Part 5 out of 5
Naturally enough, from his point of view, he began with his neighbor,
fastidious Cousin Tryphena.
What Cousin Tryphena did not know about the way the world outside of
Hillsboro was run would have made a complete treatise on modern
civilization. She never took a newspaper, only borrowing, once in a while,
the local sheet to read the news items from Greenford, where she had some
distant cousins; and, though she occasionally looked at one of the
illustrated magazines, it was only at the pictures.
It is therefore plain that old Jombatiste could not have found a worse
listener for his bellowed statements that ninety per cent. of the money of
this country was in the hands of two per cent. of the population; that the
franchise was a farce because the government was controlled by a Wall
Street clique; and that any man who could not earn a good living for his
family had a moral right to shoot a millionaire. For the most part, Cousin
Tryphena counted her tatting stitches and paid not the least attention to
her malcontent neighbor. When she did listen, she did not believe a word
he said. She had lived in Hillsboro for fifty-five years and she knew what
made people poor. It was shiftlessness. There was always plenty of work to
be had at the brush-back factory for any man who had the sense and
backbone to keep at it. If they _would_ stop work in deer-week to go
hunting, or go on a spree Town-meeting day, or run away to fish, she'd
like to know what business they had blaming millionaires because they lost
their jobs. She did not expound her opinions of these points to Jombatiste
because, in the first place, she despised him for a dirty Canuck, and,
secondly, because opinions seemed shadowy and unsubstantial things to her.
The important matters were to make your starch clear and not to be late to
It is proverbial that people who are mostly silent often keep for some
time a reputation for more wisdom than is theirs. Cousin Tryphena
unconsciously profited in the estimation of her neighbor by this fact of
psychology. Old Jombatiste had thundered his per cents. of the
distribution of capital for many months before he discovered that he was
on the wrong track.
Then, one winter day, as Cousin Tryphena was hanging out her washing, he
ran over to her, waving his favorite magazine. He read her a paragraph
from it, striking the paper occasionally for emphasis with his horny,
blackened, shoemaker's hand, and following her as she moved along the
"And it is thus definitely _proved,_" he shouted in conclusion, "that
Senator Burlingame was in the pay of J.D. Darby, when he held up the Rouse
Workingman's Bill in the Senate Committee...." He stopped and glared
triumphantly at his neighbor. A rare impulse of perversity rose in Cousin
Tryphena's unawakened heart. She took a clothes-pin out of her mouth and
asked with some exasperation, "Well, what _of_ it!" a comment on his
information which sent the old man reeling back as though she had struck
In the conversation which followed, old Jombatiste, exploring at last
Cousin Tryphena's mind, leaned giddily over the abyss of her ignorance of
political economy and sociology, dropping one exploring plummet after
another into its depths, only to find them fathomless. He went shakily
back to his own house, silenced for once.
But, although for the first time he neglected work to do it, he returned
to the attack the next day with a new weapon. He made no more remarks
about industrial slavery, nor did he begin, as was his wont, with the
solemnly enunciated axiom, "Wealth comes from labor alone!" He laid down,
on the Sheraton sideboard, an armful of his little magazines, and settled
himself in a chair, observing with a new comprehension how instinctively
Cousin Tryphena reached for her tatting as he began to read aloud. He read
the story of a man who was burned to death in molten steel because his
employers did not install a rather expensive safety device, and who left
a young widow and three children. These tried to earn their livings by
making artificial flowers. They could earn, all of them working together,
three cents an hour. When the last dollar of the dead father's savings was
used up, and there was talk of separating the family so that the children
could be put in an asylum, the mother drowned the three little ones and
herself after them. Cousin Tryphena dropped her tatting, her country-bred
mind reeling. "Didn't she have any _folks_ to help her out?"
Jombatiste explained that she came from East Poland, so that her folks, if
indeed she had any, were too far away to be of use. He struck one fist
inside his palm with a fierce gesture, such as he used when he caught a
boy trapping, and cried, "... and that in a country that produces three
times the food it consumes." For the first time, a statistical statement
awoke an echo in Cousin Tryphena's atrophied brain.
Old Jombatiste read on, this time about a girl of seventeen, left by her
parents' death in charge of a small brother. She had been paid twenty
cents for making crocheted lace which sold for a dollar and a half. By
working twelve hours a day, she had been able to make forty-seven cents.
Seeing her little brother grow pale from lack of food, she had, in
desperation, taken the first, the awfully decisive first step downward,
and had almost at once thereafter vanished, drawn down by the maelstrom of
vice. The little brother, wild with grief over his sister's disappearance,
had been taken to an orphan asylum where he had since twice tried to
Cousin Tryphena sat rigid, her tatting fallen to the floor, her breath
coming with difficulty. It is impossible for the average modern mind,
calloused by promiscuous reading, to conceive the effect upon her
primitive organism of this attack from the printed page. She not only did
not dream that these stories might not be true, they seemed as real to her
as though she had seen the people. There was not a particle of blood in
her haggard face.
Jombatiste read on--the story of a decent, ambitious man, employed in a
sweatshop tailoring establishment, who contracted tuberculosis from the
foul air, and who dragged down with him, in his agonizing descent to the
very depths of misery, a wife and two children. He was now dead, and his
wife was living in a corner of a moldy, damp basement, a pile of rags the
only bed for her and her children, their only heat what fire the mother
could make out of paper and rubbish picked up on the streets.
Cousin Tryphena's horrified eyes fell on her well-blacked stove, sending
out the aromatic breath of burning white-birch sticks. She recoiled from
it with a shudder.
Jombatiste read on, the story of the woman who, when her three sons died
in an accident due to negligence on their employer's part ... he read no
more that day, for Cousin Tryphena put her gray head down on the
center-table and wept as she never had done in her life. Jombatiste rose
softly and tiptoed out of the room.
The tap-tap-tap of his hammer rang loud and fast the rest of that day. He
was exulting over having aroused another bourgeois from the sleep of
greasy complacency. He had made a convert. To his dire and utter
pennilessness, Cousin Tryphena's tiny income seemed a fortune. He had a
happy dream of persuading her to join him in his weekly contributions to
the sacred funds! As he stood at midnight, in the open door, for the long
draught of fresh air he always took before turning in on his pile of hay,
he heard in the wood on the hill back of the house the shrill shriek of a
trapped rabbit. He plowed furiously out through the deep snow to find it,
gave the tortured animal a merciful death, carried the trap back to the
river and threw it in with a furious splash. He strode home under the
frosty stars, his dirty shirt open over his corded, old neck, his burning
heart almost content. He had done a good day's work.
Early the next morning, his neighbor came to his door, very white, very
hollow-eyed, evidently with a sleepless night back of her, and asked him
for the papers he had read from. Jombatiste gave them to her in a tactful
silence. She took them in one shaking hand, drawing her shawl around her
wrinkled face with the other, and went back through the snow to her own
By noon that day, everyone in the village was thrilling with wild surmise.
Cousin Tryphena had gone over to Graham and Sanders', asked to use their
long-distance telephone and had telephoned to Putnam to come and get her
sideboard. After this strange act, she had passed Albert Graham, then by
chance alone in the store, with so wild a mien that he had not ventured to
make any inquiries. But he took pains to mention the matter, to everyone
who happened to come in, that morning; and, by dinner-time, every family
in Hillsboro was discussing over its pie the possibility that the
well-known _queer streak_, which had sent several of Cousin Tryphena's
ancestors to the asylum, was suddenly making its appearance in her.
I was detained, that afternoon, and did not reach her house until nearly
four; and I was almost the last to arrive. I found Cousin Tryphena very
silent, her usually pale face very red, the center of a group of neighbors
who all at once began to tell me what had happened. I could make nothing
out of their incoherent explanations. ... "Trypheny was crazy ... she'd
ought to have a guardeen ... that Canuck shoemaker had addled her
brains ... there'd ought to be a law against that kind of
newspaper. ... Trypheny was goin' like her great-aunt, Lucilly, that died
in the asylum. ..." I appealed directly to Cousin Tryphena for information
as to what the trouble was.
"There ain't any trouble 's I know of," she answered in a shaking voice.
"I've just heard of a widow-woman, down in the city, who's bringin' up her
two children in the corner of a basement where the green mold stands out
on the wall, and I'm goin' down to fetch her an' the children up here to
live with me ... them an' a little orphan boy as don't like the 'sylum
where they've put him----"
Somebody broke in on her to cry, "Why, Trypheny, you simple old critter,
that's four people! Where you goin' to put 'em in this little tucked-up
Cousin Tryphena answered doggedly and pointedly, "Your own grandmother,
Rebecca Mason, brought up a family of seven in a house no bigger than
this, and no cellar."
"But how, ..." another voice exclaimed, "air you goin' to get enough for
'em to eat? You ain't got but barely enough for yourself!"
Cousin Tryphena paled a little, "I'm a good sewer, I could make money
sewing ... and I could do washings for city-folks, summer-times...." Her
set mouth told what a price she paid for this voluntary abandonment of the
social standing that had been hers by virtue of her idleness. She went on
with sudden spirit, "You all act as though I was doin' it to spite you and
to amuse myself! I don't _want_ to! When I think of my things I've kept so
nice always, I'm _wild_ ... but how can I help it, now I know about 'em! I
didn't sleep a wink last night. I'll go clean crazy if I don't do
something! I saw those three children strugglin' in the water and their
mother a-holdin' on 'em down, and then jumpin' in herself----Why, I give
enough milk to the _cat_ to keep a baby ... what else can I do?"
I was touched, as I think we all were, by her helpless simplicity and
ignorance, and by her defenselessness against this first vision of life,
the vision which had been spared her so long, only to burst upon her like
a forest-fire. I hid an odd fancy that she had just awakened after a sleep
of half a century.
"Dear Cousin Tryphena," I said as gently as I could, "you haven't had a
very wide experience of modern industrial or city conditions and there are
some phases of this matter which you don't take into consideration." Then
I brought out the old, wordy, eminently reasonable arguments we all use to
stifle the thrust of self-questioning: I told her that it was very likely
that the editor of that newspaper had invented, or at least greatly
exaggerated those stories, and that she would find on investigation that
no such family existed.
"I don't see how that lets me out of _lookin'_ for them," said Cousin
"Well, at least," I urged, "don't be in such a hurry about it. Take time
to think it over! Wait till--"
"Wait!" cried Cousin Tryphena. "Why, another one may be jumpin' in the
river this minute! If I'd ha' had the money, I'd ha' gone on the noon
At this point, the man from Putnam's came with a team from our livery to
carry away the Sheraton sideboard. Cousin Tryphena bore herself like a
martyr at the stake, watching, with dry eyes, the departure of her one
certificate to dear gentility and receiving with proud indifference the
crisp bills of a denomination most of us had never seen before.
