The Little Room
by Madelene Yale Wynne
"HOW would it do for a smoking-room?"
"Just the very place; only, you know, Roger, you
must not think of smoking in the house. I am
almost afraid having just a plain common man
around, let alone a smoking-man, will upset Aunt
Hannah. She is New England--Vermont New England
"You leave Aunt Hannah to me: I shall find her
tender side. I am going to ask her about the old
sea-captain and the yellow calico."
"Not yellow calico--blue chintz."
"Well, yellow shell, then."
"No, no! don't mix it up so; you won't know
yourself what to expect, and that's half the fun."
"Now you tell me again exactly what to expect: to
tell the truth, I didn't half hear about it the
other day; I was wool-gathering. It was something
queer that happened when you were a child, wasn't
"Something that began to happen long before that,
and kept happening, and may happen again; but I
"What was it?"
"I wonder if the other people in the car can hear
"I fancy not; we don't hear them--not
consecutively at least."
"Well, mother was born in Vermont, you know; she
was the only child by a second marriage. Aunt
Hannah and Aunt Maria are only half aunts to me,
"I hope they are half as nice as you are."
"Roger, be still; they certainly will hear us."
"Well, don't you want them to know we are
"Yes, but not just married. There's all the
difference in the world."
"You are afraid we look too happy!"
"No; only I want my happiness all to myself."
"Well, the little room?"
"My aunts brought mother up; they were nearly
twenty years older than she. I might say Hiram and
they brought her up. You see, Hiram was bound out
to grandfather when he was a boy, and when
grandfather died Hiram said he s'posed he went
with the farm, 'long o' the critters,' and he has
been there ever since. He was my mother's only
refuge from the decorum of my aunts. They are
simply workers. They make me think of the Maine
woman who wanted her epitaph to be, 'She was a hard
"They must be almost beyond their working-days.
How old are they?"
"Seventy, or thereabouts; but they will die
standing; or, at least, on a Saturday night, after
all the house-work is done up. They were rather
strict with mother, and I think she had a lonely
childhood. The house is almost a mile away from
any neighbors, and off on top of what they call
Stony Hill. It is bleak enough up there even in
"When Mamma was about ten years old they sent her
to cousins in Brooklyn, who had children of their
own, and knew more about bringing them up. She
staid there till she was married: she didn't go to
Vermont in all that time, and of course hadn't seen
her sisters, for they never would leave home for a
day. They couldn't even be induced to go to
Brooklyn to her wedding so she and father took
their wedding trip up there."
"And that's why we are going up there on our
"Don't, Roger; you have no idea how loud you
"You never say so except when I am going to say
that one little word."
"Well, don't say it, then or say it very, very
"Well, what was the queer thing?"
"When they got to the house, mother wanted to
take father right off into the little room; she had
been telling him about it, just as I am going to
tell you and she had said that of all the rooms
that one was the only one that seemed pleasant to
her. She described the furniture and the books and
paper and everything, and said it was on the north
side, between the front and back room. Well,
when they went to look for it, there was no little
room there; there was only a shallow china-closet.
She asked her sisters when the house had been
altered and a closet made of the room that used to
be there. They both said the house was exactly as
it had been built--that they had never made any
changes, except to tear down the old wood-shed and
build a smaller one.
"Father and mother laughed a good deal over it,
and when anything was lost they would always say it
must be in the little room, and any exaggerated
statement was called 'little-roomy." When I was a
child I thought that was a regular English phrase,
I heard it so often.
"Well, they talked it over, and finally they
concluded that my mother had been a very
imaginative sort of a child and had read in some
book about such a little room, or perhaps even
dreamed it, and then had 'made believe,' as
children do till she herself had really thought the
room was there."
"Why, of course, that might easily happen."
"Yes, but you haven't heard the queer part yet;
you wait and see if you can explain the rest as
"They staid at the farm two weeks and
then went to New York to live. When I was
eight years old my father was killed in the
war, and mother was broken-hearted. She
never was quite strong afterwards, and that
summer we decided to go up to the farm for
"I was a restless sort of a child, and
the journey seemed very long to me: and
finally, to pass the time mamma told me the
story of the little room, and how it was
all in her own imagination and how there
really was only a china-closet there.
