Min by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The morning sun hung, a red, lustreless ball, in the dull grey sky. A
light snow had fallen in the night and the landscape, crossed by
spider-like trails of fences, was as white and lifeless as if wrapped
in a shroud.
A young man was driving down the road to Rykman's Corner; the youthful
face visible above the greatcoat was thoughtful and refined, the eyes
deep blue and peculiarly beautiful, the mouth firm yet sensitive. It
was not a handsome face, but there was a strangely subtle charm about
The chill breathlessness of the air seemed prophetic of more snow. The
Reverend Allan Telford looked across the bare wastes and cold white
hills and shivered, as if the icy lifelessness about him were slowly
and relentlessly creeping into his own heart and life.
He felt utterly discouraged. In his soul he was asking bitterly what
good had come of all his prayerful labours among the people of this
pinched, narrow world, as rugged and unbeautiful in form and life as
the barren hills that shut them in.
He had been two years among them and he counted it two years of
failure. He had been too outspoken for them; they resented sullenly
his direct and incisive tirades against their pet sins. They viewed
his small innovations on their traditional ways of worship with
disfavour and distrust and shut him out of their lives with an
ever-increasing coldness. He had meant well and worked hard and he
felt his failure keenly.
His thoughts reverted to a letter received the preceding day from a
former classmate, stating that the pastorate of a certain desirable
town church had become vacant and hinting that a call was to be
moderated for him unless he signified his unwillingness to accept.
Two years before, Allan Telford, fresh from college and full of
vigorous enthusiasm and high ideas, would have said:
"No, that is not for me. My work must lie among the poor and lowly of
earth as did my Master's. Shall I shrink from it because, to worldly
eyes, the way looks dreary and uninviting?"
Now, looking back on his two years' ministry, he said wearily:
"I can remain here no longer. If I do, I fear I shall sink down into
something almost as pitiful as one of these canting, gossiping people
myself. I can do them no good—they do not like or trust me. I will
accept this call and go back to my own world."
Perhaps the keynote of his failure was sounded in his last words, "my
own world." He had never felt, or tried to feel, that this narrow
sphere was his own world. It was some lower level to which he had come
with good tidings and honest intentions but, unconsciously, he had
held himself above it, and his people felt and resented this. They
expressed it by saying he was "stuck-up."
Rykman's Corner came into view as he drove over the brow of a long
hill. He hated the place, knowing it well for what it was—a festering
hotbed of gossip and malice, the habitat of all the slanderous rumours
and innuendoes that permeated the social tissue of the community. The
newest scandal, the worst-flavoured joke, the latest details of the
most recent quarrel, were always to be had at Rykman's store.
As the minister drove down the hill, a man came out of a small house
at the foot and waited on the road. Had it been possible Telford would
have pretended not to see him, but it was not possible, for Isaac
Galletly meant to be seen and hailed the minister cheerfully.
"Good mornin', Mr. Telford. Ye won't mind giving me a lift down to the
Corner, I dessay?"
Telford checked his horse reluctantly and Galletly crawled into the
cutter. He was that most despicable of created beings, a male gossip,
and he spent most of his time travelling from house to house in the
village, smoking his pipe in neighbourly kitchens and fanning into an
active blaze all the smouldering feuds of the place. He had been
nicknamed "The Morning Chronicle" by a sarcastic schoolteacher who had
sojourned a winter at the Corner. The name was an apt one and clung.
Telford had heard it.
I suppose he is starting out on his rounds now, he thought.
Galletly plunged undauntedly into the conversational gap.
"Quite a fall of snow last night. Reckon we'll have more 'fore long.
That was a grand sermon ye gave us last Sunday, Mr. Telford. Reckon it
went home to some folks, judgin' from all I've heard. It was needed
and that's a fact. 'Live peaceably with all men'—that's what I lay
out to do. There ain't a house in the district but what I can drop
into and welcome. 'Tain't everybody in Rykman's Corner can say the
Galletly squinted out of the corner of his eye to see if the minister
would open on the trail of this hint. Telford's passive face was
discouraging but Galletly was not to be baffled.
"I s'pose ye haven't heard about the row down at Palmers' last night?"
The monosyllable was curt. Telford was vainly seeking to nip
Galletly's gossip in the bud. The name of Palmer conveyed no especial
meaning to his ear. He knew where the Palmer homestead was, and that
the plaintive-faced, fair-haired woman, whose name was Mrs. Fuller and
who came to church occasionally, lived there. His knowledge went no
further. He had called three times and found nobody at home—at least,
to all appearances. Now he was fated to have the whole budget of some
vulgar quarrel forced on him by Galletly.
