Pencil Sketches; or, Outlines of Character and Manners, page 12
THE OLD FARM-HOUSE.
"Her charm around, the enchantress Memory throws."--ROGERS.
Edward Lindsay had recently returned from Europe, where a long series ofyears passed in the successful prosecution of a lucrative mercantilebusiness, had gained for him an independence that in his own countrywould be considered wealth. Continuing in heart and soul an American, itwas only in the land of his birth, that he could resolve to settlehimself, and enjoy the fruits of well-directed enterprise, and almostuninterrupted good fortune.
Early impressions are lasting; and among the images that frequentlyrecurred to the memory of our hero, were those of a certain oldfarm-house in the interior of Pennsylvania, and its kind andsimple-hearted inhabitants. The farmer, whose name was Abraham Hilliard,had been in the practice of occasionally bringing to Philadelphia awagon-load of excellent marketing, and stopping with his team at thedoors of several genteel families, his unfailing customers. It was thusthat Mr. and Mrs. Lindsay obtained a knowledge of him, which eventuallyinduced them to place in his house, as a boarder, their only survivingchild Edward: that during the summer season, the boy, whose constitutionwas naturally delicate, might have a chance of acquiring confirmedhealth and hardihood, united with habits of self-dependence; it beingclearly understood by all parties, that young Lindsay was to be treated,in every respect, like the farmer's own children. The experimentsucceeded: and it was at Oakland Farm that Edward Lindsay's summers werechiefly spent from the age of eight to eighteen, at which time he wassent to Bordeaux, and placed in the counting-house of his maternaluncle. And twice when Philadelphia was visited by the malignant feverwhich in former years spread such terror through the city, and whoseravages were only checked by the return of cold weather, the anxiousparents of our hero made him stay in the country till the winter hadfairly set in.
During his long residence in Europe, Edward Lindsay was so unfortunateas to lose both father and mother, and, therefore, his arrival in hisnative town was accompanied by many painful feelings. The bustle of thecity, and the company into which the hospitality of his friendsendeavoured to draw him, were not in accordance with his present stateof mind, and he imagined that nothing would be more soothing to him thana visit to the country, and particularly to the place where so much ofhis boyhood had been passed. While his mother lived, she had frequentlysent him tidings of his old friends at Oakland Farm, none of whom wereletter writers; but since her death, they seemed to be lost sight of,and it was now many years since Edward had heard anything of them.
Oakland Farm was not on a public road, and it was some miles remote fromthe route of any public conveyance. As the season was the close ofspring, and the weather delightful, Lindsay determined to go thither ona fine horse that he had recently purchased; taking with him only asmall valise, it being his intention to remain there but a few days.
He set out in the afternoon, and passed the night at a tavern about tenmiles from the city, formerly known as the Black Bear, but now dignifiedwith the title of the Pennsylvania Hotel, expressed in immense giltletters on a blue board above the door. Lindsay felt something likeregret at the ejectment of his old acquaintance Bruin, who, proclaiming"Entertainment for Man and Horse," had swung so many years on a loftysign-post under the shade of a great buttonwood tree, now cut down tomake room for four slender Lombardy poplars, which, though out of favourin the city, had become fashionable in the country.
We will pass over many other changes which our hero observed about thenew-modelled inn, and accompany him as he pursued his way along the roadwhich had been so familiar to him in his early youth, and which, thoughit retained many of its original features, had partaken greatly of theall-pervading spirit of improvement. The hills were still there. Thebeautiful creek, which in England would have been termed a river,meandered everywhere just as before, wide, clear, and deep; but itsrude log bridges had now given place to substantial structures ofmasonry and wood-work, and he missed several well-known tracts offorest-land, of which the very stumps had long since been dislodged.
His eye, for years accustomed to the small farms and miniatureenclosures of Europe, now dwelt with delight on immense fields of grainor clover, each of them covering a whole hill, and frequently of suchextent that a single glance could not take in their limits. He saw vastorchards that seemed to contain a thousand trees, now white withblossoms that, scattered by the slightest breeze, fell around them likeshowers of scented snow. He missed, it is true, the hawthorn hedges ofEngland; those beautiful walls of verdure, whose only fault is thattheir impervious foliage shuts out from view the fields they enclose;while the open fences of America allow the stranger to regale his eye,and satisfy his curiosity with a free prospect of the country throughwhich he is travelling.
