Socks - The
"He's took 'ith all the sym't'ms,—thet 's one thing sure! Dretful pain
in hez back an' l'ins, legs feel 's ef they hed telegraph-wires inside
'em workin' fur dear life, head aches, face fevered, pulse at 2.40,
awful stetch in the side, an' pressed fur breath. You guess it's
neuralogy, Lurindy? I do'no' nothin' abeout yer high-flyin' names fur
rheumatiz. I don't guess so!"
"But, Aunt Mimy, what do you guess?" asked mother.
"I don' guess nothin' at all,—I nigh abeout know!"
"Well,—you don't think it's"——
"I on'y wish it mebbe the veryaloud,—I on'y wish it mebbe. But that's
tew good luck ter happen ter one o' the name. No, Miss Ruggles,
I—think—it's—the raal article at first hand."
"Goodness, Aunt Mimy! what"——
"Yes, I du; an' you'll all hev it stret through the femily, every one;
you needn't expect ter go scot-free, Emerline, 'ith all your rosy
cheeks; an' you'll all hev ter stay in canteen a month ter the least;
an' ef you're none o' yer pertected by vaticination, I reckon I"——
"Well, Aunt Mimy, if that's your opinion, I'll harness the filly and
drive over for Dr. Sprague."
"Lor'! yer no need ter du thet, Miss Ruggles,—I kin kerry yer all
through jest uz well uz Dr. Sprague, an' a sight better, ef the truth
wuz knowed. I tuk Miss Deacon Smiler an' her hull femily through the
measles an' hoopin'-cough, like a parcel o' pigs, this fall. They du
say Jane's in a poor way an' Nathan'l's kind o' declinin'; but, uz I
know they say it jest ter spite me, I don' so much mind. You a'n't
gwine now, be ye?"
"There's safety in a multitude of counsellors, you know, Aunt Mimy, and
I think on the whole I had best."
"Wal! ef that's yer delib'rate ch'ice betwixt Dr. Sprague an' me, ye
kin du ez ye like. I never force my advice on no one, 'xcept this,—I'd
advise Emerline there ter throw them socks inter the fire; there'll
never none o' them be fit ter sell, 'nless she wants ter spread the
disease. Wal, I'm sorry yer 've concluded ter hev thet old quack
Sprague; never hed no more diplomy 'n I; don' b'lieve he knows cow-pox
from kine, when he sees it. The poor young man's hed his last well day,
I'm afeard. Good-day ter ye; say good-bye fur me ter Stephen. I'll call
ag'in, ef ye happen ter want any one ter lay him eout."
And, staying to light her little black pipe, she jerked together the
strings of her great scarlet hood, wrapped her cloak round her like a
sentinel at muster, and went puffing down the hill like a steamboat.
Aunt Mimy Ruggles wasn't any relation to us, I wouldn't have you think,
though our name was Ruggles, too. Aunt Mimy used to sell herbs, and she
rose from that to taking care of the sick, and so on, till once Dr.
Sprague having proved that death came through her ignorance, she had to
abandon some branches of her art; and she was generally roaming round
the neighborhood, seeking whom she could devour in the others. And so
she came into our house just at dinner-time, and mother asked her to sit
by, and then mentioned Cousin Stephen, and she went up to see him, and
so it was.
Now it can't be pleasant for any family to have such a thing turn up,
especially if there's a pretty girl in it; and I suppose I was as pretty
as the general run, at that time,—perhaps Cousin Stephen thought a
trifle prettier; pink cheeks, blue eyes, and hair the color and shine of
a chestnut when it bursts the burr, can't be had without one 's rather
pleasant-looking; and then I'm very good-natured and quick-tempered, and
I've got a voice for singing, and I sing in the choir, and a'n't afraid
to open my mouth. I don't look much like Lurindy, to be sure; but
then Lurindy's an old maid,—as much as twenty-five,—and don't go to
singing-school.—At least, these thoughts ran through my head as I
watched Aunt Mimy down the hill.—Lurindy a'n't so very pretty,
I continued to think,—but she's so very good, it makes up. At
sewing-circle and quilting and frolics, I'm as good as any; but somehow
I'm never any 'count at home; that's because Lurindy is by, at home.
Well, Lurindy has a little box in her drawer, and there's a letter in
it, and an old geranium-leaf, and a piece of black silk ribbon that
looks too broad for anything but a sailor's necktie, and a shell. I
don't know what she wants to keep such old stuff for, I'm sure.
We're none so rich,—I suppose I may as well tell the truth, that we're
nearly as poor as poor can be. We've got the farm, but it's such a small
one that mother and I can carry it on ourselves, with now and then a
day's help or a bee,—but a bee's about as broad as it is long,—and
we raise just enough to help the year out, but don't sell. We've got
a cow and the filly and some sheep; and mother shears and cards, and
Lurindy spins,—I can't spin, it makes my head swim,—and I knit,
knit socks and sell them. Sometimes I have needles almost as big as a
pipe-stem, and choose the coarse, uneven yarn of the thrums, and
then the work goes off like machinery. Why, I can knit two pair, and
sometimes three, a day, and get just as much for them as I do for the
nice ones,—they're warm. But when I want to knit well, as I did the day
Aunt Mimy was in, I take my best blue needles and my fine white yarn
from the long wool, and it takes me from daybreak till sundown to knit
one pair. I don't know why Aunt Jemimy should have said what she did
about my socks; I'm sure Stephen hadn't been any nearer them than he had
to the cabbage-bag Lurindy was netting, and there wasn't such a nice
knitter in town as I, everybody will tell you. She always did seem to
take particular pleasure in hectoring and badgering me to death.
Well, I wasn't going to be put down by Aunt Mimy, so I made the needles
fly while mother was gone for the doctor. By-and-by I heard a knock up
in Stephen's room,—I suppose he wanted something,—but Lurindy didn't
hear it, and I didn't so much want to go, so I sat still and began to
count out loud the stitches to my narrowings. By-and-by he knocked
"Lurindy," says I, "a'n't that Steve a-knocking?"
"Yes," says she,—"why don't you go?"—for I had been tending him a good
deal that day.
"Well," says I, "there's a number of reasons; one is, I'm just binding
off my heel."
