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Title: Country Neighbors
Author: Brown, Alice, 1857-1948
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Country Neighbors" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



COUNTRY NEIGHBORS

by

ALICE BROWN



Boston and New York
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press Cambridge 1910

Copyright, 1910, by Alice Brown
All Rights Reserved
Published April 1910



CONTENTS


  THE PLAY HOUSE                     1

  HIS FIRST WIFE                    20

  A FLOWER OF APRIL                 42

  THE AUCTION                       53

  SATURDAY NIGHT                    76

  A GRIEF DEFERRED                  96

  THE CHALLENGE                    122

  PARTNERS                         150

  FLOWERS OF PARADISE              171

  GARDENER JIM                     192

  THE SILVER TEA-SET               215

  THE OTHER MRS. DILL              237

  THE ADVOCATE                     265

  THE MASQUERADE                   285

  A POETESS IN SPRING              314

  THE MASTER MINDS OF HISTORY      341



THE PLAY HOUSE


Amelia Maxwell sat by the front-chamber window of the great house
overlooking the road, and her own "story-an'-a-half" farther toward the
west. Every day she was alone under her own roof, save at the times when
old lady Knowles of the great house summoned her for work at fine sewing
or braiding rags. All Amelia's kin were dead. Now she was used to their
solemn absence, and sufficiently at one with her own humble way of life,
letting her few acres at the halves, and earning a dollar here and there
with her clever fingers. She was but little over forty, yet she was
aware that her life, in its keener phases, was already done. She had had
her romance and striven to forget it; but out of that time pathetic
voices now and then called to her, and old longings awoke, to breathe
for a moment and then sleep again.

Amelia seemed, even to old lady Knowles, who knew her best, a cheerful,
humorous body; but only Amelia saw the road by which her serenity had
come. Chiefly it was through an inexplicable devotion to the great
house. She could not remember a time when it was not wonderful to her.
While she was a little girl, living alone with her mother, she used to
sit on the doorstone with her bread and milk at bedtime, and think of
the great house, how grand it was and large. There was a wonderful way
the sun had of falling, at twilight, across the pillars of its porch
where the elm drooped sweetly, and in the moonlight it was like a fairy
city. But the morning was perhaps the best moment of all. The great
house was painted a pale yellow, and when Amelia awoke with the sun in
her little unshaded chamber, she thought how dark the blinds were there,
with such a solemn richness in their green. The flower-beds in front
were beautiful to her; but the back garden, lying alongside the orchard,
and stretching through tangles of sweet-william and rose, was an
enchanted spot to play in. The child that was, used to wander there and
feel very rich. Now, a woman, she sat in the great house sewing, and
felt rich again. As it happened, for one of the many times it came to
her, she was thinking what the great house had done for her. Old lady
Knowles had, in her stately way, been a kind of patron saint, and in
that summer, years ago, when Amelia's romance died and she had drooped
like a starving plant, Rufus, the old lady's son, had seemed to see her
trouble and stood by her. He did not speak of it. He only took her for
long drives, and made his cheerful presence evident in many ways, and
when he died, with a tragic suddenness, Amelia used selfishly to feel
that he had lived at least long enough to keep her from failing of that
inner blight.

On this day when old lady Knowles had gone with Ann, her faithful help,
to see the cousin to whom she made pilgrimage once a year, Amelia
resolved to enjoy herself to the full. She laid down her sewing, from
time to time, to look about her at the poppy-strewn paper, the four-post
bed and flowered tester, the great fireplace with its shining dogs, and
the Venus and Cupid mirror. Over and over again she had played that the
house was hers, and to-day, through some heralding excitement in the
air, it seemed doubly so. She sat in a dream of housewifely possession,
conning idly over the pleasant things she might do before the day was
over. There was cold tongue for her dinner, Ann had told her, and a
clear soup, if she liked to heat it. She might cook vegetables if she
chose. And there was the best of tea to be made out of the china caddy,
and rich cake in the parlor crock. After one such glad deliberation, she
caught her sewing guiltily up from her lap and began to set compensating
stitches. But even then her conscience slept unstirred. Old lady Knowles
was in no hurry for the work, she knew, and she would make up for her
dreaming in the account of her day.

There was a sound without. The gate swung softly shut and a man came up
the path. Amelia, at the glance, rose quickly, dropped her sewing, and
hurried out and down the stairs. The front door was open, she knew, and
though there was never anything to be afraid of, still the house was in
her charge. At the door she met him, just lifting his hand to touch the
knocker. He was a tall, weedy fellow of something more than her own age,
with light hair and blue eyes and a strangely arrested look, as if he
obstinately, and against his own advantage, continued to keep young.

Amelia knew him at once, as he did her, though it was twenty years since
they had met.

"Why, Jared Beale!" she faltered.

He was much moved. The flush came quickly to his face in a way she had
known, and his eyes softened.

"I should ha' recognized ye anywheres, Milly," he asserted.

She still stood looking at him, unable to ask him in or to make apology
for the lack.

"I went straight to your house from the train," he said. "'Twas all shut
up. Don't anybody live there now?"

"Yes," answered Amelia, "somebody lives there." The red had come into
her cheeks, and her eyes burned brightly. Then as he looked at her
hesitatingly, in the way he used to look, she trembled a little.

"Come in, Jared," she said, retreating a hospitable space. "Come right
in."

She stood aside, and then, when he stepped over the sill, led the way
into the dining-room, where there was a cool green light from the
darkened blinds, and the only window open to the sun disclosed a
trembling grapevine and a vista down the garden path. Amelia drew
forward a chair, with a decided motion.

"Sit down," she said, and busied herself with opening a blind.

When she took her own chair opposite him, she found that he had laid his
hat beside him on the floor, and, with the tips of his fingers together,
was bending forward in an attitude belonging to his youth. He was
regarding her with the slightly blurred look of his near-sighted eyes,
and she began hastily to speak.

"You stayin' round these parts?"

"No," said Jared, "no. I had to come east on business. There was some
property to be settled up in Beulah, so I thought I'd jest step down
here an' see how things were."

"Beulah!" she repeated. "Why, that's fifty miles from here!"

"Yes," returned Jared. "It's a matter o' fifty mile. Fact is," he said
uneasily, "I didn't know how you was fixed. It's kinder worried me."

A flush ran into her face, to the roots of her pretty hair; yet her
frank eyes never left him. Then her evasive speech belied her look.

"I get along real well. I s'pose you knew mother wa'n't with me now?"

"I ain't heard a word from here for seventeen year," he said, half
bitterly, as if the silence had been hard to bear. "There's no way for
me to hear now. The last was from Tom Merrick. He said you'd begun to
go with Rufus Knowles."

Amelia trembled over her whole body.

"That was a good while ago," she ventured.

"Yes, 'twas. A good many things have come an' gone. An' now Rufus is
dead--I see his death in an old paper--an' here you be, his widder,
livin' in the old house."

"Why!" breathed Amelia, "why!" She choked upon the word, but before she
could deny it he had begun again, in gentle reminiscence.

"'Twon't harm nobody to talk over old times a mite, Amelia. Mebbe that's
what I come on for, though I thought 'twas to see how you was fixed. I
thought mebbe I should find you livin' kinder near the wind, an' mebbe
you'd let me look out for you a mite."

The tears came into Amelia's eyes. She looked about her as if she owned
the room, the old china, and the house.

"That's real good of you, Jared," she said movingly. "I sha'n't ever
forget it. But you see for yourself. I don't want for nothin'."

"I guess we should ha' thought 'twas queer, when you went trottin' by to
school," he said irrelevantly, "if anybody'd told you you'd reign over
the old Knowles house."

"Yes," said Amelia softly, again looking about her, this time with love
and thankfulness, "I guess they would. You leave your wife well?" she
asked suddenly, perhaps to suggest the reality of his own house of life.

Jared shook his head.

"She ain't stepped a step for seven year."

"Oh, my!" grieved Amelia. "Won't she ever be any better?"

"No. We've had all the doctors, eclectic an' herb besides, an' they
don't give her no hope. She was a great driver. We laid up money steady
them years before she was took down. She knew how to make an' she knew
how to save."

His face settled into lines of brooding recollection. Immediately Amelia
was aware that those years had been bitter to him, and that the fruit of
them was stale and dry. She cut by instinct into a pleasant by-path.

"You play your fiddle any now?"

He started out of his maze at life.

"No," he owned, "no!" as if he hardly remembered such a thing had been.
"I dropped that more'n fifteen year ago."

"Seems if my feet never could keep still when you played 'Money Musk,'"
avowed Amelia, her eyes shining. "'The Road to Boston,' too! My! wa'n't
that grand!"

"'Twas mostly dance-music I knew," said Jared. "She never liked it," he
added, in a burst of weary confidence.

"Your wife?"

"She was a church member, old-fashioned kind. Didn't believe in dancin'.
'The devil's tunes,' she called 'em. Well, mebbe they were; but I kinder
liked 'em myself."

"Well," said Amelia, in a safe commonplace, "I guess there's some harm
in 'most everything. It's 'cordin' to the way you take it." Then one of
her quick changes came upon her. The self that played at life when real
life failed her, and so kept youth alive, awoke to shine in her eyes and
flush her pretty cheek. She looked about the room, as if to seek
concurrence from the hearthside gods. "Jared," she said, "you goin' to
stay round here long?"

He made an involuntary motion toward his hat.

"No, oh, no," he answered. "I'm goin' 'cross lots to the Junction. I
come round the road. I guess 'tain't more'n four mile along by the pine
woods an' the b'ilin' spring," he added, smiling at her. "Leastways it
didn't use to be. I thought if I could get the seven-o'clock, 'twould
take me back to Boston so 's I could ketch my train to-night. She's
kinder dull, out there alone," he ended, wearily. "'Twas some o' her
property I come to settle up. She'll want to hear about it. I never was
no kind of a letter-writer."

Amelia rose.

"I'll tell you what, then," she said, with a sweet decision, "you stay
right here an' have dinner. I'm all alone to-day."

"Ain't old lady Knowles--" He paused decorously, and Amelia laughed. It
seemed to her as if old lady Knowles and the house would always be
beneficently there because they always had been.

"Law, yes," she said. "She's alive. So's old Ann. They've gone to
Wareham, to spend the day."

Jared threw back his head and laughed.

"If that don't make time stand still," he said, "nothin' ever did. Why,
when we was in the Third Reader old lady Knowles an' Ann harnessed up
one day in the year an' drove over to Wareham to spend the day."

"Yes," Amelia sparkled back at him, "'tis so. They look pretty much the
same, both of 'em."

"They must be well along in years?"

Amelia had begun putting up the leaves of the mahogany dining-table. She
laughed, a pretty ripple.

"Well, anyway," she qualified, "old Pomp ain't gone with 'em. He's
buried out under the August sweet. They've got an old white now. 'Twas
the colt long after you left here." She had gone to the dresser and
pulled open a drawer. Those were the every-day tablecloths, fine and
good; but in the drawer above, she knew, was the best damask, snowdrops
and other patterns more wonderful, with birds and butterflies. She
debated but a moment, and then pulled out a lovely piece that shone with
ironing. "I'll tell you what it is, Jared," she said, returning to
spread it on the table with deft touches, "it's we that change, as well
as other folks. Ever think o' that? Ever occur to you old lady Knowles
wa'n't much over sixty them days when we used to call her old? 'Twas
because we were so young ourselves. She don't seem much different to me
now from what she did then."

"There's a good deal in that," said Jared, rising. "Want I should draw
you up some water out o' the old well?"

"Yes. I shall want some in a minute. I'll make us a cup o' coffee. You
like that."

Jared drew the water, and after he had brought it to her he went out
into the back garden; and, while she moved back and forth from pantry to
table, she caught glimpses of him through the window as he went about
from the bees to the flower-beds, in a reminiscent wandering. Once he
halted under the sweet-bough and gave one branch a shake, and then, with
an unerring remembrance, he crossed the sward to the "sopsy-vine" by the
wall.

Amelia could not get over the wonder of having him there. Strangely, he
had not changed. Even his speech had the old neighborly tang. Whether he
had returned to it as to a never-forgotten tune, she could not know; but
it was in her ears, awakening touches of old harmony. Yet these things
she dared not dwell upon. She put them aside in haste to live with after
he should be gone.

Her preparations were swiftly made, lest she should lose a moment of his
stay, and presently she went to the door and summoned him.

"Dinner's ready, Jared!"

It sounded as if she had said it every day, and she knew why; the words
and others like them, sweet and commonplace, were inwoven with the
texture of her dreams.

Jared came in, an eager look upon his face, as if he also were in a
maze, and they sat down at the table, where the viands were arranged in
a beautiful order. Jared laid down his knife and fork.

"Well," said he, "old Ann ain't lost her faculty. This tastes for all
the world just as old lady Knowles's things used to when I come over
here to weed the garden an' stayed to dinner."

Amelia lifted a thankful look.

"I'm proper glad you've come back, Jared," she said simply. "I never had
any expectation of seein' you again, leastways not in this world."

Jared spoke irrelevantly:--

"There's a good many things I've wanted to talk over with you, 'Melia,
from time to time. Now there's Arthur."

Amelia nodded.

"He ain't done very well, has he?" she inquired. "I never knew much
about him after he moved away; but seems if I heard he'd took to drink."

"That's it. Arthur was as good a boy as ever stepped, but he got led
away when he wa'n't old enough to know t'other from which. Well, I've
always stood by him, 'Melia. Folks say he's only an adopted brother.
'What you want to hang on to him for, an' send good money after bad?'
That's what they say. Well, what if he is an adopted brother? Father
an' mother set by him, an' I set by him, too."

He had a worried look, and his tone rang fretfully, as if it continued a
line of dreary argument.

"Of course you set by him, Jared," said Amelia, almost indignantly. "I
shouldn't feel the same towards you if you didn't."

Jared was deep in the relief of his pathetic confidences.

"Arthur married young, an' folks said he'd no business to, nothin' to
live on, an' his habits bein' what they were. Well, I couldn't dispute
that. But when he got that fall, so 't he laid there paralyzed, I wanted
to take the cars an' go right on to York State an' see him. I didn't. I
couldn't get away; but I sent him all I could afford to, an' I'm goin'
to keep on sendin' jest as long as I'm above ground. An' I've made my
will an' provided for him."

His voice had a fractious tone, as if he combated an unseen tyrant.
Amelia dared not speak. At a word, she felt, he might say too much. Now
Jared was looking at her in a bright appeal, as if, sure as he was of
her sympathy, he besought the expression of it.

"There ain't a soul but you knows I've made my will, 'Melia," he said.
"There's suthin' in it for you, too."

Amelia shrank, and her eyes betrayed her terror; it was as if she could
carry on their relation together quite happily, but as soon as the
judgment of the world were challenged she must hide it away, like a
treasure in a box.

"No, Jared!" she breathed. "No, oh, no! Don't you do such a thing as
that."

Jared laughed a little, but half sadly.

"Seems kinder queer to me now," he owned, "now I see you settin' here,
only to put out your hand an' take a thing if you want it. Did Rufus
leave a will?"

Amelia shrank still smaller.

"No," she trembled; "no, he didn't leave a will."

"Well, I sha'n't change mine, 'Melia." He spoke with an ostentatious
lightness, but Amelia was aware that his mind labored in heavy seas of
old regret, buoyed by the futile hope of compensating her age for the
joys her youth had lacked. "I guess I'll let it stand as 'tis, an', long
as you don't need what I've left ye, why, you can put it into some kind
o' folderol an' enjoy it. You was always one to enjoy things."

They sat a long time at the table, and Jared took, as he said, more
coffee than was good for him, and praised the making of it. Then he
followed her about as she cleared away, and helped her a little with an
awkward hand. Amelia left the dishes in the sink.

"I won't clear up till night," she said. "We ain't talked out yet."

She led the way into the garden, and under the grape-trellis, where the
tall lilac-hedge shut them from the sight of passers-by, she gave him
old lady Knowles's great armchair, and took the little one that was hers
when she came over to sit a while with her old friend. The talk went
wandering back as if it sought the very sources of youth and life; but
somehow it touched commonplaces only. Yet Amelia had the sense, and she
was sure he had, too, of wandering there hand in hand, of finding no
surprises, but only the old things grown more dear, the old loyalties
the more abiding.

Suddenly he spoke, haltingly, voicing her own conviction.

"Don't seem but a minute, 'Melia, sence we set talkin' things over, much
as we do now. Seems if we hadn't been so fur separated all these years."

"No," said Amelia, with her beautiful sincerity, "I don't believe we
have been, Jared. Maybe that's how it is when folks die. We can't see
'em nor speak to 'em, but maybe they go right along bein' what we like
best. I know 'tis so with mother. Seems if, if she walked in here this
minute, we shouldn't have so very many stitches to take up. Sometimes
I've thought all I should say would be, 'Well, mother, you've got back,
ain't you?' Kinder like that."

The beautiful afternoon light lay on the grass and turned the grapevine
to a tender green. Jared looked upon the land as if he were treasuring
it in his heart for a day of loss. When the sun was low, and green and
red were flaming in the west, he rose.

"Well, 'Melia," he said, "I've seen you. Now I'll go."

Amelia stirred, too, recalled to service.

"I want to make you a cup o' tea," she said. "You get me a pail o' fresh
water, Jared. 'Twon't take but a minute."

He followed her about, this time, while she set the table; and again
they broke bread together. When he rose from his chair now, it was for
good.

"Well, 'Melia," he said; and she gave him her hand.

She went with him to the door, and stood there as he started down the
path. Half-way he hesitated, and then came back to her. His eyes were
soft and kindly.

"'Melia," he said, "I ain't told you the half, an' I dunno 's I can tell
it now. I never knew how things were with you. I've laid awake nights,
wonderin'. You never was very strong. 'Why,' says I to myself many a
night when I'd hear the wind blowin' ag'inst the winder, 'mebbe she's
had to go out to work. Mebbe she ain't got a place to lay her head.'"

He was rushing on in a full tide of confidence, and she recalled him.
She leaned forward to him, out of the doorway of her beautiful house,
and spoke in an assuring tone.

"Don't you worry no more, Jared. I'm safe an' well content, an' you
ain't got nothin' to regret. An' when we meet again,--I guess 'twon't be
here, dear, it'll be t'other side,--why, we'll sit down an' have another
dish o' talk."

Then they shook hands again, and Jared walked away. When he looked back
from the top of Schoolma'am Hill, she was still in the doorway, and she
waved her hand to him.

After that last glimpse of him, Amelia went soberly about the house,
setting it in order. When her dishes were washed and she had fed old
Trot, the cat, forgotten all day, she rolled up the fine tablecloth and
left it behind the porch-door, where she could take it on her way home.
Then she sat down on the front steps and waited for old lady Knowles.
Amelia did not think very much about her day. It was still a possession
to be laid aside and pondered over all the hours and days until she
died. For there would be no other day like it.

The dusk fell and the sounds of night began to rise in their poignant
summoning of memory and hope. The past and the present seemed one to her
in a beautiful dream; yet it was not so much a dream as life itself, a
warm reality. Presently there came the slow thud of horse's feet, and
the chaise turned in at the yard. Old lady Knowles was in it, sitting
prettily erect, as she had driven away, and Ann was peering forward, as
she always did, to see if the house had burned down in their absence.
John Trueman, who lived "down the road," was lounging along behind. They
had called him as they passed, and bade him come to "tend the horse."
Amelia rose and shook herself free from the web of her dream. She
hurried forward and at the horse-block offered old lady Knowles her
hand.

"Anything happened?" asked old Ann, making her way past to the kitchen.

Amelia only smiled at her, but she followed old lady Knowles in at the
porch-door.

"We've had a very enjoyable day, Amelia," said the old lady, untying her
bonnet-strings. "Suppose you lay this on the table. Ann must brush it
before it's put away. What is it? Child, child, what is it?"

Amelia had taken a fold of her old friend's skirt. It would have seemed
to her a liberty to touch her hand.

"Mis' Knowles," she said, "I've had company. 'Twas somebody to see me,
an' I got dinner here, an' supper, too, an' I used your best tablecloth,
an' I'm goin' to do it up so 't Ann won't know. An' I acted for all the
world as if 'twas my own house."

Old lady Knowles laughed a little. She had never been a woman to whom
small things seemed large, and now very few things were of any size at
all.

"Who was it, Amelia?" she asked. "Who was your company?"

There was a moment's silence, and Amelia heard her own heart beat. But
she answered quietly,--

"'Twas Jared Beale."

There was silence again while old lady Knowles thought back over the
years. When she spoke, her voice was very soft and kindly.

"You are a good girl, Amelia. You've always been a good girl. Run home,
child, now, and come to-morrow. Good-night."

Amelia, out in the path a moment afterwards, the tablecloth under her
arm, could hardly believe in what had surely happened to her. Old lady
Knowles had bent forward to her; her soft lips had touched Amelia's
cheek.



HIS FIRST WIFE


It seemed to Lydia Gale that from the moment she met Eben Jakes she
understood what fun it was to laugh. She and her mother and three
sisters lived together in a comfortable way, and Lydia, although she was
the youngest, had come to feel that she was declining into those middle
years when beauty wanes, and though the desire to charm may raise an
eager hand, no one will stay to look. She was a delicate blonde, and
when she began to recognize these bounds of life she faded a little into
a still neutrality that might soon have made an old woman of her. The
sisters were dark, wholesome wenches, known as trainers at the
gatherings they were always summoned to enliven; but Lydia seldom found
their mirth exhilarating. Only when Eben Jakes appeared at the door,
that spring twilight, a droll look peering from his blue eyes, and a
long forefinger smoothing out the smile from the two lines in his lean
cheeks, and asked, as if there were some richness of humor in the
supposition, "Anybody heard anything of anybody named Eunice Eliot round
here?" she found her own face creasing responsively. Eunice Eliot had
been her mother's maiden name, and it proved that she and Eben's mother
had been schoolmates. Eben's mother had died some years before; and now,
taking a little trip with his own horse and buggy to peddle essences and
see the country, he had included his mother's friend within the circle
of his wandering.

Mrs. Gale had a welcome ready for him and for the treasured
reminiscences of his mother's past, and the three older sisters trained
with him to their limit. Lydia sat by and listened, smiling all the
time. She thought Eben's long, lank, broad-shouldered figure very manly,
and it shocked her beyond speech to hear one of the trainers avow that,
for her part, she thought his thin, Yankee face, with its big features
and keen eyes, as homely as a hedge-fence. Lydia said nothing, but she
wondered what people could expect. She was a greedy novel-reader, and
she had shy thoughts of her own. It seemed to her that Eben, who also
had passed his first youth, must have been a great favorite in his day.
Every commonplace betrayal in those intimate talks with her mother
served to show her how good he had been, how simple and true. He had
taken care of his mother through a long illness, and then, after her
death, lived what must have been a dull life, but one still dutiful
toward established bonds, with old Betty, the "help" of many years. Now
Betty had died, and before beginning another chapter with some domestic
expedient, he had allowed himself this limited trip, to breathe another
air and see the world. Lydia felt that he had deserved his vacation. All
the weary steps to it, she knew, could scarcely have been climbed so
robustly save by a hero.

Eben had stayed a week, and on the morning set for his leaving, Mrs.
Gale and the three trainers harnessed in haste to drive over to Fairfax
to see the circus come in. Lydia had refused to go, because, for some
reason, she felt a little dull that morning, and Eben had soberly
declared his peddling would take him another way. He meant to be off
before the middle of the forenoon; and while he was in the barn,
foddering his horse and greasing the wheels, Lydia bethought her how he
had praised the doughnuts several nights before, and, with an aching
impulse to do something for him before he should go, hastily made up a
batch, judging that a dozen or so would please him upon the road. But
she was left-handed that morning, and as she began to fry, the fat
caught fire. Then Eben, seeing the blaze and smoke, dashed in, set the
kettle safely in the sink, and took Lydia into his arms.

"Say," he whispered to her hidden face, "what if you an' me should get
married an' go round some peddlin', an' make our way home towards fall?"

Lydia felt that this was the most beautiful invitation that could
possibly have been given her, and she answered accordingly:--

"I'd like it ever so much."

Within the next week they were married, and set out on their enchanted
progress, stopping at doors when they liked, and offering bottles
whereof the labels sounded delicious and sweet; or if a house looked
poor or stingy, passing it by. Sometimes, when Lydia felt very daring,
she went to the door herself to show her wares, and Eben stayed in the
carriage and laughed. He said she offered a bottle of vanilla as if it
were poison and she wanted to get rid of it, or as if it were water, and
of no use to anybody. Once, when she had been denied by a sour-faced
woman, he stopped under the shade of a tree farther on, and left Lydia
there while he went back and, by force of his smile and persuasive
tongue, sold the same bottle to the same woman, and came back chuckling
in a merry triumph.

This was the day that Lydia's summer happiness felt the touch of blight.
She remembered always just the moment when the wind of trouble touched
her. They were driving through a long stretch of maple woods with a
ravine below, where ferns grew darkly and water hurried over rocks.
Lydia was lying back in the carriage, swaying with its motion, and
jubilant to her finger-tips. It was young summer now, and she answered
back every pulse of the stirring earth with heart-beats of her own. Eben
was laughing.

"That's the way to do it," he was saying, in an exaggerated triumph.
"Why, you've got to talk to 'em till they think that bottle o' vanilla's
the water o' life, an' they'll have to knife ye if they can't git it no
other way."

"You're a born peddler," smiled Lydia. Then she asked, "How'd you happen
to start out?" She had heard the simple reason many times; but she loved
his talk, and her idle mind preferred old tales to new.

Eben fell in with her mood, as one begins an accustomed story to a
child.

"Well," he said, and he sobered a little, as memory recalled him, "you
know, when mother died, old Betty stayed an' kep' house for me. An' when
she died, this last spring, I kinder thought I'd git over it sooner if I
traveled round a mite to see the sights. I didn't want to git too fur
for fear I'd be sick on 't, like the feller that started off to go round
the world, an' run home to spend the first night. You sleepy now?"

He had shrewdly learned that she liked long, dull stories to lull her
into the swing of a nap.

"No," said Lydia drowsily. "You go on. Then what?"

"Well, so I got Jim Ross to take over the stock an' run the farm to the
halves. I took along a few essences to give me suthin' to think about,
an' when I got tired o' rovin' I expected to turn back home an' begin
bachin' on 't same's I'd got to end. An' then I stopped at your mother's
to kinder talk over old times when my mother was little; an' you come to
the door an' let me in."

"Eben," said Lydia, out of her dream and with all her story-book
knowledge at hand, "don't you s'pose 'twas ordered?"

"What?"

"Don't you s'pose 'twas just put into your head to start out that way so
't you could come an' find--me?"

She spoke timidly, but Eben answered with the bluff certainty he had in
readiness for such speculations:--

"Ain't a doubt of it. Sleepy now?"

He turned and looked at her as she lay back against the little pillow he
had bought for her on the way. The sun and wind had overlaid the
delicate bloom of her cheek with rose. The morning damp had curled her
hair into rings. Something known as happiness, for want of a better
word, hovered about the curves of her mouth and looked shyly out from
under her lids. Eben felt his heart stir wonderfully. He bent toward her
and spoke half breathlessly.

"Say, Lyddy, I don't know 's I knew half how pretty you were." Then he
laughed a little, as if he were ashamed. He was not a man of words, save
only when he was joking. Thus far his fondness for her had found
expression in an unfailing service and in mute caresses. He spoke
bluntly now, chirruping to the horse: "I dunno 's ever I see any eyes
quite so blue--unless 'twas my first wife's."

It was as if a sponge had passed over the quivering beauty of the earth
and wiped it out. For the moment Lydia felt as if she were not his wife
at all. At her silence, Eben turned and glanced at her; but her eyes
were closed.

"Tired?" he asked fondly, and she faltered:--

"I guess so."

Then, according to a tender custom, he put his arm about her and drew
her to him, and while he thought she slept, she lay there, her eyes
closed against his breast, and the hard certainty upon her of something
to think about. Blankness had seized upon her, not because he had
married a woman before her, but because he had not told. Possibly he had
told her mother in some of their desultory talks and had forgotten to
say more. The chill wonder of it sprang from her learning it too late.
She had to adapt herself to a new man. Until now she had believed that
it was spring with them, and that he had waited for her with an
involuntary fealty, as she had done for him. They had every guerdon of
young love, except that there were not so many years before them. But
even that paled beside the triumphant sense that no boy or girl could
possibly be as happy as they, with their ripened patience and sense of
fun. A phrase came into her mind as she lay there against his heart and
knew he was driving slowly to let her rest: "the wife of his youth." It
hurt her keenly, and she caught a breath so sharp and sudden that he
drew her closer, as one stirs a child to let it fall into an easier
pose.

That day they stopped at an old-fashioned tavern in a drowsy town, and
Lydia, after dinner, where she talked quite gayly about the house and
the garden and the farther hills, said she thought she would go upstairs
and lie down a spell. Eben looked at her with concern. She was always as
ready as he for "poking about" new places.

"Ain't you feelin' well?" he asked her.

"Oh, yes," said Lydia, "I'm all right. Only I'm kinder sleepy. I guess
this air makes me. It's higher up here than 'tis a few miles back."

"Yes," said Eben, "we've been kinder climbin' up for some days. Well,
you go an' sleep it off. Do you good. I'll have my pipe, an' then I'll
mog round an' see 'f I can't work off a few bottles on the unsuspectin'
populace."

When Eben came home from his successful sales, he found a changeling.
His wife was not so different in looks or words as in a subtle something
he could not define. She laughed at his jokes, and even, in a gentle
way, ventured pleasantries of her own; but a strange languor hung about
her. It might have been called patience, an acceptance of a situation
rather than her eager cheer in it.

"You tired?" he asked her over and over again that day, and she always
answered:--

"Mebbe I am, a mite."

So they settled down in the little tavern, and while Eben took
excursions round about to place his "trade," she stayed behind, and
either shut herself upstairs or sat meditatively in the garden. What
moved her now was an overwhelming curiosity. She wondered what the first
wife had been like, whether she could make doughnuts, and, above all, if
she had been pretty. Sometimes she remembered, with a wild impulse to
tell him because it seemed so desperately funny to her, the unhappy
couple that had formed a part of her childhood's memories, who used to
quarrel violently whenever the husband drank too much, and his wife, in
his helplessness, used to go through his pockets.

"Anybody can bear 'most anything," he used to declare, as he steadied
himself by the gate, in drunken majesty, and addressed the
school-children in a ring, "but goin' through anybody's pockets. That's
more'n anybody ought to be called upon to bear."

Lydia smiled sorrowfully upon herself in the midst of her daze, at the
wonder whether she also should be tempted to go through her husband's
pockets, not thriftily, to save his purse, but to discover the portrait
of his first wife. Yet she had resolved to ask him nothing; and then, in
the way of womankind, she opened her lips one day and said the thing she
would not.

They were sitting in the garden under the pear tree, with beautiful old
borders, all a lovely neglect, on both sides. Lydia had been talking
about flowers, and getting up now and then to pull a weed,--an
ineffectual service where weeds were so plentiful,--and stopping to
speak a word to a late sweet-william, as if it were a child. Eben was
smoking his pipe contentedly and watching her.

"You like 'em, don't you?" he said fondly, as she came back and took her
chair again.

"I guess I do," said Lydia. That day she felt particularly well and
freed from the assaults of memory. The sun was on her face and she
welcomed it, and a light breeze stirred her hair. "Mother always said I
was bewitched over gardens."

"You shall have all the land you can take care of," he avowed, "an' you
shall have a hired man of your own. I can foretell his name. It's Eben
Jakes."

Lydia laughed, and he went on: "We used to have a few beds, but when
mother was taken away I kinder let it slip."

Suddenly Lydia felt her heart beating hard. Something choked her, and
her voice stuck in her throat.

"Eben, how'd your mother look?"

"What say?" asked Eben. He was shaking the ashes from his pipe, and the
tapping of the bowl against his chair had drowned her mild attempt.

"How did your mother look?"

He pursed his lips and gazed off into the distance of the orchard. Then
he laughed a little at his own incompetence.

"I dunno 's I can tell. I ain't much of a hand at that. She was just
kinder old an' pindlin' to other folks. But she looked pretty nice to
me."

"Ain't you got a photograph of her here with you?"

He shook his head.

"I thought mebbe you'd carry one round."

"Mother never had any real good picture," said Eben meditatively. "I
dunno 's she ever set for a photograph. She had an ambrotype taken when
she was young, with kinder full sleeves an' her hair brought down over
her ears. No, mother never had a picture that was any comfort to me."

Then Lydia dared her first approach.

"Ain't you got any photographs here with you, any of your other folks?
I'd like to know how they look."

He shook his head.

"No. They're all to home. You'll find 'em in the album on the
centre-table. Gee! I hope the house won't be all full o' dust. I never
thought, when I set out, I should bring the quality back with me."

But she could not answer by a lifted eyelash the veiled fondness of his
tone. All his emotion had this way of taking little by-paths, as if he
skirted courtship without often finding the courage to enter boldly in.
It was delightful to her, but at this moment she could not even listen.
She was too busy with her own familiar quest. Now she spoke timidly, yet
with a hidden purpose.

"I think pictures of folks are a good deal of a comfort, don't
you--after death?"

Eben made no answer for a moment. He still gazed reflectively outward,
but whether it was into the future or his hidden past she could not
tell.

"It's queer about dyin'," he said at last.

She answered him tumultuously:--

"What is?"

"Why--" then he paused, as if to set his thought in order. "I can't tell
jest what I mean. Only folks can be here to-day an' there to-morrer. An'
they can be all of a bloom of health, or handsome as a pictur'--an' lo
ye! they're changed!"

A cold certainty settled upon her heart. The first wife had, then, been
handsome. Lydia did not know whether acquired knowledge was a boon or
not. Eben had risen, and was standing with his hands in his pockets,
still looking into space. It seemed to her that he was miles away.

"An' I dunno which is the worst," he was saying, "to have 'em come down
with a long sickness, or drop off sudden. I do, too. It's worse to see
'em suffer. But when they give right up afore your face an' eyes--"

He stopped, and Lydia thought he shuddered. Again she knew. The first
wife had died suddenly, and the memory of the shock was too keen upon
him to admit of speech. But he shook off reflection as if it had been
the dust of the hour. Now he turned to her, and the sweet recognition
of his glance was warming her anew. "Don't you go an' play me any such
trick," he said, with the whimsical creases deepening in his cheeks.

Yet she thought his eyes were wet.

"What?"

"Dyin'."

A new tenderness was born in her at the moment, seeing what he had
endured.

"No," she wanted to say, "I hope you won't have to go through that
twice." But she only shook her head brightly at him. "Come," said she,
"it's time to harness up."

"I'll drive down through that cross-road," said Eben, "an' then I've
finished up all them little byways. Byme-by, when we feel like settin'
out for good, we can pike right along the old Boston road, an' that'll
take us to aunt Phebe's, an' so on home. But we won't start out till
we're good an' ready. I guess you got kinder tired afore."

"I'm ready now," said Lydia. The color was in her cheeks. She felt
dauntless. At once, born somehow from this sober talk, she felt a
melting championship of him, as if life had hurt him too keenly and she
was there to make it up to him. Henceforth she meant to be first and
second wife in one.

"Hooray!" called Eben. He tossed up his hat; and the tavern-keeper's
wife, making pies by the kitchen window, smiled at him and shook her
rolling-pin. "Then we'll start off to-morrer, bright an' early. I don't
know how you feel, Mis' Jakes, but I'm possessed to git home."

Lydia, for her part, was soberly glad, yet there was a part of her
anticipation that was incredible to her. For even after her spiritual
uplift of the moment before, the first thought that throbbed into her
mind, like a temptation, was that of the album on the centre-table.

They drove off in the morning brightness, and Eben declared he had a
good mind to give away his remaining essences and put for home as hard
as he could pelt.

"We might cut right across country," he tempted himself. "No matter 'f
we planned suthin' different. But then we couldn't see aunt Phebe."

"You're real fond of her, ain't you?" asked Lydia absently. She was
wondering if aunt Phebe would speak of his first wife.

"She was mother's only sister," said Eben, in the deeper tone attendant
on his mother's name. "She took care of mother in her last days. I guess
we never had a mite o' family trouble but aunt Phebe was there about as
soon as she could board the train."

"Eben," said his wife, in her timid way of stealing on his confidence.
It seemed now like a shy fashion of convincing him that she was worthy,
if he would but let her, to know his heart.

"What is it?"

"Don't you think some things--some troubles--are too hard to be talked
about?"

"I guess they be," assented Eben.

"We keep thinkin' an' thinkin' 'em over, but we can't speak. Mebbe
'twould be better for us if we could."

"Mebbe 'twould." Then he pulled out his pipe, as he did when the chariot
of his affections neared an emotional pass. Eben was willing to graze a
wheel by that abyss, but he skillfully avoided falling over.

They were climbing a long hill; and the horse, head down, sagged
sleepily along, pulling faithfully. But at the top he halted, as if it
seemed he knew what was below, and waited for their wonder. Lydia's eyes
were closed, and Eben had drawn the first puff at his pipe.

"There," said he, "what think o' that?"

Lydia opened her eyes and gave a little cry. They seemed to be at the
top of everything,--winding roads, like ribbons, patches of green that
were ample woods, three dotted villages, and, full flare in their faces,
the sunset sky. The red and gold of it had spread and lavished until
the eye, to rest itself, was almost forced, for a calming glimpse, back
again to the cold blue east. Lydia looked and could not speak. Eben knew
too much even to glance at her. He felt all the wonder of it, and the
pride, for it seemed to him that it was, in a way, his sky, because it
was so much nearer home. They stayed there in silence while the beauty
changed but never faded, and the horse dropped his head, to rest.

"Well," said Eben at last, dryly, "I dunno 's ever I see such a sky as
that, unless 'twas some I used to see with my first wife."

For the first time he seemed cruel. A bitter thought shot up in Lydia's
heart that at every feast there was to be the unbidden guest. She closed
her eyes, and when she opened them again, the sky had faded and the air
was chill.

"I guess you're gittin' tired again," said Eben tenderly. "Well, we'll
be to aunt Phebe's by eight, an' she'll put you straight to bed."

The tears had wet her cheeks. They were the first she had shown him, and
he looked at them with dismay. "Hullo!" he cried, "hullo!" It was actual
terror in his voice. "'Tain't so bad as that!"

Lydia straightened herself in the buggy and wiped away the tears with an
impatient hand.

"I guess 'twas the sunset," she said tremulously. "I never see such a
sky."

"That all?" Eben was much relieved. Then he touched up the horse, and
told him what a lot of oats were waiting in aunt Phebe's barn. "If
that's all," he said, giving his mind to Lydia again, "you'll have to
spend most o' your time in salt water. That's the kind o' sunsets we're
goin' to have every night arter we get home. The doctor's ordered 'em."

Lydia made herself laugh, and they talked no more until they drove up to
a prosperous white house on the outskirts of the first village, and aunt
Phebe came to meet them. It was all a joyous tumult that night, and
Lydia went to bed early, with a confused sense that aunt Phebe was very
kind and that she had gold-bowed glasses and shook the floor when she
walked, and that the supper was a product of expert cooking. Eben was
uproariously gay, in the degree of approaching home, and took aunt Phebe
about the waist to waltz with her, whereupon she cuffed him with a
futile hand, remarking:--

"Eben Jakes, I'd be ashamed!"

Lydia had a sense of being in a homely paradise where everything was
pleasantly at one, yet that she, companioned by the unclassified memory
of a woman whose place she held, had no part in the general harmony.
Next morning she overslept, and found herself alone. She heard Eben's
whistle from the barn and the guffaw of the hired men, to whom he was
telling pleasant tales, and there were women's voices from the kitchen,
and the fragrance of frying ham. She dressed in haste, and when she went
down the breakfast-table was ready, in great abundance, and everybody
waiting by their plates: Eben, aunt Phebe and her mild, soft-spoken
husband, and Sarah, the spectacled spinster daughter, who looked
benevolently dignified enough to be her mother's mother.

"Late? I guess not," said aunt Phebe, sinking into the chair behind the
coffee-pot. "Folks get up here when they're a mind to, an' when it comes
to Eben's wife--well, you can't say no more'n that in this house."

Lydia took her place rather shyly, but when Eben had found her hand
under the tablecloth and given it a welcoming squeeze, she felt more
than half at home. Aunt Phebe passed coffee, and beamed, and forgot to
serve herself in pressing food upon the others; but when the first pause
came, she leaned back and smiled at her new niece. Lydia looked up. She
met the smile and liked it. Aunt Phebe seemed a good deal more than a
mother to the nice spinster daughter. She looked as if there were
mother-stuff enough in her to pass around and nourish and bless the
world. Aunt Phebe was speaking.

"Now," said she, "I didn't have more'n half a glimpse at you last
night, Lyddy, such a surprise an' all, an' I had this mornin' to look
for'ard to. An' now I'm goin' to take my time an' see for myself what
kind of a wife Eben's be'n an' picked out."

She was laughing richly all through the words, and Lydia, though she was
blushing, liked the sound of it. She felt quite equal to the scrutiny.
She knew the days of driving had given her a color, and she was not
unconscious of her new blue waist. Then, too, Eben's hand was again on
hers under the friendly cloth. Aunt Phebe looked, took off her glasses,
pretended to wipe them, and looked again.

"Well, Eben," said she judicially, "I'll say this for ye, you've done
well."

"Pretty good-lookin' old lady, I think myself," said Eben, with a proud
carelessness. "Course she's nothin' to what my first wife was at her
age; but then, nobody'd expect that kind o' luck twice. Aunt Phebe,
here's my cup. You make it jest like the first, or you'll hear from me."

Lydia drooped over her plate. If Eben had sought her hand then, she
would have snatched it away from him. All the delicate instincts within
her felt suddenly outraged. At last she acknowledged to herself, in a
flash, how coarse-minded he must be to mingle the present with his
sacred past. But she started and involuntarily looked up. The spinster
cousin was giggling like a girl.

"Now you've got back," she was saying to Eben. "Now I know it's you,
sure enough. He took that up when he wa'n't hardly out o' pinafores,"
she said to Lydia.

"What?" Lydia managed, through her anger at him.

"Comparin' everything with his first wife. Where'd he get it, mother?"

"Why," said aunt Phebe, "there was that old Simeon Spence that used to
come round clock-mendin'. He was forever tellin' what his first wife
used to do, an' Eben he ketched it up, an' then, when we laughed at him,
he done it the more. Land o' love, Lyddy, you chokin'?"

Lydia was sobbing and laughing together, and Eben turned in a panic from
his talk with uncle Sim, to pound her back.

"No, no," she kept saying. "I'm all right. No! no!"

"Suthin' went the wrong way," commiserated aunt Phebe, when they were
all in their places again and Lydia had wiped her eyes.

"Yes," said Lydia joyously, as if choking were a very happy matter. "It
went the wrong way. Eben, you pass aunt Phebe my cup."

And while the coffee was coming she sought out Eben's hand again and
turned to gaze at him with such tell-tale eyes that the spinster cousin,
blushing a little, looked at once away, and wondered how it would seem
to be so foolish and so fond.



A FLOWER OF APRIL


Ellen Withington and her mother lived in a garden. There was a house
behind it, with great white pillars like a temple, but it played a
secondary part to that sweet inclosure--all bees and blossoms. Ellen and
her mother duly slept in the house, and through the barren months it did
very well for shelter while they talked of slips and bulbs and thirsted
over the seed-catalogue come by mail. But from the true birth of the
year to the next frost they were steadily out-of-doors, weeding,
tending, transplanting, with an untiring passion. All the blossoms New
England counts her dearest grew from that ancient mould, enriched with
every spring. Ladies'-delights forgathered underneath the hedge, and
lilies-of-the-valley were rank with chill sweetness in their time. The
flowering currant breathed like fruitage from the East, and there were
never such peonies, such poppies, and such dahlias in all the town.

Ellen herself had an apple-bloom face, and violet eyes down-dropped;
some one said their lashes were long enough to braid. Fine gold hair
flew about her temples, and her innocent chin sank chastely like a
nun's. She and her mother never had a minute for thinking about clothes,
and so they wore soft sad-colored stuffs rather like the earth; but
these quite satisfied Ellen, because they were warm or cool to suit the
weather, and beauty, she thought, grew only from the ground.

One spring twilight Mrs. Withington was putting out her geraniums, while
Ellen leaned over the gate and talked with Susan Long. The frogs were
peeping down by the mill, and a breath of dampness came from the
upturned soil. Susan Long was the only one of the old schoolgirls with
whom Ellen had kept any semblance of intimacy; the rest of them thought
her oddly unsuited to their grown-up pastimes. She was like a bud, all
close and green, while they flared their petals to the sun and begged
for cherishing.

"Just think," said Ellen in her reedy voice, never loud enough to be
heard at "teacher's desk" in school, "while we've been standing here
three couples have gone by. I never saw so much pairing off."

Susan laughed exuberantly. She was a big girl, with a mariner's walk and
hard red cheeks.

"Anybody but you'd seen 'em a good many times," she remarked. "If you
ain't the queerest! Why, they're fellers and girls!"

"Yes, I know it," said Ellen innocently. "One was John Davis and Maria
Orne, one was--"

"Oh, I don't mean that! I mean they're goin' together. Ain't you heard
what old uncle Zephaniah said down to the Ridge? He told father this
year'd be known as the time o' the flood, all creation walkin' two and
two. Why, everybody in Countisbury's gettin' married. Courtin' begun in
the fall, with singin'-school, and this is the upshot. What do you
s'pose I'm waitin' here for, 'sides talkin' with you? Just hold on a
minute and you'll see Milt Richardson pokin' along this way. Then
there'll be four couples instead o' three."

"O Sue!" said Ellen, in a little bruised tone. She felt disturbed, as if
the spring twilight had in some manner turned to a much-revealing day.
Sue leaned over the gate and whispered rapidly:

"I'll tell you somethin' else, only don't you let it go no further.
Mother says might as well not count your chickens till they're hatched,
and aunt Templeton was left at the meetin'-house door. He asked me seven
weeks ago come Wednesday, and I've got lots of my sewin' done. Some of
my trimmin' 's real pretty. You come over'n' see it. Good-by. Don't you
tell."

She walked carelessly away down the road, not casting a glance behind.
But Milton was coming, a tall fellow, like his sweetheart heavy and
honest of face. They might have been brother and sister for the likeness
between them.

Ellen withdrew from the gate and hurried back to her mother. "Come," she
urged hastily, "let's go in."

Mrs. Withington was bent almost double, pressing the earth about the
cramped geranium roots. She felt the delight of their freedom, with all
the world to spread in.

"I ain't got quite through," she said, without looking up. "You cold?
Run right along. I'll come."

But Ellen only flitted round the house into a deeper shade and waited.
She hardly knew why, except that she was disinclined to see any more
people walking two and two, with that significant and terrifying future
before them.

The next morning, drawn by some subtle power, she went over to Susan's,
and after sitting awhile on the doorstep, they slipped upstairs into the
front chamber, and opened drawer after drawer of fine white clothing,
wonderfully trimmed.

"Long-cloth!" said Susan, in a whisper. "Here's some unbleached. We had
it on the grass last year; seemed as if it never'd whiten out. That's
for every day."

