Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

We have bright, rosy girls, fair as ever an earl's,

Anil the wealth of their curls is our gold;
Oh, their lisp and their laugh, they are sweeter by half

Than the wine that you quaff red and old I
We have love-lighted looks, we have work, we have books,

Our boys have grown manly and bold, . •*, Y B H -c

And they never shall blush, when their proud cousins brush . . '}

From the walls of their college such cobwebs of knowledge - t" .'')..

As careless young fingers may hold.

'-.'*''
Keep your^nnde and your cheer, for we need them not here,

And for me far too dear they would prove;
For gold is but gloss, and possessions are dross,

And gain is all loss, without love.
Yon severing tide is not fordless or wide, —
The soul's blue abysses our homesteads divide:
Down through the still river they deepen forever,

Like the skies it reflects from above.

Still my brother thou art, though our lives lie apart,

Path from path, heart from heart, more and more.
Oh, I have not forgot, — oh, remember you not

Our room in the cot by the shore?
And a night soon will come, when the murmur and hum

Of our days shall be dumb evermore,
And again we shall lie side by side, you and I,
Beneath the green cover you helped to lay over

Our honest old father of yore.

A HALF-LIFE AND HALF A LIFE.

"On garde longtempt son premier amut, quund on n'en prend point de second."

Maxima Mania '/» Due dt la Roclte/inumU.

It is not «uffering alone that wears life is fullest of energy and excitement.

out our lives. We sometimes are in It is the reaction, the weariness which

a state when a sharp pang would be they name Ennui, — foul fiend that cats

hailed almost as a blessing, —when, rath- fastest into the heart's core, that shakes

cr than bear any longer this living death with surest hand the sands of life, that

of calm stagnation, we would gladly rush makes the deepest wrinkles on the cheeks

into action, into suffering, to feel again and deadens most surely the lustre of the

the warmth of life restored to our blood, eyes.

to feel it at least coursing through our But what are the occasional visits of

veins with something like a living swift- this life - consumer, this vampire that

ness. sucks out the blood, to his constant;

This death-in-Iife comes sometimes to never - failing presence? There are

tbe most earnest men, to those whose those who feel within themselves the

power of living fullest lives, of sounding every chord of the full diapason of passion and feeling, yet who have been so hemmed around, so shut in by adverse and narrowing circumstances, that never, no, not once in their half-century of years which stretch from childhood to old age, have they been free to breathe out, to speak aloud the heart that was in them. Ever the same wasting indifference to the things that are, the same ill-repressed longing for the things that might be. Long days of wearisome repetition of duties in which there is no life, followed by restless nights, when Imagination seizes the reins in her own hands, and paints the out-blossoming of those germs of happiness and fulness of being of whose existence within us we carry about always the aching consciousness.

And such things I have known from the moment when I first stepped from babyhood into childhood, from the time when life ceased to be a play and came to have its duties and its sufferings. Always the haunting sense of a happiness which I was capable of feeling, faint glimpses of a paradise of which I was a born denizen,—and always, too, the stern knowledge of the restraints which held me prisoner, the idle longings of an exile. But would no strong effort of will, no energy of heart or mind, break the bonds that held me down, — no steady perseverance of purpose win me a way out of darkness into light? No, for I was a woman, an ugly woman, whose girlhood had gone by without affection, and whose womanhood was passing without love,—a woman, poor and dependent on others for daily bread, and yet so bound by conventional duties to those around her that to break from them into independence would be to outrage all the prejudices of those who made her world.

I could plan sue h escape from my daily and yearly narrowing life, could dream of myself walking steadfast and unshak. en through labor to independence, could picture a life where, if the heart were not fed, at least the tastes might be sat

isfied, could strengthen myself through all the imaginary details of my goingforth from the narrow surroundings which made my prison-walls; but when the time came to take the first step, my courage failed. I could not go out into that world which looked to me so wide and lonely; the necessity for love was too strong for me, I must dwell among mine own people. There, at least, was the bond of custom^ there was the affection which grows out of habit; but in the world what hope had I to win love from strangers, with niy repellent looks, awkward movements, and want of personal attractions?

Few persons know that within one hundred and fifty miles of the Queen City of the West, bounded on both sides by highly cultivated tracts of country, looking out westwardly on the very garden of Kentucky, almost in the range of railroad and telegraph, in the very geographical centre of our most populous regions, there lie sonic thousand square miles of superb woodland, rolling, hill above hill, in the beautiful undulations which characterize the country bordering on the Ohio, watered by fair streams which need only the clearing away of the few obstructions incident to a new country to make them navigable, and yet a country where the mail passes only once a week, where all communication is by horse-paths or by the slow course of the flat-boat, where schools are not known and churches are never seen, where the Methodist itinerant preacher gives all the religious instruction, and a stray newspaper furnishes all the political information. Does any one doubt my statement? Then let him ask a passage up-stream in one of the flat-boats that Supply the primitive necessities of the small farmers who dwell on the banks of the Big Sandy, in that debatable bonler-land which lies between Kentucky and Virginia; or let him, if he have a taste for adventure, hire his horse at Catlettsburg, at the mouth of the river, and lose his way among the blind bridlepaths that lead to Louisa and to Prostonburg. If he stops to ask-a night's lodging at one of the farm-houses that are to be found at the junction of the creeks with the rivers, log-houses with their primitive out-buildings, their hallconstrueted rafts of lumber ready to float down-stream with the next rise, their 'dug-outs' for the necessities of river-intercourse, and their rough oxcarts for hauling to and from the mill, he will see before him such a home as that in which I passed the first twenty years of my life.

