Part 1 out of 4
Produced by A. Templeton, J. Sutherland, T. Allen
and the PG Distributed Proofreaders
TALES OF NEW ENGLAND LIFE
BY ALICE BROWN
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
FARMER ELI'S VACATION
TOLD IN THE POORHOUSE
MIS' WADLEIGH'S GUEST
A RIGHTEOUS BARGAIN
JOINT OWNERS IN SPAIN
AT SUDLEIGH FAIR
NANCY BOYD'S LAST SERMON
STROLLERS IN TIVERTON
LOVER OF WOODS AND FIELD AND SEA.
We who are Tiverton born, though false ambition may have ridden us to
market, or the world's voice incited us to kindred clamoring, have a
way of shutting our eyes, now and then, to present changes, and seeing
things as they were once, as they are still, in a certain sleepy yet
altogether individual corner of country life. And especially do we
delight in one bit of fine mental tracery, etched carelessly, yet for
all time, so far as our own' short span is concerned, by the unerring
stylus of youth: the outline of a little red schoolhouse, distinguished
from the other similar structures within Tiverton bounds by "District
No. V.," painted on a shingle, in primitive black letters, and nailed
aloft over the door. Up to the very hollow which made its playground
and weedy garden, the road was elm-bordered and lined with fair
meadows, skirted in the background by shadowy pines, so soft they did
not even wave; they only seemed to breathe. The treasures of the road!
On either side, the way was plumed and paved with beauties so rare that
now, disheartened dwellers in city streets, we covetously con over in
memory that roaming walk to school and home again. We know it now for
what it was, a daily progress of delight. We see again the old
watering-trough, decayed into the mellow loveliness of gray lichen and
greenest moss. Here beside the ditch whence the water flowed, grew the
pale forget-me-not and sticky star-blossomed cleavers. A step farther,
beyond the nook where the spring bubbled first, were the riches of the
common roadway; and over the gray, lichen-bearded fence, the growth of
stubbly upland pasture. Everywhere, in road and pasture too, thronged
milkweed, odorous haunt of the bee and those frailest butterflies of
the year, born of one family with drifting blossoms; and straightly
tall, the solitary mullein, dust-covered but crowned with a gold softer
and more to be desired than the pride of kings. Perhaps the carriage
folk from the outer world, who sometimes penetrate Tiverton's leafy
quiet, may wonder at the queer little enclosures of sticks and pebbles
on many a bare, tree-shaded slope along the road. "Left there from some
game!" they say to one another, and drive on, satisfied. But these are
no mere discarded playthings, dear ignorant travellers! They are tokens
of the mimic earnest with which child-life is ever seeking to sober
itself, and rushing unsummoned into the workaday fields of an aimlessly
frantic world. They are houses, and the stone boundaries are walls.
This tree stump is an armchair, this board a velvet sofa. Not more
truly is "this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog."
Across the road, at easy running distance from the schoolhouse at
noontime or recess, crawled the little river, with its inevitable
"hole," which each mother's son was warned to avoid in swimming, lest
he be seized with cramp there where the pool was bottomless. What eerie
wonders lurked within the mirror of those shallow brown waters! Long
black hairs cleaved and clung in their limpid flowing. To this day, I
know not whether they were horse-hairs, far from home, or swaying
willow roots; the boys said they were "truly" hairs of the kind
destined to become snakes in their last estate; and the girls,
listening, shivered with all Mother Eve's premonitory thrill along the
backbone. Wish-bugs, too, were here, skimming and darting. The
peculiarity of a wish-bug is that he will bestow upon you your heart's
desire, if only you hold him in the hand and wish. But the impossible
premise defeats the conclusion. You never do hold him long enough,
simply because you can't catch him in the first place. Yet the
fascinating possibility is like a taste for drink, or the glamour of
cards. Does the committee-man drive past to Sudleigh market, suggesting
the prospect of a leisurely return that afternoon, and consequent
dropping in to hear the geography class? Then do the laziest and most
optimistic boys betake them hastily from their dinner-pails to the
river, and spend their precious nooning in quest of the potent bug,
through whose spell the unwelcome visit may be averted. The time so
squandered in riotous gaming might have, fixed the afternoon's "North
Poles and Equators" triumphantly in mind, to the everlasting defiance
of all alien questioning; but no! for human delight lies ever in the
unattainable. The committee-man comes like Nemesis, _aequo pede_, the
lesson is unlearned, and the stern-fibred little teacher orders out the
rack known as staying after school. But what durance beyond hours in
the indescribably desolate schoolroom ever taught mortal boy to shun
the delusive insect created for his special undoing? So long as the
heart has woes of its own breeding, so long also will it dodge the
discipline of labor, and grasp at the flicker of an easy success.
On either side the little bridge (over which horses pounded with an
ominous thunder and a rain of dust on the head of him who lingered
beneath the sleepers, in a fearsome joy), the meadows were pranked with
purple iris and whispering rushes, mingling each its sweetness with the
good, rank smell of mud below. Here were the treasures of the
water-course, close hidden, or blowing in the light of day. The pale,
golden-hearted arrow-head neighbored the homespun pickerel-weed,
and--oh, mysterious glory from an oozy bed!--luscious, sun-golden
cow-lilies rose sturdily triumphant, dripping with color, glowing in
sheen. The button-bush hung out her balls, and white alder painted the
air with faint perfume; willow-herb built her bowery arches, and the
flags were ever glancing like swords of roistering knights. These
flags, be it known to such as have grown up in grievous ignorance of
the lore inseparable from "deestrick school," hold the most practical
significance in the mind of boy and girl; for they bring forth (I know
we thought for our delight alone!) a delicacy known as flag-buds,
everlastingly dear to the childish palate. These were devoured by the
wholesale in their season, and little mouths grew oozy-green as those
of happy beasties in June, from much champing and chewing. Did we lose
our appetite for the delectable dinner-pail through such literal going
to pasture? I think not. Tastes were elastic, in those days; and
Nature, so bullied, durst seldom revolt.
On one side, the nearest neighbor to the school lived at least a mile
away; but on the other, the first house of all owned treasures manifold
for the little squad who, though the day were wet or dry, fair or
frowning, trotted thither at noon. Here were trees under which lay, in
happy season, over-ripe Bartlett pears; here, too, was one
mulberry-tree, whereof the suggestion was strange and wonderful, and
the fruit less appealing to taste than to a mystical fancy. But outside
the bank wall grew the balm-of-Gileads, in a stately, benevolent
row,--trees of healing, of fragrance and romantic charm. No child ever
sought the old home to beg pears and mulberries, or to fill the
school-house pail at its dark-bosomed well, without bearing away a few
of the leaves in a covetous grasp. Sweet treasure-trove these, to be
pressed to fresh young faces, and held and patted in hot little palms,
till they grew flabby but evermore fragrant, still diffusing over the
dusty schoolroom that warm odor, whispering to those who read no corner
but their own New England, of the myrrh and balsams of the East.
We knew everything in those days, we aimless knights-errant with
dinner-pail and slate; the dry, frosty hollow where gentians bloom when
the pride of the field is over, the woody slopes of the hepatica's
awakening, under coverlet of withered leaves, and the sunny banks where
violets love to live with their good gossip, the trembling anemone. At
noon, we roved abroad into solitudes so deep that even our unsuspecting
hearts sometimes quaked with fear of dark and lonesomeness; and then we
came trooping back at the sound of the bell, untamed, happy little
savages, ready to settle, with a long breath, to the afternoon's drowsy
routine. Arrant nonsense that! the boundary of British America and the
conjugation of the verb _to be_! Who that might loll away the hours
upon a bank in silken ease, needed aught even of computation or the
tongues? He alone had inherited the earth.
All the little figures flitting through those tranquil early dramas are
so sharply drawn, so brightly colored still! I meet Melissa Crane
sometimes nowadays, a prosperous matron with space enough on her broad
back for the very largest plaid ever woven; but her present identity is
hazy and unreal. I see instead, with a sudden throb of memory, the
little Melissa, who, one recess, accepted a sugared doughnut from me,
and said, with a quaint imitation of old folks' manner,--
"I think your mother will be a real good cook, if she lives!"
I hear of Susie Marden, who went out West, married, and grew up with
the country in great magnificence; but to me she is and ever will be
the little girl who made seventy pies, one Thanksgiving time, thereby
earning the somewhat stinted admiration of those among us who could not
cook. Many a great deed, tacitly promised in that springtime, never
came to pass; many a brilliant career ingloriously ended. There was Sam
Marshall. He could do sums to the admiration of class and teacher, and,
Cuvier-like, evolve an entire flock from Colburn's two geese and a
half. His memory was prodigious. He could name the Presidents, bound
the States and Territories, and rattle off the list of prepositions so
fast that you could almost see the spark-shower from his rushing wheels
of thought. It was an understood thing among us, when Sam was in his
teens, that he should at least enter the Senate; perhaps he would even
be President, and scatter offices, like halfpence, among his scampering
townsmen. But to-day he patiently does his haying--by hand! and "goes
sleddin'" in the winter. The Senate is as far from him as the Polar
Star, and I question whether he could even bear the crucial test of two
geese and a half. Yet I still look upon him with a thrill of awe, as
the man selected by the popular vote to represent us in fame's
Valhalla, and mysteriously defeated by some unexpected move of the
"unseen hand at a game."
There were a couple of boys such good comrades as never to be happy
save when together. They cared only for the games made for two; all
their goods were tacitly held in common, and a tradition still lives
that David, when a new teacher asked his exact age, claimed his
comrade's birthday, and then wondered why everybody laughed. They had a
way of wandering off together to the woods, on Saturday. mornings, when
the routine of chores could be hurried through, and always they bore
with them a store of eggs, apples, or sweet corn, to be cooked in happy
seclusion. All this raw material was stolen from the respective
haylofts and gardens at home, though, as the fathers owned, with an
appreciative grin, the boys might have taken it openly for the asking.
That, however, would so have alloyed the charm of gypsying that it was
not to be thought of for a moment; and they crept about on their
foraging expeditions with all the caution of a hostile tribe. Blessed
fathers and mothers to wink at the escapade, and happy boys, wise
chiefly in their longing to be free! We had a theory that Jonathan and
David would go into business together. Perhaps we thought of them in
the same country store, their chairs tilted on either side of the
air-tight stove, telling stories, in the intervals of custom, as they
apparently did in their earlier estate. For, shy as they were in
general company, they chatted together with an intense earnestness all
day long; and it was one of the stock questions in our neighborhood,
when the social light burned low,--
"What under the sun do you s'pose Dave and Jont find to talk about?"
Alas! again the world had builded foolishly; for with early manhood,
they fell in love with the same round-cheeked school-teacher. Jonathan
married her, after what wrench of feeling I know not; and the other
fled to the town, whence he never returned save for the briefest visit
at Thanksgiving or Christmas time. The stay-at-home lad is a warm
farmer, and the little school-teacher a mother whose unlined face shows
the record of a placid life; but David cannot know even this, save by
hearsay, for he never sees them. He is a moneyed man, and not a year
ago, gave the town a new library. But is he happy? Or does the old
wound still show a ragged edge? For that may be, they tell us, even
"when you come to forty year."
