Story type: Literature
“Here he comes! here he comes!”
“He” was the “post-rider,” an institution now almost of the past. He rode by the house and threw off a copy of the “Boston Gazette.” Now the “Boston Gazette,” of this particular issue, gave the results of the drawing of the great Massachusetts State Lottery of the Eastern Lands in the Waldo Patent.
Mr. Cutts, the elder, took the “Gazette,” and opened it with a smile that pretended to be careless; but even he showed the eager anxiety which they all felt, as he tore off the wrapper and unfolded the fatal sheet. “Letter from London,” “Letter from Philadelphia,” “Child with two heads,”–thus he ran down the columns of the little page,–uneasily. “Here it is! here it is!–Drawing of the great State Lottery. ‘In the presence of the Honourable Treasurer of the Commonwealth, and of their Honours the Commissioners of the Honourable Council,–was drawn yesterday, at the State House, the first distribution of numbers’—-here are the numbers,–‘First combination, 375-1. Second, 421-7. Third, 591-6. Fourth, 594-1. Fifth,’”–and here Mr. Cutts started off his feet,–“‘Fifth, 219-7.’ Sybil, my darling! it is so! 219-7! See, dear child! 219-7! 219-7! O my God! to think it should come so!”
And he fairly sat down, and buried his head in his hands, and cried.
The others, for a full minute, did not dare break in on excitement so intense, and were silent; but, in a minute more, of course, little Simeon, the youngest of the tribes who were represented there, gained courage to pick up the paper, and to spell out again the same words which his father had read with so much emotion; and, with his sister Sally, who came to help him, to add to the store of information, as to what prize number 5–219-7–might bring.
For this was a lottery in which there were no blanks. The old Commonwealth of Massachusetts, having terrible war debts to pay after the Revolution, had nothing but lands in Maine to pay them with. Now lands in Maine were not very salable, and, if the simple and ordinary process of sale had been followed, the lands might not have been sold till this day. So they were distributed by these Lotteries, which in that time seemed gigantic. Every ticket-holder had some piece of land awarded to him, I think,–but to the most, I fear, the lands were hardly worth the hunting up, to settle upon. But, to induce as many to buy as might, there were prizes. No. 1, I think, even had a “stately mansion” on the land,–according to the advertisement. No. 2 had some special water-power facilities. No. 5, which Mr. Cutts’s ticket had drawn, was two thousand acres on Tripp’s Cove,–described in the programme as that “well-known Harbor of Refuge, where Fifty Line of Battle Ship could lie in safety.” To this cove the two thousand acres so adjoined that the programme represented them as the site of the great “Mercantile Metropolis of the Future.”
Samuel Cutts was too old a man, and had already tested too critically his own powers in what the world calls “business,” by a sad satire, to give a great deal of faith to the promises of the prospectus, as to the commercial prosperity of Tripp’s Cove. He had come out of the Revolution a Brigadier-General, with an honorable record of service,–with rheumatism which would never be cured,–with a good deal of paper money which would never be redeemed, which the Continent and the Commonwealth had paid him for his seven years,–and without that place in the world of peace which he had had when these years began. The very severest trial of the Revolution was to be found in the condition in which the officers of the army were left after it was over. They were men who had distinguished themselves in their profession, and who had done their very best to make that profession unnecessary in the future. To go back to their old callings was hard. Other men were in their places, and there did not seem to be room for two. Under the wretched political system of the old Confederation there was no such rapid spring of the material prosperity of the country as should find for them new fields in new enterprise. Peace did any thing but lead in Plenty. Often indeed, in history, has Plenty been a little coy before she could be tempted, with her pretty tender feet, to press the stubble and the ashes left by the havoc of War. And thus it was that General Cutts had returned to his old love whom he had married in a leave of absence just before Bunker Hill, and had begun his new life with her in Old Newbury in Massachusetts, at a time when there was little opening for him,–or for any man who had spent seven years in learning how to do well what was never to be done again.
And in doing what there was to do he had not succeeded. He had just squeezed pork and potatoes and Indian meal enough out of a worn-out farm to keep Sybil, his wife, and their growing family of children alive. He had, once or twice, gone up to Boston to find what chances might be open for him there. But, alas, Boston was in a bad way too, as well as Samuel Cutts. Once he had joined some old companions, who had gone out to the Western Reserve in Northern Ohio, to see what opening might be there. But the outlook seemed unfavorable for carrying so far, overland, a delicate woman and six little children into a wilderness. If he could have scraped together a little money, he said, he would buy a share in one of the ships he saw rotting in Boston or Salem, and try some foreign adventure. But, alas! the ships would not have been rotting had it been easy for any man to scrape together a little money to buy them. And so, year in and year out, Samuel Cutts and his wife dressed the children more and more plainly, bought less sugar and more molasses, brought down the family diet more strictly to pork and beans, pea-soup, hasty-pudding, and rye-and-indian,–and Samuel Cutts looked more and more sadly on the prospect before these boys and girls, and the life for which he was training them.
Do not think that he was a profligate, my dear cousin Eunice, because he had bought a lottery ticket. Please to observe that to buy lottery tickets was represented to be as much the duty of all good citizens, as it was proved to be, eleven years ago, your duty to make Havelocks and to knit stockings. Samuel Cutts, in the outset, had bought his lottery ticket only “to encourage the others,” and to do his honorable share in paying the war debt. Then, I must confess, he had thought more of the ticket than he had supposed he would. The children had made a romance about it,–what they would do, and what they would not do, if they drew the first prize. Samuel Cutts and Sybil Cutts themselves had got drawn into the interest of the children, and many was the night when they had sat up, without any light but that of a pine-torch, planning out the details of the little colony they would form at the East-ward,–if–if only one of the ten great prizes should, by any marvel, fall to him. And now Tripp’s Cove–which, perhaps, he had thought of as much as he had thought of any of the ten–had fallen to him. This was the reason why he showed so much emotion, and why he could hardly speak, when he read the numbers. It was because that had come to him which represented so completely what he wanted, and yet which he had not even dared to pray for. It was so much more than he expected,–it was the dream of years, indeed, made true.