Ellen looked, in the short-breathed wonder which sometimes beset her
over a new blossom. She touched the fabric delicately and lifted an edge
of crocheted lace.

"Let's go over to Maria's," said Susan. "I'll make her show you hers."

They took the short round of the village homes where there were
daughters young and still unwed. Everywhere white cloth, serpentine
braid, and crocheted lace! Truly it was a marrying year. Ellen said very
little, and the girls, talking among themselves, forgot to notice her
any more than a flower in a vase.

But that late afternoon was very warm, and when she and her mother sat
together on the steps considering rose-bugs, she suddenly broke off to
say,--

"Mother, should you just as soon I'd have some new things, trimmed like
the girls'?"

Mrs. Withington regarded her in wonder. Ellen did not lift her eyes, but
a blush rose delicately in her cheeks.

"Well, I don't know but what 'twould be a good plan," said her mother,
after a pause. "You ain't got an individual thing that's trimmed."

So next day they walked the two miles to town, and for weeks thereafter
stayed indoors, setting stitches in snowy cloth, with piles of it
drifted near. For a time that spring, the garden almost ran to weeds.
Then, because a long dormant consciousness stirred in Mrs. Withington,
she went into the attic and brought down woven treasures; and one
Sunday, Ellen, her cheeks scarlet with the excitement of it, walked to
church in a shot silk, all blue and pink, and a hat with a long white
feather over her golden hair. There were pink roses under the brim, and
they paled beside her face.

"God sakes!" whispered Milton Richardson, in the singing-seats, "Ellen
Withington's a beauty!"

The girls rustled their starched petticoats and nudged one another.

"Ain't she come out!" said one; and another answered,--

"My stars! she's the cutest thing I ever see in all _my_ life!"

Even the minister, who was then accounted an old man, being between
forty-five and fifty, stopped on his way down the aisle where Ellen
waited for her mother, busy in matronly conclave, and shook hands with
her.

"I am very glad to see you out, my dear Ellen," said he. "You have been
absent quite a while."

She looked up at him, her blue eyes full of wonder; everybody knew she
had been regularly to church ever since she was a little girl. But the
minister smiled warmly at her and went on.

The next Sunday she came to church in a foam of white like a pear tree.
That day Henry Fox, who lingered still unmated, strode up to her and
remarked, while a cordial circle stood about to hear, "Pretty warm
to-day." This was equivalent to "See you home?" at evening meeting.

"Yes," said she, desperately, "real warm." Then she caught her mother's
hand and clung to it; and though Henry kept a dogged step beside them to
their gate, it was only Mrs. Withington who spoke.

When the two women were inside the great cool sitting-room, Ellen was
holding still by that hard, faithful hand. "Mother," she entreated
breathlessly, "I needn't ever be with anybody but you, need I?"

Jealous arms were about her even before the words had time to come.

"No! no! you're mother's own girl."

The very next Wednesday Ellen went alone to match some trimming; her
maiden outfit neared completion, and she was in haste to finish it. The
garden needed her. When she had struck into the pine woods on her way
home a wagon rattled up behind, and Milton Richardson called out,
"Ride?"

She was too timid to say, "No," and so she took his hand and climbed up
to the seat beside him. The horse fell into a walk, and Ellen blushed
more and more because she could not think of anything to say. Midway of
the pines the horse stood still.

"Le's wait a minute in the shade," said Milton; and Ellen, glancing
swiftly at him, wondered why he seemed so strange. He sought her eyes
again, but she was gazing at the pines. Her cheek was rosy red.

"You been shoppin'?" he asked desperately.

"Yes," said Ellen, grateful to him for speech, wherein she was so poor.
"I went to get some braid."

"You makin' up pretty things, same 's all the girls?"

"I've made some."

Milton caught his breath.

"O Ellen!" he burst forth, "I wish you'd let me kiss you!"

Suddenly she was gone out of the wagon, like a bird let loose from an
imprisoning hand. He saw her running like a swift sweet sprite along the
darkening road.

"Ellen, you hold on!" he cried, whipping up to follow. "I didn't mean
nothin'! Oh, you let me jest speak one word."

But at the noise of his pursuit she fled over the low stone wall, and
without a look behind, dipped into the hollow on her homeward way.
Milton swore miserably and drove on. He saw Mrs. Withington gathering
cowslip greens in a marsh sufficiently removed from home, and that
heartened him to draw rein before the still white house. Ellen would be
alone. When he strode into the sitting-room she sprang up from the
lounge where she had cast herself. The tears still hung in her long
lashes, and her cheeks were white.

"My Lord! Ellen Withington!" he cried, in a shamed and rough remorse.
"Couldn't you give me a chance to speak? I don't know what under the
light o' the sun made me say that. Only you looked so terrible pretty.
But you needn't ha' took it so."

She stood staring at him, fascinated, one brown hand trembling on her
heart. Her eyes shot a glance at the door behind him, and he was enraged
anew with pity of her.

"You don't know what it is to see a girl as pretty as you be," he went
on, as if he scolded her, "and all dressed up to the nines."

She was still looking at him dumbly. She saw beyond him the vista of
Sue's broken life.

"Well, then, won't you be friends?" he urged. "Great king! you couldn't
be any more offish if I'd done it. You needn't think anything's altered.
You're the prettiest creatur' that ever stepped, but I wouldn't give up
Sue for the Queen of England. Now will you say it's square?"

So nothing was changed. She could not understand it, but she nodded at
him and smiled a little. Her trembling did not cease until he was far
upon the road.

When Mrs. Withington came home with her basket of greens, Ellen had
supper all ready, and she ran forward and held a corner of her mother's
apron while they walked together toward the house.

"You look kind o' peaked," said Mrs. Withington tenderly. "What you got
on that old brown thing for?"

"I'm going to weed after supper," Ellen answered. "The garden looks real
bad."

Mrs. Withington gazed at her keenly.

"Henry Fox asked if we were goin' to be home this evenin'," she said,
with much indifference. "I told him I guessed so."

Ellen held the apron hard.

"O mother!" she whispered; "you see him. I haven't got to, have I?"

"Law! no, child," said the other woman. "I guess you ain't. You're
mother's own girl."

So when the dusk came Mrs. Withington sat in the parlor and talked of
crops with Henry, wan beside her, while Ellen, safe at the back of the
house, weeded a bed of pansies purpling there. A soft after-glow lighted
all the windows to flame, and fell full upon the face of one dark
flower, quite human in its sombre wistfulness. Ellen knelt and kissed
it tremulously.

"You darling one!" she murmured under her breath; and somehow she knew
that this was the only sort of kiss she should ever want to give.



THE AUCTION


Miss Letitia Lamson sat by the open fire, at a point where she could
easily reach the tongs for the adjusting of any vagabond stick, and
Cap'n Oliver Drown, in the opposite angle, held dominion over the poker.
No one else would Miss Letitia have admitted to partnership in the
managing of her fire; but Cap'n Oliver wielded an undisputed privilege.
The poker suited him because he had a way, in the heat of friendly
dissension, of smashing a stick much before it was ready to drop apart
of its own charring; and that Miss Letitia never resented. She herself
was gentle and persuasive with a fire; but the cap'n's more impetuous
method seemed to belong to him, and she understood, without much
thinking about it, that when he blustered a little, even over a
hard-working blaze, it was because he must. He was a tempestuously
organized creature, of a martial front and a baby heart, most fortunate
in his breadth of shoulder, his height, and the readiness of the
choleric blood to come into his cheeks, the eagerness of his husky voice
to bluster.

These outward tokens of an untrammeled spirit helped him to hold his own
among his kind, though his oldest friend, Miss Letty, prized him for
different reasons. In her soul she had always regarded him as "real
cunning," and had even, when she passed to bring up the dish of apples
from the cellar, or a mug of cider, longed to touch the queer lock that
would straggle down from his sparsely covered poll in absurd travesty of
a baby's tended curl.

Probably no one, and certainly not the captain himself, knew exactly how
Miss Letty regarded him. Miss Letty had been forty-seven years old the
last November that ever was, as she had just told him, in talking over
her forthcoming departure from the house where she had lived all the
forty-seven years; and he knew, she added, just how she felt about the
place and all that was in it. The cap'n nodded gravely, thinking, if it
paid to say so, that he knew how the town looked upon her. She was good
as gold, the neighbors said, and at that moment she especially looked
it, in a still, serious way. She was a wholesome woman, with nothing
showy to commend her and little to remark except the extreme earnestness
of her upward glance. From her unconscious humility she seemed to be
always gazing up at people, even when their eyes were on a level with
hers. It might have indicated a habit of mind.

It was only to-night that the rumor of her going had reached Cap'n
Oliver, and he had come in to talk it over. Miss Letty's heart quieted
as she saw him take her father's capacious armchair and settle on the
appliqué cushion, so sacred to him that whenever the cat stole a nap out
of it, stray hairs had to be brushed scrupulously off, lest Cap'n Oliver
should appear for an evening's gossip.

Miss Letty's house was at the end of a narrow way, bordered by
cinnamon-roses and stragglers from old gardens; and some of the
neighbors said it would make them as nervous as a witch to be so far
from the road. But it did not make Miss Letty nervous. For some reason,
perhaps because of long usage, it helped her feel secure.

"Well," she was saying mildly to Cap'n Oliver, "I'm gettin' along in
years. What's the use of denyin' it? That's what Ellery said in his
letter. 'You're 'most fifty, Aunt Letty,' says he. 'Time to quit livin'
alone an' come out here an' let us take care o' you.'"

Cap'n Oliver scowled at the fire as if he found the freshly burning
sticks too strong to be smashed, and resented it.

"Well," said he, "I'm fifty-four. Let 'em come to me."

"Now, be you really?" asked Miss Letty, in a pretty surprise, though she
knew all the calendar of his life from the day she went to school for
the first time and heard him, in the second reader, profusely
interpreting a martial declaration to the Romans. "Well, who'd have
thought it!"

"I don't know," said Cap'n Oliver, staring into the fire, "as I'm any
less of a man because I'm fifty-four years old. S'pose anybody should
come to me an' say: 'Now you're fifty-four, cap'n. You better shut up
shop an' go an' live in Washington Territory.'"

"It ain't Washington Territory," said Miss Letty, setting him right with
a becoming air of humility. "It's Chicago they live to, Ellery an'
Mary."

"Be that as it may," said the cap'n, "I've eat off my own plates an'
drinked out o' my own cups a good many year, an' if anybody should try
to give me a home, I'll bet ye, Letty, I'd be as mad as a hornet. I
wisht you'd be mad, too. I'd think more of ye if ye was."

"You've been blest in a good housekeeper," said Miss Letty, in a gentle
recall. "It ain't many men left alone as you be that's got anybody
strong an' willin' like Sarah Ann Douglas to heft the burden an' lug it
right along."

"It ain't Sarah Ann Douglas," said the cap'n. "Sarah Ann's a good girl,
worth her weight in gold, an' growin' more valuable every day, but it
ain't she that's kep' a roof over my head. I've kep' it myself because
I would have it. So there ye be."

"Well, I dunno how 'tis," said Miss Letty. She was staring placidly into
the fire. "But I don't seem to have so much spirit as you have, Oliver.
Seems to me, if Ellery an' Mary are goin' to feel worried havin' me
livin' on here alone, mebbe I'd better sell off an' go back with 'em.
That's the way I look at it."

"You never had any way of your own," said the cap'n.

Miss Letty put out a firm, plump hand and presented him with the poker.

"That stick's 'most fell apart," she said pacifically. "Mebbe you better
give it a kind of a knock."

The cap'n did it absently and was soothed by the process. Then Miss
Letty laid the shortened pieces together in a workmanlike way, and they
blazed afresh.

"What you goin' to do with your things?" asked the cap'n, pointing a
broad and expressive thumb about the place.

"Sell 'em off. That's what Ellery wrote. He says I could have an auction
mebbe a week 'fore Thanksgivin',--that's about now,--an' then when he
an' Mary come we could all go over to cousin Liza's to stay, an' start
for Chicago from there. Seems if 'twas all complete."

The cap'n was staring at her.

"You ain't goin' to sell off your things without ay or no?" he inquired.
"Don't ye prize 'em--the table you've eat off of an' chairs you've set
in sence you were little?"

Miss Letty winced, and then recovered herself.

"Yes," she said, "I do prize 'em. But it seems if they'd got to go."

"Why don't ye take 'em with ye?"

"I couldn't do that, Oliver. Ellery has got his home furnished all
complete--oak chamber sets an' I dunno what all. There wouldn't be no
room for my old sticks."

The cap'n meditated.

"Letty," said he at length, "if there was anybody you ever set by after
your own father an' mother, 'twas my wife Mary."

"Yes," said Letty, with one of her warmly earnest looks. "Mary an' I was
always a good deal to one another."

"Well, do you know what she said to me once? 'Twas in her last sickness.
She was tracin' back over old times, that year you an' I was together so
much, goin' to singin'-school an' all. You had a good voice,
Letty--voice like a bird. You recollect that year, don't ye?"

"Yes," said Letty. Her voice trembled a little. "I recollect."

"That was the spring Mary kinder broke down an' went into a decline,
an' you journeyed off to Dill River, an' made that long visit. An' when
you come back, Mary an' I was engaged. Well, I'm gettin' ahead of my
story. What Mary said was, 'Oliver,' says she, 'you don't know half how
good Letty is. Nobody knows but me. It's her own fault,' says she. 'She
gives up too much, an' it makes the rest of us selfish.'"

"Did she say that?" asked Letty. She was awakened to a vivid recognition
of something beyond the outer significance of the words. Then she seemed
to lay her momentary emotion aside, as if it were something she could
cover out of sight. She laughed a little. "Well," she said, "I guess I
don't give up much nowadays. I ain't got so very much to give."

Cap'n Oliver rose and carefully arranged the fire as if there would be
no one to do it after he was gone. Miss Letty loved that little custom.
It seemed a kind of special service, and often, after he had done it and
taken his leave, she went to bed earlier than she had intended because,
when his fire had burned out, she could not bear to rearrange it.

"Well," said he, "you bear it in mind, what Mary said. Sometimes you
give up too much. You've gi'n up all your life, an' now you're goin' to
give up to Ellery an' Mary. You think twice, Letty, that's all I say.
Think twice."

He shook hands with her gravely, according to their habit, and she
heard his steps along the frozen lane. Then she opened the door softly a
crack--this was old custom, too--that she might hear them farther. This
time she was sure she actually knew when he turned into the road. She
went back to the room and stood for a moment, her hand resting on the
table, looking at the orderly fire and then at the chair which seemed to
belong more to him than to her father. The cat got up from the lounge
where, as she knew perfectly well, she had to content herself when Cap'n
Oliver came, stretched, and walked over to the chair as if to assert her
ownership. She was gathering her muscles for the easy leap when Miss
Letty pounced upon her, gently yet with an involuntary decision.

"Don't you get up there, puss," she said jealously. "Do you think you've
got to have a share in everything that's goin'?"

Then she laughed at herself in a gentle shame, lifted puss into the seat
of desire, and stroked her ruffled dignity, and still laughing, in that
indulgent way, sat down to see the fire out before she went to bed.

The next day Miss Letty set about cleaning her house, the actual first
step toward leaving it; and suddenly, as she worked, at a moment she
could never identify, it came over her that things which had been hers
by such long usage that they were as unconsidered as her hand that
wrought upon them, were to be hers no more. Then, as she dusted and
rubbed, she stopped from time to time, to regard the rooms and their
furnishings musingly and wonder if she should remember every smallest
touch of their homely charm. She hoped she should at least remember.

All the week she did not see Cap'n Oliver. He was over at the Pinelands,
she understood, making his married sister a little visit, as he always
did in the fall of the year. If she thought it a little hard that he
should be away the last week her home was to wear its accustomed face,
she did not say so, even to herself. It seemed to her a poor habit to
wish for what was obviously not to be, and all by herself she set upon
the day for the sale of her goods and sent for the auctioneer to come.

An auction was a great event throughout the countryside. It ordinarily
happened in the spring, as if people had taken all winter to get used to
parting with their possessions; and then wagons of every sort came from
whatever region the county paper had reached, and families brought their
lunches in butter-boxes and went about scrutinizing the household gear
that was to come under the hammer, glad at last to know what the house
walls had really held; or they visited with their neighbors in little
groups. But this was a day of fall sunshine and drifting leaves. Miss
Letty, standing at an upper window looking out on her pear tree, the
leaves leathery brown, felt a twitching of the lips. She gazed farther
over her domain, and it seemed to her that it had never been so pleasant
before, so mellowed and softened by the last light of the year. She knew
there were neighbors in the yard below, and could not bring herself to
glance at them. A line of horses stood there, and, she was sure, all the
way up the lane, and she remembered that was the way they had stood when
her mother was buried.

Then some one laughed out, in a way she knew, and she looked down and
saw Cap'n Oliver. He was staring up at her window, as he answered a
neighbor's greeting, and he gave a little oblique nod at her, and
stumped along up the path. At once she recalled herself to the day, and
went downstairs to meet him. It seemed very simple and plain now he had
come.

The neighbors standing in the entry stood aside to let her pass, but she
could scarcely notice them. It began to seem as if she must reach Cap'n
Oliver, and then all would be well. The cap'n was in vigorous condition.
His face looked ruddier, and he was shaking her hand and saying, as if
she had endowed him with her state of mind:--

"Soon be over, Letty, soon be over. Don't you give it a thought."

"No," said Miss Letty, choking, "I won't. I won't give it a thought."

But at that moment Hiram Jackson, who knew everything and was fervidly
anxious to be the earliest herald, came stammering out his eagerness to
tell.

"Say, Miss Letty. Say! you can't have no auction. You won't have no
auctioneer. Old Blaisdell's wife's sister's dead, down to East Branch,
an' he's gone."

Miss Letty, breathless, looked at the cap'n. "Well, there!" she said. It
was in her mind that now she might not need to have the auction at all;
and again she wondered, since she must have it, how she could ever make
up her mind to it again.

"Oh, dear!" she breathed. "I'm sorry."

The cap'n was frowning at her, only because he was so deep in thought.
He threw up his head a little, then, bluffly, as if he had reached a
clearer decision he meant to follow out.

"Not a word, Letty," said he. "Now don't you speak a word. I'm goin' to
auction 'em off myself."

She stared at him, her lips apart, in protest.

"Why, Oliver," she said, "you ain't an auctioneer."

"Well, I shall be after this bout. Now you come straight into the
sittin'-room an' set down in the corner underneath the ostrich egg,
where I can see you good an' plain. An' if I come to anything you want
to bid in, you hold up your finger, an' I'll knock it down to you. You
understand, don't ye, Letty?"

It was hard to realize that she did, she looked so like a frightened
little animal, turning her head this way and that, as if she longed for
leaves to cover her.

"You understand, Letty, don't ye?" the cap'n was asking with great
gentleness; and because she saw at last some sign of distress in his
face also, she quieted, in a dutiful fashion, and nodded at him.

"Yes," she said, "I'll be where you can see me. But I sha'n't bid
nothin' in. I don't prize 'em 'specially more'n I prize everything
together. If I can give up an' go out West, I guess I can get along
without my furniture. Shouldn't you think so?"

She went hurrying away across the hall and into the sitting-room, and
Cap'n Oliver, his head bent a little, stroked his chin and watched her.
Then he followed, making his way through the friendly crowd in hall and
sitting-room, and mounted the dry-goods box prepared for the auctioneer.
He looked about him and smiled a little, partly because people were
gazing at him sympathetically, and partly over his own embarrassing
plight. For he was a shy man. Nobody knew it but himself, and he was
afraid that after to-day everybody would know.

"Well, neighbors," said he, "I feel as if I was runnin' for President or
hog-reeve or somethin', or goin' to speak in meetin'. But I ain't. I'm
goin' to auction off Letty Lamson's things, an' I ain't been to an
auction myself sence I was seventeen an' set on the fence an' chewed gum
an' played 'twas tobacker while old Dan'el Cummings's farm was auctioned
off down to the last stick o' timber. Well, I don't know 's I could say
how 'twas done, nor how it's commonly done now, but I can take a try at
it. Now, here's some books Miss Letty's brought down out o' the attic. I
don't know what they be, but they look to me as if they might ha' come
out of her gran'ther's lib'ry--old Parson Lamson, ye know."

"Yes," said Miss Letty, from the low rocking-chair a neighbor had
insisted on giving up to her, "they did. Many's the time I've watched
him porin' over 'em winter nights with two candles."

"There, you see! they're Parson Lamson's books. Many a good word he got
out of 'em for his sermons, I'll bet ye a dollar. Why, ye recollect how
much Parson Lamson done for this town, how he got up sewin'-circles in
war-time an' set everybody to scrapin' lint, an' climbed out of his bed
after he couldn't hardly stand with rheumatism to say good-by to the
boys when they enlisted, an' how he wrote to 'em an' prayed for
'em--why, them books are wuth their weight in gold. How much am I
offered for Parson Lamson's books? A dollar-seventy--Why, bless you, Tim
Fry, there ain't a book there but's wuth a dollar-seventy taken by
itself! Why, I'll start it myself at thirteen--"

"Oh, don't you do it, Cap'n, don't you do it!" called Miss Letty
piercingly. "I don't want 'em to bid on gran'ther's books. I want them
books myself, if I have to work my fingers to the bone."

The cap'n took out his beautiful colored handkerchief with Joseph and
his brethren on it, and wiped his face.

"Gone!" said he, "to Miss Letty Lamson. Now, ladies an' gentlemen,
here's a little chair. I know that chair, an' so do you. It's the chair
little Letty Lamson used to set in when she wa'n't more'n three year
old, an' her mother used to keep her out under the sweet-bough tree in
that little rocker whilst she was washin' or churnin'! What?"

He paused, for Miss Letty had waved a frantic hand. The tears were
running down her cheeks. The others had before them the picture of
little Letty Lamson swaying and singing to herself, but she saw the
brown apple-stems over her head and smelled the bitter-sweetness of the
blooms. She saw her mother's plump bare arms as they went up and down
with the churn-dasher or in and out of the suds, and felt again the pang
of love that used to tell her that mother was the most beautiful
creature in the world.

"Why," said she, regardless of her listeners, "I wouldn't part with that
chair for a hundred dollars. How ever come you to think I'd part with my
little chair?"

The cap'n was looking at her in a frank perplexity.

"The chair," said he, "remains the property of our friend and neighbor,
Miss Letty Lamson. Now, ladies an' gentlemen, here's a fire-set--tongs,
shovel, an' andirons. That fire-set has been in this very settin'-room
as long as I can remember. Summer-times the andirons have been trimmed
up with sparrergrass an' the like o' that, an' winter-times they've been
shined up complete an' the fire snappin' behind 'em. What am I
offered--"

Miss Letty was standing.

"Oh," she cried, "I never meant to put that fire-set in. Why, don't you
remember--"

She was facing the cap'n, and the appeal of her voice and look ran
straight to him over the heads of the others, like a message. It bade
him recall how he and she had sat together and talked of sad things and
happy ones, night after night, for many years. The talks had been mostly
cheerful, for the cap'n would have it so, and whenever she felt poorly
she had taken pains to put on a lively front, because she reasoned that
menfolks hated squally weather. Now, with the passing of the andirons
and all they stood for, it looked to her as if a door had shut on that
pleasant seclusion where they two had communed together, and there would
be no more laughter in the world. "Oliver!" she said, and stopped,
because the coming words had choked her.

The cap'n was looking at her over his glasses with extreme benevolence.

"Letty," said he, "I guess you better go upstairs an' sort out some o'
the bed-linen an' coverlets. I understood they wa'n't quite ready, an'
we shall get to 'em before long. If I come to anything down here I think
you set by particularly an' that you can pack up as well as not, I'll
bid it in for ye."

The neighbors were nodding in a kindly confirmation, and Miss Letty also
understood it to be for the best. She made her way through the friendly
aisle cleared for her, and Cap'n Oliver waited until he heard her on
the stairs above. He drew a heavy breath.

"Now," said he, "I guess we can poke along. It ain't to be wondered at
anybody should want to bid in their own things, but it's kind of
distressin' to an auctioneer that wants to earn his money. Now here's
this high-boy. I'll rattle it off before Miss Letty gets time to have a
change of heart an' come down again. What am I offered for old Parson
Lamson's high-boy, bonnet-top an' old brasses all complete?"

Timothy Fry, a bright-eyed youth in the background, started it at
fifteen dollars. Timothy had hitherto, in his twenty years, shown no
sign of enthusiasm more sophisticated than that of shooting birds in
their season and roaming the woods in a happy vagabondage while the law
was on. When he made his bid there was a great turning of heads. Some
looked at him, but others fixed the cap'n with a challenging glance,
because he and the cap'n were great cronies, and it had been jocosely
said they were thick as thieves, and if one lied t'other would swear to
it. But Timothy, in his Sunday suit, with a blue tie and an elaborate
scarf-pin, looked the picture of innocence, and it was concluded that,
although no one had suspected it, he was thinking of setting up
housekeeping for himself. The cap'n's face had an earnest absorption.
He was evidently occupied only in being auctioneer.

"Pshaw!" he said, with a conversational ruthlessness. "Fifteen dollars!
Why, I'd give that myself an' set it up out there at the cross-roads for
autos to bid on while they run. Its wuth--well, I wouldn't say what
'twas wuth. Maybe you'd laugh, an' I ain't goin' to be laughed at, if I
be an auctioneer."

"Twenty-five," piped up Deacon Eli King, won by the lure of city
rivalry.

"Twenty-six," Timothy offered quietly.

"Twenty-eight," trembled Hannah Bond, who lived alone and braided mats
for the city trade. She had always wanted a high-boy, but the sound of
her own voice made it seem as if bidding might be almost too steep a
price to pay for one.

"Twenty-nine," said Timothy.

After that there was very little competition. Nobody wanted a high-boy
except for commercial possibilities, and about the time the bidding
reached thirty-five dollars a foreshadowing timidity began to overspread
the assembly. An autumn wind came up and set the bare woodbine sprays to
beating on the window, to the tune of nearing snow. Summer buyers seemed
far away. When one considered the drifted leaves and the cold sky, it
looked as if full purses and credulous minds were a midsummer dream,
never to come again. So the high-boy, in this moment of commercial
panic, was knocked down to Timothy Fry. Five or six chairs followed, and
these also became his.

Then the crowd pressed into the west sitting-room, where there was
richer treasure. Here, too, Timothy's unmoved voice beat steadily on,
raising every bid, and here, too, he came out victor. In the next room
also he swept the field, and now at last the crowd murmurously compared
certainties, one woman darkly prophesying he never'd pay for them,
because he hadn't a cent--not a cent--laid up, and a man returning that
nobody need worry. 'Twas only a joke of Tim's; but Miss Letty'd be the
one to suffer. Timothy's eyes and ears were closed to comment. His
commercial onslaught continued, and when, in the early dusk, horses were
unhitched and there was time for comment at the gate, it was clearly
understood that, save for what Miss Letty had bid in at the start,
Timothy Fry was the possessor of every stick of furniture, every cup and
bowl even, and all the ornaments and articles of common usage in the
house. Timothy himself had gone. The men had looked about for him, to
rally him on his approaching nuptials, the women for the ruthless
cross-questioning his madness had invited; but he had slipped away
softly, like the wood-creatures he hunted. Even Cap'n Oliver, who might
be supposed to know his inner mind, had betaken himself to the porch,
and stood there, hat in hand, wiping his heated brow.

"Don't ask me," he returned to queries and conclusions in the mass. "I'm
nothin' in the world but an auctioneer. Now I've learned the road, I
dunno but I shall go right along auctionin' off everything I come
acrost. You better be gettin' along home. Mebbe I'll sell your teams
right off under your noses, if the fit comes over me."

"Timothy ain't goin' to be married, is he?" inquired aunt Belinda Soule,
who sent items to the "County Star."

"S'pose so, sometime," concurred the cap'n jovially. "It's the end o'
mortals here below. Dunno but I shall be married myself, if it comes to
that."

"When's he goin' to take his furniture away?" continued aunt Belinda,
with the persistence of her kind.

"Don't know. Mebbe he ain't goin' to take it. Mebbe he's goin' to marry
Letty. 'Pears to me I heard a kind of a rumor she was goin' to marry
'fore long."

Aunt Belinda shook her head at him.

"Don't talk so about a nice respectable woman," said she. "An' she goin'
to move away from us an' live nobody knows where. It's a shame."

The cap'n burst into a laugh that aunt Belinda privately thought
coarse, and turned back into the house, while she joined a group of
matrons and went away home, discoursing volubly.

Cap'n Oliver stopped for a minute at the window in the empty parlor,
watching their departing bulk, and then went into the hall, where the
tread of many invading feet had left the moist autumn soil, with bits of
grass and now and then a yellowed leaf.

"Letty!" he called roundly.

There was a light step above, and then Miss Letty's voice, a very little
voice suited to the dusk and stillness, came down the stairs.

"Be they gone?" she faltered.

"Yes," said the cap'n, "they're gone, every confounded one of 'em."

"Did they take the things with 'em?" inquired Miss Letty. "I didn't dast
to look. I knew I couldn't help feelin' it if I see 'em all loaded up
with things I knew."

"You come down here, Letty," said the cap'n. "I want to say a word to
you."

She did come, wondering, her face sodden with tears, and a miserable
little ball of a wet handkerchief in her grasp. The cap'n met her at the
foot of the stairs and, without warning, took her by the shoulders and
shook her slightly, why, he did not know, except perhaps as a warning to
put a prettier face on the matter. Then he drew her into his arms with
a conclusiveness it would have been difficult to resist, and kissed her
soft wet cheeks. He kissed them a good many times, and ended by touching
her trembling mouth.

"There," said the cap'n, "I don't know 's I ever kissed you before,
Letty, but I expect to a good many times again, off 'n' on."

"Oh, yes, you did once," said Miss Letty, with unexpected frankness and
simplicity. "'Twas the eighteenth of November, thirty years ago this
very fall."

The cap'n looked at her and broke into a wondering laugh.

"Letty," said he, "you're the beateree, an' I'm a nat'ral-born fool.
You're goin' to marry me right off as soon as I can get the license."

"An' live over to your house an' not go to Chicago?" inquired Miss Letty
beatifically.

"Course you won't go to Chicago, unless we go together some spring or
fall an' make 'em a visit an' show 'em we've got suthin' to live for as
well as they have."

"Then I needn't have sold my furniture," said she, with a happy turn of
logic.

"Sold your furniture? You ain't sold it. I had Tim Fry bid it all in for
me, an' I was goin' to have it crated up an' tell Ellery, when he come,
he'd got to let me pay it on to Chicago, whether or no. An' then when I
stood up there like a rooster on a fence, auctionin' of it off, it all
come over me 'twa'n't the furniture an' the house I should miss. 'Twas
you. I made up my mind then an' there I'd keep ye if I had to hopple ye
by the ankle like Tolman's jumpin' steer."

Miss Letty withdrew from him and took a timid step to the west-room
door, where, though the dusk was gathering, she could find the familiar
shapes of her beloved possessions.

"I don't see how in the world I ever made up my mind I could," she said,
a happy tremor in her voice.

It sounded to Cap'n Oliver strangely like a voice out of his past,
unquelled by fears and abnegations. It was the voice that used to greet
him when, in his splendid blue suit and shining satin tie, he had called
for Letty Lamson, some thirty years ago, to take her in his sleigh to
singing-school.

"Could what?" he inquired hilariously, out of his dream where the
present made the fire on the hearth and the past lent him figures to sit
by it.

"Why, get along without my old things."

"I s'pose you never so much as thought you couldn't get along without
me," suggested the cap'n, in a kindly rallying.

"Yes," said Miss Letty soberly, "I did think that. I knew I couldn't."



SATURDAY NIGHT


Jerry Norton stopped for a moment swinging his axe and crashing it into
the grain of the tree, and took off his cap to cool his wet forehead. He
looked very strong, standing there, equipped with great shoulders, a
back as straight as the tree its might was smashing, and the vigor
bespoken by red-brown eyes, a sanguine skin, and thick bright hair. He
seemed to be regarding the pine trunks against the snow of the hill
beyond, and again the tiny tracks nearer by, where a winter animal had
flurried; but really all the beauties of the woods were sealed to him.

He was going back five days to his quarrel with Stella Joyce, and
scowling as he thought how hateful she had been in her injustice. It was
all about the ten-foot strip of land the city man had claimed from
Jerry's new building lot through a newly found flaw in the title. Jerry,
Stella mourned, had relinquished the land without question.

"I'd have hung on to it and fought him through every court in the
country," she had declared, in a passion of reproach. "You're so numb,
Jerry! You just go pokin' along from day to day, lettin' folks walk
over you--and never a word!"

Jerry had been unable, out of his numbness, to explain that he gave up
the land because the other man's title to it, he had seen at once, was a
valid one; nor could she, on her side, tell him how her wounded feeling
was intensified because old aunt Bray, come from the West for a visit,
had settled down upon him and his mother, in all likelihood to remain
and go into the new house when it was built. But there was no time for
either of them to reach pacific reasons when every swift word of hers
begot a sullen look from him; and before they knew it they had parted.

Now, while he was retracing the path of their disagreement, lighted by
the flaming lamps of her upbraiding, he heard a movement, light enough
for a furry creature on its way to covert, and Stella stood before him.
She did not look either obstinate or likely to continue any quarrel,
however well begun. She was a round little person, complete in her
miniature beauties, and now her blue eyes sought him with an extremity
of emotion very honest and also timid. She had wrapped herself in a
little red shawl, and her hands, holding it tight about her, gave a
fantastic impression of being clasped in mute appeal. Jerry looked at
her in wonder. For an instant they both stood as still as two
wood-creatures surprisingly met and, so far, undetermined upon the
degree of hostility it would be wise to show.

Stella broke the silence. She retreated a little, in doing it, as if
words would bring her nearer and she repudiated that degree of intimacy.

"I just want a favor," she said humbly.

Jerry advanced a step as she withdrew, and the interval between them
stayed unchanged. Now the trouble in her face had its effect on him, and
he forgot for a moment how he hated her.

"Ain't anything the matter, is there?" he asked, in quick concern.

Stella shook her head, but her eyes brimmed over. That evidently annoyed
her, and she released the little shawl to lift a hand and brush the
tears away.

"Aunt Hill has come," she said.

He had an impulse to tell her, as a piece of news that would once have
concerned them both, that his own aunt was making her plans to go West
again, and that she had furnished the money for him to buy back the
precious strip of land. The city man, seeing how much he prized it, had
sold it to him. But while he reflected that now Stella cared nothing
about his intimate concerns, she was rushing on.

"And mother's sick," she ended.

"Sho!" said Jerry, in a sympathizing blur. "Real sick?"

"No, nothin' but her rheumatism. But it's in her back this time. She
can't move hand nor foot."

"Why, yes," said Jerry, leaning his axe against the trunk of the wounded
tree. "Course! you want I should go over 'n' help lift her."

Stella shook her head in definite finality.

"No, I don't either. Aunt Hill 'n' I can manage well enough. I guess
mother'd be provoked 'most to death if I run round callin' the menfolks
in."

"Well, what is it then?" asked Jerry, in palpable disappointment. "What
is 't you want me to do?"

He thought he had never seen her cheeks so red. They made him think of
the partridge-berries under the snow. She began her tale, looking
indifferently at him as she proceeded, as if to convince them both that
there was nothing peculiar in it all.

"Aunt Hill's an awful trial to mother."

Jerry took up his axe in one hand, and began absently chopping off a
circle of bark about the tree. Stella was near saying, "Don't you cut
your foot!" but she closed her lips upon the friendly caution and
continued:--

"There's nothin' she don't get her nose into, and it just wears mother
out."

"She's a great talker, seems if I remembered," said Jerry absently,
wishing Stella would keep her hands under the shawl and not get them
frozen to death. He was about to add that most women did talk too much,
but somehow that seemed an unfortunate implication from one as unpopular
as he, and he caught himself up in time. Stella was dashing on now, in
the course of her obnoxious task.

"If anything's queer, she just goes at mother hard as she can pelt and
keeps at her till she finds it out. And mother hates it enough when
she's well, but when she's sick it's just awful. And now she's flat on
her back."

"Course," said Jerry, in a comprehending sympathy. "Want I should carry
your aunt Hill off to the Junction?"

"Why, you can't! She wouldn't go. You couldn't pry her out with a
crowbar. She's made up her mind to stay till a week from to-morrow, and
till a week from to-morrow she'll stay."

Jerry looked gloomily into the distance. He was feeling his own
limitations as a seer.

"Well," he said, venturing a remark likely to involve him in no way, "I
s'pose she will."

"Now, see here," said Stella. She spoke with a defiant hardness, the
measure of her hatred for what she had to do. "There's one way you could
help us out. She asked about you right away, and of course she thought
we were--goin' together, same 's we had been."

Here her voice failed her, and he knew the swift color on her cheek was
the miserable sign of her shame in such remembrance. It became his task
to hearten her.

"Course," said he. "Anybody would."

"Well, I can't tell her. I ain't even told mother yet, and I don't want
to till she's on her feet again. And if aunt Hill gets the leastest wind
of it she'll hound mother every minute, and mother'll give up,
and--well, I just can't do it, that's all."

Jerry was advancing eagerly now, his lips parted for speech; but her
task once begun was easier, and she continued:--

"Now, don't you see? I should think you could."

"Yes," said Jerry, in great hopefulness. "Course I do."

"No, you don't either. It's only, she's goin' to be here not quite a
week, and it's only one Saturday night."

"Yes," said Jerry, "that's to-morrer night."

"Well, don't you see? If you don't come over, she'll wonder why, and
mother'll wonder why, and mother'll ask me, and, oh, dear! dear!"

Jerry thought she really was going to cry, this time, and it seemed to
him that these domestic whirlwinds furnished ample reason for it.

"Course!" he said, in whole-hearted misery for her. "It's a bad place.
A man wouldn't think anything of it, but womenfolks are different.
They'd mind it terribly. Anybody could see they would."

Stella looked at him as if personal chastisement would be too light for
him.

"Don't you see?" she insisted in a tone of enforced patience. "If you'd
only dress up and come over."

Light broke in on him.

"Course I will, Stella," he called, so loudly that she looked over her
shoulder to see if perhaps some neighbor, crossing the wood-lot, might
have heard. "You just bet I will!"

Then, to his wonderment, she had vanished as softly as she came. Jerry
was disappointed. He had thought they were going on talking about the
domestic frenzies wrought by aunt Hill, but it seemed that further
sociability was to be denied him until to-morrow night. He took up his
axe, and went on paying into the heart of the tree. But he whistled now,
and omitted to think how much he hated Stella. He was debating whether
her scarlet shawl was redder than her cheeks. But Jerry never voiced
such wonders. They seemed to him like a pain, or satisfaction over one's
dinner, an ultimate part of individual experience.

The next night, early after supper, he took his way "down along" to the
Joyce homestead lying darkly under leafless elms. There was a light in
the parlor, as there had been every night since he began to go with
Stella, and his heart beat in recognition, knowing it was for him. He
tried the front door to walk in, neighbor-fashion, but it resisted him,
and then he let the knocker fall. Immediately a window opened above, and
Stella's voice came down to him.

"O Jerry, mother's back is worse, and I feel as if I'd ought to be
rubbin' her. You come over another time."

Jerry stood staring up at her, a choking in his throat, and something
burning hotly into his eyes. But he found his voice just as the window
was sliding down.

"Don't you want I should do somethin'? I should think she'd have to be
lifted."

"No," said Stella, quite blithely, "I can do all there is to do.
Good-night."

The window closed and he went away. Stella ran downstairs to the bedroom
where aunt Hill sat beside her mother, fanning the invalid with a
palm-leaf fan. Mrs. Joyce hated to be fanned in wintry weather, but aunt
Hill acted upon the theory that sick folks needed air. Aunt Hill was
very large, and she creaked as she breathed, because, when she was
visiting, even in the country, she put on her black silk of an
afternoon. She had thick black hair, smooth under a fictitious gloss,
and done in a way to be seen now only in daguerreotypes of long ago, and
her dull black eyes were masterful. Mrs. Joyce, gazing miserably up at
her daughter, was a shred of a thing in contrast, and Stella at once
felt a passionate pity for her.

"There, aunt Hill," she said daringly, "I wouldn't fan mother any more
if I's you. Let me see if I can get at you, mother. I'm goin' to rub
your back."

Aunt Hill, with a quiver of professional pride wounded to the quick, did
lay down the fan on a stand at her elbow. She was listening.

"Where's Jerry?" she demanded. "I don't hear nobody in the fore-room."

Stella was manipulating her mother with a brisk yet tender touch.

"Oh," she said, "I told him he'd have to poke along back to-night. I
wanted to rub mother 'fore she got sleepy."

"Now you needn't ha' done that," said Mrs. Joyce from a deep seclusion,
her face turned downward into the pillow. "He must be awful
disappointed, dressin' himself up an' all, an' 'pearin' out for
nothin'."

"Well," said Stella, "there's more Saturday nights comin'."

"I wanted to see Jerry," complained aunt Hill. "I could ha' set with
your mother. Well, I'll go in an' put out the fore-room lamp."

Stella was always being irritated by aunt Hill's officious services in
the domestic field, but now she was glad to watch her portly back
diminishing through the doorway.

"You needn't ha' done that," her mother was murmuring again. "I feel
real tried over it."

"Jerry wanted to know how you were," said Stella speciously. "He's awful
sorry you're laid up."

"Well, I knew he'd be," said Mrs. Joyce. "Jerry's a good boy."

The week went by and her back was better; but when Saturday night came,
aunt Hill had not gone home. She had, instead, slipped on a round stick
in the shed while she was picking up chips nobody wanted, and sprained
her ankle slightly. And now she sat by the kitchen fire in a state of
deepest gloom, the foot on a chair, and her active mind careering about
the house, seeking out conditions to be bettered. She wore her black
silk no more, lest in her sedentary durance she should "set it out," and
her delaine wrapper with palm-leaves seemed to Stella like the
archipelagoes they used to define at school, and inspired her to nervous
laughter. It was the early evening, and Mrs. Joyce, not entirely free
from her muscular fetters, went back and forth from table to sink,
doing the dishes, while Stella moulded bread.

There was a step on the icy walk. Stella stopped an instant, her hands
on the cushion of dough, the red creeping into her face. Then she dusted
her palms together and went ever so softly but quickly to the front
entry, closing the door behind her. Aunt Hill, pricking up her ears,
heard the outer door open and the note of a man's voice.

"You see 'f you can tell who that is," she counseled Mrs. Joyce, who
presently approached the door and laid a hand on the latch. But it
stuck, she thought with wonder. Stella was holding it from the other
side.

Jerry, in his Sunday clothes, stood out there on the step, and Stella
was facing him. There was a note of concern in her voice when she
spoke--of mirth, too, left there by aunt Hill's archipelagoes.

"O Jerry," she said, "I'm awful sorry. You needn't ha' come over
to-night."

"She ain't gone, has she?" inquired Jerry, in a voice of perilous
distinctness.

"Don't speak so loud. She's got ears like a fox. No, but I could ha' put
her off somehow. I never thought of your comin' over to-night."

"Well, I thought of it," said Jerry. "I ain't seen your mother for quite
a spell."

"Oh, she's all right now. There! I feel awfully not to ask you in, but
aunt Hill's ankle an' all--good-night."

He turned away after a look at the bright knocker that, jumping out at
him from the dusk, almost made it seem as if the door had been shut in
his face. But he went crunching down the path, and Stella returned, to
wash her hands at the sink and resume her moulding.

"Law!" said aunt Hill, "your cheeks are 's red as fire. Who was it out
there?"

"Jerry Norton." Stella's voice sank, in spite of her. That unswerving
gaze on her cheeks made her feel out in the world, in a strong light,
for curiosity to jeer at.

"Jerry Norton?" aunt Hill was repeating in a loud voice. "Well, I'll be
whipped if it ain't Saturday night an' you've turned him away ag'in.
What's got into you, Stella? I never thought you was one to blow hot an'
blow cold when it come to a fellow like Jerry Norton. Good as gold, your
mother says he is, good to his mother an' good to his sister, an' now
he's took his aunt home to live with 'em."

"I can't 'tend to callers when there's sickness in the house," Stella
plucked up spirit to say, and her mother returned wonderingly,--

"Why, it ain't sickness exactly, aunt Hill's ankle ain't. I wish I
could ha' got out there. I'd have asked him in."

Before the next Saturday aunt Hill's ankle had knit itself up and she
was gone. When Stella and her mother sat down to supper in their wonted
seclusion, Stella began her deferred task. She was inwardly excited over
it, and even a little breathless. It seemed incredible to her, still,
that Jerry and she had parted, and it would, she knew, seem so to her
mother when she should be told. She sat eating cup-cake delicately, but
with an ostentatious relish, to prove the robustness of her state.

"Mother," she began.

"Little more tea?" asked Mrs. Joyce, holding the teapot poised.

"No. I want to tell you somethin'."

"I guess I'll have me a drop more," said Mrs. Joyce. "Nobody need to
tell me it keeps me awake. I lay awake anyway."

Stella took another cup-cake in bravado.

"Mother," she said, "Jerry 'n' I've concluded to give it up."

"Give what up?" asked Mrs. Joyce, finding she had the brew too sweet and
pouring herself another drop.

"Oh, everything! We've changed our minds."

Mrs. Joyce set down her cup.

"You ain't broke off with Jerry Norton?"

"Yes. We broke it off together."

"You needn't tell me 'twas Jerry Norton's fault." Mrs. Joyce pushed her
cup from her and winked rapidly. "He's as good a boy as ever stepped,
an' he sets by you as he does his life."

Stella was regarding her in wonder, a gentle little creature who omitted
to say her soul was her own on ordinary days, yet rousing herself, with
ruffled feathers, to defend, not her young, but the alien outside the
nest.

"If he had give you the mitten, I shouldn't blame him a mite, turnin'
him away from the door as you have two Saturday nights runnin'. But he
ain't done it. I know Jerry too well for that. His word's as good 's his
bond, an' you'll go through the woods an' get a crooked stick at last."

Then she looked across at Stella, as if in amazement over her own fury;
but Stella, liking her for it and thrilled by its fervor, laughed out
because that was the way emotion took her.

"You can laugh," said her mother, nodding her head, as she rose and
began to set away the dishes. "But 'fore you git through with this
you'll laugh out o' t'other side o' your mouth, an' so I tell ye."

Upon her words there was a step at the door, and Stella knew the step
was Jerry's. Her mother, with the prescience born of ire, knew it too.

"There he is," she said. "Now you go to cuttin' up any didos, things
gone as fur as they have, an' you'll repent this night's work the
longest day you live. You be a good girl an' go 'n' let him in!"

She had returned to her placidity, a quiet domestic fowl whose feathers
were only to be ruffled when some terrifying shadow flitted overhead.

Stella flew to the door and opened it on her lover, standing still and
calm, like a figure set there by destiny to conquer her.

"Jerry," she burst forth out of the nervous thrill her mother had
awakened in her, "you're botherin' me 'most to death. It's awful not to
ask you in when you come to the door, and you a neighbor so. But I
can't. You know I can't. It ain't as if you'd come in the day-time. But
Saturday night--it's just as if--why, you know what Saturday night is.
It's just as if we were goin' together."