"She told it with all the particulars;
and even to me, who knew beforehand that
the room wasn't there, it seemed just as
real as could be. She said it was on the
north side, between the front and back
rooms; that it was very small, and they
sometimes called it an entry. There was a
door also that opened out-of-doors, and
that one was painted green and was cut in
the middle like the old Dutch doors so that
it could be used for a window by opening
the top part only. Directly opposite the
door was a lounge or couch; it was covered
with blue chintz--India chintz--some that
had been brought over by an old Salem
sea-captain as a 'venture.' He had given
it to Maria when she was a young girl. She
was sent to Salem for two years to school.
Grandfather originally came from Salem."
"I thought there wasn't any room or
"That is just it. They had decided that
mother had imagined it all, and yet you see
how exactly everything was painted in her
mind, for she had even remembered that
Hiram had told her that Maria could have
married the sea-captain if she had wanted
"The India cotton was the regular blue
stamped chintz, with the peacock figure on
it. The head and body of the bird were in
profile, while the tail was full front view
behind it. It had seemed to take mamma's
fancy, and she drew it for me on a piece of
paper as she talked. Doesn't it seem
strange to you that she could have made all
that up, or even dreamed it?
"At the foot of the lounge were some
hanging shelves with some old books on
them. All the books were leather-colored
except one; that was bright red, and was
called the Ladies' Album. It made a
bright break between the other thicker
"On the lower shelf was a beautiful pink
sea-shell, lying on a mat made of balls of
red shaded worsted. This shell was greatly
coveted by mother, but she was only allowed
to play with it when she had been
particularly good. Hiram had showed her
how to hold it close to her ear and hear
the roar of the sea in it.
"I know you will like Hiram, Roger, he is
quite a character in his way.
"Mamma said she remembered, or thought
she remembered, having been sick once, and
she had to lie quietly for some days on the
lounge; then was the time she had become so
familiar with everything in the room, and
she had been allowed to have the shell to
play with all the time. She had had her
toast brought to her in there, with
make-believe tea. It was one of her
pleasant memories of her childhood; it was
the first time she had been of any
importance to anybody, even herself.
"Right at the head of the lounge was a
light-stand, as they called it, and on it
was a very brightly polished brass candle-stick
and a brass tray, with snuffers.
That is all I remember of her describing,
except that there was a braided rag rug on
the floor, and on the wall was a beautiful
flowered paper--roses and morning-glories
in a wreath on a light blue ground. The
same paper was in the front room."
"And all this never existed except in her
"She said that when she and father went
up there, there wasn't any little room at
all like it anywhere in the house; there
was a china-closet where she had believed
the room to be."
"And your aunts said there had never been
any such room."
"That is what they said."
"Wasn't there any blue chintz in the
house-with a peacock figure?"
"Not a scrap, and Aunt Hannah said there
had never been any that she could remember;
and Maria just echoed her--she always does
that. You see, Aunt Hannah is an
up-and-down New England woman. She looks
just like herself; I mean just like her
character. Her joints move up and down or
backward and forward in a plain square
fashion. I don't believe she ever leaned
on anything in he life, or sat in an easy
chair. But Maria is different; she is
rounder and softer; she hasn't any ideas of
her own: she never had any. I don't
believe she would think it right or
becoming to have one that differed from
Aunt Hannah's, so what would be the use of
having any? She is an echo, that's all.
"When mamma and I got there, of course I
was all excitement to see the china-closet,
and I had a sort of feeling that it would
be the little room after all. So I ran
ahead and threw open the door. Crying,
'Come and see the little room.'
"And, Roger,"said Mrs. Grant, laying her
hand in his, "there really was a little
room there, exactly as mother had
remembered it. There was the lounge, the
peacock chintz, the green door, the shell,
the morning-glory and rose paper,
everything exactly as she had described it
"What in the world did the sisters say
"Wait a minute and I will tell you. My
mother was in the front hall still talking
with Aunt Hannah. She didn't hear me at
first but I ran out there and dragged her
through the front room, saying, The room
is here--it is all right'
"It seemed for a minute as if my mother
would faint. She clung to me in terror. I
can remember now how strained her eyes
looked and how pale she was.
"I called out to Aunt Hannah and asked
her when they had had the closet taken away
and the little room built; for in my
excitement I thought that that was what had
"'That little room has always been
there,' said Aunt Hannah, 'ever since the
house was built.'
