One day, in the November following William Wetherell's death, Jethro Bass
astonished Coniston by moving to the little cottage in the village which stood
beside the disused tannery, and which had been his father's. It was known as the
tannery house. His reasons for this step, when at length discovered, were
generally commended: they were, in fact, a disinclination to leave a girl of
Cynthia's tender age alone on Thousand Acre Hill while he journeyed on his
affairs about the country. The Rev. Mr. Satterlee, gaunt, red-faced, but the six
feet of him a man and a Christian, from his square-toed boots to the bleaching
yellow hair around his temples, offered to become her teacher. For by this time
Cynthia had exhausted the resources of the little school among the birches.
The four years of her life in the tannery house which are now briefly to be
chronicled were, for her, full of happiness and peace. Though the young may
sorrow, they do not often mourn. Cynthia missed her father; at times, when the
winds kept her wakeful at night, she wept for him. But she loved Jethro Bass and
served him with a devotion that filled his heart with strange ecstasies—yes, and
forebodings. In all his existence he had never known a love like this. He may
have imagined it once, back in the bright days of his youth; but the dreams of
its fulfilment had fallen far short of the exquisite touch of the reality in
which he now spent his days at home. In summer, when she sat, in the face of all
the conventions of the village, reading under the butternut tree before the
house, she would feel his eyes upon her, and the mysterious yearning in them
would startle her. Often during her lessons with Mr. Satterlee in the parlor of
the parsonage she would hear a noise outside and perceive Jethro leaning against
the pillar. Both Cynthia and Mr. Satterlee knew that he was there, and both, by
a kind of tacit agreement, ignored the circumstance.
Cynthia, in this period, undertook Jethro's education, too. She could have
induced him to study the making of Latin verse by the mere asking. During those
days which he spent at home, and which he had grown to value beyond price, he
might have been seen seated on the ground with his back to the butternut tree
while Cynthia read aloud from the well-worn books which had been her father's
treasures, books that took on marvels of meaning from her lips. Cynthia's powers
of selection were not remarkable at this period, and perhaps it was as well that
she never knew the effect of the various works upon the hitherto untamed soul of
her listener. Milton and Tennyson and Longfellow awoke in him by their very
music troubled and half-formed regrets; Carlyle's "Frederick the Great" set up
tumultuous imaginings; but the "Life of Jackson" (as did the story of Napoleon
long ago) stirred all that was masterful in his blood. Unlettered as he was,
Jethro had a power which often marks the American of action—a singular grasp of
the application of any sentence or paragraph to his own life; and often, about
this time, he took away the breath of a judge or a senator by flinging at them a
chunk of Carlyle or Parton.
It was perhaps as well that Cynthia was not a woman at this time, and that
she had grown up with him, as it were. His love, indeed, was that of a father
for a daughter; but it held within it as a core the revived love of his youth
for Cynthia, her mother. Tender as were the manifestations of this love, Cynthia
never guessed the fires within, for there was in truth something primeval in the
fierceness of his passion. She was his now—his alone, to cherish and sweeten the
declining years of his life, and when by a chance Jethro looked upon her and
thought of the suitor who was to come in the fulness of her years, he burned
with a hatred which it is given few men to feel. It was well for Jethro that
these thoughts came not often.
Sometimes, in the summer afternoons, they took long drives through the town
behind Jethro's white horse on business. "Jethro's gal," as Cynthia came to be
affectionately called, held the reins while Jethro went in to talk to the men
folk. One August evening found Cynthia thus beside a poplar in front of Amos
Cuthbert's farmhouse, a poplar that shimmered green-gold in the late afternoon,
and from the buggy-seat Cynthia looked down upon a thousand purple hilltops and
mountain peaks of another state. The view aroused in the girl visions of the
many wonders which life was to hold, and she did not hear the sharp voice beside
her until the woman had spoken twice. Jethro came out in the middle of the
conversation, nodded to Mrs. Cuthbert, and drove off.
"Uncle Jethro," asked Cynthia, presently, "what is a mortgage?"
Jethro struck the horse with the whip, an uncommon action with him, and the
buggy was jerked forward sharply over the boulders.
"Er—who's b'en talkin' about mortgages, Cynthy?" he demanded.
"Mrs. Cuthbert said that when folks had mortgage held over them they had to
take orders whether they liked them or not. She said that Amos had to do what
you told him because there was a mortgage. That isn't so is it?"
Jethro did not speak. Presently Cynthia laid her hand over his.
"Mrs. Cuthbert is a spiteful woman," she said. "I know the reason why people
obey you—it's because you're so great. And Daddy used to tell me so."
A tremor shook Jethro's frame and the hand on which hers rested, and all the
way down the mountain valleys to Coniston village he did not speak again. But
Cynthia was used to his silences, and respected them.
