"H-have a good time, Cynthy?" said Jethro, looking down into her face. Love
had wrought changes in Jethro; mightier changes than he suspected, and the girl
did not know how zealous were the sentries of that love, how watchful they were,
and how they told him often and again whether her heart, too, was smiling.
"It was very gay," said Cynthia.
"P-painter-man gay?" inquired Jethro.
Cynthia's eyes were on the orange line of the sunset over Coniston, but she
laughed a little, indulgently.
"Er—that Painter-man hain't such a bad fellow—w-why didn't you ask him in to
"I'll give you three guesses," said Cynthia, but she did not wait for them.
"It was because I wanted to be alone with you. Milly's gone out, hasn't she?"
"G-gone a-courtin'," said Jethro.
She smiled, and went into the house to see whether Milly had done her duty
before she left. It was characteristic of Cynthia not to have mentioned the
subject which was agitating her mind until they were seated on opposite sides of
the basswood table.
"Uncle Jethro," she said, "I thought you told Mr. Sutton to give Cousin Eph
the Brampton post-office? Do you trust Mr. Sutton?" she demanded abruptly.
"Er—why?" said Jethro. "Why?"
"Because I don't," she answered with conviction; "I think he's a big fraud.
He must have deceived you, Uncle Jethro. I can't see why you ever sent him to
Although Jethro was in no mood for mirth, he laughed in spite of himself, for
he was an American. His lifelong habit would have made him defend Heth to any
one but Cynthia.
"'D you see Heth, Cynthy?" he asked. "Yes," replied the girl, disgustedly, "I
should say I did, but not to speak to him. He was sitting on Mr. Worthington's
porch, and I heard him tell Mr. Worthington he would give the Brampton
post-office to Dave Wheelock. I don't want you to think that I was
eavesdropping," she added quickly; "I couldn't help hearing it."
Jethro did not answer.
"You'll make him give the post-office to Cousin Eph, won't you, Uncle
"Yes;" said Jethro, very simply, "I will." He meditated awhile, and then said
suddenly, "W-won't speak about it—will you, Cynthy?"
"You know I won't," she answered.
Let it not be thought by any chance that Coniston was given over to revelry
and late hours, even on the Fourth of July. By ten o'clock the lights were out
in the tannery house, but Cynthia was not asleep. She sat at her window watching
the shy moon peeping over Coniston ridge, and she was thinking, to be exact, of
how much could happen in one short day and how little in a long month. She was
aroused by the sound of wheels and the soft beat of a horse's hoofs on the dirt
road: then came stifled laughter, and suddenly she sprang up alert and tingling.
Her own name came floating to her through the darkness.
The next thing that happened will be long remembered in Coniston. A tentative
chord or two from a guitar, and then the startled village was listening with all
its might to the voices of two young men singing "When I first went up to
Harvard"—probably meant to disclose the identity of the serenaders, as if that
were necessary! Coniston, never having listened to grand opera, was entertained
and thrilled, and thought the rendering of the song better on the whole than the
church choir could have done it, or even the quartette that sung at the Brampton
celebrations behind the flowers. Cynthia had her own views on the subject.
There were five other songs—Cynthia remembers all of them, although she would
not confess such a thing. "Naughty, naughty Clara," was another one; the other
three were almost wholly about love, some treating it flippantly, others
seriously—this applied to the last one, which had many farewells in it. Then
they went away, and the crickets and frogs on Coniston Water took up the
Although the occurrence was unusual,—it might almost be said
epoch-making,—Jethro did not speak of it until they had reached the sparkling
heights of Thousand Acre Hill the next morning. Even then he did not look at
"Know who that was last night, Cynthy?" he inquired, as though the matter
were a casual one.
"I believe," said Cynthia heroically, "I believe it was a boy named Somers
Duncan-and Bob Worthington."
"Er—Bob Worthington," repeated Jethro, but said nothing more.
Of course Coniston, and presently Brampton, knew that Bob Worthington had
serenaded Cynthia—and Coniston and Brampton talked. It is noteworthy that (with
the jocular exceptions of Ephraim and Lem Hallowell) they did not talk to the
girl herself. The painter had long ago discovered that Cynthia was an
individual. She had good blood in her: as a mere child she had shouldered the
responsibility of her father; she had a natural aptitude for books—a quality
reverenced in the community; she visited, as a matter of habit; the sick and the
unfortunate; and lastly (perhaps the crowning achievement) she had bound Jethro
Bass, of all men, with the fetters of love. Of course I have ended up by making
her a paragon, although I am merely stating what people thought of her. Coniston
decided at once that she was to marry the heir to the Brampton Mills.
But the heir had gone West, and as the summer wore on, the gossip died down.
Other and more absorbing gossip took its place: never distinctly formulated, but
whispered; always wishing for more definite news that never came. The statesmen
drove out from Brampton to the door of the tannery house, as usual, only it was
remarked by astute observers and Jake Wheeler that certain statesmen did not
come who had been in the habit of coming formerly. In short, those who made it a
custom to observe such matters felt vaguely a disturbance of some kind. The
organs of the people felt it, and became more guarded in their statements. What
no one knew, except Jake and a few in high places, was that a war of no mean
magnitude was impending.
