Six years step softly, with invisible footsteps, over the plain of life, bearing us on with an insensible progress. Six years of winter snows and spring thaws, of early blue-birds and pink May-flower buds under leafy banks, of anemone, crowfoot and violet in the fields, of apple-blossoms in the orchards, and new green leaves in the forest; six years of dark-green summers in the rustling woods, of fire-lilies in the meadow-lots and scarlet lobelias by the water-brooks, of roses and lilies and tall phloxes in the gardens; six years of autumnal golden rod and aster, of dropping nuts and rainbow-tinted forests, of ripened grain and gathered corn, of harvest home and thanksgiving proclamation and gathering of families about the home table to consider the loving-kindness of the Lord:—by such easy stages, such comings and goings, is our mortal pilgrimage marked off. When the golden rod and aster have bloomed for us sixty or seventy seasons, then we are near the banks of the final river, we are coming to the time of leaving the flowers of earth for the flowers of Paradise.

The six years in Poganuc had brought their changes, not in external nature, for that remained quiet and beautiful as ever; the same wooded hills, with their sylvan shades and hidden treasures of fruits and flowers, the same brown, sparkling river, where pickerel and perch darted to and fro, and trout lurked in cool, shadowy hollows: but the old graveyard bore an added stone or two; mounds wet with bitter tears had grown green and flowery, and peaceable fruits of righteousness had sprung up from harvests sown there in weeping.

As to the Parsonage and its inmates, six years had added a little sprinkle of silver to the Doctor's head, and a little new learning of the loving-kindness of the Lord to his heart. The fruits of the revival gathered into his church were as satisfactory as ordinary human weakness allows. The Doctor was even more firmly seated in the respect and affection of his parish than in old days, when the ministry was encompassed by the dignities and protections of law. Poganuc was a town where an almshouse was almost a superfluous institution, and almsgiving made difficult by the fact that there were no poor people; for since the shutting of Glazier's bar-room, and the reformation of a few noted drunkards, there was scarce anybody not in the way of earning a decent and comfortable living. Such were our New England villages in the days when its people were of our own blood and race, and the pauper population of Europe had not as yet been landed upon our shores.

As to the characters of our little story, they, also, had moved on a stage in the journey of life.

Hiel Jones had become a thriving man; had bought a share in the stage-line that ran through the town, and owned the finest team of horses in the region. He and our friend Nabby were an edifying matrimonial firm, comfortably established at housekeeping in a trim, well-kept dwelling not far from the Parsonage, with lilac bushes over the front windows, and red peonies and yellow lilies in the door-yard.

A sturdy youngster of three years, who toddled about, upsetting matters generally, formed a large part of the end and aim of Nabby's existence. To say the truth, this young, bright-eyed, curly-pated slip of humanity was enough to furnish work for a dozen women, for he did mischief with a rapidity, ingenuity and energy that was perfectly astonishing. What small efforts the parents made in the direction of family government were utterly frustrated by the fond and idolatrous devotion of old Zeph, who evidently considered it the special privilege of a grandfather to spoil the rising generation.

Scarce a day passed that Zeph was not at the house, his pockets stuffed with apples, cakes or nuts for the boy. The old man bowed his grey head to the yoke of youth; he meekly did the infant's will; he was the boy's horse and cantered for him, he was a cock and crowed for him, he was a hen and cackled for him; he sacrificed dignity and consistency at those baby feet as the wise men of old laid down their gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Zeph had ripened like a winter apple. The hard, snarly astringency of his character had grown sweet and mild. His was a nature capable of a great and lasting change. When he surrendered his will to his God he surrendered once for all, and so the peace of God fell upon him and kept him. He was a consistent and most useful member of the church, and began to be known in the neighborhood by the semi-affectionate title of "Uncle Zeph," a sort of brevet rank which indicated a certain general confidence in his disposition to neighborly good offices.

The darling wish of his wife's heart had been accomplished in his eldest son Abner. He had sent him through college, sparing no labor and no hardship in himself to give the youth every advantage. And Abner had proved an able scholar; his college career had been even brilliant, and he had now returned to his native place to pursue his theological studies under Dr. Cushing.

It will be well remembered that in the former days of New England there were no specific theological institutions, but the young candidate for the ministry took his studies under the care of some pastor, who directed his preparatory course and initiated him into his labors, and this course of things once established was often continued from choice even after institutions of learning were founded.

The Doctor had an almost paternal pride in this offshoot that had grown up in his parish; he taught him with enthusiasm; he took him in his old chaise to the associations and ministerial meetings about the State, and gave him every opportunity to exercise his gifts in speaking.

It was a proud Sunday for old Zeph when his boy preached his first sermon in the Doctor's pulpit. The audience in the Poganuc meeting-house, as we have indicated, was no mean one in point of education, ability and culture, but every one saw and commended the dignity and self-possession with which the young candidate filled the situation, and there was a universal approval of his discourse from even the most critical of his audience. But the face and figure of old Zeph as he leaned forward in his seat, following with breathless eagerness every word; his blue eyes kindling, the hard lines of his face relaxing into an expression of absorbed and breathless interest, would have made a study for a painter. Every point in the argument, the flash of every illustration, the response to every emotion, could have been read in his face as in an open book; and when after service the young candidate received the commendations of Colonel Davenport, Judge Belcher and Judge Gridley, Zeph's cup of happiness was full. Abner was an exception to the saying that a prophet hath no honor in his own country, for both classes in society vied with each other to do him honor. The farming population liked him for being one of themselves, the expression of what they felt themselves capable of being and becoming under similar advantages; while the more cultivated class really appreciated the talent and energy of the young man, and were the better pleased with it as having arisen in their own town.

So his course was all fair, until, as Fate would have it, he asked one thing too much of her—and thereof came a heart-ache.

Our little friend Dolly had shot up into a blooming and beautiful maiden—warm-hearted, enthusiastic, and whole-souled as we have seen her in her childhood. She was in everything the sympathetic response that parents love to find in a child. She entered with her whole soul into all her father's feelings and plans, and had felt and expressed such an honest, frank, and hearty friendliness to the young man, such an interest in his success, that the poor youth was beguiled into asking more than Dolly could give.

Modern young ladies, who count and catalogue their victims, would doubtless be amused to have seen Dolly's dismay at her unexpected and undesired conquest. The recoil was so positive and decided as to be beyond question, but Dolly's conscience was sorely distressed. She had meant nothing but the ordinary loving-kindness of a good and generous heart. She had wanted to make him happy, and had ended in making him apparently quite miserable; and Dolly was sincerely afflicted about it. What had she done? Had she done wrong? She never thought—never dreamed—of such a thing.

The fact was that Dolly had those large, earnest, persuasive eyes that are very dangerous, and sometimes seem to say more than they mean; and she had quick, sudden smiles, and twinkling dimples, and artless, honest ways, and so much general good-will and kindliness, that one might pardonably be deceived by her.

It is said that there are lakes whose waters are so perfectly transparent that they deceive the eye as to their depth. Dolly was like these crystal waters; with all her impulsive frankness there was a deep world within—penetralia that had been yet uninvaded—and there she kept her ideals. The man she might love was one of the immortals, not in the least like a blushing young theological student in a black coat, with a hymn-book under his arm. Precisely what he was she had never been near enough to see; but she knew in a minute what he was not. Therefore she had said "No" with a resolute energy that admitted of no hope, and yet with a distress and self-reproach that was quite genuine.

This was Dolly's first real trouble.

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