Clover and Blue Grass
by Eliza Calvert Hall
HOW PARSON PAGE WENT TO THE CIRCUS
MARY CRAWFORD'S CHART
MILLSTONES AND STUMBLING-BLOCKS
"ONE TASTE OF THE OLD TIME"
ONE DAY IN SPRING
CLOVER AND BLUE GRASS
Eliza Calvert Hall
With a frontispiece by
H. R. Ballinger
Little, Brown, & Company
BY LIDA CALVERT OBENCHAIN.
All rights reserved
Published, September, 1916
VAL CALVERT WINSTON
HOW PARSON PAGE WENT TO THE CIRCUS
(The last of the Aunt Jane stories)
This story, the nineteenth and last of the Aunt Jane stories,
appeared in the Cosmopolitan, July 1910, after the
publication of The Land of Long Ago. Its publication in
present volume completes the set of stories told by Aunt Jane
I hear there's goin' to be a circus in town next week, said Aunt
Jane, and if it wasn't for the looks of the thing, jest for the sake
of old times, I'd like to go to town and stand on the old drug-store
corner and watch the procession go 'round the square, like me and Abram
used to do in the days when we was young and the children growin' up
She broke off with a laugh relevant to some happy thought.
I never see a show bill, she said, that I don't think o' the time
Parson Page went to the circus. Times has changed so, I reckon a
preacher could go to a circus nowadays and little or nothin' be said of
it. I ricollect the last time the circus come to town Uncle Billy
Bascom says to me, says he: 'Jane, they tell me the church members and
their children was so thick in that tent to-day that you could 'a' held
a meetin' of the session right there and organized a Sunday school of
any denomination whatever.' But in my day all a church member or a
church member's children could do on circus day was to stand on the
street and watch the procession; and as for a minister, why, it wasn't
hardly considered fittin' for him to even go a-fishin', much less go to
a circus. Folks used to say a good many hard things about Parson Page
for bein' so fond of fishin', but there wasn't anything that could keep
him away from the river when spring come and the fish begun to bite.
And when folks begun tellin' tales about the fishin' in Reelfoot Lake,
Parson Page never rested till he got there.
I reckon, honey, you know all about Reelfoot Lake? Aunt Jane
looked questioningly at me over her glasses and waited for my answer.
Why, yes, it's a big lake where all the men go to fish, I answered
The vagueness of my answer was a sure indication of shameful
ignorance, and Aunt Jane shook her head disapprovingly.
There's somethin' wrong with the schoolin' of children nowadays,
she said gravely, Knowin' what I do about Reelfoot Lake, it looks to
me like the folks that make the geography books for children ought to
put that lake down on the map in big letters and then tell all about
it. Why, child, there ain't but one Reelfoot Lake in all the world, and
every child ought to be able to tell all the hows and the wheres and
the whens that concerns it. Schoolin's a mighty good thing, but every
now and then there's somethin' you can't learn out o' books, and you've
got to come to some old man like Uncle Billy Bascom or some old woman
like me that can ricollect away back yonder. Not but what it's all
hearsay with me, when it comes to Reelfoot Lake, for that was before my
day; but many's the time I've heard father and Uncle Tandy Stevens tell
Father used to say that when God created the world in six days, he
forgot to make Reelfoot Lake, and when he finally did remember it,
after goodness knows how many thousand years, he was so put out he
didn't think about it bein' Sunday, and he jest ripped up the earth and
made that lake as quick as he could. I've heard father name the day o'
the month it happened, but like as not, if I tried to tell it jest so,
I'd git it wrong. However, I ricollect it was back yonder in 1811,
before the time o' railroads, and it must 'a' been about the middle o'
December, for I ricollect hearin' father say that him and Uncle Tandy
Stevens spent that Christmas on their flatboat in the middle o' the
Mississippi River. They made the trip to New Orleens pretty near every
year, floatin' down the Mississippi and sellin' their tobacco or
hoop-poles or whatever they had to sell, and then they'd sell the
flatboat and foot it back to Kentucky.
Maybe you think, child, I'm drawin' the long bow, tellin' about
people walkin' from New Orleens to Kentucky, but that's the way it was
in the old times before they had railroads everywhere. And it wasn't
such a slow way of travelin', either. Father used to brag how he made
the journey in jest thirteen days and a half. I reckon betwixt the
dangers by land and the dangers by water a journey like that wasn't any
light matter, but I've heard father say many a time that if the river
wasn't too high or too low, and if the weather favored him, he'd rather
go down to New Orleens in a flatboat than to go on the finest steamboat
that ever was built. You know that Bible text that says, 'Behold, I
make all things new.' Father said that text would come into his mind
every time he went on one o' these trips. They'd float down the Little
Barren River and come to the Ohio, and down that to the Mississippi,
and father said when they'd make the turn and feel the current o' the
big river under 'em sweepin' 'em south, away from home and into a
strange country, it was jest like a man professin' religion and goin'
forward to a new and better life. And the slaves they'd take along to
help manage the boat, they'd begin to sing 'Swing low, sweet chariot,
bound for to carry me home,' and Uncle Tandy, he'd jest throw up his
hat and holler every time.
Well, the time I'm tellin' you about, father and Uncle Tandy had a
big load o' tobacco and a big drove o' turkeys to take down to New
Orleens. Father said that every time he built a flatboat and loaded it
up he thought about Noah and the ark, and this time, when he started
down Barren River, it was cloudy and threatenin' rain, and the next day
it begun showerin' and then clearin' off and then showerin' again, more
like April than December. But when they struck the Ohio they found jest
the right sort o' weather for flatboat journeyin', clear and frosty at
night and sunshiny all day; and they'd been floatin' along all day and
a good part of every night, as they was in a hurry to git to New
Orleens and sell their tobacco before prices fell.
Well, the night o' the earthquake, father said it was his time to
sit up and watch the fire and guide the boat, and he was glad of it;
for he said there wasn't anything as peaceful and happy as the nights
he'd spend on the river. With the moon and the stars over him and the
big river under him it was like bein' in the hollow of God's hand. That
night he was pretty busy up to twelve o'clock, lookin' out for snags
and dangerous places; but about one o'clock they'd got to a place where
he knew the channel was safe, and he was sittin' down leanin' against a
pile o' tobacco and half dozin', when all at once he heard a rumblin'
like thunder, and not a sign o' rain in the sky, and then a noise like
the noise o' many waters, and the big waves begun lappin' around the
boat, and the first thing father knew the boat was goin' up-stream
faster than it ever had gone down. Uncle Tandy was wide awake by this
time, and he called out to father to know what had happened, and father
says: 'God only knows what's happened! The Mississippi River's flowin'
north instead o' south.' And jest then they heard the rumblin' sound
like thunder again, and Uncle Tandy says: 'The end o' the world's come,
and we're travelin' up-stream to the New Jerusalem.' And while father
and Uncle Tandy went floatin' up-stream half scared out o' their wits,
the Goshen folks and the town folks was down on their knees prayin',
and the church bells was ringin', and everybody thought the Judgment
Day had come. Two or three people was so scared they professed
Mother said she was awake when the earthquake happened. She never
slept well when father was off on his river trips, and she was lyin' in
bed wonderin' if he was safe, when the house begun to shake, and the
dishes and pans rattled on the shelves, and there was father and Uncle
Tandy travelin' back wards twelve miles; and when the earthquake was
over and the river got to flowin' south again, they floated down past
Cairo and saw the big lake, pretty near twenty-five miles long and four
miles wide, right where there'd been nothin' but woods and dry land,
and the tops o' some o' the biggest trees was stickin' up above the
water, and folks from far and from near was comin' to see what the
earthquake had done.
Father and Uncle Tandy never got through talkin' about the
earthquake that Sunday mornin', and Parson Page never got tired
listenin', and every time he'd come to see father, he'd manage to bring
the talk around to fishin', and that'd start father to tellin' about
the time the lake was made; and when father'd git through, Parson Page
he'd draw a long breath and say: 'Well, that's wonderful! wonderful! It
was a great privilege to be present at an act of creation, as it were,
and something to be thankful for all your days.'
Aunt Jane's voice ceased suddenly, and a bewildered look came into
her clear old eyes, the look of one who has lost connection with the
present by lingering overtime in the past, What was I talkin' about a
while ago, child? she asked helplessly.
Wasn't it circuses? I suggested.
The cloud of perplexity rolled away from Aunt Jane's face, Why, of
course it was, she ejaculated, with an accent of self-reproof for her
forgetfulness. Didn't I start out to tell you about Parson Page goin'
to the circus, and here I am tellin' about the earthquake. I'm jest
like an old blind horse; can't keep in the straight road to save my
life. Some folks might say my mind was failin', but if you ever git to
be as old as I am, child, you'll know jest how it is. A young person
hasn't got much to remember, and he can start out and tell a straight
tale without any trouble. But an old woman like mewhy, every name I
hear starts up some ricollection or other, and that keeps me goin'
first to one side o' the road and then to the other.
And having explained away her lapse of memory, Aunt Jane went
I was talkin' about church members goin' to circuses, and I started
out to tell about Parson Page the time Barnum's big show come to town.
I don't reckon there ever was such a show as Barnum's, nor such show
bills as he put up that spring. They was pasted up all along every road
leadin' into town, and under the pictures of the animals they had Bible
texts. There was the Arabian horses and that Bible text from Job, 'Thou
hast clothed his neck with thunder.' And under the lion's picture they
had, 'The lion and the lamb shall lie down together.' And the man that
put up the show bills give out to everybody that this was a show that
church members could go to and take their children to, because there'd
be two kinds o' tickets, one for the animal show and one for the
circus, and folks that didn't favor the circus needn't go near it; but
everybody, he said, ought to see the animals, for they had pretty near
every beast of the field and bird of the air that the Lord had created.
Well, us Goshen folks, we talked it over at home and in our Mite
Society. We'd always been mighty strict about worldly amusements, all
of us except Uncle Jimmy Judson. He used to say: 'As long as children
ain't breakin' any of the ten commandments or any of their bones, let
'em alone, let 'em alone.' But the most of the children in our
neighborhood never had seen the inside of a show tent, and of course
every one of 'em was anxious to go to that show. We went to Parson Page
about it, and he studied a while and says he: 'If the Lord made those
animals, it surely cannot be sinful to go and see them; and I see no
reason why every one in Goshen church should not attend the animal
show.' Well, that was enough for us, and everybody in the church and
out o' the church turned out to that show.
I reckon you know, child, how it is when a circus comes to town.
Country folks has their own ways o' passin' the time and makin'
pleasure for themselves, and town folks theirs, but a circus is one
thing that brings all the country folks and all the town folks
together. The country folks come to see the town and the circus, and
the town folks, they turn out to see the circus and the country folks,
and I reckon they got as much fun out of us as they did out o' the
show, lookin' at our old-fashioned dresses and bonnets and laughin' at
our old-fashioned ways.
Well, the time I'm tellin' about, the country folks turned out as
they never had before, and there was people in town from all over the
county. Some of 'em, they said, had traveled half the night to git in
town bright and early. I ricollect the weather was more like June than
May. It hadn't rained for a long time, and when the folks begun rollin'
into town, the dust rose till you couldn't see the road before you, and
there was so many carriages and buggies and two-horse wagons hitched
around the streets it looked like there wouldn't be room for the
procession to pass. Sam Amos was standin' on the drug-store corner with
me and Abram when the music begun playin' 'way down by the depot, and
all the boys and young folks broke and run down Main Street to meet the
band-wagon, and Sam said he didn't believe they could run any faster if
they was to hear the cry, 'Behold, the Bridegroom cometh!'
The procession reached clean from the depot to the Presbyterian
church corner, and it was worth comin' to town jest to see the horses
that pulled the chariots, some of 'em as white as milk and some coal
black and holdin' their heads so high, and steppin' like fine ladies
and lookin' so proud and so gentle, too, and so different from the
horses that we drove to our own wagons and plows that you wouldn't know
they was any kin to each other. Why, that night when I shut my eyes to
go to sleep I could see the big gold chariot and the white horses, and
all night long they went steppin' through my dreams.
Well, after the procession'd gone by, we went over in the
courthouse yard and eat our dinner under the old locust trees, and then
we went down toward the river where the tents was spread. There's some
shows, honey, where there's more on the bills than there is under the
tent. I've heard Sam Amos say that, and there was one show that he used
to say was so blame bad it was right good. But Mr. Barnum's show was
the kind where there was more under the tent than there was on the
bills, and the sights us country folks saw that day give us somethin'
to talk about for a long time to come. But jest as the animal show was
about over, and people begun leavin', a big storm come up. I thought I
heard the thunder rollin' while me and Abram and the children was
lookin' at the fat woman, but of course we couldn't go home till we'd
seen everything, and the first thing we knew the wind was blowin' a
hurricane, and it got under the tent and lifted some o' the pegs out o'
the ground, and somebody hollered out that the tent was about to fall
down, and such a scatteration you never did see. We got out o' that
tent a good deal quicker'n we got in, and started for town as fast as
we could go, carryin' little children and draggin' 'em along by the
hand; and the rain begun pourin' down, and everybody was wet to the
skin before they could git to the drug store or the dry goods store or
any place where folks'd take us in.
I ricollect Silas Petty said he reckoned it was a judgment on us
church members for goin' to worldly amusements, and Abram said that
couldn't be, because we'd prayed for rain the Sunday before. Andbless
your life!while the rest of us Goshen folks was standin' around in
wet clothes and wishin' we could go home, Parson Page and Mis' Page was
sittin' high and dry in the circus tent.
Parson Page said he never could tell how he got inside that circus
tent. He said he set out to make a bee-line for town, intendin' to stop
at the drug store till the rain was over, but the wind was blowin' and
raisin' such clouds o' dust you couldn't keep your eyes open, and he
was holdin' his hat on with one hand and tryin' to help Mis' Page with
the other, and the crowd was kind o' carryin' 'em along, and all at
once, he said, he found he was makin' straight for the door o' the big
tent where the band was playin' and the circus was about to begin.
Here Aunt Jane paused and laughed until laughter almost turned to
tears. There's three ways o' tellin' this story, child, she said, as
she regained her breath. Parson Page used to tell it his way, and Sam
Amos would tell it his way, and Mis' Page had her way o' tellin' it.
She used to laugh fit to kill over Parson Page sayin' he didn't know
how he got into the circus tent. Says she: 'Lemuel may not know how he
got into the circus, but I know, I had hold of his arm, and the wind
was blowin' the dust in my eyes, too, but I knew exactly which way I
was goin', and I was guidin' him.' Says she: 'I had on my best silk
dress, and I'd jest turned it and made it over, and I didn't intend to
have that dress ruined for lack of a little shelter.' She said she
never once thought about tickets, and there was such a crowd, and the
wind was blowin' things every which way and there was lightnin' and the
noise o' thunder, and while the folks in front of her was givin' up
their tickets, the folks behind was pressin' and pushin', and between
the two there wasn't anything for her to do but go into the tent,
whether she wanted to or not. And she said for her part she didn't mind
it a bit, for that circus tent was the cheerfulest, happiest place she
ever was in. She said the music made you feel like laughin' and
steppin' lively, and folks was eatin' peanuts and drinkin' lemonade,
and the bareback riders was tearin' around the ring, and jest as they
got fairly inside, the rain begun beatin' down on the tent, and she
thanked her stars she wasn't outside. She said it took Parson Page some
little time to find out where he was, and when he did find it out, he
wanted to start right home in the rain, and she told him he could go if
he wanted to, but she was goin' to stay there till the rain was over.
And while they was arguin' the matter, Sam Amos come along, and Parson
Page begun explainin' how he got in by accident and wanted to git out.
Sam said nobody but a frog or a fish or a Presbyterian minister would
object to stayin' under a circus tent in such a rain as that, and he
might as well make himself comfortable. So he found a seat for Mis'
Page and the parson, and he used to say he got more fun out o' Parson
Page than he did out o' the circus, and he couldn't hardly see what was
goin' on in the ring for watchin' the parson's face. He had his
gold-headed cane between his knees and his hands on top o' the cane and
his head bowed over his hands like he was engaged in prayer, and he set
there as solemn as if he was at a funeral, while everybody around was
laughin' and hollerin' at the clown's jokes.
But Mis' Page she took things fair and easy. She said she knew the
Presbytery couldn't do anything with her, and she made up her mind, as
she was in there and couldn't git out, she'd see all there was to be
seen. The next meetin' o' the Mite Society she told us all about it,
and she said if the gyirls' skyirts had jest been a little longer,
there wouldn't 'a' been a thing amiss with that circus. But she said
what they lacked in length they made up in width, and the jumpin' and
ridin' was so amazin' that you forgot all about the skyirts bein'
Parson Page said that circus seemed as long to him as a Sunday
service used to seem when he was a boy. His conscience hurt him so, and
he kept thinkin' what on earth he would say, if the Presbytery heard
about it, and he felt like everybody in the tent was lookin' at him,
and he never was as glad in his life as he was when Sam told him the
show was over and he got up to leave.
Mis' Page said they was edgin' their way out through the crowd, and
all at once Parson Page stopped and threw up his hands like he always
did when somethin' struck him all at once, and says he: 'Bless my soul!
I've been to this circus and didn't pay my way in.' Says he: 'That
makes a bad matter worse, and I can't leave this tent till I've paid
for myself and my wife.' And Sam Amos he laughed fit to kill, and says
he: 'It looks to me like you'll be makin' a bad matter worse if you do
pay, for,' says he, 'as long as you don't pay for seein' the show, you
can say it was an accident, but if folks know you paid your way, you
can't make 'em believe it was accidental.'
Parson Page looked mighty troubled, and he thought a while, and
says he: 'Maybe you're right. My payin' won't help the looks of things
any, but I know I'll have a better conscience all my life if I pay as
other people have done. I haven't looked at the show,' says he, 'but
I've heard the music, and I've had a shelter from the storm and a
comfortable seat, and in all common honesty I ought to pay.' So they
started out to find the man that sold tickets. But the ticket stand was
gone, and they stood there lookin' around, the mud nearly ankle-deep,
and Mis' Page said she was holdin' up her silk dress and wishin' to
goodness they could git started toward town.
Sam said he knew Parson Page's conscience would hold him there on
the show-ground till he'd paid that money, so he says: 'You and Mis'
Page wait here; I'll see if I can find the man you want.' And Sam
hunted all over the grounds till he found the head man of the circus,
and he brought him around to where Parson Page and Mis' Page was
waitin' for him. Mis' Page said he was as fine lookin' and
well-mannered a man as she ever had seen; and he shook hands with her
so friendly it seemed like she'd known him all her life, and then he
says to Parson Page, as kind as you please: 'Well, my friend, what can
I do for you?'
And Parson Page he explained how he'd got into the show tent by
accident when the storm was comin' up, and how he wanted to pay; and
the showman listened mighty polite, and when the parson got through he
says: 'Put up your purse, sir. You don't owe me a cent.' Says he: 'The
obligation's all on my side, and it's an honor to this circus to know
that we had a minister of the gospel in our audience, to-day.' The
parson he insisted on payin', but the showman he wouldn't hear to it.
Says he: 'If Mr. Barnum was to hear that I'd charged a preacher
anything for seein' his show, I'd lose my place before you could say
Jack Robinson!' And Parson Page said: 'Is that really so?' And the
showman said: 'Upon my word and honor, it is. There's no such thing as
a preacher payin' his way into one o' Mr. Barnum's circuses.'
Well, Parson Page put his purse back in his pocket and thanked the
showman for his kindness, but he said he felt as if he wanted to make
some sort of a return, and he begun searchin' around in his pockets to
see if he didn't have a tract or somethin' o' that sort to give him,
and he come across a Shorter Catechism that he'd been questionin' the
children out of the Sunday before. And he pulled it out and says he:
'Sir, I would like to leave this little book with you as a token of
remembrance.' Sam said the showman took it and looked at it and turned
over the pages right slow, and at last he says: 'Great Jehosaphat! This
carries me back forty years, to the time when I was a little shaver,
goin' to church Sunday mornin' and listenin' to old Brother Bodley
preach from the day of creation down to the day of judgment, and
sittin' on the old horsehair sofa in the parlor all Sunday evenin'
wrestlin' with this very catechism and prayin' for the sun to go down
and wishin' I could cut all the Sundays out o' the almanac.' And he
turned over the pages o' the catechism and says he: 'Yes, here's all my
old friends, Santification and Justification and Adoption.' Sam
said he laughed to himself, but there was a curious look in his eyes
like he might cry, too. And says he: 'Parson, I know you won't believe
me, but there ain't a question in this catechism that I can't answer.'
And Parson Page, he looked amazed, as anybody would, and says he:
'Is it possible?' And the showman handed him the book, and says he: 'I
bet you five dollars I can answer any question you ask me.' Well, of
course, Parson Page hadn't any notion of bettin' with the showman, but
he took the catechism and says he, jest as earnest as if he was hearin'
a Sunday-school class: 'What is sanctification?' And the showman says:
'Sanctification is an act of God's free grace wherein he pardoneth all
our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight only for the
righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.'
And Parson Page looked mighty pleased, and says he: 'That's a
perfectly correct answer, but that's justification, and I asked you
what sanctification is.' And the showman he thought a minute, and says
he: 'You're right! You're right! I always did have trouble with
justification and sanctification, and I remember how mother'd say:
Now, Samuel, can't you get it fixed in your mind that justification is
an act and sanctification is a work of God's free grace? I thought I
did get it fixed one o' them Sunday evenin's when mother was workin'
with me, but I see now I didn't.'
And then he pulled out his purse,Mis' Page said she never saw as
much money at one time in all her life,and he handed Parson Page a
five-dollar gold piece. Parson Page didn't make any motion toward
takin' it; jest looked first at the showman and then at Sam in a kind
o' puzzled way, and the showman says: 'Here's your money, Parson. You
won it fair and square.'
And Parson Page says: 'Sir, I don't understand you,' and he stepped
back to keep the showman from puttin' the money in his handpretty
much, I reckon, the way Brother Wilson did when Squire Schuyler was
tryin' to make him take the deed to the house that was a wedding fee;
and the showman says: 'Why, didn't I bet you five dollars I could
answer any question in this catechism, and didn't I lose my bet?' And
Parson Page says: 'Sir, I hadn't the slightest intention of betting
with you. I am a minister of the gospel.' And the showman he says:
'Well, Parson, you may not have intended bettin' any more than you
intended goin' to the circus, but you did bet, and there's no gettin'
around it. I bet I could answer any question, and you took up the bet
and asked the question; and I lost, and you won.'
Sam Amos said he never could forgit the look on Parson Page's face
when he begun to see that he'd not only been to the circus, but that
he'd been bettin' with the circus man. And he says: 'Sir, there's a
great misunderstanding somewhere. Surely a minister of the gospel can
ask a catechism question without being accused of betting.' And the
showman he laughed, and says he: 'Well, we won't argue about that, but
here's your money,' And Parson Page says: 'Sir, I shall not take it.'
And the showman he looked mighty solemn and says he: 'Do you think it's
right, Parson, to keep a fellow man from payin' his just debts?' And
Parson Page studied a while, and says he: 'That's a hard question. I
never had to deal with just such a matter before, and I hardly know
what to say.' And the showman he says: 'I've got a conscience the same
as you; my conscience tells me to pay this money, so it must be right
for me to pay it; and if it's right for me to pay it, it can't be wrong
for you to take it.'
Well, Parson Page studied a minute, and says he: 'Your reasoning
appears to be sound, but, still, my conscience tells me that I ought
not to take the money, and I will not take it.' And the showman says:
'Well, if it goes against your conscience to keep it, put it in the
contribution box next Sunday,' Says he: 'I haven't been to church since
I was a boy, and there may be a good many changes since then, but I
reckon they're still passin' the contribution box around.' And the
parson he drew back and shook his bead again, and the showman says:
'Well, you can give it to foreign missions; maybe the heathen won't
object to takin' a showman's money.' And the parson says: 'Sir, I
appreciate your generosity, but on the whole I think it best not to
take the money.'
Sam said the showman looked at Parson Page a minute, and then he
slapped him on the shoulder, and says he: 'Parson, you may not know it,
but we're pardners in this game. If it wasn't for the church, we
wouldn't need the circus, and if it wasn't for the circus, we wouldn't
need the church.' Says he: 'You belong to the church, and I belong to
the circus; but maybe, after all, there ain't so very much difference
betwixt an honest preacher and an honest showman.' And then he bowed to
Mis' Page like she'd been a queen, and took Parson Page by the hand,
and the next minute he was gone like he had a heap o' business to see
to. And Sam Amos laughed, and says he: 'Well, Parson, circus-goin' and
bettin' is enough for one day. You and me'd better go home now, before
the world, the flesh, and the devil lay hold of you again.'
So they all started for town, Parson Page talkin' about how kind
and polite the showman was, and how his conscience was clear since he'd
offered to pay for his seat, and how glad he was that he hadn't taken
the five dollars the showman wanted him to take. Sam said he waited
till they got to the drug store, and then he told Parson Page to put
his hand in his coat pocket,he had on a black luster coat with the
pocket outside,and Parson Page put his hand in, and there was the
five-dollar gold piece. Sam said that while the showman was shakin'
hands he slipped the money in the pocket as quick as lightnin', and of
course Sam wouldn't tell on him, because he was glad to git another
joke on Parson Page.
Well, it was all Mis' Page and Sam could do to keep him from goin'
back to the show grounds to try to find the showman and give him back
his money. Mis' Page told him it was gittin' on toward night, and they
had to go home, and Sam told him that the show was most likely on its
way to the depot. But Parson Page shook his head, and says he: 'I can't
go home with this money in my possession.' And Mis' Page reached out
and took the gold piece out o' his hand and slipped it into her
reticule, and says she: 'Well, now you can go home. That gold piece
won't bother you any more, for it's in my possession, and I'm goin' to
put it in the treasury of our Mite Society,' and that's what she did
the very next meetin' we had.
Mis' Page said that Parson Page could hardly git to sleep that
night, he was so troubled and so upset, and he kept talkin' about the
things he'd done because he thought they was right, and how they'd led
him into doin' wrong, and says he: 'This morning when I set out for
town, I thought I knew exactly what was right and what was wrong, but
now I'm so turned and twisted,' says he, 'that if anybody asked me
whether the ten commandments ought to be observed, I believe I'd stop
and think a long time before I answered, and then like as not I'd say,
Sometimes they ought, and sometimes they oughtn't.'
