The Price of a Pair of Shoes by Eleanor H.
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