Read CHAPTER V - SKY AND POOL of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

Arthur and Isabel were married in their own little church of All Angels, at the far end of the old street.

“I cal’late,” said a rustic member of his vestry, “th’ never was as pretty a weddin’ so simple, nor as simple a weddin’ so pretty!”

Because he said it to Leonard Byington he ended with a manly laugh, for by the anxious glance of his spectacled daughter he knew he had slipped somewhere in his English.  But when he heard Leonard and Ruth, in greeting the bride’s mother, jointly repeat the sentiment as their own, he was, for a moment, nearly as happy as Mrs. Morris.

“Such a pity Godfrey had to be away!” said Mrs. Morris.  It was the only pity she chose to emphasize.

Godfrey was on distant seas.  The north-bound mid-afternoon express bore away the bridal pair for a week’s absence.

“Too short,” said a friend or so whom Leonard fell in with as he came from the railway station, and Leonard admitted that Arthur was badly in need of rest.

At sunset Ruth came out of her gate and stood to welcome her brother’s tardy return.  Both brightly smiled; neither spoke.

When he gave her a letter with a foreign stamp her face lighted gratefully, but still without words she put it under her belt.  Then they joined hands, and he asked, “Where’s father?”

“Inside on the lounge,” she replied.  Her lips fell into their faraway smile, to which she added this time a murmur as of reverie, and Leonard said almost as musingly, “Come, take a short turn.”

They moved on to the Winslow gate, and entered the garden by a path which brought them to a point midway between the old cottage and the larger house.  There it crossed under an arch transecting an arbor that extended from a side door of the one dwelling to a like one of the other, and the brother and sister had just passed this embowered spot and were stepping down a winding descent by which the path sought the old mill-pond, when behind them they observed two women pass athwart their track by way of the arbor, and Ruth smiled and murmured again.  The crossing pair were Mrs. Morris and Sarah Stebbens, the Winslows’ life-long housekeeper, deeply immersed in arranging for Isabel to become lady of the larger house, while her mother, with a single young maidservant, was to remain mistress of the cottage.

The deep pond to whose edge Leonard and Ruth presently came was a narrow piece of clear water held in between Bylow Hill and the loftier cliff beyond by an old stone dam long unused.  Rude ledges of sombre rock underlay its depths and lined and shelved its sides.  Broad beeches and dark hemlocks overhung it.  At every turn it mirrored back the slanting forms of the white and the yellow birch, or slept under green mantles of lily pads.  It bore a haunted air even in the floweriest days of the year, when every bird of the wood thrilled it with his songs, and it gave to the entire region the gravest as well as richest note among all its harmonies.  Down the whole way to it some one long gone had gardened with so wise a hand that later negligence had only made the wild loveliness of this inmost refuge more affluent and impassioned.

At one point, where the hemlocks hung farthest and lowest over the pool, and the foot sank deep in a velvet of green mosses, a solid ledge of dark rock shelved inward from the top of the bank and down through the flood to a depth cavernous and black.  Here, brought from time to time by the Byington and Winslow playmates, lay a number of mossy stones rounded by primeval floods, some large enough for seats, some small; and here, where Ruth had last sat with Godfrey, she now came with her brother.

The habitual fewness of Leonard’s words was a thing she prized beyond count.  It made Mrs. Morris nervous, drained her mind’s treasury, and sent her conversational powers borrowing and begging; Isabel it awed; Arthur it tantalized; to Godfrey it was an appetizing drollery; but to Ruth it was dearer and clearer than all spoken eloquence.

The same trait in her, only less marked, was as satisfying to him, and from one rare utterance to another their thoughts moved like consorted ships from light to light along a home coast.  A motion, a glance, a gleam, a shade, told its tale, as across leagues of silence a shred of smoke may tell one dweller in the wilderness the way or want of another.  Such converse may have been a mere phase of the New Englander’s passion for economy, or only the survival of a primitive spiritual commerce which most of us have lost through the easier use of speech and print; but the sister took calm delight in it, and it bound the two to each other as though it were itself a sort of goodness or greatness.

