They Saw A Great Light
"Here he comes! here he comes!"
"He" was the "post-rider," an institution now almost of the past. He
rode by the house and threw off a copy of the "Boston Gazette." Now the
"Boston Gazette," of this particular issue, gave the results of the
drawing of the great Massachusetts State Lottery of the Eastern Lands in
the Waldo Patent.
Mr. Cutts, the elder, took the "Gazette," and opened it with a smile
that pretended to be careless; but even he showed the eager anxiety
which they all felt, as he tore off the wrapper and unfolded the fatal
sheet. "Letter from London," "Letter from Philadelphia," "Child with two
heads,"--thus he ran down the columns of the little page,--uneasily.
"Here it is! here it is!--Drawing of the great State Lottery. 'In the
presence of the Honourable Treasurer of the Commonwealth, and of their
Honours the Commissioners of the Honourable Council,--was drawn
yesterday, at the State House, the first distribution of
numbers'----here are the numbers,--'First combination, 375-1. Second,
421-7. Third, 591-6. Fourth, 594-1. Fifth,'"--and here Mr. Cutts started
off his feet,--"'Fifth, 219-7.' Sybil, my darling! it is so! 219-7! See,
dear child! 219-7! 219-7! O my God! to think it should come so!"
And he fairly sat down, and buried his head in his hands, and cried.
The others, for a full minute, did not dare break in on excitement so
intense, and were silent; but, in a minute more, of course, little
Simeon, the youngest of the tribes who were represented there, gained
courage to pick up the paper, and to spell out again the same words
which his father had read with so much emotion; and, with his sister
Sally, who came to help him, to add to the store of information, as to
what prize number 5--219-7--might bring.
For this was a lottery in which there were no blanks. The old
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, having terrible war debts to pay after
the Revolution, had nothing but lands in Maine to pay them with. Now
lands in Maine were not very salable, and, if the simple and ordinary
process of sale had been followed, the lands might not have been sold
till this day. So they were distributed by these Lotteries, which in
that time seemed gigantic. Every ticket-holder had some piece of land
awarded to him, I think,--but to the most, I fear, the lands were hardly
worth the hunting up, to settle upon. But, to induce as many to buy as
might, there were prizes. No. 1, I think, even had a "stately mansion"
on the land,--according to the advertisement. No. 2 had some special
water-power facilities. No. 5, which Mr. Cutts's ticket had drawn, was
two thousand acres on Tripp's Cove,--described in the programme as that
"well-known Harbor of Refuge, where Fifty Line of Battle Ship could lie
in safety." To this cove the two thousand acres so adjoined that the
programme represented them as the site of the great "Mercantile
Metropolis of the Future."
Samuel Cutts was too old a man, and had already tested too critically
his own powers in what the world calls "business," by a sad satire, to
give a great deal of faith to the promises of the prospectus, as to the
commercial prosperity of Tripp's Cove. He had come out of the Revolution
a Brigadier-General, with an honorable record of service,--with
rheumatism which would never be cured,--with a good deal of paper money
which would never be redeemed, which the Continent and the Commonwealth
had paid him for his seven years,--and without that place in the world
of peace which he had had when these years began. The very severest
trial of the Revolution was to be found in the condition in which the
officers of the army were left after it was over. They were men who had
distinguished themselves in their profession, and who had done their
very best to make that profession unnecessary in the future. To go back
to their old callings was hard. Other men were in their places, and
there did not seem to be room for two. Under the wretched political
system of the old Confederation there was no such rapid spring of the
material prosperity of the country as should find for them new fields in
new enterprise. Peace did any thing but lead in Plenty. Often indeed, in
history, has Plenty been a little coy before she could be tempted, with
her pretty tender feet, to press the stubble and the ashes left by the
havoc of War. And thus it was that General Cutts had returned to his old
love whom he had married in a leave of absence just before Bunker Hill,
and had begun his new life with her in Old Newbury in Massachusetts, at
a time when there was little opening for him,--or for any man who had
spent seven years in learning how to do well what was never to be done
And in doing what there was to do he had not succeeded. He had just
squeezed pork and potatoes and Indian meal enough out of a worn-out farm
to keep Sybil, his wife, and their growing family of children alive. He
had, once or twice, gone up to Boston to find what chances might be open
for him there. But, alas, Boston was in a bad way too, as well as Samuel
Cutts. Once he had joined some old companions, who had gone out to the
Western Reserve in Northern Ohio, to see what opening might be there.
But the outlook seemed unfavorable for carrying so far, overland, a
delicate woman and six little children into a wilderness. If he could
have scraped together a little money, he said, he would buy a share in
one of the ships he saw rotting in Boston or Salem, and try some
foreign adventure. But, alas! the ships would not have been rotting had
it been easy for any man to scrape together a little money to buy them.
And so, year in and year out, Samuel Cutts and his wife dressed the
children more and more plainly, bought less sugar and more molasses,
brought down the family diet more strictly to pork and beans, pea-soup,
hasty-pudding, and rye-and-indian,--and Samuel Cutts looked more and
more sadly on the prospect before these boys and girls, and the life for
which he was training them.
Do not think that he was a profligate, my dear cousin Eunice, because he
had bought a lottery ticket. Please to observe that to buy lottery
tickets was represented to be as much the duty of all good citizens, as
it was proved to be, eleven years ago, your duty to make Havelocks and
to knit stockings. Samuel Cutts, in the outset, had bought his lottery
ticket only "to encourage the others," and to do his honorable share in
paying the war debt. Then, I must confess, he had thought more of the
ticket than he had supposed he would. The children had made a romance
about it,--what they would do, and what they would not do, if they drew
the first prize. Samuel Cutts and Sybil Cutts themselves had got drawn
into the interest of the children, and many was the night when they had
sat up, without any light but that of a pine-torch, planning out the
details of the little colony they would form at the East-ward,--if--if
only one of the ten great prizes should, by any marvel, fall to him. And
now Tripp's Cove--which, perhaps, he had thought of as much as he had
thought of any of the ten--had fallen to him. This was the reason why he
showed so much emotion, and why he could hardly speak, when he read the
numbers. It was because that had come to him which represented so
completely what he wanted, and yet which he had not even dared to pray
for. It was so much more than he expected,--it was the dream of years,
indeed, made true.
