EUNICE HARLOWE had left her home in a factory village of Massachusetts the day before. Her father, a country minister with a small salary a large family, had committed an unnecessary extravagance, her thrifty mother thought, when he accompanied Eunice to New York and saw her safely across the ferry and on board a night train for Henrysburg.
To Eunice and her father this home-leaving was a great event. She had been carefully educated in Mount Holyoke Seminary with the idea that she was to teach, thereby not only paying her own way, but helping in the education of her three younger sisters. But it had not entered into the father's calculations or her own that she should go so far from home. The advertisement in a church paper for a teacher of the children of the professors of Tomlinson, and a home offered with the family of the president of the college, had read very enticingly, except that Bellaire seemed very far south, and southern Pennsylvania almost a land of barbarians, to their New England prejudices. But they decided finally to answer the advertisement, and they hardly knew whether to be pleased or sorry when by return mail their application was accepted.
Pullman sleepers were almost or entirely unknown then, and even had there been one on the Henrysburg train, Eunice would never have thought of spending two or three dollars merely to make herself more comfortable for a few hours. She sat bolt upright in the low-backed seat, with her bag and handbox beside her; and at intervals rested her tired head on the side of the car and gained a few moments of unconsciousness, until the strained muscles of her neck aroused her to the painful conviction that there was not much rest to be had from such sleep.
It was in the gray dawn of the September morning that the train drew into the station of the "Pennsylvania Central" road at Henrysburg, and gathering up her hand-baggage, she stepped from the car into a bedlam of shrieking locomotives, shouting men, and moving trains, very bewildering to her quiet country experience. She stood a moment trying to decide what to do, and a kindly official, noticing her dazed look, asked her where she wanted to go, and directed her across a wide space of interlacing tracks to the Northern Central station, from which the Northumberland Valley train started; and promised also to see that her baggage was safely transferred.
It would be long before the Bellaire train started, but she was not sorry. There were the ravages of the night to be repaired, for she was nervously anxious to make as good an impression as possible on her arrival, and she was shocked at the pale and grimy face that looked back at her from the little glass in the stuffy toilet-room. She did the best she could in the way of ablutions, and then taking a curling-stick from her bag, carefully brushed over it each long, light curl, and put back the neat little bonnet, from which she had scrupulously removed every atom of dust. By that time it was broad daylight, and she was glad to escape from the close and crowded waiting-room into the sweet, morning air. She found a seat in a little park on the banks of the beautiful river, and watched the rocky banks opposite, along which trains were constantly thundering, diving out of sight behind wooded cliffs, and reappearing before she could possibly expect them. Just below, two long bridges crossed the river: one a covered wagon-bridge, reminding her vividly of the old Connecticut River bridge at Hadley, which she had often crossed going to and from Mount Holyoke in her father's carryall, and the other the new railroad bridge, across which was creeping one of the very trains she had been watching play hide and seek on the opposite bank.
She was only idly watching it all, for she was very tired and her thoughts were taken up with the dear home circle she had left and the new home she was approaching. In spite of the sorrow of going so far away, leaving the mother she loved, the father she idolized, and the dear sisters, she had permitted herself some rosy visions of the future. She was only nineteen, and her life in the factory village had shut her out almost entirely from young society and absolutely from association with young men of her own class. The fact that she was going now to live in the family of the president of a college for young men, where she would certainly meet them often,–perhaps every day, for aught she knew,–was nearly incomprehensible in the light of her previous experience, and sent her pulses bounding a little faster–staid New England pulses though they were.
Now that the journey was nearly over, her dreams were losing their rosy tint. A sickening dread of her new life and the strangers she must meet was taking possession of her. Would the president prove to be an austere man, and life in his home be cold and formal? She had always had an unconfessed feeling that New England stood for all the culture of the country; would the Bellaire people be vulgar and commonplace and more disagreeable, perhaps, than factory people? Her courage was fast ebbing, and her heart turning longingly homeward, when it occurred to her to consult the tiny watch, her father's parting gift. To her consternation, she found that she would have to hasten to catch the train. Fortunately her bandbox and her bag were beside her,–she would not have to stop to hunt them up,–and her trunk was checked; and so she found a seat in one of the queer little yellow cars of the Northumberland Valley Railroad, breathless, but with two minutes to spare.
As soon as she had recovered her breath, she proceeded to take from her bag a green barêge veil, which she very carefully tied over her bonnet, and a linen raglan, which she wrapped around her, knowing there would be no chance again to get rid of the dust and make herself neat before reaching Bellaire, and particularly dreading the heavy volumes of black smoke from the soft coal, which made the engines so much more formidable than the wood-consuming locomotives of her own country. But she did not cover her face with the veil. The day was too stifling, now that the sun was well up and fairly at work; and also, she wanted to take in all the views. She intended to become thoroughly acquainted with this new country she was entering. The narrow closely built street through which the railroad passed, lined with squalid tenements, from whose roofs and porches fluttered grimy and tattered "washings" (much to Eunice's amazement, for it was not Monday), and on whose narrow sidewalks, and almost on the track itself, swarmed scores of unkempt children, did not please her, though she was interested in what was heretofore an unimagined phase of life. But they soon glided out of the close, unpleasant street upon the long bridge, and a breath of cool, soft river air filled the car, and dispelled every lurking odor of the unsavory city.
They were a long time crossing the river, which was here broad and beautiful, with low, wooded islands resting on its bosom, and vistas of lofty mountains opening on the right and left to let its blue waters through; but once fairly across, they were soon speeding up the valley.