Lurindy looked at me a minute, then all at once she smiled.
"Well, Emmy," says she, "if you like a smooth skin more than a smooth
conscience, you're welcome,"—and went up-stairs herself.
I suppose I had ought to 'a' gone, and I suppose I'd ought to wanted to
have gone, but somehow it wasn't so much fear as that I didn't want to
see Stephen himself now. So Lurindy stayed up chamber, and was there
when mother and the doctor come. And the doctor said he feared Aunt Mimy
was right, and nobody but mother and Lurindy must go near Stephen, (you
see, he found Lurindy there,) and they must have as little communication
with me as possible. And his boots creaked down the back-stairs, and
then he went.
Mother came down a little while after, for some water to put on
Stephen's head, which was a good deal worse, she said; and about the
middle of the evening I heard her crying for me to come and help them
hold him,—he was raving. I didn't go very quick; I said, "Yes,—just
as soon as I've narrowed off my toe"; and when at last I pushed back my
chair to go, mother called in a disapproving voice and said that they'd
got along without me and I'd better go to bed.
Well, after I was in bed I began to remember all that had happened
lately. Somehow my thoughts went back to the first time Cousin Stephen
came to our place, when I was a real little girl, and mother'd sent me
to the well and I had dropped the bucket in, and he ran straight down
the green slippery stones and brought it up, laughing. Then I remembered
how we'd birds-nested together, and nutted, and come home on the
hay-carts, and how we'd been in every kind of fun and danger together;
and how, when my new Portsmouth lawn took fire, at Martha Smith's
apple-paring, he caught me right in his arms and squeezed out the fire
with his own hands; and how, when he saw once I had a notion of going
with Elder Hooper's son James, he stepped aside till I saw what a nincom
Jim Hooper was, and then he appeared as if nothing had happened, and
was just as good as ever; and how, when the ice broke on Deacon Smith's
pond, and I fell in, and the other boys were all afraid, Steve came and
saved my life again at risk of his own; and how he always seemed to
think the earth wasn't good enough for me to walk on; and how I'd
wished, time and again, I might have some way to pay him back; and here
it was, and I'd failed him. Then I remembered how I'd been to his place
in Berkshire,—a rich old farm, with an orchard that smelled like the
Spice Islands in the geography, with apples and pears and quinces
and peaches and cherries and plums,—and how Stephen's mother, Aunt
Emeline, had been as kind to me as one's own mother could be. But now
Aunt Emeline and Uncle 'Siah were dead, and Stephen came a good deal
oftener over the border than he'd any right to. Today, he brought some
of those new red-streaks, and wanted mother to try them; next time,
they'd made a lot more maple-sugar on his place than he wanted; and next
time, he thought mother's corn might need hoeing, or it was fine weather
to get the grass in: I don't know what we should have done without him.
Then I thought how Stephen looked, the day he was pall-bearer to Charles
Payson, who was killed sudden by a fall,—so solemn and pale, nowise
craven, but just up to the occasion, so that, when the other girls burst
out crying at sight of the coffin and at thought of Charlie, I cried,
too,—but it was only because Stephen looked so beautiful. Then I
remembered how he looked the other day when he came, his cheeks were
so red with the wind, and his hair, those bright curls, was all blown
about, and he laughed with the great hazel eyes he has, and showed his
white teeth;—and now his beauty would be spoiled, and he'd never care
for me again, seeing I hadn't cared for him. And the wind began to
come up; and it was so lonesome and desolate in that little bed-room
down-stairs, I felt as if we were all buried alive; and I couldn't get
to sleep; and when the sleet and snow began to rattle on the pane, I
thought there wasn't any one to see me and I'd better cry to keep it
company; and so I sobbed off to dreaming at last, and woke at sunrise
and found it still snowing.
Next morning, I heard mother stepping across the kitchen, and when I
came out, she said Lurindy'd just gone to sleep; they'd had a shocking
night. So I went out and watered the creatures and milked Brindle, and
got mother a nice little breakfast, and made Stephen some gruel. And
then I was going to ask mother if I'd done so very wrong in letting
Lurindy nurse Stephen, instead of me; and then I saw she wasn't thinking
about that; and besides, there didn't really seem to be any reason why
she shouldn't;—she was a great deal older than I, and so it was more
proper; and then Stephen hadn't ever said anything to me that should
give me a peculiar right to nurse him more than other folks. So I just
cleared away the things, made everything shine like a pin, and took
my knitting. I'd no sooner got the seam set than I was called to send
something up on a contrivance mother'd rigged in the back-entry over a
pulley. And then I had to make a red flag, and find a stick, and hang it
out of the window by which there were the most passers. Well, I did it;
but I didn't hurry,—I didn't get the flag out till afternoon; somehow I
hated to, it always seemed such a low-lived disease, and I was mortified
to acknowledge it, and I knew nobody'd come near us for so long,—though
goodness knows I didn't want to see anybody. Well, when that was done,
Lurindy came down, and I had to get her something to eat, and then she
went up-stairs, and mother took her turn for some sleep; and there
were the creatures to feed again, and what with putting on, and taking
off, and tending fires, and doing errands, and the night's milking, and
clearing the paths, I didn't knit another stitch that day, and was glad
enough, when night came, to go to bed myself.
Well, so we went on for two or three days. I'd got my second sock pretty
well along in that time,—just think! half a week knitting half a
sock!—and was setting the heel, when in came Aunt Mimy.
"I a'n't afeard on it," says she; "don't you be skeert. I jest stepped
in ter see ef the young man wuz approachin' his eend."
"No," said I, "he isn't, any more than you are, Aunt Mimy."
"Any more 'n I be?" she answered. "Don't you lose yer temper, Emerline.
We're all approachin' it, but some gits a leetle ahead; it a'n't no
disgrace, ez I knows on. What yer doin' of? Knittin' sale-socks yet?
and, my gracious! still ter work on the same pair! You'll make yer
I didn't say anything, I was so provoked.
"I don' b'lieve you know heow ter take the turns w'en yer mother a'n't
by to help," she continued. "Can't ye take up the heel? Widden ev'ry
fourth. Here, let me! You won't? Wal, I alluz knowed you wuz mighty
techy, Emerline Ruggles, but ye no need ter fling away in thet style.