For Samuel Cutts had proved to himself that he was a good leader of men.
He knew he was, and many men knew it who had followed him under Carolina
suns, and in the snows of Valley Forge. Samuel Cutts knew, equally well,
that he was not a good maker of money, nor creator of pork and potatoes.
Six years of farming in the valley of the Merrimac had proved that to
him, if he had never learned it before. Samuel Cutts's dream had been,
when he went away to explore the Western Reserve, that he would like to
bring together some of the best line officers and some of the best
privates of the old "Fighting Twenty-seventh," and take them, with his
old provident skill, which had served them so well upon so many
camping-grounds, to some region where they could stand by each other
again, as they had stood by each other before, and where sky and earth
would yield them more than sky and earth have yet yielded any man in
Eastern Massachusetts. Well! as I said, the Western Reserve did not seem
to be the place. After all, "the Fighting Twenty-seventh" were not
skilled in the tilling of the land. They furnished their quota when the
boats were to be drawn through the ice of the Delaware, to assist in
Rahl's Christmas party at Trenton. Many was the embarkation at the "head
of Elk," in which the "Fighting Twenty-seventh" had provided half the
seamen for the transport. It was "the Fighting Twenty-seventh" who cut
out the "Princess Charlotte" cutter in Edisto Bay. But the "Fighting
Twenty-seventh" had never, so far as any one knew, beaten one sword
into one plough-share, nor one spear into one pruning-hook. But Tripp's
Cove seemed to offer a different prospect. Why not, with a dozen or two
of the old set, establish there, not the New Jerusalem, indeed, but
something a little more elastic, a little more helpful, a little more
alive, than these kiln-dried, sun-dried, and time-dried old towns of the
seaboard of Massachusetts? At any rate, they could live together in
Tripp's Cove, as they wintered together at Valley Forge, at Bennett's
Hollow, by the Green Licks, and in the Lykens Intervale. This was the
question which Samuel Cutts wanted to solve, and which the fatal figures
219-7 put him in the way of solving.
"Tripp's Cove is our Christmas present," said Sybil Cutts to her
husband, as they went to bed. But so far removed were the habits of New
England then from the observance of ecclesiastical anniversaries, that
no one else had remembered that day that it was Christmas which was
Call this a long preface, if you please, but it seems to me best to tell
this story so that I may explain what manner of people those were and
are who lived, live, and will live, at Tripp's Cove,--and why they have
been, are, and will be linked together, with a sort of family tie and
relationship which one does not often see in the villages self-formed or
formed at hap-hazard on the seaside, on the hillside, or in the prairies
of America. Tripp's Cove never became "the Great Mercantile City of the
Future," nor do I believe it ever will. But there Samuel Cutts lived in
a happy life for fifty years,--and there he died, honored, blessed, and
loved. By and by there came the second war with England,--the "Endymion"
came cruising along upon the coast, and picking up the fishing-boats and
the coasters, burning the ships on the stocks, or compelling the owners
to ransom them. Old General Cutts was seventy years old then; but he
was, as he had always been, the head of the settlement at Tripp's,--and
there was no lack of men younger than he, the sergeants or the
high-privates of the "Fighting Twenty-seventh," who drilled the boys of
the village for whatever service might impend. When the boys went down
to Runkin's and sent the "Endymion's" boats back to her with half their
crews dead or dying, faster than they came, old General Cutts was with
them, and took sight on his rifle as quickly and as bravely as the best
of them. And so twenty years more passed on,--and, when he was well nigh
ninety, the dear old man died full of years and full of blessings, all
because he had launched out for himself, left the life he was not fit
for, and undertaken life in which he was at home.
Yes! and because of this also, when 1861 came with its terrible alarm to
the whole country, and its call to duty, all Tripp's Cove was all right.
The girls were eager for service, and the boys were eager for service.
The girls stood by the boys, and the boys stood by the girls. The
husbands stood by the wives, and the wives stood by the husbands. I do
not mean that there was not many another community in which everybody
was steadfast and true. But I do mean that here was one great family,
although the census rated it as five-and-twenty families,--which had
one heart and one soul in the contest, and which went into it with one
heart and one soul,--every man and every woman of them all bearing each
Little Sim Cutts, who broke the silence that night when the post-man
threw down the "Boston Gazette," was an old man of eighty-five when they
all got the news of the shots at Fort Sumter. The old man was as hale
and hearty as are half the men of sixty in this land to-day. With all
his heart he encouraged the boys who volunteered in answer to the first
call for regiments from Maine. Then with full reliance on the traditions
of the "Fighting Twenty-seventh," he explained to the fishermen and the
coasters that Uncle Abraham would need them for his web-footed service,
as well as for his legions on the land. And they found out their ways to
Portsmouth and to Charlestown, so that they might enter the navy as
their brothers entered the army. And so it was, that, when Christmas
came in 1861, there was at Tripp's Cove only one of that noble set of
young fellows, who but a year before was hauling hemlock and spruce and
fir and pine at Christmas at the girls' order, and worked in the
meeting-house for two days as the girls bade them work, so that when
Parson Spaulding came in to preach his Christmas sermon, he thought the
house was a bit of the woods themselves. Only one!
And who was he?
How did he dare stay among all those girls who were crying out their
eyes, and sewing their fingers to the bones,--meeting every afternoon in
one sitting-room or another, and devouring every word that came from the
army? They read the worst-spelled letter that came home from Mike Sawin,
and prized it and blessed it and cried over it, as heartily as the
noblest description of battle that came from the pen of Carleton or of
Who was he?
