Tales From Home.
The Strange Friend
It would have required an intimate familiarity with the habitual demeanor of the people of Londongrove to detect in them an access of interest (we dare not say excitement), of whatever kind. Expression with them was pitched to so low a key that its changes might be compared to the slight variations in the drabs and grays in which they were clothed. Yet that there was a moderate, decorously subdued curiosity present in the minds of many of them on one of the First-days of the Ninth-month, in the year 1815, was as clearly apparent to a resident of the neighborhood as are the indications of a fire or a riot to the member of a city mob.
The agitations of the war which had so recently come to an end had hardly touched this quiet and peaceful community. They had stoutly "borne their testimony," and faced the question where it could not be evaded; and although the dashing Philadelphia militia had been stationed at Camp Bloomfield, within four miles of them, the previous year, these good people simply ignored the fact. If their sons ever listened to the trumpets at a distance, or stole nearer to have a peep at the uniforms, no report of what they had seen or heard was likely to be made at home. Peace brought to them a relief, like the awakening from an uncomfortable dream: their lives at once reverted to the calm which they had breathed for thirty years preceding the national disturbance. In their ways they had not materially changed for a hundred years. The surplus produce of their farms more than sufficed for the very few needs which those farms did not supply, and they seldom touched the world outside of their sect except in matters of business. They were satisfied with themselves and with their lot; they lived to a ripe and beautiful age, rarely "borrowed trouble," and were patient to endure that which came in the fixed course of things. If the spirit of curiosity, the yearning for an active, joyous grasp of life, sometimes pierced through this placid temper, and stirred the blood of the adolescent members, they were persuaded by grave voices, of almost prophetic authority, to turn their hearts towards "the Stillness and the Quietness."
It was the pleasant custom of the community to arrive at the meeting-house some fifteen or twenty minutes before the usual time of meeting, and exchange quiet and kindly greetings before taking their places on the plain benches inside. As most of the families had lived during the week on the solitude of their farms, they liked to see their neighbors' faces, and resolve, as it were, their sense of isolation into the common atmosphere, before yielding to the assumed abstraction of their worship. In this preliminary meeting, also, the sexes were divided, but rather from habit than any prescribed rule. They were already in the vestibule of the sanctuary; their voices were subdued and their manner touched with a kind of reverence.
If the Londongrove Friends gathered together a few minutes earlier on that September First-day; if the younger members looked more frequently towards one of the gates leading into the meeting-house yard than towards the other; and if Abraham Bradbury was the centre of a larger circle of neighbors than Simon Pennock (although both sat side by side on the highest seat of the gallery),--the cause of these slight deviations from the ordinary behavior of the gathering was generally known. Abraham's son had died the previous Sixth- month, leaving a widow incapable of taking charge of his farm on the Street Road, which was therefore offered for rent. It was not always easy to obtain a satisfactory tenant in those days, and Abraham was not more relieved than surprised on receiving an application from an unexpected quarter. A strange Friend, of stately appearance, called upon him, bearing a letter from William Warner, in Adams County, together with a certificate from a Monthly Meeting on Long Island. After inspecting the farm and making close inquiries in regard to the people of the neighborhood, he accepted the terms of rent, and had now, with his family, been three or four days in possession.
In this circumstance, it is true, there was nothing strange, and the interest of the people sprang from some other particulars which had transpired. The new-comer, Henry Donnelly by name, had offered, in place of the usual security, to pay the rent annually in advance; his speech and manner were not, in all respects, those of Friends, and he acknowledged that he was of Irish birth; and moreover, some who had passed the wagons bearing his household goods had been struck by the peculiar patterns of the furniture piled upon them. Abraham Bradbury had of course been present at the arrival, and the Friends upon the adjoining farms had kindly given their assistance, although it was a busy time of the year. While, therefore, no one suspected that the farmer could possibly accept a tenant of doubtful character, a general sentiment of curious expectancy went forth to meet the Donnelly family.
Even the venerable Simon Pennock, who lived in the opposite part of the township, was not wholly free from the prevalent feeling. "Abraham," he said, approaching his colleague, "I suppose thee has satisfied thyself that the strange Friend is of good repute."
Abraham was assuredly satisfied of one thing--that the three hundred silver dollars in his antiquated secretary at home were good and lawful coin. We will not say that this fact disposed him to charity, but will only testify that he answered thus:
"I don't think we have any right to question the certificate from Islip, Simon; and William Warner's word (whom thee knows by hearsay) is that of a good and honest man. Henry himself will stand ready to satisfy thee, if it is needful."
Here he turned to greet a tall, fresh-faced youth, who had quietly joined the group at the men's end of the meeting-house. He was nineteen, blue-eyed, and rosy, and a little embarrassed by the grave, scrutinizing, yet not unfriendly eyes fixed upon him.
