By Mary E. Wilkins. – ©1900
On Monday morning Love Lord sat on the side-door step, stitching some fine linen shirt-bands for her father. It was a day in early May, moving from dawn to dark with a rush of strong fresh winds, made almost as palpable as wings by the apple and cherry blossoms which they loosened and bore away from the trees. There was a fine apple-orchard in full bloom in the rear of Parson Reuben Lord’s gray-shingled house, three large white-plumed cherry-trees stood in the side yard, but Love would never taste the apples and cherries therefrom, unless perchance some scanty measure of poor fruit could not be readily sold. All of Parson Lord’s alabaster boxes of life were sold, and the proceeds devoted to foreign missions. Love had never questioned the wisdom of it; she had never questioned the wisdom of any of the orderings of her life. She regarded them as indirectly ordained by Providence through her father, and not to be cavilled at, except possibly in one instance. Love at twelve years of age had had many lacks of life, but only one active sorrow, and that sense of loss and deprivation after the delight of possession which induces rebellion. Love had lost her mother when she was scarce more than a baby; she had been brought up by a rigorous widow, a distant relative of her father’s, who had trained her according to all letters of law and faith. So inexorable had been her method, so thoroughly had Love been taught to perform her duties, that there had seemed to be danger of their losing the distinction of hand and individual work. Little Love had lived as under the self-regulating motive power of an automaton, her native inclinations, whether towards grace or perversity, being wholly amenable to her instructress, as to a spiritual sun and wind. Cousin Daphne Weatherhead, as the widow was called, was the only person with whom she was brought in close contact through her childhood. Of her father she saw very little except at meals, at family prayers, and on Sabbath days, when she sat for hours, with her solemn innocent eyes intent upon him, as he proclaimed the truths of the Word and the terrors of the law from his beetling pulpit.
Parson Reuben Lord was so closely welded to his faith and his devotion that he seemed to gain therefrom a strange stiffness, almost ossification, of spirit. People, while holding him in utmost respect for his stern consistency of life, yet regarded him with awe which had in it something of terror. His fervent zeal for the cause of missions seemed the ruling passion of his life. His two brothers were still laboring in foreign fields. It had been the sorest trial of his life that delicate health in his youth had kept him at home in narrower and more peaceful tillage. It had also been a sore trial to him that his first-born child had not been a son, whom he could devote, with more certainty of the acceptability of the sacrifice, to the cause of Christ in heathen lands. There was, however, a belief in the village that he had so devoted his first-born daughter, Elizabeth. When the child died, at the early age of seven, after a most wonderful life and precocious maturity of religious experience, afterwards celebrated in a memoir which became a village classic, people were strengthened in this belief. It was also reported, on the authority of Aunt Betsey Ware, who had officiated at both births, that the parson made a similar dedication to the Lord of his second daughter, Love, in spite of the expostulations of his poor wife Mehitable, whose maternal affection overcame her religious ardor.
It was even said that Mehitable Lord had faded away and died because of her preying grief over the loss of her first-born, and the fear lest the second, who was delicate, and had that sensitiveness of disposition which is sometimes thought prophetic of early death, should follow her. However that may have been, Mehitable Lord died when Love was too young to have anything but that vague sense of loss of love in the abstract which, while it changes the whole savor of life, does not rend it with bitterness.
Love had no little mates during her childhood. Cousin Daphne Weatherhead, seemingly with the best of motives, kept her aloof from them. “You are the minister’s daughter, and should endeavor to follow in the foot-steps of your sainted sister,” Cousin Daphne would remark if the little maid seemed to cast a wistful eye towards the frolics of the young of her kind. Poor little Love used, for she learned to read at an early age, to strive to console and amuse herself with the perusal of the memoir of her sainted sister. Sitting in her little chair, with the book on her small aproned knees, she bent her childish brows over its pious pages, and pondered gravely its every word.
Love’s childhood, which might well have been considered somewhat dull and joyless, though so straightly ordered in the paths of righteousness and peace, held, however, but one grief. When she was six years old she had had a doll presented to her by a loving old dame who had brought up a family of fourteen children. The doll had belonged to her youngest daughter, and was a homely, rustic specimen of her race; but Love took it to her heart with a great content and the most credulous admiration. She was guilty of the one act of deception and the one lie of her childhood for the protection of this poor doll which had come to her for motherhood. She hid the fact of its possession from Cousin Daphne, and then she told a falsehood when questioned.
The pleased old grandmother who had given it to her told of it here and there with innocent garrulity, not dreaming it would do harm. But when Cousin Daphne heard the news, home she came, and poor little Love underwent a miniature inquisition, and remained firm under her rack and thumb-screw. “No, Grandma Streeter didn’t ever give me any doll,” declared she, with blue eyes looking straight into Cousin Daphne’s, yet with a recoil glance of horror at her own wickedness. The word of this small sister of a departed saint was pitted against that of an ancient mother in Israel, but Cousin Daphne made diligent search, and discovered the doll hidden away under Love’s feather-bed. When she held it before Love, and the child saw the beloved symbolic baby, never of any beauty whatever, and now battered and marred by the caresses and corrections of many mothers, until only a little girl in whom the first strength of maternal imagination can encompass miracles could hold her of any account whatever, she expressed no shame or contrition; she only stretched out her arms with a cry of love and agony: “Give her to me! oh, give her to me! Don’t take her away, Cousin Daphne!”
That confirmed matters. Love knelt in prayer with her father and Cousin Daphne, until, out of docility and terror, her soul was melted within her with contrition for her heinous sin. Poor little Love seemed to almost see the lapping of the infernal fires around her, and she could not even hold the doll in her arms for comfort. She did not see the doll again for years. She used often to wonder where it was, what Cousin Daphne had done with it; but she would no more have asked her than she would have taken the name of the Lord in vain. And as for asking her father, she would never forget till her dying day his countenance of stern wretchedness and condemnation when Cousin Daphne had told him of her wickedness, and the almost despairing fervor of his prayer. She would as soon have asked for a little graven image.
Love was twelve years old when Cousin Daphne was found one afternoon sitting stiffly in her chair, with her knitting-work in her motionless hands. She did not come to prayers, and when Love went to call her, Cousin Daphne’s face looked at her unseeingly out of the gathering dusk. After Cousin Daphne’s death she lived alone with her father, it being held that with her fine training she was able to keep his house at the age of twelve. Love knelt with her father an hour every morning and evening, and listened to his reading of the Scriptures and prayers. She prepared his frugal meals, and sat timidly and respectfully opposite him at table. The rest of the time he remained alone in his study, walled in, as it were, with the thoughts of dead divines and fathers of the Church in mummy-cases of old calf-skin, and was in sore labor over his many-headed sermons.
Love kept his house, as she had been taught, as if it were her own soul; she cleaned it as she would have cleaned her heart of sin; she made all the poor furnishings shine as if they had been the trappings of the Temple, and acquitted herself like a housewife of twice her age, to the approbation of all the village matrons. This morning, although it was still early, the house was neatly set in order from garret to cellar, and there were two hours for the fine stitching before dinner. She sat there, hearing the soft rush of the spring wind and breathing in the flurrying sweetness of the cherry blossoms, but with no consciousness thereof. She set the beautiful stitches, like a little row of pearls, with the precision of a machine, her fingers working with no aid from her mind, which was intent upon a dream she had the night before about her lost doll.