Ah! I have caught you, have I? That was Tom Cutts,--the old General's
great-grandson,--Sim Cutts's grandson,--the very noblest and bravest of
them all. He got off first of all. He had the luck to be at Bull
Run,--and to be cut off from his regiment. He had the luck to hide under
a corn crib, and to come into Washington whole, a week after the
regiment. He was the first man in Maine, they said, to enlist for the
three-years' service. Perhaps the same thing is said of many others. He
had come home and raised a new company,--and he was making them fast
into good soldiers, out beyond Fairfax Court-House. So that the
Brigadier would do any thing Tom Cutts wanted. And when, on the first of
December, there came up to the Major-General in command a request for
leave of absence from Tom Cutts, respectfully referred to Colonel This,
who had respectfully referred it to General That, who had respectfully
referred it to Adjutant-General T'other,--all these dignitaries had
respectfully recommended that the request be granted. For even in the
sacred purlieux of the top Major-General's Head-quarters, it was
understood that Cutts was going home for no less a purpose than the
being married to the prettiest and sweetest and best girl in Eastern
Well! for my part I do not think that the aids and their informants were
in the wrong about this. Surely that Christmas Eve, as Laura Marvel
stood up with Tom Cutts in front of Parson Spaulding, in presence of
what there was left of the Tripp's Cove community, I would have said
that Laura was the loveliest bride I ever saw. She is tall; she is
graceful; she has rather a startled look when you speak to her,
suddenly or gently, but the startled look just bewitches you. Black
hair,--she got that from the Italian blood in her grandmother's
family,--exquisite blue eyes,--that is a charming combination with black
hair,--perfect teeth,--and matchless color,--and she had it all, when
she was married,--she was a blushing bride and not a fainting one. But
then what stuff this is,--nobody knew he cared a straw for Laura's hair
or her cheek,--it was that she looked "just lovely," and that she was
"just lovely,"--so self-forgetful in all her ways, after that first
start,--so eager to know just where she could help, and so determined to
help just there. Why! she led all the girls in the village, when she was
only fourteen, because they loved her so. She was the one who made the
rafts when there was a freshet,--and took them all out together on the
mill-pond. And, when the war came, she was of course captain of the
girl's sewing,--she packed the cans of pickles and fruit for the
Sanitary,--she corresponded with the State Adjutant:--heavens! from
morning to night, everybody in the village ran to Laura,--not because
she was the prettiest creature you ever looked upon,--but because she
was the kindest, truest, most loyal, and most helpful creature that ever
lived,--be the same man or woman.
Now had you rather be named Laura Cutts or Laura Marvel? Marvel is a
good name,--a weird, miraculous sort of name. Cutts is not much of a
name. But Laura had made up her mind to be Laura Cutts after Tom had
asked her about it,--and here they are standing before dear old Parson
Spaulding, to receive his exhortation,--and to be made one before God
Dear Laura! How she had laughed with the other girls, all in a
good-natured way, at the good Parson's exhortation to the young couples.
Laura had heard it twenty times,--for she had "stood up" with twenty of
the girls, who had dared The Enterprise of Life before her! Nay, Laura
could repeat, with all the emphasis, the most pathetic passage of the
whole,--"And above all,--my beloved young friends,--first of all and
last of all,--let me beseech you as you climb the hill of life together,
hand with hand, and step with step,--that you will look beyond the
crests upon its summit to the eternal lights which blaze in the
infinite heaven of the Better Land beyond." Twenty times had Laura heard
this passage,--nay, ten times, I am afraid, had she, in an honest and
friendly way, repeated it, under strict vows of secrecy, to the
edification of circles of screaming girls. But now the dear child looked
truly and loyally into the old man's face, as he went on from word to
word, and only thought of him, and of how noble and true he was,--and of
the Great Master whom he represented there,--and it was just as real to
her and to Tom Cutts that they must look into the Heaven of heavens for
life and strength, as Parson Spaulding wanted it to be. When he prayed
with all his heart, she prayed; what he hoped, she hoped; what he
promised for her, she promised to her Father in heaven; and what he
asked her to promise by word aloud, she promised loyally and eternally.
And Tom Cutts? He looked so handsome in his uniform,--and he looked like
the man he was. And in those days, the uniform, if it were only a
flannel fatigue-jacket on a private's back, was as beautiful as the
flag; nothing more beautiful than either for eyes to look upon. And
when Parson Spaulding had said the benediction, and the Amen,--and when
he had kissed Laura, with her eyes full of tears,--and when he had given
Tom Cutts joy,--then all the people came up in a double line,--and they
all kissed Laura,--and they shook hands with Tom as if they would shake
his hands off,--and in the half-reticent methods of Tripp's Cove, every
lord and lady bright that was in Moses Marvel's parlor there, said,
"honored be the bravest knight, beloved the fairest fair."
And there was a bunch of laurel hanging in the middle of the room, as
make-believe mistletoe. And the boys, who could not make believe even
that they were eighteen, so that they had been left at home, would catch
Phebe, and Sarah, and Mattie, and Helen, when by accident they crossed
underneath the laurel,--and would kiss them, for all their screaming.
And soon Moses Marvel brought in a waiter with wedding-cake, and Nathan
Philbrick brought in a waiter with bride-cake, and pretty Mattie Marvel
brought in a waiter with currant wine. And Tom Cutts gave every girl a
piece of wedding-cake himself, and made her promise to sleep on it. And
before they were all gone, he and Laura had been made to write names
for the girls to dream upon, that they might draw their fortunes the
next morning. And before long Moses Cutts led Mrs. Spaulding out into
the great family-room, and there was the real wedding supper. And after
they had eaten the supper, Bengel's fiddle sounded in the parlor, and
they danced, and they waltzed, and they polkaed to their hearts'
content. And so they celebrated the Christmas of 1861.
Too bad! was not it? Tom's leave was only twenty days. It took five to
come. It took five to go. After the wedding there were but seven little
days. And then he kissed dear Laura good-by,--with tears running from
his eyes and hers,--and she begged him to be sure she should be all
right, and he begged her to be certain nothing would happen to him. And
so, for near two years, they did not see each other's faces again.
* * * * *
CHRISTMAS EVE again!
Moses Marvel has driven out his own bays in his own double cutter to
meet the stage at Fordyce's. On the back seat is Mattie Marvel, with a
rosy little baby all wrapped up in furs, who has never seen his father.
Where is Laura?
"Here she comes! here she comes!" Sure enough! Here is the stage at
last. Job Stiles never swept round with a more knowing sweep, or better
satisfied with his precious freight at Fordyce's, than he did this
afternoon. And the curtains were up already. And there is Laura, and
there is Tom! He is pale, poor fellow. But how pleased he is! Laura is
out first, of course. And then she gives him her hand so gently, and the
others all help. And here is the hero at Marvel's side, and he is
bending over his baby, whom he does not try to lift with his one
arm,--and Mattie is crying, and I believe old Moses Marvel is
crying,--but everybody is as happy as a king, and everybody is talking
at one time,--and all the combination has turned out well.
