Copyright
Helen Hunt Jackson.

Between Whiles online

. (page 8 of 13)
Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonBetween Whiles → online text (page 8 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of going West, a free man at last, and by no means a poor one; he looked
out over scores of broad fields of his own, one of the most fertile of
the Oregon valleys.

Alf was with him, and Carlen; and Carlen was Alf's wife, - placid,
contented wife, and fond and happy mother, - so small ripples did there
remain from the tempestuous waves beneath which Carl Lepmann's life had
gone down. Some deftly carved boxes and figures of chamois and their
hunters stood on Carlen's best-room mantel, much admired by her
neighbors, and longed for by her toddling girl, - these, and a bunch of
dried and crumbling blossoms of the Ladies' Tress, were all that had
survived the storm. The dried flowers were in the largest of the boxes.
They lay there side by side with a bit of carved abalone shell Alf had
got from a Nez Perce Indian, and some curious seaweeds he had picked up
at the mouth of the Columbia River. Carlen's one gilt brooch was kept in
the same box, and when she took it out of a Sunday, the sight of the
withered flowers always reminded her of Wilhelm. She could not have told
why she kept them; it certainly was not because they woke in her breast
any thoughts which Alf might not have read without being disquieted. She
sometimes sighed, as she saw them, "Poor Wilhelm!" That was all.

But there came one day a letter to John that awoke even in Carlen's
motherly and contented heart strange echoes from that past which she had
thought forever left behind. It was a letter from Hans Dietman, who
still lived on the Pennsylvania farm, and who had been recently joined
there by a younger brother from Germany.

This brother had brought news which, too late, vindicated the memory of
Wilhelm. Carlen had been right. He was no murderer.

It was with struggling emotions that Carlen heard the tale; pride, joy,
passionate regret, old affection, revived. John was half afraid to go
on, as he saw her face flushing, her eyes filling with tears, kindling
and shining with a light he had not seen in them since her youth.

"Go on! go on!" she cried. "Why do you stop? Did I not tell you so? And
you never half believed me! Now you see I was right! I told you Wilhelm
never harmed a human being!"

It was indeed a heartrending story, to come so late, so bootless now, to
the poor boy who had slept all these years in the nameless grave, even
its place forgotten.

It seemed that a man sentenced in Mayence to be executed for murder had
confessed, the day before his execution, that it was he who had killed
the shepherd of whose death Carl Lepmann had so long been held guilty.
They had quarrelled about a girl, a faithless creature, forsworn to both
of them, and worth no man's love or desire; but jealous anger got the
better of their sense, and they grappled in fight, each determined to
kill the other.

The shepherd had the worst of it; and just as he fell, mortally hurt,
Carl Lepmann had come up, - had come up in time to see the murderer leap
on his horse to ride away.

In a voice, which the man said had haunted him ever since, Carl had
cried out: "My God! You ride away and leave him dead! and it will be I
who have killed him, for this morning we fought so they had to tear us
apart!"

Smitten with remorse, the man had with Carl's help lifted the body and
thrown it over the precipice, at the foot of which it was afterward
found. He then endeavored to persuade the lad that it would never be
discovered, and he might safely return to his employer's farm. But
Carl's terror was too great, and he had finally been so wrought upon by
his entreaties that he had taken him two days' journey, by lonely ways,
the two riding sometimes in turn, sometimes together, - two days' and two
nights' journey, - till they reached the sea, where Carl had taken ship
for America.

"He was a good lad, a tender-hearted lad," said the murderer. "He might
have accused me in many a village, and stood as good chance to be
believed as I, if he had told where the shepherd's body was thrown; but
he could be frightened as easily as a woman, and all he thought of was
to fly where he would never be heard of more. And it was the thought of
him, from that day till now, has given me more misery than the thought
of the dead man!"

Carlen was crying bitterly; the letter was just ended, when Alf came
into the room asking bewilderedly what it was all about.

The name Wilhelm meant nothing to him. It was the summer before Wilhelm
came that he had begun this Oregon farm, which he, from the first, had
fondly dedicated to Carlen in his thoughts; and when he went back to
Pennsylvania after her, he found her the same as when he went away, only
comelier and sweeter. It would not be easy to give Alf an uncomfortable
thought about his Carlen. But he did not like to see her cry.

