Where All the Roads Meet

After Aunt Jane’s death, Uncle Job came on to Little Sandy, and together we spent several months acquainting ourselves with her affairs, for among other things it was provided in the will that he should be trustee of the estate until I was come of age. In regard to this, however, she was at pains to express the wish that I should have my way from the start, being a man grown, she said, and not likely to abuse her confidence in any respect. Thus it fell out that at seventeen, through her great wisdom and love, I was no longer poor and without a home, but rich beyond anything I could have dreamed of.
When, finally, there was nothing further to keep us, and I had visited the graves of those dear to me for the last time, we bade good by to the place, leaving Moth and Fox in charge. Of their stewardship I never had cause to regret, for through their wise and faithful management my affairs prospered in the years that were to come beyond anything I could have thought possible. Taking our departure, we passed through Little Sandy, and now for the last time. For when I came again there was no house to mark the spot, and where the streets had been a young forest grew, and birds flew in and out or hid themselves in its silent depths. Passing the Dragon, I saluted it, and with reverent sadness, as one might a departing friend, for in its silent rooms and deserted halls it treasured memories that only death could lessen or efface.
Our journey home was without event, and so filled with the sweetness of the country that when we reached Appletop we were rested in body and mind as from a refreshing sleep. Constance, as if to set my heart in a greater flame, was grown taller and more beautiful, if that could be, but otherwise had not changed; or if she had, it was to my advantage, for when I asked her if she had greatly missed me, she answered that my absence only added to her love; at which sweet confession I kissed her and was content.
Some time after our return Mr. Seymour gave a dinner at the Dragon in my honor, but quite informally, so the announcement ran. At the table I sat next to Constance, and, truth to tell, to the great loss of my appetite; for much of the time my food was untasted and my fork lay idle on my plate that I might be the more free to pay her some compliment or press her hand beneath the cloth. There being no one but friends present, my affairs were much discussed, and this with such excess of joy and good nature that I was many times in tears, so greatly was I affected by their kind speeches and the recollection of their goodness to me in the past. Mr. Seymour I never saw in better spirits, for my good fortune was as if it had come to him, or as if I had, indeed, been his own son. When the evening was somewhat advanced, he filled his glass, and looking into the faces of those about him, said, in his amiable way:
“I leave it to you, good friends, whether we may not properly toast our young friend here before we part.” Then stopping, as if to await their answer, a great shout went up that made the room ring with its good-natured heartiness. “That is as it should be, and expresses some part of our love and happiness at his good fortune. I say good fortune, and this I know it will prove; for when he was poor he bore himself with such modesty that I am sure he will not lose in amiability now that riches have come to him. For arrogance, as every one knows, is not peculiar to the rich or those high in station, but crops up oftentimes like a foul weed, born of envy, among the more lowly in life, who, except for this deformity, would be very agreeable companions and neighbors. It is peculiarly happy that this stroke of fortune has come to Gilbert, for some of you will not have forgotten the belief I expressed that Mr. Throckmorton’s marriage destroyed all his hopes of preferment in that direction. This has come about as I expected, for Mrs. Betty’s two fine boys, if she will excuse my familiar form of speech, would have left little for our young friend. You can see that for yourself now, Gilbert,” he concluded, turning to me.
“Yes, nothing could be plainer,” I answered; “though I had forgotten what you said, and because, I suppose, I have never wanted for anything, thanks to the goodness of my friends.” This response was greatly applauded by all present, and so, encouraged by their smiles, as beginners are apt to be, I went on: “I am glad I have come into what I have, and not altogether on my own account, either,” and here I gave Constance’s hand such a squeeze that she came near to crying out with the pain of it. “Aunt Betty’s boys it is not likely will ever want for anything, but if they do I shall be glad to share what I have with them, and this because of their father’s and mother’s many kindnesses to me in the past.”
“I know you mean that, Gilbert,” Aunt Betty cried; “and if it were not for disturbing everybody I would come around and give you a kiss for your sweet speech.”
This, every one agreed, quite repaid me, and I thought so too, for Aunt Betty was a most affectionate and lovable woman, and had been to me from the very first as if I were a dear brother. Mrs. Singleton, who in the years that had passed was forever looking me up to see, she said, if I kept my good temper or was not in need of some kindness, now turned to me, and smiling as a mother might on her child, asked:
“What do you intend doing, Gilbert, now that you are rich, if you have a mind to tell us?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, truly enough.
