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Title: Neighborhood Stories
Author: Gale, Zona
Language: English
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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.

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                         NEIGHBORHOOD STORIES

                       [Illustration: colophon]

                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

                 NEW YORK · BOSTON · CHICAGO · DALLAS
                        ATLANTA · SAN FRANCISCO

                       MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED

                      LONDON · BOMBAY · CALCUTTA
                               MELBOURNE

                   THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD.

                                TORONTO

       [Illustration: “NOW, THIS ONE--WHO’LL BID ON THIS ONE?”]



                             NEIGHBORHOOD
                                STORIES

                                  BY

                               ZONA GALE

              AUTHOR OF “FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE,” “THE LOVES
                     OF PELLEAS AND ETARRE,” ETC.

                          _WITH FRONTISPIECE_

                               New York
                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                                 1914

                         _All rights reserved_

     Copyright, 1912, by The Ridgway Company, and by The Butterick
                          Publishing Company.

               Copyright, 1913, by The Ridgway Company.

  Copyright, 1914, by The Ridgway Company, by the Crowell Publishing
            Company, and by the McClure Publications, Inc.

                           COPYRIGHT, 1914,

                       BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

           Set up and electrotyped. Published October, 1914.

                             Norwood Press
                J. S. Cushing Co.--Berwick & Smith Co.
                        Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.

                                  To

                           THE LITTLE TOWNS

                                  OF

                           THE TIME TO COME



PREFACE


_“When I die,” said Calliope Marsh, “don’t you get anybody that’s always
treated me like a dog and put them on the front seat. Make ’em sit
back.”_

_Then she looked at me, her rare and somewhat abashed smile on her
face._

_“Birds and stars and children and God in the world,” she said, “and
hark at me talking like that. Honest, I don’t care where you seat ’em.”_

_That is like Calliope. And that is like the village. Blunt and
sometimes bitter speech there is, and now and again what we gently call
“words”; but the faith of my experience is that these are facile, and
need never trouble one. These are born of circumscription, of little
areas, of teasing tasks, of lack of exercise, of that curious mingling
which we call social life; but any one who takes seriously our faint
feuds or even our narrow judgments does not know and love the Middle
Western villages, nor understand that seeds and buds are not the norm of
bloom. Instance, if you will, this case and that to show the contrary.
But the days of pioneering, when folk drew together in defense, left us
a heritage which no isolated instances can nullify. On the whole, we are
all friends._

_There could be no better basis for the changes that are upon us. The
new ideals of the great world are here, in our little world. Though
there is an impression to the contrary, the Zeitgeist is not attracted
exclusively to cities. From design in our County Fair fancy work to our
attitude toward the home, new things are come upon us. To be sure, we do
not trust our power. We cling to our “Well, you can’t change human
nature” as to a recipe, though it does change before our eyes. If it
were only that impossible plaques and pillows have given place to
hammered brass and copper, our disregard might be warrantable. But now
when one praises home life, home cooking, home training, home influence,
we are beginning to say: “Whose home?” And the sentimentalities do not
give place to reason without healthful cause. And when of late, from the
barber’s children’s lunch basket, the young professor of our village
took out the heavy, sunken biscuits of the barber’s new wife and threw
them in the ash box, even the barber’s wrathful imprecations could not
draw our sympathy to the side of the hearth, where once it would have
stood upholding domestic unsanctities._

_To be sure, in the village the old confusion between motherhood and
domestic service still maintains. But both in cities and in villages
perhaps it is to-morrow rather than to-day that we shall see women free
from kitchen drudgery, and home economics a paid profession, such as
nursing has lately become. Though when one of us said this, at a meeting
of the Friendship Village Married Ladies’ Cemetery Improvement Sodality,
one of us rejoined_:

“_What! Do you mean that a womanly woman wants any occupation besides
housekeeping? Why, I love my dishpan!_”

_And the burst of merriment which followed was almost a surprise to
those who laughed, and to whom this extreme statement had unwittingly
revealed the whole absurdity._

_Already in the village it is almost impossible to get maids, even
though many have entirely ceased to say “hired girl.” Night after night
we scan the Friendship Village Daily Paper (who shall read that name and
not admit that we live close to the essentials?) and see the same half
dozen “Wanted ... for General Housework” appeals drearily repeated. And
while some of us merely wonder how “Mis’ Whatever is getting along, and
the weather what it is, and her baby not through the second summer,”
there are those of us who feel secret thanksgiving in the fact that we,
too, are painfully playing our part in forcing the recognition of
domestic service as an eight-hour-a-day profession. And “But who would
answer the bell evenings?” and “Why, none of us could afford to keep
help then!” sound as unreasoning as they did when apprentices first
changed to clerks._

_Even the village theology broadens before our eyes. Few can be found
who do not admit the anomaly of denominationalism, even while they cling
to it. And it is no longer considered reprehensible to state openly, as
well as to believe secretly, that the truth about living which Jesus
taught has been told in certain forms whose ancient interpretation no
thinking person holds. Something of the glory of the God-ward striving
of all religions is felt, here and there, in the village, and now and
then, in a village sitting-room, you come on some one who is cherishing
a vision like that of John on Patmos, and saying nothing._

_To be sure, one village theologian was heard to cry_:

“_Empty or full, I tell you them churches are all necessary, every one
of ’em. And if we had more kinds of ’em, then they’d be necessary too._”

_But there seemed to be something the matter with this. And on the whole
there is more food for thought in another observation from among us_:

“_We always used to think Drug-store Curtsie was an infidel. And, land,
there he is making the best State Senator we ever had. I guess we
exaggerated it some, maybe._”

_We are beginning to be ashamed of charity and to see that our half
dozen dependent families need not have been dependent, if their own
gifts had been developed and their industry had not been ill-directed or
exploited. And if that is true of the Rickers and the Hennings and the
Hasketts and the Bettses and the Doles, we begin to suspect that it may
be true of all poverty. We are beginning to be ashamed of many another
inefficiency and folly which anciently we took for granted as necessary
evils. Of his own product the village brewer says openly: “The time is
coming when they won’t let us make it. And I don’t care how soon it
comes.” And this in the village, where we used to laugh at Keddie Bingy,
drunken and singing on Daphne Street, and whose wife we censured for
leaving him to shift for himself!_

_We are coming to applaud divorce when shame or faithlessness or disease
or needless invalidism have attended marriage, and for a village woman
to continue to earn her livelihood by marriage under these circumstances
is now to her a disgrace hardly less evident than that of her city
sister. We continue to cover up far too much, just as in the cities they
cover too much. But we do mention openly things which in the old days we
whispered or guessed at or whose peril we never knew at all. And when,
by a visiting lecturer, more is admitted than we would ourselves admit,
we are splendidly, if softly, triumphant with: “That couldn’t have been
done here twenty years ago.”_

_To be sure, with some of the new terminology, we have had desperate
battle._

_”I don’t like them eugenics,” one of us said, “I know two of ’em that’s
separated.”_

_Yet on the whole we tell one another that our new state law is “going
to be” a good thing._

_Inevitably, then, romance among us is becoming something else. The
village girl no longer waits at the gate in a blue sash. There are no
gates. She is wearing belts. And I heard one of the girls of the village
say_:

“_A girl used to act so silly about being happy. What did she mean by
that--being made love to forever by somebody forever in love with her?
Well, I want something more than that in mine._”

_And there, in her vague, slang speech lay the outline of the shadow
that is pointing women to share in the joys of the race and the delight
of a chosen occupation. And though not many of us here in the village
will say as much as that, yet genetically the thing goes on: Women
choose occupations, develop gifts, sail for Europe, refuse “good offers”
even if these do hold out “support,” or come out with fine, open hatred
of the menial tasks which their “womanliness” once forbade them to
disavow. And beyond, in all relevancy, there opens the knowledge that
motherhood is a thing to be trained for, as much as stenography!_

_Yet meadows sweet with hay, and twilights, and firelight, and the home
(around the evening lamp) have not passed; but they lie close to a
Romance of Life now coming fast upon us, away here in the village--a
Romance of Life as much finer than sentimentality as modern romance is
saner than chivalry._

_In spite of our Armory and our strong young guard, we are quite simply
for peace, and believe that it will come. And because we have among us a
few of other races whom we understand, race prejudice is a thing which
never troubles us; and I think that we could slip into the broadened
race concept without realizing that anything had happened. The only
thunder of change which does not echo here is the thunder of the
industrial conflict. But although most of the village takes sides quite
naïvely with the newspaper headlines, yet that is chiefly because the
thing lies beyond our experience, and because--like the dwellers in
cities--we lack imagination to visualize what is occurring. As far as
our experience goes, the most of us are democratic. But when there
arises an issue transcending our experience, our tendency is to
uncompromising conservatism. And there is hope in the fact that
politically many of us are free and think for ourselves, and smile at
the abuse that is heaped upon great leaders, and understand with
thanksgiving--away here in the village--how often the demagogues of
to-day are the demi-gods of to-morrow._

_We well know that with all this changing attitude, we are losing a
certain homely flavor. Old possibilities, especially of humor, no longer
have incidence. Our sophistication somehow includes our laughter. In
these days, in what village could it happen, at the funeral of a
well-beloved townsman, with the church filled to do him honor, that the
minister should open his eyes at the close of the prayer, and absently
say:_

“_The contribution will now be received._”

_Yet that and the consequent agonized signaling of one of the elders are
within my memory, and are indelibly there because they occurred at the
first funeral in my experience, and I could not account for the elder’s
perturbation._

_Or, where among us now is the village dignitary who would take the
platform to speak at the obsequies of a friend and would begin his
eulogy with_:

“_I have always had a great respect for the deceased, for--[pointing
with his thumb downward at the coffin] for that gentleman down there._”

_Or, when a deacon with squeaking shoes is passing the plate, in what
modern village church is to be found the clergyman who will call out_:

“_Brother, you’ll find my rubbers there in the lecture room. You best
slip ’em on._”

_Or the deacon who would instantly reply, overshoulder_:

_“I’ve got a pair of me own,” and so go serenely on, squeaking, to the
last pew._

_Yet these happened, not long ago, and we smile at the remembrance,
knowing that just those things could not take place among us now. New
absurdities occur. But there is a different humor, even of misadventure
and the maladroit. Instead of deploring the old days, however, I think
that nearly all of us say what I have heard a woman of ninety
saying--not, “Things are not what they used to be in the old days,”
but_:

“_Well, I’m thankful that I’ve lived to see so many things different._”

_That is the way in which we grow old in the little towns of the Middle
West. We are not afraid to know that old ways of laughter and old
flavors of incident depart, with the old ills. Since disease and
marching armies and the like are to leave us, humor and sentimentalism
of a sort and gold lace of many sorts must likewise be foregone. We
say: “The day is dead. Long be the day.” May we not boast of it? For
such adaptation would not be wonderful in a city, where impressions
crowd and are cut off. But it stands for a special and precious form of
vitality, in little towns._

_It is for this acceptance of growth that our days of pioneering
together and our slow drawing together of later years form a solid
basis. For we are knit, and now the fabric is beginning to be woven into
a garment. Some are alarmed at the lack of seams, some anxiously
question the color, some shake their heads and say that it will never
fit. But there are those of us here in the village who think that we
understand._

_And now we are beginning to suspect that there is more to understand
than we have guessed. For there was some one “From Away” who came to us
and said_:

“_Your little town is a piece of to-morrow. Once a village was a source
of quiet and content and prettiness. Once a village was withdrawn from
what is going forward in the world. But now the village is the very
source of our salvation, social and artistic. It is not that we are
finding humanity at its best in the villages, but that there humanity is
at the point where it is most in type. And in this lie the hidings of
our power._”

_We listened, not all of us believing. We were used to being praised for
our cedar fenceposts, our mossy roofs, our bothersome, low-hanging elm
boughs, even, of late, for our irregular streets and our creamy brick.
But in our hearts we had been feeling apologetic that we had not more
two-storey shops, not more folk who go away in Summer, and not even one
limousine. And now we were hearing that we are playing a part social,
artistic, which no city can play!_

_It is true that from the days of those old happenings which I have been
recounting, down to now, the form of our self-expression has changed
somewhat, its quality, never. Always we have been ourselves, simply and
unreservedly. Not boldly ourselves, for we do not know that there is
anything to be bold about. But in the small things, quite simply
ourselves. And once I would have called that a negative quality...._

_But what of this salvation, social and artistic, and how are these to
be fostered by our one characteristic? And with that, the cries of the
world, from art, from life, are in one’s ears: Against imitation,
against artificiality, against seeing the thing as a thousand others
have seen it and saying it as a thousand others have said it, against
moving in a mass which has won the right to no social adhesion, but
instead stupidly coheres, and does its thinking by bad proxies. And
we--who do already let ourselves be ourselves--who knows what
contribution we may be bringing, now that there have come upon us these
new reactions to convention, these slow new freedoms of belief?_

_There in the cities, humanity is in the melting pot, we say; and the
figure is that of countless specializations dissolved in one general
mass. We revert to type individually, but we advance to type
collectively. Unquestionably this collective advance is a part of
experience. But it is not an ultimate of experience. Somewhere there
beyond, shining, is a new individualism, whose incarnations shall flow
to no melting pot, but instead shall cling together, valued for their
differentiation, and like a certain precious form of life, low in the
scale, shall put out a thousand filaments, and presently move away
together, a unit._

_Already the individual experiences this progression--that is, he does
if he does!--and, through his own unique value, wins back in later life
to that simplicity which is every one’s birthright. It is Nietzsche’s
threefold metamorphosis of the spirit: First the camel, then the lion,
last the child. What if, standing in that simplicity, at the point where
humanity is most in type, the village does open the social and artistic
outlook of To-morrow?_

_Some of us believe. Some of us say: “What if the federation of the
world is to begin in the little towns? What if it is beginning there
now....”_

_“A village is nothing but a little something broke off from a city,”
says Calliope Marsh, “only it never started in hitched to the city in
the first place. And that makes all the difference.”_

_It is Calliope Marsh who tells, in her own speech, these Neighborhood
Stories. And if she were given to selecting texts, I think that she
would have selected one which says that life is something other than
that which we believe it to be._

PORTAGE, WISCONSIN,

August, 1914.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

I. A GREAT TREE                                                        1

II. EXIT CHARITY                                                      27

III. THE TIME HAS COME                                                56

IV. THE FACE OF FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE                                    90

V. THE FLOOD                                                         124

VI. THE PARTY                                                        157

VII. THE BIGGEST BUSINESS                                            183

VIII. THE PRODIGAL GUEST                                             216

IX. MR. DOMBLEDON                                                    226

X. HUMAN                                                             258

XI. THE HOMECOMING                                                   275



NEIGHBORHOOD STORIES



A GREAT TREE


I never had felt so much like Christmas, said Calliope Marsh, as I did
that year.

“I wish’t,” I says, when it got ’most time, “I wish’t I knew somebody to
have a Christmas tree with.”

“Well, Calliope Marsh,” says Mis’ Postmaster Sykes, looking
surprised-on-purpose, the way she does, “ain’t there enough poor and
neglected folks in this world to please anybody?”

“I didn’t say have a Christmas tree _for_,” I says back at her; “I says
have one _with_.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that difference,” she says, “I’m sure.”

“I donno,” I says, “as I know either. But there is a difference,
somewhere. I’d kind of like to have a tree _with_ folks this year.”

“Why don’t you help on your church tree?” Mis’ Sykes ask’ me. “They’re
going to spend quite a little money on theirs this year.”

“I hate to box Christmas up in a church,” I says.

“Why, Calliope Marsh!” she says, shocked.

I didn’t want to hurt her feelings--I ain’t never one of those that
likes to throw their idees in folks’s faces and watch folks jump back.
So I tried to talk about something else, but she went right on, trying
her best to help me out.

“The ward schools is each going to have a tree this year, I hear,” she
says. “Why don’t you go in on your ward, Calliope, and help out there?
They’d be real glad of help, you know.”

“I hate to divide Christmas off into wards,” I says to her.

“Well, then, go in with a family,” she says; “any of us’ll be real glad
to have you,” she adds, generous. “_We_ would. Come to ours--we’re going
to have a great big tree for the children. I’ve been stringing the
pop-corn and cutting the paper for it whenever I got an odd minute. The
Holcombs, they’re going to have one too--and Mis’ Uppers and Mis’
Merriman and even the Hubbelthwaits and Abigail Arnold, for her little
nieces. I never see a year when everybody was going to celebrate so
nice. Come on with one of us, why don’t you?”

“Well,” I says, “mebbe I will. I’ll see. I don’t know yet what I will
do,” I told her. And I went off down the street. What I wanted to say
was, “I hate to box Christmas up in a family,” but I didn’t quite
dare--yet.

Friendship Village ain’t ever looked much more like Christmas, to my
notion, than it did that December. Just the right snow had come--and no
more; and just the right cold--and no more. The moon was getting along
so’s about the night of the twenty-fifth it was going to loom up big and
gold and warm over the fields on the flats, where it always comes up in
winter like it had just edged around there to get sort of a wide front
yard for its big show, where the whole village could have a porch seat.

You know when you live in a village you always know whether the moon is
new or to the full or where it is and when it’s going to be; but when
you live in a city you just look up in the sky some night and say “Oh,
that’s so, there’s the moon,” and go right on thinking about something
else. Here in the village that December everything was getting ready,
deliberate, for a full-moon Christmas, like long ago. The moon and the
cold and the snow, and all them public things, was doing their best,
together, for our common Christmas. All but us. It seemed like all of us
humans was working for it separate.

Tramping along there in the snow that night, I thought over what Mis’
Sykes had said, and about all the places she’d mentioned over was going
to have Christmas trees. And I looked along to the houses, most of ’em
lying right there on Daphne Street, where they were going to have ’em--I
could see ’em all, one tree after another, lighted and streaming from
house to house all up and down Daphne Street, just the way they were
going to look.

And then there was the little back streets, and the houses down on the
flats, where there wouldn’t be any trees nor much of any Christmas. Of
course, as Mis’ Sykes had said, the poor and the neglected are always
with us--yet; but I didn’t want to pounce down on any of ’em with a bag
of fruit and a box of animal crackers and set and watch ’em.

That wasn’t what I meant by having a Christmas _with_ somebody.

“There’d ought to be some place--” I was beginning to think, when right
along where I was, by the Market Square, I come on five or six children,
kicking around in the snow. It was ’most dark, but I could just make ’em
out: Eddie Newhaven, Arthur Mills, Lily Dorron, and two-three more.

“Hello, folks,” I says, “what you doing? Having a carnival?” Because
it’s on the Market Square that carnivals and some little circuses and
things that belongs to everybody is usually celebrated.

Little Arthur Mills spoke up. “No,” he says, “we was just playing we’s
selling a load of Christmas trees.”

“Christmas trees,” I says. “Why, that’s so. This is where they always
bring ’em to sell--big load of ’em for everybody, ain’t it?”

“They’re going to bring an _awful_ big load here this time,” says Eddie
Newhaven--“big enough for everybody in town to have one. Most of the
fellows is going to have ’em--us and Ned Backus and the Cartwrights and
Joe Tyrril and Lifty--all of ’em.”

“My,” I says, “what a lot of Christmas trees! Why, if they was set along
by the curbstone here on Daphne Street,” I says, just to please the
children and make a little talk with ’em, “why, the line of ’em would
reach all up and down the town,” I says. “Wouldn’t that be fun?”

Little Lily claps her hands.

“Oh, yes,” she cries, “wouldn’t that be fun? With pop-corn strings all
going from one to the other?”

“It would be a grand sight,” says I, looking down across the Market
Square. There, hanging all gold and quiet, like it didn’t think it
amounted to much, right over the big cedar-of-Lebanon-looking tree in
the Square, was the moon, crooked to a horn.

“Once,” says Eddie Newhaven, “when they was selling the Christmas trees
here, they kept right on selling ’em after dark. And they stood ’em
around here and put a little light in each one. It was awful nice.
Wouldn’t it be nice if they’d do that all over the Square some time!”

“It would be a grand sight,” says I again, “but one that the folks in
this town would never have time for....”

While I spoke I was looking down across Market Square again toward the
moon hanging over the cedar-of-Lebanon-looking tree.

“There’s a pretty good-looking tree there already,” I says idle. “What a
grand thing it would be lit up,” says I, for not much of any
reason--only to keep the talk going with the children. Then something
went through me from my head to my feet. “Why not light it some time?” I
says.

The children set up a little shout--part because they liked it, part
because they thought such a thing could never be. I laughed with ’em,
and I went on up the street--but all the time something in me kept on
saying something, all hurried and as if it meant it. And little ends of
ideas, and little jagged edges of other ideas, and plans part raveled
out that you thought you could knit up again, and long, sharp motions, a
little something like light, kept going through my head and going
through it.

Down to the next corner I met Ben Cory, that keeps the livery-stable and
sings bass to nearly everybody’s funeral and to other public occasions.

“Ben,” I says excited, though I hadn’t thought anything about this till
that minute, “Ben--you getting up any Christmas Eve Christmas carols to
sing this year?”

He had a new string of sleigh-bells over his shoulder, and he give it a
shift, I recollect, so’s they all jingled.

“Well,” he says, “I did allow to do it. But I’ve spoke to one or two,
and they donno’s they can do it. Some has got to sing to churches
earlier in the evening and they donno’s they want to tune up all night.
And the most has got to be home for family Christmas.”

“There ain’t,” I says, “no manner o’ doubt about the folks that’d be
glad to listen, is there, provided you had the singers?”

“Oh, sure,” he says. “Folks shines up to music consider’ble, Christmas
Eve. It--sort of--well, it----”

“Yes,” I says, “I know. It does, don’t it? Well, Ben Cory, you get your
Christmas-carol singers together and a-caroling, and I’ll undertake that
there sha’n’t nothing much stand in the way of their being out on
Christmas Eve. Is it a bargain?”

His face lit up, all jolly and hearty.

“Why, sure it’s a bargain,” he says. “I’ll get ’em. I wanted to, only I
didn’t want to carol ’em any more than they wanted to be caroled. I’ll
get ’em,” he says, and gives his bells a hunch that made ’em ring all up
and down Daphne Street--that the moon was looking down at just as if it
was public property and not all made up of little private plans with
just room enough for us four and no more, or figures to that effect.

I donno if you’ve ever managed any kind of a revolution?

They’s two kinds of revolutions. One breaks off of something that’s
always been. You pick up the broke piece and try to throw it away to
make room for something that’s growing out of the other part. And ’most
everybody will begin to tell you that the growing piece ain’t any good,
but that the other part is the kind you have always bought and that
you’d better save it and stick it back on. But then they’s the other
kind of revolution that backs away from something that’s always been and
looks at it a little farther off than it ever see it before, and says:
“Let’s us move a little way around and pay attention to this thing from
a new spot.” And real often, if you put it that way, they’s enough
people willing to do that, because they know they can go right back
afterward and stand in the same old place if they want to.

Well, this last was the kind of a revolution I took charge of that week
before Christmas. I got my plans and my ideas and my notions all planned
and thought and budded, and then I presented ’em around, abundant.

The very next morning after I’d seen the children I started out, while I
had kind of a glow to drape around the difficulties so’s I couldn’t see
’em. I went first to the store-keepers, seeing Christmas always seems to
hinge and hang on what they say and do. And I went to Eppleby Holcomb,
because I knew he’d see it like I done--and I wanted the brace of being
agreed with, like you do.

Eppleby’s store was all decorated up with green cut paper and tassels
and turkey-red calico poinsettias, and it looked real nice and tasty.
And the store was full of the country trade. The little overhead track
that took the bundles had broke down just at the wrong minute, and old
rich Mis’ Wiswell’s felt soles had got stuck half-way, and Eppleby
himself was up on top of a counter trying to rescue ’em for her, while
she made tart remarks below. When he’d fished ’em out and wrapped ’em up
for her,

“Eppleby,” I says, “would you be willing to shut up shop on Christmas
Eve, or wouldn’t you?”

He looked kind of startled. “It’s a pretty good night for trade, you
know, Calliope?” says he--doubtful.

“Why, yes,” I says, “it is. But everybody that’s going to give presents
to people’ll give presents to people. And if the stores ain’t open
Christmas Eve, folks’ll buy ’em when the stores _is_ open. Is that
sense, or ain’t it?”

He knew it was. And when I told him what I’d got hold of, stray places
in my head, he says if the rest would shut he’d shut, and be glad of it.
Abigail Arnold done the same about her home bakery, and the Gekerjecks,
and two-three more. But Silas Sykes, that keeps the post-office store,
he was firm.

“If that ain’t woman-foolish,” he says, “I donno what is. You ain’t no
more idee of business than so many cats. No, sir. I don’t betray the
public by cutting ’em off of one evening’s shopping like that.”

It made a nice little sentence to quote, and I quoted it consider’ble.
And the result was, the rest of ’em, that knew Silas, head and heart,
finally says, all right, he could keep open if he wanted to, and enjoy
himself, and they’d all shut up. I honestly think they kind of
appreciated, in a nice, neighborly way, making Silas feel mean--when
he’d ought to.

It was a little harder to make the Sunday-school superintendents see the
thing that I had in my head. Of course, when a thing has been the way it
has been for a good while, you can’t really blame people for feeling
that it’s been the way it ought to be. Feelings seems made that way. Our
superintendent has been our superintendent for ’most forty years--ever
since the church was built--and of course his thoughts is kind of turned
to bone in some places, naturally.

His name is Jerry Bemus, and he keeps a little harness shop next door to
the Town Hall that’s across from Market Square. When I went in that day
he was resting from making harnesses, and he was practising on his
cornet. He can make a bugle call real nice--you can often hear it, going
up and down Daphne Street in the morning, and when I’m down doing my
trading I always like to hear it--it gives me kind of a nice,
old-fashioned feeling, like when Abigail Arnold fries doughnuts in the
back of the Home Bakery and we can all smell ’em, out in the road.

“Jerry,” I says, “how much is our Sunday-school Christmas tree going to
cost us?”

Jerry’s got a wooden leg, and he can _not_ remember not to try to cross
it over the other one. He done that now, and give it up.

“We calc’late about twenty-five dollars,” says he, proud.

“What we going to do to celebrate?”

“Well,” he says, “have speaking pieces--we got a program of twenty
numbers already,” says he, pleased. “And a trimmed tree, and an orange,
and a bag of nuts and candy for every child,” he says.

“All the other churches is going to do the same,” I says. “Five trees
and five programs and five sets of stuff all around. And all of ’em on
Christmas Eve, when you’d think we’d all sort of draw together instead
of setting apart, in cliques. Land,” I says out, “that first Christmas
Eve wouldn’t the angels have stopped singing and wept in the sky if they
could of seen what we’d do to it!”

“Hush, Calliope,” says Jerry Bemus, shocked. “They ain’t no need to be
sacrilegious, is they?”

“Not a bit,” says I; “we’ve been it so long a’ready, worshiping around
in sections like Hottentots. Well, now,” I says, “do you honestly think
we’ve all chose the best way to go at Christmas Eve for the children,
filling them up with colored stuff and getting their stummicks all
upset?”

We had quite a little talk about it, back and forth, Jerry and me. And
all of a sudden, while I was trying my best to make him see what I saw,
I happened to notice his bugle again.

“There ain’t no thrill in none of it,” I was saying to him. “Not half so
much,” I says, “as there is in your bugle. When I hear that go floating
up and down the street, I always kind of feel like it was announcing
something. To my notion,” I says, “it could announce Christmas to this
town far better than forty-’leven little separate trimmed-up trees....
Why, Jerry,” I says out sudden, “listen to what I’ve thought of....”

A little something had come in my head that minute, unexpected, that
fitted itself into the rest of my plan. And it made Jerry say, pretty
soon, that he was willing to go with me to see the other
superintendents; and we done so that very day. Ain’t it funny how big
things work out by homely means--by homely means? Sole because the
choir-leader in one choir had resigned because the bass in that choir
was the bass in that choir, and so they didn’t have anybody there to
train their Christmas music, and sole because another congregation was
hard up and was having to borrow its Christmas celebration money out of
the foreign missionary fund--we got ’em to see sense. And then the other
two joined in.

The schools were all right from the first, being built, like they are,
on a basis of belonging to everybody, same as breathing and one-two
other public utilities, and nothing dividing anybody from anybody. And I
begun to feel like life and the world was just one great bud, longing to
open, so be it could get enough care.

The worst ones to get weaned away from a perfectly selfish way of
observing Christ’s birthday was the private families. Land, land, I kept
saying to myself them days, we all of us act like we was studying
kindergarten mathematics. We count up them that’s closest to us, and we
can’t none of us seem to count much above ten.

Not all of ’em was that way, though. Well--if it just happens that you
live in any town whatever in the civilized world, I think you’ll know
about what I had said to me.

On the one hand it went about like this, from Mis’ Timothy Toplady and
the Holcombs and the Hubbelthwaits and a lot more:

“Well, land knows, it’d save us lots of back-aching work--but--will the
children like it?”

“Like it?” I says. “Try ’em. Trust ’em without trying ’em if you want
to. I would. Remember,” I couldn’t help adding, “you like to be with the
children a whole lot oftener than they like to be with you. What they
like is to be together.”

And, “Well, do you honestly think it’ll work? I don’t see how it
can--anything so differ’nt.”

And, “Well, they ain’t any harm trying it one year, as I can see. That
can’t break up the holidays, as I know of.”

But the other side had figured it out just like the other side of
everything always figures.

“Calliope,” says Mis’ Postmaster Sykes, “are you crazy-headed? What’s
your idee? Ain’t things all right the way they’ve always been done?”

“Well,” says I, conservative, “not all of ’em. Not wholesale, I wouldn’t
say.”

“But you can’t go changing things like this,” she told me. “What’ll
become of Christmas?”

“Christmas,” I says, “don’t need you or me, Mis’ Sykes, to be its
guardians. All Christmas needs is for us to get out of its way, and
leave it express what it means.”

“But the _home_ Christmas,” she says, ’most like a wail. “Would you do
away with that?”

Then I sort of turned on her. I couldn’t help it.

“Whose home?” I says stern. “If it’s your home you mean, or any of the
thousands of others like it where Christmas is kept, then you know, and
they all know, that nothing on earth can take away the Christmas feeling
and the Christmas joy as long as you want it to be there. But if it’s
the homes you mean--and there’s thousands of ’em--where no Christmas
ever comes, you surely ain’t arguing to keep them the way they’ve been
kept?”

But she continued to shake her head.

“You can do as you like, of course,” she said, “and so can everybody
else. It’s their privilege. But as for me, I shall trim my little tree
here by our own fireside. And here we shall celebrate Christmas--Jeddie
and Nora and father and me.”

“Why can’t you do _both_?” I says. “I wouldn’t have you give up your
fireside end of things for anything on earth. But why can’t you do
both?”

Mis’ Sykes didn’t rightly seem to know--at least she didn’t say. But she
give me to understand that her mind run right along in the self-same
groove it had had made for it, cozy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Somehow, the longer I live, the less sense I seem to have. There’s some
things I’ve learned from twenty-five to thirty times in my life, and yet
I can’t seem to remember them no more than I can remember whether it’s
sulphite or sulphate of soda that I take for my quinsy. And one of these
is about taking things casual.

That night, for instance, when I come round the corner on to Daphne
Street at half-past seven on Christmas Eve, I thought I was going to
have to waste a minute or two standing just where the bill-board makes a
shadow for the arc-light, trying to get used to the idea of what we were
doing--used to it in my throat. But there wasn’t much time to spend that
way, being there were things to do between then and eight o’clock, when
we’d told ’em all to be there. So I ran along and tried not to think
about it--except the work part. ’Most always, the work part of
anything’ll steady you.

The great cedar-of-Lebanon-looking tree, standing down there on the edge
of the Market Square and acting as if it had been left from some
long-ago forest, on purpose, had been hung round with lines and lines of
strung pop-corn--the kind that no Christmas tree would be a Christmas
tree without, because so many, many folks has set up stringing it nights
of Christmas week, after the children was in bed, and has kept it,
careful, in a box, so’s it’d do for next year. We had all that from the
churches--Methodist and Presbyterian and Episcopal and Baptist and
Catholic pop-corn, and you couldn’t tell ’em apart at all when you got
’em on the tree. The festoons showed ghostly-white in the dark and the
folks showed ghostly-black, hurrying back and forth doing the last
things.

And the folks was coming--you could hear ’em all along Daphne Street,
tripping on the bad place that hadn’t been mended because it was right
under the arc-light, and coming over the hollow-sounding place by
Graham’s drug-store, and coming from the little side streets and the
dark back streets and the streets down on the flats. Some of ’em had
Christmas trees waiting at home--the load had been there on the Market
Square, just like we had let it be there for years without seeing that
the Market Square had any other Christmas uses--and a good many had
bought trees. But a good many more had decided not to have any--only
just to hang up stockings; and to let the great big common Christmas
tree stand for what it stood for, gathering most of that little garland
of Daphne Street trees up into its living heart.

Over by the bandstand I come on them I’d been looking for--Eddie
Newhaven and Arthur Mills and Lily Dorron and Sarah and Mollie and the
Cartwrights and Lifty and six-eight more.

“Hello, folks,” I says. “What you down here for? Why ain’t you home?”

They answered all together:

“For the big tree!”

“Are you, now?” I says--just to keep on a-talking to ’em. “Whose tree?”

I love to remember the way they answered. It was Eddie Newhaven that
said it.

“Why, all of us’s!” he said.

_All of us’s!_ I like to say it over when they get to saying “mine” and
“theirs” too hard where I am.

When it was eight o’clock and there was enough gathered on the Square,
they done the thing that was going to be done, only nobody had known how
well they were going to do it. They touched the button, and from the
bottom branch to the tip-top little cone, the big old tree came alight,
just like it knew what it was all about and like it had come out of the
ground long ago for this reason--only we’d never known. Two hundred
little electric lights there were, colored, and paid for private, though
I done my best to get the town to pay for ’em, like it ought to for its
own tree; but they was paid for private--yet.

It made a little _oh!_ come in the crowd and run round, it was so big
and beautiful, standing there against the stars like it knew well enough
that it was one of ’em, whether we knew it or not. And coming up across
the flats, big and gold and low, was the moon, most full, like _it_
belonged, too.

“And glory shone around,” I says to myself--and I stood there feeling
the glory, outside and in. Not my little celebration, and your little
celebration, and their little celebration, private, that was costing
each of us more than it ought to--but our celebration, paying attention
to the message that Christ paid attention to.

I was so full of it that I didn’t half see Ben Cory and his carolers
come racing out of the dark. They was all fixed up in funny pointed
hoods and in cloaks and carrying long staves with everybody’s barn-yard
lanterns tied on the end of ’em, and they run out in a line down to the
tree, and they took hold of hands and danced around it, singing to their
voices’ top a funny old tune, one of them tunes that, whether you’ve
ever heard it before or not, kind of makes things in you that’s older
than you are yourself wake up and remember, real plain.

And Jerry Bemus shouted out at ’em: “Sing it again--sing it again!” and
pounded his wooden leg with his cane. “Sing it again, I tell you. I
ain’t heard anybody sing that for goin’ on forty years.” And everybody
laughed, and they sung it again for him, and some more songs that had
come out of the old country that a little bit of it was living inside
everybody that was there. And while they were singing, it came to me all
of a sudden about another night, ’most three hundred years before, when
on American soil that lonesome English heart, up there in Boston, had
dreamed ahead to a time when Christmas would come here....

    “But faith unrolls the future scrolls;
       Christmas shall not die,
     Nor men of English blood and speech
       Forget their ancestry--”

or any other blood, or any other speech that has in it the spirit of
what Christ come to teach. And that’s all of us. And it felt to me as if
now we were only just beginning to take out our little single, lonely
tapers and carry them to light a great tree.

Then, just after the carols died down, the thing happened that we’d
planned to happen: Over on one side the choirs of all the churches, that
I guess had never sung together in their lives before, though they’d
been singing steadily about the self-same things since they was born
choirs, begun to sing--

    Silent night, holy night.

Think of it--down there on the Market Square that had never had anything
sung on it before except carnival tunes and circus tunes. All up and
down Daphne Street it must of sounded, only there was hardly anybody far
off to hear it, the most of ’em being right there with all of us. They
sung it without anybody playing it for ’em and they sung it from first
to last.

And then they slipped into another song that isn’t a Christmas carol
exactly, nor not any song that comes in the book under “Christmas,” but
something that comes in just as natural as if it was another name for
what Christmas was--“Nearer, my God, to thee,” and “Lead, Kindly Light,”
and some more. And after a bar or two of the first one, the voices all
around begun kind of mumbling and humming and carrying the tunes along
in their throats without anybody in particular starting ’em there, and
then they all just naturally burst out and sung too.

And so I donno who done it--whether the choirs had planned it that way,
or whether they just thought of it then, or whether somebody in the
crowd struck it up unbeknownst to himself, or whether the song begun to
sing itself; but it come from somewhere, strong and clear and real--a
song that the children has been learning in school and has been teaching
the town for a year or two now, sung to the tune of “Wacht am Rhein”:

    The crest and crowning of all good--
    Life’s common goal--is brotherhood.

And then everybody sung. Because that’s a piece you can’t sing alone.
You can _not_ sing it alone. All over the Market Square they took it up,
and folks that couldn’t sing, and me that can’t sing a note except when
there’s nobody around that would recognize me if they ever saw me
again--we all sung together, there in the dark, with the tree in the
midst.

And we seemed long and long away from the time when the leader in one of
them singing choirs had left the other choir because the bass in the
other choir was the bass in the other choir. And it was like the Way
Things Are had suddenly spoke for a minute, there in the singing choirs
come out of their separate lofts, and in all the singing folks. And in
all of us--all of us.

Then up hopped Eppleby Holcomb on to a box in front of the tree, and he
calls out:

“Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas--on the first annual outdoor
Christmas-tree celebration of Friendship Village!”

When he said that I felt--well, it don’t make any difference to anybody
how I felt; but what I done was to turn and make for the edge of the
crowd just as fast as I could. And just then there come what Eppleby’s
words was the signal for. And out on the little flagstaff balcony of
the Town Hall Jerry Bemus stepped with his bugle, and he blew it shrill
and clear, so that it sounded all over the town, once, twice, three
times, a bugle-call to say it was Christmas. We couldn’t wait till
twelve o’clock--we are all in bed long before that time in Friendship
Village, holiday or not.

But the bugle-call said it was Christmas just the same. Think of it ...
the bugle that used to say it was war. And the same minute the big tree
went out, all still and quiet, but to be lit again next year and to stay
a living thing in between.

When I stepped on to Daphne Street, who should I come face to face with
but Mis’ Postmaster Sykes. I was feeling so glorified over, that I never
thought of its being strange that she was there. But she spoke up, just
the same as if I’d said: “Why, I thought you wasn’t coming near.”

“The children was bound to come,” she says, “so I had to bring ’em.”

“Yes,” I thought to myself, “the children know. They know.”

And I even couldn’t feel bad when I passed the post-office store and see
Silas sitting in there all sole alone--the only lit store in the
street. I knew he’d be on the Market Square the next year.

They went singing through all the streets that night, Ben Cory and his
carolers. “Silent night, holy night” come from my front gate when I was
’most asleep. It was like the whole town was being sung to by something
that didn’t show. And when the time comes that this something speaks
clear all the time,--well, it ain’t a very far-off time, you know.



EXIT CHARITY


“Yes, sir,” said Silas Sykes, “we got to get some charity goin’ in this
town.”

“Charity,” I says over, meditative. “How do you mean, Silas?”

“How do I mean?” says Silas, snappy. “Don’t you know your Bible, woman?”

“I ain’t so sure I do as I use’ to be,” I told him. “I use’ to think
charity was givin’ things away. Then I had a spell I use’ to think it
was coverin’ up their faults. Now I dunno as I’m clear what it is.”

Silas bridled some and snorted soft.

“Charity,” says he, “charity, Calliope Marsh, is doin’ nice things for
folks.”

“Doin’ nice things for folks,” I says over--and I wanted to remember
them words of Silas and I longed to feed ’em to him some time. But I
just took up my pound of prunes and went out the post-office store,
thoughtful.

Outside on the walk, I come on Absalom. He stood kicking his heels on
the hydrant and looking up and down the street like he was waiting, for
something that there wasn’t any such thing, and he knew it. Absalom
Ricker he was, that has work in the canning factory, when any. I’d been
wantin’ to see him.

“Evenin’, Ab,” says I. “How’s Gertie?”