"You won't need all that just to go down to the city," I remonstrated.
She stopped watching the men load her shining old treasure into the wagon
and turned her anguished eyes to me. "They'll likely be needing clothes
I gave up. She had indeed thought it all out.
It was time for us to go home to prepare our several suppers and we went
our different ways, shaking our heads over Tryphena's queerness. I stopped
a moment before the cobbler's open door, watched him briskly sewing a
broken halter and telling a folk-tale to some children by his knee. When
he finished, I said with some acerbity, "Well, Jombatiste, I hope you're
satisfied with what you've done to poor old Miss Tryphena ... spoiling the
rest of her life for her!"
"Such a life, Madame," said Jombatiste dryly, "ought to be spoiled, the
sooner the better."
"She's going to start for the city to-morrow," I said, supposing of course
that he had heard the news.
Jombatiste looked up very quickly. "For what goes she to the city?"
"Why ... she's gone daft over those bogie-stories of yours ... she's
looked the list over and picked out the survivors, the widow of the man
who died of tuberculosis, and so on, and she's going to bring them back
here to share her luxurious life."
Jombatiste bounded into the air as if a bomb had exploded under him,
scattering his tools and the children, rushing past me out of the house
and toward Cousin Tryphena's. ... As he ran, he did what I have never seen
anyone do, out of a book; he tore at his bushy hair and scattered handfuls
in the air. It seemed to me that some sudden madness had struck our dull
little village, and I hastened after him to protect Cousin Tryphena.
She opened the door in answer to his battering knocks, frowned, and began
to say something to him, but was fairly swept off her feet by the torrent
of his reproaches.... "How dare you take the information I give you and
use it to betray your fellow-man! How do you _dare_ stand there, so
mealy-mouthed, and face me, when you are planning a cowardly attack on the
liberty of your country! You call yourself a nurse ... what would you
think of a mother who hid an ulcer in her child's side from the doctor
because it did not look pretty! What _else_ are you planning to do? What
would you think of a nurse who put paint and powder on her patient's face,
to cover up a filthy skin disease? What else are you planning to
do ... you with your plan to put court-plaster over one pustule in ten
million and thinking you are helping cure the patient! You are planning
simply to please yourself, you cowardly ... and you are an idiot too ..."
he beat his hands on the door-jambs, "... if you had the money of forty
millionaires, you couldn't do anything in that way ... how many people are
you thinking to help ... two, three ... maybe four! But there are hundreds
of others ... why, I could read you a thousand stories of worse--"
Cousin Tryphena's limit had been reached. She advanced upon the intruder
with a face as excited as his own. ... "Jombatiste Ramotte, if you ever
dare to read me another such story, I'll go right out and jump in the
The mania which had haunted earlier generations of her family looked out
luridly from her eyes.
I felt the goose-flesh stand out on my arms, and even Jombatiste's hot
blood was cooled. He stood silent an instant.
Cousin Tryphena slammed the door in his face.
He turned to me with a bewilderment almost pathetic so tremendous was
it--"Did you hear that ... what sort of logic do you call--"
"Jombatiste," I counseled him, "if you take my advice you'll leave Miss
Tryphena alone after this."
Cousin Tryphena started off on her crack-brained expedition, the very next
morning, on the six-thirty train. I happened to be looking out sleepily
and saw her trudging wearily past our house in the bleak gray of our
mountain dawn, the inadequate little, yellow flame of her old fashioned
lantern like a glowworm at her side. It seemed somehow symbolical of
something, I did not know what.
It was a full week before we heard from her, and we had begun really to
fear that we would never see her again, thinking that perhaps, while she
was among strangers, her unsettled mind might have taken some new fancy
which would be her destruction.
That week Jombatiste shut the door to his house. The children reported
that he would not even let them in, and that they could see him through
the window stitching away in ominous silence, muttering to himself.
Eight days after Cousin Tryphena had gone away, I had a telegram from her,
which read, "Build fires in both my stoves to-morrow afternoon."
The dark comes early in the mountains, and so, although I dare say there
was not a house in the village without a face at the pane after the late
evening train came up, none of us saw anything but our usual impenetrable
December darkness. That, too, seemed, to my perhaps overwrought
consciousness of the problem, highly suggestive of the usual course of our
lives. At least, I told myself, Cousin Tryphena had taken her absurd
little lantern and gone forth.
The next morning, soon after breakfast, I set off for the other end of the
street. Cousin Tryphena saw me coming and opened the door. She did not
smile, and she was still very pale, but I saw that she had regained her
self-control, "Come right in," she said, in rather a tense voice, and, as
I entered she added, in our rustic phrase for introduction, "Make you
'quainted with my friend, Mrs. Lindstrom. She's come up from the city to
stay with me. And this is her little boy, Sigurd, and this is the baby."
Blinking somewhat, I shook hands with a small, stoop-shouldered woman, in
a new, ready-made dress, with abundant yellow hair drawn back from the
thinnest, palest, saddest little face I had ever seen. She was holding an
immaculately clean baby, asleep, its long golden lashes lying on cheeks as
white and sunken as her own. A sturdily built boy of about six scrambled
up from where he lay on the floor, playing with the cat, and gave me a
hand shyly, hanging down his head. His mother had glanced up at me with a
quick, shrinking look of fright, the tears starting to her eyes.
Cousin Tryphena was evidently afraid that I would not take her cue and
sound the right note, for she went on hastily, "Mrs. Lindstrom has been
real sick and kind o' worried over the baby, so's she's some nervous. I
tell her Hillsboro air is thought very good for people's nerves. Lots of
city folks come here in summer time, just for that. Don't you think Sigurd
is a real big boy for only six and a half? He knows his letters too! He's
goin' to school as soon as we get settled down. I want you should bring
over those alphabet blocks that your Peggy doesn't use any more--"
The other woman was openly crying now, clinging to her benefactress' hand
and holding it against her cheek as she sobbed.
My heroic old cousin patted her hair awkwardly, but kept on talking in her
matter-of-fact manner, looking at me sternly as though defying me to show,
by look or word, any consciousness of anything unusual in the situation;
and we fell at once, she and I, into a commonplace conversation about the
incidents of the trip up.
When I came away, half an hour later, Cousin Tryphena slipped a shawl over
her head and came down the walk with me to the gate. I was much affected
by what seemed to me the dramatically fitting outcome of my old
kinswoman's Quixotism. I saw Cousin Tryphena picturesquely as the Happy
Fool of old folk-lore, the character who, through his very lack of worldly
wisdom, attains without effort all that self-seeking folks try for in
vain. The happy ending of her adventure filled me with a cheerful wonder
at the ways of Providence, which I tried to pass on to her in the
exclamation, "Why, Cousin Tryphena, it's like a story-book? You're going
to _enjoy_ having those people. The woman is as nice as she can be, and
that's the brightest little boy! He's as smart as a whip!"
I was aware that the oddness of Cousin Tryphena's manner still persisted
even now that we were alone. She sighed heavily and said, "I don't sleep
much better nights now I've done it!" Then facing me, "I hadn't ought to
have brought them up here! I just did it to please myself! Once I saw
'em ... I wanted 'em!"
This seemed to me the wildest possible perversion of the Puritan instinct
for self-condemnation and, half-vexed, I attempted some expostulation.
She stopped me with a look and gesture Dante might have had, "You ain't
seen what I've seen."
I was half-frightened by her expression but tried to speak coolly. "Why,
was it as bad as that paper said?" I asked.
She laid her hand on my arm, "Child, it was nothing like what the paper
said...it was so much worse!"
"Oh ..." I commented inadequately.
"I was five days looking for her...they'd moved from the address the paper
give. And, in those five days, I saw so many others..._so many others_..."
her face twitched. She put one lean old hand before her eyes. Then, quite
unexpectedly, she cast out at me an exclamation which made my notion of
the pretty picturesqueness of her adventure seem cheap and trivial and
superficial. "Jombatiste is right!" she cried to me with a bitter
fierceness: "Everything is wrong! Everything is wrong! If I can do
anything, I'd ought to do it to help them as want to smash everything up
and start over! What good does it do for me to bring up here just these
three out of all I saw ..." Her voice broke into pitiful, self-excusing
quavers, "but when I saw them ...the baby was so sick ... and little
Sigurd is so cunning ... he took to me right away, came to me the first
thing ... this morning he wouldn't pick up his new rubbers off the floor
for his mother, but, when I asked him, he did, right off ... you ought to
have seen what he had on ... such rags ... such dirt ... and 'twan't her
fault either! She's ... why she's like anybody ... like a person's cousin
they never happened to see before ...why, they were all _folks_!" she
cried out, her tired old mind wandering fitfully from one thing to
"You didn't find the little boy in the asylum?" I asked.
"He was dead before I got there," she answered.
"Oh ... !" I said again, shocked, and then tentatively, "Had he ...?"
"I don't know whether he had or not," said Cousin Tryphena, "I didn't ask.
I didn't want to know. I know too much now!" She looked up fixedly at the
mountain line, high and keen against the winter sky. "Jombatiste is
right," she said again unsparingly, "I hadn't ought to be enjoying
them ... their father ought to be alive and with them. He was willing to
work all he could, and yet he ... here I've lived for fifty-five years and
never airned my salt a single day. What was I livin' on? The stuff these
folks ought to ha' had to eat ... them and the Lord only knows how many
more besides! Jombatiste is right ... what I'm doin' now is only a drop in
She started from her somber reverie at the sound of a childish wail from
the house. ... "That's Sigurd ...I _knew_ that cat would scratch him!" she
told me with instant, breathless agitation, as though the skies were
falling, and darted back. After a moment's hesitation I too, went back and
watched her bind up with stiff, unaccustomed old fingers the little
scratched hand, watched the frightened little boy sob himself quiet on her
old knees that had never before known a child's soft weight saw the
expression in her eyes as she looked down at the sleeping baby and gazed
about the untidy room so full of mire, which had always been so orderly
and so empty.
She lifted the little boy up higher so that his tousled yellow hair rested
against her bosom. He put an arm around her neck and she flushed with
pleasure like a girl; but, although she held him close to her with a
sudden wistful tenderness, there was in her eyes a gloomy austerity which
forbade me to sentimentalize over the picture she made.
"But, Cousin Tryphena," I urged, "it _is_ a drop in the bucket, you know,
and that's something!"
She looked down at the child on her knee, she laid her cheek against his
bright hair, but she told me with harsh, self-accusing rigor, "Tain't
right for me to be here alive enjoying that dead man's little boy."