“They have it of their mother,” the old General sometimes said to himself.

There were moments, too, when their intercourse was still more subtle, and now they sat without exchange of glance or gesture, silent as chess players, looking up the narrow water into a sunset exquisite in the delicacy of its silvery plumes, fleeces pink and dusk, and illimitable distances of palest green seen through fan-rays of white light shot down from one dark, unthreatening cloud.

“Leonard,” at length said the sister, as if she had studied every possibility on the board before touching the chosen piece, “couldn’t you go away for a time?”

And with deliberate readiness the other gentle voice replied, “I don’t think I’d better.”

While they spoke their gaze rested on the changing beauties of pool and sky, and after the brief inquiry and response it still remained, though the inner glow of their mutual love and worship deepened and warmed as did the colors of the heavens and of the glassing waters.  The brother knew full well Ruth’s poignant sense of his distresses; and to her his mute tongue and unbent head were a sister’s convincement that he would endure them in a manner wholly faithful to every one of the loved hands that had lain under his the evening Godfrey had said good-by.

Indeed, it was clear that to go away-unless he honestly felt too weak to remain-would be unfair to almost every person, every interest, concerned; and such a step was but second choice in Ruth’s mind, conditioned solely on any unreadiness he might have uprightly to bear the burden brought upon him by-well, after all, by his own too confident miscalculations in the game of hearts.

To him such flight signified the indeterminate continuance of his sister’s maiden singleness and a like prolongation of her lover’s galling suspense.  To Ruth it stood not only for the loss of her brother, but for the narrowing of their father’s already narrowed life,-a narrowing which might come to mean a shortening as well; and it meant also the leaving of Isabel and Arthur to their mistake and to their unskilfulness slowly and patiently to work out its cure.  To go away were, for him, to consent to be the one unbroken string on a noble but difficult instrument.  These thoughts and many more like them passed to and fro, out through the abstracted eyes of the one, across to the fading clouds, and back through the abstracted eyes and into the responding heart of the other.

At length the sister rose.  “I must go to father,” she said.

The brother stood up.  Their eyes exchanged a gentle gaze and tenderly contracted.

“I will come presently,” he replied, and was turning toward the water, when he paused, threw a hand toward the steep wood across the pool, and silently bade her listen.

The note he had remotely heard was rare on Bylow Hill since the town had come in below, and one of the errands which oftenest brought the hill’s dwellers to this nook in solitary pairs was to hearken for that voice of unearthly rapture,-a rapture above all melancholy and beyond all mirth,-the call of the hermit thrush.

Now the waiting seemed in vain.  The brother’s hand sank, the sister turned, and soon he saw her pass from view among the boughs as she wound up the rambling path toward the three homes.

At the top she halted, still longing to hear at his side that marvellous wood-note, and was just starting on once more, when from the same quarter as before it came again, with new and fervent clearness.  With noiseless foot she sprang back down the bendings of the path, having no other thought but to find her brother standing as she had left him, a rapt hearer of the heavenly strain.

She reached the spot, but found no hearkening or standing form.  The young man’s stalwart frame lay prone on the green bank, where he had thrown himself the moment she had left his sight, and his face was buried in the deep moss.

The stir of her swift coming reached his ear barely in time for him, as she choked down a cry that had all but escaped her, to turn upon his back, meet her glance, and drive the agony from his face with a languorous smile.  The melting song pervaded the air, but neither of them lifted a noting finger.

Leonard rose to his feet.  Ruth gave him a hand and then its fellow, and as he pressed them together she said, “I wish you would go away for a time.”

He dropped one of her hands, and keeping the other, started slowly homeward; and it was not until they had climbed half the ascent that, with his most remote yet boyish smile, he replied, “I don’t think I’d better.”