The Markhams, one day, in their carriage, passed Bart with his books toiling up Oak Hill. He removed his hat as they passed, without other recognition. All of them felt the invisible wall between them, and two, at least, silently regretted that they might not invite him to an unoccupied seat. They were at the Fords’ to dinner that day, and Bart, being invited to join them by the General, politely declined.
The General was a little grave at the table, while Mrs. Ford was decided and marked in her commendation of the young student, and described, with great animation, a little excursion they had made over to the pond, and the skill with which Bart had managed his little sail-boat.
A shattered column.
In mid June came the blow. George brought up from the post-office, one evening, the following letter:
“Painesville, June 18, 1837. Barton Ridgeley, Esq.:
“Dear Sir,—I write at the request of my sister, Mrs. Hitchcock. Your brother is very ill. Wanders in his mind, and we are uneasy about him. He has been sick about a week. Mr. Hitchcock is absent at court. Sincerely yours,
“Henry is ill,” said Barton, very quietly, after reading it. “This letter is from Mrs. Hitchcock. He has been poorly for a week. I think I had better go to him.”
“He did not write himself, it seems,” said his mother.
“He probably doesn’t regard himself as very sick, and did not want us sent for,” said Bart, “and they may have written without his knowledge. I will take Arab, and ride in the cool of the night.”
“You are alarmed, Barton, and don’t tell me all. Read me the letter.” And he read it. “I will go with you, Barton,” very quietly, but decidedly.
“How can you go, mother?”
“As you do,” firmly.
“You cannot ride thirty miles on horseback, mother, even if we had a horse you could ride at all.”
“I shall go with you,” was her only answer.
An hour later, with a horse and light buggy, procured from a neighbor, they drove out into the warm, sweet June night. At Chardon, they paused for half an hour, to breathe the horse, and went on. Bart was a good horseman, from loving and knowing horses, and drove with skill and judgment. They talked little on the road, and at about two in the morning they drove up to the old American House in Painesville, and, with his mother on his arm, Barton started out on River Street, to the residence of Mr. Hitchcock.
How silent the streets! and how ghostly the white houses stood, in the stillness of the night! and how like a dream it all seemed! They had no difficulty in finding the house, with its ominous lights, that had all night long burned out dim into the darkness.
The door was open, and the bell brought a sweet, matronly woman to receive them.