Oakland Farm, as we have said, lay some miles from the great highway,and Lindsay was glad to find with how much ease he recollected theturnings and windings of the by-roads. It even gave him pleasure torecognise a glen at the bottom of a ravine thickly shaded with crookedand moss-grown trees, where half a century ago a woman had been guiltyof infanticide, and whose subsequent execution at the county town istalked of still; it being apparently as well remembered as an event ofyesterday. The dogwood and the wild grape vine still canopied the fatalspot, for the thicket had never been cleared away, nor the groundcultivated. A little beyond, the road lay through a dark piece of woodsthat countrywomen, returning late from the store, were afraid to ridethrough after night-fall; as their horses always started and trembledand laid back their ears at the appearance of a mysterious white colt,which was frequently seen gamboling among the trees, and which nosensible people believed to be a real or living colt, as one horse isnever frightened at the sight of another. Shortly after, our travellerstopped for a few moments to gaze at the transformation of a building onthe verge of a creek. He had remembered it as a large old housechequered with bricks alternately blackish and reddish, and having darkred window-shutters with holes cut in them to admit the light; some ofthe apertures being in the form of hearts, others in the shape ofcrescents. There had been a red porch, and a red front door which foryears had the inconvenient property of bursting open in the dead ofnight; at which time, a noise was always heard as of the hoofs of a calftrotting in the dark, about the rooms up stairs. This calf was finallyspoken to by a very courageous stranger, who inquired its name. The calfmade not a word of answer, but from that night was heard no more. Thishouse, being now painted yellow, and the red shutters removed, had beenaltered into an establishment for carding and spinning wool, as wasevident by surrounding indications, and by the noise of the machinery,which could be heard plainly as far as the road. Lindsay began to fearthat he should never again see Polly Nichols, a tall, gaunt,hard-featured spinning girl, whose untiring strength and immoveablecountenance, as she ran all day at the "big wheel," had often amazedhim, and whom Mrs. Hilliard considered as the princess of wool-spinners.His conscience reproached him with having one day, while she was atdinner, mischievously stolen the wheel-finger of the said Polly Nichols,and hidden it in the dough trough, thereby occasioning a long search tothe industrious damsel, and the loss of an hour's spinning to Mrs.Hilliard.
He next came to the old well-known meeting-house, embosomed in largeelms of aboriginal growth. He saw it as in former days, with its longrange of stalls for the horses of the congregation, and its squarehorse-blocks at the gate with steps ascending on all their four sides,to which the country beaux gallantly led up the steeds of the countrybelles. Just beyond the meeting-house, he looked in vain for awell-known little brook, distinguished of old as "Blue Woman's Run," andwhich had formerly crossed the road, murmuring over its bed of pebbles.It had derived this cognomen from the singular apparition of a woman ina blue gown, with a pail of water on her head, which had on severalSundays boldly appeared even in the brightness of the noon-day sun, andwas seen walking fearlessly among the "meeting folks," and their horses,as they stopped to let them drink at the brook; coming no one knew fromwhence, and going no one knew where; but appearin
About two miles further, our hero looked out for a waste field at somedistance from the road, and distinguished by an antique persimmon treeof unusual size. This field he had always known of a wild and desolateaspect, bristled with the tall stalks of the mullein. Here, according totradition, had once lived a family of free negroes, probably runawaysfrom the south. They had lost their children by an epidemic, buried themat the foot of the persimmon tree, and soon after quitted theneighbourhood. All vestiges of their hut had vanished long before EdwardLindsay had known the place, but the graves of the children might havebeen traced under the grass and weeds. The deserted field had thereputation of being haunted, because whoever had the temerity to crossit, even in broad daylight, never failed, that is if they had faith, tosee the faces of two little black boys looking out from behind the tree,and laughing merrily. But on approaching the tree no black boys werethere.
There is considerable variety in American ghosts. In Europe thesephantoms are nearly all of the same stamp: either tall white femalesthat glide by moonlight among the ruined cloisters of old abbeys; orpale knights, in dark armour, that wander, at midnight, about theturrets and corridors of feudal castles. In our country, apparitions goas little by rule as their living prototypes; and are certainly veryprosaic both in looks and ways.
The old persimmon tree was still there; but the field had beencultivated, and was now in red clover, and Lindsay knew that mind hadmarched over it.
He now came to a well-remembered place, the low one-story school-houseunder the shade of a great birch tree, whose twigs had been of essentialservice in the hands of Master Whackaboy, and whose smooth andpaper-like bark was fashionable in the seminary for writing-pieces. Thedoor and windows were open, and Lindsay expected as formerly, to hearthe master say to his scholars, at the sound of horses' feet--"Readout--read out--strangers are going by--;" which order had always beensucceeded by a chorus of readers as loud and inharmonious as whatchildren call a Dutch Concert. As Lindsay passed the school-house, hecould not forbear stopping a moment to look in; and instead of BumpusWhackaboy in his round jacket, he saw a young gentleman in a frock coat,seated at the master's desk, with an aspect of great satisfaction, whilea lad stood before him frowning and stamping desperately, and recitingCollins's Ode on the Passions.
