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A Rural Visitor by Will Nathaniel Harben

I

Lucinda Gibbs stood in the corner of the rail fence behind her cottage. Her face was damp with perspiration, and her heavy iron- gray hair had become disarranged and hung down her back below the skirt of her gingham sun-bonnet. She was raking the decayed leaves and dead weeds from her tender strawberry sprouts and mentally calculating on an abundant crop of the luscious fruit later in the spring.

“The trouble is I won't git to eat none of 'em,” she sighed, as she looked up and addressed the woman on the other side of the fence.

“You don't mean that you are actually a-goin' shore 'rough, Mis' Gibbs?” exclaimed Betsey Lowry, as she leaned heavily on the top rail.

The widow reversed her rake and began to pull out the leaves which were packed between the metal teeth, her face reddening gradually, as if she were slightly irritated.

“I'd like to know ef thar's anything strange about my goin',” she said, coldly. “You said you'd feed my cat an' chickens an' attend to the cow fer what she'd give.”

“Oh, it ain't because I have the least objection to keepin' my word about them things,” said the old maid, quickly. “Goodness knows, me an' Joel needs the milk an' butter bad enough, an' it ain't one speck o' trouble jest to throw scraps to the cat, an' meal-dough to the chickens, but somehow it skeers me to think of a lone woman like you a-goin' all the way to New York by yorese'f.”

Mrs. Gibbs leaned the rake against the fence. The flush died out of her face, giving place to a sweet, wistful expression.

“Betsey,” she said, tremulously, “tell me the truth. Do you think I ought to stay at home?”

The old maid turned to look through the orchard of leafless trees to her own house not far away. She had reddened slightly.

“Ef you push me fer a answer, Mis' Gibbs, I'll have to tell you I don't think you ought to go away up thar all alone.”

“You feel that-a-way, Betsey, because you hadn't never had no child an' been separated from it like I have. When Amos married up thar an' went to housekeepin' it mighty nigh killed me. An' then I begun to live on the bare hope that he'd come South on a visit, but he hadn't done it, an' thar ain't no prospect of the like. He says he cayn't git away frum his business without dead loss, an' they want me to come. I've said many a time that I'd never leave my home, but, Betsey, it seems to me that I cayn't live another week without seein' how Amos looks. The Lord only knows how lonely I am mighty nigh all the time. Ef Susie had lived, she'd never 'a' left me, married or not, but it's different with a man. Sometimes I wonder why the Lord tuk 'em both frum me.”

Betsey's kindly face softened. The intervening fence kept her from putting a consoling arm around her neighbor.

“I hadn't been blind—nur Brother Joel hadn't nuther—to yore lonely way o' livin',” she said, sympathetically. “Thar's hardly a night that me an' him don't look out 'fore we go to bed to see ef you are still a-sittin' up readin' by yore lamp. I kin always tell when you are a-thinkin' about Susie more'n common; it's always when you git back frum 'er grave that you set up latest. I believe in layin' on o' flowers an' plantin' shrubs that'll keep sech a precious spot green, but when it seems to make a body brood-like, then I think it ought not to be indulged in to any great extent.”

“It's rally a sort of comfort to go to the graveyard, “ faltered Mrs. Gibbs; and she raised her apron to her mouth.

“How long do you intend to stay with Amos an' his wife?” asked Betsey, to divert the widow's thoughts. She looked over her shoulder, and saw her brother Joel, a tall, strong-looking man about fifty-five years of age, approaching from the direction of his store, down at the cross-roads.

“Three months, I reckon,” replied the widow. “I know in reason that I won't want to leave Amos a bit sooner. You see, it may be a long time before I lay eyes on 'im again. They say the baby is doin' fine, an' I want to see it an' nuss it.”

“So you are raily goin'?” cried Joel Lowry, as he leaned on the fence beside his sister.

“Yes, I'm a-goin' to make the trip, Joel.”

“It's a long ways,” returned the storekeeper, “an' I don't see how you are a-goin' by yorese'f. Ef it was jest a few weeks later, now, I might pull up an' go along. I've always believed ef I went to New York to lay in stock that I could save enough on my goods to defray my expenses thar an' back.

