- story: "BRO."
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To him that hath, we are told,
Shall be given. Yes, by the Cross!
To the rich man Fate sends gold,
To the poor man loss on loss.
Two houses, a saw-mill, and a tide-water marsh, with a railroad-track crossing it from northeast to southwest; on the other side the sea. One of the houses was near the drawbridge, and there the keeper lived, old Mr. Vickery. Not at all despised was old Mr. Vickery on account of his lowly occupation: the Vickerys had always lived on Vickery Island, and, although they were poor now, they had once been rich, and their name was still as well known as the sun in Port Wilbarger, and all Wilbarger district. Fine sea-island cotton was theirs once, and black hands to sow and gather it; salt-air made the old house pleasant. The air was still there, but not the cotton or the hands; and, when a keeper was wanted for the drawbridge of the new railroad, what more natural than that one should be selected who lived on the spot rather than a resident of Port Wilbarger, two miles away?
The other house was on Wilbarger Island, at the edge of the town, and, in itself uninteresting and unimportant, was yet accepted, like the plain member of a handsome family, because of. its associations; for here lived Mrs. Manning and her daughter Marion.
The saw-mill was on the one point of solid mainland which ran down into the water cleanly and boldly, without | | 222 any fringe of marsh; the river-channel was narrow here, and a row-boat brought the saw-miller across to the Manning cottage opposite three times each day. His name was Cranch, Ambrose Cranch, but everybody called him "Bro" He took his meals at the cottage, and had taken them there for years. New-comers at Wilbarger, and those persons who never have anything straight in their minds, supposed he was a relative; but he was not—only a friend. Mrs. Manning was a widow, fat, inefficient, and amiable. Her daughter Marion was a slender, erect young person of twenty-five years of age, with straight eyebrows, gray eyes, a clearly cut, delicate profile, and the calmness of perfect but unobtrusive health. She was often spoken of as an unmoved sort of girl, and certainly there were few surface-ripples; but there is a proverb about still waters which sometimes came to the minds of those who noticed physiognomy when they looked at her, although it is but fair to add that those who noticed anything in particular were rare in Wilbarger, where people were either too indolent or too good-natured to make those conscientious studies of their neighbors which are demanded by the code of morals prevailing on the coast farther north.
Port Wilbarger was a very small seaport, situated on the inland side of a narrow island; the coastwise steamers going north and south touched there, coming in around the water-corner, passing the Old Town, the mile-long foot-bridge, and stopping at the New Town for a few moments; then backing around with floundering and splashing, and going away again. The small inside steamers, which came down from the last city in the line of sea-cities south of New York by an anomalous route advertised as "strictly inland all the way," also touched there, as if to take a free breath before plunging again into the narrow, grassy channels, and turning curves by the process of climbing the bank with the bow and letting the stern swing round, while men with poles pushed off again. It was the channel of this inside route which the railroad-drawbridge crossed in the midst of a broad, sea-green prairie | | 223 below the town. As there was but one locomotive, and, when it had gone down the road in the morning, nothing could cross again until it came back at night, one would suppose that the keeper might have left the bridge turned for the steamers all day. But no: the superintendent was a man of spirit, and conducted his railroad on the principle of what it should be rather than what it was. He had a hand-car of his own, and came rolling along the track at all hours, sitting with dignity in an arm-chair while two red-shirted negroes worked at the crank. There were several drawbridges on his route, and it was his pleasure that they should all be exactly in place, save when a steamer was actually passing through; he would not even allow the keepers to turn the bridges a moment before it was necessary, and timed himself sometimes so as to pass over on his hand-car when the bow of the incoming boat was not ten yards distant.
But, even with its steamers, its railroad, and railroad superintendent of the spirit above described, Port Wilbarger was but a sleepy, half-alive little town. Over toward the sea it had a lighthouse and a broad, hard, silver-white beach, which would have made the fortune of a Northern village; but when a Northern visitor once exclaimed, enthusiastically, "Why, I understand that you can walk for twenty miles down that beach!" a Wilbarger citizen looked at him slowly, and answered, "Yes, you can—if you want to." There was, in fact, a kind of cold, creeping east wind, which did not rise high enough to stir the tops of the trees to and fro, but which, nevertheless, counted for a good deal over on that beach.
Mrs. Manning was poor; but everybody was poor at Wilbarger, and nobody minded it much. Marion was the housekeeper and house-provider, and everything went on like clock-work. Marion was like her father, it was said; but nobody remembered him very clearly. He was a Northerner, who had come southward seeking health, and finding none. But he found Miss Forsythe instead, and married her. How | | 224 it happened that Ambrose Cranch, not a relative but a non-descript, should be living in a household presided over by Forsythe blood, was as follows: First, he had put out years before a fire in Mrs. Manning's kitchen which would otherwise have burned the wooden house to the ground; that began the acquaintance. Second, learning that her small property was in danger of being swept away entirely, owing to unpaid taxes and mismanagement, he made a journey to the capital of the State in her behalf, and succeeded after much trouble in saving a part of it for her. It was pure kindness on his part in a time of general distress, and from another man would have been called remarkable; but nothing could be called remarkable in Ambrose Cranch: he had never been of any consequence in Wilbarger or his life. Mrs. Manning liked him, and, after a while, asked him to come and take his meals at the cottage: the saw-mill was directly opposite, and it would be neighborly. Ambrose, who had always eaten his dinners at the old Wilbarger Hotel, in the dark, crooked dining-room, which had an air of mystery not borne out by anything, unless it might be its soups, gladly accepted, and transferred his life to the mainland point and the cottage opposite, with the row-boat as a ferry between. He was so inoffensive and willing, and so skillful with his hands, that he was soon as much a part of the household as old Dinah herself; he mended and repaired, praised the good dishes, watered the flowers, and was an excellent listener. It would be amusing to know how much the fact of being, or securing, a good listener has to do with our lives. Mrs. Manning, fond of reminiscence and long narratives which were apt to run off at random, so that, whereas you began with the Browns, you ended with something about the Smiths, and never heard the Brown story at all, actually retained Ambrose Cranch at her table for eleven years because he listened well. But she did not realize it; neither did he. A simpler, more unplotting soul never existed than that in the saw-miller's body. A word now as to that body: it had a good deal to do with its | | 225 owner's life, and our story. (O brothers and sisters, if Justice holds the balance, how handsome some of us are going to be in the next life!) Ambrose Cranch was tall and thin, what is called rawboned; all his joints were large and prominent, from his knuckles to