Jerry stood there immovable, looking at her. He had shaved and he wore
the red tie she had given him. Perhaps it was not so much that she saw
him clearly through the early dusk as that she knew from memory how kind
his eyes were and what a healthy color flushed his face. It seemed to
her at this moment as if Jerry was the nicest person in the world, if
only he wouldn't plague her so. But he was speaking out of his
persistent quiet.

"I might as well tell you, Stella, an' you might as well make up your
mind to it. It ain't to-night only. I'm comin' here every Saturday
night."

She was near crying with the vexation of it.

"But you can't, Jerry," she said. "I don't want you to."

"You used to want me to," said he composedly.

"Well, that was when we were--"

"When we were goin' together." He nodded in acceptance of the quibble.
"Well, if you wanted me once, a girl like you, you'll want me ag'in. An'
anyways, I'm comin'."

Stella felt a curious thrill of pride in him.

"Why, Jerry," she faltered, "I didn't know you took things that way."

He was answering quite simply, as if he had hardly guessed it either.

"Well, I don't know myself how I'm goin' to take things till I've
thought 'em out. That's the only way. Then, after ye've made up your
mind, ye can stick to it."

Stella fancied there was a great deal in this to think over, but she
creaked the door insinuatingly.

"Well," she said, "I'm awful sorry--"

"I won't keep you stan'in' here in the cold. I'll be over ag'in next
Saturday night."

Stella went in and sat down by the hearth and crossed her feet on the
head of one of the fire-dogs. She was frowning, and yet she was laughing
too. Her mother, moving back and forth, cast inquiring looks at her.

"Well," she ventured at last, "you made it up betwixt ye?"

Stella put down her feet and rose to help.

"Don't you ask me another question," she commanded, rather airily. "It's
all over and done with, and I told you so before. Le's pop us some corn
by 'n' by."

Before the next Saturday something had happened. Stella walked over to
the Street to buy some thread, and Matt Pillsbury brought her home in
his new sleigh with the glossy red back and the scrolls of gilt at the
corners. Matt was a lithe, animated youth who could do many unexpected
and serviceable things: a little singing, a little violin-playing, and
tricks with cards. He was younger than Stella, but he reflected, as he
drove with her over the smooth road, nobody would ever know it because
he was dark and she was fair, and he resolved to let his mustache grow a
little longer and curl it more at the ends. Mrs. Joyce was away when
this happened, quilting at Deacon White's; but all the next day, which
was Saturday, she remained perfectly aware that Stella was making plans,
and when at seven o'clock the girl came down in her green plaid with
her gold beads on, Mrs. Joyce drew the breath of peace.

"Well, there," she said, "if you behave as well as you look, you'll do
well, an' if Jerry don't say so I'll miss my guess."

Stella was gazing at her, trembling a little, but defiant also.

"Mother," she said, "if Jerry comes, you go to the door and you tell
him--oh, my soul! I believe there he is now."

But in the next instant it seemed to her just as well. She could tell
him herself. She flew to the door in a whirl. But she got no further
than his name. Jerry took her with a hand on either side of her waist
and set her back into the entry. Then he shut the door behind him and
laid his palms upon her shoulders. She could hear his breath, and it
occurred to her to wonder if he had been running, the blood must be
pumping so through his heart. He was speaking in a tone she had never
heard from any man.

"What's this about your goin' to the sociable with Matt Pillsbury?"

She stiffened and flung back defiance.

"I'm goin', that's all. How'd you know it?"

"I was over to the store an' Lottie Pillsbury come in an' I heard her
tell Jane Hunt: 'Brother Matt asked her, an' she says she's goin'.'"

"Well, it's true enough. I expect him along in three-quarters of an
hour."

"Well, he won't come." That strange savage thrill in his voice
frightened her, and before she could remember they were not going
together, she was clinging to his arm.

"O Jerry," she breathed, "you ain't done him any mischief?" But his arms
were about her and she was locked to his heart.

"No," he said, "I ain't--yet." He laughed a little. "I stood out in the
road till I heard him go into the barn to harness. Then he went back
into the house to change his clo'es. An' I walked into the barn an'
unblanketed the horse an' slung away the bells an' druv the horse down
to the meetin'-house, an' left him there in the sheds."

Stella laughed with the delight of it. She felt wild and happy, and it
came to her that a man who could behave like this when he had made up
his mind, might be allowed a long time in coming to it. But she tried
reproving him.

"O Jerry, the horse'll freeze to death!"

"No, he won't. He's all blanketed. Besides, little Jim Pillsbury's there
tendin' the fire for the sociable, an' he'll find him. Now--" his voice
took on an added depth of that strange new quality she shivered
under--"Matt'll be over here in a minute to tell you he's lost his horse
an' can't go. You want me to harness up an' take him an' you in the old
pung, or you want to stay here with me?"

Stella touched his cheek with her finger in a way she had, and he
remembered and bent and kissed her.

"All right," he said. "That suits me. We'll stay here. Only, I don't
want to put ye to no shame before Matt. That's why I played a trick on
him instid o' breakin' his bones."

"O Jerry!" She had not meant to tell him, but it seemed she must. "I
wasn't goin' with him alone. Lottie was goin', too. I told him I
wouldn't any other way."



A GRIEF DEFERRED


When Clelia May set forth, as she did three and four times in the week,
to hurry through the half-mile of pine woods between her house and
Sabrina Thorne's, the family usually asked her, with the tolerant smile
accorded to old jokes, whether she was going to see her intimate friend.
Clelia always answered from a good-natured acceptance of the pleasantry,
and went on, not in the least puzzled by the certainty that although she
was but twenty-three and Sabrina was sixty, they were in all ways
companionable. It had begun when Clelia, a child of ten, had had a
temper-fit at home, and started out to join the Shakers. She had met a
turkey-gobbler at Sabrina's gate, and, ashamed to cry but too obstinate
to run, had stood in blank horror until Sabrina came out and routed the
foe. Then Sabrina had taken her in to eat honey and spend an enchanted
afternoon. After that Sabrina's house was the delectable land, and
Clelia fled to it when she was happy or when the world was against her.

To-day she walked swiftly through the warm incense of the pines. It was
hot weather, and insects vexed the ear with an unwearied trill. But the
heat of despair was greater in the girl than any such assault. Her
cheeks had each a deep red spot. Her eyes were dark with feeling, and on
the long black lashes hung fringing drops. She walked lightly, with
springing strides. Beyond the pine woods, in the patch of sunny road
bordered by dust-covered hardhack and elder, she paused for a moment, to
dash the tears from her eyes. There in the open day she felt as if some
prying glance might read her grief. The woods were kinder to it.

Sabrina's house was at the first turning, a gray, weather-beaten
dwelling of mellow tones, set within a generous sweep of green. It had a
garden in front. Sabrina herself was in the garden now, weeding the
balm-bed. Sometimes Clelia thought the garden was almost too sweet after
Sabrina had been there stirring up the scents. At least a third of it
was given to herbs, and even the touch of a skirt in passing would brush
out fragrance from it. There were things there that strangely seemed to
have no smell at all; but grown in such rank masses, they contributed
mysteriously to the alembic of the year.

Sabrina, risen to her feet now, had a look of youth touched by something
that was not so much age as difference. She was slender, and still with
a girl's symmetry, the light-footed way of moving, the little sinuous
graces of a body unspoiled and delighting in its own uses. Her face had
a rounded plumpness, and her cheeks were pink. People said now, as they
had in her youth, that Sabrina Thorne had the skin of a baby. One old
woman, chiefly engaged in marking down human commodities, always added
that it was because of that heart trouble Sabrina had; but nobody
listened. Sabrina seemed to have made no concession to time, save that
her waving hair was white. In its beauty and abundance, it was a marvel.
It sprang thickly up on each side of her parting, and the soft mass of
it was wound round and round on the top of her head. She was a beautiful
being, neither old nor young.

She stood there smiling at Clelia's approach.

"How do?" she said softly; but when the girl was near enough to betray
the trouble of her face, she added, "Whatever is the matter?"

"Come into the house, Sabrina," said Clelia, in a muffled voice. "I
can't tell it out here."

Sabrina dropped her trowel on a heap of weeds, and cast her gardening
gloves on the top. She led the way to the house, and when they were in
the coolness of the big sitting-room with its air of inherited repose,
she turned about and spoke again in her round, low voice. "Well?" There
was anxiety in the tone.

Clelia, facing her, began to speak with a hard composure.

"Richmond--Richmond Blake--" and her voice broke. She threw herself
forward upon Sabrina's shoulder and clasped her with shaking hands. "He
has given me up, Sabrina," she moaned, between her sobs. "It is over. He
has given me up."

Sabrina led her to the great chair by the window, and forced her into
it. Then she knelt beside her and drew the girl's head again to her
shoulder. She patted her cheek with little regular beats that had a
rhythmic soothing.

"There, there, dear," she kept saying. "There, there!"

Presently Clelia choked down her sobs, and raised her face, tempestuous
in its marks of grief.

"I'd just as soon tell you," she said, with a broken hardness, a
composure struggled for and then lost. "I'd just as soon anybody would
know it. I don't feel as if I'd any use for myself, now he don't prize
me. Well, Sabrina, he don't want me any more."

"You sure, dear?" asked Sabrina. "You better be sure."

"We got talking about the land," said Clelia, in a high voice.

"The ten-acre lot?"

"Yes. I said to him: 'There's that man from New York. He's offered you
two hundred dollars for it. Why don't you take it?'"

"What's the man from New York want it for?" asked Sabrina, with what
seemed a trifling irrelevance.

Clelia answered impatiently.

"I don't know. To build a summer cottage, I suppose. That's what
Richmond asked me, and I said I didn't know. Then he said he wasn't
going to sell till he knew what he was selling for."

"Well, I call that kinder long-headed, myself," said Sabrina.

"So you might; but the New York man went away that afternoon. 'Well,'
says he, before he went, 'that's my offer. Take it or leave it.'"

"But that's nothing to be mad about."

"We didn't stop there. I reminded Rich how far that money would go
towards building, and his jaw got set, and he said he couldn't help it.
Then I told him I'd be switched if ever I lived with his folks--"

"Oh, dear, dear!" lamented Sabrina. "You didn't say that, did you? Now
you mustn't, dear. You mustn't say things folks can't forget."

A gush of tears flooded the girl's cheeks.

"Oh, I didn't mean to!" she cried, in the bitterness of remembering a
battle lost. "He knew I didn't mean to. But I got sort of crazy,
Sabrina. I did. And I told him at last--" Her eyelids dropped under
their weight of tears.

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him he could choose between his folks and me."

"What did he say?"

"He said, 'I'll choose now. It's over.' He got up and walked out of the
room. He turned at the door. 'It's over, Clelia,' says he. 'Don't you
ever call me back, for I sha'n't come.' And he won't. He ain't that
kind."

"Oh, me! oh, me!" moaned Sabrina. She, too, knew he was not that kind.

They sat in silence for a moment, the girl looking straight before her
in a dull acquiescence, and Sabrina's pink face settled into aging
lines. Suddenly the girl spoke sharply.

"But I can't bear it, Sabrina, I can't bear it. It will kill me--if I
don't kill myself."

Sabrina rose slowly, and took a chair at the other window.

"Yes," said she, "you can bear it. Other folks have gone through it
before you, an' other folks will again. It's a kind of a sickness
there's goin' to be as long as the earth turns round. You've got to bear
it."

Her voice struck sharply, and Clelia, called momentarily out of herself,
glanced at her with a sudden interest. For the first time since their
intimacy, Sabrina looked her age.

Little fine lines seemed to have started out upon her cheeks and
forehead. Her eyes had the look of grief. But Clelia's thoughts went
back at once to her own trouble. She spoke gravely now, like an older
woman.

"It's not because we've quarreled, Sabrina. I'd say I was sorry this
minute. But he wouldn't take me back. It shows he don't care. If he'd
cared about me, he'd have thought 'twas a little thing; but he's chosen
between us, and he won't go back."

"Well," said Sabrina conclusively, "however it turns out, it's here an'
you've got to face it. Clelia, I've a good mind to tell you somethin' I
ain't ever told anybody."

"Yes," said Clelia indifferently, her mind upon herself. "Yes, tell me."

Sabrina folded her hands upon her lap and set her gaze straight forward,
and yet with a removed look, as if she had withdrawn into the past.

"I don't know as you ever knew, Clelia," she said, and Clelia at once
thought that it was as if she were reading from a book, "but when I was
about your age, I come near bein' married."

"Father said you were much sought after," said Clelia, with a prim
shyness not like her own stormy confession. Sabrina, with her white
hair and her young face seemed somehow set apart from love and the sweet
uses of it.

"I guess he never knew about that particular one. Nobody knew that. I
had as good a time as you've had, Clelia. I liked him the same way. I've
thought of it, day in, day out, when I've seen you with Richmond Blake.
I've never been so near livin' since as I have when I've seen you an'
Richmond together out in that gardin, laughin' an' jokin' in amongst the
flowers. Well, he give me up, dear. He give me up."

Her hands took a firmer hold on each other. Her face convulsed into a
deeper grief; and Clelia, who had never seen her moved with any emotion
that concerned herself alone, gazed at her in awe, with her own passion
quieting as she confronted that of one so old, yet living still.

"Did you--have words?" she ventured.

"No, dear, no. I guess we couldn't have had, I felt so humble towards
him. I never forgot a minute how good it was to have him like me. No.
There was somebody else. You see he was terrible smart. He put himself
through college, an' then he met her, an' she was just as smart as he
was. Lively, too, I guess. I never see her. But I hadn't anything but my
good looks--I was real pretty then. I had that an' a kind of a way of
keepin' house an' makin' folks comfortable. Well, I found out he didn't
prize me; so I give him his freedom. An' he was glad, dear, he was
glad."

She rocked back and forth for a moment, in forgetfulness of any save the
long-past moment when she was alive.

"O Sabrina!" breathed the girl.

It recalled her. She straightened, and resumed the habit of an ordered
life.

"Now this is what I was comin' to," she said, "the way to bear it. It
ain't a light thing. It's a heavy one. A lot o' folks go through with
it, an' they take it different ways. Sometimes their minds give out.
Folks say they're love-cracked. Sometimes they die. Yes, Clelia, often
I've thought that would be the easiest. But there's other ways."

Clelia's tears were dried. She sat upright and looked at the woman
opposite. It suddenly seemed to her that she had never known Sabrina.
She had seen her nursing the sick or in the garden, smiling over her
gentle tasks; but she had not known her. Sabrina spoke now with
authority, as if she were passing along the laws of life into hands
outstretched for them.

"When it happened to me, mother was sick. She had creepin' paralysis,
an' I had to be with her 'most every minute. When I got my letter, I was
in the gardin, right there by the spearmint bed. You see I'd written
him, dear, to offer him his freedom; but I found out afterwards I must
have thought, in the bottom of my heart, he wouldn't take it. Well, I
opened the letter. 'Twas a hot summer day like this. He took what I
offered him, dear,--he never knew I cared,--an' he was pleased. The
letter showed it. I spoke out loud. 'O God,' I says, 'I don't believe
it!' Then I heard mother's voice callin' me. She wanted a drink o'
water. I begun steppin' in kind o' blinded, to get it for her. Seemed as
if 'twas miles across the balm-bed. 'I mustn't fall,' I says to myself.
'I mustn't die till mother does.' And then somethin' put it into my head
I needn't believe it nor I needn't give up to it, not till mother died.
Then 'twould be time enough to know I'd got a broken heart."

It almost seemed as if she had never faced her grief before. She
abandoned herself to the savor of it, the girl forgotten.

"Well, mother died, an' that night after the funeral I set down by the
window where I'm settin' now an' says, 'Now I can think it over.' But I
knew as well as anything ever was that when I faced it 'twould take away
my reason. So I says, 'Mother's things have got to be put away. I'll
wait till then.' So I packed up her things, an' sent 'em to her sister
out West. Some o' her common ones 't I'd seen her wear, I burnt up, so
't nobody shouldn't have 'em. I put her old bunnit into the kitchen
stove, an' I can see the cover goin' down on it now. 'Twas thirty-eight
year ago this very summer. Then says I, 'I'll face it.' But old Abner
Lake had a shock, an' there wa'n't nobody to take care of him less'n
they sent him to the town farm, an' folks said he cried night an' day,
knowin' what was before him. So I had him moved over here, an' I tended
him till he died. An' so 'twas with one an' another. It begun to seem as
if folks needed somebody that hadn't anything of her own to keep her;
an' then, spells between their wantin' me, I'd say, 'I won't face it
till I've cleaned the house,' or 'till I've got the gardin made.' An',
Clelia, that was the grief that was goin' to conquer me, if I'd faced
it; an' I ain't faced it yet! I ain't believed it!"

A sense of her own youth and her sharp sorrow came at once upon the
girl, and she cried out:

"I've got to face it. It won't let me do anything else. It's here,
Sabrina. I couldn't help feeling it, if I killed myself trying."

Sabrina's face softened exquisitely.

"I guess 'tis here," she said tenderly. "I guess you do feel it. But,
dearie, there's lots of folks walkin' round doin' their work with their
hearts droppin' blood all the time. Only you mustn't listen to it. You
just say, 'I'll do the things I've got to do, an' I'll fix my mind on
'em. I won't cry till to-morrow.' An' when to-morrow comes, you say the
same."

Clelia set her mouth in a piteous conformity. But it quivered back.

"I guess you think I'm a coward, Sabrina," she said. "Well, I'll do the
best I can. Maybe if 'twas fall I could get a school, and set my mind on
that. I can help mother, but she'd rather manage things herself."

Sabrina bent forward, with an eager gesture.

"Dear, there's lots o' things," she said. "The earth's real pretty. You
concern yourself with that. You say, 'I won't give up till I've seen the
apple-blows once more. I won't give up till I've got the rose-bugs off'n
the vines.' An' every night says you to yourself, 'I won't cry till
to-morrow.'"

Clelia rose heavily.

"You're real good, Sabrina," she said. Then she added, in a shy whisper,
"And I--I won't ever tell."

"You sit right down," returned Sabrina vigorously, rising as she said
it. "I'll bring you the peas to shell. They're late ones, an' they're
good. You stay, an' this afternoon we'll go out an' pick the
elderberries down on the cross-road. I've got to have some wine."

That week and the next Clelia made herself listlessly busy, and Sabrina
was away, nursing a child who was sick of a fever. Clelia was pondering
now on her own hurt, now on the story her friend had told her. It seemed
like a soothing alternation of grief, sometimes in the pitiless
sun-glare of her own loss, and again walking in a darkened yet fragrant
valley where the other woman had lived for many years. But on an evening
of the third week, she had news that sent her speeding through the
Half-Mile Road and in at the door where Sabrina sat resting after a hard
day. Clelia was breathless.

"Sabrina," she cried, "Sabrina, Richmond's mother's sick and he's away.
He's gone to New York, and she's left all alone with aunt Lucindy."

"What's the matter with her?" asked Sabrina, coming to her feet and
beginning to smooth her hair.

"She's feverish, and aunt Lucindy says she's been shaking with the
cold."

"You sent for the doctor?"

Sabrina was doing up a little bundle of her night-clothes that had lain
on the chair beside her while she rested.

"No."

"Well, you do that, straight off. An' when he comes, he'll tell you what
to do an' you do it."

"Can't you go, Sabrina? Can't you go? Aunt Lucindy wanted you."

"No," said Sabrina, tying on her hat, and taking up her bundle. "I only
come to pick me up a few things. That little creatur' may not live the
night out. But I'll walk along with you, an' step in an' see how things
seem."

Once only in the Half-Mile walk did they speak, and then Clelia broke
forth throbbingly to the accompaniment of a sudden color in her cheeks.

"I don't know as I want to go into Richmond's house when he's away, now
we're not the same."

"Don't make any difference whether it's Richmond's house or whether it
ain't, if there's sickness," returned Sabrina briefly. But at the
doorstone she paused a moment, to add with some recurrence of the
intensity the girl had seen in her that other day: "Ain't you glad you
got somethin' to do for him? Ain't you _glad_? You go ahead an' do what
you can, an' call yourself lucky you've got it to do."

And Clelia very humbly did it. Then it was another week, and the two
friends had not met; but again at twilight Clelia took her walk, and
this time she found Sabrina stretched out on the lounge of the
sitting-room. There was a change in her. Pallor had settled upon her
face, and her dark eyebrows and lashes stood out startlingly upon the
ashen mask. Clelia hurried up to her and knelt beside the couch.

"What is it, Sabrina?" she whispered. "What is it?"

Sabrina opened her eyes. She smiled languidly, and the girl, noting the
patience of her face, was thrilled with fear.

"How's Richmond's mother?" asked Sabrina.

"Better. She's sitting up. I sha'n't be there any more. He's coming home
to-night."

"Richmond?"

"Yes. The doctor said there wasn't any need of sending for him, and I'm
glad we didn't, now. Sabrina, what's the matter?"

"I had one of my heart-spells, that's all," said Sabrina gently. "There,
don't you go to lookin' like that."

"What made you, Sabrina? What made you?"

Sabrina hesitated.

"Well," she said, at length, "I guess I got kinder startled. Deacon
Tolman run in an' told what kind of doin's there was goin' to be
to-morrow. He was full of it, an' he blurted it all out to once."

"About Senator Gilman coming?"

"Yes."

"And their trimming up the hall for him to speak in, and his writing on
it was his boyhood's home and he shouldn't die happy unless he'd come
back and seen it once more?"

"Yes. That's about it."

"Well," said Clelia, in slow wonder, "I don't see what there was about
that to give anybody a heart-spell."

Sabrina looked at her for a moment in sharp questioning, followed by
relief.

"No," she said softly, "no. But I guess I got kinder startled."

"I'm going to stay with you," said Clelia tenderly. "I'll stay all
night."

"There's a good girl. Now there's somebody round, I guess maybe I could
drop off to sleep."

At first Clelia was not much alarmed; for though Sabrina was known to
have heart-spells, she always came out of them and went on her way with
the same gentle impregnability. But in the middle of the night, she
suddenly woke Clelia sleeping on the lounge beside her, by saying in a
clear tone:--

"Wouldn't it be strange, Clelia?"

"Wouldn't what be strange?" asked the girl, instantly alert.

"Wouldn't it be strange if anybody put off their sorrow all their lives
long, an' then died before they got a chance to give way to it?"

"Sabrina, you thinking about those things?"

"Never mind," answered Sabrina soothingly. "I guess I waked up kinder
quick."

But again, after she had had a sinking spell, and Clelia had given her
some warming drops, she said half-shyly, "Clelia, maybe you'll think I'm
a terrible fool; but if I should pass away, there's somethin' I should
like to have you do."

Clelia knelt beside her, and put her wet cheek down on the little
roughened hand.

"There was that city boarder I took care of, the summer she gi'n out
down here," went on Sabrina dreamily. "I liked her an' I liked her
clo'es. They were real pretty. She see I liked 'em, an' what should she
do when she went back home, but send me a blue silk wrapper all lace and
ribbins, just like hers, only nicer. It's in that chist. I never've wore
it. But if I should be taken away--I 'most think I'd like to have it put
on me."

The cool summer dawn was flowing in at the window. The solemnity of the
hour moved Clelia like the strangeness of the time. It hushed her to
composure.

"I will," she promised. "If you should go before me, I'll do everything
you want. Now you get some sleep."

But after Sabrina had shut her eyes and seemed to be drowsing off, she
opened them to say, this time with an imperative strength:--

"But don't you let it spile their good time."

"Whose, Sabrina?"

"The doin's they're goin' to have in the hall. If I should go in the
midst of it, don't you tell no more'n you can help. But I guess I can
live through one day anyways."

That forenoon she was a little brighter, as one may be with the mounting
sun, and Clelia, disregarding all entreaties to see the "doings" at the
hall, took faithful care of her. But in the late afternoon while she sat
beside the bed and Sabrina drowsed, there was a clear whistle very near.
It sounded like a quail outside the window. Clelia flushed red. The sick
woman, opening her eyes, saw how she was shaking.

"What is it, dear?" she asked.

"It's Richmond," said Clelia, in a full, moved voice. "It's his
whistle."

"You go out to him, dear," urged Sabrina, as if she could not say it
fast enough. "You hurry."

And Clelia went, trembling.

When she came back, half an hour later, she walked like a goddess
breathing happiness and pride.

"O Sabrina!" She sank down by the bedside and put her head beside
Sabrina's cheek. "He was there in the garden. He kissed me right in
sight of the road. If 't had been in the face and eyes of everybody, it
couldn't have made any difference. 'You took care of mother,' he said.
'I like your mother,' I said. 'I'd like to live with her--and aunt
Lucindy.' And he said then, Sabrina, he said then, 'We sha'n't have to.'
And Sabrina, he's been on to New York to see if he could find out
anything about the railroad that's going through to save stopping at the
Junction; and he saw Senator Gilman, and that's how the senator came
down here. He got talking with Richmond, old times and all, and he just
wanted to come. And the railroad's going through the ten-acre pasture,
and Richmond'll get a lot of money."

Sabrina's hand rested on the girl's head.

"There, dear," she said movingly. "Didn't I tell you? Don't cry till
to-morrow, an' maybe you won't have to then."

Clelia sat up, wiping her eyes and laughing.

"That isn't all," she said. "Senator Gilman wants to see you."

"Me!"

Sabrina rose and sat upright in bed. The color flooded her pale cheeks.
Her eyes dilated.

"Yes. He told Richmond you used to go to school together, and he's
coming down here on his way to the train. And sick or well, he said,
you'd got to see him."

Sabrina had put one shaking hand to her hair. "It's turned white," she
whispered.

But Clelia did not hear her. She had opened the chest at the foot of
the bed, and taken out a soft package delicately wrapped. She pulled out
a score of pins and shook the shimmering folds of the blue dress. Then
she glanced at Sabrina still sitting there, the color flooding her
cheeks again with their old pinkness.

"Oh!" breathed Clelia, in rapture at the dress, and again at the sweet
rose-bloom in Sabrina's face. Then she calmed herself, remembering this
was a sick chamber, though every moment the airs of life seemed
entering. She brought the dress to the bedside. "You put your arm in,
Sabrina," she coaxed.

Sabrina did it. She moved in a daze, and presently she was lying in her
bed clothed in blue and white, her soft hair piled above her head, and
her eyes wide with some unconfessed emotion. But to Clelia, she was
accustomed to look vivid; life was her portion always. The girl sped out
of the room, and came back presently, her arms full of summer flowers,
tiger-lilies, larkspur, monkshood, and herbs that, being bruised, gave
out odors. Sabrina's eyes questioned her. Clelia tossed the flowers in a
heap on the table.

"What you doin' that for?" asked Sabrina.

"I don't know," answered the girl, in a whisper. "There's no time to put
'em in water. I want to have things pretty, that's all. You take your
drops, dear. They've come."

But Sabrina lay there, an image of beauty in a sea of calm.

"I don't want any drops," she said. "I shouldn't think o' dyin' now."

Clelia went out, and presently Sabrina heard her young voice with its
note of happiness.

"In this way, sir," she was saying. "Yes, Rich, you stay in the garden.
I'll be there."

Senator Gilman, bowing his head under the low lintel, was coming in. He
walked up to the bedside, and Sabrina's eyes appraised him. He was a
remarkable-looking man, with the flowing profile of a selected type, and
thick gray hair tossed back from his fine forehead. He sat down by her.

"Well, Bina," said he.

This was not the voice that had filled the hall that morning or jovially
greeted townsmen all the afternoon. It was gently adapted to her state,
and Sabrina quieted under its friendliness.

"Couldn't go away without seeing you," said Senator Gilman. "They told
me you were sick. I said to myself, 'She'll see me. She'll know 'twould
spoil my visit, if I had to go away without it.'"

Sabrina was looking him sweetly in the face, and smiling at him.

"How much time you got?" she asked, like a child.

He took out his watch.

"My train is at five forty-five," he said.

"Then you talk fast."

"What you want to know?" asked her friend.

He had fallen into homely ways of speech, to fit the time.

"You've done real well, ain't you?" asked Sabrina eagerly.

The senator nodded.

"I have, Bina," said he. "I have. I've made money, and I own a grown-up
son. He's got all the best of me and the best of all of us, as far back
as I can remember--and none of the worst. I'll send him down here to see
you."

"He must be smart," said Sabrina. "I've read his book."

"You have? Didn't know there was a copy in town. Nobody else here has
heard of it."

"I see it noticed in the paper. I sent for it. I never spoke of it to
anybody. I guess I was pretty mean. Folks borrow books, an' then they
don't keep 'em nice."

"Bina, you're a dear. They've been telling me how you take care of the
whole town. Richmond Blake--he's a likely fellow; he'll get on--he said
you were the prettiest woman in the township. Said his father told him
you were the prettiest girl."

Sabrina's little capable right hand went out and drew the sheet over her
blue draperies up to her chin.

"You're not cold?" asked the senator solicitously; but she shook her
head and answered:--

"You've seen foreign countries, ain't you?"

"Yes. I've seen India and I've seen the Pyramids. I thought about you
those times, Bina--how we recited together in geography; and I was the
one that went and you were the one to stay at home. But near as I can
make out, you've carried the world on your shoulders down here, while
I've tried to do the same thing somewhere else--and not so well,
Bina--not so well."

Her sweet face clouded. She was jealous of even a hint of failure for
him.

"But you've come out pretty fair?" she hesitated anxiously.

"Pretty fair, Bina. It's been a good old world. I've enjoyed it, and I
don't know as I shall want to leave it. But now I feel as if I were
working for the next generation. The little I've done I can pass over to
my son, and I hope he'll do more."

He laid his hand on the garnered sweets beside him. The herbs were
uppermost. "Spearmint!" he said. Sabrina nodded, and he ate a leaf.
Then one after another he took up the herbs, southernwood and all, and
bruised them to get their separate fragrance. It was a keen pleasure to
him, and Sabrina saw it and blessed Clelia in her heart. Presently he
sat back in his chair and regarded her musingly. A softened look came
into his eyes. A smile, all sweetness, overspread his face. It gave him
his boyhood's mien.

"I'll tell you what, Bina," he said, "in that first rough-and-tumble
before I made my way, you did me a lot of good."

Sabrina lay and looked at him. Even her eyes had a still solemnity.

"You wrote me a little note."

More color surged into her face, but she did not stir.

"I was pretty ambitious then," he went on musingly. "My wife was
ambitious, too. That was before we were engaged, you understand. We got
kind of carried away by people and money and honors--that kind of thing,
you know. Well, that little note, Bina. There wasn't anything particular
in it, except at the end you said, 'I sha'n't ever forget to hope you
will be good.' It was queer, but it made me feel kind of responsible to
you. I thought of you down here in your garden, and--well, I don't know,
Bina. I showed that note to my wife, and she said, 'Bina must be a
dear.'"

Sabrina's eyes questioned him.

"Yes," he said frankly. "She's a dear, too--only different. It's been
all right, Bina."

"Ain't that good!" she whispered happily. "I'm glad."

He had pulled out his watch, and at that moment Richmond's voice sounded
clearer, as the two out there in the garden came to summon him.

"By George!" said Greenleaf Gilman, "I've got to go."

He rose, and took her hand. He stood there for a moment, holding it, and
they looked at each other in a faithful trust.

"You take some southernwood," counseled Sabrina, and he laid her hand
gently down, to select his posy.

"I wish your wife could have some," Sabrina went on, in a wistful
eagerness, "I don't seem to have a thing to send her."

"I'll tell her all about it," said her friend. "I'll tell her you're a
dear still, only more so. She'll understand. Good-by, Bina."

When his carriage had left the gate, and Clelia came in with that last
look of her lover still mirrored in her eyes, Sabrina lay there floating
in her sea of happiness.

"Why, dear," said the girl, drawing the sheet down from the hidden
finery. "You cold?"

"I guess not," said Sabrina, smiling up at her.

"Did you keep that pretty lace all covered up? What made you, Sabrina?"

"I don't know 's I could tell exactly," said Sabrina, in her gentle
voice. "Now, dear, I'm goin' to get this off an' have my clo'es. I'm
better."

"You do feel better, don't you?" assented Clelia joyously, helping her.

That night they supped together at the table, and when the dusk had
fallen and Sabrina sat by the window breathing in the evening cool, she
said shyly, like a bride:--

"Don't you see, dear, sometimes we put off grief an' we don't need to
have it after all."

"I see about me," said the girl tenderly, "but I don't see as anything
pleasant has happened to you."

"Why," said Sabrina, in a voice so full and sweet that for the moment it
seemed not to be her own hesitating note, "I've had more happiness than
most folks have in their whole life. I've had all there is."



THE CHALLENGE


Mariana Blake, on her way home from Jake Preble's in the autumn
twilight, heard women's voices sounding clearly at a distance,
increasing in volume as they neared. She knew the turn of the road would
hide her from them for a minute or two to come, and depending on that
security she stepped over the wall and crouched behind the undergrowth
at the foot of a wild cherry. They were only her neighbors, Sophronia
Jackson and Lizzie Ann West, with whom she was on the kindliest terms;
but for some reason she felt sensitive to the social eye whenever she
was carrying Jake a basket of her excellent cookery or returning with
the empty dishes. Other neighbors, it was true, contributed delicacies
to his rudimentary housekeeping, though chiefly at festal times like
Thanksgiving and Christmas; but Mariana was conscious that she had kept
an especial charge over him since his sister died and left him alone.
Yet this she was never willing to confess, and though she treasured what
she had elected as her responsibility, it was with an exceptional
shyness.

The voices came nearer at a steady pace, accompanied at length by the
steady tread of Sophronia's low-heeled shoes and the pattering of Lizzie
Ann on the harder side of the road. When they were nearly opposite the
old cherry-tree, Sophronia spoke.

"Mercy! I stepped into a hole."

"Can't you remember that hole?" Lizzie Ann inquired, with her
inconsequent titter. "I've had that in mind ever since I went to school.
I always thought if I was one of the board o' selectmen, I guess I could
manage to fill up that hole."

"I guess I shall have to set down here and shake the gravel out o' my
shoe," said Sophronia. "You have this nice flat place, and I'll set
where I can get my foot up easy."

There was the softest accompanying rustle, and they had both sat down.
Mariana, over the wall, gripped her basket with a tenser hand, as if the
dishes, of their own accord, might clink. She held her breath, too,
smiling because she knew the need of caution would be brief. The instant
they were settled, she told herself, they would talk down any such
trifling sound as an unconsidered breath. She could foretell exactly
what they would say, once they had exhausted the topic of gravel in the
shoe. It would be either the new church cushions, or mock mince-pies for
the sociable, or the minister's daughter's old canary that had ceased
to sing or to echo the chirping of others, and yet was regarded with a
devotion the parishioners could not indorse. Mariana had seen both her
friends that day, and each of them had been more keenly alive to these
topics than any.

"I don't see what makes you so sure," said Sophronia, in a jerky
fashion, accompanying the attempt to draw her foot into the position
indicated for unlacing.

"Because I am," said Lizzie Ann. "So you are, too. Mariana Blake
never'll marry in the world. She ain't that kind."

"I don't know why she ain't," said her friend, in an argumentative tone
of the sort adopted to carry on brilliantly a conversation of which both
participants know the familiar moves. "Mariana's a real pretty woman,
prettier by far than she was when she's a girl. I know she's gettin'
along. She was forty-three last April, but age ain't everything. Look at
aunt Grinnell. She married when she's fifty-three, and she was homely 's
a hedge fence and hadn't any faculty. Nor she didn't bring him a cent,
either."

"Well, nobody'd say Mariana was homely. But she won't marry. Nor she
wouldn't if she was eighteen. She ain't that kind."

"There, I've got it laced up," said Sophronia. She seemed to settle into
an easier attitude, and Mariana could hear the scratch of the heel as
she thrust the rehabilitated foot afar from her on the lichened rock.
"Well, I guess you're right, but I don't know why it's so, after all. If
I was a man, seems if I should think Jake Preble, now, was a real likely
fellow to marry."

"Jake Preble!" Such distaste animated the tone of that response that
Mariana involuntarily raised herself from her listening posture, and the
dishes clinked. "What's that? Didn't you hear suthin'? Why, Jake
Preble's a kind of a hind wheel. He goes rollin' along after t'others,
never askin' why nor wherefore, and he thinks it's his own free will. He
never so much as dreams 'tis the horse that's haulin' him."

"Well, what is 't he thinks 'tis that's haulin' him?" asked Sophronia,
who was not imaginative.

"Why, all I mean is, he don't take things for what they're wuth. He
believes every goose's a swan till it up and honks, and he's jest as
likely to think a swan's a goose."

"You don't mean he ain't suited with Mariana?"

"No, no. I mean Mariana's cosseted him and swep' his path afore him,
carryin' his victuals and cleanin' up the house when he's out hayin' or
cuttin' wood, till he thinks it ain't so bad to bach it after all. If
she'd just let him alone after Hattie died, and starved him out, he'd
ha'nted her place oftener'n she's been over to his, and 'twouldn't ha'
been long before he learnt the taste of her apple-pies and where they
ought to be made. Now he knows they're to be picked mostly off'n his
kitchen table when he comes in from work."

"Mercy, you don't mean to say you think it's all victuals, do you?"
inquired Sophronia, with her unctuous laugh. "You never had much opinion
o' menfolks, anyways, Lizzie Ann."

"Well, they've got to eat, ain't they?" inquired Lizzie Ann. "That's all
I say. Come, ain't you got your shoe on yet? Why, yes, you have. Come
along. There's a kind of chill in the air, if 'tis September."

Mariana heard them rising, Sophronia contributing soft thuds of a
good-sized middle-aged body and Lizzie with a light scramble suited to
her weight.

"Mercy!" said Sophronia, "ain't you stiff?"

Then they went on together, and Mariana heard in the near distance the
familiar patter dealing with Sophronia's proficiency in mock mince-pies.
They were safely away, but she did not move. The cool September breeze
rustled the blackberry-vines on her side of the wall, but it did not
chill her. She was hot with some emotion she could not name,--anger,
perhaps, though it hardly seemed like that, resentment that her friends
could talk her over; and some hurt in the very centre of feeling because
the shyness of her soul had been invaded. It seemed so simple to carry
Jake Preble a pie of her own baking, as natural as for him to cut her
wood and shovel paths for her in the worst winter weather. When it was a
beautiful clearing-off day after a storm, she loved to sweep her paths
herself, and Jake knew it; but he was always near to rescue her when the
drifts piled too high. But then Cap'n Hanscom came, too, and he was a
widower, and once Sophronia's own husband had taken a hand at the snowy
citadel. Angry maidenhood in her kept hurling questions into the
deepening dusk. Mariana was learning that in a world of giving in
marriage, no woman and no man who have not accorded hostages to fortune
can live unchallenged.

When her ireful mood had worn itself away, she got up with the stiffness
of the mind's depression intensifying the body's chill, and made her way
swiftly toward home. She walked fast, because it seemed to her she could
not possibly bear to meet a neighbor. Even through the dusk her
tell-tale basket would be visible, the dishes in it clinking to the tune
that Mariana was no sort of a woman to marry.

When she reached home, she fled up the path to the door, feeling at
every step the friendliness of the way. The late fall flowers nodded
kindly to her through the dark, and underfoot were the stones and
hollows of the pathway familiar to her from a life's acquaintanceship.

"My sakes," breathed Mariana.

A man was sitting on her steps, and because Jake was so vividly present
to her mind, she almost spoke his name. But it was only Cap'n Hanscom,
rising as she neared him, and opening the door gallantly.

"I says to myself, she'll be along in a minute or two," he told her.

The cap'n had a soft voice touched here and there with whimsical tones.
When he was absent, Mariana often thought how much she liked his voice;
but whenever she saw him she consumed her friendly interest in wishing
he wouldn't wear a beard. She was a fastidious woman, and a beard seemed
to her untidy.

"You stay here in the settin'-room," said she. "I'll get the lamp."

She slipped through the kitchen into the pantry and put her basket
softly down, lest he should hear that shameful clink. Even Cap'n Hanscom
could not be allowed, she thought, to know she had been carrying pies to
a man who would not marry her because she was not the kind of woman to
marry. When she came back, bearing the shining lamp, the cap'n looked
at her in a frank approval.

Mariana was a round, pleasant body with pink cheeks, kindly eyes, and,
bearing witness to her character, a determined mouth; but now she seemed
to be enveloped by some transforming aura. Her auburn hair, touched with
gray, had blown about her head in an unusual abandon, her cheeks were
flaming, and her eyes had pin-points of light. She set the lamp down on
the table with a steady hand and drew the shades. Then she became aware
that the cap'n was looking at her. He had a fatherly gaze for everybody,
the index of his extreme kindliness, but it had apparently been startled
into some keener interest.

"Well," said Mariana, and found that she was speaking irritably. "What's
the matter? You look as if you never see anybody before."

She and the cap'n had been schoolfellows, though he was older, and often
she treated him with scanty ceremony; now, after she had tossed him that
aged formula of banter, she laughed to soften it. But she was still
unaccountably angry.

"Well," said the cap'n slowly, "I dunno 's I ever did see just such a
kind of a body before."

The words seemed to be echoing from the stolen conversation too warmly
alive in her memory. He, too, she thought, was probably considering her
a nice proper-looking woman, but one no man would think of marrying.

"Take a chair," she said, and the cap'n went over to the hearth where a
careful fire was laid.

"Goin' to touch it off?" he inquired.

Mariana, with a jealous eye, noted that he was looking at the fire, not
at her. She wondered if Lizzie Ann West would say a man had to be warmed
as well as fed.

"Touch it off," she said, with a disproportioned recklessness. "There's
the matches on the mantel-tree."

The cap'n did it, kneeling to adjust the sticks more nicely; and when
one fell forward with the burning of the kindling, lifted it and laid it
back solicitously. Then with a turkey-wing he swept up the hearth, its
specklessness invaded by a rolling bit of coal, put the wing in place,
and stood looking down at what seemed to be his own handiwork.

"There!" said he.

He took the big armchair by the hearth, and Mariana drew her little
rocker to the other corner. She seated herself in it, her hands rather
tensely folded, and the cap'n regarded her mildly.

"Ain't you goin' to sew?" he inquired.

"Why, no," said Mariana, "I dunno 's I be. I dunno 's I feel like
sewin' all the time."

"Well, I dunno 's there's any law to make a woman set an' sew," the
cap'n ruminated. "Sewin' or knittin', either. Only, I've got so used to
seein' you with a piece o' work in your hands, didn't look hardly
nat'ral not to." He regarded her again with his kindly stare. "Mariana,"
said he, "you look like a different creatur'. What is 't's got hold of
you?"

"Nothin', I guess," said Mariana. "Maybe I'm mad."

"Mad? What ye mad about?"

"Oh, I dunno. I guess I'm just mad in general. Nothin' particular, as I
see."

"Well, if anybody's goin' to be mad it ought to be me," said the cap'n,
lifting his brows with that droll look he wore when he intended to
indicate that he was fooling. "I guess I've got to wash my own dishes
an' bake my own johnny-cake for a spell. Mandy's goin' to leave."

"Mandy goin' to leave! Well, you will be put to 't. What's she leavin'
for?"

"Goin' to be married."

"For mercy sakes! Who's Mandy Hill goin' to marry?"

"Goin' to marry the peddler."

"The one from the Pines?"

Cap'n Hanscom nodded.

"He's been round consid'able this fall, but I never so much as thought
he'd got anything but carpet-rags in his head. Well, seems he had. Now
't I know it, I realize Mandy's been stockin' up with tin for quite a
spell. Seems to me I never see a woman that needed so much tinware, nor
took so long to pick it out. I never got it through my noddle she an'
the peddler was makin' on 't up between 'em."

"Well, suz," said Mariana. "I never so much as thought Mandy Hill'd ever
marry."

"I never did, either," said the cap'n. "But come to that, it'd be queer
'f she didn't sooner or later. Mandy Hill's just the sort of a woman
nine men out o' ten'd be possessed to marry. Wonder to me she ain't done
it afore."

Mariana shot a glance at him. There was fire in it, kindled of what fuel
she knew not; but the flame of it seemed to scorch her. The cap'n was
staring at the andirons and did not see it.

"I'd give a good deal," he said musingly, "if I thought I could ever
come acrost such a housekeeper as you be, Mariana. But there! that's
snarin' a white blackbird."

"Cap'n," said Mariana.

Her tone seemed to leap at him, and he had to look at her.

"Why, Mariana!" he returned. Her face amazed him. It was full of light,
but a light that glittered. "By George," said he, "you looked that
minute for all the world jest as your brother Elmer did when Si Thomson
struck him in town meetin'. Si was drunk an' Elmer never laid up a thing
after the blow was over an' done; but that first minute he looked as if
he was goin' to jump. What is it, Mariana?"

"Cap'n," said Mariana. She was used to calling him by his first name in
their school-day fashion, but her new knowledge of life seemed for the
moment to have made all the world alien to her. "Cap'n, if anybody said
you couldn't do a thing, wouldn't you say to yourself you'd be--wouldn't
you say you'd do it?"

"Why, I dunno," said the cap'n, wondering. "Mebbe I would if 'twas
somethin' I thought best to do."

"No, no. If 'twas somethin'--well, s'pose somebody said you was a
Chinyman, wouldn't you prove you wa'n't?"

"Why," said the cap'n mildly, "anybody'd see I wa'n't, minute they
looked into my face. Nobody'd say anybody was a Chinyman if they
wa'n't."

Mariana was able to laugh a little here, though a tear did run over her
cheek in a hateful, betraying way. She wiped it off, but the cap'n saw
it.

"See here, Mariana," said he stoutly, "who's been rilin' you up?
Somebody has. You tell me, an' I'll kick 'em from here to the state o'
Maine."

"Oh, it's nothin'," said Mariana. "Here, you lay on another stick. I was
only thinkin' when you spoke of Mandy, what a fool she was to tie
herself up to the best man in the world if she could get good wages,
nice easy place same as yours is. Well, there, Eben! I do get kind o'
blue when the winter comes on and I sit here by the fire watchin' my
hair turn gray. If anybody was to offer me a job, I'd take it."

"You would?" said Cap'n Hanscom.

She saw a thought run into his eyes, and hated it. She liked Eben
Hanscom, but all the decorous reserves were at once awake in her,
bidding him remember that she was not going to scale the trim, tight
fence of maidenly tradition. He began rather breathlessly, and she cut
him short.

"I'd come and be your housekeeper," said Mariana, hurriedly in her turn,
"for three dollars a week, same as you give Mandy, and be glad and
thankful. Only I'd want somebody else in the family. I dunno why, but
seems if folks would laugh if you and me settled down there together
like two old folks--"

"I dunno why they'd laugh," said the cap'n stoutly. His eyes were
glowing with the surprise of it and the happy anticipation of Mariana's
tidy ways. "Nobody laughed at me an' Mandy; leastways if they did, I
never got hold on 't."

"Well, you see, Mandy's day begun pretty soon after your wife was taken,
and folks were kinder softened down. Anyways, I couldn't do it. 'Tain't
that I'm young and 'tain't that I'm a fool, but I'd just like to have
one more in the family."

