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´╗┐Title: Old Lady Number 31
Author: Forsslund, Louise, 1873-1910
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 "Old Lady Number 31" ***

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



OLD LADY NUMBER 31

BY LOUISE FORSSLUND

AUTHOR OF "THE STORY OF SARAH," "THE SHIP OF DREAMS," ETC.

1909



TO MY MOTHER



CONTENTS

    I. THE TEA-TABLE

   II. "GOOD-BY"

  III. THE CANDIDATE

   IV. ONE OF THEM

    V. THE HEAD OF THE CORNER

   VI. INDIAN SUMMER

  VII. OLD LETTERS AND NEW

 VIII. THE ANNIVERSARY

   IX. A WINTER BUTTERFLY

    X. THE TURN OF THE TIDE

   XI. MENTAL TREATMENT

  XII. "A PASSEL OF MEDDLERS"

 XIII. THE PRODIGAL'S DEPARTURE

  XIV. CUTTING THE APRON-STRINGS

   XV. THE "HARDENING" PROCESS

  XVI. "A REG'LAR HOSS"

 XVII. THE DESERTER

XVIII. SAMUEL'S WELCOME

  XIX. EXCHANGING THE OLIVE-BRANCH

   XX. THE FATTED CALF

  XXI. "OUR BELOVED BROTHER"



I

THE TEA-TABLE


Angeline's slender, wiry form and small, glossy gray head bent over the
squat brown tea-pot as she shook out the last bit of leaf from the
canister. The canister was no longer hers, neither the tea-pot, nor even
the battered old pewter spoon with which she tapped the bottom of the
tin to dislodge the last flicker of tea-leaf dust. The three had been
sold at auction that day in response to the auctioneer's inquiry, "What
am I bid for the lot?"

Nothing in the familiar old kitchen was hers, Angeline reflected, except
Abraham, her aged husband, who was taking his last gentle ride in the
old rocking-chair--the old arm-chair with painted roses blooming as
brilliantly across its back as they had bloomed when the chair was first
purchased forty years ago. Those roses had come to be a source of
perpetual wonder to the old wife, an ever present example.

Neither time nor stress could wilt them in a single leaf. When Abe took
the first mortgage on the house in order to invest in an indefinitely
located Mexican gold-mine, the melodeon dropped one of its keys, but the
roses nodded on with the same old sunny hope; when Abe had to take the
second mortgage and Tenafly Gold became a forbidden topic of
conversation, the minute-hand fell off the parlor clock, but the flowers
on the back of the old chair blossomed on none the less serenely.

The soil grew more and more barren as the years went by; but still the
roses had kept fresh and young, so why, argued Angy, should not she? If
old age and the pinch of poverty had failed to conquer their valiant
spirit, why should she listen to the croaking tale? If they bloomed on
with the same crimson flaunt of color, though the rockers beneath them
had grown warped and the body of the chair creaked and groaned every
time one ventured to sit in it, why should she not ignore the stiffness
which the years seemed to bring to her joints, the complaints which her
body threatened every now and again to utter, and fare on herself, a
hardy perennial bravely facing life's winter-time?

Even this dreaded day had not taken one fraction of a shade from the
glory of the roses, as Angeline could see in the bud at one side of
Abraham's head and the full-blown flower below his right ear; so why
should she droop because the sale of her household goods had been
somewhat disappointing? _Somewhat?_ When the childless old couple, still
sailing under the banner of a charity-forbidding pride, became
practically reduced to their last copper, just as Abe's joints were
"loosenin' up" after a five years' siege of rheumatism, and decided to
sell all their worldly possessions, apart from their patched and
threadbare wardrobes and a few meager keepsakes, they had depended upon
raising at least two hundred dollars, one half of which was to secure
Abe a berth in the Old Men's Home at Indian Village, and the other half
to make Angeline comfortable for life, if a little lonely, in the Old
Ladies' Home in their own native hamlet of Shoreville. Both institutions
had been generously endowed by the same estate, and were separated by a
distance of but five miles.

"Might as waal be five hunderd, with my rheumatiz an' yer weak heart,"
Abraham had growled when Angy first proposed the plan as the only
dignified solution to their problem of living.

"But," the little wife had rejoined, "it'll be a mite o' comfort
a-knowin' a body's so near, even ef yer can't git tew 'em."

Now, another solution must be found to the problem; for the auction was
over, and instead of two hundred dollars they had succeeded in raising
but one hundred dollars and two cents.

"That air tew cents was fer the flour-sifter," inwardly mourned Angy,
"an' it was wuth double an' tribble, fer it's been a good friend ter me
fer nigh on ter eight year."

"Tew cents on the second hunderd," said Abe for the tenth time. "I've
counted it over an' over. One hunderd dollars an' tew pesky pennies. An'
I never hear a man tell so many lies in my life as that air auctioneer.
Yew'd 'a' thought he was sellin' out the Empery o' Rooshy. Hy-guy, it
sounded splendid. Fust off I thought he'd raise us more 'n we expected.
An' mebbe he would have tew, Angy," a bit ruefully, "ef yew'd 'a' let me
advertise a leetle sooner. I don't s'pose half Shoreville knows yit that
we was gwine ter have a auction sale." He watched the color rising in
her cheeks with a curious mixture of pride in her pride and regret at
its consequences. "It's no use a-talkin', Mother, Pride an' Poverty
makes oneasy bed-fellers."

He leaned back in the old chair, creaking out a dismal echo to the
auctioneer's, "Going, going, gone!" while the flush deepened in Angy's
cheek. Again she fastened her gaze upon the indomitable red rose which
hung a pendant ear-ring on the right side of Abraham's head.

"Yew wouldn't 'a' had folks a-comin' here ter bid jest out o' charity,
would yew?" she demanded. "An' anyhow," in a more gentle tone,--the
gently positive tone which she had acquired through forty years of
living with Abraham,--"we hain't so bad off with one hunderd dollars an'
tew cents, an'--beholden ter nobody! It's tew cents more 'n yew need ter
git yew inter the Old Men's, an' them extry tew cents'll pervide fer me
jest bewtiful." Abraham stopped rocking to stare hard at his resourceful
wife, an involuntary twinkle of amusement in his blue eyes. With
increased firmness, she repeated, "Jest bewtiful!" whereupon Abe,
scenting self-sacrifice on his wife's part, sat up straight and snapped,
"Haow so, haow so, Mother?"

"It'll buy a postage-stamp, won't it?"--she was fairly aggressive
now,--"an' thar's a envelop what wa'n't put up ter auction in the
cupboard an' a paper-bag I kin iron out,--ketch me a-gwine ter the
neighbors an' a-beggin' fer writin'-paper--an' I'll jest set daown an'
write a line ter Mis' Halsey. Her house hain't a stun's throw from the
Old Men's; an' I'll offer ter come an' take keer o' them air young 'uns
o' her'n fer my board an' keep an'--ten cents a week. I was a-gwine ter
say a quarter, but I don't want ter impose on nobody. Seein' that they
hain't over well-ter-do, I would go fer nothin', but I got ter have
somethin' ter keep up appearances on, so yew won't have no call ter feel
ashamed of me when I come a-visitin' ter the hum." Involuntarily, as she
spoke, Angy lifted her knotted old hand and smoothed back the hair from
her brow; for through all the struggling years she had kept a certain,
not unpleasing, girlish pride in her personal appearance.

Abraham had risen with creaks of his rheumatic joints, and was now
walking up and down the room, his feet lifted slowly and painfully with
every step, yet still his blue eyes flashing with the fire of indignant
protest.

"Me a-bunkin' comfortable in the Old Men's, an' yew a-takin' keer o'
them Halsey young 'uns fer ten cents a week! I wouldn't take keer o' 'em
fer ten cents a short breath. Thar be young 'uns an' young 'uns," he
elucidated, "but they be tartars! Yew'd be in yer grave afore the fust
frost; an' who's a-gwine ter bury yer--the taown?" His tone became
gentle and broken: "No, no, Angy. Yew be a good gal, an' dew jest as we
calc'lated on. Yew jine the Old Ladies'; yew've got friends over thar,
yew'll git erlong splendid. An' I'll git erlong tew. Yer know"--throwing
his shoulders back, he assumed the light, bantering tone so familiar to
his wife--"the poorhouse doors is always open. I'd jest admire ter go
thar. Thar's a rocking-chair in every room, and they say the grub is A
No. 1." He winked at her, smiling his broadest smile in his attempt to
deceive.

Both wink and smile, however, were lost upon Angy, who was busy
dividing the apple-sauce in such a way that Abe would have the larger
share without suspecting it, hoping the while that he would not notice
the absence of butter at this last home meal. She herself had never
believed in buttering bread when there was "sass" to eat with it; but
Abe's extravagant tastes had always carried him to the point of desiring
both butter and sauce as a relish to his loaf.

"Naow, fur 's I'm concerned," pursued Abe, "I hain't got nothin' agin
the poorhouse fer neither man ner woman. I'd as lief let yew go thar
'stid o' me; fer I know very well that's what yew're a-layin' out fer
ter do. Yes, yes, Mother, yew can't fool me. But think what folks would
say! Think what they would say! They 'd crow, 'Thar's Abe a-takin' his
comfort in the Old Men's Hum, an' Angeline, she's a-eatin' her heart out
in the poorhouse!'"

Angeline had, indeed, determined to be the one to go to the poorhouse;
but all her life long she had cared, perhaps to a faulty degree, for
"what folks would say." Above all, she cared now for what they had said
and what they still might say about her husband and this final ending to
his down-hill road. She rested her two hands on the table and looked
hard at the apple-sauce until it danced before her eyes. She could not
think with any degree of clearness. Vaguely she wondered if their supper
would dance out of sight before they could sit down to eat it. So many
of the good things of life had vanished ere she and Abe could touch
their lips to them. Then she felt his shaking hand upon her shoulder and
heard him mutter with husky tenderness:

"My dear, this is the fust chance since we've been married that I've had
to take the wust of it. Don't say a word agin it naow, Mother, don't
yer. I've brought yer ter this pass. Lemme bear the brunt o' it."

Ah, the greatest good of all had not vanished, and that was the love
they bore one to the other. The sunshine came flooding back into
Mother's heart. She lifted her face, beautiful, rosy, eternally young.
This was the man for whom she had gladly risked want and poverty, the
displeasure of her own people, almost half a century ago. Now at last
she could point him out to all her little world and say, "See, he gives
me the red side of the apple!" She lifted her eyes, two bright sapphires
swimming with the diamond dew of unshed, happy tears.

"I'm a-thinkin', Father," she twittered, "that naow me an' yew be
a-gwine so fur apart, we be a-gittin' closer tergether in sperit than we
've ever been afore."

Abe bent down stiffly to brush her cheek with his rough beard, and then,
awkward, as when a boy of sixteen he had first kissed her, shy, ashamed
at this approach to a return of the old-time love-making, he seated
himself at the small, bare table.

This warped, hill-and-dale table of the drop-leaves, which had been
brought from the attic only to-day after resting there for ten years,
had served as their first dining-table when the honeymoon was young. Abe
thoughtfully drummed his hand on the board, and as Angy brought the
tea-pot and sat down opposite him, he recalled:

"We had bread an' tea an' apple-sass the day we set up housekeeping dew
yew remember, Angy?"

"An' I burned the apple-sass," she supplemented, whereupon Abe chuckled,
and Angy went on with a thrill of genuine gladness over the fact that he
remembered the details of that long-ago honeymoon as well as she: "Yew
don't mind havin' no butter to-night, dew yer, Father?"

He recalled how he had said to her at that first simple home meal: "Yew
don't mind bein' poor with me, dew yer, Angy?" Now, with a silent shake
of his head, he stared at her, wondering how it would seem to eat at
table when her face no longer looked at him across the board, to sleep
at night when her faithful hand no longer lay within reach of his own.
She lifted her teacup, he lifted his, the two gazing at each other over
the brims, both half-distressed, half-comforted by the fact that Love
still remained their toast-master after the passing of all the years. Of
a sudden Angy exclaimed, "We fergot ter say grace." Shocked and
contrite, they covered their eyes with their trembling old hands and
murmured together, "Dear Lord, we thank Thee this day for our daily
bread."

Angy opened her eyes to find the red roses cheerfully facing her from
the back of the rocking-chair. A robin had hopped upon the window-sill
just outside the patched and rusty screen and was joyfully caroling to
her his views of life. Through the window vines in which the bird was
almost meshed the sunlight sifted softly into the stripped, bare, and
lonely room. Angy felt strangely encouraged and comforted. The roses
became symbolical to her of the "lilies of the field which toil not,
neither do they spin"; the robin was one of the "two sparrows sold for a
farthing, and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your
Father"; while the sunlight seemed to call out to the little old lady
who hoped and believed and loved much: "Fear ye not therefor. Ye are of
more value than many sparrows!"



II

"GOOD-BY"


When the last look of parting had been given to the old kitchen and the
couple passed out-of-doors, hushed and trembling, they presented an
incongruously brave, gala-day appearance. Both were dressed in their
best. To be sure, Abraham's Sunday suit had long since become his only,
every-day suit as well, but he wore his Sabbath-day hat, a beaver of
ancient design, with an air that cast its reflection over all his
apparel. Angeline had on a black silk gown as shiny as the freshly
polished stove she was leaving in her kitchen--a gown which testified
from its voluminous hem to the soft yellow net at the throat that
Angeline was as neat a mender and darner as could be found in Suffolk
county.

A black silk bonnet snuggled close to her head, from under its brim
peeping a single pink rose. Every spring for ten years Angeline had
renewed the youth of this rose by treating its petals with the tender
red dye of a budding oak.

Under the pink rose, a soft pink flush bloomed on either of the old
lady's cheeks. Her eyes flashed with unconquerable pride, and her
square, firm chin she held very high; for now, indeed, she was filled
with terror of what "folks would say" to this home-leaving, and it was a
bright June afternoon, too clear for an umbrella with which to hide
one's face from prying neighbors, too late in the day for a sunshade.

Angy tucked the green-black affair which served them as both under her
arm and swung Abe's figured old carpet-bag in her hand with the manner
of one setting out on a pleasant journey. Abe, though resting heavily on
his stout, crooked cane, dragged behind him Angy's little horsehair
trunk upon a creaking, old, unusually large, toy express-wagon which he
had bought at some forgotten auction long ago.

The husband and wife passed into the garden between borders of boxwood,
beyond which nodded the heads of Angy's carefully tended, out-door
"children"--her roses, her snowballs, her sweet-smelling syringas, her
wax-like bleeding-hearts, and her shrub of bridal-wreath.

"Jest a minute," she murmured, as Abe would have hastened on to the
gate. She bent her proud head and kissed with furtive, half-ashamed
passion a fluffy white spray of the bridal-wreath. Now overtopping the
husband's silk hat, the shrub had not come so high as his knee when they
two had planted it nearly a half-century ago.

"You're mine!" Angy's heart cried out to the shrub and to every growing
thing in the garden. "You're mine. I planted you, tended you, loved you
into growing. You're all the children I ever had, and I'm leaving you."

But the old wife did not pluck a single flower, for she could never
bear to see a blossom wither in her hand, while all she said aloud was:
"I'm glad 't was Mis' Holmes that bought in the house. They say she's a
great hand ter dig in the garden."

Angy's voice faltered. Abe did not answer. Something had caused a
swimming before his eyes which he did not wish his wife to see; so he
let fall the handle of the express-wagon and, bending his slow back,
plucked a sprig of "old-man." Though he could not have expressed his
sentiments in words, the garden brought poignant recollections of the
hopes and promises which had thrown their rose color about the young
days of his marriage. His hopes had never blossomed into fulfilment.
His promises to the little wife had been choked by the weeds of his own
inefficiency. Worse than this, the bursting into bloom of seeds of
selfish recklessness in himself was what had turned the garden of their
life into an arid waste. And now, in their dry and withered old age, he
and Angy were being torn up by the roots, flung as so much rubbish by
the roadside.

"Mother, I be dretful sorry ter take yew away from your posies,"
muttered Abraham as he arose with his green sprig in his hand.

With shaking fingers, Angy sought a pin hidden beneath her basque.
"Father, shall I pin yer 'old-man' in yer buttonhole?" she quavered.
Then as he stooped for her to arrange the posy, she whispered: "I
wouldn't care, 'cept fer what folks must say. Le' 's hurry before any
one sees us. I told everybody that we wa'n't a-gwine ter break up till
ter-morrer mornin'."

Fortunately, there was a way across lots to the Old Ladies' Home, an
unfrequented by-path over a field and through a bit of woodland, which
would bring the couple almost unobserved to a side gate.

Under ordinary circumstances, Angeline would never have taken this path;
for it exposed her carefully patched and newly polished shoes to
scratches, her fragile, worn silk skirt and stiff, white petticoat to
brambles. Moreover, the dragging of the loaded little wagon was more
difficult here for Abraham. But they both preferred the narrower,
rougher way to facing the curious eyes of all Shoreville now, the
pitying windows of the village street.

As the couple came to the edge of the woodland, they turned with one
accord and looked back for the last glimpse of the home. Blazing
gold-red against the kitchen window flamed the afternoon sunlight.

"Look a' that!" Angy cried eagerly, as one who beholds a promise in the
skies. "Jest see, Father; we couldn't 'a' made out that winder this fur
at all ef the sun hadn't struck it jest so. I declar' it seems almost as
ef we could see the rocker, tew. It's tew bad, Abe, that we had ter let
yer old rocker go. D'yew remember--?" She laid her hand on his arm, and
lifted her gaze, growing clouded and wistful, to his face. "When we
bought the chair, we thought mebbe some day I'd be rocking a leetle baby
in it. 'T was then, yew ricollec', we sorter got in the habit of callin'
each other 'father' an' 'mother.' I wonder ef the young 'uns had come--"

"Le' 's hurry," interrupted Abe almost gruffly. "Le' 's hurry."

They stumbled forward with bowed heads in silence, until of a sudden
they were startled by a surprised hail of recognition, and looked up to
find themselves confronted by a bent and gray old man, a village
character, a harmless, slightly demented public charge known as
"Ishmael" or "Captain Rover."

"Whar yew goin', Cap'n Rose?"

The old couple had drawn back at the sight of the gentle vagabond, and
Angy clutched at her husband's arm, her heart contracting at the thought
that he, too, had become a pauper.

"I'm a-takin' my wife ter jine the old ladies over thar ter the Hum,"
Abe answered, and would have passed on, shrinking from the sight of
himself as reflected in poor Ishmael.

But the "innocent" placed himself in their path.

"Yew ain't a-goin' ter jine 'em, tew?" he bantered.

Abe forced a laugh to his lips in response.

"No, no; I'm goin' over ter Yaphank ter board on the county."

Again the couple would have passed on, their faces flushed, their eyes
lowered, had not Ishmael flung out one hand to detain them while he
plunged the other hurriedly into his pocket.

"Here." He drew out a meager handful of nickels and pennies, his vacant
smile grown wistful. "Here, take it, Cap'n Rose. It's all I got. I can't
count it myself, but yew can. Don't yew think it's enough ter set yew up
in business, so yew won't have ter go ter the poorhouse? The poorhouse
is a bad place. I was there last winter. I don't like the poorhouse."

He rambled on of the poorhouse. Angy, panting for breath, one hand
against the smothering pain at her heart, was trying, with the other, to
drag "Father" along. "Father" was shaking his head at Ishmael, at the
proffered nickels and pennies--shaking his head and choking. At length
he found his voice, and was able to smile at his would-be benefactor
with even the ghost of a twinkle in his eye.

"Much obliged, Cap'n Rover; but yew keep yer money fer terbaccy. I ain't
so high-toned as yew. I'll take real comfort at the poorhouse. S' long;
thank yer. S' long."

Ishmael went on his way muttering to himself, unhappily jingling his
rejected alms; while Angy and Abe resumed their journey.

As they came to the gate of the Old Ladies' Home, Angy seized hold of
her husband's arm, and looking up into his face pleaded earnestly:

"Father, let's take the hunderd dollars fer a fambly tombstun an' go ter
the poorhouse tergether!"

He shook her off almost roughly and lifted the latch of the gate.

"Folks'd say we was crazy, Mother."