For Samuel Cutts had proved to himself that he was a good leader of men. He knew he was, and many men knew it who had followed him under Carolina suns, and in the snows of Valley Forge. Samuel Cutts knew, equally well, that he was not a good maker of money, nor creator of pork and potatoes. Six years of farming in the valley of the Merrimac had proved that to him, if he had never learned it before. Samuel Cutts’s dream had been, when he went away to explore the Western Reserve, that he would like to bring together some of the best line officers and some of the best privates of the old “Fighting Twenty-seventh,” and take them, with his old provident skill, which had served them so well upon so many camping-grounds, to some region where they could stand by each other again, as they had stood by each other before, and where sky and earth would yield them more than sky and earth have yet yielded any man in Eastern Massachusetts. Well! as I said, the Western Reserve did not seem to be the place. After all, “the Fighting Twenty-seventh” were not skilled in the tilling of the land. They furnished their quota when the boats were to be drawn through the ice of the Delaware, to assist in Rahl’s Christmas party at Trenton. Many was the embarkation at the “head of Elk,” in which the “Fighting Twenty-seventh” had provided half the seamen for the transport. It was “the Fighting Twenty-seventh” who cut out the “Princess Charlotte” cutter in Edisto Bay. But the “Fighting Twenty-seventh” had never, so far as any one knew, beaten one sword into one plough-share, nor one spear into one pruning-hook. But Tripp’s Cove seemed to offer a different prospect. Why not, with a dozen or two of the old set, establish there, not the New Jerusalem, indeed, but something a little more elastic, a little more helpful, a little more alive, than these kiln-dried, sun-dried, and time-dried old towns of the seaboard of Massachusetts? At any rate, they could live together in Tripp’s Cove, as they wintered together at Valley Forge, at Bennett’s Hollow, by the Green Licks, and in the Lykens Intervale. This was the question which Samuel Cutts wanted to solve, and which the fatal figures 219-7 put him in the way of solving.
“Tripp’s Cove is our Christmas present,” said Sybil Cutts to her husband, as they went to bed. But so far removed were the habits of New England then from the observance of ecclesiastical anniversaries, that no one else had remembered that day that it was Christmas which was passing.
Call this a long preface, if you please, but it seems to me best to tell this story so that I may explain what manner of people those were and are who lived, live, and will live, at Tripp’s Cove,–and why they have been, are, and will be linked together, with a sort of family tie and relationship which one does not often see in the villages self-formed or formed at hap-hazard on the seaside, on the hillside, or in the prairies of America. Tripp’s Cove never became “the Great Mercantile City of the Future,” nor do I believe it ever will. But there Samuel Cutts lived in a happy life for fifty years,–and there he died, honored, blessed, and loved. By and by there came the second war with England,–the “Endymion” came cruising along upon the coast, and picking up the fishing-boats and the coasters, burning the ships on the stocks, or compelling the owners to ransom them. Old General Cutts was seventy years old then; but he was, as he had always been, the head of the settlement at Tripp’s,–and there was no lack of men younger than he, the sergeants or the high-privates of the “Fighting Twenty-seventh,” who drilled the boys of the village for whatever service might impend. When the boys went down to Runkin’s and sent the “Endymion’s” boats back to her with half their crews dead or dying, faster than they came, old General Cutts was with them, and took sight on his rifle as quickly and as bravely as the best of them. And so twenty years more passed on,–and, when he was well nigh ninety, the dear old man died full of years and full of blessings, all because he had launched out for himself, left the life he was not fit for, and undertaken life in which he was at home.
Yes! and because of this also, when 1861 came with its terrible alarm to the whole country, and its call to duty, all Tripp’s Cove was all right. The girls were eager for service, and the boys were eager for service. The girls stood by the boys, and the boys stood by the girls. The husbands stood by the wives, and the wives stood by the husbands. I do not mean that there was not many another community in which everybody was steadfast and true. But I do mean that here was one great family, although the census rated it as five-and-twenty families,–which had one heart and one soul in the contest, and which went into it with one heart and one soul,–every man and every woman of them all bearing each other’s burdens.
Little Sim Cutts, who broke the silence that night when the post-man threw down the “Boston Gazette,” was an old man of eighty-five when they all got the news of the shots at Fort Sumter. The old man was as hale and hearty as are half the men of sixty in this land to-day. With all his heart he encouraged the boys who volunteered in answer to the first call for regiments from Maine. Then with full reliance on the traditions of the “Fighting Twenty-seventh,” he explained to the fishermen and the coasters that Uncle Abraham would need them for his web-footed service, as well as for his legions on the land. And they found out their ways to Portsmouth and to Charlestown, so that they might enter the navy as their brothers entered the army. And so it was, that, when Christmas came in 1861, there was at Tripp’s Cove only one of that noble set of young fellows, who but a year before was hauling hemlock and spruce and fir and pine at Christmas at the girls’ order, and worked in the meeting-house for two days as the girls bade them work, so that when Parson Spaulding came in to preach his Christmas sermon, he thought the house was a bit of the woods themselves. Only one!
And who was he?
How did he dare stay among all those girls who were crying out their eyes, and sewing their fingers to the bones,–meeting every afternoon in one sitting-room or another, and devouring every word that came from the army? They read the worst-spelled letter that came home from Mike Sawin, and prized it and blessed it and cried over it, as heartily as the noblest description of battle that came from the pen of Carleton or of Swinton.
Who was he?
Ah! I have caught you, have I? That was Tom Cutts,–the old General’s great-grandson,–Sim Cutts’s grandson,–the very noblest and bravest of them all. He got off first of all. He had the luck to be at Bull Run,–and to be cut off from his regiment. He had the luck to hide under a corn crib, and to come into Washington whole, a week after the regiment. He was the first man in Maine, they said, to enlist for the three-years’ service. Perhaps the same thing is said of many others. He had come home and raised a new company,–and he was making them fast into good soldiers, out beyond Fairfax Court-House. So that the Brigadier would do any thing Tom Cutts wanted. And when, on the first of December, there came up to the Major-General in command a request for leave of absence from Tom Cutts, respectfully referred to Colonel This, who had respectfully referred it to General That, who had respectfully referred it to Adjutant-General T’other,–all these dignitaries had respectfully recommended that the request be granted. For even in the sacred purlieux of the top Major-General’s Head-quarters, it was understood that Cutts was going home for no less a purpose than the being married to the prettiest and sweetest and best girl in Eastern Maine.
