The sun had dropped behind the mountain, leaving Coniston in amethystine
shadow, and the last bee had flown homeward from the apple blossoms in front of
Aunt Lucy Prescott's window, before Cynthia returned. Aunt Lucy was Cynthia's
grandmother, and eighty-nine years of age. Still she sat in her window beside
the lilac bush, lost in memories of a stout, rosy lass who had followed a
stalwart husband up a broad river into the wilderness some seventy years agone
in Indian days—Weathersfield Massacre days. That lass was Aunt Lucy herself, and
in just such a May had Timothy's axe rung through the Coniston forest and reared
the log cabin, where six of her children were born. Likewise in review passed
the lonely months when Timothy was fighting behind his rugged General Stark for
that privilege more desirable to his kind than life—self government. Timothy
Prescott would pull the forelock to no man, would have such God-fearing persons
as he chose make his laws for him.
Honest Captain Timothy and his Stark heroes, Aunt Lucy and her memories, have
long gone to rest. Little did they dream of the nation we have lived to see,
straining at her constitution like a great ship at anchor in a gale, with
funnels belching forth smoke, and a new race of men thronging her decks for the
mastery. Coniston is there still behind its mountain, with its rusty firelocks
and its hillside graves.
Cynthia, driving back from Brampton in the gig, smiled at Aunt Lucy in the
window, but she did not so much as glance at the tannery house farther on. The
tannery house, be it known, was the cottage where Jethro dwelt, and which had
belonged to Nathan, his father; and the tannery sheds were at some distance
behind it, nearer Coniston Water. Cynthia did not glance at the tannery house,
for a wave of orthodox indignation had swept over her: at any rate, we may call
it so. In other words, she was angry with herself: pitied and scorned herself,
if the truth be told, for her actions—an inevitable mood.
In front of the minister's barn under the elms on the hill Cynthia pulled the
harness from the tired horse with an energy that betokened activity of mind. She
was not one who shrank from self-knowledge, and the question put itself to her,
"Whither was this matter tending?" The fire that is in strong men has ever been
a lure to women; and many, meaning to play with it, have been burnt thereby
since the world began. But to turn the fire to some use, to make the world
better for it or stranger for it, that were an achievement indeed! The horse
munching his hay, Cynthia lingered as the light fainted above the ridge, with
the thought that this might be woman's province, and Miss Lucretia Penniman
might go on leading her women regiments to no avail. Nevertheless she was angry
with Jethro, not because of what he had said, but because of what he was.
The next day is Sunday, and there is mild excitement in Coniston. For Jethro
Bass, still with the coonskin cap, but in a brass-buttoned coat secretly
purchased in Brampton, appeared at meeting! It made no difference that he
entered quietly, and sat in the rear slip, orthodox Coniston knew that he was
behind them: good Mr. Ware knew it, and changed a little his prayers and sermon:
Cynthia knew it, grew hot and cold by turns under her poke bonnet. Was he not
her brand, and would she not get the credit of snatching him? How willingly,
then, would she have given up that credit to the many who coveted it—if it were
a credit. Was Jethro at meeting for any religious purpose?
Jethro's importance to Coniston lay in his soul, and that soul was numbered
at present ninety and ninth. When the meeting was over, Aunt Lucy Prescott
hobbled out at an amazing pace to advise him to read chapter seven of Matthew,
but he had vanished: via the horse sheds; if she had known it, and along
Coniston Water to the house by the tannery, where he drew breath in a state of
mind not to be depicted. He had gazed at the back of Cynthia's poke bonnet for
two hours, but he had an uneasy feeling that he would have to pay a price.
The price was paid, in part, during the next six days. To do Jethro's
importance absolute justice, he did inspire fear among his contemporaries, and
young men and women did not say much to his face; what they did say gave them
little satisfaction. Grim Deacon Ira stopped him as he was going to buy hides,
and would have prayed over him if Jethro had waited; dear Aunt Lucy did pray,
but in private. In six days orthodox Coniston came to the conclusion that this
ninety and ninth soul were better left to her who had snatched it, Cynthia Ware.
As for Cynthia, nothing was farther from her mind. Unchristian as was the
thought, if this thing she had awakened could only have been put back to sleep
again, she would have thought herself happy. But would she have been happy? When
Moses Hatch congratulated her, with more humor than sincerity, he received the
greatest scare of his life. Yet in those days she welcomed Moses's society as
she never had before; and Coniston, including Moses himself, began thinking of a
Another Saturday came, and no Cynthia went to Brampton. Jethro may or may not
have been on the road. Sunday, and there was Jethro on the back seat in the
meetinghouse: Sunday noon, over his frugal dinner, the minister mildly
remonstrates with Cynthia for neglecting one who has shown signs of grace,
citing certain failures of others of his congregation: Cynthia turns scarlet,
leaving the minister puzzled and a little uneasy: Monday, Miss Lucretia
Penniman, alarmed, comes to Coniston to inquire after Cynthia's health: Cynthia
drives back with her as far as Four Corners, talking literature and the
advancement of woman; returns on foot, thinking of something else, when she
discerns a figure seated on a log by the roadside, bent as in meditation. There
was no going back the thing to do was to come on, as unconcernedly as possible,
not noticing anything,—which Cynthia did, not without a little inward
palpitating and curiosity, for which she hated herself and looked the sterner.
The figure unfolded itself, like a Jack from a box.
"You say the woman wahn't any to blame—wahn't any to blame?"
The poke bonnet turned away. The shoulders under it began to shake, and
presently the astonished Jethro heard what seemed to be faint peals of laughter.
Suddenly she turned around to him, all trace of laughter gone.
"Why don't you read the book?"
"So I am," said Jethro, "so I am. Hain't come to this casting-off yet."
