Public opinion is like the wind—it bloweth where it listeth. It whistled
around Brampton the next day, whirling husbands and wives apart, and families
into smithereens. Brampton had a storm all to itself—save for a sympathetic
storm raging in Coniston—and all about a school-teacher.
Had Cynthia been a certain type of woman, she would have had all the men on
her side and all of her own sex against her. It is a decided point to be
recorded in her favor that she had among her sympathizers as many women as men.
But the excitement of a day long remembered in Brampton began, for her, when a
score or more of children assembled in front of the little house, tramping down
the snow on the grass plots, shouting for her to come to school with them.
Children give no mortgages, or keep no hardware stores.
Cynthia, trying to read in front of the fire, was all in a tremble at the
sound of the high-pitched little voices she had grown to love, and she longed to
go out and kiss them, every one. Her nature, however, shrank from any act which
might appear dramatic or sensational. She could not resist going to the window
and smiling at them, though they appeared but dimly—little dancing figures in a
mist. And when they shouted, the more she shook her head and put her finger to
her lips in reproof and vanished from their sight. Then they trooped sadly on to
school, resolved to make matters as disagreeable as possible for poor Miss
Bruce, who had not offended in any way.
Two other episodes worthy of a place in this act of the drama occurred that
morning, and one had to do with Ephraim. Poor Ephraim! His way had ever been to
fight and ask no questions, and in his journey through the world he had gathered
but little knowledge of it. He had limped home the night before in a state of
anger of which Cynthia had not believed him capable, and had reappeared in the
sitting room in his best suit of blue.
"Where are you going, Cousin Eph?" Cynthia had asked suspiciously.
"Never you mind, Cynthy."
"But I do mind," she said, catching hold of his sleeve. "I won't let you go
until you confess."
"I'm a-goin' to tell Isaac Worthington what I think of him, that's whar I'm
a-goin'," cried Ephraim "what I always hev thought of him sence he sent a
substitute to the war an' acted treasonable here to home talkin' ag'in'
"Oh, Cousin Eph, you mustn't," said Cynthia, clinging to him with all her
strength in her dismay. It had taken every whit of her influence to persuade him
to relinquish his purpose. Cynthia knew very well that Ephraim meant to lay
hands on Mr. Worthington, and it would indeed have been a disastrous hour for
the first citizen if the old soldier had ever got into his library. Cynthia
pointed out, as best she might, that it would be an evil hour for her, too, and
that her cause would be greatly injured by such a proceeding; she knew very well
that it would ruin Ephraim, but he would not have listened to such an argument.
The next thing he wished to do was to go to Coniston and rouse Jethro.
Cynthia's heart stood still when he proposed this, for it touched upon her
greatest fear,—which had impelled her to go to Coniston. But she had hoped and
believed that Jethro, knowing her feelings, would do nothing—since for her sake
he had chosen to give up his power. Now an acute attack of rheumatism had come
to her rescue, and she succeeded in getting Ephraim off to bed, swathed in
The next morning he had insisted upon hobbling away to the postoffice, where
in due time he was discovered by certain members of the Brampton Club nailing to
the wall a new engraving of Abraham Lincoln, and draping it with a little silk
flag he had bought in Boston. By which it will be seen that a potion of the Club
were coming back to their old haunt. This portion, it may be surmised, was
composed of such persons alone as were likely to be welcomed by the postmaster.
Some of these had grievances against Mr. Worthington or Mr. Flint; others, in
more prosperous circumstances, might have been moved by envy of these gentlemen;
still others might have been actuated largely by righteous resentment at what
they deemed oppression by wealth and power. These members who came that morning
comprised about one-fourth of those who formerly had been in the habit of
dropping in for a chat, and their numbers were a fair indication of the fact
that those who from various motives took the part of the schoolteacher in
Brampton were as one to three.
It is not necessary to repeat their expressions of indignation and sympathy.
There was a certain Mr. Gamaliel Ives in the town, belonging to an old Brampton
family, who would have been the first citizen if that other first citizen had
not, by his rise to wealth and power, so completely overshadowed him. Mr. Ives
owned a small mill on Coniston Water below the town. He fairly bubbled over with
civic pride, and he was an authority on all matters pertaining to Brampton's
history. He knew the "Hymn to Coniston" by heart. But we are digressing a
little. Mr. Ives, like that other Gamaliel of old, had exhorted his
fellow-townsmen to wash their hands of the controversy. But he was an intimate
of Judge Graves, and after talking with that gentleman he became a partisan
overnight; and when he had stopped to get his mail he had been lured behind the
window by the debate in progress. He was in the midst of some impromptu remarks
when he recognized a certain brisk step behind him, and Isaac D. Worthington
himself entered the sanctum!
