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Mis' Wadleigh's Guest by Alice Brown

Tale of New England Life

Cyrus Pendleton sat by the kitchen fire, his stockinged feet, in the oven, and his; hands stretched out toward the kettles, which were bubbling prosperously away, and puffing a cloud of steam, into his face. He was a meagre, sad-colored man, with mutton-chop whiskers so thin as to lie like a shadow on his fallen cheeks; and his glance, wherever it fell, Seemed to deprecate reproof. Thick layers of flannel swathed his throat, and from time to time, he coughed wheezingly, with the air of one who, having a cold, was determined to be conscientious about it. A voice from the buttery began pouring forth words only a little slower than the blackbird sings, and with no more reference to reply.

“Cyrus, don't you feel a mite better? Though I dunno how you could, expect to, arter such a night as you had on't, puffin' an' blowin'!” Mrs. Pendleton followed the voice. She seemed to be borne briskly in on its wings, and came scudding over the kitchen sill, carrying a pan of freshly sifted flour. She set it down on the table, and began “stirrin' up.” “I dunno where you got such a cold, unless it's in the air,” she continued. “Folks say they're round, nowadays, an' you ketch 'em, jest as you would the mumps. But there! nobody on your side or mine ever had the mumps, as long as I can remember. Except Elkanah, though! an' he ketched 'em down to Portsmouth, when he went off on that fool's arrant arter elwives. Do you s'pose you could eat a mite o' fish for dinner?”

“I was thinkin'—” interposed Cyrus, mildly; but his wife swept past him, and took the road.

“I dunno's there's any use in gittin' a real dinner, jest you an' me, an' you not workin' either. Folks say there's more danger of eatin' too much'n too little. Gilman Lane, though, he kep' eatin' less an' less, an' his stomach dried all up, till 'twa'n't no bigger'n a bladder. Look here, you! I shouldn't wonder a mite if you'd got some o' them stomach troubles along with your cold. You 'ain't acted as if you'd relished a meal o' victuals for nigh onto ten days. Soon as I git my hands out o' the flour, I'll look in the doctor's book, an' find out. My! how het up I be!” She wiped her hands on the roller towel, and unpinned the little plaid shawl drawn tightly across her shoulders, Its removal disclosed a green sontag, and under that manifold layers of jacket and waist. She was amply protected from the cold. “I dunno's I ought to ha' stirred up rye'n' Injun,” she went on, returning to her vigorous tossing and mixing at the table. “Some might say the steam was bad for your lungs. Anyhow, the doctor's book holds to't you've got to pick out a dry climate, if you don't want to go into a decline. Le' me see! when your Aunt Mattie was took, how long was it afore she really gi'n up? Arter she begun to cough, I mean?”

Cyrus moved uneasily.

“I dunno,” he said, hastily. “I never kep' the run o' such things.”

But Mirandy, pouring her batter into the pan, heeded him no more than was her wont.

“I s'pose that was real gallopin' consumption,” she said, with relish.” I must ask Sister Sarah how long 'twas, next time I see her. She set it down with the births an' deaths.”

Cyrus was moved to some remonstrance. He often felt the necessity of asserting himself, lest he should presently hear his own passing-bell and epitaph.

“I guess you needn't stop steamin' bread for me! I ain't half so stuffed up as I was yisterday!”

Mrs. Pendleton clapped the loaf into the pot, wrinkling her face over the cloud of steam that came puffing into it.

“There!” she exclaimed. “Now perhaps I can git a minute to se' down. I ain't bound a shoe to-day. My! who's that out this weather?”

The side door was pushed open, and then shut with a bang. A vigorous stamping of snow followed, and the inner door swung in to admit a woman, very short, very stout, with a round, apple-cheeked face, and twinkling eyes looking out from the enveloping folds of a gray cloud.

“Well!” she said, in a cheery voice, beginning at once to unwind the cloud, “here I be! Didn't think I'd rain down, did ye? I thought myself, one spell, I should freeze afore I fell!”

Mrs. Pendleton hurried forward, wiping her hands on her apron as she went.

“For the land's sake, Marthy Wadleigh!” she cried, laying hold of the new-comer by the shoulders, and giving her an ineffectual but wholly delighted shake. “Well, I never! Who brought you over? Though I dunno which way you come. I 'ain't looked out—”

“I walked from the corner,” said Mrs. Wadleigh, who never felt any compunction about interrupting her old neighbor. She was unpinning her shawl composedly, as one sure of a welcome. “How do, Cyrus? Jim Thomas took me up jest beyond the depot, an' give me a lift on his sled; but I was all of a shiver, an' at the corner, I told him he better let me step down an' walk. So I come the rest o' the way afoot an' alone. You ain't goin' to use the oven, be ye? I'll jest stick my feet in a minute. No, Cyrus, don't you move! I'll take t'other side. I guess we sha'n't come to 'blows over it.”

She seemed to have brought into the kitchen, with that freshness of outdoor air which the new-comer bears, like a balsam, in his garments, a breath of fuller life, and even of jollity. As she sat there in her good brown dress, with her worked collar, fastened by a large cameo, her gold beads just showing, and her plump hands folded on a capacious lap, she looked the picture of jovial content, quite able to take care of herself, and perhaps apply a sturdy shoulder to the lagging machinery of the world.

“Didn't you git word I was comin' this week?” she asked. “I sent you a line.”

“No, we 'ain't been so fur's the post-office,” answered Mirandy, absently. She was debating over her most feasible bill of fare, now that a “pick-up dinner” seemed no longer possible. Moreover, she had something on her mind, and she could not help thinking how unfortunate it was that Cyrus shared her secret. Who could tell at what moment he might broach it? She doubted his discretion. “The roads wa'n't broke out till day before yisterday.”

“I shouldn't think they were!” said Mrs. Wadleigh, scornfully, testing the heat with a hand on her skirt, and then lifting the breadths back over her quilted petticoat. “I thought that would be the way on't, but I'd made up my mind to come, an' come I would. Cyrus, what's the matter o' you? Nothin' more'n a cold, is it?”

Cyrus had withdrawn from the stove, and was feeling his chin, uncertainly.

“Oh, no, I guess not,” he said. “We've been kind o' peaked, for a week or two, all over the neighborhood; but I guess we shall come out on't, now we've got into the spring. Mirandy, you git me a mite o' hot water, an' I'll see if I can't shave.”

Mirandy was vigorously washing potatoes at the sink, but she turned, in ever-ready remonstrance.

“Shave!” she ejaculated, “Well, I guess you won't shave, such a day as this, in that cold bedroom, with a stockin'-leg round your throat, an' all! You want to git your death? Why, 'twas only last night, Marthy, he had a hemlock sweat, an' all the ginger tea I could git down into him! An' then I didn't know—”

“Law! let him alone!” said Marthy, with a comfortable, throaty laugh. “He'll feel twice as well, git some o' them things off his neck. Here, Cyrus, you reach me down your mug—ain't them your shavin' things up there?—an' I'll fill it for you. You git him a piece o' flannel, Mirandy, to put on when he's washed up an' took all that stuff off his throat. Why, he's got enough wool round there, if 'twas all in yarn, to knit Old Tobe a pair o' mittins! An' they say one o' his thumbs was bigger'n the hand o' Providence. You don't want to try all the goodness out of him, do ye?”