his ankles. He had large, long feet and hands, and large, long ears; his feet shambled when he walked, his arms dangled from the shoulders like the arms of a wooden doll, and he had a long, sinewed throat, which no cravat or collar could hide, though he wore them up to his ears. Not that he did so wear them, however: he had no idea that his throat was ugly; he never thought about it at all. He had a long face, small, mild blue eyes, thin, lank brown hair, a large mouth, and long, narrow nose; he was, also, the most awkward man in the world. Was there no redeeming point? Hardly. His fingers were nicely finished at the ends, and sometimes he had rather a sweet smile. But in the contemplation of his joints, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and knuckles, even the student of anatomy hardly got as far as his finger-ends; and as to the smile, nobody saw it but the Mannings, who did not care about it. In origin he was, as before mentioned, a nondescript, having come from the up-country, where Southern ways shade off into mountain roughness; which again gives place to the river-people, and they, farther on, to the Hoosiers and Buckeyes, who are felicitously designated by the expressive title of "Western Yankees" He had inherited the saw-mill from an uncle, who had tried to make something of it, failed, and died. Ambrose, being a patient man, and one of smallest possible personal expenditure, managed to live, and even to save a little money—but only a little. He had been there twelve years, and was now thirty-eight years old. All this the whole town of Wilbarger knew, or might have known; it was no secret. But the sawmill had a secret of its own, besides. Up stairs, in the back part, was a small room with a lock on the door, and windows with red cloth nailed over them in place of glass. Here Ambrose spent many moments of his day, and all of his even- | | 226 ings, quite alone. His red lights shone across the marsh, and could be seen from Vickery Island and the drawbridge; but they were not visible on the Wilbarger side, and attracted, therefore, no attention. However, it is doubtful whether they would have attracted attention anyway. Wilbarger people did not throw away their somewhat rarely excited interest upon Ambrose Cranch, who represented to them the flattest commonplace. They knew when his logs came, they knew the quantity and quality of his boards, they saw him superintending the loading of the schooner that bore them away, and that was all. Even the two negroes who worked in the mill—one bright, young, and yellow; the other old, slow, and black—felt no curiosity about the locked room and Cranch's absences; it was but a part of his way.
What was in this room, then? Nothing finished as yet, save dreams. Cranch had that strong and singular bias of mind which makes, whether successful or unsuccessful, the inventor.
It was a part of his unconsequence in every way that all persons called him "Bro"—even his negro helpers at the mill. When he first came to live with Mrs. Manning, she had tried hard to speak of him as "Mr. Cranch," and had taught her daughter to use the title; but, as time wore on, she had dropped into Bro again, and so had Marion. But, now that Marion was twenty-five and her own mistress, she had taken up the custom of calling him "Ambrose," the only person in the whole of Wilbarger who used, or indeed knew, the name. This she did, not on his account at all, but on her own; she disliked nicknames, and did not consider it dignified to use them. Cranch enjoyed her "Ambrose" greatly, and felt an inward pride every time she spoke it; but he said nothing.
There was a seminary at Wilbarger—a forlorn, ill-supported institution, under the charge of the Episcopal Church of the diocese. But the Episcopal Church of the diocese was, for the time being, extremely poor, and its missions and | | 227 schools were founded more in a spirit of hope than in any certainty of support; with much the same faith, indeed, which its young deacons show when they enter (as they all do at the earliest possible moment) into the responsibilities of matrimony. But in this seminary was, by chance, an excellent though melancholy-minded teacher—a Miss Drough, equally given to tears and arithmetic. Miss Drough was an adept at figures, and, taking a fancy to Marion Manning, she taught her all she knew up to trigonometry, with chess problems and some astronomy thrown in. Marion had no especial liking for mathematics in the beginning, but her clear mind had followed her ardent teacher willingly: at twenty-five she was a skilled arithmetician, passably well educated in ordinary branches, well read in strictly old-fashioned literature, and not very pious, because she had never liked the reverend gentleman in charge of the seminary and the small church—a thin man who called himself "a worm," and always ate all the best bits of meat, pressing, meanwhile, with great cordiality, the pale, watery sweet-potatoes upon the hungry schoolgirls. She was also exceedingly contemptuous in manner as to anything approaching flirtation with the few cavaliers of Wilbarger. It is rather hard to call them cavaliers, since they no longer had any good horses; but they came from a race of cavaliers, the true "armed horsemen" of America, if ever we had any. The old-time Southerners went about on horseback much more than on foot or in carriages; and they went armed.
"Bro, will you mend the gate-latch?" said Mrs. Manning at the breakfast-table. They did not breakfast early; Mrs. Manning had never been accustomed to early breakfasts: the work at the saw-mill began and went on for three hours before the saw-miller broke his fast. Bro mended the latch, and then, after a survey of the garden, went up to the open window of the dining-room and said:
"Shall I water the flowers, Miss Marion? They look sadly this morning."| | 228
"Yes, if you please, Ambrose," replied the erect young person within, who was washing the cups, and the few old spoons and forks she called "the silver" The flowers were a link between them; they would not grow, and everybody told her they would not save Bro, who believed in them to the last, and watched even their dying struggles with unfailing hope. The trouble was that she set her mind upon flowers not suited to the soil; she sent regularly for seeds and slips, and would have it that they must grow whether they wished to or not. Whatever their wishes were, floral intentions necessarily escaping our grosser senses, one thing was certain—grow they did not, in spite of Bro's care. He now watered the consumptives of the day tenderly; he coaxed straggling branches and gently tied up weak ones, saw with concern that the latest balsam was gone, and, after looking at it for a while, thought it his duty to tell its mistress.
"I am sorry, Miss Marion," he said, going to the window-sill, "but the pink balsam is dead again."
"What can you mean by 'dead again'"? said a vexed but clear voice within. "It can not be dead but once, of course."
"We have had a good many balsams," replied Bro apologetically, "and even a good many pink ones, like this; I forget sometimes."
"That is because you have no real love for flowers," said the irate young mistress from her dish-pan: she was provoked at the loss of the balsam—it was her last one.
Bro, who could not see her from where he stood, waited a moment or two, shuffled his feet to and fro on the sand, and noiselessly drummed on the sill with his long fingers; then he went slowly down to the shore, where his boat was drawn up, and rowed himself across to the saw-mill. He felt a sort of guilt about that pink balsam, as though he had not perhaps taken enough care of it; but, in truth, he had watched every hair's-breadth of its limp, reluctant growth, knew its moist veining accurately, and even the habits and opinions, as | | 229 it were, of two minute green inhabitants, with six legs, of the size, taken both together, of a pin's point, who considered the stalk quite a prairie.