Tom Cutts had had a hole made through his left thigh, so that they
despaired of his life. And, as he lay on the ground, a bit of a shell
had struck his left forearm and knocked that to pieces. Tom Cutts had
been sent back to hospital at Washington, and reported by telegraph as
mortally wounded. But almost as soon as Tom Cutts got to the Lincoln
Hospital himself, Laura Cutts got there too, and then Tom did not mean
to die if he could help it, and Laura did not mean to have him. And the
honest fellow held to his purpose in that steadfast Cutts way. The blood
tells, I believe. And love tells. And will tells. How much love has to
do with will! "I believe you are a witch, Mrs. Cutts," the doctor used
to say to her. "Nothing but good happens to this good-man of yours."
Bits of bone came out just as they were wanted to. Inflammation kept
away just as it was told to do. And the two wounds ran a race with each
other in healing after their fashion. "It will be a beautiful stump
after all," said the doctor, where poor Laura saw little beauty. But
every thing was beautiful to her, when at last he told her that she
might wrap her husband up as well as she knew how, and take him home and
nurse him there. So she had telegraphed that they were coming, and that
was the way in which it happened that her father and her sister had
brought out the baby to meet them both at Fordyce's. Mattie's surprise
had worked perfectly.
And now it was time for Laura's surprise! After she had her baby in her
own arms, and was on the back seat of the sleigh; after Tom was well
wrapped up by her side, with his well arm just supporting the little
fellow's head; after Mattie was all tucked in by her father, and Mr.
Marvel himself had looked round to say, "All ready?" then was it that
Jem Marvel first stepped out from the stage, and said, "Haven't you one
word for me, Mattie?" Then how they screamed again! For everybody
thought Jem was in the West Indies. He was cruising there, on board the
"Greywing," looking after blockaders who took the Southern route. Nobody
dreamed of Jem's being at Christmas. And here he had stumbled on Tom and
Laura in the New Haven train as they came on! Jem had been sent into New
York with a prize. He had got leave, and was on his way to see the rest
of them. He had bidden Laura not say one word, and so he had watched one
greeting from the stage, before he broke in to take his part for
Oh! what an uproarious Christmas that was when they all came home! No!
Tom Cutts would not let one of them be sad! He was the cheeriest of them
all. He monopolized the baby, and showed immense power in the way of
baby talk and of tending. Laura had only to sit on the side of the room
and be perfectly happy. It was very soon known what the arrivals were.
And Parson Spaulding came in, and his wife. Of course the Cuttses had
been there already. Then everybody came. That is the simplest way of
putting it. They all would have wanted to come, because in that
community there was not one person who did not love Laura and Tom and
Jem. But whether they would have come, on the very first night, I am not
sure. But this was Christmas Eve, and the girls were finishing off the
meeting-house just as the stage and the sleigh came in. And, in a
minute, the news was everywhere. And, of course, everybody felt he might
just go in to get news from the fleet or the army. Nor was there one
household in Tripp's Cove which was not more or less closely represented
in the fleet or the army. So there was really, as the evening passed, a
town-meeting in Moses Marvel's sitting-room and parlor; and whether
Moses Marvel were most pleased, or Mrs. Marvel, or Laura,--who sat and
beamed,--or old General Simeon Cutts, I am sure I do not know.
That was indeed a merry Christmas!
But after that I must own it was hard sledding for Tom Cutts and for
pretty Laura. A hero with one blue sleeve pinned neatly together, who,
at the best, limps as he walks, quickens all your compassion and
gratitude;--yes! But when you are selecting a director of your lumber
works, or when you are sending to New York to buy goods, or when you are
driving a line of railway through the wilderness, I am afraid you do not
choose that hero to do your work for you. Or if you do, you were not
standing by when Tom Cutts was looking right and looking left for
something to do, so that he might keep the wolf from the door. It was
sadly like the life that his great-grandfather, Samuel Cutts, led at the
old farm in old Newbury after the old war. Tom lost his place when he
went to the front, and he could not find it again.
Laura, sweet girl, never complained. No, nor Moses Marvel. He never
complained, nor would he complain if Tom and his wife and children had
lived with him till doomsday. "Good luck for us," said Moses Marvel, and
those were many words for him to say in one sentence. But Tom was proud,
and it ground him to the dust to be eating Moses Marvel's bread when he
had not earned it, and to have nothing but his major's pension to buy
Laura and the babies their clothes with, and to keep the pot a-boiling.
Of course Jem joined the fleet again. Nor did Jem return again till the
war was over. Then he came, and came with prize-money. He and Tom had
many talks of going into business together, with Tom's brains and Jem's
money. But nothing came of this. The land was no place for Jem. He was a
regular Norse man, as are almost all of the Tripp's Cove boys who have
come from the loins of the "Fighting Twenty-seventh." They sniff the
tempest from afar off; and when they hear of Puget Sound, or of Alaska,
or of Wilkes's Antarctic Continent, they fancy that they hear a voice
from some long-lost home, from which they have strayed away. And so
Laura knew, and Tom knew, that any plans which rested on Jem's staying
ashore were plans which had one false element in them. The raven would
be calling him, and it might be best, once for all, to let him follow
the raven till the raven called no more.
So Jem put his prize-money into a new bark, which he found building at
Bath; and they called the bark the "Laura," and Tom and Laura Cutts went
to the launching, and Jem superintended the rigging of her himself; and
then he took Tom and Laura and the babies with him to New York, and a
high time they had together there. Tom saw many of the old army boys,
and Laura hunted up one or two old school friends; and they saw Booth in
Iago, and screamed themselves hoarse at Niblo's, and heard Rudolphsen
and Johannsen in the German opera; they rode in the Park, and they
walked in the Park; they browsed in the Astor and went shopping at
Stewart's, and saw the people paint porcelain at Haighwout's; and, by
Mr. Alden's kindness, went through the wonders of Harper's. In short,
for three weeks, all of which time they lived on board ship, they saw
the lions of New York as children of the public do, for whom that great
city decks itself and prepares its wonders, albeit their existence is
hardly known to its inhabitants.
Meanwhile Jem had chartered the "Laura" for a voyage to San Francisco.
