Commentary

Disciples

THE CARPENTER

A CHRISTMAS STORY


I.

IT was the winter of the year when the armies of Grant and Lee were locked in the deathgrapple for Richmond, and the night of war, involved in incertitude and disaster, with lurid gleams of hope leaping and vanishing like cannon flashes in the smoke of conflict, was yet, unknown to any, darkly working into its triumphant dawn.

At that time there stood, as there still stands, in the open country a few miles north of Washington, the estate familiarly known round about as Elkanah Dyzer's Place,—a place owned by an old gentleman-farmer of that name, and occupied by him and his old wife and their sons. A pleasant place to see at any time, but chiefly in the growing seasons, or in rich summer light, with its ample slopes of well-tilled farm and orchard land spreading back from the dusty highway; the light-green crops in ordered rows and plots upon the dry-brown soil,—the pennoned maize, the wheat, the garden products; the gnarled old apple-trees, and peach and pear trees, laden with their fruitage; here, a deep-green pasture field, with kine and horses feeding; there, the dusky distant barns; and beyond, master of all, and set far back from the highway, to which its flank was turned, the large and quaint old two-story brick dwelling, painted in a neutral tint made more indefinite by age, and relieved against a broad depth of dark umbrageous woodland, towering on the other side; high-studded in its rooms, but seeming disproportionately low because of its great length; with stunted chimneys, and a short, sharp pitch of forward roof, scooping from the ridge-pole in a long descending sweep to the dwarfed back end,—a place upon which one might gaze satisfied, and dream the old Virgilian dream of teeming earth, and bees, and perfumed breezes; and the odorous breath of kine; and herbs and grass; and the contented low of oxen ; and milk from amber udders foaming in the pail under the rosy-circled star; and sun-browned labor, and the deep smile of harvests; and life robust, and sweet, and sane ; and home, with rustic cheer, with friends, with kindred, the sweet and hardy wife, the sprawl and laugh of sturdy babes, wealth, joy, large-handed hospitality; and plenty flowering over the ravages of battle, and peace emerging with full sheaves of blessings and songs and gifts and garlands from the cloven heart of war.

Now, however, the place lay dim, in the winter light of Christmas Eve. The night had set in. Here and there, remote and at wide distances, were solitary and sullen gleams in the murk from the windows of other dwellings. No sound came from the bosom of the dark peace, the deep tranquillity, the winter loneliness, nor was there any motion save that of a cold and gentle breeze moving noiselessly through the obscure and frozen air. But under the vast nightblue, thick-studded with the innumerable stars, and beyond the uncertain shapes of bushes and low trees, and the dark swales of the farm, the dim old house showed joyously, with all its lower windows overflowing with festal light, and every curtain drawn away, as if that the living radiance, composed of the steady beam of lamps and the jovial dance of open fires, might the more comfort the darkness. If aught there were to chequer its sentiment of Christmas cheer, it was in the aspect of one window in the forward end, upon whose panes the lustre of firelight, only, flashed and failed duskily, sometimes quivering up with a bright struggle, then sinking into a dark glow, like a sense of the felicity of the season laboring in an old man's breast with shadows of trouble and care.

A moment, and the fire upon that hearth, leaping in evanescent gleams amidst the snakes of smoke which coiled and swirled around the huddle of logs and fagots heaped in the cavernous chimney, and conjoined in one great smoky serpent which fled, writhing, up the flue, flapped out in sheets with a dense, crackling roar, swallowing them all, making the burnished brass tops of the straddling fire-dogs shine like balls of gold, and filling with a flood of tawny splendor the large old-fashioned room, antiquely furnished, odorous with the dry sweetness of the abundant wreaths of ground pine which adorned it, and so shadowed on walls and ceiling with redberried, dark-green branches that it looked like a cave of holly. At once there was a sudden movement among the family all gathered there, sitting or standing in a group a little distance from the hearth, watching the fire; and old Elkanah Dyzer himself, who had remained for some time in his huge oaken chair, with his bands upon his knees, and a look of peevish gloom upon his massive and resolute features, suddenly sprang up, six feet four, mighty in brawn and magnificent in stalwart age, cut three clear pigeon wings in the air with all the grace and agility of his youth of twenty-one, and came down lightly oil the floor in a grand attitude, with a snap of his fingers like a pistol crack, a proud toss of his haughty head, a stormful and generous laugh, and deep from his full-breathed lungs a ringing "Whoop! and aha, for the good fire!"

There was a general stir and a murmur of soft, mingling laughter and all eyes were turned on the old man admiringly. His son, John Dyzer, a tall, erect, reticent-looking young man, with black mustache and the military air derived from his year's service as a Union volunteer at the opening of the war, straightened from his lounging posture near the mantelpiece, and watched his father with half-suppressed approving mirth flushing his impassive and handsome visage. His wife, Emily, a lovely blonde, dressed in white and cherry ribbons for the evening, who was sitting on a low seat on the other side of the fireplace near her daughter, Lilian, turned her charming head to gaze on the old giant; her gentle face, framed in its drooping gold-brown tresses (and a little pale and wan, as became the mother of two children, one dead), lighting with amusement, her lips parting to show the smiling teeth, and a deeper lustre glowing in her blue, earnest eyes; and the tiny Lilian, sitting by her in a small rocking-chair, a fair and chubby tot of five years old, in a blue dress, with short yellow curls, and pale, pensive countenance, the infant Madonna of a stiff rubber doll which she was rocking to its staring sleep, dropped this diabolical fetich of all girlbabyhood, to clap her small hands, crimsoning with glee; while the youngest son, Tom,—a fine, lissome, innocent, ruddy young fellow of twenty, deep in the bashful tremors and despondencies of first love for pretty Fanny Redwood—a guest from the city, now upstairs at her toilette—and actually with a crick in his neck from having kept his head for about twenty minutes turned over his shoulder, as he sat with outstretched legs, and hands in his pockets, watching for her to come down,—quite forgot her for about a quarter of a minute, and laughed long and loud; and a happy smile appeared even upon the sad, calm face of old Mrs. Dyzer, turned with its tight lace cap and brown hair streaked with gray, to gaze at her good man,—a face comely yet, in spite of years and sorrow, stately even in its smiling with the dignity of suffering borne in silence,—she who rarely smiled now since the loss of her two sons,—George, a soldier of the Union, reported missing at Fredericksburg, and long given up as dead; Rupert, the first-born, a soldier in the rebel army, never heard from, banned by his father, his name forbidden to be spoken in that house forever.

"I can't do it like you, father," said John Dyzer curtly, his mind upon the marvelous pigeon wing. "Old man's ahead of me yet. Young man's nowhere."

Guess there's no young men now-a-days like father," said Tom admiringly.

Elkanah Dyzer smiled like an old lion flattered by his cubs, showing his teeth, every one of the thirty-two still white and sound; glanced down at himself in his evening party costume of brown old-fashioned clothes, double-breasted buff vest, and frilled shirt-bosom, with which his big band toyed; passed the hand over his smooth-shaven healthy-colored face, and up on the ample dome of his bald head, and down to the locks of short, curly gray hair, which still pretty thickly fringed his temples; and then, as one satisfied that he was in good trim, moved his proud visage slowly around, smilingly surveying the group with broad, blue eyes, well opened under their high-arched shaggy brows.

"Father Dyzer, I believe you're as vain as any peacock," said John's wife, Emily, in her most charming voice.

Elkanah's face instantly put on that look of helpless confession, which the strongest of the sons of men assume, and fancy bland indifference, when detected by a woman.

"Can't do that?" he said, reverting to the pigeon wing with the idea of regaining lost ground. "Why, that's very easy. So." And he did it again.

"Oh, vanity! vanity!" exclaimed Emily, with charming mockery. "Father Dyzer, you want to tempt me to ask you to dance with me this evening."

Little Lilian at once crimsoned with intense elfin merriment.

"Oh, grandpa's going to dance with mamma!" she cried, in her small silvery voice. "Grandpa, are you going to dance with my mamma when the neighbors and friends come in?"

"Neighbors and friends! Hah! well discriminated!" muttered the old man with a snort. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings. Semi-Union neighbors and semi-secesh neighbors. Six-water grog, anyway. How many friends, we'll know before long,—before long."

His face darkened for an instant into savage gloom ; then, with a toss of his head, he smiled his leonine smile.

"Dance with your mamma, midget?" he went on in his sounding voice. "No; can't dance with her. Besides, she'd rather dance with somebody else,—with Faulkner."

Emily bent her head quickly, and, spite of herself, colored scarlet. The old man looked slowly around, serenely smiling, with a purring satisfaction, feeling, with a sort of innocent vindictive complacency, that he had paid her back at the rate of a four-hundred-pound shot for a very small bullet. In an instant she looked up, lightly laughing, with a quick glance at her husband. His eyes were intently bent upon the floor; a slight frown dented his forehead, and his face was cold and grave. As she saw his look, a spasm of almost hate for him contracted her heart, and quivered away in a hurt feeling and a flood of passionate love, the light laughter all the while upon her face and lips.

"Faulkner?" she said gayly. "Why, father Dyzer, I like my old sweetheart, Faulkner, very much, especially because he's such a friend of John's, and so dear to us all; but I'd as lief dance with you as him, and I'd rather dance with my own husband than either of you."

John Dyzer's face did not change, and, as one not hearing what was said, he slowly walked away. Emily's heart recoiled, and became like stone against him. Still smiling gayly, she suddenly became aware that old Elkanah was staring down at her with open mouth and features all wreathed in glee.

"Why, bear the girl!" he burst out, with a jovial roar." There's a girl now! There's a speech for you! She'd rather dance with her own husband than either of us! Spoken like a lady! John, you dog, why don't you down and kiss your wife for that, like a man!"

"Tut, father,—tut, tut, tut, tut, tut," replied John Dyzer. Emily could have stabbed him.

"What! you won't! Then, by Gadger and Badger, I will!" cried the old man, laughing. "And would, with the lumbago!"

He made one stride that shook the floor, and would have stooped to kiss her, but she sprang up from her low seat, glowing like a rose, and, smiling like an angel, flung her arms around him, and kissed him again and again; then dancing backward, suddenly turned, and flew from the room with a speed that swept the air into perfume behind her flying skirts, and made the abundant sprays of holly tremble.

Elkanah stood, open-mouthed, flushed, the hot tears very near his eyes, staring, like one dazed, into the passage where she had vanished, full of affection for her, full of stupefaction, and, in the general whirl of his faculties, puzzling his very unfeminine man's head to know what it all meant.

"By the gods of war!" he muttered to himself, "something's the matter with that girl. Now, what's up?"

He turned again to the fire, and stood cogitating.

"Well, grandpa," suddenly arose with entire irrelevance the small silvery voice, "the question is, who are you going to dance with?"

She said it so queerly, and with such gravity and earnestness, that Elkanah, used as he was to her old-fashioned ways, rolled his eyes down at her, vacantly wondering.

"Dance with?" he returned in a moment. "With you, little midget."

She looked very sorrowful instantly, and shook her curly head slowly.

"No, grandpa, not with me, because I'm too lame this evening,—too lame. See, now." And rising, with the stiff doll in her arms, she limped to and fro for his inspection; then gravely sat down again in her little rockingchair, with a face pensive and pale.

John Dyzer, who was softly and slowly pacing the room, paused in his walk, then coming to his little girl, bent down, like the good and tender father that he was, and kissed her very fondly; and she, abruptly dropping dolly to fling her little arms around his neck, murmured, "My only papa."

She had once fallen, and fractured her ankle, and was sometimes troubled now with a swelling of the knee, which made her lame.

"Never mind, Lily," said her father. "When the children come, you'll have a good time playing with them. And you'll get well, and dance, one of these days—dance like a jumping-jack-dance like grandpa himself."

"No more dancing for me!" broke forth Elkanah from his ruminations; "not till my boy George comes home. Then I'll dance. But that 'll never be—never—never!"

He turned his back to the fire, and stood with his hands behind him, absently musing. Every one was silent. In a moment, his wandering eyes happened to rest upon the face of his wife.

She was sitting in her sober dress, her hands placidly folded together, her patient and noble features composed and calm; but on her cheeks, in the tawny firelight, was the glisten of tears.

"Why, what is it, dear old lady?" said Elkanah, in a booming undertone. "What ails the old man's darling? Ah, I forgot,—thinking of George."

"Of both," she said calmly.

Elkanah's massive features darkened, though but for an instant.

"Always the same," he said, almost harshly.

"Oh, woman—womankind! Yet, when lie talked of going, your anger was beyond all. And when he went, it almost broke your heart. Now, after all he's done,—after all the bitterness and trouble be's brought upon us in our old age,—your spirit's soft for him."

"And yours, too, Elkanah," she said quickly.

"I stamp it down!" returned the old man fiercely. "I can't help a feeling, now and then. Nature tussles in me, thinking of the good, sweet boy I had before he got to be the ingrate son, the vile rebel, the breaker of our hearts, the dishonor of my house, the traitor to his country. But I stamp it down!" he hissed, striking his foot upon the floor. "Oh, the villain! By the Everlasting! if he ever darkens this threshold, I'll lay him dead!"

"Hush, Elkanah!" cried his wife, with a flashing eye, and her face roused and severe. "Recollect yourself! My children are always my children. No such language before me. Such words put you far from me,—farther even than your thought of him has already put you. Now, silence!"

The old man shrunk a little, shrugged his shoulders, and relapsed into sulky quietude.

"It's the only thing that has ever come between us," he said presently, in a sort of grieved growl, and with a peevish and grumbling visage. "The only thing. Well, few old married folks can say as much as that. Now, this comes from talking of forbidden subjects. And I was wrong to say anything, anyway. Ruth, my dear,"—he stepped forward, smiling, with his left hand in his frilled bosom and the other extended, and stood in courtly attitude, his right leg well advanced, bowing to his wife with the magnificent old-time courtesy,—"your pardon. Forgive the hot old man. Let it be peace between us. On Christmas Eve, my dear,—on Christmas Eve."

For a moment she did not move. Then slowly, with a faint flush still on her severe countenance, she reluctantly put her left hand into his. He hesitated a second, then bent and kissed her fingers, stepped backward with a grandiose bow, and stood in silence.

"Going from me," he presently murmured to himself, shaking his head mournfully. "After all these many years. Wealth, home, friends,—all going; the family breaking up, the old ties, the old existence, all going. And the old wife going too."

There was a sound of rustling dresses and soft footsteps on the stairs.

"Hah!" he burst out again, abruptly reviving, with a laugh, "here she comes! O Muse of Poetry, descend! Here's Fanny Redwood! Lovely as the dawn. The blush-rose is coming, with her rose dress on. And it's—Oh, that I were young again! A bachelor I'd be. And Fanny'd have a suitor. For she'd just suit me."