When she was eighteen and nineteen years old, Marion Manning had refused several suitors, giving as a reason to her mother that they were all detestable; since then, she had not been troubled with suitors to refuse. There were girls with more coloring and brighter eyes in Wilbarger, and girls with warmer hearts: so said the gossips. And, certainly, the calm reserve, the incisive words, and clear gray eyes that looked straight at you of Marion Manning were not calculated to encourage the embarrassed but at the same time decidedly favor-conferring attentions of the youths of the town. Mrs. Manning, in the course of the years they had been together, had gradually taken Bro as a humble confidant: he knew of the offers and refusals; he knew of the succeeding suitorless period which Mrs. Manning, a stanch believer in love and romance, bewailed as wasted time."I could never have resisted young Echols," she said, "sitting there on the door-step as he used to, with the sun shining on his curly hair. But there! I always had a fancy for curls." Bro received these confidences with strict attention, as valuable items. But one peculiarity of his mind was that he never generalized; and thus, for instance, instead of taking in the fact that curly hair plays a part in winning a heart, he only understood that Mrs. Manning, for some reason or other, liked kinks and twists in the covering of the head; as some persons liked hempen shoestrings, others leathern.
"But Miss Marion is happy," he said once, when the suitorless period was two years old, and the mother lamenting.
"Yes; but we can not live our lives more than once, Bro, and these years will never come back to her. What keeps meup through all the privations I have suffered but the memory of the short but happy time of my own courtship and marriage?" Here Mrs. Manning shed tears. The memory | | 230 must, indeed, have been a strong one, the unregenerated humorist would have thought, to "keep up" such a weight as hers. But Bro was not a humorist: that Mrs. Manning was fat was no more to him than that he himself was lean. He had the most implicit belief in the romance of her life, upon which she often expatiated; he knew all about the first time she saw him, and how she felt; he knew every detail of the courtship. This was only when Marion was absent, however; the mother, voluble as she was, said but little on that subject when her daughter was in the room.
"But Miss Marion is happy," again said Bro, when the suitorless period was now five years old.
"No, she is not," replied the mother this time. "She begins to feel that her life is colorless and blank; I can see she does. She is not an ordinary girl, and needlework and housekeeping do not content her. If she had an orphan asylum to manage, now, or something of that kind—But, dear me! what would suit her best, I do believe, would be drilling a regiment," added Mrs. Manning, her comfortable amplitude heaving with laughter. "She is as straight as a ramrod always, for all her delicate, small bones. What she would like best of all, I suppose, would be keeping accounts; she will do a sum now rather than any kind of embroidery, and a page of figures is fairly meat and drink to her. That Miss Drough has, I fear, done her more harm than good: you can not make life exactly even, like arithmetic, nor balance quantities, try as you may. And, whatever variety men may succeed in getting, we women have to put up with a pretty steady course of subtraction, I notice."
"I am sorry you do not think she is happy," said Bro thoughtfully.
"There you go!" said Mrs. Manning. "I do not mean that she is exactly unhappy; but you never understand things, Bro"
"I know it; I have had so little experience," said the other. But Bro's experience, large or small, was a matter of | | 231 no interest to Mrs. Manning, who rambled on about her daughter.
"The Mannings were always slow to develop, Edward used to say: I sometimes think Marion is not older now at heart than most girls of eighteen. She has always been more like the best scholar, the clear-headed girl at the top of the class, than a woman with a woman's feelings. She will be bitterly miserable if she falls in love at last, and all in vain. An old maid in love is a desperate sight."
"What do you call an old maid?" asked Bro.
"Any unmarried woman over—well, I used to say twenty-five, but Marion is that, and not much faded yet—say twenty-eight," replied Mrs. Manning, decisively, having to the full the Southern ideas on the subject.
"Then Miss Marion has three years more?"
"Yes; but, dear me! there is no one here she will look at. What I am afraid of is, that, after I am dead and gone, poor Marion, all thin and peaked (for she does not take after me in flesh), with spectacles on her nose, and little wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, will be falling in love with some one who will not care for her at all. I should say a clergyman," pursued Mrs. Manning meditatively, "only Marion hates clergymen; a professor, then, or something of the kind. If I only had money enough to take her away and give her a change! She might see somebody then who would not wind his legs around his chair."
"Around his chair?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Manning, beginning on another knitting-needle. "Have you not noticed how all the young men about here twist their feet around the legs of their chairs, especially when telling a long story or at table? Sometimes it is one foot, sometimes the other, and sometimes both, which I acknowledge is awkward. What pleasure they find in it I can not imagine; I should think it would be dislocating. Young Harding, now, poor fellow! had almost no fault but that."| | 232
"And Miss Marion dislikes it? I hope I do not do it then," said Bro simply.
"Well, no," replied Mrs. Manning. "You see, your feet are rather long, Bro."
They were; it would have taken a giant's chair to give them space enough to twist.
So Bro's life went on: the saw-mill to give him bread and clothes, Mrs. Manning to listen to, the flowers to water, and, at every other leisure moment night and day, his inventions. For there were several, all uncompleted: a valve for a steam-engine, an idea for a self-register, and, incidentally, a screw. He had most confidence in the valve; when completed, it would regenerate the steam-engines of the world. The self-register gave him more trouble; it haunted him, but would not come quite right. He covered pages of paper with calculations concerning it. He had spent about twenty thousand hours, all told, over that valve and register during his eleven years at the saw-mill, and had not once been tired. He had not yet applied for patents, although the screw was complete. That was a trifle: he would wait for his more important works.
One day old Mr. Vickery, having watched the superintendent roll safely past down the road on his way to Bridge No. 2, left his charge in the care of old Julius for the time being, and walked up the track toward Wilbarger. It was the shortest road to the village—indeed, the only road; but one could go by water. Before the days of the railroad, the Vickerys always went by water, in a wide-cushioned row-boat, with four pairs of arms to row. It was a great day, of course, when the first locomotive came over Vickery Marsh; but old Mr. Vickery was lamentably old-fashioned, and preferred the small days of the past, with the winding, silver channels and the row-boat, and the sense of wide possession and isolation produced by the treeless, green expanse which separated him from the town. To-day, however, he did not stop to think of these things, but hastened on as fast as his | | 233 short legs could carry him. Mrs. Manning was an old friend of his; to her house he was hurrying.
"You are both—you are both," he gasped, bursting into the sitting-room and sinking into a chair—"you are both—ah, ugh! ugh!"
He choked, gurgled, and turned from red to purple. Mrs. Manning seized a palm-leaf fan, and fanned him vigorously.
"Why did you walk so fast, Mr. Vickery?" she said reproachfully.
"You know your short breath can not stand it."
"You would, too, Nannie," articulated the old man, "if—if your boy had come home!"
