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It was late in June before I was able to disengage myself from the work of the judge's office. Meanwhile there had been blood shed back in the hills. One of the sheriff's posse had been severely wounded by a bullet and had failed to serve the writs. The judge had appealed to the governor. People were talking of "the rent war."
Purvis had returned to St. Lawrence County and hired to my uncle for the haying. He had sent me a letter which contained the welcome information that the day he left the stage at Canton, he had seen Miss Dunkelberg on the street.
"She was lookin' top-notch--stop't and spoke to me," he went on. "You cood a nocked me down with a fether I was that scairt. She ast me how you was an' I lookt her plum in the eye an' I says: all grissul from his head to his heels, mam, an' able to lick Lew Latour, which I seen him do in quick time an' tolable severe. He can fight like a bob-tailed cat when he gits a-goin', I says."
What a recommendation to the sweet, unsullied spirit of Sally! Without knowledge of my provocation what would she think of me? He had endowed me with all the frightfulness of his own cherished ideal, and what was I to do about it? Well, I was going home and would try to see her.
What a joy entered my heart when I was aboard the steamboat, at last, and on my way to all most dear to me! As I entered Lake Champlain I consulted the map and decided to leave the boat at Chimney Point to find Kate Fullerton, who had written to the schoolmaster from Canterbury. My aunt had said in a letter that old Kate was living there and that a great change had come over her. So I went ashore and hired a horse of the ferryman--one of those "Green Mountain ponies" of which my uncle had told me: "They'll take any gait that suits ye, except a slow one, an' keep it to the end o' the road."
I think that I never had a horse so bent on reaching that traditional "end of the road." He was what they called a "racker" those days, and a rocking-chair was not easier to ride. He took me swiftly across the wide flat and over the hills and seemed to resent my effort to slow him.
I passed through Middlebury and rode into the grounds of the college, where the Senator had been educated, and on out to Weybridge to see where he had lived as a boy. I found the Wright homestead--a comfortable white house at the head of a beautiful valley with wooded hills behind it--and rode up to the door. A white-haired old lady in a black lace cap was sitting on its porch looking out at the sunlit fields.
"Is this where Senator Wright lived when he was a boy?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," the old lady answered.
"I am from Canton."
She rose from her chair.
"You from Canton!" she exclaimed. "Why, of all things! That's where my boy's home is. I'm glad to see you. Go an' put your horse in the barn."
I dismounted and she came near me.
"Silas Wright is my boy," she said. "What is your name?"
"Barton Baynes," I answered as I hitched my horse.
"Barton Baynes! Why, Silas has told me all about you in his letters. He writes to me every week. Come and sit down."
We sat down together on the porch.
"Silas wrote in his last letter that you were going to leave your place in Cobleskill," she continued to my surprise. "He said that he was glad you had decided not to stay."
It was joyful news to me, for the Senator's silence had worried me and I had begun to think with alarm of my future.
"I wish that he would take you to Washington to help him. The poor man has too much to do."
"I should think it a great privilege to go," I answered.
"My boy likes you," she went on. "You have been brought up just as he was. I used to read to him every evening when the candles were lit. How hard he worked to make a man of himself! I have known the mother's joy. I can truly say, 'Now let thy servant depart in peace.'"
"'For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,'" I quoted.
"You see I know much about you and much about your aunt and uncle," said Mrs. Wright.
She left me for a moment and soon the whole household was gathered about me on the porch, the men having come up from the fields. The Senator had told them on his last visit of my proficiency as a sound-hand writer and I amused them by explaining the art of it. They put my horse in the barn and pressed me to stay for dinner, which I did. It was a plain boiled dinner at which the Senator's cousin and his hired man sat down in their shirt-sleeves and during which I heard many stories of the boyhood of the great man. As I was going the gentle old lady gave me a pair of mittens which her distinguished son had worn during his last winter in college. I remember well how tenderly she handled them!
"I hope that Silas will get you to help him"--those were the last words she said to me when I bade her good-by.
The visit had set me up a good deal. The knowledge that I had been so much in the Senator's thoughts, and that he approved my decision to leave the learned judge, gave me new heart. I had never cherished the thought that he would take me to Washington although, now and then, a faint star of hope had shone above the capitol in my dreams. As I rode along I imagined myself in that great arena and sitting where I could see the flash of its swords and hear the thunder of Homeric voices. That is the way I thought of it. Well, those were no weak, piping times of peace, my brothers. They were times of battle and as I rode through that peaceful summer afternoon I mapped my way to the fighting line. I knew that I should enjoy the practise of the law but I had begun to feel that eventually my client would be the people whose rights were subject to constant aggression as open as that of the patroons or as insidious as that of the canal ring.
