Read CHAPTER I - RUTH AND GODFREY of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

The old street, keeping its New England Sabbath afternoon so decently under its majestic elms, was as goodly an example of its sort as the late seventies of the century just gone could show.  It lay along a north-and-south ridge, between a number of aged and unsmiling cottages, fronting on cinder sidewalks, and alternating irregularly with about as many larger homesteads that sat back in their well-shaded gardens with kindlier dignity and not so grim a self-assertion.  Behind, on the west, these gardens dropped swiftly out of sight to a hidden brook, from the farther shore of which rose the great wooded hill whose shelter from the bitter northwest had invited the old Puritan founders to choose the spot for their farming village of one street, with a Byington and a Winslow for their first town officers.  In front, eastward, the land declined gently for a half mile or so, covered, by modern prosperity, with a small, stanch town, and bordered by a pretty river winding among meadows of hay and grain.  At the northern end, instead of this gentle decline, was a precipitous cliff side, close to whose brow a wooden bench, that ran half-way round a vast sidewalk tree, commanded a view of the valley embracing nearly three-quarters of the compass.

In civilian’s dress, and with only his sea-bronzed face and the polished air of a pivot gun to tell that he was of the navy, Lieutenant Godfrey Winslow was slowly crossing the rural way with Ruth Byington at his side.  He had the look of, say, twenty-eight, and she was some four years his junior.  From her father’s front gate they were passing toward the large grove garden of the young man’s own home, on the side next the hill and the sunset.  On the front porch, where the two had just left him, sat the war-crippled father of the girl, taking pride in the placidity of the face she once or twice turned to him in profile, and in the buoyancy of her movements and pose.

His fond, unspoken thought went after her, that she was hiding some care again,-her old, sweet trick, and her mother’s before her.

He looked on to Godfrey.  “There’s endurance,” he thought again.  “You ought to have taken him long ago, my good girl, if you want him at all.”  And here his reflections faded into the unworded belief that she would have done so but for his, her own father’s, being in the way.

The pair stopped and turned half about to enjoy the green-arched vista of the street, and Godfrey said, in a tone that left his companion no room to overlook its personal intent, “How often, in my long absences, I see this spot!”

“You wouldn’t dare confess you didn’t,” was her blithe reply.

“Oh yes, I should.  I’ve tried not to see it, many a time.”

“Why, Godfrey Winslow!” she laughed.  “That was very wrong!”

“It was very useless,” said the wanderer, “for there was always the same one girl in the midst of the picture; and that’s the sort a man can never shut out, you know.  I don’t try to shut it out any more, Ruth.”

The girl spoke more softly.  “I wish I could know where Leonard is,” she mused aloud.

“Did you hear me, Ruth?  I say I don’t try any more, now.”

“Well, that’s right!  I wonder where that brother of mine is?”

The baffled lover had to call up his patience.  “Well, that’s right, too,” he laughed; “and I wonder where that brother of mine is?  I wonder if they’re together?”

They moved on, but at the stately entrance of the Winslow garden they paused again.  The girl gave her companion a look of distress, and the young man’s brow darkened.  “Say it,” he said.  “I see what it is.”

“You speak of Arthur”-she began.


“What did you make out of his sermon this morning?”

“Why, Ruth, I-What did you make out of it?”

“I made out that the poor boy is very, very unhappy.”

“Did you?  Well, he is; and in a certain way I’m to blame for it.”

The girl’s smile was tender.  “Was there ever anything the matter with
Arthur, and you didn’t think you were in some way to blame for it?”

“Oh, now, don’t confuse me with Leonard.  Anyhow, I’m to blame this time!  Has Isabel told you anything, Ruth?”

“Yes, Isabel has told me!”

“Told you they are engaged?”

“Told me they are engaged!”

“Well,” said the young man, “Arthur told me last night; and I took an elder brother’s liberty to tell him he had played Leonard a vile trick.”


“That would make a much happier nature than Arthur’s unhappy, wouldn’t it?”

Ruth was too much pained to reply, but she turned and called cheerily,
“Father, do you know where Leonard is?”

The father gathered his voice and answered huskily, laying one hand upon his chest, and with the other gesturing up by the Winslow elm to the grove behind it.

She nodded.  “Yes!...  With Arthur, you say?...  Yes!...  Thank you!...  Yes!” She passed with Godfrey through the wide gate.

“That’s like Leonard,” said the lover.  “He’ll tell Arthur he hasn’t done a thing he hadn’t a perfect right to do.”

“And Arthur has not, Godfrey.  He has only been less chivalrous than we should have liked him to be.  If he had been first in the field, and Leonard had come in and carried her off, you would have counted it a perfect mercy all round.”

“Ho-oh! it would have been!  Leonard would have made her happy.  Arthur never can, and she can never make him so.  But what he has done is not all:  look how he did it!  Leonard was his beloved and best friend”-

“Except his brother Godfrey”-

“Except no one, Ruth, unless it’s you.  I’m neither persuasive nor kind, nor often with him.  Proud of him I was, and never prouder than when I knew him to be furiously in love with her, while yet, for pure, sweet friendship’s sake, he kept standing off, standing off.”

“I wish you might have seen it, Godfrey.  It was so beautiful-and so pitiful!”

“It was manly,-gentlemanly; and that was enough.  Then all at once he’s taken aback!  All control of himself gone, all self-suppression, all conscience”-

“The conscience has returned,” said the girl.

“Oh, not to guide him!  Only to goad him!  Fifty consciences can’t honorably undo the mischief now!”

“Did I not write you that there was already, then, a coolness between her and Leonard?”

“Yes; but the whole bigness and littleness of Arthur’s small, bad deed lies in the fact that, though he knew that coolness was but a momentary tiff, with Isabel in the wrong, he took advantage of it to push his suit in between and spoil as sweet a match as two hearts were ever making.”

“It was more than a tiff, Godfrey; it”-

“Not a bit more! not-a-bit!”

“Yes!-yes-it was a problem! a problem how to harmonize two fine natures keyed utterly unlike.  Leonard saw that.  That is why he moved so slowly.”

“Hmm!” The lover stared away grimly.  “I know something about slowness.  I suppose it’s a virtue-sometimes.”

“I think so,” said the girl, caressing a flower.

“Ah, well!” responded the other.  “She has chosen a nature now that-Oh me!...  Ruth, I shall speak to her mother!  I am the only one who can.  I’ll see Mrs. Morris some time this evening, and lay the whole thing out to her as we four see it who have known one another almost from the one cradle.”

Ruth smiled sadly.  “You will fail.  I think the matter will have to go on as it is going.  And if it does, you must remember, Godfrey, we do not really know but they may work out the happiest union.  At any rate, we must help them to try.”

“If they insist on trying, yes; and that will be the best for Leonard.”

“The very best.  One thing we do know, Godfrey:  Arthur will always be a passionate lover, and dear Isabel is as honest and loyal as the day is long.”

“The day is not long; this one is not-to me.  It’s most lamentably short, and to-morrow I must be gone again.  I have something to say to you, Ruth, that”-

The maiden gave him a look of sweet protest, which suddenly grew remote as she murmured, “Isabel and her mother are coming out of their front door.”