Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page




The Forest of Arden by Ita Aniol Prokop

A girl of seventeen—a girl with a "missish" name, with a "missish" face as well, soft skin, bright eyes, dark hair, medium height and a certain amount of coquetry in her attire. This completes the "visible" of Nellie Archer. And the invisible? With an exterior such as this, what thoughts or ideas are possible within? Surely none worth the trouble of searching after. It is a case of the rind being the better part of the fruit, the shell excelling the kernel; and with a slight effort we can imagine her acquirements. Some scraps of geography, mixed up with the topography of an embroidery pattern; some grammar, of much use in parsing the imperfect phrases of celebrated authors, to the neglect of her own; some romanticism, finding expression in the arrangement of a spray of artificial flowers on a spring bonnet; some idea of duty, resulting in the manufacture of sweet cake or "seeing after" the dessert for dinner; and a conception of "woman's mission" gained from Tennyson—

Oh teach the orphan-boy to read,

Or teach the orphan-girl to sew.

No! no! no! not so fast, please. In spite of Nellie's name, of her face, of her attire, that little head is filled quite otherwise. It is not her fault that this is so: is it her misfortune? But to give the history of this being entire, it is necessary to begin seventeen years back, at the very beginning of her life, for in our human nature, as in the inanimate world, a phenomenon is better understood when we know its producing causes.

Nellie's father was a business-man of a type common in America—one whose affairs led him here, there and everywhere. Never quiet while awake, and scarcely at rest during slumber, he resembled Bedreddin Hassan in frequently going to sleep in one town, to awake in another far distant, but without the benighted Oriental's surprise at the transfer, the afrit who performed this prodigy being a steam-engine, and the magician it obeyed the human mind.

In these rapid peregrinations it would not have been easy for Mr. Archer to carry an infant with him; so, when his wife died and left Nellie to his sole care at six months old, he speedily cast about in his mind to rid himself of the encumbrance.

Having heard that country air is good for children, he sent the little one to the interior, and quite admired himself for giving her such an advantage: then, too, the house in the city could be sold.

But to whom did he entrust his child? For a while this had been the great difficulty. In vain he thought over the years he had lived, to find a friend: he had been too busy to make friends. For an honest person he had traversed the world too hurriedly to perceive the deeper, better part of mankind; he had floated on the surface with the scum and froth, and could recall no one whom he could trust. At last, away back in the years of his childhood, he saw a face—that of a young but motherly Irishwoman, who had lived in his father's family as a faithful servant, and had been a fond partisan of his in his fickle troubles when a boy.

He sought and found her in his need. She had married, borne children and grown old: her offspring, after much struggling and little help from the parent birds, had learned to fly alone, and had left the home-nest to try their own fortunes. It was not hard for Mr. Archer to persuade Nurse Bridget and her husband to inhabit his house in the country and take charge of the baby. In a short time the arrangements were complete, and the three were installed in comfort, for the busy man did not grudge money.

If in the long years that followed a thought of the neglected little one did at times reproach him, he dismissed it with the resolution of doing something for her when she should be grown up; but at what date this event was to take place, or what it was that he intended to do, he did not definitely settle.

The mansion in the country was an old rambling house, in which there were enough deserted rooms to furnish half a dozen ghosts with desirable lodgings, without inconvenience to the living dwellers. The front approach was through an avenue of hemlocks, dark and untrimmed. Under the closed windows lay a tangled garden, where flowers grew rank, shadowed by high ash and leafy oak, outposts of the forest behind—a forest jealous of cultivation, stealthily drawing nearer each year, and threatening to reconquer its own.

There was an unused well in a corner that looked like the habitation of a fairy—of a good fairy, I am sure, because the grass grew greenest and best about the worn curb, and the tender mosses and little plants that could not support the heat in summer found a refuge within its cool circle and flourished there.

On the other side of the house, and dividing it from level fields, were the kitchen-garden and orchard. In springtime you might have imagined the latter to be a grove of singing trees, bearing song for fruit: in autumn, had you seen it when the sun was low, glinting through leaves and gilding apples and stem, you would have been reminded of the garden of the Hesperides.

