« AnkstesnisTęsti »
room, where the old man had seated himself in the rocking-chair, and was taking a mental inventory of the goods and chattels with a momentary keenness in his look that no way reassured Hitty's apprehensive heart.
66 So, Abner a'n't to home?"
husband; all her wrongs were forgotten, all her sorrows obliterated by this one fear! Well did St. Augustine say, "God is patient because He is eternal"; but better and truer would the saying have been, had it run, "God is patient because He is love": a gospel that He publishes in the lives of saints on earth, in their
"Don't know where he's gone, do daily and hourly "anguish of patience," ye?"
preaching to the fearful souls that dare not trust His long-suffering by the tena
"Don't never know where he goes, I cious love of those who bear His image, expect?" saying, in resistless human tones, "Shall one creature endure and love and con
"No, Sir." "Well, when he comes home,- know tinually forgive another, and shall I, who when he's a-comin' home?" "No, Sir."
"Well, when he doos, you tell him 't same folks come to the tavern last night, 'n' talked pretty loud, 'n' I heerd Guess 'ta'n't best, though, to tell what I heerd. Only you tell Abner 't I come here, and I said he'd better be a-joggin'. He'll know, he'll know,-h'm, yes," said the old man, passing his hand across his thin blue lips, as if to drive away other words better left unsaid,- and then rising from his seat, by the aid of either arm, gained his balance, and went on, while he fumbled for his stick:
"I'd ha' writ, but black and white's a hangin' matter sometimes, 'n' words a'n't; 'n' I hadn't nobody to send, so I crawled along. Don't ye forget now! don't ye! It's a pretty consider'ble piece o' business; 'n' you'll be dreffully on't, ef you do forget. Now don't ye forget!"
"No, I won't," said Hitty, trembling as she spoke; for the old man's words had showed her a depth of dreadful possibility, and an old acquaintance with crime and its manœuvres, that chilled the blood in her veins. She watched him out of the gate with a sickening sense of terror at her heart, and turned slowly into the house, revolving all kinds of plans in her head for her husband's escape, should her fears prove true. Of herself she did not think; no law could harm her child; but, even after years of brutality and neglect, her faithful affection turned with all its provident thoughtfulness and care at once to her
am not loving, but Love, be weary of thy transgressions, O sinner?" And so does the silent and despairing life of many a woman weave unconsciously its golden garland of reward in the heavens above, and do the Lord's work in a strange land where it cannot sing His songs.
The day crept toward sunset, and Hitty sat with her wan face pressed to the window-pane, hushing her child in his cradle with one of those low, monotoned murmurs that mothers know; but still her husband did not come. The level sun-rays pierced the woods into more vivid splendor, burnished gold fringed the heavy purple clouds in the west, and warm crimson lights turned the purple into more triumphant glory; the sun set, unstained with mist or tempest, behind those blue and lonely hills that guard old Berkshire with their rolling summits, and night came fast, steel-blue and thick with stars; but yet he did not come, the untouched meal on the table was untouched still. Hour after hour of starry darkness crept by, and she sat watching at the window-pane; overhead, constellations marched across the heavens in relentless splendor, careless of man or sorrow; Orion glittered in the east, and climbed toward the zenith; the Pleiades clustered and sparkled as if they missed their lost sister no more; the Hyades marked the celestial pastures of Taurus, and Lyra strung her chords with fire. Hitty rested her weary head against the window-frame and sent her wearier thoughts upward to
the stars; there were the points of light that the Chaldeans watched upon their plains by night, and named with mystic syllables of their weird Oriental tongue, -names that in her girlhood she had delighted to learn, charmed by that nameless spell that language holds, wherewith it plants itself ineradicably in the human mind, and binds it with fetters of vague association that time and chance are all-powerless to break,-Zubeneschamali and Zubenelgunebi, Bellatrix and Betelguese, sonorous of Rome and Asia both, full of old echoes and the dry resonant air of Eastern plains, - names wherein sounded the clash of Bellona's armor, and the harsh stir of palm-boughs rustled by a hot wind of the desert, and vibrant with the dying clangor of gongs, and shouts of worshipping crowds reverberating through horrid temples of grinning and ghastly idols, wet with children's blood.
