At such times might be found a goodly company of yeomen or country folk seated around the blazing hearth, bandying merry jests, while roasted crabs bobbed in bowls of ale upon the hearthstone.
The terrors of the night past, the shock of the morning, the completeness of the loss, the piteous sight in the pigeon-house, remorseful shame, and then after all these years, during which he had not gone half a mile from his own hearthstone to be set up for all the world to see, on the front seat of a market-cart, back to back with the parish constable, and jogged off as if miles were nothing, and crowded streets were nothing, and the Beaulieu Gardens were nothing; Master Shaw talking away as easily as if they were sitting in two armchairs, and making no more of "stepping into" a lawyer's office, and "going on" to the Town Hall, than if he were talking of stepping up to his own bedchamber or going out into the garden!
For the first time since he built it, the station seemed lonely and disheartening. "Would any woman, for love of me, come to such a hearthstone?" he asked himself. "And if she consented to do so, could I be so selfish as to exact such sacrifice? No, the forest ranger in these attitudes must be young and heart-free; otherwise his life would be miserably solitary."
Meanwhile the sunny Kansas prairies lay waiting for the hearthstone and the plow. And young men, trained in camp and battle-field, looked westward for adventure, fortune, future homes and fame. But the tribes, whose hunting-grounds had been the green and grassy plains, yielded slowly, foot by foot, their stubborn claim, marking in human blood the price of each acre of the prairie sod.
"It is quite a piece of luck, since there are five girls to marry off. And there's many a one who would jump at the chance. Then we shall not have to give Marie much dowry beside her setting out. It is not like young people beginning from the very hearthstone."
"He's hame again." The women-folk gave him time to say to whom he was referring, which he occasionally did as an after-thought. But he began to sup his porridge, making eyes as it went steaming down his throat. "I dinna ken wha ye mean," Jess said; while Leeby, who was on her knees rubbing the hearthstone a bright blue, paused to catch her father's answer.
Blessed in all who gathered about his hearthstone, his cup of happiness was full to overflowing. All who crossed his threshold felt that they were indeed in the sunshine of the perfect home. He sleeps in the beautiful cemetery near the city he loved, his grave covered with flowers by those to whom in life he had been a benefactor and friend.
As he lifted it towards him, it fell open, the mirror proper being fastened to a leather back, which was glued to the ivory, and formed a hinge. It fell open; and his grasp had been insecure; and the jerk as it opened was enough. It slipped from his fingers, and dropped with a crash upon the hearthstone. The sound went through him like a physical pain.
To do that is to smirch the flag the one flag of America. But we denounce and will always denounce that false decree which says that black is white; that inequality is equality; that lack of manhood is manhood itself; that the absence of a hearthstone can mean a home; that the absence of the home can mean a permanent society.
And the listener had not recovered from her surprise when Shamus ran into the shed, flung himself, kneeling, by her side, caught her in his arms, then seized her infant, covered it with kisses, and then, roughly throwing it in her lap, turned to the fireplace, raised one of the rocky seats lying near it, poised the ponderous mass over the hearthstone, and shivered into pieces, with one crash, that solid barrier between him and his visionary world of wealth.
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