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- What Can She Do? - 20/72 -
the traces of grief through her thick veil, or guess from her firm, quiet tones, that she felt somewhat as Columbus might when going in search of a new world. And yet Edith had a hope from her country life which the others did not share at all.
When she was quite a child her feeble health had induced her father to let her spend an entire summer in a farmhouse of the better class, whose owner had some taste for flowers and fruit. These she had enjoyed and luxuriated in as much as any butterfly of the season, and as she romped with the farmer's children, roamed the fields and woods in search of berries, and tumbled in the fragrant hay, health came tingling back with a fullness and vigor that had never been lost. With all her subsequent enjoyment, that summer still dwelt in her memory as the halcyon period of her life, and it was with the country she associated it. Every year she had longed for July, for then her father would break away from business for a couple of months and take them to a place of resort. But the fashionable watering-places were not at all to her taste as compared with that old farmhouse, and whenever it was possible she would wander off and make "disreputable acquaintances," as Mrs. Allen termed them, among the farmers' and laborers' families in the vicinity of the hotel. But by this means she often obtained a basket of fruit or bunch of flowers that the others were glad to share in.
In accordance with her practical nature she asked questions as to the habits, growth, and culture of trees and fruits, so that few city girls situated as she had been knew as much about the products of the garden. She had also haunted conservatories and green-houses as much as her sisters had frequented the costly Broadway temples of fashion, where counters are the altars to which the women of the city bring their daily offerings; and as we have seen, a fruit store was a place of delight to her.
The thought that she could now raise without limit fruit, flowers, and vegetables on her own place was some compensation even for the trouble they had passed through and the change in their fortunes.
Moreover she knew that because of their poverty she would have to secure from her ground substantial returns, and that her gardening must be no amateur trifling, but earnest work. Therefore, having found a seat in the saloon of the boat, she drew out of her leather bag one of her garden-books and some agricultural papers, and commenced studying over for the twentieth time the labors proper for April. After reading a while, she leaned back and closed her eyes and tried to form such crude plans as were possible in her inexperience and her ignorance of a place that she had not even seen.
Opening her eyes suddenly she saw old Hannibal sitting near and regarding her wistfully.
"You are a foolish old fellow to stay with us," she said to him. "You could have obtained plenty of nice places in the city. What made you do it?"
"I'se couldn't gib any good reason to de world, Miss Edie, but de one I hab kinder satisfies my ole black heart."
"Your heart isn't black, Hannibal."
"How you know dat?" he asked quickly.
"Because I've seen it often and often. Sometimes I think it is whiter than mine. I now and then feel so desperate and wicked, that I am afraid of myself."
"Dere now, you'se worried and worn-out and you tinks dat's bein' wicked."
"No. I'm satisfied it is something worse than that. I wonder if God does care about people who are in trouble, I mean practically, so as to help them any?"
"Well, I specs he does," said Hannibal vaguely. "But den dere's so many in trouble dat I'm afeard some hab to kinder look after demselves." Then as if a bright thought struck him, he added, "I specs he sorter lumps 'em jes as Massa Allen did when he said he was sorry for de people burned up in Chicago. He sent 'em a big lot ob money and den seemed to forget all about 'em."
Hannibal had never given much attention to religion, and perhaps was not the best authority that Edith could have consulted. But his conclusion seemed to secure her consent, for she leaned back wearily and again closed her eyes, saying:
"Yes, we are mere human atoms, lost sight of in the multitude."
Soon her deep regular breathing showed that she was asleep, and Hannibal muttered softly:
"Bress de child, dat will do her a heap more good dan askin' dem deep questions," and he watched beside her like a large faithful Newfoundland dog.
At last he touched her elbow and said, "We get off at de next landin', and I guess we mus' be pretty nigh dere."
Edith started up much refreshed and asked, "What sort of an evening is it?"
"Well, I'se sorry to say it's rainin' hard and berry dark."
To her dismay she also found that it was nearly nine o'clock. The boat had been late in starting, and was so heavily laden as to make slow progress against wind and tide. Edith's heart sank within her at the thought of landing alone in a strange place that dismal night. It was indeed a new experience to her. But she donned her waterproof, and the moment the boat touched the wharf, hurried ashore, and stood under her small umbrella, while her household gods were being hustled out into the drenching rain. She knew the injury that must result to them unless they could speedily be carried into the boat-house near. At first there seemed no one to do this save Hannibal, who at once set to work, but she soon observed a man with a lantern gathering up some butter-tubs that the boat was landing, and she immediately appealed to him for help.
"I'm not the dock-master," was the gruff reply.
"You are a man, are you not? and one that will not turn away from a lady in distress. If my things stand long in this rain they will be greatly injured."
The man thus adjured turned his lantern on the speaker, and while we recognize the features of our acquaintance, Arden Lacey, he sees a face on the old dock that quite startles him. If Edith had dropped down with the rain, she could not have been more unexpected, and with her large dark eyes flashing suddenly on him, and her appealing yet half-indignant voice breaking in upon the waking dream with which he was beguiling the outward misery of the night, it seemed as if one of the characters of his fancy had suddenly become real. He who would have passed Edith in surly unnoting indifference on the open street in the garish light of day, now took the keenest interest in her. He had actually been appealed to, as an ancient knight might have been, by a damsel in distress, and he turned and helped her with a will, which, backed by his powerful strength, soon placed her goods under shelter. The lagging dock-master politicly kept out of the way till the work was almost done and then bustled up and made some show of assisting in time for any fees, if they should be offered, but Arden told him that since he had kept out of sight so long, he might remain invisible, which was the unpopular way the young man had.
When the last article had been placed under shelter Edith said:
"I appreciate your help exceedingly. How much am I to pay you for your trouble?"
"Nothing," was the rather curt reply.
The appearance of a lady like Edith, with a beauty that seemed weird and strange as he caught glimpses of her face by the fitful rays of his lantern, had made a sudden and strong impression on his morbid fancy and fitted the wild imaginings with which he had occupied the dreary hour of waiting for the boat. The presence of her sable attendant had increased these impressions. But when she took out her purse to pay him his illusions vanished. Therefore the abrupt tone in which he said "Nothing," and which was mainly caused by vexation at the matter-of-fact world that continually mocked his unreal one.
"I don't quite understand you," said Edith. "I had no intention of employing your time and strength without remuneration."
"I told you I was not the dock-master," said Arden rather coldly. "He'll take all the fees you will give him. You appealed to me as a man, and said you were in distress. I helped you as a man. Good- evening."
"Stay," said Edith hastily. "You seem not only a man, but a gentleman, and I am tempted, in view of my situation, to trespass still further on your kindness," but she hesitated a moment.
It perhaps had never been intimated to Arden before that he was a gentleman, certainly never in the tone with which Edith spoke, and his fanciful, chivalric nature responded at once to the touch of that chord. With the accent of voice he ever used toward his mother, he said:
"I am at your service."
"We are strangers here," continued Edith. "Is there any place near the landing where we can get safe, comfortable lodging?"
"I am sorry to say there is not. The village is a mile away."
"How can we get there?"
"Isn't the stage down?" asked Arden of the dock-master.
"No!" was the gruff response.
"The night is so bad I suppose they didn't come. I would take you myself in a minute if I had a suitable wagon."
"Necessity knows no choice," said Edith quickly. "I will go with you in any kind of a wagon, and I surely hope you won't leave me on this lonely dock in the rain."
"Certainly not," said Arden, reddening in the darkness that he could be thought capable of such an act. "But I thought I could drive to the village and send a carriage for you."
"I would rather go with you now, if you will let me," said Edith
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