Neow I'll advise ye ter let socks alone; they're tew intricate fur
sech ez you. Mitt'ns is jest abeout 'ithin the compass uv your
mind,—mitt'ns, men's single mitt'ns, put up on needles larger 'n them
o' yourn be, an' by this rule. Seventeen reounds in the wrist,—tew an'
one's the best seam"——
"Now, Miss Jemimy, just as if I didn't know how to knit mittens!"
"Wal, it seems you don't," said she, "though I don' deny but you may
know heow ter give 'em; an' ez I alluz like ter du w'at good I kin, I'm
gwine ter show ye."
"Show away," says I; "but I'll be bound, I've knit and sold and eaten up
more mittens than ever you put your hands in!"
"Du tell! I'm glad to ha' heern you've got sech a good digestion," says
she, hunting up a piece of paper to light her pipe. "Wal, ez I
wuz sayin'," says she, "tew an' one's the best seam, handiest an'
'lastickest; twenty stetches to a needle, cast up so loose thet the fust
one's ter one eend uv the needle an' the last ter t'other eend,—thet
gives a good pull."
"I guess your smoke will hurt Stephen's head," said I, thinking to
change her ideas.
"Oh, don't you bother abeout Stephen's head; ef it can't stan' thet,'t
a'n't good fur much. Wal, an' then you set yer thumb an' knit plain,
'xcept a seam-stetch each side uv yer thumb; an' you widden tew
stetches, one each side,—s'pose ye know heow ter widden? an'
narry?—ev'ry third reound, tell yer 've got nineteen stetches acrost
yer thumb; then ye knit, 'ithout widdenin', a matter uv seven or eight
reounds more,——you listenin', Emerline?"
"Lor', Miss Jemimy, don't you know better than to ask questions when I'm
counting? Now I've got to go and begin all over again."
"Highty-tighty, Miss! You're a weak sister, ef ye can't ceount an' chat,
tew. Wal, ter make a long matter short, then ye drop yer thumb onter
some thread an' cast up seven stetches an' knit reound fur yer hand, an'
every other time you narry them seven stetches away ter one, fur the
"Dear me, Aunt Mimy! do be quiet a minute! I believe mother's
"I'll see," said Aunt Mimy,—and she stepped to the door and listened.
"No," says she, coming back on tiptoe,—"an' you didn't think you heern
any one neither. It's ruther small work fur ter be foolin' an old woman.
Hows'ever, I don' cherish grudges; so, ez I wuz gwine ter say, ye knit
thirty-six reounds above wheer ye dropped yer thumb, an' then ye toe off
in ev'ry fifth stetch, an' du it reg'Iar, Emerline; an' then take up yer
thumb on tew needles, an' on t'other you pick up the stetches I told yer
ter cast up, an' knit twelve reounds, an' thumb off 'ith narryin' ev'ry
"Well, Miss Jemimy, I guess I shall know how to knit mittens, now!"
"Ef ye don't, 't a'n't my fault. When you've fastened off the eends, you
roll 'em up in a damp towel, an' press 'em 'ith a middlin' warm iron on
the wrong side. There!"
After this, Miss Mimy smoked awhile in silence, satisfied and gratified.
At last she knocked the ashes out of her pipe.
"Wal," says she, "I must be onter my feet. I'd liked ter seen yer ma,
but I won't disturb her, an' you can du ez well. Yer ma promised me a
mess o' tea, an' I guess I may ez well take it neow ez any day."
"Why, Miss Mimy," said I, "there a'n't above four or five messes left,
and we can't get any more till I sell my socks."
"Wal, never mind, then, you can le' me take one, an' mebbe I kin make up
the rest at Miss Smilers's."
So I went into the pantry to get it, and Aunt Mimy followed me, of
"Them's nice-lookin' apples," said she. "Come from Stephen's place? Poor
young man, he won't never want 'em! S'pose he won't hev no objection
ter my tryin' a dozen,"—and she dropped that number into her great
"Nice-lookin' butter, tew," said she. "Own churnin'? Wal, you kin
du sunthin', Emerline. W'en I wuz a heousekeeper, I used ter keep the
femily in butter an' sell enough to Miss Smith—she thet wuz Mary
Breown—ter buy our shoes, all off uv one ceow. S'pose I take this pat?"
I was kind of dumfoundered at first; I forgot Aunt Mimy was the biggest
beggar in Rockingham County.
"No," says I, as soon as I got my breath, "I sha'n't suppose any such
thing. You're as well able to make your butter as I am to make it for
"Wal, Emerline Ruggles! I alluz knowed you wuz close ez the bark uv a
tree; it's jest yer father's narrer-contracted sperrit; you don' favor
yer ma a speck. She's ez free ez water."
"If mother's a mind to give away her eye-teeth, it don't follow that I
should," said I; "and I won't give you another atom; and you just clear
"Wal, you kin keep yer butter, sence you're so sot on it, an' I'll take
a leetle dust o' pork instead."
"Let's see you take it!" said I.
"I guess I'll speak 'ith yer ma. I shall git a consider'ble bigger
piece, though I don't like ter add t' 'er steps."
"Now look here, Miss Mimy," says I,—"if you'll promise not to ask for
another thing, and to go right away, I'll get you a piece of pork."
So I went down cellar, and fished round in the pork-barrel and found
quite a respectable piece. Coming up, just as my head got level with the
floor, what should I see but Miss Jemimy pour all the sugar into her
bag and whip the bowl back on the shelf, and turn round and face me as
innocent as Moses in the bulrushes. After she had taken the pork, she
looked round a minute and said,—
"Wal, arter all, I nigh upon forgot my arrant. Here's a letter they giv'
me fur Lurindy, at the post-office; ev'rybody else's afeard ter come up
here";—and by-and-by she brought it up from under all she'd stowed away
there. "Thet jest leaves room," says she.
"For what?" says I.
"Fur tew or three uv them eggs."
I put them into her bag and said,
"Now you remember your promise, Aunt Mimy!"