* * * * *
That was eighteen months ago. Mrs. Lindstrom is dead of consumption; but
the two children are rosy and hearty and not to be distinguished from the
other little Yankees of the village. They are devotedly attached to their
Aunt Tryphena and rule her despotically.
And so we live along, like a symbol of the great world, bewildered Cousin
Tryphena toiling lovingly for her adopted children, with the memory of her
descent into hell still darkening and confusing her kind eyes; Jomatiste
clothing his old body in rags and his soul in flaming indignation as he
batters hopefully at the ramparts of intrenched unrighteousness ... and
the rest of us doing nothing at all.
THE GOLDEN TONGUE OF IRELAND
Tongue of spice and salt and wine and honey,
Magic, mystic, sweet, intemperate tongue!
Flower of lavish love and lyric fury,
Mixed on lips forever rash and young,
Wildly droll and quaintly tender;--
Hark, the hidden melodies of Elfland
In the under, in the over tone;
Clear faint wailing of the far-heard banshee,
Out of lands where never the sun shone,
Calling doom on chieftains dying....
When Moira O'Donnell was born, Timothy Moran was thirty-three years old, a
faery number, as he often told himself afterward. When he was forty and
she was seven, another mystic number, he dedicated his life to her and she
gave him back his lost kingdom of enchantment. It was on the evening of
her seventh birthday that she led him to the Land of Heart's Desire he
thought he had left forever in green and desolate Donegal, and her
birthday fell on the seventh of October, and October is the month when the
little people are busiest. He never forgot what she did for him that
evening, although her part in it was so brief.
His own birthday was on the thirteenth of the month, and he often laid his
sorrows to that unchancy date. On the seventh he sat on the old Round
Stone, his pipes lying silent beside him, and brooded on his heavy ill.
Father Delancey had just left him and had told him flatly that he had no
ills at all. Hence he sat, his heart heavier than ever, drooping, under
the great maple tree, the road white before him, leading away into the
empty, half-translucent shadows of starlight. Father Delancey had said it
was only the faery nonsense in his head that made him miserable, and had
marshaled before him the irrefutable blessings of his life. Had he not
been cared for from the first minute of his landing from Ireland, a
penniless piper of nineteen, as though the holy saints themselves were
about him? Had he not gone direct to Father Delancey, sent by the priest
in Donegal, and had not Father Delancey at once placed him in the Wilcox
family, kindliest, heartiest, and most stirring of New England farmers?
And had he not lived in prosperity with them ever since?
Timothy started at the faery number. "Twinty-one years? So 'tis,
Father--an' more! 'Tis twinty-one years to-day since I came, aven and
true--the seventh day of October. Sure, somethin' ought to happen on such
a day--oughtn't it?"
"Happen?" queried Father Delancey.
"The seventh day of October, the twinty-first year and October bein' the
month for thim," said Timothy, elucidating confidently.
Father Delancey frowned and broke into an angry exclamation, "'Tis simple
mad ye are, Timothy Moran, with your faery foolishness, and I've a half a
mind to take your pipes away from you as a penance for your ignorant
"But, Father, I'm the seventh son and sure ye must admit 'tis a lonesome
country, all this, that looks so like Donegal and Killarney mountains, an'
is so dead-like, wi' no little people to fill up the big gap between the
dead an' the livin', an' the good an' the bad. 'Tis empty, all this
"Timothy Moran, that are my sister's husband's cousin's son, I'm ashamed
of ye, an' I bid ye note that 'twas the hand of the Blessed Virgin herself
that sent ye out o' Ireland, for if you'd 'a' stayed in th' ould country
you'd 'a' been bewitched long before now--not, savin' us all th' blessed
saints, that I belave in any of your nonsense!"
Timothy smiled at this with an innocent malice. "You see how 'tis, Father.
You cannot kape yourself from belivin' in thim and you a man o' God."
"I do _not_, Timothy! Tis but a way of speech that I learned in my
childhood. An' 'tis lucky for you that I have a knowledge of thim, for any
other priest would have driven you out of the parish, you and your
stubborn pipes that do naught but play faery music. An' you a man of forty
in a trifle of six days, and no wife an' childer to keep you from foolish
notions. If ye had, now, you could be livin' in the proper tenant's house
for the Wilcox's man, instead of Michael O'Donnell, who has no business
livin' up here on the hill so far from his work that he can come home but
once a week to look after his poor motherless child. I will say for you,
Tim, that you do your duty by that bit of a slip of a girl baby, keepin'
her so neat and clean an' all, times when Mike's not here."
Timothy did not raise his drooping head at this praise, and something
about his attitude struck sharp across the priest's trained observation.
The big, shambling, red-headed man looked like a guilty child. There was a
moment's silence, while Father Delancey speculated, and then his
experienced instinct sped him to the bull's-eye. "Timothy Moran, you're
not putting your foolish notions in the head of that innocent child o'
God, Moira O'Donnell, are you?"
The red head sank lower.
"Answer me, man! Are ye fillin' her mind with your sidhe[A] and your
red-hatted little people an' your stories of 'gentle places' an' the
[Footnote A: Pronounced _shee_ (as in Banshee), the fairies.]
Timothy arose suddenly and flung his long arms abroad in a gesture of
revolt. "I am that, Father Delancey, 'tis th' only comfort of my life,
livin' it, as I do, in a dead country--a valley where folks have lived and
died for two hundred years such lumps of clay that they niver had wan man
sharp enough to see the counts in between heaven and earth." He lapsed
again into his listless position on the Round Stone. "But ye needn't be
a-fearin' for her soul, Father--her wid th' black hair an' the big gray
eyes like wan that cud see thim if she wud! She's as dead a lump as anny
of th' rest--as thim meat-eatin' Protestants, the Wilcoxes, heaven save
the kindly bodies, for they've no souls at all, at all." From the stone he
picked up a curiously shaped willow whistle with white lines carved on it
in an odd criss-cross pattern. "To-day's her seventh birthday, an' I
showed her how to make the cruachan whistle, an' when I'd finished she
blew on it a loud note that wud ha' wakened the sidhe for miles around in
Donegal. An' then she looked at me as dumb as a fish, her big gray eyes
blank as a plowed field wid nothin' sown in it. She niver has a word to
show that she _hears_ me, even, when I tell o' the gentle people." He
added in a whisper to himself, "But maybe she's only waiting."
"'Tis the Virgin protectin' her from yer foolishness, Tim," returned the
priest, rising with a relieved air. "She'll soon be goin' to district
school along with all the other hard-headed little Yankees, and then your
tales can't give her notions." With which triumphant meditation he walked
briskly away, leaving Timothy to sit alone with his pipes under the
maple-tree, flaming with a still heat of burning autumn red, like a faery
His head sank heavily in his hands as his heart grew intolerably sad with
the lack he felt in all the world, most of all in himself. He had often
tried to tell himself what made the world so dully repellant, but he never
could get beyond, "'Tis as though I was aslape an' yet not quite
aslape--just half wakin', an' somethin' lovely is goin' on in the next
room, an' I can't wake up to see what 'tis. The trouble's with th' people.
They're all _dead_ aslape here, an' there's nobody to wake me up."
"Piper Tim! Piper Tim!" was breathed close to his ear. He sprang up, with
wide, startled eyes.
"Piper Tim," said the little girl gravely, "_I've seen them_."
The man stared at her in a breathless silence.
"A little wee woman with a red hat and kerchief around her neck, an' she
said, 'Go straight to Piper Tim an' tell him to play "The Call o' the
Sidhe" as he sits on the Round Stone, for this is th' day of the Cruachan
The child put out her hand, and drew him to the pipes, still keeping her
deep eyes fixed on him, "Play, Piper Tim, an' shut your eyes an' I'll see
what you should see an' tell you what 'tis."
The first notes were quavering as the man's big frame shook, but the
little hands across his eyes seemed to steady him, and the final flourish
was like a call of triumph. In the silence which followed the child spoke
in her high little treble with a grave elation. "They're here, Piper Tim,
all the river fog in the valley is full of them, dancin' and singin' so
gay-like to cheer up the poor hills. An' whist! Here they come up the
road, troops and troops of them, all so bright in the ferlie green; an'
sure," with a little catch of merriment, "sure, they've no toes on their
feet at all! They've danced them all away. And now, Piper Tim, hold your
breath, for they'll be after comin' by, but all so still, so still! so you
won't hear them and maybe think to open your eyes and see them--for that
'ud mean--sh! sh! Piper Tim, don't stir! _They're here! They're here_!"
His eyes ached with the pressure of the strong little hands across them,
his ears ached with straining them into the silence which lay about them.
His heart beat fast with hope and then with certainty. Yes, it was no
longer the thin, dead silence of the New England woods he knew so
unhappily well. It was the still that comes with activity suspended. It
was like the quivering quiet of a dancer, suddenly stricken motionless to
listen for the sound of intruding footsteps. There was not the faintest
sound, but the silence was full of that rich consciousness of life which
marks the first awakening of a profound sleeper.
The hands were withdrawn from before his eyes, but he did not open them.
He reached blindly for his pipes, and played "The Song of Angus to the
Stars," tears of joy running from between his closed eyelids, to recognize
in his own music the quality he had been starving for; the sense of the
futile, poignant beauty, of the lovely and harmless tragedy, of the sweet,
moving, gay sad meaning of things.
When he looked about him he was quite alone. Moira was gone, and the road
lay white and still before him.
He did not see her all the next day, although he went down to the little
house to do the household tasks his big hands performed with so curious a
skill. He wished to see her and clear his mind of a weight which the
morning's light had put upon him; but she did not come in answer to his
call. The little house seemed full of her in its apparent emptiness, and
several times he had swung sharply about, feeling her back of him, but
always the room had turned a blank face.
That evening he was returning late from the upland pastures where he had
been searching vainly for a lost cow. His path lay through a thick copse
of maple saplings where it was quite dark. As he emerged into a stony
pasture, he saw the child standing still in the center of a ring of fern,
brown and crumpled by the early frosts. When he appeared she held him
motionless by the sudden passion of her gestured appeal for silence. She
did not stir after this, her hands laid along her cheeks as though to hold
her head quite still, her eyes directed with a smiling eagerness toward a
huge rock, looming dimly in the transparent twilight. The silence was
oppressive. Timothy's blood ran chill as the expectancy grew more and more
strained in the child's eyes. He did not dare look at the rock himself.
He stared only at the elfin creature before him, and when her hands were
finally flung out in a gesture of welcoming ardor, he broke the unearthly
silence by crying out loud in a rapid whirl, "God save us. Christ save us!
The Holy Virgin guard us! St. Patrick defend us! St. Columba--"
The little girl burst into a storm of tears and sank down on the ferns.