There was no one in sight as he dragged in the express-cart and laid
down the handle. Before him was a long, clean-swept path ending
apparently in a mass of shrubbery; to the left was a field of sweet corn
reaching to the hedge; to the right a strong and sturdy growth of pole
lima beans; and just within the entrance, beneath the sweeping plumes of
a weeping-willow tree, was a shabby but inviting green bench.

Abe's glance wandered from the bench to his wife's face. Angy could not
lift her eyes to him; with bowed head she was latching and unlatching
the gate through which he must pass. He looked at the sun and
thoughtfully made reckon of the time. There were still two hours before
he could take the train which--

"Lef 's go set deown a spell afore--" he faltered--"afore we say
good-by."

She made no answer. She told herself over and over that she must--simply
must--stop that "all-of-a-tremble" feeling which was going on inside of
her. She stepped from the gate to the bench blindly, with Abe's hand on
her arm, though, still blindly, with exaggerated care she placed his
carpet-bag on the grass beside her.

He laid down his cane, took off his high hat and wiped his brow. He
looked at her anxiously. Still she could not lift her blurred eyes, nor
could she check her trembling.

Seeing how she shook, he passed his arm around her shoulder. He
murmured something--what, neither he nor she knew--but the love of his
youth spoke in the murmur, and again fell the silence.

Angy's eyes cleared. She struggled to speak, aghast at the thought that
life itself might be done before ever they could have one hour together
again; but no words came. So much--so much to say! She reached out her
hand to where his rested upon his knee. Their fingers gripped, and each
felt a sense of dreary cheer to know that the touch was speaking what
the tongue could not utter.

Time passed swiftly. The silent hour sped on. The young blades of corn
gossiped gently along the field. Above, the branches of the willow
swished and swayed to the rhythm of the soft, south wind.

"How still, how still it is!" whispered the breeze.

"Rest, rest, rest!" was the lullaby swish of the willow.

The old wife nestled closer to Abraham until her head touched his
shoulder. He laid his cheek against her hair and the carefully preserved
old bonnet. Involuntarily she raised her hand, trained by the years of
pinching economy, to lift the fragile rose into a safer position. He
smiled at her action; then his arm closed about her spasmodically and he
swallowed a lump in his throat.

The afternoon was waning. Gradually over the turmoil of their hearts
stole the garden's June-time spirit of drowsy repose.

They leaned even closer to each other. The gray of the old man's hair
mingled with the gray beneath Angeline's little bonnet. Slowly his eyes
closed. Then even as Angy wondered who would watch over the slumbers of
his worn old age in the poorhouse, she, too, fell asleep.



III

THE CANDIDATE


The butcher's boy brought the tidings of the auction sale in at the
kitchen door of the Old Ladies' Home even while Angy and Abe were
lingering over their posies, and the inmates of the Home were waiting to
receive the old wife with the greater sympathy and the deeper spirit of
welcome from the fact that two of the twenty-nine members had known her
from girlhood, away back in the boarding-school days.

"Yop," said the boy, with one eye upon the stout matron, who was
critically examining the meat that he had brought. "Yop, the auction's
over, an' Cap'n Rose, he--Don't that cut suit you, Miss Abigail? You
won't find a better, nicer, tenderer, and more juicier piece of shoulder
this side of New York. Take it back, did you say? All right, ma'am, all
right!" His face assumed a look of resignation: these old ladies made
his life a martyrdom. He used to tell the "fellers" that he spent one
half his time carrying orders back and forth from the Old Ladies' Home.
But now, in spite of his meekness of manner, he did not intend to take
this cut back. So with Machiavellian skill he hastened on with his
gossip.

"Yop, an' they only riz one hundred dollars an' two cents--one hundred
dollars an' a postage-stamp. I guess it's all up with the cap'n an' the
Old Men's. I don't see 'em hangin' out no 'Welcome' sign on the strength
of that."

"You're a horrid, heartless little boy!" burst forth Miss Abigail, and,
flinging the disputed meat on the table, she sank down into the chair,
completely overcome by sorrow and indignation. "You'll be old yerself
some day," she sobbed, not noticing that he was stealthily edging toward
the door, one eye on her, one on to-morrow's pot-roast. "I tell yew,
Tommy," regaining her accustomed confiding amiability, as she lifted the
corner of her apron to wipe her eyes, "Miss Ellie will feel some kind o'
bad, tew. Yer know me an' her an' Angy all went ter school tergether,
although Miss Ellie is so much younger 'n the rest o' us that we call
her the baby. Here! Where--"

But he was gone. Sighing heavily, the matron put the meat in the
ice-box, and then made her slow, lumbering way into the front hall, or
community-room, where the sisters were gathered in a body to await the
new arrival.

"Waal, say!" she supplemented, after she had finished telling her
pitiably brief story, "thar's trouble ernough ter go 'round, hain't
thar?"

Aunt Nancy Smith, who never believed in wearing her heart on her sleeve,
sniffed and thumped her cane on the floor.

"Yew young folks," she affirmed, herself having seen ninety-nine
winters, while Abigail had known but a paltry sixty-five, "yew allers go
an' cut yer pity on the skew-gee. I don't see nothin' ter bawl an'
beller erbout. I say that a'ny man what can't take kere o' himself, not
ter mention his wife, should orter go ter the poorhouse."

But the matriarch's voice quavered even more than usual, and as she
finished she hastily bent down and felt in her deep skirt-pocket for her
snuff-box.

Now the Amazonian Mrs. Homan, a widow for the third time, made sturdy
retort:

"That's jest like yew old maids--always a-blamin' the men. Yew kin jest
bet I never would have let one of my husbands go ter the poorhouse. It
would have mortified me dretful. It must be a purty poor sort of a
woman what can't take care of one man and keep a roof over his head.
Why, my second, Oliver G., used ter say--"

"Oh!" Miss Ellie wrung her hands, "can't we do somethin'?"

"I could do a-plenty," mourned Miss Abigail, "ef I only had been savin'.
Here I git a salary o' four dollars a month, an' not one penny laid
away."

"Yew fergit," spoke some one gently, "that it takes consid'able ter
dress a matron proper."

Aunt Nancy, who had been sneezing furiously at her own impotence, now
found her speech again.

"We're a nice set ter talk erbout dewin' somethin'--a passel o' poor ole
critters like us!" Her cackle of embittered laughter was interrupted by
the low, cultivated voice of the belle of the Home, "Butterfly Blossy."

"We've _got_ to do something," said Blossy firmly.

When Blossy spoke with such decision, every one of the sisters pricked
up her ears. Blossy might be "a shaller-pate"; she might arrange the
golden-white hair of her head as befitted the crowning glory of a young
girl, with puffs and rolls and little curls, and--more than one sister
suspected--with the aid of "rats"; she might gown herself elaborately in
the mended finery of the long ago, the better years; she might dress her
lovely big room--the only double bedchamber in the house, for which she
had paid a double entrance fee--in all sorts of gewgaws, little
ornaments, hand-painted plaques of her own producing, lace bedspreads,
embroidered splashers and pillow-shams; she might even permit herself a
suitor who came twice a year more punctually than the line-storms, to
ask her withered little hand in marriage--but her heart was in the right
place, and on occasion she had proved herself a master hand at "fixin'
things."

"Yes," said she, rising to her feet and flinging out her arms with an
eloquent gesture, "we've got to do something, and there's just one thing
to do, girls: take the captain right here--here"--she brought her hands
to the laces on her bosom--"to our hearts!"

At first there was silence, with the ladies staring blankly at Blossy
and then at one another. Had they heard aright? Then there came murmurs
and exclamations, with Miss Abigail's voice gasping above the others:

"What would the directors say?"

"What do they always say when we ask a favor?" demanded Blossy. "'How
much will it cost?' It won't cost a cent."

"Won't, eh?" snapped Aunt Nancy. "How on arth be yew goin' ter vittle
him? I hain't had a second dish o' peas this year."

"Some men eat more an' some less," remarked Sarah Jane, as ill-favored a
spinster as ever the sun shone on; "generally it means so much grub ter
so much weight."

Miss Abigail glanced up at the ceiling, while Lazy Daisy, who had
refused to tip the beam for ten years, surreptitiously hid an apple
into which she had been biting.

"Le' 's have 'em weighed," suggested a widow, Ruby Lee, with a pretty,
well-preserved little face and figure, "an' ef tergether they don't come
up to the heartiest one of us--"

Miss Abigail made hasty interruption:

"Gals, hain't yew never noticed that the more yew need the more yew git?
Before Jenny Bell went to live with her darter I didn't know what I
should dew, for the taters was gittin' pooty low. Yew know she used ter
eat twenty ter a meal an' then look hungry at the platter. An' then ef
old Square Ely didn't come a-drivin' up one mornin' with ten bushel in
the farm wagon! He'd been savin' 'em fer us all winter fer fear we
might run short in the spring. Gals, thar's one thing yew kin depend on,
the foresightedness of the Lord. I hain't afraid ter risk a-stretchin'
the board an' keep o' thirty ter pervide ample fer thirty-one. Naow,
haow many of yew is willin' ter try it?"

Every head nodded, "I am"; every eye was wet with the dew of merciful
kindness; and Mrs. Homan and Sarah Jane, who had flung plates at each
other only that morning, were observed to be holding hands.

"But haow on arth be we a-goin' ter sleep him?" proceeded the matron
uneasily. "Thar hain't a extry corner in the hull place. Puttin' tew
people in No. 30 is out of the question--it's jest erbout the size of a
Cinderella shoebox, anyhow, an' the garret leaks--"

She paused, for Blossy was pulling at her sleeve, the real Blossy,
warmhearted, generous, self-deprecating.

"I think No. 30 is just the coziest little place for one! Do let me take
it, Miss Abigail, and give the couple my great big barn of a room."

Aunt Nancy eyed her suspiciously. "Yew ain't a-gwine ter make a fool o'
yerself, an' jump over the broomstick ag'in?" For Blossy's old suitor,
Samuel Darby, had made one of his semiannual visits only that morning.

The belle burst into hysterical and self-conscious laughter, as she
found every glance bent upon her.

"Oh, no, no; not that. But I confess that I am tired to death of this
perpetual dove-party. I just simply can't live another minute without a
man in the house.

"Now, Miss Abigail," she added imperiously, "you run across lots and
fetch him home."



IV

ONE OF THEM


Ah! but Abraham slept that night as if he had been drawn to rest under
the compelling shelter of the wings of all that flock which in happier
days he had dubbed contemptuously "them air old hens." Never afterward
could the dazed old gentleman remember how he had been persuaded to come
into the house and up the stairs with Angeline. He only knew that in the
midst of that heart-breaking farewell at the gate, Miss Abigail, all out
of breath with running, red in the face, but exceedingly hearty of
manner, had suddenly appeared.

"Shoo, shoo, shoo!" this stout angel had gasped. "Naow, Cap'n Abe, yew
needn't git narvous. We 're as harmless as doves. Run right erlong. Yew
won't see anybody ter-night. Don't say a word. It's all right. Sssh!
Shoo!" And then, lo! he was not in the County Almshouse, but in a
beautiful bright bedchamber with a wreath of immortelles over the
mantel, alone with Angy.

Afterward, it all seemed the blur of a dream to him, a dream which ended
when he had found his head upon a cool, white pillow, and had felt glad,
glad--dear God, how glad!--to know that Angy was still within reach of
his outstretched hand; and so he had fallen asleep. But when he awoke in
the morning, there stood Angeline in front of the glass taking her hair
out of curl papers; and then he slowly began to realize the tremendous
change that had come into their lives, when his wife committed the
unprecedented act of taking her crimps out _before_ breakfast. He
realized' that they were to eat among strangers. He had become the guest
of thirty "women-folks." No doubt he should be called "Old Gal
Thirty-one." He got up and dressed very, very slowly. The bewildered
gratitude, the incredulous thanksgiving of last night, were as far away
as yesterday's sunset. A great seriousness settled upon Abe's lean face.
At last he burst forth:

"One to thirty! Hy-guy, I'm in fer it!" How had it happened, he
wondered. They had given him no time to think. They had swooped down
upon him when his brain was dulled with anguish. Virtually, they had
kidnapped him. Why had they brought him here to accept charity of a
women's institution? Why need they thus intensify his sense of shame at
his life's failure, and, above all, at his failure to provide for
Angeline? In the poorhouse he would have been only one more derelict;
but here he stood alone to be stared at and pitied and thrown a
sickly-satisfying crumb. With a sigh from the very cellar of his being,
he muttered:

"Aye, Mother, why didn't yew let me go on ter the County House? That
air's the place fer a worn-out old hull like me. Hy-guy!" he ejaculated,
beads of sweat standing out on his forehead, "I'd ruther lay deown an'
die th'n face them air women."

"Thar, thar!" soothingly spoke Angy, laying her hand on his arm. "Thar,
thar, Father! Jest think haow dretful I'd feel a-goin' deown without
yer."

"So you would!" strangely comforted. "So you would, my dear!" For her
sake he tried to brighten up. He joked clumsily as they stood on the
threshold of the chamber, whispering, blinking his eyes to make up for
the lack of their usually ready twinkle.

"Hol' on a minute; supposin' I fergit whether I be a man er a woman?"

Her love gave inspiration to her answer: "I'll lean on yer, Abe."

Just then there came the loud, imperative clanging of the
breakfast-bell; and she urged him to hurry, as "it wouldn't dew" for
them to be late the first morning of all times. But he only answered by
going back into the room to make an anxious survey of his reflection in
the glass. He shook his head reprovingly at the bearded countenance, as
if to say: "You need not pride yourself any longer on looking like
Abraham Lincoln, for you have been turned into a miserable old woman."

Picking up the hair-brush, he held it out at arm's length to Angy.
"Won't yew slick up my hair a leetle bit, Mother?" he asked, somewhat
shamefacedly. "I can't see extry well this mornin'."

"Why, Abe! It's slicked ez slick ez it kin be naow." However, the old
wife reached up as he bent his tall, angular form over her, and
smoothed again his thin, wet locks. He laughed a little, self-mockingly,
and she laughed back, then urged him into the hall, and, slipping ahead,
led the way down-stairs. At the first landing, which brought them into
full view of the lower hall, he paused, possessed with the mad desire to
run away and hide, for at the foot of the stairway stood the entire
flock of old ladies. Twenty-nine pairs of eyes were lifted to him and
Angy, twenty-nine pairs of lips were smiling at them. To the end of his
days Abraham remembered those smiles. Reassuring, unselfish, and tender,
they made the old man's heart swell, his emotions go warring together.

He wondered, was grateful, yet he grew more confused and afraid. He
stared amazed at Angeline, who seemed the embodiment of self-possession,
lifting her dainty, proud little gray head higher and higher. She turned
to Abraham with a protecting, motherly little gesture of command for him
to follow, and marched gallantly on down the stairs. Humbly, trembling
at the knees, he came with gingerly steps after the little old wife. How
unworthy he was of her now! How unworthy he had always been, yet never
realized to the full until this moment. He knew what those smiles meant,
he told himself, watching the uplifted faces; they were to soothe his
sense of shame and humiliation, to touch with rose this dull gray color
of the culmination of his failures. He passed his hand over his eyes,
fiercely praying that the tears might not come to add to his disgrace.

And all the while brave little Angy kept smiling, until with a truly
glad leap of the heart she caught sight of a blue ribbon painted in gold
shining on the breast of each one of the twenty-nine women. A pale blue
ribbon painted in gold with--yes, peering her eyes she discovered that
it was the word "WELCOME!" The forced smile vanished from Angeline's
face. Her eyes grew wet, her cheek white. Her proud figure shrank. She
turned and looked back at her husband. Not for one instant did she
appropriate the compliment to herself. "This is for _you_!" her spirit
called out to him, while a new pride dawned in her working face.

Forty years had she spent apologizing for Abraham, and now she
understood how these twenty-nine generous old hearts had raided him to
the pedestal of a hero, while she stood a heroine beside him. Angy it
was who trembled now, and Abe, gaining a manly courage from that, took
hold of her arm to steady her--they had paused on a step near the foot
of the stairs--and, looking around with his whimsical smile, he demanded
of the bedecked company in general, "Ladies, be yew 'spectin' the
President?"

Cackle went the cracked old voices of the twenty-nine in a chorus of
appreciative laughter, while the old heads bobbed at one another as if
to say, "Won't he be an acquisition?" And then, from among the group
there came forward Blossy--Blossy, who had sacrificed most that this
should come to pass; Blossy, who had sat till midnight painting the
gold-and-blue ribbons; Blossy, the pride and beauty of the Home, in a
delicate, old, yellow, real lace gown. She held her two hands gracefully
and mysteriously behind her back as she advanced to the foot of the
stairs. Looking steadily into Abraham's eyes, she kept a-smiling until
he felt as if the warmth of a belated spring had beamed upon him.

"The President!" Her mellow, well-modulated voice shook, and she laughed
with a mingling of generous joy and tender pity. "Are we expecting the
President? You dear modest man! We are welcoming--_you_!"

Abe looked to Angy as if to say, "How shall I take it?" and behold! the
miracle of his wife's bosom swelling and swelling with pride in him. He
turned back, for Blossy was making a speech. His hand to his head, he
bent his good ear to listen. In terms poetical and touching she
described the loneliness of the life at the Home as it had been with no
man under the roof of the house and only a deaf-and-dumb gardener, who
hated her sex, in the barn. Then in contrast she painted life as it must
be for the sisters now that the thirty tender vines had found a stanch
old oak for their clinging. "Me?" queried Abraham of himself and, with
another silent glance, of Angy.

But what was this? Blossy, leading all the others in a resounding call
of "Welcome!" and then Blossy drawing her two hands from behind her
back. One held a huge blue cup, the other, the saucer to match. She
placed the cup in the saucer and held it out to Abraham. He trudged down
the few steps to receive it, unashamed now of the tears that coursed
down his cheeks. With a burst of delight he perceived that it was a
mustache cup, such as the one he had always used at home until it had
been set for safe-keeping on the top pantry shelf to await the auction,
where it had brought the price of eleven cents with half a paper of
tacks thrown in.

And now as the tears cleared away he saw also, what Angy's eyes had
already noted, the inscription in warm crimson letters on the shining
blue side of the cup, "To Our Beloved Brother."

"Sisters," he mumbled, for he could do no more than mumble as he took
his gift, "ef yew'd been gittin' ready fer me six months, yew couldn't
have done no better."



V

THE HEAD OF THE CORNER


Everybody wore their company manners to the breakfast-table--the first
time in the whole history of the Home when company manners had graced
the initial meal of the day. Being pleasant at supper was easy enough,
Aunt Nancy used to say, for every one save the unreasonably
cantankerous, and being agreeable at dinner was not especially
difficult; but no one short of a saint could be expected to smile of
mornings until sufficient time had been given to discover whether one
had stepped out on the wrong or the right side of the bed.

This morning, however, no time was needed to demonstrate that everybody
in the place had gotten out on the happy side of his couch. Even the
deaf-and-dumb gardener had untwisted his surly temper, and as Abraham
entered the dining-room, looked in at the east window with a
conciliatory grin and nod which said as plainly as words:

"'T is a welcome sight indeed to see one of my own kind around this
establishment!"

"Why don't he come in?" questioned Abe, waving back a greeting as well
as he could with the treasured cup in one of his hands and the saucer in
the other; whereupon Sarah Jane, that ugly duckling, explained that the
fellow, being a confirmed woman-hater, cooked all his own meals in the
smokehouse, and insisted upon all his orders being left on a slate
outside the tool-house door. Abe sniffed disdainfully, contemplating her
homely countenance, over which this morning's mood had cast a not
unlovely, transforming glow.

"Why, the scalawag!" He frowned so at the face in the window that it
immediately disappeared. "Yew don't mean ter tell me he's sot ag'in' yew
gals? He must be crazy! Sech a handsome, clever set o' women I never did
see!"

Sarah Jane blushed to the roots of her thin, straight hair and sat down,
suddenly disarmed of every porcupine quill that she had hidden under
her wings; while there was an agreeable little stir among the sisters.

"Set deown, all hands! Set deown!" enjoined Miss Abigail, fluttering
about with the heaviness of a fat goose. "Brother Abe,--that 's what
we've all agreed to call yew, by unanimous vote,--yew set right here at
the foot of the table. Aunt Nancy always had the head an' me the foot;
but I only kept the foot, partly becuz thar wa'n't no man fer the place,
an' partly becuz I was tew sizable ter squeeze in any-whar else. Seein'
as Sister Angy is sech a leetle mite, though, I guess she kin easy make
room fer me t' other side o' her."

