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SAXE HOLM'S STORIES

[by Helen Hunt Jackson]


1873


Content.

Draxy Miller's Dowry
The Elder's Wife
Whose Wife Was She?
The One-Legged Dancers
How One Woman Kept Her Husband
Esther Wynn's Love-Letters




Draxy Miller's Dowry.



Part I.


When Draxy Miller's father was a boy, he read a novel in which the heroine
was a Polish girl, named Darachsa. The name stamped itself indelibly upon
his imagination; and when, at the age of thirty-five, he took his
first-born daughter in his arms, his first words were--"I want her called
Darachsa."

"What!" exclaimed the doctor, turning sharply round, and looking out above
his spectacles; "what heathen kind of a name is that?"

"Oh, Reuben!" groaned a feeble voice from the baby's mother; and the nurse
muttered audibly, as she left the room, "There ain't never no luck comes
of them outlandish names."

The whole village was in a state of excitement before night. Poor Reuben
Miller had never before been the object of half so much interest. His
slowly dwindling fortunes, the mysterious succession of his ill-lucks, had
not much stirred the hearts of the people. He was a retice'nt man; he
loved books, and had hungered for them all his life; his townsmen
unconsciously resented what they pretended to despise; and so it had
slowly come about that in the village where his father had lived and died,
and where he himself had grown up, and seemed likely to live and die,
Reuben Miller was a lonely man, and came and went almost as a stranger
might come and go. His wife was simply a shadow and echo of himself; one
of those clinging, tender, unselfish, will-less women, who make pleasant,
and affectionate, and sunny wives enough for rich, prosperous,
unsentimental husbands, but who are millstones about the necks of
sensitive, impressionable, unsuccessful men. If Jane Miller had been a
strong, determined woman, Reuben would not have been a failure. The only
thing he had needed in life had been persistent purpose and courage. The
right sort of wife would have given him both. But when he was discouraged,
baffled, Jane clasped her hands, sat down, and looked into his face with
streaming eyes. If he smiled, she smiled; but that was just when it was of
least consequence that she should smile. So the twelve years of their
married life had gone on slowly, very slowly, but still surely, from bad
to worse; nothing prospered in Reuben's hands. The farm which he had
inherited from his father was large, but not profitable. He tried too long
to work the whole of it, and then he sold the parts which he ought to have
kept. He sunk a great portion of his little capital in a flour-mill, which
promised to be a great success, paid well for a couple of years, and then
burnt down, uninsured. He took a contract for building one section of a
canal, which was to pass through part of his land; sub-contractors cheated
him, and he, in his honesty, almost ruined himself to right their wrong.
Then he opened a little store; here, also, he failed. He was too honest,
too sympathizing, too inert. His day-book was a curiosity; he had a vein
of humor which no amount of misfortune could quench; and he used to enter
under the head of "given" all the purchases which he knew were not likely
to be paid for. It was at sight of this book, one day, that Jane Miller,
for the first and only time in her life, lost her temper with Reuben.

"Well, I must say, Reuben Miller, if I die for it," said she, "I haven't
had so much as a pound of white sugar nor a single lemon in my house for
two years, and I do think it's a burnin' shame for you to go on sellin'
'em to them shiftless Greens, that'll never pay you a cent, and you know
it!"

Reuben was sitting on the counter smoking his pipe and reading an old
tattered copy of Dryden's translation of Virgil. He lifted his clear blue
eyes in astonishment, put down his pipe, and, slowly swinging his long
legs over the counter, caught Jane by the waist, put both his arms round
her, and said,--

"Why, mother, what's come over you! You know poor little Eph's dyin' of
that white swellin'. You wouldn't have me refuse his mother anything we've
got, would you?"

Jane Miller walked back to the house with tears in her eyes, but her
homely sallow face was transfigured by love as she went about her work,
thinking to herself,--

"There never was such a man's Reuben, anyhow. I guess he'll get interest
one o' these days for all he's lent the Lord, first and last, without
anybody's knowin' it."

But the Lord has His own system of reckoning compound interest, and His
ways of paying are not our ways. He gave no visible sign of recognition of
indebtedness to Reuben. Things went harder and harder with the Millers,
until they had come to such a pass that when Reuben Miller went after the
doctor, in the early dawn of the day on which little Draxy was born, he
clasped his hands in sorrow and humiliation before he knocked at the
doctor's door; and his only words were hard words for a man of
sensitiveness and pride to speak:--

"Doctor Cobb, will you come over to my wife? I don't dare to be sure I can
ever pay you; but if there's anything in the store "--

"Pshaw, pshaw, Reuben, don't speak of that; you'll be all right in a few
years," said the kind old doctor, who had known Reuben from his boyhood,
and understood him far better than any one else did.