"No? Everyone's talkin' of it. The long and short of it is that Min
Palmer has had a regular up-and-down row with Rose Fuller and turned
her and her little gal out of doors. I believe the two women had an
awful time. Min's a Tartar when her temper's up—and that's pretty
often. Nobody knows how Rose managed to put up with her so long. But
she has had to go at last. Goodness knows what the poor critter'll do.
She hasn't a cent nor a relation—she was just an orphan girl that
Palmer brought up. She is at Rawlingses now. Maybe when Min cools off,
she'll let her go back but it's doubtful. Min hates her like p'isen."
To Telford this was all very unintelligible. But he understood that
Mrs. Fuller was in trouble of some kind and that it was his duty to
help her if possible, although he had an odd and unaccountable
aversion to the woman, for which he had often reproached himself.
"Who is this woman you call Min Palmer?" he said coldly. "What are the
family circumstances? I ought to know, perhaps, if I am to be of any
service—but I have no wish to hear idle gossip."
His concluding sentence was quite unheeded by Galletly.
"Min Palmer's the worst woman in Rykman's Corner—or out of it. She
always was an odd one. I mind her when she was a girl—a saucy,
black-eyed baggage she was! Handsome, some folks called her. I never
c'd see it. Her people were a queer crowd and Min was never brung up
right—jest let run wild all her life. Well, Rod Palmer took to
dancin' attendance on her. Rod was a worthless scamp. Old Palmer was
well off and Rod was his only child, but this Rose lived there and
kept house for them after Mis' Palmer died. She was a quiet,
well-behaved little creetur. Folks said the old man wanted Rod to
marry her—dunno if 'twas so or not. In the end, howsomever, he had
to marry Min. Her brother got after him with a horse-whip, ye
understand. Old Palmer was furious but he had to give in and Rod
brought her home. She was a bit sobered down by her trouble and lived
quiet and sullen-like at first. Her and Rod fought like cat and dog.
Rose married Osh Fuller, a worthless, drunken fellow. He died in a
year or so and left Rose and her baby without a roof over their heads.
Then old Palmer went and brought her home. He set great store by Rose
and he c'dn't bear Min. Min had to be civil to Rose as long as old
Palmer lived. Fin'lly Rod up and died and 'twasn't long before his
father went too. Then the queer part came in. Everyone expected that
he'd purvide well for Rose and Min'd come in second best. But no will
was to be found. I don't say but what it was all right, mind you. I
may have my own secret opinion, of course. Old Palmer had a regular
mania, as ye might say, for makin' wills. He'd have a lawyer out from
town every year and have a new will made and the old one burnt. Lawyer
Bell was there and made one 'bout eight months 'fore he died. It was
s'posed he'd destroyed it and then died 'fore he'd time to make
another. He went off awful sudden. Anyway, everything went to Min's
child—to Min as ye might say. She's been boss. Rose still stayed on
there and Min let her, which was more than folks expected of her. But
she's turned her out at last. Min's in one of her tantrums now and
'tain't safe to cross her path."
"What is Mrs. Fuller to do?" asked Telford anxiously.
"That's the question. She's sickly—can't work much—and then she has
her leetle gal. Min was always jealous of that child. It's a real
purty, smart leetle creetur and old Palmer made a lot of it. Min's own
is an awful-looking thing—a cripple from the time 'twas born. There's
no doubt 'twas a jedgement on her. As for Rose, no doubt the god of
the widow and fatherless will purvide for her."
In spite of his disgust, Telford could not repress a smile at the
tone, half-whine, half-snuffle, with which Galletly ended up.
"I think I had better call and see this Mrs. Palmer," he said slowly.
"'Twould be no airthly use, Mr. Telford. Min'd slam the door in your
face if she did nothing worse. She hates ministers and everything
that's good. She hasn't darkened a church door for years. She never
had any religious tendency to begin with, and when there was such a
scandal about her, old Mr. Dinwoodie, our pastor then—a godly man,
Mr. Telford—he didn't hold no truck with evildoers—he went right to
her to reprove and rebuke her for her sins. Min, she flew at him. She
vowed then she'd never go to church again, and she never has. People
hereabouts has talked to her and tried to do her good, but it ain't no
use. Why, I've heard that woman say there was no God. It's a fact, Mr.
Telford—I have. Some of our ministers has tried to visit her. They
didn't try it more than once. The last one—he was about your heft—he
got a scare, I tell you. Min just caught him by the shoulder and shook
him like a rat! Didn't see it myself but Mrs. Rawlings did. Ye ought
to hear her describin' of it."