Well, of course the news went all over the country that Parson Page
had gone to the circus, and everywhere Brother Page went he was kept
busy explainin' about the rain and the crowd and how he got in by
accident and couldn't git out, and by the time the Presbytery met, all
the preachers had got wind of the story, and some of 'em laughed about
it, and some of 'em said it was a serious matter. Brother Robert
McCallum did more laughin' than anybody. He used to say that next to
savin' souls he enjoyed a good joke more than anything in the world,
and Sam Amos used to say that if Brother McCallum ever wanted to change
his business, he could be the end man in a nigger minstrel show without
Brother McCallum and Parson Page 'd been schoolmates, so they both
felt free to joke with one another; and the minute they'd shook hands,
Brother McCallum begun laughin' about Parson Page goin' to the circus,
and says he: 'Brother Page, I wish I'd been in your place.' Says he:
'I've always thought a man loses a heap by bein' a preacher. If anybody
ought to be allowed to go to the circus,' says he, 'it looks like it
ought to be us preachers, that's proof against temptation and that's
strong to wrestle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Instead o'
that we send the poor, weak sinners into the temptation and lead the
preachers away from it.' Says he: 'I went to that very show, but I
wasn't so lucky as you, for it was clear weather, and I didn't have a
chance to see anything but the animals.'
And then, after sayin' all that, what did Brother McCallum do but
git up the last day of Presbytery and read a paper with a lot of
'whereases' and 'be it resolveds', chargin' Brother Page with conduct
unbecoming to a minister and callin' on him to explain matters. And
Parson Page he had to own up to everything and explain again jest how
he happened to git caught in the circus tent, and says he: 'It was a
strange place for a minister of the gospel to be in, but my rule is to
see what I can learn from every experience that comes to me, and I
believe I learned from the circus something that, maybe, I could not
learn anywhere else.' Says he: 'As I lay that night on a sleepless
pillow, the Lord gave me an insight into the great mystery of
predestination. I traced up the events of the day one after another.
There was my betting with the showman, and I felt sorry for that. But
that would not have happened if I had not sought out the showman to pay
my just debt to him, and that was a right act and a right intention,
yet it led me into wrong; and I saw in a flash that our own acts
predestine us and foreordain us to this thing or to that. We are like
children, stumbling around in the dark, taking the wrong way and doing
the wrong thing, but over us all is the pity of the Father who knoweth
our frame and remembereth that we are dust.'
Says he: 'I went into that tent a Pharisee, and I wrapped the
mantle of my pride around me and thought how much holier I was than
those poor sinful show people. But,' says he, 'I talked with the
showman, and I found as much honesty and kindness of heart as I ever
found in any church member, and I left the show grounds with a wider
charity in my heart than I'd ever felt before, for I knew that the
showman was my brother, and I understood what the Apostle meant when he
said: Now are they many members; yet but one body.'
And Brother McCallum he got up, and says he: 'Well, that's more
than I ever learned from any of Brother Page's sermons,' and everybody
laughed, and that ended the matter so far as the Presbytery was
But Sam Amos never got through teasin' Parson Page, and every time
he'd see him with a passel o' church members, he'd go up and tell some
story or other, and then he'd turn around and say: 'You ricollect,
Parson, that happened the day you and me went to the circus.'
MARY CRAWFORD'S CHART
With this chart, madam, said the agent, you are absolutely
independent of dressmakers and seamstresses. After the instructions I
have just given, a woman can cut and fit any sort of garment, from a
party gown for herself to a pair of overalls for her husband, and the
chart is so scientific in its construction, its system of measurement
so accurate, that anything cut by it has a style and finish seldom seen
in home-made garments. I have handled many things in the course of my
ten years' experience as a traveling salesman, but this chart is the
most satisfactory invention of all. I've been handling it now about
eight months, and in that time I've soldwell, if I were to tell you
how many hundred, you wouldn't believe me, so what's the use?and I
have yet to hear of anybody who is dissatisfied with the chart. The
last time I talked with the general manager of the International
Dressmaking Chart Company, I said to him, said I: 'Mr. Crampton, you
could safely give a guarantee with every one of these chartsoffer to
refund the money to any one who is dissatisfied, and,' said I, 'I
believe the only result of this would be an increased sale. You'd never
have to refund a dollar. About a year ago I sold one to Mrs. Judge
Graves in Shepherdsville; you may know her. Her husband's county judge,
and they are two of the finest people you ever saw. The judge has a
brother right here in town, Campbell Graves, the grocer. Your husband
knows him, I'm sure. Well, I sold Mrs. Graves this chart a year ago,
and I stopped there again on this trip just to say 'how d'ye do' and
see how the chart was holding out. And she said to me: 'Mr. Roberts,
this chart has saved me at least fifty dollars worth of dressmaker's
bills in the last year. My husband thought, when I bought it, that five
dollars was a good deal to pay for a thing like that, but' says she,
'he says now it was the best investment he ever made.' I had intended
to make a thorough canvass of this neighborhood, but at twelve o'clock
to-day, just as I was sitting down to my dinner, I got a telegram from
the house telling me to go immediately to Shepherdsville. But I'd
already ordered the horse and buggy, so I ate my dinner as quickly as I
could, and said I: 'I'll drive three miles out into the country and
stop at the first house I come to on the right-hand side of the road
beyond the tollgate, and if I sell a chart there, I won't feel that I
ran up a livery bill for nothing. And the first house on the right-hand
side of the road beyond the tollgate happened to be yours, and that's
how I came to give you all this trouble.
Here the agent paused with a pleasant laugh. He realized that the
psychological moment was approaching, and he began gathering up the
various parts of the chart with an air of extreme preoccupation. The
gleam of a ruby ring on his little finger caught Mary Crawford's eye,
and she noticed how white and well-formed his hands were, the hands of
one who had never done any manual labor. She stood irresolute,
fascinated by the gleam of the red jewel, and thinking of her little
hoard up-stairs in the Japanese box in the top bureau drawer. Five
dollars from thirteen dollars and sixty-five cents left eight dollars
and sixty-five cents. It would be three weeks before John's birthday
came. The hens were laying well, the young cow would be fresh next
week, and that would give her at least two pounds more of butter per
week. Then, the agent was such a nice-mannered, obliging young man; he
had spent an hour teaching her how to use the chart, and she hated to
have him take all that trouble for nothing.
She looked over at her husband, and her eyes said plainly: Please
help me to decide.
But John was blind to the gentle entreaty. He had fixed ideas as to
what was a man's business and what a woman's; so he tilted his chair
back against the wall and chewed a straw while he gazed out of the open
door. His mental comment was: If that agent fellow could work his
hands just half as fast as he works his jaw, he'd be a mighty good help
on a farm.
The agent looked up with a cheery smile. He had folded the chart,
and was tying the red tape fastenings.
I've got to get back to town in time to catch that four o'clock
train for Shepherdsville. I'm a thousand times obliged to you, Madam,
for letting me show you the working of the chart. Sometimes I have a
good deal of difficulty in getting ladies to understand the modus
operandi of the thing. Unless a woman remembers the arithmetic she
learned when she was a schoolgirl, she is apt to have trouble taking
measurements. But it's a pleasure to show any one who sees into it as
readily as you do. Most married women seem to give up their
mathematical knowledge just as they give up their music. But you've got
yours right at your fingers' ends. Well, good afternoon to you both,
and the next time I come this way
Wait a minute, said Mary. I'll take the chart. Just sit down and
wait till I go up-stairs and get the money.
The agent made a suave bow of acquiescence, and then stroked his
mustache to conceal an involuntary smile of triumph.
You have a fine stand of wheat, sir, he said, turning to John and
gesturing gracefully towards the field across the road, where the sun
was shimmering on the silvery green of oats.
John made no reply. He scorned to talk about farming matters with a
raw city fellow who did not know oats from wheat, and he was
laboriously counting out a handful of silver.
Here's your money, young man, he said dryly. Now skip out, if you
can, before Mary gets back.
The agent gave a quick glance at the coins and thrust them into his
pocket. He seized his hat and valise, darted out of the house, and was
climbing into his buggy when Mary appeared at the door, breathless and
Come back! she cried. You've forgotten your money.
John was standing just behind Mary, smiling broadly, and making
emphatic gestures of dismissal with both hands. The agent understood
the humor of the situation and laughed heartily as he lifted his hat
and drove away. Mary started to the gate, blushing scarlet with
vexation and perplexity, but John held her back.
I have heard of agents forgettin' to leave the goods, said he,
but I never heard of one forgettin' to collect his money. Go and put
your money back, Mary; I paid the man.
Then you must let me pay you, cried Mary. I really mean it, John.
You must let me have my way. I know you're hard run just now, and I
never would have bought the chart, if I had not intended paying for it
She tried to open John's hand to put the money in it, but John took
hold of her hand and gave her a gentle shove toward the foot of the
Go on and put up your money, Mary, he said. If half that agent
fellow said is true, I'm in about a hundred and fifty dollars. Before
long, I reckon, you'll be makin' my coats and pants and the harness for
the horses by this here chart.
And Mary went, but her gentle protestations could be heard even
after she reached her room and had dropped the money back into the
little box that was her savings bank.
She hurried through her after-supper tasks, her mind full of the
cutting and fitting she wanted to do before bed-time. Hers was a soul
that found its highest happiness in work, and she unfolded the chart
with the delight of a child who has a new toy. The agent's tribute to
her knowledge of mathematics was no idle flattery. Her quick brain had
comprehended at once the system of the chart, and she flushed with
excitement and pleasure as she bent over her scale and found that her
measurements and calculations were resulting in patterns of
unmistakable correctness and style. It was like solving the fifth
proposition of Euclid. She laid aside her work that night with a
reluctant sigh, but a happy anticipation of the sewing yet to come. The
anticipation was fulfilled next day by the completion of a shirt waist
so striking in design and fit that even John noticed its beauty and
becomingness and acknowledged that the chart was no humbug.
You must wear that waist Monday when we go to town, he declared.
I never saw anything fit you as pretty as that does, and Sally
McElrath echoed John's opinion when she and Mary met at the linen
counter of Brown and Company's dry goods store; and Mary told her of
the wonderful chart as they both examined patterns and qualities of
table linen and compared experiences as to wearing qualities of
bleached and unbleached damask.
There is a system of communication in every country neighborhood
that is hardly less marvelous than the telegraph and telephone; and
before Mary could put her chart to a second test, all Goshen knew that
Mary Crawford had a chart that would cut anything from a baby sacque to
a bolero, and that she was willing to lend it to any one who was
inclined to borrow.
Sally McElrath was the first applicant for the loan of the chart.
Whatever the enterprise, if it had the feature of novelty, Sally was
its first patron and promoter. But her promptness ended here, and her
friends declared that Sally McElrath was always the first to begin a
thing, and the last to finish it.
Accompanying the chart was a set of explicit rules for its use, and
Mary read these to Sally, explaining all the difficult points just as
the agent had explained them to her.
Now if I were you, Sally, she said warningly, I would try some
simple thing first, a child's apron, or something like that, so that
you won't run the risk of ruining any expensive goods. Everything takes
practice, you know.
Oh, said Sally confidently, I'm goin' to make a tea jacket out of
a piece of China silk I got off the bargain counter the last time I was
What's a tea jacket? asked Sally's husband, who had been listening
intently, with a faint hope that some new shirts for himself might be
the outcome of Sally's interest in the chart.
It's a thing like this, Dan, said Sally, producing a picture of
the elegant garment in question.
Why do they call it a tea jacket? demanded Dan.
Oh, I don't know; I reckon they wear 'em when they drink tea, said
But we drink coffee, said Dan argumentatively.
Well, call it a coffee jacket, then, retorted Sally. But whatever
you call it, I'm goin' to have one, if I don't do another stitch of
Dan was gazing sadly at the picture of the tea jacket with its
flowing oriental sleeves, lace ruffles, and ribbon bows.
I can't figger out, he said slowly, what use you've got for a
thing like that.
I can't either, snapped Sally, and that's the very reason I want
it. The only things I've got any use for are gingham aprons and kitchen
towels, and they're the things I don't want; and the only things I want
are things that I haven't got a bit of use for, like this tea jacket
here, and I'm goin' to have it, too.
All right, all right, said Dan soothingly. If you're pleased with
the things that ain't of any use, why, have 'em, of course. Me and the
children would like right well to have a few things that are some use,
but I reckon we can get along without 'em a while longer. However, it
looks to me as if that chart calls for a good deal of calculatin', and
it's my opinion that you'd better get out your old Ray's Arithmetic
and study up awhile before you try to cut out that jacket.
Maybe you're right, laughed Sally. Arithmetic always was my
stumbling block at school. I never could learn the tables, and the
first year I was married I sold butter with just twelve ounces to the
pound, till Cousin Albert's wife told me better. She'd been takin' my
butter for a month, and one Saturday morning she said to me: 'Cousin
Sally, I hate to mention it, and I hope you won't take offence, but
your butter's short weight.' Well, of course that made me mad, but I
held my temper down, and I said: 'Cousin Ella, I think you're mistaken,
I weigh my butter myself, and I've got good true scales, and there's
twelve ounces of butter and a little over in every pound I sell.' And
Cousin Ella laughed and says: 'I know that, Cousin Sally, but there
ought to be sixteen ounces in a pound of butter. You're usin' the wrong
table.' And she picked up little Albert's arithmetic and showed me the
two tables, one for druggists and one for grocers; and there I'd been
using druggist's weight to weigh groceries. Well, we had a good laugh
over it, and I put twenty ounces of butter to the pound 'till I made up
all my short weight. I never did learn all the multiplication table,
and all the arithmetic I'm certain about now is: one baby and another
baby makes two babies, and twelve things make a dozen. I wouldn't
remember that if it wasn't for countin' the eggs and the napkins. But
maybe Dan can help me out with the chart.
Don't depend on me, said Dan emphatically; my arithmetic is about
like yours. I know how many pecks of corn make a bushel and how many
rods are in an acre, but that sort o' knowledge wouldn't be much help
in cuttin' out a woman's jacket. And early the next morning Sally
returned the chart, acknowledging that its mathematical complexities
had baffled both herself and Dan. And besides, she added, I don't
believe there's enough of my China silk to cut anything. I'll have to
match it and get some more the next time I go to town.
One after another the neighbors borrowed Mary's chart, and each came
back with the same story,there was too much arithmetic about it, but
if they brought their goods some time this week or next, would not Mary
show them how to use it?
Of course she would. When did Mary Crawford ever refuse to help a
Come whenever you please, said she cordially. It will not be a
bit of trouble, and you'll find the chart is easy enough, after I've
given you a little help on it.
They came, sometimes singly, sometimes by twos and threes, and Mary
straightway found herself at the head of a dressmaking establishment
from which every business feature except the hard work had been
completely eliminated. The customers sometimes brought their children,
and often stayed in friendly fashion to dinner or supper, as the
exigencies of the work demanded a prolonged visit. Mary played the part
of the gracious hostess while she cut and tried on, and planned and
contrived and suggested, slipping away now and then to put another
stick of wood in the kitchen stove, or see that the vegetables were not
scorching, or mix up the biscuits, or make the coffee, or set the
table, using all her fine tact to keep the guest from feeling that she
was giving trouble.
Mary was social in her nature, and the pleasure of entertaining her
neighbors and her unselfish delight in bestowing favors kept her from
realizing at once the weight of the burden she had taken on herself.
But she was a housekeeper who rarely saw the sun go down on an
unfinished task, and when she took a retrospective view of the week,
she was dismayed by the large arrears of housework and sewing; and all
her altruism could not keep back a sigh of relief as she saw Mandy
Harris's rockaway disappear down the road late Saturday afternoon. She
sat up till half-past ten sewing on a gingham dress for Lucy Ellen and
a linen blouse for little John, and the next day she knowingly and
wilfully broke the Sabbath by sweeping and dusting the parlor and
Monday dawned cool and cloudy, more like March than April, and when
the rain began to come down in slow, steady fashion, she rejoiced at
the prospect of another day unbroken by callers. By Tuesday morning
April had resumed her reign. A few hours of wind and sunshine dried up
the mud and put the roads in fine condition, and an extra number of
visitors and children came in the afternoon. Lucy Ellen and little John
were expected to entertain the latter. But Lucy Ellen and John were by
this time frankly weary of company, and they had a standard of
hospitality that differed essentially from their mother's. It seemed to
them that hosts as well as guests had some rights, and they were ready
at all times to stand up and battle for theirs. Lucy Ellen could not
understand why she should be sent an exile to the lonely spare-room
up-stairs, merely because she had slapped Mary Virginia Harris for
breaking her favorite china doll; and little John was loudly indignant
because he was reprimanded for calling Jimmie Crawford names, when
Jimmy persisted in walking over the newly-planted garden. For the first
time, both children had hard feelings toward their gentle stepmother,
and she herself longed for the departure of the guests that she might
take John's children in her arms and explain away her seeming
Wednesday repeated the trials of Tuesday with a few disagreeable
variations, and Thursday was no better than Wednesday. By Thursday
night Mary had abandoned all hope of finishing her own sewing before
May Meeting Sunday. Her one aim now was to do a small amount of
housework each day and get three meals cooked for John and the
children, and even this work had to be subordinated to the increasing
demands of the dressmaking business. At times she had a strange feeling
in her head, and wondered if this was what people meant when they spoke
of having headache; but sleep, the balm of every woe", seldom failed
to come nightly to her pillow, and all day long her sweet serenity
never failed, even when the trying week was fitly rounded out by a
simultaneous visit from Sally McElrath and Ma Harris. Sally had just
dropped in", but Ma Harris came, as usual, with intent to find or to
Ma Harris was John Crawford's mother-in-law on his first wife's
side", as Dave Amos phrased it, and it was the opinion of the neighbors
that if John and his second wife had not been the best-natured people
in the world, they never could have put up with Ma Harris and her
She had exercised a careful supervision over John's domestic affairs
during the first wife's lifetime. When Sarah died, she redoubled her
vigilance, and when his second marriage became an impending certainty,
Ma Harris's presence and influence hung like a dark cloud over the
future of the happy pair.
There's only one thing I'm afraid of, Mary, said honest John. I
know you'll get along all right with me and the children, but I don't
know about Ma Harris; I'm afraid she'll give you trouble.
Don't you worry about that, said Mary cheerily. I've never seen
anybody yet that I couldn't get along with, and Ma Harris won't be the
Popular sentiment declared that Ma Harris took her son-in-law's
second marriage much harder than she had taken her daughter's death.
Her lamentations were loudly and impartially diffused among her
acquaintances; but it was evident that the sympathies of the community
were not with John's mother-in-law on his first wife's side.
I reckon old Mis' Harris won't bother me again soon, said Maria
Taylor. She was over here yesterday with her handkerchief to her eyes,
mournin' over John marryin' Mary Parrish, and I up and told her that
she ought to be givin' thanks for such a stepmother for Sarah's
children, John Crawford was too good a man, anyhow, to be wasted on a
pore, shiftless creature like Sarah, and her death was nothin' but a
blessin' to John and the children.
Ma Harris soon found that she had never given herself a harder task
than when she undertook to find fault with John for his treatment of
Mary, or with Mary for her treatment of the children. It vexed her soul
on Sundays to see John ushering Mary into his pew as if she had been a
princess, but what could she say? Did not all the inhabitants of Goshen
know that John had carried pore Sarah into the church in his strong
arms as long as she was able to be carried, and nursed her faithfully
at home until the day of her death? Then the children fairly adored
Mary; and Mary, being a genuine mother, and having none of her own, was
free to spend all her love on John's little ones. Not only this, but
she treated Ma Harris with such respect and kindness that complaint was
well-nigh impossible. Altogether, Ma Harris began to realize that the
way of the fault-finder is sometimes as hard as that of the
Well, Mary, she said, as she dropped heavily into a rocking-chair,
I heard yesterday that you had a new dressmakin' chart and all the
neighbors was usin' it, and says I to Maria, 'I reckon Mary's forgot
me, and I'll have to go up and remind her that Ma Harris is still in
the land of the livin' and jest as much in need of clothes as some
other folks.' And she threw a withering glance in Sally's direction.
Why, Ma Harris! said Mary. Didn't John give you my message? I
sent you word about the chart last week, and I've been looking for you
Ma Harris's face brightened, for Mary's words were as a healing balm
to her wounded self-love.
There, now! she exclaimed, I didn't think you'd slight me
that-a-way, Mary. So it was John's fault, after all. Well, I might a'
known it. It's precious few men that can remember what their wives tell
'em to do, and I used to tell Joel that if I wanted to send a message
I'd send it by the telegraph company before I'd trust him with it.
Mary breathed a breath of deep relief. Peace was restored between Ma
Harris and herself, but she knew that between her two guests there
yawned a breach that time and frequent intercourse only widened and
deepened. Once in an uncharitable moment Sally had likened Ma Harris to
Dan's old wall-eyed mare, and more than once Ma Harris had made
disparaging remarks about Sally's cooking. The bearer of tales had
attended to her work, and thereafter the two seldom met without an
interchange of hostile words. Mary was of those blessed ones who love
and who make peace, and for the next hour she stood as a buffer between
two masked batteries. If a sarcastic remark were thrown out, she caught
it before it could reach its mark, and took away its sting by some
kindly interpretation of her own. If a challenge were given, she took
it up and laughed it off as a joke. If the conversation threatened to
become personal, she led its course into the safe channel of
generalities; and for once the two enemies were completely baffled in
their efforts to bring about a quarrel. But only Mary knew at what cost
peace had been purchased, when she lay down on the old sofa in the hall
for a moment's rest before going to the kitchen to cook supper and make
tea-cakes for the May Meeting basket. After supper she sewed buttons on
Lucy Ellen's frock and little John's blouse and, being a woman and
young, she thought of the pale blue dimity she had hoped to wear to the
May Meeting, because pale blue was John's favorite color.
But in the matter of women's clothes, John was not quick to
distinguish between the new and the old, and there was nothing but
loving admiration in his eyes the next morning as he stood at the foot
of the stairs and looked up at Mary in a last year's gown of dark blue
linen with collar and cuffs of delicate embroidery. He helped her into
the carriage, and away they went down the elm-shaded road. The carriage
was shabby, but there was a strain of noble blood in the horse, that
showed itself in a smooth, even gait, and Mary's eyes brightened, and
the color came into her face, as she felt the exhilaration that swift
motion always brings.
The poet who sang the enchantment of midsummer nights might have
sung with equal rapture of May mornings, when there is a sun to warm
you through, and a breeze to temper the warmth with a touch of April's
coolness; when the flowers on the earth's bosom, touched by the
sunshine, gleam and glow like the jewels in the breastplate of the high
priest, and the heart beats strong with the joy of winter past and the
joy of summer to come.
Mary leaned back with the long, deep sigh of perfect happiness. Of
late she had been striving with a life awry", but now her soul
Smoothed itself out, a long-cramped scroll,
Freshening and fluttering in the wind.
It was May Meeting Sunday. Nobody could come to use the chart, and
she and John were riding together. A redbird carolled to its mate in
the top of a wayside elm, and she laughed like a child.
Listen to that sweet bird! she exclaimed. Why, it can almost
talk. Don't you hear the words it's singing?
'Sweet! Sweet! Sweet!
Smart bird, said John. Sees you and me together and makes a song
about it. And Mary laughed and blushed as her eyes met John's.
Oh! she sighed, I almost wish we could ride on and on and never
come to the church. It seems a pity to lose any of this sunshine and
Just say the word, said John, and we'll keep right on and have a
May Meetin' all to ourselves out at Blue Spring, or anywhere else you
say. May Meetin's just a Sunday picnic, anyway.
But Mary's conscience forbade such Sabbath breaking. It was all
right to have a picnic after you had been to preaching, but to have the
picnic without the previous church-going was not to be thought of.
It was a Sunday of great events. Not only was it May Meeting Sunday,
but the Sawyer twins were to be baptized, and Sidney Harris and his
bride were to make their first appearance in public that day. Sidney
had married a young girl from the upper part of the State, and it was
rumored that her wedding clothes had been made in New York, that they
were worth a small fortune. One costume in particular, it was said,
had cost a cool hundred", and every woman in the church had a secret
hope of seeing the gown at the May Meeting.
According to custom, every one wore her freshest, newest raiment in
honor of the day and the month. Mary usually felt an innocent pleasure
in looking at the new apparel of her friends, but to-day, as she
glanced around, she was moved by a strange feeling of irritation,
weariness, and dissatisfaction. That she was wearing old clothes while
every one else wore new ones gave her little concern; but just in front
of her sat Ellen McElrath in the blue and white gingham waist that she
and Ellen had cut out that dreadful afternoon when the sponge cake
burnt up, and Ellen's little boy pulled up all her clove pinks. The
back of the waist was cut on the bias, and the stripes did not hit. How
she had worked and worried over those stripes and lain awake at night,
wondering if she ought not to buy Ellen enough goods to cut a new back.
She turned away her eyes, and there, across the aisle, was little May
Johnson in the pink blouse that recalled the morning when Mary had left
her churning and baking six times to show May's mother the working of
that mysterious chart. And there was Aunt Amanda Bassett, ambling
heavily down to the amen corner in the black alpaca skirt that would
wrinkle over her ample hips in spite of all the letting out and taking
up that had been done for it that hot afternoon when the bread burned
to a crisp, while Mary was down on the floor turning up Aunt Amanda's
hem and trying to make both sides of the skirt the same length. And
here came Annie Matthews in the brown and white shirt waist, that was
an all-around misfit because Annie had thought that three fourths of
sixteen inches was eight inches, Mary blamed herself for not staying by
Annie and watching her more closely. And was that a wrinkle in the
broad expanse of gingham across Nanny McElrath's shoulders? It was; and
Mary knew there would be some ripping and altering next week.
Oh! if she could only shut out the sight of those hateful garments!
How could she ever get herself into a reverent frame of mind surrounded
by these dismal reminders of all the work and worry of the past month?
She glanced over at the old Parrish pew and Aunt Mary's countenance
of smiling peace rebuked her. If Aunt Mary could smile, sitting lonely
in the old church thronged with memories of her dead, surely, with John
by her side and the heart of youth beating strong in her breast, she
ought not to feel like crying, especially at May Meeting service.
The church was filling rapidly, and every new arrival roused a fresh
train of vexatious memories. There was a rustle and flutter all over
the church, a great turning of heads, and good cause for it; for down
the aisle came Sam and Maria Sawyer, Sam bearing the twins, one on each
arm, their long white clothes reaching far below his knees and giving
him the appearance of an Episcopal clergyman in full vestments. And
close behind these came Sidney and his bride, the latter smiling and
blushing under a hat of white lace trimmed with bunches of purple
violets, and gowned in a suit of violet cloth, whose style carried to
every mind the conviction that it was indeed the hundred-dollar gown.
Mary touched John on the arm. She tried to speak, and could not; but
there was no need for speech. John understood the pallor of her face
and the imploring look in her eyes. He whispered a word to the
children, then he and Mary rose and passed out unnoticed.
What's the matter? said John in a low voice, as soon as they were
fairly outside the door.
But Mary only shook her head and walked faster toward the old
rockaway, which was standing in the shade of a tall chestnut tree.
