The Forest of
Arden by Ita
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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 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
"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
"I am no baby to have a nurse," he said disdainfully.
"You have no nurse? Poor thing! What do you do? who feeds
"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
"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
"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
"I can make some grow. Go now, run away: let me see you
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
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
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."
"How shall I try?"
"It begins there: now go on, it is easy.
There" he repeated, pointing to the word, "go on," he
"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
"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
"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
"I do nothing."
"That is, I wait until you come," in an explanatory
"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
"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
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
"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
"You know a great deal about books!" said the boy
"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
"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
"Don't you forget it."
"No, you must not."
"I mean I won't."
"All right! Here is another: it is called the. Now
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
"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
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
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
Here shall he see
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?"
"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
"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
They chatted as they drove rapidly through the forest to the
old house, entered the front gate and rolled up the broad
"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
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
"Nellie"—it was the first time he had called her so
since his return—"I must give you a reading-lesson: come,
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
Under the impulse of his hand the book opened at the
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
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
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
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
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."