“She ain’t on her feet yet,” says he, rueful.

“How’s your mother’s rheumatism?”

“It ain’t in her fingers yet,” says he, bright.

“How’re you?”

“Oh, me!” he says. “I’m rosy.”

“Your arm,” says I; “will it let you go to work yet?”

“Not yet,” he says, “the thermometer actin’ up zero, so. But still, I’m
rosy--rosy.”

“Well,” says I, “bein’ you’re more rosy than busy, I wonder if you
couldn’t do something for us ladies. You know,” I says, “that nice, new,
galvanized iron garbage tank us ladies bought and run one season,
collectin’ up garbage? Well, I dunno but what we’ve got to sell it, the
Council refusin’ to run it, ’count of economy. And I wondered if you’d
go and hev a look at it, and tell us what we’d ought to get for it, and
where.”

“Why, sure I will,” says Absalom. “I’d be glad,” says he, kind of
pleasant and important, “to accommodate.”

He went off down the street, walking sidewise, like he does, his coat
and beard blowing out the same side, his pockets sagging till they
looked like mouths smiling, and his hat trained up to a peak. Everybody
liked Absalom--he had such a nice, one-sided smile and he seemed to be
so afraid he was going to hurt your feelings. He’d broke his right arm
in Silas’s canning factory that fall, and he’d been laying off ever
since. His wife done washings, and his mother finished vests from the
city, and the children stuffed up cracks in the walls and thought it was
a game.

They was others in the town, come lately, and mostly in the factory,
that was the same way: the Bettses and the Doles and the Haskitts and
the Hennings. They lived in little shacks around, and the men worked in
the canning factory and the gas-works and on the tracks, and the women
helped out. And one or two of ’em had took down ill; and so it was
Silas, that likes to think of things first, that up and said “do
something.” And it was him put the notice in the papers a few nights
later to all citizens--and women--that’s interested in forming a Charity
Society to meet in Post-Office Hall, that he has the renting of.

I was turning in the stairway to the hall that night when I heard
somebody singing. And coming down the walk, with her hat on crooked and
its feather broke, was old Bess Bones. Bess has lived in Friendship
Village for years--and I always thought it was real good for the town
that she done so. For she is the only woman I ever knew of that ain’t
respectable, and ain’t rich or famous either, and yet that goes to
everybody’s house.

She does cleaning and scrubbing, and we all like to get her to do it,
she does it so thoroughly conscientious. She brings us in little
remedies she knows about, and vegetables from her own garden, and eggs.
Sometimes some of us asks her to set down to a meal. Once she brought me
a picked chicken of hers. And it’s good for Friendship Village because
we all see she’s human, and mostly with women like that we build a thick
wall and don’t give ’em a chance to even knock out a brick ever after.

“I was just goin’ to see you, Miss Marsh,” she says. “I got kind o’
lonesome and I thought I’d bring you over a begonia slip and set a
while.”

“I’m sorry, Bess,” I says. “I’m going to a meeting.”

“What kind of meetin’?” she says. “P’litical?”

“Yes,” I says, “something like that.” And that was true, of course,
being politics is so often carried on by private charity from the
candidates.

“I’d kind of like to go to a meeting again,” she says, wistful. “I sung
to revival meetings for a month once, when I was a girl.”

“I guess you wouldn’t like this one,” I says. “Come to see me to-morrow
and I’ll tell you about it.”

And then I went up-stairs and left her standing there on the sidewalk,
and I felt kind of ashamed and sneaking. I didn’t know why. But I says
to myself, comforting, that she’d probably of broke out and sung in the
middle of the meeting, if she had come. Her head ain’t right, like the
most of ours; but hers takes noisy forms, so you notice more.

Eleven of us turned out to the meeting, which was a pretty good
proportion, there being only fifteen hundred living in Friendship
Village all together. Silas was in the chair, formal as a funeral.

“The idear, as I understand it,” says Silas, when the meeting was open,
“is to get some Charity going. We’d ought to organize.”

“And then what?” asks Mis’ Toplady.

“Why, commence distributin’ duds and victuals,” says Silas.

“Well-a,” says Mis’ Toplady, “and keep on distributing them all our
lives?”

“Sure,” says Silas, “unless you’re goin’ to be weary in well-doing. Them
folks’ll keep right on being hungry and nekked as long as they live.”

“Why will they?” says Mis’ Toplady, puzzled.

“Well, they’re poor folks, ain’t they?” says Silas, scowling.

“Why, yes,” says Mis’ Toplady; “but that ain’t all they is to ’em, is
it?”

“What do you _mean_?” says Silas.

“Why, I mean,” says Mis’ Toplady, “can’t they be got goin’ so’s they
sha’n’t _be_ poor folks?”

Silas used his face like he smelled something. “Don’t you know no more
about folks than that?” says he. “Facts is facts. You’ve got to take
folks as they are.”

“But you ain’t taking folks nowheres. You’re leavin’ ’em as they are,
Silas,” says Mis’ Toplady, troubled.

Mis’ Silas Sykes spoke up with her way of measuring off just enough for
everybody.

“It’s this way Silas means,” she says. “Folks are rich, or medium, or
poor. We’ve got to face that. It’s always been so.”

Mis’ Toplady kind of bit at her lower lip a few times in a way she has,
that wrinkles up her nose meditative. “It don’t follow out,” she says,
firm. “My back yard used to be all chickweed. Now it’s pure potatoes.”

“Folks,” says Mis’ Sykes, real witherin’, “folks ain’t dirt.”

“That’s what I thought,” says Mis’ Toplady, dry.

Silas went right over their heads, like he does.

“We’ve all been doin’ what we could for these folks,” he says, “but we
ain’t been doin’ it real wise. It’s come to my notice that the Haskitts
had four different chickens give to ’em last Christmas. What we want to
do is to fix up some sort of a organization so’s our chickens won’t
lap.”

“Well,” says Timothy Toplady, “then let’s organize. That ain’t hard. I
move it be done.”

It was done, and Silas was made president, like he ever loves to be, and
Timothy treasurer, and me secretary, because they could get me to take
it.

“Now,” says Silas, “let’s get down to work and talk over cases.”

“_Cases!_” says Mis’ Toplady, distasteful. “They ain’t got the smallpox,
have they? Say _folks_.”

“I guess you ain’t very used to Charity societies,” says Silas,
tolerant. “Take the Haskitts. They ain’t got a pane o’ glass in their
house.”

“Nor no wood, much,” says Timothy. “When I went to get the rent the cat
was asleep on the cook-stove.”

“What rent do they give you, Timothy?” says Silas.

“Five dollars,” he says, pursin’ his lips.

“That’s only three per cent. on the money. I don’t see how you can
afford it.”

“I _am_ indulgin’ myself a little,” Timothy admits. “But I been thinkin’
o’ raisin’ it to six. One thing, though; I ain’t give ’em any repairs.
If I’d had a six-dollar family in there I’d had to fixed the
window-glass and cleaned out the cistern and mended the roof. It about
evens itself up.”

“Yes,” says Silas, agreeful, “I guess it does. Well, they can have some
boxes to burn, out of the store. I’ll take ’em on my list. _You_ can’t
go givin’ ’em truck, Timothy. If you do, they’ll come down on to you for
repairs. Now the Ricker’s....”

Abigail Arnold spoke up. “They’re awful,” she says. “Mis’ Ricker ain’t
fit to wash, and the children just show through. Ab’s arm won’t let him
work all winter.”

“You take him, Silas,” says Timothy. “He’s your own employee.”

Silas shakes his head. “He’s been chasin’ me for damages ever since he
got hurt,” he says.

“Ain’t he goin’ to get any, Silas?” says Mis’ Toplady, pitiful.

“Get any?” says Silas. “It was his own fault. He told me a week before
about them belts bein’ wore. I told him to lay off till I could fix ’em.
But no--he kep’ right on. Said his wife was sick and his bills was
eatin’ him up. He ain’t nobody to blame but his own carelessness. I told
him to lay off.”

I looked over to Mis’ Toplady, and she looked over to me. And I looked
at Abigail and at Mis’ Holcomb, and we all looked at each other. Only
Mis’ Sykes--she set there listening and looking like her life was just
elegant.

“Can’t you take that case, Mis’ Toplady?” says Silas.

“I’ll go and see them _folks_,” she says, troubled. And I guess us
ladies felt troubled, one and all. And so on during all the while we was
discussing the Doles and the Hennings and the Bettses and the rest. And
when the meeting was over we four hung around the stove, and Mis’ Sykes
too.

“I s’pose it’s all right,” Mis’ Toplady says. “I s’pose it is. But I
feel like we’d made a nice, new apron to tie on to Friendship Village,
and hadn’t done a thing about its underclothes.”

“I’m sure,” says Mis’ Sykes, looking hurt for Silas that had cut out the
apron, “I’m sure I don’t see what you mean. Faith, Hope, and Charity,
and the greatest of these is Charity. Does that mean what it says, or
don’t it?”

“Oh, I s’pose it does,” says Mis’ Toplady. “But what I think is this:
Ain’t there things that’s greater than the whole three as most folks
mean ’em?”

Mis’ Sykes, she sort of gasped, in three hitches. “Will you tell me
_what_?” she says, as mad as if she’d been faith, hope, and charity
personally.

“I dunno ...” says Mis’ Toplady, dreamy, “I dunno the name of it. But
ladies, it’s something. And I can feel it, just as plain as plain.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was three-four weeks before the new Charity Association got really to
running, and had collected in enough clothes and groceries so’s we could
start distributing. On the day before the next monthly meeting, that was
to be in Post-Office Hall again, we started out with the things, so’s to
make our report to the meeting. Mis’ Toplady and I was together, and the
first place we went to was Absalom Ricker’s. Gertie, Absalom’s wife, was
washing, and he was turning the wringer with his well hand, and his
mother was finishing vests by the stove, and singing a tune that was
all on a straight line and quite loud. And the children, one and all,
was crying, in their leisure from fighting each other.

“Well,” says Mis’ Toplady, “how you getting on _now_? Got many washings
to do?”

Gertie Ricker, she set down on the wood-box all of a sudden and begun to
cry. She was a pretty little woman, but sickly, and with one of them
folding spines that don’t hold their folks up very good.

“I’ve got three a week,” she says. “I can earn the rent all right.”

“I tell her,” says Absalom, “if she didn’t have no washings, then
there’d be something to cry for.”

But he said it sort of lack-luster, and like it come a word at a time.

“Do you get out any?” says Mis’ Toplady, to improve the topic.

“Out where?” says Gertie. “We ain’t no place to go. I went down for the
yeast last night.”

It kind of come over me: Washing all day and her half sick; Absalom by
the stove tending fire and turning wringer; his old mother humming on
one note; the children yelling when they wasn’t shouting. I thought of
their cupboard and I could see what it must hold--cold boiled potatoes
and beans, I bet. I thought of their supper-table ... of early mornings
before the fire was built. And I see the kind of a life they had.

And then I looked over to the two loaves of bread and the can of fruit
and the dozen eggs and the old coat of Timothy’s that we’d brought, and
it seemed to me these touched the spot of what was the trouble in that
house about as much as the smoke that oozed into the room from the
chimney. And I glanced over to Mis’ Toplady and there she set, with
ideas filterin’ back of her eyes.

“We’ve brought you a few things, being you’re sick--” she begun, sort of
embarrassed; but Absalom, he cut in short, shorter than I ever knew him
to speak.

“Who’s _we_?” he says.

“Why-a,” says Mis’ Toplady, stumbling some over her words, “the new
society.”

Absalom flushed up to the roots of his hair. “What society?” says he,
sharp.

Mis’ Toplady showed scairt for just a minute, and then she met his eyes
brave. “Why,” she says, “us--and you. You belong to it. We had it in the
paper, and met to the Post-Office Hall the other night. It’s for
everybody to come to.”

“To do what?” says Absalom.

“Why-a,” says Mis’ Toplady, some put to it, “to--to do nice things
for--for each other.”

“The town?” says Absalom.

“The town,” agrees Mis’ Toplady--and pressed ahead almost like she was
finding something to explain with. “We meet again to-morrow night,” says
she. “Couldn’t you come--you and Gertie? Come--and mebbe belong?”

Absalom’s mad cooled down some. First he looked sheepish and then he
showed pleased. “Why, I dunno--could we, Gertie?” he says.

“Is it dress-up?” says Gertie.

“Mercy, no,” says Mis’ Toplady, “it’s every-day. Or not so much so.
You’ll come, won’t you?”

“Mebbe,” says Gertie.

When we got outside, I looked at Mis’ Toplady, kind of took aback; and
it was so that she looked at me.

“Silas’ll talk charity his way to that meeting, you know,” I says. “I’m
afraid he’ll hurt Absalom and Gertie. I’m afraid....”

Mis’ Toplady looked kind of scairt herself. “I done that before I meant
to do it no more’n nothing in this world,” she says, “but I dunno--when
I begun handin’ ’em out stuff I was ashamed to do it without putting it
like I done.”

“I know,” I says, “I know.” And know I did. I’ve give things to poor
folks lots of times and glowed up my spine with a virtuous feeling--but
something big was always setting somewhere inside me making me feel
ashamed of the glow and ashamed of the giving. Who am I that I should be
the giver, and somebody else the givee?

We went to the Bettses’ and caught Mis’ Betts washing up two days’ of
dishes at four o’clock in the afternoon, and we heard about Joe’s losing
his job, and we talked to the canary. “We’d ought not to afford him,”
Mis’ Betts says, apologetic. “I always hate to take the money to get him
another package of seed--and we ain’t much of any crumbs.”

And we went to the Haskitts’ and found her head tied up with the
toothache. Folks looks sick enough with their heads tied up _around_;
but when it comes to up and down, with the ends sticking up, they always
look like they was going to die. And we went to the Doles’ and the
Hennings’ and carried in the stuff; and one and all them places, leaving
things there was like laying a ten-cent piece down on a leper, and
bowing to him to help on his recovery. And every single place, as soon
as ever we’d laid down the old clothes we’d brought, we invited ’em to
join the organization and to come to the meeting next night.

“What’s the name of this here club?” Joe Betts asks us.

By that time neither Mis’ Toplady nor me would have tied the word
“Charity” to that club for anything on earth. We told him we was going
to pick the name next night, and told him he must come and help.

“Do come,” Mis’ Toplady says, and when Mis’ Betts hung off: “We’re goin’
to have a little visiting time--and coffee and sandwiches afterwards,”
Mis’ Toplady adds, calm as her hat. And when we got outside: “I dunno
what made me stick on the coffee and the sandwiches,” she says, sort of
dazed, “but it was so kind of bleak and dead in there, I felt like I
just had to say something cheerful and human--like coffee.”

“Well,” I says, “us ladies can do the refreshments ourselves, so be the
rest of the Board stands on its head at the idee of doing ’em itself.
_As_ I presume likely it will stand.”

And this we both of us presumed alike. So on the way home we stopped in
to the post-office store and told Silas that we’d been giving out a good
many invitations to folks to come to the meeting next night, and mebbe
join.

“That’s good,” says Silas, genial; “that’s good. We need the dues.”

“We kind of thought coffee and sandwiches to-morrow night, Silas,” says
Mis’ Toplady, experimental, “and a little social time.”

“Don’t you go to makin’ no white-kid-glove doin’s out o’ this thing,”
says Silas. “You can’t mix up charity and society too free. Charity’s
religion and society’s earthy. And that’s two different things.”

“Earthy,” I says over. “Earthy! So’m I. Ain’t it a wonderful word,
Silas? Well, us two is going to do the coffee and sandwiches for
to-morrow night,” I added on, deliberate, determined and serene.

When Silas had done his objecting, and see he couldn’t help himself with
us willing to solicit the whole refreshments, and when we’d left the
store, Mis’ Toplady thought of something else: “I dunno,” she says, “as
we’d ought to leave folks out just because they ain’t poor. That,” she
says, troubled, “don’t seem real right. Let’s us telephone to them we
can think of that didn’t come to the last meeting.”

So we invited in the telephone population, just the same as them that
didn’t have one.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next night us ladies got down to the hall early to do the finishing
touches. And on Daphne Street, on my way down, I met Bess Bones again,
kind of creeping along. She’d stopped to pat the nose of a horse
standing patient, hitched outside the barber-shop saloon--- I’ve seen
Bess go down Daphne Street on market-days patting the nose of every
horse one after another.

“Hello, Mis’ Marsh,” Bess says. “Are you comin’ down with another
meeting?”

“Yes, sir, Bess,” I says, “I am.” And then a thought struck me. “Bess,”
I says--able now to hold up my head like my skull intended, because I
felt I could ask her--“you come on up, too--you’re invited to-night.
Everybody is.”

Her face lit up, like putting the curtain up.

“Honest, can I?” she says. “I’d love to go to a meeting again--I’ve
looked in the window at ’em a dozen times. I’ll get my bread and be
right up.”

I tell you, Post-Office Hall looked nice. We’d got in a few rugs and
plants, and the refreshment table stood acrost one corner, with a screen
around the gas-plate, and the cups all piled shiny and the sandwiches
covered with white fringed napkins. And about seven o’clock in come
three pieces of the Friendship Village Stonehenge Band we’d got to give
their services, and they begun tuning up, festive. And us ladies stood
around with our hands under our white aprons; and you’d have thought it
was some nice, human doings instead of just duty.

Before much of anybody else had got there, in come them we’d invited
first: Absalom Ricker and Gertie, her looking real nice with a
new-ironed bow to her neck, and him brushed up in Timothy’s old coat and
his hair trained to a high peak. And the Bettses--Joe with his beard
expected to cover up where there wasn’t a necktie and her pretending the
hall was chilly so’s to keep her cloak on over whatever wasn’t
underneath. And the Haskitts, him snapping and snarling at her, and her
trying to hush him up by agreeing with him promiscuous. And Mis’ Henning
that her husband didn’t show up. We heard afterwards he was down in the
barber-shop saloon, dressed up to come but backed out after. And most
everybody else come--not only the original ’leven, but some of the
telephone folks, and some that the refreshment-bait always catches.

Silas come in late--he’d had to wait and distribute the mail--and when
he see the Rickers and the rest of them, he come tearing over to us
women in the refreshment corner.

“My dum!” he says, “look at them folks setting down there--Rickerses and
Henningses and Bettses and them--how we goin’ to manage with them here?
The idear of their coming to the meeting!”

“Ain’t it some their meeting, Silas?” I says. “The whole society was
formed on their account. Seems to me they’ve got a right--just like in
real United States Congress doings.”

“But, my dum, woman,” says Silas, “how we going to take up their cases
and talk ’em over with them setting there, taking it all in? Ain’t you
got no delicacy to you?” he ends up, ready to burst.

And of course, when you come to think of it, Congress always does do its
real business in committees, private and delicate.

Mis’ Toplady was ready for Silas.

“You’re right about it,” she says. “We can’t do that, can we? Suppose we
don’t do so very much business to-night? Let’s set some other talk
goin’. We thought mebbe--do you s’pose your niece would sing for us,
Silas?”

“Mebbe,” says Silas, some mollified, through being proud to sinning of
his visiting niece; “but I don’t like this here--” he was going on.

“Ask her,” says Mis’ Toplady. “She’ll do it for you, Silas.”

And Silas done so, ignorant as the dead that he’d been right down
managed. Then he went up stage and rapped to begin.

Well, of course I had to read the minutes, being secretary so, and I was
ready, having set up half the night before to make them out. And of
course, the job was some delicate; but I’d fixed them up what I thought
was real nice and impersonal. Like this:

     “A meeting of citizens of Friendship Village was held,  ----, in
     Post-Office Hall, for the purpose of organizing a society to do
     nice things for folks. (Then I give the names of the officers.)
     Several plans was thought over for making presents to others and
     for distributing the same. Several families was thought of for
     membership. It was voted to have two kinds of members, honorary and
     active. The active pay all the dues and provide the presents, but
     everybody contributes what they can and will, whether work or
     similar. A number of ways was thought of for going to work. Things
     that had ought to be done was talked over. It was decided to hold
     monthly meetings. Meeting adjourned.”

That seemed to me to cover everything real neat, nobody ever paying much
attention to the minutes anyway. I suppose that’s why they give ’em such
a small, stingy name. And when Silas got to reports of committees, Mis’
Toplady was no less ready for him. She hopped right up to say that the
work that had been put in her hands was all finished, the same as was
ordered, and no more to be said about it. And when it come to
Unfinished Business, there was me on my feet again to say that the work
that had been put in my hands wasn’t finished and there’d be more to be
said about it later.

Then Silas asked for New Business, and there was a pause. And all of a
sudden Absalom Ricker got on to his feet with his arm still in its
sling.

“Mr. President,” he says, so nice and dignified. And when Silas had done
his nod, Absalom went on in his soft, unstarched voice: “It’s a real
nice idear,” he says, “to get up this here club. I for one feel real
glad it’s going. You ain’t got up any line around it. Nobody has to be
any one thing in order to get in on it. I’ve thought for a long time
there’d ought to be some place where folks could go that didn’t believe
alike, nor vote alike, nor get paid alike. I’m glad I come out--I guess
we all are. Now the purpose of this here club, as I understand it, is to
do nice things for folks. Well, I’ve got a nice thing to propose for us
to do. I’ll pitch in and help, and I guess some of the rest of us will.
Soon as it comes warm weather, we could get a-hold of that elegant
galvanized iron swill-wagon that ain’t in use and drive it around the
town to do what it’s for. Us that don’t have work so awful steady could
do it, nice as a mice. I dunno whether that comes inside what the club
was intended for, but it would be doing a kind of a nice thing for
folks, my way of thinking.”

Up hopped Eppleby Holcomb--Eppleby being one of those prophet men that
can see faint signs sticking up their heads where there ain’t much of
anything showing.

“That’s the ticket, Mr. President,” says he. “Us that don’t have horses
or chickens can sense that all right. If Absalom moves it, I second it.”

“Will you help drive it around, Betts?” says Absalom. “Hank Haskitt? Ben
Dole? We’re all of us home a good deal of the time--we could keep it
goin’, amongst us. All right,” says he, when the men had nodded
matter-of-course nods, “sure I make it a motion.”

Silas put the motion, looking some dazed. And when it carried, hearty,
us ladies sitting over by the refreshment table, and that had bought the
wagon, we all burst out and spatted our hands. We couldn’t help it. And
everybody kind of turned around and passed some remark--and it made a
real nice minute.

Then Silas spoke up from the chair kind of sour--being in the Council
so, that wouldn’t run the wagon.

“The thing’s in the city tool-house now,” says he, “and it’s a good deal
in the way where it is. It had ought to be put somewheres.”

Up pipes Ben Dole, kind of important and eager, and forgot to address
the chair till he was half through, and then done so and ducked and
flushed and went on anyhow. And the purport of his remarks was, that he
could set that tank in the barn of his lot, that he didn’t have no horse
for and no use of, and keep it there till spring. And I seconded what he
meant, and it got itself carried, and Ben set down like he’d done a
thing, same as he had done.

Then, when Silas said what was the next pleasure of the meeting, Mis’
Toplady mentioned that they needed carpet rags to make up some rugs for
two-three places, and who could give some and help sew them? Mis’ Sykes
said she could, and Mame and Abigail and me and some more offered up,
and Mis’ Toplady wrote our names down, and, “How about you, Gertie?”
says she to Gertie Ricker.

Gertie looked scairt for a minute, and then my heart jumped pleasant in
its socket, _for I see Absalom nudge her_. Yes, sir, he nudged her to
say she would, and all of a sudden I knew that he wanted his wife to be
taking some part like the rest was; and she says, faint, “I guess so.”
And when Mis’ Sykes asked round, Mis’ Haskitt and Mis’ Henning said they
didn’t have much of any rags, but they could come and help sew the rags
of them that did have.

“So do,” says Mis’ Toplady, hearty, “and we’ll meet to my house next
Tuesday at two o’clock, sha’n’t we? And have a cup o’ tea.”

“What else is the pleasure of the meeting?” says Silas, balancing on his
toes as chairman-like as he knew how.

Then on the second row from the back, who should we see getting up but
Bess Bones. I hadn’t seen her come in and I’d forgot all about her. Her
hat was on one side, and the plume that was broke in the middle was
hanging idle, not doing any decorating; and I could see the other ladies
thinking with one brain that ten to one she’d been drinking, and would
break out singing in our very midst. But she hadn’t nor she didn’t. Only
what she said went over the room shrill, as her singing voice was.

“For the land’s sakes,” says Bess, “if you’re goin’ to hold protracted
meetin’s in this hall, why don’t you clean up the floor? I never see
such a hole. I motion I come in an’ scrub it up. I ain’t no thousand
dollars to subscribe, but a cake o’ soap’ll keep you from stickin’ to
the boards.”

“Second the motion!” says I, all over me.

And even Silas broke down and smiled like he don’t think no president
had ought to do. And everybody else kind of laughed and looked at each
other and felt the kind of a feeling that don’t run around among folks
any too often. And when Silas put the motion, kind of grudging, we all
voted for it abundant. And Bess set there showing pleased, like an empty
room that has had a piece of furniture got for it.

I dunno what it was that minute done to us all. I’ve often wondered
since, what it was. But somehow everybody kind of felt that they all
knew something each other knew, only they couldn’t rightly name it. Ab
and Joe Betts, Mame Holcomb and Eppleby, Gertie and Mis’ Toplady and
me--we all felt it. Everybody did, unless it was Silas and Mis’ Sykes.
Silas didn’t sense nothing much but that he hoped the meeting was going
to run smooth, and Mis’ Sykes--well, right in the middle of that glowing
minute I see her catch sight of Mame Holcomb’s new red waist and she set
there thinking of nothing _but_ waist either with eyes or with mind.

But the rest of us was sharing a big minute. And I liked us all to be
feeling that way--I ain’t never liked anything better, without it’s the
Christmas feeling or the Thanksgiving feeling. And this feeling was
sort of like all two. And I betted if only we could make it
last--Absalom wouldn’t be getting done out of his arm’s money-value by
Silas, nor the Bettses out of their decent roof by Timothy, nor they
wouldn’t be no club formed to dole out charity stuff, but we would all
know a better way. And things would be different. Different.

I leaned clear past three chairs and nudged Mis’ Toplady. She looked
round, and I see she was just wiping her eyes on her apron-string--Mis’
Toplady never can find her handkerchief when she most wants to cry. And
I never said a word--I didn’t need to--but we nodded and we both knew
what we both knew: that there was a bigger thing in the room that minute
than ever Silas knew or guessed when he planned out his plan. And it was
what Mis’ Toplady had meant when she told him there was something
“greater than these”--as most folks mean ’em.

I didn’t lose the feeling through the piece by the band that come next,
nor through the selection by Silas’s niece. The music really made the
feeling more so--the music, and our all setting there hearing it
together, and everybody in the room being givers, and nobody givees. But
when the music stopped, and while I was still feeling all glorified up,
what did Mis’ Sykes do but break in, something like throwing a stone
through a window.

“I should think we might as well get the club name settled to-night,”
she says with her little formal pucker. “Ain’t the Charity Club that we
spoke of real nice and dignified for our title?”

It was Mis’ Toplady that exploded. It just bare happened it wasn’t me,
but it turned out to be her.

“Land, land,” she says, “_no_! Not one person in fifteen hundred knows
what charity means anyhow, and everybody’d get the wrong idee. Let’s
call it just its plain natural name: The Friendship Village Club. Or,
The Whole World Club. Or I dunno but The Universe Club!”

I knew I wouldn’t have the sense to keep still right through things. I
never do have.

“No, sir!” I says out, “oh, no sir! Universe Club ain’t big enough. For
if they is any other universe anywhere maybe that might feel left out.”

Long before we had settled on any one name, I remember Mis’ Toplady come
out from behind the refreshments screen and says: “Mr. President, the
coffee and sandwiches has come to a boil. Can’t you peter off the
meeting and adjourn it for one week?”

Which wasn’t just exactly how she meant to say it. But it seemed to come
in so pat that everybody rustled, spontaneous, in spite of themselves.
And us ladies begun passing the plates.

       *       *       *       *       *

After they’d all gone, we was picking up the dishes when Silas come in
to see to the stoves.

“Oh, Silas,” I says, “wasn’t it a splendid meeting? Wasn’t it?”

Silas was pinching, gingerish, at the hot stove-door handle, rather than
take his coat-tail for a holder.

“I s’pose _you’re_ satisfied,” he says. “You fed ’em, even if we didn’t
get much done.”

“Not get much done!” I says--“not get much done! Oh, Silas, what more
did you want to do than we see done here to-night?”

“Well, what kind of a _charity_ meeting was that?” says he, sour and
bitter rolled into one.

I went up to him with all of Mis’ Toplady’s fringed tea-napkins in my
hands that it was going to take her most of the next day to do up.

“Why, Silas,” I says, “I dunno if it was any kind of a charity meeting.
But it was a town meeting. It was a folks’ meeting. It was a human
meeting. Can’t you sense it? Can’t you sense it, Silas?” I put it to
him: “We got something else besides charity going here to-night--as sure
as the living sun.”

“I like to know what?” he snaps back, and slammed the stove door.

Mis’ Toplady, she looked at him tranquil over the tops of her two pairs
of spectacles.

“Something that’s in folks,” says she--and went on hunting up her
spoons.



THE TIME HAS COME


When the minister’s wife sent for me that day, it was a real bad time,
because I’d been doing up my tomato preserves and I’d stood on my feet
till they was ready to come off. But as soon as I got the last crock
filled, I changed my dress and pushed my hair up under my hat and
thought I’d remember to keep my old shoes underneath my skirt.

The minister’s parlor is real cool and shady--she keeps it shut up all
day, and it kind of smells of its rose jar and its silk cushions and the
dried grasses in the grate; and I sank down in the horse-hair patent
rocker, and was glad of the rest. But I kept wondering what on earth the
minister’s wife could want of me. It wasn’t the season for missionary
barrels or lumberman’s literature--the season for them is house-cleaning
time when we don’t know what all to do with the truck, and we take that
way of getting rid of it and, same time, providing a nice little
self-indulgence for our consciences. But this was the dead of Summer,
and everybody sunk deep in preserves and vacations and getting their
social indebtedness paid off and there wasn’t anything going around to
be dutiful about for, say, a month or six weeks yet, when the Fall woke
up, and the town begun to get out the children’s school-clothes and hunt
’em for moths.

“Well, Calliope,” says the minister’s wife, “I s’pose you wonder what
I’ve got important to say to you.”

“True,” says I, “I do. But my feet ache so,” I says graceful, “I’m
perfectly contented to set and listen to it, no matter what it is.”

She scraped her chair a little nearer--she was a dear, fat woman, that
her breathing showed through her abundance. She had on a clean, starched
wrapper, too short for anything but home wear, and long-sleeved cotton
under-wear that was always coming down over her hands, in July or
August, and making you feel what a grand thing it is to be shed of
them--I don’t know of anything whatever that makes anybody seem older
than to see long, cotton undersleeves on them and the thermometer 90° at
the City Bank corner.

“Well,” says she, “Calliope, the Reverend and I--” she always called her
husband the Reverend--“has been visiting in the City, as you know. And
while there we had the privilege of attending the Church of the Divine
Life.”

“Yes,” says I, wondering what was coming.

“Never,” says she, impressive, “never have I seen religion at so high an
ebb. It was magnificent. From gallery to the back seat the pews were
filled with attentive, intelligent people. Outside, the two sides of the
street were lined with their automobiles. And this not one Sunday, but
every Sunday. It was the most positive proof of the interest of the
human heart in--in divine things. It was grand.”

“Well, well,” says I, following her.

“Now,” she says, “the sermon wasn’t much. Good, but not much. And the
singing--well, Lavvy Whitmore can do just as good when she sets about
it. _Then what made folks go?_ The Reverend and I talked it over. And
we’ve decided it isn’t because they’re any better than the village
folks. No, they’ve simply got in the habit of it, they see everybody
else going, and they go. And it give us an idea.”

“What was that?” says I, encouraging, for I never see where she was
driving on at.

“The same situation can be brought about in Friendship Village,” says
she. “If only everybody sees everybody going to church, everybody else
will go!”

I sat trying to figger that out. “Do you think so?” says I, meantime.

“I am sure so,” she replies, firm. “The question is, How shall we get
everybody to go, till the example becomes fixed?”

“How, indeed?” says I, helpless, wondering which of the three everybodys
she was thinking of starting in on.

“Now,” she continues, “we have talked it over, the Reverend and I, and
we have decided that you’re the one to help us. We want you to help us
think up ways to get this whole village into church for, say, four
Sundays or so, hand-running.”

I was trying to see which end to take hold of.

“Well-a,” I says, “into which church?”

The minister’s wife stared at me.

“Why, ours!” says she.

“Why into ours?” I ask’ her, thoughtful.

“My goodness,” says she, “what do you s’pose we’re in our church for,
anyway?”

“I’m sure,” says I, “I don’t know. I often wonder. I’m in our particular
one because my father was janitor of it when I was a little girl. Why
are you in it?”

She looked at me perfectly withering.

“I,” she says cold, “was brought up in it. There was never any question
what one I should be in.”

“Exactly,” says I, nodding. “And your husband--why is he in our special
church?”

“My dear Calliope,” says she, regal, “he was _born_ in it. His father
was minister of it----”

“Exactly,” I says again. “Then there’s Mame Holcomb, her mother sung in
our choir, so she joined ours. And Mis’ Toplady, they lived within half
a mile of ours out in the country, and the other churches were on the
other side of the hill. So they joined ours. And the Sykeses, they
joined ours when they lived in Kingsford, because there wasn’t any other
denomination there. But the rest of the congregation, I don’t happen to
know what their reasons was. I suppose they was equally spiritual.”

The minister’s wife bent over toward me.

“Calliope Marsh,” says she, “you talk like an atheist.”

“Never mind me,” I says. “Go on about the plan. Everybody is to be got
into our church for a few Sundays, as I understand it. What you going to
give them when you get them there?”

She looked at me kind of horror-struck.

“Calliope,” says she, “what has come over you? The Reverend is going to
preach, of course.”

“About what?” says I, grim. “Describin’ the temple, and telling how many
courts it had? Or giving us a little something exegitical--whatever
that means?”

For a minute I thought she was going to cry, and I melted myself. If I
hadn’t been preserving all the morning, I wouldn’t never have spoke so
frank.

“Honest,” I says, “I don’t know what exegitical does mean, but I didn’t
intend it insulting. But tell me this--just as truthful as if you wasn’t
a minister’s wife: Do you see any living, human thing in our church
service here in the village that would make a living, human young folk
really want to go to it?”

“They’d ought to want to go to it,” says she.

“Never mind what they’d ought to want,” says I, “though I ain’t so clear
they’d ought to want it, myself. Just as truthful as if you wasn’t a
minister’s wife--do you?”

“No,” says she, “but----”

“Now,” I says, “you’ve said it. And what is true for young is often true
for old. If you want to meet that, I’m ready to help you. But if you
just want to fill our church up full of folks, I don’t care whether it’s
full or not--not that way.”

“Well,” she says, “I’m sure I only meant what was for the best in my
husband’s work----”

I put out my hand to her. All of a sudden, I saw her as she was, doing
her level best inside the four walls of her--and I says to myself that
I’d been a brute and, though I was glad of it, I’d make up for it by
getting after the thing laying there underneath all the words.

For Friendship Village, in this particular, wasn’t any different from
any other village or any other town or city of now. We had fifteen
hundred folks and we had three churches, three ministers at Eight
Hundred Dollars apiece annually, three cottage organs, three choirs,
three Sunday School picnics in Summer, three Sunday School
entertainments in Winter, three sets of repairs, carpets, conventions
and delegates, and six stoves with the wood to buy to run ’em. And out
of the fifteen hundred folks, from forty to sixty went to each church
each Sunday. We were like that.

In one respect, though, we differed from every other town. We had Lavvy
Whitmore. Lavvy was the town soprano. She sung like a bird incarnate,
and we all got her for Sunday School concerts and visiting ministers and
special occasions in general. Lavvy didn’t belong to any church. She
sort of boarded round, and we couldn’t pin her down to any one choir.

“For one reason,” she said, “I haven’t got enough clothes to belong to
any one choir. I’ve been driven distracted too many times looking at
the same plaid waist and the same red bird and the same cameo pin in
choirs to do it for anybody else. By kind of boarding round the way I
do, I can give them all a change.”

The young minister over to the White Frame church--young Elbert
Kinsman--he took it harder than the rest.

“How are your convictions, Miss Lavvy?” he had once been heard to say.

“My convictions?” she answered him. “They are that there isn’t enough
difference in the three to be so solemn and so expensive over.
Especially the expensive,” she added. “Is there now?”

“No,” young Elbert Kinsman had unexpectedly replied, “I myself don’t
think there is. But----”

“The only thing is,” Lavvy had put in irreverent, “_you_ can’t get rid
of that ‘but,’ and I have!”

“You send for Lavvy,” I says now to our minister’s wife. “She’ll think
of something.”

So there we were, with a kind of revival on our hands to plan before we
knew it, because our minister’s wife was like that, much more like that
than he was. He had a great deal of emphasis, but she had a great deal
of force.

Going home that morning, I went a little out of my way and come round by
Shepherd’s Grove. Shepherd’s Grove lays just on the edge of the village,
not far from the little grassy triangle in the residence part--and it
always rests me to go there. Walking through it that morning I remember
I thought:

“Yes, I s’pose this kind of extry effort must be all right--even Nature
enters into it real extensive. Every Summer is an extry effort--a real
revival, I guess. But oh,” I says to myself, wishful, “that’s so
spontaneous and unanimous! I wish’t folks was more like that....”

I was filling in for organist while ours was away on a vacation to her
husband’s relatives. That sounds so grand and I’d ought to explain that
I can only play pieces that are written in the natural. But by picking
out judicious, I can get along through the morning and evening services
very nice. I don’t dare ever attempt prayer-meeting, because then
somebody is likely to pipe up and give out a hymn that’s in sharps or
flats, without thinking. I remember one night, though, when I just had
to play for prayer-meeting being the only one present that knew white
notes from black. There was a visiting minister. And when he give out
his first hymn, I see it was “There is a Calm for Those That Weep” in
three flats, and I turned around on the stool, and I says, “Wouldn’t you
just as lief play the piece on the opposite page? That’s wrote natural.”
He done so, looking some puzzled, and well he might, for the one I
mentioned happened to be, “Master, the Tempest is Raging.” I was a kind
of a limited organist but then I filled in, vacations and such, anyhow.
And it was so I was doing that Summer.

And so they left it to me to kind of plan the order of services for them
four Sundays in September that they decided on. That was nice to do--I’d
been hankering to get my hands on the services many a time. And a night
or two afterwards, our minister come down to talk this over with me. I’d
been ironing all that blessed day, and just before supper my half bushel
of cherries had come down on me, unexpected. I was sitting on the front
porch in the cool of the day, pitting them. The sun wasn’t down yet, and
folks was watering lawns and tinkering with blinds and screens and
fences, or walking round pinching off dead leaves; and being out there
sort of rested me.

Our minister sat down on the top stoop-step. It had been an awful hot
day, and he looked completely tuckered out.

“Hot, ain’t it?” says I, sympathetic,--you can sympathize with folks
for the weather without seeming to reproach ’em, same as sympathy for
being tired out does to ’em.

“Very warm,” says he. “I’ve made,” he says, “eleven calls this
afternoon.”

“Oh, did you?” I says. “What was the occasion of them?”

He looked surprised. “Pastoral calls,” he says, explaining.

“Oh,” I says. “Sick folks?”

“Why no, no,” says he. “My regular rounds. I’ve made,” he adds, “one
hundred and fourteen calls this month.”

I went on pitting cherries. When I look back on it now, I know that it
wasn’t natural courage at all that made me say what I did. It was merely
the cherries coming on top of the ironing.

“Ain’t life odd?” says I. “When _you_ go to see folks, it’s duty. And
when I go to see folks, I do it for a nice, innocent indulgence.”

He looked kind of bewildered and sat there fanning himself with the last
foreign missionary report and not saying anything for a minute.

“What did you find to talk about with ’em?” I says, casual.

“Well,” he said, “I hardly know. The range of interests, I must say, is
not very wide. There has been a good deal of sickness in the
congregation this Summer----”

“Yes,” I says, “I know. Mis’ Emmons’s limb has been troubling her again.
Mis’ Temples’ headaches have come back. Old Mr. Blackwell has got hold
of a new dyspepsia remedy. At the Holmans’ the two twins fell into an
empty cistern and got scraped. And Grandma Oxner don’t see any change in
the old complaint. I’m familiar with ’em.”

