Part 2 out of 4
"Did they say anything about the, church fair?"
"They ain't goin' to have it."
"Not have it! Well, how _be_ they goin' to git the shinglin' paid for?"
"They've got up the idee of an Old Folks' Concert."
"Singin' an' playin'."
"Who's goin' to play?"
"Brad Freeman an' Jont Marshall agreed to play fust an' second fiddle."
Heman paused a moment, and straightened himself with an air of
conscious pride; then he added,--
"They've asked me to play the bass-viol."
The Widder had no special objections to this arrangement, but it did
strike her as an innovation; and when she had no other reason for
disapproval, she still believed in it on general principles. So
altogether effective a weapon should never rust from infrequent use!
"Well!" she announced. "I never heard of such carryin's-on,--never!"
Heman was lighting a small kerosene lamp. The little circle of light
seemed even brilliant in the dusky room; it affected him with a relief
so sudden and manifest as to rouse also a temporary irritation at
having endured the previous gloom even for a moment.
"'Ain't you got no oil in the house?" he exclaimed, testily. "I wish
you'd light up, evenin's, an' not set here by one taller candle!"
He had ventured on this remonstrance before, the only one he permitted
himself against his housekeeper's ways, and at the instant of making
it, he realized its futility.
"The gre't lamp's all full," said the Widder, warming her apron and
pressing it to her poulticed face. "You can light it, if you've got the
heart to. That was poor Mary's lamp, an' hard as I've tried, I never
could bring myself to put a match to that wick. How many evenin's I've
seen her set by it, rockin' back'ards an' for'ards,--an' her needle
goin' in an' out! She was a worker, if ever there was one, poor
creatur'! At it all the time, jes' like a silk-worm."
Heman was perfectly familiar with this explanation; from long
repetition, he had it quite by heart. Possibly that was why he did not
wait for its conclusion, but tramped stolidly away to his bedroom,
where he had begun to kick off his shoes by the time his sister-in-law
reached a period.
The Widder had a fresh poultice waiting by the fire. She applied it to
her cheek, did up her face in an old flannel petticoat, and then,
having covered the fire, toiled up to bed. It was a wearisome journey,
for she carried a heavy soapstone which showed a tendency to conflict
with the candle, and she found it necessary to hold together most of
her garments; these she had "loosened a mite by the fire," according to
custom on cold nights, after Heman had left her the field.
Next day, Heman went away into the woods chopping, and carried his
dinner of doughnuts and cheese, with a chunk of bean-porridge frozen
into a ball, to be thawed out by his noontime fire. He returned much
earlier than usual, and the Widder was at the window awaiting him. The
swelling in her cheek had somewhat subsided; and the bandage, no longer
distended by a poultice beneath, seemed, in comparison, a species of
holiday device. She was very impatient. She watched Heman, as he went
first to the barn; and even opened the back door a crack to listen for
the rattling of chains, the signal of feeding or watering.
"What's he want to do that now for?" she muttered, closing the door
again, as the cold struck her cheek. "He'll have to feed 'em ag'in,
But at last he came, and, according to his silent wont, crossed the
kitchen to the sink, to wash his hands. He was an unobservant man, and
it did not occur to him that the Widder had on her Tycoon rep, the gown
she kept "for nice." Indeed, he was so unused to looking at her that he
might well have forgotten her outward appearance. He was only sure of
her size; he knew she cut off a good deal of light. One sign, however,
he did recognize; she was very cheerful, with a hollow good-nature
which had its meaning.
"I got your shavin'-water all ready," she began. "Don't you burn ye
when ye turn it out."
It had once been said of the Widder Poll that if she could hold her
tongue, the devil himself couldn't get ahead of her. But fortune had
not gifted her with such endurance, and she always spoke too often and
"Brad Freeman's been up here," she continued, eying Heman, as she drew
out the supper-table and put up the leaves. "I dunno's I ever knew
anybody so took up as he is with that concert, an' goin' to the vestry
to sing to-night, an' all. He said he'd call here an' ride 'long o'
you, an' I told him there'd be plenty o' room, for you'd take the
If Heman felt any surprise at her knowledge of his purpose, he did not
betray it. He poured out his shaving-water, and looked about him for an
"I ain't goin' in the pung," he answered, without glancing at her. "The
shoe's most off'n one o' the runners now."
The Widder Poll set a pie on the table with an emphasis unconsciously
embodying her sense that now, indeed, had come the time for remedies.
"I dunno what you can take," she remarked, with that same foreboding
liveliness. "Three on a seat, an' your bass-viol, too!"
Heman was lathering his cheeks before the mirror, where a sinuous Venus
and a too-corpulent Cupid disported themselves in a green landscape
above the glass. "There ain't goin' to be three," he said, patiently.
"T'others are goin' by themselves."
The Widder took up her stand at a well-chosen angle, and looked at him
in silence. He paid no attention to her, and it was she who, of
necessity, broke into speech.
"_Well!_ I've got no more to say. Do you mean to tell me you'd go off
playin' on fiddles an' bass-viols, an' leave me, your own wife's
sister, settin' here the whole evenin' long, all swelled up with the
Heman often felt that he had reached a state of mind where nothing
could surprise him, but this point of view was really unexpected. He
decided, however, with some scorn, that the present misunderstanding
might arise from a confusion of terms in the feminine mind.
"This ain't the concert," he replied, much as if she had proposed going
to the polls. "It's the rehearsal. That means where you play the tunes
over. The concert ain't comin' off for a month."
And now the Widder Poll spoke with the air of one injured almost beyond
"I'd like to know what difference that makes! If a man's goin' where he
can't take his womenfolks, I say he'd better stay to home! an' if
there's things goin' on there't you don't want me to git hold of, I
tell you, Heman Blaisdell, you'd better by half stop shavin' you now,
an' take yourself off to bed at seven o'clock! Traipsin' round playin'
the fiddle at your age! Ain't I fond o' music?"
"No, you ain't!" burst forth Heman, roused to brief revolt where his
beloved instrument was concerned. "You don't know Old Hunderd from
The Widder walked round the table and confronted him as he was turning
away from the glass, shaving-mug in hand.
"You answer me one question! I know who's goin' to be there, an' set in
the chorus an' sing alto. Brad Freeman told me, as innercent as a lamb.
Heman Blaisdell, you answer me? Be you goin' to bring anybody here to
this house, an' set her in poor Mary's place? If you be, I ought to be
the fust one to know it."
Heman looked at the shaving-mug for a moment, as if he contemplated
dashing it to the floor. Then he tightened his grasp on it, like one
putting the devil behind him.
"No, I ain't," he said, doggedly, adding under his breath, "not unless
I'm drove to 't."
"I dunno who could ha' done more," said the Widder, so patently with
the air of continuing for an indefinite period that Heman reached up
for his hat. "Where you goin'? Mercy sakes alive! don't you mean to eat
no supper, now I've got it all ready?"
But Heman pushed his way past her and escaped, muttering something
about "feedin' the critters." Perhaps the "critters" under his care
were fed oftener than those on farms where the ingle-nook was at least
as cosey as the barn.
These slight skirmishes always left Heman with an uneasy sense that
somehow he also must be to blame, though he never got beyond wondering
what could have been done to avert the squall. When he went back into
the kitchen, however,--the "critters" fed, and his own nerves soothed
by pitchforking the haymow with the vigor of one who assaults a
citadel,--he was much relieved at finding the atmosphere as clear as
usual; and as the early twilight drew on, he became almost happy at
thought of; the vivid pleasure before him. Never, since his wife died,
had he played his bass-viol in public; but he had long been in the
habit of "slying off" upstairs to it, as to a tryst with lover or
friend whom the world denied. The Widder Poll, though she heard it
wailing and droning thence, never seriously objected to it; the
practice was undoubtedly "shaller," but it kept him in the house.
They ate supper in silence; and then, while she washed the dishes,
Heman changed his clothes, and went to the barn to harness. He stood
for a moment, irresolute, when the horse was ready, and then backed him
into the old blue pung. A queer little smile lurked at the corners of
"I guess the shoe'll go once more," he muttered. "No, I ain't goin' to
marry ag'in! I said I ain't, an' I ain't. But I guess I can give a
neighbor a lift, if I want to!"
Brad Freeman was waiting near the tack door when Heman led the horse
out of the barn. He was lank and lean, and his thick red hair strayed
low over the forehead. His army overcoat was rent here and there beyond
the salvation which lay in his wife's patient mending, and his old fur
cap showed the skin in moth-eaten patches; yet Heman thought, with a
wondering protest, how young he looked, how free from care.
"Hullo, Heman!" called Brad.
"How are ye?" responded Heman, with a cordiality Brad never failed to
elicit from his brother man.
Heman left the horse standing, and opened the back door.
He stopped short. An awful vision confronted him,--the Widder Poll,
clad not only in the Tycoon rep, but her best palm-leaf shawl, her
fitch tippet, and pumpkin hood; her face was still bandaged, and her
head-gear had been enwound by a green _barege_ veil. She stepped
forward with an alertness quite unusual in one so accustomed to
remembering her weight of mortal flesh.
"Here!" she called, "you kind o' help me climb in. I ain't so spry as I
was once. You better give me a real boost. But, land! I mustn't talk. I
wouldn't git a mite of air into that tooth for a dollar bill."
Heman stepped into the house for his bass-viol, and brought it out with
an extremity of tender care; he placed it, enveloped in its green baize
covering, in the bottom of the pung. Some ludicrous association between
the baize and the green _barege_ veil struck Brad so forcibly that he
gave vent to a chuckle, sliding cleverly into a cough. He tried to meet
Heman's eye, but Heman only motioned him to get in, and took his own
place without a word. Brad wondered if he could be ill; his face had
grown yellowish in its pallor, and he seemed to breathe heavily.
Midway in their drive to the vestry, they passed a woman walking
briskly along in the snowy track. She was carrying her singing-books
under one arm, and holding her head high with that proud lift which had
seemed, more than anything else, to keep alive her girlhood's charm.
"There's Roxy," said Brad. "Here, Heman, you let me jump out, an' you
give her a lift." But Heman looked straight before him, and drove on.
By the time they entered Tiverton Street, the vestry was full of
chattering groups. Heman was the last to arrive. He made a long job of
covering the horse, inside the shed, resolved that nothing should tempt
him to face the general mirth at the Widder's entrance. For he could
not deceive himself as to the world's amused estimate of her
guardianship and his submission. He had even withdrawn from the School
Board, where he had once been proud to figure, because, entering the
schoolroom one day at recess, he had seen, on a confiscated slate at
the teacher's desk, a rough caricature representing "Heman and his Ma."
The Ma was at least half the size of the slate, while Heman was
microscopic; but, alas! his inflamed consciousness found in both a
resemblance which would mightily have surprised the artist. He felt
that if he ever saw another testimony of art to his unworthiness, he
might commit murder.
