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  • 1896
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sat down on the edge of the wheelbarrow, evidently to keep the right of possession. Then she began to speak in a high, strained voice, that echoed sharply through the country stillness.

“If you’ve got to know, I’ll tell you, an’ you can be a witness, if you want to. It won’t do no hurt in a court o’ law, because I shall tell myself. I’ve gone an’ got our clock an’ our coverlids from where they were stored in the Blaisdells’ barn. The man’s got his money, an’ I’ve took our things. That’s all I’ve done, an’ anybody can know it that’s a mind to.”

Then she rose, lifted the handles, and went on, panting. Caleb walked by her side.

“But you ain’t afraid o’ me, ‘Mandy?” he said, imploringly. “Jest you let me wheel it, an’ I won’t say a word if I never set eyes on you ag’in. Jest you let me wheel, ‘Mandy.”

“There ain’t anybody goin’ to touch a finger to it but me,” said Amanda, shortly. “If anybody’s got to be sent to jail for it, it’ll be me. I can’t talk no more. I ‘ain’t got any breath to spare.”

But the silence of years had been broken, and Caleb kept on.

“Why, I was goin’ over to Blaisdell’s myself to buy ’em back. Here’s my wallet an’ my bank-book. Don’t that prove it? I was goin’ to pay any price he asked. I set an’ mulled over it all the evenin’. It got late, an’ then I started. It al’ays has took me a good long spell to make up my mind to things. I wa’n’t to blame this arternoon because I couldn’t tell what was best to do all of a whew!”

At the beginning of this revelation, Amanda’s shoulders twitched eloquently, but she said nothing. She reached the gate of the farmyard, and wheeled in, panting painfully as she ascended the rise of the grassy driveway. She toiled round to the back door; and then Caleb saw that she had prepared for her return by leaving the doors of the cellar-case open, and laying down a board over the steps. She turned the wheelbarrow to descend; and Caleb, seeing his opportunity, ran before to hold back its weight. Amanda did not prevent him; she had no breath left for remonstrance. When the clock was safely in the cellar, she went up the steps again, hooked the bulkhead door, and turned, even in the darkness, unerringly to the flight of stairs.

“You wait till I open the door into the kitchen,” she said. “There’s a light up there.”

And Caleb plodded up the stairs after her with his head down, amazed and sorrowful.

“You can stay here,” said Amanda, opening the outside door without looking at him. “I’m goin’ back to Cap’n Blaisdell’s.”

She hurried out into the moonlit path across lots, and Caleb followed. They entered the yard, and Amanda walked up to the window belonging to the best bedroom. It was wide open, and she rapped on it loudly, and then turned her back.

“Hello!” came a sleepy voice from within.

“I’ve got to speak to you,” called Amanda. “You needn’t get up. Be you awake?”

“I guess so,” said the voice, this time several feet nearer the window. “What’s up?”

“I’ve been over an’ got our clock an’ the rest of our things,” said Amanda, steadily. “An’, you’ve got your money. I’ve carried the things home an’ fastened ’em up. They’re down cellar under the arch, an’ I’m goin’ to set over ’em till I drop afore anybody lays a finger on ’em again. An’ you can go to law if you’re a mind to; _but I’ve got our things_!”

There was a silence. Amanda felt that the stranger’s eyes were fastened upon her back, and she tried not to tremble. Caleb knew they were, for he and the man faced each other.

“Well, now, you know you’ve as good as stole my property,” began Chapman; but at that instant, Caleb’s voice broke roughly upon the air.

“You say that ag’in,” said he, “an’ I’ll horsewhip you within an inch of your life. You touch them things ag’in, an’ I’ll break every bone in your body. I dunno whose they be, accordin’ to rights, but by gum!–” and he stopped, for words will fail where a resolute heart need not.

There was again a silence, and the stranger spoke: “Well, well!” he said, good-naturedly. “I guess we’ll have to call it square. I don’t often do business this way; but if you’ll let me alone, I’ll let you alone. Good luck to you!”

Amanda’s heart melted. “You’re real good!” she cried, and turned impulsively; but when she faced the white-shirted form at the window, she ejaculated, “Oh, my!” and fled precipitately round the corner of the house.

Side by side, the two took their way across lots again. Amanda was shaking all over, with weariness and emotion spent. Suddenly a strange sound at her side startled her into scrutiny of Caleb’s face.

“Why, Caleb Rivers!” she exclaimed, in amazement, “you ain’t cryin’?”

“I dunno what I’m doin’,” said Caleb, brushing off two big tears with his jumper sleeve, “an’ I don’t much care. It ain’t your harnessin’ for yourself an’ feedin’ the pigs, an’ my not comin’ Saturday night, but it’s seein’ you wheelin’ that great thing all alone. An’ you’re so little, ‘Mandy! I never thought much o’ myself, an’ it al’ays seemed kind o’ queer you could think anything _of_ me; but I al’ays s’posed you’d let me do the heft o’ the work, an’ not cast me off!”

“I ‘ain’t cast you off, Caleb,” said Amanda, faintly, and in spite of herself her slender figure turned slightly but still gratefully toward him. And that instant, for the first time in all their lives, Caleb’s arms were upholding her, and Amanda had received her crown. Caleb had kissed her.

“Say, ‘Mandy,” said he, when they parted, an hour later, by the syringa bush at the back door, “the world won’t come to an end if you don’t iron of a Tuesday. I was thinkin’ we could ketch Passon True about ten o’clock better’n we could in the arternoon.”


The Old Ladies’ Home, much to the sorrow of its inmates, “set back from the road.” A long, box-bordered walk led from the great door down to the old turnpike, and thickly bowering lilac-bushes forced the eye to play an unsatisfied hide-and-seek with the view. The sequestered old ladies were quite unreconciled to their leaf-hung outlook; active life was presumably over for them, and all the more did they long to “see the passing” of the little world which had usurped their places. The house itself was very old, a stately, square structure, with pillars on either side of the door, and a fanlight above. It had remained unpainted now for many years, and had softened into a mellow lichen-gray, so harmonious and pleasing in the midst of summer’s vital green, that the few artists who ever heard of Tiverton sought it out, to plant umbrella and easel in the garden, and sketch the stately relic; photographers, also, made it one of their accustomed haunts. Of the artists the old ladies disapproved, without a dissenting voice. It seemed a “shaller” proceeding to sit out there in the hot sun for no result save a wash of unreal colors on a white ground, or a few hasty lines indicating no solid reality; but the photographers were their constant delight, and they rejoiced in forming themselves into groups upon, the green, to be “took” and carried away with the house.

One royal winter’s day, there was a directors’ meeting in the great south room, the matron’s parlor, a sprat bearing the happy charm of perfect loyalty to the past, with its great fireplace, iron dogs and crane, its settle and entrancing corner cupboards. The hard-working president of the board was speaking hastily and from a full heart, conscious that another instant’s discussion might bring the tears to her eyes:–

“May I be allowed to say–it’s irrelevant, I know, but I should like the satisfaction of saying it–that this is enough to make one vow never to have anything to do with an institution of any sort, from this time forth for evermore?”

For the moment had apparently come when a chronic annoyance must be recognized as unendurable. They had borne with the trial, inmates and directors, quite as cheerfully as most ordinary people accept the inevitable; but suddenly the tension had become too great, and the universal patience snapped. Two of the old ladies, Mrs. Blair and Miss Dyer, who were settled in the Home for life, and who, before going there, had shown no special waywardness of temper, had proved utterly incapable of living in peace with any available human being; and as the Home had insufficient accommodations, neither could be isolated to fight her “black butterflies” alone. No inmate, though she were cousin to Hercules, could be given a room to herself; and the effect of this dual system on these two, possibly the most eccentric of the number, had proved disastrous in the extreme. Each had, in her own favorite fashion, “kicked over the traces,” as the matron’s son said in town-meeting (much to the joy of the village fathers), and to such purpose that, to continue the light-minded simile, very little harness was left to guide them withal. Mrs. Blair, being “high sperited,” like all the Coxes from whom she sprung, had now so tyrannized over the last of her series of room-mates, so browbeaten and intimidated her, that the latter had actually taken to her bed with a slow-fever of discouragement, announcing that “she’d rather go to the poor-farm and done with it than resk her life there another night; and she’d like to know what had become of that hunderd dollars her nephew Thomas paid down in bills to get her into the Home, for she’d be thankful to them that laid it away so antic to hand it back afore another night went over her head, so’t she could board somewheres decent till ’twas gone, and then starve if she’d got to!”

If Miss Sarah Ann Dyer, known also as a disturber of the public peace, presented a less aggressive front to her kind, she was yet, in her own way, a cross and a hindrance to their spiritual growth. She, poor woman, lived in a scarcely varying state of hurt feeling; her tiny world seemed to her one close federation, existing for the sole purpose of infringing on her personal rights; and though she would not take the initiative in battle, she lifted up her voice in aggrieved lamentation over the tragic incidents decreed for her alone. She had perhaps never directly reproached her own unhappy room-mate for selecting a comfortable chair, for wearing squeaking shoes, or singing “Hearken, ye sprightly,” somewhat early in the morning, but she chanted those ills through all her waking hours in a high, yet husky tone, broken by frequent sobs. And therefore, as a result of these domestic whirlwinds and too stagnant pools, came the directors’ meeting, and the helpless protest of the exasperated president. The two cases were discussed for an hour longer, in the dreary fashion pertaining to a question which has long been supposed to have but one side; and then it remained for Mrs. Mitchell, the new director, to cut the knot with the energy of one to whom a difficulty is fresh.

“Has it ever occurred to you to put them together?” asked she. “They are impossible people; so, naturally, you have selected the very mildest and most Christian women to endure their nagging. They can’t live with the saints of the earth. Experience has proved that. Put them into one room, and let them fight it out together.”

The motion was passed with something of that awe ever attending a Napoleonic decree, and passed, too, with the utmost good-breeding; for nobody mentioned the Kilkenny cats. The matron compressed her lips and lifted her brows, but said nothing; having exhausted her own resources, she was the more willing to take the superior attitude of good-natured scepticism.

The moving was speedily accomplished; and at ten o’clock, one morning, Mrs. Blair was ushered into the room where her forced colleague sat by the window, knitting. There the two were left alone. Miss Dyer looked up, and then heaved a tempestuous sigh over her work, in the manner of one not entirely surprised by its advent, but willing to suppress it, if such alleviation might be. She was a thin, colorless woman, and infinitely passive, save at those times when her nervous system conflicted with the scheme of the universe. Not so Mrs. Blair. She had black eyes, “like live coals,” said her awed associates; and her skin was soft and white, albeit wrinkled. One could even believe she had reigned a beauty, as the tradition of the house declared. This morning, she held her head higher than ever, and disdained expression except that of an occasional nasal snort. She regarded the room with the air of an impartial though exacting critic; two little beds covered with rising-sun quilts, two little pine bureaus, two washstands. The sunshine lay upon the floor, and in that radiant pathway Miss Dyer sat.

“If I’d ha’ thought I should ha’ come to this,” began Mrs. Blair, in the voice of one who speaks perforce after long sufferance, “I’d ha’ died in my tracks afore I’d left my comfortable home down in Tiverton Holler. Story-‘n’-a-half house, a good sullar, an’ woods nigh-by full o’ sarsaparilla an’ goldthread! I’ve moved more times in this God-forsaken place than a Methodist preacher, fust one room an’ then another; an’ bad is the best. It was poor pickin’s enough afore, but this is the crowner!”

