The Letter of Credit
The Letter of Credit
The Letter of Credit
"Mother, I wonder how people do, when they are going to write a book?"
"Do?" repeated her mother.
"Yes. I wonder how they begin."
"I suppose they have something to tell; and then they tell it," said simple Mrs. Carpenter.
"No, no, but I mean a story."
"What story have you got there?"
The mother was shelling peas; the daughter, a girl of twelve years old perhaps, was sitting on the floor at her feet, with an octavo volume in her lap. The floor was clean enough to sit upon; clean enough almost to eat off; it was the floor of the kitchen of a country farmhouse.
"This is the 'Talisman,'" the girl answered her mother's question. "O mother, when I am old enough, I should like to write stories!"
"I should think it would be so nice. Why, mother, one could imagine oneself anything."
"Could you?" said her mother. "I never imagined myself anything but what I was."
"Ah, but perhaps you and I are different."
Which was undoubtedly the fact, as any stander by might have seen with half an eye. Good types both of them, too. The mother fair, delicate featured, with sweet womanly eyes, must have been exceedingly pretty in her young days; she was pretty now; but the face shewed traces of care and was worn with life-work. While she talked and now and then looked at her daughter, her fingers were untiringly busy with the peas and peas pods and never paused for a minute. The girl on the floor did not look like her mother. She was dark eyed and dark haired; with a dark complexion too, which at present was not fine; and the eyes, large and handsome eyes, revealed a fire and intensity and mobility of nature which was very diverse from the woman's gentle strength. Mrs. Carpenter might be intense too, after her fashion; but it was the fashion of the proverbial still waters that run deep. And I do not mean that there was any shallowness about the girl's nature; though assuredly the placidity would be wanting.
"I wish your father would forbid you to read stories," Mrs. Carpenter went on.
"I don't believe they are good for you."
"But what harm should they do me?"
"Life is not a story. I don't want you to think it is."
"Why shouldn't it be? Perhaps my life will be a story, mother. I think it will," said the girl slowly. "I shouldn't want my life to be always like this."
"Are you not happy?"
"O yes, mother! But then, by and by, I should like to be a princess, or to have adventures, and see things; like the people in stories."
"You will never be a princess, my child. You are a poor farmer's daughter. You had better make up your mind to it, and try to be the best thing you can in the circumstances."
"You mean, do my duty and shell peas?" asked the girl somewhat doubtfully, looking at her mother's fingers and the quick stripped pea pods passing through them. "Is father poor, mother?"
"He has a good farm, he says."
"Yes, but it is encumbered heavily." And Mrs. Carpenter sighed. Rotha had often heard her mother sigh so. It was a breath with a burden.
"I don't know what you mean by 'encumbered.'"
"It is not needful you should know, just yet."
"But I should like to know, mother. Won't you tell me?"
"It is heavily mortgaged. And that you do not understand. Never mind. He has a great deal of money to pay out for it every year the interest on the mortgages and that keeps us poor."
"Why must he pay it?"
"Because the farm is pledged for the debt; and if the interest, this yearly money, were not paid, the farm itself would go."
"Be sold. For the money due on it."
There was silence awhile, during which only the pea pods rustled and fell; then the girl asked, "What should we do then, mother, if the farm was sold?"
"I do not know." The words came faint.
"Does it trouble you, mother?"
"It need not trouble you, Rotha. It cannot happen unless the Lord will; and that is enough. Now you may carry these pea pods out and give them to the pigs."
"Mother," said Rotha as she slowly rose and laid away her book, "all you say makes me wish more than ever that I were a princess, or something."
"You may be something," said Mrs. Carpenter laughing slightly, but with a very sweet merriment. "Now take away this basket."
Rotha stooped for the basket, and then stood still, looking out of the window. Across the intervening piece of kitchen garden, rows of peas and tufts of asparagus greenery, her eye went to the road, where a buggy had just stopped.
"Maybe something is going to happen now," she said. "Who is that, mother? There is somebody getting out of a wagon and tying his horse; – now he is coming in. It is 'Siah Barker, mother."
Mrs. Carpenter paused to look out of the window, and then hastily throwing her peas into the pot of boiling water, went herself to the door. A young countryman met her there, with a whip in his hand.
"Mornin', Mis' Carpenter. Kin you help the distressed?"
"What's the matter, 'Siah?"