He smiled at that. “They _have_ a good many burdens to bear,” he says,
patient. “But----”

“But,” I says, “don’t it seem wicked to ask a man to set and listen to
everybody’s troubles for one hundred and fourteen calls a month, and
expect him to feel he’s doing the Lord’s work?”

“The office of comforter----” he began.

“When,” says I, “was complaints ever lessened by dwelling on ’em--tell
me that? Oh,” I says, “it ain’t you I’m blaming, nor the other ministers
either. I’m blaming us, that calls a minister to come and help us reveal
the word of God to ourselves, and then expect a social call a month, or
more, off’n him, once around the congregation--or else be uppish and
mebbe leave the church.”

“The office of spiritual adviser always demands----” he started in, and
concluded it as might have been expected.

“How much religion really, _really_, do they let you talk on these
calls?” I ask’ him. “Don’t it seem kind of bad taste if you say much
about it? And as a matter of fact, don’t ministers pride themselves
nowdays on being all-around men who can talk about everything, from
concerts to motion pictures, and this here city gollif? Of course they
do. That is, if folks keep off their complaints long enough to leave you
prove how really broad your interests are.”

“Yes, I know--well,” he says patient, “they expect the calls. What,” he
adds, “had you thought of for the order of the four Sunday services?”

“I thought,” I says, “for the first fifteen minutes or so, we might sing
together.”

“A short praise service,” says he, comprehending. “Well--that’s a little
out of the order for the Sunday morning service, but it might be
indulged.”

“Yes,” I says, dry. “Praise ought not to offend most people. And then I
thought of it for what it does to people to sing together for a while.
It makes real things seem sort of possible, I always think. After the
Doxology, we might start in with ‘America,’ and----”

“America?” says he.

I waited. I thought the next observation belonged to him.

“We’ve sung ‘America’ at Sunday evening mass meetings,” he says, “but
for the opening hymn of the regular morning worship--still, of course
it’s in the hymnal. I suppose there is really no objection.”

“That,” says I, “was how I looked at it. There’s no objection. Then the
Lord’s prayer--all of us together. And the reading--something read from
one heart right to another, wouldn’t it be? And then we might sing
again--‘Love For Every Unloved Creature,’ or something of that sort. I
think,” I says, “we’d ought to be very careful what hymns we pick out,
for these Sundays. Take just the religious ones, why don’t you?”

“I beg your pardon,” said our minister. “What did you say then?”

“Well, for instance,” I says....

    “‘The Son of God goes forth to war
      A kingly crown to gain.
      His blood-red banner streams afar.
      Who follows in his train?’

“I call a good deal of that hymn immoral. Think of that gentle soul
caring to gain a kingly crown. Think of his having a blood-red banner.
Think of him going forth _to war_. It’s a wicked hymn, some of it.”

“Oh, well,” said our minister, “those things are just figurative. You
mustn’t take them too literally, Miss Marsh.”

I looked over at him, across my cherries.

“We’re saying that pretty often these days,” I said. “Sometimes it’s
glorious true and sometimes it’s stupid false.”

“Well,” he says, “that needn’t enter into the services for these
Sundays. We might of course do well to pick out the hymns with care.
What else had you thought of?”

“I thought,” I said, “of having the Sunday School come in then and march
down the aisle, singing--not ‘We Are Little Soldiers,’ or anything like
that, but ‘I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old,’ say. And then
have them repeat something--well,” I says, “I found a little verse the
other day. I never saw it before--mebbe you have. I’ve been meaning to
ask the superintendent how it would be to have the children learn to say
that.”

I said it for him:

    “‘The year’s at the Spring,
      The day’s at the morn,
      Morning’s at seven,
      The hill-side’s dew-pearled.
      The lark’s on the wing,
      The snail’s on the thorn,
      God’s in his heaven,
      All’s right with the world.’

“And then,” I says, “have them add: ‘And oh God, help the last line to
get to be true for everybody, and help me to help make it true. Amen,’
That,” I says, “might do for one day. Then you talk to ’em for five
minutes. And then dismiss them.”

“_Dismiss_ them?” he said. “Not have them remain to the service?”

“Why, no,” I says, “not unless you can interest and occupy them. Which
no sermons do for little children.”

“Where would the mothers that are in church _send_ their children to?”
says he.

“We ought to have the rooms downstairs open,” I says, “and have somebody
in charge, and have quiet exercises and story-telling and pictures for
them.”

“My dear Miss Marsh,” he says, “that would be a revolution.”

“True,” says I, serene. “Ain’t life odd?” I adds. “One minute we’re
saying, shocked: ‘But that would be a revolution.’ And the next minute
we’re harping away on keeping alive the revolutionary spirit. I wonder
which of the two we really mean?”

“Well, then, what else?” says he, pacific.

“Then,” I says, “I wish we could have five minutes of silent prayer. And
then right off, the sermon--and no hymn after that at all, but let the
sermon end with the benediction--a real cry to God to be with us and to
live in us. That’s all.”

I had to go out in the kitchen then to empty a bowl of my pitted fruit,
and when I come back the minister stood there, smiling.

“Ah, Miss Marsh,” he said, “you’ve forgotten a very important thing.
You’ve forgotten the collection.”

“No,” says I. “No, I haven’t. Except on the days when it’s a real
offering for some work for God. I’d take a collection then. The rest of
the time I’d have the minister’s salary and the fuel and the kerosene
paid for by checks, private.”

After he’d gone, I set there going over, miserable, the things I’d said
to him about the services that it was his job to do. And though I was
miserable enough--I honestly couldn’t be sorry. You know the difference
in them two?

I was to engage Lavvy Whitmore to lead our singing for the four Sundays,
and I went over to see her the next afternoon. She was cleaning the
lamps when I stepped up to the kitchen door, so I went right in and sat
down at the end of the table, and helped her with the chimneys. She was
a pretty little thing--little, but with black eyes that mentioned her
thoughts before ever any of the rest of her agreed to announce ’em. And
plenty of thoughts, too, Lavvy had. She wasn’t one of the girls that is
turned out by the thousands, that wouldn’t recognize their own minds if
they was to meet ’em unbeknownst; but one that her mind was cut out,
careful, by a pattern part of her own selecting, and not a pattern just
laid on to it, haphazard, by the folks that she lived neighbor to, and
went with when she went.

“Lavvy,” I says, “we want to speak for you to sing to our church the
four Sundays in September, when we have special services to get
everybody to go, so’s everybody’ll see everybody else going, and go too.
Can we? Will you?”

“I’ve been spoke for,” says she, “by the White Frame church for the four
September Sundays. For the same reason.”

“Go on!” I says. “Do you mean to tell me that they’re going to have a
competition revival?”

“Well,” she says, “they’re going to make an extra effort to get folks
out for the four Sundays.”

“Copied it off’n us,” I says thoughtful. “Well, I guess the four Sundays
can’t be regularly copyrighted by us, can they? But I thought their
minister didn’t like revivals?” I says.

“Oh, he don’t--Elbert Kinsman don’t,” says Lavvy. “It’s the rest of ’em
wants it. He told me he thought it was a mistake.”

“That young Elbert Kinsman,” I says, “he loves _folks_. I saw it in his
face long ago.”

Lavvy went on trimming wicks.

“And then the Red Brick church,” says she, “_they’ve_ spoke for me to
sing for them for the four Sundays in September too.”

“Land of life,” I says, “they haven’t! What on earth have they done that
for?”

“Oh,” says Lavvy, “to get everybody to go, so’s everybody’ll see
everybody else going, and----”

“Don’t, Lavvy,” I says. “That makes me feel kind of sick.”

“So it done to me,” she says. “And I’ll tell you the same as I told
them: No, I won’t sing those four Sundays. I ain’t going to be here. I
don’t know yet where I’m going, but I’ll go off somewheres--where things
are better--if I have to go blackberrying in Shepherd’s Grove.”

“My land,” I says, “I’ve a great good notion to get my pail and go along
with you.”

We talked about it quite a while that afternoon, Lavvy and me. And
though all along I’d been feeling sort of sore and sick over the whole
idea--and I might have known that I was, by the chip-shouldered way I
had talked to our minister--still, it wasn’t till there by the lamps
that I come to a realization of myself, and of some other things just as
foolish, and that I faced around and begun to ask myself, plain, what in
the world was what.

For it was as true as possible: As soon as it got out around that our
church was laying plans for a revival--not an evangelist revival, but a
home-made one--it had happened just as might have been expected. The
other two churches was afraid we’d get their folks away from them, and
they says they’d make an extra effort to get folks out, as well. They
fell into the same hope--to “fill up” the churches, and see if we
couldn’t get folks started attending regular. Somebody suggested having
a month’s union services in each of the three churches, but they voted
that three months of this would get monotonous, while the novelty of the
other way would “get folks out.”

No sooner had we all settled on that, then we slipped, by the
gradualest degrees, into the next step, that was as inevitable as two
coming after one. We begun being secret about what we meant to have, not
telling what the order of exercises was going to be, or what special
music we was getting up. And then come along the next thing, as regular
as three coming after two--we begun sort of running one another to see
who could get the most folks. At first we sent out printed invitations
addressed to likely spots; then we took to calling to houses by
committees, and delivering invitations in person. Now and then rival
visiting committees would accidentally meet to the same house and each
try to out-set the other. And from this, one or two things developed, as
things will, that made a little uppishness here and there. For out of
certain situations, uppishness does seem to arise, same as cream out of
milk, or dust out of furniture.

One afternoon I looked out my window, and I see the three Sunday school
superintendents come marching up my brick walk--ain’t it funny how, when
men goes out with a proposition for raising pew-rent, or buying a new
furnace for the manse, or helping along the town, they always go two or
three strong? If you notice, they do.

“Come right in, gentlemen,” I says. “If it’s money, I can’t give you a
cent. If it’s work, I’m drove to death as it is. But if it’s advice, I
do enjoy myself giving that.”

It was our own superintendent that spoke, as being the least foreign to
me, I s’pose,--though it happened that I was better acquainted with both
the other two.

“It’s neither, Miss Marsh,” he says, “it’s some ideas we want off’n you.
We’ve got,” says he, “a plan.”

Then he unrolled it, assisted by the other two.

“We thought,” he says, “that in all this added interest in church
attendance which we are hoping to stimulate, the three churches had
ought to pull together a little.”

At that my heart jumped up. It was what I had been longing for, and
grieving because it didn’t come true.

“We thought we’d ought to have a little more community effort,” says the
White Frame superintendent, clearing his throat. I guess he knew how
that word “community” always gets me. I’d rather read that one word than
half the whole books on the market.

“Oh, yes,” I says. “Yes! I think so too.”

“We thought we’d ought to make the experience one of particular blessing
and fellowship,” says the Red Brick superintendent, fairly beaming.

And me, the simple soul, I beamed back.

“Count on me,” says I, fervent, “to do anything in the world to help on
a thing like that!”

“We were sure of it,” said our superintendent, “and that is why we have
come to you. Now,” says he, “the idea is this: We thought we’d each take
a color--give each church a color, you know.”

“A color?” says I.

“Exactly,” says he. “The White Frames white. The Red Bricks red. And us
blue. Then on each of the four Sundays the number present in the three
churches will be kept track of and totaled at the end of the month. And,
at the end of the month, the church having had the largest attendance
for the whole time shall be given a banquet by the other two. What do
you say to that?”

What did I say to that? Somehow I got them out of the house, telling
them I’d send them word later. When I feel as deep as I did then, I know
I can’t do justice, by just thoughts or just words, to what I mean
inside. So I let the men go off the best I could. And then I went back
into my sitting room, with the August sun pouring in all acrost the air
like some kind of glory that we didn’t understand; and I set down in
it, and thought. And the thing that come to me was them early days, them
first days when the first Christians were trying to plan ways that they
could meet, and hoping and longing to be together, and finding caves and
wild places where they could gather in safety and talk about their
wonderful new knowledge of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of
man, and the divine experience of the spirit, here and after. And then I
thought of this red, white and blue denominational banquet. Oh, what a
travesty it was even on the union that the three colors stand for. And I
thought of our talk about “getting people out,” and “filling up the
churches,” and I thought of the one hundred and fourteen or more social
calls that we require a month from our pastors. And I says to myself:

“Oh, Calliope Marsh, has it come to this--_has_ it? Is it like this only
in Friendship Village? Or is it like this out in the world too? And,
either way, what are we going to do about it?”

There was one thing I could do about it. I went to see our minister and
his wife, and I told ’em firm that I couldn’t have anything more to do
about the extra September services, and that they would have to get
somebody else to play the organ for all four Sundays. They was both
grieved--and I hated to hurt them. That’s the worst about being true to
something you believe--it so often hurts somebody else. But there wasn’t
any other way to do.

“But Miss Marsh,” says our minister, “don’t you see that it is going to
be a time of awakening if we all stand by each other and support the
meetings?”

“Support the meetings!” I wondered how many times, in those first days,
they had to argue that. But I didn’t say anything--I just sat still and
ached.

“But Miss Marsh,” said the minister’s wife, “we have so depended on you.
And your influence--what about that?”

“I can’t help it,” I says--and couldn’t say no more.

Mis’ Postmaster Sykes was there, and _she_ piped up:

“But it’s so _dig_nified, Calliope,” she says. “No soliciting, no
pledging people to be present, no money-begging for expenses. No
anything except giving people to understand that not attending ain’t
real respectable.”

It was them words that give me the strength to get up and go home
without breaking down. And all the way up Daphne Street I went saying
it over: “No anything except giving people to understand not attending
ain’t real respectable. No, not anything only just that.”

Near my own gate I come on young Elbert Kinsman, minister of the White
Frame church, going along alone.

“Oh, Mr. Kinsman,” I burst out unbeknownst, “_can_ you imagine Jesus of
Nazareth belonging to a denomination?”

All of a sudden, that young minister reached out and took my hand.

“He loved men,” he said only, “and he was very patient with them.”

And then I went into my dark house, with some other words ringing in my
ears: “Lighten mine eyes--lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of
the dead.”

       *       *       *       *       *

But oh, that first September Sabbath morning. It was one of them days
that is still all deep Summer, but with just a little light mantel of
Autumn--more like a lace boa than a mantel, though--thrown round over
things. It was Summer by the leaves, by the air it was Summer, by the
gay gardens and the face of the sky; and yet somewhere, hiding inside,
was a little hint of yellow, a look of brown, a smell in the wind
maybe--that let you know it was something else besides. It wasn’t that
the time was any less Summer. It was just that it was Summer and a
little Autumn too. But I always say that you can’t think Autumn without
thinking Winter; and you can’t think Winter without thinking Spring; and
Spring and Summer are not really two, but just one. And so there you
have the whole year made one and nothing divided.... What if God were
intelligence and spirit harmonized and made one? What if all that is the
matter with us is just that we intelligences and spirits have not yet
been harmonized and made one?

I’ve got a little old piano that the keys rattle, and Sunday mornings,
for years now, I always go to that after breakfast, and sit down in my
apron, and play some anthems that I remember: “As Pants the Hart,” and
“Glory Be to God in the Highest,” and like that. I did it that first
Autumn Sunday morning, with my windows open and the muslin curtains
blowing and the sun slanting in, and a little smell of wild mint from
the bed by the gate. And I knew all over me that it was Sunday
morning--I’d have known it no matter if I hadn’t known.

For all I took as long as I could doing my dishes and brushing up the
floor and making my bed and feeding my chickens, it was only half past
nine when I was all through. Then I got my vegetables ready for dinner,
and made me a little dessert, and still it was not quite ten o’clock. So
then I give it up and went in, and sat down where I could see them go
past to church. I had wanted to keep busy till after half past ten, when
they’d all be in their pews.

Already they were going by, folks from up the street and round the
corner: some that didn’t usually go and that I couldn’t tell which of
the churches they’d be going to, and I wondered how they could tell
themselves; and then some that sat near me in church, and that I usually
walked along with.

“No,” I thought, “no such nonsense as this for me. Ever. Nor no red,
white and blue banquet, either.”

Then, all of a sudden, the first bells began to ring. All the little
churches in the village have bells and steeples--they were in debt for
them for years. But the bells ... all my life long I’d been hearing them
rung Sunday morning. All my life I had answered to them--to our special
one because, as I said, my father had been janitor there, and he had
rung the bell; but just the same, I had answered, always. The bells had
meant something to me. They meant something now. I loved to hear them.
Pretty soon they stopped, and there was just the tramp of feet on the
board walk. I sat there where I was, without moving, the quarter of an
hour until the bells began again. And when the bells began again it
seemed as if they rang right there in the room with me, but soft and
distant too,--from a long way off where I wasn’t any more. Always it had
been then, at the second bell, that mother had stood in the hall and
asked me if I was ready.... I sat there where I was, the quarter of an
hour until the bells began again, and I knew this was the last bell,
that would end in the five strokes--rung slow, and that when they
stopped, all the organs would begin together. And then I could have
cried aloud the thing that had been going in me and through me since the
first bell had begun to ring:

“Oh, God. It’s the invisible church of the living God--it’s the place
that has grown out of the relation of men to you, out of the striving of
men to find you, and out of their longing to draw together in search of
you. It is our invisible church from the old time. Why then--when men
read things into the visible church that never belonged there, when
there has crept into and clung there much that is false, why is it that
we who know this must be the ones to withdraw? It is your church and
the church of all those who try to know you. What shall we do to make it
whole?”

Before I knew what I was doing, I was slipping my long cloak on over my
work-dress, and then I was out on the street. And I remember that as I
went, the thing that kept pouring through my mind was that I wasn’t the
only one. But that all over, in other towns at that very hour, there
were those whose hearts were aching as mine had ached, and who had
nowhere to go. I don’t know yet what I meant to do; but over and over in
my head the words kept going:

“What shall we _do_ to make it whole?”

The last bell had stopped when I came to the little grassy triangle
where the three churches faced. And usually, on Sunday mornings, by the
time the last bell has rung, the triangle is still except for a few
hurrying late-comers. But now, when I turned the corner and faced it, I
saw people everywhere. Before each little church the steps, the
side-walk, and out in the street, were thronged with people, and people
were flowing out into the open spaces. And in a minute I sensed it:
There wasn’t room. There wasn’t room--for there were fifteen hundred
people living in Friendship Village, and all the little churches of the
town together wouldn’t hold that many, nor even as many of them as were
assembled there that day. But instead of thinking what to do, and how
not to waste the time when so many had got together, all that kept going
through my head was those same words that I had been saying:

“What shall we _do_ to make it whole?”

And yet those words were what made me think what to do. On the steps of
our church I saw our superintendent, looking wild and worried, and I ran
right up to him, and I said two words. And in a minute those two words
went round, and they spoke them in the crowd, and they announced them
inside our church, and somebody went with those words to the other
churches. And then we were all moving out and along together to where
the two words pointed us: Shepherd’s Grove.

There’s a rough old bandstand in Shepherd’s Grove where once, long ago,
the German band used to give evening concerts. The bandstand had nearly
fallen to pieces, but it was large enough. The three ministers went up
there together, and round the base of the bandstand came gathering the
three choirs, and in a minute or two there we all were under the trees
of the Grove, the common trees, that made a home for us all, on the
common earth, under the common sky.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow” came first, because it said
the thing that was in the hearts of us all. And then we wondered what
would be, because of the three separate sermons up there before us, all
prepared, careful, by three separate ministers, in three separate
manses, for three separate congregations. But the thing seemed to settle
itself. For it was young Elbert Kinsman who rose, and he didn’t have any
prepared sermon in his hands. His hands were empty when he stretched
them out toward us. And he said:

“My friends and fellow-lovers of God, and seekers for his law in our
common life, this is for me an end and a beginning. As I live, it is for
me the end of the thing that long has irked me, that irks us all, that
we are clinging to nobody can tell why, or of whose will. I mean the
division of unreason in the household of love. For me the folly and the
waste and the loss of efficiency of denominationalism have forever
ceased. In this hour begins for me a new day: The day when I stand with
all men who strive to know God, and call myself by no name save the name
which we all bear: Children of the Father, and brothers to Man.”

I don’t know what else he said--I heard, but I heard it in something
that wasn’t words, but that was nearer, and closer up to, and clearer
in my ears than any words. And I knew that what he was saying had been
sounding in my heart for long; and that I had heard it trying to speak
from the hearts of others; and that it wasn’t only in Friendship
Village, but it was all over the world that people are ready and waiting
for the coming of the way that had been shown to us that day. Who knows
how it will come at last,--or what form it will take? But we do know
that the breaking down of the meaningless barriers must come first.

When the young minister had finished, we stood for a moment in silent
prayer. You can _not_ stand still in the woods and empty out your own
will, without prayer being there instead, quiet, like love.

Then all together, and as if a good many of us had thought of it first,
we began to sing:

    “There’s a wideness in God’s loving
     Like the wideness of the sea....”

No sooner had we begun than deep in the wood, clear and sweet above the
other singing, there came a voice that we all knew. It was Lavvy--I
stood where I could see her coming. She was in a cotton dress, and she
had done as she had said--gone into the wood--“where better things
are.” And there we had come to find them too. She came down the green
aisles, singing; and we were all singing--I wish I might have been where
I could hear that singing mount. But I was, and we all were, where we
could look into one another’s hearts and read there the common longing
to draw near unto God. And the great common God was in our midst.



THE FACE OF FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE


The day that they denominated Threat Hubbelthwait for mayor of
Friendship Village was band-concert night. It’s real back-aching work to
go to our band concerts, because we ain’t no seats--nothing but a
bandstand in the middle of the market square; but yet we all of us do
go, because it’s something to do. And you die--you _die_ for some place
to go to see folks and to move around among them, elbow near.

I was resting on the bottom step of the bandstand between tunes, when
Mis’ Timothy Toplady come by.

“Hold up your head,” says she. “You’re going to be mayored over in a
minute by a man that ain’t been drunk for six months. I dunno but they
used that in the campaign. This town ain’t got a politic to its name.”

“Do they know yet,” I ask’ her, “who’s going to run against him?”

“I heard ’Lish Warren,” says Mis’ Toplady. “They want Eppleby to run
interdependent, but he won’t leave himself down to run against Threat
and ’Lish, I don’t believe. I wish’t,” Mis’ Toplady says, “I was men.”

But all of a sudden she sort of straightened up there to the foot of the
bandstand.

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I wish’t I was a human being. A human being
like the Lord meant me to be, with a finger in His big pie as well as in
Timothy Toplady’s everlasting apple-pie. I wish’t--oh, I wish’t I was a
real human being, with my brains in my head instead of baked into pies
and stitched into clothes and used to clean up floors with.”

I’ve often wished that, too, and every woman had ought to. But Mis’
Toplady had ought to wish it special. She’s big and strong of limb, and
she can lift and carry and put through, capable and swift. She’s like a
woman left from some time of the world when women was some human-beinger
than they are now, and she’s like looking ahead a thousand years.

“But just _half_ a human,” she says now, dreamy, “would know that
election day ought to be differn’t from the run o’ days. Some men
votes,” she says, “like they used the same muscles for votin’ that they
use for bettin’ and buyin’ and sellin’. I wonder if they do.”

When the band started to play, we moved over towards the sidewalk. And
there we come on Timothy Toplady and Silas and Mis’ Sykes and Eppleby
Holcomb and Mame, and two-three more. We stood there together, listening
to the nice, fast tune. They must have been above six-seven hundred
folks around the square, all standing quiet in the rings of the arc
lights or in the swinging shadows, listening too.

The market square is a wonderful, big open place to have in the middle
of a town. It had got set aside years ago to be a park some day, and
while it was a-waiting for parkhood, the town used the edge of it for a
market and wood-yard. It stretched away ’most to the track and the Pump
pasture, and on three sides of it Friendship Village lay--that night
with stores shut up and most of the houses shut up while folks took
their ease--though it _was_ a back-aching ease--hearing the nice, fast,
late tunes.

Right while we was keeping still, up slouched Threat Hubbelthwait, the
new mayor nominee.

“Evenin’,” says he, with no reverence for the tune. “Ain’t this here my
dance?”

“I heard you was up to lead us one,” says Mis’ Toplady, dry.

Threat took it for congratulations. “Thank you kindly,” says he, easy.
“It’s a great trust you folks are talkin’ of placin’ in me.”

“Oh, ’most everybody in town has been trustin’ you for years, ain’t
they, Threat?” says Mis’ Toplady, sweet.

That scairt Timothy, her lawful lord, and he talked fast to cover up,
but Threat pretended not to hear anyway, and pretty soon he slouched on.
And when the piece was over, and the clapping:

“Mercy,” says Mame Holcomb, “the disgrace it’ll be to have that man for
mayor! How’d he get himself picked out?”

Silas Sykes explained it. “Threat Hubbelthwait,” says he, “is the only
man in this town that can keep the party in at this election. If Threat
don’t run, the party’s out.”

“Why not leave the party _go_ out, then?” says Mis’ Toplady, innocent.

“Listen at that!” says Silas. “Leave the party go out! What do we belong
to the party for if we’re willing to leave it go out?”

“What,” says Mis’ Toplady, troubled, “do you belong to it for if you’re
willing to leave it stay in along with a bad man?”

“We stand by the party to keep the party from being disrupted, woman,”
says Silas.

Mis’ Toplady looks at him, puzzled.

“Well,” she says, “I _have_ made an apple-pie to keep the apples from
spoiling, but yet that wasn’t the real, true purpose of the pie.”

Eppleby Holcomb kind of chuckled, and just then we all got jostled for
a minute with a lot passing us. Lem Toplady come by, his girl on his
arm, and a nice, sheepish grin for his mother. Jimmy Sturgis, Jr., and
Hugh Merriman and Mis’ Uppers’s boy and two-three more of that crowd,
with boys’ eyes in brown faces, and nice, manly ways to their shoulders.
Everybody was walking round between tunes. And everywhere, in and out,
under foot, went the children, eight, ten, twelve years apiece to ’em,
and couldn’t be left home because they wasn’t anybody to leave ’em with.
And there they was, waiting to be Friendship Village when the rest of us
should get out of the market square for good; and there was Friendship
Village, over beyond the arc light, waiting to be their town.

“Eppleby,” I says, “why don’t you run against Threat, and mayor this
town like it ought to be?”

“Because,” Silas spoke up for him, “Eppleby belongs to the party.”

“You _do_?” says I to Eppleby. “Well, if Threat, that would like to see
the world run backwards, and you, that’s a-pushing some on the west side
like the Lord meant--if you two belongs to the same party, I bet the
party’s about ready to come in two pieces anyhow. Why don’t you leave it
go, and get denominated on your own hook, Eppleby?” I ask’ him.

“I’m going to if ’Lish gets put up,” he says low, to me. But out loud he
says, careless: “I couldn’t beat the saloon folks. They’re solid for
Threat.”

“But ain’t we more folks to this town than them?” Mame asks.

“Yes,” says Eppleby, “but they don’t vote. Half the best men won’t touch
the city hall with a clothes prop. The business men can’t vote
much--they’ve got too mixed a trade, both sides eatin’ groceries and
wearin’ clothes. And election time comes when them out towards the city
limits is doing Spring plowin’ and won’t bother to come in town. (We’d
took in most of the surrounding country in our efforts to beat out Red
Barns in population.) And the _Evening Daily_ was give to understand six
months ago that the brewery ad. would come out if Threat wa’n’t their
ticket. Anybody that runs against him is beat before the polls open.”

“Among ’em all, what about the town?” says I.

Mis’ Sykes spoke up, majestic. “The town,” says she, “is as good as any
town. I’m sure we’ve got as many nice residences and well-kep’ yards,
and as many modern improvements as most towns our size. _My_ part, I’m
too patriotic to be all the time askin’ for more.”

“I wonder, Mis’ Sykes,” I couldn’t help saying, “you ain’t too religious
ever to pray about yourself.”

The band always plays “America” to go home on, not so much out of
patriotism, I guess, as to let folks know it’s time to go home. And just
as they was tuning up, Mis’ Toplady leaned over to me, brooding.

“I wouldn’t care so much,” she says, “if it wasn’t Lem’s first vote. Lem
was twenty-one in the spring, and it’s his first vote. I just can’t bear
to think of his voting for Threat or ’Lish, to cut his voting teeth on.”

“I know,” I says. “So it is Hugh Merriman’s first vote--and Mis’
Uppers’s boy and Jimmy Sturgis’s, Jr. Don’t it seem too bad?”

Mis’ Toplady looked at the men. “Couldn’t you do something to your
election day that you own so personal?” she snaps. “Couldn’t you make it
a day that is a day? A day that would make folks want to vote decent,
and be some kitterin’-minded about votin’ bad?”

“Like what?” says Timothy, blank.

“Oh--I dunno,” says Mis’ Toplady, restless. “Somethin’ that’ll roust
folks up and give ’em to see their town like a wagon to be pulled and
not one to be rode in. Exercises, mebbe----”

“_Exercises!_” says Silas Sykes, explosive. “You’ll be wantin’ the
stores closed election day, next thing.”

“I mean that now,” says Mis’ Toplady. “Exercises,” she went on, “that’ll
show ’em what’s being done for ’em in the world--and the universe--and I
dunno but other places. Exercises that’ll make ’em think ahead and out,
and up and in the air instead of just down into their pocketbooks. I
dunno. Exercises that’ll make ’em see the state like a state, _their_
state----”

“My dum, woman,” says Silas, “election day ain’t no Fourth of July
proceedings.”

“Ain’t it?” says Mis’ Toplady. “That’s what I dunno. It kind of seems to
me as if it was.”

Then the band jabbed into “America” abundant, and the men took off their
hats, patriotic as pictures. And I stood there, kind of looking at us
all while we listened. I see all them hundreds of us out of the stores
and houses of Friendship Village that was laying over behind us there in
the dark, waiting for us to keep on a-making it; and I see Lem Toplady
and the rest of ’em going to do their first move public towards the
making. And while the band was playing and everybody humming their
country’s air, negligent in their throats, I started to slip off--I
couldn’t help it--and to go home by the back street, like I didn’t want
to meet the village face to face.

But I hadn’t got very far when the band done a thing it’s been doing
lately--ever since the new leader come that’s some kind of a foreigner
up to the round-house. It run off into some kind of a French piece with
a wonderful tang to it. The children have been singing it in school,
with some different words to it, and when the band begun it now, they
all kind of hummed it, all over the square. The Marseilles, I think they
call it--like a kind of cloth. When I hear it, it always makes me want
to go and start something. It done that now. And I says to myself:

“What you slinkin’ off home for, actin’ like the ‘best’ people that
can’t look their town in the face at election time? Go on down Daphne
Street like a citizen, that you are one.”

And I did, and walked along the little watching streets with all the
rest of us, and that march music in my heels. And listening to it, and
seeing us all streaming to our homes, I could ’most have felt like we
was real folks living in a real town, like towns was meant to be.

But I lost the feeling two days after, when ’Lish got the other
denomination, and begun swaggering around similar to Threat, peddling
promises. When ’Lish done that, though, Eppleby done like he said and
come out to run interdependent; only he done it real halfhearted, and
them that signed his petition was mostly out of business or retired or
working for the Government or ministers or like that, and everybody
thought they was about the only ones that would be to the polls for him.
Because the rest was already engaged in uttering the same old fear that
voting for Eppleby now would be throwing their vote away. And they
allowed that Threat was a little better than ’Lish, or that ’Lish was a
little nobler than Threat, and they laid to vote according.

“If only the town could get rousted up somehow,” Mis’ Toplady kep’
saying, grieving. “It seems as if, if there was something to roust
folks, they’d do something. And if they’d only do something, they’d get
rousted. It’s like a snake with its tail in its mouth. It seems as if,
if we could have some doin’s on election day--oh, I wish’t we was a real
human being,” she says, again and again, “I wish’t we was. I bet we’d
wind this town up, and we wouldn’t set it by Threat’s watch nor by
’Lish’s, either. We’d set it by the sun.”

But we see we couldn’t take no part. And the town settled down on its
oars restful, waiting for election day that looked like it wasn’t going
to do nothing but shake up the town feather-bed and lay it back on
springs that sagged in the same old place.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days before election it happened I was up early to mix my bread.
The clock showed half-past six just as I got through with my breakfast,
and the sun come in so nice and slanting acrost my kitchen floor that I
stepped to the open door to get the smell of it. All outside lay sweet
and surprised, like the first notes of something being played. Before I
knew it, I went out and down the path, between the things that hadn’t
come up yet--ain’t it like all outdoors was friendly and elbow near, the
way it keeps pulling at you to be out there with it? Before I knew it I
was out my back gate and acrost the vacant lot and off down the old
trail road, my hands wrapped up in my apron and me being just selfish
glad I was alive.

With outdoors all around you, just waiting to be paid attention to; with
friends set here and there in the world, near like planets, high and
single like stars, or grouped like constellations; and with a spirit
inside us--the same spirit--trying to say something--and trying to say
the same thing--ain’t life rich? Ain’t it rich?

Sometimes I try to think what could make it richer. And I can never get
any farther than the growing of those three foundation things: Outdoors
and friends and the spirit. For life will be richer when the outdoors
gets done--the floods tamed, the roads built, the forests tended, the
deserts risen from the dead and the cities and towns and villages tamed
and built and trained and tended and risen from the dead of dirt and
ugliness to be real bodies for the souls stirring and beating in them
now--and trying to speak. And life will be richer when friends come
true--not just this planet, and that star, and these
constellations,--but when the whole great company of friends, in homes,
in churches, in mines, in prisons, in factories, in brothels, shall be
known to us, and set free to be real bodies for the souls stirring and
beating in them now--and trying to speak. And not till then will that
spirit in outdoors and in cities and in us--the same spirit, trying to
say the same thing--not till then can that spirit ever get it said.

“Oh,” I thought, “on a morning like this, if somebody could only think
of the right word, maybe the whole thing might come true.”

And almost I knew what that word was--like you do.

I remember I wasn’t thinking of anything but wonder, when away acrost
the Pump pasture I see a thing. It wasn’t a tent or it wasn’t a wagon or
it wasn’t a farm machine of any kind. I looked at it a minute and I
couldn’t formulate nothing. And as you could drive through the Pump
pasture fence ’most anywheres, I went through and started right over to
whatever was there.

’Most anybody can tell you how it looked, for by nine o’clock the whole
village was out to it. But I’ll never be able to tell much about the
feel of the minute when I see the two great silk wings and the airy
wire, and knew I was coming close up to a flying-machine, setting there
on the ground, like a god that had stopped on a knoll to tie his shoe.

A man was down on his hands and knees, doing something to an underneath
part of it, but I guess at first I hardly see him. The machine was the
thing, the machine that could go up in the air, the machine that _had
done it at last_!

“Good morning,” says the man, all of a sudden. “Am I trespassing?”

He stood there with his cap in his hand, clean-muscled, youngish,
easy-acting, and as casual as if he’d just come out of a doorway instead
of out of the sky.

I says, “Ain’t it wonderful? Ain’t it wonderful?” Which is just exactly
what I’d said about Mis’ Toplady’s crocheted bed-spread. It’s terrible
to try to talk with nothing but the dictionary back of you.

“Yes,” he says, “it is. Then I’m not trespassing?”

“No more’n the eagles of the Lord,” I says to him. “Are you broke down?”

“There’s a little something wrong with the balance,” he says. “I’m going
to lie over here a day or so, providing the eagle of the Lord figure
holds for the town. What place will this be?” he asks.

“Friendship Village,” I says.

“Friendship Village,” he says it after me, and looked off at it. And I
stood for a minute looking at it, too.

Beyond the trees north of the pasture it lay, with little lifts of smoke
curling up from folks’s cook-stoves. There was a look to it of
breakfasts a-getting and stores being opened and the day rousting up.
Right while we looked, the big, bass seven o’clock whistle blew over to
the round-house, and the little peepy one chimed in up at the
brick-yard, and I could hear the town clock in the engine-house
striking, kind of old-fashioned and sweet-toned. And all around the
country lay quiet-seeming, down to the flats and out acrost the tracks
and clear to the city limits that we couldn’t see, where the life of the
little fields was going on. And in that nice, cozy, seven-o’clock minute
I see it all as I do sometimes, almost like a person sitting there, with
its face turned towards me, expectant, waiting to see what I’m going to
do for it.

“Jove,” says the man, “look at it! Look at it. It looks like the family
sitting down to breakfast.”

I glanced up at him quick. Not many sees villages that way. The most
sees them like cats asleep in the sun. But I always like to think of ’em
like a room--a little room in the house, full of its family, real busy
getting the room-work done up in time.

“From here,” I says, “it does most look like a real town.”

“More folks live in the little towns of the United States than in the
big cities of it,” he said, absent.

“They _do_?” I says.

“By count,” he answers, nodding, and stood a minute looking over at the
roofs and the water tower. “You feel that,” he says, “when you see them
the way I do. From up high. I keep seeing them skimming under me,
little places whose names don’t show. And it always seems that way--like
the family at breakfast--or working--or sitting around the arc lamp.
You’re splendid--you little towns. What you do is what the world does.”

A kind of shiver took me in the back of my head.

“It looks as if such nice things were going on over there--in Friendship
Village,” he says, his voice sort of wrapping about the name.

“Election day is going on,” I says, “day after to-morrow. But it won’t
be so very nice.”

“No,” he says, “they aren’t very nice--yet.”

That made me think of something. “Have you been in many cities and
dropped down into many towns?” I ask’ him.

“Several,” says he,--sort of rueful.

“On election day?” I says.

“Sometimes,” he answered.

“Well, then,” I says, “maybe you can tell me what they do on election
day in cities. Don’t they ever have exercises?”

“Exercises?” he says over, blank.

“Why, yes,” I says, “though I dunno just how I mean that. But don’t they
ever open up the city hall and have singing and speeches--not political
speeches, but ones about folks and about living? I should think they
must do that somewheres--‘most anybody would of thought of that. And
have the young folks there, and have them that’s going to vote sort
of--well, _commenced_, like college. Don’t they do that, places?”

When he shook his head I was worried for fear he’d think I was crazy.

“No,” he says, “I never heard of their doing that anywhere--yet.”

But when he says that “yet” I wasn’t worried any more. And I burst right
out and told him about our trouble in Friendship Village, and about the
“best” people never voting, and the city limits folks not coming in for
it, and about our two candidates, and about Eppleby, that hadn’t a ghost
of a show.

“Us ladies,” I wound up, “wanted to have a kind of an all-together
campaign--with mass meetings of folks to kind of talk over the town,
mutual. And we wanted to get up some exercises to make election day a
real true day, and to roust folks up to being not so very far from the
way things was meant to be. But the men folks said it wasn’t never done
so. They give us that reason.”

The bird-man looked at me, and nodded. “I fancy it isn’t,” he says,
“--yet.”

But he didn’t say anything else, and I thought he thought I was
woman-foolish; so to cover up, I says, hasty:

“_Could_ you leave me hear you talk a little about it? I mean about
flying. It’s old to you, but it’s after-I-die to me. I never shall do
it. So far I’ve never seen it. But oh, I like to hear about it. It seems
the freest-feeling thing we’ve ever done.”

“To do,” he says, “it’s coldish. And it’s largely acrobatics--yet. But
to see--yes, I fancy it is about the freest-feeling thing we’ve ever
done. A thing,” he says my words over, smiling a little, “that makes you
think you’re a step nearer to the way things were meant to be.” Then he
stood still a minute, looking down at me meditative. “Has there ever
been a flying-machine in Friendship Village?” he ask’ me.

“Never,” I says--and my heart stood still at what it thought of.

“And day after to-morrow is your election day?” he says over.

“Yes,” I says--and my head begun to beat like my heart wasn’t.

“The machine will be in shape by then,” he said. “Would--would you care
to have me make a flight on election-day morning? Free, you know. It
wouldn’t be much; but it might,” he says, with his little smile, “it
might pull in a few votes from the edge of town.”

“Oh, my land--oh, my land a-living!” I says--and couldn’t say another
word.

But I knew he knew what I meant. It was a dream like I hadn’t ever
dreamed of dreaming. It seems it was his own machine--he was on his own
hook, a-pleasuring. And it seemed as if he just had come like an eagle
of the Lord, same as I said.

We settled where I was to let him know, and then I headed for Mis’
Toplady’s, walking some on the ground and some in the air. For I sensed
the thing, whole and clear, so be we could get enough to pitch in. And
Mis’ Toplady left her breakfast dishes setting, like I had mine, and
away we went. And I see Mis’ Toplady’s ideas was occupying her whole
face.