Miss Dyer said nothing, but two large tears rolled down and dropped on her work. Mrs. Blair followed their course with gleaming eyes endowed with such uncomfortable activity that they seemed to pounce with every glance.

“What under the sun be you carryin’ on like that for?” she asked, giving the handle of the water-pitcher an emphatic twitch to make it even with the world. “You ‘ain’t lost nobody, have ye, sence I moved in here?”

Miss Dyer put aside her knitting with ostentatious abnegation, and began rocking herself back and forth in her chair, which seemed not of itself to sway fast enough, and Mrs. Blair’s voice rose again, ever higher and more metallic:–

“I dunno what you’ve got to complain of more’n the rest of us. Look at that dress you’ve got on,–a good thick thibet, an’ mine’s a cheap, sleazy alpaca they palmed off on me because they knew my eyesight ain’t what it was once. An’ you’re settin’ right there in the sun, gittin’ het through, an’ it’s cold as a barn over here by the door. My land! if it don’t make me mad to see anybody without no more sperit than a wet rag! If you’ve lost anybody, why don’t ye say so? An’ if it’s a mad fit, speak out an’ say that! Give me anybody that’s got a tongue in their head, _I_ say!”

But Miss Dyer, with an unnecessary display of effort, was hitching her chair into the darkest corner of the room, the rockers hopelessly snarling her yarn at every move.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t keep the sun off’n anybody,” she said, tearfully. “It never come into my head to take it up, an’ I don’t claim no share of anything. I guess, if the truth was known, ‘twould be seen I’d been used to a house lookin’ south, an’ the fore-room winders all of a glare o’ light, day in an’ day out, an’ Madeira vines climbin’ over ’em, an’ a trellis by the front door; but that’s all past an’ gone, past an’ gone! I never was one to take more ‘n belonged to me; an’ I don’t care who says it, I never shall be. An’ I’d hold to that, if ’twas the last word I had to speak!”

This negative sort of retort had an enfeebling effect upon Mrs. Blair.

“My land!” she exclaimed, helplessly. “Talk about my tongue! Vinegar’s nothin’ to cold molasses, if you’ve got to plough through it.”

The other sighed, and leaned her head upon her hand in an attitude of extreme dejection. Mrs. Blair eyed her with the exasperation of one whose just challenge has been refused; she marched back and forth through the room, now smoothing a fold of the counterpane, with vicious care, and again pulling the braided rug to one side or the other, the while she sought new fuel for her rage. Without, the sun was lighting snowy knoll and hollow, and printing the fine-etched tracery of the trees against a crystal sky. The road was not usually much frequented in winter time, but just now it had been worn by the week’s sledding into a shining track, and several sleighs went jingling up and down.

Tiverton was seizing the opportunity of a perfect day and the best of “going,” and was taking its way to market. The trivial happenings of this far-away world had thus far elicited no more than a passing glance from Mrs. Blair; she was too absorbed in domestic warfare even to peer down through the leafless lilac-boughs, in futile wonderment as to whose bells they might be, ringing merrily past. On one journey about the room, however, some chance arrested her gaze. She stopped, transfixed.

“Forever!” she cried. Her nervous, blue-veined hands clutched at her apron and held it; she was motionless for a moment. Yet the picture without would have been quite devoid of interest to the casual eye; it could have borne little significance save to one who knew the inner life history of the Tiverton Home, and thus might guess what slight events wrought all its joy and pain. A young man had set up his camera at the end of the walk, and thrown the cloth over his head, preparatory to taking the usual view of the house. Mrs. Blair recovered from her temporary inaction. She rushed to the window, and threw up the sash. Her husky voice broke strenuously upon the stillness:–

“Here! you keep right where you be! I’m goin’ to be took! You wait till I come!”

She pulled down the window, and went in haste to the closet, in the excess of her eagerness stumbling recklessly forward into its depths.

“Where’s my bandbox?” Her voice came piercingly from her temporary seclusion. “Where’d they put it? It ain’t here in sight! My soul! where’s my bunnit?”

These were apostrophes thrown off in extremity of feeling; they were not questions, and no listener, even with the most friendly disposition in the world, need have assumed the necessity of answering. So, wrapped in oblivion to all earthly considerations save that of her Own inward gloom, the one person who might have responded merely swayed back and forth, in martyrized silence. But no such spiritual withdrawal could insure her safety. Mrs. Blair emerged from the closet, and darted across the room with the energy of one stung by a new despair. She seemed about to fall upon the neutral figure in the corner, but seized the chair-back instead, and shook it with such angry vigor that Miss Dyer cowered down in no simulated fright.

“Where’s my green bandbox?'” The words were emphasized by cumulative shakes, “Anybody that’s took that away from me ought to be b’iled in ile! Hangin”s too good for ’em, but le’ me git my eye on ’em an’ they shall swing for ‘t! Yes, they shall, higher ‘n Gil’roy’s kite!”

The victim put both trembling hands to her ears.

“I ain’t deef!” she wailed.

“Deef? I don’t care whether you’re deef or dumb, or whether you’re nummer’n a beetle! It’s my bandbox I’m arter. Isr’el in Egypt! you might grind some folks in a mortar an’ you couldn’t make ’em speak!”

It was of no use. Intimidation had been worse than hopeless; even bodily force would not avail. She cast one lurid glance at the supine figure, and gave up the quest in that direction as sheer waste of time. With new determination, she again essayed the closet, tossing shoes and rubbers behind her in an unsightly heap, quite heedless of the confusion of rights and lefts. At last, in a dark corner, behind a blue chest, she came upon her treasure. Too hurried now for reproaches, she drew it forth, and with trembling fingers untied the strings. Casting aside the cover, she produced a huge scoop bonnet of a long-past date, and setting it on her head, with the same fevered haste, tied over it the long figured veil destined always to make an inseparable part of her state array. She snatched her stella shawl from the drawer, threw it over her shoulders, and ran out of the room.

Miss Dyer was left quite bewildered by these erratic proceedings, but she had no mind to question them; so many stories were rife in the Home of the eccentricities embodied in the charitable phrase “Mis’ Blair’s way” that she would scarcely have been amazed had her terrible room-mate chosen to drive a coach and four up the chimney, or saddle the broom for a midnight revel. She drew a long breath of relief at the bliss of solitude, closed her eyes, and strove to regain the lost peace, which, as she vaguely remembered, had belonged to her once in a shadowy past.

Silence had come, but not to reign. Back flew Mrs. Blair, like a whirlwind. Her cheeks wore each a little hectic spot; her eyes were flaming. The figured veil, swept rudely to one side, was borne backwards on the wind of her coming, and her thin hair, even in those few seconds, had become wildly disarranged.

“He’s gone!” she announced, passionately. “He kep’ right on while I was findin’ my bunnit. He come to take the house, an’ he’d ha’ took me an’ been glad. An’ when I got that plaguy front door open, he was jest drivin’ away; an’ I might ha’ hollered till I was black in the face, an’ then I couldn’t ha’ made him hear.”

“I dunno what to say, nor what not to,” remarked Miss Dyer, to her corner. “If I speak, I’m to blame; an’ so I be if I keep still.”

The other old lady had thrown herself into a chair, and was looking wrathfully before her.

“It’s the same man that come from Sudleigh last August,” she said, bitterly. “He took the house then, an’ said he wanted another view when the leaves was off; an’ that time I was laid up with my stiff ankle, an’ didn’t git into it, an’ to-day my bunnit was hid, an’ I lost it ag’in.”

Her voice changed. To the listener, it took on an awful meaning.

“An’ I should like to know whose fault it was. If them that owns the winder, an’ set by it till they see him comin’, had spoke up an’ said, ‘Mis’ Blair, there’s the photograph man. Don’t you want to be took?’ it wouldn’t ha’ been too late! If anybody had answered a civil question, an’ said, ‘Your bunnit-box sets there behind my blue chist,’ it wouldn’t ha’ been too late then! An’ I ‘ain’t had my likeness took sence I was twenty year old, an’ went to Sudleigh Fair in my changeable _visite_ an’ leghorn hat, an’ Jonathan wore the brocaded weskit he stood up in, the next week Thursday. It’s enough to make a minister swear!”

Miss Dyer rocked back and forth.

“Dear me!” she wailed. “Dear me suz!”

The dinner-bell rang, creating a blessed diversion. Miss Blair, rendered absent-minded by her grief, went to the table still in her bonnet and veil; and this dramatic entrance gave rise to such morbid though unexpressed curiosity that every one forbore, for a time, to wonder why Miss Dyer did not appear. Later, however, when a tray was prepared and sent up to her (according to the programme of her bad days), the general commotion reached an almost unruly point, stimulated as it was by the matron’s son, who found an opportunity to whisper one garrulous old lady that Miss Dyer had received bodily injury at the hands of her roommate, and that Mrs. Blair had put on her bonnet to be ready for the sheriff when he should arrive. This report, judiciously started, ran like prairie fire; and the house was all the afternoon in a pleasant state of excitement. Possibly the matron will never know why so many of the old ladies promenaded the corridors from dinnertime until long after early candlelight, while a few kept faithful yet agitated watch from the windows. For interest was divided; some preferred to see the sheriff’s advent, and others found zest in the possibility of counting the groans of the prostrate victim.

When Mrs. Blair returned to the stage of action, she was much refreshed by her abundant meal and the strong tea which three times daily heartened her for battle. She laid aside her bonnet, and carefully folded the veil. Then she looked about her, and, persistently ignoring all the empty chairs, fixed an annihilating gaze on one where the dinner-tray still remained.

“I s’pose there’s no need o’ my settin’ down,” she remarked, bitingly. “It’s all in the day’s work. Some folks are waited on; some ain’t. Some have their victuals brought to ’em an’ pushed under their noses, an’ some has to go to the table; when they’re there, they can take it or leave it. The quality can keep their waiters settin’ round day in an’ day out, fillin’ up every chair in the room. For my part, I should think they’d have an extension table moved in, an’ a snowdrop cloth over it!”

Miss Dyer had become comparatively placid, but now she gave way to tears.

“Anybody can move that waiter that’s a mind to,” she said, tremulously. “I would myself, if I had the stren’th; but I ‘ain’t got it. I ain’t a well woman, an’ I ‘ain’t been this twenty year. If old Dr. Parks was alive this day, he’d say so. ‘You ‘ain’t never had a chance,’ he says to me. ‘You’ve been pull-hauled one way or another sence you was born.’ An’ he never knew the wust on’t, for the wust hadn’t come.”

“Humph!” It was a royal and explosive note. It represented scorn for which Mrs. Blair could find no adequate utterance. She selected the straightest chair in the room, ostentatiously turned its back to her enemy, and seated herself. Then, taking out her knitting, she strove to keep silence; but that was too heavy a task, and at last she broke forth, with renewed bitterness,–

“To think of all the wood I’ve burnt up in my kitchen stove an’ air-tight, an’ never thought nothin’ of it! To think of all the wood there is now, growin’ an’ rottin’ from Dan to Beersheba, an’ I can’t lay my fingers on it!”

“I dunno what you want o’ wood. I’m sure this room’s warm enough.”

“You don’t? Well, I’ll tell ye. I want some two-inch boards, to nail up a partition in the middle o’ this room, same as Josh Marden done to spite his wife. I don’t want more’n my own, but I want it mine.”

Miss Dyer groaned, and drew an uncertain hand across her forehead.