"What, Lawrence? You do not mean it!" she exclaimed, sinking into a chair in her turn, and fanning herself now. "I congratulate you, Mr. Vickery; I do, indeed. How long is it since you have seen him?"
"Thirteen years; thir—teen years! He was fifteen when he went away, you know," whispered the old man, still giving out but the husky form of words without any voice to support them. "Under age, but would go. Since then he has been wandering over the ocean and all about, the bold boy!"
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Manning; "how glad I shall be to see him! I was very fond of his mother."
"Yes; Sally was a sweet little woman, and Lawrence takes after his mother more than after his father, I see. My son was a true Vickery; yes, a true Vickery. But what I came to say was, that you and Marion must both come over to-morrow and spend the day. We must kill the fatted calf, Nannie—indeed we must."
Then, with his first free breath, the old man was obliged to go, lest the superintendent should return unexpectedly and find him absent. There was also the fatted calf to be provided: Julius must go across to the mainland and hunt down a wild turkey.
At dinner Mrs. Manning had this great news to tell her listener—two now, since Marion had returned.
"Who do you think has come home?" she said, enjoying | | 234 her words as she spoke them. "Who but old Mr. Vickery's grandson, Lawrence, his only living grandchild! He went away thirteen years ago, and one of the sweetest boys I ever knew he was then.—You remember him, Marion."
"I remember a boy," answered Marion briefly. "He never would finish any game, no matter what it was, but always wanted to try something new."
"Like his mother," said Mrs. Manning, heaving a reminiscent sigh, and then laughing. "Sally Telfair used to change about the things in her work-basket and on her table every day of her life. Let me see—Lawrence must be twenty-eight now."
"He has come back, I suppose, to take care of his grandfather in his old age," said Bro, who was eating his dinner in large, slow mouthfuls, in a manner which might have been called ruminative if ruminating animals were not generally fat.
"Yes, of course," replied Mrs. Manning, with her comfortable belief in everybody's good motives.
When Marion and her mother returned home the next day at dusk a third person was with them as they walked along the track, their figures outlined clearly against the orange after-glow in the west. Bro, who had come across for his tea, saw them, and supposed it was young Vickery. He supposed correctly. Young Vickery came in, staid to tea, and spent the evening. Bro, as usual, went over to the mill. The next day young Vickery came again, and the next; the third day the Mannings went over to the island. Then it began over again.
"I do hope, Bro, that your dinners have been attended to properly," said Mrs. Manning, during the second week of these visitations.
"Oh, yes, certainly," replied Bro, who would have eaten broiled rhinoceros unnoticingly.
"You see Mr. Vickery has the old-time ideas about company and visiting to celebrate a great occasion, and Lawrence's | | 235 return is, of course, that. It is a perfect marvel to hear where, or rather where not, that young man has been."
"Where?" said Bro, obediently asking the usual question which connected Mrs. Manning's narratives, and gave them a reason for being.
"Everywhere. All over the wide world, I should say."
"Oh, no, mother; he was in Germany most of the time," said Marion.
"He saw the Alps, Marion."
"The Bavarian Alps."
"And he saw France."
"From the banks of the Moselle."
"And Russia, and Holland, and Bohemia," pursued Mrs. Manning. "you will never make me believe that one can see all those countries from Germany, Marion. Germany was never of so much importance in my day. And to think, too, that he has lived in Bohemia! I must ask him about it. I have never understood where it was, exactly; but I have heard persons called Bohemians who had not a foreign look at all."
"He did not live in Bohemia, mother."
"Oh, yes, he did, child; I am sure I heard him say so."
"You are thinking of Bavaria."
"Marion! Marion! how can you tell what I am thinking of?" said Mrs. Manning oracularly. "There is no rule of arithmetic that can tell you that. But here is Lawrence himself at the door.—You have lived in Bohemia, have you not?" she asked, as the young man entered: he came in and out now like one of the family. "Marion says you have not."
"Pray, don't give it up, but stick to that opinion, Miss Marion," said the young man, with a merry glint in his eyes. Ah! yes, young Vickery had wandered, there was no doubt of it; he used contractions, and such words as "stick" Mrs. Manning and Marion had never said "don't" or "can't" in their lives.
"I do not know what you mean," replied Marion, a slight | | 236 color rising in her cheeks. "It is not a matter of opinion one way or the other, but of fact. You either have lived in Bohemia, or you have not."
"Well, then, I have," said Vickery, laughing.
"There! Marion," exclaimed Mrs. Manning triumphantly.
Vickery, overcome by mirth, turned to Bro, as if for relief; Bro was at least a man.
But Bro returned his gaze mildly, comprehending nothing.
"Going over to the mill?" said Vickery. "I'll go with you, and have a look about."
They went off together, and Vickery examined the mill from top to bottom; he measured the logs, inspected the engine, chaffed the negroes, climbed out on the roof, put his head into Bro's cell-like bedroom, and came at last to the locked door.
"What have we here?" he asked.
"Only a little workshop of mine, which I keep locked," replied Bro.
"So I see. But what's inside?"
"Nothing of much consequence—as yet," replied the other, unable to resist adding the adverb.
"You must let me in," said Vickery, shaking the door. "I never could abide a secret. Come, Bro; I won't tell. Let me in, or I shall climb up at night and break in," he added gayly.
Bro stood looking at him in silence. Eleven years had he labored there alone, too humble to speak voluntarily of his labors; too insignificant, apparently, for questions from others. Although for the most part happy over his work, there were times when he longed for a friendly ear to talk to, for other eyes to criticise, the sympathy of other minds, the help of other hands. At these moments he felt drearily lonely over his valve and register; they even seemed to mock him. He was not imaginative, yet occasionally they acted as if moved by human motives, and, worse still, became fairly devilish in their crooked perverseness. Nobody had ever asked before | | 237 to go into that room. Should he? Should he not? Should he? Then he did.
Lawrence, at home everywhere, sat on a high stool, and looked on with curiosity while the inventor brought out his inventions and explained them. It was a high day for Bro: new life was in him; he talked rapidly; a dark color burned in his thin cheeks. He talked for one hour without stopping, the buzz of the great saw below keeping up an accompaniment; then he paused.
"How do they seem to you?" he asked feverishly.
"Well, I have an idea that self-registers are about all they can be now; I have seen them in use in several places at the North," said Lawrence. "As to the steam-valve, I don't know; there may be something in it. But there is no doubt about that screw: for some uses it is perfect, better than anything we have, I should say."