Abe could only bow his thanks as he put his gift down on the table and
took the prominent place assigned to him. The others seated, there was
a solemn moment of waiting with bowed heads. Aunt Nancy's trembling
voice arose,--the voice which had jealously guarded the right of saying
grace at table in the Old Ladies' Home for twenty years,--not, however,
in the customary words of thanksgiving, but in a peremptory "Brother
Abe!"

Abraham looked up. Could she possibly mean that he was to establish
himself as the head of the household by repeating grace? "Brother Abe!"
she called upon him again. "Yew've askt a blessin' fer one woman fer
many a year; supposin' neow yew ask it fer thirty!"

Amid the amazement of the other sisters, Abe mumbled, and muttered, and
murmured--no one knew what words; but all understood the overwhelming
gratitude behind his incoherency, and all joined heartily in the Amen.
Then, while Mrs. Homan, the cook of the week, went bustling out into the
kitchen, Aunt Nancy felt that it devolved upon her to explain her
action. It would never do, she thought, for her to gain a reputation for
self-effacement and sweetness of disposition at her time of life.

"Son, I want yew ter understand one thing naow at the start. Yew treat
us right, an' we'll treat yew right. That's all we ask o' yew. Miss
Ellie, pass the radishes."

"I'll do my best," Abe hastened to assure her. "Hy-guy, that coffee
smells some kind o' good, don't it? Between the smell o' the stuff an'
the looks o' my cup, it'll be so temptin' that I'll wish I had the neck
of a gi-raffe, an' could taste it all the way deown. Angy, I be afraid
we'll git the gout a-livin' so high. Look at this here cream!"

Smiling, appreciative, his lips insisting upon joking to cover the
natural feeling of embarrassment incident to this first meal among the
sisters, but with his voice breaking now and again with emotion, while
from time to time he had to steal his handkerchief to his old eyes, Abe
passed successfully through the--to him--elaborate breakfast. And Angy
sat in rapt silence, but with her face shining so that her quiet was the
stillness of eloquence. Once Abe startled them all by rising stealthily
from the table and seizing the morning's newspaper which lay upon the
buffet.

"I knowed it!" caviled Lazy Daisy _sotto voce_ to no one in particular.
"He couldn't wait for the news till he was through eatin'!" But Abe had
folded the paper into a stout weapon, and, creeping toward the window,
despatched by a quick, adroit movement a fly which had alighted upon the
screen.

"I hate the very sight o' them air pesky critters," he explained half
apologetically. "Thar, thar's another one," and slaughtered that.

"My, but yew kin git 'em, can't yew?" spoke Miss Abigail admiringly.
"Them tew be the very ones I tried ter ketch all day yiste'day; I kin
see as a fly-ketcher yew be a-goin' ter be wuth a farm ter me. Set
deown an' try some o' this here strawberry presarve."

But Abe protested that he could not eat another bite unless he should
get up and run around the house to "joggle deown" what he had already
swallowed. He leaned back in his chair and surveyed the family: on his
right, generous-hearted Blossy, who had been smiling approval and
encouragement at him all through the repast; at his left, and just
beyond Angy, Miss Abigail indulging in what remained on the dishes now
that she discovered the others to have finished; Aunt Nancy keenly
watching him from the head of the board; and all the other sisters
"betwixt an' between."

He caught Mrs. Homan's eye where she stood in the doorway leading into
the kitchen, and remarked pleasantly: "Ma'am, yew oughter set up a
pancake shop in 'York. Yew could make a fortune at it. I hain't had sech
a meal o' vittles sence I turned fifty year o' age."

A flattered smile overspread Mrs. Homan's visage, and the other sisters,
noting it, wondered how long it would be before she showed her claws in
Abraham's presence.

"Hy-guy, Angy," Abe went on, "yew can't believe nothin' yew hear, kin
yer? Why, folks have told me that yew ladies--What yew hittin' my foot
fer, Mother? Folks have told me," a twinkle of amusement in his eye at
the absurdity, "that yew fight among yerselves like cats an' dogs, when,
law! I never see sech a clever lot o' women gathered tergether in all
my life. An' I believe--Mother, I hain't a-sayin' nothin'! I jest want
ter let 'em know what I think on 'em. I believe that thar must be three
hunderd hearts in this here place 'stid o' thirty. But dew yew know,
gals, folks outside even go so fur's ter say that yew throw plates at
one another!"

There was a moment's silence; then a little gasp first from one and then
from another of the group. Every one looked at Mrs. Homan, and from Mrs.
Homan to Sarah Jane. Mrs. Homan tightened her grip on the pancake
turner; Sarah Jane uneasily moved her long fingers within reach of a
sturdy little red-and-white pepper-pot. Another moment passed, in which
the air seemed filled with the promise of an electric storm. Then
Blossy spoke hurriedly--Blossy the tactician, clasping her hands
together and bringing Abe's attention to herself.

"Really! You surprise me! You don't mean to say that folks talk about us
like that!"

"Slander is a dretful long-legged critter," amended Miss Abigail,
smiling and sighing in the same breath.

"Sary Jane," inquired Mrs. Homan sweetly, "what 's the matter with that
pepper-pot? Does it need fillin'?"

And so began the reign of peace in the Old Ladies' Home.



VI

INDIAN SUMMER


Miss Abigail had not banked in vain on the "foresightedness of the
Lord." At the end of six months, instead of there being a shortage in
her accounts because of Abe's presence, she was able to show the
directors such a balance-sheet as excelled all her previous commendable
records.

"How do you explain it?" they asked her.

"We cast our bread on the waters," she answered, "an' Providence jest
kept a-handin' out the loaves." Again she said, "'T was grinnin' that
done it. Brother Abe he kept the gardener good-natured, an' the gardener
he jest grinned at the garden sass until it was ashamed not ter
flourish; an' Brother Abe kept the gals good-natured an' they wa'n't so
_niasy_ about what they eat; an' he kept the visitors a-laughin' jest
ter see him here, an' when yew make folks laugh they want ter turn
around an' dew somethin' fer yew. I tell yew, ef yew kin only keep grit
ernough ter grin, yew kin drive away a drought."

In truth, there had been no drought in the garden that summer, but
almost a double yield of corn and beans; no drought in the gifts sent to
the Home, but showers of plenty. Some of these came in the form of fresh
fish and clams left at the back door; some in luscious fruits; some in
barrels of clothing. And the barrels of clothing solved another problem;
for no longer did their contents consist solely of articles of feminine
attire. "Biled shirts" poured out of them; socks and breeches, derby
hats, coats and negligees; until Aunt Nancy with a humorous twist to her
thin lips inquired if there were thirty men in this establishment and
one woman.

"I never thought I'd come to wearin' a quilted silk basque with tossels
on it," Abe remarked one day on being urged to try on a handsome
smoking-jacket. "Dew I look like one of them sissy-boys, er jest a
dude?"

"It's dretful becoming," insisted Angy, "bewtiful! Ain't it, gals?"

Every old lady nodded her head with an air of proud proprietorship, as
if to say, "Nothing could fail to become _our_ brother." And Angy nodded
her head, too, in delighted approval of their appreciation of "our
brother" and "my husband."

Beautiful, joy-steeped, pleasure-filled days these were for the couple,
who had been cramped for life's smallest necessities so many meager
years. Angy felt that she had been made miraculously young by the birth
of this new Abraham--almost as if at last she had been given the son for
whom in her youth she had prayed with impassioned appeal. Her old-wife
love became rejuvenated into a curious mixture of proud mother-love and
young-wife leaning, as she saw Abe win every heart and become the
center of the community.

"Why, the sisters all think the sun rises an' sets in him," Angy would
whisper to herself sometimes, awed by the glorious wonder of it all.

The sisters fairly vied with one another to see how much each could do
for the one man among them. Their own preferences and prejudices were
magnanimously thrust aside. In a body they besought their guest to smoke
as freely in the house as out of doors. Miss Abigail even traded some of
her garden produce for tobacco, while Miss Ellie made the old gentleman
a tobacco-pouch of red flannel so generous in its proportions that on a
pinch it could be used as a chest-protector.

Then Ruby Lee, not to be outdone by anybody, produced, from no one ever
discovered where, a mother-of-pearl manicure set for the delight and
mystification of the hero; and even Lazy Daisy went so far as to cut
some red and yellow tissue-paper into squares under the delusion that
some time, somehow, she would find the energy to roll these into spills
for the lighting of Abe's pipe. And each and every sister from time to
time contributed some gift or suggestion to her "brother's" comfort.

It "plagued" the others, however, to see that none of them could get
ahead of Blossy in their noble endeavors to make Abraham feel himself a
light and welcome burden. She it was who discovered that Abe's
contentment could not be absolute without griddle-cakes for breakfast
three hundred and sixty-five times a year; she it was who first baked
him little saucer-cakes and pies because he was partial to edges; and
Blossy it was who made out a list of "Don'ts" for the sisters to follow
in their treatment of this grown-up, young-old boy.

"Don't scold him when he leaves the doors open. Don't tell him to wipe
his feet. Don't ever mention gold-mines or shiftless husbands," etc.,
etc.

All these triumphs of Blossy's intuition served naturally to spur the
others on to do even more for Brother Abe than they had already done,
until the old man began to worry for fear that he should "git sp'ilt."
When he lay down for his afternoon nap and the house was dull and quiet
without his waking presence, the ladies would gather in groups outside
his door as if in a king's antechamber, waiting for him to awaken,
saying to one another ever and again, "Sh, sh!" He professed to scoff at
the attentions he received, would grunt and growl "Humbug!" yet
nevertheless he thrived in this latter-day sunlight. His old bones took
on flesh. His aged kindly face, all seamed with care as it had been,
filled out, the wrinkles turning into twinkles. Abraham had grown young
again. With the return of his youth came the spirit of youth to the Old
Ladies' Home. Verily, verily, as Blossy had avowed from the first, they
had been in sore need of the masculine presence. The ancient coat and
hat which had hung in the hall so long had perhaps served its purpose
in keeping the burglars away, but this lifeless substitute had not
prevented the crabbed gnomes of loneliness and discontent from stealing
in. Spinster, wife, and widow, they had every one been warped by the
testy just-so-ness of the old maid.

Now, instead of fretful discussions of health and food, recriminations
and wrangling, there came to be laughter and good-humored chatter all
the day long, each sister striving with all her strength to preserve the
new-found harmony of the Home. There were musical evenings, when Miss
Abigail opened the melodeon and played "Old Hundred," and Abraham was
encouraged to pick out with one stiff forefinger "My Grandfather's
Clock." "Hymn tunes" were sung in chorus; and then, in answer to Abe's
appeal for something livelier, there came time-tried ditties and old,
old love-songs. And at last, one night, after leaving the instrument
silent, mute in the corner of the parlor for many years, Aunt Nancy
Smith dragged out her harp, and, seating herself, reached out her
knotted, trembling hands and brought forth what seemed the very echo, so
faint and faltering it was, of "Douglas, Douglas, Tender and True."

There was a long silence after she had finished, her head bowed on her
chest, her hands dropped to her sides. Abraham spoke first, clearing his
throat before he could make the words come.

"_I_ wish I could git a husband fer every one of yer," said he.

And no one was angry, and no one laughed; for they all knew that he was
only seeking to express the message conveyed by Nancy's playing--the
message of Love, Love triumphant, which cannot age, which over the years
and over Death itself always hath the victory.



VII

OLD LETTERS AND NEW


Blossy left the room without a word, and went stealing up the stairs to
the little cupboard where she now slept, and where was hung on the wall,
in a frame of yellow hollyhocks, painted by her own hand, a photograph
of Captain Samuel Darby, the man who had remained obstinately devoted to
her since her days of pinafores.

The picture betrayed that Captain Darby wore a wig designed for a larger
man, and that the visage beneath was gnarled and weather-beaten, marked
with the signs of a stubborn and unreasonable will.

Even now the aged belle could hear him saying: "Here I be, come eround
ter pop ag'in. Ready ter hitch?"

Samuel's inelegant English had always been a source of distress to
Blossy; yet still she stared long at the picture.

Six months had passed since his last visit; to-morrow would be the date
of his winter advent.

Should she give the old unvarying answer to his tireless formula?

She glanced around the tiny room. Ashamed though she was to admit it
even to herself, she missed that ample and cozy chamber which she had so
freely surrendered to Abraham and his wife. She missed it, as she felt
they must crave their very own fireside; and the thought that they
missed the old homestead made her yearn for the home that she might have
had--the home that she still might have.

Again she brought her eyes back to the portrait; and now she saw, not
the characteristics which had always made it seem impossible for her and
Samuel to jog together down life's road, but the great truth that the
face was honest and wholesome, while the eyes looked back into hers with
the promise of an unswerving care and affection.

The next morning found Blossy kneeling before a plump, little,
leather-bound, time-worn trunk which she kept under the eaves of the
kitchen chamber. The trunk was packed hard with bundles of old letters.
Some her younger fingers had tied with violet ribbon; some they had
bound with pink; others she had fastened together with white silk cord;
and there were more and more bundles, both slim and stout, which Blossy
had distinguished by some special hue of ribbon in the long ago, each
tint marking a different suitor's missives.

To her still sentimental eye the colors remained unfaded, and each would
bring to her mind instantly the picture of the writer as he had been in
the golden days. But save to Blossy's eye alone there were no longer any
rainbow tints in the little, old trunk; for every ribbon and every cord
had faded into that musty, yellow brown which is dyed by the passing of
many years.

Abraham discovered her there, too engrossed in the perusal of one of
the old letters to have heeded his creaking steps upon the stairs.

"Didn't see yer, till I 'most stumbled on yer," he began apologetically.
"I come fer the apple-picker. Thar's a handful of russets in the orchard
yit, that's calc'latin' ter spend Christmas up close ter heaven;
but--Say, Blossy," he added more loudly, since she did not raise her
head, "yew seen anythin' o' that air picker?"

Blossy glanced up from her ragged-edged crackly _billet-doux_ with a
start, and dropped the envelop to the floor.

For the moment, so deep in reminiscence was she, she thought Captain
Darby himself had surprised her; then, recognizing Abe and recalling
that Samuel's winter visits were invariably paid in the afternoon, she
broke into a shamefaced laugh.

"Oh, is that you, Brother Abe? Don't tell the others what you found me
doing. These," with a wave of her delicate, blue-veined hands over the
trunk and its contents, "are all old love-letters of mine. Do you think
I'm a silly old goose to keep them cluttering around so long?"

"Wa'al,"--Abe with an equally deprecatory gesture indicated Angy's
horsehair trunk in the far corner of the loft,--"yew ain't no more
foolisher, I guess, over yer old trash 'n me an' Angy be a-keepin' that
air minin' stock of mine. One lot is wuth 'bout as much as t'other."

Recovering the envelop that she had dropped, he squinted at the
superscription. "Not meanin' ter be inquisitive or personal, Sister
Blossy," a teasing twinkle appearing in his eye, "but this looks dretful
familitary, this here handwritin' does. When I run the beach--yew've
heard me tell of the time I was on the Life-savin' Crew over ter Bleak
Hill fer a spell--my cap'n he had a fist jest like that. Useter make out
the spickest, spannest reports. Lemme see," the twinkle deepening,
"didn't the gals say yew was a 'spectin' somebody ter-day? Law, I ain't
saw Cap'n Sam'l fer ten year or more. I guess on these here poppin'
trips o' his'n he hain't wastin' time on no men-folks. But, Blossy, yew
better give me a chance ter talk to him this arternoon, an' mebbe I'll
speak a good word fer yer."

Blossy, not always keen to see a joke, and with her vanity now in the
ascendant, felt the color rise into her withered cheek.

"Oh, you needn't take the trouble to speak a good word for me. Any man
who could ever write a letter like this doesn't need to be coaxed. Just
listen:


"The man you take for a mate is the luckiest dog in the whole round
world. I'd rather be him than king of all the countries on earth. I'd
rather be him than strike a gold-mine reaching from here to China. I'd
rather be him than master of the finest vessel that ever sailed blue
water. That's what I would. Why, the man who couldn't be happy with you
would spill tears all over heaven."


Blossy's cheek was still flushed, but no longer with pique. Her voice
quavered, and broke; and finally there fell upon the faded page of the
letter two sparkling tears.

Abraham shuffled uncomfortably from one foot to the other; then,
muttering something about the "pesky apple-hook," went scuffing across
the floor in the direction of the chimney.

Blossy, however, called him back. "I was crying, Brother Abe, because
the man I did take for a mate once was not happy, and--and neither was
I. I was utterly wretched; so that I've always felt I never cared to
marry again. And--and Samuel's wig is always slipping down over one eye,
and I simply cannot endure that trick he has of carrying his head to one
side, as if he had a left-handed spell of the mumps. It nearly drives me
frantic.

"Brother Abe, now tell me honestly: do you think he would make a good
husband?"

Abe cleared his throat. Blossy was in earnest. Blossy could not be
laughed at. She was his friend, and Angy's friend; and she had come to
him as to a brother for advice. He too had known Samuel as man to man,
which was more than any of the sisters could say.

Stroking his beard thoughtfully, therefore, he seated himself upon a
convenient wooden chest, while Blossy slipped her old love-letter in and
out of the envelop, with that essentially feminine manner of weighing
and considering.

"Naow," began Abe at length, "this is somep'n that requires keerful
debatin'. Fust off, haowsomever, yew must remember that wigs an' ways
never made a man yit. Ez I riccollec' Sam'l, he was pooty good ez men
go. I should say he wouldn't be any more of a risk tew yew than I was
tew Angy; mebbe less. He's got quite a leetle laid by, I understand, an'
a tidy story-an'-a-half house, an' front stoop, an', by golly, can't he
cook! He's a splendid housekeeper."

"Housewifery," remarked Blossy sagely, as she began to gather her
missives together, "is an accomplishment to be scorned in a young
husband, but not in an old one. They say there hasn't been a woman
inside Samuel's house since he built it, but it's as clean as soap and
sand can make it."

"I bet yer," agreed Abe. "Hain't never been no fly inside it, neither,
I warrant yer. Fly can't light arter Sam'l's cleanin' up nohaow; he's
got ter skate."

"He says he built that little house for me," said the old lady, as she
closed down the lid of the trunk. There was a wistful note in Blossy's
voice, which made Abraham declare with a burst of sympathy:

"'T ain't no disgrace ter git married at no time of life. Sam'l's a good
pervider; why don't yew snap him up ter-day? We'll miss yew a lot;
but--"

"Here's the apple-picker right over your head," interrupted Blossy
tartly, and Abe felt himself peremptorily dismissed.

Scarcely had he left the attic, however, than she too hastened down the
steep, narrow stairs. She spent the remaining hours before train-time in
donning her beautiful lace gown, and in making the woman within it as
young and ravishing as possible. And lovely, indeed, Blossy looked this
day, with a natural flush of excitement on her cheek, a new sparkle in
her bright, dark eyes, and with her white hair arranged in a fashion
which might have excited a young girl's envy.

The hour for the train came and went, and, lo! for the first time in the
history of twenty years Captain Darby did not appear.

Blossy pretended to be relieved, protesting that she was delighted to
find that she would now have an extra hour in which to ponder the
question. But the second train came and went, and still no Captain
Darby.

All the afternoon long Blossy wore her lace gown, thinking although
there were no more trains from the eastward that day, that Samuel would
still find his way to her. He might drive, as he usually did in June, or
he might even walk from his home at Twin Coves, she said.

At night, however, she was obliged to admit that he could not be coming;
and then, quivering with honest anxiety for her old friend, Blossy
dipped into her emergency fund, which she kept in the heart of a little
pink china pig on a shelf in her room,--a pink china pig with a lid made
of stiff black hair standing on edge in the middle of his back,--and
sent a telegram to Captain Darby, asking if he were sick.

The answer came back slowly by mail, to find Blossy on the verge of a
nervous collapse, under the care of all the women in the house.

