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 soldwell, 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 chartsoffer 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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 enforcedeven self-enforcedsubmission
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'
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
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
You, Matty! The second warning came in strong tones and with a
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
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
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
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
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
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
On the old secretary. I saw it there just before dinner, answered
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 youI believeyes, 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
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.