The continuous clash and rush of the brook was like a part of the silence, as the red of the farm-house and the barn was like a part of the green of the fields and woods all round them: the black-green of pines and spruces, the yellow-green of maples and birches, dense to the tops of the dreary hills, and breaking like a bated sea around the Lion’s Head. The farmer stooped at his work, with a thin, inward-curving chest, but his wife stood straight at hers; and she had a massive beauty of figure and a heavily moulded regularity of feature that impressed such as had eyes to see her grandeur among the summer folks. She was forty when they began to come, and an ashen gray was creeping over the reddish heaps of her hair, like the pallor that overlies the crimson of the autumnal oak. She showed her age earlier than most fair people, but since her marriage at eighteen she had lived long in the deaths of the children she had lost. They were born with the taint of their father’s family, and they withered from their cradles. The youngest boy alone; of all her brood, seemed to have inherited her health and strength. The rest as they grew up began to cough, as she had heard her husband’s brothers and sisters cough, and then she waited in hapless patience the fulfilment of their doom. The two little girls whose faces the ladies of the first coaching-party saw at the farm-house windows had died away from them; two of the lank boys had escaped, and in the perpetual exile of California and Colorado had saved themselves alive. Their father talked of going, too, but ten years later he still dragged himself spectrally about the labors of the farm, with the same cough at sixty which made his oldest son at twenty-nine look scarcely younger than himself.
One soft noon in the middle of August the farmer came in from the corn-field that an early frost had blighted, and told his wife that they must give it up. He said, in his weak, hoarse voice, with the catarrhal catching in it, that it was no use trying to make a living on the farm any longer. The oats had hardly been worth cutting, and now the corn was gone, and there was not hay enough without it to winter the stock; if they got through themselves they would have to live on potatoes. Have a vendue, and sell out everything before the snow flew, and let the State take the farm and get what it could for it, and turn over the balance that was left after the taxes; the interest of the savings-bank mortgage would soon eat that up.
The long, loose cough took him, and another cough answered it like an echo from the barn, where his son was giving the horses their feed. The mild, wan-eyed young man came round the corner presently toward the porch where his father and mother were sitting, and at the same moment a boy came up the lane to the other corner; there were sixteen years between the ages of the brothers, who alone were left of the children born into and borne out of the house. The young man waited till they were within whispering distance of each other, and then he gasped: “Where you been?”