“That is not strange; but where will you complete your education?” she went on.
“In Appletop, I hope, if Mrs. Hayward thinks I need to know more about books,” I answered, turning to her.
At this the sweet lady blushed like a girl, so confused was she at the reference, but pleased withal, I thought, at the compliment. Recovering herself directly, she answered in her pleasant way:
“I was but a poor instructor, I fear, Gilbert, and taught you but little, and that not well. William and I have talked about it a great deal since the day you left us, for the ferry is not the same to us now that you are gone.”
“I will never again find friends who will be half as indulgent, and not all the money in the world would repay the debt I owe you and Mr. Hayward,” I answered. “You taught me all I know, and with such forbearance and gentleness that I shall love you for it as long as I live,” I went on, and yet not expressing the half I felt. For of all women I ever knew, save Constance and my dear mother, there was never one like her for goodness and every womanly virtue. Of Mr. Hayward, if he was different, he was not less kind-hearted and true to those near him. “About schools,” I kept on, determined to have it out now that the subject was up, “I never liked them when a boy, and less so to-day than then. That is the way I feel, and except for the necessity of it I would never look in a book again unless it referred to something I liked. An education, though, I suppose, is as needful as plowing before a crop, and so I must go on and finish mine whether I like it or no.”
“You never liked to plow very well,” Mr. Hayward responded, as if it fell to him to answer, “but still you went at it resolutely enough when there was need. You will do the same about finishing your education, I know. The labor ought not to be very great, for most men are overeducated. Nine-tenths of those who go to the higher schools had better spend their time boiling soap or hoeing corn. The few who are really great get along very well without so much cramming, and in the case of others the preparation only makes them the more dissatisfied with their real place in life,” he concluded, soberly, and as if not speaking altogether from hearsay.
“What studies do you like best, Gilbert, if any?” Mr. Seymour asked, as if quizzing me.
“History and novels; things that have to do with men and women and the like,” I answered, truly.
“History is a fine study, and novels are a help to young men when they refer to real things and not the imaginings of authors,” Mr. Seymour answered, mildly.
“I once wrote a story,” Mrs. Singleton here spoke up, much to our astonishment—”and you need not laugh. There were some beautiful things in it, too, I know; but on reading them over I became at last possessed of a horrible fear that I had seen them elsewhere, though I couldn’t be certain, and so in the end burned the manuscript.”
“That is not strange,” Mr. Seymour remarked, “for if we happen to say something that is beautiful, we are as conscious of it as others; but reflecting on the subject, it in time becomes common, and so assumes the air of being old. Immediately this is so, we suspect it is not ours, but something we have treasured in our memory, and so at last cannot distinguish between the two.”
“I am surprised at what you say, Mrs. Singleton,” Uncle Job interposed; “for I have heard the disposition to write was so intense that it could not be appeased.”
“It was not so in my case, for I have never had any disposition to make a second attempt,” she answered, amiably.
“If a man must write a novel, let him go ahead, and the Lord have mercy on his soul,” Mr. Seymour went on. “The taste, however, that leads some to select the worst types of men and women to exploit, as if such people made up the rank and file of society, or any considerable portion of it, is beyond me. What earthly interest, for instance, have refined or decent people in the doings of the social drabs that some of our authors are at such infinite pains to portray?”
“There are such people, you will admit?” Uncle Job answered, as if to draw him on.
“Yes; and there are cataclysms in the sea and quicksands on the land, but neither the currents of the sea nor the highways by land lead to them. It is only the casual wayfarer who suffers through their existence, and so the impress of the disgusting creatures these novelists depict would be slight if not thus widely advertised.”
“Then you think it does harm?” Uncle Job answered.
“Of course it does harm. I may say a foolish word and it counts for nothing. I myself will not remember it; but if some busybody or malicious person repeats it, then it circulates and has enduring life, as if stamped in bronze. So it is with the acts of those who disregard the moral ethics of society; but these authors give the reader the impression that the sun only shines by fits and starts, whereas the shadows are as nothing compared with its eternal radiance.”
“They exaggerate the situation, you think?” Uncle Job insinuated.
“Of course they do; for there are no such men and women in real life. Even the worst have good qualities; and if plots are hatched to the undoing of mankind, it is not among the young in life, for they are always trusting and of fair dealing. No, the pathos and tragedies come after marriage, for beyond that point the sea is strewn with wreckage. To go back, though, to what we were speaking about, Gilbert,” he went on, soberly enough; “you will not find it disagreeable to finish your education along the lines you mention. Nor will you, I think, in other and more necessary ways.”