Well! for my part I do not think that the aids and their informants were in the wrong about this. Surely that Christmas Eve, as Laura Marvel stood up with Tom Cutts in front of Parson Spaulding, in presence of what there was left of the Tripp’s Cove community, I would have said that Laura was the loveliest bride I ever saw. She is tall; she is graceful; she has rather a startled look when you speak to her, suddenly or gently, but the startled look just bewitches you. Black hair,–she got that from the Italian blood in her grandmother’s family,–exquisite blue eyes,–that is a charming combination with black hair,–perfect teeth,–and matchless color,–and she had it all, when she was married,–she was a blushing bride and not a fainting one. But then what stuff this is,–nobody knew he cared a straw for Laura’s hair or her cheek,–it was that she looked “just lovely,” and that she was “just lovely,”–so self-forgetful in all her ways, after that first start,–so eager to know just where she could help, and so determined to help just there. Why! she led all the girls in the village, when she was only fourteen, because they loved her so. She was the one who made the rafts when there was a freshet,–and took them all out together on the mill-pond. And, when the war came, she was of course captain of the girl’s sewing,–she packed the cans of pickles and fruit for the Sanitary,–she corresponded with the State Adjutant:–heavens! from morning to night, everybody in the village ran to Laura,–not because she was the prettiest creature you ever looked upon,–but because she was the kindest, truest, most loyal, and most helpful creature that ever lived,–be the same man or woman.
Now had you rather be named Laura Cutts or Laura Marvel? Marvel is a good name,–a weird, miraculous sort of name. Cutts is not much of a name. But Laura had made up her mind to be Laura Cutts after Tom had asked her about it,–and here they are standing before dear old Parson Spaulding, to receive his exhortation,–and to be made one before God and man.
Dear Laura! How she had laughed with the other girls, all in a good-natured way, at the good Parson’s exhortation to the young couples. Laura had heard it twenty times,–for she had “stood up” with twenty of the girls, who had dared The Enterprise of Life before her! Nay, Laura could repeat, with all the emphasis, the most pathetic passage of the whole,–“And above all,–my beloved young friends,–first of all and last of all,–let me beseech you as you climb the hill of life together, hand with hand, and step with step,–that you will look beyond the crests upon its summit to the eternal lights which blaze in the infinite heaven of the Better Land beyond.” Twenty times had Laura heard this passage,–nay, ten times, I am afraid, had she, in an honest and friendly way, repeated it, under strict vows of secrecy, to the edification of circles of screaming girls. But now the dear child looked truly and loyally into the old man’s face, as he went on from word to word, and only thought of him, and of how noble and true he was,–and of the Great Master whom he represented there,–and it was just as real to her and to Tom Cutts that they must look into the Heaven of heavens for life and strength, as Parson Spaulding wanted it to be. When he prayed with all his heart, she prayed; what he hoped, she hoped; what he promised for her, she promised to her Father in heaven; and what he asked her to promise by word aloud, she promised loyally and eternally.
And Tom Cutts? He looked so handsome in his uniform,–and he looked like the man he was. And in those days, the uniform, if it were only a flannel fatigue-jacket on a private’s back, was as beautiful as the flag; nothing more beautiful than either for eyes to look upon. And when Parson Spaulding had said the benediction, and the Amen,–and when he had kissed Laura, with her eyes full of tears,–and when he had given Tom Cutts joy,–then all the people came up in a double line,–and they all kissed Laura,–and they shook hands with Tom as if they would shake his hands off,–and in the half-reticent methods of Tripp’s Cove, every lord and lady bright that was in Moses Marvel’s parlor there, said, “honored be the bravest knight, beloved the fairest fair.”
And there was a bunch of laurel hanging in the middle of the room, as make-believe mistletoe. And the boys, who could not make believe even that they were eighteen, so that they had been left at home, would catch Phebe, and Sarah, and Mattie, and Helen, when by accident they crossed underneath the laurel,–and would kiss them, for all their screaming. And soon Moses Marvel brought in a waiter with wedding-cake, and Nathan Philbrick brought in a waiter with bride-cake, and pretty Mattie Marvel brought in a waiter with currant wine. And Tom Cutts gave every girl a piece of wedding-cake himself, and made her promise to sleep on it. And before they were all gone, he and Laura had been made to write names for the girls to dream upon, that they might draw their fortunes the next morning. And before long Moses Cutts led Mrs. Spaulding out into the great family-room, and there was the real wedding supper. And after they had eaten the supper, Bengel’s fiddle sounded in the parlor, and they danced, and they waltzed, and they polkaed to their hearts’ content. And so they celebrated the Christmas of 1861.
Too bad! was not it? Tom’s leave was only twenty days. It took five to come. It took five to go. After the wedding there were but seven little days. And then he kissed dear Laura good-by,–with tears running from his eyes and hers,–and she begged him to be sure she should be all right, and he begged her to be certain nothing would happen to him. And so, for near two years, they did not see each other’s faces again.
* * * * *
CHRISTMAS EVE again!
Moses Marvel has driven out his own bays in his own double cutter to meet the stage at Fordyce’s. On the back seat is Mattie Marvel, with a rosy little baby all wrapped up in furs, who has never seen his father. Where is Laura?
“Here she comes! here she comes!” Sure enough! Here is the stage at last. Job Stiles never swept round with a more knowing sweep, or better satisfied with his precious freight at Fordyce’s, than he did this afternoon. And the curtains were up already. And there is Laura, and there is Tom! He is pale, poor fellow. But how pleased he is! Laura is out first, of course. And then she gives him her hand so gently, and the others all help. And here is the hero at Marvel’s side, and he is bending over his baby, whom he does not try to lift with his one arm,–and Mattie is crying, and I believe old Moses Marvel is crying,–but everybody is as happy as a king, and everybody is talking at one time,–and all the combination has turned out well.