"'But mamma said there wasn't any little
room here, only a china-closet, when she
was here with papa,' said I.
"'No, there has never been any
china-closet there; it has always been just as it
is now,' said Aunt Hannah.
"Then mother spoke; her voice sounded
weak and far off. She said, slowly, and
with an effort, 'Maria, don't you remember
that you told me that there had never been
any little room here? and Hannah said so
too, and then I said I must have dreamed
"'No, I don't remember anything of the
kind,' said Maria, without the slightest
emotion. 'I don't remember you ever said
anything about any china-closet; the house
has never been altered; you used to play in
this room when you were a child, don't you
" I know it,' said mother, in that queer
slow voice that made me feel frightened.
Hannah, don't you remember my finding the
china-closet here, with the gilt-edged
china on the shelves, and then you said
that the china-closet has always been
" No,' said Hannah, pleasantly but
unemotionally--'no, I don't think you ever
asked me about any china-closet, and we
haven't any gilt-edged china that I know
"And that was the strangest thing about
it. We never could make them remember that
there had ever been any question about it.
You would think they could remember how
surprised mother had been before, unless
she had imagined the whole thing. Oh, it
was so queer! they were always pleasant
about it, didn't seem to feel any interest
or curiosity. It was always this answer:
The house is just as it was built; there
have never been any changes, so far as we
"And my mother was in an agony of
perplexity. How cold their gray eyes
looked to me! There was no reading
anything in them. I just seemed to break
my mother down, this queer thing. Many
times that summer, in the middle of the
night, I have seen her get up and take a
candle and creep softly down stairs. I
could hear the steps creak softly under her
weight. Then she would go through the
front room and peer into the darkness,
holding her thin hand between the candle
and her eyes. She seemed to think the
little room might vanish. Then she would
come back to bed and toss about all night,
or lie still and shiver; it used to
"She grew pale and thin, and she had a
little cough; then she did not like to be
left alone. Sometimes she would make
errands in order to send me to the little
room for something--a book, or her fan, or
her handkerchief; but she would never sit
there or let me stay in there long, and
sometimes she wouldn't let me go in there
for days together. Oh, it was pitiful!"
"Well, don't talk any more about it,
Margaret, if it makes you feel so," said
"Oh, yes, I want you to know all about
it, and then there isn't much more--no more
about the room.
"Mother never got well, and she died that
autumn. She used often to sigh, and say,
with a wan little laugh, There is one
thing I am glad of, Margaret: your father
knows now all about the little room.' I
think she was afraid I distrusted her. Of
course, in a child's way, I thought there
was something queer about it, but I did not
brood over it. I was too young then, and
took it as a part of her illness. But
Roger, do you know, it really did affect
me. I almost hate to go there after
talking about it; I somehow feel as if it
might, you know, be a china-closet again."
"That's an absurd idea."
"I know it; of course it can't be. I saw
the room, and there isn't any china-closet
there, and no gilt-edged china in the
"And then she whispered, "But, Roger, you
may hold my hand as you do now, if you
will, when we go to look for the little
"And you won't mind Aunt Hannah's gray
"I won't mind anything."
It was dusk when Mr. and Mrs. Grant went
into the gate under the two old Lombardy
poplars and walked up the narrow path to
the door, where they were met by the two
Hannah gave Mrs. Grant a frigid but not
unfriendly kiss; and Maria seemed for a
moment to tremble on the verge of an
emotion, but she glanced at Hannah, and
then gave er greeting in exactly the same
repressed and non-committal way.
Supper was waiting for them. On the
table was the gilt-edged china. Mrs. Grant
didn't notice it immediately, till she saw
her husband smiling at her over his teacup;
then she felt fidgety and couldn't eat.
She was nervous, and kept wondering what
was behind her, whether it would be a
little room or a closet.
After supper she offered to help about
the dishes, but, mercy! she might as well
have offered to help bring the seasons
round; Maria and Hannah couldn't be helped.
So she and her husband went to find the
little room, or closet, or whatever was to
Aunt Maria followed them, carrying the
lamp, which she set down, and then went
back to the dish-washing.
Margaret looked at her husband. He
kissed her, for she seemed troubled; and
then, hand in hand, they opened the door.