Cyrus gave one swift glance at his wife. “There! you see!” it said plainly. “I am not without defenders.” He took down his shaving-mug, with an air of some bravado. But Mirandy was no shrew; she was simply troubled about many things.

“Well,” she said, compressing her lips, and wrinkling her forehead in resignation. “If folks want to kill themselves, I can't hender 'em! But when he's down ag'in, I shall be the one to take care of him, that's all. Here, Cyrus, don't you go into that cold bedroom. You shave you here, if you're determined to do it.”

So Cyrus, after honing his razor, with the pleasure of a bored child provided at last with occupation, betook himself to the glass set in the lower part of the clock, and there, with much contortion of his thin visage, proceeded to shave. Mirandy put her potatoes on to boil, and set the fish on the stove to freshen; then She sat down by the window, with a great basket beside her, and began to bind shoes.

“Here,” said Mrs. Wadleigh, coming to her feet and adjusting her skirt, “you give me a needle! I've got my thimble right here in my pocket. It's three months sence I've seen a shoe. I should admire to do a pair or two. I wish I could promise ye more, but somehow I'm bewitched to git over home right arter dinner!”

Mrs. Pendleton laid down her work, and leaned back in her chair. Cyrus turned, cleared his throat, and looked at her.

“Marthy,” said the hostess, “you ain't goin' over there to that lonesome house, this cold snap?”

“Ain't I?” asked Mrs. Wadleigh, composedly, as she trimmed the top of her shoe preparatory to binding it. “Well, you see'f I ain't!”

“In the fust place,” went on Mrs. Pendleton, nervously, “the cross-road ain't broke out, an' you can't git there. I dunno's a horse could plough through; an' s'posin' they could, Cyrus ain't no more fit to go out an' carry you over'n a fly.”

“Don't you worry,” said Mrs. Wadleigh, binding off one top. “While I've got my own legs, I don't mean to be beholden to nobody. I've had a proper nice time all winter, fust with Lucy an' then with Ann,—an' I tell ye 'tain't everybody that's got two darters married so well!—but for the last fortnight, I've been in a real tew to come home. They've kep' me till I wouldn't stay no longer, an' now I've got so near as this, I guess I ain't goin' to stop for nobody!”

Mrs. Pendleton looked despairingly at her husband; and he, absently wiping his razor on a bit of paper, looked at her.

“Marthy!” she burst forth. “No, Cyrus, don't you say one word! You can't go! There's somebody there!”

Mrs. Wadleigh, in turn, put down her work.

“Somebody there!” she ejaculated. “Where?”

“In your house!”

“In my house? What for?”

“I dunno,” said Mirandy, unhappily.

“Dunno? Well, what are they doin' there?”

“I dunno that. We only know there's somebody there.”

Here the brown-bread kettle boiled over, creating a diversion; and Mirandy gladly rose to set it further back. A slight heat had come into Mrs. Wadleigh's manner.

“Cyrus,” said she, with emphasis, “I should like to have you speak. I left that house in your care. I left the key with you, an' I should like to know who you've been an' got in there.”

Cyrus opened his mouth, and then closed it again without saying a word. He looked appealingly at his wife; and she took up the tale with some joy, now that the first plunge had been made.

“Well,” she said, folding her hands in her apron, and beginning to rock back and forth, a little color coming into her cheeks, and her eyes snapping vigorously. “You see, this was the way 'twas. Cyrus, do let me speak!” Cyrus had ineffectually opened his mouth again. “Wa'n't it in November you went away? I thought so. Jest after that first sprinklin' o' snow, that looked as if 'twould lay all winter. Well, we took the key, an' hung it up inside the clock—an' there 'tis now!—an' once a week, reg'lar as the day come round, Cyrus went over, an' opened the winders, an' aired out the house.”

Mrs. Wadleigh sat putting her thimble off and on.

“I know all about that,” she interposed, “but who's in there now? That's what I want to find out.”

“I'm comin' to that. I don't want to git ahead o' my story. An' so't went on till it come two weeks ago Friday, an' Cyrus went over jest the same as ever. An' when he hitched to the gate, he see smoke comin' out o' the chimbly, an' there was a man's face at one square o' glass.” She paused, enjoying her climax.

“Well? Why don't you go ahead? Mirandy Jane Pendleton, I could shake you! You can talk fast enough when somebody else wants the floor! How'd he git in? What'd he say for himself?”

“Why, he never said anything! Cyrus didn't see him.”

“Didn't see him? I thought he see him lookin' out the winder!”

“Why, yes! so he did, but he didn't see him to speak to. He jest nailed up the door, an' come away.”

Mrs. Wadleigh turned squarely upon the delinquent Cyrus, who stood, half-shaven, absently honing his razor.

“Cyrus,” said she, with an alarming decision, “will you open your head, an' tell me what you nailed up that door for? an' where you got your nails? I s'pose you don't carry 'em round with you, ready for any door't happens to need nailin' up?”

This fine sarcasm was not lost on Cyrus. He perceived that he had become the victim of a harsh and ruthless dealing.

“I had the key to the front door with me, an' I thought I'd jest step round an' nail up t'other one,” he said, in the tone of one conscious of right. “There was some nails in the wood-shed. Then I heard somebody steppin' round inside, an' I come away.”

“You come away!” repeated Mrs. Wadleigh, rising in noble wrath. “You nailed up the' door an' come away! Well, if you! ain't a weak sister! Mirandy, you hand me down that key, out o' the clock, while I git my things!”

She walked sturdily across to the bedroom, and Mirandy followed her, wringing her hands in futile entreaty.

“My soul, Marthy! you ain't goin' over there! You'll be killed, as sure as you step foot into the yard. Don't you remember how that hired man down to Sudleigh toled the whole fam'ly out into the barn, one arter another, an' chopped their heads off—”

“You gi' me t'other end o' my cloud,” commanded Mrs. Wadleigh. “I'm glad I've got on stockin'-feet. Where's t'other mittin? Oh! there 'tis, down by the sto'-leg. Cyrus, if you knew how you looked with your face plastered over o' lather, you'd wipe it off, an' hand me down that key. Can't you move? Well, I guess I can reach it myself.”

She dropped the house key carefully into her pocket, and opened the outer door; both Cyrus and his wife knew they were powerless to stop her.

“O Marthy, do come back!” wailed Mrs. Pendleton after her. You 'ain't had a mite o' dinner, an' you'll never git out o' that house alive!”