Galletly chuckled over the recollection, his wicked little eyes
glistening with delight. Telford was thankful when they reached the
store. He felt that he could not endure this man's society any
Nevertheless, he felt strangely interested. This Min Palmer must at
least be different from the rest of the Cornerites, if only in the
greater force of her wickedness. He almost felt as if her sins on the
grand scale were less blameworthy than the petty vices of her
Galletly eagerly joined the group of loungers on the dirty wet
platform, and Telford passed into the store. A couple of slatternly
women were talking to Mrs. Rykman about "the Palmer row." Telford made
his small purchases hastily. As he turned from the counter, he came
face to face with a woman who had paused in the doorway to survey the
scene with an air of sullen scorn. By some subtle intuition Telford
knew that this was Min Palmer.
The young man's first feeling was one of admiration for the woman
before him, who, in spite of her grotesque attire and defiant,
unwomanly air, was strikingly beautiful. She was tall, and not even
the man's ragged overcoat which she wore could conceal the grace of
her figure. Her abundant black hair was twisted into a sagging knot at
her neck, and from beneath the old fur cap looked out a pair of large
and brilliant black eyes, heavily lashed, and full of a smouldering
fire. Her skin was tanned and coarsened, but the warm crimson blood
glowed in her cheeks with a dusky richness, and her face was a perfect
oval, with features chiselled in almost classic regularity of outline.
Telford had a curious experience at that moment. He seemed to see,
looking out from behind this external mask of degraded beauty, the
semblance of what this woman might have been under more favouring
circumstance of birth and environment, wherein her rich, passionate
nature, potent for either good or evil, might have been trained and
swayed aright until it had developed grandly out into the glorious
womanhood the Creator must have planned for her. He knew, as if by
revelation, that this woman had nothing in common with the narrow,
self-righteous souls of Rykman's Corner. Warped and perverted though
her nature might be, she was yet far nobler than those who sat in
judgement upon her.
Min made some scanty purchases and left the store quickly, brushing
unheedingly past the minister as she did so. He saw her step on a
rough wood-sleigh and drive down the river road. The platform loungers
had been silent during her call, but now the talk bubbled forth anew.
Telford was sick at heart as he drove swiftly away. He felt for Min
Palmer a pity he could not understand or analyze. The attempt to
measure the gulf between what she was and what she might have been
hurt him like the stab of a knife.
He made several calls at various houses along the river during the
forenoon. After dinner he suddenly turned his horse towards the Palmer
place. Isaac Galletly, comfortably curled up in a neighbour's chimney
corner, saw him drive past.
"Ef the minister ain't goin' to Palmers' after all!" he chuckled.
"He's a set one when he does take a notion. Well, I warned him what to
expect. If Min claws his eyes out, he'll only have himself to blame."
Telford was not without his own misgivings as he drove into the Palmer
yard. He tied his horse to the fence and looked doubtfully about him.
Untrodden snowdrifts were heaped about the front door, so he turned
towards the kitchen and walked slowly past the bare lilac trees along
the fence. There was no sign of life about the place. It was beginning
to snow again, softly and thickly, and the hills and river were hidden
behind a misty white veil.
He lifted his hand to knock, but before he could do so, the door was
flung open and Min herself confronted him on the threshold.
She did not now have on the man's overcoat which she had worn at the
store, and her neat, close-fitting home-spun dress revealed to
perfection the full, magnificent curves of her figure. Her splendid
hair was braided about her head in a glossy coronet, and her dark eyes
were ablaze with ill-suppressed anger. Again Telford was overcome by a
sense of her wonderful loveliness. Not all the years of bondage to
ill-temper and misguided will had been able to blot out the beauty of
that proud, dark face.
She lifted one large but shapely brown hand and pointed to the gate.
"Go!" she said threateningly.
"Mrs. Palmer," began Telford, but she silenced him with an imperious
"I don't want any of your kind here. I hate all you ministers. Did you
come here to lecture me? I suppose some of the Corner saints set you
on me. You'll never cross my threshold."
Telford returned her defiant gaze unflinchingly. His dark-blue eyes,
magnetic in their power and sweetness, looked gravely, questioningly,
into Min's stormy orbs. Slowly the fire and anger faded out of her
face and her head drooped.
"I ain't fit for you to talk to anyway," she said with a sort of
sullen humility. "Maybe you mean well but you can't do me any good.
I'm past that now. The Corner saints say I'm possessed of the devil.
Perhaps I am—if there is one."
