Part 2 out of 5
By the end of the summer the family interest had risen so high that
Mehetabel was given a little stand in the sitting-room where she could
keep her pieces, and work in odd minutes. She almost wept over such
kindness, and resolved firmly not to take advantage of it by neglecting
her work, which she performed with a fierce thoroughness. But the whole
atmosphere of her world was changed. Things had a meaning now. Through the
longest task of washing milk-pans there rose the rainbow of promise of her
variegated work. She took her place by the little table and put the
thimble on her knotted, hard finger with the solemnity of a priestess
performing a sacred rite.
She was even able to bear with some degree of dignity the extreme honor of
having the minister and the minister's wife comment admiringly on her
great project. The family felt quite proud of Aunt Mehetabel as Minister
Bowman had said it was work as fine as any he had ever seen, "and he
didn't know but finer!" The remark was repeated verbatim to the neighbors
in the following weeks when they dropped in and examined in a perverse
silence some astonishingly difficult _tour de force_ which Mehetabel had
The family especially plumed themselves on the slow progress of the quilt.
"Mehetabel has been to work on that corner for six weeks, come Tuesday,
and she ain't half done yet," they explained to visitors. They fell out of
the way of always expecting her to be the one to run on errands, even for
the children. "Don't bother your Aunt Mehetabel," Sophia would call.
"Can't you see she's got to a ticklish place on the quilt?"
The old woman sat up straighter and looked the world in the face. She was
a part of it at last. She joined in the conversation and her remarks were
listened to. The children were even told to mind her when she asked them
to do some service for her, although this she did but seldom, the habit of
self-effacement being too strong.
One day some strangers from the next town drove up and asked if they could
inspect the wonderful quilt which they had heard of, even down in their end
of the valley. After that such visitations were not uncommon, making the
Elwells' house a notable object. Mehetabel's quilt came to be one of the
town sights, and no one was allowed to leave the town without having paid
tribute to its worth. The Elwells saw to it that their aunt was better
dressed than she had ever been before, and one of the girls made her a
pretty little cap to wear on her thin white hair.
A year went by and a quarter of the quilt was finished, a second year
passed and half was done. The third year Mehetabel had pneumonia and lay
ill for weeks and weeks, overcome with terror lest she die before her work
was completed. A fourth year and one could really see the grandeur of the
whole design; and in September of the fifth year, the entire family
watching her with eager and admiring eyes, Mehetabel quilted the last
stitches in her creation. The girls held it up by the four corners, and
they all looked at it in a solemn silence. Then Mr. Elwell smote one horny
hand within the other and exclaimed: "By ginger! That's goin' to the
Mehetabel blushed a deep red at this. It was a thought which had occurred
to her in a bold moment, but she had not dared to entertain it. The family
acclaimed the idea, and one of the boys was forthwith dispatched to the
house of the neighbor who was chairman of the committee for their village.
He returned with radiant face, "Of course he'll take it. Like's not it may
git a prize, so he says; but he's got to have it right off, because all
the things are goin' to-morrow morning."
Even in her swelling pride Mehetabel felt a pang of separation as the
bulky package was carried out of the house. As the days went on she felt
absolutely lost without her work. For years it had been her one
preoccupation, and she could not bear even to look at the little stand,
now quite bare of the litter of scraps which had lain on it so long. One
of the neighbors, who took the long journey to the fair, reported that the
quilt was hung in a place of honor in a glass case in "Agricultural Hall."
But that meant little to Mehetabel's utter ignorance of all that lay
outside of her brother's home. The family noticed the old woman's
depression, and one day Sophia said kindly, "You feel sort o' lost without
the quilt, don't you, Mehetabel?"
"They took it away so quick!" she said wistfully; "I hadn't hardly had one
real good look at it myself."
Mr. Elwell made no comment, but a day or two later he asked his sister how
early she could get up in the morning.
"I dun'no'. Why?" she asked.
"Well, Thomas Ralston has got to drive clear to West Oldton to see a
lawyer there, and that is four miles beyond the fair. He says if you can
git up so's to leave here at four in the morning he'll drive you over to
the fair, leave you there for the day, and bring you back again at night."
Mehetabel looked at him with incredulity. It was as though someone had
offered her a ride in a golden chariot up to the gates of heaven. "Why,
you can't _mean_ it!" she cried, paling with the intensity of her emotion.
Her brother laughed a little uneasily. Even to his careless indifference
this joy was a revelation of the narrowness of her life in his home. "Oh,
'tain't so much to go to the fair. Yes, I mean it. Go git your things
ready, for he wants to start to-morrow morning."
All that night a trembling, excited old woman lay and stared at the
rafters. She, who had never been more than six miles from home in her
life, was going to drive thirty miles away--it was like going to another
world. She who had never seen anything more exciting than church supper
was to see the county fair. To Mehetabel it was like making the tour of
the world. She had never dreamed of doing it. She could not at all imagine
what would be like.
Nor did the exhortations of the family, as they bade good-by to her, throw
any light on her confusion. They had all been at least once to the scene
of gayety she was to visit, and as she tried to eat her breakfast they
called out conflicting advice to her till her head whirled. Sophie told
her to be sure and see the display of preserves. Her brother said not to
miss inspecting the stock, her niece said the fancywork was the only thing
worth looking at and her nephews said she must bring them home an account
of the races. The buggy drove up to the door, she was helped in, and her
wraps tucked about her. They all stood together and waved good-by to her
as she drove out of the yard. She waved back, but she scarcely saw them.
On her return home that evening she was very pale, and so tired and stiff
that her brother had to lift her out bodily, but her lips were set in a
blissful smile. They crowded around her with thronging questions, until
Sophia pushed them all aside, telling them Aunt Mehetabel was too tired to
speak until she had had her supper. This was eaten in an enforced silence
on the part of the children, and then the old woman was helped into an
easy-chair before the fire. They gathered about her, eager for news of the
great world, and Sophia said, "Now, come, Mehetabel, tell us all about
Mehetabel drew a long breath. "It was just perfect!" she said; "finer even
than I thought. They've got it hanging up in the very middle of a sort o'
closet made of glass, and one of the lower corners is ripped and turned
back so's to show the seams on the wrong side."
"What?" asked Sophia, a little blankly.
"Why, the quilt!" said Mehetabel in surprise. "There are a whole lot of
other ones in that room, but not one that can hold a candle to it, if I do
say it who shouldn't. I heard lots of people say the same thing. You ought
to have heard what the women said about that corner, Sophia. They
said--well, I'd be ashamed to _tell_ you what they said. I declare if I
Mr. Elwell asked, "What did you think of that big ox we've heard so much
"I didn't look at the stock," returned his sister indifferently. "That set
of pieces you gave me, Maria, from your red waist, come out just lovely!"
she assured one of her nieces. "I heard one woman say you could 'most
smell the red silk roses."
"Did any of the horses in our town race?" asked young Thomas.
"I didn't see the races."
"How about the preserves?" asked Sophia.
"I didn't see the preserves," said Mehetabel calmly.
"You see, I went right to the room where the quilt was and then I didn't
want to leave it. It had been so long since I'd seen it. I had to look at
it first real good myself and then I looked at the others to see if there
was any that could come up to it. And then the people begin comin' in and
I got so interested in hearin' what they had to say I couldn't think of
goin' anywheres else. I ate my lunch right there too, and I'm as glad as
can be I did, too; for what do you think?"--she gazed about her with
kindling eyes--"while I stood there with a sandwich in one hand didn't
the head of the hull concern come in and open the glass door and pin
'First Prize' right in the middle of the quilt!"
There was a stir of congratulation and proud exclamation. Then Sophia
returned again to the attack, "Didn't you go to see anything else?" she
"Why, no," said Mehetabel. "Only the quilt. Why should I?"
She fell into a reverie where she saw again the glorious creation of her
hand and brain hanging before all the world with the mark of highest
approval on it. She longed to make her listeners see the splendid vision
with her. She struggled for words; she reached blindly after unknown
superlatives. "I tell you it looked like----" she said, and paused,
hesitating. Vague recollections of hymn-book phraseology came into her
mind, the only form of literary expression she knew; but they were
dismissed as being sacrilegious, and also not sufficiently forcible.
Finally, "I tell you it looked real _well!_" she assured them, and sat
staring into the fire, on her tired old face the supreme content of an
artist who has realized his ideal.
PORTRAIT OF A PHILOSOPHER
The news of Professor Gridley's death filled Middletown College with
consternation. Its one claim to distinction was gone, for in spite of the
excessive quiet of his private life, he had always cast about the obscure
little college the shimmering aura of greatness. There had been no
fondness possible for the austere old thinker, but Middletown village, as
well as the college, had been touched by his fidelity to the very moderate
attractions of his birthplace. When, as often happened, some famous figure
was seen on the streets, people used to say first, "Here to see old Grid,
I suppose," and then, "Funny how he sticks here. They say he was offered
seven thousand at the University of California." In the absence of any
known motive for this steadfastness, the village legend-making instinct
had evolved a theory that he did not wish to move away from a State of
which his father had been Governor, and where the name of Gridley was like
a patent of nobility.
And now he was gone, the last of the race. His disappearance caused the
usual amount of reminiscent talk among his neighbors. The older people
recalled the bygone scandals connected with his notorious and popular
father and intimated with knowing nods that there were plenty of other
descendants of the old Governor who were not entitled legally to bear the
name; but the younger ones, who had known only the severely ascetic life
and cold personality of the celebrated scholar, found it difficult to
connect him with such a father. In their talk they brought to mind the man
himself, his quiet shabby clothes, his big stooping frame, his sad black
eyes absent almost to vacancy as though always fixed on high and distant
thoughts; and those who had lived near him told laughing stories about the
crude and countrified simplicity of his old aunt's housekeeping--it was
said that the president of Harvard had been invited to join them once in a
Sunday evening meal of crackers and milk--but the general tenor of feeling
was, as it had been during his life, of pride in his great fame and in the
celebrated people who had come to see him.
This pride warmed into something like affection when the day after his
death, came the tidings that he had bequeathed to his college the Gino
Sprague Falleres portrait of himself. Of course, at that time, no one in
Middletown had seen the picture, for the philosopher's sudden death had
occurred, very dramatically, actually during the last sitting. He had, in
fact, had barely one glimpse of it himself, as, according to Falleres's
invariable rule no one, not even the subject of the portrait, had been
allowed to examine an unfinished piece of work. But though Middletown had
no first-hand knowledge of the picture, there could be no doubt about the
value of the canvas. As soon as it was put on exhibition in London, from
every art-critic in the three nations who claimed Falleres for their own
there rose a wail that this masterpiece was to be buried in an unknown
college in an obscure village in barbarous America. It was confidently
stated that it would be saved from such an unfitting resting-place by
strong action on the part of an International Committee of Artists; but
Middletown, though startled by its own good fortune, clung with Yankee
tenacity to its rights. Raphael Collin, of Paris, commenting on this in
the _Revue des Deux Mondes_, cried out whimsically upon the woes of an
art-critic's life, "as if there were not already enough wearisome
pilgrimages necessary to remote and uncomfortable places with jaw-breaking
names, which must nevertheless be visited for the sake of a single
picture!" And a burlesque resolution to carry off the picture by force was
adopted at the dinner in London given in honor of Falleres the evening
before he set off for America to attend the dedicatory exercises with
which Middletown planned to install its new treasure.