"Lor' sakes!" says she, "you're in a mighty berry ter git me off. Neow
you've got all you kin out uv me, the letter, 'n' the mitt'ns, I may go,
may I? I niver see a young gal so furrard 'ith her elders in all my born
days! I think Stephen Lee's well quit uv ye, fur my part, ef he hed to
die ter du it. I don't 'xpect ye ter thank me fur w'at instruction I
gi'n ye;—there's some folks I niver du 'xpect nothin' from; you can't
make a silk pus out uv a sow's ear. W'at ye got thet red flag out
the keepin'-room winder fur? 'Cause Lurindy's nussin' Stephen? Wal,
And so Aunt Mimy disappeared, and the pat of butter with her.
I called Lurindy and gave her the letter, and after a little while I
heard my name, and Lurindy was sitting on the top of the stairs with her
head on her knees, and mother was leaning over the banisters. Pretty
soon Lurindy lifted up her head, and I saw she had been crying, and
between the two I made out that Lurindy'd been engaged a good while to
John Talbot, who sailed out of Salem on long voyages to India and China;
and that now he'd come home, sick with a fever, and was lying at the
house of his aunt, who wasn't well herself; and as he'd given all his
money to help a shipmate in trouble, she couldn't hire him a nurse, and
there he was; and, finally, she'd consider it a great favor, if Lurindy
would come down and help her.
Now Lurindy'd have gone at once, only she'd been about Stephen, so that
she'd certainly carry the contagion, and might be taken sick herself, as
soon as she arrived; and mother couldn't go and take care of John, for
the same reason; and there was nobody but me. Lurindy had a half-eagle
that John had given her once to keep; and I got a little bundle together
and took all the precautions Dr. Sprague advised; and he drove me off
in his sleigh, and said, as he was going about sixteen miles to see
a patient, he'd put me on the cars at the nearest station. Well, he
stopped a minute at the post-office, and when he came out he had another
letter for Lurindy. I took it, and, after a moment, concluded I'd better
"What are you about?" says the Doctor; "your name isn't Lurindy, is it?"
"I wish it was," says I, "and then I shouldn't be here."
"Oh! you're sorry to leave Stephen?" says he. "Well, you can comfort
yourself with reflecting that Lurindy's a great deal the best nurse."
As if that was any comfort! If Lurindy was the best nurse, she'd ought
to have had the privilege of taking care of her own lover, and not of
other folks's. Besides, for all I knew, Stephen would be dead before
ever I came back, and here I was going away and leaving him! Well, I
didn't feel so very bright; so I read the letter. The Doctor asked me
what ailed John Talbot. I thought, if I told him that Miss Jane Talbot
wrote now so that Lurindy shouldn't come, and that he was sick just as
Stephen was, he wouldn't let me go. So I said I supposed he'd burnt his
mouth, like the man in the South, eating cold pudding and porridge; men
always cried out at a scratch. And he said, "Oh, do they?" and laughed.
After about two hours' driving, there came a scream as if all the
panthers in Coos County were let loose to yell, and directly we stopped
at a little place where a red flag was hung out. I asked the Doctor if
they'd got the small-pox here, too; but before he could answer, the
thunder running along the ground deafened me, and in a minute he had put
me inside the cars and was off.
I was determined I wouldn't appear green before so many folks, though
I'd never seen the cars before; so I took my seat, and paid my fare to
Old Salem, and looked about me. Pretty soon a woman came bustling in
from somewhere, and took the seat beside me. There she fidgeted round so
that I thought I should have flown.
"Miss," says she, at length, "will you close your window? I never travel
with a window open; my health's delicate."
I tried to shut it, but it wouldn't go up or down, till a gentleman put
out his cane and touched it, and down it slid, like Signor Blitz. It did
seem as if everything about the cars went by miracle. I thanked him, but
I found afterward it would have been more polite not to have spoken.
After that woman had done everything she could think of to plague and
annoy the whole neighborhood, she got out at Ipswich, and somebody
met her that looked just like our sheriff; and I shouldn't be a bit
surprised to hear that she'd gone to jail. When she got out, somebody
else got in, and took the same seat.
"Miss," says she, "will you have the goodness to open your window? this
air is stifling."
And she did everything that the other woman didn't do. When she found
I wouldn't talk, she turned to the young gentleman and lady that sat
opposite, and that looked as if there was a great deal too much company
in the cars, and found they wouldn't talk either, and at last she caught
the conductor and made him talk.
AH this while we were swooping over the country in the most terrific
manner. I thought how frightened mother and Lurindy'd be, if they should
see me. It was no use trying to count the cattle or watch the fences,
and the birch-trees danced rigadoons enough to make one dizzy, and
we dashed through everybody's back-yard, and ran so close up to the
kitchens that we could have seen what they had for dinner, if we had
stayed long enough; and finally I made up my mind that the engine had
run away with the driver, and John Talbot would never have me to tend
him; and I began to wonder, as I saw the sparks and cinders and great
clouds of steam and smoke, if those tornadoes that smash round so out
West in the newspapers weren't just passenger-trains, like us, off the
track,—when all at once it grew as dark as midnight.
"Now," says I to myself, "it's certain. They've run the thing into the
ground. However, we can't go long now."
And just as I was thinking about Korah and his troop, I remembered what
the Doctor had told me about Salem Tunnel, and it began to grow lighter,
and we began to go slower, and I picked up my wits and looked about
me again. I had only time to notice that the young gentleman and lady
looked very much relieved, and to shake my shawl from the clutch of the
woman beside me, when we stopped at Salem, safe and sound.
I had a good deal of trouble to find Miss Talbot's house, but find it I
did; and the first thing she gave me was a scolding for coming, thinking
I was Lurindy, and her tongue wasn't much cooler when she found I
wasn't; and then finally she said, as long as I was there, I might stay;
and I went right up to see John, and a sight he was!
