Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

Mary Crawford's Chart by Eliza Calvert Hall

 

“With this chart, madam,” said the agent, “you are absolutely independent of dressmakers and seamstresses. After the instructions I have just given, a woman can cut and fit any sort of garment, from a party gown for herself to a pair of overalls for her husband, and the chart is so scientific in its construction, its system of measurement so accurate, that anything cut by it has a style and finish seldom seen in home-made garments. I have handled many things in the course of my ten years' experience as a traveling salesman, but this chart is the most satisfactory invention of all. I've been handling it now about eight months, and in that time I've sold—well, if I were to tell you how many hundred, you wouldn't believe me, so what's the use?—and I have yet to hear of anybody who is dissatisfied with the chart. The last time I talked with the general manager of the International Dressmaking Chart Company, I said to him, said I: 'Mr. Crampton, you could safely give a guarantee with every one of these charts—offer to refund the money to any one who is dissatisfied, and,' said I, 'I believe the only result of this would be an increased sale. You'd never have to refund a dollar. About a year ago I sold one to Mrs. Judge Graves in Shepherdsville; you may know her. Her husband's county judge, and they are two of the finest people you ever saw. The judge has a brother right here in town, Campbell Graves, the grocer. Your husband knows him, I'm sure. Well, I sold Mrs. Graves this chart a year ago, and I stopped there again on this trip just to say 'how d'ye do' and see how the chart was holding out. And she said to me: 'Mr. Roberts, this chart has saved me at least fifty dollars worth of dressmaker's bills in the last year. My husband thought, when I bought it, that five dollars was a good deal to pay for a thing like that, but' says she, 'he says now it was the best investment he ever made.' I had intended to make a thorough canvass of this neighborhood, but at twelve o'clock to-day, just as I was sitting down to my dinner, I got a telegram from the house telling me to go immediately to Shepherdsville. But I'd already ordered the horse and buggy, so I ate my dinner as quickly as I could, and said I: 'I'll drive three miles out into the country and stop at the first house I come to on the right-hand side of the road beyond the tollgate, and if I sell a chart there, I won't feel that I ran up a livery bill for nothing. And the first house on the right-hand side of the road beyond the tollgate happened to be yours, and that's how I came to give you all this trouble.”

Here the agent paused with a pleasant laugh. He realized that the psychological moment was approaching, and he began gathering up the various parts of the chart with an air of extreme preoccupation. The gleam of a ruby ring on his little finger caught Mary Crawford's eye, and she noticed how white and well-formed his hands were, the hands of one who had never done any manual labor. She stood irresolute, fascinated by the gleam of the red jewel, and thinking of her little hoard up-stairs in the Japanese box in the top bureau drawer. Five dollars from thirteen dollars and sixty-five cents left eight dollars and sixty-five cents. It would be three weeks before John's birthday came. The hens were laying well, the young cow would be “fresh” next week, and that would give her at least two pounds more of butter per week. Then, the agent was such a nice-mannered, obliging young man; he had spent an hour teaching her how to use the chart, and she hated to have him take all that trouble for nothing.

She looked over at her husband, and her eyes said plainly: “Please help me to decide.”

But John was blind to the gentle entreaty. He had fixed ideas as to what was a man's business and what a woman's; so he tilted his chair back against the wall and chewed a straw while he gazed out of the open door. His mental comment was: “If that agent fellow could work his hands just half as fast as he works his jaw, he'd be a mighty good help on a farm.”

The agent looked up with a cheery smile. He had folded the chart, and was tying the red tape fastenings.

“I've got to get back to town in time to catch that four o'clock train for Shepherdsville. I'm a thousand times obliged to you, Madam, for letting me show you the working of the chart. Sometimes I have a good deal of difficulty in getting ladies to understand the modus operandi of the thing. Unless a woman remembers the arithmetic she learned when she was a schoolgirl, she is apt to have trouble taking measurements. But it's a pleasure to show any one who sees into it as readily as you do. Most married women seem to give up their mathematical knowledge just as they give up their music. But you've got yours right at your fingers' ends. Well, good afternoon to you both, and the next time I come this way—”

“Wait a minute,” said Mary. “I'll take the chart. Just sit down and wait till I go up-stairs and get the money.”

The agent made a suave bow of acquiescence, and then stroked his mustache to conceal an involuntary smile of triumph.

“You have a fine stand of wheat, sir,” he said, turning to John and gesturing gracefully towards the field across the road, where the sun was shimmering on the silvery green of oats.

John made no reply. He scorned to talk about farming matters with a raw city fellow who did not know oats from wheat, and he was laboriously counting out a handful of silver.

“Here's your money, young man,” he said dryly. “Now skip out, if you can, before Mary gets back.”

The agent gave a quick glance at the coins and thrust them into his pocket. He seized his hat and valise, darted out of the house, and was climbing into his buggy when Mary appeared at the door, breathless and distressed.

“Come back!” she cried. “You've forgotten your money.”

John was standing just behind Mary, smiling broadly, and making emphatic gestures of dismissal with both hands. The agent understood the humor of the situation and laughed heartily as he lifted his hat and drove away. Mary started to the gate, blushing scarlet with vexation and perplexity, but John held her back.

“I have heard of agents forgettin' to leave the goods,” said he, “but I never heard of one forgettin' to collect his money. Go and put your money back, Mary; I paid the man.”

“Then you must let me pay you,” cried Mary. “I really mean it, John. You must let me have my way. I know you're hard run just now, and I never would have bought the chart, if I had not intended paying for it myself.”

She tried to open John's hand to put the money in it, but John took hold of her hand and gave her a gentle shove toward the foot of the stairs.

“Go on and put up your money, Mary,” he said. “If half that agent fellow said is true, I'm in about a hundred and fifty dollars. Before long, I reckon, you'll be makin' my coats and pants and the harness for the horses by this here chart.”

And Mary went, but her gentle protestations could be heard even after she reached her room and had dropped the money back into the little box that was her savings bank.

She hurried through her after-supper tasks, her mind full of the cutting and fitting she wanted to do before bed-time. Hers was a soul that found its highest happiness in work, and she unfolded the chart with the delight of a child who has a new toy. The agent's tribute to her knowledge of mathematics was no idle flattery. Her quick brain had comprehended at once the system of the chart, and she flushed with excitement and pleasure as she bent over her scale and found that her measurements and calculations were resulting in patterns of unmistakable correctness and style. It was like solving the fifth proposition of Euclid. She laid aside her work that night with a reluctant sigh, but a happy anticipation of the sewing yet to come. The anticipation was fulfilled next day by the completion of a shirt waist so striking in design and fit that even John noticed its beauty and becomingness and acknowledged that the chart was “no humbug.”