And so little Draxy was born.

"It's a mercy it's a girl at last," said the village gossips. "Mis'
Miller's had a hard time with them four great boys, and Mr. Miller so
behindhand allers."

"And who but Reuben Miller'd ever think of givin' a Christian child such a
name!" they added.

But what the name was nobody rightly made out; nor even whether it had
been actually given to the baby, or had only been talked of; and between
curiosity and antagonism, the villagers were so drawn to Reuben Miller's
store, that it began to look quite like a run of custom.

"If I hold out a spell on namin' her," said Reuben, as in the twilight of
the third day he sat by his wife's bedside; "if I hold out a spell on
namin' her, I shall get all the folks in the district into the store, and
sell out clean," and he laughed quizzically, and stroked the little
mottled face which lay on the pillow. "There's Squire Williams and Mis'
Conkey both been in this afternoon; and Mis' Conkey took ten pounds of
that old Hyson tea you thought I'd never sell; and Squire Williams, he
took the last of those new-fangled churns, and says he, 'I expect you'll
want to drive trade a little brisker, Reuben, now there's a little girl to
be provided for; and, by the way, what are you going to call her?'

"'Oh, it's quite too soon to settle, that,' said I, as if I hadn't a name
in my head yet. And then Mis' Conkey spoke up and said: 'Well, I did hear
you were going to name her after a heathen goddess that nobody over heard
of, and I do hope you will consider her feelings when she grows up.'

"'I hope I always shall, Mis' Conkey,' said I; and she didn't know what to
say next. So she picked up her bundle of tea, and they stepped off
together quite dignified.

"But I think we'll call her Darachsa, in spite of 'em all, Jane," added
Reuben with a hesitating half laugh.

"Oh, Reuben!" Jane said again. It was the strongest remonstrance on which
she ever ventured. She did not like the name; but she adored Reuben. So
when the baby was three months old, she was carried into the meeting-house
in a faded blue cashmere cloak, and baptized in the name of the Father,
and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, "Darachsa Lawton Miller."

Jane Miller's babies always thrived. The passive acquiescence of her
nature was a blessing to them. The currents of their blood were never
rendered unhealthful by overwrought nerves or disturbed temper in their
mother. Their infancy was as placid and quiet as if they had been kittens.
Not until they were old enough to understand words, and to comprehend
deprivations, did they suffer because of their poverty. Then a serious
look began to settle upon their faces; they learned to watch their father
and mother wistfully, and to wonder what was wrong; their childhood was
very short.

Before Draxy was ten years old she had become her father's inseparable
companion, confidant, and helper. He wondered, sometimes almost in terror,
what it meant, that he could say to this little child what he could not
say to her mother; that he often detected himself in a desire to ask of
this babe advice or suggestion which he never dreamed of asking from his
wife.

But Draxy was wise. She had the sagacity which comes from great tenderness
and loyalty, combined with a passionate nature. In such a woman's soul
there is sometimes an almost supernatural instinct. She will detect danger
and devise safety with a rapidity and ingenuity which are incredible. But
to such a nature will also come the subtlest and deepest despairs of which
the human heart is capable. The same instinct which foresees and devises
for the loved ones will also recognize their most hidden traits, their
utmost possibilities, their inevitable limitations, with a completeness
and infallibility akin to that of God Himself. Jane Miller, all her life
long, believed in the possibility of Reuben's success; charged his
failures to outside occasions, and hoped always in a better day to come.
Draxy, early in her childhood, instinctively felt, what she was far too
young consciously to know, that her father would never be a happier man;
that "things" would always go against him. She had a deeper reverence for
the uprightness and sweet simplicity of his nature than her mother ever
could have had. She comprehended, Jane believed; Draxy felt, Jane saw.
Without ever having heard of such a thing as fate, little Draxy recognized
that her father was fighting with it, and that fate was the stronger! Her
little arms clasped closer and closer round his neck, and her serene blue
eyes, so like his, and yet so wondrously unlike, by reason of their latent
fire and strength, looked this unseen enemy steadfastly in the face, day
by day.

She was a wonderful child.



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