It was about three months I stayed and took the greater part of the care
of him. Sometimes in the midnight, when he was quite beside himself, and
dreaming out loud, it was about as good as a story-book to hear him. He
told me of some great Indian cities where there were men in white, with
skins swarthier than old red Guinea gold, and with great shawls all
wrought in palm-leaves of gold and crimson bound on their heads, who
could sink a ship with their lacs of rupees; and of islands where the
shores came down to the water's edge and unrolled like a green ribbon,
and brooks came sparkling down behind them, and great trees hung above
like banners, and beautiful women came off on rafts and skiffs loaded
with fruit,—the islands set like jewels on the back of the sea, and the
sky covered them with light and hung above them bluer than the hangings
of the Tabernacle, and they sent long rivers of spice out on the air to
entice the sailor back,—islands where night never came. Sometimes, when
he talked on so, I remembered that I'd felt rather touched up when I
found that Lurindy'd had a sweetheart all this time, and mother knew it,
and they'd never told me, and I wondered how it happened. Now it came
across me, that, quite a number of years before, Lurindy had gone to
Salem and worked in the mills. She didn't stay long, because it didn't
agree with her,—the neighbors said, because she was lazy. Lurindy lazy,
indeed! There a'n't one of us knows how to spell the first syllable
of that word. But that's where she must have got acquainted with
John Talbot. He'd been up at our place, too; but I was over to Aunt
Emeline's, it seems. But one night, about this time, I thought he was
dying, he'd got so very low; and I thought how dreadful it was for
Lurindy never to see him again, and how it was all my selfish fault, and
how maybe he wouldn't 'a' died, if he'd had her to have taken care of
him; and I suppose no convicted felon ever endured more remorse than I
did, sitting and watching that dying man all that long and lonely night.
But with the morning he was better,—they always are a great deal worse
when they are getting well from it; he laughed when the doctor came, and
said he guessed he'd weathered that gale; and by-and-by he got well.
He meant to have gone up and seen Lurindy, after all, but his ship was
ready for sea just as he was; and I thought it was about as well, for
he wasn't looking his prettiest. And so he declared I was the neatest
little trimmer that ever trod water, and he believed he should know a
Ruggles by the cut of her jib, (I wonder if he'd have known Aunt Mimy,)
and if ever he went master, he'd name his ship for me, and call it the
Sister of Charity. And he kissed me on both cheeks, and looked serious
enough when he sent his love to Lurindy, and went away; and no sooner
was he gone than Miss Talbot said I'd better have the doctor myself; and
I didn't sit up again for about three weeks.
All this time I hadn't heard a word from home, and, for all I knew,
Stephen might be dead and buried. I didn't feel so very light-hearted,
you may be sure, when one day Miss Talbot brought me a letter. It was
from mother, and it seemed Stephen'd only had a bad fever, and had been
up and gone home for more than a week. So I wrote back, as soon as I
could, all about John, and how he'd gone to sea again, and how Miss
Talbot, who set sights by John, was rather lonely, and I thought I'd
keep her company a little longer, and try a spell in the mills, seeing
that our neighbors didn't think a girl had been properly accomplished
till she'd had a term or two in the factory. The fact was, I didn't want
to go home just then; I thought, maybe, if I waited a bit, my face would
get back to looking as it used to. So I worked in the piece-room, light
work and good pay, sent mother and Lurindy part of my wages, and paid my
board to Miss Talbot. She'd become quite attached to me, and I to her,
for all she was such an old-maidish thing; but I'd got to thinking an
old maid wasn't such a very bad thing, after all. Fourth of July came at
last, and the mills were closed, and I went with some of the other girls
on an excursion down the harbor; and when I got home, Miss Talbot told
me my Cousin Stephen had been down to see me, and had been obliged to go
home in the last train. I wondered why Stephen didn't stay, and then it
flashed upon me that she'd told him all about it, and he didn't want to
see me afterwards. I knew mother and Lurindy suspected why I didn't come
home, and now, thinks I, they know; but I asked no questions.
When September came, I saw it wasn't any use delaying, and I might as
well go back to knitting sale-socks then as any time. However, I didn't
go till October. You needn't think I'd stayed away from the farm all
that time, while the tender things were opening, the tiny top-heavy
beans pushing up, the garden-sarse greening, the little grass-blades
two and two,—while all the young creatures were coming forward, the
chickens breaking the shell, and the gosling-storm brewing and dealing
destruction,—while the strawberries were growing ripe and red up in the
high field, and the hay and clover were getting in,—you needn't think
I'd stayed away from all that had been pleasant in my life, without many
a good heart-ache; and when at last I saw the dear old gray house again,
all weather-beaten and homely, standing there with its well-sweep among
the elms, I fairly cried. Mother and Lurindy ran out to meet me, when
they saw the stage stop, and after we got into the house it seemed if
they would never get done kissing me. And mother stirred round and made
hot cream-biscuits for tea, and got the best china, and we sat up till
nigh midnight, talking, and I had to tell everything John did and said
and thought and looked, over and over again.
By-and-by I unpacked my trunk, and there was a little parcel in the
bottom of it, and I pulled it up.
"There, Lurindy," says I, "John told me to tell you to have your
wedding-dress ready against he came home,—he's gone mate,—and here it
is." And I unrolled the neatest brown silk you ever saw, just fit for
Lurindy, she's so pale and genteel, and threw it into her lap. I'd
stayed the other month to get enough to buy it.
The first thing Lurindy did, by way of thanks, was to burst into tears
and declare she never could take it, that she never should marry now;
and the more I urged her, the more she cried. But at last she said she'd
accept it conditionally,—and the condition was, I should be married
when she was.
"Well," says I, "agreed, if you'll provide the necessary article;
because I can't very well marry my shadow, and I don't know any one else
that would be fool enough to have such a little fright."
At that Lurindy felt all the worse, and it took all the spirits I had to
build up hers and mother's. I suppose I was sorry to see they felt
so bad, (and they hadn't meant that I should,) because it gave the
finishing stroke to my conviction; and after I was in bed, I grew
sorrier still; and if I cried, 't wasn't on account of myself, but I saw
how Lurindy 'd always feel self-accused, though she hadn't ought to,
whenever she looked at me, and how all her life she'd feel my scarred
face like a weight on her happiness, and think I owed it to John, and
how intolerable such an obligation, though it was only a fancied one,
would be; and I saw, too, that it all came from my not going up-stairs
that first time when Stephen knocked,—because if I had gone, I should
have been there when the doctor came, and Lurindy 'd have gone to have
taken care of John herself, and it would have been her face that was
ruined instead of mine; and though it was a great deal better that
it should be mine, still she'd have been easier in her mind;—and so
thinking and worrying, I fell asleep.
