Read CHAPTER IV - AND BRING DOWN THE REMAINDER of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

This “hill path” was a narrowed continuance of the street, that led gradually down along the hill’s steep face to reach the town and the river meadows.  Godfrey, halting before Ruth and her brother, watched the blooming hawthorn, over there, bend and shake and straighten and bend again, above Arthur’s unseen hands.  Then, glancing furtively back toward Mrs. Morris, he muttered to Ruth, while Leonard gravely looked out across the landscape, “I live and learn.”

“So we learn to live,” was Ruth’s playful reply.  To her it was painfully clear that Mrs. Morris, very sweetly no doubt, had eluded Godfrey’s endeavors to inform her of anything not to his brother’s unqualified praise.  In the Bylow Hill group, Ruth had a way of smiling abstractedly, which was very dear to Godfrey even when it meant he had best say no more; and this smile had just said this to him when Isabel and Arthur came into view again.  As the two and the three drifted toward each other, Ruth let Leonard outstep her, and joined Godfrey with a light in her face that quickened his pulse.

After a word or two of slight import she said, as they slowly walked, “Godfrey.”

“Yes,” eagerly responded the lover.

“Down in the garden, awhile ago-did I-promise something?”

“You most certainly did!” She had promised that if he would let a certain subject drop she would bring it up again, herself, before he must take his leave.

“And must you go very soon, now?” she asked.

“I’ve only a few minutes left,” said the lover, with a lover’s license.

“Well, I’m ready to speak.  Of course, Godfrey, I know my heart.”

The young man smiled ruefully.  “I’ve known mine till I’m dead tired of the acquaintance.”

Other words passed, her eyes on the ground as they loitered, and after a pause she murmured:-“But I’ve known my heart as long as you’ve known yours.”

“You’ve known-What do you-Oh, Ruth, look at me!”

She looked, very tenderly, although she said, “You forget we are observed.”

“Oh, observed!  Do you mean hope-for me-after all?”

“I mean that if you will only wait until we can get a clear light on this matter of Isabel’s-which will most likely be by the next time you come”-

“Oh, Ruth, Ruth, my own Ruth at last!”

“Please don’t speak so.  I’m not engaging myself to you now.”

“Oh yes, you are!  Yes, you are!  Yes-you-are!”

“No-no-no-listen!  Listen to me, Godfrey.  I think that now, among us all, we shall manage Isabel’s affair well enough, and that the very next time-you-come”-She began absently to pick her steps.

“What-what then?”

“Then you may ask me.”

The response of the overjoyed lover was but one or two passionate words, and her sufficient reply, as they halted among their fellows, was to look across the valley with her meditative smile.  Isabel took note, but kindly gave a long sigh of admiration, and with an exalted sweep of the hand drew the gaze of the five to the beauties of the scene below.  The day was near its end.  The long shadow of the great cliff behind Bylow Hill hung over the roofs of the town and over the hither meadows.  The sun’s rays were laying their last touches upon the winding river, and upon the grainfields that extended from its farther shore.  In the upper blue rested a few peaceful clouds, changing from silver to pink, from pink to pearly gray, and on the skyline crouched in a purpling haze the round-backed mountains of another county.

To Mrs. Morris and the General the sight, from the old elm-tree seat, was even fairer than to the youthful group whose forms stood out against the sky, the floral colors of the girls’ draperies heightened by the western light.  For a while the two sitters gave the perfect scene the tribute of a perfect silence, and then the General asked, as he cautiously straightened his impaired frame, “Has not Isabel been making some-eh-news for herself-and us?”

The lady’s lips parted for their peculiar laugh of embarrassment, but the questioner’s smile was so serious that she forced her sweetest gravity.  “Why, General, according to our Southern ways,” she said,-every word mellowed by her Southern way of saying it,-“that’s for Isabel to tell you.”

“Then why does she not do it, Mrs. Morris?” asked the veteran, who had been district attorney himself once upon a time, and was clever with witnesses.

“Why, really, General, Isabel hasn’t had a cha-Oh! ho, ho!  I oughtn’t to have said that!” Mrs. Morris had a killing dimple, but never used it.

“I suppose-of course”-said the General, “she will say it’s-eh-Arthur?”

“Now you’re making me tell,” she laughed, “and I mustn’t!  General, Godfrey seems to be going.”

In fact, Godfrey was shaking hands with Ruth and Leonard.  Now he took the hands of Arthur and Isabel together, and Mrs. Morris laughed more sweetly and with more oh’s and ho’s than ever; for Isabel sedately kissed Arthur’s brother.

Ruth made signs to her father, who answered them in kind.  “What does she say, Mrs. Morris?  Can you hear?”

“She says they’re singing ‘your hymn’ down in a church under the hill.”

“Ah yes.”  He beamed and nodded to Ruth; but when Mrs. Morris once more laughed, his brow clouded a trifle.  “Your daughter, Mrs. Morris”-

The lady broke in with a note of bright surprise, rose, and took an unconscious step forward.  The five young friends were advancing in a compact cluster, with measured pace.  Ruth and Isabel, in front abreast, and making happy show of the hawthorn sprays, were just enough apart to conceal, except for their superior height, the three lovers, and in lowered tones, but with kindling eyes, the five, incited by Ruth, were singing the song they had caught up from the valley,-the old man’s favorite from the days of his own song-time.  The General got himself hurriedly to his feet; the shade passed from his brow.  The group came close; he stepped out, and Isabel, meeting him, laid her two hands in his, while the halting cluster ceased their song suspensively on a line that pledged loves and friendships too ethereal to clash.

“Isabel,”-he turned up a broadened palm,-“here’s my amen to that line; where’s yours?”

With blushing alacrity she laid her hand on his.

“Arthur!” he called, and the lively lover added his to the two.  “Now, Ruth!”

“Father!” laughed the daughter, “isn’t this rather youngish?” But she laid her hand promptly upon Arthur’s, and the lines of the General’s face deepened playfully, and Mrs. Morris’s dimple did the same, as Godfrey thrust his hand in upon Ruth’s, unasked.  The matron laughed very tenderly on the key of O while she added her hand, and received Leonard’s heavy palm above it.  Then Arthur clapped a second hand upon Leonard’s, and Leonard was about to lay a second quietly upon Arthur’s, when Isabel, rose-red from brow to throat, gayly broke the heap and embraced Ruth.

“Well, honey-girlie,” said Mrs. Morris, as she and Isabel reentered their cottage, “wasn’t it sweet of them all, that ‘laying on of hands,’ as Arthur called it?”

“Yes,” replied the Southern girl, starting up the cramped old New England stairway to her room.  “It was child’s play, but it was very sweet of them, and especially of the General.”

The mother detained her fondly.  “And still, my child, you’re not satisfied?”

“Ah, mother, are you blind, stone blind, or do you only hope I am?”

“My dearie!”

“Why, mother, excepting Leonard, we haven’t had one word of true consent from one of them.”

“Oh, now, Isabel!  They’ll all be glad enough by and by.”

“Yes,” said the daughter, from the landing above, “I’ve no doubt of that.”

She passed into her room, closed the door, and standing in the middle of the floor, with her temples in her palms, said, “O merciful God!  Oh, Leonard Byington, if only that second hand of yours had hung back!”