We went straight to the mothers--Mis’ Uppers and Mis’ Merriman and Mis’
Sturgis and the others that had sons that was going to vote, this year
or in ten years or in twenty years. I dunno whether it was the mother in
them, or just the straight human being in them--but they see, the most
of ’em, what it was we meant. Of course some of them just see the lark,
and some of them just didn’t want to refuse us, and some of them just
joined in because they’re the joining-in kind. But oh, some of them see
what we see--and it was something shining and real and far off, and it
made us willing to go ahead like wild, and I dunno but like mad. Ain’t
it wonderful how when a plan is born into the world, it grows on air? On
air--and a little pitching in to work?

All but Mis’ Silas Sykes. When we went to see her, Mis’ Sykes was like
that much adamant.

“Pshaw,” says Mis’ Sykes, “you ladies don’t understand politics. In
politics you can’t fly up this way and imagine out vain things. You got
to do ’em like they’ve been done. As I understand it, they’s two
parties. One is for the good of the country and one ain’t. And anything
you dicker up outside them two gets the public all upset and steps on
the Constitution. And Silas says you’ve got to handle the Constitution
like so many eggs, or else where does the United States come in?”

“It don’t seem to me that all makes real good sense,” says Mis’ Toplady,
troubled.

“No,” says Mis’ Sykes, serene, “the people as a whole never do see
sense. It’s always a few that has to do the seeing.”

“I know,” says Mis’ Toplady, “I know. But what I think is this: _Which
few?_”

“Why, them that best supports the party measures,” says Mis’ Sykes,
superior.

But Mis’ Toplady, she shook her head.

“It don’t follow out,” she says, firm. “Legs ain’t the only things they
is to a chair.”

Nor, as us ladies saw it, the polls ain’t all there is to election day.
And we done what we could, steadfast and quick and together, up to the
very night before the day that was the day.

On election-day morning, I woke up before daylight and tried to tell if
the sun was going to shine. The sky wasn’t up there yet--nothing was but
the airful of dark. But acrost the street I see a light in a kitchen--it
was at the station agent’s that had come home to the hot breakfast his
wife had been up getting for him. One of ’em come out to the well for a
bucket of water, and the pulleys squeaked, and somebody’s dog woke up
and barked. Back on the trail road somebody’s baby was crying. Down
acrost the draw the way-freight whistled and come rumbling in. And there
was Friendship Village, laying still, being a town in the dark with
nobody looking, just like it was being one all day long, with people
looking on but never sensing what they saw.

It seemed, though, as if they must get it through their heads that day
that the town was being a town right before their face and eyes--having
a kind of a performance to do, like digestion, or thinking, or working;
and having something anxious and fluttered inside of it, waiting to know
what was going to become of it. I could almost sense this at six
o’clock, when Mis’ Toplady and I hurried down to the market square. Yes,
sir, six o’clock in the morning it was. We had engineered it that the
flight of the flying-machine should be at seven o’clock, so’s everybody
could have a chance to see it on their way to work, and so’s they should
be at the market-square doings before they went to the polls.

The sun _was_ shining like mad, and the place looked all expectant and
with that ready-to-nod look that anything got ready beforehand will
always put on. Only this seemed sort of a special nod. We’d had a few
board seats put up, and a platform that ’most everybody had the idea the
airship was going up from. The machine itself was over in the corner of
the square near the wood-yard under a wagon-shed they’d made over for
it. And to a stand near the platform the Friendship Married Ladies’
Cemetery Improvement Sodality had advertised to serve hot coffee and hot
griddle-cakes and sausages. And we begun on the coffee and the sausages
long enough ahead so’s by the time folks was in the high midst of
arriving, the place smelled like a kitchen with savory things a-doing on
the cook-stove.

And I tell you, folks done some arriving. Us ladies had seen to it to
have the flight advertised big them two nights. The paper done it
willing enough, being the bird-man was so generous and all. Then
everybody’s little boy had been posted off as far as the city limits
with hand-bills and posters, advertising the flight, and the breakfast
on election day. And it seemed to me that outside the place we’d roped
off, and in wagons in the streets, was ’most everybody in Friendship
Village that I ever knew or saw. The folks from the little city-limit
farms, the folks that ordinarily didn’t have time to vote nor to take a
holiday, even folks from the country and from other towns, “best” people
and all--they was all there to see the sky-wagon.

The bird-man had to dicker away quite a little at his machine. A man had
run out from the city to help him, and out there with them was Lem
Toplady and Jimmy Sturgis and Hugh Merriman, and two-three more of those
boys, that had got acquainted with the bird-man. And while they was
getting ready, the band was playing gay over in the bandstand, and we
was serving breakfasts as fast as we could hand them out. Mis’ Sturgis
was doing the coffee, I was sizzling sausages that the smell floated up
and down Daphne Street delicious, and Mis’ Toplady was frying the
pancakes because she’s had such a big family to fry for she’s lightning
in the right wrist.

Everybody was talking and laughing and waiting their turn, and acting as
if they liked it. Them that was up around the breakfast stand didn’t
seem to be saying much about politics. Us ladies mentioned to one
another that Threat nor ’Lish didn’t seem to be anywhere around. But we
was mostly all thinking just about the flying-machine, and how nice it
was to be having it, and about the socialness of it all--like the family
was having breakfast....

Just as the big, bass seven-o’clock whistle trailed out from the
round-house--the brick-yard one didn’t blow because the men was all at
the market square--the thing happened that we’d arranged for. Down
Daphne Street, hurrying some because they was late, with irregular
marching and a good deal of laughing, come the public-school teachers
with the school children. We’d give out that they’d be easier managed
so, and not so much under foot; but what we really wanted was that they
should come in just like this, together, and set together, because we
wanted something of them after a while.

They sat down on the place we’d left for ’em, on the seats and the grass
in front of everybody, and them that could sing we put on the platform,
lots of rows deep, so’s they all covered it. They was big boys and
little, and little girls and big, good-dressed and poor-dressed; with
honest fathers, and with them that didn’t know honest when they see it
nor miss it when they didn’t--and all of them was the Friendship Village
that’s going to be some time, when the market square is emptied of us
others, for good and all.

“Where’s Threat and ’Lish?” I says to Eppleby, that was helping keep the
children in order.

“Dustin’ the mayor’s office out ready, I s’pose,” he says, wrinkling his
eyes at the corners.

“Mebbe they’ve abducted each other,” Mis’ Toplady suggests, soothing.

Mis’ Sykes looked over from filling the syrup pitchers--she’d boiled the
brown sugar down for that, and it added its thick, golden smell unto the
general inviting mixture.

“I don’t think,” she says serious, “that you’d ought to speak
disrespectful of _any_body that’s going to be your mayor. Public
officials,” said she, “had ought to be paid respect to, or else the law
won’t be carried out.”

“Shucks,” says Mis’ Toplady, short. She’d made upwards of ninety griddle
cakes by then, and she was getting kind of flustered and crispy.

“Shucks?” says Mis’ Sykes, haughty and questioning, and all but in two
syllables.

“If that’s all the law is,” says Mis’ Toplady, beating away at her
pancake batter, “give me anar-kicky, or whatever it is they call it.”

Mis’ Sykes never said a word. She just went on making syrup,
reproachful. Mis’ Sykes is one of them that acts like life was made up
of the pattern of things, and like speaking of warf and woof wasn’t
delicate. And she never so much as lets on they is such a thing as a
knot. Yes, some folks is like that. But not me--not me.

It was ’most half-past seven o’clock when the bird-man was ready. Like a
big bug the machine looked, with spidery, bent legs and wings spread
ready and no head necessary. And when he finally run it off down the
square and headed towards the Pump pasture, my heart sunk some. My land,
I thought, it can’t be a real true one. I guess there are them, but this
right here on the market square can’t be one.

Since the world begun, there ain’t a more wonderful minute for folks
than the minute when they first see some kind of flying-machine leave
the ground--_leave the ground_! It’s like seeing the future come true
right in your face. The thing done it so gentle and so simple that you’d
of thought it was invented when legs was. It lifted itself up in the
air, like by its own boot-straps, and it went up and up and up, just
like going up was its own alphabet. It went and it kept going, its motor
buzzing and purring, softer and softer. And pretty soon the blue that it
was going up to meet seemed to come down and meet it, and the two sort
of joined, and the big, wide gold morning flowed all over them, and the
first thing I knew the bird-man’s machine and him in it looked like just
what I had said: an eagle of the Lord, soaring to meet the sun like a
friend of its.

I couldn’t bear it any more. It seemed to me as if, if I should look any
longer, I should all of a sudden have ten senses instead of five, and
they’d explode me. I looked away and down. And when I done that, all at
once there I was looking right into the face of all the folks in
Friendship Village. Heads back, a sea of little white dabs that was
faces, and hearts beating underneath where you couldn’t see ’em--all of
us was standing there breathless, feeling just alike. Feeling just alike
and being just alike, underneath that wonderful thing happening in the
sky.... And all of a sudden, while I looked at them, the faces all
blurred and wiggled, and it seemed like I was looking into only one
face, the face of Friendship Village, like a person....

I see it, like I’d never seen it before. While we watched, _we was one
person_. When we was all thinking about the same thing, there was only
one of us. And the more wonderful things that come into the world and
took hold of everybody, the more _one_ we was going to get and to stay.
And this, all vague inside of us, I knew now was what us ladies had
meant by what we’d planned. Didn’t it seem--didn’t it seem as if them
that watched had ought to stay _one_--that decent, wondering, almost
reverent one, long enough to vote decent and wondering and reverent for
their town?

Right while my heart was beating with it all, the little buzzing and
purring of the motor, away up there in the blue, stopped short off. My
eyes flew up again, and I see the bird-man coming down. He was up so
high that he was a dot, and he grew and grew like a thing being born in
the sky--right down towards us and on us he come like a shot, a
shot-down shot. Nobody breathed. I couldn’t see. But I looked and looked
and dreaded.... And not eight hundred feet from the ground he begun
coming down easy, and he come the rest of the way as gentle as a bird,
and lit where he rose from.

Oh, how they cheered him--like one man! _Like one man._ Lem Toplady and
Jimmy Sturgis, Jr., and the boys that was out in the field went and
shook his hand--like the servants, I thought in the middle of my head,
of some great new order. And I was thinking so deep and so breathless
that I ’most forgot the band till it crashed right out behind us,
playing loud and fine that Marseilles French piece, like we’d told them.
And when it done that, up hopped the children that it give the cue to,
and there in the midst of us they struck in, singing loud and clear the
words they sung in school to that old tune, with its wonderful tang to
it, that slips to your heels with its music and makes you want to go
start something and to start it _then_:

    “_Come, Children of To-morrow, come!_
     _New glory dawns upon the world._
     _The ancient banners must be furled._
     _The earth becomes our common home--_
     _The earth becomes our common home._
     _From plain and field and town there sound_
     _The stirring rumors of the day._
     _Old wrongs and burdens must make way_
     _For men to tread the common ground._

    “_Look up! The children win to their immortal place.
    March on, march on--within the ranks of all the human race._

    “_Come, love of people, for the part_
     _Invest our willing arms with might._
     _Mother of Liberty, shed light_
     _As on the land, so in the heart--_
     _As on the land, so in the heart._
     _Divided, we have long withstood_
     _The love that is our common speech._
     _The comrade cry of each to each_
     _Is calling us to humanhood._”

Hum it to the tune of that Marseilles piece, and you’ll know how we was
all feeling. By the time they got down to their last two lines, my
throat was about the size of my head.

And then the bird-man got back in his little sulky seat, and he waved
his hand to us, and he left his machine run down the field, and lift,
and head straight for open country. His way lay, it seemed, right acrost
Friendship Village; and he’d no more’n started before the band started
too, playing the tune that by now was in everybody’s veins. And behind
them the children fell in, singing again, and with the people streaming
behind them they all marched off down Daphne Street--where the little
shops lay waiting to be opened, and the polls was waiting to be voted
in, and Friendship Village was waiting for us to know it was a town,
like it meant.

All us ladies went to scraping up plates like fury. Excep’ Mis’ Toplady.
She stood for a minute wiping her eyes on a paper napkin. And she says:

“Oh, ladies. I ain’t never felt so much like a human being since I was
born one.”

And me, I stood there looking across the Market Square to the
school-house. There it was, with its doors open and the new voting
machine setting in the hall,--they’d took the polls out of the barber
shop and the livery stable sole because the voting machine got in the
way of trade. They’d put it in the school-house. And it was to the
school-house that the men were going now.

“Oh,” I says to Mis’ Toplady, “would you think anybody could go in a
child’s school-house, and vote for anybody that--”

“No, no,” she says, “you wouldn’t think so, would you?”

But she didn’t look at me. She was looking over to the school-house
steps. Lem Toplady stood there, and Jimmy Sturgis, Jr., and Hugh
Merriman and Mis’ Uppers’s boy--watching the last of the bird-man and
the air-wagon flying down the sky. When it had gone, the four boys
turned and went together up the steps of the school-house. And Mis’
Toplady and Mis’ Sturgis and Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman and Mis’ Uppers
stood and watched them--going in to vote now, to the place where the
four mothers had seen them go ever since they were little bits of boys,
with faces and clothes to be kept clean, and lessons to learn, and lunch
baskets to fill. Then the mothers could either do these things for
them--or anyway help along. Now they stood there doing nothing,
watching, while their boys went in to do their first vote--into the
school-house where they’d learned their A B C’s.

“Ain’t that--ain’t it just--?” I says low to Mis’ Toplady; and kind of
stopped.

“Ain’t it?” she says, fervent and low too. “Oh, ain’t it?”

“The time’ll come,” I says, “when you mothers, and me too, will go in
there with them. And when we’ll go straight from a great public
meeting--like this--to a great public business like that. And when it
comes--”

We all looked at one another--all but Mis’ Silas Sykes, that was busy
with the syrup pitchers. But the thing was over the rest of us--the lift
and the courage and the belief of that hour we’d all had together. And I
says out:

“Oh, ladies! I believe in us. I believe in us.”

So I tell you, I wasn’t surprised at what that day done. I dunno for
sure what done it. Mebbe it was just the common sense in folks that I
can_not_ get over believing in. Mebbe it was the cores of their minds
that I know is sound, no matter how many soft spots disfigures their
brains. Mebbe it was the big power and the big glory that’s near us,
waiting to be drawn-on-and-used as fast as we learn how to do it--no, I
dunno for sure. But they put Eppleby Holcomb in for mayor. Eppleby got
in, to mayor the town! And some said it was because the boys that was to
cast their first vote had got out, last minute, and done some hustling,
unbeknownst. And some thought it was because Threat and ’Lish couldn’t
wait, but done a little private celebrating together in Threat’s hotel
bar the night before election. And others said election always is some
ticklish--they give that reason.

But me--I went and stood out on my side porch that election-day night,
a-looking down Daphne Street to the village. There it lay, with its arc
light shining blue by the Market Square, and it was being a village,
with nobody looking and all its folks in its houses, just like the
family around that one evening lamp. And their hearts was beating along
about the same things; just like they had beat that day for the
sky-wagon, and for the Marseilles French piece. Only they didn’t know
it--yet.

And I says right out loud to the village--just like Friendship Village
was a person, with its face turned toward me, listening:

“Why, you ain’t half of us--nor you ain’t some of us. You’re all of us!
And you must of known it all the time.”



THE FLOOD


    _It’s “brother” now and it’s “brother” then,_
    _And it’s “brother” another day,_
    _And it’s “brother” whenever a loud doom sounds_
    _With a terrible toll to pay...._
    _But what of the silent dooms they bear_
    _In an inoffensive way?_

    _It’s “brother” here and it’s “brother” there,_
    _And it’s “brother” once in a while,_
    _And it’s “brother” whenever an hour hangs black_
    _On the face of the common dial...._
    _But what of the days that stretch between_
    _For the march of the rank and file?_

I don’t know how well you know villages, but I hope you know anyhow one,
because if you don’t they’s things to life that you don’t know yet. Nice
things.

I was thinking of that the Monday morning that all Friendship Village
remembers still. I was walking down Daphne Street pretty early, seeing
everybody’s breakfast fire smoke coming out of the kitchen chimney and
hearing everybody’s little boy splitting wood and whistling out in the
chip pile, and smelling everybody’s fried mush and warmed-up potatoes
and griddle cakes come floating out sort of homely and old fashioned and
comfortable, from the kitchen cook-stoves.

“Look at the Family,” I says to myself, “sitting down to breakfast, all
up and down the street.”

And when the engine-house clock struck seven, and the whistle over to
the brick-yard blew little and peepy and like it wasn’t sure it was
seven but it thought so, and the big whistle up to the round-house blew
strong and hoarse and like it knew it all and could tell you more about
the time of day then you’d ever guessed if it wanted to, and the sun
come shining down like the pouring out of some new thing that we’d never
had before--I couldn’t help drawing a long breath, just because Now was
Now.

Down the walk a little ways I met Bitty Marshall. I wondered a little at
seeing him on the street way up our end o’ town. He’d lately opened a
little grocery store down on the Flats, for the Folks that lived down
there. Him and his wife lived overhead, with a lace curtain to one of
the front windows--though they was two front windows to the room. “I’ve
always hankered for a pair o’ lace curtains,” she said to me when I
went up to see her one day, “but when I’d get the money together to buy
’em, it seems like somethin’ has always come and et it up--medicine or
school books or the children’s shoes. So when we moved in here, I says I
was goin’ to have one lace curtain to one window if I board the other
up!” And she had one to one window, and a green paper shade to the
other.

“Well, Bitty,” I says, “who’s keeping store to-day? Your wife?”

But he didn’t smile gay, like he usually does. He looked just regular.

“Neither of us’ll be doing it very long,” he said. “I’ve got to close
down.”

“But I thought it was paying you nice?” I says.

“And so it was,” says Bitty, “till Silas Sykes took a hand. He didn’t
have a mind to see me run no store down there and take away his trade
from the Flats. He begun under-sellin’ me--he’s been runnin’ everything
off at cost till I can’t hold out no longer.”

“So that’s what Silas Sykes has been slashin’ down everything for, from
prunes upwards,” I says. “I might of known. I might of known.”

“My interest is comin’ due,” says Bitty, movin’ on; “I’ve come up this
mornin’ to see about going back to work in the brick-yard.”

“Good land,” I says sorrowful. “Good land. And Silas in the Council--and
on the School Board--and an elder thrown in.”

Bitty grinned a little then.

“It ain’t new,” he says, over his shoulder. And he went on up the
street, holding his hands heavy, and kind of letting his feet fall
instead of setting them down, like men walk that don’t care, any more.

I understood what he meant when he said it wasn’t new. There was Joe
Betts that worked three years getting his strawberry bed going, and when
he begun selling from the wagon instead of taking to Silas Sykes at the
Post-Office store, Silas got the Council that he’s in to put up
licenses, clear over Joe’s head. And Ben Dole, he’d got a little machine
and begun making cement blocks for folks’s barns, and Timothy Toplady,
that’s interested in the cement works over to Red Barns, got Zachariah
Roper, that’s to the head of the Red Barns plant, to come over and buy
Ben Dole’s house and come up on his rent--two different times he done
that. It wasn’t new. But it all kind of baffled me. It seemed so legal
that I couldn’t put down my finger on what was the matter. Of course
when a thing’s legal, and you’re anyways patriotic, you are some put to
it to find a real good term to blame it with. I walked along, thinking
about it, and feeling all baffled up as to what to do. But I hadn’t gone
ten steps when I thought of one thing I could do, to clear up my own
i-dees if for nothing else. I turned around and called out after Bitty.

“Oh, Bitty,” I says, “would you mind me letting Silas know I know?”

He threw out his hands a little, and let ’em kind of set down side of
him.

“Why sure not,” he said, “but if you’re thinkin’ of saying anything to
him--best spare the breath.”

“We’ll see about that,” I thought, and I went on down Daphne Street with
a Determination sitting up in the air just ahead of me, beginning to
crook its finger at me to come along.

In a minute I come past Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman’s house. The Chief has
been dead several years, but we always keep calling her by his title,
same as we call the vacant lot by the depot the Ellsworth House, though
the Ellsworth House has been burned six years and it’s real kind of
confusing to strangers that we try to direct. I remember one traveling
man that headed right out towards the marsh and missed his train because
some of us had told him to keep straight on till he turned the corner
by the Ellsworth House, and he kept hunting for it and trusting in it
till he struck the swamp. But you know how it is--you get to saying one
thing, and you keep on uttering it after the thing is dead and gone and
another has come in its place, and when somebody takes you up on it,
like as not you’ll tell him he ain’t patriotic. It was the same with the
Fire Chief. Dead though he was, we always give her his official title,
because we’d got headed calling her that and hated to stop. She was out
in her garden that morning, and I stood still when I caught sight of her
tulips. They looked like the earth had broke open and let out a leak of
what’s inside it, never intending to show so much at once.

“Mis’ Merriman,” I says, “what tulips! Or,” says I, flattering, “is it a
bon-fire, with lumps in the flame?”

Mis’ Merriman was bending over, setting out her peony bulbs, with her
back to me. When I first spoke, she looked over her shoulder, and then
she went right on setting them out, hard as she could dig. “Glad you
like _something_ that belongs to me,” says she, her words kind of
punched out in places by the way she dug.

Then I remembered. Land, I’d forgot all about it. But at the last
meeting of the Friendship Married Ladies’ Cemetery Improvement
Sodality--we don’t work for just Cemetery any more, but we got started
calling it that twenty years back, and on we go under that name, serene
as a straight line--at that last meeting I’d appointed Mis’ Timothy
Toplady a committee of one to go to the engine-house to get them to
leave us sell garbage pails at cost in the front part; and it seems Mis’
Merriman had give out that she’d ought to be the one to do it, along of
her husband having been Fire Chief for eleven years and more, and she
might have influence with ’em. I’d of known that too, if I’d thought of
it--but you know how it is when they pitch on to you to appoint a
committee from the chair? All your i-dees and your tact and your memory
and your sense takes hold of hands and exits out of you, and you’re left
up there on the platform, unoccupied by any of ’em--and ten to one
you’ll appoint the woman with the thing in her hat that first attracts
your attention. Mebbe it ain’t that way with some, but I’ve noticed how
it is with me, and that day I’d appointed Mis’ Toplady to that committee
sole because she passed her cough-drops just at that second and my eye
was drawed acrost to them and to her. I’d never meant to slight Mis’
Fire Chief and I felt nothing on this earth but kindness to her, and
yet when I heard her speak so, all crispy and chilly and uppish, about
being glad I liked _something_ about her, all to once my veins sort of
run starch, and my bones lay along in me like they was meant for extra
pokers, and I flashed out back at her:

“Oh, yes, Mis’ Merriman--your _tulips_ is all right----” bringing my
full heft down on the word “tulips.”

And then I went on up the street with something--something--something
inside me, or outside me, or mebbe just _with_ me, looking at me, simple
and grave and direct and patient and--wounded again. And I felt kind of
sick, along up and down my chest. And the back of my head begun to hurt.
And I breathed fast and without no pleasure in taking air. And I says to
myself and the world and the Something Else:

“Oh, God, creator of heaven and earth that’s still creatin’ ’em as fast
as we’ll get our meannesses out of the way and let you go on--_what_
made me do that?”

And nothing told me what--not then.

Just then I see Mis’ Holcomb-that-was-Mame Bliss come out on their side
porch and hang out the canary. I waved my hand acrost to her, and she
whips off her big apron and shakes it at me, and I see she was feeling
the sun shine clear through her, just like I’d been.

“Come on down with me while I do an errant,” I calls to her.

“My table ain’t cleared off yet,” says she, decisive.

“Mine either,” I says back. “But ain’t you just as fond of the sun in
heaven as you are of your own breakfast dishes? Come on.”

So she took off her apron and run in and put on a breastpin and come
down the walk, rolling down her sleeves, and dabbing at her hair to make
sure, and we went down the street together. And the first thing I done
was to burst out with my thoughts all over her, and I told her about
Silas and about Bitty Marshall, and about how his little store on the
Flats was going to shut down.

“Well,” she says, “if that ain’t Silas all over. If it ain’t Silas. I
could understand his dried fruit sales, ’long toward Spring so--it’s
easy to be reasonable about dried peaches when its most strawberry time.
I could even understand his sales on canned stuff he’s had in the store
till the labels is all fly-specked. But when he begun to cut on new
potatoes and bananas and Bermuda onions and them necessities, I says to
myself that he was goin’ to get it back from somewheres. So it’s out o’
Bitty Marshall’s pocket, is it?”

“And it’s so legal, Mis’ Holcomb,” I says, “it’s so bitterly legal.
Silas ain’t corporationed himself in with nobody. It ain’t as if the
courts could get after him and some more and make them be fair to their
little competitors, same as courts is fallin’ over themselves to get the
chance to do. This is nothin’ but Silas--our leadin’ citizen.”

Mis’ Holcomb, she made her lips both thin and tight.

“Let’s us go see Silas,” says she, and I see my Determination was
crooking its finger to her, same as to me.

Silas had gone down to the store, we found, but Mis’ Sykes was just
coming out their gate with a plate of hot Johnny cake to take up to Miss
Merriman.

“Oh, Mis’ Sykes,” I says, “is your night bloomin’ cereus goin’ to be out
to-night, do you know? I heard it was.” The whole town always watches
for Mis’ Sykes’s night-blooming cereus to bloom, and the night it comes
out we always drop in and set till quite late.

Mis’ Sykes never looked at Mis’ Holcomb.

“Good morning, Calliope,” says she. “Yes, I think it will, Calliope.
Won’t you come in to-night, Calliope, and see it?” says she.

I says I would; and when we went on,

“What struck her,” I says, puzzled, “to spread my name on to what she
said like that, I wonder? I feel like I’d been planted in that sentence
of hers in three hills.”

Then I see Mis’ Holcomb’s eyes was full of tears.

“Mis’ Sykes was trying to slight me,” she says. “She done that so’s to
kind of try to seem to leave me out.”

“Well,” I says, “I must say, she sort of succeeded. But what for?”

“I give her potato bread receipt away,” she says miserable, “and it
seems she didn’t expect it of me.”

“Is _that_ it?” I says. “Well, of course we both know Mis’ Sykes ain’t
the one to ever forgive a thing like that. I s’pose she’ll socially
ostrich-egg you--or whatever it is they say?”

“I s’pose she will,” says Mis’ Holcomb forlorn. “You know how Mis’ Sykes
is. From now on, if I say the sky is blue, Mis’ Sykes’ll say no, pink.”

They was often them feuds in Friendship Village--like this one, and like
Mis’ Merriman’s and my new one. It hadn’t ought to be so in a village
family, but then sometimes it is. I s’pose in cities it’s
different--they always say it makes folks broader to live in cities, and
they prob’ly get to know better. But it’s like that with us.

Well, of course the back-bone had dropped out of the morning for Mis’
Holcomb, and she didn’t take no more interest in going down street than
she would in darning--I mention darning because I defy anybody to pick
out anything uninterestinger. Up to the time I got to the Post-Office
Hall store, I was trying to persuade her to come in with me to see
Silas.

“I’d best not go in,” she says. “You know how one person’s quarrel is
catching in a family. And a potato bread receipt is as good as anything
else to be loyal about.”

But I made her go in, even if she shouldn’t say a word, but just act
constituent-like.

Silas was alone in the store, sticking dates on to a green paste-board
to make the word “Pure” to go over his confectionery counter. He had his
coat off, and his hair had been brushed with a wet brush that left the
print of the bristles, and his very back looked Busy.

“Hello, folks,” says he, “how’s life?”

“Selfish as ever,” I says. “Ain’t trade?”

“Well,” says Silas, “it’s every man for himself and the devil take the
hindmost in most everything now, ain’t it? As the prophet said, It beats
all.”

“It does that,” I says. “It beats everybody in the end. Funny they don’t
find it out. That’s why,” I adds serene, “we been so moved by your
generous cost sales of stuff, Silas. What you been doin’ that for
anyway?” I put it to him.

“For to bait trade,” says he.

“For what else?” I ask’ him.

“Why,” he says, beginning to be irritable, which some folks uses instead
of wit, “to push the store, of course. I ain’t been doin’ it for the fun
of it.”

“Ain’t you now?” I says. “I thought it was kind of a game with you.”

“What do you mean--game?” says Silas, scowling.

“Cat and mouse,” I says brief. “You the cat and Bitty Marshall the
mouse.”

Silas stood up straight and just towered at me.

“What you been hearing _now_?” he says, demandful.

“Well,” I answered him, “nothing that surprised me very much. Only that
you’ve been underselling Bitty so’s to drive him out and keep the trade
of the Flats yourself.”

Silas never squinched.

“Well,” says he, “what if I have? Ain’t I got a right to protect my own
business?”

I looked him square in the eye.

“No,” I says, “not that way.”

Silas put back his head and laughed, tolerant.

“I guess,” he says, “you ain’t been following very close the business
affairs of this country.”

“Following them was how I come to understand about you,” I says simple.
And I might have added, “And knowing about you, I can see how it is with
them.”

For all of a sudden, I see how he thought of these things, and for a
minute it et up my breath. It had always seemed to me that men that done
things like this to other folks’s little business was wicked men _in
general_. That they kind of got behind being legal and grinned out at
folks and said: “Do your worst. You can’t stop us.” But now I see, like
a blast of light, that it was no such thing; but that most of them was
probably good husbands and fathers, like Silas; industrious, frugal,
members of the Common Councils and of the school boards, elders in the
church, charitable, kindly, and believing simple as the day that what
they was doing was for the good of business. Business.

“Well,” Silas was saying, “what you going to do about it?”

I looked back at Marne Holcomb standing, nervous, over by the cranberry
barrel:

“I’ve got this to do about it,” I says, “and I know Mame Holcomb has,
and between us we can get every woman in Friendship Village to do the
same--unless it is your wife that can’t help herself like lots of women
can’t: Unless you get your foot off Bitty’s neck, every last one of us
will quit buying of you and go down to the Flats and trade with Bitty.
How about it, Mame?”

She spoke up, like them little women do sometimes that you ain’t ever
looked upon as particularly special when it comes to taking a stand.

“Why, yes,” she says. “They ain’t a woman in the village that would
stand that kind of dealing, if they only knew. And we,” she adds
tranquil, “could see to that.”

Silas give the date-word he was making a throw over on to the sugar
barrel, and made a wild gesture with a handful of toothpicks.

“Women,” he says, “dum women. If it wasn’t for you women swarming over
the world like different kinds of--of--of--noxious insects, it would be
a regular paradise.”

“Sure it would,” I says logical, “because there wouldn’t be a man in it
to mess it up.”

Silas had just opened his mouth to reply, when all of a sudden, like a
letter in your box, somebody come and stood in the doorway--a man, and
called out something, short and sharp and ending in “Come on--all of
you,” and disappeared out again, and we heard him running down the
street. Then we saw two-three more go running by the door, and we heard
some shouting. And Silas, that must have guessed at what they said, he
started off behind them, dragging on his sear-sucker coat and holding
his soft felt hat in his mouth, it not seeming to occur to him that he
could set it on his head till he was ready to use it.

“What’s the matter?” I says to Mis’ Holcomb. “They must be getting
excited because nothing ever happens here. They ain’t nothing else to
get excited over that I can think of.”

Then we see more men come running, and their boots clumped down on the
loose board walk with that special clump and thud that boots gets to ’em
when they’re running with bad news, or hurrying for help.

“What is it?” I says, getting to the door. And I see men begin to come
out of the stores and get in knots and groups that you can tell mean
trouble of some kind, just as plain as you can tell that some portraits
of total strangers is the portraits of somebody that’s dead. They look
dead. And them groups looked trouble. And then I see Timothy Toplady
come tearing down the road in his spring wagon, with his horse’s check
reins all dragging and him lashing out at ’em as he stood up in the box.
Then I run right out in the road and yelled at him.

“Timothy,” I says, “what’s the matter? What’s happened?”

He drew up his horses, and threw out his hand, beckoning angular.

“Come on!” he says, “get in here--get in quick....”

Then he looked back over his shoulder and see Mis’ Merriman that had
come out to her gate with Mis’ Sykes, and they was both out on the
street, looking, and he beckoned, wild, to them; and they come running.

“Quick!” says Timothy. “The dam’s broke. They’ve just telephoned
everybody. The Flats’ll be flooded. Come on and help them women load
their things....”

I don’t remember any of us saying a thing. We just clomb in over the
back-board of Timothy’s wagon, him reaching down to help us, courteous,
and we set down on the bottom of the wagon--Mis’ Holcomb and Mis’ Sykes,
them two enemies, and Mis’ Merriman and me--and we headed for the Flats.

I remember, on the ride down there, seeing the street get thick with
folks--in a minute the street was black with everybody, all hurrying
toward what was the matter, and all veering out and swarming into the
road--somehow, folks always flows over into the road when anything
happens. And men and women kept coming out of houses, and calling to
know what was the matter, and everybody shouted it back at them so’s
they couldn’t understand, but they come out and joined in and run
anyway. And over and over, as he drove, Timothy kept shouting to us how
he had just been hitching up when the news come, and how his wagon was a
new one and had ought to be able to cart off five or six loads at a
trip.

“It can’t hurt Friendship Village proper,” I remember his saying over
and over too, “that’s built high and dry. But the whole Flats’ll be
flooded out of any resemblance to what they’ve been before.”

“Friendship Village proper,” I says over to myself, when we got to the
top of Elephant Hill that let us look over the Pump pasture and away
across the Flats, laying idle and not really counted in the town till it
come to the tax list. There was dozens of little houses--the Marshalls
and the Betts’s and the Rickers’s and the Hennings and the Doles and the
Haskitts, and I donno who all. All our washings was done down there--or
at least the washings was of them that didn’t do them themselves. The
garden truck of them that didn’t have gardens, the home grown vegetables
for Silas’s store, the hired girls’ homes of them that had hired girls,
the rag man, the scissors grinder, Lowry that canes chairs and was
always trying to sell us tomato plants--you know how that part of a town
is populationed? And then there was a few that worked in Silas’s
factory, and an outlaying milkman or two--and so on. “Friendship Village
proper,” I says over and looked down and wondered why the Flats was
improper enough to be classed in--laying down there in the morning sun,
with nice, neat little door-yards and nice, neat little wreaths of smoke
coming up out of their chimneys--and the whole Mad river loose and just
going to swirl down on it and lap it up, exactly as hungry for it as if
it had been Friendship Village “proper.”

They was running out of their little houses, up towards us, coming with
whatever they had, with children, with baskets between ’em, with little
animals, with bed-quilts tied and filled with stuff. Some few we see was
busy loading their things up on to the second floor, but most of ’em
didn’t have any second floors, so they was either running up the hill or
getting a few things on to the roof. It wasn’t a big river--we none of
us or of them was afraid of any loss of life or of houses being tipped
over or like that. But we knew there’d be two-three feet of water over
their ground floors by noon.

“Land, land,” says Mis’ Sykes, that’s our best housekeeper, “and I
’spose it’s so late lots of ’em had their Spring cleaning done.”

“I was thinkin’ of that,” says Mis’ Holcomb, her enemy.

“But then it being so late most of ’em has got their winter vegetables
et out of their sullars,” says Mis’ Merriman, trying to hunt out the
bright side.

“That’s true as fate, Mis’ Merriman,” I remember I says, agreeing with
her fervent.

And us two pairs of feuds talked about it, together, till we got down
into the Flats and begun helping ’em load.

We filled up the wagon with what they had ready, tied up and boxed up
and in baskets or thrown in loose, and Timothy started back with the
first load, Mis’ Haskitt calling after him pitiful to be careful not to
stomp on her best black dress that she’d started off with in her arms,
and then trusted to the wagon and gone back to get some more. Timothy
was going to take ’em up to the top of Elephant Hill and dump ’em there
by appointment, and come back for another load, everybody sorting their
own out of the pile later, as best they could. While he was gone we done
things up for folks like wild and I donno but like mad, and had a
regular mountain of ’em out on the walk when he come driving back; but
when we got that all loaded on, out come Mis’ Ben Dole, running with a
whole clothes bars full of new-ironed clothes and begged Timothy to set
’em right up on top of the load, just as they was, and representing as
they did Two Dollars’ worth of washing and ironing for her, besides the
value of the clothes that mustn’t be lost. And Timothy took ’em on for
her, and drove off balancing ’em with one hand, and all the clothes
blowing gentle in the breeze.

I looked over to Mis’ Holcomb, all frantic as she was, and it was so she
looked at me.

“That was Ben Dole’s wife that Timothy done that for,” I says, to be
sure we meant the same thing. “Just as if he hadn’t never harmed her
husband’s cement plant.”

“I know,” says Mis’ Holcomb. “Don’t that beat the very day to a froth?”
and she went on emptying Mis’ Dole’s bureau drawers into a bed-spread.

By the time the fourth load or so had gone on, and the other wagons that
had come was working the same way, the water was seeping along the
Lower Road, down past the wood-yard. More than one was saying we’d ought
to begin to make tracks for high ground, because likely when it come,
it’d come with a rush. And some of us had stepped out on the street and
was asking Silas, that you kind of turn to in emergency, because he’s
the only one that don’t turn to anybody else, whether we hadn’t better
go, when down the street we see a man come tearing like mad.

“My land,” I says, “it’s Bitty Marshall. He wasn’t home. And where’s his
wife? I ain’t laid eyes on her.”

None of us had seen her that morning. And us that stood together broke
into a run, and it was Silas and Mis’ Merriman and me that run together,
and rushed together up the stairs of Bitty’s little grocery, to where he
lived, and into the back room. And there set Bessie Marshall in the back
room, putting her baby to sleep as tranquil as the blue sky and not
knowing a word of what was going on, and by the window was Bitty’s old
mother, shelling pop-corn.

I never see anybody work like Silas worked them next few minutes. If
he’d been a horse and a giant made one he couldn’t have got more quick,
necessary things out of the way. And we done what we could, and it
wasn’t any time at all till we was going down the stairs carrying what
few things they’d most need for the next few days. When we stepped out
in the street, the water was an inch or more all over where we stood,
and when we’d got six steps from the house and Bitty had gone ahead
shouting to the wagon, Bessie Marshall looked up at Silas real pitiful.

“Oh, Mr. Sykes,” she says, “there’s a coop of little chickens and their
mother by the back door. Couldn’t we take ’em?”

“Sure,” says Silas, and when the wagon come he made it wait for us, and
when the Marshalls and the baby and Mis’ Merriman was seated in it, and
me, he come running with the coopful of little yellow scraps, and we was
the last wagon to leave the Flats and to get up to Elephant Hill again.

“But, oh,” says Mis’ Merriman grieving, “it seems like us women could do
such a little bit of the rescuing. Oh, when it’s a flood or a fire or a
runaway, I do most question Providence as to why we wasn’t all born
men.”

You know how it is, when a great big thing comes catastrophing down on
you, it just eats up the edges of the thing you think with, and leaves
you with nothing but the wish-bone of your brain operating, kind of
flabby. But when we got up on top of Elephant Hill, where was
everybody--folks from the Flats, and a good deal of what they owned put
into a pile, and the folks from Friendship “proper” come to watch--there
was Mis’ Timothy Toplady already planning what to do, short off. Mis’
Toplady can always connect up what’s in her head with what’s outside of
it and--what’s rarer still--with what’s lacking outside of it.

“These folks has got to be fed,” she says, “for the days of the high
water. Bed and breakfast of course we can manage among us, but the other
two meals is going to be some of a trick. So be Silas would leave us
have Post Office hall free, we could order the stuff sent in right
there, and all turn in and cook it.”

“Oh, my,” says Mis’ Holcomb, soft, to me, “he’ll never do that. He’ll
say it’ll set a precedent, and what he does for one he’ll have to do for
all. It’s a real handy dodge.”

“Well,” says Mis’ Merriman, “leave him set a precedent for himself for
floods. We won’t expect it off him other.”

“I ain’t never yet seen him,” I says, “carrying a chicken coop without
he meant to sell chickens. Mebbe’s he’s got a change of heart. Let’s ask
him,” I says, and I adds low to Mis’ Toplady that I’d asked Silas for so
many things that he wouldn’t give or do that I could almost do it
automatic, and I’d just as lives ask him again as not.

It wasn’t but a minute till him and Timothy come by, each estimating how
fast the river would raise. And I spoke up right then.