It must be explained that Mr. Worthington sometimes had an important letter
to be registered which he carried to the postoffice with his own hands. On such
occasions—though not a member of the Brampton Club—he walked, as an overlord
will, into any private place he chose, and recognized no partitions or barriers.
Now he handed the letter (addressed to a certain person in Cambridge,
Massachusetts) to the postmaster.
"You will kindly register that and give me a receipt, Mr. Prescott," he said.
Ephraim turned from his contemplation of the features of the martyred
President, and on his face was something of the look it might have worn when he
confronted his enemies over the log-works at Five Forks. No, for there was a
vast contempt in his gaze now, and he had had no contempt for the Southerners,
and would have shaken hands with any of them the moment the battle was over. Mr.
Worthington, in spite of himself, recoiled a little before that look, fearing,
perhaps, physical violence.
"I hain't a-goin' to hurt you, Mr. Worthington," Ephraim said, "but I am
a-goin' to ask you to git out in front, and mighty quick. If you hev any
business with the postmaster, there's the window," and Ephraim pointed to it
with his twisted finger. "I don't allow nobody but my friends here, Mr.
Worthington, and people I respect."
Mr. Worthington looked—well, eye-witnesses give various versions as to how he
looked. All agree that his lip trembled; some say his eyes watered: at any rate,
he quailed, stood a moment undecided, and then swung on his heel and walked to
the partition door. At this safe distance he turned.
"Mr. Prescott," he said, his voice quivering with passion and perhaps another
emotion, "I will make it my duty to report to the postmaster-general the manner
in which this office is run. Instead of attending to your business, you make the
place a resort for loafers and idlers. Good morning, sir."
Ten minutes later Mr. Flint himself came to register the letter. But it was
done at the window, and the loafers and idlers were still there.
The curtain had risen again, indeed, and the action was soon fast enough for
the most impatient that day. No sooner had the town heard with bated breath of
the expulsion of the first citizen from the inner sanctuary of the post-office,
than the news of another event began to go the rounds. Mr. Worthington had other
and more important things to think about than minor postmasters, and after his
anger and—yes, and momentary fear had subsided, he forgot the incident except to
make a mental note to remember to deprive Mr. Prescott of his postmastership,
which he believed could be done readily enough now that Jethro Bass was out of
the way. Then he had stepped into the bank, which he had come to regard as his
own bank, as he regarded most institutions in Brampton. He had, in the old days,
been president of it, as we know. He stepped into the bank, and then—he stepped
Most people have experienced that sickly feeling of the diaphragm which
sometimes comes from a sadden shock. Mr. Worthington had it now as he hurried up
the street, and he presently discovered that he was walking in the direction
opposite to that of his own home. He crossed the street, made a pretence of
going into Mr. Goldthwaite's drug store, and hurried back again. When he reached
his own library, he found Mr. Flint busy there at his desk. Mr. Flint rose. Mr.
Worthington sat down and began to pull the papers about in a manner which
betrayed to his seneschal (who knew every mood of his master) mental
"Flint," he said at last, striving his best for an indifferent accent,
"Jethro Bass is here—I ran across him just now drawing money in the bank."
"I could have told you that this morning," answered Mr. Flint. "Wheeler, who
runs errands for him in Coniston, drove him in this morning, and he's been with
Peleg Hartington for two hours over Sherman's livery stable."
An interval of silence followed, during which Mr. Worthington shuffled with
his letters and pretended to read them.
"Graves has called a mass meeting to-night, I understand," he remarked in the
same casual way. "The man's a demagogue, and mad as a loon. I believe he sent
back one of our passes once, didn't he? I suppose Bass has come in to get
Hartington to work up the meeting. They'll be laughed out of the town hall, or
"I guess you'll find Bass has come down for something else," said Mr. Flint,
looking up from a division report.
"What do you mean?" demanded Mr. Worthington, changing his attitude to one of
fierceness. But he was well aware that whatever tone he took with his seneschal,
he never fooled him.
"I mean what I told you yesterday," said Flint, "that you've stirred up the
Even Mr. Flint did not know how like a knell his words sounded in Isaac
"Nonsense!" he cried, "you're talking nonsense, Flint. We maimed him too
thoroughly for that. He hasn't power enough left to carry his own town."
"All right," said the seneschal.
"What do you mean by that?" said his master, with extreme irritation.