Far, far away, the heavenly procession and their well-remembered names had led poor Hitty's thoughts; worn out with anxiety, and faint for want of the food she had forgotten to take, sleep crept upon her, and her first consciousness of its presence was the awakening grasp of a rough hand and the hoarse whisper of her husband.
"Get up!" said he. "Pick up your brat, get your shawl, and come!"
Hitty rose quickly to her feet. One faculty wretchedness gives, the power of sudden self-possession,- and Hitty was broad awake in the very instant she was called. Her husband stood beside her, holding a lantern; her boy slept in the cradle at her feet.
"Have you seen your father?" said she, with quick instinct.
hitting her feet against stones and logs in the darkness, stumbling often, but never falling, till the shadow of the trees was past, and the starlight showed her that they were traversing the open fields, now crisp with frost, but even to the tread,
over two or three of these, through a pine-wood that was a landmark to Hitty, for she well knew that it lay between the turnpike-road and another, less frequented, that by various windings went toward the Connecticut line, - then over a tiny brook on its unsteady bridge of logs, and out into a lane, where a roughspoken man was waiting for them, at the head of a strong horse harnessed to one of those wagons without springs that NewEnglanders like to make themselves uncomfortable in. Her husband turned to her abruptly.
Get in," said he; "get in behind; there's hay enough; and don't breathe loud, or I'll murder you!”
She clambered into the wagon and seated herself on the hay, hushing her child, who nestled and moaned in her arms, though she had carried him with all possible care. A sharp cut of the whip sent the powerful horse off at full speed, and soon this ill-matched party were fast traversing the narrow road that wound about the country for the use of every farm within a mile of its necessary course, a course tending toward the Connecticut.
Hour after hour crept by. Worn out with fatigue, poor Hitty dozed and fell back on the soft hay; her child slept, too, and all her troubles faded away in heavy unconsciousness, till she was again awakened by her husband's grasp, to find that dawn was gathering its light roseate fleeces in the east, and that their flight was for the present stayed at the door of a tavern, lonely and rude enough, but welcome to Hitty as a place of rest, if only for a moment. The sullen mistress of the house asked no questions and offered no courtesy, but, after her guests had eaten their breakfast, rapidly prepared, she led the way to a bedroom in the loft, where Abner Dimock flung him
self down upon the straw bed and fell sound asleep, leaving Hitty to the undisturbed care of her child. And occupation enough that proved; for the little fellow was fretful and excited, so that no hour for thought was left to his anxious and timid mother till the dinner-bell awoke her husband and took him downstairs.
She could not eat, but, begging some milk for her boy, tended, and fed, and sung to him, till he slept; and then all the horrors of the present and future thronged upon her, till her heart seemed to die in her breast, and her limbs failed to support her when she would have dragged herself out of doors for one breath of fresh air, one refreshing look at a world untroubled and serene.
So the afternoon crept away, and as soon as night drew on the journey was resumed. But this night was chill with the breath of a sobbing east wind, and the dim stars foreboded rain. Hitty shivered with bitter cold, and the boy began to cry. With a fierce curse Abner bade her stop his disturbance, and again the poor mother had hands and heart full to silence the still recurring sobs of the child. At last, after the midnight cocks had ceased to send their challenges from farm to farin, after some remote churchclocks had clanged one stroke on the damp wind, they began to pass through a large village; no lights burned in the windows, but white fences gleamed through the darkness, and sharp gable ends loomed up against the dull sky, one after another, and the horse's hoofs flashed sparks from the paved street before the church, that showed its white spire, spectre-like, directly in their path. Here, by some evil chance, the child awoke, and, between cold and hunger and fear, began one of those long and loud shrieks that no power can stop this side of strangulation. In vain Hitty kissed, and coaxed, and half-choked her boy, in hope to stop the uproar; still he screamed more and more loudly. Abner turned round on his seat with an oath, snatched the child from its mother's arms, and rolled it closely in the blanket.