Below the fields lay a broad river—in summer, languid and clear; in winter, turbid and full. The child often wondered (as soon as she could wonder) if, when it was lying so tranquil under the summer clouds, it was thinking of the frolic it would have with the great blocks of ice in the winter; whether it loved best the rush and struggle of the floods or the quiet of low water; and, above all, whither it was going.

The homely faces and bent, ungainly forms of the old nurse and her husband harmonized well with the mellow gloom about them; and the infant Nellie completed the scene, like the spot of sunlight in the foreground of a picture by Rembrandt.

Now, Nellie inherited her father's active disposition, and, left to her own amusement, her occupations were many and various. At three years of age she was turned loose in the orchard, with three blind puppies in lieu of toys. Day by day she augmented her store, until she had two kittens, one little white pig with a curly tail, half a dozen soft piepies, one kid, and many inanimate articles, such as broken bottles, dishes, looking-glass and gay bits of calico. When the little thing became sleepy she would toddle through the long grass to a corner, whence the river could be heard fretting against its banks, and lie there: she said the water sang to her. Finding that this was her favorite spot, the old nurse placed there a bright quilt for her to rest on, and in case she should awake hungry there stood a tin of milk hard by. This was all the attention she received, unless the fairy of the well took her under her protection, but for that I cannot vouch. Sometimes the puppies drank her milk before she awoke; then she went contentedly and ate green apples or ripe cherries. Thus she lived and grew.

By the time Nellie was seven she had seen whole generations of pets pass away. It was wonderful what knowledge she gained in this golden orchard. She knew that piepies became chickens—that they were killed and eaten; so death came into her world. She knew that the kid grew into a big goat, and became very wicked, for he ran at her one day, throwing her to the ground and hurting her severely; so sin came into her world. She saw innate depravity exemplified in the conduct of her innocent white pig, that would take to puddles and filth in spite of her gentle endeavors to restrain its wayward impulses. Her puppies too bit each other, would quarrel over a bone, growl and get generally unmanageable. None of her animals fulfilled the promise of their youth, and her care was returned with base ingratitude. Even the little wrens bickered with the blue-birds, and showed their selfishness and jealousy in chasing them from the crumbs she impartially spread for all in common.

So at seven she was a wise little woman, and said to her nurse one day, "I do not care for pets any more: they all grow up nasty."

Was Solomon's "All is vanity" truer?

With so much experience Nellie felt old, for life is not counted by years alone: it is the loss of hope, the mistrust of appearance, the vanishing of illusion, that brings age. A hopeful heart is young at seventy, and youth is past when hope is dead. But, in spite of all, hope was not dead in the heart of the little maid, and though deceived she was quite ready to be deceived a second time, as was Solomon, and as we are all.

It was now that the girl began to be fond of flowers. She made herself a bed for them in a sunny corner of the kitchen-garden, and transplanted daisy roots and spring-beauties, with other wood- and field-plants as they blossomed. She watched the ferns unroll their worm-like fronds, made plays with the nodding violets, and ornamented her head with dandelion curls. This was indeed a happy summer. Her rambles were unlimited, and each day she was rewarded by new discoveries and delightful secrets—how the May-apple is good to eat, that sassafras root makes tea, that birch bark is very like candy, though not so sweet, and slippery elm a feast.

Her new playmates were as lovely and perfect as she could desire. They did not "grow up nasty," but in the autumn, alas! they died.

One day at the end of the Indian summer, after having wandered for hours searching for her favorites, she found them all withered. The trees also looked forlorn, shivering in the chill air, with scarce a leaf to cover them: the wind moaned, and the sky was gray instead of the bright summer blue. The little one, tired and disappointed, touched by this mighty lesson of decay, threw herself on a friendly bank and wept.

It is true the beautiful face of Nature had grown sad each winter, and her flowers and lovely things had yearly passed away, but Nellie had not then loved them.

Here she was found by a boy rosy-cheeked and bright, who all his life had been loved and caressed to the same extent that Nellie had been neglected. He lived beyond the forest, and had come this afternoon to look for walnuts. Seeing the girl unhappy, he essayed some of the blandishing arts his mother had often lavished on him, speaking to her in a kindly tone and asking her why she cried.

The child looked up at the sound of this new voice, and her astonishment stopped her tears. After gazing at him for some time with her eyes wide open, she remarked, wonderingly, "You are little, like me."

"I am not very small," replied the boy, straightening himself.