To Ephraim Prescott, who, as the days went on, found it more and more
difficult to sew harness on account of his rheumatism, Jethro was not only a
great man but a hero. For Cynthia was vaguely troubled at having found one
discontent. She was wont to entertain Ephraim on the days when his hands failed
him, when he sat sunning himself before his door; and she knew that he was
"Who's b'en talkin' to you, Cynthia?" he cried. "Why, Jethro's the biggest
man I know, and the best. I don't like to think where some of us would have b'en
if he hadn't given us a lift."
"But he has enemies, Cousin Eph," said Cynthia, still troubled. "What great
man hain't?" exclaimed the soldier. "Jethro's enemies hain't worth thinkin'
The thought that Jethro had enemies was very painful to Cynthia, and she
wanted to know who they were that she might show them a proper contempt if she
met them. Lem Hallowell brushed aside the subject with his usual bluff humor,
and pinched her cheek and told her not to trouble her head; Amanda Hatch dwelt
upon the inherent weakness in the human race, and the Rev. Mr. Satterlee faced
the question once, during a history lesson. The nation's heroes came into
inevitable comparison with Jethro Bass. Was Washington so good a man? and would
not Jethro have been as great as the Father of his Country if he had had the
The answers sorely tried Mr. Satterlee's conscience, albeit he was not a man
of the world. It set him thinking. He liked Jethro, this man of rugged power
whose word had become law in the state. He knew best that side of him which
Cynthia saw; and—if the truth be told—as a native of Coniston Mr. Satterlee felt
in the bottom of his heart a certain pride in Jethro. The minister's opinions
well represented the attitude of his time. He had not given thought to the
subject—for such matters had came to be taken for granted. A politician now was
a politician, his ways and standards set apart from those of other citizens, and
not to be judged by men without the pale of public life. Mr. Satterlee in his
limited vision did not then trace the matter to its source, did not reflect that
Jethro Bass himself was almost wholly responsible in that state for the
condition of politics and politicians. Coniston was proud of Jethro, prouder of
him than ever since his last great victory in the Legislature, which brought the
Truro Railroad through to Harwich and settled their townsman more firmly than
ever before in the seat of power. Every statesman who drove into their little
mountain village and stopped at the tannery house made their blood beat faster.
Senators came, and representatives, and judges, and governors, "to git their
orders," as Rias Richardson briefly put it, and Jethro could make or unmake them
at a word. Each was scanned from the store where Rias now reigned supreme, and
from the harness shop across the road. Some drove away striving to bite from
their lips the tell-tale smile which arose in spite of them; others tried to
look happy, despite the sentence of doom to which they had listened.
Jethro Bass was indeed a great man to make such as these tremble or rejoice.
When he went abroad with Cynthia awheel or afoot, some took off their hats—an
unheard-of thing in Coniston. If he stopped at the store, they scanned his face
for the mood he was in before venturing their remarks; if he lingered for a
moment in front of the house of Amanda Hatch, the whole village was advised of
the circumstance before nightfall.
Two personages worthy of mention here visited the tannery house during the
years that Cynthia lived with Jethro. The Honorable Heth Sutton drove over from
Clovelly attended by his prime minister, Mr. Bijah Bixby. The Honorable Heth did
not attempt to conceal the smile with which he went away, and he stopped at the
store long enough to enable Rias to produce certain refreshments from depths
unknown to the United States Internal Revenue authorities. Mr. Sutton shook
hands with everybody, including Jake Wheeler. Well he might. He came to Coniston
a private citizen, and drove away to all intents and purposes a congressman: the
darling wish of his life realized after heaven knows how many caucuses and
conventions of disappointment, when Jethro had judged it expedient for one
reason or another that a north countryman should go. By the time the pair
reached Brampton, Chamberlain Bixby was introducing his chief as Congressman
Sutton, and by this title he was known for many years to come.
Another day, when the snow lay in great billows on the ground and filled the
mountain valleys, when the pines were rusty from the long winter, two other
visitors drove to Coniston in a two-horse sleigh. The sun was shining brightly,
the wind held its breath, and the noon-day warmth was almost like that of
spring. Those who know the mountain country will remember the joy of many such
days. Cynthia, standing in the sun on the porch, breathing deep of the pure air,
recognized, as the sleigh drew near, the somewhat portly gentleman driving, and
the young woman beside him regally clad in furs who looked patronizingly at the
tannery house as she took the reins. The young woman was Miss Cassandra Hopkins,
and the portly gentleman, the Honorable Alva himself, patron of the drama, who
had entered upon his governorship and now wished to be senator.
"Jethro Bass home?" he called out.
