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After All by Alice Brown

Tale of New England Life

“The land o' gracious!” said Mrs. Lothrop Wilson, laying down her “drawing-in hook” on the rug stretched between two chairs in the middle of the kitchen, and getting up to look from the window. “If there ain't Lucindy comin' out o' the Pitmans' without a thing on her head, an' all them little curls a-flyin'! An' the old Judge ain't cold in his grave!”

“I guess the Judge won't be troubled with cold, any to speak of, arter this,” said her husband from the window, where he sat eating his forenoon lunch of apple-pie and cheese. He was a cooper, and perhaps the pleasantest moment in his day was that when he slipped out of his shop, leaving a bit of paper tacked on the door to say he was “on errands,” and walked soberly home for his bite and sup. “If he ain't good an' warm about now, then the Scriptur's ain't no more to be depended on than a last year's almanac.”

“Late Wilson, I'm ashamed of you,” retorted his wife, looking at him with such reproof that, albeit she had no flesh to spare, she made herself a double chin. “An' he your own uncle, too! Well, he was nigh, I'll say that for him; an' if he'd had his way, the sun'd ha' riz an' set when he said the word. But Lucindy's his only darter, an' if she don't so much as pretend to be a mourner, I guess there ain't nobody that will. There! don't you say no more! She's comin' in here!”

A light step sounded on the side piazza, and Lucindy came in, with a little delicate, swaying motion peculiar to her walk. She was a very slender woman, far past middle life, with a thin, smiling face, light blue eyes, shining with an eager brightness, and fine hair, which escaped from its tight twist in little spiral curls about the face.

“How do, Jane?” she said, in an even voice, stirred by a pleasant, reedy thrill. “How do, Lote?”

Lothrop pushed forward a chair, looking at her with an air of great kindliness. There was some slight resemblance between them, but the masculine type seemed entirely lacking in that bright alertness so apparent in her. Mrs. Wilson nodded, and went back to her drawing-in. She was making a very red rose with a pink middle.

“I dunno's I can say I'm surprised to see you, Lucindy,” she began, with the duteous aspect of one forced to speak her disapproval, “for I ketched you comin' out o' the Pitmans' yard.”

“Yes,” said Lucindy, smiling, and plaiting her skirt between her nervous fingers. “Yes, I went in to see if they'd let me take Old Buckskin a spell to-morrow.”

“What under the sun—” began Mrs. Wilson; but her husband looked at her, and she stopped. He had become so used to constituting himself Lucindy's champion in the old Judge's day, now just ended, that he kept an unremitting watch on any one who might threaten her peace. But Lucindy evidently guessed at the unspoken question.

“I should have come here, if I'd expected to drive,” she said. “But I thought maybe your horse wa'n't much used to women, and I kind o' dreaded to be the first one to try him with a saddle.”

Mrs. Wilson put down her hook again, and leaned back in her chair. She looked from her husband to Lucindy, without speaking. But Lucindy went on, with the innocent simplicity of a happy child.

“You know I was always possessed to ride horseback,” she said, addressing herself to Lothrop, “and father never would let me. And now he ain't here, I mean to try it, and see if 'tain't full as nice as I thought.”

“Lucindy!” burst forth Mrs. Wilson, explosively, “ain't you goin' to pay no respect to your father's memory?”

Lucindy turned to her, smiling still, but with a hint of quizzical shrewdness about her mouth.

“I guess I ain't called on to put myself out,” she said, simply, yet not irreverently. “Father had his way in pretty much everything while he was alive. I always made up my mind if I should outlive him, I'd have all the things I wanted then, when young folks want the most. And you know then I couldn't get 'em.”

“Well!” said Mrs. Wilson. Her tone spoke volumes of conflicting commentary.

“You got a saddle?” asked Lucindy, turning to her cousin. “I thought I remembered you had one laid away, up attic. I suppose you'd just as soon I'd take it?”

He was neither shocked nor amused. He had been looking at her very sadly, as one who read in every word the entire tragedy of a repressed and lonely life.

“Yes, we have, Lucindy,” he said, gently, quieting his wife by a motion of the hand, “but 'tain't what you think. It's a man's saddle. You'd have to set straddle.

“Oh!” said Lucindy, a faint shade of disappointment clouding her face. “Well, no matter! I guess they've got one down to the Mardens'. Jane, should you just as soon come round this afternoon, and look over some bunnit trimmin's with me? I took two kinds of flowers home from Miss West's, and I can't for my life tell which to have.”

