Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Not that I agree with everything in “The Judge’s Wife” by Louise C. Moulton, but there is some food for thought.


“Whose house is that behind the elms?" asked a stranger, one summer morning in 18-, of Israel King, landlord of the only inn the good town of Essex could boast. Strangers frequently made this inquiry, for the house in question was by far the most noticeable in the little village. The situation, on the top of a gentle hill, was in itself fine. Noble old trees, stately enough to have been the pride of some English park, surrounded it, and between their foliage you could catch tempting glimpses of a large, hospitable-looking stone mansion.

 "Yes, that is a hansum house. You are not the fust one, by a good many, to ask who it belongs to," commenced the landlord in his circumlocutory fashion, rubbing his hands and sitting down as who might, if he was urged, a tale unfold. "I calkerlate it's about as hansum a house as you'll find in a country village anywhere, and Judge Elliott, the man who owns it and lives in it, is a fine man, —a master fine man, I call him, though there's been some hard talk about him, but that's neither here nor there;" and Israel shut his lips together as one not to be induced to tell anything more, - at least not without urging.

 By this time, however, the stranger's curiosity was really aroused; besides, he had a lonely morning to pass before he could attend to the business which had brought him to Essex, and what could while away the hours more agreeably than to listen to a story, - a veritable New-England romance? So he fell in with the landlord's humor, and urged the worthy publican to his heart's content. -, "'Waal," commenced the narrator, ":I dunno as I mind tellin' ye, seein' yer a stranger here, an' it can't do no hurt, ef it don't do no good. It's nigh onto fifteen year ago; let me see, —yes,'twas seventeen year ago last spring, - how time does fly, don't it? -when Jacob Elliott, he wan't judge then, come to Essex and hung out his shingle. He was a master smart young lawyer, an Englishman born, and he'd larnt most of his law in England. Anyhow, he'd got admitted to this county bar some way, and he'd practised a year over in Simsbury afore he come here. I never see any young man come up as he did.'Twant long afore he was on one side or t'other of about every hard case that was tried in Har'ford county, and the side he was on most gen'ally come off ahead. When he'd been here seven year they chose him Judge of the County Court. But I'm gittin' afore my story. He hadn't been here long when he got acquainted with'Lizabeth Mills. I dunno as you'd a called her hansum, —most o' folks didn't, but somehow I liked the looks of her better'n any girl in Essex, and I guess'Squire Elliott was pooty much o' my opinion. She wan't small, —ruther above middle size, I guess you might call her neither slim nor stout. She had kind of a stately form, and my good woman used to say she made her think of our horse-chestnut tree,— not a bit too large for her height, and not a bit too tall for her size, but shaped just as true as a die, and kind o' lofty lookin', as if small things couldn't git nigh her. She's kind o' poetical, Miss King is, and she allus thought a master sight of'Lizabeth Mills. So did everybody, for that matter.

All the old folks was greatly took up with her, she was so perlite and respectful and willin' to talk with'em. The young girls all liked her. She was so neat and so smart,- she knew how to twist a ribbon or tie a bow better'n the best of'em, and she was allus ready to help other folks. Besides, she never interfered with their sweethearts. The little children, -it did beat all how they took to her. She allus had some nice story to tell'em, and she made'em rag-babies, and did a heap o' things for'em the other girls was too fall of beaux and finery ever to think o' doin'. When she went amongst the little ones they was allus all over her to once, and she never seemed a bit put out by'em. Her face would kind o' kindle up when she see how they loved her, and my good woman said the smiles she would give'em it did her heart good to see.' She ought to be married and have some of her own, she loves'ena so well,' says Miss King. I was pooty much of the same opinion, but we used to think it was main doubtful whether she ever got married; the young men was all afraid of her. Truth to tell, they was the only human critters who was oneasy in her company. Old folks and young folks, children and grandparents, all felt free and easy with her, but the young men hung off. Girls that wan't good enough to tie up her shoe-strings got courted and married, but she got along to twenty-three, and I don't believe any chap had ever so much as walked home with her from meetin' or singin' school, exceptin' her own brother William.

Her father — everybody called him'Squire Mills, he'd been Justice of the Peace nigh onto twenty year- was one of our fust men. He owned the best farm in Essex, and folks kind o' looked up to him. They lived in hansummer style than most on us,'specially arter'Lizabeth grew up. She had a mighty sight o' taste, that girl had. Their parlor used to look, of a summer day, like a little garden, with pinks and roses put all round in cheney saucers and little glass dishes. He hadn't but them two children,'Squire Mills hadn't, and they did think a main sight of one'nother.'Lizabeth was jest two years the oldest, but William was taller than she was, and they was allus together.

