Across the Years by Eleanor H. Porter
When Father and Mother Rebelled
The Axminster Path
Phineas and the Motor Car
The Most Wonderful Woman
The Price of a Pair of Shoes
The Long Road
A Couple of Capitalists
In the Footsteps of Katy
The Bridge Across the Years
A Summons Home
The Black Silk Gowns
A Belated Honeymoon
When Aunt Abby Waked Up
Wristers for Three
The Giving Thanks of Cyrus and Huldah
A New England Idol
The stories in this volume are here reprinted by the courteous
permission of the publishers of the periodicals in which they first
appeared,—The Ladies' Home Journal, Ainslee's Magazine, The Scrap
Book, The New England Magazine, The Pictorial Review, The Housewife,
The Pacific Monthly, The Arena, Lippincott's Magazine, Harper's Bazar,
The Century Magazine, Woman, Holland's Magazine, The Designer.
When Father and Mother Rebelled
“'Tain't more 'n a month ter Christmas, Lyddy Ann; did ye know it?”
said the old man, settling back in his chair with a curiously resigned
“Yes, I know, Samuel,” returned his wife, sending a swift glance
over the top of her glasses.
If Samuel Bertram noticed the glance he made no sign. “Hm!” he
murmured. “I've got ten neckerchiefs now. How many crocheted
bed-slippers you got?—eh?”
“Oh, Samuel!” remonstrated Lydia Ann feebly.
“I don't care,” asserted Samuel with sudden vehemence, sitting erect
in his chair. “Seems as if we might get somethin' for Christmas 'sides
slippers an' neckerchiefs. Jest 'cause we ain't so young as we once was
ain't no sign that we've lost all our faculty for enj'yment!”
“But, Samuel, they're good an' kind, an' want ter give us
somethin',” faltered Lydia Ann; “and—”
“Yes, I know they're good an' kind,” cut in Samuel wrathfully.
“We've got three children, an' each one brings us a Christmas present
ev'ry year. They've got so they do it reg'lar now, jest the same as
they—they go ter bed ev'ry night,” he finished, groping a little for
his simile. “An' they put jest about as much thought into it, too,” he
“My grief an' conscience, Samuel,—how can you talk so!” gasped the
little woman opposite.
“Well, they do,” persisted Samuel. “They buy a pair o' slippers an'
a neckerchief, an' tuck 'em into their bag for us—an' that's done; an'
next year they do the same—an' it's done again. Oh, I know I'm
ongrateful, an' all that,” acknowledged Samuel testily, “but I can't
help it. I've been jest ready to bile over ever since last Christmas,
an' now I have biled over. Look a-here, Lyddy Ann, we ain't so awful
old. You're seventy-three an' I'm seventy-six, an' we're pert as
sparrers, both of us. Don't we live here by ourselves, an' do most all
the work inside an' outside the house?”
“Yes,” nodded Lydia Ann timidly.
“Well, ain't there somethin' you can think of sides slippers you'd
like for Christmas—'specially as you never wear crocheted
Lydia Ann stirred uneasily. “Why, of course, Samuel,” she began
hesitatingly, “bed-slippers are very nice, an'—”
“So's codfish!” interrupted Samuel in open scorn. “Come,” he coaxed,
“jest supposin' we was youngsters again, a-tellin' Santa Claus what we
wanted. What would you ask for?”
Lydia Ann laughed. Her cheeks grew pink, and the lost spirit of her
youth sent a sudden sparkle to her eyes. “You'd laugh, dearie. I ain't
a-goin' ter tell.”
“I won't—'pon honor!”
“But it's so silly,” faltered Lydia Ann, her cheeks a deeper pink.
“Me— an old woman!”
“Of course,” agreed Samuel promptly. “It's bound ter be silly, ye
know, if we want anythin' but slippers an' neckerchiefs,” he added with
a chuckle. “Come—out with it, Lyddy Ann.”
“It's—it's a tree.”
“Dampers and doughnuts!” ejaculated Samuel, his jaw dropping. “A
“There, I knew you'd laugh,” quavered Lydia Ann, catching up her
“Laugh? Not a bit of it!” averred Samuel stoutly. “I—I want a tree
“Ye see, it's just this,” apologized Lydia Ann feverishly. “They
give us things, of course, but they never make anythin' of doin' it,
not even ter tyin' 'em up with a piece of red ribbon. They just slip
into our bedroom an' leave 'em all done up in brown paper an' we find
'em after they're gone. They mean it all kind, but I'm so tired of gray
worsted and sensible things. Of course I can't have a tree, an' I don't
suppose I really want it; but I'd like somethin' all pretty an' sparkly
an'—an' silly, you know. An' there's another thing I want—ice cream.
An' I want to make myself sick eatin' it, too,—if I want to; an' I
want little pink-an'-white sugar pep'mints hung in bags. Samuel, can't
you see how pretty a bag o' pink pep'mints 'd be on that green tree?
An'—dearie me!” broke off the little old woman breathlessly, falling
back in her chair. “How I'm runnin' on! I reckon I am in my
For a moment Samuel did not reply. His brow was puckered into a
prodigious frown, and his right hand had sought the back of his
head—as was always the case when in deep thought. Suddenly his face
“Ye ain't in yer dotage—by gum, ye ain't!” he cried excitedly. “An'
I ain't, neither. An' what's more, you're a-goin' ter have that
tree—ice cream, pink pep'mints, an' all!”
“Oh, my grief an' conscience—Samuel!” quavered Lydia Ann.
“Well, ye be. We can do it easy, too. We'll have it the night 'fore
Christmas. The children don't get here until Christmas day, ever, ye
know, so 't won't interfere a mite with their visit, an' 'twill be all
over 'fore they get here. An' we'll make a party of it, too,” went on
Samuel gleefully. “There's the Hopkinses an' old Mis' Newcomb, an'
Uncle Tim, an' Grandpa Gowin'—they'll all come an' be glad to.”
“Samuel, could we?” cried Lydia Ann, incredulous but joyous. “Could
“I'll get the tree myself,” murmured Samuel, aloud, “an' we can buy
some o' that shiny stuff up ter the store ter trim it.”
“An' I'll get some of that pink-an'-white tarl'tan for bags,” chimed
in Lydia Ann happily: “the pink for the white pep'mints, an' the white
for the pink. Samuel, won't it be fun?” And to hear her one would have
thought her seventeen instead of seventy-three.
* * * * *
A week before Christmas Samuel Bertram's only daughter, Ella, wrote
this letter to each of her brothers:
It has occurred to me that it might be an excellent idea if we would
plan to spend a little more time this year with Father and Mother when
we go for our usual Christmas visit; and what kind of a scheme do you
think it would be for us to take the children, and make a real family
reunion of it?
I figure that we could all get there by four o'clock the day before
Christmas, if we planned for it; and by staying perhaps two days after
Christmas we could make quite a visit. What do you say? You see Father
and Mother are getting old, and we can't have them with us many more
years, anyway; and I'm sure this would please them—only we must be
very careful not to make it too exciting for them.
The letters were dispatched with haste, and almost by return mail
came the answers; an emphatic approval, and a promise of hearty
cooperation signed “Frank” and “Ned.” What is every one's business is
apt to be no one's business, however, and no one notified Mr. and Mrs.
Samuel Bertram of the change of plan, each thinking that one of the
others would attend to it.
“As for presents,” mused Ella, as she hurried downtown two days
before Christmas, “I never can think what to give them; but, after all,
there's nothing better than bed-slippers for Mother, and a warm
neckerchief for Father's throat. Those are always good.”
The day before Christmas dawned clear and cold. It had been expected
that Ella, her husband, and her twin boys would arrive at the little
village station a full hour before the train from the north bringing
Ned, Mrs. Ned, and little Mabel, together with Frank and his wife and
son; but Ella's train was late—so late that it came in a scant five
minutes ahead of the other one, and thus brought about a joyous
greeting between the reunited families on the station platform itself.
“Why, it's not so bad we were late, after all,” cried Ella. “This is
fine—now we can all go together!”
“Jove! but we're a cheery sight!” exclaimed Ned, as he counted off
on his fingers the blooming faces of those about him. “There are ten of
“Only fancy what they'll say at the house when they catch their
first glimpse of us!” chuckled Frank. “The dear old souls! How Father's
eyes will shine and Mother's cap-strings bob! By the way, of course
they know we're coming to-day?”
There was a moment's silence; then Ella flushed. “Why!
didn't—didn't you tell them?” she stammered.
“I? Why, of course not!” cried Frank. “I supposed you were going to.
But maybe Ned-” He paused and turned questioning eyes on his brother.
Ned shook his head. “Not I,” he said.
“Why, then—then they don't know,” cried Ella, aghast. “They don't
know a thing!”
“Never mind, come on,” laughed Ned. “What difference does it make?”
“'What difference does it make'!” retorted Ella indignantly. “Ned
Bertram, do you suppose I'd take the risk of ten of us pouncing down on
those two poor dears like this by surprise? Certainly not!”
“But, Ella, they're expecting six of us tomorrow,” remonstrated
“Very true. But that's not ten of us today.”
“I know; but so far as the work is concerned, you girls always do
the most of that,” cut in Ned.
“Work! It isn't the work,” almost groaned Ella. “Don't you see,
boys? It's the excitement—'twouldn't do for them at all. We must fix
it some way. Come, let's go into the waiting-room and talk it up.”
It was not until after considerable discussion that their plans were
finally made and their line of march decided upon. To advance in the
open and take the house by storm was clearly out of the question,
though Ned remarked that in all probability the dear old creatures
would be dozing before the fire, and would not discover their approach.
Still, it would be wiser to be on the safe side; and it was unanimously
voted that Frank should go ahead alone and reconnoiter, preparing the
way for the rest, who could wait, meanwhile, at the little hotel not
far from the house.
The short winter day had drawn almost to a close when Frank turned
in at the familiar gate of the Bertram homestead. His hand had not
reached the white knob of the bell, however, when the eager expectancy
of his face gave way to incredulous amazement; from within, clear and
distinct, had come the sound of a violin.
“Why, what—” he cried under his breath, and softly pushed open the
The hall was almost dark, but the room beyond was a blaze of light,
with the curtains drawn, and apparently every lamp the house contained
trimmed and burning. He himself stood in the shadow, and his entrance
had been unnoticed, though almost the entire expanse of the room before
him was visible through the half-open doorway.
In the farther corner of the room a large evergreen tree, sparkling
with candles and tinsel stars, was hung with bags of pink and white
tarletan and festoons of puffy popcorn. Near it sat an old man playing
the violin; and his whole wiry self seemed to quiver with joy to the
tune of his merry “Money Musk.” In the center of the room two
gray-haired men were dancing an old-time jig, bobbing, bowing, and
twisting about in a gleeful attempt to outdo each other. Watching them
were three old women and another old man, eating ice cream and
contentedly munching peppermints. And here, there, and everywhere was
the mistress of the house, Lydia Ann herself, cheeks flushed and
cap-strings flying, but plainly in her element and joyously content.
For a time the man by the hall door watched in silent amazement;
then with a low ejaculation he softly let himself out of the house, and
hurried back to the hotel.
“Well?” greeted half a dozen voices; and one added: “What did they
Frank shook his head and dropped into the nearest chair. “I—I
didn't tell them,” he stammered faintly.
“Didn't tell them!” exclaimed Ella. “Why, Frank, what was the
trouble? Were they sick? Surely, they were not upset by just seeing
you!” Frank's eyes twinkled “Well, hardly!” he retorted. “They—they're
having a party.”
“A party!” shrieked half a dozen voices.
“Yes; and a tree, and a dance, and ice cream, and pink peppermints,”
Frank enumerated in one breath.
There was a chorus of expostulation; then Ella's voice rose
dominant. “Frank Bertram, what on earth do you mean?” she demanded.
“Who is having all this?”
“Father and Mother,” returned Frank, his lips twitching a little.
“And they've got old Uncle Tim and half a dozen others for guests.”
“But, Frank, how can they be having all this?” faltered Ella. “Why,
Father's not so very far from eighty years old, and—Mabel, Mabel, my
dear!” she broke off in sudden reproof to her young niece, who had come
under her glance at that moment. “Those are presents for Grandpa and
Grandma. I wouldn't play with them.”
Mabel hesitated, plainly rebellious. In each hand was a gray worsted
bed-slipper; atop of her yellow curls was a brown neckerchief, cap
There were exclamations from two men, and Ned came forward
hurriedly. “Oh, I say, Ella,” he remonstrated, “you didn't get those
for presents, did you?”
“But I did. Why not?” questioned Ella.
“Why, I got slippers, you see. I never can think of anything else.
Besides, they're always good, anyhow. But I should think you, a
woman, could think of something—”
“Never mind,” interrupted Ella airily. “Mother's a dear, and she
won't care if she does get two pairs.”
“But she won't want three pairs,” groaned Frank; “and I got slippers
There was a moment of dismayed silence, then everybody laughed.
Ella was the first to speak. “It's too bad, of course, but never
mind. Mother'll see the joke of it just as we do. You know she never
seems to care what we give her. Old people don't have many wants, I
Frank stirred suddenly and walked the length of the room. Then he
“Do you know,” he said, a little unsteadily, “I believe that's a
“A mistake? What's a mistake?”
“The notion that old people don't have any—wants. See here. They're
having a party down there—a party, and they must have got it up
themselves. Such being the case, of course they had what they wanted
for entertainment—and they aren't drinking tea or knitting socks.
They're dancing jigs and eating pink peppermints and ice cream! Their
eyes are like stars, and Mother's cheeks are like a girl's; and if you
think I'm going to offer those spry young things a brown neckerchief
and a pair of bed-slippers you're much mistaken—because I'm not!”
“But what—can—we do?” stammered Ella.
“We can buy something else here—to-night—in the village,” declared
Frank; “and to-morrow morning we can go and give it to them.”
“I haven't the least idea,” retorted Frank, with an airy wave of his
hands. “Maybe 'twill be a diamond tiara and a polo pony. Anyway, I know
what 'twon't be—'twon't be slippers or a neckerchief!”
* * * * *
It was later than usual that Christmas morning when Mr. and Mrs.
Samuel Bertram arose. If the old stomachs had rebelled a little at the
pink peppermints and ice cream, and if the old feet had charged toll
for their unaccustomed activity of the night before, neither Samuel nor
Lydia Ann would acknowledge it.
“Well, we had it—that tree!” chuckled Samuel, as he somewhat
stiffly thrust himself into his clothes.
“We did, Samuel,—we did,” quavered Lydia Ann joyfully, “an' wa'n't
it nice? Mis' Hopkins said she never had such a good time in all her
“An' Uncle Tim an' Grandpa Gowin'—they was as spry as crickets, an'
they made old Pete tune up that 'Money Musk' three times 'fore they'd
“Yes; an'—my grief an' conscience, Samuel! 'tis late, ain't it?”
broke off Lydia Ann, anxiously peering at the clock. “Come, come, dear,
you'll have ter hurry 'bout gettin' that tree out of the front room
'fore the children get here. I wouldn't have 'em know for the world how
silly we've been—not for the world!”
Samuel bridled, but his movements showed a perceptible increase of
“Well, I do' know,” he chuckled.
“'T wa'n't anythin' so awful, after all. But, say,” he called
triumphantly a moment later, as he stooped and picked up a small object
from the floor, “they will find out if you don't hide these 'ere
The tree and the peppermints had scarcely disappeared from the
“front room” when Frank arrived.
“Oh, they're all coming in a minute,” he laughed gayly in response
to the surprised questions that greeted him. “And we've brought the
children, too. You'll have a houseful, all right!”
A houseful it certainly proved to be, and a lively one, too. In the
kitchen “the girls” as usual reigned supreme, and bundled off the
little mother to “visit with the boys and the children” during the
process of dinner-getting, and after dinner they all gathered around
the fireplace for games and stories.
“And now,” said Frank when darkness came and the lamps were lighted,
“I've got a new game, but it's a very mysterious game, and you, Father
and Mother, must not know a thing about it until it's all ready.” And
forthwith he conducted the little old man and the little old woman out
into the kitchen with great ceremony.
“Say, Samuel, seems as if this was 'most as good as the party,”
whispered Lydia Ann excitedly, as they waited in the dark. “I know it;
an' they hain't asked us once if we was gettin' too tired! Did ye
notice, Lyddy Ann?”
“Yes, an' they didn't make us take naps, either. Ain't it nice? Why,
Samuel, I—I shan't mind even the bed-slippers now,” she laughed.
“Ready!” called Frank, and the dining-room door was thrown wide
The old eyes blinked a little at the sudden light, then widened in
amazement. Before the fireplace was a low sewing-table with a chair at
each end. The table itself was covered with a white cloth which lay in
fascinating little ridges and hillocks indicating concealed treasures
beneath. About the table were grouped the four eager-eyed grandchildren
and their no less eager-eyed parents. With still another ceremonious
bow Frank escorted the little old man and the little old woman to the
waiting chairs, and with a merry “One, two, three!” whisked off the
For one amazed instant there was absolute silence; then Lydia Ann
drew a long breath.
“Samuel, Samuel, they're presents—an' for us!” she quavered
joyously. “It's the bed-slippers and the neckerchiefs, an' they did 'em
all up in white paper an' red ribbons just for us.”
At the corner of the mantelpiece a woman choked suddenly and felt
for her handkerchief. Behind her two men turned sharply and walked
toward the window; but the little old man and the little old woman did
not notice it. They had forgotten everything but the enchanting array
of mysteries before them.
Trembling old hands hovered over the many-sized, many-shaped
packages, and gently patted the perky red bows; but not until the
grandchildren impatiently demanded, “Why don't you look at 'em?” did
they venture to untie a single ribbon. Then the old eyes shone, indeed,
at sight of the wonderful things disclosed; a fine lace tie and a
bottle of perfume; a reading-glass and a basket of figs; some dates,
raisins, nuts, and candies, and a little electric pocket lantern which
would, at the pressure of a thumb, bring to light all the secrets of
the darkest of rooms. There were books, too, such as Ella and Frank
themselves liked to read; and there was a handsome little clock for the
mantel—but there was not anywhere a pair of bed-slippers or a
At last they were all opened, and there remained not one little red
bow to untie. On the table, in all their pristine glory, lay the
presents, and half-buried in bits of paper and red ribbon sat the
amazed, but blissfully happy, little old man and little old woman.
Lydia Ann's lips parted, but the trembling words of thanks froze on her
tongue—her eyes had fallen on a small pink peppermint on the floor.
“No, no, we can't take 'em,” she cried agitatedly. “We hadn't ought
to. We was wicked and ongrateful, and last night we—we—” She paused
helplessly, her eyes on her husband's face. “Samuel, you—you tell,”
Samuel cleared his throat.
“Well, ye see, we—yes, last night, we—we—” He could say no more.
“We—we had a party to—to make up for things,” blurted out Lydia
Ann. “And so ye see we—we hadn't ought ter take these—all these!”
Frank winced. His face grew a little white as he threw a quick
glance into his sister's eyes; but his voice, when he spoke, was clear
and strong from sheer force of will.
“A party? Good! I'm glad of it. Did you enjoy it?” he asked.
Samuel's jaw dropped. Lydia Ann stared speechlessly. This cordial
approval of their folly was more incomprehensible than had been the
failure to relegate them to naps and knitting earlier in the afternoon.
“And you've got another party to-night, too; haven't you?” went on
Frank smoothly. “As for those things there”—he waved his hand toward
the table—“of course you'll take them. Why, we picked them out on
purpose for you,—every single one of them,—and only think how we'd
feel if you didn't take them! Don't you—like them?”
“'Like them'!” cried Lydia Ann, and at the stifled sob in her voice
three men and three women caught their breath sharply and tried to
swallow the lumps in their throats. “We—we just love them!”
No one spoke. The grandchildren stared silently, a little awed.
Ella, Frank, and Ned stirred restlessly and looked anywhere but at each
Lydia Ann flushed, then paled. “Of course, if—if you picked 'em out
'specially for us—” she began hesitatingly, her eyes anxiously
scanning the perturbed faces of her children.
“We did—especially,” came the prompt reply.
Lydia Ann's gaze drifted to the table and lingered upon the clock,
the tie, and the bottle of perfume. “'Specially for us,” she murmured
softly. Then her face suddenly cleared. “Why, then we'll have to take
them, won't we?” she cried, her voice tremulous with ecstasy. “We'll
just have to—whether we ought to or not!”
“You certainly will!” declared Frank. And this time he did not even
try to hide the shake in his voice.
“Oh!” breathed Lydia Ann blissfully. “Samuel, I—I think I'll take a
It was only after serious consideration that Miss Prue had bought
the little horse, Jupiter, and then she changed the name at once. For a
respectable spinster to drive any sort of horse was bad enough in Miss
Prue's opinion; but to drive a heathen one! To replace “Jupiter” she
considered “Ann” a sensible, dignified, and proper name, and “Ann” she
named him, regardless of age, sex, or “previous condition of
servitude.” The villagers accepted the change—though with
modifications; the horse was known thereafter as “Miss Prue's Jupiter
Miss Prue had said that she wanted a safe, steady horse; one that
would not run, balk, or kick. She would not have bought any horse,
indeed, had it not been that the way to the post office, the store, the
church, and everywhere else, had grown so unaccountably long—Miss Prue
was approaching her sixtieth birthday. The horse had been hers now a
month, and thus far it had been everything that a dignified, somewhat
timid spinster could wish it to be. Fortunately—or unfortunately, as
one may choose to look at it—Miss Prue did not know that in the dim
recesses of Jupiter's memory there lurked the smell of the turf, the
feel of the jockey's coaxing touch, and the sound of a triumphant
multitude shouting his name; in Miss Prue's estimation the next deadly
sin to treason and murder was horse racing.
There was no one in the town, perhaps, who did not know of Miss
Prue's abhorrence of horse racing. On all occasions she freed her mind
concerning it; and there was a report that the only lover of her youth
had lost his suit through his passion for driving fast horses. Even the
county fair Miss Prue had refused all her life to attend—there was the
horse racing. It was because of all this that she had been so loath to
buy a horse, if only the way to everywhere had not grown so long!
For four weeks—indeed, for five—the new horse, Ann, was a
treasure; then, one day, Jupiter remembered.
Miss Prue was driving home from the post office. The wide, smooth
road led straight ahead under an arch of flaming gold and scarlet. The
October air was crisp and bracing, and unconsciously Miss Prue lifted
her chin and drew a long breath. Almost at once, however, she frowned.
From behind her had come the sound of a horse's hoofs, and reluctantly
Miss Prue pulled the right-hand rein.
Jupiter Ann quickened his gait perceptibly, and lifted his head. His
ears came erect.
“Whoa, Ann, whoa!” stammered Miss Prue nervously.
The hoof beats were almost abreast now, and hurriedly Miss Prue
turned her head. At once she gave the reins an angry jerk; in the other
light carriage sat Rupert Joyce, the young man who for weeks had been
unsuccessfully trying to find favor in her eyes because he had already
found it in the eyes of her ward and niece, Mary Belle.
“Good-morning, Miss Prue,” called a boyish voice.
“Good-morning,” snapped the woman, and jerked the reins again.
Miss Prue awoke then to the sudden realization that if the other's
speed had accelerated, so, too, had her own.
“Ann, Ann, whoa!” she commanded. Then she turned angry eyes on the
young man. “Go by—go by! Why don't you go by?” she called sharply.
In obedience, young Joyce touched the whip to his gray mare: but he
did not go by. With a curious little shake, as if casting off years of
dull propriety, Jupiter Ann thrust forward his nose and got down to
Miss Prue grew white, then red. Her hands shook on the reins.
“Ann, Ann, whoa! You mustn't—you can't! Ann, please whoa!” she
supplicated wildly. She might as well have besought the wind not to
On and on, neck and neck, the horses raced. Miss Prue's bonnet
slipped and hung rakishly above one ear. Her hair loosened and fell in
straggling wisps of gray to her shoulders. Her eyeglasses dropped from
her nose and swayed dizzily on their slender chain. Her gloves split
across the back and showed the white, tense knuckles. Her breath came
in gasps, and only a moaning “whoa—whoa” fell in jerky rhythm from her
white lips. Ashamed, frightened, and dismayed, Miss Prue clung to the
reins and kept her straining eyes on the road ahead.
On and on down the long straight road flew Jupiter Ann and the
little gray mare. At door and window of the scudding houses appeared
men and women with startled faces and upraised hands. Miss Prue knew
that they were there, and shuddered. The shame of it—she, in a
horse-race, and with Rupert Joyce! Hurriedly she threw a look at the
young man's face to catch its expression; and then she saw something
else: the little gray mare was a full half-head in the lead of Jupiter
It was then that a strange something awoke in Miss Prue—a fierce
new something that she had never felt before. Her lips set hard, and
her eyes flashed a sudden fire. Her moaning “whoa—whoa” fell silent,
and her hands loosened instinctively on the reins. She was leaning
forward now, eagerly, anxiously, her eyes on the head of the other
horse. Suddenly her tense muscles relaxed, and a look that was
perilously near to triumphant joy crossed her face—Jupiter Ann was
ahead once more!
By the time the wide sweep of the driveway leading to Miss Prue's
home was reached, there was no question of the result, and well in the
lead of the little gray mare Jupiter Ann trotted proudly up the
driveway and came to a panting stop.
Flushed, disheveled, and palpitating, Miss Prue picked her way to
the ground. Behind her Rupert Joyce was just driving into the yard. He,
too, was flushed and palpitating—though not for the same reason.
“I—I just thought I'd drive out and see Mary Belle,” he blurted out
airily, assuming a bold front to meet the wrath which he felt was sure
to come. At once, however, his jaw dropped in amazement.
“Mary Belle? I left her down in the orchard gathering apples,” Miss
Prue was saying cheerfully. “You might look for her there.” And she
smiled— the gracious smile of the victor for the vanquished.
Incredulously the youth stared; then, emboldened, he plunged on
“I say, you know, Miss Prue, that little horse of yours can run!”
Miss Prue stiffened. With a jerk she straightened her bonnet and
thrust her glasses on her nose.
“Ann has been bad—very bad,” she said severely. “We'll not talk of
it, if you please. I am ashamed of her!” And he turned haughtily away.
In the barn two minutes later, Miss Prue patted Jupiter Ann on the
neck —a thing she had never done before.
“We beat 'em, anyhow, Ann,” she whispered. “And, after all, he's a
pleasant-spoken chap, and if Mary Belle wants him—why—let's let her
The Axminster Path
“There, dear, here we are, all dressed for the day!” said the girl
gayly, as she led the frail little woman along the strip of Axminster
carpet that led to the big chair.
“And Kathie?” asked the woman, turning her head with the groping
uncertainty of the blind.
“Here, mother,” answered a cheery voice. “I'm right here by the
“Oh!” And the woman smiled happily. “Painting, I suppose, as usual.”
“Oh, I'm working, as usual,” returned the same cheery voice, its
owner changing the position of the garment in her lap and reaching for
a spool of silk.
“There!” breathed the blind woman, as she sank into the great chair.
“Now I am all ready for my breakfast. Tell cook, please, Margaret, that
I will have tea this morning, and just a roll besides my orange.” And
she smoothed the folds of her black silk gown and picked daintily at
the lace in her sleeves.
“Very well, dearie,” returned her daughter. “You shall have it right
away,” she added over her shoulder as she left the room.
In the tiny kitchen beyond the sitting-room Margaret Whitmore
lighted the gas-stove and set the water on to boil. Then she arranged a
small tray with a bit of worn damask and the only cup and saucer of
delicate china that the shelves contained. Some minutes later she went
back to her mother, tray in hand.
“'Most starved to death?” she demanded merrily, as she set the tray
upon the table Katherine had made ready before the blind woman. “You
have your roll, your tea, your orange, as you ordered, dear, and just a
bit of currant jelly besides.”
“Currant jelly? Well, I don't know,—perhaps it will taste good. 'T
was so like Nora to send it up; she's always trying to tempt my
appetite, you know. Dear me, girls, I wonder if you realize what a
treasure we have in that cook!”
“Yes, dear, I know,” murmured Margaret hastily. “And now the tea,
Mother—it's getting colder every minute. Will you have the orange
The slender hands of the blind woman hovered for a moment over the
table, then dropped slowly and found by touch the position of spoons,
plates, and the cup of tea.
“Yes, I have everything. I don't need you any longer, Meg. I don't
like to take so much of your time, dear—you should let Betty do for
“But I want to do it,” laughed Margaret. “Don't you want me?”
“Want you! That isn't the question, dear,” objected Mrs. Whitmore
gently. “Of course, a maid's service can't be compared for an instant
with a daughter's love and care; but I don't want to be selfish—and
you and Kathie never let Betty do a thing for me. There, there! I won't
scold any more. What are you going to do to-day, Meg?”
Margaret hesitated. She was sitting by the window now, in a low
chair near her sister's. In her hands was a garment similar to that
upon which Katherine was still at work.
“Why, I thought,” she began slowly, “I'd stay here with you and
Katherine a while.”
Mrs. Whitmore set down her empty cup and turned a troubled face
toward the sound of her daughter's voice.
“Meg, dear,” she remonstrated, “is it that fancy-work?”
“Well, isn't fancy-work all right?” The girl's voice shook a little.
Mrs. Whitmore stirred uneasily.
“No, it—it isn't—in this case,” she protested. “Meg, Kathie, I
don't like it. You are young; you should go out more—both of you. I
understand, of course; it's your unselfishness. You stay with me lest I
get lonely; and you play at painting and fancy-work for an excuse. Now,
dearies, there must be a change. You must go out. You must take your
place in society. I will not have you waste your young lives.”
“Mother!” Margaret was on her feet, and Katherine had dropped her
work. “Mother!” they cried again.
“I—I shan't even listen,” faltered Margaret. “I shall go and leave
you right away,” she finished tremulously, picking up the tray and
hurrying from the room.
It was hours later, after the little woman had trailed once more
along the Axminster path to the bed in the room beyond and had dropped
asleep, that Margaret Whitmore faced her sister with despairing eyes.
“Katherine, what shall we do? This thing is killing me!”
The elder girl's lips tightened. For an instant she paused in her
work— but for only an instant.
“I know,” she said feverishly; “but we mustn't give up—we mustn't!”
“But how can we help it? It grows worse and worse. She wants us to
go out—to sing, dance, and make merry as we used to.”
“Then we'll go out and—tell her we dance.”
“But there's the work.”
“We'll take it with us. We can't both leave at once, of course, but
old Mrs. Austin, downstairs, will be glad to have one or the other of
us sit with her an occasional afternoon or evening.”
Margaret sprang to her feet and walked twice the length of the room.
“But I've—lied so much already!” she moaned, pausing before her
sister. “It's all a lie—my whole life!”
“Yes, yes, I know,” murmured the other, with a hurried glance toward
the bedroom door. “But, Meg, we mustn't give up—'twould kill her to
know now. And, after all, it's only a little while!—such a little
Her voice broke with a half-stifled sob. The younger girl shivered,
but did not speak. She walked again the length of the room and back;
then she sat down to her work, her lips a tense line of determination,
and her thoughts delving into the few past years for a strength that
might help her to bear the burden of the days to come.
* * * * *
Ten years before, and one week after James Whitmore's death, Mrs.
James Whitmore had been thrown from her carriage, striking on her head
When she came to consciousness, hours afterward, she opened her eyes
on midnight darkness, though the room was flooded with sunlight. The
optic nerve had been injured, the doctor said. It was doubtful if she
would ever be able to see again.
Nor was this all. There were breaks and bruises, and a bad injury to
the spine. It was doubtful if she would ever walk again. To the little
woman lying back on the pillow it seemed a living death—this thing
that had come to her.
It was then that Margaret and Katherine constituted themselves a
veritable wall of defense between their mother and the world. Nothing
that was not inspected and approved by one or the other was allowed to
pass Mrs. Whitmore's chamber door.
For young women only seventeen and nineteen, whose greatest
responsibility hitherto had been the selection of a gown or a ribbon,
this was a new experience.
At first the question of expense did not enter into consideration.
Accustomed all their lives to luxury, they unhesitatingly demanded it
now; and doctors, nurses, wines, fruits, flowers, and delicacies were
summoned as a matter of course.
Then came the crash. The estate of the supposedly rich James
Whitmore was found to be deeply involved, and in the end there was only
a pittance for the widow and her two daughters.
Mrs. Whitmore was not told of this at once. She was so ill and
helpless that a more convenient season was awaited. That was nearly ten
years ago—and she had not been told yet.
Concealment had not been difficult at first. The girls had, indeed,
drifted into the deception almost unconsciously, as it certainly was
not necessary to burden the ears of the already sorely afflicted woman
with the petty details of the economy and retrenchment on the other
side of her door.
If her own luxuries grew fewer, the change was so gradual that the
invalid did not notice it, and always her blindness made easy the
deception of those about her.
Even the move to another home was accomplished without her realizing
it —she was taken to the hospital for a month's treatment, and when
the month was ended she was tenderly carried home and laid on her own
bed; and she did not know that “home” now was a cheap little flat in
Harlem instead of the luxurious house on the avenue where her children
She was too ill to receive visitors, and was therefore all the more
dependent on her daughters for entertainment.
She pitied them openly for the grief and care she had brought upon
them, and in the next breath congratulated them and herself that at
least they had all that money could do to smooth the difficult way. In
the face of this, it naturally did not grow any easier for the girls to
tell the truth—and they kept silent.
