Copyright
Helen Hunt Jackson.

Between Whiles online

. (page 5 of 13)
Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonBetween Whiles → online text (page 5 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


suitable to his father's name than to have relegated her, as he had
done, to her original and lower social station.

Jeanne's behavior towards him was very judicious. Affection is the best
teacher of tact in many an emergency in life; we see it every day among
ignorant and untaught people.

Jeanne knew, or felt without knowing, that the less she appeared to be
conscious of anything unusual or unpleasant in this resumption of
familiar relations on the surface, between herself and Willan, the more
free his mind would be to occupy itself with Victorine; and she acted
accordingly. She never obtruded herself on his attention; she never
betrayed any antagonism toward him, or any recollection of the former
and different footing on which they had lived. A stranger sitting at the
table would not have dreamed, from anything in her manner to him, that
she had ever occupied any other position than that of the landlord's
daughter and landlady of the inn.

A clear-sighted observer looking on at affairs in the Golden Pear for
the next three days would have seen that all the energies of both Victor
and Jeanne were bent to one end, - namely, leaving the coast clear for
Willan Blaycke to fall in love with Victorine. But all that Willan
thought was that Victor and his daughter were far quieter and modester
people than he had supposed, and seemed disposed to keep themselves to
themselves in a most proper fashion. It never crossed his mind that
there was anything odd in his finding Victorine so often and so long
alone in the living-room; in the uniform disappearance of both Victor
and Jeanne at an early hour in the evening. Willan was too much in love
to wonder at or disapprove of anything which gave him an opportunity of
talking with Victorine, or, still better, of looking at her.

What he liked best was silently to watch her as she moved about, doing
her light duties in her own graceful way. He was not a voluble lover; he
was still too much bewildered at his own condition. Moreover, he had not
yet shaken himself free from the tormenting disapproval of his
conscience; he lost sight of that very fast, however, as the days sped
on. Victorine played her cards most admirably. She did not betray even
by a look that she understood that he loved her; she showed towards him
an open and honest admiration, and an eager interest in all that he said
or did, - an almost affectionate good-will, too, in serving his every
want, and trying to make the time of his detention pass pleasantly to
him.

"It must be a sore trial, sir, for thee to be kept in a poor place like
this so many days. Benoit says that he thinks not thy horse can go
safely for yet some days," she said to Willan one morning. "Would it
amuse thee to ride over to Pierre Gaspard's mill to-day? If thou couldst
abide the gait of my grandfather's nag, I might go on my pony, and show
thee the way. The river is high now, and it is a fair sight to see the
white blossoms along the banks."

Cunning Victorine! She had all sorts of motives in this proposition. She
thought it would be well to show Willan Blaycke to Pierre. "He may
discover that there are other men beside himself in the world," she
mused; and, "It would please me much to go riding up to the door for
Annette to see with the same brave rider she did so admire;" and, "There
are many ways to bring a man near one in riding through the woods." All
these and many more similar musings lay hid behind the innocent look she
lifted to Willan's face as she suggested the ride.

It was only the third morning of Willan's stay at the inn; but the time
had been put to very good use. Already it had become natural to him to
come and go with Victorine, - to stay where she was, to seek her if she
were missing. Already he had learned the way up the outside staircase to
the platform where she kept her flowers and sometimes sat. He was living
in a dream, - going the way of all men, head-long, blindfold, into a life
of which he knew and could know nothing.

"Indeed, and that is what I should like best of all things," he replied
to Victorine. "Will thy aunt let thee go?"

"Why not?" asked Victorine, opening her eyes wide in astonishment. "I
ride all over the parish on my pony alone."

"Stupid of me!" ejaculated Willan, inwardly: "as if these people could
know any scruples about etiquette!"

"These people," as Willan contemptuously called them, stood at the door
of the inn, and watched him riding away with Victorine with hardly
disguised exultation. Not till the riders were fairly out of sight did
Victor venture to turn his face toward Jeanne's. Then, bursting into a
loud laugh, he clapped Jeanne on the shoulder, and said: "We'll see thee
grandmother of thy husband's grandchildren yet, Jeanne. Ha! ha!"

Jeanne flushed. She was not without a sense of shame. Her love for
Victorine made her sensitive to the stain on her birth.

"Thinkest thou it could ever be known?" she asked anxiously.

