There is a season that blooms, even outside
the battlements of Eden, that awakens every gentle thought in
the human heart; that causes every grateful outpouring to flow,
a pure freightage of thanks, up to the beneficent Deity. There
is a month, the month of first flowers and fresh songs, of birds
newly arrived from groves of orange, of fragrant scents, of mysterious
motions in earth, and air, and water, of motion indicative of
life and joy. Then the despised clod beneath us, acquires a strange
claim to our admiration; we place our foot upon it with respect,
because it is the birth bed of the new year. There is a day when
the sun rays begin to dart more vertically from the heavens, improving
upon that wintry like obliquity, the abhorrence of the enlightened
craftsman. Then we may read; Brother Masons, hearken! we may read,
in the symbols of nature, many of those pregnant emblems which
have adorned our tracing board from ancient days.
This deep green tells us of a new year, today to us born, and speaks, solemn monitor, of the frosts and snows of its termination; and whispers, bright comforter, of the fond hopes beyond. In every sign and sound of mother nature, there is a mystic line for us; illustrious companions! yes, for us: in every contrast of light and shade; in all entwining vines; in falls of water; in the tracery of webs; in steaming vapors; in the shallow pools; in the cohesive clay; in the fruitful bush; in shifting clouds; in the burning sun; in all moving shadows; in the animation that publishes WORK, WORK, LABOR, LABOR, as the voice of nature; in the hidden processes beneath; in the woody 8shaft, and the leafy chapter. Are these things concealed from any of you, oh, ye sons of light! Open, then, the eyes of your mind, to rejoice in the beauties of such a day, ere the night of death cometh for there is such a day, and it is vouchsafed to all but how often we shall witness its return, no man knoweth, saving Him that reciveth it. There is an hour when this sweetest of seasons, and most delightsome of days, most gratefully gloweth to the marking eye.
Then all the senses, the five paths of human
knowledge and gratification, tell one harmonious story of delight.
Then the newly come birds, and the teeming earth, and the buds
bursting under the life giving sun, and the symbols on nature's
vast tracing board, conspire to raise a more excellent song of
adoration to the Divine Giver it is the closing hour of day. At
such a season, at such an hour, through a long stretch of woodland,
than which nothing could better exhibit the beauties of the renovated
year, might have been seen the approaching carriage of Mr. Norwich,
now the homeless and disconsolate widower, late the owner of Norwich
Cottage, and the thrice blessed husband of its accomplished mistress.
Within the vehicle reclined the mourner, accompanied by his little
daughter, the last of three, the thoughtful, low voiced, golden
haired Ruth. At such an hour, the traveler relaxed his pace, and
gave way to his emotion. The tired horses, at first changing their
trot to a rapid walk, and that to a slower one, suddenly took
heart to bring up at a dead halt. This gave the travelers an excuse
to dismount, and to sit awhile on the old beech tree, that the
last January winds had dashed headlong from the perpendicular,
never more to stand erect, a prince of the house of the forest
trees, again. The contest between father and daughter of the Norwich
family was painfully striking. In the parent there were evidences
of approaching death. A cough oppressed his breathing and brought
sad discords into the music of his words. Occasionally, as he
spoke, a deep unnatural tone startled the hearer with thoughts
of the grave of the grave that would soon silence all this. The
hectic flush upon his cheek was as the flower that is soon cut
down; that cheek will erelong be paler than the lily's hue. Deep
wrinkles, furrowed prematurely, but none the less conspicuous
for that, channeled his brow.
Gray hairs sprinkled the summer of his life with the snows of December.
Alas, none better than Henry Norwich, had realized the Masonic sentiment, "Man of woman born is brief of life and trouble filled." In the child were the elastic tread, the clear, ringing tone, the serene eye, the uncorrupted faith" Of such," said the Son of God, remembering well the companionship which he had exchanged for his sorrow mission, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven!" The loss of all his children, all but the priceless one at his side, and of his wife who had for so many years absorbed his very soul's life into hers, opened to Henry Norwich a broad avenue to the land of shadows. The blighted heart entered it cheerfully and made ready for death. As our Savior sent his disciples in twos to labor and to suffer, so it seems that tenderest hearts from earth may enter the kingdom together. But who should rear the little bud, swinging thus solitary upon the tree! How should it be strengthened to withstand the blights and snows and tempests of the world! Mr. Norwich, keenly alive to the importance of this subject, " while yet the evil days came not," sold all his possessions, took the proceeds in money, and with that and the little girl who now occupies her place beside him, on the old beech tree, started to a distant State to place the two deposits in charge of a faithful and only brother. Little Ruth derived her name from the damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab. Her mother, in her maiden days, had possessed an unusual talent for drawing.