When he did muster courage to push open the vestry door, the Widder
Poll sat alone by the stove, still unwinding her voluminous wrappings,
and the singers had very pointedly withdrawn by themselves. Brad and
Jont had begun to tune their fiddles, and the first prelusive snapping
of strings at once awakened Heman's nerves to a pleasant tingling; he
was excited at the nearness of the coming joy. He drew a full breath
when it struck home to him, with the warm certainty of a happy truth,
that if he did not look at her, even the Widder Poll could hardly spoil
his evening. Everybody greeted him with unusual kindliness, though some
could not refrain from coupling their word with a meaning glance at the
colossal figure near the stove. One even whispered,--
"She treed ye, didn't she, Heman?"
He did not trust himself to answer, but drew the covering from his own
treasure, and began his part of the delicious snapping and screwing.
"Where's Roxy?" called Jont Marshall "Can't do without her alto.
Anybody seen her?"
Roxy was really very late, and Heman could not help wondering whether
she had delayed in starting because she had expected a friendly
invitation to ride, "All right," he reflected, bitterly. "She must get
used to it."
The door opened, and Roxy came in. She had been walking fast, and her
color was high. Heman stole one glance at her, under cover of the
saluting voices. She was forty years old, yet her hair had not one
silver thread, and at that instant of happy animation, she looked
strikingly like her elder sister, to whom Heman used to give lozenges
when they were boy and girl together, and who died in India. Then Roxy
took her place, and Heman bent over his bass-viol. The rehearsal began.
Heman forgot all about his keeper sitting by the stove, as the old,
familiar tunes swelled up in the little room, and one antique phrase
after another awoke nerve-cells all unaccustomed nowadays to thrilling.
He could remember just when he first learned The Mellow Horn, and how
his uncle, the sailor, had used to sing it. "Fly like a youthful hart
or roe!" Were there spices still left on the hills of life? Ah, but
only for youth to smell and gather! Boldly, with a happy bravado, the
"The British yoke, the Gallic chain,
Were placed upon our necks in vain!"
And then came the pious climax of Coronation, America, and the
Doxology. Above the tumult of voices following the end of rehearsal,
some one announced the decision to meet on Wednesday night; and Heman,
his bass-viol again in its case, awoke, and saw the Widder putting on
her green veil. Rosa Tolman nudged her intimate friend, Laura Pettis,
behind Heman's back, and whispered,--
"I wonder if she's had a good time! There 'ain't been a soul for her to
speak to, the whole evenin' long!"
The other girl laughed, with a delicious sense of fun in the situation,
and Heman recoiled; the sound was like a blow in the face.
"Say, Heman," said Brad, speaking in his ear. "I guess I'll walk home,
so't you can take in Roxy."
But Heman had bent his head, and was moving along with the rest, like a
man under a burden.
"No," said he, drearily. "I can't. You come along."
His tone was quite conclusive; and Brad, albeit wondering, said no
more. The three packed themselves into the pung, and drove away. Heman
was conscious of some dull relief in remembering that he need not pass
Roxy again on the road, for he heard her voice ring out clearly from a
group near the church. He wondered if anybody would go home with her,
and whether she minded the dark "spell o' woods" by the river. No
matter! It was of no use. She must get used to her own company.
The Widder was almost torpid from her long sojourn by the stove; but
the tingling air roused her at last, and she spoke, though mumblingly,
remembering her tooth,--
"Proper nice tunes, wa'n't they? Was most on 'em new?"
But Brad could not hear, and left it for Heman to answer; and Heman
gave his head a little restive shake, and said, "No." At his own gate,
"I guess I won't car' you down home," he said to Brad.
It was only a stone's-throw, Brad hesitated.
"No, I, didn't mean for ye to," answered he, "but I'll stop an' help
"No," said Heman, gently. "You better not. I'd ruther do it." Even a
friendly voice had become unbearable in his ears.
So, Brad, stepped down, lifted out his fiddle-case, and said
good-night. Heman drove into the yard, and stopped before the kitchen
door. He took the reins in one hand, and held out the other to the
"You be a mite careful o' your feet," he said. "That bass-viol slipped
a little for'ard when we come down Lamson's Hill."
She rose ponderously. She seemed to sway and hesitate; then she set one
foot cautiously forward in the pung. There was a rending, crash. The
Widder Poll had stepped into the bass-viol. She gave a little scream;
and plunged forward.
"My foot's ketched!" she cried. "Can't you help me out?"
Heman dropped the reins; he put his hands on her arms, and pulled her
forward. He never knew whether she reached the ground on her feet or
her knees. Then he pushed past her, where she floundered, and lifted
out his darling. He carried it into the kitchen, and lighted the
candle, with trembling hands. He drew back the cover. The bass-viol had
its mortal wound; he could have laid both fists into the hole. He
"My God Almighty!" he said aloud.
The Widder Poll had stumbled into the room. She threw back her green
veil, and her face shone ivory white under its shadow; her small eyes
were starting. She looked like a culprit whom direst vengeance had
overtaken at last. At the sound of her step, Heman lifted his hurt
treasure, carried it tenderly into his bedroom, and shut the door upon
it. He turned about, and walked past her out of the house. The Widder
Poll followed him, wringing her mittened hands.
"O Heman!" she cried, "don't you look like that! Oh, you'll do yourself
some mischief, I know you will!"
But Heman had climbed into the pung, and given Old Gameleg a vicious
cut. Swinging out of the yard they went; and the Widder Poll ran after
until, just outside the gate, she reflected that she never could
overtake him and that her ankles were weak; then she returned to the
Heman was conscious of one thought only: if any man had come home with
Roxy, he should kill him with his own hands. He drove on, almost to the
vestry, and found no trace of her. He turned about, and, retracing his
way, stopped at her mother's gate, left Old Gameleg, and strode into
the yard. There was no light in the kitchen, and only a glimmer in the
chamber above. Heman went up to the kitchen door and knocked. The
chamber window opened.
"Who is it?" asked Mrs. Cole. "Why, that you, Heman? Anybody sick?"
"Where's Roxy?" returned Heman, as if he demanded her at the point of
"Why, she's been abed as much as ten minutes. The Tuckers brought her
"You tell her to come here! I want to see her."
"What! down there? Law, Heman! you come in the mornin'. She'll ketch
her death o' cold gittin' up an' dressin', now she's got all warmed
"What's he want, mother?" came Roxy's clear voice from within the room.
"That's Heman Blaisdell's voice."
"Roxy, you come down here!" called Heman, masterfully.
There was a pause, during which Mrs. Cole was apparently pulled away
from the window. Then Roxy, her head enveloped in a shawl, appeared in
her mother's place.
"Well!" she said, impatiently. "What is it?"
Heman's voice found a pleading level.
"Roxy, will you marry me?"
"Why, Heman, you 're perfectly ridiculous! At this time o' night, too!"
"You answer me!" cried Heman, desperately. "I want you! Won't you have
me, Roxy? Say?"
"Roxy!" came her mother's muffled voice from the bed. "You'll git your
death o' cold. What's he want? Can't you give him an answer an' let him
"Won't you, Roxy?" called Heman. "Oh, won't you?"
Roxy began to laugh hysterically. "Yes," she said, and shut the window.
When Heman had put up the horse, he walked into the kitchen, and
straight up to the Widder Poll, who stood awaiting him, clinging to the
table by one fat hand.
"Now, look here!" he said, good-naturedly, speaking to her with a
direct address he had not been able to use for many a month, "You
listen to me. I don't want any hard feelin', but to-morrer mornin'
you've got to pick up your things an' go. You can have the house down
to the Holler, or you can go out nussin', but you come here by your own
invitation, an' you've got to leave by mine. I'm goin' to be married as
soon as I can git a license." Then he walked to the bedroom, and shut
himself in with his ruined bass-viol and the darkness.
And the Widder Poll did not speak.
* * * * *
There are very few cosey evenings when Heman and Roxy do not smile at
each other across the glowing circle of their hearth, and ask, the one
or the other, with a perplexity never to be allayed,--
"Do you s'pose she tumbled, or did she put her foot through it
But Heman is sure to conclude the discussion with a glowing tribute to
Brad Freeman, his genius and his kindliness.
"I never shall forgit that o' Brad," he announces. "There wa'n't
another man in the State o' New Hampshire could ha' mended it as he
did. Why, you never'd know there was a brack in it!"
"For as for heartsease, it groweth in a single night."
"What be you doin' of, Mis' Lamson?" asked Mrs. Pettis, coming in from
the kitchen, where she had been holding a long conversation with young
Mrs. Lamson on the possibility of doing over sugar-barberry. Mrs.
Pettis was a heavy woman, bent almost double with rheumatism, and she
carried a baggy umbrella for a cane. She was always sighing over the
difficulty of "gittin' round the house," but nevertheless she made more
calls than any one else in the neighborhood. "It kind o' limbered her
up," she said, "to take a walk after she had been bendin' over the
Mrs. Lamson looked up with an alert, bright glance. She was a little
creature, and something still girlish lingered in her straight, slender
figure and the poise of her head. "Old Lady Lamson" was over eighty,
and she dressed with due deference to custom; but everything about her
gained, in the wearing, an air of youth. Her aggressively brown front
was rumpled a little, as if it had tried to crimp itself, only to be
detected before the operation was well begun, and the purple ribbons of
her cap flared rakishly aloft.
"I jest took up a garter," she said, with some apology in her tone.
"Kind o' fiddlin' work, ain't it?"
"Last time I was here, you was knittin' mittins," continued Mrs.
Pettis, seating herself laboriously on the lounge, and leaning forward
upon the umbrella clutched steadily in two fat hands. "You're dretful
forehanded. I remember I said so then. 'Samwel 'ain't got a mittin, to
his name,' I says, 'nor he won't have 'fore November.'"
"Well, I guess David's pretty well on't for everything now," answered
Mrs. Lamson, with some pride. "He's got five pair o' new mittins, an'
my little blue chist full o' stockin's. I knit 'em two-an'-two, an'
two-an'-one, an' toed some on 'em off with white, an' some with red,
so's to keep 'em in pairs. But Mary said I better not knit any more,
for fear the moths'd git into 'em, an' so I stopped an' took up this
garter. But _'tis_ dretful fiddlin' work!"
A brief silence fell upon the two, while the sweet summer scents stole
in at the window,--the breath of the cinnamon rose, of growing, grass
and good brown earth. Mrs. Pettis pondered, looking vacantly before
her, and Old Lady Lamson knit hastily on. Her needles clicked together,
and she turned her work with a jerk in beginning a row. But neither was
oppressed by lack of speech. They understood each other, and no more
thought of "making talk" than of pulling up a seed to learn whether it
had germinated. It was Mrs. Pettis who, after, a natural interval; felt
moved to speak.
"Mary's master thoughtful of you, ain't she? 'Tain't many sons' wives
would be so tender of, anybody, now is it?"
Mrs. Lamson looked up sharply, and then, with the same quick movement;
bent her eyes on her work.