"Mr. Bass is home," answered Cynthia. The girl in the sleigh murmured
something, laughing a little, and Cynthia flushed. Mr. Hopkins gave a somewhat
peremptory knock at the door and was admitted by Millicent Skinner, but Cynthia
stood staring at Cassandra in the sleigh, some instinct warning her of a coming
"Do you live here all the year round?"
"Of course," said Cynthia.
Miss Cassandra shrugged as though that were beyond her comprehension.
"I'd die in a place like this," she said. "No balls, or theatres. Doesn't
your father take you around the state?"
"My father's dead," said Cynthia.
"Oh! Your name's Cynthia Wetherell, isn't it? You know Bob Worthington, don't
you? He's gone to Harvard now, but he was a great friend of mine at Andover."
Cynthia didn't answer. It would not be fair to say that she felt a pang,
though it might add to the romance of this narrative. But her dislike for the
girl in the sleigh decidedly increased. How was she, in her inexperience, to
know that the radiant beauty in furs was what the boys at Phillips Andover
called an "old stager."
"So you live with Jethro Bass," was Miss Cassandra's next remark. "He's rich
enough to take you round the state and give you everything you want."
"I have everything I want," replied Cynthia.
"I shouldn't call living here having everything I wanted," declared Miss
Hopkins, with a contemptuous glance at the tannery house.
"I suppose you wouldn't," said Cynthia.
Miss Hopkins was nettled. She was out of humor that day, besides she shared
some of her father's political ambition. If he went to Washington, she went too.
"Didn't you know Jethro Bass was rich?" she demanded, imprudently. "Why, my
father gave twenty thousand dollars to be governor, and Jethro Bass must have
got half of it."
Cynthia's eyes were of that peculiar gray which, lighted by love or anger,
once seen, are never forgotten. One hand was on the dashboard of the cutter, the
other had seized the seat. Her voice was steady, and the three words she spoke
struck Miss Hopkins with startling effect.
Miss Hopkins's breath was literally taken away, and for once she found no
retort. Let it be said for her that this was a new experience with a new
creature. A demure country girl turn into a wildcat before her very eyes!
Perhaps it was as well for both that the door of the house opened and the
Honorable Alva interrupted their talk, and without so much as a glance at
Cynthia he got hurriedly into the sleigh and drove off. When Cynthia turned, the
points of color still high in her cheeks and the light still ablaze in her eyes,
she surprised Jethro gazing at her from the porch, and some sorrow she felt
rather than beheld stopped the confession on her lips. It would be unworthy of
her even to repeat such slander, and the color surged again into her face for
very shame of her anger. Cassandra Hopkins had not been worthy of it.
Jethro did not speak, but slipped his hand into hers, and thus they stood for
a long time gazing at the snow fields between the pines on the heights of
The next summer, was the first which the painter—pioneer of summer visitors
there—spent at Coniston. He was an unsuccessful painter, who became, by a
process which he himself does not to-day completely understand, a successful
writer of novels. As a character, however, he himself confesses his inadequacy,
and the chief interest in him for the readers of this narrative is that he fell
deeply in love with Cynthia Wetherell at nineteen. It is fair to mention in
passing that other young men were in love with Cynthia at this time, notably
Eben Hatch—history repeating itself. Once, in a moment of madness, Eben
confessed his love, the painter never did: and he has to this day a delicious
memory which has made Cynthia the heroine of many of his stories. He boarded
with Chester Perkins, and he was humored by the village as a harmless but
The painter had never conceived that a New England conscience and a temper of
no mean proportions could dwell together in the body of a wood nymph. When he
had first seen Cynthia among the willows by Coniston Water, he had thought her a
wood nymph. But she scolded him for his impropriety with so unerring a choice of
words that he fell in love with her intellect, too. He spent much of his time to
the neglect of his canvases under the butternut tree in front of Jethro's house
trying to persuade Cynthia to sit for her portrait; and if Jethro himself had
not overheard one of these arguments, the portrait never would have been
painted. Jethro focussed a look upon the painter.
"Er—painter-man, be you? Paint Cynthy's picture?"
"But I don't want to be painted, Uncle Jethro. I won't be painted!"
"H-how much for a good picture? Er—only want the best—only want the best."
The painter said a few things, with pardonable heat, to the effect—well,
never mind the effect. His remarks made no impression whatever upon Jethro.
"Er—-paint the picture—paint the picture, and then we'll talk about the
price. Er—wait a minute."
He went into the house, and they heard him lumbering up the stairs. Cynthia
sat with her back to the artist, pretending to read, but presently she turned to
"I'll never forgive you—never, as long as I live," she cried, "and I won't be
"N-not to please me, Cynthy?" It was Jethro's voice.
Her look softened. She laid down the book and went up to him on the porch and
put her hand on his shoulder.
"Do you really want it so much as all that, Uncle Jethro?" she said.