Then, clad in brighter vestments of memory, there was the lad who
earned unto himself much renown, even among his disapproving relatives,
by running away from home, in quest of gold and glory. True, he was
brought back at the end of three days, footsore and muddy, and with
noble appetite for the griddle-cakes his mother cooked him in lieu of
the traditional veal,--but all undaunted. He never tried it again, yet
people say he has thrown away all his chances of a thrifty living by
perpetual wandering in the woods with gun and fishing-rod, and that he
is cursed with a deplorable indifference to the state of his fences and
potato-patch. No one could call him an admirable citizen, but I am not
sure that he has chosen the worser part; for who is so jovial and
sympathetic on a winter evening, when the apples are passed, and even
the shining cat purrs content before the blaze, or in the wood
solitudes, familiar to him as his own house door?
"Pa'tridges' nests?" he said, one spring, with a cock of his eye
calculated to show at once a humorous recognition of his genius and his
delinquencies. "Sartain! I wish I was as sure where I keep my scythe
He has learned all the lore of the woods, the ways of "wild critters,"
and the most efficacious means both to woo and kill them. Prim
spinsters eye him acridly, as a man given over to "shif'less" ways, and
wives set him up, like a lurid guidepost, before husbands prone to
lapse from domestic thrift; but the dogs smile at him, and children,
for whom he is ever ready to make kite or dory, though all his hay
should mildew, or to string thimbleberries on a grass spear while
supper cools within, tumble merrily at his heels. Such as he should
never assume domestic relations, to be fettered with requirements of
time and place. Let them rather claim maintenance from a grateful
public, and live, like troubadours of old, ministrant to the general
Not all the memories of that early day are quite unspotted by remorse.
Although we wore the mask of jocund faces and straightforward glance,
we little people repeatedly proclaimed ourselves the victims of Adam's
fall. Even then we needed to pray for deliverance from those passions
which have since pursued us. There was the little bound girl who lived
with a "selec'man's" wife, a woman with children of her own, but a hard
taskmistress to the stranger within her gates. Poor little Polly! her
clothes, made over from those of her mistress, were of dark, rough
flannel, often in uncouth plaids and appalling stripes. Her petticoats
were dyed of a sickly hue known as cudbar, and she wore heavy woollen
stockings of the same shade. Polly got up early, to milk and drive the
cows; she set the table, washed milkpans, and ran hither and thither on
her sturdy cudbar legs, always willing, sometimes singing, and often
with a mute, questioning look on her little freckled face, as if she
had already begun to wonder why it has pleased God to set so many
boundary lines over which the feeble may not pass. The selec'man's
son--a heavy-faced, greedy boy--was a bully, and Polly became his butt;
she did his tasks, hectored by him in private, and with a child's
strange reticence, she never told even us how unbearable he made her
life. We could see it, however; for not much remains hidden in that
communistic atmosphere of the country neighborhood. But sometimes Polly
revolted; her temper blazed up, a harmless flash in the pan, and then,
it was said, Mis' Jeremiah took her to the shed-chamber and, trounced
her soundly. I myself have seen her sitting at the little low window,
when I trotted by, in the pride of young life, to "borry some
emptin's," or the recipe for a new cake. Often she waved a timid hand
to me; and I am glad to remember a certain sunny morning, illuminated
now because I tossed her up a bright hollyhock in return. It was little
to give out of a full and happy day; but Polly had nothing. Once she
came near great good fortune,--and missed it! For a lady, who boarded a
few weeks in the neighborhood, took a fancy to Polly, and was stirred
to outspoken wrath by our tales of the severity of her life. She gave
her a pretty pink cambric dress, and Polly wore it on "last day," at
the end of the summer term. She was evidently absorbed in love of it,
and sat, smoothing its shiny surface with her little cracked hand, so
oblivious to the requirements of the occasion that she only looked up
dazed when the teacher told her to describe the Amazon River, and
unregretfully let the question pass. The lady meant to take Polly away
with, her, but she fell sick with erysipelas in the face, and was
hurried off to the city to be nursed, "a sight to behold," as everybody
said. And whether she died, or whether she got well and forgot Polly,
none of us ever heard. We only knew she did not return, bringing the
odor of violets and the rustle of starched petticoats into our placid
But all these thoughts of Polly would be less wearing, when they come
in the night-time knocking at the heart, if I could only remember her
as glowing under the sympathy and loving-kindness of her little mates.
Alas! it was not so. We were senseless little brutes, who, never having
learned the taste of misery ourselves, had no pity for the misfortunes
of others. She was, indeed, ill-treated; but what were we, to translate
the phrase? She was an under dog, and we had no mercy on her. We
"plagued" her, God forgive us! And what the word means, in its full
horror, only a child can compass. We laughed at her cudbar petticoats,
her little "chopped hands;" and when she stumbled over the arithmetic
lesson, because she had been up at four o'clock every morning since the
first bluebirds came, we laughed at that. Life in general seems to have
treated Polly in somewhat the same way. I hear that she did not marry
well, and that her children had begun to "turn out bad," when she died,
prematurely bent and old, not many weeks ago. But when I think of what
we might have given and what we did withhold, when I realize that one
drop of water from each of us would have filled her little cup to
overflowing, there is one compensating thought, and I murmur,
conscience-smitten, "I'm glad she had the pink dress!"
And now the little school is ever present with us, ours still for
counsel or reproof. Its long-closed sessions are open, by day and
night; and I suppose, as time goes on, and we drop into the estate of
those who sit by the fireside, oblivious to present scenes, yet acutely
awake to such as
"Flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,"
it will grow more and more lifelike and more near. Beside it, live all
the joys of memory and many a long-past pain. For we who have walked in
country ways, walk in them always, and with no divided love, even
though brick pavements have been our chosen road this many a year. We
follow the market, we buy and sell, and even run across the sea, to fit
us with new armor for the soul, to guard it from the hurts of years;
but ever do we keep the calendar of this one spring of life. Some
unheard angelus summons us to days of feast and mourning; it may be the
joy of the fresh-springing willow, or the nameless pain responsive to
the croaking of frogs, in the month when twilights are misty, and waves
of world-sorrow flood in upon the heart, we know not why. All those
trembling half-thoughts of the sleep of the year and its awakening,--we
have not escaped them by leaving the routine that brought them forth.
We know when the first violets are blowing in the woods, and we paint
for ourselves the tasselling of the alder and the red of maple-buds. We
taste still the sting of checkerberry and woodsy flavor of the fragrant
birch. When fields of corn are shimmering in the sun, we know exactly
how it would seem to run through those dusty aisles, swept by that
silken drapery, and counselled in whispers from the plumy tops so far
above our heads. The ground-sparrow's nest is not strange to us; no,
nor the partridge's hidden treasure within the wood. We can make
pudding-bags of live-forever, dolls' bonnets, "trimmed up to the
nines," out of the velvet mullein leaf, and from the ox-eyed daisies,
round, cap-begirt faces, smiling as the sun. All the homely secrets of
rural life are ours: the taste of pie, cinnamon-flavored, from the
dinner-pails at noon; the smell of "pears a-b'ilin'," at that happiest
hour when, in the early dusk, we tumble into the kitchen, to find the
table set and the stove redolent of warmth and savor. "What you got for
supper?" we cry,--question to be paralleled in the summer days by
"What'd you have for dinner?" as, famished little bears, we rush to the
dairy-wheel, to feed ravenously on the cold, delicious fragments of the
meal eaten without us.
If time ever stood still, if we were condemned to the blank solitude of
hospital nights or becalmed, mid-ocean days, and had hours for
fruitless dreaming, I wonder what viands we should choose, in setting
forth a banquet from that ambrosial past! Foods unknown to poetry and
song: "cold b'iled dish," pan-dowdy, or rye drop-cakes dripping with
butter! For these do we taste, in moments of retrospect; and perhaps we
dwell the more on their homely savor because we dare not think what
hands prepared them for our use, or, when the board was set, what faces
smiled. We are too wise, with the cunning prudence of the years, to
penetrate over-far beyond the rosy boundary of youth, lest we find also
that bitter pool which is not Lethe, but the waters of a vain regret.
FARMER ELI'S VACATION
"It don't seem as if we'd really got round to it, does it, father?"
asked Mrs. Pike.
The west was paling, and the August insects stirred the air with their
crooning chirp. Eli and his wife sat together on the washing-bench
outside the back door, waiting for the milk to cool before it should be
strained. She was a large, comfortable woman, with an unlined face, and
smooth, fine auburn hair; he was spare and somewhat bent, with curly
iron-gray locks, growing thin, and crow's-feet about his deep-set gray
eyes. He had been smoking the pipe of twilight contentment, but now he
took it out and laid it on the bench beside him, uncrossing his legs
and straightening himself, with the air of a man to whom it falls,
after long pondering, to take some decisive step.
"No; it don't seem as if 'twas goin' to happen," he owned. "It looked
pretty dark to me, all last week. It's a good deal of an undertakin',
come to think it all over. I dunno's I care about goin'."
"Why, father! After you've thought about it so many years, an' Sereno's
got the tents strapped up, an' all! You must be crazy!"
"Well," said the farmer, gently, as he rose and went to carry the
milk-pails into the pantry, calling coaxingly, as he did so, "Kitty!
kitty! You had your milk? Don't you joggle, now!" For one eager tabby
rose on her hind legs, in purring haste, and hit her nose against the
Mrs. Pike came ponderously to her feet, and followed, with the heavy,
swaying motion of one grown fleshy and rheumatic. She was not in the
least concerned about Eli's change of mood. He was a gentle soul, and
she had always been able to guide him in paths of her own choosing.
Moreover, the present undertaking was one involving his own good
fortune, and she meant to tolerate no foolish scruples which might
interfere with its result. For Eli, though he had lived all his life
within easy driving distance of the ocean, had never seen it, and ever
since his boyhood he had cherished one darling plan,--some day he would
go to the shore, and camp out there for a week. This, in his starved
imagination, was like a dream of the Acropolis to an artist stricken
blind, or as mountain outlines to the dweller in a lonely plain. But
the years had flitted past, and the dream never seemed nearer
completion. There were always planting, haying, and harvesting to be
considered; and though he was fairly prosperous, excursions were
foreign to his simple habit of life. But at last, his wife had stepped
into the van, and organized an expedition, with all the valor of a
"Now, don't you say one word, father," she had said. "We're goin' down
to the beach, Sereno, an' Hattie, an' you an' me, an' we're goin' to
camp out. It'll do us all good."
For days before the date of the excursion, Eli had been solemn and
tremulous, as with joy; but now, on the eve of the great event, he
shrank back from it, with an undefined notion that it was like death,
and that he was not prepared. Next morning, however, when they all rose
and took their early breakfast, preparatory to starting at five, he
showed no sign of indecision, and even went about his outdoor tasks
with an alacrity calculated, as his wife approvingly remarked, to
"for'ard the v'y'ge." He had at last begun to see his way clear, and he
looked well satisfied when his daughter Hattie and Sereno, her husband,
drove into the yard, in a wagon cheerfully suggestive of a wandering
life. The tents and a small hair-trunk were stored in the back, and the
horse's pail swung below.
"Well, father," called Hattie, her rosy face like a flower under the
large shade-hat she had trimmed for the occasion, "guess we're goin' to
have a good day!"