"Simon, this is Henry's oldest son, De Courcy," said Abraham.
Simon took the youth's hand, saying, "Where did thee get thy outlandish name?"
The young man colored, hesitated, and then said, in a low, firm voice, "It was my grandfather's name."
One of the heavy carriages of the place and period, new and shiny, in spite of its sober colors, rolled into the yard. Abraham Bradbury and De Courcy Donnelly set forth side by side, to meet it.
Out of it descended a tall, broad-shouldered figure--a man in the prime of life, whose ripe, aggressive vitality gave his rigid Quaker garb the air of a military undress. His blue eyes seemed to laugh above the measured accents of his plain speech, and the close crop of his hair could not hide its tendency to curl. A bearing expressive of energy and the habit of command was not unusual in the sect, strengthening, but not changing, its habitual mask; yet in Henry Donnelly this bearing suggested--one could scarcely explain why--a different experience. Dress and speech, in him, expressed condescension rather than fraternal equality.
He carefully assisted his wife to alight, and De Courcy led the horse to the hitching-shed. Susan Donnelly was a still blooming woman of forty; her dress, of the plainest color, was yet of the richest texture; and her round, gentle, almost timid face looked forth like a girl's from the shadow of her scoop bonnet. While she was greeting Abraham Bradbury, the two daughters, Sylvia and Alice, who had been standing shyly by themselves on the edge of the group of women, came forward. The latter was a model of the demure Quaker maiden; but Abraham experienced as much surprise as was possible to his nature on observing Sylvia's costume. A light-blue dress, a dark-blue cloak, a hat with ribbons, and hair in curls-- what Friend of good standing ever allowed his daughter thus to array herself in the fashion of the world?
Henry read the question in Abraham's face, and preferred not to answer it at that moment. Saying, "Thee must make me acquainted with the rest of our brethren," he led the way back to the men's end. When he had been presented to the older members, it was time for them to assemble in meeting.
The people were again quietly startled when Henry Donnelly deliberately mounted to the third and highest bench facing them, and sat down beside Abraham and Simon. These two retained, possibly with some little inward exertion, the composure of their faces, and the strange Friend became like unto them. His hands were clasped firmly in his lap; his full, decided lips were set together, and his eyes gazed into vacancy from under the broad brim. De Courcy had removed his hat on entering the house, but, meeting his father's eyes, replaced it suddenly, with a slight blush.
When Simon Pennock and Ruth Treadwell had spoken the thoughts which had come to them in the stillness, the strange Friend arose. Slowly, with frequent pauses, as if waiting for the guidance of the Spirit, and with that inward voice which falls so naturally into the measure of a chant, he urged upon his hearers the necessity of seeking the Light and walking therein. He did not always employ the customary phrases, but neither did he seem to speak the lower language of logic and reason; while his tones were so full and mellow that they gave, with every slowly modulated sentence, a fresh satisfaction to the ear. Even his broad a's and the strong roll of his r's verified the rumor of his foreign birth, did not detract from the authority of his words. The doubts which had preceded him somehow melted away in his presence, and he came forth, after the meeting had been dissolved by the shaking of hands, an accepted tenant of the high seat.
That evening, the family were alone in their new home. The plain rush-bottomed chairs and sober carpet, in contrast with the dark, solid mahogany table, and the silver branched candle-stick which stood upon it, hinted of former wealth and present loss; and something of the same contrast was reflected in the habits of the inmates. While the father, seated in a stately arm-chair, read aloud to his wife and children, Sylvia's eyes rested on a guitar- case in the corner, and her fingers absently adjusted themselves to the imaginary frets. De Courcy twisted his neck as if the straight collar of his coat were a bad fit, and Henry, the youngest boy, nodded drowsily from time to time.
"There, my lads and lasses!" said Henry Donnelly, as he closed the book, "now we're plain farmers at last,--and the plainer the better, since it must be. There's only one thing wanting--"
He paused; and Sylvia, looking up with a bright, arch determination, answered: "It's too late now, father,--they have seen me as one of the world's people, as I meant they should. When it is once settled as something not to be helped, it will give us no trouble."
"Faith, Sylvia!" exclaimed De Courcy, "I almost wish I had kept you company."
"Don't be impatient, my boy," said the mother, gently. "Think of the vexations we have had, and what a rest this life will be!"
"Think, also," the father added, "that I have the heaviest work to do, and that thou'lt reap the most of what may come of it. Don't carry the old life to a land where it's out of place. We must be what we seem to be, every one of us!"