She had sketched a portrait of Ruth, as she imagined the pious gleaner appeared to Boaz when he approached to do her kindness in his barley field. And when the little birding came to her nest, with all the features of that fancy portrait, golden hair, arching brow, dimpled chin and eyes of blue, she styled it Ruth, and she said that, God willing, it should be a child of His. As the two thus sit, father and child, hand in hand, cheek to cheek, there is the measure of one generation of human life between them; she at the beginning, he at the close of a mortal's career. As little Ruth will occupy a conspicuous place in our tale, the reader must know that she was a child of remarkable acuteness and possessed uncommon powers of observation. An early formed judgment, an exact memory, a silent, unobtrusive manner, these were the peculiarities of her character which will be most distinctly brought out in this tale. Her father had so highly valued these precocious traits, that he had accustomed her to accompany him in all his social calls, and afterward to repeat the conversation heard during the visit. So retentive was her memory, that she invariably preserved the leading thoughts. The reader will not comprehend the amiable disposition of Henry Norwich, unless informed that for many years he had shaped his life by the implements of speculative architecture. He was a Freemason in whom there was no guile. Although not what is denominated a working Mason, (an appellation, by the way, easily earned, that conveys in itself no exalted idea of Masonic attainments,) yet in the purely speculative department there were few more skillful. Since the death of his wife, he had found great comfort in renewing his Masonic studies, come Brother Douglas, G. M. of Florida, happily says, "The great mistake of the present day is to suppose that what we technically term the work Masonry, is Masonry itself. This is a serious error, and should be at once corrected, for it is lowering the importance and dignity of Masonry, and degrading as well her character as her mission. Masonry is an organization of principles; of principles drawn from the highest sources of human reason and divine revelation; of principles in their nature profoundly philosophical, and in their practice of untold value to the human family. It is a system of symbolic mysteries, full of allegory, wisely designed to attract, enlighten and purify." Was ever Freemasonry better defined or defended? Commenced long before, and the book in his left hand as he reclines on that fallen trunk, is a treatise on the Ethics of Masonry. He culls these passages and reads aloud, while little Ruth listens: "Even though the last known copy of Holy Writ were destroyed, as once occurred during the first captivity, nevertheless there is enough of the Divine law involved in the symbols of Masonry to point out a Mediator and a Savior through divine grace." "Hoodwinked in the darkness and distress of this ground floor, human life, man hears a commanding voice issuing from the heavenly East and calling upon him to rise from the groveling position into which sin has flung him, and to follow his Divine Leader with the South on the left, (as Israel followed the pillar led by the hand of a heavenly guide,) and obeying God's precepts, tracing divinely marked footsteps and noting accurately, revealed ways, to fear no danger." "It is to be expected that there will be an increased, an intense anxiety, when the bondage of flesh is about to be removed from the spirit's eyes, and the mortal is about to be brought to immortal light. The heart will naturally incline to sink and the flesh to falter. Uneasy thoughts of his own unworthiness will doubtless oppress him. Nevertheless, relying on the same powerful arm that has led him through all the circuits and across all the variegated squares of his changeful life, he may brace up the loins of his mind, and take courage. Yea, he may even triumph in the reflection' His rod and His staff they comfort me!'" "There is no mystery, strictly speaking, in the symbols of Masonry, unless it may be the mystery of ignorance. Every wreck of human works; each expanse of water; each dashing cataract; each hill summit that is crowned with the labor of man's hands; each sunrise that gilds the east, each solemn southing and each scarlet setting; each star that marks, as with a grain of diamond dust the midnight sky all things indeed that strike the eye or ear, or enter the brain through any channel of the senses, all these are worthy, if you will, to which some hidden meaning may be attached, whose elucidation shall only be to the enlightened. How many of these were thus pressed into Masonic use while Speculative Masonry was assuming its present form, we shall never know." As the consumptive man paused to clear his lungs, he observed that Ruth's eyes were attracted to a little drama passing in the hazel grove close by. The actors were nothing but a pair of wood doves. It would seem that they had made their nest on the prostrate beach, and three little eggs were already engaging their parental sympathies, when some rapacious bird attacked them; tore their nest in pieces and broke the wing of the female.
She was now perched in her agony, upon the lower limb of a bush, while her mate hovered close by, wondering at her inability to move. It was the actions of the male that had excited the girl's attention. He seemed perplexed in the highest degree. He tried various arts to arouse her. But his loud, pathetic moan was without effect; so were his signals, full of meaning even to the dull eye of humanity. The flutterings of his wings, the sun rays sparkling upon his gay feather spots, his coquettish twistings of neck, the rustling of leaves under his pink colored feet, his mournful glances, all passed unobserved. The world was fast receding from the ear and eye of the bruised thing. For even as the intruders gazed, her little frame shook with an inward convulsion, then there was heard a faint gasping, answered by a loud, triumphant cooing from her mate, then one feeble attempt to extend the broken pinion, and then she fell from the perch stone dead upon the grass below.