"I mean what I said yesterday, that we haven't maimed him at all. He had his
own reasons for going into his hole, and he never would have come out again if
you hadn't goaded him. Now he's out, and we'll have to step around pretty
lively, I can tell you, or he'll maim us."
All of which goes to show that Mr. Flint had some notion of men and affairs.
He became, as may be predicted, the head of many material things in later days,
and he may sometime reappear in company with other characters in this story.
The sickly feeling in Mr. Worthington's diaphragm had now returned.
"I think you will find you are mistaken, Flint," he said, attempting dignity
now. "Very much mistaken."
"Very well," said Flint, "perhaps I am. But I believe you'll find he left for
the capital on the eleven o'clock, and if you take the trouble to inquire from
Bedding you will probably learn that the Throne Room is bespoken for the
All of that which Mr. Flint had predicted turned out to be true. The dragon
had indeed waked up. It all began with the news Milly Skinner had got from the
stage driver, imparted to Jethro as he sat reading about Hiawatha. And terrible
indeed had been that awakening. This dragon did not bellow and roar and lash his
tail when he was roused, but he stood up, and there seemed to emanate from him a
fire which frightened poor Milly Skinner, upset though she was by the news of
Cynthia's dismissal. O, wondrous and paradoxical might of love, which can tame
the most powerful of beasts, and stir them again into furies by a touch!
Coniston was the first to tremble, as though the forces stretching themselves
in the tannery house were shaking the very ground, and the name of Jethro Bass
took on once more, as by magic, a terrible meaning. When Vesuvius is silent,
pygmies may make faces on the very lip of the crater, and they on the slopes
forget the black terror of the fiery hail. Jake Wheeler himself, loyal as he
was, did not care to look into the crater now that he was summoned; but a force
pulled him all the way to the tannery house. He left behind him an awe-stricken
gathering at the store, composed of inhabitants who had recently spoken
slightingly of the volcano.
We are getting a little mixed in our metaphors between lions and dragons and
volcanoes, and yet none of them are too strong to represent Jethro Bass when he
heard that Isaac Worthington had had the teacher dismissed from Brampton lower
school. He did not stop to reason then that action might distress her. The beast
in him awoke again; the desire for vengeance on a man whom he had hated most of
his life, and who now had dared to cause pain to the woman whom he loved with
all his soul, and even idolize, was too great to resist. He had no thought of
resisting it, for the waters of it swept over his soul like the Atlantic over a
lost continent. He would crush Isaac Worthington if it took the last breath from
Jake went to the tannery house and received his orders—orders of which he
made a great mystery afterward at the store, although they consisted simply of
directions to be prepared to drive Jethro to Brampton the next morning. But the
look of the man had frightened Jake. He had never seen vengeance so indelibly
written on that face, and he had never before realized the terrible power of
vengeance. Mr. Wheeler returned from that meeting in such a state of trepidation
that he found it necessary to accompany Rias to a certain keg in the cellar;
after which he found his tongue. His description of Jethro's appearance awed his
hearers, and Jake declared that he would not be in Isaac Worthington's shoes for
all of Isaac Worthington's money. There were others right here in Coniston, Jake
hinted, who might now find it convenient to emigrate to the far West.
Jethro's face had not changed when Jake drove him out of Coniston the next
morning. Good Mr. Satterlee saw it, and felt that the visit he had wished to
make would have been useless; Mr. Amos Cuthbert and Mr. Sam Price saw it, from a
safe distance within the store, and it is a fact that Mr. Price seriously
thought of taking Mr. Wheeler's advice about a residence in the West; Mr.
Cuthbert, of a sterner nature, made up his mind to be hung and quartered. A few
minutes before Jethro walked into his office over the livery stable, Senator
Peleg Hartington would have denied, with that peculiar and mournful scorn of
which he was master, that Jethro Bass could ever again have any influence over
him. Peleg was, indeed, at that moment preparing, in his own way, to make
overtures to the party of Isaac D. Worthington. Jethro walked into the office,
leaving Jake below with Mr. Sherman; and Senator Hartington was very glad he had
not made the overtures. And when he accompanied Jethro to the station when he
left for the capital, the senator felt that the eyes of men were upon him.
And Cynthia? Happily, Cynthia passed the day in ignorance that Jethro had
gone through Brampton. Ephraim, though he knew of it, did not speak of it when
he came home to his dinner; Mr. Graves had called, and informed her of the
meeting in the town hall that night.
"It is our only chance," he said obdurately, in answer to her protests. "We
must lay the case before the people of Brampton. If they have not the courage to
right the wrong, and force your reinstatement through public opinion, there is
nothing more to be done."