"So we will!" said Sylvia, rising from her seat,--" I, as well as the rest. It was what I said in the beginning, you--no, thee knows, father. Somebody must be interpreter when the time comes; somebody must remember while the rest of you are forgetting. Oh, I shall be talked about, and set upon, and called hard names; it won't be so easy. Stay where you are, De Courcy; that coat will fit sooner than you think."
Her brother lifted his shoulders and made a grimace. "I've an unlucky name, it seems," said he. "The old fellow--I mean Friend Simon--pronounced it outlandish. Couldn't I change it to Ezra or Adonijah?"
"Don't be alarmed, father. It will soon be as Sylvia says; thee's right, and mother is right. I'll let Sylvia keep my memory, and start fresh from here. We must into the field to-morrow, Hal and I. There's no need of a collar at the plough-tail."
They went to rest, and on the morrow not only the boys, but their father were in the field. Shrewd, quick, and strong, they made available what they knew of farming operations, and disguised much of their ignorance, while they learned. Henry Donnelly's first public appearance had made a strong public impression in his favor, which the voice of the older Friends soon stamped as a settled opinion. His sons did their share, by the amiable, yielding temper they exhibited, in accommodating themselves to the manners and ways of the people. The graces which came from a better education, possibly, more refined associations, gave them an attraction, which was none the less felt because it was not understood, to the simple-minded young men who worked with the hired hands in their fathers' fields. If the Donnelly family had not been accustomed, in former days, to sit at the same table with laborers in shirt-sleeves, and be addressed by the latter in fraternal phrase, no little awkwardnesses or hesitations betrayed the fact. They were anxious to make their naturalization complete, and it soon became so.
The "strange Friend" was now known in Londongrove by the familiar name of "Henry." He was a constant attendant at meeting, not only on First-days, but also on Fourth-days, and whenever he spoke his words were listened to with the reverence due to one who was truly led towards the Light. This respect kept at bay the curiosity that might still have lingered in some minds concerning his antecedent life. It was known that he answered Simon Pennock, who had ventured to approach him with a direct question, in these words:
"Thee knows, Friend Simon, that sometimes a seal is put upon our mouths for a wise purpose. I have learned not to value the outer life except in so far as it is made the manifestation of the inner life, and I only date my own from the time when I was brought to a knowledge of the truth. It is not pleasant to me to look upon what went before; but a season may come when it shall be lawful for me to declare all things--nay, when it shall be put upon me as a duty.
Thee must suffer me to wait the call."
After this there was nothing more to be said. The family was on terms of quiet intimacy with the neighbors; and even Sylvia, in spite of her defiant eyes and worldly ways, became popular among the young men and maidens. She touched her beloved guitar with a skill which seemed marvellous to the latter; and when it was known that her refusal to enter the sect arose from her fondness for the prohibited instrument, she found many apologists among them. She was not set upon, and called hard names, as she had anticipated. It is true that her father, when appealed to by the elders, shook his head and said, "It is a cross to us!"--but he had been known to remain in the room while she sang "Full high in Kilbride," and the keen light which arose in his eyes was neither that of sorrow nor anger.
At the end of their first year of residence the farm presented evidences of much more orderly and intelligent management than at first, although the adjoining neighbors were of the opinion that the Donnellys had hardly made their living out of it. Friend Henry, nevertheless, was ready with the advance rent, and his bills were promptly paid. He was close at a bargain, which was considered rather a merit than otherwise,--and almost painfully exact in observing the strict letter of it, when made.
As time passed by, and the family became a permanent part and parcel of the remote community, wearing its peaceful color and breathing its untroubled atmosphere, nothing occurred to disturb the esteem and respect which its members enjoyed. From time to time the postmaster at the corner delivered to Henry Donnelly a letter from New York, always addressed in the same hand. The first which arrived had an "Esq." added to the name, but this "compliment" (as the Friends termed it) soon ceased. Perhaps the official may have vaguely wondered whether there was any connection between the occasional absence of Friend Henry--not at Yearly-Meeting time--and these letters. If he had been a visitor at the farm-house he might have noticed variations in the moods of its inmates, which must have arisen from some other cause than the price of stock or the condition of the crops. Outside of the family circle, however, they were serenely reticent.
In five or six years, when De Courcy had grown to be a hale, handsome man of twenty-four, and as capable of conducting a farm as any to the township born, certain aberrations from the strict line of discipline began to be rumored. He rode a gallant horse, dressed a little more elegantly than his membership prescribed, and his unusually high, straight collar took a knack of falling over. Moreover, he was frequently seen to ride up the Street Road, in the direction of Fagg's Manor, towards those valleys where the brick Presbyterian church displaces the whitewashed Quaker meeting-house.
Had Henry Donnelly not occupied so high a seat, and exercised such an acknowledged authority in the sect, he might sooner have received counsel, or proffers of sympathy, as the case might be; but he heard nothing until the rumors of De Courcy's excursions took a more definite form.