“You must wear that waist Monday when we go to town,” he declared. “I never saw anything fit you as pretty as that does,” and Sally McElrath echoed John's opinion when she and Mary met at the linen counter of Brown and Company's dry goods store; and Mary told her of the wonderful chart as they both examined patterns and qualities of table linen and compared experiences as to wearing qualities of bleached and unbleached damask.

There is a system of communication in every country neighborhood that is hardly less marvelous than the telegraph and telephone; and before Mary could put her chart to a second test, all Goshen knew that Mary Crawford had a chart that would cut anything from a baby sacque to a bolero, and that she was willing to lend it to any one who was inclined to borrow.

Sally McElrath was the first applicant for the loan of the chart. Whatever the enterprise, if it had the feature of novelty, Sally was its first patron and promoter. But her promptness ended here, and her friends declared that Sally McElrath was always the first to begin a thing, and the last to finish it.

Accompanying the chart was a set of explicit rules for its use, and Mary read these to Sally, explaining all the difficult points just as the agent had explained them to her.

“Now if I were you, Sally,” she said warningly, “I would try some simple thing first, a child's apron, or something like that, so that you won't run the risk of ruining any expensive goods. Everything takes practice, you know.”

“Oh,” said Sally confidently, “I'm goin' to make a tea jacket out of a piece of China silk I got off the bargain counter the last time I was in town.”

“What's a tea jacket?” asked Sally's husband, who had been listening intently, with a faint hope that some new shirts for himself might be the outcome of Sally's interest in the chart.

“It's a thing like this, Dan,” said Sally, producing a picture of the elegant garment in question.

“Why do they call it a tea jacket?” demanded Dan.

“Oh, I don't know; I reckon they wear 'em when they drink tea,” said Sally.

“But we drink coffee,” said Dan argumentatively.

“Well, call it a coffee jacket, then,” retorted Sally. “But whatever you call it, I'm goin' to have one, if I don't do another stitch of spring sewin'.”

Dan was gazing sadly at the picture of the tea jacket with its flowing oriental sleeves, lace ruffles, and ribbon bows.

“I can't figger out,” he said slowly, “what use you've got for a thing like that.”

“I can't either,” snapped Sally, “and that's the very reason I want it. The only things I've got any use for are gingham aprons and kitchen towels, and they're the things I don't want; and the only things I want are things that I haven't got a bit of use for, like this tea jacket here, and I'm goin' to have it, too.”

“All right, all right,” said Dan soothingly. “If you're pleased with the things that ain't of any use, why, have 'em, of course. Me and the children would like right well to have a few things that are some use, but I reckon we can get along without 'em a while longer. However, it looks to me as if that chart calls for a good deal of calculatin', and it's my opinion that you'd better get out your old Ray's Arithmetic and study up awhile before you try to cut out that jacket.”

“Maybe you're right,” laughed Sally. “Arithmetic always was my stumbling block at school. I never could learn the tables, and the first year I was married I sold butter with just twelve ounces to the pound, till Cousin Albert's wife told me better. She'd been takin' my butter for a month, and one Saturday morning she said to me: 'Cousin Sally, I hate to mention it, and I hope you won't take offence, but your butter's short weight.' Well, of course that made me mad, but I held my temper down, and I said: 'Cousin Ella, I think you're mistaken, I weigh my butter myself, and I've got good true scales, and there's twelve ounces of butter and a little over in every pound I sell.' And Cousin Ella laughed and says: 'I know that, Cousin Sally, but there ought to be sixteen ounces in a pound of butter. You're usin' the wrong table.' And she picked up little Albert's arithmetic and showed me the two tables, one for druggists and one for grocers; and there I'd been using druggist's weight to weigh groceries. Well, we had a good laugh over it, and I put twenty ounces of butter to the pound 'till I made up all my short weight. I never did learn all the multiplication table, and all the arithmetic I'm certain about now is: one baby and another baby makes two babies, and twelve things make a dozen. I wouldn't remember that if it wasn't for countin' the eggs and the napkins. But maybe Dan can help me out with the chart.”

“Don't depend on me,” said Dan emphatically; “my arithmetic is about like yours. I know how many pecks of corn make a bushel and how many rods are in an acre, but that sort o' knowledge wouldn't be much help in cuttin' out a woman's jacket.” And early the next morning Sally returned the chart, acknowledging that its mathematical complexities had baffled both herself and Dan. “And besides,” she added, “I don't believe there's enough of my China silk to cut anything. I'll have to match it and get some more the next time I go to town.”

One after another the neighbors borrowed Mary's chart, and each came back with the same story,—there was too much arithmetic about it, but if they brought their goods some time this week or next, would not Mary show them how to use it?

Of course she would. When did Mary Crawford ever refuse to help a neighbor?

“Come whenever you please,” said she cordially. “It will not be a bit of trouble, and you'll find the chart is easy enough, after I've given you a little help on it.”

They came, sometimes singly, sometimes by twos and threes, and Mary straightway found herself at the head of a dressmaking establishment from which every business feature except the hard work had been completely eliminated. The customers sometimes brought their children, and often stayed in friendly fashion to dinner or supper, as the exigencies of the work demanded a prolonged visit. Mary played the part of the gracious hostess while she cut and tried on, and planned and contrived and suggested, slipping away now and then to put another stick of wood in the kitchen stove, or see that the vegetables were not scorching, or mix up the biscuits, or make the coffee, or set the table, using all her fine tact to keep the guest from feeling that she was giving trouble.

Mary was social in her nature, and the pleasure of entertaining her neighbors and her unselfish delight in bestowing favors kept her from realizing at once the weight of the burden she had taken on herself. But she was a housekeeper who rarely saw the sun go down on an unfinished task, and when she took a retrospective view of the week, she was dismayed by the large arrears of housework and sewing; and all her altruism could not keep back a sigh of relief as she saw Mandy Harris's rockaway disappear down the road late Saturday afternoon. She sat up till half-past ten sewing on a gingham dress for Lucy Ellen and a linen blouse for little John, and the next day she knowingly and wilfully broke the Sabbath by sweeping and dusting the parlor and dining-room.

Monday dawned cool and cloudy, more like March than April, and when the rain began to come down in slow, steady fashion, she rejoiced at the prospect of another day unbroken by callers. By Tuesday morning April had resumed her reign. A few hours of wind and sunshine dried up the mud and put the roads in fine condition, and an extra number of visitors and children came in the afternoon. Lucy Ellen and little John were expected to entertain the latter. But Lucy Ellen and John were by this time frankly weary of company, and they had a standard of hospitality that differed essentially from their mother's. It seemed to them that hosts as well as guests had some rights, and they were ready at all times to stand up and battle for theirs. Lucy Ellen could not understand why she should be sent an exile to the lonely spare-room up-stairs, merely because she had slapped Mary Virginia Harris for breaking her favorite china doll; and little John was loudly indignant because he was reprimanded for calling Jimmie Crawford names, when Jimmy persisted in walking over the newly-planted garden. For the first time, both children had hard feelings toward their gentle stepmother, and she herself longed for the departure of the guests that she might take John's children in her arms and explain away her seeming harshness.