“Ain't you goin' to wear black?” Mrs. Wilson spoke now in double italics.

“Oh, no! I don't feel called on to do that. I always liked bright colors, and I don't know's 'twould be real honest in me to put on mournin' when I didn't feel it.”

“'Honor thy father'—” began Jane, in spite of her husband's warning hand; but Lucindy interrupted her, with some perplexity.

“I have, Jane, I have! I honored father all my life, just as much as ever I could. I done everything he ever told me, little and big! No, though, there's one thing I never fell in with. I did cheat him once. I don't know but I'm sorry for that, now it's all past and gone!”

Her cousin had been drumming absently on the window-sill, but he looked up with awakened interest. Mrs. Wilson, too, felt a wholesale curiosity, and she, at least, saw no reason for curbing it.

“What was it, Lucindy?” she asked. “The old hunks!” she repeated to herself, like an anathema.

Lucindy began her confession, with eyes down-dropped and a faltering voice.

“Father wanted I should have my hair done up tight and firm. So I pretended I done the best I could with it. I told him these curls round my face and down in my neck was too short, and I couldn't pin 'em up. But they wa'n't curls, and they wouldn't ha' been short if I hadn't cut 'em. For every night, and sometimes twice a day, I curled 'em on a pipe-stem.”

“Ain't them curls nat'ral, Lucindy?” cried Mrs. Wilson. “Have you been fixin' 'em to blow round your face that way, all these years?”

“I begun when I was a little girl,” said Lucindy, guiltily. “It did seem kind o' wrong, but I took real pleasure in it!”

Lothrop could bear no more. He wanted to wipe his eyes, but he chose instead to walk straight out of the room and down to his shop. His wife could only express a part of her amazement by demanding, in a futile sort of way,—

“Where'd you get the pipe?”

“I stole the first one from a hired man we had,” said Lucindy, her cheeks growing pink. “Sometimes I had to use slate-pencils.”

There was no one else to administer judgment, and Mrs. Wilson felt the necessity.

“Well,” she began, “an' you can set there, tellin' that an' smilin'—”

“My smilin' don't mean any more'n some other folks' cryin', I guess,” said Lucindy, smiling still more broadly. “I begun that more'n thirty years ago. I looked into the glass one day, and I see the corners of my mouth were goin' down. Sharper 'n, vinegar, I was! So I says to myself, 'I can smile, whether or no. Nobody can't help that!' And I did, and now I guess I don't know when I do it.”

“Well!”

Lucindy rose suddenly and brushed her lap, as if she dusted away imaginary cares.

“There!” she exclaimed, “I've said more this mornin' than I have for forty year! Don't you lead me on to talk about what's past and gone! The only thing is, I mean to have a good time now, what there is left of it. Some things you can't get back, and some you can. Well, you step round this afternoon, won't you?”

“I dunno's I can. John's goin' to bring Claribel up, to spend the arternoon an' stay to supper.”

“Why, dear heart! that needn't make no difference. I should admire to have her, too. I'll show her some shells and coral I found this mornin', up attic.”

Lucindy had almost reached the street when she turned, as with a sudden resolution, and retraced her steps.

“Jane,” she called, looking in at the kitchen window. “It's a real bright day, pretty as any 't ever I see. Don't you worry for fear o' my disturbin' them that's gone, if I do try to ketch at somethin' pleasant. If they're wiser now, I guess they'll be glad I had sense enough left to do it!”

That afternoon, Mrs. Wilson, in her best gingham and checked sunbonnet, took her way along the village street to the old Judge Wilson house. It was a colonial mansion, sitting austerely back in a square yard. In spite of its prosperity, everything about it wore a dreary air, as if it were tired of being too well kept; for houses are like people, and carry their own indefinable atmosphere with them. Mrs. Wilson herself lived on a narrower and more secluded street, though it was said that her husband, if he had not defied the old Judge in some crucial matter, might have studied law with him, and possibly shared his speculations in wool. Then he, too, might have risen to be one of the first men in the county, instead of working, in his moderate fashion, for little more than day's wages. Claribel, a pale, dark-eyed child, also dressed in her best gingham, walked seriously by her grandmother's side. Lucindy was waiting for them at the door.

“I declare!” she called, delightedly. “I was 'most afraid you'd forgot to come! Well, Claribel, if you 'ain't grown! They'll have to put a brick on your head, or you'll be taller'n grandma.”