Next day was baking-day, and Stephen was coming in the afternoon, and it
was almost five o'clock when we got cleared up, and I went up-stairs to
change my dress. I thought 't wasn't any use to trim myself out in bows
and ruffles now, so I just put on my brown gingham and a white linen
collar; but Lurindy came and tied a pink ribbon at my throat, and fixed
my hair herself, and looked down and said,—
"Well, I don't see but you're about as pretty as ever you was."
That almost finished me; but I contrived to laugh, and got down-stairs.
Mother 'd run over to the village to get some yarn to knit up, for she
'd used all our own wool. It was getting dark, and I had just brought in
another log, and hung the kettle on the crane. The log hadn't taken fire
yet, and there was only a light glimmer, from the coals, on the ceiling.
I heard the back-door-latch click, and thought it was mother, and
commenced humming in the middle of a tune, as if I'd been humming the
rest and had just reached that part; but the figure standing there was a
sight too tall for mother.
"Oh, Stephen," says I,—and my heart jumped in my throat, but I just
swallowed it down, and thanked Heaven that the evening was so dark,—"is
"Yes," says he, stepping forward, and putting out his hands, and making
as if he would kiss me. Just for a minute I hung back, then I went and
gave him my hand in a careless way.
"Yes," says he; "and I can't say that you seem so very glad to see me."
"Oh, yes," I answered, "I am glad. Did you drive over?"
"Well," says he, "maybe you are; but I should call it a mighty cool
reception, after almost a year's absence. However, I suppose it's the
best manners not to show any cordiality; you've had a chance to learn
more politeness down at Salem than we have up here in the country."
I was a little struck up by Stephen's running on so,—he was generally
so quiet, and said so little, and then in such short sentences. But in a
minute I reckoned he thought I was nervous, and was trying to put me at
my ease,—and he knew of old that the best way to do that was to rouse
"I ha'n't seen anybody at Salem better-mannered 'n mother and Lurindy,"
"Come home for Thanksgiving?" asked Stephen, hanging up his coat.
I kept still a minute, for I couldn't for the life of me see what I had
to give thanks for. Then it came over me what a cheery, comfortable home
this was, and how Stephen would always be my kind, warm-hearted friend,
and how thankful I ought to be that my life had been spared, and that I
was useful, that I'd made such good friends as I had down to Salem, and
that I wasn't soured against all mankind on account of my misfortune.
"Yes, Stephen," says I, "I've come home for Thanksgiving; and I have a
great deal to give thanks for."
"So have I," said he.
"Stephen," says I, "I don't exactly know, but I shouldn't wonder if I'd
had a change of heart."
"Don't know of anybody that needed it less," says Stephen, warming his
hands. "However, if it makes you any more comfortable, I sha'n't object;
except the part of it that belongs to me,—I sha'n't have that changed."
The fire'd begun to brighten now, and the room was red and
pleasant-looking; still I knew he couldn't see me plainly, and I waited
a minute, and lingered round, pretending I was doing something, which
I wasn't; I hated to break the old way of things; and then I took the
tongs and blew a coal and lighted the dip and held it up, as if I was
looking for something. Pretty soon I found it; it was a skein of linen
thread I was going to wind for Lurindy. Then I got the swifts and came
and sat down in front of the candle.
"There," says I, "the swifts is broken. What shall I do?"
"I'll hold the thread, if that's your trouble," says Stephen, and came
and sat opposite to me while I wound.
I wondered whether he was looking at me, but I didn't durst look
up,—and then I couldn't, if my life had depended upon it. At last we
came to the end; then I managed to get a glance edgeways. He hadn't been
looking at all, I don't believe, till that very moment, when he raised
"Are folks always so sober, when they've had a change of heart?" he
asked, with his pleasant smile.
"They are, when they've had a change of face," I was going to say; but
just then mother came in with her bundle of yarn, and Lurindy came down,
and there was such a deal of welcoming and talking, that I slipped round
and laid the table and had the tea made before they thought of it. I'd
about made up my mind now that Stephen would act as if nothing had
happened, and pretend to like me just the same, because he was so
tender-hearted and couldn't bear to hurt my feelings nor anybody's; and
I'd made up my mind, too, that, as soon as he gave me a chance, I'd tell
him I was set against marriage: leastwise, I wouldn't have him, because
I wouldn't have any man marry me out of pity; and the more I cared for
him, the more I couldn't hamper an ugly face on him forever. So, you
see, I had quite resolved, that, cost me what it would, I'd say 'No,' if
Stephen asked me. Well, it's a very good thing to make resolutions; but
it's a great deal better to break them, sometimes.
Having come to my conclusions, I grew as merry as any of them; and when
mother put two spoons into Stephen's cup, I told him he was going to
have a present. And he said he guessed he knew what it was; and I said
it must be a mitten, I'd heard that Martha Smith had taken to knitting
lately; and he confounded Martha Smith. Mother and Lurindy were very
busy talking about the yarn, and how Mr. Fisher wanted the next socks
knit; and Stephen asked me what that dish was beside me. I said, it was
lemon-pie, and the top-crust was made of kisses, and would he have
some? And he said, he didn't care for anybody's kisses but mine, and he
believed he wouldn't. And I told him the receipt of this came from the
Queen's own kitchen. And he said, he didn't know that the Queen of
England was any better than the Queen of Hearts. Then I said, I supposed
he remembered how the latter lady was served by the Knave of Hearts
in 'Mother Goose'? And he replied, that he wasn't going to be
Jack-at-a-pinch for anybody. And so on, till mother finished tea.
After tea, I sat up to the table and ended some barley-trimming that I'd
just learned how to make; and as the little kernels came tumbling out
from under my fingers, Stephen sat beside and watched them as if it
was a field of barley, growing, reaped, and threshed under his eyes.
By-and-by I finished it; and then, rummaging round in the table-drawer,
I found the sock that I was knitting, waiting at the very stitch where I
left it, 'most a year ago.
"Well, if that isn't lucky!" said I. And I sat down on a stool by the
fireside, determined to finish that sock that night; and no sooner had
I set the needles to dancing, like those in the fairy-story, than open
came the kitchen-door again, and in, out of the dark, stepped Aunt Mimy.