Wednesday repeated the trials of Tuesday with a few disagreeable variations, and Thursday was no better than Wednesday. By Thursday night Mary had abandoned all hope of finishing her own sewing before May Meeting Sunday. Her one aim now was to do a small amount of housework each day and get three meals cooked for John and the children, and even this work had to be subordinated to the increasing demands of the dressmaking business. At times she had a strange feeling in her head, and wondered if this was what people meant when they spoke of having headache; but sleep, “the balm of every woe", seldom failed to come nightly to her pillow, and all day long her sweet serenity never failed, even when the trying week was fitly rounded out by a simultaneous visit from Sally McElrath and Ma Harris. Sally had just “dropped in", but Ma Harris came, as usual, with intent to find or to make trouble.

Ma Harris was John Crawford's “mother-in-law on his first wife's side", as Dave Amos phrased it, and it was the opinion of the neighbors that if John and his second wife had not been the best-natured people in the world, they never could have put up with Ma Harris and her “ways.”

She had exercised a careful supervision over John's domestic affairs during the first wife's lifetime. When Sarah died, she redoubled her vigilance, and when his second marriage became an impending certainty, Ma Harris's presence and influence hung like a dark cloud over the future of the happy pair.

“There's only one thing I'm afraid of, Mary,” said honest John. “I know you'll get along all right with me and the children, but I don't know about Ma Harris; I'm afraid she'll give you trouble.”

“Don't you worry about that,” said Mary cheerily. “I've never seen anybody yet that I couldn't get along with, and Ma Harris won't be the exception.”

Popular sentiment declared that Ma Harris took her son-in-law's second marriage much harder than she had taken her daughter's death. Her lamentations were loudly and impartially diffused among her acquaintances; but it was evident that the sympathies of the community were not with John's “mother-in-law on his first wife's side.”

“I reckon old Mis' Harris won't bother me again soon,” said Maria Taylor. “She was over here yesterday with her handkerchief to her eyes, mournin' over John marryin' Mary Parrish, and I up and told her that she ought to be givin' thanks for such a stepmother for Sarah's children, John Crawford was too good a man, anyhow, to be wasted on a pore, shiftless creature like Sarah, and her death was nothin' but a blessin' to John and the children.”

Ma Harris soon found that she had never given herself a harder task than when she undertook to find fault with John for his treatment of Mary, or with Mary for her treatment of the children. It vexed her soul on Sundays to see John ushering Mary into his pew as if she had been a princess, but what could she say? Did not all the inhabitants of Goshen know that John had carried “pore Sarah” into the church in his strong arms as long as she was able to be carried, and nursed her faithfully at home until the day of her death? Then the children fairly adored Mary; and Mary, being a genuine mother, and having none of her own, was free to spend all her love on John's little ones. Not only this, but she treated Ma Harris with such respect and kindness that complaint was well-nigh impossible. Altogether, Ma Harris began to realize that the way of the fault-finder is sometimes as hard as that of the transgressor.

“Well, Mary,” she said, as she dropped heavily into a rocking-chair, “I heard yesterday that you had a new dressmakin' chart and all the neighbors was usin' it, and says I to Maria, 'I reckon Mary's forgot me, and I'll have to go up and remind her that Ma Harris is still in the land of the livin' and jest as much in need of clothes as some other folks.'“ And she threw a withering glance in Sally's direction.

“Why, Ma Harris!” said Mary. “Didn't John give you my message? I sent you word about the chart last week, and I've been looking for you every day.”

Ma Harris's face brightened, for Mary's words were as a healing balm to her wounded self-love.

“There, now!” she exclaimed, “I didn't think you'd slight me that-a-way, Mary. So it was John's fault, after all. Well, I might a' known it. It's precious few men that can remember what their wives tell 'em to do, and I used to tell Joel that if I wanted to send a message I'd send it by the telegraph company before I'd trust him with it.”

Mary breathed a breath of deep relief. Peace was restored between Ma Harris and herself, but she knew that between her two guests there yawned a breach that time and frequent intercourse only widened and deepened. Once in an uncharitable moment Sally had likened Ma Harris to Dan's old wall-eyed mare, and more than once Ma Harris had made disparaging remarks about Sally's cooking. The bearer of tales had attended to her work, and thereafter the two seldom met without an interchange of hostile words. Mary was of those blessed ones who love and who make peace, and for the next hour she stood as a buffer between two masked batteries. If a sarcastic remark were thrown out, she caught it before it could reach its mark, and took away its sting by some kindly interpretation of her own. If a challenge were given, she took it up and laughed it off as a joke. If the conversation threatened to become personal, she led its course into the safe channel of generalities; and for once the two enemies were completely baffled in their efforts to bring about a quarrel. But only Mary knew at what cost peace had been purchased, when she lay down on the old sofa in the hall for a moment's rest before going to the kitchen to cook supper and make tea-cakes for the May Meeting basket. After supper she sewed buttons on Lucy Ellen's frock and little John's blouse and, being a woman and young, she thought of the pale blue dimity she had hoped to wear to the May Meeting, because pale blue was John's favorite color.

But in the matter of women's clothes, John was not quick to distinguish between the new and the old, and there was nothing but loving admiration in his eyes the next morning as he stood at the foot of the stairs and looked up at Mary in a last year's gown of dark blue linen with collar and cuffs of delicate embroidery. He helped her into the carriage, and away they went down the elm-shaded road. The carriage was shabby, but there was a strain of noble blood in the horse, that showed itself in a smooth, even gait, and Mary's eyes brightened, and the color came into her face, as she felt the exhilaration that swift motion always brings.

The poet who sang the enchantment of “midsummer nights” might have sung with equal rapture of May mornings, when there is a sun to warm you through, and a breeze to temper the warmth with a touch of April's coolness; when the flowers on the earth's bosom, touched by the sunshine, gleam and glow like the jewels in the breastplate of the high priest, and the heart beats strong with the joy of winter past and the joy of summer to come.

Mary leaned back with the long, deep sigh of perfect happiness. Of late she had been striving with “a life awry", but now her soul

    “Smoothed itself out, a long-cramped scroll,
     Freshening and fluttering in the wind.”

It was May Meeting Sunday. Nobody could come to use the chart, and she and John were riding together. A redbird carolled to its mate in the top of a wayside elm, and she laughed like a child.

“Listen to that sweet bird!” she exclaimed. “Why, it can almost talk. Don't you hear the words it's singing?

    “'Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!
        With you!
        With you!'”

