A New England Idol by Eleanor H. Porter
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.