Amidst the delivery of this impromptu effusion, and the general laughter and applause which followed, a lovely young girl, curtseying, Smiling, and blushing, entered the room, followed by Emily. She was of middling stature, and beautifully formed; had dark hair and eyes; a heart-shaped face, suffused with delicate bloom; an innocent red mouth; an air dreamful and maidenly; and moved with motions like caresses, naturally and often curtseying, and graceful as a solitary doe. She was exquisitely attired in a soft, rose-colored silk, with lace corsage, which glistened in the tawny sheen of the fire, and was altogether as fair a creature as ever stood beneath the dark-green holly. Tom instantly took his hands out of his pockets, and rose, advancing, and drooping from his unconstrained posture into about as awkward a young man, conscious of his boots and solicitous of his neck-tie, as breathed in the District of Columbia. To add to his distress, the lovely Fanny, as he drew near her, and an interview seemed inevitable, somehow glided past him with one of her soft caressing curtseys in the most natural way in the world, leaving it only open to him, in decent self-respect, to walk on to the wall, and stand gazing with a rueful countenance, as if it was what he meant to do from the first, at the crossed American flags, drooping in looped folds, with the tattered and broken regimental flag his brother John had carried into battle hanging there between them, surrounded with deep garlands of ground-pine and holly branches.

"There!" rang his father's voice, as the flagged and garlanded wall suddenly darkened. "Down goes the fire again. Upon my soul, Tom, I believe you let Daniel Snow pick out green wood for the hearths. Phew! Just see the smoke!"

"I didn't, father," replied Tom, looking at the logs, from whose red glow great serpents of smoke were down-shooting, and coiling over backward, to conjoin with the huge boa which fled whirreting up the chimney. "It's just the same wood that's in the other rooms; and that burns well enough."

The old man glanced to his right through the open door of the adjoining room, and from thence to the room beyond, both of which were in full illumination; then went across the lighted entry into the room opposite, and saw that the two rooms beyond that were also all ablaze.

"Well," he said, coming back, "old uncle Peter Dyzer, if his ghost walks to-night, must satisfy his love of a free fire in every room but this. Hola? here it comes again!"

And as he spoke, out flapped the roaring flame once more, and lit with full splendor the leafy chamber. Elkanah rubbed his hands gleefully, and took out his great gold watch.

"Six o'clock," he announced. "A good hour yet before any one comes, unless it's Faulkner in from town."

He had hardly spoken, before there was a loud rat-tat-too at the hall door. The old man glanced behind him at the side door, which led directly into the room.

"I wonder if that's Faulkner," he said smilingly. "He's usually in on us from this side. Here you, Tom; you've left a hatchet on the hearth. Take it away now."

"Yes, father—in a minute," responded Tom, intent upon his charmer, and forgetting the mandate directly.

Presently the old negro, Daniel Snow, man-of-all-work on the estate, with others, was seen shuffling through the passage, in full company rig to the door. A moment, and there was a bounding step, a mellow laugh, and a rich, gay, quick, melodious voice, intermingling with the soft quacking African responses of the delighted Daniel.

"A five-dollar greenback for old Daniel." ("Yes, sah; thank ye, sah.") "Knocked just to bring him on for my Christmas gift." ("Yes, sah; Yes, sah.") "Five for him, if he comes, said I." ("Yes, sah.") "With a merry Christmas to his good old heart." ("Yes, sah; the same, sah. Much obleeged, sah.") "And a merry Christmas to all here!"

With the last words, young Faulkner danced over the threshold, in elegant costume, and stood with indescribable cordial grace, his extended kid-gloved bands thrown open in playful greeting, while the phantom of black Daniel, wagging his up-thrown, mirthful head, and showing all his ivories, crossed the passage behind him. The next second he had crumpled off his gloves with an air of sleight of hand, and was moving, amidst a tumult of welcomes, from person to person, with laughing fascination and gay, tender charm. Of middle height; slender, sinewy, and elegant; a figure that naturally fell into beautiful and alluring attitudes; with lightbrown curling locks, half shading his low, dense, passionate forehead; dark glances, witching and melancholy; ruddy cheeks; high nose; a manly mustache coquettishly up turned at the ends; a beautiful laughing mouth; a bold, but dimpled chin. Well might women love him! But, Scipio-Hylas that he was, he kept them all at bay. Brave, sweet, loving, joyous, ardent, amative, proud, generous; well-read, well-bred, proficient in every manly exercise; one who fenced, danced, sang divinely, wrote charming verses, talked brilliantly, had in him the slumbering spells of eloquence; one good at a hunt, a regatta, on a horse, with a rifle; loving all pretty girls lightly and purely, none deeply; very gallant and attentive to old women; friendly to all men, and easily loved by them; in great request and favor with everybody, chiefly with the ladies, for ball, theatre, opera, saloon, dinner, escort, commission; a Paladin in the bud, but now a perfect squire of dames. Add, as a singular thing in one so amative, a young man of perfectly unspotted life. This, partly from excessive imagination, never realizing its ideal; partly from natural purity and haughty selfrespect, disdaining to stoop below the vision; chiefly because in him, passion,—like ambition, like his gifts, his attainments, his latent power,—lay withdrawn and inert in a temperament of dream. Thus Michael Faulkner, at the age of twenty-six, strangely young in appearance, and looking like some lovely youth of twenty; rich in his own right; son of the old rich General; once a sweetheart of Emily's, and for years a fast friend to John, to whom he had been the gayest and friendliest rival, and for whom he cherished a deeper attachment than was usual with him.

They were friends still. John met him like the rest, betraying no other sign of change towards him than might have been conveyed in a yet more iron grip of his strong hand. He was in that uncertain mood in which one, tortured by the deep suspicion that his beloved wife is drifting from him into love with his bosom friend,—as yet suspicious of her only, and unable yet to determine whether the friend is also a just object for doubt,—suspends judgment on both in wary scrutiny.

What was the case? Subtle, and hard to state,—harder for many people to comprehend. There are seasons in a woman's life when her conjugal love, oppressed by the monotony, the commonplace, the humdrum, cold familiarity, the perpetual same intimacy, becomes not dead, but dormant, and existence, void of the old romantic joy, creeps on in weariness and indefinite sad yearning. In such a season, Emily, with perfect innocence, found a sudden and novel relief, fed by many sweet memories and associations, in the wild and tender fascinations that enhaloed Faulkner. He, for his part, drew unconsciously to her who in earlier days had deeply touched his fancy, but now was transformed to his imagination with all the added powerful pensive charm of her completed womanliness, the divine dower of the joys and griefs of her maternity. The mutual spell was strong; innocent in itself, they innocently yielded to it; and so far all was well.

What is this experience? Two—a man and a woman—friends, new-comers to an enchanting rural solitude, have wandered, an hour after their arrival to the banks of a strange stream. There a is a boat tethered to the shore; let us enter, and push off a little way. How sweet to sit thus, hand in hand, lost in reverie, floating tranquilly in the purple evening on the bosom of the placid, water! How sweet the dreamful drifting! how soothing the smooth-slipping flow of the bright tide! How lulling the even, all-pervading murmur in the trance of the sunset air! Ali, that gentle gliding is the flow of doom; that magic murmur is the roar of the cataract. They are in the current of Niagara!

Standing, sitting, walking about the room, taking his part in the talk and merriment, John Dyzer ever kept an eye upon his wife and friend. She was sitting in her low seat near little Lilian when Faulkner came in, and, with a mad pulse leaping in his own breast, her husband saw her bend her averted head over the child's dress, smoothing its folds, and marked the quicker palpitation of her bosom. It was only when Faulkner, in his tour of salutation among the group, paused, bowing, for an instant before her, that she looked up hurriedly, half timidly, into his face, smiling, with heightened color, her head drooping again as he passed by. This, too, her husband observed. And now with ever-increasing certainty in regard to both, and with a stern and solemn misery at his heart, he followed their movements as they wandered about the room, and every little while for a moment drew together, and marked the recurring indefinite signs of love between them,—of love forever ending and beginning, retiring advancing, and deepening on and on: he, pausing near her with clasped, drooping bands, and tender, clinging eyes, and all-imploring charm; she, rapt and innocent, immerged in reverie, with veiled and wandering glances, and bosom quicklier rising and falling, and paler bloom—the enchanted dream, the languor, the slumber, the relaxed postures, the telltale looks, the softer smiling, the lingering, low replies, the gracious silences—the unconscious lovers, lulled by the siren music of their hearts, unmeditating wrong, unthinking harm, vaguely entering the current of the sweet and terrible stream.

There was another observer,—old Elkanah. He had noticed for some time, in a rather purblind way, the thickening intimacy between Faulkner and Emily; and now, quickened by what had occurred within the few minutes past, his broad, blue eyes, under their pent-house brows, were vigilant upon the pair, and every moment a dreadful suspicion of what already existed, or was coming on, between them, slaked by his hearty fondness for Faulkner and his love for Emily, was kindling in his fiery brain. To his other troubles, this one added, he thought, would be worse than all.

He had a way of talking to himself, alone or in company, in an inarticulate bass undertone, like the booming of some enormous bee; and presently, as first one and then another of the group roamed away across the passage into the rooms beyond, leaving him standing on the hearth, with only the little child sitting silently near him, it was in this voice that he entered upon a recapitulation of all that flung columns of darkness among the lights of his Christmas Eve.

"Something wrong, I fear," he said, "coming on, or come already, between Faulkner and Emily. Oh, house of troubles, troubles! But it can't be. There'll be murder done on Faulkner if such a thing's afoot. And what'll become of Emily! And my son John going back to the war, with his life spoiled and his heart broken! And little Lily ailing,—perhaps to die, like the other. George lost and dead. Rupert worse than dead, if he's living,—the infernal young, heart-rending villain! Everything going—going. Even poor little Tom's got a girl that goes from him. All going together. And ruin hanging over me. The old home, where I've lived so long, going from me in my old age. How can I ever break it to them! They've got to know that we must soon leave all to the auctioneer, and begin the world again, among strangers. Country going too, I'm afraid. The blaze of victory lights the Shenandoah; but oh, the corpses, the corpses! Grant in the dead-lock at Richmond. Sherman's made the grand march, and now he's in for the mad, belly-breaking wrastle. And the old wife going from me. Ali, that's the worst—the worst of all! And I to keep up stout heart, and be merry and bold, on Christmas Eve!—the last here—the last —the last! Oh, my God! my God!"

He ceased abruptly, and sat down in Emily's low chair beside the child, his bands drooping between his knees, his gloomy visage bent upon the leaping antlers of the flame. For a little while there was complete silence in the hollied room, only broken by the murmur of distant voices and laughter from the other apartments.

"Grandpa," at length said little Lilian, in her plaintive voice, "I want to hear my 'Olian harp very, very much, indeed."

The old man smiled.

"Do you, darling? And so you shall, if the wind wills," he answered. "Let's see. Where shall we put it, so that you won't get the draught? Here, I reckon."

He had risen as he spoke, and, taking from a shelf near by the, AEolian harp, he opened the window on the left-hand side of the fireplace, a little way, and set the instrument in the aperture; then resumed his seat and attitude beside the child.

For a minute all was still. But presently stole upon the silence, holy and solitary as the breaking dawn, the long, low strain of remote and thrilling sweetness, wild, delicate, and lonely, and hung hovering for a moment in the charmed air, then failed away in a dim, mysterious cadence, which, ended, yet seemed to linger, like the spirit of bright things departed, of tender summers gone.

Little Lilian listened with a face of breathless ecstasy. The wind harp was again still, remaining soundless in the minutes that followed, and the child finally resigned herself with a little sigh.

"Grandpa," she said presently, "what was Jesus Christ?"

The old man glanced at her smilingly, with his never-failing surprise at the oddity of her abrupt questions.

"A mechanic, my dear," he presently answered. "What our fine Southern gentlemen call a common mud-sill," he added sardonically. "A carpenter. God bless him!"

Lilian quietly sat, cogitating his reply, while the old man wagged his sturdy head, grimly chuckling over the significance of his response with an enjoyment beyond words.

"Grandpa," the silver elfin voice began again, "will Jesus Christ come here this evening?"

Elkanah stared at her in blank wonderment, then burst into a bellow of laughter.

"Well, you are a young one!" he said, wagging his old head with hearty amusement. "If I ever heard the like of that! Now, what put that into your noddle, Lilykin?"

"I put it in my own self," she answered with intense positiveness. "But will he, grandpa?"

"Well, I don't know. He might," replied Elkanah jocosely.

"Because he's alive, grandpa," earnestly pursued the child. "Old uncle Peter always said he was alive, and going round doing good. Only that he'd grown old and gray walking in the world so many hundred years,—just as old loafer Tomeny painted his picture in there on the fireplace. And that's all true, grandpa; ain't it?"

"Of course," replied the waggish Elkanah, tickled to his very midriff.

"Well, then, I guess he might come," continued the little prattler, with a satisfied air." And I wish he would, for I want to see him very, very much."

Elkanah laid back his head, and roared and shook with merriment. Finally, subsiding, mellowed. to the core with mirth, he relapsed into his former position, his hands between his knees, his head bent forward, gazing at the elk-horned flames, and tittering secretly. The little girl sat sedately, taking it all with perfect seriousness.

"Now, sup-posing he was to come here this evening," she resumed, "and we was sitting here, and talking, and he should knock at the door,—and then, you know, we wouldn't hear him, grandpa."

The flames suddenly died down, involved in light-blue smoke, and the hearth gave forth a strange and lovely amber light upon the darkening room. At the same moment there was a faint, sweet chord of mysterious, trembling music from the harp.

"Well," said Elkanah, "what then?"

"Then," continued the child, "he would say, 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.'"

The fire became so strangely low, and cast so weird a light, that the old man felt a sort of wonder creeping over him, and, without replying or moving from his crouching attitude, turned his face slowly around, with the singular glow and cross-bars of shade upon his features, and scanned the shadowed room, embowered in holly foliage, and hallowed by that dusky, amber radiance. The distant voices had ceased, and the house was still. The unusual light, the breathless hush that lay upon all, surprised him, and he slowly turned his head back again, with a secret thrill.

At that moment there was a gentle knock at the door.


II.

Elkanah did not move, but only revolved his great eyes and stared in blank astonishment at the little girl. She sat very placidly, looking at the fire. There was a moment's pause.

"Come in," he boomed, in a stentorian tone.

At that instant a red cinder flew from the hearth, with a loud crack, upon Lilian's dress, and in the momentary alarmed diversion of his attention, as he hastened to fillip it back into the fire, the old man heard the opening and shutting of the door. It was with a feeling of vacant amaze, almost rising into fright, that, turning his head, as he did immediately, he saw a large, gray stranger standing in the room.