Neither, when he had heard the whole story, did he see why her tears
need have flowed so freely. It was sad, no doubt, and a bitter shame
too, for one man to suffer and go to his grave that way for the sin of
another. But it was long past and gone; no use in crying over it now.

"What a tender-hearted, foolish wife it is!" he said in gruff fondness,
laying his hand on Carlen's shoulder, "crying over a man dead and buried
these seven years, and none of our kith or kin, either. Poor fellow! It
was a shame!"

But Carlen said nothing.




Little Bel's Supplement.



"Indeed, then, my mother, I'll not take the school at Wissan Bridge
without they promise me a supplement. It's the worst school i' a' Prince
Edward Island."

"I doubt but ye're young to tackle wi' them boys, Bel," replied the
mother, gazing into her daughter's face with an intent expression in
which it would have been hard to say which predominated, - anxiety or
fond pride. "I'd sooner see ye take any other school between this an'
Charlottetown, an' no supplement."

"I'm not afraid, my mother, but I'll manage 'em well enough; but I'll
not undertake it for the same money as a decent school is taught.
They'll promise me five pounds' supplement at the end o' the year, or
I'll not set foot i' the place."

"Maybe they'll not be for givin' ye the school at all when they see
what's yer youth," replied the mother, in a half-antagonistic tone.
There was between this mother and daughter a continual undercurrent of
possible antagonism, overlain and usually smothered out of sight by
passionate attachment on both sides.

Little Bel tossed her head. "Age is not everything that goes to the
makkin o' a teacher," she retorted. "There's Grizzy McLeod; she's
teachin' at the Cove these eight years, an' I'd shame her myself any day
she likes wi' spellin' an' the lines; an' if there's ever a boy in a
school o' mine that'll gie me a floutin' answer such's I've heard her
take by the dozen, I'll warrant ye he'll get a birchin'; an' the
trustees think there's no teacher like Grizzy. I'm not afraid."

"Grizzy never had any great schoolin' herself," replied her mother,
piously. "There's no girl in all the farms that's had what ye've had,
Bel."

"It isn't the schoolin', mother," retorted little Bel. "The schoolin' 's
got nothin' to do with it. I'd teach a school better than Grizzy McLeod
if I'd never had a day's schoolin'."

"An' now if that's not the talk of a silly," retorted the quickly
angered parent. "Will ye be tellin' me perhaps, then, that them that
can't read theirselves is to be set to teach letters?"

Little Bel was too loyal at heart to her illiterate mother to wound her
further by reiterating her point. Throwing her arms around her neck, and
kissing her warmly, she exclaimed: "Eh, my mother, it's not a silly that
ye could ever have for a child, wi' that clear head, and the wise things
always said to us from the time we're in our cradles. Ye've never a
child that's so clever as ye are yerself. I didn't mean just what I
said, ye must know, surely; only that the schoolin' part is the smallest
part o' the keepin' a school."

"An' I'll never give in to such nonsense as that, either," said the
mother, only half mollified. "Ye can ask yer father, if ye like, if it
stands not to reason that the more a teacher knows, the more he can
teach. He'll take the conceit out o' ye better than I can." And good
Isabella McDonald turned angrily away, and drummed on the window-pane
with her knitting-needles to relieve her nervous discomfort at this
slight passage at arms with her best-beloved daughter.

Little Bel's face flushed, and with compressed lips she turned silently
to the little oaken-framed looking-glass that hung so high on the wall
she could but just see her chin in it. As she slowly tied her pink
bonnet strings she grew happier. In truth, she would have been a maiden
hard to console if the face that looked back at her from the quaint oak
leaf and acorn wreath had not comforted her inmost soul, and made her
again at peace with herself. And as the mother looked on she too was
comforted; and in five minutes more, when Little Bel was ready to say
good-by, they flung their arms around each other, and embraced and
kissed, and the daughter said, "Good-by t' ye now, mother. Wish me well,
an' ye'll see that I get it, - supplement an' all," she added slyly. And
the mother said, "Good luck t' ye, child; an' it's luck to them that
gets ye." That was the way quarrels always ended between Isabella
McDonald and her oldest daughter.

