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   Chapter 44 SQUARING ACCOUNTS.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 15334

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The summer storm had spent itself by daylight, and the sun rose on that morning after the world's end much as it had risen on other mornings, but it looked down upon prostrate trees and scattered fences and roofless barns. And the minds of the people were in much the same disheveled state as the landscape. One simple-minded girl was a maniac. Some declared that the world had ended, and that this was the new earth, if people only had faith to receive it; some still waited for the end, and with some the reaction from credulity had already set in, a reaction that carried them into the blankest atheism and boldest immorality. People who had spent the summer in looking for a change that would relieve them from all responsibility, now turned reluctantly toward the commonplace drudgery of life. It is the evil of all day-dreaming--day-dreaming about the other world included--that it unfits us for duty in this world of tangible and inevitable facts.

It was nearly daylight when Andrew and August and Julia reached the castle. The Philosopher advised Julia to go home, and for the present to let the marriage be as though it were not. August dreaded to see Julia returned to her mother's tyranny, but Andrew was urgent in his advice, and Julia said that she must not leave her mother in her trouble. Julia reached home a little after daylight, and a little before Mrs. Anderson was brought home in a fit of hysterics.

Poor Mrs. Abigail still hoped that the end of the world for which she had so fondly prepared would come, but as the days wore on she sank into a numb despondency. When she thought of the loss of her property, she groaned and turned her face to the wall. And Samuel Anderson sat about the house in a dumb and shiftless attitude, as do most men upon whom financial ruin comes in middle life. The disappointment of his faith and the overthrow of his fortune had completely paralyzed him. He was waiting for something, he hardly knew what. He had not even his wife's driving voice to stimulate him to exertion.

There was no one now to care for Mrs. Anderson but Julia, for Cynthy had taken up her abode in the log-cabin which Jonas had bought, and a happier housekeeper never lived. She watched Jonas till he disappeared when he went to work in the morning, she carried him a "snack" at ten o'clock, and headways found her standing "like a picter" at the gate, when he came home to dinner. But Cynthy Ann generally spent her afternoons at Anderson's, helping "that young thing" to bear her responsibilities, though Mrs. Anderson would receive no personal attentions now from any one but her daughter. She did not scold; her querulous restlessness was but a reminiscence of her scolding. She lay, disheartened, watching Julia, and exacting everything from Julia, and the weary feet and weary heart of the girl almost sank under her burdens. Mrs. Anderson had suddenly fallen from her position of an exacting tyrant to that of an exacting and helpless infant. She followed Julia with her eyes in a broken-spirited fashion, as if fearing that she would leave her. Julia could read the fear in her mother's countenance; she understood what her mother meant when she said querulously, "You'll get married and leave me." If Mrs. Anderson had assumed her old high-handed manner, it would have been easy for Julia to have declared her secret. But how could she tell her now? It would be a blow, it might be a fatal blow. And at the same time how could she satisfy August? He thought she had bowed to the same old tyranny again for an indefinite time. But she could not forsake her parents in their poverty and afflictions.

The fourteenth of August, the day on which possession was to have been given to Bob Walker, came and went, but no Bob Walker appeared. A week more passed, in which Samuel Anderson could not muster enough courage to go to see Walker, in which Samuel Anderson and his wife waited in a vague hope that something might happen. And every day of that week Julia had a letter from August, which did not say one word of the trial that it was for him to wait, but which said much of the wrong Julia was doing to herself to submit so long. And Julia, like her father and mother, was waiting for she knew not what.

At last the suspense became to her unendurable.

"Father," she said, "why don't you go to see Bob Walker? You might buy the farm back again."

"I don't know why he don't come and take it," said Mr. Anderson dejectedly.

This conversation roused Mrs. Abigail. There was some hope. She got up in bed, and told Samuel to go to the county-seat and see if the deeds had ever been recorded. And while her husband was gone she sat up and looked better, and even scolded a little, so that Julia felt encouraged. But she dreaded to see her father come back.

Samuel Anderson entered the house on his return with a blank countenance. Sitting down, he put his face between his hands a minute in utter dejection.

"Why don't you speak?" said Mrs. Anderson in a broken voice.

"The land was all transferred to Andrew immediately, and he owns every foot of it. He must have sent Bob Walker here to buy it."