Our traveller now perceived by certain well-remembered landmarks, thathe was approaching the mill in whose scales he had frequently beenweighed: a ceremony never omitted at the close of his annual visit toOakland, that he might go home rejoicing in the number of pounds he hadgained during his sojourn in the salubrious air and homely abundance ofthe farm. When he came to the place, he found three mills; and he was,for a while, puzzled to recollect which of them was his oldacquaintance. On the other side of the road were now a tavern, a store,and a blacksmith's shop, with half a dozen dwelling-houses. "This, Isuppose, is an incipient city," thought Lindsay--and so it was, as heafterwards found: the name being Candyville, in consequence, perhaps, ofthe people of the neighbourhood having left off tobacco and taken tomint-stick, for which, and other _bonbons_ of a similar character, thedemand was so great that the storekeeper often found it necessary totake a journey to the metropolis chiefly for the purpose of bringing outa fresh supply.
At length our hero came to a hill beyond which he recollected that aturn in the road would present to his view the house of AbrahamHilliard, as it stood on the very edge of the farm. It was a lovelyafternoon. The sunbeams were dancing merrily on the creek, whose shiningwaters beautifully inverted its green banks, overshadowed with laurelbushes now in full bloom and covered with large clusters of delicatepink flowers.
He saw the top of the enormous oak that stood in front of the house, andwhich had been spared for its size and beauty, when the ground was firstredeemed from the primeval forest by the grandfather of the presentproprietor.
Lindsay turned into the lane. What was his amazement when he saw not, ashe expected, the well-known farm-house and its appurtenances!--It was nolonger there. The dilapidated ruins of the chimney alone were standing,and round them lay a heap of rubbish. He stopped his horse and gazedlong and sadly, on finding all his pleasant anticipations turned at onceto disappointment. Finally he dismounted, and securing his bridle to alarge nail which yet remained in the trunk of the old tree, having beenplaced there for that purpose, he proceeded to take a nearer view ofwhat had once been the Oakland Farm-House.
There were indications of the last fire that had ever gladdened thehearth, the charred remains of an immense backlog, now half hiddenbeneath a luxuriant growth of the dusky and ragged-leaved Jamestownweed. In a corner of the hearth grew a sumach that bid fair in a shorttime to overtop all that was left of the chimney. These corners had oncebeen furnished with benches on which the children used to sit and amusethemselves with stories and riddles, in the cold autumnal evenings, whenfires are doubly cheerful from being the first of the season.
Of the long porch in which they had so often played by moonlight,nothing now remained but a few broken and decaying boards with grass andplantain-weeds growing among them; and some relics of the rough stonesteps that had ascended to it, now displaced and fallen aside by thecaving in of the earth behind.
The well that had supplied the family with cold water for drinking, hadlost its cover--the sweep had fallen down, and the bucket and chain weregone. The dark cool cellar was laid open to the light of day, and wasnow a deep square pit, overgrown with thistles and toad-flax.
From the cracks of the old clay oven that had belonged to the chimney(and which was now half hidden in pokeberry plants), issued tufts ofchick-weed; and when Lindsay looked into the place which he had so oftenseen filled with pies and rice-puddings, the glare of bright eyes and arustling noise denoted that some wild animal had made its lair in thecavity. Suddenly a large gray fox sprung out of the oven-mouth, and ranfearfully past him into the thicket. Lindsay thought in a moment of theoften-quoted lines of Ossian.
At the foot of the little eminence on which the house was situated,there had formerly been what its inhabitants called the _harbour_(probably a corruption of arbour), a shed rudely constructed of polesinterwoven with branches, and covered with a luxuriant gourd-vine. Herethe milk-pans and pails were washed, and much of the "slopping-work" ofthe family done in the summer. A piece of rock formed the back-wall of afire-place in which an immense iron pot had always hung. A slightwater-gate opened from this place on a branch of the creek, over which abroad thick board had been laid as a bridge, and a short distance belowthere was a miniature cascade or fall, at which Edward, in hischildhood, had erected a small wooden tilt-hammer of his own making; andthe strokes of this tilt-hammer could be heard, to his great delight, asfar as the house, particularly in the stillness of night, when the soundwas doubly audible.