It opened into a china-closet. The shelves
were neatly draped with scalloped paper; on
them was the gilt-edged china, with the
dishes missing that had been used at the
supper, and which at that moment were being
carefully washed and wiped by the two
Margaret's husband dropped her hand and
looked at her. She was trembling a little,
and turned to him for help, for some
explanation, but in an instant she knew
that something was wrong. A cloud had come
between them; he was hurt; he was
He paused for an appreciable instant, and
then said kindly enough, but in a voice
that cut her deeply,
"I am glad this ridiculous thing is ended;
don't let us speak of it again."
"Ended!" said she. "How ended?" And
somehow her voice sounded to her as her
mother's voice had when she stood there and
questioned her sisters about the little
room. She seemed to have to drag her words
out. She spoke slowly: "It seems to me to
have only just begun in my case. It was
just so with mother when she--"
"I really wish, Margaret, you would let
it drop. I don't like to hear you speak of
your mother in connection wit it. It--" He
hesitated, for was not this their wedding-day?
"It doesn't seem quite the thing, quite
delicate, you know, to use her name in the
She saw it all now: he didn't believe
her. She felt a chill sense of withering
under his glance.
"Come," he added, "let us go out, or into
the dining-room, somewhere, anywhere, only
drop this nonsense."
He went out; he did not take her hand
now--he was vexed, baffled, hurt. Had he
not given her his sympathy, his attention,
his belief--and his hand?--and she was
fooling him. What did it mean?--she was so
truthful, so free from morbidness--a thing
he hated. He walked up and down under the
poplars, trying to get into the mood to and
join her in the house.
Margaret heard him go out; then she
turned and shook the shelves; she reached
her hand behind them and tried to push the
boards away; she ran out of the house on to
the north side and tried to find in the
darkness, with her hands, a door, or some
steps leading to one. She tore her dress
on the old rose-trees, she fell and rose
and stumbled, then she sat down on the
ground and tried to think. What could she
think--was she dreaming?
She went into the house and out into the
kitchen, and begged Aunt Maria to tell her
about the little room--what had become of
it, when had they built the closet, when
had they bought the gilt-edged china?
They went on washing dishes and drying
them on the spotless towels with methodical
exactness; and as they worked they said
that there had never been any little room,
so far as they knew; the china-closet has
always been there, and the gilt-edged china
had belonged to their mother, it had always
been in the house.
"No. I don't remember that your mother
ever asked about any little room," said
Hannah. "She didn't seem very well that
summer, but she never asked about any
changes in the house; there hadn't ever
been any changes."
There it was again: not a sign of
interest, curiosity, or annoyance, not a
spark of memory.
She went out to Hiram. He was telling
Mr. Grant about the farm. She had meant to
ask him about the room, but her lips were
sealed before her husband.
Months afterwards, when time had lessened
the sharpness of their feelings, they
learned to speculate reasonably about the
phenomenon, which Mr. Grant had accepted as
something not to be scoffed away, not to be
treated as a poor joke, but to be put aside
as something inexplicable on any ordinary
Margaret alone in her heart knew that her
mothers's words carried a deeper
significance than she had dreamed of at the
time. "One thing I am glad of, your father
knows now," and she wondered if Roger or
she would ever know.
Five years later they were going to
Europe. The packing was done; the children
were lying asleep, with their travelling
things ready to be slipped on for an early
Roger had a foreign appointment. They
were not to be back in America for some
years. She had meant to go up say good-by
to her aunts; but a mother of three
children intends to do a great many things
that never get done. One thing she had
sone that a very day, and as she paused for
a moment between the writing of two notes
that must be posted before she went to bed,
"Roger, you remember Rita Lash? Well,
she and Cousin Nan go up to the Adirondacks
every autumn. They are clever girls, and I
have intrusted to them something I want
done very much."
"They are the girls to do it then, every
inch of them."
"I know it, and they are going to."
"Why, you see, Roger, that little room--"
"Yes, I was a coward not to go up myself,
but I didn't find time, because I hadn't
"Oh! that was it, was it?"
"Yes, just that. They are going, and
they will write us but it."
"Want to bet?"
"No; I only want to know."
Rita Lash and Cousin Nan planned to go to
Vermont on their way to the Adirondacks.
They found they would have three hours
between trains, which would give them time
to drive up to the Keys farm, and they
could still get to the camp that night.
But, at the last minute, Rita was prevented
from going. Nan had to go to meet the
Adirondack party, and she promised to
telegraph her when she arrived at camp.