As Love sat there the dream was to her what the perfume was to the cherry blossom, and would have been as evident to a sense made for its perception. Love had dreamed, the night before, that she was up in the garret of her father’s house, when she heard a little wail, like that of a young baby. She started and looked around, and it came again, seemingly from the vicinity of an old hair trunk which her father had carried to college in his youth. An experience which she had had at church that day had possibly, by some obscure system of suggestion, induced the dream. That Sunday Love had seen for the first time the squire’s new wife. The squire had lately married for the second time, a woman from the city, elderly, but very beautiful and stately. She had brought her orphan grandson to live with her. This grandson, Richard Pierce, was a boy of fourteen, large for his age and forward of understanding. He was nearly fitted to enter Harvard College. That Sunday, young Richard, sitting in the squire’s pew, looked across at Love, sitting all alone in the parson’s pew. Love was slim and tall, but with a pretty roundness under her little drab spencer cape, with apple curves of pink cheeks under her scooping bonnet, tied under her sweet chin with a sober-colored ribbon like her cape. Not a bright tint was there about Love, except in her face and hair. Young Master Richard looked at her with the half-indifferent, half-earnest gaze of an intellectual boy whose mind is devoted to matters in his estimation more important than the faces of girls, and yet has at times, in his own despite, his heart stirred faintly with the instincts and imaginations of his kind. At last Love, compelled perhaps by his gaze, looked at him, though it was in the midst of a fiery appeal from the pulpit. She gazed at the boy with an utter calmness and unconsciousness of scrutiny, as if he were something inanimate. Indeed, to this young Love, with her perfect innocence of ignorance and the long training of her mind on spiritual lines, a boy did not mean as much as a girl, nor much more, than a rose-bush or an apple-tree. Richard, as if something in himself, of which he had not known, was discovered by her gaze, looked away with a great blush, and then Love turned her eyes from him towards his grandmother. They were suddenly alert, full of the most timid yet ardent admiration. The one love with which the child had any acquaintance, and for which she had as yet any yearning, was in the face of that elderly dame. It shone plain to her sight when she glanced at the grandson by her side, and it beamed forth, like a light in the windows of a home, when she saw little Love gazing at her in such timidly beseeching and admiring wise. Love cast down her eyes before the sweet mother-look of the squire’s lady, her heart leaped, her mouth quivered as if she would weep. She thought that never, never since her own mother, whose caresses she remembered better than her face, had there been any one as beautiful as this woman. That morning Love heard no more of her father’s discourse. She was conscious of nothing except that mother-presence, which seemed to pervade the whole church. The inexorable fatherhood of God, as set forth in the parson’s sermon, was not as evident to the hungry little heart in His sanctuary as the motherhood of the squire’s lady. She continued to gaze at her at intervals, with softly furtive eyes of adoration, as if the lady were the Blessed Mary, and she a little papist; and when she sometimes received a tenderly benignant glance in return, she scarcely knew where her body was, such was the elation of her spirit. When, after meeting, she was going down the aisle, and came abreast of the wonderful lady, and the soft sweep of her velvet cloak brushed her face like a wing, she could not help an involuntary nestle against her side, as if she were a baby. Then the squire’s lady bent down, her beautiful old face framed in gray curls, and smiled, and lifted her hand, and patted Love gently on the smooth curve of her cheek. Love could have gone down at her feet. Nobody since her mother’s death had ever caressed her to that extent. She gave a quick look up at the lady with something between a sob and a smile, then shrank back, followed her out of church, and watched her drive away with the squire and Master Richard, though she did not see them at all.
Somehow this encounter with the squire’s lady set Love to thinking, more strenuously than usual, of the lost doll of her childhood, and that night she dreamed that she went over to the old trunk, and suddenly her doll peeped at her from behind it. It wore the same muslin frock sprigged with green which she remembered well, and the same bonnet made of pasteboard covered with green satin; but the little face, which looked up at her with the lips parted in a wail, was, curiously enough, that of the squire’s lady, gray curls and all, with the tiny cheeks crumpled delicately in pink and white, like an old rose-bud. When Love awoke, she could scarcely believe that the dream was not true, being one of those for whom dreams are separated from the real by insensible shadings rather than sharp divisions.
Love pondered over it all the morning, and that afternoon, her father being away, she stole guiltily up to the garret, and stood listening, breathless, in the midst of the great stretch of space, with the rafters converging over her head. There was only one small window, and the afternoon was growing old. On either side of the garret, under the eaves, lay long shadows of dark mystery, which to the child’s excited fancy seemed often stirring to arise. The garret, like the rest of the house, was very clean and sparse. All the small store of discarded household furnishings was stowed away neatly against the eaves, and the middle space was bare. Love could see the great arc of an old tow-wheel which had not been used for many a year, and near it a cedar chest which contained her mother’s meagre wardrobe, two barrels full of old sermons, and the little hair trunk. There was not much besides, except a surtout which had belonged to her grandfather, which hung on a nail over the trunk.
Love stood listening, she scarcely knew for what, but the influence of her dream was strong upon her. She was like a little statue of fearful attention, in her straight blue gown, her hands clutching nervously at her sides, her eyes dilating to the dusk and her own fears. Finally Love went over to the trunk and peered behind it. There was no doll there, at once to her disappointment and her relief. She opened the trunk, and it was full of old letters. Love straightened herself, and in so doing jostled her grandfather’s surtout. One sleeve swung out and hit her cheek with a curious impetus for anything so presumably soft and light. Love started back; a sense of the uncanny thrilled her; then she caught hold of the sleeve eagerly, and there was her doll. Cousin Daphne had been a subtle concealer; people had seldom found out anything which she wished to keep secret. She had doubtless many curious hiding-places in empty habits and meaningless forms for the privacies of her own character, and she was at no loss, working from within out to practical illustrations, to find a concealment for poor Love’s doll.
Love slipped up the sleeve, and looked irresolutely at the clumsy rag feet; she looked at the pantalets edged with knitted lace, and the hem of the green – sprigged muslin skirt. Love removed the doll and looked at it tremblingly. It was the same old doll. Love went over to the front window and sat down on the floor, clasping it closely. She felt unutterably guilty, still there was a sweet comfort from the feeling of the doll in her arms which she could not help realizing, in spite of her conviction of sin. There was in her consciousness a savor, faint and diluted, of the joy of a mother united to a long-lost child. She gazed at its poor old rag face, its wide mouth painted grotesquely with pokeberry juice, its staring eyes outlined in circles of India ink. .She stroked lovingly the scanty locks made from a ravelled brown silk stocking. She knew that the doll was miserably ugly, but, by a sort of under-knowledge of love, she also knew she was fair. She pressed her closely to her childish bosom, throbbing with a sense of shame and guilt, and yet with defiant joy. She kissed her as she had never kissed any living thing.
That night Parson Lord’s supper was an hour late. He, working by candle-light in his study, felt that vague uneasiness which results from the interruption of a habit upon which no especial stress of mind has been laid, although it may have continued through a lifetime. Through his surfeit of spiritual food, he had scarcely ever been conscious of any desire for that of the flesh. He had never looked forward impatiently to his supper hour, and it was doubtful if he had ever partaken of the meal with a full perception of its quality or quantity, being always more or less abstracted from all material things. Tonight he fidgeted over his sixthly without knowing why. He did not even know, when his daughter came trembling to his study door, that the meal was late, but followed her without a word, and took his place at the table, and bowed his head for the solemnly muttered blessing. The meal was frugal, as all meals were at Parson Lord’s — just a brown loaf, a pitcher of milk, and tea made of steeped sage leaves. Genuine tea was not to be thought of, with foreign missions in such sore need.
That night Parson Lord ate his supper with a curious mechanical gusto, as if his body, through its long fast, might be asserting itself without the knowledge or connivance of his mind. He did not notice that his daughter ate nothing, nor her disturbed face. After he had done he bowed his head reverently again, gave thanks to the Lord for His mercies in a lengthy list, and returned to his study.
An hour afterwards, when Love had washed and put away the supper dishes and set the bread to rising, she knocked at the study door, twice and thrice before her father heard her. At last he bade her enter, and looked up absently when the door opened, expecting to see some brother or sister in quest of spiritual aid, as was often the case. Instead, there stood his own daughter, pale and trembling piteously, holding the old doll in her arms. Parson Lord stared at her, took off his spectacles, wiped them, and stared again. “What do you want, my child?” he inquired.
Before he had finished speaking, Love came to his side and stood there in an agony of contrition, displaying the doll. “I found her where Cousin Daphne hid her,” she said, in a strained, quick way; then she sobbed; all her staidness and propriety of demeanor had failed her.
The parson stared at her, his thin lips parted, his high forehead knitted. He had entirely forgotten the episode of the doll. Poor Love had to repeat the whole story. A light of understanding came into the parson’s eyes as he listened. “And you found it, you say, this afternoon?” he said, in a curious voice.
“Yes, father,” replied Love. Then she cried, with a great sob of appeal, “Oh, father, may I keep her now?”