The old man rose slowly from his seat to his full height, with wondering eyes a-stare upon the new-comer. The latter stood composedly gazing at him. He was tall and stalwart, with uncovered head; a brow not large, but full, and seamed with kindly wrinkles; a complexion of rosy clearness; heavy-lidded, firm blue eyes, which had a steadfast and draining regard; a short, thick, gray beard almost white, and thinly flowing dark-gray hair. His countenance expressed a rude sweetness. He was dressed in a long, dark overcoat, much worn, and of such uncertain fashion that it almost seemed a gaberdine. As he stood there in the gracious darkling light he looked an image of long and loving experience with men, of immovable composure and charity, of serene wisdom, of immortal rosy youth in reverend age. A faint perfume exhaled from his garments. In the lapel of his coat he wore a sprig of holly. His left hand, in which he also held his shapeless hat, carried a carpenter's plane.

Elkanah stood, almost quaking inwardly in the presence of this august stranger, in whose aspect were singularly blended the prophet and the child. The child in him inspired love; the prophet, awe. He drew, and he repelled.

"This must be yours," said the stranger, in clear, slow accents, sweet and vibrating, extending, as he spoke, the implement in his hand. "I found it at your gate-post on the highway."

"Why, yes," faltered Elkanah, with a slight start, taking the plane. "Tom's work, I know. He was shaving away there where the gate shut hard, and, just like the little love-daft noddy, he leaves the tool behind him."

"I am a wayfarer," said the stranger, after a pause, "and would like permission to remain with you a little while."

"Why, certainly. God bless me! what am I thinking of?" abruptly broke forth Elkanah, recovering immediately at the chance of offering hospitality, and beaming into smiles. "You are welcome, sir, right welcome. My name is Elkanah Dyzer. Sit ye down, sir,—sit ye down. Hah! Spang! up goes the merry fire!" he cried, laying the plane upon the mantel, and bustling forward his own oak chair for the stranger, as the blaze laughed upward with a flood of light. "You are right welcome. Your hand, sir," and, bowing with stately courtesy, he extended his own.

The stranger slowly took the proffered hand, with a pressure so gradual, so cordial, and so strong, that Elkanah felt it down deep into his very heart. As the sublime Scripture phrase has it, his bowels yearned to this new friend, and, despite the reverent distance which the lofty and sweet reserve of the stranger maintained, he felt a sudden intimacy as of many years, born from his quality of manly love. At the same time, his old brain was still in a daze of wondering confusion.

"Sit ye down, sir,—sit ye down," he chirruped, stepping backward with a wave of both hands; while the stranger, slow in all his motions, paused standing beside the chair. "And if I might not be thought over bold, sir," he went on, confusedly engaged with the odd co-incidence of the stranger's advent and personal aspect with the child's words, "what might I call your na—occupation—the name of your occupation—no—yes—Oh dear me, dear me!"

And Elkanah tweaked his great eagle nose in comical bewilderment, somewhat dubious what he had asked for, but impressed that it was the name, after all, as he intended.

"I am a carpenter," said the stranger simply, in a rather low but distinct voice. "My name" - "Ah, yes; excuse me," said Elkanah, unaware that he was interrupting, in the haste of his flurried belief that he had got the information he meant to ask for. "Carpenter. A name I like well,—as I do you, sir, if you'll excuse an old man's frankness. Sit ye down, Mr. Carpenter. You are right welcome."

The stranger bent his grand and gentle head with a slow smile, like one amused at the new name, accidentally conferred upon him, yet well content to let it be so; and, tossing his shapeless hat upon a footstool in the angle behind the fireplace, took the oaken chair.

Little Lilian, who had been intently looking at him with an air of breathless satisfaction, and had not uttered one word, now rose, deposited dolly carefully upon his hat, limped back between his knees, and stood a-tiptoe, with her small arms upreached to him. He took her up instantly on his breast, and kissed her with a long kiss upon the mouth.

"I know who you are," she whispered eagerly. "And I won't tell nobody."

The stranger made no answer. She snuggled close upon his bosom and into his beard, for a minute or so, in perfect quietude; then suddenly clambered down, and resumed her seat in the little chair, with an air of confidential and solemn gratification.

"I declare," said Elkanah, softly laughing, and rubbing his hands as he sat down before the fire near the stranger, "it's the queerest thing I ever knew. Do you know, Mr. Carpenter, you quite gave me a turn when you came in? I've got the nerves of an ox, anyway, but I tell you I felt queerish for about the first time in in life. Well, now, it was the oddest thing! And by Gee and Dee, odd it is still!"

I'll tell you how it was," he continued, after a pause, before the slow-speaking carpenter could reply. "Little magpie, there, was twittering a lot of stuff we have over here a good deal in the family. Of course, you never heard of my old uncle Peter Dyzer,

'Old miser Dyzer, skin a fly, sir,
Sell the skin, and turn the money in,'
as the boys used to rhyme it about him. I inherited this fine old place from him. Well, of all the queer, odd, eccentric, funny old chaps that ever were my, my!—But he wasn't loony on a bargain, sir,—no, indeed; and he'd Plenty of hard horse sense, and took good care of his property, you can rely; but he had notions, sir, on some subjects, that would make you think him mad as any March hare you ever knew."

The old man paused, shaking with restrained mirth.

"You ought to have seen him," he resumed. "Tall, big-boned, dry as a chip in all his speech and ways; and plumed himself on a kind of resemblance he had to President Washington. On Sundays, sir,—he never went to church,—read Tom Paine, Volney, Diderot, Voltaire, and all the French fellows of those clays, and hated clergymen (priests as he called 'em) worse than p'ison—swore by Tom Jefferson, too, in politics, and in everything else, except his knuckling under to slavery,—and there I'm with him, sir, there I'm with him. Well, sir, as I was saying, on Sundays he'd rig himself out like President Washington,—claret-colored, square-tailed coat, long satin vest, ruffles, knee-breeches, black silk stockings, buckled shoes, cocked hat, and so forth -and take a walk all over the place, flourishing a gold-headed cane, peert as a lizard, sir,—peert as any lizard you ever saw. With a train of his darkeys behind him (he'd buy 'em, take out their manumission papers, and keep 'em on wages; 'Lesson for bloody aristocrats,' he'd say),—with a train of 'em behind him, in even line, the women first,—'Mothers before men,' he'd say; then the male adults; then the little girls; then the boys, ranged in their order down to the smallest walking pickaninny,—'Brothers in Adam, sisters in Eve,' he'd say. He at the head, flourishing his gold-headed stick, every now and then turning, and halting them to see if they were inexact line. 'Keep the straight line!' he'd bawl; 'every real trouble in life comes from not keeping the straight line!' And if he saw one of 'em out of line, he'd march down, pull ears if it was a girl; rap pates if it was a boy; punch her in the ribs with the gold head of his cane if it was a woman; and if it was a man, by George! he'd pull him out, and thrash him like a sack, sir!"

And Elkanah drooped his head, shaking with silent inward laughter.

"That's a sample lot of old Peter Dyzer," he resumed. "Lord, sir! I could sit here all night and tell ye stories about him! Well, as I was going on to say, one of old Peter's fancies was pictures. He'd got hold of an old loafer, Tomeny by name, a house-painter, as near as I could ever gather, with the strongest taste for applejack you ever knew in your life, and he kept him a here to paint pictures for him, the horridest old daubs,—my sakes! I'd like to show you a lot of 'em up garret, though they're pretty well faded out now. But uncle Peter thought Tomeny the prince of painters, an unappreciated genius, and all that,—Tomeny the Great, he always called him,—and when he died, he buried him with a handsome gravestone at his poor old apple-brandy-soaked head, and on it just the words, 'Simon Tomeny, Painter,' as if that was enough for all posterity. Now, one of old Peter's maddest notions was that Jesus Christ was still alive, and grown old and gray with walking the earth for eighteen hundred years, as well he might, indeed. He'd got hold of the old story of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, d'ye see. 'That's him,—that's Christ,' says old Peter. 'But, Mr. Dyzer,' one would say, 'that's the man the story says Christ put a curse on, bidding him walk the world till he came again.' 'All a flam,' says rough old Peter 'the Good Man,'—he commonly spoke of Christ as the Good Man,—'the Good Man never put a curse on any one. It's Christ himself, I tell you.' Or, perhaps one might say, 'Why, Mr. Dyzer, what should Christ—be going round the world for?' 'Going round doing good,' snaps uncle Peter. Ah, my Lord, my Lord! the mad old fellow! Well, sir, with his own hands—for old Peter was a shifty man—he put a facing of prime old oak on the chimneyplace, in yonder; and d'ye know, he got old loafer Tomeny to paint on the right-hand side of it—an ugly thing to tell, sir, but it's true—a portrait of himself as Judas, grasping the bag,—did you ever hear the like of that now?—and on the other side a figure of Christ, old and gray, as he fancied him. Tomeny's master-piece, he called it. Well, little humming-bird there was bringing up all this in my mind, as I said, and you can perhaps fancy the turn it gave me when you came in, with your gray hair and beard, and long coat, and the plane, and all that. And the queerest thing of all is,—I hope you'll excuse me for saying so, for the picture is a wretched piece of imagery, as much as you can see of it for the faded colors,—the queerest thing is, that you do look something like the figure of Christ as old Tomeny has painted it."

And Elkanah again laughed softly, rubbing his hands, with his eyes on the silent-smiling carpenter, who had listened, as the old man vaguely thought, with the air of one to whom the story was not entirely new.

"It's a sort of pretty notion, too, that of old Peter's," presently resumed Elkanah. "And little chattering blue-jay, there, gave it quite a fairy turn in my mind by asking, just before you came, sir, if Jesus Christ, old and gray, was coming here to-night. Dear me! it made me laugh till I felt juicy all through; but it grew in me afterwards what a pretty thing it was, and for so young a child to say. Such a pretty thing! And how would you think of Christ, sir, as coming here to-night, if such a thing could be?"

"I think of him always," said the carpenter slowly, in solemn, sweet vibrations, "as the all-loving man. Yes, he might come, perhaps as you fancy him in this house, gray and old,—come as cheer-bringer, dispeller of evil, uniter of the estranged, assuager of sorrows, reconciler, consoler. Always the wise friend, the lover true. Something so."

The old man silently cogitated the reply, with eyes poring on the fire. "Pardon the liberty," he said suddenly, "but what might your profession be?"

"I walk the hospitals," returned the stranger quietly.

"Nursing the Union soldiers?"

"Union and rebel," was the answer.

"I hope," said the old man, after a moment's pause, kindling and flushing a little with a faint misgiving, "I hope that you stand by the country, Sir. Sir, this is a loyal house. One son only, my boy that once was, Rupert,—but we never mention his name here, Sir, never, for he's in the ranks of the rebels,—he only brings dishonor on the breed of old Elkanah Dyzer. But we strive to atone for it. My boy John served in the Union army, and he's going again. My boy Tom wants to go, and shall. 'Wait, laddie,' I said a year ago, 'till your bones harden a little more; you'll fight the better for it;' and the time's come for him. My boy George"—his voice faltered—"was lost at Fredericksburg; and blown to bloody atoms on the field of battle, or alive rotting in some rebel prison, I'm content and proud, for it's in the service of his country. And I myself, old as I am, I'm going too. The young eyes that saw the bright flag dance so long when everything laughed with promise, shall see it, now they're old, flap defiance to the last as all goes down in war. There's but one flag, one country, in the world for me. I stand by them both forever."

"What you say is well," answered the stranger. "I like what you say."

"Well!" retorted the fiery old main, "is there anything better?"

"There is nothing better than what you say," replied the other firmly.

Elkanah cooled down instantly, a little perplexed with the air the stranger had of cherishing some equal, perhaps more comprehending, truth.

"I don't know what it is draws me so to you, and makes me so free-spoken on a short acquaintance he said presently, in a kind of marveling way. "If it was the Good Man himself, I couldn't feel more open-hearted and like telling all my troubles. I've told you some already. You'll stay with us this evening? Pray do!" he said hastily. "Spend the night. Stay some days. We'll make you welcome. I want to know you better, sir."

"I thank you," said the stranger, "but I can only spend a little time with you, and must go my way this evening."

Elkanah looked rather rueful.

"Well," he said, brightening, "you'll spend the evening, anyway. There'll be a lot of people in, by and by, from round about. We're to have a grand jollification in the old house. Ah me! The last—the last!"

The stranger looked at him inquiringly.

"I will tell you," said Elkanah, hurriedly hitching up his chair closer. "See here," he boomed in his undertone; "I haven't told any one yet, but I'll free my mind to you, for I feel to do it. Hish! I'm a ruined man. A speculation—no matter what. It's failed."

The stranger's lips parted, and his serene face looked almost roused.

"I shall have a little left. Not much," said the old man mournfully. "But we'll have to sell this place where I've lived so many years, and begin the world again,—in my old age,—seventy years old, sir,—seventy years. It's hard."

The stranger laid his gentle band upon the old man's arm. Elkanah quivered, his lip trembled, and his eyes grew dim.

"Is there no resource?" said the carpenter.

"None," replied the old man, with sardonic bitterness. "Unless it's to sell old miser Dyzer's picture. Infernal old doddi-poljolt head! Old crack-brained, crazy-noddy peak! I used to laugh over it, but for the last week it's been like wormwood and gall to me."

"What do you mean?" said the carpenter.

"I'll tell you. Another story," returned Elkanah half savagely. "I mentioned that old Peter Dyzer left me this place. I was a young fellow, rather given to pleasure, and it was uncle's notion that farming would make a man of me. Well, it did; I own that. I came down here from Pennsylvania—my State, sir, my State; I worked hard, and got well off by my own exertions. At forty I married. Well, except a scant five hundred dollars, the place was all old Peter left me. Now, farming's like any other business: the more capital you put in, the more profit you will get out. And, save the five hundred, I'd no capital. I had to put in work. I did it."

"What did your uncle do with his money?" asked the carpenter.

"He hadn't any," replied Elkanah in a glowering, muffled roar. "Old miser Dyzer, as they called him, was n't as rich as people rumored him. He left all to me,—this place and all that it contains, the will said. Well, the place itself was all,—all. If, with his shrewdness and close bargaining, he'd made any money, I suppose he gave it to loafer Tomeny for pictures, and the miserable old billiveezee drank it up in applebrandy."

"And what about the picture?" asked the carpenter.

"Oh, jillery poo!" blurted Elkanah, with utter contempt. "My good sir, pray read what he wrote and left me in this bank-book. I was reading it this afternoon. Read it aloud, sir, if you'll be so kind."