"Never," replied her father, - "never; 'tis as safe as if we were all
dead. And for that, the living are safer than the dead, if there be
tight enough lock on their mouths."

"He doth seem to be as much in love as one need," said Jeanne.

"Ay," said Victor, "more than ever his father was with thee."

"Canst thou not let that alone?" said Jeanne, angrily. "Surely it is
long enough gone by, and small profit came of it."

"Not so, not so, daughter," replied Victor, soothingly; "if we can but
set the girl in thy shoes, thou didst not wear thine for nought, even
though they pinched thee for a time."

"That they did," retorted Jeanne; "it gives me a cramp now but to
remember them."

Willan and Victorine galloped merrily along the river road. The woods
were sweet with spring fragrances; great thickets of dogwood trees were
white with flowers; mossy hillocks along the roadside were pink with the
dainty bells of the Linnaea. The road was little more than a woodman's
path, and curved now right, now left, in seeming caprice; now forded a
stream, now came out into a cleared field, again plunged back into dense
groves of larch and pine.

"Never knew I that the woods were so beautiful thus early in the year,"
said the honest Willan.

"Nor I, till to-day," said the artful Victorine, who knew well enough
what Willan did not know himself.

"Dost thou ride here alone?" asked Willan. "It is a wild place for thee
to be alone."

"If I came not alone, I could not come at all," replied Victorine,
sorrowfully. "My grandfather is too busy, and my aunt likes not to ride
except she must, on a market day or to go to church. No one but thou
hast ever walked or ridden with me," she added in a low voice, sighing;
"and now after two days or three thou wilt be gone."

Willan sighed also, but did not speak. The words, "I will always ride by
thy side, Victorine," were on his lips, but he felt himself still
withheld from speaking them.

The visit at the mill was unsatisfactory. The elder Gaspard was away,
and young Pierre was curt and surly. The sight of Victorine riding
familiarly, and with an evident joyous pride, by the side of one of the
richest men in the country, and a young man at that, - and a young man,
moreover, who looked and behaved as if he were in love with his
companion, - how could the poor miller be expected to be cordial and
unconstrained with such a sight before his eyes! Annette also was more
overawed even than Victorine had desired she should be by the sight of
the handsome stranger, - so overawed, and withal perhaps a little
curious, that she was dumb and awkward; and as for _Mère_ Gaspard, she
never under any circumstances had a word to say. So the visit was very
stupid, and everybody felt ill at ease, - especially Willan, who had lost
his temper in the beginning at a speech of Pierre's to Victorine, which
seemed to his jealous sense too familiar.

"I thought thou never wouldst take leave," he said ill-naturedly to
Victorine, as they rode away.

Victorine turned towards him with an admirably counterfeited expression
of surprise. "Oh, sir," she said, "I did think I ought to wait for thee
to take leave. I was dying with the desire I had to be back in the woods
again; and only when I could not bear it any longer, did I bethink me to
say that my aunt expected us back to dinner."

Long they lingered on the river-banks on their way home. Even the
plotting brain of Victorine was not insensible to the charm of the sky,
the air, the budding foliage, and the myriads of blossoms. "Oh, sir,"
she said, "I think there never was such a day as this before!"

"I know there never was," replied Willan, looking at her with an
expression which was key to his words. But the daughter of Jeanne Dubois
was not to be wooed by any vague sentimentalisms. There was one sentence
which she was intently waiting to hear Willan Blaycke speak. Anything
short of that Mademoiselle Victorine was too innocent to comprehend.

"Sweet child!" thought Willan to himself, "she doth not know the speech
of lovers. I mistrust that if I wooed her outright, she would be
afraid."

It was long past noon when they reached the Golden Pear. Dinner had
waited till the hungry Victor and Jeanne could wait no longer; but a
very pretty and dainty little repast was ready for Willan and Victorine.
As she sat opposite him at the table, so bright and beaming, her whole
face full of pleasure, Willan leaned both his arms on the table and
looked at her in silence for some minutes.

"Victorine!" he said. Victorine started. She was honestly very hungry,
and had been so absorbed in eating her dinner she had not noticed
Willan's look. She dropped her knife and sprang up.

"What is it, sir?" she said; "what shall I fetch?" Her instantaneous
resumption of the serving-maid's relation to him jarred on Willan at
that second indescribably, and shut down like a floodgate on the words
he was about to speak.

"Nothing, nothing," said he. "I was only going to say that thou must
sleep this afternoon; thou art tired."