"I do mean well," said Telford slowly. "I did not come here to reprove
you. I came to help you if I could—if you needed help, Mrs. Palmer—"
"Don't call me that," she interrupted passionately. She flung out her
hands as if pushing some loathly, invisible thing from her. "I hate
the name—as I hated all who ever bore it. I never had anything but
wrong and dog-usage from them all. Call me Min—that's the only name
that belongs to me now. Go—why don't you go? Don't stand there
looking at me like that. I'm not going to change my mind. I don't want
any praying and whining round me. I've been well sickened of that.
Telford threw back his head and looked once more into her eyes. A long
look passed between them. Then he silently lifted his cap and, with no
word of farewell, he turned and went down to the gate. A bitter sense
of defeat and disappointment filled his heart as he drove away.
Min stood in the doorway and watched the sleigh out of sight down the
river road. Then she gave a long, shivering sigh that was almost a
"If I had met that man long ago," she said slowly, as if groping
vaguely in some hitherto unsounded depth of consciousness, "I would
never have become what I am. I felt that as I looked at him—it all
came over me with an awful sickening feeling—just as if we were
standing alone somewhere out of the world where there was no need of
words to say things. He doesn't despise me—he wouldn't sneer at me,
bad as I am, like those creatures up there. He could have helped me
if we had met in time, but it's too late now."
She locked her hands over her eyes and groaned, swaying her body to
and fro as one in mortal agony. Presently she looked out again with
hard, dry eyes.
"What a fool I am!" she said bitterly. "How the Corner saints would
stare if they saw me! I suppose some of them do—" with a glance at
the windows of a neighbouring house. "Yes, there's Mrs. Rawlings
staring out and Rose peeking over her shoulder."
Her face hardened. The old sway of evil passion reasserted itself.
"She shall never come back here—never. Oh, she was a sweet-spoken cat
of a thing—but she had claws. I've been blamed for all the trouble.
But if ever I had a chance, I'd tell that minister how she used to
twit and taunt me in that sugary way of hers—how she schemed and
plotted against me as long as she could. More fool I to care what he
thinks either! I wish I were dead. If 'twasn't for the child, I'd go
and drown myself at that black spring-hole down there—I'd be well out
of the way."
It was a dull grey afternoon a week afterwards when Allan Telford
again walked up the river road to the Palmer place. The wind was
bitter and he walked with bent head to avoid its fury. His face was
pale and worn and he looked years older.
He paused at the rough gate and leaned over it while he scanned the
house and its surroundings eagerly. As he looked, the kitchen door
opened and Min, clad in the old overcoat, came out and walked swiftly
across the yard.
Telford's eyes followed her with pitiful absorption. He saw her lead a
horse from the stable and harness it into a wood-sleigh loaded with
bags of grain. Once she paused to fling her arms about the animal's
neck, laying her face against it with a caressing motion.
The pale minister groaned aloud. He longed to snatch her forever from
that hard, unwomanly toil and fold her safely away from jeers and
scorn in the shelter of his love. He knew it was madness—he had told
himself so every hour in which Min's dark, rebellious face had haunted
him—yet none the less was he under its control.
Min led the horse across the yard and left it standing before the
kitchen door; she had not seen the bowed figure at the gate. When she
reappeared, he saw her dark eyes and the rose-red lustre of her face
gleam out from under the old crimson shawl wrapped about her head.
As she caught the horse by the bridle, the kitchen door swung heavily
to with a sharp, sudden bang. The horse, a great, powerful, nervous
brute, started wildly and then reared in terror.
The ice underfoot was glib and treacherous. Min lost her foothold and
fell directly under the horse's hoofs as they came heavily down. The
animal, freed from her detaining hand, sprang forward, dragging the
laden sleigh over the prostrate woman.
It had all passed in a moment. The moveless figure lay where it had
fallen, one outstretched hand still grasping the whip. Telford sprang
over the gate and rushed up the slope like a madman. He flung himself
on his knees beside her.
"Min! Min!" he called wildly.
There was no answer. He lifted her in his arms and staggered into the
house with his burden, his heart stilling with a horrible fear as he
laid her gently down on the old lounge in one corner of the kitchen.
The room was a large one and everything was neat and clean. The fire
burned brightly, and a few green plants were in blossom by the south
window. Beside them sat a child of about seven years who turned a
startled face at Telford's reckless entrance.
The boy had Min's dark eyes and perfectly chiselled features, refined
by suffering into cameo-like delicacy, and the silken hair fell in
soft, waving masses about the spiritual little face. By his side
nestled a tiny dog, with satin ears and paws fringed as with ravelled
Telford paid heed to nothing, not even the frightened child. He was as
"Min," he wailed again, striving tremblingly to feel her pulse while
cold drops came out on his forehead.