The cauldron had now disappeared, leaving no trace but the blackenedstone behind it; the remains of the water-gate were lying far up on thebank; the board had fallen into the water; the rude trellis was brokendown; and masses of the gourd-vine, which had sprung from the scatteredseeds, were running about in wild disorder wherever they could findanything to climb upon.
Lindsay turned to the spot "where once the garden smiled," and found ita wilderness of tall and tangled weeds, interspersed with three or fourdegenerate hollyhocks, and a few other flowers that had sowed themselvesand dwindled into insignificance. And in the division appropriated toculinary purposes, were some straggling vegetables that had returned toa state worse than indigenous--with half a dozen rambling bushes thathad long since ceased to bear fruit.
Lindsay had gazed on the gigantic remains of the Roman Coliseum, on "thecastled crag of Drachenfels," and on the ivy-mantled arches of Tintern,but they awakened no sensation that could compare with the melancholyfeeling that oppressed him as he explored the humble ruins of thissimple farm-house, where every associat
As he stood with folded arms contemplating the images of desolationbefore him, his attention was diverted by the sound of footsteps, and,on looking round, he perceived an old negro coming down the road, with abasket in one hand, and in the other a jug corked with a corn-cob. Thenegro pulled off his battered wool-hat, and making a bow and a scrape,said: "Sarvant, masser--" and Lindsay, on returning his bow, recognisedthe unusual breadth of nose and width of mouth that had distinguished afree black, well known in the neighbourhood by the name of Pharaoh, andin whom the lapse of time had made no other alteration than that ofbleaching his wool, which was now quite white.
"Why, Pharaoh--my old fellow!" exclaimed Lindsay, "is this reallyyourself?"
"Can't say, masser," replied Pharaoh. "All people's much the same. Bestnot be too personal. But I b'lieve I'm he."
"Have you no recollection of Edward Lindsay?" inquired our hero.
"Lawful heart, masser!" exclaimed the negro. "I do b'lieve you're littleNeddy, what used to come from town and stay at old Abram Hilliard's ofsummers, and what still kept wisiting there, by times, till you goedover sea."
"I am that identical Neddy," replied Lindsay, holding out his hand tothe old negro, who evinced his delight by a series of loud laughs.
"Yes--yes," pursued Pharaoh, "now I look sharper at you, masser, I seeplain you're 'xactly he. You've jist a same nose, and a same eyes, and asame mouth, what you had when you tumbled down the well, and fall'd outthe chestnut tree, and when you was peck'd hard by the big turkey-cock,and butted by the old ram."
"Truly," said Lindsay, "you seem to have forgotten none of my juveniledisasters."
"To be sure not," replied Pharaoh, "I 'member every one of them, and aheap more, only I don't want to be personal."
"And now," said Lindsay, "as we have so successfully identified eachother, let me know, at once, what has happened to my good friends theHilliards, who I thought were fixed here for life. Why do I see theirhouse a heap of ruins? Have the family been reduced to poverty?"
"Lawful heart, no," exclaimed the negro: "Masser Neddy been away so longin foreign parts, he forget how when people here in 'Merica give uptheir old houses, it's a'most always acause they've got new ones. Nowold Abram Hilliard he got richer and richer every minute--though I guesshe was pretty rich when you know'd him, only he never let on. And so hebuild him fine stone house beyont his piece of oak-woods, and there helive this blessed day.--And we goes there quite another road.--And so hegove this old frame to old Pharaoh; and so I had the whole house cartedoff, all that was good of it, and put it up on the road-side, justbeyont here, in place of my old tumble-down cabin what I used to livein, that I've altered into a pig-pen. So now me and Binkey am quitecomfabull."
"Show me the way," said Lindsay, "to the new residence of Mr. Hilliard.I have come from Philadelphia on purpose to visit the family."
"Bless your heart, masser, for that," said the old negro, as he held thestirrup for Lindsay to mount; and walking by his side, he proceeded withthe usual garrulity of the African race, to relate many particulars ofthe Hilliards and their transit.
"Of course, Masser Neddy," said Pharaoh, "you 'member old Abram's twoboys Isaac and Jacob, what you used to play with. You know Isaac mostlywhipped you when you fout with him. Well, when they growed up, theythought they'd help'd their father long enough, and as they wanted rightbad to go west, the old man gove 'em money to buy back land. So eachtook him horse--Isaac took Mike, and Jacob took Morgan, and they startedwest, and went to a place away back--away back--seven hundred thousandmiles beyont Pitchburg. And they're like to get mighty rich; and word'scome as Jacob's neighbours is going to set him up for congress, and Ishouldn't be the least 'prized if he's presidump. You 'member, MasserNeddy, Jacob was always the tonguiest of the two boys."