The oldest daughter, and yet only just turned of twenty; and there were
eight children younger than she, and one older. This is the way among
the Scotch farming-folk in Prince Edward Island. Children come tumbling
into the world like rabbits in a pen, and have to scramble for a living
almost as soon and as hard as the rabbits. It is a narrow life they
lead, and full of hardships and deprivations, but it has its
compensations. Sturdy virtues in sturdy bodies come of it, - the sort of
virtue made by the straitest Calvinism, and the sort of body made out of
oatmeal and milk. One might do much worse than inherit both.

It seemed but a few years ago that John McDonald had wooed and won
Isabella McIntosh, - wooed her with difficulty in the bosom of her family
of six brothers and five sisters, and won her triumphantly in spite of
the open and contemptuous opposition of one of the five sisters. For
John himself was one of seven in his father's home, and whoever married
John must go there to live, to be only a daughter in a mother-in-law's
house, and take a daughter's share of the brunt of everything. "And
nothing to be got except a living, and it was a poor living the McDonald
farm gave beside the McIntosh," the McIntosh sisters said. And,
moreover: "The saint did not live that could get on with John McDonald's
mother. That was what had made him the silent fellow he was, always
being told by his mother to hold his tongue and have done speaking; and
a fine pepper-pot there'd be when Isabella's hasty tongue and temper
were flung into that batch!"

There was no gainsaying all this. Nevertheless, Isabella married John,
went home with him into his father's house, put her shoulder against her
spoke in the family wheel, and did her best. And when, ten years later,
as reward of her affectionate trust and patience, she found herself sole
mistress of the McDonald farm, she did not feel herself ill paid. The
old father and mother were dead, two sisters had died and two had
married, and the two sons had gone to the States to seek better fortunes
than were to be made on Prince Edward Island. John, as eldest son, had,
according to the custom of the island, inherited the farm; and Mrs.
Isabella, confronting her three still unmarried sisters, was able at
last triumphantly to refute their still resentfully remembered
objections to her choice of a husband.

"An' did ye suppose I did not all the time know that it was to this it
was sure to come, soon or late?" she said, with justifiable complacency.
"It's a good thing to have a house o' one's own an' an estate. An' the
linen that's in the house! I've no need to turn a hand to the flax-wheel
for ten years if I've no mind. An' ye can all bide your times, an' see
what John'll make o' the farm, now he's got where he can have things his
own way. His father was always set against anything that was new, an'
the place is run down shameful; but John'll bring it up, an' I'm not an
old woman yet."

This last was the unkindest phrase Mrs. John McDonald permitted herself
to use. There was a rebound in it which told on the Mclntosh sisters;
for they, many years older than she, were already living on tolerance
in their father's house, where their oldest brother and his wife ruled
things with an iron hand. All hopes of a husband and a home of their own
had quite died out of their spinster bosoms, and they would not have
been human had they not secretly and grievously envied the comely,
blooming Isabella her husband, children, and home.

But, with all this, it was no play-day life that Mrs. Isabella had led.
At the very best, and with the best of farms, Prince Edward Island
farming is no high-road to fortune; only a living, and that of the
plainest, is to be made; and when children come at the rate of ten in
twenty-two years, it is but a small showing that the farmer's bank
account makes at the end of that time. There is no margin for fineries,
luxuries, small ambitions of any kind. Isabella had her temptations in
these directions, but John was firm as a rock in withstanding them. If
he had not been, there would never have been this story to tell of his
Little Bel's school-teaching, for there would never have been money
enough in the bank to have given her two years' schooling in
Charlottetown, the best the little city afforded, - "and she boardin'
all the time like a lady," said the severe McIntosh aunts, who
disapproved of all such wide-flying ambitions, which made women
discontented with and unfitted for farming life.

"And why should Isabella be setting her daughters up for teachers?" they
said. "It's no great schoolin' she had herself, and if her girls do as
well as she's done, they'll be lucky," - a speech which made John
McDonald laugh out when it was reported to him. He could afford to laugh
now.

"I mind there was a day when they thought different o' me from that," he
said. "I'm obliged to them for nothin'; but I'd like the little one to
have a better chance than the marryin' o' a man like me, an' if
anything'll get it for her, it'll be schoolin'."

The "boardin' like a lady," which had so offended the Misses Mclntosh's
sense of propriety, was not, after all, so great an extravagance as they
had supposed; for it was in his own brother's house her thrifty father
had put her, and had stipulated that part of the price of her board was
to be paid in produce of one sort and another from the farm, at market
rates; "an' so, ye see, the lass 'll be eatin' it there 'stead of here,"
he said to his wife when he told her of the arrangement, "an' it's a
sma' difference it'll make to us i' the end o' the two years."