"Nay, I am not tired," said Victorine, petulantly. "What is a matter of
six leagues of a morning? I could ride it again between this and sunset,
and not be tired."

But she was tired, and she did sleep, though she had not meant to do so
when she threw herself on her bed, a little later; she had meant only to
rest herself for a few minutes, and then in a fresh toilette return to
Willan. But she slept on and on until after sunset, and Willan wandered
aimlessly about, wondering what had become of her. Jeanne saw him, but
forebore to take any note of his uneasiness. She had looked in upon
Victorine in her slumber, and was well content that it should be so.

"The girl will awake refreshed and rosy," thought Jeanne; "and it will
do no harm, but rather good, if he have missed her sorely all the
afternoon."

Supper was over, and the evening work all done when Victorine waked. It
was dusk. Rubbing her eyes, she sprang up and went to the window. Jeanne
heard her steps, and coming to the foot of the stairs called: "Thou
need'st not to come down; all is done. What shall I bring thee to eat?"

"Why didst thou not waken me?" replied Victorine, petulantly; "I meant
not to sleep."

"I thought the sleep was better," replied her aunt. "Thou didst look
tired, and it suits no woman's looks to be tired."

Victorine was silent. She saw Willan walking up and down under the
pear-tree. She leaned out of her window and moved one of the
flower-pots. Willan looked up; in a second more he had bounded up the
staircase, and eagerly said: "Art thou there? Wilt thou never come
down?"

Victorine was uncertain in her own mind what was the best thing to do
next; so she replied evasively: "Thou wert right, after all. I did not
feel myself tired, but I have slept until now."

"Then thou art surely rested. Canst thou not come and walk with me in
the pear orchard?" said Willan.

"I fear me I may not do that after nightfall," replied Victorine. "My
aunt would be angry."

"She need not know," replied the eager Willan. "Thou canst come down by
this stairway, and it is already near dark."

Victorine laughed a little low laugh. This pleased her. "Yes," she said,
"I have often come down by, that post from my window; but truly, I fear
I ought not to do it for thee. What should I say to my aunt if she
missed me?"

"Oh, she thinks thee asleep," said Willan. "She told me at supper that
she would not waken thee."

All of which Mistress Jeanne heard distinctly, standing midway on the
wide staircase, with Victorine's supper of bread and milk in her hand.
She had like to have spilled the whole bowlful of milk for laughing. But
she stood still, holding her breath lest Victorine should hear her, till
the conversation ceased, and she heard Victorine moving about in her
room again. Then she went in, and kissing Victorine, said: "Eat thy
supper now, and go to bed; it is late. Good-night. I'll wake thee early
enough in the morning to pay for not having called thee this afternoon.
Good-night."

Then Jeanne went down to her own room, blew out her candle, and seated
herself at the window to hear what would happen.

"My aunt's candle is out; she hath gone to bed," whispered Victorine, as
holding Willan's hand she stole softly down the outer stair. "I do doubt
much that I am doing wrong."

"Nay, nay," whispered Willan. "Thou sweet one, what wrong can there be
in thy walking a little time with me? Thy aunt did let thee ride with me
all the day." And he tenderly guided Victorine's steps down the steep
stairs.

"Pretty well! pretty well!" laughed Mistress Jeanne behind her casement;
and as soon as the sound of Willan's and Victorine's steps had died
away, she ran downstairs to tell Victor what had happened. Victor was
not so pleased as Jeanne; he did not share her confidence in Victorine's
character.

"Sacre!" he said; "what wert thou thinking of? Dost want another niece
to be fetched up in a convent? Thou mayst thank thyself for it, if thou
art grandmother to one. I trust no man out of sight, and no girl. The
man's in love with the girl, that is plain; but he means no marrying."

"That thou dost not know," retorted Jeanne. "I tell thee he is an
honorable, high-minded man, and as pure as if he were but just now
weaned. I know him, and thou dost not. He will marry her, or he will
leave her alone."

"We shall see," muttered the coarse old man as he walked away, - "we
shall see. Like mother, like child. I trust them not." And in a thorough
ill-humor Victor betook himself to the courtyard. What he heard there
did not reassure him. Old Benoit had seen Willan and Victorine going
down through the poplar copse toward the pear orchard. "And may the
saints forsake me," said Benoit, "if I do not think he had his arm
around her waist and her head on his shoulder. Think'st thou he will
marry her?"