Parson Lord’s face quivered a little as he looked at her, then settled again into its usual lines of ascetic sternness and gravity. None but his Maker knew if it cost him a struggle, but he refused the child; he bade her carry the doll back where she had found it. Love obeyed without a demur. She took a candle, went slowly up the steep garret stairs, stole tremblingly through the dark flickering stretch of shadows to the old surtout hanging with an awful semblance of life from the nail in the rafters, gave the poor doll one last fervent caress, and thrust it back in the sleeve, pinning it therein as before. That night Reuben Lord knelt long with his daughter in earnest prayer; her old sins of disobedience and deception were rekindled to their full enormity, until they shone before her as in characters of fire. That night Love slept little, being kept awake by the war between her innocent members and her fierce New England conscience. Many a time, as she lay there, it seemed to her that she must arise, steal up-stairs, rescue the doll from the darkness and loneliness, and hold it through the rest of the night close in her arms.
The next day was the Sabbath, and Love, sitting alone in the parson’s pew, was much paler and soberer of countenance than usual. Once in a while, though she strove to keep her mind upon the sermon, her mouth quivered when she thought of the doll. Perhaps it was that which led the squire’s lady to favor her with such special and gracious notice at the close of the services. That beautiful and stately lady, when she reached Love lingering at the door of the pew, actually put caressingly about her an arm draped with silk shimmering with purples like the breast of a dove, and bade her a “Good-morning, my dear child.” Love never knew whether she answered her or not. She went home in a sort of ecstasy, as of first love.
The squire’s lady was in reality her first love. However fond she might be again of others, the affection would go forth in a worn channel. The girl heard that tender voice multiplying into infinite cadences of love and comfort in all the voices of the spring day. Love’s cheeks were so flushed and her eyes so strange with happiness that even her father noticed it when she sat opposite him at the dinner-table.
His mind had been intent upon his afternoon discourse, when suddenly he looked up as if at a touch upon the shoulder. His daughter sat before him just as usual, dressed in her little homely gown of a dull drab-color, with never a ribbon bow to brighten it. Her pretty, fair hair, braided so smoothly and tightly that the very color seemed compressed, was crossed in the usual flat mat at the back of her head, and brought over her ears in two satin-like folds, with high lights of polish at the sides. Her father saw nothing unusual in her except that blue shining of eyes which seemed almost wild, and that flush of cheeks which seemed almost fever, and an involuntary curving of lips into smiles which seemed almost levity.
First the parson inquired of his daughter if she were ailing, and then if she were in a state of mind befitting the day. To both inquiries Love replied dutifully, her color deepening, to the former with a respectful negative, to the latter with a modest hesitancy of hope that she might be, which was reassuring. However, her father continued to gaze at her now and then in the same curious and anxious way. He looked not only at her face, but at her dress and her hair, as if he saw them for the first time. He continued to gaze at her in the same fashion later on when they walked to the meeting-house for the afternoon service. He seemed to see the, patient, sober young figure at his side with ever-recurring surprise. He scanned again and again the homely dun-colored gown, falling in scanty folds to the clumsy little shoes, the poor bonnet tied with dull ribbon. Then he looked from her to some gayer figures moving along the road with flutters of bright streamers and flounces.
Love would have been disturbed by this unwonted notice of her father had not her whole mind been intent upon the squire’s lady, who was not there, indeed, but whose presence seemed more vital to her than that of any who sat under the parson’s preaching. Until the sermon began she watched anxiously for the object of her adoration to enter, and when she became certain that she was not coming, she felt a pang at heart the like of which she had never known before. She could have wept when she saw Master Richard Pierce coming up the aisle alone. She could not bear to look at the squire’s pew; once when young Richard’s persistent gaze of admiration forced her unwilling attention, she almost scowled at him, so sad and impatient was she, and jealous of her own self for the sake of the squire’s lady. However, after a while she became in a manner reconciled to her disappointment, and fell to musing tenderly over past joy, and building air-castles for the future.
Love’s face then took on such an expression that the boy in the squire’s pew gazed at her as if fascinated, seeing for the first time the dream of love in a young girl’s face. Richard that day managed to be at the door of the parson’s pew when Love emerged; he cast a keen though somewhat shamefaced glance at her, but she did not see him at all. “I don’t think that girl is very pretty, come to see her close to,” he reflected, on his way home. He resolved not to take the trouble to look at her again, with the unconfessed masculine assurance of her annoyance in that case.
Love would not at that time have known whether he looked or not, having eyes for his grandmother only; and the next day but one something happened to distract her still further. Upon that day Love had the first great and beautiful surprise of her life. She had been alone since morning, as she had been the day before. On Monday and Tuesday of every week the parson travelled to neighboring towns, where they had not the benefit of regular Sabbath services in a church of his own denomination, and gave them a week-day rendering of his Lord’s-day sermon. On Tuesday afternoon Love grew weary of her needlework, and thought that she would have a change of task by way of harmless recreation. So thinking, she went up to her chamber to get a sampler which she was working. When Love had crossed the threshold of her chamber she stopped short with a gasp. There in her little chair sat a doll, not the old rag doll, but a new, resplendent creature—a very ideal of dollhood. No unskilled hands had ever fashioned this radiant thing of blooming wax and real flaxen ringlets, of sweetest smiles of baby candor and innocence, of blue eyes intently beaming at the whole world of child-women without a special glance of favor for one, of pink satins and ribbons, of fine linens and laces. Love stood looking, her eyes dilated, her breath coming short and quick. At length she gained courage, and went nearer and knelt down before the wonderful thing. Her face was rapt. It was long before she dared to touch the doll, to do anything but drink in its beauty with her eyes and embrace it with her soul. Finally she rose, with a great sigh of delicious terror, took up the doll, and seated herself. As she sat there, with the little flaxen head on her shoulder, fingering with gentle, reverent fingers the delicate mysteries of the fine apparel, she was, for the first time in her life, in a state of actual bliss. She had experienced ecstasy at the caressing touch of the squire’s lady and her loving words, but this was fruition and realization of the vague sweet promise of that touch and word. Love did not doubt for one minute that the doll came from the bountiful hand of the squire’s lady. She reasoned away easily enough all difficulties in the way of its having been brought secretly to the house and deposited in her chamber. Love had that order of mind which springs to conviction, and afterwards proves the route to it by a facile imagination. Old Aunt Betsey Ware was then living at the squire’s. “Aunt Betsey,” reasoned Love, conclusively, ” is well acquainted with this house; she knows well where my chamber is, and I have been at work in the kitchen, where I could not have heard any one enter, had they stepped softly.” Moreover, that very forenoon Love had seen Aunt Betsey hurrying down the road, with head averted, as if she did not wish to be noticed. Love knew that the squire’s lady had given her the doll. When she heard her father open the door she rose without a second’s hesitation, and still clasping the doll, followed him into the study before he had seated himself at his desk.
When the parson turned at the sound of the opening door and saw his daughter standing there, with the great doll in her arms, a strange expression which she had never seen came over his face. But Love did not heed that, neither did she fairly know the matter of her father’s answer to her quivering statement concerning the doll, and her pitiful petition that she be allowed to keep it. In truth, it was a long and somewhat stilted speech which Parson Lord made to his trembling daughter, and it was not singular that Love, in her agitation, should grasp only the gist of it—that she might keep the doll. Love, with her New England shamefacedness as to all demonstration, only dropped a prim little courtesy, said “Thank you, sir,” and went out, with the doll’s pink face looking over her shoulder; but there might well have been a perceptible darkening of the room, so much joy went with her.
Love that night was fairly possessed with affection and gratitude; she loved her father as she had never loved him before, and he seemed nearer to her. She had not mentioned her belief that the squire’s lady was the donor of the precious gift. She thought, jumping at that conclusion as she, had done at the other, that her father must know it as well as she. Who but the squire’s lady could have given her the doll?
Love then entered at once upon a new epoch in her life. It seemed a strange thing that the possession of a plaything of childhood should all at once transform her character from that of a child to that of a woman, but such was apparently the case. Love never played, in the strictest sense of the word, with her doll; she never tended it with that sweet make-believe of motherhood in dressing and nursing; but the doll surely sent her heart into blossom, being perhaps the little stimulus of love needed for that end. At this time there came into the girl’s face that expression of sweet intelligence and gentle comprehension, instead of the mere innocent outlook of childhood. People meeting Love in those days used to look at her carelessly, as one looks at any wonted object, then look again and again with growing wonder, as at a change which they could not define. Some, after meeting her so, said she had grown tall, some that she had grown pretty, some that she grew to look more like her mother, or father, or Cousin Daphne. Whatever they said, people noticed her more. A few weeks after she had come into the possession of her doll, the squire’s lady, one morning, sent over Aunt Betsey Ware with a formally worded message.