He nodded from the window, where he was patiently holding his head high
and undergoing strangulation, while his wife, breathing huskily with
haste and importance, put on his stock.
"You come in, Hattie, an' help pack the doughnuts into that lard-pail
on the table," she called. "I guess you'll have to take two pails. They
ain't very big."
At length, the two teams were ready, and Eli mounted to his place,
where he looked very slender beside his towering mate. The hired man
stood leaning on the pump, chewing a bit of straw, and the cats rubbed
against his legs, with tails like banners; they were all impressed by a
sense of the unusual.
"Well, good-by, Luke," Mrs. Pike called, over her shoulder; and Eli
gave the man a solemn nod, gathered up the reins, and drove out of the
yard. Just outside the gate, he pulled up.
"Whoa!" he called, and Luke lounged forward. "Don't you forgit them
cats! Git up, Doll!" And this time, they were gone.
For the first ten miles of the way, familiar in being the road to
market, Eli was placidly cheerful. The sense that he was going to do
some strange deed, to step into an unknown country, dropped away from
him, and he chatted, in his intermittent, serious fashion, of the crops
and the lay of the land.
"Pretty bad job up along here, ain't it, father?" called Sereno, as
they passed a sterile pasture where two plodding men and a yoke of oxen
were redeeming the soil from its rocky fetters.
"There's a good deal o' pastur', in some places, that ain't fit for
nothin' but to hold the world together," returned Eli; and then he was
silent, his eyes fixed on Doll's eloquent ears, his mouth working a
little. For this progress through a less desirable stratum of life
caused him to cast a backward glance over his own smooth, middle-aged
"We've prospered, 'ain't we, Maria?" he said, at last; and his wife,
unconsciously following his thoughts, in the manner of those who have
lived long together, stroked her black silk _visite_, and answered,
with a well-satisfied nod:
"I guess we 'ain't got no cause to complain."
The roadside was parched under an August sun; tansy was dust-covered,
and ferns had grown ragged and gray. The jogging horses left behind
their lazy feet a suffocating cloud.
"My land!" cried Mrs. Pike, "if that ain't goldenrod! I do b'lieve it
comes earlier every year, or else the seasons are changin'. See them
elderberries! Ain't they purple! You jest remember that bush, an' when
we go back, we'll fill some pails. I dunno when I've made elderberry
Like her husband, she was vaguely excited; she began to feel as if life
would be all holidays. At noon, they stopped under the shadow of an
elm-tree which, from its foothold in a field, completely arched the
road; and there they ate a lunch of pie and doughnuts, while the
horses, freed from their headstalls, placidly munched a generous feed
of oats, near by. Hattie and her mother accepted this picnicking with
an air of apologetic amusement; and when one or two passers-by looked
at them, they smiled a little at vacancy, with the air of wishing it
understood that they were by no means accustomed to such
"I guess they think we're gypsies," said Hattie, as one carriage rolled
"Well, they needn't trouble themselves," returned her mother, rising
with difficulty to brush the crumbs from her capacious lap. "I guess
I've got as good an extension-table to home as any on 'em."
But Eli ate sparingly, and with a preoccupied and solemn look.
"Land, father!" exclaimed his wife, "you 'ain't eat no more'n a bird!
"I guess I'll go over to that well," said he, "an' git a drink o'
water. I drink more'n I eat, if I ain't workin'." But when he came
back, carefully bearing a tin pail brimming with cool, clear water, his
face expressed strong disapprobation, and he smacked his lips
"Terrible flat water!" he announced. "Tastes as if it come out o' the
cistern." But the others could find no fault with it, and Sereno
drained the pail.
"Pretty good, I call it," he said; and Mrs. Pike rejoined,--
"You always was pretty particular about water, father."
But Eli still shook his head, and ejaculated, "Brackish, brackish!" as
he began to put the bit in Doll's patient mouth. He was thinking, with
a passion of loyalty, of the clear, ice-cold water at home, which had
never been shut out, by a pump, from the purifying airs of heaven, but
lay where the splashing bucket and chain broke, every day, the image of
moss and fern. His throat grew parched and dry with longing.
When they were within three miles of the sea, it seemed to them that
they could taste the saltness of the incoming breeze; the road was
ankle-deep in dust; the garden flowers were glaring in their
brightness. It was a new world. And when at last they emerged from the
marsh-bordered road upon a ridge of sand, and turned a sudden corner,
Mrs. Pike faced her husband in triumph.
"There, father!" she cried. "There 'tis!"
But Eli's eyes were fixed on the dashboard in front of him. He looked
"Why, father," said she, impatiently, "ain't you goin' to look? It's
"Yes, yes," said Eli, quietly; "byme-by. I'm goin' to put the horses up
"Well, I never!" said Mrs. Pike; and as they drew up on the sandy tract
where Sereno had previously arranged a place for their tents, she
added, almost fretfully, turning to Hattie, "I dunno what's come over
your father. There's the water, an' he won't even cast his eyes at it."
But Hattie understood her father, by some intuition of love, though not
"Don't you bother him, ma," she said. "He'll make up his mind to it
pretty soon. Here, le's lift out these little things, while they're
unharnessin', and then they can get at the tents."
Mrs. Pike's mind was diverted by the exigencies of labor, and she said
no more; but after the horses had been put up at a neighboring house,
and Sereno, red-faced with exertion, had superintended the
tent-raising, Hattie slipped her arm through her father's, and led him
"Come, pa," she said, in a whisper; "le's you and me climb over on them
Eli went; and when they had picked their way over sand and pools to a
headland where the water thundered below, and salt spray dashed up in
mist to their feet, he turned and looked at the sea. He faced it as a
soul might face Almighty Greatness, only to be stricken blind
thereafter; for his eyes filled painfully with slow, hot tears. Hattie
did not look at him, but after a while she shouted in his ear, above
the outcry of the surf,--
"Here, pa, take my handkerchief. I don't know how 'tis about you, but
this spray gets in my eyes."
Eli took it obediently, but he did not speak; he only looked at the
sea. The two sat there, chilled and quite content, until six o'clock,
when Mrs. Pike came calling to them from the beach, with dramatic
shouts, emphasized by the waving of her ample apron,--
"Supper's ready! Sereno's built a bum-fire, an' I've made some tea!"
Then they slowly made their way back to the tents, and sat down to the
evening meal. Sereno seemed content, and Mrs. Pike was bustling and
triumphant; the familiar act of preparing food had given her the
feeling of home.
"Well, father, what think?" she asked, smiling exuberantly, as she
passed him his mug of tea. "Does it come up to what you expected?"
Eli turned upon her his mild, dazed eyes.
"I guess it does," he said, gently.
That night, they sat upon the shore while the moon rose and laid in the
water her majestic pathway of light. Eli was the last to leave the
rocks, and he lay down on his hard couch in the tent, without speaking.
"I wouldn't say much to father," whispered Hattie to her mother, as
they parted for the night. "He feels it more 'n we do."
"Well, I s'pose he is some tired," said Mrs. Pike, acquiescing, after a
brief look of surprise. "It's a good deal of a jaunt, but I dunno but I
feel paid a'ready. Should you take out your hair-pins, Hattie?"
She slept soundly and vocally, but her husband did not close his eyes.
He looked, though he could see nothing, through the opening in the
tent, in the direction where lay the sea, solemnly clamorous, eternally
responsive to some infinite whisper from without his world. The tension
of the hour was almost more than he could bear; he longed for morning,
in sharp suspense, with a faint hope that the light might bring relief.
Just as the stars faded, and one luminous line pencilled the east, he
rose, smoothed his hair, and stepped softly out upon the beach. There
he saw two shadowy figures, Sereno and Hattie. She hurried forward to
"You goin' to see the sunrise, too, father?"
she asked. "I made Sereno come. He's awful mad at bein' waked up."
Eli grasped her arm.
"Hattie," he said, in a whisper, "don't you tell. I jest come out to
see how 'twas here, before I go. I'm goin' home,--I'm goin' _now_."
"Why, father!" said Hattie; but she peered more closely into his face,
and her tone changed. "All right," she added, cheerfully. "Sereno'll go
and harness up."
"No; I'm goin' to walk."
"I don't mean to breakup your stayin' here, nor your mother's. You tell
her how 'twas. I'm goin' to walk."
Hattie turned and whispered to her husband for a moment. Then she took
her father's hand.
"I'll slip into the tent and put you up somethin' for your breakfast
and luncheon," she said. "Sereno's gone to harness; for, pa, you must
take one horse, and you can send Luke back with it Friday, so's we can
get the things home. What do we want of two horses down here, at two
and ninepence a day? I guess I know!"
So Eli yielded; but before his wife appeared, he had turned his back on
the sea, where the rose of dawn was fast unfolding. As he jogged
homeward, the dusty roadsides bloomed with flowers of paradise, and the
insects' dry chirp thrilled like the song of angels. He drove into the
yard just at the turning of the day, when the fragrant smoke of many a
crackling fire curls cheerily upward, in promise of the evening meal.
"What's busted?" asked Luke, swinging himself down from his load of
fodder-corn, and beginning to unharness Doll.
"Oh, nothin'," said Eli, leaping, from the wagon as if twenty years had
been taken from his bones. "I guess I'm too old for such jaunts. I hope
you didn't forgit them cats."
"The land o' gracious!" said Mrs. Lothrop Wilson, laying down her
"drawing-in hook" on the rug stretched between two chairs in the middle
of the kitchen, and getting up to look from the window. "If there ain't
Lucindy comin' out o' the Pitmans' without a thing on her head, an' all
them little curls a-flyin'! An' the old Judge ain't cold in his grave!"
"I guess the Judge won't be troubled with cold, any to speak of, arter
this," said her husband from the window, where he sat eating his
forenoon lunch of apple-pie and cheese. He was a cooper, and perhaps
the pleasantest moment in his day was that when he slipped out of his
shop, leaving a bit of paper tacked on the door to say he was "on
errands," and walked soberly home for his bite and sup. "If he ain't
good an' warm about now, then the Scriptur's ain't no more to be
depended on than a last year's almanac."
"Late Wilson, I'm ashamed of you," retorted his wife, looking at him
with such reproof that, albeit she had no flesh to spare, she made
herself a double chin. "An' he your own uncle, too! Well, he _was_
nigh, I'll say that for him; an' if he'd had his way, the sun'd ha' riz
an' set when he said the word. But Lucindy's his only darter, an' if
she don't so much as pretend to be a mourner, I guess there ain't
nobody that will. There! don't you say no more! She's comin' in here!"
A light step sounded on the side piazza, and Lucindy came in, with a
little delicate, swaying motion peculiar to her walk. She was a very
slender woman, far past middle life, with a thin, smiling face, light
blue eyes, shining with an eager brightness, and fine hair, which
escaped from its tight twist in little spiral curls about the face.
"How do, Jane?" she said, in an even voice, stirred by a pleasant,
reedy thrill. "How do, Lote?"
Lothrop pushed forward a chair, looking at her with an air of great
kindliness. There was some slight resemblance between them, but the
masculine type seemed entirely lacking in that bright alertness so
apparent in her. Mrs. Wilson nodded, and went back to her drawing-in.
She was making a very red rose with a pink middle.