Claribel submitted to be kissed, and they entered the large, cool sitting-room, where they took off their things.

“You make yourself at home, Jane,” said Lucindy, fluttering about, in pleasant excitement. “I ain't goin' to pay you a mite of attention till I see Claribel fixed. Now, Claribel, remember! you can go anywheres you're a mind to. And you can touch anything there is. You won't find a thing a little girl can hurt. Here, you come here where I be, and look across the entry. See that big lamp on the table? Well, if you unhook them danglin' things and peek through 'em, you'll find the brightest colors! My, how pretty they be! I've been lookin' through 'em this mornin'. I used to creep in and do it when I was little,” she continued, in an aside to Mrs. Wilson. “Once I lost one.” A strange look settled on her face; she was recalling a bitter experience. “There!” she said, releasing Claribel with a little hug, “now run along! If you look on the lower shelf of the what-not, you'll see some shells and coral I put there for just such a little girl.”

Claribel walked soberly away to her playing.

“Don't you hurt nothin'!” called Mrs. Wilson; and Claribel responded properly,—

“No, 'm.”

“There!” said Lucindy, watching the precise little back across the hall, “Now le's talk a mite about vanity. You reach me that green box behind your chair. Here's the best flowers Miss West had for what I wanted. Here's my bunnit, too. You see what you think.”

She set the untrimmed bonnet on her curls, and laid first a bunch of bright chrysanthemums against it, and then some strange lavender roses. The roses turned her complexion to an ivory whiteness, and her anxious, intent expression combined strangely with that undesirable effect.

“My soul, Lucindy!” cried Mrs. Wilson, startled into a more robust frankness than usual, “you do look like the Old Nick!”

A shade came over Miss Lucindy's honest face. It seemed, for a moment, as if she were going to cry.

“Don't you like 'em, Jane?” she asked, appealingly. “Won't neither of 'em do?”

Mrs. Wilson was not incapable of compunction, but she felt also the demands of the family honor.

“Well, Lucindy,” she began, soothingly, “now 'tain't any use, is it, for us to say we ain't gettin' on in years? We be! You 're my age, an'—Why, look at Claribel in there! What should you say, if you see me settin' out to meetin' with red flowers on my bunnit? I should be nothin' but a laughin'-stock!”

Lucindy laid the flowers back in their box, with as much tenderness as if they held the living fragrance of a dream.

“Well!” she said, wistfully. Then she tried to smile.

“Here!” interposed Mrs. Wilson, not over-pleased with the part she felt called upon to play, “you give me your bunnit. Don't I see your old sheaf o'wheat in the box? Let me pin it on for you. There, now, don't that look more suitable?”

By the time she had laid it on, in conventional flatness, and held it up for inspection, every trace of rebellion had apparently been banished from Lucindy's mind.

“Here,” said the victim of social rigor, “you hand me the box, and I'll set it away.”

They had a cosey, old-fashioned chat, touching upon nothing in the least revolutionary, and Mrs. Wilson was glad to think Lucindy had forgotten all about the side-saddle. This last incident of the bonnet, she reflected, showed how much real influence she had over Lucindy. She must take care to exert it kindly but seriously now that the old Judge was gone.

“You goin' to keep your same help?” she asked, continuing the conversation.

“Oh, yes! I wouldn't part with Ann Toby for a good deal. She's goin' to have her younger sister come to live with us now. We shall be a passel o' women, sha'n't we?”

“I guess it's well for you Ann Toby's what she is, or she'd cheat you out o' your eye-teeth!”

“Well,” answered Lucindy, easily, “I ain't goin' to worry about my eye-teeth. If I be cheated out of 'em, I guess I can get a new set.”

At five o'clock, they had some cookies, ostensibly for Claribel, since Mrs. Wilson could not stay to tea; and then, when the little maid had taken hers out to the front steps, Lucindy broached a daring plan, that moment conceived.

“Say, Jane,” she whispered, with great pretence of secrecy, “what do you think just come into my head? Do you s'pose Mattie would be put out, if I should give Claribel a hat?”

“Mercy sakes, no! all in the family so! But what set you out on that? She's got a good last year's one now, an' the ribbin's all pressed out an' turned, complete.”