The shadows were long when I got to Canterbury. At the head of its main street I looked down upon a village green and some fine old elms. It was a singularly quiet place. I stopped in front of a big white meeting house. An old man was mowing in its graveyard near the highway. Slowly he swung his scythe.
"It's a fine day," I said.
"No, it ain't, nuther-too much hard work in it," said he.
"Do you know where Kate Fullerton lives?" I asked.
"Well, it's purty likely that I do," he answered as he stood resting on his snath. "I've lived seventy-two years on this hill come the fourteenth day o' June, an' if I didn't know where she lived I'd be 'shamed of it."
He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment and added:
"I know everybody that lives here an' everybody that dies here, an' some that orto be livin' but ain't an' some that orto be dead which ye couldn't kill `em with an ax--don't seem so--I declare it don't. Do ye see that big house down there in the trees?"
I could see the place at which he pointed far back from the village street in the valley below us, the house nearly hidden by tall evergreens.
"Yes," I answered.
"No ye can't, nuther--leastways if ye can ye've got better eyes'n mos' people, ye can't see only a patch o' the roof an' one chimney--them pine trees bein' thicker'n the hair on a dog. It's the gloomiest ol' house in all creation, I guess. Wal, that's the Squire Fullerton place--he's Kate's father."
"Does the squire live there?"
"No, sir--not eggzac'ly. He's dyin' there--been dyin' there fer two year er more. By gosh! It's wonderful how hard 'tis fer some folks to quit breathin'. Say, be you any o' his fam'ly?"
"Nor no friend o' his?"
"Course not. He never had a friend in his life--too mean! He's too mean to die, mister--too mean fer hell an' I wouldn't wonder--honest, I wouldn't--mebbe that's why God is keepin' him here--jest to meller him up a little. Say, mister, be you in a hurry?"
"Yis ye be. Everybody's in a hurry--seems to me--since we got steam power in the country. Say, hitch yer hoss an' come in here. I want to show ye suthin'."
He seemed to enjoy contradicting me.
"Nobody seems in a hurry in this town," I said.
"Don't, hey? Wal, ye ought to 'a' seen Deacon Norton run when some punkins on his side hill bu'st their vines an' come rollin' down an' chased him half a mile into the valley."
I dismounted and hitched my horse to the fence and followed him into the old churchyard, between weather-stained mossy headstones and graves overgrown with wild roses. Near the far end of these thick-sown acres he stopped.
"Here's where the buryin' begun," said my guide. "The first hole in the hill was dug for a Fullerton."
There were many small monuments and slabs of marble--some spotted with lichens and all in commemoration of departed Fullertons.
"Say, look a' that," said my guide as he pulled aside the stem of a leafy brier red with roses. "Jest read that, mister."
My keen eyes slowly spelled out the time-worn words on a slab of stained marble:
Sacred to the memory of Katherine Fullerton 1787-1806 "Proclaim his Word in every place That they are dead who fall from grace."
A dark shadow fell upon the house of my soul and I heard a loud rapping at its door which confused me until, looking out, I saw the strange truth of the matter. Rose leaves and blossoms seemed to be trying to hide it with their beauty, but in vain.
"I understand," I said.
"No ye don't. Leastways I don't believe ye do--not correct. Squire Fullerton dug a grave here an' had an empty coffin put into it away back in 1806. It means that he wanted everybody to understan' that his girl was jest the same as dead to him an' to God. Say, he knew all about God's wishes--that man. Gosh! He has sent more folks to hell than there are in it, I guess. Say, mister, do ye know why he sent her there?"
I shook my head.
"Yis ye do, too. It's the same ol' thing that's been sendin' women to hell ever since the world begun. Ye know hell must 'a' been the invention of a man--that's sartin--an' it was mostly fer women an' children--that's sartiner--an' fer all the men that didn't agree with him. Set down here an' I'll tell ye the hull story. My day's work is done."
We sat down together and he went on as follows:
"Did ye ever see Kate Fullerton?"