But one day, Abraham Bradbury, after discussing some Monthly- Meeting matters, suddenly asked: "Is this true that I hear, Henry,--that thy son De Courcy keeps company with one of the Alison girls?"
"Who says that?" Henry asked, in a sharp voice.
"Why, it's the common talk! Surely, thee's heard of it before?"
Henry set his lips together in a manner which Abraham understood. Considering that he had fully performed his duty, he said no more.
That evening, Sylvia, who had been gently thrumming to herself at the window, began singing "Bonnie Peggie Alison." Her father looked at De Courcy, who caught his glance, then lowered his eyes, and turned to leave the room.
"Stop, De Courcy," said the former; "I've heard a piece of news about thee to-day, which I want thee to make clear."
"Shall I go, father?" asked Sylvia.
"No; thee may stay to give De Courcy his memory. I think he is beginning to need it. I've learned which way he rides on Seventh- day evenings."
"Father, I am old enough to choose my way," said De Courcy.
"But no such ways now, boy! Has thee clean forgotten? This was among the things upon which we agreed, and you all promised to keep watch and guard over yourselves. I had my misgivings then, but for five years I've trusted you, and now, when the time of probation is so nearly over--"
He hesitated, and De Courcy, plucking up courage, spoke again. With a strong effort the young man threw off the yoke of a self-taught restraint, and asserted his true nature. "Has O'Neil written?" he asked.
"Then, father," he continued, "I prefer the certainty of my present life to the uncertainty of the old. I will not dissolve my connection with the Friends by a shock which might give thee trouble; but I will slowly work away from them. Notice will be taken of my ways; there will be family visitations, warnings, and the usual routine of discipline, so that when I marry Margaret Alison, nobody will be surprised at my being read out of meeting. I shall soon be twenty-five, father, and this thing has gone on about as long as I can bear it. I must decide to be either a man or a milksop."
The color rose to Henry Donnelly's cheeks, and his eyes flashed, but he showed no signs of anger. He moved to De Courcy's side and laid his hand upon his shoulder.
"Patience, my boy!" he said. "It's the old blood, and I might have known it would proclaim itself. Suppose I were to shut my eyes to thy ridings, and thy merry-makings, and thy worldly company. So far I might go; but the girl is no mate for thee. If O'Neil is alive, we are sure to hear from him soon; and in three years, at the utmost, if the Lord favors us, the end will come. How far has it gone with thy courting? Surely, surely, not too far to withdraw, at least under the plea of my prohibition?"
De Courcy blushed, but firmly met his father's eyes. "I have spoken to her," he replied, "and it is not the custom of our family to break plighted faith."
"Thou art our cross, not Sylvia. Go thy ways now. I will endeavor to seek for guidance."
"Sylvia," said the father, when De Courcy had left the room, "what is to be the end of this?"
"Unless we hear from O'Neil, father, I am afraid it cannot be prevented. De Courcy has been changing for a year past; I am only surprised that you did not sooner notice it. What I said in jest has become serious truth; he has already half forgotten. We might have expected, in the beginning, that one of two things would happen: either he would become a plodding Quaker farmer or take to his present courses. Which would be worse, when this life is over,--if that time ever comes?"
Sylvia sighed, and there was a weariness in her voice which did not escape her father's ear. He walked up and down the room with a troubled air. She sat down, took the guitar upon her lap, and began to sing the verse, commencing, "Erin, my country, though sad and forsaken," when--perhaps opportunely--Susan Donnelly entered the room.
"Eh, lass!" said Henry, slipping his arm around his wife's waist, "art thou tired yet? Have I been trying thy patience, as I have that of the children? Have there been longings kept from me, little rebellions crushed, battles fought that I supposed were over?"
"Not by me, Henry," was her cheerful answer. "I have never have been happier than in these quiet ways with thee. I've been thinking, what if something has happened, and the letters cease to come? And it has seemed to me--now that the boys are as good farmers as any, and Alice is such a tidy housekeeper--that we could manage very well without help. Only for thy sake, Henry: I fear it would be a terrible disappointment to thee. Or is thee as accustomed to the high seat as I to my place on the women's side?"
"No!" he answered emphatically. "The talk with De Courcy has set my quiet Quaker blood in motion. The boy is more than half right; I am sure Sylvia thinks so too. What could I expect? He has no birthright, and didn't begin his task, as I did, after the bravery of youth was over. It took six generations to establish the serenity and content of our brethren here, and the dress we wear don't give us the nature. De Courcy is tired of the masquerade, and Sylvia is tired of seeing it. Thou, my little Susan, who wert so timid at first, puttest us all to shame now!"
"I think I was meant for it,--Alice, and Henry, and I," said she.