The eyes of the widow flashed eagerly. She took a long, trembling breath.

“I wisht to goodness you would,” she said. “I don't know one thing about trains, an' I am powerful afraid I'll make a bobble of the whole thing from start to finish. Ef I was to git on the wrong car—but what is the use to cross a bridge 'fore you git to it? Mebby I'll git thar all right.”

“I hate mightily to have you try it,” replied Joel, reflectively, as he stroked his short gray beard. “I jest wish you would think better of it. I'm a leetle grain older'n you, Mis' Gibbs, an' I've been about some.”

Mrs. Gibbs drew her rake after her as she turned toward her cottage. “I don't want to change my mind,” she said, emphatically. “I'm bent on seein' Amos, an' I'm a-goin' to do it. I'd better go in now. I've got a lot of packin' to do.”

Joel went back toward his store across a field of decaying corn-stubble without looking round, and Betsey climbed over the fence and went into the cottage with her neighbor.

“I never hated to see a body go so in all my born days,” she sighed.

Mrs. Gibbs opened the front door and preceded Betsey into the room on the right of the little hall.

“You mustn't mind how things looks in heer,” she apologized. “I left my trunk open right spank in the middle of the room, so whenever I see a thing that ought to go in I kin jest fling it at the trunk an' put it away when I have time.”

Betsey stood over the little hair trunk and looked down dolefully.

“What on earth is that I smell?” she asked. “Sassafras, as I'm alive!”

“Yes, I dug it yesterday. Amos likes sassafras- root tea; he used to drink a power of it to thin his blood in the spring; he writ that he hadn't had a taste of it sence he left heer. Shorely, it's come to a purty pass if a body cayn't get sech as that in a big city like New York.”

“Seems to me,” remarked the old maid, “that you've got a sight more truck here than you'll have any need fer. What's this greasy mess wrapped up?”

“That's mutton suet,” was the enthusiastic reply. “It's the whitest cake I ever laid eyes on. They'll need it fer chapped hands an' lips. Amos says it's a sight colder up thar. That's ginger-cake in that paper box, an' I've made him an' Sally some wool socks an' stockin's.”

“Are you shore you are a-goin' to be away three months?” asked Betsey, with a sigh.

“Mebby longer than that,” answered the old woman. “I feel like I never will want to leave Amos again, but I couldn't be away from my home always, you know. La, it'll seem powerful strange to wake up an' not look out o' that thar window towards the mountain.”

“An' not to heer the hens a-cacklin', an' the cow an' calf a-bellowin',” added Betsey. Then she put her handkerchief to her eyes and plunged hastily from the room. Mrs. Gibbs moved quickly to the window and looked out. She saw Betsey climb over the fence and go on through the orchard, her head hanging down.

II

The evening before the day appointed for Mrs. Gibbs's departure, Betsey came in out of breath.

“What do you reckon?” she asked, as she stood over the hair trunk, which, roped and labeled, stood on end near the widow's bed. “What you reckon? Joel has made up his mind to go.”

The widow was putting a brightly polished tin coffee-pot into an old-fashioned carpetbag which stood on the white counterpane of her bed. She stood erect, her hands on her hips.

“Looky' heer, Betsey,” she exclaimed, excitedly, “don't you joke with me! I've jest worried over this undertakin' till I've lost every speck of appetite fer my victuals. I tell you I ain't in no frame o' mind fer any light talk on the subject.”

“He's a-goin', I tell you!” declared the old maid. “I never dreamt he was in earnest the other day when he fust mentioned it, but all last night he liter'ly rolled an' tumbled an' couldn't git a wink o' sleep fer worrryin' over you an' yore wild-cat project. This mornin' the fust thing he said was that he'd made up his mind to go ef he could git a round-trip ticket thar an' back. He told me not to say anything to you tell he had sent to town. Jest a minute ago Jeff Woods got back with the ticket. Joel seems mightily tickled over goin'.”

Mrs. Gibbs sat down. A serious expression had come over her face.

