“And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.”
No, it could not be from Justin. She drank her tea, played with her beans abstractedly, and nibbled her slice of steaming brown bread.
“Not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee.”
No, not a new one; twelve, fifteen years old, that commandment!
“That we love one another.”
Who was speaking? Who had written these words? The first letter sounded just like Mrs. Emerson, who had said she was a very poor correspondent, but that she should just “drop down” on Nancy one of these days; but this second letter never came from Mrs. Emerson.—Well, there would be an explanation some time; a pleasant one; one to smile over, and tell ’Zekiel and repeat to the neighbours; but not an unexpected, sacred, beautiful explanation, such a one as the heart of a woman could imagine, if she were young enough and happy enough to hope.
She washed her cup and plate; replaced the uneaten beans in the brown pot, and put them away with the round loaf, folded the cloth (Lobelia Brewster said Nancy always “set out her meals as if she was entertainin’ company from Portland"), closed the stove dampers, carried the lighted lamp to a safe corner shelf, and lifted ’Zekiel to his cushion on the high-backed rocker, doing all with the nice precision of long habit. Then she wrapped herself warmly, and locking the lonely little house behind her, set out to finish her work in the church.
At this precise moment Justin Peabody was eating his own beans and brown bread (articles of diet of which his Detroit landlady was lamentably ignorant) at the new tavern, not far from the meeting-house.
It would not be fair to him to say that Mrs. Burbank’s letter had brought him back to Edgewood, but it had certainly accelerated his steps.
For the first six years after Justin Peabody left home, he had drifted about from place to place, saving every possible dollar of his uncertain earnings in the conscious hope that he could go back to New England and ask Nancy Wentworth to marry him. The West was prosperous and progressive, but how he yearned, in idle moments, for the grimmer and more sterile soil that had given him birth!
Then came what seemed to him a brilliant chance for a lucky turn of his savings, and he invested them in an enterprise which, wonderfully as it promised, failed within six months and left him penniless. At that moment he definitely gave up all hope, and for the next few years he put Nancy as far as possible out of his mind, in the full belief that he was acting an honourable part in refusing to drag her into his tangled and fruitless way of life. If she ever did care for him,—and he could not be sure, she was always so shy,—she must have outgrown the feeling long since, and be living happily, or at least contentedly, in her own way. He was glad in spite of himself when he heard that she had never married; but at least he hadn’t it on his conscience that he had kept her single!