“Silas,” I says, “had you thought how we’re going to feed these folks
till the water goes down?”

I fully expected him to snarl out something like he usually does, about
us women being frantic to assume responsibility. Instead of that he
looked down at us thoughtful:

“Well,” says he, “that’s just what I’ve been studying on some. And I was
thinking that if you women would cook the stuff, us men would chip in
and buy the material. And wouldn’t it be some easier to cook it all in
one place? I could let you have the Post Office hall, if you say so.”

“Why, Silas,” I says, “Silas ...” And I couldn’t say another word. And
it was the rest of ’em let him know that we’d do it. And when they’d
gone on,

“Do you think Timothy sensed that?” says Mis’ Toplady, meditative.

“I donno,” says I, “but I can see to it that he does.”

“I was only thinking,” says she, “that we’ve got seven dozen fresh eggs
in the house, and we’re getting six quarts of milk a day now....”

“I’ll recall ’em,” says I, “to his mind.”

But when I’d run ahead and caught up with ’em, and mentioned eggs and
milk suggestive, in them quantities,

“Sure,” says Timothy, “I just been telling Silas he could count on ’em.”

And that was a wonderful thing, for we one and all knew Timothy Toplady
as one of them decanter men that the glass stopper can’t hardly be got
out. But it wasn’t the most wonderful--for Silas spoke up
fervent--ferventer than I’d ever known him to speak:

“They can have anything we’ve got, Calliope,” he says, “in our stores or
our homes. Make ’em know that,” says he.

It didn’t take me one secunt to pull Silas aside.

“Silas,” I says, “oh, Silas--is what you just said true? Because if it’s
true--won’t you let it last after the water goes down? Won’t you let
Bitty keep his store?”

He looked down at me, frowning a little. One of the little yellow chicks
in the coop got out between the bars just then, and was just falling on
its nose when he caught it--I s’pose bill is more biologic, but it
don’t sound so dangerous--and he was tucking it back in, gentle, with
its mother, while he answered me, testy:

“Lord, Calliope,” he says, “a flood’s a flood. Can’t you keep things
separate?”

“No, sir,” I says, “I can’t. Nor I don’t believe the Lord can either.”

Ain’t it like things was arranged to happen in patterns, same as
crystals? For it was just in them next two minutes that two things
happened: The first was that a boy came riding over on his wheel from
the telegraph office and give a telegram to Timothy. And Timothy opened
it and waved it over his head, and come with it over to us:

“First contribution for the flood-suffers!” says he. “They telephoned
the news over to Red Barns and listen at this: ‘Put me down for
Twenty-five dollars towards the flood folks food. Zachariah Roper.’”

I looked over to Timothy straight.

“Zachariah Roper,” I says, “that owns the cement plant that some of the
Flat folks got in the way of?”

Timothy jerked his shoulder distasteful. “The idear,” says he, “of
bringin’ up business at a time like this.”

With that I looked over at Silas, and I see him with the scarcest thing
in the world for him--a little pinch of a smile on his face. Just for a
minute he met my eyes. Then he looked down to get his hand a little
farther away from where the old hen in the coop had been picking it.

And the other thing that happened was that up in front of me come
running little Mrs. Bitty Marshall, and her eyes was full of tears.

“Oh, Mis’ Marsh,” she says, “what do you s’pose I done? I come off and
left my lace curtain. I took it down first thing and pinned it up in a
paper to bring. And then I come off and left it.”

Before I could say a word Silas answered her:

“The water’ll never get up that far, Mis’ Marshall,” he says, “don’t you
worry. Don’t you worry one bit. But,” says he, “if anything does happen
to it, Mis’ Marshall, I’ll tell you now you can have as good a one as
we’ve got in the store, _on me_. There now, you’ve had a present to-day
a’ready!”

I guess she thanked him. I donno. All I remember is that pretty soon
everybody begun to move towards town and I moved with ’em. And while we
walked the whole thing kind of begun to take hold of me, what it meant,
and things that had been coming to me all the morning came to me all
together--and I wanted to chant ’em a chant, like Deborah (but
pronounced Déborah when it’s a relative). And I wanted to say:

     “O Lord, look down on these eighty families, old and young and real
     young, that we’ve lived neighbor to all our lives, and yet we don’t
     know half of ’em, either by name or by face, till now. Till now!

     “And some of them we do know individual has showed up here to-day
     with a back-ground of families, wives and children they’ve got,
     just like anybody--Tippie that drives the dray and that’s helped
     moved everybody; for twelve years he’s moved my refrigerator out
     and my cook stove in, and vicious verses, as regular as Spring come
     and Autumn arrived; and there all the time he had a wife, with a
     cameo pin, and three little Tippies in plaid skirts and pink
     cheeks, asking everybody for a drink of water just like your own
     child, and one of ’em so nice that he might of been anybody’s
     instead of just Tippie’s.

     “And Mamie Felt, that does up lace curtains of them that can afford
     to have ’em done up and dries ’em on a frame so’s they hang
     straight and not like a waterfall with its expression blowing
     sideways, same as mine do--there’s Mamie with her old mother and a
     cripple brother that we’ve never guessed about, and that she was
     doing for all the whole time.

     “And Absalom Ricker’s old mother, that’s mourning bitter because
     she left her coral pin with a dog on behind on the Flats that her
     husband give it to her when they was engaged ... and we knew she
     was married, but not one of us had thought of her as human enough
     ever to have been engaged. And Mis’ Haskitt with her new black
     dress, and Mis’ Dole with her clean-ironed clothes bars, and Mis’
     Bitty Marshall with her baby and her little chickens and her lace
     curtain, and Bitty with his grocery store.

     “Lord, we thank thee for letting us see them, and all the rest of
     ’em, _close up to_.

     “We’re glad that now just because the Mad river flowed into the
     homes that we ain’t often been in or ever, if any, and drove up to
     us the folks that we’ve never thought so very much about, we’re
     glad to get the feeling that I had when I heard our grocery-boy
     knew how to hand-carve wood and our mail man was announced to sing
     a bass solo, that we never thought they had any regular lives,
     separate from milk and mail.

     “And let us keep that feeling, O Lord! Amen.”

And I says right out of the fullness of the lump in my throat:

“Don’t these folks seem so much more folks than they ever did before?”

Mis’ Merriman that was near me, answered up:

“Why, of course,” she says, “they’re in trouble. Ain’t you no compassion
to you?”

“Some,” says I, modest, “but where’d that compassion come from? It
didn’t just grow up now, did it?--like Abraham’s gourd, or whoever it
was that had one?”

“Why, no,” she says irritable. “It’s in us all, of course. But it takes
trouble to bring it out.”

“Why does it take trouble to bring it out?” I says and I looked ahead at
us all a-streaming down Daphne Street, just like it was some nice human
doings. “Why does it? Here’s us all, and it only takes a minute to get
us all going, with our hands in our pockets and lumps in our throats and
our sympathy just as busy as it ever was for our little family
in-four-walls affairs. Now,” I says, “that love and sympathy, and them
pockets and them throats are all here, just the same, day after day.
What I want to know is, what are them things doing with themselves when
nobody is in active trouble?”

And then I said my creed:

“O, when we get to working as hard to keep things from happening as we
work when it’s happened, won’t living be fun?”

“Well, of course we couldn’t prevent floods,” says Mis’ Merriman, “and
them natural things.”

“Shucks!” I says, simple. “If we knew as much about frosts and
hurricanes as we do about comets--we’d show you. And do you think it’s
any harder to bank in a river than it is to build a subway--_if_ there
was the same money in it for the company?”

Just then the noon whistles blew--all of ’em together, round-house and
brick-yard, so’s you couldn’t tell ’em apart; and the sun come shining
down on us all, going along on Daphne Street. And all of a sudden Mis’
Merriman looked over to me and smiled, and so I done to her, and I saw
that our morning together and our feeling together had made us forget
whatever there’d been between us to forget about. And I ain’t ever in my
life felt so kin to folks. I felt kinner than I knew I was.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, tired as I was, I walked over to see Mis’ Sykes’s
night-blooming cereus--I don’t see enough pretty things to miss one when
I can get to it. And there, sitting on Mis’ Sykes’s front porch, with
her shoes slipped off to rest her feet, was Mis’ Holcomb-that-was-Mame
Bliss.

“Mis’ Sykes is out getting in a few pieces she washed out and forgot,”
says Mame, “and the Marshalls is all down town in a body sending a
postal to say they’re safe. Silas went too.”

“The _Marshalls_!” says I. “Are they _here_?”

Mame nodded. “Silas asked ’em,” she says. “Him and Bitty’ve been looking
over grocery stock catalogues. Silas’s been advising him some.”

Mame and I smiled in concert. But whether the flood done it, or whether
we done it--who cared?

“But, land, _you_, Mame!” I says. “I thought you--I thought Mis’
Sykes....”

“I know it,” says Mame. “I was. She did. But the first thing I knew
to-day, there we was peeling potatoes together in the same pan, and we
done it all afternoon. I guess we kind of forgot about our bad
feeling....”

I set there, smiling in the dark.... I donno whether you know a village,
along toward night, with the sky still pink, and folks watering their
front lawns and calling to each other across the streets, and a little
smell of bon-fire smoke coming from somewheres? It was like that. And
when Mis’ Sykes come to tell us the flower was beginning to bloom, I
says to myself that there was lots more in bloom in the world than any
of us guessed.



THE PARTY


Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman done her mourning like she done her house
work--thorough. She was the kind of a housekeeper that looks on the week
as made up of her duties, and the days not needing other names: Washday,
Ironday, Mend-day, Bakeday, Freeday, Scrubday, and Sunday--that was how
they went. With them nothing interfered without it was a circus or a
convention or a company or the extra work on holidays. She kept house
all over her, earnest; and when the Fire Chief died, that was the way
she mourned.

When I say mourning I mean what you do besides the feeling bad part. She
felt awful bad about her husband, but her mourning was somehow kind of
separate from her grieving. Her grieving was done with her feelings, but
her mourning was done more physical, like a diet. After the first year
there was certain things she would and wouldn’t do, count of mourning,
and nothing could change them.

Weddings and funerals Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman stayed true to. She would
go to either. “Getting connect’ or getting buried,” she said, “them are
both religious occasions, and they’s somethin’ so sad about either of
’em that they kind of fit in with weeds.”

But she wouldn’t go to a party if there was more than three or four to
it, and not then if one of ’em was a stranger to her. And she wouldn’t
go to it unless it was to a house--picnics, where you sat around on the
ground, she said, was too informal for them in mourning. Church meetings
she went to, but not club meetings, except the Cemetery Improvement
Sodality ones. It was like keeping track of etiquette to know what to do
with Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman.

“Seems though Aunt Hettie is more married now than she was when Uncle
Eben was living,” her niece use’ to say.

It was on the little niece, Harriet Wells,--named for Mis’ Chief and
come to live with her a while before the Fire Chief died,--it was on her
that Mis’ Merriman’s mourning etiquette fell the heaviest. Harriet was
twenty and woman-pretty and beau-interested; and Amos More, that worked
in Eppleby’s feed store and didn’t hev no folks, he’d been shining round
the Merriman house some, and Harriet had been shining back, modest and
low-wicked, but lit. He was spending mebbe a couple of evenings a week
there and taking Harriet to sociables and entertainments some. But when
the Fire Chief died Mis’ Merriman set her foot down on Amos.

“I couldn’t stand it,” she says, “to hev a man comin’ here that wasn’t
the Chief. I couldn’t stand it to hev sparkin’ an’ courtin’ goin’ on all
around me. An’ if I should hev to hev a weddin’ got ready for in this
house--the dressmakin’ an’ like that--I believe I should scream.”

So Amos he give up going there and just went flocking around by himself,
and Harriet, she give all her time to her aunt, looking like a little
lonesome candle that nothing answered back to. And Mis’ Merriman’s
mourning flourished like a green bay tree.

It was into this state of affairs, more than a year after the Chief
died, that Mis’ Merriman’s cousin’s letter come. Mis’ Merriman’s cousin
had always been one of them myth folks that every town has--the
relations and friends of each other that is talked about and known about
and heard from and even asked after, but that none of us ever sees. This
cousin, Maria Carpenter, was one of our most intimate myths. Next to the
Fire Chief himself, Mis’ Merriman give the most of her time in
conversation to her. She was real dressy--she used to send Mis’
Merriman samples of her clothes and their trimmings, and we all felt
real well acquainted and interested; and she was rich and busy and from
the city, and the kind of a relation it done Mis’ Merriman good to have
connected with her, and her photograph with a real lace collar was on
the parlor mantel. She had never been to Friendship Village, and we used
to wonder why not.

And then she got the word that her cousin was actually flesh-an’-blood
coming. I run in to Mis’ Merriman’s on my way home from town just after
Harriet had brought her up the letter, and Mis’ Merriman was all of a
heap in the big chair.

“Calliope,” she says, “the blow is down! Maria Carpenter is a-comin’
Tuesday to stay till Friday.”

“Well,” I says, “ain’t you glad, Mis’ Fire Chief? Company ain’t no great
chore now the telephone is in,” I says to calm her.

She looked up at me, sad, over her glasses.

“What good is it to have her come?” she says. “I can’t show her off.
There won’t be a livin’ place I can take her to. Nobody’ll see her nor
none of her clothes.”

“It’s too bad,” I says absent, “it didn’t happen so’s you could give a
company for Miss Carpenter.”

Mis’ Fire Chief burst out like her feelings overflowed themselves.

“It’s what I’ve always planned,” she says. “Many a night I’ve laid awake
an’ thought about the company I’d give when Maria come. An’ Maria never
could come. An’ now here is Maria all but upon me, an’ the company can’t
be. I know she’ll bring a dress, expectin’ it. She knows it’s past the
first year, an’ she’ll think I’ll feel free to entertain. I donno but I
ought to telegraph her: _Pleased to see you but don’t you expect a
company._ Wouldn’t that be more open an’ aboveboard? Oh, dear!” Mis’
Fire Chief says, rockin’ in her chair that wouldn’t rock, “I’m well an’
the house is all in order an’ I could afford a company if I didn’t go in
deep. But I couldn’t bear to be to it. That’s it, Calliope; I couldn’t
bear to be to it.”

I remember Mis’ Fire Chief kind of stopped then, like she thought of
something; but I wasn’t looking at her. I was watching Harriet Wells
that was standing by the window a little to one side. And I see her lift
her hand and give it a little wave and lay it on the glass like a signal
to somebody. And all of a sudden I knew it was half past ’leven and that
Amos More went home early to his dinner at the boarding house so’s to
get back at twelve-thirty, when Eppleby went for his, and that nine to
ten it was Amos that Harriet was waving at. I knew it special and sure
when Harriet turned back to the room with a nice little guilty look and
a pink spot up high on both her cheeks. And something sort o’ shut up in
my throat. It seems so easy for folks to get married in this world, and
here was these two not doing it.

All of a sudden Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman jumped up on to her feet.

“Calliope Marsh,” says she, “I’ve got a plan. I can do it, if you’ll
help me. Why can’t I give a company,” she says, “an’ not come in the
room? A hostess has to be in the kitchen most of the time anyway. Why
can’t I just stay there, an’ leave Maria be in the parlor, an’ me not be
to the company at all?”

We talked it over, and neither of us see why not. Mis’ Sykes, when she
gives her series of companies, three in three days running, she often
don’t set foot in the parlor till after the refreshments are served. I
remember once she was so faint she had to go back to the kitchen and eat
her own supper, and we didn’t say good-by to her at all, except as some
of us that knew her best went and stuck our heads out the kitchen door.
So with all us ladies--we done the same way when we entertained, so be
we give ’em any kind of a lay-out.

“I won’t say anything about the party bein’ for Maria, one way or the
other,” she says; “I won’t make a spread about it, nor much of an event.
I’ll just send out invites for a quiet time. Then when they come, you
can stay in the room with Maria at first an’ get her introduced. An’
after that the party can go ahead on its own legs, just as well without
me as with me. I could only fly in now an’ then anyhow, an’ talk to ’em
snatchy, with my mind on the supper. Why ain’t it just as good to stay
right out of it altogether?”

We see it reasonable. And a couple of days before Maria Carpenter was
expected, Mis’ Fire Chief, she went to work, Harriet helping her, and
she got her invitations out. They was on some black bordered paper and
envelopes that Mis’ Fire Chief had had for a mourning Christmas present
an’ had been saving. And they was worded real delicate, like Mis’ Fire
Chief done everything:

     Mrs. Merriman, At Home, Thursday afternoon, Four o’clock Sharp,
     Thimbles. Six o’clock Supper. Walk right in past the bell.

It made quite a little stir in Friendship Village, because Mis’ Merriman
hadn’t been anywheres yet. But everybody took it all right. And anyway,
everybody was too busy getting ready, to bother much over anything else.
It’s quite a problem to know what to wear to a winter company in
Friendship Village. Nobody entertains much of any in the winter--its a
chore to get the parlor cleaned and het, and it’s cold for ’em to lay
off their things, and you can’t think up much that’s tasty for
refreshments, being it’s too cold to give ’em ice cream. Mis’ Fire Chief
was giving the party on the afternoon of Miss Carpenter’s three o’clock
arrival, in the frank an’ public hope that somebody would dance around
during her stay and give her a return invite out to tea or somewheres.

The morning of the day that was the day, there come a rap to my door
while I was stirring up my breakfast, and there was Harriet Wells,
bare-headed and a shawl around her, and looking summer-sweet in her
little pink muslin dressing sacque that matched her cheeks and showed
off her blue eyes.

“Aunt Hettie wants to know,” she says, “whether you can’t come over now
so’s to get an early start. She’s afraid the train’ll get in before
we’re ready for it.”

“Land!” I says, “I know how she feels. The last company I give I got up
and swep’ by lamplight and had my cake all in the oven by 6 A.M. Come in
while I eat my breakfast and I’ll run right back with you and leave my
dishes setting. How’s your aunt standing it?” I ask’ her.

“Oh, pretty well, thank you,” says Hettie, “but she’s awful nervous. She
hasn’t et for two days--not since the invitations went out o’ the
house--an’ last night she dreamt about the Chief. That always upsets her
an’ makes her cross all next day.”

“If she wasn’t your aunt,” I says, “I’d say, ‘Deliver me from loving the
dead so strong that I’m ugly to the living.’ But she _is_ your aunt and
a good woman--so I’m mum as you please.”

Hettie, she sighs some. “She _is_ a good woman,” she says, wistful;
“but, oh, Mis’ Marsh, they’s some good women that it’s terrible hard to
live with,” she says--an’ then she choked up a little because she _had_
said it. But I, and all Friendship Village, knew it for the truth. And
we all wanted to be delivered from people that’s so crazy to be moral
and proper themselves, in life or in mourning, that they walk over
everybody else’s rights and stomp down everybody’s feelin’s. My eyes
filled up when I looked at that poor, lonesome little thing, sacrificed
like she was to Mis’ Fire Chief’s mourning spree.

“Hettie,” I says, “Amos More goes by here every morning about now on his
way to his work. When he goes by this morning, want to know what I’m
going to tell him?”

“Yes’m,” says Hettie, simple, blushing up like a pink lamp shade when
you’ve lit the lamp.

“I’m a-goin’ to tell him,” says I, “that I’m going to ask Eppleby
Holcomb to let him off for a couple of ours or so this morning, an’ a
couple more this afternoon. I want he should come over to Mis’ Fire
Chief’s an’ chop ice an help turn freezer.” (We was going to feed ’em
ice cream even if it was winter.) “I’m getting too old for such fancy
jobs myself, and you ain’t near strong enough, and Mis’ Chief, I know
how she’ll be. She won’t reco’nize her own name by nine o’clock.”

While I was finding out what cocoanut and raisins and such they’d got in
stock, along come Amos More, hands hanging loose like he’d lost his grip
on something. I called to him, and pretended not to notice Harriet’s
little look into the clock-door looking-glass, and when he come in I
’most forgot what I’d meant to say to him, it was so nice to see them
two together. I never see two more in love with every look of each
other’s.

“Why, Harriet!” says Amos, as if saying her name was his one way of
breathing.

“Good mornin’, Amos,” Harriet says, rose-pink and looking at the back of
her hand.

Amos just give me a little nice smile, and then he didn’t seem to know I
was in the room. He went straight up to her and caught a-hold of the
fringe of her shawl.

“Harriet,” he says, “how long have I got to go on livin’ on the sight of
you through that dinin’-room window? Yes, livin’. It’s the only time I’m
alive all day long--just when I see you there, signalin’ me--an’ when I
know you ain’t forgot. But I can’t go on this way--I can’t, I can’t.”

“What can I do--what can I do, Amos?” she says, faint.

“Do? Chuck everything for me--if you love me enough,” says Amos, neat as
a recipe.

“I owe Aunt Hettie too much,” says Hettie, firm; “I ain’t that kind--to
turn on her ungrateful.”

“I know it. I love you for that too,” says Amos, “I love you on account
of everything you do. And I tell you I can’t live like this much
longer.”

“Well said!” I broke in, brisk; “I can help you over this day anyhow.
You go on down-town, Amos, and get the stuff on this list I’ve made out,
and then you come on up to Mis’ Fire Chief’s. We need a man and we need
you. I’ll fix it with Eppleby.”

They wasn’t any need to explain to Mis’ Fire Chief. She was so excited
she didn’t know whether she was a-foot or a-horseback. When Amos got
back with the things I’d sent for she didn’t seem half to sense it was
him I was sending out in the woodshed to chop ice. She didn’t hev her
collar on nor her shoes buttoned, and she wasn’t no more use in that
kitchen than a dictionary.

“Oh, Calliope,” she says, in a sort of wail, “I’m so nervous!”

“You go and set down, Mis’ Fire Chief,” says I, “and button up your
shoes. I’ve got every move of the morning planned out,” says I, “so be
you don’t interrupt me.”

Of course it was her party and all, but they’s some hostesses you hev to
lay a firm holt of, if you’re the helper and expect the party to come
off at all. And I never see any living hostess more upset than was Mis’
Fire Chief. She give all the symptoms--not of a company, but of coming
down with something.

“Oh, Calliope,” says she, “everything’s against me. I donno,” she says,
“but it’s a sign from the Chief in his grave that I’m actin’ against his
wishes an’ opposite to what widows should. The wood is green--hear it
siss an’ sizzle in that stove an’ hold back its heat from me. The
cistern is dry--we’ve hed to pump water to the neighbors. Not a hen has
cackled this livelong mornin’ in the coop. The milkman couldn’t only
leave me three quarts instead of four, though ordered ahead. An’ I feel
like death--I feel like death,” says she, “part on account of the
Chief--ain’t it like he was speakin’ his disapprovin’ in all these
little minor ways?--an’ part because I know I’m comin’ down with a hard
cold an’ I’d ought to be in bed all lard an’ pepper this livin’ minute.
Oh, dear me! An’ Maria all but upon me. I don’t know how I’ll ever get
through this day.”

“Mis’ Fire Chief,” says I, “you go and lay down and try to get some
rest.”

“No, Calliope,” says she, “the beds is all ready for the company to lay
their hats off, an’ the lounge pillows has been beat light on the line.”

“Well,” says I, “go off an’ take a walk.”

“Not without I walk to the cemetery,” says she, “an’ that I couldn’t
bear. Not to-day.”

“Well,” says I, “then you let me put a wet cloth over your head and
eyes, and you set still and stop talkin’. You’ll be wore to a thread,”
says I.

And that was what I done to her, expecting that if she didn’t keep still
I’d bake the ice cream and freeze the cake and lose my own head entire.

Out in the shed I’d set Amos to cracking ice, and Harriet to cracking
nuts, with a flatiron and a hammer. And pretty soon I stepped along to
see how things was going. Land, land, it was a pretty sight! They was
both working away, but Amos was looking down at her more’n to his work,
and Harriet was looking up at him like he was all of it--and the whole
air was pleasant with something sweeter than could be named. So I left
them two alone, well knowing that I could manage a company sole by
myself yet a while, no matter how much courting and mourning was going
on all around me.

And everything went fine, in spite of Mis’ Fire Chief’s looking like
death in the rocker, with a wet rag on her brow.

But she kept lifting up one corner and giving directions.

“No pink frostin’, Calliope, you know,” she says, “only white. An’ no
colored flowers--only white ones. You’ll have to write the place
cards--my hand shakes so I don’t dare trust myself. But I’ll cut up the
ribbin for the sandwiches--I can do that much,” says she.

The place cards was mourning ones, with broad black edges, and the
ribbin to tie up the sandwiches was black too. And the centerpiece was
one Mis’ Fire Chief and Hettie hed been up early that morning making--it
was a set piece from the Chief’s funeral, a big goblet, turned bottom
side up, done in white geraniums with “He is Near” in purple
everlastings. The table was going to look real tasty, Mis’ Fire Chief
thought, all in black and white so--with little sprays of willow laid
around on the cloth instead of ferns.

“I’ve done the best I could,” she said, solemn, “to make the occasion do
honor to Maria an’ pay reverence to the Chief.”

I had just finally persuaded her to go up-stairs and look the chambers
over and then try to take a little rest somewheres around, when Amos
come to the shed door to tell me the freezer wouldn’t turn no more, and
was it broke or was the cream froze. And Mis’ Fire Chief, seeing him
coming in the shed way, seemed to sense for the first time that he was
there.

“Amos More,” says she, “what you doin’ here?”

“I ask’ him,” says I, hasty; “I had to have his help about the ice.”

She covered her eyes with one hand. “Courtin’ an’ entertainin’ goin’ on
in the Chief’s house,” she said, “an’ him only just gone from us!”

“Well,” s’I, “I’ve got to have _some_ man’s help out here this
afternoon--why not Amos’s?”

“Oh,” says Mis’ Merriman, “you’re all against me but the Chief, an’ him
helpless.”

“The Chief,” says I, “was always careful of your health. You’ll make
yourself sick taking on so, Mis’ Fire Chief,” I told her. “You go and
put flowers in the chambers and leave the rest to me. Put your mind,” I
told her, “on the surprise you’ve got for your guests that’s
comin’--Maria Carpenter here and all! Besides,” I couldn’t help sticking
in, “I donno as Amos is cold poison.”

So we got her off up-stairs.

Maria Carpenter’s train was due at 3:03, so she was just a-going to have
the right time to get ready when the afternoon would begin, because in
Friendship Village “sharp four” means four o’clock. I had left the
sandwiches to make last thing, and I come back from my dinner towards
three and tiptoes through the house so’s not to disturb Mis’ Fire Chief
if she was resting, and I went into the pantry and begun cutting and
spreading bread. I hadn’t been there but a little while before the stair
door into the kitchen opened and I heard Hettie come down, humming a
little. But before I could sing out to her, the woodshed door opened
too, and in come Amos that had been out putting more salt in the
freezer.

“Hettie!” he says in a low voice, and I see she prob’ly hed on her white
muslin and was looking like angels, and more. And--“I won’t,” says Amos,
then--“I won’t--though I can hardly keep my hands off from you--dear.”

“It don’t seem right even to have you call me ‘dear,’” says Hettie, sad.

Amos burst right out. “It is right--it is _right_!” says he. “They can’t
nobody make me feel ‘dear’ is wicked, not when it means as dear as you
are to me. Hettie,” Amos says, “sit down here a minute.”

“Not us. Not together,” says Hettie, nervous.

“Yes!” says Amos, commanding, “I don’t know when I’ll see you again. Set
down here, by me.”

And by the little stillness, I judged she done so. And I says this:
“Them poor things ain’t had ten minutes with each other in over a year,
and if they know I’m here, that’ll spoil this time. I’d better stay
where I am, still, with my thoughts on my sandwiches.” And that was what
I done. But I couldn’t--I _couldn’t_--and neither could most anyone--of
helped a word or two leaking through the pantry door _and_ the sandwich
thoughts.

“I just wanted to pretend--for a minute,” Amos said, “that this was our
house. An’ our kitchen. An’ that we was settin’ here side of the stove
an’ belonged.”

“Oh, Amos,” said Hettie, “it don’t seem right to pretend that way with
Aunt Hettie’s stove--an’ her feelin’ the way she does.”

“Yes, it is right,” says Amos, stout. “Hettie! Don’t you see? She
_don’t_ feel that way. She’s just nervous with grievin’, an’ it comes
out like that. She don’t care--really. At least not anything like the
way she thinks she does. Now don’t let’s think about her,
Hettie--dearest! Think about now. An’ let’s just pretend for a minute it
was then. You know--_then_!”

“Well,” says Hettie, unwilling,--and yet, oh, so willing,--“if it _was_
then, what would you be sayin’?”

“I’d be sayin’ what I say now,” says Amos, “an’ what I’ll say to the end
o’ time: that I love you so much that the world ain’t the world without
you. But I want to hear _you_ say somethin’. What would you be sayin’,
Hettie, if it was _then_?”

I knew how she dimpled up as she answered--Hettie’s dimples was like the
wind had dented a rose leaf.

“I’d prob’ly be sayin’,” says Hettie, “Amos, you ain’t filled the water
pail. An’ I’ll have to have another armful o’ kindlin’.”

“Well,” says Amos, “but then when I’d brought ’em. What would you say
then?”

“I’d say, ‘What do you want for dinner?’” said Hettie, demure. But even
this was too much for Amos.

“An’ then we’d cook it,” he says, almost reverent. “Oh, Hettie--don’t it
seem like heaven to think of us seein’ to all them little
things--together?”

I loved Hettie for her answer. Coquetting is all right some of the time;
but--some of the time--so is real true talk.

“Yes,” she says soft, “it does. But it seems like earth too--_an’ I’m
glad of it_.”

“Oh, Hettie,” says Amos, “marry me. Don’t let’s go on like this.”

“Dear,” says Hettie, all solemn,--and forgetting that “dear” was such a
wicked word,--“dear, I’d marry you this afternoon if it wasn’t for Aunt
Hettie’s feelin’s. But I can’t hurt her--I can’t,” she says.

Well, just then the door bell rung, and Hettie she flew to answer it,
and Amos he lit back to the woodshed and went to chopping more ice like
life lay all that way. And I was just coming out of the butt’ry with a
pan of thin sandwiches ready for the black ribbins, when I heard a kind
of groan and a scuffle, and down-stairs come Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman,
and all but fell into the kitchen. She had something in her hand.

“Calliope--Calliope Marsh,” says she, all wailing like a bereavement,
“Cousin Maria has fell an broke her wrist, an’ she ain’t comin’ _at
all_!”

I stood still, real staggered. I see what it meant to Mis’
Merriman--invites all out, Cousin Maria for surprise and hostess in one,
Mis’ Merriman not figgering on appearing at all, account of the Chief,
and the company right that minute on the way.

“What’ll I do--what’ll I _do_?” cries Mis’ Merriman, sinking down on the
bottom step in her best black with the crêpe cuffs. “Oh,” she says,
“it’s a judgment upon me. I’ll hev to turn my guests from my door. I’ll
be the laughing-stock,” says she, wild.

And just then, like the trump of judgment to her, we heard the front
door shut, and the first folks to come went marching up the stairs. And
at the same minute Amos come in from the shed with the dasher out of the
second freezer, and Hettie’s eyes run to him like he was their goal and
their home. And then I says:

“Mis’ Fire Chief. Leave your company come in. Serve ’em the food of your
house, just like you’ve got it ready. Stay back in the kitchen and don’t
go in the parlor and do it all just like you’d planned. And in place of
Maria Carpenter and the surprise you’d meant,” says I, “give ’em another
surprise. Leave Hettie and Amos be married in your parlor, like they
want to be and like all Friendship Village wants to see ’em. Couldn’t
nothing be sweeter.”

Mis’ Merriman stared up to me, and set and rocked.

“A weddin’,” she says, “a weddin’ in the parlor where the very last
gatherin’ was the funeral of the Chief? It’s sacrilege--sacrilege!” she
says, wild.

“Mis’ Merriman,” I says, simple, “what do you reckon this earth is
about? What,” says I, “is the purpose the Lord God Most High created it
for out of nothing? As near as I can make out,” I told her, “and I’ve
give the matter some study, He’s got a purpose hid way deep in His
heart, and way deep in the hearts of us all has got to be the same
purpose, or we might just as well, and a good sight better, be dead. And
a part of that purpose is to keep His world a-going, and that can’t be
done, as I see it, by looking back over our shoulders to the dead that’s
gone, however dear, and forgetting the living that’s all around us,
yearning and thirsting and passioning for their happiness. And a part of
His purpose is to put happiness into this world, so’s people can
brighten up and hearten out and do the work of the world like He meant
’em to. And you, Mis’ Merriman,” says I, plain, “are a-holding back from
both them purposes of God’s, and a-doing your best to set ’em to
naught.”

Mis’ Merriman, she looked up kind of dazed from where she was a-sitting.
“I ain’t never supposed I was livin’ counter to the Almighty,” she says,
some stiff.

“Well,” says I, “none of us supposes that as much as we’d ought to. And
my notion, and the notion of most of Friendship Village, it’s just what
you’re doing, Mis’ Fire Chief,” says I,--“in some respec’s.”

“Oh, even if I wasn’t, I don’t want to be the laughin’-stock to-day,”
says she, weak, and beginning to cry.

“Hettie and Amos,” says I, then, for form’s sake, “if Mis’ Merriman
agrees to this, do you agree?”

“Yes! Oh, _yes_!” says Amos, like the organ and the benediction and the
Amen, all rolled into one.

“Yes,” says Hettie, shy as a rose, but yet like a rose nodding on its
stalk, positive.

“And you, Mis’ Fire Chief?” says I.

She nodded behind her hands that covered up her face. “I don’t know what
to do,” says she, faint. “Go on ahead--all of you!”

My, if we didn’t have to fly around. They wasn’t no time for dress
changing. Hettie was in white muslin and Amos in every-day, but it was
all right because she was Hettie and because he looked like a king in
anything. And they was so many last things to do that none of us thought
of dress anyhow. It was four o’clock by then, and folks had been
stomping in “past the bell” and marching up-stairs and laying off their
things--being as everybody knows what’s what in Friendship Village and
don’t hev to be told where to go, same as some--till, judging by the
sound, they had all got there and was clacking in the parlor, and Mis’
Fire Chief’s party had begun. And Mis’ Fire Chief herself revived enough
to offer to tie the ribbins around the sandwiches.

“My land!” I says, “we can’t do that. We can’t have black ribbin round
the wedding sandwiches.”

But Hettie, she broke in, sweet and dignified, and before her aunt could
say a word. “Yes, we can,” she says, “yes, we can. I ain’t
superstitious, same as some. Uncle’s centerpiece an’ his willow on the
tablecloth an’ his blackribbin sandwiches,” says she, “is goin’ to stay
just the way they are, weddin’ or no weddin’,” says she. “Ain’t they,
Amos?” she ask’ him.

“You bet you,” says Amos, fervent, just like he would have agreed to
anything under heaven that Hettie said. And Mis’ Merriman, she looked at
’em then, grateful and even resigned. And time Amos had gone and got
back with the license and the minister we were all ready.

They sent me in to sort of pave the way. I slips in through the hall and
stood in the door a minute wondering how I’d tell ’em. There they all
was, setting sewing and rocking and gossiping, contented as if they had
a hostess in every room. And not one of ’em suspecting. Oh, I loved ’em
one and all, and I loved the way they was all _used_ to each other, and
talking natural about crochet patterns and recipes for oatmeal cookies
and what’s good to keep hands from chapping--not one of ’em putting on
or setting their best foot forwards or trying to act their best, same as
they might with company, but just being themselves, natural and
forgetting. And I was glad, deep down in my heart, that Maria Carpenter
hadn’t come near. Not glad that she had broke her wrist, of course--but
that she hadn’t come near. And when I stepped out to tell ’em what was
going to happen, I was so glad in my throat that I couldn’t say a word
only just--

“Friends--listen to me. What do you _s’pose_ is goin’ to happen? Oh,
they can’t none of you guess. So look. Look!”

Then I threw open the dining-room door and let ’em in--Hettie and Amos,
with Doctor June. And patterns and recipes and lotions all just simmered
down into one surprised and glad and loving buzz of wonder. And then
Hettie and Amos were married, and the world begun all over again, Garden
of Eden style.

There is one little thing more to tell. When the congratulations was
most over, the dining-room door creaked a little bit, and Amos, that
was standing by it, whirled around and see Mis’ Fire Chief Merriman
peeking through the crack to her guests. And Amos swung open the door
wide, and he grabbed her by the arm, and though she hung back with all
her strength Amos pulled her right straight into the room and kissed
her, there before them all.

“_Aunt_ Hettie,” he says to her, ringing, “_Uncle_--Hettie’s uncle an’
mine an’ your husband,--wouldn’t want you stayin’ out there in the
dinin’-room to-day on account o’ him!”

And when we all crowded around her, greeting her like guests should
greet a hostess and like dear friends should greet dear friends, Mis’
Fire Chief she wipes her eyes, and she left ’em shake her hands; and
though she wasn’t all converted, it was her and not me that ask’ ’em
please to walk out into the dining-room and eat the lunch that was part
wedding and part in memory of the Chief.



THE BIGGEST BUSINESS


I donno whether you’ve ever lived in a town that’s having a boom? That’s
being a boom town, as they call it? There ain’t any more boom to
Friendship Village than there is to a robin building a nest. There ain’t
any more boom to Friendship Village than there is to growth. We just go
along and go along, and behave ourselves like the year does: Little
spurt of Spring now and then, when two-three folks build new houses and
we get a new side-walk or two or buy a new sprinkling cart. Little dead
time, here and there, when the tobacco or pickle factory closes down to
wait for more to grow, and when somebody gets most built and boards up
the windows till something else comes in to go on with. But most of the
time Friendship Village keeps on pretty even, like the year, or the
potato patch, or any of them common, growing things.

But now over to Red Barns it ain’t so. Red Barns is eight miles away,
and from the beginning the two towns sort of set with their backs to
each other, and each give out promiscuous that the other didn’t have a
future. But, same time, the two towns looked out of the corners of their
eyes enough to set quite a few things going for each other unconscious:
Red Barns got a new depot, and Friendship Village instantly petitioned
for one. Friendship Village set aside a little park, and Red Barns
immediately appropriated for one, with a little edge more ground. Red
Barns got a new post office, and Friendship Village started out for a
new library. And so on. Just like a couple of boys seeing which could
swim out farthest.

Then all of a sudden the Interurban come through Red Barns and left
Friendship Village setting quiet out in the meadows eight miles from the
track. And of course after that Red Barns shot ahead--Eppleby Holcomb
said that on a still night you could hear Red Barns chuckle. Pretty soon
a little knitting factory started up there, and then a big tobacco
factory. And being as they had three motion-picture houses to our one,
and band concerts all Summer instead of just through July, the folks in
Silas Sykes’s Friendship Village Corn Canning Industry and in Timothy
Toplady’s Enterprise Pickle Manufactory began to want to go over to Red
Barns to work. Two left from Eppleby Holcomb’s Dry Goods Emporium. Even
the kitchens of the few sparse ones that kept hired help begun to
suffer. And the men begun to see that what was what had got to be helped
to be something else--same as often happens in commercial circles.

Things was about to this degree when Spring come on. I donno how it is
with other people, but with me Spring used to be the signal to run as
far as I could from the place I was in, in the hopes, I guess, of
getting close up to all outdoors. I used to want to run along country
paths all squshy with water, and hang over a fence to try to tell
whether it’s a little quail or a big meadowlark in the sedge; I wanted
to smell the sweet, soft-water smell that Spring rain has. I wanted to
watch the crust of the earth move because May was coming up through the
mold. I wanted to climb a tree and be a bud. And one morning I got up
early bent on doing all these things, and ended by poking round my
garden with a stick to see what was coming up--like you do. It was real
early in the morning--not much after six--and Outdoors looked
surprised--you know that surprised look of early morning, as if the day
had never thought of being born again till it up and happened to it? And
I had got to the stage of hanging over the alley fence, doing nothing,
when little David Beach come by. He was eating a piece of bread, and
hurrying.

“Morning, David,” I sings out. “Where’s your fish-pole?”

He stopped running and stopped biting and looked up at me. And then he
laughed, sharp and high up.

“Fish-pole!” says he.

“Is it swimming, then?” I says. And then I felt sick all over. For I
remembered that David had gone to work in Silas Sykes’s canning factory.

“Oh, David,” I patched it up. “I forgot. You’re a man now.”

