Alice Wilde: The Raftsman's Daughter. A Forest RomanceMetta Victoria Fuller Victor / Romance & Love
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I must return to the house! There's something in thegarret I must have.--page 34.]
ALICE WILDE: THE RAFTSMAN'S DAUGHTER.
A FOREST ROMANCE.
BY MRS. METTA V. VICTOR.
NEW YORK: IRWIN P. BEADLE AND COMPANY, 141 WILLIAM ST., CORNER OF FULTON.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the Year 1860, by IRWIN P. BEADLE & CO., in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
CHAPTER I. THE CABIN HOME. CHAPTER II. PALLAS AND SATURN. CHAPTER III. REJECTED ADDRESSES. CHAPTER IV. BEN PERKINS. CHAPTER V. AN APPALLING VISITOR. CHAPTER VI. THE COLD HOUSE-WARMING. CHAPTER VII. SUSPENSE. CHAPTER VIII. AWAY FROM HOME. CHAPTER IX. A ROLAND FOR AN OLIVER. CHAPTER X. RECONCILIATION. CHAPTER XI. A MEETING IN THE WOODS. CHAPTER XII. FAMILY AFFAIRS. CHAPTER XIII. THE TORNADO. CHAPTER XIV. GATHERING TOGETHER. CHAPTER XV. BEN AND ALICE.
THE CABIN HOME.
That ar' log bobs 'round like the old sea-sarpint, muttered BenPerkins to himself, leaning forward with his pole-hook and trying tofish it, without getting himself too deep in the water. Blast thething! I can't tackle it no how; and he waded in deeper, climbed onto a floating log, and endeavored again to catch the one which soprovokingly evaded him.
Ben was a hand employed in David Wilde's saw-mill, a few rods fartherup the creek, a young fellow not without claims to admiration as afine specimen of his kind and calling. His old felt-hat shadowed hairas black as an Indian's, and made the swarthy hue of his face stilldarker; his cheeks and lips were red, and his eyes blacker than hishair. The striped wammus bound at the waist by a leather belt, and thelinen trowsers rolled up to the knees, were picturesque in their wayand not unbecoming the lithe, powerful figure.
Ben had bobbed for saw-logs a great many times in his life, and wasa person too quick and dextrous to meet with frequent accidents; butupon this day, whether the sudden sight of a tiny skiff turning thebend of the river just below and heading up the creek threw him off hisguard, or what it was, certain it is, that stretching forward afterthat treacherous log, he lost his balance and fell into the water. Hedid not care for the ducking; but he cared for the eyes which saw himreceive it; his ears tingled and his cheeks burned as he heard thesilvery laugh which greeted his misfortune. Climbing up on to a logagain, he stood dripping like a merman and blushing like a peony, asthe occupant of the boat rowed nearer.
Keep out the way them logs, Miss Alice, or ye'll get upsot! he cried,glad of an excuse for attracting attention from his own mishap.
I can take care of myself, thank you, was the gay answer. Do you seefather's boat coming, anywhere in sight, Ben? He was to be home thisafternoon; and I took a fancy to go down and meet him.
I don't see nuthin' of it. That war a mighty big raft he took downto Centre City; the biggest raft that ever floated on that river, Ireckon. He mought not be home for two or three days yet, Miss Alice.Gorry! but won't he hev a heap of money when he sells that ar' raft!
And he'll be sure to bring me something pretty--he always does.
He knows what's what, responded Ben, stealing a sidelong, admiringglance at the sweet, young face in the skiff.
If a compliment was intended, it was not understood by the hearer.
Yes, father always knows _just_ what suits me best. Dear father! Ihope he _will_ come home to-night. I've been out picking blackberriesfor supper--just look at my hands, and she held up two pretty, dimpledhands, as if to show how charming they were, instead of to betray thepurple-tipped fingers.
But Alice Wilde did not know they were pretty, in sober truth, for shehad never been praised, flattered, nor placed in a situation where shecould institute comparisons.
Well, Ben, good-by. I shall float down the river a few miles, and if Idon't see him, I can row back alone.
You're mighty pert with the oars, for a gal. I never seed no woman 'tcould row a boat like you, Miss Alice.
Thank you, she said, with a bright smile, as she turned her littlebirchen skiff about and struck out into the river again.
Ben watched that graceful form until it was out of sight, heaving asigh, as he turned again to his work, which told how absorbed he hadbeen.