Eunice had made the trip through the rich farmlands of eastern Pennsylvania by night. The country about her home, while picturesque, was bleak and the land comparatively sterile, and it was a revelation to her to see rolling meadows dotted with stately trees; broad fields black with the richness of the loam or golden with the banners of the ripening corn; comfortable farm-houses overshadowed by palatial barns, whose enormous proportions were yet too small to hold the generous harvests of hay and grain that seemed to be bursting through every window and door; huge droves of well-fed cattle, and the score of lazy farm-horses that every farmer evidently considered necessary to his work; and all this abundance, this land of plenty and ease, hemmed in by two parallel lines of mountains forming a blue barrier seven miles away to the northwest and the southeast.
Her life heretofore had been cold and gray. She had known something of the pinching of poverty, and much of the hard economies, the ceaseless industries and rigid formalism, of life among the bleak hills of New England. She began to feel as if the blue and gold of this beautiful valley were already changing the color of her existence. There was a stirring within her as of the petals of unsuspected blossoms of life unfolding to the sunshine; and then her stern New England conscience took her to task for indulging in such soft dreams. What was to become of her high ideals and lofty ambitions if she yielded to these vague yearnings after a life of sensuous ease?
They were entering Bellaire now, and she took off her raglan and veil, folded them away in her bag, and sat rigidly erect as if she were already under inspection, but her quiet glance taking in every detail of the strange streets. It was not at all like any of the New England towns she knew best. In her own mind she decided it was rather an ugly village, certainly not to be compared with Northampton, her ideal of the beautiful and picturesque. Nevertheless there was something so gay and bright in the aspect of door-steps crowded with pretty girls dressed in sheer muslins,–a kind of dress worn only occasionally in the cool New England summer, and reserved then for state occasions,–their pretty heads guiltless of hat or bonnet, which seemed a little scandalous to her sense of propriety; and the groups of men talking to them was such a novel sight, that she was inclined to be pleased with her first introduction to her new home.
The train moved very slowly through the street, ringing its bell as it went, and she had time to take it all in before she realized that they had stopped. With a quick beating of her heart, she gathered up her bag and handbox and followed the stream of passengers, wondering who would meet her, or what she should do if no one should come. But as she was stepping from the train a hand reached up to help her, and the pleasantest voice in the world said:
"This is Miss Harlowe, I am sure."
The doctor knew there was no possibility of mistaking that quiet little figure with the calm gray eyes; it could belong to no other than a genuine Puritan maiden.
Eunice, on her part, felt all her fears vanish at the sight of the benignant face with its clear-cut, classic features and mild eyes smiling on her so kindly. She relinquished her bag to him; but when he would have taken her bandbox also, she insisted that it was very light, and that she preferred carrying it herself. She alighted in the middle of the street, with no visible station-house near; and she would have been very much bewildered if she had been alone, for she was in the midst of a dense, surging crowd, more than half of them, it seemed to her, colored people, and a large proportion of these half-grown boys, who surrounded her, vociferating:
"Want yer baggage tuk, miss?" or, respectfully saluting Dr. Charlton, "I'll take yer trunk cheap, doctor." To all their appeals the doctor merely shook his head, and dexterously guiding Eunice to the edge of the crowd, they found themselves in front of a bowing and smiling yellow man mounting guard over a wheel-barrow, to whom the doctor gave the check.
"Permit me to introduce 'Judge Watts' to you, Miss Harlowe, " said the doctor, gravely. "I trust you will find him a very valuable friend while you stay with us."
The delighted "judge" bowed, and scraped and grinned more energetically than before, but Eunice was puzzled. She was not used to negroes, and in fact was much afraid of them, and she could not understand the anomaly of a colored "judge" carrying her baggage on a wheel-barrow, nor could she conceive of a venerable president of a college indulging in a small joke, so she merely bowed a stiff acknowledgment. Dr. Charlton saw her bewilderment and, as they turned to walk up the street, explained that "Judge" was the janitor of West College, and happening to have the same surname as a distinguished judge of the town, the students had dubbed him with this title, of which he was immensely vain. The doctor was in the midst of his explanation when they passed the Burton steps, and although Eunice's long lashes were sweeping her cheek, she had distinctly seen the group of gaily dressed girls; the handsome young officer with difficulty checking his fiery steed, now that the engine was so near; and particularly was she conscious of the admiring gaze directed full upon her from a pair of bold black eyes belonging to a figure more elegant than any that she had yet known.
There was something confusing about that gaze, even after they had passed, and she found it difficult to keep her attention sufficiently fastened on what Dr. Charlton was saying to make suitable responses to his kind inquiries about her journey, and genial comments about the houses and people they passed.
They were almost at the end of the long block, and the doctor had just called her attention to the Iron Gate and the stone wall surmounted by a black railing inclosing the college grounds, one corner of which was becoming visible, when he suddenly stopped with a sharp exclamation and clapped his hand to his inner pocket. Eunice had had no time to inquire into the cause of his discomfiture or express her sympathy with it, when there appeared at the doctor's elbow the very subject, not of her thoughts, but of her persistent agitations. With the most deferential air, he bowed low to Dr. Charlton and said:
"Permit me, doctor, to relieve you of that heavy bag; I can drop it at the house for you. "
"Ah, Mr. McAllister! Yes, yes, I think you may," said the doctor, beginning absent-mindedly, but with a gradually clearing visage. "In fact, Miss Harlowe, if you will allow me, I will introduce Mr. McAllister, and ask you to permit him to see you to the house. I find I have forgotten an important commission of Mrs. Charlton's."
The down-train to Henrysburg had passed them a few minutes before, and the doctor turned with visible anxiety to see if it was still at the station. Rex murmured his pleasure at the commission, and there was nothing for Eunice to do but signify her assent and release the doctor as quickly as possible, although she was aware of an intolerable color flaming in her usually delicately tinted cheeks.
It was then that the cambric handkerchief fluttered over McAllister's left shoulder.