For six years Mrs. Whitmore did not step; then her limbs and back
grew stronger, and she began to sit up, and to stand for a moment on
her feet. Her daughters now bought the strip of Axminster carpet and
laid a path across the bedroom, and another one from the bedroom door
to the great chair in the sitting-room, so that her feet might not note
the straw matting on the floor and question its being there.
In her own sitting-room at home—which had opened, like this, out of
her bedroom—the rugs were soft and the chairs sumptuous with springs
and satin damask. One such chair had been saved from the wreck—the one
at the end of the strip of carpet.
Day by day and month by month the years passed. The frail little
woman walked the Axminster path and sat in the tufted chair. For her
there were a china cup and plate, and a cook and maids below to serve.
For her the endless sewing over which Katherine and Margaret bent their
backs to eke out their scanty income was a picture or a bit of
embriodery, designed to while away the time.
As Margaret thought of it it seemed incredible—this tissue of
fabrications that enmeshed them; but even as she wondered she knew that
the very years that marked its gradual growth made now its strength.
And in a little while would come the end—a very little while, the
Margaret tightened her lips and echoed her sister's words: “We
mustn't give up—we mustn't!”
Two days later the doctor called. He was a bit out of the old life.
His home, too, had been—and was now, for that matter—on the
avenue. He lived with his aunt, whose heir he was, and he was the only
one outside of the Whitmore family that knew the house of illusions in
which Mrs. Whitmore lived.
His visits to the little Harlem flat had long ceased to have more
than a semblance of being professional, and it was an open secret that
he wished to make Margaret his wife. Margaret said no, though with a
heightened color and a quickened breath—which told at least herself
how easily the “no” might have been a “yes.”
Dr. Littlejohn was young and poor, and he had only his profession,
for all he was heir to one of the richest women on the avenue; and
Margaret refused to burden him with what she knew it would mean to
marry her. In spite of argument, therefore, and a pair of earnest brown
eyes that pleaded even more powerfully, she held to her convictions and
continued to say no.
All this, however, did not prevent Dr. Littlejohn from making
frequent visits to the Whitmore home, and always his coming meant joy
to three weary, troubled hearts. To-day he brought a great handful of
pink carnations and dropped them into the lap of the blind woman.
“Sweets to the sweet!” he cried gayly, as he patted the slim hand on
the arm of the chair.
“Doctor Ned—you dear boy! Oh, how lovely!” exclaimed Mrs. Whitmore,
burying her face in the fragrant flowers. “And, doctor, I want to speak
to you,” she broke off earnestly. “I want you to talk to Meg and
Kathie. Perhaps they will listen to you. I want them to go out more.
Tell them, please, that I don't need them all the time now.”
“Dear me, how independent we are going to be!” laughed the doctor.
“And so we don't need any more attention now, eh?”
“Betty will do.”
“Betty?” It was hard, sometimes, for the doctor to remember.
“The maid,” explained Mrs. Whitmore; “though, for that matter, there
might as well be no maid—the girls never let her do a thing for me.”
“No?” returned the doctor easily, sure now of where he stood. “But
you don't expect me to interfere in this housekeeping business!”
“Somebody must,” urged Mrs. Whitmore. “The girls must leave me more.
It isn't as if we were poor and couldn't hire nurses and maids. I
should die if it were like that, and I were such a burden.”
“Mother, dearest!” broke in Margaret feverishly, with an
imploring glance toward her sister and the doctor.
“Oh, by the way,” interposed the doctor airily, “it has occurred to
me that the very object of my visit to-day is right along the lines of
what you ask. I want Miss Margaret to go driving with me. I have a call
to make out Washington Heights way.”
“Oh, but—” began Margaret, and paused at a gesture from her mother.
“There aren't any 'buts' about it,” declared Mrs. Whitmore. “Meg
“Of course she'll go!” echoed Katherine. And with three against her,
Margaret's protests were in vain.
* * * * *
Mrs. Whitmore was nervous that night. She could not sleep.
It seemed to her that if she could get up and walk, back and forth,
back and forth, she could rest afterward. She had not stepped alone
yet, to be sure, since the accident, but, after all, the girls did
little more than guide her feet, and she was sure that she could walk
alone if she tried.
The more she thought of it the more she longed to test her strength.
Just a few steps back and forth, back and forth—then sleep. She was
sure she could sleep then. Very quietly, that she might not disturb the
sleepers in the bedroom beyond, the blind woman sat up in bed and
slipped her feet to the floor.
Within reach were her knit slippers and the heavy shawl always kept
at the head of her bed. With trembling hands she put them on and rose
At last she was on her feet, and alone. To a woman who for ten years
had depended on others for almost everything but the mere act of
breathing, it was joy unspeakable. She stepped once, twice, and again
along the side of her bed; then she stopped with a puzzled frown—under
her feet was the unyielding, unfamiliar straw matting. She took four
more steps, hesitatingly, and with her arms outstretched at full length
before her. The next instant she recoiled and caught her breath
sharply; her hands had encountered a wall and a window—and there
should have been no wall or windows there!
The joy was gone now.
Shaking with fear and weakness, the little woman crept along the
wall and felt for something that would tell her that she was still at
home. Her feet made no sound, and only her hurried breathing broke the
Through the open door to the sitting-room, and down the wall to the
right-on and on she crept.
Here and there a familiar chair or stand met her groping hands and
held them hesitatingly for a moment, only to release them to the terror
of an unfamiliar corner or window-sill.
The blind woman herself had long since lost all realization of what
she was doing. There was only the frenzied longing to find her own. She
did not hesitate even at the outer door of the apartment, but turned
the key with shaking hands and stepped fearlessly into the hall. The
next moment there came a scream and a heavy fall. The Whitmore
apartment was just at the head of the stairs, and almost the first step
of the blind woman had been off into space.
* * * * *
When Mrs. Whitmore regained consciousness she was alone in her own
Out in the sitting-room, Margaret, Katherine, and the doctor talked
together in low tones. At last the girls hurried into the kitchen, and
the doctor turned and entered the bedroom. With a low ejaculation he
Mrs. Whitmore flung out her arm and clutched his hand; then she lay
back on the pillow and closed her eyes.
“Doctor,” she whispered, “where am I?”
“At home, in your own bed.”
“Where is this place?”
Dr. Littlejohn paled. He sent an anxious glance toward the
sitting-room door, though he knew very well that Margaret and Katherine
were in the kitchen and could not hear.
“Where is this place?” begged the woman again.
“Why, it—it—is—” The man paused helplessly.
Five thin fingers tightened their clasp on his hand, and the low
voice again broke the silence.
“Doctor, did you ever know—did you ever hear that a fall could give
Dr. Littlejohn started and peered into the wan face lying back on
the pillow. Its impassiveness reassured him.
“Why, perhaps—once or twice,” he returned slowly, falling back into
his old position, “though rarely—very rarely.”
“But it has happened?”
“Yes, it has happened. There was a case recently in England. The
shock and blow released the pressure on the optic nerve; but—”
Something in the face he was watching brought him suddenly forward
in his chair. “My dear woman, you don't mean—you can't—”
He did not finish his sentence. Mrs. Whitmore opened her eyes and
met his gaze unflinchingly. Then she turned her head.
“Doctor,” she said, “that picture on the wall there at the foot of
the bed—it doesn't hang quite straight.”
“Mrs. Whitmore!” breathed the man incredulously, half rising from
“Hush! Not yet!” The woman's insistent hand had pulled him back.
“Why am I here? Where is this place?”
There was no answer.
“Doctor, you must tell me. I must know.”
Again the man hesitated. He noted the flushed cheeks and shaking
hands of the woman before him. It was true, she must know; and perhaps,
after all, it was best she should know through him. He drew a long
breath and plunged straight into the heart of the story.
Five minutes later a glad voice came from the doorway.
“Mother, dearest—then you're awake!” The doctor was conscious of a
low- breathed “Hush, don't tell her!” in his ears; then, to his
amazement, he saw the woman on the bed turn her head and hold out her
hand with the old groping uncertainty of the blind.
“Margaret! It is Margaret, isn't it?”
Days afterward, when the weary, painracked body of the little mother
was forever at rest, Margaret lifted her head from her lover's
shoulder, where she had been sobbing out her grief.
“Ned, I can't be thankful enough,” she cried, “that we kept it from
Mother to the end. It's my only comfort. She didn't know.”
“And I'm sure she would wish that thought to be a comfort to you,
dear,” said the doctor gently. “I am sure she would.”
Phineas and the Motor Car
Phineas used to wonder, sometimes, just when it was that he began to
court Diantha Bowman, the rosy-cheeked, golden-haired idol of his
boyhood. Diantha's cheeks were not rosy now, and her hair was more
silver than gold, but she was not yet his wife.
And he had tried so hard to win her! Year after year the rosiest
apples from his orchard and the choicest honey from his apiary had
found their way to Diantha's table; and year after year the county fair
and the village picnic had found him at Diantha's door with his old
mare and his buggy, ready to be her devoted slave for the day. Nor was
Diantha unmindful of all these attentions. She ate the apples and the
honey, and spent long contented hours in the buggy; but she still
answered his pleadings with her gentle: “I hain't no call to marry yet,
Phineas,” and nothing he could do seemed to hasten her decision in the
least. It was the mare and the buggy, however, that proved to be
responsible for what was the beginning of the end.
They were on their way home from the county fair. The mare, head
hanging, was plodding through the dust when around the curve of the
road ahead shot the one automobile that the town boasted. The next
moment the whizzing thing had passed, and left a superannuated old mare
looming through a cloud of dust and dancing on two wabbly hind legs.
“Plague take them autymobiles!” snarled Phineas through set teeth,
as he sawed at the reins. “I ax yer pardon, I'm sure, Dianthy,” he
added shamefacedly, when the mare had dropped to a position more nearly
normal; “but I hain't no use fur them 'ere contraptions!”
Diantha frowned. She was frightened—and because she was frightened
she was angry. She said the first thing that came into her head—and
never had she spoken to Phineas so sharply.
“If you did have some use for 'em, Phineas Hopkins, you wouldn't be
crawlin' along in a shiftless old rig like this; you'd have one
yourself an' be somebody! For my part, I like 'em, an' I'm jest achin'
ter ride in 'em, too!”
Phineas almost dropped the reins in his amazement. “Achin' ter ride
in 'em,” she had said—and all that he could give her was this
“shiftless old rig” that she so scorned. He remembered something else,
too, and his face flamed suddenly red. It was Colonel Smith who owned
and drove that automobile, and Colonel Smith, too, was a bachelor. What
if—Instantly in Phineas's soul rose a fierce jealousy.
“I like a hoss, myself,” he said then, with some dignity. “I want
somethin' that's alive!”
Diantha laughed slyly. The danger was past, and she could afford to
“Well, it strikes me that you come pretty near havin' somethin' that
wa'n't alive jest 'cause you had somethin' that was!” she retorted.
“Really, Phineas, I didn't s'pose Dolly could move so fast!”
“Dolly knew how ter move—once,” he rejoined grimly. “'Course nobody
pretends ter say she's young now, any more 'n we be,” he finished with
some defiance. But he drooped visibly at Diantha's next words.
“Why, I don't feel old, Phineas, an' I ain't old, either. Look at
Colonel Smith; he's jest my age, an' he's got a autymobile. Mebbe I'll
have one some day.”
To Phineas it seemed that a cold hand clutched his heart.
“Dianthy, you wouldn't really—ride in one!” he faltered.
Until that moment Diantha had not been sure that she would, but the
quaver in Phineas's voice decided her.
“Wouldn't I? You jest wait an' see!”
And Phineas did wait—and he did see. He saw Diantha, not a week
later, pink-cheeked and bright-eyed, sitting by the side of Colonel
Smith in that hated automobile. Nor did he stop to consider that
Diantha was only one of a dozen upon whom Colonel Smith, in the
enthusiasm of his new possession, was pleased to bestow that attention.
To Phineas it could mean but one thing; and he did not change his
opinion when he heard Diantha's account of the ride.
“It was perfectly lovely,” she breathed. “Oh, Phineas, it was jest
“'Flyin'!'“ Phineas could say no more. He felt as if he were
choking,— choking with the dust raised by Dolly's plodding hoofs.
“An' the trees an' the houses swept by like ghosts,” continued
Diantha. “Why, Phineas, I could 'a' rode on an' on furever!”
Before the ecstatic rapture in Diantha's face Phineas went down in
defeat. Without one word he turned away—but in his heart he registered
a solemn vow: he, too, would have an automobile; he, too, would make
Diantha wish to ride on and on forever!
Arduous days came then to Phineas. Phineas was not a rich man. He
had enough for his modest wants, but until now those wants had not
included an automobile—until now he had not known that Diantha wished
to fly. All through the autumn and winter Phineas pinched and
economized until he had lopped off all of the luxuries and most of the
pleasures of living. Even then it is doubtful if he would have
accomplished his purpose had he not, in the spring, fallen heir to a
modest legacy of a few thousand dollars. The news of his good fortune
was not two hours old when he sought Diantha.
“I cal'late mebbe I'll be gettin' me one o' them 'ere autymobiles
this spring,” he said, as if casually filling a pause in the
At the awed joy in Diantha's voice the man's heart glowed within
him. This one moment of triumph was worth all the long miserable winter
with its butterless bread and tobaccoless pipes. But he carefully hid
his joy when he spoke.
“Yes,” he said nonchalantly. “I'm goin' ter Boston next week ter
pick one out. I cal'late on gettin' a purty good one.”
“Oh, Phineas! But how—how you goin' ter run it?”
Phineas's chin came up.
“Run it!” he scoffed. “Well, I hain't had no trouble yet steerin' a
hoss, an' I cal'late I won't have any more steerin' a mess o' senseless
metal what hain't got no eyes ter be seein' things an' gittin' scared!
I don't worry none 'bout runnin' it.”
“But, Phineas, it ain't all steerin',” ventured Diantha, timidly.
“There's lots of little handles and things ter turn, an' there's some
things you do with your feet. Colonel Smith did.”
The name Smith to Phineas was like a match to gunpowder. He flamed
instantly into wrath.
“Well, I cal'late what Colonel Smith does, I can,” he snapped.
“Besides”—airily—“mebbe I shan't git the feet kind, anyhow; I want
the best. There's as much as four or five kinds, Jim Blair says, an' I
cal'late ter try 'em all.”
“Oh-h!” breathed Diantha, falling back in her chair with an ecstatic
sigh. “Oh, Phineas, won't it be grand!” And Phineas, seeing the joyous
light in her eyes, gazed straight down a vista of happiness that led to
wedding bells and bliss.
Phineas was gone some time on his Boston trip. When he returned he
looked thin and worried. He started nervously at trivial noises, and
his eyes showed a furtive restlessness that quickly caused remark.
“Why, Phineas, you don't look well!” Diantha exclaimed when she saw
“Well? Oh, I'm well.”
“An' did you buy it—that autymobile?”
“I did.” Phineas's voice was triumphant. Diantha's eyes sparkled.
“Where is it?” she demanded.
“An' did you try 'em all, as you said you would?”
Phineas stirred; then he sighed.
“Well, I dunno,” he acknowledged. “I hain't done nothin' but ride in
'em since I went down—I know that. But there's such a powerful lot of
'em, Dianthy; an' when they found out I wanted one, they all took hold
an' showed off their best p'ints—'demonstatin',' they called it. They
raced me up hill an' down hill, an' scooted me round corners till I
didn't know where I was. I didn't have a minute ter myself. An' they
went fast, Dianthy-powerful fast. I ain't real sure yet that I'm
“But it must have been grand, Phineas! I should have loved it!”
“Oh, it was, 'course!” assured Phineas, hastily.
“An' you'll take me ter ride, right away?” If Phineas hesitated it
was for only a moment.
“'Course,” he promised. “Er—there's a man, he's comin' with it, an'
he's goin' ter stay a little, jest ter—ter make sure everything's all
right. After he goes I'll come. An' ye want ter be ready—I'll show ye
a thing or two!” he finished with a swagger that was meant to hide the
shake in his voice.
In due time the man and the automobile arrived, but Diantha did not
have her ride at once. It must have taken some time to make sure that
“everything was all right,” for the man stayed many days, and while he
was there, of course Phineas was occupied with him. Colonel Smith was
unkind enough to observe that he hoped it was taking Phineas Hopkins
long enough to learn to run the thing; but his remark did not reach
Diantha's ears. She knew only that Phineas, together with the man and
the automobile, started off early every morning for some unfrequented
road, and did not return until night.
There came a day, however, when the man left town, and not
twenty-four hours later, Phineas, with a gleaming thing of paint and
polish, stood at Diantha's door.
“Now ain't that pretty,” quavered Diantha excitedly. “Ain't that
“Purty slick, I think myself,” he acknowledged.
“An' green is so much nicer than red,” cooed Diantha.
Phineas quite glowed with joy—Colonel Smith's car was red. “Oh,
green's the thing,” he retorted airily; “an' see!” he added; and
forthwith he burst into a paean of praise, in which tires, horns,
lamps, pumps, baskets, brakes, and mud-guards were the dominant notes.
It almost seemed, indeed, that he had bought the gorgeous thing before
him to look at and talk about rather than to use, so loath was he to
stop talking and set the wheels to moving. Not until Diantha had twice
reminded him that she was longing to ride in it did he help her into
the car and make ready to start.
It was not an entire success—that start. There were several false
moves on Phineas's part, and Diantha could not repress a slight scream
and a nervous jump at sundry unexpected puffs and snorts and snaps from
the throbbing thing beneath her. She gave a louder scream when Phineas,
in his nervousness, sounded the siren, and a wail like a cry from the
spirit world shrieked in her ears.
“Phineas, what was that?” she shivered, when the voice had moaned
Phineas's lips were dry, and his hands and knees were shaking; but
his pride marched boldly to the front.
“Why, that's the siren whistle, 'course,” he chattered. “Ain't it
great? I thought you'd like it!” And to hear him one would suppose that
to sound the siren was always a necessary preliminary to starting the
They were off at last. There was a slight indecision, to be sure,
whether they would go backward or forward, and there was some
hesitation as to whether Diantha's geranium bed or the driveway would
make the best thoroughfare. But these little matters having been
settled to the apparent satisfaction of all concerned, the automobile
rolled down the driveway and out on to the main highway.
“Oh, ain't this grand!” murmured Diantha, drawing a long but
somewhat tremulous breath.
Phineas did not answer. His lips were tense, and his eyes were fixed
on the road ahead. For days now he had run the car himself, and he had
been given official assurance that he was quite capable of handling it;
yet here he was on his first ride with Diantha almost making a failure
of the whole thing at the start. Was he to be beaten—beaten by a
senseless motor car and Colonel Smith? At the thought Phineas lifted
his chin and put on more power.
“Oh, my! How f-fast we're goin'!” cried Diantha, close to his ear.
“Who wants ter crawl?” he shouted; and the car leaped again at the
touch of his hand.
They were out of the town now, on a wide road that had few turns.
Occasionally they met a carriage or a wagon, but the frightened horses
and the no less frightened drivers gave the automobile a wide berth—
which was well; for the parallel tracks behind Phineas showed that the
car still had its moments of indecision as to the course to pursue.
The town was four miles behind them when Diantha, who had been for
some time vainly clutching at the flying ends of her veil, called to
Phineas to stop.
The request took Phineas by surprise. For one awful moment his mind
was a blank—he had forgotten how to stop! In frantic haste he turned
and twisted and shoved and pulled, ending with so sudden an application
of the brakes that Diantha nearly shot head first out of the car as it
“Why, why—Phineas!” she cried a little sharply.
Phineas swallowed the lump in his throat and steadied himself in his
“Ye see I—I can stop her real quick if I want to,” he explained
jauntily. “Ye can do 'most anythin' with these 'ere things if ye only
know how, Dianthy. Didn't we come slick?”
“Yes, indeed,” stammered Diantha, hastily smoothing out the frown on
her face and summoning a smile to her lips—not for her best black silk
gown would she have had Phineas know that she was wishing herself safe
at home and the automobile back where it came from.
“We'll go home through the Holler,” said Phineas, after she had
retied her veil and they were ready to start. “It's the long way round,
ye know. I ain't goin' ter give ye no snippy little two-mile run,
Dianthy, like Colonel Smith did,” he finished gleefully.
“No, of course not,” murmured Diantha, smothering a sigh as the
automobile started with a jerk.
An hour later, tired, frightened, a little breathless, but valiantly
declaring that she had had a “beautiful time,” Diantha was set down at
her own door.
That was but the first of many such trips. Ever sounding in Phineas
Hopkins's ears and spurring him to fresh endeavor, were Diantha's
words, “I could 'a' rode on an' on furever”; and deep in his heart was
the determination that if it was automobile rides that she wanted, it
was automobile rides that she should have! His small farm on the edge
of the town—once the pride of his heart—began to look forlorn and
deserted; for Phineas, when not actually driving his automobile, was
usually to be found hanging over it with wrench and polishing cloth. He
bought little food and less clothing, but always—gasolene. And he
talked to any one who would listen about automobiles in general and his
own in particular, learnedly dropping in frequent references to
cylinders, speed, horse power, vibrators, carburetors, and spark plugs.
As for Diantha—she went to bed every night with thankfulness that
she possessed her complement of limbs and senses, and she rose every
morning with a fear that the coming night would find some of them
missing. To Phineas and the town in general she appeared to be devoted
to this breathless whizzing over the country roads; and wild horses
could not have dragged from her the truth: that she was longing with an
overwhelming longing for the old days of Dolly, dawdling, and peace.
Just where it all would have ended it is difficult to say had not
the automobile itself taken a hand in the game—as automobiles will
sometimes—and played trumps.
It was the first day of the county fair again, and Phineas and
Diantha were on their way home. Straight ahead the road ran between
clumps of green, then unwound in a white ribbon of dust across wide
fields and open meadows.
“Tain't much like last year, is it, Dianthy?” crowed Phineas,
shrilly, in her ear—then something went wrong.
Phineas knew it instantly. The quivering thing beneath them leaped
into new life—but a life of its own. It was no longer a slave, but a
master. Phineas's face grew white. Thus far he had been able to keep to
the road, but just ahead there was a sharp curve, and he knew he could
not make the turn—something was the matter with the steering-gear.
“Look out—she's got the bits in her teeth!” he shouted. “She's
There came a scream, a sharp report, and a grinding crash—then
* * * * *
From away off in the dim distance Phineas heard a voice.
Something snapped, and he seemed to be floating up, up, up, out of
the black oblivion of nothingness. He tried to speak, but he knew that
he made no sound.
The voice was nearer now, so near that it seemed just above him. It
sounded like—With a mighty effort he opened his eyes; then full
consciousness came. He was on the ground, his head in Diantha's lap.
Diantha, bonnet crushed, neck-bow askew, and coat torn, was bending
over him, calling him frantically by name. Ten feet away the wrecked
automobile, tip-tilted against a large maple tree, completed the
With a groan Phineas closed his eyes and turned away his head.
“She's all stove up—an' now you won't ever say yes,” he moaned.
“You wanted ter ride on an' on furever!”
“But I will—I don't—I didn't mean it,” sobbed Diantha
incoherently. “I'd rather have Dolly twice over. I like ter
crawl. Oh, Phineas, I hate that thing—I've always hated it! I'll say
yes next week—to- morrow—to-day if you'll only open your eyes and
tell me you ain't a-dyin'!”
Phineas was not dying, and he proved it promptly and effectually,
even to the doubting Diantha's blushing content. And there their
rescuers found them a long half-hour later—a blissful old man and a
happy old woman sitting hand in hand by the wrecked automobile.
“I cal'lated somebody'd be along purty soon,” said Phineas, rising
stiffly. “Ye see, we've each got a foot that don't go, so we couldn't
git help; but we hain't minded the wait—not a mite!”
The Most Wonderful Woman
And a Great Man who proves himself truly great
It was Old Home Week in the little village, and this was to be the
biggest day. From a distant city was to come the town's one really
Great Man, to speak in the huge tent erected on the Common for just
that purpose. From end to end the village was aflame with bunting and
astir with excitement, so that even I, merely a weary sojourner in the
place, felt the thrill and tingled pleasantly.
When the Honorable Jonas Whitermore entered the tent at two o'clock
that afternoon I had a good view of him, for my seat was next the broad
aisle. Behind him on the arm of an usher came a small, frightened-looking little woman in a plain brown suit and a plainer brown bonnet
set askew above thin gray hair. The materials of both suit and bonnet
were manifestly good, but all distinction of line and cut was
hopelessly lost in the wearing. Who she was I did not know; but I soon
learned, for one of the two young women in front of me said a low
something to which the other gave back a swift retort, woefully
audible: “His wife? That little dowdy thing in brown? Oh, what a
pity! Such an ordinary woman!”
My cheeks grew hot in sympathy with the painful red that swept to
the roots of the thin gray hair under the tip-tilted bonnet. Then I
glanced at the man.
Had he heard? I was not quite sure. His chin, I fancied, was a
trifle higher. I could not see his eyes, but I did see his right hand;
and it was clenched so tightly that the knuckles were white with the
strain. I thought I knew then. He had heard. The next minute he had
passed on up the aisle and the usher was seating the
more-frightened-than-ever little wife in the roped-off section reserved
for important guests.
It was then that I became aware that the man on my right was saying
“I beg your pardon, but-did you speak—to me?” I asked, turning to
The old man met my eyes with an abashed smile.
“I guess I'm the party what had ought to be askin' pardon,
stranger,” he apologized. “I talk to myself so much I kinder furgit
sometimes, and do it when folks is round. I was only sayin' that I
wondered why 'twas the good Lord give folks tongues and forgot to give
'em brains to run 'em with. But maybe you didn't hear what she said,”
he hazarded, with a jerk of his thumb toward the young woman in front.
“About Mrs. Whitermore? Yes, I heard.”
His face darkened.
“Then you know. And she heard, too! 'Ordinary woman,' indeed! Humph!
To think that Betty Tillington should ever live to hear herself called
an 'ordinary woman'! You see, I knew her when she was Betty
“Did you?” I smiled encouragingly. I was getting interested, and I
hoped he would keep on talking. On the platform the guest of honor was
holding a miniature reception. He was the picture of polite attention
and punctilious responsiveness; but I thought I detected a quick glance
now and then toward the roped-off section where sat his wife and I
wondered again—had he heard that thoughtless comment?
From somewhere had come the rumor that the man who was to introduce
the Honorable Jonas Whitermore had been delayed by a washout “down the
road,” but was now speeding toward us by automobile. For my part, I
fear I wished the absentee a punctured tire so that I might hear more
of the heart-history of the faded little woman with the bonnet askew.
“Yes, I knew her,” nodded my neighbor, “and she didn't look much
then like she does now. She was as pretty as a picture and there wa'n't
a chap within sight of her what wa'n't head over heels in love with
her. But there wa'n't never a chance for but two of us and we knew it:
Joe Whitermore and a chap named Fred Farrell. So, after a time, we just
sort of stood off and watched the race—as pretty a race as ever you
see. Farrell had the money and the good looks, while Whitermore was
poor as a church mouse, and he was homely, too. But Whitermore must
have had somethin'—maybe somethin' we didn't see, for she took him.
“Well, they married and settled down happy as two twitterin' birds,
but poor as Job's turkey. For a year or so she was as pretty and gay as
ever she was and into every good time goin'; then the babies came, one
after another, some of 'em livin' and some dyin' soon after they came.
“Of course, things was different then. What with the babies and the
housework, Betty couldn't get out much, and we didn't see much of her.
When we did see her, though, she'd smile and toss her head in the old
way and say how happy she was and didn't we think her babies was the
prettiest things ever, and all that. And we did, of course, and told
“But we couldn't help seein' that she was gettin' thin and white and
that no matter how she tossed her head, there wa'n't any curls there to
bob like they used to, 'cause her hair was pulled straight back and
twisted up into a little hard knot just like as if she had done it up
when some one was callin' her to come quick.”
“Yes, I can imagine it,” I nodded.
“Well, that's the way things went at the first, while he was gettin'
his start, and I guess they was happy then. You see, they was pullin'
even them days and runnin' neck and neck. Even when Fred Farrell, her
old beau, married a girl she knew and built a fine house all piazzas
and bow-winders right in sight of their shabby little rented cottage, I
don't think she minded it; even if Mis' Farrell didn't have anythin' to
do from mornin' till night only set in a white dress on her piazza, and
rock, and give parties, Betty didn't seem to mind. She had her Joe.
“But by and by she didn't have her Joe. Other folks had him and his
business had him. I mean, he'd got up where the big folks in town begun
to take notice of him; and when he wa'n't tendin' to business, he was
hobnobbin' with them, so's to bring more business. And—of
course she, with her babies and housework, didn't have no time for
“Well, next they moved away. When they went they took my oldest
girl, Mary, to help Betty; and so we still kept track of 'em. Mary said
it was worse than ever in the new place. It was quite a big city and
just livin' cost a lot. Mr. Whitermore, of course, had to look decent,
out among folks as he was, so he had to be 'tended to first. Then what
was left of money and time went to the children. It wa'n't long, too,
before the big folks there begun to take notice, and Mr.
Whitermore would come home all excited and tell about what was said to
him and what fine things he was bein' asked to do. He said 'twas goin'
to mean everythin' to his career.
“Then come the folks to call, ladies in fine carriages with
dressed-up men to hold the door open and all that; but always, after
they'd gone, Mary'd find Betty cryin' somewhere, or else tryin' to fix
a bit of old lace or ribbon on to some old dress. Mary said Betty's
clo's were awful, then. You see, there wa'n't never any money left for
her things. But all this didn't last long, for very soon the fine
ladies stopped comin' and Betty just settled down to the children and
didn't try to fix her clo's any more.
“But by and by, of course, the money begun to come in—lots of
it—and that meant more changes, naturally. They moved into a bigger
house, and got two more hired girls and a man, besides Mary. Mr.
Whitermore said he didn't want his wife to work so hard now, and that,
besides, his position demanded it. He was always talkin' about his
position those days, tryin' to get his wife to go callin' and go to
parties and take her place as his wife, as he put it.
“And Mary said Betty did try, and try hard. Of course she had nice
clo's now, lots of 'em; but somehow they never seemed to look just
right. And when she did go to parties, she never knew what to talk
about, she told Mary. She didn't know a thing about the books and
pictures and the plays and quantities of other things that everybody
else seemed to know about; and so she just had to sit still and say
“Mary said she could see it plagued her and she wa'n't surprised
when, after a time, Betty begun to have headaches and be sick party
nights, and beg Mr. Whitermore to go alone—and then cry because he did
go alone. You see, she'd got it into her head then that her husband was
ashamed of her.”
“And was—he?” demanded I.
“I don't know. Mary said she couldn't tell exactly. He seemed
worried, sometimes, and quite put out at the way his wife acted about
goin' to places. Then, other times, he didn't seem to notice or care if
he did have to go alone. It wa'n't that he was unkind to her. It was
just that he was so busy lookin' after himself that he forgot all about
her. But Betty took it all as bein' ashamed of her, no matter what he
did; and for a while she just seemed to pine away under it. They'd
moved to Washington by that time and, of course, with him in the
President's Cabinet, it was pretty hard for her.
“Then, all of a sudden, she took a new turn and begun to study and
to try to learn things—everything: how to talk and dress and act,
besides stuff that was just book-learnin'. She's been doin' that for
quite a spell and Mary says she thinks she'd do pretty well now, in
lots of ways, if only she had half a chance—somethin' to encourage
her, you know. But her husband don't seem to take no notice, now, just
as if he's got tired expectin' anythin' of her and that's made her so
scared and discouraged she's too nervous to act as if she did
know anythin'. An' there 't is.
“Well, maybe she is just an ordinary woman,” sighed the old man, a
little sternly, “if bein' 'ordinary' means she's like lots of others.
For I suspect, stranger, that, if the truth was told, lots of other big
men have got wives just like her—women what have been workin' so
tarnal hard to help their husbands get ahead that they hain't had time
to see where they themselves was goin'. And by and by they wake up to
the fact that they hain't got nowhere. They've just stayed still, 'way
“Mary says she don't believe Betty would mind even that, if her
husband only seemed to care—to—to understand, you know, how it had
been with her and how—Crickey! I guess they've come,” broke off the
old man suddenly, craning his neck for a better view of the door.
From outside had sounded the honk of an automobile horn and the wild
cheering of men and boys. A few minutes later the long-delayed
It was the usual thing. Before the Speaker of the Day came other
speakers, and each of them, no matter what his subject, failed not to
refer to “our illustrious fellow townsman” in terms of highest eulogy.
One told of his humble birth, his poverty-driven boyhood, his strenuous
youth. Another drew a vivid picture of his rise to fame. A third
dilated upon the extraordinary qualities of brain and body which had
made such achievement possible and which would one day land him in the
White House itself.
Meanwhile, close to the speaker's stand sat the Honorable Jonas
Whitermore himself, for the most part grim and motionless, though I
thought I detected once or twice a repetition of the half-troubled,
half-questioning glances directed toward his wife that I had seen
before. Perhaps it was because I was watching him so closely that I saw
the sudden change come to his face. The lips lost their perfunctory
smile and settled into determined lines. The eyes, under their shaggy
brows, glowed with sudden fire. The entire pose and air of the man
became curiously alert, as if with the eager impatience of one who has
determined upon a certain course of action and is anxious only to be up
and doing. Very soon after that he was introduced, and, amid deafening
cheers, rose to his feet. Then, very quietly, he began to speak.