“Smart bird,” said John. “Sees you and me together and makes a song about it.” And Mary laughed and blushed as her eyes met John's.

“Oh!” she sighed, “I almost wish we could ride on and on and never come to the church. It seems a pity to lose any of this sunshine and wind.”

“Just say the word,” said John, “and we'll keep right on and have a May Meetin' all to ourselves out at Blue Spring, or anywhere else you say. May Meetin's just a Sunday picnic, anyway.”

But Mary's conscience forbade such Sabbath breaking. It was all right to have a picnic after you had been to preaching, but to have the picnic without the previous church-going was not to be thought of.

It was a Sunday of great events. Not only was it May Meeting Sunday, but the Sawyer twins were to be baptized, and Sidney Harris and his bride were to make their first appearance in public that day. Sidney had married a young girl from the upper part of the State, and it was rumored that her wedding clothes had been made in New York, that they were worth “a small fortune.” One costume in particular, it was said, had cost “a cool hundred", and every woman in the church had a secret hope of seeing the gown at the May Meeting.

According to custom, every one wore her freshest, newest raiment in honor of the day and the month. Mary usually felt an innocent pleasure in looking at the new apparel of her friends, but to-day, as she glanced around, she was moved by a strange feeling of irritation, weariness, and dissatisfaction. That she was wearing old clothes while every one else wore new ones gave her little concern; but just in front of her sat Ellen McElrath in the blue and white gingham waist that she and Ellen had cut out that dreadful afternoon when the sponge cake burnt up, and Ellen's little boy pulled up all her clove pinks. The back of the waist was cut on the bias, and the stripes did not hit. How she had worked and worried over those stripes and lain awake at night, wondering if she ought not to buy Ellen enough goods to cut a new back. She turned away her eyes, and there, across the aisle, was little May Johnson in the pink blouse that recalled the morning when Mary had left her churning and baking six times to show May's mother the working of that mysterious chart. And there was Aunt Amanda Bassett, ambling heavily down to the “amen corner” in the black alpaca skirt that would wrinkle over her ample hips in spite of all the letting out and taking up that had been done for it that hot afternoon when the bread burned to a crisp, while Mary was down on the floor turning up Aunt Amanda's hem and trying to make both sides of the skirt the same length. And here came Annie Matthews in the brown and white shirt waist, that was an all-around misfit because Annie had thought that three fourths of sixteen inches was eight inches, Mary blamed herself for not staying by Annie and watching her more closely. And was that a wrinkle in the broad expanse of gingham across Nanny McElrath's shoulders? It was; and Mary knew there would be some ripping and altering next week.

Oh! if she could only shut out the sight of those hateful garments! How could she ever get herself into a reverent frame of mind surrounded by these dismal reminders of all the work and worry of the past month?

She glanced over at the old Parrish pew and Aunt Mary's countenance of smiling peace rebuked her. If Aunt Mary could smile, sitting lonely in the old church thronged with memories of her dead, surely, with John by her side and the heart of youth beating strong in her breast, she ought not to feel like crying, especially at May Meeting service.

The church was filling rapidly, and every new arrival roused a fresh train of vexatious memories. There was a rustle and flutter all over the church, a great turning of heads, and good cause for it; for down the aisle came Sam and Maria Sawyer, Sam bearing the twins, one on each arm, their long white clothes reaching far below his knees and giving him the appearance of an Episcopal clergyman in full vestments. And close behind these came Sidney and his bride, the latter smiling and blushing under a hat of white lace trimmed with bunches of purple violets, and gowned in a suit of violet cloth, whose style carried to every mind the conviction that it was indeed the hundred-dollar gown.

Mary touched John on the arm. She tried to speak, and could not; but there was no need for speech. John understood the pallor of her face and the imploring look in her eyes. He whispered a word to the children, then he and Mary rose and passed out unnoticed.

“What's the matter?” said John in a low voice, as soon as they were fairly outside the door.

But Mary only shook her head and walked faster toward the old rockaway, which was standing in the shade of a tall chestnut tree. There she sank on the ground and began laughing and sobbing, while John, thoroughly alarmed, knelt by her, patting her on the back and saying: “There, there, Honey; don't cry,” as if he were talking to a frightened child.

The touch of his kind hands and the fresh, sweet air on her face were quick restoratives, and in a moment or two Mary was able to speak.

“Don't look so scared, John,” she gasped faintly. “There's nothing much the matter; I'll be all right in a minute or two. I haven't been feeling very well lately, and I'm afraid I ought to have stayed at home to-day. It was too warm in the church; and I got to looking at the clothes the people had on, and nearly everything new was cut out by my chart, and it seemed so funny, and I felt all at once as if I wanted to cry or laugh, I didn't know which, but I'm better now.”

John was listening with keen attention. Nearly all the new clothes in the church made by Mary's chart, and she so tired and nervous that she could not stay inside the church! His face grew grave and stern, but when he spoke, his voice had its usual gentleness.

“You come along with me, Mary,” he said, “We'll have our Sunday meetin' out of doors, after all.”

He lifted the cushions and robes from the rockaway and started towards the woods at the back of the church, Mary following with the docility of utter weariness. It was wrong, of course, to miss the May Meeting sermon, but how could she worship God with that striped shirt waist in front of her? Her temples throbbed, and there was a queer feeling at the back of her head.

John laid the cushions on the ground and folded the robes into a pillow.

“Now, Mary, lay right down here,” he commanded. “Sunday's a day of rest, and you've got to rest. Don't you worry about the children. If they get tired listenin' to the sermon, they've got sense enough to get up and come out here; and nobody's goin' to know whether you and me are in church or not. They're too much taken up with the baptizin' and the bride.”

And with these assurances Mary closed her eyes, and surrendered herself to the sweet influence of the day and hour. The sunshine lay warm on her shoulders and hands, the breath of May fanned her aching head, and John, like a strong angel, was watching beside her. She heard the twitter of birds in the top branches of the giant oaks, the voices of the choir came to her softened by the distance, and her brain took up the rhythm of the hymn they were singing:

    “This is the day the Lord hath made,
     He calls the hours his own;
     Let heaven rejoice, let earth be glad,
     And praise surround the throne.”