"Oh, but you are young and little," she insisted.

"I am young, but not little. Come stand up beside me. See! you don't more than reach my shoulder."

"Shall you ever get bigger?"

"Of course I shall."

"Shall you grow up nasty?" she continued, trying to bring her stock of experience to bear on this new phenomenon.

"No, I sha'n't!" he answered very decidedly.

"Shall you die?"

"No, not until I am old, old, old."

"I am very glad: I will take you for a pet, All my little animals get nasty, and my flowers have died, but I don't care, now that you have come: I think I shall like you best."

"But I won't be your pet," said the boy, offended.

"Why not?" she asked, looking at him beseechingly. "I should be very good to you;" and she smoothed his sleeve with her brown hand as if it were the fur of one of her late darlings.

"Who are you?" he demanded inquisitively.

"I am myself," she innocently replied.

"What is your name?"

"I am Nellie. Have you a name?" she eagerly went on. "If you haven't, I'll give you a pretty one. Let me see: I will call you—"

"You need not trouble yourself, thank you: I have a name of my own, Miss Nellie. I am Danby Overbeck."

"Dan—by—o—ver—beck!" she repeated slowly. "Why, you have an awful long name, Beck, for such a little fellow."

"I am not little, and I will not have you call me Beck: that is no name."

"I forgot all but the last. Don't get nasty, please;" and she patted his arm soothingly. "What does your nurse call you?"

"I am no baby to have a nurse," he said disdainfully.

"You have no nurse? Poor thing! What do you do? who feeds you?"

"I feed myself."

"Where do you live," she asked, looking about curiously, as if she thought he had some kind of a nest near at hand.

"Oh, far away—at the other side of the woods."

"Won't you come and live with me? Do!"

"No indeed, gypsy: I must go home. See, the sun is almost down. You had better go too: your mother will be anxious."

"I have no mother, and my flowers are all dead. I wish you would be my pet—I wish you would come with me;" and her lip trembled.

"My gracious, child! what would the old lady at home say? Why, there would be an awful row."

"Never mind, come," she answered coaxingly, rubbing her head against his sleeve like a kitten. "Come, I will love you so much."

"You go home," he said, patting her head, "and I will come again some day, and will bring you flowers."

"The flowers are all dead," she replied, shaking her head.

"I can make some grow. Go now, run away: let me see you off."

She looked for a moment at this superior being, who could make flowers grow and could live without the care of a nurse, and then, obeying the stronger intelligence, she trotted off toward home.

And now life contained new pleasure for Nellie, for the boy was large-hearted and kind, coming almost daily to take her with him on his excursions. Indeed, he was as lonely as the child, companions being difficult to find in that out-of-the-way neighborhood, and the odd little thing amused him. She would trudge bravely by his side when he went to fish, or carry his bag when he went gunning; and his promise of flowers was redeemed with gifts from the conservatory, which enhanced her opinion of this divinity, seeing that they were even more beautiful than those of her own fields. Often, when tired of sport, Danby would read to her, sitting in the shade of forest trees, stories of pirates and robbers or of wonderful adventures: these were the afternoons she enjoyed the most.

One day, seeing her lips grow bright and her eyes dark from her intense interest in the story, he offered her the book as he was preparing to go, saying, "Take it home, Nellie, and read it."

She took the volume in her hand eagerly, looked at the page a little while, a puzzled expression gradually passing over her face, until finally she turned to him open-eyed and disappointed, saying simply, "I can't."

"Oh try!"

"How shall I try?"

"It begins there: now go on, it is easy. There" he repeated, pointing to the word, "go on," he added impatiently.

"Where shall I go?"

"Why read, Stupid! Look at it."

She bent over and gazed earnestly where the end of his finger touched the book. "I look and look," she said, shaking her head, "but I do not see the pretty stories that you do. They seem quite gone away, and nothing is left but little crooked marks."

"I do believe you can't read."

"I do believe it too," said Nellie.

"But you must try; such a big girl as you are getting to be!"

"I try and I look, but it don't come to me."

"You must learn."


"Do you intend to do it?"

"Why should I? You can read to me."

"You will never know anything," exclaimed the boy severely. "How do you spend your time in the morning, when I am not here?"

"I do nothing."


"That is, I wait until you come," in an explanatory tone.

