New Leaf Mills - A Chronicle

New Leaf Mills - A Chronicle

by William Dean Howells

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New Leaf Mills - A Chronicle by William Dean Howells

An excerpt from the beginning of "NEW LEAF MILLS: A CHRONICLE":


I.

The opinions of Owen Powell marked a sharp difference between him and most of his fellow-townsmen in the town of the Middle West, where he lived sixty years ago. A man who condemned the recent war upon Mexico as a wicked crusade for the extension of slavery, and denounced the newly enacted Fugitive Slave Law as infernal, would have done well to have a confession of spiritual faith like that of his neighbors; but here Owen Powell was still more widely at variance with them. He rejected the notion of a personal devil, and many others did that; but his hell was wholly at odds with the hell popularly accepted; it was not a place of torment where the lost sinner was sent, but a state which the transgressor himself chose and where he abode everlastingly bereft of the sense of better things. Even so poor a hell saved Powell from the reproach of Universalism; but in a person so one-ideaed, as people then said, through his abhorrence of slavery, it was not enough. He was valued, but he was valued in spite of his opinions; they were distinctly a fact to his disadvantage in that day and place.

His younger brother Felix, after the wont of prosperous merchants, kept out of politics, and he carried his prayer-book every Sunday to the Episcopal service. But he quietly voted with Owen, and those who counted on a want of sympathy between the brothers were apt to meet with a prompt rebuff from Felix. He once stopped his subscription and took away his advertising from the Whig editor who spoke of a certain political expression of Owen's (it was in a letter to the editor's paper) as having the unimportance of small potatoes, and he extorted a printed retraction of the insult before he renewed his patronage. He felt, more than any of his words or acts evinced, the beauty of the large benevolent intention which was the basis of Owen's character, and he was charmed, if he was not convinced, by his inextinguishable faith in mankind as a race merely needing good treatment to become everything that its friends could wish; by his simple courage, so entire that he never believed in danger; and by his sweet serenity of temperament. Felix was in delicate health, and he was given to some vague superstitions. He had lost several children, and he believed that he had in every case had some preternatural warning of their death; his young wife, who was less openly an invalid, shared his beliefs, as well as his half-melancholy fondness for his brother. She liked to have Owen Powell's children in her childless house; and she had some pretty affectations of manner and accent which took them with the sense of elegance in a world beyond them.

They came to her with their mother every Sunday night, and heard their father and uncle talk of their boyhood in the backwoods; of their life in a log cabin, and of the privations they had gladly suffered there. The passing years had endeared these hardships to the brothers, but their wives resented the early poverty which they held precious; and they hated the memory of that farm where the brothers had lived in a log cabin, and had run wild, as it appeared from the fond exaggeration of their reminiscences, in bare feet, tattered trousers, and hickory shirts. Sometimes the brothers reasoned of the questions of theology upon which the mind of the elder habitually dwelt; but Felix disliked argument, and Owen affectionately forebore to assail him as a representative of the Old Church. After the pioneer stories, the children fell asleep on the sofa and the carpet, and did not wake till they heard the piano, where their young aunt used to sing and their uncle accompany her with his flute; he remained associated in their memories with the pensive trebles of his instrument and the cadences of her gentle voice in the country. Apparently there was to be a property which the brothers were to hold in common, and it was to be bought as soon as the younger could get his business into shape. Two brothers in other towns were to be invited to close up their affairs and join in the enterprise. Then, with something of the unsurprising inconsequence of dreams, the notion of a farm had changed in the children's apprehension to the notion of a mill, and more dimly a settlement of communal proportions about it. They heard their elders discussing the project one night when they woke from their nap, and crowded about their mother's chair for warmth, with the fire now burning low upon the hearth.

There came a time when the summer days were clouded in their home by an increasing care, which they felt at second hand from their father and mother; then there came a Sunday night when there were no rosy visions of the past; and, by the matter-of-fact light of the Monday following, Felix saw that the affairs of his brother were hopeless...

Product Details

BN ID: 2940014989589
Publisher: Leila's Books
Publication date: 07/24/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 512 KB

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