"Amused! If you could only see your own face!"
"I see Sir Charles's, and that makes mine."
The new performer, you perceive, was an actor with a title.
That night's coach, driving up while the dress-rehearsal of the other tableaux was going on at the hall, brought Cousin Delight to the Green Cottage, and Leslie met her at the door.
Sunday morning was a pause and rest and hush of beauty and joy. They sat--Delight and Leslie--by their open window, where the smell of the lately harvested hay came over from the wide, sunshiny entrance of the great barn, and away beyond stretched the pine woods, and the hills swelled near in dusky evergreen, and indigo shadows, and lessened far down toward Winnipiseogee, to where, faint and tender and blue, the outline of little Ossipee peeped in between great shoulders so modestly,--seen only through the clearest air on days like this.
Leslie's little table, with fresh white cover, held a vase of ferns and white convolvulus and beside this Cousin Delight's two books that came out always from the top of her trunk,--her Bible and her little "Daily Food." To-day the verses from Old and New Testaments were these:--"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way." "Walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time."
They had a talk about the first,--"The steps,"--the little details,--not merely the general trend and final issue; if, indeed, these could be directed without the other.
"You always make me see things, Cousin Delight," Leslie said.
"It is very plain," Delight answered; "if people only would read the Bible as they read even a careless letter from a friend, counting each word of value, and searching for more meaning and fresh inference to draw out the most. One word often answers great doubts and askings that have troubled the world."
Afterward, they walked round by a still wood-path under the Ledge to the North Village, where there was a service. It was a plain little church, with unpainted pews; but the windows looked forth upon a green mountain-side, and whispers of oaks and pines and river-music crept in, and the breath of sweet water-lilies, heaped in a great bowl upon the communion-table of common stained cherry-wood, floated up and filled the place. The minister, a quiet, gray-haired man, stayed his foot an instant at that simple altar, before he went up the few steps to the desk. He had a sermon in his pocket from the text, "The hairs of your heads are all numbered." He changed it at the moment in his mind, and, when presently he rose to preach, gave forth, in a tone touched, through the fresh presence of that reminding beauty, with the very spontaneousness of the Master's own saying,--"Consider the lilies." And then he told them of God's momently thought and care.
There were scattered strangers, from various houses, among the simple rural congregation. Walking home through the pines again, Delight and Leslie and Dakie Thayne found themselves preceded and followed along the narrow way. Sin Saxon and Frank Scherman came up and joined them when the wider openings permitted.
Two persons just in front were commenting upon the sermon.
"Very fair for a country parson," said a tall, elegant-looking man, whose broad, intellectual brow was touched by dark hair slightly frosted, and whose lip had the curve that betokens self-reliance and strong decision,--"very fair. All the better for not flying too high.
Narrow, of course. He seems to think the Almighty has nothing grander to do than to finger every little cog of the tremendous machinery of the universe,--that he measures out the ocean of his purposes as we drop a liquid from a phial. To me it seems belittling the Infinite."
"I don't know whether it is littleness or greatness, Robert, that must escape minutiae," said his companion, apparently his wife. "If we could reach to the particles, perhaps we might move the mountains."
"We never agree upon this, Margie. We won't begin again. To my mind, the grand plan of things was settled ages ago,--the impulses generated that must needs work on. Foreknowledge and intention, doubtless: in that sense the hairs _were_ numbered. But that there is a special direction and interference to-day for you and me--well, we won't argue, as I said; but I never can conceive it so; and I think a wider look at the world brings a question to all such primitive faith."
The speakers turned down a side-way with this, leaving the ledge path and their subject to our friends. Only to their thoughts at first; but presently Cousin Delight said, in a quiet tone, to Leslie, "That doesn't account for the steps, does it?"
"I am glad it _can't_," said Leslie.
Dakie Thayne turned a look toward Leslie, as if he would gladly know of what she spoke,--a look in which a kind of gentle reverence was strangely mingled with the open friendliness. I cannot easily indicate to you the sort of feeling with which the boy had come to regard this young girl, just above him in years and thought and in the attitude which true womanhood, young or old, takes toward man. He had no sisters; he had been intimately associated with no girl-companions; he had lived with his brother and an uncle and a young aunt, Rose. Leslie Goldthwaite's kindness had drawn him into the sphere of a new and powerful influence,--something different in thought and purpose from the apparent unthought about her; and this lifted her up in his regard and enshrined her with a sort of pure sanctity. He was sometimes really timid before her, in the midst of his frank chivalry.
"I wish you'd tell me," he said suddenly, falling back with her as the path narrowed again. "What are the 'steps?'"
"It was a verse we found this morning,--Cousin Delight and I," Leslie answered; and as she spoke the color came up full in her cheeks, and her voice was a little shy and tremulous. "'The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.' That one word seemed to make one certain.
'Steps,'--not path, nor the end of it; but all the way." Somehow she was quite out of breath as she finished.
Meantime Sin Saxon and Frank had got with Miss Goldthwaite, and were talking too.
"Set spinning," they heard Sin Saxon say, "and then let go. That was his idea. Well! Only it seems to me there's been especial pains taken to show us it can't be done. Or else, why don't they find out perpetual motion? Everything stops after a while, unless--I can't talk theologically, but I mean all right--you hit it again."
"You've a way of your own of putting things, Asenath," said Frank Scherman--with a glance that beamed kindly and admiringly upon her and "her way,"--"but you've put that clear to me as nobody else ever did.