“Thank you, sir; I will not lose time in making a beginning, anyway,” I answered. “What would you say, Uncle Job,” I asked, turning to him, “to Cousin Rolland’s coming here to act as my instructor?”
“He would do very well, for he has a fine mind and is a university man; but how about Cousin Angeline?” he responded, looking at me with a twinkle in his eyes.
“I think we could manage that some way; and Cousin Rolland is such agreeable company that study would not be hard under him.”
“No, I don’t think it would,” Uncle Job answered, but in what sense I could not make out.
“Where will you live meanwhile, Gilbert? I hope with us,” Setti here broke in for the first time, it never being in her nature to talk much, as I have told you.
“I would like it better than any place on earth, Setti, but the house would not be big enough for two such students as Constance and I. We would be jealous of each other’s learning before a month had passed. I have an idea what I will do, though, if Uncle Job agrees to it.”
“What is it, Gilbert? I agree beforehand to everything you do or say, as I ought, for that was what your Aunt Jane said, you know,” Uncle Job answered, good-naturedly.
“Well, I have a mind to buy the Appletop place, and as the owner is dead and it is for sale, I can’t see that there is anything to prevent,” I answered, hurrying through, not knowing how the company would take it.
Of Constance I was at once assured by the pressure of her hand. The others at first looked up in surprise, but after a while, reflecting on the matter and thinking how fine it would be to have the great place owned by a friend, there was such clapping of hands and shouting as left no doubt whatever of their opinion in the matter. Turning to Constance, I read in her eyes and heightened color how pleased she was to think I should be so near her, and in such a home, surrounded by trees and lawns and opening vistas, in the quiet of the country and yet among my friends.
“If you buy it, Gilbert, and ever build a house, let it be something like a manor, for that will be in keeping with the place,” Mrs. Singleton, who greatly admired the old-fashioned houses of the South, spoke up.
“Yes; and I would like to suggest a name for it, Gilbert, if you have a mind,” Mr. Seymour interposed.
“I should be glad to have you, sir,” I answered, in great spirits, delighted to find my plan met with every one’s approval.
“Call it Black Hawk Lodge, in honor of that great man and much maligned savage,” Mr. Seymour responded.
“I will build the house if only to name it in remembrance of him, and in gratitude for his having saved the lives of my father and mother,” I answered, the image of the great savage rising like a specter before my eyes.
Afterward it fell out as I had proposed; and not waiting to make any change in the Appletop house, I went there to live, bringing Cousin Rolland from Rock Island, as we had talked. Now, having a good deal of time on my hands, for my studies were not so much of a burden as I had thought, I soon began to think of building the new home, the old one being hardly fit to live in. The planning of this, however, I found required more time and study than I had thought, and being in doubt about nearly everything pertaining to such a place, I was compelled to seek Constance’s aid, and this almost every hour of the day. First of all we had to locate the building, and this with reference to the trees and lawns and the streets that ran past the park. This required a deal of time and much walking back and forth, for we were both agreed that the matter of location was everything. The labor, too, being tiresome in the extreme, we to rest ourselves would oftentimes have refreshments brought and served on the lawn, or in some friendly arbor. Thus, not being in any hurry, a thing I thought very simple at first grew each day more difficult, so that in the end it required quite a year for its fulfillment.
When we had fixed upon the location, the plans had next to be drawn, and that there might be no mistake or lack of attention we kept them in our own hands. As we were new to such things, and yet aware how important it was, we found it necessary to make many changes, often tearing up the plans we had made and beginning anew, so little satisfied were we with what we had done. At the start we determined that the house should have a wide veranda supported by pillars, as Mrs. Singleton had said. Then the hall came next; and this, as regards width and depth and the location of the stairs, caused us a world of planning. After that the reception-room had to be agreed upon, and this with reference to the drawing-room; but both of these we got fixed finally to our liking. The living-room, most important of all, you will say, after making the circuit of the building in search of a fit place, we at last located on the sunny side of the house, where we should have put it at first. The dining-room we determined from the very beginning to make extra big, in the belief that entertaining one’s friends tends to keep people young, if not carried to an excess; and thus it was. The sleeping-rooms and closets and things of that sort, as regards number and arrangement, occasioned us a deal of study, but finally all were arranged to our liking. The stable, last of all, we hid away behind a clump of pines, and so constructed that we could add to it, and this without destroying the symmetry of the structure, for we thought that a barn, being almost as conspicuous as the dwelling, should be gracefully planned, so far as it was possible to have it.