"Hold on a minute, Ben!" said he to his companion; "this yelp must be stopped"; and stepping over to the back of the wagon, he grasped his wife tightly with one arm, and with the other dropped his child into the street. "Now drive, Ben," said he, in the same hoarse whisper,-" -"drive like the Devil!"-for, as her child fell, Hitty shrieked with such a cry as only the heart of a mother could send out over a newly-murdered infant. Shriek on shriek, fast and loud and long, broke the slumbers of the village; nothing Abner could do, neither threat nor force, short of absolute murder, would avail, and there was too much real estate remaining of the Hyde property for Abner Dimock to spare his wife yet. Ben drove fiend-fashion; but before they passed the last house in the village, lights were glancing and windows grating as they were opened. Years after, I heard the story of such a midnight cry borne past sleeping houses with the quick rattle of wheels; but no one who heard it could give the right clue to its explanation, and it dried into a legend.
Now Hitty Dimock became careless of good or evil, except one absorbing desire to get away from her husband,—to search for her child, to know if it had lived or died. For four nights more that journey was pursued at the height of their horse's speed; every day they stopped to rest, and every day Hitty's half-delirious brain laid plans of escape, only to be balked by Abner Dimock's vigilance; for if he slept, it was with both arms round her, and the slightest stir awoke him,—and while he woke, not one propitious moment freed her from his watch. Her brain began to reel with disappointment and anguish; she began to hate her husband; a band of iron seemed strained about her forehead, and a ringing sound filled her ears; her lips grew parched, and her eye glittered; the last night of their journey Abner Dimock lifted her into the wagon, and she fainted on the hay.
"What in hell did you bring her for, Dimock?" growled his companion; women are d-d plagues always."
"She'll get up in a minute," coolly returned the husband; "can't afford to leave a goose that lays golden eggs behind; hold on till I lift her up. Here, Hitty! drink, I tell you! drink!"
A swallow of raw spirit certainly drove away the faintness, but it brought fresh fire to the fever that burned in her veins, and she was muttering in delirium before the end of that night's journey brought them to a small village just above the old house on the river that figured in the beginning of this history, and which we trust the patient reader has not forgotten. Abner Dimock left his wife in charge of the old woman who kept the hovel of a tavern where they stopped, and, giving Ben the horse to dispose of to some safe purchaser, after he had driven him down to the old house, returned at night in the boat that belonged to his negro tenant, and, taking his unconscious wife from her bed, rowed down the river and landed her safely, to be carried from the skiff into an upper chamber of the old house, where Jake's wife, Aunt Judy, as Mr. Dimock styled her, nursed the wretched woman through three weeks of fever, and "doctored" her with herbs and roots.
The tenacious Hyde constitution, that was a proverb in Greenfield, conquered at last, and Hitty became conscious, to find herself in a chamber whose plastered walls were crumbling away with dampness and festooned with cobwebs, while the uncarpeted floor was checkered with green stains of mildew, and the very old four-post bedstead on which she lay was fringed around the rickety tester with rags of green moreen, mould-rotted.
Hitty sank back on her pillow with a sigh; she did not even question the old negress who sat crooning over the fire, as to where she was, or what had befallen her; but accepted this new place as only another misty delirium, and in her secret heart prayed, for the hundredth time, to die.
Slowly she recovered; for prayers to die are the last prayers ever answered; we live against our will, and tempt living
deaths year after year, when soul and body cry out for the grave's repose, and beat themselves against the inscrutable will of God only to fall down before it in bruised and bleeding acquiescence. So she lived to find herself immured in this damp and crumbling house, with no society but a drinking and crime-haunted husband, and the ignorant negroes who served him, society varied now and then by one or two men revolting enough in speech and aspect to drive Hitty to her own room, where, in a creaking chair, she rocked monotonously back and forth, watching the snapping fire, and dreaming dreams of a past that seemed now but a visionary paradise.
For now it was winter, and the heavy drifts of snow that lay on Dimock's meadow forbade any explorations which the one idea of finding her child might have driven her to make; and the frozen surface of the river no white-sailed ship could traverse now, nor the hissing paddle-wheels of a steamer break the silence with intimations of life, active and salient, far beyond the lonely precinct of Abner Dimock's home.
