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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 19. Face To Face
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The Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 19. Face To Face Post by :WhoDoesItReach Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :2715

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The Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 19. Face To Face

CHAPTER XIX. FACE TO FACE

In the lane, in the dark, under the shadow of the barn, Ralph met Hannah carrying her bucket of milk (they have no pails in Indiana)(23). He could see only the white foam on the milk, and Hannah's white face. Perhaps it was well that he could not see how white Hannah's face was at that moment when a sudden trembling made her set down the heavy bucket. At first neither spoke. The recollection of all the joy of that walk together in the night came upon them both. And a great sense of loss made the night seem supernaturally dark to Ralph. Nor was it any lighter in the hopeless heart of the bound girl. The presence of Ralph did not now, as before, make the darkness of her life light.

"Hannah--" said Ralph presently, and stopped. For he could not finish the sentence. With a rush there came upon him a consciousness of the suspicions that filled Hannah's mind. And with it there came a feeling of guilt. He saw himself from her stand-point, and felt a remorse almost as keen as it could have been had he been a criminal. And this sudden and morbid sense of his guilt as it appeared to Hannah paralyzed him. But when Hannah lifted her bucket with her hand, and the world with her heavy heart, and essayed to pass him, Ralph rallied and said:

"_You don't believe all these lies that are told about me."

"I don't believe anything, Mr. Hartsook; that is, I don't want to believe anything against you. And I wouldn't mind anything they say if it wasn't for two things"--here she stammered and looked down.

"If it wasn't for what?" said Ralph with a spice of indignant denial in his voice.

Hannah hesitated, but Ralph pressed the question with eagerness.

"I saw you cross that blue-grass pasture the night--the night that you walked home with me." She would have said the night of the robbery, but her heart smote her, and she adopted the more kindly form of the sentence.

Ralph would have explained, but how?

"I did cross the pasture," he began, "but--"

Just here it occurred to Ralph that there was no reason for his night excursion across the pasture. Hannah again took up her bucket, but he said:

"Tell me what else you have against me."

"I haven't anything against you. Only I am poor and friendless, and you oughtn't to make my life any heavier. They say that you have paid attention to a great many girls. I don't know why you should want to trifle with me."

Ralph answered her this time. He spoke low. He spoke as though he were speaking to God. "If any man says that I ever trifled with any woman, he lies. I have never loved but one, and you know who that is. And God knows."

"I don't know what to say, Mr. Hartsook." Hannah's voice was broken. These solemn words of love were like a river in the desert, and she was like a wanderer dying of thirst. "I don't know, Mr. Hartsook. If I was alone, it wouldn't matter. But I've got my blind mother and my poor Shocky to look after. And I don't want to make mistakes. And the world is so full of lies I don't know what to believe. Somehow I can't help believing what you say. You seem to speak so true. But--"

"But what?" said Ralph.

"But you know how I saw you just as kind to Martha Hawkins on Sunday as--as--"

"Han--ner!" It was the melodious voice of the angry Mrs. Means, and Hannah lifted her pail and disappeared.

Standing in the shadow of his own despair, Ralph felt how dark a night could be when it had no promise of morning.

And Dr. Small, who had been stabling his horse just inside the barn, came out and moved quietly into the house just as though he had not listened intently to every word of the conversation.

As Ralph walked away he tried to comfort himself by calling to his aid the bulldog in his character. But somehow it did not do him any good. For what is a bulldog but a stoic philosopher? Stoicism has its value, but Ralph had come to a place where stoicism was of no account. The memory of the Helper, of his sorrow, his brave and victorious endurance, came when stoicism failed. Happiness might go out of life, but in the light of Christ's life happiness seemed but a small element anyhow. The love of woman might be denied him, but there still remained what was infinitely more precious and holy, the love of God. There still remained the possibility of heroic living. Working, suffering, and enduring still remained. And he who can work for God and endure for God, surely has yet the best of life left. And, like the knights who could find the Holy Grail only in losing themselves, Hartsook, in throwing his happiness out of the count, found the purest happiness, a sense of the victory of the soul over the tribulations of life. The man who knows this victory scarcely needs the encouragement of the hope of future happiness. There is a real heaven in bravely lifting the load of one's own sorrow and work.

And it was a good thing for Ralph that the danger hanging over Shocky made immediate action necessary.

FOOTNOTES:

(Footnote 23: The total absence of the word _pail not only from the dialect, but even from cultivated speech in the Southern and Border States until very recently, is a fact I leave to be explained on further investigation. The word is an old one and a good one, but I fancy that its use in England could not have been generally diffused in the seventeenth century. So a Hoosier or a Kentuckian never _pared an apple, but _peeled it. Much light might be thrown on the origin and history of our dialects by investigating their deficiencies.)

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