Tom Cutts had had a hole made through his left thigh, so that they despaired of his life. And, as he lay on the ground, a bit of a shell had struck his left forearm and knocked that to pieces. Tom Cutts had been sent back to hospital at Washington, and reported by telegraph as mortally wounded. But almost as soon as Tom Cutts got to the Lincoln Hospital himself, Laura Cutts got there too, and then Tom did not mean to die if he could help it, and Laura did not mean to have him. And the honest fellow held to his purpose in that steadfast Cutts way. The blood tells, I believe. And love tells. And will tells. How much love has to do with will! “I believe you are a witch, Mrs. Cutts,” the doctor used to say to her. “Nothing but good happens to this good-man of yours.” Bits of bone came out just as they were wanted to. Inflammation kept away just as it was told to do. And the two wounds ran a race with each other in healing after their fashion. “It will be a beautiful stump after all,” said the doctor, where poor Laura saw little beauty. But every thing was beautiful to her, when at last he told her that she might wrap her husband up as well as she knew how, and take him home and nurse him there. So she had telegraphed that they were coming, and that was the way in which it happened that her father and her sister had brought out the baby to meet them both at Fordyce’s. Mattie’s surprise had worked perfectly.
And now it was time for Laura’s surprise! After she had her baby in her own arms, and was on the back seat of the sleigh; after Tom was well wrapped up by her side, with his well arm just supporting the little fellow’s head; after Mattie was all tucked in by her father, and Mr. Marvel himself had looked round to say, “All ready?” then was it that Jem Marvel first stepped out from the stage, and said, “Haven’t you one word for me, Mattie?” Then how they screamed again! For everybody thought Jem was in the West Indies. He was cruising there, on board the “Greywing,” looking after blockaders who took the Southern route. Nobody dreamed of Jem’s being at Christmas. And here he had stumbled on Tom and Laura in the New Haven train as they came on! Jem had been sent into New York with a prize. He had got leave, and was on his way to see the rest of them. He had bidden Laura not say one word, and so he had watched one greeting from the stage, before he broke in to take his part for another.
Oh! what an uproarious Christmas that was when they all came home! No! Tom Cutts would not let one of them be sad! He was the cheeriest of them all. He monopolized the baby, and showed immense power in the way of baby talk and of tending. Laura had only to sit on the side of the room and be perfectly happy. It was very soon known what the arrivals were. And Parson Spaulding came in, and his wife. Of course the Cuttses had been there already. Then everybody came. That is the simplest way of putting it. They all would have wanted to come, because in that community there was not one person who did not love Laura and Tom and Jem. But whether they would have come, on the very first night, I am not sure. But this was Christmas Eve, and the girls were finishing off the meeting-house just as the stage and the sleigh came in. And, in a minute, the news was everywhere. And, of course, everybody felt he might just go in to get news from the fleet or the army. Nor was there one household in Tripp’s Cove which was not more or less closely represented in the fleet or the army. So there was really, as the evening passed, a town-meeting in Moses Marvel’s sitting-room and parlor; and whether Moses Marvel were most pleased, or Mrs. Marvel, or Laura,–who sat and beamed,–or old General Simeon Cutts, I am sure I do not know.
That was indeed a merry Christmas!
But after that I must own it was hard sledding for Tom Cutts and for pretty Laura. A hero with one blue sleeve pinned neatly together, who, at the best, limps as he walks, quickens all your compassion and gratitude;–yes! But when you are selecting a director of your lumber works, or when you are sending to New York to buy goods, or when you are driving a line of railway through the wilderness, I am afraid you do not choose that hero to do your work for you. Or if you do, you were not standing by when Tom Cutts was looking right and looking left for something to do, so that he might keep the wolf from the door. It was sadly like the life that his great-grandfather, Samuel Cutts, led at the old farm in old Newbury after the old war. Tom lost his place when he went to the front, and he could not find it again.
Laura, sweet girl, never complained. No, nor Moses Marvel. He never complained, nor would he complain if Tom and his wife and children had lived with him till doomsday. “Good luck for us,” said Moses Marvel, and those were many words for him to say in one sentence. But Tom was proud, and it ground him to the dust to be eating Moses Marvel’s bread when he had not earned it, and to have nothing but his major’s pension to buy Laura and the babies their clothes with, and to keep the pot a-boiling.
Of course Jem joined the fleet again. Nor did Jem return again till the war was over. Then he came, and came with prize-money. He and Tom had many talks of going into business together, with Tom’s brains and Jem’s money. But nothing came of this. The land was no place for Jem. He was a regular Norse man, as are almost all of the Tripp’s Cove boys who have come from the loins of the “Fighting Twenty-seventh.” They sniff the tempest from afar off; and when they hear of Puget Sound, or of Alaska, or of Wilkes’s Antarctic Continent, they fancy that they hear a voice from some long-lost home, from which they have strayed away. And so Laura knew, and Tom knew, that any plans which rested on Jem’s staying ashore were plans which had one false element in them. The raven would be calling him, and it might be best, once for all, to let him follow the raven till the raven called no more.
So Jem put his prize-money into a new bark, which he found building at Bath; and they called the bark the “Laura,” and Tom and Laura Cutts went to the launching, and Jem superintended the rigging of her himself; and then he took Tom and Laura and the babies with him to New York, and a high time they had together there. Tom saw many of the old army boys, and Laura hunted up one or two old school friends; and they saw Booth in Iago, and screamed themselves hoarse at Niblo’s, and heard Rudolphsen and Johannsen in the German opera; they rode in the Park, and they walked in the Park; they browsed in the Astor and went shopping at Stewart’s, and saw the people paint porcelain at Haighwout’s; and, by Mr. Alden’s kindness, went through the wonders of Harper’s. In short, for three weeks, all of which time they lived on board ship, they saw the lions of New York as children of the public do, for whom that great city decks itself and prepares its wonders, albeit their existence is hardly known to its inhabitants.
Meanwhile Jem had chartered the “Laura” for a voyage to San Francisco. And so, before long, her cargo began to come on board; and she and Tom and the babies took a mournful farewell, and came back to Tripp’s Cove again, to Moses Marvel’s house. And poor Tom thought it looked smaller than ever, and that he should find it harder than ever to settle down to being of no use to anybody, and to eat Moses Marvel’s bread,–without house or barn, or bin or oven, or board or bed, even the meanest, of his own. Poor Tom! and this was the reward of being the first man in Maine to enter for three years!