And so, before long, her cargo began to come on board; and she and Tom
and the babies took a mournful farewell, and came back to Tripp's Cove
again, to Moses Marvel's house. And poor Tom thought it looked smaller
than ever, and that he should find it harder than ever to settle down to
being of no use to anybody, and to eat Moses Marvel's bread,--without
house or barn, or bin or oven, or board or bed, even the meanest, of his
own. Poor Tom! and this was the reward of being the first man in Maine
to enter for three years!
And then things went worse and worse. Moses Marvel was as good and as
taciturn as ever. But Moses Marvel's affairs did not run as smoothly as
he liked. Moses held on, upon one year's cutting of lumber, perfectly
determined that lumber should rise, because it ought to; and Moses paid
very high usury on the money he borrowed, because he would hold on.
Moses was set in his way,--like other persons whom you and I know,--and
to this lumber he held and held, till finally the bank would not renew
his notes. No; and they would not discount a cent for him at Bangor, and
Moses came back from a long, taciturn journey he had started on in
search of money, without any money; and with only the certainty that if
he did not mean to have the sheriff sell his lumber, he must sell it for
himself. Nay! he must sell it before the fourth of the next month, and
for cash; and must sell at the very bottom of a long falling market!
Poor Moses Marvel! That operation served to show that he joined all the
Cutts want of luck with the Marvel obstinacy. It was a wretched
twelvemonth, the whole of it; and it made that household, and made Tom
Cutts, more miserable and more.
Then they became anxious about the "Laura," and Jem. She made almost a
clipper voyage to California. She discharged her cargo in perfect order.
Jem made a capital charter for Australia and England, and knew that from
England it would be easy to get a voyage home. He sailed from
California, and then the letters stopped. No! Laura dear, no need in
reading every word of the ship-news in the "Semi-weekly Advertiser;" the
name of your namesake is not there. Eight, nine, ten months have gone
by, and there is no port in Christendom which has seen Jem's face, or
the Laura's private signal. Do not strain your eyes over the
No! dear Laura's eyes will be dimmed by other cares than the ship-news.
Tom's father, who had shared Tom's wretchedness, and would gladly have
had them at his home, but that Moses Marvel's was the larger and the
less peopled of the two,--Tom's father was brought home speechless one
day, by the men who found him where he had fallen on the road, his yoke
of oxen not far away, waiting for the voice which they were never to
hear again. Whether he had fallen from the cart, in some lurch it made,
and broken his spine, or whether all this distress had brought on of a
sudden a stroke of paralysis, so that he lost his consciousness before
he fell, I do not know. Nor do I see that it matters much, though the
chimney-corners of Tripp's Cove discuss the question quite eagerly to
this hour. He lay there month after month, really unconscious. He smiled
gently when they brought him food. He tried to say "Thank you," they
thought, but he did not speak to the wife of his bosom, who had been the
Laura Marvel of her day, in any different way from that in which he
tried to speak to any stranger of them all. A living death he lay in as
those tedious months went by.
Yet my dear Laura was as cheerful, and hopeful, and buoyant as ever. Tom
Cutts himself was ashamed to brood when he got a sight of her. Mother
Cutts herself would lie down and rest herself when Laura came round,
with the two children, as she did every afternoon. Moses Marvel himself
was less taciturn when Laura put the boys, one at one side, one at the
other, of his chair, at the tea-table. And in both of those broken
households, from one end to the other, they knew the magic of dear
Laura's spells. So that when this Christmas came, after poor Mr. Cutts
had been lying senseless so long,--when dear Laura bade them all take
hold and fit up a Christmas-tree, with all the adornments, for the
little boys, and for the Spaulding children, and the Marvel cousins, and
the Hopkinses, and the Tredgolds, and the Newmarch children,--they all
obeyed her loyally, and without wondering. They obeyed her, with her own
determination that they would have one merry Christmas more. It seems a
strange thing to people who grew up outside of New England. But this was
the first Christmas tree ever seen at Tripp's Cove, for all such
festivities are of recent importation in such regions. But there was
something for every child. They heaped on more wood, and they kept a
merry Christmas despite the storm without. This was Laura's will, and
Laura had her way.
And she had her reward. Job Stiles came round to the door, when he had
put up his horses, and called Tom out, and gave him a letter which he
had brought from Ellsworth. And Tom read the letter, and he called Laura
to read it. And Laura left the children, and sat at the kitchen table
with him and read it, and said, "Thank God! this is a Christmas present
indeed. Could any thing in this world be better?"
This is the letter:--
JOHN WILDAIR TO TOM CUTTS.
DEAR TOM,--I am just back from Washington. I have seen them all,
and have done my best, and have failed. They say and I believe
that the collectorship was promised to Waters before the old
man's death,--that Waters had honest claims,--he has but one
leg, you know,--and that it must go to him. As for the
surveyorship, the gift of that is with Plumptre. And you know
that I might as well ask the Pope to give me any thing as he.
And if he hates anybody more than me, why it is your wife's
father. So I could do nothing there.
Let me say this, though it seems nothing. If, while we are
waiting to look round, you like to take the Bell and Hammer
Light-house, you may have the place to-morrow. Of course I know
it is exile in winter. But in summer it is lovely. You have your
house, your stores, two men under you (they are double lights),
and a thousand dollars. I have made them promise to give it to
no one till they hear from me. Though I know you ought not take
any such place, I would not refuse it till I let you know. I
send this to Ellsworth for the stage-driver to take, and you
must send your answer by special messenger, that I may telegraph
to Washington at once.
I am very sorry, dear Tom, to have failed you so. But I did my
best, you know. Merry Christmas to Laura and the babies.
PORTLAND, Dec. 24, 1868.
That was Laura and Tom's Christmas present. An appointment as
light-house keeper, with a thousand a year!
* * * * *
BUT even if they had made Tom a turnpike keeper, they would not have
made Laura a misanthrope. He, poor fellow, gladly accepted the
appointment. She, sweet creature, as gladly accepted her part of it.
Early March saw them on the Bell and Hammer. April saw the early flowers
come,--and May saw Laura with both her babies on the beach, laughing at
them as they wet their feet,--digging holes in the sand for them,--and
sending the bigger boy to run and put salt upon the tails of the peeps
as they ran along the shore. And Tom Cutts, when his glass was clear to
his mind, and the reflectors polished to meet even his criticism, would
come down and hunt up Laura and the children. And when she had put the
babies to sleep, old Mipples, who was another of the descendants of the
"Fighting Twenty-seventh," would say, "Just you go out with the Major,
mum, and if they wake up and I can't still them, I'll blow the horn."