The sight of death cannot fail to move upon the heart of the dying. Mr. Norwich, pressing his beloved one fondly to his breast, commented tearfully on the untimely fate of the bird. "This painful scene, my daughter, aptly explains what I was reading. For as the book says, every thing in nature may be made symbolic of some interesting truth. The death of this poor dove, and her mate's efforts to give relief, ever associate them, dear daughter, with this calm evening hour, when you sat here with your dying father, upon this beech tree. Then the one will symbolize the other, and you will never look at a dying bird, or a fallen tree, but your memory will recall him, who loved you, as long as he had life to love, aught but the Savior. So that Savior, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it and distributed it among his disciples, and exhorted them, As often a ye do this, do it in remembrance of me." Then the father and child, prompted by a similar impulse, the remembrance of sacramental enjoyments in the little church at Norwich, sang together this stanza: "Jesus, thy feast we celebrate! We show thy death, we sing thy name, Till thou return, and we shall eat The marriage supper of the Lamb." Mr. Norwich then read the extract, "There is no mystery, etc.," the second time; and, according to his usual custom, required her to repeat it after him.
All this consumed the evening hour, and brought the sunset nigh to hand. They now arose to resume their journey and seek lodgings for the night, when a singular sound, not far distant, caused them to halt in surprise. It was the music of a flute, but so curiously managed by the performer, that whether it proceeded from the right or left, below or above, it defied a listener to tell. Looking down the road in the direction they were pursuing, it seemed to come from the left; turning to the left, it was above; facing around, it clearly sprung up from beneath! Was it a strain of that music, unheard save by the dying, and by the spirits of the just made perfect, which echoes around that throne, before which, one of them at least, was soon to stand? Their silent amazement was interrupted by a traveler who came down the road behind them, with an ax upon his shoulder. He was a man some fifty years of age; dressed in the shabbiest style of the country; he bore the appearance of extreme destitution.
When he spoke, which he did as soon as he arrived within hearing, his face gleamed with one of those smiles, that remind us of an artificial rose, badly constructed, lying upon a snow drift. His cast of countenance, in short, was so repulsive, that the child (children are instinctive and infallible judges of such natures), clung to her father's side, while he answered the stranger's inquiry concerning the direction they were journeying. Having done this, Mr. Norwich asked an explanation of the mysterious music, which, however, had ceased when the new comer commenced speaking. "Oh,"? repeated the new comer, with a careless tone, and one of his treacherous smiles " that's only Carney, the blind boy, in his sycamore. That's all. Mrs. Chapel's not but a little piece off." As the explanation only served to increase the puzzle, he went on to say, " that Carney was a poor boy, a bound boy, mole blind, who, having no work to do, but fond of music, spent the whole time, day and night, in the woods, except when he went to the house for his meals. That he used in a large sycamore a little piece off, and lay there blowing a flute, while honest people was abed. If the little gal would like to see him, he would take her to Carney's chapel, as folks called it, terreckly." Mr. Norwich assented, and turning to the right, a hundred yards from the road, his attention was called to an aged sycamore tree, hollow, as usual with that kind, but sound, and on the outside, entire. Pointing out a hole fifteen feet up, their conductor observed, "Yon's the door where Carney goes in, but I'll rouse him out in a hurry." Then striking the shell rudely, with his ax, he called Carney by name, and ordered him to show himself to the little girl, remarking, in a side tone to Mr. Norwich, 4hat it was a sight for strangers to see him. On the inside, a rustling followed that resembled the fluttering of swallows in their night quarters, then the boy was heard to climb the trunk, and soon his head appeared at the opening before mentioned.
Mr. Norwich started involuntarily. It presented
the most singular combination of youth and age he had ever beheld.
The lower part of the face, from the cheek bones downward, might
have belonged to a lad of fourteen, not more; while the upper
hemisphere, the eyes, wrinkled brow, and gray hair, betokened
sixty. Drawings have been frequently made, over which, by an ingenious
arrangement of the artist, an extra forehead and eyes are dropped
by means of a flap, over the face, and instantly the age, sex,
and character, are changed by the substitution. So it was, that
looking at that blind boy, as the sunset rays glanced over his
head, thrust through the singular entrance to his den, it seemed
as if two heads had somehow been united to form his, of which,
only the lower part corresponded with the attached body. In addition
to these peculiarities, his fingers were long and attenuated as
an ape's. His dress was but a patchwork of rags. His voice alone,
was pleasing, as if it had caught the enchantment of his music;
and the hearer, listening to its winning tone, felt called upon
to bestow that sympathy which his unsightly appearance had otherwise
Poising himself skillfully upon the narrow ledge, he rapidly drew up a long pole covered with knots, which served him for a ladder, and planting it on the outside, boldly, as if he knew the ground, he was soon standing amidst those who had summoned him.
Addressing the shabby man by name, Tarver, he respectfully asked what he wanted. "Tell this clever gentleman, and his sweet gal," replied Tarver, turning around with one of his hateful grins, "what you was doing up there in the chapel. They heern you play, and didn't know what to make of it. Come, wag your tongue a bit, maybe the gentleman might give you something." The boy, without raising his face, answered in his melodious way, "I heern you singing, sir, and it's a long time sense I heern anybody at that, I cotch the tune terreckly, and played it, that's all; I ollers cotch a tune mighty quick." Then raising his flute, a handsome instrument, of ebony, that must once have cost a considerable sum, he struck into the piece that Mr. Norwich had sung (Rockbridge), and played it through. The style was masterly, and the lad made so proper a use of the keys, in his perfect melody, it was a treat to hear. Ruth turned to her father, and begged him for a dollar from her purse, to give the poor boy. He granted it without a word the notes had called back vanished hours, whose memory embittered the present enjoyment. Then the kind hearted child took the hand that hung listless by the poor boy's side, and laying the coin in his palm" Take this for your music," she said, "I am very sorry you are blind. It must be dreadful to be blind. I wish you could see" and she followed her father's steps to the carriage. There were several men standing around the vehicle, waiting his approach.
