm was an-
nounced for sale. It was not long before
a purchaser appeared, and in due course
of time Thirza found herself, for the first time
in her life, in possession of a bank-book !

She retiuned to her place in the mill, not-
withstanding, and was secredy edified in
observing the effect which her re-appearance
produced upon the operatives. The women
watched her askance, curiously and en-
viously, indulging in furtive remarks upon
her unchanged appearance. As an heiress
something had evidently been expected of
her in the way of increased elegance in
dress, and its non-appearance excited com-
ment. On the part of the men there was a
slight increase of respect in their mode of
salutation, and in one or two instances, an
endeavor to cultivate a nearer acquaintance,
an endeavor, it is needless to say, without
success.

But if there was no outer change in
Thirza, there was an inner change going on,
which became at length a feverish restiess-
ness, which disturbed her night and day.
She found herself continually taking down
firom her shelves certain fascinating books,
treating of foreign scenes and people ; read-
ing and re-reading them, and laying them
aside with strange reluctance. Then she fell
into a habit of taking her Httle bank-book,
and figuring assiduously upon the covers.
Three thousand dollars ! Enough, she bit-
terly reflected, to keep her from the alms-
house when her hands became too feeble to
tend the loom, but a paltry sum, after all 1
Many persons, even in Millbum, spent far
more than that yearly.

All at once a thought flashed upon her, a
thought which took away her breath and
set her brain to whirling. And yet it was
not an absolutely new thought. It had
haunted her under various disguises from
the moment when Jane Withers, by a few



words, had transmuted the barren pastttres
and piney woods of her fiuin into actual
dollars ; and now, after hovering about all
this time, it had found a moment, — when
some fascinating book had thrown her oflf
her guard, — to spring upon and overpower
her. For a moment she was stunned and
overwhelmed — then she calmly dosed the
little bank-book, and said : " 1 will do it 1 "

In one week the whole town knew that
Thirza Bradford was going to travel, and all
former discussions of her affairs sank into
nothing in comparison with the importance
they now assumed. Among her immediate
acquaintances there was considerable excite-
ment, and their opinions were freely, if not
elegandy, expressed. The men, almost
without exception, pronounced her " a
fool," as did the elder women, whose illu-
sions, if they had ever entertained any, had
long since been dispelled. But among the
younger women there was a more or less re-
pressed feeUng of sympathy, amounting to
envy. Poor giris ! they, too, no doubt, in-
dulged in secret longings which their pro-
saic work-a-day world failed to satisfy ; and
doubtless those who had themselves " aunt
Abigails," or any other " expectations " of a
like nature, were led into wild and wicked
speculations upon the tenure of human life,
for which, it is to be hoped, Thirza will not
be held accountable.

It is the fashion of the day to ascribe our
more objectionable peculianties and predi-
lections to " hereditaiy taint," and there is
something so comforting and satisfactory in
this theory, that it has attracted many adher-
ents not otherwise of a scientific tiun of
mind. Millbum was not scientific ; but even
Millbum fell into the same way of theoriz-
ing.

"Bill Bradford," said public opinion,
"was an oneasy sort of a chap, — a half
crazy, extravagant critter, — and Thirzy is a
chip o* the old block."

When the news reached Jones' Hill,
— which it shortly did by the never-faihng
means of Jane Withers, who was accommo-
datingly helping Orthaniel's mother through
a course of " soap-bilin'," — the comments
were severe. Orthaniel received the tidings
as he was about starting for the cow-yard,
with a milk-pail in each hand. He listened,
with fallen jaw, unto the bitter end. Then,
giving his blue overalls an expressive hitch,
he remarked ungallandy :

" That gal haint got no more sense 'n a
yaller dog I " — and he, at least, may be par-
doned for so thinking.



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As for Thirza, her decision once made,
she troubled herself little about the *< speech
of people." From the moment when she
had dosed her little bank-book with the
words " I will do it," she became, not an-
other woman, but her real self. She went
serenely about her simple preparations for
her departure in a state of quiet exultation
which lent a new charm to her dark face and
a new grace to her step.

Squire Brooks arranged her money afi&irs
for her, — ^not without remonstrance, how-
ever. It seemed to the close-fisted, elderly
man a wild and wanton thing to do ; but
there was something in the half-repressed
endiusiasm of the girl which caused the
wise, prudential words to die upon his lips.
When she left his office, on the evening before
her departure, he watched the light-stepping
figure out of sight, and then walked up to
the dingy office mirror and surveyed his
wrinkled visage on all sides. Carefiilly
brushing up the sparse gray locks which had
been ordered to the firont, as it were, to fill
the gaps created by Time's onslaughts, he
shook his head deprecatingly, and with a
sigh walked away from the glass, humming
softly " Mary of Argyle."