I had little claim on the farmer with whom I lived. I was the child by a former marriage of his wife, who had brought me with her into this wilderness, a puny, ailing creature of four years, and into the three years that followed was compressed all the happiness I could remember. The free life in the open air, the nourishing influence of the rich natural scenery by which I was surrounded, the grand, silent trees with their luxuriant foliage, the fresh, strong growth of the vegetation, all seemed to breathe health into my frame, and with health came the capacity for enjoyment. I was happy in the mere gift of existence, happy in the fulness of content, with no playmate but the kindly and lovely mother Earth from whose bosom I drewfulness of life.

But in my seventh year my mother died, worn out by the endless, unvarying round of labors which break down the constitutions of our small farmers' wives. She grew sallow and thin under repeated attacks of chilli and fever, brought into the world, one after another, three puny infants, only to lay them away from her breast, side by side, under the sycamore that overshadowed our cornfield, and visibly wasted away, growing more and more feeble, until, one winter morning, we laid her, too, at rest by her babies. Before the year was out, my father (so I called him) was married again.

My step-mother was a good woman, and meant to do her duty by me. Nay, she was more than that: she was, as far as her poor

light went, a Christian. She had experienced religion in the great revival of 18—, which was felt all through Western Kentucky, under the preaching of the Reverend Peleg Dawson, and when she married my father and went to bury herself in the wilds of " Up Sandy" was a shining light in the Methodist church, a class-leader who had had and had told experiences.

But all that glory was over now; it had flashed its little day: for there is a glow in the excitement of our religious revivals as potent in its effect on the imaginations of women and young men as ever were the fastings and penances which brought the dreams and reveries, the holy visions and the glorious revealings, of the Catholic votaries. In this short, trimn* phant time of spiritual pride lay the whole romance of my step-mother's life. Perhaps it was well for her soul that she was taken from the scene of her triumphs and brought again to the hard realities of life. The self- exaltation, the ungodly pride passed away; but there was left the earnest, prayerful desire to do her duty in her way and calling, and the first path of-duty which opened to her zeal was that which led to the care of a motherless child, the saving of an immortal soul. And in all sincerity and uprightness did she strive to walk in it. But what woman of fiveand-thirty, who has outlived her youth and womanly tenderness in the loneliness and hardening influences of a single life, and who marries at last for a shelter in old age, knpws the wants of a little child? Indeed, what but a mother's love has tho long - enduring patience to support the never ceasing calls for forbearance and perseverance which a child makes upon a grown person? Those little ones need the nourishment of love and praise, but such milk for babes can come only from a mother's breast. I got none of it . On the contrary, my dearly loved independence, my wild-wood life, where Nature had become to me my nursing-mother, was exchanged for one of never ceasing supervision. "Little girls must learn to be useful," was the phrase that greeted my unwilling ears fifty times a day, which pursued me through my daily round of dish-washings, floor-sweepings, bed-making and potato-peeling, to overtake me at last in the very moment when I hoped to reap the reward of my diligence in a free afternoon by the river-side in the crotch of the water-maple that hung over the stream, clutching me and fastening me down to the hated square of patchwork, which bore, in the spots of red that defaced its white purity in following the line of my stitches, the marks of the wounds that my awkward hands inflicted on themselves with their tiny weapon.

And so the years went on. It was a pity that no babies came to soften our hearts, my step-mother's and mine, and to draw us nearer together as only the presence of children can. A household without children is always hard and angular, even when surrounded by all the softening influences of refinement and education. What was ours with its poverty and roughness, its every-day cares and its endless discomforts? One day was like all the rest, and in their wearying succession they rise up in my memory like ghosts of the past coming to lay their cold, death-like hands on the feebly kindling hopes of the present. I see myself now, as I look back, a tall, awkward girl of fifteen, with my long, straggling, sunburnt hair, my sallow, yet pimply complexion, my small, weak-looking blue eyes, that every exposure to the sun and wind would redden, and nfy long, lean hands and arms, that offended my sense of beauty constantly, as I dwelt on their hopelessly angular turns. I had one beauty ; so my little paper-framed glass, that rested on the rough rafter that edged the sloping roof of my garret, told me, whenever I took it down to gaze in it, which, but for that beauty, would have been but seldom. It was a finely cut and firmly set mouth and chin. There was, and I felt it, beauty and character in the curves of the lips, in the rounding of the chin; there was even a healthy ruddiness in the lips, and something of delicacy in the

even, well-set teeth that showed themselves when they parted.