That letter Blossy never showed to Brother Abe, nor to any one else.
Neither did she treasure it in the sentimental trunk beneath the attic
eaves. The letter ran:


DEAR BETSY ANN: I never felt better in my life. Ain't been sick a
minute. Just made up my mind I was a old fool, and was going to quit. If
you change your intentions at any time, just drop me a postal. As ever,

SAM'L DARBY, ESQ.


"This, Captain Darby, makes your rejection final," vowed Blossy to
herself, as she tore the note into fragments and drowned them in the
spirits of lavender with which the sisters had been seeking to soothe
her distracted nerves.



VIII

THE ANNIVERSARY


About this time Blossy developed a tendency to draw Brother Abraham
aside at every opportunity, convenient or inconvenient, in order to put
such questions as these to him:

"Did you say it is fully thirty-five years since you and Captain Darby
were on the beach together? Do you think he has grown much older? Had he
lost his hair then? Did he care for the opposite sex? Was he very
brave--or would you say more brave than stubborn and contrary? Isn't it
a blessing that I never married him?"

Fearful of the ridicule of the sisters, Blossy was always careful to
conduct these inquiries in whispers, or at least in undertones with a
great observance of secrecy, sometimes stopping Abe on the stairs,
sometimes beckoning him to her side when she was busy about her
household tasks on the pretense of requiring his assistance. On one
occasion she even went so far as to inveigle him into holding a skein of
wool about his clumsy hands, while she wound the violet worsted into a
ball, and delicately inquired if he believed Samuel spoke the truth when
he had protested that he had never paid court to any other woman.

Alas, Blossy's frequent tete-a-tetes with the amused but sometimes
impatient Abraham started an exceedingly foolish suspicion. When, asked
the sisters of one another, did Abe ever help any one, save Blossy,
shell dried beans or pick over prunes? When had he ever been known to
hold wool for Angy's winding? Not once since wooing-time, I warrant you.
What could this continual hobnobbing and going off into corners mean,
except--flirtation?

Ruby Lee whispered it first into Aunt Nancy's good ear. Aunt Nancy
indulged in four pinches of snuff in rapid succession, sneezed an
amazing number of times, and then acridly informed Ruby Lee that she was
a "jealous cat" and always had been one.

However, Aunt Nancy could not refrain from carrying the gossip to Miss
Ellie, adding that she herself had been suspicious of Abe's behavior
from the start.

"Oh, no, no!" cried the shocked and shrinking spinster. "And Angy so
cheerful all the time? I don't believe it."

But whisper, whisper, buzz, buzz, went the gossip, until finally it
reached the pink little ears at the side of Miss Abigail's generously
proportioned head. The pink ears turned crimson, likewise the adjoining
cheeks, and Miss Abigail panted with righteous indignation.

"It all comes of this plagued old winter-time," she declared, sharply
biting her thread, for she was mending a table-cloth. "Shet the winders
on summer, an' yew ketch the tail of slander in the latch every time.
Naow, ef I hear one word about this 'tarnal foolishness comin' to
Angy's ears, or Brother Abe's, or Blossy's either, fer that matter,
we'll all have to eat off'n oil-cloth Sundays, the same as weekdays,
until I see a more Christian sperit in the house."

She gave the Sunday damask across her lap a pat which showed she was in
earnest; and the rebuked sisters glanced at one another, as if to say:

"Suppose the minister should walk in some Sabbath afternoon and find
oil-cloth on the table, and ask the reason why?"

They one and all determined to take Aunt Nancy's advice and "sew a
button on their lips."

Fortunately, too, the February thaws had already set in, and the
remainder of the winter passed without any severe strain on the
"buttonholes." And at length the welcome spring began to peep forth,
calling to the old folks, "Come out, and grow young with the young
year!"

With the bursting forth of the new springtide the winter's talk seemed
to drop as a withered and dead oak-leaf falls from its winter-bound
branches; and Abe stood once more alive to the blessings of renewed
approval.

Angy went out of doors with Miss Abigail, and puttered around among the
flowers as if they were her own, thanking God for Abe's increasing
popularity in the same breath that she gave thanks for the new buds of
the spring.

The anniversary of the Roses' entrance into the Home drew nearer, and
Blossy suggested that the best way to celebrate the event would be by
means of a "pink tea."

Neither Angy nor Abe, nor in fact half the sisters, had any clear
conception of what a tinted function might be; but they one and all
seized upon Blossy's idea as if it were a veritable inspiration, and for
the time jealousies were forgotten, misunderstandings erased.

Such preparations as were made for that tea! The deaf-and-dumb gardener
was sent with a detachment of small boys to fetch from the wayside and
meadows armfuls of wild roses for the decorations. Miss Abigail made
pink icing for the cake. Ruby Lee hung bleeding-hearts over the
dining-room door. Aunt Nancy resurrected from the bottom of her trunk a
white lace cap with a rakish-looking pink bow for an adornment, and
fastened it to her scant gray hairs in honor of the occasion. Blossy
turned her pink china pig, his lid left up-stairs, into a sugar-bowl.

Pink, pink, pink, everywhere; even in Angy's proud cheeks! Pink, and
pink, and pink! Abe used to grow dizzy, afterward, trying to recall the
various pink articles which graced that tea.

But most delightful surprise of all was his anniversary gift, which was
slyly slipped to his place after the discussion of the rose-colored
strawberry gelatin. It was a square, five-pound parcel wrapped in pink
tissue-paper, tied with pink string, and found to contain so much
Virginia tobacco, which Blossy had inveigled an old Southern admirer
into sending her for "charitable purposes."

After the presentation of this valuable gift, Abraham felt that the time
had come for him to make a speech--practically his maiden speech.

He said at the beginning, more suavely at his ease than he would have
believed possible, secure of sympathy and approbation, with Angy's
glowing old eyes upon her prodigy, that all the while he had been at the
Home, he had never before felt the power to express his gratitude for
the welcome which had been accorded him--the welcome which seemed to
wear and wear, as if it were all wool and a yard wide, and could never
wear out.

The old ladies nodded their heads in approval of this, every face
beaming; but as the speech went on the others perceived that Abe had
singled out Blossy for special mention,--blind, blind Abraham!--Blossy,
who had first proposed admitting him into this paradise; Blossy, who had
given up her sunny south chamber to his comfort and Angy's; Blossy, who
had been as a "guardeen angel" to him; Blossy, who as a fitting climax
to all her sisterly attentions had given him to-day this wonderful,
wonderful pink tea, and "this five hull pound o' Virginny terbaccer."

He held the parcel close to his bosom, and went on, still praising
Blossy,--this innocent old gentleman,--heedless of Angy's gentle tug at
his coat-tail; while Blossy buried her absurdly lovely old face in the
pink flush of a wild-rose spray, and the other old ladies stared from
him to her, their faces growing hard and cold.

When Abraham sat down, aglow with pride over his oratorical triumphs,
his chest expanded, his countenance wrinkled into a thousand guileless,
grateful smiles, there was absolute silence.

Then Blossy, her head still bowed as if in shy confusion, began to clap
her hands daintily together, whereat a few of the others joined her
half-heartedly. A sense of chill crept over Abraham. Accustomed as a
rule to deferential attention, did he but say good-morning, by no means
aware that his throne had toppled during the winter, he was still
forced to perceive that something had gone amiss.

As always when aught troubled his mind, "Father" turned to Angy; but
instead of his composed and resourceful little wife he found a
scared-faced and trembling woman. Angy had suddenly become conscious of
the shadow of the green-eyed monster. Angy's loyal heart was crying out
to her mate: "Don't git the sisters daown on yer, Abe, 'cuz then, mebbe,
yew'll lose yer hum!" But poor Angeline's lips were so stiff with terror
over the prospect of the County House for her husband, that she could
not persuade them to speech.

Abraham, completely at sea, turned next to her whom he had called his
guardian angel; but Blossy was rising from her seat, a baffling smile
of expectancy on her face, the rose spray swinging in her delicate hand
as if to the measure of some music too far back in youth for any one
else to hear. Blossy had worn that expectant look all day. She might
have been delightedly hugging to herself a secret which she had not
shared even with the trusted Abraham. She was gowned in her yellow lace,
the beauty and grace of which had defied the changing fashions as
Blossy's remarkable elegance of appearance had defied the passing of the
years.

"Brother Abe,"--in her heedlessness of the mischief she had wrought,
Blossy seemed almost to sing,--"I never shall forget your speech as long
as I live. Will you excuse me now?"

She swept out of the door, her skirts rustling behind her.

Abe collected himself so far as to bow in the direction she had taken;
then with lamblike eyes of inquiry met the exasperated glances cast upon
him.

Not a sister moved or spoke. They all sat as if glued to their chairs,
in a silence that was fast growing appalling.

Abe turned his head and looked behind his chair for an explanation; but
nothing met his eye, save the familiar picture on the wall of two white
kittens playing in the midst of a huge bunch of purple lilacs.

Then there broke upon the stillness the quavering old voice of Aunt
Nancy, from her place opposite Abe's at the head of the board. The aged
dame had her two hands clasped before her on the edge of the table,
vainly trying to steady their palsied shaking. Her eyes, bright,
piercing, age-defying, she fixed upon the bewildered Abraham with a look
of deep and sorrowful reproach. Her unsteady head bobbed backward and
forward with many an accusing nod, and the cap with its rakish pink bow
bobbed backward and forward too. Abe watched her, fascinated,
unconsciously wondering, even in the midst of his disquietude, why the
cap did not slide off her bald scalp entirely. To his amazement, she
addressed not himself, but Angy.

"Sister Rose, yew kin leave the room." Implacable purpose spoke in Aunt
Nancy's tone. Angy started, looked up, going first red and then white;
but she did not move. She opened her lips to speak.

"I don't want ter hear a word from yew, nor anybody else," sternly
interposed Aunt Nancy. "I'm old enough ter be yer mother. Go up-stairs!"

Angy's glance sought Miss Abigail, but the matron's eyes avoided hers.
The little wife sighed, rose reluctantly, dropped her hand doubtfully
reassuring on Abe's shoulder, and then went obediently to the door.

From the threshold she looked wistfully back; but an imperious wave from
Aunt Nancy banished her altogether, and Abe found himself alone--not
with the sisters whom he loved, but with twenty-eight hard-visaged
strangers.



IX

A WINTER BUTTERFLY


"Cap'n Rose," began Aunt Nancy. Brother Abe pricked up his eats at the
formal address. "Cap'n Rose," she repeated, deliberately dwelling on the
title. "I never believe in callin' a man tew account in front of his
wife. It gives him somebody handy ter blame things on tew jest like ole
Adam. Naow, look a-here! What I want is ter ask yew jest one question:
Whar, whar on 'arth kin we look fer a decent behavin' ole man ef not in
a Old Ladies' Hum? Would yew--" she exhorted earnestly, pointing her
crooked forefinger at him. "Would yew--"

Abraham caught his breath. Beads of sweat had appeared on his brow. He
broke in huskily:

"Wait a minute, Aunt Nancy. Jest tell me what I've been an' done."

The ladies glanced at one another, contemptuous, incredulous smiles on
their faces, while Aunt Nancy almost wept at his deceitfulness.

"Cap'n Rose," she vowed mournfully, "I've lived in this house fer many,
many years, an' all the while I been here I never hearn tell o' a breath
o' scandal ag'in' the place until yew come an' commenced ter kick up yer
heels."

Lazy Daisy, who had long been an inmate, also nodded her unwieldy head
in confirmation, while a low murmur of assent arose from the others.
Abraham could only pass his hand over his brow, uneasily shuffle his
maligned heels over the floor and await further developments; for he did
not have the slightest conception as to "what they were driving at."

"Cap'n Rose," the matriarch proceeded, as in the earnestness of her
indignation she arose, trembling, in her seat and stood with her palsied
and shaking hands on the board, "Cap'n Rose, yer conduct with this here
Mis' Betsey Ann Blossom has been somethin' _ree_diculous! It's been
disgraceful!"

Aunt Nancy sat down, incongruously disreputable in appearance, her pink
bow having slipped down over her right ear during the harangue. Over
the culprit's countenance light had dawned, but, shame to tell! it was a
light not wholly remorseful. Then silent laughter shook the old man's
shoulders, and then--could it be?--there crept about his lips and eyes a
smile of superbly masculine conceit. The sisters were fighting over him.
Wouldn't Mother be amused when he should tell her what all this fuss was
about.

Now, kindly, short-sighted Miss Abigail determined that it was time for
the matron's voice to be heard.

"Of course, Brother Abe, we understand perfectly that yew never stopped
ter take inter consideration haow susceptible some folks is made."

There being plain evidence from Abe's blank expression that he did not
understand the meaning of the word, Ruby Lee hastened to explain.

"Susceptible is the same as flighty-headed. Blossy allers was a fool
over anything that wore breeches."

Abe pushed his chair back from the table and crossed his legs
comfortably. For him all the chill had gone out of the air. Suppose that
there was something in this? An old, old devil of vanity came back to
the aged husband's heart. He recalled that he had been somewhat of a
beau before he learned the joy of loving Angy. More than one Long Island
lassie had thrown herself at his head. Of course Blossy would "get over"
this; and Angy knew that his heart was hers as much as it had been the
day he purchased his wedding-beaver; but Abe could not refrain from a
chuckle of complacent amusement as he stroked his beard.

His very evident hardness of heart so horrified the old ladies that they
all began to attack him at once.

"Seems ter me I'd have the decency ter show some shame!" grimly avowed
Sarah Jane.

Abe could not help it. He sputtered. Even Miss Abigail's, "Yew were a
stranger an' we took yew in" did not sober him.

"Ef any one o' my husbands had acted the way you've acted, Abe Rose,"
began Mrs. Homan.

"Poor leetle Angy," broke in the gentle Miss Ellie pityingly. "She must
'a' lost six pounds."

Abraham's mobile face clouded over.

"Angy?" he faltered. "Yew don't mean that Angy--" Silence again fell on
the group, while every glance was fastened on Abraham. "See here," he
flashed his faded blue eye, "Angy's got more sense than that!"

No one answered, but there was a significant shrugging of shoulders and
lifting of eyebrows. Abraham was distressed and concerned enough now.
Rising from his place he besought the sisters:

"Yew don't think Angy's feelin's have been hurt--dew yew, gals?"

Their faces softened, their figures relaxed, the tide of feeling changed
in Abraham's favor. Miss Ellie spoke very softly:

"Yew know that even 'the Lord thy God is a jealous God.'"

Abraham grasped the back of his chair for support, his figure growing
limp with astonishment. "Mother, jealous of me?" he whispered to
himself, the memory of all the years and all the great happenings of all
the years coming back to him. "Mother jealous of me?" He remembered how
he had once been tormented by jealousy in the long, the ever-so-long
ago, and of a sudden he hastened into the hall and went half-running up
the stairs. He took hold of the latch of his bedroom door. It did not
open. The door was locked.

"Angy!" he called, a fear of he knew not what gripping at his heart.
"Angy!" he repeated as she did not answer.

The little old wife had locked herself in out of very shame of the rare
tears which had been brought to the surface by the sisters' cruel
treatment of Abraham. When she heard his call she hastened to the blue
wash-basin and began hurriedly to dab her eyes. He would be alarmed if
he saw the traces of her weeping. Whatever had happened to him, for his
sake she must face it valiantly. He called again. Again she did not
answer, knowing that her voice would be full of the telltale tears. Abe
waited. He heard the tramp of feet passing out of the dining-room into
the hall. He heard Blossy emerge from her room at the end of the passage
and go tripping down the stairs. The time to Angy, guiltily bathing her
face, was short; the time to her anxious husband unaccountably long.
The sound of wheels driving up to the front door came to Abe's ears.
Still Angy made him no response.

"Angy!" he raised his voice in piteous pleading. What mattered if the
sisters gathered in the lower hall heard him? What mattered if the
chance guest who had just arrived heard him also? He had his peace to
make with his wife and he would make it. "Angy!"

She flung the door open hastily. The signs of the tears had not been
obliterated, and her face was drawn and old. Straightway she put her
hand on his arm and searched his face inquiringly.

"What did the gals say ter yew?" she whispered. "Abe, yew made a mistake
when yew picked out Bl--"

"Poor leetle Mother!" he interrupted. "Poor leetle Mother!" a world of
remorseful pity in his tone. "So yew been jealous of yer ole man?"

Angeline, astonished and indignant, withdrew her hand sharply, demanding
to know if he had lost his senses; but the blinded old gentleman slipped
his arm around her and, bending, brushed his lips against her cheek.
"Thar, thar," he murmured soothingly, "I didn't mean no harm. I can't
help it ef all the gals git stuck on me!"

Before Angy could make any reply, Blossy called to the couple softly but
insistently from the foot of the stairs; and Angy, wrenching herself
free, hastened down the steps, for once in her life glad to get away
from Abe. He lost no time in following. No matter where Angy went, he
would follow until all was well between her and him again.

But what was this? At the landing, Angy halted and so did Abe, for in
the center of the sisters stood Blossy with her Sunday bonnet perched on
her silver-gold hair and her white India shawl over her shoulders, and
beside Blossy stood Captain Samuel Darby with a countenance exceedingly
radiant, his hand clasped fast in that of the aged beauty.

"Oh, hurry, Sister Angy and Brother Abe!" called Blossy. "We were
waiting for you, and I've got some news for all my friends." She waited
smilingly for them to join the others; then with a gesture which
included every member of the household, she proceeded: "The pink tea, I
want you all to know, had a double significance, and first, of course,
it was to celebrate the anniversary of Brother Abe's sojourn with us;
but next it was my farewell to the Home." Here Blossy gurgled and gave
the man at her right so coy a glance that Samuel's face flamed red and
he hung his head lower to one side than usual, like a little boy that
had been caught stealing apples. "I left the tea a trifle early--you
must forgive me, Brother Abe, but I heard the train-whistle." Abe stood
beside Angeline, rooted in astonishment, while Blossy continued to
address him directly. "You gave Samuel so many good recommendations,
dear brother, that when the time approached for his June visit, I felt
that I simply could not let him miss it as he did in December. Last
year, on the day you entered, he was here through no desire of mine.
To-day he is here at my request. My friends," again she included the
entire Home in her glance, "we'll come back a little later to say
Good-by. Now, we're on the way to the minister's."

The pair, Samuel tongue-tied and bewildered by the joy of his finally
won success, moved toward the door. On the threshold of the Home Blossy
turned and waved farewell to the companions of her widowhood, while
Samuel bowed in a dazed fashion, his face still as red as it was
blissful. Then quickly the two passed out upon the porch. No one moved
to see them off. Abe looked everywhere yet nowhere at all. Not a word
was spoken even when the carriage was heard rolling down the drive; but
the sound of the wheels seemed to arouse Angy from her stupor of
amazement; and presently Abraham became conscious of a touch,--a touch
sympathetic, tender and true,--a touch all-understanding--the touch of
Angy's hand within his own.



X

THE TURN OF THE TIDE


From time immemorial the history of the popular hero has ever been the
same. To king and patriot, to the favorite girl at school and the small
boy who is leader of the "gang," to politician, to preacher, to actor
and author, comes first worship then eclipse. The great Napoleon did not
escape this common fate; and the public idol who was kissed only
yesterday for his gallant deeds is scorned to-day for having permitted
the kissing. Oh, caprice of the human heart! Oh, cry of the race for the
unaccustomed!

From that first anniversary of his entrance into the Home, Abraham felt
his popularity decrease--in fact more than decrease. He saw the
weather-vane go square about, and where he had known for three hundred
and sixty-five days the gentle, balmy feel of the southwest zephyr, he
found himself standing of a sudden in a cold, bleak northeast wind. The
change bewildered the old man, and reacted on his disposition. As he had
blossomed in the sunshine, so now he began to droop in the shade.
Feeling that he was suspected and criticized, he began to grow
suspicious and fault-finding himself. His old notion that he had no
right to take a woman's place in the Institution came back to his brain,
and he would brood over it for hours at a time, sitting out on the
porch with his pipe and Angy.