"No ye didn't, nuther. Yer too young. Mebbe ye seen her when she was old an' broke down but that wa'n't Kate--no more'n I'm Bill Tweedy, which I ain't. Kate was as handsome as a golden robin. Hair yeller as his breast an' feet as spry as his wings an' a voice as sweet as his song, an' eyes as bright as his'n--yis, sir--ye couldn't beat her fer looks. That was years and years ago. Her mother died when Kate was ten year old--there's her grave in there with the sickle an' the sheaf an' the portry on it. That was unfort'nit an' no mistake. Course the squire married ag'in but the new wife wa'n't no kind of a mother to the girl an' you know, mister, there was a young scoundrel here by the name o' Grimshaw. His father was a rich man--owned the cooper shop an' the saw-mill an' the tannery an' a lot o' cleared land down in the valley. He kep' comp'ny with her fer two or three year. Then all of a sudden folks began to talk--the women in partic'lar. Ye know men invented hell an' women keep up the fire. Kate didn't look right to 'em. Fust we knew, young Grimshaw had dropped her an' was keepin' comp'ny with another gal--yis, sir. Do ye know why?"
Before I could answer he went on:
"No ye don't--leastways I don't believe ye do. It was 'cause her father was richer'n the squire an' had promised his gal ten thousan' dollars the day she was married. All of a sudden Kate disappeared. We didn't know what had happened fer a long time."
"One day the ol' squire got me to dig this grave an' put up the headstun an' then he tol' me the story. He'd turned the poor gal out o' doors. God o' Israel! It was in the night--yis, sir--it was in the night that he sent her away. Goldarn him! He didn't have no more heart than a grasshopper--no sir--not a bit. I could 'a' brained him with my shovel, but I didn't.
"I found out where the gal had gone an' I follered her--yis I did--found her in the poorhouse way over on Pussley Hill--uh huh! She jes' put her arms 'round my neck an' cried an' cried. I guess 'twas 'cause I looked kind o' friendly--uh huh! I tol' her she should come right over to our house an' stay jest as long as she wanted to as soon as she got well--yis, sir, I did.
"She was sick all summer long--kind o' out o' her head, ye know, an' I used to go over hossback an' take things fer her to eat. An' one day when I was over there they was wonderin' what they was goin' to do with her little baby. I took it in my arms an' I'll be gol dummed if it didn't grab hold o' my nose an' hang on like a puppy to a root. When they tried to take it away it grabbed its fingers into my whiskers an' hollered like a panther--yis, sir. Wal, ye know I jes' fetched that little baby boy home in my arms, ay uh! My wife scolded me like Sam Hill--yis, sir--she had five of her own. I tol' her I was goin' to take it back in a day er two but after it had been in the house three days ye couldn't 'a' pulled it away from her with a windlass.
"We brought him up an' he was alwuss a good boy. We called him Enoch--Enoch Rone--did ye ever hear the name?"
"I didn't think 'twas likely but I'm alwuss hopin'.
"Early that fall Kate got better an' left the poorhouse afoot. Went away somewheres--nobody knew where. Some said she'd crossed the lake an' gone away over into York State, some said she'd drowned herself. By'm by we heard that she'd gone way over into St. Lawrence County where Silas Wright lives an' where young Grimshaw had settled down after he got married.
"Wal, 'bout five year ago the squire buried his second wife--there 'tis over in there back o' Kate's with the little speckled angel on it. Nobody had seen the squire outside o' his house for years until the funeral--he was crippled so with rheumatiz. After that he lived all 'lone in the big house with ol' Tom Linney an' his wife, who've worked there fer 'bout forty year, I guess.
"Wal, sir, fust we knew Kate was there in the house livin' with her father. We wouldn't 'a' knowed it, then, if it hadn't been that Tom Linney come over one day an' said he guessed the ol' squire wanted to see me--no, sir, we wouldn't--fer the squire ain't sociable an' the neighbors never darken his door. She must 'a' come in the night, jest as she went--nobody see her go an' nobody see her come, an' that's a fact. Wal, one day las' fall after the leaves was off an' they could see a corner o' my house through the bushes, Tom was walkin' the ol' man 'round the room. All to once he stopped an' p'inted at my house through the winder an' kep' p'intin'. Tom come over an' said he ca'llated the squire wanted to see me. So I went there. Kate met me at the door. Gosh! How old an' kind o' broke down she looked! But I knew her the minute I set my eyes on her--uh huh--an' she knew me--yis, sir--she smiled an' tears come to her eyes an' she patted my hand like she wanted to tell me that she hadn't forgot, but she never said a word--not a word. The ol' squire had the palsy, so 't he couldn't use his hands an' his throat was paralyzed--couldn't speak ner nothin'. Where do ye suppose he was when I found him?"
"In bed?" I asked.