At that he put back his thin little shoulders, and stuck out his thin
little chest, and held up his sharp little chin. And he said:

“Yup. I’m a man now. I get $2.50 a week, _now_.”

“Whew!” says I. “When do you bank your first million?”

He grinned and broke into a run again. “I’m docked if I’m late,” he
shouts back.

I looked after him. It didn’t seem ten days since he was born. And here
he was, of the general contour of a clay pipe, going to work. His father
had been crippled in the factory, his mother was half sick, and there
were three younger than David, and one older.

“Kind of nice of Silas to give David a job,” I thought. “I don’t suppose
he’s worth much to him, he’s so little.”

And that was all I thought, being that most of us uses our heads far
more frequent to put hats on than for any other purpose.

Right after breakfast that morning I took a walk down town to pick out
my vegetables before the flies done ’em too much violence in Silas
Sykes’s store window. And out in front of the store, I come on Silas
himself, sprinkling his wilted lettuce.

The minute I see Silas, I knew that something had happened to make him
pleased with himself. Not that Silas ain’t always pleased with himself.
But that day he looked extra-special self-pleased.

“Hello, Calliope,” he says, “you’re the very one I want to help me.”

That surprised me, but, thinks I, I’ve asked Silas to do so many things
he ain’t done that I’ve kind of wore grooves in the atmosphere all
around him; and I guess he’s took to asking me first when he sees me,
for fear I’ll come down on to him with another request. So I followed
him into the post-office store where he motioned me with his chin, and
this was what he says:

“Calliope,” says he, “how’d you like to help me do a little work for
this town?”

I must just of stared at Silas. I can keep from looking surprised, same
as the best, when a neighbor comes down on to me, with her eyebrows up
over a piece of news--and I always do, for I do hate to be expected to
play up to other folks’s startled eyebrows. But with these words of
Silas’s I give in and stared. For of some eight, nine, ten plans that
I’d approached him with to the same end, he had turned down all them,
and all me.

“With who?” says I.

“For who?” says he. “Woman, do you realize that taking ’em all together,
store and canning factory combined, I’ve got forty-two folks a-working
for me?”

“Well!” says I. “Quite a family.”

“Timothy Toplady’s got twelve employees,” he goes on, “and Eppleby’s got
seven in the store. That’s sixty-one girls and women and then ...
er....”

“Children,” says I, simple.

“Young folks,” Silas says, smooth. “Sixty-one of ’em. Ain’t that pretty
near a club, I’d like to know?”

“Oh,” I says, “a club. A club! And do them sixty-one want to _be_ a
club, Silas?”

Silas scowled. “What you talking?” he says. “Of course they want all
you’ll do for ’em. Well, now: Us men has been facing this thing, and
it’s so plain that even a woman must see it: Friendship Village is going
to empty itself out into Red Barns, same as a skin, if this town don’t
get up and do something.”

“True,” says I, attentive. “Even a woman can take in that much, Silas,
if you put it right before her, and lead her up to it, and point it out
to her and,” says I, warming up to it, “put blinders on her so’s not to
distract her attention from the real fact in hand.”

“What you talking?” says Silas. “I never saw a woman yet that could keep
on any one subject no more than a balloon. Well, now, what I thought was
this: I thought I’d up and go around with a paper, and see how much
everybody’d give, and we’d open an Evening Club somewheres, for the
employees--folks’s old furniture and magazines and books and some
games--and give ’em a nice time. Here,” says Silas, producing a paper
from behind the cheese, “I’ve gone into this thing to the tune of Fifty
Dollars. Fifty Dollars. And I thought,” says he direct, “that you that’s
always so interested in doing things for folks, might put your own name
down, and might see some of the other ladies too. And I could report it
to our Commercial club meeting next Friday night. _After_ the business
session.”

I looked at him, meditative.

“If it’s all the same to you, Silas,” I says, “I’ll take this paper and
go round and see some of these sixty-one women and girls, instead.”

Silas kind of raised up his whole face and left his chin hanging, idle.

“See them women and girls?” says he, some resembling a shout. “What have
they got to do with it, I’d like to know?”

“Oh,” says I, “ain’t it some their club too, Silas? I thought the whole
thing was on their account.”

Silas used his face like he’d run a draw string down it.

“Women,” he says, “dum women. Their minds ain’t any more logical
than--than floor-sweepings with the door open. Didn’t I just tell you
that the thing was going to be done for the benefit of Friendship
Village and to keep them folks interested in it?”

“Well, but,” I says, “ain’t them folks some Friendship Village too?”

“What’s that got to do with it?” shouts Silas. “Of course they are. Of
course we want to help ’em. But _they_ ain’t got anything to do with
it. All they got to do with it is to be helped!”

“Is it!” I says. “Is that all, Silas?” And while he was a-gathering
himself up to reply, I picked up the subscription paper. “It can’t do
’em no harm,” I says, “to tell ’em about this. Then if any of ’em is
thinking of leaving, it may hold on to ’em till we get a start. If it’s
all the same to you, I’ll just run around and see ’em to-day. Mebbe they
might help--who knows?”

“You’ll bawl the whole thing up,” says Silas. “I wish’t I’d kep’ my
mouth shut.”

“Well,” I says, “you’d ought to know by this time that I ain’t any great
hand to do things _for_ folks, Silas. I like to do ’em _with_ ’em.”

Silas was starting in to wave both arms when somebody come in for black
molasses. And he says to me:

“Well, go on ahead. You’ll roon my whole idea--but go on ahead and see
how little hurt you can do. I’ve got to have some lady-help from
somewheres,” says he, frank.

“Lady-help,” thinks I, a-proceeding down the street. “Lady-help. That’s
me. Kind of auxiliarating around. A member of the General Ladies’ Aid
Society. Lady-help. Ain’t it a grand feeling?”

I went straight to Abigail Arnold that keeps the Home Bakery. Abigail
lives in the Bakery, and I donno a nicer, homier place in town. She
didn’t make the mistake of putting up lace curtains in the store, to
catch the dust.... I always wonder when the time’ll come that we’ll be
content not to have any curtains to any windows in the living rooms of
this earth, but just to let the boughs and the sun and the day smile in
on us, like loving faces. Fade things? Fade ’em? I wonder they didn’t
think of that when they made the sun, and temper it down to keep the
carpets good.... Sometimes I dream of a house on a hill, with meadows of
grass and the line of the sky and the all-day sun for neighbors, and not
a thing to say to ’em: “Keep out. You’ll fade me.” But, “Come in. You’ll
feed me.”

Well, Abigail Arnold was making her home-made doughnuts that morning,
and the whole place smelled like when you was twelve years old, and
struck the back stoop, running, about the time the colander was set on
the wing of the stove, heaped up with brown, sizzling, doughnut-smelling
doughnuts.

“Set right down,” she says, “and have one.” And so I done. And for a few
minutes Silas and Red Barns and Friendship Village and the industrial
and social relations of the entire country slipped away and was sunk in
that nice-tasting, crumpy cake. Ain’t it wonderful--well, we’d ought not
to bother to go off into that; but sometimes I could draw near to the
whole human race just thinking how every one of us loves a fresh
doughnut, et in somebody’s kitchen. It’s a sign and symbol of how alike
we are--and I donno but it means something, something big.

But with the last crumb I come back to commerce.

“Abigail,” I says, “Silas wants to start a club for his and Timothy’s
and Eppleby’s employees.”

“Huh!” says Abigail, sticking her fork down in the kettle. “What’s the
profit? Ain’t I getting nasty in my old age?” she adds solemn. “I meant,
Go on. Tell me about it.”

I done so, winding up about the meeting to be held the coming Friday in
Post-Office Hall, at which Silas was to report on the progress of the
club, after the business session. And she see it like I see it: That a
club laid on to them sixty-one people had got to be managed awful
wise--or what was to result would be considerable more like the stuff
put into milk to preserve it than like the good, rich, thick cream that
milk knows how to _give_, so be you treat it right.

Abigail said she’d help--she’s one of them _new_ women--oh, I ain’t
afraid of the word--she’s one of them new women that catches fire at a
big thing to be done in the world just as sure as another kind of woman
flares up when her poor little pride is hurt. I’ve seen ’em both in
action, and so have you. And we made out a list--in between
doughnuts--of them sixty-one women and girls and children that was
working in Friendship Village, and we divided up the list according to
which of us was best friends with which of ’em--you know that’s a sort
of thing you can’t leave out in the sort of commercial enterprise we was
embarking on--and we agreed to start out separate, right after supper,
and see what turned out to be what.

I went first to see Mary Beach, little David Beach’s sister. They lived
about half a mile from the village on a little triangle of land that had
been sold off from both sides and left because it was boggy. They had a
little drab house, with thick lips. David’s mother set outside the door
with a big clothes-basketful of leggings beside her. She was a strong,
straight creature with a mass of gray hair, and a way of putting her
hands on her knees when she talked, and eyes that said: “I know and I
think,” and not “I’m sure I can’t tell,” like so many eyes are built to
represent. Mary that I’d come to see might have been a person in a
portrait--she was that kind of girl. And little David was there, laying
sprawled out on the floor taking a clock to pieces and putting the items
in a pie-tin.

“You won’t care,” says Mis’ Beach, “if I keep on with the leggings?”

“Leggings?” says I.

She nodded to the basket. “It’s bad pairs,” she said. “They leave me
catch up the dropped stitches.”

“How much do they give you?” says I, brutal. If it had been Silas Sykes
I’d never have dreamt of asking him how much anybody give him for
anything. But--well, sometimes we hound folks and hang folks and ask
folks questions, merely because they’re poor.

“Six cents a dozen,” she says.

I remember they had a fly-paper on the window sill, and the caught flies
and the uncaught ones whirred and buzzed. I can see the room: The floor
that sagged, the walls that cracked, the hot, nameless smell of it. And
in it a woman with the strength and the figure of a race that hasn’t got
here yet, and three children--one of them beautiful, and David, taking a
clock to pieces and putting it together again, without ever having been
taught. You know all about it--and so did I. And while I set there
talking with her, I couldn’t keep my mind on anything else but that hole
of a home, and the three splendid beings chained there, like folks in a
bad dream. Someway I never get used to it, and I know I never shall. It
makes me feel as if I was looking on the inside of a table spoon and
seeing things twisted, and saying: “Already such things can’t be.
Already they sound old and false--like thumbscrews!”

And the worst of it was, David’s mother was so used to it. She was so
bitter used to it. And oh--don’t things turn round in the world? A few
years before if somebody like me had gone to see her, I’d of been
telling her to be resigned, and to make the best of her lot, and trying
to give her to understand that the Lord had meant it personal. And
instead, when she said she was doing nice, I longed to say to her:

“No, no, Mis’ Beach! Don’t you make that mistake. You ain’t doing nice.
As long as you think you are, this world is being held back. It’s you
that’s got to help folks to know that you _aren’t_ doing nice. And to
make folks wonder why.”

But I didn’t say it to her. I s’pose I haven’t got that far--yet.

She said she’d like to come to the club that Silas proposed, and Mary,
she said she’d come. They didn’t question much about it--they merely
accepted it and said they’d come. And I went out into the April
after-supper light, with a bird or two twittering sleepy, and an orange
and lemon and water-melon sunset doing its best to attract my attention,
and I says out loud to April in general:

“A club. A club. So we’re going to help that house with a club.”

Then I stopped to Mis’ Cripps’s boarding house. Mis’ Cripps’s boarding
house faces the railroad tracks, and I never went by there without
seeing her milk bottles all set out on her porch, indelicate, like some
of the kitchen lining showing. Bettie Forkaw and Libbie Collins and Rose
Miller and Lizzie Lane, pickle factory girls, lived there. They were all
home, out on the smoky porch, among the milk bottles, laughing and
talking and having a grand time. They had sleeves above their elbows and
waists turned in at the throat with ruffles of cheap lace, and hair
braided in bunches over their ears and dragged low on their foreheads,
and they had long, shiney beads round their necks, and square, shiney
buckles on their low shoes. Betty was pretty and laughed loud and had
uncovered-looking eyes. Libbie was big and strong and still. Rose was
thin, and she had less blood and more bones than anybody I ever see. And
Lizzie--Lizzie might have been a freshman in any college you might name.
She’d have done just as good work in figures as she did in pickles--only
cucumbers come her way and class-rooms didn’t.

“Hello, girls,” I says, “how are you to-night? Do you want to be a
club?”

“To do what?” says they.

“Have a good time,” says I. “Have music--eat a little
something--dance--read a little, maybe. And ask your friends there. A
_club_, you know.”

After we’d talked it over, all four of ’em said yes, they wished they
had some place to go evenings and wouldn’t it be fine to have some place
give to ’em where they could go. I didn’t discuss it over with ’em at
all--but I done the same thing I’d done before, and that I cannot
believe anybody has the right to ask, no matter how rich the questioner
or how poor the questionee.

“Girls,” I says, “you all work for Silas Sykes, don’t you? How much do
you get a week?”

They told me ready enough: Five and Six Dollars apiece, it was.

“Gracious,” I says, “how can you use up so much?” And they laughed and
thought it was a joke. And I went along to the next place--and my
thoughts come slowly gathering in from the edges of my head and formed
here and there in kind of clots, that got acted on by things I begun to
see was happening in my town, just as casual as meat bills and grocery
bills--just as casual as school bells and church bells.

For the next two days I went to see them on my list. And then nights I’d
go back and sit on my porch and look over to Red Barns that was posting
itself as a nice, hustling, up-to-date little town, with plenty of
business opportunities. And then I’d look up and down Friendship Village
that was getting ready for its Business meeting in Post-Office Hall on
Friday night, and trying its best to keep up with its “business
reputation.” And then I’d go on to some more homes of the workers that
was keeping up their share in the commercial life of Friendship Village.
And then my thoughts would bring up at Silas’s club house, with the
necessary old furniture and magazines and games laid out somewheres,
tasty. And the little clots of thought in my brain somehow stuck there.
And I couldn’t think through them, on to what was what.

Then something happened that put a little window in the side of what was
the matter with Silas’s plan. And I begun to see light.

The second night I was sitting on my porch when I heard my back gate
slam. My back gate has a chain for a spring, weighted with a pail of
stones, and when it slams the earth trembles, and I have time to get my
hands out of the suds or dough or whatever; and it’s real handy and
practical. This time there come trotting round my house David Beach. My,
my but he was a nice little soul. He had bright eyes, that looked up
quick as a rabbit’s. And a smile that slipped on and off, swift as a
frisking squirrel. And he had little darting movements, like a
chipmunk’s. There was something wild about him, like the wind. Silas’s
pickle factory did seem a queer place for us to have put him.

“Look, Miss Marsh!” he says. And he was holding out his clock. “I got it
all together,” he says, “and it’ll go. And it’ll go right.”

“Did you now?” I says. And it was true. He had. It did. That little
alarm clock was ticking away like a jeweller-done job.... Yes, Silas’s
pickle factory did seem a queer place for us to have put him.

When the little lad had gone off through the dusk, with his clock under
his arm, I looked down the street after him. And I thought of this skill
of his. And then I thought of the $2.50 a week Silas was giving him for
shelling corn. And then I thought of this club that was to keep him and
the rest of ’em contented. And I begun to see, dim, just the particular
kinds of fools we was making of ourselves.

There was yet one thing more happened that wasn’t so much a window as a
door. The next night was to be the Business Men’s meeting, and just
before supper I went to pay my last visit on my list. It was out to the
County House to see the superintendent’s niece that had just resigned
from Eppleby’s store, and that they were afraid was going to Red Barns
to work.

The County House. Ain’t that a magnificent name? Don’t we love to drape
over our bones and our corpses some flying banner of a word like
sarcophagus? The County House sets on a hill. A hill is a grand place
for a County House. “Look at me,” the County House can say, “I’m what a
beneficent and merciful people can do for its unfit.” And I never go by
one that I don’t want to shout back at it: “Yes. Look at you. You’re our
biggest confession of our biggest sham. What right have we, in Nineteen
Hundred Anything, to have any unfit left?”

Right in front of the County House is a cannon. I never figured out the
fitness of having a cannon there--in fact, I never can figure out the
fitness of having a cannon anywhere. But one thing I’ve always noticed:
When public buildings and such do have cannon out in front of them,
they’re always pointing _away_ from the house. Never toward the house.
Always going to shoot somebody else. That don’t seem to me etiquette. If
we must keep cannon for ornament, aren’t we almost civilized enough to
turn ’em around?

Seems the superintendent’s niece wasn’t going to Red Barns at all--she’d
merely resigned to be married and had gone to town to buy things--a part
of being married which competes with the ceremony, neck and neck, for
importance. In the passageway, the matron called me in the office. She
was a tall, thick woman with a way of putting her hand on your back to
marshal you, as mothers do little children in getting them down an
aisle. Yes, she was a marshaling woman.

“Look here,” says the matron, proud.

They’d put a glass case up in the office and it was all hung with
work--crocheted things, knit and embroidered things, fringed things.
“Did by the inmates,” says she, proud. That word “inmates” is to the
word “people” what the word “support” is to the word “share.” It’s a
word we could spare.

I looked at the things in the case--hours and hours and hours the
fingers of the women upstairs had worked on ’em--intricate counting,
difficult stitches, pretty patterns. And each of them was marked with a
price tag. The County House inmates had got ’em hung out there in the
hope of earning a little money. One was a bed-spread--a whole crocheted
bed-spread. And one--one was a dress crocheted from collar to hem, and
hung on with all sorts of crazy crocheted ends and tassels so--I
knew--to make the job last a little longer. And when I saw that, I
grabbed the tall, thick matron by the arm and I shook her a little.

“What was we doing,” I says, “that these folks wasn’t taught to do some
kind of work so’s they could have kept out of the poor house?”

She looked at me odd and cool.

“Why,” she said, “my dear Miss Marsh, it’s being in here that gives ’em
the leisure to make the things at all!”

What was the use of talking to her? And besides being unreasonable, she
was one of them that you’re awful put to it to keep from being able not
to right down dislike. And I went along the passage thinking: “She acts
like the way things are is the way things ought to be. But it always
seems to me that the way things ought to be is the best way things could
be. For the earth ain’t so full of the fulness thereof but that we could
all do something to make it a little more so.”

And then the thing happened that opened the door to all I’d been
thinking about, and let me slip through inside.

Being I was there, I dropped in a minute to see old Grandma Stuart. She
was one of the eighty “inmates.” Up in the ward where she was sitting,
there were twenty beds. And between each two beds was a shelf and a
washbasin, and over it a hook. And old Grandma Stuart sat there by her
bed and her shelf and her hook. She was old and white, and she had fine
wrinkles, like a dead flower. She drew me down to her, with her cold
hands.

“Miss Marsh,” she said, “I got two-three things.”

“Yes,” I says, “well, that’s nice,” I says. And wondered if that was the
right thing to say to her.

“But I ain’t got any box,” she says. “They keep the things and bring ’em
to us clean every time. And I ain’t got any box.”

“That’s so, you ain’t,” says I, looking at her shelf.

“I put my things in my dress,” she says, “but they always fall out. And
I’ve got to stop to pick ’em up. And _she_ don’t like it.”

No. The matron wouldn’t like it. I knew that. She was one of them that
the thing was the thing even if it was something else.

“And so I thought,” says Grandma Stuart, “that if I had a pocket, I
could put my things in that. I thought they wouldn’t fall out if I had a
pocket. _She_ says she can’t be making pockets for every one. But I keep
thinking if I had a pocket.... It’s these things I’ve got,” she says.

She took from her dress three things: A man’s knife, a child’s ring, and
a door-key.

“It was the extry key to my house,” she said. “I--brought it along. And
I thought if I had a pocket....”

...I sat there with her till the lights come out. I promised to come
next day and bring her a little calico pocket. And then I set and let
her talk to me--about how things use’ to be. When at last the matron
come to take ’em away to be fed, I went out, and I ran down the road in
the dark. And it was one of the times when the world of life is right
close up, and you can all but touch it, and you can almost hear what it
says, and you know that it can hear you--yes, and you almost know that
it’s waiting, eager, to hear what _you_ are going to say to it. For one
force breathes through things, trying to let us know it’s there. It was
speaking to me through that wrecked home of Grandma Stuart’s--through
the man’s knife, the child’s ring, the door-key; and through the
pitiful, clever, crocheted stuff in the glass case in the County House;
and through David, and through all them that we were trying to fix up a
club for--like a pleasant plaster for something that couldn’t be touched
by the remedy.

Out there in the soft night, the world looked different. I donno if
you’ll know what I mean, but it was like the world I knew had suddenly
slipped inside another world--like a shell; and the other one was bigger
and better and cut in a pattern that we haven’t grown to--yet. In the
west a little new moon was showing inside the gold circle of the big
coming full moon. And it seemed to me as if the world that I was in must
be just the little thin promise of the world that could be--if we knew.
Sometimes we do know. Sometimes, for just a minute, we see it. That
night was a night when I know that I saw. After you see, you never
forget.

“Life is something else than what we think it is,” I says to myself as I
ran along the road in the dark. “It’s something better than we think it
is.”

As I ran, I stopped in to Mis’ Beach’s house and asked for something.
“Oh, Mis’ Beach,” I says, “Oh, David! Will you let me take something?
Will you let me borrow the clock you put together without anybody
telling you how? Just for this evening?”

They said they would and they didn’t question that, particular, either.
And I took the clock. And being David was going for the yeast, he came
out with me, and we went on together. He ran beside me, the little lad,
with his hand in mine. And as I ran, it seemed to me that I wasn’t
Calliope Marsh any more, but that I was the immemorial woman, running
with the immemorial child, toward the hope of the better thing, always
the better thing.

Past the Post-Office Hall I went, already lighted for the Business
Meeting, and on to Abigail Arnold’s Home Bakery.

Abigail was sitting, dressed and ready, with her list in her hand. But
when she saw me she burst out with some strange excitement in her face:

“Calliope!” she says. “Silas has been here. He said you hadn’t handed in
your report. I--I don’t think he expects you to go to the meeting. I
know he didn’t expect me.”

“Didn’t he now?” I says. “Very well then, he didn’t. Are you ready?”

“But, Calliope----” says she.

“Are you a business woman in this town, or are you not?” I asked her.

Abigail has had her Bakery for twenty years now, and has paid off its
mortgage that her husband bequeathed her.

“Come,” says I. And she did.

We went down the street to the Post-Office store building, all lighted
up. We went up the stairs, and slipped into some seats by the door. I
don’t think Silas, the chairman, see us come in. He can’t of, because he
failed to explode. He just kept on conducting the meeting called to
consider the future prosperity of Friendship Village and balancing on
his toes.

While they talked, I set there, looking at them. Sixty men or so they
were--the men that had made Friendship Village. Yes, such as it was,
these men had made it. It was Silas that had built up his business and
added to it, till he employed forty-two folks. Timothy Toplady had done
the same and had encouraged three-four others to come in to open up new
things for the town. It was Timothy stood back of Zittelhof when he
added furniture to his undertaking business, and that started the
agitation for the cheese factory out in the hills, and that got the
whole county excited about having good roads. And it was these men and
Eppleby Holcomb and some others that had got the new bridge and the
water works and more than these. And while I set there looking at them,
it come flooding over me the skill and the energy and the patience and
the dogged hard work that it had meant for them sixty men to get us
where we were, and from my heart I was thankful to ’em. And then I put
my mind on what they were a-saying:

“An up-to-date, hustling little town,” I kept hearing. “The newer
business methods.” “Good openings.” “Opportunities for hustlers.” “Need
of live wires.” “Encourage industry.” “Advance the town, advance the
town, advance the town.” And the thoughts that had been formed in no
account clots in my head suddenly took shape in one thought, with the
whole of day-light turned on to it.

So, as quick as the business part seemed to me to be done, I rose up and
told Silas we had our reports to make, Abigail and me, about the Evening
Club.

“Well,” says Silas, “this whole thing is being done irregular. Most
irregular. But you go on ahead, and we’ll be glad to listen if you
think you have anything to say, bearing on to--er--what we’re up to.”

And that was all right, and I took it so, because it was meant right.

I donno what there was to be afraid of. All of those men we’d known for
years. We’d worked with ’em shoulder to shoulder in church affairs. We’d
stood equal to ’em in school affairs, and often agreed with ’em. We’d
even repeatedly paid one of ’em our taxes. And yet because it was a
Business Men’s meeting, we felt kind of abashed or askant or something,
Abigail and me.

Abigail reported first, about the thirty odd she’d been to see. “But,”
she winds up, “Calliope’s got something to say that I agree to, over and
above the report. We’ve talked it over, her and me, and--” she adds with
her nice dignity, “as a Friendship Village business woman, I’m going to
leave her speak for me.”

So I said what I had to say about them I’d been to see, and what they
had said about the club. And then I come to the heart of it, and I held
up David’s little clock. I told ’em about it, and about him. I suppose
everybody else has stories to tell like David’s, about the folks, young
or old, that is living graves, little or big, of the kind of skill and
energy and patience that they’ve never had the chance or the courage or
the little will-power inside ’em--to develop. And there it stays in ’em,
undeveloped, till they die. I believe it’s truer of all of us--of you
and me--than we’ve any idea of. And this is what I tried to say to ’em
that night, when I showed ’em David’s little clock. I didn’t say
anything about the girls to Mis’ Cripps’s boarding house--I kept them,
and the rest of ’em, in my heart, along with that crocheted dress up to
the County House, and Grandma Stuart’s wreck of a home--the man’s knife,
the child’s ring, the door-key. And I says:

“Now, we’ve visited all these folks that the Evening Club was thought of
for. And we’ve found most of ’em in favor of having the club. I’m free
to confess that I hoped some of ’em wouldn’t be. I hoped some of ’em
would say they’d rather be paid better wages than to be give a club. But
perhaps it’s all right. Mebbe the club is one step more we’ve got to
take before we can get down to the big thing underneath it all. But it
ain’t the last step--and I’d almost rather not bother with it--I’d
almost rather get on to the big thing right away.”

“May I ask,” snaps out Silas, clean forgetting his chairmanshipping and
acting like he was talking to me in the Post-Office store beside the
cheese, “may I ask what you mean by the ‘big thing’?”

“Oh,” I says, “that’s what I’ve been thinking about while I set here.
Oh,” I says, “you men--you’ve made the town. You’ve done everything
once. Do it again--now when the next thing is here to do. You’ve done
your best with your own property and your own homes. Now do your best
with folks!”

“Ain’t that the purpose of this here club we’re a-talking about?” says
Silas. “Ain’t that what I been a-saying? What do you mean--folks?” Silas
winds up, irritable. Silas knows customers, agents, correspondents,
partners, clients, colleagues, opponents, plaintiffs, defendants _and_
competitors. But he don’t know _folks_.

“Folks,” I says. “Why, folks, Silas. Why, here in this room with you
that we say have made Friendship Village, are setting them sixty-one
employees of yours that have helped make it too. And all the tens that
will come afterward, and that have come before to help to make the
village by the work of their hands. They belong--they’re the village.
They’re us. Oh, let’s not do things _for_ them--let’s do things _with_
them. Let’s meet all together, employers and employees, men and women,
and let’s take up together the job of being a town. Let’s not any of us
have more than our share, and then deal out little clubs, and old
furniture, and magazines, and games to the rest of us. You men are
finding out that all your old catch words about advancing the town and
making business opportunities, have got something lacking in them, after
all. And us women are beginning to see that twenty houses to a block,
each keeping clean and orderly and planted on its own hook, each handing
out old clothes and toys down to the Flats, each living its own life of
cleanliness and home and victual-giving-at-Christmas, that that ain’t
being a town after all. It isn’t enough. Oh, deep inside us all ain’t
there something that says, I ain’t you, nor you, nor you, nor five
thousand of you. I’m all of you. I’m one. ‘When,’ it says, ‘are you
going to understand, that not till I can act like one, one united one,
can I give any glimpse whatever of what people might be?’ Don’t let’s us
go on advancing business and multiplying our little clubs and
philanthropies. Instead, let’s get together--in the kind of meetings
they use’ to have in the old first days in America--and let’s just talk
over the next step in what’s to become of us. Let’s dream--real far.
Let’s dream farther than gift-giving--and on up to wages--and mebbe a
good deal farther than that. Let’s dream the farthest that folks could
go....”

I didn’t know but they’d think I was crazy. But I’d be glad to be that
kind of crazy. And the glory is that more folks and more folks are
getting crazy the same way.

But they didn’t think so--I know they didn’t. Because when I got
through, they clapped their hands, hard and hearty--all but Silas, that
don’t think a chairman had ought to show any pleased emotion. And times
now when I’m lonesome, I like to remember the rest of the talk, and it
warms my heart to remember it, and I like to think about it.

For we give up having the club. Nobody said much of anything more about
it, after we got Silas silenced. And this was the notice we put the next
night in the Friendship _Evening Daily_. Nobody knows better than I the
long road that there is to travel before we can really do what we
dreamed out a little bit about. Nobody better than I knows how slow it
is going to be. But I tell you, it is going to be. And the notice we put
in the paper was the first little step we took. And I believe that
notice holds the heart of to-day.

It said:

     “Will all them that’s interested in seeing Friendship Village made
     as much a town as it could be, for all of us and for the children
     of all of us, meet together in Post-Office Hall to-morrow night, at
     7 o’clock, to talk over if we’re doing it as good as we could.”

For there was business. And then there was big business. But the biggest
business is taking employers and employees, and all men and women--yes,
and inmates too--and turning them into folks.



THE PRODIGAL GUEST


Aunt Ellis wrote to me:

“DEAR CALLIOPE: Now come and pay me the visit. You’ve never been here
since the time I had sciatica and was cross. Come now, and I’ll try to
hold my temper and my tongue.”

I wrote back to her:

“I’ll come. I was saving up to buy a new cook-stove next fall, but I’ll
bring my cook-stove and come in time for the parade. I did want to see
that.”

She answered:

“Mercy, Calliope, I might have known it! You always did love a circus in
the village, and these women are certainly making a circus parade of
themselves. However, we’ll even drive down to see them do it, if you’ll
really come. Now you know how much I want you.”

“I might have known,” I said to myself, “that Aunt Ellis would be like
that. The poor thing has had such an easy time that she can’t help it.
She thinks what’s been, is.”

She wrote me that she was coming in from the country an hour after my
train got there, but that the automobile would be there for me. And I
wrote her that I would come down the platform with my umbrella up, so’s
her man would know me; and so I done, and he picked me out real ready.

When we got to her big house, that somehow looked so used to being a big
house, there was a little boy sitting on the bottom step, half asleep,
with a big box.

“What’s the matter, lamb?” I says.

“Beg pad’, ma’am, he’s likely waitin’ to beg,” says the chauf---- that
word. “I’d go right by if I was you.”

But the little fellow’d woke up and looked up.

“I can’t find the place,” he says, and stuck out his big box. The man
looked at the label. “They ain’t no such number in this street,” says
he. “It’s a mistake.”

The little fellow kind of begun to cry, and the wind was blowing up real
bitter. I made out that him and his family made toys for the uptown
shops, and somebody in our neighborhood had ordered some direct, and he
was afraid to go home without the money. I didn’t have any money to give
him, but I says to the chauf----

“Ask him where he lives, will you? And see if we’d have time to take him
home before Mis’ Winthrop’s train gets in.”

The chauf---- done it, some like a prime minister, and he says, cold, he
thought we’d have time, and I put the baby in the car. He was a real
sweet little fellow, about seven. He told me his part in making the
toys, and his mother’s, and his two little sisters’, and I give him the
rest o’ my lunch, and he knew how to laugh when he got the chance, and
we had a real happy time of it. And we come to his home.

Never, not if I live till after my dying day, will I forget the looks of
that back upstairs place he called home, nor the smell of it--the smell
of it. The waxy woman that was his mother, in a red waist, and with a
big weight of hair, had forgot how to look surprised--that struck me as
so awful--she’d forgot how to look surprised, just the same as a grand
lady that’s learned not to; and there was the stumpy man that grunted
for short instead of bothering with words; and the two little girls that
might of been anybody’s--if they’d been clean--one of ’em with regular
portrait hair. I stayed a minute, and give ’em the cost of about one
griddle of my cook-stove, and then I went to the station to meet Aunt
Ellis. And I poured it all out to her, as soon as she’d give me her
cheek to kiss.

“So you haven’t had any tea!” she said, getting in the automobile. “I’m
sorry you’ve been so annoyed the first thing.”

“Annoyed!” I says over. “Annoyed! Well, yes,” I says, “poor people is
real annoying. I wonder we have ’em.”

I was dying to ask her about the parade, but I didn’t like to; till
after we’d had dinner in front of snow and silver and sparkles and so
on, and had gone in her parlor-with-another-name, and set down in the
midst of flowers and shades and lace, and rugs the color of different
kinds of preserves, and wood-work like the skin of a cooked prune. Then
I says:

“You know I’m just dying to hear about the parade.”

She lifted her hand and shut her eyes, brief.

“Calliope,” she says, “I don’t know what has come over women. They seem
to want to attract attention to themselves. They seem to want to be
conspicuous and talked about. They seem to want----”

“They want lots o’ things,” says I, dry, “but it ain’t any of them, Aunt
Ellis. What time does the parade start?”

“You’re bound to see it?” she says. “When I think of my dear Miss
Markham--they used to say her school taught not manners, but
manner--and what she would say to the womanhood of to-day.... We’ll
drive down if you say so, Calliope--but I don’t know whether I can bear
it long.”

“Manner,” I says over. “Manner. That’s just what we’re trying to learn
now, manner of being alive. We haven’t known very much about that, it
seems.”

I kept thinking that over next day when we were drawn up beside the curb
in the car, waiting for them to come. “We’re trying to learn manner at
last--the manner of being alive.” There were lots of other cars, with
women so pretty you felt like crying up into the sky to ask there if we
knew for sure what all that perfection was for, or if there was
something else to it we didn’t know--yet. And thousands of women on
foot, and thousands of women in windows.... I looked at them and
wondered if they thought we were, and life was, as decent as we and it
could be, and, if not, how they were preparing to help change it. I
thought of the rest that were up town in colored nests, and them that
were down town in factories, and them that were to home in the villages,
and them that were out all along the miles and miles to the other ocean,
just the same way. And here was going to come this little line of women
walking along the street, a little line of women that thought they see
new life for us all, and see it more abundant.

“Manner,” I says, “we’re just beginning to learn manner.”

Then, way down the avenue, they began to come. By ones and by fours and
by eights, with colors and with music and with that that was greater
than all of them--the tramp and tramp of feet; feet that weren’t dancing
to balls, nor racking up and down in shops buying pretty things to make
’em power, nor just paddling around a kitchen the same as mine had
always done--but feet that were marching, in a big, peaceful army,
towards the place where the big, new tasks of to-morrow are going to be,
that won’t interfere with the best tasks of yesterday no more than the
earth’s orbit interferes with its whirling round and round.

“That’s it,” I says, “that’s it! We’ve been whirling round and round,
manufacturing the days and the nights, and we never knew we had an orbit
too.”

So they come, till they begun to pass where we were--some heads up, some
eyes down, women, women, marching to a tune that was being beat out by
thousands of hearts all over the world. I’d never seen women like this
before. I saw them like I’d never seen them--I felt I was one of ’em
like I’d never known that either. And I saw what they saw and I felt
what they felt more than I ever knew I done.

Then I heard Aunt Ellis making a little noise in her breath.

“The bad taste of it--the bad taste of it, Calliope!” she said. “When I
was a girl we used to use the word ladylike--we used to strive to
deserve it. It’s a beautiful word. But these----”

“We’ve been ladylike,” says I, sad, “for five or ten thousand years, and
where has it got us to?”

“Oh, but, Calliope, they like it--they like the publicity and the
notoriety and the----”

I kept still, but I hurt all over me. I can stand anything only hearing
that they like it--the way Aunt Ellis meant. I thought to myself that I
bet the folks that used to watch martyrs were heard to say that martyrs
prob’ly thought flames was becoming or they wouldn’t be burnt. But when
I looked at Aunt Ellis sitting in her car with her hand over her eyes,
it come over me all at once the tragedy of it--of all them that watch us
cast their old ideals in new forms--their old ideals.

All of a sudden I stood up in the car. The parade had got blocked for a
minute, and right in front of the curb where we stood I saw a woman I
knew; a little waxy-looking thing, that couldn’t look surprised or
exalted or afraid or anything else, and I knew her in a minute--even to
the red calico waist and the big weight of hair, just as I had seen her
by the toy table in her “home” the night before. And there she was,
marching. And here was Aunt Ellis and me.

I leaned over and touched Aunt Ellis.

“You mustn’t mind,” I says; “I’m going too.”

She looked at me like I’d turned into somebody else.

“I’m going out there,” I says, “with them. I see it like they do--I feel
it like they do. And them that sees it and feels it and don’t help it
along is holding it back. I’ll find my way home....”

I ran to them. I stepped right out in the street among them and fell in
step with them, and then I saw something. While I was making my way
through the crowd to them the line had passed on, and them I was with
was all in caps and gowns. I stopped still in the road.

“Great land!” I says to the woman nearest, “you’re college, ain’t you?
And I never even got through high school.”

She smiled and put out her hand.

“Come on,” she says.

Whatever happens to me afterward, I’ve had that hour. No woman that has
ever had it will ever forget it--the fear and the courage, the pride and
the dread, the hurt and the power and the glory. I don’t know whether
it’s the way--but what is the way? I only know that all down the street,
between the rows of watching faces, I could think of that little waxy
woman going along ahead, and of the kind of place that she called home,
and of the kind of a life she and her children had. And I knew then and
I know now that the poverty and the dirt and some of the death in the
world is our job, it’s our job too. And if they won’t let us do it
ladylike, we’ll do it just plain.

When I got home, Aunt Ellis was having tea. She smiled at me kind of
sad, as a prodigal guest deserved.

“Aunt Ellis,” I says, “I’ve give ’em the rest of my cook-stove money,
except my fare home.”

“My poor Calliope,” she says, “that’s just the trouble. You all go to
such hysterical extremes.”

I’d heard that word several times on the street. I couldn’t stand it any
longer.

“Was that hysterics to-day?” I says. “I’ve often wondered what they’re
like. I’ve never had the time to have them, myself. Well,” I says,
tired but serene, “if that was hysterics, leave ’em make the most of
it.”

I looked at her, meditative.

“Miss Markham and you and the women that marched to-day and me,” I says.
“And a hundred years from now we’ll all be conservatives together. And
there’ll be some big new day coming on that would startle me now, just
the same as it would you. But the way I feel to-night, honest--I donno
but I’m ready for that one too.”



MR. DOMBLEDON


He came to my house one afternoon when I was just starting off to get
a-hold of two cakes for the next meeting of the Go-lightly club, and my
mind was all trained to a peak, capped with the cakes.

Says he: “Have you got rooms to let?”

For a minute I didn’t answer him, I was so knee deep in looking at the
little boy he had with him--the cutest, lovin’est little thing I’d ever
seen. But though I love the human race and admire to see it took care
of, I couldn’t sense my way clear to taking a boy into my house. Boys
belongs to the human race, to be sure, just as whirling egg-beaters
belongs to omelettes, but much as I set store by omelettes I couldn’t
invite a whirling egg-beater into my home permanent.

Says I: “Not to boys.”

He laughed--kind of a pleasant laugh, fringed all round with little
laughs.

“Oh,” he says, “we ain’t boys.”

“Well,” says I, “one of you is. And I don’t ever rent to ’em. They ain’t
got enough silence to ’em,” I says, as delicate as I could.

Just then the little lad himself looked up innocent and took a hand
without meaning to.

“Is your doggy home?” says he.

“Yes,” I says, “curled up on the back mat.” I felt kind of glad I didn’t
have to tell him I didn’t have one.

“I’d like,” says he, grave, “to _fluffle_ it till you’re through.”

“So do,” says I, hearty, and he trotted round the house like a little
minister.

I kind o’ tiptoed after him, casual. All of a sudden I wanted to see
what he done. His father come behind me on the boards, and we saw the
little fellow bend over and pat Mac, my water spaniel, as gentle as if
he’d been cut glass. The little boy looked awful cute, bending over, his
short hair sticking out at the back. I can see him yet.

“How much,” says I, “would you want to pay for your room?”

“Well,” says his father, “not much. But I give a guess your price is
what it’s worth--no more, no less.”

I hadn’t paid much attention to him before that, but I see now he was a
wonderful, nice-spoken little man, with the kind of eyes that look like
the sitting-room--and not like the parlor. I can’t bear parlor eyes.