Imagine Rita's amusement when she received
this message: "Safely arrived; went to the
Keys farm; it is a little room."
Rita was amused, because she did not in
the least think Nan had been there. She
thought it was a hoax; but it put it into
her mind to carry the joke further by
really stopping herself when she went up,
as she meant to do the next week.
She did stop over. She introduced
herself to the two maiden ladies, who
seemed familiar, as they had been described
by Mrs. Grant.
They were, if not cordial, at least not
disconcerted at her visit, and willingly
showed her over the house. As they did not
speak of any other stranger's having been
to see them lately, she became confirmed in
her belief that Nan had not been there.
In the north room she saw the roses and
morning glory paper on the wall, and also
the door that should open into--what?
She asked if she might open it.
"Certainly," said Hannah; and Maria
She opened it and found the china-closet.
She experienced a certain relief; she at
least was not under any spell. Mrs. Grant
left it a china-closet; she found it the
But she tried to induce the old sisters
to remember that there had at various times
been certain questions relating to a
confusion as to whether the closet had
always been a closet. It was no use; their
stony eyes gave no sign.
Then she thought of the story of the sea-
captain, and said, "Miss Keys, did you ever
have a lounge covered with India chintz,
with a figure of a peacock on it, given to
you in Salem by a sea-captain, who brought
it from India?"
"I don'no' as I ever did," said Hannah.
That was all. She thought Maria's cheeks
were a little flushed, but her eyes were
like a stone wall.
She went on that night to the
Adirondacks. When Nan and she were alone
in their room she said, "By-the-way, Nan,
what did you see at the farm-house? and how
did you like Maria and Hannah?"
Nan didn't mistrust that Rita had been
there, and she began excitedly to tell her
all abut her visit. Rita could almost have
believed Nan had been there if she hadn't
known it was not so. She let her go on for
some time, enjoying her enthusiasm, and the
impressive way in which she described her
opening the door and finding the "little
room." Then Rita said: "Now, Nan, that is
enough fibbing. I went to the farm myself
on the way up yesterday, and there is no
little room, and there never has been any;
it is a china-closet, just as Mrs. Grant
saw it last."
She was pretending to be busy unpacking
her trunk, and did not look up for a
moment; but as Nan did not say anything,
she glanced over her shoulder. Nan was
actually pale, and it was hard to say
whether she was most angry or frightened.
There was something of both in her look.
And then Rita began to explain how her
telegram had put her in the spirit of going
up there alone. She hadn't meant to cut
Nan out. She only thought-- Then Nan
broke in: "It isn't that; I am sure you
can't think is is that. But I went myself,
and you did not go; you can't have been
there, for it is a little room."
Oh, what a night they had! They couldn't
sleep. They talked and argued, and then
kept still for a while, only to break out
again, it was so absurd. They both
maintained that they had been there, but
both felt sure the other one was either
crazy or obstinate beyond reason. They
were wretched; it was perfectly ridiculous,
two friends at odds over such a thing; but
her it was--"little room,"
"china-closet,"--"china closet," "little room."
The next morning Nan was tacking up some
tarlatan at a window to keep the midges
out. Rita offered to help her, as she had
done for the past ten years. Nan's "No,
thanks," cut her to the heart.
"Nan," said she, "come right down from
that stepladder and pack your satchel. The
stage leaves in just twenty minutes. We
can catch the afternoon express train, and
then we ill go together to the farm. I am
either going there or going home. You
better go with me."
Nan didn't say a word. She gathered up
the hammer and tacks, and was ready to
start when the stage came round.
It meant for them thirty miles of staging
and six hours of train, besides crossing
the lake; but what of that, compared with
having a lie lying round loose between
them! Europe would have seemed easy to
accomplish, if it would settle the
At the little junction in Vermont they
found a farmer with a wagon full of meal-bags.
They asked him if he could not take
them up to the old Keys farm and bring them
back in time for the return train, due in
They had planned to call it a sketching
trip, so they said, "We have been there
before, we are artists, and we might find
some views worth taking, and we also want
to make a short call upon the Misses Keys."
"Did ye calculate to paint the old house
in the picture?"
They said it was possible they might do
so. They wanted to see it, anyway.
"Waal, I guess you are too late. The
house burned down last night, and
everything in it."