No outward change in Henry Donnelly's demeanor betrayed this or any other disturbance at home. There were repeated consultations between the father and son, but they led to no satisfactory conclusion. De Courcy was sincerely attached to the pretty Presbyterian maiden, and found livelier society in her brothers and cousins than among the grave, awkward Quaker youths of Londongrove.
With the occasional freedom from restraint there awoke in him a desire for independence--a thirst for the suppressed license of youth. His new acquaintances were accustomed to a rigid domestic regime, but of a different character, and they met on a common ground of rebellion. Their aberrations, it is true, were not of a very formidable character, and need not have been guarded but for the severe conventionalities of both sects. An occasional fox- chase, horse-race, or a "stag party" at some outlying tavern, formed the sum of their dissipation; they sang, danced reels, and sometimes ran into little excesses through the stimulating sense of the trespass they were committing.
By and by reports of certain of these performances were brought to the notice of the Londongrove Friends, and, with the consent of Henry Donnelly himself, De Courcy received a visit of warning and remonstrance. He had foreseen the probability of such a visit and was prepared. He denied none of the charges brought against him, and accepted the grave counsel offered, simply stating that his nature was not yet purified and chastened; he was aware he was not walking in the Light; he believed it to be a troubled season through which he must needs pass. His frankness, as he was shrewd enough to guess, was a scource of perplexity to the elders; it prevented them from excommunicating him without further probation, while it left him free to indulge in further recreations.
Some months passed away, and the absence from which Henry Donnelly always returned with a good supply of ready money did not take place. The knowledge of farming which his sons had acquired now came into play. It was necessary to exercise both skill and thrift in order to keep up the liberal footing upon which the family had lived; for each member of it was too proud to allow the community to suspect the change in their circumstances. De Courcy, retained more than ever at home, and bound to steady labor, was man enough to subdue his impatient spirit for the time; but he secretly determined that with the first change for the better he would follow the fate he had chosen for himself.
Late in the fall came the opportunity for which he had longed. One evening he brought home a letter, in the well-known handwriting. His father opened and read it in silence.
"Well, father?" he said.
"A former letter was lost, it seems. This should have come in the spring; it is only the missing sum."
"Does O'Neil fix any time?"
"No; but he hopes to make a better report next year."
"Then, father," said De Courcy, "it is useless for me to wait longer; I am satisfied as it is. I should not have given up Margaret in any case; but now, since thee can live with Henry's help, I shall claim her."
"Must it be, De Courcy?"
But it was not to be. A day or two afterwards the young man, on his mettled horse, set off up the Street Road, feeling at last that the fortune and the freedom of his life were approaching. He had become, in habits and in feelings, one of the people, and the relinquishment of the hope in which his father still indulged brought him a firmer courage, a more settled content. His sweetheart's family was in good circumstances; but, had she been poor, he felt confident of his power to make and secure for her a farmer's home. To the past--whatever it might have been--he said farewell, and went carolling some cheerful ditty, to look upon the face of his future.
That night a country wagon slowly drove up to Henry Donnelly's door. The three men who accompanied it hesitated before they knocked, and, when the door was opened, looked at each other with pale, sad faces, before either spoke. No cries followed the few words that were said, but silently, swiftly, a room was made ready, while the men lifted from the straw and carried up stairs an unconscious figure, the arms of which hung down with a horrible significance as they moved. He was not dead, for the heart beat feebly and slowly; but all efforts to restore his consciousness were in vain. There was concussion of the brain the physician said. He had been thrown from his horse, probably alighting upon his head, as there were neither fractures nor external wounds. All that night and next day the tenderest, the most unwearied care was exerted to call back the flickering gleam of life. The shock had been too great; his deadly torpor deepened into death.
In their time of trial and sorrow the family received the fullest sympathy, the kindliest help, from the whole neighborhood. They had never before so fully appreciated the fraternal character of the society whereof they were members. The plain, plodding people living on the adjoining farms became virtually their relatives and fellow-mourners. All the external offices demanded by the sad occasion were performed for them, and other eyes than their own shed tears of honest grief over De Courcy's coffin. All came to the funeral, and even Simon Pennock, in the plain yet touching words which he spoke beside the grave, forgot the young man's wandering from the Light, in the recollection of his frank, generous, truthful nature.
If the Donnellys had sometimes found the practical equality of life in Londongrove a little repellent they were now gratefully moved by the delicate and refined ways in which the sympathy of the people sought to express itself. The better qualities of human nature always develop a temporary good-breeding. Wherever any of the family went, they saw the reflection of their own sorrow; and a new spirit informed to their eyes the quiet pastoral landscapes.