We had heard he was an orator. Doubtless many of us were familiar
with his famous nickname “Silver-tongued Joe.” We had expected great
things of him—a brilliant discourse on the tariff, perhaps, or on our
foreign relations, or yet on the Hague Tribunal. But we got none of
these. We got first a few quiet words of thanks and appreciation for
the welcome extended him; then we got the picture of an everyday home
just like ours, with all its petty cares and joys so vividly drawn that
we thought we were seeing it, not hearing about it. He told us it was a
little home of forty years ago, and we began to realize, some way, that
he was speaking of himself.
“I may, you know, here,” he said, “for I am among my own people. I
am at home.”
Even then I didn't see what he was coming to. Like the rest I sat
slightly confused, wondering what it all meant. Then, suddenly, into
his voice there crept a tense something that made me sit more erect in
“My indomitable will-power? My superb courage? My
stupendous strength of character? My undaunted persistence and
marvelous capacity for hard work?” he was saying. “Do you think it's to
that I owe what I am? Never! Come back with me to that little home of
forty years ago and I'll show you to what and to whom I do owe it.
First and foremost I owe it to a woman—no ordinary woman, I want you
to understand—but to the most wonderful woman in the world.”
I knew then. So did my neighbor, the old man at my side. He jogged
my elbow frantically and whispered:—
“He's goin' to—he's goin' to! He's goin' to show her he does
care and understand! He did hear that girl. Crickey! But ain't
he the cute one to pay her back like that, for what she said?”
The little wife down front did not know—yet, however. I realized
that, the minute I looked at her and saw her drawn face and her
frightened, staring eyes fixed on her husband up there on the
platform—her husband, who was going to tell all these people about
some wonderful woman whom even she had never heard of before, but who
had been the making of him, it seemed.
“My will-power?” the Honorable Jonas Whitermore was saying
then. “Not mine, but the will-power of a woman who did not know the
meaning of the word 'fail.' Not my superb courage, but the courage of
one who, day in and day out, could work for a victory whose crown was
to go, not to herself, but to another. Not my stupendous strength of
character, but that of a beautiful young girl who could see youth and
beauty and opportunity nod farewell, and yet smile as she saw them go.
Not my undaunted persistence, but the persistence of one to whom the
goal is always just ahead, but never reached. And last, not my
marvelous capacity for hard work, but that of the wife and mother who
bends her back each morning to a multitude of tasks and cares that she
knows night will only interrupt—not finish.”
My eyes were still on the little brown-clad woman down in front, so
I saw the change come to her face as her husband talked. I saw the
terror give way to puzzled questioning, and that, in turn, become
surprise, incredulity, then overwhelming joy as the full meaning came
to her that she herself was that most wonderful woman in the world who
had been the making of him. I looked then for just a touch of the old
frightened, self-consciousness at finding herself thus so conspicuous;
but it did not come. The little woman plainly had forgotten us. She was
no longer Mrs. Jonas Whitermore among a crowd of strangers listening to
a great man's Old-Home-Day speech. She was just a loving, heart-hungry,
tired, all-but-discouraged wife hearing for the first time from the
lips of her husband that he knew and cared and understood.
“Through storm and sunshine, she was always there at her post,
aiding, encouraging, that I might be helped,” the Honorable Jonas
Whitermore was saying. “Week in and week out she fought poverty,
sickness, and disappointments, and all without a murmur, lest her
complaints distract me for one precious moment from my work. Even the
nights brought her no rest, for while I slept, she stole from cot to
cradle and from cradle to crib, covering outflung little legs and arms,
cooling parched little throats with water, quieting fretful whimpers
and hushing threatening outcries with a low 'Hush, darling, mother's
here. Don't cry! You'll wake father—and father must have his sleep.'
And father had it—that sleep, just as he had the best of everything
else in the house: food, clothing, care, attention—everything.
“What mattered it if her hands did grow rough and toil-worn? Mine
were left white and smooth—for my work. What mattered it if her back
and her head and her feet did ache? Mine were left strong and
painless—for my work. What mattered her wakefulness if I slept? What
mattered her weariness if I was rested? What mattered her
disappointments if my aims were accomplished? Nothing!”
The Honorable Jonas Whitermore paused for breath, and I caught mine
and held it. It seemed, for a minute, as if everybody all over the
house was doing the same thing, too, so absolutely still was it, after
that one word—“nothing.” They were beginning to understand—a little.
I could tell that. They were beginning to see this big thing that was
taking place right before their eyes. I glanced at the little woman
down in front. The tender glow on her face had grown and deepened and
broadened until her whole little brown-clad self seemed transfigured.
My own eyes dimmed as I looked. Then, suddenly I became aware that the
Honorable Jonas Whitermore was speaking again.
“And not for one year only, nor two, nor ten, has this quintessence
of devotion been mine,” he was saying, “but for twice ten and then a
score more—for forty years. For forty years! Did you ever stop to
think how long forty years could be—forty years of striving and
straining, of pinching and economizing, of serving and sacrificing?
Forty years of just loving somebody else better than yourself, and
doing this every day, and every hour of the day for the whole of those
long forty years? It isn't easy to love somebody else always
better than yourself, you know! It means the giving up of lots of
things that you want. You might do it for a day, for a month,
for a year even—but for forty years! Yet she has done it—that most
wonderful woman. Do you wonder that I say it is to her, and to her
alone, under God, that I owe all that I am, all that I hope to be?”
Once more he paused. Then, in a voice that shook a little at the
first, but that rang out clear and strong and powerful at the end, he
“Ladies, gentlemen, I understand this will close your programme. It
will give me great pleasure, therefore, if at the adjournment of this
meeting you will allow me to present you to the most wonderful woman in
the world—my wife.”
I wish I could tell you what happened then. The words—oh, yes, I
could tell you in words what happened. For that matter, the reporters
at the little stand down in front told it in words, and the press of
the whole country blazoned it forth on the front page the next morning.
But really to know what happened, you should have heard it and seen it,
and felt the tremendous power of it deep in your soul, as we did who
did see it.
There was a moment's breathless hush, then to the canvas roof there
rose a mighty cheer and a thunderous clapping of hands as by common
impulse the entire audience leaped to its feet.
For one moment only did I catch a glimpse of Mrs. Jonas Whitermore,
blushing, laughing, and wiping teary eyes in which the wondrous glow
still lingered; then the eager crowd swept down the aisle toward her.
“Crickey!” breathed the red-faced old man at my side. “Well,
stranger, even if it does seem sometimes as if the good Lord give some
folks tongues and forgot to give 'em brains to run 'em with, I guess
maybe He kinder makes up for it, once in a while, by givin' other folks
the brains to use their tongues so powerful well!”
I nodded dumbly. I could not speak just then—but the young woman in
front of me could. Very distinctly as I passed her I heard her say:
“Well, now, ain't that the limit, Sue? And her such an ordinary
The Price of a Pair of Shoes
For fifty years the meadow lot had been mowed and the side hill
ploughed at the nod of Jeremiah's head; and for the same fifty years
the plums had been preserved and the mince-meat chopped at the nod of
his wife's— and now the whole farm from the meadowlot to the
mince-meat was to pass into the hands of William, the only son, and
William's wife, Sarah Ellen.
“It'll be so much nicer, mother,—no care for you!” Sarah Ellen had
“And so much easier for you, father, too,” William had added. “It's
time you rested. As for money—of course you'll have plenty in the
savings- bank for clothes and such things. You won't need much,
anyhow,” he finished, “for you'll get your living off the farm just as
you always have.”
So the matter was settled, and the papers were made out. There was
no one to be considered, after all, but themselves, for William was the
only living son, and there had been no daughters.
For a time it was delightful. Jeremiah and Hester Whipple were like
children let out of school. They told themselves that they were people
of leisure now, and they forced themselves to lie abed half an hour
later than usual each day. They spent long hours in the attic looking
over old treasures, and they loitered about the garden and the barn
with no fear that it might be time to get dinner or to feed the stock.
Gradually, however, there came a change. A new restlessness entered
their lives, a restlessness that speedily became the worst kind of
homesickness—the homesickness of one who is already at home.
The extra half-hour was spent in bed as before—but now Hester lay
with one ear listening to make sure that Sarah Ellen did let the
cat in for her early breakfast; and Jeremiah lay with his ear listening
for the squeak of the barn door which would tell him whether William
was early or, late that morning. There were the same long hours in the
attic and the garden, too—but in the attic Hester discovered her
treasured wax wreath (late of the parlor wall); and in the garden
Jeremiah found more weeds than he had ever allowed to grow
there, he was sure.
The farm had been in the hands of William and Sarah Ellen just six
months when the Huntersville Savings Bank closed its doors. It was the
old story of dishonesty and disaster, and when the smoke of Treasurer
Hilton's revolver cleared away there was found to be practically
nothing for the depositors. Perhaps on no one did the blow fall with
more staggering force than on Jeremiah Whipple.
“Why, Hester,” he moaned, when he found himself alone with his wife,
“here I'm seventy-eight years old—an' no money! What am I goin' ter
“I know, dear,” soothed Hester; “but 't ain't as bad for us as 'tis
for some. We've got the farm, you know; an'—”
“We hain't got the farm,” cut in her husband sharply. “William an'
Sarah Ellen's got it.”
“Yes, I know, but they—why, they're us, Jeremiah,” reminded
Hester, trying to keep the quaver out of her voice.
“Mebbe, Hester, mebbe,” conceded Jeremiah; but he turned and looked
out of the window with gloomy eyes.
There came a letter to the farmhouse soon after this from Nathan
Banks, a favorite nephew, suggesting that “uncle and aunt” pay them a
“Just the thing, father!” cried William. “Go—it'll do you both
good!” And after some little talk it was decided that the invitation
should be accepted.
Nathan Banks lived thirty miles away, but not until the night before
the Whipples were to start did it suddenly occur to Jeremiah that he
had now no money for railroad tickets. With a heightened color on his
old cheeks he mentioned the fact to William.
“Ye see, I—I s'pose I'll have ter come ter you,” he apologized.
“Them won't take us!” And he looked ruefully at a few coins he had
pulled from his pocket. “They're all the cash I've got left.”
William frowned a little and stroked his beard.
“Sure enough!” he muttered. “I forgot the tickets, too, father. 'T
is awkward—that bank blowing up; isn't it? Oh, I'll let you have it
all right, of course, and glad to, only it so happens that just now
I—er, how much is it, anyway?” he broke off abruptly.
“Why, I reckon a couple of dollars'll take us down, an' more,
mebbe,” stammered the old man, “only, of course, there's comin' back,
“Oh, we don't have to reckon on that part now,” interrupted William
impatiently, as he thrust his hands into his pockets and brought out a
bill and some change. “I can send you down some more when that time
comes. There, here's a two; if it doesn't take it all, what's left can
go toward bringing you back.”
And he handed out the bill, and dropped the change into his pocket.
“Thank you, William,” stammered the old man. “I—I'm sorry—”
“Oh, that's all right,” cut in William cheerfully, with a wave of
his two hands. “Glad to do it, father; glad to do it!”
Mr. and Mrs. Whipple stayed some weeks with their nephew. But, much
as they enjoyed their visit, there came a day when home—regardless of
weeds that were present and wax wreaths that were absent—seemed to
them the one place in the world; and they would have gone there at once
had it not been for the railroad fares.
William had not sent down any more money, though his letters had
been kind, and had always spoken of the warm welcome that awaited them
any time they wished to come home.
Toward the end of the fifth week a bright idea came to Jeremiah.
“We'll go to Cousin Abby's,” he announced gleefully to his wife.
“Nathan said last night he'd drive us over there any time. We'll go
to-morrow, an' we won't come back here at all—it'll be ten miles
nearer home there, an' it won't cost us a cent ter get there,” he
finished triumphantly. And to Cousin Abby's they went.
So elated was Jeremiah with the result of his scheming that he set
his wits to work in good earnest, and in less than a week he had
formulated an itinerary that embraced the homes of two other cousins,
an aunt of Sarah Ellen's, and the niece of a brother-in-law, the latter
being only three miles from 'his own farmhouse—or rather William's
farmhouse, as he corrected himself bitterly. Before another month had
passed, the round of visits was accomplished, and the little old man
and the little old woman—having been carried to their destination in
each case by their latest host—finally arrived at the farmhouse door.
They were weary, penniless, and half-sick from being feasted and fêted
at every turn, but they were blissfully conscious that of no one had
they been obliged to beg the price of their journey home.
“We didn't write we were comin',” apologized Jeremiah faintly, as he
stumbled across the threshold and dropped into the nearest chair. “We
were goin' ter write from Keziah's, but we were so tired we hurried
right up an' come home. 'Tis nice ter get here; ain't it, Hester?” he
finished, settling back in his chair.
“'Nice'!” cried Hester tremulously, tugging at her bonnet strings.
“'Nice' ain't no name for it, Jeremiah. Why, Sarah Ellen, seems if I
don't want to do nothin' for a whole month but set in my own room an'
jest look 'round all day!”
“You poor dear—and that's all you shall do!” soothed Sarah Ellen;
and Hester sighed, content. For so many, many weeks now she had sat
upon strange chairs and looked out upon an unfamiliar world!
* * * * *
It was midwinter when Jeremiah's last pair of shoes gave out. “An'
there ain't a cent ter get any new ones, Hester,” he exclaimed,
ruefully eying the ominously thin place in the sole.
“I know, Jeremiah, but there's William,” murmured Hester. “I'm sure
“Oh, of course, he'd give it to me,” cried Jeremiah quickly;
“but—I—I sort of hate to ask.”
“Pooh! I wouldn't think of that,” declared Hester stoutly, but even
as she spoke, she tucked her own feet farther under her chair. “We gave
them the farm, and they understood they was to take care of us, of
“Hm-m, yes, I know, I know. I'll ask him,” murmured Jeremiah—but he
did not ask him until the ominously thin place in the sole had become a
hole, large, round, and unmistakable.
“Well, William,” he began jocosely, trying to steady his shaking
voice, “guess them won't stand for it much longer!” And he held up the
shoe, sole uppermost.
“Well, I should say not!” laughed William; then his face changed.
“Oh, and you'll have to have the money for some new ones, of course. By
George! It does beat all how I keep forgetting about that bank!”
“I know, William, I'm sorry,” stammered the old man miserably.
“Oh, I can let you have it all right, father, and glad to,” assured
William, still frowning. “It's only that just at this time I'm a little
short, and—” He stopped abruptly and thrust his hands into his
pockets. “Hm-m,” he vouchsafed after a minute. “Well, I'll tell you
what—I haven't got any now, but in a day or two I'll take you over to
the village and see what Skinner's got that will fit you. Oh, we'll
have some shoes, father, never fear!” he laughed. “You don't suppose
I'm going to let my father go barefoot!—eh?” And he laughed again.
Things wore out that winter in the most unaccountable fashion—at
least those belonging to Jeremiah and Hester did, especially
undergarments. One by one they came to mending, and one by one Hester
mended them, patch upon patch, until sometimes there was left scarcely
a thread of the original garment. Once she asked William for money to
buy new ones, but it happened that William was again short, and though
the money she had asked for came later, Hester did not make that same
There were two things that Hester could not patch very
successfully—her shoes. She fried to patch them to be sure, but the
coarse thread knotted in her shaking old hands, and the bits of
leather—cut from still older shoes—slipped about and left her poor
old thumb exposed to the sharp prick of the needle, so that she finally
gave it up in despair. She tucked her feet still farther under her
chair these days when Jeremiah was near, and she pieced down two of her
dress skirts so that they might touch the floor all round. In spite of
all this, however, Jeremiah saw, one day—and understood.
“Hester,” he cried sharply, “put out your foot.”
Hester did not hear—apparently. She lowered the paper she was
reading and laughed a little hysterically.
“Such a good joke, Jeremiah!” she quavered. “Just let me read it. A
“Hester, be them the best shoes you've got?” demanded Jeremiah.
And Hester, with a wisdom born of fifty years' experience of that
particular tone of voice, dropped her paper and her subterfuge, and
said gently: “Yes, Jeremiah.”
There was a moment's pause; then Jeremiah sprang to his feet, thrust
his hands into his pockets, and paced the tiny bedroom from end to end.
“Hester, this thing's a-killin' me!” he blurted out at last. “Here
I'm seventy-eight years old—an' I hain't got money enough ter buy my
wife a pair of shoes!”
“But the farm, Jeremiah—”
“I tell ye the farm ain't mine,” cut in Jeremiah savagely. “Look
a-here, Hester, how do you s'pose it feels to a man who's paid his own
way since he was a boy, bought a farm with his own money an' run it,
brought up his boys an' edyercated 'em—how do ye s'pose it feels fur
that man ter go ter his own son an' say: 'Please, sir, can't I have a
nickel ter buy me a pair o' shoestrings?' How do ye s'pose it feels? I
tell ye, Hester, I can't stand it—I jest can't! I'm goin' ter work.”
“Well, I am,” repeated the old man doggedly. “You're goin' ter have
some shoes, an' I'm goin' ter earn 'em. See if I don't!” And he squared
his shoulders, and straightened his bent back as if already he felt the
weight of a welcome burden.
Spring came, and with it long sunny days and the smell of green
things growing. Jeremiah began to be absent day after day from the
farmhouse. The few tasks that he performed each morning were soon
finished, and after that he disappeared, not to return until night.
William wondered a little, but said nothing. Other and more important
matters filled his mind.
Only Hester noticed that the old man's step grew more languid and
his eye more dull; and only Hester knew that at night he was sometimes
too tired to sleep—that he could not “seem ter hit the bed,” as he
It was at about this time that Hester began to make frequent visits
to the half-dozen farmhouses in the settlement about them. She began to
be wonderfully busy these days, too, knitting socks and mittens, or
piecing up quilts. Sarah Ellen asked her sometimes what she was doing,
but Hester's answers were always so cheery and bright that Sarah Ellen
did not realize that the point was always evaded and the subject
It was in May that the inevitable happened. William came home one
day to find an excited, weeping wife who hurried him into the seclusion
of their own room.
“William, William,” she moaned, “what shall we do? It's father and
mother; they've—oh, William, how can I tell you!” and she covered her
face with her hands.
William paled under his coat of tan. He gripped his wife's arm with
fingers that hurt.
“What is it—what's happened?” he asked hoarsely. “They aren't hurt
“No, no,” choked Sarah Ellen. “I didn't mean to frighten you.
They're all right that way. They—they've gone to work! William,
what shall we do?”
Again William Whipple gripped his wife's arm with fingers that hurt.
“Sarah Ellen, quit that crying, for Heaven's sake! What does this
mean? What are you talking about?” he demanded.
Sarah Ellen sopped her eyes with her handkerchief and lifted her
“It was this morning. I was over to Maria Weston's,” she explained
brokenly. “Maria dropped something about a quilt mother was piecing for
her, and when I asked her what in the world she meant, she looked
queer, and said she supposed I knew. Then she tried to change the
subject; but I wouldn't let her, and finally I got the whole story out
“Yes, yes, go on,” urged William impatiently, as Sarah Ellen paused
“It seems mother came to her a while ago, and—and she went to
others, too. She asked if there wasn't some knitting or patchwork she
could do for them. She said she—she wanted to earn some money.” Sarah
Ellen's voice broke over the last word, and William muttered something
under his breath. “She said they'd lost all they had in the bank,” went
on Sarah Ellen hurriedly, “and that they didn't like to ask you for
“Why, I always let them have—” began William defensively; then he
stopped short, a slow red staining his face.
“Yes, I know you have,” interposed Sarah Ellen eagerly; “and I said
so to Maria. But mother had already told her that, it seems. She said
that mother said you were always glad to give it to them when they
asked for it, but that it hurt father's pride to beg, so he'd gone to
work to earn some of his own.”
“Father!” exclaimed William. “But I thought you said 'twas mother.
Surely father isn't knitting socks and mittens, is he?”
“No, no,” cried Sarah Ellen. “I'm coming to that as fast as I can.
You see, 'twas father who went to work first. He's been doing all sorts
of little odd jobs, even to staying with the Snow children while their
folks went to town, and spading up Nancy Howe's flower beds for her.
But it's been wearing on him, and he was getting all tired out. Only
think of it, William—working out—father and mother! I just
can't ever hold up my head again! What shall we do?”
“Do? Why, we'll stop it, of course,” declared William savagely. “I
guess I can support my own father and mother without their working for
“But it's money, William, that they want. Don't you see?”
“Well, we'll give them money, then. I always have, anyway,—when
they asked for it,” finished William in an aggrieved voice.
Sarah Ellen shook her head.
“It won't do,” she sighed. “It might have done once—but not now.
They've got to the point where they just can't accept money doled out
to them like that. Why, just think, 't was all theirs once!”
“Well, 'tis now—in a way.”
“I know—but we haven't acted as if it were. I can see that now,
when it's too late.”
“We'll give it back, then,” cried William, his face clearing; “the
whole blamed farm!”
Sarah Ellen frowned. She shook her head slowly, then paused, a
dawning question in her eyes.
“You don't suppose—William, could we?” she cried with sudden
“Well, we can try mighty hard,” retorted the man grimly. “But we've
got to go easy, Sarah Ellen,—no bungling. We've got to spin some sort
of a yarn that won't break, nor have any weak places; and of course, as
far as the real work of the farm is concerned, we'll still do the most
of it. But the place'll be theirs. See?—theirs! Working out
It must have been a week later that Jeremiah burst into his wife's
room. Hester sat by the window, bending over numberless scraps of blue,
red, and pink calico.
“Put it up, put it up, Hester,” he panted joyously. “Ye hain't got
to sew no more, an' I hain't neither. The farm is ours!”
“Why, Jeremiah, what—how—”
“I don't know, Hester, no more than you do,” laughed Jeremiah
happily; “only William says he's tired of runnin' things all alone, an'
he wants me to take hold again. They're goin' ter make out the papers
right away; an' say, Hester,”—the bent shoulders drew themselves erect
with an air of pride,—“I thought mebbe this afternoon we'd drive over
ter Huntersville an' get some shoes for you. Ye know you're always
The Long Road
“Is the house locked up?”
“Are ye sure, now?”
“Why, yes, dear; I just did it.”
“Well, won't ye see?”
“But I have seen, father.” Jane did not often make so many words
about this little matter, but she was particularly tired to-night.
The old man fell back wearily.
“Seems ter me, Jane, ye might jest see,” he fretted. “'T ain't much
I'm askin' of ye, an' ye know them spoons—”
“Yes, yes, dear, I'll go,” interrupted the woman hurriedly.
“Yes.” The woman turned and waited. She knew quite well what was
coming, but it was the very exquisiteness of her patient care that
allowed her to give no sign that she had waited in that same spot to
hear those same words every night for long years past.
“An' ye might count 'em—them spoons,” said the old man.
“An' the forks.”
“An' them photygraph pictures in the parlor.”
“All right, father.” The woman turned away. Her step was slow, but
confident—the last word had been said.
To Jane Pendergast her father had gone with the going of his keen,
clear mind, twenty years before. This fretful, childish, exacting old
man that pottered about the house all day was but the shell that had
held the kernel—the casket that had held the jewel. But because of
what it had held, Jane guarded it tenderly, laying at its feet her life
as a willing sacrifice.
There had been four children: Edgar, the eldest; Jane, Mary, and
Fred. Edgar had left home early, and was a successful business man in
Boston. Mary had married a wealthy lawyer of the same city; and Fred
had opened a real estate office in a thriving Southern town.
Jane had stayed at home. There had been a time, it is true, when she
had planned to go away to school; but the death of Mrs. Pendergast left
no one at home to care for Mary and Fred, so Jane had abandoned the
idea. Later, after Mary had married and Fred had gone away, there was
still her father to be cared for, though at this time he was well and
Jane had passed her thirty-fifth birthday, when she became
palpitatingly aware of a pair of blue-gray eyes, and a determined,
smooth-shaven chin belonging to the recently arrived principal of the
village school. In spite of her stern admonition to herself to remember
her years and not quite lose her head, she was fast drifting into a
rosy dream of romance that was all the more enthralling because so
belated, when the summons of a small boy brought her sharply back to
“It's yer father, miss. They want ye ter come,” he panted.
“Somethin' has took him. He's in Mackey's drug store, talkin' awful
queer. He ain't his self, ye know. They thought maybe you could—do
Jane went at once—but she could do nothing except to lead gently
home the chattering, shifting-eyed thing that had once been her father.
One after another the village physicians shook their heads—they could
do nothing. Skilled alienists from the city—they, too, could do
nothing. There was nothing that could be done, they said, except to
care for him as one would for a child. He would live years, probably.
His constitution was wonderfully good. He would not be violent—just
foolish and childish, with perhaps a growing irritability as the years
passed and his physical strength failed.
Mary and Edgar had come home at once. Mary had stayed two days and
Edgar five hours. They were shocked and dismayed at their father's
condition. So overwhelmed with grief were they, indeed, that they fled
from the room almost immediately upon seeing him, and Edgar took the
first train out of town.
Mary, shiveringly, crept from room to room, trying to find a place
where the cackling laugh and the fretful voice would not reach her. But
the old man, like a child with a new toy, was pleased at his daughter's
arrival, and followed her about the house with unfailing persistence.
“But, Mary, he won't hurt you. Why do you run?” remonstrated Jane.
Mary shuddered and covered her face with her hands.
“Jane, Jane, how can you take it so calmly!” she moaned. “How can
you bear it?”
There was a moment's pause. A curious expression had come to Jane's
“Some one—has to,” she said at last, quietly.
Jane went down to the village the next afternoon, leaving her sister
in charge at home. When she returned, an hour later, Mary met her at
the gate, crying and wringing her hands.
“Jane, Jane, I thought you would never come! I can't do a thing with
him. He insists that he isn't at home, and that he wants to go there. I
told him, over and over again, that he was at home already, but
it didn't do a bit of good. I've had a perfectly awful time.”
“Yes, I know. Where is he?”
“In the kitchen. I—I tied him. He just would go, and I couldn't
“Oh, Mary!” And Jane fairly flew up the walk to the kitchen
door. A minute later she appeared, leading an old man, who was
“Home, Jane. I want ter go home.”
“Yes, dear, I know. We'll go.” And Mary watched with wondering eyes
while the two walked down the path, through the gate and across the
street to the next corner, then slowly crossed again and came back
through the familiar doorway.
“Home!” chuckled the old man gleefully.
“We've come home!”
Mary went back to Boston the next day. She said it was fortunate,
indeed, that Jane's nerves were so strong. For her part, she could not
have stood it another day.
The days slipped into weeks, and the weeks into months. Jane took
the entire care of her father, except that she hired a woman to come in
for an hour or two once or twice a week, when she herself was obliged
to leave the house.
The owner of the blue-gray eyes did not belie the determination of
his chin, but made a valiant effort to establish himself on the basis
of the old intimacy; but Miss Pendergast held herself sternly aloof,
and refused to listen to him. In a year he had left town—but it was
not his fault that he was obliged to go away alone, as Jane Pendergast
One by one the years passed. Twenty had gone by now since the small
boy came with his fateful summons that June day. Jane was fifty-five
now, a thin-faced, stoop-shouldered, tired woman—but a woman to whom
release from this constant care was soon to come, for she was not yet
fifty-six when her father died.
All the children and some of the grandchildren came to the funeral.
In the evening the family, with the exception of Jane, gathered in the
sitting-room and discussed the future, while upstairs the woman whose
fate was most concerned laid herself wearily in bed with almost a pang
that she need not now first be doubly sure that doors were locked and
spoons were counted.
In the sitting-room below, discussion waxed warm.
“But what shall we do with her?” demanded Mary. “I had meant to give
her my share of the property,” she added with an air of great
generosity, “but it seems there's nothing to give.”
“No, there's nothing to give,” returned Edgar. “The house had to be
mortgaged long ago to pay their living expenses, and it will have to be
“But she's got to live somewhere!” Mary's voice was fretful,
For a moment there was silence; then Edgar stirrad in his chair.
“Well, why can't she go to you, Mary?” he asked.
“Me!” Mary almost screamed the word.
“Why, Edgar!—when you know how much I have on my hands with my
great house and all my social duties, to say nothing of Belle's
“Well, maybe Jane could help.”
“Help! How. pray?—to entertain my guests?” And even Edgar smiled as
he thought of Jane, in her five-year-old bonnet and her ten-year-old
black gown, standing in the receiving line at an exclusive Commonwealth
“Well, but—” Edgar paused impotently.
“Why don't you take her?” It was Mary who made the suggestion.
“I? Oh, but I—” Edgar stopped and glanced uneasily at his wife.
“Why, of course, if it's necessary,” murmured Mrs. Edgar,
with a resigned air. “I should certainly never wish it said that I
refused a home to any of my husband's poor relations.”
“Oh, good Heavens! Let her come to us,” cut in Fred sharply. “I
reckon we can take care of our 'poor relations' for a spell yet; eh,
“Why, sure we can,” retorted. Fred's wife, in her soft Southern
drawl. “We'll be right glad to take her, I reckon.” And there the
* * * * *
Jane Pendergast had been South two months, when one day Edgar
received a letter from his brother Fred.
Jane's going North [wrote Fred]. Sally says she can't have her in
the house another week. 'Course, we don't want to tell Jane exactly
that— but we've fixed it so she's going to leave.
I'm sorry if this move causes you folks any trouble, but there just
wasn't any other way out of it. You see, Sally is Southern and easy-going, and I suppose not over-particular in the eyes of you stiff
Northerners. I don't mind things, either, and I suppose I'm easy, too.
Well, great Scott!—Jane hadn't been down here five minutes before
she began to “slick up,” as she called it—and she's been “slickin' up"
ever since. Sally always left things round handy, and so've the
children; but since Jane came, we haven't been able to find a thing
when we wanted it. All our boots and shoes are put away, turned toes
out, and all our hats and coats are snatched up and hung on pegs the
minute we toss them off.
Maybe this don't seem much to you, but it's lots to us. Anyhow,
Jane's going North. She says she's going to visit Edgar a little while,
and I told her I'd write and tell you she's coming. She'll be there
about the 2Oth. Will wire you what train.
Your affectionate brother
As gently as possible Edgar broke to his wife the news of the
prospective guest. Julia Pendergast was a good woman. At least she
often said that she was, adding, at the same time, that she never
knowingly refused to do her duty. She said the same thing now to her
husband, and she immediately made some very elaborate and very apparent
changes in her home and in her plans, all with an eye to the expected
guest. At four o'clock Wednesday afternoon Edgar met his sister at the
“Well, I don't see as you've changed much,” he said kindly.
“Haven't I? Why, seems as if I must look changed a lot,” chirruped
Jane. “I'm so rested, and Fred and Sally were so good to me! Why, they
tried not to have me do a thing—and I didn't do much, only a little
puttering around just to help out with the work.”
“Hm-m,” murmured Edgar. “Well, I'm glad to see you're—rested.”
Julia met them in the hall of the beautiful Brookline residence.
Lined up with her were the four younger children, who lived at home.
They made an imposing array, and Jane was visibly affected.
“Oh, it's so good of you—to meet me—like this!” she faltered.
“Why, we wished to, I'm sure,” returned Mrs. Pendergast, with a
half- stifled sigh. “I hope I understand my duty to my guest and my
sister-in- law sufficiently to know what is her due. I did not allow
anything—not even my committee meeting to-day—to interfere with this
call for duty at home.”
Jane fell back. All the glow fled from her face.
“Oh, then you did stay at home—and for me! I'm so sorry,” she
But Mrs. Pendergast raised a deprecatory hand.
“Say no more. It was nothing. Now come, let me show you to your
room. I've given you Ella's room, and put Ella in Tom's, and Tom in
Bert's, and moved Bert upstairs to the little room over—”
“Oh, don't!” interrupted Jane, in quick distress. “I don't want to
put people out so! Let me go upstairs.” Mrs. Pendergast frowned and
sighed. She had the air of one whose kindest efforts are misunderstood.
“My dear Jane, I am sorry, but I shall have to ask you to be as
satisfied as you can be with the arrangements I am able to make for
you. You see, even though this house is large, I am, in a way, cramped
for room. I always have to keep three guest-rooms ready for immediate
occupancy. I am a member of four clubs and six charitable and religious
organizations, besides the church, and there are always ministers and
delegates whom I feel it my duty to entertain.”
“But that is all the more reason why I should go upstairs, and not
put all those children out of their rooms,” begged Jane.
Mrs. Pendergast shook her head.
“It does them good,” she said decidely, “to learn to be self-sacrificing. That is a virtue we all must learn to practice.”
Jane flushed again; then she turned abruptly. “Julia, did you want
me to—to come to see you?” she asked.
“Why, certainly; what a question!” returned Mrs. Pendergast, in a
properly shocked tone of voice. “As if I could do otherwise than to
want my husband's sister to come to us.”
Jane smiled faintly, but her eyes were troubled.
“Thank you; I'm glad you feel—that way. You see, at Fred's—I
wouldn't have them know it for the world, they were so good to
me—but I thought, lately, that maybe they didn't want—But it wasn't
so, of course. It couldn't have been. I—I ought not even to think it.”