"Aunt Elkins might think she could make a home with us," said the cap'n,
pondering. "No, she wouldn't, either, come to think. Her son's sent her
her fare to go out to them this winter. Ain't you got some friend,
Mariana?"

"No," said Mariana. She was watching him with a steady gaze, as if she
had planted a magic seed and looked for its uprising. "If there was only
somebody else that's left alone as you and I be," she offered
speciously.

The cap'n felt a quick delight over his own cleverness.

"Why," said he, "there's Jake Preble."

"He never'd do it," said Mariana. She shook her head conclusively.
"Never 'n the world."

"I bet ye forty dollars," said the cap'n. "He could go over 'n' take
care of his stock an' do his choppin', an' come back to a warm house.
I'm goin' to ask him. I'm goin' this minute. You set up, an' I'll be
back an' tell ye."

"You take it from me," Mariana was calling after him. "He won't do it
and it's noways right he should. You tell him so from me."

"I bet ye forty dollars," cried the cap'n.

The door clanged behind him and he was gone. Mariana had never heard him
in such demented haste since the days when one squad of the boys
besieged another in the schoolhouse, and Eben Hanscom was deputed to run
for reinforcements of those that went home at noon. But she settled down
there by the fire and held herself quiet until he should come. She
seemed to have shut a gate behind her; but whether she had opened
another to lead into the unknown country where women are like their
sisters, triumphant over things, she could not tell. At the moment she
found herself in a little inclosure where everybody could see her and
laugh at her, and she could not answer back.

Before the forestick had burned in two, she heard him coming, but he was
not alone. She knew that other step, marking out a longer stride, and
the steady inarticulate responses when the cap'n talked. The cap'n
opened the door and they walked in. Jake Preble was ahead, a tall,
powerful creature in his working-clothes, his thin face with the bright
brown eyes interrogating her, his mouth, in spite of him, moving
nervously under the mustache.

"What's all this?" said he roughly, approaching her as if, Mariana
thought, he owned her.

That air of his had pleased her once: it gave her a curious little
thrill of acquiescent loyalty; but now it simply hurt, and the instinct
of resentment rose in her. What right had he to own her, she asked
herself, when it only made other women scornful of her? She lifted her
head and faced him. What he saw in her eyes he could not perhaps have
told, but it suddenly quieted him to a surprised humility.

"You goin' over to keep house for him?" he asked, with a motion of his
head toward the cap'n, who seemed to be petitioning the god of
domesticity lest his new hopes be confounded.

"Yes," said Mariana, "but I ain't goin' unless he can get one or two
more. I'm tired to death of settin' down to the table alone. One more
wouldn't be no better. Three's the kind of a crowd I like. Two's no
company. Don't you say so, cap'n?"

"I prefer to choose my company, that's all I say," the cap'n answered
gallantly.

Jake looked from one to the other and then back again. What he saw
scarcely pleased him, but it had to be accepted.

"All right," said he. "If you want a boarder, no reason why you
shouldn't have one. I'll shut up my place to-morrer."

The red surged up into Mariana's cheeks. She had not known it was easy
to cause such gates to open.

"When's Mandy goin'?" she asked indifferently.

"Week from Wednesday," said the cap'n. He was suffused with joy, and
Mariana, in one of those queer ways she had of thinking of inapposite
things, remembered him as she saw him once when, at the age of fourteen,
he sat before a plate of griddle-cakes and saw the syrup-pitcher coming.

"Thursday, then," she said. "I'll be along bright and early."

She rose and set her chair against the wall. That seemed as if they were
to go.

"You'd better by half stay where you be in your own home," she called
after Jake, shutting the door behind him. "You won't like settin' at
other folks' tables. You've set too long at your own."

He came back, and left the cap'n waiting for him in the path. There he
stood before her, the gaunt, big shape she had watched and brooded over
so many years. Something seemed to be moving in his brain, and he gave
it difficult expression.

"Depends on who else's settin' at the table," he remarked, and vanished
into the night.

Mariana, moved and wondering, wanted to call after him and ask him what
he meant; but she reflected that the women who inspired such speeches
probably refrained from insisting too crudely on their value. Then she
flew to the bedroom and began to sort her things for packing.

In two weeks she was settled at the cap'n's, and Jake Preble had come to
board, doggedly, even sulkily, at first, and then suddenly armed with
that quiet acceptance he had ready for all the changes in his life. But
Mariana smoothed his path to a pleasant familiarity with the big house
and its ways, and he began to look about the room, from his place at the
table with his book or paper, wonderingly and even pathetically, as she
thought, recalling the time before his sister died when his own house
had been full of the warm intimacies of an ordered life. The captain
reveled in the comfort of his state. He brought in wood until Mariana
had to bid him cease. He built fires and drew water, and his ruddy face
shone with contentment. She made his favorite dishes and seemed not to
notice when Jake, too, in his shy way, awoke to praise them. She even
read aloud to the cap'n on a Sunday night from the life of women who,
the title declared, debatably, had "Made India what It is." On such
nights of intellectual stress Jake betook himself to the kitchen and
ostentatiously pored over the "Scout in Early New England." The cap'n,
who was hospitality itself, trudged out there one night, in the midst of
a panegyric on Mrs. Judson, and besought him to come in.

"If you don't like that kind o' readin', Jake, we'll try suthin' else,"
he conceded generously. "I jest as soon play fox an' geese Sunday nights
if anybody wants to. I ain't one to tie up the cat's tail Sunday mornin'
so 's she won't play."

"I'll be in byme-by," said Jake, frowningly intent upon his page. "You
go on with your readin', cap'n. I'll be in."

But, instead, he walked out and down the road to his own lonely house,
and Mariana, though her brain followed him every step of the way, went
on reading in the clearest voice, minding her stops as she had been
taught when she was accounted the best reader in the class. But in those
days of reading-classes her heart had not ached. It ached all the time
now. She had shut the gate behind her, and the one she opened led into
an unfamiliar country. Mariana had been born to live ingenuously,
simply, like the child she was. Woman's wiles were not for her, and the
fruit they brought her had a bitter tang. But whether her campaign was a
righteous one or not, it was brilliantly successful. She could hardly
think that any women, looking on, were laughing at her, even in a
kindly way. She had taken her own stand and the world had patently
respected it. Immediately on her moving to the cap'n's she had gone out
in her best cashmere and made a series of calls, and far and wide she
had gayly announced herself as keeping house because she wanted the
money; in the spring, she told the neighborhood, she meant to take what
she had earned and make a journey to Canada to see cousin Liddy, who had
married into a nice family there, and over and over again had written
for her to come.

"I guess Eben Hanscom never'll let you step your foot out of his house
now he's tolled you into it," Lizzie Ann West remarked incisively one
afternoon, when Mariana, after a pleasant call on her, stood in the
doorway, saying the last words the visit had not left room for. "He
ain't goin' to bite into such pie-crust as yours, day in, day out, and
go back to baker's trade."

"I don't make no better pie-crust'n you do," said Mariana innocently.

"Mebbe you don't, but you're on the spot, and there's where you've got
the whip-hand. Eben Hanscom ain't goin' to let you go. He's no such
fool."

"Well," flashed Mariana, "I'd like to see anybody keep me when I've got
ready to go." She was on the doorstep now, and the spring wind was
bringing her faint, elusive odors. She felt like putting her head up in
the air like a lost four-footed creature and snuffing for her home.

"Oh, I guess you'll be glad enough to stay," said Lizzie Ann, with a
shrewdness Mariana hated. "The cap'n's takin' to clippin' his beard.
He's a nice-lookin' man, younger by ten years than he was when she's
alive, and neat 's a pin."

Mariana chose her way back along the muddy road, choking a temptation to
turn the corner to her own little house, build a fire there, and let
single men fight the domestic battle for themselves. But that night when
the spring wind was still moving and she stood on Cap'n Hanscom's
doorstone and looked at the dark lilac buds at her hand, the tears came,
and the cap'n, bearing in his last armful of wood for the night, saw
them and was undone. He went in speechlessly and piled the wood with
absent care. He stood a moment in thought, and then he called her.

"Mariana, you come here."

She went obediently.

"You ain't homesick, be you?" the cap'n inquired.

She nodded, like a child.

"I guess so," she responded. "Leastways, if 'tain't that I don't know
what 'tis."

The cap'n was looking at her pleadingly, all warm benevolence and
anxious care.

"I know how 'tis," he burst forth. "You've give up your home to come
here, an' you feel as if you hadn't anything of your own left. Ain't
that so, Mariana?"

"I guess so," Mariana returned at random. "Mebbe I'll go down and open
my winders to-morrow. I want to look over some o' my things."

The cap'n seemed to be breathing with difficulty. Mariana had heard him
speak in meeting, and thus stertorously was he accustomed to announce
his faith.

"Mariana," said he, "it's all yours, everything I got. It's your home.
You stay here an' enjoy it."

"Oh, no, it ain't," cried Mariana, in a fright. "I've got my own place
same 's you have. I'm contented enough, Eben. I just got kinder
thinkin'; I often do, come spring o' the year."

"Well, I ain't contented, if you be," said the cap'n valiantly. "I never
shall be till you an' me are man an' wife."

"O my soul!" Mariana cried out. "O my soul!"

"What's the matter?" said Jake Preble. He had just come over from his
own house with a spray of lilac that was really out, whereas the
cap'n's had only budded. Jake had felt a strange thrill of triumph at
the haste his bush had made. He thought Mariana ought to see it.

"There's nothin' the matter," she told him in a high, excited voice,
"except I've got to go home. I've told Cap'n Hanscom so, and I'll tell
you. I ain't goin' to eat another meal in this house. There's plenty
cooked," she continued, turning to the cap'n in a wistful haste, "and
I'll stop on the way down the road and tell Lizzie Ann West you want she
should come and see you through. Don't you stop me, either of you. I'm
goin' home."

She ran up the stairs to her room, and tossed her belongings into her
trunk. Over the first layer she cried, but then it suddenly came upon
her that she was having her own way and that it led into her dear spring
garden, and she laughed forthwith. Downstairs the cap'n stood pondering,
his eyes on the floor, and Jake regarded him at first keenly and in
anger, and then with a slow smile.

"Well," said Jake presently, "I guess I might 's well pack up, too."

"Don't ye do it, Jake," the cap'n besought him hoarsely. "I guess, think
it over, she'll make up her mind to stay."

"Guess not," said Jake. It was more cheerfully than he had spoken that
winter, the cap'n wonderingly thought. "I'll heave my things together
an' go back to the old place."

In a day or two it was all different. They had moved the pieces as if it
were some sober game, and now Mariana was in her own little house,
warming it to take out the winter chill, and treating it with a tender
haste, as if she had somehow done it wrong, and Lizzie Ann had gone to
Cap'n Hanscom's. Mariana had hesitated on the doorstone, at her leaving,
and there the cap'n bade her good-by, rather piteously and with
finality, though they were to be neighbors still.

"Well, Eben," she hesitated. There was something she had meant to say.
In spite of decency, in spite of feminine decorum, she had intended to
give him a little shove into the path that should lead him, still
innocently, to her own blazonment as a woman who could have her little
triumphs like the rest. "If you should ever feel to tell Lizzie Ann I
was a good housekeeper," she meant to say, "I should be obliged to you."
He would do it, she knew, and from that prologue more would follow. The
cap'n would go on to say he had besought her to marry him, never
guessing, under Lizzie Ann's superior system of investigation, that he
had disclosed himself at all. But as she mused absently on his face,
another spirit took possession of her, the one that had presided over
her humble hearth and welcomed the two men there in the neighborly
visits that seemed so pleasant in remembrance. What did it avail that
this or that woman should declare she was unsought? She was ashamed of
waging that unworthy war. She found herself speaking without
premeditation.

"You know what Lizzie Ann West says about you?"

"She ain't said she won't come?" He was dismayed and frankly terrified.

"She says you're dreadful spruce-lookin' and you're younger'n ever you
was."

The cap'n laughed.

"That all?" he inquired. "Well, she must be cross-eyed."

"No," said Mariana, "she ain't cross-eyed; only she thinks you're a
terrible likely man."

Then she walked away, and the cap'n watched her, blinking a little with
the sun in his eyes and the memory of her Indian pudding.

Mariana did not find her house just as she had left it. It seemed to her
a warmer, lighter, cleaner place than she had ever thought it, and, in
spite of the winter's closing, as sweet as spring. She went about
opening cupboard doors and looking at her china as if each piece were
friendly to her, from long association, and moving the mantel ornaments
to occupy the old places more exactly. Certain eccentricities of the
place had been faults; now they were beauties wherein she found no
blemish. The worn hollows in the kitchen floor, so hard to wash on a
Monday, seemed exactly to fit her feet. And while she stood with her
elbows on the window-sash, looking out and planning her garden, Jake
Preble came. Mariana was not conscious that she had expected him, but
his coming seemed the one note needed to complete recaptured harmony.
What she might have prepared to say to him if she had paused to remember
Lizzie Ann's ideal of woman's behavior, she did not think. She turned to
him, her face running over with pure delight, and put the comprehensive
question:--

"Ain't this elegant?"

"You bet it is," said Jake. He did not seem the same man, neither the
sombre dullard of the winter, nor the Jake of former years who had
fulfilled the routine of his life with no comment on its rigor or its
ease. His face was warmly flushed and his eyes shone upon her. "I don't
know 's I ever see a nicer place," said he, "except it's mine. Say,
Mariana, what you goin' to do?"

"When?" Mariana inquired innocently.

"Now. Right off, to-morrer, next day."

She laughed.

"I'm goin' to start my garden and wash my dishes and hang out clo'es,
and then I'm goin' to begin all over again and do the same things; but
it'll be my garden and my dishes and my clo'es. And I'm goin' to be as
happy as the day is long."

"Say," said Jake, "you don't s'pose you could come over to my house an'
do it?"

"Work out some more? Why, I ain't but just over one job. You expect me
to take another?"

Mariana was not in the least embarrassed. Lizzie Ann was right, she
thought. Men-folks studied their own comfort, and Jake, even, having had
a cosy nest all winter, had learned the way of making one of his own.
Suddenly she trembled. He was looking at her in a way she wondered at,
not as if he were Jake at all, but another like him, from warm,
beseeching eyes.

"You shouldn't do a hand's turn if you didn't want to," he was assuring
her, with that entreating look. "We'd keep a girl, an' Mondays I'd stay
home an' turn the wringer. Mariana, I know you set everything by your
house, but you could fix mine over any way you liked. You could throw
out a bay-winder if you wanted, or build a cupelow."

"Why," said Mariana, so softly that he bent to hear, "what's set you out
to want a housekeeper?"

"It ain't a housekeeper," said Jake. "I've had enough o' housekeepin'
long as I live, seein' you fetch an' carry for Eb Hanscom. Why, Mariana,
I just love you. I want a wife."

Mariana walked away from him to the window and stood looking out again,
only that, instead of the wet garden with the clumps of larkspur
feathering up, she seemed to see long beds of flowers in bloom. She even
heard the bees humming over them and the tumult of nesting birds. And
all the time Jake Preble waited, looking at her back and wondering if
after all the losses of his life he was to forfeit Mariana, who, he
knew, was life itself.

"Well," said he, in deep despondency, "I s'pose it's no use. I see how
you feel about it. Any woman would feel the same."

Mariana turned suddenly, and, seeing she was smiling, he took a hurried
step to meet her.

"I 'most forgot you," she said, with a whimsical lilt in her voice. "I
was thinkin' how elegant it is when we get home at last."

"Yes," said Jake dejectedly. "I s'pose you're considerin' your own house
an' your own gardin-spot's the best there is in the world."

"Why, no," said Mariana, with a little movement toward him. "I wa'n't
thinkin' o' my house nor my gardin particular. I guess I was thinkin' o'
yours. Leastways, I was thinkin' o' _you_."



PARTNERS


"I guess I shall fetch it," said Newell Bond.

He was sitting on the doorstep, in the summer dusk, with Dorcas Lee. She
knew just how his gaunt, large-featured face looked, with its hawk-like
glance, and the color, as he spoke, mounting to his forehead. There were
two kinds of Bonds, the red and the black. The red Bonds had the name of
carrying out their will in all undertakings, and Newell was one. Dorcas
was on the step above him, her splendid shoulders disdaining the support
of the casing, and her head, with its heavy braids, poised with an
unconscious pride, no more spirited by daylight than here in the dark
where no one saw. She answered in her full, rich voice:--

"Of course you will, if you want to bad enough."

"If I want to?" repeated Newell. "Ain't I acted as if 'twas the one
thing I did want?"

Over and over they had dwelt upon the great purpose of his life,
sometimes to touch it here and there with delicate implication, and
often to sit down, by an unspoken consent, for long, serious talks.
To-night Newell spoke from a reminiscent mood. There were times when,
in an ingenuous egoism, he had to take down the book of his romance and
read a page. But only to Dorcas. She was his one confidant; she
understood.

"I don't know 's Alida's to blame," he meditated. "She's made that way."

Immediately Dorcas, in her sympathetic mind, was regarding a picture of
Alida Roe as she saw her without illusion of passion or prejudice--a
delicate, pale girl with a sweet complexion, and slender hands that were
ever trembling upon fine work for her own adornment. She had known Alida
at school and at home, in dull times and bright, and she had a vision,
when her name was mentioned, of something as frail as cobwebs, with all
their beauty. Whenever Newell Bond had begun to sound the praises of his
chosen maid, she had set her mind seriously to considering what he could
see in Alida. But it was never of any use. Alida always remained to her
impalpable and vain. Now she answered patiently, according to her
wont:--

"Of course she's made that way."

It was like a touch to keep the machinery going, and he responded:--

"You see, I hadn't asked her to set the day. It was kind of understood
between us. An' then Clayton Rand come along an' begun to shine up to
her, spendin' money like water, an' her mother was bewitched by it. So
she orders Alida to throw me over an' take up with t'other man. I don't
know 's Alida's to blame."

"Do you s'pose they're engaged?" asked Dorcas, for the hundredth time.

He was silent for a moment, brooding. Then he answered, as he always
did:--

"That's more'n I can make out. But if they are, I'll break it. Give me
time enough, an' I'll do it when they're walkin' into the meetin'-house,
if I don't afore."

Dorcas felt old and tired. All her buoyant life seemed to settle to a
level where she must foster the youth of others and starve her own.

"Well," she said gently, "you've done pretty well this year, sellin'
house-lots an' all."

"I've done well this year an' I'm goin' to keep on," said Newell, in
that dogged way he had. Often it heartened her, but never when it
touched upon his weary chase. Then it seemed to her like some rushing
force that should be used to turn a mill, wandering away into poor
meadows, to be dried and lost. But he was ending as he always did:
"Clayton Rand won't marry so long 's his mother's alive, no matter how
much money he's got. An' while Alida's waitin' for him, I'll lay up what
I can, an' I bet you I get her yet."

"You goin' to pick peas in the mornin'?" asked Dorcas.

She had heard the clock striking, and it counseled her to remember how
early their days began.

Newell came out of his dream. "Yes," he said, "that patch down the river
road. I guess we can get off ten bushels or more by the afternoon
train."

"All right," said Dorcas. "I'll be there."

"You mustn't walk down. I'm goin' t'other way myself, but I'll hitch up
Jim, an' you can leave him in the old barn till you come home."

"No," said Dorcas, rising. "I'll walk. I'd rather by half than have the
care of him. Maybe I'll catch a ride, too."

They said good-night, and Newell was walking down the path where
clove-pinks were at their sweetest, when he turned to speak again.
Dorcas, forgetful of him, had stretched her arms upward in a yawn that
seemed to envelop the whole of her. As she stood there in the moonlight,
her tall figure loomed like that of a priestess offering worship. She
might have been chanting an invocation to the night. The man, regarding
her, was startled, he did not know why. In that instant she seemed to
him something mysterious and grand, something belonging to the night
itself, and he went away with his question unasked. Dorcas, her yawn
finished, went in to think of him, as she always did, in the few
luxurious moments before she slept. But her nights were always
dreamless. She had the laborer's tired muscles and acquiescent nerves.

It was two years now since she and Newell had become, in a sense,
partners. An affliction had fallen upon each of them at about the same
time, and, through what seemed chance, they had stretched out a hand
each to steady the other, and gone on together. It was then that
Dorcas's mother had had her first paralytic stroke, and Dorcas had given
up the district school to be at home. But she was poor, and when it
became apparent that her mother might live in helpless misery, it was
also evident that Dorcas must have something to do. At that time Newell,
under the first cloud of disappointed love, had launched into
market-gardening, and he gave Dorcas little tasks, here and there,
picking fruit and vegetables, even weeding and hoeing, because that
would leave her within call of home, where a little girl sat daily on
guard. Newell lived alone, with old Kate to do his work, and soon it
became an established custom for Dorcas to cook savory dishes for him,
on the days when Kate's aching joints kept her smoking and grumbling by
the fire. In a thousand ways she unconsciously slipped into his life,
with his accounts, his house purchases, and the work of his fields; and
the small sums he paid her kept bread in her mother's mouth.

And now her mother had died, but Dorcas still kept on. She had no school
yet, she told herself excusingly; but a self she would not hear knew how
intently she was fighting Newell's own particular battle with him, how
she watched here and there lest a penny be spilled and his road be made
the longer to the goal he fixed. She was quite willing to consider
breaking up Alida's intimacy with the other man, because, to her
dispassionate mind, Alida was of no account in the world of feeling. She
might have her mild preferences, but if Newell could give her muslin
dresses and plated pins, he would suit her excellently. And Newell
wanted her. As for Clayton Rand, he would be none the poorer, lacking
her. She had thought it all out, and she was sure she knew.

The next morning, dressed in brown, the color of the earth she worked
in, Dorcas stepped out into the dewy world and closed her door behind
her. It was a long walk to the field. For some unguessed reason she had
been heavy-hearted at rising; but now the pure look of the early day
refreshed her and she went on cheerfully. Since her mother's death life
had seemed to her all a maze where she could find few certainties. She
had no ties, no duties, save the general ones to neighborhood and
church, and her loneliness now and then rose before her like something
inexorable and vast, and would be looked at. Perhaps that was why she
had thrown herself whole-souled into Newell's willful quest, though at
moments she longed to strangle it with passion fiercer than its own; and
why she wondered just what she could do after the desire of his heart
had flowered and Alida was his wife.

As she walked along, she held her head very high, and carried her hat in
her hand, leaving the sun to strike upon her shining braids and light
them to a gloss. For the moment she was unreasonably happy, forgetful of
the past, and aware only of the sunlight on green fields. Then suddenly
she found that a light wagon had drawn up and Clayton Rand was asking
her to ride. She looked at him one quick instant before she answered.
She had known him when they were both children and he came to spend the
summer a mile away, and sometimes, for fun, went to the district school.
Since then they had kept up a recognized acquaintance, but this was the
first time in years that they had spoken together. He was a heavy-faced
young man, with rough-looking clothes of a correct cut, and a suggested
taste in dogs and horses.

"Ride?" he asked again, and Dorcas smiled at him out of many thoughts.
She could not have whispered them to herself perhaps; but they all
concerned Newell and his daily lack. Clayton saw the pretty lifting of
her red lip above her small white teeth, and, being a young man ready to
leap at desired conclusions, instantly thought of kissing.

"I can't be mistaken," he said elaborately. "This is Miss Dorcas Lee."

Dorcas put her foot on the step and seated herself beside him. Then,
surprised at his success, because she had looked to him like a proud
person, though in a working-gown, he began a wandering apology for
having failed to help her in. Meantime he touched up the beautiful
sorrel, and when they began to fly along the road, and the sorrel's
golden mane was tossing, Dorcas had a brief smiling concurrence with
Alida. To speed like that was perhaps worth the company of Clayton Rand.
He was talking to her, and she answered him demurely, with a dignity not
reassuring from one of her large type and regal air. But presently he
began, by some inner cleverness (for he had a way with him), to tell her
stories about horses, and Dorcas listened, wide-eyed with pleasure. The
way to the knoll was very short, and there she had to stop in the midst
of a racing story that had the movement of the race itself, and bid him
leave her. This time he remembered his manners, and leaped out to help
her gallantly.

"Miss Dorcas," he called her back after her pretty thanks, "I suppose--I
don't half dare to ask you--but you like horses. Just let me take you
over to the Country Club to-morrow, and we can see the racing."

For the space of a second, Dorcas gazed at the toe of her patched
working-boots. She was thinking, in a confused tangle, of Alida and
Newell, and wondering if she had any clothes to wear. Then she lifted
her head quickly in a resolution that looked like triumph.

"Thank you," she said, with a shyness very charming in one of her large
type; "I should be happy to."

"Thank _you_," said Clayton, jumping into the wagon. "I'll be along
about half-past one."

All that day Dorcas bent over the pea-vines and listened to her
thoughts. There were other pickers, but she had no words for them, even
when they sat down together for their luncheon, nor for Newell himself,
coming at night to take her home.

"You're real tired, I guess," he said, as he left her at the gate.

Dorcas flashed a sudden smile at him. It was all mirth and mischief.

"No," she said soberly, "I don't believe I'm tired."

"I'm goin' to Fairfax to see about sellin' the colt to-morrow," said
Newell, from the wagon.

Dorcas nodded.

"Maybe I'll take a day off myself," she said. "I'll be on hand next-day
mornin', if you want anything picked. Good-night."

That evening at ten Newell was driving home from the village, and he
marked her light in the kitchen. He stopped, vaguely uneasy, and walked
up the path to the side door, and as he came he saw the shades go down.

"Dorcas!" he called, at the door, "it's me, Newell."

Then he heard her hurrying steps. But instead of opening the door to him
she pushed the bolt softly, and he heard her voice in an inexplicable
mixture of laughter and confusion.

"I'm real sorry, Newell, but I can't let you in. I'm awful sorry."

"All right," he said bluffly, turning away, yet conscious of a tiny hurt
of pained surprise. "Nothin' wrong, is there?"

"No," came the laughing voice again, "there's nothin' wrong."

"That's all I wanted to know," he explained, as he went down the path.
"Seein' the light so late--"

And again the voice followed him.

"Yes, Newell, I'm all right."

Dorcas, an hour after, at her table ironing the dotted muslin she had
washed and dried before the fire, laughed out again. She had a new sense
of triumph, like a bloom upon the purpose of her life. At last she saw
before her a path quite distinct from the dull duties of every day.

When Clayton Rand drove up with his pair of sleek horses and the shining
rig that was admired by all the town, she went out and down the path
very shyly, and with a blushing sedateness becoming to her. Clayton saw
it, and his heart leaped with the vanity of knowing she was moved
because of him. But the cause was otherwise. Dorcas knew her hair was
beautiful, and that her skin, in spite of its tan, was sweetly pink; but
she also knew that the fashion of her sleeves was two years old, and
that no earthly power could bring the gloss of youth to her worn shoes
again. So she blushed and shrank a little, like a bride, and Clayton,
who saw only that her skirts fluttered airily and her hat was trimmed
with something soft and white, straightway forgot all the girls he had
ever seen, and wondered if his mother could fail to approve such worth
as this. And then again he began to talk about horses, and Dorcas began,
in her rapt way, to listen, and put in a keen word here and there.
Alida, she knew, had one idea of horses: that they were four-legged
creatures likely to run away, or to bite your fingers if you gave them
grass. It was easy to compete with her there, and also because Dorcas
really did love animals and need not pretend.

It was a beautiful day at the races. There were all sorts of magnificent
turnouts, and ladies dressed in raiment such as Dorcas had never even
imagined. She innocently fancied Clayton must know any number of them,
and grew very humbly grateful to him for troubling himself about her.
When she suggested that he must have many friends among them, he laughed
with an amused candor, and told her they were gentry, a cut above. Yet
Dorcas continued to believe he might have consorted with them, if he
chose, and her manner to him had a softer friendliness because he was so
kind. And when she could forget her old-fashioned gown, she was quite
childishly content. At the gate that night he thanked her profusely for
the pleasure of her company, and added, boldly:--

"Won't you go to ride a little ways to-morrow night?"

A sudden shyness made her retreat a step, as if in definite withdrawal.
It was like a flower's closing.

"Maybe not to-morrow," she hesitated. It seemed to her the events she
had moved were rushing, of themselves, too fast.

"Next day, then," he called. "I'll be along about seven. Good-night."

And Dorcas went in to think over her day and dream again, not so much of
that as of the desire she was fulfilling for another man.

At that time Newell was very busy over questions of real estate. He had
bought, two years before, the whole slope of Sunset Hill, overlooking
three townships and the sea, and now city residents had found out the
spot and were trying to secure it. That prospect of immediate riches
drew his mind away from his gardening. He forgot the patient things that
were growing silently to earn him his desire, and only gave orders in
the morning to his two men before he drove away to talk about land. Even
Dorcas he forgot, save as a man remembers his accustomed staff leaning
against the wall till he shall need it. But he has no anxiety about it,
for he knows it will be there.

Dorcas hardly missed him, for she, too, had new ways to walk. Clayton
Rand came often now. He seemed to be fascinated, perhaps by her beauty
and the simplicity of her mien, and perhaps by the dignity of her
undefended state. She never asked him into her house, though she would
drive and walk with him. Her strength, that summer, seemed to her
boundless. She could work all day and sit up half the night sewing old
finery or washing and ironing it, and then she could sleep dreamlessly
for two or three hours, and wake to work again and drive with Clayton
Rand in the evening. It seemed to her at times as if that life would go
on breathlessly forever, and then again she knew it would not go on; for
she had planned the end toward which it was tending, and the end was
almost there.

One afternoon, as she came home from her work flushed and covered with
dust, yet looking like an earth-queen in her triumphant health, she had
to pass Alida's house, and Alida's mother was waiting for her by the
gate. As Dorcas came on swiftly, she had a thought that Alida was not
very wise, or she would keep her lovers away from Mrs. Roe. The mother
and daughter were too much alike. The older woman was a terrible
prophecy. The fairness of youth had faded in her into a soft ivory, her
hair was a yellow wisp tightly coiled, and her mouth drooped in a meagre
discontent. She regarded Dorcas frowningly from sharp eyes, and Dorcas
stepped more proudly. She had fancied this onslaught might await her.

"Dorcas Lee!" called the woman sharply. "Dorcas Lee!"

Then, as Dorcas stopped, in a calm inquiry, the woman went on
rushingly, all the words she had not meant to say tumbling forth as she
had thought them.

"Dorcas Lee, what are you carryin' on for, the way you be, with Clayton
Rand? There ain't a decent girl in town would step in an' ketch anybody
up like that. You'll get yourself talked about, if you ain't now. I was
a friend to your mother an' I'm a friend to you, an' now I've gone out
o' my way to give you warnin'."

Dorcas looked past her up the garden walk and at the porch where Alida
sat rocking back and forth, her hands busy as ever with her delicate
work.

"Alida!" she called softly. "'Lida, you come here a minute. I want to
speak to you."

Alida laid down her work with care and placed her thimble in the basket.
Then she came along the garden path, swaying and floating as she always
walked, her pretty head moving rhythmically.

"'Lida, you come a step or two with me," said Dorcas gently, when the
girl was at the gate. "I want to speak to you."

Alida opened the gate and, without a glance at her mother, stepped out
upon the dusty path. People said Mrs. Roe talked so much that everybody
had long ago done listening to her, and perhaps she had done expecting
it.

"You'd ought to have suthin' over your head," she called to Alida.
"You'll be 's black as an Injun."

Dorcas took a long stride into the roadside tangle and broke off a
branch of thick-leaved elder. She gave it to Alida, and the girl gravely
shaded herself with it from the defacing sun. They walked along together
in silence for a moment, and Dorcas frankly studied Alida's face. There
was no sign of grief upon it, of loneliness, of discontent. The skin was
like a rose, a fainter, pinker rose than Dorcas had ever seen. The soft
lips kept their lovely curve.

"'Lida," she breathed, "what you goin' to do to-night?"

"I don't know," said Alida, in her even voice. "Sometimes I sew, when it
ain't too hot. I'm makin' me a dotted muslin."

Dorcas found her own heart beating fast. The excitement of it all, of
life itself, the bliss, the pain and loss, came keenly on her. She
thought of the days that had gone to buying this thing of prettiness,
the strained muscles, the racing blood and thrilling brain, the sweat
and toil of it, and something choked her to think that now the pretty
thing was almost won. Newell would have it, his heart's desire, and in
thirty years perhaps it would look like Alida's mother with that shallow
mouth. Yet her simple faithfulness was a part of her own blood, and she
could not deny him what was his.

"Alida," she said, in an eloquent throb, "do you--do you like him?"

"Who?" asked Alida calmly, turning clear eyes upon her.

Dorcas laughed shamefacedly.

"I don't know hardly what I'm talkin' about," she said. "I've worked
pretty hard to-day. 'Lida, if there was anybody you liked, anybody you
want to talk things over with--well"--she paused to laugh a
little--"well, if I were you, I should just put on my blue dress, the
one with the pink rosebuds, an' walk along this road down to the pine
grove an' back again."

"The idea!" said Alida, from an unbroken calm. "I should think you were
crazy."

Dorcas stopped in the road, decisively, as if the moment had come for
them to part.

"That's what I should do, 'Lida," she said, "to-night, every night along
about eight, till it happens. An' I should wear my blue."

Alida turned away, as if she felt something unmaidenly in the suggestion
and might well remove herself; yet Dorcas knew she would remember. They
had separated, and when they were a dozen paces apart, Dorcas called
again:--

"'Lida!"

Alida turned. Again Dorcas spoke shyly, from the weight of her great
task.

"'Lida, Newell Bond's sellin' off Sunset Hill. He's doin' well for
himself."

"Is he?" returned Alida primly. "I hadn't heard of it." Then she turned
and, keeping her feet carefully from the dust, went on again.

It seemed to Dorcas that night as if she could not wait to finish the
bowl of bread and milk that made her supper, and to put on her white
muslin and seat herself by the window. She felt as if the world were
rushing fast, the flowers in the garden hurrying to open, the sun to get
into the sky and make it redder than ever it had been before, and all
happy people to be happier. Something seemed sweeping after her, and she
dared not turn and look it in the face. But her heart told her it was
the moment that would come after her work had been accomplished and
Newell had found Alida. As if she had known it would be so, she saw him
coming down the road and called to him. He was walking very fast, his
head up, and his hands, she presently saw, clenched as they swung.

"Newell!" she cried, "come in."

He strode up the path and she rose to meet him. She remembered now that
she had many things to tell him, and the knowledge of them choked her.

"Newell," she began, "you mustn't go--I don't know where you're
goin'--but down that way, you mustn't go till eight o'clock. An' then I
guess you'll see her. It'll be better than the house, because her
mother's there. Why," her voice faltered and she ended breathlessly,
"what makes you look so?"

He looked like wrath. It was upon his knotted brow, the iron lips, and
in the blazing of his eyes.

"What's this I've been told?" he said, in a voice she had never heard
from him, "about Clayton Rand?"

She laughed, relieved and pleased at her own cleverness.

"It's all right, Newell," she called gleefully. "He hasn't been there
for two weeks. He's comin' to-night to take me to ride, an' I'll make
him go the turnpike road, an' she'll be down by Pine Hollow, an' you can
snap her up under her mother's nose--an' she's got on her blue."

Newell put out his hands and grasped her wrists. He held them tight and
looked at her. She gazed back in wonder. In all the months of his
repining she had not seen him so, full of warm passion, of a steady
purpose.

"Dorcas," he said, "I won't have it!"

She answered in pure wonder and with great simplicity:--

"What, Newell? What won't you have?"

He spoke slowly, leaving intervals between the words.

"I won't have you ridin' with him, nor walkin' with him, nor with any
man. If I'd known it, I'd put a stop to it before. Why, Dorcas, don't
you know whose girl you are? You're mine."

Floods of color went over her face, and she looked down. Then, as he was
silent, she had to speak.

"Newell," she said, "I only meant--I thought maybe I might help you--"
There she had to look at him, and found his eyes upon her in a grave
sweetness she could hardly understand. No such flower had bloomed for
her in her whole life.

"Why, Dorcas," he said, "think how we've worked together! What do you
s'pose we worked so for?"

Alida's name rose to her lips, but her tongue refused to speak. At that
moment it seemed too slight a word to say.

"'Twas so we could find out where we stood," the grave voice went on.
"That was it."

She felt breathless, as if they had together been pursuing some slight
thing, a butterfly, a bubble, and now, when it was under their hands,
they saw that the thing itself was not what mattered. It was the race.
They had kept step, and still together now, they had run into a safe
and happy place.

There was the beat of hoofs upon the road.

"Stay here," she breathed. "I can't go with him. I'll tell him so."

She ran out and down the path, a swift Atalanta, her white skirts
floating. Clayton Rand was at the gate. Even in the instant of his
smiling at her she realized that the smile was that of one who is
expectant of a pleasure, but only of the pleasure itself, he does not
care with whom. Her eyes glowed upon him, her brown cheeks were red with
dancing blood.

"I can't go," she said, in a full, ecstatic voice. "Thank you ever so
much. I can't ever go again. See!" she pointed down the road. "Don't she
look pretty in among the trees? That's 'Lida. She's got on her blue."

She turned and hastened up the path again. At the door she paused to
look once again at the spot of blue through the vista of summer green.
It was moving. It was mounting into Clayton Rand's wagon. Then Dorcas
went in where Newell was waiting to kiss her.

"He's drove along," she said, from her trance of happiness. "'Lida's
gone to ride with him."

Already the name meant no more to them then the bubble they had chased.

"Come, Dorcas, come," said her lover, in that new voice. "Come here to
me."



FLOWERS OF PARADISE


Hetty Niles, with a sudden distaste for her lonely kitchen, its bare
cleanliness the more revealed by the February sun, caught her shawl from
the nail and threw it over her head. She spoke aloud, in a way she had
taken up within the last week, while her solitude was still vocal with
notes out of the living past:--

"I'll go over an' see Still Lucy."

Her dry face, hardened to all weathers, wore a look of anguish, an
emotion that smoldered in the hollows about the eyes, and was tensely
drawn around the mouth. She was like one of the earth-forces, or an
earth-servitor, scarred by work and trouble, and yet so unused to
patience that when it was forced upon her she felt suffocated by it. She
hurried out into the fitful weather, and closed her door behind her.
With her shawl hugged closely, she took the path across the fields, a
line of dampness in the spongy turf, and, head down, made her way
steadily to the little white house where Still Lucy, paralyzed for over
thirty years, lay on the sofa, knitting lace. Hetty walked into this
kitchen with as little ceremony as she had used in leaving her own. She
withdrew the shawl from her head, saying, in the act,--

"How do, Lucy?"

The woman looked up from her work, and nodded brightly. To the casual
eye she was not of a defined age. Her face was unwrinkled and its
outline delicate, and her blue eyes were gay with even a childish
pleasure. She looked invitingly at the world, as if it could give her
nothing undesired. Yet the soft hair rising in a crown from her forehead
was white as silver, and her little hands were old. She was covered to
the waist with a cheerful quilt. Her fingers went in and out unceasingly
upon her work, while her bright glance traveled about the room. The
stove gave out the moist heat of a kitchen fire where the pot is
boiling, and the cat cocked a sleepy eye in the sun. Hetty seated
herself by the stove, and stretched her hand absently toward its warmth.

"Parson's be'n in," she said abruptly.

"Caroline said so," returned Lucy, in her sweet, husky old voice. "I
thought likely."

"He says I must be resigned," continued Hetty, with the same brusque
emphasis.

"Oh, yes!" said Lucy. She spoke as if it were a task to be accepted
gratefully.

"To the will o' God. 'Parson,' says I, 'I don't believe in God.'"

Lucy's fingers caught out a tangle in her thread, while her delicate
brow knotted itself briefly.

"Ain't that hard!" she breathed.

Hetty was brooding over the fire.

"That's what I told him," she went on. "An' I don't. I don't know 's
ever I did, to speak of. It never really come up till now. He repeated
texts o' Scriptur'. 'Parson,' says I, 'you ain't a woman that had one
son, as good a boy as ever stepped, an' then lost him. 'Tain't a week,'
says I, 'sence he was carried out o' this house. Don't you talk to me
about God.'"

Lucy was looking at her with eloquent responses in her face. Hetty
glanced up, and partly understood them.

"Nor you neither, Lucy," she made haste to say. "You're terrible pious,
an' you've had your troubles, an' they've be'n heavy; but you ain't had
an' lost. If I could take it on me to-day to lay there as you be,
knowin' I shouldn't get up no more, I'd jump at it if I could have
Willard back, whistlin' round an' cuttin' up didos. Yes, I would."

"I guess you would," murmured Lucy to herself. "It's too bad--too bad."

There was a step on the doorstone, and Caroline came in. She was Lucy's
sister, gaunt and dark-eyed, with high cheek-bones, and the red of
health upon them. She regarded Hetty piercingly.

"You got company over to your house?" she asked at once.

"No," Hetty answered. She added bitterly, "It's stiller'n the grave. I
don't expect company no more."

"Well," commented Caroline.

She had laid aside her shawl, and began fruitful sallies about the
kitchen, putting in a stick of wood, catching off the lid from the pot,
to regard the dinner with a frowning brow, and then sitting down to
extricate from her pocket a small something rolled in her handkerchief.

"I've be'n into Mis' Flood's," she said, "an' she gi'n me this." She
walked over to her sister, bearing the treasure with a joyous pride.
"It's as nice a slip o' rose geranium as ever I see."

Hetty's face contracted sharply.

"I've throwed away the flowers," she said.

Both sisters glanced at her in sympathetic knowledge. Caroline was
busily setting out the slip in a side of the calla pot, and she got a
tumbler to cover it.

"Them parson's wife sent over?" she asked.

Hetty nodded. "There was a dozen of 'em," she continued, with pride,
"white carnation pinks."

"She sent way to Fairfax for 'em," said Caroline. "Her girl told me.
Handsome, wa'n't they?"

"They wa'n't no handsomer'n what come from round here," said Hetty
jealously, "not a mite. There you sent over your calla, an' Mis' Flood
cut off that long piece o' German ivy, an' the little Ballard
gal,--nothin' would do but she must pick all them gloxinias an' have 'em
for Willard's funeral. I didn't hardly know there was so many flowers in
the world, in winter time." She mused a moment, her face fallen into
grief. Then she roused herself. "What'd you mean by askin' if I had
company?" she interrogated Caroline.

"Nothin', on'y they say Susan's boy's round here."

"Susan's boy? From out West?"

Caroline nodded.

"He was into Mis' Flood's yesterday," she said, "inquirin' all about
you. Said he hadn't seen you sence he was a little feller. Said he
shouldn't hardly dast to call, now you an' his mother wa'n't on terms.
Seems 's if he knew all about that trouble over the land."

Hetty's face lighted scornfully.

"Trouble over the land!" she echoed. "Who made the trouble? That's what
I want to know--who made it? Susan Hill May, that's who made it. You
needn't look at me, Lucy. I ain't pious, as you be, an' I don't care if
she is my step-sister. You know how 'twas, as well as I do. Mother left
me the house because I was a widder an' poor as poverty, an' she left
Susan the pastur'. 'Twas always understood I was to pastur' my cow in
that pastur', Susan livin' out West an' all, an' I always had, sence
Benjamin died; but the minute mother left me the house, Susan May set up
her Ebenezer I shouldn't have the use o' that pastur'. She's way out
West there, an' she don't want it; but she'd see it sunk ruther'n I
should have the good on 't."

"Well," said Lucy soothingly, "you ain't pastur'd there sence she forbid
it."

"No, I guess I ain't," returned Hetty, rising to go. "Nor I ain't set
foot in it. What's Mis' Flood say about Susan's boy?" she asked
abruptly, turning to Caroline.

"Well,"--Caroline hesitated,--"she said he was in liquor when he called,
an' she heard he'd be'n carryin' on some over to the Street."

Hetty nodded grimly. She spoke with an exalted sadness.

"I ain't surprised. Susan drove her husband to drink, an' she'd drive a
saint. Well, my Willard was as good a boy as ever stepped. That's all I
got to say."

The sisters had exchanged according glances, and Caroline asked:--

"Stay an' set down with us? It's b'iled dish. I guess you can smell
it."

Hetty was drawing her shawl about her. She shook her head.

"No," said she. "'Bleeged to ye. I'll pick up suthin'."

But later, entering her own kitchen, she stopped and drew a sharp
breath, like an outcry against the desolation there. The room was in its
homely order, to be broken, she felt, no more. She was childless. All
the zest of work had gone. She threw off her shawl then, with a savage
impatience at her own grief, and began her tasks. In the midst of them
she paused, laid down her cooking-spoon, and sank into a chair.

"O Lord!" she moaned. "My Lord!" This was the worst of all the days since
he had died. She understood it now. The flowers were gone. They had
formed a link between the present and that day when they made the
sitting-room so sweet. Even the fragrance of that last sad hour had
fled. Suddenly she laughed, a bitter note. She spoke aloud:--

"If the Lord'll send me some flowers afore to-morrer night, I'll believe
in Him. If He'll send me one flower or a sprig o' green, I'll believe in
Him, an' hold up my head rejoicin', like Still Lucy."

She repeated the words, as if to One who heard. Thereafter a quickened
energy possessed her. She got her dinner alertly, and with some vestige
of the interest she had been used to feel when she cooked for two. All
the afternoon it was the same. Her mind dwelt passionately upon the
compact she had offered the Unseen. Over and over she repeated the terms
of it, sometimes with eager commentary.

"It can't hurt nobody," she reasoned, in piteous argument. Her gnarled
hands trembled as she worked, and now, with nobody to note her weakness,
tears fell unregarded down her face. "There's things I wouldn't ask for,
whether or no. Mebbe they'd have to be took away from somebody else; an'
I never was one to plead up poverty. But there's plenty o' flowers in
the world. 'Twouldn't upset nothin' for me to have jest one afore
to-morrer night. If I can have one flower afore to-morrer night, I shall
know there's a God in heaven."

The day began with a sense of newness and exaltation at which she
wondered. Until this hour, death had briefly ruled the house and chilled
the air in it. Her son's overthrow had struck at the heart of her
vitality and presaged her own swift doom. All lesser interests had
dwindled and grown poor; her life seemed flickering out like a taper in
the breeze. Now grief had something to leaven it. Something had set up
a screen between her and the wind of unmerciful events. There was a
possibility, not of reprieve, but of a message from the unseen good, and
for a moment the candle of her life burned steadily. Since the dead
could not return, stricken mortality had one shadowy hope: that it
should go, in its course, to them, and find them living. Again she vowed
her belief to the God who would send one sign of his well-wishing toward
her.

"I'll set till twelve o'clock this night," she said grimly, laying her
morning fire. "That's eighteen hours. If He can't do suthin' in eighteen
hours, He can't ever do it."

At ten o'clock her work was done, and she established herself by the
sitting-room window, her knitting in hand, to watch for him who was to
come. A warm excitement flooded through her veins.

"How my heart beats!" she said aloud. It had hurried through the peril
of Willard's illness and the disaster of his death. It was hurrying now,
as if it meant to gallop with her from the world.

At half-past ten there was the sound of wheels. She dropped her knitting
and put her hand up to her throat. A carriage turned the bend in the
road and passed the clump of willows. It was the minister's wife,
driving at a good pace and leaning out to bow. Hetty rose, trembling,
her hand on the window-sill. But the minister's wife gave another
smiling nod and flicked the horse. She was not the messenger.