They seemed to be trying its springs, with
much familiarity, and were handling the harness and whip, and
criticizing the points of the horses, with practiced skill. In
fact, the intimacy was closer than was prudent, considering that,
in the carriage box were several thousand dollars in gold, whose
weight could not fail to betray itself to such accurate observers.
But Mr. Norwich gave no intimations of his uneasiness, if any
he felt; he saluted the company with politeness, and while he
prepared the horses for starting, asked directions to the nearest
house at which travelers' accommodation could be procured. The
question was promptly answered by an elderly person in the circle,
humpbacked and homely, but dressed more becomingly than the rest,
who offered his own dwelling to the gentleman, if he would accept
it. It was but half a mile, and directly on the road which the
gentleman was traveling, he said, and if he would put his horses
to their paces, he could get there in a few minutes. The proposition
so courteously tendered, was not declined, and the father and
child drove off at the rate indicated.
But could he have seen the covetous look that flashed across each face as a sudden jolt brought a metallic sound from his carriage box, he had been better warned of the character of those who followed him. And now that sweetest hour of the brightest season of man's earthly year was passed. Nature's tracing board became dim. The entwining vines, the speaking green, the shifting cloud, the fruitful bush, were now covered with the curtain of night. The lodge of day was closed. Although we may know God in the darkness as well as in the light, yet the means of recognition are of quite a different nature. They are all of a distressful cast. Darkness was gathering over the land. The voices of light being silenced, those of night claimed dominion. The owl, the whippoorwill, and their gloomy brethren that flit through the midnight and avoid the morning, had begun their rove.
The day was passed, the last that Mr. Norwich
should ever behold with the eyes of flesh. A short, drive brought
them to the place described. It was a frame house of large dimensions,
formerly of some appearance. Built a quarter of a century before,
and no paint or other preservative having been used upon it, much
of the woodwork was in that fibrous state which is the delight
of the hornet and wasp. The shingles upon the roof were hidden
by a dense growth of moss that seemed to have been transplanted
there from the barren yard. The sills of the building, exposed
by the dropping off of weather boards, had that hoary appearance
expressively termed in the language of botany, cane scent. It
spoke eloquently of the fox fire that would glow along its surface
all through a damp, dark night. The scene of desolation around
the dwelling, matched the appearance of the house.
There were broken fences; unpruned orchard trees; fragments of farming utensils drifted from the wreck of twenty five years; litter from house and kitchen strewn heedlessly about the yard bones gnawed by hungry dogs; gates with one hinge and gates with none. Weeds flourished rank in the corners. Piles of rails and decayed logs made a platform for the lizard by day and the cricket by night. What ideas of domestic happiness can be associated with such a residence alas! too often found even in the country where civilization secures domestic happiness to all who will receive it? The loud mouthed dogs, of which there was a multitude, seemed by their hoarse, unwelcome bark, to warn travelers to pass by and tarry not. But the proprietor of this dilapidated place bustled forward with notable hospitality to remove the big gate and admit the carriage into the yard.
Driving off the dogs with pebbles and sticks, and laying aside various obstacles in the water channeled path, he finally landed his visitors at the door. They were met on the threshold by a woman whom he introduced as his wife. She welcomed them with much propriety of speech, and conducted them to her own room. A bountiful supper was prepared, more neatly spread than was to be expected from a general view of the place, and after partaking, the two guests seated themselves in a pleasant corner hand in hand, as befitted those inseparable friends. The valise from the coach box had been brought in, its weight and jingle betraying its contents to the most casual observer. The conversation between Mr. Norwich and his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Bloom, was not protracted or interesting. It is the error of intellectual men, in general, that they will not familiarize themselves with topics that are interesting to the mass: it is the misfortune of the mass, in general, that their catalogue of conversational topics cannot interest the intellectual. Having therefore so few points in common with his entertainers, Mr. Norwich could only make the insipid inquiries concerning the health, the weather, the crops, which are conventional with all class, and then the conversation flagged.