“I'd rather by half hitch up myself,” began Cyrus; but his wife turned upon him, at the word, bundled him into the kitchen, and shut the door upon him. Then she went back to her post in the doorway, and peered after Mrs. Wadleigh's square figure on the dazzling road, with a melancholy determination to stand by her to the last. Only when it occurred to her that it was unlucky to watch a departing friend out of sight, did she shut the door hastily, and go in to reproach Cyrus and prepare his dinner.

Mrs. Wadleigh plodded steadily onward. Her face had lost its robustness of scorn, and expressed only a cheerful determination. Once or twice her mouth relaxed, in retrospective enjoyment of the scene behind her, and she gave vent to a scornful ejaculation.

“A man in my house!” she said once, aloud. “I guess we'll see!”

She turned into the cross-road, where stood her dear and lonely dwelling, with no neighbors on either side for half a mile, and stopped a moment to gaze about her. The road was almost untravelled, and the snow lay encrusted over the wide fields, sparkling on the heights and blue in the hollows. The brown bushes by a hidden stone-wall broke the sheen entrancingly; here and there a dry leaf fluttered, but only enough to show how still such winter stillness can be, and a flock of little brown birds rose, with a soft whirr, and settled further on. Mrs. Wadleigh pressed her lips together in a voiceless content, and her eyes took on a new brightness. She had lived quite long enough in the town. Rounding a sweeping bend, and ploughing sturdily along, though it was difficult here to find the roadway, she kept her eyes fixed on a patch of sky, over a low elm, where the chimney would first come into view. But just before it stepped forward to meet her, as she had seen it a thousand times, a telltale token forestalled it; a delicate blue haze crept out, in spiral rings, and tinged the sky.

“He's got a fire!” she exclaimed loudly. “He's there! My soul!” Until now the enormity of his offence had not penetrated her understanding. She had heard the fact without realizing it.

The house was ancient but trimly kept, and it stood within a spacious yard, now in billows and mounds of snow, under which lay the treasures inherited by the spring. The trellises on either side the door held the bare clinging arms of jessamine and rose, and the syringa and lilac bushes reached hardily above the snow. As Mrs. Wadleigh approached the door, she gave a rapid glance at the hop-pole in the garden, and wondered if its vine had stood the winter well. That was the third hop vine she'd had from Mirandy Pendleton! Mounting the front steps, she drew forth the key, and put it in the door. It turned readily enough, but though she gave more than one valiant push, the door itself did not yield. It was evidently barricaded.

“My soul!” said Mrs. Wadleigh.

She stepped back, to survey the possibilities of attack; but at that instant, glancing up at the window, she had Cyrus Pendleton's own alarming experience. A head looked out at her, and was quickly withdrawn. It was dark, unkempt, and the movement was stealthy.

“That's him!” said Mrs. Wadleigh, grimly, and returning to the charge, she knocked civilly at the door. No answer. Then she pushed again. It would not yield. She thought of the ladder in the barn, of the small cellar-window; vain hopes, both of them!

“Look here!” she called aloud. “You let me in! I'm the Widder Wadleigh! This is my own house, an' I'm real tried stan'in' round here, knockin' at my own front door. You le'me in, or I shall git my death o' cold!”

No answer; and then Mrs. Wadleigh, as she afterwards explained it, “got mad.” She ploughed her way round the side of the house,—not the side where she had seen the face, but by the “best-room” windows,—and stepped softly up to the back door. Cyrus Pendleton's nail was no longer there. The man had easily pushed it out. She lifted the latch, and set her shoulder against the panel.

“If it's the same old button, it'll give,” she thought. And it did give. She walked steadily across the kitchen toward the clock-room, where the man that moment turned to confront her. He made a little run forward; then, seeing but one woman, he restrained himself. He was not over thirty years old; a tall, well-built fellow, with very black eyes and black hair. His features were good, but just now his mouth was set, and he looked darkly defiant. Of this, however, Mrs. Wadleigh did not think, for she was in a hot rage.

“What under the sun do you mean, lockin' me out o' my own house?” she cried, stretching out her reddened hands to the fire. “An' potaters b'iled all over this good kitchen stove! I declare, this room's a real hog's nest, an' I left it as neat as wax!”

Perhaps no man was ever more amazed than this invader. He stood staring at her in silence.

“Can't you shet the door!” she inquired, fractiously, beginning to untie her cloud. “An' put a stick o' wood in the stove? If I don't git het through, I shall ketch my death!”

He obeyed, seemingly from the inertia of utter surprise. Midway in the act of lifting the stove-cover, he glanced at her in sharp, suspicion.

“Where's the rest?” he asked, savagely. “You ain't alone?”

“Well, I guess I'm alone!” returned Mrs. Wadleigh, drawing off her icy stocking-feet, “an' walked all the way from Cyrus Pendleton's! There ain't nobody likely to be round,” she continued, with grim humor. “I never knew 'twas such a God-forsaken hole, till I'd been away an' come back to 't. No, you needn't be scairt! The road ain't broke out, an' if 'twas, we shouldn't have no callers to-day. It's got round there's a man here, an' I'll warrant the selec'men are all sick abed with colds. But there!” she added, presently, as the soothing warmth of her own kitchen stove began to penetrate, “I dunno's I oughter call it a Godforsaken place. I'm kind o' glad to git back.”

There was silence for a few minutes, while she toasted her feet, and the man stood shambling from one foot to the other and furtively watching her and the road. Suddenly she rose, and lifted a pot-cover.

“What you got for dinner?” she inquired, genially. “I'm as holler's a horn!”

“I put some potatoes on,” said he, gruffly.

“Got any pork? or have you used it all up?”

“I guess there's pork! I 'ain't touched it. I 'ain't eat anything but potatoes; an' I've chopped wood for them, an' for what I burnt.”

“Do tell!” said Mrs. Wadleigh. She set the potatoes forward, where they would boil more vigorously. “Well, you go down sullar an' bring me up a little piece o' pork—streak o' fat an' streak o' lean—an' I'll fry it. I'll sweep up here a mite while you're gone. Why, I never see such a lookin' kitchen! What's your name?” she called after him, as he set his foot on the Upper stair.

He hesitated. “Joe!” he said, falteringly.

“All right, then, Joe, you fly round an' git the pork!” She took down the broom from its accustomed nail, and began sweeping joyously; the man, fishing in the pork-barrel, listened meanwhile to the regular sound above. Once it stopped, and he held his breath for a moment, and stood at bay, ready to dash up the stairs and past his pursuers, had she let them in. But it was only her own step, approaching the cellar door.

“Joe!” she called. “You bring up a dozen apples, Bald'ins. I'll fry them, too.”

Something past one o'clock, they sat down together to as strange a meal as the little kitchen had ever seen. Bread and butter were lacking, but there was quince preserve, drawn from some hidden hoard, the apples and pork, and smoking tea. Mrs. Wadleigh's spirits rose. Home was even better than her dreams had pictured it. She told her strange guest all about her darter Lucy and her darter Ann's children; and he listened, quite dazed and utterly speechless.