The old wife grieved to think that Father was growing old and beginning
to show his years. She made him some tansy tea, but neither her
persuasions nor those of the whole household could induce him to take
it. He had never liked "doctoring" anyway, although he had submitted to
it more or less during the past year in unconscious subservience to his
desire to increase his popularity; but now he fancied that where once he
had been served as a king by all these female attendants, he was simply
being "pestered" as a punishment for his past behavior with Blossy. Ah,
with its surprising ending that had been a humiliating affair; and he
felt too that he would be long in forgiving Mrs. Darby for not having
confided to him her actual intentions. Now he was afraid to be decently
courteous to one of the sisters for fear that they might accuse him of
light dalliance again; and he scarcely ever addressed the new member who
came to take Blossy's little room, for he had been cut to the quick by
her look of astonishment when she was told that he belonged there.

In his mental ferment the old man began to nag at Angy. Sad though it is
to confess of a hero honestly loved, Abraham had nagged a little all his
married life when things went wrong. And Angeline, fretted and nervous,
herself worried almost sick over Father's condition, was guilty once in
a while out of the depths of her anxiety of nagging back again. So do
we hurt those whom we love best as we would and could hurt no other.

"I told yer I never could stand it here amongst all these dratted
women-folks," Abe would declare. "It's all your fault that I didn't go to
the poorhouse in peace."

"I notice yew didn't raise no objections until yew'd lived here a year,"
Angy would retort; but ignoring this remark, he would go on:

"It's 'Brother Abe' this an' 'Brother Abe' that! as ef I had thirty
wives a-pesterin' me instid of one. I can't kill a fly but it's 'Brother
Abe, lemme bury him fer yew.' Do yer all think I be a baby?" demanded
the old gentleman with glaring eye. "I guess I'm able ter do somethin'
fer myself once in a while. I hain't so old as some folks might think,"
he continued with superb inconsistence. "I be a mere child compared with
that air plagued Nancy Smith."

It took very little to exhaust Angy's ability for this style of
repartee, and she would rejoin with tender but mistaken efforts to
soothe and comfort him:

"Thar, thar, Father! don't git excited neow. Seems ter me ye 're a
leetle bit feverish. Ef only yew 'd take this here tansy tea."

Abraham would give one exasperated glance at the tin cup and mutter into
the depths of his beard:

"Tansy tea an' old women! Old women an' tansy tea! Tansy tea be durned!"

Abe failed perceptibly during the summer, grew feebler as the autumn
winds blew in, and by November he took to his bed and the physician of
the Home, a little whiffet of a pompous idiot, was called to attend him.
The doctor, determined at the start to make a severe case of the old
man's affliction in order that he might have the greater glory in the
end, be it good or bad, looked very grave over Abraham's tongue and
pulse, prescribed medicine for every half-hour, and laid especial stress
upon the necessity of keeping the patient in bed.

"Humbug!" growled the secretly terrified invalid, and in an excess of
bravado took his black silk necktie from where it hung on the bedpost
and tied it in a bow-knot around the collar of his pink-striped
nightshirt, so that he would be in proper shape to receive any of the
sisters. Then he lay very still, his eyes closed, as they came tiptoeing
in and out. Their tongues were on gentle tiptoe too, although not so
gentle but that he could hear them advising: one, a "good, stiff mustard
plaster"; one, an "onion poultice"; another, a "Spanish blister"; while
Aunt Nancy stopped short of nothing less than "old-fashioned bleeding."
Abe lay very still and wondered if they meant to kill him. He was
probably going to die anyhow, so why torment him. Only when he was dead,
he hoped that they would think more kindly of him. And so surrounded yet
alone, the old man fought his secret terror until mercifully he went to
sleep.

When he awoke there were the sisters again; and day after day they
spent their combined efforts in keeping him on his back and forcing him
to take his medicine, the only appreciable good resulting therefrom
being the fact that with this tax upon their devotion the old ladies
came once more to regard Abe as the most precious possession of the
Home.

"What ef he should die?" they whispered among themselves, repentant
enough of their late condemnation of him and already desolate at the
thought of his leaving this little haven with them for the "great haven"
over there; and the whisper reaching the sickroom, Abe's fever would
rise, while he could never lift his lashes except to see the specter of
helpless old age on one side of the bed and death upon the other.

"What's the matter with me?" he demanded of the doctor, as one who would
say: "Pooh! pooh! You're a humbug! What do you mean by keeping me in
bed?" Yet the old man was trembling with that inner fear. The physician,
a feminine kind of a bearded creature himself, took Abe's hand in
his--an engaging trick he had with the old ladies.

"Now, my friend, do not distress yourself. Of course, you are a very
sick man; I cannot deceive you as to that; but during my professional
career, I have seen some remarkable cases of recovery and--"

"But what's the matter with me?" broke in Abe, by this time fairly white
with fear. The doctor had assured him that all his organs were sound,
so he could only conclude that he must have one of those unusual
diseases such as Miss Abigail was reading about in the paper yesterday.
Maybe, although his legs were so thin to-day, he was on the verge of an
attack of elephantiasis!

"What's the matter with me?" he repeated, his eyes growing wilder and
wilder.

What the doctor really replied would be difficult to tell; but out of
the confusion of his technicalities Abe caught the words, "nerves" and
"hysteria."

"Mother, yew hear that?" he cried. "I got narvous hysterics. I told yer
somethin' would happen ter me a-comin' to this here place. All them old
woman's diseases is ketchin'. Why on 'arth didn't yer let me go to the
poorhouse?"

He fell back on the pillow and drew the bedclothes up to his ears, while
Angy followed the doctor out into the hall to receive, as Abe supposed,
a more detailed description of his malady. He felt too weak, however, to
question Angy when she returned, and stubbornly kept his eyes closed
until he heard Mrs. Homan tiptoe into the room to announce in hushed
tones that Blossy and Samuel Darby were below, and Samuel wanted to know
if he might see the invalid.

Then Abe threw off the covers in a hurry and sat up. "Sam'l Darby?" he
asked, the strength coming back into his voice. "A man! Nary a woman
ner a doctor! Yes--yes, show him up!"

Angy nodded in response to Mrs. Homan's glance of inquiry; for had not
the doctor told her that it would not hasten the end to humor the
patient in any reasonable whim? And she also consented to withdraw when
Abe informed her that he wished to be left alone with his visitor, as it
was so long since he had been face to face with a man "an' no petticoat
a-hangin' 'round the corner."

"Naow, be keerful, Cap'n Darby," the little mother-wife cautioned at the
door, "be very keerful. Don't stay tew long an' don't rile him up, fer
he's dretful excited, Abe is."



XI

MENTAL TREATMENT


Little Samuel Darby paused at the foot of the bed and stared at Abe
without saying a word, while Abe fixed his dim, distressed eyes on his
visitor with a dumb appeal for assistance. Samuel looked a very
different man from the old bachelor who used to come a-wooing every six
months at the Home. Either marriage had brought him a new growth of
hair, or else Blossy had selected a new wig for him--a modest, close,
iron-gray which fitted his poll to perfection. Marriage or Blossy had
also overcome in Samuel that tendency to hang his head "to starb'd";
and now he lifted his bright eyes with the manner of one who would say:

"See! I'm king of myself and my household! Behold what one woman has
done for me!" And in turn Abe's unstrung vigor and feeble dependence
cried out as loudly: "I haven't a leg left to stand on. Behold what too
much woman has done for me!"

"Ain't yew a-goin' ter shake hands?" inquired Abraham at last, wondering
at the long silence and the incomprehensible stare, his fears
accentuated by this seeming indication of a supreme and hopeless pity.
"Ain't yew a-goin' ter shake hands? Er be yew afeard of ketchin' it,
tew?"

For a moment longer Samuel continued to stare, then of a sudden he
roared, "Git up!"

"Huh?" queried Abe, not believing his own ears. "Why, Cap'n Sam'l, don't
yew know that I'm a doomed man? I got the 'narvous hysterics.'"

"Yew got the pip!" retorted Captain Darby contemptuously, and trotting
quickly around to the side of the bed, he seized Abe by the shoulders
and began to drag him out upon the floor, crying again, "Git up!"

The sick man could account for this remarkable behavior in no way except
by concluding that his old captain had gone into senile dementia--oh,
cruel, cruel afflictions that life brings to old folks when life is
almost done! Well, thought Abe, he would rather be sick and die in his
right mind than go crazy. He began to whimper, whereupon Samuel threw
him back upon his pillows in disgust.

"Cryin'! Oh, I swan, he's cryin'!" Darby gave a short laugh pregnant
with scorn. "Abe Rose, dew yew know what ails yew?" he demanded fixing
his eyes fiercely upon the invalid. "Dew yew know what'll happen tew yew
ef yew don't git out o' this bed an' this here house? Either yer
beard'll fall out an' yew'll dwindle deown ter the size o' a baby or
yew'll turn into a downright old woman--Aunt Abraham!--won't that sound
nice? Or yew'll die or yew'll go crazy. _Git out er bed!_"

The patient shook his head and sank back, closing his eyes, more
exhausted than ever. And he himself had heard Angy warn this man in a
whisper not to "rile him up!" Remorselessly went on the rejuvenated
Darby:

"Hain't a-goin' ter git up, heh? Yew old mollycoddle! Yew baby! Old Lady
31! Kiffy calf! But I hain't a-blamin' yew; ef I had lived in this here
place a year an' a half, I'd be stark, starin' mad! Leetle
tootsie-wootsie! _Git up_!"

Abe had opened his eyes and was once more staring at the other, his mind
slowly coming to the light of the realization that Samuel might be more
sane than himself.

"That's what I told Angy all along," he ventured. "I told her, I says,
says I, 'Humbug! Foolishness! Ye 're a-makin' a reg'lar baby of me.
Why,' I says, 'what's the difference between me an' these here
women-folks except that I wear a beard an' smoke a pipe?'"

"Then why don't yew git up?" demanded the inexorable Samuel. "Git up an'
fool 'em; or, gosh-all-hemlock! they'll be measurin' yew fer yer coffin
next week. When I come inter the hall, what dew yew think these here
sisters o' yourn was a-discussin'? They was a-arguin' the p'int as to
whether they'd bury yew in a shroud or yer Sunday suit."

Abraham put one foot out of bed. Samuel took hold of his arm and with
this assistance the old man managed to get up entirely and stand, though
shaking as if with the palsy, upon the floor.

"Feel pooty good, don't yew?" demanded Samuel, but with less severity.

"A leetle soft, a leetle soft," muttered the other. "Gimme my cane.
Thar, ef one o' them women comes in the door I'll--I'll--" Abraham
raised his stick and shook it at the innocent air. "Whar's my pipe? Mis'
Homan, she went an' hid it last week."

After some searching, Samuel found the pipe in Abe's hat-box underneath
the old man's beaver, and produced from his own pocket a package of
tobacco, whereupon the two sat down for a quiet smoke, Samuel chuckling
to himself every now and again, Abe modestly seeking from time to time
to cover his bare legs with the skirt of his pink-striped night-robe,
not daring to reach for a blanket lest Samuel should call him names
again. With the very first puff of his pipe, the light had come back
into the invalid's eyes; with the second, the ashen hue completely left
his cheek; and when he had pulled the tenth time on the pipe, Abe was
ready to laugh at the sisters, the whole world, and even himself.

"Hy-guy, but it's splendid to feel like a man ag'in!"

The witch of Hawthorne's story never gazed more fondly at her
"Feathertop" than Samuel now gazed at Abraham puffing away on his pipe;
but he determined that Abraham's fate should not be as poor
"Feathertop's." Abe must remain a man.

"Naow look a-here, Abe," he began after a while, laying his hand on the
other's knee, "dew yew know that yew come put' nigh gittin' swamped in
the big breakers? Ef I hadn't come along an' throwed out the life-line,
yew--"

"Sam'l," interrupted the new Abraham, not without a touch of asperity,
"whar yew been these six months? A-leavin' me ter die of apron-strings
an' doctors! Of course I didn't 'spect nuthin' o' yew when yew was jist
a bachelor, an' we'd sort o' lost sight er each other fer many a year,
but arter yew got connected with the Hum by marriage sorter--"

"Connected with the Hum by marriage!" broke in Samuel with a snort of
indignant protest. "Me!" Words failed him. He stared at Abe with burning
eyes, but Abe only insisted sullenly:

"Whar yew an' Blossy been all this time?"

"Dew yew mean ter tell me, Abe Rose, that yew didn't know that Aunt
Nancy forbid Blossy the house 'cause she didn't go an' ask her
permission ter git spliced? Oh, I fergot," he added. "Yew'd gone
up-stairs ter take a nap that day we come back from the minister's."

Abraham flushed. He did not care to recall Samuel's wedding-day. He
hastened to ask the other what had decided him and Blossy to come to-day,
and was informed that Miss Abigail had written to tell Blossy that if
she ever expected to see her "Brother Abe" alive again, she must come
over to Shoreville at the earliest possible moment.

"Then I says ter Blossy," concluded Captain Darby, "I says, says I,
'Jest lemme see that air pore old hen-pecked Abe Rose. I'll kill him er
cure him!' I says. Here, yer pipe 's out. Light up ag'in!"

Abe struck the match with a trembling hand, unnerved once more by the
speculation as to what might have happened had Samuel's treatment worked
the other way.

"I left Blossy an' Aunt Nancy a-huggin' an' a-kissin' down-stairs."

Abe sighed: "Aunt Nancy allers was more bark than bite."

"Humph! Barkin' cats must be tryin' ter live with. Abe," he tapped the
old man's knee again, "dew yew know what yew need? A leetle vacation, a
change of air. Yew want ter cut loose from this all-fired old ladies'
shebang an' go sky-larkin'." Abe hung on Samuel's words, his eyes
a-twinkle with anticipation. "Yes--yes, go sky-larkin'! Won't we make
things hum?"

"Thar's hummin' an' hummin'," objected Abe, with a sudden show of
caution. "Miss Abigail thinks more o' wash-day than some folks does o'
heaven. Wharabouts dew yew cak'late on a-goin'?"

"Tew Bleak Hill!"

Abraham's face lost its cautious look, his eyes sparkled once more. Go
back to the Life-saving Station where he had worked in his lusty
youth--back to the sound of the surf upon the shore, back to the pines
and cedars of the Beach, out of the bondage of dry old lavender to the
goodly fragrance of balsam and sea-salt! Back to active life among men!

"Men, men, nawthin' but men!" Samuel exploded as if he had read the
other's thought. "Nawthin' but men fer a hull week, that's my
perscription fer yew! Haow dew yew feel naow, mate?"

For answer Abe made a quick spring out of his chair, and in his bare
feet commenced to dance a gentle, rheumatic-toe-considering breakdown,
crying, "Hy-guy, Cap'n Sam'l, you've saved my life!" While Darby clapped
his hands together, proud beyond measure at his success as the
emancipator of his woman-ridden friend.

Neither heard the door open nor saw Angy standing on the threshold, half
paralyzed with fear and amazement, thinking that she was witnessing the
mad delirium of a dying man, until she called out her husband's name.
At the sound of her frightened voice, Abe stopped short and reached for
the blanket with which to cover himself.

"Naow don't git skeered, Mother, don't git skeered," he abjured her.
"I'm all right in my head. Cap'n Sam'l here, he brung me some wonderful
medicine. He--"

"Blossy said you did!" interrupted Angy, a light of intense gratitude
flashing across her face as she turned eagerly to Darby. "Lemme see the
bottle."

"I chucked it out o' the winder," affirmed Samuel without winking, and
Abe hastened to draw Angy's attention back to himself.

"See, Mother, I kin stand as good as anybody; hain't got no fever; I
kin walk alone. Yew seen me dancin' jest naow, tew. An' ef I had that
pesky leetle banty rooster of a doctor here, I'd kick him all the way
deown-stairs. Cap'n Sam'l's wuth twenty-five o' him."

"Yew kept the perscription, didn't yer, cap'n?" demanded Angy. "Naow ef
he should be took ag'in an'--"

Samuel turned away and coughed.

"Mother, Mother," cried Abe, "shet the door an' come set deown er all
the sisters'll come a-pilin' in. I've had a invite, I have!"

Angy closed the door and came forward, her wary suspicious eye trailing
from the visitor to her husband.

"Hy-guy, ain't it splendid!" Abe burst forth. "Me an' Cap'n Sam'l here
is a-goin' over ter Bleak Hill fer a week."

"Bleak Hill in December!" Angy cried, aghast. "Naow, see here, Father,"
resolutely, "medicine er no medicine--"

"He's got ter git hardened up," firmly interposed Dr. Darby; "it'll be
the makin' o' him."

Angy turned on Samuel with ruffled feathers.

"He'll freeze ter death. Yew shan't--"

Here Abe's stubborn will, so rarely set against Angy's gentle
persistence, rose up in defiance:

"We're a-gwine on a reg'lar A No. 1 spree with the boys, an' no
women-folks is a-goin' ter stop us neither."

"When?" asked Angy faintly, feeling Abe's brow, but to her surprise
finding it cool and healthy.

"Ter-morrer!" proclaimed Samuel; whereupon Abe looked a little dubious
and lifted up his two feet, wrapped as they were in the blanket, to
determine the present strength of his legs.

"Don't yer think yer'd better make it day after ter-morrer?" he
ventured.

"Or 'long erbout May er June?" Angy hastily amended.

Samuel gave an exasperated grunt.

"See here, whose spree is this?" Abe demanded of the little old wife.

She sighed, then resolved on strategy:

"Naow, Abe, ef yew be bound an' possessed ter go ter the Beach, yew go;
but I'm a-goin' a-visitin' tew, an' I couldn't git the pair o' us ready
inside a week. I'm a-goin' deown ter see Blossy. She ast me jist naow,
pendin', she says, Cap'n Sam'l here cures Abe up ernough ter git him
off. I thought she was crazy then."

Samuel knocked the ashes out of his pipe against the window-sill and
arose to go.

"Waal," he said grudgingly, "make it a week from ter-day then, rain
shine, snow er blow, er a blizzard. Ef yer ever a-goin' ter git
hardened, Abe, naow's the time! I'll drive over 'long erbout ten o'clock
an' git somebody ter sail us from here; er ef the bay freezes over
'twixt naow an' then, ter take us in a scooter."

A "scooter," it may be explained, is an ice-boat peculiar to the Great
South Bay--a sort of modified dingy on runners.

"Yes--yes, a scooter," repeated Samuel, turning suddenly on Abe with the
sharp inquiry: "Air yew a-shiverin'? Hain't, eh? Waal then, a week from
ter-day, so be it!" he ended. "But me an' Blossy is a-comin' ter see yew
off an' on pooty frequent meanstwhile; an', Abe, ef ever I ketch yew
a-layin' abed, I'll leave yew ter yer own destruction."



XII

"A PASSEL OF MEDDLERS"


Angy's secret hope that Abe would change his mind and abandon the
projected trip to the Beach remained unfulfilled, in spite of the fact
that cold weather suddenly descended on the South Side, and the bay
became first "scummed" over with ice, and then frozen so solid that all
its usual craft disappeared, and the "scooters" took possession of the
field.

Abe and Samuel held stubbornly to their reckless intentions; and the
sisters, sharing Angy's anxiety, grew solicitous almost to the point of
active interference. They withheld nothing in the way of counsel,
criticism, or admonition which could be offered.

"Naow," said Mrs. Homan in her most commanding tones at the end of a
final discussion in the big hall, on the evening before the date set for
departure, "ef yew're bound, bent, an' determined, Brother Abe, to run
in the face of Providence, yew want tew mind one thing, an' wear yer
best set of flannels ter-morrer."

"Sho, thar hain't no danger of me ketchin' cold," decried Abe.

"I didn't say yer thickest set of flannels; I said yer best. When a man
gits throwed out onto the ice ker flump, the thickness of his clo'es
ain't goin' to help him much. The fust thing I allus taught my husbands
was to have everything clean an' whole on, when thar was any likelihood
of a sudden death."

"Yew 'spect me tew go an' prink up fer a sudden death?" thundered
Abraham. "I hain't never heard tell on a scooter a-killin' nobody yit;
it's them plagued ice-boats up State what--"

"That's all very well," persisted Mrs. Homan, not to be diverted from
her subject; "but when old Dr. Billings got run over by the train at
Mastic Crossin' on Fourth o' July eight year ago, his wife told me with
her own lips that she never would git over it, cuz he had his hull big
toe stickin' out o' the end of his stockin'. I tell yew, these days
we've got tew prepare fer a violent end."