There were three men in the State—and perhaps only three—who realized from
the first that all former political combats would pale in comparison to this one
to come. Similar wars had already started in other states, and when at length
they were fought out another twist had been given to the tail of a
long-suffering Constitution; political history in the United States had to be
written from an entirely new and unforeseen standpoint, and the unsuspecting
people had changed masters.
This was to be a war of extermination of one side or the other. No quarter
would be given or asked, and every weapon hitherto known to politics would be
used. Of the three men who realized this, and all that would happen if one side
or the other were victorious, one was Alexander Duncan, another Isaac D.
Worthington, and the third was Jethro Bass.
Jethro would never have been capable of being master of the state had he not
foreseen the time when the railroads, tired of paying tribute, would turn and
try to exterminate the boss. The really astonishing thing about Jethro's
foresight (known to few only) was that he perceived clearly that the time would
come when the railroads and other aggregations of capital would exterminate the
boss, or at least subserviate him. This alone, the writer thinks, gives him some
right to greatness. And Jethro Bass made up his mind that the victory of the
railroads, in his state at least, should not come in his day. He would hold and
keep what he had fought all his life to gain.
Jethro knew, when Jake Wheeler failed to bring him a message back from
Clovelly, that the war had begun, and that Isaac D. Worthington, commander of
the railroad forces in the field, had captured his pawn, the hill-Rajah. By
getting through to Harwich, the Truro had made a sad muddle in railroad affairs.
It was now a connecting link; and its president, the first citizen of Brampton,
a man of no small importance in the state. This fact was not lost upon Jethro,
who perceived clearly enough the fight for consolidation that was coming in the
Seated on an old haystack on Thousand Acre Hill, that sits in turn on the lap
of Coniston, Jethro smiled as he reflected that the first trial of strength in
this mighty struggle was to be over (what the unsuspecting world would deem a
trivial matter) the postmastership of Brampton. And Worthington's first move in
the game would be to attempt to capture for his faction the support of the
Jethro thought the view from Thousand Acre Hill, especially in September, to
be one of the sublimest efforts of the Creator. It was September, first of the
purple months in Coniston, not the red-purple of the Maine coast, but the
blue-purple of the mountain, the color of the bloom on the Concord grape. His
eyes, sweeping the mountain from the notch to the granite ramp of the northern
buttress, fell on the weather-beaten little farmhouse in which he had lived for
many years, and rested lovingly on the orchard, where the golden early apples
shone among the leaves. But Jethro was not looking at the apples.
"Cynthy," he called out abruptly, "h-how'd you like to go to Washington?"
"Washington!" exclaimed Cynthia. "When?"
"N-now—to-morrow." Then he added uneasily, "C-can't you get ready?"
"Why, I'll go to-night, Uncle Jethro," she answered.
"Well," he said admiringly, "you hain't one of them clutterin' females. We
can get some finery for you in New York, Cynthy. D-don't want any of them town
ladies to put you to shame. Er—not that they would," he added hastily—"not that
Cynthia climbed up beside him on the haystack.
"Uncle Jethro," she said solemnly, "when you make a senator or a judge, I
don't interfere, do I?"
He looked at her uneasily, for there were moments when he could not for the
life of him make out her drift.
"N-no," he assented, "of course not, Cynthy."
"Why is it that I don't interfere?"
"I callate," answered Jethro, still more uneasily, "I callate it's because
you're a woman."
"And don't you think," asked Cynthia, "that a woman ought to know what
becomes her best?"
Jethro reflected, and then his glance fell on her approvingly.
"G-guess you're right, Cynthy," he said. "I always had some success in
dressin' up Listy, and that kind of set me up."
On such occasions he spoke of his wife quite simply. He had been genuinely
fond of her, although she was no more than an episode in his life. Cynthia
smiled to herself as they walked through the orchard to the place where the
horse was tied, but she was a little remorseful. This feeling, on the drive
homeward, was swept away by sheer elation at the prospect of the trip before
her. She had often dreamed of the great world beyond Coniston, and no one, not
even Jethro, had guessed the longings to see it which had at times beset her.
Often she had dropped her book to summon up a picture of what a great city was
like, to reconstruct the Boston of her early childhood. She remembered the Mall,
where she used to walk with her father, and the row of houses where the rich
dwelt, which had seemed like palaces. Indeed, when she read of palaces, these
houses always came to her mind. And now she was to behold a palace even greater
than these,—and the house where the President himself dwelt. But why was Jethro
going to Washington?
As if in answer to the question, he drove directly to the harness shop
instead of to the tannery house. Ephraim greeted them from within with a cheery
hail, and hobbled out and stood between the wheels of the buggy.
"That bridle bust again?" he inquired.
"Er—Ephraim," said Jethro, "how long since you b'en away from Coniston—how
"I went to Harwich with Moses before that bad spell I had in March," he
Cynthia smiled from pure happiness, for she began to see the drift of things
"H-how long since you've b'en in foreign parts?" said Jethro.
"'Sixty-five," answered Ephraim, with astonishing promptness.