"What do you do while you are waiting?"

"I think about you, and wonder how soon you will be here; and I walk about, or lie on the grass and look at the clouds."

"Well, did I ever hear of such an idle girl? I shall not come again if you don't learn to read." Nellie was not much given to laughter or tears. She had lived too much alone for such outward appeals for sympathy. Why laugh when there is no one near to smile in return? Why weep when there is no one to give comfort? She only regarded him with a world of reproach in her large eyes.

"Nellie," he said, in reply to her eyes, "you ought to learn to read, and you must. Did no one ever try to teach you?"

She shook her head.

"Have you no books?"

Again a negative shake.

"Just come along with me to the house. I'll see about this thing: it must be stopped." And Danby rose and walked off with a determined air, while the girl, abashed and wondering, followed him. When they arrived he plunged into the subject at once: "Nurse Bridget, can you read?"

"An' I raly don't know, as I niver tried."

"Fiddlesticks! Of course Maurice is too blind, and very likely he never tried either. Are there no books in the house?"

"An' there is, then—a whole room full of them, Master Danby. We are not people of no larnin' here, I can tell you. There is big books, an' little books, an' some awful purty books, an' some," she added doubtfully, "as is not so purty."

"You know a great deal about books!" said the boy sarcastically.

"An' sure I do. Haven't I dusted them once ivery year since I came to this blessed place? And tired enough they made me, too. I ain't likely to forgit them."

"Well, let us see them."

"Sure they're locked."

"Open them," said the impatient boy.

"Do open them," added Nellie timidly.

But it required much coaxing to accomplish their design, and after nurse did consent time was lost in looking for the keys, which were at last found under a china bowl in the cupboard. Then the old woman led the way with much importance, opening door after door of the unused part of the house, until she came to the library. It was a large, sober-looking room, with worn furniture and carpet, but rich in literature, and even art, for several fine pictures hung on the walls. The ancestor from whom the house had descended must have been a learned man in his day, and a wise, for he had gathered about him treasures. Danby shouted with delight, and Nellie's eyes sparkled as she saw his pleasure.

"Open all the windows, nurse, please, and then leave us. Why, Nellie, there is enough learning here to make you the most wonderful woman in the world! Do you think you can get all these books into your head?" he asked mischievously, "because that is what I expect of you. We will take a big one to begin with." The girl looked on while he, with mock ceremony, took down the largest volume within reach and laid it open on a reading-desk near. "Now sit;" and he drew a chair for her before the open book, and another for himself. "It is nice big print. Do you see this word?" and he pointed to one of the first at the top of the page.

She nodded her head gravely.

"It is love: say it."

She repeated the word after him.

"Now find it all over the page whereever it occurs."

With some mistakes she finally succeeded in recognizing the word again.

"Don't you forget it."


"No, you must not."

"I mean I won't."

"All right! Here is another: it is called the. Now find it."

Many times she went through the same process. In his pride of teaching Danby did not let his pupil flag. When he was going she asked timidly, "Shall you come again?"

"Of course I shall, Ignoramus, but don't you forget your lesson."

"No, no," she answered brightening. "I will think of it all the time I am asleep."

"That is a good girl," he said patronizingly, and bade her good-bye.

It was thus she learned to read, not remarkably well, but well enough to content Danby, which was sufficient to content Nellie also; and the ambitious boy was not satisfied until she could write as well.

An end came to this peaceful life when the youth left home for college. The girl's eyes seemed to grow larger from intense gazing at him during the last few weeks that preceded his departure, but that was her only expression of feeling. The morning after he left, the nurse, not finding her appear at her usual time, went to her chamber to look for her. She lay on the bed, as she had been lying all the night, sleepless, with pale face and red lips. Nurse asked her what was the matter.

"Nothing," was the reply.

"Come get up, Beauty," coaxed the nurse.

But Nellie turned her face to the wall and did not answer. She lay thus for a week, scarcely eating or sleeping, sick in mind and body, struggling with a grief that she hardly knew was grief. At the end of that time she tottered from the bed, and, clothing herself with difficulty, crept to the library.