The stranger slowly took the little bank-book, bound in dingy red, which the old man had produced from his skirt-pocket, and read aloud what was written there in a stiff, bold hand:—


MR. ELKANAH DYZER.

Respected Nephew:
I Leave you All. Keep the Straight Line. Work, and get Wealth. A Man not worth Money is the most Miserable Divell in the World, excepting Always a Man who is worth Nothing Else.
Maintain Open Fires. None of Count Rumford's New-Fangled Stoves for Me. Putt Fires on Every Hearth on Christmas Eve and Day, if your Means affoord, call in your Neighbors and Friends, and Draw Wide your Curtains that your Light may be Seen of All Men. Dress the Apartments with Plenteous Holly. You Cannot have Any too Much.
Stand Fast by the Great Republic. Live and Die in the Principles of Thomas Jefferson, the Greatest Birth of Time in this Country, and his Thoughts and Influence of Rich Importance to us All Forever, it Mattering Nothing what the Federalists, the Tories, and the Divells of Hell do Say.
No Slaves. All Men are Equal. Pay Wages for your, Labour. Vote and Act with Any Party that Aims to Liberate our Bondmen, and Make Democracy the Absolute Law of our Country. We must Cut Loose from All the Thinking and Practises of the Old World in Every Respect.
Cherish Womankind. They Should have Representation and Equal Voice in the Government of a Free Country. What Degrades Women injures Men. Mothers are the True Men of Any Land. Women are Men's Equals, and great Mothers are their Superiors.
I Leave you the Valuable Paintings of the Great Tomeny, whose Early Loss at the Advanced Age of Sixty Years, I must Deplore. You will Treasure them and Not Dispose of Any, excepting in the Event herein Set Forth.
When Ten Years have Past by, I Enjoin you, or your Heir or Heirs, to Cover and Expunge with severall Coats of Paint, the Portrait of Me in my Character of Judas grasping the Bag. This I Suffer to Remain so Long, that you May be Daily Counselled against the Sin of Greed which is in the Dyzer Blood, and May work Ill. The Companion Painting of the Good Man Christ in His True Aspect, I do Solemnly Enjoin you to Leave Where it Now is Placed; excepting Only should the Estate by Embarrassment or Loss be about to Pass from your Ownership, or that of your Lawful Heirs, in which Event you or They, as Provided in My Will, Must Sell the Painting at its Value. It is Esteemed by an Excellent Virtuoso in such Matters, to be Worth Fifty Thousand Dollars in Goold.
Your uncle,

PETER DYZER.

The reading concluded with a sort of angry groan, ending in a snort, from Elkanah.

"Where is this picture?" said the carpenter.

Elkanah rose with a beckoning gesture, and they both passed into the adjoining room, lit by lamps and firelight, and all bosky with evergreen. The jamb or face of the fireplace was paneled with solid oak. The right-hand side, where the picture of Judas had been, was painted over in oak grain. On the other side was a full-length figure, about two feet high, in a dark gaberdine, with a rosy face, gray hair and short white beard, the whole enmargined by a clumsy imitation of a wreath of holly leaves and scarlet berries. As a work of art, it was utterly worthless, though not without a certain pleasing effect, chiefly owing to the blurring of the outlines, and the obscurity of the once staring colors, which the wood had absorbed. Aided by the dimness into which its hues and lines had fallen it did have, as the old man had said, a curious general resemblance to the gray carpenter, who stood, with a lamp in his hand, examining it with a fixity of attention which it certainly did not deserve.

"That's it," said Elkanah, with a disdainful sniff, as the other concluded his scrutiny." That's the precious gem! Worth about two York shillings, I say. What say you?"

"I am of your uncle Peter's judgment," replied the carpenter composedly. "Fifty thousand dollars, I say."

Elkanah glared at him, his face ablaze, his voice choking with sudden rage. The carpenter opposed resistance to the glare with a look firm, impassive, indomitable as a fortress wall. The old man's anger rebounded from it, baffled, as a lion might rebound, leaping against stone; and, with a gasp, he bounced to the other end of the room.

"All right, sir," he said, wheeling about, and coming back with polite smiles and bows, in which smothered fury, sarcastic amusement, and deference were all expressed and blended. "I respect you very much, sir. I do, indeed. And every one is entitled to his opinion. Pardon me, but, if you please, we'll not discuss this matter further. I'd really rather not, if you'll indulge me."

He saw that the carpenter was looking past him, with heavy-lidded, draining gaze, into the other room, and he turned. Faulkner and Emily were there, vivid in the fire sheen, murmuring to each other, in enchanted attitudes. Behind, in shadow, at a window, with reverted head and chewing lip, pale, silent, vengeful, was John. The carpenter, with moveless eyes, was absorbing it all.

"Oh," said Elkanah, with a slight movement; "my boy John,—the one at the window. The other's his friend. And that's John's wife, Emily. Come in, sir; I'll introduce you."

"What is the friend's name?" asked the carpenter quietly, without moving.

"Faulkner, sir,—Michael Faulkner. Son of the General," replied Elkanah.

"A sweet boy," said the carpenter, in a tone of deep affection. "A born lover."

Elkanah, already moving to the door, flirted about, slapping his hands together.

"By the big Pedee! A hit!" he exclaimed.

"You've said the word." And he looked at the carpenter meaningly, and with wonder and admiration.

Mrs. Dyzer, Tom, and Fanny Redwood at that moment entered the fire-lit apartment, and the next, the whole family, gathered in its lights and shadows, were gazing, with mute faces all turned one way in curious wonder and interest, at what seemed the grand original of Peter Dyzer's rude picture, coming in with Elkanah from the paneled room, with his strange aspect of blended youth and age, his child sweetness, his prophet majesty, his look of rosy innocence and gray wisdom.

"What do you think of that for a likeness?" chirruped Elkanah, proudly beaming. "At my particular request, he's come off the oak fireplace to spend the evening. My friend, Mr. Carpenter."

They all bowed smilingly, but still in some wonder, and before the old man could proceed to the more special introductions, the carpenter, somewhat to his amazement, yet in a way quite in keeping with his unconventional aspect of manner, was moving with a sort of measured alertness among the group, paying his simple and affectionate addresses to each person, with the air of being already on familiar terms with them, and of knowing all about them; thus establishing himself in close rapport with every one, as only a man of powerful intuitions, vivid impressions, and great magnetic force and dignity could have done, and leaving them with a sense as if something electric and very sweet had swept through them. To each he gave his hand with some apt word; but coming to Faulkner, he put his arm around him, and, drawing him to his breast, lightly kissed him on the forehead, saying gently, "My son."

The tender voice, the unusual daring action, which sent sweet lightning through Faulkner's veins, left the others with a soft, mysterious thrill. They stood like enchanted figures, statue-still, in the dancing lights and shadows of the leafy room. In the hallowed quiet, the wind harp was sounding.

"Well!" cried Elkanah, breaking the momentary muteness, and bursting into laughter, "this is jolly! Mr. Carpenter, you're a new face, but we count you an old friend. I sha'n't wonder if you turn out to be uncle Peter's Good Man himself, after all. Make yourself at home, sir. We all like you well. The company's coming and, hey! but we'll have a staving jamboree! There'll be a swingeing supper by and by, and refreshments soon. You'll say, sir, that Mrs. Dyzer's apple-toddy is the best you ever drank in your life. And if Miss Faulkner there, who gets such sweet love-tokens, does n't entirely change characters with Mr. Redwood here, who doesn't get any—(never mind, Fanny my robin, there'll be plenty for you when you get to the hallelujah meadows, if not sooner)—he'll make you a punch sir, that you'll say is the best you ever drank, too. He's a rouser to make punch I tell you, though he only sips it like a lady himself. And I've Bourbon in my cellar, sir, twenty-five years old; and Sherry, and a Madeira, sir, that's enough to make the island blush for shame redder than the cochineal they say it 's gone to growing. Oh, but we'll have a most flambustuous time! Excuse us, sir, if we seem to neglect you a little for a half hour or so. You came early, and we've a few preparations to make still. But make yourself at home sir. Take the liberty of the house. Walk through, sir,—walk through. The rooms are all open. And dumfoodledoodebusticate me," he concluded with a sturdy roar of glee, "if we don't have one thundering staver of a Christmas Eve, if it's the last!"

And so ending, amidst general merriment, the grand old Pennsylvania giant strode away with flamboyant gayety, and a step that shook the floor.


III.

The company dispersed, some wandering, some busied with minor arrangements for the evening. Little Lilian sat silent in pensive, deep delight, satisfied beyond words with the presence of him she had long looked for, and sometimes listening to the holy murmur of the wind harp. The carpenter, taking, as he had been bidden, the liberty of the house, was roaming from room to room, absorbing all, often returning to the fire-lit chamber, and always passing beyond to pause before the picture.

In these journeyings, he now and then met solitary members of the group with which he had so ingratiated himself, and each time, as if to strengthen his hold upon them, he paused for a word.

It was in this way that he came upon Faulkner. The young man was standing in the firelit room, with clasped hands drooped, in his wonted attitude of singular grace, tranced in musing.

"I was thinking of you," he said dreamfully, lifting his dark, tender eyes to the carpenter's face as the latter approached him.

The carpenter put his arm around him, and drew him to his breast. Faulkner, a little faint with emotion, let his head droop upon the stalwart bosom.

"When I saw you, I loved you," said the gray stranger.

"And I," returned the young man, looking up with frank affection. "You made me feel the reality of something I thought an abstraction."

"The love passing the love of women," said the carpenter.

"The same," answered the youth. "The love of Shakespeare for the unknown, David for Jonathan, John for the Redeemer. The manly love."

The carpenter held him for a moment gathered to his heart, then silently released him, and paced away.

He had a noiseless movement, not at all stealthy, but that of a man of gentle soul and breeding, and so he often came upon the others when they did not know he was near. It was thus he found the charming Fanny, in the same apartment, innocently dreaming upon the fire, and like a rose in bloom. She started, but into her habitual caressing curtsey, as she saw him by.

"Joy and salutation, sweet child and darling," with fondest smiling. "Thou art like torch, perfumed and scarlet."

The lovely Fanny glowed to burning crimson at this dazzling orientalism, and conscious, too, of the fatherly affection of his first address, forgot to curtsey, and instinctively drew nigh him a moment; then with that expression only, with innocent, grateful eyes, drew back and, bending, and blushing, sidled away.

The carpenter continued his perambulations. A little while after, he came upon John, standing in the centre of the lighted apartment across the passage-way, gazing, with arms tightly folded and face of gloomful misery, through the doorways to the second room beyond, where Emily and Faulkner were walking together.

"We meet again," said the carpenter cheerily, extending his hand, which the young man instantly grasped in his own. The carpenter held it long, with well-returned pressure. "This from me, dear comrade," he said with martial affection. "From me, lover of soldiers."

John's face kindled, in its pallor, with pride, with pleasure, with secret, sturdy liking, at the magnetic grasp, the fountain-opening words; and, forgetting for the moment his trouble, he looked wistfully after the gray friend, as the latter went on to the second room beyond.

Faulkner paced slowly off at his approach, leaving Emily standing musingly alone. She looked up, mildly smiling, as the carpenter drew near.

"Well met again, daughter," he said fondly, pausing before her. "Dear ever to me, the true wife of my soldier." And bending his grand and gentle head, he went by.

One would have thought that he had struck some chord. Emily, dimly startled, thrilled and pleased, stood faintly flushing, her eyes cast down, her hand on her bosom, breathlessly considering, with the air of one coming from a dream. Presently she looked up. The carpenter had disappeared.

Meanwhile, Tom, who had been scouting around after the beauteous Fanny, without being able to come up with her, at last found her the fire-lit room, with none but little pensive Lilian present. Here was his chance, he thought, and, with a loud "hem," in he walked, bold as a lion on the threshold, but meek as any lamb when he got near her. Desperate, however, he made an effort, stammered inarticulately, and finally said—yes, actually said—that it was a fine evening! Fanny at once replied, very innocently, that it was; and in a moment, Tom having exhausted the fresh and engaging topic of the weather, and having half turned away in whirling embarrassment as to the next thing to say, she, curtseying from him in the most unconscious manner, vanished into old Peter Dyzer's room.

It's no use," said poor Tom, talking aloud to himself after his father's style, in his new abandonment. "She's too good for me, anyway. I'm going to the war,—that's a comfort. And I've got the lock of her hair that Emily snipped off for me,—that's another. She doesn't care a hooter for me—not one hooter."

"Think so?" said a blunt voice.

Tom reddened like fire. The carpenter was near him, with pursed mouth, smiling.

"Yes, I do," blurted poor Tom stoutly, seeing no other way out of the matter now, save open confession to this old friendly father. "She always gets away from me when I come up to her."

"Because she loves you," bluffly said the carpenter.

Tom stared, with rolling eyes, at this astounding announcement.

"See here, my boy," said the old stranger, "are you courageous?"

"Secesh'll find out before long," replied Tom indignantly. "I'd face a battery."

"Very well. Let's see if you can face a girl," said the carpenter. "You just go in there, my boy, walk up to her prompt, and say, 'Fanny, I love you.' See what that will do. Go, now."

Tom started off with sudden valor, into the next room. What took place there during the next two minutes shall not be revealed; but at the end of that time, out came Tom, swelling with pride and grinning with victory, arm in arm with the lovely Fanny, whose heart-shaped face, suffused with heightened bloom, had the most curious air of unconscious innocence imaginable. The old carpenter gazed at them, with head bent sideways, pursed mouth and peering eyes, and a smile almost jovial if it had not been so gentle, as they passed slowly by.

A few minutes afterwards, old Elkanah, having concluded his share in the little arrangements, was sauntering through the passage, when suddenly heard his wife laughing, and, as he thought hysterically. The old man started as if he had been shot, grew cold and pale, and listened. In a moment, again came the laughter, this time more assuring, and evidently proceeding from the room with the picture.

"Great God!" he murmured. "Ruth Dyzer laughing! My old wife laughing! That's a sound we have n't had in this house for many a day. What's happened?"

He stole cautiously into the fire-lit room, where Lilian sat alone, and gazed with blinking into the apartment beyond. To his utter amazement, there stood his wife, close to the serenely smiling stranger, with her apron held to her face, laughing with all her might, quivering all over with uncontrollable joy. He saw the carpenter's lips move, as if uttering some brief word, and instantly her mirth was restrained.

Elkanah slapped his hands on his thighs, and burst into noisy glee. The carpenter paced slowly off, and Mrs. Dyzer came dancing out to her husband, perfectly radiant, with skirts and ribbons fluttering and waving in the leaping bloom of the fire, flung her arms around his neck, gave him one smacking kiss, and, before he could snatch her to kiss back, she was off, and actually running away.