But you'll think I'm steerin' a good ways from my story. Truth is, I ain't so young as I used to be, and my thoughts have got slow'long with my steps, and like jest about as well as my feet do to stop among the old places and rest. Never mind, it all has some thing mnore or less, to do with Jacob Elliott. He come to Essex when'Lizabeth was jest about twenty-three, and I calkerlate he wan't fur from thirty. As I was sayin','twan't long afore he got acquainted with'Squire Mills' folks, and he and'Lizabeth seemed to take to each other from the fust. He was over there most every night on one excuse or another; and they read together, and talked, and walked about under the trees; but somehow I didn't think the courtin' seemed to git along very —fast. The young man grew thin and pale, and somethin' seemed to worry him mightily. You had to speak to him twice afore he'd hear you, and everybody noticed how absent-minded he was. Most o' folks laid it to his bein' fiaid of'Lizabeth; she had carried sech a high head to all the young men. But my good woman sees about as fur into a millstone as anybody, and, says she to me, "' Israel, you may depend'tain't no sech a thing. He understands'Lizabeth too well to feel'fraid of her. He's got somethin' to trouble him that we don't know nothin' about. Maybe he feels too poor to be married.'

The time come afterwards that we understood those symptoms better, but my good woman was right when she said he had somethin' to trouble him that nobody knew on. Waal, things went on in that fashion fur some time, and one night - it was a summer night, and dark as a pocket - I was outside of the house, sittin' down to git cooled off under the horse-chestnut tree, in front there by the road, and I see'Squire Elliott come out o''Squire Mills' gate, - that is'Squire Mills' house, the third one from here, on the other side of the road. I could see him in spite o' the dark, - I'd been out so long my eyes had got used to it. I dunno as I told ye he took his meals at our house, but he lodged in his office, just beyond here. As he come along by where I was sittin', I heard him say to himself, he spoke kind o' firm like, as if he'd made up his mind,"'Well, I shall taste happiness now. Dear girl. God knows I would die before any harm should come to her, but I cannot tell her my secret. She would never see the matter as I do.' Afrter his office door bad shut, I went into the house and told Miss King what I'd heerd. My good woman never was no gossip. ‘Waal, Israel,' says she, when I'd told her,'keep it all to yourself. If'Squire Elliott don't choose to tell his secrets, don't you go and let on that he's got'em. He knows his own business best, and he'll do about the right thing, I guess. He's a good man; he shows it in his face.'

Waal, I took Miss King's advice. I didn't say any thing, and the next day we heerd that'Squire Elliott and'Lizabeth Mills had promised to have one another, and would be married that fall. From that day'Squire Elliott seemed to have put off his trouble, whatever it was. He had a quick hearin' and a kind word for everybody, and his face -he was a master hansum man —seemed all kindled up with hope. Where his stone house stands now was a good, roomy two-story wooden one then, andc'Squire Mills owned the place. It was ruther old-fashioned, to be sure, but it had been a good house in its day, and all the trees and every thing o' that sort was jest as hansum then as they are now. Jacob Elliott wan't wuth a great deal, but old'Squire Mills give a deed o' the place to'Lizabeth, and fitted it up a little, and that fall they was married and went to livin' in it.  You never see a happier couple. For the next five years I don't believe they knew what trouble meant, only I reckon'Lizabeth would have liked some children, and they never had none. Babies came thick as hops to folks that had nothin' to take care on'em with and didn't want' em, and'Squire Elliott's practice grew bigger, and he made more and more money every year, and there was only they two to use it. Maybe'twas my notion that'Lizabeth wanted any more. At any rate, they was all bound up in each other, and they seemed happy as the day is long.

At last the'Squire concluded to build, and they went home one summer, and staid to old'Squire Mills'. In the mean time the old house was tore dowh, and that big stone one put up in its place, and in the fall they went to housekeepin' again. There didn't seem to be any human comfort wantin' to'em then. That winter'Lizabeth jined the church. She allus had seemed as good as a saint to me, but Miss King said, after this her face was like the face of an angel, and her voice was so tender and full of love to everybody that it most made the tears come in your eyes to hear it.  

The next year they chose him Judge, and now Judge Elliott was quite a great man among us. They looked up to him more than ever, and folks that hadn't seen any beauty in'Lizabeth Mills' face begun to think her a'mazin' fine-lookin' woman, now her husband was Judge, and she wore silks and satins stiff enough, as Miss King said, to stand alone. Most folks would'a been set up, in her place, but she hadn't half so high and mighty an air to anybody now as she used to put on to the young men when she was'Lizabeth Mills. She was a true Christian, if there's one on earth, I b'lieve, and she did all the good she could to everybody. It seems main hard that heavy trouble should come to any one so good as she was, but the Scripter says that the Lord chastens those He loves, and maybe, though we couldn't see it, her heart was sot too much on this world.