Hetty sank back to her work, and knit with trembling fingers. The
forenoon wore on. It was Candlemas, and cloudy, and she remembered that
the badger would not go back into his hole. There would be an early
spring. Then grief caught her again by the throat, at the thought that
spring might come, and summer greaten, but she was a stricken woman
whose joy would not return. She rose from her chair and called out
passionately,--

"Only one flower, jest one sprig o' suthin', an' I'll be contented!"

That day she had no dinner. She made it ready, with a scrupulous
exactitude, but she could not eat. She went back to her post at the
window. Nobody went by. Of all the neighbors who might have driven to
market, not one appeared. Life itself seemed to be stricken from her
world. At four o'clock she caught her shawl from its nail, and ran
across the field to Lucy. Both sisters were at home, in the still
tranquillity of their pursuits, Lucy knitting and Caroline binding
shoes. Hetty came in upon them as if a wind had blown her.

"Law me!" said Caroline, looking up. "Anything happened?"

"No," said Hetty, "nothin' 's happened. I don't know as 't ever will."

She sat down and talked recklessly about nothing. A calla bud, yesterday
a roll of white, had opened, and the sun lay in its heart. Hetty set her
lips grimly, and refused to look at it. Yet, as her voice rang on, the
feverish will within her kept telling her what she might say. She might
ask for the well-being of the slip set out yesterday, or she might even
venture, "I should think you'd move your calla out o' the sun. Won't it
wilt the bloom?" Then Lucy might tell Caroline to snip off the bloom and
give it to her. But no one spoke of plants. Her breath quickened
chokingly, and her heart swelled and made her sick. Suddenly she rose
and threw her shawl about her in wild haste.

"I must go," she trembled; but at the door Lucy stayed her.

"Hetty," she called. Her voice faltered, and her eyes looked soft under
wistful brows. "Hetty!"

Hetty was waiting, in a tremor of suspense.

"Well," she answered, her voice beating upon the word. "What is it?"

Still Lucy spoke with diffidence, as she always did when she touched
upon her faith.

"I was only thinkin'--I dunno 's I can tell you, Hetty--but what you
said yesterday, you know, about not believin' there's any God--I was
goin' to ask you who you think made the trees an' flowers."

Hetty did not answer. She stood there, her hands trembling underneath
her shawl. She gripped them, one upon the other, to keep from stretching
them for alms.

"Well," she answered harshly. "Well!"

"Well," said Lucy gently, "that's all."

Hetty laughed out stridently.

"I'm goin' over to Mis' Flood's," said she, her hand upon the latch.

"They've driv' over to Fairfax to spend the day," volunteered Caroline.
"Better by half set here."

"Then I'm goin' over to Ballard's." She fled down the road so fast that
Caroline, watching her compassionately, remarked that she "looked, as if
she's sent for," and Lucy said, like a charm, a phrase of the Lord's
Prayer.

Hetty looked up at the Floods' and groaned, remembering there were
plants within. She spoke aloud, satirically:--

"Mebbe I could be the instrument o' the Lord. Mebbe if I climbed into
the winder, an' stole a bloom, I could say He give it to me."

But she went on, and hurried up the path to the little one-story house
where the Ballards lived. Grandsir was by the fire, pounding walnuts in
a little wooden mortar, to make a paste for his toothless jaws, and
little 'Melia, a bowl of nuts before her, sat in a high chair at the
table, lost in reckless greed. Her doll, forgotten, lay across a corner
of the table, in limp abandon, the buttonholed eyes staring nowhere.
Grandsir spoke wheezingly:--

"We're keepin' house, 'Melia an' me. We thought we'd crack us a few
nuts. Help yourself, Hetty."

'Melia lifted her bowl with two fat hands, and held it out, tiltingly.
Her round blue eyes shone in a painstaking hospitality. She was a good
little 'Melia.

"No, dear, you set it down. I don't want none," said Hetty tenderly. She
steadied the bowl on its way back, and 'Melia, relinquishing the claims
of entertainment, picked into her small mouth with a swift avidity.

"Clever little creatur'!" Hetty continued, in a frank aside.

But Grandsir had not heard.

"How old was Willard?" he inquired, pausing to test the mass his mortar
held.

The tears came into her eyes.

"Thirty-four," she answered.

"How old?"

After she had repeated it, 'Melia turned suddenly, and made a solemn
statement.

"I picked off my gloxinias and gave 'em all to Willard." She lisped on
the name, and made it a funny flower.

Hetty was trembling.

"Yes, dear, yes," she responded prayerfully. "They were real handsome
blooms. I was obleeged to ye." She wondered if the lisping mouth would
say, "There's another one open," and the fat hand pluck it for her. She
shut her lips and tried to seal her mind, lest the child should be
prompted and the test should fail.

"I dunno 's I remember what year Willard's father died?" Grandsir was
inquiring.

"O Lord!" breathed Hetty, "I can't bear no more."

She threw her shawl over her head, and hurried out.

"Come again," the childish voice called after her.

Grandsir had begun to eat his nuts. He scarcely knew she had been there.

Hetty went swiftly homeward through the dusk. The damp air was clogging
to the breath, and for a moment her warm kitchen seemed a refuge to her.
But only for a moment. It was very still.

"I'll give it up," she said. "There's flowers in the world, an' not one
for me. I might 'a' had 'em if He'd took the trouble to send. That
proves it. There ain't anybody to send,--nor care."

She walked about in a grim scorn of everything: the world, the way it
was made, and herself for trusting it. When she had made a cup of tea
and broken bread, the warmth came back to her chilled heart, and
suddenly her scorn turned against herself.

"I said I'd wait till twelve o'clock to-night," she owned. "I'm the one
that's petered out. This is the last word I speak till arter twelve."

She fortified herself with stronger tea, and sat grimly down to knit.
The minutes and the half-hours passed. She rose, from time to time, and
fed the fire, and once, at eleven, when a cold rain began, she put her
face to the pane.

"Dark as pitch!" she muttered. "If anybody's comin', they couldn't see
their way."

Then she lighted another lamp and set it in the window. It was a quarter
before twelve when her trembling hands failed her, and she laid down her
knitting and walked to the front door. The northeast wind whipped her in
the face, and she could hear the surf at Breakers' Edge. The pathway of
light from the window lay upon a figure by the gate. A voice came out of
the stillness. It was young and frank.

"I'm holdin' up your fence, to rest a spell. I've given my ankle a
twist somehow."

Hetty ran out into the storm, and the wind lashed strands of hair into
her eyes. She stretched a hand over the fence, and laid it on the man's
shoulder.

"Who be you?" she demanded.

He laughed.

"I'll tell you, if you won't bat me for it. I'm your own nephew, near as
I can make out."

"Susan's son?"

"Yes. Much as my life's worth, ain't it? Never saw anything like you an'
mother when you get fightin',--reg'lar old barnyard fowls."

She gripped his shoulder tightly. Her voice had a sob in it, and a
prayer.

"You got anything for me?"

He answered wonderingly.

"Why, no, I don't know 's I have. My ankle's busted, that's all. I guess
I can crawl along in a minute."

She remembered how fast the clock was getting on toward midnight, and
spoke in dull civility.

"You come in. I'll bandage ye up. Mebbe 'twill save ye a sprain."

Later, when he was by the fire and she had done skillful work with water
and cotton cloth, and the pain would let him, he looked at her again.

"You an' mother ain't no more alike than a black an' a maltee," he
said. "Hullo! what you cryin' for?"

The tears were splashing her swift hands.

"I dunno," she answered shortly. "Yes, I do, too. You speak some like
Willard."

The clock was striking two when she went to bed, and she slept at once.
It was necessary, she told herself. There was a man in the west room,
and his ankle was hurt, and she must get up early to call the doctor.

The next day and the next went like moments of a familiar dream. The
doctor came, and the boy--he was twenty-six, but he seemed only a
boy--joked while he winced, and owned he had nothing to do, and could
easily lie still a spell, if aunt Het would keep him. She was sorry over
the hurt, and, knowing no other compensation for a man's idleness, began
to cook delicate things for his eating. He laughed at everything, even
at her when she was too solicitous. But he was sorry for her, and when
she spoke of Willard his face softened. She thought sometimes of what
she had heard about him before he came; and one April day, when they
were out in the yard together, he leaning on his cane and she sweeping
the grass, she spoke involuntarily:--

"I can't hardly believe it."

"What?" he asked.

"Folks said"--she hesitated--"folks said you was a drinkin' man."

He laughed out.

"I did get overtaken," he owned. "I was awful discouraged, the night I
struck here. I didn't care whether school kept or not. But 'twas Lew
Parker's whiskey," he added, twinkling at her. "That whiskey'd poison a
rat."

She paused, with a handful of chips gathered from the clean grass.

"What was you discouraged about?" she asked kindly.

"Well,"--he hesitated,--"I may as well tell you. I've invented
somethin'. It goes onto a reaper. Mother never believed in it, an' she
turned me down. So I came East. I couldn't get anybody to look at it,
an' I was pretty blue. Then the same day I busted my ankle I heard from
another man, an' he'll buy it an' take all the risk, an'--George! I
guess mother'll sing small when Johnnie comes marchin' home!"

He looked so strong and full of hope that her own sorrow cried, and her
face worked piteously.

"You goin' back?" she faltered.

"Sometime, aunt Het. 'Long towards fall, maybe, to get things into
shape. Then I'm comin' back again, to put it through. Who's that?"

It was a neighbor, stopping his slumberous horse to leave a letter.

"That's Susan's hand," said Hetty, as she gave it to him.

He read it and laughed a little. His eyes were moist.

"See here, aunt Het," he said, "mother's had a change of heart because I
busted my ankle an' you took care of me an' all,--an' look here! she
says she wants you should use the long pastur'."

Hetty dropped her apron and the chips it held. She stood silent for a
moment, looking out over the meadow and wishing Willard knew. Then she
said practically,--

"Soon 's your ankle'll bear ye, we'll poke down there an' see how things
seem."

In a week's time they went slowly down to look over the fences,
preparatory to turning in the cow. Hetty glanced at the sky, with its
fleece of flying cloud, and then at the grass, so bright that the eyes
marveled at it. The old ache was keen within her. The earth bereft of
her son would never be the same earth again, but some homely comforting
had reached her with the springing of the leaf. She looked at the boy by
her side. He was a pretty boy, she thought, and she was glad Susan had
him. And suddenly it came to her that he had been lent her for a little
while, and she was glad of that, too. His hurt had kept her busy. His
ways about the house, even the careless ones, had strengthened the grief
in her, but in a human, poignant way that had no bitterness.

They went about, testing the fence-lengths, and then, before they left
the pasture, stood, by according impulse, and looked back into its
trembling green. The boy had let down the bars, but he was loath to go.

"Stop a minute," he said, pointing to an upland bank where the sun lay
warm. "I'm tired."

"Lazy, more like," said Hetty. But he knew she said it fondly.

He lay down at full length, and she sank stiffly on the bank and leaned
her elbow there. She looked at the sky and then at the bank. It was blue
with violets. There were so many of them that, as they traveled up the
sod, they made a purple stain.

"Well, aunt Het," said he, "you've got the pastur'."

She nodded.

"Don't make much difference how long you wait," he continued, "if it
comes at last." He was thinking of his patent, and Hetty knew it.

"Mebbe we can't have things when we expect to," she answered
comprehendingly. "Still Lucy's great on that. 'Don't do no good to set
up your Ebenezer,' says she. 'You got to wait for things to grow.'
Lucy's dretful pious." She passed her brown hands over the violet heads,
as gently as a breeze, caressing but not bending them. "I dunno 's ever
I see so many vi'lets afore."

"Like 'em, aunt Het?" he asked her kindly.

"I guess I do!" but as she spoke, her eyes widened in awe and wonder.
"My Lord!" she breathed. "They're flowers."

The boy laughed.

"What'd you think they were?" he asked, with the same indulgent
interest. "Herd's grass?"

He turned over and buried his sleepy visage in the new leaves. But Hetty
was communing with herself. Her old face had a look of hushed solemnity.
Her eyes were lighted from within.

"Sure enough," she murmured reverently. "They're flowers."



GARDENER JIM


"Jim!" called Mrs. Marshall, as the old man, carrying a basket in one
hand and a spade in the other, was trudging steadily by. His blue
overalls and jumper were threadbare under the soft brown they had
achieved through his strenuous kneeling and the general intimacy of
weeds and sod. He had a curious neutrality of expression--perhaps an
indifference to what his blue eyes fell upon, save when they looked out
from under their rugged brows at the growing things he tended. Then the
lines about them multiplied and deepened, and his face took on new life.

Mrs. Marshall, the large lady at the gate, splendidly starched in her
afternoon calico, regarded him without personal interest. He was merely
an old resident likely to clear up a matter that had been blurred during
her years of absence in the West. Jim's eyes traveled past her to the
garden in the rear of the house, where yellow flower-de-luce was
beginning to blow.

"They'd ought to put some muck on them pinies last fall," said he, in a
soft voice which his gnarled aspect had not foretold.

"Now you stop thinkin' gardins for a minute an' pay some heed to me,"
said Mrs. Marshall. "How was I goin' to look out for the pinies, when I
only come into the property this spring? Uncle'd ha' seen 'em mowed down
for fodder before he'd ha' let you or anybody else poke round over
anything 'twas his. But what I want to know is--what was 't the Miller
twins had their quarrel about, all them years ago?"

Jim answered without hesitation or interest: "'Twas about a man. They
both on 'em set by one man, an' he led 'em on. He made trouble betwixt
'em. 'Twas thirty year ago an' more."

"An' they ain't spoke sence! My! what fools anybody can make of
themselves over a man! He's dead now, ain't he?"

"I dunno," said Jim. Abstraction had settled upon him. "Say, Mis'
Marshall, what if I should drop in an' 'tend to them pinies?"

"Fush on the pinies!" said Mrs. Marshall heartily. "You can, if 't'll be
any comfort to ye. 'Twas they that made me think o' the Miller twins.
Husband never got over talkin' about their pinies. I'd ruther have a
good head o' lettuce than all the pinies that ever blowed."

Jim dropped his traps, opened the gate, walked past her without a word,
and began a professional examination of the garden-beds. When he came to
a neglected line of box, he made a sympathetic clucking of the tongue,
and before a rosebush, coming out in meagre leafage, he stayed a long
time.

"Too bad!" he said, as if the bush appealed to him for comfort. "Too
bad!"

Mrs. Marshall had gone contentedly back to her sewing by the window, and
a cautious voice challenged her from the bedroom, where her daughter,
Lily, was changing her dress.

"Well," said Lily, "I guess you've done it this time. Didn't you know
'twas Jim's wife the man run off with? Well, it was."

Mrs. Marshall paused in her work.

"Well," said she, "I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I believe
husband did use to say so. I ain't thought of it for years. How'd you
find out so much?"

"I guess I don't have to be in a place long without hearin' all there is
to hear," said Lily, coming out in her crisp pink muslin. "Here, you
hook me up. Why, mother, he's Wilfred's own uncle! Wilfred told me. He
said his uncle never'd been the same man since his wife run away."

Jim was wandering back to the road, deflected now and then by some
starveling plant.

"Anything you want to do," called Mrs. Marshall, with a compensatory
impulse, "you're welcome to. I may put in a few seeds."

Jim stood there, shaking his head in great dissatisfaction.

"It wouldn't ha' done a mite o' good for me to come here while he was
alive," he said, as if he accounted to himself for that grievous lapse.
"He'd ha' turned me out, neck an' crop, if I'd laid a finger on it."

"Well, you come when you can," said Mrs. Marshall. She was benevolently
willing to fall in with Gardener Jim's peculiarities, because, being
love-cracked, he had no particular occupation save this self-chosen one.
"What you s'pose I said to the new minister about you, Jim?" she
continued kindly.

"Dunno," returned Jim, in his soft voice. "Dunno."

"Well, he says to me, 'I never see such a lot o' nice gardins as there
is round here.' 'Don't you know the reason?' says I. 'Why, Gardener Jim
goes round an' takes care of 'em without money an' without price.' Wake
up, Jim. That's what I said."

The look of response had vanished from his face. He had taken a knife
from his pocket and was clipping a dead branch from the prairie queen at
the window. When the deed had been done with great nicety, he closed the
knife, returned it to his pocket, and took his way silently out of the
yard. Mrs. Marshall, glancing up from her sewing, saw him again
trudging toward his lonely home.

When Jim went along like that, his head bent and his eyes fixed upon the
ground, people often wondered whether he was thinking of anything at
all, or whether such intentness did betoken a grave preoccupation.
Sometimes they tested him. "What you thinkin' about, Jim?" one would ask
him, when they met upon the road; but Jim never replied in any
illuminating way. If he answered at all, it was only to query, "How's
your gardin?" and then, as soon as the response was given, to nod and
hurry on again. If the garden was reported as not doing very well, Jim
was there next morning, like the family doctor.

To-day, when he reached the cross-road leading to his little black
house, he paused a moment, as if he were working out something and must
wait for the answer. Then he continued on the way he had been going, and
a quarter of a mile farther on stopped before a great house of a dull
and time-worn yellow, where, in the corresponding front window of the
upper chambers, two women sat, each in her own solitary state, binding
shoes. These were the Miller twins. Sophy saw him as he opened the side
gate and went along her path to the back of the house. She rose, tossed
her work on the table, and ran into an overlooking chamber to watch
him. Sophy had been the pretty one of the family. Now her fair face had
broadened, her blond hair showed a wide track at the parting, and her
mouth dropped at the corners; but her faded blue eyes still looked
wistfully through their glasses. They had a grave simplicity, like that
of a child.

As she watched Gardener Jim, a frown came upon her forehead. "What under
heavens?" she muttered; and then she saw. Jim was examining her
neglected garden, and the wonder was not in that. It was that after all
these years, when he had worked for other people, suddenly he had come
to her. A moment after, he looked up, to find her at his elbow.

"I should think anybody'd be ashamed," said he, "to let things go to
wrack an' ruin this way." The paths were thick with weeds. Faithful
sweet-william and phlox had evidently struggled for years and barely
held their own against misfortune, and bouncing-bet was thrifty. But
others of the loved in old-time gardens had starved and died. "You used
to have the handsomest canterbury-bells anywhere round," said Jim. He
spoke seriously, as if it pained him to find things at such a pass.
"Don't look as if you'd sowed a seed sence nobody knows when. Where's
your pinies?"

Sophy turned toward the high board-fence that ran from the exact middle
of the house down through the garden.

"Over there," she said.

"Over where?"

"In her part."

"Her part o' the place? What you been an' cut it up this way for?"

If Gardener Jim had ever heard of the feud that separated the two
sisters he had apparently forgotten it, and Sophy, knowing his reputed
state, felt no surprise.

"She lives in t'other part o' the house," she vouchsafed cautiously.

"Well," he grumbled, "that's no reason, as I see, why you should ha'
gone an' sliced up the gardin." He gave one more estimating look at the
forlorn waste. "Well, I'll be over in the mornin'."

"You needn't," Sophy called after him. "I don't want any gardenin'
done," she cried the louder; but Jim paid no attention.

He was at the other gate now, leading into Eliza's grounds, and there he
found Eliza waiting for him. She looked older than her sister. She was
thinner, her eyes were sharp, and her chin was square and firm.

"Well," said she, "what is it?"

Jim hardly seemed to see her.

"Where's your pinies?" he asked.

Eliza resolutely refrained from looking at the grassy plot where they
sat in their neglected state.

"I dunno 's they're comin' up this year," she returned speciously.

"Yes, they be, too," said Jim, with vigor. He had gone straight over to
the spot where the juicy red-brown stalks were pushing up among the
grass. "Well, if I don't git round this fall an' feed up them pinies I
sha'n't have a wink o' sleep all winter."

Eliza had followed him, and now she stood regarding the peonies absently
and with almost a wistful curiosity, as if they recalled something she
had long forgotten to enjoy.

"I ain't done much in the gardin for a good many year," she said. "I got
kinder stiff, an' then I give it up. It's too late to do anything to 'em
now, I s'pose?"

"No, it ain't neither," said Jim. "I'll be round to-morrer an' git the
grass out an' put suthin' on to make 'em grow. Trouble is, 'tain't so
easy to do it in spring as 'tis in the fall, them stalks are so brittle.
Don't you touch 'em, now. I'll see to 'em myself."

Eliza followed him to the gate. She was curious, and yet she hardly knew
how to put her question with the indifference she sought. As he was
taking up his spade, she found the words:--

"What's started you up to come here arter so many years?"

His eyes dropped. The shaggy brows met over them in a defense.

"I kinder thought I would," said he. Then he went soberly back to his
own house.

Jim had no garden. Years ago, when his wife had left him, to run away
with another man, he had tried to wipe out every sign of his life with
her. It was in the early spring of the year when it happened, and the
first thing he did, after he came back from the field and found her
letter, was to drive the oxen into the home-plot and plough up the
garden she had loved. The next day he had harrowed it and sown it down
to grass, and then had taken to his bed, where the neighbors found him,
and, one and another, nursed him through his fever. When he got up
again, he was not entirely the same, but he went about his work, making
shoes in the winter and in summer going from house to house to tend the
gardens. At first the neighbors had deprecated his spending so much
unrewarded time, or even forcing them to resuscitate old gardens against
their will; but they had been obliged to yield. He continued his task
with a gentle persistency, and the little town became resplendent in
gardens--great tangles of cherished growth, or little thrifty squares
like patchwork quilts. Jim was not particular as to color and effect. He
was only determined that every plant should prosper. Only the Miller
sisters he had neglected until to-day, and nobody knew whether he
remembered that it was at their house the man had stayed, charming
hearts, before he went away again upon his travels, taking the prettiest
woman of all with him, or whether it was merely connected with a vague
discomfort in his mind.

To-night Jim went into his kitchen and cooked his supper with all a
woman's deftness. His kitchen was always clean, though, to the end of
keeping it so, he had discarded one thing or another, not imperatively
needed. One day he had made a collection of articles only used in a less
primitive housekeeping, from nutmeg-grater to fluting-iron, and tossed
them out of the window into a corner of the yard. There they stayed,
while he added to them a footstool, a crib, and a mixed list of
superfluities; then some of the poorer inhabitants of the town, known as
"Frenchies," discovered that such treasure was there, and grew into the
habit of stealing into the yard twice a week or so and, unmolested,
taking away the plunder.

To-night Jim determined to go to bed early. He had more to do next day
than could possibly be done. As he sat on the front steps, having his
after-supper smoke, he heard the beat of hoofs, and looked up to see
Wilfred whirling by. Lily Marshall sat beside him, all color and
radiance, in her youthful bloom. As Wilfred looked over at him, with a
nod, Jim threw out his arm in a wild beckoning.

"Here!" he called. "Here, you stop a minute!"

Wilfred drew up at the gate, and Jim hurried down to them.

"Which way you goin'?" he called, while Lily looked at him curiously and
Wilfred reddened with shame. He was sorry that this new girl come into
town must see for herself how queer his uncle was.

"Oh, 'most anywheres!" he answered bluffly. "We're just takin' a ride."

"Well, you go down over Alewife Bridge, then, an' cast a look into Annie
Darling's gardin. She's gone away an' left it as neat as wax, an' that
gate o' hern swings open sometimes an' them 'tarnal ducks'll git in. You
wait a minute. I'll give ye a mite o' wire I kep' to twist round the
gate." He sought absorbedly in his pocket and pulled out a little coil.
"There!" said he, "that's the talk."

Wilfred accepted the wire in silence, and drove along.

"Who's Annie Darling?" asked Lily with innocence.

She had not been long in the town without hearing that Wilfred had been
"going" with Annie Darling before his sudden invitation to her, that
night after prayer-meeting, "May I have the pleasure of seeing you
home?" Wilfred himself could not have told why he asked that question
when Annie, he knew, was only a pace behind. The one thing he could
remember was that, when he saw Lily coming, he realized that he had
never in his life known there were cheeks so red and eyes so dark.

"Who is she?" asked Lily, again, tightening her veil. It had been
blowing against his cheek.

"Annie Darling?" said Wilfred, with difficulty. "Why, she's a girl lives
round here. Her mother died last winter, and she's been tryin' to go out
nursin'. That's where she's gone now, I guess."

Lily Marshall laughed.

"It's a funny name," she said. "I should think folks'd turn it round and
make it 'Darling Annie.'"

Wilfred felt a hot wave sweeping over him, the tide of recollection.

"Well," said he, "I guess they have--some of 'em."

Lily gave him a swift glance, and wondered how much she really liked
him. He seemed "pretty country" sometimes beside the young hardware man
who was writing her from the West. But she was one to "make things go,"
and she talked glibly on until they had crossed Alewife Bridge and
Wilfred drew up before a gray house with a garden in front, marked out
in little prim beds defined by pebbles, and all without a weed. The
iris, purple and yellow, seemed to be holding banners, it was so gay,
and the lilacs were in bloom. He left the reins in Lily's hands, and
stood a moment at the gate, glancing at the beds. Then he went inside,
tried the front door, and shut a blind that had failed to catch, and
after a second frowning look at all the beds, came out and wired the
gate.

"Well," said Lily, as they drove away, "ain't you good, takin' all that
trouble!"

Wilfred frowned again.

"I don't like to see things go to wrack and ruin," he remarked.

"How's she look?"

"How's who look?"

"Annie Darling."

"I can't tell how folks look," said Wilfred. He spoke roughly, and she
glanced at him in a calculated show of surprise. "Why, you've seen her.
She was at the meetin' the night I walked home with you."

"Was she?" said Lily. "Well, I never noticed the folks here very much
till I begun to get acquainted."

But she had brought back to him a picture he had been forgetting: Annie,
standing in her garden, sweet, serious, and so kind. He had hardly
thought before of Annie's looks. People never spoke of them when they
were recalling her. She was simply a person they liked to live beside.

The next morning Jim was at Mrs. Marshall's before breakfast--almost
before light, she thought, because through her last nap she had heard
his hoe clicking, and when she went out, there was the track of his
wheelbarrow through the dew, and the liberated peonies, free of grass,
stood each in its rich dark circle of manure.

A little later the Miller twins saw him coming, and Sophy was at the
door awaiting him.

"Don't you want a cup o' tea?" she asked.

Sophy looked quite eager. It seemed to her that, with the garden
resurrected, something was going to happen. Jim shook his head.

"I'll dig round them rose-bushes," said he. "Then I'll go an' git some
dressin'."

"I'll pay for it," said Sophy. "You sha'n't have that to do."

"It's no consequence," returned Jim indifferently. "I can git all I want
out o' Squire's old yard. I pay him for it in the fall, cobblin'. It's
no great matter, anyways."

Sophy disappeared into the house, and came out again, hurriedly, with a
trowel in her hand.

"I don't know but I'll work a mite myself," she said, "if you was to
tell me where 'twas worth while to begin."

"Don't ye touch the spring things," said Jim briefly. He was loosening
the ground about the roses, with delicacy and dispatch. "Let it be as it
may with 'em this year. Come November, we'll overhaul 'em. You might see
if you can git some o' the grass out o' that monkshood over there."

Sophy, in her sun-bonnet, bent over her task, and for an hour they
worked absorbedly. Suddenly she looked up, to find herself alone. But
there were voices in the other yard. He was working for Eliza. But Eliza
was not helping him. She walked back and forth--Sophy could see her
passing the cracks in the high board-fence--and once she called to Jim
in a nervous voice, "I wisht you'd go away."

Jim apparently did not hear. He went on freeing the peonies.

"No wonder things git pindlin' under this old locust-tree," Sophy heard
him grumble. "Throwin' down leaves an' branches every day in the year.
Half on 't's rotten. It ought to come down."

"Well," said Eliza, "if it ought to come down, let it come. You know
where to find the axe."

Sophy, on the other side of the fence, could hardly bear the horror and
surprise of it. She forgot she was "not speaking" to her sister.

"O 'Liza!" she cried piercingly. "That was mother's tree. She set it out
with her own hands. I dunno what she'd say."

There was a moment's quiet, and then Eliza's voice came gruffly:--

"You let the tree alone."

But Jim had no thought of touching it. He was working silently at his
task. Sophy went into the house, trembling. She had spoken first. But it
was to save the tree.

The warm spring days went on, and Annie Darling had not come. Weeds
began to devastate her garden, and Wilfred used to look over the fence
and wish uncle Jim would do something. Once he spoke to uncle Jim about
it, in the way everybody had of making him responsible for the floral
well-being of the neighborhood; but Gardener Jim would hardly listen.

"You 'tend to it! you 'tend to it!" he cried testily. "I've got all I
can do to git them Miller gals' pieces into shape so 't they can sow a
few seeds."

But one morning he sought out Wilfred, mending a gap in his own orchard
wall by the road.

"Wilfred," said Gardener Jim, "have you 'tended to Annie's gardin?"

He had laid down his hoe and put up a foot on a stone in good position
for talk.

Wilfred dropped his crowbar and came forward.

"Why, no," said he, irritated, he hardly knew why, as if by a call to a
forgotten task. "Nobody's asked me to 'tend to it."

Jim stood for a moment looking through the tree-spaces, and then his
gaze came back to his nephew, and Wilfred, with a start, realized that
he had never before had the chance to look into uncle Jim's eyes. Now he
found them direct and rather stern.

"Wilfred," said Gardener Jim, "don't you be a 'tarnal fool."

Wilfred said nothing, but immediately, he could not tell why, he seemed
to be looking upon a picture of Annie standing among the flowers in her
little plain dress. His heart was beating faster, and he said to himself
that, after all, it would be sort of nice if Annie would come home.
Gardener Jim was speaking laboriously, as if he dragged out conclusions
he had perhaps reached long ago and had not yet compared with any one.

"There's a time for everything. There's a time to graft a tree an' a
time to cut it down. Well, it's your time o' life to make a 'tarnal fool
o' yourself. Don't ye do it. If you do, like 's not when you're my age
you'll be all soul alone, like me, an' goin' round 'tendin' to other
folks's gardins."

Wilfred stared at him in wonder.

"I don't know," he found himself saying. "I might fix it, but I guess
'twould be kind o' queer."

Gardener Jim screwed up his face until his eyes were quite eclipsed.

"Queer!" said he. "Nothin' 's queer if you go ahead an' do it an' say
nothin' to nobody. What if they do call ye crazed? That's another way to
make 'em stan' from under an' let ye go it. There! I've said my say.
Ain't that your axe over there by the well? You take it an' come along
o' me. I'd ha' brought mine, only I thought mebbe I shouldn't need it
till to-morrer. But I guess I shall. I guess I shall."

Wilfred followed him along the road to the Miller house, and there they
saw the twins. Sophy, obscured by a sun-bonnet, was on her knees, sowing
seeds in a bed Jim had made for her the day before; but Eliza stood
quite still among the peonies, looking off down the road.

Gardener Jim took his way into Eliza's part of the yard. She turned and
looked at him uneasily, as if she wondered what exactions he might make
to-day. Wilfred thought her face had changed of late. There were marks
of agitation upon it, as if she had been stirred by unaccustomed
thoughts and then had tried to hide them. Her eyes were troubled.

Gardener Jim walked over to the tall fence.

"Here, Wilfred," said he, "you take your axe an' knock off them boards.
The posts'll go too, give 'em a chance. They're pretty nigh rotted off."

Eliza came awake.

"Don't you touch my fence!" she called. "Don't you so much as lay a
finger on it."

Wilfred gave her a compliant look.

"You can't do that, you know," he said, in an undertone, to Gardener
Jim. "It's their fence. They don't want it down."

Gardener Jim made no answer. He took the axe from Wilfred's hand and
dealt the fence a stroke, and then another, and at every one it seemed
as if something fell. Eliza strode over to him, and, without reason,
stood there. Sophy left her seed-sowing on the other side and came also,
and she, too, watched the boards falling. The women were pale and their
eyes showed terror, whether at the unchained power of the man or at the
wonder of life, no one could have told.

Wilfred sauntered away to the old apple-tree, and began picking off
twigs here and there, to drop them on the grass.

Gardener Jim threw down the axe at last and wiped his forehead.

"Where you want them boards piled?" he asked Eliza briefly.

"Down there by the wood-shed." Her voice trembled. "They'll make good
kindlin'."

Over the space where two or three sound posts were standing, she spoke
to her sister. There was something strident in her voice, as if she
pleaded for strength to break the web of years.

"You better have some o' them boards."

"Mebbe I had," said Sophy.

"Here, Wilfred," called Gardener Jim. "You pile them boards an' I'll see
if I can't loosen up the dirt a mite round this old phlox. Anybody must
be a 'tarnal fool to build up a high board-fence an' cut off the sun
from things when they're tryin' to grow."

Sophy looked timidly at her sister.

"I s'pose 'tis foolish to try to have anything if you don't take care on
't," she said.

Eliza cleared her throat and answered with the same irrelevance:--

"He's fixed up the pinies real nice. See 'f you remember which the white
one was."

Sophy stepped over the dividing line, and the two sisters walked away
to the peony settlement. Gardener Jim touched Wilfred on the arm.

"You go along," said he. "I'll finish here. You 'tend to Annie's gardin.
I hove a trowel over the fence there this mornin'. You go an' git up
some o' them weeds."

Wilfred nodded in unquestioning compliance. As he hesitated then for a
moment, watching the sisters, and wondering what they were talking
about, Eliza raised her hand and brushed a leaf from Sophy's shoulder.
Then they went on talking, but apparently of the garden, for they
pointed here and there in a fervor of discovery. Wilfred turned with a
rush and went off to Annie Darling's.

He found the trowel under the fence, as Gardener Jim had prophesied,
and he worked all day, with a brief nooning at home. The garden was
full of voices. Here was a plant he had driven ten miles to get for
her; here were the mint and balm she loved. It seemed to him, as the
hours went by, that he was talking with her and telling her many
things--confessions, some of them, and pleas for her continued
kindliness. When he had finished, all but carrying away his pile of
weeds, he heard a voice at the gate. It was Lily, under a bright
parasol, her face repeating its bloom.

"Well, I never!" she called. "You goin' to turn gardener, same as your
uncle did?"

Wilfred took off his hat, to feel the air, and went forward toward her.
He was not embarrassed. She seemed to him quite a different person from
what she had before.

"I've just got it done," said he, with a perfect simplicity. "Don't it
look nice?"

Lily had flushed, and, he thought with surprise, she looked almost
angry. But she laughed with the same gay note.

"Been doin' it for Annie Darling?" she asked. "For darling Annie?"

"Yes," said Wilfred, "I've been doin' it for Annie."

"Mercy! how hot it is!" said Lily, "Seems if there wasn't a breath of
air anywhere. I must get home and see if I can find me a fan."

She was rustling away, but Wilfred did not look after her. He was too
busy.

When the weeds had all been carried away, he stood looking at the
orderly garden with something like love for it in his heart. And then
the gate clicked and Annie came in and up the path. There was a strange,
wistful radiance in her face, as if she had chanced upon an undreamed-of
joy. It was like the home-coming of a bride. Wilfred strode over the
beds and put his arms about her.

"O Annie!" he said. "I'm glad you've come!"

At six o'clock they were still in the garden, talking, though she had
opened the house, and the smoke was coming out of the chimney from the
fire boiling the water for their tea. Gardener Jim, going home from his
work, came up to the fence and leaned on it, eying the garden
critically.

"Well, Wilfred," said he, "you've done a good day's work."

The youth and maid came forward. His arm was about her waist and her
cheeks were pink.

"How'd you leave the twins?" asked Wilfred.

Gardener Jim looked off into the road vista, and shook all over,
mirthlessly.

"I heerd 'em say they were goin' to have flapjacks for supper," said he
gravely, "an' fry 'em in Sophy's part." His eyes came back to Annie and
studied her for a moment. Then he spoke abruptly. "I'm goin' to give you
suthin', Annie--that set o' flowered chiny. It's all there is left in
the house that's wuth anything. 'Twas my mother's, an' her mother's
afore her, an' there ain't a piece missin'. When you git ready for it,
Wilfred here he'll come round an' pack it up."



THE SILVER TEA-SET


Ann Barstow stood at the kitchen table, rubbing her silver tea-set. The
house was poor and old, but very clean, and Ann--a thin little eager
body--seemed to fit it perfectly. Her strong hands moved back and forth
as if she were used to work and loved it for its own sake; but there
were other things she loved, and the days that summer seemed to her
fuller of life and motion than they had been since she was young. She
had lived alone in this little clearing, backed by pine woods, for over
thirty years, and every sound of sighing or falling branch was familiar
to her, with every resinous tang. Ann thought there was no place on
earth so fitted for a happy life as a curving cross-road where people
seldom came; but her content increased this summer when young Jerry
Hamlin began building a large house across the road, a few rods below
her gate, to live there with his wife. When Ann heard the news, she was
vaguely agitated by it. For a time it seemed as if something were about
to invade her calm. But as the house went up, she began to find she
liked the tapping of hammers and the sound of voices never addressed to
her. When Jerry and his wife came to look at things, as they did nearly
every day, and threw her a hearty word or a smile, she liked them, too,
and it came to her that her old age was to be the brighter for company.

To-day the house was still and empty; she missed the workmen, and
polished the harder, to take off her mind. A heavy step was at the door.
She knew at once who it was: Mrs. John C. Briggs, walking slowly because
her "heft" was great, and blooming with good-will all over her large
face, framed in its thin blond hair.

"Come in," called Ann. "Set right down. I won't leave off my work. I'm
all over this 'ere polishin' stuff."

Mrs. John C. sank into a seat, and devoted the first few moments to
breathing.

"Well," said she, "I heard the workmen was off to-day; so I thought I'd
poke in an' see the new house."

"Yes," said Ann, "they had to wait for mortar. It's goin' to be a nice
pretty place, ain't it?"

"Complete. Well, I should think you'd be rejoiced to have neighbors, all
alone as you be."

Ann smiled.

"I never see a lonesome minute," she said. "There's everything goin' on
round in these woods. The birds an' flyin' things are jest as busy as
the hand o' man, if ye know how to ketch 'em at it. Still, I guess I've
got to the time o' life when I shall kinder enjoy neighbors."

"Ain't you never afraid?"

"I guess there's nothin' round here that's wuss'n myself," returned Ann,
proffering the ancient witticism with a jocose certainty of its worth.
"I ain't very darin', neither. Not much like father, I ain't, nor what
brother Will used to be. Either o' them'd face Old Nick an' give him as
good as he sent."

"Well, all I can say is, folks can't be too near for me. What would you
do if you should be sick in the night?"

"I dunno," said Ann gayly. "Set down an' suck my claws, I guess, an'
wait till daylight. I can't think o' nothin' else." She had finished her
polishing and set back the silver, to eye it with a critical and
delighted gaze. Then she washed her hands at the sink, and brought out a
fine white napkin from the high-boy, and spread it on a little table
between the windows. "I dunno but I'm dretful childish," she said, "but
arter I've got it all rubbed up, I keep it here in sight, a day or two,
it ketches the sun so. Then I set it away in the best-room cluzzet."

"It's real handsome," said Mrs. John C. "How many pieces be there? This
is the whole on 't, as I remember it."

"Jest as you see it. Yes, 'tis handsome. Mother set the world by it."

"I dunno but I'd ruther have the wuth on 't," said Mrs. John C., as she
had said many times before.

"Well," agreed Ann, "I dunno but father would. He wa'n't doin' very well
that year. I was a little mite of a thing then, an' I remember it all as
if 'twa'n't but yesterday. Father come in, an' he says: 'Well, I guess
I've saved the judge a pretty good smash-up. That span o' colts run away
down the river road.' 'Who's in the carriage?' says mother. 'He drivin'
himself?' 'No,' says father. 'He'd jest lifted Annie in, an' there was a
paper blew along the road, an' they started.' 'Annie?' says mother,
'that little mite? He don't deserve to have a child. Why, father,' says
she, lookin' up over her glasses,--mother had near-sighted eyes,--'your
clo's are all tore off o' you, an' there's your hand all bleedin'.'
Father begun to wash himself up at the sink, an' while he stood there,
in walked the judge. He was white as a cloth. 'Barstow,' says he, 'you
name anything you want that's in my power to git ye, an' you shall have
it.' 'Twas a pretty hard year for father, as I told ye, but he never
asked favors from nobody. I can see jest how he looked when he turned
round an' answered. Father was a real handsome man. 'Much obleeged,
judge,' says he. 'I don't want nothin' I can't git for myself.' The
judge looked kinder hurt, but he turned to mother. 'Mis' Barstow,' says
he, 'can't you think o' some kind of a keepsake you'd like?' Mother
spoke up as quick as a wink. 'I want a little mite of a silver pitcher
for cream,' says she. 'I see one when I was a little girl.' 'You shall
have it,' says the judge; an' 'twa'n't a week afore this set come, all
marked complete. I never see anybody quite so tickled as mother was; an'
father he kinder laughed. He couldn't help it, to think how she got
ahead of him."

"Well," said the visitor again, "it's as handsome as ever I see." She
got slowly on her feet. "There! I guess I must be movin' along. We're
goin' up to the street right arter dinner, an' I must have it early.
Don't you want to send?"

"I'd like some molasses."

"Well, we'll drive this way an' call an' git the jug. Come over an' see
us, won't you?"

"Yes, I will. You come again."

When she was gone, Ann, under the suggestion of an early dinner, set
about getting her own. She had some calf's head from the day before, and
she warmed it up with herbs. The kitchen smelled delightfully, and as
she set out the food on her bare table, always scoured white to save the
use of a cloth, she felt the richness of her own comfortable life. She
ate peacefully, sitting there in the sun and watching her shining
silver, and just as she was finishing there came a knock at the door.

"Walk right in," called Ann; but as nobody responded, she got up and
opened the door herself. A young man stood on the broad stone, shabby,
dust-covered, and with a tired face. The face was sullen, too. He looked
as if life had been uncivil to him and he hated it. Ann felt a little
shock, like a quicker heart-beat. It was in some subtle way like the
face of her brother Will, who had died in his reckless youth.

"Gi' me a bite o' suthin' to eat," he said, as if it were a formula he
had often used. "I ain't had a meal for a week."

"Massy sakes! yes," said Ann. "Come right in. Here, you set there, an'
I'll warm it up a mite. I didn't have no potaters to-day,--I was in a
kind of a hurry,--but I guess you can make out with bread."

He took the chair and watched her while she set on the spider again and
warmed her savory dish. Ann filled the kettle at the same time. She
judged that he might like a cup of tea, and told herself she would sit
down and take it with him. But when the food was before him, he
addressed himself to it, tacitly rejecting all her attempts to whip up
conversation.

"You travelin' far?" asked Ann, over her own cup of tea, when she had
skimmed the top of the milk for him.

"Not very."

He frowned a little, and bent to his occupation. His hunger bore out
what he had said. He cleared the dishes and drained the teapot. Then he
rose, took his hat, and, without a look at Ann, jerked out a "much
obliged," and was gone.

"Well," said Ann, smiling to herself ruefully, thinking of to-morrow's
dinner, "talk about folks that eat an' run!"

But, washing the dishes and trying meantime to plan her happy afternoon,
she could not put away the memory of her brother's eyes and one tumbling
lock of hair; whispers from the past were clamorous at her ear.
Presently there was the sound of wheels, and Mrs. John C., perched
beside her meagre husband, called from the door:--

"Here we be, Ann. Where's your jug? What if you should clap on your
bunnit an' ride along to the street?"

She spoke cordially, judging that on such a spring day everybody was
better out of the woods and upon the highway.

"No," said Ann. "I got too much to do. I'm goin' into the pines arter
some goldthread an' sarsaparil'. 'Most time for spring bitters. But I'm
obleeged to ye for takin' the jug."

Half an hour later Ann closed the door behind her and, with a little
basket on her arm and a kitchen knife to dig with, wandered away to her
dear retreat. There she worked less than she had expected, the sunshine
was so beguiling. She found many spring treasures, the sort she came
upon year after year, and always with the same delighted wonder. A new
leaf or a budding plant was enough to send Ann off into vistas of quiet
joy. Spring clouds were thick, when she walked home, in a tumultuous
white flock, and she liked them as well as the blue they covered. The
earth was very satisfying to Ann. The air had made her hungry, and with
a smile at her own haste, she drew out her little table and began to set
it.

Suddenly she stopped, as if a hand had grasped her heart. The room was
different. A spot of brightness had gone out of it. The silver tea-set
was not there. She hurried into the sitting-room, wild with hope that
she might have set it away; but the place was empty. Ann went back into
the kitchen, and sank down because her knees refused to hold her. Not
once did she think of the value of what she had lost, but only as it
linked the past to her own solitary days. The tea-set had been a kind of
household deity, the memorial of her father's courage and her mother's
happiness, a brighter sun of life than any that could rise again. She
sat there still; her heart beat heavily.

"Ann!" It was Mrs. John C.'s voice from the wagon. "Come git your jug."

Ann rose and went weakly out.

"There 'tis in the back o' the wagon," said Mrs. John C. "John'd git
out, but the colt's possessed to start, an' I don't like to be left with
the reins. Mercy, Ann! what's the matter o' you? You feel sick?"

Ann had dragged out the heavy jug, but there was no strength in her lean
arms, and she swayed almost to the ground.

"No," she said, in a dull quiet, "I ain't sick; my silver tea-set's
gone."

"Gone! gone where?"

"I don't know," said Ann, in the same despairing way, "unless somebody's
stole it."

"John, do you hear that?" cried Mrs. John C., in high excitement. "That
silver tea-set's gone. It's the one Ann sets her life by, an' it's wuth
I dunno what. Can't you do suthin'?"

John C. looked about him with a vague solemnity.

"Anybody could git into these woods," he said, "an' you'd have hard work
to find out where."

"Hard work!" repeated Mrs. John C., in extreme scorn. "I guess 't'll be
hard work, but so's a good many things. Don't set there talkin'. Don't
you worry, Ann! We'll stir up the neighbors, an' 'f your tea-set's
anywheres above ground, we'll have it back, or I'll miss my guess. Come,
John, come. Le' 's git along."

Power and vengeance breathed from all her portly frame, and so they
drove away, she even, as Ann saw, in her dull bewilderment, putting out
a hand to shake the whip in its socket, and John C. holding in the
plunging colt.

Ann wearily tugged in the molasses-jug and put it in its place. Then she
sat down by the window, trembling, not to think over what had happened,
but to bear her loss as she might. From the first moment of discovering
it, she had had no hope. Tragic things of this sort were strangers to
her simple life, and now that one had come, she knew no depth of
experience to draw from. Sickness she could bear, or death if it should
come, because they were factors of the common lot; but it had never
occurred to her that so resplendent a thing as a silver tea-set could
belong to any one and then be reft away.

The dusk gathered and thickened. The frogs were peeping down by the old
willows, and for the first time in her life the melancholy of early
spring lay cold upon her heart. It was perhaps eight o'clock when she
heard a hand at the door.

"Ann!" called Mrs. John C. "Ann, you there?"

Ann rose heavily.

"Come in," she said. "I'll light up."

When she had set the lamp on the table and lighted it with a trembling
hand, Mrs. John C., waiting to find a chair, gazed at her in wonder. Ann
looked stricken. Her hair was disordered, her eyes were sunken, and
suddenly she was old. Mrs. John C. spoke gently, moved out of her
energetic sweep and swing.