To Cynthia, the idea of having a mass meeting concerning herself was
"Oh, Judge Graves!" she cried, "if there isn't any other way, please drop the
matter. There are plenty of teachers who will—be acceptable to everybody."
"Cynthia," said the judge, "I can understand that this publicity is very
painful to you. I beg you to remember that we are contending for a principle. In
such cases the individual must be sacrificed to the common good."
"But I cannot go to the meeting—I cannot."
"No," said the judge; "I don't think that will be necessary."
After he was gone, she could think of nothing but the horror of having her
name—yes, and her character—discussed in that public place; and it seemed to
her, if she listened, she could hear a clatter of tongues throughout the length
of Brampton Street, and that she must fain stop her ears or go mad. The few
ladies who called during the day out of kindness or curiosity, or both, only
added to her torture. She was not one who could open her heart to acquaintances:
the curious ones got but little satisfaction, and the kind ones thought her
cold, and they did not perceive that she was really grateful for their little
attentions. Gratitude, on such occasions, does not always consist in pouring out
one's troubles in the laps of visitors.
So the visitors went home, wondering whether it were worth while after all to
interest themselves in the cause of such a self-contained and self-reliant young
woman. In spite of all her efforts, Cynthia had never wholly succeeded in making
most of the Brampton ladies believe that she did not secretly deem herself above
them. They belonged to a reserved race themselves; but Cynthia had a reserve
which was even different from their own.
As night drew on the predictions of Mr. Worthington seemed likely to be
fulfilled, and it looked as if Judge Graves would have a useless bill to pay for
gas in the new town hall. The judge had never been a man who could compel a
following, and he had no magnetism with which to lead a cause: the town
tradesmen, especially those in the new brick block, would be chary as to risking
the displeasure of their best customer. At half-past seven Mr. Graves: came in,
alone, and sat on the platform staring grimly at his gas. Is there a lecturer,
or, a playwright, or a politician, who has not, at one time or another, been in
the judge's place? Who cannot sympathize with him as he watched the thin and
hesitating stream of people out of the corner of his eye as they came in at the
door? The judge despised them with all his soul, but it is human nature not to
wish to sit in a hall or a theatre that is three-quarters empty.
At sixteen minutes to eight a mild excitement occurred, an incident of some
significance which served to detain many waverers. Senator Peleg Hartington
walked up the aisle, and the judge rose and shook him by the hand, and as Deacon
Hartington he was invited to sit on the platform. The senator's personal
influence was not to be ignored; and it had sufficed to carry his district in
the last election against the Worthington forces, in spite of the abdication of
Jethro Bass. Mr. Page, the editor of the Clarion, Senator Hartington's organ,
was also on the platform. But where was Mr. Ives? Where was that Gamaliel who
had been such a warm partisan in the postoffice that morning?
"Saw him outside the hall—wahn't but ten minutes ago," said Deacon
Hartington, sadly; "thought he was a-comin' in."
Eight o'clock came, and no Mr. Ives; ten minutes past—fifteen minutes past.
If the truth must be told, Mr. Ives had been on the very threshold of the hall,
and one glance at the poor sprinkling of people there had decided him. Mr. Ives
had a natural aversion to being laughed at, and as he walked back on the darker
side of the street he wished heartily that he had stuck to his original
Gamaliel-advocacy of no interference, of allowing the Supreme Judge to decide.
Such opinions were inevitably just, Mr. Ives was well aware, though not always
handed down immediately. If he were to humble the first citizen, Mr. Ives
reflected that a better opportunity might present itself. The whistle of the
up-train served to strengthen his resolution, for he was reminded thereby that
his mill often had occasion to ask favors of the Truro Railroad.
In the meantime it was twenty minutes past eight in the town hall, and Mr.
Graves had not rapped for order. Deacon Hartington sat as motionless as a stork
on the borders of a glassy lake at sunrise, the judge had begun seriously to
estimate the gas bill, and Mr. Page had chewed up the end of a pencil. There was
one, at least, in the audience of whom the judge could be sure. A certain old
soldier in blue sat uncompromisingly on the front bench with his hands crossed
over the head of his stick; but the ladies and gentlemen nearest the door were
beginning to vanish, one by one, silently as ghosts, when suddenly the judge sat
up. He would have rubbed his eyes, had he been that kind of a man. Four persons
had entered the hall—he was sure of it—and with no uncertain steps as if
frightened by its emptiness. No, they came boldly. And after them trooped
others, and still others were heard in the street beyond, not whispering, but
talking in the unmistakable tones of people who had more coming behind them.