"Mary means to do jest what's right," she answered. "If she don't make
out, it ain't for lack o' tryin'."
"So I says to Samwel this mornin". 'Old Lady Lamson 'ain't one thing to
concert herself with,' says I, 'but to git dressed an' set by the
winder. When dinner-time comes, she's got nothin' to do but hitch up to
the table; an' she don't have to touch her hand to a dish.' Now ain't
that so, Mis' Lamson?"
"That's so," agreed Mrs. Lamson, with a little sigh, instantly
suppressed. "It's different from what I thought to myself 'twould be
when Mary come here. ''Tain't in natur' she'll have the feelin' for me
she would for her own,' I says; but I b'lieve she has, an' more too.
When she come for good, I made up my mind I'd put 'Up with everything,
an' say 'twas all in the day's work; but law! I never had to. She an'
David both act as if I was sugar or salt, I dunno which."
"Don't ye never help 'round, washin'-days?"
"Law, no! Mary won't hear to 't. She'd ruther have the dishes wait till
everything's on the line; an' if I stir a step to go into the gardin to
pick a 'mess o' beans, or kill a currant worm, she's right arter me.
'Mother, don't you fall!' she says, a dozen 'times a day. 'I dunno what
David'd do to me, if I let anything happen to you.' An' 'David, he's
ketched it, too. One night, 'long towards Thanksgivin' time, I kicked
the soapstone out o' bed, an' he come runnin' up as if he was
bewitched. 'Mother,' says he, 'did you fall? You 'ain't had a stroke,
Old Lady Lamson laughed huskily; her black eyes shone, and her cap
ribbons nodded, and danced, but there was an ironical ring to her
"Do tell!" responded Mrs. Pettis, in her ruminating voice. "Well,
things were different when we was young married folks, an' used to do
our own spinnin' an' weavin'."
"I guess so!" Mrs. Lamson dropped her busy hands in her lap, and leaned
back a moment, in eager retrospect. "Do you recollect that Friday we
spun from four o'clock in the mornin' till six that evenin', because
the men-folks had gone in the ma'sh, an' all we had to do was to stop
an' feed the critters? An' Hiram Peasley come along with tinware, an'
you says, 'If you're a mind to stop at my house, an' throw a colander
an' a long-handled dipper over the fence, under the flowerin'-currant,
an' wait till next time for your pay, I'll take 'em,' says you. 'But I
ain't goin' to leave off spinnin' for anything less 'n Gabriel's
trumpet,' says you. I remember your sayin' that, as if 'twas only
yisterday; an' arter you said it, you kind o' drawed down your face an'
looked scairt. An' I never thought on't ag'in till next Sabbath
evenin', when Jim Bellows rose to speak, an' made some handle about the
Day o' Judgment, an' then I tickled right out."
"How you do set by them days!" said Mrs. Pettis, striving to keep a
steady face, though her heavy sides were shaking. "I guess you remember
'em better 'n your prayers!"
"Yes, I laughed out loud, an' you passed me a pep'mint over the pew,
an' looked as if you was goin' to cry. 'Don't,' says you; an' it sort
o' come over me you knew what I was laughin' at. Why, if there ain't
John Freeman stoppin' here,--Mary's sister's brother-in-law, you know.
Lives down to Bell P'int. Guess he's pullin' up to give the news."
Mrs. Pettis came slowly to her feet, and scanned the farmer, who was
hitching his horse to the fence. When he had gone round to the back
door, she turned, and grasped her umbrella with a firmer hand.
"Well, I guess 'twon't pay me to set down ag'in," she announced. "I'm
goin' to take it easy on the way home. I dunno but I'll let down the
bars, an' poke a little ways into the north pastur', an' see if I can't
git a mite o' pennyr'yal. I'll be in ag'in to-morrer or next day."
"So do, so do," returned Mrs. Lamson.
"'Tain't no use to ask you to come down, I s'pose? You don't git, out
so fur, nowadays."
"No," said the other, still with that latent touch of sarcasm in her
voice. "If I should fall, there'd be a great hurrah, boys,--'fire on
the mountain, run, boys, run!'"
Mrs. Pettis toiled out into the road; and Old Lady Lamson, laying her
knitting on the table, bent forward, not to watch her out of sight, but
to make sure whether she really would stop at the north pasture.
"No, she's goin' by," she said aloud, with evident relief. "No, she
ain't either. I'll be whipped if she ain't lettin' down the bars!
_'Twould_ smell kind o' good, I declare!"
She was still peering forward, one slender hand on the window-sill,
when Mary, a pretty young woman, with two nervous lines between her
eyes, came hurrying in.
"Mother," she began, in that unnatural voice which is supposed to allay
excitement in another, "I dunno what I'm goin' to do. Stella's sick."
"You don't say!" said Old Lady Lamson, turning away from the window.
"What do they think 'tis?"
"Fever, John says. An' she's so full-blooded it'll be likely to go hard
with her. They want me to go right down, an' David's got to carry me.
John would, but he's gone to be referee in that land case, an' he won't
be back for a day or two. It's a mercy David's just home from town, so
he won't have to change his clo'es right through. Now, mother, if you
should have little 'Liza Tolman come an' stay with you, do you think
anything would happen, s'posin' we left you alone just one night?"
A little flush rose in the old lady's withered cheek. Her eyes gleamed
brightly through her glasses.
"Don't you worry one mite about me," she replied, in an even voice.
"You change your dress, an' git off afore it's dark. I shall be all
"David's harnessin' now," said Mary, beginning to untie her apron. "I
sent John down to the lower barn to call him. But, mother, if anything
should happen to you--"
"Lord-a-massy! nothin' 's goin' to!" the old lady broke forth, in
momentary impatience. "Don't stan' here talkin'. You better have your
mind on Stella. Fever's a quicker complaint than old age. It al'ays
was, an' al'ays will be."
"Oh, I know it! I know it!" cried Mary, starting toward the door.
"There ain't a thing for you to do. There's new bread an' preserves on
the dairy-wheel, an' you have 'Liza Tolman pick you up some chips, an'
build the fire for your tea; an' don't you wash the dishes, mother.
Just leave 'em in the sink. An' for mercy sake, take a candle, an' not
meddle with kerosene--"
"Come, come, ain't you ready?" came David's voice from the door. "I
can't keep the horse stan'in' here till he's all eat up with flies."
Mary fled to her bedroom, unbuttoning her dress as she ran; and David
came in, bringing an air of outdoor freshness into the little
sitting-room, with his regal height, his broad shoulders, and tanned,
"Well, mother," he said, putting a hand of clumsy kindliness on her
shoulder, "if anything happens to you while we're gone, I shall wish
we'd let the whole caboodle of 'em die in their tracks. Don't s'pose
anything will, do ye?"
"Law, no, David!" exclaimed the old lady, looking at him with beaming
pride. "You stan' still an' let me pick that mite o' lint off your arm.
I shall be tickled to death to git rid on ye."
"Now, mother," counselled Mary, when she came but of the bedroom,
hastily tying her bonnet strings, "you watch the school-children, an'
ask 'Liza Tolman to stay with you, an' if she can't, to get one of the
Daltons; an' tell her we'll give her some Bartlett pears when they're
"Yes, yes, I hear," answered the old lady, rising, and setting back her
chair in its accustomed corner. "Now, do go along, or ye won't be down
to Grapevine Run afore five o'clock."
She watched them while they drove out of the yard, shading her eyes
with one nervous hand.
"Mother," called Mary, "don't you stan' there in that wind, with
nothin' on your head!"
The old lady turned back into the house, and her face was alive with
"Wind!" she ejaculated scornfully, and yet with the tolerance of one
too happy for complaint. "Wind! I guess there wouldn't be so much, if
some folks would save their breath to cool their porridge!"
She did not go back to the sitting-room and her peaceful knitting. She
walked into the pantry, where she gave the shelves a critical survey,
and then, returning to the kitchen, looked about her once more.
"If it's one day sence I've been down sullar," she said aloud, "it's
two year." She 'was lighting a candle as she spoke. In another moment,
she was taking sprightly steps down the stairs into the darkness below.
"Now, mother, don't you fall!" she chuckled, midway in the descent; and
it was undeniable that the voice sounded much like Mary's in her
anxious mood. "Now, ain't I a mean creatur' to stan' here laughin' at
'em!" she went on: "Well,' if she don't keep things nice! 'Taters all
sprouted; an' the preserve cupboard never looked better in my day.
Mary's been well brought up,--I'll say that for her."
Old Lady Lamson must have spent at least half an hour in the cellar,
for when she ascended it was after four o'clock, and the
school-children had passed the house on their way home. She heard their
voices under the elms at the turn of the road.
"I ain't to blame if I can't ketch 'em," she remarked calmly, as she
blew out her light. "I don't see's anybody could say I was to blame.
An' I couldn't walk up to the Tolmans' to ask 'Liza. I might fall!"
She set about her preparations for supper. It was a favorite maxim in
the household that the meal should be eaten early, "to get it out of
the way;" and to-night this unaccustomed handmaid had additional
reasons for haste. But the new bread and preserves were ignored. She
built a rousing fire in the little kitchen stove; she brought out the
moulding-board, and with trembling eagerness proceeded to mix
cream-of-tartar biscuits. Not Cellini himself nor Jeannie Carlyle had
awaited the results of passionate labor with a more strenuous
eagerness; and when she drew out the panful of delicately browned
biscuits, she set it down on the table, and looked at it in sheer
"I'll be whipped if they ain't as good as if I'd made 'em every night
for the last two year!" she cried. "I ain't got to git my hand in,
an' that's truth an' fact!"
She brought out some "cold b'iled dish," made her strong green tea, and
sat down to a banquet such as they taste who have reached the
Delectable Mountains. It held within it all the savor of a happy past;
it satisfied her hungry soul.
After she had washed the supper dishes and scrupulously swept the
hearth, she rested, for a moment's thought, in the old rocking-chair,
and then took her way, candle in hand, to the attic. There was no
further self-confidence on the stairs; she was too serious, now. Her
hours were going fast. The attic, in spite of the open windows, lay hot
under summer's touch upon the shingles outside, and odorous of the
dried herbs hanging in bunches here and there.
"Wormwood--thoroughwort--spearmint," she mused, as she touched them,
one after another, and inhaled their fragrance. "'Tain't so long ago I
was out pickin' herbs an' dryin' 'em. Well, well, well!"
She made her way under the eaves, and pulled out a hair-trunk, studded
with brass nails. A rush-bottomed chair stood near-by, and, setting her
candle in it, she knelt before the trunk and began lifting out its
contents: a brocaded satin waistcoat of a long-past day, a woolen
comforter knit in stripes, a man's black broadcloth coat. She smoothed
them, as she laid them by, and there was a wondering note in her
"My Lord!" she whispered reverently, as if speaking to One who would
hear and understand, "it's over fifty year!"