As Thirza, absorbed in thought, turned
into the long, shaded street which led down
to her boarding-house, she was starded out
of her reverie by the sound of her own
name, pronounced in a fiiendly tone. Look-
ing up, she saw a gentleman approaching.
Her heart gave a (juick leap as she recog-
nized Warren Madison, son of the richest
manufacturer of Millbum. He was no recent
acquaintance. In their school days, when
social distinctions weighed but little, there
had been a childish intimacy and fond*
ness between them. Time and separation,
and the wide difference in their position, —
which she, at least, felt most keenly^ — had
estranged them. Since the young man's
return, after years of study and travel, to
become his father's partner, she had met him
very often, both in the mill and outside of
it, and he had constantly shown a disposi-
tion to renew their former friendship. But
poor, proud Thirza had rejected all his ad-
vances. Even now, although her cheeks
tingled and her hands trembled nervously,
she would have passed him with a simple
nod; but somehow, before she realized it,
young Madison had secured her hand and
a smile, too ; and, to her surprise, she found
herself walking by his side, talking with
something of the &miliarity of the old
school days.



*^I have been absent for some time, and
only heard to-day that you are going away,"
he said.

" Yes," responded Thirza. " I am going
away — to Europe."

" To seek your fortune ? " said he, with a
smile.

" No— to spend it," said Thirza, in the
same manner. *' I suppose that you, like
Parson Sm3rthers and the rest of Millbum,
consider it an * ex/lry-<;nlinary proceeding,' "
— ^this with a fair imitation of the reverend
gentleman's peculiar drawl.

Madison smiled.

" Don't count me among your judges, I
beg of you, Thirza," he responded, more
gravely. " Perhaps I understand you better
than you think."

She glanced quickly up into his face, —
a handsome face, fiank and noble in its
expression.

"Understand me?" she repeated; "I
don't think any one understanck me. Not
that they are to blame — I am hardly worth
the trouble, I suppose. I know," she con-
tinued, moved by an impulse to unburden
her heart to some one, " I know that people
are discussing and condemning me, and it
does not trouble me at all to know it ; but I
don't mind saying this much to yau^ She
caught the last two words back between her
lips, but not before they had reached the
young man's ears. He glanced quickly into
her downcast face, with a look full of eager
questioning; but this Thirza did not see, for
she had turned her eyes away in confusion.
" You know what my life has been," she
went on impetuously. " I have never had
any youth. Ever since I was a child, I
have toiled to keep body and soul together.
I have succeeded in feeding the one ; but
the other has starved. I have weighed
everything in the balance. I am all alone
in the world — all I had to live for is— up
there." She pointed over her shoulder
toward the old burying-ground. " I may be
foolish,— even selfish and wicked, — ^but I
can't help it 1 I am going to leave every-
thing behind me, all the work and all the
worry, and give myself a holiday. For one
whole year I am going to live — really live /
After that, I can bear the old life better —
perhaps!"

The girl was almost beautiful as she spoke,
with the soft fire in her eyes and her cheeks
aglow. Her voice was sweet and full, and
vibrated like a harp-string. The young
man beside her did not look at her. He
walked steadfly forward, gazing straight



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THIRZA,



down into the dusty road, and striking out
almost savagely with his cane at the in-
nocent heads of the white clover which
crowded up to the road-side.

" I think I know how you feel," he said,
after a while. " Why, do you know, I have
often had such thoughts myself. Better one
year of real life, as you say, than a century
of routine, such as mine is now 1 "

By this time they had reached the door
of Thirza's boarding-house. There were
faces at almost every window of the much-
windowed establishment, to say nothing of
those of the neighboring houses ; but neither
Thirza nor her companion was aware of
this.

They stood on the steps a moment in
silence ; then he held out his hand. As she
placed her own within it, she felt it tremble.
Their eyes met, too, with a swift recogni-
tion, and a sharp, sweet pain went through
her heart. She forced herself to turn her
eyes away, and to say quietiy : ^

" Good-evening and good-bye, Mr. Mad-
ison."

The young man dropped her hand and
drew a quick breath.

" Good-bye, Thirza," he said ; " may you
find it all that you anticipate. Good-bye."

And the score or more pairs of inquisitive
eyes at the surrounding windows saw young
Mr. Madison walk calmly away, and Miss
Bradford, with equal calmness, enter her
boarding-house.

The next morning Thirza went away, and,
the nine days' wonder being over, she was
dropped almost as completely out of the
thoughts and conversation of the people of
Millbum as if she had never existed.