But before the last stanza had been sung, the tension of brain and body relaxed. John saw that she slept and thanked God. He looked at her sleeping face, and the anxiety in his own deepened. For five years he had borne the cross of a peevish, invalid wife, and then he had known the bliss of living with a perfectly sound woman. He had never analyzed the nature of his love for Mary,—as soon would he have torn away the petals of Mary's budding roses to see what was at their heart,—and he did not know that the charm that had drawn him to her and kept him her lover through three years of married life, was not alone her sweet, unselfish nature, but the exquisite health that made work a pleasure, the perfect equilibrium of nerve and brain that kept a song on her lips, that made her step like a dance, and her mere presence a spell to soothe and heal. His heart sank at the thought of her losing these. He had always shielded her from the heavy drudgery that farm life brings to a woman, and now he called memory to the witness stand and sternly questioned her concerning the cause of this sudden change. She had been having a good deal of company lately, but then Mary enjoyed company. She had never complained about the unusual number of callers, but who ever heard Mary complain about anything? She was not the complaining kind. John was not a psychologist, and could not know the danger to nerve and brain that lies in enforced—even self-enforced—submission to unpleasant circumstances, but his brow darkened as he thought of her words: “Nearly everything new was cut out by my chart.” And yet, what right had he to blame the neighbors for their thoughtlessness? If he, Mary's husband, had not been considerate of her health and happiness, why should he expect the neighbors to be so?

“It's all my fault at last,” he thought remorsefully, as he leaned over the sleeping woman and brushed away an insect that had lighted on her gold-brown hair.

Yes, there were faint lines around her mouth and under her eyes, and the contour of her cheek was not as girlish as it had been a month ago.

“If that chart was at the bottom of the trouble—” But again why should he blame the chart or the agent, when the main fault was his?

Taking off his coat, he laid it gently over her shoulders and seated himself so that the shadow of his body would screen her from a ray of sun that lay across her closed eyelids.

The minister's voice rose and fell in earnest exhortation. He was preaching an unusually long sermon that morning, and John was glad, for the longer his sermon, the longer would be Mary's sleep. As for himself, he needed no sermon within church walls. He was listening to the voice of his conscience preaching to him of things undone and of judgment to come.

“It's curious,” he said to himself, “that a man can't see a thing that's goin' on right under his own eyes and in his own house and that concerns his own wife.”

Suddenly a new sound was heard from the church, a duet of infant wails that drowned the minister's words, the voices of two young protestants making known their objections to the rite of infant baptism. John smiled as he pictured the scene within.

“I wouldn't be in Sam Sawyer's place now for ten dollars,” he mentally declared; “holdin' them squallin' young ones, and everybody in church laughin' in their sleeves.”

The lamentations of the twins gradually subsided. The notes of the organ sounded, and the choir sang joyfully. There was a hush, then the moving of many feet as the congregation rose for the benediction; another hush, then a murmur of voices growing louder as the little crowd crossed the threshold of the church, and came into the freedom of God's great out-of-doors.

Mary opened her eyes and started up with an exclamation of self-reproach at the sight of John in his shirt sleeves and the realization that she had slept all through the minister's sermon.

“Take it easy,” said John, smiling at her and putting on his coat with more than his usual deliberation. “Your hair's all right, and you look fifty per cent brighter than you did an hour ago. You needed that nap worse'n you need Brother Smith's sermon. Now sit still and let me do the talkin' and explainin'.”

“Yes, Mis' Morrison,” as the neighbors came hastening up with kindly inquiries, “Mary wasn't feelin' very well when we started this mornin', but she's all right now. She's been workin' a little too hard lately, and I'm afraid I haven't been as careful of her as I ought to 'a' been.”

“Bless her soul!” said Aunt Tabby McElrath, giving Mary a motherly pat on the head. “You did just right to come out here. There's nothin' like a hot church for makin' a body feel faint; and a day like this it'd be better for us all if we'd have the preachin' outdoors as well as the eatin'. Now, don't you stir, Mary. You're always waitin' on other people; let other people wait on you for once. And, John, you come with me, and I'll give you a waiter of nice things for Mary. Nobody can cook better'n Mary; that I know. But when a person ain't feelin' very well, they'd rather eat somebody else's cookin' than their own.”

“Well, it depends on who the somebody is,” said her niece, Sally McElrath. “I'd rather eat anybody else's cookin' than my own, whether I'm feelin' well or not; but for mercy's sake don't get anything from my basket on that waiter you're fixin' up for Mary. My cake ain't as light as it might be, and the icin' didn't cook long enough; and when it comes to bread, you all know a ten-year-old child could beat me.”

The May Meeting dinners in Goshen neighborhood had long been famous. Town people who were so fortunate as to partake of one were wont to talk of it for years afterward, for the standards of housewifery in this part of the country were of the highest, and the consciences of the housewives made them live sternly up to their ideals, all but Sally. Her cooking and her housekeeping were always below the mark. But she had the wisdom to ward off censure by a prompt and cheerful admission of her failures, and none but a professional critic like Ma Harris cared to find fault with the delinquent who frankly said of herself the worst that could be said.

May Meeting in the country is like Easter Sunday in town, a gala occasion, and it was an idyllic scene around the little country church as the congregation gathered under the trees. Stalwart men, matronly women, and youth and maiden clad in fresh apparel that matched the garb of Nature. They had worshipped God in prayer and song within church walls, and now they were to enjoy the gifts of God under the arch of his blue sky and in the green aisles of his first temple. The old earth had yielded a bountiful tribute to man's toil, and on the damask cloths spread over the sward lay the fruits and grains of last year's harvest, changed by woman's skill into the viands that are the symbols of Southern hospitality, as salt is the symbol of the Arab's.

The minister stood, and turning his face heavenward, said grace, his words blending with the soft twitter of birds and the murmur of wind in the young leaves. Then arose a crescendo of voices, the bass of the men, the treble of the women, and the shrill chatter of children, glad with the gladness of May, but softened and subdued because it was Sunday. And now and then the Sawyer twins lifted up their voices and wept, not because there was any cause for weeping, but because weeping was as yet their only means of communication with the strange new world into which they had lately come. The Master who proclaimed that the Sabbath was made for man, and who walked through the cornfield on that holy day, might have been an honored guest at such a feast.

When John returned with the laden tray, Mary was holding a little levee, and her sparkling eyes and happy smile told of rested nerves and brain refreshed. “For so He giveth to His beloved while they are sleeping.” The minister had come up to shake hands with her and tell her that he had missed her face from the congregation. Sidney had brought his bride over and introduced her, and Mary was getting a near view of the violet dress. Her spirits mounted as she ate the delicious food Aunt Tabby had selected for her. She was surprised to find that she could look at the stripes in Ellen McElrath's shirt waist without wanting to cry, and when the meal was over she insisted on helping to clear off the tables.

“My goodness!” said Aunt Tabby McElrath, as she placed in her basket the remains of her bread, ham, chicken, pickles, cake, pie, and jelly. “It looks to me like there'd been another miracle of the loaves and fishes, for I'm surely takin' home more'n I brought here. What a pity there ain't some poor family around here that we could give all this good food to.”

“I don't know as we'd be called a poor family,” said Sally McElrath, “but if you've got more than you know what to do with, just hand it over to me. It'll save me from cookin' supper to-night.”