Drifting down the river, under the shadow of precipitous bluffs, whilethe sunshine flecked with gold the rolling prairie-land upon theopposite side, the young girl sang wild negro-melodies which she hadlearned of the two old colored people who formed her father's retinueof house-servants. Rich and clear, her voice floated through thosebeautiful solitudes, heard only by the envious birds in the trees whichovertopped the bluffs.
Presently she had listeners, of whom she was unaware. An abrupt bend inthe river hid from her the little boat with its single sail, flutteringlike a butterfly against the current. It held two persons--David Wilde,the owner and captain of the raft of which Ben had spoken, a rough,striking-looking man of middle age, attired in a pink calico shirt andbrown linen jacket and trowsers, who sat at the tiller smoking hispipe; and a young man of four and twenty, extremely good-looking andfashionably-dressed.
What's that? exclaimed the latter, as the sweet voice thrilled overthe water.
That's herself, sure, replied the raftsman, listening; she's comin'to meet me, I reckon. It's just like her.
And who's 'herself?' queried the other, laughing.
My cub, sir. Won't yer take yer flute out of yer pocket and give her atune, before she sees us? It'll set her to wonderin' what 'n earth itis.
The young man put the pieces of his flute together, and joined in thestrain, rising loud and exultant upon the breeze; the voice ceased; hestopped playing; the voice began, and again he accompanied it; it sangmore exuberently than ever, and the flute blent in with it accordantly.
It was not until they were nearly upon her fairy bark that they camein sight of the singer, her bright hair flying, her cheeks redder thanroses with the double exercise of rowing and singing. Philip Moorethought he had never beheld so lovely an apparition.
Oh, father, I'm so glad you're home again. Did you hear that beautifulecho? she asked, her eyes all aglow with surprise and pleasure. Inever heard any thing like it before. It must be the rocks.
'Twant the rocks--'twas this here gentleman, said David Wilde,smiling. Mr. Moore, this is my daughter Alice.
Unknown to himself, his tone and look were full of pride as hepresented her to his companion, who never paid a more sincere tributeof admiration to any woman, however accomplished, than he did to theartless child who returned his deep bow with so divine a blush.
I thought I'd come to meet you, and run a race home with you, shesaid to her father, with a fond look.
That's just like my little cub--allers on hand. Wall, go ahead! thebreeze is fair, and I guess we'll beat ye. Hope ye'll make good time,fur I'm beginning to get rather growly in the region of the stomach.
Pallas expects you, returned Alice, laughing.
If your skiff were large enough for two, I'd take those oars off yourhands, said the young gentleman.
Nobody ever touches this, but myself, and away sped the fairy affairwith its mistress, darting ahead like an arrow, but presently droppingbehind as they tacked, and then shooting past them again, the younggirl stealing shy glances, as she passed, at the stranger who waswatching her with mingled curiosity and admiration. So sweetly bashful,yet so arch and piquant--so rustic, yet so naturally graceful--soyoung, he could not tell whether she esteemed herself a child or awoman--certainly she was very different from the dozen of tow-headedchildren he had taken it for granted must run wild about the 'cabin' towhich he was now about to make a visit.
How many children have you, Mr. Wilde?
She's all. That's my mill you see just up the mouth of the creek thar.We're nigh on to my cabin now; when we've rounded that pint we shallheave in sight. Seems to me I smell supper. A cold snack is very goodfor a day or two, but give me suthin' of Pallas' getting up after it.Thar's the cabin!
Philip had been following with his eyes the pretty sailor, who hadalready moored her craft to the foot of a huge elm, overhanging thegravelly shore from a sloping bank above, and now stood in the shadowof the tree awaiting them.
If it had not been for the blue smoke curling up in thin wreathsfrom a stick chimney which rose up in the rear, he would hardly havediscovered the dwelling at first sight--a little one-story log-house,so completely covered with clambering vines that it looked like a greenmound. Tartarian honeysuckles waved at the very summit of the chimney,and wild-roses curtained every window.
Taking upon herself the part of hostess, Alice led the way to thehouse. Philip was again agreeably surprised, as he entered it. He hadread of squatter life, and considered himself posted as to what toexpect--corn-bread and bacon, an absence of forks and table-cloths,musquitoes, the river for a wash-basin, sand for soap, the sun fora towel, and the privilege of sharing the common bed. But uponentering the cabin, he found himself in a large room, with two smallerapartments partitioned from the side; the cooking seemed to be done ina shanty in the rear. The table was set in the center of the room, witha neat cloth, and a great glass plate, heaped with blackberries, stoodupon it, and was surrounded by a wreath of wild-flowers woven by thesame dimpled hands which had managed the oars so deftly.