From the next room he could hear the noisy colloquy of the party that had followed the carriage to the house. Noting the soft voice of Carney, the blind boy, amongst them, he asked permission of his host and invited him to entertain the party with music. It was not that his notes excited pleasurable emotions. The heart of the solitary youth was too much breathed into his instrument to echo anything back that was enlivening. But by one of those inexplicable traits of human nature, the very pain was dear to the melancholy hearer, and he leaned back in his seat and hid his face, as for an hour the lad awoke most expressive music. Since the days of the Irish harpers whose impassioned songs called up rage and love by turns, never was the very lawlessness of music made more effective than by this untutored performer. The peculiar echoes of the old sycamore hollow, in which, day and night, he had so long trilled through all the variations of his flute, had become a part of the performance itself. The warmth of his sensibilities and the hopelessness of his condition, poor and friendless and blind, gave tone to every phrase of his music, while the native acuteness of his ear enabled him to avoid those harsher discords or irregularities, calculated to pain so practiced an amateur as Mr. Norwich. His own list of airs being exhausted, Ruth was directed by her father to hum over that of "Pleyel's hymn," and as soon as Carney had caught it, they sang together his favorite lines.
A THOUGHT OF DEATH
By the pallid hue of those,
Whose sweet blushes mocked the rose;
By the fixed, unmeaning eye,
Sparkled once so cheerfully.
By the cold damps on the brow,
By the tongue, discordant now;
By the gasp, and laboring breath,
What! oh tell us, what is death!
By the vacancy of heart,
Where the lost one had a part;
By the yearning to retrieve,
Treasures hidden in the grave.
By the future, hopeless all,
Wrapped as in a funeral pall;
By the links that rust beneath,
What! oh tell us, what is death!
By the echoes swelled around,
Sigh and moan, and sorrow sound;
By the grave, that opened nigh,
Cruel, yields us no reply.
By the silent king, whose dart
Seeks and finds each mortal heart;
We may know, no human breath,
Can inform us what is death!
But, the grave has spoken loud!
Once was raised the pallid shroud;
When the stone was rolled away,
When the earth in frenzy's play
Shook her pillars to awake
Him who suffered for our sake;
When the vail's deep fissure showed
Choicest mysteries of God!
Tell us then, thou grave of hope,
What is He that fills thee up!
"Mortal, from my chambers dim,
Christ arose inquire of him!"
Hither, to the faintest cry,
Notes celestial, make reply:
"Christian, unto thee'tis given,
Death's a passage into Heaven!"
His wishes being gratified, and a second donation having been made the performer from Ruth's own little purse, that was in her father's keeping, Mr. Norwich entered into conversation with him, and asked for his history. It was a sad tale, that of the poor boy, yet not an uncommon one. His mother, a widow, in good circumstances, had reared him up delicately, until his tenth year. Then she suddenly left the country, allured by the devices of a villain, who coveted her property. She left friends, and self respect, and character, she left even her blind child, who had no other friend but God. But when, after a year's abandonment to folly, she returned, a cast off mistress, reduced to poverty, and dying with shame; it was to find her boy the pauper of the county, and to hear her own name used before him as a pass word of depravity. And then she died. And ever since that time, the authorities had preserved him from starvation, by binding him out to the lowest bidder, by public outcry. And having nobody to care for him, and nothing to care for, except his flute, the last remnant of his father's wealth, he had addicted himself to lonely rambles, and to the wild music of, the sycamore hollow, where the gentleman had first heard him playing. To this tale, well calculated to arouse commiseration in the hearers, little Ruth listened with an intenseness of interest, that spoke of a feeling heart. The boy heard her sobs, as he sat with his head bowed upon his breast, and then he arose, came straight forward to the corner where she was, and respectfully reaching out his hand, took hers, freely offered, pressed it to his lips, and left the room.
Movements toward retiring, now prompted
Mr. Norwich to propose religious exercises as a suitable close
to the day. His offer was received with confusion; and a glance
of peculiar meaning, passed between husband and wife. The hesitating
reply, that there was no bible in the house, was met by Mr. Norwich's
offer to use his; for he always carried one with him, he said,
for company's sake; and no further objections appearing, the well
worn book was produced; a chapter was selected, which Ruth stood
up to read, and an evening hymn was sung by the pair. Then the
philanthropist offered up a fervent prayer, and the family separated
for sleep. The bedside devotions of such a Mason as Mr. Norwich,
are worthy of imitation. There is a general earnestness in the
prayers of dying Christians, that speaks of the spirit revealed
to the apocalyptist John, when he saw the four and twenty elders
divest themselves of their resplendent crowns (tokens alike of
God's approval, and their own noblest reward), and dash them,
as worthless baubles, at the foot of the throne, and cry in heaven's
own language, Glory be to God ALONE. When the good man enters
the sanctum sanctorum, for the last time, and we know that death
stands at every door to intercept his retreat, the language of
his heart is eminently worthy of our notice. The Mason prayer
which went up from the lips of Mr. Norwich, that night, was one
that is used by many another faithful brother around the globe.