Timothy stopped his hysterical litany and ran toward her. "Don't you come
a-near me, bad Piper Tim!" she sobbed. "You don't dare step on the magic
circle anyhow. It 'ud burn your wicked foot!"
The big farm laborer drew back in a terror he instantly disguised. "I was
just lookin' for you, Moira aroon," he said propitiatingly. "I was wishin'
to tell you--to tell you--why, that it's all pretend. There aren't any
little people really, you know. Tis just old Tim's nonsense." He shivered
at the blasphemy and crossed himself. "Or, if there are any, 'tis only in
th' ould country." The child rose to her feet, eying him strangely, her
eyes like deep pools.
He went on conscientiously, with a mental eye on Father Delancey, "An' if
there _are_ any, which they aren't, they're bad things for Christians to
have aught to do with, because they know neither right nor wrong, and
'tisn't fit that mortals should iver be light an' gay wi' that burden
gone! So they're bad for us--an' we shouldn't think of thim, and just
cross ourselves wheniver--"
The unspoken protest in the child's face was grown so passionate that he
interrupted himself to answer it in a burst of sympathy. "Och, Moira,
acushla, sure an' I know how 'tis to ye--" And then with a reaction to
virtue, he said sternly, "An' if they're not bad, why do they go when you
call on the blessed saints?"
At this the child's face twisted again for tears. "Och, bad Piper Tim, to
scare them away from me! It's not that they're bad--only that good's too
heavy for them. They're such _little_ people! It's too heavy! It's too
heavy." She ran away through the dusk, sobbing and calling this over her
In the weeks which followed, old Timothy Moran, as he was called, could
scarcely complain that he was but half awake. He seemed to be making up
for the dull apathy of his long exile by the storminess of his days and
nights. Mrs. Wilcox, bustling housewife, hastening about the kitchen,
engaged in some late evening task, was moved to a sudden burst of
hysterical tears, by the faint sound of Tim's pipes, dropping down to her
from the Round Stone in a whirling roulade of ever-ascending merriness.
"You, Ralph!" she cried angrily through her sobs, to her oldest boy,
stricken open-mouthed and silent by his mother's amazing outburst, "you,
Ralph, run up to the Round Stone and tell the Irishman to stop playing
that jig over and over. I'm that tired to-night it drives me wild with
nerves!" As she brushed away the tears she said fretfully, "My sakes!
When my liver gets to tormenting me so I have the megrims like a girl,
it's time to do something."
The boy came back to say that Old Tim had stopped playing "the jig" before
he reached him, and was lying sobbing on the stone.
Moira was as approachable as a barn swallow, swooping into the house for a
mouthful of food and off again to the sky apparently. Timothy's
child-heart was guiltily heavy within him, for all his excitement, and
when he finally caught her in the pine woods he spoke briefly and firmly,
almost like Father Delancey himself. "Moira, Tim was a big fool to tell
you lies. There aren't really any little people. Tis only a way of
talkin'-like, to say how lovely the woods and stars an' all are."
"Why do you sit on the Round Stone evenings?" asked Moira defiantly.
"That's just it! I pretend all kind o' things, but it's really because the
moon is like gold, and the white fog comes up in puffs like incense in the
church, an' the valley's all bright wi' lamps like the sky wi' stars.
That's all anybody means by fairies--just how lovely things are if we can
but open our eyes to see thim, an' take time from th' ugly business o'
livin' to hear thim, and get a place quiet enough to half see what
everything means. I didn't know before, in Ireland, but now I'm like one
born again to the ferie country, and now I think I know. There aren't any
Little People really but just in your own head--"
Moira shook off his hand and faced him, laughing mockingly, her dark eyes
wide with an elfin merriment. "Are there not, Piper Tim? Are there not?
Listen! You'll see!" She held up a tiny forefinger to the great man
towering above her. As he looked down on her, so pixy-like in the twilight
of the pines, he felt his flesh creep. She seemed to be waiting for
something infinitely comic which yet should startle her. She was poised,
half turned as though for flight, yet hung so, without a quiver in an
endless listening pause. The man tried in vain to remember the name of a
single saint, so held was he by the breathless expectancy in the eyes of
the little hobgoblin. His nerves gave way with a loud snap when she
suddenly leaped up at him with snapping fingers and some whispered,
half-heard exclamation of "_Now! Now_!" and turning he plunged down the
hill in panic-stricken flight. And the next day Father Delancey took her
down to the valley to begin her schooling.
Upon her return she had adopted the attitude which she never changed
during all the years until Timothy went away. She would not speak openly,
nor allow Tim to discuss "their" existence. "They mind their business and
we should mind ours," she said, eying him hard; but she made his world
over for him. Every spring she came back from the valley school and every
autumn she went away; and the months in between were golden. After
Timothy's work was done in the evenings, he left the hot kitchen, redolent
of food and fire and kindly human life, took his pipes up on the Round
Stone and played one after another of the songs of the sidhe, until the
child's white face shone suddenly from the dusk.
Then their entertainment varied. Sometimes they sat and watched the white
river fog rise toward them, translucent and distant at first, and then
blowing upon them in gusty, impalpable billows. Timothy's tongue was
loosened by the understanding in the little girl's eyes and he poured out
to her the wise foolishness of his inconsequent and profound faery lore.
He told her what was in the fog for him, the souls of mountain people long
dead, who came back to their home heights thus. He related long tales of
the doings of the leprechaun, with lovely, irrelevant episodes, and told
her what he thought was their meaning.
Some nights the moon rode high and the air was clear and those were not
the times for words--only for sitting quite still and playing every air in
all the world on the pipes. Moira lay beside him, her strange, wide eyes
fixed intently on the road and the shadows until she peopled them almost
visibly to the musician with the folk of his melodies--with Angus, the
beautiful and strong, with Maive, the sad, the happy, with Congal of the
frightful Vision of War, and Mananan, strange wanderer on these mountain
Sometimes it rained, the long steady downpour of summer nights, and they
sat on the steps of Michael O'Donnell's little cabin, Timothy's pipes
sounding sweet and shrill against the deep note of the rushing rain. This
was the time of the wildest stories, when sheltering walls were close
about them; of newly wed wives carried off by the fairies to live happy
always, always without a moment of pain, and then to perish utterly on the
Day of Judgment, like a last year's butterfly, for souls cannot live
without sorrow; of newly born babes whose souls were carried away by the
sidhe because a cock was not killed on the night of their birth, and of
the mystic meaning of vicarious sacrifice; of people who had lain down to
sleep unaware in a fairy ring and were foolish ever afterward--that is, as
people say, foolish, but really wise, for they saw how things are; of
homes built unknowingly across a fairy path where the sidhe take their
journeys, and how ill luck followed the inhabitants until they moved, and
of the strange penalties for living out of harmony with the little-known
currents of the soul's life; of how blind men see more than others; of how
a fool is one whose mind is so cleared of all futile commonplace traffic
that it reflects untroubled and serene the stars and their courses; of how
wisdom is folly, and life, death. All these things and many more did
Timothy say in words and play in music on his pipes, and to all of them
Moira gave her wide comprehending silence.
The best of all was on evenings when the stars came out first, and then as
the two sat watching them from the Round Stone they suddenly began to
pale, and the moon flashed into sight, rising swiftly over the mountain
Moira called "The Hill o' Delights," because it was from a wide, white
door in it that the rushing, light-footed little people came out every
evening when the twilight fell and the harsh endeavor of human life was
stilled to peace. There was neither talk nor music on those evenings, but
a silence full, like the lovely world about them, of unsaid, quivering
joy. Sometimes Timothy would turn after such a long time of deep and
cheering mutual knowledge of how fair were all things, and find Moira
slipped away from beside him; but so impalpable was the companionship she
gave him in the strange and sweet confusion of his thoughts that he did
not feel himself alone, though she might be already deep in the pines
The girl grew taller, but the cool whiteness of her face was untinged by
any flush of young maidenhood. At seventeen she was a slender sprite of a
girl, to reach whose unearthly aloofness the warm human hands of her
companions strained unavailing. Each winter she descended to the valley
and to school and church, a silent, remote child, moving like one in a
dream. And every spring she came back to the hill, to Timothy and his
pipes, to the pines and the uplands, to the Round Stone and the white road
in front of it. Ralph Wilcox, hearty, kindly son of his hearty, kindly
parents, tried to speak to her long enough to make her seem real, but she
was rarely in the house except during the day and a half of each week when
her father was there; and on their casual encounters out of doors she
melted from before his eyes like a pixie, knowing the hiding places and
turns of his own land better than he. Sometimes he caught a glimpse of her
afterward, regarding him steadily and curiously from a nook in a hillside,
and once as she darted away she had dropped a handkerchief and turned her
head in time to see him pick it up; but she did not slacken her pace, or
speak to him then or at all.
She rarely spoke, even to Timothy, but this was no barrier between them.
All the winter Timothy lived on the thoughts of the spring, and when the
arbutus and Moira came back he poured out to her the strange treasures he
had found in his heart. Scarcely to her, for she only gazed silent at the
stars as he talked. Rather she seemed to unlock in him the rich stores of
his own understanding and emotion. He marveled that he could ever have
found the valley empty. He felt within him a swelling flood, ever renewed,
of significance to fill all his world with a sweet and comforting meaning.
And so his red hair grew threaded with white, and his foolish, idle heart
happier and happier as the years went on. Then, one midwinter day, Father
Delancey climbed the hill to say that Timothy's sister's husband was dead,
and that Timothy was sent for to take his place, hold the Nebraska claim,
work the land, and be a father to his sister's children. Timothy was
stunned with horror, but the unbending will of the never-contradicted
parish priest bore him along without question.
"Sure, Tim, go! I tell you to! 'Tis the only thing _to_ do! And 'twill be
a man's work and earn ye many hours out of purgatory. An' 'twill be grand
for ye, ye that never would have a family o' your own--here's the Blessed
Virgin pushin' ye into one, ready-made. 'Twill be the makin' o' ye, 'twill
make ye rale human, an' ye'll have no more time for star-gazin' an' such
foolishness. Ye can find out what people are in the world for, instead
keepin' yerself so outside o' things. Sure, yes, man, yes, I'll tell Moira
ye said good-by to her, an'--yes, I give ye my word, and promise true and
true, I'll lave ye now if she moves away or if any harm comes to her."
His grizzled hair was turned quite white when his sister kissed him
good-by, fresh tears in her eyes, scarcely dry from the excitement of her
youngest daughter's wedding. She had a moment of divination like his, and
said sadly, "There's no use trying to thank ye, Timmy, words can't do it.
