第73章 MISS BARTRAM'S TROUBLE.(1)
It was a day of unusual excitement at the Rambo farm-house. On the farm, it is true, all things were in their accustomed order, and all growths did their accustomed credit to the season. The fences were in good repair; the cattle were healthy and gave promise of the normal increase, and the young corn was neither strangled with weeds nor assassinated by cut-worms. Old John Rambo was gradually allowing his son, Henry, to manage in his stead, and the latter shrewdly permitted his father to believe that he exercised the ancient authority. Leonard Clare, the strong young fellow who had been taken from that shiftless adventurer, his father, when a mere child, and brought up almost as one of the family, and who had worked as a joiner's apprentice during the previous six months, had come back for the harvest work; so the Rambos were forehanded, and probably as well satisfied as it is possible for Pennsylvania farmers to be.
In the house, also, Mrs. Priscilla Rambo was not severely haunted by the spectre of any neglected duty. The simple regular routine of the household could not be changed under her charge;each thing had its appropriate order of performance, must be done, and WAS done. If the season were backward, at the time appointed for whitewashing or soap-making, so much the worse for the season; if the unhatched goslings were slain by thunder, she laid the blame on the thunder. And if--but no, it is quite impossible to suppose that, outside of those two inevitable, fearful house-cleaning weeks in each year, there could have been any disorder in the cold prim, varnish-odored best rooms, sacred to company.
It was Miss Betty Rambo, whose pulse beat some ten strokes faster than its wont, as she sat down with the rest to their early country dinner. Whether her brother Henry's participated in the accelerated movement could not be guessed from his demeanor. She glanced at him now and then, with bright eyes and flushed cheeks, eager to speak yet shrinking from the half magisterial air which was beginning to supplant his old familiar banter. Henry was changing with his new responsibility, as she admitted to herself with a sort of dismay; he had the airs of an independent farmer, and she remained only a farmer's daughter,--without any acknowledged rights, until she should acquire them all, at a single blow, by marriage.
Nevertheless, he must have felt what was in her mind; for, as he cut out the quarter of a dried apple pie, he said carelessly:
"I must go down to the Lion, this afternoon. There's a fresh drove of Maryland cattle just come.""Oh Harry!" cried Betty, in real distress.
"I know," he answered; "but as Miss Bartram is going to stay two weeks, she'll keep. She's not like a drove, that's here one day, and away the next. Besides, it is precious little good I shall have of her society, until you two have used up all your secrets and small talk. I know how it is with girls. Leonard will drive over to meet the train.""Won't I do on a pinch?" Leonard asked.
"Oh, to be sure," said Betty, a little embarrassed, "only Alice--Miss Bartram--might expect Harry, because her brother came for me when I went up.""If that's all, make yourself easy, Bet," Henry answered, as he rose from the table. "There's a mighty difference between here and there. Unless you mean to turn us into a town family while she stays--high quality, eh?""Go along to your cattle! there's not much quality, high or low, where you are."Betty was indignant; but the annoyance exhausted itself healthfully while she was clearing away the dishes and restoring the room to its order, so that when Leonard drove up to the gate with the lumbering, old-fashioned carriage two hours afterwards, she came forth calm, cheerful, fresh as a pink in her pink muslin, and entirely the good, sensible country-girl she was.
Two or three years before, she and Miss Alice Bartram, daughter of the distinguished lawyer in the city, had been room-mates at the Nereid Seminary for Young Ladies. Each liked the other for the contrast to her own self; both were honest, good and lovable, but Betty had the stronger nerves and a practical sense which seemed to be admirable courage in the eyes of Miss Alice, whose instincts were more delicate, whose tastes were fine and high, and who could not conceive of life without certain luxurious accessories. A very cordial friendship sprang up between them,--not the effusive girl-love, with its iterative kisses, tears, and flow of loosened hair, but springing from the respect inspired by sound and positive qualities.
The winter before, Betty had been invited to visit her friend in the city, and had passed a very excited and delightful week in the stately Bartram mansion. If she were at first a little fluttered by the manners of the new world, she was intelligent enough to carry her own nature frankly through it, instead of endeavoring to assume its character. Thus her little awkwardnesses became originalities, and she was almost popular in the lofty circle when she withdrew from it. It was therefore, perhaps, slightly inconsistent in Betty, that she was not quite sure how Miss Bartram would accept the reverse side of this social experience. She imagined it easier to look down and make allowances, as a host, than as a guest; she could not understand that the charm of the change might be fully equal.
It was lovely weather, as they drove up the sweet, ever-changing curves of the Brandywine valley. The woods fairly laughed in the clear sunlight, and the soft, incessant, shifting breezes.
Leonard, in his best clothes, and with a smoother gloss on his brown hair, sang to himself as he urged the strong-boned horses into a trot along the levels; and Betty finally felt so quietly happy that she forgot to be nervous. When they reached the station they walked up and down the long platform together, until the train from the city thundered up, and painfully restrained its speed.