There she sank on the ground and began laughing and sobbing, while
John, thoroughly alarmed, knelt by her, patting her on the back and
saying: There, there, Honey; don't cry, as if he were talking to a
The touch of his kind hands and the fresh, sweet air on her face
were quick restoratives, and in a moment or two Mary was able to speak.
Don't look so scared, John, she gasped faintly. There's nothing
much the matter; I'll be all right in a minute or two. I haven't been
feeling very well lately, and I'm afraid I ought to have stayed at home
to-day. It was too warm in the church; and I got to looking at the
clothes the people had on, and nearly everything new was cut out by my
chart, and it seemed so funny, and I felt all at once as if I wanted to
cry or laugh, I didn't know which, but I'm better now.
John was listening with keen attention. Nearly all the new clothes
in the church made by Mary's chart, and she so tired and nervous that
she could not stay inside the church! His face grew grave and stern,
but when he spoke, his voice had its usual gentleness.
You come along with me, Mary, he said, We'll have our Sunday
meetin' out of doors, after all.
He lifted the cushions and robes from the rockaway and started
towards the woods at the back of the church, Mary following with the
docility of utter weariness. It was wrong, of course, to miss the May
Meeting sermon, but how could she worship God with that striped shirt
waist in front of her? Her temples throbbed, and there was a queer
feeling at the back of her head.
John laid the cushions on the ground and folded the robes into a
Now, Mary, lay right down here, he commanded. Sunday's a day of
rest, and you've got to rest. Don't you worry about the children. If
they get tired listenin' to the sermon, they've got sense enough to get
up and come out here; and nobody's goin' to know whether you and me are
in church or not. They're too much taken up with the baptizin' and the
And with these assurances Mary closed her eyes, and surrendered
herself to the sweet influence of the day and hour. The sunshine lay
warm on her shoulders and hands, the breath of May fanned her aching
head, and John, like a strong angel, was watching beside her. She heard
the twitter of birds in the top branches of the giant oaks, the voices
of the choir came to her softened by the distance, and her brain took
up the rhythm of the hymn they were singing:
This is the day the Lord hath made,
He calls the hours his own;
Let heaven rejoice, let earth be glad,
And praise surround the throne.
But before the last stanza had been sung, the tension of brain and
body relaxed. John saw that she slept and thanked God. He looked at her
sleeping face, and the anxiety in his own deepened. For five years he
had borne the cross of a peevish, invalid wife, and then he had known
the bliss of living with a perfectly sound woman. He had never analyzed
the nature of his love for Mary,as soon would he have torn away the
petals of Mary's budding roses to see what was at their heart,and he
did not know that the charm that had drawn him to her and kept him her
lover through three years of married life, was not alone her sweet,
unselfish nature, but the exquisite health that made work a pleasure,
the perfect equilibrium of nerve and brain that kept a song on her
lips, that made her step like a dance, and her mere presence a spell to
soothe and heal. His heart sank at the thought of her losing these. He
had always shielded her from the heavy drudgery that farm life brings
to a woman, and now he called memory to the witness stand and sternly
questioned her concerning the cause of this sudden change. She had been
having a good deal of company lately, but then Mary enjoyed company.
She had never complained about the unusual number of callers, but who
ever heard Mary complain about anything? She was not the complaining
kind. John was not a psychologist, and could not know the danger to
nerve and brain that lies in enforcedeven self-enforcedsubmission
to unpleasant circumstances, but his brow darkened as he thought of her
words: Nearly everything new was cut out by my chart. And yet, what
right had he to blame the neighbors for their thoughtlessness? If he,
Mary's husband, had not been considerate of her health and happiness,
why should he expect the neighbors to be so?
It's all my fault at last, he thought remorsefully, as he leaned
over the sleeping woman and brushed away an insect that had lighted on
her gold-brown hair.
Yes, there were faint lines around her mouth and under her eyes, and
the contour of her cheek was not as girlish as it had been a month ago.
If that chart was at the bottom of the trouble But again why
should he blame the chart or the agent, when the main fault was his?
Taking off his coat, he laid it gently over her shoulders and seated
himself so that the shadow of his body would screen her from a ray of
sun that lay across her closed eyelids.
The minister's voice rose and fell in earnest exhortation. He was
preaching an unusually long sermon that morning, and John was glad, for
the longer his sermon, the longer would be Mary's sleep. As for
himself, he needed no sermon within church walls. He was listening to
the voice of his conscience preaching to him of things undone and of
judgment to come.
It's curious, he said to himself, that a man can't see a thing
that's goin' on right under his own eyes and in his own house and that
concerns his own wife.
Suddenly a new sound was heard from the church, a duet of infant
wails that drowned the minister's words, the voices of two young
protestants making known their objections to the rite of infant
baptism. John smiled as he pictured the scene within.
I wouldn't be in Sam Sawyer's place now for ten dollars, he
mentally declared; holdin' them squallin' young ones, and everybody in
church laughin' in their sleeves.
The lamentations of the twins gradually subsided. The notes of the
organ sounded, and the choir sang joyfully. There was a hush, then the
moving of many feet as the congregation rose for the benediction;
another hush, then a murmur of voices growing louder as the little
crowd crossed the threshold of the church, and came into the freedom of
God's great out-of-doors.
Mary opened her eyes and started up with an exclamation of
self-reproach at the sight of John in his shirt sleeves and the
realization that she had slept all through the minister's sermon.
Take it easy, said John, smiling at her and putting on his coat
with more than his usual deliberation. Your hair's all right, and you
look fifty per cent brighter than you did an hour ago. You needed that
nap worse'n you need Brother Smith's sermon. Now sit still and let me
do the talkin' and explainin'.
Yes, Mis' Morrison, as the neighbors came hastening up with kindly
inquiries, Mary wasn't feelin' very well when we started this mornin',
but she's all right now. She's been workin' a little too hard lately,
and I'm afraid I haven't been as careful of her as I ought to 'a'
Bless her soul! said Aunt Tabby McElrath, giving Mary a motherly
pat on the head. You did just right to come out here. There's nothin'
like a hot church for makin' a body feel faint; and a day like this
it'd be better for us all if we'd have the preachin' outdoors as well
as the eatin'. Now, don't you stir, Mary. You're always waitin' on
other people; let other people wait on you for once. And, John, you
come with me, and I'll give you a waiter of nice things for Mary.
Nobody can cook better'n Mary; that I know. But when a person ain't
feelin' very well, they'd rather eat somebody else's cookin' than their
Well, it depends on who the somebody is, said her niece, Sally
McElrath. I'd rather eat anybody else's cookin' than my own, whether
I'm feelin' well or not; but for mercy's sake don't get anything from
my basket on that waiter you're fixin' up for Mary. My cake ain't as
light as it might be, and the icin' didn't cook long enough; and when
it comes to bread, you all know a ten-year-old child could beat me.
The May Meeting dinners in Goshen neighborhood had long been famous.
Town people who were so fortunate as to partake of one were wont to
talk of it for years afterward, for the standards of housewifery in
this part of the country were of the highest, and the consciences of
the housewives made them live sternly up to their ideals, all but
Sally. Her cooking and her housekeeping were always below the mark. But
she had the wisdom to ward off censure by a prompt and cheerful
admission of her failures, and none but a professional critic like Ma
Harris cared to find fault with the delinquent who frankly said of
herself the worst that could be said.
May Meeting in the country is like Easter Sunday in town, a gala
occasion, and it was an idyllic scene around the little country church
as the congregation gathered under the trees. Stalwart men, matronly
women, and youth and maiden clad in fresh apparel that matched the garb
of Nature. They had worshipped God in prayer and song within church
walls, and now they were to enjoy the gifts of God under the arch of
his blue sky and in the green aisles of his first temple. The old earth
had yielded a bountiful tribute to man's toil, and on the damask cloths
spread over the sward lay the fruits and grains of last year's harvest,
changed by woman's skill into the viands that are the symbols of
Southern hospitality, as salt is the symbol of the Arab's.
The minister stood, and turning his face heavenward, said grace, his
words blending with the soft twitter of birds and the murmur of wind in
the young leaves. Then arose a crescendo of voices, the bass of the
men, the treble of the women, and the shrill chatter of children, glad
with the gladness of May, but softened and subdued because it was
Sunday. And now and then the Sawyer twins lifted up their voices and
wept, not because there was any cause for weeping, but because weeping
was as yet their only means of communication with the strange new world
into which they had lately come. The Master who proclaimed that the
Sabbath was made for man, and who walked through the cornfield on that
holy day, might have been an honored guest at such a feast.
When John returned with the laden tray, Mary was holding a little
levee, and her sparkling eyes and happy smile told of rested nerves and
brain refreshed. For so He giveth to His beloved while they are
sleeping. The minister had come up to shake hands with her and tell
her that he had missed her face from the congregation. Sidney had
brought his bride over and introduced her, and Mary was getting a near
view of the violet dress. Her spirits mounted as she ate the delicious
food Aunt Tabby had selected for her. She was surprised to find that
she could look at the stripes in Ellen McElrath's shirt waist without
wanting to cry, and when the meal was over she insisted on helping to
clear off the tables.
My goodness! said Aunt Tabby McElrath, as she placed in her basket
the remains of her bread, ham, chicken, pickles, cake, pie, and jelly.
It looks to me like there'd been another miracle of the loaves and
fishes, for I'm surely takin' home more'n I brought here. What a pity
there ain't some poor family around here that we could give all this
good food to.
I don't know as we'd be called a poor family, said Sally McElrath,
but if you've got more than you know what to do with, just hand it
over to me. It'll save me from cookin' supper to-night.
Yes, Aunt Tabby, said Dan, don't be afraid to offer us some of
the leavin's. Jest cut me a slab o' that jelly-cake and one or two
slices o' your good bread. I ain't forgot the supper I had last May
Meetin' Sunday. Sally had a sick headache and couldn't cook a thing,
and all I could find in the basket was a pickle and a hard boiled egg.
There was a general laugh, in which Sally joined heartily. Aunt
Tabby made generous contributions from her basket to Sally's, Dan
watching the operation with hungry eyes, and then she looked around for
a convenient tree trunk against which she might rest her ample back and
bear a part in the general conversation.
In rural communities the church is the great social center. After
the period of worship, though the hours are God's own, it is not deemed
a profanation of the day to spend a little time in friendly
intercourse, and only the unregenerate youth of the congregation
consider it a hardship to listen to a second sermon in the afternoon.
Now look yonder, will you? exclaimed an elderly matron; them
young folks are fixin' to go off ridin' instead of stayin' to second
service. You, Percival! You, Matty! Don't you stir a step from here,
Preachin's goin' to begin again before you can get back.
Matty's right foot was on the step. Her right hand grasped the top
of the buggy, and her left was firmly held by a handsome youth whose
energies were divided between helping her into his rig and managing
You, Matty! The second warning came in strong tones and with a
Matty turned with a bird-like motion of the head. She darted a
glance and a smile over her shoulder; the glance was for her mother,
the smile for the young man. The latter had failed twice in Greek and
Latin, but he understood the language of the eye and lip, and the
delicate pressure of the girl's fingers on his. He, too, threw a glance
and a smile backward, and the next instant the two were spinning down
the road in the direction of the Iron Bridge.
There was a burst of good-natured laughter from the fathers. They
remembered the days of their youth and rather wished themselves in the
young man's place. Pretty well done, chuckled Uncle Mose Bascom.
I've always said that when it comes to holdin' a spirited horse and at
the same time helpin' a pretty girl into a buggy, a man ought to have
four hands, but Percival did the thing mighty well with jest two.
The young girls who lacked Matty's daring looked down the road with
envy in their eyes. How much better that ride in the wooded road to the
bridge than another dull sermon in that hot church! But the mothers of
the virtuous damsels smiled complacently, thanking God that their
daughters were not as other women's, and Ma Harris walled her eyes
and sighed piously.
In my day, she said, children honored their parents and obeyed
No, they didn't, retorted Matty's mother, her face crimson with
shame and vexation. Children never honored their parents in your day
nor in Moses's day, either. If they had, there wouldn't be but nine
commandments. Didn't your mother run off and marry, and haven't I heard
you say that that youngest boy o' yours was bringin' your gray hairs in
sorrow to the grave? Matty's headstrong, I know, but she ain't a bit
worse than other girls.
That's so, said Sally McElrath, whose own girlhood gave her a
fellow feeling for the absent Matty. I say, let the young folks alone.
We all were young once. For my part, I wish I was in Matty's place.
Here, Dan, can't you take me ridin' like you used to do before we got
I can take you ridin' all right, Sally, agreed Dan placidly.
Yonder's the same old buggy and the same old horse and the same old
road, but the ridin' would be mighty different from the ridin' we had
before we got married. Before we started, we'd have to canvass this
crowd and find somebody to take care of the children, and after we
started, we'd both be wonderin' if Sarah wasn't drowned in the creek,
and if Daniel hadn't been kicked by somebody's horse, and I don't
believe there'd be much pleasure in such a ride.
I reckon you're right, said Sally, laughing with the rest. And
that's why I say let young people alone; they're seein' their best
days. Dan courted for me six months, and if I had to live my life over
again, I'd make it six years.
Sally was one of those daring spirits who do not hesitate to say
what others scarce venture to think.
Maybe I wouldn't 'a' held out, observed Dan. Courtin's mighty
wearin' work, and I ain't a Jacob by any manner o' means.
Well, if you hadn't held out, said Sally recklessly, somebody
else would 'a' taken it up where you left off. Oh! you women needn't
say a word. If you want to pretend you like dish-washin' and cookin'
and mendin' better than courtin', you're welcome to do it. But if I was
just young again, I wouldn't get married till I was too old to be
courted, for courtin' time's the only time a woman sees any peace and
happiness. You, Daniel! You, Sally! Get up out of that dusty road.
Mary, said John Crawford, in a low voice, you get your things
together, and we'll follow Matty's example.
Mary hesitated. Conscience said, Stay to preaching; but the
laughing and talk had grown wearisome to her, and the strange feeling
in her head had returned. So before the hour for the second service
came, they stole quietly away, their rockaway wheels cutting the trail
left by the erring young people who had gone before them.
The way to the bridge was a shady avenue, the trees in that rich
alluvial soil growing to extraordinary height and grandeur, and in the
comfortable homes and well-tilled farms there was a cheerful
presentment of the legendary Man with the Hoe. Only one melancholy
spot by the roadside marred the traveler's pleasure. It was a country
graveyard, walled around with stone, surmounted with an iron railing to
protect it from the desecrating tread of beast or man. Nearly a century
ago the hand of some woman had planted on one of the graves a spray of
myrtle and a lily of the valley, and Nature had laid her leveling touch
on each grassy mound and changed the place outwardly to a garden of
flowers. But neither spring's white glory of lilies and azure of
myrtle, the rich foliage of summer, the crimson splendor of autumn, nor
winter's deepest snow could hide from the passer-by the secret of the
place. Young lovers like Matty and Percival might go by with laughter
and smiles unchecked; not yet for them the thought of death. But John
touched the horse to a quicker pace and looked to the other side of the
road where sunny fields of grain spoke of life more abundantly, and
Mary drew closer to John's side, saying in her heart: I wish there was
no death in this world.
In the middle of the bridge they paused for a moment to look up and
down the shining river, and John recalled the tale, still told by the
oldest inhabitants, of the spring of '65, when the river rose
forty-five feet in nine hours and washed the bridge away. Beyond the
bridge the road turned to the right, following the stream in a friendly
way, and terminating at a fording place opposite a large sand bar known
as The Island. A giant sycamore in the middle cast a welcome shadow
in the brilliant sunshine, and a fringe of willows encircled it. Under
these, near the water's edge, lay heaps of mussel shells,white, pink,
yellow, and purple,the gift of the river to the land, and a reminder
of the April freshet. The carriage wheels grated on the sand-bar, and
as they caught sight of the treasures the children gave a cry of
delight, for no shells from a tropic ocean are more beautiful in color
than the common mussel shells of Kentucky rivers, and not infrequently
a pearl is found within the tinted casket.
Now, gather all the shells you want, said John, while your mother
and me sit down here and rest in the shade.
Again he made a bed of the cushions from the carriage, and closing
her eyes Mary fell into blissful half-consciousness. The minister had
read David's psalm of rejoicing at the morning service, and one line of
it, He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul,
floated through her brain like a slumber song, with an obbligato of
rippling water and the faint whispering of willows. Once she drifted to
the very shores of sleep, to be gently called back by the laughter of
the children; and when they turned homeward in the late afternoon, she
felt strong for the next day's burden, only she hoped that no one would
come to use the chart, until she had time to finish the spring
cleaning. She wanted to get back into the old peaceful routine of work,
in which each day had its duties and every duty brought with it time
and strength for its performance.
Monday morning passed without any interruption, and by half-past
twelve o'clock the work belonging to the day was done and dinner was
over. But just as she began washing the dishes, there was a noise of
wheels on the 'pike. Mary gave a start and almost dropped the dish she
Oh, John! she exclaimed, see who it is. John stepped out on the
back porch and looked up the road. It looks like Sally and Dan
McElrath and the two children, he said, coming back into the kitchen.
Mary compressed her lips to keep back a sigh of dismay. Yes, she
said quietly, Sally told me yesterday she would be over some time this
week to cut out a tea jacket by my chart, but I didn't expect her this
soon. I was just thinking I'd go up-stairs and take a nap as soon as I
got through with the dishes. But it's all right. You put a stick of
wood in the stove, John, to keep my dish-water hot, and I'll go out and
ask Sally in.
John was looking at her very earnestly.
Honey, he said, your hair looks as if you hadn't combed it
to-day. You run up-stairs and fix yourself, and I'll see to Sally and
And while Mary darted up the back stairs, John hurried softly into
the parlor. He could hear Sally's high, clear voice, and the wagon was
almost at the gate. It was a bold emprise on which he was bent, and the
time was short. On the top shelf of the old cherry secretary that had
belonged to Mary's grandfather lay the chart. Looking fearfully around,
he seized it, tiptoed to the kitchen, opened the stove door, and
dropped the hateful thing on a bed of glowing hickory coals. Then he
put in a stick of wood, according to Mary's behest, and the next moment
he was at the front door, placing chairs on the porch and calling out a
welcome to the alighting guests.
Come right in, Dan. Glad to see you both. Mary's been looking for
you. Sit down here on the porch where it's cool. Here, Lucy Ellen,
here's Sarah and Daniel come to play with you.
What on earth did John mean by saying my hair needed combing?
soliloquized Mary up-stairs, as she looked in the glass at the shining
braids of her hair; I fixed it just before dinner, and it's as smooth
and nice as it can be. She hurried down to see that her guests lacked
no attention demanded by hospitality. John was likely to be forgetful
about such matters.
I was just saying, Mary, Sally called out as soon as she caught
sight of her hostess, that Dan was on his way to town, and I'm going
to stay here with the children till he comes back. But I want to lay
the chart on my goods right away, for I'm afraid I've got a scant
pattern for that tea jacket, and if I have, I can give Dan a sample of
the goods, and he can bring me an extra yard from town. And if you'll
bring the chart out, I'll lay off my goods right here and now, so Dan
won't lose any time on my account.
Oh! never mind about me, said Dan, with the air and accent of one
who has suffered long and given up hope. I've been losin' time on your
account for the last fifteen years, and this trip ain't goin' to be an
Every one laughed, for Sally's weakness was known of all men. Aunt
Tabby McElrath once said that if the road from Dan's place to town was
ten miles long, and there was a house every quarter of a mile, Sally
would make just forty visits going and coming.
Get the chart, John, said Mary, and it won't take us two minutes
to find out whether there's enough goods. It's on the top shelf of the
old secretary in the parlor.
John went obediently. Where did you say that chart was? he called
On the old secretary. I saw it there just before dinner, answered
I saw it there, too, responded John, but it ain't there now.
Mary hastened to the parlor. Why no, it isn't here, she exclaimed
in dismay. Who could have taken it?
Ask the children, suggested Sally from the porch, where she sat
cheerfully rocking and fanning herself. Whenever there's anything
missing at our house, some of the children can tell who's mislaid it.
But Lucy Ellen and little John with one voice made haste to defend
themselves against the visitor's accusation. By this time Dan had come
into the parlor, and the three stood looking at each other in silent
Dan was openly worried over the delay, Mary was sympathetically
distressed, and John's face expressed nothing but the deepest concern
over the situation.
Maybe it's up-stairs, he said. Suppose you and Sally run up there
and search while Dan and myself'll search down here. That'll save
What sort of a lookin' thing is that chart? asked Dan, as he got
down on his knees and made a dive under the sofa.
Well, I'd recognize it if I saw it, said John, but, come to think
of it, I don't know as I could tell anybody exactly how it looks. It's
something done up in a roll and tied with red tape.
Done up in a roll and tied with red tape, repeated Dan,
meditatively, opening closet doors and peering into corners, while he
tried to keep in his mind an image of the lost chart as described by
his fellow searcher. Is this it?
Well, now that's something like it, said John. I'll ask Mary.
Here, Mary, is this it?
Mary leaned over the railing with hopeful expectancy in her glance.
Why, John, that's my gossamer case with the gossamer in it. I
thought you knew my chart better than that. Tell the children to look,
too. They'd know it if they saw it.
I'm lookin' as hard as I can, piped Lucy Ellen from the closet
under the stairs, while little John seized a long stick, ran to the
henhouse, poked the setting hens off their eggs, and searched
diligently in every nest for Mother's lost chart.
Don't stand on ceremony, Dan. Open every door you come to,
commanded John, as he rummaged in the sideboard and tumbled the piles
of snowy damask. Thus encouraged, Dan walked into the pantry and gazed
helplessly at the jars of preserves and jelly on the top shelf. He
lifted the top from Mary's buttermilk jar. No chart there.
Done up in a roll and tied with red tape, he muttered, opening a
tin box and disclosing a loaf of bread and a plate of tea-cakes.
Here, John, he exclaimed, this prowlin' around in other people's
houses don't suit me at all. Makes me feel like a thief and a robber.
I'll go out and see to my horses, and you keep on lookin'.
And John continued to look, as the shepherd looked for the lost
sheep, as the woman looked for the piece of silver. Now and then he
uttered an ejaculation of wonder and regret, and raised his voice to
inquire of Mary if the lost had been found.
Mary's search up-stairs was greatly hindered by Sally's digressions.
Some minds move in straight lines, others in curves, but Sally's mental
processes were all in the nature of tangents.
You look in the closet, Sally, said Mary, and I'll go through the
But the novelty of being up-stairs in Mary's house made Sally forget
the cause of her being there.
Gracious! Mary, how do you keep your room so nice? This is what I
call a young girl's room. I used to be able to have things clean and
pretty before I was married, but Daniel and Sarah make the whole house
look like a hurrah's nest. And there's your great-grandmother's
counterpane on the bed, white as the driven snow, too. I wonder how
many generations that's going to wear. My, what a pretty view you've
got from this window. Ain't that Pilot Knob over yonder, just beyond
that clump of cedars? Yes, that must be old Pilot. I've heard my
grandfather tell many a time how his father camped at the foot of the
knob, and sat up all night to keep the bears and wolves away.
Mary was opening doors and drawers in a hasty but conscientious
You'd better help me look for the chart, Sally, she said gently.
Two pairs of eyes are better than one, and you know Dan's in a hurry.
But Sally did not move. Her eyes were fixed on the purple haze that
hung over old Pilot, and her mind was lost in memories of her
Dan's always in a hurry, she remarked placidly. I tell him he
gets mighty little pleasure out of life, rushin' through it the way he
does. That white spot over on that tallest knob must be the stone
quarry. If it was a clear day, I believe you could see the big rocks.
And here comes a locomotive. How pretty the white smoke looks streamin'
back and settlin' in the valleys.
We might as well go down, said Mary. There's no use looking in
the spare room; that hasn't been opened for a week.
Sally! cried Dan, putting his head in at the front door and giving
a backward glance at his restless horse, if that note I've got in the
bank is protested, you and your jacket'll be to blame. It's after two
o'clock, and I can't wait any longer.
All right, said Sally, me and the children will go to town with
Where are the children? asked Mary.
My gracious! have we lost the chart and the children, too? laughed
Sally. No, there they are, 'way down by the duck pond. Sarah! Daniel!
Come right here! We're goin' to town.
Hurry up! shouted their father, or I'll leave you here.
The prospect of a trip to town and the fear of being left behind
doubled the children's speed and brought them breathless and excited to
the front gate. Dan tossed them into the wagon, as if each had been a
sack of meal, and Sally clambered in without assistance.
As soon as I find the chart, Sally, I'll send it over to you by the
first person that passes, said Mary. The loss of the chart seemed a
breach of hospitality, a discourtesy to her guest, and she wanted to
That wouldn't be a bit of use, said Sally, for I can't tell head
nor tail of the thing unless you show me. I'll drop in again in a day
or so and do my cuttin' and fittin' here.
Yes, said John heartily, that'll be the best way. If Mary was to
send you the chart, the person she sent it by might lose it, and that'd
be a pity, as it's the only one in the neighborhood. You come over and
bring the children with you and spend the day, and you and Mary can
have a good time sewin' and talkin'.
That's what I'll do. Look for me day after to-morrow or the day
after that. I reckon the chart'll certainly turn up by that time.
I'm sure it will, said John, for I'm goin' to spend all my spare
time lookin' for it.
Dan clucked to the horse and shook the reins over its back.
Well, good-by, cried Sally blithely, I'll be certain to
But the rest of her words were drowned in the rattle of wheels and
clatter of hoofs, for Dan was laying on the whip in a desperate resolve
to get to town before the bank closed.
Mary stood silent with a hurt look on her face. How could John ask
Sally to spend the day when he knew how tired she was? It was all she
could do to keep the tears back.
It's my opinion, said John, that we'll never see that chart
again. I believe it's gone like grandfather Ervin's beaver hat.
Mary knew the story of the beaver hat. It was a family legend of the
supernatural that John was fond of telling. But she had little faith
that her chart had gone the way of grandfather Ervin's hat, and she
went back to the kitchen, wondering how John could have been so
thoughtless, and dreading the day after to-morrow that would bring
Sally and those troublesome children. John followed her, and opening
the stove door, he gently stirred the ashes within, thus effacing the
last trace of the chart; then he took his way to the barn, where he
sank down on a pile of fodder and laughed till the tears ran down his
Edwin Booth couldn't 'a' done it better, he gasped. I reckon I'll
have to quit farmin' and go on the stage. Didn't know I was such a born
actor. It was actin' a lie, too, but it's put a stop to Mary's
troubles, and I don't feel like repentin' yet. I reckon you might call
it a lie of 'necessity and mercy', like the work that's allowed on the
And at that precise moment Sally was saying to Dan:
Did you ever see a man so put out over anything as John Crawford
was over not findin' that chart? If he'd lost his watch or his purse,
he couldn't have put himself to more pains to find it. There never was
a more accommodatin' neighbor than Mary, and John's just like her. You
don't often see a couple as well matched. Generally, if one's
accommodatin' and neighborly, the other's stingy and mean. But Mary
wasn't a bit more anxious to find that chart for me than John was.