So the winter passed by. The noises and lights that had awoke Hitty at midnight in the house at Greenfield had become so far an institution in this lonely dwelling that now they disturbed her sleep no more; for it was a received custom, that, whenever Abner Dimock's two visitors should appear, the cellar should resound all night with heavy blows and clinking of metal, and red light as from a forge streamed up through the doorway; but it disturbed Hitty no more; apathy settled down in black mist on her soul, and she seemed to think, to care, for nothing.
But spring awoke the dead earth, and sleeping roots aroused with fresh forces from their torpor, and sent up green signals to the birds above. A spark of light awoke in Hitty's eye; she planned to get away, to steal the boat from its hidden cove in the bushes and push off down the friendly current of the river,anywhere away from him! anywhere!
though it should be to wreck on the great ocean, but still away from him! Night after night she rose from her bed to hazard the attempt, but her heart failed, and her trembling limbs refused their aid. At length moonlight came to her aid, and when all the house slept she stole downstairs with bare, noiseless feet, and sped like a ghost across the meadow to the river-bank. Poor weak hands! vainly they fumbled with the knotted rope that bound the skiff to a crooked elm overhanging the water,—all in vain for many lingering minutes; but presently the obdurate knot gave way, and, turning to gather up her shawl, there, close behind her, so close that his hot breath seemed to sear her cheek, stood her husband, clear in the moonlight, with a sneer on his face, and the lurid glow of drunkenness, that made a savage brute of a bad man, gleaming in his deep-set eyes. Hitty neither shrieked nor ran; despair nerved her,—despair turned her rigid before his face.
"Well," said he, "where are you going?"
"I am going away,-away from you, -anywhere in the world away from you!" answered she, with the boldness of desperation.
"Ha, ha! going away from me!-that's a d—d good joke, aʼn't it? Away from your husband! You fool! you can't get away from me! you're mine, soul and body,—this world and the next! Don't you know that? Where's your promise, eh?
for better, for worse!'- and a'n't I worse, you cursed fool, you? You didn't put on the handcuffs for nothing; heaven and hell can't get you away from me as long as you've got on that little shiny fetter on your finger, don't you know that?"
The maddened woman made a quick wrench to pull away from him her left hand, which he held in his, taunting her with the ring that symbolized their eternal bonds; but he was too quick for her. "Hollo!" laughed he; "want to get rid of it, don't you? No, no! that won't do, that won't do! I'll make it safe!" VOL. IV.
And lifting her like a child in his arms, he carried her across the meadow, back to the house, and down a flight of crazy steps into the cellar, where a little forge was all ablaze with white-hot coal, and the two ill-visaged men she well knew by sight were busy with sets of odd tools and fragments of metal, while on a bench near by, and in the seat of an old chair, lay piles of fresh coin. They were a gang of counterfeiters.
Abner Dimock thrust his wife into the chair, sweeping the gilt eagles to the floor as one of the men angrily started up, demanding, with an oath, what he brought that woman there for to hang
"Be quiet, Bill, can't you ?" interposed the other man. "Don't you see he's drunk? you'll have the Devil to pay, if you cross a drunk Dimock!"
But Abner had not heard the first speaker; he was too much occupied with tying his wife's arms to the chair,—a proceeding she could nowise interfere with, since his heavy foot was set upon her dress so as to hold her own feet in helpless fixedness. He proceeded to take the ring from her finger, and, searching through a box of various contents that stood in one corner, extracted from it a delicate steel chain, finely wrought, but strong as steel can be; then, at the forge, with sundry tools, carefully chosen and skilfully used, he soldered one end of the chain to the ring, and, returning to his wife, placed it again upon her finger.
Here, Bill," growled he, "where's that padlock off the tool-chest, eh? give it here! This woman's a fool, ha, ha, ha!-she wanted to get away from me, and she's my wife!"
Another peal of dissonant laughter interrupted the words.
"What a d-d good joke! I swear I haven't laughed before, this dog's age! And then she was goin' to rid herself of the ring! as if that would help it! Why, there's the promise in black and white,— 'love, honor, and obey,'-'I take thee, Abner,'-ha, ha! that's good! But fast bind, fast find; she a'n't going to get rid