"And where are Mr. Hilliard's daughters?" asked Lindsay.
"Oh, as to the two oldest," replied Pharaoh, "Kitty married BillyPleasants, as keeps the store over at Candyville, and Betsey made agreat match with a man what has a terrible big farm over on Siskahanna.And old Abram, after he got into him new house, sent him two youngest tothe new school up at Wonderville, where they teaches the gals all sortsof wit and larning."
"And how are your own wife and children, Pharaoh?" inquired Lindsay; "Iremember them very well."
"Bless your heart for that, masser!" replied the negro; "why Rose ishired at Abram Hilliard's--you know they brungt her up. And Cato livesout in Philadelphy--I wonders masser did not see him. And as for oldBinkey, she holds her own pretty well. You know, masser, Binkey wasalways a great hand at quiltings, and weddings, and buryings, and suchlike frolics, and used to be sent for, high and low, to help cook atthem times. But now she's a getting old,--being most a thousand,--andher birthday mostly comes on the forty-second of Feberwary--and so shestays at home, and makes rusk and gingerbread and molasses beer. This ismolasses I have in the jemmy-john; I've jist come from the store. So shesells cakes and beer--that's the reason we lives on the road-side--and Iworks about. We used to have a sign that Sammy Spokes the wheelwrightpainted for us, for he was then the only man in these parts that hadpaints. There was two ginger-cakes on it, and one rusk, and a coal-blackbottle with the beer spouting up high, and falling into a tumblerwithout ever spilling a drap. We were desperate pleased with the sign,for folks said it looked so nateral, and Sammy Spokes made us a presentof it, and would not take it out in cakes and beer, as we wanted him,and that shewed him to be very much of a gemplan."
"As no doubt he is," remarked Lindsay; "I find, since my return toAmerica, that gentlemen are 'as plenty as blackberries.'"
"You say very true, masser," rejoined the negro; "we are all gemplansnow-a-days, and has plenty of blackberries. Well, as I was saying, weliked the sign a heap. But after Nelly Hilliard as was--we calls herMiss Ellen now--quit Wonderville school, where she learnt everything onthe face of the yearth, she thought she would persecute painting athome, for she had a turn that way and wanted to keep her hand in. So sheset to, and painted a new sign, and took it all out of her own head; andgove it to old Binkey and axplaned it to us. There's a thing on it thatMiss Ellen calls a urn or wase--_that_ stands for beer--and then there'sa sugarcane growing out of it--_that_ stands for molasses. And thenthere's a thick string of green leaves, with roots twisted amongst'em--_that_ answers for ginger, for she told us that ginger grows likeany other widgable, and has stalks and leaves, but the root is what weuses. Yet, somehow, folks doesn't seem to understand this sign as wellas the old one. A great many thinks the wase be an old sugar-dish with abit of a corn-stalk sticking out of it, and some passley and hossreddishplastered on the outside, and say they should never guess cakes and beerby it."
"I should suppose not," said Lindsay.
"But, Masser Neddy," pursued the old negro, "all this time, we have beencalling Abram Hilliard 'Abram,' instead of saying squire. Only think ofold Abram; he has been made a squire this good while, and marriespeople. After he move into him new house, he begun to get high, and tookto putting on a clean shirt and shaving every day, which Rose says was apretty tough job with him at first; but he parsewered. And he's apt tohave fresh meat whenever it's to be got, and he won't eat stale pies:and so they have to do small bakings every day, instead of big onestwice a week. And sometimes he even go so far as to have geese took outof the flock, and killed and roasted, instead of saving 'em all forfeathers. And he says that now he's clear of the world, he _will_ liveas he likes, and have everything he wants, and be quite comfabull. Andhe made his old woman leave off wearing short gownds, and put on longgownds all the time, and quit calling him daddy, which Rose says wentvery hard with her for a while. The gals being young, were broke of iteasy enough; and now they says pappy."
"Pshaw!" ejaculated Lindsay, whose regret at the general change whichseemed to have come over the Hilliard family now amounted nearly tovexation.
"Now, Masser Neddy," conti
Lindsay, at parting, put a dollar into the hand of the old negro. "Whatfor this, Masser Neddy?" asked Pharaoh, trying to look verydisinterested.
"Do whatever you please with it," answered Lindsay.
"Well, masser," replied the negro, "I never likes to hurt a gemplan'sfeelings by 'fusing him. So I'll keep it, just to 'blige you. But, I'spect, to be sure, Masser Neddy'll step in some day at negor-man'scabin, and see old Binkey, and take part of him dollar out in cakes andbeer. I'll let masser know when Binkey has a fresh baking."
