« НазадПродовжити »
Ray proceeded more directly : “It's my opinion, Margaret, that William can nowhere find a likelier girl than you are. You have just the disposition to please sister Maxwell, and Providence somehow seems to have set you down here, making the place for you, and you for the place, as it were and somehow you have taken an unaccountable hold of my heart, and I can't blame William; and so I was thinking, Margaret, as the rail-road is almost done, the shanties will soon be broke up, and James will have to look for work elsewhere ; you'll have a good chance, as it were, to break up your connexions with all these people, and after a little while you will be no more an Irish girl than Belinda Anne Tracy.” Margaret's face was turned quite away, or probably Mrs. Ray would not have proceeded "and then as to your beads, your crucifix, your confessions, &c., the sooner you give them all up, the better, child, for soul and body too” –
“Say no more, Mrs. Ray ; God forsake me if I forsake Him, and deny my parents and my people, and cast off James -- heart of my heart! better for my soul, say ye? and what would be left of my soul, if all faith and love to God and man were out of it? — Oh, Mrs Ray, I would not have thought it of you !” The poor girl wept as if her heart were broken. Mrs. Ray tried in vain to soothe her. She no more argued or persuaded ; she was ashamed that she had done either. Her strong innate sense of right triumphed over the prejudices of education and society ; and having begun with proposing to her young friend to abjure her faith, and forsake her people, she ended with respecting the loyalty that kept her true to both.
Little need be said in explanation of the relations and history of the parties introduced to our readers. Margaret O'Brien had belonged to one of those encampments of Irish that are found along the lines of our rail-roads, while those great works are constructing by those people who, driven forth from their own land by misery and multiplied oppressions, come here to do our roughest work, and share our bread and freedom. Their shanties, built for transient use, are constructed with the least possible expense and labor; and though perhaps adequate to their ideas of comfort, are a sad contrast to the humblest homes of our own people. There is little found in them besides strong healthy bodies and warm hearts the best elements of happiness in any home.
Would it not be well for our people to consider more maturely than they have yet done, the designs of Providence in sending these swarms of Irish people among us? Is it not possible that their vehement feelings, ardent affections, and illimitable generosity might mingle with our colder, and (we say it regretfully)
more selfish natures, to the advantage of both ? And at any rate, by losing the opportunity of promoting their happiness, of binding them to us by the blessed links of humanity, are we not doing a wrong to our own souls? Can good be effected to them or to ourselves by contemning their nation, and deriding their religion?
Margaret's father lost his life while working on the Western Rail-Road by the blasting of a rock. Margaret's mother was ill at the time — the shock of seeing his mangled body brought home without warning occasioned, as was believed, her death. The report of the melancholy fate of these people spread through the neighborhood, and Mrs. Ray, impelled by her Christian heart, went to look after the orphan girl. She was struck with the loveliness of her countenance, her sweet manners, and the superior decency of her habitation. “Why,” said she afterward to the Maxwells, who expressed their surprise that she should take a girl from the shanties into her family — “it wasn't like a shanty! They were not all herded together like cattle, as they commonly are, but the place was parted off into three rooms;there were bedsteads — rough, to be sure — and there were clean sheets and decent spreads; and they had some chairs; and Margaret a little table with a drawer, all made by her brother, and a work-basket, and everything tidy on it, and a picture hanging over it”.
“A picture! some saint, I dare say," interrupted Maxwell, his lip curling
“It might be, for aught I know,” replied Mrs. Ray, meekly, “but I should not think any one need to be the worse for a saint the picture of one, I mean, hanging up before them. I assure you, brother Maxwell, everything had a becoming appearance there was considerable earthen-ware and silver tea-spoons, and it was evident they had lived like folks — and as to the poor orphan girl, she is as neat as the neatest of our Becket girls — Belinda Anne don't exceed her, and she is so pretty spoken and pretty looking - and as I wanted help that would be company too, I was glad to get her; and her brother having to go to work on the next section, was glad to leave her in a suitable place for one so young and comely. I hope you don't think I did wrong, brother Maxwell,” concluded Mrs. Ray, who, though very apt to do right from her own impulses, was rather weakly nervous as to the judgment of others.
“ You are an independent woman, and must judge for yourself, Mrs. Ray. Everybody knows 'tis my principle to keep clear of the Paddies. I neither eat nor drink with them, and I go not in nor out among them.”
“But you sell to them,” said Mrs. Ray, with a smile that faintly
indicated what she did not say, and what she retained because she was a woman of peace, and rarely struck a discordant note. The complaints she had heard from these poor strangers and wayfarers in the land, of the exorbitant prices demanded by “ brother Maxwell,” for his pork and potatoes, were fermenting in her mind.
“ Yes, I sell to them - I take care of number one. As the Bible says, he that don't provide for his own household is worse than an infidel."
“I take that passage in another sense, brother Maxwell ; I provide for my family by buying of them ;- I buy Margaret's services, and she throws in her love, and I would not change bargains with you."
“And I should not be afraid to show books with you, widow Ray,” retorted the sordid man.
“I don't keep any books,” replied Mrs. Ray; "her accounts are nevertheless set down, and will probably show fairest at last!”
Maxwell is one of those who bring dishonor on the good name of his people. His industry runs into anxious toil, his enterprise into avarice, his economy into miserliness, his sagacity into cunning, his self-preserving instincts into selfishness. Having one of the largest farms in Becket, his ruling passion is to make it larger. Enjoying and imparting never enter into his calculations; and, as was said of a far loftier person," he had not so much joy in what he had, as trouble and agony for what he had not.” His only son and heir, William, though resembling his father, had an infusion of his mother's more generous disposition -- a sprinkling of her more attractive qualities. How the proportions were balanced, and which preponderated, will be seen by his conduct.