In their life at home there was little change. Abraham Bradbury had insisted on sending his favorite grandson, Joel, a youth of twenty-two, to take De Courcy's place for a few months. He was a shy quiet creature, with large brown eyes like a fawn's, and young Henry Donnelly and he became friends at once. It was believed that he would inherit the farm at his grandfather's death; but he was as subservient to Friend Donnelly's wishes in regard to the farming operations as if the latter held the fee of the property. His coming did not fill the terrible gap which De Courcy's death had made, but seemed to make it less constantly and painfully evident.
Susan Donnelly soon remarked a change, which she could neither clearly define nor explain to herself, both in her husband and in their daughter Sylvia. The former, although in public he preserved the same grave, stately face,--its lines, perhaps, a little more deeply marked,--seemed to be devoured by an internal unrest. His dreams were of the old times: words and names long unused came from his lips as he slept by her side. Although he bore his grief with more strength than she had hoped, he grew nervous and excitable,-- sometimes unreasonably petulant, sometimes gay to a pitch which impressed her with pain. When the spring came around, and the mysterious correspondence again failed, as in the previous year, his uneasiness increased. He took his place on the high seat on First-days, as usual, but spoke no more.
Sylvia, on the other hand, seemed to have wholly lost her proud, impatient character. She went to meeting much more frequently than formerly, busied herself more actively about household matters, and ceased to speak of the uncertain contingency which had been so constantly present in her thoughts. In fact, she and her father had changed places. She was now the one who preached patience, who held before them all the bright side of their lot, who brought Margaret Alison to the house and justified her dead brother's heart to his father's, and who repeated to the latter, in his restless moods, "De Courcy foresaw the truth, and we must all in the end decide as he did."
"Can thee do it, Sylvia?" her father would ask.
"I believe I have done it already," she said. "If it seems difficult, pray consider how much later I begin my work. I have had all your memories in charge, and now I must not only forget for myself, but for you as well."
Indeed, as the spring and summer months came and went, Sylvia evidently grew stronger in her determination. The fret of her idle force was allayed, and her content increased as she saw and performed the possible duties of her life. Perhaps her father might have caught something of her spirit, but for his anxiety in regard to the suspended correspondence. He wearied himself in guesses, which all ended in the simple fact that, to escape embarrassment, the rent must again be saved from the earnings of the farm.
The harvests that year were bountiful; wheat, barley, and oats stood thick and heavy in the fields. No one showed more careful thrift or more cheerful industry than young Joel Bradbury, and the family felt that much of the fortune of their harvest was owing to him.
On the first day after the crops had been securely housed, all went to meeting, except Sylvia. In the walled graveyard the sod was already green over De Courcy's unmarked mound, but Alice had planted a little rose-tree at the head, and she and her mother always visited the spot before taking their seats on the women's side. The meeting-house was very full that day, as the busy season of the summer was over, and the horses of those who lived at a distance had no longer such need of rest.
It was a sultry forenoon, and the windows and doors of the building were open. The humming of insects was heard in the silence, and broken lights and shadows of the poplar-leaves were sprinkled upon the steps and sills. Outside there were glimpses of quiet groves and orchards, and blue fragments of sky,--no more semblance of life in the external landscape than there was in the silent meeting within. Some quarter of an hour before the shaking of hands took place, the hoofs of a horse were heard in the meeting-house yard-- the noise of a smart trot on the turf, suddenly arrested.
The boys pricked up their ears at this unusual sound, and stole glances at each other when they imagined themselves unseen by the awful faces in the gallery. Presently those nearest the door saw a broader shadow fall over those flickering upon the stone. A red face appeared for a moment, and was then drawn back out of sight. The shadow advanced and receded, in a state of peculiar restlessness. Sometimes the end of a riding-whip was visible, sometimes the corner of a coarse gray coat. The boys who noticed these apparitions were burning with impatience, but they dared not leave their seats until Abraham Bradbury had reached his hand to Henry Donnelly.
Then they rushed out. The mysterious personage was still beside the door, leaning against the wall. He was a short, thick-set man of fifty, with red hair, round gray eyes, a broad pug nose, and projecting mouth. He wore a heavy gray coat, despite the heat, and a waistcoat with many brass buttons; also corduroy breeches and riding boots. When they appeared, he started forward with open mouth and eyes, and stared wildly in their faces. They gathered around the poplar-trunks, and waited with some uneasiness to see what would follow.
Slowly and gravely, with the half-broken ban of silence still hanging over them, the people issued from the house. The strange man stood, leaning forward, and seemed to devour each, in turn, with his eager eyes. After the young men came the fathers of families, and lastly the old men from the gallery seats. Last of these came Henry Donnelly. In the meantime, all had seen and wondered at the waiting figure; its attitude was too intense and self-forgetting to be misinterpreted. The greetings and remarks were suspended until the people had seen for whom the man waited, and why.