“Come and look at the room,” says I, and rented it to him out of hand.
And Mr. Dombledon--his name was--and Donnie--that was the little
fellow--went off for their baggage, and I went off for my cakes; and
what they was reflecting on I donno, but my own reflect was that it’s a
wise minute can tell what the next one is going to pop open and let out.
But I like it that way. I’m a natural-born vaudevillian. I love to see
what’s coming next.

Well, the next thing was, after I got my two club cakes both provided
for, that it turned out Mr. Dombledon was an agent, selling “notions,
knick-knacks and anything o’ that,” he told me; and he use’ to start out
at seven o’clock in the morning, with his satchel in one hand and his
little boy, more or less, in the other.

“Land,” says I to him after a few days, “don’t your little boy get wore
to the bone tramping around with you like that?”

“Some,” says he; “but I carry him part of the way.”

“Carry him?” says I, “and tote that heavy knick-knack notion satchel?”

“Well,” says he, “I don’t mind it. What I’m always thinking is this:
What if I didn’t have him to tote.”

“True enough,” says I, and couldn’t say another word.

But of course the upstart and offshoot of that was that before the week
was out, I’d invited Mr. Dombledon to leave the little fellow with me,
some days, while he went off. And he done so, grateful, but making a
curious provision.

“It’d be grand for him,” says he; “they’s only just one thing:
Would--would you promise not to leave him hear anybody say anything
anyways cross?”

“Well,” says I, judicious, “I donno’s I’m what-you-might-say cross. Not
systematic. But--I might be a little crispy.”

“I ain’t afraid o’ you,” says he, real flattering. “But don’t leave him
hear anybody--well, snap anybody up.”

“All right,” says I, “I won’t. I like,” I says, “to get out o’ the way
of that myself.”

“Well, and then,” he says, “I guess you’ll think I’m real particular.
But--would you promise not to leave him go outside the yard?”

“Sure,” says I, “only when I’m with him.”

“I guess you’ll think I’m real particular,” he says again, in his kind
of gentle voice without any sizin’ to it, “but I mean not even then.
Days when you’re goin’ out, I’ll take him with me.”

“Sure,” says I, wondering all over me, but not letting on all I
wondered, like you can’t in society. And I actually looked forward to
having the little thing around the house with me, me that has always
been down on mice, moths, bats and boys.

The next thing was, Would he stay with me? And looking to this end I
contrived, some skillful, to be baking cookies the first morning his pa
went off. Mis’ Puppy had happened in early to get some blueing, and she
was sitting at one end of my cook table when Donnie came trotting out
with his father, that always preferred the back door. (“It feels more
like I lived here,” says he, wishful, “if you let me come in the back
door.” And I was the last one to deny him that. Once when I went
visiting, I got so homesick to go in the back door that it was half my
reason for leaving ’em.)

“Now then,” I says to the little fellow that morning, “you just set here
with us and see me make cookies. I’ll cut you out a soldier cooky,” says
I.

“Wiv _buttins_?” he asks, and climbed up on his knees on a chair by the
table and let his father go off without him, nice as the nicest. “I
likes ’em wiv buttins,” he says--and Mis’ Puppy sort of kindled up in
her throat, like a laugh that wants to love somebody.

I donno as I know how to say it, but he was the kind of a little chap
that, when you’re young, you always think _your_ little chap is going to
be. Then when they do come, sometimes they’re dear and all that, but
they ain’t quite exactly the way you thought of them being--though you
forget that they ain’t, and you forget everything but loving ’em. But it
was like this little boy was the way you’d meant. It wasn’t so much the
way he looked--though he was beautiful, beautiful like some of the
things you think and not like a calendar--but it was the way he _was_,
kind of close up to you, and his breath coming past, and something you
couldn’t name gentling round him. His father hadn’t been gone ten
minutes when the little thing let me kiss him.

“‘At was my last one,” he explained, sort of sorry, to Mis’ Puppy. “But
you can have a bite off my soldier. That’s a better kiss.”

Mis’ Puppy watched him for a while--he was sitting close down by the
oven door to hear his soldier say _Hurrah_ the minute he was baked, if
you please--and she kind of moved like her thoughts scraped by each
other, and she says--and spells one word of it out:

“Where do you s’pose his m-o-t-h-e-r is?”

“My land, d-e-d,” I answers, “or she’d be setting over there kissing
the back of his neck in the hollow.”

“I’ve got,” says Mis’ Puppy, “kind of an idea she ain’t. Your boarder,”
she says, “don’t look to me real what you might call a widower. He ain’t
the air of one that’s had things ciphered out for him,” says she. “It’s
more like he was still a-browsing round the back o’ the book for the
answer.”

And that was true, when you come to think of it; he did seem sort of
quick-moved and hopeful, more like when you sit down to the table than
when you shove back.

I told Mis’ Puppy, private, what his father had said to me about his not
hearing anything spoke cross; and she nodded, like it was something
she’d got all thought out, with tags on.

“I was a-wondering the other day,” she says, dreamy, “what I’d of been
like if nobody had ever yipped out at me. I s’pose none of us knows.”

“Likewise,” says I, “what we’d be like if we’d never yipped out to no
one else.”

“That’s so,” she says, “ain’t it? The two fits together like a covered
bake-dish.”

“Ain’t you ’fraid he’ll shoot the oven door down if you don’t let him
out pitty quick?” says Donnie, trying to see how near he could get his
ear to the crack to hear that “Hurrah.”

Four days the little boy done that, stayed with me as contented as a
kitten while his father went agenting; and then the fifth day he had to
take him with him, because there come on what I’d been getting the cakes
for--the quarterly meeting of the Go-lightly club.

The Go-lightly club is sixteen Red Barns ladies--and me--that’s all
passed the sixty-year-old mark, and has had to begin to go lightly. We
picked the name as being so literal, grievous-true as to our powers and,
same time, airy and happy sounding, just like we hope we’ll be clear up
to the last of the last of us. We had a funny motto and, those days, it
use’ to be a secret. We’d lit on it when we was first deciding to have
the club.

“What do we _want_ a club for anyhow?” old Mis’ Lockmeyer had said, that
don’t really enjoy anything that she ain’t kicked out at first.

“Why,” says little Mis’ Pettibone, kind of gentle and final, “just to
kind of make life nice.”

“Well,” says Mis’ Lockmeyer, “we got to go awful light on it, our age.”

And we put both them principles into our constitution:

     “Name: The name of this club shall be the Go-lightly club, account
     of the character of its members.

     “Object: The object of this club shall be to make life nice.

     “No officers. No dues. No real regular meetings.

     “Picnic supper when any.”

And Mis’ Wilme had insisted on adding:

     “Every-day clothes or not so much so.”

Our next meeting was going to be at Mis’ Elkhorn’s that lives out of
town about two miles along the old Tote road, and we was looking forward
to it considerable. We’d put it off several times; one week the
ice-cream sociable was going to be, and one week the circus was to the
next town, and so on--we never like to interfere with any other social
going-ons.

None of us having a horse, we hired the rig--that’s the three-seat
canopy-top from the livery--and was all drove out together by Jem
Meddledipper. And it was real nice and festive, with our lunch baskets
all piled up in the back and, as Mis’ Wilme put it: “Nothing to do till
time to set the pan-cakes.” And when we got outside the City
limits--we’re just a village, but we’ve got ’em marked “City Limits,”
because that always seems the name of ’em--Mis’ Pettibone, that’s a
regular one for entering into things--you know some just is and some
just ain’t and the two never change places on no occasion whatever--she
kind of pitched in and sung in her nice little voice that she calls her
sopralto, because it ain’t placed much of any place. She happened on a
church piece--I donno if you know it?--the one that’s got a chorus that
goes first

    “Loving-kindness”

all wavy, like a little stream trickling along; and then another part
chimes in,

    “Loving-kindness”

all wavy, like another little stream trickling along, and then everybody
clamps down on

    “Loving-kindness--oh, how great!”

like the whole nice sweep of the river? Well, that was the one she sung.
And being it’s a terrible catchy tune, and most of us was brought up on
it and has been haunted by it for days together from bed to bed, we all
more or less joined in with what little vocal pans we had, and we sung
it off and on all the way out.

We was singing it, I recollect, when we come in sight of the Toll Gate
House. The Toll Gate House has been there for years, ever since the Tote
road got made into a real road, and then it got paid for, and the toll
part stopped; and now the City rents the house--there’s a place we
always say “City” again--to most anybody, usually somebody poor, with a
few chickens and takes in washings and ain’t much of any other claim to
being thought of, as claims seem to go.

“Who lives in the Toll Gate House now, I wonder?” says Mis’ Pettibone,
breaking off her song.

“Land, nobody,” says Mis’ Lockmeyer; “it’s all fell in on itself--my
land,” she says, “the door’s open. Let’s stop and report ’em, so be it’s
been tramps.”

So we made Jem Meddledipper stop, and somebody was just going to get out
when a woman come to the door.

She was a little woman, with kind of a pindling expression, looking as
if she’d started in good and strong, but life had kind of shaved her
down till there wasn’t as much left of her, strictly speaking, as’d make
a regular person. A person, but not one that looks well and happy the
way “person” means to you, when you say the word. She had on a
what-had-been navy-blue what-had-been alpaca, but both them attributes
had got wore down past the nap. A little girl was standing close beside
her--a nice little thing, with her hair sticking up on top like a
candle-flame, and tied with a string.

“My land,” says Mis’ Lockmeyer right out, “are you livin’ _here_?” Mis’
Lockmeyer is like that--she always wears her face inside-out with all
the expression showing.

But the woman wasn’t hurt. She smiled a little, and when she smiled I
thought she looked real sweet.

“Yes,” she said, “I am. It--it don’t look real like it, does it?”

“Well,” puts in Mis’ Pettibone, “gettin’ settled so----”

“Oh,” says the woman, “I been here a month.”

And Mis’ Lockmeyer, wishing to make amends and pull her foot out,
planted the other right along side of it instead.

“Do you sell anything? Or sew anything? Or wash and iron anything?” she
asks.

And the woman says: “I sew and wash and iron anything I can do home,
with my little girl. But I ain’t a thing in the world to sell.”

“Of course you ain’t,” says Mis’ Lockmeyer soothing, and hoping to make
it better still.

“Well,” says Mis’ Puppy hearty, “I tell you what. We’ll be out to see
you in a little bit, if you want us to.”

My land, the woman’s face--I donno whether you’ve ever seen anybody’s
face lit up from the inside with the light fair showing through all the
pores like little windows? Hers done it. She didn’t say nothing--she
just done that. And we drove on.

“Land,” says Mis’ Pettibone, thoughtful, “how like each other folks are,
no matter how not-like they seem to the folks you think they ain’t one
bit like.”

“Ain’t they--ain’t they?” says I, hearty. And I guess we all felt the
same.

Nobody was absent to the club that afternoon, but Mis’ Elkhorn’s
sitting-room was big enough so’s we could get in. None of us could bear
a parlor club meeting. Our ideas always set in our heads to a
parlor-meeting, called to order by rapping on something. But here at
Mis’ Elkhorn’s we were out in the sitting-room, with the red
table-spread on and the plants growing and the spice-cake smelling
through the kitchen door. And you’d think things would of gone as smooth
as glass.

Instead of which, I donno what on earth ailed us. But when we got to
sitting down, sewing, it was like some kind of little fine dislocation
had took place in the air.

Mis’ Puppy had brought a centre-piece to work on, big as a rug, all
drawn work and hemstitching and embroidery. And somehow Mis’ Pettibone,
that only embroiders useful, couldn’t stand it.

“My, Mis’ Puppy,” she says, “I shouldn’t think you could get a bit of
house-work done, making that so lavish.”

Mis’ Puppy shut her lips so tight it jerked her head.

“I don’t scrub out continual, same as some,” she says.

“If you mean me,” says Mis’ Pettibone, tart, “I guess I can do
house-work as easy as the most.”

“I heard there’s those that can--where it don’t show,” says Mis’ Puppy,
some goaded beyond what she meant.

“Mean to say?” snaps Mis’ Pettibone.

“Oh, nothin’,” says Mis’ Puppy, “only to them that their backs the coat
fits.”

“I never was called shiftless since I was born a wife and a
house-keeper,” says Mis’ Pettibone, bordering on tearful.

“Oh, _was_ you born a house-keeper, Mis’ Pettibone?” says Mis’ Puppy,
sweet.

Then Mis’ Pettibone went in and set on the foot of the bed where we’d
laid our things, and cried; and one or two of us went in and sort o’
poored her.

And, land, when we’d got her to come out, the first thing we heard was
Mis’ Lockmeyer pitching into Mis’ Wilme.

“Anybody that can say I don’t make ice-cream as cheap as the best ain’t
any of an ice-cream judge,” she was saying hot, “be they you or be they
better.”

“I wasn’t saying a word about _cheap_,” says Mis’ Wilme, “I was talking
about _good_.”

“Well,” says Mis’ Lockmeyer, “I thought I made it good.”

“Not with the little dab of cream you was just mentioning, you can’t,”
says Mis’ Wilme, firm. “It ain’t reasonable _nor_ chemical.”

“Don’t you think your long words is goin’ to impress me,” says Mis’
Lockmeyer, more and more het up.

“Well, ladies,” says Mis’ Elkhorn, humorous, “nobody can make it any
colder’n anybody else, anyhow.”

Somebody pitched in then, hasty and peaceful, and went to talking about
Cemetery; and it looked like we was launched on a real quiet subject.

“I guess we’ve all got more friends up there then we’ve got in town,”
says I. “When we go up there to walk on Sundays, I declare if I had to
bow to all the graves I recognize I’d be kep’ busy.”

“I know,” says Mis’ Wilme, “when my niece was here from the City she
said she had eighty on her calling list. ‘Well,’ I says, ‘I’ve got that
many if I count the graves I know.’”

“Most of my acquaintances,” says Mis’ Lockmeyer, sighing, “is in their
coffins. I says to my husband when I looked over the _Daily_ the other
night: That most of the Local Items and Supper Table Jottings for me now
would have to be dated Cemetery Lot.”

“I know, ladies,” says Mis’ Puppy, dreamy, “but ain’t it real
aristocratic to live in a place so long that you know all the graves. We
ain’t got much else to be aristocratic about. But that’s real like them
county families you read about,” she says.

And up flared Mis’ Pettibone. “I donno’s there’s any need to make it so
pointed to us that ain’t lived here so very long,” she said, “and that
ain’t any friends at all in your Cemetery.”

“Oh, well,” says Mis’ Puppy, indulgent, “of course there’s them
distinctions in any town.”

I was just feeling thankful from my bones out that they hadn’t met to my
house, with Donnie staying home, when Mis’ Elkhorn come in from the
kitchen to tell us supper was ready. And when she opened the door the
smell of hot waffles come a dilly-nipping in, and it made me feel so
kind of cozy and busy and alive and glad that I burst right out:

“Shucks, ladies!” I says. “So be we peck around for ’em I bet we could
find things to fuss over right till the hearse backs up to the door.”

They all laughed a little then, but that was part from feeling
embarrassed at going out to supper, like you always are. And when we did
get out there, everybody scrabbled around to get away from whoever had
just been her enemy. We didn’t say much while we et--like you don’t in
company; and I set there thinking:

“The Go-lightly club. The Go-lightly club. To make life nice.” And I
thought how we’d sung that song of ours all the way out. And I made up
my mind that, after supper, when they was feeling limber from food, I’d
try to say something about it.

But I didn’t. I just got started on it--introduced by telling ’em some
nice little things about Donnie’s sayings and doings to my house, when
Mis’ Lockmeyer broke in, sympathetic.

“Ain’t he a great care?” says she.

“Yes,” says I, “he is. And so is everything on top of this earth that’s
worth having. Life thrown in.”

And then I see they was all rustling to go home--giving reasons of
clothes to sprinkle or bread to set or grandchild to put to bed or
plants to cover up. So I kep’ still, and mogged along home with ’em.
But I did say to Mis’ Pettibone on the back seat:

“We better quit off club. If we can’t meet folks without laying awake
nights over the things that’s been said to us, we better never meet. ‘To
make life nice,’” says I. “Ain’t club a travnasty, or whatever that word
is?”

“I know it,” she says awful sober, and I see she was grieving some too.
And we was all pretty still, going home. So still that we could all hear
Jem Meddledipper, that had caught the run o’ that tune from us in the
afternoon and was driving us home by it, and the wheels went round to
it--

       “Lovin’-kindness ... lovin’-kindness ... lovin’-kindness,
                            oh, how great,”

--and it was sung considerable better than any of us had sung it.

But anyway, the result of leaving early was that we got to the Toll Gate
House before dark, and I’ll never forget the thing we saw. Standing in
the door of the little house was the woman we’d spoke with in the
afternoon, and she was wearing the same ex-blue alpaca. But now she’d
been and got out from somewheres and put on a white straw hat, with
little pink roses all around it. And like lightning I sensed that she’d
watched for us to come back and had gone and got the hat out and put it
on, so’s to let us know she had that one decent thing to wear.

“Jem,” I says, “stop.”

I donno rightly why, but I clambered down out of the rig, and I says to
the woman: “Let me come in a minute--can I? I want to talk to you
about--about some sewing,” says I, that’s sewed every rag I’ve had on my
back most ever since I was clothed in any. But all of a sudden, her
getting out that hat made me feel I just had to get up close to her,
like you will.

But when I stepped inside, I forgot all about the sewing.

“My land, my dear,” I says, or it might have been, “My dear, my land,” I
was that taken-back and upset, “you’d ought to have this ceiling
mended.”

For the plaster had fell off full half of it and the roof leaked; and
there wasn’t very much of any furniture, to clap the climax.

“The City won’t do anything,” says she. “They’re going to tear it down.
And the rent ain’t much--so I want to stay.”

“Well,” says I, “I’m going to bring you out some napkins to hem next
week--can I?”--me having bought new before then so’s to have some work
for Missionary Society, so why not now? And her face lit up that same
way from inside.

When I’d got back in the rig, and we’d drove a little way by, I spoke to
the rest about her going and putting on the hat. Some of ’em had sensed
it, and some of ’em hadn’t--like some will and some won’t sense every
created thing. And when we all did get a-hold of it--well, I can’t
hardly tell you what it done. But there was something there in the rig
with us that hadn’t been there before, and that come with a rush now,
and that done a thing to us all alike. I can’t rightly say what it was,
or what it done; but I guess Mis’ Puppy come as near it as anybody:

“Oh, ladies,” she says, kind of hushed, “don’t that seem like--well,
don’t it make you feel--well, I donno, but ain’t it just....”

She kind of petered off, and it was Mis’ Pettibone, her enemy, that
answered.

“Don’t it, Mis’ Puppy?” she says, “_Don’t_ it?” And we all felt the same
way. Or similar. And we never said a word, but we told each other good
night, I noticed, about three times apiece, all around. And out of the
fulness of the lump in my throat, I says:

“Ladies! I invite the Go-lightly club to meet with me to-morrow
afternoon. Don’t bring anything but sandwiches and your plates and
spoons. I’ll open the sauce and make the tea and whip up some drop
sponge cakes. And meantime, let’s us get together everything we can for
her.”

And though hardly anybody in the village ever goes to anything two days
in succession, they all said they’d come.

By the time they got there next day we had carpet to sew out of some of
our attics, and some new sheets to make, and some white muslin curtains
out of Mis’ Puppy’s back room. And I explained to them that we couldn’t
rightly put it to vote whether we should furnish up the Toll Gate House,
because we didn’t have any president to put the motion, so the only way
was to go ahead anyhow and do it; which we done; and which, if not
parli-mental, was more than any mental, because it was out of our
hearts.

Right while we was in the midst of things, in come my roomer, Mr.
Dombledon. He’d come in the back door, as usual, and plumped into the
sitting-room before he saw we were there. He’d had Donnie with him that
day, because I had to be out most of the forenoon, and I called to them
to stop, because I wanted the ladies should see the little fellow.

Donnie shook hands with us, all around, like a little general, and then:
“What’s these?” says he, with his hands on the curtains in my lap. “A
nighty for me?”

“No, lambin’,” says I. “It’s curtains for a lady.”

“Are you that lady?” he says.

“No, lambin’,” says I. “A lady that ain’t got any curtains.”

But this he seemed to think was awful funny, and he laughed out--a
little boy’s laugh, and kep’ it up.

“Ladies always has curtains,” says he, superior.

“I donno,” says I. “I saw one yesterday that didn’t even have a carpet.”

“Where?” asks Mr. Dombledon.

It kind of surprised me to hear him speak up--of course I’d introduced
him all around, same as you do roomers and even agents in a little town,
where you behave in general more as if folks were folks than you do in
the City where they ain’t so much folks as lawyers, ladies, milkmen,
ministers, and so on. But yet I hadn’t really expected Mr. Dombledon to
volunteer.

“Down on the Tote road,” I says, “the old Toll Gate House. You ain’t
familiar with it, I guess.”

“Is this _hers_ curtains?” asks Donnie. “And can I have some pink
peaches sauce like in the kitchen?”

“They’s _hers_ curtains,” says I, “and if you’d just as soon make it
plums, you shall have all of them in the kitchen that’s good for you.”
And off he went outdoors making up a song about pink plums.

All of a sudden his father spoke up again.

“Do--do you need any more help?” he says.

“Sure we do,” says I.

“Well,” he says, gentling with the words careful, “I’m kind of
sure-moved with a needle.”

“Then,” says I, “mebbe you’ll needle this carpet seam that’s pulling my
fingers off in pairs. We’d be grateful,” says I, ready.

So down he sat and begun to sew, and I never see handier. He whipped up
the seam as nice and flat as a roller machine. And things was going
along as fine as salt and as smooth as soap when Mis’ Puppy picked up
from the pile of things a red cotton table-cover.

“Well,” she says, “I donno where we solicited this from, but whoever
give it shows their bringing up. Holes. And not only holes, but ink. And
not only so, but look there where their lamp set. Would you think
anybody of a donatin’ mind would donate such a thing as this?”

And Mis’ Pettibone spoke up sour and acid and bitter in one:

“I give that table-spread, Mis’ Puppy,” says she. “And it come off our
dining-room table. We don’t throw things away to our house before the
new is wore off. Anything more to say?”

“A grea’ deal,” says Mis’ Puppy, unflabbergasted, “but I’m too much of a
lady to say it.”

“A lady ...” says Mis’ Pettibone, and done a little mock-at-her laugh.

Quick as a flash, and before anybody could say a word more, up hopped
Mr. Dombledon and got out of the room. I followed him out on the side
porch, thinking he was took sick; and there he stood, staring off acrost
my wood lot.

“What is it, Mr. Dombledon?” I says.

“Don’t you mind me,” he says, “I got hit in a sore spot. I--guess I’ll
be stayin’ out here a little while.”

Pretty soon he went out and sat on the wood pile, and I took some supper
out to him on a pie-tin, and I told him then that we wanted to have
Donnie to the table with us.

He looked up at me kind of suffering.

“I wouldn’t want to refuse you anything,” he says, “but--will they say
any more things like that?”

Right with the sweep of my wondering at him, that I’d never heard a man
speak like him before, come a sweep of shame and of grieving and of
being kind of mad, too.

“No, sir,” says I. “We won’t have any more of that. What’s the good o’
being hostess if you can’t turn your guests out of the house?”

I went back into the house, and marched into the sitting-room. I donno
what I was going to say, but I never had to say it. For there was Mis’
Puppy, wiping her eyes on the red table-cover she’d scorned, and she was
sitting on the arm of Mis’ Pettibone’s chair.

“Them things hadn’t ought to be said, ladies,” says she, as well as she
could. “I can’t take back what I said about the table-cover, being it’s
what I think. But I wish I’d kep’ my mouth shut, and I don’t care who
knows it.”

I thought then, and I still think, it was one of the honestest and
sweepingest apologies I ever heard.

And all at once everybody kind of got up and folded their work, and
patted somebody on the elbow; and I see we was feeling a good deal the
way we had in the rig the night before; and it come to me, kind of big
and dim, that with the job we was doing, we couldn’t possibly nip out
at one another, like we would in just regular society. And all I done
was to sing out, “Your supper’s ready and the toast’s on the table.” And
we all went out, lion and lamb, and helped to set Donnie up on my
ironing-stool for a high chair. And it made an awful pleasant few
minutes.

We met three afternoons all together to sew for the Toll Gate House. And
when we begun to plan to take the things to her, and get the roof
mended, we realized we didn’t know her name.

“Ain’t that kind of nice?” says Mis’ Pettibone, dreamy. “And here we’re
just as interested in her as if her father’d been our butcher, or
something that’d make a real tie.”

“How shall we give these things to her?” says Mis’ Puppy. “Don’t let’s
us let it be nasty, same as charity is.”

And it was Mis’ Lockmeyer, her of all the folks under the canopy, that
set forward on the edge of her chair and thought of the thing to do.
“Ladies,” she says, “there’s one more pair of curtains to hem. Why don’t
we get her to one of our houses to hem ’em, and make her spend the day?
And get her roof fixed and her ceiling mended and this truck in, and let
it all be there when she gets home?”

“That’s what we _will_ do,” says we, with one set of common eyebrows
expressing our intention.

We decided that I’d be the one to ask her down, being I was the one that
first went in her house, and similar. She said she’d come ready enough,
and bring the little girl; and it made it real convenient, because Mr.
Dombledon had gone off on one of his two-days tramps and taken Donnie
with him. And the living minute I’d started her in sewing on the things
we’d saved for her to sew, and set the little girl to playing with some
of the things I’d fixed up for Donnie, I was out of the house and making
for the Toll Gate.

Land, land, the things we’d found we could spare and that we’d piled in
that house--stuff that we hadn’t known we had and that we couldn’t miss
if we’d tried, but had hung on to sole and only because we were deformed
into economizing that way. Honestly, I believe more folks economizes by
keeping old truck around than is extravagant by throwing new stuff away.
I don’t stand up for either, but I well know which has the most germs
in. What we’d sent we’d cleaned thorough. And it was clean as wax
there--but the roof was being mended and the ceiling was being fixed and
carpets were going down. And when we got done with it, I tell you that
little house looked as cozy as a Pullman car--and I don’t know anything
whatever that looks cozier after you’ve set up in the day coach all
night. And lions and lambs laying down together on swords and
plow-shares were nothing to the way we worked together all day long. We
had to jump to keep out of the way of being “been-nice” to so’s to get a
chance to be nice ourselves. I liked to be there. I like to think about
it since.

At five o’clock, old Mis’ Lockmeyer, dead-tuckered, was standing in the
door with a corner of her apron caught up in the band, when Jem drove me
away.

“Leave her come out any time now,” she says, “we’re ready for her. Mebbe
she’ll be mad but, land--even if she is, I can’t be sorry we done it.
It’s been as enjoyable,” she says, “as anything I’ve ever done.”

I looked back at her, and at all the other women back of her and in the
windows, and at Mis’ Pettibone and Mis’ Puppy leaning on the same sill,
and I nodded; and Mis’ Puppy--well, it was faint and ladylike, but just
the same the look that we give each other was far, far more than a
squint, and it was bordering on, and right up to, a regular wink.

When I come in sight of my house I was so busy thinking how she’d like
hers that I didn’t see for a minute what my front yard had in it. And
when I did see, my heart kind of went _plap!_--but a pleasant plap. My
front yard looked so exactly the way I’d used to dream of it looking,
and it never had. It was little and neat and green, with flowers and a
white door-step as usual, but out in front was a little girl, with my
clothes-rope doubled up for lines, and she was driving round and round
the pansy bed a little boy. Just before I got to the gate, and before
they saw me, they dropped the rope and went off around the house hand in
hand, like they’d known each other all their days.

“I wish everybody was like that,” thinks I, and went in my front door
and through to the dining-room.

And there, sitting on my couch with their arms around each other, was
the Toll Gate House lady and my roomer, Mr. Dombledon.

“Well,” says I. “Sudden--but real friendly!”

I see I had to say something, for they didn’t seem real capable of it.
And besides, I’d begun to suspicion, deep in the part of the heart that
ain’t never surprised at love anywheres.

Mr. Dombledon come over to me--and now his eyes were like the
sitting-room with all the curtains up.

“Oh, ma’am!” he says, “how did you know? How did you find out?”

“Know?” I says. “I know less all the time. And I ain’t found out yet.
I’m a-waiting for you to tell me.”

“We’re each other’s wife and husband,” says he, neat but shy.

They told me as well as they could, now together, now separate, now both
keeping still. I made it out more by means of the air than by means of
words, anyhow. But this thing that he said came home to me then, and
it’s never left me since:

“Nothin’ come between us,” he says. “No great trouble or sorrow or like
that, same as some. It was just every day that wore us out. We got to
snappin’ and snarlin’--like you do. We done it at everything--whenever
either of us opened our heads, the other one took ’em up on it. We done
it because we was tired. And we done it because we didn’t have much to
do with--nor no real home. And we done it for no reason too, I guess ...
an’ that come to be the oftenest of all. It got hold of us. That was
what ailed me that day at your meeting--I’d always run from it now same
as I would from the pest. It _is_ the pest.... Well, finally I went off
with Donnie and left Pearl with her. Then when I found out she’d come
here, I come here too, a-purpose. But I couldn’t go and face her, even
then. And it’s been six months. And now we both know.”

I stood there looking at those two little people, shabby and
or’nary-seeming; and I could have said something right past the lump in
my throat if only I could of thought how to put it. But I couldn’t--like
you can’t. Only--I knew.

“Where is he?” I heard her saying. “Where is he?”

I knew who she meant, and I went and got him. He come running in with
his swing-board on him for a breast-plate. And his mother never said a
word--she just gathered him up, swing-board and all, and kissed him at
the back of his neck, there in the hollow that had been a-waiting for
her.

“She made me cookies wiv buttins on!” he give out, for my biography. And
it was enough for me.

Mr. Dombledon had his little girl’s hands in his, swinging her arms back
and forth, and never saying a word.

Pretty soon I sent ’em off down the road, Donnie and Pearl ahead, they
two behind, carrying my ex-roomer’s things. And I knew how, at the Toll
Gate House, everything was warm and bright and furnished and
_suppered_, waiting for them. And life was nice.

I went and stood out on my porch, looking off acrost my wood lot,
thinking. I was thinking about the two of them, and about us women. And
I knew I’d been showed the little bit of an edge to something that’s so
small it don’t seem like anything, and so sordid we won’t any of us let
on it comes near us, and so big it reaches all over the world.



HUMAN


Pretty soon the new-old Christmas will be here. I donno but it’s here
now. Here in the village we’ve give out time and again that our
Christmas isn’t going to be just trading (not many of us can call it
“shopping” yet without stopping to think, any more than we can say
“maid” for hired girl, real easy) and just an exchange of useless gifts.
So in the “new” way, little by little the old Christmas is being
uncovered from under the store-keepers’ Christmas. Till at last we shall
have the Christmas of the child in the manger and not of the three
kings.

And then we’re going to look back on the romance that Christmas had
through the long time when meanings have measured themselves commercial.
Just as we look back now on the romance of chivalry. And we’ll remember
all the kindness and the humor of the time that’ll be outgrown--even
though we wouldn’t have the time come back when we looked for Christmas
in things--things--things ... and sometimes found it there.

The week before Christmas, the Friendship Village post-office, near
closing, is regular Bedlam. We all stand in line, with our presents done
up, while the man at the window weighs everybody else’s, and we almost
drop in our tracks. And our manners, times like this, is that we never
get out of our place for no one. Not for no one! Only--once we did.

Two nights before Christmas that year I got my next-to-the-last three
packages ready and stepped into the post-office with ’em about half-past
seven. And at the post-office door I met Mis’ Holcomb-that-was-Mame
Bliss. She had a work-bag and a shopping-bag and a suit-case, all of ’em
bulging full.

“My land!” I says, “you ain’t going to mail all them?”

“I am, too,” she says, “and I’m that thankful I’m through, and my back
aches that hard, I could cry. Twenty-one,” she says, grim, “twenty-one
presents I’ve got made out of thought and elbow work, and mighty little
money, all ready to mail on time. Now,” says she, “I can breathe.”

“Kin I carry your satchel, Mis’ Holcomb?” says somebody.

We looked down, and there’s little Stubby Mosher, that’s seven, and not
much else to say about him. He ain’t no father, nor not much of any
brother, except a no-account one in the city; and his mother has just
been sent to the Wooster Hospital by the Cemetery Improvement Sodality
that is extending our work to include the sick. We’d persuaded her to go
there by Stubby’s brother promising to send him to spend Christmas with
her. And we were all feeling real tender toward Stubby, because we’d
just heard that week that she wasn’t going to get well.

“Well, Stubby,” says Mis’ Holcomb, kind, “yes, I’ll be obliged for a
lift, if not a lug. You well?” she asks.

“Yes’m,” says Stubby, acting green, like a boy will when you ask after
his health.

He picked up her suit-case and moved over toward the line. It was an
awful long line that night, that reached ’way around past the public
desk. In ahead of us was ’most everybody we knew--Abigail Arnold and
Mis’ Merriman and Libby Liberty and old rich Mis’ Wiswell with a bag of
packages looking like they might be jewelry, every one. And every one of
them was talking as hard as they could about the Christmas things they
couldn’t get done.

“Might as well settle down for a good visit while we’re waiting,” I says
to Mis’ Holcomb, and she made her eyebrows sympathize.

No sooner was we stood up, neat and in line, than in come three folks
that was total strangers to me and to the village as well. One was a
young girl around twenty, with eyes kind of laughing _at_ everything,
dressed in blue, with ermine on her hat and an ermine muff as big as one
of my spare-room pillows, and three big fresh pink roses on her coat.
And one was a youngish fellow, some older than her, in a gray cap, and
having no use of his eyes--being they were kept right close on the lady
in blue. And the other, I judged, was her father--a nice, jolly, private
Santa Claus, in a fur-lined coat. They were in a tearing hurry to get to
the general-delivery window, but when they saw the line, and how there
was only one window for mail and stamps and all, they fell in behind us,
as nice as we was ourselves.

“Let me take you out and you wait in the car, Alison,” says the youngish
man, anxious.

“Hadn’t you better, dear?” says her father, careful.

“Why, but I love this!” she says. “Isn’t it _quaint_?” And she laughed
again.

Now, I hate that word _quaint_. So does Mis’ Holcomb. It always sounds
to us like last year’s styles. So though her and I had been looking at
the three strangers--that we saw were merely passing through in an
automobile, like the whole country seems to--with some interest, we both
turned our backs and went on visiting and listening to the rest.

“I’ve got three more to get presents for,” says Mis’ Merriman in that
before-Christmas conversation that everybody takes a hand at, “and what
to get them I do _not_ know. Don’t you ever get up a stump about
presents?”

“Stump!” says Libby Liberty, “I live on a stump from the time I start
till I stick on the last stamp.”

“I’ve got two more on my list,” Mis’ Wiswell says, worried, “and it
don’t seem as if I could take another stitch nor buy another spoon,
hat-pin _or_ paper-knife. But I know they’ll send me something, both of
them.”

I stood looking at us, tired to death with what we’d been a-making, but
sending ’em off with a real lot of love and satisfaction wrapped up in
’em, too. And I thought how we covered up Christmas so deep with work
that we hardly ever had time to get at the real Christmas down
underneath all the stitches. And yet, there we were, having dropped
everything else that we were doing, just because it was Christmas week,
and coming from all over town with little things we had made, and
standing there in line to send ’em off to folks. And I thought of all
the other folks in all the other post-offices in the world, doing the
self-same thing that night. And I felt all kind of nice and glowing to
think I was one of ’em. Only I did begin to wish we were enough
civilized to get the glow some other way.

“I guess it’s going to take a long time,” says Mis’ Holcomb, patient.
“Stubby, you needn’t wait if you’ve anything else to do.”

“Oh,” says Stubby, important, “I’ve got a present to mail.”

A present to mail! When Sodality had been feeding him for five weeks
among us!

Mis’ Holcomb and I exchanged our next two glances.

“What is it, Stubby?” asks Mis’ Holcomb, that is some direct by nature
and never denies herself at it.

He looked up kind of shy--he’s a nice little boy, when anybody has any
time to pay any attention to him.

“It’s just this,” he said, and took it out from under his coat. It was
about as big as a candy box, and he’d wrapped it up himself, and the
string was so loose and the paper was so tore that they weren’t going to
stay by each other past two stations.

“Mercy!” says Mis’ Holcomb, “leave me tie it up for you.”

She took it. And in order to tie it she had to untie it. And when she
done that, what was in it come all untied. And she see, and we both of
us see, what was in it. It was a great big pink rose, fresh and real,
with a lot of soaking wet paper wrapped round the stem.

“Stubby Mosher!” says Mis’ Holcomb straight out, “where’d _you_ get
this?”

He colored up. “I bought it to the greenhouse,” he says. “I’m a-goin’ to
shovel paths till the first of March to pay for it. And they gimme one
path ahead for postage.”

“Who you sending it to?” says Mis’ Holcomb, blunt--and I kind of wished
she wouldn’t, because the folks right round us was beginning to listen.

“To mother,” says Stubby.

Mis’ Holcomb near dropped the box. “My land!” she said, “why didn’t you
_take_ it to her? You’re goin’ to-morrow to spend Christmas with her,
ain’t you?”

Stubby shook his head and swallowed some.

“I ain’t going,” he told her.

“Ain’t going!” Mis’ Holcomb says. “_Why_ ain’t you goin’, I’d like to
know, when you was promised?”

“My brother wrote he can’t,” said Stubby. “He’s had some money to pay.
He can’t send me. I----”

He stopped, and looked down on the floor as hard as ever he could, and
swallowed like lightning.

“Well, but that’s how we got her to go there,” Mis’ Holcomb says. “We
promised her you’d come.”

“My brother wrote he can’t.” Stubby said it over.

Mis’ Holcomb looked at me for just one minute. Then her thoughts took
shape in her head, and out.

“How much money has Sodality got in the treasury?” she says to me.

“Forty-six cents,” says I, that’s treasurer and drove to death for a
fund for us.

“How much is the fare to Wooster?”

“Three fifty-five each way,” says Stubby, ready, but hopeless.

“My land!” says Mis’ Holcomb, “they ain’t a woman in Sodality that can
afford the seven dollars--nor a man in the town’ll see it like we do.
And no time to raise nothing. And that poor woman off there....”

She stared out over the crowd, kind of wild.

The line was edging along up to the window, and still talking about it.

“...Elsie and Mame that I haven’t sent a thing to,” Mis’ Merriman was
saying. “I just must get out and find something to-morrow, if it does
get there late. But I’m sure I donno what....”

“...disappointed me last minute on two Irish crochet collars,” Mis’
Wiswell was holding forth, in her voice that talks like her vocal cords
had gone flat, same as car-wheels.

“I’ve got company coming to-morrow, and I just simply will _have_ to let
both presents go, if I stay awake all night about it, as stay awake I
s’pose I shall.”

Mis’ Holcomb looked over at me steady for a minute, like she’d see a
thing she couldn’t name. Then she kind of give it up, and went on tying
Stubby’s package. And just then she see what he’d wrote for a Christmas
card. It was on a piece of wrapping-paper, and it said:

  TO MY MOTHER
    I CANT COM
     MERY CRISMAS
      STUB

“_Merry Christmas!_” Mis’ Holcomb says over like she hadn’t any
strength. Then all of a sudden she stood up.

“Stubby,” she says, “you run out a minute, will you? You run over to the
grocery and wait for me there a minute--quick. I’ll see to your
package.”

He went when she said that.

And swift as a flash, before I could think at all what she meant, Mis’
Holcomb laid Stubby’s present down by her suit-case, and wheeled around
and whipped two packages out of her shopping-bag, and faced the line of
Friendship Village folks drawn up there to the window, taking their
turns.

“Everybody!” she says, loud enough so’s they all heard her, “I’ve got
more Christmas presents than I need. I’ll auction off some of ’em--all
hand-made--to anybody that’s short of presents. I’ll show ’em to you.
Come here and look at ’em, and make a bid.”

They looked at her for a minute, perfectly blank; and she was beginning
to undo one of ’em.... And then all of a sudden I see her plan, what it
was; and I walked right over beside of her.

“Don’t you leave her undo ’em!” I calls out. “It’s for Stubby Mosher,” I
says, “that can’t go, after all, to his mother in the Wooster Hospital,
that’s going to die--count of his brother not sending him the money. She
can’t get well--we know that since last week. They’s only forty-six
cents in Sodality treasury. Let’s us buy Mis’ Holcomb’s presents that
she’s made and is willing to auction off! Unsight-unseen let us buy ’em!
I bid fifty cents.”