“Mrs. Squire Hawkes desires her compliments to Miss Love Lord, and would be pleased to have her company at tea this afternoon,” said Aunt Betsey, with a fine and consequential pucker, and Love could only courtesy in unquestioning gratitude and acquiescence, like one who is bidden to an audience with a queen.
That very morning Master Richard Pierce had departed for college, and his grandmother, feeling sad and lonely, had bethought herself of the parson’s sweet little daughter whom she had noticed so often in meeting, that it would be a comfort to have another young face at her tea-table that night.
Love had never been in the squire’s house since the advent of this second wife. This was to institute a new order of things. She sat at the dainty tea-table opposite the squire’s lady—the squire himself was confined to his room with rheumatism— ate gingerly and delicately of the cream-biscuits, the quince-sauce, and the pound-cake. She sipped her tea from the blue china cup, with timid lifts, over the rim, of blue eyes at the kind and gracious face opposite; she spoke modestly when she was spoken to, and if she volunteered a remark, did so with a sweet deference which was pretty to behold. The squire’s lady was even more pleased with the child than she had thought to be.
“She is a dear child,” she told the squire when Love had gone, and she was in his chamber mixing the sleeping-cup for which she had a dainty hand. “She is a dear child. I mean to have her often to tea. ‘Tis a treat to her, too. I hear the good parson keeps her close and is over-strict with her.”
“Did she tell you so ?” asked the squire, beginning to sip his spiced and comforting drink from his silver cup.
“No; she said nothing; she never would, unless I mistake her greatly,” replied his wife. “I had it from Aunt Betsey, who formerly lived there.” The squire’s lady, beautiful and gracious though she was, still got some savor to life from a little harmless gossip.
“Well, ’tis true enough,” said the squire, “true enough. The parson has driven her with a mighty tight rein, and taught her to shy at the first scent of the devil.” The squire had been in his day, and was still, a great lover of horse-flesh. “Why, bless you, my dear,” said the squire, ” I don’t suppose that child ever had anything but the drippings of the contribution-box to eat or wear or make merry with. Every cent that the parson can save goes to foreign missions. Why, he sells every apple in his orchard — all except the windfalls — and sends the proceeds to India’s burning strand; never one left for that poor child to have a bite of, fine apples too, a rare kind, brought from overseas by his grandfather. I’ve tried to graft from ’em, and couldn’t. I don’t suppose that child ever has a lollypop or a sweet-cake unless it’s given her, and I don’t know but her father would make her sell it then and drop in the penny next Sabbath day. Never a ribbon flying, or a frill setting her off. I’ve noticed her myself. I used to know her mother; used to think sometimes—I was perfectly satisfied with my own wife, you know, my dear—but I used to think that if I had been a young man, and my wife had married somebody else, I would have known how to look out for her better than the man who had her—one of the prettiest girls anywhere about. I wonder if the parson intends to send his daughter to Burmah or the Fiji Islands? Well, he is a good man, and he has stepped along in his path of duty without a kick or a shy, and I suppose he is sure of finding his heavenly pasture at last. I wish some other people were as sure.” The squire finished his cup as he spoke, and handed it to his wife for replenishment.
“It would be a cruel thing for him to send that little wild rose of a girl to any of those deadly climates; she looks as if she might have inherited delicacy from her mother too. I can’t believe he will,” said she, tilting the china pitcher carefully. “I shall invite her to tea again next week. I think the poor child will be benefited by it.”
So it came to pass that every Wednesday afternoon Love went to take tea at the squire’s house. Her father gave his consent, Love could not help thinking, with a certain constraint of pleasure at the invitation. “The squire’s wife is a godly woman, and, I hear, a notable housekeeper; her example may profit you in some things, as your mother’s would have done,” the parson said.
Love thought that her father seemed pleased when some fresh gifts, which she attributed, like the others, to the bounty of the squire’s lady, arrived. A few days after her first tea-drinking at the squire’s, on a warm night in early May, there was a loud knock at the front door, and when Love answered it, no one was there, but a dainty package was swinging by a cord to the latch.
Love, after opening it in the sitting-room, carried it to her father, who sat over his sermon in the study, and displayed, with rapture and terror at what he might say, the fine India muslin for a gown, the beautiful blue ribbon to tie around her waist, and the little morocco shoes. Her father, much to her astonishment, did not withhold his permission for her to keep the gifts, yet he spoke almost sternly regarding them, and impressed upon her her duty in not placing undue importance upon such frivolities, in view of the serious life work before her.
Love went clad in her new finery to take tea with the squire’s lady, and her heart was in such a flutter of gratitude she made no expression of it, except by an eloquent look at her friend when she praised the beauty of her gown.
“Why, my dear, what have we here, a little white rose instead of a little Quaker lady?” the squire’s wife asked, smiling at Love, fluttering before her in her muslin frills; and Love only smiled back at her, and blushed with modest pride and affection.
Love had a delicacy, perhaps exaggerated and misplaced, about returning open thanks for surreptitious benefits. She said never a word to the squire’s wife about the gifts. Indeed, a number of times Mrs. Squire Abner Hawkes gave the child presents with no pretence of secrecy; there were three old gowns of her own among them—one, the pride of Love’s heart, of a blue figured satin. Love altered these gowns to fit her slender shape, and wore them to the admiration and somewhat to the wonder of all beholders. They thought it strange that Parson Lord should allow his daughter to go dressed so gayly, especially to the house of God. Love, who was henceforth always a bird of fine plumage, never talked much about these showers of surreptitious benefits to her father. She never mentioned the squire’s lady in that connection, except now and then to remark upon her kindness, once especially when she wore for the first time the remodelled gown of blue figured satin. It was on a Wednesday, when she was going to take tea at the squire’s, and it was four years after her first visit there. The squire’s wife was a faithful friend, and Love a faithful admirer.
Parson Lord might have pleaded, with truth, the strength of the temptation, had he felt some purely temporal pride in the appearance of his daughter as she stood before him in that gown, shimmering with blue lights from shoulder to heel, and her lovely head shining with a golden crown of braids. In fact, a smile of that utter weakness and fondness which would have better suited her mother’s face came over her father’s, to Love’s wonder. But he enjoined her as sternly as ever not to allow her heart to dwell upon such vanities, but to remember that it was only her poor dying body which was so adorned, then turned again with his usual grave dignity to his sermon.
Mr. Richard Pierce was to be at the tea-drinking that afternoon, and Love did not anticipate the occasion with quite as much pleasure as usual. Now, she thought, it would be good-bye to her pleasant sittings and her confidential talks with the squire’s lady. She had confessed as much to her friend, who had only patted her cheek fondly and smiled. Love was afterwards afraid that she had been rude and forgetful of the claims upon her gratitude and deference. There, she had actually as good as told her that she was sorry her grandson was coming home, when she had not seen him for so long. Mr. Richard Pierce, having developed within himself an amazing spirit of independence, had been away the greater part of his vacations, earning money as tutor, and possibly in other capacities. There were those who claimed to have seen Mr. Richard Pierce, the squire’s step-grandson, following the plough on a farm twenty miles away like any farmer’s son. During his last vacation he had been in the old country with two boys whom he was fitting for college; the one before that, when he had been home for a few weeks, Love had been housed with a quinsy sore throat, and had not seen him. Indeed, with the exception of a few chance encounters with him at his grandmother’s, when he had just arrived or was just leaving, the girl had not seen him at all.
When she reached the squire’s house, and entered the stately old sitting-room, hung, as to its walls, with dim old oil-paintings and blurred engravings in heavy frames, furnished with old mahogany pieces reflecting the light, as in little pools, from their polished surfaces, it was at first so dark to her, coming out of the afternoon sunlight, that she could see nobody. The shutters were nearly closed, because the squire’s wife had a headache. Love saw her friend’s face smiling dimly out of the gloom, heard her voice greeting her fondly, and felt her soft lips on her cheek; then she was presented formally to Mr. Richard Pierce, and courtesied vaguely before a bowing shadow. After Love had removed her worked muslin cape and her bonnet, she seated herself and took out her needle-work—a fine handkerchief which she was hem-stitching for her father, having coveted a little daintiness for him as well as herself. She worked industriously, answering modestly and prettily the squire’s wife when she spoke to her, and frequently giving her fond glances; but she looked very seldom at Mr. Richard, and replied in gentle but cool monosyllables when he ventured to address her.