If ye'd been anybody else, I cud ha' said ye got ye'r pay for all these
long, hard years in the love the childer bear ye. That's the pay folks get
for workin' an' livin' for others--but ye're not folks. Is't that ye're
the seventh son? Is't that ye've second sight? Is't that--_what_ is't that
makes ye so far away? An' what _is_ ye'r pay, Tim? Now that it's over and
the children all safe and grown up, ye look yerself like a child that's
done its lesson an' run out to play. Is't all just work or play with ye?
Can't ye niver just _live_?"
In truth her brother's eagerness to be away was scarcely concealed at all
from the grateful, wistful Irish eyes about him. He was breathless with
haste to be off. The long trip to New England was a never-ending nightmare
of delay to him, and although he had planned for years to walk up the
hill, his trembling old legs dragged in a slow progress maddening to his
impatience. A farmer, driving by, offered him a lift, which he accepted
gratefully, sitting strained far forward on the high seat. At a turn of
the road he looked back and saw that he had passed the cluster of pines
where Moira had laughed at him, and where he had felt so thick about him
the thronging rush of his newly awakened perceptions of the finer meaning
of things, the gay, sweet crowd of gentle little people.
He stopped the farmer and, leaping down from the high seat, he took his
pipes under his arm and fairly ran up the little path. His rheumatic knee
creaked a little, but the color came up hard in his tired old face as the
twilight of the pines and their pungent, welcoming breath fell about him.
He cast him down and buried his face in the rust-red dried needles. He did
not weep, but from time to time a long sigh heaved his shoulders. Then he
turned over and lay on his back, looking at the sunset-yellow sky through
the green, thick-clustered needles, noticing how the light made each one
glisten as though dipped in molten gold. His hand strayed out to his
pipes, lying beside him with mute, gaping mouths. "The Gold o' the
Glamour," he murmured to himself, and as he broke the silence with the old
tune faintly blown, he felt the wood peopled about him as of yore with
twilight forms. Unseen bright eyes gazed at him from behind tree-trunks,
and the branches were populous with invisible, kindly listeners. The very
hush was symbolic of the consciousness of the wood that he was there
again. There was none of the careless commonplace of rustling leaves, and
snapping twigs, and indifferent, fearless bird-song. In the death-like
still he felt life quivering and observant with a thousand innocent,
curious, welcoming eyes.
When he had quavered through the last note he let the pipes fall and gazed
about him with a smile, like a happy old child. The sun sank behind the
mountain as he looked, and he pulled himself heavily up. His way to the
farm lay over bare upland pastures where his feet, accustomed for years to
the yielding prarie levels, stumbled and tripped among the loose stones.
Twilight came on rapidly, so that he found himself several times walking
blindly through fairy rings of fern. He crossed himself and bowed his head
three times to the west, where the evening star now shone pale in the
radiance of the glowing sky. Between two of the ridges he wandered into a
bog where his feet, hot in their heavy boots, felt gratefully the oozing,
cool brown water.
And then, as he stepped into the lane, dark with dense maple-trees and
echoing faintly with the notes of the hermit thrush, he saw the light of
the little house glimmer through the trees in so exactly the spot where
his hungering eyes sought it that his heart gave a great hammering leap in
He knocked at the door, half doubtfully, for all his eagerness. It might
be she lived elsewhere in the parish now. He had schooled himself to this
thought so that it was no surprise, although a heavy disappointment, when
the door was opened by a small dark man holding a sleeping baby on his
arm. Timothy lowered his voice and the man gave a brief and hushed answer.
He spoke in a strong French-Canadian accent. "Moira O'Donnell? I nevaire
heard before. Go to ze house on ze hill--mebbe zey know--"
He closed the door, and, through the open window, Timothy saw him sit
down, still holding the baby and looking at it as though the interrupting
episode were already forgotten. The old man shivered with a passing eerie
sense of being like a ghost knocking vainly at the doors of the living. He
limped up the hill, and knocked on the kitchen door of the old Wilcox
house. To his eyes, dilated with the wide dusk of the early evening, the
windows seemed to blaze with light, and when the door was opened to him he
shaded his eyes, blinking fast against the rays of a lamp held high in the
hand of a round, little woman who looked at him with an impersonal
kindness. His heart beat so he could not speak.
Suddenly from the past rang out his old name, the one he had almost lost
in the dreary years of "Uncle Tim" which lay behind him.
"Why, Piper Tim!" cried the woman in a voice of exceeding warmth and
affection. "Why, it's dear, dear, darling old Piper Tim come back to visit
his old home. I knew ye in a minute by the pipes. Come in! Come in!
There's not a soul livin' or dead that's welcomer in th' house of Moira
The name blazed high through all the confusion of his swimming senses. To
his blank look she returned a mellow laugh. "Why sure, Timmy darlint,
hasn't anybody; iver told ye I was married? I'd have written ye myself,
only that I knew you couldn't read it, and 'twas hard to tell through
other people. Though, saints preserve us, 'tis long since I thought
anything about it, one way _or_ th' other. 'Tis as nat'ral as breathing
She was pulling him into the warm, light room, taking his cap and pipes
from him, and at the last she pushed him affectionately into a chair, and
stood looking kindly at his pale agitation, her arms wide in a soft angle
as she placed her hands on her rounded hips. "Oh, Timothy Moran, you
darlint! Moira's that glad to see you! You mind me of the times when I was
young and that's comin' to be long ago."
She turned and stepped hastily to the stove from which rose an appetizing
smell of frying ham. As she bent her plump, flushed face over this, the
door opened and two dark-eyed little girls darted in. On seeing a
stranger, they were frozen in mid-flight with the shy gaze of country
"Here, childer, 'tis Piper Tim come back to visit us. Piper Tim that I've
told ye so many tales about--an' the gran' tunes he can play on his pipes.
He can play with ye better nor I--he niver has aught else to do!" She
smiled a wide, friendly smile on the old man as she said this, to show she
meant no harm, and turned the slices of ham deftly so that they sent a
puff of blue savory smoke up to her face. "Don't th' ham smell good, ye
spalpeens, fresh from runnin' th' hills? Go an' wash ye'r faces an' hands
and call ye'r father an' brothers. I've four," she added proudly to the
man by the table watching her with horrified eyes.
The fumes of the cooking made him sick, the close air suffocated him. He
felt as though he were in some oppressive nightmare, and the talk at the
supper-table penetrated but dully to his mind. The cordiality of Moira's
husband, the shy, curious looks of the children at his pipes, even Moira's
face rosy from brow to rounded chin, and beaming with indulgent,
affectionate interest all melted together into a sort of indistinguishable
confusion. This dull distress was rendered acute anguish by Moira's talk.
In that hot, indoor place, with all those ignorant blank faces about her,
she spoke of the pines and the upland bogs, of the fog and the Round
Stone, and desecrated a sacred thing with every word.
It would have been a comfort to him if she had even talked with an
apostate's yearning bitterness for his betrayed religion, if she had
spoken harshly of their old, sweet folly; but she was all kindness and
eager, willing reminiscence. Just as she spoke his name, his faery name of
"Piper Tim," in a tone that made it worse than "Uncle Tim," so she
blighted one after another of the old memories as she held them up in her
firm, assured hands, and laughed gently at their oddity.
After supper as Tim sat again in the kitchen watching her do the evening
work, the tides of revulsion rose strong within him. "We were a queer lot,
an' no mistake, Piper Tim," she said, scraping at a frying pan with a
vigorous knife. "An' the childer are just like us. I've thried to tell
them some of our old tales, but--I dun'no'--they've kind o' gone from me,
now I've such a lot to do. I suppose you were up to the same always, with
your nephews an' nieces out West. 'Twas fine for ye to have a family of
your own that way, you that was always so lonely like."
Timothy's shuddering horror of protest rose into words at this, incoherent
words and bursts of indignation that took his breath away in gasps.
"Moira! _Moira_! What are ye sayin' to me? _Me_ wid a family! Anyone who's
iver had th' quiet to listen to th' blessed little people--_him_ to fill
up his ears wid th' clatter of mortial tongues. No? Since I lift here I've
had no minute o' peace--oh, Moira, th' country there--th' great flat
hidjious country of thim--an' th' people like it--flat an' fruitful. An'
oh, Moira, aroon, it's my heart breakin' in me, that now I've worked and
worked there and done my mortial task an' had my purgatory before my time,
an' I've come back to live again--that ye've no single welcomin' word to
bid me stay."
The loving Irish heart of the woman melted in a misunderstanding sympathy
and remorse. "Why, poor Piper Tim, I didn't mean ye should go back to them
or their country if ye like it better here. Ye're welcome every day of the
year from now till judgment tramp. I only meant--why--seem' they were your
own folks--and all, that ye'd sort o' taken to thim--the way most do, when
it's their own blood."
She flowed on in a stream of fumbling, warm-hearted, mistaken apology
that sickened the old man's soul. When he finally rose for his great
adventure, he spoke timidly, with a wretched foreknowledge of what her
answer would be.
"Och, Piper Tim, 'tis real sweet of ye to think of it and ask me, an' I'd
like fine to go. Sure, I've not been on the Round Stone of an
evening--why, not since you went away I do believe! But Ralph's goin' to
the grange meetin' to-night, an' one of th' childer is restless with a
cough, and I think I'll not go. My feet get sort of sore-like, too, after
bein' on them all day."
As he stepped out from the warm, brightly lighted room, the night seemed
chill and black, but after a moment his eyes dilated and he saw the stars
shining through the densely hanging maple leaves.
Up by the Round Stone the valley opened out beneath him. Restlessly he
looked up and down the road and across the valley with a questing glance
which did not show him what he sought. The night for all its dark corners
had nothing in it for him beyond what lay openly before him. He put out
his hand instinctively for his pipes, remembered that he had left them at
the house, and sprang to his feet to return for them. Perhaps Moira would
come out with him now. Perhaps the child had gone to sleep. The brief stay
in the ample twilight of the hillside had given him a faint, momentary
courage to appeal again to her against the narrow brightness of her
Moira sat by the kitchen table, sewing, her smooth round face blooming
like a rose in the light from the open door of the stove. Her kindly eyes
beamed sweetly on the old man. "Ah, Piper Tim, ye're wise. 'Tis a damp
night out for ye'r rheumatis. The fog risin' too, likely?"
The old piper went to her chair and stood looking at her with a fixed
gaze, "Moira!" he said vehemently, "Moira O'Donnell that was, the stars
are bright over the Round Stone, an' th' moon is risin' behind th' Hill o'
Delights, and the first white puffs of incense are risin' from th'
whirl-hole of th' river. I've come back for my pipes, and I'm goin' out to
play to th' little people--an' oh, shall old Piper Tim go without Moira?"
