"To Dr. Cushing's, Ma'am?"

This question met the ear of Miss Debby Kittery just after she had deposited her umbrella, with a smart, decisive thump, by her side, and settled herself and her bandbox on the back seat of the creaking, tetering old stage on the way to Poganuc.

Miss Debby opened her eyes, surveyed the questioner with a well-bred stare, and answered, with a definite air, "Yes, sir."

"Oh, yis; thought so," said Hiel Jones. "Miss Kittery, I s'pose; the Doctor's folks is expecting ye. Folks all well in Boston, I s'pose?"

Miss Debby in her heart thought Hiel Jones very presuming and familiar, and endeavored to convey by her behavior and manner that such was her opinion; but the effort was quite a vain one, for the remotest conception of any such possibility in his case was so far from Hiel's mind that there was not there even the material to make it of. The look of dignified astonishment with which the good lady responded to his question as to the "folks in Boston" was wholly lost on him.

The first sentence in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are "created equal," had so far become incarnate in Hiel that he never yet had seen the human being whom he did not feel competent to address on equal terms, and, when exalted to his high seat on the stage-box, could not look down upon with a species of patronage. Even the haute noblesse of Poganuc allowed Hiel's familiarities and laughed at his jokes; he was one of their institutions; and what was tolerance and acceptance on the part of the aristocracy became adulation on the part of those nearer his own rank of life. And so when Miss Debby Kittery made him short answers and turned away her head, Hiel merely commented to himself, "Don't seem sociable. Poor old lady! Tired, I s'pose; roads is pretty rough," and, gathering up his reins, dashed off cheerfully.

At the first stage where he stopped to change horses he deemed it his duty to cheer the loneliness of the old lady by a little more conversation, and so, after offering to bring her a tumbler of water, he resumed:

"Ye hain't ben to Poganuc very often;—hain't seen Dolly since she's grow'd up?"

"Are you speaking of Miss Cushing, sir?" asked Miss Debby, in tones of pointed rebuke.

"Yis—wal, we allers call her 'Dolly' t' our house," said Hiel. "We've know'd her sence she was that high. My wife used to live to the Doctor's—she thinks all the world of Dolly."

Miss Debby thought of the verse in the Church Catechism in which the catechumen defines it as his duty to 'order himself lowly and reverently to all his betters.' Evidently Hiel had never heard of this precept. Perhaps if he had, the inquiry as to who are betters, as presented to a shrewd and thoughtful mind, might lead to embarrassing results.

So, as he seemed an utterly hopeless case, and as after all he appeared so bright, and anxious to oblige, Miss Debby surrendered at discretion, and during the last half of the way found herself laughing heartily at some of Hiel's stories and feeling some interest in the general summary of Poganuc news which he threw in gratis.

"Yis, the Doctor's folks is all well. Doctor's had lots o' things sent in this year, Thanksgiving time—turkeys and chickens and eggs and lard—every kind o' thing you can think of. Everybody sent—Town Hill folks, and folks out seven miles round. Everybody likes the Doctor; they'd orter, too! There ain't sech a minister nowhere. The way he explains the doctrines and sets 'em home—I tell ye, there ain't no mistake about him; he's a hull team, now, and our folks knows it. Orter 'a' ben here a week ago, when the Doctor had his wood-spell. Tell ye, if the sleds didn't come in! Why, his back-yard's a perfect mountain o' wood—best sort too, good oak and hickory, makes good solid coals—enough to keep him a year round. Wal, folks orter do it. He's faithful to them, they'd orter do wal by him."

"Isn't there an Episcopal church in your town?" asked Miss Debby.

"Oh, yis, there is a little church. Squire Lewis he started it 'bout six years ago, and there was consid'able many signed off to it. But our Poganuc folks somehow ain't made for 'Piscopals. A 'Piscopal church in our town is jest like a hill o' potatoes planted under a big apple-tree; the tree got a-growin' afore they did, and don't give 'em no chance. There was my wife's father, he signed off, 'cause of a quarrel he hed with his own church; but he's come back agin, and so have all his boys, and Nabby, and jined the Doctor's church. Fact is, our folks sort o' hanker arter the old meetin'-house."

"Who is the rector of the Episcopal church?"

"Oh, that's Sim Coan; nice, lively young feller, Sim is; but can't hold a candle to the Doctor. Sim he ain't 'fraid of nobody—preaches up the 'Piscopal doctrine sharp, and stands up for his side; and he's all the feasts and fasts and anthems and things at his tongue's end; and his folks likes him fust rate. But the church don't grow much; jest holds its own, that's all."

These varied items of intelligence, temporal and spiritual, were poured into Miss Debby's ear at sundry periods when horses were to be changed, or in the interval of waiting for dinner at the sleepy old country tavern; and by the time she reached Poganuc she had conceived quite a friendly feeling towards Hiel and unbent her frigid demeanor to that degree that Hiel told Nabby "the old lady reely got quite sociable and warmed up afore she got there."

Dolly was somewhat puzzled and almost alarmed on her first introduction to her aunt, who took possession of her in a summary manner, turning her round and surveying her, and giving her opinion of her with a distinct and decisive air, as if the damsel had been an article of purchase sent home to be looked over.

"So this is my niece Dolly, is it?" she said. "Well, come kiss your old aunty; upon my word, you are taller than your mother." Then holding her at arm's length and surveying her, with her head on one side, she added, "There's a good deal of Pierrepont blood in her, sister; that is the Pierrepont nose—I should know it anywhere. Her way of carrying herself is Pierrepont. Blushing!" she added, as Dolly grew crimson under this survey; "that's a family trick. I remember when I went to dancing school the first time, my face was crimson as my sash. She'll get the better of that as she gets older, as I have. Sit down by your aunty, child. I think I shall like you. That's right, sit up straight and hold your shoulders back—the girls of this generation are getting round-shouldered."

Though Dolly was somewhat confused and confounded by this abrupt mode of procedure, yet there was after all something quaint and original about her aunt's manner that amused her, and an honest sincerity in her face that won her regard. Miss Debby was one of those human beings who carry with them the apology for their own existence. It took but a glance to see that she was one of those forces of nature which move always in straight lines and which must be turned out for if one wishes to avoid a collision. All Miss Debby's opinions had been made up, catalogued, and arranged, at a very early period of life, and she had no thought of change. She moved in a region of certainties, and always took her own opinions for granted with a calm supremacy altogether above reason. Yet there was all the while about her a twinkle of humorous consciousness, a vein of original drollery, which gave piquancy to the brusqueness of her manner and prevented people from taking offence.

So this first evening Dolly stared, laughed, blushed, wondered, had half a mind to be provoked, but ended in a hearty liking of her new relative and most agreeable anticipations of her Boston visit.

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