For the little rustic college rose to its one great occasion. Bold in
their confidence in their dead colleague's name, the college authorities
sent out invitations to all the great ones of the country. Those to whom
Gridley was no more than a name on volumes one never read came because
the portrait was by Falleres, and those who had no interest in the world
of art came to honor the moralist whose noble clear-thinking had
simplified the intimate problems of modern life. There was the usual
residuum of those who came because the others did, and, also as usual,
they were among the most brilliant figures in the procession which filed
along, one October morning, under the old maples of Middletown campus.
It was a notable celebration. A bishop opened the exercises with prayer, a
United States senator delivered the eulogy of the dead philosopher, the
veil uncovering the portrait was drawn away by the mayor of one of
America's largest cities, himself an ardent Gridleyite, and among those
who spoke afterward were the presidents of three great universities. The
professor's family was represented but scantily. He had had one brother,
who had disappeared many years ago under a black cloud of ill report, and
one sister who had married and gone West to live. Her two sons,
middle-aged merchants from Ohio, gave the only personal note to the
occasion by their somewhat tongue-tied and embarrassed presence, for
Gridley's aunt was too aged and infirm to walk with the procession from
the Gymnasium, where it formed, to the Library building, where the
portrait was installed.
After the inevitable photographers had made their records of the memorable
gathering, the procession began to wind its many-colored way back to the
Assembly Hall, where it was to lunch. Everyone was feeling relieved that
the unveiling had gone off so smoothly, and cheerful at the prospect of
food. The undergraduates began lustily to shout their college song, which
was caught up by the holiday mood of the older ones. This cheerful
tumult gradually died away in the distance, leaving the room of the
portrait deserted in an echoing silence. A janitor began to remove the
rows of folding chairs. The celebration was over.
Into the empty room there now limped forward a small, shabby old woman
with a crutch. "I'm his aunt, that lived with him," she explained
apologetically, "and I want to see the picture."
She advanced, peering nearsightedly at the canvas. The janitor continued
stacking up chairs until he was stopped by a cry from the newcomer. She
was a great deal paler than when she came in. She was staring hard at the
portrait and now beckoned him wildly to do the same. "Look at it! Look at
Surprised, he followed the direction of her shaking hand. "Sure, it's
Professor Grid to the life!" he said admiringly.
"Look at it! Look at it!" She seemed not to be able to find any other
After a prolonged scrutiny he turned to her with a puzzled line between
his eyebrows. "Since you've spoken of it, ma'am, I will say that there's a
something about the expression of the eyes ... and mouth, maybe ... that
ain't just the professor. He was more absent-like. It reminds me of
somebody else ... of some face I've seen ..."
She hung on his answer, her mild, timid old face drawn like a mask of
tragedy. "Who? Who?" she prompted him.
For a time he could not remember, staring at the new portrait and
scratching his head. Then it came to him suddenly: "Why, sure, I ought to
ha' known without thinkin', seeing the other picture as often as every
time I've swep' out the president's office. And Professor Grid always
looked like him some, anyhow."
The old woman leaned against the wall, her crutch trembling in her hand.
Her eyes questioned him mutely.
"Why, ma'am, who but his own father, to be sure ... the old Governor."
While they had been duly sensible of the luster reflected upon them by the
celebration in honor of their distinguished uncle, Professor Gridley's two
nephews could scarcely have said truthfully that they enjoyed the
occasion. As one of them did say to the other, the whole show was rather
out of their line. Their line was wholesale hardware and, being eager to
return to it, it was with a distinct feeling of relief that they waited
for the train at the station. They were therefore as much displeased as
surprised by the sudden appearance to them of their great-aunt, very
haggard, her usual extreme timidity swept away by overmastering emotion.
She clutched at the two merchants with a great sob of relief: "Stephen!
Eli! Come back to the house," she cried, and before they could stop her
was hobbling away. They hurried after her, divided between the fear of
losing their train and the hope that some inheritance from their uncle had
been found. They were not mercenary men, but they felt a not unnatural
disappointment that Professor Gridley had left not a penny, not even to
his aunt, his one intimate.
They overtook her, scuttling along like some frightened and wounded little
animal. "What's the matter, Aunt Amelia?" they asked shortly. "We've got
to catch this train."
She faced them. "You can't go now. You've got to make them take that
"Away!" Their blankness was stupefaction.
She raged at them, the timid, harmless little thing, like a creature
distraught. "Didn't you see it? Didn't you _see_ it?"
Stephen answered: "Well, no, not to have a good square look at it. The man
in front of me kept getting in the way."
Eli admitted: "If you mean you don't see anything in it to make all this
hurrah about, I'm with you. It don't look half finished. I don't like that
She was in a frenzy at their denseness. "Who did it look like?" she
"Why, like Uncle Grid, of course. Who else?"
"Yes, yes," she cried; "who else? Who else?"
They looked at each other, afraid that she was crazed, and spoke more
gently: "Why, I don't know, I'm sure, who else. Like Grandfather Gridley,
of course; but then Uncle Grid always did look like his father."
At this she quite definitely put it out of their power to leave her by
They carried her home and laid her on her own bed, where one of them
stayed to attend her while the other went back to rescue their deserted
baggage. As the door closed behind him the old woman came to herself. "Oh,
Stephen," she moaned, "I wish it had killed me, the way it did your
"What _is_ the matter?" asked her great-nephew wonderingly. "What do you
think killed him?"
"That awful, awful picture! I know it now as plain as if I'd been there.
He hadn't seen it all the time he was sitting for it, though he'd already
put in his will that he wanted the college to have it, and when he did see
it--" she turned on the merchant with a sudden fury: "How _dare_ you say
those are your uncle's eyes!"
He put his hand soothingly on hers. "Now, now, Aunt 'Melia, maybe the
expression isn't just right, but the color is _fine_... just that
jet-black his were ... and the artist has got in exact that funny stiff
way uncle's hair stood up over his forehead."
The old woman fixed outraged eyes upon him. "Color!" she said. "And hair!
Oh, Lord, help me!"
She sat up on the bed, clutching her nephew's hand, and began to talk
rapidly. When, a half-hour later, the other brother returned, neither of
them heard him enter the house. It was only when he called at the foot of
the stairs that they both started and Stephen ran down to join him.
"You'll see the president ... you'll fix it?" the old woman cried after
"I'll see, Aunt 'Melia," he answered pacifyingly, as he drew his brother
out of doors. He looked quite pale and moved, and drew a long breath
before he could begin.
"Aunt Amelia's been telling me a lot of things I never knew, Eli. It seems
that ... say, did you ever hear that Grandfather Gridley, the Governor,
was such a bad lot?"
"Why, mother never said much about her father one way or the other, but I
always sort of guessed he wasn't all he might have been from her never
bringing us on to visit here until after he died. She used to look queer,
too, when folks congratulated her on having such a famous man for father.
All the big politicians of his day thought a lot of him. He _was_ as smart
"He was a disreputable old scalawag!" cried his other grandson. "Some of
the things Aunt Amelia has been telling me make me never want to come back
to this part of the country again. Do you know why Uncle Grid lived so
poor and scrimped and yet left no money? He'd been taking care of a whole
family grandfather had beside ours; and paying back some people
grandfather did out of a lot of money on a timber deal fifty years ago;
and making it up to a little village in the backwoods that grandfather
persuaded to bond itself for a railroad that he knew wouldn't go near it."
The two men stared at each other an instant, reviewing in a new light the
life that had just closed. "That's why he never married," said Eli
"No, that's what I said, but Aunt Amelia just went wild when I did. She
said ... gee!" he passed his hand over his eyes with a gesture of mental
confusion. "Ain't it strange what can go on under your eyes and you never
know it? Why, she says Uncle Grid was just like his father."
The words were not out of his mouth before the other's face of horror made
him aware of his mistake. "No! No! Not that! Heavens, no! I mean ... made
like him ... _wanted_ to be that kind, 'specially drink ..." His tongue,
unused to phrasing abstractions, stumbled and tripped in his haste to
correct the other's impression. "You know how much Uncle Grid used to look
like grandfather ... the same black hair and broad face and thick red lips
and a kind of knob on the end of his nose? Well, it seems he had his
father's insides, too ... _but his mother's conscience!_ I guess, from
what Aunt Amelia says, that the combination made life about as near Tophet
for him ...! She's the only one to know anything about it, because she's
lived with him always, you know, took him when grandmother died and he was
a child. She says when he was younger he was like a man fighting a wild
beast ... he didn't dare let up or rest. Some days he wouldn't stop
working at his desk all day long, not even to eat, and then he'd grab up a
piece of bread and go off for a long tearing tramp that'd last 'most all
night. You know what a tremendous physique all the Gridley men have had.
Well, Uncle Grid turned into work all the energy the rest of them spent in
deviltry. Aunt Amelia said he'd go on like that day after day for a month,
and then he'd bring out one of those essays folks are so crazy about. She
said she never could bear to _look_ at his books ... seemed to her they
were written in his blood. She told him so once and he said it was the
only thing to do with blood like his."
He was silent, while his listener made a clucking noise of astonishment.
"My! My! I'd have said that there never was anybody more different from
grandfather than uncle. Why, as he got on in years he didn't even look
like him any more."
This reference gave Stephen a start. "Oh, yes, that's what all this came
out for. Aunt Amelia is just wild about this portrait. It's just a notion
of hers, of course, but after what she told me I could see, easy, how the
idea would come to her. It looks this way, she says, as though Uncle Grid
inherited his father's physical make-up complete, and spent all his life
fighting it ... and won out! And here's this picture making him look the
way he would if he'd been the worst old ... as if he'd been like the
Governor. She says she feels as though she was the only one to defend
uncle ... as if it could make any difference to him! I guess the poor old
lady is a little touched. Likely it's harder for her, losing uncle, than
we realized. She just about worshiped him. Queer business, anyhow, wasn't
it? Who'd ha' thought he was like that?"
He had talked his unwonted emotion quite out, and now looked at his
brother with his usual matter-of-fact eye. "Did you tell the station agent
to hold the trunk?"
The other, who was the younger, looked a little abashed. "Well, no; I
found the train was so late I thought maybe we could ... you know there's
that business to-morrow ...!"
His senior relieved him of embarrassment. "That's a good idea. Sure we
can. There's nothing we could do if we stayed. It's just a notion of Aunt
'Melia's, anyhow. I agree with her that it don't look so awfully like
Uncle Grid, but, then, oil-portraits are never any good. Give me a
"It's out of our line, anyhow," agreed the younger, looking at his watch.
The president of Middletown College had been as much relieved as pleased
by the success of the rather pretentious celebration he had planned. His
annoyance was correspondingly keen at the disturbing appearance, in the
afternoon reception before the new portrait, of the late professor's aunt,
"an entirely insignificant old country woman," he hastily assured M.