“I'll tell you,” Said Lucindy, leaning nearer, and speaking as if she feared the very corners might hear. “You know I never was allowed to wear bright colors. And to this day, I see the hats the other girls had, blue on 'em, and pink. And if I could stand by and let a little girl pick out a hat for herself, without a word said to stop her, 'twould be real agreeable to me.” Lucindy was shrewd enough to express herself somewhat moderately. She knew by experience how plainly Jane considered it a duty to discourage any overmastering emotion. But Jane Wilson was, at the same instant, feeling very keenly that Lucindy, faded and old as she was, needed to be indulged in all her riotous fancies. She repressed the temptation, however, at its birth.

“Why, I dunno's there's anything in the way of it,” she said, soberly.

“Then, if you must go, I'll walk right along now. Claribel and I'll go down to Miss West's, and see what she's got. Nothin''s to be gained by waitin'!”

When they walked out through the hall together, Lucindy cast a quick and eager glance into the parlor. She almost hoped Claribel had unhooked the glass prisms from the lamp, and left them scattered on the floor, or that she had broken the precious shells, more than half a century old. She wanted to put her arms round her, and say fondly, “Never mind!” But the room was in perfect order, and little Claribel waited for them, conscious of a propriety unstained by guilt.

“Lucindy,” said Mrs. Wilson, who also had used her eyes, “where's your father's canes? They al'ays stood right here in this corner.”

Lucindy flushed.

“Jane,” she whispered, “don't you tell, but I—I buried 'em! I felt somehow as if I couldn't—do the things I wanted to, if they set there just the same.”

Jane could only look at her in silence.

“Well,” she said, at length, “it takes all kinds o' people to make a world!”

That, at least, was non-committal.

She left the shoppers at her own gate, and they walked on together. Lucindy was the more excited of the two.

“Now, Claribel,” she was saying, “you remember you can choose any hat you see, and have it trimmed just the way you like. What color do you set by most?”

“I don't know,” said Claribel. “Blue, I guess.”

“Well, there's a hat there all trimmed with it. I see it this mornin'. Real bright, pretty blue! I believe there was some little noddin' yellow flowers on it, too. But mind you don't take it unless you like it.”

Miss West's shop occupied the front room of her house, a small yellow one on a side street. The upper part of the door was of glass, and it rang a bell as it opened. Lucindy had had very few occasions for going there, and she entered with some importance. The bell clanged; and Miss West, a portly woman, came in from the back room, whisking off her apron in haste.

“Oh, that you, Miss Lucindy?” she called. “I've just been fryin' some riz doughnuts. Well, how'd the flowers suit?”

“I haven't quite made up my mind,” said Lucindy, trying to speak with the dignity befitting her quest. “I just come in with little Claribel here. She's goin' to have a new hat, and her grandma said she might come down with me to pick it out. You've got some all trimmed, I believe?”

Miss West opened a drawer in an old-fashioned bureau.

“Yes,” she said, “I've got two my niece trimmed for me before she went to make her visit to Sudleigh. One's blue. I guess you've seen that. Then there's a nice white one. The 'Weekly' says white's all the go, this year.”

She took out two little hats, and balanced them on either hand. The blue one was strongly accented. The ribbon was very broad and very bright, and its nodding cowslips gleamed in cheerful yellow.

“Ain't that a beauty?” whispered Lucindy close to the little girl's ear. “But there! Don't you have it unless you'd rather. There's lots of other colors, you know; pink, and all sorts.”.

Claribel put out one little brown hand, and timidly touched the other hat.

“This one,” she said.

It was very plain, and very pretty; yet there were no flowers, and the modest white ribbon lay smoothly about the crown. Miss Lucindy gave a little cry, as if some one had hurt her.

“O!” she exclaimed, “O Claribel! you sure?” Claribel was sure.

“She's got real good taste,” put in Miss West. “Shall I wrop it up?”

“Yes,” answered Lucindy, drearily. “We'll take it. But I suppose if she should change, her mind before she wore it—” she added, with some slight accession of hope.

“Oh, yes, bring it right back. I'll give her another choice.”

But Claribel was not likely to change her mind. On the way home, she walked sedately, and carried her hat with the utmost care. At her grandmother's gate, she looked up shyly, and spoke of her own accord,—

“Thank you, ever so much!”

Then she fled up the path, her bundle waving before her. That, at least, looked like spontaneous joy, and the sight of it soothed Lucindy into a temporary resignation; yet she was very much disappointed.