“Ef I'd 'a' knowed he raily meant to go I'd 'a' stopped 'im,” she said. “I don't want to be a bother an' a burden to my neighbors. Betsey, I'm a-gittin' to be a lots o' trouble to other folks.”

“Pshaw!” cried Betsey. “Ef Joel hadn't 'a' wanted to go he'd not 'a' bought the ticket. La me, now I'll have to go git him ready.”

The next morning, arrayed in his best suit of clothes, new high top-boots, and a venerable silk hat, Joel drove to the widow's cottage in his spring wagon. While she was locking up the doors he and a negro farmhand placed the widow's trunk into the back part of the wagon. The neighbors from the farmhouses down the red clay road and across the gray fields and meadows gathered at the gate. When Mrs. Gibbs emerged, their mental comment was that she looked ten years younger than before deciding on the journey.

“All that flushed face an' shiny eyes is 'ca'se she's goin' to Amos,” remarked a woman who held a little bare-footed boy by the hand. The woman addressed was an unmarried woman old enough to be a grandmother. She looked at the widow's beaming visage, gave her head a significant toss, and said, contemptuously: “I say! That woman ain't a-thinkin' no more 'bout Amos 'an I am at this minute. It looks to me like some people can't see a inch before their faces. My Lor', you make me laugh, Mis' Ruggles.”

Arriving at the station, Joel turned the widow's trunk over to the baggage-master, and with her carpet-bag and his own clutched in one hand, he stood on the platform pulling his beard nervously.

“We'll have to spend one night on the train,” he said. “I never thought to mention it, but they tell me that a body kin, by payin' a fraction more, git a place to lie down and stretch out, an' snooze a bit.”

The widow seemed to have made up her mind that she would not show crude astonishment at anything new to her experience, but her curiosity finally caused her to admit that she had never heard of such an arrangement. So, to the best of his ability, the storekeeper entered into a description of a sleeping-car, lowering the carpet-bags to the platform, and making signs and drawing imaginary lines with his hands.

“Men an' women in the same car with jest curtains stretched betwixt?” she cried. “No, thank you! I won't make a fool o' myse'f if other women does. I kin set up fer one night easy enough, I reckon. I've done the like many a time with the sick an' the dead without feeling the wuss fer it.”

“I hardly 'lowed it would suit,” stammered Joel, “but I thought thar would be no harm in givin' you yore choice.”

“Not the least in the world, Joel”; and then she paled, caught her breath, and grabbed her carpet-bag, for the people on the platform were hurrying about; the train was coming.

III

In the train they found a seat together, and when the locomotive shrieked and they dashed off through deep cuts and over high trestles, Mrs. Gibbs was unable to control her excitement. He saw that she was holding tightly to the arm of the seat.

“I have never been on sech a fast one before,” she said, tremulously.

“She don't whiz nigh like some I've rid on out West,” replied Joel, with an air of conscious importance, even guardianship.

A few minutes later she grew calmer. Happening to catch her eye, he saw that her mind was far away.

“I was jest a-thinkin' how awful it is to be leavin' Susie's grave so fur behind,” she said. “I'm goin' to Amos, but my other child is back thar.”

“I was thinkin' about Rachel's grave jest a minute ago,” he returned. “You called 'er to my mind jest now. Somehow you have the same sort of a look about the eyes.”

“Shucks! that ain't so, I know!”

“It's true as I live!”

“Well, she was a good woman. “

“The best I ever run across, an' knowed rail well.

The sun, seen first on one side of the car and then on the other, went down. The train porter laid a plank across the ends of the seats and climbed up on it and lighted the lamps overhead. This made the space outside look like a black curtain softly flapping against the car. The widow opened her carpet- bag and took out something wrapped in a napkin.

“Betsey said you loved fried chicken an' biscuits,” she said.

“It's my favorite dish,” he replied, stiltedly, readily cloaking himself in his best table manners.

“I'm dyin' fer a cup o' coffee,” she said.