"Law, Ann! don't you take it so terrible hard. 'Tain't wuth it, even a
tea-set ain't. What should you say if I told you they'd got onto the
track on 't?"

"No," said Ann, out of her dull endurance, "they won't ever do that.
When a thing o' that kind's gone, it's gone. Don't do no good to make a
towse about it. I sha'n't ever see it again."

"Well, I guess I'd make a towse," said Mrs. John C., robustly. "If you
won't, I will for ye. Mebbe you're nearer gittin' it back than you
think. I told John I wa'n't goin' to wait a minute. I run over to tell
ye." Then Ann listened, though as one still without hope. "Sam Merrill'd
been down the gully road, fencin'," continued Mrs. John C., now with an
exuberant relish of her news, "an' when he was comin' home along by the
old Pelton house he sees a kind of a tramp goin' in there. He was
youngish, Sam said, an' he had on a light coat, an' the pockets on 't
bulged. What do you think o' that? Minute he said it, I says to myself,
'That's Ann's tea-set.'"

All at once there came a picture before Ann's eyes: not the tramp with
the bulging pockets, as he sought the hospitality of the ruined house,
but the same tramp as he stood on her doorstone and asked for food. The
whole event was clear to her. She called herself a fool for not having
known at once.

"Sam say anything more about him?" she asked eagerly. "What he had on?"

"No. Come to think of it, yes, he did, too. Said he had on an old straw
hat with a red an' blue band round it. Sam said he noticed that because
'twas so early for a straw. Said it looked more like a child's hat.
Guessed he'd picked it up some'r's."

"Yes," said Ann, out of her daze, "so 't did." Yet she was not thinking
of the hat as it might identify a thief, but of the brows under it, with
a look she used to know.

"Why, Ann Barstow!" Mrs. John C. was saying, "you don't mean to tell me
you see him yourself?"

Suddenly it seemed to Ann as if it were not the young tramp they were
recalling, but her brother himself.

"No," she said defiantly. "I jest put in a word, that's all."

Mrs. John C. swept on in the strain of her hopeful heralding.

"So, soon as Sam told that--'twa'n't more 'n half an hour ago--I says to
him, 'You go an' stir up some o' the boys, an' 'long towards ten o'clock
you jest surround the old Pelton house an' git him, tea-set an' all.
Stan's to reason,' says I, 'it's an old deserted house, an' he's goin'
to git part of a night's rest there. 'Fore mornin' he'll be up an' put
for some banjin'-place he's got, an' then that silver'll be melted up
an' you never'll see hide nor hair on 't again.' One spell I thought
mebbe he was goin' to build up a fire in the old fireplace an' melt it
right then an' there; but John says 'tain't likely. Says you need more
heat'n that to melt up silver." She paused for want of breath.

"Be they goin' to do it?" asked Ann faintly.

"Who?"

"Them young folks. Be they goin' to surround him an' take him up?"

"Well, I guess they be," said Mrs. John C., rising and drawing her shawl
about her. "They will if they've got any seem to 'em. So I told 'em when
they was talkin' on 't over."

Ann followed her to the door.

"If they should come acrost the tea-set," she hesitated, "mebbe they'd
git hold o' that an' let him go."

Mrs. John C. gave her a reassuring touch with her capable right hand.

"Don't you worry," she said, out of cheerful experience of her own
enterprise. "I see to that. I says to John C., 'He ain't a-goin' to slip
out an' git away. It's goin' to be done accordin' to law an' order,' I
says. 'I sha'n't sleep a wink till that scoundrel's landed in jail.' So
I says to John C., 'You harness up the colt an' ride over an' git the
sheriff, an' when the boys pitch onto him, have him ready to clap the
handcuffs on.' Don't you worry, Ann. You'll see your tea-set yit."

Ann stood at the door, hearing her walking heavily away, and a gentle
rage possessed her when she noted how broad her back looked, how capable
of carrying burdens to their goal. She was deeply attached to Mrs. John
C., but she realized how impossible it was to block her purposes.
Hitherto they had all seemed beneficent ones; but now Ann felt something
of the indignant protest that always surged in her when she saw a sleek
and prosperous cat baiting a mouse. She went in and sat down again, with
a double anxiety upon her. It was not only her tea-set she lamented, but
the hardness of life wherein any creature should be worried down and
caught. And she remembered, as she did not in loyalty allow herself to
remember often, that her brother also had been wild.

Suddenly something roused her. It was not so much a thought as a touch
upon her heart, and she sat up straight, as full of fire and purpose as
Mrs. John C. herself, only it was purpose of another kind. Mrs. John C.
had the force of weight, and in Ann there were tense fibres of youth,
not yet done thrilling. She threw her little shawl over her head and
hurried out of the house. For an instant she paused, with a new impulse
of caution, to lock the door. Then with a scorn of her present
possessions, her one treasure gone, she latched it only, and took the
wood-path to the swamp. Ann walked with a trained delicacy and caution
suited to the woods. The thrilling of the frogs grew louder, and shortly
she was at the old lightning oak that served her for a landmark. Before
her lay the boggy place where she came in all warm seasons of the year
for one thing or another: the wild marsh-marigold,--good for
greens,--thoroughwort, and the root of the sweet-flag. P'ison flag grew
here, too, the sturdy, delicate iris that made the swamp so gay.

Ann stayed a moment for breath. Haste had driven the blood to her face,
and the cool spring air seemed to generate in her the heat of summer.
Until now she had loved the sound of the frogs, piping in the spring,
but in the irritation of her trouble she spoke aloud to them: "Can't
anybody be allowed to hear themselves think?" The haste of her errand
tapped her again upon the arm, and she picked up the board which was one
of the tools of her trade, left always at the foot of the lightning oak,
and with it skirted the swamp to the east where the tussocks were large.
Then, throwing her board before her from one foothold to another, she
crossed the swamp. Twice she had fallen, and her dress was wet. She was
muddy to the knees, but she wrung out her heavy skirts and ran along the
path she knew to the door of the deserted house.

Ann thought she had never seen a place so still. It had the desolation
of a spot where life has been and where it is no more. She listened a
moment, her eyes searching the dark bulk of the house, her hand upon her
racing heart. She smelled smoke. Then she called:--

"You there? I know ye be. Open the door."

There was no sound. She tried the door, and, finding it bolted, shook
the handle with all the force of her strong arms.

"You let me in," she called again. "I've got suthin' to say to ye. It's
suthin' you'll be glad to hear."

But after she had waited a moment in the taunting stillness, she
withdrew a little, that her voice should reach him, wherever he might
be.

"I know all about it. You've took my silver tea-set an' you've got it in
there now. Other folks knows it, too, an' about moonrise they're comin'
here an' surround the house an' make you give it up." She paused for an
eager breath. The futility of the moment choked her. "You hear to me,"
she called again, in her strained, beseeching voice. "'Twon't do ye no
good to hide, for they know you're there. An' 'twon't do ye no good to
fight, for there's a whole b'ilin' of 'em, an' like 's not they've got
guns. Now when I'm gone--I'm goin' right off home now--you slip out the
back o' the house an' go as straight as you can cut, right acrost the
pastur'. That'll bring ye to a lane. You turn to your right an' foller
it, an' it'll take ye onto the high-road. Then you take that an' keep to
your left. T'others'll come from the right. An' if you find a good
hidin'-place, you better clap the tea-set into it, under some brush or
suthin', an' come back arter it some other time. Ye see, they've started
up the sheriff an' I dunno what all. Mis' John C.'s puttin' on 't
through, an' mebbe they've telegraphed over the country by this time.
'Tain't any small matter, takin' a silver tea-set so. I'm terrible
worried about ye. There! Now I'm goin'. You wait a minute, if ye don't
want me to see ye. Then you can put."

But when she had taken a dozen steps on her homeward way, she returned
as hastily. Her voice broke again upon the stillness, with a thrill in
it of renewed beseeching. "Look here, you! One thing you do, fust thing
arter you git away from here. You see 'f you can't find some work an'
you do it." The present experience seemed to have fallen away from her.
She might have been addressing the boy who also had been wild in those
years so long ago. "You keep on this way an' you'll end in jail an' I
dunno but suthin' that's wuss. Mebbe nobody won't ketch ye this
time,--you better melt the tea-set up soon as ever you can,--but some
time they will. Now you mind what I tell ye."

This time she did turn away, and with her light and knowing step plunged
into the woods. Once there, as she remembered afterwards, her knees
seemed to fail her, but she went weakly on, until, at a good distance
from the house, she sat down on a bank under the sighing pines and
leaned against a tree to let the cool air touch her face. "My suz!" she
breathed. Her mind was all a mingling of past and present, but chiefly
it seemed to be invaded by a young face, sullen sometimes like the
tramp's, and then again gay with laughter.

When she came to her every-day frame of mind, the woods were still, and
to her vivid sensibilities more deserted. She made no doubt the thief
was gone in the way she had marked out for him. Ann had a childlike
sense that he would believe her, because she meant so well. She took her
own path soberly home again, not across the marsh this time, but half
the way by the high-road. At one point she caught the sound of voices,
subdued to the mysterious note of the hour itself. She stepped over a
stone wall and lay down in the damp bracken there, and in a moment, as
she expected, the cautious steps went by her on their quest, a party of
eight or ten, as she judged, raising her head cautiously from her
retreat to look and listen. Then she lay down again, chuckling softly as
she did when the mouse escaped, even though it was to gnaw her cheese.
And presently she took the road, and so went home.

Ann could not go to bed that night. It was not that she expected news,
but she had a feeling that powers were abroad to shape and guide things,
and that, though humbly, she must be among them. Perhaps it was the
excitement of the time and stirring memories, but, for whatever reason,
it seemed to her that her "folks" were all about her, strengthening her
to the kindnesses and the loyalties of life. She was not in the habit
of praying; but as she lay upon the lounge in the kitchen, between
waking and sleep, she kept saying to some hidden power: "You look out
for him. Young folks don't know half the time what's best for 'em." And
toward morning, in her confused state between life and sleep, she hardly
knew whether it was her brother she prayed for or the unknown man. Once
she heard a quick, sharp noise as if a window opened. She started up.
"Yes, yes!" she called, out of her dream. "You want me? I'm right here."
But no one answered, and she settled again to sleep.

It was seven o'clock when she opened her eyes to find the kitchen
flooded with light. It was a brilliant day, but she was stiff and cold.
After she had started her fire, she went into the bedroom to comb her
hair, and glanced into the little blurred mirror she sometimes found her
only company. The window was wide, the fresh May air blowing in, and
there under the window on the floor was her silver tea-set. Ann sat down
before it and gathered it into her arms as if it were a child. The tears
ran down her cheeks. "To think," she kept saying, "to think he fetched
it back. Only to think on 't!" And while she sat there, very happy with
the tea-set in her lap, she heard a step she knew. She came swiftly to
her feet. Then she put the silver on her bureau in a shining row, and
questioned her face in the glass. The tears were on it still, but that
hardly mattered on a face that smiled so hard. But she did wipe away the
drops with her apron, and then hurried into the kitchen to meet her
visitor. Mrs. John C. was bedraggled from loss of sleep, and defeat sat
upon her shining brow.

"Well, Ann," she said gloomily, "I ain't got any news for ye. He wa'n't
there, arter all, though there'd been a fire an' they found he cooked
himself some eggs. But they're goin' to beat up the woods arter
breakfast, an' if he's above ground he's goin' to be took."

Ann could scarcely sober her smiling mouth.

"You tell 'em it's all right," she announced jubilantly. "Where do you
s'pose I found it? In my bedroom, arter all."

Mrs. John C. regarded her with blighting incredulity. Ann had been
guiltily careless, and yet she expressed no grief over the trouble she
had made. It was beyond belief.

"Ann Barstow," said she, "you don't mean to tell me you had this whole
township up traipsin' the woods all night, an' me without a wink o'
sleep, an' that tea-set in your bedroom, arter all?"

Ann did flush guiltily. Her eyes fell.

"You beseech 'em not to think hard of me," she urged. "I never do put it
in my bedroom,--you know yourself them two places I keep it in,--but
there 'twas."

Mrs. John C. turned majestically to be gone. She spoke with an emphasis
that seemed, even to her, inadequate.

"Well, Ann Barstow, I should think you was losin' your mind."

"Mebbe I be," said Ann, joyously, following her to the door. "Mebbe I
be. But there's my tea-set. I'm terrible pleased."



THE OTHER MRS. DILL


Mrs. Dill and her husband, Myron, grown middle-aged together, and yet,
even through the attrition of the years, no more according in
temperament than at the start, sat on opposite sides of the hearth and
looked at each other, he with calmness, from his invincible authority,
and she fluttering a little, yet making no question but of a dutiful
concurrence. She had bright blue eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses, a thin
face with a nose slightly aquiline, and reddish hair that was her cross,
because it curled by nature and she constrained it. Sometimes, when it
kinked unusually, either in moist weather or because she had forgotten
to smooth it, and when the pupils of her eyes enlarged under cumulative
excitement, she looked young and impetuously willful; but the times were
rare, and perhaps her husband had never, since their courting days,
noted any such exhilaration. He was a large, imperious-looking man, with
a cascade of silvery beard which he affected to tolerate because the
expenditure of time in shaving might be turned with profit into the
channel of business or of worship; but his wife, noting how he stroked
the beard at intervals of meditation, judged that he was moved by
something like pride in its luxuriance. Then she chided herself for the
thought.

It was balmy spring weather, but they had taken their places at the
hearthstone from old habit when a matter of importance had to be
considered. Their two chairs were the seats of authority in the domestic
realm.

Mrs. Dill stooped, took up the turkey-wing, and gave the clean hearth a
perfunctory flick. Then she returned the wing to its place and leaned
back in her chair, gazing absently at the shining andirons.

"Well," she said, "Henrietta Parkman was in this mornin', and she told
me you'd bought the medder; but I didn't hardly believe it."

"Yes," said Myron. He spoke in rather a consequential voice, and cleared
his throat frequently in the course of talking, as if to accord his
organs a good working chance. "The deeds were passed last week, and it's
bein' recorded."

"What you goin' to do with it?"

"I bought it because it lays next to the Turnbull place, and when that
come into my hands last fall, I knew 'twas only a matter o' time till I
got the medder, too."

"Well, what you goin' to do with it?"

A tinge of anxiety was apparent in her voice, a wistful suggestiveness,
as if she could conceive of uses that would be almost too fortunate to
be hoped for. Myron hesitated. It often looked as if he judged it unwise
to answer in any haste questions concerning the domestic polity, and
Mrs. Dill was used to these periods of incubation. She had even thought
once, in a moment of illuminative comparison, that her husband seemed to
submit a bill before one branch of his mental legislature before
carrying it on to the next.

"I'm goin' to pasture my cows in it," he responded. "I shall buy in some
more stock this spring, and I expect to set up a milk-route."

"How under the sun you goin' to manage that?" She seldom questioned her
lawful head, but the surprise of the moment spurred her into a query
more expressive of her own mood than a probing of his. "You can't keep
any more cows'n you've got now. The barn ain't big enough."

"The Turnbull barn is. I've seen the day when there was forty head o'
cattle tied up there from fall to spring."

"The Turnbull barn's twenty minutes' walk from here. You can't go over
there mornin' and evenin', milkin' and feedin' the critters. You'd be
all the time on the road."

"Yes," said Myron, "'tis a good stretch. So I've made up my mind we'd
move over there."

A significant note had come into his voice. It indicated a complexity of
understanding: chiefly that she would by nature resist what he had to
say, and then resume her customary acquiescence. But for a moment she
forgot that he was Mr. Dill, and that she had promised to obey him.

"Why, Myron," she said, with a mild passion, warmed by her incredulity,
"we've lived on this place thirty year."

"Yes, yes," said her husband. "I know that. What's the use o' goin' back
over the ground, and tellin' me things I know as well as you do? What if
'tis thirty year? Time we got into better quarters."

"But they ain't better. Only it's more work."

Myron got up and moved back his chair.

"I don't think o' movin' till long about the middle o' May," he
rejoined. "You can kinder keep your mind on it and, when you get round
to your spring cleanin', pick up as you go. Some things you can fold
right into chists, blankets and winter clo'es, and then you won't have
to handle 'em over twice. If Herman comes back from gettin' the horse
shod, you tell him to take an axe, and come down where I be in the long
lot, fencin'. I want him."

He paused for a hearty draught from the dipper at the pump, pulled his
hat on tightly, and went out through the shed to his forenoon's work.
Mrs. Dill rose from her seat, and stepped quickly to the window to
watch him away. She often did it when he had most puzzled her and roused
in her a resistance which was inevitable, she knew by long experience,
but also, as her dutiful nature agreed, the result in her of an
unconquerable old Adam which had never yet felt the transforming touch
of grace. When his tall, powerful figure had disappeared beyond the rise
at the end of the lot, she gave a great willful sigh, as if she depended
on it to ease her heart, put her apron to her eyes, and held it there,
pressing back the tears.

Herman drove into the yard, and she did not hear him. She went to the
fireplace now, and leaned her head against the corner of the mantel,
looking down, with a bitter stolidity, at the hearth. Herman
unharnessed, and came in, a tall brown-haired fellow with dark eyes full
of softness, and a deep simplicity of feeling. As his foot struck the
sill, his mother roused herself, and became at once animated by a
commonplace activity. She did not face him, for fear he should find the
tear-marks on her cheeks; but when he had thrown his cap into a chair,
and gone to the sink to plunge his face in cold water, and came out
dripping, she did steal a look at him, and at once softened into a
smiling pleasure. He was her handsome son always, but to-day he looked
brilliantly excited; eager, also, as if he had something to share with
her, and was timid about presenting it.

"Mother!" said Herman. He was standing before her now, smiling
invitingly, and she smiled back again and picked a bit of lint from his
collar for the excuse of coming near him, and proving to herself her
proud ownership. "I've had a letter."

"From Annie?"

He nodded.

"What's she say?" asked his mother. But before he could answer, she
threw in a caressing invitation. "You want I should get you a piece o'
gingerbread and a glass o' milk?"

"No, I ain't hungry. She says she's kep' school about long enough, and
if I'm goin' to farm it, she'll farm it, too. I guess she'd be married
the first o' the summer, if we could fetch it."

Mrs. Dill stepped over to the hearth and sank into her chair. It seemed
as if there were to be another family council. Her silence stirred him.

"I asked her," he hastened to say. "I coaxed her, mother. She ain't as
forward as I make it out, the way I've told it."

"No," said his mother absently. She was resting her elbows on the
chair-arm, and, with hands lightly clasped, gazing thoughtfully into
space. Fine lines had sprung into her forehead, and now she took off
her glasses and wiped them carefully on her apron, as if that would help
her to an inner vision. "No, I know that. Annie's a nice girl. There's
nothin' forward about Annie. But I was only wonderin' where you could
live. This house is terrible small."

"You know what I thought," Herman reminded her. He spoke impetuously as
if begging her to remember, and therefore throw the weight of her
expectation in with his. "When father bought the Turnbull place I
thought, as much as ever I did anything in my life, he meant to make it
over to me."

His mother's eyes stayed persistently downcast. A little flush rose to
her cheeks.

"Well," she temporized, "you ain't goin' to count your chickens before
they're hatched. It's a poor way. It never leads to anything but
disappointment in the end."

"Why, mother," said Herman warmly, "you thought so too. We talked it
over only night before last, and you said you guessed father'd put me on
to that farm."

"I said I didn't know what he'd bought it for, if 'twa'n't for that,"
she amended. "Don't you build on anything I said. Don't you do it,
Hermie."

Her son stood there frowning in perplexity, his hands deep in his
pockets, and his feet apart.

"But you said so yourself, mother," he persisted. "I told you how I'd
always helped father out, long past my majority, and never hinted for
anything beyond my board and clothes. And when I got engaged to Annie, I
went to him and said, 'Father, now's the time to give me a start, or let
me cut loose from here.' And he never answered me a word; but a couple
of weeks after that he bought the Turnbull place. And last week it was,
he said to me, kind of quick, as if he'd made up his mind to somethin',
and wa'n't quite ready to talk it over, 'I've got a sort of a new scheme
afoot.' And then 'twas I wrote to Annie and asked her how soon she could
be ready to come, if I was ready to have her. You know all that, mother.
What makes you act as if you didn't?"

The argument was too warm for Mrs. Dill. She rose from her chair and
began putting up the table-leaf and setting out the necessary dishes for
a batch of cake.

"Your father wanted you should take an axe and go down where he is in
the long lot," she remarked. "And I wouldn't open your head to him about
what we've been sayin', Hermie. You talk it over with mother. That's the
best way."

"Why, course I sha'n't speak of it till I have to." He took up his cap,
and then with an air of aggrieved dignity turned to the door. "But the
time'll come when I've got to speak of it. Lot Collins was tellin' me
only this mornin' over to the blacksmith's, how his father's took him
into partnership, and Lot's only twenty-one this spring. His father
ain't wasted a day."

"Well, that's a real business, blacksmithin' is," his mother hastened to
reply.

"So's farmin' a real business. And father's treated me from the word
'go' like a hired man and nothin' else. He's bought and sold without
openin' his head to me. I wonder I've grown up at all. I wonder I ain't
in tyers, makin' mud-pies. If 'twa'n't for you and Annie, I shouldn't
think I was any kind of a man."

His angry passion was terribly appealing to her. It made her heart ache,
and she had much ado to keep from taking him to her arms, big as he was,
and comforting him, as she used to, years ago, when he came in with
frostbitten fingers or the dire array of cuts and bruises. But she
judged it best, in the interest of domestic government, to quell emotion
that could have, she knew, no hopeful issue, and she began breaking eggs
into her mixing bowl and then beating them with a brisk hand.

"Father never was one to talk over his business with anybody, even the
nearest," she rejoined. "You know that, Hermie. We've got to take folks
as we find 'em. Now you go ahead down to the long lot. He'll be
wonderin' where you be."

Herman strode away, after one incredulous look at her, a shaft she felt
through her downcast lids. It demanded whether father and mother had
equally forsaken him, and gave her a quick, sharp pang, and a blinding
flash of tears. But she went on mixing cake, and battling arguments as
she worked, and when her tin was in the oven, washed her baking dishes
methodically and then sat down by the window to read the weekly paper.
But as she read, she glanced up, now and then, at the familiar walls of
her kitchen, and through the window at the trees just shimmering into
green and the skyey intervals over them. This was the pictured landscape
she had worked on, framed by these wide, low windows, for all the years
she had lived here, doing her wifely duties soberly, and her motherly
ones with a hidden and ecstatic buoyancy.

The house, the bit of the world it gave upon, seemed a part of her life,
the containing husk of all the fruitage born to her. It was incredible
that she was to give it up and undertake not only a heavier load of work
but a new scene for it, at a time when she longed to fold her hands and
sit musing while young things filled the picture with beautiful dancing
motions, and the loves and fears she remembered as a part of the warm
reality of it, but not now so intimately her own. It was as if the
heaped-up basket of earthly fruits had passed her by, to be given into
other hands; but she had eaten and was content, if only she might see
the banquet lamps and hear the happy laughter. She began to feel
light-headed from the pain of it all, the pleasures and sadnesses of
memory, the fear of anticipation, and turned again to her paper with the
intent of giving her mind to safe and homely things. But something
caught her eyes and held them. A window seemed to be opened before her.
She looked through it into her tumultuous past. Or was this a weapon put
into her hand for the exacting future?

That night Myron Dill came into the sitting-room after his chores were
done, and lay down on the lounge between the two front windows. He
composed himself on his back with his hands placidly folded, and there
his wife found him when she came in after her own completed list of
deeds. He did not look up at her, and she was glad. She did not know how
her eyes gleamed behind the glittering plane of their glasses, nor how
deep the red was in her cheeks; but she was conscious of an inward
tumult which must, she knew, somehow betray itself. For an instant she
stood and looked at her husband, in what might have been relenting or
anticipation of the road she had to take. She knew so well what mantle
of repose was over him: how he liked the peeping of the frogs through
the open window, and what measure of satisfaction there was for him in
the consciousness of full rest and the certainty that next day would
usher in a crowding horde of duties he felt perfectly able to
administer. Mrs. Dill was a feminine creature, charged to the full with
the love of service and unerring intuition as to the manner of it, and
she did love to "see menfolks comfortable."

"Don't you want I should pull your boots off?"

This she said unwillingly, because she was about to break the current of
his peace, and it seemed deceitful to offer him an alleviation that
would do him no good after all.

"No," said Myron sleepily. "Let 'em be as they are."

Mrs. Dill drew up a chair and sat down in it at his side, as if she were
the watcher by a sick-bed or the partner in a cosy conversation.

"Myron," said she. Her voice frightened her. It sounded hoarse and
strange, and yet there was very little of it, deserted by her failing
breath.

"What say?" he answered from his drowse.

"I found a real interestin' piece in the 'Monitor' this mornin'. It was
how some folks ain't jest one person, as we think, but they're two and
sometimes three. And mebbe one of 'em's good, and t'other two are bad,
and when they're bad they can't help it. They can't help it, Myron, the
bad ones can't, no matter how hard they try."

"Yes, I believe I come acrost it," said Myron. "Terrible foolish it was.
That's one o' the things doctors get up to feather their own nest."

"No, Myron, it ain't foolish," said his wife. She moved her chair
nearer, and her glasses glittered at him. "It ain't foolish, for I'm one
o' that same kind, and I know."

His eyes came open, and he turned his head to look at her.

"Ain't you feelin' well, Caddie?" he asked kindly.

"Oh, yes, I'm well as common," she answered. "But it ain't foolish,
Myron, and you've got to hear me. 'Double Personality,' that's what they
call it. Well, I've got it. I've got double personality."

Myron Dill put his feet to the floor, and sat upright. He was regarding
his wife anxiously, but he took pains to speak with a commonplace
assurance.

"We might as well be gettin' off to bed early, I guess. I'm tired, and
so be you."

"I've felt it for quite a long spell," said his wife earnestly. "I
don't know but I've always felt it--leastways, all through my married
life. It's somethin' that makes me as mad as tophet when you start me
out to do anything I don't feel it's no ways right to do, and it keeps
whisperin' to me I'm a fool to do it. That's what it says, Myron.
'You're a fool to do it!'"

Myron was touched at last, through his armor of esteem.

"I ain't asked you to do what ain't right, Caddie," he asseverated.
"What makes you tell me I have?"

"That's what it says to me," she repeated fixedly. "'You're a fool to do
it.' That's what it says. It's my double personality."

It seemed best to Myron to humor this inexplicable mood, until he could
persuade her back into a normal one.

"That wa'n't the way I understood it," he told her, "when I read the
piece. The folks that were afflicted seemed like different folks. Now,
you ain't any different, rain or shine. You're as even as anybody I
should wish to see. That's what I've liked about ye, Caddie."

The softness of the implication she swept aside, as if she hardly dared
regard it lest it weaken her resolve.

"Oh, I ain't goin' to be the same, day in, day out," she declared
eagerly. "I feel I ain't, Myron. It's gettin' the best of me, the other
creatur' that wants to have its own way. It's been growin' and growin',
same as a child grows up, and now it's goin' to take its course. Same 's
Hermie's growed up, you know. He's old enough to have his way, and lead
his life same's we've led ours, and we've got to stand one side and let
him do it."

Her husband gave her a sharp, sudden glance, and then fell again to the
contemplation of his knotted brown hands that seemed, like all his
equipment, informed with specialized power.

"Well," he said at length, "I guess you need a kind of a change. You'll
feel better when you get over to t'other house. There's a different
outlook over there, and you'll have more to take up your mind."

She answered instantly, in the haste that dares not wait upon
reflection. Her eyes were brighter now, and her hands worked nervously.

"Oh, I ain't goin' to move, Myron. I might as well tell you that now.
I'm goin' to stay right here where I be. I don't feel able to help it.
That's my double personality. It won't let me."

Her husband was looking at her now in what seemed to her a very
threatening way. His shaggy eyebrows were drawn together and his eyes
had lightning in them. She continued staring at him, held by the
fascination of her terror. In that instant she realized a great many
things: chiefly that she had never seen her husband angry with her,
because she had taken every path to avoid the possibility, and that it
was even more sickening than she could have thought. But she knew also
that the battle was on, and suddenly, for no reason she could formulate,
she remembered one of her own fighting ancestors who was said to have
died hard in the Revolution.

"That was old Abner Kinsman," she broke out; and when her husband asked,
out of his amaze at her irrelevance, "What's that you said?" she only
answered confusedly, "Nothin', I guess."

At that the storm seemed to Myron to be over, and his forehead cleared
of anger. He looked at her in much concern.

"I guess you better lay late to-morrer mornin'," he said, rising to
close the windows and wind the clock. "I'll ride over and get Sally Drew
to come and stay a spell and help you."

Something tightened through her tense body, and she answered instantly
in a clear, loud note,--

"I ain't goin' to have Sally Drew. Last time I had her she washed up the
hearth with the dish-cloth. If I want me a girl, I'll get one; but mebbe
I sha'n't want one till Hermie brings Annie into the neighborhood to
live."

She stood still in her place for a moment, trembling all over, and
wondering what would happen when Myron had wound the clock and closed
the windows and turned the wooden button of the door. He did not look at
her, nor did he speak again, and when she heard his deep, regular
breathing from the bedroom she slipped in softly, made ready for bed,
and lay down beside him.

She slept very little that night. He seemed to be a stranger, because
there had been outward division between them; and yet, curiously, she
felt nearer to him because she might have hurt him, and the jealous
partisanship within her kept prompting her to a more tumultuous
good-will, a warmer service.

Next morning, when Hermie had left them at the breakfast-table, and gone
silently to his tasks, his mother leaned across the table as if, for
some reason, she had to attract her husband's attention before speaking
to him. He was just taking the last swallow of coffee, and now he set
down his cup with decision, and moved away his plate. She knew what the
next step would be. He would push back his chair, clear his throat, and
then he would be gone.

"Myron!" she said. She spoke as something within Myron remembered the
school-teacher speaking, when she called him to the board. The
something within him responded to it, and without knowing why, he
straightened and looked attentive. "You noticed Hermie, didn't you?" she
adjured him. "You noticed he didn't have a word to say for himself, and
he wouldn't look neither of us in the face?"

"What's he been up to?" Myron queried, with his ready frown. "He done
somethin' out o' the way?"

"No, he ain't. I should think you'd be ashamed to hint such a thing,
Myron Dill, your own boy, too! All he's done is to stay here, and work
his fingers to the bone, and no thanks for it, and he's right down
discouraged. I know how the boy feels. Myron, I want you should do
somethin'. I want you should do it now."

Myron gave his chair the expected push, but he still sat there.

"Well," he said, "what is it? I've got to be off down to the
medderlands."

"I want you should make over the Turnbull place to Hermie, and have him
fetch Annie there as soon as ever she'll come, and let him farm it
without if or but from you and me."

Myron was on his feet. He looked portentously large and masterful.

"You better not think o' packin' the chiny," he said, in his ordinary
tone of generalship. "We can set it into baskets with a mite o' hay,
and it'll get as fur as that without any breakages."

His wife slipped out of her chair, and went round the table to him. She
laid a hand on his arm. Myron wanted, in the irritation of the moment,
to shake it off, but he was a man of dignity, and forbore. His wife was
speaking in a very gentle tone, but somehow different from the one he
was used to noting.

"Myron, ain't you goin' to hear me?"

"I ain't goin' to listen to any tomfoolery, and I ain't goin' to have
anybody dictatin' to me about my own business."

"It ain't your business, Myron, any more'n 'tis mine. Hermie's much my
son as he is your'n, and what you bought that place with is as much mine
as 'tis your'n. I helped you earn it. Myron, it's comin' up in me. I can
feel it."

"What is?"

In spite of all his old dull certainties, he felt the shock of wonder.
He looked at her, her scarlet cheeks and widening eyes. Even her pretty
hair seemed to have acquired a nervous life, and stood out in a
quivering aureole. Myron was much bound to his Caddie in his way of
being attached to his own life and breath. A change in her was horrible
to him, like the disturbance of illness in an ordered house.

"What is it?" he inquired again. "What is it you feel?"

"It's that," she said, with an added vehemence. "It's my double
personality."

Myron Dill could have wept from the surprise of it all, the assault upon
his wondering nerves.

"You spread up the bed in the bedroom, Caddie," he bade her, "and go lay
down a spell."

"No," said his wife, "I sha'n't lay down, and I sha'n't give up to you.
It's riz up in me, the one that's goin' to beat, no matter what comes of
it, same as old Abner Kinsman stood up ag'inst the British. Mebbe it'll
die fightin', same's he did, and I never'll hear no more from it,--and a
good riddance. But Myron, it's goin' to beat."

Her husband was frowning, not harshly now, but from the extremity of his
distress. He spoke in a tone of well-considered adjuration.

"Caddie, you know what you're doin' of? You're settin' up your will in
place o' mine."

"Oh, no, I ain't, Myron," she responded eagerly, with an earnest motion
toward him, as if she besought him to put faith in her. "It ain't me
that's doin' it."

"It ain't you? Who is it, then?"

"Why, it's my double personality. Ain't I just told you so?"

Myron stood gazing at her in the futility of comprehension he had felt
years ago, when Caddie, who had been "a great reader," as the neighbors
said, before the avalanche of household cares had overwhelmed her,
propounded to him, while he was drawing off his boots for an hour of
twilight somnolence before going to bed, problems that, he knew, no man
could answer. Neither were they to be illumined by Holy Writ, for he had
offered that loophole of exit, and Caddie had shaken her head at him
disconsolately, and implied that the prophets would not do. But when she
had seemed to forget that interrogative attitude toward life, he had
settled down to unquestioning content in knowing he had the best
housekeeper in the neighborhood. Now here it was again, the spectre of
her queerness rising to distress him.

She looked at him with wide, affrighted eyes.

"You set here with me a spell," she adjured him. "I'll lay down on the
sofy, and you take the big rocker. If you see it comin' up in me, you
kinder say somethin', and mebbe it'll go away."

Myron, though in extreme unwillingness, did as he was bidden. He wanted
to bundle the whole troop of her imaginings out of doors, and plod off,
like a sane man, to his fencing; but somehow her earnestness itself
forbade. When they were established, she on the sofa, with her bright
eyes piercing him, and he seated at an angle where a nurse might easiest
wait upon a patient's needs, the absurdity of it all swept over him. The
clock was ticking irritatingly behind him. He looked at his watch, and
took assurance from the vision of the flying day.

"Now, Caddie," said he, in that specious soothing we accord to children,
"you lay right still, and I'll go out a spell and do a few chores, and
then mebbe I'll come in and see how you be."

Caddie put out a hand, and fastened it upon his in an inexorable clasp.

"No, Myron," said she, "you ain't goin'. If I should be left here to
myself, and it come up in me, I dunno what I might do."

Myron felt himself yielding again, and clutched at confidence as the
spent swimmer reaches for a plank.

"What do you think you'd do, Caddie?" he demanded. "That's what I want
to know."

"I can't tell, Myron," she returned solemnly. "True as I'm a livin'
woman, I can't tell you. Mebbe I'd go over to the Turnbull house and set
it a-fire, so 't I shouldn't ever live in it. Mebbe I'd take my
bank-book, and go up to the Street, and draw out that money aunt Susan
left me, and give it to Hermie, so 's he could run away, and take Annie
with him. If that other one come up in me, I dunno what I'd do."

Myron gazed at her, aghast.

"Why, Caddie," said he, "you can't go round settin' houses a-fire.
That's arson."

"Is it?" she inquired. "Well, I dunno what it's called, but if that
other one gets the better o' me, mebbe that's what I shall do."

Myron held her hand now with an involuntary fervor of his own, not so
much because she bade him, but with the purpose of restraining her. An
hour passed, and her blue eyes were fixed upon him with the same
imploring force. He fidgeted, and at last longed childishly to see them
wink.

"Don't you want to see the doctor?" he ventured.

"No," said Caddie, in the same tone of wild asseveration. "Doctors won't
do me a mite o' good. Besides, doctors know all about it, and they'd see
what was to pay, and they'd send me off to some kind of a hospital, and
there'd be a pretty bill o' costs."

"I don't believe a word of it," Myron ventured, with a grasp at mental
liberty. He essayed, at the same time, to draw away his hand, but Caddie
seemed to fix him with a sharper eye-gleam, and he forbore.

"There's Hermie," she said. "I hear him in the shed, rattlin' round
amongst the tools. You call him in here, and when he's here, you tell
him he's goin' to have the Turnbull place, and have it now. Myron, you
tell him."

Myron made a slight involuntary movement in his chair, as if he were
about to rise and carry out her mandate; but he settled back again, and
Herman, having selected the tool he wanted, went off through the shed
and, as they both knew, down the garden-path.

The forenoon went on in a strange silence, save for the sound of the
birds, and an occasional voice of neighbors calling to Herman as they
passed. Myron had still that sickening sense of illness in the house.
The breakfast dishes were, he knew, untouched upon the table. The cat
came in, looked incidentally at the sofa as if she were accustomed to
occupy it at that particular hour, and walked out again. Myron drew
forth his watch, and looked at it with a stealthiness he could not
explain.

"Why," said he, with a simulated wonder, "it's nigh half after eleven.
Hadn't you better see about gettin' dinner?"

"I ain't a-goin' to get any dinner," his wife responded. "I don't know
as I shall ever get dinners any more. Myron, it's comin' up in me. I
feel it." She dropped his hand and rose to a sitting posture, and for a
moment, yielding to the physical relief of the broken clasp, he leaned
back in his chair and drew a hearty breath.

"Myron," said his wife. There was something mandatory in her voice, and
he came upright again. "Now I'm goin' to do it. I don't know what 'tis,
but it's got the better o' me and I'm goin' to do what it says. But
'fore I give way to it, I'm goin' to tell you this. You've got as good a
home and as good a son and as good a wife, if I do say it, as any man in
the State o' New Hampshire. And you can keep 'em, Myron, jest as they
be, jest as good as they always have been, if you'll only hear to reason
and give other folks a chance. You've got to give me a chance, and
you've got to give Herman a chance. I guess mebbe I'd sell all my
chances for the sake of turnin' 'em in with Hermie's. But you've got to
do it, and you've got to do it now. And if you don't, somethin' 's goin'
to happen. I don't know what it is. I don't know no more'n the dead, for
this is the first time I ever really knew I had that terrible creatur'
inside of me that's goin' to beat. But I do know it, and you've got to
stand from under."

She turned about and walked to the side window, looking on the garden.
She was a slight woman, but Myron, watching her in the fascination of
his dread, had momentary remembrance of her father, who had been a man
of majestic presence and unflinching will.

"Herman," his wife was calling from the window. "Herman, you come here."

That new mysterious note in her voice evidently affected the young man
also. He came, hurrying, and when he had entered stayed upon the
threshold, warm-hued with work and bringing with him the odor of the
soil. His brown eyes went from one of them to the other, and questioned
them.

"What is it?" he inquired. "What's happened?"

Myron got upon his feet. He had a dazed feeling that the two were
against him, and he could face them better so. He hated the situation,
the abasement that came from a secret self within him which was almost
terribly moved by some of the things his wife had spoken out of her long
silence. He was a proud man, and it seemed to him dreadful that he
should in any way have won such harsh appeal.

"Herman," his wife was beginning, "your father's got somethin' to say to
you."

Herman waited, but his father could not speak. Myron was really seeing,
as in a homely vision, the peace of the garden where he might at this
moment have been expecting the call to dinner if he had not been
summoned to the bar of judgment.

"I guess he's goin' to let me say it," his wife continued. "Father's
goin' to give you a deed o' the Turnbull place. It's goin' to be yours,
same as if you'd bought it, and you and Annie are goin' to live there
all your days, same 's we're goin' to live here."

Herman turned impetuously upon his father. There was a great rush of
life to his face, and his father saw it and understood, in the amazement
of it, things he had never stopped to consider about the boy who had
miraculously grown to be a man. But Herman was finding something in his
father's jaded mien. It stopped him on the tide of happiness, and he
spoke impetuously.

"She's dragged it out o' you! Mother's been tellin' you! I don't want it
that way, father, not unless it's your own free will. I won't have it no
other way."

It was a man's word to a man. Myron straightened himself to his former
bearing. In a flash of memory he remembered the day when his father, an
old-fashioned man, had given him his freedom suit and shaken hands with
him and wished him well. Involuntarily he put out his hand.

"It's my own will, Hermie," he said, in a tone they had not heard from
him since the day, eighteen years behind them, when the boy Hermie was
rescued from the "old swimmin'-hole." "We'll have the deeds drawed up
to-morrer."

They stood an instant, hands gripped, regarding each other in the
allegiance not of blood alone. The clasp broke, and they remembered the
woman and turned to her. There she stood, trembling a little, but
apparently removed from all affairs too large for her. She had taken a
cover from the stove, and was obviously reflecting on the next step in
her domestic progress.

"I guess you better bring me in a handful o' that fine kindlin',
Hermie," she remarked, in her wonted tone of brisk suggestion, "so 's 't
I can brash up the fire. I sha'n't have dinner on the stroke--not 'fore
half-past one."



THE ADVOCATE


"You goin'?" called Isabel Wilde from the road, to Ardelia, sitting
forlornly on the front steps.

It was seven o'clock of a wonderful August morning, with all the bloom
of summer and the lull of fall. Isabel was a dark, strong young creature
who walked with her head in the air, and Ardelia, pretty and frail and
perfect in her own small way, looked like a child in comparison. Isabel
had been down to carry a frosted cake to her little niece Ellen, for
Ellen's share of the picnic at Poole's Woods. It was Fairfax day, when
once a year all Fairfax went to the spot where the first settlers drank
of the "b'ilin' spring" on their way to a clearing.

"You goin'?" she called again, imperiously, and Ardelia answered, as if
from some unwillingness:--

"I guess so."

"Now what do you want to say that for?" rang her mother's voice from an
upper window, where, trusting to her distance from the road, she thought
she could speak her mind without Isabel's hearing. "You know you ain't.
Oliver's gone off to work in the acre lot."

Isabel had heard. She stood regarding Ardelia thoughtfully, her black
brows drawn together and her teeth set upon one full lip.

"Ardelia," she called softly, after that moment of consideration.

"What is it?" came Ardelia's unwilling voice, the tone of one who has
emotion to conceal.

"Come here a minute."

Ardelia rose slowly and came down the path. She was a wisp of a
creature, perfectly fashioned and very appealing in her blond
prettiness. Isabel eyed her sharply and judged from certain signs that
she had at least meant to go. She had on her light-blue dimity with the
Hamburg frills, and her sorrowful face indicated that she had donned it
to no avail.

"What time you goin', 'Delia?" asked Isabel quietly, over the fence.

Ardelia could not look at her. She stood with bent head, busily
arranging a spray of coreopsis that fell out over the path, and Isabel
was sure her eyes were wet.

"I don't know," she said evasively; "maybe not very early."

Isabel was looking at her tenderly. It was not a personal tenderness so
much as a softness born out of peculiar circumstance. She knew exactly
why she was sorry for Ardelia in a way no one else could be. Yet there
seemed to be no present means of helping her.

"Well," she said, turning away, "maybe I'll see you there. Say, 'Delia!"
A sudden thought was brightening her eyes to even a kinder glow. "If you
haven't planned any other way, s'pose you go with us. Jim Bryant's goin'
to take me, and he'd admire to have you, too. What say, 'Delia?"

Ardelia's delicate figure straightened, and now she looked at Isabel.
There was something new in her gentle glance. It looked like dignity.

"I'm much obliged to you, Isabel," she returned stiffly. "If I go, I've
arranged to go another way."

"All right," said Isabel. "Well, I guess I'll be gettin' along."

But before she was half-way to the turning of the road she heard Mrs.
Drake's shrill voice from the upper window:--

"He's begun to dig, 'Delia. Oliver's begun to dig. He won't stop for no
picnics, I can tell ye that."

It seemed to Isabel as if the world were very much out of tune for
delicate girls like 'Delia who wanted pleasure and could not have it.
She paused a moment at the crossing of the roads, the frown of
consideration again upon her brow. "Makes me mad," she said to herself,
but half absently, as if that were not the issue at all. Then she turned
her back on her own home-road and the house where her starched dress was
awaiting her, and where Jim Bryant would presently call to take her to
Poole's Woods, and walked briskly down the other way.

Isabel stopped at the acre field, but she had no idea of what she meant
to say when she was there. Oliver was digging potatoes, as she knew he
would be, and she recognized the bend of the back, the steady stress of
one who toiled too long and too unrestingly, so that his very pose spoke
like a lifelong purpose. She stood still for a moment or two before he
saw her, gazing at him. Old tenderness awoke in her, old angers also.
She remembered how he had made her suffer in the obstinate course of his
own will, and how free she had felt when at last she had broken their
engagement and seen him drift under Ardelia's charm. But he would always
mean something to her more than other men, in a fashion quite peculiar
to himself. She had agonized too much over him. She had protected him
too long against the faults of his own nature, and now she could not be
content unless, for his sake, she protected Ardelia a little also.
Suddenly he lifted himself to rest his back, and saw her. They stood
confronting each other, each with a sense of familiarity and pain.
Oliver was a handsome fellow, tall, splendidly made, with rich, warm
coloring. He looked kindly, but stolidly set in his own way.

"That you, Isabel?" he asked awkwardly.

They had met only for a passing word since the breaking of their troth.

"Yes," said Isabel briefly. "I've got to speak to you. Wait a minute.
I'll come in by the bars, and you meet me under the old cherry. It'll be
shady there."

She turned back to the bars, ducked deftly under, and, holding her
skirts from the rough land, made her way to the cherry in the corner of
the lot. Oliver wonderingly followed. She felt again that particular
anger she reserved for him, when she saw him stalking along, hoe in
hand. It was a settled tread, with little spring in it, and for the
moment it seemed to her a prophecy of what it would be when he was an
old man, with a staff instead of the hoe. She was waiting for him under
the tree.

"Oliver," she began, speaking out of an impulse hardly yet approved by
judgment, "you goin' to the picnic?"

Oliver looked at her in wonder.

"Why, no," said he slowly.

"Didn't you promise 'Delia you'd go?"

"No, I guess not. I said mebbe I'd be round if I had time, but I ain't
found the time. These 'taters have got to be dug."

The red had surged into Isabel's full cheeks. She looked an eloquent
remonstrance.

"Oliver," she said impetuously, "'Delia's sittin' on the front steps,
waitin' for you to come. She'll be terrible disappointed if you put her
aside like this."

Oliver took off his hat and passed a hand over his forehead. She
noticed, as she had a hundred times, how fine his hair was at the roots,
and was angry again because he would not, with his exasperating ways,
let any woman love him as she might. He seemed to have nothing to say,
but she knew the picture of lone 'Delia sitting on the steps was far
from moving him. It did cause him an honest trouble, for he was kind;
but not for that would he postpone his work.

"Oliver," she continued, "did you ever know what 'twas that made me tell
you we must break off bein'--engaged?"

He was looking at her earnestly. His own mind seemed returning to a past
ache and loss.

"I understood," he said at length--"I understood 'twas because you
kinder figured it out we shouldn't get along well."