Henry Donnelly had no sooner set his foot upon the door-step than, with something between a shout and a howl, the stranger darted forward, seized his hand, and fell upon one knee, crying: "O my lord! my lord! Glory be to God that I've found ye at last!"
If these words burst like a bomb on the ears of the people, what was their consternation when Henry Donnelly exclaimed, "The Divel! Jack O'Neil, can that be you?"
"It's me, meself, my lord! When we heard the letters went wrong last year, I said `I'll trust no such good news to their blasted mail-posts: I'll go meself and carry it to his lordship,--if it is t'other side o' the say. Him and my lady and all the children went, and sure I can go too. And as I was the one that went with you from Dunleigh Castle, I'll go back with you to that same, for it stands awaitin', and blessed be the day that sees you back in your ould place!"
"All clear, Jack? All mine again?"
"You may believe it, my lord! And money in the chest beside. But where's my lady, bless her sweet face! Among yon women, belike, and you'll help me to find her, for it's herself must have the news next, and then the young master--"
With that word Henry Donnelly awoke to a sense of time and place. He found himself within a ring of staring, wondering, scandalized eyes. He met them boldly, with a proud, though rather grim smile, took hold of O'Neil's arm and led him towards the women's end of the house, where the sight of Susan in her scoop bonnet so moved the servant's heart that he melted into tears. Both husband and wife were eager to get home and hear O'Neil's news in private; so they set out at once in their plain carriage, followed by the latter on horseback. As for the Friends, they went home in a state of bewilderment.
Alice Donnelly, with her brother Henry and Joel Bradbury, returned on foot. The two former remembered O'Neil, and, although they had not witnessed his first interview with their father, they knew enough of the family history to surmise his errand. Joel was silent and troubled.
"Alice, I hope it doesn't mean that we are going back, don't you?" said Henry.
"Yes," she answered, and said no more.
They took a foot-path across the fields, and reached the farm-house at the same time with the first party. As they opened the door Sylvia descended the staircase dressed in a rich shimmering brocade, with a necklace of amethysts around her throat. To their eyes, so long accustomed to the absence of positive color, she was completely dazzling. There was a new color on her cheeks, and her eyes seemed larger and brighter. She made a stately courtesy, and held open the parlor door.
"Welcome, Lord Henry Dunleigh, of Dunleigh Castle!" she cried; "welcome, Lady Dunleigh!"
Her father kissed her on the forehead. "Now give us back our memories, Sylvia!" he said, exultingly.
Susan Donnelly sank into a chair, overcome by the mixed emotions of the moment.
"Come in, my faithful Jack! Unpack thy portmanteau of news, for I see thou art bursting to show it; let us have every thing from the beginning. Wife, it's a little too much for thee, coming so unexpectedly. Set out the wine, Alice!"
The decanter was placed upon the table. O'Neil filled a tumbler to the brim, lifted it high, made two or three hoarse efforts to speak, and then walked away to the window, where he drank in silence. This little incident touched the family more than the announcement of their good fortune. Henry Donnelly's feverish exultation subsided: he sat down with a grave, thoughtful face, while his wife wept quietly beside him. Sylvia stood waiting with an abstracted air; Alice removed her mother's bonnet and shawl; and Henry and Joel, seated together at the farther end of the room, looked on in silent anticipation.
O'Neil's story was long, and frequently interrupted. He had been Lord Dunleigh's steward in better days, as his father had been to the old lord, and was bound to the family by the closest ties of interest and affection. When the estates became so encumbered that either an immediate change or a catastrophe was inevitable, he had been taken into his master's confidence concerning the plan which had first been proposed in jest, and afterwards adopted in earnest.
The family must leave Dunleigh Castle for a period of probably eight or ten years, and seek some part of the world where their expenses could be reduced to the lowest possible figure. In Germany or Italy there would be the annoyance of a foreign race and language, of meeting of tourists belonging to the circle in which they had moved, a dangerous idleness for their sons, and embarrassing restrictions for their daughters. On the other hand, the suggestion to emigrate to America and become Quakers during their exile offered more advantages the more they considered it. It was original in character; it offered them economy, seclusion, entire liberty of action inside the limits of the sect, the best moral atmosphere for their children, and an occupation which would not deteriorate what was best in their blood and breeding.