“This dry food will clog in my throat without some'n' to wash it down. I put in a package o' ground coffee an' my littlest coffee-pot, thinkin' thar might be some way to boil water, but I don't see no chance. You say we don't stop long enough to git supper?”

“That's what the conductor said.”

But at the next station, where they stopped for only a minute, he took the coffee-pot and hurried out. The train started on, and she was greatly alarmed, thinking that he was left, but he had entered the rear door and now approached with the coffee-pot steaming at the spout.

“Now, ef you've jest got a cup about you we'll be all hunkydory,” he laughed.

Her face lighted up with combined pleasure and relief. “Well, I certainly 'lowed you was left back thar,” she laughed. “An' how on earth did you git the coffee?”

“They sell it by the quart on the platform,” he replied. “I drapped onto that trick once when I was on my way to Californy.”

She got out a tin cup and filled it with the coffee. “I never was so downright grateful fer a thing in my life,” she remarked. “Now, help yorese'f, an' I'll sip some along with my chicken an' bread.”

“I won't tech it tell you've had all you feel like takin',” said he, gallantly.

The coffee and the lunch seemed to stimulate them both, for they sat and chatted and laughed together till past eleven o'clock. Then he noticed that she was growing sleepy, so he took the vacant seat behind her.

“It'll give you more room,” he said.

By and by he saw her head fall forward. She was asleep. He rolled up his overcoat in the shape of a pillow and placed it on the end of the seat, and touching her gently, he told her to lie down and rest her head on the coat. She obeyed, with a drowsy smile of gratitude. He watched her all through the night. She slept soundly, like a tired child.

“I never seed a body look so much like Rachel in all my life,” he said several times to himself. “Pore woman! I'm that glad I come with 'er' She's had 'er grief, an' I've had mine.”

The stopping of the train a little after the break of day roused her. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. He did not wait to speak to her, but taking the coffee-pot, he ran out at the door behind her, so that her first glimpse of him was when he appeared before her with more hot coffee.

“You must take a cup to start you out fer the day,” he smiled.

“You do beat the world, Joel!” she laughed. “I couldn't 'a' done without you.”

She made room for him beside her, and they ate breakfast together. The rest of the journey they sat watching the changing landscape, remarking upon the different methods of tilling the soil, and talking of home and their neighbors.

“It's strange how people can live as nigh to one another as me an' you have an' not git better acquainted,” he said. “I declare, you ain't a bit like I thought you was.”

“I never railly knowed you, nuther, Joel,” she laughed. “You was always sech a busy, say-nothin' sort of a man.”

“An' right now you are off to stay a long time, and I'll have to go back to the backwoods. I wonder ef—”

He went no farther, and she did not help him out. She had suddenly grown reticent, and seemed occupied with the landscape, which was rushing southward like a swollen stream of level farming lands, in which floated houses, fences, twisting trees, and waltzing men and horses.

“I reckon you'll stay up thar all the spring an' summer,” he said at last.

“I wouldn't like to leave Amos right away,” she made answer. “You see, I hadn't seed the boy fer a long time, an' I hadn't thought o' nothin' but him fer many a day.”

IV

They arrived in New York at six o'clock that evening. Amos met them at the train. They hardly recognized him in his silk hat, long overcoat, stylish necktie, and kid gloves. Joel did not approve of what he considered a rather dudish dress, but he overlooked that when he saw how happy the young man was at the sight of his mother.

“I wish I could invite you to my house, Mr. Lowry,” said Amos, cordially, “but the truth is, we have only a small flat, and there is hardly room for you.”

“Oh, never mind me,” said Joel. I'm a-goin' to a tavern nigh whar I do my tradin'. I'll tell you good day now, but I'll run in an' see ef Mis' Gibbs has any word to send back when I start home.

He did not see her again for a week. He had concluded his purchases, and was ready to return South, when he decided to look her up. Finding her was more difficult than he had imagined. After several hours' search on the east side of the city, she being on the west, he finally reached the big building which contained Amos's flat. Here he became involved in another mystery, for he found the front door, a glistening plate-glass affair, firmly locked, and no bell in sight. He stood in the tiled vestibule for several minutes deliberating on what was best to do. Fortunately, he saw a policeman passing, and hailed him.