The next summer arter the one Jacob Elliott was chosen Judge there came a stranger to my house, —I've kept tavern here for twenty-five year, summer and winter. He was a gentleman, I saw that the minit I put my eye on him. He looked somethin' like Judge Elliott, I couldn't help thinkin'. He was younger, and his featers wan't much like the Judge's, only there was a kind of a look, - what you might call a family likeness. He told me if he found it pleasant here, he might stop several days, and he should like to git acquainted with some of the people in the village. He was an Englishman, he said, travellin' in America for pleasure, and he thought the best way of judging of a country was to know somethin' about its inhabitants. Then, says he, kind o' careless like, as you asked me this mornin', ‘ Who lives in that hansum stone house behind the ellls?' "I told him it was Judge Elliott, and that he was an Englishman. He seemed mightily interested at once, and I went on and told him all I knew about the Judge, so fur; jest as I've told it to you, only I didn't speak o' the words I'd heerd him say the night arter he got engaged to'Lizabeth Mills. When I'd got through, says he, —'Thank you, Mr. King,'- he was a mighty perlite, smooth-spoken man,-' I have been very much interested in your story. Would you feel free to take me over to Judge Elliott's, and introduce me? I should like to make his acquaintance very much.' "' Free,' says I,' bless your heart, anybody feels free to go and see Judge Elliott, - there isn't a kinder or more hospitable man anywhere.'

With that I went into the house and brushed up a little. Then I clapped on my hat and started off. It wanted jest about two hours of dinner time. It happened that the Judge himself came to the door. "'How do you do, neighbor King?' says he, in his pleasant, friendly way, and then his eyes fell upon the stranger gentleman. I could have sworn that he turned as white as a sheet to his very lips, but the next second I doubted my own eyes, for his smile was so composed and pleasant, and his manner so natural that it didn't seem as if any thing could have stirred him up enough to make him turn pale a minit afore. "'Perhaps,' thinks I,'it was only in my eyes, and perhaps it might have been a suddin pain come over him.' "So I took no notice. Says I, -"'Judge Elliott, this is Mr. Robert Armstrong, an English gentleman, who would like to git acquainted with you.' "He shook hands heartily with the stranger, -he was allus a master cordial man, - and then he invited us in. The time passed quickly, and, fust we knew, it was dinner time. We had sot talkin' two hours. To be sure I hadn't talked much, I reckoned it warn't my place; no more had Mr. Armstrong, fur that matter; he'd seemed satisfied to sit an' hear the Judge talk and look at him, and sure enough I'd never seen Judge Elliott more sociable, and he allus was a mighty good talker. When I see it was dinner time I made a move to go, but the Judge wouldn't hear to no sech thing. We must both stay and take dinner with him, he said. Fust I thought I'd go home and leave Mr. Armstrong, but arter a good deal o' pressin' I agreed to stay too.

Jest then Miss Elliott come into the room. You've no idee how grand and kind o' splendid she looked in that hansum parlor. It seemed jest made for her to live in. She had on a silk gown, sort of a dove color, and it trailed along behind her on the carpet when she walked. She had more hair than any other woman I ever see, and it was braided that day, and wound round her head somethin' like pictures you've seen of queens. She couldn't a looked more like a queen ef she'd been born one, — so stately as she was, with her silk dress, her pale face, and her dark eyes, with pride and kindness both in their looks. I tell you I was a little set up to have the Englishman see in a Hal'ford County Connecticut girl a woman they'd a' been proud of in Queen Vie's court. I see he was struck all of a heap with her, to once. He talked with her very quiet and respectful, and she was sociable and yet dignified to him, and real friendly to the old tavern-keeper she'd known ever sence she was knee-high. It didn't want very keen eyes to see that the Judge was prouder o' her than of house and lands; and every now and then, in the midst of her talk, she would look at her husband, with eyes runnin' over full of love. I tell you, stranger, it ain't every man that gits looked at like that in his journey through this world. I could see'Armstrong noticed her looks and understood'em as well as I did.

Waal, pooty soon we had dinner, and a nice one it was, too; and when it was over, the Judge invited us to walk out into the grounds. Miss Elliott, she stayed in the house, and arter a little I got kind o' strayed away from'em. I hadn't any idee of their having any privacy to talk, but I thought they might get better acquainted without me than with me. There's a double walk round back o' the Judge's house. Three rows of pine-trees are plantedl thick together, in kind of semicircular fashion; a middle row and two outside ones. Between the middle row and each outside one is a walk where you can never hear a footstep, the dead pine leaves cover the ground so soft and thick. Somehow the shade looked invitin', and arter a little I went into one of these walks. It was the outside one, furthest from the house, and pooty soon I heard Judge Elliott's voice, and knew't they were in the other one.