She stood there, a frowning figure, her lips compressed, her eyes
stormy. Then she turned to him, all frankness and candor.

"Oliver," she said, "I never give you any reasons. What's the use? I was
terrible fond of you. I was. I don't know 's any girl ought to say that
when you're engaged to somebody else, and I'm engaged myself, and happy
as the day is long. But what 'twas--what come between us--you never made
me have a good time."

He stood leaning upon his hoe, very handsome, very stern in his
attention to her, and, as she could see, entirely surprised. The child
in her, that rare, ingenuous part she kept in hiding, came out and
spoke:--

"Why, Oliver, we never had any fun! You were awful good to me. You'd
worry yourself to pieces if I was sick; but we never had more'n one or
two good times together, long 's it lasted, and them I planned. And I
got terrible tired of it, and I says to myself, 'If it's so now, when
we're only goin' together, it'll be a million times worse when we're
married.' And then when you took a fancy to 'Delia, I was real pleased.
I says to myself. 'Maybe she'll know how to manage him. Maybe 'twas
somethin' in me,' I says, 'that made him not want to have a good time
with me, and maybe now 'twon't be so.' And when I see you goin' on the
same old way, workin' from mornin' till night, I says to myself,
'Something' 's got to be done. I ain't goin' to have 'Delia put upon
like this.' 'Tain't because it's 'Delia. I ain't so terrible fond of
'Delia, only we went to school together. But don't you see, Oliver, I
couldn't say it for myself? No girl could. But I can for 'Delia."

"Well," said Oliver, "well." He was entirely amazed. Then as he looked
at the field, a general maxim occurred to him, and he remarked, "The
farm's got to be carried on."

"No, it ain't, either," said Isabel, with a passionate earnestness, "not
as you do it. Other folks don't work themselves to death the way you do,
and you're forehanded too. It's because you like it. You like it
better'n anything else. You were born so, and it's just as bad as bein'
born with an appetite for drink or anything else."

"I never knew you felt so, Isabel," he said gravely. "I don't see why
you didn't speak on 't before when--old times."

"I'd rather have died," she declared passionately. "Any girl would.
'Delia would. Maybe she'll cry all the afternoon if she finds she ain't
goin'; but if you call over there Saturday night, butter won't melt in
her mouth. She won't tell you how 'shamed she is before folks to think
you didn't take the trouble to go with her. Anyways, she won't if she's
any kind of a girl."

Oliver had plucked some wisps of grass from the edge of turf under the
tree, and he was wiping his hoe thoughtfully. Isabel began to laugh. She
was trembling all over from old angers and the excitement of her new
daring, and she kept on laughing.

"One thing," she said, as she brushed away the tears with an impatient
hand, "'Delia's mother's got her spy-glass on us this very minute. What
under the sun she thinks I'm here for I don't know and I don't much
care. You can tell her anything you're a mind to. Only you come. Come
now, Oliver, you come!"

Oliver quite meekly hung up his hoe in the branches and waited for her
to lead the way.

"I've got to ketch the colt," he said. "Mother took Dolly to go after
aunt Huldy. Mother's always made a good deal o' the picnic."

There was a beat of hoofs upon the road, and Isabel, her present mission
stricken from her mind, turned to see. It was Jim Bryant, driving by to
call for her.

"My soul!" she said, under her breath.

"What is it, Isabel?" Oliver was asking her, with concern.

She had caught herself up, and she laughed in a sorry mirth.

"Nothin'," she said. "You catch the colt."

They walked out of the field in silence. At the stone wall he paused.

"Isabel," he said solemnly,--and with that double sense she had had all
through the interview, she thought this was the look she had seen on his
grandfather's face when he led in prayer,--"Isabel, you'd ought to spoke
to me before. Why, I've been tryin' to get ahead so 's to make her
comfortable, when--we set up housekeepin'."

Isabel was not sure whether he meant her or Ardelia. At any rate, it was
the woman to whom he was determined to be loyally kind. She also paused
and looked at him with earnest eyes. It was the last moment in all her
life to convince and alter him.

"Don't you see, Oliver," she urged, "that's what folks are together for,
chiefly, to have a good time. I don't mean they've got to be on the go
from mornin' till night. They've got to work hard, too. Why, what's
'Delia marryin' you for, anyways. 'Tain't to stay at home and work, day
in, day out. She can do that now, right where she is. 'Tain't so 's she
can see you workin'. She can take her mother's spy-glass and have that,
too, till she's sick to death of it. You go along, Oliver, and catch the
colt."

He looked at her very kindly, gratefully, too, perhaps, and turned away
toward the live-oak field. But Isabel, hurrying homeward, stopped and
called him.

"Oliver, you say your mother's gone?"

"Yes."

"She lay your things out?"

"No, I guess not. I told her I wa'n't goin'."

"Well, I'll see to it as I run along."

Laying out the things of the men folks of the family was rigidly
observed in this household, where Oliver was regarded as the cherished
head. He had been brought up to a helpless lack of acquaintance with his
best clothes. He knew them only as lendings apt to constrict him a
little when he got them on, and to rouse in his mother a tendency to
make unwelcome remarks about his personal charms. Where they lived,
between those times of warfare, he scarcely knew.

Isabel laughed a little to herself, in a rueful fashion, as she hurried
along the road. Her own swain was waiting for her, but not for that
would she abjure the quest. She ran up Oliver's driveway and, without
pausing, opened the blind where the key, she knew, was hidden, and
snatched it forth. She unlocked the door and crossed the kitchen, rigid
in its order, with Oliver's cold luncheon set out on the table under
wire covers. She made her way upstairs, and in his room, also in
beautiful array, stood for a moment looking about her. Isabel gave a
little laugh. "I should think I was crazy," she said to herself; and
then she opened bureau drawers until she found the careful display of
bosomed shirts she knew were there. She laid one on the bed, his collar
and necktie beside it, and took down his best suit from the closet. She
gave the collar of the coat a little unnecessary brush with her hand. It
seemed almost a wifely touch, and she was angry with herself. Yet it was
only that this was mating-time, and the tender and the maternal strove
blindly in her, and brought forth a largess great enough to touch other
lots besides her own.

Then she sped downstairs and went away to her own home. Her mother--a
little woman, all energy--met her at the gate. She had on her best
bonnet and carried her Paisley shawl. She was shading her eyes with her
hand and looking tense in a way Isabel declaimed against, for it made
wrinkles in her mother's nice forehead.

"For mercy sake, where you been?" she called. "Ain't you seen Jim?"

"No," said Isabel lightly. "Where is he?"

"Well, I dunno where he is," said her mother reprovingly. "He come here
after you, all dressed up, an' I told him you was gone down to Ellen's
to carry the cake. So he said he'd go along down an' fetch you up, an' I
told him he better stop to Ardelia's an' see if you wasn't there. An'
then he come back, ridin' like the wind, an' he said I could tell you
Mis' Drake said you's goin' to the picnic with Oliver. She see you
through the spy-glass, an' Oliver'd gone to ketch the colt."

"There's father," said Isabel steadily. "He's drivin' out the
carriage-house now. You got the cake in the buggy?"

"You do worry me 'most to death," said Mrs. Wilde. Her face had tied
itself into a snarl of knots, from which the kindly eyes looked angrily.
"Who you goin' with, Isabel? You ain't been an' took up with Oliver
again, after all's said an' done?"

Isabel laughed, but her voice shook a little, and not with mirth.

"I'm all right, mother. Don't you say anything to anybody. That's all.
Here comes father. Take care your dress. You'll get wheel-grease on it."

Her strong hands were lifting the little creature, and Mrs. Wilde found
herself driven away. She was turning a glance over her shoulder to the
last, and calling, "Isabel, you tell me--" But father, who had Isabel's
masterful purpose, whipped up, and they were gone.

Isabel, still smiling, as if the sun itself could judge her and it was
desirable to keep up some appearance before it, went into the house and
closed the door behind her. She took off her hat and hung it on its
nail in the front hall. Then her muscles seemed to weaken in a strange
way, and she went into the darkened parlor where no neighbor would find
her, and sat down by the centre-table. She bowed her head upon the great
picture-Bible, and unmindful of the cross and anchor in perforated paper
below and the green wool mat with its glass beads, began to cry. Isabel
hated tears with a fiery scorn. She liked to stand on her two feet and
face the world as her father did; yet here she was, sobbing over the
centre-table and drawing quick breaths of misery. Even then, in the
passion of her grief, it did occur to her that in all the anger she had
felt toward Oliver in times past, she had never wanted to cry. Something
now had hurt a deeper heart than she knew she had.

She had got over the first tempest of her grief, and sat drying her eyes
with a wondering shame, and suddenly there was a sound of a horse driven
rapidly. Hope flooded her face with color. She sprang up and slipped to
the window and peered out at the side of the curtain. But it was not he.
It was Oliver, erect and handsome in his best clothes, and Ardelia
beside him. Oliver glanced up at the house as they went by; but he bent
to Ardelia again in a way that looked fondness and protection at once.
And Ardelia was openly in paradise. She was looking up to him with no
eyes for any face at the window, and as they whirled out of sight Isabel
saw her lift a hand and with an intimate, pretty motion brush something
from his coat. Then they were gone, and immediately the neighborhood
seemed to settle into a quiet. All the town was at Poole's Woods, and
Isabel was left behind.

For a long time, it seemed to her, she sat there, trying to still her
breath and school herself into her old serenity. Then, with her
handkerchief, a little wet ball, tight in one hand, she rose, went to
the glass that even in the darkened light showed her a miserable look,
made a little face at herself, and walked out into the kitchen. There
she stood idly for a moment, debating what she should do. Jim Bryant had
not lived long in the town, but she knew him well from these few weeks
of intimacy. He was tempestuously devoted to her, in a way that stirred
her blood. There was plenty of fire and passion in him; he had a temper,
and he would not come back. Isabel set her lips. "I guess," she said to
herself, "I'll have the burnfire." She thought of baking pound-cake, but
all the day before they had made cake for the picnic. She might wash the
blankets, or begin quilting, or clean the cistern. These dramas were
hardly exciting enough. The bonfire was better. She tied on her
father's hat and kilted her skirts. Then she brought out the iron rake
from the barn and settled the brush-heap anew. It was on the square of
land where she had had her perennial bed for three years, and now she
had decided to sow it down to grass. The litter of the garden was there,
with splinters of shingle and dried weeds, and next week her father
meant to burn it.

Isabel touched her match and stood by, watching, while the flames curled
and crept. Then they crackled among the brush, and she held them down
and got excited over it, and for an instant forgot Poole's Woods. It was
a good little fight out-of-doors in the hot sun, with a stream of fire
when it caught something dry, and then a column of smoke that made a
tang in the air and stirred her blood deliciously. Isabel was like a
creature of the earth combating something for the earth's good, and
getting hotter and more breathless every minute.

"What you doin' there?" called a voice from the gate.

She forgot the bonfire, remembering her father's hat and her kilted
skirts. Jim Bryant threw the gate shut with a clang and came striding
across the yard. He was tall and brown and sturdy. Isabel knew exactly
how he looked with his brow set and his blue eyes blazing.

"I've got a burnfire," she said, and raked the harder.

Jim came up and took the rake out of her hand. It seemed to be for no
purpose save that he had to do something. Isabel put up her head and
looked at him. There was hostility in her glance, but it was the
challenge of sex that meets and measures.

"I see the smoke comin' up over this way, an' I thought there was the
devil to pay," he said harshly. "What you carryin' on like this for?"

"I ain't carryin' on," said Isabel, from tense lips. "This is our land,
and I guess I can have a burnfire if I want to."

"Why ain't you at Poole's Woods?" The fire was dying down a little, but
one persistent flame moved like a snake in the dry stubble, and he
savagely stamped it out. "Why ain't you? I come after you."

"You didn't wait, did you?"

"Old Mis' Drake said you were goin' with Briggs."

"Did I tell you so?"

He weakened a little.

"N-no! But she said you'd been down talkin' it over an' Oliver'd gone to
ketch the colt. She offered me the spy-glass."

Isabel's lips had a little line of white about them. She looked full at
him now.

"Did you take it, Jim?"

"Take it? No!" he roared at her. "Do you think I'd do a thing like
that?"

They stood looking at each other, glance holding glance, their eyes
blazing. Suddenly he threw the rake as if he had been throwing down a
shield and held out his arms to her. Isabel walked into them, and while
they kissed, her father's straw hat slipped back over her shoulders, and
she laughed and never missed the fluffy headgear lying in her room
upstairs, waiting for Poole's Woods. Suddenly she remembered that they
were out in the broad sunlight, in sight of the road, and then she
bethought her that all the town had gone to Poole's Woods to leave them
the world alone to kiss in. She remembered, too, that old Mrs. Drake's
spy-glass might be trained on them at that moment.

"I don't care," she said, and laughed.

"Don't care for what?" asked her lover, his lips at her ear.

"For anything. There! let me go. Here's some more fire in the grass."

They stamped and raked quite soberly for a moment, and then Isabel began
to laugh again. She looked wild and beautiful in her fight with the
earth and her own heart. Jim laughed a little, too.

"What is it, Bell?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said, in the ecstasy of happiness. "I guess I like a
burnfire."

When it died still lower, they walked toward the house, hand in hand,
and sat there on the steps watching it.

"Well," said Bryant, smiling at her, "you want to go to Poole's Woods?"

Isabel smiled back.

"I guess so," she said. "We can be there by luncheon-time."

"All right. I'll go home an' harness up." Half-way down the path he
stopped and turned. "Say, Isabel!"

She answered from the porch on her way in to don the muslin dress.

"What is it?"

"You never told me what you were down there for."

"Where?"

"Down to Oliver's."

She shook her head and laughed.

"No, nor I sha'n't, either." His brows were coming together. "'Twas an
errand," she called to him. "It wa'n't mine, either. You got to know?"

Again they stood looking at each other, this time with a steady
challenge as if more things were decided than the moment's victory. Then
suddenly, as if in the same breath, they smiled again, and Bryant gave
her a little nod.

"Get your things on," he called. "We're goin' to Poole's Woods. That's
all I want to know."



THE MASQUERADE


The summer boarders had gone, and Marshmead was settling down to a peace
enhanced by affluence. Though the exodus had come earlier than usual
this year, because the Hiltons were sailing for Germany and the Dennys
due at the Catskills, not one among their country entertainers had
complained. Marshmead approved, from a careless dignity, when people
brought money into the town, but it always relapsed into its own customs
with a contented sigh after the jolt of inexplicable requirements and
imported ways. This year had been an especially fruitful one. The
boarders had given a fancy dress party with amateur vaudeville combined,
for the benefit of the old church, and Martha Waterman now, as she
toiled up the hill to a meeting of the Circle, held the resultant check
in one of her plump freckled hands. Martha was chief mover in all
capable deeds, a warm, silent woman who called children "lamb," plied
them with pears, and knew the inner secrets of rich cookery. She was
portly, and her thin skin gave confirmation to her own frequent
complaint of feeling the heat; but though the day had been more sultry
than it was, she would not have foregone the pleasure of endowing the
Circle with its new accession toward the meeting-house fund.

The Circle had been founded in war time when women scraped lint and
sewed with a passionate zeal. Martha was a little girl then, wondering
what the excitement was really about, though, since it had lasted
through her own brief period, she took it that war was a permanent
condition, like bread or weather. Now she often mused over those old
days and thought how marvelous it was that she could ever have been
young enough to see no significance in that time of blood and pain. In
these middle years of hers the Circle was a different affair, but it
kept its loyal being. To-day it met in the basement of the church, and
there, when Martha went plodding in, nearly all the other members were
assembled. Sometimes they sewed for sufferers from varying disasters,
but to-day their hands were idle, and a buzz of talk saluted her. They
looked up as one woman when she entered.

"There she is," called two or three, and Lydia Vesey, the little
dressmaker, as sharp and unexpected as the slash of her own
too-impulsive scissors, came forward with a run.

"You got it?" she inquired.

Mrs. Waterman laughed richly, and set her umbrella in the corner. Then,
still holding one hand closed upon the check, she untied her hat and
fanned herself with it during the relief of sinking into a seat.

"Do let me get my breath," she besought, yet as if she prolonged the
moment for the sake of the dramatic weight the tale demanded. "Seems if
I never experienced such a day as this. It's hotter'n any fall I ever
see."

"You look very warm, Martha," said Ellen Bayliss, in her gentle way. She
was sitting by the window, bending over an embroidered square, the sun
on her soft curls and delicate cheek unveiling the look of middle life,
yet doing something kindly, too; for though he showed the withered
texture of her skin, he brought out the last fleck of gold in her hair,
and balanced sadness with some bloom. Ellen had been accounted a beauty,
and her niece Nellie was a beauty now, of a more radiant type. She was
the rose of life, but aunt Ellen had the fragrance of roses in a jar.

"You sewin', Ellen?" Martha inquired, as if she were willing to shift
the topic from what would exact continued speech from her, and at least
defer her colleagues' satisfaction. "You're the only one that's brought
their thimble, I'll be bound."

"It's only this same centrepiece," Ellen answered, holding it up. "Mrs.
Hilton told me if I'd send it after her, she'd give me three dollars for
it. I thought I could turn the money into the fund."

"You got it?" Lydia Vesey cried again, as if she could not possibly
crowd her interest under, and this time she had reënforcements from
without. Mrs. Daniel Pray, who was almost a giantess and bent
laboriously over to accommodate her height to her husband's, took off
her glasses and laid them on her declivitous lap, the better to fix
Martha with her dull, small eyes.

"I'll be whipped if I believe you've got it, after all," she offered
discontentedly. "Mebbe they're goin' to send by mail."

Martha looked at her a moment, apparently in polite consideration, but
really wondering, as she often did, if anything would thicken the hair
at Mrs. Pray's parting. She frequently, out of the strength of her
address and capability, had these moments of musing over what could be
done.

"Speak up, Marthy, can't ye?" ended Mrs. Pray irritably, now putting on
her glasses again as if, having tried one way, she would essay another.
"Didn't you see Mis' Hilton at the last, or didn't they give it to you?"

Martha unclosed her hand and extended it to them impartially, the
check, face uppermost, held between thumb and finger. They bent forward
to peer. Some rose and looked over the shoulders of the nearer ones, and
glasses were sought and hastily mounted upon noses.

"Well, there," said Mrs. Hanscom, the wife of the grain-dealer who
always stipulated for cash payment before he would deliver a bag at the
barn door, "it ain't bills, as I see."

"It's just as good." Ellen Bayliss looked up from her sewing to throw
this in, with her air of deprecating courtesy. "A check's the same as
money any day. I have two, twice a year, from my stock. All you have to
do is to write your name on the back and turn 'em into the bank."

"Well, all I want to know is, what's it come to?" Lydia Vesey said.
"Course it's just the same as money. I've had checks myself, days past.
Once I done over Miss Tenny's black mohair an' sent it after her, an'
she mailed me back a check,--same day, I guess it was. How much's it
come to, Marthy?"

"See for yourself," said Martha. She laid it, still face upward, on the
table. "It's as much yours as 'tis mine, I guess, if I be treasurer.
Forty-three dollars an' twenty-seven cents."

There was a chorused sigh.

"Well, I call that a good haul," said Ann Bartlett, whose father had
been sexton for thirty-eight years, and who, in consequence, looked upon
herself as holding some subtly intimate relation with the church, so
that when the old carpet was "auctioned off" she insisted on darning the
breadths before they were put up for sale. "What money can do! Just one
evenin', an' them few folks dressed up to kill an' payin' that in for
their ice-cream an' tickets at the door."

"We made the ice-cream," said Martha, as one stating a fact to be justly
remembered.

"We paid ourselves in, too," said Lydia sharply. "I guess our money's
good as anybody's, an' I guess it'll count up as quick an' go as fur."

"Course it will," said Martha, in a mollifying tone. "But 'tis an easy
way of makin' a dollar, just as Ann says. There they got up a
fancy-dress party an' enjoyed themselves, an' it's brought in all this.
'Twa'n't hard work for 'em. 'Twas a kind o' play."

"Well, I guess they did enjoy it," said Mrs. Pray gloomily. She had
settled her glasses on her nose again, and now, with her finger, went
following the bows round under her hair, to be sure they "canted right."
"I guess they wouldn't ha' done it if they hadn't."

"There's one thing Mis' Hilton says to me when she passed me the check,"
Martha brought out, in sudden recollection. "'Now here's this money we
made for you,' she says. 'Use it anyways you want, so 's you use it for
the church. But,' she says, 'why don't you make up your minds now you'll
give some kind of an entertainment after we're gone, a harvest
festival,' she says, 'or the like o' that? Then you could do your
paintin',' she says, 'an' get you a new melodeon for the Sunday School,
or whatever 'tis you want. We've showed you the way,' she says. 'Now you
go ahead an' see what you can do.'"

Lydia Vesey looked as if she might, in another instant, cap the
suggestion by a satirical climax, and Ellen Bayliss rested her sewing
hand on her knee and glanced thoughtfully about as if to ask, in her
still, earnest way, what her own part could be in such an enterprise.
But a step came hurrying down the stairs, the step of a heavy body
lightly carried, and Caddie Musgrave came in at a flying pace. It was
Caddie who, with the help of her silent husband, kept the big
boarding-house on the hill. No need to talk to her about summer
boarders, she was wont to say. She knew 'em, egg an' bird. Take 'em as
folks an' nobody was better, but 'twas boarders she meant. They might
seem different, fust sight, but shake 'em up in a peck measure, an' you
couldn't tell t'other from which.

"I guess you're tired," said Ellen Bayliss, in her gentle fashion,
taking a stolen glance from the embroidery and returning again at once
to her careful stitches.

"Tired!" said Caddie. She dropped into a chair and leaned her head back
with ostentatious weariness. "I guess I be. An' yet I told Charlie 'fore
they went I never'd say I was tired again in all my born days, only let
me get rid of 'em this time."

"How'd you manage with 'em this season?" asked Mrs. Pray, as if her
question concerned the importation of some alien plant.

Caddie opened her eyes and came to a posture more adapted to sustaining
her end of the conversational burden.

"Why, they're all right," she owned, "good as gold, take 'em on their
own ground. I found out they were good as gold that winter I went up an'
passed Sunday with Mis' Denny. But take 'em together, boardin', an' what
one don't think of t'other will. This summer 'twas growin' fleshy, an'
if they didn't harp on that one string--well, suz!"

Mrs. Pray nodded her head solemnly.

"I said that," she returned. "I said that to Jonathan when I come home
from the Circle the day they was here talkin' over the fund an' settlin'
what they'd do. I come home an' says to Jonathan wipin' his hands on
the roller-towel there by the back door, I says, 'What's everybody got
ag'inst growin' old, an' growin' hefty, too, for that matter?' I says.
'Seems if folks don't talk about nothin' else.'"

Martha put in her assuaging word.

"Well, I guess human natur' ain't changed much. I guess nobody ever
hankered after gettin' stiff j'ints an' losin' their eyesight an' so.
'Twould be a queer kind of a shay that was lookin' for'ard to goin' to
pieces while 'twas travelin' along. Mis' Denny's niece that reads in
public read me that piece once. I thought 'twas about the cutest that
ever was."

Ellen Bayliss had laid her sewing on her knee, and now she looked up in
an impulsive haste, the color in her cheeks and a quick moving note in
her voice.

"It isn't growing old that's the trouble. It's talking about it. Why,
the night after that meeting of the Circle--" She stopped here, and her
eyes, widening and growing darker in a way they had, gave her face
almost a look of terror.

"What is it, Ellen?" asked Martha Waterman kindly. "You tell it right
out."

"Why," said Ellen, "this is all 'twas. That night at supper, my Nellie
kept staring at me across the table. 'What is 't, Nellie?' I says, at
last. Then she colored up and says, not as if she wanted to, but as if
she couldn't help it, 'I hope I shall look like you sometime, aunt
Ellen.' You see how 'twas. She meant, when she was old. She never in her
life had thought anything about me being old, and they'd put it into her
head."

A pained look settled upon her face, and before she took up her sewing
again she glanced from one to another as if to ask them if they really
understood. There was a little warm murmur of assent. Ellen was beloved,
and there was, besides, a concurrent strain of sympathy through the
assembly who had known all her past. They remembered how Colonel Hadley
had "gone with her" awhile when she was teaching school at District
Number Four, and how Ellen had faded out, the summer he was married to
Kate Leighton, of the Leightons on the hill. Now his nephew, Clyde, was
going with Ellen's niece in a way that vividly mirrored the old time,
and they had heard that the colonel, when he came for one of his brief
visits in the summer, had somehow put a check to love's beginning. At
least, Clyde had seen Nellie only once after his uncle went away, and
had speedily closed the old house and followed him.

"There, Ellen," said Lydia Vesey, from a rare softness. "I guess
nobody'd ever say 't you was growin' old. They'd only think you was
sort o' palin' out, that's all, same 's a white dress is different from
a pink one."

"Well, now, I'll say my say, an' done with it," remarked Caddie
Musgrave, with her accustomed violence. "I'm ready to grow old when my
time comes, an' if I get there by the road some have took before me, I
guess I sha'n't be put under the sod by any vote o' town-meetin'. As I
look back, seems to me 'most all them that's gone before us has had
their uses to the last. Think o' gramma Jakes! Why, she hadn't chick nor
child of her own left to bless her, an' see how she was looked up to,
an' how every little tot in town thought he's made if he could be sent
to gramma Jakes's to do an arrant, an' she give him a pep'mint or a
cooky. 'Twa'n't the pep'mint though. 'Twas because she was a real sweet
nice old lady, that's what 'twas."

"Yes, I remember gramma Jakes," said Anna Dutton, from the corner. She
was a round, pink, near-sighted little person, who had tried to cure
herself of stammering by speaking very slowly, and now scarcely talked
at all because she had found how unwilling her more robust and
loquacious neighbors were to give her the right of way in her hindering
course. "Seems if I could see her now standin' there on her front porch,
her little handkercher round her neck--"

Caddie broke in upon this reminiscence, according to a custom so
established that Anna Dutton only kept her mouth open for an instant, as
if the opportunity for speech might return to her, and then quite calmly
settled back with an air of pleased attention.

"They're afraid o' gettin' old an' they're afraid o' gettin' fleshy,"
Caddie announced. "Well, there's no crime in gettin' old, now is there?
An' if there is, you can't put a stop to 't in any court o' law. An' as
for bein' fleshy, if you be you be, an' you might as well turn to an'
have your clo'es made bigger an' say no more."

Mrs. Pray presented her mite with her accustomed severity of gloom, as
if she had selected the words most carefully and wished to have it
understood that they were the choicest she had to offer.

"I was fryin' doughnuts, a week ago Saturday, an' Mis' Denny come along
with that lady friend o' hers that's down here over Sunday. I offered
'em each a warm doughnut, an' they was possessed to take it. They'd been
walkin' quite a spell, an' they'd called for a drink o' water. They said
'twas the time in the forenoon when they drinked. But they looked at the
doughnuts good an' hard, an' they says: 'No. It's fattenin',' says they.
'It's fattenin'.'"

"Yes," said Caddie, with a scornful cadence, "I'll warrant they did.
That's what they said about two things out o' three, soon 's the hands
moved round to meal-time. 'It's fattenin'!' Oh, I'm sick an' tired to
death of it! I ain't goin' to be dead till I be dead, thinkin' about it
all the time, not if I can keep my thoughts inside o' me an' my tongue
in my head. So there!"

"Well, now," said Martha Waterman, with the mildness calculated to
smooth a troubled situation, "hadn't we better be gettin' round to
thinkin' what we'll do to earn us a mite more money for the fund? Seems
if, now they've done so well by us, we'd ought to up an' show what we
can do--a harvest festival, mebbe, or a sociable for all, an' charge for
tickets."

One woman had not spoken. She was a thin, dark-eyed creature, with a
gypsy face and a quantity of gray hair wound about on the top of her
head. This was Isabel Martin, who was allowed her erratic way because
she took it, and because, it had always been said, "You never could tell
what Isabel would do next, only she never meant the least o' harm." She
had come softly in while the others were talking, and drawn Ellen's work
out of her hand, with a swift, pretty smile at her. "Rest your eyes,"
she had whispered her, and sat by, taking quick, deft stitches, while
Ellen, unconscious until then of being tired, had dropped her lids and
leaned her head against the casing, with a faint smile of pleasant
restfulness. Now Isabel put the work back into Ellen's hand with an
accurate haste, and looked up at the group about her.

"I'll tell you what to do," she said. Her voice thrilled with urging and
suggestive mischief. It was a compelling voice, and they turned at once.

"If there ain't Isabel," said Martha Waterman. "I didn't see you come
in."

"Le' 's give a fancy dress party of our own," said Isabel.

"Dress ourselves up to the nines, an' put on paint an' powder, an' send
off to the stores to hire clo'es an' wigs?" inquired Caddie. "No, sir,
none o' that for me. I've seen what it comes to, money an' labor, too.
I've just been through it, lookin' on, an' I wouldn't do it not if the
church never see a brush o' paint nor a shingle, an' we had to play on a
jew's-harp 'stead of a melodeon. No!"

Ann Bartlett gave a little murmur here.

"I never heard of anybody's bringin' a jew's-harp into the
meetin'-house," she said, as a kind of official protest. "I guess we
could get us some kind of a melodeon, 'fore we done such a thing as
that."

Isabel was going on in that persuasive voice; it seemed to call the town
to her to do her bidding.

"No, we ain't goin' to do it their way. We're goin' to do it our way.
They've set out to see how young they can be. Le' 's see 'f we can't
beat 'em seein' how old we can be. Le' 's dress up like the oldest that
ever was, an' act as if we liked it."

The electrifying meaning ran over them like a wave. They caught the
splendid significance of it. They were to offer, in the guise of
jesting, their big protest against the folly of sickening over youth by
showing how fearlessly they were dancing on toward age. It was more than
bravado, more than repudiation of the cowards who hesitated at the
onward step. It was loyal and passionate upholding of the state of those
who were already old, and of those who had continued their beneficent
lives into the time when there is no pleasure in the years, and yet had
given honor and blessing through them all. They fell to laughing
together, and two or three cried a little on the heels of merriment.

"I dunno what mother'd say," whispered Hannah Call, whose mother, old
and yet regnant as the best housekeeper in town and a repository of all
the most valuable recipes, had died that year. "I guess she'd say we was
possessed."

"We be," said Isabel recklessly. "That's the only fun there is, bein'
possessed. If you ain't one way, you'd better be another. It's the
way's the only thing to see to."

"I said I was sick o' paint an' powder," said Caddie. "Well, so I be,
but I'll put flour in my hair so 't's as white as the drifted snow. I've
got aunt Hope's gre't horn spe'tacles."

"I guess I could borrer one o' gramma Ellsworth's gounds," said Mrs.
Pray. A light rarely seen there had come into her dull eyes. Isabel,
with that prescience she had about the minds of people, knew what it
meant. Mrs. Pray, though she was contemplating the garb of eld, was
unconsciously going back to youth and the joy of playing. "She ain't
quite my figger, but I guess 'twill do."

Lydia Vesey gave her a kindly look, yet scathing in its certainty of
professional strictures.

"There ain't nobody that ever I see that's anywhere near your figger,"
she said, in the neighborly ruthlessness that was perfectly understood
among them. "But you hand the gound over to me, an' I can fix it."

"Everybody flour their hair," cried Isabel, with the mien of inciting
them deliriously.

"Everybody that's got plates, take 'em out," added Martha, the
administrative, catching the infection and going a step beyond.

"Why, we can borrer every stitch we want," said Lydia Vesey. "Borrer of
the dead an' borrer of the livin'. I know every rag o' clo'es that's
been made in this town, last thirty years. There's enough laid away in
camphire, of them that's gone, to fit out three-four old ladies' homes."

"It'll be like the resurrection," said Ellen Bayliss, with that little
breathless catch in her voice.

"What you mean by that, Ellen?" asked Martha gently.

"I know what she means," said Isabel, while Ellen, the blood running
into her cheeks, looked helplessly as if she wished she had not spoken.
"She means we're goin' to dress ourselves up in the things of them
that's gone, a good many of 'em, an' we can't help takin' on the ways of
folks that wore 'em. We can't anyways help glancin' back an' kinder
formin' ourselves on old folks we've looked up to. Seems if the dead
would walk."

Sometimes people shuddered at Isabel's queer sayings, but at this every
one felt moved in a solemn way. It seemed beautiful to have the dead
walk, so it was in the remembrance of the living.

"Shall we let the men in?" asked Caddie anxiously. "I dunno what they'll
say 'f we don't." Her silent husband was the close partner of her life.
To Marshmead it seemed as if he might as well have been born dumb, but
Caddie never omitted tribute to his great qualities.

"Mercy, yes," said Isabel, "if they'll dress up. Not else. They've got
to be gran'ther Graybeards every one of 'em, or they don't come. You
tell 'em so."

"You going home, aunt Ellen?" came a fresh voice from the doorway. "I've
been staying after school, and I thought maybe you'd be tired and like
me to call for you."

It was Nellie Lake, a vision of youth and sweet unconsciousness. She
stood there in the doorway, hat and parasol in hand, crowned by her
yellow hair, and in the prettiest pose of deprecating grace. Aunt Ellen
smiled at her with loving pride, and yet wistfully, too. Nellie had
called for her many times, just to walk home together, but never because
aunt Ellen might be tired. The infection of age was in the air, and
Nellie Lake had caught it.

"Come in, Nellie," she said. "No, I don't feel specially tired, but
maybe I'll go along in a minute."

"Want to come to an old folks' party?" called Isabel, who was reading
all these thoughts as swiftly as if they were signals to herself alone.
"Want to dress up, an' flour your hair, an' put on spe'tacles, an' come
an' play with us old folks?"

The girl's face creased up delightfully.

"A fancy dress!" she said. "What can I be?"

"You'll be an old lady," said Isabel, "or you won't come."

"Is it for the fund?" asked Nellie.

"Well, yes, I suppose it's for the fund, some," Isabel conceded. "But
take it by an' large, it's for fun."

       *       *       *       *       *

The night of the masquerade was soft and still, lighted by the harvest
moon. Everywhere the fragrance of grapes enriched the air, and the dusty
bitterness of things ripening. The little town hall was gay with lights,
a curious blending of the west and east; for the boarders had left
Japanese lanterns behind them, and their grotesque prettiness contrasted
strangely with bowery goldenrod and asters and the red of maple leaves.
Colonel Hadley, standing a moment at the doorway in his evening walk,
this first night of his stay, when he had come with his nephew to look
out some precious old books in the attic, and perhaps the more actually
to draw Clyde away again after the errand was done, thought he had never
seen such abandonment to a wild pleasure, even in his early days at
Marshmead. For it was pleasure, though it seemed to be the festival of
the old. Men and women bent with years and yet straightening themselves
when their muscles ached, were promenading the hall, not sedately,
according to the wont of Marshmead social gatherings, to fulfill a
terrifying rite, but gayly, as if only by premeditation did they
withstand the beckoning of the dance.

At the end of the hall, in a bower of light and greenery, sat a row of
others who were apparently set apart for some honor or special service.
From time to time the ranks broke, and one group after another stayed to
talk with them, and always with the air of giving pleasure by their
deference and heartening. Suddenly the colonel's eyes smarted with the
sudden tears of a recognition which seemed to touch not only life as it
innocently rioted here to-night, but all life, his own in the midst of
it. At once he knew. These were the very old, and those who had lived
through their fostering were paying them beautiful tribute.

At that moment his nephew, boyishly changed, but not disguised, in old
Judge Hadley's coat and knee-breeches, stepped out of the moving line, a
lady with him, and came to him. Clyde, too, was flushed with the
strangeness of it all, and the joyous certainty that now for an evening,
if only that, Nellie Lake was with him. The colonel looked at her and
looked again, and she dropped her eyes in a pretty, serious modesty.

"Ellen!" he said involuntarily.

Then she laughed.

"That's my aunt," she told him. "I'm Elinor. I'm Nell. I tried to look
like auntie. I guess I do."

"No," said the colonel sharply, "you don't look like Ellen Bayliss.
You've made up too old."

Yet she had not, and he knew it. She had only put a little powder on her
hair and drawn its curling richness into a seemly knot. She had whitened
the bloom of her cheeks, and taken on that little pathetic droop of the
shoulders he remembered in Ellen Bayliss the day he saw her in his last
hurried trip to Marshmead. He had not spoken to her then. She had passed
the station as he was driving away, and he had felt a pang he deadened
with some anodyne of grim endurance, to see how youth could wilt into a
dowerless middle age.

"I guess you haven't seen aunt Ellen," said Nellie innocently. "I'm just
as she is every day, but she's made up to-night to be like grandma, or
the picture of aunt Sue that died."

There she was. She had left the moving line for a moment, and the
minister, in robe and bands of an ancient time, devised by Ann Bartlett
and made by Lydia Vesey, had bowed and left her for some of his
multifarious social claims. A chair was beside her, but she only rested
one hand on the back of it and leaned her head against the wall. She was
in a faded brocade unearthed from some dark corner Lydia Vesey knew the
secret of, and she was age itself, beautiful, delicate, acquiescent age,
all sadness and a wistful grace. The colonel looked at her, savagely
almost, with the pain of it, and then back again at the girl who seemed
to be picturing the first sad stage of undefended maidenhood. At that
moment he knew he had put something wonderful away from him, those years
ago, when he ceased to court the look in Ellen's eyes and turned to a
robuster fortune. At the time, he had told himself, in his way of
escaping the difficult issue, that the pang of leaving her was his
alone. She, in her innocence of love, could hardly feel the death of
what lived so briefly. Now, as it sometimes happened when his anodyne
ceased to work, he knew he had snipped the blossom of her life and she
had borne no fruit of ecstasy; and in the instant of sharp regret it
came upon him that no other woman, through him, should tread the way of
love denied. He stooped to Nellie, standing there before him, and kissed
her on the cheek. Whether in this blended love and pain he was kissing
Ellen or the girl, he did not know, but he saw how Clyde started and
grew luminous, and what it meant to both of them.

"How did you know it?" Clyde was asking. "We are engaged. I wrote to her
to-day. I was going to tell you, but I couldn't. You knew it, didn't
you? You're a brick."

The girl flushed through her powder, and her eyes sent him a starry
gratitude. But now the colonel hardly cared whether they had acted
without his knowledge or whether they were grateful for his sanction. He
and they and Ellen Bayliss seemed to be in a world alone, bound together
by ties that might last--would last, he knew; but the mist cleared away
from his eyes, and the vision of life to come faded, and he saw things
as they were before, and chiefly Ellen standing there unconscious of
him. He walked over to her.

"Ellen," he said bluffly, holding out his hand, "I've got only a minute,
but I want to speak to you if I don't to anybody else."

She straightened and gazed at him, startled out of her part into a life
half joy, half terror. He had taken her hand and held it warmly.

"Ellen," he said, "they're engaged, that boy and girl. Did you know it?"

"No," she answered faintly, but with candor. "No. I've discouraged it.
I thought of you." She paused, too kind to him for more.

"I didn't know," he said. "I hadn't seen her. How should I know she was
like you? How should I know if he lost her he mightn't be making a
mistake? Yes, they're engaged. I sha'n't be at the wedding. I'm going
abroad, but I shall send my blessing. To you, too, Ellen. Good-by. God
bless you."

Then he had walked out of the hall, as alien, with his middle-aged
robustness, as the mortal in fairy revelry; and Ellen, knowing her
towns-people were looking at her in kindly interest, stood with dignity
and yet a curious new consciousness of treasured happiness, as if she
had a secret to think over, and a solving of perplexities.

Isabel Martin dropped out of her place, where she had been talking with
Andrew Hall, and, forgetting in her haste the consistency of her part,
ran over to her. Isabel, out of her abiding mischief, had dressed
herself for a dullard's part. She had thought at first of being an old
witch-woman and telling fortunes, but instead she had put on pious black
alpaca and a portentous cap, and dropped her darting glances. To Andrew
Hall, who was a portly Quaker in the dress of uncle Ephraim long since
dead, she seemed as sweet as girlhood and as restful as his own mother.
Andrew had been her servitor for almost as many years as they had lived;
but she had so flouted him, so called upon him for impossible
chivalries, out of the wantonness of her fancy, that he had sometimes
confided to himself, in the darkest of nights when he woke to think of
her, that Isabel Martin was enough to make you hang yourself, and he
wished he never had set eyes on her. Yet she was the major part of his
life, and Andrew knew it. Now he followed her more slowly, and was by at
the instant of her saying,--

"O Ellen, you couldn't go over across the orchard, could you, an' see if
Maggie L.'s got the water boilin' for the coffee? I'm 'most afraid to go
alone."

Ellen, waking from her dream, looked at her and smiled. She knew
Isabel's tender purposes. This was meant to take her away from curious
though tolerant eyes and give her a moment to wipe out the world of
dreaming for the world of men.

"No," she said softly. "You don't need to."

"You let me go," said Andrew gallantly. "I can see if it's bilin' an'
come back an' tell ye."

"You!" said Isabel, abjuring her disguise, to rally him. "You'd be
afraid. Come, Ellen."

She linked an arm in Ellen's, and falling at once into her part of sober
age, paced with her from the hall. Andrew, constrained in a way he
hardly understood himself, was following them, but in their woman's
community of silent understanding they took no notice of him. Outside,
the night was soft and welcoming, unreal after the light and color, an
enchanted wilderness of moonlight splendor. They had crossed the road to
the bench under the old poplar, and there Ellen sat down and drew a
breath of excitement and gladness to be free to think. The moonlight
seemed still brighter, sifting down the sky-spaces, and the two women
together looked up at it through the poplar branches and were exalted by
that inexplicable sense of the certainty that things come true.
Dreams--that was what their minds were seeking passionately--and dreams
come true.

"Ain't it wonderful?" Isabel asked softly.

"Yes," said Ellen, in the same hushed tone, "it's wonderful."

"I'll leave you here by yourself an' run acrost the orchard," said
Isabel, in her other careless voice. "When I come back, I'll stop here
an' we'll go in together. Why, Andrew, you here?"

"You said you was afraid," he answered. "I'll go acrost with you."

"All right," said Isabel, with her kindest laugh, not the teasing one
that made him hate her while he thought how bright and dear she was.
"Come take gran'ma acrost the orchard. Don't let anything happen to
her."

They stepped over the wall and made their way along the little path by
the grape arbor. The fragrance of fruit was sweet, and the world seemed
filled with it.

"It's a pretty time o' year," said Andrew tremblingly.

"Yes."

"A kind of a time same 's this is to-night makes it seem as if life was
pretty short. Be past before you know it."

"Yes."

She, too, spoke tremulously, and his heart went out to her.

"O Isabel," he said, "when you're like this, same as you are to-night,
there ain't a livin' creatur' that's as nice as you be."

Isabel laughed. It was an echo of her flouting laugh, yet there was a
little catch in the middle of it.

"There!" he said, with discontentment. "Now you're just as you be half
the time, an' I could shake you for it. Sometimes seems to me I could
kill you."

"Why don't you?" Isabel asked him, softly yet teasingly too, in a way
that suddenly made her dearer. "If you don't see no use o' my livin',
why don't you kill me?"

"What you cryin' for?" Andrew besought her, in an agony of trouble. "O
Isabel, what you cryin' for?"

"I ain't cryin'," she said, "but if I am I guess it's for Ellen Bayliss,
an' things--" She had never heard of "the tears of mortal things," and
so she could not tell him.

"Ellen Bayliss? What's the matter of Ellen Bayliss?"

"Oh, she gets tired so quick, that's all."

"Don't you get tired," said Andrew. "Don't you let anything happen to
you. O Isabel!"

The moonlight and the fragrance and old love constrained them, and they
had kissed each other, and each knew they were to live together now, and
sharpness would be put away perhaps; or, if it were not quite, Andrew
would understand, knowing other things, too, and smile at it.

When they went back to the bench Ellen was gone, but in the hall they
found her dancing with Clyde, and almost, it seemed, clad in the flying
mantle of her youth.

"It's Virginny reel," cried Andrew, the infection of the night upon him.
"There's another set here. Come."

"Wait a minute," said Isabel, her hand upon his arm. "Look at the
platform. Where's the old folks gone?"

The platform was deserted. The old folks, too, were dancing. Martha
Waterman caught the recognition of it in Isabel's eyes, pointed at the
empty seats of eld, and nodded gayly. She sped out of her place and,
losing no step, danced up to Isabel and Andrew.

"I dunno which's the youngest, old or young," she cried, "nor they don't
either. We're goin' to have some country dancin' an' then serve the
coffee an' sing 'Auld Lang Syne,' an' it's my opinion we sha'n't be home
'fore two o'clock. Ain't it just grand!"



A POETESS IN SPRING


Jerry Freelands felt that the day was not suitably ended if, after
tidying up the kitchen and practicing "The Harp That Once" and "Oft in
the Stilly Night" on his fiddle, he did not go across the fields to
Marietta Martin's and compare the moment's mood with her, either in the
porch or at her fireside, according to the season. They lived, each
alone, in a stretch of meadow land just off the main road, and nobody
knew how many of their evenings they spent together, or, at this middle
stage in their lives, would have drawn romantic conclusions if the tale
of them had been told.

In his youth Jerry had been a solitary, given to wandering "by the
river's brim," as he liked to say, thinking of poetry and his fiddle.
Marietta, even at that time, had been learning tailoring to support her
mother, and she looked upon Jerry with unstinted admiration as too
distinctly set apart by high attainments ever to be considered a common
earthly swain. But Jerry did all his duties as if he were not gifted. He
carried on the small farm, and, after his sister married and went away,
nursed his mother until her death--"as handy as a woman," so the
neighbors said. Yet he knew that all this tribute to the lower life was
only something mysteriously decreed, perhaps to ballast the soul lest it
soar too high. The real things were fiddle-playing and writing verse,
sometimes inspired by nature and again by love or death, and publishing
it in the county paper. Jerry had one consolation, one delight, besides
and above Marietta. This was the poetess, Ruth Bellair, and it was of
her he was thinking as he crossed the field, this darkening twilight, to
Marietta's house. There was a warm spring wind, and frogs were peeping.
Jerry knew, although it was too dark to see, that down by the brook the
procession of willows walked in a mist of green. It was a broken sky,
with here and there a star between soft wafts of cloud, and the newness
and beauty of the time smote upon him as he hurried on, and made him
young again. He walked faster than usual, a tall, lightly moving figure,
his head under his soft felt hat thrown forward and his loose hair blown
back by the swiftness of his going. Time seemed to have fallen away from
him at the call of some new anticipation. He was not a man nearing fifty
as the morning's sun had found him, but a youth with the mountain-top
splendidly near and the rising sun to light his steps.

Marietta lived in a little, low-browed, gambrel-roofed house, with a
vegetable garden in the back, a flower garden in front, and an orchard
at the west side. She had sold the adjoining meadows and also the
woodland, because she said it was better to lessen care as you grew
older, and she was a poor hand to keep up a farm. Marietta was of those
who are perhaps not calm by inheritance, but who have attained serenity
because life proves it to be desirable. To-night she saw Jerry coming
and met him at the door, a plump, fresh-colored woman with sweet brows,
thick white hair, and blue eyes full of a wistful sympathy. She was
younger than he, yet her acquired calmness had given her a matronly air
and made her the one to assume protection and a gentle way of giving. As
she stood there in the doorway, lamp in hand, she looked like a
benignant mother waiting to greet a returning child.

