Rural Visitor by Will Nathaniel Harben
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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.
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
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.
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,
“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
“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
“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
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,
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“I reckon you'll stay up thar all the spring an' summer,” he said at
“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.”
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
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
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
“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
The widow lowered her voice, and threw a furtive glance toward the
“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
“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
“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.”
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“She don't like city folks' ways,” answered the storekeeper; “an'
“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.”