When finally the plans were arranged to our liking, and we could think of nothing more, we called the architect to go on with the work; but now some two years had gone by, so much time had it taken to locate and plan the structure to our liking. At last, just before my twentieth birthday, the whole was turned over to me complete. Then, not waiting for furnishings, but calling on Mr. Seymour, and he bringing every needed thing, we celebrated the event with a dinner, and afterward a great ball, to which all the people of Appletop and thereabouts were invited. This last was thought to be a great event, and to surpass by far anything of the kind ever before attempted in the new country. Certainly it passed off with great spirit; and one of the things that pleased me most about it was having the Haywards and Blakes to stay with me during the week of the celebration.
Now, being free and the house in readiness, Constance and I began to talk more seriously of our marriage, but still as a thing some way off. Not, indeed, that we thought it needful to wait till I was of age, but being separated by only a step a few days more or less did not so much matter. Thus it would have turned out, except for the most surprising and unheard-of thing that happened just at this time, and that was the need that arose for Mr. Seymour’s immediate return to England. For, so it appeared, he was not the obscure Englishman we all had thought, but the son of a great lord; and now, his two elder brothers dying without issue, and his father being already dead, he had come into the title and estate, and so must return to his own home. Of his coming to America, and the reason therefor, it appeared, so the story ran, that when a young man and hot-headed, being greatly disheartened and angered by the obstacles his father placed in the way of his union with the lady of his choice, he had married her whether or no, and gathering together all his belongings, had come to this country, and finally to Little Sandy and the Dragon, as you know. Of all this I had not a hint till one afternoon when Constance and her father were to dine with me, and she, coming early, told me the story as I have related.
“Surely you have known before to-day that your father was the son of a nobleman?” I answered, when she had finished, surprised out of my senses at what she said.
“Not always, but since we came to Appletop,” she answered.
“As long ago as that, Constance, and you have never said a word about it to me! Do you think it was quite generous to keep it back?” I asked, in some humiliation that I should have been kept in the dark about so important a matter.
“What good would it have done, Gilbert? You knew us as we are, and was that not enough? What difference did his being the younger son of a lord make?”
tumblr_ofigmywxoc1r888xpo1_1280“I don’t know; but have you not known he was to fall heir to the title?” I asked, bewildered.
“Not certainly till to-day, though it has been likely these four years.”
“These four years!” I answered, astonished at what she said; “and never a hint of it to me or any one.”
“No, for papa did not want it known; and besides, his surviving brother, although an invalid, might still have outlived him.”
“Now that you are what you are—and have been all along—Constance!” I answered, stammering and hardly conscious of what I was saying.
“Well, what about it?” she asked, in her simple way.
“Well, our plans—our marriage. Surely I am not going to hold you to it now that you have come into such prominence in the world,” I answered, with a sinking heart.
“For shame, you silly boy, to speak that way! What difference does it make. You know papa has always looked on you as his son and has told you so a hundred times.”
“I know, but he was not a lord then.”
“Yes, he was. A man noble born is always a noble, though he may not have a title; and do you think papa is any different now from what he was a month ago? You know better, Gilbert. Besides, you cruel boy, did it make any difference with you when you came into your fine fortune and found yourself betrothed to a poor tavernkeeper’s daughter? For shame! I would not have believed you so full of pride.”
“That was different, Constance, for without anything you were always too good for me, and so Aunt Jane said, though I knew it before.”
“No, it is not different at all. You loved me, and that was enough, you dear, silly goose, and I would not give you up for all the titles in the world. Nor would papa have me. There now, kiss me, and let us never speak of it again, for you know what you have always said, ‘I have you and you have me, and what more is there?'” And the sweet creature, not waiting for me to do as she said, put her arms about my neck and kissed me on both my cheeks.
“You are an angel, Constance, and a thousand times too good for me,” I answered, returning her caress; “but if your father is going to return to England at once, it will put off our marriage,” I added, disturbed at the thought.
“Yes, I suppose so, though I had not thought of that.”
“Why should it, though? Why can’t we be married before he goes—now, if there is no objection?” I added, to clinch it.
“Why, what a hurry you are in, Gilbert,” she answered, but not as if displeased at what I said.
“Yes, for if we put it off, it may be for a long time, and I see no need of such delay,” I replied, thinking of my many years of waiting.