Yes, and more came. It was no illusion, or delusion: there they were filling the
hall as if they meant to stay, and buzzing with excitement. The judge was
quivering with excitement now, but he, too, was only a spectator of the drama.
And what a drama, with a miracle-play for Brampton!
Mr. Page rose from his chair and leaned over the edge of the platform that
something might be whispered in his ear. The news, whatever it was, was
apparently electrifying, and after the first shock he turned to impart it to Mr.
Graves; but turned too late, for the judge had already rapped for order and was
clearing his throat. He could not account for this extraordinary and
unlooked-for audience, among whom he spied many who had thought it wiser not to
protest against the dictum of the first citizen, and many who had professed to
believe that the teacher's connection with Jethro Bass was a good and sufficient
reason for dismissal. The judge was prepared to take advantage of the tide,
whatever its cause.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I take the liberty of calling this meeting
to order. And before a chairman be elected, I mean to ask your indulgence to
explain my purposes in requesting the use of this hall to-night. In our system
of government, the inalienable and most precious gift—"
Whatever the gift was, the judge never explained. He paused at the words, and
repeated them, and stopped altogether because no one was paying any attention to
him. The hall was almost full, the people had risen, with a hum, and as one man
had turned toward the door. Mr. Gamaliel Ives was triumphantly marching down the
aisle, and with him was—well, another person. Nay, personage would perhaps be
the better word.
Let us go back for a moment. There descended from that train of which we have
heard the whistle a lady with features of no ordinary moulding, with curls and a
string bonnet and a cloak that seemed strangely to harmonize with the lady's
character. She had the way of one in authority, and Mr. Sherman himself ran to
open the door of his only closed carriage, and the driver galloped off with her
all the way to the Brampton House. Once there, the lady seized the pen as a
soldier seizes the sword, and wrote her name in most uncompromising characters
on the register, Miss Lucretia Penniman, Boston. Then she marched up to her
Miss Lucretia Penniman, author of the "Hymn to Coniston," in the reflected
glory of whose fame Brampton had shone for thirty years! Whose name was lauded
and whose poem was recited at every Fourth of July celebration, that the very
children might learn it and honor its composer! Stratford-on-Avon is not prouder
of Shakespeare than Brampton of Miss Lucretia, and now she was come back,
unheralded, to her birthplace. Mr. Raines, the clerk, looked at the handwriting
on the book, and would not believe his own sight until it was vouched for by
sundry citizens who had followed the lady from the station—on foot. And then
there was a to-do.
Send for Mr. Gamaliel Ives; send for Miss Bruce, the librarian; send for Mr.
Page, editor of the Clarion, and notify the first citizen. He, indeed, could not
be sent for, but had he known of her coming he would undoubtedly have had her
met at the portals and presented with the keys in gold. Up and down the street
flew the news which overshadowed and blotted out all other, and the poor little
school-teacher was forgotten.
One of these notables was at hand, though he did not deserve to be. Mr.
Gamaliel Ives sent up his card to Miss Lucretia, and was shown deferentially
into the parlor, where he sat mopping his brow and growing hot and cold by
turns. How would the celebrity treat him? The celebrity herself answered the
question by entering the room in such stately manner as he had expected, to the
rustle of the bombazine. Whereupon Mr. Ives bounced out of his chair and bowed,
though his body was not formed to bend that way.
"Miss Penniman," he exclaimed, "what an honor for Brampton! And what a
pleasure, the greater because so unexpected! How cruel not to have given us
warning, and we could have greeted you as your great fame deserves! You could
never take time from your great duties to accept the invitations of our literary
committee, alas! But now that you are here, you will find a warm welcome, Miss
Penniman. How long it has been—thirty years,—you see I know it to a day, thirty
years since you left us. Thirty years, I may say, we have kept burning the
vestal fire in your worship, hoping for this hour."
Miss Lucretia may have had her own ideas about the propriety of the reference
to the vestal fire.
"Gamaliel," she said sharply, "straighten up and don't talk nonsense to me.
I've had you on my knee, and I knew your mother and father."
Gamaliel did straighten up, as though Miss Lucretia had applied a lump of ice
to the small of his back. So it is when the literary deities, vestal or
otherwise, return to their Stratfords. There are generally surprises in store
for the people they have had on their knees, and for others.
"Gamaliel," said Miss Lucretia, "I want to see the prudential committee for
the village district."
"The prudential committee!" Mr. Ives fairly shrieked the words in his
"I tried to speak plainly," said Miss Lucretia. "Who are on that committee?"