We will not accompany her on her travels.
There was a time when we might have done
so ; but alas, for the story- writer of to-day 1
Picture-galleries, palaces, and chilets, noble,
peasant, and brigand, gond61as, volcanoes,
and glaciers, — all are as common and famil-
iar to the reader of the period as bonbons.
It is enough to say that Thirza wandered
now in reality, as she had so often in fancy,
through the storied scenes which had so
charmed her imagination ; often doubting if
it were indeed herself, or if what she saw
were not the baseless fabric of a vision,
which the clanging of the factory bell might
demolish at any moment

Sue's astonishment when Thirza, after two
months in England and Scotland, walked
one day into her apartment in Paris, quite
unannounced, can be imagined. She won-
dered and conjectured, but, as her unex-



pected guest was neither awkward nor badly
dressed, accepted the situation gracefully,
and ended by really enjoying it. After
delightful Paris days, came Italy, Germany
and Switzerland, and then more of Paris,
and at last came a time when inexorable
figures showed Thirza plainly that she must
think of returning to America.

"Thirza," protested Sue, "you really
mustn't go."

For answer Thirza held up to view a
travel-stained porte-monnaie.

" Perhaps we can arrange it somehow,"
persisted her cousin, vaguely. " You might
take a situation as governess, you know;"
these words were uttered doubtfiily, and with
a deprecating glance at the face opposite.

" Thank you I " responded Thirza, " I
don't feel a call in that direction. I think,
on the whole, I'd prefer weaving cotton."

" You'll find it unendurable ! " groaned
Sue.

" Well, que vouUz vousf' responded her
cousin, lightly; a quick ear would have
noted theshght tremor in her voice. " I have
had a glorious holiday."

" But the going back will be simply
dreadful," persisted Sue. " I wish I were
rich — then you shouldn't go ! "

" I hardly think that would make any
difference, my dear cousin. I don't think
I am eminently fitted to become a parasite,"
laughed Thirza.

" Do you know what you are eminently
fitted for ? " cried Sue, energetically.

" Sue I " cried Thirza, wamingly.

" I don't care," Sue continued daringly;
" you are so set on going back to America
that I half suspect "

" Don't, Sue, please!" interrupted Thirza,
with such evident signs of genuine dis-
pleasure, that Sue, who stood somewhat in
awe of her cousin, ceased to banter, men-
tally vowing that she was " the queerest girl
she had ever met with,"

Thirza arose and went out into the flower-
adorned balcony. She sought distraction,
but somehow the surging, chattering crowd
in the street below, the brilliant illumination,
the far-off strains of music, did not bring
her what she sought.

" If only Sue wouldn't 1 " she reflected,
and then, between her and the sea of
heads, and the lights and the flowers rose
a face — the face that had troubled her
meditations on Jones' Hill, that had fol-
lowed her in all her wanderings, the noble
face, with its blue eyes bent upon her so
earnestly, so eloquently. Had she read



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THIRZA.



433



aright, even if too late, the meaning of those
eyes as they met hers at parting ? The
same sweet, sharp pain that was not all
pain, shot through her heart, and a con-
sciousness of something blindly missed,
something perversely thrown away, came
over her. Sighing, she arose, and in re-
sponse to Sue's call, went in and dressed
for a gay party, in which, in her present
mood, she felt neither pleasure nor interest
**• If people here knew what a pitiful fraud
I am — what a despicable part I am acting!"
she said to herself, as, well-dressed and
handsome, she entered the brilliant salon.

It was all over in a few days, and Thirza
was sailing homeward as fast as wind and
wave and steam could carry her. The
year that had passed had brought little out-
ward change in the girl. She looked fairer
and fresher, perhaps, and certain little rus-
ticides of dress and speech and manner
had disappeared — worn off, as had the
marks of toil from the palms of her slender
hands. But to all intents and purposes,
the tall figure in its close-fitting brown suit,
which during the homeward voyage sat for
the most part in the vessel's stem, gazing
back over the foaming path, was the same
which had watched a year before with equal
steadiness from the steamer's bow. The
very same, and yet — ^the girl often wondered
if she were indeed the same, and lost her-
self in speculations as to how the old life in
Millburn would seem to her now. Sie re-
called with inflexible accuracy the details
of her existence there, and tried to look
her future undauntedly in the face. But all
her philosophy failed her when in imagina-
tion she found herself upon the threshold
of the old mill. There, indeed, she faltered
weakly, and turned back.

When at last, one evening in June, she
stepped out of the train at the litde station
of Millburn, a crowd of bitter thoughts came
rushing upon her, as if they had been lying
in wait there to welcome her. She had in-
formed no one of her coming, and it was
not strange that no friendly face greeted
her, and yet, as she pursued her way alone



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