"Er—like to go to Washington with us to-morrow like to go to Washington?"
Ephraim gasped, even as Cynthia had.
"Washin'ton!" he ejaculated.
"Cynthy and I was thinkin' of takin' a little trip," said Jethro, almost
apologetically, "and we kind of thought we'd like to have you with us. Didn't
we, Cynthy? Er—we might see General Grant," he added meaningly.
Ephraim was a New Englander, and not an adept in expressing his emotions.
Both Cynthia and Jethro felt that he would have liked to have said something
appropriate if he had known how. What he actually said was:—"What time
"C-callate to take the nine o'clock from Brampton," said Jethro.
"I'll report for duty at seven," said Ephraim, and it was then he squeezed
the hand that he found in his. He watched them calmly enough until they had
disappeared in the barn behind the tannery house, and then his thoughts became
riotous. Rumors had been rife that summer, prophecies of changes to come, and
the resignation of the old man who had so long been postmaster at Brampton was
freely discussed—or rather the matter of his successor. As the months passed,
Ephraim had heard David Wheelock mentioned with more and more assurance for the
place. He had had many nights when sleep failed him, but it was characteristic
of the old soldier that he had never once broached the subject since Jethro had
spoken to him two months before. Ephraim had even looked up the law to see if he
was eligible, and found that he was, since Coniston had no post-office, and was
within the limits of delivery of the Brampton office.
The next morning Coniston was treated to a genuine surprise. After loading up
at the store, Lem Hallowell, instead of heading for Brampton, drove to the
tannery house, left his horses standing as he ran in, and presently emerged with
a little cowhide trunk that bore the letter W. Following the trunk came a
radiant Cynthia, following Cynthia, Jethro Bass in a stove-pipe hat, with a
carpetbag, and hobbling after Jethro, Ephraim Prescott, with another carpet-bag.
It was remarked in the buzz of query that followed the stage's departure that
Ephraim wore the blue suit and the army hat with a cord around it which he kept
for occasions. Coniston longed to follow them, in spirit at least, but even
Milly Skinner did not know their destination.
Fortunately we can follow them. At Brampton station they got into the little
train that had just come over Truro Pass, and steamed, with many stops, down the
valley of Coniston Water until it stretched out into a wide range of shimmering
green meadows guarded by blue hills veiled in the morning haze. Then, bustling
Harwich, and a wait of half an hour until the express from the north country
came thundering through the Gap; then a five-hours' journey down the broad river
that runs southward between the hills, dinner in a huge station amidst a
pleasant buzz of excitement and the ringing of many bells. Then into another
train, through valleys and factory towns and cities until they came, at
nightfall, to the metropolis itself.
Cynthia will always remember the awe with which that first view of New York
inspired her, and Ephraim confessed that he, too, had felt it, when he had first
seen the myriad lights of the city after the long, dusty ride from the hills
with his regiment. For all the flags and bunting it had held in '61, Ephraim
thought that city crueller than war itself. And Cynthia thought so too, as she
clung to Jethro's arm between the carriages and the clanging street-cars, and
looked upon the riches and poverty around her. There entered her soul that night
a sense of that which is the worst cruelty of all—the cruelty of selfishness.
Every man going his own pace, seeking to gratify his own aims and desires,
unconscious and heedless of the want with which he rubs elbows. Her natural
imagination enhanced by her life among the hills, the girl peopled the place in
the street lights with all kinds of strange evil-doers of whose sins she knew
nothing, adventurers, charlatans, alert cormorants, who preyed upon the unwary.
She shrank closer to Ephraim from a perfumed lady who sat next to her in the
car, and was thankful when at last they found themselves in the corridor of the
Astor House standing before the desk.
Hotel clerks, especially city ones, are supernatural persons. This one knew
Jethro, greeted him deferentially as Judge Bass, and dipped the pen in the ink
and handed it to him that he might register. By half-past nine Cynthia was
dreaming of Lem Hallowell and Coniston, and Lem was driving a yellow street-car
full of queer people down the road to Brampton.
There were few guests in the great dining room when they breakfasted at seven
the next morning. New York, in the sunlight, had taken on a more kindly
expression, and those who were near by smiled at them and seemed full of
good-will. Persons smiled at them that day as they walked the streets or stood
spellbound before the shop windows, and some who saw them felt a lump rise in
their throats at the memories they aroused of forgotten days: the three seemed
to bring the very air of the hills with them into that teeming place, and many
who, had come to the city with high hopes, now in the shackles of drudgery;
looked after them. They were a curious party, indeed: the straight, dark girl
with the light in her eyes and the color in her cheeks; the quaint, rugged
figure of the elderly man in his swallow-tail and brass buttons and square-toed,
country boots; and the old soldier hobbling along with the aid of his green
umbrella, clad in the blue he had loved and suffered for. Had they remained
until Sunday, they might have read an amusing account of their visit,—of
Jethro's suppers of crackers and milk at the Astor House, of their progress
along Broadway. The story was not lacking in pathos, either, and in real human
feeling, for the young reporter who wrote it had come, not many years before,
from the hills himself. But by that time they had accomplished another
marvellous span in their journey, and were come to Washington itself.