A pile of yellowed linen lay in the bottom of the trunk, redolent of
camphor from contact with its perishable neighbors. She lifted one
shirt after another, looking at them in silence. Then she laid back the
other clothes, took up her candle and the shirts, and went downstairs
again. In hot haste, she rebuilt the kitchen fire, and set two large
kettles of water on the stove. She dragged the washing-bench into the
back kitchen from its corner in the shed, and on it placed her tubs;
and when the water was heated, she put the garments into a tub, and
rubbed with the vigor and ease of a woman well accustomed to such work.
All the sounds of the night were loud about her, and the song of the
whippoorwill came in at the open door. He was very near. His presence
should have been a sign of approaching trouble, but Old Lady Lamson did
not hear him. Her mind was reading the lettered scroll of a vanished
Perhaps the touch of the warm water on her hands recalled her to the
"Seems good to feel the suds," she said, happily, holding up one
withered hand, and letting the foam drip from her fingers, "I wish't I
could dry outdoor! But when mornin' come, they'd be all of a sop."
She washed and rinsed the garments, and, opening a clothes-horse,
spread them out to dry. Then she drew a long breath, put out her
candle, and wandered to the door. The garden lay before her, unreal in
the beauty of moonlight. Every bush seemed an enchanted wood. The old
lady went forth, lingering at first, as one too rich for choosing; then
with a firmer step. She closed the little gate, and walked out into the
country road. She hurried along to the old signboard, and turned aside
unerringly into a hollow, there, where she stooped and filled her hands
with tansy, pulling it up in great bunches, and pressing it eagerly to
"Seventy-four year ago!" she told the unseen listener of the night,
with the same wonder in her voice. "Sir laid dead, an' they sent me
down here to pick tansy to put round him. Seventy-four year ago!"
Still holding it; she rose, and went through the bars into the dewy
lane. Down the wandering path, trodden daily by the cows, she walked,
and came out in the broad pasture, irregular with its little hillocks,
where, as she had been told from her babyhood, the Indians used to
plant their corn. She entered the woods by a cart-path hidden from the
moon, and went on with a light step, gathering a bit of green here and
there,--now hemlock, now a needle from the sticky pine,--and inhaling
its balsam on her hands. A sharp descent, and she had reached the spot
where the brook ran fast, and where lay "Peggy's b'ilin' spring," named
for a great-aunt she had never seen, but whose gold beads she had
inherited, and who had consequently seemed to her a person of opulence
"I wish't I'd brought a cup," she said. "There ain't no such water
within twenty mile."
She crouched beside the little black pool, where the moon glinted in
mysterious, wavering, symbols to beckon the gaze upward, and, making a
cup of her hand, drank eagerly. There was a sound near-by, as if some
wood creature were stirring; she thought she heard a fox barking in the
distance. Yet she was really conscious only of the wonder of time, the
solemn record of the fleeting years.
When she made her way back through the woods, the moon was sinking, and
the shadows had grown heavy. As she reached the bars again, on her
homeward track, she stopped suddenly, and her face broke into smiling
at the pungent fragrance rising from the bruised herbage beneath her
feet. She stooped and gathered one telltale, homely weed, mixed as it
was with the pasture grass. "Pennyr'yal," she said happily, and felt
the richness of being.
When Old Lady Lamson had ironed her shirts and put them away again, all
hot and sweet from the fire, it was five o'clock, and the birds had
long been trying to drag creation up from sleep, to sing with them the
wonders of the dawn. At six, she had her cup of tea, and when, at
eight, her son drove into the yard, she came placidly to the side door
to meet him, her knitting in her hands.
"Well, if I ain't glad!" called David. "I couldn't git it out o' my
mind somethin' 'd happened to you. Stella's goin' to be all right, they
think, but nothin' will do but Mary must stay a spell. Do you s'pose
you an' I could keep house a week or so, if I do the heft o' the work?"
Old Lady Lamson's eyes took on the look which sometimes caused her son
to inquire suspiciously, "Mother, what you laughin' at?"
"I guess we can, if we try hard enough," she said, soberly, rolling up
her yarn. "Now you come in, an' I'll git you a bite o' somethin'
MIS' WADLEIGH'S GUEST.
Cyrus Pendleton sat by the kitchen fire, his stockinged feet, in the
oven, and his; hands stretched out toward the kettles, which were
bubbling prosperously away, and puffing a cloud of steam, into his
face. He was a meagre, sad-colored man, with mutton-chop whiskers so
thin as to lie like a shadow on his fallen cheeks; and his glance,
wherever it fell, Seemed to deprecate reproof. Thick layers of flannel
swathed his throat, and from time to time, he coughed wheezingly, with
the air of one who, having a cold, was determined to be conscientious
about it. A voice from the buttery began pouring forth words only a
little slower than the blackbird sings, and with no more reference to
"Cyrus, don't you feel a mite better? Though I dunno how you could,
expect to, arter such a night as you had on't, puffin' an' blowin'!"
Mrs. Pendleton followed the voice. She seemed to be borne briskly in on
its wings, and came scudding over the kitchen sill, carrying a pan of
freshly sifted flour. She set it down on the table, and began "stirrin'
up." "I dunno where you got such a cold, unless it's in the air," she
continued. "Folks say they're round, nowadays, an' you ketch 'em, jest
as you would the mumps. But there! nobody on your side or mine ever had
the mumps, as long as I can remember. Except Elkanah, though! an' he
ketched 'em down to Portsmouth, when he went off on that fool's arrant
arter elwives. Do you s'pose you could eat a mite o' fish for dinner?"
"I was thinkin'--" interposed Cyrus, mildly; but his wife swept past
him, and took the road.
"I dunno's there's any use in gittin' a real dinner, jest you an' me,
an' you not workin' either. Folks say there's more danger of eatin' too
much'n too little. Gilman Lane, though, he kep' eatin' less an' less,
an' his stomach dried all up, till 'twa'n't no bigger'n a bladder. Look
here, you! I shouldn't wonder a mite if you'd got some o' them stomach
troubles along with your cold. You 'ain't acted as if you'd relished a
meal o' victuals for nigh onto ten days. Soon as I git my hands out o'
the flour, I'll look in the doctor's book, an' find out. My! how het up
I be!" She wiped her hands on the roller towel, and unpinned the little
plaid shawl drawn tightly across her shoulders, Its removal disclosed a
green sontag, and under that manifold layers of jacket and waist. She
was amply protected from the cold. "I dunno's I ought to ha' stirred up
rye'n' Injun," she went on, returning to her vigorous tossing and
mixing at the table. "Some might say the steam was bad for your lungs.
Anyhow, the doctor's book holds to't you've got to pick out a dry
climate, if you don't want to go into a decline. Le' me see! when your
Aunt Mattie was took, how long was it afore she really gi'n up? Arter
she begun to cough, I mean?"
Cyrus moved uneasily.
"I dunno," he said, hastily. "I never kep' the run o' such things."
But Mirandy, pouring her batter into the pan, heeded him no more than
was her wont.
"I s'pose that was real gallopin' consumption," she said, with relish."
I must ask Sister Sarah how long 'twas, next time I see her. She set it
down with the births an' deaths."
Cyrus was moved to some remonstrance. He often felt the necessity of
asserting himself, lest he should presently hear his own passing-bell
"I guess you needn't stop steamin' bread for me! I ain't half so
stuffed up as I was yisterday!"
Mrs. Pendleton clapped the loaf into the pot, wrinkling her face over
the cloud of steam that came puffing into it.
"There!" she exclaimed. "Now perhaps I can git a minute to se' down. I
ain't bound a shoe to-day. My! who's that out this weather?"
The side door was pushed open, and then shut with a bang. A vigorous
stamping of snow followed, and the inner door swung in to admit a
woman, very short, very stout, with a round, apple-cheeked face, and
twinkling eyes looking out from the enveloping folds of a gray cloud.
"Well!" she said, in a cheery voice, beginning at once to unwind the
cloud, "here I be! Didn't think I'd rain down, did ye? I thought
myself, one spell, I should freeze afore I fell!"
Mrs. Pendleton hurried forward, wiping her hands on her apron as she
"For the land's sake, Marthy Wadleigh!" she cried, laying hold of the
new-comer by the shoulders, and giving her an ineffectual but wholly
delighted shake. "Well, I never! Who brought you over? Though I dunno
which way you come. I 'ain't looked out--"
"I walked from the corner," said Mrs. Wadleigh, who never felt any
compunction about interrupting her old neighbor. She was unpinning her
shawl composedly, as one sure of a welcome. "How do, Cyrus? Jim Thomas
took me up jest beyond the depot, an' give me a lift on his sled; but I
was all of a shiver, an' at the corner, I told him he better let me
step down an' walk. So I come the rest o' the way afoot an' alone. You
ain't goin' to use the oven, be ye? I'll jest stick my feet in a
minute. No, Cyrus, don't you move! I'll take t'other side. I guess we
sha'n't come to 'blows over it."
She seemed to have brought into the kitchen, with that freshness of
outdoor air which the new-comer bears, like a balsam, in his garments,
a breath of fuller life, and even of jollity. As she sat there in her
good brown dress, with her worked collar, fastened by a large cameo,
her gold beads just showing, and her plump hands folded on a capacious
lap, she looked the picture of jovial content, quite able to take care
of herself, and perhaps apply a sturdy shoulder to the lagging
machinery of the world.
"Didn't you git word I was comin' this week?" she asked. "I sent you a
"No, we 'ain't been so fur's the post-office," answered Mirandy,
absently. She was debating over her most feasible bill of fare, now
that a "pick-up dinner" seemed no longer possible. Moreover, she had
something on her mind, and she could not help thinking how unfortunate
it was that Cyrus shared her secret. Who could tell at what moment he
might broach it? She doubted his discretion. "The roads wa'n't broke
out till day before yisterday."
"I shouldn't think they were!" said Mrs. Wadleigh, scornfully, testing
the heat with a hand on her skirt, and then lifting the breadths back
over her quilted petticoat. "I thought that would be the way on't, but
I'd made up my mind to come, an' come I would. Cyrus, what's the matter
o' you? Nothin' more'n a cold, is it?"
Cyrus had withdrawn from the stove, and was feeling his chin,
"Oh, no, I guess not," he said. "We've been kind o' peaked, for a week
or two, all over the neighborhood; but I guess we shall come out on't,
now we've got into the spring. Mirandy, you git me a mite o' hot water,
an' I'll see if I can't shave."
Mirandy was vigorously washing potatoes at the sink, but she turned, in
"Shave!" she ejaculated, "Well, I guess you won't shave, such a day as
this, in that cold bedroom, with a stockin'-leg round your throat, an'
all! You want to git your death? Why, 'twas only last night, Marthy, he
had a hemlock sweat, an' all the ginger tea I could git down into him!
An' then I didn't know--"
"Law! let him alone!" said Marthy, with a comfortable, throaty laugh.
