Read CHAPTER VI - IN THE PUBLIC EYE of Bylow Hill, free online book, by George Washington Cable, on

August, September, October, November,-so passed the year in gorgeous recession over Bylow Hill.  Among their dismantled trees the three homes stood unveiled to the town on the meadows and to travellers who looked from train windows while crossing the river bridge.  To those who inquired whose they were there was always some one more than ready to give names and details, and to tell how perfect a bond ever had been-how beautiful a fellowship was yet, now-up there.

Sevenfold they called it, although one of the seven was away; namely, Lieutenant Godfrey Winslow, of the navy, famed for his splendid behavior in the late so-and-so affair.  That stately house at the right, they said, was his home what brief times the sea was not.

There lived, it would be added, his younger brother, so rapidly coming into note,-the eccentric but gifted rector of All Angels; whose great success in the heart of a Congregational community was due hardly more to his high talents than to the combined winsomeness and practical sympathies of his beautiful bride, or to the resourceful wisdom and zeal of his churchwarden, Leonard Byington.

“Any relation to Byington, your new political leader in these parts?”

“Same man,” the answer would be, and there the narrator was sure to fall into a glowing tribute to the ideal companionship existing between the rector, his bride, the young district attorney, and Ruth Byington.

What made this intimacy the more interesting was, in the eyes of a growing number of observers, that, as they said, “Arthur Winslow was not always an affable man, and was much more rarely a happy one.”

Behind and above this popular verdict was that of the old street behind and above the town,-a sort of revised version, a higher criticism.  If the young rector, this old street explained, oftener looked anxious than complacent, so in their time, most likely, did St. Paul and St. Peter.  If he was not always affable, why, neither are volcanoes; the man was all molten metal within.  Anyhow, he filled his church to the doors.

Coaching parties of the vastly rich made the town their Sunday stopping place purely to hear him; not so much because the boldness of his speculations kept his bishop frightened as because he always fused those speculations on, white-hot, to the daily issues of private and public life, in a way to make pampered ladies hold their breath, and men of the world their brows.  Such a man, to whom the least sin seemed black and bottomless, yet who appeared to know by experience the soul’s every throe in the foulest crimes, was not going to show his joys on the surface in quips and smiles.

“You should have heard,” said the old street, “his sermon to husbands and wives!  His own bride turned pale.  He turned pale himself.”

It was wonder enough that even the bride could be happy, at such an altitude, so to speak; immersing herself utterly, as she did, in the interests that devoured him.  All Angels forgot his gloom in the radiance of her charms,-the sweet genuineness of her formal pieties, the tender glow and universality of her sympathies, the witchery of her ever ready, never too ready playfulness.  It was captivating to see how instantly and entirely she had fitted herself into a partnership so exacting; though it was pitiful to note, on second glance, how the tint and contour of her cheek were losing their perfection, and her eyes were showing those rapid alternations of languor and vivacity which story-tellers call a “hunted look.”  Yet, oh, yes, she was happy; the pair were happy.  It was as a pair that they were happiest.  Else, said the old street, they could not keep up the old Winslow-Byington alliance so beautifully.

To the truth of this general outline the three homes’ domestics, dominated by Sarah Stebbens, certified with cordial and loyal brevity.  Yet when Ruth wrote Godfrey how well things were going, there lurked between her bright lines one or two irrepressible meanings that locked his jaws till they creaked.

In fact, both his brother and hers were “ailing.”  Both carried a jaded, almost a broken look, and Arthur was taking things to make him eat and sleep; while Leonard had daily accepted more and more of the young rector’s complicating cares, until he was really the parish’s chief burden-bearer.

“No,” he said to his father, “Arthur carries his whole work manfully on his own shoulders.”

“But, my son,” replied the old General, “don’t you see you’re carrying Arthur?”

“No, I sha’n’t do that,” dryly responded the son; but Ruth saw a change on his brow as on that of a guide who fears he has missed the path.

The four young friends spent many delightful evenings together in the Winslow house, with Mrs. Morris and the General on one side at cribbage.  Ruth had frequent happy laughs, observing Isabel’s gift for making Leonard talk.  It gave her a new joy in both of them to have the lovely hostess draw him out, out, out, on every matter in the wide arena to which he so vitally belonged; eliciting a flow of speech so animated that only afterward did one notice how dumb as any tree on Bylow Hill he had been in regard to himself.

“They are bow and violin,” said Arthur to Ruth, with his dark, unsmiling face so free from resentment that she gratefully wondered at him, and was presently ashamed to find herself asking her own mind if he was growing too subtle for her.

On these occasions Isabel was wont to court Ruth’s counsel concerning her wifely part in Arthur’s work, thus often getting Leonard’s as well.  Sometimes she impeached his masculine view of things, in her old skirmishing way.  Then she would turn rose-color once more and mirthfully sigh, while Ruth laughed and wished for Godfrey, and Mrs. Morris breathed soft ho-ho’s from the cribbage board.

So came the Thanksgiving season, with strong, black ice on the mill pond, where the four skated hand in hand.  Then the piling snows stopped the skating with a white Christmas, the old year sank to rest, the new rose up, and Bylow Hill, under its bare elms and with the pine-crested ridge at its back, sat in the cold sunshine like a white sea bird with its head in its down.  And when the nights were frigid and clear its ruddy lights of lamp and hearth seemed to answer the downward gaze of the stars in silent gratitude for conditions of happiness strangely perfect for this imperfect world, and the town marvelled at the young rector’s grasp of his subject when his text was, “The heart knoweth his own bitterness.”