The patient Angy somewhat tartly retorted, that during the last week
she had spent even more time upon Father's wardrobe than she had upon
her own; while Abe inwardly rejoiced to think that for seven days to
come--seven whole days--he and Angy would be free from the surveillance
of the sisters.

Mrs. Homan, in no way nonplussed, boomed on:

"Thar, I most fergot about his necktie. 'Course, they don't dress up
much at the Station; but jest the same that air tie o' yourn, Brother
Abe, is a disgrace. I told yew yew'd spile it a-wearin' it tew bed.
Naow, I got a red an' green plaid what belonged to my second stepson,
Henry O. He never would 'a' died o' pneumony, either, ef he'd a-took my
advice an' made himself a newspaper nightcap last time he substituted
with the 'Savers. An' yew kin have that necktie jest as well as not.
Naow, don't say a word; I'm better able to part with it 'n yew be not to
take it."

No one ever attempted the fruitless task of stopping Mrs. Homan once
fully launched; but when at last she permitted her back to rest against
her chair, folding her arms with the manner of one who makes a sacrifice
in a worthy cause, Abe broke into an explosive protest.

If any one fretted him in his somewhat fretful convalescence, it was
this grenadier member of the household, who since Blossy's marriage had
endeavored to fill the vacant post of "guardeen angel."

"Mis' Homan," he sputtered, rising to his feet, "I wouldn't wear a red
an' green plaid tie to a eel's funeral!"

Then with a somewhat ungracious "good-night" to the company in general,
he trudged across the hall and up the stairs, muttering something to
himself about a "passel of meddlers."

Well-meaning Miss Abigail, who had been nodding half asleep, roused
herself to call after him, and he paused unwillingly to heed.

"Naow, don't yew lose no sleep ter-night," she admonished, "a-worryin'
erbout the change in yer vittles. I told Cap'n Sam'l that hardtack an'
sech like wouldn't never do fer yer weak stummick, an' he promised me
faithful he'd send somebody tew the mainland every day fer milk."

"Dew yew think I be a baby?" shouted Abraham, turning on his heel. "I
know now what makes my teeth so sore lately," mumbling to himself; "it's
from this here arrer-root an' all these puddin'y messes. They need
hardenin', tew."



XIII

THE PRODIGAL'S DEPARTURE


Abraham was up betimes in the morning to greet a day crisp and cold,
quiet, yet with sufficient breeze stirring the evergreens in the yard
outside to make him predict a speedy voyage.

The old man was nervous and excited, and, in spite of his buoyant
anticipations, somewhat oppressed, now that the day had actually come,
with a sense of timidity and fear. Still, he put on a bold face while
Angeline fastened his refractory collar and tied his cravat.

This was neither Mrs. Roman's offering nor Abe's own old, frayed tie,
but a new black one which had mysteriously been thrust through the crack
under the door during the night.

So, the last finishing touches having been put upon his toilet, and Angy
having made ready by lamplight for her own trip, even before the old man
was awake, there seemed nothing left to be done until the breakfast bell
should ring.

Abe sat down, and looking hard at his open carpet-bag wondered audibly
if they had "everythin' in." The last time they two had packed Abe's
wardrobe for a visit to Bleak Hill had been many years ago, when Samuel
Darby, though somewhat Abe's junior, was keeper of the Life-saving
Station, and Abe was to be gone for a whole season's duty. Then all of
his possessions had been stowed in a long, bolster-like canvas bag for
the short voyage.

Both Angy and her husband recalled that time now--the occasion of their
first, and almost of their last, real separation.

"A week'll pass in no time," murmured Angy very quickly, with a catch in
her voice. "Lookin' ahead, though, seven days seems awful long when yer
old; but--Oh, law, yes; a week'll pass in no time," she repeated. "Only
dew be keerful, Abe, an' don't take cold."

She perched herself on her little horsehair trunk which she had packed
to take to Blossy's, looking in her time-worn silk gown like a rusty
blackbird, and, like a bird, she bent her head first to one side and
then the other, surveying Abe in his "barrel clothes" with a critical
but complimentary eye.

"Wonder who made that necktie?" she questioned. "I'll bet yer 't was
Aunt Nancy; she's got a sharp tongue, but a lot of silk pieces an' a
tender spot in her heart fer yew, Abe. Ruby Lee says she never thought
yew'd bring her around; yew're dretful takin' in yer ways, Father,
thar's no use a-talkin'."

Abraham glanced at himself in the glass, and pulled at his beard, his
countenance not altogether free from a self-conscious vanity.

"I hain't sech a bad-lookin' feller when I'm dressed up, be I, Mother? I
dunno ez it's so much fer folks ter say I look like Abe Lincoln, after
all; he was dretful humbly."

"Father," Angy said coaxingly, "why don't yer put some o' that air
'sweet stuff' Miss Abigail give yer on yer hair? She'll feel real hurt
ef she don't smell it on yer when yew go down-stairs."

Abe made a wry face, took up the tiny bottle of "Jockey Club," and
rubbed a few drops on his hands. His hands would wash, and so he could
find some way of removing the odor before he reached the station
and--the men.

"I'll be some glad ter git away from these here fussy old hens fer a
spell," he grumbled, as he slammed the vial back on the bureau; but Angy
looked so reproachful and grieved that he felt ashamed of his
ingratitude, and asked with more gentleness:

"Yew goin' ter miss me, Mother?"

Then the old wife was ashamed to find herself shaking of a sudden, and
grown wretchedly afraid--afraid of the separation, afraid of the
"hardening" process, afraid of she knew not what.

"I'm glad 't ain't goin' ter be fer all winter this time," she said
simply; then arose to open the door in order that he might not see the
rush of tears to her foolish, old eyes.

According to the arrangement, Captain Darby was to drive over from Twin
Coves with his hired man, and Ezra, after taking the two old men to the
bay, was to return to the Home for Angy and her little trunk.

When Samuel drove up to the front door, he found Abe pacing the porch,
his coat-collar turned up about his neck, his shabby fur cap pulled over
his brow, his carpet-bag on the step, and, piled on the bench at the
side of the door, an assortment of woolen articles fully six feet high,
which afterward developed to be shawls, capes, hoods, comforters,
wristlets, leggings, nubias, fascinators, guernseys, blankets, and
coats.

Abe was fuming and indignant, scornful of the contributions, and vowing
that, though the sisters might regard a scooter as a freight
ocean-liner, he would carry nothing with him but what he wore and his
carpet-bag.

"An' right yer be," pronounced Samuel, with a glance at the laden bench
and a shake of his head which said as plainly as words, "Brother, from
what am I not delivering thee?"

The sisters came bustling out of the door, Mrs. Homan in the lead, Angy
submerged in the crowd, and from that moment there was such a fuss, so
much excitement, so many instructions and directions for the two
adventurers, that Abraham found himself in the carriage before he had
kissed Angy good-by.

He had shaken hands, perhaps not altogether graciously, with every one
else, even with the deaf-and-dumb gardener who came out of his
hiding-place to witness the setting-out. Being dared to by all the
younger sisters, he had waggishly brushed his beard against Aunt Nancy
Smith's cheek, and then he had taken his place beside Samuel without a
touch or word of parting to his wife.

He turned in his seat to wave to the group on the porch, his eyes
resting in a sudden hunger upon Angeline's frail, slender figure, as he
remembered. She knew that he had forgotten in the flurry of his
leave-taking, and she would have hastened down the steps to stop the
carriage; but all the old ladies were there to see, and she simply
stood, and gazed after the vehicle as it rolled away slowly behind the
jog trot of Samuel's safe, old calico-horse. She stood and looked,
holding her chin very high, and trying to check its unsteadiness.

A sense of loneliness and desolation fell over the Home. Piece by piece
the sisters put away all the clothing they had offered in vain to Abe.
They said that the house was already dull without his presence. Miss
Abigail began to plan what she should have for dinner the day of his
return.

No one seemed to notice Angy. She felt that her own departure would
create scarcely a stir; for, without Abraham, she was only one of a
group of poor, old women in a semi-charity home.

Slowly she started up the stairs for her bonnet and the old broche
shawl. When she reached the landing, where lay the knitted mat of the
three-star pattern, the matron called up to her in tragic tones:

"Angy Rose, I jest thought of it. He never kissed yew good-by!"

Angy turned, her small, slender feet sinking deep into one of the
woolly stars, her slim figure encircled by the light from the upper hall
window. She saw a dozen faces uplifted to her, and she answered with
quiet dignity:

"Abe wouldn't think of kissin' me afore folks."

Then quickly she turned again, and went to her room--their room--where
she seated herself at the window, and pressed her hand against her heart
which hurt with a new, strange, unfamiliar pain, a pain that she could
not have shown "afore folks."



XIV

CUTTING THE APRON-STRINGS


The usual hardy pleasure-seekers that gather at the foot of Shore Lane
whenever the bay becomes a field of ice and a field of sport as well
were there to see the old men arrive, and as they stepped out of the
carriage there came forward from among the group gathered about the fire
on the beach the editor of the "Shoreville Herald."

Ever since his entrance into the Old Ladies' Home, Abe had never stopped
chafing in secret over the fact that until he died, and no doubt
received a worthy obituary, he might never again "have his name in the
paper."

In former days the successive editors of the local sheet had been
willing, nay, eager, to chronicle his doings and Angy's, whether Abe's
old enemy, rheumatism, won a new victory over him or Angy's second
cousin Ruth came from Riverhead to spend the day or--wonder indeed to
relate!--the old man mended his roof or painted the front fence. No
matter what happened of consequence to Captain and Mrs. Rose, Mr. Editor
had always been zealous to retail the news--before the auction sale of
their household effects marked the death of the old couple, and of Abe
especially, to the social world of Shoreville. What man would care to
read his name between the lines of such a news item as this?

The Old Ladies' Home is making preparations for its annual quilting
bee. Donations of worsted, cotton batting, and linings will be
gratefully received.


Mr. Editor touched his cap to the two old men. He was a keen-faced,
boyish little man with a laugh bigger than himself, but he always wore a
worried air the day before his paper, a weekly, went to press, and he
wore that worried look now. Touching his hand to his fur cap, he
informed Samuel and Abe that news was "as scarce as hens' teeth"; then
added: "What's doing?"

"Oh, nawthin', nawthin'," hastily replied Samuel, who believed that he
hated publicity, as he gave Abe's foot a sly kick. "We was jest a-gwine
ter take a leetle scooter sail." He adjusted the skirt of his coat in
an effort to hide Abe's carpet-bag, his own canvas satchel, and a huge
market-basket of good things which Blossy had cooked for the
life-savers. "Seen anythink of that air Eph Seaman?" Samuel added;
shading his eyes with his hand and peering out upon the gleaming surface
of the bay, over which the white sails of scooters were darting like a
flock of huge, single-winged birds.

"Eph's racing with Captain Bill Green," replied the newspaper man.
"Captain Bill's got an extra set of new runners at the side of his
scooter and wants to test them. Say, boys," looking from one to the
other of the old fellows, "so you're going scootering, eh? Lively sport!
Cold kind of sport for men of your age. Do you know, I've a good mind
to run in to-morrow an article on 'Long Island and Longevity,' Taking
head-line, eh? Captain Rose," turning to Abe as Samuel would do no more
than glower at him, "to what do you attribute your good health at your
time of life?"

Abe grinned all over his face and cleared his throat importantly, but
before he could answer, Samuel growled:

"Ter me! His health an' his life both. I dragged him up out of a
deathbed only a week ago."

The editor took out his note-book and began scribbling.

"What brought you so low, Captain Rose?" he inquired without glancing
up. Again, before Abe could answer, Samuel trod on his toe.

"Thirty mollycoddling women-folks."

Abe found his voice and slammed the fist of one hand against the palm of
the other.

"If you go an' put that in the paper, I'll--I'll--"

Words failed him. He could see the sisters fairly fighting for the
possession of the "Shoreville Herald" to-morrow evening, as they always
scrambled each for the first glance at the only copy taken at the Home,
and he could hear one reading his name aloud--reading of the black
ingratitude of their brother member.

"Jest say," he added eagerly, "that the time fer old folks ter stick
home under the cellar-door has passed, an' nobody is tew old ter go
a-gallivantin' nowadays. An' then yew might mention"--the old man's
face was shining now as he imagined Angy's pleasure--"that Mis' Rose is
gone deown ter Twin Coves ter visit Mis' Sam'l Darby fer a week, an'
Cap'n Darby an' Cap'n Abraham Rose," his breast swelling out, "is
a-goin' ter spend a week at Bleak Hill. Thar, hain't that Cap'n Eph
a-scootin' in naow? I guess them air new runners o' Bill Green's didn't
work. He hain't nowhere in sight. He--"

"Le' 's be a-gwine, Abe," interrupted Samuel, and leaving the editor
still scribbling, he led the way down the bank with a determined trudge,
his market-basket in one hand, his grip in the other, and his lips
muttering that "a feller couldn't dew nuthin' in Shoreville without
gittin' his name in the paper." But a moment later, when the two were
walking gingerly over the ice to the spot where Eph had drawn his
scooter to a standstill, Samuel fell into a self-congratulatory chuckle.

"He didn't find out though that I had my reasons fer leavin' home tew.
Women-folks, be it only one, hain't good all the time fer nobody. I come
ter see Blossy twict a year afore we was married reg'lar; an' naow, I
cak'late ter leave her twict a year fer a spell. A week onct every six
months separate an' apart," proceeded the recently made benedict, "is
what makes a man an' his wife learn haow ter put up with one another in
between-times."

"Why, me an' Angy," began Abe, "have lived tergether year in an' year
out fer--"

"All aboard!" interrupted Captain Eph with a shout. "It's a fair wind. I
bet on making it in five minutes and fifty seconds!"

Seven minutes had been the record time for the five-mile sail over the
ice to Bleak Hill, but Samuel and Abe, both vowing delightedly that the
skipper couldn't go too fast for them, stepped into the body of the boat
and squatted down on the hard boards. They grinned at each other as the
scooter started and Eph jumped aboard--grinned and waved to the people
on the shore, their proud old thoughts crying:

"I guess folks will see now that we're as young as we ever was!"

They continued to grin as the boat spun into full flight and went
whizzing over the ice, whizzing and bumping and bouncing. Both their
faces grew red, their two pairs of eyes began to water, their teeth
began to chatter; but Samuel shouted at the top of his voice in defiance
of the gale:

"Abe, we've cut the apron-strings!"

"Hy-guy!" Abe shouted in return, his heart flying as fast as the sail,
back to youth and manhood again, back to truant-days and the
vacation-time of boyhood. "Hy-guy, Sam'l! Hain't we a-gwine ter have a
reg'lar A No. 1 spree!"



XV

THE "HARDENING" PROCESS


The Life-saving Station was very still. Nos. 3 and 5 had gone out on the
eight-o'clock patrol. The seventh man was taking his twenty-four hours
off at his home on the shore. The keeper was working over his report in
the office. The other members of the crew were up-stairs asleep, and Abe
and Samuel were bearing each other company in the mess-room.

Abe lay asleep on the carpet-covered sofa which had been dragged out of
the captain's room for him, so that the old man need not spend the night
in the cold sleeping-loft above. He was fully dressed except for his
boots; for he was determined to conform to the rules of the Service, and
sleep with his clothes on ready for instant duty.

"Talk erbout him a-dyin'!" growled Samuel to himself, lounging wearily
in a chair beside the stove. "He's jest startin' his life. He's a
reg'lar hoss. I didn't think he had it in him."

Samuel's tone was resentful. He was a little jealous of the distinction
which had been made between him and Abe; and drawing closer to the fire,
he shivered in growing distaste for the cot assigned to him with the
crew up-stairs, where the white frost lay on the window-latches.

What uncomfortable chairs they had in this station! Samuel listened to
the mooing of the breakers, to the wind rattling at the casements,--and
wondered if Blossy had missed him. About this time, she must be sitting
in her chintz-covered rocker, combing out the ringlets of her
golden-white hair in the cheery firelight.

Now, that would be a sight worth seeing! Abe opened his mouth and began
to snore. What disgusting, hideous creatures men were, reflected Samuel.
Six months' living with an unusually high-bred woman had insensibly
raised his standards.

Why should he spend a week of his ever-shortening life with such
inferior beings, just for Abraham's sake--for Abraham's sake, and to
bear out a theory of his own, which he had already concluded a mistake?

Abe gave a snort, opened his eyes, and muttered sleepily: "This is what
I call a A No. 1 spree. Naow, ter-morrer--" But mumbling incoherently he
relapsed into slumber, puffing his lips out into a whistling sound.

Samuel reached for a newspaper on the table, folded it into a missile,
and started to fling it into the innocent face of the sleeper. But,
fortunately for Abraham, it was Captain Darby's custom to count ten
whenever seized by an exasperated impulse, and at the ninth number he
regretfully dropped the paper.

Then he began to count in another way. Using the forefinger of his right
hand as a marker, he counted under his breath, "one" on his left thumb,
then after a frowning interval, "two" on his left forefinger, "three" on
the middle digit, and so on, giving time for thought to each number,
until he had exhausted the fingers of his left hand and was ready to
start on the right.

Count, count, went Samuel, until thrice five was passed, and he began to
be confused.

Once more Abe awoke, and inquired if the other were trying to reckon the
number of new wigwags and signals which the Service had acquired since
they had worked for the government; but on being sharply told to "Shet
up!" went to sleep again.

What the projector of the trip was really trying to recall was how many
times that day he had regretted saving Abe from the devastating clutches
of the old ladies.

"Him need hardenin'?" muttered Samuel blackly. "Why, he's harder now 'n
nails an' hardtack!"

Again he ran over on his fingers the list of high crimes and
misdemeanors of which Abe had been guilty.

First,--thumb, left hand,--Abe had insisted on extending their scooter
sail until he, Samuel, had felt his toes freezing in his boots.

Second,--forefinger, left hand,--on being welcomed by the entire force
at Bleak Hill and asked how long they expected to stay, Abe had blurted
out, "A hull week," explaining that Samuel's rule requiring at least
seven days of exile from his wife every six months barred them from
returning in less time.

The keeper was a widower, all the other men bachelors. How could they
be expected to understand? They burst into a guffaw of laughter, and
Abe, not even conscious that he had betrayed a sacred confidence,
sputtered and laughed with the rest.

Samuel had half a mind to return to-morrow, "jest to spite 'em." Let's
see, how many days of this plagued week were left? Six. Six whole
twenty-four hours away from Blossy and his snug, warm, comfortable nest.

She wasn't used to keepin' house by herself, neither. Would she remember
to wind the clock on Thursday, and feed the canary, and water the
abutilon and begonias reg'lar?

Grimly Samuel took up offense No. 3. Abraham had further told the men
that he had been brought over here for a hardening process; but he was
willing to bet that if Samuel could keep up with him, he could keep up
with Samuel.

Then followed offense on offense. Was Samuel to be outdone on his own
one-time field of action by an old ladies' darling? No!

When Abe sat for a half-hour in the lookout, up in the freezing, cold
cupola, and did duty "jest to be smart," Samuel sat there on top of his
own feet, too.

When Abe helped drag out the apparatus-cart over the heavy sands for the
drill, Samuel helped, too. And how tugging at that rope brought back his
lumbago!

When Abe rode in the breeches-buoy, Samuel insisted on playing the sole
survivor of a shipwreck, too, and went climbing stiffly and lumberingly
up the practice-mast.

Abraham refused to take a nap after dinner; so did Samuel. Abe went down
to the out-door carpenter-shop in the grove, and planed a board just for
the love of exertion. Samuel planed two boards and drove a nail.

"We've got two schoolboys with us," said the keeper and the crew.

"Ef I'd a-knowed that yew had more lives 'n my Maltese cat," Samuel was
muttering over Abe by this time, "I'd--"

Count, count went Captain Darby's fingers. He heard the keeper rattling
papers in the office just across the threshold, heard him say he was
about to turn in, and guessed Samuel had better do likewise; but Samuel
kept on counting.

Count, count went the arraigning fingers. Gradually he grew drowsy, but
still he went over and over poor Abe's offenses, counting on until of a
sudden he realized that he was no longer numbering the sins of his
companion; he was measuring in minutes the time he must spend away from
Blossy and Twin Coves, and the begonias, and the canary, and the cat.