He spoke with a glowing fervor like the leaping up of a dying candle. From
the inexorably kind woman who smiled so friendly on him his heart recoiled
and puffed itself out into darkness. She surveyed him with the wise,
tender pity of a mother for a foolish, much-loved child. "Sure, 'tis th'
same Piper Tim ye are!" she said cheerfully, laying down her work, "but,
Lord save ye, Timmy darlint, _Moira's grown up_! There's no need for my
pretendin' to play any more, is there, when I've got proper childer o' my
own to keep it up. _They_ are my little people--an' I don't have to have a
quiet place to fancy them up out o' nothin'. They're real! An' they're
takin' my place all over again. There's one--the youngest girl--the one
that looks so like me as ye noticed--she's just such a one as I was.
To-day only (she's seven to-morrow), she minded me of some old tales I had
told her about the cruachan whistle for the sidhe on the seventh birthday,
an' she'd been tryin' to make one, but I'd clean forgot how the
criss-cross lines go. It made me think back on that evening when I was
seven--maybe you've forgot, but you was sittin' on the Round Stone in
Timothy's sore heart rebelled at this last rifling of the shrine, and he
made for the door. Moira's sweet solicitude held him for an instant in
check. "Oh, Tim, ye'd best stay in an' warm your knee by the good fire.
I've a pile of mendin' to do, and you'll tell me all about your family in
th' West and how you farmed there. It'll be real cozy-like."
Timothy uttered an outraged sound and snatching up his pipes fled out of
the pleasant, low-ceilinged room, up the road, now white as chalk beneath
the newly risen moon. At the Round Stone he sat down and, putting his
pipes to his lips, he played resolutely through to the end "The Song of
Angus to the Stars." As the last, high, confident note died, he put his
pipes down hastily, and dropped his face in his hands with a broken murmur
of Gaelic lament.
When he looked abroad again, the valley was like a great opal, where the
moon shot its rays into the transparent fog far below him. The road was
white and the shadows black and one was no more devoid of mystery than the
The sky for all its stars hung above the valley like an empty bowl above
an empty vessel, and in his heart he felt no swelling possibilities to
fill this void. To the haggard old eyes the face of the world was like a
dead thing, which did not return his gaze even with hostility, but
blankly--a smooth, thin mask which hid behind it nothing at all.
He was startled by the sudden appearance of a dog from out of the shadows,
a shaggy collie who trotted briskly down the road, stopping to roll a
friendly, inquiring eye on his bent figure. His eyes followed the animal
until it vanished in the shadows on the other side. After the sound of its
padding footsteps was still, the old man's heart died within him at the
He tried vainly to exorcise this anguish by naming it What was it? Why did
he droop dully now that he was where he had so longed to be? Everything
was as it had been, the valley, the clean white fog, tossing its waves up
to him as he had dreamed of it in the arid days of Nebraska; the mountains
closing in on him with the line of drooping peace he had never lost from
before his eyes during the long, dreary years of exile. Only he was
changed. His eye fell on his mud-caked boots, and his face contracted.
"Oh, my! Oh, my!" he said aloud, like an anxious old child. "She couldn't
ha' liked my tracking bog durt on to her clane kitchen floor!"
But as he sat brooding, his hand dropped heavily to the Round Stone and
encountered a small object which he held up to view. It was a willow
whistle of curious construction, with white lines criss-cross on it; and
beside it lay a jackknife with a broken blade. The old man looked at it,
absently at first, then with a start, and finally with a rush of joyful
and exultant exclamations.
And afterward, quite tranquilly, with a shining face of peace, he played
softly on his pipes, "The Call of the Sidhe to the Children."
The persuasive agent sought old Miss Abigail out among her flower-beds and
held up to her a tiny chair with roses painted on the back. "I was told to
see you about these. They're only four dollars a dozen, and the smallest
school children love 'em." Miss Abigail straightened herself with
difficulty. She had been weeding the gladiolus bed. "Four dollars," she
mused, "I was going to put four dollars into rose-bushes this fall." She
put out a strong, earth-stained old hand and took the chair. Her affection
for her native Greenford began to rise through her life-long thrift, a
mental ferment not unusual with her. Finally, "All right," she said; "send
'em to the schoolhouse, and say they're in memory of all my grandfathers
and grandmothers that learned their letters in that schoolhouse."
She went back to her digging and the agent clicked the gate back of his
retreat. Suddenly she stood up without remembering to ease her back. She
heard the first shot from the enemy who was to advance so rapidly upon her
thereafter. "Wait a minute," she called to the agent. As he paused, she
made a swift calculation. "I don't believe I want a dozen," she said, much
surprised. "I can't think of that many little ones." The agent took his
notebook. "How many?" he asked.
The ponderous old woman stared at him absently, while she made a mental
canvass of the town. She spoke with a gasp. "We don't need any!" she
cried. "There ain't a child in school under eleven."
"Take some now and have them handy," urged the agent.
Miss Abigail's gaze again narrowed in silent calculation. When she spoke
her exclamation was not for her listener. She had forgotten him. "Good
Lord of Love!" she cried. "There ain't a single one comin' up to sit on
those chairs if I should buy 'em!"
The agent was utterly blotted from her mind. She did not know when he left
her garden. She only knew that there were no children in Greenford. There
were no children in her town! "Why, what's comin' to Greenford!" she
And yet, even as she cried out, she was aware that she had had a warning,
definite, ominous, a few days before, from the lips of Molly Leonard. At
that time she had put away her startled uneasiness with a masterful hand,
burying it resolutely where she had laid away all the other emotions of
her life, under the brown loam of her garden. But it all came back to her
Her thin, fluttering, little old friend had begun with tragic emphasis,
"The roof to the library leaks!"
Miss Abigail had laughed as usual at Molly's habit of taking small events
with bated breath. "What of it?" she asked. "That roof never was good,
even back in the days when 'twas a private house and my great-uncle lived
Miss Molly fluttered still more before the awfulness of her next
"Well, the talk is that the town won't vote a cent toward repairs."
"They'll have to! You can't get along without a library!"
"No, they won't. The talk is that the men won't vote to have the town give
a bit of money for shingles. No, nor to pay somebody to take the place of
Ellen Monroe as librarian. She's got work in the print mill at
Johnsonville and is going to move down there to be near her mother's
"Oh, _talk_!" said Miss Abigail with the easy contempt she had for things
outside her garden hedge. "Haven't you heard men talk before?"
"But they say really they _won't!_ They say nobody ever goes into it any
more when the summer folks go away in the autumn."
Miss Abigail's gesture indicated that the thing was unthinkable. "What's
the matter with young folks nowadays, anyhow? They always used to run
there and chatter till you couldn't hear yourself think."
Miss Molly lowered her voice like a person coming to the frightening
climax of a ghost story. "Miss Abigail, they _ain't_ any young folks here
"What do you call the Pitkin girls!" demanded the other.
"They were the very last ones and they and their mother have decided
they'll move to Johnsonville this fall."
Miss Abigail cried out in energetic disapproval, "What in the Lord's world
are the Pitkinses going to move away from Greenford for! They belong
Miss Molly marshaled the reasons with a sad swiftness, "There aren't any
music pupils left for the oldest one, the two next have got positions in
the print mill and little Sarah is too old for the school here any more."
Miss Abigail shook her head impatiently as though to brush away a
troublesome gnat. "How about the Leavitts? There ought to be enough young
ones in that or family to--"
"They moved to Johnsonville last week, going to rent their house to city
folks in the summer, the way all the rest here in the street do. They
didn't want to go a bit. Eliza felt dreadful about it, but what can they
do? Ezra hasn't had enough carpentering to do in the last six months to
pay their grocery bill, and down in Johnsonville they can't get carpenters
enough. Besides, all the children's friends are there, and they got so
lonesome here winters."
Miss Abigail quailed a little, but rallying, she brought out, "What's the
matter with the Bennetts? The whole kit and b'iling of them came in here
the other day to pester me asking about how I grew my lilies."
"Why, Miss Abigail! You don't pay any more attention to village news!
They've been working in the mills for two years now, and only come home
for two weeks in the summer like everybody else."
The old woman stirred her weighty person wrathfully. "Like everybody else!
Molly, you talk like a fool! As if there was nobody lived here all the
"But it's _so!_ I don't know what's coming to Greenford!"
An imperative gesture from the older woman cut her short. "Don't chatter
so, Molly! If it's true, that about the library, we've got to do
The interview had ended in an agreement from her, after a struggle with
the two passions of her life, to give up the tulip bulbs for which she had
been saving so long, and spend the money for repairing the roof. Miss
Molly, having no money to give, since she was already much poorer than she
could possibly be and live, agreed, according to Miss Abigail's peremptory
suggestion, to give her time, and keep the library open at least during
"You can do it, Molly, as well as not, for you don't seem to have half the
sewing you used to."
"There's nobody here any more to sew _for_--" began the seamstress
despairingly, but Miss Abigail would not listen, bundling her out of the
garden gate and sending her trotting home, cheered unreasonably by the old
woman's jovial blustering, "No such kind of talk allowed in _my_ garden!"
But now, after the second warning, Miss Abigail felt the need of some
cheer for herself as she toiled among the hollyhocks and larkspurs. She
would not let herself think of the significance of the visit of the agent
for the chairs, and she could not force herself to think of anything else.
For several wretched weeks she hung in this limbo. Then, one morning as
she stood gazing at her Speciosums Rubrums without seeing them, she
received her summons to the front. She had a call from her neighbor, Mr.
Edward Horton, whom the rest of the world knows as a sculptor, but whom
Miss Abigail esteemed only because of his orthodox ideas on rose culture.
He came in to ask some information about a blight on his Red Ramblers,
although after Miss Abigail had finished her strong recommendation to use
whale oil soap sprayed, and not hellebore, he still lingered, crushing a
leaf of lemon verbena between his fingers and sniffing the resultant
perfume with thoughtful appreciation. He was almost as enthusiastic a
horticulturist as Miss Abigail, and stood high in her good graces as one
of the few individuals of sense among the summer colony. She faced him
therefore in a peaceable, friendly mood, glad of the diversion from her
thoughts, and quite unprepared for the shock he was about to give her.
"I'm on my way to interview the trustees of the church," he remarked. "It
is curious that all but one of them now really live in Johnsonville,
although they still keep their nominal residence here."
"What do you want to see _them_ for?" asked Miss Abigail, with a bluntness
caused in part by her wincing at his casual statement of an unwelcome fact.
"Why, I've had what I flatter myself is an inspiration for everyone
concerned. I've got a big commission for part of the decorations of the
new State House in Montana, and I need a very large studio. It occurred to
me the other day that instead of building I'd save time by buying the old
church here and using that."
