Say and Seal, Volume II
Say and Seal, Volume II
Anna Bartlett Warner
Anna Bartlett Warner
Say and Seal, Volume II
So came the holiday week, wherein was to be done so much less than usual—and so much more. Mr. Linden's work, indeed, was like to double on all hands; for he was threatened with more tea-drinkings, dinners, suppers, and frolics, than the week would hold. How should he manage to give everybody a piece of him, and likewise present himself entire to the assembled boys when ever they chose to assemble?—which promised to be pretty often. How should he go skating, sliding, and sleigh-riding, at all hours of the day and night, and yet spend all those hours where he wanted to spend them? It was a grave question; and not easy, as he remarked to Faith, to hold so many feelings in his hands and hurt none of them. So with the question yet undecided, Christmas day came.
It was a brilliant day—all white and blue; the sky like a sapphire, the earth like a pearl; the sunbeams burnished gold.
"Ha' ye but seen the light fall of the snow,
Before the soil hath smutched it?"—
Such was Pattaquasset, Christmas morning. And the bright lily,
"Before rude hands have touched it,"
that was Faith Derrick when she came down stairs. The dainty little crimson silk hood which Mrs. Derrick had quilted for her, was in her hand, brought down for display; but at present the sitting-room was empty, and Faith passed on to her work-basket, to put the hood in safe keeping. She found a pre-occupied basket. At some unknown hour of the night, Santa Claus had come and left upon it his mark in the shape of a package: a rather large and rather thin package, but done up with that infallible brown paper and small cord which everybody knows by instinct. Who ever looked twice at a parcel from that wagon, and doubted whence it came?
Faith's cheeks took an additional tinge, quite as brilliant as if the crimson hood had been on. What doubtful fingers lifted the package from the basket!
The thing—whatever it was—had been done up carefully. Beneath the brown paper a white one revealed itself, beneath that a red leather portfolio—made in the pretty old-fashioned style, and securing its contents by means of its red leather tongue. But when Faith had withdrawn this, and with the caution always exercised on such occasions had also drawn out the contents, she found the prettiest continuation of her Italian journey, in the shape of very fine photographs of all sorts of Italian places and things, mingled with here and there an excursion into the Swiss mountains.
A few almost awe-stricken glances Faith gave; then she put the photographs in the portfolio again, scarcely seen, and looked at the outside of the red leather; felt of its smooth surface with admiring fingers that hardly believed what they touched, and a face glowing with a very deep glow by this time. Faith thought herself rich, beyond the imagination of a millionaire. But after a little mute amazed consideration of her happiness, she rushed off to the kitchen to signalize the Christmas breakfast—and perhaps spend a few of her too many thoughts—by the preparation and production of one of Madame Danforth's nice, but in Pattaquasset unheard of, delicacies; and when all the rest of the breakfast was ready, Faith demurely went in with her dish.
She had not a word of acknowledgment for Mr. Linden, which was ungrateful. She gave him her hand, however, with a manner and look which were graceful enough; being at once open and shy, very bright, and yet veiled with a shade of reserve. She had been over the fire, so her face was naturally a little rosy. There was no particular reserve about him,—his "Merry Christmas" was not only wished but carried out, so far as breakfast time extended. Faith might be as demure as she liked, but she had to be merry too; so on the whole the breakfast room was beaming with more than sunlight. Yes, it was a merry Christmas!—merry without and merry within,—that sort of merriment which "doeth good like a medicine." Gay voices and steps and snowballing on the broad street; gay snowbirds and chickadees in the branches; in the house glad faces; over and upon all, clear sunshine and the soft hush of a winter's morning.
"What are you going to do to-day, mother?" said Faith towards the close of breakfast time.
"I'd rather look at you than anything else, child," said her mother, "but I've got to go out, you know. What are you going to do Faith?"
"All sorts of things, mother. Mr. Linden?"—
"All sorts of things, Miss Faith—therefore we shall probably meet quite often in the course of the day," he said smiling. "Will you give me any commands?"
"Perhaps—if I can. Mother, how are we to get to Mrs. Somers to-night?—is Crab well?"
"O Crab's gone away for the winter, child, and we've got Mr.Stoutenburgh's Jerry. To be sure—that's since you went away."
The first thing for Faith was the Christmas dinner, into which she plunged, heart and hand. The turkey, the apples, and the pies, were all seen to at last; and about an hour before dinner Faith was ready to take off her kitchen apron and go into the parlour. She longed for a further touch and eyesight of that red leather.
She had it, for that hour; as dainty a luxuriating over her treasures as anybody ever had. Faith pondered and dreamed over the photographs, one after another; with endless marvel and querying of numberless questions springing out of them,—general and particular, historical, natural, social, and artistic or scientific. Questions that sometimes she knew only enough to form vaguely. What a looking over of prints that was! such an hour as is known by few, few of those who have seen engravings all their lives. Nay, further than that;—such as is not known by many a one that stands on the Bridge of sighs, and crosses the Mer de glace, and sees the smoke curling up from Vesuvius. For once in a while there is an imaginary traveller at home to whom is revealed more of the spirit of beauty residing in these things, than hundreds of those who visit them do ever see. Who
"Feels the warm Orient in the noontide air,
And from cloud-minarets hears the sunset call to prayer."
Before dinner time was quite on the stroke came home Mr. Linden, who betaking himself first upstairs and then into the sitting-room, brought Faith her Christmas breastknot of green and red. Stiff holly leaves, with their glossy sheen, and bright winterberries—clear and red, set each other off like jewellers' work; and the soft ribbon that bound them together was of the darkest possible blue. It was as dainty a bit of floral handicraft as Faith had often seen.