"An' a big difference to her a' her life," replied Isabella, warmly.

"Ay, wife," said John, "if it fa's out as ye hope; but it's main
uncertain countin' on the book-knowledge. There's some it draws up an'
some it draws down; it's a millstone. But the lass is bright; she's as
like you as two peas in a pod. If ye'd had the chance she's had - "

Rising color in Isabella's face warned John to stop. It is a strange
thing to see how often there hovers a flitting shadow of jealousy
between a mother and the daughter to whom the father unconsciously
manifests a chivalrous tenderness akin to that which in his youth he had
given only to the sweetheart he sought for wife. Unacknowledged,
perhaps, even unmanifested save in occasional swift and unreasonable
petulances, it is still there, making many a heartache, which is none
the less bitter that it is inexplicable to itself, and dares not so much
as confess its own existence.

"It's a better thing for a woman to make her way i' the world on the
book-learnin' than to be always at the wheel an' the churn an' the
floors to be whitened," replied Isabella, sharply. "An' one year like
another, till the year comes ye're buried. I look for Bel to marry a
minister, or maybe even better."

"Ye'd a chance at a minister yersel', then, my girl," replied the wise
John, "an' ye did not take it." At which memory the wife laughed, and
the two loyal hearts were merry together for a moment, and young again.

Little Bel had, indeed, even before the Charlottetown schooling, had a
far better chance than her mother; for in her mother's day there was no
free school in the island, and in families of ten and twelve it was only
a turn and turn about that the children had at school. Since the free
schools had been established many a grown man and woman had sighed
curiously at the better luck of the youngsters under the new regime. No
excuse now for the poorest man's children not knowing how to read and
write and more; and if they chose to keep on, nothing to hinder their
dipping into studies of which their parents never heard so much as the
names.

And this was not the only better chance which Little Bel had had. John
McDonald's farm joined the lands of the manse; his house was a short
mile from the manse itself; and by a bit of good fortune for Little Bel
it happened that just as she was growing into girlhood there came a new
minister to the manse, - a young man from Halifax, with a young bride,
the daughter of an officer in the Halifax garrison, - gentlefolks, both
of them, but single-hearted and full of fervor in their work for the
souls of the plain farming-people given into their charge. And both Mr.
Allan and Mrs. Allan had caught sight of Little Bel's face on their
first Sunday in church, and Mrs. Allan had traced to her a flute-like
voice she had detected in the Sunday-school singing; and before long, to
Isabella's great but unspoken pride, the child had been "bidden to the
manse for the minister's wife to hear her sing;" and from that day there
was a new vista in Little Bel's life.

Her voice was sweet as a lark's and as pure, and her passionate love
for music a gift in itself. "It would be a sin not to cultivate it,"
said Mrs. Allan to her husband, "even if she never sees another piano
than mine, nor has any other time in her life except these few years to
enjoy it; she will always have had these, and nothing can separate her
from her voice."

And so it came to pass that when, at sixteen, Little Bel went to
Charlottetown for her final two years of study at the High School, she
played almost as well as Mrs. Allan herself, and sang far better. And in
all Isabella McDonald's day-dreams of the child's future, vague or
minute, there was one feature never left out. The "good husband" coming
always was to be a man who could "give her a piano."

In Charlottetown Bel found no such friend as Mrs. Allan; but she had a
young school-mate who had a piano, and - poor short-sighted creature that
she was, Bel thought - hated the sight of it, detested to practise, and
shed many a tear over her lessons. This girl's parents were thankful to
see their daughter impressed by Bel's enthusiasm for music; and so well
did the clever girl play her cards that before she had been six months
in the place, she was installed as music-teacher to her own
schoolfellow, earning thereby not only money enough to buy the few
clothes she needed, but, what to her was better than money, the
privilege of the use of the piano an hour a day.