Falleres after she had been half forced, half persuaded to retire, "whose
criticisms were as negligible as her personality."
The tall, Jove-like artist concealed a smile by stroking his great brown
beard. When it came to insignificant country people, he told himself, it
was hard to draw lines in his present company. He was wondering whether he
might not escape by an earlier train.
To the president's remark he answered that no portrait-painter escaped
unreasonable relatives of his sitters. "It is an axiom with our guild," he
went on, not, perhaps, averse to giving his provincial hosts a new
sensation, "that the family is never satisfied, and also that the family
has no rights. A sitter is a subject only, like a slice of fish. The only
question is how it's done. What difference does it make a century from
now, if the likeness is good? It's a work of art or it's nothing." He
announced this principle with a regal absence of explanation and turned
away; but his thesis was taken up by another guest, a New York art-critic.
"By Jove, it's inconceivable, the ignorance of art in America!" he told
the little group before the portrait. "You find everyone so incurably
personal in his point of view ... always objecting to a masterpiece
because the watch-chain isn't the kind usually worn by the dear departed."
Someone else chimed in. "Yes, it's incredible that anyone, even an old
village granny, should be able to look at that canvas and not be struck
speechless by its quality."
The critic was in Middletown to report on the portrait and he now began
marshaling his adjectives for that purpose. "I never saw such use of
pigment in my life ... it makes the Whistler 'Carlyle' look like burnt-out
ashes ... the luminous richness of the blacks in the academic gown, the
masterly generalization in the treatment of the hair, the placing of those
great talons of hands on the canvas carrying out the vigorous lines of the
composition, and the unforgettable felicity of those brutally red lips as
the one ringing note of color. As for life-likeness, what's the old dame
talking about! I never saw such eyes! Not a hint of meretricious emphasis
on their luster and yet they fairly flame."
The conversation spread to a less technical discussion as the group was
joined by the professor of rhetoric, an ambitious young man with an
insatiable craving for sophistication, who felt himself for once entirely
in his element in the crowd of celebrities. "It's incredibly good luck
that our little two-for-a-cent college should have so fine a thing," he
said knowingly. "I've been wondering how such an old skinflint as Gridley
ever got the money loose to have his portrait done by--"
A laugh went around the group at the idea. "It was Mackintosh, the sugar
king, who put up for it. He's a great Gridleyite, and persuaded him to
"_Persuade_ a man to sit to Falleres!" The rhetoric professor was outraged
at the idea.
"Yes, so they say. The professor was dead against it from the first.
Falleres himself had to beg him to sit. Falleres said he felt a real
inspiration at the sight of the old fellow ... knew he could make a good
thing out of him. He _was_ a good subject!"
The little group turned and stared appraisingly at the portrait hanging so
close to them that it seemed another living being in their midst. The
rhetoric professor was asked what kind of a man the philosopher had been
personally, and answered briskly: "Oh, nobody knew him personally ... the
silent old codger. He was a dry-as-dust, bloodless, secular monk--"
He was interrupted by a laugh from the art-critic, whose eyes were still
on the portrait.
"Excuse me for my cynical mirth," he said, "but I must say he doesn't look
it. I was prepared for any characterization but that. He looks like a
powerful son of the Renaissance, who might have lived in that one little
vacation of the soul after medievalism stopped hag-riding us, and before
the modern conscience got its claws on us. And you say he was a blue-nosed
The professor of rhetoric looked an uneasy fear that he was being
ridiculed. "I only repeated the village notion of him," he said airily.
"He may have been anything. All I know is that he was as secretive as a
clam, and about as interesting personally."
"Look at the picture," said the critic, still laughing; "you'll know all
The professor of rhetoric nodded. "You're right, he doesn't look much like
my character of him. I never seem to have had a good, square look at him
before. I've heard several people say the same thing, that they seemed to
understand him better from the portrait than from his living face. There
was something about his eyes that kept you from thinking of anything but
what he was saying."
The critic agreed. "The eyes are wonderful ... ruthless in their
power ... fires of hell." He laughed a deprecating apology for his
overemphatic metaphor and suggested: "It's possible that there was more to
the professorial life than met the eye. Had he a wife?"
"No; it was always a joke in the village that he would never look at a
The critic glanced up at the smoldering eyes of the portrait and smiled.
"I've heard of that kind of a man before," he said. "Never known to drink,
either, I suppose?"
"Cold-water teetotaler," laughed the professor, catching the spirit of the
"Look at the color in that nose!" said the critic. "I fancy that the
A very young man, an undergraduate who had been introduced as the junior
usher, nodded his head. "Yep, a lot of us fellows always thought old Grid
a little too good to be true."
An older man with the flexible mouth of a politician now ventured a
contribution to a conversation no longer bafflingly esthetic: "His father,
old Governor Gridley, wasn't he ... Well, I guess you're right about the
son. No halos were handed down in _that_ family!"
The laugh which followed this speech was stopped by the approach of
Falleres, his commanding presence dwarfing the president beside him. He
was listening with a good-natured contempt to the apparently rather
anxious murmurs of the latter.
"Of course I know, Mr. Falleres, it is a great deal to ask, but she is so
insistent ... she won't go away and continues to make the most distressing
spectacle of herself ... and several people, since she has said so much
about it, are saying that the expression is not that of the late
professor. Much against my will I promised to speak to you--"
His mortified uneasiness was so great that the artist gave him a rescuing
hand. "Well, Mr. President, what can I do in the matter? The man is dead.
I cannot paint him over again, and if I could I would only do again as I
did this time, choose that aspect which my judgment told me would make the
best portrait. If his habitual vacant expression was not so interesting as
another not so permanent a habit of his face ... why, the poor artist must
be allowed some choice. I did not know I was to please his grandmother,
and not posterity."
"His aunt," corrected the president automatically.
The portrait-painter accepted the correction with his tolerant smile. "His
aunt," he repeated. "The difference is considerable. May I ask what it was
you promised her?"
The president summoned his courage. It was easy to gather from his
infinitely reluctant insistence how painful and compelling had been the
scene which forced him to action. "She wants you to change it ... to make
the expression of the--"
For the first time the artist's equanimity was shaken. He took a step
backward. "Change it!" he said, and although his voice was low the casual
chat all over the room stopped short as though a pistol had been fired.
"It's not _my_ idea!" The president confounded himself in
self-exoneration. "I merely promised, to pacify her, to ask you if you
could not do some little thing that would--"
The critic assumed the role of conciliator. "My dear sir, I don't believe
you quite understand what you are asking. It's as though you asked a
priest to make just a little change in the church service and leave out
the 'not' in the Commandments."
"I only wish to know Mr. Falleres's attitude," said the president stiffly,
a little nettled by the other's note of condescension. "I presume he will
be willing to take the responsibility of it himself and explain to the
professor's aunt that _I_ have done--"
The artist had recovered from his lapse from Olympian to calm and now
nodded, smiling: "Dear me, yes, Mr. President, I'm used to irate
The president hastened away and the knots of talkers in other parts of the
room, who had been looking with expectant curiosity at the group before
the portrait, resumed their loud-toned chatter. When their attention was
next drawn in the same direction, it was by a shaky old treble, breaking,
quavering with weakness. A small, shabby old woman, leaning on a crutch,
stood looking up imploringly at the tall painter.
"My dear madam," he broke in on her with a kindly impatience, "all that
you say about Professor Gridley is much to his credit, but what has it to
do with me?"
"You painted his portrait," she said with a simplicity that was like
stupidity. "And I am his aunt. You made a picture of a bad man. I know he
was a good man."
"I painted what I saw," sighed the artist wearily. He looked furtively at
The old woman seemed dazed by the extremity of her emotion. She looked
about her silently, keeping her eyes averted from the portrait that stood
so vividly like a living man beside her. "I don't know what to do!" she
murmured with a little moan. "I can't _bear_ it to have it stay
here--people forget so. Everybody'll think that Gridley looked like
_that_! And there isn't anybody but me. He never had anybody but me."
The critic tried to clear the air by a roundly declaratory statement of
principles. "You'll pardon my bluntness, madam; but you must remember that
none but the members of Professor Gridley's family are concerned in the
exact details of his appearance. Fifty years from now nobody will remember
how he looked, one way or the other. The world is only concerned with
portraits as works of art."
She followed his reasoning with a strained and docile attention and now
spoke eagerly as though struck by an unexpected hope: "If that's all, why
put his name to it? Just hang it up, and call it anything."
She shrank together timidly and her eyes reddened at the laughter which
greeted this naive suggestion.
Falleres looked annoyed and called his
defender off. "Oh, never mind explaining me," he said, snapping his watch
shut. "You'll never get the rights of it through anybody's head who hasn't
himself sweat blood over a composition only to be told that the other side
of the sitter's profile is usually considered the prettier. After all, we
have the last word, since the sitter dies and the portrait lives."
The old woman started and looked at him attentively.
"Yes," said the critic, laughing, "immortality's not a bad balm for
The old woman turned very pale and for the first time looked again at the
portrait. An electric thrill seemed to pass through her as her eyes
encountered the bold, evil ones fixed on her. She stood erect with a rigid
face, and "Immortality!" she said, under her breath.
Falleres moved away to make his adieux to the president, and the little
group of his satellites straggled after him to the other end of the room.
For a moment there no one near the old woman to see the crutch furiously
upraised, hammer-like, or to stop her sudden passionate rush upon the
At the sound of cracking cloth, they turned back, horrified. They saw her,
with an insane violence, thrust her hands into the gaping hole that had
been the portrait's face and, tearing the canvas from end to end, fall
upon the shreds with teeth and talon.
All but Falleres flung themselves toward her, dragging her away. With a
movement as instinctive he rushed for the picture, and it was to him, as
he stood aghast before the ruined canvas, that the old woman's shrill
treble was directed, above the loud shocked voices of those about her:
"There ain't anything immortal but souls!" she cried.
FLINT AND FIRE
My husband's cousin had come up from the city, slightly more fagged and
sardonic than usual, and as he stretched himself out in the big
porch-chair he was even more caustic than was his wont about the bareness
and emotional sterility of the lives of our country people.
"Perhaps they had, a couple of centuries ago, when the Puritan
hallucination was still strong, a certain fierce savor of religious
intolerance; but now that that has died out, and no material prosperity
has come to let them share in the larger life of their century, there is a
flatness, a mean absence of warmth or color, a deadness to all emotions
but the pettiest sorts--"
I pushed the pitcher nearer him, clinking the ice invitingly, and directed
his attention to our iris-bed as a more cheerful object of contemplation
than the degeneracy of the inhabitants of Vermont. The flowers burned on
their tall stalks like yellow tongues of flame. The strong, sword-like
green leaves thrust themselves boldly up into the spring air like a
challenge. The plants vibrated with vigorous life.