It comprehended five topics: supplication for his dear daughter,
her who was nearest to his heart; for the good of Zion, and the
spread of Christian and Masonic light; for his enemies, and the
enemies of Masonry, if any such, anywhere, could be found by the
All seeing Eye; for his friends and acquaintances, and Masonic
brethren, far and near; finally, for himself. Such an asking,
doubtless, met the Divine ear, and sweet should be the rest to
follow upon it. His beloved one, who reposed in the next room,
sunk to sleep while yet the first subject of her prayer, the weal
of her father, was warm upon her heart. And now they sleep. And
the owl is hooting from his lonely hollow. The bat flits wildly
to and fro. Dark clouds are rising to obscure heaven's glittering
tracingboard from the sight. We must change the scene from the
chamber of innocence and piety, to a room in a distant part of
the house. Here were congregated the various individuals whose
cupidity had been so keenly aroused by the sound of Mr. Norwich's
gold; and here they had met to contrive how they might secure
that gold for themselves. Bloom, the master of the house, sat
smoking; his face pale with the bad thought.
Ever an anon, he turned to the table, on which stood a large decanter of whisky, and the bad thought grew bigger in his mind, as he drank it off like water. His ugly hump loomed high upon his back, and the blood nestled round his heart, while he con templated the dark subject. The shabby man, Tarver, he with the hypocritical smile, was earnestly whispering to a young man, whom head dressed as Gabe Keys. The nature of the conference, might readily be surmised, for there was an answering oath from the person addressed, and an earnest expression that slipped out unawares, "No, no, I can't do that. Dam' me that's too much, do it yourself, if you want it done!" Three other men, young and old, completed the group. They had applied themselves to the bad thought, and to the decanter, until they had reached that state of stupefaction, in which the maudlin ruffian can lean back, and stare, and let others do the talking. But who reclines yonder, crouched in that dark corner, concealed in the gloom and the folds of her apron, so that were it not for an occasional sob, her presence would scarcely be known to the villains around the table? What part has woman to bear in such a conference as this? It is Mrs. Bloom, whose well chosen words and genteel housewifery had called forth the approbation of her guest. Yes, and the well chosen words which that Christian man had used when he prayed, "for choicest blessings upon this family, and that in Thine own good time, oh Lord! they may be persuaded to turn to Thee and be saved "the recollection of these words, conflicting with her evil heart and an unfeminine greed of gold, was now convulsing her frame with emotion. She could not, without a pang, see her pious guest defrauded, much less murdered, as had been brutally suggested. It was long since the voice of prayer had gone up from her dwelling. No good could follow such an act. Yet an opportunity to acquire so large a sum at a blow was not likely to be offered again. Unhappy woman! through the long years since she had left her father's quiet home to follow a lawless adventurer, the more generous emotions of her sex had evaporated.
More than once in her dreary rove, childless and friend less, save for him for whom she had sacrificed all things, she had seen blood upon her husband's gold, nor ever inquired from whose heart it flowed, nor ever received it with any the less greediness. So she sat, the hardened woman, and wrapped her apron tightly about her face and crouched in the dark corner to hear the plan that was to transfer the coveted property to her hands. " I'm thinking, boys, there's nigh on to five thousand dollars in that valise! It was more'n I could do to tote it in without help. Five thousand dollars in gold! In gold, boys! no taking numbers, mark you! ?no stopping payment at the bank no getting big bills broke. Gold! Well, now, the question is, boys, shall we let this pile slip when it's safe, as one mout say, in our own hands? If we do, we ought to get us mattocks and grub stumps the balance of our days. What say you, boys?" These words, as may be supposed, were from Bloom. They were offered in a tone to bring all the ideas of the conspirators to a head. The shot was effective. Every one straightened himself up, rested his elbows upon the table, and put on a cruel look.
Tarver, the shabby person, replied "I say no, Hezekiah Bloom; no grubbing for me. I've had enough of that in my time. No letting things slip. That's been done too much already. That man upstairs is a dying man, and a month hence he'll have no use for the gold. His little gal can be raised on a heap less money than five thousand dollars. I go in for the gold, let come what will come." "Let come what will come," was the general response, and the matter was settled. The woman ceased her sobbing. But how was it to be procured with safety? "Oh set the blamed old house afire! 'taint worth a hundred dollars at best. While the fuss is gwine on, two on us will slip into his room and grab the gold." But the woman objected to this. With the attachments of her sex and her dread of danger, she objected. She had lived too long in the old mansion, and she loved it, and it should not be burnt. So the idea, popular though it was, must be abandoned. "Then let Nyramin jam a pillar down on his face, and hold it thar a few minutes. That'll settle the matter and nobody the wiser." But Nyram demurred. It was only last court that his neck had escaped the gallows by a legal flaw, and he was afraid. "Then give him a drink of spiced liquor in the morning. The madam thar can fix it for him, and he'll never want to leave her afterwards." But the woman knew he wouldn't drink it: didn't they all see how he looked Then he told her to take the decanter off the supper table? "Oh knock him in the head, and be d d to him," was the impatient conclusion from Lansby, a repulsive looking fellow who had kept his lips closed thus far, but opened them now with passion at the slow procedure, "what's the use of foolin'? we want the money; we don't want hit,! One lick will do the business. We can bury him so's nobody but the little gal will see him.