'Clar to gracious, masser, you tuk us unbeknown.
The new speaker was an old negro woman, portly and beaming, whoappeared at the back door, crowned with a yellow turban, and bearing inher left hand that scepter of her realm, the rolling-pin.
But not unprepared, hey, Pallas?
Wall, I dunno, masser. I didn't spec' the pickaninny 'ud eat more 'n_one_ roas' chicken. But thar's two in de oven; for, to tell de trute,masser, I had a sense dat you war a comin'; and I know'd if you wasn't,me and my ole man wouldn't be afraid of two fowls.
But I've brought home company, Pallas.
Hev you now, masser? I'se mighty glad to hear it. I'd as soon wait onmasser's frien's as to sing de Land of Canaan. Yer welcome, she added,dropping a courtesy to the guest with as much importance as if she weremistress of the house--as, in fact, she had been, in most matters, formany long years. He made her a deep and gracious bow, accompanied by asmile which took her old heart by storm.
Retreating to the kitchen outside, where Saturn, her husband, had beenpressed into service, and sat with an apron over his knees pareingpotatoes, buoyed up by the promise of roast chicken from his wife, shetold him as she rolled and cut out her biscuits:
The finest gentleum she had sot eyes on sence she left oleVirginny. His smile was enough to melt buttah--jus' de smile what asweet-mannered young gentleum ought to have. She was mighty glad, sheadded, in a mysterious whisper, dat ar' pickaninny was no older.
Wha' for? queried Saturn, pausing, with a potato on the end ofhis knife, and a look of hopeless darkness on his face, barring theexpanding whites of his eyes.
You nebbah could see tru a grin'-stone till I'd made a hole in it foryer. It's a wonder I tuk up wid such an ole fool as you is, Saturn. Ifyer eyes were wurf half as much as dem pertaters' eyes, yer could seefor yerself. Hasn't masser swore agin dem city gentleum?
He's swore--dat's so.
And he never would forgive one as would come and steal away hisprecious child--nebbah! continued Pallas, lifting her rolling-pinthreatingly at the bare thought. If he war rich as gold, and lubbedher to distruction, 'twouldn't make a speck o' difference. He's jealousof the very ground she walks on; and he hates dem smoof-spoken cityfolks.
Do you suspec' he's a kidnapper--dat ar' vis'ter? asked Saturn, hiseyes growing still bigger, and looking toward the door as if he thoughtof the possibility of the handsome young stranger carrying _him_ off.
You is born a fool, and you can't help it. Put 'em 'taters inde pot, and mind yer own bisness. I want some more wood for disfiah--immejetly!
When Pallas said immejetly! with that majestic air, there wasnothing left for her worser half save to obey, and he retreated to thewood-pile with alacrity. On going out he run against Ben Perkins, whohad been standing by the open door, unperceived, for the last fiveminutes.
Why, Ben, dat you? asked Pallas, good-naturedly, not dreaming that hehad overheard her confidential conversation.
Yes; I came up to the house to seen if Captain Wilde had any ordersfor the mill to-night. I see him when he passed the creek. Who's withhim, Pallas?
The old colored woman gave a sudden sharp glance at the youth'stroubled face.
It's a frien' for all I know. What bisness is it of yours to beaskin'?
I s'pose I hain't no business. Do you think it's likely it's anybodyas expects to marry Miss Alice? his voice trembled, and he looked athis boots as he asked the question.
Marry Miss Alice! What a simpl'un you is, Ben. Wha's that pickaninnybut a chile yet, I'se like to know? a little chit as don't know nothin''bout marryin' nobody. 'Sides that, long as her fadder libs, she'llnever marry, not if it war a king. He'd be mad as fury ef any one wasto dar' to speak of such a thing. Humf! my pickaninny, indeed! withan air of scorn and indignation deeply felt by the youth, whose facewas flushing beneath the implied rebuke. Ef you'll stop a few minutes,I'll give yer some of dese soda biscuits, she said, after a briefsilence, secretly pitying a trouble at which she had shrewdly guessed,though she resented the audacity of the hope from which it sprang. Datar' man-cook what gets up the vittles for the mill-hands can't makesech biscuits as mine. Stop now, and hab some, won't yer?
Thank ye, Pallas, I ain't hungry, was the melancholyreply--melancholy when proceeding from a hearty, hard-working youngman, who _ought_ to have been hungry at that hour of the day. Heturned away, and without even going to the cabin-door to inquire ofMr. Wilde as he had proposed, struck into the pine-woods back of thegarden-patch.