"He'll feel twice as well, git some o' them things off his neck. Here,
Cyrus, you reach me down your mug--ain't them your shavin' things up
there?--an' I'll fill it for you. You git him a piece o' flannel,
Mirandy, to put on when he's washed up an' took all that stuff off his
throat. Why, he's got enough wool round there, if 'twas all in yarn, to
knit Old Tobe a pair o' mittins! An' they say one o' his thumbs was
bigger'n the hand o' Providence. You don't want to try all the goodness
out of him, do ye?"
Cyrus gave one swift glance at his wife. "There! you see!" it said
plainly. "I am not without defenders." He took down his shaving-mug,
with an air of some bravado. But Mirandy was no shrew; she was simply
troubled about many things.
"Well," she said, compressing her lips, and wrinkling her forehead in
resignation. "If folks want to kill themselves, I can't hender 'em! But
when he's down ag'in, I shall be the one to take care of him, that's
all. Here, Cyrus, don't you go into that cold bedroom. You shave you
here, if you're determined to do it."
So Cyrus, after honing his razor, with the pleasure of a bored child
provided at last with occupation, betook himself to the glass set in
the lower part of the clock, and there, with much contortion of his
thin visage, proceeded to shave. Mirandy put her potatoes on to boil,
and set the fish on the stove to freshen; then She sat down by the
window, with a great basket beside her, and began to bind shoes.
"Here," said Mrs. Wadleigh, coming to her feet and adjusting her skirt,
"you give me a needle! I've got my thimble right here in my pocket.
It's three months sence I've seen a shoe. I should admire to do a pair
or two. I wish I could promise ye more, but somehow I'm bewitched to
git over home right arter dinner!"
Mrs. Pendleton laid down her work, and leaned back in her chair. Cyrus
turned, cleared his throat, and looked at her.
"Marthy," said the hostess, "you ain't goin' over there to that
lonesome house, this cold snap?"
"Ain't I?" asked Mrs. Wadleigh, composedly, as she trimmed the top of
her shoe preparatory to binding it. "Well, you see'f I ain't!"
"In the fust place," went on Mrs. Pendleton, nervously, "the cross-road
ain't broke out, an' you can't git there. I dunno's a horse could
plough through; an' s'posin' they could, Cyrus ain't no more fit to go
out an' carry you over'n a fly."
"Don't you worry," said Mrs. Wadleigh, binding off one top. "While I've
got my own legs, I don't mean to be beholden to nobody. I've had a
proper nice time all winter, fust with Lucy an' then with Ann,--an' I
tell ye 'tain't everybody that's got two darters married so well!--but
for the last fortnight, I've been in a real tew to come home. They've
kep' me till I wouldn't stay no longer, an' now I've got so near as
this, I guess I ain't goin' to stop for nobody!"
Mrs. Pendleton looked despairingly at her husband; and he, absently
wiping his razor on a bit of paper, looked at her.
"Marthy!" she burst forth. "No, Cyrus, don't you say one word! You
can't go! There's somebody there!"
Mrs. Wadleigh, in turn, put down her work.
"Somebody there!" she ejaculated. "Where?"
"In your house!"
"In my house? What for?"
"I dunno," said Mirandy, unhappily.
"Dunno? Well, what are they doin' there?"
"I dunno that. We only know there's somebody there."
Here the brown-bread kettle boiled over, creating a diversion; and
Mirandy gladly rose to set it further back. A slight heat had come into
Mrs. Wadleigh's manner.
"Cyrus," said she, with emphasis, "I should like to have you speak. I
left that house in your care. I left the key with you, an' I should
like to know who you've been an' got in there."
Cyrus opened his mouth, and then closed it again without saying a word.
He looked appealingly at his wife; and she took up the tale with some
joy, now that the first plunge had been made.
"Well," she said, folding her hands in her apron, and beginning to rock
back and forth, a little color coming into her cheeks, and her eyes
snapping vigorously. "You see, this was the way 'twas. Cyrus, do let me
speak!" Cyrus had ineffectually opened his mouth again. "Wa'n't it in
November you went away? I thought so. Jest after that first sprinklin'
o' snow, that looked as if 'twould lay all winter. Well, we took the
key, an' hung it up inside the clock--an' there 'tis now!--an' once a
week, reg'lar as the day come round, Cyrus went over, an' opened the
winders, an' aired out the house."
Mrs. Wadleigh sat putting her thimble off and on.
"I know all about that," she interposed, "but who's in there now?
That's what I want to find out."
"I'm comin' to that. I don't want to git ahead o' my story. An' so't
went on till it come two weeks ago Friday, an' Cyrus went over jest the
same as ever. An' when he hitched to the gate, he see smoke comin' out
o' the chimbly, an' there was a man's face at one square o' glass." She
paused, enjoying her climax.
"Well? Why don't you go ahead? Mirandy Jane Pendleton, I could shake
you! You can talk fast enough when somebody else wants the floor! How'd
he git in? What'd he say for himself?"
"Why, he never said anything! Cyrus didn't see him."
"Didn't see him? I thought he see him lookin' out the winder!"
"Why, yes! so he did, but he didn't see him to speak to. He jest nailed
up the door, an' come away."
Mrs. Wadleigh turned squarely upon the delinquent Cyrus, who stood,
half-shaven, absently honing his razor.
"Cyrus," said she, with an alarming decision, "will you open your head,
an' tell me what you nailed up that door for? an' where you got your
nails? I s'pose you don't carry 'em round with you, ready for any
door't happens to need nailin' up?"
This fine sarcasm was not lost on Cyrus. He perceived that he had
become the victim of a harsh and ruthless dealing.
"I had the key to the front door with me, an' I thought I'd jest step
round an' nail up t'other one," he said, in the tone of one conscious
of right. "There was some nails in the wood-shed. Then I heard somebody
steppin' round inside, an' I come away."
"You come away!" repeated Mrs. Wadleigh, rising in noble wrath. "You
nailed up the' door an' come away! Well, if you! ain't a weak sister!
Mirandy, you hand me down that key, out o' the clock, while I git my
She walked sturdily across to the bedroom, and Mirandy followed her,
wringing her hands in futile entreaty.
"My soul, Marthy! you ain't goin' over there! You'll be killed, as sure
as you step foot into the yard. Don't you remember how that hired man
down to Sudleigh toled the whole fam'ly out into the barn, one arter
another, an' chopped their heads off--"
"You gi' me t'other end o' my cloud," commanded Mrs. Wadleigh. "I'm
glad I've got on stockin'-feet. Where's t'other mittin? Oh! there
'tis, down by the sto'-leg. Cyrus, if you knew how you looked with your
face plastered over o' lather, you'd wipe it off, an' hand me down that
key. Can't you move? Well, I guess I can reach it myself."
She dropped the house key carefully into her pocket, and opened the
outer door; both Cyrus and his wife knew they were powerless to stop
"O Marthy, do come back!" wailed Mrs. Pendleton after her. You 'ain't
had a mite o' dinner, an' you'll never git out o' that house alive!"
"I'd rather by half hitch up myself," began Cyrus; but his wife turned
upon him, at the word, bundled him into the kitchen, and shut the door
upon him. Then she went back to her post in the doorway, and peered
after Mrs. Wadleigh's square figure on the dazzling road, with a
melancholy determination to stand by her to the last. Only when it
occurred to her that it was unlucky to watch a departing friend out of
sight, did she shut the door hastily, and go in to reproach Cyrus and
prepare his dinner.
Mrs. Wadleigh plodded steadily onward. Her face had lost its robustness
of scorn, and expressed only a cheerful determination. Once or twice
her mouth relaxed, in retrospective enjoyment of the scene behind her,
and she gave vent to a scornful ejaculation.
"A man in my house!" she said once, aloud. "I guess we'll see!"
She turned into the cross-road, where stood her dear and lonely
dwelling, with no neighbors on either side for half a mile, and stopped
a moment to gaze about her. The road was almost untravelled, and the
snow lay encrusted over the wide fields, sparkling on the heights and
blue in the hollows. The brown bushes by a hidden stone-wall broke the
sheen entrancingly; here and there a dry leaf fluttered, but only
enough to show how still such winter stillness can be, and a flock of
little brown birds rose, with a soft whirr, and settled further on.
Mrs. Wadleigh pressed her lips together in a voiceless content, and her
eyes took on a new brightness. She had lived quite long enough in the
town. Rounding a sweeping bend, and ploughing sturdily along, though it
was difficult here to find the roadway, she kept her eyes fixed on a
patch of sky, over a low elm, where the chimney would first come into
view. But just before it stepped forward to meet her, as she had seen
it a thousand times, a telltale token forestalled it; a delicate blue
haze crept out, in spiral rings, and tinged the sky.
"He's got a fire!" she exclaimed loudly. "He's there! My soul!" Until
now the enormity of his offence had not penetrated her understanding.
She had heard the fact without realizing it.
The house was ancient but trimly kept, and it stood within a spacious
yard, now in billows and mounds of snow, under which lay the treasures
inherited by the spring. The trellises on either side the door held the
bare clinging arms of jessamine and rose, and the syringa and lilac
bushes reached hardily above the snow. As Mrs. Wadleigh approached the
door, she gave a rapid glance at the hop-pole in the garden, and
wondered if its vine had stood the winter well. That was the third hop
vine she'd had from Mirandy Pendleton! Mounting the front steps, she
drew forth the key, and put it in the door. It turned readily enough,
but though she gave more than one valiant push, the door itself did not
yield. It was evidently barricaded.
"My soul!" said Mrs. Wadleigh.
She stepped back, to survey the possibilities of attack; but at that
instant, glancing up at the window, she had Cyrus Pendleton's own
alarming experience. A head looked out at her, and was quickly
withdrawn. It was dark, unkempt, and the movement was stealthy.
"That's him!" said Mrs. Wadleigh, grimly, and returning to the charge,
she knocked civilly at the door. No answer. Then she pushed again. It
would not yield. She thought of the ladder in the barn, of the small
cellar-window; vain hopes, both of them!
"Look here!" she called aloud. "You let me in! I'm the Widder Wadleigh!
This is my own house, an' I'm real tried stan'in' round here, knockin'
at my own front door. You le'me in, or I shall git my death o' cold!"
No answer; and then Mrs. Wadleigh, as she afterwards explained it, "got
mad." She ploughed her way round the side of the house,--not the side
where she had seen the face, but by the "best-room" windows,--and
stepped softly up to the back door. Cyrus Pendleton's nail was no
longer there. The man had easily pushed it out. She lifted the latch,
and set her shoulder against the panel.
"If it's the same old button, it'll give," she thought. And it did
give. She walked steadily across the kitchen toward the clock-room,
where the man that moment turned to confront her. He made a little run
forward; then, seeing but one woman, he restrained himself. He was not
over thirty years old; a tall, well-built fellow, with very black eyes
and black hair. His features were good, but just now his mouth was set,
and he looked darkly defiant. Of this, however, Mrs. Wadleigh did not
think, for she was in a hot rage.