"Oh, the screw?" said the other man, in a slow, disappointed voice. "Yes, it is a good screw; but the valve—"
"Yes, as you say, the valve," said Lawrence, jumping down from his stool, and looking at this and that carelessly on his way to the door. "I don't comprehend enough of the matter, Bro, to judge. But you send up that screw to Washington at once and get a patent out on it; you will make money, I know."
He was gone; there was nothing more to see in the sawmill, so he paddled across, and went down toward the dock. The smoke of a steamer coming in from the ocean could be seen; perhaps there would be something going on down there.
"He is certainly a remarkably active young fellow," said Mrs. Manning, as she saw the top of his head passing, the path along-shore being below the level of the cottage. "He has seen more in Wilbarger already than I have ever seen here in all my life."
"We are, perhaps, a little old-fashioned, mother," replied Marion.| | 238
"Perhaps we are, child. Fashions always were a long time in reaching Wilbarger. But there! what did it matter? We had them sooner or later, though generally later. Still, bonnets came quite regularly. But I have never cared much about bonnets," pursued Mrs. Manning reflectively, "since capes went out, and those sweet ruches in front, full of little rose-buds. There is no such thing now as a majestic bonnet."
Bro came over to tea as usual. He appeared changed. This was remarkable; there had never been any change in him before, as far back as they could remember.
"You are surely not going to have a fever?" asked Mrs. Manning anxiously, skilled in fever symptoms, as are all dwellers on that shore.
"No; I have been a little overturned in mind this afternoon, that is all," replied Bro. Then, with a shadow of importance, "I am obliged to write to Washington."
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Manning, for once assuming the position of questioner.
"I have invented a—screw," he answered, hesitatingly—"a screw, which young Mr. Vickery thinks a good one. I am going to apply for a patent on it."
"Dear me! Apply for a patent? Do you know how?"
"Yes, I know how," replied the inventor quietly.
Marion was looking at him in surprise.
"You invented the screw, Ambrose?"
"Yes, Miss Marion" Then, unable to keep down his feelings any longer—"But there is a valve also," he added with pride, "which seems to me more important; and there is a self-register."
"Lawrence was over there this evening, was he not? And you showed him your inventions then?"
"Yes, Miss Marion, I did."
"But why in the world, Bro, have you not told us, or, indeed, any one, about them all these years?" interposed Mrs. Manning, surveying her listener with new eyes.| | 239
"You did not ask; nobody has ever asked. Mr. Vickery is the only one."
"Then it was Lawrence who advised you to write to Washington?" said Marion.
"You will take me over to the mill immediately," said the girl, rising; "I wish to see everything.—And, mother, will you come, too?"
"Certainly," replied Mrs. Manning, with a determination to go in spite of her avoirdupois, the darkness, the row-boat, and the steep mill-stairs. She was devoured by curiosity, and performed the journey without flinching. When they reached the work-room at last, Bro, in his excitement, lighted all the lamps he had in the mill and brought them in, so that the small place was brilliant. Mrs. Manning wondered and ejaculated, tried not to knock over small articles, listened, comprehended nothing, and finally took refuge mentally with the screw and physically in an old arm-chair; these two things at least she understood. Marion studied the valve a long time, listening attentively to Bro's eager explanations. "I can make nothing of it," she said at last, in a vexed tone.
"Neither could Mr. Vickery," said Bro.
She next turned to the register, and, before long, caught its idea.
"It is not quite right yet, for some reason," explained the inventor, apologetically.
She looked over his figures.
"It is plain enough why it is not right," she said, after a moment, in her schoolmistress tone. "Your calculations are wrong. Give me a pencil." She went to work at once, and soon had a whole sheet covered. "It will take me some time," she said, glancing up at the end of a quarter of an hour. "If you are tired, mother, you had better go back."
"I think I will," said Mrs. Manning, whose mind was now on the darkness and the row-boat. Bro went with her, and then returned. The mother no more thought of asking her | | 240 daughter to leave a column of unfinished figures than of asking a child to leave an unfinished cake.
"Do not interrupt me now, but sit down and wait," said Marion, without looking up, when Bro came back. He obeyed, and did not stir; instead, he fell to noticing the effect of her profile against the red cloth over the window. It took Marion longer than she expected to finish the calculation; her cheeks glowed over the work. "There!" she said at last, throwing down the pencil and pushing the paper toward him. She had succeeded; the difficulty was practically at an end. Bro looked at the paper and at her with admiring pride.
"It is your invention now," he said.
"Oh, no; I only did the sum for you. Astronomers often have somebody to do the sums for them."
"I shall apply for patents on all three now," said Bro; "and the register is yours, Miss Marion. In eleven years I have not succeeded in doing what you have just done in an hour."
"So much the worse for you, Ambrose," replied Marion lightly. She was quite accustomed to his praise, she had had it steadily from childhood. If not always gracefully expressed, at least it was always earnest; but, like Ambrose, of no consequence.
Bro made his application in due form. Young Vickery volunteered to write to an acquaintance in Washington, a young lawyer, who aspired to "patent business," asking him, as he expressed it, to "see Bro through." "No sharp practice in this case, Dan," he wrote privately. "Cranch is poor, and a friend of friends of mine; do your best for him."
But, although he thus good-naturedly assisted the man, he laughed at the woman for her part in the figures, which Bro had related with pride.
"What will you do next?" he said. "Build a stone wall—or vote? Imagine a girl taking light recreation in equations, and letting her mind wander hilariously among groves of triangles on a rainy day!"| | 241
Marion colored highly, but said nothing. Her incisiveness seemed to fail her when with Lawrence Vickery. And, as he was never more than half in earnest, it was as hard to use real weapons against him as to fence with the summer wind. The young man seemed to have taken a fancy to Bro; he spent an hour or two at the saw-mill almost every day, and Cæsar had become quite accustomed to his voice shouting for the boat. But the old negro liked him, and came across cheerfully, even giving him voluntarily the title "marse," which the blacks withheld whenever they pleased now, and tenaciously. Vickery took Bro over to see his grandfather, the old house, and the wastes which were once their cotton-fields. He had no pride about the old gentleman's lowly office; he had roamed about the world too much for that. And, when Bro suggested that he should take the position himself and relieve his grandfather, he answered carelessly that his grandfather did not want to be relieved, which was true—old Mr. Vickery deriving the only amusement of his life now in plans for outwitting, in various small ways, the spirited superintendent.
"However," said Lawrence, "I could not in any case; I have plans of importance waiting for me."
"Where?" asked Bro.
"Well—abroad. I don't mind telling you," said Vickery; "but it is a secret at present."
"Then you do not intend to stay here?"
"Here? Bless you, no! The place is a howling, one-horse desert. I only came back awhile to see the old man."