The old man started after her with a bound, stopped, swayed, and broke into laughter with his eyes blind with tears.

"Ruth, Ruth, old darling, old rose fore sweet, my robin red, my joy, come back—come back to me!" he cried, with groping arms and spluttering mirth and tears, and eyes that vainly strove for undimmed vision. "Come back—come back to me, old sweetheart dear! She's gone. O Lord, she kissed me! The old wife's not going, after all. The red-hot devil, harpoon-tailed and horned, take the estate and welcome—I've got my old wife still! And she's laughing! Ruth Dyzer's laughing! My Goddlemity! what a young fool I am!" he burst O with a fresh peal, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. Now what made her laugh? Oh, by George, Master Carpenter, you've got jokes inch-deep with cream in you, to make Ruth Dyzer laugh! My conscience' what was he saying to her make her laugh! And she ran out and kiss me. O Lord! O Lord!" And whistling he began to dance with an air of deliberation ludicrous to see.

"Pretty doings for old folks, I say," said the small elfin voice from the hearth.

Old Elkanah stopped with a leg in the air stared at the demure midget, serenely rocking herself with dolly, and, with a peal of mirth, strode from the room.

A little while, and the leafy cavern, redly glowing then in shadowy gloom, beheld a darker drama. John, white as death, was there, with chewing mouth and dusk-lit eyes. Beyond, in the fuller and paler light of the adjoining room, standing together, their backs turned towards him, were Faulkner and Emily. He watched them through the doorway. The dream, the invincible sweet madness, hardly disturbed as yet, had returned upon them, and, though their lips had never breathed a word, nor their hearts awakened to a sense of the reality, their forms in every sentiment, in every trait and curve, betrayed their love. He saw it all. It was unmistakable now. He had meant to wait only to be fully assured that it was so,—then, never to speak one word, but return to the army, and spend his silent disdain in death upon the enemy's lines. But the experience of war, which had been his already, gives strange directions to men's after-thoughts and lives. There stood the false, false friend—the false, false wife, that he had loved. Here, by the fireside near him, was his child; afar, deep in its winter grave, was the baby darling that he mourned. And there, their mother in her treason, and near her, with poisoning charm and hell-born beauty, he who had allured her. By all the depth of his former love for him, rose high to the utmost welkin of his life his torrent Surge of hatred. To burst in upon him—to cleave through to the neck in blood that fair young head of curls!—Something shot through him—he became tense and hard through all his frame, as if transformed to animate iron—a dreadful ether spread dilating through his veins—mad, deaf, and blind, he whirled without a sound, slung up the bate from the hearth, and rushed with a thick, darkness bellowing in his brain—The hatchet was torn from his hand, and was held in clamps of adamant. In that tremendous clutch, the very desire to struggle sank from him, and he became strengthless and icy cold. Glimmering through the fading darkness of his mind, he saw the carpenter.

"You are hasty, young man," the latter said with stern composure.

John glared at him with glassy eyes. The cold sweat stood upon his face. He felt, with agonizing shame, like some helpless brute, caught in the toils and confronted by a man.

"You do not understand this matter at all," said the carpenter, speaking slowly. "I do. There is nothing that will not come right. Leave it to me."

He released him. The very action implied a grandeur of serenity and confidence which all-mighty. John trembled.

"My comrade, I love you," said the carpenter, still speaking slowly. "Lean the weight of your heart upon me. Trust me well. Go, now, and walk in the cold air. Come not back here till you can come a man."

John stood motionless, with bowed head.

"I trust you," he hoarsely faltered at length. And, without another word, he got his hat, and went out of doors.

The carpenter remained still till he heard the shutting of the door; then silently laid down the hatchet, and took the large oaken chair, beside the little girl. She rose, and came to stand between his knees. His left hand caressed her curly head; his right lay upon his knee; his eyes mused vacantly.

"I fell down once, and broke my ankle; and sometimes it makes me lame. I'm lame now," said the little prattler, with great cheerfulness.

"I know it," replied the carpenter.

"But nobody told you," she returned earnestly. "How could you know it? By your magic art?"

"Yes," said the carpenter, seemingly unamused by the big old phrase of the tiny mouth.

In a minute, Emily came in alone. She looked strangely restless. A hectic spot burned in her cheek. Her blue eyes were brilliant with uneasy fire. For a few moments, she silently flitted about the room, occasionally glancing at the carpenter, who never looked at her. At length she came to him, and, kneeling down, began a pretense of adjusting the child's dress. A keen eye might have divined that her only desire was to be near him.

"It is not your only child?" he said quietly, without moving.

She was still for a moment.

"No," she answered gently. "We had another. He is dead."

The presence of the stranger seemed to rest her. She remained kneeling, very still, with bent head, in his soothing neighborhood. Her soul appeared to know its first term of utter peace for many days.

"You think of him?" said the carpenter, in a deep, hushed voice.

For a little while she was silent. Then, gradually, she lifted her face to his, pale and wan, and exalted with unutterable tender sorrow.

"Yes. I think of him," she murmured fervidly and slowly. "Sometimes it seems as if all the under-currents of my life ran only to him."

He gazed in silence upon her rapt countenance, with a look of sweet solemnity, and his deep voice issued in measured cadences upon the sacred pause, like balm, like dew, like clear, celestial music.

"Think of him always," he said, "and with the thought of him, my daughter, be your life kept noble. Nor deem him separated from you forever who, in the peace of heaven, yearns to his mother's arms. Behold, the high soul returns to its darlings—the deep heart shall find its own! Beautiful in their pure brightness are the early dead. Beautiful is death,—Consoler, Sanctifier, Redeemer,—beautiful as life is beautiful, when to the best self true. Nor in death nor in life, shall there be any loss, nor doubt, nor change, to the well-believing and deep-beloving heart. The true wife shall not fail from her husband. The true mother cannot lose her child."

She bent her head, brooding on the indeterminate and mystic words, and in a moment he felt a warm tear drop upon the hand which rested on his knee. Then, with a sudden, passionate movement she pressed her lips to his hand, and rose, and flitted from the room.

The carpenter stooped quickly, lifted the little girl, and gathered her to his bosom. She snuggled close to him, her little arms around his neck, her face concealed, her yellow curls mingling with his beard. His gray head bent above her in the happy firelight, and his lips murmured, "Saved."

They sat quietly for a while. At last John came in, perfectly calm, and even cheerful, and stood by the mantel, gazing at the fire. Presently entered Tom and Fanny. Then Mrs. Dyzer, strangely joyous, with a beaming glance at the carpenter, as she sat down before the hearth. Then Faulkner. Lastly, and together, Emily and old Elkanah. Emily, as nobody but the all-noticing carpenter observed, had been weeping. But she looked very happy, and, with a sort of virginal timidity, took a seat near her husband.

"Well!" said the old man, looking around him, with lion-smiling, "here we are, all together again, like Nebuchadnezzar Brown's cows, when he had but one. And now," he added, plumping down into a chair, "by the grand gorrifications, Mrs Ruth Dyzer, I'm going to have an explanation! You'll please to tell me, lady madam, what was that joke of Mr. Good Man's there, with four inches of fat on its ribs, that made you laugh? Out with it, now!"

Mrs. Dyzer clapped her apron to her face, and laughed till she shook.

"He told me my fortune," she gasped presently.

"The devil he did!" said Elkanah.

The carpenter was looking with a roused, intuitive face at the countenance of Faulkner, on which there was a strange expression. The knowledge of his passion for Emily was there, new-come to him, with no intention of retreating. The carpenter read him like an open page.

"Certainly," he said, with his stern eyes still on the young man, hastily putting down the little girl. "I can tell fortunes. Did n't you know that?"

He rose with an alacrity he had not yet shown, took the hatchet from the hearth.

"You come in here, one by one," he said, moving towards Peter Dyzer's room, "and I' ll tell you your fortunes." The next instant he was inside, and had shut the door behind him.

They stared at each other, and then burst into general uproarious laughter.

"What the deuce did he take the hatchet for?" sputtered old Elkanah, shaking all over.

"Perhaps he's going to tell the fortunes by axionomancy, like Her Trippa to Panurge," said the jesting Faulkner. "It needs a hatchet for that."

"Well, who's going first?" cried the old man with gayety.

"I'm going, my own self," said little Lilian. And suddenly in she went, limping, and shut the door behind her, while they all stared.

The carpenter stood in the centre of the lonely room. He bent, and took her up on his breast.

"All good, all joy for you, sweet baby," he said. "To be well of your lame knee; to live long and happy; to remember me always; to grow up beautiful and good and strong; to die very old, and become a splendid angel. That is your fortune, sweet babe and darling."

He set her down. The little one, without one word, tottled out, closing the door, and, amidst a general peal of merriment, resumed her chair, with a face of solemn satisfaction.

"What did he say, yellow-bird?" cried Elkanah.

"I won't tell nobody," she serenely answered.

They all roared together.

"Well, what did he do with the hatchet?" asked another.

"He had it up on the mantelpiece," she replied positively.

They all roared again, being now in that condition in which people laugh at anything.

"But see how solemn she looks," put in Faulkner, as the mirth subsided. "'Pon my word, it's like the cave of Trophonius, where they went in gay and came out sad!"

"Well, who next? By Crackie! this is fun!" shouted the old man. "Who next for the cave of Trophonius?"

There was a general tumult. Everybody wanted Elkanah to go, but, red with glee, he resisted.

"I'll go," said Faulkner, starting away, smiling. "See how gay I am," he playfully added, turning when near the door. "But I'll come out sad."

The door closed upon his face of playful warning, and, left together, they waited, listening to the inarticulate murmur of voices from within.

The carpenter still stood in the centre of the room.

"Welcome, sweet boy," he said, as Faulkner advanced gayly. "Welcome, thou in whom mixes the perfumed nature of woman with so much of manliness! I greet you, born lover of women!"

"Lover of you," said Faulkner, blushing coyly, with down-dropped lashes, and drooping into a posture of leopard grace.

"Lover of Emily Dyzer. Beguiler of a wife. Betrayer of a friend," was the stern, low answer.

Three sentences—three blows—three claps of awakening thunder. Faulkner turned deathly white, staggered, stood still, and put his hand to his forehead, which slowly reddened into a dark brand. In the other room the laughter was ringing loud.

"What fortune for him who dreams when he should wake?" said the stern and heavy voice, after a dread pause. "What fortune for the youth, slave to amativeness, misnamed Love, who should be its hardy and virile master?"

The young man gazed at him with dark, burning, woeful eyes, like one struck with sudden despair and agony into stone.

"Go on," continued the relentless voice. "Go on in your course. But to each act, its returns. To every good, public, or secret, though crowned with crucifixion, its award of blessing returning to the soul. To every evil, however prosperous, however hidden, its inexorable, avenging sequel. Such is the law of things. On to your burning dream on the bosom of the paramour, and slowly waken in the scorch of hell!"

At this dreadful speech, delivered in a voice like low, clear, thunder, and from a front of prophet majesty and fire, Faulkner reeled on his feet, and stretched out his arms with a subdued, imploring cry.

"Shall I tell you the order?" pursued the merciless voice. "The romance will melt,—the amour will be done. What, then, for you? Return? The innocent years are far behind you, half-despised. Your passions are unchained. Forward! Harden on into worldliness. Enter, a fresh and loving youth; emerge, a diseased and jaded libertine. On, till perhaps the libertine merges in the old devotee. But still the unquenchable embers light the sick white ashes. Still, in the correctness and decorum of the outward life, the soul depraves, and the man becomes the demon. Wake in the dread midnight, old, clogged, and wrung with maladies, and feel the sharper bite of unavailing remorse, and the memories of youth come back with wormwood. And Death, and the Infinite, with its unpaid returns to follow! Oh, happier far for you the swifter fate—your skull cloven through by him you have so wronged—a man's life ruined in your blood, the wife crazed, the child an orphan, the family desolate—and you a murdered corpse upon the hearth by you despoiled and extinguished."

Deadened by the closed door, the mirth pealed ghastlily.

"Spare me!" gasped Faulkner. "I did not think. I did not know. There has been nothing wrong between us. You have recalled me to myself. I thank you. I never meant harm."

"Her husband has watched you, and thinks the worst," said the carpenter.

"I will go at once from the house, and never come here, more," said the young man hurriedly.

"And leave him to hate and loathe you," was the severe rejoinder.

"He will kill me," moaned Faulkner in agony. "Not that I fear to die," he added, his head upflung in pale and gallant pride. "But oh!" he faltered, "by his hand, against whom I could not struggle! My God! my God! Oh, wretch that I am!"

"Leave not this house," said the remorseless voice. "Go straight to him, and own your fault. Yours the sin, -take you the expiation like a man."

There was a moment of intense stillness.

"I will," said Faulkner with sublime submission.

His head was bowed; his hands were clasped upon his bosom; he stood in repentant silence. A long and mournful pause ensued.

"Oh, my son!" said the near voice, grand and tender; "my boy, my best-beloved, child of my soul, my own!" and, weeping, he felt himself enfolded by the stalwart arms, and clung in weakness to the all-loving breast. "All bright and holy fortunes to you, my beloved, my darling. But not for you, with gifts, with eloquence and learning, this life of enervation,—these days -of dalliance and idle ease. Awake! arouse! Go, the apostle of all love and every loving cause. Plant thou, in thy strength and sweetness of nature and fortune, thicker than grass, brighter than flowers, the seeds of truth and liberty and comradeship in America. To thee—to such as thou—the human race, the immense care of the future. To thee, child of the morning, the fiery sowing of the morning that shall never fade. On to immortal labor,—to the divine sorrow and the joy! Still be thou lover of women. But love thou to uplift them. Teach them the lore of heaven. Sow their lives deep with exalting thoughts, with gracious memories. Behold! all who sit in darkness and know not light; all who wander in enmities and know not love; the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed, the vile, are thy apostolate! Serve, struggle, endure! Go; to brows like thine belong every crown—see that thou fail not of the crown of thorns! My son,"—and, bending, he kissed him on the mouth,—"with this kiss I dedicate you to a manly life."

He released him, and drew backward. For a moment Faulkner stood, thrilling with ecstasy, blind with emotion; then, wiping his eyes, he tottered to the door.

Pallid, desperate, his face wet with tears, he dashed in upon them. His appearance was the signal for one uproar of mirth. They hardly glanced,—they never looked at him. Remembering his words as he went in, they actually thought he was acting, and with shut eyes, bobbing heads, and faces between their knees, they pealed and shook till they were giddy. John only, who had begun to laugh with the rest from mere contagion, was instantly sobered amidst the confusion, by Faulkner flying up, and seizing him by the arms.