In the field beyond them, as vigorous as they, strode Adoniram Purdon
behind his team, the reins tied together behind his muscular neck, his
hands grasping the plow with the masterful sureness of the successful
practitioner of an art. The hot, sweet spring sunshine shone down on
'Niram's head with its thick crest of brown hair, the ineffable odor of
newly turned earth steamed up about him like incense, the mountain stream
beyond him leaped and shouted. His powerful body answered every call made
on it with the precision of a splendid machine. But there was no elation
in the grimly set face as 'Niram wrenched the plow around a big stone, or
as, in a more favorable furrow, the gleaming share sped steadily along
before the plowman, turning over a long, unbroken brown ribbon of earth.
My cousin-in-law waved a nervous hand toward the sternly silent figure as
it stepped doggedly behind the straining team, the head bent forward, the
eyes fixed on the horses' heels.
"There!" he said. "There is an example of what I mean. Is there another
race on earth which could produce a man in such a situation who would not
on such a day sing, or whistle, or at least hold up his head and look at
all the earthly glories about him?"
I was silent, but not for lack of material for speech. 'Niram's reasons
for austere self-control were not such as I cared to discuss with a man of
my cousin's mental attitude. As we sat looking at him the noon whistle
from the village blew and the wise old horses stopped in the middle of a
furrow. 'Niram unharnessed them, led them to the shade of a tree, and put
on their nose-bags. Then he turned and came toward the house.
"Don't I seem to remember," murmured my cousin under his breath, "that,
even though he is a New-Eng-lander, he has been known to make up errands
to your kitchen to see your pretty Ev'leen Ann?"
I looked at him hard; but he was only gazing down, rather cross-eyed, on
his grizzled mustache, with an obvious petulant interest in the increase
of white hairs in it. Evidently his had been but a chance shot. 'Niram
stepped up on the grass at the edge of the porch. He was so tall that he
overtopped the railing easily, and, reaching a long arm over to where I
sat, he handed me a small package done up in yellowish tissue-paper.
Without hat-raisings, or good-mornings, or any other of the greetings
usual in a more effusive civilization, he explained briefly:
"My stepmother wanted I should give you this. She said to thank you for
the grape-juice." As he spoke he looked at me gravely out of deep-set blue
eyes, and when he had delivered his message he held his peace.
I expressed myself with the babbling volubility of one whose manners have
been corrupted by occasional sojourns in the city. "Oh, 'Niram!" I cried
protestingly, as I opened the package and took out an exquisitely
wrought old-fashioned collar. "Oh, 'Niram! How _could_ your stepmother
give such a thing away? Why, it must be one of her precious old relics. I
don't _want_ her to give me something every time I do some little thing
for her. Can't a neighbor send her in a few bottles of grape-juice without
her thinking she must pay it back somehow? It's not kind of her. She has
never yet let me do the least thing for her without repaying me with
something that is worth ever so much more than my trifling services."
When I had finished my prattling, 'Niram repeated, with an accent of
finality, "She wanted I should give it to you."
The older man stirred in his chair. Without looking at him I knew that his
gaze on the young rustic was quizzical and that he was recording on the
tablets of his merciless memory the ungraceful abruptness of the other's
action and manner.
"How is your stepmother feeling to-day, 'Niram?" I asked.
'Niram came to a full stop with the word. My cousin covered his satirical
mouth with his hand.
"Can't the doctor do anything to relieve her?" I asked.
'Niram moved at last from his Indian-like immobility. He looked up under
the brim of his felt hat at the skyline of the mountain, shimmering
iridescent above us. "He says maybe 'lectricity would help her some. I'm
goin' to git her the batteries and things soon's I git the rubber bandages
There was a long silence. My cousin stood up, yawning, and sauntered away
toward the door. "Shall I send Ev'leen Ann out to get the pitcher and
glasses?" he asked in an accent which he evidently thought very humorously
The strong face under the felt hat turned white, the jaw muscles set hard,
but for all this show of strength there was an instant when the man's eyes
looked out with the sick, helpless revelation of pain they might have had
when 'Niram was a little boy of ten, a third of his present age, and less
than half his present stature. Occasionally it is horrifying to see how a
chance shot rings the bell.
"No, no! Never mind!" I said hastily. "I'll take the tray in when I go."
Without salutation or farewell 'Niram Purdon turned and went back to his
The porch was an enchanted place, walled around with starlit darkness,
visited by wisps of breezes shaking down from their wings the breath of
lilac and syringa, flowering wild grapes, and plowed fields. Down at the
foot of our sloping lawn the little river, still swollen by the melted
snow from the mountains, plunged between its stony banks and shouted its
brave song to the stars.
We three middle-aged people--Paul, his cousin, and I--had disposed our
uncomely, useful, middle-aged bodies in the big wicker chairs and left
them there while our young souls wandered abroad in the sweet, dark glory
of the night. At least Paul and I were doing this, as we sat, hand in
hand, thinking of a May night twenty years before. One never knows what
Horace is thinking of, but apparently he was not in his usual captious
vein, for after a long pause he remarked, "It is a night almost
indecorously inviting to the making of love."
My answer seemed grotesquely out of key with this, but its sequence was
clear in my mind. I got up, saying: "Oh, that reminds me--I must go and
see Ev'leen Ann. I'd forgotten to plan to-morrow's dinner."
"Oh, everlastingly Ev'leen Ann!" mocked Horace from his corner. "Can't you
think of anything but Ev'leen Ann and her affairs?"
I felt my way through the darkness of the house, toward the kitchen, both
doors of which were tightly closed. When I stepped into the hot, close
room, smelling of food and fire, I saw Ev'leen Ann sitting on the straight
kitchen chair, the yellow light of the bracket-lamp beating down on her
heavy braids and bringing out the exquisitely subtle modeling of her
smooth young face. Her hands were folded in her lap. She was staring at
the blank wall, and the expression of her eyes so startle and shocked me
that I stopped short and would have retreated if it had not been too late.
She had seen me, roused herself, and said quietly, as though continuing
conversation interrupted the moment before:
"I had been thinking that there was enough left of the roast to make
hash-balls for dinner"--"hash-balls" is Ev'leen Ann's decent Anglo-Saxon
name for croquette--"and maybe you'd like a rhubarb pie."
I knew well enough she had been thinking of no such thing, but I could as
easily have slapped a reigning sovereign on the back as broken in on the
regal reserve of Ev'leen Ann in her clean gingham.
"Well, yes, Ev'leen Ann," I answered in her own tone of reasonable
consideration of the matter; "that would be nice, and your pie-crust is so
flaky that even Mr. Horace will have to be pleased."
"Mr. Horace" is our title for the sardonic cousin whose carping ways are
half a joke, and half a menace in our family.
Ev'leen Ann could not manage the smile which should have greeted this
sally. She looked down soberly at the white-pine top of the kitchen table
and said, "I guess there is enough sparrow-grass up in the garden for a
mess, too, if you'd like that."
"That would taste very good," I agreed, my heart aching for her.
"And creamed potatoes," she finished bravely, thrusting my unspoken pity
"You know I like creamed potatoes better than any other kind," I
There was a silence. It seemed inhuman to go and leave the stricken young
thing to fight her trouble alone in the ugly prison, her work-place,
though I thought I could guess why Ev'leen Ann had shut the doors so
tightly. I hung near her, searching my head for something to say, but she
helped me by no casual remark. Niram is not the only one of our people who
possesses so the full the supreme gift of silence. Finally I mentioned the
report of a case of measles in the village, and Ev'leen Ann responded in
kind with the news that her Aunt Emma had bought a potato-planter. Ev'leen
Ann is an orphan, brought up by a well-to-do spinster aunt, who is
strong-minded and runs her own farm. After a time we glided by way of
similar transitions to the mention of his name.
"'Niram Purdon tells me his stepmother is no better," I said. "Isn't it
too bad?" I thought it well for Ev'leen Ann to be dragged out of her black
cave of silence once in a while, even if it could be done only by force.
As she made no answer, I went on. "Everybody who knows Niram thinks it
splendid of him to do so much for his stepmother."
Ev'leen Ann responded with a detached air, as though speaking of a matter
in China: "Well, it ain't any more than what he should. She was awful good
to him when he was little and his father got so sick. I guess 'Niram
wouldn't ha' had much to eat if she hadn't ha' gone out sewing to earn it
for him and Mr. Purdon." She added firmly, after a moment's pause, "No,
ma'am, I don't guess it's any more than what 'Niram had ought to do."
"But it's very hard on a young man to feel that he's not able to marry," I
continued. Once in a great while we came so near the matter as this.
Ev'leen Ann made no answer. Her face took on a pinched look of sickness.
She set her lips as though she would never speak again. But I knew that a
criticism of 'Niram would always rouse her, and said: "And really, I think
'Niram makes a great mistake to act as he does. A wife would be a help to
him. She could take care of Mrs. Purdon and keep the house."
Ev'leen Ann rose to the bait, speaking quickly with some heat: "I guess
'Niram knows what's right for him to do! He can't afford to marry when he
can't even keep up with the doctor's bills and all. He keeps the house
himself, nights and mornings, and Mrs. Purdon is awful handy about taking
care of herself, for all she's bedridden. That's her way, you know. She
can't bear to have folks do for her. She'd die before she'd let anybody do
anything for her that she could anyways do for herself!"
I sighed acquiescingly. Mrs. Purdon's fierce independence was a rock on
which every attempt at sympathy or help shattered itself to atoms. There
seemed to be no other emotion left in her poor old work-worn shell of a
body. As I looked at Ev'leen Ann it seemed rather a hateful
characteristic, and I remarked, "It seems to me it's asking a good deal of
'Niram to spoil his life in order that his stepmother can go on pretending
Ev'leen Ann explained hastily: "Oh, 'Niram doesn't tell her anything
about--She doesn't know he would like to--he don't want she should be
worried--and, anyhow, as 'tis, he can't earn enough to keep ahead of all
the: doctors cost."
"But the right kind of a wife--a good, competent girl--could help out by
earning something, too."
Ev'leen Ann looked at me forlornly, with no surprise. The idea was
evidently not new to her. "Yes, ma'am, he could. But 'Niram says he ain't
the kind of man to let his wife go out working." Even while she drooped
under the killing verdict of his pride she was loyal to his standards
and uttered no complaint. She went on, 'Niram wants Aunt Em'line to have
things the way she wants 'em, as near as he can give 'em to her--and it's
right she should."
"Aunt Emeline?" I repeated, surprised at her absence of mind. "You mean
Mrs. Purdon, don't you?"
Ev'leen Ann looked vexed at her slip, but she scorned to attempt any
concealment. She explained dryly, with the shy, stiff embarrassment our
country people have in speaking of private affairs: "Well, she _is_ my
Aunt Em'line, Mrs. Purdon is, though I don't hardly ever call her that.
You see, Aunt Emma brought me up, and she and Aunt Em'line don't have
anything to do with each other. They were twins, and when they were girls
they got edgeways over 'Niram's father, when 'Niram was a baby and his
father was a young widower and come courting. Then Aunt Em'line married
him, and Aunt Emma never spoke to her afterward."
Occasionally, in walking unsuspectingly along one of our leafy lanes, some
such fiery geyser of ancient heat uprears itself in a boiling column. I
never get used to it, and started back now.