“Hm-m; no,” returned Mrs. Pendergast, with noncommittal briefness.
Not six weeks later Mary, in her beautiful Commonwealth Avenue home,
received a call from a little, thin-faced woman, who curtsied to the
butler and asked him to please tell her sister that she wished to speak
Mary looked worried and not over-cordial when she rustled into the
“Why, Jane, did you find your way here all alone?” she cried.
“Yes—no—well, I asked a man at the last; but, you know, I've been
here twice before with the others.”
“Yes, I know,” said Mary.
There was a pause; then Jane cleared her throat timidly.
“Mary, I—I've been thinking. You see, just as soon as I'm strong
enough, I—I'm going to take care of myself, and then I won't be a
burden to—to anybody.” Jane was talking very fast now. Her words came
tremulously between short, broken breaths. “But until I get well enough
to earn money, I can't, you see. And I've been thinking;—would you be
willing to take me until—until I can? I'm lots better, already, and
getting stronger every day. It wouldn't be for—long.”
“Why, of course, Jane!” Mary spoke cheerfully, and in a tone a
little higher than her ordinary voice. “I should have asked you to come
here before, only I feared you wouldn't be happy here—such a different
life for you, and so much noise and confusion with Belle's wedding
coming on, and all!”
Jane gave her a grateful glance.
“I know, of course,—you'd think that,—and it isn't that I'm
finding fault with Julia and Edgar. I couldn't do that—they're so good
to me. But, you see, I put them out so. Now, there's my room, for one
thing. 'T was Ella's, and Ella has to keep running in for things she's
left, and she says it's the same with the others. You see, I've got
Ella's room, and Ella's got Tom's, and Tom's got Bert's. It's a regular
'house that Jack built'—and I'm the'Jack'!”
“I see,” laughed Mary constrainedly. “And you want to come here?
Well, you shall. You—you may come a week from Saturday,” she added,
after a pause. “I have a reception and a dinner here the first of the
week, and —you'd better stay away until after that.”
“Oh, thank you,” sighed Jane. “You are so good. I shall tell Julia
that I'm invited here, so she won't think I'm dissatisfied. They're so
good to me—I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings!”
“Of course not,” murmured Mary.
* * * * *
The big, fat tire of the touring-car popped like a pistol shot
directly in front of the large white house with the green blinds.
“This is the time we're in luck, Belle,” laughed the good-natured
young fellow who had been driving the car. “Do you see that big piazza
just aching for you to come and sit on it?”
“Are we really stalled, Will?” asked the girl.
“Looks like it—for a while. I'll have to telephone Peters to bring
down a tire. Of course, to-day is the day we didn't take it!”
Some minutes later the girl found herself on the cool piazza, in
charge of a wonderfully hospitable old lady, while down the road the
good- looking young fellow was making long strides toward the next
house and a telephone.
“We are staying at the Lindsays', in North Belton,” explained the
girl, when he was gone, “and we came out for a little spin before
dinner. Isn't this Belton? I have an aunt who used to live here
somewhere—Aunt Jane Pendergast”
The old lady sat suddenly erect in her chair.
“My dear,” she cried, “you don't mean to say that you're Jane
Pendergast's niece! Now, that is queer! Why, this was her very
house—we bought it when the old gentleman died last year. But, come,
we'll go inside. You'll want to see everything, of course!”
It was some time before the young man came back from telephoning,
and it was longer still before Peters came with the new tire, and
helped get the touring-car ready for the road. The girl was very quiet
when they finally left the house, and there was a troubled look deep in
“Why, Belle, what's the matter?” asked the young fellow concernedly,
as he slackened speed in the cool twilight of the woods, some minutes
later. “What's troubling you, dear?”
“Will”—the girl's voice shook—“Will, that was Aunt Jane's house.
That old lady—told me.”
“Yes, yes—the little gray-haired woman that came to live with us
two months ago. You know her.”
“Why, y-yes; I think I've—seen her.”
The girl winced, as from a blow.
“Will, don't! I can't bear it,” she choked. “It only shows how we've
treated her—how little we've made of her, when we ought to have done
everything—everything to make her happy. Instead of that, we were
brutes—all of us!”
“Belle!”—the tone was an indignant protest.
“But we were—listen! She lived in that house all her life till last
year. She never went anywhere or did anything. For twenty years she
lived with an old man who had lost his mind, and she tended him like a
baby—only a baby grows older all the time and more interesting, while
he—oh, Will, it was awful! That old lady—told me.”
“By Jove!” exclaimed the young fellow, under his breath.
“And there were other things,” hurried on the girl, tremulously.
“Some way, I never thought of Aunt Jane only as old and timid; but she
was young like us, once. She wanted to go away to school—but she
couldn't go; and there was some one who—loved her—once—later, and
she sent him—away. That was after—after grandfather lost his mind.
Mother and Uncle Edgar and Uncle Fred—they all went away and lived
their own lives, but she stayed on. Then last year grandfather died.”
The girl paused and moistened her lips. The man did not speak. His
eyes were on the road ahead of the slow-moving car.
“I heard to-day—how—how proud and happy Aunt Jane was that Uncle
Fred had asked her to come and live with him,” resumed the girl, after
a minute. “That old lady told me how Aunt Jane talked and talked about
it before she went away, and how she said that all her life she had
taken care of others, and it would be so good to feel that now some one
was going to look out for her, though, of course, she should do
everything she could to help, and she hoped she could still be of some
“Well, she has been, hasn't she?”
The girl shook her head.
“That's the worst of it. We haven't made her think she was. She
stayed at Uncle Fred's for a while, and then he sent her to Uncle
Edgar's. Something must have been wrong there, for she asked mother two
months ago if she might come to us.”
“Well, I'm sure you've been—good to her.”
“But we haven't!” cried the girl. “Mother meant all right, I know,
but she didn't think. And I've been—horrid. Aunt Jane tried to show
her interest in my wedding plans, but I only laughed at her and said
she wouldn't understand. We've pushed her aside, always,—we've never
made her one of us; and—we've always made her feel her dependence.”
“But you'll do differently now, dear,—now that you understand.”
Again the girl shook her head.
“We can't,” she moaned. “It's too late. I had a letter from mother
last night. Aunt Jane's sick—awfully sick. Mother said I might expect
to—to hear of the end any day.”
“But there's some time left—a little!”—his voice broke and choked
into silence. Suddenly he made a quick movement, and the car beneath
them leaped forward like a charger that feels the prick of the spur.
The girl gave a frightened cry, then a tremulous little sob of joy.
The man had cried in her ear, in response to her questioning eyes:
And to them both, at the moment, there seemed to be waiting at the
end of the road a little bent old woman, into whose wistful eyes they
were to bring the light of joy and peace.
A Couple of Capitalists
On the top of the hill stood the big brick house—a mansion,
compared to the other houses of the New England village. At the foot of
the hill nestled the tiny brown farmhouse, half buried in lilacs,
climbing roses, and hollyhocks.
Years ago, when Reuben had first brought Emily to that little brown
cottage, he had said to her, ruefully: “Sweetheart, 'tain't much of a
place, I know, but we'll save and save, every cent we can get, an' by
an' by we'll go up to live in the big house on the hill!” And he kissed
so tenderly the pretty little woman he had married only that morning
that she smiled brightly and declared that the small brown house was
the very nicest place in the world.
But, as time passed, the “big house” came to be the Mecca of all
their hopes, and penny by penny the savings grew. It was slow work,
though, and to hearts less courageous the thing would have seemed an
impossibility. No luxuries—and scarcely the bare necessities of life—
came to the little house under the hill, but every month a tiny sum
found its way into the savings bank. Fortunately, air and sunshine were
cheap, and, if inside the house there was lack of beauty and cheer,
outside there was a riotous wealth of color and bloom—the flowers
under Emily's loving care flourished and multiplied.
The few gowns in the modest trousseau had been turned inside out and
upside down, only to be dyed and turned and twisted all over again. But
what was a dyed gown, when one had all that money in the bank and the
big house on the hill in prospect! Reuben's best suit grew rusty and
seedy, but the man patiently, even gleefully, wore it as long as it
would hang together; and when the time came that new garments must be
bought for both husband and wife, only the cheapest and flimsiest of
material was purchased—but the money in the bank grew.
Reuben never smoked. While other men used the fragrant weed to calm
their weary brains and bodies, Reuben—ate peanuts. It had been a
curious passion of his, from the time when as a boy he was first
presented with a penny for his very own, to spend all his spare cash on
this peculiar luxury; and the slow munching of this plebeian delicacy
had the same soothing effect on him that a good cigar or an old clay
pipe had upon his brother-man. But from the day of his marriage all
this was changed; the dimes and the nickels bought no more peanuts, but
went to swell the common fund.
It is doubtful if even this heroic economy would have accomplished
the desired end had not a certain railroad company cast envious eyes
upon the level valley and forthwith sent long arms of steel bearing a
puffing engine up through the quiet village. A large tract of waste
land belonging to Reuben Gray suddenly became surprisingly valuable,
and a sum that trebled twice over the scanty savings of years grew all
in a night.
One crisp October day, Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Gray awoke to the fact
that they were a little under sixty years of age, and in possession of
more than the big sum of money necessary to enable them to carry out
the dreams of their youth. They began joyous preparations at once.
The big brick house at the top of the hill had changed hands twice
during the last forty years, and the present owner expressed himself as
nothing loath to part, not only with the house itself, but with many of
its furnishings; and before the winter snow fell the little brown
cottage was sold to a thrifty young couple from the neighboring
village, and the Grays took up their abode in their new home.
“Well, Em'ly, this is livin', now, ain't it?” said Reuben, as he
carefully let himself down into the depths of a velvet-covered chair in
the great parlor. “My! ain't this nice!”
“Just perfectly lovely,” quavered the thin voice of his wife, as she
threw a surreptitious glance at Reuben's shoes to see if they were
quite clean enough for such sacred precincts.
It was their first evening in their new abode, and they were a
little weary, for they had spent the entire day in exploring every
room, peering into every closet, and trying every chair that the
establishment contained. It was still quite early when they trudged
anxiously about the house, intent on fastening the numerous doors and
“Dear me!” exclaimed the little woman nervously, “I'm 'most afraid
to go to bed, Reuben, for fear some one will break in an' steal all
these nice things.”
“Well, you can sit up if you want to,” replied her husband dryly,
“but I shall go to bed. Most of these things have been here nigh on to
twenty years, an' I guess they'll last the night through.” And he
marched solemnly upstairs to the big east chamber, meekly followed by
It was the next morning when Mrs. Gray was washing the breakfast
dishes that her husband came in at the kitchen door and stood looking
thoughtfully at her.
“Say, Emily,” said he, “you'd oughter have a hired girl. 'T ain't
your place to be doin' work like this now.”
Mrs. Gray gasped—half terrified, half pleased—and shook her head;
but her husband was not to be silenced.
“Well, you had—an' you've got to, too. An' you must buy some new
clothes—lots of 'em! Why, Em'ly, we've got heaps of money now, an' we
hadn't oughter wear such lookin' things.”
Emily nodded; she had thought of this before. And the hired-girl
hint must have found a warm spot in her heart in which to grow, for
that very afternoon she sallied forth, intent on a visit to her
counselor on all occasions—the doctor's wife.
“Well, Mis' Steele, I don't know what to do. Reuben says I ought to
have a hired girl; but I hain't no more idea where to get one than
anything, an' I don't know's I want one, if I did.”
And Mrs. Gray sat back in her chair and rocked violently to and fro,
eying her hostess with the evident consciousness of having presented a
poser. That resourceful woman, however, was far from being nonplussed;
she beamed upon her visitor with a joyful smile.
“Just the thing, my dear Mrs. Gray! You know I am to go South with
May for the winter. The house will be closed and the doctor at the
hotel. I had just been wondering what to do with Nancy, for I want her
again in the spring. Now, you can have her until then, and by that time
you will know how you like the idea of keeping a girl. She is a perfect
treasure, capable of carrying along the entire work of the household,
only”—and Mrs. Steele paused long enough to look doubtfully at her
friend—“she is a little independent, and won't stand much
Fifteen minutes later Mrs. Gray departed, well pleased though withal
a little frightened. She spent the rest of the afternoon in trying to
decide between a black alpaca and a green cashmere dress.
That night Reuben brought home a large bag of peanuts and put them
down in triumph on the kitchen table.
“There!” he announced in high glee, “I'm goin' to have a bang-up
“Why, Reuben,” remonstrated his wife gently, “you can't eat them
things— you hain't got no teeth to chew 'em with!”
The man's lower jaw dropped.
“Well, I'm a-goin' to try it, anyhow,” he insisted. And try he did;
but the way his poor old stomach rebelled against the half-masticated
things effectually prevented a repetition of the feast.
Early on Monday morning Nancy appeared. Mrs. Gray assumed a brave
aspect, but she quaked in her shoes as she showed the big strapping
girl to her room. Five minutes later Nancy came into the kitchen to
find Mrs. Gray bending over an obstinate coal fire in the range—with
neither coal nor range was the little woman in the least familiar.
“There, now,” said Nancy briskly, “I'll fix that. You just tell me
what you want for dinner, and I can find the things myself.” And she
attacked the stove with such a clatter and din that Mrs. Gray retreated
in terror, murmuring “ham and eggs, if you please,” as she fled through
the door. Once in the parlor, she seated herself in the middle of the
room and thought how nice it was not to get dinner; but she jumped
nervously at every sound from the kitchen.
On Tuesday she had mastered her fear sufficiently to go into the
kitchen and make a cottage cheese. She did not notice the unfavorable
glances of her maid-of-all-work. Wednesday morning she spent happily
puttering over “doing up” some handkerchiefs, and she wondered why
Nancy kept banging the oven door so often. Thursday she made a special
kind of pie that Reuben liked, and remarked pointedly to Nancy that she
herself never washed dishes without wearing an extra apron;
furthermore, she always placed the pans the other way in the sink.
Friday she rearranged the tins on the pantry shelves, that Nancy had so
unaccountably mussed up. On Saturday the inevitable explosion came:
“If you please, mum, I'm willin' to do your work, but seems to me it
don't make no difference to you whether I wear one apron or six, or
whether I hang my dish-towels on a string or on the bars, or whether I
wash goblets or kittles first; and I ain't in the habit of havin' folks
spyin' round on me. If you want me to go, I'll go; but if I stay, I
want to be let alone!”
Poor little Mrs. Gray fled to her seat in the parlor, and for the
rest of that winter she did not dare to call her soul her own; but her
table was beautifully set and served, and her house was as neat as wax.
The weeks passed and Reuben began to be restless. One day he came in
from the postoffice fairly bubbling over with excitement.
“Say, Em'ly, when folks have money they travel. Let's go somewhere!”
“Why, Reuben—where?” quavered his wife, dropping into the nearest
“Oh, I dunno,” with cheerful vagueness; then, suddenly animated,
“Let's go to Boston and see the sights!”
“But, Reuben, we don't know no one there,” ventured his wife
“Pooh! What if we don't? Hain't we got money? Can't we stay at a
hotel? Well, I guess we can!”
And his overwhelming courage put some semblance of confidence into
the more timid heart of his wife, until by the end of the week she was
as eager as he.
Nancy was tremblingly requested to take a two weeks' vacation, and
great was the rejoicing when she graciously acquiesced.
On a bright February morning the journey began. It was not a long
one— four hours only—and the time flew by as on wings of the wind.
Reuben assumed an air of worldly wisdom, quite awe-inspiring to his
wife. He had visited Boston as a boy, and so had a dim idea of what to
expect; moreover, he had sold stock and produce in the large towns near
his home, and on the whole felt quite self-sufficient.
As the long train drew into the station, and they alighted and
followed the crowd, Mrs. Gray looked with round eyes of wonder at the
people—she had not realized that there were so many in the world, and
she clung closer and closer to Reuben, who was marching along with a
fine show of indifference.
“There,” said he, as he deposited his wife and his bags in a seat in
the huge waiting-room; “now you stay right here, an' don't you move.
I'm goin' to find out about hotels and things.”
He was gone so long that she was nearly fainting from fright before
she spied his dear form coming toward her. His thin, plain face looked
wonderfully beautiful to her, and she almost hugged him right before
all those people.
“Well, I've got a hotel all right; but I hain't been here for so
long I've kinder forgot about the streets, so the man said we'd better
have a team to take us there.” And he picked up the bags and trudged
off, closely followed by Emily.
His shrewd Yankee wit carried him safely through a bargain with the
driver, and they were soon jolting and rumbling along to their
destination. He had asked the man behind the news-stand about a hotel,
casually mentioning that he had money—plenty of it—and wanted a
“bang- up good place.” The spirit of mischief had entered the heart of
the news-man, and he had given Reuben the name of one of the very
highest- priced, most luxurious hotels in the city.
As the carriage stopped, Reuben marched boldly up the broad steps
and entered the palatial office, with Emily close at his heels. Two
bell- boys sprang forward—the one to take the bags, the other to offer
to show Mrs. Gray to the reception-room.
“No, thank you, I ain't particular,” said she sweetly; “I'll wait
for Reuben here.” And she dropped into the nearest chair, while her
husband advanced toward the desk. She noticed that men were looking
curiously at her, and she felt relieved when Reuben and the pretty boy
came back and said they would go up to their room.
She stood the elevator pretty well, though she gave a little gasp
(which she tried to choke into a cough) as it started. Reuben turned to
“Where can I get somethin' to eat?”
“Luncheon is being served in the main dining-room on the first
Visions of a lunch as he knew it in Emily's pantry came to him, and
he looked a little dubious.
“Well, I'm pretty hungry; but if that's all I can get I suppose it
will have to do.”
Ten minutes later an officious head waiter, whom Emily looked upon
with timid awe, was seating them in a superbly appointed dining-room.
Reuben looked at the menu doubtfully, while an attentive, soft-voiced
man at his elbow bent low to catch his order. Few of the
strange-looking words conveyed any sort of meaning to the poor hungry
man. At length spying “chicken” halfway down the card, he pointed to it
“I guess I'll take some of that,” he said, briefly; then he added,
“I don't know how much it costs—you hain't got no price after it.”
The waiter comprehended at once.
“The luncheon is served in courses, sir; you pay for the
whole—whether you eat it or not,” he added shrewdly. “If you will let
me serve you according to my judgment, sir, I think I can please you.”
And there the forlorn little couple sat, amazed and hungry, through
six courses, each one of which seemed to their uneducated palate one
degree worse than the last.
Two hours later they started for a long walk down the wonderful,
fascinating street. Each marvelous window display came in for its full
share of attention, but they stood longest before bakeries and
restaurants. Finally, upon coming to one of the latter, where an
enticing sign announced “Boiled Dinner To-day, Served Hot at All
Hours,” Reuben could endure it no longer.
“By Jinks, Em'ly, I've just got to have some of that. That
stodged-up mess I ate at the hotel didn't go to the spot at all. Come
on, let's have a good square meal.”
The hotel knew them just one night. The next morning before
breakfast Reuben manfully paid his—to him astounding—bill and
departed for more congenial quarters, which they soon found on a
neighboring side street.
The rest of the visit was, of course, delightful, only the streets
were pretty crowded and noisy, and they couldn't sleep very well at
night; moreover, Reuben lost his pocketbook with a small sum of money
in it; so, on the whole, they concluded to go home a little before the
two weeks ended.
When spring came Nancy returned to her former mistress, and her
vacant throne remained unoccupied. Little by little the dust gathered
on the big velvet chairs in the parlor, and the room was opened less
and less. When the first green things commenced to send tender shoots
up through the wet, brown earth, Reuben's restlessness was very
noticeable. By and by he began to go off very early in the morning,
returning at noon for a hasty dinner, then away again till night. To
his wife's repeated questioning he would reply, sheepishly, “Oh, just
loafin', that's all.”
And Emily was nervous, too. Of late she had taken a great fancy to a
daily walk, and it always led in one direction—down past the little
brown house. Of course, she glanced over the fence at the roses and
lilacs, and she couldn't help seeing that they all looked sadly
neglected. By and by the weeds came, grew, and multiplied; and every
time she passed the gate her throat fairly choked in sympathy with her
Evenings, she and Reuben spent very happily on the back stoop,
talking of their great good fortune in being able to live in such a
fine large house. Somehow they said more than usual about it this
spring, and Reuben often mentioned how glad he was that his wife didn't
have to dig in the garden any more; and Emily would reply that she,
too, was glad that he was having so easy a time. Then they would look
down at the little brown farmhouse and wonder how they ever managed to
get along in so tiny a place.
One day, in passing this same little house, Emily stopped a moment
and leaned over the gate, that she might gain a better view of her
She evinced the same interest the next two mornings, and on the
third she timidly opened the gate and walked up the old path to the
door. A buxom woman with a big baby in her arms, and a bigger one
hanging to her skirts, answered her knock.
“How do you do, Mis' Gray. Won't you come in?” said she civilly,
looking mildly surprised.
“No, thank you—yes—I mean—I came to see you,” stammered Emily
“You're very good,” murmured the woman, still standing in the
“Your flowers are so pretty,” ventured Mrs. Gray, unable to keep the
wistfulness out of her voice.
“Do you think so?” carelessly; “I s'pose they need weedin'. What
with my babies an' all, I don't get much time for posies.”
“Oh, please,—would it be too much trouble to let me come an' putter
around in the beds?” queried the little woman eagerly. “Oh, I would
like it so much!”
The other laughed heartily.
“Well, I really don't see how it's goin' to trouble me to have you
weedin' my flowers; in fact, I should think the shoe would be on the
other foot.” Then the red showed in her face a little. “You're welcome
to do whatever you want, Mis' Gray.”
“Oh, thank you!” exclaimed Emily, as she quickly pulled up an
enormous weed at her feet.
It took but a few hours' work to bring about a wonderfully happy
change in that forlorn garden, and then Mrs. Gray found that she had a
big pile of weeds to dispose of. Filling her apron with a portion of
them, she started to go behind the house in search of a garbage heap.
Around the corner she came face to face with her husband, hoe in hand.
“Why, Reuben Gray! Whatever in the world are you doing?”
For a moment the man was crushed with the enormity of his crime;
then he caught sight of his wife's dirt-stained fingers.
“Well, I guess I ain't doin' no worse than you be!” And he turned
his back and began to hoe vigorously.
Emily dropped the weeds where she stood, turned about, and walked
through the garden and up the hill, pondering many things.
Supper was strangely quiet that night. Mrs. Gray had asked a single
question: “Reuben, do you want the little house back?”
A glad light leaped into the old man's eyes.
“Em'ly—would you be willin' to?”
After the supper dishes were put away, Mrs. Gray, with a light shawl
over her head, came to her husband on the back stoop.
“Come, dear; I think we'd better go down to-night.”
A few minutes later they sat stiffly in the best room of the
farmhouse, while the buxom woman and her husband looked wonderingly at
“You wan't thinkin' of sellin', was ye?” began Reuben insinuatingly.
The younger man's eyelid quivered a little. “Well, no,—I can't
hardly say that I was. I hain't but just bought.”
Reuben hitched his chair a bit and glanced at Emily.
“Well, me and my wife have concluded that we're too old to
transplant— we don't seem to take root very easy—and we've been
thinkin'—would you swap even, now?”
* * * * *
It must have been a month later that Reuben Gray and his wife were
contentedly sitting in the old familiar kitchen of the little brown
“I've been wondering, Reuben,” said his wife—“I've been wondering
if 'twouldn't have been just as well if we'd taken some of the good
things while they was goin'—before we got too old to enjoy 'em.”
“Yes—peanuts, for instance,” acquiesced her husband ruefully.
In the Footsteps of Katy
Only Alma had lived—Alma, the last born. The other five, one after
another, had slipped from loving, clinging arms into the great Silence,
leaving worse than a silence behind them; and neither Nathan Kelsey nor
his wife Mary could have told you which hurt the more,—the saying of a
last good-bye to a stalwart, grown lad of twenty, or the folding of
tiny, waxen hands over a heart that had not counted a year of beating.
Yet both had fallen to their lot.
As for Alma—Alma carried in her dainty self all the love, hopes,
tenderness, ambitions, and prayers that otherwise would have been
bestowed upon six. And Alma was coming home.
“Mary,” said Nathan one June evening, as he and his wife sat on the
back porch, “I saw Jim Hopkins ter-day. Katy's got home.”
“Hm-m,”—the low rocker swayed gently to and fro,—“Katy's been ter
college, same as Alma, ye know.”
“Yes; an'—an' that's what Jim was talkin' 'bout He was feelin' bad-powerful bad.”
“Bad!”—the rocker stopped abruptly. “Why, Nathan!”
“Yes; he—” There was a pause, then the words came with the rush of
desperation. “He said home wan't like home no more. That Katy was as
good as gold, an' they was proud of her; but she was turrible
upsettin'. Jim has ter rig up nights now ter eat supper—put on his
coat an' a b'iled collar; an' he says he's got so he don't dast ter
open his head. They're all so, too—Mis' Hopkins, an' Sue, an' Aunt
Jane—don't none of 'em dast ter speak.”
“Why, Nathan!—why not?” “'Cause of—Katy. Jim says there don't
nothin' they say suit Katy—'bout its wordin', I mean. She changes it
an' tells 'em what they'd orter said.”
“Why, the saucy little baggage!”—the rocker resumed its swaying,
and Mary Kelsey's foot came down on the porch floor with decided,
The man stirred restlessly.
“But she ain't sassy, Mary,” he demurred. “Jim says Katy's that
sweet an' pleasant about it that ye can't do nothin'. She tells 'em
she's kerrectin' 'em fur their own good, an' that they need culturin'.
An' Jim says she spends all o' meal-time tellin' 'bout the things on
the table, —salt, an' where folks git it, an' pepper, an' tumblers,
an' how folks make 'em. He says at first 'twas kind o' nice an' he
liked ter hear it; but now, seems as if he hain't got no appetite left
ev'ry time he sets down ter the table. He don't relish eatin' such big
words an' queer names.
“An' that ain't all,” resumed Nathan, after a pause for breath. “Jim
can't go hoein' nor diggin' but she'll foller him an' tell 'bout the
bugs an' worms he turns up,—how many legs they've got, an' all that.
An' the moon ain't jest a moon no more, an' the stars ain't stars.
They're sp'eres an' planets with heathenish names an' rings an' orbits.
Jim feels bad—powerful bad—'bout it, an' he says he can't see no way
out of it. He knows they hain't had much schooling any of 'em, only
Katy, an' he says that sometimes he 'most wishes that—that she hadn't,
Nathan Kelsey's voice had sunk almost to a whisper, and with the
last words his eyes sent a furtive glance toward the stoop-shouldered
little figure in the low rocker. The chair was motionless now, and its
occupant sat picking at a loose thread in the gingham apron.
“I—I wouldn't 'a' spoke of it,” stammered the man, with painful
hesitation, “only—well, ye see, I—you-” he stopped helplessly.
“I know,” faltered the little woman. “You was thinkin' of—Alma.”
“She wouldn't do it—Alma wouldn't!” retorted the man sharply,
almost before his wife had ceased speaking.
“No, no, of course not; but—Nahtan, ye don't think Alma'd
ever be—ashamed of us, do ye?”
“'Course not!” asserted Nathan, but his voice shook. “Don't ye
worry, Mary,” he comforted. “Alma ain't a-goin' ter do no kerrectin' of
“Nathan, I—I think that's 'co-rectin','“ suggested the woman, a
The man turned and gazed at his wife without speaking. Then his jaw
“Well, by sugar, Mary! You ain't a-goin' ter begin it, be
ye?” he demanded.
“Why, no, 'course not!” she laughed confusedly. “An'—an' Alma
“'Course Alma wouldn't,” echoed her husband. “Come, it's time ter
shut up the house.”
The date of Alma's expected arrival was yet a week ahead.
As the days passed, there came a curious restlessness to the
movements of both Nathan and his wife. It was on the last night of that
week of waiting that Mrs. Kelsey spoke.
“Nathan,” she began, with forced courage, “I've been over to Mis'
Hopkins's—an' asked her what special things 'twas that Katy set such
store by. I thought mebbe if we knew 'em beforehand, an' could do 'em,
“That's jest what I asked Jim ter-day, Mary,” cut in Nathan
“Nathan, you didn't, now! Oh, I'm so glad! An' we'll do 'em, won't
we?— jest ter please her?”
“'Course we will!”
“Ye see it's four years since she was here, Nathan, what with her
“Sugar, now! Is it? It hain't seemed so long.”
“Nathan,” interposed Mrs. Kelsey, anxiously, “I think that 'hain't'
ain't—I mean aren't right. I think you'd orter say, 'It haven't
seemed so long.'“
The man frowned, and made an impatient gesture.
“Yes, yes, I know,” soothed his wife; “but,—well, we might jest as
well begin now an' git used to it. Mis' Hopkins said that them two
words, 'hain't an' 'ain't, was what Katy hated most of anythin'.”
“Yes; Jim mentioned 'em, too,” acknowledged Nathan gloomily. “But he
said that even them wan't half so bad as his riggin' up nights. He said
that Katy said that after the 'toil of the day' they must 'don fresh
garments an' come ter the evenin' meal with minds an' bodies
“Yes; an', Nathan, ain't my black silk—”
“Ahem! I'm a-thinkin' it wa'n't me that said 'ain't' that time,”
“Dear, dear, Nathan!—did I? Oh, dear, what will Alma say?”
“It don't make no diff'rence what Alma says, Mary. Don't ye fret,”
returned the man with sudden sharpness, as he rose to his feet. “I
guess Alma'll have ter take us 'bout as we be—'bout as we be.”
Yet it was Nathan who asked, just as his wife was dropping off to
sleep that night:—
“Mary, is it three o' them collars I've got, or four?—b'iled ones,
At five o'clock the next afternoon Mrs. Kelsey put on the treasured
black silk dress, sacred for a dozen years to church, weddings, and
funerals. Nathan, warm and uncomfortable in his Sunday suit and stiff
collar, had long since driven to the station for Alma. The house,
brushed and scrubbed into a state of speckless order, was thrown wide
open to welcome the returning daughter. At a quarter before six she
“Mother, you darling!” cried a voice, and Mrs. Kelsey found herself
in the clasp of strong young arms, and gazing into a flushed, eager
face. “Don't you look good! And doesn't everything look good!” finished
“Does it—I mean, do it?” quavered the little woman
excitedly. “Oh, Alma, I am glad ter see ye!”
Behind Alma's back Nathan flicked a bit of dust from his coat. The
next instant he raised a furtive hand and gave his collar and neckband
a savage pull.
At the supper-table that night ten minutes of eager questioning on
the part of Alma had gone by before Mrs. Kelsey realized that thus far
their conversation had been of nothing more important than Nathan's
rheumatism, her own health, and the welfare of Rover, Tabby, and the
mare Topsy. Commensurate with the happiness that had been hers during
those ten minutes came now her remorse. She hastened to make amends.
“There, there, Alma, I beg yer pardon, I'm sure. I hain't—er—I
haven't meant ter keep ye talkin' on such triflin' things, dear.
Now talk ter us yer self. Tell us about things—anythin'—anythin' on
the table or in the room,” she finished feverishly.
For a moment the merry-faced girl stared in frank amazement at her
mother; then she laughed gleefully.
“On the table? In the room?” she retorted. “Well, it's the dearest
room ever, and looks so good to me! As for the table—the rolls are
feathers, the coffee is nectar, and the strawberries—well, the
strawberries are just strawberries—they couldn't be nicer.”
“Oh, Alma, but I didn't mean——”
“Tut, tut, tut!” interrupted Alma laughingly. “Just as if the cook
didn't like her handiwork praised! Why, when I draw a picture—oh, and
I haven't told you!” she broke off excitedly. The next instant she was
on her feet. “Alma Mead Kelsey, Illustrator; at your service,” she
announced with a low bow. Then she dropped into her seat again and went
“You see, I've been doing this sort of thing for some time,” she
explained, “and have had some success in selling. My teacher has always
encouraged me, and, acting on his advice, I stayed over in New York a
week with a friend, and took some of my work to the big publishing
houses. That's why I didn't get here as soon as Kate Hopkins did. I
hated to put off my coming; but now I'm so glad I did. Only think! I
sold every single thing, and I have orders and orders ahead.”
“Well, by sugar!” ejaculated the man at the head of the table.
“Oh-h-h!” breathed the little woman opposite. “Oh, Alma, I'm so
In spite of Mrs. Kelsey's protests that night after supper, Alma
tripped about the kitchen and pantry wiping the dishes and putting them
away. At dusk father, mother, and daughter seated themselves on the
“There!” sighed Alma. “Isn't this restful? And isn't that moon
Mrs. Kelsey shot a quick look at her husband; then she cleared her
“Er—yes,” she assented. “I—I s'pose you know what it's made of,
an' how big 'tis, an'—an' what there is on it, don't ye, Alma?”
Alma raised her eyebrows.
“Hm-m; well, there are still a few points that I and the astronomers
haven't quite settled,” she returned, with a whimsical smile.
“An' the stars, they've got names, I s'pose—every one of 'em,”
proceeded Mrs. Kelsey, so intent on her own part that Alma's reply
Alma laughed; then she assumed an attitude of mock rapture, and
“'Scintillate, scintillate, globule vivific,
Fain would I fathom thy nature specific;
Loftily poised in ether capacious,
Strongly resembling the gem carbonaceous.'“
There was a long silence. Alma's eyes were on the flying clouds.