I looked through, between the trees. I knew the green was so thick they warn't likely to see me, and I thought I'd jest give'emn a good look, as they walked slowly along, and see ef it had all been my imagination about Mfr. Armstrong's lookin' so much like the Judge. They were pacin' under the pines, and the Judge made some remark and seemed waitin' for an answer. Just that minit Mr. Armstrong —he was a little ahead - turned round suddenly and stood full in front of Judge Elliott. "'My brother,' he cried out, with sort of a tender yearnin' in his voice,' my own dear brother Alfred,'I was lookin' at the Judge and I saw that same strange look pass a second time over his face, turnin' it white to the lips. But, as afore, it went away in a minit, and he gave Mr. Armstrong kind of a puzzled, surprised smile. "'Do not deny me, you cannot,' the stranger went on, his voice gatherin'. up passion and energy.'You are my brother, my own elder brother Alfed. Did you think I would believe you were dead? Did you think I would never find you? I loved you too well, my heart clung to you as to my life. I felt in my heart that the world still held you. I have hoped and waited all these years, and at last it came about in the very strangest way. I happened to see a few numbers of the North American -Review, and there were some articles in them which I knew were yours. There was no name to them, but I could not be mistaken. They advocated some of your favorite old theories; they had exactly your cast of mind, your very turns of expression. I thought no labor too much by which I might hope to find my brother; so with only this clue I crossed the ocean. I came to Boston and learned the name and address of the author of those papers, and then I came here to find you. The landlord strengthened my conviction by telling me you were an Englishman, and had not been in this country more than nine or ten years. And now I have seen your well-known smile; heard your well-known voice; felt the touch of your hand. Do you think you could deceive me now? Oh, Alf, Alf, you will not try to shut me out of your heart?'

At that moment he made a movement as if he would throw himself on his brother's neck, and Judge Elliott drew back real quiet and dignified. Armstrong had forced me into believin' him by his earnestness, but I must say I was staggered by the Judge's cool, calm manner. I couldn't believe any brother could put it on arter listenin' to sech words. I begun to think the stranger must be on a wrong track. "'I am more than puzzled by what you say,' answered the Judge, in his grave, perlite way.'My name is not Alfred Armstrong, but Jacob Elliott. I am an Englishman, it is true, but I think if you will look at me again you will convince yourself that we have never met before.' "'Oh, Alf, Alf,' cried the stranger again,' this is too cruel. I cannot bear it. I will not. To have hoped for this meeting for ten long years and then be cast off like this. I know that woman I saw in the house would be an excuse for a good deal, but I swear to you I will not interfere with your happiness. I will not ask you to take your first wife back. I will not betray you to a soul on earth; only call me brother; only let me into your heart,' and he made as if He would have thrown himself at Judge Elliott's feet, and still the Judge drew back and answered calmly, and yet sort o' cuttingly, -"' I should be sorry, my dear sir, to suspect you of being a monomaniac, but I am at a loss to account for your vagaries in any other manner. The only wife I ever had is Mrs. Elliott, the lady I had the honor of presenting to you. I have no brother, and never had, and if you persist further in this strange talk I shall be obliged to bring our interview to a close.'

I declare, sir, I wish you could a' heard how that Armstrong did beg. I can't tell it over, rightly, so I won't try, but it acterly squeezed the tears out o' my eyes, and I ain't one o' the cryin' kind. He couldn't a begged harder fur his life. He kep tellin' over all sorts of boy capers that he said they had cut up together, -he talked about his mother, and how she told'em to love one'nother when she was dying; and he promised to go away satisfied if the Judge would only call him brother once, and let him go off thinkin' they two loved one'nother as they used to. "But'twan't no use. The Judge didn't flinch a hair. He wan't apparently no more moved than a stone. He kep jest as perlite and smilin' as ever, until at last he seemed to git tired o' listenin', and then he put a stop to the talk ruther sternly, and turned to walk away. I never shall forgit how Armstrong's face looked that minit. Somethin' like pride seemed riz up in him at last, and he cried out in a firm, strong voice,"' Alfred Armstrong, I will trouble you no more, —I will never trouble you again. Cast me off and deny me, if you will, - forget your dead mother and your poor old living father, and scorn every tie of blood! Go on in sin, yes, sin!, and the time will come when my face shall haunt you; when you won't die easy without my forgiveness, which you must ask for before you have it.'

The Judge never made no answer. There was a mighty strange look on his face as he walked away, as if he had fixed all his features jest so, so't they shouldn't tell no story. I was puzzled, you may depend. I didn't know what to make of any on't. When you heerd Armstrong speak you couldn't help believin' him, and then again I thought he must be mistaken,'cause I didn't think any nateral born brother could a' stood it out agin them words as the Judge had. And then I see some things that didn't look quite reasonable to that view o' the case, so I had to give it up. I was mighty shamed o' listenin', I confess to you, but I hadn't had no notion o' doin' on't in the fust place, and I dunno but most men would a' done the same thing if they had stood in my place, arter they'd heerd the beginnin' on't. Anyhow, I went out o' the other end o' the pine walk, and dodged about among the trees, and went into the parlor, and I don't think Judge Elliott ever mistrusted, from that day to this, that I heerd him.