“Yes, Aunt Tabby,” said Dan, “don't be afraid to offer us some of the leavin's. Jest cut me a slab o' that jelly-cake and one or two slices o' your good bread. I ain't forgot the supper I had last May Meetin' Sunday. Sally had a sick headache and couldn't cook a thing, and all I could find in the basket was a pickle and a hard boiled egg.”

There was a general laugh, in which Sally joined heartily. Aunt Tabby made generous contributions from her basket to Sally's, Dan watching the operation with hungry eyes, and then she looked around for a convenient tree trunk against which she might rest her ample back and bear a part in the general conversation.

In rural communities the church is the great social center. After the period of worship, though the hours are God's own, it is not deemed a profanation of the day to spend a little time in friendly intercourse, and only the unregenerate youth of the congregation consider it a hardship to listen to a second sermon in the afternoon.

“Now look yonder, will you?” exclaimed an elderly matron; “them young folks are fixin' to go off ridin' instead of stayin' to second service. You, Percival! You, Matty! Don't you stir a step from here, Preachin's goin' to begin again before you can get back.”

Matty's right foot was on the step. Her right hand grasped the top of the buggy, and her left was firmly held by a handsome youth whose energies were divided between helping her into his “rig” and managing his horse.

“You, Matty!” The second warning came in strong tones and with a threatening accent.

Matty turned with a bird-like motion of the head. She darted a glance and a smile over her shoulder; the glance was for her mother, the smile for the young man. The latter had failed twice in Greek and Latin, but he understood the language of the eye and lip, and the delicate pressure of the girl's fingers on his. He, too, threw a glance and a smile backward, and the next instant the two were spinning down the road in the direction of the Iron Bridge.

There was a burst of good-natured laughter from the fathers. They remembered the days of their youth and rather wished themselves in the young man's place. “Pretty well done,” chuckled Uncle Mose Bascom. “I've always said that when it comes to holdin' a spirited horse and at the same time helpin' a pretty girl into a buggy, a man ought to have four hands, but Percival did the thing mighty well with jest two.”

The young girls who lacked Matty's daring looked down the road with envy in their eyes. How much better that ride in the wooded road to the bridge than another dull sermon in that hot church! But the mothers of the virtuous damsels smiled complacently, thanking God that their daughters were not as other women's, and Ma Harris “walled” her eyes and sighed piously.

“In my day,” she said, “children honored their parents and obeyed 'em.”

“No, they didn't,” retorted Matty's mother, her face crimson with shame and vexation. “Children never honored their parents in your day nor in Moses's day, either. If they had, there wouldn't be but nine commandments. Didn't your mother run off and marry, and haven't I heard you say that that youngest boy o' yours was bringin' your gray hairs in sorrow to the grave? Matty's headstrong, I know, but she ain't a bit worse than other girls.”

“That's so,” said Sally McElrath, whose own girlhood gave her a fellow feeling for the absent Matty. “I say, let the young folks alone. We all were young once. For my part, I wish I was in Matty's place. Here, Dan, can't you take me ridin' like you used to do before we got married?”

“I can take you ridin' all right, Sally,” agreed Dan placidly. “Yonder's the same old buggy and the same old horse and the same old road, but the ridin' would be mighty different from the ridin' we had before we got married. Before we started, we'd have to canvass this crowd and find somebody to take care of the children, and after we started, we'd both be wonderin' if Sarah wasn't drowned in the creek, and if Daniel hadn't been kicked by somebody's horse, and I don't believe there'd be much pleasure in such a ride.”

“I reckon you're right,” said Sally, laughing with the rest. “And that's why I say let young people alone; they're seein' their best days. Dan courted for me six months, and if I had to live my life over again, I'd make it six years.”

Sally was one of those daring spirits who do not hesitate to say what others scarce venture to think.

“Maybe I wouldn't 'a' held out,” observed Dan. “Courtin's mighty wearin' work, and I ain't a Jacob by any manner o' means.”

“Well, if you hadn't held out,” said Sally recklessly, “somebody else would 'a' taken it up where you left off. Oh! you women needn't say a word. If you want to pretend you like dish-washin' and cookin' and mendin' better than courtin', you're welcome to do it. But if I was just young again, I wouldn't get married till I was too old to be courted, for courtin' time's the only time a woman sees any peace and happiness. You, Daniel! You, Sally! Get up out of that dusty road.”

“Mary,” said John Crawford, in a low voice, “you get your things together, and we'll follow Matty's example.”

Mary hesitated. Conscience said, “Stay to preaching”; but the laughing and talk had grown wearisome to her, and the strange feeling in her head had returned. So before the hour for the second service came, they stole quietly away, their rockaway wheels cutting the trail left by the erring young people who had gone before them.

The way to the bridge was a shady avenue, the trees in that rich alluvial soil growing to extraordinary height and grandeur, and in the comfortable homes and well-tilled farms there was a cheerful presentment of the legendary “Man with the Hoe.” Only one melancholy spot by the roadside marred the traveler's pleasure. It was a country graveyard, walled around with stone, surmounted with an iron railing to protect it from the desecrating tread of beast or man. Nearly a century ago the hand of some woman had planted on one of the graves a spray of myrtle and a lily of the valley, and Nature had laid her leveling touch on each grassy mound and changed the place outwardly to a garden of flowers. But neither spring's white glory of lilies and azure of myrtle, the rich foliage of summer, the crimson splendor of autumn, nor winter's deepest snow could hide from the passer-by the secret of the place. Young lovers like Matty and Percival might go by with laughter and smiles unchecked; not yet for them the thought of death. But John touched the horse to a quicker pace and looked to the other side of the road where sunny fields of grain spoke of life more abundantly, and Mary drew closer to John's side, saying in her heart: “I wish there was no death in this world.”

In the middle of the bridge they paused for a moment to look up and down the shining river, and John recalled the tale, still told by the oldest inhabitants, of the spring of '65, when the river rose forty-five feet in nine hours and washed the bridge away. Beyond the bridge the road turned to the right, following the stream in a friendly way, and terminating at a fording place opposite a large sand bar known as “The Island.” A giant sycamore in the middle cast a welcome shadow in the brilliant sunshine, and a fringe of willows encircled it. Under these, near the water's edge, lay heaps of mussel shells,—white, pink, yellow, and purple,—the gift of the river to the land, and a reminder of the April freshet. The carriage wheels grated on the sand-bar, and as they caught sight of the treasures the children gave a cry of delight, for no shells from a tropic ocean are more beautiful in color than the common mussel shells of Kentucky rivers, and not infrequently a pearl is found within the tinted casket.

“Now, gather all the shells you want,” said John, “while your mother and me sit down here and rest in the shade.”