"Why, I never heard of that before, and I've known your Aunt Emma and Mrs.
Purdon for years!"
"Well, they're pretty old now," said Ev'leen Ann listlessly, with the
natural indifference of self-centered youth to the bygone tragedies of the
"It happened quite some time ago. And both of them were so touchy, if
anybody seemed to speak about it, that folks got in the way of letting it
alone. First Aunt Emma wouldn't speak to her sister because she'd married
the man she'd wanted, and then when Aunt Emma made out so well farmin' and
got so well off, why, then Mrs. Purdon wouldn't try to make it up because
she was so poor. That was after Mr. Purdon had had his stroke of paralysis
and they'd lost their farm and she'd taken to goin' out sewin'--not but
what she was always perfectly satisfied with her bargain. She always acted
as though she'd rather have her husband's old shirt stuffed with straw
than any other man's whole body. He was a real nice man, I guess, Mr.
There I had it--the curt, unexpanded chronicle of two passionate lives.
And there I had also the key to Mrs. Purdon's fury of independence. It was
the only way in which she could defend her husband against the charge, so
damning in her world, of not having provided for his wife. It was the only
monument she could rear to her husband's memory. And her husband had been
all there was in life for her!
I stood looking at her young kinswoman's face, noting the granite under
the velvet softness of its youth, and divining the flame underlying the
granite. I longed to break through her wall and to put my arms about her,
and on the impulse of the moment I cast aside the pretense of casualness
in our talk.
"Oh, my dear!" I said. "Are you and 'Niram always to go on like this?
Can't anybody help you?"
Ev'leen Ann looked at me, her face suddenly old and gray. "No, ma'am; we
ain't going to go on this way. We've decided, 'Niram and I have, that it
ain't no use. We've decided that we'd better not go places together any
more or see each other. It's too--If 'Niram thinks we can't"--she flamed
so that I knew she was burning from head to foot--"it's better for us
not--" She ended in a muffled voice, hiding her face in the crook of
Ah, yes; now I knew why Ev'leen Ann had shut out the passionate breath of
the spring night!
I stood near her, a lump in my throat, but I divined the anguish of her
shame at her involuntary self-revelation, and respected it. I dared do no
more than to touch her shoulder gently.
The door behind us rattled. Ev'leen Ann sprang up and turned her face
toward the wall. Paul's cousin came in, shuffling a little, blinking his
eyes in the light of the unshaded lamp, and looking very cross and tired.
He glanced at us without comment as he went over to the sink. "Nobody
offered me anything good to drink," he complained, "so I came in to get
some water from the faucet for my nightcap."
When he had drunk with ostentation from the tin dipper he went to the
outside door and flung it open.
"Don't you people know how hot and smelly it is in here?" he said, with
his usual unceremonious abruptness.
The night wind burst in, eddying, and puffed out the lamp with a breath.
In an instant the room was filled with coolness and perfumes and the
rushing sound of the river. Out of the darkness came Ev'leen Ann's young
voice. "It seems to me," she said, as though speaking to herself, "that I
never heard the Mill Brook sound loud as it has this spring."
I woke up that night with the start one has at a sudden call. But there
had been no call. A profound silence spread itself through the sleeping
house. Outdoors the wind had died down. Only the loud brawl of the river
broke the stillness under the stars. But all through the silence and this
vibrant song there rang a soundless menace which brought me out of bed and
to my feet before I was awake. I heard Paul say, "What's the matter?" in a
sleepy voice, and "Nothing," I answered, reaching for my dressing-gown and
slippers. I listened for a moment, my head ringing with all the
frightening tales of the morbid vein of violence which runs through the
character of our reticent people. There was still no sound. I went along
the hall and up the stairs to Ev'leen Ann room, and I opened the door
without knocking. The room was empty.
Then how I ran! Calling loudly for Paul to join me, I ran down the two
flights of stairs, out of the open door and along the hedged path which
leads down to the little river. The starlight was clear. I could see
everything as plainly as though in early dawn. I saw the river, and
There was a dreadful moment of horror, which I shall never remember very
clearly, and then Ev'leen Ann and I--both very wet--stood on the bank,
shuddering in each other's arms.
Into our hysteria there dropped, like a pungent caustic the arid voice of
Horace, remarking, "Well, are you two people crazy, or are you walking in
your sleep?" I could feel Ev'leen Ann stiffen in my arms, and I nearly
stepped back from her in astonished admiration as I heard her snatch at
the straw thus offered, and still shuddering horribly from head to foot,
force herself to say quite connectedly: "Why--yes--of course--I've always
heard about my grandfather Parkman's walking in his sleep. Folks _said_
'twould come out in the family some time."
Paul was close behind Horace--I wondered a little at his not being
first--and with many astonished and inane ejaculations, such as people
always make on startling occasions, we made our way back into the house to
hot blankets and toddies. But I slept no more that night. Some time after
dawn, however, I did fall into a troubled unconsciousness full of bad
dreams, and only awoke when the sun was quite high. I opened my eyes
to see Ev'leen Ann about to close the door. "Oh, did I wake you up?" she
said. "I didn't mean to. That little Harris boy is here with a letter for
She spoke with a slightly defiant tone of self-possession. I tried to play
up to her interpretation of her role. "The little Harris boy?" I said,
sitting up in bed. "What in the world is he bringing me a letter for?"
Ev'leen Ann, with her usual clear perception of the superfluous in
conversation, vouchsafed no opinion on a matter where she had no
information, but went downstairs and brought back the note. It was of four
lines, and--surprisingly enough--from old Mrs. Purdon, who asked me
abruptly if I would have my husband take me to see her. She specified, and
underlined the specification, that I was to come "right off, and in the
automobile." Wondering extremely at this mysterious bidding I sought out
Paul, who obediently cranked up our small car and carried me off. There
was no sign of Horace about the house, but some distance on the other side
of the village we saw his tall, stooping figure swinging along the road.
He carried a cane and was characteristically occupied in violently
switching off the heads from the wayside weeds as he walked. He refused
our offer to take him in, alleging that he was out for exercise and to
reduce his flesh--an ancient jibe at his bony frame which made him for an
instant show a leathery smile.
There was, of course, no one at Mrs. Purdon's to let us into the tiny,
three-roomed house, since the bedridden invalid spent her days there alone
while 'Niram worked his team on other people's fields. Not knowing what we
might find, Paul stayed outside in the car, while I stepped inside in
answer to Mrs. Purdon's "Come _in_, why don't you!" which sounded quite as
dry as usual. But when I saw her I knew that things were not as usual.
She lay flat on her back, the little emaciated wisp of humanity, hardly
raising the piecework quilt enough to make the bed seem occupied, and to
account for the thin, worn old face on the pillow. But as I entered the
room her eyes seized on mine, and I was aware of nothing but them and some
fury of determination behind them. With a fierce heat of impatience at my
first natural but quickly repressed exclamation of surprise she explained
briefly that she wanted Paul to lift her into the automobile and take her
into the next township to the Hulett farm. "I'm so shrunk away to nothin',
I know I can lay on the back seat if I crook myself up," she said, with a
cool accent but a rather shaky voice. Seeming to realize that even her
intense desire to strike the matter-of-fact note could not take the place
of any and all explanation of her extraordinary request, she added,
holding my eyes steady with her own: "Emma Hulett's my twin sister. I
guess it ain't so queer, my wanting to see her."
I thought, of course, we
were to be used as the medium for some strange, sudden family
reconciliation, and went out to ask Paul if he thought he could carry the
old invalid to the car. He replied that, so far as that went, he could
carry so thin an old body ten times around the town, but that he refused
absolutely to take such a risk without authorization from her doctor. I
remembered the burning eyes of resolution I had left inside, and sent him
to present his objections to Mrs. Purdon herself.
In a few moments I saw
him emerge from the house with the old woman in his arms. He had evidently
taken her up just as she lay. The piecework quilt hung down in long folds,
flashing its brilliant reds and greens in the sunshine, which shone so
strangely upon the pallid old countenance, facing the open sky for the
first time in years.
We drove in silence through the green and gold lyric of the spring day,
an elderly company sadly out of key with the triumphant note of eternal
youth which rang through all the visible world. Mrs. Purdon looked at
nothing, said nothing, seemed to be aware of nothing but the purpose in
her heart, whatever that might be. Paul and I, taking a leaf from our
neighbors' book, held, with a courage like theirs, to their excellent
habit of saying nothing when there is nothing to say. We arrived at the
fine old Hulett place without the exchange of a single word.
"Now carry me in," said Mrs. Purdon briefly, evidently hoarding her
"Wouldn't I better go and see if Miss Hulett is at home?" I asked.
Mrs. Purdon shook her head impatiently and turned her compelling eyes on
my husband, I went up the path before them to knock at the door, wondering
what the people in the house would possibly be thinking of us There was no
answer to my knock. "Open the door and go in," commanded Mrs. Purdon from
out her quilt.
There was no one in the spacious, white-paneled hall and no sound in all
the big, many-roomed house.
"Emma's out feeding the hens," conjectured Mrs. Purdon, not, I fancied,
without a faint hint of relief in her voice. "Now carry me up-stairs to
the first room on the right."
Half hidden by his burden, Paul rolled wildly inquiring eyes at me; but he
obediently staggered up the broad old staircase, and, waiting till I had
opened the first door to the right, stepped into the big bedroom.
"Put me down on the bed, and open them shutters," Mrs. Purdon commanded.
She still marshaled her forces with no lack of decision, but with a
fainting voice which made me run over to her quickly as Paul laid her down
on the four-poster. Her eyes were still indomitable, but her mouth hung
open slackly and her color was startling. "Oh, Paul, quick! quick! Haven't
you your flask with you?"
Mrs. Purdon informed me in a barely audible whisper, "In the corner
cupboard at the head of the stairs," and I flew down the hallway. I
returned with a bottle, evidently of great age. There was only a little
brandy in the bottom, but it whipped up a faint color into the sick
As I was bending over her and Paul was thrusting open the shutters,
letting in a flood of sunshine and flecky leaf-shadows, a firm, rapid step
came down the hall, and a vigorous woman, with a tanned face and a clean,
faded gingham dress, stopped short in the doorway with an expression of
Mrs. Purdon put me on one side, and although she was physically incapable
of moving her body by a hair's breadth, she gave the effect of having
risen to meet the newcomer. "Well, Emma, here I am," she said in a queer
voice, with involuntary quavers in it. As she went on she had it more
under control, although in the course of her extraordinarily succinct
speech it broke and failed her occasionally. When it did, she drew in her
breath with an audible, painful effort, struggling forward steadily in
what she had to say. "You see, Emma, it's this way: My 'Niram and your
Ev'leen Ann have been keeping company--ever since they went to school
together--you know that's well as I do, for all we let on we didn't, only
I didn't know till just now how hard they took it. They can't get married
because 'Niram can't keep even, let alone get ahead any, because I cost so
much bein' sick, and the doctor says I may live for years this way, same's
Aunt Hettie did. An' 'Niram is thirty-one, an' Ev'leen Ann is
twenty-eight, an' they've had 'bout's much waitin' as is good for folks
that set such store by each other. I've thought of every way out of
it--and there ain't any. The Lord knows I don't enjoy livin' any, not so's
to notice the enjoyment, and I'd thought of cutting my throat like Uncle
Lish, but that'd make 'Niram and Ev'leen Ann feel so--to think why I'd
done it; they'd never take the comfort they'd ought in bein' married; so
that won't do. There's only one thing to do. I guess you'll have to take
care of me till the Lord calls me. Maybe I won't last so long as the
When she finished, I felt my ears ringing in the silence. She had walked
to the sacrificial altar with so steady a step, and laid upon it her
precious all with so gallant a front of quiet resolution, that for an
instant I failed to take in the sublimity of her self-immolation. Mrs.