Not that he ever did blow the horn. All the more certain was Laura that
she could tramp over the whole island with Tom Cutts, or she could sit
and knit or sew, and Tom could read to her, and these days were the
happiest days of her married life, and brought back the old sunny days
of the times before Fort Sumter again. Ah me! if such days of summer and
such days of autumn would last forever!
But they will not last forever. November came, and the little colony
went into winter quarters. December came. And we were all double-banked
with sea-weed. The stoves were set up in-doors. The double doors were
put on outside, and we were all ready for the "Osprey." The "Osprey" was
the Government steamer which was to bring us our supplies for the
winter, chiefly of colza oil,--and perhaps some coal. But the "Osprey"
does not appear. December is half gone, and no "Osprey." We can put the
stoves on short allowance, but not our two lanterns. They will only run
to the 31st of January, the nights are so long, if the "Osprey" does not
come before then.
That is our condition, when old Mipples, bringing back the mail, brings
a letter from Boston to say that the "Osprey" has broken her
main-shaft, and may not be repaired before the 15th of January,--that
Mr. Cutts, will therefore, if he needs oil, take an early opportunity to
supply himself from the light at Squire's,--and that an order on the
keeper at Squire's is enclosed.
To bring a cask of oil from Squire's is no difficult task to a Tripp's
Cove man. It would be no easy one, dear reader, to you and me. Squire's
is on the mainland,--our nearest neighbor at the Bell and Hammer,--it
revolves once a minute, and we watch it every night in the horizon. Tom
waited day by day for a fine day,--would not have gone for his oil
indeed till the New Year came in, but that Jotham Fields, the other
assistant, came down with a fever turn wholly beyond Laura's management,
and she begged Tom to take the first fine day to carry him to a doctor.
To bring a doctor to him was out of the question.
"And what will you do?" said Tom.
"Do? I will wait till you come home. Start any fine day after you have
wound up the lights on the last beat,--take poor Jotham to his mother's
house,--and if you want you may bring back your oil. I shall get along
with the children very well,--and I will have your dinner hot when you
Tom doubted. But the next day Jotham was worse. Mipples voted for
carrying him ashore, and Laura had her way. The easier did she have it,
because the south wind blew softly, and it was clear to all men that the
run could be made to Squire's in a short two hours. Tom finally agreed
to start early the next morning. He would not leave his sick man at his
mother's, but at Squire's, and the people there could put him home. The
weather was perfect, and an hour before daylight they were gone. They
were all gone,--all three had to go. Mipples could not handle the boat
alone, nor could Tom; far less could one of them manage the boat, take
the oil, and see to poor Jotham also. Wise or not, this was the plan.
An hour before daylight they were gone. Half an hour after sunrise they
were at Squire's. But the sun had risen red, and had plumped into a
cloud. Before Jotham was carried up the cliff the wind was northwest,
and the air was white with snow. You could not see the house from the
boat, nor the boat from the house. You could not see the foremast of
the boat from your seat in the stern-sheets, the air was so white with
snow. They carried Jotham up. But they told John Wilkes, the keeper at
Squire's, that they would come for the oil another day. They hurried
down the path to the boat again, pushed her off, and headed her to the
northeast determined not to lose a moment in beating back to the Bell
and Hammer. Who would have thought the wind would haul back so without a
sign of warning?
"Will it hold up, Simon?" said Tom to Mipples, wishing he might say
And all Simon Mipples would say was,--
"God grant it may!"
* * * * *
And Laura saw the sun rise red and burning. And Laura went up into the
tower next the house, and put out the light there. Then she left the
children in their cribs, and charged the little boy not to leave till
she came back, and ran down to the door to go and put out the other
light,--and as she opened it the blinding snow dashed in her face. She
had not dreamed of snow before. But her water-proof was on, she pulled
on her boots, ran quickly along the path to the other light, two
hundred yards perhaps, climbed the stairway and extinguished that, and
was at home again before the babies missed her.
For an hour or two Laura occupied herself with her household cares, and
pretended to herself that she thought this was only a snow flurry that
would soon clear away. But by the time it was ten o'clock she knew it
was a stiff north-wester, and that her husband and Mipples were caught
on shore. Yes, and she was caught with her babies alone on the island.
Wind almost dead ahead to a boat from Squire's too, if that made any
difference. That crossed Laura's mind. Still she would not brood. Nay,
she did not brood, which was much better than saying she would not
brood. It crossed her mind that it was the day before Christmas, and
that the girls at Tripp's were dressing the meeting-house for dear old
Parson Spaulding. And then there crossed her mind the dear old man's
speech at all weddings, "As you climb the hill of life together, my dear
young friends," and poor Laura, as she kissed the baby once again, had
courage to repeat it all aloud to her and her brother, to the infinite
amazement of them both. They opened their great eyes to the widest as
Laura did so. Nay, Laura had the heart to take a hatchet, and work out
to leeward of the house, into a little hollow behind the hill, and cut
up a savin bush from the thicket, and bring that in, and work for an
hour over the leaves so as to make an evergreen frame to hang about
General Cutts's picture. She did this that Tom might see she was not
frightened when he got home.
When he got home! Poor girl! at the very bottom of her heart was the
other and real anxiety,--if he got home. Laura knew Tom, of course,
better than he knew himself, and she knew old Mipples too. So she knew,
as well as she knew that she was rubbing black lead on the stove, while
she thought these things over,--she knew that they would not stay at
Squire's two minutes after they had landed Jotham Fields. She knew they
would do just what they did,--put to sea, though it blew guns, though
now the surf was running its worst on the Seal's Back. She knew, too,
that if they had not missed the island, they would have been here, at
the latest, before eleven o'clock. And by the time it was one she could
no longer doubt that they had lost the island, and were tacking about
looking for it in the bay, if, indeed, in that gale they dared to tack
at all. No! Laura knew only too well, that where they were was beyond
her guessing; that the good God and they two only knew.
"Come here, Tom, and let me tell you a story! Once there was a little
boy, and he had two kittens. And he named one kitten Muff, and he named
one kitten Buff!"--
What was that?
"Tom, darling, take care of baby; do not let her get out of the cradle,
while mamma goes to the door." Downstairs to the door. The gale has
doubled its rage. How ever did it get in behind the storm-door outside?