"Ezra Graves," said Mr. Ives, as though mechanically compelled, for his head
was spinning round. "Ezra Graves always has run it, until now. But he's in the
"What's he doing there?"
Mr. Ives was no fool. Some inkling of the facts began to shoot through his
brain, and he saw his chance.
"He called a mass meeting to protest against the dismissal of a teacher."
"Gamaliel," said Miss Lucretia, "you will conduct me to that meeting. I will
get my cloak."
Mr. Ives wasted no time in the interval, and he fairly ran out into the
office. Miss Lucretia Penniman was in town, and would attend the mass meeting.
Now, indeed, it was to be a mass meeting. Away flew the tidings, broadcast, and
people threw off their carpet slippers and dressing gowns, and some who had gone
to bed got up again. Mr. Dodd heard it, and changed his shoes three times, and
his intentions three times three. Should he go, or should he not? Already he
heard in imagination the first distant note of the populace, and he was not of
the metal to defend a Bastille or a Louvre for his royal master with the last
drop of his blood.
In the meantime Gamaliel Ives was conducting Miss Lucretia toward the town
hall, and speaking in no measured tones of indignation of the cringing,
truckling qualities of that very Mr. Dodd. The injustice to Miss Wetherell,
which Mr. Ives explained as well as he could, made his blood boil: so he
And note we are back again at the meeting, when the judge, with his hand on
his Adam's apple, is pronouncing the word "gift." Mr. Ives is triumphantly
marching down the aisle, escorting the celebrity of Brampton to the platform,
and quite aware of the heart burnings of his fellow-citizens on the benches. And
Miss Lucretia, with that stern composure with which celebrities accept public
situations, follows up the steps as of right and takes the chair he assigns her
beside the chairman. The judge, still grasping his Adam's apple, stares at the
newcomer in amazement, and recognizes her in spite of the years, and trembles.
Miss Lucretia Penniman! Blucher was not more welcome to Wellington, or Lafayette
to Washington, than was Miss Lucretia to Ezra Graves as he turned his back on
the audience and bowed to her deferentially. Then he turned again, cleared his
throat once more to collect his senses, and was about to utter the familiar
words, "We have with us tonight," when they were taken out of his mouth—taken
out of his mouth by one who had in all conscience stolen enough thunder for one
man,—Mr. Gamaliel Ives.
"Mr. Chairman," said Mr. Ives, taking a slight dropping of the judge's lower
jaw for recognition, "and ladies and gentlemen of Brampton. It is our great good
fortune to have with us to-night, most unexpectedly, one of whom Brampton is,
and for many years has been, justly proud." (Cheers.) "One whose career Brampton
has followed with a mother's eyes and with a mother's heart. One who has chosen
a broader field for the exercise of those great powers with which Nature endowed
her than Brampton could give. One who has taken her place among the luminaries
of literature of her time." (Cheers.) "One who has done more than any other
woman of her generation toward the uplifting of the sex which she honors."
(Cheers and clapping of hands.) "And one who, though her lot has fallen among
the great, has not forgotten the home of her childhood. For has she not written
those beautiful lines which we all know by heart?
'Ah, Coniston! Thy lordly form I see
Before mine eyes in exile drear.'
"Mr. Chairman and fellow-townsmen and women, I have the extreme honor of
introducing to you one whom we all love and revere, the author of the 'Hymn to
Coniston,' the editor of the Woman's Hour, Miss Lucretia Penniman.'" (Loud and
Well might Brampton be proud, too, of Gamaliel Ives, president of its
literary club, who could make such a speech as this on such short notice. If the
truth be told, the literary club had sent Miss Lucretia no less than seven
invitations, and this was the speech Mr. Ives had intended to make on those
seven occasions. It was unquestionably a neat speech, and Judge Graves or no
other chairman should cheat him out of making it. Mr. Ives, with a wave of his
hand toward the celebrity, sat down by no means dissatisfied with himself. What
did he care how the judge glared. He did not see how stiffly Miss Lucretia sat
in her chair. She could not take him on her knee then, but she would have liked
Miss Lucretia rose, and stood quite as stiffly as she had sat, and the judge
rose, too. He was very angry, but this was not the time to get even with Mr.
Ives. As it turned out, he did not need to bother about getting even.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said he, "in the absence of any other chairman I take
pleasure in introducing to you Miss Lucretia Penniman."
More applause was started, but Miss Lucretia put a stop to it by the lifting
of a hand. Then there was a breathless silence. Then she cast her eyes around
the hall, as though daring any one to break that silence, and finally they
rested upon Mr. Ives.