“I've got a friend a-livin' somewhar in this shebang,” he said; “but you may hang me ef I know how to git at 'im.”

“Is his name on one of the letter-boxes?” asked the policeman.

“What letter-boxes?” questioned Joel. “I hain't seed no names.”

With an amused aspect of countenance the policeman mounted the steps and went into the vestibule. Here he opened some wooden doors in the wall, disclosing to view a long row of letter-boxes with the cards of their owners beneath them.

“Who's your friend?” he asked, kindly.

“Amos Gibbs. I've knowed 'im ever sence he was a little—”

“There,” interrupted the policeman. “I pushed the button. That rang a bell inside, and they will open the door by electricity if anybody is at home. When you hear the latch clicking, push the door open and go in.”

He disappeared down the street, and then Joel was roused from apathetic helplessness by a rapid clicking in the lock. He opened the door and went in. It was fortunate that Amos lived on the first floor, or even then Joel would not have known how to proceed farther. As it was, another door at the end of the heavily carpeted hall opened and a servant girl in white cap and apron put out her head.

“Yes,” she said, in answer to his inquiry. Mrs. Gibbs was at home, He followed her into a little parlor facing the street, with a single window. It was furnished more neatly than any room Joel had ever been in. The polished hardwood floor was covered with rugs of various kinds and sizes, and the room contained a bookcase, an upright piano, pictures, and pieces of bric-a-brac such as the store-keeper had never seen.

Mrs. Gibbs entered from the dining-room in the rear. Her hair was done up in a new style, which made her head appear larger than usual, and she wore a shining black silk gown that added height, dignity, and youth to her general aspect. She gave him her hand, and her whole attire rustled as she sat down.

“Well, you got heer at last,” she said. “I 'lowed you never would come. I've been lookin' fer you every day. I hain't hardly done anything else sence I got heer.”

Joel stared, flushed, and tensely folded his hands anew. It seemed to him that he would not have suffered such a dire lack of words if she had not been looking so fine. It was as if his stalwart masculinity were a glaring misfit among the dainty gewgaws about him. He was mortally afraid the slender gilded chair he was sitting on would break under his two hundred weight. He had never imagined that dress could make such a change in the appearance of any one. The only features about her which seemed natural were her voice and a triangular bit of her wrinkled face which showed through her low-parted hair.

“I come as soon as I got through,” he heard himself say; and then he cleared his throat from a great depth as an apology for the frailty of his tone.

“I kin see you think I'm a sight to behold,” she laughed, merrily. “Sally fixed me up this- a-way. She fluted my hair with a hot curlin' fork, an' combed it like the New York women's. She hain't done one thing sence I come but haul out dresses an' fixin's that used to belong to 'er dead mother, an' try 'em on me, an' they've kept me on the move tell I'd give a sight fer jest one little nap whar thar wasn't so much clatter. Last night they give me a old woman's party. Joel, jest think of a person o' my age a-settin' up tell 'leven o'clock talkin' to a gang o' gray-haired women like a passel o' hens jest off the'r nests! An' jest when I 'lowed they was all goin' home, Sally passed around things to eat an' drink.”

“They wanted to make you have a good time,” ventured the storekeeper.

The widow lowered her voice, and threw a furtive glance toward the dining-room.

“But it ain't the way to make a woman o' my raisin' enjoy a visit,” she said, cautiously. “I don't dare to say a word, fer Amos seems tickled to death over all that Sally gits up; but, Joel, I'm mighty nigh dead. Like a born idiot, I told 'em in my last letter that I'd stay three months, an' now, as the Lord is my help an' stay, I don't believe I can make out another week.”

Her voice faltered. Moisture glistened in her eyes.

“I hope it ain't as bad as that,” remarked Joel, in a tone of vast sympathy.