"Oh! I'm so glad!" cried Julia.

But her mother only gave her one reproachful look and went off into hysterical sobbing and crying over the wrong that Andrew had done her. And all that night Julia watched by her mother, while Samuel Anderson sat in dejection by the bed. As for Norman, he had quickly relapsed into his old habits, and his former cronies had generously forgiven him his temporary piety, considering the peculiar circumstances of the case some extenuation. Now that there was trouble in the house he staid away, which was a good thing so far as it went.

The next afternoon Mrs. Anderson rallied a little, and, looking at Julia, she said in her querulous way, "Why don't you go and see him?"

"Who?" said Julia with a shiver, afraid that her mother was insane.

"Andrew."

Julia did not need any second hint. Leaving her mother with Cynthy, she soon presented herself at the door of the castle.

"Did she send you?" asked Andrew dryly.

"Yes, sir."

"I've been expecting you for a long time. I'll go back with you. But August must go along. He'll be glad of an excuse to see your face again. You look thin, my poor girl."

They went past Wehle's, and August was only too glad to join them, rejoicing that some sort of a crisis had come, though how it was to help him he did not know. With the restlessness of a man looking for some indefinable thing to turn up, Samuel was out on the porch waiting the return of his daughter. Jonas had come for Cynthy Ann, and was sitting on a "shuck-bottom" chair in front of the house.

Andrew reached out his hand and greeted his brother cordially, and spoke civilly to Abigail. Then there was a pause, and Mrs. Anderson turned her head to the wall and groaned. After a while she looked round and saw August. A little of her old indignation came into her eyes as she whimpered, "What did he come for?"

"I brought him," said Andrew.

"Well, it's your house, do as you please. I suppose you'll turn us out of our own home now."

"As you did me," said the Philosopher, smiling. "Let me remind you that I was living on the river farm. My father had promised it to me, and given me possession. A week before his death you got the will changed, by what means you know. You turned me off the farm which had virtually been mine for two years. If I turn you off now, it will be no more than fair."

There was a look of pained surprise on Julia's face. She had not known that the wrong her uncle had suffered was so great. She had not t

hought that he would be so severe as to turn her father out.

"I don't want to talk of these things," Andrew went on. "I ought to have broken the will, but I was not a believer in the law. I tell this story now because I must justify myself to these young people for what I am going to do. You have had the use of that part of the estate which was rightfully mine for twenty years. I suppose I may claim it all now."

Julia's eyes looked at him pleadingly.

"Why don't you send us off and be done with it then?" said Mrs. Abigail, rising up and resuming her old vehemence. "You set out to ruin us, and now you've done it. A nice brother you are! Ruining us by a conspiracy with Bob Walker, and then sitting here and trying to make my own daughter think you did right, and bringing that hateful fellow here to hear it!" Her finger was leveled at August.

"I am glad to see you are better, Abigail. I wanted to be sure you were strong enough to bear all I have to say."

"Say your worst and do your worst, you cruel, cruel man! I have borne enough from you in these years, and now you can say and do what you please; you can't do me any more harm. I suppose I must leave my old home that I've lived in so long."

"You need not worry yourself about leaving; that's what I came over to say."

"As if I'd stay in your house an hour! I'll not take any favors at your hand."

"Don't be rash, Abigail. I have deeded this hill farm to Samuel, and here is the deed. I have given you back the best half of the property, just what my father meant you to have. I have only kept the river land, that should have been mine twenty years ago. I hope you will not stick to your resolution not to receive anything at my hand."

And Julia said: "Oh! I'm so--"

But Mrs. Anderson had a convenient fit of hysterics, crying piteously. Meantime Samuel gladly accepted the deed.

"The deed is already recorded. I sent it down yesterday as soon as I saw Samuel come back, and I got it back this morning. The farm is yours without condition."

This relieved Abigail, and she soon ceased her sobbing. Andrew could not take it back then, whatever she might say.

"Now," said Andrew, "I have only divided the farms without claiming any damages. I want to ask a favor. Let Julia marry the man of her choice in peace."

"You have taken one farm, and therefore I must let my daughter marry a man with nothing but his two hands," sobbed Mrs. Anderson.

"Two hands and a good head and a noble heart," said Andrew.