"Nay," growled Victor; "he's no fool. That Jeanne hath set her heart on
it, and thinketh it will come about; but not so I."

"He seems of a rare fine-breeding and honorable speech," said Benoit.

"Ay, ay," replied Victor, "words are quick said, and fine manners come
easy to some; but a man looks where he weds."

"His father did not have chance for much looking," sneered Benoit.

"This is another breed, even if his father begot him," replied Victor.
"He goeth no such way as that." And thoroughly disquieted, Victor
returned to the house to report to Jeanne what Benoit had seen. She was
still undisturbed.

"Thou wilt see," was her only reply; and the two sat down together in
the porch to await the lovers' return. Hour after hour passed; even
Jeanne began to grow alarmed. It was long after midnight.

"I fear some accident hath befallen them," she said at last. "Would it
be well, thinkest thou, to go in search of them?"

"Not a step!" cried Victor. "He took her away, and he must needs bring
her back. We await them here. He shall see whether he may tamper with
the granddaughter of Victor Dubois."

"Hush, father!" said Jeanne, "here they come."

Walking very slowly, arm in arm, came Willan and Victorine. They had
evidently no purpose of entering the house clandestinely, but were
approaching the front door.

"Hoity, toity!" muttered Victor; "he thinks he can lord it over us,
surely."

"Be quiet, father!" entreated Jeanne. Her quick eye saw something new in
the bearing of both Willan and Victorine. But Victor was not to be
quieted. With an angry oath, he sprung forward from the porch, and began
to upbraid Willan in no measured tones.

Willan lifted his right hand authoritatively. "Wait!" he said. "Do not
say what thou wilt repent, Victor Dubois. Thy granddaughter hath
promised to be my wife."

So the new generation avenged the old; and Willan Blaycke, in the prime
of his cultured and fastidious manhood, fell victim to a spell less
coarsely woven but no less demoralizing than that which had imbittered
the last years of his father's life.

[Footnote: Note. - "The Inn of the Golden Pear" includes three chapters
of a longer story entitled "Elspeth Pynevor," - a story of such
remarkable vigor and promise, and planned on such noble and powerful
lines as to deepen regret that its author's death left it but half
finished. A single sentence has been added by another hand to round the
episode of Willan Blaycke's infatuation to conclusion.]




The Mystery of Wilhelm Rütter.



It was long past dusk of an August evening. Farmer Weitbreck stood
leaning on the big gate of his barnyard, looking first up and then down
the road. He was chewing a straw, and his face wore an expression of
deep perplexity. These were troublous times in Lancaster County. Never
before had the farmers been so put to it for farm service; harvest-time
had come, and instead of the stream of laborers seeking employment,
which usually at this season set in as regularly as river freshets in
spring, it was this year almost impossible to hire any one.

The explanation of this nobody knew or could divine; but the fact was
indisputable, and the farmers were in dismay, - nobody more so than
Farmer Weitbreck, who had miles of bottom-lands, in grain of one sort
and another, all yellow and nodding, and ready for the sickle, and
nobody but himself and his son John to swing scythe, sickle, or flail on
the place.

"Never I am caught this way anoder year," thought he, as he gazed
wearily up and down the dark, silent road; "but that does to me no goot
this time that is now."

Gustavus Weitbreck had lived so long on his Pennsylvania farm that he
even thought in English instead of in German, and, strangely enough, in
English much less broken and idiomatic than that which he spoke. But his
phraseology was the only thing about him that had changed. In modes of
feeling, habits of life, he was the same he had been forty years ago,
when he farmed a little plot of land, half wheat, half vineyard, in the
Mayence meadows in the fatherland, - slow, methodical, saving, stupid,
upright, obstinate. All these traits "Old Weitbreck," as he was called
all through the country, possessed to a degree much out of the ordinary;
and it was a combination of two of them - the obstinacy and the
savingness - which had brought him into his present predicament.

In June he had had a good laborer, - one of the best known, and eagerly
sought by every farmer in the county; a man who had never yet been
beaten in a mowing-match or a reaping. By his help the haying had been
done in not much more than two thirds the usual time; but when John
Weitbreck, like a sensible fellow, said, "Now, we would better keep Alf
on till harvest; there is plenty of odds-and-ends work about the farm he
can help at, and we won't get his like again in a hurry," his father had
cried out, -

"Mein Gott! It is that you tink I must be made out of money! I vill not
keep dis man on so big wages to do vat you call odd-and-end vork. We do
odd-and-end vork ourself."