"I am less guilty than you think me," he sighed amidst the cloistering tumult, "yet too guilty to live. Kill me."

The young man instantly divined something of what had happened, and, with a sudden burst of manly and generous feeling, he threw his arm around Faulkner's shoulder, and pulled him away to the centre of the room.

"Hush!" he said, "I forgive you. No more now. We will talk soon. Away, away for a while, lest they suspect something. I'll see you presently."

Faulkner glided from view, and John went back to the circle, loudly laughing.

"I swear!" cried Elkanah, ha-ha-ing till the tears ran down his cheeks, "if this does n't beat all! Did ye see Mike's face?" he screamed, with a fresh peal. "Such a mimic I never did know. He beats old Harry Placide. Lord! Lord! but the cave of Trophonius is the best game I ever played in my life!"

"You go in, father," cried John, and at once there was a beseeching merry chorus of "Yes, yes, you go,—you go!"

"No, I won't," gasped Elkanah, jumping up, shaking with merriment.

"Yes, yes" and they all surrounded him, with deafening clatter, pushing him, pulling him, he holding back, quivering from head to foot, till they got him through the doorway into the room, and held him, trying to escape, and too faint with mirth to succeed.

"Here's our prisoner," cried first one and then another. "Now tell his fortune in spite of him. We'll leave him, and guard the door."

The carpenter stood gravely by the side of the picture, with his left arm resting easily on the mantelpiece, while his right held the hatchet.

"No," said he; "you can all stay. Your fortune, sir, is here." He touched the picture with the handle of the implement. "You are a ruined man. You must retrieve your losses with this valuable painting."

"Ruined! ruined!" they all murmured, releasing the old man, and looking at each other with frightened faces. Elkanah, his mirth suddenly quenched, glowered darkly-red with rising anger, and his blue eyes flamed.

"Yes, ruined," said the carpenter austerely.

He forgot his grand old uncle's injunction to keep the straight line. He yielded to the sin of greed, which is in the Dyzer blood. He was well enough off, and could not let well enough alone. He speculated, is ruined, and his homestead and family are sacrificed."

"Sir," shouted Elkanah, looming with wrath, "this has passed all limits! How dare you divulge my secret! How dare you insult me with your infamous irony about that daub!"

"Peace!" said the carpenter imperiously. "Accept the lesson. The picture retrieves all. Receive the pardon and the bounty of the wise and loving Dead!"

Quickly he wedged in the helve of the hatchet between the panel and the jamb, and pried with an immense strength. The oaken front bent forward under the strain, tore from its fastenings with griding screech, fell heavily with a volleying cloud of dust, and out of the black, oven-like cavity tumbled, with solid chink, a portly bag of gold, and another, and another, and another. The space within was full of them. Fifty thousand dollars were in that hole.

There was a moment of dead stupefaction. Then, with a hoarse cry, the old man bounded forward, and fell upon his knees, clutching the gold. The carpenter paced slowly to the back part of the room. Some of them, half-weeping with terror and gratitude, would have seized him as he passed, but there was something in his demeanor so cold and stern that their hands fell away.

"Gold! gold!" shouted Elkanah, with frightful volubility, springing to his feet, red, greedy, horrible, with a bag in his hands. "Saved! saved! saved! Oh, the heavy, good gold! Gold at two-twenty in the market. A hundred and ten thousand dollars' worth here—oh, more, maybe—more, more—why not more! Ah, hah! but I am saved! And proud—proud—proud! No war for me now. To the eternal pit with the heart-shattering country, that robs me of my money, my peace, my boys? Ah, but I'll have them back—they sha'n't go. John sha'n't go, nor Tom—I'll disown 'em, and I'll curse them, if they try it on. No, they sha'n't go. And I'll have George back, if he's living—I'll track the States for him—I'll ransom him from the rebs, if they 've got him. And Rupe—I'll kill him if I find him—ah, hah, hah, hah!"—he pealed with maniacal laughter. "And here we'll live, all happy and free. Happy and free, with gold are we. Substitutes, if they draft us—oh, ho! oh, ho! And my old wife,—where are ye, birdie? I can't see ye in my new gold spectacles,—she'll have a new silk gown, heavy and rich,—oh, two of 'em, if they don't cost too much. And oh, my neighbors, but I'll be revenged—I'll tramp on 'em, Oh, you half Union, half-secesh curs!—but I don't care which ye are, now. Only I'll pay ye back for your looks and whispers! Oh, the faces I've seen for a week back. They've got it rumored among 'em that the old man was going down; and oh, the coldness, the hanging back, the sneers, the smiles, the looks, the whispers! But the old man's up again, and I'll pay 'em back,—for the old man's up again, with gold, gold, sweet, sweet gold! Oh! what is better?—nothing—nothing—nothing—nothing—nothing!"

He ceased, choking with his hungry fury, and in dead stillness, while every white and frighted face stared mutely at the other, he fell to kissing the bag. In the silence, a mighty blast of wind arose and sighed around the house with solemn suspiration, and from the other room the wind harp rang hollowly and loud, and failed in delicate and eerie spirit music. Following upon the after silence came the voice of the carpenter, clear, scornful, and still.

"Love is better than gold," he said slowly.

The old man slightly started, turned very white, and shivered as the warning voice smote heavily in upon him. It was but a spasm, and could not be maintained with such as he. Already ashamed a little of his vulgar rapture, yet furtively hugging it in secrecy; his greedy feeling meanly creeping, yet lingering, in the refluent tumult of the noble elements which were so strong in him; with a dim sense of how poor a figure he made with his new wealth and newborn avarice, in contrast with the august poverty and towering lovingness of the man behind him; conscious, too, how much of love and gratitude he owed him, yet afraid to turn and face him now,—he stood, silently, almost cowering, his face, like his soul, puckering, a red heat tingling and prickling over him, humiliated and ill at ease, with the heavy weight of money in his hands. There was an utter suspension of all sound and motion.

Suddenly the hush was broken by a hubbub of mingled laughter, stamping, children's voices, and a rattling tattoo at the front door.

"Quick!" shouted Elkanah, starting, and tossing the bags into the cavity, as these evidences of the returning human world struck upon his ear.

"Quick! the guests are arriving. Silence, all! Not a word of this. Hurry! Up with the panel again. Quick—the hatchet! A broom to sweep this floor! Fanny, my robin red-breast, not a word. Silence all. So!"

A minute's activity and confusion, and the room had resumed its usual appearance. The gray Christ on the panel again shut in the bale and blessing of the gold. Composed and silent before it, as one to whom good and evil were the same, stood the carpenter. The family, relieved, though frightened still, had hurried to receive their guests. All was in a bustle of welcoming, in the rooms beyond. But in the fire-lit chamber, while the carpenter stood solitary in the room adjoining, was Elkanah, also alone; and all to himself, his voice was booming.

"Better, better,—yes, love is better," he said, again and again. "But, oh!" he added at last, "oh, that I could feel it as well as say it! Oh, unless something happens to change me, that I could be as I was a little while ago, happy, happy, happy in my trouble, loving my old wife, my boys, my home, my country—and what every damned fool in these United States calls ruined!"


IV.

For the next hour there were continual arrivals, and the house resounded with trampling feet, and talk, and mirth, and revelry, and the voices and noise of children. The first-comers were a large bevy of these little ones, girls and boys, convoyed. by black servants, and gathered from half a dozen houses by Elkanah's wagons, sent around for that purpose. Immediately upon their appearance, Daniel Snow, with assistants, came upon the scene, supplanting all the lamps with wax candles, red, white, and blue, and lighting with these patriot tapers every apartment, including that hitherto lit by firelight only.

The children quite usurped one room to themselves with their games, and were there, here, and everywhere besides. They made the house ring, while their fathers and mothers, sturdy farmers and country people, with their sons, daughters, and wives, made it rustle and roar. Amidst all, cheerful and composed, walked the carpenter, saying little to any one, and oftenest lingering near the children.

The various members of the family took their part in the common enjoyment somewhat feverishly, unable to be rid of the thought of the strange stroke of fortune which had fallen upon the household. Perhaps the calmest of all was John, who, amidst the general merry-making, sat apart for a long time with his arm around Faulkner, all told, and nothing but affection between them, while the carpenter watched them with a loving eye.

Emily, singularly restless, bright with lovely color, gay with the gayest, but never staying long in one place, flitted from room to room. She never came near Faulkner, nor did he seek her. Occasionally she wandered near her husband, with coy, virginal glances, but always, though half-surprised at his look of silent kindness, she timidly hurried away.

Amidst all, with grandiose virility, with mountainous gayety, with stormy jocundity, moved Elkanah. He felt somewhat dashed within, noticing that his wife, though comely and laughing still with the new life that had so inexplicably come upon her, was again cold to him; and he knew that his behavior over the discovery of the treasure had much to do with her deportment. Touched by this sense, but still unquelled, and a little hardened by the thought of it,—sometimes, too, perplexed to observe a strange air of listening and expectancy which had come upon her,—he yet let his spirits rise to their Alleghany height, and kept them at that summit; till at last, up they went to the fathom of the soaring eagle, screaming in his joy at the arrival of Bob Toner, with his fiddle. O jolly Bob! O slim young man, with chubby, ugly, ruddy face that laughed all over, and immense shock of red hair at which the girls warmed their hands in fun, but lit their hearts in earnest—and had he been a Mormon, would n't he have been in town! For all the young women round about were dead in love with Bob, and half Bladensburgh and all the county far and near were his conquest, only he was too wise and good to take it. Soul-warming, heart-enticing Bob, with fly-away coat, and trousers trimly set upon his killing legs, and waistcoat like the plumage of a bird of Paradise, and necktie made for murder! Bob entering, with derisive, doleful screech from fiddle of "Maryland, my Maryland," and instantly the whole house in a yell of laughter, and everybody running, and Bob twenty deep in girls and women, with children clinging to his legs, and pounding him like fun for sheer jollity, and men crowding about holding their jovial sides, and old Elkanah looming and bellowing above all, and hey! for a dance this very minute, to some blithe old tune of Liberty and Union!

Into it they go, while the thunder of Sherman's guns, all unknown to them, roars victory over the quaking hearts of rebels in captured Savannah, and the light of liberty and empire that shall not die pours from the breaking clouds,—into it they go to the tune of Yankee Doodle Staunch Bob! Liberty and Union-loving Bob; They, the neither-hearted, who keep a rebel flag and a Union flag to hang out as either army comes, must this night kindle to their country, and dance to the grand old lilt, inwoven deep with jubilance, cantankerous defiance, proud Revolutionary fire, historic graves of grandsires, and the great name of Washington! Reviving Bob! Inspiring Bob! They, the true sons and daughters of Maryland, steadfast through doubt and loss, shall feel the merry music pour sunshine and fragrance around their hearts, as they beat the floor with flying feet and souls aglow! O kindly, genial Bob! dancing like mad himself, and making one break and discord in the melody as he pats with the fiddle the back of old black Daniel bringing in the tray, and deftly resumes again, the excited dancers never noticing the break but footing it like angels, while Daniel thinks of the lost daughter, sold in slavery, that makes him wake in dreams in the dead nights, but soon shall meet him, free! O rousing Bob! fiddle like a fiery wind! fiddle till the pulses lose their beat in music! till the windows clash and rattle in their frames, and the floor resounds with regular dull thunder! till the feet dizzy, and the arms toss recklessly, and coat-tails, skirts, and ribbons fluttering fly and whirl, and the red dancers dance delirious! till the bright flags and tattered war-flag quiver on the wall! till all the odorous ground - pine garlands shake, and the immortal dark-green holly trembles! And Elkanah, standing solitary and removed, with fond heart swelling, and the big tears coursing down his cheeks, booms to himself amidst the noise, "Oh, that my son George would only come home, that I might dance again!"

Suddenly amidst the long-continued activity and din, down goes the music. At once all stop in tumult, then a ringing cheer, and the throng commingle joyously, wiping their heated faces, with universal laughter and multitudinous clamor of merry voices. And then the clink of glasses, and all in fresh commotion streaming away to the lower apartment, where Daniel Snow presides over a mighty bowl of prime old apple-toddy, and punch and wine, and Bob Toner gives the ringing toast: "Our hosts, our friends, sweethearts and wives, the soldiers and the sailors, and America, our country, forever!" Hip, hip! hurrah! Three stunning cheers!

The sparkling and swirling tides of revelry were beginning to flow back upon the deserted rooms, when Emily suddenly appeared, in lovely agitation her hand upraised, and hurrying light and color in her eyes and on her cheeks and parted lips.

"Oh, quick!" she said, "come quick, and see the prettiest sight you ever saw! Hish! Come softly."

Those who happened to be there—a few of the guests, Mrs. Dyzer, Tom and Fanny, Faulkner and John -followed her on tiptoe across the passage, into the chamber we have so often called the fire-lit room. The door of the adjoining apartment was half open, and, obeying her hushing hand, they all stole quietly up and peeped in. There, in the full illumination of the tapers and the firelight, sitting in a large Oak chair near the centre of the room, was the gray carpenter, crowded all around and over with a murmurous buzz of children. Girls and boys, thickly clustering, dense around his knees, perched upon his lap, close to his sides, mounted upon the arms of his chair, climbing over the back, peering around the edges, twittering, chirping, laughing, humming, prattling all together. He sat quietly, rosily smiling, deep in children. They fluttered around him like birds, they bloomed around him like flowers, they wreathed around him like vines, they swarmed around him like bees. Close to his breast he held the little lame girl, Lilian. The tender light of heaven was on them all.

The watching group stood breathlessly, gazing with open mouths and eyes upon the lovely picture. No heart but was stirred. Emily had stolen softly to her husband's side, silent, brooding upon the scene with parted lips, her face rapt and yearning, her white dress divinely tremulous, and lifting and falling with the tremor of her limbs and the palpitation of her bosom. John gazed, with clenched, drooping hands and bent head, his countenance surcharged, with tender and melancholy gloom.

"O my husband!" he heard his wife fervently murmur, "see how fondly he holds our little lame girl! See the dear children gathered all around him! Oh, lovely, lovely sight! 'Suffer little children to come unto Me,'—it makes me think of that—'for of such is the kingdom of heaven.' Oh, my divine Redeemer! Oh, my Friend, my Saviour!"

He gazed in silence for a moment, then, filled with strong emotion, he slowly and softly moved away, and paused in shadow with bent head, in the corner near the window which held the harp. A slight movement passed through the group, and, without speaking, they stole on tiptoe from the room. Emily, still looking backward on the beauteous spectacle, retreated last. John remained in the shadow, brooding and alone.