A proof set in the very laws themselves,--momentum that must lessen and lose itself with the square of the distance. The machinery cavil won't do."
"Wheels; but a living spirit within the wheels," said Cousin Delight.
"Every instant a fresh impulse; to think of it so makes it real, Miss Goldthwaite,--and grand and awful." The young man spoke with a strength in the clear voice that could be so light and gay.
"And tender, too. 'Thou layest Thine hand upon me,'" said Delight Goldthwaite.
Sin Saxon was quiet; her own thought coming back upon her with a reflective force, and a thrill at her heart at Frank Scherman's words.
Had these two only planned tableaux and danced Germans together before?
Dakie Thayne walked on by Leslie Goldthwaite's side, in his happy content touched with something higher and brighter through that instant's approach and confidence. If I were to write down his thought as he walked, it would be with phrase and distinction peculiar to himself and to the boy-mind,--"It's the real thing with her; it don't make a fellow squirm like a pin put out at a caterpillar. She's _good_; but she isn't _pious_!"
This was the Sunday that lay between the busy Saturday and Monday. "It is always so wherever Cousin Delight is," Leslie Goldthwaite said to herself, comparing it with other Sundays that had gone. Yet she too, for weeks before, by the truth that had come into her own life and gone out from it, had been helping to make these moments possible. She had been shone upon, and had put forth; henceforth she should scarcely know when the fruit was ripening or sowing itself anew, or the good and gladness of it were at human lips.
She was in Mrs. Linceford's room on Monday morning, putting high velvet-covered corks to the heels of her slippers, when Sin Saxon came over hurriedly, and tapped at the door.
"_Could_ you be _two_ old women?" she asked, the instant Leslie opened. "Ginevra Thoresby has given out. She says it's her cold,--that she doesn't feel equal to it; but the amount of it is, she got her chill with the Shannons going away so suddenly, and the Amy Robsart and Queen Elizabeth picture being dropped. There was nothing else to put her in, and so she won't be Barbara."
"Won't be Barbara Frietchie!" cried Leslie, with an astonishment as if it had been angelhood refused.
"No. Barbara Frietchie is only an old woman in a cap and kerchief, and she just puts her head out of a window: the _flag_ is the whole of it, Ginevra Thoresby says."
"_May_ I do it? Do you think I can be different enough in the two? Will there be time?" Leslie questioned eagerly.
"We'll change the programme, and put 'Taking the Oath' between. The caps can be different, and you can powder your hair for one, and--_would_ it do to ask Miss Craydocke for a front for the other?"
Sin Saxon had grown delicate in her feeling for the dear old friend whose hair had once been golden.
"I'll tell her about it, and ask her to help me contrive. She'll be sure to think of anything that can be thought of."
"Only there's the dance afterward, and you had so much more costume for the other," Sin Saxon said, demurringly.
"Never mind. I shall _be_ Barbara; and Barbara wouldn't dance, I suppose."
"Mother Hubbard would, marvellously."
"Never mind," Leslie answered again, laying down the little slipper, finished.
"She don't care _what_ she is, so that she helps along," Sin Saxon said of her, rejoining the others in the hall. "I'm ashamed of myself and all the rest of you, beside her. Now make yourselves as fine as you please."
We must pass over the hours as only stories and dreams do, and put ourselves, at ten of the clock that night, behind the green curtain and the footlights, in the blaze of the three rows of bright lamps, that, one above another, poured their illumination from the left upon the stage, behind the wide picture-frame.
Susan Josselyn and Frank Scherman were just "posed" for "Consolation."
They had given Susan this part, after all, because they wanted Martha for "Taking the Oath," afterward. Leslie Goldthwaite was giving a hasty touch to the tent drapery and the gray blanket; Leonard Brookhouse and Dakie Thayne manned the halyards for raising the curtain; there was the usual scuttling about the stage for hasty clearance; and Sin Saxon's hand was on the bell, when Grahame Lowe sprang hastily in through the dressing-room upon the scene.
"Hold on a minute," he said to Brookhouse. "Miss Saxon, General Ingleside and party are over at Green's,--been there since nine o'clock. Oughtn't we to send compliments or something, before we finish up?"
Then there was a pressing forward and an excitement. The wounded soldier sprang from his couch; the nun came nearer, with a quick light in her eye; Leslie Goldthwaite, in her mob cap, quilted petticoat, big-flowered calico train, and high-heeled shoes; two or three supernumeraries, in Rebel gray, with bayonets, coming on in "Barbara Frietchie"; and Sir Charles, bouncing out from somewhere behind, to the great hazard of the frame of lights,--huddled together upon the stage and consulted. Dakie Thayne had dropped his cord and almost made a rush off at the first announcement; but he stood now, with a repressed eagerness that trembled through every fibre, and waited.
"Would he come?" "Isn't it too late?" "Would it be any compliment?"
"Won't it be rude not to?" "All the patriotic pieces are just coming!"
"Will the audience like to wait?" "Make a speech and tell 'em. You, Brookhouse." "O, he _must_ come! Barbara Frietchie and the flag! Just think!" "Isn't it grand?" "O, I'm so frightened!" These were the hurried sentences that made the buzz behind the scenes; while in front "all the world wondered." Meanwhile, lamps trembled, the curtain vibrated, the very framework swayed.
"What is it? Fire?" queried a nervous voice from near the footlights.