Pharaoh then led off the horse, and Lindsay stood for a few moments totake a survey of the new residence of his old friends. It was a broad,substantial two-story stone house. There was a front garden, where largesnow-ball trees
"Threw up their silver globes, light as the foamy surf,"
and where the conical clusters of the lilac, and the little May roses,were bursting into fragrance and beauty, and uniting their odours withthose of the tall white lily, and the lowly but delicious pink. Behindthe house ascended a woodland hill, whose trees at this season exhibitedevery shade of green, in tints as various as the diversified browns ofautumn.
Lindsay found the front door unfastened, and opening it withoutceremony, he entered a wide hall furnished with a long settee, a largetable, a hat-stand, a hanging lamp, a map of the United States, and oneof the world. There was a large parlour on each side of the hall, andLindsay looked into both, the doors being open. One was carpeted, andseemed to be fitted up for winter, the other had a matted floor, and wasevidently the summer sitting-room. The furniture in both, though by nomeans showy, was excellent of its kind and extremely neat; and in itsform and arrangement convenience seemed to be the chief consideration.Lindsay thought he had never seen more pleasant-looking rooms. In thecarpeted parlour, on the hearth of the Franklin stove, sat a blue chinajar filled with magnolia flowers, whose spicy perfume was tempered bythe outer air that came through the venetian blinds which were loweredto exclude the sunbeams. One recess was occupied by a mahoganybook-case, and there was a side-board in the other. The chimney-place ofthe summer parlour was concealed by a drapery of ingeniously cut paper,and the various and beautiful flowers that adorned the mantel-piece hadevidently been cultivated with care. Shelves of books hung in therecesses, and in both rooms were sofas and rocking-chairs.
"Is it possible," thought Lindsay, "that this can be the habitation ofAbraham Hilliard?" And he ran over in his mind the humble aspect oftheir sitting-room in the old farm-house, with its home-made carpet ofstrips of listing; its tall-backed rush chairs; its walnut table; itscorner cupboard; its hanging shelves suspended from the beams thatcrossed the ceiling, and holding miscellaneous articles of everydescription.
Having satisfied his curiosity by looking into the parlours, heproceeded through the hall to the back door, and there he found, in aporch canopied with honeysuckle, a woman busily engaged in picking thestems from a basket of early strawberries, as she transferred the fruitto a large bowl. Time had made so little change in her features, that,though much improved in her costume, he easily guessed her to be his oldhostess Mrs. Hilliard. "Aunt Susan!" he exclaimed; for by that title hehad been accustomed to address her in his boyhood. The old lady startedup, and hastily snatched off her strawberry-stained apron.
"Have you no recollection of Edward Lindsay?" continued our hero,heartily shaking her hand.
She surveyed him from head to foot, till his identity dawned upon her,and then she ejaculated--"It is--it must be--though you are a gentleman,you _must_ be little Neddy--there--there, sit down--I'll be back in amoment."
She went into the house, and returned almost immediately, bringing withher a small coquelicot waiter, with cakes and wine, which she pressedLindsay to partake of. He smiled as he recollected that one of thecustoms of Oakland Farm was to oblige every stranger to eat and drinkimmediately on his arrival. And while he was discussing a cake and aglass of wine, the good dame heaped a saucer with strawberries, carriedit away for a few minutes, and then brought it back inundated with creamand sugar. This was also presented to Lindsay, recommending that heshould eat another cake with the strawberries, and take another glass ofwine after them.
On Edward's inquiring for her husband, Mrs. Hilliard replied that he wassomewhere about the farm, and that the girls were drinking tea with someneighbours a few miles off; but she said she would send the carriage forthem immediately, that they might be home early in the evening.
In a short time Abraham Hilliard came in, having seen Pharaoh at thebarn, who had informed him of the arrival of "Master Neddy." The meetingafforded equal gratification to both parties. The old farmer looked asif quite accustomed to a clean shirt and to shaving every day; andLindsay was glad to find that his manner of expressing himself hadimproved with his circumstances. Aunt Susan, however, had not, in thisrespect, kept pace with her husband, remaining, to use her ownexpression--"just the same old two and sixpence." Women who have not inearly life enjoyed opportunities of cultivating their minds are rarelyable at a late period to acquire much conversational polish.--With menthe case is different.
Mrs. Hilliard now left her husband to entertain their guest, and, "onhospitable thoughts intent," withdrew to superintend the setting of atea-table abounding in cakes and sweetmeats; the strawberry bowl and apitcher of cream occupying the centre. This repast was laid out in thewide hall, and while engaged in arranging it, Mrs. Hilliard joinedoccasionally in the conversation which her husband and Lindsay werepursuing in her hearing, as they sat in the porch.