There was a flying step, a quick rustle near him, and Emily, pale and agitated, was close against him, by his side.

"John, John! Oh, my husband, save me!" she wildly whispered. "I love you only, my darling. Save me—save me from my danger—save me from myself! Don't let me wander from you. I will tell you all. You do not know—but I will tell you—oh, help me in my peril! And you are sometimes so indifferent—and seem so hard and cold—and then life drags heavily with me. Oh, my love, be true and tender to me—my love, my husband!"

The stern and reticent man quivered with controlled emotion.

"I try to be, Emily," he faltered, after a pause. "That, I always try to be."

"Save me, John!" she hurriedly implored, with springing tears. "My only love, do not be cold to me—do not let me wander from you! That good old man—that stranger—oh, I cannot tell you now—but three times to-night he has brought up my heart's best feelings—he has recalled me to my best self—to my dear love for you, my darling—to my dead baby—to our little living one, my own husband! And when I saw him there with the dear children, and our poor baby nestling in his breast—Oh, John, love me, and take me back, close, close to you, my own husband, my first, my only love, my love forever! Save me—save me from myself, and never let me wander from you, in life or death—never let me wander any more."

Silently he threw his powerful arm around her, and drew her to his breast. With all her strength she clung to him. His eyes were blind with dropping tears, but he felt her soft, warm bosom throbbing against his heart, and his veins thrilled through with light and sweetness. Gathering her closelier to him, he bent his face to hers. His lips were wetted with her sacred tears; diffused with sad and gentle ecstasy throughout his sense, he felt the milk and cinnamon breath of his beloved, his wife, his own; and with the long and passionate holy kiss of wedded souls, love, fortressed against doubt or temptation, was reborn.


V.

They were gone, and the carpenter had left his swarm of children to their games, and now stood in the hallowed room. For the moment, he was quite alone. The guests, at the proposal of some stirring toast, had again all trooped away to the other side of the house, and were dense and joyous around the punch-table. The hour was wearing on to nine. The supper was to be at ten.

As the gray man stood near the side-door, with a dreamy air of listening, the company began to drop in again by twos and threes. Presently, among them appeared the stately form of Elkanah. After him came his wife, flushed and palpitating, yet struggling to keep calm. She drew near the carpenter and sat down. From the distant rooms the jollity rang loud.

"You are happy," said the carpenter, calmly smiling, to his glowing and beaming host who had advanced towards him, softly laughing, and rubbing his hospitable hands.

"Ay, am I!" responded the old man, with a burst of glee. "Happy this night am I!"

"I complete your joy," said the carpenter with composure. "Elkanah Dyzer, I bring you a Christmas gift. Your son George is coming here to-night, alive and well."

The old man reeled towards him one step, with paling visage. Mrs. Dyzer sprang up, laughing furiously, and clapping her hands.

"He told me!" she cried. "He told me my fortune! Better than yours, my Elkanah!—better than yours! My George is coming—coming home to his mother—coming, coming home!"

"He was wounded and taken prisoner at Fredericksburg," resumed the carpenter, while they all breathlessly listened, some hushing the guests as they came in." There he lost his left arm. He was kept in the rebel prison at Salisbury. He escaped at last, and got to Washington, helped on his way by a faithful negro, who stuck by him to the last, and is now a soldier in one of the black regiments. He was very ill. I nursed him in the hospital."

With a gasp of passionate love and gratitude, Elkanah reeled forward another step, outstretching his mighty arm with open band to the carpenter. For some reason the latter did not respond to the proffered clasp. He remained in his attitude of supreme composure, repellant, and serenely sweet.

"O my God—my boy George!" exclaimed the old man, tottering back, and dashing his bands to his forehead. "My George—my George! Where is he?" he suddenly cried with an electrifying burst, and face aflame—"Where is that nigger? Bring me that nigger who saved my son—bring him here, that I may give him my hand, my heart, my all—that I may enrich him—that I may load him down till his back cracks with benefits! Bring him here—bring me that black American, whiter than God's own snow against the white man's treason to Democracy—bring him here, that I may give him—Oh, my boy, my George; my saved and ransomed George; my son, my son! Where is he? speak!" he gasped—"where is he now?"

"I hear a step upon the path," said the calm carpenter. "There is a foot upon the sill. Enter!" he cried aloud, and with his hand he struck the door.

It flew open. With a spring a young man bounded in, wan, white under his tan, lit with excitement, his soldier's overcoat falling from his shoulders, his manly figure clad in faded army-blue, his armless sleeve dangling beside him. With a cry, he dashed off his cap, his foot beat a loud appel upon the floor—and "Mother! Father!" he shouted, leaping to their arms.

Up went the stormy cheer that shook the holly, and to and fro the surge, like ocean in his strength, and pouring in from every room the hurrying stream of men and women in tumultuous commotion, and again and again the cheers that woke the dead rafters, rebellowing from the hearts of Maryland! And still as death amidst that roar of emotion, George, with his one arm tight around his mother, his stump clinging to his father's side, their arms girded fast around him, their heads all bowed in silent weeping; John and Emily, white and tremulous, crowding near him; Tom and Fanny crying in each other's arms close by; Faulkner, pale as marble, near the door, upholding little Lilian that she might see; and all around the mad and furious throng, swaying, and prancing, and mingling, and cheering as if their hearts would break; till at last, George detached himself, with showering kisses on mother, father, brothers, sisters, and turned electric, glowing, like fire, and at once the roar went down in a tempest of greetings, frantic kisses from the women, merciless hand-shaking from the men, and "How are ye, George?" and "God bless ye, George!" and "Friend of yours, George!" and "You've waxed the rebels, George!" and "Bully for you, George!" and universal hullabaloo and thundering laughter, and at last a lull.

"Ha, ha!" laughed George, still darted at by an occasional woman for a smacking kiss, and patted on the back by red-hot men; "coming home's worse than a battle! By the Lord Harry! but you've made my arm ache, boys and girls! President's levee 's nothing to it."

"His arm!" pealed Elkanah, swelling aloft, with the tears still in his eyes, and proudly smiling. "His arm, O friends and neighbors! But not the one he's given to his country. See, see!" he cried, lifting the half-empty sleeve of his son. "Look at this splendid trophy of my boy, haughtier than the blazon of conquerors and kings! The arm he gave to his country! O my dear son!"—he passionately embraced him. "Soldier of Democracy! bulwark of freemen! saviour of slaves! While such as you are left, the republic never can go down!"

He said it grandly, in a voice like the rich, bass shudder of organs, and a deep murmur, born from the sorcery of eloquence, pulsed responsive through the throng. The old wife, with her silk apron to her face, stood, leaning on the breast of the carpenter, gently weeping.

Suddenly, as the joyous commotion began again, she detached herself, and, with one more fervent kiss for George, flew away to the kitchen. Supper at ten, and everything of the best; but a mother's swelling heart must have something special for George.

George himself, somehow, looked curiously uneasy, and if any one among the excited gathering had been cool enough to observe, he might have seen him glancing anxiously and often towards the serene carpenter. The latter still stood near the door, unmoved amidst the din.

"And you," said Elkanah, approaching him with big and aching heart, and almost weeping at his lofty and reserved demeanor,—"you, who have come here, like our household fancy, old and gray, and been our light and blessing, and brought us back our son, like Lazarus from the dead, why do you stay outside the old man's heart, that loves you almost to breaking, amidst all his joy,—that loves you better than the old wife, or the boys, or anything on earth now? Is it because of the gold? To the ditches with it! I'll scatter it on the highways before I'll lose you. Pray, don't be angered with the foolish, wicked old man, that never knew, till you made him feel it, that love was better than money, or anything beside! Oh, take me into you! I never knew what it was to have a real friend before. The world will be cold to me when you are gone. Heaven won't be sweet without you, old youth, so old, so young, so good, so dear! See! I am foolish with my feeling for you! My heart is sweet and soft, because of you, for every living thing! I couldn't shoot a bird now, for the lovingness that's in me. I could n't spade a worm out in my fields. No, no; I could n't harm a fly, my old heart's so soft and tender."

"Is it?" rejoined the strange, gray man, in a voice like ominous low thunder. "Then enter!"

With his hand he struck the door. It opened with a shock that also closed it, and, as if shot in, a figure stood upon the floor. Trembling, drooping; with bowed head; a dark slouched hat, beneath which the face showed, lean, sharp, colorless, as if cut from white paper; a form attenuate, clad in dark civilian's clothes; the arms piteously, helplessly rising, falling; imploring, despairing. The old man staggered back, gazed, glared, reeled forward one pace, swayed on his feet, lifted his clenched hands and dashed them down in air with a terrific yell; then stood, collected, livid, dumb. It was his rebel son.

A stony silence smote the room. Suddenly, without warning, a black surge had swept in upon the general joy. All stood bewildered, motionless. Only George hurriedly whispered to Tom that mother did not know that Rupert was coming, and for God's sake run and keep her back, for there was going to be a scene. The young man flew.

In the frightful hush, some neighbors, who knew Rupert, softly advanced with sickly smiles on their white faces, and timorous glances, and entered the space between him and the old man, as if to greet him.

"Back!" thundered Elkanah, outstretching his terrible arm. "I am master here. Let none approach him."

They fell away in terror. Some actually turned their backs and fled. The space between the father and the son was vacant.

It was too late or futile. Tom was down in agony on his knees. The mother was coming, running, between an opening lane in the throng, with a fearful cry as she saw her boy. White as ashes she came, with frantic speed, but, as if some baleful magic guarded the approach, no sooner had she reached her husband, than she stopped, flung up her arms, reeled over stiff in swoon, and would have fallen like stone upon the floor, but that the carpenter strode to her side, and caught her as she fell. A dozen arms took her from him, and carried her away.

"That is well," said the dreadful old man in a hollow voice. "We want no women here."

Livid, implacable, with pent-house shags of brows lowering over eyes of blue-hot steel, with teeth set hard, and puckered visage, and front of towering brawn, he stood confronting the wretched being before him.

"I feel as if the devil had suddenly brought me in a cup of tea," he said presently, in sardonic, griding tones, like the harsh clang of distant falling brass.

The hapless object on whom these grotesque words fell, feebly lifted his arms once, and let them sink again; then, as one resigning hope, drooped his head so low that his hat fell off draggling his black, sweat-bedabbled hair over his shrunken visage, white as leprosy.

George, pale to blueness underneath his swarth, cast a hurried, beseeching glance at the carpenter, as depending on him to make the intercession. The carpenter, moveless, rosy, unshaken, remained mute, in utter composure, with his eyes fixed on the old man. Unable to longer keep silent, George turned to his father.

"Father," he said, in abrupt, trembling tones, for my sake, for all our sakes, forgive Rupert. Don't be cruel—don't be unnatural. He has suffered much. He was misguided—deceived; he has entirely repented. Forgive him, I beg you. We were sick together in the hospital, and he is sick and weak still. Our good friend here nursed us both, like our own mother. We never can repay him for all his tender kindness. It was his plan to bring us here to-night. Father, I beseech you, forgive my poor brother."

It was all that George could say. Feeble, despite its earnestness, it fell from the old man like a flattened bullet from the side of an ironclad. Emily tried to come foward to add her pleading, but John held her back, knowing his father well, fully realizing the situation, and convinced that words were useless. Every one else remained in sickening expectancy.

"How comes he here?" said Elkanah, sternly pointing his finger at the cowering shape before him. "He is a rebel—why is he not also a prisoner?"

"He has been released," said George.

"By whom?" came the savage interrogation.

"By the man of all our hearts," cried George, with sudden glow. "By the man with millions of haters, who himself calls no man enemy."

"Abraham Lincoln," said the carpenter.

A profound murmur pulsed through the room.

"Yes," cried George, with gathering confidence, "by our President. This good friend here went to see him, and laid the case before him. He told him of our service to the country; he told him how Rupert had been led away; he told him of you, father, and all your devotion; of mother grieving for her lost boy,—of all; and the President gave the order for Rupert's release at once, and we brought him here."

A faint flush crept upon the old man's contracted face, and, in a gesture of respect, he lowered his head to his up-carried hand. Then, with a powerful shudder, as when some mighty bull shakes the flies from his hide, he became erect, hard, and still.

"I utter nothing against Abraham Lincoln," he said, in low, reverberating tones. "He is, my President. God bless him in his living, and in his dying, God bless him!"

In the solemn, almost tender silence which ensued, the outcast gathered courage.

"Father," he faltered, in a weak, husky voice, "forgive me! I do not ask you to receive me back again, but only forgive me, and bless me, and let me go my lonely way comforted. I was foolish—I was young"—

"You were not a boy," interrupted the harsh old man. "You are twenty-eight years old. You are not a child—you are a man."

"I know it, father," he huskily faltered but I was young in feeling. You know you used to chide me for making life so unreal—for my romantic way of looking at everything. It was in that way I looked at the rebellion. It seemed to me so right, so grand. It came to me in my folly like a great cause. Father, I have learned differently from bitter experience. I am wiser. Things look very different to me now."

"I should think they might," rejoined the old man in a heart-quaking roar. "Three hundred thousand graves stud the land. Your work, and the work of monsters like you! Weeping and mourning in every household. Widows, orphans, childless fathers everywhere. The country in convulsion, and tottering on the brink of ruin. The land's best and bravest, horribly shattered and mangled, hobbling about on crutches, or buried in bloody trenches. I should think things might look different! Sir, I am not your father, but your judge. You are a murderer!"

The miserable creature covered his face with his hands. Hope died within him, and every breaking heart within the room, stricken to marble, and almost ceasing to beat in the iron silence, owned to itself that his case was hopeless.

"Look at that flag!" pealed the old man, falling into a posture of formidable antique dignity, with his masterful arm stretched towards the wall. "It is the flag of mankind! To that, you and your crew of vile liberticides are traitors. What have you fought for? That the dandy might spit in the mechanic's face! That the lord might insult the farmer! That the necks of the many might wear the yokes of the few! Some monarchy—some new, mongrel feudal hell on our Republican soil! That was your cause. A fine glittering house, laid on sodden whites and brutified blacks, squashed out of their manhood. Up aloft, your pirates' murder-cloth, whose every flutter threw a pall upon some innocent household—and down below, in the putrid cellarage, our rotting prisoners, our dead and mangled braves. A fine, fine palace for my lord, the king! For this you have fought long. And now, success assured, you desert your work and come here, and ask forgiveness! Oh, impudence without a name!"

Convulsed with fury, he paused, grinding his teeth hard. George, half dead with horror, sank on his knees, with his arm across a chair, his head flung down upon it, his empty sleeve dangling beside him.