That night after supper John seated himself on the front porch. The
warm spring air was sweet with the perfume of May bloom, and from every
pond there was a chorus of joy over the passing of winter. He heard the
voices of his children and his wife talking together as Mary washed the
dishes, Lucy Ellen wiped them, and little John placed them on the
table. Home, wife, children, and the spring of the year! The heart of
the man was glad and he smiled at the thought of the deed he had done
John, said Mary, coming out on the porch with the dish towel over
her arm, hadn't you better be looking for that chart? You know you
promised Sally, and I don't want her to be disappointed again.
The light from one of the front windows shone full on John's face,
and something about his eyes and mouth gave Mary a sudden revelation.
John, she said severely, do you know where that chart is?
John returned her gaze with unflinching eyes. Mary, he said slowly
and deliberately, I do not know where that chart is.
Another lie? Oh, no! When a thing is dust and ashes, who knows where
But the answer did not satisfy Mary. She continued to look at him as
a mother might look at a naughty child.
John, she said, did youI believeyes, I know you did. Oh,
John! How could you? What made you do it?
Yes, I did, and I'd do it again, said John doggedly. Do you think
I'm goin' to have the neighbors tormentin' the life out of you on
account of that
He stopped short, for a damp towel was against his face, and Mary's
bare arms were around his neck.
Oh, John! And that was the reason you asked Sally to come back.
I've been feeling so hurt, for I thought it looked as if you didn't
care for me. I might have known better. Please forgive me. I'll never
think such a thing of you again.
There was something damp on the other side of his face now, and
reaching around John drew the tired wife down on the bench beside him
and let her sob out her joy and her weariness on his shoulder.
But it was a help, she sighed at last, wiping her eyes on her
kitchen apron. And I don't know how I'm going to do my spring sewing
John stretched out his right leg, thrust his hand into his pocket,
and pulled out a ragged leather purse, not too well filled.
What's mine's yours, Mary, he said, tossing it into her lap. Get
a seamstress to do your sewing. If I catch you at that machine again,
I'll make kindlin' wood and old iron out of it, and if that agent ever
comes on the place again with his blamed charts, there's a loaded
shotgun waitin' for him.
Come in, Maria Marvin, come in. No, it ain't too early for
visitors. I've jest finished sweepin' and dustin', and that's exactly
the time I want to see company; and when company comes at exactly the
right time, they get a double welcome from me. Have this chair, and
I'll lay your bonnet right here on the table.
Yes, I've been refurnishin' some. Got rid o' all the old plunder
that 'd been accumulatin' under this roof ever since Noah built his
ark, and bought a spick and span new outfit, golden oak every bit of
it, and right up to day before yesterday, and to-day, and day after
to-morrow, when it comes to style. I reckon Mother and grandmother and
great-grandmother have turned over in their graves, but I can't help
it. That old mahogany furniture has been my cross, and I've borne it
faithfully from a child up, and when I saw a chance o' layin' it down,
I didn't stop to think what my ancestors would say about it; I jest
dropped the cross and drew one good, long breath.
You'd think I'd hate to part with the family belongin's? Well, you
wouldn't think so if you knew how much trouble these same belongin's
have been to me all my born days. You know everybody has idols. Some
women make idols of their children, and now and then you'll find a
woman bowin' down and worshippin' her husband, but Mother's idols were
chairs and tables and bedsteads. You've noticed, haven't you, that
there's always one child in a family that'll get nearly everything
belongin' to the family? They'll claim this and that and the other, and
the rest o' the children will give in to 'em jest to keep from havin' a
quarrel. Well, Mother was the claimin' one in our family, and whatever
she claimed she got, and whatever she got she held on to it. If
Mother'd been content with the things that her mother handed down to
her, it wouldn't 'a' been so bad, but there never was a member o' the
family died that Mother didn't manage to get hold o' some of the
belongin's. If there was a sale, she was the first one there, and she'd
take her seat right under the auctioneer's hammer, and if she made up
her mind to have an old chair or an old table, why, nobody ever could
outbid her; and in the course o' time the house got to be more like an
old junk shop than a home. I used to tell Mother she got everything
belongin' to her dead kinfolks except their tombstones, and I wouldn't
'a' been surprised any day to come home and find one or two nice old
gravestones settin' up on the mantel-piece for ornaments, or propped up
handy in a corner.
And every piece of that old mahogany, Maria, was polished till you
could see your face in it. The first thing after breakfast, Mother'd
get a piece o' chamois skin or an old piece o' flannel, and she'd go
around rubbin' up her chairs and tables and lookin' for scratches on
'em; and as soon as I was old enough to hold a rag, I had to do a
certain amount o' polishin' every day, and when Mother's rheumatism
settled in her arms, all the polishin' fell to me. It looked like the
furniture was on Mother's mind night and day, and it was: 'Samantha,
have you polished your grandfather's secretary?' 'Samantha, don't
forget to rub off the parlor center-table.' No matter what I wanted to
do, I couldn't do it till that old furniture was attended to. When I
look back, Maria, it seems to me I've been livin' all my life in the
valley of the shadow of old mahogany. You know how it is when the sun
comes out after a long spell of cloudy weather. Well, that's jest the
way it was the day that old mahogany furniture went out o' the house,
and this pretty yellow furniture came in. I really believe that was the
happiest day of my life.
Yes, there's a heap of associations connected with old furniture,
and Mother's old furniture had more associations than most anybody's. I
believe there was enough associations to 'a' filled every one o' the
bureau drawers, and if you'd put the associations on the tables or on
the beds, there wouldn't 'a' been room there for anything else. And
that's exactly why I wanted to get rid o' that mahogany furniture. I
believe I could 'a' stood the furniture, if it hadn't been for the
associations. What good did it do me to look at that old four-poster
that used to stand in the front room up-stairs and think o' the time I
laid on that bed six mortal weeks, when I had typhoid fever? What
pleasure could I get out o' that old secretary that used to stand
yonder, when every time I looked at it I could see Grandfather Stearns
sittin' there writin' a mile-long sermon on election and
predestination, and mea little child thenknowin' I'd have to sit up
in church the next Sunday and listen to that sermon, when I wanted to
be out-doors playin'?
And besides my own associations, there was Mother's. She'd point
out that old armchair that used to stand by the west window and tell
how Uncle Abner Stearns set in that chair for six years after he was
paralyzed; and that old haircloth sofa,you remember that, don't
you?she'd tell how Grandmother Stearns was sittin' on that when she
had her stroke o' apoplexy; and betwixt the furniture and the
associations, it was jest like livin' in a cemetery. I told Mother one
day that I was tired o' sittin' in my great-grandfather's chairs, and
sleepin' on my great-grandfather's bed, and eatin' out o' my
great-grandmother's china and silver, and Mother says: 'Samantha, you
never did have proper respect for your family.' But, Maria Marvin, I
tell you as I told Mother, I'm somethin' more than a Member of the
Family: I'm Myself, and I want to live my own life, and I've found out
that if people live their own lives, they've got to get from under the
shadow of their ancestors' tombstones.
What did I do with the old mahogany? Sold it. That's what I did.
And if you've got any old stuff up in the garret or down in the cellar
or out in the woodshed, get it out right away, for no matter how old
and battered and broken up it is, you can sell it for a good price.
They tell me, Maria, that new-fashioned things is all out o' fashion,
and old-fashioned things is in the fashion. Curious, ain't it? All my
life I been findin' fault with Mother because she was always hoardin'
up old family relics, and now all the rich folks are huntin' around in
every crack and corner for old mahogany and old cherry and old
walnut,anything, jest so it's old.
You've heard about that rich lady that's bought the old Schuyler
place? Here's her card with her name on it:
Mrs. Edith A. Van Arnheim.
Well, last Monday mornin' about this time, jest as I was finishin'
up my mornin' work, I heard a knockin' at the front door, and when I
opened it there stood a strange lady all dressed in silks and satins
and a young girl with her. I said 'Good mornin',' and she said: 'Does
Miss Samantha Mayfield live here?' And I says: 'It's Samantha Mayfield
you're talkin' to.' And she says: 'I'm Mrs. Van Arnheim. I beg your
pardon for calling so early, buthave you any old furniture?' And I
says; 'Old furniture? Why, I haven't got anything but old furniture.'
And they both smiled real pleasant, and the young girl said: 'Oh,
please let us look at it! I do love old furniture.' And I says: 'Walk
right in, and look all you please. Furniture never was hurt by bein'
Well, they both walked in and looked around, and for a minute
neither one of 'em spoke; and then the young girl drew a long breath,
and says she: 'Did you ever see anything so perfectly
And she rushed up to Great-grandfather Stearns's secretary like she
was goin' to hug it, and says she: 'Heppelwhite! Genuine Heppelwhite!
Look at those lovely panes of glass!' And then she flew over to that
old bow-legged chair that stood yonder, and says she: 'Chippendale!
Upon my word! Was there ever anything as exquisite as those legs!'
And she peeped into the dining-room and give a little scream, and
called her mother to come and see that old battered-up thing that
great-aunt Matildy used to keep her china and glass in, and she called
it 'a real Sheraton cabinet', and she went on over 'the grain of the
wood' and the 'color of the wood' till you'd 'a' thought that old press
was somethin' that'd come straight down from heaven. The lady didn't
say much, but she looked mighty pleased, and she went around touchin'
things with the tips of her fingers and examinin' the legs and arms and
backs of things to see if they were in good repair. Pretty soon she
turned around to me and says sort o' wishful and hesitatin': 'I suppose
there's no use asking you if you'd sell any of this furniture, Miss
Mayfield.' And I says: 'What makes you suppose that?' And she says:
'Because people are always very much attached to their old family
furniture, and even if they don't care for it and are not using it, I
find they don't care to let any one else have it.' And I says: 'Well,
there's nothin' of the dog in the manger about me, ma'am, and I'm not
attached to my old furniture; it's been attached to me, and I'd be
thankful to anybody that would help me get loose from it.'
She laughed real hearty, and the young girl says: 'How perfectly
lovely!' And then we went through the parlor and the hall and the
dining-room, they pickin' out the furniture they wanted, while I set
the prices on it. And when we got through the young girl says: 'Would
you let us go up-stairs?'
So up-stairs we went, and there wasn't a four-poster bed or a
rickety table or a broken-legged chair that she didn't say was
'darling' or 'dear' or 'gorgeous' or 'heavenly'; and they wanted pretty
near everything that was up-stairs. When we got through pricin' these,
the lady says: 'Is this all the old mahogany you have, Miss Mayfield?'
and then I happened to think o' the garret. I hadn't set foot up there
for ten years or more, but I remembered there was a lot o' old truck
that Mother didn't have room for down-stairs, and it'd been stored away
there ever since goodness knows when. So up to the garret we went, they
holdin' up their silk skirts, and me apologizin' for the dirt. They
peered around, and didn't seem to mind a bit when they got their kid
gloves all soiled handlin' the old junk that was settin' around in
every hole and corner. And the young girl, she'd give a little scream
every time she dragged out a table or a chair, and says she: 'Miss
Mayfield, this is the most interesting place I ever was in.' And I
says: 'If you're interested in dirt and rubbish, I reckon this is an
Well, if you'll believe me, Maria Marvin, they wanted everything in
that garret, even down to the old pewter warmin'-pan that used to
belong to Mother's sister Amanda, and that she got from her husband's
family, the Hicks. And the young girl looked out o' the gable window at
the south end, and says she: 'Oh! what a lovely old gyarden!' And the
lady dropped the old candlestick she was lookin' at, and come and
looked over the young girl's shoulder. The gyarden did look mighty
pretty with the roses and honeysuckles and pinks all in bloom, and the
lady said: 'Oh! how beautiful! How beautiful!' and all the rest of the
time we were up in the garret, she stood there at the window and leaned
out and looked at the gyarden, and after that she didn't seem to care
much about the furniture. She jest let the young girl do the buyin' and
the talkin', and once I heard her sigh a long, deep sigh, jest as if
she was thinkin' about somethin' that happened a long time ago. And
when we went down-stairs, she asked me to give her some roses and
honeysuckles; and while I was gatherin' a big bunch of Mother's damask
roses for her, she was walkin' up and down the paths, gatherin' a
flower here and a leaf there, but to look at her face, Maria, you'd 'a'
thought that she was walkin' in a graveyard and every flower-bed was a
grave; and once, when she stooped down and broke off a piece of
ambrosia and smelt it, I could see there was tears in her eyes. Well,
Maria, they were jest as crazy about old-fashioned flowers as they were
about old-fashioned furniture. I pulled a big bunch o' damask roses for
both of 'em, and they said they wanted roots of all the old
flowers,Mother's hundred-leaf rose and the Maiden's Blush and the
cinnamon rose, and all the spring flowers and even the tansy and sage.
The lady said they could buy all these things, but that she believed
the flowers you got out of old-fashioned gyardens like mine smelled
sweeter and bloomed better than anything you'd buy. And she's goin' to
give me a lot of new-fashioned flowers to freshen up my old gyarden,
and with new furniture in my house and new flowers in my gyarden, why,
I feel like I'm takin' a new start in life. Why, actually, Maria, I've
been jest as tired of the old flowers as I've been of the old beds and
tables,the same old crocuses and buttercups and hyacinths and
chrysanthemums comin' up every spring in the same old place, in the
same old beds, and the same old weeds to be pulled up every year.
Maybe you think it's wicked in me, Maria, to feel the way I do
about old things. Mother always thought so, and I remember once hearin'
her tell the minister that Samantha was jest like the Athenians in the
Bible, always runnin' after some new thing; and she was always sighin'
and sayin': 'Samantha, you have no reverence in your nature.' And
finally, one day, I said to her: 'Mother, I've got jest as much
reverence as you have. The difference between us is that you reverence
old things, and I reverence new ones.'
But I mustn't forget to tell you about the old cradle, Maria. That
cradle was Mother's special idol. It was a little, heavy, wooden thing,
so black with age that you couldn't tell what kind o' wood it was made
out of, and Mother said the first Stearnses that ever come to this
country brought that cradle with 'em in the ship they sailed in. Well,
that little old cradle was sittin' way back in the garret on top o' the
old oak bed-clothes chest that Grandmother Stearns packed her quilts
in, when she moved from Connecticut and come to Ohio. And the young
girl spied that cradle, and says she: 'Oh! What a darling cradle!' And
then she stopped and blushed as red as a rose, and the lady jest smiled
and says: 'Would you sell me the little cradle, Miss Mayfield?' And I
says: 'You may have it and welcome. If there is anything an old maid
hasn't any use for, it's a cradle.'
They say the young girl is goin' to be married soon, and I reckon
some day that pretty young thing's children'll be lyin' in the old
Stearns cradle; and a lot o' that old mahogany, they tell me, goes to
the furnishin' of her room. Maybe she'll be writin' her letters at
Grandfather's secretary, and sleepin' on Grandmother's old canopy bed.
It don't seem right, Maria, for a pretty young bride to be beginnin'
life with a lot o' dead folks' furniture; but then, she won't have the
associations, and it's the associations that make old furniture so
unhealthy to have around the house.
I reckon I must be some kin to the tribe o' Indians I was readin'
about in my missionary paper last Sunday. Every time anybody dies, they
burn everything that belonged to the dead person, and then they burn
down the place he died in and build a new one. That seems right
wasteful, don't it, Maria? But it's a good deal wholesomer to do that
way, than to clutter up your house with dead folks' belongin's like we
do. And that's why I'm gettin' so much pleasure out o' this new oak
furniture. It's mine, jest mine, and nobody else's. It didn't come down
to me from my great-grandmother; I went to the store and picked it out
myself. No dead person's hands ever touched it, and there's not a
single association hangin' anywheres around it.
Yes, Maria, I got a good price for everything I sold. Because I
didn't want it, that's no reason why I should give it away. I could see
the lady wanted it mighty bad, so I valued it accordin' to what I
thought it'd be worth to her, and when I saw how willin' she was to pay
my price, I was right sorry I hadn't asked more.
She was one o' the high-steppers, that lady was, but as
sweet-talkin' and nice-mannered as you please, and when she wrote out
the check and handed it to me, she says: 'When can I get the
furniture?' 'Right now,' says I, 'if you want it right now.' 'But,'
says she, 'what will you do without furniture? Hadn't you better get in
your new beds and chairs and tables before I take the old ones away?'
And I says: 'Don't you worry about me, ma'am; it's only four miles from
here to town, and by the time you get this old mahogany rubbish out,
I'll have my new golden oak things in; so don't you hold back on my
And she looked at me in a curious sort o' way, and says she: 'Don't
you mind givin' up this old mahogany? Would you just as soon have new
golden oak furniture?' And I says: 'No, I wouldn't jest as soon; I'd a
good deal rather have it.'
And she laughed real pleasant, and says she: 'I'm so glad you feel
that way about it. I always feel guilty when I buy old furniture that
the owner is unwilling to part with, no matter how good a price I pay
for it.' And I says: 'Well, you can have a clear conscience in the
matter of buyin' my old furniture. This check and the golden oak I'm
goin' to buy with it is perfectly satisfactory to me.'
And what do you reckon I'm goin' to do with that money, Maria? I
reckon people think that because I've lived here all my life I've
enjoyed doin' so. But I haven't. I've been jest as tired of Goshen
neighborhood as I ever was of my old mahogany,the old roads and the
old fences and the old farms,yes, and the old people, too. Maria, I
get tired of everything, even myself, and now I'm goin' to travel and
see the world, that's what I'm goin' to do. What's the use in livin'
sixty or seventy years in a world like this and never seein' it. Why,
you might as well be a worm in a hickory nut. And, Maria, I take out my
old geography sometimes, when I'm sittin' here alone in the evenin',
and I look at the map of North America, and there's the big Atlantic
ocean on one side and the big Pacific ocean on the other; and all the
big rivers and lakes in between flowin' down to the big Gulf of Mexico;
and here I am stuck fast in this little old place, and the most water
I've ever seen is Drake's Creek and Little Barren River! And I look on
the map at the mountains runnin' up and down this country, the Rocky
Mountains and the Alleghanies and all the rest of 'em, and the highest
ground I've ever seen is Pilot Knob! I'm not afraid to die, Maria, but
when I think of all the things that's to be seen in this world, and how
I'm not seein' 'em, I just pray: 'Lord, don't let me go to the next
world till I've seen somethin' of this one.' And now my prayer's
answered. I don't know whether I'll go east or west or north or south;
but I'm goin' to see the ocean, and I'm goin' to see the mountains
before I die, all on account o' that mahogany furniture; I never
supposed the day would come when I'd be thankful for that old plunder;
but sometimes, Maria, the things we don't want turn out to be our
I reckon it's mighty poor taste on my part to want new furniture in
place o' that old mahogany. All the time I was showin' 'em around, the
lady and her daughter kept sayin': 'How artistic!' 'What classic
lines!' and I reckon the reason they looked at me so curious when I
said I'd rather have this golden oak, was that they was pityin' me for
not knowin' what's 'artistic.' Now, I may not be artistic, Maria, but
I've got a taste of my own, and what's the use in havin' a taste of
your own unless you use it? I might jest as well try to use somebody
else's eyes as to use somebody else's taste. That old mahogany pleased
my grandmother's taste and my mother's taste, but it don't please mine;
and I'm no more bound to use my grandmother's old furniture than I am
to wear my grandmother's old clothes.
Don't go, Maria. Sit down a minute longer, for I haven't told you
the best part of the story yet. After the lady had said good-by and was
out of the door, she turned back, and says she: 'Miss Mayfield, when I
get the furniture in order, I'm going to send my carriage for you, and
you must come over and see if you can recognize your old friends in
their new dress and their new home.' I never believed she was goin' to
send her carriage for me, Maria, but she did. And she
took me all over the house, and they've made it over the same as you'd
make over an old dress; and it ain't a house any longer, it's a palace.
Don't ask me to tell you how it looks, for I can't. I've always
wondered what sort of places kings and queens lived in, and now I know.
There wasn't a room that didn't have some of my old mahogany in it, but
at first I couldn't believe it was the same furniture I'd sold the
lady. She'd had all the varnish scraped off, and it was as soft and
shiny-lookin' as satin, even that little, old black cradle, and the
lady said that when the furniture man began to scrape that, he found it
was solid rosewood. We went into the library, and there was
Grandfather's old secretary, lookin' so fine and grand, Maria, it took
my breath clean away. There wasn't a dent or a scratch on it, and it
shone in the light jest like a piece of polished silver, and the
prettiest curtains you ever saw fallin' on each side of it. It looked
exactly like it belonged in that room. And it does belong there. Why,
as I was standin' there lookin' at it, I thought if that old secretary
could speak, it would say: 'I've found my place at last.' And it come
over me all at once, Maria, that the doctrine of foreordination holds
good with things as well as people. That old mahogany never belonged to
me nor to Mother. It jest stopped over a while with us, while it was on
its way to the lady, and it was hers from the very day it was made. I
tell you, Maria, things belong to the folks that can appreciate 'em.
That furniture was jest chairs and tables and bedsteads to Mother and
me; but the lady knew all about it, when it was made and where it was
made, and the name of the man that first made it. And after we'd looked
at everything in the house, she took me out to see the gyarden. Such a
gyarden! She said it was jest like one she'd seen over in England, and
she was plantin' the same kind of flowers in it. The beds were all
sorts of shapes, and there was a pool of water in the middle with
water-lilies in it, and right by the pool was somethin' that tells the
time of day pretty near as well as a clock, jest by the shadow on it.
There was a hedge planted all around the gyarden, and the gyardner was
settin' out all kinds of flowers, and there was one bed of pansies and
another of geraniums in full bloom, and I said: 'I don't know why you
wanted my old-fashioned flowers, when you've got such a gyarden as
this.' And she smiled and looked down at the geraniums, and says she:
'These flowers don't mean anything to me. But your roses and
honeysuckles and pinks mean everything; they are joy and sorrow and
love and youth,everything I have had and lost.' Hearin' her talk,
Maria, was jest like readin' a book. And then, she took me around to
another gyarden at the back of the house, and showed me a bed, and all
the roots and slips that she'd got from me were growin' in it. The
gyardner 'tends to the rest of the flowers, but he never touches this
bed; the lady weeds it and waters it with her own hands. Now, I don't
want anything around me that reminds me of what I've had and lost, but
she's one of the kind that loves associations.
No, I haven't re-furnished all the up-stairs rooms, Maria. What's
the use o' havin' furnished rooms that you never use? Yes, it does look
pretty empty, but after livin' in a jungle of old mahogany these many
years, you don't know what a blessed relief it is to have a few empty
spots about the house. Every house ought to have one or two empty
rooms, Maria, jest for folks to rest their eyes on.
Yes, I did keep one piece o' the family furniture, but it wasn't
mahogany. It was that little plain rockin'-chair with the oak-split
bottom; there it sets in the corner. Mother used to sit in that chair
when she washed and dressed us children and rocked the baby to sleep.
She liked it because it was low and hadn't any arms for the baby's head
to get bumped on. I can look at it and see Mother holdin' the baby in
her arms and rockin' and singin':
'Hush, my babe, lie still and slumber,'
and I'd rather have that common little chair than all the old
mahogany that belonged to my great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers.
There ain't an unpleasant association connected with that chair, and
furthermore, I don't have to polish it.
Yes, this dress is rather gay, Maria, but don't you think it
matches the golden oak furniture? I always like to have things in
keepin' with each other, and as long as I had to live in the midst o'
old mahogany, it seemed natural and proper to wear brown and black and
gray. But now I feel like mixin' in a little blue and red and yellow
with the brown and black and gray, and when your feelin's and your
clothes and your furniture correspond, it certainly does make a
comfortable condition for you.
I'll be gettin' married next? Well, maybe I will, Maria Marvin,
maybe I will. Gettin' rid o' that old mahogany seems to 'a' taken about
fifty years off my shoulders, and if I should happen to find a man
that'd match up with my new furniture and suit me as well as that
golden oak dresser does, I may get married, after all.
Do you have to go? Well, come again, Maria, and if you happen to
meet any o' the neighbors, tell 'em to drop in and take a look at my
golden oak furniture.
MILLSTONES AND STUMBLING-BLOCKS
I do believe that's Margaret Williams! exclaimed Mrs. Martin,
thrusting aside the curtain and peering through the tangle of
morning-glory vines that shaded her parlor window. She turned away and
began arranging the chairs and straightening the table cover with the
nervous haste of a fastidious housekeeper unprepared for company.
But there was no need for haste. The expected caller paused at the
gate and seemed to be making a critical survey of the house and
premises. Her air was that of a person examining a piece of property
with a view to purchasing it. She walked slowly along the garden path,
gazing up at the sloping roof and the dormer windows, and on the first
step of the porch she paused and looked around at the tidy front yard,
with its clumps of shrubbery, fine old trees, and beds of blossoming
flowers. Within, Mrs. Martin was nervously awaiting her visitor's
knock. She had taken off her kitchen apron and smoothed her hair down
with her hands. But no knock was heard, for Mrs. Williams placidly
continued her survey of the house and its surroundings, until the voice
of her hostess interrupted her.
Why, Mrs. Williams! Have you been standin' out here all this time?
I must be losin' my hearin' when I can't hear a person knockin' at the
Nothin's the matter with your hearin', responded Mrs. Williams,
following her hostess into the shady parlor; I hadn't knocked.
She seated herself in a rocking-chair that suited her generous
proportions and began looking at the inside of the house with the same
business-like scrutiny she had given the outside.
We're havin' some pleasant weather now, said Mrs. Martin, by way
of a conversational beginning.
Mighty pleasant weather, said Mrs. Williams, but I came here this
mornin' to talk about somethin' a good deal more important than the
Long acquaintance had never wholly accustomed Mrs. Martin to the
straightforward bluntness that was known as Sarah Williams' way", and
a look of apprehension and faint alarm crossed her worn, delicate face.
Oh! I hope there's nothin' wrong, she said.
Apparently Mrs. Williams did not hear the gently uttered words.
There was a look of stern determination on her face, and she drove
straight on toward an objective point unknown to her listener.
Do you know, Mrs. Martin, she asked, how long your Henry has been
courtin' my Anna Belle?
Mrs. Martin looked bewildered.
Why, no, she said, hesitatingly. I don't believe I ever thought
Well, said Mrs. Williams with grave emphasis, it's exactly one
year and a month, come next Wednesday. I know, because the first time
Henry ever come home from prayer-meetin' with Anna Belle was the day
after I fell down the cellar stairs and broke my wrist, and I'm not
likely to forget when that was. One year and one month! Now, of course,
I know a certain amount of courtin' is all right and proper. It's just
as necessary to court before you marry as it is to say grace before you
eat; but suppose you sit down to the table and say your grace over and
over again, till mealtime's past, and it's pretty near time for the
next meal? Why, when you open your eyes and start to eat, everything
'll be cold, and most likely you won't have any appetite for cold
victuals, and you'll conclude not to eat at all till the next meal
comes round. And that's the way it is with these long courtin's. Folks'
feelin's cool just like a meal does. Many a couple gets tired of each
other after they're married, and there's such a thing as gettin' tired
of each other before you're married.