Miss Abigail leaned against the palings. "_Buy our church!_" she said, and
every letter was a capital.
"I didn't know you were a member," said the sculptor, a little surprised.
"You don't often go."
Miss Abigail shouted out, "Why, my grandfather was minister in that
church!" Mr. Horton received this as a statement of fact. "Indeed? I
didn't realize the building was so old. I wonder if the foundations are
still in good shape." He went on, explanatorily, "I really don't know why
I hadn't thought of the plan before. The number who attend church in that
great barn of a place could easily be put into someone's parlor, and save
the trustees the expense of heating. One of them whom I saw the other day
seemed quite pleased with the notion--said they'd been at a loss to know
what to do about conditions here." He glanced at his watch. "Well, I must
be going or I shall miss the train to Johnsonville. Thank you very much
for the hint about the blight."
He went down the street, humming a cheerful little tune.
To Miss Abigail it was the bugle call of "Forward, charge!" She had been,
for the last few weeks, a little paler than usual. Now her powerful old
face flushed to an angry red. She dashed her trowel to the garden path and
clenched her fists. "What's coming to Greenford!" she shouted. It was no
longer a wail of despair. It was a battle-cry of defiance.
She had no time to organize a campaign, forced as she was to begin
fighting at once. Reaching wildly for any weapon at hand, she rushed to
the front, as grim-visaged a warrior as ever frightened a peaceable,
shiftless non-combatant "Joel Barney!" she cried, storming up his front
steps. "You're a trustee of the church, aren't you? Well, if you don't
vote against selling the church, I'll foreclose the mortgage on your house
so quick you can't wink. And you tell 'Lias Bennett that if he doesn't do
the same, I'll pile manure all over that field of mine near his place, and
stink out his summer renters so they'll never set foot here again."
She shifted tactics as she encountered different adversaries and tried no
blackmail on stubborn Miles Benton, whom she took pains to see the next
time he came back to Greenford for a visit. Him she hailed as the
Native-Born. "How would you like to have brazen models and nasty statues
made in the building where your own folks have always gone to church?"
But when the skirmish was over, she realized ruefully that the argument
which had brought her her hard-won victory had been the one which, for a
person of such very moderate means as hers, reflected the least hope for
future battles. At the last, in desperation, she had guaranteed in the
name of the Ladies' Aid Society that the church, except for the minister's
salary, should thereafter be no expense to the trustees. She had invented
that source of authority, remembering that Molly Leonard had said she
belonged to the Ladies' Aid Society, "and I can make Molly do anything,"
she thought, trusting Providence for the management of the others.
As a matter of fact, when she came to investigate the matter, she found
that Molly was now the sole remaining member. Her dismay was acute,
Molly's finances being only too well known to her, but she rallied
bravely. "They don't do much to a church that costs money," she thought,
and, when Molly went away, she made out her budget unflinchingly. Wood for
the furnace, kerosene for the lamps, wages to the janitor, repairs when
needed--"Well, Abigail Warner," she told herself, "it means nothing new
bought for the garden, and no new microscope--the roof to the library
costing more than they said 'twould and all."
But the joy of triumphant battle was still swelling her doughty old heart,
so that even these considerations did not damp her exultation over her
artist neighbor the next time he came to see her. He listened to her
boasting with his pleasant, philosophic smile, and, when she finished,
delivered himself of a quiet little disquisition or the nature of things
which was like ice-water in the face of the hot-blooded old fighter.
"My dear Miss Abigail, your zeal does your heart credit, and your
management of the trustees proves you an unsuspected diplomat; but as a
friend, and, believe me, a disinterested friend, let me warn you that you
are contending against irresistible forces. You can no more resuscitate
your old Greenford than you can any other dead body. You have kept the
church from my clutches, it is true, though for that matter I wouldn't
have offered to buy it if I hadn't thought no one cared about it--but what
do you mean to do with it now you have it? You cannot bring back the old
Greenford families from their well-paid work in Johnsonville to sit in
those rescued pews, or read in your deserted library, or send their
children to your empty schoolhouse. You tell me they are loyal to their
old home, and love to come back here for visits. Is that strange?
Greenford is a charming village set in the midst of beautiful mountains,
and Johnsonville is a raw factory town in a plain. But they cannot live on
picturesque scenery or old associations. The laws of economics are like
all other laws of nature, inevitable in their action and irresistible in--"
Miss Abigail gave the grampus snort which had been her great-grandfather's
war-cry. "Hoo! You're like all other book folks! You give things such long
names you scare yourselves! I haven't got anything to do with economics,
nor it with me. It's a plain question as to whether the church my
ancestors built and worshipped in is to be sold. There's nothing so
inevitable in _that_, let me tell you. Laws of nature--fiddlesticks! How
about the law of gravity? Don't I break that every time I get up gumption
enough to raise my hand to my head!"
Mr. Horton looked at the belligerent old woman with the kindest smile of
comprehension. "Ah, I know how hard it is for you. In another way I have
been through the same bitter experience. My home, my real home, where my
own people are, is out in a wind-swept little town on the Nebraska
prairies. But I cannot live there because it is too far from my world of
artists and art patrons. I tried it once, but the laws of supply and
demand work for all alike. I gave it up. Here I am, you see. You can't
help such things. You'd better follow on to Johnsonville now and not
embitter the last of your life with a hopeless struggle."
Miss Abigail fairly shouted at him her repudiation of his ideas. "Not
while there is a breath in me! My folks were all soldiers."
"But even soldiers surrender to overpowering forces."
"Hoo! Hoo! How do they know they're overpowering till they're overpowered!
How do they dare surrender till they're dead! How do they know that if
they hold out just a little longer they won't get reenforcements!"
Mr. Horton was a little impatient of his old friend's unreason. "My dear
Miss Abigail, you have brains. _Use_ them! What possible reinforcements
can you expect?"
The old woman opposed to his arguments nothing but a passionately bare
denial. "No! No! No! We're different! It's in your blood to give up
because you can reason it all out that you're beaten," She stood up,
shaking with her vehemence. "It's in my blood to fight and fight and
"And then what?" asked the sculptor, as she hesitated.
"Go on fighting!" she cried.
She was seventy-one years old when she first flew this flag, and for the
next four years she battled unceasingly under its bold motto against odds
that rapidly grew more overwhelming as the process that had been
imperceptibly draining Greenford of its population gained impetus with it
own action. In the beginning people moved to Johnsonville because they
could get work in the print mill, but after a time they went because the
others had gone. Before long there was no cobbler in Greenford because
there was so little cobbling to do. After that the butcher went away, then
the carpenter, and finally the grocery-store was shut up and deserted by
the man whose father and grandfather had kept store in the same building
for sixty years. It was the old story. He had a large family of children
who needed education and "a chance."
The well-kept old village still preserved its outer shell of quaintness
and had a constantly increasing charm for summering strangers who rejoiced
with a shameless egoism in the death-like quiet of the moribund place, and
pointed out to visiting friends from the city the tufts of grass beginning
to grow in the main street as delightful proofs of the tranquillity of
their summer retreat.
Miss Abigail overheard a conversation to this effect one day between some
self-invited visitors to her wonderful garden. Her heart burned and her
face blackened. "You might as well," she told them, "laugh at the funny
faces of a person who's choking to death!"
The urbane city people turned amused and inquiring faces upon her. "How
"Roads aren't for grass to grow in!" she fulminated.
"They're for folks to use, for men and women and little children to go over
to and from their homes."
"Ah, economic conditions," they began to murmur. "The inevitable laws of
"Get out of my garden!" Miss Abigail raged at them. "Get out!"
They had scuttled before her, laughing at her quaint verocity, and she had
sworn wrath fully never to let another city dweller inside her gate--a
resolution which she was forced to forego as time passed on and she became
more and more hard pressed for ammunition.
Up to this time she had lived in perfect satisfaction on seven hundred
dollars a year, but now she began to feel straitened. She no longer dared
afford even the tiniest expenditure for her garden. She spaded the beds
herself, drew leaf mold from the woods in repeated trips with a child's
express wagon, and cut the poles for her sweet-peas with her own hands.
When Miss Molly Leonard declared herself on the verge of starvation from
lack of sewing to do, and threatened to move to Johnsonville to be near
her sister Annie, Miss Abigail gave up her "help" and paid Miss Molly for
the time spent in the empty reading-room of the library. But the campaign
soon called for more than economy, even the most rigid. When the minister
had a call elsewhere, and the trustees of the church seized the
opportunity to declare it impossible to appoint his successor, Miss
Abigail sold her woodlot and arranged through the Home Missionary Board
for someone to hold services at least once a fortnight. Later the "big
meadow" so long coveted by a New York family as a building site was
sacrificed to fill the empty war chest, and, temporarily in funds, she
hired a boy to drive her about the country drumming up a congregation.
Christmas time was the hardest for her. The traditions of old Greenford
were for much decorating of the church with ropes of hemlock, and a huge
Christmas tree in the Town Hall with presents for the best of the
Sunday-school scholars. Winding the ropes had been, of old, work for the
young unmarried people, laughing and flirting cheerfully. By the promise
of a hot supper, which she furnished herself, Miss Abigail succeeded in
getting a few stragglers from the back hills, but the number grew steadily
smaller year by year. She and Miss Molly always trimmed the Christmas tree
themselves. Indeed, it soon became a struggle to pick out any child a
regular enough attendant at Sunday-school to be eligible for a present.
The time came when Miss Abigail found it difficult to secure any children
at all for the annual Christmas party.
The school authorities began to murmur at keeping up the large old
schoolhouse for a handful of pupils. Miss Abigail, at her wit's end,
guaranteed the fuel for warming the house, and half the pay of a teacher.
Examining, after this, her shrunk and meager resources, she discovered
she had promised far beyond her means. She was then seventy-three years
old, but an ageless valor sprang up in her to meet the new emergency. She
focused her acumen to the burning point and saw that the only way out of
her situation was to earn some money--an impossible thing at her age.
Without an instant's pause, "How shall I do it?" she asked herself, and
sat frowning into space for a long time.
When she rose up, the next development in her campaign was planned. Not in
vain had she listened scornfully to the silly talk of city folks about the
picturesqueness of her old house and garden. It was all grist to her mill,
she perceived, and during the next summer it was a grimly amused old
miller who watched the antics of Abigail Warner, arrayed in a
pseudo-oldfashioned gown of green-flowered muslin, with a quaintly ruffled
cap confining her rebellious white hair, talking the most correct
book-brand of down-east jargon, and selling flowers at twenty times their
value to automobile and carriage folk. She did not mind sacrificing her
personal dignity, but she did blush for her garden, reduced to the most
obvious commonplaces of flowers that any child could grow. But by
September she had saved the school-teacher's pay, and the Martins and the
Allens, who had been wavering on account of their children, decided to
stay another winter at least.
