In the Footsteps of Katy by Eleanor H.
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.