"Good-evenin', Miss Ruggles!" says she. "Heow d' ye du, Emerline? hope
yer gwine ter stay ter hum a spell. Why, Stephen, 's this you? Quite a
femily-party, I declare fur't! Wai, Miss Ruggles, I got kind o' tired
settin' in the dark, an', ez I looked out an' see the dips blazin' in
yer winder, thinks I, I'll jest run up an' see w'at's ter pay."
"Why, there's only one dip," says Lurindy.
"Wal, thet's better 'n none," answered Miss Mimy.
I had enough of the old Adam left in me to be riled at her way of
begging as much as ever I was; but I saw that Stephen was amused; he
hadn't ever happened to be round, when Aunt Mimy was at her tricks.
"No, Miss Ruggles," continued she, "I thank the Lord I ha'n't got a
complainin' sperrit, an' hed jest ez lieves see by my neighbor's dip ez
my own, an', mebbe ye 'll say, a sight lieveser."
And then Miss Mimy pulled out a stocking without beginning or end, and
began to knit as fast as she could rattle, after she 'd fixed one needle
in a chicken-bone, and pinned the chicken-bone to her side.
"Wal, Emerline," says she, "I s'pose ye've got so grand down ter the
mills, thet, w'at 'ith yer looms an' machines an' tic-doloreux, ye won't
hev nothin' ter say ter the old way uv knittin' socks."
"Does this look like it, Aunt Mimy?" says I, shaking my needles by way
of answer. "I'm going to finish this pair to-night."
"Oh," says she, "you be, be you? Wal, ef I don't e'en a'most vum it's
the same one! ef ye ha'n't been nigh abeout a hull year a-knittin' one
pair uv socks!"
"How do you know they're the same pair?" asked I.
"By a mark I see you sot in 'em ter the top, ef ye want ter know, afore
I thought it would be hangin' by the eyelids the rest uv yer days. Wal,
I never 'xpected ye'd be much help ter yer mother; ye're tew fond uv
hikin' reound the village."
"Indeed, Miss Mimy," said Lurindy, kind of indignant, "she's always been
the greatest help to mother."
"I don't know how I should have made both ends meet this year, if it
hadn't been for her wages," said mother.
Stephen was whittling Miss Mimy's portrait on the end of a stick, and
laughing. I was provoked with mother and Lurindy for answering the
thing, and was just going to speak up, when I caught Stephen's eye, and
thought better of it. Pretty soon Aunt Mimy produced a bundle of herbs
from her pocket, and laid them on the table.
"Oh, thank you, Aunt Jemimy," says mother. "Pennyroyal and catnip's
"Yes," said Aunt Mimy. "An' I'll take my pay in some uv yer dried
apples. Heow much does Fisher give fur socks, Miss Ruggles?" she asked,
"Fifty cents and I find,—fifteen and he finds."
"An' ye take yer pay out uv the store? Varry reasonable. I wuz thinkin'
uv tryin' my han' myself;—business's ruther dull, folks onkimmon well
this fall. Heow many strings yer gwine ter give me fur the yarbs?"
Then mother went up garret to get the apples and spread the herbs to
dry, and Lurindy wanted some different needles, and went after her.
Stephen'd just heaped the fire, and the great blaze was tumbling up
the chimney, and Miss Mimy lowered her head and looked over her great
horn-bowed spectacles at me.
"Wal, Emerline Ruggles," says she, after a while, going back to her
work, "you've lost all your pink cheeks!"
I suppose it took me rather sudden, for all at once a tear sprung and
fell right down my work. I saw it glistening on the bright needles a
minute, and then my eyes filmed so that I felt there was more coming,
and I bent down to the fire and made believe count my narrowings. After
all, Aunt Mimy was kind of privileged by everybody to say what she
pleased. But Stephen didn't do as every one did, always.
"Emmie's beauty wasn't all in her pink cheeks, Miss Mimy," I heard him
say, as I went into the back-entry to ask mother to bring down the mate
of my sock.
"Wal, wherever it was, there's precious little of it left!" said she,
angry at being took up, which maybe she never was before in her life.
"You don't agree with her friends," said he, cutting in the stick the
great mole on the side of her nose; "they all think she's got more
than ever she had."
Mother tossed me down the mate, and I went back.
"Young folks," said Aunt Mimy, after two or three minutes' silence, "did
ye ever hear tell o' 'Miah Kemp?"
"Any connection of old Parson Kemp in the other parish?" asked Stephen.
"Yes," said Aunt Mimy,—"his brother. Wal, w'en I wuz a young gal,
livin' ter hum,—my father wuz ez wealthy ez any farmer thereabeouts, ye
know,—I used ter keep company 'ith 'Miah Kemp. 'Miah wuz a stun-mason,
the best there wuz in the deestrik, an' the harnsomest boy there
tew,—though I say it thet shouldn't say it,—he hed close-curlin' black
hair, an' an arm it done ye good ter lean on. Wal, one spring-night,—I
mind it well,—we wuz walkin' deown the lane together, an' the wind
wuz blowin', the laylocks wuz in bloom, an' all overhead the lane wuz
rustlin' 'ith the great purple plumes in the moonlight, an' the air wuz
sweeter 'ith their breath than any air I've ever taken sence, an' ez we
wuz walkin', 'Miah wuz askin' me fur ter fix eour weddin'-day. Wal, w'en
he left me at the bars, I agreed we'd be merried the fifteenth day uv
July comin', an' I walked hum; an' I mind heow I wondered ef Eve wuz
so happy in Paradise, or ef Paradise wuz half so beautiful ez thet
scented lane. The nex' mornin', ez I wuz milkin', the ceow tuk fright
an' begun ter cut up, an' she cut up so thet I run an' she arter me,—an'
the long an' the short uv it wuz thet she tossed me, an' w'en they got
me up they foun' I hedn't but one eye. Wal, uv course, my looks wuz
sp'iled,—fur I'd been ez pretty'z Emerline wuz,—you wuz pretty once,
Emerline,—an' I sent 'Miah Kemp word I'd hev no more ter du 'ith him
nor any one else neow. 'Miah, he come ter see me; but I wuz detarmined,
an' I stuck ter my word. He did an' said everything thet mortal man
could,—thet he loved me better'n ever, an' thet 't would be the death
uv him, an' tuk on drefful. But w'en he'd got through, I giv' him the
same answer, though betwixt ourselves it a'most broke my heart ter say
it. I kep' a stiff upper-lip, an' he grew desp'rate, an' tuk all sorts
uv dangerous jobs, blastin' rocks an' haulin' stuns. One night,—'t wuz
jest a year from the night I'd walked 'ith him in thet lane,—I wuz
stan'in' by the door, an' all ter once I heerd a noise an' crash ez ef
all the thunderbolts in the Almighty's hand hed fallen together, an' I
run deown the lane an' met the men bringin' up sunthin' on an old door.