It wan't more'n ten minutes afore he and Mr. Armstrong come in together, as perlite and civil as possible, but I didn't think there seemed quite as much friendliness betwixt'em as there had afore dinner. Mr. Armstrong apologized for keepin' me waitin', and pooty soon we started for home. You may b'lieve'twan't long afore I'd told Miss King all about it. "' That's one o' the prime comforts o' havin' a good wife. When you want to tell somethin' so you can't keep it in no longer, you can go to her, and it's jest as safe as it was afore. She didn't know what to make on't no more'n I did, but she charged me to keep it all to myself, and I may say I didn't need no caution on that piont, for Judge Elliott wan't a man a body'd like to git sot agin him, and indeed I liked him and his wife both, too much to want to make'em any trouble. Ef there was any thing at all to Armstrong's story, wife and I concluded that the Judge had had a wife in England and been divorced from her, and was afraid to have it come out for fear'Lizabeth wouldn't live with him; knowin' how strict she was about them matters. Ef that was the case, Miss King said there was some excuse for his not ownin' his brother, for we all knew that he sot his life by'Lizabeth. But we were fur enough from guessing the truth. We wan't much surprised when Mr. Armstrong paid his bill and left the next mornin'. We kep all these things to ourselves, and I may safely say that's more'n some people would a done; maybe more'n I should a done ef I hadn't had my good woman to help me.

Arter this time it seemed to me that I could see a little difference in the Judge. I reckon no one else noticed it, but I could see that he was more silent, and when he wan't talkin' there was a look in his face as if some heavy trouble had settled down on his heart. I guess he was more'n ever soft and tender to'Lizabeth. Folks said, laughingly, that he seemed to be afraid he should lose her if she was out of his sight a minit; and, true enough, when he was to home they wan't never long separated.  It went on three months, and then,'long the fust of October, the Judge was suddenly took down with brain fever. I'spose all these things had been a harassin' him till he couldn't keep'em under no longer. From the fust day he was took down he was jest as crazy as a loon. Miss King allus was a master hand at nussin', and she thought so much o''Lizabeth that she went right over there and told'em she'd stay by, pretty much o' the time till the wust was over.

After she'd been there twenty-four hours, she come home to see to things a little, and she told me it was enough to break a body's heart to hear how the Judge went on. Sometimes he'd start up and say, real firm, -' My name is not Alfred Armstrong. I am Jacob Elliott.' Then sometimes he'd cry out, so pitiful, to his brother to come back, — that he never meant to send him of,- he did love him, and allus had. Often and often he'd say, as humble as a little child,-' Won't you forgive me, brother Robert? You told the truth, I can't die easy without it, - oh, Rob!' "Other times he'd shout out to him to be gone, --that'Lizabeth was his wife, the only wife he ever did have, or would have, -nobody should take her away. Then again he'd put on a smilin', perlite face that was wuss than any on't to see, and he'd say, -‘ I never saw you before, no, sir, never. Excuse me, but you are entirely mistaken.'

I'spose Miss King understood these things a good deal better'n'Lizabeth did, but, of course, she couldn't explain nothin'. He kep goin on so, day arter day. Gen'ally I used to see my good woman once a day, and she told me it did beat all how'Lizabeth bore it. She was jest as white as a sheet, Miss King said, but she kep over him night and day, and never seemed a bit tired nor sleepy. Wife had a sofy in one corner o' the room, where she used to lie down and sleep nights, for she was determined not to leave'Lizabeth, and, spite o' restin' a good deal, she was pretty well tuckered out; but she said'Lizabeth didn't seem to know what tired meant. Miss Mills,'Lizabeth's mother, was old and feeble now, so she couldn't be there, and wife tried to be a mother to the poor, troubled critter as well as she could.'Lizabeth was one o' them kind that don't love easy, but when they do love it's deep. Miss King said if the Judge died she thought they'd both go together.

One mornin', when he'd been sick a little more'n a week, I got up early and went out door. It was jest about the finest mornin' I ever see. The sun was comin' up red and round, and the trees was green as ever in some places, and in others they looked as if they'd jest been sot afire. I don't pertend to think much o' sech things, but somehow, that mornin' took right hold of me, and made me feel soft-hearted, but maybe I shouldn't remember it so well ef it hadn't been for what came arterwards.  Jest then I see Miss King a comin', and I went to meet her. Somehow I was'mazin' glad to see her. There hadn't been a soul to stop to the house sence the Judge was sick, and there hadn't been no partikler need of her in a business pint o' view, but somehow things allus look lonesome to home when a woman ain't about. When I come up to her, though, I see pretty soon that somethin' more'n common had happened. At fust thought I didn't know but the Judge was dead, and I asked her. ‘No,' says she,'but I dunno but he'd better be afore all comes out that's got to.'