The line had kind of wavered and broke, and was looking away from itself
towards us. The man at the window had stopped weighing and had his head
close up, looking out.

Everybody was hushed dumb for a minute. Then it kind of got to Mis’
Wiswell--that’s had so much trouble that things ’most always get to her
easy--and she says out:

“Oh, land! _Is it?_ Why, I bid seventy-five then.”

“Eighty!” says I, reckless, to egg her on.

Then Libby Liberty kind of come to, and bid ninety, though everybody
knew the most she has is egg-money--and finally it, whatever it was,
went to Mis’ Wiswell for a dollar.

“Is it a present would do for ladies?” she says, when she made her final
bid. “I donno, though, as that matters. One dollar!”

Well, then Mis’ Holcomb up with another present, and Mis’ Merriman
started that one, and though dazed a little yet--some folks daze so
terrible easy if you go off an inch from their stamping-ground!--the
rest of us, including Abigail Arnold that hadn’t ought to have bid at
all, got that one up to another dollar, and it went to Mis’ Merriman for
that. But the next package stuck at fifty cents--not from lack of
willingness, I know, but from sheer lack of ways--and it was just going
at that when I whispered to Mis’ Holcomb:

“What’s in this one?”

“Towel with crochet work set in each end and no initial,” she says.

“Really?” says a voice behind me.

And there was the young lady in blue, with the ermine and the roses. And
I see all of a sudden that she didn’t look to be laughing at us at all,
but her eyes were bright, and she was kind of flushed up, and it come to
me that she would have bidded before, only she was sort of watching
us--mebbe because she thought we were _quaint_. But I didn’t have time
to bother with that thought much, not then.

“I’ll give two dollars for that,” she says.

“Done!” says Mis’ Holcomb, real auctioneer-like, and with her cheeks
red, and her hat on one ear, and her hand going up and down. “Now this
one--who’ll bid on this one?” says she, putting up another. “How much
for this? How much----”

“How much is the fare to where he’s going?” says somebody else strange,
and there was the youngish fellow speaking, that was with her with the
roses.

“Seven-ten round trip to Wooster,” says Mis’ Holcomb, instant.

“Why, then, I bid three-ten for whatever you have there,” he says
laughing.

But Mis’ Holcomb, instead of flaming up because now the whole money for
Stubby’s fare was raised, just stood there looking at that youngish man,
mournful all over her face.

“It’s a hand-embroidered dressing-sack,” she says melancholy. “You don’t
never want that!”

“Yes--yes, I do,” he says, still laughing, “yes, I do. It’s a straight
bid.”

“Oh, my land!” says Mis’ Holcomb, her voice slipping, “then we’ve got
it. We’ve got it all right here!”

But while she was a-saying it, a big, deep voice boomed out all over her
and the rest that was exclaiming.

“Ticket to where?” says the private-Santa-Claus-looking man in the fur
coat.

“Wooster, this state,” says I, being Mis’ Holcomb was almost speechless.

“Well, now,” says the private Santa Claus, “don’t we go pretty close to
Wooster? Where’s that map we wore out? Well, I know we go pretty close
to Wooster. Why can’t we take your Master Stubby to Wooster in the car?
We’re going on to-night--if we ever get to that general-delivery
window,” he ends in a growl.

And _that_ was the time the line made way--the line that never moves for
no one. And the Santa Claus man went up and got his mail.

And while he was a-doing it, I run out after Stubby, setting on a barrel
in the grocery, happy with three cranberries they’d give him. And as I
come back in the door with him, I see Mis’ Holcomb just showing his rose
to the young lady with the ermine and the roses. And then I see for sure
by the young lady’s eyes that she wasn’t the way I’d thought she
was--laughing _at_ us. Why, her eyes were as soft and understanding as
if she didn’t have a cent to her name. And I donno but more so.

“Oh, father,” I heard her say, “I’m glad we came in for the mail
ourselves! _What_ if we hadn’t?”

And I concluded I didn’t mind that word _quaint_ half as much as I
thought I did.

Every last one of the line went out of the post-office to see Stubby
off, and the man at the window, he came too. They had a big warm coat
they put the little boy into, and we wrapped up his rose and put that
in the car, so’s it would get there sooner and save the postage, same
time, and they tucked him away as snug as a bug in a rug, his little
face just shining out for joy.

“Oh, and you can buy your presents back now,” says Libby Liberty to Mis’
Holcomb right in the middle of it.

“No, sir,” says Mis’ Holcomb, proud. “A bargain is a bargain, and I made
mine.” And then she thought of something. “Oh,” she says, leaning
forward to the window of the car, “don’t you want to sell your presents
back again?”

“No!” they all told her together. “We made a straight bid, you know.”

“_Then_,” says Mis’ Holcomb, “let’s us give Stubby the money to put in
his pocket and take the one-way fare to his mother!”

And that was what they done. And the big car rolled off down Daphne
Street, with Stubby in it going like a king.

And when we all got back in the post-office, what do you s’pose? There
was the crocheted towel and the hand-embroidered dressing-sack slipped
back all safe into Mis’ Holcomb’s shopping-bag!

But she wouldn’t take the other things back--she would not, no matter
what Mis’ Wiswell and Mis’ Merriman said.

“I can crochet a couple of things to-morrow like lightning,” says Mis’
Holcomb. “You don’t want me to be done out of my share in Stubby’s
Christmas, do you?” she asks ’em.

And we all stood there, talking and laughing and going over it and clean
forgetting all about the United States mails, till the man at the window
called out:

“‘Leven minutes and a quarter before the mail closes!”

We all started back to the window, but nobody could remember just
exactly where anybody was standing before, and they all wanted everybody
to go up first and step in ahead of them. And the line, instead of being
a line with some of ’em ahead of others and all trying to hurry, was
just a little group, with each giving everybody their turn, peaceful and
good-willing. And all of a sudden it was like Christmas had come, up
through all the work and the stitches, and was right there in the
Friendship Village post-office with us.

“Goodness!” says Mis’ Holcomb in my ear, “I was wore to the bone getting
ready my Christmas things. But now I’m real rested.”

“So am I,” I says.

And so was every one of us, I know, falling back into line there by the
window. All rested, and not feeling hurried nor nothing: only human.



THE HOME-COMING


“Eighteen booths,” says Mis’ Timothy Toplady, sighing satisfied. “That’s
enough to go round the whole Market Square, leaving breathin’ space
between.”

We sat looking at the diagram Mis’ Fire-Chief Merriman had made on the
dining-room table, with bees-wax and stuff out of her work-basket, and
we all sighed satisfied--but tired too. Because, though it looked like
the Friendship Village Home-coming was going to be a success--and a
peaceful success--yet we see in the same flash that it was going to be
an awful back-aching, feet-burning business for us ladies. We were
having our fourth committee meeting to Mis’ Sykes’s, and we weren’t more
than begun on the thing; and the Home-coming was only six weeks away.

“Just thinking about all the tracking round it means,” says Mis’ Sykes,
“I can feel that sick feeling in the back of my throat _now_, that I
feel when I’m over-tired, or got delegates, or have company pounce down
on me.”

Mis’ Hubbelthwait looked at her sympathetic. “I know,” she says. “So
tired you can taste it. I donno,” she says, “whether home-comings are
worth it or not.”

Mis’ Sykes didn’t answer. She was up on her feet, peering out behind the
Nottinghams.

“My land o’ life,” she says, “that’s the stalkin’ image of ’Lisbeth
Note.”

“Lisbeth _Note_!” we all said. “Oh, it can’t be!”

It struck me, even then, how united folks are on a piece of gossip. For
the Home-coming some had thought have printed invitations and some had
thought send out newspapers, some had wanted free supper and some had
wanted pay, and so on, item by item of the afternoon. But the minute
Lisbeth Note was mentioned, we all burst into one common, spontaneous
fraternal horror: “_Oh, no._ It couldn’t be her.”

“It is!” cries Mis’ Sykes. “It is. She’s turning in there. I thought I
heard ’bus wheels in the night. It serves me right. I’d ought to got out
and looked.”

We were all crowded to the window by then, looking over toward old Mis’
Note’s, that lived opposite to Mis’ Sykes’s. So we all saw what we saw.
And it was that Mis’ Note’s front door opened and a little boy, ’bout
four years old, come shouting down the walk toward Lisbeth. And she
stooped over and kissed him. And they went in the house together and
shut the door.

Then us ladies turned and stared at each other. And Mis’ Sykes says,
swallowing unbeknownst in the middle of what she says: “The brazen
hussy. She’s brought it back here.”

I donno whether you’ve ever heard a group of immortal beings, women or
men, pounce on and mull over _that_ particular bone? If you live
somewheres in this world, I guess mebbe you hev--I guess mebbe you hev.
I’m never where it happens, that I don’t turn sick and faint all through
me. I don’t know how men handles the subject--here in Friendship Village
we don’t mention things that has a tang to ’em, in mixed company. Mebbe
men is delicate and gentle and chivalrous when they speak of such
things. Mebbe that’s one of the places they use the chivalry some feels
so afraid is going to die out. But I might as well own up to you that in
Friendship Village us women don’t act neither delicate nor decent in
such a case.

There was fourteen women in the room that day, every one of ’em except
Abigail Arnold and me living what you might call “protected” lives. I
mean by that that men had provided them their homes and was earning them
their livings, and clothing their children; and they were caring for
the man’s house and, in between, training up the children. Then we were
all of us further protected by the church, that we all belonged to and
helped earn money for. And also we were protected by the town, that we
were all respectable, bill-paying, property-owning, pew-renting citizens
of. That was us.

And over against us fourteen was Lisbeth--that her father had died when
she was a baby, and her mother had worked since she was born, with no
place to leave Lisbeth meantime. And Lisbeth herself had been a nice,
sweet-dispositioned, confiding little girl, doing odd jobs to our houses
and clerking in our stores in the Christmas rush. Till five years
ago--she’d gone away. And we all knew why. Her mother had cried her eyes
out in most every one of our kitchens, and we were all in full
possession of the facts--unless you count in the name of the little
child’s father. We didn’t know that. But then, we had so much to do
tearing Lisbeth to pieces we didn’t bother a great deal with that. And
there that day was the whole fourteen of us, pitching into Lisbeth Note
for what she’d done--just like she was fourteen of herself, our own
sizes and our own “protectedness,” and meeting us face to face.

“The _idear_!” says Mis’ Sykes, shaking her head, with her lips
disappearing within her face. “Why, she might have been clerking in the
post-office store now, a nice, steady, six-dollar-a-week position just
exactly like she was when it happened.”

“Would you think,” says Mis’ Fire-Chief Merriman, “that living here in
Friendship Village with us, anybody _could_ go wrong?”

“Sepulchers in sheep’s clothing--that’s what some folks are,” says
little new Mis’ Graves, righteous.

And so on. And on. Hashing it all over again and eating it for cake. And
me, I wasn’t silent either. I joined in here and there with a little
something I’d heard. Till by the time the meeting adjourned, and we’d
all agreed to meet two days later and sew on the bunting for the booths,
I went home feeling so sick and hurt and sore and skinned that after
dark I up and walked straight down to Lisbeth’s house. Yes. After dark.
I was a poor, weak, wavering stick, and I knew it.

Lisbeth came to the door. “Hello, Lisbeth,” I says. “It’s Calliope
Marsh. Can I come in?”

“Mother ain’t here, Mis’ Marsh,” she says faint.

“Ain’t she, now?” I says. “I bet she is. I’m going inside to hunt for
her.”

And I walked right into the sitting-room and turned and looked at
Lisbeth. If she’d been defiant, or acted don’t-care, or tossed her head,
or stared at me--I donno’s I’d of had the strength to understand that
these might be her poor, pitiful weapons. But as it was, her eyes looked
straight into mine for a minute, and then brimmed up full of tears. So I
kissed her.

We sat there for an hour in the twilight--an hour I’ll never forget. And
then she took me up-stairs to show me the boy.

Think of the prettiest child you know. Think of the prettiest child you
ever did know. Now think of him laying asleep, all curls and his cheeks
flushed and his lips budded open a little bit. That was Chris. That was
Little Christopher--Lisbeth’s little boy.

“Miss Marsh,” Lisbeth says, “I’d rather die than not have him with me.
And mother ain’t strong, and she needs me. Do you think I done wrong to
come home?”

“Done wrong?” I says. “Done wrong to come home? Don’t them words kind of
fight each other in the sentence? Of course you didn’t do wrong. Why,”
says I, “Lisbeth, this is Friendship Village’s Home-coming year. It’s
Home-coming week next month, you know.”

She looked at me wistful there in the dark beside the child’s bed. “Oh,
not for me,” she says. “This house is my home--but this town ain’t any
more. It don’t want me.”

“It don’t want me,” I says over to myself, going home. And I looked
along at the nice, neat little houses, with the front doors standing
open to the spring night, and dishes clattering musical here and there
in kitchens, getting washed up, and lights up-stairs where children were
being put to bed. And I thought, “Never tell me that this little town
don’t want everybody that belongs to it to live in it. The town is true.
It’s folks that’s false.” I says that over: “The town is true. It’s
folks that’s false. How you going to make them know it?”

       *       *       *       *       *

When it come my turn to have the Homecoming committee meet to my house,
things had begun to get exciting. Acceptances had commenced coming in.
I’d emptied out my photograph basket, and we had ’em all in it. It was
real fun and heart-warming to read ’em. Miss Sykes was presiding--that
woman’ll be one of them that comes back from the grave to do
table-rapping. She does so love to call anything to order.

“Judge Eustis Bangs is coming,” says Mis’ Sykes, impressive, looking
over the envelopes. “They say his wife don’t think anything in the world
of having company in to a meal every week or so.”

“‘Used-to’ Bangs coming!” cries Mis’ Holcomb-that-was-Mame Bliss. “He
set behind me in school. Land, I ain’t seen him since graduating
exercises when he dipped my braid in the inkwell.”

“And Sarah Arthur,” Mis’ Sykes went on. “She’s lady bookkeeper in a big
department store in the city, and in with all them four hundred.”

“I always wonder,” says Mis’ Holcomb, looking up and frowning
meditative, “four hundred _what_? Do they mean folks, or millionaires,
or what do they mean by that?”

“Oh, why millionaires, of course,” says Mis’ Sykes. “It don’t refer to
_folks_. Look-a-here,” she says next. “Admiral and Mrs. Homer is coming.
Why, you know he was only bare born here--he went away before he was
three months old. And she’s never been here. But they’re coming now.
Ladies! A admiral!”

Mis’ Toplady had been sitting still over in one corner, darning, with
her mind on it. But now she dropped her husband’s sock, and looked up.
“Admiral,” she says over. “That’s something to do with water fighting,
ain’t it? Well, I want to know what they call it that for? I thought we
didn’t consider it admiral any more to kill folks, by land or by sea?”

“Oh, but he’s an officer,” Mis’ Sykes says worshipful. “He’ll have
badges, and like enough pantalettes on his shoulders; and think how nice
he’ll look heading the parade!”

Mis’ Toplady kind of bit at her darning-needle, dreamy. “To my mind,”
she says, “the only human being that’s fit to head a parade is one
that’s just old enough to walk.”

Just then Mis’ Sykes done her most emphatic squeal and pucker, such as,
if she was foreign, she would reserve for royalty alone.

“My land,” she says, “Abner Dawes! He’s a-coming. He’s a-_coming_!”

There couldn’t have been a nicer compliment to any one, my way of
thinking, than the little round of smiles and murmurs that run about
among us when we heard this.

Abner Dawes had been, thirty years before, a nice, shy man round the
village, and we all liked him, because he had such a nice, kind way with
him and particularly because he had such a way with children. He used to
sing ’em little songs he made up. And some of the little songs got in
the paper and got copied in the city paper; and first thing we knew, a
big firm sent for Abner, and he’d been gone ever since. We heard of him,
now doing his children-songs on the stage, now in a big, beautiful book
of children’s songs, with pictures, that had been sent back to the
village. And we were prouder of him than ’most anybody we’d got. And
here he was coming to the Home-coming.

“We must give him the Principal Place, whatever that is,” says Mis’
Sykes, immediate. And we all agreed. Yes, Abner must have the Principal
Place.

We were sewing, that afternoon, on the bunting for Eppleby Holcomb’s
store’s booth. Blazing red, it was--ain’t it queer how men loves red?
Color of blood and color of fire; but I always think it means they’ll be
ready to love not blood of war but blood-brotherhood, and not the torch
to burn with, but the torch to light with--when the time comes. Yes, I
bet men’s liking red means something, and I like to think it means that.
And if it does, Eppleby’ll be first among men, for he didn’t want a
stitch of his booth that wasn’t flaming scarlet.

We had the diagram all made out on the table again, so’s to tell what
colors would come next to which. And all of a sudden Mis’ Sykes put her
finger in the middle of it.

“Do you know what?” she says. “If that tree wasn’t in the middle there,
we could have a great big evening bon-fire, with everybody around it.”

“So we could. Wouldn’t that be nice?” says everybody--only me. Because
the tree they meant was the Christmas tree, the big evergreen, the
living Christmas tree that had stood there in the square, all lit, that
last Christmas Eve, with all of us singing round it.

“I can’t ever think of that being in anybody’s way,” I says, and
everybody says, “Perhaps not,” and we went on tearing off the lengths of
blazing red calico. And me, I set there thinking about what they’d said.

I remember I was still thinking about it, and Mis’ Sykes and I were
standing up together measuring off the breadths, when the front door
opened. And there was standing Chris, Lisbeth’s little boy. Him and I’d
got to be awful good friends almost from the first. He come over to my
house quite a lot, and kneeled on a chair side of the table when I was
doing my baking, and he brought me in pans of chips. And no little
fellow whatever was ever sweeter.

“Hello, dear,” I says now. “Come in, won’t you?”

He stood quiet, eying us. And Mis’ Sykes down she drops the cloth and
made a dive for him.

“You darling!” says she--her emphasis coming out in bunches, the way
some women’s does when they talk to children. “You darling! _Whose_
little boy are you?”

He looked at her, shy and sweet. “I’m my mamma’s little boy,” he says,
ready. “But my papa, he didn’t come--not yet.”

I looked over to Mis’ Sykes, squatting with both arms around the baby.
“He’s Lisbeth’s little boy,” I says. “Ain’t he d-e-a-r?”--I spells it.

Mis’ Sykes-drew back, like the little fellow had hit at her. “Mercy!”
she says, only--and got up, and went on tearing cloth.

He felt it, like little children do feel ever so much more than we know
they feel. I see his little lip begin to curl. I went and whispered that
we’d go find an orange in the pantry, and I took him to get it; and then
he went off.

When I went back in the sitting-room they all kind of kept still, like
they’d been saying things they didn’t mean I should hear. Only that
little new Mis’ Morgan Graves, she sat with her back to the door and she
was speaking.

“...for one Sunday. But when I found it out, I took Bernie right out of
the class. Of course it don’t matter so much now, but when they get
older, you can’t be too careful.”

I went and stood back of her chair.

“Oh, yes, you can,” says I. (We try here in Friendship Village not to
contradict our guests too flat; but when it’s a committee meeting, of
course a hostess feels more free.) “You can be a whole lot too careful,”
I went on. “You can be so careful that you act like we wasn’t all seeds
in one great big patch of earth, same as we are.”

“Well, but, Calliope,” says Mis’ Sykes, “you can’t take that child in.
You ain’t any children, or you’d know how a mother feels. An
illegitimate child----”

Then I boiled over and sissed on the tip of the stove. “Stop that!” I
says. “Chris ain’t any more illegitimate than I am. True, he’s got a
illegitimate father bowing around somewheres in polite society. And
Lisbeth--well, she’s bore him and she’s raised him and she’s paid his
keep for four years, and I ain’t prepared to describe what kind of
mother she is by any one word in the dictionary. But the minute you tack
that one word on to Chris, well,” says I, “you got me to answer to.”

“But, Calliope!” cries Mis’ Sykes. “You can’t take _him_ in without
taking in the mother!”

“No,” says I, “and I’ve took her in already. Is my morals nicked any to
speak of? Mind you,” I says, “I ain’t arguin’ with you to take in
anybody up till they want to be took in and do right. I’ve got my own
ideas on that too, but I ain’t arguing it with you here. All I say now
is, Why _not_ take in Lisbeth?”

“Why not put a premium on evil-doing and have done with it?” says Mis’
Fire-Chief Merriman, majestic and deep-toned.

“Well,” I says, “we’ve done that to the father’s evil. Maybe you can
tell me why we fixed up his premium so neat?”

“Oh, well,” says Mis’ Sykes, “surely we needn’t argue it. Why, the whole
of civilization is on our side and responsible for our way of thinking.
You ain’t got no argument, Calliope,” she says. “Besides, it ain’t what
any of us thinks that proves it. It’s what’s what that counts.”

“Civilization,” says I. “And time. They’re responsible for a good deal,
ain’t they? Wars and martyrdom and burnings and--crucifixion. All done
in the immortal name of what’s what. Well, me, I don’t care a cake o’
washing soap what’s what. What’s what ain’t nothing but a foot-bridge
anyhow, on over to what’s-going-to-be. And if you tell me that
civilization and time can keep going much longer putting a premium on a
man’s wrong and putting a penalty on the woman--then I tell you to your
face that I’ve got inside information that you ain’t got. Because in the
end--in the end, _life ain’t that sort_.”

“Good for you, Calliope!” says a voice in the door. And when I’d wheeled
round, there stood Eppleby Holcomb, come in to see how we were getting
along with the cloth for his booth. “Good for you,” he says, grave.

We all felt stark dumb with embarrassment--I guess they hadn’t one of us
ever said that much in company with a man present in our lives. In
company, with man or men present, we’d talked like life was made up of
the pattern of things, and like speaking of warp and woof wasn’t
delicate. And we never so much as let on they _was_ any knots--unless it
was property knots or like that. But now I had to say something, being I
had said something. And besides, I wanted to.

“Do you believe that too, Eppleby?” I ask’ him breathless. “Do any men
believe that?”

“Some men do, thank God,” Eppleby says. And his wife, Mame, smiled over
to him; and Mis’ Timothy Toplady, she booms out: “Yes, _let’s_ thank
God!” And I see that anyhow we four felt one. And “Is this stuff for my
blazing booth here?” Eppleby sings out, to relieve the strain. And we
all talked at once.

       *       *       *       *       *

From that day on it seemed as if the whole town took sides about
Lisbeth.

Half of ’em talked like Mis’ Sykes, often and abundant. And one-quarter
didn’t say much of anything till they were pressed to. And the remaining
one-quarter didn’t say anything for fear of offending the other
three-fourths, here and there. But some went to see Lisbeth, and sent
her in a little something. She didn’t go much of anywheres--she was shy
of accepting pity where it would embarrass the givers. But oh my, how
she did need friends!

Mame Holcomb was the only one that Lisbeth went to her house by invite.
Mame let it be known that she had invited her, and full half of them
she’d asked sent in their regrets in consequence. And of them that did
go--well, honest, of all the delicate tasks the Lord has intrusted to
His blundering children, I think the delicatest is talking to one of us
that’s somehow stepped off the track in public.

I heard Mis’ Morgan Graves trying to talk to Lisbeth about like this:
“My _dear_ child. _How_ do you get on?”

“Very nice, thank you, Mis’ Graves,” says Lisbeth.

“Is there _any_thing I can do to help you?” the lady pursues, earnest.

“No, Mis’ Graves, nothing--thank you,” says Lisbeth, looking down.

“You know I’d be so willing, so _very_ willing, to do all I could at any
time. You feel that about me, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am,” says Lisbeth, beginning to turn fire red.

“Promise,” says Mis’ Graves, “to let me know if you ever need a
friend----”

And I couldn’t stand it a minute longer. “That’s you, Mis’ Graves,” I
broke in hearty. “And it’s what I’ve been wanting to say to you for ever
so long. You’re a good soul. Whenever you need a friend, just come to
me. Will you?”

She looked kind of dazed, and three-fourths indignant. “Why ...” she
begun.

And I says: “And you’d let me come to you if I need a friend, wouldn’t
you? I thought so. Well, now, here’s three of us good friends, and
showing it only when it’s needed. Let’s us three go and set down
together for refreshments, sha’n’t we?”

Lisbeth looked up at me like a dog that I’d patted. I donno but Mis’
Graves thought I was impertinent. I donno but I was. But I like to
be--like that. Oh, anything but the “protected” women that go cooing and
humming and pooring around a girl like Lisbeth, and doing it in the name
of friendliness. Friendliness isn’t that. And if you don’t know what it
is different from that, then go out into the crowd of the world,
stripped and hungry and dumb and by yourself, and wait till it comes to
you. It’ll come! God sees to that. And it’s worth everything. For if you
die without finding it out, you die without knowing life.

After that day, none of us invited Lisbeth in company. We see it was
kinder not to.

But the little boy--the little boy. There wasn’t any way of protecting
him. And it never entered Lisbeth’s head at first that she was going to
be struck at through him. She sent him to Sunday-school, and everything
was all right there, except Mis’ Graves taking her little boy out of the
class he was in, and Lisbeth didn’t know that. Then she sent him to day
school, in the baby room. And Mis’ Sykes’s little grandchild went
there--Artie Barling; and I guess he must have heard his mother and
Mis’ Sykes talking--anyway at recess he shouts out when they was
playing:

“Everybody that was born in the house be on my side!”

They all went rushing over to his side, Christopher too.

“Naw!” Artie says to him. “_Not_ youse. Youse was borned _outside_. My
gramma says so.”

So Chris went home, crying, with that. And then Lisbeth begun to
understand. I went in to see her one afternoon, and found her working
out in the little patch of her mother’s garden. When she see me she set
down by the hollyhocks she was transplanting and looked up at me, just
numb.

“Miss Marsh,” she says, “it’s God punishing me, I s’pose, but----”

“No, Lisbeth,” I says. “No. The real punishment ain’t this. This is just
folks punishing you. Don’t never mistake the one for the other, will
you?”

       *       *       *       *       *

Acceptances to the Home-coming kept flowing in like mad--all the folks
we’d most wanted to come was a-coming, them and their families. I begun
to get warm all through me, and to go round singing, and to wake up
feeling something grand was going to happen and, when I was busy, to
know there was something nice, just over the edge of my job, sitting
there rosy, waiting to be thought about. It worked on us all that way.
It was a good deal like being in love. I donno but it was being in love.
In love with folks.

The afternoon before the Home-coming was to begin, there was to be a
rehearsal of the Children’s Drill, that Mis’ Sykes had charge of for the
opening night. We were all on the Market Square, working like beavers
and like trojums, or whatever them other busy animals are, getting the
booths set up. All the new things that the town had got and done in the
last fifty years was represented, each in a booth, all round the
Square.... And in the middle of the Square stood the great big
Cedar-of-Lebanon tree that we’d used last Christmas for the first annual
Friendship Village outdoors Christmas tree. I wondered how anybody could
ever have said that it was in the way! It stood there, all still, and
looking like it knew us far, far better than we knew it--the way a tree
does. With the wind blowing through it gentle, it made a wonderful nice
center-piece, I thought.

We’d just got to tacking on to Eppleby Holcomb’s red Department Emporium
booth when we heard a shout, and there, racing along the street, come
the forty-fifty children that was going to be in the Children’s Drill.
They all come pounding and scampering over to where we were, each with a
little paper stick in their hand for the wand part, and they swarmed up
to Mis’ Sykes that was showing ’em how, and they shouted:

“Mis’ Sykes! Mis’ Sykes! Can’t we rehearse now?”--for “rehearse” seems
to be a word that children just loves by natural instinct same as “cave”
and “den” and “secret stairway.”

I looked down in the faces all pink and eager and happy--I knew most of
’em by name. I’d be ashamed to live in a town where I didn’t know anyway
fifty-sixty children by name, keeping up as fast as necessary. And with
’em I see was Lisbeth’s little boy, waving a stick of kindling for his
wand, happy as a clam, but not a mum clam at all.

“Hello, Chris!” I says. “I didn’t know you could drill.”

But he stopped jumping and laughing. “I can’t,” he says, “I was just
pe-tend. I can pe-tend, can’t I?” he says, looking up alarmed.

“Hush, Calliope!” says Mis’ Sykes, back of me. “No need making it any
harder for him than ’tis.”

“What do you mean by that?” I ask’ her sharp.

“Why,” says she, “I couldn’t have him in the drill. How could I? The
children’s mothers is coming down here to trim ’em. Lots of ’em--Mis’
Grace and Mis’ Morgan Graves and some more, said flat out they wouldn’t
let their children be in it if they had to trim ’em along with her.”

“My land,” I says, “my land!”

I couldn’t say anything more. And Mis’ Sykes called the children, and
they all went shouting round her over to the middle of the green. All
but Chris.

I picked him up and set him on the counter of the booth, and I stood
side of him. But he didn’t pay much attention to me. He was looking off
after the children, forming in two lines that broke into four, and
wheeled and turned, and waved their wands. He watched ’em, and he never
says a word.

“Come and help me tack tacks, Chris,” I says, when I couldn’t stand it
any longer.

And then he says: “When they do it, it’s going to be a band playing,
won’t there?”

“Yes,” I says, “but we’ll all be hearing the music. Come and----”

“When they do it,” he says, still looking off at the children, “they’ll
all have white on ’em, won’t they?”

“Yes,” I says, “white on ’em.” And couldn’t say no more.

Then he turns and looks me right in the face: “I got my new white suit
home,” he says, whispering.

“Yes, lambin’, yes,” I says, and had to pretend I didn’t understand. And
when I looked back at him, he was setting there, still and watching; but
two big tears was going down his cheeks.

All of a sudden something in me, something big and quiet, turned round
to me and said something. I heard it--oh, I tell you, I heard it. And it
wasn’t the first time. And all over me went racing the knowledge that
there was something to do for what was the matter. And while I stood
there, feeling the glory of knowing that I’d got to find a way to do,
somehow--like you do sometimes--to make things better, I looked down the
long green stretch of the Square and in the middle of the Square I saw
something. Something that was like an answer. And I put my arms round
Chris and hugged him. For I’d got a plan that was like a present.

But he didn’t feel like that--not then. He kind of wriggled away. “It
ain’t lovin’ time,” he says. “No.”

“No,” I says, looking down that sunny Market Square toward what I’d
seen. “No, it ain’t loving time--not yet. But I tell you, I tell you
it’s going to be it! Mebbe I can make ’em see--mebbe I know a way to
make ’em see. Come along with me,” I says, “Lisbeth’s little boy--and
help!”

       *       *       *       *       *

Toward sundown of that first great day of the Friendship Village
Home-coming we was the happiest, wore-outest set of folks I about ever
see. Not everybody we’d expected and hoped for had come--even Abner
Dawes, he hadn’t showed up. But then he was such a big man that I
donno’s any of us thought he’d come, any of the time. Only we did enjoy
having it in the _Daily_ every few nights that he’d be there. The editor
of the Friendship _Evening Daily_ got six distinct locals out of it for
“Supper Table Jottings”--six nights hand-running. Thus:

     1. Abner Dawes is expected to arrive from the east for the
     Home-coming.

     2. Abner Dawes will arrive from the east the last of the week. The
     occasion is the Home-coming.

     3. Word has been received that Abner Dawes will reach here Thursday
     evening to attend the Home-coming.

     4. Abner Dawes will reach here to-morrow night.

     5. Abner Dawes will reach here this evening on the Six fifty-nine,
     for a brief sojourn.

     6. Abner Dawes arrived last evening and is quartered at the Opera
     House hotel.

Some we hadn’t thought of turned up last minute, and had to tell folks
who they were and then--my, what a welcome! Every few minutes, all day
long, we’d hear a little shouting, and see a little crowd, and we’d all
rush over, and there’d be somebody just got there, and everybody’d be
calling ’em old names, and shaking hands with the children and kissing
the grand-children. It was a real day. It’d be a day I’d like to talk
about even if nothing else had happened but the day being just the day.

Mis’ Sykes and I were in Eppleby’s booth, and in back of it the children
was all trimmed and ready to begin their march, when I heard an unusual
disturbance just outside. I looked, and I saw Lisbeth, that Eppleby had
asked to come and help tend his booth that night, and she was just
getting there, with Chris trotting alongside of her. But they weren’t
making the disturbance. Most of that was Eppleby, shaking both the hands
of a big, smooth-boned, brown-skinned man that was shouting at his
lungs’ top:

    “_Eppleby Bebbleby_
     _Wooden-leg,_
     _Lost his knife_
     _Playing mumblety-peg._”

with all the gusto of a psalm. And Eppleby was shouting back at him
something about

    “_Abner Dawes he comes to late_
     _The wood was split and things was great._”

And it was Abner actually come and getting himself welcomed by Eppleby
just like one of us. And Abner begun remembering us all and calling us
by name.

Abner was one of them men that makes you know what men were meant to be
like. His face was ruddy and wrinkled--but oh, it was deep and bright,
and his eyes looked out like his soul was saying to your soul: “See me.
I’m you. Oh, come on, let’s find out about living. How does anybody ever
talk about anything else?” That was Abner. You couldn’t be with him
without looking closer at the nature of being alive. And you saw that
life is a different thing--a different thing from what most of us think.
And some day we’ll find out what.

And me, seeing him, and the folks all gathered round the Square, waiting
for the after-supper part of the entertainment, and knowing what I’d
planned should happen right afterward, I had only one thought:

“Abner,” I says, just the same as if he hadn’t been a great man, “the
children--they’re going to march. They’re in back of the booth, all
ready. You must lead ’em! He must lead ’em, Mis’ Sykes, mustn’t he--and
sing with ’em? Every child here knows your songs. Oh, _would_ you come
and march with ’em?”

I love to remember how deep and bright his face got. “Would I march?” he
says. “With _children_? When is it?--now?”

I put out my hand to thank him, and he took hold of it. And all of a
sudden, right down there close by our two hands I see somebody. And it
was Lisbeth’s little boy, that had come running to us and was tugging at
my skirt.

“Look,” Chris says, clear. “I got on this white one. Couldn’t--couldn’t
I march too?”

He was looking up, same as a rose, his big eyes shining hopeful. My, my,
but he was dear. And Abner Dawes looked down at him. He’d never seen him
before--nor knew about his being Lisbeth’s.

“March!” Abner cries. “Of course you can march! Come along with me.”

And he swung little Christopher up on to his back. And he run out into
the midst of the other children, where Mis’ Sykes was marshaling ’em
before the booth.

“God bless him,” says Eppleby, behind me.

But then Mis’ Sykes looked up, and saw him. And she never hesitated a
minute, not even a minute to wonder why. She just set her lips together
in that thin line I knew, and she run right up to Abner.

“Oh, Mr. Dawes,” she says, “you mustn’t. The mothers won’t like it. He’s
Lisbeth Note’s child. He’s----”

Abner Dawes looked down at her, round Chris’s white legs. All the
brightness was gone out of Abner’s face now--but not the deepness nor
the kindness. That stayed. “Do you mean,” he said grave, “that this
child is evil?”

“No--no,” says Mis’ Sykes, stumbling some. “But I thought you’d ought to
know--folks feeling as they do here----”

Abner turned and looked down the green, where the folks was gathered and
the last sun was slanting. It was gold, and it was still, all except the
folks chatting in groups. And up the street the half-past seven bell was
ringing, like somebody saying something nice.

“Oh, God,” says Abner Dawes, kind of reverent and kind of like a sigh.
“Here too. Here too.”

I’ll never forget his face when he turned to Mis’ Sykes. It wasn’t hard
or cross or accusing--I guess he knew she was just at her crooked way of
trying to be decent! But he made her know firm that if he led the
children’s march, he’d lead it with Chris.--And it was so he done.

...Down the long green they come, side by side. And the other children
fell in behind, and they circled out into a great orbit, with the
Christmas tree in the middle of it. And folks begun to see who the man
was at the head, and the word run round, and they all broke out and
cheered and called out to him. Oh, it was a great minute. I like to
think about it.

And then the murmur begun running round that it was Chris that was with
him. And Mame Holcomb and Eppleby and Mis’ Toplady and me, watching from
the booth, we knew how everybody was looking at everybody else to see
what to think--like folks do. But they didn’t know--not yet.

Then something wonderful happened. Halfway round the Square, Abner
noticed that Chris didn’t have any wand, same as the other children had.
And so, when he was passing the big Cedar-of-Lebanon-looking Christmas
tree, what did he do but break off a little branch and put that in
Chris’s hand. And Chris come on a-waving it, a bough off that tree. I
sort of sung all over when I saw that.

The children ended up round a platform, and up there went the folks
that had been picked out to lead the singing. And as they went they
sung:

    “Oh, how lovely is the evening, is the evening, is the evening!”

And in a minute, from first one place and then another the others took
it up, them that had sung it in singing school, years ago--

    “When the bells are sweetly chiming, sweetly chiming, sweetly chiming”

and they sung it like a round, which it is, with a great fine booming
bass of

    “Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong”

all through it. Do you know that round? If you don’t, get it; and get
some folks together somehow, and sing it. It lets you taste the evening.
But I can’t tell you the way it seemed to us there in Friendship
Village, met together after so many years, and singing together like we
was all one Folk. One Folk.

They sung other songs, while the dusk came on. Abner Dawes was sitting
on the platform, and he kept Chris on his knee--I loved him for that.
There wasn’t a set program. First one would start a song from
somewheres in the crowd, and then another.... And all the time I was
waiting for it to get dark enough to do what I had planned to be
done--and what I’d had men working at near all the night before to get
ready. And when the dark come thick enough, and just at the end, I
remember of their singing “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton,” I thought it was
time.

I gave the word to them that were waiting. And suddenly, right there in
the midst of the Square, the great green tree, that had been the
Friendship Village Christmas tree, glowed softly alight from top to
bottom, all in the green branches, just like it had glowed on Christmas
Eve. They’d done the work good, and as if they liked it--and the bulbs
were in so deep in the green that not a soul had noticed all day. And
there was the Christmas tree, come back.

“Oh....” they says, low, all over the Square. And nobody said anything
else. It was as if, awake and alive in that living tree, there was the
same spirit that had been there on Christmas Eve, the spirit that we’ve
got to keep alive year long, year round, year through.

I’d whispered something to Abner, and he come down from the platform and
went over close to the tree. And of a sudden he lifted Chris in his
arms, high up among the lit branches. And in everybody’s hush he says
clear:

    “‘_And He took a little child and set him in their midst._’”

That was all he said. And Chris looked out and smiled happy, and waved
his branch off the Christmas tree. Over the whole Market Square there
lay a stillness that said things to itself and to us. It said that here
was the Family, come home, round the tree, big folks and little, wise
and foolish, and all feeling the Christmas spirit in our hearts just
like it _was_ our hearts. It said that the Family’s judging Lisbeth Note
one way or the other didn’t settle anything, nor neither did our
treating her little boy mean or good....

For all of a sudden we were all of us miles deeper into life than that.
And we saw how, beyond judgment and even beyond what’s what, is a spirit
that has got to come and clutch hold of life before such wrongs, and
more wrongs, and all the wrongs that ail us, can stop being. And that
spirit will be the spirit that was in our hearts right then. We all knew
it together--I think even Mis’ Sykes knew--and we stood there steeped in
the knowing. And it was one of the minutes when the thing we’ve made out
of living falls clean away, like a husk and a shell, and the Shining
Thing inside comes close and says: “This is the way I am if you’ll let
me be it.”

Away over on the edge of the Square somebody’s voice, a man’s voice--we
never knew who it was--begun singing “Home Again, From a Distant Shore.”
And everybody all over took it up soft. And standing there round the
Christmas tree in the middle of June, with that little child in our
midst, it was as true for us as ever it was on Christmas night, that
glory shone around. And we had come Home in more senses than we’d
thought, to a place, a Great Place, that was waiting for us.

Pretty soon I slipped away, inside Eppleby’s booth. And there, in all
that scarlet bunting, Lisbeth stood, looking and crying, all alone--but
crying for being glad.

“Lisbeth, Lisbeth!” I said, “right out there is the way life is--_when
we can get it uncovered_.”

She looked up at me; and I saw the thing in her face that was in the
faces of all those in the Square, like believing and like hoping, more
than any of us knows how--yet.

“Honest?” she said. “Honest and truly?”

“Honest and truly,” I told her.

And I believe that. And you believe it. If only we can get it said....





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