"I pass by"—the horrible voice, like sounding bronze, resumed,—"I pass by the misery, the shame, the desolation you have left upon us here for years. I pass" - "Father," said Rupert, lifting his head, with forlorn dignity,—"one word. I am too weak and ill to speak. Let me only say that my error and my crime came from my sense of duty; and, bad as my cause has proved to be, I joined it in all honor and carried myself like a man and a soldier."

"What was your service?" champed the old man. "Infantry? Cavalry? Speak, you devil?

"Artillery," gasped Rupert.

"Hah!" outburst his father, with a tremendous explosion, "I have seen your work. Twice have I been to battle-fields. I saw the black and bursted bodies, torn and swollen, in the grisly hollows of Bull Run! I saw the corpses of my murdered countrymen, rent with shrapnel and shell, when I went groping for your brother, with eyes stung with dreadful tears, on the bloody terraces of Fredericksburg! What arm restrains me that I smite not the soul from your carcass! Go!" he thundered, with a mighty sweep of his arm, and eyes like blue, fierce fire. "Hence, or I squelch you like a snake, beneath my feet! The curses of the living, the murrain of the dead, blight you! You man without a country, man without a flag, go, skulk the earth like Cain! Back with you!—tread the roads worn by the flayed and bloody feet of our heroes. The mounds heave at you as you pass, and vomit forth their ashes and their bones upon you! The skeletons from which dropped the black flesh, dense with vermin, in the winter misery, the summer horror, of Andersonville and Belleisle, may they haunt your dreams! Off!—son without a father, man without a land—off with you forever!"

Bitterly weeping, Rupert fell away to the door. There was a slight and hushed commotion in the despairing room. Women, who had silently sunk in dead swoon, were being noiselessly removed. Then all was still again, and for a moment there was a dread syncope and pause.

The carpenter advanced with solemn and stately tread, composed and calm, but dilated to his fullest manly majesty, and, from brow to foot, he seemed all clothed with an august and strong illumination. Weakened by the recoil of his fury, and bracing himself with violence to meet the one he felt to be his true antagonist; looming in virile brawn, with massive, corrugated lion-face, and locked jaws, and eyes like orbs of ferocious azure glow; hard, savage, aroused, redoubtable as an embattled tower, the old man confronted him. Both were still. No words could paint the Titan sculpture of that moment. All hearkened for the first immense crash of the expected duel. All waited, with eyes strained in pain, for the gray stranger to speak; but his lips were firm, and, to the general surprise, he only, in utter silence, extended slowly his left arm.

Every one turned. They were leading in Mrs. Dyzer, and she was near. The extended arm received her, and those that led her retired. Silently the carpenter sustained her short and tottering step, till she paused near her husband. She stood, very quiet. Not a line of her dark dress quivered; her wealth of unbound hair, streaked with reverent silver, streamed upon her shoulders; her face was gray and dead; her lifted eyes were like stone; her raised bands were clasped together; only her ashen lips ceaselessly moved in speechless imploring. In the long, soundless pause, it seemed as if heaven and earth were still.

"His mother!" said the carpenter.

It was as if a shock struck the room. The brief speech had the effect of a thunderclap, and in a roaring inward whir and overthrow, which never reached the outward silence, every heart was bathed as with bright fire. Oh, how he uttered those words! They were electrifying. The stern energy, the melting tenderness, the divine depth of significance, the heart-shaking associations that he threw into them, would have reached a soul though housed in granite. Elkanah felt them to the very marrow of his bones. In one instant, his vigor of pride and fury was dissolved, and he was cold.

Slowly, without moving from his dreadful posture—slowly, while the pallid assemblage gazed with dry, hot eyes—the old man turned his head, as if the weight of all the world hung to it, till at last it became fixed, and his appalling gaze rested upon the ghastly countenance beneath his own. She never spoke,—speech was impossible; it had been like the effort of one bursting from death, for her to merely reach his side; but without ceasing, her hueless lips moved in an agony of mute beseeching. Not a breath was heard; not an eyelash quivered; the tapers burned unwavering; the shadows slept upon the floor; no leaf of the dense, branchy roof of holly trembled. The old husband, the old wife of many years, stood movelessly, their eyes locked to each other's faces with a fixed regard. But in his soul, like the rush of remembrance to the drowning, was a hurrying stream of memories and images: the fond old days, the sweet, glad times of marriage, the cradle by the fire-lit hearth, the infant's dimpled hand caressing the white nursing bosom, the young mother's face thrilling with the divine joy of maternity, the baby's shoe, the prattle, the tiny dresses, the light, the comfort, the magic sights and sounds of home. All the weak, weak things, that have power to shake the hearts of the mighty, came to him as he stood gazing at her. The moment was sublime.

"She pleads for her first-born," said the carpenter, in low, clear tones, like soundless light upon the silence, and awful in the grandeur of their pathos.

The old man's visage gradually swayed away, and his large eyes, from which the flame had gone in glisten, rested upon the calm, lit face of the illuminated man before him. Erect, bent forward, he stood like a leaning column, intent upon the carpenter.

In the silence, George, mad, wild, unknowing what was happening, suddenly sprang up, though without noise, and in the pallid swarth of his fierce face, his lips curved open for some fiery utterance. A commanding gesture from the other, striking him mute upon the instant, also summoned him to his side. He came, with measured, clinging steps that dully struck the floor, and paused with down-bent head beside his summoner. Without haste, the latter took his empty sleeve by the extremity, and lifted it up before the old man's eyes.

"This pleads for him," he said solemnly.

For a moment, he upheld the brave, pathetic sleeve, then let it fall. A strange and indeterminate stir went through the assembly, and, as if from the arrival of a new spirit among them, there was a change.

Elkanah Dyzer was weeping!

He had not altered his attitude nor posture; he still leaned forward, columnar; but his head was bent, and the big drops, as from the eyes of some stricken deer, fell visibly to the floor. At once relief came to the pent bosoms of the throng, and from women's eyes, and from men's eyes unused to tears, the moisture began to flow.

"Shall I add my pleading?" said the carpenter, in a gentle, yet sovereign voice. "No! Not one word of weaker supplication from my lips. 'T is God Himself implores you in this mother's heart and bosom yearning for her child—this arm the soldier gave to his country, not to destroy, but to restore."

A change had come upon him. The rosy color had died from his face in a clear splendor, and his form, regnant and masculine, was clothed with inspiration, as with a dazzling aureole.

"I have dreamed a dream of my country," he said slowly. "I saw her, angel of the cradle, mother of all that are, in her strength of loving beneficence to her many children, and to every member of the race of man. Out of her womb issued the armed soldier, champion of her Democracy, savior of earth's slaves. Not to rend my land in twain. No; but to bind anew, in love, her warring citizens, to unite the broken ties of kindred, to give the brother to his earliest mates, to reconcile the father to the son, to restore the mother to her child."

The old wife lay clinging to her husband's breast, and he, through all his obstinate height, was shaken and convulsed like one in some mute frenzy.

"Come hither, Rupert, unto me," said the carpenter. "Come hither, my own dear boy!"

The wretched being, who stood weeping bitterly, leaning against the wall, feebly staggered to his side. The staunch old savior threw his strong right arm around him, and with the other encircled the weeping, George.

"I nursed them both together in the hospital," he resumed, in a gentler strain. "Their cots were side by side. I sat between them. When father and mother forsake them, I will not cast them out. Equally they are mine. My life is in them. Elkanah Dyzer, receive thy sons! Thou, whom I learned to love before I knew thee, and whose faults of nature are from stocks of virtue, receive from me this Christmas gift, more than all the riches of the world. Take back these loving brothers, two henceforth in one. Thou canst not refuse me."

The old man flung up his arms, tense, stiff, with a mighty struggle; his face, shrunken, colorless, seemed to blacken; the old wife clung madly to his breast.

"Lost—lost!" he gasped dead;—dead, forever."

There was a moment's pause, and the sublimely tender voice, full-fraught with the deep music of eighteen centuries, sounded upon the silence.

"For this, thy son, that was dead, is alive again; he was lost, and is found."

A rending struggle shook the old man's frame; then, as one exhausted, his upstretched arms fell laxly down—down upon the neck of his rebel son. One instant only, they lay there flaccidly; the next, they gathered the first-born to his breast, and frantically he covered the pallid, weeping face with moaning kisses and with tears. Yet, even as they all clung to him, his wife, his sons and daughters, and the voices of their love and weeping mingled with the sobbing of the room, he tore himself away, as if with the last effort of his waning strength, to fling himself upon the breast of the carpenter. Tenderly, and with a mighty clasp, the loving heart received him, and, with their heads bowed upon each other's shoulders, the two old men stood in the reverent silence, locked in each other's arms.

"Love!" said the gray redeemer, lifting his clear face, bright with deathless smiling, and wet with the sweet waters of immortal tears, "love—love! That includes all. There is nothing in the world but that—nothing in all the world. Better than all is love. Love is better than all."

The family, the guests, were thronging around him, yet not to listen or to gaze, but with his noble presence, his deep words in every heart, to unloose near him in silence, pierced with sobbing, their passion of affection for each other. Each life that moment lived in an ecstasy of charity. Friends grasped each other by the band. Neighbors forgot their petty feuds, their lurking enmities, and met in tremulous greeting. The secret rebel struck hands with the tepid loyal, and both rose glowing into love of country. The daughter's arms were round the father's neck. The son was clinging to his mother. Sisters were sobbing in their brothers' embrace, and guileless lovers, unashamed, clasped each other in crying joy. Bright in holy shadow bloomed the graves of darlings. Deep in the spirit air the fadeless fields unrolled, the shining cities rose, the bells of heaven were ringing sweet and low. Till at last, upon the murmuring hush, the sacred tremor, the rapt and happy sorrow, the exaltation and the vision, came the innocent silver laughter of a little child.

It was the sweet return of Earth. In the immediate stir, the weeping grew louder, mixed with trembling, laughing voices; the figures began to mingle; the sound of feet awoke the floor; remark and response brake forth; a handkerchief was waved; another and another, and suddenly the air was full of snowy flags, all flying, flying, flying; the faces began to toss and light and glow; the multitudinous voices arose upgathering like the sound of many waters; and one weak voice among them broke into a cheer, the signal for another from beyond; there was a whir swelling into a roar of commotion; and at once, with handkerchiefs all madly waving, flgures swaying, women leaping, orbic months and faces flaming, out burst the long-pent hurricane in frantic cheers. Cheers that jarred the rooms and clashed the windows; made the flags quiver on the wall, and the dense holly shower its scarlet berries, and drop its leaves, cheers that made Elkanah totter back, and fall in aching rapture on his Rupert's neck, with wife and sons and daughters bunched tight about with interwoven arms—a solid grove of family affection tied moveless in the tornado-whirl around them. Cheers dizzying, redoubling, hoarsening into fury from determined lungs; the leaves down-flittering, specks of white from the ceiling dropping, the lights of the patriot-tapers wavering, the phrenetic flames of the hearth uproaring in the gale of gowns, the elements let loose, the joyous tornado rising into the delirious simoom for Rupert's welcome home! And, hark! amidst the tremendous incommunicable tumult, the wild bald-eagle scream of Bob Toner's fiddle! And they dance—who hears the tune?—it might have been a dirge!—they dance like drunken seraphim—they dance and cheer—they stop the cheer to dance the harder—the family-group is moving away, all locked together,—they dance, moving with it, in furious glad music, with sobs, with cries, with laughter—they prance, they caper, they plunge, they whirl, like maenads, like bacchantes, raving, raging—till, at last, all stream away together, leaping, bounding, through the doorway, across the passage into the apartments beyond, where in lessening tumult the dance goes on, and the room is left in solitude.

There is a limping step upon the stairs, and in tottles little pygmy Lilian, blue-dressed and yellow-curled, dragging a big shawl, which she proceeds to endeavor to wrap around her. Presently enters old giant Elkanah, hurried, pale, trembling, with a strange look and light upon his face, and stares, craned over with weak astonishment, upon the doings of his grandchild.

"God bless me! little one!" he stammers; "what are you up to with that shawl? Where's my best friend gone to?"

"Grandpa," replies the mite gravely, wrapping herself up with intense determination, "what you said to uncle Rupert was horrid gollawash. And you told him to Go! And I went upstairs to get this shawl. And I had an awful hunt—awful. And then I found it. And I'm going along, too, with my dear uncle Rupert—this very minute."

"No, darling," replied the old man tenderly, forgetting to laugh, in his emotion, "no, uncle Rupert is not going away—never. He's going to live with us always. But where's Mr. Carpenter?" "My goodness, grandpa!" said the little midget, ceasing to enwrap herself. "Not going! Then I'll stay my own self. But there's been an awful change of front somewhere!"

"Lily, dear," said the old man weakly, bending down to her, "can't you tell me where uncle Peter's old Good Man has gone to? He's not in the rooms, for I've looked."

"Ain't he, grandpa? Then I guess he's gone back to heaven this very night," she answered.

"O my friend sighed the old man, rising to his feet with a burst of controlled and tender grief. "My strange, best benefactor, could I but just once see you again! O my heart, my heart! so drained of all its blood, so full of light, so full of sorrow and gratitude, so full of gentleness and love! Could I but once look on your dear face—could I but once see you, even at a distance, again."

"Grandpa," said the small, silver voice, "wrap me up well in this shawl, for it's cold, and take me out, for maybe, you know, he's outside the door."

The old man feebly started, and, stooping, wrapped her in the shawl; and taking her up on his breast, where she affectionately nestled, went out into the winter darkness, grand and cold, and lit by many stars.

For a moment, coming from the lighted room, they saw nothing in the vast, dim obscurity. Behind them, the noise of the revelers was loud, muffled in the cloak of the frigid outer silence. Presently, the dark swales of the farm became apparent, with clumps of vague bushes, and amorphous shapes of trees, rising here and there. Their eyes sought the path, which led away from the door, and curved over a sort of mound or hillock against the east, to bend again to the distant road. And there they beheld him.

"Look, grandpa!" said little Lilian. "I see him there."

The moon was coming up, though still below the horizon, and half the heavens were lit with an immense pure radiance. He stood upon the mound, looking toward them, enlarged in aspect by the frozen air, a grave and manly figure, darkly defined against that great light arising on the world. They gazed on him with straining eyes. Within, the glad noises of the joy of earth rang merrily. Without, was the form of love undying, moveless in icy darkness against the peaceful and tender light of God. A moment, and they saw him raise his hand in benediction and farewell. The old man's eyes filled with tears—the little child nestled low upon his breast.

He was gone.


Publication Information
William Douglas O'Connor's "The Carpenter: A Christmas Story" first appeared in Putnam's Monthly Magazine ns 1 (1868): 55-90.

Whitman Archive ID
anc.00252