The "while" lasted all winter, Young Vickery exhausted the town, the island, and the whole district; he was "hail fellow" with everybody, made acquaintance with the lighthouse-keeper, knew the captains of all the schooners, and even rode on the hand-car and was admitted to the friendship of the superintendent. But, in the way of real intimacy, the cottage and the saw-mill were his favorite haunts. He was with Marion a part of every day; he teased her, laughed at her flowers, mimicked her precise pronunciation, made cari- | | 242 catures of her friend Miss Drough, and occasionally walked by with Nannie Barr, the most consummate little flirt in the town. Marion changed—that is, inwardly. She was too proud to alter her life outwardly, and, beyond putting away the chess-problem book, and walking with Miss Drough in quiet paths through the andromeda and smilax thickets, or out on the barrens among the saw-palmettoes, rather than through the streets of the town, what she did was the same as usual. But she was not what she had been. She seemed to have become timid, almost irresolute; she raised her eyes quickly and dropped them as quickly: the old calm, steady gaze was gone; her color came and went. She was still erect as ever: she could not change that; but she seemed disposed to sit more in the shadow, or half behind the curtain, or to withdraw to her own room, where the bolt was now often used which had formerly rusted in its place. Bro noticed all this. Marion's ways had not been changeable like those of most girls, and he had grown into knowing them exactly: being a creature of precise habit himself, he now felt uncomfortable and restless because she was so. At last he spoke to her mother. "She is certainly changed: do you think there is any danger of fever?" he asked uneasily. But Mrs. Manning only blinked and nodded smilingly back in answer, holding up her finger to signify that Marion was within hearing. Supposing that he had comprehended her, of course, and glad to have a confidant, she now blinked and nodded at him from all sides—from behind doors, from over Marion's head, from out of the windows, even throwing her confidential delight to him across the river as he stood in the saw-mill doorway. Marion, then, was going through something—something not to be mentioned, but only mysteriously nodded—which was beneficial to her; what could it be? She had taken to going very frequently to church lately, in spite of her dislike to "the worm," who still occupied the pulpit. Bro went back to the experience of his youth in the up-country, the only experience he had to go back to, and decided that she must be having | | 243 what they used to call there "a change of heart" Upon mentioning this in a furtive tone to Mrs. Manning, she laughed heartily, rather to his surprise, for he was a reverent sort of non-churchgoing pagan, and said, "Very good, Bro—very good, indeed!"
He decided that he had guessed rightly; the Episcopalian was, he had heard, a very cheerful kind of religion, tears and groaning not being required of its neophytes.
But his eyes were to be opened. The last trump could not have startled him more than something he saw with his own eyes one day. It happened in this way: There was an accident on the wharf; a young man was crushed between the end of the dock and the side of the steamer; some one came running to the cottage and said it was Lawrence Vickery. Mrs. Manning, the hands at the mill, and even old Dinah, started off at once; the whole town was hurrying to the scene. Bro, shut up in his workroom, going over his beloved valve again, did not hear or see them. It was nearly dinner-time, and, when he came out and found no boat, he was surprised; but he paddled himself across on a rude raft he had, and went up to the cottage. The doors stood open all over the house as the hasty departures had left them, and he heard Marion walking up and down in her room up stairs, sobbing aloud and wildly. He had never heard her sob before; even as a child she had been reticent and self-controlled. He stood appalled at the sound. What could it betoken? He stole to the foot of the stairs and listened. She was moaning Lawrence's name over and over to herself—"Lawrence! Lawrence! Lawrence!" He started up the stairs, hardly knowing what he was doing. Her grief was dreadful to him: he wanted to comfort her, but did not know how. He hardly realized what the cry meant. But it was to come to him. The heart-broken girl, who neither saw nor heard him, although he was now just outside the door, drew a locket from her bosom and kissed it passionately with a flood of despairing, loving words. Then, as if at the end of her strength, | | 244 with a sigh like death, she sank to the floor lifeless; she had fainted.
After a moment the man entered. He seemed to himself to have been standing outside that door for a limitless period of time; like those rare, strange sensations we feel of having done the same thing or spoken the same words before in some other and unknown period of existence. He lifted Marion carefully and laid her on a lounge. As he moved her, the locket swung loose against her belt on the long ribbon which was fastened underneath her dress around her throat. It was a clumsy, old-fashioned locket, with an open face, and into its small frame she herself had inserted a photograph of Lawrence Vickery, cut from a carte de visite. Bro saw it: the open face of the locket was toward him, and he could not help seeing. It occurred to him then vaguely that, as she had worn it concealed, it should be again hidden before other eyes saw it—before she could know that even his had rested upon it. With shaking fingers he took out his knife, and, opening its smallest blade, he gently severed the ribbon, took off the locket, and put it into her pocket. It was surprising to see how skillfully his large, rough hands did this. Then, with an afterthought, he found a worn place in the ribbon's end, and severed it again by pulling it apart, taking the cut portion away with him. His idea was, that she would think the ribbon had parted of itself at the worn spot, and she did think so. It was a pretty, slender little ribbon, of bright rose-color. When all was finished, he went to seek assistance. He knew no more what to do for her physically than he would have known what to do for an angel. Although there was not the faintest sign of consciousness, he had carefully refrained from even touching her unnecessarily in the slightest degree: it seemed to him profanation. But there was no one in the house. He went to the gate, and there caught sight of Mrs. Manning hurrying homeward across the sandy waste.
"It is all a mistake," she panted, with the tears still dropping on her crimson cheeks. "It was not Lawrence at all, | | 245 but young Harding. Lawrence has gone down the road with the superintendent; but poor young Harding is, I fear, fatally injured."
Even then automatic memory brought to Bro's mind only the idea, "He will never twist his feet around chair-legs any more! It was almost the only fault he had, poor fellow!"
"Miss Marion is not quite well, I think," he said. "I heard her crying a little up stairs as I came in."
"Of course," said the mother, "poor child! But it is all over now.—It was not Lawrence at all, Marion," she cried loudly, hurrying up the path to the doorway; "it was only young Harding."
Love has ears, even in semi-death, and it heard that cry. When Mrs. Manning, breathless, reached her daughter's room, she found her on the lounge still, but with recovered consciousness, and even palely smiling. The picture was safely in her pocket; she supposed, when she found it, that she must have placed it there herself. She never had any suspicion of Bro's presence or his action.
The saw-miller had disappeared. Mrs. Manning supposed that he, in his turn, had gone to the dock or to the Harding cottage.
When he came in to tea that night he looked strangely, but was able to account for it.