"I dunno's I can say I'm surprised to see you, Lucindy," she began,
with the duteous aspect of one forced to speak her disapproval, "for I
ketched you comin' out o' the Pitmans' yard."
"Yes," said Lucindy, smiling, and plaiting her skirt between her
nervous fingers. "Yes, I went in to see if they'd let me take Old
Buckskin a spell to-morrow."
"What under the sun--" began Mrs. Wilson; but her husband looked at
her, and she stopped. He had become so used to constituting himself
Lucindy's champion in the old Judge's day, now just ended, that he kept
an unremitting watch on any one who might threaten her peace. But
Lucindy evidently guessed at the unspoken question.
"I should have come here, if I'd expected to drive," she said. "But I
thought maybe your horse wa'n't much used to women, and I kind o'
dreaded to be the first one to try him with a saddle."
Mrs. Wilson put down her hook again, and leaned back in her chair. She
looked from her husband to Lucindy, without speaking. But Lucindy went
on, with the innocent simplicity of a happy child.
"You know I was always possessed to ride horseback," she said,
addressing herself to Lothrop, "and father never would let me. And now
he ain't here, I mean to try it, and see if 'tain't full as nice as I
"Lucindy!" burst forth Mrs. Wilson, explosively, "ain't you goin' to
pay no respect to your father's memory?"
Lucindy turned to her, smiling still, but with a hint of quizzical
shrewdness about her mouth.
"I guess I ain't called on to put myself out," she said, simply, yet
not irreverently. "Father had his way in pretty much everything while
he was alive. I always made up my mind if I should outlive him, I'd
have all the things I wanted then, when young folks want the most. And
you know then I couldn't get 'em."
"Well!" said Mrs. Wilson. Her tone spoke volumes of conflicting
"You got a saddle?" asked Lucindy, turning to her cousin. "I thought I
remembered you had one laid away, up attic. I suppose you'd just as
soon I'd take it?"
He was neither shocked nor amused. He had been looking at her very
sadly, as one who read in every word the entire tragedy of a repressed
and lonely life.
"Yes, we have, Lucindy," he said, gently, quieting his wife by a motion
of the hand, "but 'tain't what you think. It's a man's saddle. You'd
have to set straddle.
"Oh!" said Lucindy, a faint shade of disappointment clouding her face.
"Well, no matter! I guess they've got one down to the Mardens'. Jane,
should you just as soon come round this afternoon, and look over some
bunnit trimmin's with me? I took two kinds of flowers home from Miss
West's, and I can't for my life tell which to have."
"Ain't you goin' to wear black?" Mrs. Wilson spoke now in double
"Oh, no! I don't feel called on to do that. I always liked bright
colors, and I don't know's 'twould be real honest in me to put on
mournin' when I didn't feel it."
"'Honor thy father'--" began Jane, in spite of her husband's warning
hand; but Lucindy interrupted her, with some perplexity.
"I have, Jane, I have! I honored father all my life, just as much as
ever I could. I done everything he ever told me, little and big! No,
though, there's one thing I never fell in with. I did cheat him once. I
don't know but I'm sorry for that, now it's all past and gone!"
Her cousin had been drumming absently on the window-sill, but he looked
up with awakened interest. Mrs. Wilson, too, felt a wholesale
curiosity, and she, at least, saw no reason for curbing it.
"What was it, Lucindy?" she asked. "The old hunks!" she repeated to
herself, like an anathema.
Lucindy began her confession, with eyes down-dropped and a faltering
"Father wanted I should have my hair done up tight and firm. So I
pretended I done the best I could with it. I told him these curls round
my face and down in my neck was too short, and I couldn't pin 'em up.
But they wa'n't curls, and they wouldn't ha' been short if I hadn't cut
'em. For every night, and sometimes twice a day, I curled 'em on a
"Ain't them curls nat'ral, Lucindy?" cried Mrs. Wilson. "Have you been
fixin' 'em to blow round your face that way, all these years?"
"I begun when I was a little girl," said Lucindy, guiltily. "It did
seem kind o' wrong, but I took real pleasure in it!"
Lothrop could bear no more. He wanted to wipe his eyes, but he chose
instead to walk straight out of the room and down to his shop. His wife
could only express a part of her amazement by demanding, in a futile
sort of way,--
"Where'd you get the pipe?"
"I stole the first one from a hired man we had," said Lucindy, her
cheeks growing pink. "Sometimes I had to use slate-pencils."
There was no one else to administer judgment, and Mrs. Wilson felt the
"Well," she began, "an' you can set there, tellin' that an' smilin'--"
"My smilin' don't mean any more'n some other folks' cryin', I guess,"
said Lucindy, smiling still more broadly. "I begun that more'n thirty
years ago. I looked into the glass one day, and I see the corners of my
mouth were goin' down. Sharper 'n, vinegar, I was! So I says to myself,
'I can smile, whether or no. Nobody can't help that!' And I did, and
now I guess I don't know when I do it."
Lucindy rose suddenly and brushed her lap, as if she dusted away
"There!" she exclaimed, "I've said more this mornin' than I have for
forty year! Don't you lead me on to talk about what's past and gone!
The only thing is, I mean to have a good time now, what there is left
of it. Some things you can't get back, and some you can. Well, you step
round this afternoon, won't you?"
"I dunno's I can. John's goin' to bring Claribel up, to spend the
arternoon an' stay to supper."
"Why, dear heart! that needn't make no difference. I should admire to
have her, too. I'll show her some shells and coral I found this
mornin', up attic."
Lucindy had almost reached the street when she turned, as with a sudden
resolution, and retraced her steps.
"Jane," she called, looking in at the kitchen window. "It's a real
bright day, pretty as any 't ever I see. Don't you worry for fear o' my
disturbin' them that's gone, if I do try to ketch at somethin'
pleasant. If they're wiser now, I guess they'll be glad I had sense
enough left to do it!"
That afternoon, Mrs. Wilson, in her best gingham and checked sunbonnet,
took her way along the village street to the old Judge Wilson house. It
was a colonial mansion, sitting austerely back in a square yard. In
spite of its prosperity, everything about it wore a dreary air, as if
it were tired of being too well kept; for houses are like people, and
carry their own indefinable atmosphere with them. Mrs. Wilson herself
lived on a narrower and more secluded street, though it was said that
her husband, if he had not defied the old Judge in some crucial matter,
might have studied law with him, and possibly shared his speculations
in wool. Then he, too, might have risen to be one of the first men in
the county, instead of working, in his moderate fashion, for little
more than day's wages. Claribel, a pale, dark-eyed child, also dressed
in her best gingham, walked seriously by her grandmother's side.
Lucindy was waiting for them at the door.
"I declare!" she called, delightedly. "I was 'most afraid you'd forgot
to come! Well, Claribel, if you 'ain't grown! They'll have to put a
brick on your head, or you'll be taller'n grandma."
Claribel submitted to be kissed, and they entered the large, cool
sitting-room, where they took off their things.
"You make yourself at home, Jane," said Lucindy, fluttering about, in
pleasant excitement. "I ain't goin' to pay you a mite of attention till
I see Claribel fixed. Now, Claribel, remember! you can go anywheres
you're a mind to. And you can touch anything there is. You won't find a
thing a little girl can hurt. Here, you come here where I be, and look
across the entry. See that big lamp on the table? Well, if you unhook
them danglin' things and peek through 'em, you'll find the brightest
colors! My, how pretty they be! I've been lookin' through 'em this
mornin'. I used to creep in and do it when I was little," she
continued, in an aside to Mrs. Wilson. "Once I lost one." A strange
look settled on her face; she was recalling a bitter experience.
"There!" she said, releasing Claribel with a little hug, "now run
along! If you look on the lower shelf of the what-not, you'll see some
shells and coral I put there for just such a little girl."
Claribel walked soberly away to her playing.
"Don't you hurt nothin'!" called Mrs. Wilson; and Claribel responded
"There!" said Lucindy, watching the precise little back across the
hall, "Now le's talk a mite about vanity. You reach me that green box
behind your chair. Here's the best flowers Miss West had for what I
wanted. Here's my bunnit, too. You see what you think."
She set the untrimmed bonnet on her curls, and laid first a bunch of
bright chrysanthemums against it, and then some strange lavender roses.
The roses turned her complexion to an ivory whiteness, and her anxious,
intent expression combined strangely with that undesirable effect.
"My soul, Lucindy!" cried Mrs. Wilson, startled into a more robust
frankness than usual, "you do look like the Old Nick!"
A shade came over Miss Lucindy's honest face. It seemed, for a moment,
as if she were going to cry.
"Don't you like 'em, Jane?" she asked, appealingly. "Won't neither of
Mrs. Wilson was not incapable of compunction, but she felt also the
demands of the family honor.
"Well, Lucindy," she began, soothingly, "now 'tain't any use, is it,
for us to say we ain't gettin' on in years? We be! You 're my age,
an'--Why, look at Claribel in there! What should you say, if you see me
settin' out to meetin' with red flowers on my bunnit? I should be
nothin' but a laughin'-stock!"
Lucindy laid the flowers back in their box, with as much tenderness as
if they held the living fragrance of a dream.
"Well!" she said, wistfully. Then she tried to smile.
"Here!" interposed Mrs. Wilson, not over-pleased with the part she felt
called upon to play, "you give me your bunnit. Don't I see your old
sheaf o'wheat in the box? Let me pin it on for you. There, now, don't
that look more suitable?"
By the time she had laid it on, in conventional flatness, and held it
up for inspection, every trace of rebellion had apparently been
banished from Lucindy's mind.
"Here," said the victim of social rigor, "you hand me the box, and I'll
set it away."
They had a cosey, old-fashioned chat, touching upon nothing in the
least revolutionary, and Mrs. Wilson was glad to think Lucindy had
forgotten all about the side-saddle. This last incident of the bonnet,
she reflected, showed how much real influence she had over Lucindy. She
must take care to exert it kindly but seriously now that the old Judge
"You goin' to keep your same help?" she asked, continuing the
"Oh, yes! I wouldn't part with Ann Toby for a good deal. She's goin' to
have her younger sister come to live with us now. We shall be a passel
o' women, sha'n't we?"
"I guess it's well for you Ann Toby's what she is, or she'd cheat you
out o' your eye-teeth!"
"Well," answered Lucindy, easily, "I ain't goin' to worry about my
eye-teeth. If I be cheated out of 'em, I guess I can get a new set."
At five o'clock, they had some cookies, ostensibly for Claribel, since
Mrs. Wilson could not stay to tea; and then, when the little maid had
taken hers out to the front steps, Lucindy broached a daring plan, that
"Say, Jane," she whispered, with great pretence of secrecy, "what do
you think just come into my head? Do you s'pose Mattie would be put
out, if I should give Claribel a hat?"
"Mercy sakes, no! all in the family so! But what set you out on that?
She's got a good last year's one now, an' the ribbin's all pressed out
an' turned, complete."