The next afternoon, Tiverton saw a strange and wondrous sight. The Crane boy led Old Buckskin, under an ancient saddle, into Miss Lucindy's yard, and waited there before her door. The Crane boy had told all his mates, and they had told their fathers and mothers, so that a wild excitement flew through the village like stubble fire, stirring the inhabitants to futile action. “It's like the 'clipse,” said one of the squad of children collected at the gate, “only they ain't no smoked glass.” Some of the grown people “made an errand” for the sake of being in the street, but those who lived near-by simply mounted guard at their doors and windows. The horse had not waited long when Miss Lucindy appeared before the gaze of an eager world. Her face had wakened into a keen excitement.

“Here!” she called to the Crane boy's brother, who was lingering in the background grinding his toes on the gravel and then lifting them in sudden agony, “you take this kitchen chair and set it down side of him, so't I can climb up.”

The chair was placed, and Miss Lucindy essayed to climb, but vainly.

“Ann!” she called, “you bring me that little cricket.”

Ann Toby appeared unwillingly, the little cricket in her hand. She was a tall, red-haired woman, who bore the reputation of being willing to be “tore into inch pieces” for Miss Lucindy. Her freckled face burned red with shame and anger.

“For Heaven's sake, you come back into the house!” she whispered, with tragic meaning. “You jest give it up, an' I'll scatter them boys. Sassy little peeps! what are they starin' round here for, I'd like to know!”

But Lucindy had mounted the cricket with much agility, and seated herself on the horse's back. Once she slipped off; but the Crane boy had the address to mutter, “Put your leg over the horn!” and, owing to that timely advice, she remained. But he was to experience the gratitude of an unfeeling world; for Ann Toby, in the irritation of one tried beyond endurance, fell upon him and cuffed him soundly. And Mrs. Crane, passing the gate at that moment, did not blame her.

“My! it seems a proper high place to set,” remarked Lucindy, adjusting herself. “Well, I guess I sha'n't come to no harm. I'll ride round to your place, boys, when I get through, and leave the horse there.” She trotted out of the yard amid the silence of the crowd.

The spectacle was too awesome to be funny, even to the boys; it seemed to Tiverton strangely like the work of madness. Only one little boy recovered himself sufficiently to ran after her and hold up a switch he had been peeling.

“Here!” he piped up, daringly, “you want a whip.”

Lucindy smiled upon him benignly.

“I never did believe in abusin' dumb creatur's,” she said, “but I'm much obliged.” She took the switch and rode on.

Now Mrs. Wilson had heard the rumor too late to admit of any interference on her part, and she was staying indoors, suffering an agony of shame, determined not to countenance the scandalous sight by her presence. But as she sat “hooking-in,” the window was darkened, and involuntarily she lifted her eyes. There was the huge bulk of a horse, and there was Lucindy. The horsewoman's cheeks were bright red with exercise and joy. She wore a black dress and black mitts. Her little curls were flying; and oh, most unbearable of all! they were surmounted by a bonnet bearing no modest sheaf of wheat, but blossoming brazenly out into lavender roses. The spectacle was too much for Mrs. Wilson. She dropped her hook, and flew to the door.

“Well, I've known a good deal, fust an' last, but I never see the beat o' this! Lucindy, where'd you git that long dress?”

“It's my cashmere,” answered Lucindy, joyously. “I set up last night to lengthen it down.”

“Well, I should think you did! Lothrop!”

Her husband had been taking a nap in the sitting-room, and he came out, rubbing his eyes. Mrs. Wilson could not speak for curiosity. She watched him with angry intentness. She wondered if he would take Lucindy's part now! But Lothrop only moved forward and felt at the girth.

“You know you want to pull him up if he stumbles,” he said; “but I guess he won't. He was a stiddy horse, fifteen year ago.”

“Lothrop,” began his wife, “do you want to be made a laughin'-stock in this town—”;

“I guess if I've lived in a place over sixty year an' hil' my own, I can yet,” said Lothrop, quietly. “You don't want to ride too long, Lucindy. You'll be lame to-morrer.”

“I didn't suppose 'twould jounce so,” said Lucindy; “but it's proper nice. I don't know what 'twould be on a real high horse. Well, good-by!” She turned the horse about, and involuntarily struck him with her little switch. Old Buckskin broke into a really creditable trot, and they disappeared down the village street. Lothrop sensibly took his way down to the shop while his wife was recovering her powers of speech; and for that, Jane herself mentally commended him.