Min's face was as pallid as marble, save for one heavy bruise across
the cheek and a cruel cut at the edge of the dark hair, from which the
blood trickled down on the pillow.
She opened her eyes wonderingly at his call, looking up with a dazed,
appealing expression of pain and dread. A low moan broke from her
white lips. Telford sprang to his feet in a tumult of quivering joy.
"Min, dear," he said gently, "you have been hurt—not seriously, I
hope. I must leave you for a minute while I run for help—I will not
"Come back," said Min in a low but distinct tone.
He paused impatiently.
"It is of no use to get help," Min went on calmly. "I'm dying—I know
it. Oh, my God!"
She pressed her hand to her side and writhed. Telford turned
desperately to the door. Min raised her arm.
"Come here," she said resolutely.
He obeyed mutely. She looked up at him with bright, unquailing eyes.
"Don't you go one step—don't leave me here to die alone. I'm past
help—and I've something to say to you. I must say it and I haven't
Telford hardly heeded her in his misery.
"Min, let me go for help—let me do something," he implored. "You must
not die—you must not!"
Min had fallen back, gasping, on the blood-stained pillow.
He knelt beside her and put his arm about the poor, crushed body.
"I must hurry," she said faintly. "I can't die with it on my mind.
Rose—it's all hers—all. There was a will—he made it—old Gran'ther
Palmer. He always hated me. I found it before he died—and read it. He
left everything to her—not a cent to me nor his son's child—we were
to starve—beg. I was like a madwoman. When he died—I hid the will. I
meant—to burn it—but I never could. It's tortured me—night and
day—I've had no peace. You'll find it in a box—in my room. Tell
her—tell Rose—how wicked I've been. And my boy—what will become of
him? Rose hates him—she'll turn him out—or ill-treat him—"
Telford lifted his white, drawn face.
"I will take your child, Min. He shall be to me as my own son."
An expression of unspeakable relief came into the dying woman's face.
"It is good—of you. I can die—in peace—now. I'm glad to die—to get
clear of it all. I'm tired—of living so. Perhaps—I'll have a
chance—somewhere else. I've never—had any—here."
The dark eyes drooped—closed. Telford moaned shudderingly.
Once again Min opened her eyes and looked straight into his.
"If I had met you—long ago—you would have—loved me—and I would
have been—a good woman. It is well for us—for you—that I am—dying.
Your path will be clear—you will be good and successful—but you will
Telford bent and pressed his lips to Min's pain-blanched mouth.
"Do you think—we will—ever meet again?" she said faintly. "Out
there—it's so dark—God can never—forgive me—I've been so—wicked."
"Min, the all-loving Father is more merciful than man. He will forgive
you, if you ask Him, and you will wait for me till I come. I will stay
here and do my duty—I will try hard—"
His voice broke. Min's great black eyes beamed out on him with
passionate tenderness. The strong, deep, erring nature yielded at
last. An exceeding bitter cry rose to her lips.
"Oh, God—forgive me—forgive me!"
And with the cry, the soul of poor suffering, sinning, sinned-against
Min Palmer fled—who shall say whither? Who shall say that her
remorseful cry was not heard, even at that late hour, by a Judge more
merciful than her fellow creatures?
Telford still knelt on the bare floor, holding in his arms the dead
form of the woman he loved—his, all his, in death, as she could never
have been in life. Death had bridged the gulf between them.
The room was very silent. To Min's face had returned something of its
girlhood's innocence. The hard, unlovely lines were all smoothed out.
The little cripple crept timidly up to Telford, with the silky head of
the dog pressed against his cheek. Telford gathered the distorted
little body to his side and looked earnestly into the small
face—Min's face, purified and spiritualized. He would have it near
him always. He bent and reverently kissed the cold face, the closed
eyelids and the blood-stained brow of the dead woman. Then he stood
"Come with me, dear," he said gently to the child.
The day after the funeral, Allan Telford sat in the study of his
little manse among the encircling wintry hills. Close to the window
sat Min's child, his small, beautiful face pressed against the panes,
and the bright-eyed dog beside him.
Telford was writing in his journal.
"I shall stay here—close to her grave. I shall see it every time I
look from my study window—every time I stand in my pulpit—every time
I go in and out among my people. I begin to see wherein I have failed.
I shall begin again patiently and humbly. I wrote today to decline the
C—— church call. My heart and my work are here."
He closed the book and bowed his head on it. Outside the snow fell
softly; he knew that it was wrapping that new-made grave on the cold,
fir-sentinelled hillside with a stainless shroud of infinite purity