"Will you wear it, Miss Faith?" Mr. Linden said as he laid it on the table by her.
Faith had come out of her dream, and gave the holly and winterberries a downcast look of recognition. It was given in silence, but the pleasure which had been uppermost for some time presently made her overcome shyness, and looking up gratefully she exclaimed, "Mr. Linden—what pleasure you have given me!"—The soft colour which had been in her cheeks before, mounted instantly to deep crimson, and she added timidly, "Wasn't it you?"
"What pleasure you give me!"—he said with a smile at her crimson and all. "Yes, it was I."
"It seems to me I have been at those places to-day," she went on, looking over at the sofa where her portfolio lay. "I have been fancying your sister standing here and there and looking at something I saw in the picture. Now I can understand a little better what she was writing about."
"I am very glad you like them! Some time you must let me give you any explanations they may need. What have you found for me to do this afternoon?"
"Aren't you going to be busy, Mr. Linden?"
"About something—your business shall come first."
"It can wait," said Faith very brightly. "It was just that, Mr. Linden.—I was going to ask you some time to shew them to me. I have been looking at some of them by myself, and going into a great many things over them that I could not understand. But any time will do for that—as well as to-day."
"And to-day as well as any time"—he said smiling; "but I suppose we must wait till after dinner."
There was great satisfaction at that dinner, not to say in it—which indeed the dinner merited. There was the remaining glow of the pleasant morning, and a little dawning of the afternoon, besides the hour's own light. Faith indeed was the radiating point of pleasure, which the two others watched and furnished with new supplies. Then after dinner came the Italian work, and she had as elaborate and careful answers and information as she wished for. Mr. Linden could go back and tell her where each place got its name, and what had been its history, with many stories of its climate and productions and traditions; and so one by one Faith went over again her new treasures. One by one,—until the short afternoon began to fade, and it was time to dress for Mrs. Somers'; and they had made but little progress into the portfolio, after all. Yet it was a great "progress" to Faith;—a grand procession through the years of history and the stages of civilization and the varying phases of nature and humanity.
Very tenderly the photographs were restored to the portfolio and the red leather tongue drawn through, with a little breath heavy with pleasure, and Faith carried off the whole to be put where profane hands should not get hold of it. Then the comparatively ignoble business of dressing occupied her. And Mrs. Derrick yet more, who of course was there to help and look on; while Faith's head was erratically in her portfolio, or at Rome, or at Florence, or—elsewhere,—as the case might be. Her dress was this evening the same she had worn to Mrs. Stoutenburgh's, but the knot of holly and winterberries transformed her more than the rose and myrtle had done; and she stood an undoubted guest of Christmas night. Faith herself took somewhat of the effect, which her thought however concentrated.
"Mother," she said as she looked in the glass,—"I never saw anything so pretty!"
"Neither did I, child," said Mrs. Derrick smiling.
Faith took still closer note of the beauty of her breastknot; and then gathering up her crimson hood and cloak, they went down stairs. It was not quite the hour yet for Mrs. Somers'. Mr. Linden was ready and in the sitting-room; but Faith did not this time call his attention to her bouquet. She came in and sat down very quietly in a corner of the sofa. He paused in his walk up and down the room however, noting her well as she came in and took her seat; coming presently to take one at her side; and then catching up a book from the table he proceeded to give her the ice palace of the little brook, with which he had threatened her before.—
"Down swept the cold wind from the mountain peak,
From the snow five thousand summers old"—etc.
"O," exclaimed Faith, "I have seen just such a brook! I have played in it; when mother was afraid I should take cold, and wouldn't let me stay. But that's as good as the brook," she added timidly.
"Without the danger of taking cold. You are quite sure it has not chilled you, Miss Faith?—do you feel 'winter-proof'?"
"I think I do, for to-day," said Faith. "If the evening were to be even very disagreeable, I think I could stand it."
Which remark was perhaps significant.
The tinkle of Jerry's bells now made itself heard at the door, and Faith was shawled and cloaked and wrapped up by her mother in the house and by Mr. Linden in the sleigh. He was more skilful about it than Squire Stoutenburgh; and contrived to enclose Faith in a little wigwam of buffalo robes, without letting her feel the weight of them. Then they dashed off—Jerry well disposed for exercise after his five minutes' stand, and spurning the snow from a light enough pair of heels. How merrily the bells jingled! how calmly and steadily the stars shone down! There was no moon now, but the whitened earth caught and reflected every bit of the starlight, and made it by no means dark; and the gleams from cottage windows came out and fell on the snow in little streaks of brightness. Sleighs enough abroad!—from the swift little cutters and large family sleighs that glided on towards the parsonage, down to sledding parties of boys, cheered only by a cow-bell and their own laughter. Tinkle, tinkle—everywhere,—near by and in the distance; the dark figures just casting a light shadow on the roadside, the merry voices ignoring anything of the kind.
Mrs. Somers' house was a good long drive from Mrs. Derrick's. The road was first on the way to Mr. Simlins'; from there it turned off at right angles and went winding crookedly down a solitary piece of country; rising and falling over uneven ground, twisting out of the way of a rock here and there, and for some distance skirting the edge of a woodland. There was light enough to see by, but it was not just the piece of road one would choose of a dark night; and Faith felt thankful Squire Deacon was gone to Egypt.
In the dressing-room Faith was seized upon in the warmest manner by Mrs. Stoutenburgh, who looked very pretty in her dress of bright crimson silk.