“There!” she said at last, rising, “I dunno's I ever eat such a meal o' victuals in my life, but I guess it's better'n many a poor soldier used to have. Now, if you've got some wood to chop, you go an' do it, an' I'll clear up this kitchen; it's a real hurrah's nest, if ever there was one!”

All that afternoon, the stranger chopped wood, pausing, from time to time, to look from the shed door down the country road; and Mrs. Wadleigh, singing “Fly like a Youthful,” “But O! their end, their dreadful end,” and like melodies which had prevailed when she “set in the seats,” flew round, indeed, and set the kitchen in immaculate order. Evidently her guest had seldom left that room. He had slept there on the lounge. He had eaten his potatoes there, and smoked his pipe.

When the early dusk set in, and Mrs. Wadleigh had cleared away their supper of baked potatoes and salt fish, again with libations of quince, she drew up before the shining stove, and put her feet on the hearth.

“Here!” she called to the man, who was sitting uncomfortably on one corner of the woodbox, and eying her with the same embarrassed watchfulness. “You draw up, too! It's the best time o' the day now, 'tween sunset an' dark.”

“I guess I'd better be goin',” he returned, doggedly.

“Goin'? Where?”

“I don't know. But I'm goin'.”

“Now look here,” said Mrs. Wadleigh, with rigor. “You take that chair, an' draw up to the fire. You do as I tell you!”

He did it.

“Now, I can't hender your goin', but if you do go, I've got a word to say to you.”

“You needn't say it! I don't want nobody's advice.”

“Well, you've got to have it jest the same! When you bile potaters, don't you let 'em run over onto the stove. Now you remember! I've had to let the fire go down here, an' scrub till I could ha' cried. Don't you never do such a thing ag'in, wherever you be!”

He could only look at her. This sort of woman was entirely new to his experience.

“But I've got somethin' else to say,” she continued, adjusting her feet more comfortably. “I ain't goin' to turn anybody out into the snow, such a night as this. You're welcome to stay, but I want to know what brought ye here. I ain't one o' them that meddles an' makes, an' if you 'ain't done nothin' out o' the way, an' I ain't called on for a witness, you needn't be afraid o' my tellin'.”

“You will be called on!” he broke in, speaking from a desperation outside his own control. “It's murder! I've killed a man!” He turned upon her with a savage challenge in the motion; but her face was set, placidly forward, and the growing dusk had veiled its meaning.

“Well!” she remarked, at length, “ain't you ashamed to set there talkin' about it! You must have brass enough to line a kittle! Why 'ain't you been, like a man, an' gi'n yourself up, instid o' livin' here, turnin' my kitchen upside down? Now you tell me all about it! It'll do ye good.”

“I'm goin',” said the man, breathing hard as he spoke, “I'm goin' away from here tonight. They never'll take me alive. It was this way. There was a man over where I lived that's most drunk himself under ground, but he ain't too fur gone to do mischief. He told a lie about me, an' lost me my place in the shoe shop. Then one night, I met him goin' home, an' we had words. I struck him. He fell like an ox. I killed him. I didn't go home no more. I didn't even see my wife. I couldn't tell her. I couldn't be took there. So I run away. An' when I got starved out, an' my feet were most froze walkin', I see this house, all shet up, an' I come here.”

He paused; and the silence was broken only by the slow, cosey ticking of the liberated clock.

“Well!” said Mrs. Wadleigh, at last, in a ruminating tone. “Well! well! Be you a drinkin' man?”

“I never was till I lost my job,” he answered, sullenly. “I had a little then. I had a little the night he sassed me.”

“Well! well!” said Mrs. Wadleigh, again. And then she continued, musingly: “So I s'pose you're Joe Mellen, an' the man you struck was Solomon Ray?”

He came to his feet with a spring.

“How'd you know?” he shouted.

“Law! I've been visitin' over Hillside way!” said Mrs. Wadleigh, comfortably. “You couldn't ha' been very smart not to thought o' that when I mentioned my darter Lucy, an' where the childern went to school. No smarter'n you was to depend on that old wooden button! I know all about that drunken scrape. But the queerest part on't was—Solomon Ray didn't die!”

“Didn't die!” the words halted, and he dragged them forth. “Didn't die?”

“Law, no! you can't kill a Ray! They brought him to, an' fixed him up in good shape. I guess you mellered him some, but he's more scairt than hurt. He won't prosecute. You needn't be afraid. He said he dared you to it. There, there now! I wouldn't. My sake alive! le' me git a light!”

For the stranger sat with his head bowed on the table, and he trembled like a child.

Next morning at eight o'clock, Mrs. Wadleigh was standing at the door, in the sparkling light, giving her last motherly injunction to the departing guest.

“You know where the depot is? An' it's the nine o'clock train you've got to take. An' you remember what I said about hayin' time. If you don't have no work by the middle o' May, you drop me a line, an' perhaps I can take you an' your wife, too; Lucy's childern al'ays make a sight o' work. You keep that bill safe, an'—Here, wait a minute! You might stop at Cyrus Pendleton's—it's the fust house arter you pass; the corner—an' ask 'em to put a sparerib an' a pat o' butter into the sleigh, an' ride over here to dinner. You tell 'em I'm as much obleeged to 'em for sendin' over last night to see if I was alive, as if I hadn't been so dead with sleep I couldn't say so. Good-bye! Now, you mind you keep tight hold o' that bill, an', spend it prudent!”

“Is Kelup Rivers comin' over here to-night?” suddenly asked Aunt Melissa Adams, peering over her gold-bowed glasses, and fixing her small shrewd eyes sharply upon her niece.

Amanda did not look up from her fine hemming, but her thin hand trembled almost imperceptibly, and she gave a little start, as if such attacks were not altogether unexpected.

“I don't know,” she answered, in a low tone.

“Dunno! why don't ye know?” said her aunt, beginning to sway back and forth in the old-fashioned rocking-chair, but not once dropping her eyes from Amanda's face. “Don't he come every Saturday night?”

Amanda took another length, of thread, and this time her hand really shook.

“I guess so,” she answered.

“You guess so? Don't ye know? An' if he's come every Saturday night for fifteen year, ain't he comin' to-night? I dunno what makes you act as if you wa'n't sure whether your soul's your own, 'Mandy Green. My dander al'ays rises when I ask you a civil question an' you put on that look.”

Amanda bent more closely over her sewing. She was a woman of thirty-five, with a pathetically slender figure, thin blond hair painstakingly crimped, and anxious blue eyes. Something deprecating lay in her expression; her days had been uncomplainingly sacrificed to the comfort of those she loved, and the desire of peace and good-will had crept into her face and stayed there. Her mother, who looked even slighter than she, and whose cheeks were puckered by wrinkles, sat by the window watching the two with a smile of empty content. Old Lady Green had lost her mind, said the neighbors; but she was sufficiently like her former self to be a source of unspeakable joy and comfort to Amanda, who nursed and petted her as if their positions were reversed, and protected her from the blunt criticism of the literal-tongued neighborhood with a reverential awe belonging to the old days when the fifth commandment was written and obeyed.