"Well, I won't consent," said she. "If Julia marries him," pointing to August, "she will marry without my consent, and he will not get a cent of the money he's after. Not a red cent!"

"I don't want your money. I did not know you'd get your farm back, for I did not know but that Walker owned it, and I--wanted--Julia all the same." August had almost told that he had married Julia.

"Wanted her and married her," said Andrew. "And I have not kept a corn-stalk of the property I got from you. I have given Bob Walker a ten-acre patch for his services, and all the rest I have deeded to the two best people I know. This August Wehle married Julia Anderson when they thought the world might be near its end, and believing that, at any rate, she would not have a penny in the world. I have deeded the river farm to August Wehle and his wife."

"Married, eh? Come and ask my consent afterwards? That's a fine way!" And Abigail grew white and grew silent with passion.

"Come, August, I want to show you and Julia something," said Andrew. He really wanted to give Abigail time to look the matter in the face quietly before she committed herself too far. But he told the two young people that they might make their home with him while their house was in building. He had already had part of the material drawn, and from the brow of the hill they looked down upon the site he had chosen near the old tumble-down tenant's house. But Andrew saw that Julia looked disappointed.

"You are not satisfied, my brave girl. What is the matter?"

"Oh! yes, I am very happy, and very thankful to you; and next to August I love you more than anybody--except my parents."

"But something is different to what you wished it. Doesn't the site suit you? You can look off on to the river from the rise on which the house will stand, and I do not know how it could be better."

"It couldn't be better," said Julia, "but--'

"But what? You must tell me."

"I thought maybe you'd let us live at the castle and take the burden of things off you. I should like to keep your house for you, just to show you how much I love my dear, good uncle."

Even an anchorite could not help feeling a pleasure at such a speech from such a young woman, and this shaggy, solitary, misanthropic but tender-hearted man felt a sudden rush of pleasure. August saw it, and was delighted. What one's nearest friend thinks of one's wife is a vital question, and August was happier at this moment than he had ever been. Andrew's pleasure at Julia's loving speech was the climax.

"Yes!" said the Philosopher, a little huskily. "You want to sacrifice your pleasure by living in my gloomy old castle, and civilizing an old heathen like me. You mustn't tempt me too far."

"I don't see why you call it gloomy. It wasn't only for your sake that I said it. I think it is the nicest old house I ever saw. And then the books, and--and--you." Julia stumbled a little, she was not accustomed to make speeches of this sort.

"You flatterer!" burst out Andrew. "But no, you must have your own house."

Mrs. Anderson, on her part, had concluded to make the best of it. Julia already married and the mistress of the Anderson river farm was quite a different thing from Julia under her thumb. She was to be conciliated. Besides, Mrs. Anderson did not want Julia's prosperity to be a lifelong source of humiliation to her. She must take some stock in it at the start.

"Jule," she said, as her daughter re-entered the door, "I can let you have two feather-beds and four pillows, and a good stock of linen and blankets. And you can have the two heifers and the sorrel colt."

The two "heifers" were six, and the sorrel "colt" was seven years of age; but descriptive names often outlive the qualities to which they owed their origin. Just as a judge is even yet addressed as "your honor," and many a governor without anything to recommend him hears himself called "your excellency."

When Abigail surrendered in this graceful fashion, Julia was touched, and was on the point of putting her arms around her mother and kissing her. But Mrs. Anderson was not a person easily caressed, and Julia did not yield to her impulse.

"Cynthy Ann, my dear," said Jonas, as they walked home that evening, "do you know what Abig'il Anderson reminds me of?"

No; Cynthy Ann didn't exactly know. In fact, it would have been difficult for anybody to have told what anything was likely to remind Jonas of. There was no knowing what a thing might not suggest to him.

"Well, Cynthy, my Imperial Sweetness, when I see Abig'il come down so beautiful, it reminded me of a little fice-t dog I had when I was a leetle codger. I called him Pick. His name was Picayune. Purty good name, wasn't it?"

"Yes, it was."

"Well, now, that air little Pick wouldn't never own up as he was driv outen the house. When he was whipped out, he wouldn't never tuck his tail down, but curl it up over his back, and run acrost the yard and through the fence and down the road a-barkin' fit to kill. Wanted to let on like as ef he'd run out of his own accord, with malice aforethought, you know. That's Abig'il."

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