The instinct that sends a sick animal to the plant that will cure it seemed to teach Nellie where to find comfort. Danby was gone, but memory remained, and the place where he had been was to her made holy and possessed healing power, as does the shrine of a saint for a believer. Her shrine was the reading-desk, and the chair on which he had sat during those happy lessons. To make all complete, she lifted the heavy book from the shelf and opened it at the page from which she had first learned. She put herself in his chair and caressed the words with her thin hand, her fingers trembling over the place that his had touched, then dropping her head on the desk where his arm had lain, she smiling slept.

She awoke with the nurse looking down on her, saying, "Beauty, you are better."

And so she was: she drank the broth and ate the bread and grapes that had been brought her, and from that day grew stronger. But the shadow in her eyes was deeper now, and the veins in her temples were bluer, as if the blood had throbbed and pained there. Every morning found her at her post: she had no need to roam the woods and fields now—her world lay within her. It was sad for one so young to live on memory.

For many days her page and these few words were sufficient to content her, and to recall them one after another, as Danby had taught, was her only occupation. But by and by the words themselves began to interest her, then the context, and finally the sense dawned upon her—dawned not less surely that it came slowly, and that she was now and then compelled to stop and think out a word.

And what did she learn? Near the top of the large page the first word, "love." It ended a sentence and stood conspicuous, which was the reason it had caught the eye of the eager boy when he began to teach. What did it mean? What went before? What after? It was a long time before she asked herself these questions, for her understanding had not formed the habit of being curious. Previously her eyes alone had sight, now her intellect commenced seeing. What was the web of which this word was the woof, knitting together, underlying, now appearing, now hidden, but always there? She turned the leaves and counted where it recurred again and again, like a bird repeating one sweet note, of which it never tires. Then the larger type in the middle of each page drew her attention: she read, As You Like It. "What do I like? This story is perhaps as I like it. I wonder what it is about? I don't care now for pirates and robbers: I liked them when he read to me, but not now." Her thoughts then wandered off to Danby, and she read no more that day.

However, Nellie had plenty of time before her, and when her thinking was ended she would return to her text. I do not know how long a time it required for her to connect the sentence that followed the word "love;" but it became clear to her finally, just as a difficult puzzle will sometimes resolve itself as you are idly regarding it. And this is what she saw: "Love! But it cannot be sounded: my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal." The phrase struck her as if it was her own, and for the first time in her life she blushed. She did not know much about the bay of Portugal, it is true, but she understood the rest. From that time forth the book possessed a strange interest for her. Much that she did not comprehend she passed by. Often for several days she would not find a passage that pleased her, but when such a one was discovered her slow perusal of it and long dwelling on it gave a beauty and power to the sentiment that more expert students might have lost. I cannot describe the almost feverish effect upon her of that poetical quartette beginning with—

Good shepherd, tell this youth what 'tis to love.

How she hung over it, smiled at it, brightening into delight at the echo of her own feelings! In the raillery of Rosalind her heart found words to speak; and her sense and wit were awakened by the sarcasm of the same character. "Pray you, no more of this: 'tis like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon," came like a healthy tonic after a week of ecstasy spent over the preceding lines.

Her mind grew in such companionship. She lived no more alone: she had found friends who sympathized with her. Smiles and tears became frequent on her face, making it more beautiful. As You Like It was just as she liked it. The forest of Arden was her forest. Rosalind's banished father was her father: that busy man she had never seen. With the book for interpreter she fell in love with her world over again. Sunset and dawn possessed new charms; the little flowers seemed dignified; moonlight and fairy-land unveiled their mysteries; nothing was forgotten. It appeared as if all the knowledge of the world was contained in those magic pages, and the master-key to this treasure, the dominant of this harmony, was love—the word that Danby had taught her. The word? The feeling as well, and with the feeling—all.

Circling from this passion as from a pole-star, all those great constellations of thought revolved. With Lear's madness was Cordelia's affection; with the inhumanity of Shylock was Jessica's trust; with the Moor's jealousy was Desdemona's devotion. The sweet and bitter of life, religion, poetry and philosophy, ambition, revenge and superstition, controlled, created or destroyed by that little word. And how they loved—Perdita, Juliet, Miranda—quickly and entirely, without shame, as she had loved Danby—as buds bloom and birds warble. Oh it was sweet, sweet, sweet! Amid friends like these she became gay, moved briskly, grew rosy and sang. This was her favorite song, to a melody she had caught from the river:

Under the greenwood tree

Who loves to lie with me,

And turn his merry note

Unto the sweet bird's throat,

Come hither, come hither, come hither:

Here shall he see

No enemy

But winter and rough weather.

