A Summons Home by Eleanor H. Porter
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?”