"No, sir--no, siree! He was in hell--that's where he was--reg'lar ol' fashioned, down-east hell, burnin' with fire an' brimstun, that he'd had the agency for an' had recommended to every sinner in the neighborhood. He was settin' in his room. God o' Isr'el! You orto 'a' seen the motions he made with his hands an' the way he tried to speak when I went in there, but all I could hear was jest a long yell an' a kind of a rattle in his throat. Heavens an' airth! how desperit he tried to spit out the thing that was gnawin' his vitals. Ag'in an' ag'in he'd try to tell me. Lord God! how he did work!
"All to once it come acrost me what he wanted--quick as ye could say scat. He wanted to have Kate's headstun took down an' put away--that's what he wanted. That stun was kind o' layin' on his stummick an' painin' of him day an' night. He couldn't stan' it. He knew that he was goin' to die purty soon an' that Kate would come here an' see it an' that everybody would see her standin' here by her own grave, an' it worried him. It was kind o' like a fire in his belly.
"I guess, too, he couldn't bear the idee o' layin' down fer his las' sleep beside that hell hole he'd dug fer Kate--no, sir!
"Wal, ye know, mister, I jes' shook my head an' never let on that I knew what he meant an' let him wiggle an' twist like a worm on a hot griddle, an' beller like a cut bull 'til he fell back in a swoon.
"Damn him! it don't give him no rest. He tries to tell everybody he sees--that's what they say. He bellers day an' night an' if you go down there he'll beller to you an' you'll know what it's about, but the others don't.
"You an' me are the only ones that knows the secret, I guess. Some day, 'fore he dies, I'm goin' to take up that headstun an' hide it, but he'll never know it's done--no, sir--not 'til he gits to the judgment seat, anyway."
The old man stopped and rubbed his hands together as if he were washing them of the whole matter. The dusk of evening had fallen and crocked the white marble and blurred the lettered legends around us. The mossy stones now reminded me only of the innumerable host of the dead. Softly the notes of a song sparrow scattered down into the silence that followed the strange story.
The old man rose and straightened himself and blew out his breath and brushed his hands upon his trousers by way of stepping down into this world again out of the close and dusty loft of his memory. But I called him back.
"What has become of Enoch?" I asked.
"Wal, sir, Enoch started off west 'bout three year ago an' we ain't heard a word from him since that day--nary a word, mister. I suppose we will some time. He grew into a good man, but there was a kind of a queer streak in the blood, as ye might say, on both sides kind o'. We've wrote letters out to Wisconsin, where he was p'intin' for, an' to places on the way, but we can't git no news 'bout him. Mebbe he was killed by the Injuns."
We walked out of the graveyard together in silence. Dimly above a distant ridge I could see stark, dead timber looming on a scarlet cloud in the twilight. It is curious how carefully one notes the setting of the scene in which his spirit has been deeply stirred.
I could see a glimmer of a light in the thicket of pines down the valley. I unhitched and mounted my horse.
"Take the first turn to the right," said the old man as he picked up his scythe.
"I'm very much obliged to you," I said.
"No ye ain't, nuther," he answered. "Leastways there ain't no reason why ye should be."
My horse, impatient as ever to find the end of the road, hurried me along and in a moment or two we were down under the pine grove that surrounded the house of old Squire Fullerton--a big, stone house with a graveled road around it. A great black dog came barking and growling at me from the front porch. I rode around the house and he followed. Beyond the windows I could see the gleam of candle-light and moving figures. A man came out of the back door as I neared it.
"Who's there?" he demanded.
"My name is Barton Baynes from St. Lawrence County. Kate Fullerton is my friend and I wish to see her."
"Come up to the steps, sor. Don't git off yer horse--'til I've chained the dog. Kate'll be out in a minute."
He chained the dog to the hitching post and as he did so a loud, long, wailing cry broke the silence of the house. It put me in mind of the complaint of the damned which I remembered hearing the minister describe years before at the little schoolhouse in Lickitysplit. How it harrowed me!
The man went into the house. Soon he came out of the door with a lighted candle in his hand, a woman following. How vividly I remember the little murmur of delight that came from her lips when he held the candle so that its light fell upon my face! I jumped off my horse and gave the reins to the man and put my arms around the poor woman, whom I loved for her sorrows and for my debt to her, and rained kisses upon her withered cheek. Oh God! what a moment it was for both of us!
The way she held me to her breast and patted my shoulder and said "my boy!"--in a low, faint, treble voice so like that of a child--it is one of the best memories that I take with me into the new life now so near, from which there is no returning.
"My boy!'" Did it mean that she had appointed me to be a kind of proxy for the one she had lost and that she had given to me the affection which God had stored in her heart for him? Of that, I know only what may be conveyed by strong but unspoken assurance.