How Lord Dunleigh obtained admission into the sect as plain Henry Donnelly is a matter of conjecture with the Londongrove Friends. The deception which had been practised upon them-- although it was perhaps less complete than they imagined--left a soreness of feeling behind it. The matter was hushed up after the departure of the family, and one might now live for years in the neighborhood without hearing the story. How the shrewd plan was carried out by Lord Dunleigh and his family, we have already learned. O'Neil, left on the estate, in the north of Ireland, did his part with equal fidelity. He not only filled up the gaps made by his master's early profuseness, but found means to move the sympathies of a cousin of the latter--a rich, eccentric old bachelor, who had long been estranged by a family quarrel. To this cousin he finally confided the character of the exile, and at a lucky time; for the cousin's will was altered in Lord Dunleigh's favor, and he died before his mood of reconciliation passed away. Now, the estate was not only unencumbered, but there was a handsome surplus in the hands of the Dublin bankers. The family might return whenever they chose, and there would be a festival to welcome them, O'Neil said, such as Dunleigh Castle had never known since its foundations were laid.
"Let us go at once!" said Sylvia, when he had concluded his tale. "No more masquerading,--I never knew until to-day how much I have hated it! I will not say that your plan was not a sensible one, father; but I wish it might have been carried out with more honor to ourselves. Since De Courcy's death I have begun to appreciate our neighbors: I was resigned to become one of these people had our luck gone the other way. Will they give us any credit for goodness and truth, I wonder? Yes, in mother's case, and Alice's; and I believe both of them would give up Dunleigh Castle for this little farm."
"Then," her father exclaimed, "it is time that we should return, and without delay. But thee wrongs us somewhat, Sylvia: it has not all been masquerading. We have become the servants, rather than the masters, of our own parts, and shall live a painful and divided life until we get back in our old place. I fear me it will always be divided for thee, wife, and Alice and Henry. If I am subdued by the element which I only meant to asssume, how much more deeply must it have wrought in your natures! Yes, Sylvia is right, we must get away at once. To-morrow we must leave Londongrove forever!"
He had scarcely spoken, when a new surprise fell upon the family. Joel Bradbury arose and walked forward, as if thrust by an emotion so powerful that it transformed his whole being. He seemed to forget every thing but Alice Donnelly's presence. His soft brown eyes were fixed on her face with an expression of unutterable tenderness and longing. He caught her by the hands. "Alice, O, Alice!" burst from his lips; "you are not going to leave me?"
The flush in the girl's sweet face faded into a deadly paleness. A moan came from her lips; her head dropped, and she would have fallen, swooning, from the chair had not Joel knelt at her feet and caught her upon his breast.
For a moment there was silence in the room.
Presently, Sylvia, all her haughtiness gone, knelt beside the young man, and took her sister from his arms. "Joel, my poor, dear friend," she said, "I am sorry that the last, worst mischief we have done must fall upon you."
Joel covered his face with his hands, and convulsively uttered the words, "Must she go?"
Then Henry Donnelly--or, rather, Lord Dunleigh, as we must now call him--took the young man's hand. He was profoundly moved; his strong voice trembled, and his words came slowly. "I will not appeal to thy heart, Joel," he said, "for it would not hear me now.
But thou hast heard all our story, and knowest that we must leave these parts, never to return. We belong to another station and another mode of life than yours, and it must come to us as a good fortune that our time of probation is at an end. Bethink thee, could we leave our darling Alice behind us, parted as if by the grave? Nay, could we rob her of the life to which she is born--of her share in our lives? On the other hand, could we take thee with us into relations where thee would always be a stranger, and in which a nature like thine has no place? This is a case where duty speaks clearly, though so hard, so very hard, to follow."
He spoke tenderly, but inflexibly, and Joel felt that his fate was pronounced. When Alice had somewhat revived, and was taken to another room, he stumbled blindly out of the house, made his way to the barn, and there flung himself upon the harvest-sheaves which, three days before, he had bound with such a timid, delicious hope working in his arm.
The day which brought such great fortune had thus a sad and troubled termination. It was proposed that the family should start for Philadelphia on the morrow, leaving O'Neil to pack up and remove such furniture as they wished to retain; but Susan, Lady Dunleigh, could not forsake the neighborhood without a parting visit to the good friends who had mourned with her over her firstborn; and Sylvia was with her in this wish. So two more days elapsed, and then the Dunleighs passed down the Street Road, and the plain farm-house was gone from their eyes forever. Two grieved over the loss of their happy home; one was almost broken-hearted; and the remaining two felt that the trouble of the present clouded all their happiness in the return to rank and fortune.
They went, and they never came again. An account of the great festival at Dunleigh Castle reached Londongrove two years later, through an Irish laborer, who brought to Joel Bradbury a letter of recommendation signed "Dunleigh." Joel kept the man upon his farm, and the two preserved the memory of the family long after the neighborhood had ceased to speak of it. Joel never married; he still lives in the house where the great sorrow of his life befell.
His head is gray, and his face deeply wrinkled; but when he lifts the shy lids of his soft brown eyes, I fancy I can see in their tremulous depths the lingering memory of his love for Alice Dunleigh.