"And you didn't look ahead to find out?" This with scorn.
"Never heard of readin' a book in that fashion. I'll come to it in
time—g-guess it won't run away."
Cynthia stared at him, perhaps with a new interest at this plodding
determination. She was not quite sure that she ought to stand talking to him a
third time in these woods, especially if the subject of conversation were not,
as Coniston thought, the salvation of his soul. But she stayed. Here was a woman
who could be dealt with by no known rules, who did not even deign to notice a
week of marked coldness.
"Jethro," she said, with a terrifying sternness, "I am going to ask you a
question, and you must answer me truthfully."
"G-guess I won't find any trouble about that," said Jethro, apparently not in
the least terrified.
"I want you to tell me why you are going to meeting."
"To see you," said Jethro, promptly, "to see you."
"Don't you know that that is wrong?"
"H-hadn't thought much about it," answered Jethro.
"Well, you should think about it. People don't go to meeting to—to look at
"Thought they did," said Jethro. "W-why do they wear their best clothes—why
do they wear their best clothes?"
"To honor God," said Cynthia, with a shade lacking in the conviction, for she
added hurriedly: "It isn't right for you to go to church to see—anybody. You go
there to hear the Scriptures expounded, and to have your sins forgiven. Because
I lent you that book, and you come to meeting, people think I'm converting you."
"So you be," replied Jethro, and this time it was he who smiled, "so you be."
Cynthia turned away, her lips pressed together: How to deal with such a man!
Wondrous notes broke on the stillness, the thrush was singing his hymn again,
only now it seemed a paean. High in the azure a hawk wheeled, and floated.
"Couldn't you see I was very angry with you?"
"S-saw you was goin' with Moses Hatch more than common."
Cynthia drew breath sharply. This was audacity—and yet she liked it.
"I am very fond of Moses," she said quickly.
"You always was charitable, Cynthy," said he.
"Haven't I been charitable to you?" she retorted.
"G-guess it has be'n charity," said Jethro. He looked down at her solemnly,
thoughtfully, no trace of anger in his face, turned, and without another word
strode off in the direction of Coniston Flat.
He left a tumultuous Cynthia, amazement and repentance struggling with anger,
which forbade her calling him back: pride in her answering to pride in him, and
she rejoicing fiercely that he had pride. Had he but known it, every step he
took away from her that evening was a step in advance, and she gloried in the
fact that he did not once look back. As she walked toward Coniston, the thought
came to her that she was rid of the thing she had stirred up, perhaps forever,
and the thrush burst into his song once more.
That night, after Cynthia's candle had gone out, when the minister sat on his
doorsteps looking at the glory of the moon on the mountain forest, he was
startled by the sight of a figure slowly climbing toward him up the slope. A
second glance told him that it was Jethro's. Vaguely troubled, he watched his
approach; for good Priest Ware, while able to obey one-half the scriptural
injunction, had not the wisdom of the serpent, and women, as typified by
Cynthia, were a continual puzzle to him. That very evening, Moses Hatch had
called, had been received with more favor than usual, and suddenly packed off
about his business. Seated in the moonlight, the minister wondered vaguely
whether Jethro Bass were troubling the girl. And now Jethro stood before him,
holding out a book. Rising, Mr. Ware bade him good evening, mildly and
"C-come to leave this book for Cynthy," said Jethro.
Mr. Ware took it, mechanically.
"Have you finished it?" he asked kindly.
"All I want," replied Jethro, "all I want."
He turned, and went down the slope. Twice the words rose to the minister's
lips to call him back, and were suppressed. Yet what to say to him if he came?
Mr. Ware sat down again, sadly wondering why Jethro Bass should be so difficult
to talk to.
The parsonage was of only one story, with a steep, sloping roof. On the left
of the doorway was Cynthia's room, and the minister imagined he heard a faint,
rustling noise at her window. Presently he arose, barred the door; could be
heard moving around in his room for a while, and after that all was silence save
for the mournful crying of a whippoorwill in the woods. Then a door opened
softly, a white vision stole into the little entry lighted by the fan-window,
above, seized the book and stole back. Had the minister been a prying man about
his household, he would have noticed next day that Cynthia's candle was burned
down to the socket. He saw nothing of the kind: he saw, in fact, that his
daughter flitted about the house singing, and he went out into the sun to drop
No sooner had he reached the barn than this singing ceased. But how was Mr.
Ware to know that?
Twice Cynthia, during the week that followed, got halfway down the slope of
the parsonage hill, the book under her arm, on her way to the tannery; twice
went back, tears of humiliation and self-pity in her eyes at the thought that
she should make advances to a man, and that man the tanner's son. Her household
work done, a longing for further motion seized her, and she walked out under the
maples of the village street. Let it be understood that Coniston was a village,
by courtesy, and its shaded road a street. Suddenly, there was the tannery,
Jethro standing in front of it, contemplative. Did he see her? Would he come to
her? Cynthia, seized by a panic of shame, flew into Aunt Lucy Prescott's, sat
through half an hour of torture while Aunt Lucy talked of redemption of sinners,
during ten minutes of which Jethro stood, still contemplative. What tumult was
in his breast, or whether there was any tumult, Cynthia knew not. He went into
the tannery again, and though she saw him twice later in the week, he gave no
sign of seeing her.
On Saturday Cynthia bought a new bonnet in Brampton; Sunday morning put it
on, suddenly remembered that one went to church to honor God, and wore her old
one; walked to meeting in a flutter of expectancy not to be denied, and would
have looked around had that not been a cardinal sin in Coniston. No Jethro!
General opinion (had she waited to hear it among the horse sheds or on the
green), that Jethro's soul had slid back into the murky regions, from which it
were folly for even Cynthia to try to drag it.