Purdon asking for charity! And asking the one woman who had most reason to
refuse it to her.
Paul looked at me miserably, the craven desire to escape a scene written
all over him. "Wouldn't we better be going, Mrs. Purdon?" I said uneasily.
I had not ventured to look at the woman in the doorway.
Mrs. Purdon motioned me to remain, with an imperious gesture whose
fierceness showed the tumult underlying her brave front. "No; I want you
should stay. I want you should hear what I say, so's you can tell folks,
if you have to. Now, look here, Emma," she went on to the other, still
obstinately silent; "you must look at it the way 'tis. We're neither of us
any good to anybody, the way we are--and I'm dreadfully in the way of the
only two folks we care a pin about--either of us. You've got plenty to do
with, and nothing to spend it on. I can't get myself out of their way by
dying without going against what's Scripture and proper, but--" Her steely
calm broke. She burst out in a screaming, hysterical voice: "You've just
_got_ to, Emma Hulett! You've just _got_ to! If you don't, I won't never
go back to 'Niram's house! I'll lie in the ditch by the roadside till the
poor-master comes to git me--and I'll tell everybody that it's because my
own twin sister, with a house and a farm and money in the bank, turned me
out to starve--" A fearful spasm cut her short. She lay twisted and limp,
the whites of her eyes showing between the lids.
"Good God, she's gone!" cried Paul, running to the bed.
I was aware that the woman in the doorway had relaxed her frozen
immobility and was between Paul and me as we rubbed the thin, icy hands
and forced brandy between the flaccid lips. We all three thought her dead
or dying, and labored over her with the frightened thankfulness for one
another's living presence which always marks that dreadful moment. But
even as we fanned and rubbed, and cried out to one another to open the
windows and to bring water, the blue lips moved to a ghostly whisper: "Em,
listen--" The old woman went back to the nickname of their common youth.
"Em--your Ev'leen Ann--tried to drown herself--in the Mill Brook last
night ... That's what decided me--to--" And then we were plunged into
another desperate struggle with Death for the possession of the battered
old habitation of the dauntless soul before us.
"Isn't there any hot water in the house?" cried Paul, and "Yes, yes; a
tea-kettle on the stove!" answered the woman who labored with us. Paul,
divining that she meant the kitchen, fled down-stairs. I stole a look at
Emma Hulett's face as she bent over the sister she had not seen in thirty
years, and I knew that Mrs. Purdon's battle was won. It even seemed that
she had won another skirmish in her never-ending war with death, for a
little warmth began to come back into her hands.
When Paul returned with the tea-kettle, and a hot-water bottle had been
filled, the owner of the house straightened herself, assumed her rightful
position as mistress of the situation, and began to issue commands. "You
git right in the automobile, and go git the doctor," she told Paul.
"That'll be the quickest. She's better now, and your wife and I can keep
her goin' till the doctor gits here."
As Paul left the room she snatched something white from a bureau-drawer,
stripped the worn, patched old cotton nightgown from the skeleton-like
body, and, handling the invalid with a strong, sure touch, slipped on a
soft, woolly outing-flannel wrapper with a curious trimming of zigzag
braid down the front. Mrs. Purdon opened her eyes very slightly, but shut
them again at her sister's quick command, "You lay still, Em'line, and
drink some of this brandy." She obeyed without comment, but after a pause
she opened her eyes again and looked down at the new garment which clad
her. She had that moment turned back from the door of death, but her first
breath was used to set the scene for a return to a decent decorum.
"You're still a great hand for rick-rack work, Em, I see," she murmured in
a faint whisper. "Do you remember how surprised Aunt Su was when you made
up a pattern?"
"Well, I hadn't thought of it for quite some time," returned Miss Hulett,
in exactly the same tone of everyday remark. As she spoke she slipped her
arm under the other's head and poked the pillow up to a more comfortable
shape. "Now you lay perfectly still," she commanded in the hectoring tone
of the born nurse; "I'm goin' to run down and make you up a good hot cup
of sassafras tea."
I followed her down into the kitchen and was met by the same refusal to
be melodramatic which I had encountered in Ev'leen Ann. I was most anxious
to know what version of my extraordinary morning I was to give out to the
world, but hung silent, positively abashed by the cool casualness of the
other woman as she mixed her brew. Finally, "Shall I tell 'Niram--What
shall I say to Ev'leen Ann? If anybody asks me--" I brought out with
At the realization that her reserve and family pride were wholly at the
mercy of any report I might choose to give, even my iron hostess faltered.
She stopped short in the middle of the floor, looked at me silently,
piteously, and found no word.
I hastened to assure her that I would attempt no hateful picturesqueness
of narration. "Suppose I just say that you were rather lonely here, now
that Ev'leen Ann has left you, and that you thought it would be nice to
have your sister come to stay with you, so that 'Niram and Ev'leen Ann can
Emma Hulett breathed again. She walked toward the stairs with the steaming
cup in her hand. Over her shoulder she remarked, "Well, yes, ma'am; that
would be as good a way to put it as any, I guess."
'Niram and Ev'leen Ann were standing up to be married. They looked very
stiff and self-conscious, and Ev'leen Ann was very pale. 'Niram's big
hands, bent in the crook of a man who handles tools, hung down by his new
black trousers. Ev'leen Ann's strong fingers stood out stiffly from one
another. They looked hard at the minister and repeated after him in low
and meaningless tones the solemn and touching words of the marriage
service. Back of them stood the wedding company, in freshly washed and
ironed white dresses, new straw hats, and black suits smelling of camphor.
In the background, among the other elders, stood Paul and Horace and I--my
husband and I hand in hand; Horace twiddling the black ribbon which holds
his watch, and looking bored. Through the open windows into the stuffiness
of the best room came an echo of the deep organ note of midsummer.
"Whom God hath joined together--" said the minister, and the epitome of
humanity which filled the room held its breath--the old with a wonder upon
their life-scarred faces, the young half frightened to feel the stir of
the great wings soaring so near them.
Then it was all over. 'Niram and Ev'leen Ann were married, and the rest of
us were bustling about to serve the hot biscuit and coffee and chicken
salad, and to dish up the ice-cream. Afterward there were no citified
refinements of cramming rice down the necks of the departing pair or tying
placards to the carriage in which they went away. Some of the men went out
to the barn and hitched up for 'Niram, and we all went down to the gate to
see them drive off. They might have been going for one of their Sunday
afternoon "buggy-rides" except for the wet eyes of the foolish women and
girls who stood waving their hands in answer to the flutter of Ev'leen
Ann's handkerchief as the carriage went down the hill.
We had nothing to say to one another after they left, and began soberly to
disperse to our respective vehicles. But as I was getting into our car a
new thought suddenly struck me.
"Why," I cried, "I never thought of it before! However in the world did
old Mrs. Purdon know about Ev'leen Ann--that night?"
Horace was pulling at the door, which was badly adjusted and shut hard. He
closed it with a vicious slam. "_I_ told her," he said crossly.
A SAINT'S HOURS
In the still cold before the sun
HER LAUDS Her brothers and her sisters small
She woke, and washed and dressed each one.
And through the morning hours all,
PRIME Singing above her broom, she stood
And swept the house from hall to hall.
At noon she ran with tidings good
TERCE Across the field and down the lane
To share them with the neighborhood.
Four miles she walked and home again,
SEXT To sit through half the afternoon
And hear a feeble crone complain;
But when she saw the frosty moon
NONES And lakes of shadow on the hill
Her maiden dreams grew bright as noon.
She threw her pitying apron frill
VESPERS Over a little trembling mouse
When the sleek cat yawned on the sill,
In the late hours and drowsy house.
COMPLINE At last, too tired, beside her bed
She fell asleep ... her prayers half said.
IN MEMORY OF L.H.W.
He began life characteristically, depreciated and disparaged. When he was
a white, thin, big-headed baby, his mother, stripping the suds from her
lean arms, used to inveigh to her neighbors against his existence. "Wa'n't
it just like that _do_-less Lem Warren, not even to leave me foot-free
when he died, but a baby coming!"
"_Do_-less," in the language of our valley, means a combination of
shiftless and impractical, particularly to be scorned.
Later, as he began to have some resemblance to the appearance he was to
wear throughout life, her resentment at her marriage, which she considered
the one mistake of her life, kept pace with his growth. "Look at him!" she
cried to anyone who would listen. "Ain't that Warren, all over? Did any of
_my_ folks ever look so like a born fool? Shut your mouth, for the Lord's
sake, Lem, and maybe you won't scare folks quite so much."
Lem had a foolish, apologetic grin with which he always used to respond to
these personalities, hanging his head to one side and opening and shutting
his big hands nervously.
The tumble-down, two-roomed house in which the Warrens lived was across
the road from the schoolhouse, and Mrs. Warren's voice was penetrating.
Lem was accepted throughout his school-life at the home estimate. The
ugly, overgrown boy, clad in cast-off, misfit clothing was allowed to play
with the other children only on condition that he perform all the hard,
uninteresting parts of any game. Inside the schoolroom it was the same.
He never learned to shut his mouth, and his speech was always halting and
indistinct, so that he not only did not recite well in class, but was
never in one of the school entertainments. He chopped the wood and brought
it in, swept the floor and made the fires, and then listened in grinning,
silent admiration while the others, arrayed in their best, spoke pieces
and sang songs.
He was not "smart at his books" and indeed did not learn even to read very
fluently. This may have been partly because the only books he ever saw
were old school books, the use of which was given him free on account of
his mother's poverty. He was not allowed, of course to take them from the
schoolroom. But if he was not good at book-learning he was not without
accomplishments. He early grew large for his age, and strong from much
chopping of wood and drawing of water for his mother's washings, and he
was the best swimmer of all those who bathed in the cold, swift mountain
stream which rushes near the schoolhouse. The chief consequence of this
expertness was that in the summer he was forced to teach each succeeding
generation of little boys to swim and dive. They tyrannized over him
unmercifully--as, in fact, everyone did.
Nothing made his mother more furious than such an exhibition of what she
called "Lem's meachin'ness." "Ain't you got no stand-up _in_ ye?" she was
wont to exhort him angrily. "If you don't look out for yourself in this
world, you needn't think anybody else is gunto!"