She'll never know but what he died natural. I'll do it myself, eff I don't!" Bloom passed the decanter to each of the company, glanced keenly round the circle to mark the effect of this brutal speech, and finding no appearance of dissent, he shook the ruffian's hand heartily, and accepted the proposition. The woman breathed still more freely. The prayer was forgotten. The gold filled her heart. She sat erect. The minor arrangements were soon completed. A club was procured and all made ready for the midnight murder, when suddenly, from the very chamber of the man whose life they were thus plotting away, there came out a shriek so loud, so filled with agony, that the most hardened hearer started to his feet with terror. The table was overturned in the general confusion, and the light extinguished. Another and another cry followed. The woman fainted from her chair, but there was no hand ready to break her fall, and so her head struck heavily upon the floor. All waited in fixed amazement, their very life blood's flow stopped while they drank in the sounds that were becoming more connected and more human. "''Tis the little gal," at length gasped Tarver, with great effort, and the spell being broken, the whole company, save the senseless female, arose and rushed toward the scene of distress. The door of Mr. Norwich's chamber was open. A candle, burning with a half smouldered flame, stood on a chair. The invalid had raised himself partly erect and was reclining in his night clothes against the wall. The paleness of his countenance indicated death very nigh at hand; while the floor, and the wall on which he leaned, and the very bed spotted with his blood, gave the history of his sudden attack. In his arms lay the screaming girl, soon to be left all alone in the wide world. She had been aroused from sleep by her father's cough, and hurrying to his beloved side had beheld him thus erect, bathed in crimson and with that death mark on his face.
Crying loudly with horror, she had nevertheless climbed upon his bed, and was now clinging convulsively to his neck as if her childish strength could restrain a departing spirit. And if human love might confine an immortal spirit to clay, surely, surely that of her father would not desert poor Ruth. For in that dying eye was such concentrated affection upon that face all paled over with death, such an expression of passionate yearning oh death! heartless and deaf! green may be the fields of Canaan beyond thee, but the waves between are dark and stormy, and the parting on this hither bank is a rending of hearts to those who love! No eye has the dying man for aught but Ruth, no ear for sounds, save her affectionate words. No, although the thievish band were even now removing the golden treasure from the room; although forms invisible in life or death to such as they, were hovering above, he was conscious only of her presence. In that parting moment, with a last effort which brought torrents of blood from his lungs, he could still take a medal from its concealment on his breast and suspend it around her neck: he could reach to his coat for a package and place it with a meaning look, in her hands, and thus guide the shrewd girl to conceal them both so that even the harpies around failed to mark the act. In a few minutes all was ended, and Ruth was torn, amidst the wildest passion of grief, from the body of her father. Few scruples had the hardened ruffians to complete their work. The gold was immediately hidden. The horses were hurried from the country, to be sold at a distant point. The carriage and harness were destroyed by fire, only the incombustible portion being concealed in a private apartment of the house. By daylight the body was laid out for interment. A rude coffin, made in the room below, concealed it from the eyes of the little girl, who yet stood hour after hour watching over it as the angels watched over her. A score of neighbors was called in, shabby and depraved like the rest, and by their assistance the emaciated frame was carried to the nearest hill and buried A pile of logs and rails heaped over it formed its only moments, and then with loud jests and riotous laughter the company returned to the house to carouse. The drinking bout, which had been interrupted by this duty, was renewed with additional gusto, and then, through all the day and through the following night, that desolate orphan sat on the bedside in the chamber where her father had so recently died, and wept and shuddered. But although alone, and the house reverberating with the noise of fiends, there was a good presence around her and she got no harm.
About sunrise she fell asleep, and when Mrs. Bloom came up to call her to breakfast, the gentle creature was smiling in the imagery of so sweet a dream, that the woman turned away with a softened heart and durst not disturb her. A week now elapsed, and it was yet in debate among the ruffians, how they should dispose of Ruth. Being artfully interrogated by Bloom, she had displayed such a knowledge of her father's circumstances, and especially of the amount of property in his possession, at the time of death, and had exhibited so clear an appreciation of her own rights, that the alarmed man reported the facts to his comrades, with dismay. The proposition of the brutal Nyram, to put her out of the way, was negatived on all hands. Her amiable manners, inherited from her Masonic parentage, her sad state of orphanage, together with the immense loss she had sustained, gave her a sort of claim, anomalous as it was, to their protection. Even Tarver himself, acknowledged, "'Tis enough for her to lose her daddy, and five thousand dollars! let the poor, little thing live!"
