Say and Seal, Volume I
Say and Seal, Volume I
Anna Bartlett Warner
Anna Bartlett Warner
Say and Seal, Volume I
It is a melancholy fact, that this book is somewhat larger than the mould into which most of the fluid fiction material is poured in this degenerate age. You perceive, good reader, that it has run over—in the latest volume.
Doubtless the Procrustean critic would say, "Cut it off,"—which point we waive.
The book is really of very moderate limits—considering that two women had to have their say in it.
It is pleasant to wear a glove when one shakes hands with the Public; therefore we still use our ancestors' names instead of our own,—but it is fair to state, that in this case there are a pair of gloves!—Which is the right glove, and which the left, the Public will never know.
A word to that "dear delightful" class of readers who believe everything that is written, and do not look at the number of the last page till they come to it—nor perhaps even then. Well they and the author know, that if the heroine cries—or laughs—too much, it is nobody's fault but her own! Gently they quarrel with him for not permitting them to see every Jenny happily married and every Tom with settled good habits. Most lenient readers!—when you turn publishers, then will such books doubt less be written! Meantime, hear this.
In a shady, sunshiny town, lying within certain bounds—geographical or imaginary,—these events (really or in imagination) occurred. Precisely when, the chroniclers do not say. Scene opens with the breezes which June, and the coming of a new school teacher, naturally create. After the fashion of the place, his lodgings are arranged for him beforehand, by the School Committee. But where, or in what circumstances, the scene may close,—having told at the end of the book, we do not incline to tell at the beginning.
The street was broad, with sidewalks, and wide grass-grown borders, and a spacious track of wheels and horses' feet in the centre. Great elms, which the early settlers planted, waved their pendant branches over the peaceful highway, and gave shelter and nest-room to numerous orioles, killdeer, and robins; putting off their yellow leaves in the autumn, and bearing their winter weight of snow, in seeming quiet assurance that spring would make amends for all. So slept the early settlers in the churchyard!
Along the street, at pleasant neighbourly intervals—not near enough to be crowded, nor far enough to be lonely—stood the houses,—comfortable, spacious, compact,—"with no nonsense about them." The Mong lay like a mere blue thread in the distance, its course often pointed out by the gaff of some little sloop that followed the bends of the river up toward Suckiaug. The low rolling shore was spotted with towns and spires: over all was spread the fairest blue sky and floating specks of white.
Not many sounds were astir,—the robins whistled, thief-like, over the cherry-trees; the killdeer, from some high twig, sent forth his sweet clear note; and now and then a pair of wheels rolled softly along the smooth road: the rush of the wind filled up the pauses. Anybody who was down by the Mong might have heard the soft roll of his blue waters,—any one by the light-house might have heard the harsher dash of the salt waves.
I might go on, and say that if anybody had been looking out of Mrs. Derrick's window he or she might have seen—what Mrs. Derrick really saw! For she was looking out of the window (or rather through the blind) at the critical moment that afternoon. It would be too much to say that she placed herself there on purpose,—let the reader suppose what he likes.
At the time, then, that the village clock was striking four, when meditative cows were examining the length of their shadows, and all the geese were setting forth for their afternoon swim, a stranger opened Mrs. Derrick's little gate and walked in. Stretching out one hand to the dog in token of good fellowship, (a classical mind might have fancied him breaking the cake by whose help Quickear got past the lions,) he went up the walk, neither fast nor slow, ascended the steps, and gave what Mrs. Derrick called "considerable of a rap" at the door. That done, he faced about and looked at the far off blue Mong.
Not more intently did he eye and read that fair river; not more swiftly did his thoughts pass from the Mong to things beyond human ken; than Mrs. Derrick eyed and read—his back, and suffered her ideas to roam into the far off regions of speculation. The light summer coat, the straw hat, were nothing uncommon; but the silk umbrella was too good for the coat—the gloves and boots altogether extravagant!
"He ain't a bit like the Pattaquasset folks, Faith," she said, in a whisper thrown over her shoulder to her daughter.
Mrs. Derrick replied by an inarticulate sound of interrogation.