Lucindy kept on out of the village and along the country road. The orioles were singing in the elms, and the leaves still wore the gloss of last night's shower. The earth smiled like a new creation, very green and sweet, and the horse's hoofs made music in Lucindy's mind. It seemed to her that she had lost sight both of youth and crabbed age; the pendulum stood still in the jarring machinery of time, the hands pointing to a moment of joy. She was quite happy, as any of us may be who seek the fellowship of dancing leaves and strong, bright sun. She turned into a cross-road, hardly wider than a lane, and bordered with wild rose and fragrant raspberry. There was but one house here,—a little, time-stained cottage, where Tom McNeil lived with his wife and five children. Perhaps these were the happiest people in all Tiverton, though no one but themselves had ever found it out. Tom made shoes in a desultory fashion, and played the fiddle earnestly all winter, and in summer, peddled essences and medicines from a pack strapped over his shoulders. Sometimes in the warm summer weather Molly, his wife, and all the children tramped with him, so that the house was closed for weeks at a time,—a thing very trying to the conventional sensibilities of Tiverton. Tom might have had a “stiddy job o' work” with some of the farmers; Molly might have helped about the churning and ironing. But no! they were like the birds, nesting happily in summer, and drawing their feet under their feathers when the snow drifted in. The children—lank, wild-eyed creatures—each went to school a few months, and then stopped, unable to bear the cross of confinement within four dull walls. They could not write; it was even rumored that they had never learned to tell time. And, indeed, what good would it have done them when the clock was run down and stood always at the hour of noon? But they knew where thoroughwort grows, and the wholesome goldthread; they gathered cress and peppermint, and could tell the mushroom from its noisome kindred. Day after day, they roamed the woods for simples to be distilled by the father, and made into potent salves and ointments for man and the beasties he loved better.

When Lucindy came in sight of the house, she was glad to find it open. She had scarcely gone so far afield for years, and the reports concerning this strange people had reached her only by hearsay. She felt like a discoverer. In close neighborhood to the house stood a peculiar structure,—the half-finished dwelling McNeil had attempted, in a brief access of ambition, to build with his own hands. The chimney, slightly curving and very ragged at the top, stood foolishly above the unfinished lower story. Lucindy remembered hearing how Tom had begun the chimney first, and built the house round it. But the fulfilment of his worldly dream never came to pass; and perhaps it was quite as well, for thereby would the unity of his existence have been destroyed. He might have lived up to the house; he might even have grown into a proud man, and accumulated dollars. But the bent of birth was too much for him. A day dawned, warm and entrancing; he left his bricks and boards in the midst, and the whole family went joyfully off on a tramp. To Tiverton, the unfinished house continued to serve as an immortal joke, and Tom smiled as broadly as any. He always said he couldn't finish it; he had mislaid the plan.

A little flower-garden bloomed between the two houses, and on the grass, by one of its clove-pink borders, sat a woman, rocking back and forth in an ancient chair, and doing absolutely nothing. She was young, and seemed all brown; for her eyes were dark, and her skin had been tanned to the deep, rich tint sweeter to some eyes than pure roses and milk. Lucindy guided Buckskin up to the gate, and Molly McNeil looked up and smiled without moving.

“How do?” she said, in a soft, slow voice. “Won't you come in?”

Lucindy was delighted. It was long since she had met a stranger.

“Well, I would,” she answered, “but I don't know as I can get down. This is new business to me.”

“Ellen,” called Mrs. McNeil, “you bring out somethin' to step on!”

A little girl appeared with a yellow kitchen chair. Mrs. McNeil rose, carried it outside the gate, and planted it by Buckskin's side.

“There!” she said, “you put your hand on my shoulder and step down. It won't tip. I've got my knee on it.”

Lucindy alighted, with some difficulty, and drew a long breath.

“I'll hitch him,” said Molly McNeil. “You go in and sit down in that chair, and Ellen'll bring you a drink of water.”

Ellen was barelegged and barefooted. Her brown hair hung over her dark eyes in a pleasant tangle. Her even teeth were white, and her lips red. There was no fault nor blemish in her little face; and when she had brought the dipper full of water, and stood rubbing one foot against its neighboring leg, Lucindy thought she had never seen anything so absolutely bewitching. Molly had hitched the horse, in manly and knowing fashion, and then seated herself on the kitchen chair beside Lucindy; but the attitude seemed not to suit her, and presently she rose and lay quietly down at full length on the grass. She did it quite as a matter of course, and her visitor thought it looked very pleasant; possibly she would have tried it herself if she had not been so absorbed in another interest. She was watching the little girl, who was running into the house with the dipper.