“Would—would you mind saying that again, Alma?” asked Mrs. Kelsey
at last timidly.
Alma turned with a start.
“Saying what, dearie?—oh, that nonsensical verse? Of course not!
That's only another way of saying 'twinkle, twinkle, little star.'
Means just the same, only uses up a few more letters to make the words.
Listen.” And she repeated the two, line for line.
“Oh!” said her mother faintly. “Er—thank you.”
“I—I guess I'll go to bed,” announced Nathan Kelsey suddenly.
The next morning Alma's pleadings were in vain. Mrs. Kelsey insisted
that Alma should go about her sketching, leaving the housework for her
own hands to perform. With a laughing protest and a playful pout, Alma
tucked her sketchbook under her arm and left the house to go down by
the river. In the field she came upon her father.
“Hard at work, dad?” she called affectionately. “Old Mother Earth
won't yield her increase without just so much labor, will she?”
“That she won't,” laughed the man. Then he flushed a quick red and
set a light foot on a crawling thing of many legs which had emerged
from beneath an overturned stone.
“Oh!” cried Alma. “Your foot, father—your're crushing something!”
The flush grew deeper.
“Oh, I guess not,” rejoined the man, lifting his foot, and giving a
curiously resigned sigh as he sent an apprehensive glance into the
“Dear, dear! isn't he funny?” murmured the girl, bending low and
giving a gentle poke with the pencil in her hand. “Only fancy,” she
added, straightening herself, “only fancy if we had so many feet. Just
picture the size of our shoe bill!” And she laughed and turned away.
“Well, by gum!” ejaculated the man, looking after her. Then he fell
to work, and his whistle, as he worked, carried something of the song
of a bird set free from a cage.
A week passed.
The days were spent by Alma in roaming the woods and fields, pencil
and paper in hand; they were spent by her mother in the hot kitchen
over a hotter stove. To Alma's protests and pleadings Mrs. Kelsey was
deaf. Alma's place was not there, her work was not housework, declared
On Mrs. Kelsey the strain was beginning to tell. It was not the work
alone—though that was no light matter, owing to her anxiety that
Alma's pleasure and comfort should find nothing wanting—it was more
than the work.
Every night at six the anxious little woman, flushed from
biscuit-baking and chicken-broiling and almost sick with fatigue, got
out the black silk gown and the white lace collar and put them on with
trembling hands. Thus robed in state she descended to the supper-table,
there to confront her husband still more miserable in the stiff collar
and black coat.
Nor yet was this all. Neither the work nor the black silk dress
contained for Mrs. Kelsey quite the possibilities of soul torture that
were to be found in the words that fell from her lips. As the days
passed, the task the little woman had set for herself became more and
more hopeless, until she scarcely could bring herself to speak at all,
so stumbling and halting were her sentences.
At the end of the eighth day came the culmination of it all. Alma,
her nose sniffing the air, ran into the kitchen that night to find no
one in the room, and the biscuits burning in the oven. She removed the
biscuits, threw wide the doors and windows, then hurried upstairs to
her mother's room.
Mrs. Kelsey stood before the glass, a deep flush on her cheeks and
tears rolling down her face. Two trembling hands struggled with the
lace at her throat until the sharp point of a pin found her thumb and
left a tiny crimson stain on the spotlessness of the collar. It was
then that Mrs. Kelsey covered her face with her hands and sank into the
low chair by the bed.
“Why, mother!” cried Alma again, hurrying across the room and
dropping on her knees at her mother's side.
“I can't, Alma, I can't!” moaned the woman. “I've tried an' tried;
but I've got ter give up, I've got ter give up.”
“Can't what, dearie?—give up what?” demanded Alma.
Mrs. Kelsey shook her head. Then she dropped her hands and looked
fearfully into her daughter's face.
“An' yer father, too, Alma—he's tried, an' he can't,” she choked.
“Tried what? What do you mean?”
With her eyes on Alma's troubled, amazed face, Mrs. Kelsey made one
last effort to gain her lost position. She raised her shaking hands to
her throat and fumbled for the pin and the collar.
“There, there, dear, don't fret,” she stammered. “I didn't think
what I was sayin'. It ain't nothin'—I mean, it aren't
nothin'—it am not—oh-h!” she sobbed; “there, ye see, Alma, I
can't, I can't. It ain't no more use ter try!” Down went the gray head
on Alma's strong young shoulder.
“There, there, dear, cry away,” comforted Alma, with loving pats.
“It will do you good; then we'll hear what this is all about, from the
And Mrs. Kelsey told her—and from the very beginning. When the
telling was over, and the little woman, a bit breathless and
frightened, sat awaiting what Alma would say, there came a long
Alma's lips were close shut. Alma was not quite sure, if she opened
them, whether there would come a laugh or a sob. The laugh was
uppermost and almost parted the firm-set lips, when a side glance at
the quivering face of the little woman in the big chair turned the
laugh into a half- stifled sob. Then Alma spoke.
“Mother, dear, listen. Do you think a silk dress and a stiff collar
can make you and father any dearer to me? Do you think an 'ain't' or a
'hain't' can make me love either of you any less? Do you suppose I
expect you, after fifty years' service for others, to be as careful in
your ways and words as if you'd spent those fifty years in training
yourself instead of in training six children? Why, mother, dear, do you
suppose that I don't know that for twenty of those years you have had
no thoughts, no prayers, save for me?—that I have been the very apple
of your eye? Well, it's my turn, now, and you are the apple of my
eye—you and father. Why, dearie, you have no idea of the plans I have
for you. There's a good strong woman coming next week for the kitchen
work. Oh, it's all right,” assured Alma, quickly, in response to the
look on her mother's face. “Why, I'm rich! Only think of those orders!
And then you shall dress in silk or velvet, or calico—anything you
like, so long as it doesn't scratch nor prick,” she added merrily,
bending forward and fastening the lace collar. “And you shall——”
“Ma-ry?” It was Nathan at the foot of the back stairway.
“Ain't it 'most supper-time?”
“Bless my soul!” cried Mrs. Kelsey, springing to her feet.
“Hain't I got a collar—a b'iled one, on the bureau up there?”
“No,” called Alma, snatching up the collar and throwing it on the
bed. “There isn't a sign of one there. Suppose you let it go to-night,
“Well, if you don't mind!” And a very audible sigh of relief floated
up the back stairway.
The Bridge Across the Years
John was expected on the five o'clock stage. Mrs. John had been
there three days now, and John's father and mother were almost packed
up—so Mrs. John said. The auction would be to-morrow at nine o'clock,
and with John there to see that things “hustled”—which last was really
unnecessary to mention, for John's very presence meant “hustle”—with
John there, then, the whole thing ought to be over by one o'clock, and
they off in season to 'catch the afternoon express.
And what a time it had been—those three days!
Mrs. John, resting in the big chair on the front porch, thought of
those days with complacency—that they were over. Grandpa and Grandma
Burton, hovering over old treasures in the attic, thought of them with
terrified dismay—that they had ever begun.
I am coming up on Tuesday [Mrs. John had written]. We have been
thinking for some time that you and father ought not to be left alone
up there on the farm any longer. Now don't worry about the packing. I
shall bring Marie, and you won't have to lift your finger. John will
come Thursday night, and be there for the auction on Friday. By that
time we shall have picked out what is worth saving, and everything will
be ready for him to take matters in hand. I think he has already
written to the auctioneer, so tell father to give himself no uneasiness
on that score.
John says he thinks we can have you back here with us by Friday
night, or Saturday at the latest. You know John's way, so you may be
sure there will be no tiresome delay. Your rooms here will be all ready
before I leave, so that part will be all right.
This may seem a bit sudden to you, but you know we have always told
you that the time was surely coming when you couldn't live alone any
longer. John thinks it has come now; and, as I said before, you know
John, so, after all, you won't be surprised at his going right ahead
with things. We shall do everything possible to make you comfortable,
and I am sure you will be very happy here.
Good-bye, then, until Tuesday. With love to both of you.
That had been the beginning. To Grandpa and Grandma Burton it had
come like a thunderclap on a clear day. They had known, to be sure,
that son John frowned a little at their lonely life; but that there
should come this sudden transplanting, this ruthless twisting and
tearing up of roots that for sixty years had been burrowing deeper and
deeper—it was almost beyond one's comprehension.
And there was the auction!
“We shan't need that, anyway,” Grandma Burton had said at once.
“What few things we don't want to keep I shall give away. An auction,
indeed! Pray, what have we to sell?”
“Hm-m! To be sure, to be sure,” her husband had murmured; but his
face was troubled, and later he had said, apologetically: “You see,
Hannah, there's the farm things. We don't need them.”
On Tuesday night Mrs. John and the somewhat awesome Maria—to whom
Grandpa and Grandma Burton never could learn not to curtsy—arrived;
and almost at once Grandma Burton discovered that not only “farm
things,” but such precious treasures as the hair wreath and the
parlor—set were auctionable. In fact, everything the house contained,
except their clothing and a few crayon portraits, seemed to be in the
“But, mother, dear,” Mrs. John had returned, with a laugh, in
response to Grandma Burton's horrified remonstrances, “just wait until
you see your rooms, and how full they are of beautiful things, and then
“But they won't be—these,” the old voice had quavered.
And Mrs. John had laughed again, and had patted her mother-in-law's
cheek, and had echoed-but with a different shade of meaning—“No, they
certainly won't be these!”
In the attic now, on a worn black trunk, sat the little old man, and
down on the floor before an antiquated cradle knelt his wife.
“They was all rocked in it, Seth,” she was saying,—“John and the
twins and my two little girls; and now there ain't any one left only
John—and the cradle.”
“I know, Hannah, but you ain't usin' that nowadays, so you
don't really need it,” comforted the old man. “But there's my big chair
now— seems as though we jest oughter take that. Why, there ain't a day
goes by that I don't set in it!”
“But John's wife says there's better ones there, Seth,” soothed the
old woman in her turn, “as much as four or five of 'em right in our
“So she did, so she did!” murmured the man. “I'm an ongrateful
thing; so I be.” There was a long pause. The old man drummed with his
fingers on the trunk and watched a cloud sail across the skylight. The
woman gently swung the cradle to and fro. “If only they wan't goin' ter
be—sold!” she choked, after a time. “I like ter know that they're
where I can look at 'em, an' feel of 'em, an'—an' remember things. Now
there's them quilts with all my dress pieces in 'em—a piece of most
every dress I've had since I was a girl; an' there's that hair
wreath—seems as if I jest couldn't let that go, Seth. Why, there's
your hair, an' John's, an' some of the twins', an'—”
“There, there, dear; now I jest wouldn't fret,” cut in the old man
quickly. “Like enough when you get used ter them other things on the
wall you'll like 'em even better than the hair wreath. John's wife says
she's taken lots of pains an' fixed 'em up with pictures an' curtains
an' everythin' nice,” went on Seth, talking very fast. “Why, Hannah,
it's you that's bein' ongrateful now, dear!”
“So 'tis, so 'tis, Seth, an' it ain't right an' I know it. I ain't
a- goin' ter do so no more; now see!” And she bravely turned her back
on the cradle and walked, head erect, toward the attic stairs.
John came at five o'clock. He engulfed the little old man and the
little old woman in a bearlike hug, and breezily demanded what they had
been doing to themselves to make them look so forlorn. In the very next
breath, however, he answered his own question, and declared it was
because they had been living all cooped up alone so long—so it was;
and that it was high time it was stopped, and that he had come to do
it! Whereupon the old man and the old woman smiled bravely and told
each other what a good, good son they had, to be sure!
Friday dawned clear, and not too warm—an ideal auction-day. Long
before nine o'clock the yard was full of teams and the house of people.
Among them all, however, there was no sign of the bent old man and the
erect little old woman, the owners of the property to be sold. John and
Mrs. John were not a little disturbed—they had lost their father and
Nine o'clock came, and with it began the strident call of the
auctioneer. Men laughed and joked over their bids, and women looked on
and gossiped, adding a bid of their own now and then. Everywhere was
the son of the house, and things went through with a rush. Upstairs, in
the darkest corner of the attic—which had been cleared of goods—sat,
hand in hand on an old packing-box, a little old man and a little old
woman who winced and shrank together every time the “Going, going,
gone!” floated up to them from the yard below.
At half-past one the last wagon rumbled out of the yard, and five
minutes later Mrs. John gave a relieved cry.
“Oh, there you are! Why, mother, father, where have you
There was no reply. The old man choked back a cough and bent to
flick a bit of dust from his coat. The old woman turned and crept away,
her erect little figure looking suddenly bent and old.
“Why, what—” began John, as his father, too, turned away. “Why,
Edith, you don't suppose—” He stopped with a helpless frown.
“Perfectly natural, my dear, perfectly natural,” returned Mrs. John
lightly. “We'll get them away immediately. It'll be all right when once
they are started.”
Some hours later a very tired old man and a still more tired old
woman crept into a pair of sumptuous, canopy-topped twin beds. There
was only one remark.
“Why, Seth, mine ain't feathers a mite! Is yours?”
There was no reply. Tired nature had triumphed—Seth was asleep.
They made a brave fight, those two. They told themselves that the
chairs were easier, the carpets softer, and the pictures prettier than
those that had gone under the hammer that day as they sat hand in hand
in the attic. They assured each other that the unaccustomed richness of
window and bed hangings and the profusion of strange vases and
statuettes did not make them afraid to stir lest they soil or break
something. They insisted to each other that they were not homesick, and
that they were perfectly satisfied as they were. And yet—
When no one was looking Grandpa Burton tried chair after chair, and
wondered why there was only one particular chair in the whole world
that just exactly “fitted;” and when the twilight hour came Grandma
Burton wondered what she would give to be able just to sit by the old
cradle and talk with the past.
* * * * *
The newspapers said it was a most marvelous escape for the whole
family. They gave a detailed account of how the beautiful residence of
the Honorable John Burton, with all its costly furnishings, had burned
to the ground, and of how the entire family was saved, making special
mention of the honorable gentleman's aged father and mother. No one was
injured, fortunately, and the family had taken up a temporary residence
in the nearest hotel. It was understood that Mr. Burton would begin
rebuilding at once.
The newspapers were right—Mr. Burton did begin rebuilding at once;
in fact, the ashes of the Burton mansion were not cold before John
Burton began to interview architects and contractors.
“It'll be 'way ahead of the old one,” he confided to his wife
Mrs. John sighed.
“I know, dear,” she began plaintively; “but, don't you see? it won't
be the same—it can't be. Why, some of those things we've had ever
since we were married. They seemed a part of me, John. I was used to
them. I had grown up with some of them—those candlesticks of mamma's,
for instance, that she had when I was a bit of a baby. Do you think
money can buy another pair that—that were hers?” And Mrs. John
burst into tears.
“Come, come, dear,” protested her husband, with a hasty caress and a
nervous glance at the clock—he was due at the bank in ten minutes.”
Don't fret about what can't be helped; besides"-and he laughed
whimsically—“you must look out or you'll be getting as bad as mother
over her hair wreath!” And with another hasty pat on her shoulder he
Mrs. John suddenly stopped her crying. She lowered her handkerchief
and stared fixedly at an old print on the wall opposite. The
hotel—though strictly modern in cuisine and management—was an old
one, and prided itself on the quaintness of its old-time furnishings.
Just what the print represented Mrs. John could not have told, though
her eyes did not swerve from its face for five long minutes. What she
did see was a silent, dismantled farmhouse, and a little old man and a
little old woman with drawn faces and dumb lips.
Was it possible? Had she, indeed, been so blind?
Mrs. John rose to her feet, bathed her eyes, straightened her
neck-bow, and crossed the hall to Grandma Burton's room.
“Well, mother, and how are you getting along?” she asked cheerily.
“Jest as nice as can be, daughter,—and ain't this room pretty?”
returned the little old woman eagerly. “Do you know, it seems kind of
natural like; mebbe it's because of that chair there. Seth says it's
almost like his at home.”
It was a good beginning, and Mrs. John made the most of it. Under
her skillful guidance Grandma Burton, in less than five minutes, had
gone from the chair to the old clock which her father used to wind, and
from the clock to the bureau where she kept the dead twins' little
white shoes and bonnets. She told, too, of the cherished parlor chairs
and marble-topped table, and of how she and father had saved and saved
for years to buy them; and even now, as she talked, her voice rang with
pride of possession—though only for a moment; it shook then with the
remembrance of loss.
There was no complaint, it is true, no audible longing for lost
treasures. There was only the unwonted joy of pouring into sympathetic
ears the story of things loved and lost—things the very mention of
which brought sweet faint echoes of voices long since silent.
“There, there,” broke off the little old woman at last, “how I am
runnin' on! But, somehow, somethin' set me to talkin' ter-day. Mebbe't
was that chair that's like yer father's,” she hazarded.
“Maybe it was,” agreed Mrs. John quietly, as she rose to her feet.
The new house came on apace. In a wonderfully short time John Burton
began to urge his wife to see about rugs and hangings. It was then that
Mrs. John called him to one side and said a few hurried but very
earnest words—words that made the Honorable John open wide his eyes.
“But, Edith,” he remonstrated, “are you crazy? It simply couldn't be
done! The things are scattered over half a dozen townships; besides, I
haven't the least idea where the auctioneer's list is—if I saved it at
“Never mind, dear; I may try, surely,” begged Mrs. John. And her
husband laughed and reached for his check-book.
“Try? Of course you may try! And here's this by way of wishing you
good luck,” he finished, as he handed her an oblong bit of paper that
would go far toward smoothing the most difficult of ways.
“You dear!” cried Mrs. John. “And now I'm going to work.”
It was at about this time that Mrs. John went away. The children
were at college and boarding-school; John was absorbed in business and
house- building, and Grandpa and Grandma Burton were contented and well
cared for. There really seemed to be no reason why Mrs. John should not
go away, if she wished—and she apparently did wish. It was at about
this time, too, that certain Vermont villages—one of which was the
Honorable John Burton's birthplace—were stirred to sudden interest and
action. A persistent, smiling-faced woman had dropped into their
midst—a woman who drove from house to house, and who, in every case,
left behind her a sworn ally and friend, pledged to serve her cause.
Little by little, in an unused room in the village hotel there began
to accumulate a motley collection—a clock, a marble-topped table, a
cradle, a patchwork quilt, a bureau, a hair wreath, a chair worn with
age and use. And as this collection grew in size and fame, only that
family which could not add to it counted itself abused and unfortunate,
so great was the spell that the persistent, smiling-faced woman had
cast about her.
Just before the Burton house was finished Mrs. John came back to
town. She had to hurry a little about the last of the decorations and
furnishings to make up for lost time; but there came a day when the
place was pronounced ready for occupancy.
It was then that Mrs. John hurried into Grandpa and Grandma Burton's
rooms at the hotel.
“Come, dears,” she said gayly. “The house is all ready, and we're
“Done? So soon?” faltered Grandma Burton, who had not been told very
much concerning the new home's progress. “Why, how quick they have
There was a note of regret in the tremulous old voice, but Mrs. John
did not seem to notice. The old man, too, rose from his chair with a
long sigh—and again Mrs. John did not seem to notice.
* * * * *
“Yes, dearie, yes, it's all very nice and fine,” said Grandma Burton
wearily, half an hour later as she trudged through the sumptuous
parlors and halls of the new house; “but, if you don't mind, I guess
I'll go to my room, daughter. I'm tired—turrible tired.”
Up the stairs and along the hall trailed the little procession—Mrs.
John, John, the bent old man, and the little old woman. At the end of
the hall Mrs. John paused a moment, then flung the door wide open.
There was a gasp and a quick step forward; then came the sudden
illumination of two wrinkled old faces.
“John! Edith!”—it was a cry of mingled joy and wonder.
There was no reply. Mrs. John had closed the door and left them
there with their treasures.
Uncle Zeke's pipe had gone out—sure sign that Uncle Zeke's mind was
not at rest. For five minutes the old man had occupied in frowning
silence the other of my veranda rocking-chairs. As I expected, however,
I had not long to wait.
“I met old Sam Hadley an' his wife in the cemetery just now,” he
“Yes?” I was careful to express just enough, and not too much,
interest: one had to be circumspect with Uncle Zeke.
“Hm-m; I was thinkin'—” Uncle Zeke paused, shifted his position,
and began again. This time I had the whole story.
“I was thinkin'—I don't say that Jimmy did right, an' I don't say
that Jimmy did wrong. Maybe you can tell. 'Twas like this:
“In a way we all claimed Jimmy Hadley. As a little fellow, he was
one of them big-eyed, curly-haired chaps that gets inside your heart no
matter how tough't is. An' we was really fond of him, too,—so fond of
him that we didn't do nothin' but jine in when his pa an' ma talked as
if he was the only boy that ever was born, or ever would be—an' you
know we must have been purty daft ter stood that, us bein' fathers
“Well, as was natural, perhaps, the Hadleys jest lived fer Jimmy.
They'd lost three, an' he was all there was left. They wasn't very
well-to-do, but nothin' was too grand fer Jimmy, and when the boy begun
ter draw them little pictures of his all over the shed an' the barn
door, they was plumb crazy. There wan't no doubt of it—Jimmy was goin'
ter be famous, they said. He was goin' ter be one o' them painter
fellows, an' make big money.
“An' Jimmy did work, even then. He stood well in his studies, an'
worked outside, earnin' money so's he could take drawin' lessons when
he got bigger. An' by and by he did get bigger, an' he did take lessons
down ter the Junction twice a week.
“There wan't no livin' with Mis' Hadley then, she was that proud;
an' when he brought home his first picture, they say she never went ter
bed at all that night, but jest set gloatin' over it till the sun came
in an' made her kerosene lamp look as silly as she did when she saw
'twas mornin'. There was one thing that plagued her, though: 'twan't
painted— that picture. Jimmy called it a 'black an' white,' an' said
'twan't paintin' that he wanted ter do, but 'lustratin'—fer books and
magazines, you know. She felt hurt, an' all put out at first: but Jimmy
told her 'twas all right, an' that there was big money in it; so she
got 'round contented again. She couldn't help it, anyhow, with Jimmy,
he was that lovin' an' nice with her. He was the kind that's always
bringin' footstools and shawls, an' makin' folks comfortable. Everybody
loved Jimmy. Even the cats an' dogs rubbed up against him an' wagged
their tails at sight of him, an' the kids—goodness, Jimmy couldn't
cross the street without a dozen kids makin' a grand rush fer him.
“Well, time went on, an' Jimmy grew tall an' good lookin'. Then came
the girl—an' she was a girl, too. 'Course, Jimmy, bein' as how
he'd had all the frostin' there was goin' on everythin' so fur, carried
out the same idea in girls, an' picked out the purtiest one he could
find— rich old Townsend's daughter, Bessie.
“To the Hadleys this seemed all right—Jimmy was merely gettin' the
best, as usual; but the rest of us, includin' old man Townsend, begun
ter sit up an' take notice. The old man was mad clean through. He had
other plans fer Bessie, an' he said so purty plain.”
“But it seems there didn't any of us—only Jimmy, maybe—take the
girl herself into consideration. For a time she was a little skittish,
an' led Jimmy a purty chase with her dancin' nearer an' nearer, an'
then flyin' off out of reach. But at last she came out fair an' square
fur Jimmy, an' they was as lively a pair of lovers as ye'd wish ter
see. It looked, too, as if she'd even wheedle the old man 'round ter
her side of thinkin'.”
“The next thing we knew Jimmy had gone ter New York. He was ter
study, an' at the same time pick up what work he could, ter turn an
honest penny, the Hadleys said. We liked that in him. He was goin' ter
make somethin' of himself, so's he'd be worthy of Bessie Townsend or
any other girl.”
“But't was hard on the Hadleys. Jimmy's lessons cost a lot, an' so
did just livin' there in New York, an' 'course Jimmy couldn't pay fer
it all, though I guess he worked nights an' Sundays ter piece out. Back
home here the Hadleys scrimped an' scrimped till they didn't have half
enough ter eat, an' hardly enough ter cover their nakedness. But they
didn't mind—'t was fer Jimmy. He wrote often, an' told how he was
workin', an' the girl got letters, too; at least, Mis' Hadley said she
did. An' once in a while he'd tell of some picture he'd finished, or
what the teacher said.
“But by an' by the letters didn't come so often. Sam told me about
it at first, an' he said it plagued his wife a lot. He said she thought
maybe Jimmy was gettin' discouraged, specially as he didn't seem ter
say much of anything about his work now. Sam owned up that the letters
wan't so free talkin'; an' that worried him. He was afraid the boy was
keepin' back somethin'. He asked me, kind of sheepish-like, if I
s'posed such a thing could be as that Jimmy had gone wrong, somehow. He
knew cities was awful wicked an' temptin', he said.
“I laughed him out of that notion quick, an' I was honest in it,
too. I'd have as soon suspected myself of goin' ter the bad as Jimmy,
an' I told him so. Things didn't look right, though. The letters got
skurser an' skurser, an' I began ter think myself maybe somethin' was
up. Then come the newspaper.
“It was me that took it over to the Hadleys. It was a little notice
in my weekly, an' I spied it 'way down in the corner just as I thought
I had the paper all read. 'Twan't so much, but to us 'twas a powerful
lot; jest a little notice that they was glad ter see that the first
prize had gone ter the talented young illustrator, James Hadley, an'
that he deserved it, an' they wished him luck.
“The Hadleys were purty pleased, you'd better believe. They hadn't
seen it, 'course, as they wan't wastin' no money on weeklies them days.
Sam set right down an' wrote, an' so did Mis' Hadley, right out of the
fullness of their hearts. Mis' Hadley give me her letter ter read, she
was that proud an' excited; an' 't was a good letter, all brimmin' over
with love an' pride an' joy in his success. I could see just how
Jimmy'd color up an' choke when he read it, specially where she owned
up how she'd been gettin' purty near discouraged 'cause they didn't
hear much from him, an' how she'd rather die than have her Jimmy fail.
“Well, they sent off the letters, an' by an' by come the answer. It
was kind of shy and stiff-like, an' I think it sort of disappointed
'em; but they tried ter throw it off an' say that Jimmy was so modest
he didn't like ter take praise.
“'Course the whole town was interested, an' proud, too, ter think he
belonged ter us; an' we couldn't hear half enough about him. But as
time went on we got worried. Things didn't look right. The Hadleys was
still scrimpin', still sendin' money when they could, an' they owned up
that Jimmy's letters wan't real satisfyin' an' that they didn't come
often, though they always told how hard he was workin'.
“What was queerer still, every now an' then I'd see his name in my
weekly. I looked fer it, I'll own. I run across it once in the
'Personals,' an' after that I hunted the paper all through every week.
He went ter parties an' theaters, an' seemed ter be one of a gay crowd
that was always havin' good times. I didn't say nothin' ter the Hadleys
about all this, 'course, but it bothered me lots. What with all these
fine doin's, an' his not sendin' any money home, it looked as if the
old folks didn't count much now, an' that his head had got turned sure.
“As time passed, things got worse an' worse. Sam lost two cows, an'
Mis' Hadley grew thinner an' whiter, an' finally got down sick in her
bed. Then I wrote. I told Jimmy purty plain how things was an' what I
thought of him. I told him that there wouldn't be any more money comin'
from this direction (an' I meant ter see that there wan't, too!), an' I
hinted that if that 'ere prize brought anythin' but honor, I should
think 't would be a mighty good plan ter share it with the folks that
helped him ter win it.
“It was a sharp letter, an' when it was gone I felt 'most sorry I'd
sent it; an' when the answer come, I was sorry. Jimmy was all
broke up, an' he showed it. He begged me ter tell him jest how his ma
was; an' if they needed anythin', ter get it and call on him. He said
he wished the prize had brought him lots of money, but it hadn't. He
enclosed twenty-five dollars, however, and said he should write the
folks not ter send him any more money, as he was goin' ter send it ter
them now instead.
“Of course I took the letter an' the money right over ter Sam, an'
after they'd got over frettin' 'cause I'd written at all, they took the
money, an' I could see it made 'em look ten years younger. After that
you couldn't come near either of 'em that you didn't hear how good
Jimmy was an' how he was sendin' home money every week.
“Well, it wan't four months before I had ter write Jimmy again. Sam
asked me too, this time. Mis' Hadley was sick again, an' Sam was
worried. He thought Jimmy ought ter come home, but he didn't like ter
say so himself. He wondered if I wouldn't drop him a hint. So I wrote,
an' Jimmy wrote right away that he'd come.
“We was all of a twitter, 'course, then—the whole town. He'd got
another prize—so the paper said—an' there was a paragraph praisin' up
some pictures of his in the magazine. He was our Jimmy, an' we was
proud of him, yet we couldn't help wonderin' how he'd act. We wan't
used ter celebrities—not near to!
“Well, he came. He was taller an' thinner than when he went away,
an' there was a tired look in his eyes that went straight ter my heart.
'Most the whole town was out ter meet him, an' that seemed ter bother
him. He was cordial enough, in a way, but he seemed ter try ter avoid
folks, an' he asked me right off ter get him 'out of it.' I could see
he wan't hankerin' ter be made a lion of, so we got away soon's we
could an' went ter his home.
“You should have seen Mis' Hadley's eyes when she saw him, tall an'
straight in the doorway. And Sam—Sam cried like a baby, he was so
proud of that boy. As fer Jimmy, his eyes jest shone, an' the tired
look was all gone from them when he strode across the room an' dropped
on his knees at his mother's bedside with a kind of choking cry. I come
away then, and left them.
“We was kind of divided about Jimmy, after that. We liked him, 'most
all of us, but we didn't like his ways. He was too stand-offish, an'
queer, an' we was all mad at the way he treated the girl.
“'Twas given out that the engagement was broken, but we didn't
believe 't was her done it, 'cause up ter the last minute she'd been
runnin' down ter the house with posies and goodies. Then he
came, an' she stopped. He didn't go there, neither, an', so far as we
knew, they hadn't seen each other once. The whole town was put out. We
didn't relish seein' her thrown off like an old glove, jest 'cause he
was somebody out in the world now, an' could have his pick of girls
with city airs and furbelows. But we couldn't do nothin', 'cause he he
was good ter his folks, an' no mistake, an' we did like that.
“Mis' Hadley got better in a couple of weeks, an' he begun ter talk
of goin' back. We wanted ter give him a banquet an' speeches and a
serenade, but he wouldn't hear a word of it. He wouldn't let us tell
him how pleased we was at his success, either. The one thing he
wouldn't talk about was his work, an' some got most mad, he was so
“He hardly ever left the house except fer long walks, and it was on
one of them that the accident happened. It was in the road right in
front of the field where I was ploughing, so I saw it all. Bessie
Townsend, on her little gray mare, came tearin' down the Townsend Hill
“Jimmy had stopped ter speak ter me, at the fence, but the next
minute he was off like a shot up the road. He ran an' made a flyin'
leap, an' I saw the mare rear and plunge. Then beast and man came down
together, and I saw Bessie slide to the ground, landin' on her feet.
“When I got there Bessie Townsend was sittin' on the ground, with
Jimmy's head in her arms, which I thought uncommon good of her, seein'
the mortification he'd caused her. But when I saw the look in her eyes,
an' in his as he opened them an' gazed up at her, I reckoned there
might be more ter that love-story than most folks knew. What he said
ter her then I don't know, but ter me he said jest four words,
'Don't—tell— the—folks,' an' I didn't rightly understand jest then
what he meant, for surely an accident like that couldn't be kept
unbeknownst. The next minute he fell back unconscious.
“It was a bad business all around, an' from the very first there
wan't no hope. In a week 'twas over, an' we laid poor Jimmy away. Two
days after the funeral Sam come ter me with a letter. It was addressed
ter Jimmy, an' the old man couldn't bring himself ter open it. He
wanted, too, that I should go on ter New York an' get Jimmy's things;
an' after I had opened the letter I said right off that I'd go. I was
mad over that letter. It was a bill fer a suit of clothes, an' it asked
him purty sharplike ter pay it.
“I had some trouble in New York findin' Jimmy's boardin'-place.
There had been a fire the night before, an' his landlady had had ter
move; but at last I found her an' asked anxiously fer Jimmy's things,
an' if his pictures had been hurt.
“Jimmy's landlady was fat an' greasy an' foreign-lookin', an' she
didn't seem ter understand what I was talkin' about till I repeated a
“'Yes, his pictures. I've come fer 'em.'
“Then she shook her head.
“'Meester Hadley did not have any pictures.'
“'But he must have had 'em,' says I, 'fer them papers an' magazines
he worked for. He made 'em!'
“She shook her head again; then she gave a queer hitch to her
shoulders, and a little flourish with her hands.
“'Oh—ze pictures! He did do them—once—a leetle: months ago.'
“'But the prize,' says I. 'The prize ter James Hadley!'
“Then she laughed as if she suddenly understood.
“Oh, but it is ze grand mistake you are makin',' she cried, in her
silly, outlandish way of talkin'. 'There is a Meester James Hadley, an'
he does make pictures—beautiful pictures—but it is not this one. This
Meester Hadley did try, long ago, but he failed to succeed, so my son
said; an' he had to—to cease. For long time he has worked for me, for
the grocer, for any one who would pay—till a leetle while ago. Then he
left. In ze new clothes he had bought, he went away. Ze old ones—
burned. He had nothing else.'