She wouldn't say no more till we'd got into the house and sot down together, all alone. Then she told me how, the night before, as she lay on the sofy in the corner, and Miss Elliott sot by the Judge's bed, he woke up, and she could see in a minit that he was rational again. She said she'd been talkin' with Miss Elliott the minit afore, and as long as she knew of her bein' there she thought no harm o' lyin' still, though perhaps she'd ought to have got up and gone out. The Judge was dreadful weak, but he managed to put out his hand and touch his wife's. In a minit she was bendin' over him and kissin' him as if he'd been a baby. Says he, -'You do love me,'Lizabeth. All this time when you thought I didn't know any thing I've felt that you was hoverin' round me and taking care o' me.' As he said that, Miss King said the tears gushed right out, and his wife kind o' soothed him, and then, pooty soon, he broke out again. He said he couldn't keep his secret no longer. It had well nigh killed him, or made him crazy for life, keepin' it so long. Then he went on and told her how, when he was a young man, not much more'n a boy, he'd been married in England. He didn't love the woman, nor she didn't love him, but she was rich, and somehow his folks and hern fixed it up between'em, and he didn't make no objections. He'd never been in love then, and sech things was more common there than they are here.

So he lived with the woman a number o' year, and, from not carin' any thing about her in the fust place, he got to most hatin' her. She didn't suit him no way, and he began to feel as ef all his futur was spilt by marryin' her. But he was too reasonable to lay it all to her. I guess he blamed himself the most. Well, arter a while, he found out, pooty nigh for certain, that she hadn't been true to him. He said he s'posed he might a got positive proof of it ef he'd a tried, and ef he'd known what was comin' arter, he would a tried. But as it was, he didn't think he should ever want to marry again, and he pitied her, and felt like bein' merciful to her. He thought it wan't her fault, marryin' as she did, - that, maybe, ef he'd a loved her, and been tender and lovin' to her, she'd a' kep strait. So he concluded to leave her her good name, and all the money he had married her for, and go off in sech a way that folks would think he had killed himself, and she could marry the man she liked ef she wanted to.

It was pooty hard to leave his old father, and harder still to leave his younger brother, who had allus been nearer to him than any thing else in the world, ever sence his mother died, but he was pooty nigh desperate, and when he'd made up his mind he didn't flinch. He come to America, and took a new name. He had studied law in England, and he went into'Squire Holmes' office over to Simsbury, —he'd happened to git acquainted with the'Squire in Boston, where he landed, —and pooty soon got admitted to the bar. He'd no thought of ever marryin' at that time, but when he come here and see'Lizabeth Mills, he found out what love was. "'Twould e'en a most melted a stone, my good woman said, to hear him tell how he loved her, and what a fight he had in his own mind afore he could make out what to do. He thought some, fust, of going back to England and tryin' for a divorce, but he s'posed they'd all gin him up for dead there; he didn't know as he could get one, and he knew that'Lizabeth was dead sot agin'em.

Finally, he concluded that, whatever Alfred Armstrong had done, Jacob Elliott had never been married, and he didn't think there was one chance in a thousand that anybody'd ever know them two names meant one person. Take it all in all, he felt perfectly safe in gettin' married agin; and arter he'd once made up his mind his conscience never troubled him. He persuaded himself that he was doin' right. I've allus noticed it was pooty easy to do that when a man's whole heart was sot on any thing. His life had been as happy as any human bein's need to be till arter his brother come.' "He told her all that story, - how his heart had yearned over his brother, but he had loved her so much better he couldn't run the shadder of a risk of havin' to give her up, and so he had sent his brother off. But Robert's voice had sounded ever sence in his ear,- he couldn't silence it. Robert's last words had stuck by him. Livin' in sin, —he couldn't get that out o' his mind, and he had brooded over it until the fever came. He had never meant to tell her, but he couldn't go anywhere else for comfort, and he couldn't keep it in no longer.

All the way through, Miss King said'Lizabeth had listened without sayin' a word, but she could see by the lamp-light that her face looked as ef it was turnin' into stone, and when he got so fur a cry come out of her lips, not loud, but a sort of gasp like, as if her heart was breakin', and says she, —"'Thank God that I've no children to bear this with me.' Wife said she couldn't help thinkin' then how often we see that God is blessin' us instead of cursin' us in keepin' back the very things we hanker arter the most. When'Lizabeth had gin that one cry she bowed her head down on the bed, kind o' helpless like. With that, Miss King said, the Judge seemed as strong as a lion. He caught her in his arms and kissed her cheeks and her eyes and her white lips. He told her she was his wife, —his only wife; the only one he had ever loved or would ever own, and, now she knew all, they would be so happy together. Surely she couldn't think, for one moment, that first marriage was binding before God, - nobody could. A woman he had never loved, who had never loved him. Besides, he was Alfred Armstrong no longer. He was another man now, and she was his wife, his own true wife, and no power on earth had any right to separate them.