What would Blossy say if she could feel the temperature of the room in
which he was supposed to sleep? What would Blossy say if she knew how
his back ached? Whatever would Blossy do to Abe Rose if she could
suspect how he had tuckered out her "old man?"

"He's a reg'lar hoss," brooded Samuel. "Oh, my feet!" grabbing at his
right boot. "I'll bet yer all I got it's them air chilblains. That's
what," he added, unconsciously speaking aloud.

Abe's lids slowly lifted. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. He turned his
head on his hard, blue gingham-covered pillow, and stared sleepily at
the other.

"Yew been noddin', Sam'l? Ain't gittin' sleepy a'ready, are yer?" He
glanced at the clock. "Why, it's only half past nine. Say, what's the
matter with me an' yew goin' west ter meet No. 5? Leetle breath o' fresh
air 'll make us sleep splendid."

He started up from the couch, but dropped back, too heavy with weariness
to carry off his bravado. Samuel, however, not noticing the discrepancy
between speech and action, was already at the door leading up-stairs.

"Yew don't drag me out o' this station ter-night, Abe Rose. Yew 're a
reg'lar hoss; that 's what yew be. A reg'lar hoss! A reg'lar--a
reg'lar--"

He flung open the door and went trudging as fast as his smarting feet
could carry him up the steep and narrow steps, wherein the passing of
other feet for many years had worn little hollows on either side.

Abraham limped from the couch to the door himself, and called after him:

"Sam'l, don't yew want tew sleep by the fire? Yew seem a leetle softer
than I be. Let me come up-stairs."

There was no answer beyond the vicious slamming of Samuel's boots upon
the floor above.

Abe raised his voice again, and now came in answer a roar of wrath from
the cot next to Samuel's.

"Go to bed!" shouted No. 6, a burly, red-headed Irishman. "Go to bed,
wid ye! Th' young folks do be nadin' a little schlape!"



XVI

"A REG'LAR HOSS"


Abe flung himself back on his hard couch, drew the thick, gray blanket
over him, and straightway fell into a deep, childlike slumber from which
he was aroused by the rough but hearty inquiry:

"Say, Cap, like to have some oyster-stew and a cup of coffee?"

Abe sat up, rubbing his eyes, wondering since when they had begun to
serve oyster-stew for breakfast on the Beach; then he realized that he
had not overslept, and that it was not morning.

The clock was striking twelve, the midnight patrol was just going out,
and the returning "runners" were bidding him partake of the food they
had just prepared to cheer them after their cold tramp along the surf.

The old man whiffed the smell of the coffee, tempted, yet withheld by
the thought of Angy's horror, and the horror of the twenty-nine sisters.

"Cap'n Abe"--Clarence Havens, No. 5, with a big iron spoon in his hand
and a blue gingham apron tied around his bronzed neck, put him on his
mettle, however--"Cap'n Abe, I tell yew, we wouldn't have waked no other
fellow of your age out of a sound sleep. Cap'n Darby, he could snooze
till doomsday; but we knowed you wouldn't want to miss no fun a-going."

"Cap'n Sam'l does show his years," Abe admitted. "Much obliged fer yew
a-wakin' me up, boys," as he drew on his boots. "I was dreamin' I was
hungry. Law, I wish I had a dollar apiece fer all the eyester-stews I've
et on this here table 'twixt sunset an' sunrise."

Under the stimulus of the unaccustomed repast, Abe expanded and began to
tell yarns of the old days on the Beach--the good old days. His cheeks
grew red, his eyes sparkled. He smoked and leaned back from the table,
and ate and drank, smoked and ate again.

"A week amongst yew boys," he asserted gaily, "is a-goin' tew be the
makin' of me. Haow Sam'l kin waste so much time in sleep, I can't
understand."

"I don't think he is asleep," said No. 3. "When I was up-stairs jest
now fer my slippers, I heard him kind o' sniffin' inter his piller."

The laugh which followed brought the keeper out of the office in his
carpet slippers, a patchwork quilt over his shoulders. His quick eyes
took in the scene--the lamp sputtering above the table, the empty
dishes, the two members of the crew sleepily jocular, with their blue
flannel elbows spread over the board, the old man's rumpled bed, and his
brilliant cheeks and bright eyes.

"Boys, you shouldn't have woke up Cap'n Rose," he said reprovingly. "I'm
afraid, sir," turning to Abraham, "that you find our manners pretty
rough after your life among the old ladies."

Abe dropped his eyes in confusion. Was he never to be rid of those
apron-strings:

"Well, there's worse things than good women," proceeded the captain. "I
wish we had a few over here." He sighed with the quiet, dull manner of
the men who have lived long on the Beach. "Since they made the rule that
the men must eat and sleep in the station, it's been pretty lonely.
That's why there's so many young fellows in the Service nowadays;
married men with families won't take the job."

"Them empty cottages out thar," admitted Abe, pointing to the window,
"does look kind o' lonesome a-goin' ter rack an' ruin. Why, the winter I
was over here, every man had his wife an' young 'uns on the Beach,
'cept me an' Sam'l."

Again the keeper sighed, and drew his coverlid closer. "Now, it's just
men, men, nothing but men. Not a petticoat in five miles; and I tell
you, sometimes we get mad looking at one another, don't we, boys?"

The two young men had sobered, and their faces also had taken on that
look engendered by a life of dull routine among sand-hills at the edge
of a lonely sea, with seldom the sound of a woman's voice in their ears
or the prattle of little children.

"For two months last winter nobody came near us," said Havens, "and we
couldn't get off ourselves, either, half the time. The bay broke up into
porridge-ice after that big storm around New Year's; yew dasn't risk a
scooter on it or a cat-boat. Feels to me," he added, as he rose to his
feet, "as if it was blowin' up a genuwine old nor'-easter again."

The other man helped him clear the table. "I'm goin' to get married in
June," he said suddenly, "and give up this here blamed Service."

"A wife," pronounced Abe, carrying his own dishes into the kitchen, "is
dretful handy, onct yew git used to her."

The keeper went into the office with a somewhat hurried "Good-night,"
and soon Abe found himself alone again, the light in the kitchen beyond,
no sound in the room save that of the booming of the surf, the rattling
of the windows, and now and again the fall of a clinker in the stove.

The old man was surprised to find that he could not fall back into that
blissful slumber again. Not sleeping, he had to think. He thought and
thought,--sober night thoughts,--while the oysters "laid like a log in
his stummick" and the coffee seemed to stir his brain to greater
activity.

"Suppose," said the intoxicated brain, "another big storm should swoop
down upon you and the bay should break up, and you and Samuel should be
imprisoned on the beach for two or three months with a handful of
men-folks!"

"Moo! Moo!" roared the breakers on the shore. "Serve you right for
finding fault with the sisters!"

Come to think of it, if he had not been so ungracious of Miss Abigail's
concern for him, he would now be in possession of a hop pillow to lull
him back to sleep. Well, he had made his bed, and he would have to lie
on it, although it was a hard old carpet-covered lounge. Having no hop
pillow, he would count sheep--

One sheep going over the fence, two sheep, three--How tired he was! How
his bones ached! It's no use talking, you can't make an old dog do the
tricks of his puppy days. What an idiot he had been to climb that
practice-mast! If he had fallen and broken his leg?

Four sheep. Maybe he was too old for gallivanting, after all. Maybe he
was too old for anything except just to be "mollycoddled" by thoughtful
old ladies. Now, be honest with yourself, Abe. Did you enjoy yourself
to-day--no, yesterday? Did you? Well, yes and--no! Now, if Angy had been
along!

Angy! That was why he could not go to sleep! He had forgotten to kiss
her good-by! Wonder if she had noticed it? Wonder if she had missed him
more on account of that neglect? Pshaw! What nonsense! Angy knew he
wa'n't no hand at kissin', an' it was apt to give him rheumatism to bend
down so far as her sweet old mouth.

He turned to the wall at the side of the narrow lounge, to the emptiness
where her pillow should be. "Good-night, Mother," he muttered huskily.
Mother did not answer for the first time in nights beyond the counting.
Mother would not be there to answer for at least six nights to come. A
week, thought this old man, as the other old man had reflected a few
hours before, is a long time when one has passed his threescore years
and ten, and with each day sees the shadows growing longer.

Abraham put out his hard time-shrunken hand and touched in thought his
wife's pillow, as if to persuade himself that she was really there in
her place beside him. He remembered when first he had actually touched
her pillow to convince himself that she was really there, too awed and
too happy to believe that his youth's dream had come true; and he
remembered now how his gentle, strong hand had crept along the linen
until it cupped itself around her cheek; and he had felt the cheek grow
hot with blushes in the darkness. She had not been "Mother" then; she
had been "Dearest!" Would she think that he was growing childish if he
should call her "Dearest" now?

Smiling to himself, he concluded that he would try the effect of the
tender term when he reached home again. He drew his hand back,
whispering once more, "Good-night, Mother." Then he fancied he could
hear her say in her soft, reassuring tone, "Good-night, Father." Father
turned his back on the empty wall, praying with a sudden rush of
passionate love that when the last call should come for him, it would be
after he had said "Good-night, Mother," to Angy and after she had said
"Good-night, Father," to him, and that they might wake somewhere,
somehow, together with God, saying, "Good-morning, Mother,"
"Good-morning, Father!" And "Fair is the day!"



XVII

THE DESERTER


At dawn the Station was wide-awake and everybody out of bed. Samuel
crept down-stairs in his stocking-feet, his boots in his hand, his eyes
heavy with sleeplessness, and his wig awry. He shivered as he drew close
to the fire, and asked in one breath for a prescription for chilblains
and where might Abe be. Abe's lounge was empty and his blankets neatly
folded upon it.

The sunrise patrol from the east, who had just returned, made reply
that he had met Captain Abe walking along the surf to get up an
appetite for his griddle-cakes and salt pork. Samuel sat down suddenly
on the lounge and opened his mouth.

"Didn't he have enough exercise yist'day, for marcy's sake! Put' nigh
killed me. I was that tired las' night I couldn't sleep a wink. I
declar', ef 't wa'n't fer that fool newspaper a-comin' out ter-night,
I'd go home ter-day. Yer a-gwine acrost, hain't yer, Havens?"

Havens laughed in response. Samuel glowered at him.

"I want home comforts back," he vowed sullenly. "The Beach hain't what
it used ter be. Goin' on a picnic with Abe Rose is like settin' yer
teeth into a cast-iron stove lid covered with a thin layer o' puddin'.
I'm a-goin' home."

The keeper assured him that no one would attempt to detain him if he
found the Station uncomfortable, and that if he preferred to leave
Abraham behind, the whole force would take pleasure in entertaining the
more active old man.

"That old feller bates a phonograph," affirmed the Irishman. "It's good
ter hear that he'll be left anyhow for comp'ny with this storm a-comin'
up."

Samuel rushed to the window, for up-stairs the panes had been too frosty
for him to see out. A storm coming up? The beach did look gray and
desolate, dun-colored in the dull light of the early day, with the
winter-killed grass and the stunted green growth of cedar and holly and
pine only making splotches of darkness under a gray sky which was filled
with scurrying clouds. The wind, too, had risen during the night, and
the increased roar of the surf was telling of foul weather at sea.

A storm threatening! And the pleasant prospect of being shut in at the
beach with the cast-iron Abraham and these husky life-savers for the
remainder of the winter! No doubt Abe would insist upon helping the men
with the double duties imposed by thick weather, and drag Samuel out on
patrol.

"When dew yew start, Havens?" demanded Samuel in shaking tones. "Le' 's
get off afore Abe gits back an' tries ter hold me. He seems ter be so
plagued stuck on the life over here, he'll think I must be tew."

But, though Havens had to wait for the return of the man who had gone
off duty yesterday morning, still Abe had not put in an appearance when
Samuel and the life-saver trudged down the trail through the woods to
the bay. As he stepped into the scooter, Samuel's conscience at last
began to prick him.

"Yew sure the men will look arter the old fellow well an' not let him
over-dew?"

But the whizz of the flight had already begun and the scooter's nose was
set toward Twin Coves, her sail skimming swiftly with the ring of the
steel against the ice over the shining surface of the bay.

"Law, yes," Samuel eased his conscience; "of course they will. They
couldn't hurt him, anyhow. I never seen nobody take so kindly ter
hardenin' as that air Abe."



XVIII

SAMUEL'S WELCOME


The shore at Twin Coves was a somewhat lonely spot, owing to stretches
of marshland and a sweep of pine wood that reached almost to the edge of
the water.

Samuel, however, having indicated that he wished to be landed at the
foot of a path through the pines, found himself on the home shore
scarcely ten minutes after he had left Bleak Hill--Havens already
speeding toward his home some miles to the eastward, the bay seemingly
deserted except for his sail, a high wind blowing, and the snow
beginning to fall in scattered flakes.

Samuel picked up his grip, trudged through the heavy sand of the narrow
beach, and entered the sweet-smelling pine wood. He was stiff with cold
after the rough, swift voyage; his feet alone were hot--burning hot with
chilblains. Away down in his heart he was uneasy lest some harm should
come to Abe and the old man be caught in the approaching storm on the
Beach. But, oh, wasn't he glad to be home!

His house was still half a mile away; but he was once more on good,
solid, dry land.

"I'll tell Blossy haow that air Abe Rose behaved," he reassured himself,
when he pictured his wife's astonished and perhaps reproachful greeting,
"an' then she won't wonder that I had ter quit him an' come back."

He recollected that Angy would be there, and hoped fervently that she
might not prove so strenuous a charge as Abraham. Moreover, he hoped
that she would not so absorb Blossy's attention as to preclude a wifely
ministering to his aching feet and the application of "St. Jerushy Ile"
to his lame and sore back.

The torture of the feet and back made walking harder, too, than he had
believed possible with the prospect of relief so near. As he limped
along he was forced to pause every now and again and set down the
carpet-bag, sometimes to rub his back, sometimes to seat himself on a
stump and nurse for a few moments one of those demon-possessed feet.
Could he have made any progress at all if he had not known that at
home, no matter if there was company, there would at least be no Abe
Rose to keep him going, to spur him on to unwelcome action, to force him
to prove himself out of sheer self-respect the equal, if not the
superior, in masculine strength?

Abe had led him that chase over at the Station, Samuel was convinced,
"a-purpose" to punish him for having so soundly berated him when he lay
a-bed. That was all the thanks you ever got for doing things for "some
folks."

Samuel hobbled onward, his brow knit with angry resentment. Did ever a
half-mile seem so long, and had he actually been only twenty-three hours
from home and Blossy? Oh, oh! his back and his feet! Oh, the weight of
that bag! How much he needed sleep! How good it would be to have Blossy
tuck him under the covers, and give him a hot lemonade with a stick of
ginger in it!

If only he had hold of Abe Rose now to tell him his opinion of him!
Well, he reflected, you have to summer and winter with a person before
you can know them. This one December day and night with Abe had been
equal to the revelations of a dozen seasons. The next time Samuel tried
to do good to anybody more than sixty-five, he'd know it. The next time
he was persuaded into leaving his wife for over night, he'd know that,
too. Various manuals for the young husband, which he had consulted, to
the contrary notwithstanding, the place for a married man was at home.

Samuel sat down on a fallen tree which marked the half-way point between
his place and the bay. The last half of the journey would seem shorter,
and, at the end, there would be Blossy smiling a welcome, for he never
doubted but that Blossy would be glad to see him. She thought a good
deal of him, nor had she been especially anxious for that week of
separation.

His face smoothed its troubled frowns into a look of shining
anticipation--the look that Samuel's face had worn when first he ushered
Blossy into his tidy, little home and murmured huskily:

"Mis' Darby, yew're master o' the vessel naow; I'm jest fo'castle hand."

Forgetting all his aches, his pains, his resentments, Samuel took a
peppermint-lozenge out of his pocket, rolled it under his tongue, and
walked on. Presently, as he saw the light of the clearing through the
trees, he broke into a run,--an old man's trot,--thus proving
conclusively that his worry of lumbago and chilblains had been merely a
wrongly diagnosed case of homesickness.

He grinned as he pictured Abe's dismay on returning to the Station to
find him gone. Still, he reflected, maybe Abe would have a better time
alone with the young fellows; he had grown so plagued young himself all
of a sudden. Samuel surely need not worry about him.

More and more good-natured grew Samuel's face, until a sociable rabbit,
peeping at him from behind a bush, decided to run a race with the old
gentleman, and hopped fearlessly out into the open.

"Ah, yew young rascal!" cried Samuel. "Yew're the feller that eat up all
my winter cabbages."

At this uncanny reading of his mind, Mr. Cottontail darted off into the
woods again to seek out his mate and inform her that their guilt had
been discovered.

Finally, Samuel came to the break in the woodland, an open field of rye,
green as springtime grass, and his own exquisitely neat abode beckoning
across the gray rail-fence to him.

How pretty Blossy's geraniums looked in the sitting-room windows! Even
at this distance, too, he could see that she had not forgotten to water
his pet abutilon and begonias. How welcome in the midst of this flurry
of snow--how welcome to his eye was that smoke coming out of the
chimneys! All the distress of his trip away from home seemed worth while
now for the joy of coming back.

Before he had taken down the fence-rail and turned into the path which
led to his back door, he was straining his ears for the sound of
Blossy's voice gossiping with Angy. Not hearing it, he hurried the
faster.

The kitchen door was locked. The key was not under the mat; it was not
in the safe on the porch, behind the stone pickle-pot. He tried the door
again, and then peered in at the window.

Not even the cat could be discerned. The kitchen was set in order, the
breakfast dishes put away, and there was no sign of any baking or
preparations for dinner.

He knocked, knocked loudly. No answer. He went to a side door, to the
front entrance, and found the whole house locked, and no key to be
discovered. It was still early in the morning, earlier than Blossy would
have been likely to set out upon an errand or to spend the day; and
then, too, she was not one to risk her health in such chilly, damp
weather, with every sign of a heavy storm.

Samuel became alarmed. He called sharply, "Blossy!" No answer. "Mis'
Rose!" No answer. "Ezra!" And still no sound in reply.

His alarm increased. He went to the barn; that was locked and Ezra
nowhere in sight. By standing on tiptoe, however, and peeping through a
crack in the boards, he found that his horse and the two-seated surrey
were missing.

"Waal, I never," grumbled Samuel, conscious once more of all his
physical discomforts. "The minute my back's turned, they go
a-gallivantin'. I bet yer," he added after a moment's thought, "I bet
yer it's that air Angy Rose. She's got ter git an' gad every second same
as Abe, an' my poor wife has been drug along with her."

There was nothing left for him to do but seek refuge in his shop and
await their return. Like nearly every other bayman, he had a one-room
shanty, which he called the "shop," and where he played at building
boats, and weaving nets, and making oars and tongs.

This structure stood to the north of the house, and fortunately had an
old, discarded kitchen stove in it. There, if the wanderers had not
taken that key also, he could build a fire, and stretch out before it on
a bundle of sail-cloth.

He gave a start of surprise, however, as he approached the place; for
surely that was smoke coming out of the chimney!

Ezra must have gone out with the horse, and Blossy must be entertaining
Angy in some outlandish way demanded by the idiosyncrasies of the Rose
temperament.

Samuel flung open the door, and strode in; but only to pause on the
threshold, struck dumb. Blossy was not there, Angy was not there, nor
any one belonging to the household. But sitting on that very bundle of
canvas, stretching his lean hands over the stove, with Samuel's cat on
his lap, was the "Old Hoss"--Abraham Rose!



XIX

EXCHANGING THE OLIVE-BRANCH


The cat jumped off Abe's lap, running to Samuel with a mew of
recognition. Abe turned his head, and made a startled ejaculation.

"Sam'l Darby," he said stubbornly, "ef yew've come tew drag me back to
that air Beach, yew 're wastin' time. I won't go!"

Samuel closed the door and hung his damp coat and cap over a suit of old
oilskins. He came to the fire, taking off his mittens and blowing on his
fingers, the suspicious and condemnatory tail of his eye on Abraham.

"Haow'd yew git here?" he burst forth. "What yew bin an' done with my
wife, an' my horse, an' my man, an' my kerridge? Haow'd yew git here?
What'd yew come fer? When'd yew git here?"

"What'd yew come fer?" retorted Abe with some spirit. "Haow'd yew git
here?"

"None o' yer durn' business."