"Callate I do, Cynthy," he answered. He held a bundle covered with newspaper
in his hand, he looked down at Cynthia.
He seated himself on the edge of the porch and for the moment seemed lost in
revery. Then he began slowly to unwrap the newspaper from the bundle: there were
five layers of it, but at length he disclosed a bolt of cardinal cloth.
"Call this to mind, Cynthy?"
"Yes," she answered with a smile.
"H-how's this for the dress, Mr. Painter-man?" said Jethro, with a pride that
The painter started up from his seat and took the material in his hands and
looked at Cynthia. He belonged to a city club where he was popular for his knack
of devising costumes, and a vision of Cynthia as the daughter of a Doge of
Venice arose before his eyes. Wonder of wonders, the daughter of a Doge
discovered in a New England hill village! The painter seized his pad and pencil
and with a few strokes, guided by inspiration, sketched the costume then and
there and held it up to Jethro, who blinked at it in astonishment. But Jethro
was suspicious of his own sensations.
"Er—well—Godfrey—g-guess that'll do." Then came the involuntary: "W-wouldn't
a-thought you had it in you. How about it, Cynthy?" and he held it up for her
"If you are pleased, it's all I care about, Uncle Jethro," she answered, and
then, her face suddenly flushing, "You must promise me on your honor that nobody
in Coniston shall know about it, 'Mr. Painter-man'."
After this she always called him "Mr. Painter-man,"—when she was pleased with
So the cardinal cloth was come to its usefulness at last. It was inevitable
that Sukey Kittredge, the village seamstress, should be taken into confidence.
It was no small thing to take Sukey into confidence, for she was the legitimate
successor in more ways than one of Speedy Bates, and much of Cynthia and the
artist's ingenuity was spent upon devising a form of oath which would hold Sukey
silent. Sukey, however, got no small consolation from the sense of the greatness
of the trust confided in her, and of the uproar she could make in Coniston if
she chose. The painter, to do him justice, was the real dressmaker, and did
everything except cut the cloth and sew it together. He sent to friends of his
in the city for certain paste jewels and ornaments, and one day Cynthia stood in
the old tannery shed—hastily transformed into a studio—before a variously moved
audience. Sukey, having adjusted the last pin, became hysterical over her
handiwork, Millicent Skinner stared openmouthed, words having failed her for
once, and Jethro thrust his hands in his pockets in a quiet ecstasy of
"A-always had a notion that cloth'd set you off, Cynthy," said he, "er—next
time I go to the state capital you come along—g-guess it'll surprise 'em some."
"I guess it would, Uncle Jethro," said Cynthia, laughing.
Jethro postponed two political trips of no small importance to be present at
the painting of that picture, and he would sit silently by the hour in a corner
of the shed watching every stroke of the brush. Never stood Doge's daughter in
her jewels and seed pearls amidst stranger surroundings,—the beam, and the
centre post around which the old white horse had toiled in times gone by, and
all the piled-up, disused machinery of forgotten days. And never was Venetian
lady more unconscious of her environment than Cynthia.
The portrait was of the head and shoulders alone, and when he had given it
the last touch, the painter knew that, for once in his life, he had done a good
thing. Never before; perhaps, had the fire of such inspiration been given him.
Jethro, who expressed himself in terms (for him) of great enthusiasm, was for
going to Boston immediately to purchase a frame commensurate with the importance
of such a work of art, but the artist had his own views on that subject and sent
to New York for this also.
The day after the completion of the picture a rugged figure in rawhide boots
and coonskin cap approached Chester Perkins's house, knocked at the door, and
inquired for the "Painter-man." It was Jethro. The "Painter-man" forthwith went
out into the rain behind the shed, where a somewhat curious colloquy took place.
"G-guess I'm willin' to pay you full as much as it's worth," said Jethro,
producing a cowhide wallet. "Er—what figure do you allow it comes to with the
The artist was past taking offence, since Jethro had long ago become for him
an engrossing study.
"I will send you the bill for the frame, Mr. Bass," he said, "the picture
belongs to Cynthia."
"Earn your livin' by paintin', don't you—earn your livin'?"
The painter smiled a little bitterly.
"No," he said, "if I did, I shouldn't be—alive. Mr. Bass, have you ever done
anything the pleasure of doing which was pay enough, and to spare?"
Jethro looked at him, and something very like admiration came into the face
that was normally expressionless.
He put up his wallet a little awkwardly, and held out his hand more
"You be more of a feller than I thought for," he said, and strode off through
the drizzle toward Coniston. The painter walked slowly to the kitchen, where
Chester Perkins and his wife were sitting down to supper.
"Jethro got a mortgage on you, too?" asked Chester.
The artist had his reward, for when the picture was hung at length in the
little parlor of the tannery house it became a source of pride to Coniston
second only to Jethro himself.