"Mr. Chairman," she said, with an inclination toward the judge, "my
friends—for I hope you will be my friends when I have finished" (Miss Lucretia
made it quite clear by her tone that it entirely depended upon them whether they
would be or not), "I understood when I came here that this was to be a mass
meeting to protest against an injustice, and not a feast of literature and
oratory, as Gamaliel Ives seems to suppose."
She paused, and when the first shock of amazement was past an audible titter
ran through the audience, and Mr. Ives squirmed visibly.
"Am I right, Mr. Chairman?" asked Miss Lucretia.
"You are unquestionably right, Miss Penniman," answered the chairman, rising,
"Then I will proceed," said Miss Lucretia. "I wrote the Hymn to Coniston'
many years ago, when I was younger, and yet it is true that I have always
remembered Brampton with kindly feelings. The friends of our youth are dear to
us. We look indulgently upon their failings, even as they do on ours. I have
scanned the faces here in the hall to-night, and there are some that have not
changed beyond recognition in thirty years. Ezra Graves I remember, and it is a
pleasure to see him in that chair." (Mr. Graves inclined his head, reverently.
None knew how the inner man exulted.) "But there was one who was often in
Brampton in those days," Miss Lucretia continued, "whom we all loved and with
whom we found no fault, and I confess that when I have thought of Brampton I
have oftenest thought of her. Her name," said Miss Lucretia, her hand now in the
reticule, "her name was Cynthia Ware."
There was a decided stir among the audience, and many leaned forward to catch
"Even old people may have an ideal," said Miss Lucretia, "and you will
forgive me for speaking of mine. Where should I speak of it, if not in this
village, among those who knew her and among their children? Cynthia Ware,
although she was younger than I, has been my ideal, and is still. She was the
daughter of the Rev. Samuel Ware of Coniston, and a descendant of Captain
Timothy Prescott, whom General Stark called 'Honest Tim.' She was, to me, all
that a woman should be, in intellect, in her scorn of all that is ignoble and
false, and in her loyalty to her friends." Here the handkerchief came out of the
reticule. "She went to Boston to teach school, and some time afterward I was
offered a position in New York, and I never saw her again. But she married in
Boston a man of learning and literary attainments, though his health was feeble
and he was poor, William Wetherell." (Another stir.) "Mr. Wetherell was a
gentleman—Cynthia Ware could have married no other—and he came of good and
honorable people in Portsmouth. Very recently I read a collection of letters
which he wrote to the Newcastle Guardian, which some of you may know. I did not
trust my own judgment as to those letters, but I took them to an author whose
name is known wherever English is spoken, but which I will not mention. And the
author expressed it as his opinion, in writing to me, that William Wetherell was
undoubtedly a genius of a high order, and that he would have been so recognized
if life had given him a chance. Mr. Wetherell, after his wife died, was taken in
a dying condition to Coniston, where he was forced, in order to earn his living,
to become the storekeeper there. But he took his books with him, and found time
to write the letters of which I have spoken, and to give his daughter an early
education such as few girls have.
"My friends, I am rejoiced to see that the spirit of justice and the sense of
right are as strong in Brampton as they used to be—strong enough to fill this
town hall to overflowing because a teacher has been wrongly—yes, and
iniquitously—dismissed from the lower school." (Here there was a considerable
stir, and many wondered whether Miss Lucretia was aware of the irony in her
words.) "I say wrongly and iniquitously, because I have had the opportunity in
Boston this winter of learning to know and love that teacher. I am not given to
exaggeration, my friends, and when I tell you that I know her, that her
character is as high and pure as her mother's, I can say no more. I am here to
tell you this to-night because I do not believe you know her as I do. During the
seventy years I have lived I have grown to have but little faith in outward
demonstration, to believe in deeds and attainments rather than expressions. And
as for her fitness to teach, I believe that even the prudential committee could
find no fault with that." (I wonder whether Mr. Dodd was in the back of the
hall.) "I can find no fault with it. I am constantly called upon to recommend
teachers, and I tell you I should have no hesitation in sending Cynthia
Wetherell to a high school, young as she is."
"And now, my friends, why was she dismissed? I have heard the facts, though
not from her. Cynthia Wetherell does not know that I have come to Brampton,
unless somebody has told her, and did not know that I was coming. I have heard
the facts, and I find it difficult to believe that so great a wrong could be
attempted against a woman, and if the name of Cynthia Wetherell had meant no
more to me than the letters in it I should have travelled twice as far as
Brampton, old as I am, to do my utmost to right that wrong. I give you my word
of honor that I have never been so indignant in my life. I do not come here to
stir up enmities among you, and I will mention no more names. I prefer to
believe that the prudential committee of this district has made a mistake, the
gravity of which they must now realize, and that they will reinstate Cynthia
Wetherell to-morrow. And if they should not of their own free will, I have only
to look around this meeting to be convinced that they will be compelled to.