The young man could scarcely take his eyes from her, though he strove hard not to stare rudely. It seemed to him that he had never in his whole life seen anything quite so fair and wonderful as this girl, who seemed to sit in a sort of blue radiance, with a shaft of sunlight from the open upper half of the shutter gilding her head. All the courtly ease of manner for which he had been quite famed among his associates deserted him. He heard his voice tremble when he addressed this unresponsive girl; he knew that his remarks were boyish commonplaces. It seemed to him that his grandmother’s fair guest was in a mood not of maiden shyness only, but of decided aversion towards himself. He wondered in what way he could have offended her so soon. He wondered if she simply objected to him on the score of his personal appearance. It had always been considered fair beyond the average, but it might easily not be so regarded by her. Richard was not a large man; he considered that fact uneasily. He straightened himself to his fullest height when he crossed the room to open a shutter. However, his pains were thrown away; Love did not look at him at all. Still, although she was apparently oblivious of his presence, she was, in reality, fully aware of it.
The moment Love had entered the room, she had been conscious of a strange and pungent odor. She did not know what it was, but Mr. Richard smoked tobacco, and the scent of it was in his clothes. Love did not find it disagreeable, but she perceived it with every breath she drew, and it gave her a strange impulse of maiden rebellion, quite out of proportion to the cause, as if this man were fairly forcing his presence upon her, making it a part of her, whether she would or not.
Love, with a little impatient air foreign to her, removed the lid from a potpourri-jar on a stand near her, and bent her face over it. The scent of rose leaves, lavender, and spices seemed like a reassertion of the flavor of her own maiden individuality, which this man in his tobacco-scented garments, with his glances of hitherto unknown masculine pleading, was striving to overcome.
“It is too pleasant an afternoon for you to sit here in this dark room with your needle-work,” said the squire’s lady, presently. “Put it away, my dear, and Richard will take you out for a stroll in the garden.”
Love started. “Thank you,” she faltered, “I would rather remain here with you, if you please.”
“Do as I bid you, my dear,” repeated the squire’s wife, with her air of gentle authority which no one ever gainsaid.
Love, with no further demur, folded her needle-work and put it in her bead bag, and went with Mr. Richard into the garden at the back of the house.
Up and down the long box-bordered paths they paced. Love kept her eyes downcast, and face turned, so that only the pink curve of it was visible to her companion. She answered in soft monosyllables, a yes, sir, or a no, sir, when he addressed her with anxious deference. It spoke well for her charms that this young man, who had been heretofore treated very kindly by her sex, should have had a relish for this strolling in his grandmother’s garden with one so sparing of responsive words and smiles. But Mr. Richard Pierce, far from appearing bored or dull, wore a look of rapture, as he paced the tortuous garden paths, Love’s blue flounces rustling against him, no matter how far she shrank away, the pungent odor of the rank box, which was waist-high in places, in his nostrils, and now and then, like the melody triumphing over the swell of the bass, a breath of lavender from Love’s garments.
They threaded the green maze of the garden, Richard more adoring at every step; he held Love’s parasol jealously between her face and the sun. It would have pleased him, doubtless, had the snap-dragons in the garden beds been real ones, that he might have slain them in her defence. He ventured to pick a nosegay and offer it to her. She accepted it with courtesy, and when they returned to the house, gave it to his grandmother.
The tea-drinking that afternoon was a sore embarrassment and trial to Love. The squire was away, and his lady’s headache had waxed so severe that she had been obliged to retire to her room and leave her guest to sup alone with her grandson.
So she and Mr. Richard sat alone at the table, Love behind the tea-tray with its silver cream-jug and sugar-bowl and blue cups and saucers. She poured out the tea, tilting the silver pot with a dainty turn of her round elbow, and inquired politely as to the number of lumps of sugar, but volunteered scarcely a word beside.
She sipped her tea delicately, and made a pretence at her biscuit and a glass of syllabub and a square of sponge-cake, but was all the time anxiously furtive as to Richard’s progress, that she might rise from the table.
Even after tea Love was not as soon quit of her admirer as she had expected, for he must needs walk home with her to guard her from the deadly perils of the village street at dusk. She began to fear that she would not be rid of him at her house door, knowing that it would be incumbent upon her, unless she violated her sense of courtesy and hospitality, to invite him to enter. However, the young man, desirous as he might have been to accept the invitation, had the wisdom to refuse.
When Mr. Richard Pierce returned to Boston, some six weeks later, to take up the study of the law, Love had smiled in his face a few times, she had addressed him of her own accord upon as many occasions as he could count on his fingers, and twice when returning in his company from tea-drinkings at his grandmother’s, she had strolled with him a half-mile past her house. Once, coming on some errand for his grandmother, and having met with no response to his knocks, he had peered around the house and caught a glimpse of something blue through the trees in the apple orchard. He had followed up that glimpse of blue, and found Love seated with her needle-work in a natural arbor made by the growth of a wild grape-vine over an old apple-tree, and had ventured to throw himself on the grass at her feet. Love cast a startled glance at him, half rose as if to run away, then settled herself and resumed her needle-work. Love’s eyes were so intent upon this work that presently the young man dared still further. He gently laid hold of the hem of her blue muslin gown and kissed it fervently.
Love was on her feet in a flash, and her work — a lace tucker which she was embroidering— her scissors, her emery, her thread were on the ground. “I will never come here again, never, never,” said she, in a voice between anger and tears, and then was gone, flying like a blue-clad nymph through the green distance to the house.
There was a certain shrewdness about Richard Pierce, although he seemed such a humble lover. He doubtless was abashed and conscience-stricken before Love’s indignation, but he argued hopefully from her declaration that she would never visit the arbor again. “She must have thought of the possibility of my meeting her here,” reasoned Richard Pierce.
Richard was to leave for Boston the next day but one. The following afternoon he repaired full of hope to the grape-arbor, reaching it by a circuitous way across the fields, lest Love spy him from her window, and so not be able to excuse her coming to herself.
Richard waited long, but Love did not come; finally he repaired boldly to the house and knocked; but no one opened the door. The parson was away; and as for Love, she had been weeping so bitterly that not for the whole world would she have faced Richard Pierce with her red eyes.
Richard came again that evening, and then the parson admitted him, and ushered him into the study, concluding, as a matter of course, that the young man was there upon some errand connected with his soul’s salvation.
Richard, after a period of solemn waiting, on the parson’s part, for the unburdening of his spirit, inquired somewhat awkwardly if Miss Love were at home. The parson directly inferred that he had come on some errand for his grandmother, and replied that his daughter had retired to her room, suffering with a severe headache, but that he would deliver the message in the morning.
Richard, for very shame before this man so unconscious of his selfish designs, must needs plunge himself still further into deceit and invent a message, and thereby also accomplish a purpose of his own. He took out of his pocket a neat little parcel in silver-paper, and stated wickedly that his grandmother desired her compliments to Miss Love, and here was a little gift which she begged her to accept, the said gift being a most exquisite and dainty tucker of wrought lace, and a pair of embroidery-scissors, and an emery of painted velvet in an ivory case, for all of which treasures he had ridden hard that morning to the next market-town.
Love, up in her chamber, knew perfectly well who was down-stairs; she heard him come and heard him go; and although she would not go down to see him and bid him good-bye, she wept because she would not.
The next morning, when her father gave her the parcel, she knew at once from whom it had come, in spite of that deceptive message. She colored so hotly that her father looked at her in a puzzled way, and she never thanked Madam Diantha (she had come to call the squire’s lady by that name), though here was a fine chance with such an openly presented gift.
That night in his prayer the parson betrayed the fact that, however oblivious he had seemed, he had possibly conceived suspicions. He prayed fervently to the effect that his beloved child might ever be mindful of the daily fulfilment of her duty to the Lord. He quoted Saint Paul in terms rendered somewhat covert by sacred imagery; he declared the blessedness of going into the world and preaching the gospel to every living creature in preference to the joys of this life. He petitioned that she might not forget the example of her sainted sister, that pattern of early piety, and might have strength to follow in that path which she would perchance have trod had her life been spared.
When Love rose from her knees she was very pale. Up in her own chamber, she took the lace tucker and the ivory case, folded them carefully in the silver-paper, and put them in a box of painted satinwood which had belonged to her mother. Then she folded the blue muslin gown, whose hem Richard had kissed, daintily in a linen towel, and packed it away with the satinwood box in the very bottom of her chest.