Again he made a bed of the cushions from the carriage, and closing her eyes Mary fell into blissful half-consciousness. The minister had read David's psalm of rejoicing at the morning service, and one line of it, “He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul,” floated through her brain like a slumber song, with an obbligato of rippling water and the faint whispering of willows. Once she drifted to the very shores of sleep, to be gently called back by the laughter of the children; and when they turned homeward in the late afternoon, she felt strong for the next day's burden, only she hoped that no one would come to use the chart, until she had time to finish the spring cleaning. She wanted to get back into the old peaceful routine of work, in which each day had its duties and every duty brought with it time and strength for its performance.

Monday morning passed without any interruption, and by half-past twelve o'clock the work belonging to the day was done and dinner was over. But just as she began washing the dishes, there was a noise of wheels on the 'pike. Mary gave a start and almost dropped the dish she was holding.

“Oh, John!” she exclaimed, “see who it is.” John stepped out on the back porch and looked up the road. “It looks like Sally and Dan McElrath and the two children,” he said, coming back into the kitchen.

Mary compressed her lips to keep back a sigh of dismay. “Yes,” she said quietly, “Sally told me yesterday she would be over some time this week to cut out a tea jacket by my chart, but I didn't expect her this soon. I was just thinking I'd go up-stairs and take a nap as soon as I got through with the dishes. But it's all right. You put a stick of wood in the stove, John, to keep my dish-water hot, and I'll go out and ask Sally in.”

John was looking at her very earnestly.

“Honey,” he said, “your hair looks as if you hadn't combed it to-day. You run up-stairs and fix yourself, and I'll see to Sally and Dan.”

And while Mary darted up the back stairs, John hurried softly into the parlor. He could hear Sally's high, clear voice, and the wagon was almost at the gate. It was a bold emprise on which he was bent, and the time was short. On the top shelf of the old cherry secretary that had belonged to Mary's grandfather lay the chart. Looking fearfully around, he seized it, tiptoed to the kitchen, opened the stove door, and dropped the hateful thing on a bed of glowing hickory coals. Then he put in a stick of wood, according to Mary's behest, and the next moment he was at the front door, placing chairs on the porch and calling out a welcome to the alighting guests.

“Come right in, Dan. Glad to see you both. Mary's been looking for you. Sit down here on the porch where it's cool. Here, Lucy Ellen, here's Sarah and Daniel come to play with you.”

“What on earth did John mean by saying my hair needed combing?” soliloquized Mary up-stairs, as she looked in the glass at the shining braids of her hair; “I fixed it just before dinner, and it's as smooth and nice as it can be.” She hurried down to see that her guests lacked no attention demanded by hospitality. John was likely to be forgetful about such matters.

“I was just saying, Mary,” Sally called out as soon as she caught sight of her hostess, “that Dan was on his way to town, and I'm going to stay here with the children till he comes back. But I want to lay the chart on my goods right away, for I'm afraid I've got a scant pattern for that tea jacket, and if I have, I can give Dan a sample of the goods, and he can bring me an extra yard from town. And if you'll bring the chart out, I'll lay off my goods right here and now, so Dan won't lose any time on my account.”

“Oh! never mind about me,” said Dan, with the air and accent of one who has suffered long and given up hope. “I've been losin' time on your account for the last fifteen years, and this trip ain't goin' to be an exception.”

Every one laughed, for Sally's weakness was known of all men. Aunt Tabby McElrath once said that if the road from Dan's place to town was ten miles long, and there was a house every quarter of a mile, Sally would make just forty visits going and coming.

“Get the chart, John,” said Mary, “and it won't take us two minutes to find out whether there's enough goods. It's on the top shelf of the old secretary in the parlor.”

John went obediently. “Where did you say that chart was?” he called back.

“On the old secretary. I saw it there just before dinner,” answered Mary.

“I saw it there, too,” responded John, “but it ain't there now.”

Mary hastened to the parlor. “Why no, it isn't here,” she exclaimed in dismay. “Who could have taken it?”

“Ask the children,” suggested Sally from the porch, where she sat cheerfully rocking and fanning herself. “Whenever there's anything missing at our house, some of the children can tell who's mislaid it.” But Lucy Ellen and little John with one voice made haste to defend themselves against the visitor's accusation. By this time Dan had come into the parlor, and the three stood looking at each other in silent perplexity.

Dan was openly worried over the delay, Mary was sympathetically distressed, and John's face expressed nothing but the deepest concern over the situation.

“Maybe it's up-stairs,” he said. “Suppose you and Sally run up there and search while Dan and myself'll search down here. That'll save time.”

“What sort of a lookin' thing is that chart?” asked Dan, as he got down on his knees and made a dive under the sofa.

“Well, I'd recognize it if I saw it,” said John, “but, come to think of it, I don't know as I could tell anybody exactly how it looks. It's something done up in a roll and tied with red tape.”

“Done up in a roll and tied with red tape,” repeated Dan, meditatively, opening closet doors and peering into corners, while he tried to keep in his mind an image of the lost chart as described by his fellow searcher. “Is this it?”

“Well, now that's something like it,” said John. “I'll ask Mary. Here, Mary, is this it?”

Mary leaned over the railing with hopeful expectancy in her glance.

“Why, John, that's my gossamer case with the gossamer in it. I thought you knew my chart better than that. Tell the children to look, too. They'd know it if they saw it.”

“I'm lookin' as hard as I can,” piped Lucy Ellen from the closet under the stairs, while little John seized a long stick, ran to the henhouse, poked the setting hens off their eggs, and searched diligently in every nest for Mother's lost chart.

“Don't stand on ceremony, Dan. Open every door you come to,” commanded John, as he rummaged in the sideboard and tumbled the piles of snowy damask. Thus encouraged, Dan walked into the pantry and gazed helplessly at the jars of preserves and jelly on the top shelf. He lifted the top from Mary's buttermilk jar. No chart there.

“Done up in a roll and tied with red tape,” he muttered, opening a tin box and disclosing a loaf of bread and a plate of tea-cakes.

“Here, John,” he exclaimed, “this prowlin' around in other people's houses don't suit me at all. Makes me feel like a thief and a robber. I'll go out and see to my horses, and you keep on lookin'.”

And John continued to look, as the shepherd looked for the lost sheep, as the woman looked for the piece of silver. Now and then he uttered an ejaculation of wonder and regret, and raised his voice to inquire of Mary if the lost had been found.

Mary's search up-stairs was greatly hindered by Sally's digressions. Some minds move in straight lines, others in curves, but Sally's mental processes were all in the nature of tangents.

“You look in the closet, Sally,” said Mary, “and I'll go through the bureau drawers.”

But the novelty of being up-stairs in Mary's house made Sally forget the cause of her being there.