“Gold-bowed,” said Mrs. Green, with a look of unalloyed delight, pointing to her sister-in-law's spectacles; and Aunt Melissa repeated indulgently,—

“Yes, yes, gold-bowed. I'll let you take 'em a spell, arter I've set my heel. It'll please her, poor creatur'!” she added, in an audible aside to Amanda. Since the time when Mrs. Green's wits had ceased to work normally, she had treated her sympathetically, but from a lofty eminence. Aunt Melissa was perhaps too prosperous. She sat there, swaying back and forth, in her thin black silk trimmed with narrow rows of velvet, her heavy chin sunk upon a broad collar, worked in her youth, and she seemed to Mrs. Green a vision of majesty and delight, but to Amanda a virtuous censor, necessarily to be obeyed, yet whose presence made the summer day intolerable. Even her purple cap-ribbons bespoke terror to the evil-doer, and her heavy face was set, as a judgment, toward the doom of the man who knew not how to account for his actions. She began speaking again, and Amanda involuntarily gave a little start, as at a lightning flash.

“I says to myself when I drove off, this mornin': 'I'll have a little talk with 'Mandy. I don' go there to spend a day more'n four times a year, an' like as not she'll be glad to have somebody to speak to, seen' 's her mother's how she is.'“

Amanda gave a quick look at Mrs. Green; but the old lady was busily pleating the hem of her apron and then smoothing it out again. Aunt Melissa rocked, and went on:—

“I says to myself: 'Here they let Kelup carry on the farm at the halves, an' go racin' an' trottin' from the other place over here day in an' day out. An' when his Uncle Nat died, two year ago, then was the time for him to come over here an' marry 'Mandy an' carry on the farm. But no, he'd rather hang round the old place, an' sleep in the ell-chamber, an' do their chores for his board, an' keep on a-runnin' over here.' An' when young Nat married, I says to myself, 'That'll make him speak.' But it didn't—an' you 're a laughin'-stock, 'Mandy Green, if ever there was one. Every time the neighbors see him steppin' by Saturday nights, all fixed up, with that brown coat on he's had sence the year one, they have suthin' to say, 'Goin' over to 'Mandy's,' that's what they say. An' on'y last Saturday one on 'em hollered out to me, when I was pickin' a mess o' pease for Sunday, 'Wonder what 'Mandy'll answer when he gits round to askin' of her?' I hadn't a word to say. 'You better go to him,' says I, at last.”

Amanda had put down her sewing in her lap, and was looking steadfastly out of the window, with eyes brimmed by two angry tears. Once she wiped them with a furtive movement of the white garment in her lap; her cheeks were crimson. Aunt Melissa had lashed herself into a cumulative passion of words.

“An' I says to myself, 'If there ain't nobody else to speak to 'Mandy, I will,' I says, when I was combin' my hair this mornin'. 'She 'ain't got no mother,' I says, 'nor as good as none, an' if she 'ain't spunk enough to look out for herself, somebody's got to look out for her.' An' then it all come over me—I'd speak to Kelup himself, an' bein' Saturday night, I knew I should ketch him here.”

“O Aunt Melissa!” gasped Amanda, “you wouldn't do that!”

“Yes, I would, too!” asserted Aunt Melissa, setting her firm lips. “You see if I don't, an' afore another night goes over my head!”

But while Amanda was looking at her, paralyzed with the certainty that no mortal aid could save her from this dire extremity, there came an unexpected diversion. Old Lady Green spoke out clearly and decidedly from her corner, in so rational a voice that it seemed like one calling from the dead.

“'Mandy, what be you cryin' for? You come here an' tell me what 'tis, an' I'll see to't. You'll spile your eyes, 'Mandy, if you take on so.”

“There, there, ma'am! 'tain't anything,” said Amanda, hurrying over to her chair and patting her on the shoulder. “We was just havin' a little spat,—Aunt Melissa an' me; but we've got all over it. Don't you want to knit on your garter a little while now?”

But the old lady kept her glazed eyes fixed on Amanda's face.

“Be you well to-day, 'Mandy?” she said, wistfully. “If you ain't well, you must take suthin'.”

“There, there! don't you make a to-do, an' she'll come round all right,” said Aunt Melissa, moving her chair about so that it faced the old lady. “I'll tell her suthin' to take up her mind a little.” And she continued, in the loud voice which was her concession to Mrs. Green's feebleness of intellect, “They've got a boarder over to the Blaisdells'.”

Mrs. Green sat up straight in her chair, smoothed her apron, and looked at her sister with grateful appreciation.

“Do tell!” she said, primly.

“Yes, they have. Name's Chapman. They thought he was a book agent fust. But he's buyin' up old dishes an' all matter o' truck. He wanted my andirons, an' I told him if I hadn't got a son in a Boston store, he might ha' come round me, but I know the vally o' things now. You don't want to sell them blue coverlids o' yourn, do ye?”

Aunt Melissa sometimes asked the old lady questions from a sense of the requirements of conversation, and she was invariably startled when they elicited an answer.

“Them coverlids I wove myself, fifty-five years ago come next spring,” said Mrs. Green, firmly. “Sally Ann Mason an' me used to set up till the clock struck twelve that year, spinnin' an' weavin'. Then we had a cup or two o' green tea, an' went to bed.”

“Well, you wove 'em, an' you don't want to sell 'em,” said Aunt Melissa, her eyes on her work. “If you do, 'Lijah he'll take 'em right up to Boston for you, an' I warrant he'll git you a new white spread for every one on 'em.”

“That was the year afore I was married,” continued Old Lady Green. “I had a set o' white chiny with lavender sprigs, an' my dress was changeable. He had a flowered weskit. 'Mandy, you go into the clo'es-press in my bedroom an' git out that weskit, an' some o' them quilts, an' my M's an' O's table-cloths.”

Amanda rose and hurried into the bedroom, in spite of Aunt Melissa's whispered comment: “What makes you go to overhaulin' things? She'll forgit it in a minute.”

While she was absent, a smart wagon drove up to the gate, and a young man alighted from it, hitched his horse, and knocked at the front door. Aunt Melissa saw him coming, and peered at him over her glasses with an unrecognizing stare.

“'Mandy!” she called, “'Mandy, here's a pedler or suthin'! If he's got any essences, you ask him for a little bottle o' pep'mint.”

Amanda dropped the pile of coverlets on the sofa, and went to the front door. Presently she reappeared, and with her, smoothly talking her down, came the young man. His eyes lighted first on the coverlets, with a look of cheerful satisfaction.

“Got all ready for me, didn't you?” he asked, briskly. “Heard I was coming, I guess.”

He was a man of an alert Yankee type, with waxed blond mustache and eye-glasses; he was evidently to be classed among those who have exchanged their country honesty for a veneer of city knowingness.