“Why, you are only twenty, Gilbert, you know,” she answered, looking at me in the most quizzical way.
“Yes, but I have been a man these ten years, and have loved you always, you know.”
“Yes, you have, you sweet boy, and I will marry you to-day if it will please you,” she answered, putting her arm through mine as if there were no other.
“Then we will be married before he goes, if he is agreed,” I answered, kissing her. Now, seeing Mr. Seymour coming across the road, we ran forward to greet him at the gate.
“So you have heard the news, Gilbert?” he asked, as he approached, seeing our smiling faces.
“Yes; Constance has told me, and I wish you joy of your good fortune, for there is no one in the world half so worthy of it, or who would honor it as you will,” I answered, kissing his hand.
“Then you still think well of me, a lord born and bred, hot republican that you are?”
“Yes, and a thousand times more than I ever did before,” I answered, remembering his great goodness to me always; “but are all lords like you?”
“Yes, only better, though none of them have made the success I have as a tavernkeeper. And about that, what will Appletop do, I wonder, when I am gone?” he added, as if the leaving carried with it some pang of regret.
“It will never find anybody to take your place in the tavern or elsewhere, and your going will fill every one with sorrow, for there is not one who does not love you,” I answered, thinking of his true heart and gentle kindness all these years.
“Ah, Gilbert, you have the making of a fine courtier, it comes so easy for you to say pleasant things,” he answered, smiling. “Constance has told you, I suppose, that I must go back to England at once?” he added, caressing her hand.
“Yes; and I am both glad and sorry.”
“You understand that I shall want to take her with me?”
“No, not that, surely!”
“You wouldn’t have me leave her here, would you?” he asked, smiling.
“Yes, if we were married first,” I answered.
“Why, you have not thought of marrying for a year yet.”
“I know; but your going changes everything; and why should we put it off longer, if you have no objection?”
“I have no objection, but don’t you think it would be better to have it occur in her new home?”
“Not unless she wishes it, or you desire it, for this is her home and country, and always will be, I hope,” I answered, thinking it best to put the matter squarely.
“Well, do as you like, children. It is never wise for old people to meddle too much in such affairs,” he added, as if thinking of his own youth. “Only I wish Constance to go with me now, for I have to meet new conditions, and want her by my side. Afterward I will come back with you if only for a month, for this is now my country, Gilbert, as well as hers. Its streams and slumbering depths,” he went on, as he looked across the intervening plain to the great river and the dark forest beyond, “belong to all of us without reference to our place of birth. Nature claims this love and kinship from her children everywhere, but in my case there are other ties, as you know. So do not fear, my children, but that I shall return many times in the days to come to visit you in your home, in the country of my adoption.”
Thus it was concluded as we stood holding each other’s hands in the shadows of the spreading trees, and it being left to Constance and me, we determined to celebrate our marriage without further delay—not, as you may suppose, in the new house, or in the church, but in the Treasure room of the Dragon, where there were so many reminders of things dear to us all, and now become a part of our lives. When this event that we had so long looked forward to had been consummated, and every hope and longing was thus happily fulfilled, we accompanied Mr. Seymour to England, as he desired. There, as Lady Constance, my sweet wife was received by her people in the most affectionate way possible, and afterward, when they came to know her better, with such striving to keep her among them that I came near abandoning my own country for theirs. For in my case they could not have been more kind had I been an Englishman and a lord, and this, you must know, is the feeling they have for all their descendants beyond the seas, however lightly the latter may prize their love.
In this way, and amid surroundings every way delightful, we prolonged our stay for a year or more, but after a while, and with some sojourn on the continent, came back to our own home, where we stayed. This, though the town faded out after a little, as so many had done before, to reappear under other names on the banks of the great river. We were content to stay, and soon where the streets had been, meadows and trees took their place, for as the houses were torn down or moved away we acquired the property, and so added it to what we had before. Of the Dragon, it remained as of old, and the little garden Constance had looked after as a girl we kept as it was, and filled always with the flowers she had loved. This part of our domain, the most cherished of all, we left to Setti’s tender care, and of the building she made a playhouse for our children, and here they grew to be men and women, all fair and with sweet tempers and gentle ways like their mother. Constance and I often visited the old home, sometimes with the children at the little feasts they spread, but often alone, when we wished to conjure up anew the faces and forms of other days. Thus we lived in the stillness of the country in happiness and contentment of mind, each year adding something to the great love we had borne each other from the first.