Mrs. Martin was listening with rapt intentness. The gift of fluent
speech was not hers. She could only think and feel, but it was a
delight to listen to one who knew how to express thoughts and feelings
in language that went straight to the mark.
I've always thought that way, she said with gentle fervor, as her
visitor paused for breath.
Well, continued Mrs. Williams, I made up my mind some time ago
that Henry and Anna Belle had been sayin' grace long enough, and it was
time for them to marry, if they ever intended to marry. And I also made
up my mind to find out what was the matter. Of course I couldn't ask
Anna Belle why Henry didn't marry her. There's some things that no
mother's got a right to speak of to her child, and this is one of 'em;
and I couldn't say anything to Henry, for that would 'a' been a
thousand times worse, but I says to myself: 'I've got a right to know
what's the matter, and I'm goin' to know.'
Mrs. Martin was leaning forward, listening breathlessly. There was a
faint flush on her cheek, and her eyes were the eyes of a young girl
who is reading the first pages of a romance. Her son's love affair had
been the central point of interest in her life for a year past. But
Henry was a taciturn youth, and her delicacy forbade questioning; so,
in spite of the deep affection between the two, the rise and progress
of her son's courtship was an unknown story to her. Two nights in every
week Henry would take his way to the home of the girl he loved, and as
she sat alone waiting for his return, and living over the days of her
own courtship, she had felt a wistful, unresentful envy of Mrs.
Williams because of her nearness to the lovers. The long wooing had
been a mystery to her also, and now the mystery was about to be
I've wondered, myself, why they didn't marry, she said
Mrs. Williams hitched her chair nearer to her hostess.
And what do you reckon I did? she asked, dropping her voice to a
I can't imagine, responded Mrs. Martin, repressed excitement in
her voice and face.
Mrs. Williams leaned forward, and her voice dropped a tone lower.
It's somethin' I never thought I'd do, she whispered, and before
I tell you, I want you to promise you'll never tell a soul.
Of course I won't, said Mrs. Martin with gentle solemnity, and as
she promised, her thoughts went back to that period of her schoolgirl
life when every day brought its great secret, with that impressive
oath: I cross my heart and point my finger up to God. She bent her
head in a listening way toward her caller. But the telling of a secret
was too delightful a task to be hastily dispatched, and having worked
her audience up to the desired point of interest, Mrs. Williams was in
no hurry to reach the climax of the story. She leaned back in her chair
and resumed her natural tone of voice.
The way I happened to think there was somethin' wrong, she
continued, was this: Anna Belle had been doin' a good deal of sewin'
and embroiderin' ever since Henry begun to keep company with her, and,
all of a sudden, she stopped work and put everything away in the bottom
bureau drawer. Well, that set me to thinkin'. If she'd put the things
in the top bureau drawer, I wouldn't have noticed it, for the top
drawer is the place where you keep the things you expect to finish and
the things you're usin' now. But when you fold a thing up and put it in
the bottom drawer, it means you haven't any use for it right now, and
you don't intend to finish it for some time to come. At first I thought
that maybe Henry and Anna Belle had had a fallin' out. But the next
Wednesday night here comes Henry just as usual, and he's never stopped
comin'; but still Anna Belle never took her things out of the bottom
drawer; and the other day I happened to pass by her room, and the door
was halfway open, and I saw her kneelin' down by the drawer, lookin' at
the things and smoothin' them down. I couldn't see her face, but I know
just how she looked as well as if I'd been in front of her instead of
Mrs. Martin gave a sympathetic murmur, wholly unheard by Mrs.
Williams, who went blithely on with her narrative.
When your Henry comes to see my Anna Belle, Mrs. Martin, I always
make it a point to go as far away from 'em as possible, for courtin'
can't be rightly done if there's folks lookin' and listenin' around. So
in the winter time I have a fire in my room the nights Henry comes, and
sit there, and in summer I generally go out on the back porch and let
Henry and Anna Belle have the front porch, and I can truthfully say
that I never interfered with Henry's courtin'. But, as I said a while
ago, I made up my mind to find out what was the matter. Well, the next
time Henry come, they sat out on the front porch, and I was on the back
porch as usual. But I had to go into the front room once or twice after
somethin' I left there, and it was so dark in the hall, I had to grope
my way across right slow, and I heard Anna Belle say: 'I'm all mother
has in the world,' and Henry said somethin' I couldn't hear, but I
reckon he said that he was all his mother had, and Anna Belle says: 'It
wouldn't be right and I never could be happy, thinkin' of your mother
and my mother all alone.' Well, by that time I was in the front room
and got what I went for and started back; and, as I said, the hall was
dark and I had to go slow, and I dropped my pocket handkerchief, and
when I stopped to pick it up, I couldn't help hearin' what Anna Belle
and Henry was talkin' about.
She leaned comfortably back in her chair and chuckled heartily as
she recalled the scene.
I reckon I might as well own up that I didn't hurry myself pickin'
up that handkerchief and gettin' out o' the hall. I know eavesdroppin'
is a disgraceful thing, and this is a plain case of eavesdroppin', but
I trust you never to tell this to anybody as long as you live.
You can trust me, said Mrs. Martin firmly. I never broke a
promise in my life.
Well, resumed Mrs. Williams, as I was savin', I stood there in
the hall pickin' up my pocket handkerchief, and I heard your Henry give
a sigh,I could hear it plain,and says he: 'Well, Anna Belle, I
suppose there's nothin' for us to do but wait,' and Anna Belle says:
'I'll wait for you, as long as you'll wait for me, Henry, and longer.'
And then they stopped talkin' for awhile, and I knew exactly how they
felt, sittin' there in the dark, lovin' each other and thinkin' about
each other, and all their plans come to a dead stop, and nothin' ahead
of 'em but waitin'. Now, what do you think of that, Mrs. Martin?
They're waitin'. Waitin' for what? Why, for us to die, of course. They
don't know it, and if we accused 'em of it, they'd deny it hard and
fast, for they're good, dutiful children, and they love us. But we're
stumblin'-blocks in their way, and they're waitin' for us to die.
She paused dramatically to let her words have their full weight with
the listener. Mrs. Martin was leaning forward, her delicate hands
tightly clasped, and her face alight with intense feeling. The
visitor's words were like great stones thrown into the placid waters of
her mind, and in the turmoil of thought and emotion she found no word
of reply. Nor was any needed. The situation was an enjoyable one for
Mrs. Williams. The chair in which she sat was a springy rocker, the
room was cool, her own voice sounded pleasantly through the quiet
house, and the look on the face of her hostess was an inspiration to
Now, I don't know how you feel about it, Mrs. Martin, she
continued, but I never could do anything if somebody was standin'
around waitin'. If I know there's anybody waitin' for dinner, I'll burn
myself and drop the saucepans and scorch every thing I'm cookin'. If
I'm puttin' the last stitches in a dress, and Anna Belle's waitin' to
put the dress on, I have to send her out of the room so I can manage my
fingers and see to thread the needle. And if Anna Belle and Henry are
waitin' for me to die, I verily believe I'll live forever.
This declaration of possible immortality in the flesh was made with
such vehemence that the speaker had to pause suddenly to recover
breath, while Mrs. Martin sat expectant, awaiting the next passage in
Mrs. Martin, resumed Mrs. Williams solemnly, if there's anything
I do hate, it's a stumblin'-block. I've had stumblin'-blocks myself,
people that got in my way and kept me from doin' what I wanted to do,
and I always bore with them as patient as I could. But when it comes to
bein' a stumblin'-block myself, I've got no manner of patience. If I'm
in anybody's way, I'll take myself out as quick as I can, and if I
can't get out of the way, I'll fix it so they can manage to walk around
me, for I never was cut out to be a stumblin'-block.
Nor me, said Mrs. Martin with tremulous haste, especially when
it's my own child I'm standin' in the way of. Why, I never dreamed that
I was interfering with Henry's happiness. There ain't a thing on earth
I wouldn't do for himmy only child.
Mrs. Williams nodded approvingly. I'm glad you feel that way, she
said warmly, for this is a case where it takes two to do what has to
be done. And that reminds me of somethin' I saw the other day: I was
sittin' by the window, and here comes a big, lumberin' old wagon and
two oxen drawin' it and an old man drivin'. They were crawlin' along
right in the middle of the road, and just behind the wagon there was a
young man and a pretty girl in a nice new buggy and a frisky young
horse hitched to it, and the horse was prancin' and tryin' to get by
the ox-team, but there wasn't room enough to pass on either side of the
She paused and looked inquiringly at Mrs. Martin to see if the
meaning of the allegory was plain to her. But Mrs. Martin's face
expressed only perplexity and distress.
Don't you see, said Mrs. Williams persuasively, that you and me
are just like that old ox-team? There's happiness up the road for Henry
and Anna Belle, but we're blockin' the way, and they can't get by us.
Now, what are we goin' to do about it?
This direct question was very disconcerting to gentle Mrs. Martin. A
flush rose to her face, and she clasped and unclasped her hands in
WhyI'm sureI don't knowI never thought about it, she
The guest did not press the question. Instead, she settled herself
more comfortably in her chair, waved her palm-leaf fan, and went calmly
on with her monologue. Apparently Mrs. Williams was merely a fat,
middle-aged woman making a morning call on a friend, but in reality she
was an ambassador from the court of a monarch by whose power the world
is said to go round, a diplomat in whose diplomacy the destinies of two
human beings were involved. Her words had been carefully chosen before
setting out on her envoy, and she was craftily following a line of
thought leading up to a climax beyond which lay either victory or
defeat. That climax was at hand, but she was not yet ready for it.
There was some preliminary work to be done, a certain mental impression
to be made on her hearer, before she dared put it to the touch.
I don't know how it is with you, Mrs. Martin, she continued, but
I'm not one of the kind that thinks children are made for the comfort
and convenience of their parents. I've been hearin' sermons all my life
about the duty of children to their parents, and I never heard one
about the duty of parents to their children. She broke off with a
That reminds me of my Uncle Nathan, and what he said to the
preacher once. You know, Uncle Nathan wasn't a church member, and he
had his own way of lookin' at religious matters and he was mighty
free-spoken. Well, one day the preacher was makin' a pastoral call at
Mother's, and he asked for a glass of water, and when Mother brought it
to him and he'd drunk it, he set the glass down, and says he to Mother:
'Did you ever think, Sister Brown, how kind it is in the Lord to give
us such a good and perfect gift as pure, fresh water?' Says he: 'We're
not half grateful enough for these gifts of the Lord.' And Uncle Nathan
says: 'Well, now, Parson, it never struck me that way.' Says he: 'God
made us with a need for water, and if he gives us water, why, it's no
more than he ought to do.' And that's the way it is with parents and
children. We bring 'em into the world, and there's certain things they
have to have, and if we give 'em those things, it's no more than we
ought to do.
Of course not, exclaimed Mrs. Martin warmly.
Every child ought to have a chance for happiness, said Mrs.
Of course he ought, said Mrs. Martin. It was uncertain to what
conclusion the current of her visitor's remarks was carrying her, but
Mrs. Williams' statements were so obviously true that dissent was
And if you and me are standin' in the way of our children's
happiness, we must get out of the way, mustn't we? pursued Mrs.
Indeed, we must, said Mrs. Martin. There was a tremor in her
voice, and in her heart a growing self-reproach that she should have to
be reminded of her duty to her son.
Well, as I said before, remarked Mrs. Williams, I'm not cut out
to be a millstone or a stumblin'-block, and neither are you, and now
somethin's got to be done.
She paused. Mrs. Martin did not reply. There was a silence that
threatened to become awkward. She cleared her throat and looked as
nervous and confused as her hostess, then bravely resumed the charge.
Of course they might live with one of us, but if they lived with
me, you'd be jealous, and rightly so, too. And if they lived with you,
I'd be jealous. And Anna Belle wouldn't be willin' to have me to live
alone, and Henry wouldn't leave you alone; and then there's the
mother-in-law question. Did you ever live with your mother-in-law, Mrs.
Mrs. Martin hesitated a moment, Yes, I did, she said, as if
confessing to a misdemeanor.
Did you enjoy it? questioned Mrs. Williams.
No, I didn't, replied Mrs. Martin with a decisive promptness that
she rarely exhibited.
Neither did I, echoed Mrs. Williams. There never was but one Ruth
and Naomi, and they lived so long ago nobody knows whether they ever
did live. I guess Henry and Anna Belle feel just as we do about
mothers-in-law, and, as I said before, what are we goin' to do about
Mrs. Martin's only reply was a look of bewilderment and distress. It
was evident to Mrs. Williams that she would have to answer her own
question, but she delayed, for there were still a few well considered
diplomatic remarks that it might be well to use before the climax was
brought on. Now, I don't want you to answer me, Mrs. Martin. You
couldn't be expected to answer that question on such short notice as
this. Many's the night I've stayed awake till long after the clock
struck twelve askin' myself what could be done about it, and the only
thing I can think of is this.
She paused. Mrs. Martin was listening eagerly. The time had come for
the final charge.
Don't you think, Mrs. Martin,there was an anxious, beseeching
note in the speaker's voice,don't you think that you and me might
manage to live together? Your house is big enough for two, and it's a
double house, with a hall runnin' through the middle, so you can live
on one side and me on the other. And if you'll let me come and live in
one side of your house, I'll deed my house to Henry and Anna Belle, and
they can get married with a clear conscience. You and me can be company
for each other, and we've each got enough money to supply our wants;
and I'll keep house on my side of the hall, and you'll keep house on
your side, and there's no need of our ever fallin' out or interferin'
with each other.
There! the deed was done, and the doer of the deed, pale with
consternation over her own daring, sat waiting a reply.
But no reply came. Apparently Mrs. Martin had not heard her words,
for she was looking beyond her visitor with the dreamy gaze of one who
sees, but not with the eye of flesh. Was she considering the question,
or was her silence a rebuke to an officious meddler? Mrs. Williams'
heart was beating as it used to beat on Friday afternoons when she
stood up to read her composition before the school, and she tingled
from head to foot with a flush of shame.
I don't know what you think of me for makin' such a proposition to
you, she stammered. You'll never know what it costs me to say what
I've said, and I never could have said it, if it hadn't been for that
nightgown put away in the bottom drawer, and the look in Anna Belle's
Still Mrs. Martin did not speak. The piteous humiliation in her
visitor's eyes deepened. She must make one more effort to break the ice
of that cruel silence.
It's not for myself; I hope you understand that. There's no reason
why I should want to give up my home, but it's for Anna Belle. A
mother'll do anything for her child, you know.
Mrs. Martin's eyes were fixed gravely on her visitor's face.
Yes, I do know, she said, speaking with sudden resolution. It's
all as plain as day. I don't know what Henry will say, when he finds
out that a stranger had to tell his mother what her duty was. I ought
to have seen it long ago just as you did. Her voice faltered, and
there were tears in her eyes.
The embarrassment and distress on Mrs. Williams' face changed to
joyful relief. She drew a quick breath and laid instant hold on her
wonted power of speech.
You're not to blame at all, she consoled eagerly. If Anna Belle
was your child, you'd have seen it just as I did. A son's here and
there and everywhere, but a daughter's right in the house with you, and
you can read her heart like an open book. That's how I happened to know
before you did. My goodness! Is that clock strikin' eleven? She rose
with an air of deep contrition, Here I've taken up nearly all your
mornin'. But then, what's a mornin's work by the side of your child's
happiness? On the threshold she paused and stood irresolute for a few
I'm glad you think as I do, she said slowly; but somethin' tells
me that you ought to have time to think it over. It's no light matter
to take another woman under your roof and for a lifetime, too. So give
yourself a chance to consider, and if you change your mind, we'll still
The two were standing with clasped hands, and the majesty of
motherhood looked forth from the eyes of each. Mrs. Martin shook her
head. I'm not likely to change my mind, she said with gentle dignity.
I love my son as well as you love your daughter.
These simple words seemed to both the conclusion of the whole
matter, and they turned away from each other, forgetting the accustomed
Slowly and thoughtfully Mrs. Williams walked homeward. Her mission
had been highly successful, but, instead of the elation of the victor,
she felt only the strange depression that comes after we take our fate
in our own hands, and make a decided move on the checkerboard of life.
On her way to Mrs. Martin's she had felt sure that she was doing the
right thing; but before she reached home, doubt and uncertainty
possessed her mind. At her own gate she stopped, and resting her elbows
on the top of one of the posts, she gazed at the place whose surrender
meant happiness for her child. It was just a plain little cottage
somewhat in need of a coat of paint, but the look in Margaret Williams'
eyes was the look of a worshipper who stands before some long-sought
shrine. She looked upward at the swaying branches of the elms and drew
a quick breath as she thought of a day in early Marchhow long
ago?when his strong arms had wielded the pick and spade, and
she, a girl like Anna Belle, stood by, holding the young trees and
smiling at the thought of sitting under their shade when he and she
were old. Youth was a reality then, and age a dream, but now it was the
other way. Her eyes wandered over the little yard set thick with
flowering shrubs and vines. Every one of them had its roots in her
heart and in her memory, and a mist dimmed her eyes as she looked again
at the house she had first entered when life and love were new.
He built it for me, she murmured, and then gave a guilty start as
a clear young voice called out: Why don't you come in, Mother?
She passed her hand over her eyes and came smiling into the little
hall where Anna Belle sat, turning down the hems of some coarse kitchen
Put up those towels, she said with motherly severity; that's no
work for a young girl. Where's that nightgown you're embroiderin'? If
you must work, work on that.
The girl glanced up, and in her eyes was the look that for weeks had
been like a dagger-thrust in Margaret Williams' heart.
There's no hurry about getting that nightgown done, she said
No hurry about the towels either, rejoined her mother. However,
it's so near mealtime there's no use beginnin' anything now. You can
set the table, and I'll get a pick-up dinner for us. I stayed so long
at Mrs. Martin's I can't cook much.
At the mention of Henry's mother Anna Belle colored again. A
question trembled on her lips, but she said nothing, and went about
setting the table in a listless, absent-minded way.
Her mother was watching her furtively, and a pang went through her
heart as she noticed how thin the girl's hands were, and how she
trifled with the food on her plate.
Pinin' away right before my eyes, she thought. I'm glad I went to
see Mrs. Martin. I've done all I could, anyway.
After the meal was over, Anna Belle, at her mother's second bidding,
got out the embroidered gown and bent over the tracery of leaves and
flowers. Mrs. Williams went up-stairs, presently returning with a long,
narrow box of some dark wood.
You've heard me speak of your Aunt Matilda, she said, seating
herself and folding her hands over the box. Well, this box and the
things in it belonged to her, and when she died, she willed it to you,
because she hadn't any children of her own, and you were the only girl
in the family. I've been intendin' for some time to give it to you, and
there's no time like to-day. She opened the box, took out a roll of
shining silken tissue such as comes from the looms of the Orient, and
threw its soft folds across her daughter's lap. Then from the scented
darkness of the treasure box she drew out a bertha and sleeves of filmy
lace and laid them on the silk.
That lace cost a small fortune, she observed. Your Uncle Harvey
was a merchant, and whenever he went to the East to buy his goods, he'd
bring your Aunt Matilda a fine present. This lace was the last thing he
ever brought her, andpoor thing!she didn't live to wear it.
Anna Belle had dropped her work on the floor and was fingering the
lace and silk in a rapture of admiration.
O Mother, she breathed, I never saw anything so beautiful! Is it
She shook out the folds of silk, gathered them in her hands, and
held them off to note their graceful fall. She laid the bertha across
her shoulders and ran to a mirror, laughing at the effect of the costly
lace over the striped gingham; she pushed the sleeves of her dress up
to her elbows and slipped the lace sleeves over her bare, slender arms.
Her eyes gleamed with excitement, her lips were parted in a smile of
happy girlhood, and the mother, watching with quiet satisfaction, read
the thought in the girl's heart.
Be careful, Anna Belle, she warned, you'll wrinkle the goods.
Here, fold it this way and lay it smooth in your trunk. You may not
need it now, but some day it will come in handy.
Anna Belle held the silk and lace on her outstretched hands and
carried it up-stairs as tenderly as she would have carried a newborn
babe. She lingered in her room a long time and came down silent and
dreamy-eyed. All the afternoon she embroidered leaf and flower on the
linen gown, while in imagination she was fashioning a wedding robe of
silk and lace and beholding herself a bride. When the clock struck
five, Mrs. Williams rose hurriedly from her chair and gathered up the
lapful of mending.
Go up-stairs, Anna Belle, she commanded, and put on your blue
Anna Belle looked surprised. Is any company coming? she asked.
What if there isn't? replied her mother. Don't you suppose I like
to see you lookin' nice? She walked out to the kitchen and began
preparing the evening meal. All the afternoon a strange nervousness had
been growing on her. She was beginning to understand the momentousness
of her morning interview with Mrs. Martin, and she saw herself as one
who has risked all on a single throw. She had laid bare to Henry's
mother the sacred desires of her own mother-heart and the yet more
sacred desires of her daughter's maiden-heart. What if this humiliation
should be to no purpose? Or, worse still, suppose she had
misinterpreted the fragments of conversation that she had overheard.
Suppose Henry's visits were after all only friendly ones? Her hands
trembled, and her whole body was in a hot flush of fear and
apprehension. She glanced at the kitchen clock.
It won't be long till I know, she murmured. If Henry's mother
falls in with my plans, Henry'll come to see Anna Belle to-night.
She tried to reassure herself by recalling all that gentle Mrs.
Martin had said, but as the moments passed, her apprehension grew, and
when she tried to eat, the food almost choked her.
As soon as the dishes were washed, Anna Belle stole out to the front
porch. She did not expect her lover to-night, but at least she could
sit in the gathering dusk, thinking of Henry and of that wonderful
wedding gown. Meanwhile Mrs. Williams was up-stairs, leaning from her
bedroom window, listening for Henry's step and peering anxiously in the
direction from which Henry must come. How slow the minutes were! The
kitchen clock struck seven. Half-past seven was Henry's usual hour, but
surely to-night he would come earlier. Ten minutes passed. She heard
footsteps up the street, and her heart began to beat like a girl's.
Nearer the footsteps sounded. Could that quick, firm tread be Henry's?
Henry was usually rather slow of speech and movement. A hand was on the
latch of the gate. She heard Anna Belle's exclamation of surprise and
pleasure, then Henry's laugh and Henry's voice.
In the love affairs of her daughter, every mother finds a
resurrection of her own youthful romance, no matter how long it may
have been buried; and as the young man's tones, low, earnest and
charged with a lover's joy, rose on the summer air, Anna Belle's mother
turned away from the window, and covering her face with her hands,
tried to beat back a tide of emotions that have no place in the heart
of middle age. The moments passed uncounted now, and twilight had faded
into night before she heard Anna Belle's voice calling from below:
Mother! Where are you, Mother? Come right down. Henry wants to see
you; and like one who walks in her sleep she obeyed the summons.
They stood before her, hand in hand, smiling, breathless, encircled
by the aura of love's young dream; but there was a far-away look in
Margaret Williams' eyes, as she looked at their radiant faces. How many
years was it since she and Anna Belle's father had stood before her
mother! And now that mother's name was carved on a graveyard stone, and
she was in her mother's place with a mother's blessing in her hands for
Anna Belle was looking up at Henry, waiting for him to put into
words the gratitude and happiness that filled their hearts. But the
gift of the ready tongue was not Henry's. How could a man find words to
thank a mother for giving him her daughter? How poor and mean were all
the customary phrases of appreciation to be offered for such a gift!
But while he hesitated, his eyes met the eyes of Anna Belle's mother,
and with a quick impulse of the heart, his tongue was loosed to the
utterance of one word that made all other words superfluous.
Mother! he said; and as their hands met, Anna Belle's arms were
around her neck, and Anna Belle's voice was whispering in her ear: You
are the very best mother in all the world. Yet in that moment of
supreme happiness for the lovers, Margaret Williams realized what she
was giving up, and tasted the bitterness and the sweetness of the cup
of self-abnegation that her own hands had prepared. The hot tears of
anguish smarted in her eyes. But the tears did not fall, and the
emotion passed as swiftly as it had come. She straightened herself in
her chair and pushed Anna Belle gently away.
It seems to me we're makin' a great fuss over a mighty little
matter, she said carelessly. I'd have been a poor sort o' mother to
stand in the way of my own child's happiness, and it wouldn't suit me
at all to be a millstone or a stumblin'-block. That's all there is to
it. Now, go out on the front porch, you two, and set your weddin' day.
* * * * *
It was the afternoon of the wedding day, and the two mothers were
sitting on the porch of their joint home, both in festal attire, and
both in the state of pleasurable excitement that follows any great
change, and that precludes an immediate return to the commonplace
routine of daily life.
I might just as well be sewin' or mendin', said Mrs. Williams,
but it seems like Sunday or Christmas day, and I don't feel like
settlin' down to anything.
There's nothing like a weddin' for makin' you feel unsettled, said
Mrs. Martin, as she smoothed down her black silk dress. It'll be a
long time before we get over this day.
It was a pretty weddin', wasn't it? said Mrs. Williams, And I
never saw a happier lookin' couple than Anna Belle and Henry. Most
brides and grooms look more like scared rabbits than anything else, but
Anna Belle and Henry were so happy they actually forgot to be scared. I
reckon they think that married life's a smooth, straight road with
flowers on both sides, just like that garden path. You and me have been
over it, and we know better.
They'll have their trials, smiled Mrs. Martin, but if they love
each other, they can stand whatever comes.
Yes, agreed Mrs. Williams, love's like a rubber tire; it softens
the jolts and carries you easy over the rough places in the road.
Henry was the image of his father, said Mrs. Martin dreamily.
I couldn't help thinkin' of myself when I looked at Anna Belle,
said Mrs. Williams. You may not believe it, but I was as slim as Anna
Belle, when I was her age.
I wish their fathers could have seen them, sighed Mrs. Martin.
Mrs. Williams leaned toward her companion. Maybe they did, she
said in a half whisper. I'm no believer in table-walkin' and such as
that, but many a time I've felt the dead just as near me as you are,
and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Henry's father and Anna Belle's
father were at the weddin'.
Every weddin' makes you think of your own weddin', said Mrs.
So it does, assured Mrs. Williams, and I was married just such a
day as this. We'd set the fifteenth of May for our weddin', but Aunt
Martha McDavid said May was an unlucky month, and so we changed it to
the first of June.
I was married in the fall, said Mrs. Martin placidly. I remember
one of my dresses was a plaid silk, green and brown and yellow, and the
first time I put it on, Henry's father went out in the yard and pulled
some leaves off the sugar maples, and laid 'em on my lap, and said they
matched the colors of my dress. I pressed the leaves, and they're in my
Bible to this day.