Love did not sleep that night, and looked wan and pale the next morning. Even her father’s prayer, which was a sort of triumphant homily upon the joys which await them who overcome, did not seem to raise her flagging spirits. Sometimes that prospect of pearly gate and golden street, of eternal chorals of triumphant praise, seem all too splendid to a little humble soul who would fain have offered to itself a smaller reward for sacrifice.
If, instead of the sea of jasper and those pavements of gold, Love had had pictured some little door of home, and her mother standing in it with outstretched arms of welcome, it might have filled her with a deeper sense of comfort.
When Richard had been gone a week, he wrote a letter to Love in which he humbly begged her pardon for his boldness the afternoon before he left, and craved the honor of a correspondence.
Love had debated long as to whether her duty demanded that she show this letter to her father and ask his advice in the matter. Finally, being led to a decision largely by the reasoning that her duty it must be since it was such a sore trial, she took the letter to his study, and stood waiting at his elbow, a patient, downcast young figure, while he read it.
The candle-light flickered over the parson’s long, pale, heavily corrugated face as he read. It was a face expressive of all the stern resignation and persistency in sacrifice, and of none of its triumphant self-consciousness. Most truly did Parson Lord serve his Maker through pure obedience to His will, and never for the sake of his own. Finally the parson folded the letter, and stated his mind to his daughter, with his usual circumlocution of scriptural imagery. When he had finished, Love courtesied, took her letter, and went back to her chamber. Poor Richard Pierce received no answer from his divinity, but, instead, a lengthy epistle from her father, assuring him of the receipt of his distinguished favor, which had been submitted to his inspection by his daughter, for whom he had, he begged leave to say, views connected with her spiritual welfare and her true duty in life which rendered it inadvisable, according to his poor judgment, for her to engage in a correspondence of the nature proposed, which might perchance cause her to waste precious time and strength which should be devoted to higher aims, and possibly in the end divert her mind from the favorable contemplation of the one true and acceptable sacrifice of her life. The parson concluded with a few words of pious exhortation to his young friend.
It was quite possible that Richard felt some irritation at that very sweet docility, which he would have so admired if directed towards himself, which led Love to show his letter to her father and allow him to answer it. He did not again subject himself to a similar rebuff, nor endeavor to see Love until the following summer.
Then, at the first sight of the girl, grown far prettier, and with a helpless blush and tremor before his eyes, he felt his resentment vanish, and his admiration and love revive. However, he progressed not at all in his wooing. If he went to call upon Love, he was entertained by her father with a relentless persistency of pious conversation, and he went many a time to the grape-arbor in the hope that Love might be there with her needle-work, but she never was. During the three weeks he was at home she came only once to take tea with his grandmother, and then her father came for her, and himself escorted her home.
Richard could not but feel that he was avoided, and finally went back to Boston, resolved that he would waste no more thought upon a girl who so persistently flouted him.
After Richard had gone, Love grew thin and pale. The subtle inconsistency of reasoning power of her sex was strongly marked in her. Underneath all her keeping to the letter of the law she had a feeling of wonder and grief and injury that her lover should so take her at her word. She would have had him come when he was told not. She would have had him force her to a tete-a-tete in that grape-arbor, and make it out of her power to say him nay. She would have had him correspond with her when such correspondence had been forbidden, and somehow ease her conscience of any blame. She would have had him take her love all the more, since she withheld it. She told herself that he did not care now; he had seen a fairer face in Boston; she would sternly put him from her mind, and strive to gain sufficient earthly bliss in the hope of that of heaven. Now and then she talked to her father of her uncles in Burmah and India, how old were their wives when they accompanied them, how old was it necessary for a female missionary to be before the American Board would think it judicious to send her to those far-off lands? Reuben Lord had not always that expression of quick sympathy and joy with which he might have been expected to hear remarks so evidently tending towards the accomplishment of his cherished wish. Instead, he looked at his daughter with a sternly anxious knitting of brows, and replied that it was not so much a matter of years which was in question, as preparation and fitness of spirit and body to perform such work with acceptance to the Lord.
Love reflected humbly that her father considered that she was not spiritually fit for so great a trust; of her bodily state she thought not at all. She wondered why the squire’s lady looked at her with such wistful intentness; she wondered why she always insisted upon her drinking a glass of port-wine when she first arrived at her house.
In those days more mysterious gifts than ever were showered upon the girl—a warm fur tippet for her delicate throat, a great muff wherein to nestle her little hands, a warmly wadded cloak, a hood of blue silk edged with swan’s-down, and many luxuries to tempt her appetite — oranges and pineapples, and often a plump partridge or quail.
Love’s gratitude to the squire’s lady seemed to warm her whole heart. She often speculated as to the advisability of thanking her friend for her anonymous gifts, and once she consulted her father. “Do you think it advisable to thank a person for a gift who has given it secretly, sir?” she asked. And her father stared a little, and replied:
“No, daughter; no, certainly it is not advisable,” and was again intent upon Doddridge.
All winter, when the stage-coach came in with the mail, Love had a forlorn hope that it might bring a letter from Richard, but it never did. Sometimes the squire’s lady used to read extracts from her grandson’s letters to Love, both to her delight and her fear. Always her heart was beating loud in her ears with the fear lest Richard had written of some beautiful Boston lady who had won his heart. It was in such wise that she betrayed herself one afternoon in late June.
It being a fine day, she and Madam Diantha were walking in the garden when the squire came with the mail, and there was a letter from Richard.
The squire was a fine, handsome old gentleman, red-cheeked and clear-eyed, with a silver fleece of hair. Though he limped somewhat on account of his rheumatic joints, yet he advanced with an almost boyish impetuosity. He was of rather smaller stature than his wife, who moved with slow state between the roses, in a wide inflorescence of lavender flounces and softly floating laps and frills of lace.
“Open the letter at once, my dear,” cried the squire, ” and let us hear if the boy is coming, or if some fair Boston lady has him at her silk apron strings.”
Love had moved aside in the garden path to make room for the squire, and Madam Diantha saw the girl’s face go white and red.
“Read it aloud, my dear, if you please,” repeated the squire, eagerly.
His wife began to read in her soft voice.
The box in that place was as high as Love’s waist, and some branches of roses were hooping over it. She turned her face away and smelled of a rose as she listened.
The letter was short. Richard could not come just yet, not until next month, possibly not until August. He was very much occupied; the weather was very warm. He had been to dine at Mr. Solomon Purdy’s house the week before, and was to go there to a party to-morrow. Mr. Purdy had two daughters, most amiable young ladies, and a son whom he found a most desirable companion—
“‘Tis one of the most amiable young ladies!” interrupted the squire, with a loud laugh. “An amiable young lady and a pretty little apron, and Mr. Richard Pierce stumbling at the length of the strings. I knew it. She has him fast. Well, ’tis hard lines for us when we thought to see the lad’s face at the table a month ago, and now— Why, Diantha, my dear, what is the matter with the child?” For Love was half hanging over the green wall of box, like a broken rose branch.
“Why, my dear, what is the matter? Are you ill?” cried Madam Diantha, and put her arm around the girl, supporting her tenderly on her broad, motherly bosom. Love was gasping faintly, and her lips were white.
“What do you think is the matter?” asked the squire, anxiously: he was very fond of Love.
“It is nothing, I think,” said his wife; “she is not very strong, and the sun is hot. Will you please go to the house and get the camphor-bottle on my dressing-table?”
The squire’s lady put her mouth close to the girl’s ear when her husband had gone. “My precious child,” she whispered, but said no more of comfort; she dared not, since she knew not but the squire’s surmise was correct. So she only kissed and patted and soothed as best she could, and repeated that the sun was hot, and she not strong, and no wonder that she was faint.
Poor Love would have given the world to run home and hide herself, but she responded, with a proud impulse towards concealment, to her friend’s subterfuge. She owned that she had felt the heat of the sun; she submitted to all that was done for her, and remained to tea as usual, eating obediently as much as she was able of a little bird which the squire had ordered to be specially prepared.
“What ailed the child?” the squire asked his wife, after Love had gone home. “No, don’t say the sun, my dear, unless you spell it with an o,” and the squire laughed with boyish glee at his own joke.
“Hush, my dear, we have no reason—” his wife began; but he nodded obstinately.
“The poor little soul was distressed at the mention of the amiable Purdy,” said he; “but I hope you told her that it was nothing particular.”
“Oh, but, my dear, it may be!” said his wife.