“Ain't she complete!” she said. “Your oldest?”

“She ain't mine at 'all.” Mrs. McNeil rose on one elbow, and began chewing a grass stem.

It was very restful to Lucindy to see some one who was too much interested in anything, however trivial, to be interested in her. “You know about the Italian that come round with the hand-organ last month? He was her father. Well, he died,—fell off a mow one night,—and the town sold the hand-organ and kept Ellen awhile on the farm. But she run away, and my boys found her hidin' in the woods starved most to death. So I took her in, and the overseer said I was welcome to her. She's a nice little soul.”

“She's proper good-lookin'!” Lucindy's eyes were sparkling.

“She don't look as well as common to-day, for the boys went off plummin' without her. She was asleep, and I didn't want to call her. She had a cryin' spell when she waked up, but I didn't know which way they'd gone.”

Ellen came wandering round the side of the house, and Lucindy crooked a trembling finger at her.

“Come here!” she called. “You come here and see me!”

Ellen walked up to her with a steady step, and laid one little brown hand on Lucindy's knee. But the old Judge's daughter drew the child covetously to her lap.

“Look here,” she said, “should you like to go home and spend a week with me?”

The little maid threw back her tangle of curls, and looked Lucindy squarely in the eyes.

“Yes,” she answered.

Lucindy's grasp tightened round her.

“How should you like to live with me?”

The child touched her little breast inquiringly with one finger.

“Me?” She pointed over to Mrs. McNeil, who lay listening and stretching her limbs in lazy comfort. “Leave her?” And then, gravely, “No; she's good to me.”

Lucindy's heart sank.

“You could come over to see her,” she pleaded, “and I'd come too. We'd all go plummin' together. I should admire to! And we'd have parties, and ask 'em all over. What say?”

The child sat straight and serious, one warm hand clinging to Lucindy's slender palm. But her eyes still sought the face of her older friend. Molly McNeil rose to a sitting posture. She took the straw from her mouth, and spoke with the happy frankness of those who have no fear because they demand nothing save earth and sky room.

“I know who you are,” she said to Lucindy. “You're left well off, and I guess you could bring up a child, give you your way. We're as poor as poverty! You take her, if she'll go. Ellen, she's a nice lady; you better say 'yes.'“

Lucindy was trembling all over.

“You come, dear,” she urged, piteously. “You come and live with me.”

Ellen thought a moment more. Then she nodded.

“I'll come,” said she.

Lucindy could not wait.

“I'll send a wagon over after her to-night.” She had put Ellen down, and was rising tremblingly. “I won't stop to talk no more now, but you come and see me, won't you? Now, if you'll help me mount up—there! My! it's higher 'n 'twas before! Well, I'll see you again.” She turned Old Buckskin's head away from the fence; then she pulled him fiercely round again. “Here!” she called, “what if she should jump up behind me and come now!”

Mrs. McNeil, being the thrall only of the earth, saw no reason, why a thing should not be done as one wanted it. She lifted; the child and set her on the horse behind Lucindy. And so, in this strange fashion, the two entered the high street of Tiverton.

A few weeks after this, Mrs. Wilson and Lucindy went together to the little millinery shop. Ellen trotted between them, taking excursions into the street, now and again, in pursuit of butterflies or thistledown. When they entered, Miss West, who had seen their approach from her position at the ironing-board, came forward with a gay little hat in her hand. It was trimmed with pink, and a wreath of tiny white flowers clung about the crown. She set it on Ellen's curls; and Ellen, her face quite radiant, looked up at Miss Lucindy for approval. But that lady was gazing anxiously at Mrs. Wilson.

“Now, there ain't anything unsuitable about that, is there?” she asked. “I know, it's gay, and I want it to be gay. I can tell about that! But is it all right? Is it such as you'd be willin' to have Claribel wear?”

“It's a real beauty!” Mrs. Wilson answered, cordially; but she could not refrain from adding, while Miss West was doing up the hat, and Ellen surreptitiously tried on a black poke bonnet, “Now, don't you spile her, Lucindy! She's a nice little girl as ever was, but you ain't no more fit to bring up a child than the cat!”

Lucindy did not hear. She was smiling at Ellen, and Ellen smiled back at her. They thought they knew.

 
 
 

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