They hed been blastin' Elder Payson's rock, half-way deown the new well,
an' the mine hedn't worked, an' 'Miah'd gone deown ter see w'at wuz in
it; an' jest ez he got up ag'in, off it went, an' here he wuz 'ith a
great splinter in his chist,—ef the rest uv it wuz him. They couldn't
kerry him no furder, an' sot him deown; an' there wuz all the trees
a-wavin' overhead ag'in, an' all the sweet scents a-beatin' abeout the
air, jest uz it wuz a year ago w'en he parted from me so strong an'
whole an' harnsome; all the fleowers wuz a-blossomin', all the winds wuz
blowin' an' this lump uv torn flesh an' broken bones wuz 'Miah. I laid
deown on the grass beside him, an' put my lips close to hisn, an' I
could feel the breath jest stirrin' between; an' the doctor came an'
said 't warn't no use; an' they threw a blanket over us, an' there I
laid tell the sun rose an' sparkled in the dew an' the green leaves an'
the purple bunches, an' the air came frolickin' fresh an' sweet abeout
us; an' though I'd knowed it long, layin' there in the dark, neow I see
fur sartain thet there warn't no breath on them stiff lips, an' the
forehead was cold uz the stuns beneath us, an' the eyes wuz fixed an'
glazed in thet las' look uv love an' tortur' an' reproach thet he giv'
me. They say I went distracted; an' I du b'lieve I've be'n cracked
Here Aunt Mimy, who had told her whole story without moving a muscle,
commenced rocking violently back and forth.
"I don't often remember all this," says she, after a little, "but las'
spring it all flushed over me; an' w'en I heerd heow Emerline'd
be'n sick,—I hear a gre't many things ye do' no' nothin' abeout,
children,—I thought I'd tell her, fust time I see her."
"What made you think of it last spring?" asked Stephen.
"The laylocks wuz in bloom," said Miss Mirny,—"the laylocks wuz in
Just then mother came down with the apples, and some dip-candles, and
a basket of broken victuals; and Miss Mimy tied her cloak and said she
believed she must be going. And Stephen went and got his hat and coat,
"Miss Mimy, wouldn't you like a little company to help you carry your
bundles? Come, Emmie, get your shawl."
So I ran and put on my things, and Stephen and I went home with Aunt
"Emmie," says Stephen, as we were coming back, and he'd got hold of my
hand in his, where I'd taken his arm, "what do you think of Aunt Mimy
"Oh," says I, "I'm sorry I've ever been sharp with her."
"I don't know," said Stephen. "'Ta'n't in human nature not to pity her;
but then she brought her own trouble on herself, you see."
"Yes," said I.
"I don't know how to blast rocks," says Stephen, when we'd walked a
little while without saying anything,—"but I suppose there is something
as desperate that I can do."
"Oh, you needn't go to threatening me!" thinks I; and, true enough, he
hadn't any need to.
"Emmie," says he, "if you say 'No,' when I ask you to have me, I sha'n't
ask you again."
"Well?" says I, after a step or two, seeing he didn't speak.
"Well?" says he.
"I can't say 'Yes' or 'No' either, till you ask me," said I.
He stopped under the starlight and looked in my eyes.
"Emmie," says he, "did you ever doubt that I loved you?"
"Once I thought you did," said I; "but it's different now."
"I do love you," said he, "and you know it."
"Me, Stephen?" said I,—"with my face like a speckled sparrow's egg?"
"Yes, you," said he; and he bent down and kissed me, and then we walked
By-and-by Stephen said, When would I come and be the life of his house
and the light of his eyes? That was rather a speech for Stephen; and
I said, I would go whenever he wanted me. And then we went home very
comfortably, and Stephen told mother it was all right, and mother and
Lurindy did what they'd got very much into the habit of doing,—cried;
and I said, I should think I was going to be buried, instead of married;
and Stephen took my knitting-work away, and said, as I had knit all our
trouble and all our joy into that thing, he meant to keep it just as it
was; and that was the end of my knitting sale-socks.
I suppose, now I've told you so far, you'd maybe like to know the rest.
Well, Lurindy and John were married Thanksgiving morning; and just as
they moved aside, Stephen and I stepped up and took John and Aunt Mimy
rather by surprise by being married too.
"Wal," says Aunt Mimy, "ef ever you hang eout another red flag, 't won't
be because Lurindy's nussin' Stephen!"
I don't suppose there's a happier little woman in the State than me. I
should like to see her, if there is. I go over home pretty often; and
Aunt Mimy makes just as much of my baby—I've named him John—as mother
does; and that's enough to ruin any child that wasn't a cherub born. And
Miss Mimy always has a bottle of some new nostrum of her own stilling
every time she sees any of us; we've got enough to swim a ship, on the
top shelf of the pantry to-day, if it was all put together. As for
Stephen, there he comes now through the huckleberry-pasture, with the
baby on his arm; he seems to think there never was a baby before; and
sometimes—Stephen's such a homebody—I'm tempted to think that maybe
I've married my own shadow, after all. However, I wouldn't have it other
than it is. Lurindy, she lives at home the most of the time; and once in
a while, when Stephen and mother and I and she are all together, and as
gay as larks, and the baby is creeping round, swallowing pins and hooks
and eyes as if they were blueberries, and the fire is burning, and the
kettle singing, and the hearth swept clean, it seems as if heaven had
actually come down, or we'd all gone up without waiting for our robes;
it seems as if it was altogether too much happiness for one family. And
I've made Stephen take a paper on purpose to watch the ship-news; for
John sails captain of a fruiter to the Mediterranean, and, sure enough,
its little gilt figure-head that goes dipping in the foam is nothing
else than the Sister of Charity.