"I'll tell you," Said Lucindy, leaning nearer, and speaking as if she
feared the very corners might hear. "You know I never was allowed to
wear bright colors. And to this day, I see the hats the other girls
had, blue on 'em, and pink. And if I could stand by and let a little
girl pick out a hat for herself, without a word said to stop her,
'twould be real agreeable to me." Lucindy was shrewd enough to express
herself somewhat moderately. She knew by experience how plainly Jane
considered it a duty to discourage any overmastering emotion. But Jane
Wilson was, at the same instant, feeling very keenly that Lucindy,
faded and old as she was, needed to be indulged in all her riotous
fancies. She repressed the temptation, however, at its birth.
"Why, I dunno's there's anything in the way of it," she said, soberly.
"Then, if you must go, I'll walk right along now. Claribel and I'll go
down to Miss West's, and see what she's got. Nothin''s to be gained by
When they walked out through the hall together, Lucindy cast a quick
and eager glance into the parlor. She almost hoped Claribel had
unhooked the glass prisms from the lamp, and left them scattered on the
floor, or that she had broken the precious shells, more than half a
century old. She wanted to put her arms round her, and say fondly,
"Never mind!" But the room was in perfect order, and little Claribel
waited for them, conscious of a propriety unstained by guilt.
"Lucindy," said Mrs. Wilson, who also had used her eyes, "where's your
father's canes? They al'ays stood right here in this corner."
"Jane," she whispered, "don't you tell, but I--I buried 'em! I felt
somehow as if I couldn't--do the things I wanted to, if they set there
just the same."
Jane could only look at her in silence.
"Well," she said, at length, "it takes all kinds o' people to make a
That, at least, was non-committal.
She left the shoppers at her own gate, and they walked on together.
Lucindy was the more excited of the two.
"Now, Claribel," she was saying, "you remember you can choose any hat
you see, and have it trimmed just the way you like. What color do you
set by most?"
"I don't know," said Claribel. "Blue, I guess."
"Well, there's a hat there all trimmed with it. I see it this mornin'.
Real bright, pretty blue! I believe there was some little noddin'
yellow flowers on it, too. But mind you don't take it unless you like
Miss West's shop occupied the front room of her house, a small yellow
one on a side street. The upper part of the door was of glass, and it
rang a bell as it opened. Lucindy had had very few occasions for going
there, and she entered with some importance. The bell clanged; and Miss
West, a portly woman, came in from the back room, whisking off her
apron in haste.
"Oh, that you, Miss Lucindy?" she called. "I've just been fryin' some
riz doughnuts. Well, how'd the flowers suit?"
"I haven't quite made up my mind," said Lucindy, trying to speak with
the dignity befitting her quest. "I just come in with little Claribel
here. She's goin' to have a new hat, and her grandma said she might
come down with me to pick it out. You've got some all trimmed, I
Miss West opened a drawer in an old-fashioned bureau.
"Yes," she said, "I've got two my niece trimmed for me before she went
to make her visit to Sudleigh. One's blue. I guess you've seen that.
Then there's a nice white one. The 'Weekly' says white's all the go,
She took out two little hats, and balanced them on either hand. The
blue one was strongly accented. The ribbon was very broad and very
bright, and its nodding cowslips gleamed in cheerful yellow.
"Ain't that a beauty?" whispered Lucindy close to the little girl's
ear. "But there! Don't you have it unless you'd rather. There's lots of
other colors, you know; pink, and all sorts.".
Claribel put out one little brown hand, and timidly touched the other
"This one," she said.
It was very plain, and very pretty; yet there were no flowers, and the
modest white ribbon lay smoothly about the crown. Miss Lucindy gave a
little cry, as if some one had hurt her.
"O!" she exclaimed, "O Claribel! you sure?" Claribel was sure.
"She's got real good taste," put in Miss West. "Shall I wrop it up?"
"Yes," answered Lucindy, drearily. "We'll take it. But I suppose if she
should change, her mind before she wore it--" she added, with some
slight accession of hope.
"Oh, yes, bring it right back. I'll give her another choice."
But Claribel was not likely to change her mind. On the way home, she
walked sedately, and carried her hat with the utmost care. At her
grandmother's gate, she looked up shyly, and spoke of her own accord,--
"Thank you, ever so much!"
Then she fled up the path, her bundle waving before her. That, at
least, looked like spontaneous joy, and the sight of it soothed Lucindy
into a temporary resignation; yet she was very much disappointed.
The next afternoon, Tiverton saw a strange and wondrous sight. The
Crane boy led Old Buckskin, under an ancient saddle, into Miss
Lucindy's yard, and waited there before her door. The Crane boy had
told all his mates, and they had told their fathers and mothers, so
that a wild excitement flew through the village like stubble fire,
stirring the inhabitants to futile action. "It's like the 'clipse,"
said one of the squad of children collected at the gate, "only they
ain't no smoked glass." Some of the grown people "made an errand" for
the sake of being in the street, but those who lived near-by simply
mounted guard at their doors and windows. The horse had not waited long
when Miss Lucindy appeared before the gaze of an eager world. Her face
had wakened into a keen excitement.
"Here!" she called to the Crane boy's brother, who was lingering in the
background grinding his toes on the gravel and then lifting them in
sudden agony, "you take this kitchen chair and set it down side of him,
so't I can climb up."
The chair was placed, and Miss Lucindy essayed to climb, but vainly.
"Ann!" she called, "you bring me that little cricket."
Ann Toby appeared unwillingly, the little cricket in her hand. She was
a tall, red-haired woman, who bore the reputation of being willing to
be "tore into inch pieces" for Miss Lucindy. Her freckled face burned
red with shame and anger.
"For Heaven's sake, you come back into the house!" she whispered, with
tragic meaning. "You jest give it up, an' I'll scatter them boys. Sassy
little peeps! what are they starin' round here for, I'd like to know!"
But Lucindy had mounted the cricket with much agility, and seated
herself on the horse's back. Once she slipped off; but the Crane boy
had the address to mutter, "Put your leg over the horn!" and, owing to
that timely advice, she remained. But he was to experience the
gratitude of an unfeeling world; for Ann Toby, in the irritation of one
tried beyond endurance, fell upon him and cuffed him soundly. And Mrs.
Crane, passing the gate at that moment, did not blame her.
"My! it seems a proper high place to set," remarked Lucindy, adjusting
herself. "Well, I guess I sha'n't come to no harm. I'll ride round to
your place, boys, when I get through, and leave the horse there." She
trotted out of the yard amid the silence of the crowd.
The spectacle was too awesome to be funny, even to the boys; it seemed
to Tiverton strangely like the work of madness. Only one little boy
recovered himself sufficiently to ran after her and hold up a switch he
had been peeling.
"Here!" he piped up, daringly, "you want a whip."
Lucindy smiled upon him benignly.
"I never did believe in abusin' dumb creatur's," she said, "but I'm
much obliged." She took the switch and rode on.
Now Mrs. Wilson had heard the rumor too late to admit of any
interference on her part, and she was staying indoors, suffering an
agony of shame, determined not to countenance the scandalous sight by
her presence. But as she sat "hooking-in," the window was darkened, and
involuntarily she lifted her eyes. There was the huge bulk of a horse,
and there was Lucindy. The horsewoman's cheeks were bright red with
exercise and joy. She wore a black dress and black mitts. Her little
curls were flying; and oh, most unbearable of all! they were surmounted
by a bonnet bearing no modest sheaf of wheat, but blossoming brazenly
out into lavender roses. The spectacle was too much for Mrs. Wilson.
She dropped her hook, and flew to the door.
"Well, I've known a good deal, fust an' last, but I never see the beat
o' this! Lucindy, where'd you git that long dress?"
"It's my cashmere," answered Lucindy, joyously. "I set up last night to
lengthen it down."
"Well, I should think you did! Lothrop!"
Her husband had been taking a nap in the sitting-room, and he came out,
rubbing his eyes. Mrs. Wilson could not speak for curiosity. She
watched him with angry intentness. She wondered if he would take
Lucindy's part now! But Lothrop only moved forward and felt at the
"You know you want to pull him up if he stumbles," he said; "but I
guess he won't. He was a stiddy horse, fifteen year ago."
"Lothrop," began his wife, "do you want to be made a laughin'-stock in
"I guess if I've lived in a place over sixty year an' hil' my own, I
can yet," said Lothrop, quietly. "You don't want to ride too long,
Lucindy. You'll be lame to-morrer."
"I didn't suppose 'twould jounce so," said Lucindy; "but it's proper
nice. I don't know what 'twould be on a real high horse. Well,
good-by!" She turned the horse about, and involuntarily struck him with
her little switch. Old Buckskin broke into a really creditable trot,
and they disappeared down the village street. Lothrop sensibly took his
way down to the shop while his wife was recovering her powers of
speech; and for that, Jane herself mentally commended him.
Lucindy kept on out of the village and along the country road. The
orioles were singing in the elms, and the leaves still wore the gloss
of last night's shower. The earth smiled like a new creation, very
green and sweet, and the horse's hoofs made music in Lucindy's mind. It
seemed to her that she had lost sight both of youth and crabbed age;
the pendulum stood still in the jarring machinery of time, the hands
pointing to a moment of joy. She was quite happy, as any of us may be
who seek the fellowship of dancing leaves and strong, bright sun. She
turned into a cross-road, hardly wider than a lane, and bordered with
wild rose and fragrant raspberry. There was but one house here,--a
little, time-stained cottage, where Tom McNeil lived with his wife and
five children. Perhaps these were the happiest people in all Tiverton,
though no one but themselves had ever found it out. Tom made shoes in a
desultory fashion, and played the fiddle earnestly all winter, and in
summer, peddled essences and medicines from a pack strapped over his
shoulders. Sometimes in the warm summer weather Molly, his wife, and
all the children tramped with him, so that the house was closed for
weeks at a time,--a thing very trying to the conventional sensibilities
of Tiverton. Tom might have had a "stiddy job o' work" with some of the
farmers; Molly might have helped about the churning and ironing. But
no! they were like the birds, nesting happily in summer, and drawing
their feet under their feathers when the snow drifted in. The
children--lank, wild-eyed creatures--each went to school a few months,
and then stopped, unable to bear the cross of confinement within four
dull walls. They could not write; it was even rumored that they had
never learned to tell time. And, indeed, what good would it have done
them when the clock was run down and stood always at the hour of noon?
But they knew where thoroughwort grows, and the wholesome goldthread;
they gathered cress and peppermint, and could tell the mushroom from
its noisome kindred. Day after day, they roamed the woods for simples
to be distilled by the father, and made into potent salves and
ointments for man and the beasties he loved better.
When Lucindy came in sight of the house, she was glad to find it open.
She had scarcely gone so far afield for years, and the reports
concerning this strange people had reached her only by hearsay. She
felt like a discoverer. In close neighborhood to the house stood a
peculiar structure,--the half-finished dwelling McNeil had attempted,
in a brief access of ambition, to build with his own hands. The
chimney, slightly curving and very ragged at the top, stood foolishly
above the unfinished lower story. Lucindy remembered hearing how Tom
had begun the chimney first, and built the house round it. But the
fulfilment of his worldly dream never came to pass; and perhaps it was
quite as well, for thereby would the unity of his existence have been
destroyed. He might have lived up to the house; he might even have
grown into a proud man, and accumulated dollars. But the bent of birth
was too much for him. A day dawned, warm and entrancing; he left his
bricks and boards in the midst, and the whole family went joyfully off
on a tramp. To Tiverton, the unfinished house continued to serve as an
immortal joke, and Tom smiled as broadly as any. He always said he
couldn't finish it; he had mislaid the plan.