That "whang" was the blow with which the door, wrenched off its
hinges, was flung against the side of the wood-house. Nothing can be
done but to bolt the storm-door to the other passage, and bolt the outer
window shutters, and then go back to the children.
"Once there was a little boy, and he had two kittens, and he named one
Minna, and one Brenda"--
"No, mamma, no! one Muff, and one"--
"Oh, yes! my darling! once there was a little boy, and he had two
kittens, and he named one Buff, and one Muff. And one day he went to
Heavens! the lanterns! Who was to trim the lamps? Strange to say,
because this was wholly out of her daily routine, the men always caring
for it of course, Laura had not once thought of it till now. And now it
was after one o'clock. But now she did think of it with a will. "Come,
Tommy, come and help mamma." And she bundled him up in his thickest
storm rig. "Come up into the lantern." Here the boy had never come
before. He was never frightened when he was with her. Else he might well
have been frightened. And he was amazed there in the whiteness; drifts
of white snow on the lee-side and the weather-side; clouds of white snow
on the south-west sides and north-east sides; snow; snow everywhere;
nothing but whiteness wherever he looked round.
Laura made short shift of those wicks which had burned all through the
night before. But she had them ready. She wound up the carcels for their
night's work. Again and again she drew her oil and filled up her
reservoirs. And as she did so, an old text came on her, and she wondered
whether Father Spaulding knew how good a text it would be for
Christmas. And the fancy touched her, poor child, and as she led little
Tom down into the nursery again, she could not help opening into the
Bible Parson Spaulding gave her and reading:--
"'But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the
bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.' Dear Tommy, dear
Tommy, my own child, we will not sleep, will we? 'While the bridegroom
tarried,' O my dear Father in Heaven, let him come. 'And at midnight
there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet
him;'" and she devoured little Tommy with kisses, and cried, "We will
go, my darling, we will go, if he comes at the first hour,--or the
second,--or the third! But now Tommy must come with mamma, and make
ready for his coming." For there were the other lamps to trim in the
other tower, with that heavy reach of snow between. And she did not dare
leave the active boy alone in the house. Little Matty could be caged in
her crib, and, even if she woke, she would at best only cry. But Tom was
So they unbolted the lee-door, and worked out into the snow. Then poor
Laura, with the child, crept round into the storm. Heavens! how it
raged and howled! Where was her poor bridegroom now? She seized up Tom,
and turned her back to the wind, and worked along, go,--step sideway,
sideway, the only way she could by step,--did it ever seem so far
before? Tommy was crying. "One minute more, dear boy. Tommy shall see
the other lantern. And Tommy shall carry mamma's great scissors up the
stairs. Don't cry, my darling, don't cry."
Here is the door;--just as she began to wonder if she were dreaming or
crazy. Not so badly drifted in as she feared. At least she is under
cover. "Up-a-day, my darling, up-a-day. One, two, what a many steps for
Tommy! That's my brave boy." And they were on the lantern deck again,
fairly rocking in the gale,--and Laura was chopping away on her stiff
wicks, and pumping up her oil again, and filling the receivers, as if
she had ever done it till this Christmas before. And she kept saying
over to herself,--
"Then those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps."
"And I will light them," said she aloud. "That will save another walk at
sundown. And I know these carcels run at least five hours." So she
struck a match, and with some little difficulty coaxed the fibres to
take fire. The yellow light flared luridly on the white snow-flakes, and
yet it dazzled her and Tommy as it flashed on them from the reflectors.
"Will anybody see it, mamma?" said the child. "Will papa see it?" And
just then the witching devil who manages the fibres of memory, drew from
the little crypt in Laura's brain, where they had been stored unnoticed
years upon years, four lines of Leigh Hunt's, and the child saw that she
"Then at the flame a torch of fire she lit,
And, o'er her head anxiously holding it,
Ascended to the roof, and, leaning there,
Lifted its light into the darksome air."
If only the devil would have been satisfied with this. But of course she
could not remember that, without remembering Schiller:--
"In the gale her torch is blasted,
Beacon of the hoped-for strand:
Horror broods above the waters,
Horror broods above the land."
And she said aloud to the boy, "Our torch shall not go out, Tommy,--come
down, come down, darling, with mamma." But all through the day horrid
lines from the same poem came back to her. Why did she ever learn it!
Why, but because dear Tom gave her the book himself; and this was his
own version, as he sent it to her from the camp in the valley,--
"Yes, 'tis he! although he perished,
Still his sacred troth he cherished."
"Why did Tom write it for me?"
"And they trickle, lightly playing
O'er a corpse upon the sand."
"What a fool I am! Come, Tommy. Come, Matty, my darling. Mamma will tell
you a story. Once there was a little boy, and he had two kittens. And he
named one Buff and one Muff"-- But this could not last for ever. Sundown
came. And then Laura and Tommy climbed their own tower,--and she lighted
her own lantern, as she called it. Sickly and sad through the storm, she
could see the sister lantern burning bravely. And that was all she could
see in the sullen whiteness. "Now, Tommy, my darling, we will come and
have some supper." "And while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered
and slept." "Yes, 'tis he; although he perished, still his sacred troth
he cherished." "Come, Tommy,--come Tommy,--come, Tommy, let me tell you
But the children had their supper,--asking terrible questions about
papa,--questions which who should answer? But she could busy herself
about giving them their oatmeal, and treating them to ginger-snaps,
because it was Christmas Eve. Nay, she kept her courage, when Tommy
asked if Santa Claus would come in the boat with papa. She fairly
loitered over the undressing them. Little witches, how pretty they were
in their flannel nightgowns! And Tommy kissed her, and gave her--ah
me!--one more kiss for papa. And in two minutes they were asleep. It
would have been better if they could have kept awake one minute longer.
Now she was really alone. And very soon seven o'clock has come. She does
not dare leave the clock-work at the outer lantern a minute longer. Tom
and Mipples wind the works every four hours, and now they have run five.
One more look at her darlings. Shall she ever see them again in this
world? Now to the duty next her hand!
Yes, the wind is as fierce as ever! A point more to the north, Laura
notices. She has no child to carry now. She tumbles once in the drift.