A glimmer of the old twinkle came back into Abe's eye, and he began to
chuckle.

"I guess we might as waal tell the truth, Sam'l. We both tried to be so
all-fired young yesterday that we got played out, an' concluded
unanermous that the best place fer a A No. 1 spree was ter hum."

Samuel gave a weak smile, and drawing up a stool took the cat upon his
knee.

"Yes," he confessed grudgingly, "I found out fer one that I hain't no
spring lamb."

"Ner me, nuther," Abe's old lips trembled. "I had eyester-stew an' drunk
coffee in the middle o' the night; then the four-o'clock patrol wakes me
up ag'in. 'Here, be a sport,' they says, an' sticks a piece o' hot
mince-pie under my nose. Then I was so oneasy I couldn't sleep. Daybreak
I got up, an' went fer a walk ter limber up my belt, an' I sorter
wandered over ter the bay side, an' not a mile out I see tew men with
one o' them big fishin'-scooters a-haulin' in their net. An' I walked a
ways out on the ice, a-signalin' with my bandana han'kercher; an' arter
a time they seen me. 'T was Cap'n Ely from Injun Head an' his boy. Haow
them young 'uns dew grow! Las' time I see that kid, he wa' n't knee-high
tew a grasshopper.

"Waal, I says tew 'em, I says: 'Want ter drop a passenger at Twin
Coves?' 'Yes, yes,' they says. 'Jump in.' An' so, Sam'I, I gradooated
from yer school o' hardenin' on top a ton o' squirmin' fish, more er
less. I thought I'd come an' git Angy," he ended with a sigh, "an' yer
hired man 'd drive us back ter Shoreville; but thar wa' n't nobody hum
but a mewin' cat, an' the only place I could git inter was this here
shop. Wonder whar the gals has gone?"

No mention of the alarm that he must by this time have caused at the
Station. No consciousness of having committed any breach against the
laws of hospitality. But there was that in the old man's face, in his
worn and wistful look, which curbed Samuel's tongue and made him
understand that as a little child misses his mother so Abe had missed
Angy, and as a little homesick child comes running back to the place he
knows best so Abe was hastening back to the shelter he had scorned.

So, with an effort, Samuel held his peace, merely resolving that as soon
as he could get to a telephone he would inform their late hosts of Abe's
safety.

There was no direct way of telephoning; but a message could be sent to
the Quogue Station, and from there forwarded to Bleak Hill.

"I've had my lesson," said Abe. "The place fer old folks is with old
folks."

"But"--Samuel recovered his authoritative manner--"the place fer an old
man ain't with old hens. Naow, Abe, ef yew think yew kin behave yerself
an' not climb the flagpole or jump over the roof, I want yer to stay
right here, yew an' Angy both, an' spend yer week out. Yes, yes," as Abe
would have thanked him. "I take it," plunging his hand into his pocket,
"yew ain't stowed away nothin' since that mince-pie; but I can't offer
yer nothin' to eat till Blossy gits back an' opens up the house, 'cept
these here pepp'mints. They're fine; try 'em."

With one of those freakish turns of the weather that takes the conceit
out of all weather-prophets, the snow had now ceased to fall, the sun
was struggling out of the clouds, and the wind was swinging around to
the west.

Neither of the old men could longer fret about their wives being caught
in a heavy snow; but, nevertheless, their anxiety concerning the
whereabouts of the women did not cease, and the homesickness which Abe
felt for Angy, and Samuel for Blossy, rather increased than diminished
as one sat on the roll of canvas and the other crouched on his stool,
and both hugged the fire, and both felt very old, and very lame, and
very tired and sore.

Toward noontime they heard the welcome sound of wheels, and on rushing
to the door saw Ezra driving alone to the barn. He did not note their
appearance in the doorway of the shop; but they could see from the look
on his face that nothing had gone amiss.

Samuel heard the shutting of the kitchen door, and knew that Blossy was
at home, and a strange shyness submerged of a sudden his eagerness to
see her.

What would she say to this unexpected return? Would she laugh at him, or
be disappointed?

"Yew go fust," he urged Abe, "an' tell my wife that I've got the
chilblains an' lumbago so bad I can't hardly git tew the house, an' I
had ter come hum fer my 'St. Jerushy Ile' an' her receipt fer frosted
feet."



XX

THE FATTED CALF


Abe had no such qualms as Samuel. He wanted to see Angy that minute, and
he did not care if she did know why he had returned.

He fairly ran to the back door under the grape arbor, so that Samuel,
observing his gait, was seized with a fear that he might be that young
Abe of the Beach, during his visit, after all.

Abraham rushed into the kitchen without stopping to knock. "I'm back,
Mother," he cried, as if that were all the joyful explanation needed.

She was struggling with the strings of her bonnet before the
looking-glass which adorned Blossy's parlor-kitchen. She turned to him
with a little cry, and he saw that her face had changed
marvelously--grown young, grown glad, grown soft and fresh with a new
excited spirit of jubilant thanksgiving.

"Oh, Father! Weren't yew s'prised tew git the telephone? I knowed yew'd
come a-flyin' back."

Blossy appeared from the room beyond, and slipped past them, knowing
intuitively where she would find her lord and master; but neither of
them observed her entrance or her exit.

Angy clung to Abe, and Abe held her close. What had happened to her, the
undemonstrative old wife? What made her so happy, and yet tremble so?
Why did she cry, wetting his cheek with her tears, when she was so
palpably glad? Why had she telephoned for him, unless she, too, had
missed him as he had missed her?

Recalling his memories of last night, the memories of that long-ago
honeymoon-time, he murmured into his gray beard, "Dearest!"

She did not seem to think he was growing childish. She was not even
surprised. At last she said, half between sobbing and laughing:

"Oh, Abe, ain't God been good to us? Ain't it jist bewtiful to be rich?
Rich!" she cried. "Rich!"

Abe sat down suddenly, and covered his face with his hands. In a flash
he understood, and he could not let even Angy see him in the light of
the revelation.

"The minin' stock!" he muttered; and then low to himself, in an awed
whisper: "Tenafly Gold! The minin' stock!"

After a while he recovered himself sufficiently to explain that he had
not received the telephone message, and therefore knew nothing.

"Did I git a offer, Mother?"

"A offer of fifteen dollars a share. The letter come last night fer yew,
an' I--"

"Fifteen dollars a share!" He was astounded. "An' we've got five
thousand shares! Fifteen dollars, an' I paid ninety cents! Angy, ef ever
I ketch yew fishin' yer winter bunnit out of a charity barrel ag'in,
I'll--Fifteen dollars!"

"But that ain't the best of it," interrupted Angy. "I couldn't sleep a
wink, an' Blossy says not ter send word tew yew, 'cuz mebbe 't was a
joke, an' to wait till mornin' an' go see Sam'l's lawyer down ter Injun
Head. That's whar we've jest come from, an' we telephoned ter Quogue
Station from thar. An' the lawyer at fust he didn't 'pear tew think very
much of it; but Blossy, she got him ter call up some broker feller in
'York, an' 'Gee whizz!' he says, turnin' 'round all excited from the
'phone. 'Tenafly Gold is sellin' fer twenty dollars on the Curb right
this minute!' An' he says, says he: 'Yew git yer husband, an' bring that
air stock over this arternoon; an',' says he, 'I'll realize on it fer
yer ter-morrer mornin'.'"

Abe stared at his wife, at her shining silk dress with its darns and
careful patches, at her rough, worn hands, and at the much mended lace
over her slender wrists.

"That mine was closed down eighteen years ago; they must 'a' opened it
up ag'in"; he spoke dully, as one stunned. Then with a sudden burst of
energy, his eyes still on his wife's figure: "Mother, that dress o'
yourn is a disgrace fer the wife of a financierer. Yew better git a new
silk fer yerself an' Miss Abigail, tew, fust thing. Her Sunday one
hain't nothin' extry."

"But yer old beaver, Abe!" Angy protested. "It looks as ef it come out
o'the Ark!"

"Last Sunday yew said it looked splendid"; his tone was absent-minded
again. He seemed almost to ramble in his speech. "We must see that
Ishmael gits fixed up comfortable in the Old Men's Home; yew remember
haow he offered us all his pennies that day we broke up housekeepin'.
An' we must do somethin' handsome fer the Darbys, tew. Ef it hadn't been
fer Sam'l, I might be dead naow, an' never know nothin' erbout this here
streak o' luck. Tenafly Gold," he continued to mutter. "They must 'a'
struck a new lead. An' folks said I was a fool tew invest."

His face lightened. The weight of the shock passed. He threw off the awe
of the glad news. He smiled the smile of a happy child.

"Naow, Mother, we kin buy back our old chair, the rocker with the red
roses onto it. Seems ter me them roses must 'a' knowed all the time
that this was a-goin' ter happen. They was jest as pert an' sassy that
last day--"

Angy laughed. She laughed softly and with unutterable pride in her
husband.

"Why, Father, don't yer see yew kin buy back the old chair, an' the old
place, too, an' then have plenty ter spare?"

"So we kin, Mother, so we kin"; he nodded his head, surprised. He
plunged his hands into his pockets, as if expecting to find them filled
with gold. "Wonder ef Sam'l wouldn't lend me a dollar or so in small
change. Ef I only had somethin' ter jingle, mebbe I could git closer to
this fac'." He drew her to him, and gave her waist a jovial squeeze.
"Hy-guy, Mother, we're rich! Hain't it splendid?"

Their laughter rang out together--trembling, near-to-tears laughter.
The old place, the old chair, the old way, and--plenty! Plenty to mend
the shingles. Aye, plenty to rebuild the house, if they chose. Plenty
with which to win back the smiles of Angy's garden. The dreadful dream
of need, and lack, and want, of feeding at the hand of charity, was gone
by.

Plenty! Ah, the goodness and greatness of God! Plenty! Abe wanted to cry
it out from the housetops. He wanted all the world to hear. He wished
that he might gather his wealth together and drop it piece by piece
among the multitude. To give where he had been given, to blossom with
abundance where he had withered with penury!

The little wife read his thoughts. "We'll save jest enough fer ourselves
ter keep us in comfort the rest of our lives an' bury us decent."

They were quiet a long while, both sitting with bowed heads as if in
prayer; but presently Angy raised her face with an exclamation of
dismay:

"Don't it beat all, that it happened jest tew late ter git in this
week's 'Shoreville Herald'!"

"Tew late?" exclaimed the new-fledged capitalist. "Thar hain't nothin'
tew late fer a man with money. We'll hire the editor tew git out another
paper, fust thing ter-morrer!"



XXI

"OUR BELOVED BROTHER"


The services of the "Shoreville Herald," however, were not required to
spread the news. The happiest and proudest couple on Long Island saw
their names with the story of their sudden accession to wealth in a
great New York daily the very next morning.

A tall, old gentleman with a real "barber's hair-cut," a shining, new
high hat, a suit of "store clothes" which fitted as if they had been
made for him, a pair of fur gloves, and brand-new ten-dollar boots; and
a remarkably pretty, old lady in a violet bonnet, a long black velvet
cape, with new shoes as well as new kid gloves, and a big silver-fox
muff--this was the couple that found the paper spread out on the hall
table at the Old Ladies' Home, with the sisters gathered around it,
peering at it, weeping over it, laughing, both sorrowing and rejoicing.

"This'll be good-by ter Brother Abe," Aunt Nancy had sniffed when the
news came over the telephone the day before; and though Miss Abigail had
assured her that she knew Abe would come to see them real often, the
matriarch still failed to be consoled.

"Hain't you noticed, gals," she persisted, "that thar hain't been a
death in the house sence we took him in? An' I missed my reg'lar spell
o' bronchitis last winter an' this one tew--so fur," she added dismally,
and began to cough and lay her hands against her chest. "That was allus
the way when I was a young 'un," she continued after a while; "I never
had a pet dog or cat or even a tame chicken that it didn't up an' run
erway sooner or later. This here loss, gals, 'll be the death o' me!
Naow, mark my words!"

Then followed a consultation among the younger sisters, the result of
which was that they met Abe in the morning with a unanimous petition.
They could neither ask nor expect him to remain; that was impossible,
but--

"Hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!" cried Abe, waving an imaginary flag as
he entered. "Sam'l dropped us at the gate. Him an' Blossy went on ter
see Holmes tew dicker erbout buyin' back the old place. Takes Blossy an'
Sam'l tew dew business. They picked out my clothes between them yist'day
arternoon deown ter Injun village, in the Emporium. Haow yew like 'em?
Splendid, eh? See my yaller silk handkerchief, tew? We jest dropped in
ter git our things. We thought mebbe yew'd want ter slick up the room
an' git ready fer the new--"

He was allowed to say no more. The sisters, who had been kissing and
hugging Angy one by one, now swooped upon him. He was hugged, too, with
warm, generous congratulation, his hands were both shaken until they
ached, and his clothes and Angy's silently admired. But no one said a
word, for not one of the sisters was able to speak. Angy, thinking that
she divined a touch of jealousy, hastened to throw off her wrap and
display the familiar old worn silk gown beneath.

"I told Abe I jest wouldn't git a new silk until you each had one made
tew. Blossy sent for the samples. Blossy--"

"All I need's a shroud," interrupted Aunt Nancy grimly.

Angy and Abe both stared at her. She did look gray this morning. She did
seem feeble and her cough did sound hollow. The other sisters glanced
also at Aunt Nancy, and Sarah Jane took her hand, while she nudged Mrs.
Homan with her free elbow and Mrs. Homan nudged Ruby Lee and Ruby Lee
glanced at Lazy Daisy and Lazy Daisy drawled out meaningly:

"Miss Abigail!"

Then Miss Abigail, twisting the edge of her apron nervously, spoke:

"Much obliged to you I be in behalf o' all the sisters, Brother Abe an'
ter Angy tew. We know yew'll treat us right. We know that yew," resting
her eyes on Abe's face, "will prove ter be the 'angel unawares' that we
been entertainin', but we don't want yew ter waste yer money on a
cart-load o' silk dresses. All we ask o' yew is jest ernough tew allow
us ter advertise fer another brother member ter take yer place."

Who could describe the expression that flashed across Abe's face?--hurt
astonishment, wounded pride, jealous incomprehension.

"Ter take my place!" he glanced about the hall defiantly. Who dared to
enter there and take his place?--_his place_!

"This is a old ladies' home," he protested. "What right you got a-takin'
in a good-fer-nuthin' old man? Mebbe he'd rob yew er kill yew! When men
git ter rampagin', yew can't tell what they might dew."

Sarah Jane nodded her head knowingly, as if to exclaim:

"I told yer so!"

But Miss Abigail hurriedly explained that it was a man and wife that
they wanted. She blushed as she added that of course they would not
take a man without his wife.

"No, indeed! That'd be highly improper," smirked Ruby Lee.

Then Abe went stamping to the stairway, saying sullenly:

"All right. I'll give yew all the money yew want fer advertisin', an'
yew kin say he'll be clothed an' dressed proper, tew, an' supplied with
terbaccer an' readin'-matter besides; but jest wait till the directors
read that advertisement! They had me here sorter pertendin' ter be
unbeknownst. Come on, Angy. Let 's go up-stairs an' git our things.
Let's--"

Aunt Nancy half arose from her chair, resting her two shaking hands on
the arms of it.

"Brother Abe," she called quaveringly after the couple, "I guess yew
kin afford ter fix up any objections o' the directors."

Angy pressed her husband's arm as she joined him in the upper hall.

"Don't yer see, Abe. They don't realize that that poor old gentleman,
whoever he may be, won't be yew. They jest know that _yew_ was _yew_;
an' they want ter git another jest as near like yew as they kin."

Abe grunted, yet nevertheless went half-way down-stairs again to call
more graciously to the sisters that he would give them a reference any
time for knowing how to treat a man just right.

"That feller'll be lucky, gals," he added in tremulous tones. "I hope
he'll appreciate yew as I allers done."

Then Abe went to join Angy in the room which the sisters had given to
him that bitter day when the cry of his heart had been very like unto:

"_Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani_!"

After all, what was there of his and Angy's here? Their garments they
did not need now. They would leave them behind for the other old couple
that was to come. There was nothing else but some simple gifts. He took
up a pair of red wristlets that Mrs. Homan had knit, and tucked them in
his new overcoat pocket. He also took Abigail's bottle of "Jockey Club"
which he had despised so a few days ago, and tucked that in his
watch-pocket. When he bought himself a watch, he would buy a new clock
for the dining-room down-stairs, too,--a clock with no such asthmatic
strike as the present one possessed. All his personal belongings--every
one of them gifts--he found room for in his pockets. Angy had even less
than he. Yet they had come practically with nothing--and compared with
that nothing, what they carried now seemed much. Angy hesitated over the
pillow-shams. Did they belong to them or to the new couple to come? Abe
gazed at the shams too. They had been given to him and Angy last
Christmas by all the sisters. They were white muslin with white cambric
frills, and in their centers was embroidered in turkey-red cotton,
"Mother," on one pillow, "Father," on the other. Every sister in the
Home had taken at least one stitch in the names.

Father and Mother--not Angy and Abe! Why Father and Mother? A year ago
no one could have foreseen the fortune, nor have prophesied the
possession of the room by another elderly couple.

Angy drew near to Abe, and Abe to Angy. They locked arms and stood
looking at the pillows. He saw, and she saw, the going back to the old
bedroom in the old home across the woods and over the field--the going
back. And in sharp contrast they each recalled the first time that they
had stepped beneath that roof nearly half a century ago,--the first
home-coming,--when her mother-heart and his father-heart had been filled
with the hope of children--children to bless their marriage, children to
complete their home, children to love, children to feed them with love
in return.

"Let's adopt some leetle folks," said Angy, half in a whisper. "I'm
afeard the old place'll seem lonesome without--"

"Might better adopt the sisters"; he spoke almost gruffly. "I allers did
think young 'uns would be the most comfort tew yew after they growed
up."

"A baby is dretful cunnin'," Angy persisted. "But," she added sadly, "I
don't suppose a teethin' mite would find much in common with us."

"Anyway," vowed Abe, suddenly beginning to unfasten the pillow-shams,
"these belong ter us, an' I'm a-goin' ter take 'em."

They went down-stairs silently, the shams wrapped in a newspaper
carried under his arm.

"Waal, naow,"--he tried to speak cheerfully as they rejoined the others,
and he pushed his way toward the dining-room,--"I'll go an' git my cup
an' sasser."

But Miss Abigail blocked the door, again blushing, again confused.

"That 'Tew-our-Beloved-Brother' cup," she said gently, her eyes not
meeting the wound in his, "we 'bout concluded yew'd better leave here
fer the one what answers the ad. Yew got so much naow, an' him--"

She did not finish. She could not. She felt rather than saw the blazing
of Abe's old eyes. Then the fire beneath his brows died out and a mist
obscured his sight.

"Gals," he asked humbly, "would yew ruther have a new 'beloved
brother'?"

For a space there was no answer. Aunt Nancy's head was bowed in her
hands. Lazy Daisy was openly sobbing. Miss Ellie was twisting her
fingers nervously in and out--she unwound them to clutch at Angy's arm
as if to hold her. At last Miss Abigail spoke with so unaccustomed a
sharpness that her voice seemed not her own:

"Sech a foolish question as that nobody in their sound senses would
ask."

Abe sat down in his old place at the fireside and smiled a thousand
smiles in one. He smiled and rubbed his hands before the blaze. The
blaze itself seemed scarcely more bright and warm than the light from
within which transfigured his aged face.

"Gals," he chuckled in his old familiar way, "I dunno how Sam'l Darby'll
take it; but if Mother's willin', I guess I won't buy back no more of
the old place, 'cept'n' jest my rockin'-chair with the red roses onto
it; an' all the rest o' this here plagued money I'll hand over ter the
directors, an' stay right here an' take my comfort."

Angy bent down and whispered in his ear: "I'd ruther dew it, tew,
Father. Anythin' else would seem like goin' a-visitin'. But yew don't
want ter go an' blame me," she added anxiously, "ef yew git all riled up
an' sick abed ag'in."

"Pshaw, Mother," he protested; "yew fergit I was _adopted_ then; naow I
be _adoptin_'. Thar's a big difference."

She lifted her face, relieved, and smiled into the relieved and radiant
faces of Abe's "children," and her own.





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