Four years passed by—not all spent with one book, however. Nellie's desire for study grew with what it fed on. This book opened the way for many. Reading led to reflection; reflection, to observation; observation, to Nature; and thus in an endless round.

About this time her busy father remembered he possessed a "baby," laid away somewhere, like an old parchment, and he concluded he would "look her up." His surprise was great when he saw the child a woman—still greater when he observed her self-possession, her intelligence, and a certain quaint way she had of expressing herself that was charming in connection with her fresh young face. She was neither diffident nor awkward, knowing too little of the world to fear, and having naturally that simplicity of manner which touches nearly upon high breeding. But Mr. Archer being one of those men who think that "beauty should go beautifully," her toilette shocked him. Under the influence of her presence he felt that he had neglected her. The whole house reproached him: the few rooms that had been furnished were dilapidated and worn.

"I did not know things looked so badly down here," he said apologetically. "I am sure I must have had everything properly arranged when Nurse Bridget came. Your cradle was comfortable, was it not?"

"I scarcely remember," answered his daughter demurely.

"Oh! ah! yes! It is some time ago, I believe?"

"Seventeen years."

"Y-e-s: I had forgotten."

He had an idea, this man of a hundred schemes, that his "baby" was laughing at him, and, singularly enough, it raised her in his estimation. He even asked her to come and live with him in the city, but she refused, and he did not insist.

Then he set about making a change, which was soon accomplished. He sent for furniture and carpets, and cleared the rubbish from without and within. Under his decided orders a complete outfit "suitable for his daughter" soon arrived, and with it a maid. Nellie, whose ideas of maids were taken from Lucetta, was much disappointed in the actual being, and the modern Lucetta was also disappointed when she saw the "howling wilderness" to which she had been inveigled; so the two parted speedily. But Mr. Archer remained: he was one of those men who do things thoroughly which they have once undertaken. When he was satisfied with Nellie's appearance he took her to call on all the neighboring families within reach.

Among others, they went to see Mrs. Overbeck, Danby's mother, whom Mr. Archer had known in his youth. Nellie wore her brave trappings bravely, and acted her part nicely until Mrs. Overbeck gave her a motherly kiss at parting, when she grew pale and trembled. Why should she? Her hostess thought it was from the heat, and insisted on her taking a glass of wine.

In the autumn of this year Danby graduated and returned home. Nellie had not seen him during all this interval: he had spent his vacations abroad, and had become quite a traveled man. While she retained her affection for him unchanged, he scarcely remembered the funny little girl who had been so devoted to him in the years gone by. A few days after he arrived, his mother, in giving him the local news, mentioned the charming acquaintance she had made of a young lady who lived in the neighborhood. On hearing her name the young man exclaimed, "Why, that must be Nellie!"

"Do you know her?" asked his mother in surprise.

"Of course I do, and many a jolly time I have had with her. Odd little thing, ain't she?"

"I should not call her odd," remarked his mother.

"You do not know her as I do."

"Perhaps not. I suppose you will go with me when I return her visit."

"Certainly I will—just in for that sort of thing. A man feels the need of some relaxation after a four years' bore, and there is nothing like the society of the weaker sex to give the mind repose."

"Shocking boy!" said the fond mother with a smile.

In a short time the projected call was made.

"You will frighten her with all that finery, my handsome mother," remarked Danby as they walked to the carriage.

"I think she will survive it, but I shall not answer for the effect of those brilliant kids of yours."

"The feminine eye is caught by display," said her son sententiously.

They chatted as they drove rapidly through the forest to the old house, entered the front gate and rolled up the broad avenue.

"I had no idea the place looked so well," remarked Danby, en connaisseur, as they approached. "I always entered by the back way;" and he gave his moustache a final twirl.