I had a dark blue silk with a black satin stripe runnin' through
it, confided Mrs. Williams, and after I got through wearin' it, I
lined a quilt with it, and it's on Anna Belle's bed now.
The two women were rocking gently to and fro; both were smiling
faintly, and there was a retrospective look in their eyes. Memory, like
a questing dove, was flying between the past and the present, bringing
back now a leaf and now a flower plucked from the shores of old
romance, and they were no longer the middle-aged mothers of married
children, but young brides with life before them; and as they talked,
more to themselves than to each other, with long intervals of silence,
the afternoon waned, the sun was low, and the little garden lay in
What a long day this has been! exclaimed Mrs. Williams, rousing
herself from a reverie. Why, it seems to me I've lived a hundred years
since I got up this mornin'.
I'd better see about makin' the fire and gettin' a cup of tea,
said Mrs. Martin. I can tell by the shadow of that maple tree, that
it's near supper time. Then hesitatingly, as if it were a doubtful
point of etiquette, It looks like foolishness to have two fires.
Mine's already laid; suppose you eat supper with me to-night.
I'll be glad to, responded Mrs. Williams heartily, for I haven't
half got my things in order yet. She followed Mrs. Martin to the
kitchen, and together they set the table and waited for the kettle to
boil. Mrs. Martin was pleased to find that Mrs. Williams preferred
black tea to green, and while she was slicing the bread, Mrs. Williams
disappeared for a moment, returning with something wrapped in a napkin.
She unfolded it, disclosing huge slices of wedding cake, white cake,
golden cake, and spice cake dark and fragrant.
There! she said complacently. You and me were too flustered to
eat much at the weddin', but maybe we'll enjoy a piece of this cake
Silently and abstractedly the two women ate the simple meal. Now and
then Mrs. Martin looked across the table at the vacant place where
Henry had always sat, and as Mrs. Williams ate wedding cake, her
thoughts were with the daughter whose face for twenty years had smiled
at her across the little square leaf-table in the old home; also, she
had a queer, uneasy feeling, as if she had spent the afternoon with her
friend and should have gone home before supper. After the dishes were
washed, they seated themselves again on the cool, shadowy porch. Both
were feeling the depression that follows an emotional strain; besides,
it was night, the time when the heart throws off the smothering cares
of the day and cries aloud for its own. It was Mrs. Williams who
finally broke the silence.
While I think of it, she said, dropping her voice to a
confidential whisper, I want to tell you what I heard Job Andrews and
Sam Moreman say when they brought my trunk in this mornin'. They didn't
know I could hear 'em, and they were laughin' and whisperin' as they
set the trunk down on the porch, and Job says: 'Some of these days
these two women are goin' to have a rippet that you can hear from one
end of this town to the other,' and Sam says: 'Yes, they'll be
dissolvin' partnership in less than two months.'
Did you ever! ejaculated Mrs. Martin.
I thought once I'd go out and say somethin' to 'em, pursued Mrs.
Williams, but I didn't. I just shut my mouth tight, and I made a
solemn resolution right there that there'd never be any rippet if I
could help it, and if there was any, I'd take care that those men never
heard of it, There's nothin' in the world men enjoy so much as seein'
women fall out and quarrel, and I don't intend to furnish 'em with that
sort o' pleasure.
Nor I, said Mrs. Martin warmly. I don't see why two women can't
live in peace under the same roof. For my part, quarrelin' comes hard
with me. It's not Christian, and it's not ladylike.
Well, if I felt inclined to quarrel, said Mrs. Williams, the
thought of Sam and Job would be enough to keep me from it, and if
that's not enough, there's the thought of Anna Belle and Henry. They
can't be happy unless we get along well together, and we mustn't do
anything to spoil their happiness.
Mrs. Martin made an assenting murmur, and another silence fell
between them, Both were conscious of the strangeness of their new
relation. To Mrs. Martin it seemed that Mrs. Williams was her guest,
and she was vaguely wondering if it would be polite to suggest that it
was time to go to bed. Mrs. Williams rocked to and fro, and the squeak
of the old chair mingled with the shrill notes of the crickets.
Presently she stopped rocking and heaved a deep sigh.
It's curious, she said, how grown folks never get over bein'
children. When I was a little girl I used to go out to the country to
visit my Aunt Mary Meadows. I'd get along all right durin' the day, but
when night come, and the frogs and the katydids begun to holler, I'd
think about home and wish I was there; and when Aunt Mary put me to bed
and carried the light away, I'd bury my face in the pillow and cry
myself to sleep. And just now, when I heard that katydid up yonder in
the old locust tree, I felt just like I used to feel at Aunt Mary's.
Her voice quivered on the last word, but once more she laughed
bravely. A flash of comprehension crossed Mary Martin's brain. She
leaned over and laid her hand on the other woman's arm.
You're homesick, she said, with a note of deep sympathy in her
voice. All day I've been thinkin' about it, and I've come to the
conclusion that you've got the hardest part of this matter. Henry and
Anna Belle owe more to you than they do to me. We've both given up a
child, but you've given up your home, too, and that's a hard thing to
do at your time of life. At her time of life! The words were like a
spur to a jaded horse. Mrs. Williams straightened her shoulders, raised
her head, and laughed again.
Shuh! she said carelessly, changin' your house ain't any more
than changin' your dress. I ain't so far gone in years yet that I have
to stick in the same old place to keep from dyin'. But I reckon I'm
like that spring branch that used to run through the field back of
Father's house. It was always overflowin' and ruinin' a part o' the
crop, and one fall Father went to work and turned it out of its course
into a rocky old pasture where it couldn't do any harm. I was just a
little child, but I remember how sorry I felt for that little stream
runnin' along between the new banks, and I used to wonder if it wasn't
homesick for the old course, and if it didn't miss the purple flags and
the willers and cat-tails that used to grow alongside of it; but just
let me get a good night's rest and my things all straightened out, and
I'll soon get used to the new banks and be as much at home as you are.
She rose heavily from her chair. I believe I'll go to bed now, she
said briskly. Movin' 's no light work, and we're both tired.
If you should get sick in the night or need anything, said Mrs.
Martin, following her into the house, don't fail to call me.
I'm goin' to sleep the minute my head hits the pillow and sleep
till it's time to get up, replied Mrs. Williams, and you do the same.
She closed the door and stood for a few seconds in the darkness.
Then she groped her way to the table and lighted her lamp. Its cheerful
radiance flooded every part of the little room, and showed each
familiar piece of furniture in its new surroundings. Yes, there was the
high chest of drawers that Grandfather Means had made from the wood of
a cherry tree on the old home place; there was the colonial
sewing-table, and the splint-bottomed rocker, the old bookcase, and all
the rest of the belongings that she cherished because they belonged to
the family. But how strange her brass candlesticks looked on that
mantel! It was not her mantel, and the wall-paper was not hers.
Her wall-paper was gray with purple lilacs all over it, and this was
pink and green and white! And the windows and doors were not in their
right places. Ah! the hold of Place and Custom! The memories and
associations of a lifetime twined themselves around her heart closer
and closer, and the hand of Change seemed to be tearing at every root
and tendril. Pale and trembling she sank into a chair, and the same
tears she had shed sixty years ago, the tears of a homesick child, fell
over her wrinkled cheeks, while in her brain one thought repeated
itself with a terrifying emphasis: I can't get used to it. I can't
get used to it.
But the sound of her own sobs put a stop to her grief. She brushed
the tears away with the back of her hand and glanced toward the door.
The other woman across the hall must not know her weakness. She rose,
walked forlornly to a side window, and parting the curtains, looked
fearfully out. Why, where was the lilac bush and the Lombardy poplar
and the box-wood hedge? Again the hand tore at her heart; she peered
bewilderedly into the night. Alas! the stream turned from its course
cannot at once forget the old channel and the old banks. Again the
tears came, but as she wiped them away, a fresh wind arose, parting the
light clouds that lay in the western sky and showing a crescent moon
and near it the evening star. Like a message from heaven came a memory
that dried her tears and swept away the homesick longing. Twenty-five
years ago she had looked at the new moon on her wedding night, and this
was Anna Belle's wedding nighther daughter's wedding night! Fairer
than moon or star, the face of the young bride seemed to look into
hers; she felt the girl's clinging arms around her neck and heard the
fervent whisper: You are the very best mother in the whole wide
She lifted her eyes once more, not to the moon or the star, but to
Something beyond them.
O God! she whispered brokenly, it's harder than I thought it
would be; but for my child's sake I can stand it, and anyway, I'm glad
I'm not a millstone or a stumblin'-block.
ONE TASTE OF THE OLD TIME
There is no organic disease whatever, said the doctor. The
trouble is purely mental. No, I don't mean that, he corrected hastily,
as he saw the look of dismay on David Maynor's face. Your wife is not
losing her mind. Nothing of that sort. Indeed, I take her to be a woman
of unusually sound mentality. But, evidently there is some trouble
preying on her mind and producing these nervous symptoms. The
prescription I am leaving will palliate these, but it remains for you
to find out what the trouble is and remove it, if you can. There are
some cases where doctors are powerless, and this, I think, is one of
them. He reached for his hat and bowing with professional courtesy
turned to leave.
How much do I owe you? said David Maynor.
The blunt question was like a sentry's challenge, and the doctor
paused with his hand on the knob of the door.
Ahnever mind about that now. A bill will be sent you at the end
of the month. His tone and manner implied that this was too trivial a
matter to be mentioned.
But David Maynor's hand was in his pocket, and he was drawing forth
his new seal-leather purse.
I always pay as I go, he said stolidly. The corners of the
doctor's mouth twitched, and a gleam of humor came into his eyes. Ten
dollars, he said, and while David Maynor was counting out the bills,
the physician's quick glance was taking note of the expensive furniture
and the utter absence of individuality, that gave the house the air of
a hotel rather than a home. The new rich, he thought with
good-natured amusement, then aloud:
Let me hear from your wife to-morrow, Mr. Maynor. But, as I said
before, the case is in your hands. Good afternoon! And with another
courtly bow he was gone.
David Maynor hurried back up-stairs to his wife's bedside. Sarah,
he said, bending over her and smoothing her hair clumsily, the doctor
says there's not a thing the matter with you, except you've got
something on your mind that's worrying you. He says he can't do much
for you, and that I've got to find out what the trouble is and remove
it, if I can.
Sarah Maynor turned her head restlessly on the pillow. I must say
he's got more sense than I thought he had, she said, with a nervous
laugh. I was afraid he'd go to dosing me with bitters and pills. He's
exactly right: no doctor can cure me. Her voice broke, and she buried
her face in the pillow.
A deep anxiety settled on David's rugged features. Why, Sarah, he
said, with tender reproach in his voice, when did you get to hiding
your troubles from me? Is there anything you want? Anything I can do
for you? You know you can have everything now that money can buy.
Sarah turned her face toward her husband. Her gray eyes were filled
with tears, and her hands were clenched in an effort to control her
That's just the trouble! she cried, her voice rising into a wail.
You've given me everything that money buys, and I don't want anything
except the things that love buys. I want to go back to Millville! I
want to live in our own little cottage! I'm sick of this sort of life!
I never was made to be a rich man's wife, and it's killing me! It's
killing me! Oh! I know I'm ungrateful, Dave, but I can't help it! Her
voice broke in a storm of sobs. She covered her face with the
bedclothes and shrank away from her husband's hand.
A look of profound relief lighted David Maynor's face. Is that
all? he exclaimed. And here I've been putting up with everything
because I thought you were pleased! My gracious, Sarah! You don't hate
this life any more than I do.
Sarah lifted her head from the pillow and searched his face with her
tear-reddened eyes. Dave Maynor, she said solemnly, are you just
saying that to please me, or is it the truth?
I'd go back to Millville to-morrow, if I could, said David, with
an emphasis that swept away all doubt of his sincerity.
Sarah fell back on her pillows with a long, sobbing breath of
relief. Her tears flowed again, but they were tears of happiness, and
an ecstatic smile shone through them.
Oh! Then it's all right, Dave! It's all right! She reached for
David's hand and laid it against her wet cheek. You see, it was just
the thought that you and I didn't think alikethat was what I couldn't
stand. But if you feel as I do, why, I can stand anything. You know
what I mean, don't you, Dave?
Of course I know what you mean, honey, said David soothingly, as
if he were talking to a child in distress. I've felt exactly the same
way, ever since we left our little Millville home and come to this
two-story brick house. I thought you liked it,women always like fine
houses and fine furniture,and I wanted to please you, but I hated it
from the start; and we'd always thought the same about everything, and
to have this big pile of brick and mortar comin' between us at our time
At this point words failed him. He was not in the habit of analyzing
and describing his own feelings, but Sarah's eyes met his, and a look
of perfect understanding passed between husband and wife. They had been
living a divided life, but now they were one.
It was my fault, said Sarah. I ought to have stopped you in the
beginning; but I knew you were trying to please me, and I didn't want
to seem ungrateful
Yes, honey, yes, interrupted David, I know just how it was, and
it was my fault, not yours. I ought to have asked you what you wanted,
instead of takin' things for granted. Yes, if it's anybody's fault,
it's mine. But what's the use in blamin' anybody? My doctrine is that
when a thing has happened, instead of blamin' ourselves or
anybody else, we just ought to conclude that it had to happen,
and then make the best of it. This house is built; it's ours; we're in
it; we don't like it; and now what are we going to do about it?
Sarah's face clouded at once. She and David were of one mind, but
things were not all right", for still the burden of unaccustomed
wealth and luxury weighed upon her, and David's question brought her
face to face with the old troubles.
Oh! I don't know, she said wearily. If we just hadn't left our
It was that architect fellow's fault, my buildin' this house, said
David ruefully. He was a young man just startin' out in the world, and
I thought I'd give him a helpin' hand. And then it didn't look right
for people with the income we've got to live in a four-room cottage in
I don't care how it looked, said Sarah fretfully, we were in our
right place there, and we're out of place here. When we lived in
Millville, I'd get up in the morning, and I knew just exactly what I'd
have to do, and I knew I could do whatever I had to do. But now She
made a gesture of unutterable despairWhy, I hate to open my eyes, I
hate to get up, I hate to think there's another day before me, for I'm
certain there'll be things to do that I never did before, and don't
know how to do and don't want to do, even if I knew how. People come to
see me and they talk about things I never heard of, and ask me to do
things I can't do, and I feel just exactly as if I was caught in some
kind of a cage and couldn't get out. There was that Mrs. Emersonshe
wanted me to join a club she belongs to. She said it used to be a
literary club, but that they'd changed their plans, and, instead of
writin' papers, they'd decided to do civic work.
She paused in her passionate confession and turned abruptly to David
with a look of self-scorn that was tragic in its intensity. Do you
know what 'civic work' is, David? David did not answer at once.
Why, no, Sarah, I can't say I do, he said cautiously. It seems to
me I've seen that word somewhere, and maybe I could think up what it
means, if you'd give me time to
Sarah cut him short. You don't know what that word means, David,
and neither do I, she said with studied calmness.
David was genuinely puzzled by Sarah's evident distress over so
unimportant a circumstance as the meaning of a word. Honey, he said
tenderly, I'll go right down town and buy you a dictionary, so you can
find out what that word means. But what difference does it make,
Once more his wife turned on him a face that was like a mask of
tragedy. What difference does it make? she wailed. Oh, David! Can't
you see? Can't you understand? There I satin my own houselike a
foolnot knowin' what answer to give her, just because I didn't know
what that word meant! And every day something like this happens,
something that makes me feel that I'm out of place, something that
makes me hate myself! Can't you understand?
Yes, David understood as well as a man could be expected to
understand a woman. Many times since Fortune had smiled on him, he had
been thrown with men of superior education and social position and had
known momentarily the feeling of being out of place. And if Sarah's
passionate words failed to convey all she felt and suffered, the
despair in her eyes and the nervous twitching of her fingers brought
comprehension to her husband's mind.
There! There! he soothed, taking her hands in his. You mustn't
carry on this way, Sarah, or I'll have to send for the doctor again.
Just give me time to think; there must be a way out of this trouble. My
goodness! He shook his head in helpless wonderment over the strange
situation. I thought we'd be through with troubles when we got rich,
but it looks as if this money's the most trouble we ever had.
It wouldn't be a trouble if we were used to it, explained Sarah.
We were born poor, and we've lived poor all our lives, and we don't
know how to get happiness out of money.
David sighed. We can't go back to Millville to live, he said
thoughtfully. At least we can't get back our old place. Sarah's face
was already clouded, but at these words a deeper shadow passed over it.
She had known, when she left the Millville house, that the owner of the
property intended tearing down the cottage and building a tenement
house for the mill-workers, and every time she thought of her house in
ruins, she had a dull heartache. I never hankered after riches, mused
David, his mind still occupied with the mysterious ways of the
Providence that had made him rich. I never even tried to invent that
machine. It just seemed to come to me, without any thinkin' or tryin'
on my part; and when I patented the thing, I never supposed it would do
any more than make us fairly comfortable in our old age. But here's the
money comin' in all the time; it's ours, and it's honest money, and
we've got to take it and make the best of it. But, tenderly, I'm not
goin' to let it worry you to death if I can help it. What is it that
bothers you most, honey?
Sarah moved her head restlessly on the pillow and sighed heavily.
Oh! everything; but I believe the servants are the worst aggravation
What's the matter with 'em? asked David; don't they do their work
No, they don't, said Sarah despairingly. I never saw such
cleanin' as that Bertha doesdust behind the doors and on the window
sills; and she never takes up a rug, and the windows look like Jacob's
cattle, all ringed and striped and streaked. And Nelly's just as bad.
The dish towels are a sight, and the kitchen closet's in such a mess I
can't sleep for thinkin' of it. I never could stand dust, especially in
my kitchen; you know that, David. And here we are payin' these
good-for-nothin' creatures every week almost as much money as you used
to earn in a month! It's enough to drive me crazy. It was the
lamentation of a housekeeper, a cry as old as civilization, that Sarah
was uttering, and David heard it sympathetically, for his wife's
troubles were his own.
Can't you make 'em do their work right? he asked.
Make 'em? Sarah's voice rose in a petulant wail. No, I can't. I
can make myself work, but I don't know how to make anybody else work.
Do they ever give you any back talk? asked David.
No, they don't, said Sarah, a dull flush crimsoning her face.
They're polite enough to my face, but, David, I believe they laugh at
us both behind our backs. Two or three times I've turned around right
quick, and I've seen a look on their faces that made me want to turn
'em out of the house.
David's face hardened. Why don't you discharge 'em? he asked
Oh! I don't know how, said Sarah fretfully. It seems to me you
ought to know that, without being told. I never discharged anybody in
my life. I wouldn't know what to say. Don't you have to give servants
warning before you turn 'em off?
David deliberated a moment. Either they have to give you warning,
or you have to give them warning, or maybe it's both, he announced. I
guess it would take a lawyer to settle that question.
People that don't know how to get rid of a servant have got no
business with servants, said Sarah bitterly. Here I am, a stout,
able-bodied woman, holdin' my hands all day, when I ought to be doin'
my own work just as I always have.
You couldn't do your work in this house, argued David. It would
break you down if you tried it.
There it is again, cried Sarah. The house! It's the house that's
to blame for everything. Why, it was just last week I met Molly
Matthews on the street, and she turned her head away and wouldn't speak
to me! Molly Matthews that nursed me when I had the fever and that's
been like a sister to me all these years!
David's face darkened angrily. What right has Molly Matthews to
fall out with you, because you've got a better house than she has?
That's just envy.
No, it's not envy! cried Sarah in loyal defense of the absent
friend. I know Molly as well as I know myself. She hasn't changed, but
she thinks I've changed; she thinks I feel above her just because I've
got this two-story brick. And I don't blame her a bit. When we left
Millville and moved into town, it looked just like we had turned our
backs on all our old friends. I'd feel just as Molly does, if I were in
Molly's place. I've wanted to have Molly and Annie and all the rest of
my friends to spend the day with me,I've only waited because I wanted
to feel at home in my own house, before I had visitors,but now I
can't do it. We've got a fine house, David, and plenty of money, but
we've lost our old friends; and what is life without friends?
The god of Mammon had showered his favors on these simple souls, but
they would never be worshippers of the god. David, too, had felt the
barrier of wealth rising, hard and cruel, between him and the friends
of a lifetime, and his heart echoed Sarah's question, What is life
Well, he said, with an effort at lightness, if our old friends
forsake us, we'll have to make new ones.
But I don't want new friends! cried Sarah, with the accent of a
fretful child, Haven't I just told you I couldn't talk to that Mrs.
A sudden thought seemed to strike David. He took out his watch and
glanced at it. It's time for you to take another dose of the medicine
the doctor left. I have to go down-town for a few minutes. You lie
still and see if you can't sleep a little.
He handed her the medicine and left the room. Sarah waited till he
was out of the house, and then she rose hastily from the bed and began
making a hurried toilet.
When David reappeared, he found her fully dressed and the marks of
tears gone from her face.
That medicine's helped you already, he said cheerfully; and
here's a dictionary, and we'll find out what that word means.
The dictionary was an unfamiliar book to David, but after a patient
search he found the strange word. Here it is: civic, of or pertaining
to a city, a citizen, or citizenship. He looked hopefully at Sarah.
She shook her head rather sadly.
I don't know a bit more now than I did before, David, but never
mind that word. I told you awhile ago that I could stand anything, if
we only felt alike about it, and I'm goin' to stand this.
That's right, said David heartily; and while you're standing it,
I'll be looking for a way out of it. I didn't build this house for you
to stand, I built it for you to enjoy, and if you don't enjoy it, you
don't have to live in it. At that moment the supper bell rang.
Come on, honey, said David, holding out his hand to help her from
the chair, you'll feel better after you've had something to eat.
But Sarah only sighed and shook her head languidly. If I'd only
cooked the supper, I might feel hungry. But I just don't care whether I
eat or not. I'd rather go hungry than to eat with that Nelly starin' at
You stay up here, Sarah, said David with sudden determination. He
wheeled a small table in front of her and hurried from the room. In a
few minutes Nelly appeared with a laden tray that she set on the table.
Mr. Maynor says if there's anything else you want, to let him
know. Nelly's tone and manner were those of the well-trained servant,
and she looked at her mistress with a gleam of real sympathy in her
This is all I want. I'm much obliged, said Sarah Maynor awkwardly.
Nelly withdrew, and Sarah began to eat, more from gratitude to David
than from any sense of hunger. David was so good to her, she must get
used to things for his sake. But the relief of eating without the
espionage of a servant quickened her appetite, and when David rejoined
her, he looked with satisfaction on the empty dishes.
Don't worry about me, David, said Sarah, with a good attempt at a
careless smile. I've been actin' like a child, but from now on I'm
goin' to behave myself. David did not answer. He appeared to be in
deep thought about some important matter. He took out a pencil, did
some figuring on the back of an envelope, relapsed again into the
thoughtful mood, and finally went to bed silent and preoccupied.
For the next few weeks, he was away from home the greater part of
the time. Many days he failed to appear at the midday meal, and often
it would be dusk before he came to supper. The vague excuse of
business satisfied Sarah, for she had the wifely faith that forbade
questioning, and though David's sympathy helped her to stand the hard
conditions of her daily life, she was still too unhappy to feel any
keen curiosity about her husband's comings and goings. But one day
David came home wearing an expression of such triumphant satisfaction
that it could not be overlooked.
What's the matter, David? she asked wistfully. You look just like
you did the day you got your patent.
David laughed joyously. I feel just as I did the day I got my
patent, Sarah: I've got a little business to see to after dinner, but
about four o'clock I'll come around with the buggy, and we'll take a
long ride. I've been workin' hard for the last few weeks, and I reckon
I'm entitled to a little holiday.
That horse and phaeton had been the occasion of much comment on the
part of the general public. People often smiled to see the rich
inventor and his wife in their modest turnout, while men of lesser
worth whizzed by in costly machines; only Sarah knew that the shining
little phaeton and the gentle mare were the realization of a childish
I reckon I ought to have bought a car, said David apologetically,
as he helped Sarah into the phaeton for their first ride together; but
when I was a little shaver I wanted a pony; every boy does. Nobody but
God will ever know how much I wanted that pony I never got. And when I
grew older, I wanted a horse just as bad as I wanted a pony, and now
the time's come when I can have what I want. Some day we can get one of
these big machines, but right now this little buggy and this little
mare just suit me. And Sarah had acquiesced fully in these views.
You can't love a big machine, but you can love a horse, she said.
And thereafter the horse and phaeton were the only mitigating
circumstances of her new life, for they enabled her to get away, for a
few happy, care-free hours, from the two-story brick and the two
hateful servants. She ate her dinner with a better appetite because of
the promised ride. Long before the hour appointed she was dressed and
waiting with the impatience of a child, and before they had gone a
mile, she had caught David's spirit of happiness, and was looking up
into her husband's face with a look her face used to wear before the
curse of wealth came upon her.
Are we going to Millville? she asked apprehensively.
No, said David. We're going in that direction, but we'll stop
before we get there. He understood why Sarah would not want to drive
through the village; it would seem like flaunting her new wealth in the
faces of her old neighbors. David's eyes sparkled, and his mouth kept
curving into a smile even though there was no occasion for smiling.
Sarah felt that she was on the verge of a pleasant surprise, and her
eyes roved here and there searching for the possible stopping-place.
There were pretty cottages at intervals along the road, and each one
reminded her of her lost home. On they went, around a sharp turn in the
road, and suddenly David drew rein in the shade of a huge tulip tree
just in front of a little country place. A new paling fence painted
gray enclosed the lot; the house was not a new one, but its coat of
gray matched the fence, and a fresh green roof crowned its walls. Sarah
leaned forward, her eyes alight with wonder.
Why, Dave, it looks like our old cottage. It's exactly like it,
only it's had a new coat of paint. What are we stopping here for? Does
anybody live here?
David was helping her out of the phaeton. His eyes were smiling, and
the corners of his mouth twitched.
It does look considerably like our cottage, he said gravely.
That's why I brought you out here. I thought you might enjoy lookin'
at it. He opened the gate, and they walked up the path, Sarah glancing
from side to side at the newly planted shrubs and trees.
Why, Dave, it looks just like our front yard, only everything's
new. There's that little maple tree at the corner of the house, just
like our maple tree at home, and all the shrubs I used to have, and
planted in exactly the same places. It's right curious how much it's
like our old place.
They were on the front porch now. David knocked loudly on the door.
That door! Sarah's eyes were scanning it as if it were a written page
from which she hoped to learn good tidings. It glistened bravely in its
thick coat of white paint, but when one has opened and shut the same
door for twenty years, the brush of the painter cannot wholly conceal
its familiar features. Surely that was her front door!