"Well, Edward," proceeded Mr. Hilliard, "you see a great alteration inthings at the farm: and I conclude you are glad to find us in a betterway than when you left us."
"Certainly," replied Lindsay.
"Now," said the penetrating old farmer, "that 'certainly' did not comefrom your heart.--Tell me the truth--you miss something, don't you?"
"Frankly, then," replied Lindsay, "I miss everything--I own myself soselfish as to feel some disappointment at the entire overthrow of allthe images which during my long absence had been present to my mind'seye, in connexion with my remembrances of Oakland Farm. Thinking of theold farm house and its inhabitants, precisely as I had left them, andbelieving that time had passed over them without causing any essentialchange, I must say that I cannot, just at first, bring myself to be gladthat it is otherwise. The happiness that seemed to dwell with the oldhouse and the old-fashioned ways of its people, had been vividlyimpressed upon my feelings. And I fear--forgive me for saying so--thatyour family cannot have added much to their felicity by acquiring ideasand adopting habits to which they so long were strangers."
"There you are mistaken, my dear boy," answered the farmer. "Iacknowledge that if, in removing to a larger house, and altering our wayof living, we had in any one instance sacrificed comfort to show, orconvenience to ostentation--which, unfortunately, has been the error ofsome of our neighbours--we should, indeed, have enjoyed far lesshappiness than heretofore. But we have not done so. We have made noattempts at mimicking what in the city is called style; and I haveforbidden my daughters to mention the word fashion in my presence."
"Yes--yes," said Mrs. Hilliard, "I hope we have been wiser than theNewman family over at Poplar Plains. As soon as they got a little up inthe world, they built a shell of a house that looks as if it was made ofwhite pasteboard; and figured it all over with carved work inside andout; and stuck posts and pillars all about it with nothing ofconsequence to hold up; and furnished the rooms with all sorts ofuseless trumpery."
"Softly--softly--wife!" interrupted old Abraham--and turning to ourhero, he proceeded--"well, as I was telling you, Edward, I endeavour toenjoy what I have worked so hard to acquire, and to enjoy it in a mannerthat reall
"Well," rejoined Mrs. Hilliard, "we were certainly wiser than theNewmans, who sent their girls to a French school in Philadelphia, andhad them taught music, both guitar and piano. And the Newman girls mixup their talk with all sorts of French words that sound very ugly to me.Instead of 'good night' they say _bone swear_; and a 'trifle' theycall a _bagtau_; and they are always talking about having a_Gennessee Squaw_; though what they mean by that I cannot imagine;for, I am sure I never saw any such thing in this part of the country.And the tunes they play on the piano seem to me like no tunes at all,but just a sort of scrambling up and down, that nobody can make eitherhead or tail of. And when they sing to the guitar, it sounds to me justlike moaning one minute, and screaming the next, with a little tinklingbetween whiles."
[Footnote 77: Bonsoir.]
[Footnote 78: Bagatelle.]
[Footnote 79: Je ne sais quoi.]
"Wife--wife," interrupted Abraham, "you are too severe on the poorgirls."
"Well--well," proceeded Mrs. Hilliard, "I'll say nothing more, onlythis: that the airs they take on themselves make them the talk of thewhole country--And then they've given up all sorts of work. The motherspends most of her time in taking naps, to make up, I suppose, forhaving had to rise early all the former part of her life. The girls sitabout all day in stiff silk frocks, squeezed so tight in them that theycan hardly move. Or they go round paying morning visits, interruptingpeople in the busy part of the day. And they invite company to theirhouse, and give them no tea; and say they're having a _swearey_. Tobe sure it's a shame for me to say so, but it's well known that theynever have a good thing on their table now, but pretend it's genteel tolive on bits and morsels that have neither taste nor substance. And nodoubt that's the reason the whole family have grown so thin and yellow,and are always complaining of something they call dyspepsy."
[Footnote 80: Soiree.]
"_They_ have certainly changed for the worse," remarked Lindsay. "Iremember the Newmans very well--a happy, homely family living in a long,low, red frame house, and having everything about them plain andplentiful."
"So had we in our former dwelling," said Mr. Hilliard, "yet I think weare living still better now."
"I have many pleasant recollections of the old house," said Lindsay.
"For you," observed the farmer, "our old house and the manner in whichwe then lived, owed most of their charms to novelty, and to thecircumstance that children are seldom fastidious. I doubt much, if youhad found everything in _statu quo_, and the old house and itsinhabitants just as you left them, whether you could have been inducedto make us as long a visit as I hope you will now."