A little flower-garden bloomed between the two houses, and on the
grass, by one of its clove-pink borders, sat a woman, rocking back and
forth in an ancient chair, and doing absolutely nothing. She was young,
and seemed all brown; for her eyes were dark, and her skin had been
tanned to the deep, rich tint sweeter to some eyes than pure roses and
milk. Lucindy guided Buckskin up to the gate, and Molly McNeil looked
up and smiled without moving.
"How do?" she said, in a soft, slow voice. "Won't you come in?"
Lucindy was delighted. It was long since she had met a stranger.
"Well, I would," she answered, "but I don't know as I can get down.
This is new business to me."
"Ellen," called Mrs. McNeil, "you bring out somethin' to step on!"
A little girl appeared with a yellow kitchen chair. Mrs. McNeil rose,
carried it outside the gate, and planted it by Buckskin's side.
"There!" she said, "you put your hand on my shoulder and step down. It
won't tip. I've got my knee on it."
Lucindy alighted, with some difficulty, and drew a long breath.
"I'll hitch him," said Molly McNeil. "You go in and sit down in that
chair, and Ellen'll bring you a drink of water."
Ellen was barelegged and barefooted. Her brown hair hung over her dark
eyes in a pleasant tangle. Her even teeth were white, and her lips red.
There was no fault nor blemish in her little face; and when she had
brought the dipper full of water, and stood rubbing one foot against
its neighboring leg, Lucindy thought she had never seen anything so
absolutely bewitching. Molly had hitched the horse, in manly and
knowing fashion, and then seated herself on the kitchen chair beside
Lucindy; but the attitude seemed not to suit her, and presently she
rose and lay quietly down at full length on the grass. She did it quite
as a matter of course, and her visitor thought it looked very pleasant;
possibly she would have tried it herself if she had not been so
absorbed in another interest. She was watching the little girl, who was
running into the house with the dipper.
"Ain't she complete!" she said. "Your oldest?"
"She ain't mine at 'all." Mrs. McNeil rose on one elbow, and began
chewing a grass stem.
It was very restful to Lucindy to see some one who was too much
interested in anything, however trivial, to be interested in her. "You
know about the Italian that come round with the hand-organ last month?
He was her father. Well, he died,--fell off a mow one night,--and the
town sold the hand-organ and kept Ellen awhile on the farm. But she run
away, and my boys found her hidin' in the woods starved most to death.
So I took her in, and the overseer said I was welcome to her. She's a
nice little soul."
"She's proper good-lookin'!" Lucindy's eyes were sparkling.
"She don't look as well as common to-day, for the boys went off
plummin' without her. She was asleep, and I didn't want to call her.
She had a cryin' spell when she waked up, but I didn't know which way
Ellen came wandering round the side of the house, and Lucindy crooked a
trembling finger at her.
"Come here!" she called. "You come here and see me!"
Ellen walked up to her with a steady step, and laid one little brown
hand on Lucindy's knee. But the old Judge's daughter drew the child
covetously to her lap.
"Look here," she said, "should you like to go home and spend a week
The little maid threw back her tangle of curls, and looked Lucindy
squarely in the eyes.
"Yes," she answered.
Lucindy's grasp tightened round her.
"How should you like to live with me?"
The child touched her little breast inquiringly with one finger.
"Me?" She pointed over to Mrs. McNeil, who lay listening and stretching
her limbs in lazy comfort. "Leave _her_?" And then, gravely, "No; she's
good to me."
Lucindy's heart sank.
"You could come over to see her," she pleaded, "and I'd come too. We'd
all go plummin' together. I should admire to! And we'd have parties,
and ask 'em all over. What say?"
The child sat straight and serious, one warm hand clinging to Lucindy's
slender palm. But her eyes still sought the face of her older friend.
Molly McNeil rose to a sitting posture. She took the straw from her
mouth, and spoke with the happy frankness of those who have no fear
because they demand nothing save earth and sky room.
"I know who you are," she said to Lucindy. "You're left well off, and I
guess you could bring up a child, give you your way. We're as poor as
poverty! You take her, if she'll go. Ellen, she's a nice lady; you
better say 'yes.'"
Lucindy was trembling all over.
"You come, dear," she urged, piteously. "You come and live with me."
Ellen thought a moment more. Then she nodded.
"I'll come," said she.
Lucindy could not wait.
"I'll send a wagon over after her to-night." She had put Ellen down, and
was rising tremblingly. "I won't stop to talk no more now, but you come
and see me, won't you? Now, if you'll help me mount up--there! My! it's
higher 'n 'twas before! Well, I'll see you again." She turned Old
Buckskin's head away from the fence; then she pulled him fiercely round
again. "Here!" she called, "what if she should jump up behind me and
Mrs. McNeil, being the thrall only of the earth, saw no reason, why a
thing should not be done as one wanted it. She lifted; the child and
set her on the horse behind Lucindy. And so, in this strange fashion,
the two entered the high street of Tiverton.
A few weeks after this, Mrs. Wilson and Lucindy went together to the
little millinery shop. Ellen trotted between them, taking excursions
into the street, now and again, in pursuit of butterflies or
thistledown. When they entered, Miss West, who had seen their approach
from her position at the ironing-board, came forward with a gay little
hat in her hand. It was trimmed with pink, and a wreath of tiny white
flowers clung about the crown. She set it on Ellen's curls; and Ellen,
her face quite radiant, looked up at Miss Lucindy for approval. But
that lady was gazing anxiously at Mrs. Wilson.
"Now, there ain't anything unsuitable about that, is there?" she asked.
"I know, it's gay, and I want it to be gay. I can tell about _that_!
But is it all right? Is it such as you'd be willin' to have Claribel
"It's a real beauty!" Mrs. Wilson answered, cordially; but she could
not refrain from adding, while Miss West was doing up the hat, and
Ellen surreptitiously tried on a black poke bonnet, "Now, don't you
spile her, Lucindy! She's a nice little girl as ever was, but you ain't
no more fit to bring up a child than the cat!"
Lucindy did not hear. She was smiling at Ellen, and Ellen smiled back
at her. They thought they knew.
TOLD IN THE POORHOUSE.
"Le' me see," said old Sally Flint, "was it fifty year ago, or was it
on'y forty? Some'er's betwixt 1825 an' '26 it must ha' been when they
were married, an' 'twas in '41 he died."
The other old women in the Poorhouse sitting-room gathered about her.
Old Mrs. Forbes, who dearly loved a story, unwound a length of yarn
with peculiar satisfaction, and put her worn shoe up to the fire.
Everybody knew when Sally Flint was disposed to open her unwritten book
of folk-tales for the public entertainment; and to-day, having tied on
a fresh apron and bound a new piece of red flannel about her wrist, she
was, so to speak, in fighting trim. The other members of the Poorhouse
had scanty faith in that red flannel. They were aware that Sally had
broken her wrist, some twenty years before, and that the bandage was
consequently donned on days when her "hand felt kind o' cold," or was
"burnin' like fire embers;" but there was an unspoken suspicion that it
really served as token of her inability to work whenever she felt bored
by the prescribed routine of knitting and sweeping. No one had dared
presume on that theory, however, since the day when an untactful
overseer had mentioned it, to be met by such a stream of unpleasant
reminiscence concerning his immediate ancestry that he had retreated in
dismay, and for a week after, had served extra pieces of pie to his
justly offended charge.
"They were married in June," continued Sally. "No, 'twa'n't; 'twas the
last o' May. May thirty-fust--no, May 'ain't but thirty days, has it?"
"'Thirty days hath September,'" quoted Mrs. Giles, with importance.
"That's about all I've got left o' my schoolin', Miss Flint. May's got
thirty-one days, sure enough."
"Call it the thirty-fust, then. It's nigh enough, anyway. Well, Josh
Marden an' Lyddy Ann Crane was married, an' for nine year they lived
like two kittens. Old Sperry Dyer, that wanted to git Lyddy himself,
used to call 'em cup an' sasser, 'There they be,' he'd say, when he
stood outside the meetin'-house door an' they drove up; 'there comes
cup an' sasser.' Lyddy was a little mite of a thing, with great black
eyes; an' if Josh hadn't been as tough as tripe, he'd ha' got all wore
out waitin' on her. He even washed the potaters for her, made the
fires, an' lugged water. Scairt to death if she was sick! She used to
have sick headaches, an' one day he stopped choppin' pine limbs near
the house 'cause the noise hurt Lyddy Ann's head. Another time, I
recollect, she had erysipelas in her face, an' I went in to carry some
elder-blows, an' found him readin' the Bible. 'Lord!' says I, 'Josh;
that's on'y Genesis! 'twon't do the erysipelas a mite o' good for you
to be settin' there reading the be'gats! You better turn to
Revelation.' But 'twa'n't all on his side, nuther. 'Twas give an' take
with them. It used to seem as if Lyddy Ann kind o' worshipped him.
'Josh' we all called him; but she used to say 'Joshuay,' an' look at
him as if he was the Lord A'mighty."
"My! Sally!" said timid Mrs. Spenser, under her breath; but Sally gave
no heed, and swept on in the stream of her recollections.
"Well, it went on for fifteen year, an' then 'Mandy Knowles, Josh's
second cousin, come to help 'em with the work. 'Mandy was a queer
creatur'. I've studied a good deal over her, an' I dunno's I've quite
got to the bottom of her yit. She was one o' them sort o' slow women,
with a fat face, an' she hadn't got over dressin' young, though Lyddy
an' the rest of us that was over thirty was wearin' caps an' talkin'
about false fronts. But she never'd had no beaux; an' when Josh begun
to praise her an' say how nice 'twas to have her there, it tickled her
e'en a'most to death. She'd lived alone with her mother an' two
old-maid aunts, an' she didn't know nothin' about men-folks; I al'ays
thought she felt they was different somehow,--kind o' cherubim an'
seraphim,--an' you'd got to mind 'em as if you was the Childern of
Isr'el an' they was Moses. Josh never meant a mite o' harm, I'll say
that for him. He was jest man-like, that's all. There's lots o'
different kinds,--here, Mis' Niles, you know; you've buried your
third,--an' Josh was the kind that can't see more'n, one woman to a
time. He looked at 'Mandy, an' he got over seein' Lyddy Ann, that's
all. Things would ha' come out all right--as right as they be for most
married folks--if Lyddy Ann hadn't been so high-sperited; but she set
the world by Joshuay, an' there 'twas. 'Ain't it nice to have her
here?' he kep' on sayin' over'n' over to Lyddy, an' she'd say 'Yes;'
but byme-by, when she found he was al'ays on hand to bring a pail o'
water for 'Mandy, or to throw away her suds, or even help hang out the
clo'es--I see 'em hangin' out clo'es one day when I was goin' across
their lot huckleberr'in', an' he did look like a great gump, an' so did
she--well, then, Lyddy Ann got to seemin' kind o' worried, an' she had
more sick headaches than ever. Twa'n't a year afore that, I'd been in
one day when she had a headache, an' he says, as if he was perfessin'
his faith in meetin', 'By gum! I wish I could have them headaches for
her!' an' I thought o' speakin' of it, about now, when I run in to
borrer some saleratus, an' he hollered into the bedroom: 'Lyddy Ann,
you got another headache? If I had such a head as that, I'd cut it
off!' An' all the time 'Mandy did act like the very Old Nick, jest as
any old maid would that hadn't set her mind on menfolks till she was
thirty-five. She bought a red-plaid bow an' pinned it on in front, an'
one day I ketched her at the lookin'-glass pullin' out a gray hair.