“You wouldn’t have no gre’t of an outlay for boards,” she said, drearily. “‘Twouldn’t have to be knee-high to keep me out. I’m no hand to go where I ain’t wanted; an’ if I ever was, I guess I’m cured on’t now.”

Mrs. Blair dropped her knitting in her lap. For an instant, she sat there motionless, in a growing rigidity; but light was dawning in her eyes. Suddenly she came to her feet, and tossed her knitting on the bed.

“Where’s that piece o’ chalk you had when you marked out your tumbler-quilt?” The words rang like a martial order.

Miss Dyer drew it forth from the ancient-looking bag, known as a cavo, which was ever at her side.

“Here ’tis,” she said, in her forlornest quaver. “I hope you won’t do nothin’ out o’ the way with it. I should hate to git into trouble here. I ain’t that kind.”

Mrs. Blair was too excited to hear or heed her. She was briefly, flashingly, taking in the possibilities of the room, her bright black eyes darting here and there with fiery insistence. Suddenly she went to the closet, and, diving to the bottom of a baggy pocket in her “t’other dress,” drew forth a ball of twine. She chalked it, still in delighted haste, and forced one end upon her bewildered room-mate.

“You go out there to the middle square o’ the front winder,” she commanded, “an’ hold your end o’ the string down on the floor. I’ll snap it.”

Miss Dyer cast one despairing glance about her, and obeyed.

“Crazy!” she muttered. “Oh my land! she’s crazy’s a loon. I wisht Mis’ Mitchell’d pitch her tent here a spell!”

But Mrs. Blair was following out her purpose in a manner exceedingly methodical. Drawing out one bed, so that it stood directly opposite her kneeling helper, she passed the cord about the leg of the bedstead and made it fast; then, returning to the middle of the room, she snapped the line triumphantly. A faint chalk-mark was left upon the floor.

“There!” she cried. “Leggo! Now, you gi’ me the chalk, an’ I’ll go over it an’ make it whiter.”

She knelt and chalked with the utmost absorption, crawling along on her knees, quite heedless of the despised alpaca; and Miss Dyer, hovering in a corner, timorously watched her. Mrs. Blair staggered to her feet, entangled by her skirt, and pitching like a ship at sea.

“There!” she announced. “Now here’s two rooms. The chalk-mark’s the partition. You can have the mornin’ sun, for I’d jest as soon live by a taller candle if I can have somethin’ that’s my own. I’ll chalk a lane into the closet, an’ we’ll both keep a right o’ way there. Now I’m to home, an’ so be you. Don’t you dast to speak a word to me unless you come an’ knock here on my headboard,–that’s the front door,–an’ I won’t to you. Well, if I ain’t glad to be alone! I’ve hung my harp on a willer long enough!”

It was some time before the true meaning of the new arrangement penetrated Miss Dyer’s slower intelligence; but presently she drew her chair nearer the window and thought a little, chuckling as she did so. She, too, was alone.

The sensation was new and very pleasant. Mrs. Blair went back and forth through the closet-lane, putting her clothes away, with high good humor. Once or twice she sang a little–Derby’s Ram and Lord Lovel–in a cracked voice. She was in love with solitude.

Just before tea, Mrs. Mitchell, in some trepidation, knocked at the door, to see the fruits of contention present and to come. She had expected to hear loud words; and the silence quite terrified her, emphasizing, as it did, her own guilty sense of personal responsibility. Miss Dyer gave one appealing look at Mrs. Blair, and then, with some indecision, went to open the door, for the latch was in her house.

“Well, here you are, comfortably settled!” began Mrs. Mitchell. She had the unmistakable tone of professional kindliness; yet it rang clear and true. “May I come in?”

“Set right down here,” answered Miss Dyer, drawing forward a chair. “I’m real pleased to see ye.”

“And how are you this afternoon?” This was addressed to the occupant of the other house, who, quite oblivious to any alien presence, stood busily rubbing the chalk-marks from her dress.

Mrs. Blair made no answer. She might have been stone deaf, and as dumb as the hearthstone bricks. Mrs. Mitchell cast an alarmed glance at her entertainer.

“Isn’t she well?” she said, softly.

“It’s a real pretty day, ain’t it?” responded Miss Dyer. “If ’twas summer time, I should think there’d be a sea turn afore night. I like a sea turn myself. It smells jest like Old Boar’s Head.”

“I have brought you down some fruit.” Mrs. Mitchell was still anxiously observing the silent figure, now absorbed in an apparently futile search in a brocaded work-bag. “Mrs. Blair, do you ever cut up bananas and oranges together?”

No answer. The visitor rose, and unwittingly stepped across the dividing line.

“Mrs. Blair–” she began, but she got no further.

Her hostess turned upon her, in surprised welcome.

“Well, if it ain’t Mis’ Mitchell! I can’t say I didn’t expect you, for I see you goin’ into Miss Dyer’s house not more’n two minutes ago. Seems to me you make short calls. Now set right down here, where you can see out o’ the winder. That square’s cracked, but I guess the directors’ll put in another.”

Mrs. Mitchell was amazed, but entirely interested. It was many a long day since any person, official or private, had met with cordiality from this quarter.

“I hope you and our friend are going to enjoy your room together,” she essayed, with a hollow cheerfulness.

“I expect to be as gay as a cricket,” returned Mrs. Blair, innocently. “An’ I do trust I’ve got good neighbors. I like to keep to myself, but if I’ve got a neighbor, I want her to be somebody you can depend upon.”

“I’m sure Miss Dyer means to be very neighborly.” The director turned, with a smile, to include that lady in the conversation. But the local deafness had engulfed her. She was sitting peacefully by the window, with the air of one retired within herself, to think her own very remote thoughts. The visitor mentally improvised a little theory, and it seemed to fit the occasion. They had quarrelled, she thought, and each was disturbed at any notice bestowed on the other.

“I have been wondering whether you would both like to go sleighing with me some afternoon?” she ventured, with the humility so prone to assail humankind in a frank and shrewish presence. “The roads are in wonderful condition, and I don’t believe you’d take cold. Do you know, I found Grandmother Eaton’s foot-warmers, the other day! I’ll bring them along.”

“Law! I’d go anywheres to git out o’ here,” said Mrs. Blair, ruthlessly. “I dunno when I’ve set behind a horse, either. I guess the last time was the day I rid up here for good, an’ then I didn’t feel much like lookin’ at outdoor. Well, I guess you _be_ a new director, or you never’d ha’ thought on’t!”

“How do you feel about it, Miss Dyer?” asked the visitor. “Will you go,–perhaps on, Wednesday?”

The other householder moved uneasily. Her hands twitched at their knitting; a flush came over her cheeks, and she cast a childishly appealing glance at her neighbor across the chalkline. Her eyes were filling fast with tears. “Save me!” her look seemed to entreat “Let me not lose this happy fortune!” Mrs. Blair interpreted the message, and rose to the occasion with the vigor of the intellectually great.

“Mis’ Mitchell,” she said, clearly, “I may be queer in my notions, but it makes me as nervous as a witch to have anybody hollerin’ out o’ my winders. I don’t care whether it’s company nor whether it’s my own folks. If you want to speak to Miss Dyer, you come along here after me,–don’t you hit the partition now!–right out o’ my door an’ into her’n. Here, I’ll knock! Miss Dyer, be you to home?”

The little old lady came forward, fluttering and radiant in the excess of her relief.

“Yes, I guess I be,” she said, “an’ all alone, too! I see you go by the winder, an’ I was in’ hopes you’d come in!”

Then the situation dawned upon Mrs. Mitchell with an effect vastly surprising to the two old pensioners. She turned from one to the other, including them both in a look of warm loving-kindness. It was truly an illumination. Hitherto, they had thought chiefly of her winter cloak and nodding ostrich plume; now, at last, they saw her face, and read some part of its message.

“You poor souls!” she cried. “Do you care so much as that? ‘O you poor souls!”

Miss Dyer fingered her apron and looked at the floor, but her companion turned brusquely away, even though she trod upon the partition in her haste.

“Law! it’s nothin’ to make such a handle of” she said. “Folks don’t want to be under each other’s noses all the time. I dunno’s anybody could stan’ it, unless ’twas an emmet. They seem to git along swarmin’ round together.”

Mrs. Mitchell left the room abruptly.

“Wednesday or Thursday, then!” she called over her shoulder.

The next forenoon, Mrs. Blair made her neighbor a long visit. Both old ladies had their knitting, and they sat peacefully swaying back and forth, recalling times past, and occasionally alluding to their happy Wednesday.

“What I really come in for,” said Mrs. Blair, finally, “was to ask if you don’t think both our settin’-rooms need new paper.”

The other gave one bewildered glance about her.

“Why, ’tain’t been on more ‘n two weeks,” she began; and then remembrance awoke in her, and she stopped. It was not the scene of their refuge and conflict that must be considered; it was the house of fancy built by each unto herself. Invention did not come easily to her as yet, and she spoke with some hesitation.

“I’ve had it in mind myself quite a spell, but somehow I ‘ain’t been able to fix on the right sort o’ paper.”

“What do you say to a kind of a straw color, all lit up with tulips?” inquired Mrs. Blair; triumphantly.

“Ain’t that kind o’ gay?”

“Gay? Well, you want it gay, don’t ye? I dunno why folks seem to think they’ve got to live in a hearse because they expect to ride in one! What if we be gittin’ on a little mite in years? We ain’t underground yit, be we? I see a real good ninepenny paper once, all covered over with green brakes. I declare if ‘twa’n’t sweet pretty! Well, whether I paper or whether I don’t, I’ve got some thoughts of a magenta sofy. I’m tired to death o’ that old horsehair lounge that sets in my clock-room. Sometimes I wish the moths would tackle it, but I guess they’ve got more sense. I’ve al’ays said to myself I’d have a magenta sofy when I could git round to it, and I dunno’s I shall be any nearer to it than I be now.”

“Well, you _are_ tasty,” said Miss Dyer, in some awe. “I dunno how you come to think o’ that!”

“Priest Rowe had one when I wa’n’t more ‘n twenty. Some o’ his relations give it to him (he married into the quality), an’ I remember as if ’twas yisterday what a tew there was over it. An’ I said to myself then, if ever I was prospered I’d have a magenta sofy. I ‘ain’t got to it till now, but now I’ll have it if I die for’t.” “Well, I guess you’re in the right on’t.” Miss Dyer spoke absently, glancing from the window in growing trouble. “O Mis’ Blair!” she continued, with a sudden burst of confidence, “you don’t think there’s a storm brewin’, do you? If it snows Wednesday, I shall give up beat!”

Mrs. Blair, in her turn, peered at the smiling sky.

“I hope you ain’t one o’ them kind that thinks every fair day’s a weather breeder,” she said. “Law, no! I don’t b’lieve it will storm; an’ if it does, why, there’s other Wednesdays comin’!”


Delilah Joyce was sitting on her front doorstone with a fine disregard of the fact that her little clock had struck eight of the morning, while her bed was still unmade. The Tiverton folk who disapproved of her shiftlessness in letting the golden hours, run thus to waste, did grudgingly commend her for airing well. Her bed might not even be spread up till sundown, but the sheets were always hanging from her little side window, in fine weather, flapping dazzlingly in the sun; and sometimes her feather-bed lay, the whole day long, on the green slope outside, called by Dilly her “spring,” only because the snow melted first there on the freedom days of the year. The new editor of the Sudleigh “Star,” seeing her slight, wiry figure struggling with the bed like a very little ant under a caterpillar all too large, was once on the point of drawing up his horse at her gate. He was a chivalrous fellow, and he wanted to help; but Brad Freeman, hulking by with his gun at the moment, stopped him.