“Gracious! Mary, how do you keep your room so nice? This is what I call a young girl's room. I used to be able to have things clean and pretty before I was married, but Daniel and Sarah make the whole house look like a hurrah's nest. And there's your great-grandmother's counterpane on the bed, white as the driven snow, too. I wonder how many generations that's going to wear. My, what a pretty view you've got from this window. Ain't that Pilot Knob over yonder, just beyond that clump of cedars? Yes, that must be old Pilot. I've heard my grandfather tell many a time how his father camped at the foot of the knob, and sat up all night to keep the bears and wolves away.”

Mary was opening doors and drawers in a hasty but conscientious search.

“You'd better help me look for the chart, Sally,” she said gently. “Two pairs of eyes are better than one, and you know Dan's in a hurry.” But Sally did not move. Her eyes were fixed on the purple haze that hung over old Pilot, and her mind was lost in memories of her grandfather's legends.

“Dan's always in a hurry,” she remarked placidly. “I tell him he gets mighty little pleasure out of life, rushin' through it the way he does. That white spot over on that tallest knob must be the stone quarry. If it was a clear day, I believe you could see the big rocks. And here comes a locomotive. How pretty the white smoke looks streamin' back and settlin' in the valleys.”

“We might as well go down,” said Mary. “There's no use looking in the spare room; that hasn't been opened for a week.”

“Sally!” cried Dan, putting his head in at the front door and giving a backward glance at his restless horse, “if that note I've got in the bank is protested, you and your jacket'll be to blame. It's after two o'clock, and I can't wait any longer.”

“All right,” said Sally, “me and the children will go to town with you.”

“Where are the children?” asked Mary.

“My gracious! have we lost the chart and the children, too?” laughed Sally. “No, there they are, 'way down by the duck pond. Sarah! Daniel! Come right here! We're goin' to town.”

“Hurry up!” shouted their father, “or I'll leave you here.”

The prospect of a trip to town and the fear of being left behind doubled the children's speed and brought them breathless and excited to the front gate. Dan tossed them into the wagon, as if each had been a sack of meal, and Sally clambered in without assistance.

“As soon as I find the chart, Sally, I'll send it over to you by the first person that passes,” said Mary. The loss of the chart seemed a breach of hospitality, a discourtesy to her guest, and she wanted to make amends.

“That wouldn't be a bit of use,” said Sally, “for I can't tell head nor tail of the thing unless you show me. I'll drop in again in a day or so and do my cuttin' and fittin' here.”

“Yes,” said John heartily, “that'll be the best way. If Mary was to send you the chart, the person she sent it by might lose it, and that'd be a pity, as it's the only one in the neighborhood. You come over and bring the children with you and spend the day, and you and Mary can have a good time sewin' and talkin'.”

“That's what I'll do. Look for me day after to-morrow or the day after that. I reckon the chart'll certainly turn up by that time.”

“I'm sure it will,” said John, “for I'm goin' to spend all my spare time lookin' for it.”

Dan clucked to the horse and shook the reins over its back.

“Well, good-by,” cried Sally blithely, “I'll be certain to—”

But the rest of her words were drowned in the rattle of wheels and clatter of hoofs, for Dan was laying on the whip in a desperate resolve to get to town before the bank closed.

Mary stood silent with a hurt look on her face. How could John ask Sally to spend the day when he knew how tired she was? It was all she could do to keep the tears back.

“It's my opinion,” said John, “that we'll never see that chart again. I believe it's gone like grandfather Ervin's beaver hat.”

Mary knew the story of the beaver hat. It was a family legend of the supernatural that John was fond of telling. But she had little faith that her chart had gone the way of grandfather Ervin's hat, and she went back to the kitchen, wondering how John could have been so thoughtless, and dreading the day after to-morrow that would bring Sally and those troublesome children. John followed her, and opening the stove door, he gently stirred the ashes within, thus effacing the last trace of the chart; then he took his way to the barn, where he sank down on a pile of fodder and laughed till the tears ran down his face.

“Edwin Booth couldn't 'a' done it better,” he gasped. “I reckon I'll have to quit farmin' and go on the stage. Didn't know I was such a born actor. It was actin' a lie, too, but it's put a stop to Mary's troubles, and I don't feel like repentin' yet. I reckon you might call it a lie of 'necessity and mercy', like the work that's allowed on the Sabbath day.”

And at that precise moment Sally was saying to Dan:

“Did you ever see a man so put out over anything as John Crawford was over not findin' that chart? If he'd lost his watch or his purse, he couldn't have put himself to more pains to find it. There never was a more accommodatin' neighbor than Mary, and John's just like her. You don't often see a couple as well matched. Generally, if one's accommodatin' and neighborly, the other's stingy and mean. But Mary wasn't a bit more anxious to find that chart for me than John was.”

That night after supper John seated himself on the front porch. The warm spring air was sweet with the perfume of May bloom, and from every pond there was a chorus of joy over the passing of winter. He heard the voices of his children and his wife talking together as Mary washed the dishes, Lucy Ellen wiped them, and little John placed them on the table. Home, wife, children, and the spring of the year! The heart of the man was glad and he smiled at the thought of the deed he had done that afternoon.

“John,” said Mary, coming out on the porch with the dish towel over her arm, “hadn't you better be looking for that chart? You know you promised Sally, and I don't want her to be disappointed again.”

The light from one of the front windows shone full on John's face, and something about his eyes and mouth gave Mary a sudden revelation.

“John,” she said severely, “do you know where that chart is?”

John returned her gaze with unflinching eyes. “Mary,” he said slowly and deliberately, “I do not know where that chart is.”

Another lie? Oh, no! When a thing is dust and ashes, who knows where it is?

But the answer did not satisfy Mary. She continued to look at him as a mother might look at a naughty child.

“John,” she said, “did you—I believe—yes, I know you did. Oh, John! How could you? What made you do it?”

“Yes, I did, and I'd do it again,” said John doggedly. “Do you think I'm goin' to have the neighbors tormentin' the life out of you on account of that—”

He stopped short, for a damp towel was against his face, and Mary's bare arms were around his neck.

“Oh, John! And that was the reason you asked Sally to come back. I've been feeling so hurt, for I thought it looked as if you didn't care for me. I might have known better. Please forgive me. I'll never think such a thing of you again.”

There was something damp on the other side of his face now, and reaching around John drew the tired wife down on the bench beside him and let her sob out her joy and her weariness on his shoulder.

“But it was a help,” she sighed at last, wiping her eyes on her kitchen apron. “And I don't know how I'm going to do my spring sewing without it.”

John stretched out his right leg, thrust his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a ragged leather purse, not too well filled.

“What's mine's yours, Mary,” he said, tossing it into her lap. “Get a seamstress to do your sewing. If I catch you at that machine again, I'll make kindlin' wood and old iron out of it, and if that agent ever comes on the place again with his blamed charts, there's a loaded shotgun waitin' for him.”

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page