"Letters from Washington," he said. Then he paused; they looked at him expectantly. "The idea of the register is not a new one," he added slowly; "it has already been patented."
"My inheritance is gone, then," said Marion gayly.
She spoke without reflection, being so happy now in the reaction of her great relief that she was very near talking nonsense, a feminine safety-valve which she hardly ever before had had occasion to seek.
"Yes," said Bro, a pained quiver crossing his face for an instant. "The valve also is pronounced worthless," he added in a monotonous voice.| | 246
Mother and daughter noticed his tone and his lifeless look; they attributed it to his deep, bitter disappointment, and felt sorry for him.
"But the screw, Bro?" said Mrs. Manning.
"That is successful, I believe; the patent is granted."
"I knew it," she replied triumphantly. "Even I could see the great merits it had. I congratulate you, Bro"
"So do I," said Marion. She would have congratulated anybody that evening.
"The valve is a disappointment to me," said the man, speaking steadily, although dully. "I had worked over it so long that I counted upon it as certain."
Then he rose and went over to the mill.
In the mean time Lawrence Vickery was riding homeward comfortably on the hand-car, and had no idea that he was supposed to be dead. But he learned it; and learned something else also from Marion's sensitive, tremulous face, delicate as a flower. A warm-hearted, impulsive fellow, he was touched by her expression, and went further than he intended. That is to say, that, having an opportunity, thanks to Mrs. Manning, who went up stairs, purposely leaving them alone together, he began by taking Marion's hand reassuringly, and looking into her eyes, and ended by having her in his arms and continuing to look into her eyes, but at a much nearer range. In short, he put himself under as firm betrothal bonds as ever a man did in the whole history of betrothals.
In the mean time the soft-hearted mother, sitting in the darkness up stairs, was shedding tears tenderly, and thinking of her own betrothal. That Lawrence was poor was a small matter to her, compared with the fact that Marion was loved at last, and happy. Lawrence was a Vickery, and the son of her old friend; besides, to her, as to most Southern women, the world is very well lost for the sake of love.
And Bro, over at the saw-mill?
His red lights shone across the marsh as usual, and he was in his work-room; in his hand was the model of his | | 247 valve. He had made it tell a lie that night; he had used it as a mask. He gazed at it, the creature of his brain, his companion through long years, and he felt that he no longer cared whether it was good for anything or not! Then he remembered listlessly that it was good for nothing; the highest authorities had said so. But, gone from him now was the comprehension of their reasons, and this he began to realize. He muttered over a formula, began a calculation, both well known to him; he could do neither. His mind strayed from its duty idly, as a loose bough sways in the wind. He put his hands to his head and sat down. He sat there motionless all night.
But oh, how happy Marion was! Not effusively, not spokenly, but internally; the soft light shining out from her heart, however, as it does through a delicate porcelain shade. Old Mr. Vickery was delighted too, and a new series of invitations followed in honor of the betrothal; even the superintendent was invited, and came on his hand-car. Bro was included also, but he excused himself. His excuses were accepted without insistence, because it was understood that he was almost heart-broken by his disappointments. Joy and sorrow meet. When the engagement had lasted five weeks, and Marion had had thirty-five days of her new happiness, the old grandfather died, rather suddenly, but peacefully, and without pain. Through a long, soft April day he lay quietly looking at them all, speechless but content; and then at sunset he passed away. Mrs. Manning wept heartily, and Marion too; even Lawrence was not ashamed of the drops on his cheeks as he surveyed the kind old face, now for ever still. Everybody came to the funeral, and everybody testified respect; then another morning broke, and life went on again. The sun shines just the same, no matter who has been laid in the earth, and the flowers bloom. This seems to the mourner a strange thing, and a hard. In this case, however, there was no one to suffer the extreme pain of violent separation, for all the old man's companions and contemporaries were already gone; he was the last.| | 248
Another month went by, and another; the dead heats of summer were upon them. Marion minded them not; scorching air and arctic snows were alike to her when Lawrence was with her. Poor girl! she had the intense, late-coming love of her peculiar temperament: to please him she would have continued smiling on the rack itself until she died. But why, after all, call her "poor"? Is not such love, even if unreturned, great riches?
Bro looked at her, and looked at her, and looked at her. He had fallen back into his old way of life again, and nobody noticed anything unusual in him save what was attributed to his disappointment.
"You see he had shut himself up there, and worked over that valve for years," explained Mrs. Manning; "and, not letting anybody know about it either, he had come to think too much of it, and reckon upon it as certain. He was always an odd, lonely sort of man, you know, and this has told upon him heavily."
By and by it became evident that Lawrence was restless. He had sold off what he could of his inheritance, but that was only the old furniture; no one wanted the sidling, unrepaired house, which was now little better than a shell, or the deserted cotton-fields, whose dikes were all down. He had a scheme for going abroad again; he could do better there, he said; he had friends who would help him.
"Shall you take Miss Marion?" asked Bro, speaking unexpectedly, and, for him, markedly. They were all present.
"Oh, no," said Lawrence, "not now. How could I? But I shall come back for her soon" He looked across at his betrothed with a smile. But Marion had paled suddenly, and Bro had seen it.
The next event was a conversation at the mill.
Young Vickery wandered over there a few days later. He was beginning to feel despondent and weary: everything at Wilbarger was at its summer ebb, and the climate, too, affected him. Having become really fond of Marion now, and | | 249 accustomed to all the sweetness of her affection, he hated to think of leaving her; yet he must. He leaned against the window-sill, and let out disjointed sentences of discontent to Bro; it even seemed a part of his luck that it should be dead low water outside as he glanced down, and all the silver channels slimy.
"That saw makes a fearful noise," he said.
"Come into my room," said Bro; "you will not hear it so plainly there" It was not the work-room, but the bedroom. The work-room was not mentioned now, out of kindness to Bro. Lawrence threw himself down on the narrow bed, and dropped his straw hat on the floor. "The world's a miserable hole," he said, with unction.
Bro sat down on a three-legged stool, the only approach to a chair in the room, and looked at him; one hand, in the pocket of his old, shrunk linen coat, was touching a letter.
"Bah!" said Lawrence, clasping his hands under his head and stretching himself out to his full length on the bed, "how in the world can I leave her, Bro? Poor little thing!"
Now to Bro, to whom Marion had always seemed a cross between a heavenly goddess and an earthly queen, this epithet was startling; however, it was, after all, but a part of the whole.
"It is a pity that you should leave her," he replied slowly. "It would be much better to take her with you."
"Yes, I know it would. I am a fickle sort of fellow, too, and have all sorts of old entanglements over there, besides. They might take hold of me again."