The folks don't seem to be at home, said David, and as he spoke,
he took a key from his pocket, unlocked the door, and flung it wide
open. David was no playwright, but he understood how to produce a
dramatic situation and bring a scene to a successful climax. The
opening of the door disclosed a narrow entry. The floor was covered
with an oilcloth somewhat worn, and in front of the door lay a rug of
braided rags. Against the wall stood a very ugly hatrack, and over the
door leading into the room on the left was a Bible text worked in faded
yarns and framed in dingy gilt. For a moment Sarah stood gazing
bewildered at the familiar interior, then she grasped her husband's
hand and stepped across the threshold, uttering an inarticulate
expression of rapture, while David laughed aloud in pure delight.
Oh, David! David! she cried, it's my own home, my own little
home! What does it mean, David? Am I crazy or dreaming or what? She
was clinging to David's arm, trembling and tearful. David patted her
kindly on the hand.
You're not crazy, honey, and you're wide-awake, too. It means that
you've got your old home again, and you needn't ever go back to the
two-story brick house in town unless you want to.
But I thought the house was torn down, insisted Sarah, incredulous
of the happy reality.
So it was, explained David, but I bought the lumber and had it
all put together again. Everything's just like it used to be except the
wall paper and paint. They're new.
Oh! the miracle of it! And it was David's love that had wrought the
miracle. Sarah tried to speak, tried to tell David all her happiness
and gratitude, but the words were so incoherent, broken, and mixed with
tears that no one but David could have understood their meaning.
Kind? he said, patting her shoulder. No, there's no particular
kindness about this. I've just got Doctor Bourland's prescription
filled, that's all. You know he said I had to find out what the trouble
was and remove it, and that's what I've tried to do.
Sarah's tears flowed afresh at this proof of David's thoughtfulness.
Oh, David! she cried remorsefully. I thought you didn't care for the
thingsour things! And it hurt me so!
Cheer up, old woman, said David. Dry your eyes and see if I've
got everything here I ought to have. You'll find some clothes in the
bureau drawers, enough to last for a few days, anyhow. We're goin' to
stay here awhile, till that head of yours quits achin' and your nerves
get quieted down.
But Sarah was in the kitchen now, opening drawers, doors, and boxes
like a true daughter of Pandora. Sugarmealsodabaconsalt. How
on earth did you manage to think of everything, David?
Come out in the garden, urged David. Pretty outlook, ain't it?
he said, with a gesture toward the west where green meadows and blue
hills slumbered in the late afternoon sunshine. See the new stable and
the chicken yard. I'll put up some martin boxes next week, and we'll
have pigeons, too. Here's the asparagus bed, and over against the
stable we'll have a little hotbed and raise early lettuce. It's too
late to do much now, but I've got the walks laid off, and this time
next year we'll be sittin' under our own 'vine and fig-tree.'
Hand in hand, like two children, they wandered over their acre of
ground, planning for the flower garden, the vegetable garden, and the
tiny orchard and the grape arbor that were to be, till the level rays
of the sun warned them of approaching evening. David took out his
Pretty near supper time, he said. The fire's laid in the kitchen
stove. I wonder if you've forgotten how to cook a meal, Mrs. Maynor?
Sarah answered with a laugh; and as she walked to the house and
entered her kitchen, she looked as Eve might have looked, if, with her
womanly tears and sighs, she had bribed the Angel of the Flaming Sword
to let her pass through the gate and stroll for an hour along the paths
of her lost Eden. But Sarah's Paradise Regained was the paradise of the
worker. She rolled up her sleeves, tied a gingham apron around her
waist, and set about getting supper with the zeal of those who count
themselves blest in having to earn the bread they eat.
She set the little square table near a western window, and the
sunset light fell on the cheap cloth, the ill-matched pieces of cheap
china, and the plain food of the working man. It was all she could do
to keep back the tears of joy when she called David in to supper.
David's eyes filled, too, when he seated himself at the table. He bowed
his head to say grace, but his voice failed, and their grace was a
silent thanksgiving, not for food, but for the restoration of the old
home and the old life.
In the midst of the meal Sarah laid down her knife and fork with an
expression of dismay. Oh, David! she exclaimed, what will we do
about the house in town? We can't leave it in charge of those
Don't worry, said David placidly. Ann Bryan's in charge of that
house, and she'll stay as long as we're here. Ann knows how to manage
servants. She used to be the housekeeper at Northcliffe Manor, you
remember. I told her about the trouble you'd had, and I think you'll
find Nelly and Bertha well broken in when you get back.
Sarah drew a sigh of relief. It was good to know that those hateful
servants were in stronger hands than hers, and better still, that she
and David could eat their meals in the privacy of the kitchen with no
spying eyes upon them.
Do the people at Millville know about this house, David? she asked
later, as they sat on the porch in the stillness and coolness of the
night. David blew a puff of smoke into the darkness before he answered.
They all know, Sarah, and I think it'll make things a good deal
easier for you. Annie McGowan came by one day, when I was havin' the
cottage torn down and the lumber hauled out here; she stopped to ask
questions, and I told her how you pined for your old home and what I
intended to do, and I guess she told all the other women, for I notice
a change in everybody's face.
What did Annie say? urged Sarah eagerly.
She said she always knew your heart was in the right place.
The old home and the old friends, too! All her loved and lost
possessions were found, and if David's wealth were suddenly snatched
away, she would still be a rich woman. She slept soundly and woke with
a thrill of rapture at the thought of the day's work before her. How
many things there were to be done and how willingly she would do them,
for she was back in her own place, living her own life, and finding
health and happiness in daily toil. She went from task to task,
rejoicing that her hand had not lost its cunning for sweeping, dusting,
sewing, cooking, and all the rest of the blessed work that goes to the
making of a home; and the evening and the morning were the first day.
The second day was like unto the first, and on the third day Mary
Matthews and Annie McGowan came, and a broken friendship was cemented,
never to be broken again.
At the end of the week David came home with a grave face. I'm
sorry, Sarah, he said, as they sat down to their supper, but I'm
afraid we'll have to break camp and go back to town to-morrow morning.
I had a letter from Bates and Hammond, that big firm I told you about,
and I have to go to St. Louis to-morrow morning. I can't leave you out
here alone, so I reckon you'll have to go back to the two-story brick
He expected an outburst of tears from Sarah, but to his great relief
she went calmly on, pouring his coffee and helping him to the corn
bread and bacon.
That's all right, David, she said pleasantly. I was just
wonderin' to-day how things were in town, and I'd just as soon go back
David drew a breath of relief. I think you'll find everything in
good order, he said. Ann Bryan has got Nelly and Bertha well in hand.
She says they're good servants, and all they need is a tight rein to
hold them to their work. She says you must look them straight in the
eye when you give an order, and never let a bad piece of work pass. She
says that's the secret of managin' servants.
Sarah said nothing, but there was a look on her face that Ann Bryan
would have approved.
We have to make an early start to-morrow, continued David, for I
leave on the nine o'clock train. Ann may leave the house before we get
to town. Her brother's wife is sick, and she's needed at home, and
that's another reason why we ought to go back to town for awhile.
Of course it is, agreed Sarah, and I don't mind it at all.
David watched his wife closely, as they made preparations for
leaving the next morning, but there was nothing in her manner or her
words to indicate the slightest annoyance over the return to town. She
seemed alert, cheerful, and more than willing to make the change, and
when they came in sight of the two-story brick, David thought she
looked rather pleased.
Maybe you'd better have some one to stay with you while I'm gone,
he suggested, as he kissed her good-by.
No, said Sarah, very decidedly, I've got some work to do, and I'd
rather be alone. Take care of yourself, David, and come home as soon as
She stood on the porch till David was out of sight and then walked
back to the kitchen where the two servants were dawdling and gossiping
over their breakfast.
Nelly, she said, pointing to the kitchen clock and looking the
maid squarely in the face, it's nearly nine o'clock and no cleaning
done yet. Go up-stairs and open the windows so the house'll have a good
airing, and then get the parlor in order first before company comes.
While the astonished Nelly obeyed orders, she turned to Bertha and gave
directions for the next meal. You've got your kitchen in good order,
she said approvingly, and from now on you must keep it just this way.
She's learnin' fast, said Nelly to Bertha an hour later, when they
came together for a whispered conference in the kitchen pantry.
Believe me! returned Bertha, it won't be long before I'll be
cookin' six o'clock dinner instead of supper.
Sarah had ample time to work and think, for David was gone a week
instead of three days. Every morning she arose with certain plans in
her mind, and every night she lay down to sleep, calmly satisfied
because she had carried these plans to a successful completion. The
forenoons were spent in a careful superintendence of household affairs,
and Nelly and Bertha were made to feel the authority of a mistress
whose ideas of cleanliness and order were beyond any they had ever
known. In the afternoon she put on her brown suit and went out to walk,
or to call on the friendly people whose cards lay in the silver tray on
her center table. Her air at such times was one of grave determination,
and even David never knew with what fear and trembling and
heart-sinking these first social duties were performed. She was a
pleasant-faced, wholesome-looking woman; her dark, abundant hair was
somewhat coarse, but it waved naturally, and she arranged it well; her
skin was not fine, but it had a clear, healthy color, and her form was
erect, in spite of years of drudgery. Each day a careful observer might
have found some slight improvement in her dress and manner. Hitherto
the putting on of clothes had been to Sarah merely a part of her day's
work, something to be done with the utmost speed; but now she was
learning to make a toilette, varying the arrangement of her hair and
observing the fit of her garments and the effect of different colors.
Her taste in clothes happened to be good, and the fine simplicity of
her suit and hat offset the plainness of her manner and her evident
embarrassment over the difficult function of making calls.
I like her, said Mrs. Emerson, the minister's wife, to Mrs.
Morris, the banker's wife. She is what you call a plain woman, and
they're unmistakably 'new rich', but the newspaper paragrapher will
never have anything on her. She's absolutely without pretense, and she
has a world of common sense. I'm glad she's consented to join our club,
for we need just such a woman in this legislative work we're
When David wrote her the date of his home-coming, she made it a
festal occasion. The house had an extra cleaning; the grocer's boy left
the choicest meat, fruits, and vegetables on Nelly's kitchen table, and
Bertha was ordered to make the table look as attractive as possible.
Notwithstanding her longing for the old life, Sarah had always taken a
timid, tremulous sort of pleasure in the fine damask, the cut glass,
silver, and china that David had bought when they moved into the
two-story brick", and after she had dressed to meet David, she stole
down to the dining-room to feast her eyes on the costly things that had
replaced the plated spoons, steel knives, ten-cent dishes, and cotton
napkins of other days. Closing the door lest Bertha should intrude on
her, she gazed fondly at her possessions. She was just beginning to
feel they were really hers. She touched the lace of the centerpiece and
a daring thought came into her mind. Was there time to do it before
David came? She rushed up-stairs, put on her hat and coat, seized her
purse, and walked swiftly to a near-by greenhouse.
Roses? said the florist, certainly, madam, what kind?
What kind? Alas! the only roses she knew by name were roses like the
old-fashioned ones that grew in the gardens of the Millville people.
These stately queens clad in white, pink, and crimson satin and cloth
of gold, were strangers to her. She looked hesitatingly from the
Bridesmaid to the Bride, from the Bride to the Jacqueminot, and the
florist, seeing her perplexity, suggested La France as a desirable
choice and called her attention to the perfume. Yes, she wanted a
dozen,she almost turned pale at the thought of her own
extravagance,and when the florist laid the big, soft bundle of roses
and ferns on her arm, she hurried home with a fearful joy in her heart.
She was used to placing flowers on her table, gay nasturtiums, delicate
sweet peas, and gorgeous zinnias from her own little back-yard garden.
But to buy flowers for the table had always seemed to her the acme of
luxury. Often she had gazed admiringly at the treasures of the
florist's window, with never a thought that such splendors of color and
perfume would one day be within her reach. She had really never
accepted the change from poverty to wealth, and not once had she put
her fingers into the purse that the hand of fortune held out to her. It
was David who bought the house and its furnishings, David who bought
even her clothes, while she, fettered by the frugal habits of a
lifetime, stood aghast at what seemed to her a reckless, sinful
extravagance. But now the rich fragrance of the roses was like an
enchantment. Her hands trembled, a flush rose to her cheek, and as she
placed the blossoms in a cut-glass vase, unconsciously she stepped
across the boundary line between the old life and the new. Those
hothouse flowers and ferns were the signs of wealth, David's wealth.
She was David's wife, and she had a right to every costly and beautiful
thing that her husband's money could purchase. She drew back from the
table to observe the effect of the flowers drooping over the heavy
damask cloth set with sparkling glass and silver and delicate china;
then, moved by a sudden impulse that she could not have explained, she
drew one of the roses from the vase and hurried up to her room,
glancing furtively back to see whether she was observed by either of
the servants. Standing before the mirror, she broke off the long stem
and pinned the flower at her belt, then gazed anxiously into the glass.
Clearly the flower looked out of place. She unpinned it, noticing how
rough and coarse her hands were when they touched the satiny rose
petals. But she had seen other women wearing great clusters of such
flowers, and she too must learn to wear them. She heard David's step on
the pavement below; the front door opened. She replaced the rose, and
turning from the mirror with an air of firm resolve, she went bravely
down to meet her husband.
Ah, the joy of reunion! All her perplexities fell away from her as
she and David clasped hands and smiled at each other after the manner
of long married lovers.
Thank God for home! ejaculated David, sinking into an easy chair.
He looked around the room, looked again at his wife, and was conscious
of a subtle change in the atmosphere of the house. The exquisite order
and cleanliness reminded him of the housekeeping he had been accustomed
to, when he and Sarah lived in the little Millville cottage; and on
Sarah's face there was an expression that her husband had never before
seen there, the look of a soul that is girding itself for new
responsibilities and new duties. David did not understand the look, but
he observed that Sarah no longer crept about the house like an awkward,
frightened guest; her step and bearing were that of the mistress, and
he had a thrill of exultant pride a few moments later, when he heard
her address Nelly in a tone of calm command. He also saw and approved
the rose at her belt, but he did not know that the flower was a symbol
of all the changes that had been wrought during his absence.
There was no self-consciousness in the manner of either when they
sat down at the flower-decked table. David had seen persons of
importance and transacted business of importance; he was the sort of
husband who makes his wife a silent partner in all his business
affairs, and the two talked at ease, forgetting the hated presence of a
servant. David looked across the roses at his wife's face, serene and
happy as it used to be in the old days, and again he silently blessed
the doctor and his magic prescription.
How do you feel now, Sarah? he asked, as they seated themselves in
the parlor, and Sarah took up her basket of crocheting. You know the
doctor said I must let him know how you got along.
I am perfectly well, said Sarah emphatically, and what's more, I
intend to stay well.
David laughed aloud with pleasure. I'll tell the doctor how well
his prescription worked. That cottage is the best investment I ever
Even if we never went back to it, said Sarah thoughtfully, it
would make me happy just to know it's there and it's ours.
That reminds me, said David, with a sudden change of manner. Hale
and Davis say they can sell this house for me any day.
Hale and Davis? inquired Sarah with a look of surprise.
Real estate men, explained David.
What right have they to sell my house? asked Sarah almost angrily.
David looked embarrassed. Why, Sarah, I told them you were
dissatisfied; you know you said
Yes, I know I did, owned Sarah hastily. Her face crimsoned with an
embarrassment greater than David's. During his absence she had been
born again, born from poverty to riches. This sudden change of heart
and mind that had made her a new creature was a mystery to herself;
how, then, could she explain it satisfactorily to her husband? I know
you'll think I'm notionate and changeable, butI don't want to sell
this house. I feel just as much at home here now as I do in the little
cottage. I've got used to the servants and everything, and I want to
stay, and if I did not want to, I'd stay anyhow. It's cowardly to run
away or turn back when you've set out to do a certain thing, and I'm
not a coward. Oh! I know I can't make you understand how I feel about
it and how I came to change so, butI want to stay in this house.
She paused and looked pleadingly at David. For a few seconds he was
dumb with astonishment, then:
Good for you, Sarah, ejaculated David: That's exactly the way I
feel about it. Pride and exultation shone in his eyes. Sarah had risen
to the situation, and if Sarah could, so could he.
But can we afford to keep this house and the cottage, too? asked
David laughed as one laughs at the questioning of a child.
Wait a minute, Sarah; I've got something to show you. He rose and
left the room, returning presently with a drawing-board covered with
sheets of drafting paper. He drew his chair near to Sarah's, rested the
board on her knees, and began an enthusiastic description of the
mechanism pictured in his rough drawings. Sarah could not comprehend
the complexities of wheels, pulleys, flanges, and weights that David
pointed out to her, but David's mechanical genius was the glory of her
life, and she looked at the drawings with the rapt admiration a
painter's wife might bestow on a canvas fresh from her husband's touch.
I've been hammering at this idea a good while, concluded David,
and I believe I've got it in working shape at last. I'll have some
better drawings made this week and get them off to Washington, and if
all goes well, we'll have more money than we know what to do with.
No, we won't, said Sarah. Her lips closed to a thin line, and she
spoke with defiant emphasis. That's another thing I've learned while
you were away. I know what to do with money, and I don't care how rich
David stared at his wife in unveiled amazement. Was this his wife,
who a few short weeks ago was weeping over unwelcome riches and longing
for a life of poverty? Sarah's face crimsoned with the confusion of the
woman who is suddenly called upon to explain a change of mind, and she
began her explanation, speaking slowly and hesitatingly.
You remember I told you about that Mrs. Emerson who came to see me
and ask me to join her club,the Fortnightly, I believe they call it.
Well, the day after you left, I dressed myself in my best and went to
see her. And I told her that if the place was still open, I believed
I'd join. She was real pleasant about it, and said she was so glad I'd
changed my mind, and that they'd all be glad to have me for a member.
And I said to her: 'Now, Mrs. Emerson, I'm not an educated woman, but
I've got sense enough to know what I can do and what I can't do. I
can't write papers and make speeches, but maybe there's some kind of
work for me to do, if I join the club;' and she laughed and said that
if I have sense enough to know what I could do and what I couldn't do,
I'd make a fine club woman. And she said they had been studyin' The
Ring and the Book, whatever that is, but now they've concluded to
change their plan of work, and they were lookin' into the conditions of
workin' people, especially workin' women, and she was sure I could help
in that sort of work. And I said: 'That's very likely, for I've been a
workin' woman myself, and lived with workin' women all my life.' And
she said that was something to be proud of, and that every woman ought
to be a workin' woman, and it was just for that reason they wanted me
in the club.
Sarah paused here and bent over to straighten out a tangle in her
worsteds. David was holding a paper open before him, but his wife's
social adventures were of more interest to him than any page of the
Inventor's Journal, and he waited patiently for Sarah to resume her
The next day was Wednesday, and the club met at Mrs.
Morton'sshe's the president.
What Morton? Alexander Morton's wife? interrupted David.
Sarah nodded. Yes, Mrs. Alexander Morton. They live in the big
white stone house over on First Avenue.
He's president of the bank and about everything else in this
place. David stated this fact in an un-emotional way, but his eyes
gleamed with triumph. His wife and Alexander Morton's wife members of
the same club!
When Mrs. Emerson said the club met at Mrs. Morton's, I declare,
Dave, my heart stood still at the thought of goin' by myself to that
club. But Mrs. Emerson said she'd come by in her carriage and take me
there, and she did.
David laid down his paper and straightened himself in his chair.
How did they treat you? he asked eagerly.
Just as nice as they possibly could, said Sarah. I won't mind
goin' by myself next time.
David's face expressed a satisfaction and pride too deep for words.
What did they do? he asked with the curiosity of the masculine mind
that seeks to penetrate the mysteries of a purely feminine affair.
Well, they talked mostly, and at first I couldn't see what they
were drivin' at, but I kept on listenin', and at last I began to
understand what they intend to do. They're lookin' into the conditions
of workin' women and girls and children, and they're tryin' to get laws
passed that will make things easier for people that work in mills and
factories. They asked me about the hours of work at the mills, and the
wages and how the mill people lived, and, David, they said when the
Legislature meets this winter, they'll have to go up to the capital to
get some bills passed, and they want me to go with them.
It was impossible for Sarah to stifle the note of triumph in her
voice. There was a red spot on each cheek, her eyes shone with
enthusiasm, and though she might not be able yet to define the word
civic", evidently she had caught the spirit of civic work. As for
David, he was speechless with astonishment and delight. If long
residence in Millville had qualified Sarah for membership in the
Fortnightly Club, then, after all, the world of the rich and the world
of the poor were not very far apart.
I told them about Agnes Thompson, how she lost her thumb and finger
in the mill this spring, and what the Company offered her for damages,
and how hard it is for mothers with little children to leave home and
work; and they want to build a day nursery where the babies and
children can be looked after, and that's why I said I'd learned what to
do with money. She paused and looked at David, who nodded
sympathetically. One thing that helped me to see things right, she
continued, was a sermon I heard the Sunday you were away. You know
that little church just three blocks down the street back of us? Well,
Sunday morning I dressed and started out, and I said to myself: 'I'll
go to the first church I come to;' and it happened to be that little
church down the street with the cross on the steeple and over the door
'Church of the Eternal Hope.' That's a pretty name for a church, ain't
it? Church of Eternal Hope. I went in while they were singin' the first
hymn, and when the preacher read his text and begun to preach, it
seemed to me that something must have led me there, for that sermon,
every word of it, was just meant for me. The text was: 'I know both how
to abound and to suffer need,' and he said life was a school, and every
change that life brought to us was a lesson, and instead of complaining
about it, we ought to go to work and learn that lesson, and get ready
for a new one. He said if poverty came to us, it was because we needed
the lesson of poverty; and if riches came, it was because we needed
another lesson; and he said the lesson of poverty was easier to learn
than the lesson of wealth. Oh, David!Sarah's face was glowing with
repressed emotion and her voice trembled,I wish you could have heard
him, I can't remember it all, but it seemed as if he was preaching just
to me, and I sat and listened, and all my troubles and worries just
seemed to leave me, because I began to see the meaning of them; and
when you know what trouble means, it's not a trouble any longer. And he
said that there was a purpose in every life, and it was our duty to
find out what the purpose was and do our best to carry it out. Now, I
believe, David, that I see why all this money's been put into our
hands. We were happy without it, and it made us pretty miserable at
first, but it was given to us for a purpose, and we must carry out the
purpose. Both of us were born poor, and we've lived with poor people
all our lives, and I can see the purpose in that. We know how poor
people live, we know what they need, and now we've got moneyshe
stopped abruptly. Don't you see the purpose, David?
David was silent, but Sarah knew that the silence did not mean
dissent. His wife's narrative had started a train of thoughts and
emotions that would be henceforth the mainspring of all his acts. Of
late the sleeping ambition that lies in the heart of every man had
begun to stir, and he had dared to think timidly and doubtfully of a
time when he should be, to use his own words, something and somebody
in the world. As he listened to the story of Sarah's social adventures,
his heart swelled proudly. His wife had found her place among her
fellow women; he would find his among his fellow men. Before him were
the doors of opportunity all barred with gold", but he held in his
hand the golden keys that would unlock them, and the finger of
Divinity was pointing out the way he should go. Could it be that the
Infinite Power had planned his life for a certain end? That he had come
into the world for something more than daily toil, daily wages, and, at
last, old age and death? Were his mortal days a part of some great,
immortal plan? A thrill of awe shook the man as he caught a momentary
vision of the majesty in a human life that expresses a divine purpose.
He had no words for thoughts like these, and the silence lasted a long
time. When he spoke, it was of practical affairs.
The club will have to meet with you one of these days, won't it?
It meets with me the last of the month, said Sarah, trying to
speak in a matter-of-fact way.
David looked critically around the room. This furniture's pretty
nice, he said, but I don't know how it compares with other people's.
The furniture's all right, said Sarah hastily. Of course, this
house doesn't look like Mrs. Emerson's. Her parlor looked as if
everything in it had grown there and belonged there; this room looks as
if we'd just bought the things and put them here. Maybe after we've
lived here a long time, it'll look different, but there's no use tryin'
to make my house look like Mrs. Emerson's or Mrs. Morton's.
Are your clothes as good as the other women's? inquired David
Suppose they're not, argued Sarah sturdily. I'm not goin' to try
to dress like other women. My clothes suit me, and that's enough.
Sarah's sturdy independence pleased David, but like a good husband,
he wanted his wife to look as well as other women. Oughtn't you to
have some jewelry, Sarah? Some rings and chains andthings of that
sort? he added vaguely.
David! David! cried his wife half in anger, half in love. Do you
want to make me a laughing stock? My hands are not the kind for rings;
and what would Molly and Annie say if they saw me wearin' jewelry?
We've got enough things between us and our old friends without jewelry.
Instead of rings, you can give me a check for the day nursery.
Sarah was rolling up her work now and smiling softly. Two weeks
ago, she said, it seemed as if everything was in a tangle just like
this worsted gets sometimes. But I've picked and pulled and twisted,
you might say, till I've straightened it out. You see, David, there's
some things you can't understand till you get 'way off from them. As
long as I was in this house, I thought I was out of place, but I hadn't
been in the cottage long, till I saw that this house was just as much
my home as the little cottage was. I never could have seen it, though,
if I hadn't gone back to the old house.
Wise Sarah! It was well for her that the club had changed its plan
of work. She would never be able to write an analysis of The Ring
and the Book, or throw an interpretative flashlight into the
obscurity of Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, but like the knight
of the Dark Tower, she had learned that
One taste of the old time sets all things right.
ONE DAY IN SPRING
According to the calendar, it was the last day of March, but for
weeks the spirit of April and May had breathed on the face of the
earth, and those who had memories of many springs declared that never
before had there been such weather in the month of March.
In the annals of the rural weather prophets, the winter had been set
down as the coldest ever knowna winter of many snows, of frozen
rivers, and skies so heavily clouded that there was little difference
between the day and the night. Wild creatures had frozen and starved to
death, and man and beast had drawn near to each other in the
companionship of common suffering. Then, as if repenting of her
harshness to her helpless children, Nature had sent a swift and early
spring. It was March, but hardly a March wind had blown. The rain that
fell was not the cold, wind-driven rain of March; it was the warm,
delicate April shower. The sun had the warmth of May, and all the
flowers of field, forest, and garden had felt the summons of sun and
rain and started up from the underworld in such haste that they trod on
each other's heels. Flowers that never had met before stood side by
side and looked wonderingly at each other. The golden flame of the
daffodils was almost burnt out, and the withered blossoms drooped in
the grass like extinguished torches; but hyacinths were opening their
censers; tulips were budding; the plumes of the lilacs showed color,
and honeysuckles and roses looked as if they were trying to bloom with
the lilac and the snowball. March had blustered in with the face and
voice of February, but she was going out a flower-decked Queen of May.