“That’s only Dilly wrastlin’ with, her bed,” he called back, in the act of stepping over the wall into the meadow. “‘Twon’t do no good to take holt once, unless you’re round here every mornin’ ’bout the same time. Dilly’ll git the better on’t. She al’ays does.” So the editor laughed, put down another Tiverton custom in his mental notebook, and drove on.

Dilly was a very little woman, with abnormally long and sinewy arms. Her small, rather delicate face had a healthy coat of tan, and her iron-gray hair was braided with scrupulous care. She resembled her own house to a striking degree; she was fastidiously neat, but not in the least orderly. The Tiverton housekeepers could not appreciate this attitude in reference to the conventional world. It was all very well to keep the kitchen floor scrubbed, but they did believe, also, in seeing the table properly set, and in finishing the washing by eight o’clock on Monday morning. Now Dilly seldom felt inclined to set any table at all. She was far more likely to take her bread and milk under a tree; and as for washing, Thursday was as good a day as any, she was wont to declare. Moreover, the tradition of hanging garments on the line according to a severely classified system, did not in the least appeal to her.

“I guess a petticoat’ll dry jest as quick if it’s hung ‘side of a nightgown,” she told her critics, drily. “An’ when you come to hangin’ stockin’s by the pair, better separate ’em, I say! Like man an’ wife! Give ’em a vacation, once in a while, an’ love’ll live the longer!”

Dilly was thinking, this morning, of all the possibilities of the lovely, shining day. So many delights lay open to her! She could take her luncheon in her pocket, and go threading through the woods behind her house. She could walk over to Pine Hollow, to see how the cones were coming on, and perchance scrape together a basket of pine needles, to add to her winter’s kindling; or she might, if the world and the desires thereof assailed her, visit Sudleigh Fair. Better still, she need account to nobody if she chose to sit there on the doorstone, and let the hours go unregretted by. Presently, her happy musing was broken by a ripple from the outer world. A girl came briskly round the corner where the stone-wall lay hidden under a wilderness of cinnamon rosebushes and blackberry vines,–Rosa Tolman, dressed in white _pique_, with a great leghorn hat over her curls. The girl came hurrying up the path, with a rustle of starched petticoats, and still Dilly kept her trance-like posture.

“I know who ’tis!” she announced, presently, in a declamatory voice. “It’s Rosy Tolman, an’ she’s dressed in white, with red roses, all complete, an’ she’s goin’ to Sudleigh Cattle-Show.”

Rosa lost a shade of pink from her cheeks. Her round blue eyes widened, in an unmistakable terror quite piteous to see.

“O Dilly!” she quavered, “how do you know such things? Why, you ‘ain’t looked at me!”

Dilly opened her eyes, and chuckled in keen enjoyment.

“Bless ye!” she said, “I can’t help imposin’ on ye, no more ‘n a cat could help ketchin’ a mouse, if’t made a nest down her throat. Why, I see ye comin’ round the corner! But when folks thinks you’re a witch, it ain’t in human natur’ not to fool ’em. I _am_ a witch, ain’t I, dear? Now, ain’t I?”

Rosa’s color had faltered back, but she still stood visibly in awe of her old neighbor.

“Well,” she owned, “Elvin Drew says you can see in the dark, but I don’t know’s he means anything by it.”

Again Dilly broke into laughter, rocking back and forth, in happy abandonment.

“I can!” she cried, gleefully. “You tell him I can! An’ when I can’t, folks are so neighborly they strike a light for me to see by. You tell him! Well, now, what is it? You’ve come to ask suthin’. Out with it!”

“Father told me to come over, and see if you can’t tell something about our cows. They’re all drying up, and he don’t see any reason why.”

Dilly nodded her head sagely.

“You’d better ha’ come sooner,” she announced. “You tell him he must drive ’em to pastur’ himself, an’ go arter ’em, too.”


“An’ you tell him to give Davie a Saturday, here an’ there, to go fishin’ in, an’ not let him do so many chores. Now, you hear! Your father must drive the cows, an’ he must give Davie time to play a little, or there’ll be dark days comin’, an’ he won’t be prepared for ’em.”

“My!” exclaimed Rosa, blankly. “My! Ain’t it queer! It kind o’ scares me. But, Dilly,”–she turned about, so that only one flushed cheek remained visible,–“Dilly, ‘ain’t you got something to say to me? We’re going to be married next Tuesday, Elvin and me. It’s all right, ain’t it?”

Dilly bent forward, and peered masterfully into her face. She took the girl’s plump pink handy and drew her forward. Rosa, as if compelled by some unseen force, turned about, and allowed her frightened gaze to lie ensnared by the witch’s great black eyes. Dilly began, in a deep intense voice, with the rhythm of the Methodist exhorter, though on a lower key,–

“Two years, that boy’s been arter you. Two years, you trampled on him as if he’d been the dust under your feet. He was poor an’ strugglin’. He was left with his mother to take care on, an’ a mortgage to work off. An’ then his house burnt down, an’ he got his insurance money; an’ that minute, you turned right round an’ says, ‘I’ll have you.’ An’ now, you say, ‘Is it all right?’ _Is_ it right, Rosy Tolman? You tell _me_!”

Rosa was sobbing hysterically.

“Oh, I wish you wouldn’t scare me so!” she exclaimed, yet not for a moment attempting to withdraw her hand, or turn aside her terrified gaze. “I wish I never’d said one word!”

Dilly broke the spell as lightly as she had woven it. A smile passed over her face, like a charm, dispelling all its prophetic fervor.

“There! there!” she said, dropping the girl’s hand. “I thought I’d scare ye! What’s the use o’ bein’ a witch, if ye can’t upset folks? Now don’t cry, an’ git your cheeks all blotched up afore Elvin calls to fetch ye, with that hired horse, an’ take ye to the Cattle-Show! But don’t ye forgit what I say! You remember we ain’t goin’ to wait for the Day o’ Judgment, none on us. It comes every hour. If Gabriel was tootin’, should you turn fust to Elvin Drew, an’ go up or down with him, wherever he was ‘lected? That’s what you’ve got to think on; not your new hat nor your white _pique_. (Didn’t iron it under the overskirt, did ye? How’d I know? Law! how’s a witch know anything?) Now, you ‘ain’t opened your bundle, dear, have ye? Raisin-cake in it, ain’t there?”

Rosa bent suddenly forward, and placed the package in Dilly’s lap. In spite of the bright daylight all about her, she was frightened; if a cloud had swept over, she must have screamed.

“I don’t know how you found it out,” she whispered, “but _’tis_ raisin-cake. Mother sent it. She knew I was going to ask you about the cows. She said I was to tell you, too, there’s some sickness over to Sudleigh, and she thought you could go over there nussing, if you wanted to.”

“I ‘ain’t got time,” said Dilly, placidly. “I give up nussin’, two year ago. I ‘ain’t got any time at all! Well, here they come, don’t they? One for me, an’ one for you!”

A light wagon, driven rapidly round the corner, drew up at the gate. Elvin Drew jumped down, and helped out his companion, a short, rather thickset girl, with smooth, dark hair, honest eyes, and a sensitive mouth. She came quickly up the path, after an embarrassed word of thanks to the young man.

“He took me in,” she began, almost apologetically to Rosa, who surveyed her with some haughtiness. “I was comin’ up here to see Dilly, an’ he offered me a ride.”

Rosa’s color and spirits had returned, at the sight of her tangible ally at the gate.

“Well, I guess I must be going,” she said, airily. “Elvin won’t want to wait. Good-by, Dilly! I’ll tell father. Good-by, Molly Drew!”

But Dilly followed her down to the road, where Elvin stood waiting with the reins in his hands. He was a very blond young man, with curly hair, and eyes honest in contour and clear of glance. Perhaps his coloring impressed one with the fact that he should have looked very young; but his face shrunk now behind a subtile veil of keen anxiety, of irritated emotion, which were evidently quite foreign to him. Even a stranger, looking at him, could hardly help suspecting an alien trouble grafted upon a healthy stem. He gave Dilly a pleasant little nod, in the act of turning eagerly to help Rosa into the wagon. But when he would have followed her, Dilly laid a light but imperative hand on his arm.

“Don’t you want your fortune told?” she asked, meaningly. “Here’s the witch all ready. Ain’t it well for me I wa’n’t born a hunderd year ago? Shouldn’t I ha’ sizzled well? An’ now, all there is to burn me is God A’mighty’s sunshine!”

Elvin laughed lightly.

“I guess I don’t need any fortune,” he said. “Mine looks pretty fair now. I don’t feel as if anybody’d better meddle with it.” But he had not withdrawn his arm, and his gaze still dwelt on hers.

“You know suthin’ you don’t mean to tell,” said Dilly, speaking so rapidly that although Rosa bent forward to listen, she caught only a word, here and there. “You think you won’t have to tell, but you will. God A’mighty’ll make you. You’ll be a stranger among your own folks, an’ a wanderer on the earth; till you tell. There! go along! Go an’ see the punkins an’ crazy-quilts!”

She withdrew her hand, and turned away. Elvin, his face suddenly blanched, looked after her, fascinated, while she went quickly up the garden walk. An impatient word from Rosa recalled him to himself, and he got heavily into the wagon and drove on again.

When Dilly reached the steps where her new guest had seated herself, her manner had quite changed. It breathed an open frankness, a sweet and homely warmth which were very engaging. Molly spoke first.

“How pleased he is with her!” she said, dreamily.

“Yes,” answered Dilly, “but to-day ain’t tomorrer. They’re both light-complected. It’s jest like patchwork. Put light an’ dark together, I say, or you won’t git no figger. Here, le’s have a mite o’ cake! Mis’ Tolman’s a proper good cook, if her childern _have_ all turned out ducks, an’ took to the water. Every one on ’em’s took back as much as three generations for their noses an’ tempers. Strange they had to go so fur!”

She broke the rich brown loaf in the middle, and divided a piece with Molly. Such were the habits calculated to irritate the conventionalities of Tiverton against her. Who ever heard of breaking cake when one could go into the house for a knife! They ate in silence, and the delights of the summer day grew upon Molly as they never did save when she felt the nearness of this queer little woman. Turn which side of her personality she might toward you, Dilly could always bend you to her own train of thought.

“I come down to talk things over,” said Molly, at last, brushing the crumbs of cake from her lap. “I’ve got a chance in the shoe-shop.”

“Do tell! Well, ain’t that complete? Don’t you say one word, now! I know how ’tis. You think how you’ll have to give up the birds’ singin’, an’ your goin’ into the woods arter groundpine, an’ stay cooped up in a boardin’-house to Sudleigh. I know how ’tis! But don’t you fret. You come right here an’ stay Sundays, an’ we’ll eat up the woods an’ drink up the sky! There! It’s better for ye, dear. Some folks are made to live in a holler tree, like me; some ain’t. You’ll be better on’t among folks.”

Molly’s eyes filled with tears.

“You’ve been real good to me,” she said, simply.

“I wish I’d begun it afore,” responded Dilly, with a quick upward lift of her head, and her brightest smile. “You see I didn’t know ye very well, for all you’d lived with old Mis’ Drew so many year. I ‘ain’t had much to do with folks. I knew ye hadn’t got nobody except her, but I knew, too, ye were contented there as a cricket. But when she died, an’ the house burnt down, I begun to wonder what was goin’ to become on ye.”

