When Aunt Abby Waked Up by Eleanor H. Porter
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