“For the land's sake!” ejaculated Aunt Melissa, as soon as she had him at short range, “you're the one down to Blaisdell's that's buyin' up all the old truck in the neighborhood. Well, you won't git my andirons!”

He had begun to unfold the blue coverlets and examine them with a practised eye, while Amanda stood by, painfully conscious that some decisive action might be required of her; and her mother sat watching the triumph of her quilts in pleased importance.

“They ain't worth much,” he said, dropping them, with a conclusive air. “Fact is, they ain't worth anything, unless any body's got a fancy for such old stuff. I'll tell you what, I'll give you fifty cents apiece for the lot! How many are there here—four? Two dollars, then.”

Amanda took a hasty step forward.

“But we don't want to sell our coverlids!” she said, indignantly, casting an appealing glance at Aunt Melissa.

“I guess they don't want to git rid on 'em,” said that lady, “'specially at such a price. They're wuth more 'n that to cover up the squashes when the frost comes.”

“Mother wove 'em herself,” exclaimed Amanda, irrelevantly. It began to seem to her as if the invader might pack up her mother's treasures and walk off with them.

“Well, then, I s'pose they're hers to do as she likes with?” he said, pleasantly, tipping back, in his chair, and beginning to pare his nails with an air of nicety that fascinated Amanda into watching him. “They're hers, I s'pose?” he continued, looking suddenly and keenly up at her.

“Why, yes,” she answered, “they're mother's, but she don't want to sell. She sets by 'em.”

“Just like me, for all the world,” owned the stranger, “Now there's plenty of folks that wouldn't care a Hannah Cook about such old truck, but it just hits me in the right spot. Mother's doughnuts, mother's mince-pies, I say! Can't improve on them! And when my wife and I bought our little place, I said to her, 'We'll have it all furnished with old-fashioned goods.' And here I am, taking, time away from my business, riding round the country, and paying good money for what's no use to anybody but me.”

“What is your business?” interrupted Aunt Melissa.

“Oh, insurance—a little of everything—Jack-of-all-trades!” Then he turned to Old Mrs. Green, and asked, abruptly, “What'll you take for that clock?”

The old lady followed his alert forefinger until her eyes rested on the tall eight-day clock in the corner. She straightened herself in her chair, and spoke with pride:—

“That was Jonathan's gre't-uncle Samwell's. He wound it every Sunday night, reg'lar as the day come round. I've rubbed that case up till I sweat like rain. 'Mandy she rubs it now.”

“Well, what'll you take?” persisted he, while Amanda, in wordless protest, stepped in front of the clock. “Five dollars?”

“Five dollars,” repeated the old lady, lapsing into senseless iteration. “Yes, five dollars.”

But Aunt Melissa came to the rescue.

“Five dollars for that clock?” she repeated, winding her ball, and running the needles into it with a conclusive stab. “Well, I guess there ain't any eight-day clocks goin' out o' this house for five dollars, if they go at all! 'Mandy, why don't you speak up, an' not stand there like a chicken with the pip?”

“Oh, all right, all right!” said the visitor, shutting his knife with a snap, and getting briskly on his feet. “I don't care much about buying. That ain't a particularly good style of clock, anyway. But I like old things. I may drop in again, just to take a look at 'em. I suppose you're always at home?” he said to Amanda, with his hand on the door.

“Yes; but sometimes I go to Sudleigh with butter. I go Monday afternoons most always, after washin'.”

With a cheerful good-day he was gone, and Amanda drew a long breath of relief.

“Well, some folks have got enough brass to line a kittle,” said Aunt Melissa, carefully folding her knitting-work in a large silk handkerchief. “'Mandy, you'll have to git supper a little earlier'n common for me. I told Hiram to come by half arter six. Do you s'pose Kelup'll be round by that time? I'll wait all night afore I'll give up seein' him.”

“I don't know, Aunt Melissa,” said Amanda, nervously clearing the table of its pile of snowy cloth, and taking a flying glance from the window. She looked like a harassed animal, hunted beyond its endurance; but suddenly a strange light of determination flashed into her face. “Should you just as lieves set the table,” she asked, in a tone of guilty consciousness, “while I start the kitchen fire? You know where things are.” Hardly waiting for an assent, she fled from the room, and once in the kitchen, laid the fire in haste, with a glance from the window to accompany every movement. Presently, by a little path through the field, came a stocky man in blue overalls and the upper garment known as a jumper. He was bound for the pigpen in the rear of the barn; and there Amanda flew to meet him, stopping only to throw an apron over her head. They met at the door. He was a fresh-colored man, with honest brown eyes and a ring of whiskers under the chin. He had a way of blushing, and when Amanda came upon him thus unannounced, he colored to the eyes.

“Why, you're all out o' breath!” he said, in slow alarms.

“O Caleb!” she cried, looking at him with imploring eyes. “I'll feed the pigs to-night.”

Caleb regarded her in dull wonderment. Then he set down the pail he had taken.

“Ain't there any taters to bile?” he asked, solving the difficulty in his own way; “or 'ain't you skimmed the milk? I'd jest as soon wait.”

“You better not wait,” answered Amanda, almost passionately, her thin hair blowing about her temples. “You better go right back. I'd ruther do it myself; I'd a good deal ruther.”

Caleb turned about. He took a few steps, then stopped, and called hesitatingly over his shoulder, “I thought maybe I'd come an' set a spell to-night.”

Then, indeed, Amanda felt her resolution, crack and quiver. “I guess you better come some other night,” she said, in a steady voice, though her face was wet with tears. And Caleb walked away, never once looking back. Amanda stayed only to wipe her eyes, saying meanwhile to her sorry self, “Oh, I dunno how I can get along! I dunno!” Then she hurried back to the house, to find the kettle merrily singing, and Aunt Melissa standing at the kitchen cupboard, looking critically up and down the shelves.

“If you've got two sets o' them little gem-pans, you might lend me one,” she remarked; and Amanda agreed, not knowing what she gave.

The supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, Aunt Melissa meantime keeping a strict watch from the window.

“Is it time for Kelup?” she asked, again and again; and finally she confronted the guilty Amanda with the challenge, “Do you think Kelup ain't comin'?”

“I—guess not,” quavered Amanda, her cheeks scarlet, and her small, pathetic hands trembling. She was not more used to finesse than to heroic action.

“Do you s'pose there's any on 'em sick down to young Nat's?” asked Aunt Melissa; and Amanda was obliged to take recourse again to her shielding “I guess not.” But at length Uncle Hiram drove up in the comfortable carry-all; and though his determined spouse detained him more than three-quarters of an hour, sitting beside him like a portly Rhadamanthus, and scanning the horizon for the Caleb who never came, he finally rebelled, shook the reins, and drove off, Aunt Melissa meantime screaming over her shoulder certain vigorous declarations, which evidently began with the phrase, “You tell Kelup—”

Then Amanda went into the house, and sat down by the window in the gathering dusk, surveying the wreckage of her dream. The dream was even more precious in that it had grown so old. Caleb was a part of her every-day life, and for fifteen years Saturday had brought a little festival, wherein the commonplace man with brown eyes had been high-priest. He would not come to-night. Perhaps he never would come again. She knew what it was to feel widowed.