Molly sat looking over at the pine woods, her lips compressed, her cheeks slowly reddening. Finally she burst passionately forth,–

“Dilly, I’d like to know why I couldn’t have got some rooms an’ kep’ house for Elvin? His mother’s my own aunt!”

“She wa’n’t his mother, ye know. She was His stepmother, for all they set so much by one Another. Folks would ha’ talked, an’ I guess Rosy wouldn’t ha’ stood that, even afore they were engaged. Rosy may not like corn-fodder herself, any more ‘n t’other dog did, but she ain’t goin’ to see other noses put into’t without snappin’ at ’em.”

“Well, it’s all over,” said Molly, drearily. “It ‘ain’t been hard for me stayin’ round as I’ve done, an’ sewin’ for my board; but it’s seemed pretty tough to think of Elvin livin’ in that little shanty of Caleb’s an’ doin’ for himself. I never could see why he didn’t board somewheres decent.”

“Wants to save his six hunderd dollars, to go out West an’ start in the furniture business,” said Dilly, succinctly. “Come, Molly, what say to walkin’ over to Sudleigh Cattle-Show?”

Molly threw aside her listless mood like a garment.

“Will you?” she cried. “Oh, I’d like to! You know I’m sewin’ for Mis’ Eli Pike; an’ they asked me to go, but I knew she’d fill up the seat so I should crowd ’em out of house an’ home. Will you, Dilly?”

“You wait till I git suthin’ or other to put over my head,” said Dilly, rising with cheerful decision. “Here, you gi’ me that cake! I’ll tie it up in a nice clean piece o’ table-cloth, an’ then we’ll take along a few eggs, so ‘t we can trade ’em off for bread an’ cheese. You jest pull in my sheets, an’ shet the winder, while I do it. Like as not there’ll be a shower this arternoon.”

When the little gate closed behind them, Molly felt eagerly excited, as, if she were setting forth for a year’s happy wandering. Dilly knew the ways of the road as well as the wood. She was, as usual, in light marching order, a handkerchief tied over her smooth braids; another, slung on a stick over her shoulder, contained their luncheon and the eggs for barter. All her movements were buoyant and free, like those of a healthy animal let loose in pleasant pastures. She walked so lightly that the eggs in the handkerchief were scarcely stirred.

“See that little swampy patch!” she said, stopping when they had rounded the curve in the road. “A week or two ago, that was all alive with redbud flowers. I dunno the right name on ’em, an’ I don’t care. Redbirds, I call ’em. I went over there, one day, an’ walked along between the hummocks, spush! spush! You won’t find a nicer feelin’ than that, wherever ye go. Take off your shoes an’ stockin’s, an’ wade into a swamp! Warm, coarse grass atop! Then warm, black mud, an’ arter that, a layer all nice an’ cold that goes down to Chiny, fur’s I know! That was the day I meant to git some thoroughwort over there, to dry, but I looked at the redbird flowers so long I didn’t have time, an’ I never’ve been sence.”

Molly laughed out, with a pretty, free ripple in her voice.

“You’re always sayin’ that, Dilly! You never have time for anything but doin’ nothin’!”

A bright little sparkle came into Dilly’s eyes, and she laughed, too.

“Why, that’s what made me give’ up nussin’ two year ago,” she said, happily. “I wa’n’t havin’ no time at all. I couldn’t live my proper life. I al’ays knew I should come to that, so I’d raked an’ scraped, an’ put into the bank, till I thought I’d got enough to buy me a mite o’ flour while I lived, an’ a pine coffin arter I died; an’ then I jest set up my Ebenezer I’d be as free’s a bird. Freer, I guess I be, for they have to scratch pretty hard, come cold weather, an’ I bake me a ‘tater, an’ then go clippin’ out over the crust, lookin’ at the bare twigs. Oh, it’s complete! If I could live this way, I guess a thousand years’d be a mighty small dose for me. Look at that goldenrod, over there by the stump! That’s the kind that’s got the most smell.”

Molly broke one of the curving plumes.

“I don’t see as it smells at all,” she said, still sniffing delicately.

“Le’me take it! Why, yes, it does, too! Everything smells _some_. Oftentimes it’s so faint it’s more like a feelin’ than a smell. But there! you ain’t a witch, as I be!”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that!” put in Molly, courageously. “You make people think you are.”

“Law, then, let ’em!” said Dilly, with a kindly indulgence. “It don’t do them no hurt, an’ it gives me more fun’n the county newspaper. They’d ruther I’d say I was a witch’n tell ’em I’ve got four eyes an’ eight ears where they ‘ain’t but two. I tell ye, there’s a good deal missed when ye stay to home makin’ pies, an’ a good deal ye can learn if ye live out-door. Why, there’s Tolman’s cows! He dunno why they dry up; but I do. He, sends that little Davie with ’em, that don’t have no proper playtime; an’ Davie gallops ’em all the way to pastur’, so’t he can have a minute to fish in the brook. An’ then he gallops ’em home ag’in, because he’s stole a piece out o’ the arternoon. I ketched him down there by the brook, one day, workin’ away with a bent pin, an’ the next mornin’ I laid a fish-hook on the rock, an’ hid in the woods to see what he’d say. My! I ‘guess Jonah wa’n’t more tickled when he set foot on dry land. Here comes the wagons! There’s the Poorhouse team fust, an’ Sally Flint settin’ up straighter ‘n a ramrod. An’ there’s Heman an’ Roxy! She don’t look a day older’n twenty-five. Proper nice folks, all on ’em, but they make me kind o’ homesick jest because they _be_ folks. They do look so sort o’ common in their bunnits an’ veils, an’ I keep thinkin’ o’ little four-legged creatur’s, all fur!” The Tiverton folk saluted them, always cordially, yet each after his kind. They liked Dilly as a product all their own, but one to be partaken of sparingly, like some wild, intoxicating root.

They loved her better at home, too, than at Sudleigh Fair. It was like a betrayal of their fireside secrets, to see her there in her accustomed garb; so slight a concession to propriety would have lain in her putting on a bonnet and shawl!

As they neared Sudleigh town, the road grew populous with carriages and farm-wagons, “step and step,” not all from Tiverton way, but gathered in from the roads converging here. Men were walking up and down the market street, crying their whips, their toy balloons, and a multitude of cheaper gimcracks.

“Forty miles from home! forty miles from home!” called one, more imaginative than the rest. “And no place to lay my head! That’s why I’m selling these little whips here to-day, a stranger in a strange land. Buy one! buy one! and the poor pilgrim’ll have a supper and a bed! Keep your money in your pocket, and he’s a wanderer on the face of the earth!”

Dilly, the fearless in her chosen wilds, took a fold of Molly’s dress, and held it tight.

“You s’pose that’s so?” she whispered. “Oh, dear! I ‘ain’t got a mite o’ money, on’y these six eggs. Oh, why didn’t he stay to home, if he’s so possessed to sleep under cover? What does anybody leave their home _for_, if they’ve got one?”

But Molly put up her head, and walked sturdily on.

“Don’t you worry,” she counselled, in an undertone. “It don’t mean any more ‘n it does when folks say they’re sellin’ at a sacrifice. I guess they expect to make enough, take it all together.”

Dilly walked on, quite bewildered. She had lost her fine, joyous carriage; her shoulders were bent, and her feet shuffled, in a discouraged fashion, over the unlovely bricks. Molly kept the lead, with unconscious superiority.

“Le’s go into the store now,” she said, “an’ swap off the eggs. You’ll be joggled in this crowd, an’ break ’em all to smash. Here, you le’ me have your handkerchief! I’ll see to it all.” She kept the handkerchief in her hand, after their slight “tradin'” had been accomplished; and Dilly, too dispirited to offer a word, walked meekly about after her.

The Fair was held, according to ancient custom, in the town-hall, of which the upper story had long been given over to Sudleigh Academy. Behind the hall lay an enormous field, roped in now, and provided with pens and stalls, where a great assemblage of live-stock lowed, and grunted, and patiently chewed the cud.

“Le’s go in there fust,” whispered Dilly. “I sha’n’t feel so strange there as I do with folks. I guess if the four-footed creatur’s can stan’ it, I can. Pretty darlin’!” she added, stopping before a heifer who had ceased eating and was looking about her with a mild and dignified gaze. Dilly eagerly sought out a stick, and began to scratch the delicate head. “Pretty creatur’! Smell o’ her breath, Molly! See her nose, all wet, like pastur’ grass afore day! Now, if I didn’t want to live by myself, I’d like to curl me up in a stall, ‘side o’ her.”

“‘Mandy, you an’ Kelup come here!” called Aunt Melissa Adams. She loomed very prosperous, over the way, in her new poplin and her lace-trimmed cape. “Jest look at these roosters! They’ve got spurs on their legs as long’s my darnin’-needle. What under the sun makes ’em grow so! An’ ain’t they the nippin’est little creatur’s you ever see?”

“They’re fightin’-cocks,” answered Caleb, tolerantly.

“Fightin’-cocks? You don’t mean to tell me they’re trained up for that?”

“Yes, I do!”

“Well, I never heard o’ such a thing in a Christian land! never! Whose be they? I’ll give him a piece o’ my mind, if I live another minute!”

“You better let other folks alone,” said Caleb, stolidly.

“‘Mandy,” returned Aunt Melissa, in a portentous undertone, “be you goin’ to stan’ by an’ see your own aunt spoke to as if she was the dirt under your feet?”

Amanda had once in her life asserted herself at a crucial moment, and she had never seen cause to regret it. Now she “spoke out” again. She made her slender neck very straight and stiff, and her lips set themselves firmly over the words,–

“I guess Caleb won’t do you no hurt, Aunt Melissa. He don’t want you should make yourself a laughin’-stock, nor I don’t either. There’s Uncle Hiram, over lookin’ at the pigs. I guess he don’t see you. Caleb, le’s we move on!”

Aunt Melissa stood looking after them, a mass of quivering wrath.

“Well, I must say!” she retorted to the empty air. “If I live, I must say!”

Dilly took her placid companion by the arm, and hurried her on. Human jangling wore sadly upon her; under such maddening onslaught she was not incapable of developing “nerves.” They stopped before a stall where another heifer stood, chewing her cud, and looking away into remembered pastures.

“Oh, see!” said Molly, “‘Price $500’! Do you b’lieve it?”

“Well, well!” came Mrs. Eli Pike’s ruminant voice from the crowd. “I’m glad I don’t own that creatur’! I shouldn’t sleep nights if I had five hunderd dollars in cow.”

“Tain’t five hunderd dollars,” said Hiram Cole, elbowing his way to the front. “‘Tain’t p’inted right, that’s all. P’int off two ciphers–“

“Five dollars!” snickered a Crane boy, diving through the crowd, and proceeding to stand on his head in a cleared space beyond. “That’s wuth less’n Miss Lucindy’s hoss!”

Hiram Cole considered again, one lean hand stroking his cheek.

“Five–fifty–” he announced. “Well, I guess _’tis_ five hunderd, arter all! Anybody must want to invest, though, to put all their income into perishable cow-flesh!”

“You look real tired,” whispered Molly. “Le’s come inside, an’ perhaps we can set down.”