And then things went worse and worse. Moses Marvel was as good and as taciturn as ever. But Moses Marvel’s affairs did not run as smoothly as he liked. Moses held on, upon one year’s cutting of lumber, perfectly determined that lumber should rise, because it ought to; and Moses paid very high usury on the money he borrowed, because he would hold on. Moses was set in his way,–like other persons whom you and I know,–and to this lumber he held and held, till finally the bank would not renew his notes. No; and they would not discount a cent for him at Bangor, and Moses came back from a long, taciturn journey he had started on in search of money, without any money; and with only the certainty that if he did not mean to have the sheriff sell his lumber, he must sell it for himself. Nay! he must sell it before the fourth of the next month, and for cash; and must sell at the very bottom of a long falling market! Poor Moses Marvel! That operation served to show that he joined all the Cutts want of luck with the Marvel obstinacy. It was a wretched twelvemonth, the whole of it; and it made that household, and made Tom Cutts, more miserable and more.
Then they became anxious about the “Laura,” and Jem. She made almost a clipper voyage to California. She discharged her cargo in perfect order. Jem made a capital charter for Australia and England, and knew that from England it would be easy to get a voyage home. He sailed from California, and then the letters stopped. No! Laura dear, no need in reading every word of the ship-news in the “Semi-weekly Advertiser;” the name of your namesake is not there. Eight, nine, ten months have gone by, and there is no port in Christendom which has seen Jem’s face, or the Laura’s private signal. Do not strain your eyes over the “Semi-weekly” more.
No! dear Laura’s eyes will be dimmed by other cares than the ship-news. Tom’s father, who had shared Tom’s wretchedness, and would gladly have had them at his home, but that Moses Marvel’s was the larger and the less peopled of the two,–Tom’s father was brought home speechless one day, by the men who found him where he had fallen on the road, his yoke of oxen not far away, waiting for the voice which they were never to hear again. Whether he had fallen from the cart, in some lurch it made, and broken his spine, or whether all this distress had brought on of a sudden a stroke of paralysis, so that he lost his consciousness before he fell, I do not know. Nor do I see that it matters much, though the chimney-corners of Tripp’s Cove discuss the question quite eagerly to this hour. He lay there month after month, really unconscious. He smiled gently when they brought him food. He tried to say “Thank you,” they thought, but he did not speak to the wife of his bosom, who had been the Laura Marvel of her day, in any different way from that in which he tried to speak to any stranger of them all. A living death he lay in as those tedious months went by.
Yet my dear Laura was as cheerful, and hopeful, and buoyant as ever. Tom Cutts himself was ashamed to brood when he got a sight of her. Mother Cutts herself would lie down and rest herself when Laura came round, with the two children, as she did every afternoon. Moses Marvel himself was less taciturn when Laura put the boys, one at one side, one at the other, of his chair, at the tea-table. And in both of those broken households, from one end to the other, they knew the magic of dear Laura’s spells. So that when this Christmas came, after poor Mr. Cutts had been lying senseless so long,–when dear Laura bade them all take hold and fit up a Christmas-tree, with all the adornments, for the little boys, and for the Spaulding children, and the Marvel cousins, and the Hopkinses, and the Tredgolds, and the Newmarch children,–they all obeyed her loyally, and without wondering. They obeyed her, with her own determination that they would have one merry Christmas more. It seems a strange thing to people who grew up outside of New England. But this was the first Christmas tree ever seen at Tripp’s Cove, for all such festivities are of recent importation in such regions. But there was something for every child. They heaped on more wood, and they kept a merry Christmas despite the storm without. This was Laura’s will, and Laura had her way.
And she had her reward. Job Stiles came round to the door, when he had put up his horses, and called Tom out, and gave him a letter which he had brought from Ellsworth. And Tom read the letter, and he called Laura to read it. And Laura left the children, and sat at the kitchen table with him and read it, and said, “Thank God! this is a Christmas present indeed. Could any thing in this world be better?”
This is the letter:–
JOHN WILDAIR TO TOM CUTTS.
DEAR TOM,–I am just back from Washington. I have seen them all, and have done my best, and have failed. They say and I believe that the collectorship was promised to Waters before the old man’s death,–that Waters had honest claims,–he has but one leg, you know,–and that it must go to him. As for the surveyorship, the gift of that is with Plumptre. And you know that I might as well ask the Pope to give me any thing as he. And if he hates anybody more than me, why it is your wife’s father. So I could do nothing there.
Let me say this, though it seems nothing. If, while we are waiting to look round, you like to take the Bell and Hammer Light-house, you may have the place to-morrow. Of course I know it is exile in winter. But in summer it is lovely. You have your house, your stores, two men under you (they are double lights), and a thousand dollars. I have made them promise to give it to no one till they hear from me. Though I know you ought not take any such place, I would not refuse it till I let you know. I send this to Ellsworth for the stage-driver to take, and you must send your answer by special messenger, that I may telegraph to Washington at once.
I am very sorry, dear Tom, to have failed you so. But I did my best, you know. Merry Christmas to Laura and the babies.
PORTLAND, Dec. 24, 1868.
That was Laura and Tom’s Christmas present. An appointment as light-house keeper, with a thousand a year!
* * * * *
BUT even if they had made Tom a turnpike keeper, they would not have made Laura a misanthrope. He, poor fellow, gladly accepted the appointment. She, sweet creature, as gladly accepted her part of it. Early March saw them on the Bell and Hammer. April saw the early flowers come,–and May saw Laura with both her babies on the beach, laughing at them as they wet their feet,–digging holes in the sand for them,–and sending the bigger boy to run and put salt upon the tails of the peeps as they ran along the shore. And Tom Cutts, when his glass was clear to his mind, and the reflectors polished to meet even his criticism, would come down and hunt up Laura and the children. And when she had put the babies to sleep, old Mipples, who was another of the descendants of the “Fighting Twenty-seventh,” would say, “Just you go out with the Major, mum, and if they wake up and I can’t still them, I’ll blow the horn.” Not that he ever did blow the horn. All the more certain was Laura that she could tramp over the whole island with Tom Cutts, or she could sit and knit or sew, and Tom could read to her, and these days were the happiest days of her married life, and brought back the old sunny days of the times before Fort Sumter again. Ah me! if such days of summer and such days of autumn would last forever!