"I wish you wouldn't stand just there. Do come away!"
"La, child," said Mrs. Derrick, moving back about half an inch, "he's looking off into space."
"But he'll be in.—"
"Not till somebody goes to the door," said Mrs. Derrick, "and there's not a living soul in the house but us two."
"Why didn't you say so before? Must I go, mother?"
"He didn't seem in a hurry," said her mother,—"and I wasn't. Yes, you can go if you like, child—and if you don't like, I'll go."
With a somewhat slower step than usual, with a slight hesitating touch of her hand to the smooth brown hair which lay over her temples, Miss Faith moved through the hall to the front door, gently opened it, and stood there, in the midst of the doorway, fronting the stranger. By no means an uncomely picture for the frame; for the face was good, the figure trim, and not only was the rich hair smooth, but a little white ruffle gave a dainty setting to the throat and chin which rose above it, both themselves rather on the dainty order.
I say fronting the stranger,—yet to speak truth the stranger was not fronting her. For having made one more loud appeal to the knocker, having taken off his hat, the better to feel the soft river breeze, he stood as before "looking off into space;" but with one hand resting more decidedly upon the silk umbrella.
Faith took a minute's view of decidedly pleasant outlines of shoulders and head—or what she thought such—glanced at the hand which grasped the umbrella handle,—and then lifting her own fingers to the knocker of the door, caused it gently to rise and fall.
A somewhat long breath escaped the stranger—as if the sound chimed in with his thoughts—nothing more.
Faith stood still and waited.
Perhaps that last sound of the knocker had by degrees asserted its claim to reality; perhaps impatience began to assert its claim; perhaps that long elm-tree shadow which was creeping softly on, even to his very feet, broke in upon the muser's vision. Certainly he turned with a very quick motion towards the door, and a gesture of the hand which said that this time the knocker should speak out. The door however stood open,—the knocker beyond his reach; and Miss Faith so nearly within it, that he dropped his hand even quicker than he had raised it.
"I beg your pardon!" he said, with a grave inclination of the head. "I believe I knocked."
"Yes, sir—I thought you had forgotten," said Faith; not with perfect demureness, which she would like to have achieved. "Will you please to come in?" And somewhat regardless of consequences, leaving the hall door where it stood, Faith preceded her guest along the hall and again performed for him the office of door-opener at the parlour, ushering him thus into the presence of her mother.
Mrs. Derrick was seated in the rocking-chair, at the furthest corner from the window, and perfectly engrossed with the last monthly magazine. But she came out of them all with wonderful ease and promptness, shook hands very cordially with the new comer, seated him in her corner and chair before he could make much resistance, and would also have plunged him into the magazine—but there he was firm.
"If you would only make yourself comfortable while I see where your baggage is?" said the good lady.
"But I can tell you where it is, ma'am," said he looking up at her,—"it is at the station, and will be here in half an hour."
"Well when did you have dinner?" said Mrs. Derrick, resolved upon doing something.
"Yesterday," was his quiet reply. "To-day I have been in the cars."
"O my! my!" said Mrs. Derrick,—"then of course we'll have tea at once.Faith!"
"I'm here, mother. I'll go and see to it, right away."
But in some mysterious manner the stranger reached the doorway before either of the ladies.
"Mrs. Derrick—Miss Faith—I told you that I had had no dinner, and that was true. It is also true that I am in not the least hurry for tea. Please do not have it until your usual time." And he walked back to his seat.
But after the slightest possible pause of hesitancy, Faith had disappeared. Her mother followed her.
"Child," she said, "what on earth is his name?"
"Mother! how should I know? I didn't ask him."
"But the thing is," said Mrs. Derrick, "I did know,—the Committee told me all about it. And of course he thinks I know, and I don't—no more than I do my great-grandmother's name, which I never did remember yet."
"Mother—shall I go and ask him?—or wait till after supper?"
"O you sha'n't go," said her mother. "Wait till after supper and we'll send Cindy. He won't care about his name till he gets his tea, I'll warrant. But what made you so long getting the door open, child? Does it stick?"