But Laura has rolled in snow before. The pile at the door is three feet
thick. But she works down to the latch,--and even her poor numb hand
conquers it,--and it gives way. How nice and warm the tower is! and how
well the lights burn! Can they be of any use this night to anybody? O my
God, grant that they be of use to him!
She has wound them now. She has floundered into the snow again. Two or
three falls on her way home,--but no danger that she loses the line of
march. The light above her own house is before her. So she has only to
aim at that. Home again! And now to wait for five hours,--and then to
wind that light again--at midnight!
"And at midnight there was a cry made"--"oh dear!--if he would come,--I
would not ask for any cry!"--
* * * * *
And Laura got down her choice inlaid box, that Jem brought her from
sea,--and which held her treasures of treasures. And the dear girl did
the best thing she could have done. She took these treasures out.--You
know what they were, do not you? They were every letter Tom Cutts ever
wrote her--from the first boy note in print,--"Laura,--these hedgehog
quills are for you. I killed him. TOM." And Laura opened them all,--and
read them one by one, each twice,--and put them back, in their order,
without folding, into the box. At ten she stopped,--and worked her way
upstairs into her own lantern,--and wound its works again. She tried to
persuade herself that there was less wind,--did persuade herself so. But
the snow was as steady as ever. Down the tower-stairs again,--and then a
few blessed minutes brooding over Matty's crib, and dear little Tom who
has kicked himself right athwart her own bed where she had laid him.
Darlings! they are so lovely, their father must come home to see them!
Back then to her kitchen fire. There are more of dear Tom's letters yet.
How manly they are,--and how womanly. She will read them all!--will she
ever dare to read them all again?
Yes,--she reads them all,--each one twice over,--and his soldier
diary,--which John Wildair saved and sent home, and, as she lays it
down, the clock strikes twelve. Christmas day is born!--
"And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh."
Laura fairly repeated this aloud. She knew that the other carcel must be
wound again. She dressed herself for the fight thoroughly. She ran in
and trusted herself to kiss the children. She opened the lee-door
again, and crept round again into the storm,--familiar now with such
adventure. Did the surf beat as fiercely on the rocks? Surely not. But
then the tide is now so low! So she came to her other tower, crept up
and wound her clock-work up again, wiped off, or tried to wipe off, what
she thought was mist gathering on the glasses, groped down the stairway,
and looked up on the steady light above her own home. And the Christmas
text came back to her. "The star went before them, and stood above the
place where the young child was."
"A light to lighten the Gentiles,--and the glory of my people Israel!"
"By the way of the sea,"--and this Laura almost shouted aloud,--"Galilee
of the Gentiles, the people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and
to them who sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."
"Grant it, merciful Father,--grant it for these poor children!" And she
almost ran through the heavy drifts, till she found the shelter again of
her friendly tower. Her darlings had not turned in their bed, since she
left them there.
And after this Laura was at rest. She took down her Bible, and read the
Christmas chapters. It was as if she had never known before what
darkness was,--or what the Light was, when it came. She took her Hymn
Book and read all the Christmas Hymns. She took her Keble,--and read
every poem for Advent and the hymn for Christmas morning. She knew this
by heart long ago. Then she took Bishop Ken's "Christian Year,"--which
Tom had given for her last birthday present,--and set herself bravely to
committing his "Christmas Day" to memory:--
"Celestial harps, prepare
To sound your loftiest air;
You choral angels at the throne,
Your customary hymns postpone;"
and thus, dear girl, she kept herself from thinking even of the wretched
Hero and Leander lines, till her clock struck three. Upstairs then to
her own tower, and to look out upon the night. The sister flame was
steady. The wind was all hushed. But the snow was as steady, right and
left, behind and before. Down again, one more look at the darlings, and
then, as she walked up and down her little kitchen, she repeated the
verses she had learned, and then sat down to--
"You with your heavenly ray
Gild the expanse this day;
"You with your heavenly ray
Gild--the expanse--this day;
Dear Laura, bless God, she is asleep. "He giveth his beloved sleep."
* * * * *
Her head is thrown back on the projecting wing of grandmamma's tall
easy-chair, her arms are resting relaxed on its comfortable arms, her
lips just open with a smile, as she dreams of something in the kingdom
of God's heaven, when, as the lazy day just begins to grow gray, Tom,
white with snow to his middle, holding the boat's lantern before him as
he steals into her kitchen, crosses the room, and looks down on
her,--what a shame to wake her,--bends down and kisses her!
Dear child! How she started,--"At midnight there is a cry made, Behold,
the bridegroom cometh,"--"Why, Tom! Oh! my dearest, is it you?"
* * * * *
"Have I been asleep on duty?" This was her first word when she came
fairly to herself.
"Guess not," said old Mipples, "both lanterns was burning when I come
in. 'Most time to put 'em out, Major! 'Keepers must be diligent to save
oil by all reasonable prevision.'"
"Is the north light burning?" said poor Laura. And she looked guiltily
at her tell-tale clock.
"Darling," said Tom, reverently, "if it were not burning, we should not
And Laura took her husband to see the babies, not willing to let his
hand leave hers, nor he, indeed, to let hers leave his. Old Mipples
thought himself one too many, and went away, wiping his eyes, to the
other light. "Time to extinguish it," he said.
But before Tom and Laura had known he was gone, say in half an hour,
that is, he was back again, hailing them from below.
"Major! Major! Major! An English steamer is at anchor in the cove, and
is sending her boat ashore."
Tom and Laura rushed to the window; the snow was all over now, and they
could see the monster lying within half a mile. "Where would they be,
Miss Cutts, if somebody had not wound up the lamps at midnight? Guess
they said 'Merry Christmas' when they see 'em." And Laura held her
breath when she thought what might have been. Tom and Mipples ran down
to the beach to hail them, and direct the landing. Tom and Mipples shook
the hand of each man as he came ashore, and then Laura could see them
hurrying to the house together. Steps on the landing; steps on the
stairway,--the door is open, and,--not Tom this time,--but her dear lost
brother Jem, in the flesh, and in a heavy pea-coat.
"Merry Christmas! Laura!"
* * * * *
"Laura," said Jem, as they sat at their Christmas dinner, "what do you
think I thought of first, when I heard the cable run out so like blazes;
when I rushed up and saw your yellow lanterns there?"
"How should I know, Jem?"
"'They that dwell in the shadow of death, upon them the light hath
"But I did not think it was you, Laura."