Mrs. Bloom would willingly have adopted her as her own daughter, but for the danger of eventual discovery. As a substitute for all the rejected schemes, it was at last proposed by one of them, Soper by name, to take her clear out of the country. In the State of Connecticut, he said, he had a sister, an old woman, unmarried, and poor, and for the matter of a hundred dollars, or two, she would do anything he wanted of her. If the worst came to the worst, the girl could never be traced back again, and for his part, he couldn't think of anything better. So said they all, and the project was unanimously adopted. All this time, Ruth, unconscious of their vile plots, was wondering why she did not see anything of the blind boy, Carney. More than once, as she lay awake, in the dark nights, she had imagined it was his flute that breathed so sweetly beneath her window but then, it might have been the angels; she hoped it was. With more than youthful prudence, she had refrained from speaking of him, ever since she had overheard a fierce remark from Tarver, concerning him. But she watched and listened closely? for the orphan girl had somehow associated the idea of friendship with Carney, and expected some sort of aid at his hands; is it not always so, that we feel a friendship for those to whom we have been compassionate and kind? and she longed very much to see him. She had several times started to walk down to the old sycamore, but Mrs. Bloomn kept such an eye upon her movements, that although she was too inexperienced to be suspicious, she could not avoid a feeling of constraint, and her uneasiness increased. On one occasion, as that person was attending to some unexpected call in household affairs, Ruth took her little bonnet, hastily, and left the house. She had no difficulty in keeping the proper road, and none in finding the tree. Arrived there, breathless, she was disappointed in not getting an answer to her call, for she had no thought of Carney's being absent. She sat down, and wept with grief. Then rising, she started to turn back, when, to her great joy, she saw him coming through the woods, toward her. It was wonderful to see the firmness and precision with which he trod; the faith with which he traversed that forest. Without any path, or apparently anything that could furnish a clue to his course, he threw his feet boldly forward, avoiding the trees (perhaps warned by the slight hillocks around their bases), pushed aside the undergrowth, and strode, straight as the bee flies, to the old sycamore. Discovering, by some perception, that we are unprovided with, that Ruth was standing there, he at once addressed himself to her in his rude backwoods' speech. "I'se glad you come, Miss! I'se been looking for you gwine on a week. I played every night, loud as I dar, under your winder, hopes you mout hear me. Poor little Miss, you'se all alone, now." This abrupt remark occasioned a tempest of sobs, at which the lad added hastily: "No, no, poor gal, don't cry! I didn't mean that nobody don't keer for you. Don't you member what your daddy said, night he prayed? You'se not all alone.
But say, little gal, did Mr. Bloon hand you over any of your daddy's things? money, nor nothin?" "Not a cent, nor anything." "And say, little gal, was this all the money you had; that, that you gave me?" taking out the two silver dollars that Ruth had so kindly presented him with. "No, I had some more, but father kept it for me, and 1 don't know what became of it when he died." "Poor gal, you must take this back then. I can't keep it," and as she drew back to decline, he insisted "yes, you must keep it, for you'll want it now; but don't let Mrs. Bloom see it, 'caze she loves money so well. Now eff you don't take it, I'll throw it in the branch! That's a good gal. Hide it away keerfuilly. But I hear some body comin', and I must leave. It wouldn't be good for you to be seen with me, caze the folks at the big house has got somethin' agin me. But one thing, Miss, I'll come under your winder every night; and if they offer you any liquor, don't you drink it." And away the lad hurried into the thickest of the undergrowth, traversing the woodland as well in the dark, as any Mason could do in the light.
Scarcely was he concealed, when Ruth was
hailed by Mr. Bloom, who, discovering her absence, had hastily
mounted his horse, to search for her. He took her behind him,
his ugly hump appearing still more disgusting, as she was constrained
to clasp her arms round it to maintain her seat; and sternly demanded
why she had left the house. He, moreover, threatened her, if she
did so again, with the severest punishment. It was only the next
morning, that Mrs. Bloom prepared a cup full of hot spirits for
her, under pretense of her having caught cold by her walk, and
directed her to drink it as medicine. The cautious child, remembering
Carney's warning, took it to the window, under pretense of cooling
it, and threw it out. She was immediately put to bed; and for
several hours, Soper stood at the door of her chamber, as if prepared
for travel, waiting for her to sleep. But as she continued awake,
the plot was necessarily postponed for the day. At night, Mrs.
Bloom brought her a suit of plain garments, that she had made
for her, and told her to lay aside the costly clothes she had
worn, and put on these cheap ones. As this involved the discovery
of her father's package, she was put to much distress. There was
no way to conceal it, and yet, if she understood her father's
dying look, it was important for her future welfare, that it should
be preserved. Happily, as she sat musing in the dark chamber,
she heard the wailing notes, low and soft as the night wind itself,
from the ground beneath, and understood that the blind boy was
there. His was the voice of a friend. A sudden thought the lonely
tree, the solitary lad; no one would ever think of searching for
it there perhaps some day, she could find a better place she would
trust him with the package; and raising the old sash carefully,
she dropped it out. The attempt to stupefy her with drugs, was
renewed the next morning, Mrs. Bloom insisting upon her drinking
the cup full of spirits, under her own eye.
Ruth was thus driven to the bold step of refusing it; and although the interested parties threatened her, and even struck her with severe blows, the brave girl persisted in her determination. That band, however, was not to be thus baffled, and other means, more effectual, were resorted to. At supper, in taking her cup of milk, Ruth observed a bitter flavor, but unwilling to be troublesome, or fearing to speak of it, she drank it up as usual. It was enough. She fell at once into a profound sleep. While in that senseless condition, the woman wrapped her up in her large cloak, placed her in a light wagon, by the side of Soper, and by daylight, she stood on the banks of the Ohio River, her ideas floating in the wildest confusion, and no living person, but Soper, in view.
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