"'Land, 'Mandy,' says I (I spoke right up), 'do you pull 'em out as
fast as they come? That's why you ain't no grayer, I s'pose. I was
sayin' the other day, "'Mandy Knowles is gittin' on, but she holds her
own pretty well. I dunno how she manages it, whether she dyes or not,"'
"An' afore she could stop herself, 'Mandy turned round, red as a beet,
to look at Josh an' see if he heard. He stamped out into the
wood-house, but Lyddy Ann never took her eyes off her work. Them little
spiteful things didn't seem to make no impression on her. I've thought
a good many times sence, she didn't care how handsome other women was,
nor how scrawny she was herself, if she could on'y keep Josh. An' Josh
he got kind o' fretful to her, an' she to him, an' 'Mandy was all honey
an' cream. Nothin' would do but she must learn how to make the
gingerbread he liked, an' iron his shirts; an' when Lyddy Ann found he
seemed to praise things up jest as much as he had when she done 'em,
she give 'em up, an' done the hard things herself, an' let 'Mandy see
to Josh. She looked pretty pindlin' then, mark my words; but I never
see two such eyes in anybody's head. I s'pose 'twas a change for Josh,
anyway, to be with a woman like 'Mandy, that never said her soul's her
own, for Lyddy'd al'ays had a quick way with her; but, land! you can't
tell about men, what changes 'em or what don't. If you're tied to one,
you've jest got to bear with him, an' be thankful if he don't run some
kind of a rig an' make you town-talk."
There was a murmur from gentle Lucy Staples, who had been constant for
fifty years to the lover who died in her youth; but no one took any
notice of her, and Sally Flint went on:
"It come spring, an' somehow or nuther 'Mandy found out the last o'
March was Josh's birthday, an' nothin' would do but she must make him a
present. So she walked over to Sudleigh, an' bought him a great long
pocket-book that you could put your bills into without foldin' 'em, an'
brought it home, tickled to death because she'd been so smart. Some o'
this come out at the time, an' some wa'n't known till arterwards; the
hired man told some, an' a good deal the neighbors see themselves. An'
I'll be whipped if 'Mandy herself didn't tell the heft on't arter 'twas
all over. She wa'n't more'n half baked in a good many things. It got
round somehow that the pocket-book was comin', an' when, I see 'Mandy
walkin' home that arternoon, I ketched up my shawl an' run in behind
her, to borrer some yeast. Nobody thought anything o' birthdays in our
neighborhood, an' mebbe that made it seem a good deal more 'n 'twas;
but when I got in there, I vow I was sorry I come. There set Josh by
the kitchen table, sort o' red an' pleased, with his old pocket-book
open afore him, an' he was puttin' all his bills an' papers into the
new one, an' sayin', every other word,--
"'Why, 'Mandy, I never see your beat! Ain't this a nice one, Lyddy?'
"An' 'Mandy was b'ilin' over with pride, an' she stood there takin' off
her cloud; she'd been in such a hurry to give it to him she hadn't even
got her things off fust. Lyddy stood by the cupboard, lookin' straight
at the glass spoon-holder. I thought arterwards I didn't b'lieve she
see it; an' if she did, I guess she never forgot it.
"'Yes, it's a real nice one,' says I.
"I had to say suthin', but in a minute, I was most scairt. Lyddy turned
round, in a kind of a flash; her face blazed all over red, an' her eyes
kind o' went through me. She stepped up to the table, an' took up the
"'You've got a new one,' says she. 'May I have this?'
"'Course you may,' says he.
"He didn't look up to see her face, an' her voice was so soft an'
still, I guess he never thought nothin' of it. Then she held the
pocket-book up tight ag'inst her dress waist an' walked off into the
bedroom. I al'ays thought she never knew I was there. An' arterwards it
come out that that old pocket-book was one she'd bought for him afore
they was married,--earned it bindin' shoes."
"_'Twas_ kind o' hard," owned Mrs. Niles, bending forward, and, with
hands clasped over her knees, peering into the coals for data regarding
her own marital experiences. "But if 'twas all wore out--did you say
'twas wore?--well, then I dunno's you could expect him to set by it.
An' 'twa'n't as if he'd give it away; they'd got it between 'em."
"I dunno; it's all dark to me," owned Sally Flint. "I guess 'twould
puzzle a saint to explain men-folks, anyway, but I've al'ays thought
they was sort o' numb about some things. Anyway, Josh Marden was. Well,
things went on that way till the fust part o' the summer, an' then they
come to a turnin'-p'int. I s'pose they'd got to, some time, an' it
might jest as well ha' been fust as last. Lyddy Ann was pretty
miserable, an' she'd been dosin' with thoroughwort an' what all when
anybody told her to; but I al'ays thought she never cared a mite
whether she lived to see another spring. The day I'm comin' to, she was
standin' over the fire fryin' fish, an' 'Mandy was sort o' fiddlin'
round, settin' the table, an' not doin' much of anything arter all. I
dunno how she come to be so aggravatin', for she was al'ays ready to do
her part, if she _had_ come between husband an' wife. You know how hard
it is to git a fish dinner! Well, Lyddy Ann was tired enough, anyway.
An' when Josh come in, 'Mandy she took a cinnamon-rose out of her
dress, an' offered it to him.
"'Here's a flower for your button-hole,' says she, as if she wa'n't
more 'n sixteen. An' then she set down in a chair, an' fanned herself
with a newspaper.
"Now that chair happened to be Lyddy Ann's at the table, an' she see
what was bein' done. She turned right round, with the fish-platter in
her hand, an' says she, in an awful kind of a voice,--
"'You git up out o' my chair! You've took my husband away, but you
sha'n't take my place at the table!'
"The hired man was there, washin' his hands at the sink, an' he told it
to me jest as it happened. Well, I guess they all thought they was
struck by lightnin', an' Lyddy Ann most of all. Josh he come to, fust.
He walked over to Lyddy Ann.
"'You put down that platter!' says he. An' she begun to tremble, an'
set it down.
"I guess they thought there was goin' to be murder done, for 'Mandy
busted right out cryin' an' come runnin' over to me, an' the hired man
took a step an' stood side o' Lyddy Ann. He was a little mite of a man,
Cyrus was, but he wouldn't ha' stood no violence.
"Josh opened the door that went into the front entry, an' jest p'inted.
'You walk in there,' he says, 'an' you stay there. That's your half o'
the house, an' this is mine. Don't you dast to darken my doors!'
"Lyddy Ann she walked through the entry an' into the fore-room, an' he
shet the door."
"I wouldn't ha' done it!" snorted old Mrs. Page, who had spent all her
property in lawsuits over a right of way. "Ketch me!"
"You would if you'd 'a' been Lyddy Ann!" said Sally Flint, with an
emphatic nod. Then she continued: "I hadn't more'n heard 'Mandy's story
afore I was over there; but jest as I put my foot on the door-sill,
Josh he come for'ard to meet me.
"'What's wanted?' says he. An' I declare for't I was so scairt I jest
turned round an' cut for home. An' there set 'Mandy, wringin' her
"'What be I goin' to do?' says she, over 'n' over. 'Who ever'd ha'
thought o' this?'
"'The thing for you to do,' says I, 'is to go, straight home to your
mother, an' I'll harness up an' carry you. Don't you step your foot
inside that house ag'in. Maybe ma'am will go over an' pack up your
things. You've made mischief enough.' So we got her off that
arter-noon, an' that was an end of _her_.
"I never could see what made Josh think so quick that day. We never
thought he was brighter 'n common; but jest see how in that flash o'
bein' mad with Lyddy Ann he'd planned out what would be most wormwood
for her! He gi'n her the half o' the house she'd furnished herself with
hair-cloth chairs an' a whatnot, but 'twa'n't the part that was fit to
be lived in. She stayed pretty close for three or four days, an' I
guess she never had nothin' to eat. It made me kind o' sick to think of
her in there settin' on her hair-cloth sofy, an' lookin' at her wax
flowers an' the coral on the what-not, an' thinkin' what end she'd
made. It was of a Monday she was sent in there, an' Tuesday night I
slipped over an' put some luncheon on the winder-sill; but 'twas there
the next day, an' Cyrus see the old crower fly up an' git it. An' that
same Tuesday mornin', Josh had a j'iner come an' begin a partition
right straight through the house. It was all rough boards, like a high
fence, an' it cut the front entry in two, an' went right through the
kitchen--so't the kitchen stove was one side on't, an' the sink the
other. Lyddy Ann's side had the stove. I was glad o' that, though I
s'pose she 'most had a fit every day to think o' him tryin' to cook
over the airtight in the settin'-room. Seemed kind o' queer to go to
the front door, too, for you had to open it wide an' squeeze round the
partition to git into Lyddy Ann's part, an' a little mite of a crack
would let you into Josh's. But they didn't have many callers. It was a
good long while afore anybody dared to say a word to her; an' as for
Josh, there wa'n't nobody that cared about seein' him but the
tax-collector an' pedlers.
"Well, the trouble Josh took to carry out that mad fit! He split wood
an' laid it down at Lyddy Ann's door, an' he divided the eggs an' milk,
an' shoved her half inside. He bought her a separate barrel o' flour,
an' all the groceries he could think on; they said he laid money on her
winder-sill. But, take it all together, he was so busy actin' like a
crazed one that he never got his 'taters dug till 'most time for the
frost. Lyddy Ann she never showed her head among the neighbors ag'in.
When she see she'd got to stay there, she begun to cook for herself;
but one day, one o' the neighbors heard her pleadin' with Josh, out in
the cow-yard, while he was milkin'.
"'O Joshuay,' she kep' a-sayin' over 'n' over, 'you needn't take me
back, if you'll on'y let me do your work! You needn't speak to me, an'
I'll live in the other part; but I shall be crazy if you don't let me
do your work. O Joshuay! O Joshuay!' She cried an' cried as if her
heart would break, but Josh went on milkin', an' never said a word.
"I s'pose she thought he'd let her, the old hunks, for the next day,
she baked some pies an' set 'em on the table in his part. She reached
in through the winder to do it. But that night, when Josh come home, he
hove 'em all out into the back yard, an' the biddies eat 'em up. The
last time I was there, I see them very pieces o' pie-plate, white an'
blue-edged, under the syringa bush. Then she kind o' give up hope. I
guess--But no! I'm gittin' ahead o' my story. She did try him once
more. Of course his rooms got to lookin' like a hog's nest--"
"My! I guess when she see him doin' his own washin', she thought the
pocket-book was a small affair," interpolated Mrs. Niles.