“She said more, but I didn't even listen. I was back with Jimmy by
the roadside, and his 'Don't—tell—the—folks' was ringin' in my ears.
I understood it then, the whole thing from the beginnin'; an' I felt
dazed an' shocked, as if some one had struck me a blow in the face. I
wan't brought up ter think lyin' an' deceivin' was right.
“I got up by an' by an' left the house. I paid poor Jimmy's bill fer
clothes—the clothes that I knew he wore when he stood tall an'
straight in the doorway ter meet his mother's adorin' eyes. Then I went
“I told Sam that Jimmy's things got burned up in the fire—which was
the truth. I stopped there. Then I went to see the girl—an' right
there I got the surprise of my life. She knew. He had told her the
whole thing long before he come home, an' insisted on givin' her up.
Jest what he meant ter do in the end, an' how he meant ter do it, she
didn't know; an' she said with a great sob in her voice, that she
didn't believe he knew either. All he did know, apparently, was that he
didn't mean his ma should find out an' grieve over it—how he had
failed. But whatever he was goin' ter do, it was taken quite out of his
hands at the last.
“As fer Bessie, now,—it seems as if she can't do enough fer Sam an'
Mis' Hadley, she's that good ter 'em; an' they set the world by her.
She's got a sad, proud look to her eyes, but Jimmy's secret is safe.
“As I said, I saw old Sam an' his wife in the cemetery to-night.
They stopped me as usual, an' told me all over again what a good boy
Jimmy was, an' how smart he was, an' what a lot he'd made of himself in
the little time he'd lived. The Hadleys are old an' feeble an' broken,
an' it's their one comfort—Jimmy's success.”
Uncle Zeke paused, and drew a long breath. Then he eyed me almost
“I ain't sayin' that Jimmy did right, of course; but I ain't
sayin'— that Jimmy did wrong,” he finished.
A Summons Home
Mrs. Thaddeus Clayton came softly into the room and looked with
apprehensive eyes upon the little old man in the rocking-chair.
“How be ye, dearie? Yer hain't wanted fer nothin', now, have ye?”
“Not a thing, Harriet,” he returned cheerily. “I'm feelin' real
pert, too. Was there lots there? An' did Parson Drew say a heap o' fine
Mrs. Clayton dropped into a chair and pulled listlessly at the black
strings of her bonnet.
“'T was a beautiful fun'ral, Thaddeus—a beautiful fun'ral. I—I
'most wished it was mine.”
She gave a shamed-faced laugh.
“Well, I did—then Jehiel and Hannah Jane would 'a' come, an' I
could 'a' seen 'em.”
The horrified look on the old man's face gave way to a broad smile.
“Oh, Harriet—Harriet!” he chuckled, “how could ye seen 'em if you
“Huh? Well, I—Thaddeus,”—her voice rose sharply in the silent
room,— “every single one of them Perkins boys was there, and Annabel,
too. Only think what poor Mis' Perkins would 'a' given ter seen 'em
'fore she went! But they waited—waited, Thaddeus, jest as
everybody does, till their folks is dead.”
“But, Harriet,” demurred the old man, “surely you'd 'a' had them
boys come ter their own mother's fun'ral!”
“Come! I'd 'a' had 'em come before, while Ella Perkins could 'a'
feasted her eyes on 'em. Thaddeus,”—Mrs. Clayton rose to her feet and
stretched out two gaunt hands longingly,—“Thaddeus, I get so hungry
sometimes for Jehiel and Hannah Jane, seems as though I jest couldn't
“I know—I know, dearie,” quavered the old man, vigorously polishing
“Fifty years ago my first baby came,” resumed the woman in tremulous
tones; “then another came, and another, till I'd had six. I loved 'em,
an' tended 'em, an' cared fer 'em, an' didn't have a thought but was
fer them babies. Four died,”—her voice broke, then went on with
renewed strength,—“but I've got Jehiel and Hannah Jane left; at least,
I've got two bits of paper that comes mebbe once a month, an' one of
'em's signed 'your dutiful son, Jehiel,' an' the other, 'from your
loving daughter, Hannah Jane.'“
“Well, Harriet, they—they're pretty good ter write letters,”
ventured Mr. Clayton.
“Letters!” wailed his wife. “I can't hug an' kiss letters, though I
try to, sometimes. I want warm flesh an' blood in my arms, Thaddeus; I
want ter look down into Jehiel's blue eyes an' hear him call me 'dear
old mumsey!' as he used to. I wouldn't ask 'em ter stay—I ain't
unreasonable, Thaddeus. I know they can't do that.”
“Well, well, wife, mebbe they'll come—mebbe they'll come this
summer; who knows?”
She shook her head dismally.
“You've said that ev'ry year for the last fifteen summers, an' they
hain't come yet. Jehiel went West more than twenty years ago, an' he's
never been home since. Why, Thaddeus, we've got a grandson 'most
eighteen, that we hain't even seen! Hannah Jane's been home jest once
since she was married, but that was nigh on ter sixteen years ago.
She's always writin' of her Tommy and Nellie, but—I want ter see 'em,
Thaddeus; I want ter see 'em!”
“Yes, yes; well, we'll ask 'em, Harriet, again—we'll ask 'em real
urgent—like, an' mebbe that'll fetch 'em,” comforted the old man.
“We'll ask 'em ter be here the Fourth; that's eight weeks off yet, an'
I shall be real smart by then.”
Two letters that were certainly “urgent-like” left the New England
farmhouse the next morning. One was addressed to a thriving Western
city, the other to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
In course of time the answers came. Hannah Jane's appeared first,
and was opened with shaking fingers.
Dear Mother [read Mrs. Clayton aloud]: Your letter came two
or three days ago, and I have hurried round to answer it, for you
seemed to be so anxious to hear. I'm real sorry, but I don't see how we
can get away this summer. Nathan is real busy at the store; and, some
way, I can't seem to get up energy enough to even think of fixing up
the children to take them so far. Thank you for the invitation, though,
and we should enjoy the visit very much; but I guess we can't go just
yet. Of course if anything serious should come up that made it
necessary— why, that would be different: but I know you are sensible,
and will understand how it is with us.
Nathan is well, but business has been pretty brisk, and he is in the
store early and late. As long as he's making money, he don't mind; but
I tell him I think he might rest a little sometimes, and let some one
else do the things he does.
Tom is a big boy now, smart in his studies and with a good head for
figures. Nellie loves her books, too; and, for a little girl of eleven,
does pretty well, we think.
I must close now. We all send love, and hope you are getting along
all right. Was glad to hear father was gaining so fast.
Your loving daughter
The letter dropped from Mrs. Clayton's fingers and lay unheeded on
the floor. The woman covered her face with her hands and rocked her
body back and forth.
“There, there, dearie,” soothed the old man huskily; “mebbe Jehiel's
will be diff'rent. I shouldn't wonder, now, if Jehiel would come.
There, there! don't take on so, Harriet! don't! I jest know Jehiel'll
A week later Mrs. Clayton found another letter in the rural delivery
box. She clutched it nervously, peered at the writing with her dim old
eyes, and hurried into the house for her glasses.
Yes, it was from Jehiel.
She drew a long breath. Her eager thumb was almost under the flap of
the envelope when she hesitated, eyed the letter uncertainly, and
thrust it into the pocket of her calico gown. All day it lay there,
save at times— which, indeed, were of frequent occurrence—when she
took it from its hiding-place, pressed it to her cheek, or gloried in
every curve of the boldly written address.
At night, after the lamp was lighted, she said to her husband in
tones so low he could scarcely hear:
“Thaddeus, I—I had a letter from Jehiel to-day.”
“You did—and never told me? Why, Harriet, what—” He paused
“I—I haven't read it, Thaddeus,” she stammered. “I couldn't bear
to, someway. I don't know why, but I couldn't. You read it!” She held
out the letter with shaking hands.
He took it, giving her a sharp glance from anxious eyes. As he began
to read aloud she checked him.
“No; ter yerself, Thaddeus—ter yerself! Then—tell me.”
As he read she watched his face. The light died from her eyes and
her chin quivered as she saw the stern lines deepen around his mouth. A
minute more, and he had finished the letter and laid it down without a
“Thaddeus, ye don't mean—he didn't say—”
“Read it—I—I can't,” choked the old man.
She reached slowly for the sheet of paper and spread it on the table
Dear Mother [Jehiel had written]: Just a word to tell you we
are all O. K. and doing finely. Your letter reminded me that it was
about time I was writing home to the old folks. I don't mean to let so
many weeks go by without a letter from me, but somehow the time just
gets away from me before I know it.
Minnie is well and deep in spring sewing and house-cleaning. I
know— because dressmaker's bills are beginning to come in, and every
time I go home I find a carpet up in a new place!
Our boy Fred is eighteen to-morrow. You'd be proud of him, I know,
if you could see him. Business is rushing. Glad to hear you're all
right and that father's rheumatism is on the gain.
As ever, your affectionate and dutiful son, JEHIEL
Oh, by the way—about that visit East. I reckon we'll have to call
it off this year. Too bad; but can't seem to see my way clear.
Harriet Clayton did not cry this time. She stared at the letter long
minutes with wide-open, tearless eyes, then she slowly folded it and
put it back in its envelope.
“Harriet, mebbe-” began the old man timidly.
“Don't, Thaddeus—please don't!” she interrupted. “I—I don't want
ter talk.” And she rose unsteadily to her feet and moved toward the
For a time Mrs. Clayton went about her work in a silence quite
unusual, while her husband watched her with troubled eyes. His heart
grieved over the bowed head and drooping shoulders, and over the
blurred eyes that were so often surreptitiously wiped on a corner of
the gingham apron. But at the end of a week the little old woman
accosted him with a face full of aggressive yet anxious determination.
“Thaddeus, I want ter speak ter you about somethin'. I've been
thinkin' it all out, an' I've decided that I've got ter kill one of us
“Well, I have. A fun'ral is the only thing that will fetch Jehiel
“Harriet, are ye gone crazy? Have ye gone clean mad?”
She looked at him appealingly.
“Now, Thaddeus, don't try ter hender me, please. You see it's the
only way. A fun'ral is the—”
“A 'fun'ral'—it's murder!” he shuddered.
“Oh, not ter make believe, as I shall,” she protested eagerly.
“Why, yes, of course. You'll have ter be the one ter do it,
'cause I'm goin' ter be the dead one, an'—”
“There, there, please, Thaddeus! I've jest got ter see Jehiel
and Hannah Jane 'fore I die!”
“But—they—they'll come if—”
“No, they won't come. We've tried it over an' over again; you know
we have. Hannah Jane herself said that if anythin' 'serious' came up it
would be diff'rent. Well, I'm goin' ter have somethin' 'serious' come
“Now, Thaddeus,” begged the woman, almost crying, “you must help me,
dear. I've thought it all out, an' it's easy as can be. I shan't tell
any lies, of course. I cut my finger to-day, didn't I?”
“Why—yes—I believe so,” he acknowledged dazedly; “but what has
that to do—”
“That's the 'accident,' Thaddeus. You're ter send two telegrams at
once— one ter Jehiel, an' one ter Hannah Jane. The telegrams will say:
'Accident to your mother. Funeral Saturday afternoon. Come at once.'
That's jest ten words.”
The old man gasped. He could not speak.
“Now, that's all true, ain't it?” she asked anxiously. “The
'accident' is this cut. The 'fun'ral' is old Mis' Wentworth's. I heard
ter-day that they couldn't have it until Saturday, so that'll give us
plenty of time ter get the folks here. I needn't say whose fun'ral it
is that's goin' ter be on Saturday, Thaddeus! I want yer ter hitch up
an' drive over ter Hopkinsville ter send the telegrams. The man's new
over there, an' won't know yer. You couldn't send 'em from here, of
Thaddeus Clayton never knew just how he allowed himself to be
persuaded to take his part in this “crazy scheme,” as he termed it, but
persuaded he certainly was.
It was a miserable time for Thaddeus then. First there was that
hurried drive to Hopkinsville. Though the day was warm he fairly
shivered as he handed those two fateful telegrams to the man behind the
counter. Then there was the homeward trip, during which, like the
guilty thing he was, he cast furtive glances from side to side.
Even home itself came to be a misery, for the sweeping and the
dusting and the baking and the brewing which he encountered there left
him no place to call his own, so that he lost his patience at last and
“Seems ter me, Harriet, you're a pretty lively corpse!”
His wife smiled, and flushed a little.
“There, there, dear! don't fret. Jest think how glad we'll be ter
see 'em!” she exclaimed.
Harriet was blissfully happy. Both the children had promptly
responded to the telegrams, and were now on their way. Hannah Jane,
with her husband and two children, were expected on Friday evening; but
Jehiel and his wife and boy could not possibly get in until early on
the following morning.
All this brought scant joy to Thaddeus. There was always hanging
over him the dread horror of what he had done, and the fearful
questioning as to how it was all going to end.
Friday came, but a telegram at the last moment told of trains
delayed and connections missed. Hannah Jane would not reach home until
nine- forty the next morning. So it was with a four-seated carryall
that Thaddeus Clayton started for the station on Saturday morning to
meet both of his children and their families.
The ride home was a silent one; but once inside the house, Jehiel
and Hannah Jane, amid a storm of sobs and cries, besieged their father
The family were all in the darkened sitting-room—all, indeed, save
Harriet, who sat in solitary state in the chamber above, her face pale
and her heart beating almost to suffocation. It had been arranged that
she was not to be seen until some sort of explanation had been given.
“Father, what was it?” sobbed Hannah Jane. “How did it happen?”
“It must have been so sudden,” faltered Jehiel. “It cut me up
“I can't ever forgive myself,” moaned Hannah Jane hysterically. “She
wanted us to come East, and I wouldn't. 'Twas my selfishness—'twas
easier to stay where I was; and now—now—”
“We've been brutes, father,” cut in Jehiel, with a shake in his
voice; “all of us. I never thought—I never dreamed-father, can—can we
In the chamber above a woman sprang to her feet. Harriet had quite
forgotten the stove-pipe hole to the room below, and every sob and moan
and wailing cry had been woefully distinct to her ears. With streaming
eyes and quivering lips she hurried down the stairs and threw open the
“Jehiel! Hannah Jane! I'm here, right here—alive!” she cried. “An'
I've been a wicked, wicked woman! I never thought how bad 'twas goin'
ter make you feel. I truly never, never did. 'Twas only
myself—I wanted yer so. Oh, children, children, I've been so
wicked—so awful wicked!”
Jehiel and Hannah Jane were steady of head and strong of heartland
joy, it is said, never kills; otherwise, the results of that sudden
apparition in the sitting-room doorway might have been disastrous.
As it was, a wonderfully happy family party gathered around the
table an hour later; and as Jehiel led a tremulous, gray-haired woman
to the seat of honor, he looked into her shining eyes and whispered:
“Dear old mumsey, now that we've found the way home again, I reckon
we'll be coming every year—don't you?”
The Black Silk Gowns
The Heath twins, Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia, rose early that
morning, and the world looked very beautiful to them—one does not buy
a black silk gown every day; at least, Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia
did not. They had waited, indeed, quite forty years to buy this one.
The women of the Heath family had always possessed a black silk
gown. It was a sort of outward symbol of inward respectability—an
unfailing indicator of their proud position as members of one of the
old families. It might be donned at any time after one's twenty-first
birthday, and it should be donned always for funerals, church, and
calls after one had turned thirty. Such had been the code of the Heath
family for generations, as Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia well knew;
and it was this that had made all the harder their own fate—that their
twenty- first birthday was now forty years behind them, and not yet had
either of them attained this cachet of respectability.
To-day, however, there was to come a change. No longer need the
carefully sponged and darned black alpaca gowns flaunt their wearers'
poverty to the world, and no longer would they force these same wearers
to seek dark corners and sunless rooms, lest the full extent of that
poverty become known. It had taken forty years of the most rigid
economy to save the necessary money; but it was saved now, and the
dresses were to be bought. Long ago there had been enough for one, but
neither of the women had so much as thought of the possibility of
buying one silk gown. It was sometimes said in the town that if one of
the Heath twins strained her eyes, the other one was obliged at once to
put on glasses; and it is not to be supposed that two sisters whose
sympathies were so delicately attuned would consent to appear clad one
in new silk and the other in old alpaca.
In spite of their early rising that morning, it was quite ten
o'clock before Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia had brought the house
into the state of speckless nicety that would not shame the lustrous
things that were so soon to be sheltered beneath its roof. Not that
either of the ladies expressed this sentiment in words, or even in
their thoughts; they merely went about their work that morning with the
reverent joy that a devoted priestess might feel in making ready a
shrine for its idol. They had to hurry a little to get themselves ready
for the eleven o'clock stage that passed their door; and they were
still a little breathless when they boarded the train at the home
station for the city twenty miles away—the city where were countless
yards of shimmering silk waiting to be bought.
In the city that night at least six clerks went home with an unusual
weariness in their arms, which came from lifting down and displaying
almost their entire stock of black silk. But with all the weariness,
there was no irritation; there was only in their nostrils a curious
perfume as of lavender and old lace, and in their hearts a strange
exaltation as if they had that day been allowed a glad part in a sacred
rite. As for Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia, they went home awed, yet
triumphant: when one has waited forty years to make a purchase one does
not make that purchase lightly.
“To-morrow we will go over to Mis' Snow's and see about having them
made up,” said Miss Priscilla with a sigh of content, as the stage
lumbered through the dusty home streets.
“Yes; we want them rich, but plain,” supplemented Miss Amelia,
rapturously. “Dear me, Priscilla, but I am tired!”
In spite of their weariness the sisters did not get to bed very
early that night. They could not decide whether the top drawer of the
spare- room bureau or the long box in the parlor closet would be the
safer refuge for their treasure. And when the matter was decided, and
the sisters had gone to bed, Miss Priscilla, after a prolonged
discussion, got up and moved the silk to the other place, only to slip
out of bed later, after a much longer discussion, and put it back. Even
then they did not sleep well: for the first time in their lives they
knew the responsibility that comes with possessions; they
With the morning sun, however, came peace and joy. No moth nor rust
nor thief had appeared, and the lustrous lengths of shimmering silk
defied the sun itself to find spot or blemish.
“It looks even nicer than it did in the store, don't it?” murmured
Miss Priscilla, ecstatically, as she hovered over the glistening folds
that she had draped in riotous luxury across the chair-back.
“Yes,—oh, yes!” breathed Miss Amelia. “Now let's hurry with the
work so we can go right down to Mis' Snow's.”
“Black silk-black silk!” ticked the clock to Miss
Priscilla washing dishes at the kitchen sink.
“You've got a black silk! You've got a black silk!”
chirped the robins to Miss Amelia looking for weeds in the garden.
At ten o'clock the sisters left the house, each with a long brown
parcel carefully borne in her arms. At noon—at noon the sisters were
back again, still carrying the parcels. Their faces wore a look of
mingled triumph and defeat.
“As if we could have that beautiful silk put into a
plaited skirt!” quavered Miss Priscilla, thrusting the key into the
lock with a trembling hand. “Why, Amelia, plaits always crack!”
“Of course they do!” almost sobbed Miss Amelia. “Only think of it,
Priscilla, our silk—cracked!“
“We will just wait until the styles change,” said Miss Priscilla,
with an air of finality. “They won't always wear plaits!”
“And we know all the time that we've really got the dresses, only
they aren't made up!” finished Miss Amelia, in tearful triumph.
So the silk was laid away in two big rolls, and for another year the
old black alpaca gowns trailed across the town's thresholds and down
the aisle of the church on Sunday. Their owners no longer sought
shadowed corners and sunless rooms, however; it was not as if one were
obliged to wear sponged and darned alpacas!
Plaits were “out” next year, and the Heath sisters were among the
first to read it in the fashion notes. Once more on a bright spring
morning Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia left the house tenderly bearing
in their arms the brown-paper parcels—and once more they returned, the
brown parcels still in their arms. There was an air of indecision about
them this time.
“You see, Amelia, it seemed foolish—almost wicked,” Miss Priscilla
was saying, “to put such a lot of that expensive silk into just
“I know it,” sighed her sister.
“Of course I want the dresses just as much as you do,” went on Miss
Priscilla, more confidently; “but when I thought of allowing Mis' Snow
to slash into that beautiful silk and just waste it on those great
balloon sleeves, I—I simply couldn't give my consent!—and 'tisn't as
though we hadn't got the dresses!”
“No, indeed!” agreed Miss Amelia, lifting her chin. And so once more
the rolls of black silk were laid away in the great box that had
already held them a year; and for another twelve months the black
alpacas, now grown shabby indeed, were worn with all the pride of one
whose garments are beyond reproach.
When for the third time Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia returned to
their home with the oblong brown parcels there was no indecision about
them; there was only righteous scorn.
“And do you really think that Mis' Snow expected us to allow
that silk to be cut up into those skimpy little skin-tight bags she
called skirts?” demanded Miss Priscilla, in a shaking voice. “Why,
Amelia, we couldn't ever make them over!”
“Of course we couldn't! And when skirts got bigger, what could we
do?” cried Miss Amelia. “Why, I'd rather never have a black silk dress
than to have one like that—that just couldn't be changed! We'll go on
wearing the gowns we have. It isn't as if everybody didn't know we had
these black silk dresses!”
When the fourth spring came the rolls of silk were not even taken
from their box except to be examined with tender care and replaced in
the enveloping paper. Miss Priscilla was not well. For weeks she had
spent most of her waking hours on the sitting-room couch, growing
thiner, weaker, and more hollow-eyed.
“You see, dear, I—I am not well enough now to wear it,” she said
faintly to her sister one day when they had been talking about the
black silk gowns; “but you—” Miss Amelia had stopped her with a
shocked gesture of the hand.
“Priscilla—as if I could!” she sobbed. And there the matter had
* * * * *
The townspeople were grieved, but not surprised, when they learned
that Miss Amelia was fast following her sister into a decline. It was
what they had expected of the Heath twins, they said, and they reminded
one another of the story of the strained eyes and the glasses. Then
came the day when the little dressmaker's rooms were littered from end
to end with black silk scraps.
“It's for Miss Priscilla and Miss Amelia,'“ said Mrs. Snow, with
tears in her eyes, in answer to the questions that were asked.
“It's their black silk gowns, you know.”
“But I thought they were ill—almost dying!” gasped the questioner.
The little dressmaker nodded her head. Then she smiled, even while
she brushed her eyes with her fingers.
“They are—but they're happy. They're even happy in this!” touching
the dress in her lap. “They've been forty years buying it, and four
making it up. Never until now could they decide to use it; never until
now could they be sure they wouldn't want to—to make it—over.” The
little dressmaker's voice broke, then went on tremulously: “There are
folks like that, you know—that never enjoy a thing for what it is,
lest sometime they might want it—different. Miss Priscilla and Miss
Amelia never took the good that was goin'; they've always saved it for
A Belated Honeymoon
The haze of a warm September day hung low over the house, the
garden, and the dust-white road. On the side veranda a gray-haired,
erect little figure sat knitting. After a time the needles began to
move more and more slowly until at last they lay idle in the
motionless, withered fingers.
“Well, well, Abby, takin' a nap?” demanded a thin-chested, wiry old
man coming around the corner of the house and seating himself on the
The little old woman gave a guilty start and began to knit
“Dear me, no, Hezekiah. I was thinkin'.” She hesitated a moment,
then added, a little feverishly: ”—it's ever so much cooler here than
up ter the fair grounds now, ain't it, Hezekiah?”
The old man threw a sharp look at her face. “Hm-m, yes,” he said.
“Mebbe 't is.”
From far down the road came the clang of a bell. As by common
consent the old man and his wife got to their feet and hurried to the
front of the house where they could best see the trolley-car as it
rounded a curve and crossed the road at right angles.
“Goes slick, don't it?” murmured the man.
There was no answer. The woman's eyes were hungrily devouring the
last glimpse of paint and polish.
“An' we hain't been on 'em 't all yet, have we, Abby?” he continued.
She drew a long breath.
“Well, ye see, I—I hain't had time, Hezekiah,” she rejoined
“Humph!” muttered the old man as they turned and walked back to
For a time neither spoke, then Hezekiah Warden cleared his throat
determinedly and faced his wife.
“Look a' here, Abby,” he began, “I'm agoin' ter say somethin' that
has been 'most tumblin' off'n the end of my tongue fer mor'n a year.
Jennie an' Frank are good an' kind an' they mean well, but they think
'cause our hair's white an' our feet ain't quite so lively as they once
was, that we're jest as good as buried already, an' that we don't need
anythin' more excitin' than a nap in the sun. Now, Abby, didn't
ye want ter go ter that fair with the folks ter-day? Didn't ye?”
A swift flush came into the woman's cheek.
“Why, Hezekiah, it's ever so much cooler here, an'—” she paused
“Humph!” retorted the man, “I thought as much. It's always 'nice an'
cool' here in summer an' 'nice an' warm' here in winter when Jennie
goes somewheres that you want ter go an' don't take ye. An' when 't
ain't that, you say you 'hain't had time.' I know ye! You'd talk any
way ter hide their selfishness. Look a' here, Abby, did ye ever ride in
them 'lectric-cars? I mean anywheres?”
“Well, I hain't neither, an', by ginger, I'm agoin' to!”
“Oh, Hezekiah, Hezekiah, don't—swear!”
“I tell ye, Abby, I will swear. It's a swearin' matter. Ever since I
heard of 'em I wanted ter try 'em. An' here they are now 'most ter my
own door an' I hain't even been in 'em once. Look a' here, Abby, jest
because we're 'most eighty ain't no sign we've lost int'rest in things.
I'm spry as a cricket, an' so be you, yet Frank an' Jennie expect us
ter stay cooped up here as if we was old—really old, ninety or a
hundred, ye know—an' 't ain't fair. Why, we will be old one of
“I know it, Hezekiah.”
“We couldn't go much when we was younger,” he resumed. “Even our
weddin' trip was chopped right off short 'fore it even begun.”
A tender light came into the dim old eyes opposite.
“I know, dear, an' what plans we had!” cried Abigail; “Boston, an'
Bunker Hill, an' Faneuil Hall.”
The old man suddenly squared his shoulders and threw back his head.
“Abby, look a' here! Do ye remember that money I've been savin' off
an' on when I could git a dollar here an' there that was extra? Well,
there's as much as ten of 'em now, an' I'm agoin' ter spend 'em—all of
'em mebbe. I'm agoin' ter ride in them 'lectric-cars, an' so be
you. An' I ain't goin' ter no old country fair, neither, an' no more be
you. Look a' here, Abby, the folks are goin' again ter-morrer ter the
fair, ain't they?”
Abigail nodded mutely. Her eyes were beginning to shine.
“Well,” resumed Hezekiah, “when they go we'll be settin' in the sun
where they say we'd oughter be. But we ain't agoin' ter stay there,
Abby. We're goin' down the road an' git on them 'lectric-cars, an' when
we git ter the Junction we're agoin' ter take the steam cars fer
Boston. What if 'tis thirty miles! I calc'late we're equal to 'em.
We'll have one good time, an' we won't come home until in the evenin'.
We'll see Faneuil Hall an' Bunker Hill, an' you shall buy a new cap,
an' ride in the subway. If there's a preachin' service we'll go ter
that. They have 'em sometimes weekdays, ye know.”
“Oh, Hezekiah, we—couldn't!” gasped the little old woman.
“Pooh! 'Course we could. Listen!” And Hezekiah proceeded to unfold
his plans more in detail.
It was very early the next morning when the household awoke. By
seven o'clock a two-seated carryall was drawn up to the side-door, and
by a quarter past the carryall, bearing Jennie, Frank, the boys, and
the lunch baskets, rumbled out of the yard and on to the high-way.
“Now, keep quiet and don't get heated, mother,” cautioned Jennie,
looking back at the little gray-haired woman standing all alone on the
“Find a good cool spot to smoke your pipe in, father,” called Frank,
as an old man appeared in the doorway.
There followed a shout, a clatter, and a cloud of dust—then
silence. Fifteen minutes later, hand in hand, a little old man and a
little old woman walked down the white road together.
To most of the passengers on the trolley-car that day the trip was
merely a necessary means to an end; to the old couple on the front seat
it was something to be remembered and lived over all their lives. Even
at the Junction the spell of unreality was so potent that the man
forgot things so trivial as tickets, and marched into the car with head
erect and eyes fixed straight ahead.
It was after Hezekiah had taken out the roll of bills—all ones—to
pay the fares to the conductor that a young man in a tall hat sauntered
down the aisle and dropped into the seat in front.
“Going to Boston, I take it,” said the young man genially.
“Yes, sir,” replied Hezehiah, no less genially. “Ye guessed right
the first time.”
Abigail lifted a cautious hand to her hair and her bonnet. So
handsome and well-dressed a man would notice the slightest thing awry,
“Hm-m,” smiled the stranger. “I was so successful that time, suppose
I try my luck again.—You don't go every day, I fancy, eh?”
“Sugar! How'd he know that, now?” chuckled Hezekiah, turning to his
wife in open glee. “So we don't, stranger, so we don't,” he added,
turning back to the man. “Ye hit it plumb right.”
“Hm-m! great place, Boston,” observed the stranger. “I'm glad you're
going. I think you'll enjoy it.”
The two wrinkled old faces before him fairly beamed.
“I thank ye, sir,” said Hezekiah heartily. “I call that mighty kind
of ye, specially as there are them that thinks we're too old ter be
enj'yin' of anythin'.”
“Old? Of course you're not too old! Why, you're just in the prime to
enjoy things,” cried the handsome man, and in the sunshine of his
dazzling smile the hearts of the little old man and woman quite melted
“Thank ye, sir, thank ye sir,” nodded Abigail, while Hezekiah
offered his hand.
“Shake, stranger, shake! An' I ain't too old, an' I'm agoin' ter
prove it. I've got money, sir, heaps of it, an' I'm goin' ter spend
it—mebbe I'll spend it all. We're agoin' ter see Bunker Hill an'
Faneuil Hall, an' we're agoin' ter ride in the subway. Now, don't tell
me we don't know how ter enj'y ourselves!”
It was a very simple matter after that. On the one hand were
infinite tact and skill; on the other, innocence, ignorance, and an
overwhelming gratitude for this sympathetic companionship.
Long before Boston was reached Mr. and Mrs. Warden and “Mr.
Livingstone” were on the best of terms, and when they separated at the
foot of the car-steps, to the old man and woman it seemed that half
their joy and all their courage went with the smiling man who lifted
his hat in farewell before being lost to sight in the crowd.
“There, Abby, we're here!” announced Hezekiah with an exultation
that was a little forced. “Gorry! There must be somethin' goin' on
ter-day,” he added, as he followed the long line of people down the
narrow passage between the cars.
There was no reply. Abigail's cheeks were pink and her
bonnet-strings untied. Her eyes, wide opened and frightened, were fixed
on the swaying, bobbing crowds ahead. In the great waiting-room she
caught her husband's arm.
“Hezekiah, we can't, we mustn't ter-day,” she whispered. “There's
such a crowd. Let's go home an' come when it's quieter.”
“But, Abby, we—here, let's set down,” Hezekiah finished helplessly.
Near one of the outer doors Mr. Livingstone—better known to his
friends and the police as “Slick Bill”—smiled behind his hand. Not
once since he had left them had Mr. and Mrs. Hezekiah Warden been out
of his sight.
“What's up, Bill? Need assistance?” demanded a voice at his elbow.
“Jim, by all that's lucky!” cried Livingstone, turning to greet a
dapper little man in gray. “Sure I need you! It's a peach, though I
doubt if we get much but fun, but there'll be enough of that to make
up. Oh, he's got money—'heaps of it,' he says,” laughed Livingstone,
“and I saw a roll of bills myself. But I advise you not to count too
much on that, though it'll be easy enough to get what there is, all
right. As for the fun, Jim, look over by that post near the parcel
“Great Scott! Where'd you pick 'em?” chuckled the younger man.
“Never mind,” returned the other with a shrug. “Meet me at Clyde's
in half an hour. We'll be there, never fear.”
Over by the parcel-room an old man looked about him with anxious
“But, Abby, don't ye see?” he urged. “We've come so fer, seems as
though we oughter do the rest all right. Now, you jest set here an' let
me go an' find out how ter git there. We'll try fer Bunker Hill first,
'cause we want ter see the munurmunt sure.”
He rose to his feet only to be pulled back by his wife.
“Hezekiah Warden!” she almost sobbed. “If you dare ter stir ten feet
away from me I'll never furgive ye as long as I live. We'd never find
each other ag'in!”
“Well, well, Abby,” soothed the man with grim humor, “if we never
found each other ag'in, I don't see as 'twould make much diff'rence
whether ye furgived me or not!”
For another long minute they silently watched the crowd. Then
Hezekiah squared his shoulders.
“Come, come, Abby,” he said, “this ain't no way ter do. Only think
how we wanted ter git here an' now we're here an' don't dare ter stir.
There ain't any less folks than there was—growin' worse, if
anythin'—but I'm gittin' used ter 'em now, an' I'm goin' ter make a
break. Come, what would Mr. Livin'stone say if he could see us now?
Where'd he think our boastin' was about our bein' able ter enj'y
ourselves? Come!” And once more he rose to his feet.