“I don’t believe a word of it,” declared the squire, stoutly. “Well, if the boy should want her, and she him, I would venture ten to one that the parson would try to separate them with the contribution-box.”
The next week Love forced herself to go to the squire’s, lest they suspect the reason if she stayed away, but after that she did not go any more. Then July came and passed, and August was there, and Richard returned.
Love saw him first as she was walking down the street. He was out driving with his grandmother and the squire. He had come unexpectedly the night before. When Love first lifted her eyes at the roll of wheels and saw Richard, she went so white that Madam Diantha gave an involuntary start as if she would go to her. She thought for a second that the girl would fall. But Love recovered herself quickly, and courtesied prettily, and they had passed.
Richard’s grandmother glanced covertly at him, but he looked quite unconcerned, and her heart sank. However, Richard had seen, and the image of Miss Catharine Purdy, which he had rather urged upon his heart of late, faded.
Love wore that day a white muslin gown —one of her mysterious gifts—a little white cape, and a hat with a white ribbon; she looked for all the world like a flying white flower as she came down the street, her white draperies blown in the wind.
The squire had been shrewdly observant. “The parson’s daughter looks more like an angel than a thing of flesh and blood,” he remarked, presently, “and I fear she’ll be one in earnest if they don’t look out for her.”
Richard stared at the landscape. “Is she out of health?” he inquired, in a somewhat constrained tone.
“She was always delicate, dear,” his grandmother replied, evasively.
“Not like this,” maintained the squire.
That evening, when he and Richard were sitting together after supper, he turned suddenly upon the young man with a motion of defiance, as if he were throwing secrecy and prudence to the winds. “Well, my boy, your grandmother would have me say nothing, but I am going to get to the bottom of this. Our little Love Lord fainted away when your grandmother read a letter of yours in which you spoke of the Misses Purdy something particularly, and we knew— Now, sir, if you have trifled—”
“Trifled, sir!” cried Richard, staring. “Why, sir, she will have none of me. She has shown me so plainly that there is no mistaking it.”
“Then it’s the parson,” said the squire, reflectively.
“No; it is she herself.”
“Go there and see her, and you will find out that I am right, my boy,” said the squire.
“I go not the second time where I have as good as had the door in my face, though it was heaven, and an angel shutting it,” replied Richard, and was true to his resolution for some little time.
Poor Love stayed close at home, and always, when the weather was fine, repaired of an afternoon to the grape-arbor, and sat there until tea-time, with an eye of wistful hope for a young man coming across the field; but he never came.
But one afternoon, during the last of August, Love went into her father’s study, bringing a letter in which Mr. Richard Pierce begged her to be in the grape-arbor at eight o’clock, for the purpose of conversation upon a matter pertaining to them both. He concluded by stating that he would consider her failure to be there as final, and would henceforth obtrude himself no further upon her, whose obedient servant he would ever be.
Parson Reuben Lord read the letter, while his daughter looked at him with that same expression with which she had pleaded for the doll.
“Daughter, you know what my will has been for you from your youth up,” said the parson, solemnly.
Love went out without a word; her father heard her sob on the stairs. She ate no supper, though a little crock of honey had mysteriously come for her late that afternoon. She went up to her room at half-past seven o’clock.
Parson Lord stood listening at the foot of the stairs leading to his daughter’s chamber; now and then he heard a stifled sob. He put foot on the stair, as if to ascend, then drew back; at every sob his own face was convulsed. At last he took has hat and went out, shutting the front door softly.
That night the sky was overcast and the dusk was early. When Richard, at eight o’clock, crossed the fields, all the trees were forgathering in shadows, and all white flower bushes and white house walls in the distance seemed luminous.
Long before he reached the arbor he saw something white shining therein, and his heart leaped for joy, he thinking it was surely Love’s white gown and she had come. But when he went in, it was only a soft lavender-scented mass of silken shawl.
“She has been here and gone,” thought Richard, in a great turmoil of grief and wrath. “She has been here and not waited. I will have no more of her. If she loves me not, I will not follow her any longer; and if she loves me, she has no spirit which is worthy of the love. The clock has not yet struck eight, and she did not wait—”
Then, just as Richard spoke, the town-clock struck the half-hour after eight. And here it may be said that the next day, when the Boston stage-coach came in, there was great amazement all over the village to find that the town-clock was a half-hour fast.
But Richard Pierce, that night when he heard the half-hour strike, went straight to the parson’s house and let fall the knocker with a bold clang, and when the parson came, demanded to see his daughter.
“She has retired, I fear,” replied the parson, who was strangely pale, and whose voice quivered convulsively. “Will you walk into my study, sir?”
But Richard would not come in, and would see his daughter at the door.
Love did not know the voice in which her father called; she asked, tremblingly, who had spoken.
“Come down, daughter,” said her father, still in that strange voice. “There is some one at the door who is desirous of speaking with you.” Then he went into his study and shut the door.
Love went down, and Richard’s face shone white framed in the doorway against a background of night gloom. He flung an arm around her and drew her outside.
“We have had enough of this, dear,” he said, shortly. “If you love me, tell me so now, for God’s sake!”
“Oh, it is not right! I fear it is not right!” Love gasped, and trembled in his arms.
“Let the right alone. Tell me!”
“I must not!”
“Let the must not alone. Tell me!”
“Yes,” said Love, with a sigh, and then tried with a faint assertion of maiden dignity to ward off Richard’s kisses. “It can be no more than—this,” she whispered, brokenly. “We cannot be—married, Richard.”
“Why not?” demanded Richard. “Why not, sweetheart?”
“Father—father has vowed— He does not wish me to marry, Richard.”
“Well, marry you will, nevertheless, sweetheart.”
“Never without his consent. I cannot, Richard.”
“With or without, you shall marry me, Love; but he will consent.”
“Oh, he will not, unless—” Love looked with sudden courage in his face. “Oh,” she whispered—”oh, Richard, if you would only be a missionary!”
Richard Pierce laughed so loud that the gay ring of it penetrated to the parson in the study. “I will not be a missionary, and yet marry me you shall, now I know that you love me, sweetheart,” said he; then, before Love knew it, they were standing before her father.
“Sir,” said Richard, speaking with a fine manly air, “I should have come to you before and asked for your daughter’s hand had she not been so desirous of following your wishes instead of her own, and concealed her feelings from me so well that I judged it to be useless. Now we know that we love each other, and I beg that you will give me your daughter for my wife.”
“My daughter has long known that my plans for her were otherwise than the married estate,” said Parson Lord, looking past them and speaking with stiff lips.
“Is the soul of your daughter yours to command in a matter like this, sir?” inquired the young man, hotly, and yet with some show of deference.
“I cannot give my consent,” Parson Lord said, and turned to his sermon.
“Cannot you reconsider this, sir?”
“I cannot give my consent,” repeated the parson. “It is final.”
“Then,” said Richard, drawing Love’s arm firmly through his own, ” marry without your consent we must, sir, for marry her I will, now I know that she loves me.”
The next Sunday the banns between Richard Pierce, Esquire, and Love Lord, spinster, were published—not proclaimed from the pulpit, but copied neatly on a fair sheet, and hung in the frame used for that purpose beside the meeting-house door, where all who entered might read. The parson might have discerned a greater spirit of astonishment and gossip in the faces of his audience than of pious attention to the precepts of the gospel, had he been interested to decipher it.
His plans for his daughter were well known, and here were her banns published. Had the parson yielded unto the pleading of earthly affection, or was this without his knowledge or approval? Public opinion rather inclined to the latter view, although far from sure that the banns could be set up, even with the squire to manage matters, without the parson’s knowledge. Love was not at meeting, but Richard Pierce was sitting between his grandmother and the squire, and holding up his head with a gallant air, looking straight at the parson, as if he were weighing every word of the discourse.
The banns were published three Sundays, and on Monday following the third, the squire, the squire’s lady, and Mr. Richard Pierce drove in the coach to Parson Reuben Lord’s house. When they entered the study, having been ushered therein by the parson with a grave dignity, Richard looked around anxiously, but Love was not there. He glanced imploringly at his grandmother. “Where is Love, sir?” she asked the parson, in her sweetly imperative voice.
“In her chamber,” he replied. When he was dead, Parson Lord would be no whiter. “I will call her,” said Madam Diantha, and called “Love! Love, dear child!” And when the girl did not come for the calling, she went up-stairs, and found her weeping and moaning that she could not wed without her father’s consent, and he would never give it, and if he would, he would fly in the face of his own conscience, and bring a curse upon himself for breaking his solemn promise to the Lord.