“It's jest awful,” whimpered the widow. “I make so many fool blunders. 'Tother day they wanted me to go to Brooklyn with 'em, an' I jest lied out o' goin'; an' as they wanted to take the hired gal along to watch the baby, I agreed to stay at home an' 'tend to the house. My Lord, Joel, ef you've never been alone in one o' these contraptions, don't you ever try it. The hired gal showed me all the different arrangements, an' what I was to do. When the bell in the back rings you must press the button in the kitchen, an' when the bell in the front rings, it's somebody at the side door in the hall. An' when you hear a shrill whistle out'n the talkin'-tube in the kitchen, you have to open the end an' blow an' then holler through ant ax what's wanted. Then ef it's groceries, ur milk, ur peddlers' stuff, ur what not, you have to go to the dumb-waiter that fetches things up through a hole in the wall like a well-bucket an' take the things off. I had a lots o' trouble. I was busy all the while the family was off at that dumb-waiter. Like a born fool, I didn't know it tuk stuff to other folks, too, an' I thought it would save time to set at the dumb-waiter with the door open, an' take off the things without waitin' fer 'em to whistle. You never seed the like in all yore life! Before I'd been thar a hour, the kitchen was liter'ly filled with all manner o' stuff, beer, bad-smellin' cheese, and oodlin's an' oodlin's o' milk in bottles. After a while I heerd a fearful racket inside the dumb-waiter. People all the way to the top was a-yellin' out that somebody had stole the'r things, and the landlord was a-bouncin' about like a rubber ball, an' talkin' of callin' in the police. Finally he come in an' axed me about it. He fixed it all right fer me, and delivered the goods to their rightful owners, an' promised not to tell Amos nur Sally what I'd done.”

“You did sorter have a time of it,” said Joel. “I'm no hand myse'f to understand new fixin's. It's been chilly the last day or so, an' when I went to my room in the tavern t'other night I noticed that it was powerful warm after I went to bed. I got up an' struck a light, but thar wasn't a sign of a fireplace in the room, an' it was so hot I 'lowed thar might be a conflagration a-smolderin' som'ers. So I put on my things an' went down to the office. They explained to me that the heat comes frum a furnace below, an' runs into the rooms through holes in the floor. They come up an' shet mine off so as I could sleep.”

“It's a heap nicer our way,” said the widow, without a smile at his misadventure. “I tell you, Joel, I jest can't stand it. I want to go back. When are you a-goin'?”

“In the mornin'.”

She fumbled in the pocket of her skirt and took out her handkerchief, placing it to her eyes.

“Oh, I'm heartily sick of it all!” she whimpered. “You are the fust rail natural thing I've laid eyes on sence I come. Sally is mighty cleanly, an' I'd ax you to clean the mud off'n yore feet, but it's the fust muddy feet I've seen in so long I want to look at 'em.”

Joel glanced down at his boots and flushed. “I never noticed 'em,” he stammered. “I had sech a time a-gittin' in this shebang.”

“Lord, it don't matter, Joel! I'm jest a-thinkin' about you a-goin' home. I simply cayn't stand it; an' yet Amos an' Sally would feel bad ef I went so soon. Amos was sayin' last night that they would make me have sech a good time that I'd never want to leave 'em; but la me! this is the fust rail work I've done in many a day.

“Well, I must go, I reckon,” Joel said, rising awkwardly and taking his hat from the floor by his chair. “I'm sorry, too, to go back an' leave you feelin' so miserable. I wish I could do some'n' to comfort you, but I can't, I reckon. Good-bye—take keer of yorese'f.”

V

When he arrived home two days later, Betsey found him, as she thought, peculiarly reticent about his trip, and all her efforts to get him to speak of how Mrs. Gibbs was pleased were fruitless. One afternoon two weeks after his return she ran into his store, where he was busy weighing smoked bacon which he was purchasing from a customer.

“What you reckon, Joel?” she asked. “What you reckon has happened?”

“I don't know,” he said, looking up from the paper on which he was figuring.

“Mis' Gibbs's got back.”

“You cayn't mean it, sister!”

Betsey leaned against the counter, and the hardware in the showcase rattled. Joel's face had paled. He called his clerk to him, and told him to settle with the customer, and walked to the door with Betsey.