The instructions in ethics he received at her hands were the only ones he
ever knew, for, up to his fourteenth year, he never had clothes
respectable enough to wear to church, and after that he had other things
to think of. Fourteen years is what we call in our State "over school
age." It was a date to which Mrs. Warren had looked forward with
eagerness. After that, the long, unprofitable months of enforced schooling
would be over, Lem would be earning steady wages, and she could sit back
and "live decent."
It seemed to her more than she could bear, that, almost upon her son's
birthday, she was stricken down with paralysis. It was the first calamity
for which she could not hold her marriage responsible, and her bitterness
thereupon extended itself to fate in general. She cannot have been a
cheerful house-mate during the next ten years, when Lem was growing
silently to manhood.
He was in demand as "help" on the farms about him, on account of his great
strength and faithfulness, although the farmers found him exasperatingly
slow and, when it was a question of animals, not always sure to obey
orders. He could be trusted to be kind to horses, unlike most hired men we
get nowadays, but he never learned "how to get the work out of their
hide." It was his way, on a steep hill with a heavy load, to lay down the
whip, get out, and put his own powerful shoulder to the wheel. If this
failed, he unloaded part of the logs and made two trips of it. The
uncertainty of his progress can be imagined. The busy and impatient farmer
and sawyer at the opposite ends of his route were driven to exhaust their
entire vocabulary of objurgation on him. He was, they used to inform him
in conclusion, "the most _do_-less critter the Lord ever made!"
He was better with cows and sheep--"feller-feelin," his mother said
scornfully, watching him feed a sick ewe--and he had here, even in
comparison with his fellow-men, a fair degree of success. It was indeed
the foundation of what material prosperity he ever enjoyed. A farmer,
short of cash, paid him one year with three or four ewes and a ram. He
worked for another farmer to pay for the rent of a pasture and had, that
first year, as everybody admitted, almighty good luck with them. There
were several twin lambs born that spring and everyone lived. Lem used to
make frequent night visits during lambing-time to the pasture to make sure
that all was well.
I remember as a little girl starting back from some village festivity late
one spring night and seeing a lantern twinkle far up on the mountainside.
"Lem Warren out fussin' with his sheep," some one of my elders remarked.
Later, as we were almost home, we saw the lantern on the road ahead of us
and stopped the horses, country-fashion, for an interchange of salutation.
Looking out from under the shawl in which I was wrapped, I saw his tall
figure stooping over something held under his coat. The lantern lighted
his weather-beaten face and the expression of his eyes as he looked down
at the little white head against his breast.
"You're foolish, Lem," said
my uncle. "The ewe won't own it if you take it away so long the first
"I--I--know," stuttered Lem, bringing out the words with his usual
difficulty; "but it's mortal cold up on the mounting for little fellers!
I'll bring him up as a cosset."
The incident reminded me vaguely of something I had read about, and it has
remained in my memory.
After we drove on I remember that there were laughing speculations about
what language old Ma'am Warren would use at having another cosset brought
to the house. Not that it could make any more work for her, since Lem did
all that was done about the housekeeping. Chained to her chair by her
paralyzed legs, as she was, she could accomplish nothing more than to sit
and cavil at the management of the universe all day, until Lem came home,
gave her her supper, and put her to bed.
Badly run as she thought the world, for a time it was more favorable to
her material prosperity than she had ever known it. Lem's flock of sheep
grew and thrived. For years nobody in our valley has tried to do much with
sheep because of dogs, and all Lem's neighbors told him that some fine
morning he would find his flock torn and dismembered. They even pointed
out the particular big collie dog who would most likely go "sheep-mad."
Lena's heavy face drew into anxious, grotesque wrinkles at this kind of
talk, and he visited the uplying pasture more and more frequently.
One morning, just before dawn, he came, pale and shamefaced, to the house
of the owner of the collie. The family, roused from bed by his knocking,
made out from his speech, more incoherent than usual, that he was begging
their pardon for having killed their dog. "I saw wh-where he'd bit th-the
throats out of two ewes that w-was due to lamb in a few days and I guess
I--I--I must ha' gone kind o' crazy. They was ones I liked special. I'd
brought 'em up myself. They--they was all over blood, you know."
They peered at him in the gray light, half-afraid of the tall apparition.
"How _could_ you kill a great big dog like Jack?" They asked wonderingly.
In answer he held out his great hands and his huge corded arms, red with
blood up to the elbow. "I heard him worrying another sheep and I--I
One of the children now cried out: "But I shut Jackie up in the woodshed
Someone ran to open the door and the collie bounded out. Lem turned white
in thankfulness, "I'm _mortal_ glad," he stammered. "I felt awful
bad--afterward. I knew your young ones thought a sight of Jack."
"But what dog did you kill?" they asked.
Some of the men went back up on the mountain with him and found, torn in
pieces and scattered wide in bloody fragments, as if destroyed by some
great revenging beast of prey, the body of a big gray wolf. Once in a
while one wanders over the line from the Canada forests and comes down
into our woods, following the deer.
The hard-headed farmers who looked on that savage scene drew back from the
shambling man beside them in the only impulse of respect they ever felt
for him. It was the one act of his life to secure the admiration of his
fellow-men; it was an action of which he himself always spoke in horror
Certainly his marriage aroused no admiration. It was universally regarded
as a most addle-pated, imbecile affair from beginning to end. One of the
girls who worked at the hotel in the village "got into trouble," as our
vernacular runs, and as she came originally from our district and had gone
to school there, everyone knew her and was talking about the scandal. Old
Ma'am Warren was of the opinion, spiritedly expressed, that "Lottie was a
fool not to make that drummer marry her. She could have, if she'd gone the
right way to work." But the drummer remained persistently absent.
One evening Lem, starting for his sheep-pasture for his last look for the
night, heard someone crying down by the river and then, as he paused to
listen, heard it no more. He jumped from the bridge without stopping to
set down his lantern, knowing well the swiftness of the water, and caught
the poor cowardly thing as she came, struggling and gasping, down with the
current. He took her home and gave her dry clothes of his mother's. Then
leaving the scared and repentant child by his hearth, he set out on foot
for the minister's house and dragged him back over the rough country
When Ma'am Warren awoke the next morning, Lem did not instantly answer her
imperious call, as he had done for so many years. Instead, a red-eyed girl
in one of Mrs. Warren's own nightgowns came to the door and said
shrinkingly: "Lem slept in the barn last night. He give his bed to me; but
he'll be in soon. I see him fussin' around with the cow."
Ma'am Warren stared, transfixed with a premonition of irremediable evil.
"What you doin' here?" she demanded, her voice devoid of expression
The girl held down her head. "Lem and I were married last night," she
Then Mrs. Warren found her voice.
When Lem came in it was to a scene of the furious wrangling which was
henceforth to fill his house.
"... to saddle himself with such trash as you!" his mother was saying
His wife answered in kind, her vanity stung beyond endurance. "Well, you
can be sure he'd never have got him a wife any other way! Nobody but a
girl hard put to it would take up with a drivel-headed fool like Lem
And then the bridegroom appeared at the door and both women turned their
attention to him.
When the baby was born, Lottie was very sick. Lem took care of his mother,
his wife, and the new baby for weeks and weeks. It was at lambing-time,
and his flock suffered from lack of attention, although as much as he
dared he left his sick women and tended his ewes. He ran in debt, too, to
the grocery-stores, for he could work very little and earned almost
nothing. Of course the neighbors helped out, but it was no cheerful
morning's work to care for the vitriolic old woman, and Lottie was too
sick for anyone but Lem to handle. We did pass the baby around from house
to house during the worst of his siege, to keep her off Lem's hands; but
when Lottie began to get better it was haying-time; everybody was more
than busy, and the baby was sent back.
Lottie lingered in semi-invalidism for about a year and then died, Lem
holding her hand in his. She tried to say something to him that last
night, so the neighbors who were there reported, but her breath failed her
and she could only lie staring at him from eyes that seemed already to
look from the other side of the grave.
He was heavily in debt when he was thus left with a year-old child not his
own, but he gave Lottie a decent funeral and put up over her grave a stone
stating that she was "Charlotte, loved wife of Lemuel Warren," and that
she died in the eighteenth year of her life. He used to take the little
girl and put flowers on the grave, I remember.
Then he went to work again. His sandy hair was already streaked with gray,
though he was but thirty. The doctor said the reason for this phenomenon
was the great strain of his year of nursing; and indeed throughout that
period of his life no one knew when he slept, if ever. He was always up
and dressed when anyone else was, and late at night we could look across
and see his light still burning and know that he was rubbing Lottie's back
or feeding little Susie.
All that was changed now, of course. Susie was a strong, healthy child
who slept all through the night in her little crib by her stepfather's
corded bed, and in the daytime went everywhere he did. Wherever he "worked
out" he used to give her her nap wrapped in a horse blanket on the hay in
the barn; and he carried her in a sling of his own contrivance up to his
sheep-pasture. Old Ma'am Warren disliked the pretty, laughing child so
bitterly that he was loath to leave her at home; but when he was there
with her, for the first time he asserted himself against his mother,
bidding her, when she began to berate the child's parentage, to "be
still!" with so strange and unexpected an accent of authority that she was
Susie was very fond of her stepfather at first, but when she came of
school age, mixed more with the other children, and heard laughing,
contemptuous remarks about him, the frank and devouring egotism of
childhood made her ashamed of her affection, ashamed of him with his
uncouth gait, his mouth always sagging open, his stammering, ignorant
speech, which the other children amused themselves by mocking. Though he
was prospering again with his sheep, owned the pasture and his house now,
and had even built on another room as well as repairing the older part, he
spent little on his own adornment. It all went for pretty clothes for
Susie, for better food, for books and pictures, for tickets for Susie to
go to the circus and the county fair. Susie knew this and loved him by
stealth for it, but the intolerably sensitive vanity of her twelve years
made her wretched to be seen in public with him.
Divining this, he ceased going with her to school-picnics and
Sunday-school parties, where he had been a most useful pack-animal, and,
dressing her in her best with his big calloused hands, watched her from
the window join a group of the other children. His mother predicted
savagely that his "spoilin' on that bad-blooded young one would bring her
to no good end," and when, at fifteen, Susie began to grow very pretty and
saucy and willful and to have beaux come to see her, the old woman exulted
openly over Lem's helpless anxiety.
He was quite gray now, although not yet forty-five, and so stooped that he
passed for an old man. He owned a little farm, his flock of sheep was the
largest in the township, and Susie was expected to make a good marriage in
spite of her antecedents.
And then Frank Gridley's oldest son, Ed, came back from business college
with store clothes and city hats and polished tan shoes, and began idling
about, calling on the girls. From the first, he and Susie ran together
like two drops of water. Bronson Perkins, a cousin of mine, a big, silent,
ruminative lad who had long hung about Susie, stood no show at all. One
night in county-fair week, Susie, who had gone to the fair with a crowd of
girl friends, was not at home at ten o'clock. Lem, sitting in his doorway
and watching the clock, heard the approach of the laughing, singing
straw-ride in which she had gone, with a long breath of relief; but the
big hay-wagon did not stop at his gate.