Then, when she didn't say any thing, he began callin' on her to forgive him, and tellin' her if she didn't, he should die there afore her eyes. At last this roused her, and she kissed him once. "'Oh, Jacob,' says she, 'forgive you! I forgive you as I hope to be forgiven. How you have loved me.' !" By this time he was all exhausted, and she soothed him and made him go to sleep. I s'pose, in his weakness, he thought 'twould be all right now, -she had forgiven him, and so they should live right along, jest as they did afore; but, ef he did, he didn't know'Lizabeth. Arter he had got well to sleep she left him and come along to where wife was lyin'. Miss King said it seemed as ef she'd grown ten years older in that one night. Says she,"' You heard it all?' Wife told her she did hear it, and that she pitied her as ef she was her own child. There was some pride left in her, gentle as she was. I s'pose she didn't like to be pitied, and she cut Miss King short by askin' her'not to mention what she had heard, for her sake, till the Judge got better. Then it must all come out, but till then she'd be thankful to have it kept secret. Of course wife promised, and she didn't consider that she broke it by tellin' me, fur we never had no privacies from one'nother.

Neither of us said a single word to any outsider, but I tell you our hearts ached in them days for'Lizabeth. Miss King was over there pooty much o' the time till the Judge got better, and, as fur as she knew on, the subject was never mentioned again betwixt him and Miss Elliott. But all this time, she said,'Lizabeth was jest the tenderest nuss. She built him up as nobody else would a' had the patience to, and at last, when he had got comfortable, she went out of the house one Noveniber mornin', and over to her father's; and, pooty soon, we see old'Squire Mills hobblin' along arter the doctor.  She had borne up as long as she could, and now she was took down with a fever herself; and for some six weeks we half hoped, half feared she would never get up again. I say half hoped she wouldn't, fur it didn't look as ef there could be any more comfort fur her in this life. We all knew how she loved the Judge, and we knew, jest as well as we knew her, that she'd never live with him any more. When he heard she was sick he was nigh upon crazy. Jest as soon as he could, he used to crawl over to'Squire Mills' and sit beside her. Even her best friends, now it had all come out, hadn't the heart to reproach him. It was clear to everybody that he'd sot a great deal more by her than he did by his life, and he wan't no more the same man that he was six months ago than two persons. Trouble and sickness had broke him down as twenty years o' common life couldn't have begun to.

It was Christmas before'Lizabeth begun to set up. Everybody called her'Miss Elliott' jest as they used to, and I s'pose'twould a' come hard to her to give up the name she had been called by through all the happiest years of her life. When she was toler'ble well and strong she asked to see the Judge alone, one day. It was the first time she ever had seen him alone a minit, sence she went out of his house. They had a long talk. Nobody knew what they said, but I s'pose she made him understand that they must never be notbin' more'n common friends to each other again. When it was over she went upstairs to her roomn, and wan't seen again that day by anybody, and the Judge come out and walked slowly along to his own house, where he must live alone all the rest of his life, and his face looked a'most as if he was struck with death.  

Arter that he didn't go there no more for some time- then he got to goin' again, maybe once a week, and she would sit in the room with her old, feeble mother and talk with him fur an hour together. But I should a thought 'twould a been about as bad as not seein' one 'nother at all. All this time she was urgin' it upon him to go to England and make it up with his brother. Besides, she told him it was his duty to find out whether he hadh't been mistaken about his wife, and, if he had been, to live with her again, if she wanted to live with him. I couldn't see no duty o' that sort about it, but'Lizabeth had got it into her head, and she could allus make him do jest about what she thought was right.

So the next spring he sailed for England, and it was nigh upon fall afore he got back again. He had found his father alive, and he and his brother had made it all up. As for his wife, the man that he thought she was in love with had been dead a number o' year, and he heard a good character of her everywhere, so't maybe he'd been mistaken in what he thought about her in the fust place. But she told him she never had loved him no more'n he had her, and that, so fur from havin' any desire to live with him, nothin' short o' force would ever make her do it. So he come back, as he went, alone.

He went to see'Lizabeth the fust thing, and she was well pleased that he had done his duty, but she knew her'n, and she could never be nothin' more than friendly to him again. I don't rightly understand the law o' the case, but he couldn't git a divorce from his English wife, though she might a got one from him ef she'd chosen, but she didn't. I forgot to say that as soon as the matter had come out he had resigned his office, but folks call him Judge Elliott still, and I s'pose they allus will. He's had chances enough to practise, for'most all that knew his story pitied him more'n they blamed him, but he hain't done much business sence.'Twan't long afore his father died, and he got some consider'ble money from England. He paid'Squire Mills more'n what the old place where he built his house was wuth, and I s'pose he'll allus live there."