Compelled to, my friends, by the sense of justice and the righteous indignation
of the citizens of Brampton."
Miss Lucretia sat down, her strong face alight with the spirit that was in
her. Not the least of the compelling forces in this world is righteous anger,
and when it is exercised by a man or a woman whose life has been a continual
warfare against the pests of wrong, it is well-nigh irresistible. While you
could count five seconds the audience sat silent, and then began such tumult and
applause as had never been seen in Brampton—all started, so it is said, by an
old soldier in the front row with his stick. Isaac D. Worthington, sitting alone
in the library of his mansion, heard it, and had no need to send for Mr. Flint
to ask what it was, or who it was had fired the Third Estate. And Mr. Dodd heard
it. He may have been in the hall, but now he sat at home, seeing visions of the
lantern, and he would have fled to the palace had he thought to get any sympathy
from his sovereign. No, Mr. Dodd did not hold the Bastille or even fight for it.
Another and a better man gave up the keys, for heroes are sometimes hidden away
in meek and retiring people who wear spectacles and have a stoop to their
shoulders. Long before the excitement died away a dozen men were on their feet
shouting at the chairman, and among them was the tall, stooping man with
spectacles. He did not shout, but Judge Graves saw him and made up his mind that
this was the man to speak. The chairman raised his hand and rapped with his
gavel, and at length he had obtained silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I am going to recognize Mr. Hill of the
prudential committee, and ask him to step up on the platform."
There fell another silence, as absolute as the first, when Mr. Hill walked
down the aisle and climbed the steps. Indeed, people were stupefied, for the
feed dealer was a man who had never opened his mouth in town-meeting; who had
never taken an initiative of any kind; who had allowed other men to take
advantage of him, and had never resented it. And now he was going to speak.
Would he defend the prudential committee, or would he declare for the teacher?
Either course, in Mr. Hill's case, required courage, and he had never been
credited with any. If Mr. Hill was going to speak at all, he was going to
He reached the platform, bowed irresolutely to the chairman, and then stood
awkwardly with one knee bent, peering at his audience over his glasses. He began
without any address whatever.
"I want to say," he began in a low voice, "that I had no intention of coming
to this meeting. And I am going to confess—I am going to confess that I was
afraid to come." He raised his voice a little defiantly a the words, and paused.
One could almost hear the people breathing. "I was afraid to come for fear that
I should do the very thing I am going to do now. And yet I was impelled to come.
I want to say that my conscience has not been clear since, as a member of the
prudential committee, I gave my consent to the dismissal of Miss Wetherell. I
know that I was influenced by personal and selfish considerations which should
have had no weight. And after listening to Miss Penniman I take this opportunity
to declare, of my own free will, that I will add my vote to that of Judge Graves
to reinstate Miss Wetherell."
Mr. Hill bowed slightly, and was about to descend the steps when the
chairman, throwing parliamentary dignity to the winds, arose and seized the feed
dealer's hand. And the people in the hall almost as one man sprang to their feet
and cheered, and some—Ephraim Prescott among these—even waved their hats and
shouted Mr. Hill's name. A New England audience does not frequently forget
itself, but there were few present who did not understand the heroism of the
man's confession, who were not carried away by the simple and dramatic dignity
of it. He had no need to mention Mr. Worthington's name, or specify the nature
of his obligations to that gentleman. In that hour Jonathan Hill rose high in
the respect of Brampton, and some pressed into the aisle to congratulate him on
his way back to his seat. Not a few were grateful to him for another reason. He
had relieved the meeting of the necessity of taking any further action: of
putting their names, for instance, in their enthusiasm to a paper which the
first citizen might see.
Judge Graves, whose sense of a climax was acute, rapped for order.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, in a voice not wholly free from emotion,
"you will all wish to pay your respects to the famous lady, who is with us. I
see that the Rev. Mr. Sweet is present, and I suggest that we adjourn, after he
has favored us with a prayer."
As the minister came forward, Deacon Hartington dropped his head and began to
flutter his eyelids. The Rev. Mr. Sweet prayed, and so was brought to an end the
most exciting meeting ever held in Brampton town hall.
But Miss Lucretia did not like being called "a famous lady."