After a loud knock from a vigorous hand the door was opened by a small servant, much resembling Nellie some four years before. Danby was going to speak to her, but recalling the time that had elapsed, he knew it could not be she. All within was altered. Three rooms en suite, the last of which was the library, had been carefully refurnished. He looked about him. Could this be the place in which he had passed so many days? But he forgot all in the figure that advanced to receive them. With a pretty grace she gave her hand to his mother and welcomed "Mr. Overbeck." How she talked—talked like a babbling brook! It was now his turn to open big eyes and be silent. He tried to recall the girl he had left. Vain endeavor! This bright creature, grave and gay, silent but ready, respectful yet confident, how could he follow her? The visit came to an end, but was repeated again and again by Danby, and each time with new astonishment, new delight. She had the coquetry of a dozen women, yet her eyes looked so true. She was a perfect elf for pranks and jokes, yet demure as a nun. When he tried to awe her with his learning, she was saucy; if he was serious, she was gay; if he wished to teach, she rebelled. She was self-willed as a changeling, refractory yet gentle, seditious but just,—only waiting to strike her colors and proclaim him conqueror; but this he did not know, for she kept well hid in her heart what "woman's fear" she had. She was all her favorite heroines in turn, with herself added to the galaxy.

One day he penetrated into the library, notwithstanding some very serious efforts on her part to prevent him: by this time he would occasionally assert himself. The furniture there was not much altered. A few worn things had been replaced, but the room looked so much the same that the scene of that first reading-lesson came vividly to his mind. He turned to the side where the desk had stood. It was still there, with the two chairs before it, and on it was the book. She would not for the world have had it moved, but it was, as it were, glorified. Mr. Archer had wished "these old things cleared away," but Nellie had besought him so earnestly that he allowed them to stay, stipulating, however, that they should be upholstered anew. To this she assented, saying, "Send me the best of everything and I will cover them—the very best, mind;" and her father, willing to please her, did as she desired.

So the old desk became smart in brocade and gold-lace, the book received a cushion all bullion and embroidery, and the chairs emulated the splendor. It required a poet or a girl in love to clothe a fancy so beautifully, and Nellie was both. It was her shrine: why should she not adorn it?

I cannot follow the process of thought in Danby's mind as he looked at this and at Nellie—Nellie blushing with the sudden guiltiness that even the discovery of a harmless action will bring when we wish to conceal it. Sometimes a moment reveals much.

"Nellie"—it was the first time he had called her so since his return—"I must give you a reading-lesson: come, sit here."

Mechanically she obeyed him, all the rebel fading away: she looked like the Nellie of other days. She felt she had laid bare her soul, but in proportion as her confusion overcame her did he become decided. It is the slaves that make tyrants, it is said.

Under the impulse of his hand the book opened at the well-worn page.


For a little while she sat with downcast eyes. Well she knew the passage to which he was pointing: "Love! But it cannot be sounded: my affection hath an unknown bottom, like the bay of Portugal."

The sentence seemed to dance and grow till it covered the page—grow till in her sight it assumed the size of a placard, and then it took life and became her accuser—told in big letters the story of her devotion to the mocking boy beside her.

"There is good advice on the preceding page," he whispered smiling. "Orlando says he would kiss before he spoke: may I?"

She started up and looked at his triumphant face a moment, her mouth quivering, her eyes full of tears. "How can you—" she began.

But before she could finish he was by her side: "Because I love you—love you, all that the book says, and a thousand times more. Because if you love me we will live our own romance, and I doubt if we cannot make our old woods as romantic as the forest of Arden. Will you not say," he asked tenderly, "that there will be at least one pair of true lovers there?"

I could not hear Nellie's answer: her head was so near his—on his shoulder, in fact—that she whispered it in his ear. But a moment after, pushing him from her with the old mischief sparkling from her eyes, she said, "'Til frown and be perverse, and say thee nay, so thou wilt woo,'" and looked a saucy challenge in his face.

"Naughty sprite!" he exclaimed, catching her in his arms and shutting her mouth with kisses.

It was not long after, perhaps a year, that a happy bride and groom might have been seen walking up the hemlock avenue arm in arm.

"Do you remember," she asked, smiling thoughtfully—"do you remember the time I begged you to come home with me and be my pet?"

The young husband leaned down and said something the narrator did not catch, but from the expression of his face it must have been very spoony: with a bride such as that charming Nellie, how could he help it?

Yes, she had brought him home. Mr. Archer had given the house with its broad acres as a dowry to his daughter, and Nellie had desired that the honeymoon should be spent in her "forest of Arden."