Quality and Equality

To the circle at Bennington, a letter from Bear Creek was always a welcome summons to gather and hear of doings very strange to Vermont. And when the tale of the changed babies arrived duly by the post, it created a more than usual sensation, and was read to a large number of pleased and scandalized neighbors. “I hate her to be where such things can happen,” said Mrs. Wood. “I wish I could have been there,” said her son-in-law, Andrew Bell. “She does not mention who played the trick,” said Mrs. Andrew Bell. “We shouldn’t be any wiser if she did,” said Mrs. Wood. “I’d like to meet the perpetrator,” said Andrew. “Oh, no!” said Mrs. Wood. “They’re all horrible.” And she wrote at once, begging her daughter to take good care of herself, and to see as much of Mrs. Balaam as possible. “And of any other ladies that are near you. For you seem to me to be in a community of roughs. I wish you would give it all up. Did you expect me to laugh about the babies?” Mrs. Flynt, when this story was repeated to her (she had not been invited in to hear the letter), remarked that she had always felt that Molly Wood must be a little vulgar, ever since she began to go about giving music lessons like any ordinary German.

But Mrs. Wood was considerably relieved when the next letter arrived. It contained nothing horrible about barbecues or babies. It mentioned the great beauty of the weather, and how well and strong the fine air was making the writer feel. And it asked that books might be sent, many books of all sorts, novels, poetry, all the good old books and any good new ones that could be spared. Cheap editions, of course. “Indeed she shall have them!” said Mrs. Wood. “How her mind must be starving in that dreadful place!” The letter was not a long one, and, besides the books, spoke of little else except the fine weather and the chances for outdoor exercise that this gave. “You have no idea,” it said, “how delightful it is to ride, especially on a spirited horse, which I can do now quite well.” “How nice that is!” said Mrs. Wood, putting down the letter. “I hope the horse is not too spirited.” --“Who does she go riding with?” asked Mrs. Bell. “She doesn’t say, Sarah. Why?”--“Nothing. She has a queer way of not mentioning things, now and then.”--“Sarah!” exclaimed Mrs. Wood, reproachfully. “Oh, well, mother, you know just as well as I do that she can be very independent and unconventional.”--“Yes; but not in that way. She wouldn’t ride with poor Sam Bannett, and after all he is a suitable person.” Nevertheless, in her next letter, Mrs. Wood cautioned her daughter about trusting herself with any one of whom Mrs. Balaam did not thoroughly approve. The good lady could never grasp that Mrs. Balaam lived a long day’s journey from Bear Creek, and that Molly saw her about once every three months. “We have sent your books,” the mother wrote; “everybody has contributed from their store,--Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browning, Longfellow; and a number of novels by Scott, Thackeray, George Eliot, Hawthorne, and lesser writers; some volumes of Emerson; and Jane Austen complete, because you admire her so particularly.” This consignment of literature reached Bear Creek about a week before Christmas time.

By New Year’s Day, the Virginian had begun his education.

“Well, I have managed to get through ’em,” he said, as he entered Molly’s cabin in February. And he laid two volumes upon her table.

“And what do you think of them?” she inquired.

“I think that I’ve cert’nly earned a good long ride to-day.” “Georgie Taylor has sprained his ankle.” “No, I don’t mean that kind of a ride. I’ve earned a ride with just us two alone. I’ve read every word of both of ’em, yu’ know.” “I’ll think about it. Did you like them?” “No. Not much. If I’d knowed that one was a detective story, I’d have got yu’ to try something else on me. Can you guess the murderer, or is the author too smart for yu’? That’s all they amount to. Well, he was too smart for me this time, but that didn’t distress me any. That other book talks too much.” Molly was scandalized, and she told him it was a great work.

“Oh, yes, yes. A fine book. But it will keep up its talkin’. Don’t let you alone.” “Didn’t you feel sorry for poor Maggie Tulliver?” “Hmp. Yes. Sorry for her, and for Tawmmy, too. But the man did right to drownd ’em both.” “It wasn’t a man. A woman wrote that.” “A woman did! Well, then, o’ course she talks too much.” “I’ll not go riding with you!” shrieked Molly.

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