But they will not last forever. November came, and the little colony went into winter quarters. December came. And we were all double-banked with sea-weed. The stoves were set up in-doors. The double doors were put on outside, and we were all ready for the “Osprey.” The “Osprey” was the Government steamer which was to bring us our supplies for the winter, chiefly of colza oil,–and perhaps some coal. But the “Osprey” does not appear. December is half gone, and no “Osprey.” We can put the stoves on short allowance, but not our two lanterns. They will only run to the 31st of January, the nights are so long, if the “Osprey” does not come before then.
That is our condition, when old Mipples, bringing back the mail, brings a letter from Boston to say that the “Osprey” has broken her main-shaft, and may not be repaired before the 15th of January,–that Mr. Cutts, will therefore, if he needs oil, take an early opportunity to supply himself from the light at Squire’s,–and that an order on the keeper at Squire’s is enclosed.
To bring a cask of oil from Squire’s is no difficult task to a Tripp’s Cove man. It would be no easy one, dear reader, to you and me. Squire’s is on the mainland,–our nearest neighbor at the Bell and Hammer,–it revolves once a minute, and we watch it every night in the horizon. Tom waited day by day for a fine day,–would not have gone for his oil indeed till the New Year came in, but that Jotham Fields, the other assistant, came down with a fever turn wholly beyond Laura’s management, and she begged Tom to take the first fine day to carry him to a doctor. To bring a doctor to him was out of the question.
“And what will you do?” said Tom.
“Do? I will wait till you come home. Start any fine day after you have wound up the lights on the last beat,–take poor Jotham to his mother’s house,–and if you want you may bring back your oil. I shall get along with the children very well,–and I will have your dinner hot when you come home.”
Tom doubted. But the next day Jotham was worse. Mipples voted for carrying him ashore, and Laura had her way. The easier did she have it, because the south wind blew softly, and it was clear to all men that the run could be made to Squire’s in a short two hours. Tom finally agreed to start early the next morning. He would not leave his sick man at his mother’s, but at Squire’s, and the people there could put him home. The weather was perfect, and an hour before daylight they were gone. They were all gone,–all three had to go. Mipples could not handle the boat alone, nor could Tom; far less could one of them manage the boat, take the oil, and see to poor Jotham also. Wise or not, this was the plan.
An hour before daylight they were gone. Half an hour after sunrise they were at Squire’s. But the sun had risen red, and had plumped into a cloud. Before Jotham was carried up the cliff the wind was northwest, and the air was white with snow. You could not see the house from the boat, nor the boat from the house. You could not see the foremast of the boat from your seat in the stern-sheets, the air was so white with snow. They carried Jotham up. But they told John Wilkes, the keeper at Squire’s, that they would come for the oil another day. They hurried down the path to the boat again, pushed her off, and headed her to the northeast determined not to lose a moment in beating back to the Bell and Hammer. Who would have thought the wind would haul back so without a sign of warning?
“Will it hold up, Simon?” said Tom to Mipples, wishing he might say something encouraging.
And all Simon Mipples would say was,–
“God grant it may!”
* * * * *
And Laura saw the sun rise red and burning. And Laura went up into the tower next the house, and put out the light there. Then she left the children in their cribs, and charged the little boy not to leave till she came back, and ran down to the door to go and put out the other light,–and as she opened it the blinding snow dashed in her face. She had not dreamed of snow before. But her water-proof was on, she pulled on her boots, ran quickly along the path to the other light, two hundred yards perhaps, climbed the stairway and extinguished that, and was at home again before the babies missed her.
For an hour or two Laura occupied herself with her household cares, and pretended to herself that she thought this was only a snow flurry that would soon clear away. But by the time it was ten o’clock she knew it was a stiff north-wester, and that her husband and Mipples were caught on shore. Yes, and she was caught with her babies alone on the island. Wind almost dead ahead to a boat from Squire’s too, if that made any difference. That crossed Laura’s mind. Still she would not brood. Nay, she did not brood, which was much better than saying she would not brood. It crossed her mind that it was the day before Christmas, and that the girls at Tripp’s were dressing the meeting-house for dear old Parson Spaulding. And then there crossed her mind the dear old man’s speech at all weddings, “As you climb the hill of life together, my dear young friends,” and poor Laura, as she kissed the baby once again, had courage to repeat it all aloud to her and her brother, to the infinite amazement of them both. They opened their great eyes to the widest as Laura did so. Nay, Laura had the heart to take a hatchet, and work out to leeward of the house, into a little hollow behind the hill, and cut up a savin bush from the thicket, and bring that in, and work for an hour over the leaves so as to make an evergreen frame to hang about General Cutts’s picture. She did this that Tom might see she was not frightened when he got home.
When he got home! Poor girl! at the very bottom of her heart was the other and real anxiety,– if he got home. Laura knew Tom, of course, better than he knew himself, and she knew old Mipples too. So she knew, as well as she knew that she was rubbing black lead on the stove, while she thought these things over,–she knew that they would not stay at Squire’s two minutes after they had landed Jotham Fields. She knew they would do just what they did,–put to sea, though it blew guns, though now the surf was running its worst on the Seal’s Back. She knew, too, that if they had not missed the island, they would have been here, at the latest, before eleven o’clock. And by the time it was one she could no longer doubt that they had lost the island, and were tacking about looking for it in the bay, if, indeed, in that gale they dared to tack at all. No! Laura knew only too well, that where they were was beyond her guessing; that the good God and they two only knew.
“Come here, Tom, and let me tell you a story! Once there was a little boy, and he had two kittens. And he named one kitten Muff, and he named one kitten Buff!”–
What was that?