There was no discussion of the point. John Weitbreck knew better than
ever to waste his time and breath or temper in trying to change a
purpose of his father's or convince him of a mistake. But he bided his
time; and he would not have been human if he had not now taken secret
satisfaction, seeing his father's anxiety daily increase as the August
sun grew hotter and hotter, and the grain rattled in the husks waiting
to be reaped, while they two, straining their arms to the utmost, and in
long days' work, seemed to produce small impression on the great fields.

"The women shall come work in field to-morrow," thought the old man, as
he continued his anxious reverie. "It is not that they sit idle all day
in house, when the wheat grows to rattle like the peas in pod. They can
help, the mütter and Carlen; that will be much help; they can do." And
hearing John's steps behind him, the old man turned and said, -

"Johan, dere comes yet no man to reap. To-morrow must go in the field
Carlen and the mütter; it must. The wheat get fast too dry; it is more
as two men can do."

John bit his lips. He was aghast. Never had he seen his mother and
sister at work in the fields. John had been born in America; and he was
American, not German, in his feeling about this. Without due
consideration he answered, -

"I would rather work day and night, father, than see my mother and
sister in the fields. I will do it, too, if only you will not make them
go!"

The old man, irritated by the secret knowledge that he had nobody but
himself to blame for the present dilemma, still more irritated, also, by
this proof of what was always exceedingly displeasing to him, - his son's
having adopted American standards and opinions, - broke out furiously
with a wrath wholly disproportionate to the occasion, -

"You be tam, Johan Weitbreck. You tink we are fine gentlemen and ladies,
like dese Americans dat is too proud to vork vid hands. I say tam dis
country, vere day say all is alike, an' vork all; and ven you come here,
it is dat nobody vill vork, if he can help, and vimmins ish shame to be
seen vork. It is not shame to be seen vork; I vork, mein vife vork too,
an' my childrens vork too, py tam!"

John walked away, - his only resource when his father was in a passion.
John occupied that hardest of all positions, - the position of a
full-grown, mature man in a father's home, where he is regarded as
nothing more than a boy.

As he entered the kitchen and saw his pretty sister Carlen at the high
spinning-wheel, walking back and forth drawing the fine yarn between
her chubby fingers, all the while humming a low song to which the
whirring of the wheel made harmonious accompaniment, he thought to
himself bitterly: "Work, indeed! As if they did not work now longer than
we do, and quite as hard! She's been spinning ever since daylight, I
believe."

"Is it hard work spinning, Liebchen?" he asked.

Carlen turned her round blue eyes on him with astonishment. There was
something in his tone that smote vaguely on her consciousness. What
could he mean, asking such a question as that?

"No," she said, "it is not hard exactly. But when you do it very long it
does make the arms ache, holding them so long in the same position; and
it tires one to stand all day!"

"Ay," said John, "that is the way it tires one to reap; my back is near
broke with it to-day."

"Has no one come to help yet?" she said.

"No!" said John, angrily, "and that is what I told father when he let
Alf go. It is good enough for him for being so stingy and short-sighted;
but the brunt of it comes on me, - that's the worst of it. I don't see
what's got all the men. There have always been plenty round every year
till now."

"Alf said he shouldn't be here next year," said Carlen, each cheek
showing a little signal of pink as she spoke; but it was a dim light the
one candle gave, and John did not see the flush. "He was going to the
west to farm; in Oregon, he said."

"Ay, that's it!" replied John. "That's where everybody can go but me!
I'll be going too some day, Carlen. I can't stand things here. If it
weren't for you I'd have been gone long ago."

"I wouldn't leave mother and father for all the world, John," cried
Carlen, warmly, "and I don't think it would be right for you to! What
would father do with the farm without you?"

"Well, why doesn't he see that, then, and treat me as a man ought to be
treated?" exclaimed John; "he thinks I'm no older than when he used to
beat me with the strap."

"I think fathers and mothers are always that way," said the gentle,
cheery Carlen, with a low laugh. "The mother tells me each time how to
wind the warp, as she did when I was little; and she will always look
into the churn for herself. I think it is the way we are made. We will


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonBetween Whiles → online text (page 5 of 13)