The old hall seemed to have donned strange carnival clothes, for a mystic Saturnalia. It was literally swaddled in bedquilts,– tumbler-quilts, rising-suns, Jacob’s-ladders, log-cabins, and the more modern and altogether terrible crazy-quilt. There were square yards of tidies, on wall and table, and furlongs of home-knit lace. Dilly looked at this product of the patient art of woman with a dispirited gaze.

“Seems a kind of a waste of time, don’t it?” she said, dreamily, “when things are blowin’ outside? I wisht I could see suthin’ made once to look as handsome as green buds an’ branches. Law, dear, now jest turn your eyes away from them walls, an’ see the tables full of apples! an’ them piles o’ carrots, an’ cabbages an’ squashes over there! Well, ’tain’t so bad if you can look at things the sun’s ever shone on, no matter if they be under cover.” She wandered up and down the tables, caressing the rounded outlines of the fruit with her loving gaze. The apples, rich and fragrant, were a glory and a joy. There were great pound sweetings, full of the pride of mere bigness; long purple gilly-flowers, craftily hiding their mealy joys under a sad-colored skin; and the Hubbardston, a portly creature quite unspoiled by the prosperity of growth, and holding its lovely scent and flavor like an individual charm. There was the Bald’in, stand-by old and good as bread; and there were all the rest. We know them, we who have courted Pomona in her fair New England orchards.

Near the fancy-work table sat Mrs. Blair, of the Old Ladies’ Home, on a stool she had wrenched from an unwilling boy, who declared it belonged up in the Academy, whence he had brought it “to stan’ on” while he drove a nail. And though he besought her to rise and let him return it, since he alone must be responsible, the old lady continued sitting in silence. At length she spoke,–

“Here I be, an’ here I’m goin’ to set till the premiums is tacked on. Them pinballs my neighbor, Mis’ Dyer, made with her own hands, an’ she’s bent double o’ rheumatiz. An’ I said I’d bring ’em for her, an’ I’d set by an’ see things done fair an’ square.”

“There, Mrs. Blair, don’t you worry,” said Mrs. Mitchell, a director of the Home, putting a hand on the martial and belligerent shoulder, “Don’t you mind if she doesn’t get a premium. I’ll buy the pinballs, and that will do almost as well.”

“My! if there ain’t goin’ to be trouble between Mary Lamson an’ Sereno’s Hattie, I’ll miss my guess!” said a matron, with an appreciative wag of her purple-bonneted head. “They’ve either on ’em canned up more preserves ‘n Tiverton an’ Sudleigh put together, an’ Mary’s got I dunno what all among ’em!–squash, an’ dandelion, an’ punkin with lemon in’t. That’s steppin’ acrost the bounds, _I_ say! If she gits a premium for puttin’ up gardin-sass, I’ll warrant there’ll be a to-do. An’ Hattie’ll make it!”

“I guess there won’t be no set-to about such small potaters,” said Mrs. Pike, with dignity. Her broad back had been unrecognized by the herald, careless in her haste. “Hattie’s ready an’ willin’ to divide the premium, if’t comes to her, an’ I guess Mary’d be, put her in the same place.”

“My soul an’ body!” exclaimed another, trudging up and waving a large palmleaf fan. “Well, there, Rosanna Pike! Is that you? Excuse me all, if I don’t stop to speak round the circle, I’m so put to’t with Passon True’s carryin’s on. You know he’s been as mad as hops over Sudleigh Cattle-Show, reg’lar as the year come round, because there’s a raffle for a quilt, or suthin’. An’ now he’s come an’ set up a sort of a stall over t’other side the room, an’ folks thinks he’s tryin’ to git up a revival. I dunno when I’ve seen John so stirred. He says we hadn’t ought to be made a laughin’-stock to Sudleigh, Passon or no Passon. An’ old Square Lamb says–“

But the fickle crowd waited to hear no more. With one impulse, it surged over to the other side of the hall, where Parson True, standing behind a table brought down from the Academy, was saying solemnly,–

“Let us engage in prayer!”

The whispering ceased; the titters of embarrassment were stilled, and mothers tightened their grasp on little hands, to emphasize the change of scene from light to graver hue. Some of the men looked lowering; one or two strode out of doors. They loved Parson True, but the Cattle-Show was all their own, and they resented even a ministerial innovation. The parson was a slender, wiry man, with keen blue eyes, a serious mouth, and an overtopping forehead, from which the hair was always brushed straight back. He called upon the Lord, with passionate fervor, to “bless this people in all their outgoings and comings-in, and to keep their feet from paths where His blessing could not attend them.”

“Is that the raffle, mother?” whispered the smallest Crane boy; and his mother promptly administered a shake, for the correction of misplaced curiosity.

Then Parson True opened his eyes on his somewhat shamefaced flock and their neighbor townsmen, and began to preach. It was good to be there, he told them, only as it was good to be anywhere else, in the spirit of God. Judgment might overtake them there, as it might at home, in house or field. Were they prepared? He bent forward over the table, his slim form trembling with the intensity of gathering passion. He appealed to each one personally with that vibratory quality of address peculiar to him, wherein it seemed that not only his lips but his very soul challenged the souls before him. One after another joined the outer circle, and faces bent forward over the shoulders in front, with that strange, arrested expression inevitably born when, on the flood of sunny weather, we are reminded how deep the darkness is within the grave.

“Let every man say to himself, ‘Thou, God, seest me!'” reiterated the parson. “Thou seest into the dark corners of my heart. What dost Thou see, O God? What dost Thou see?”

Elvin and Rosa had drawn near with the others. She smiled a little, and the hard bloom on her cheeks had not wavered. No one looked at them, for every eye dwelt on the preacher; and though Elvin’s face changed from the healthy certainty of life and hope to a green pallor of self-recognition, no one noticed. Consequently, the general surprise culminated in a shock when he cried out, in a loud voice, “God be merciful! God be merciful! I ain’t fit to be with decent folks! I’d ought to be in jail!” and pushed his way through the crowd until he stood before the parson, facing him with bowed head, as if he found in the little minister the vicegerent of God. He had kept Rosa’s hand in a convulsive grasp, and he drew her with him into the eye of the world. She shrank back, whimpering feebly; but no one took note of her. The parson knew exactly what, to do when the soul travailed and cried aloud. He stretched forth his hands, and put them on the young man’s shoulders.

“Come, poor sinner, come!” he urged, in a voice of wonderful melting quality. “Come! Here is the throne of grace! Bring your burden, and cast it down.”

The words roused Elvin, or possibly the restraining touch. He started back.

“I can’t!” he cried out, stridently. “I can’t yet! I can’t! I can’t!”

Still leading Rosa, who was crying now in good earnest, he turned, and pushed his way out of the crowd. But once outside that warm human circuit, Rosa broke loose from him. She tried to speak for his ear alone, but her voice strove petulantly through her sobs:

“Elvin Drew, I should think you’d be ashamed of yourself! You’ve made me ridiculous before the whole town, and I never’ll speak to you again as long as I live. If I hadn’t stayed with you every minute, I should think you’d been drinking, and I believe to my soul you have!” She buried her face in her handkerchief, and stumbled over to a table where Laura Pettis was standing, open-eyed with amazement, and the two clasped each other, while Rosa cried on. Elvin only looked about him, in a bewildered fashion, when the warm hand was wrenched away; then, realizing that he was quite alone, his head bent under a deeper dejection. He seemed unable to move from the spot, and stood there quite stupidly, until murmurs of “What’s the matter of him?” came from the waiting crowd, and Parson True himself advanced, with hands again outstretched. But Dilly Joyce forestalled the parson. She, too came forward, in her quick way, and took Elvin firmly by the arm.

“Here, dear,” she said, caressingly, “you come along out-doors with us!”

Elvin turned, still hanging his head, and the three (for little Molly had come up on the other side, trying to stand very tall to show her championship) walked out of the hall together. Dilly had ever a quick eye for green, growing things, and she remembered a little corner of the enclosure, where one lone elm-tree stood above a bank. Thither she led him, with an assured step; and when they had reached the shadow, she drew him forward, and said, still tenderly,–

“There, dear, you set right down here an’ think it over. We’ll stay with ye. We’ll never forsake ye, will we, Molly?”

Molly, who did not know what it was all about, had no need to know. “Never!” she said, stanchly.

The three sat down there; and first the slow minutes, and then the hours, went by. It had not been long before some one found out where they were, and curious groups began to wander past, always in silence, but eying them intently. Elvin sat with his head bent, looking fixedly at a root of plantain; but Molly confronted the alien faces with a haughty challenging stare, while her cheeks painted themselves ever a deeper red. Dilly leaned happily back against the elm trunk, and dwelt upon the fleece-hung sky; and her black eyes grew still calmer and more content. She looked as if she had learned what things are lovely and of good repute. When the town-clock struck noon, she brought forth their little luncheon, and pressed it upon the others, with a nice hospitality. Elvin shook his head, but Molly ate a trifle, for pride’s sake.

“You go an’ git him a mite o’ water,” whispered Dilly, when they had finished. “I would, but I dunno the ways o’ this place. It’ll taste good to him.”

Molly nodded, and hurried away; presently she came back, bearing a tin cup, and Elvin drank, though he did not thank her.

In the early afternoon, Ebenezer Tolman came striding down between the pens in ostentatious indignation. He was a tall, red-faced man, with a large, loose mouth, and blond-gray whiskers, always parted and blowing in the wind. He wore, with manifest pride, the reputation of being a dangerous animal when roused. He had bought a toy whip, at little Davie’s earnest solicitation, and, lashing it suggestively against his boot, he began speaking long before he reached the little group. The lagging crowd of listeners paused, breathless, to lose no word.

“Look here, you! don’t ye darken my doors ag’in, an’ don’t ye dast to open your head to one o’ my folks! We’re done with ye! Do you hear? We’re done with ye! Rosy’ll ride home with me to-night, an’ she’ll ride with you no more!”

Elvin said nothing, though his brow contracted suddenly at Rosa’s name. Ebenezer was about to speak again; but the little parson came striding swiftly up, his long coat flying behind him, and Tolman, who was a church-member, in good and regular standing, moved on. But the parson was routed, in his turn. Dilly rose, and, as some one afterwards said, “clipped it right up to him.”

“Don’t you come now, dear,” she advised him, in that persuasive voice of hers. “No, don’t you come now. He ain’t ready. You go away, an’ let him set an’ think it out.” And the parson, why he knew not, turned about, and went humbly back to his preaching in the hall.

The afternoon wore on, and it began to seem as if Elvin would never break from his trance, and never speak. Finally, after watching him a moment with her keen eyes, Dilly touched him lightly on the arm.

“The Tolmans have drove home,” she said, quietly. “All on ’em. What if you should git your horse, an’ take Molly an’ me along?”

Elvin came to his feet with a lurch. He straightened himself.

“I’ve got to talk to the parson,” said he.

“So I thought,” answered Dilly, with composure, “but ’tain’t no place here. You ask him to ride, an’ let Miss Dorcas drive home alone. We four’ll stop at my house, an’ then you can talk it over.”

Elvin obeyed, like a child tired of his own way. When they packed themselves into the wagon,–where Dilly insisted on sitting behind, to make room,–the Tiverton and Sudleigh people stood about in groups, to watch them. Hiram Cole came forward, just as Elvin took up the reins.