Sunday passed; and though Caleb fed the pigs and did the barn-work as usual, he spoke but briefly. Even in his customary salutation of “How dee?” Amanda detected a change of tone, and thereafter took flight whenever she heard his step at the kitchen door. So Monday forenoon passed; Caleb brought water for her tubs and put out her clothes-line, but they had hardly spoken. The intangible monster of a misunderstanding had crept between them. But when at noon he asked as usual, though without looking at her, “Goin' to Sudleigh with the butter to-day?” Amanda had reached the limit of her endurance. It seemed to her that she could no longer bear this formal travesty of their old relations, and she answered in haste,—

“No, I guess not.”

“Then you don't want I should set with your mother?”

“No!” And again Caleb turned away, and plodded soberly off to young Nat's.

“I guess I must be crazy,” groaned poor Amanda, as she changed her washing-dress for her brown cashmere. “The butter's got to go, an' now I shall have to harness, an' leave ma'am alone. Oh, I wish Aunt Melissa'd never darkened these doors!”

Everything went wrong with Amanda, that day. The old horse objected to the bits, and occupied twenty minutes in exasperating protest; the wheels had to be greased, and she lost a butter-napkin in the well. Finally, breathless with exertion, she went in to bid her mother good-by, and see that the matches were hidden and the cellar door fastened.

“Now, ma'am,” she said, standing over the little old woman and speaking with great distinctness, “don't you touch the stove, will you? You jest set right here in your chair till I come back, an' I'll bring you a good parcel o' pep'-mints. Here's your garter to knit on, an' here's the almanac. Don't you stir now till I come.”

And so, with many misgivings, she drove away.

When, Amanda came back, she did not stay to unharness, but hurried up to the kitchen door, and called, “You all right, ma'am?” There was no answer, and she stepped hastily across the floor. As she opened the sitting-room door, a low moaning struck her ear. The old lady sat huddled together in, her chair, groaning at intervals, and looking fixedly at the corner of the room.

“O ma'am, what is it? Where be you hurt?” cried Amanda, possessed by an anguish of self-reproach. But the old lady only continued her moaning; and then it was that Amanda noticed her shrivelled and shaking fingers tightly clasped upon a roll of money in her lap.

“Why, ma'am, what you got?” she cried; but even as she spoke, the explanation flashed upon her, and she looked up at the corner of the room. The eight-day clock was gone.

“Here, ma'am, you let me have it,” she said, soothingly; and by dint of further coaxing, she pulled the money from the old lady's tense fingers. There were nine dollars in crisp new bills. Amanda sat looking at them in unbelief and misery.

“O my!” she whispered, at length, “what a world this is! Ma'am, did you tell him he might have 'em?”

“I dunno what Jonathan'll do without that clock,” moaned the old lady. “I see it carried off myself.”

“Did you tell him he might?” cried Amanda, loudly.

“I dunno but I did, but I never'd ha' thought he'd ha' done it. I dunno what time 'tis now;” and she continued her low-voiced lamenting.

“O my Lord!” uttered Amanda, under her breath. Then she roused herself to the present exigency of comfort. “You come an' set in the kitchen a spell,” she said, coaxingly, “an' I'll go an' get the things back.”

Old Lady Green looked at her with that unquestioning trust which was the most pathetic accompaniment of her state. “You'll git 'em back, 'Mandy, won't ye?” she repeated, smiling a little and wiping her eyes. “That's a good gal! So't we can tell what time 'tis.”

Amanda led her into the kitchen, and established her by the window. She shut the door of the denuded sitting-room, and, giving her courage no time to cool, ran across lots to the Blaisdells', the hated money clasped tightly in her hand. The family was at supper, and the stranger with them, when she walked in at the kitchen door. She hurried up to her enemy, and laid the little roll of bills by his plate. Her cheeks were scarlet, her thin hair-flying.

“Here's your money,” she said, in a strained, high voice, “an' I want our things. You hadn't ought to gone over there an' talked over an old lady that—that—”

There she stopped. Amanda had never yet acknowledged that her mother was not in her “perfect mind.” Chapman took out a long pocket-book, and for a moment her courage stood at flood-tide; she thought he was about to accept the money and put it away. But no! He produced a slip of white paper and held it up before her. She bent forward and examined it,—a receipt signed by her mother's shaking hand.

“But it ain't right!” she cried, helpless in her dismay. “Cap'n Jabez, you speak to him! You know how 'tis about mother! She wouldn't any more ha' sold that clock than she'd ha' sold—me!”

Captain Jabez looked at his plate in uncomfortable silence. He was a just man, but he hated to interfere.

“Well, there!” he said, at length, pushing his chair back to leave the table. “It don't seem jestly right to me, but then he's got the resate, an' your mother signed it—an' there 'tis!”

“An' you won't do anything?” cried Amanda, passionately, turning back to the stranger. “You mean to keep them things?”

He was honestly sorry for her, as the business man for the sentimentalist, but he had made a good bargain, and he held it sacred.

“I declare, I wish it hadn't happened so,” he said, good-naturedly. “But the old lady'll get over it. You buy her a nice bright little nickel clock that'll strike the half-hours, and she'll be tickled to death to watch it.”

Amanda turned away and walked out of the house.

“Here,” called Chapman, “come back and get your money!” But she hurried on. “Well, I'll leave it with Captain Jabez,” he called again, “and you can come over and get it. I'm going in the morning, early.”

Amanda was passing the barn, and there, through the open door, she saw the old clock pathetically loaded on the light wagon, protected by burlap, and tied with ropes. The coverlets lay beside it. A sob rose in her throat, but her eyes were dry, and she hurried across lots home. At the back door she found Caleb unharnessing the horse. She had forgotten their misunderstanding in the present practical emergency.

“O Caleb,” she began, before she had reached him, “ma'am's sold the clock an' some coverlids, an' I can't get 'em back!”

“Cap'n Jabez said she had, this arternoon,” said Caleb, slowly, tying a trace. “I dunno's the old lady's to blame. Seem's if she hadn't ought to be left alone.”

“But how'm I goin' to get 'em back?” persisted Amanda, coming close to him, her poor little face pinched and eager. “He jest showed me the receipt, all signed. How'm I goin' to get the things, Caleb?”

“If he's got the receipt, an' the things an' all, an' she took the money, I dunno's you can get 'em,” said Caleb, “unless you could prove in a court o' law that she wa'n't in her right mind. I dunno how that would work.”

Amanda stood looking him in the face. For the first time in all her gentle life she was questioning masculine superiority, and its present embodiment in Caleb Rivers.

“Then you don't see's anything can be done?” she asked, steadily.

“Why, no,” answered Caleb, still reflecting. “Not unless you should go to law.”