"What under the sun do you mean, lockin' me out o' my own house?" she
cried, stretching out her reddened hands to the fire. "An' potaters
b'iled all over this good kitchen stove! I declare, this room's a real
hog's nest, an' I left it as neat as wax!"
Perhaps no man was ever more amazed than this invader. He stood staring
at her in silence.
"Can't you shet the door!" she inquired, fractiously, beginning to
untie her cloud. "An' put a stick o' wood in the stove? If I don't git
het through, I shall ketch my death!"
He obeyed, seemingly from the inertia of utter surprise. Midway in the
act of lifting the stove-cover, he glanced at her in sharp, suspicion.
"Where's the rest?" he asked, savagely. "You ain't alone?"
"Well, I guess I'm alone!" returned Mrs. Wadleigh, drawing off her icy
stocking-feet, "an' walked all the way from Cyrus Pendleton's! There
ain't nobody likely to be round," she continued, with grim humor. "I
never knew 'twas such a God-forsaken hole, till I'd been away an' come
back to 't. No, you needn't be scairt! The road ain't broke out, an' if
'twas, we shouldn't have no callers to-day. It's got round there's a
man here, an' I'll warrant the selec'men are all sick abed with colds.
But there!" she added, presently, as the soothing warmth of her own
kitchen stove began to penetrate, "I dunno's I oughter call it a
Godforsaken place. I'm kind o' glad to git back."
There was silence for a few minutes, while she toasted her feet, and
the man stood shambling from one foot to the other and furtively
watching her and the road. Suddenly she rose, and lifted a pot-cover.
"What you got for dinner?" she inquired, genially. "I'm as holler's a
"I put some potatoes on," said he, gruffly.
"Got any pork? or have you used it all up?"
"I guess there's pork! I 'ain't touched it. I 'ain't eat anything but
potatoes; an' I've chopped wood for them, an' for what I burnt."
"Do tell!" said Mrs. Wadleigh. She set the potatoes forward, where they
would boil more vigorously. "Well, you go down sullar an' bring me up a
little piece o' pork--streak o' fat an' streak o' lean--an' I'll fry
it. I'll sweep up here a mite while you're gone. Why, I never see such
a lookin' kitchen! What's your name?" she called after him, as he set
his foot on the Upper stair.
He hesitated. "Joe!" he said, falteringly.
"All right, then, Joe, you fly round an' git the pork!" She took down
the broom from its accustomed nail, and began sweeping joyously; the
man, fishing in the pork-barrel, listened meanwhile to the regular
sound above. Once it stopped, and he held his breath for a moment, and
stood at bay, ready to dash up the stairs and past his pursuers, had
she let them in. But it was only her own step, approaching the cellar
"Joe!" she called. "You bring up a dozen apples, Bald'ins. I'll fry
Something past one o'clock, they sat down together to as strange a meal
as the little kitchen had ever seen. Bread and butter were lacking, but
there was quince preserve, drawn from some hidden hoard, the apples and
pork, and smoking tea. Mrs. Wadleigh's spirits rose. Home was even
better than her dreams had pictured it. She told her strange guest all
about her darter Lucy and her darter Ann's children; and he listened,
quite dazed and utterly speechless.
"There!" she said at last, rising, "I dunno's I ever eat such a meal
o' victuals in my life, but I guess it's better'n many a poor soldier
used to have. Now, if you've got some wood to chop, you go an' do it,
an' I'll clear up this kitchen; it's a real hurrah's nest, if ever
there was one!"
All that afternoon, the stranger chopped wood, pausing, from time to
time, to look from the shed door down the country road; and Mrs.
Wadleigh, singing "Fly like a Youthful," "But O! their end, their
dreadful end," and like melodies which had prevailed when she "set in
the seats," flew round, indeed, and set the kitchen in immaculate
order. Evidently her guest had seldom left that room. He had slept
there on the lounge. He had eaten his potatoes there, and smoked his
When the early dusk set in, and Mrs. Wadleigh had cleared away their
supper of baked potatoes and salt fish, again with libations of quince,
she drew up before the shining stove, and put her feet on the hearth.
"Here!" she called to the man, who was sitting uncomfortably on one
corner of the woodbox, and eying her with the same embarrassed
watchfulness. "You draw up, too! It's the best time o' the day now,
'tween sunset an' dark."
"I guess I'd better be goin'," he returned, doggedly.
"I don't know. But I'm goin'."
"Now look here," said Mrs. Wadleigh, with rigor. "You take that chair,
an' draw up to the fire. You do as I tell you!"
He did it.
"Now, I can't hender your goin', but if you do go, I've got a word to
say to you."
"You needn't say it! I don't want nobody's advice."
"Well, you've got to have it jest the same! When you bile potaters,
don't you let 'em run over onto the stove. Now you remember! I've had
to let the fire go down here, an' scrub till I could ha' cried. Don't
you never do such a thing ag'in, wherever you be!"
He could only look at her. This sort of woman was entirely new to his
"But I've got somethin' else to say," she continued, adjusting her feet
more comfortably. "I ain't goin' to turn anybody out into the snow,
such a night as this. You're welcome to stay, but I want to know what
brought ye here. I ain't one o' them that meddles an' makes, an' if you
'ain't done nothin' out o' the way, an' I ain't called on for a
witness, you needn't be afraid o' my tellin'."
"You will be called on!" he broke in, speaking from a desperation
outside his own control. "It's murder! I've killed a man!" He turned
upon her with a savage challenge in the motion; but her face was set,
placidly forward, and the growing dusk had veiled its meaning.
"Well!" she remarked, at length, "ain't you ashamed to set there
talkin' about it! You must have brass enough to line a kittle! Why
'ain't you been, like a man, an' gi'n yourself up, instid o' livin'
here, turnin' my kitchen upside down? Now you tell me all about it!
It'll do ye good."
"I'm goin'," said the man, breathing hard as he spoke, "I'm goin' away
from here tonight. They never'll take me alive. It was this way. There
was a man over where I lived that's most drunk himself under ground,
but he ain't too fur gone to do mischief. He told a lie about me, an'
lost me my place in the shoe shop. Then one night, I met him goin'
home, an' we had words. I struck him. He fell like an ox. I killed him.
I didn't go home no more. I didn't even see my wife. I couldn't tell
her. I couldn't be took _there_. So I run away. An' when I got starved
out, an' my feet were most froze walkin', I see this house, all shet
up, an' I come here."
He paused; and the silence was broken only by the slow, cosey ticking
of the liberated clock.
"Well!" said Mrs. Wadleigh, at last, in a ruminating tone. "Well! well!
Be you a drinkin' man?"
"I never was till I lost my job," he answered, sullenly. "I had a
little then. I had a little the night he sassed me."
"Well! well!" said Mrs. Wadleigh, again. And then she continued,
musingly: "So I s'pose you're Joe Mellen, an' the man you struck was
He came to his feet with a spring.
"How'd you know?" he shouted.
"Law! I've been visitin' over Hillside way!" said Mrs. Wadleigh,
comfortably. "You couldn't ha' been very smart not to thought o' that
when I mentioned my darter Lucy, an' where the childern went to school.
No smarter'n you was to depend on that old wooden button! I know all
about that drunken scrape. But the queerest part on't was--Solomon Ray
"Didn't die!" the words halted, and he dragged them forth. "Didn't
"Law, no! you can't kill a Ray! They brought him to, an' fixed him up
in good shape. I guess you mellered him some, but he's more scairt than
hurt. He won't prosecute. You needn't be afraid. He said he dared you
to it. There, there now! I wouldn't. My sake alive! le' me git a
For the stranger sat with his head bowed on the table, and he trembled
like a child.
Next morning at eight o'clock, Mrs. Wadleigh was standing at the door,
in the sparkling light, giving her last motherly injunction to the
"You know where the depot is? An' it's the nine o'clock train you've
got to take. An' you remember what I said about hayin' time. If you
don't have no work by the middle o' May, you drop me a line, an'
perhaps I can take you an' your wife, too; Lucy's childern al'ays make
a sight o' work. You keep that bill safe, an'--Here, wait a minute! You
might stop at Cyrus Pendleton's--it's the fust house arter you pass;
the corner--an' ask 'em to put a sparerib an' a pat o' butter into the
sleigh, an' ride over here to dinner. You tell 'em I'm as much obleeged
to 'em for sendin' over last night to see if I was alive, as if I
hadn't been so dead with sleep I couldn't say so. Good-bye! Now, you
mind you keep tight hold o' that bill, an', spend it prudent!"
"Is Kelup Rivers comin' over here to-night?" suddenly asked Aunt
Melissa Adams, peering over her gold-bowed glasses, and fixing her
small shrewd eyes sharply upon her niece.
Amanda did not look up from her fine hemming, but her thin hand
trembled almost imperceptibly, and she gave a little start, as if such
attacks were not altogether unexpected.
"I don't know," she answered, in a low tone.
"Dunno! why don't ye know?" said her aunt, beginning to sway back and
forth in the old-fashioned rocking-chair, but not once dropping her
eyes from Amanda's face. "Don't he come every Saturday night?"
Amanda took another length, of thread, and this time her hand really
"I guess so," she answered.
"You guess so? Don't ye know? An' if he's come every Saturday night for
fifteen year, ain't he comin' to-night? I dunno what makes you act as
if you wa'n't sure whether your soul's your own, 'Mandy Green. My
dander al'ays rises when I ask you a civil question an' you put on that
Amanda bent more closely over her sewing. She was a woman of
thirty-five, with a pathetically slender figure, thin blond hair
painstakingly crimped, and anxious blue eyes. Something deprecating lay
in her expression; her days had been uncomplainingly sacrificed to the
comfort of those she loved, and the desire of peace and good-will had
crept into her face and stayed there. Her mother, who looked even
slighter than she, and whose cheeks were puckered by wrinkles, sat by
the window watching the two with a smile of empty content. Old Lady
Green had lost her mind, said the neighbors; but she was sufficiently
like her former self to be a source of unspeakable joy and comfort to
Amanda, who nursed and petted her as if their positions were reversed,
and protected her from the blunt criticism of the literal-tongued
neighborhood with a reverential awe belonging to the old days when the
fifth commandment was written and obeyed.
"Gold-bowed," said Mrs. Green, with a look of unalloyed delight,
pointing to her sister-in-law's spectacles; and Aunt Melissa repeated
"Yes, yes, gold-bowed. I'll let you take 'em a spell, arter I've set my
heel. It'll please her, poor creatur'!" she added, in an audible aside
to Amanda. Since the time when Mrs. Green's wits had ceased to work
normally, she had treated her sympathetically, but from a lofty
eminence. Aunt Melissa was perhaps too prosperous. She sat there,
swaying back and forth, in her thin black silk trimmed with narrow rows
of velvet, her heavy chin sunk upon a broad collar, worked in her
youth, and she seemed to Mrs. Green a vision of majesty and delight,
but to Amanda a virtuous censor, necessarily to be obeyed, yet whose
presence made the summer day intolerable. Even her purple cap-ribbons
bespoke terror to the evil-doer, and her heavy face was set, as a
judgment, toward the doom of the man who knew not how to account for
his actions. She began speaking again, and Amanda involuntarily gave a
little start, as at a lightning flash.