“Elvin,” said he, in a cautious whisper, with his accustomed gesture of scraping his cheek, “I’ve got suthin’ to say to ye. Don’t ye put no money into Dan Forbes’s hands. I’ve had a letter from brother ‘Lisha, out in Illinois, an’ he says that business Dan wrote to you about–well, there never was none! There ain’t a stick o’ furniture made there! An’ Dan’s been cuttin’ a dash lately with money he got som’er’s or other, an’ he’s gambled, an’ I dunno what all, an’ been took up. An’ now he’s in jail. So don’t you send him nothin’. I thought I’d speak.”

Elvin looked at him a moment, with a strange little smile dawning about his mouth.

“That’s all right,” he said, quickly, and drove away.

To Molly, the road home was like a dark passage full of formless fears. She did not even know what had befallen the dear being she loved best; but something dire and tragic had stricken him, and therefore her. The parson was acutely moved for the anguish he had not probed. Only Dilly remained cheerful. When they reached her gate, it was she who took the halter from Elvin’s hand, and tied the horse. Then she walked up the path, and flung open her front door.

“Come right into the settin’-room,” she said. “I’ll git ye some water right out o’ the well. My throat’s all choked up o’ dust.”

The cheerful clang of the bucket against the stones, the rumble of the windlass, and then Dilly came in with a brimming bright tin dipper. She offered it first to the parson, and though she refilled it scrupulously for each pair of lips, it seemed a holy loving-cup. They sat there in the darkening room, and Dilly “stepped round” and began to get supper. Molly nervously joined her, and addressed her, once or twice, in a whisper. But Dilly spoke out clearly in, answer, as if rebuking her.

“Le’s have a real good time,” she said, when she had drawn the table forward and set forth her bread, and apples, and tea. “Passon, draw up! You drink tea, don’t ye? I don’t, myself. I never could bear to spile good water. But I keep it on hand for them that likes it. Elvin, here! You take this good big apple. It’s man’s size more ‘n woman’s, I guess.”

Elvin pushed back his chair.

“I ain’t goin’ to put a mouthful of victuals to my lips till I make up my mind whether I can speak or not,” he said, loudly.

“All right,” answered Dilly, placidly. “Bless ye! the teapot’ll be goin’ all night, if ye say so.”

Only Dilly and the parson made a meal; and when it was over, Parson True rose, as if his part of the strange drama must at last begin, and fell on his knees.

“Let us pray!”

Molly, too, knelt, and Elvin threw his arms upon the table, and laid his head upon them. But Dilly stood erect. From time to time, she glanced curiously from the parson to the lovely darkened world outside her little square of window, and smiled slightly, tenderly, as if out there she saw the visible God. The parson prayed for “this sick soul, our brother,” over and over, in many phrases, and with true and passionate desire. And when the prayer was done, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, and said, with a yearning persuasiveness,–

“Tell it now, my brother! Jesus is here.”

Elvin raised his head, with a sudden fierce gesture toward Dilly.

“She knows,” he said. “She can see the past. She’ll tell you what I’ve done.”

“I ‘ain’t got nothin’ to tell, dear,” answered Dilly, peacefully. “Everything you’ve done’s between you an’ God A’mighty. I ‘ain’t got nothin’ to tell!”

Then she went out, and, deftly unharnessing the horse, put him in her little shed, and gave him a feed of oats. The hens had gone to bed without their supper.

“No matter, biddies,” she said, conversationally, as she passed their roost. “I’ll make it up to you in the mornin’!”

When she entered the house again, Elvin still sat there, staring stolidly into the dusk. The parson was praying, and Molly, by the window, was holding the sill tightly clasped by both hands, as if threatening herself into calm. When the parson rose, he turned to Elvin, less like the pastor than the familiar friend. One forgot his gray hairs in the loving simplicity of his tone.

“My son,” he said, tenderly, “tell it all! God is merciful.”

But again Dilly put in her voice.

“Don’t you push him, Passon! Let him speak or not, jest as he’s a mind to. Let God A’mighty do it His way! Don’t _you_ do it!”

Darkness settled in the room, and the heavenly hunter’s-moon rose and dispelled it.

“O God! can I?” broke forth the young man. “O God! if I tell, I’ll go through with it. I will, so help me!”

The moving patterns of the vine at the window began to etch themselves waveringly on the floor. Dilly bent, and traced the outline of a leaf with her finger.

“I’ll tell!” cried Elvin, in a voice exultant over the prospect of freedom. “I’ll tell it all. I wanted money. The girl I meant to have was goin’ with somebody else, an’ I’d got to scrape together some money, quick. I burnt down my house an’ barn. I got the insurance money. I sent some of it out West, to put into that furniture business, an’ Dan Forbes has made way with it. I only kept enough to take Rosa an’ me out there. I’ll give up that, an’ go to jail; an’ if the Lord spares my life, when I come out I’ll pay it back, principal an’ int’rest.”

Molly gave one little moan, and buried her face in her hands. The parson and Dilly rose, by one impulse, and went forward to Elvin, who sat upright, trembling from excitement past. Dilly reached him first. She put both her hands on his forehead, and smoothed back his hair.

“Dear heart,” she said, in a voice thrilled through by music,–“dear heart! I was abroad that night, watchin’ the stars, an’ I see it all. I see ye do it. You done it real clever, an’ I come nigh hollerin’ out to ye, I was so pleased, when I see you was determined to save the livestock. An’ that barn-cat, dear, that old black Tom that’s ketched my chickens so long!–you ‘most broke your neck to save him. But I never should ha’ told, dear, never! ‘specially sence you got out the creatur’s.”

“And ‘in Christ shall all be made alive!'” said the parson, wiping his eyes, and then beginning to pat Elvin’s hand with both his own. “Now, what shall we do? What shall we do? Why not come home with me, and stay over night? My dear wife will be glad to see you. And the morning will bring counsel.”

Elvin had regained a fine freedom of carriage, and a decision of tone long lost to him. He was dignified by the exaltation of the moment.

“I’ve got it all fixed,” he said, like a man. “I thought it all out under that elm-tree, today. You drive me over to Sheriff Holmes’s, an’ he’ll tell me what’s right to do,–whether I’m to go to the insurance people, or whether I’m to be clapped into jail. He’ll know. It’s out o’ my hands. I’ll go an’ harness now.”

Parson True drew Molly forward from her corner, and held her hand, while he took Elvin’s, and motioned Dilly to complete the circle.

“Jesus Christ be with us!” he said, solemnly. “God, our Father, help us to love one another more and more tenderly because of our sins!”

While Elvin was harnessing, a dark figure came swiftly through the moonlight.

“Elvin,” whispered Molly, sharply. “O Elvin, I can’t bear it! You take what money you’ve got, an’ go as fur as you can. Then you work, an’ I’ll work, an’ we’ll pay ’em back. What good will it do, for you to go to jail? Oh, what good will it do!”

“Poor little Molly!” said he. “You do care about me, don’t you? I sha’n’t forget that, wherever I am.”

Molly came forward, and threw her arms about him passionately.

“Go! go!” she whispered, fiercely. “Go now! I’ll drive you some’er’s an’ bring the horse back. Don’t wait! I don’t want a hat.”

Elvin smoothed her hair.

“No,” said he, gravely, “you’ll see it different, come mornin’. The things of this world ain’t everything. Even freedom ain’t everything. There’s somethin’ better. Good-by, Molly. I don’t know how long a sentence they give; but when they let me out, I shall come an’ tell you what I think of you for standin’ by. Parson True!”

The parson came out, and Dilly followed. When the two men were seated in the wagon, she bent forward, and laid her hand on Elvin’s, as it held the reins.

“Don’t you be afraid,” she said, lovingly. “If they shet ye up, you remember there ain’t nothin’ to be afraid of but wrong-doin’, an’ that’s only a kind of a sickness we al’ays git well of. An’ God A’mighty’s watchin’ over us all the time. An’ if you’ve sp’iled your chance in this life, don’t you mind. There’s time enough. Plenty o’ time, you says to yourself, plenty!”

She drew back, and they drove on. Molly, in heart-sick sobbing, threw herself forward into the little woman’s arms, and Dilly held her with an unwearied cherishing.

“There, there, dear!” she said, tenderly. “Ain’t it joyful to think he’s got his soul out o’ prison, where he shet it up? He’s all free now. It’s jest as if he was born into a new world, to begin all over.”

“But, Dilly, I love him so! An’ I can’t do anything! not a thing! O Dilly, yes! yes! Oh, it’s little enough, but I could! I could save my shoe-shop money, an’ help him pay his debt, when he’s out o’ jail.”

“Yes,” said Dilly, joyously. “An’ there’s more’n that you can do. You can keep him in your mind, all day long, an’ all night long, an’ your sperit’ll go right through the stone walls, if they put him there, an’ cheer him up.

“He won’t know how, but so it’ll be, dear, so it’ll be. Folks don’t know why they’re uplifted sometimes, when there ain’t no cause; but _I_ say it’s other folks’s love. Now you come in, dear, an’ we’ll make the bed–it’s all aired complete–an’ then we’ll go to sleep, an’ see if we can’t dream us a nice, pleasant dream,–all about green gardins, an’ the folks we love walking in the midst of ’em!”


Miss Dorcas True stood in her square front entry, saying good-by to Phoebe Marsh. The entry would have been quite dark from its time-stained woodwork and green paper, except for the twilight glimmer swaying and creeping through the door leading into the garden. Out there were the yellow of coreopsis, and the blue of larkspur, melted into a dim magnificence of color, suffusing all the air; to one who knew what common glory was a-blowing and a-growing there without, the bare seclusion of the house might well seem invaded by it, like a heavenly flood. Phoebe, too, in her pink calico, appeared to spread abroad the richness of her youth and bloom, and radiate a certain light about her where she stood. She was tall, her proportions were ample, and her waist very trim. She had the shoulders and arms of the women of an elder time, whom we classify vaguely now as goddesses. The Tiverton voices argued that she would have been “real handsome if she’d had any sense about doin’ her hair;” which was brought down loosely over her ears, in the fashion of her Aunt Phoebe’s miniature. Miss Dorcas beside her looked like one of autumn’s brown, quiescent stems left standing by the way. She was firmly built, yet all her lines subdued themselves to that meagreness which ever dwells afar from beauty. The deep marks of hard experience had been graven on her forehead, and her dark eyes burned inwardly; the tense, concentrated spark of pain and the glowing of happy fervor seemed as foreign to them as she herself to all the lighter joys and hopes. Her only possibility of beauty lay in an abundance of soft dark hair; but even that had been restricted and coiled into a compact, utilitarian compass. She had laid one nervous hand on Phoebe’s arm, and she grasped the arm absently, from time to time, in talking, with unconscious joy in its rounded warmth. She spoke cautiously, so that her voice might not be heard within.

“Then you come over to-morrow, after the close of service, if it’s convenient. You can slip right into the kitchen, just as usual. Any news?”

Phoebe, too, lowered her voice, but the full sweetness of its quality thrilled out.

“Mary Frances Giles is going to be married next week. I’ve been down to see her things. She’s real pleased.”

“You don’t suppose they’ll ask father to marry ’em?” Miss Dorcas spoke quite eagerly.

“Oh, no, they can’t! It’s a real wedding, you know. It’s got to be at the house.”

“Yes, of course it’s got to! I knew that myself, but I couldn’t help hoping. Well, goodnight. You come Sunday.”

Phoebe lifted her pink skirts about her, and stepped, rustling and stately, down the garden walk. Miss Dorcas drew one deep breath of the outer fragrance, and turned back into the house. A thin voice, enfeebled and husky from old age, rose in the front room, as she entered:

“Dorcas! Dorcas! you had a caller?”