So when she went home, at the end of the two years, she had lost
nothing, - in fact, had made substantial progress; and her old friend and
teacher, Mrs. Allan, was as proud as she was astonished when she first
heard her play and sing. Still more astonished was she at the forceful
character the girl had developed. She went away a gentle, loving,
clinging child; her nature, like her voice, belonging to the order of
birds, - bright, flitting, merry, confiding. She returned a woman, still
loving, still gentle in her manner, but with a new poise in her bearing,
a resoluteness, a fire, of which her first girlhood had given no
suggestion. It was strange to see how similar yet unlike were the
comments made on her in the manse and in the farmhouse by the two
couples most interested in her welfare.

"It is wonderful, Robert," said Mrs. Allan to her husband, "how that
girl has changed, and yet not changed. It is the music that has lifted
her up so. What a glorious thing is a real passion for any art in a
human soul! But she can never live here among these people. I must take
her to Halifax."

"No," said Mr. Allan; "her work will be here. She belongs to her people
in heart, all the same. She will not be discontented."

"Husband, I'm doubtin' if we've done the right thing by the child, after
a'," said the mother, tearfully, to the father, at the end of the first
evening after Bel's return. "She's got the ways o' the city on her, an'
she carries herself as if she'd be teachin' the minister his own self. I
doubt but she'll feel herself strange i' the house."

"Never you fash yourself," replied John. "The girl's got her head,
that's a'; but her heart's i' the right place. Ye'll see she'll put her
strength to whatever there's to be done. She'll be a master hand at
teachin', I'll wager!"

"You always did think she was perfection," replied the mother, in a
crisp but not ill-natured tone, "an' I'm not gainsayin' that she's not
as near it as is often seen; but I'm main uneasy to see her carryin'
herself so positive."

If John thought in his heart that Bel had come through direct heredity
on the maternal side by this "carryin' herself positive," he knew better
than to say so, and his only reply was a good-natured laugh, with:
"You'll see! I'm not afraid. She's a good child, an' always was."

Bel passed her examination triumphantly, and got the Wissan Bridge
school; but she got only a contingent promise of the five-pound
supplement. It went sorely against her will to waive this point. Very
keenly Mr. Allan, who was on the Examining Board, watched her face as
she modestly yet firmly pressed it.

The trustees did not deny that the Wissan Bridge school was a difficult
and unruly one; that to manage it well was worth more money than the
ordinary school salaries. The question was whether this very young lady
could manage it at all; and if she failed, as the last incumbent
had, - failed egregiously, too; the school had broken up in riotous
confusion before the end of the year, - the canny Scotchmen of the School
Board did not wish to be pledged to pay that extra five pounds. The
utmost Bel could extract from them was a promise that if at the end of
the year her teaching had proved satisfactory, the five pounds should be
paid. More they would not say; and after a short, sharp struggle with
herself Bel accepted the terms; but she could not restrain a farewell
shot at the trustees as she turned to go. "I'm as sure o' my five pounds
as if ye'd promised it downright, sirs. I shall keep ye a good school at
Wissan Bridge."

"We'll make it guineas, then, Miss Bel," cried Mr. Allan,
enthusiastically, looking at his colleagues, who nodded their heads, and
said, laughing, "Yes, guineas it is."

"And guineas it will be," retorted Little Bel, as with cheeks like
peonies she left the room.

"Egad, but she's a fine spirit o' her ain, an' as bonnie a face as I've
seen since I remember," cried old Mr. Dalgetty, the senior member of
the Board, and the one hardest to please. "I'd not mind bein' a pupil at
Wissan Bridge school the comin' term myself." And he gave an old man's
privileged chuckle as he looked at his colleagues. "But she's over-young
for the work, - over-young."

"She'll do it," said Mr. Allan, confidently. "Ye need have no fear. My
wife's had the training of the girl since she was little. She's got the
best o' stuff in her. She'll do it."

Mr. Allan's prediction was fulfilled. Bel did it. But she did it at the
cost of harder work than even she had anticipated. If it had not been
for her music she would never have pulled through with the boys of
Wissan Bridge. By her music she tamed them. The young Marsyas himself
never piped to a wilder set of creatures than the uncouth lads and young
men that sat in wide-eyed, wide-mouthed astonishment listening to the
first song their pretty young schoolmistress sang for them. To have
singing exercises part of the regular school routine was a new thing at
Wissan Bridge. It took like wild-fire; and when Little Bel, shrewd and
diplomatic as a statesman, invited the two oldest and worst boys in the
school to come Wednesday and Saturday afternoons to her boarding-place


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonBetween Whiles → online text (page 8 of 13)