Bro felt a new and strange misgiving, which went through three distinct phases, with the strength and depth of an ocean, in less than three seconds: first, bewilderment at the new idea that anybody could be false to Marion; second, a wild, darting hope for himself; third, the returning iron conviction that it could never be, and that, if Lawrence deserted Marion, she would die.| | 250
"If you had money, what would you do?" he asked, coming back to the present heavily.
"Depends upon how much it was."
"Five thousand dollars?"
"Well—I'd marry on that, but not very hilariously, old fellow."
"That would do better."
Nothing has as yet been said of Lawrence Vickery's appearance. It will be described now, and will, perhaps, throw light backward over this narration.
Imagine a young man, five feet eleven inches in height, straight, strong, but slender still, in spite of his broad shoulders; imagine, in addition, a spirited head and face, bright, steel-blue eyes, a bold profile, and beautiful mouth, shaded by a golden mustache; add to this, gleaming white teeth, a dimple in the cleft, strongly molded chin, a merry laugh, and a thoroughly manly air; and you have Lawrence Broughton Vickery at twenty-eight.
When at last he took himself off, and went over to see Marion and be more miserable still, Bro drew the letter from his pocket, and read it for the sixth or seventh time. During these months his screw had become known, having been pushed persistently by the enterprising young lawyer who aspired to patent business in the beginning, and having held its own since by sheer force of merit. The enterprising young lawyer had, however, recently forsaken law for politics; he had gone out to one of the Territories with the intention of returning some day as senator when the Territory should be a State (it is but fair to add that his chance is excellent). But he had, of course, no further knowledge of the screw, and Bro now managed the business himself. This letter was from a firm largely engaged in the manufacture of machinery, and it contained an offer for the screw and patent outright—ten thousand dollars.
"I shall never invent anything more," thought Bro, the | | 251 words of the letter writing themselves vacantly on his brain. "Something has gone wrong inside my head in some way, and the saw-mill will be all I shall ever attend to again."
Then he paused.
"It would be worth more money in the end if I could keep it," he said to himself. "But even a larger sum might not serve so well later, perhaps." It was all to be Marion's in either case—which would be best? Then he remembered her sudden pallor, and that decided him. "He shall have it now," he said. "How lucky that he was content with ten!"
Some men would have given the money also in the same circumstances; but they would have given it to Marion. It was characteristic of Bro's deep and minute knowledge of the girl, and what would be for her happiness, that he planned to give the money to the man, and thus weight down and steady the lighter nature.
He dwelt a long time upon ways and means; he was several days in making up his mind. At last he decided what to do; and did it.
Three weeks afterward a letter came to Wilbarger, directed in a clear handwriting to "Mr. Lawrence Broughton Vickery." It was from a Northern lawyer, acting for another party, and contained an offer for Vickery Island with its house, cotton-fields, and marsh; price offered, ten thousand dollars. The lawyer seemed to be acquainted with the size of the island, the condition of the fields and out-buildings; he mentioned that the purchase was made with the idea of reviving the cotton-culture immediately, similar attempts on the part of Rhode Island manufacturers, who wished to raise their own cotton, having succeeded on the sea-islands farther north. Lawrence, in a whirl of delight, read the letter aloud in a cottage-parlor, tossed it over gayly to Mrs. Manning, and clasped Marion in his arms.
"Well, little wife," he said happily, stroking her soft hair, "we shall go over the ocean together now."
And Bro looked on.| | 252
The wedding took place in the early autumn. Although comparatively quiet, on account of old Mr. Vickery's death, all Wilbarger came to the church, and crowded into the cottage afterward. By a happy chance, "the worm " was at the North, soliciting aid for his "fold," and Marion was married by a gentle little missionary, who traversed the watery coast-district in a boat instead of on horseback, visiting all the sea-islands, seeing many sad, closed little churches, and encountering not infrequently almost pure paganism and fetich-worship among the neglected blacks. Bro gave the bride away. It was the proudest moment of his life—and the saddest.
"Somebody must do it," Mrs. Manning had said; "and why not Bro? He has lived in our house for twelve years, and, after all, now that old Mr. Vickery is gone, he is in one way our nearest friend.—Do let me ask him, Marion."
"Very well," assented the bride, caring but little for anything now but to be with Lawrence every instant.
She did, however, notice Bro during the crowded although informal reception which followed the ceremony. In truth, he was noticeable. In honor of the occasion, he had ordered from Savannah a suit of black, and had sent the measurements himself; the result was remarkable, the coat and vest being as much too short for him as the pantaloons were too long. He wore a white cravat, white-cotton gloves so large that he looked all hands, and his button-hole was decked with flowers, as many as it could hold. In this garb he certainly was an extraordinary object, and his serious face appearing at the top made the effect all the more grotesque. Marion was too good-hearted to smile; but she did say a word or two in an undertone to Lawrence, and the two young people had their own private amusement over his appearance.
But Bro was unconscious of it, or of anything save the task he had set for himself. It was remarked afterward that "really Bro Cranch talked almost like other people, joked and laughed, too, if you will believe it, at that Manning wedding."
Lawrence promised to bring his wife home at the end of a | | 253 year to see her mother, and perhaps, if all went well, to take the mother back with them. Mrs. Manning, happy and sad together, cried and smiled in a breath. But Marion was radiant as a diamond; her gray eyes flashed light. Not even when saying good-by could she pretend to be anything but supremely happy, even for a moment. By chance Bro had her last look as the carriage rolled away; he went over to the mill carrying it with him, and returned no more that night.
Wilbarger began to wonder after a while when that Rhode Island capitalist would begin work in his cotton-fields; they are wondering still. In course of time, and through the roundabout way he had chosen, Bro received the deeds of sale; he made his will, and left them to Marion. Once Mrs. Manning asked him about the screw.
"I have heard nothing of it for some time," he replied; and she said no more, thinking it had also, like the valve, proved a failure. In the course of the winter the little workroom was dismantled and the partitions taken down; there is nothing there now but the plain wall of the mill. The red lights no longer shine across the marsh to Vickery Island, and there is no one there to see them. The new keeper lives in a cabin at the bridge, and plays no tricks on the superintendent, who, a man of spirit still, but not quite so sanguine as to the future of Wilbarger, still rolls by on his hand-car from northeast to southeast.
Bro has grown old; he is very patient with everybody. Not that he ever was impatient, but that patience seems now his principal characteristic. He often asks to hear portions of Marion's letters read aloud, and always makes gently the final comment: " Yes, yes; she is happy!"
It is whispered around Wilbarger that he " has had a stroke "Mrs. Manning herself thinks so.
Well, in a certain sense, perhaps she is right.
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