Her father, old Parson True, lay in the great bed opposite the window. A thin little twig of a man, he was still animated, at times, by the power of a strenuous and dauntless spirit. His hair, brushed straight back from the overtopping forehead, had grown snowy white, and the eager, delicate face beneath wore a strange pathos from the very fineness of its nervously netted lines. Not many years after his wife’s death, the parson had shown some wandering of the wits; yet his disability, like his loss, had been mercifully veiled from him. He took calmly to his bed, perhaps through sheer lack of interest in life, and it became his happy invention that he was “not feeling well,” from one day to another, but that, on the next Sunday, he should rise and preach. He seemed like an unfortunate and uncomplaining child, and the village folk took pride in him as something all their own; a pride enhanced by his habit, in this weak estate, of falling back into the homely ways of speech he had used long ago when he was a boy “on the farm.” In his wife’s day, he had stood in the pulpit above them, and expounded scriptural lore in academic English; now he lapsed into their own rude phrasing, and seemed to rest content in a tranquil certainty that nothing could be better than Tiverton ways and Tiverton’s homely speech.

“Dorcas,” he repeated, with all a child’s delight in his own cleverness, “you’ve had somebody here. I heard ye!”

Dorcas folded the sheet back over the quilt, and laid her hand on his hair, with all the tenderness of the strong when they let themselves brood over the weak.

“Only Phoebe, on her way home,” she answered, gently. “The doctor visited her school to-day. She thinks he may drop in to see you to-night. I guess he give her to understand so.”

The minister chuckled.

“Ain’t he a smart one?” he rejoined. “Smart as a trap! Dorcas, I ‘ain’t finished my sermon. I guess I shall have to preach an old one. You lay me out the one on the salt losin’ its savor, an’ I’ll look it over.”

“Yes, father.”

The same demand and the same answer, varied but slightly, had been exchanged between them every Saturday night for years. Dorcas replied now without thinking. Her mind had spread its wings and flown out into the sweet stillness of the garden and the world beyond; it even hastened on into the unknown ways of guesswork, seeking for one who should be coming. She strained her ears to hear the beating of hoofs and the rattle of wheels across the little, bridge. The dusk sifted in about the house, faster and faster; a whippoorwill cried from the woods. So she sat until the twilight had vanished, and another of the invisible genii was at hand, saying, “I am Night.”

“Dorcas!” called the parson again. He had been asleep, and seemed now to be holding himself back from a broken dream. “Dorcas, has your mother come in yet?”

“No, father.”

“Well, you wake me up when you see her down the road; and then you go an’ carry her a shawl. I dunno what to make o’ that cough!” His voice trailed sleepily off, and Dorcas rose and tiptoed out of the room. She felt the blood in her face; her ears thrilled noisily. The doctor’s, wagon, had crossed the bridge; now it was whirling swiftly up the road. She stationed herself in the entry, to lose no step in his familiar progress. The horse came lightly along, beating out a pleasant tune of easy haste. He was drawn up at the gate, and the doctor threw out his weight, and jumped buoyantly to the ground. There was the brief pause of reaching for his medicine-case, and then, with that firm step whose rhythm she knew so well, he was walking up the path. Involuntarily, as Dorcas awaited him, she put her hand to her heart with one of those gestures that seem so melodramatic and are so real; she owned to herself, with a throb of appreciative delight, how the sick must warm at his coming. This new doctor of Tiverton was no younger than Dorcas herself, yet with his erect carriage and merry blue eye she seemed to be not only of another temperament, but another time. It had never struck him that they were contemporaries. Once he had told Phoebe, in a burst of affection and pitying praise, that he should have liked Miss Dorcas for a maiden aunt.

“Good evening,” he said, heartily, one foot on the sill. “How’s the patient?”

At actual sight of him, her tremor vanished, and she answered very quietly,–

“Father’s asleep. I thought you wouldn’t want he should be disturbed; so I came out.”

The doctor took off his hat, and pushed back his thick, unruly hair.

“Yes, that was right,” he said absently, and pinched a spray of southernwood that grew beside the door. “How has he seemed?”

“About as usual.”

“You’ve kept on with the tonic?”


“That’s good! Miss Dorcas, look up there. See that moon! See that wisp of an old blanket dragging over her face! Do you mind coming out and walking up and down the road while we talk? I may think of one or two directions to give about your father.”

Dorcas stepped forward with the light obedience given to happy tasking. She paused as! quickly.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I can’t. Father might wake up. I never leave him alone.”

“Never mind, then! let’s sit right down here on the steps. After all, perhaps it’s pleasanter. What a garden! It’s like my mother’s. I could pick out every leaf in the dark, by the smell. But you’re alone, aren’t you? I’m not keeping you from any one?”

“Oh, no! I’m all alone, except father.”

“Yes. The fact is, I went into your school to-day, and the teacher said she was coming here to-night. She offered to bring you a message, but I said I should come myself. I’m abominably late. I couldn’t get here any earlier.”

“Oh, yes! Phoebe! She was here over an hour ago. Phoebe’s a real comfort to me.” She was seated on the step above him, and it seemed very pleasant to her to hear his voice, without encountering also the challenge of his eyes.

“No, is she though?” The doctor suddenly faced round upon her. “Tell me about it!”

Then, quite to her surprise, Dorcas found herself talking under the spell of an interest so eager that it bore her on, entirely without her own guidance.

“Well, you see there’s a good many things I keep from father. He never’s been himself since mother died. She was the mainstay here. But he thinks the church prospers just the same, and I never’ve told him the attendance dropped off when they put up that ‘Piscopal building over to Sudleigh. You ‘ain’t lived here long enough to hear much about that, but it’s been a real trial to him. The summer boarders built it, and some rich body keeps it up; and our folks think it’s complete to go over there and worship, and get up and down, and say their prayers out loud.”

The doctor laughed out.

“I’ve heard about it,” said he. “You know what Brad Freeman told Uncle Eli Pike, when they went in to see how the service was managed? Somebody found the places in the prayer-book for them, and Brad was quick-witted, and got on very well; but Eli kept dropping behind. Brad nudged him. ‘Read!’ he said out loud. ‘Read like the devil!’ I’ve heard that story on an average of twice a day since I came to Tiverton. I’m not tired of it yet!”

Miss Dorcas, too, had heard it, and shrunk from its undisguised profanity. Now she laughed responsively.

“I guess they do have queer ways,” she owned. “Well, I never let father know any of our folks go over there. He’d be terrible tried. And I’ve made it my part in our meeting to keep up the young folks’ interest as much as I can. I’ve been careful never to miss my Sunday-school class. They’re all girls, nice as new pins, every one of ’em! Phoebe was in it till a little while ago, but now she comes here and sits in the kitchen while I’m gone. I don’t want father to know that, for I hope it never’ll come into his head he’s so helpless; but I should be worried to death to have him left alone. So Phoebe sits there with her book, ready to spring if she should hear anything out o’ the way.”

The doctor had lapsed into his absent mood, but now he roused himself, with sudden interest.

“That’s very good of her, isn’t it?” he said “You trust her, don’t you?”

“Trust Phoebe! Well, I guess I do! I’ve known her ever since she went to Number Five, and now she’s keeping the school herself. She’s a real noble girl!”

“Tell me more!” said the doctor, warmly. “I want to hear it all. You’re so new to me here in Tiverton! I want to get acquainted.”

Miss Dorcas suddenly felt as if she had been talking a great deal, and an overwhelming shyness fell upon her.

“There isn’t much to tell,” she hesitated. “I don’t know’s anything’d happened to me for years, till father had his ill-turn in the spring, and we called you in. He don’t seem to realize his sickness was anything much. I’ve told the neighbors not to dwell on it when they’re with him. Phoebe won’t; she’s got some sense.”

“Has she?” said the doctor, still eagerly. “I’m glad of that, for your sake!” He rose to go, but stood a moment near the steps, dallying with a reaching branch of jessamine; it seemed persuading him to stay. He had always a cheery manner, but to-night it was brightened by a dash of something warm and reckless. He had the air of one awaiting good news, in confidence of its coming. Dorcas was alive to the rapt contagion, and her own blood thrilled. She felt young.

“Well!” said he, “well, Miss Dorcas!” He took a step, and then turned back. “Well, Miss Dorcas,” he said again, with an embarrassed laugh, “perhaps you’d like to gather in one more church-goer. If I have time tomorrow, I’ll drop in to your service, and then I’ll come round here, and tell your father I went.”

Dorcas rose impulsively. She could have stretched out her hands to him, in the warmth of her gratitude.

“Oh, if you would! Oh, how pleased he’d be!”

“All right!” Now he turned away with decision. “Thank you, Miss Dorcas, for staying out. It’s a beautiful evening. I never knew such a June. Good-night!” He strode down the walk, and gave a quick word to his horse, who responded in whinnying welcome. An instant’s delay, another word, and they were gone.

Dorcas stood listening to the scatter of hoofs down the dusty road and over the hollow ledge. She sank back on the sill, and, step by step, tried to retrace the lovely arabesque the hour had made. At last, she had some groping sense of the full beauty of living, when friendship says to its mate, “Tell me about yourself!” and the frozen fountain wells out, every drop cheered and warmed, as it falls, in the sunshine of sympathy. She saw in him that perfection of life lying in strength, which he undoubtedly had, and beauty, of which he had little or much according as one chose to think well of him. To her aching sense, he was a very perfect creature, gifted with, infinite capacities for help and comfort.

But the footfalls ceased, and the garden darkened by delicate yet swift degrees; a cloud had gone over the moon, fleecy, silver-edged, but still a cloud. The waning of the light seemed to her significant; she feared lest some bitter change might befall the moment; and went in, bolting the door behind her. Once within her own little bedroom, she loosened her hair, and moved about aimlessly, for a time, careless of sleep, because it seemed so far. Then a sudden resolve nerved her, and she stole back again to the front door, and opened it. The night was blossoming there, glowing now, abundant. It was so rich, so full! The moonlight here, and star upon star above, hidden not by clouds but by the light! Need she waste this one night out of all her unregarded life? She stepped forth among the flower-beds, stooping, in a passionate fervor, to the blossoms she could reach; but, coming back to the southernwood, she took it in her arms. She laid her face upon it, and crushed the soft leaves against her cheeks. It made all the world smell of its own balm and dew. The fragrance and beauty of the time passed into her soul, and awakened corners there all unused to such sweet incense. She was drunken with the wine that is not of grapes. She could not have found words for the passion that possessed her, though she hugged it to her heart like another self; but it was elemental, springing from founts deeper than those of life and death. God made it, and, like all His making, it was divine. She sat there, the southernwood still gathered into her arms, and at last emotion stilled itself, and passed into thought; a wild temptation rose, and with its first whisper drove a hot flush into her cheeks, and branded it there. Love! she had never named the name in its first natal significance. She had scarcely read it; for romance, even in books, had passed her by. But love! she knew it as the insect knows how to spread his new sun-dried wings in the air for which he was create. Sitting there, in a happy drowse, she thought it all out. She was old, plain, unsought; the man she exalted was the flower of his kind. He would never look on her as if she might touch the hem of wifehood’s mantle; so there would be no shame in choosing him. Just to herself, she might name the Great Name. He would not know. Only her own soul would know, and God who gave it, and sent it forth fitted with delicate, reaching tentacles to touch