“You'd better give the pigs some shorts,” said Amanda, abruptly. “I sha'n't bile any taters, to-night.”

She walked into the house; and as Caleb watched her, it crossed his mind that she looked very tall. He had always thought of her as a little body.

Amanda set her lips, and went about her work. From time to time, she smiled mechanically at her mother; and the old lady, forgetful of her grief now that she was no longer reproached by the empty space on, the wall, sat content and sleepy after her emotion. She was willing to go to bed early; and when Amanda heard her breathing peacefully, she sat down by the kitchen window to wait. The dusk came slowly, and the whippoorwill sang from the deep woods behind the house.

That night at ten o'clock, Caleb Rivers was walking stolidly along the country road, when his ear became aware of a strangely familiar sound,—a steadily recurrent creak. It was advancing, though intermittently. Sometimes it ceased altogether, as if the machinery stopped to rest, and again it began fast and shrill. He rounded a bend of the road, and came full upon a remarkable vision. Approaching him was a wheelbarrow, with a long object balanced across it, and, wheeling it, walked a woman. Caleb was nearly opposite her before his brain translated the scene. Then he stopped short and opened his lips.

“'Mandy,” he cried, “what under the heavens be you a-doin'?”

But Amanda did not pause. Whatever emotion the meeting caused in her was swiftly vanquished, and she wheeled on. Caleb turned and walked by her side. When he had recovered sufficiently from his surprise, he laid a hand upon her wrist.

“You set it down, an' let me wheel a spell,” he said.

But Amanda's small hands only grasped the handles more tightly, and she went on. Caleb had never in his life seen a necessity for passionate remonstrance, but now the moment had come.

“'Mandy,” he kept repeating, at every step, “you give me holt o' them handles! Why, 'Mandy, I should think you was crazy!”

At length, Amanda dropped the handles with a jerk, and turning about, sat down on the edge of the wheelbarrow, evidently to keep the right of possession. Then she began to speak in a high, strained voice, that echoed sharply through the country stillness.

“If you've got to know, I'll tell you, an' you can be a witness, if you want to. It won't do no hurt in a court o' law, because I shall tell myself. I've gone an' got our clock an' our coverlids from where they were stored in the Blaisdells' barn. The man's got his money, an' I've took our things. That's all I've done, an' anybody can know it that's a mind to.”

Then she rose, lifted the handles, and went on, panting. Caleb walked by her side.

“But you ain't afraid o' me, 'Mandy?” he said, imploringly. “Jest you let me wheel it, an' I won't say a word if I never set eyes on you ag'in. Jest you let me wheel, 'Mandy.”

“There ain't anybody goin' to touch a finger to it but me,” said Amanda, shortly. “If anybody's got to be sent to jail for it, it'll be me. I can't talk no more. I 'ain't got any breath to spare.”

But the silence of years had been broken, and Caleb kept on.

“Why, I was goin' over to Blaisdell's myself to buy 'em back. Here's my wallet an' my bank-book. Don't that prove it? I was goin' to pay any price he asked. I set an' mulled over it all the evenin'. It got late, an' then I started. It al'ays has took me a good long spell to make up my mind to things. I wa'n't to blame this arternoon because I couldn't tell what was best to do all of a whew!”

At the beginning of this revelation, Amanda's shoulders twitched eloquently, but she said nothing. She reached the gate of the farmyard, and wheeled in, panting painfully as she ascended the rise of the grassy driveway. She toiled round to the back door; and then Caleb saw that she had prepared for her return by leaving the doors of the cellar-case open, and laying down a board over the steps. She turned the wheelbarrow to descend; and Caleb, seeing his opportunity, ran before to hold back its weight. Amanda did not prevent him; she had no breath left for remonstrance. When the clock was safely in the cellar, she went up the steps again, hooked the bulkhead door, and turned, even in the darkness, unerringly to the flight of stairs.

“You wait till I open the door into the kitchen,” she said. “There's a light up there.”

And Caleb plodded up the stairs after her with his head down, amazed and sorrowful.

“You can stay here,” said Amanda, opening the outside door without looking at him. “I'm goin' back to Cap'n Blaisdell's.”

She hurried out into the moonlit path across lots, and Caleb followed. They entered the yard, and Amanda walked up to the window belonging to the best bedroom. It was wide open, and she rapped on it loudly, and then turned her back.

“Hello!” came a sleepy voice from within.

“I've got to speak to you,” called Amanda. “You needn't get up. Be you awake?”

“I guess so,” said the voice, this time several feet nearer the window. “What's up?”

“I've been over an' got our clock an' the rest of our things,” said Amanda, steadily. “An', you've got your money. I've carried the things home an' fastened 'em up. They're down cellar under the arch, an' I'm goin' to set over 'em till I drop afore anybody lays a finger on 'em again. An' you can go to law if you're a mind to; but I've got our things!”

There was a silence. Amanda felt that the stranger's eyes were fastened upon her back, and she tried not to tremble. Caleb knew they were, for he and the man faced each other.

“Well, now, you know you've as good as stole my property,” began Chapman; but at that instant, Caleb's voice broke roughly upon the air.

“You say that ag'in,” said he, “an' I'll horsewhip you within an inch of your life. You touch them things ag'in, an' I'll break every bone in your body. I dunno whose they be, accordin' to rights, but by gum!—” and he stopped, for words will fail where a resolute heart need not.

There was again a silence, and the stranger spoke: “Well, well!” he said, good-naturedly. “I guess we'll have to call it square. I don't often do business this way; but if you'll let me alone, I'll let you alone. Good luck to you!”

Amanda's heart melted. “You're real good!” she cried, and turned impulsively; but when she faced the white-shirted form at the window, she ejaculated, “Oh, my!” and fled precipitately round the corner of the house.

Side by side, the two took their way across lots again. Amanda was shaking all over, with weariness and emotion spent. Suddenly a strange sound at her side startled her into scrutiny of Caleb's face.

“Why, Caleb Rivers!” she exclaimed, in amazement, “you ain't cryin'?”

“I dunno what I'm doin',” said Caleb, brushing off two big tears with his jumper sleeve, “an' I don't much care. It ain't your harnessin' for yourself an' feedin' the pigs, an' my not comin' Saturday night, but it's seein' you wheelin' that great thing all alone. An' you're so little, 'Mandy! I never thought much o' myself, an' it al'ays seemed kind o' queer you could think anything of me; but I al'ays s'posed you'd let me do the heft o' the work, an' not cast me off!”

“I 'ain't cast you off, Caleb,” said Amanda, faintly, and in spite of herself her slender figure turned slightly but still gratefully toward him. And that instant, for the first time in all their lives, Caleb's arms were upholding her, and Amanda had received her crown. Caleb had kissed her.

“Say, 'Mandy,” said he, when they parted, an hour later, by the syringa bush at the back door, “the world won't come to an end if you don't iron of a Tuesday. I was thinkin' we could ketch Passon True about ten o'clock better'n we could in the arternoon.”

 
 
 

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