"I says to myself when I drove off, this mornin': 'I'll have a little
talk with 'Mandy. I don' go there to spend a day more'n four times a
year, an' like as not she'll be glad to have somebody to speak to,
seen' 's her mother's how she is.'"
Amanda gave a quick look at Mrs. Green; but the old lady was busily
pleating the hem of her apron and then smoothing it out again. Aunt
Melissa rocked, and went on:--
"I says to myself: 'Here they let Kelup carry on the farm at the
halves, an' go racin' an' trottin' from the other place over here day
in an' day out. An' when his Uncle Nat died, two year ago, then was the
time for him to come over here an' marry 'Mandy an' carry on the farm.
But no, he'd rather hang round the old place, an' sleep in the
ell-chamber, an' do their chores for his board, an' keep on a-runnin'
over here.' An' when young Nat married, I says to myself, 'That'll make
him speak.' But it didn't--an' you 're a laughin'-stock, 'Mandy Green,
if ever there was one. Every time the neighbors see him steppin' by
Saturday nights, all fixed up, with that brown coat on he's had sence
the year one, they have suthin' to say, 'Goin' over to 'Mandy's,'
that's what they say. An' on'y last Saturday one on 'em hollered out to
me, when I was pickin' a mess o' pease for Sunday, 'Wonder what
'Mandy'll answer when he gits round to askin' of her?' I hadn't a word
to say. 'You better go to _him_,' says I, at last."
Amanda had put down her sewing in her lap, and was looking steadfastly
out of the window, with eyes brimmed by two angry tears. Once she wiped
them with a furtive movement of the white garment in her lap; her
cheeks were crimson. Aunt Melissa had lashed herself into a cumulative
passion of words.
"An' I says to myself, 'If there ain't nobody else to speak to 'Mandy,
I will,' I says, when I was combin' my hair this mornin'. 'She 'ain't
got no mother,' I says, 'nor as good as none, an' if she 'ain't spunk
enough to look out for herself, somebody's got to look out for her.'
An' then it all come over me--I'd speak to Kelup himself, an' bein'
Saturday night, I knew I should ketch him here."
"O Aunt Melissa!" gasped Amanda, "you wouldn't do that!"
"Yes, I would, too!" asserted Aunt Melissa, setting her firm lips. "You
see if I don't, an' afore another night goes over my head!"
But while Amanda was looking at her, paralyzed with the certainty that
no mortal aid could save her from this dire extremity, there came an
unexpected diversion. Old Lady Green spoke out clearly and decidedly
from her corner, in so rational a voice that it seemed like one calling
from the dead.
"'Mandy, what be you cryin' for? You come here an' tell me what 'tis,
an' I'll see to't. You'll spile your eyes, 'Mandy, if you take on so."
"There, there, ma'am! 'tain't anything," said Amanda, hurrying over to
her chair and patting her on the shoulder. "We was just havin' a little
spat,--Aunt Melissa an' me; but we've got all over it. Don't you want
to knit on your garter a little while now?"
But the old lady kept her glazed eyes fixed on Amanda's face.
"Be you well to-day, 'Mandy?" she said, wistfully. "If you ain't well,
you must take suthin'."
"There, there! don't you make a to-do, an' she'll come round all
right," said Aunt Melissa, moving her chair about so that it faced the
old lady. "I'll tell her suthin' to take up her mind a little." And she
continued, in the loud voice which was her concession to Mrs. Green's
feebleness of intellect, "They've got a boarder over to the
Mrs. Green sat up straight in her chair, smoothed her apron, and looked
at her sister with grateful appreciation.
"Do tell!" she said, primly.
"Yes, they have. Name's Chapman. They thought he was a book agent fust.
But he's buyin' up old dishes an' all matter o' truck. He wanted my
andirons, an' I told him if I hadn't got a son in a Boston store, he
might ha' come round me, but I know the vally o' things now. You don't
want to sell them blue coverlids o' yourn, do ye?"
Aunt Melissa sometimes asked the old lady questions from a sense of the
requirements of conversation, and she was invariably startled when they
elicited an answer.
"Them coverlids I wove myself, fifty-five years ago come next spring,"
said Mrs. Green, firmly. "Sally Ann Mason an' me used to set up till
the clock struck twelve that year, spinnin' an' weavin'. Then we had a
cup or two o' green tea, an' went to bed."
"Well, you wove 'em, an' you don't want to sell 'em," said Aunt
Melissa, her eyes on her work. "If you do, 'Lijah he'll take 'em right
up to Boston for you, an' I warrant he'll git you a new white spread
for every one on 'em."
"That was the year afore I was married," continued Old Lady Green. "I
had a set o' white chiny with lavender sprigs, an' my dress was
changeable. He had a flowered weskit. 'Mandy, you go into the
clo'es-press in my bedroom an' git out that weskit, an' some o' them
quilts, an' my M's an' O's table-cloths."
Amanda rose and hurried into the bedroom, in spite of Aunt Melissa's
whispered comment: "What makes you go to overhaulin' things? She'll
forgit it in a minute."
While she was absent, a smart wagon drove up to the gate, and a young
man alighted from it, hitched his horse, and knocked at the front door.
Aunt Melissa saw him coming, and peered at him over her glasses with an
"'Mandy!" she called, "'Mandy, here's a pedler or suthin'! If he's got
any essences, you ask him for a little bottle o' pep'mint."
Amanda dropped the pile of coverlets on the sofa, and went to the front
door. Presently she reappeared, and with her, smoothly talking her
down, came the young man. His eyes lighted first on the coverlets, with
a look of cheerful satisfaction.
"Got all ready for me, didn't you?" he asked, briskly. "Heard I was
coming, I guess."
He was a man of an alert Yankee type, with waxed blond mustache and
eye-glasses; he was evidently to be classed among those who have
exchanged their country honesty for a veneer of city knowingness.
"For the land's sake!" ejaculated Aunt Melissa, as soon as she had him
at short range, "you're the one down to Blaisdell's that's buyin' up
all the old truck in the neighborhood. Well, you won't git my
He had begun to unfold the blue coverlets and examine them with a
practised eye, while Amanda stood by, painfully conscious that some
decisive action might be required of her; and her mother sat watching
the triumph of her quilts in pleased importance.
"They ain't worth much," he said, dropping them, with a conclusive air.
"Fact is, they ain't worth anything, unless any body's got a fancy for
such old stuff. I'll tell you what, I'll give you fifty cents apiece
for the lot! How many are there here--four? Two dollars, then."
Amanda took a hasty step forward.
"But we don't want to sell our coverlids!" she said, indignantly,
casting an appealing glance at Aunt Melissa.
"I guess they don't want to git rid on 'em," said that lady,
"'specially at such a price. They're wuth more 'n that to cover up the
squashes when the frost comes."
"Mother wove 'em herself," exclaimed Amanda, irrelevantly. It began to
seem to her as if the invader might pack up her mother's treasures and
walk off with them.
"Well, then, I s'pose they're hers to do as she likes with?" he said,
pleasantly, tipping back, in his chair, and beginning to pare his nails
with an air of nicety that fascinated Amanda into watching him.
"They're hers, I s'pose?" he continued, looking suddenly and keenly up
"Why, yes," she answered, "they're mother's, but she don't want to
sell. She sets by 'em."
"Just like me, for all the world," owned the stranger, "Now there's
plenty of folks that wouldn't care a Hannah Cook about such old truck,
but it just hits me in the right spot. Mother's doughnuts, mother's
mince-pies, I say! Can't improve on _them_! And when my wife and I
bought our little place, I said to her, 'We'll have it all furnished
with old-fashioned goods.' And here I am, taking, time away from my
business, riding round the country, and paying good money for what's no
use to anybody but me."
"What is your business?" interrupted Aunt Melissa.
"Oh, insurance--a little of everything--Jack-of-all-trades!" Then he
turned to Old Mrs. Green, and asked, abruptly, "What'll you take for
The old lady followed his alert forefinger until her eyes rested on the
tall eight-day clock in the corner. She straightened herself in her
chair, and spoke with pride:--
"That was Jonathan's gre't-uncle Samwell's. He wound it every Sunday
night, reg'lar as the day come round. I've rubbed that case up till I
sweat like rain. 'Mandy she rubs it now."
"Well, what'll you take?" persisted he, while Amanda, in wordless
protest, stepped in front of the clock. "Five dollars?"
"Five dollars," repeated the old lady, lapsing into senseless
iteration. "Yes, five dollars."
But Aunt Melissa came to the rescue.
"Five dollars for that clock?" she repeated, winding her ball, and
running the needles into it with a conclusive stab. "Well, I guess
there ain't any eight-day clocks goin' out o' _this_ house for five
dollars, if they go at all! 'Mandy, why don't you speak up, an' not
stand there like a chicken with the pip?"
"Oh, all right, all right!" said the visitor, shutting his knife with a
snap, and getting briskly on his feet. "I don't care much about buying.
That ain't a particularly good style of clock, anyway. But I like old
things. I may drop in again, just to take a look at 'em. I suppose
you're always at home?" he said to Amanda, with his hand on the door.
"Yes; but sometimes I go to Sudleigh with butter. I go Monday
afternoons most always, after washin'."
With a cheerful good-day he was gone, and Amanda drew a long breath of
"Well, some folks have got enough brass to line a kittle," said Aunt
Melissa, carefully folding her knitting-work in a large silk
handkerchief. "'Mandy, you'll have to git supper a little earlier'n
common for me. I told Hiram to come by half arter six. Do you s'pose
Kelup'll be round by that time? I'll wait all night afore I'll give up
"I don't know, Aunt Melissa," said Amanda, nervously clearing the table
of its pile of snowy cloth, and taking a flying glance from the window.
She looked like a harassed animal, hunted beyond its endurance; but
suddenly a strange light of determination flashed into her face.
"Should you just as lieves set the table," she asked, in a tone of
guilty consciousness, "while I start the kitchen fire? You know where
things are." Hardly waiting for an assent, she fled from the room, and
once in the kitchen, laid the fire in haste, with a glance from the
window to accompany every movement. Presently, by a little path through
the field, came a stocky man in blue overalls and the upper garment
known as a jumper. He was bound for the pigpen in the rear of the barn;
and there Amanda flew to meet him, stopping only to throw an apron over
her head. They met at the door. He was a fresh-colored man, with honest
brown eyes and a ring of whiskers under the chin. He had a way of
blushing, and when Amanda came upon him thus unannounced, he colored to
"Why, you're all out o' breath!" he said, in slow alarms.
"O Caleb!" she cried, looking at him with imploring eyes. "I'll feed
the pigs to-night."