"My husband," said Mrs. Hilliard, "is different from most men of hisage. Instead of dwelling all the while upon old times, he stands up forthe times we live in, and says everything now is better than it used tobe. And he's brought me to agree with him pretty much--I never was anidle woman, and I keep myself busy enough still, but I do think it ispleasanter to keep hired people for the hard work than to have to helpwith it myself, as you know I used to. Though I never complained aboutit, still I cannot say, now I look back, that there was any greatpleasure in helping on washing-days and ironing-days, or in making softsoap, and baking great batches of bread and pies--to be sure, my softsoap was admired all over the country, and my bread was always light,and my pie-crust never tough. Neither was there much delight in seeingmy two eldest girls paddling to the barn-yard every morning and evening,through all weathers, to milk the cows; or setting them at heavychurnings, and other hard work. And then at harvest-time, and atkilling-time, and when we were getting the marketing ready for husbandto take to town in the wagon, we were on our feet the whole blessed day.To be sure, they were used to it, but I often felt sorry for Abraham andthe boys, when they came home from the field in a warm evening, so tiredwith work they could hardly speak, and were glad to wash themselves, andget their supper, and go to bed at dark. And the girls and I were alwaysglad enough, too, to get our rest as soon as we had put away the milkand washed the supper things; knowing we should have to be up before thestars were gone, to sweep the house and do the milking, and get thebreakfast, that the men might be off early to work."
"I remember all this very well," said Lindsay.
"To be sure you do," pursued Mrs. Hilliard. "Then don't you think it'spleasant for us now not to be overworked during the day, so that in theevening, instead of going to bed, we can sit round the table in a niceparlour, and sew and knit; or read, for them that likes it. Husband andthe girls always did take pleasure in reading--and, for my part, nowI've time, I'm beginning to like a book myself. Last winter, I read agood deal in the second volume of the Spectator. In short, I have notthe least notion of grieving after our way of living at the old house."
"Nor I neither," added Abraham; "and I really find it much moreagreeable to superintend my farm, than to be obliged to labour on itmyself."
"And now let us proceed with our tea," said Mrs. Hilliard; "and, Neddy,if you do not eat hearty of what you see before you, I shall think youare fretting after the mush and milk, and sowins, and pie and cheese,that we use to have on our old supper table, and which I do not believeyou could eat now if they were before you. Come, you must not mind myspeaking out so plainly. You know I always was a right-down sort ofwoman, and am so still."
Edward smiled, and pressed her hand kindly, acknowledging that all shehad said was justified by truth and reason.
The carriage--they kept a very plain but a very capacious one--broughthome the girls shortly after candle-light. Lindsay ran out to assistthem in alighting, and was glad to find that on hearing his name theyretained a perfect recollection of him, though they were in theirearliest childhood at the time of his departure for Europe. When theycame into the light, he found them both very pretty. Their skins had notbeen tanned by exposure to the sun and wind, nor their shouldersstooped, nor their hands reddened by hard work; as had been the casewith their two elder sisters. They were dressed in white frocks, blueshawls, and straw bonnets with blue ribbons; neatly, and in good taste.
The evening passed pleasantly, and Lindsay soon discovered that thedaughters of his host were very charming girls. Ellen, perhaps, had alittle tinge of vanity, but Lucy was entirely free from it. Diffidenceprevented her from talking much, but she listened understandingly, andwhen she did speak, it was with animation and intelligence. Lindsay feltthat he should not have liked her so well had she looked, and dressed,and talked as he remembered her elder sisters.
When he retired for the night, his bed and room were so well furnished,and looked so inviting, that he could not regret the little lowapartment with no chimney and only one window, that he had occupied inthe old farm-house; and he slept quite as soundly under a whitecounterpane as he had formerly done under a patch-work quilt.
We have no space to enter more minutely into the details of our hero'svisit, nor to relate by what process he speedily became a convert to thefact that even among country-people the march of improvement addsgreatly to their comfort and happiness; provided always, that they donot mistake the road, and diverge into the path of folly and pretension.
Suffice it to say, that he protracted his stay to a week, during whichhe broke the girls of the habit of saying "pappy," substituting the moresensible and affectionate epithet of "father." When Pharaoh announcedthe proper time, he made a visit to the refectory of old Binkey, whom heafterwards desired the Candyvill
The visit of Edward Lindsay to Oakland was in the course of the summerso frequently repeated, that no one was much surprised when, early inOctober, he conducted Lucy Hilliard to Philadelphia as his bride:acknowledging to himself that he could never have made her so, had sheand her family continued exactly as he had known them at the OLDFARM-HOUSE.