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After this there was nothing more to be said. The family was on terms of quiet intimacy with the neighbors; and even Sylvia, in spite of her defiant eyes and worldly ways, became popular among the young men and maidens. She touched her beloved guitar with a skill which seemed marvellous to the latter; and when it was known that her refusal to enter the sect arose from her fondness for the prohibited instrument, she found many apologists among them. She was not set upon, and called hard names, as she had anticipated. It is true that her father, when appealed to by the elders, shook his head and said, "It is a cross to us!"--but he had been known to remain in the room while she sang "Full high in Kilbride," and the keen light which arose in his eyes was neither that of sorrow nor anger.
At the end of their first year of residence the farm presented evidences of much more orderly and intelligent management than at first, although the adjoining neighbors were of the opinion that the Donnellys had hardly made their living out of it. Friend Henry, nevertheless, was ready with the advance rent, and his bills were promptly paid. He was close at a bargain, which was considered rather a merit than otherwise,--and almost painfully exact in observing the strict letter of it, when made.
As time passed by, and the family became a permanent part and parcel of the remote community, wearing its peaceful color and breathing its untroubled atmosphere, nothing occurred to disturb the esteem and respect which its members enjoyed. From time to time the postmaster at the corner delivered to Henry Donnelly a letter from New York, always addressed in the same hand. The first which arrived had an "Esq." added to the name, but this "compliment" (as the Friends termed it) soon ceased. Perhaps the official may have vaguely wondered whether there was any connection between the occasional absence of Friend Henry--not at Yearly-Meeting time--and these letters. If he had been a visitor at the farm-house he might have noticed variations in the moods of its inmates, which must have arisen from some other cause than the price of stock or the condition of the crops. Outside of the family circle, however, they were serenely reticent.
In five or six years, when De Courcy had grown to be a hale, handsome man of twenty-four, and as capable of conducting a farm as any to the township born, certain aberrations from the strict line of discipline began to be rumored. He rode a gallant horse, dressed a little more elegantly than his membership prescribed, and his unusually high, straight collar took a knack of falling over. Moreover, he was frequently seen to ride up the Street Road, in the direction of Fagg's Manor, towards those valleys where the brick Presbyterian church displaces the whitewashed Quaker meeting-house.
Had Henry Donnelly not occupied so high a seat, and exercised such an acknowledged authority in the sect, he might sooner have received counsel, or proffers of sympathy, as the case might be; but he heard nothing until the rumors of De Courcy's excursions took a more definite form.
But one day, Abraham Bradbury, after discussing some Monthly- Meeting matters, suddenly asked: "Is this true that I hear, Henry,--that thy son De Courcy keeps company with one of the Alison girls?"
"Who says that?" Henry asked, in a sharp voice.
"Why, it's the common talk! Surely, thee's heard of it before?"
Henry set his lips together in a manner which Abraham understood. Considering that he had fully performed his duty, he said no more.
That evening, Sylvia, who had been gently thrumming to herself at the window, began singing "Bonnie Peggie Alison." Her father looked at De Courcy, who caught his glance, then lowered his eyes, and turned to leave the room.
"Stop, De Courcy," said the former; "I've heard a piece of news about thee to-day, which I want thee to make clear."
"Shall I go, father?" asked Sylvia.
"No; thee may stay to give De Courcy his memory. I think he is beginning to need it. I've learned which way he rides on Seventh- day evenings."
"Father, I am old enough to choose my way," said De Courcy.
"But no such ways NOW, boy! Has thee clean forgotten? This was among the things upon which we agreed, and you all promised to keep watch and guard over yourselves. I had my misgivings then, but for five years I've trusted you, and now, when the time of probation is so nearly over--"
He hesitated, and De Courcy, plucking up courage, spoke again. With a strong effort the young man threw off the yoke of a self-taught restraint, and asserted his true nature. "Has O'Neil written?" he asked.
"Then, father," he continued, "I prefer the certainty of my present life to the uncertainty of the old. I will not dissolve my connection with the Friends by a shock which might give thee trouble; but I will slowly work away from them. Notice will be taken of my ways; there will be family visitations, warnings, and the usual routine of discipline, so that when I marry Margaret Alison, nobody will be surprised at my being read out of meeting. I shall soon be twenty-five, father, and this thing has gone on about as long as I can bear it. I must decide to be either a man or a milksop."
The color rose to Henry Donnelly's cheeks, and his eyes flashed, but he showed no signs of anger. He moved to De Courcy's side and laid his hand upon his shoulder.
"Patience, my boy!" he said. "It's the old blood, and I might have known it would proclaim itself. Suppose I were to shut my eyes to thy ridings, and thy merry-makings, and thy worldly company. So far I might go; but the girl is no mate for thee. If O'Neil is alive, we are sure to hear from him soon; and in three years, at the utmost, if the Lord favors us, the end will come. How far has it gone with thy courting? Surely, surely, not too far to withdraw, at least under the plea of my prohibition?"
De Courcy blushed, but firmly met his father's eyes. "I have spoken to her," he replied, "and it is not the custom of our family to break plighted faith."
"Thou art our cross, not Sylvia. Go thy ways now. I will endeavor to seek for guidance."
"Sylvia," said the father, when De Courcy had left the room, "what is to be the end of this?"
"Unless we hear from O'Neil, father, I am afraid it cannot be prevented. De Courcy has been changing for a year past; I am only surprised that you did not sooner notice it. What I said in jest has become serious truth; he has already half forgotten. We might have expected, in the beginning, that one of two things would happen: either he would become a plodding Quaker farmer or take to his present courses. Which would be worse, when this life is over,--if that time ever comes?"
Sylvia sighed, and there was a weariness in her voice which did not escape her father's ear. He walked up and down the room with a troubled air. She sat down, took the guitar upon her lap, and began to sing the verse, commencing, "Erin, my country, though sad and forsaken," when--perhaps opportunely--Susan Donnelly entered the room.
"Eh, lass!" said Henry, slipping his arm around his wife's waist, "art thou tired yet? Have I been trying thy patience, as I have that of the children? Have there been longings kept from me, little rebellions crushed, battles fought that I supposed were over?"
"Not by me, Henry," was her cheerful answer. "I have never have been happier than in these quiet ways with thee. I've been thinking, what if something has happened, and the letters cease to come? And it has seemed to me--now that the boys are as good farmers as any, and Alice is such a tidy housekeeper--that we could manage very well without help. Only for thy sake, Henry: I fear it would be a terrible disappointment to thee. Or is thee as accustomed to the high seat as I to my place on the women's side?"
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Beauty and the Beast, and Tales From Home -by- Bayard Taylor