“Yes,” she said. “She got home in Jeff Woods's hack about a hour ago. All the neighbors is over there now. She acts so quar! She hadn't seemed to keer a speck about the cow, nur the cat, nur the chickens. As soon as she got 'er things off, she jest sot down an' drooped. She don't look well. The general opinion is that Amos an' his wife have sent 'er home, fer she won't talk about them. She acts mighty funny. Jest as I started out I happened to remark that you'd be astonished to heer she was back, an' I never seed sech a quar look in a body's face. But,” she concluded after a pause, “they couldn't 'a' treated 'er so awful bad, fer she's got dead loads o' finery.”

That night Joel closed up his store earlier than usual, and when he came into the sitting- room he brought an armful of big logs and put them in the chimney. Then before a roaring fire he sat reflectively, without reading the paper he had brought with him, as was his wont. Betsey sat in the chimney-corner knitting, and looking first at him and then peering through the window toward Mrs. Gibbs's cottage.

“Brother Joel,” she said, suddenly. “You are a-actin' quar, too. You must know some'n' about what happened to Mis' Gibbs, ur why don't you go over thar an' see 'er like the rest o' the neighbors? They've all been but you. She'll think strange of it.”

“I don't see what good I could do,” he answered; and he began to punch the fire, causing a stream of sparks to mount upward with a fusilade of tiny explosions.

Betsey knitted silently for a few minutes longer, then she rose and stood at the window.

“She's got 'er lamp on the table an' a paper in 'er lap, but she hain't a-readin' of it,” said Betsey. “It looks jest like she's a-goin' to commence 'er lonely broodin' life over ag'in. Some'n' seems wrong with 'er, as good an' sweet as she is. She kinder fancied she'd be happy with Amos, an' mebby when she got 'im with 'er she begun to pine fer her ole home. Now she's back, an' I reckon she hardly knows what she does want. I say, perhaps that may be her fix.”

“Mebby it is,” admitted the storekeeper, briefly.

Betsey turned on him quickly. There was a peculiar aggressive sparkle in her eyes, a set look of determination on her face.

“Brother Joel,” she said, “you've jest got to have a grain of common sense. You've got to go over thar this minute an' see 'er. Ef you don't she ain't a-goin' to sleep a wink. I know women, an' I've knowed Mis' Gibbs a long time.”

Joel drew his feet from the fire and wedged his heels under the rung of his chair. The muscles of his face were twitching. There was no mistaking Betsey's tone. She sat down near him and laid her thin, tremulous hand on his knee.

“Do as I tell you, brother. Don't be back'ard. You can't hide nothin'.”

Joel rose. He tried to smile indifferently as he went to a little mirror on the wall and brushed his hair and beard.

“You must wish me good luck, then, sister,” he said, huskily. “I ain't no ways shore what she will do about me.”

After he had gone out Betsey took up an album and opened it at a collection of tin- type pictures. On one of these her eyes rested long and mistily. Then she kissed it, wiped her eyes, and went to bed. Two hours later she heard the front door close and her brother creeping to his room.

“Oh, Joel!” she called out. “Come to my door a minute.”

His boots made a loud clatter in the dead stillness of the house, as he approached.

“Was it all right, brother?”

“You bet it was, Betsey!” He stood in the doorway. The darkness hid his face, but there was a note of boundless joy in his tone.

“I thought it would be, but I don't yet understand why she come back so quick.”

“She don't like city folks' ways,” answered the storekeeper; “an' then—”

“An' then what?” broke in Betsey, impatiently.

“Well, you see, the—the notion seemed to strike both of us when we was travelin' together, an'—an' she admitted that she was a leetle grain afeered that ef we didn't see one another ag'in fer three months that the notion might wear off. Railly, she's tickled to death, fur now she says she kin give Amos an' Sally a sensible reason fer wantin' to git back home.”

Betsey was silent so long that Joel began to wonder if she had fallen asleep. Finally she said:

“Go to bed now, Joel. She's the very woman fer you. I hain't never had no rail happiness in my life sence Jim died, but I want them I love to git all they kin.”

 
 
 

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