Margaret O'Brien was much less hopeful than most young people. Early changes and sorrows had superinduced a reflectiveness and sadness on the natural vehemence and cheerfulness of her character. Life seemed to her a dark and tangled path, and she shrunk from pursuing it. She had not yet learned that there is an inner light, which always shines on the patient soul. She was silent and abstracted all the day after her conversation with Mrs. Ray. She performed her usual domestic duties negligently. "I saw plainly,” Mrs. Ray afterward said, “that the poor girl's heart was not in them ; but then, sister Maxwell, I was only thinking how pretty she looked, and what a blessing she would be to the
- be he who he would - that should marry her. Well, we are short-sighted creatures."
As the day declined, Margaret became more restless. She was
continually going to the door, and looking up the road. “Who are you expecting ?" asked Mrs. Ray.
"It's James I am looking for – he promised he would be down some day this week.” "Margaret blushed deeply, conscious that, thongh telling the truth, it was not the whole truth. No James came. No approaching footstep, hoof, or wheel, broke the dismal silence that surrounded the widow's dwelling. Margaret became more and more unquiet, and at last said she would go and meet James: “that would shorten the time; and if I am not at home at tea-time, don't wait for me, Mrs. Ray, dear; it is not very far to the shanties, and if I should be late home, there is a bright moon to-night.”
Margaret was already on the threshold. Mrs. Ray called her back. “My child," she said, “ don't stay out late — you know I am of an anxious make, and easily startled, and you are not looking yourself, Margaret, since our talk this morning; and I'm not superstitious, and don't really believe in such things, but there has been one of the neighbor's dogs howling unaccountably lately; and last evening I fully meant to put on my purple shawl, and when I came to take it off, it was my black one, trimmed with crape! I don't believe in signs, but they make one feel — and if any evil were to happen to you, Margaret, I should feel just as wounded as if it were one of my own daughters."
“God -- the God of the fatherless - bless you, Mrs. Ray, dear, and keep all trouble far from your door.” Margaret kissed her old friend, and promised to return as early as possible, and that promise Mrs. Ray afterward said was a great comfort to her, for she was sure “she meant to keep it.” Margaret walked hastily up the road, and took a horse-path that, passing through a wood, led by a cross-cut to the railroad.
Winter comes on prematurely in Becket, a high, cold, mountain town. Though it was yet October, the glow and almost metallic brightness of our autumn foliage had passed away. The leaves, the summer's wealth, lay in piles on the ground, or hung in sadly thinned companies rustling on the branches; leaden clouds were driving over the sky, and snow falling in scattered flakes.
Margaret's way lay along a leaping and gushing mountainstream, which, to the ear of the happy, called up images of courage and joy, but to Margaret it may have sounded mournful and ominous. May, we say, but there is reason to think that the poor girl was deaf to the sympathies of nature, that her mind was possessed with one idea, and that it mattered not to her whether the voices of nature were cheering or sad. She did not even pause at "Hardy's rock," though that had been her "trysting tree.” This
was a rock easy of access from the road, but precipitous toward the stream, with a broad flat summit. The stream below it was dammed, partly by a natural accumulation of brush and stones brought from above, and partly by art, and it set back in a deep basin. The stream, swollen to a torrent by late rains, had overflowed the margin of the basin, and covered the little strip of level ground around it to the very edge of a steep cliff, whose pines and furs were darkly reflected in it. But a few weeks before Margaret had sat on this rock with William Maxwell, and, while she listened to him, had woven a wreath for her bonnet of the asters and golden-rod that were now withered like her hopes.
Below the dam was a saw-mill belonging to William, and he often came down to it toward evening to see what work had been accomplished during the day. It was nearly two weeks since Margaret had seen him, and in that interval she had heard that, in rustic phrase, he was “paying attention” to a young girl, who, by the recent death of her father, had become sole proprietor of a farm adjoining Maxwell's, and was heiress to herds, pasture-land, and much rural wealth. This young person was the Belinda Anne Tracy, of whom Mrs. Ray had spoken in the morning to Margaret with more meaning than met the ear. Uncertainty was intolerable to Margaret's impatient Irish nature, and “ It will now be ended!” she exclaimed, as, listening intently, she heard the tramp of William Maxwell's horse long before she saw him. She was hidden by a projecting point of the rock, and he did not perceive her till he was arrested by her voice, not in a loud, but thrilling tone, pronouncing his name. “Margaret! is it you? I did not think of meeting you, but I was going this evening to see you."
Margaret raised her eyes to his, and a gleam of pleasure shot through them, but they were quickly cast down again, and her lips trembled as she said: “There's many a lonesome evening come and gone since I have seen you, William Maxwell.”
“ That's true, Margaret-and it is true, too, that a man may be in one place, and his heart in another."
“Where was your heart then, William, when you was after going down to Westfield with Belinda Anne Tracy ?”
“With you, Margaret, and with none but you, and that's as true as that I stand here on this solid ground—but one can'tthat is I mean".
Margaret, with hurried and trembling hands, untied the guardchain by which her crucifix was suspended, and kissing it, and then holding it up, she said, “I have sworn on this that I would know your true mind, William Maxwell, and if you respect yourself-if ever you respected me-if you respect this sign, of what