Thus the poor child, in her bewilderment of love and conscience, until the squire’s lady would hear no more, but bathed her eyes and led her down-stairs to Richard, who took her hand with an air as if he challenged the whole world.
Then Squire Hawkes spoke to the parson. “Sir,” he said, “my grandson loves your daughter, and she returns his love. The banns have been published for the requisite length of time, as you are aware, and they stand before you humbly beseeching that you give them your blessing and unite them in matrimony.”
“I cannot do so, sir,” replied Parson Lord, in a set, sad voice. “I cannot, sir.”
“May I inquire why not, sir?”
“When my child was born, I solemnly dedicated her to God. I vowed that she should be set apart for the service of the Lord, should she be spared to me,” replied the Parson. “I can break my vow no more than Jephthah of old.”
“Damn Jephthah!” shouted the squire, who had an uncompromising tongue when aroused. “You are mad, sir.”
The parson remained silent.
“Will you, or will you not, marry them?” demanded the squire.
“Will you give your consent, then?”
Love was clinging weakly to her lover’s arm. The squire faced them suddenly. “’Tis the rankest folly,” he cried, “and the crudest! What are you, Reuben Lord, to dispose of your daughter, heart and soul, as you propose? How dare you come thrusting your damned covenant like a wedge between two young things who love each other in the fear of the Lord, and refusing to make them happy, because you are afraid you will go to hell for it? How dare you tamper with the holiest feeling of the human heart? Here is your daughter, an angel if ever there was one, loving this young man, and ready and willing to honor and obey him all the days of her life, comfort him in sorrow, and nurse him in sickness, are you not, sweetheart?”
Love nodded, sobbing.
“And here is my grandson, with all his heart set upon loving, cherishing, and protecting her in sickness or health, and cleaving to her for better or worse, are you not, Richard?”
“Yes, sir, I am,” replied Richard, with a start of amazement.
“Then,” said the squire, his voice changing suddenly from a tone of easy interrogation to one of solemn proclamation, “in virtue of the authority vested in me as justice of the peace of this township, I pronounce you man and wife.”
The squire gave a loud laugh of triumph, which he checked suddenly as he saw Parson Reuben Lord’s face. It was shocked beyond words, and with a strange expression of guilt.
“Before the Lord, sir,” cried Squire Hawkes, “neither your daughter nor my grandson nor my wife was a party to this, nor I myself, until the fancy struck me. I saw in a flash ’twas the only way; unless she had been trapped thus, she would never have brought herself to wed without your consent.”
Parson Lord went over to his daughter, kissed her solemnly on her forehead, said “God bless you, my daughter! May you and the husband you have chosen dwell together in the love of the Lord, and may the day be sanctified to you !” and went out.
A crowd which had gathered outside, gaping silently out of the shadows, stood back in a very hush of wonder when the bridal party emerged from the parson’s house, got into the coach, and were driven away. “She’s coming! She’s married to him!” said one exclaiming voice, and then no more.
For days the village was thrilled to its fullest capacity for excitement by the wedding of the squire’s grandson and the parson’s daughter; but no one ever knew the full particulars, for principals and witnesses kept them to themselves.
Everybody agreed that the parson aged fast after his daughter’s marriage, and that his whole character seemed strangely changed. Whereas he had moved among his people, discharging his religious duties towards them with astern rigidity of faithfulness, he now bore himself with a meek lovingness which caused folk to turn and stare at him as at a stranger. Moreover, his sermons lost their directness of application concerning the justice and righteous judgments of the Lord, and some feared lest he might be falling off in the doctrines.
Aunt Betsey Ware, who kept house for him, said never was such a change in mortal man before, and when a sour-apple tree begun to bear sweetings, ’twas a sure sign that it would blossom next spring in another world. She was right in that case, for Parson Reuben Lord died very suddenly the spring after his daughter’s marriage.
Love was sent for, and came with her husband, and mourned for her father, though in somewhat unwonted fashion. It was as if she grieved more sorely for that father whom she had never had than for him whom she had lost.
Then, a few days after the funeral, she found among his papers his journal, which she read, and had therefrom a revelation. When her husband came in she ran and clung to him, weeping and trembling in a passion of remorseful love and pity.
“Oh,” she cried—” oh, Richard! it was father—it was father!”
“What do you mean, sweetheart?”
“It was father who gave me the doll, and not Madam Diantha. It was father who gave me the pretty gowns and the bonnets and the ribbons. It was father who gave me everything! Oh, Richard, it was poor father! Look at this—look!”
Richard took the parson’s journal and read, here and there, where she indicated:
March 6. — I have purchased the doll. Alas ! I am weak and selfish, and under the sway of my natural affection. The price of the toy should have gone elsewhere; but the heart of the child is sore, and I cannot have it. Oh, her face as she stood there holding the old treasure of her childhood, which she had found, and which I could not let her keep for very consistency in discipline! Daphne was too hard upon such a tender heart of such a little girl.
God forgive me if I have erred through too great love for my child! Methinks I could have been burned at the stake in Thy cause, I could have been broken upon the wheel, but this martyrdom of pain in the heart of the child of my love I cannot bear.
March 7.—She looks as I have never seen her; the joy in her face causes my heart to leap. I have given her the toy in a manner secretly, hoping that she will not confound me with her innocent delight and thanks, which would convey to me such reproaches; and she was delicately mindful of my wish. She is wise beyond her years. How can I crave forgiveness when I do not truly repent, remembering the child’s face and the joy in it? Right or wrong, I would do it over again. Oh, my poor heart!
July 8.—Have purchased a gown of white muslin for my daughter. The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit should have been sufficient for her, but she was not attired as others of her age, and it perchance has tried her: the heart of a maid is a tender and unknown thing. Oh, my weak and degenerate nature! May it not foster in her too great love of dress and the pleasures of the world; for myself it matters not, so she be innocently glad.
September 6.—She is grieving because of that youth to whom her heart has turned, as I have known for some time, to my great sadness. What will become of that tender heart, yielding so helplessly and so guilelessly unto the great call of life? I cannot give my consent; I dare not break my vow unto the Lord. Herein, at least, I must stand firm. She has no appetite. I have purchased delicacies for her. It may be that I do wrong, when the heathen starve for the milk of the word; but she is my only child.
January 9.—She is very poor in health. She shivers in the cold meeting-house. I have purchased a fur tippet for her, and a large muff, and a wadded cloak at a price which would have done incalculable good in purchasing spiritual raiment for the needy in foreign fields. The child does not put me to shame with her openly expressed gratitude, but takes her gift, as usual, with her sweet docility and meek grace.
March 18.—I have to-day purchased a new gown of fine texture and a pretty color. She still pines and grieves, and I strive to render her content with these little gewgaws, which, I have understood, sweeten the greater lacks of life to the feminine heart. May God forgive me for yielding to this so great weakness, and striving to temper the sorrow which may be ordained for her good to my daughter, and even perchance awakening thereby a love for vanity in her heart!
July 26.—The youth upon whom she has fixed her affections is in the village; she is watching for him and he does not come. Can I keep to my resolution and see her unhappy?
August 27.—All is over. I have yielded to the strength of my paternal love. They have met and plighted their vows, and by my means. I myself, in spite of everything, have brought about a meeting between them, and that by methods which bring me to shame. I resorted to subterfuge, even to deception. I cannot recall even to myself the means which I used, involving, as they did, deception and trickery, without the deepest mortification and the most painful prickings of conscience, and yet I acknowledge, to my still deeper humiliation, that I do not regret the result which was brought about by such means, and I confess that I am sure, in the depths of my guilty and self-betraying heart, that, for the sake of her happiness, I would repeat, as long as I drew the breath of life, my folly and my fault.
September 30.—My daughter is wedded to the man of her choice. The letter of my vow I kept, yet broke it undeniably in the spirit. I humbly confess to my Maker my joy and exceeding happiness that the vow be not fulfilled, sinful though it may be. In spite of my backsliding, my lack of steadfastness, and my weakness of the flesh, I have upon me a deep peace and certainty of good to come which will not be gainsaid by any self-blame. I marvel greatly if I perchance have rightfully estimated the love of God towards us, which may—and I be not led astray by my evil imagination—acknowledge as its own offspring all the natural affections of the human heart, and the human weakness therefrom be thus forgiven by the divine love.