“Tom, darling, take care of baby; do not let her get out of the cradle, while mamma goes to the door.” Downstairs to the door. The gale has doubled its rage. How ever did it get in behind the storm-door outside? That ” whang ” was the blow with which the door, wrenched off its hinges, was flung against the side of the wood-house. Nothing can be done but to bolt the storm-door to the other passage, and bolt the outer window shutters, and then go back to the children.
“Once there was a little boy, and he had two kittens, and he named one Minna, and one Brenda”–
“No, mamma, no! one Muff, and one”–
“Oh, yes! my darling! once there was a little boy, and he had two kittens, and he named one Buff, and one Muff. And one day he went to walk”–
Heavens! the lanterns! Who was to trim the lamps? Strange to say, because this was wholly out of her daily routine, the men always caring for it of course, Laura had not once thought of it till now. And now it was after one o’clock. But now she did think of it with a will. “Come, Tommy, come and help mamma.” And she bundled him up in his thickest storm rig. “Come up into the lantern.” Here the boy had never come before. He was never frightened when he was with her. Else he might well have been frightened. And he was amazed there in the whiteness; drifts of white snow on the lee-side and the weather-side; clouds of white snow on the south-west sides and north-east sides; snow; snow everywhere; nothing but whiteness wherever he looked round.
Laura made short shift of those wicks which had burned all through the night before. But she had them ready. She wound up the carcels for their night’s work. Again and again she drew her oil and filled up her reservoirs. And as she did so, an old text came on her, and she wondered whether Father Spaulding knew how good a text it would be for Christmas. And the fancy touched her, poor child, and as she led little Tom down into the nursery again, she could not help opening into the Bible Parson Spaulding gave her and reading:–
“‘But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.’ Dear Tommy, dear Tommy, my own child, we will not sleep, will we? ‘While the bridegroom tarried,’ O my dear Father in Heaven, let him come. ‘And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him;’” and she devoured little Tommy with kisses, and cried, “We will go, my darling, we will go, if he comes at the first hour,–or the second,–or the third! But now Tommy must come with mamma, and make ready for his coming.” For there were the other lamps to trim in the other tower, with that heavy reach of snow between. And she did not dare leave the active boy alone in the house. Little Matty could be caged in her crib, and, even if she woke, she would at best only cry. But Tom was irrepressible.
So they unbolted the lee-door, and worked out into the snow. Then poor Laura, with the child, crept round into the storm. Heavens! how it raged and howled! Where was her poor bridegroom now? She seized up Tom, and turned her back to the wind, and worked along, go,–step sideway, sideway, the only way she could by step,–did it ever seem so far before? Tommy was crying. “One minute more, dear boy. Tommy shall see the other lantern. And Tommy shall carry mamma’s great scissors up the stairs. Don’t cry, my darling, don’t cry.”
Here is the door;–just as she began to wonder if she were dreaming or crazy. Not so badly drifted in as she feared. At least she is under cover. “Up-a-day, my darling, up-a-day. One, two, what a many steps for Tommy! That’s my brave boy.” And they were on the lantern deck again, fairly rocking in the gale,–and Laura was chopping away on her stiff wicks, and pumping up her oil again, and filling the receivers, as if she had ever done it till this Christmas before. And she kept saying over to herself,–
“Then those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps.”
“And I will light them,” said she aloud. “That will save another walk at sundown. And I know these carcels run at least five hours.” So she struck a match, and with some little difficulty coaxed the fibres to take fire. The yellow light flared luridly on the white snow-flakes, and yet it dazzled her and Tommy as it flashed on them from the reflectors. “Will anybody see it, mamma?” said the child. “Will papa see it?” And just then the witching devil who manages the fibres of memory, drew from the little crypt in Laura’s brain, where they had been stored unnoticed years upon years, four lines of Leigh Hunt’s, and the child saw that she was Hero:–
“Then at the flame a torch of fire she lit,
And, o’er her head anxiously holding it,
Ascended to the roof, and, leaning there,
Lifted its light into the darksome air.”
If only the devil would have been satisfied with this. But of course she could not remember that, without remembering Schiller:–
“In the gale her torch is blasted,
Beacon of the hoped-for strand:
Horror broods above the waters,
Horror broods above the land.”
And she said aloud to the boy, “Our torch shall not go out, Tommy,–come down, come down, darling, with mamma.” But all through the day horrid lines from the same poem came back to her. Why did she ever learn it! Why, but because dear Tom gave her the book himself; and this was his own version, as he sent it to her from the camp in the valley,–
“Yes, ’tis he! although he perished,
Still his sacred troth he cherished.”
“Why did Tom write it for me?”
“And they trickle, lightly playing
O’er a corpse upon the sand.”
“What a fool I am! Come, Tommy. Come, Matty, my darling. Mamma will tell you a story. Once there was a little boy, and he had two kittens. And he named one Buff and one Muff”– But this could not last for ever. Sundown came. And then Laura and Tommy climbed their own tower,–and she lighted her own lantern, as she called it. Sickly and sad through the storm, she could see the sister lantern burning bravely. And that was all she could see in the sullen whiteness. “Now, Tommy, my darling, we will come and have some supper.” “And while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” “Yes, ’tis he; although he perished, still his sacred troth he cherished.” “Come, Tommy,–come Tommy,–come, Tommy, let me tell you a story.”
But the children had their supper,–asking terrible questions about papa,–questions which who should answer? But she could busy herself about giving them their oatmeal, and treating them to ginger-snaps, because it was Christmas Eve. Nay, she kept her courage, when Tommy asked if Santa Claus would come in the boat with papa. She fairly loitered over the undressing them. Little witches, how pretty they were in their flannel nightgowns! And Tommy kissed her, and gave her–ah me!–one more kiss for papa. And in two minutes they were asleep. It would have been better if they could have kept awake one minute longer. Now she was really alone. And very soon seven o’clock has come. She does not dare leave the clock-work at the outer lantern a minute longer. Tom and Mipples wind the works every four hours, and now they have run five. One more look at her darlings. Shall she ever see them again in this world? Now to the duty next her hand!
Yes, the wind is as fierce as ever! A point more to the north, Laura notices. She has no child to carry now. She tumbles once in the drift. But Laura has rolled in snow before. The pile at the door is three feet thick. But she works down to the latch,–and even her poor numb hand conquers it,–and it gives way. How nice and warm the tower is! and how well the lights burn! Can they be of any use this night to anybody? O my God, grant that they be of use to him!