Caleb regarded her in dull wonderment. Then he set down the pail he had
"Ain't there any taters to bile?" he asked, solving the difficulty in
his own way; "or 'ain't you skimmed the milk? I'd jest as soon wait."
"You better not wait," answered Amanda, almost passionately, her thin
hair blowing about her temples. "You better go right back. I'd ruther
do it myself; I'd a good deal ruther."
Caleb turned about. He took a few steps, then stopped, and called
hesitatingly over his shoulder, "I thought maybe I'd come an' set a
Then, indeed, Amanda felt her resolution, crack and quiver. "I guess
you better come some other night," she said, in a steady voice, though
her face was wet with tears. And Caleb walked away, never once looking
back. Amanda stayed only to wipe her eyes, saying meanwhile to her
sorry self, "Oh, I dunno how I can get along! I dunno!" Then she
hurried back to the house, to find the kettle merrily singing, and Aunt
Melissa standing at the kitchen cupboard, looking critically up and
down the shelves.
"If you've got two sets o' them little gem-pans, you might lend me
one," she remarked; and Amanda agreed, not knowing what she gave.
The supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, Aunt Melissa meantime
keeping a strict watch from the window.
"Is it time for Kelup?" she asked, again and again; and finally she
confronted the guilty Amanda with the challenge, "Do you think Kelup
"I--guess not," quavered Amanda, her cheeks scarlet, and her small,
pathetic hands trembling. She was not more used to _finesse_ than to
"Do you s'pose there's any on 'em sick down to young Nat's?" asked Aunt
Melissa; and Amanda was obliged to take recourse again to her shielding
"I guess not." But at length Uncle Hiram drove up in the comfortable
carry-all; and though his determined spouse detained him more than
three-quarters of an hour, sitting beside him like a portly
Rhadamanthus, and scanning the horizon for the Caleb who never came, he
finally rebelled, shook the reins, and drove off, Aunt Melissa meantime
screaming over her shoulder certain vigorous declarations, which
evidently began with the phrase, "You tell Kelup--"
Then Amanda went into the house, and sat down by the window in the
gathering dusk, surveying the wreckage of her dream. The dream was even
more precious in that it had grown so old. Caleb was a part of her
every-day life, and for fifteen years Saturday had brought a little
festival, wherein the commonplace man with brown eyes had been
high-priest. He would not come to-night. Perhaps he never would come
again. She knew what it was to feel widowed.
Sunday passed; and though Caleb fed the pigs and did the barn-work as
usual, he spoke but briefly. Even in his customary salutation of "How
dee?" Amanda detected a change of tone, and thereafter took flight
whenever she heard his step at the kitchen door. So Monday forenoon
passed; Caleb brought water for her tubs and put out her clothes-line,
but they had hardly spoken. The intangible monster of a
misunderstanding had crept between them. But when at noon he asked as
usual, though without looking at her, "Goin' to Sudleigh with the
butter to-day?" Amanda had reached the limit of her endurance. It
seemed to her that she could no longer bear this formal travesty of
their old relations, and she answered in haste,--
"No, I guess not."
"Then you don't want I should set with your mother?"
"No!" And again Caleb turned away, and plodded soberly off to young
"I guess I must be crazy," groaned poor Amanda, as she changed her
washing-dress for her brown cashmere. "The butter's got to go, an' now
I shall have to harness, an' leave ma'am alone. Oh, I wish Aunt
Melissa'd never darkened these doors!"
Everything went wrong with Amanda, that day. The old horse objected to
the bits, and occupied twenty minutes in exasperating protest; the
wheels had to be greased, and she lost a butter-napkin in the well.
Finally, breathless with exertion, she went in to bid her mother
good-by, and see that the matches were hidden and the cellar door
"Now, ma'am," she said, standing over the little old woman and speaking
with great distinctness, "don't you touch the stove, will you? You jest
set right here in your chair till I come back, an' I'll bring you a
good parcel o' pep'-mints. Here's your garter to knit on, an' here's
the almanac. Don't you stir now till I come."
And so, with many misgivings, she drove away.
When, Amanda came back, she did not stay to unharness, but hurried up
to the kitchen door, and called, "You all right, ma'am?" There was no
answer, and she stepped hastily across the floor. As she opened the
sitting-room door, a low moaning struck her ear. The old lady sat
huddled together in, her chair, groaning at intervals, and looking
fixedly at the corner of the room.
"O ma'am, what is it? Where be you hurt?" cried Amanda, possessed by an
anguish of self-reproach. But the old lady only continued her moaning;
and then it was that Amanda noticed her shrivelled and shaking fingers
tightly clasped upon a roll of money in her lap.
"Why, ma'am, what you got?" she cried; but even as she spoke, the
explanation flashed upon her, and she looked up at the corner of the
room. The eight-day clock was gone.
"Here, ma'am, you let me have it," she said, soothingly; and by dint of
further coaxing, she pulled the money from the old lady's tense
fingers. There were nine dollars in crisp new bills. Amanda sat looking
at them in unbelief and misery.
"O my!" she whispered, at length, "what a world this is! Ma'am, did you
tell him he might have 'em?"
"I dunno what Jonathan'll do without that clock," moaned the old lady.
"I see it carried off myself."
"Did you tell him he might?" cried Amanda, loudly.
"I dunno but I did, but I never'd ha' thought he'd ha' done it. I dunno
what time 'tis now;" and she continued her low-voiced lamenting.
"O my Lord!" uttered Amanda, under her breath. Then she roused herself
to the present exigency of comfort. "You come an' set in the kitchen a
spell," she said, coaxingly, "an' I'll go an' get the things back."
Old Lady Green looked at her with that unquestioning trust which was
the most pathetic accompaniment of her state. "You'll git 'em back,
'Mandy, won't ye?" she repeated, smiling a little and wiping her eyes.
"That's a good gal! So't we can tell what time 'tis."
Amanda led her into the kitchen, and established her by the window. She
shut the door of the denuded sitting-room, and, giving her courage no
time to cool, ran across lots to the Blaisdells', the hated money
clasped tightly in her hand. The family was at supper, and the stranger
with them, when she walked in at the kitchen door. She hurried up to
her enemy, and laid the little roll of bills by his plate. Her cheeks
were scarlet, her thin hair-flying.
"Here's your money," she said, in a strained, high voice, "an' I want
our things. You hadn't ought to gone over there an' talked over an old
There she stopped. Amanda had never yet acknowledged that her mother
was not in her "perfect mind." Chapman took out a long pocket-book, and
for a moment her courage stood at flood-tide; she thought he was about
to accept the money and put it away. But no! He produced a slip of
white paper and held it up before her. She bent forward and examined
it,--a receipt signed by her mother's shaking hand.
"But it ain't right!" she cried, helpless in her dismay. "Cap'n Jabez,
you speak to him! You know how 'tis about mother! She wouldn't any more
ha' sold that clock than she'd ha' sold--me!"
Captain Jabez looked at his plate in uncomfortable silence. He was a
just man, but he hated to interfere.
"Well, there!" he said, at length, pushing his chair back to leave the
table. "It don't seem jestly right to me, but then he's got the resate,
an' your mother signed it--an' there 'tis!"
"An' you won't do anything?" cried Amanda, passionately, turning back
to the stranger. "You mean to keep them things?"
He was honestly sorry for her, as the business man for the
sentimentalist, but he had made a good bargain, and he held it sacred.
"I declare, I wish it hadn't happened so," he said, good-naturedly.
"But the old lady'll get over it. You buy her a nice bright little
nickel clock that'll strike the half-hours, and she'll be tickled to
death to watch it."
Amanda turned away and walked out of the house.
"Here," called Chapman, "come back and get your money!" But she hurried
on. "Well, I'll leave it with Captain Jabez," he called again, "and you
can come over and get it. I'm going in the morning, early."
Amanda was passing the barn, and there, through the open door, she saw
the old clock pathetically loaded on the light wagon, protected by
burlap, and tied with ropes. The coverlets lay beside it. A sob rose in
her throat, but her eyes were dry, and she hurried across lots home. At
the back door she found Caleb unharnessing the horse. She had forgotten
their misunderstanding in the present practical emergency.
"O Caleb," she began, before she had reached him, "ma'am's sold the
clock an' some coverlids, an' I can't get 'em back!"
"Cap'n Jabez said she had, this arternoon," said Caleb, slowly, tying a
trace. "I dunno's the old lady's to blame. Seem's if she hadn't ought
to be left alone."
"But how'm I goin' to get 'em back?" persisted Amanda, coming close to
him, her poor little face pinched and eager. "He jest showed me the
receipt, all signed. How'm I goin' to get the things, Caleb?"
"If he's got the receipt, an' the things an' all, an' she took the
money, I dunno's you can get 'em," said Caleb, "unless you could prove
in a court o' law that she wa'n't in her right mind. I dunno how that
Amanda stood looking him in the face. For the first time in all her
gentle life she was questioning masculine superiority, and its present
embodiment in Caleb Rivers.
"Then you don't see's anything can be done?" she asked, steadily.
"Why, no," answered Caleb, still reflecting. "Not unless you should go
"You'd better give the pigs some shorts," said Amanda, abruptly. "I
sha'n't bile any taters, to-night."
She walked into the house; and as Caleb watched her, it crossed his
mind that she looked very tall. He had always thought of her as a
Amanda set her lips, and went about her work. From time to time, she
smiled mechanically at her mother; and the old lady, forgetful of her
grief now that she was no longer reproached by the empty space on, the
wall, sat content and sleepy after her emotion. She was willing to go
to bed early; and when Amanda heard her breathing peacefully, she sat
down by the kitchen window to wait. The dusk came slowly, and the
whippoorwill sang from the deep woods behind the house.
That night at ten o'clock, Caleb Rivers was walking stolidly along the
country road, when his ear became aware of a strangely familiar
sound,--a steadily recurrent creak. It was advancing, though
intermittently. Sometimes it ceased altogether, as if the machinery
stopped to rest, and again it began fast and shrill. He rounded a bend
of the road, and came full upon a remarkable vision. Approaching him
was a wheelbarrow, with a long object balanced across it, and, wheeling
it, walked a woman. Caleb was nearly opposite her before his brain
translated the scene. Then he stopped short and opened his lips.
"'Mandy," he cried, "what under the heavens be you a-doin'?"
But Amanda did not pause. Whatever emotion the meeting caused in her
was swiftly vanquished, and she wheeled on. Caleb turned and walked by
her side. When he had recovered sufficiently from his surprise, he laid
a hand upon her wrist.
"You set it down, an' let me wheel a spell," he said.
But Amanda's small hands only grasped the handles more tightly, and she
went on. Caleb had never in his life seen a necessity for passionate
remonstrance, but now the moment had come.
"'Mandy," he kept repeating, at every step, "you give me holt o' them
handles! Why, 'Mandy, I should think you was crazy!"
At length, Amanda dropped the handles with a jerk, and turning about,