" How long is it since?" asked the stranger, as honest Israel King concluded the narrative to which he had been an absorbed listener. "Waal, I should think a matter o' nine year. Let's see. Seven year arter he fust came here he was chose Judge, and the next year this affair come out, and he's been here in all seventeen year this spring." "And he has lived here nine years, only a few steps from the woman he loved so well; who had thought herself, for seven years, his true and lawful wife, and neither of them are dead or mad?" Honest Israel smiled, a shrewd yet sorrowful smile. "No, they wan't weak by natur, either of'em. Plenty of women that didn't love half so deep as 'Lizabeth would have broke their hearts and died, but hers broke and she lives. It's somethin' like Moses smitin' the rock for the water to gush out, my good woman says, for her life has been a constant stream of kindness and good deeds ever sence. She don't shet herself up in any selfish sorrow, but I guess she goes to the best place for comfort, arter all. She does jest what God tells her. She's kinder than ever to the old folks, and I guess she's nigh about the best idee the children have got of an angel. She sees the Judge pretty often. He goes there every now and then and spends an evening with her and the old folks. Anybody'd s'pose that would be a sorrowful kind of comfort, but it seems to do him good; and every now and then they meet when she's on some of her walks, and he talks with her a little while, and then goes back into his hansurn house alone. I should s'pose it must be a pretty hard tussle for him to live right along where she used to live with him, but Miss King thinks it's the very reason he want's to live there. She thinks he can kind o' fancy, sometimes, that'Lizabeth's sittin' in the old places, and hear her voice when it's all still and quiet round him.

The landlord paused, and his guest was silent also. Both were lingering in pensive thought over sorrows not their own. At length the old man touched the stranger's arm. " There she comes now," he said, almost in a whisper. "You can go out and walk kind o' careless along the road, and you'll get a good sight at her." The stranger's interest was too much absorbed for him to pause and consider the questionable delicacy of this course. He went out of the yard, and sauntered along the street. He saw a woman of forty, more beautiful, to him, than any younger face he had ever seen. She looked, as Israel King had said, a grand woman, strong in body and soul. Her face was still, and pale, and fair. Round the lofty forehead was braided hair as dark and luxuriant as ever. Under it shone large, clear eyes, full of a glory and a light not of this world. Heaven's own peace sat on her features, and smiled in the mouth, sweet as a child's, but firm as a martyr's. She wore a quiet, gray dress, which suited her as well as the silks and satins of earlier days ever could have done. Her step was lofty, her port worthy of an empress. "Fit for earth or fit for Heaven," he murmured involuntarily as he looked on her, - "fit for one because fit for the other." He could see that "' the tranquil God, who tranquillizes all things," had sent calm upon her life.

As she walked by Judge Elliott's stately house, he saw a man go out and speak to her, - a man, to whose life calmness, unless it be the calmness of despair, was yet to come; a man, old beyond his forty-eight years, sorrowful, downcast, lonely. He saw this man's face brighten as she talked with him, and, finally, he saw her gather from the hedge a rose full of dew and fragrance, and give it to him, and then-go calmly on her way, leaving some of the glory of her presence behind her. He went slowly back to the inn. "That was Judge Elliott," said the landlord, meeting him as he approached. "Poor things! Poor things! I s'pose it'll be all squared up and come out right up there," and he lifted his old, weather-beaten face to the calm blue of the summer morning sky. Did he see, through and beyond the azure, a glimpse of shining turrets, the gold and pearl and amethyst of the city not made with hands?

It is just ten years since my friend, to whom the Connecticut innkeeper related this strange story, recounted it to me. It interested me deeply at the time, and it was many months before I ceased to think of it. It was obscured, at length, by the interests of my own life, and passed out of my heart as such tales will, when we have never seen the faces or heard the voices of the people. Perhaps it would never have come back to me, but for a strange chance, or Providence. Looking over, in an idle hour, the deaths and marriages in a file of English papers, sent me by a friend, my eyes fell on this:"Died, at Birmingham, Susan Armstrong, wife or widow of Alfred Armstrong." With feelings stronger than an idle whim I marked this item, and sent it to the address of the man whom, in this " ower true tale," I have chosen to call Jacob Elliott, but who was known by another name to the citizens of Hartford County. Perhaps he already was aware of his first wife's decease, and had wooed and wedded again the Elizabeth of his love; or, perhaps, one or both of them may have gone long ago to the land where, we are told, is neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but where, I love to think, those who love truly here will love on forever. I know not. Heaven is higher than earth, and nothing is left to blind chance. Those two were God's care, for they were His children. Pray for them, all kind souls!

No comments:

Post a Comment