The gazing at these beauties gave me great pleasure, not for any effect they might ever produce in others,—what did I know of that ? — but because I had in myself a strong love of the beautiful, a passion for grace of form and brilliancy of color which made doubly distasteful to me our bare, uncouth walls, with their ugly, straight-backed chairs, and their frightfully painted yellow or red tobies and' chests-of-drawers.

My step-mother's appearance, too, was a constant offence to my beauty-loving eye, — with her lank, tall figure, round which clung those narrow skirts of " bit" calico, dingy red or dreary brown, — her feet shod in the heavy store-shoes which were brought us from Catlettsburg by the returning flat-boat men, — her sharpfeatured face, the forehead and cheeks covered with brown, mouldy - looking spots, the eyes deep-set, with a livid, dyspeptic ring around them, and the lips thin and pinched,—the whole face shaded by the eternal sun-bonnet, which never left her head from early sunrise till late bedtime (no Sandy woman is ever seen without her sun-bonnet). All these were perpetual annoyances to me; they made me discontented without knowing why; they filled me with disgust, a disgust which my respect for her good qualities could not overcome.

And then our life, how dreary! The rising in the cold, gray dawn to prepare the breakfast of corn - dodgers and bacon for my father and his men, — the spreading the table-cloth, stained with the soil-spots of yesterday's meal, — the putting upon it the ugly, unmatched crockery, — the straggling-in of the unwashed, uncombed men in their coarse working-clothes, redolent of the week's unwholesome toil,—their washings, combings, and low talk close by my side,—the varied uses to which our household utensils were put,—the dipping of dirty knives into the salt and of dirty fingers into the meat-dish,—all filled me then, and fill me now, with loathing.

There was a relief when the men left, the house; but then came the dreary "slicking-up," almost more disgusting, in its false, superficial show of cleanliness, man had been the open carelessness of the workmen.

But there was no time for rest j my step-mother's sharp, high-pitched voice was heard calling, "Janet!" and I followed her to the garden to dig the potatoes from the hills or to the Cornfield to pull and husk the three dozen ears of corn which made our chief dish at dinner. Then came the week's washing, the apple-peeling, the pork-sal ting, work varied only with the varying season, until the blowing of the horn at twelve brought back the men to dinner, after which came again the clearing up, again the day's task, and again the supper.

I often thought that the men around us were always more cheerful and merry than the women. They worked as hard, they endured as many hardships, but they had, certainly, more pleasures. There was the evening lounge by the fire in winter, the sitting on the fence or at the door-step in summer, when, pipe or cigar in mouth, knife and whittling - stick in hand, jest and gibe would pass round among them, and the boisterous laugh would go up, reaching me, as I lay, tired out, on my little cot, or leaned disconsolate at my garret-window, looking with longing eyes far out into the darkness of the woods. No such gatherings-together of the women did I ever see. If one of our neighbors dragged her weary steps to our kitchen, and sat herself down, baby in lap, on the upturned tub or flagbottomed chair that I dusted off with my apron, it was to commence the querulous complaint of the last week's chill or the heavy washing of the day before, the ailing baby or the troublesome child, all told in the same whining voice. Even the choice bit of gossip which roused us at rare intervals always had its dark side, on which these poor women dwelt with a perverse pleasure.

In short, life was too hard for them; it brought its constant cares without any

alleviating pleasures. Their homes were only places of monotonous labor,—their husbands so many hard taskmasters, who exacted from them more than their strength could give,—their children, who should have been the delight of their mothers' hearts, so many additional burdens, the bearing and nursing of which broke down their poor remaining health; the glorious and lavish Nature in which they lived only brought to them added labor, and shut them out from the few social enjoyments that they knew of.

I was old enough to feel all this,—not to reason on it as I can now, but to rebel against it with all the violence of a vehement nature which feels its strength only in the injuries it inflicts upon itself in its useless struggles for freedom. Bitter tears did I shed sometimes, as I lay with my head on my arms, leaning on that narrow window-sill, — tears of passionate regret that I was not a boy, a man, that I might, by the very force of my right arm, hew my way out of that encircling forest into the world of which I dreamed,—tears, too, that, being as I was, only an ugly, ignorant girl, I could not be allowed to care only for myself, and dream away my life in this same forest, which charmed me while it hemmed me in. My rude, chaotic nature had something of force in it, strength which I knew would stand me in good stead, could I ever find an outlet for it; it had also a power of enjoyment, keen, vivid, could I ever get leave to enjoy.

At length came the opening, the glimpM of sunlight. I remember, as if it were but yesterday, that afternoon which first showed to my physical sight something of that full life of which my imagination had framed a rude, faint sketch. I was standing at the end of the meadow, just where the rails had been thrown down for the cows, when, looking up the path that led through the wood by the river, I saw, almost at my side, a man on horseback. He stopped, and, half raising his hat, a motion I had never seen before, said,—

"Is this Squire Boarders'! place ? "

« ZurückWeiter »