This time he was not held back. The little woman at his side
adjusted her bonnet, tilted up her chin, and in her turn rose to her
“Sure enough!” she quavered bravely. “Come, Hezekiah, we'll ask the
way ter Bunker Hill.” And, holding fast to her husband's coat sleeve,
she tripped across the floor to one of the outer doors.
On the sidewalk Mr. and Mrs. Hezekiah Warden came once more to a
halt. Before them swept an endless stream of cars, carriages, and
people. Above thundered the elevated railway cars.
“Oh-h,” shuddered Abigail and tightened her grasp on her husband's
It was some minutes before Hezekiah's dry tongue and lips could
frame his question, and then his words were so low-spoken and
indistinct that the first two men he asked did not hear. The third man
frowned and pointed to a policeman. The fourth snapped: “Take the
elevated for Charlestown or the trolley-cars, either;” all of which
served but to puzzle Hezekiah the more.
Little by little the dazed old man and his wife fell back before the
jostling crowds. They were quite against the side of the building when
Livingstone spoke to them.
“Well, well, if here aren't my friends again!” he exclaimed
There was something of the fierceness of a drowning man in the way
Hezekiah took hold of that hand.
“Mr. Livin'stone!” he cried; then he recollected himself. “We
was jest goin' ter Bunker Hill,” he said jauntily.
“Yes?” smiled Livingstone. “But your luncheon—aren't you hungry?
Come with me; I was just going to get mine.”
“But you—I—” Hezekiah paused and looked doubtingly at his wife.
“Indeed, my dear Mrs. Warden, you'll say 'Yes,' I know,” urged
Livingstone suavely. “Only think how good a nice cup of tea would taste
“I know, but—” She glanced at her husband.
“Nonsense! Of course you'll come,” insisted Livingstone, laying a
gently compelling hand on the arm of each.
Fifteen minutes later Hezekiah stood looking about him with
“Well, well, Abby, ain't this slick?” he cried.
His wife did not reply. The mirrors, the lights, the gleaming silver
and glass had filled her with a delight too great for words. She was
vaguely conscious of her husband, of Mr. Livingstone, and of a
smooth-shaven little man in gray who was presented as “Mr. Harding.”
Then she found herself seated at that wonderful table, while beside her
chair stood an awesome being who laid a printed card before her. With a
little ecstatic sigh she gave Hezekiah her customary signal for the
blessing and bowed her head.
“There!” exulted Livingstone aloud. “Here we—” He stopped short.
From his left came a deep-toned, reverent voice invoking the divine
blessing upon the place, the food, and the new friends who were so kind
to strangers in a strange land.
“By Jove!” muttered Livingstone under his breath, as his eyes met
those of Jim across the table. The waiter coughed and turned his back.
Then, the blessing concluded, Hezekiah raised his head and smiled.
“Well, well, Abby, why don't ye say somethin'?” he asked, breaking
the silence. “Ye hain't said a word. Mr. Livin'stone'll be thinkin' ye
don't like it.”
Mrs. Warden drew a long breath of delight.
“I can't say anythin', Hezekiah,” she faltered. “It's all so
Livingstone waited until the dazed old eyes had become in a measure
accustomed to the surroundings, then he turned a smiling face on
“And now, my friend, what do you propose to do after luncheon?” he
“Well, we cal'late ter take in Bunker Hill an' Faneuil Hall sure,”
returned the old man with a confidence that told of new courage imbibed
with his tea. “Then we thought mebbe we'd ride in the subway an' hear
one of the big preachers if they happened ter be holdin' meetin's
anywheres this week. Mebbe you can tell us, eh?”
Across the table the man called Harding choked over his food and
“Well,” began Livingstone slowly.
“I think,” interrupted Harding, taking a newspaper from his pocket,
“I think there are services there,” he finished gravely, pointing to
the glaring advertisement of a ten-cent show, as he handed the paper
across to Livingstone.
“But what time do the exercises begin?” demanded Hezekiah in a
troubled voice. “Ye see, there's Bunker Hill an'—sugar! Abby, ain't
that pretty?” he broke off delightedly. Before him stood a slender
glass into which the waiter was pouring something red and sparkling.
The old lady opposite grew white, then pink. “Of course that ain't
wine, Mr. Livingstone?” she asked anxiously.
“Give yourself no uneasiness, my dear Mrs. Warden,” interposed
Harding. “It's lemonade—pink lemonade.”
“Oh,” she returned with a relieved sigh. “I ask yer pardon, I'm
sure. You wouldn't have it, 'course, no more'n I would. But, ye see,
bein' pledged so, I didn't want ter make a mistake.”
There was an awkward silence, then Harding raised his glass.
“Here's to your health, Mrs. Warden!” he cried gayly. “May your
“Wait!” she interrupted excitedly, her old eyes alight and her
cheeks flushed. “Let me tell ye first what this trip is ter us, then
ye'll have a right ter wish us good luck.”
Harding lowered his glass and turned upon her a gravely attentive
“'Most fifty years ago we was married, Hezekiah an' me,” she began
softly. “We'd saved, both of us, an' we'd planned a honeymoon trip. We
was comin' ter Boston. They didn't have any 'lectric-cars then nor any
steam-cars only half-way. But we was comin' an' we was plannin' on
Bunker Hill an' Faneuil Hall, an' I don't know what all.”
The little lady paused for breath and Harding stirred uneasily in
his chair. Livingstone did not move. His eyes were fixed on a mirror
across the room. Over at the sideboard the waiter vigorously wiped a
“Well, we was married,” continued the tremulous voice, “an' not half
an hour later mother fell down the cellar stairs an' broke her hip. Of
course that stopped things right short. I took off my weddin' gown an'
put on my old red caliker an' went ter work. Hezekiah came right there
an' run the farm an' I nursed mother an' did the work. 'T was more'n a
year 'fore she was up 'round, an' after that, what with the babies an'
all, there didn't never seem a chance when Hezekiah an' me could take
“If we went anywhere we couldn't seem ter manage ter go tergether,
an' we never stayed fer no sight-seein'. Late years my Jennie an' her
husband seemed ter think we didn't need nothin' but naps an' knittin',
an' somehow we got so we jest couldn't stand it. We wanted ter go
somewhere an' see somethin', so.”
Mrs. Warden paused, drew a long breath, and resumed. Her voice now
had a ring of triumph.
“Well, last month they got the 'lectric-cars finished down our way.
We hadn't been on 'em, neither of us. Jennie an' Frank didn't seem ter
want us to. They said they was shaky an' noisy an' would tire us all
out. But yesterday, when the folks was gone, Hezekiah an' me got ter
talkin' an' thinkin' how all these years we hadn't never had that
honeymoon trip, an' how by an' by we'd be old—real old, I mean, so's
we couldn't take it—an' all of a sudden we said we'd take it now,
right now. An' we did. We left a note fer the children, an'—an' we're
There was a long silence. Over at the side-board the waiter still
polished his bottle. Livingstone did not even turn his head. Finally
Harding raised his glass.
“We'll drink to honeymoon trips in general and to this one in
particular,” he cried, a little constrainedly.
Mrs. Warden flushed, smiled, and reached for her glass. The pink
lemonade was almost at her lips when Livingstone's arm shot out. Then
came the tinkle of shattered glass and a crimson stain where the wine
trailed across the damask.
“I beg your pardon!” exclaimed Livingstone, while the other men
lowered their glasses in surprise. “That was an awkward slip of mine,
Mrs. Warden. I must have hit your arm.”
“But, Bill,” muttered Harding under his breath, “you don't mean—”
“But I do,” corrected Livingstone quietly, looking straight into
Harding's amazed eyes.
“Mr. and Mrs. Warden are my guests. They are going to drive to
Bunker Hill with me by and by.”
When the six o'clock accommodation train pulled out from Boston that
night it bore a little old man and a little old woman, gray-haired,
weary, but blissfully content.
“We've seen 'em all, Hezekiah, ev'ry single one of 'em,” Abigail was
saying. “An' wan't Mr. Livingstone good, a-gittin' that carriage an'
takin' us ev'rywhere; an' it bein' open so all 'round the sides, we
didn't miss seein' a single thing!”
“He was, Abby, he was, an' he wouldn't let me pay one cent!” cried
Hezekiah, taking out his roll of bills and patting it lovingly. “But,
Abby, did ye notice? 'Twas kind o' queer we never got one taste of that
pink lemonade. The waiter-man took it away.”
When Aunt Abby Waked Up
The room was very still. The gaunt figure on the bed lay motionless
save for a slight lifting of the chest at long intervals. The face was
turned toward the wall, leaving a trail of thin gray hair-wisps across
the pillow. Just outside the door two physicians talked together in low
tones, with an occasional troubled glance toward the silent figure on
“If there could be something that would rouse her,” murmured one;
“something that would prick her will-power and goad it into action! But
this lethargy—this wholesale giving up!” he finished with a gesture of
“I know,” frowned the other; “and I've tried—day after day I've
tried. But there's nothing. I've exhausted every means in my power. I
didn't know but you—” He paused questioningly.
The younger man shook his head.
“No,” he said. “If you can't, I can't. You've been her physician for
years. If anyone knows how to reach her, you should know. I suppose
you've thought of—her son?”
“Oh, yes. Jed was sent for long ago, but he had gone somewhere into
the interior on a prospecting trip, and was very hard to reach. It is
doubtful if word gets to him at all until—too late. As you know,
perhaps, it is rather an unfortunate case. He has not been home for
years, anyway, and the Nortons—James is Mrs. Darling's nephew—have
been making all the capital they can out of it, and have been
prejudicing her against him—quite unjustly, in my opinion, for I think
it's nothing more nor less than thoughtlessness on the boy's part.”
“Hm-m; too bad, too bad!” murmured the other, as he turned and led
the way to the street door.
Back in the sick-room the old woman still lay motionless on the bed.
She was wondering—as she had wondered so often before—why it took so
long to die. For days now she had been trying to die, decently and in
order. There was really no particular use in living, so far as she
could see. Ella and Jim were very kind; but, after all, they were not
Jed, and Jed was away—hopelessly away. He did not even want to come
back, so Ella and Jim said.
There was the money, too. She did not like to think of the money. It
seemed to her that every nickel and dime and quarter that she had
painfully wrested from the cost of keeping soul and body together all
these past years lay now on her breast with a weight that crushed like
lead. She had meant that money for Jed. Ella and Jim were kind, of
course, and she was willing they should have it; yet Jed—but Jed was
And she was so tired. She had ceased to rouse herself, either for
the medicine or for the watery broths they forced through her lips. It
was so hopelessly dragged out—this dying; yet it must be over soon.
She had heard them tell the neighbors only yesterday that she was
unconscious and that she did not know a thing of what was passing
around her; and she had smiled—but only in her mind. Her lips, she
knew, had not moved.
They were talking now—Ella and Jim—out in the other room. Their
voices, even their words, were quite distinct, and dreamily,
indifferently, she listened.
“You see,” said Jim, “as long as I've got ter go ter town
ter-morrer, anyhow, it seems a pity not ter do it all up at once. I
could order the coffin an' the undertaker—it's only a question of a
few hours, anyway, an' it seems such a pity ter make another trip—jest
In the bedroom the old woman stirred suddenly. Somewhere, away back
behind the consciousness of things, something snapped, and sent the
blood tingling from toes to fingertips. A fierce anger sprang instantly
into life and brushed the cobwebs of lethargy and indifference from her
brain. She turned and opened her eyes, fixing them upon the oblong
patch of light that marked the doorway leading to the room beyond where
sat Ella and Jim.
“Jest fer that,” Jim had said, and “that” was her death. It was not
worth, it seemed, even an extra trip to town! And she had done so
much— so much for those two out there!
“Let's see; ter-day's Monday,” Jim went on. “We might fix the
fun'ral for Saturday, I guess, an' I'll tell the folks at the store ter
spread it. Puttin' it on Sat'day'll give us a leetle extry time if she
shouldn't happen ter go soon's we expect—though there ain't much fear
o' that now, I guess, she's so low. An' it'll save me 'most half a day
ter do it all up this trip. I ain't—what's that?” he broke off
From the inner room had seemed to come a choking, inarticulate cry.
With a smothered ejaculation Jim picked up the lamp, hurried into
the sick-room, and tiptoed to the bed. The gaunt figure lay motionless,
face to the wall, leaving a trail of thin gray hair-wisps across the
“Gosh!” muttered the man as he turned away.
“There's nothin' doin'-but it did give me a start!”
On the bed the woman smiled grimly—but the man did not see it.
It was snowing hard when Jim got back from town Tuesday night. He
came blustering into the kitchen with stamping feet and wide-flung
arms, scattering the powdery whiteness in all directions.
“Whew! It's a reg'lar blizzard,” he began, but he stopped short at
the expression on his wife's face. “Why, Ella!” he cried.
“Jim—Aunt Abby sat up ten minutes in bed ter-day. She called fer
toast an' tea.”
Jim dropped into a chair. His jaw fell open.
“S-sat up!” he stammered.
“But she—hang it all, Herrick's comin' ter-morrer with the coffin!”
“Well, I can't help it! You know how she was this mornin',” retorted
Jim sharply. “I thought she was dead once. Why, I 'most had
Herrick come back with me ter-night, I was so sure.”
“I know it,” shivered Ella, “but you hadn't been gone an hour 'fore
she began to stir an' notice things. I found her lookin' at me first,
an' it give me such a turn I 'most dropped the medicine bottle in my
hand. I was clearin' off the little table by her bed, an' she was
followin' me around with them big gray eyes. 'Slickin' up?' she asks
after a minute; an' I could 'a' dropped right there an' then, 'cause I
was slickin' up, fer her fun'ral. 'Where's Jim?' she asks then.
'Gone ter town,' says I, kind o' faint-like. 'Umph!' she says, an'
snaps her lips tight shet. After a minute she opens 'em again. 'I think
I'll have some tea and toast,' she says, casual-like, jest as if she'd
been callin' fer victuals ev'ry day fer a month past. An' when I
brought it, if she didn't drag herself up in bed an' call fer a piller
to her back, so's she could set up. An' there she stayed, pantin' an'
gaspin', but settin' up—an' she stayed there till the toast an'
tea was gone.”
“Gosh!” groaned Jim. “Who'd 'a' thought it? 'Course 't ain't that I
grudge the old lady's livin',” he added hurriedly, “but jest now it's
so— unhandy, things bein' as they be. We can't very well—” He
stopped, a swift change coming to his face. “Say, Ella,” he cried,
“mebbe it's jest a spurt 'fore—'fore the last. Don't it happen
some-times that way—when folks is dyin'?”
“I don't know,” shuddered Ella. “Sh-h! I thought I heard her.” And
she hurried across the hall to the sitting-room and the bedroom beyond.
It did not snow much through the night, but in the early morning it
began again with increased severity. The wind rose, too, and by the
time Herrick, the undertaker, drove into the yard, the storm had become
“I calc'lated if I didn't git this 'ere coffin here purty quick
there wouldn't be no gettin' it here yet awhile,” called Herrick
cheerfully, as Jim came to the door.
Jim flushed and raised a warning hand.
“Sh-h! Herrick, look out!” he whispered hoarsely. “She ain't dead
yet. You'll have ter go back.”
“Go back!” snorted Herrick. “Why, man alive, 'twas as much as my
life's worth to get here. There won't be no goin' back yet awhile fer
me nor no one else, I calc'late. An' the quicker you get this 'ere
coffin in out of the snow, the better't will be,” he went on
authoritatively as he leaped to the ground.
It was not without talk and a great deal of commotion that the
untimely addition to James Norton's household effects was finally
deposited in the darkened parlor; neither was it accomplished without
some echo of the confusion reaching the sick-room, despite all efforts
of concealment. Jim, perspiring, redfaced, and palpably nervous, was
passing on tiptoe through the sitting-room when a quavering voice from
the bedroom brought him to a halt.
“Jim, is that you?”
“Yes, Aunt Abby.”
Jim's face grew white, then red.
“C-ome?” he stammered.
“Yes, I heard a sleigh and voices. Who is it?”
“Why, jest-jest a man on—on business,” he flung over his shoulder,
as he fled through the hall.
Not half an hour later came Ella's turn. In accordance with the sick
woman's orders she had prepared tea, toast, and a boiled egg; but she
had not set the tray on the bed when the old woman turned upon her two
“Who's in the kitchen, Ella, with Jim?”
Ella started guiltily.
“Why, jest a—a man.”
“Who is it?”
Ella hesitated; then, knowing that deceit was useless, she stammered
out the truth.
“Why, er—only Mr. Herrick.”
“Not William Herrick, the undertaker!” There was apparently only
pleased surprise in the old woman's voice.
“Yes,” nodded Ella feverishly, “he had business out this way,
and—and got snowed up,” she explained with some haste.
“Ye don't say,” murmured the old woman. “Well, ask him in; I'd like
ter see him.”
“Aunt Abby!”—Ella's teeth fairly chattered with dismay.
“Yes, I'd like ter see him,” repeated the old woman with cordial
interest. “Call him in.”
And Ella could do nothing but obey.
Herrick, however, did not stay long in the sick-room. The situation
was uncommon for him, and not without its difficulties. As soon as
possible he fled to the kitchen, telling Jim that it gave him “the
creeps” to have her ask him where he'd started for, and if business was
All that day it snowed and all that night; nor did the dawn of
Friday bring clear skies. For hours the wind had swept the snow from
roofs and hilltops, piling it into great drifts that grew moment by
moment deeper and more impassable.
In the farmhouse Herrick was still a prisoner.
The sick woman was better. Even Jim knew now that it was no
momentary flare of the candle before it went out. Mrs. Darling was
undeniably improving in health. She had sat up several times in bed,
and had begun to talk of wrappers and slippers. She ate toast, eggs,
and jellies, and hinted at chicken and beefsteak. She was weak, to be
sure, but behind her, supporting and encouraging, there seemed to be a
curious strength— a strength that sent a determined gleam to her eyes,
and a grim tenseness to her lips.
At noon the sun came out, and the wind died into fitful gusts. The
two men attacked the drifts with a will, and made a path to the gate.
They even attempted to break out the road, and Herrick harnessed his
horse and started for home; but he had not gone ten rods before he was
forced to turn back.
“'T ain't no use,” he grumbled. “I calc'late I'm booked here till
the crack o' doom!”
“An' ter-morrer's the fun'ral,” groaned Jim. “An' I can't git
nowhere— nowhere ter tell 'em not ter come!”
“Well, it don't look now as if anybody'd come—or go,” snapped the
Saturday dawned fair and cold. Early in the morning the casket was
moved from the parlor to the attic.
There had been sharp words at the breakfast table, Herrick declaring
that he had made a sale, and refusing to take the casket back to town;
hence the move to the attic; but in spite of their caution, the sick
woman heard the commotion.
“What ye been cartin' upstairs?” she asked in a mildly curious
Ella was ready for her.
“A chair,” she explained smoothly; “the one that was broke in the
front room, ye know.” And she did not think it was necessary to add
that the chair was not all that had been moved. She winced and changed
color, however, when her aunt observed:
“Humph! Must be you're expectin' company, Ella.”
It was almost two o'clock when loud voices and the crunch of heavy
teams told that the road-breakers had come. All morning the Nortons had
been hoping against hope that the fateful hour would pass, and the road
be still left in unbroken whiteness. Someone, however, had known his
duty too well—and had done it.
“I set ter work first thing on this road,” said the man triumphantly
to Ella as he stood, shovel in hand, at the door. “The parson's right
behind, an' there's a lot more behind him. Gorry! I was afraid I
wouldn't git here in time, but the fun'ral wan't till two, was it?”
Ella's dry lips refused to move. She shook her head.
“There's a mistake,” she said faintly. “There ain't no fun'ral. Aunt
The man stared, then he whistled softly.
“Gorry!” he muttered, as he turned away.
If Jim and Ella had supposed that they could keep their aunt from
attending her own “funeral”—as Herrick persisted in calling it—they
soon found their mistake. Mrs. Darling heard the bells of the first
“I guess mebbe I'll git up an' set up a spell,” she announced calmly
to Ella. “I'll have my wrapper an' my slippers, an' I'll set in the big
chair out in the settin'-room. That's Parson Gerry's voice, an' I want
ter see him.”
“But, Aunt Abby—” began Ella, feverishly.
“Well, I declare, if there ain't another sleigh drivin' in,” cried
the old woman excitedly, sitting up in bed and peering through the
little window. “Must be they're givin' us a s'prise party. Now hurry,
Ella, an' git them slippers. I ain't a-goin' to lose none o' the fun!”
And Ella, nervous, perplexed, and thoroughly frightened, did as she was
In state, in the big rocking-chair, the old woman received her
guests. She said little, it is true, but she was there; and if she
noticed that no guest entered the room without a few whispered words
from Ella in the hall, she made no sign. Neither did she apparently
consider it strange that ten women and six men should have braved the
cold to spend fifteen rather embarrassed minutes in her
sitting-room—and for this last both Ella and Jim were devoutly
grateful. They could not help wondering about it, however, after she
had gone to bed, and the house was still.
“What do ye s'pose she thought?” whispered Jim.
“I don't know,” shivered Ella, “but, Jim, wan't it awful?—Mis'
Blair brought a white wreath—everlastin's!”
One by one the days passed, and Jim and Ella ceased to tremble every
time the old woman opened her lips. There was still that fearsome thing
in the attic, but the chance of discovery was small now.
“If she should find out,” Ella had said, “'twould be the end
of the money—fer us.”
“But she ain't a-goin' ter find out,” Jim had retorted. “She can't
last long, 'course, an' I guess she won't change the will now—unless
some one tells her; an' I'll be plaguy careful there don't no one do
The “funeral” was a week old when Mrs. Darling came into the
sitting- room one day, fully dressed.
“I put on all my clo's,” she said smilingly, in answer to Ella's
shocked exclamation. “I got restless, somehow, an' sick o' wrappers.
Besides, I wanted to walk around the house a little. I git kind o'
tired o' jest one room.” And she limped across the floor to the hall
“But, Aunt Abby, where ye goin' now?” faltered Ella.
“Jest up in the attic. I wanted ter see—” She stopped in apparent
surprise. Ella and Jim had sprung to their feet.
“The attic!” they gasped.
“But you mustn't!—you ain't strong enough!—you'll fall!—there's
nothin' there!” they exclaimed wildly, talking both together and
“Oh, I guess 't won't kill me,” said the old woman; and something in
the tone of her voice made them fall back. They were still staring into
each other's eyes when the hall door closed sharply behind her.
“It's all—up!” breathed Jim.
Fully fifteen minutes passed before the old woman came back. She
entered the room quietly, and limped across the floor to the chair by
“It's real pretty,” she said. “I allers did like gray.”
“Gray?” stammered Ella.
“Yes!—fer coffins, ye know.” Jim made a sudden movement, and
started to speak; but the old woman raised her hand. “You don't need
ter say anythin',” she interposed cheerfully. “I jest wanted ter make
sure where 'twas, so I went up. You see, Jed's comin' home, an' I
thought he might feel—queer if he run on to it, casual-like.”
The old woman smiled oddly.
“Oh, I didn't tell ye, did I? The doctor had this telegram
yesterday, an' brought it over to me. Ye know he was here last night.
Read it.” And she pulled from her pocket a crumpled slip of paper. And
Shall be there the 8th. For God's sake don't let me be too late.
J. D. DARLING
Wristers for Three
The great chair, sumptuous with satin-damask and soft with springs,
almost engulfed the tiny figure of the little old lady. To the old lady
herself it suddenly seemed the very embodiment of the luxurious ease
against which she was so impotently battling. With a spasmodic movement
she jerked herself to her feet, and stood there motionless save for the
wistful sweep of her eyes about the room.
A level ray from the setting sun shot through the window, gilding
the silver of her hair and deepening the faint pink of her cheek; on
the opposite wall it threw a sharp silhouette of the alert little
figure— that figure which even the passage of years had been able to
bend so very little to its will. For a moment the lace kerchief folded
across the black gown rose and fell tumultuously; then its wearer
crossed the room and seated herself with uncompromising discomfort in
the only straight-backed chair the room contained. This done, Mrs.
Nancy Wetherby, for the twentieth time, went over in her mind the whole
For two weeks, now, she had been a member of her son John's
family—two vain, unprofitable weeks. When before that had the sunset
found her night after night with hands limp from a long day of
idleness? When before that had the sunrise found her morning after
morning with a mind destitute of worthy aim or helpful plan for the
coming twelve hours? When, indeed?
Not in her girlhood, not even in her childhood, had there been days
of such utter uselessness—rag dolls and mud pies need some
care! As for her married life, there were Eben, the babies, the house,
the church—and how absolutely necessary she had been to each one!
The babies had quickly grown to stalwart men and sweet-faced women
who had as quickly left the home nest and built new nests of their own.
Eben had died; and the church—strange how long and longer still the
walk to the church had grown each time she had walked it this last
year! After all, perhaps it did not matter; there were new faces at the
church, and young, strong hands that did not falter and tremble over
these new ways of doing things. For a time there had been only the
house that needed her—but how great that need had been! There were the
rooms to care for, there was the linen to air, there were the dear
treasures of picture and toy to cry and laugh over; and outside there
were the roses to train and the pansies to pick.
Now, even the house was not left. It was October, and son John had
told her that winter was coming on and she must not remain alone. He
had brought her to his own great house and placed her in these
beautiful rooms—indeed, son John was most kind to her! If only she
could make some return, do something, be of some use!
Her heart failed her as she thought of the grave-faced, preoccupied
man who came each morning into the room with the question, “Well,
mother, is there anything you need to-day?” What possible service could
she render him? Her heart failed her again as she thought of
John's pretty, new wife, and of the two big boys, men grown, sons of
dear dead Molly. There was the baby, to be sure; but the baby was
always attended by one, and maybe two, white-capped, white-aproned
young women. Madam Wetherby never felt quite sure of herself when with
those young women. There were other young women, too, in whose presence
she felt equally ill at ease; young women in still prettier white
aprons and still daintier white caps; young women who moved noiselessly
in and out of the halls and parlors and who waited at table each day.
Was there not some spot, some creature, some thing, in all that
place that needed the touch of her hand, the glance of her eye? Surely
the day had not quite come when she could be of no use, no service to
her kind! Her work must be waiting; she had only to find it. She would
seek it out—and that at once. No more of this slothful waiting for the
work to come to her! “Indeed, no!” she finished aloud, her dim eyes
alight, her breath coming short and quick, and her whole frail self
quivering with courage and excitement.
It was scarcely nine o'clock the next morning when a quaint little
figure in a huge gingham apron (slyly abstracted from the bottom of a
trunk) slipped out of the rooms given over to the use of John
Wetherby's mother. The little figure tripped softly, almost stealthily,
along the hall and down the wide main staircase. There was some
hesitation and there were a few false moves before the rear stairway
leading to the kitchen was gained; and there was a gasp, half
triumphant, half dismayed, when the kitchen was reached.
The cook stared, open-mouthed, as though confronted with an
apparition. A maid, hurrying across the room with a loaded tray, almost
dropped her burden to the floor. There was a dazed moment of silence,
then Madam Wetherby took a faltering step forward and spoke.
“Good-morning! I—I've come to help you.”
“Ma'am!” gasped the cook.
“To help—to help!” nodded the little old lady briskly, with a
sudden overwhelming joy at the near prospect of the realization of her
hopes. “Pare apples, beat eggs, or—anything!”
“Indeed, ma'am, I—you—” The cook stopped helplessly, and eyed with
frightened fascination the little old lady as she crossed to the table
and picked up a pan of potatoes.
“Now a knife, please,—oh, here's one,” continued Madam Wetherby
happily. “Go right about something else. I'll sit over there in that
chair, and I'll have these peeled very soon.”
When John Wetherby visited his mother's rooms that morning he found
no one there to greet him. A few sharp inquiries disclosed the little
lady's whereabouts and sent Margaret Wetherby with flaming cheeks and
tightening lips into the kitchen.
“Mother!” she cried; and at the word the knife dropped from the
trembling, withered old fingers and clattered to the floor. “Why,
“I—I was helping,” quavered a deprecatory voice.
Something in the appealing eyes sent a softer curve to Margaret
“Yes, mother; that was very kind of you,” said John's wife gently.
“But such work is quite too hard for you, and there's no need of your
doing it. Nora will finish these,” she added, lifting the pan of
potatoes to the table, “and you and I will go upstairs to your room.
Perhaps we'll go driving by and by. Who knows?”
In thinking it over afterwards Nancy Wetherby could find no fault
with her daughter-in-law. Margaret had been goodness itself, insisting
only that such work was not for a moment to be thought of. John's wife
was indeed kind, acknowledged Madam Wetherby to herself, yet two big
tears welled to her eyes and were still moist on her cheeks after she
had fallen asleep.
It was perhaps three days later that John Wetherby's mother climbed
the long flight of stairs near her sitting-room door, and somewhat
timidly entered one of the airy, sunlit rooms devoted to Master Philip
Wetherby. The young woman in attendance respectfully acknowledged her
greeting, and Madam Wetherby advanced with some show of courage to the
middle of the room.
“The baby, I—I heard him cry,” she faltered.
“Yes, madam,” smiled the nurse. “It is Master Philip's nap hour.”
Louder and louder swelled the wails from the inner room, yet the
nurse did not stir save to reach for her thread.
“But he's crying—yet!” gasped Madam Wetherby.
The girl's lips twitched and an expression came to her face which
the little old lady did not in the least understand.
“Can't you—do something?” demanded baby's grandmother, her voice
“No, madam. I—” began the girl, but she did not finish. The little
figure before her drew itself to the full extent of its diminutive
“Well, I can,” said Madam Wetherby crisply. Then she turned and
hurried into the inner room.
The nurse sat mute and motionless until a crooning lullaby and the
unmistakable tapping of rockers on a bare floor brought her to her feet
in dismay. With an angry frown she strode across the room, but she
stopped short at the sight that met her eyes.
In a low chair, her face aglow with the accumulated love of years of
baby-brooding, sat the little old lady, one knotted, wrinkled finger
tightly elapsed within a dimpled fist. The cries had dropped to sobbing
breaths, and the lullaby, feeble and quavering though it was, rose and
swelled triumphant. The anger fled from the girl's face, and a queer
choking came to her throat so that her words were faint and broken.
“Madam—I beg pardon—I'm sorry, but I must put Master Philip back
on his bed.”
“But he isn't asleep yet,” demurred Madam Wetherby softly, her eyes
“But you must—I can't—that is, Master Philip cannot be rocked,”
faltered the girl.
“Nonsense, my dear!” she said; “babies can always be rocked!” And
again the lullaby rose on the air.
“But, madam,” persisted the girl—she was almost crying now—“don't
you see? I must put Master Philip back. It is Mrs. Wetherby's orders.
They— they don't rock babies so much now.”
For an instant fierce rebellion spoke through flashing eyes,
stern-set lips, and tightly clutched fingers; then all the light died
from the thin old face and the tense muscles relaxed.
“You may put the baby back,” said Madam Wetherby tremulously, yet
with a sudden dignity that set the maid to curtsying. “I—I should not
want to cross my daughter's wishes.”
Nancy Wetherby never rocked her grandson again, but for days she
haunted the nursery, happy if she could but tie the baby's moccasins or
hold his brush or powder-puff; yet a week had scarcely passed when
John's wife said to her:
“Mother, dear, I wouldn't tire myself so trotting upstairs each day
to the nursery. There isn't a bit of need—Mary and Betty can manage
quite well. You fatigue yourself too much!” And to the old lady's
denials John's wife returned, with a tinge of sharpness: “But, really,
mother, I'd rather you didn't. It frets the nurses and—forgive me-but
you know you will forget and talk to him in 'baby-talk'!”
The days came and the days went, and Nancy Wetherby stayed more and
more closely to her rooms. She begged one day for the mending-basket,
but her daughter-in-law laughed and kissed her.
“Tut, tut, mother, dear!” she remonstrated. “As if I'd have you
wearing your eyes and fingers out mending a paltry pair of socks!”
“Then I—I'll knit new ones!” cried the old lady, with sudden
“Knit new ones—stockings!” laughed Margaret Wetherby. “Why, dearie,
they never in this world would wear them—and if they would, I couldn't
let you do it,” she added gently, as she noted the swift clouding of
the eager face. “Such tiresome work!”
Again the old eyes filled with tears; and yet—John's wife was kind,
so very kind!
It was a cheerless, gray December morning that John Wetherby came
into his mother's room and found a sob-shaken little figure in the
depths of the sumptuous, satin-damask chair. “Mother, mother,—why,
mother!” There were amazement and real distress in John Wetherby's
“There, there, John, I—I didn't mean to—truly I didn't!” quavered
the little old lady.
John dropped on one knee and caught the fluttering fingers. “Mother,
what is it?”
“It—it isn't anything; truly it isn't,” urged the tremulous voice.
“Is any one unkind to you?” John's eyes grew stern. “The boys, or—
The indignant red mounted to the faded cheek. “John! How can you
ask? Every one is kind, kind, so very kind to me!”
“Well, then, what is it?”
There was only a sob in reply. “Come, come,” he coaxed gently.
For a moment Nancy Wetherby's breath was held suspended, then it
came in a burst with a rush of words.
“Oh, John, John, I'm so useless, so useless, so dreadfully useless!