That was _something_, Miss Abigail thought, that Christmas, as she and
Miss Molly tortured their rheumatic limbs to play games with the six
children around the tree. She had held rigorously to the old tradition of
having the Christmas tree party in the Town Hall, and she had heartened
Miss Molly through the long lonely hours they had spent in trimming it;
but as the tiny handful of forlorn celebrants gathered about the tall
tree, glittering in all the tinsel finery which was left over from the
days when the big hall had rung to the laughter of a hundred children and
as many more young people, even Miss Abigail felt a catch in her throat as
she quavered through "King _Will_yum was King _James's_ son!"
When the games were over and the children sat about soberly, eating their
ice-cream and cake, she looked over her shoulder into the big empty room
and shivered. The children went away and she and Miss Molly put out the
lights in silence. When they came out into the moonlight and looked up and
down the deserted street, lined with darkened houses, the face of the
younger woman was frankly tear-stained. "Oh, Miss Abigail," she said;
"let's give it up!"
Miss Abigail waited an instant, perceptible instant before answering, but,
when she did, her voice was full and harsh with its usual vigor.
"Fiddlesticks! You must ha' been losing your sleep. Go tuck yourself up
and get a good night's rest and you won't talk such kind of talk!"
But she herself sat up late into the night with a pencil and paper,
figuring out sums that had impossible answers.
That March she had a slight stroke of paralysis, and was in an agony of
apprehension lest she should not recover enough to plant the flowers for
the summer's market. By May, flatly against the doctor's orders, she was
dragging herself around the garden on crutches, and she stuck to her post,
smiling and making prearranged rustic speeches all the summer. She earned
enough to pay the school-teacher another winter and to buy the fuel for
the schoolhouse, and again the Martins and the Allens stayed over; though
they announced with a callous indifference to Miss Abigail's ideas that
they were going down to Johnsonville at Christmas to visit their relatives
there, and have the children go to the tree the ex-Greenfordites always
When she heard this Miss Abigail set off to the Allen farm on the lower
slope of Hemlock Mountain. "Wa'n't our tree good enough?" she demanded
"The _tree_ was all right," they answered, "but the children were so
mortal lonesome. Little Katie Ann came home crying."
Miss Abigail turned away without answering and hobbled off up the road
toward the mountain. Things were black before her eyes and in her heart as
she went blindly forward where the road led her. She still fought off any
acknowledgment of the bitterness that filled her, but when the road, after
dwindling to a wood trail and then to a path, finally stopped, she sat
down with a great swelling breath. "Well, I guess this is the end," she
said aloud, instantly thereafter making a pretense to herself that she
meant the road. She looked about her with a brave show of interest in the
bare November woods, unroofed and open to the sunlight, and was rewarded
by a throb of real interest to observe that she was where she had not been
for forty years, when she used to clamber over the spur of Hemlock
Mountain to hunt for lady's-slippers in the marshy ground at the head of
the gorge. A few steps more and she would be on her own property, a steep,
rocky tract of brushland left her by her great-uncle. She had a throb as
she realized that, besides her house and garden, this unsalable bit of the
mountainside was her only remaining possession. She had indeed come to the
With the thought came her old dogged defiance to despair. She shut her
hands on her crutches, pulled herself heavily up to her feet, and toiled
forward through some brush. She would not allow herself to think if
thoughts were like that. Soon she came out into a little clearing beside
the Winthrop Branch, swirling and fumbling in its headlong descent. The
remains of a stone wall and a blackened beam or two showed her that she
had hit upon the ruins of the old sawmill her great-grandfather had owned.
This forgotten and abandoned decay, a symbol of the future of the whole
region, struck a last blow at the remnants of her courage. She sank down
on the wall and set herself to a losing struggle with the blackness that
was closing in about her. All her effort had been in vain. The fight was
over. She had not a weapon left.
A last spark of valor flickered into flame within her. She stood up,
lifting her head high, and summoning with a loudly beating heart every
scattered energy. She was alive; her fight could not be over while she
For an instant she stood, self-hypnotized by the intensity of her
resolution. Then there burst upon her ear, as though she had not heard it
before, the roar of the water rushing past her. It sounded like a loud
voice calling to her. She shivered and turned a little giddy as though
passing into a trance, and then, with one bound, the gigantic forces of
subconscious self, wrought by her long struggle to a white heat of
concentration on one aim, arose and mastered her. For a time--hours
perhaps--she never knew how long, old Miss Abigail was a genius, with the
brain of an engineer and the prophetic vision of a seer.
The next months were the hardest of her life. The long dreary battle
against insurmountable obstacles she had been able to bear with a stoical
front, but the sickening alternations of emotions which now filled her
days wore upon her until she was fairly suffocated. About mail time each
day she became of an unendurable irritability, so that poor Miss Molly was
quite afraid to go near her. For the first time in her life there was no
living thing growing in her house.
"Don't you mean to have any service this Christmas?" asked Miss Molly one
Miss Abigail shouted at her so fiercely that she retreated in a panic.
"Why not? Why shouldn't we? What makes you think such a thing?"
"Why, I didn't know of anybody to go but just you and me, and I noticed
that you hadn't any flowers started for decorations the way you always do."
Miss Abigail flamed and fulminated as though her timid little friend had
offered her an insult. "I've been to service in that church every
Christmas since I was born and I shall till I die. And as for my not
growing any flowers, that's _my_ business, ain't it!" Her voice cracked
under the outraged emphasis she put on it.
Her companion fled away without a word, and Miss Abigail sank into a chair
trembling. It came over her with a shock that her preoccupation had been
so great that she had _forgotten_ about her winter flowers.
The fortnight before Christmas was interminable to her. Every morning she
broke a hobbling path through the snow to the post-office, where she
waited with a haggard face for the postmaster's verdict of "nothing." The
rest of the day she wandered desolately about her house, from one window
to another, always staring, staring up at Hemlock Mountain.
She disposed of the problem of the Christmas service with the absent
competence of a person engrossed in greater matters. Miss Molly had
declared it impossible--there was no money for a minister, there was no
congregation, there was no fuel for the furnace. Miss Abigail wrote so
urgently to the Theological Seminary of the next State that they promised
one of their seniors for the service; and she loaded a hand sled with wood
from her own woodshed and, harnessing herself and Miss Molly to it, drew
it with painful difficulty through the empty village street. There was not
enough of this fuel to fill even once the great furnace in the cellar, so
she decreed that the service should be in the vestibule where a stove
stood. The last few days before Christmas she spent in sending out
desperate appeals to remote families to come. But when the morning
arrived, she and Miss Molly were the only ones there.
The young theologian appeared a little before the appointed time, brought
in the motor car of a wealthy friend of his own age. They were trying to
make a record winter trip, and were impatient at the delay occasioned by
the service. When they saw that two shabby old women constituted the
congregation, they laughed as they stood warming their hands by the stove
and waiting for the hour. They ignored the two women, chatting lightly of
their own affairs. It seemed that they were on their way to a winter house
party to which the young clergyman-to-be was invited on account of his
fine voice--an operetta by amateurs being one of the gayeties to which
they looked forward.
Miss Abigail and Miss Molly were silent in their rusty black, Miss Molly's
soft eyes red with restrained tears, Miss Abigail's face like a flint.
"A pretty place, this village is," said the motorist to the minister. "I
have visited the Ellerys here. Really charming in summer time--so utterly
deserted and peaceful." He looked out of the window speculatively. "Rather
odd we should be passing through it to-day. There's been a lot of talk
about it in our family lately."
"How so?" asked the minister, beginning cautiously to unwind the wrapping
from around his throat.
"Why, my brother-in-law--Peg's husband--don't you remember, the one who
sang so fearfully flat in----" He was off on a reminiscence over which
both men laughed loudly.
Finally, "But what did you start to tell me about him?" asked the minister.
"I forget, I'm sure. What was it? Oh, yes; he owns those print mills in
Johnsonville--hideous place for Peg to live, that town!--and of late he's
been awfully put out by the failure of his water-power. There's not much
fall there at the best, and when the river's low--and it's low most all
the time nowadays--he doesn't get power enough, so he says, to run a
churn! He's been wondering what he could do about it, when doesn't he get
a tip from some old Rube up here that, above this village, there's a
whopping water-power--the Winthrop Branch. I know it--fished it lots of
times. He didn't take any stock in it of course at first, but, just on the
chance, he sent his engineer up here to look it over, and, by Jove, it's
true. It'll furnish twice the power he's had in Johnsonville lately."
"Seems queer," said the minister a little skeptically, "that nobody's ever
thought of it before."
"Well, _I_ said that, but Pete says that his engineer tells him that there
are lots of such unknown water-powers in the East. Nobody but farmers live
near 'em, you see."
The minister was but mildly interested. "I thought the cost of
transmitting power was so great it didn't pay for any water-force but
"He isn't going to carry the power to Johnsonville. He's going to bring
his mill here. A lot of his operators come from around here and most of
'em have kept their old homes, so there won't be any trouble about keeping
his help. Besides, it seems the old hayseed who wrote him about it owned
the land, and offered him land, water-power, right of way--anything!--free,
just to 'help the town' by getting the mill up here. That bespeaks the
materialistic Yankee, doesn't it?--to want to spoil a quiet little
Paradise like this village with a lot of greasy mill-hands."
The minister looked at his watch. "I think I'll begin the service now.
There's no use waiting for a congregation to turn up." He felt in one
pocket after the other with increasing irritation. "Pshaw! I've left my
eyeglasses out in the car." The two disappeared, leaving the vestibule
echoing and empty.
For a moment the two women did not speak. Then Miss Molly cast herself
upon her old friend's bosom. "They're coming back!" she cried. "Annie and
Miss Abigail stared over her head. "They are _all_ coming back," she said,
"and--we are ready for them. The library's ready--the school is ready--"
she got up and opened the door into the great, cold, lofty church, "and--"
They looked in silence at the empty pews.
"Next Christmas!" said Miss Molly. "Next Christmas--"
The young minister bustled in, announcing as he came, "We will open the
service by singing hymn number forty-nine."
He sat down before the little old organ and struck a resonant chord.
"Oh, come, all ye faithful!"
his full rich voice proclaimed, and then he stopped short, startled by a
great cry from Miss Abigail. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the
tears were streaming down her face. He smiled to himself at the
sentimentality of old women and turned again to the organ, relieved that
his performance of a favorite hymn was not to be marred by cracked
trebles. He sang with much taste and expression.
"Oh, come, all ye faithful!"
he chanted lustily,
"Joyful and triumphant!"