He called after it in a harsh voice and was told that "Ed Gridley and she
went off to the hotel to get supper. He said he'd bring her home later."
Lem went out to the barn, hitched up the faster of his two heavy
plow-horses and drove from his house to Woodville, eight miles and
up-hill, in forty-five minutes. When he went into the hotel, the clerk
told him that the two he sought had had supper served in a private room.
Lem ascertained which room and broke the door in with one heave of his
shoulders. Susie sprang up from the disordered supper-table and ran to him
like a frightened child, clinging to him desperately and crying out that
Ed scared her so!
"It's all right now, Susie," he said gently, not looking at the man.
"Poppa's come to take you home."
The man felt his dignity wounded. He began to protest boisterously and to
declare that he was ready to marry the girl--"_now_, this instant, if you
Lem put one arm about Susie. "I didn't come to make you marry her. I come
to keep you from doin' it," he said, speaking clearly for once in his
life. "Susie shan't marry a hound that'd do this." And as the other
advanced threateningly on him, he struck him a great blow across the mouth
that sent him unconscious to the ground.
Then Lem went out, paid for the broken lock, and drove home with Susie
behind the foundered plow-horse.
The next spring her engagement to Bronson Perkins was announced, though
everybody said they didn't see what use it was for folks to get engaged
that couldn't ever get married. Mr. Perkins, Bronson's father, was daft,
not enough to send him to the asylum, but so that he had to be watched all
the time to keep him from doing himself a hurt. He had a horrid way, I
remember, of lighting matches and holding them up to his bared arm until
the smell of burning flesh went sickeningly through the house and sent
someone in a rush to him. Of course it was out of the question to bring a
young bride to such a home. Apparently there were years of waiting before
them, and Susie was made of no stuff to endure a long engagement.
As a matter of fact, they were married that fall, as soon as Susie could
get her things ready. Lem took old Mr. Perkins into the room Susie left
vacant. "'Twon't be much more trouble taking care of two old people than
one," he explained briefly.
Ma'am Warren's comments on this action have been embalmed forever in the
delighted memories of our people. We have a taste for picturesque and
From that time we always saw the lunatic and the bent
shepherd together. The older man grew quieter under Lem's care than he had
been for years, and if he felt one of his insane impulses overtaking him,
ran totteringly to grasp his protector's arm until, quaking and shivering,
he was himself again. Lem used to take him up to the sheep-pasture for the
day sometimes. He liked it up there himself, he said, and maybe 'twould be
good for Uncle Hi. He often reported with pride that the old man talked as
sensible as anybody, "get him off where it's quiet." Indeed, when Mr.
Perkins died, six years later, we had forgotten that he was anything but
a little queer, and he had known many happy, lucid hours with his
Susie and Bronson had two boys--sturdy, hearty children, in whom Lem took
the deepest, shyest pride. He loved to take them off into the woods with
him and exulted in their quick intelligence and strong little bodies.
Susie got into the way of letting him take a good deal of the care of
It was Lem who first took alarm about the fall that little Frank had, down
the cellar stairs. He hurt his spine somehow--our local doctor could not
tell exactly how--and as the injury only made him limp a little, nobody
thought much about it, until he began to have difficulty in walking. Then
Lem sent for a doctor from Rutland who, as soon as he examined the child,
stuck out his lower lip and rubbed his chin ominously. He pronounced the
trouble something with a long name which none of us had ever heard, and
said that Frank would be a hopeless cripple if it, were not cured soon.
There was, he said, a celebrated doctor from Europe now traveling in this
country who had a wonderful new treatment for this condition. But under
the circumstances--he looked about the plain farm sitting-room--he
supposed that was out of the question.
"What did the doctor from foreign parts ask?" queried Bronson, and, being
informed of some of the customary prices for major operations, fell back
hopeless. Susie, her pretty, childish face drawn and blanched into a wan
beauty, put her arms about her sick little son and looked at her
stepfather. He had never failed her.
He did not fail her now. He sold the land he had accumulated field by
field; he sold the great flock of sheep, every one of which he could call
by name; he mortgaged the house over the protesting head of his now
bedridden mother; he sold the horse and cow, and the very sticks of
furniture from the room where Susie had grown up and where the crazy
grandfather of Susie's children had known a peaceful old age and death.
Little Frank was taken to New York to the hospital to have the great
surgeon operate on him--he is there yet, almost completely recovered and
nearly ready to come home.
Back in Hillsboro, Lem now began life all over again, hiring out humbly to
his neighbors and only stipulating that he should have enough free time to
take care of his mother. Three weeks ago she had her last stroke of
paralysis and, after lying speechless for a few days, passed away, grim to
the last, by the expression in her fierce old eyes.
The day after her funeral Lem did not come to work as he was expected. We
went over to his house and found, to our consternation, that he was not
out of bed.
"Be ye sick, Lem?" asked my uncle.
He looked at us over the bedclothes with his old foolish, apologetic
smile. "Kind o' lazy, I guess," he whispered, closing his eyes.
The doctor was put out by the irregularity of the case.
"I can't make out anything _really_ the trouble!" he said. "Only the
wheels don't go round as fast as they ought. Call it failing heart action
if you want a label."
The wheels ran more and more slowly until it was apparent to all of us
that before long they would stop altogether. Susie and Bronson were in New
York with little Frank, so that Lem's care during his last days devolved
on the haphazard services of the neighbors. He was out of his head most of
the time, though never violent, and all through the long nights lay flat
on his back, looking at the ceiling with bright, blank eyes, driving his
ox-team, skidding logs, plowing in stony ground and remembering to favor
the off-horse whose wind wasn't good, planting, hoeing, tending his sheep,
and teaching obstinate lambs to drink. He used quaint, coaxing names for
these, such as a mother uses for her baby. He was up in the
mountain-pasture a good deal, we gathered, and at night, from his constant
mention of how bright the stars shone. And sometimes, when he was in
evident pain, his delusion took the form that Susie, or the little boys,
had gone up with him, and got lost in the woods.
I was on duty the night he died. We thought a change was near, because he
had lain silent all day, and we hoped he would come to himself when he
awoke from this stupor. Near midnight he began to talk again, and I could
not make out at first whether he was still wandering or not. "Hold on
hard, Uncle Hi," I heard him whisper.
A spoon fell out of my hand and clattered against a plate. He gave a great
start and tried to sit up. "Yes, mother--coming!" he called hoarsely, and
then looked at me with his own eyes. "I must ha' forgot about mother's
bein' gone," he apologized sheepishly.
I took advantage of this lucid interval to try to give him some medicine
the doctor had left. "Take a swallow of this," I said, holding the glass
to his lips.
"What's it for?" he asked.
"It's a heart stimulant," I explained. "The doctor
said if we could get you through to-night you have a
His face drew together in grotesque lines of anxiety. "Little Frank
"Oh, no, he's doing finely."
"Susie all right?"
"Why, yes," I said wonderingly.
"Nothing the matter with her other boy?"
"Why, no, no," I told him. "Everybody's all right Here, just take this
He turned away his head on the pillow and murmured something I did not
catch. When I asked him what he said, he smiled feebly as in deprecation
of his well-known ridiculous ways. "I'm just as much obliged to you," he
said, "but if everybody's all right, I guess I won't have any medicine."
He looked at me earnestly. "I'm--I'm real tired," he said.
It came out in one great breath--apparently his last, for he did not move
after that, and his ugly, slack-mouthed face was at once quite still. Its
expression made me think of the time I had seen it as a child, by
lantern-light, as he looked down at the new-born lamb on his breast.
IN NEW NEW ENGLAND
This is a true story, for I have heard it ever so many times from my
grandmother. She heard it from her grandmother, who told it about her own
mother; and it began and ended right here in our village of Hillsboro,
Vermont, in 1762.
Probably you think at once of the particular New England old town you
know, and imagine Hillsboro of that date as an elm-shaded, well-kept
street, with big, white, green-shuttered houses, full of shining mahogany
furniture and quaint old silver. But my grandmother gives an entirely
different picture of old times in this corner of Vermont. Conditions here,
at that time, were more as they had been in Connecticut and Massachusetts
a hundred and forty years before. Indeed, the Pilgrim Fathers endured no
more hardships as pioneers in a wild, new country than did the first
Hillsboro had been settled only about fifteen years before this story
begins, and the people had had to make for themselves whatever they
possessed, since there was no way to reach our dark, narrow valley except
by horseback over the ridge of the Green Mountains. There were no fine
houses, because there was no sawmill. There were little, low log cabins of
two rooms each, and the furniture, such as it was, was rough-hewn out of
native woods. Our great-grandfathers were too busy clearing the forest and
planting their crops to spend much time designing or polishing table-legs.
And the number of things they did not have! No stoves, no matches, no
books, no lamps, and very few candles; no doctors, no schools, no clocks,
and so nearly no money that what they had is not worth mentioning But the
fact that there were no schools did not mean that life was one long
vacation for the children.
"No, indeedy!" as grandmother always says emphatically.
In the urgent bustle of pioneer life, the children could not be spared
from work for long school-hours. They picked up what they could from the
elders of their families, and worked, as grandmother puts it, "as tight as
they could leg it" from morning to night. Everybody else worked that same
way, so the children did not know that they were being abused. Indeed,
grandmother seemed to doubt if they were.
At any rate, they all ran about as fast as ants in an ant-hill, and the
busiest of all was sixteen-year-old Hannah Sherwin. Since she was my
grandmother's grand mother's mother, at last the story is really begun.
Hannah had been a baby of eighteen months when the Sherwins came over the
mountains from the old home in Connecticut, so she knew nothing about any
other way of living than what she saw in rough little Hillsboro. But her
elder sister, Ann Mary, who was a tall girl of nineteen, remembered--or
thought she remembered--big houses that were made all over of sawn planks,
and chairs that were so shiny you could see your face in them or else
stuffed and cushioned in brocade as soft--"as soft as a feather tick!"
she told Hannah.
Her listener, having no idea of what brocade might be, and taking the
feather-tick simile literally, must have imagined a very queer kind of
Hannah was a short, fair, rosy-cheeked child, who passed for good-looking
enough; but Ann Mary was slender and dark and a real beauty, although
Hillsboro people did not realize it. She looked fragile, as if she could
not do much hard work and that is always a serious blemish in feminine
beauty to the eyes of pioneers.
So far in her life she had not been forced to do any hard work, because
Hannah had done it all for her. Their mother had died when they were both
little girls, and their father was so busy outdoors, every minute he was
awake, that, for all his affection for them, he did not know or care which
of his daughters cooked and washed, and swept and spun, so long as these
things were done. And Hannah delighted to do them, because she adored Ann
Mary, and could not bear to have her sister troubled with any of the
coarse tasks which made up her own happy, busy day.
Now, all that grandmother ever tells me about the beginning of this story
is that when the lovely Ann Mary was nineteen years old she "fell into a
decline," as they called it. She grew pale and thin, never smiled, could
not eat or sleep, and lay listlessly on the bed all day, looking sadly at
Hannah as she bustled about.