She led me into the house. She looked very neat now--in a black gown over which was a spotless white apron and collar of lace--and much more slender than when I had seen her last. She took me into a large room in the front of the house with a carpet and furniture, handsome once but now worn and decrepit. Old, time-stained engravings of scenes from the Bible, framed in wood, hung on the walls.
She gave me a chair by the candle-stand and sat near me and looked into my face with a smile of satisfaction. In a moment she pointed toward the west with that forefinger, which in my presence had cut down her enemy, and whispered the one word:
I told all that I had heard from home and of my life in Cobleskill but observed, presently, a faraway look in her eyes and judged that she was not hearing me. Again she whispered:
"She has been at school in Albany for a year," I said. "She is at home now and I am going to see her."
"You love Sally?" she whispered.
"Better than I love my life."
Again she whispered: "Get married!"
"We hope to in 1844. I have agreed to meet her by the big pine tree on the river bank at eleven o'clock the third of June, 1844. We are looking forward to that day."
A kind of shadow seemed to come out of her spirit and rest upon her face and for a moment she looked very solemn. I suppose that she divined the meaning of all that. She shook her head and whispered:
A tall, slim woman entered the room then and said that supper was ready. Kate rose with a smile and I followed her into the dining-room where two tables were spread. One had certain dishes on it and a white cover, frayed and worn. She led me to the other table which was neatly covered with snowy linen. The tall woman served a supper on deep, blue china, cooked as only they could cook in old New England. Meanwhile I could hear the voice of the aged squire--a weird, empty, inhuman voice it was, utterly cut off from his intelligence. It came out of the troubled depths of his misery.
So that house--the scene of his great sin which would presently lie down with him in the dust--was flooded, a hundred times a day, by the unhappy spirit of its master. In the dead of the night I heard its despair echoing through the silent chambers.
Kate said little as we ate, or as we sat together in the shabby, great room after supper, but she seemed to enjoy my talk and I went into the details of my personal history. How those years of suffering and silence had warped her soul and body in a way of speaking! They were a poor fit in any company now. Her tongue had lost its taste for speech I doubt not; her voice was gone, although I had heard a low plaintive murmur in the words "my boy."
The look of her face, even while I was speaking, indicated that her thoughts wandered restlessly, in the gloomy desert of her past. I thought of that gay bird--like youth of hers of which the old man with the scythe had told me and wondered. As I was thinking of this there came a cry from the aged squire so loud and doleful that it startled me and I turned and looked toward the open door.
Kate rose and came to my side and leaning toward my ear whispered:
"It is my father. He is always thinking of when I was a girl. He wants me."
She bade me good night and left the room. Doubtless it was the outraged, departed spirit of that golden time which was haunting the old squire. A Bible lay on the table near me and I sat reading it for an hour or so. A tall clock in a corner solemnly tolled the hour of nine. In came the tall woman and asked in the brogue of the Irish:
"Would ye like to go to bed?"
"Yes, I am tired."
She took a candle and led me up a broad oaken stairway and into a room of the most generous proportions. A big four-post bedstead, draped in white, stood against a wall. The bed, sheeted in old linen, had quilted covers. The room was noticeably clean; its furniture of old mahogany and its carpet comparatively unworn.
When I was undressed I dreaded to put out the candle. For the first time in years I had a kind of child-fear of the night. But I went to bed at last and slept rather fitfully, waking often when the cries of the old squire came flooding through the walls. How I longed for the light of morning! It came at last and I rose and dressed and seeing the hired man in the yard, went out-of-doors. He was a good-natured Irishman.
"I'm glad o' the sight o' ye this fine mornin'," said he. "It's a pleasure to see any one that has all their senses--sure it is."
I went with him to the stable yard where he did his milking and talked of his long service with the squire.
"We was glad when he wrote for Kate to come," he said. "But, sure, I don't think it's done him any good. He's gone wild since she got here. He was always fond o' his family spite o' all they say. Did ye see the second table in the dinin'-room? Sure, that's stood there ever since his first wife et her last meal on it, just as it was then, sor--the same cloth, the same dishes, the same sugar in the bowl, the same pickles in the jar. He was like one o' them big rocks in the field there--ye couldn't move him when he put his foot down."
Kate met me at the door when I went back into the house and kissed my cheek and again I heard those half-spoken words, "My boy." I ate my breakfast with her and when I was about to get into my saddle at the door I gave her a hug and, as she tenderly patted my cheek, a smile lighted her countenance so that it seemed to shine upon me. I have never forgotten its serenity and sweetness.
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