Don't you see? Not a thing, not a person needs me. The kitchen has the
cook and the maids. The baby has two or three nurses. Not even this
room needs me—there's a girl to dust it each day. Once I slipped out
of bed and did it first—I did, John; but she came in, and when I told
her, she just curtsied and smiled and kept right on, and—she didn't
even skip one chair! John, dear John, sometimes it seems as
though even my own self doesn't need me. I—I don't even put on my
clothes alone; there's always some one to help me!”
“There, there, dear,” soothed the man huskily. “I need you, indeed I
do, mother.” And he pressed his lips to one, then the other, of the
wrinkled, soft-skinned hands.
“You don't—you don't!” choked the woman. “There's not one thing I
can do for you! Why, John, only think, I sit with idle hands all day,
and there was so much once for them to do. There was Eben, and the
children, and the house, and the missionary meetings, and—”
On and on went the sweet old voice, but the man scarcely heard. Only
one phrase rang over and over in his ears, “There's not one thing I can
do for you!” All the interests of now—stocks, bonds, railroads—fell
from his mind and left it blank save for the past. He was a boy again
at his mother's knee. And what had she done for him then? Surely among
all the myriad things there must be one that he might single out and
ask her to do for him now! And yet, as he thought, his heart misgave
There were pies baked, clothes made, bumped foreheads bathed, lost
pencils found; there were—a sudden vision came to him of something
warm and red and very soft—something over which his boyish heart had
exulted. The next moment his face lighted with joy very like that of
the years long ago.
“Mother!” he cried. “I know what you can do for me. I want a pair of
wristers—red ones, just like those you used to knit!”
* * * * *
It must have been a month later that John Wetherby, with his two
elder sons, turned the first corner that carried him out of sight of
his house. Very slowly, and with gentle fingers, he pulled off two
bright red wristers. He folded them, patted them, then tucked them away
in an inner pocket.
“Bless her dear heart!” he said softly. “You should have seen her
eyes shine when I put them on this morning!”
“I can imagine it,” said one of his sons in a curiously tender
voice. The other one smiled, and said whimsically, “I can hardly wait
for mine!” Yet even as he spoke his eyes grew dim with a sudden
Back at the house John's mother was saying to John's wife: “Did you
see them on him, Margaret?—John's wristers? They did look so bright
and pretty! And I'm to make more, too; did you know? Frank and Edward
want some; John said so. He told them about his, and they wanted some
right away. Only think, Margaret,” she finished, lifting with both
hands the ball of red worsted and pressing it close to her cheek, “I've
got two whole pairs to make now!”
The Giving Thanks of Cyrus and
For two months Cyrus Gregg and his wife Huldah had not spoken to
each other, yet all the while they had lived under the same roof,
driven to church side by side, and attended various festivities and
church prayer- meetings together.
The cause of the quarrel had been an insignificant something that
speedily lost itself in the torrent of angry words that burst from the
lips of the irate husband and wife, until by night it would have been
difficult for either the man or the woman to tell exactly what had been
the first point of difference. By that time, however, the quarrel had
assumed such proportions that it loomed in their lives larger than
anything else; and each had vowed never to speak to the other until
that other had made the advance.
On both sides they came of a stubborn race, and from the first it
was a battle royally fought. The night of the quarrel Cyrus betook
himself in solitary state to the “spare-room” over the parlor. After
that he slept on a makeshift bed that he had prepared for himself in
the shed-chamber, hitherto sacred to trunks, dried corn, and cobwebs.
For a month the two sat opposite to each other and partook of
Huldah's excellent cooking; then one day the woman found at her plate a
piece—of brown paper on which had been scrawled:
If I ain't worth speakin' to I ain't worth cookin' for. Hereafter
I'll take care of myself.
A day later came the retort. Cyrus found it tucked under the shed-chamber door.
Huldah's note showed her “schooling.” It was well written, carefully
spelled, and enclosed in a square white envelope.
Sir [it ran stiffly]: I shall be obliged if you do not chop
any more wood for me. Hereafter I shall use the oil stove. HULDAH
Cyrus choked, and peered at the name with suddenly blurred eyes: the
“Huldah Pendleton” was fiercely black and distinct; the “Gregg” was so
faint it could scarcely be discerned.
“Why, it's 'most like a d'vorce!” he shivered.
If it had not been so pitiful, it would have been ludicrous—what
followed. Day after day, in one corner of the kitchen, an old man
boiled his potatoes and fried his unappetizing eggs over a dusty,
unblacked stove; in the other corner an old woman baked and brewed over
a shining idol of brass and black enamel—and always the baking and
brewing carried to the nostrils of the hungry man across the room the
aroma of some dainty that was a particular favorite of his own.
The man whistled, and the woman hummed—at times; but they did not
talk, except when some neighbor came in; and then they both talked very
loud and very fast—to the neighbor. On this one point were Cyrus Gregg
and his wife Huldah agreed; under no circumstances whatever must any
gossiping outsider know.
One by one the weeks had passed. It was November now, and very cold.
Outdoors a dull gray sky and a dull brown earth combined into a dismal
hopelessness. Indoors the dull monotony of a two-months-old quarrel and
a growing heartache made a combination that carried even less of cheer.
Huldah never hummed now, and Cyrus seldom whistled; yet neither was
one whit nearer speaking. Each saw this, and, curiously enough, was
pleased. In fact, it was just here that, in spite of the heartache,
each found an odd satisfaction.
“By sugar—but she's a spunky one!” Cyrus would chuckle admiringly,
as he discovered some new evidence of his wife's shrewdness in
obtaining what she wanted with yet no spoken word.
“There isn't another man in town who could do it—and stick to it!”
exulted Huldah proudly, her eyes on her husband's form, bent over his
egg-frying at the other side of the room.
Not only the cause of the quarrel, but almost the quarrel itself,
had now long since been forgotten; in fact, to both Cyrus and his wife
it had come to be a sort of game in which each player watched the
other's progress with fully as much interest as he did his own. And
yet, with it all there was the heartache; for the question came to them
at times with sickening force—just when and how could it possibly end?
It was at about this time that each began to worry about the other.
Huldah shuddered at the changeless fried eggs and boiled potatoes; and
Cyrus ordered a heavy storm window for the room where Huldah slept
alone. Huldah slyly left a new apple pie almost under her husband's
nose one day, and Cyrus slipped a five-dollar bill beneath his wife's
napkin ring. When both pie and greenback remained untouched, Huldah
cried, and Cyrus said, “Gosh darn it!” three times in succession behind
the woodshed door.
A week before Thanksgiving a letter came from the married daughter,
and another from the married son. They were good letters, kind and
loving; and each closed with a suggestion that all go home at
Thanksgiving for a family reunion.
Huldah read the letters eagerly, but at their close she frowned and
looked anxious. In a moment she had passed them to Cyrus with a toss of
her head. Five minutes later Cyrus had flung them back with these words
trailing across one of the envelopes:
Write um. Tell um we are sick—dead—gone away—anything! Only
don't let um come. A if we wanted to Thanksgive!
Huldah answered the letters that night. She, too, wrote kindly and
lovingly; but at the end she said that much as she and father would
like to see them, it did not seem wise to undertake to entertain such a
family gathering just now. It would be better to postpone it.
Both Huldah and Cyrus hoped that this would end the subject of
Thanksgiving; but it did not. The very next day Cyrus encountered
neighbor Wiley in the village store. Wiley's round red face shone like
the full moon.
“Well, well, Cy, what ye doin' down your way Thanksgivin'—eh?” he
Cyrus stiffened; but before he could answer he discovered that Wiley
had asked the question, not for information, but as a mere introduction
to a recital of his own plans.
“We're doin' great things,” announced the man. “Sam an' Jennie an'
the hull kit on 'em's comin' home an' bring all the chicks. Tell ye
what, Cy, we be a-Thanksgivin' this year! Ain't nothin' like a
good old fam'ly reunion, when ye come right down to it.”
“Yes, I know,” said Cyrus gloomily. “But we—we ain't doin' much
A day later came Huldah's turn. She had taken some calf's-foot jelly
to Mrs. Taylor in the little house at the foot of the hill. The Widow
Taylor was crying.
“You see, it's Thanksgiving!” she sobbed, in answer to Huldah's
“Yes. And last year I had—him!“
Huldah sighed, and murmured something comforting, appropriate; but
almost at once she stopped, for the woman had turned searching eyes
“Huldah Gregg, do you appreciate Cyrus?”
Huldah bridled angrily, but there was no time for a reply, for the
woman answered her own question, and hurried on wildly.
“No. Did I appreciate my husband? No. Does Sally Clark appreciate
her husband? No. And there don't none of us do it till he's
As soon as possible Huldah went home. She was not a little
disconcerted. The “gone—gone—gone” rang unpleasantly in her ears, and
before her eyes rose a hateful vision of unappetizing fried eggs and
boiled potatoes. As to her not appreciating Cyrus—that was all
nonsense; she had always appreciated him, and that, too, far beyond his
just deserts, she told herself angrily.
There was no escaping Thanksgiving after that for either Huldah or
Cyrus. It looked from every eager eye, and dropped from every joyous
lip, until, of all the world Huldah and Cyrus came to regard themselves
as the most forlorn, and the most abused.
It was then that to Huldah came her great idea; she would cook for
Cyrus the best Thanksgiving dinner he had ever eaten. Just because he
was obstinate was no reason why he should starve, she told herself; and
very gayly she set about carrying out her plans. First the oil stove,
with the help of a jobman, was removed to the unfinished room over the
kitchen, for the chief charm of the dinner was to be its secret
preparation. Then, with the treasured butter-and-egg money the turkey,
cranberries, nuts, and raisins were bought and smuggled into the house
and upstairs to the chamber of mystery.
Two days before Thanksgiving Cyrus came home to find a silent and
almost empty kitchen. His heart skipped a beat and his jaw fell open in
frightened amazement; then a step on the floor above sent the blood
back to his face and a new bitterness to his heart.
“So I ain't even good enough ter stay with!” he muttered.
“Fool!—fool!” he snarled, glaring at the oblong brown paper in his
arms. “As if she'd care for this—now!” he finished, flinging the
parcel into the farthest corner of the room.
Unhappy Cyrus! To him, also, had come a great idea. Thanksgiving was
not Christmas, to be sure, but if he chose to give presents on that
day, surely it was no one's business but his own, he argued. In the
brown paper parcel at that moment lay the soft, shimmering folds of
yards upon yards of black silk—and Huldah had been longing for a new
black silk gown. Yet it was almost dark when Cyrus stumbled over to the
corner, picked up the parcel, and carried it ruefully away to the
Thanksgiving dawned clear and unusually warm. The sun shone, and the
air felt like spring. The sparrows twittered in the treetops as if the
branches were green with leaves.
To Cyrus, however, it was a world of gloom. Upstairs Huldah was
singing— singing!—and it was Thanksgiving. He could hear her feet
patter, patter on the floor above, and the sound had a cheery
self-reliance that was maddening. Huldah was happy, evidently—and it
was Thanksgiving! Twice he had walked resolutely to the back stairs
with a brown-paper parcel in his arms; and twice a quavering song of
triumph from the room above had sent him back in defeat. As if she
could care for a present of his!
Suddenly, now, Cyrus sprang forward in his chair, sniffing the air
hungrily. Turkey! Huldah was roasting turkey, while he—
The old man dropped back in his seat and turned his eyes
disconsolately on the ill-kept stove—fried eggs and boiled potatoes
are not the most toothsome prospect for a Thanksgiving dinner,
particularly when one has the smell of a New England housewife's turkey
in one's nostrils.
For a time Cyrus sat motionless; then he rose to his feet, shuffled
out of the house, and across the road to the barn.
In the room above the kitchen, at that moment, something happened.
Perhaps the old hands slipped in their eagerness, or perhaps the old
eyes judged a distance wrongly. Whatever it was, there came a puff of
smoke, a sputter, and a flare of light; then red-yellow flames leaped
to the flimsy shade at the window, and swept on to the century-seasoned
With a choking cry, Huldah turned and stumbled across the room to
the stairway. Out at the barn door Cyrus, too, saw the flare of light
at the window, and he, too, turned with a choking cry.
They met at the foot of the stairway.
It was as if one voice had spoken, so exactly were the words
simultaneous. Then Cyrus cried:
“You ain't hurt?”
“No, no! Quick—the things—we must get them out!”
Obediently Cyrus turned and began to work; and the first thing that
his arms tenderly bore to safety was an oblong brown-paper parcel.
From all directions then came the neighbors running. The farming
settlement was miles from a town or a fire-engine. The house was small,
and stood quite by itself; and there was little, after all, that could
be done, except to save the household goods and gods. This was soon
accomplished, and there was nothing to do but to watch the old house
Cyrus and Huldah sat hand in hand on an old stone wall, quite apart
from their sympathetic neighbors, and—talked. And about them was a
curious air of elation, a buoyancy as if long-pent forces had suddenly
found a joyous escape.
“'T ain't as if our things wan't all out,” cried Cyrus; his voice
was actually exultant.
“Or as if we hadn't wanted to build a new one for years,” chirruped
“Now you can have that 'ere closet under the front stairs, Huldah!”
“And you can have the room for your tools where it'll be warm in the
“An' there'll be the bow-winder out of the settin' room, Huldah!”
“Yes, and a real bathroom, with water coming right out of the wall,
same as the Wileys have!”
“An' a tub, Huldah—one o' them pretty white chiny ones!”
“Oh, Cyrus, ain't it almost too good to be true!” sighed Huldah:
then her face changed. “Why, Cyrus, it's gone,” she cried with sudden
“Your dinner—I was cooking such a beautiful turkey and all the
fixings for you.”
A dull red came into the man's face.
“For—me?” stammered Cyrus.
“Y-yes,” faltered Huldah; then her chin came up defiantly.
The man laughed; and there was a boyish ring to his voice.
“Well, Huldah, I didn't have any turkey, but I did have a tidy
little piece o' black silk for yer gown, an' I saved it, too. Mebbe we
could eat that!—eh?”
It was not until just as they were falling asleep that night in
Deacon Clark's spare bedroom that Mr. and Mrs. Gregg so much as hinted
that there ever had been a quarrel.
Then, under cover of the dark, Cyrus stammered:
“Huldah, did ye sense it? Them 'ere words we said at the foot of the
stairs was spoke—exactly—together!”
“Yes, I know, dear,” murmured Huldah, with a little break in her
“Cyrus, ain't it wonderful—this Thanksgiving, for us?”
Downstairs the Clarks were talking of poor old Mr. and Mrs. Gregg
and their “sad loss;” but the Clarks did not—know.
A New England Idol
The Hapgood twins were born in the great square house that set back
from the road just on the outskirts of Fairtown. Their baby eyes had
opened upon a world of faded portraits and somber haircloth furniture,
and their baby hands had eagerly clutched at crystal pendants on brass
candlesticks gleaming out of the sacred darkness that enveloped the
When older grown they had played dolls in the wonderful attic, and
made mud pies in the wilderness of a back yard. The garden had been a
fairyland of delight to their toddling feet, and the apple trees a
fragrant shelter for their first attempts at housekeeping.
From babyhood to girlhood the charm of the old place grew upon them,
so much so that the thought of leaving it for homes of their own became
distasteful to them, and they looked with scant favor upon the
occasional village youths who sauntered up the path presumably on
The Reverend John Hapgood—a man who ruled himself and all about him
with the iron rod of a rigid old-school orthodoxy—died when the twins
were twenty; and the frail little woman who, as his wife, had for
thirty years lived and moved solely because he expected breath and
motion of her, followed soon in his footsteps. And then the twins were
left alone in the great square house on the hill.
Miss Tabitha and Miss Rachel were not the only children of the
family. There had been a son—the first born, and four years their
senior. The headstrong boy and the iron rule had clashed, and the boy,
when sixteen years old, had fled, leaving no trace behind him.
If the Reverend John Hapgood grieved for his wayward son the members
of his household knew it not, save as they might place their own
constructions on the added sternness to his eyes and the deepening
lines about his mouth. “Paul,” when it designated the graceless
runaway, was a forbidden word in the family, and even the Epistles in
the sacred Book, bearing the prohibited name, came to be avoided by the
head of the house in the daily readings. It was still music in the
hearts of the women, however, though it never passed their lips; and
when the little mother lay dying she remembered and spoke of her boy.
The habit of years still fettered her tongue and kept it from uttering
“If—he—comes—you know—if he comes, be kind—be good,” she
murmured, her breath short and labored. “Don't—punish,” she
whispered—he was yet a lad in her disordered vision. “Don't
Years had passed since then—years of peaceful mornings and placid
afternoons, and Paul had never appeared. Each purpling of the lilacs in
the spring and reddening of the apples in the fall took on new shades
of loveliness in the fond eyes of the twins, and every blade of grass
and tiny shrub became sacred to them.
On the 10th of June, their thirty-fifth birthday, the place never
had looked so lovely. A small table laid with spotless linen and
gleaming silver stood beneath the largest apple-tree, a mute witness
that the ladies were about to celebrate their birthday—the 10th of
June being the only day that the solemn dignity of the dining-room was
deserted for the frivolous freedom of the lawn.
Rachel came out of the house and sniffed the air joyfully.
“Delicious!” she murmured. “Somehow, the 10th of June is specially
fine every year.”
In careful, uplifted hands she bore a round frosted cake, always the
chief treasure of the birthday feast. The cake was covered with the
tiny colored candies so dear to the heart of a child. Miss Rachel
always bought those candies at the village store, with the apology:—
“I want them for Tabitha's birthday cake, you know. She thinks so
much of pretty things.”
Tabitha invariably made the cake and iced it, and as she dropped the
bits of colored sugar into place, she would explain to Huldy, who
occasionally “helped” in the kitchen:—
“I wouldn't miss the candy for the world—my sister thinks so much
So each deceived herself with this pleasant bit of fiction, and yet
had what she herself most wanted.
Rachel carefully placed the cake in the center of the table, feasted
her eyes on its toothsome loveliness, then turned and hurried back to
the house. The door had scarcely shut behind her when a small, ragged
urchin darted in at the street gate, snatched the cake, and, at a
sudden sound from the house, dashed out of sight behind a shrub close
The sound that had frightened the boy was the tapping of the heels
of Miss Tabitha's shoes along the back porch. The lady descended the
steps, crossed the lawn and placed a saucer of pickles and a plate of
dainty sandwiches on the table.
“Why, I thought Rachel brought the cake,” she said aloud. “It must
be in the house; there's other things to get, anyway. I'll go back.”
Again the click of the door brought the small boy close to the
table. Filling both hands with sandwiches, he slipped behind the shrub
just as the ladies came out of the house together. Rachel carried a
small tray laden with sauce and tarts; Tabitha, one with water and
steaming tea. As they neared the table each almost dropped her burden.
“Why, where's my cake?”
“And my sandwiches?”
“There's the plate it was on!” Rachel's voice was growing in terror.
“And mine, too!” cried Tabitha, with distended eyes fastened on some
bits of bread and meat—all that the small brown hands had left.
“It's burglars—robbers!” Rachel looked furtively over her shoulder.
“And all your lovely cake!” almost sobbed Tabitha.
“It—it was yours, too,” said the other with a catch in her voice.
“Oh, dear! What can have happened to it? I never heard of such a
thing—right in broad daylight!” The sisters had long ago set their
trays upon the ground and were now wringing their hands helplessly.
Suddenly a small figure appeared before them holding out four sadly
crushed sandwiches and half of a crumbling cake.
“I'm sorry—awful sorry! I didn't think—I was so hungry. I'm afraid
there ain't very much left,” he added, with rueful eyes on the
“No, I should say not!” vouchsafed Rachel, her voice firm now that
the size of the “burglar” was declared. Tabitha only gasped.
The small boy placed the food upon the empty plates, and Rachel's
lips twitched as she saw that he clumsily tried to arrange it in an
“There, ma'am,—that looks pretty good!” he finally announced with
Tabitha made an involuntary gesture of aversion. Rachel laughed
outright; then her face grew suddenly stern.
“Boy, what do you mean by such actions?” she demanded.
His eyes fell, and his cheeks showed red through the tan.
“I was hungry.”
“But didn't you know it was stealing?” she asked, her face
“I didn't stop to think—it looked so good I couldn't help takin'
it.” He dug his bare toes in the grass for a moment in silence, then he
raised his head with a jerk and stood squarely on both feet. “I hain't
got any money, but I'll work to pay for it—bringin' wood in, or
“The dear child!” murmured two voices softly.
“I've got to find my folks, sometime, but I'll do the work first.
Mebbe an hour'll pay for it—'most!”—He looked hopefully into Miss
“Who are your folks?” she asked huskily.
By way of answer he handed out a soiled, crumpled envelope for her
inspection on which was written, “Reverend John Hapgood.”
“What!” exclaimed Tabitha.
Her sister tore the note open with shaking fingers.
“It's from—Paul!” she breathed, hesitating a conscientious moment
over the name. Then she turned her startled eyes on the boy, who was
regarding her with lively interest.
“Do I belong to you?” he asked anxiously.
“I—I don't know. Who are you—what's your name?”
Tabitha had caught up the note and was devouring it with
“It's Paul's boy, Rachel,” she broke in, “only think of it—Paul's
boy!” and she dropped the bit of paper and enveloped the lad in a fond
but tearful embrace.
He squirmed uneasily.
“I'm sorry I eat up my own folks's things. I'll go to work any
time,” he suggested, trying to draw away, and wiping a tear splash from
the back of his hand on his trousers.
But it was long hours before Ralph Hapgood was allowed to “go to
work.” Tears, kisses, embraces, questions, a bath, and clean clothes
followed each other in quick succession—the clothes being some of his
own father's boyhood garments.
His story was quickly told. His mother was long since dead, and his
father had written on his dying bed the letter that commended the boy—
so soon to be orphaned—to the pity and care of his grandparents. The
sisters trembled and changed color at the story of the boy's hardships
on the way to Fairtown; and they plied him with questions and
sandwiches in about equal proportions after he told of the frequent
dinnerless days and supperless nights of the journey.
That evening when the boy was safe in bed—clean, full-stomached,
and sleepily content the sisters talked it over. The Reverend John
Hapgood, in his will, had cut off his recreant son with the proverbial
shilling, so, by law, there was little coming to Ralph. This, however,
the sisters overlooked in calm disdain.
“We must keep him, anyhow,” said Rachel with decision.
“Yes, indeed,—the dear child!”
“He's twelve, for all he's so small, but he hasn't had much
schooling. We must see to that—we want him well educated,” continued
Rachel, a pink spot showing in either cheek.
“Indeed we do—we'll send him to college! I wonder, now, wouldn't he
like to be a doctor?”
“Perhaps,” admitted the other cautiously, “or a minister.”
“Sure enough—he might like that better; I'm going to ask him!” and
she sprang to her feet and tripped across the room to the
parlor-bedroom door. “Ralph,” she called softly, after turning the
knob, “are you asleep?”
“Huh? N-no, ma'am.” The voice nearly gave the lie to the words.
“Well, dear, we were wondering—would you rather be a minister or a
doctor?” she asked, much as though she were offering for choice a peach
and a pear.
“A doctor!” came emphatically from out of the dark—there was no
sleep in the voice now. “I've always wanted to be a doctor.”
“You shall, oh, you shall!” promised the woman ecstatically, going
back to her sister; and from that time all their lives were ordered
with that one end in view.
The Hapgood twins were far from wealthy. They owned the homestead,
but their income was small, and the added mouth to fill—and that a
hungry one—counted. As the years passed, Huldy came less and less
frequently to help in the kitchen, and the sisters' gowns grew more and
more rusty and darned.
Ralph, boylike, noticed nothing—indeed, half the year he was away
at school; but as the time drew near for the college course and its
attendant expenses, the sisters were sadly troubled.
“We might sell,” suggested Tabitha, a little choke in her voice.
“Why, sister!—sell? Oh, no, we couldn't do that!” she shuddered.
“But what can we do?”
“Do?—why lots of things!” Rachel's lips came together with a snap.
“It's coming berry time, and there's our chickens, and the garden did
beautifully last year. Then there's your lace work and my knitting—
they bring something. Sell? Oh—we couldn't do that!” And she abruptly
left the room and went out into the yard. There she lovingly trained a
wayward vine with new shoots going wrong, and gloated over the
rosebushes heavy with crimson buds.
But as the days and weeks flew by and September drew the nearer,
Rachel's courage failed her. Berries had been scarce, the chickens had
died, the garden had suffered from drought, and but for their lace and
knitting work, their income would have dwindled to a pitiful sum
indeed. Ralph had been gone all summer; he had asked to go camping and
fishing with some of his school friends. He was expected home a week
before the college opened, however.
Tabitha grew more and more restless every day. Finally she spoke.
“Rachel, we'll have to sell—there isn't any other way. It would
bring a lot,” she continued hurriedly, before her sister could speak,
“and we could find some pretty rooms somewhere. It wouldn't be so very
“Don't, Tabitha! Seems as though I couldn't bear even to speak of
it. Sell?—oh, Tabitha!” Then her voice changed from a piteous appeal
to one of forced conviction.
“We couldn't get anywhere near what it's worth, Tabitha, anyway. No
one here wants it or can afford to buy it for what it ought to bring.
It is really absurd to think of it. Of course, if I had an offer—a
good big one—that would be quite another thing; but there's no hope of
Rachel's lips said “hope,” but her heart said “danger,” and the
latter was what she really meant. She did not know that but two hours
before, a stranger had said to a Fairtown lawyer:
“I want a summer home in this locality. You don't happen to know of
a good old treasure of a homestead for sale, do you?”
“I do not,” replied the lawyer. “There's a place on the edge of the
village that would be just the ticket, but I don't suppose it could be
bought for love nor money.”
“Where is it?” asked the man eagerly. “You never know what money can
do— to say nothing of love—till you try.”
The lawyer chuckled softly.
“It's the Hapgood place. I'll drive you over to-morrow. It's owned
by two old maids, and they worship every stick and stone and blade of
grass that belongs to it. However, I happen to know that cash is rather
scarce with them—and there's ample chance for love, if the money
fails,” he added, with a twitching of his lips.
When the two men drove into the yard that August morning, the
Hapgood twins were picking nasturtiums, and the flaming yellows and
scarlets lighted up their somber gowns, and made patches of brilliant
color against the gray of the house.
“By Jove, it's a picture!” exclaimed the would-be purchaser.
The lawyer smiled and sprang to the ground. Introductions swiftly
followed, then he cleared his throat in some embarrassment.
“Ahem! I've brought Mr. Hazelton up here, ladies, because he was
interested in your beautiful place.”
Miss Rachel smiled—the smile of proud possession; then something
within her seemed to tighten, and she caught her breath sharply.
“It is fine!” murmured Hazelton; “and the view is grand!” he
continued, his eyes on the distant hills. Then he turned abruptly.
“Ladies, I believe in coming straight to the point. I want a summer
home, and—I want this one. Can I tempt you to part with it?”
“Indeed, no!” began Rachel almost fiercely. Then her voice sank to a
whisper; “I—I don't think you could.”
“But, sister,” interposed Tabitha, her face alight, “you know you
said— that is, there are circumstances—perhaps he would—p-pay
enough—” Her voice stumbled over the hated word, then stopped, while
her face burned scarlet.
“Pay!—no human mortal could pay for this house!” flashed Rachel
indignantly. Then she turned to Hazelton, her slight form drawn to its
greatest height, and her hands crushing the flowers, she held till the
brittle stems snapped, releasing a fluttering shower of scarlet and
gold. “Mr. Hazelton, to carry out certain wishes very near to our
hearts, we need money. We will show you the place, and—and we will
consider your offer,” she finished faintly. It was a dreary journey the
sisters took that morning, though the garden never had seemed lovelier,
nor the rooms more sacredly beautiful. In the end, Hazelton's offer was
so fabulously enormous to their unwilling ears that their conscience
forbade them to refuse it.
“I'll have the necessary papers ready to sign in a few days,” said
the lawyer as the two gentlemen turned to go. And Hazelton added: “If
at any time before that you change your minds and find you cannot give
it up— just let me know and it will be all right. Just think it over
till then,” he said kindly, the dumb woe in their eyes appealing to him
as the loudest lamentations could not have done. “But if you don't
mind, I'd like to have an architect, who is in town just now, come up
and look it over with me,” he finished.
“Certainly, sir, certainly,” said Rachel, longing for the man to go.
But when he was gone, she wished him back—anything would be better
than this aimless wandering from room to room, and from yard to garden
and back again.
“I suppose he will sit here,” murmured Tabitha, dropping
wearily on to the settee under the apple-trees.
“I suppose so,” her sister assented. “I wonder if she knows
how to grow roses; they'll certainly die if she doesn't!” And Rachel
crushed a worm under her foot with unnecessary vigor.
“Oh, I hope they'll tend to the vines on the summerhouse, Rachel,
and the pansies—you don't think they'll let them run to seed, do you?
Oh, dear!” And Tabitha sprang nervously to her feet and started backyto
Mr. Hazelton appeared the next morning with two men—an architect
and a landscape gardener. Rachel was in the summerhouse, and the first
she knew of their presence was the sound of talking outside.
“You'll want to grade it down there,” she heard a strange voice say,
“and fill in that little hollow; clear away all those rubbishy posies,
and mass your flowering shrubs in the background. Those roses are no
particular good, I fancy; we'll move such as are worth anything, and
make a rose-bed on the south side—we'll talk over the varieties you
want, later. Of course these apple-trees and those lilacs will be cut
down, and this summerhouse will be out of the way. You'll be
surprised— a few changes will do wonders, and—”
He stopped abruptly. A woman, tall, flushed, and angry-eyed, stood
before him in the path. She opened her lips, but no sound came—Mr.
Hazelton was lifting his hat. The flush faded, and her eyes closed as
though to shut out some painful sight; then she bowed her head with a
proud gesture, and sped along the way to the house.
Once inside, she threw herself, sobbing, upon the bed. Tabitha found
her there an hour later.
“You poor dear—they've gone now,” she comforted.
Rachel raised her head.
“They're going to cut down everything—every single thing!” she
“I know it,” choked Tabitha, “and they're going to tear out lots of
doors inside, and build in windows and things. Oh, Rachel,—what shall
“I don't know, oh, I don't know!” moaned the woman on the bed,
diving into the pillows and hugging them close to her head.
“We—we might give up selling—he said we could if we wanted to.”
“But there's Ralph!”
“I know it. Oh, dear—what can we do?”
Rachel suddenly sat upright.
“Do? Why, we'll stand it, of course. We just mustn't mind if he
turns the house into a hotel and the yard into a—a pasture!” she said
hysterically. “We must just think of Ralph and of his being a doctor.
Come, let's go to the village and see if we can rent that tenement of
old Mrs. Goddard's.”
With a long sigh and a smothered sob, Tabitha went to get her hat.
Mrs. Goddard greeted the sisters effusively, and displayed her bits
of rooms and the tiny square of yard with the plainly expressed wish
that the place might be their home.
The twins said little, but their eyes were troubled. They left with
the promise to think it over and let Mrs. Goddard know.
“I didn't suppose rooms could be so little,” whispered Tabitha, as
they closed the gate behind them.
“We couldn't grow as much as a sunflower in that yard,” faltered
“Well, anyhow, we could have some houseplants!”—Tabitha tried to
“Indeed we could!” agreed Rachel, rising promptly to her sister's
height; “and, after all, little rooms are lots cheaper to heat than big
ones.” And there the matter ended for the time being.
Mr. Hazelton and the lawyer with the necessary papers appeared a few
days later. As the lawyer took off his hat he handed a letter to Miss
“I stepped into the office and got your mail,” he said genially.
“Thank you,” replied the lady, trying to smile. “It's from Ralph,”—
handing it over for her sister to read.
Both the ladies were in somber black; a ribbon or a brooch seemed
out of place to them that day. Tabitha broke the seal of the letter,
and retired to the light of the window to read it.
The papers were spread on the table, and the pen was in Rachel's
hand when a scream from Tabitha shattered the oppressive silence of the
“Stop—stop—oh, stop!” she cried, rushing to her sister and
snatching the pen from her fingers. “We don't have
to—see—read!”—pointing to the postscript written in a round, boyish
Oh, I say, I've got a surprise for you. You think I've been fishing
and loafing all summer, but I've been working for the hotels here the
whole time. I've got a fine start on my money for college, and I've got
a chance to work for my board all this year by helping Professor
Heaton. I met him here this summer, and he's the right sort—every
time. I've intended all along to help myself a bit when it came to the
college racket, but I didn't mean to tell you until I knew I could do
it. But it's a sure thing now.
Bye-bye; I'll be home next Saturday.
Your aff. nephew,
Rachel had read this aloud, but her voice ended in a sob instead of
in the boy's name. Hazelton brushed the back of his hand across his
eyes, and the lawyer looked intently out the window. For a moment there
was a silence that could be felt, then Hazelton stepped to the table
and fumbled noisily with the papers.
“Ladies, I withdraw my offer,” he announced. “I can't afford to buy
this house—I can't possibly afford it—it's too expensive.” And
without another word he left the room, motioning the lawyer to follow.
The sisters looked into each other's eyes and drew a long, sobbing
“Rachel, is it true?”
“Oh, Tabitha! Let's—let's go out under the apple-trees and—just
know that they are there!”
And hand in hand they went.