She has wound them now. She has floundered into the snow again. Two or three falls on her way home,–but no danger that she loses the line of march. The light above her own house is before her. So she has only to aim at that. Home again! And now to wait for five hours,–and then to wind that light again–at midnight!
“And at midnight there was a cry made”–“oh dear!–if he would come,–I would not ask for any cry!”–
* * * * *
And Laura got down her choice inlaid box, that Jem brought her from sea,–and which held her treasures of treasures. And the dear girl did the best thing she could have done. She took these treasures out.–You know what they were, do not you? They were every letter Tom Cutts ever wrote her–from the first boy note in print,–“Laura,–these hedgehog quills are for you. I killed him. TOM.” And Laura opened them all,–and read them one by one, each twice,–and put them back, in their order, without folding, into the box. At ten she stopped,–and worked her way upstairs into her own lantern,–and wound its works again. She tried to persuade herself that there was less wind,–did persuade herself so. But the snow was as steady as ever. Down the tower-stairs again,–and then a few blessed minutes brooding over Matty’s crib, and dear little Tom who has kicked himself right athwart her own bed where she had laid him. Darlings! they are so lovely, their father must come home to see them! Back then to her kitchen fire. There are more of dear Tom’s letters yet. How manly they are,–and how womanly. She will read them all!–will she ever dare to read them all again?
Yes,–she reads them all,–each one twice over,–and his soldier diary,–which John Wildair saved and sent home, and, as she lays it down, the clock strikes twelve. Christmas day is born!–
“And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh.” Laura fairly repeated this aloud. She knew that the other carcel must be wound again. She dressed herself for the fight thoroughly. She ran in and trusted herself to kiss the children. She opened the lee-door again, and crept round again into the storm,–familiar now with such adventure. Did the surf beat as fiercely on the rocks? Surely not. But then the tide is now so low! So she came to her other tower, crept up and wound her clock-work up again, wiped off, or tried to wipe off, what she thought was mist gathering on the glasses, groped down the stairway, and looked up on the steady light above her own home. And the Christmas text came back to her. “The star went before them, and stood above the place where the young child was.”
“A light to lighten the Gentiles,–and the glory of my people Israel!”
“By the way of the sea,”–and this Laura almost shouted aloud,–“Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and to them who sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” “Grant it, merciful Father,–grant it for these poor children!” And she almost ran through the heavy drifts, till she found the shelter again of her friendly tower. Her darlings had not turned in their bed, since she left them there.
And after this Laura was at rest. She took down her Bible, and read the Christmas chapters. It was as if she had never known before what darkness was,–or what the Light was, when it came. She took her Hymn Book and read all the Christmas Hymns. She took her Keble,–and read every poem for Advent and the hymn for Christmas morning. She knew this by heart long ago. Then she took Bishop Ken’s “Christian Year,”–which Tom had given for her last birthday present,–and set herself bravely to committing his “Christmas Day” to memory:–
“Celestial harps, prepare
To sound your loftiest air;
You choral angels at the throne,
Your customary hymns postpone;”
and thus, dear girl, she kept herself from thinking even of the wretched Hero and Leander lines, till her clock struck three. Upstairs then to her own tower, and to look out upon the night. The sister flame was steady. The wind was all hushed. But the snow was as steady, right and left, behind and before. Down again, one more look at the darlings, and then, as she walked up and down her little kitchen, she repeated the verses she had learned, and then sat down to–
“You with your heavenly ray
Gild the expanse this day;
“You with your heavenly ray
Gild–the expanse–this day;
Dear Laura, bless God, she is asleep. “He giveth his beloved sleep.”
* * * * *
Her head is thrown back on the projecting wing of grandmamma’s tall easy-chair, her arms are resting relaxed on its comfortable arms, her lips just open with a smile, as she dreams of something in the kingdom of God’s heaven, when, as the lazy day just begins to grow gray, Tom, white with snow to his middle, holding the boat’s lantern before him as he steals into her kitchen, crosses the room, and looks down on her,–what a shame to wake her,–bends down and kisses her!
Dear child! How she started,–“At midnight there is a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh,”–“Why, Tom! Oh! my dearest, is it you?”
* * * * *
“Have I been asleep on duty?” This was her first word when she came fairly to herself.
“Guess not,” said old Mipples, “both lanterns was burning when I come in. ‘Most time to put ’em out, Major! ‘Keepers must be diligent to save oil by all reasonable prevision.’”
“Is the north light burning?” said poor Laura. And she looked guiltily at her tell-tale clock.
“Darling,” said Tom, reverently, “if it were not burning, we should not be here.”
And Laura took her husband to see the babies, not willing to let his hand leave hers, nor he, indeed, to let hers leave his. Old Mipples thought himself one too many, and went away, wiping his eyes, to the other light. “Time to extinguish it,” he said.
But before Tom and Laura had known he was gone, say in half an hour, that is, he was back again, hailing them from below.
“Major! Major! Major! An English steamer is at anchor in the cove, and is sending her boat ashore.”
Tom and Laura rushed to the window; the snow was all over now, and they could see the monster lying within half a mile. “Where would they be, Miss Cutts, if somebody had not wound up the lamps at midnight? Guess they said ‘Merry Christmas’ when they see ’em.” And Laura held her breath when she thought what might have been. Tom and Mipples ran down to the beach to hail them, and direct the landing. Tom and Mipples shook the hand of each man as he came ashore, and then Laura could see them hurrying to the house together. Steps on the landing; steps on the stairway,–the door is open, and,–not Tom this time,–but her dear lost brother Jem, in the flesh, and in a heavy pea-coat.
“Merry Christmas! Laura!”
* * * * *
“Laura,” said Jem, as they sat at their Christmas dinner, “what do you think I thought of first, when I heard the cable run out so like blazes; when I rushed up and saw your yellow lanterns there?”
“How should I know, Jem?”
“‘They that dwell in the shadow of death, upon them the light hath shined.’”
“But I did not think it was you, Laura.”