"Well, Marietta," said Jerry.

He stopped a moment before her on the doorstone and drew the quick
breath of the haste of his coming. Then he took off his hat, stayed for
one look at the night behind him, and followed her in. Marietta put the
lamp on the high mantel, and moved his chair slightly nearer the hearth.
There was no fire, but the act seemed to make him more intimately
welcome. Then she seated herself on the sofa between the two side
windows and folded her hands for an evening's intercourse. Jerry took
out his pipe, held it absently for a moment, and laid it down on the
table. Marietta hardly liked that. He must be moved indeed, she knew, if
he meant to forego his evening smoke. Jerry sat forward a little in his
chair and let his long hands, loosely clasped, hang between his knees.
He gazed straight out through the dark window as if he could see the
lovely night pulsating there, and his bright gray eyes seemed to hold
gleams of an extreme anticipation. Then he remembered the world where he
found himself, this clean exquisite room with its homely furnishings,
where he had become as familiar as if it were a secondary shell that
fitted him so completely he hardly noticed it, and turned to her with an
effect of winking his eyes open after a dream.

"Marietta," said he, "who do you suppose has come?"

She shook her head in an attentive interest.

He kept his gaze on her as if it were all incredible.

"Ruth Bellair," he said solemnly.

Now she did start, and her lips parted in the surprise of it.

"Not here?" she insisted. "You don't mean she's come here?"

He shook his head.

"No. She's at Poplar Bridge. The paper said so to-night."

"What's she there for?"

"She's come to board. The paper said so. 'The well-known poetess, Ruth
Bellair, has arrived to spend the summer at the commodious boarding
establishment of L. H. Moody.'"

He looked at her in a pale triumph, and she stared back at him with all
the emotion he could have wished.

"I can't hardly believe it," she said faintly.

"That's it," he nodded at her. "Nobody could believe it. Why, Marietta,
do you suppose there's been a night I've sat here that I haven't either
read some of her pieces to you, or told you something I'd seen about her
in the papers?"

"No," said Marietta, rather wearily, yet with a careful interest, "you
haven't talked about anything else scarcely."

He was looking at her out of the same solemn assurance that it had been
commendable in him to preserve that romantic loyalty.

"She begun to write about the time I did," he said, tasting the flavor
of reminiscence. "I used to see her name in the papers when I never so
much as thought I should write a line myself. She's been a great
influence in my life, Marietta."

"Yes, course she has," Marietta responded, rising to the height of his
emotion. "I guess she's influenced a good many folks."

"Well, I've got my chance. She's here within ten miles of us, and come
what may, I'm bound to see her."

Marietta started.

"See her?" she repeated. "How under the sun you going to do that? You
don't know her, nor any of her folks. Seems if she'd think 'twas
terrible queer."

"She's used to it," said Jerry raptly. "She must be. People with gifts
like that--why, of course folks go to see 'em."

He was removed and silent after this, and had scarcely a word for
Marietta's late-blooming calla that had held her in suspense through the
winter when she had wanted it, to unroll its austere deliciousness now
in the spring. She brought him the heavy pot almost timidly, and Jerry
put out his hand and touched the snowy texture of the bloom. But he did
it absently, and she understood that his mind was not with her, and that
there was little likelihood of his inditing a set of verses to the lily,
as she had hoped. He got up and carried it to the stand for her, and
there he paused for a moment beside it, coming awake, she thought. But
after that period of musing he took up his hat from the little table
between the windows and stood there holding it.

"Marietta," said he, with a simple and moved directness, "what if I
should carry her one of these?"

"One of my lilies?"

"Yes."

She brushed a bit of dust from a smooth green leaf, and the color rose
to her face. She seemed to conquer something.

"When you going?" she asked, in a subdued tone.

"I thought I'd go to-morrow."

"Well, you can have the lily, all three of 'em if you want--have 'em and
welcome."

He was at the door now, his hand on the latch. Marietta, watching him
still with that flush on her cheeks and a suffused look of the calm blue
eyes, noted how he stood gazing down, as if already he were planning his
trip, and as if the anticipation were affecting to him.

He straightened suddenly and met her glance.

"You're real good, Marietta," he said warmly. "I'll call in the morning
and get 'em."

"What time you going?"

"'Long about ten, I guess. Good-night."

When she heard the clang of the gate behind him she went slowly in and
stood by her lily for a moment, looking down at it, and not so much
thinking in any definite channel as feeling the queerness of things.
Marietta often had longings which she did not classify, for what seemed
such foolish matters that, unless she kept them under cover, folks might
laugh. The lily was not only a lily to her: it suggested a train of
bright imaginings. It was like snow, she thought, like a pale lovely
princess, like the sweet-smelling field flower that twisted round a
stalk in a beautiful swirl. It seemed quite appropriate to her that
Jerry should cut the flowers and carry them to Ruth Bellair. He would
know, and the poetess also, what wonderful thing to say about anything
so lovely, all in measured lines rhyming to perfection. She sighed once
or twice when her head was on the pillow. It seemed amazing to her to be
gifted as Jerry and his poetess were, and very stupid to be as dull as
she.

Jerry, that night, hardly slept at all. He sat by his hearth, fiddle in
hand, sometimes caressingly under his chin, sometimes lying across his
knees; but he was not playing. He had opened both windows, so that,
although the spring air was cool, he could get the feeling of the night
and hurry the beating of his excited heart. Jerry was in no habit of
remembering how old he was, and to-night age seemed infinitely removed.
He was thinking of poetry and of Ruth Bellair. She had always been what
he called his guiding star. Once he wrote a set of verses by that title,
and put under it, with a hand trembling at its own audacity, "To R. B."
That had never been published, but he had read it to Marietta, and she
had said it was beautiful. Ruth Bellair had always seemed very far above
him, for although he wrote poetry the county paper accepted in
prodigious quantities, she did verse of a sort that appeared in loftier
journals. She had written "The Hole in the Baby's Shoe," which mothers
had cut out and pinned on the window curtain, and children had spoken on
Last Day, to the accompaniment of tears from assembled parents. Then
there was her sonnet, "Shall I Meet Thee There?" which Jerry had always
supposed to have been inspired by a departed lover, and many, many
others that touched the heart and were easy to remember, they ran so
steadily, with such a constant beat. Jerry knew exactly how she would
look. She would have golden hair and blue eyes, and what she had called
in one of her poems the "tender gift of tears." He had always, in fancy,
seen her dressed in blue, because that was his favorite color, though he
reflected that he might as easily find her clad in white.

It was only toward morning that he slept, his fiddle on the table now,
but very near, as if they had shared a solemn vigil and it still knew
how he might feel in dreams.

It was about ten o'clock when he stopped at Marietta's gate with the
light wagon and sober white horse he had borrowed from Lote Purington,
"down the road." Marietta was ready at the door, a long white box in her
hand.

"I been watching for you," she said. "I went up attic, where I could see
you turn the corner. Then I snipped 'em off, and here they are."

Jerry took the box with a grave decorum, as if it represented something
precious to him, and disposed it in the back of the wagon under the
light robe.

"I'm obliged to you, Marietta," he said. "This'll mean a good deal to
me." He stepped into the wagon again and took up the reins. Then the
calm and beneficence of the spring day struck him as it had not before,
in his hurried preparations, and he looked down at Marietta. They had
always had a good deal to say to each other about the weather, and he
knew she would understand. "It's spring, Marietta," he said, with a
simplicity he had never thought it desirable to put into his verse.

"Yes," she answered, as quietly, yet with a thrill in her voice. "I
don't hardly think I ever saw a prettier day."

There was such a mist of green that the earth seemed to be breathing it
out in swirls and billows. It was impossible to say whether there were
more riot and surge in the budding ground, or in the heavens, where
clouds flew swiftly. The birds were singing, all kinds together, in a
tumultuous harmony. Jerry felt light-headed with the wonder of it; but
Marietta had an ache at her heart, she did not know why, though she was
used to that kind of thing when the outside world struck her as being
full of tremulous appeals without any answers.

Though Jerry had the reins in his hands, he did not go. Instead, he
continued looking at her standing there in her freshness of good health
and the candor of her gaze that seemed to him, next to his mother's
face, the kindest thing he had ever known. The blue of her eyes and the
blue of her dress matched each other in a lovely way. He felt that he
had something to say to her, but he could not remember what it was.
Suddenly a robin on the fence burst into adjurations of a robust sort,
and Marietta, without meaning to, spoke. She had always said since her
childhood that a robin bewitched her--he was so happy and so pert.

"Jerry," said she, "what if I should get my hat and ride with you as far
as Ferny Woods?"

"So do," said Jerry, with a perfect cordiality. "So do."

"It's a pretty day," Marietta asserted again; but he cut her short,
advising her to get ready, and she ran in, a flush on her cheeks and
lightness in her step. When she came out she had made no conventional
preparations for a drive. She had only pinned on her broad black hat and
taken off her apron. She carried a little oblong basket with a cover,
and this she set carefully in the back of the wagon, with the lilies.
Jerry alighted gallantly to help her in, and when he had started up the
horse it was Marietta who began speaking. Usually she was rather silent,
following Jerry's lead, but to-day the warmth and beauty and song had
liberated something in her spirit, and she had to talk back to the
talking earth.

"You know Ferny Woods are much as a mile this side of the Moodys'," she
was saying. "You can just leave me there, and then you can go along and
make your call."

"It seems pretty mean not to take you with me," Jerry offered haltingly.
Yet he knew, as she did, that he had no desire to take her. This was his
own sacred pilgrimage.

"Oh, I wouldn't go for anything," she answered eagerly. "You've looked
forward to it so long--well, not exactly that, for you didn't know she
was coming. But it means a good deal to you. And I don't care a mite. I
truly don't, not a mite."

Jerry flicked at the horse's ears and spoke out of his maze of dreamy
anticipation.

"Seems if I should know her the minute I put eyes on her."

"Well, I guess you will," she encouraged him. "Maybe she's the only
boarder they've got, so far."

"No, no, I don't mean that. Seems if I knew exactly how she ought to
look."

"How d' you think, Jerry?" she inquired confidentially, as if his
fancies were valuable and delightful to her. That was the tone she
always had for him. Jerry would have said, if he had needed to think
anything about it, that Marietta was the easiest person to talk to in
the whole world. But he never did think about it. She was a part of his
interchange with life, as real and as inevitable as his own hungers and
satisfactions.

"Well," he said, while the horse slackened into a walk, with the grade
of Blossom Hill, "I guess she's light-complexioned. Don't you?"

"Maybe," nodded Marietta kindly. "You can't tell."

"I guess she don't weigh very heavy," said Jerry, in a shamefaced
bluntness, as if he wronged the absent goddess through such crudities.
"You can't seem to see anybody that's had the thoughts she has and the
way she's got of putting 'em--you can't see 'em very big-framed or
heavy, can you? I can't, anyways."

"No," said Marietta, looking down at her own plump hands folded on her
knee--"no, I don't know 's you can. Only see, Jerry! I always thought
this little rise was about the prettiest view there is betwixt us and
the Rocky Mountains."

They were on the top of Blossom Hill again, and Jerry drew the horse to
a halt before winding down. All the kingdoms of the earth seemed, in
Marietta's eyes, to be spread out before them. There was the rolling
land of farms and villages, and beyond it the line of haze that meant,
they knew, the sea. Tears filled her eyes. Then her gaze came home to an
apple-tree by the side of the road.

"You see that tree, Jerry?" she asked. "Well, I've always called that
Mother's Tree. Once, the last o' May, we borrowed Lote's team and
climbed up here, and here was that tree in full bloom. Mother had a kind
of a pretty way of putting things, and she said 'twas like a bride.
'Some trees are all over pink,' she says, 'but this is white as the
drifted snow.' And the winter mother died, I rode up over this hill
again, to get her some things to be buried in, and I stopped and looked
at that tree. It snowed the night before, and 'twas all over white, and
sparkling in the sun. I spoke right out loud. 'Mother's Tree,' I says."

"Sho!" said Jerry. "You never mentioned that before. Anybody could
almost write something out o' that."

"Could you?" asked Marietta, brightening. "I wish you would. I should
admire to have you."

Jerry's excitement of the night before had waned a little. Suddenly he
felt tired and chill, and, although the purpose of his journey had not
been accomplished, as if the zest of things had gone.

"Marietta," said he, starting on the horse, "do you think much about
growing old?"

"I guess I don't," said Marietta brightly, and at once. "That's a
terrible foolish thing to do. Least, so it seems to me."

"But you don't feel as you did fifteen years ago, do you, Marietta?" He
asked it wistfully.

She was ready with her prompt assurance.

"I don't know 's I do. Don't seem as if 'twould be natural if I did.
Take a tree, take that apple-tree back there--I don't know 's you could
say it had the same feelings it did when it sprouted up out o' the
seeds. We're in a kind of a procession, seems if, marching along
towards--well, I don't know what all. But wherever we're going, it's
all right, I say. It's all right."

They were silent then for a time, each scanning the roadsides and the
vista before them framed in drooping branches and enriched by springing
sward.

"You seem to have a good deal of faith, Marietta," said he suddenly.
"But you ain't much of a hand to talk about it."

"Course I got faith," she answered. "It ain't any use for anybody to
tell me there ain't a good time coming. I don't have to conjure up some
kind of a hope. I know."

"How do you know?" asked Jerry.

She gave a sudden irrepressible laugh.

"I guess it's because the sky is so pretty," she said. "Maybe the robins
have got something to do with it. Days like this I feel as if I was
right inside the pearly gates. I truly do."

They were entering the shade of evergreens that bordered the ravine
road, where there were striated cliffs, and little runnels came
trickling down to join the stream below.

"I guess there ain't a spot round here that means more to folks in our
neighborhood than this," said Marietta. "Remember the time somebody
wanted to name it 'Picnic Road'? There were seventeen picnics that
summer, if I recollect, all in our set."

"Yes," said Jerry. He remembered his poem about the "awesome
amphitheatre nature wrought," and wondered if Marietta also recalled it
and would quote some of it. But she only said:--

"That kind of a round where we used to eat our suppers is about the
prettiest spot I ever see. That's where I'm going to set up my tent
whilst you're making your call. When you come back you can poke right on
in there and 'coot,' and I'll answer."

Jerry's mercurial spirits were mounting now. The past few minutes had
given him two beautiful subjects for poetry. He could make some
four-lined verses, he thought, about the tree that was a bride in spring
and the next winter robed for burial. He could hear the cadence of them
now, beating through his head in premonitory measures. Then there was
the other fancy that life was a procession to an unknown goal. Jerry had
read very little, except in the works of Ruth Bellair and her compeers,
and the imaginings he wrought in had a way of seeming new and strange.
The talk went on, drifting back irresistibly by the familiar way they
were taking to the spring of their own lives, not, it seemed, in search
of a lost youth, but as if they had it with them, an invisible third, in
all their memories.

"Here we are," said Jerry. He drew up at the bars that led into old
Blaisdell's sugar-camp, and Marietta, not waiting for him, sprang out
over the wheel. "You're as light as a feather," said he admiringly, but
with no sense of wonder. They were still in that childhood land where
everybody is agile for one long, bright day.

"Light as a bun," returned Marietta flippantly. "Here, you wait a minute
till I get me out my basket. When you come back you be sure to coot."

Jerry drove on a step or two, and then drew in the horse. Just as she
had set her basket over the bars and was prepared to follow, he called
to her:--

"Marietta, I believe I'll leave the team."

Marietta understood. She came back readily.

"Well," she said, "I think 'twould look better, myself."

"I can hitch to the bars, same as we used to," Jerry continued.
"Remember how Underhill's old Buckskin used to crib the fence? Here's
the very piece of zinc Blaisdell nailed on that summer we were here so
much."

He had turned and driven back, and while he tied the horse, Marietta
took out the box of lilies.

"I guess you better hold these loose in your hand," she said
tentatively. "Seems to me 'twould look more appropriate."

Jerry nodded. They both had a vision of the poet going on foot to the
lady of his dreams, his lilies in his hand. Marietta lifted the cover of
the box and unrolled them deftly. She looked about her for an instant,
and then, finding feasible standing-ground, went to one of the runnels
dripping down the cliff and paused there, holding the lily stems in the
cool laving of the fall. Jerry, the horse tied, stood watching her and
waiting. The bright blue of her dress shone softly against the wet brown
and black of the cliff wall, and the pink of her cheeks glowed above it
like a rosy light. Marietta had thought her dress far too gay when she
bought it, but the dusk of the ravine road had toned it down to a tint
the picture needed for full harmony. Jerry, though the familiar spot and
her presence in it soothed and pleased him, was running ahead with his
eager mind to the farm where Ruth Bellair stood waiting at the gate. Of
course she was not really waiting for him, because she did not know he
was coming, nor even that he lived at all. When he had mailed her the
package of autumn leaves Marietta had pressed, he had not sent his name
with them. Yet it seemed to him appropriate that she should be standing,
a girlish figure, by the Moodys' gate, to let him in. After that they
would walk up the path together, she carrying the lilies; and perhaps in
the orchard, where the trees were in bloom, they would pace back and
forth together and talk and talk. Jerry knew it was too early for
apple-trees to be blossoming, even in this weather, but the orchard
where Ruth Bellair walked would be white and pink. So he took his lilies
in his hand and strode away, and Marietta watched him. At the turn of
the road he stopped and waved his hand to her.

"Good-by!" called Marietta. "Good luck! Good-by!" Then a little sob
choked her, and she stamped her foot. "What a fool!" said Marietta,
addressing herself, and she walked to the bars with great determination,
let down one, "scooched" to go through, and, picking up her basket, went
on to the amphitheatre. Jerry need not have wondered whether she
remembered his ornate poem. She did, every word of it, and as she walked
she said it to herself in a murmuring tone. When she was within the
beloved inclosure she paused a moment before setting down her basket,
and looked about her. The place was not so grand as her childish eyes
had found it, only a great semicircle of ground brown with pine needles
and surrounded by ancient trees; but it was beautiful enough. Strangely,
she had not visited it for years. Her own mates no longer came, because
they were doing quiet things at home, farming and household tasks, and
Marietta would have had no mind, if she had been invited, to make one of
a serious middle-aged rout taking its annual pleasure with a difference.

"I'd rather by half be alone," she said aloud, as she looked about her,
"or maybe with one other that feels as I do."

Then she put down her basket and went, by a path she knew, to the spring
cleaned of fallen leaves by the first picnickers of every season. There
it was, the little kind pool with its bottom of sand and its fringing
grasses, the cress she had planted once with her own hands and now
beginning to show brightly green. Marietta knelt and drank from her
hollowed palm. The cup was in the basket. When Jerry came back he should
have it to slake his thirst; and presently she returned to the
amphitheatre and lay down on the pine-needles, to look up through the
boughs at glints of sky, and think and think. Perhaps it was not
thought, after all. It followed no road, but stayed an instant on a pine
bough, as a bird alights and then flies out through the upper branches
to the sky itself.

Marietta could not help feeling happy, in a still, unreasoning way. She
had not had an easy youth. It had been full of poverty and fears, and
her later life had been lived on one monotonous level of satisfying her
own bare wants and finding nothing left for luxury. But something, some
singing inner voice, was always, in these later days, bidding her take
hope. She was not expectant of definite delights; she only cherished an
irresponsible certainty. When the door opened to let in spring, it
seemed to show her heaven also, and she gave herself up to the gladness
of it. If Marietta had been able to scrutinize her inner being, she
would probably have owned that she found Jerry Freelands' influence upon
her a great and guiding one. It was, she knew, a precious privilege to
know a poet, and to see the natural and spiritual worlds through his
discerning eyes. It would have seemed to her wonderful to be a poet
herself. Ruth Bellair, waiting in unconscious sovereignty for Jerry to
seek her out and lay lilies at her feet, was, she knew, the happiest
woman in the spring world. Yet the soft air moved the pines to wavelike
murmurings, and Marietta too was happy.

It was nearly three o'clock when Jerry came back, and before that
Marietta had roused herself to open her basket and spread a napkin on
the big flat stone that made the picnic-table. She had laid a pile of
fine white bread and butter on the cloth, a paper twist of pickles,
because picnickers, according to tradition, are the better for
consuming pickles, and some of her own superior sugar gingerbread. The
cup was there waiting for Jerry to take it to the spring. Then she
listened for him. He did not give the expected coot, but came through
the forest glade silently and with a halting step. When Marietta saw him
her heart ran forward, before her feet. Jerry looked an older man; his
years were so apparent to her that it seemed for a foolish instant as if
his father were advancing toward her out of the past where she and Jerry
had been young together. She hurried forward.

"What is it?" she besought. "What's happened?"

His dull eyes turned upon her absently. He took off his hat and dropped
it at his feet.

"Why," said he, "nothing's happened that I know of."

The part of prudence was to halt, but anxiety hurried her on as if it
might have been to the rescue of a child in pain.

"Didn't you see her?" she asked breathlessly.

"Yes, I saw her."

He passed a hand over his forehead and smoothed his hair in a way he
had, ending the gesture at the back of his neck.

"How'd she look, Jerry? What was she doing?"

"Why," said Jerry, narrowing his eyes, as if he recalled a picture he
had found incredible, "she was playing croquet out in the front yard."

"But how'd she look?"

"Why, she's a kind of a dark-complexioned woman. She wears spe'tacles.
She's"--he paused there an instant and caught his breath--"she's pretty
fleshy."

"Was she nice to you?"

"Yes, she was nice. She meant to be real nice and kind. She made me"--a
spasm twitched his face, and he concluded--"she made me play croquet."

They stood there in the wood loneliness, dapples of sunlight flickering
on them through the leaves. Marietta felt a strange wave of something
rushing over her. It might have been mirth, or indignation that somebody
had destroyed her old friend's paradise; but it threatened to sweep her
from her basis of control.

"You sit down, Jerry," she said soberly. "I'm going to the spring to get
you a cup of water, and then we'll have our luncheon."

When she returned, bearing the full cup delicately, he lay like a
disconsolate boy, face down upon the ground; so she touched him on the
shoulder and said, in a tone of the brisk housewife:--

"Luncheon's ready."

Then Jerry sat up, and ate when she put food into his hand and drank
from the cup she gave him. Marietta ate only a crumb here and there from
her one bit of bread, for, seeing how hungry he was, she suspected that,
in his poet's rapture, he had had no breakfast. She tried to rouse him
to the things he loved.

"Only look through there," she said, pointing to a vista where a group
of birches were shimmering in green. "I don't know 's I ever see a
fountain such as they tell about, but this time in the year, before the
leaves have fairly come, seems if the green was like a fountain
springing up and never falling back. Maybe, though, it's the word I
like, the sound of it. I don't know."

Jerry turned his eyes on her in a quick, keen glance.

"Marietta," he said, "you have real pretty thoughts."

"Do I?" asked Marietta, laughing, without consciousness. She was only
glad to have beguiled him from the trouble of his mind. "Well, if I do,
I guess you put 'em into my head in the first place." The feast was
over, and she folded the napkin and swept away the crumbs. "Want some
more water?" she asked, pausing as she repacked the basket.

Jerry shook his head.

"Marietta," said he, "seems if it wa'n't a day since you and I used to
be here picnicking."

She laughed again whimsically.

"Well," she said, "when I travel back over the seams I've sewed, looks
like a good long day. I guess there's miles enough of 'em to stretch
from here to State o' Maine."

Jerry seemed to be speaking from a dream.

"And the others have married and got children growing up," he mused.
"Seems if we'd missed the best of it."

They had risen and stood facing each other, Marietta with the basket in
her hand. Jerry took it gently from her and set it on the ground.

"Marietta," he said, "I guess I'm kind of waked up."

Her face quivered. He thought he had never seen her look exactly that
way before.

"I'd work terrible hard," said he. "I guess I could make you have an
easier time."

Then his appealing eyes met hers, and Marietta, because she had no wish
to deny him anything, gave him her hands, and they kissed soberly.

When they walked back to the road, Jerry drew her aside to the birches
on the sunny knoll.

"You mustn't lay it up against me," he said brokenly.

"Lay what up?"

Her lips were full and lovely, and her eyes shone with the one look of
happiness.

"It's spring with these." He pointed to the birches. "It ain't with us."

"I don't know." Marietta laughed willfully. "Ain't you ever seen an
apple-tree blooming in the fall? or a late rose? Well, I have. So,
there!"

To Jerry, looking at her, she seemed like a beautiful stranger, met in
the way, and he kissed her again.

When they were driving home in their sober intimacy that had yet an
undercurrent of that rushing river of life, Marietta turned suddenly to
him.

"Jerry," she said, "when you played croquet, who beat?"

His eyes, meeting hers, took the merry challenge of them and answered
it. They both began to laugh, ecstatically, like children.

"She did," said he.



THE MASTER MINDS OF HISTORY


"What's that dry-goods case in the front entry?" asked Elihu Meade.

He had sunk into his particular chair by the kitchen stove, and was
drawing off his boots with the luxurious slowness of one whose day's
work is done and who may sit by expectant while fragrant warm delights
are simmering for supper. His wife, Amarita by name, stood at the stove,
piloting apple turnovers in a pool of fat. At a first glance she and her
husband seemed an ill-matched pair, he with a thin face and precise
patch of whisker at the ear, a noticeable and general meagreness of
build, and she dark and small, with a face flashing vivid intelligence.
Elihu's mother--a large, loosely made, blond old lady--sat by the
window, out of range of the lamplight even, knitting by feeling, and
doubling her pleasures through keeping her glance out of the window,
where a new moon hung.

While she felt the warmth of indoor comfort wafting about her, Amarita
cast up a hesitating yet altogether happy look at her husband. She knew
from old habit that she must choose her time of approach, but the warmth
and the plenitude of supper and her own inner enchantment with what she
had to tell convinced her against reason that the time was now.

"Why," she began, "you see 'twas this way."

Mrs. Meade the elder, known as "old Mis' Meade," gave a majestic
clearing of her throat. She brought her gaze indoors and bent a frowning
glance on the two at the stove. A shade of vexation passed over her
face, grotesquely elongating the downward-dropping lines.

"Rita," she called, in what seemed warning, "you come here a minute.
Ain't I dropped a stitch?"

Rita responded at once, bending over the stocking ostentatiously
displayed.

"You let me take it to the light," she began; but old Mis' Meade laid
thumb and finger on her apron, and having caught her daughter-in-law's
eye, made mysterious grimaces at her. Amarita, the knitting in her hand,
stared frankly back, and the old lady, forced to be explicit, bade her
in a mumbling tone:--

"Wait till he's through his supper. It's no time now. There!" she
continued, with a calculated clearness, "you give it back. I guess I
didn't drop it, after all. Your fat's burnin'. Ketch it off, Elihu,
won't ye?"

The imperiled fat made a diversion, and then supper was on the table,
and old Mis' Meade moved away from the window and brought her great bulk
over to partake of turnovers. There was a long silence while tea was
passed and the turnovers were pronounced upon by the acquisition that is
more eloquent than words. But after Elihu had finished his fifth and
last, he pushed his cup away with solemn satisfaction and asked his wife
across the table:--

"What's that packin'-case out in the front entry?"

Old Mis' Meade gave a smothered ejaculation of discouragement, but
Amarita looked up with the brightest eyes.

She was having a moment of perfect domestic peace, when all she did
seemed to bear fruitage in the satisfaction of hunger and kindred needs,
and it innocently seemed to her as if her compensating pleasure was
about to come. She gazed straight at her husband, her eyes darkening
with the pleasure in them.

"Why," said she, "that's the 'Master Minds of History.'"

Elihu bent a frowning brow upon her.

"The 'Master Minds of History,'" she repeated. "The agent was here this
afternoon--"

"You don't think the mice'll git at them pies up in the blue chist, do
ye?" inquired old Mis' Meade, fatuous in a desperate seeking to direct
the talk.

Amarita gave her a passing glance of wonder.

"Why, no," she said. "They couldn't get in to save their little souls.
You see"--she turned again to Elihu--"the agent was here this
afternoon--"

Old Mis' Meade almost groaned, and went away to her bedroom, as if she
could not endure the hearing of the coming contest or to see the slain.

"What agent?" asked Elihu.

He had gone back to his seat by the fire, and Amarita, answering, stood
with her hand upon the devastated table.

"Why, the book agent. He come in a buggy, and he had this set with him."

"Set o' what?"

"Why, set o' books. He's takin' orders for 'em, and this was a set he
brought along under the seat, thinkin' somebody, the minister or
somebody that knew what's what, would buy it right out. There's twelve
volumes, and they're a dollar and eighty-seven a volume, and there's
illustrations, and it's all printed in the clearest type."

She paused, flushed and expectant, and Elihu stared at her.

"A dollar and eighty-seven cents!" he repeated. "You ain't gone and put
your name down for twelve books, a dollar and eighty-seven cents
apiece?"

"Why, no," said Amarita. "Course I ain't. I didn't have the money, and
so I told him. I would, in a minute, if I'd had it."

"Well, what's the packin'-case here for?" inquired Elihu slowly, while
his mind labored.

"Why, he was possessed to leave it. 'You look over the volumes,' he
says, 'and read 'em all you want to, and if you don't feel to subscribe
then, it sha'n't cost you a cent.' And he's comin' along here pretty
soon, and he's goin' to call, and if we don't conclude to keep 'em,
he'll take 'em right back."

"My king!" said Elihu. He looked at her in complete discouragement, and
Amarita returned his gaze with one bespeaking a conviction of her own
innocence. "Don't ye know no better'n that? Take 'em away! All the
takin' away he'll do'll be in a hog's eye. He'll say you bought 'em, and
ain't paid for 'em, and 'long about the first o' the month he'll send in
a bill for twelve books at a dollar and eighty-seven cents apiece."

Amarita made a picture of childlike misery. Her eyes had the piteous
look of coming tears, and she swallowed once or twice before speech was
possible.

"O Elihu," she breathed, "you don't really s'pose that, do you?"

"Course he will," said Elihu. "That's the way they do--come drivin'
along a time o' day when there's no menfolks to home, and take in the
womenfolks. They know women ain't got no business trainin'. How do they
know it? Because they've tried it over 'n' over, and every time they've
come out ahead."

The tears were dropping now, and Amarita walked hastily away to conceal
them, and got down her dish-pan, although the table was not yet cleared.
By the time she had turned from the sink again, a shadow of her
hopefulness came wanly back.

"I don't believe he's that kind of a fellow," she faltered. "He talked
real fair. I thought I should admire to look 'em over. I thought maybe
we could read some out loud in the evenin', while your mother knit."

"'Talk fair!' Course he talked fair," said Elihu. "That's a part on 't.
I'll bet a dollar if you's in a court o' law you couldn't remember what
he said."

"I could the sense of it."

"That's it! Why, don't ye know, when anything's business, it's got to be
jest so and no other way? 'Tain't surprisin' you shouldn't. Womenfolks
ain't called on to do brain work, any to speak of--well, keep school
they may, and a matter o' that--but when it comes to business--d'ye have
any witnesses?"

"No," said Amarita, in a small voice.

"Well, you've done about as bad for yourself as ye could, fur 's I can
see. Now, you hearken to me. You leave that packin'-case where he set
it, and don't you move it so much as a hair to the right or the left,
and don't you lift the cover. And if that feller ever darkens these
doors, you come and call me."

Then Elihu rose and took a candle and went off to his desk in the
sitting-room, and Amarita cleared the table with swift, sweeping
motions, as if she longed to hurl the dishes from her. Old Mis' Meade
came heavily back from her bedroom.

"Well," said she, in the scorn sprung from experience, "I never seen
sich actions. Terrible time, an' nobody to it! What made ye tell him?"

Amarita returned no answer. She was washing dishes now, with no noise,
setting down each article softly, yet with the same air of longing to
destroy.

"Witnesses!" old Mis' Meade grumbled, settling to her work by the
window. "If Elihu's the size he used to be, I'd show him how much
womenfolks knew about business. If you want one o' them books to read
to-night, you step into the front entry an' pick ye out one. I'll stand
by ye."

Still Amarita made no answer. She was not thinking of the books. Swift
as wood-creatures coursing on the track of prey, her mind was racing
over the field of her life with Elihu and pinning down the mistakes he
had made. She had never seemed to see them, but not one of them had
escaped her. There was the day when a traveling salesman had sold him
the onion seed that never came up, and the other one when he had bought
Old White of the peddler, and seen him go lame after a two-mile drive,
and when he dated a note on Sunday and the school-teacher had laughed.
At first Amarita had not merely ignored his errors. She had, indeed,
shut her eyes upon them and turned quickly away; but as it became
apparent that Elihu was keeping a record of her impulsive, random deeds
and drawing data from them, so she began to see the list of his, and
turned to it now and then, when he found her foolish, to read it over in
a passionate self-comparison.

When the dishes were done she sat down to her sewing, outwardly calm,
but conscious of that hot flush in her cheeks and of her quickly beating
heart. Old Mis' Meade muttered a little as she knit, and cast her son a
hostile glance from time to time. But Elihu was happily impervious to
criticism. He spread a sheet of paper on the table, and sat down to it
with the air of a schoolboy who is about to square his elbows and
perhaps put out a rhythmic tongue.

"Where's my two-foot rule?" he inquired of Amarita.

"In your t'other trousers," she answered, sewing swiftly, without
looking up.

Elihu glanced at her in a mild surprise, and his mother chuckled. She
was devoted to her son, and more or less overshadowed by his prerogative
as "menfolks" born to absorb the cream of things; but the elderly good
sense in her was alive to the certainty that if Amarita had not been so
yielding, Elihu would never have been so bumptious.

After he had risen and gone off rather helplessly to seek his t'other
trousers, Amarita did glance after him with a tentative movement from
her chair. It almost seemed as if she repented and meant to go on the
quest herself. Old Mis' Meade, translating this, held her breath and
waited; but Amarita only sighed and took a needleful of thread. Then
Elihu returned with the rule and a stubby pencil, and all the evening
long he drew lines and held the paper at arm's length and frowned at
what he saw. Old Mis' Meade was in the habit of going to bed before the
others, and to-night she paused, candle in hand, to interrogate him.

"Elihu!"

"What say?" her son returned. He was again regarding the rectangular
patterns on his page, in some dissatisfaction and yet with pleasure,
too. It was the look of one who makes.

"What under the sun you doin' of?" asked the old lady. "What you rulin'
off? Makes me as nervous as a witch."

Elihu laid down his paper from that removed survey and leaned back in
his chair. It seemed to add some richness to his task to have it
noticed.

"Well," said he, "there's goin' to be a town meetin' next Wednesday, to
take a vote on that money Judge Green left for the Old Folks' Home."

"Yes, yes," said his mother. "I know that. Come, hurry up. This candle's
in a draught."

"Well," said Elihu, "we've talked it over, more or less, most on us, and
we've come to the conclusion it's only a bill o' cost to go hirin' city
architects to plan out the job. All we want's a good square house, and I
thought I'd draw out a plan o' one and submit it to the meetin'."

"O Elihu!" said Amarita, in a tone of generous awe. "You think you
could?"

"Think?" said Elihu. "No, I don't think. I know it. Mebbe I couldn't
draw out a house with cubelows and piazzas and jogs and the like o'
that, but that ain't what we've got in mind. It's a good old-fashioned
house, and I s'pose any man of us could do it, only nobody's got the
nerve to try. So I took it into my head to be the one."

"Well," said his mother skeptically, "mebbe you can an' mebbe you can't.
Good-night, all."

But Amarita leaned forward across the table, her eager eyes upon the
paper. She had forgotten her resentment. It was happiness to her to see
Elihu doing what he liked and succeeding in it.

"O Elihu," said she, "show it to me, won't you? Tell me what the rooms
are."

But he was rolling up his work.

"No," he said; "wait till I get a little further along. Then I will. I'm
going to the street and buy me a sheet or two o' cardboard to-morrer."

But they talked cozily about it for a half-hour, and when Elihu rose to
wind the clock they were both convinced that he was a great man indeed.

All that week Elihu worked over his plan, and when he had at last set it
accurately down on the cover of a bandbox, as a preliminary to drafting
it out fair and large, he showed it to his wife. They had put their
heads together over it at the table, when Elihu caught sight of Simeon
Eldridge bringing him a cord of pine limbs.

"You wait a minute," he adjured Amarita. "I got to help him unload. I'll
show it to you when I come in."

But Amarita pored over it by herself, and old Mis' Meade, at the window,
knit and watched for the passing. It was a bright day, and it seemed
reasonable that at least two wagons might go by.

"Don't you want I should bring it over there," said Amarita, at length,
"and let you look at it?"

"Law, no!" old Mis' Meade responded, with the ruthlessness of one whose
mind is not on futures. "I guess I can wait till they've begun to hew
out their underpinnin'."

"Ain't it remarkable he can do a thing like that?"

"He ain't done it yet," said the old lady sagely. "I'll b'lieve it when
I'm called to the raisin'."

Amarita flushed.

"I don't see what does make you cry him down so," she declared, with a
rare resentment. "Seems if you didn't want to allow he can do the least
thing out o' the common."

"Well," said the old lady, "I dunno 's he can. There, Amarita!" She
threw caution from her as far as it would fly. "I guess I set by Elihu
enough, an' more too, but it does go ag'inst the grain to see you makin'
out he's the greatest man that ever stepped. 'Twon't be long before ye
can't live with him. Can't either of us!"

Amarita was silent, staring straight at the old lady, who glanced up
presently and blinked at her.

"You goin' to let them books set there in the front entry?" she
inquired, as if her point of attack had shifted.

"Why, yes, I s'pose so," faltered Amarita.

"Don't ye want to peek into 'em an' see what they be?"

"Why, yes; but I don't want to do anything to get Elihu into trouble
about 'em. I s'pose I was kinder foolish to believe what the man said."

"Foolish!" retorted the old lady, with vigor. "Course you was foolish.
Everybody's foolish one time out o' three. That's about the only thing
there's no patent on."

"Well, I s'pose folks do get into trouble doin' things wrong-end-to,"
said Amarita.

She felt as if she were defending Elihu in his censorship.

"Why, yes! Nobody says they don't. Let 'em git in an' let 'em git out
ag'in. It ain't doin' foolish things or not doin' 'em I complain of.
It's Elihu's settin' himself up to be the only human creatur' that
never stepped inside of a glass house. Law! if he did but know it, he's
got a ninety-nine-year lease o' one, an' if he could git it into his
head how plain I can glimpse him through the walls, a surpriseder man
you never'd see. Elihu's as good a boy as ever stepped; but if he could
be took down a peg--an' I shouldn't care if 'twas before the whole
township, too--he'd be worth more by half than he is to-day. Law! you'd
ought to seen him a hundred years ago or more, arter I gi'n him a good
spankin'. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth."

"Oh, don't! He's comin'," Amarita begged her.

But he was not coming, and for an hour Amarita dwelt upon the plans. Her
eyes grew bright and her cheeks flushed. Once she pushed her pretty hair
back from her forehead and looked up at the old lady, as if she had
impulsive things to say. But she did not speak, and turning back to the
plans, she went absorbedly over them again. Old Mis' Meade watched her
scornfully, and yet tenderly, too. If ever a woman was a fool over a
man, she reasoned, Amarita was that fool; but in her heart she would not
have had it otherwise.

Now that the plans were virtually finished, Elihu sat over them at an
hour's stretch, testing and measuring in an extreme of accuracy.
Amarita watched him, with that bright anticipation in her face; and old
Mis' Meade, her eyes intermittently upon them, thought the long thoughts
of age, half scornful, half sympathizing, and wondered again how any
woman could be so lost in admiration over a man.

At last it was the day appointed for town meeting, and Elihu was at his
task for the last time, making a fair copy for his townsmen's eyes. It
was about four in the afternoon, and the smell of hot apple-sauce was in
the air. Amarita meant to have supper early, so that she could give her
mind untrammeled to getting her husband into his bosomed shirt and
starting him on his quest. But as she moved back and forth at her tasks
she watched him, and her eyes glittered. Old Mis' Meade noted the
excitement of her air and the double tinge of color in her cheeks.

"What's the matter, Rita?" she asked kindly, when Amarita stood for a
moment by the table between the front windows, frowning with the care
she was giving to sewing a button on a wristband. "Ain't you kinder
feverish?"

Amarita started--almost, it might have been, with some inner
consciousness not to be given away.

"Oh no," said she. "I ain't feverish, mother Meade. Maybe I'm kinder
flurried, Elihu's goin' out and all."

"Goin' to take the womenfolks along with ye, Elihu?" called the old
lady, a satirical note beating into her voice.

Elihu looked up absently from his paper.

"Why," said he, with a leniency slightly tinctured by the impatience
responsive to a foolish question, "it's jest a town meetin', same as any
other. We're goin' to take action on the Old Folks' Home."

"Take action?" repeated old Mis' Meade. "Oh, that's it, is it? Well,
Rita 'n' I'll stay to home an' take action on the 'Master Minds o'
History.' This is as good a night as any. Mebbe there's a few womenfolks
in there--enough for pepper 'n' salt--if they ain't bound for town
meetin'."

Elihu drew the long breath which is the due of happily completed toil.
He began to roll up his plans. Amarita ran to him and looked over his
shoulder.

"You got 'em done?" she asked.

The red in her cheeks had heightened. Her voice came huskily. Old Mis'
Meade glanced at her, a sharp and quick survey. Elihu indulgently
unrolled his paper and spread it on the desk.

"Yes," said he, "I got 'em done."

"O Elihu!" breathed his wife. She bent above the page, and in the fever
of her interest seemed to pounce on it and scurry over it. "You goin' to
show it to the town meetin'?"

"Course I be," said Elihu, with a modest pride. "That's what I made it
for."

Amarita straightened.

"Well," said she. Her voice was hard through what might have been an
accepted purpose. "You may as well shave you. We'll have supper early."

Supper was a silent meal that night. Elihu was pondering on his triumph
as a valuable citizen, and what Amarita thought no one could at that
moment have foretold. She did not eat, but she drank her tea in hasty
swallows, and burned her mouth with it. That, the old lady guessed, was
why the tears came once or twice into her eyes. Amarita, her
mother-in-law judged, had been staying indoors too much through the
snowy weather, while Elihu worked on his plans. There had been no
sleigh-rides, only the necessary driving to the street.

Old Mis' Meade had a little scheme in view, and now she brought it
forth; it was a species of compensation for stay-at-homes during the
absence of their lawful head for his two or three hours of civic duty.

"What if you should bring in a good big knot 'fore you go," she adjured
him, "an' Rita 'n' I'll have us a fire in the fireplace. I dunno why,
but seems if I didn't want to set in the kitchen to-night. Then by the
time you come home there'll be a good bed o' coals, an' you can toast
your feet 'fore you go to bed."

There was a whirling half-hour of preparation, while old Mis' Meade
washed the supper dishes and Amarita flew light-footedly about from
kitchen to bedroom to get her lord into his public clothes. Elihu forgot
the knot, and brought it in after he had assumed the garb of ceremony;
and then he had to be fussily brushed from possible sawdust, while
Amarita, an anxious frown on her brow, wondered why mother Meade always
would distract him at the most important points. The fire was laid, but
Elihu was one of those who believe in their own personal magic over a
blaze, and he had to adjust the knot and touch off the kindling and
watch the result a minute, to be sure the chimney had not caught. By the
time he had harnessed and had appeared again to wash his hands and don
his greatcoat, two other sleighs had gone by, bearing town fathers to
the trysting-place. Amarita was nervous. She knew Elihu liked to be
beforehand with his duties. But at last, his roll of plans in hand, he
was proceeding down the path, slipping a little, for the thaw had made
it treacherous, to the gate where the horse was hitched, and Amarita,
at the sitting-room window, watched him. Old Mis' Meade came up behind
her, and she too watched.

Elihu was uncovering the horse. Amarita turned from her mother-in-law
with a noiseless rush and flew out of the front door and down the
slippery path.

"Elihu!" she called, with all the voice excitement left her. "Elihu, you
come here. I've got to speak to you."

Elihu left the horse and came with long strides up the path, taking, as
he hurried, glances at the roof.

"Roarin', is it?" he asked. "You think the chimbley's ketched?"

The roll of plans stuck out from his coat pocket. That was all Amarita
could see. She laid hands upon him and drew him into the entry. There
she shut the door and then stood with her grasp upon the other door,
leading into the sitting-room, and held it tight. She was afraid mother
Meade might come out to see what was the matter. Amarita leaned against
the casing. In spite of the brightness of her eyes, she looked faint and
sick. It seemed to be her grasp upon the latch that kept her now from
falling.

"O Elihu!" she said. He was questioning her with puzzled eyes. "O Elihu!
I've been awful mean to you." Her hold on the latch relaxed, and she
sat down on the packing-case between them. "When I told you about the
box the man left, and you seemed to think I didn't know enough to come
in when it rained, I said next time you made any kind of a mistake I'd
let it go, no matter who's goin' to laugh at you. And when it come to
your plans"--she stopped here, and Elihu absently put his hand to the
roll in his pocket--"when it come to them, I said you might show 'em to
the minister and the doctor and everybody else. But, Elihu, there
ain't--O Elihu, you ain't put a single closet in that house!"

Elihu stood there in silence, and Amarita sat on the packing-case,
feeling her heart beat. It seemed a long time before she heard his
voice.

"There! there!" he was saying. "You open that door and I'll look in an'
see if the chimbley's ketched."

In a moment Amarita followed him. She heard mother Meade moving about
the kitchen, and Elihu was just dropping his roll of paper on the fire.
She gave a little cry, but he only said, in what seemed to her a very
kind voice, almost the voice of courting days,--

"You run out and fetch me in the hammer and screw-driver, whilst I
listen to this chimbley."

When she came droopingly back with the tools, Elihu was explicitly
cheerful.

"There!" he said. "That's safe enough. We'll burn it out, come wet
weather." Then he strode into the hall, and she heard two or three blows
and the splintering of soft wood. "Here's your books," Elihu was calling
to her. "You two take 'em out, and if 'tain't too late after I come
home, I'll read a page. I guess we can foot the bill when it comes in."


       *       *       *       *       *


Books by Alice Brown

  COUNTRY NEIGHBORS. 12mo, $1.20, _net_. Postage extra.

  THE STORY OF THYRZA. With frontispiece. Large square crown 8vo,
  $1.35, _net_. Postpaid, $1.50.

  ROSE MACLEOD. With frontispiece. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

  THE COUNTY ROAD. 12mo, $1.50.

  THE COURT OF LOVE. 12mo, $1.25.

  PARADISE. 12mo, $1.50.

  HIGH NOON. 12mo, $1.50.

  THE MANNERINGS. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

  MARGARET WARRENER. 12mo, $1.50.

  KING'S END. 12mo, $1.50.

  MEADOW GRASS. Tales of New England Life. 16mo, $1.50;
  paper, 50 cents.

  TIVERTON TALES. 12mo, $1.50.

  BY OAK AND THORN. A Record of English Days. 16mo, $1.25.

  THE DAY OF HIS YOUTH. 16mo, $1.00.

  HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
  BOSTON AND NEW YORK

       *       *       *       *       *

  The Riverside Press
  CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS
  U. S. A





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