"She used to go round peerin' into his winders when he wa'n't there,
an' one day, arter he'd gone off to trade some steers, she jest spunked
up courage an' went in an' cleaned all up. I see the bed airin', an'
went over an' ketched her at it. She hadn't more'n got through an'
stepped outside when Josh come home, an' what should he do but take the
wheelbarrer an', beat out as he was drivin' oxen five mile, go down to
the gravel-pit an' get a barrerful o' gravel. He wheeled it up to the
side door, an' put a plank over the steps, an' wheeled it right in. An'
then he dumped it in the middle o' his clean floor. That was the last
o' her tryin' to do for him on the sly.
"I should ha' had some patience with him if 'twa'n't for one thing he
done to spite her. Seemed as if he meant to shame her that way afore
the whole neighborhood. He wouldn't speak to her himself, but he sent a
painter by trade to tell her he was goin' to paint the house, an' to
ask her what color she'd ruther have. The painter said she acted sort
o' wild, she was so pleased. She told him yaller; an' Josh had him go
right to work on't next day. But he had her half painted yaller, an'
his a kind of a drab, I guess you'd call it. He sold a piece o' ma'sh
to pay for't. Dr. Parks said you might as well kill a woman with a
hatchet, as the man did down to Sudleigh, as put her through such
treatment. My! ain't it growin' late? Here, let me set back by the
winder. I want to see who goes by, to-day. An' I'll cut my story short.
"Well, they lived jest that way. Lyddy Ann she looked like an old
woman, in a month or two. She looked every minute as old as you do,
Mis' Gridley. Ain't you sixty-nine? Well, she wa'n't but thirty-six.
Her hair turned gray, an' she was all stooped over. Sometimes I thought
she wa'n't jest right. I used to go in to see if she'd go coltsfootin'
with me, or plummin'; but she never'd make me no answer. I recollect
two things she said. One day, she set rockin' back'ards an' for'ards in
a straight chair, holdin' her hands round her knees, an' she says,--
"'I 'ain't got no pride, Sally Flint! I 'ain't got no pride!'
"An' once she looked up kind o' pitiful an' says, 'Ain't it queer I
can't die?' But, poor creatur', I never thought she knew what she was
sayin'. She'd ha' been the last one to own she wa'n't contented if
she'd had any gover'ment over her words.
"Well, Josh he'd turned the hired man away because he couldn't do for
him over the airtight stove, an' he got men to help him by days' works.
An' through the winter, he jest set over the fire an' sucked his claws,
an' thought how smart he was. But one day 'twas awful cold, an' we'd
been tryin' out lard, an' the fat ketched fire, an' everything was all
up in arms, anyway. Cyrus he was goin' by Josh's, an' he didn't see no
smoke from the settin'-room stove. So he jest went to the side door an'
walked in, an' there set Josh in the middle o' the room. Couldn't move
hand nor foot! Cyrus didn't stop for no words, but he run over to our
house, hollerin', 'Josh Harden's got a stroke!' An' ma'am left the
stove all over fat an' run, an' I arter her, I guess Lyddy Ann must ha'
seen us comin', for we hadn't more'n got into the settin'-room afore
she was there. The place was cold as a barn, an' it looked like a
hurrah's nest. Josh never moved, but his eyes follered her when she
went into the bedroom to spread up the bed.
"'You help me, Cyrus,' says she, kind, o' twittery-like, but calm.
'We'll carry him in here. I can lift.'
"But our men-folks got there jest about as they was tryin' to plan how
to take him, an' they h'isted him onto the bed. Cyrus harnessed up our
horse an' went after Dr. Parks, an' by the time he come, we'd got the
room so's to look decent. An'--if you'll b'lieve it! Lyddy Ann was in
the bedroom tryin' to warm Josh up an' make him take some hot drink;
but when I begun to sweep up, an' swop towards that gravel-pile in the
middle o' the floor, she come hurryin' up, all out o' breath. She
ketched the broom right out o' my hand.
"I'll sweep, byme-by,' says she. 'Don't you touch that gravel, none on
ye!' An' so the gravel laid there, an' we walked round it, watchers an'
"She wouldn't have no watcher in his bedroom, though; she was
determined to do everything but turn him an' lift him herself, but
there was al'ays one or two settin' round to keep the fires goin' an'
make sure there was enough cooked up. I swan, I never see a woman so
happy round a bed o' sickness as Lyddy Ann was! She never made no fuss
when Josh was awake, but if he shet his eyes, she'd kind o' hang over
the bed an' smooth the clo'es as if they was kittens, an' once I
ketched her huggin' up the sleeve of his old barn coat that hung
outside the door. If ever a woman made a fool of herself over a man
that wa'n't wuth it, 'twas Lyddy Ann Marden!
"Well, Josh he hung on for a good while, an' we couldn't make out
whether he had his senses or not. He kep' his eyes shet most o' the
time; but when Lyddy Ann's back was turned, he seemed to know it
somehow, an' he'd open 'em an' foller her all round the room. But he
never spoke. I asked the doctor about it.
"'Can't he speak, doctor?' says I. 'He can move that hand a leetle
to-day. Don't you s'pose he could speak, if he'd a mind to?'
"The doctor he squinted up his eyes--he al'ays done that when he didn't
want to answer--an' he says,--
"'I guess he's thinkin' on't over.'
"But one day, Lyddy Ann found she was all beat out, an' she laid down
in the best bedroom an' went to sleep. I set with Josh. I was narrerin'
off, but when I looked up, he was beckonin' with his well hand. I got
up, an' went to the bed.
"'Be you dry?' says I. He made a little motion, an' then he lifted his
hand an' p'inted out into the settin'-room.
"Do you want Lyddy Ann?' says I. 'She's laid down.' No, he didn't want
her. I went to the settin'-room door an' looked out, an'--I dunno how
'twas--it all come to me.
"'Is it that gravel-heap?' says I. 'Do you want it carried off, an' the
floor swop up?' An' he made a motion to say 'Yes.' I called Cyrus, an'
we made short work o' that gravel. When, I'd took up the last mite
on't, I went back to the bed.
"'Josh Marden,' says I, 'can you speak, or can't you?' But he shet his
eyes, an' wouldn't say a word.
"When Lyddy Ann come out, I told her what he'd done, an' then she did
give way a little mite. Two tears come out o' her eyes, an' jest rolled
down her cheeks, but she didn't give up to 'em.
"'Sally,' says she, sort o' peaceful, 'I guess I'll have a cup o' tea.'
"Well, there was times when we thought Josh would git round ag'in, if
he didn't have another stroke. I dunno whether he did have another or
not, but one night, he seemed to be sort o' sinkin' away. Lyddy Ann she
begun to turn white, an' she set down by him an' rubbed his sick hand.
He looked at her,--fust time he had, fair an' square,--an' then he
begun to wobble his lips round an' make a queer noise with 'em. She put
her head down, an' then she says, 'Yes, Joshuay! yes, dear!' An' she
got up an' took the pocket-book 'Mandy had gi'n him off the top o' the
bureau, an' laid it down on the bed where he could git it. But he shook
his head, an' said the word ag'in, an' a queer look--as if she was
scairt an' pleased--flashed over Lyddy Ann's face. She run into the
parlor, an' come back with that old pocket-book he'd give up to her,
an' she put it into his well hand. That was what he wanted. His fingers
gripped it up, an' he shet his eyes. He never spoke ag'in. He died that
"I guess she died, too!" said Lucy Staples, under her breath,
stealthily wiping a tear from her faded cheek.
"No, she didn't, either!" retorted Sally Flint, hastily, getting up to
peer from the window down the country road. "She lived a good many
year, right in that very room he'd drove her out on, an' she looked as
if she owned the airth. I've studied on it consid'able, an' I al'ays
s'posed 'twas because she'd got him, an' that was all she cared for.
There's the hearse now, an' two carriages, step an' step."
"Land! who's dead?" exclaimed Mrs. Forbes, getting up in haste, while
her ball rolled unhindered to the other end of the room.
"It's Lyddy Ann Marden," returned Sally Flint, with the triumphant
quiet of one first at the goal. "I see it this mornin' in the 'County
Democrat,' when I was doin' up my wrist, an' you was all so busy."
It was half-past nine of a radiant winter's night, and the Widder
Poll's tooth still ached, though she was chewing cloves, and had
applied a cracker poultice to her cheek. She was walking back and forth
through the great low-studded kitchen, where uncouth shadows lurked and
brooded, still showing themselves ready to leap aloft with any
slightest motion of the flames that lived behind the old black
fire-dogs. At every trip across the room, she stopped to look from the
window into the silver paradise without, and at every glance she
groaned, as if groaning were a duty. The kitchen was unlighted save by
the fire and one guttering candle; but even through such inadequate
illumination the Widder Poll was a figure calculated to stir rich
merriment in a satirical mind. Her contour was rather square than
oblong, and she was very heavy. In fact, she had begun to announce that
her ankles wouldn't bear her much longer, and she should "see the day
when she'd have to set by, from mornin' to night, like old Anrutty
Green that had the dropsy so many years afore she was laid away." Her
face, also, was cut upon the broadest pattern in common use, and her
small, dull eyes and closely shut mouth gave token of that firmness
which, save in ourselves, we call obstinacy. To-night, however, her
features were devoid of even their wonted dignity, compressed, as they
had been, by the bandage encircling her face. She looked like a
caricature of her unprepossessing self. On one of her uneasy journeys
to the window, she caught the sound of sleigh-bells; and staying only
to assure herself of their familiar ring, she hastily closed the
shutter, and, going back to the fireplace, sank into a chair there, and
huddled over the blaze. The sleigh drove slowly into the yard, and
after the necessary delay of unharnessing, a man pushed open the side
door, and entered the kitchen. He, too, was short and square of build,
though he had no superfluous flesh. His ankles would doubtless continue
to bear him for many a year to come. His face was but slightly
accented; he had very thin eyebrows, light hair, and only a shaggy
fringe of whisker beneath the chin. This was Heman Blaisdell, the
Widder Poll's brother-in-law, for whom she had persistently kept house
ever since the death of his wife, four years ago. He came in without
speaking, and after shaking himself out of his great-coat, sat silently
down in his armchair by the fire. The Widder Poll held both hands to
her face, and groaned again. At length, curiosity overcame her, and,
quite against her judgment, she spoke. She was always resolving that
she would never again take the initiative; but every time her
resolution went down before the certainty that if she did not talk,
there would be no conversation at all,--for Heman had a staying power
that was positively amazing.
"Well?" she began, interrogatively.
Heman only stirred slightly in his chair.
"_Well!_ ain't you goin' to tell me what went on at the meetin'?"
Her quarry answered patiently, yet with a certain dogged resistance of
"I dunno's there's anything to tell."
"How'd it go off?"
"'Bout as usual."
"Did you speak?"
"Lead in prayer?"
"Wa'n't you _asked_?"
"Well, my soul! Was Roxy Cole there?"
"Did you fetch her home?"
"No, I didn't!" Some mild exasperation animated his tone at last. The
Widder detected it, and occupied herself with her tooth.
"My soul an' body! I wonder if it's goin' to grumble all night long!"
she exclaimed, bending lower over the blaze. "I've tried everything but
a roasted raisin, an' I b'lieve I shall come to that."
Heman rose, and opened the clock on the mantel; he drew forth the key
from under the pendulum, and slowly wound up the time-worn machinery.
In another instant, he would be on his way to bed; the Widder knew she
must waste no time in hurt silence, if she meant to find out anything.
She began hastily,--