The fragrant air was like the touch of a warm hand. Fleets of white
clouds sailed on the sea of pale blue ether, and the trees, not yet in
full leaf, cast delicate shadows on the grass. On a day like this in
ancient Rome, young and old clad themselves in garments of joy and went
forth to the festival of the goddess of grain and harvests; and under
such skies, English poets were wont to sing of skylarks and of golden
daffodils. But in the calendar of the Kentucky housewife there is no
Floralia or Thesmophoria, and no smile or breath of song was on the
lips of the girl who was climbing the back stairs of an old farmhouse,
with a bucket of water in one hand and a cake of soap in the other, to
celebrate the Christian festival of spring cleaning. The steps were
steep and narrow, and every time she set her foot down they creaked
dismally, as if to warn the climber that they might fall at any minute.
She toiled painfully up and set the bucket on the floor. Where should
she begin her work? She went into the nearest bedroom, opened the door
of a closet, and looked disgustedly at the disorder within,coats,
hats, trousers, disabled suspenders, a pair of shoes caked with mud, an
old whip-handle, an empty blacking box, a fishing-pole and tangled
line, a hammer, and a box of rusty nails. It was not an unfamiliar
sight. She had cleaned the boys' closet and the boys' room every spring
forhow many years? It made her tired to think of it, and she sat down
on the edge of the slovenly bed and stared hopelessly around the
low-ceiled, dingy room. The mouldy wall paper was peeling off, the
woodwork was an ugly brown, dirty, discolored, and worn off in spots;
the furniture was rickety, the bedclothes coarse and soiled; and walls,
floors, and furniture reeked with a musty odor as of old age, decay,
and death. All houses that have sheltered many generations acquire this
atmosphere; nothing but fire can wholly destroy such uncleanness, and
some vague idea of the impossibility of making the old house
wholesomely clean crossed the girl's mind as she sat listlessly on the
side of the bed and stared out of the window.
There are two kinds of homesickness. One is a longing for home that
seizes the wanderer and draws him across continent and ocean back to
the country and the house of his nativity. Men have died of this
homesickness on many a foreign soil. The other kind is a sickness of
home that draws us away from ordered rooms, from sheltering walls and
roofs, to the bare, primitive forest life that was ours ages ago. It
was this homesickness that made Miranda sigh and frown as she looked at
that room, gray and dingy with the accumulated dirt of the winter, and
thought of the task before her. While she sat, scowling and rebellious,
a breeze blew in, scattering the sickly odors of the bedroom, and at
the same moment she heard two sounds that seem to belong specially to
the spring of the year, the bleating of some young lambs in a near
meadow and the plaintive lowing of a calf that had been separated from
its mother. Yes, spring was here. How she had longed for it all through
the long, cold, dark days of winter! And now she must spend its sunny
hours in house cleaning! A weariness of all familiar things was upon
her; she hated the old house; she wanted to go,somewhere, anywhere,
and her soul, like a caged bird, was beating its wings against the bars
of circumstance. She went to the window and leaned out. A branch of a
maple tree growing near the house almost touched her cheek, and she
noticed the lovely shape and color of the young leaves. Farther on was
a giant oak whose orange-green tassels swung gaily in the breeze, and
through the trees she had a glimpse of a green meadow bordered by an
osage orange hedge that looked like a pale green mist in the morning
sunshine. She saw and felt the glory and sweetness of the spring with
her physical senses only, for in her heart there was a winter of
discontent. But while she leaned from the window, looking at the trees
and sky, came one of those unexplained flashes of consciousness in
which the present is obliterated and we are snatched back to a shadowy
past. What was the incantation that made her feel that she had lived
this same moment ages and ages ago? Was it the voice of the wind and
the voice of the bird in the tree-tops? Was it the shimmer of morning
mist and the gold-green oak tassels against the blue sky? Or was it a
blending of all these sights and sounds? Her gaze wandered farther and
farther on till it reached the horizon line where stretched a fragment
of the primitive wood, bounded by smooth turnpikes and fenced-in fields
and meadows. Serene and majestic these forest remnants stand in every
Kentucky landscape, guardians of the Great Silence, homes for the
hunted bird and beast, and sanctuaries where the stricken soul of man
may find a miracle of healing. A wild, unreasonable longing possessed
the homesick girl as she looked at that line of trees, softly green and
faintly veiled, and thought of what lay in their secret deeps. All her
life had been spent in the country, and yet how many years it had been
since she had seen the woods in spring. The woods in spring! The
words were like a strain of music, and as she whispered them to
herself, something rent the veil between childhood and womanhood, and
she saw herself a little girl roaming through the forest, clinging to
her father's hand and searching for spring's wild flowers. She saw the
blue violets nestling at the foot of mossy stumps, columbines and ferns
waving in damp, rocky places, purple hepaticas, yellow celandine, the
pinkish lavender bells of the cowslip, Solomon's seal lifting its tiers
of leaves by lichened rocks around a dripping spring, and that strange
white flower, more like the corpse of a flower than the flower itself,
that she had found onceand then no moregrowing by a fallen log and
half buried under the drift of fallen leaves. Suddenly she started up,
hurried from the room, and ran swift-footed down-stairs and into the
kitchen, where her mother stood at a table washing the breakfast
Mother, she said breathlessly, I'm going over to the woods
awhile. I want to see if the violets are in bloom yet. I'll be back
Ellen Crawford paused in her work and looked helplessly at her
daughter. The mind of her child had always been a sealed book to her,
and she was never without a feeling of apprehension as to what Miranda
would do next. For mercy's sake! she said weakly. Going to the woods
to look for violets in house-cleaning time, when each day's unfinished
work overflowed into the brimming hours of the next day! There were no
words to fit such folly, and the mother only stood stupefied, looking
through the open door at the flying footsteps of her errant daughter.
Miranda ran through the back yard where the house dog lay basking in
the sun, and two broods of young chickens were peeping around in the
wet grass, led by their clucking mothers. The cat came purring and
tried to rub herself against Miranda's garments, but she thrust her
aside and hurried on. These creatures belonged to the house, and it was
the house from which she was fleeing. As she passed through the sagging
garden gate, a casual gust of wind stirred the boughs of a water-maple
tree near by, and scattered a shower of petals over her hair and
shoulders, while a robin in the topmost branch sang a Godspeed to the
pilgrim who was hastening to the altars of spring. Down the garden path
she sped with never a glance aside at the trim rows of early vegetables
bordered by clumps of iris and peonies, with now and then an
old-fashioned rose that looked as if it were tired of growing and
blooming in the same spot so many years. If one had stopped her and
said: Where are you going? she could not have told him where. If he
had asked: What do you seek? again she would have been at a loss for
a reply. But she had heard a call more imperative than the voice of
father or mother, more authoritative than the voice of conscience;
something had passed out of her life with the passing of childhood and
first youth; she was going to find the precious lost joy; and the power
that guides the bird in its autumnal flight to the south and brings it
north again was guiding her feet to the woods in spring.
She pushed aside some loose palings and crept through the opening
into the pasture that lay back of the garden. The cows stopped feeding
and stared at her in mild surprise as she stood, irresolute and
wavering, looking back at the house, where her mother was lifting the
burden of the day's toil, and then at the orchard on one side, where
the peach trees were faintly flushed with pink. In the middle of the
pasture stood a group of elms. When the wind passed over them, their
branches swayed with the grace of willows, and against the blue sky
their half-grown leaves were delicate as the fronds of the maidenhair
fern. The elms seemed to beckon her, and she crossed over and stood for
a moment looking up at the sky in a net",the net of leafy branches.
While she gazed upward, a sudden wind came blowing from the direction
of the forest, and on its breath was the mysterious sweetness that is
one of the surest tokens of spring. It is as if every tree and plant of
the forest had sent forth a premonition of its blooming, a spirit
perfume waiting to be embodied in a flower. Miranda drew a long breath
and looked across the meadow to the freshly plowed field whose western
boundary line was all awave with trees", each clad in its own
particular tint of verdure, from the silver green of the silver poplar
to the black green of the cedars. The dogwood, that white maiden of the
forest, was still in hiding; the wild cherry, that soon would stand
like a bride in her wedding veil, was now just a shy girl in a dress of
virginal green; the purplish pink of the red-bud flower was barely
visible on its spreading limbs. The Great Artist had merely outlined
and touched here and there with his brush the picture which later on he
would fill in with the gorgeous coloring of summer's full leafage and
She hurried across the meadow, climbed the old rail fence, and
plodded her way over the plowed ground, stepping from ridge to ridge
and feeling the earth crumble under her feet at every step. It was a
ten-acre field, and she was out of breath by the time she reached the
other side. There was no fence between field and forest; the only
boundary line was the last furrow made by the plow. On one side of this
furrow lay civilization with its ordered life of cares and duties. On
the other side was the wild, free life of Nature. She stopped and
looked doubtfully into the sunlit aisles of the forest, as we look at
old familiar places, revisited after long absence, to see if they
measure up to the stately beauty with which our childish imagination
clothed them. She stepped timidly through the underbrush at the edge of
the wood and looked above and around. So many years had passed, and so
many things had passed with the years! Perhaps the remembered
enchantment had passed too. She recalled the song of the birds, and how
the voice of the wind in the tree-tops had sounded against the
fathomless stillness that lies at the heart of the forest. She held her
breath and listened. Wind and leaf and bird were making music together
as of old; and under the whisper and the song she felt the presence of
the eternal, inviolable calm against which earth's clamor vainly beats.
She recalled the rustle of the dead leaves under her feet, and the odor
that the heat of the sun drew from the moist earth. There were dead
leaves to-day in every path, and Nature was distilling the same
perfumes and making beauty from ashes by the same wondrous alchemy she
had used when the earth was young. Nothing had changed except herself.
She looked around for an opening in the underbrush, some trace of a
path, and then hastened fearlessly on to find the main path that led
through the heart of the woods, and made a short cut for the traveler
on foot. Besides this central path, there were numerous little by-paths
made by the feet of cattle that had pastured here for a few months of
the previous summer. Each one of these invited her feet, and each one
led past some fairy spota bed of flowers, a bower of wild vines, a
grapevine swing, a tiny spring from which she drank, using a big, mossy
acorn cup for a goblet. She wandered from one side of the main path to
the other, and thrice she walked from road to road. All winter she had
been snow-bound and ice-bound within the walls of the old farmhouse,
and now spring had unlocked the doors of the prison. Lighter grew her
footsteps the longer she walked, and in every muscle she felt the joy
of motion that the fawn feels when it leaps through the forest, or the
bird when it cleaves the sunny air on glistening wing.
Gone was the thought of time, for here were no tasks to be done, no
breakfast, dinner, and supper; and the day had but three
periods,sunrise, noontide, and sunset. The house she had left that
morning seemed a long way off, almost in another world; and the forest
was an enchanted land where there was no ugly toil for one's daily
bread. Duty and fear alike were lulled to sleep, and while the sun
climbed to its zenith she roamed as care-free as any wild creature of
the woods. Suddenly a cloud darkened the sun and melted into a soft,
warm mist that the wind caught up and blew like a veil across the face
of spring. Miranda paused, lifted her head, and held out her hands to
catch the gracious baptism. It was only a momentary shower, past in a
burst of sunshine, but it left its chrism on her forehead and hair and
made her feel more akin to flower and tree. How many gifts were falling
from the hand of spring! To the birds the joy of mating and nesting; to
the roots and seeds in the dark, cold earth warmth and moisture and a
resurrection morn; and to the ancients of the forest a vesture as fresh
as that which clothes the sapling of the spring.
Surely we have severed some tie that once bound us to the Great
Mother's heart or this outflow and inflow of life and beauty that we
call spring would touch men and women too, and then would come the
Golden Age. Nature is kinder to her trees and flowers than she is to
her sons and daughters. The girl who lifted her forehead to the
sacrament of the rain should have received a blessing that would touch
her face with the color of the rose and put the strength and grace of
the young trees into her limbs. But how sad and strange she looked,
flitting through the vernal freshness of the forest! Her faded calico
gown hung limp over her thin body, and her hair and cheek were as faded
as the gown. She should have been a nymph, but she was only a tired,
worn daughter of the soil, and amid all this opulence of giving there
was no gift for her except the ecstatic yearning that was welling up in
her heart and leading her here and there in search of something she
could not name.
How sweet the air was! She breathed deeply as she walked, and at
every inspiration a burden seemed to fall from both body and soul. Just
to be alive was goodto breathe, to walk through the sun-flecked
forest paths, to feel the warmth of the sunshine on her shoulders, and
to know that the world of the forest belonged to her as it belonged to
the bird and the bee. She had almost reached the other side of the
strip of woodland, and through the trees she caught glimpses of a wheat
field stretching like a pale green sea from this strip of woodland to
another that belonged to a neighboring farm. She thought of a hymn her
mother often sang when the drudgery of the farm permitted her soul to
rise on the wings of song:
Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green;
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.
She lifted up her voice and sang the old hymn:
There is a land of pure delight
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.
There everlasting spring abides
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This pleasant land from ours.
Alas! How strange and sad it sounded with the careless rapture of
the birds. Never before had a song of death been sung in those forest
aisles, and suddenly she stopped, silenced by a sense of the
incongruity of such a hymn in the spring woods. Why should one sing of
sweet fields and pleasant lands beyond the sea of death? Right here
are pleasant lands and sweet fields, and our songs should be of the
pure delight of this old earth. Better than such worship as ours the
worship of the pagan, who went forth with music to meet the dawn and
sang hymns in praise of seed-time and harvest.
It is not alone by getting and spending that we lay waste our
powers and loosen our hold on the possessions that Nature so freely
offers us. Perpetually she calls to us with her voice of many waters,
her winds and bird songs. She opens and closes each day with cloudy
splendors that transcend the art of poet or painter. She spends
centuries making the columned sanctuaries of her forests more majestic
than Solomon's temple, and lights them with the glory of the sun and
stars. Life more abundant is in her air and sunshine. She offers to
each soul the solitude of the wilderness, and the mountains, where
Christ found rest and strength after the presence of crowds had drained
him of his virtue. And wewe wrap ourselves in the mantle of Care; we
build walls of stone to shut out from us all sweet influences of
Nature; we sing of an everlasting spring", and then let the fleeting
hours of our earthly springs go by without once tasting their full
sweetness; we look for a heaven beyond death, unmindful of the heaven
within and around us; we deem the light that falls through a stained
glass window more religious than the light of open day, and a waxen
taper more sacred than a star; we shorten life by cutting it off from
its source, and at last, worn out with sordid cares, we give our bodies
back to earth without having known one hour of the real joy of life.
Vague, half-formed thoughts like these were in Miranda's mind as she
paused and looked up in response to a voice from a neighboring oak:
Chic-o-ree! Chic-o-ree! The syllables were clear and distinct as if
spoken by a human voice, and from a tree across the path came the
answer: Chic-o-ree! Chic-o-ree! All her consciousness had been merged
in seeing, but now she was aware of a chorus of voices calling,
chirping, whistling, trilling, fluting, warbling from far and near, the
orchestra of May assembled a month in advance of its usual time.
If we could only live outdoors! she whispered to herself. All the
high emotions that fill the heart of a poet in spring were stirring in
the breast of the country girl, and finding no way of expression they
could only change into poignant longings that she herself but half
understood. There was a puzzled, baffled look on her face as she stood
hesitant, wondering what step to take next. So many remembered things
she had found in the woods!music, perfume, light winds and warmth and
flowers and trees, but there was still something, nameless, elusive,
that had once been hers, and she must find it before the day ended.
* * * * *
She stooped to gather a violet growing by a fallen tree, and the
second time that day a wave of memory and feeling swept over her, and
in one exquisite moment she found the lost treasure! For the heart that
leaped and throbbed faster at sight of the violet was the heart of a
* * * * *
It was past the middle of the afternoon. The wind had died down to a
mere occasional whisper, the birds chirped more softly, and there
seemed to be a hush and a pause, as if all the creatures of the wood
felt the languorous spell of the hour. Miranda looked about for a
resting place. She was standing near the main path in a partly cleared
space, a sort of fairy ring, in the center of which was a giant tree
that had suffered a lingering death from a stroke of lightning. Lithe
and graceful, with the sap of a new life coursing through their veins,
its comrades were waving and beckoning to each other and welcoming the
birds to leafy shelters, while, stark and stiff with decay, the
stricken one stood like the skeleton at the feast, stretching its
helpless arms skyward as if imploring Nature to raise it from the dead.
All around it were the kings of the forest, the fruitful walnut and
hickory whose leaves smell like the close-bit thyme on the downs of
Sussex by the sea; the tasseled oak, and the elm more graceful than any
graveyard willow; but moved by some hidden impulse, this girl whose
youth was almost gone chose the dead tree for her own. The ground was
littered with strips of bark that the electric storm had torn from the
trunk. She gathered these and laid them at the root for protection from
the damp earth. Then, seating herself, she leaned back against the
trunk of the tree and drew a long, sighing breath of deep content.
Through the woods on the other side of the path she could see the field
of young wheat, and she had a vague, dreamy thought of the summer's
heat that would ripen the grain and of the harvest with its terrible
toil for the women of the farm. The heat of summer and the cold of
winter were alike hateful to her, but no thought of either could break
this blissful calm. Like an evil dream the winter was gone, and like an
evil dream the summer too would go, and both would be forgotten. What
mattered heat or cold? Every winter had its spring; every summer its
autumn; and the heart need remember only its springs and autumns. She
looked upward into the depths of pale blue ether, and followed the
course of the white, drifting clouds. O, ecstasy of ecstasies! To live
on such an earth with such a sky above! Looking at the sky was like
looking into a vast crystal. Farther and farther into space her gaze
seemed to penetrate, and presently her soul began to follow her gaze.
Something in that boundless space seemed to be drawing her out of the
body. Her breath was so light it would hardly have moved a gossamer;
her eyelids drooped slowly and heavily, and she slept a sleep too deep
An hour passed, and still the mystery of sleep enfolded her. A bee
hummed noisily about her head, a catbird sang in a tree near by, but
she was too far away to be disturbed by any sound of earth.
Ye are not bound!
The soul of things is sweet,
The heart of being is celestial rest
All this the sleeper knew. She had broken the chains of habit that
mortals forge for themselves and bind on themselves; in the freedom of
that spring day her soul had tasted the sweetness that lies at the
soul of things", and now in sleep she had found the celestial rest
that lies at the heart of being.
Was that a human footstep or was it a rabbit rustling the
underbrush? Was it a human voice or the note of a bird? Along the fresh
path between the two roads came a man, walking with a glad, free stride
and whistling softly under his breath. The joy of the season was in his
face, and he was at home in the woods, for when a redbird called to its
mate, the man whistled a reply and smiled to hear the bird's instant
response. Suddenly he caught sight of the sleeping girl at the foot of
the tree; the whistle and the smile died on his lips and he stopped
short, amazed and bewildered. A woman asleep in the forest! Wonder of
wonders! The sunshine flecked her face and her hair, and in the sweet
placidity of sleep he hardly recognized the girl he had often seen in
the country church on Sundays. What was she doing here alone and
unprotected? Surprise and wonder vanished as he realized the situation,
and his face crimsoned like a bashful girl's. For the moment the whole
wood seemed to belong to the sleeper at whom he was gazing, and he felt
the confusion of one who accidentally invades the privacy of a maiden's
room. Here was no fairy princess to be wakened with a kiss, but a
helpless woman who must be guarded as long as she slept, and he was a
knight in homespun appointed to keep the watch. He knew, though no poet
had ever told him, that sleep is a holy thing. If it had been
possible, he would have silenced the songs of the birds, and he held
his breath as he turned and tiptoed softly away, looking timidly back
now and then to see if she still slept. When he had gone a few rods, he
stepped out of the path and took his place behind the trunk of a tree.
Here he could watch and see that no other intruder passed by, and when
she wakened he would be ready to follow her homeward flight. There were
tasks at home awaiting his hand, but here was a work more important
than any labor of farm or fireside. Steadfastly he watched and
listened, while the sun sank lower, and the woods were filled with a
golden glow like the radiance of many candles lighted in some great
Sleep is a mystery, and so is our awakening from sleep. Who can tell
where the soul goes, when the body lies motionless, unseeing,
unhearing, and who can tell what calls it back from those far and
It may have been the chill of the coming night as the sun went down,
or the cry of a bird that summoned Miranda again to earth. She opened
her eyes with a long, sighing breath. How heavenly to waken out of
doors and see the blue sky and the swaying limbs of the trees instead
of the cracked ceiling of her bedroom! Then, as full consciousness came
back to her with memory of the day just passed, she saw that the sun
was nearly down. Night was at hand; the birds were seeking their nests,
and she must return to her home. With the thought of home came the
thought of duty, of the undone work she had left behind her that
morning, and her mother toiling in the gloomy kitchen. She sprang up,
every sense alert, turned her face in the direction of home, and took
the nearest path through the underbrush.
The watcher by the tree heard her flying steps and breathed a sigh
of relief. He moved cautiously around the trunk of the oak and waited
till he was sure she was out of the wood. Then he followed her trail
and caught sight of her half-way across the plowed field. He watched
till she was safe inside the pasture and then retraced his steps to the
dead tree. Had he been living in a dream? No, for here were the
withered violets lying on the ground witnessing to the reality of the
last few hours. He gathered up the poor, limp flowers, placed them
carefully in his waistcoat pocket and walked rapidly homeward.
The sun was just on the horizon line, when Miranda reached the
garden gate, and the splendor of light all around made her pause and
look back to the glowing West. Clouds were gathering for a storm; every
cloud was a mount of transfiguration, golden-hued or rose-colored, and
the evening sky was pierced by long arrows of light that grew brighter
and more far-reaching as the great central light sank lower behind the
little hills. The wind was blowing across the fields, carrying with it
the fragrance that night draws from the heart of the forest. One moment
the sad magnificence of dying day held her spellbound, then conscience
spoke again, and she hurried into the kitchen. The golden light was
streaming into the room, bringing out all its ugliness and disorder,
and her mother was standing by the table just where Miranda had left
her that morning.
This is a pretty time of day for you to come home. Where have you
been all this time? She looked at her daughter with cold displeasure,
but under the displeasure Miranda saw the expression of despair and
weariness that comes of unrecompensed toil, and a pang of remorse went
through her heart. She took her mother by the shoulders and gently
pushed her away from the table.
Go out and sit on the porch, Mother, and look at the sky. I'll get
supper, and to-morrow I'll begin the house cleaning.
There was something in the girl's voice that checked the rising
anger in her mother's heart and stilled the upbraiding words that were
on her lips. She looked searchingly at her daughter and then turned
silently away. Miranda went to work with a willingness that surprised
herself. All the weariness and disgust of the morning were gone. She
had voluntarily resumed the shackles of duty, but as she worked she
looked out of the window to catch glimpses of the fading splendor that
was rounding out her flawless day, and in her heart she resolved that
as long as she lived, no spring should pass without a day in the woods.
She had eaten nothing since morning, but the mood of exaltation was
still upon her, and even the odor of the food she cooked roused no
sense of hunger. She thought of a Bible text learned when she was a
child: Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that
proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Perhaps all the splendor of color
and light, all the opulence of perfume and warmth and music that make
spring are words of God. All day she had been living by those words,
and she knew the meaning of another occult saying of Christ: I have
meat to eat that ye know not of.
She placed the evening meal on the table, called the family, and
served them more cheerfully than ever before; and when they had eaten,
she cleared the table and washed the dishes, while her mother rested
again on the porch. Her hands moved mechanically over the work. She
could hear the voices of her father and brothers; they were talking
about crops and the weather, and the planting that must be done that
week. Now and then her mother put in a word of querulous complaining
over the hardship of the day just passed and of all those that were to
come. She heard it as in a dream for still the holy spirit of the
spring possessed her, and it seemed strange and unbelievable that
people could be troubled over such trifles as sweeping and cleaning and
cooking, when there were the woods and the great, deep peace of the
woods in which all such cares might be forgotten.
After she had set the table for breakfast, she went out on the
porch. Her mother and the boys had gone up-stairs to bed, and her
father was knocking the ashes from his pipe and yawning loudly. She sat
down on the bench beside him and laid her hand on his knee. Such a
thing as a caress had not passed between father and daughter since the
latter had outgrown her childhood, and the man turned in surprise and
peered through the gloom at the face of the girl, as if seeking an
explanation of that familiar touch.
Your mother says you been roamin' around in the woods all day,
Mirandy, he said awkwardly. That ain't safe for a girl. Don't you
I wasn't afraid, she answered; and, Father, I want to ask a favor
of you. Her voice had the eager pleading of a child's. I want you to
go walkin' with me in the woods next Sunday, just like we used to do
when I was a little girl. Something in her voice and the words when I
was a little girl touched a chord of memory that had not vibrated for
many a year. Perhaps the tired, hard-worked man had a glimpse of the
meagerness of his child's life, for he laid his rough hand over hers
and spoke with the voice she remembered he had used when she was a
Why, that's a curious notion, Mirandy, he said. What'll the
preacher say, if he hears we've gone walkin' in the woods on Sunday
instead of goin' to church? But I'll go just to please you, provided
the weather's suitable. Now, le's shut up the house and go to bed. It's
time everybody was asleep.
They went in together, and while her father closed the doors and put
down the windows in anticipation of the coming rain, Miranda lighted
her lamp in the kitchen and went softly up-stairs. She still felt the
delicious sleepiness that comes from breathing outdoor air all day, and
her nap in the woods seemed only to have given her a longing for more
At the head of the stairs were the soap and water still waiting to
be used, but she could look at them now without any of the irritation
she had felt that morning, for she knew the hidden meaning of the work
that lay before her. Was not Nature cleaning the whole earth, purifying
it with her sunshine and her wind, and washing it with her dew and
rain? If men and women could only live in the wind and sun with no
shelter but the branches of the trees! But since they must have houses,
these, too, must know the wholesome touch of wind, sun, and water.
Lovely pictures of clouds, trees, fields, birds, and flowers filled her
brain and made more apparent the ugliness of her room. Her sense of
smell, sharpened by breathing forest air, took instant note of the
musty odors that came from walls, floors, and clothing. She pushed the
bedstead near the window so that she might feel the night air blowing
over her face as she slept and resolved that the next night should find
that room as like to a nook in the woods as she could make it; and when
the scrubbing and whitewashing were over, she would go again and again
to the woods and gather the flowers of spring, summer, and autumn to
sweeten the air of the old house. As she blew out the lamp, there was a
rumble of thunder from the west; a wind with the smell of rain swept
through the dark room, and, laying her head on the pillow, she smiled
to think how the creatures of the forest would look and feel in the
scented night and the falling rain. All the spring landscape on which
she had gazed that day seemed imprinted on her brain, and when she
closed her eyes, it passed like a panorama before her inner vision:
wind-swept trees whose leafy branches waved against the pale blue sky;
tremulous shadows on the fresh greensward; flowers of the garden and
flowers of the forest flushing, purpling, paling, flaming, glowing in
orderly beds or in wild forest nooks; long grey fences outlining farms
and roads; sunlight glinting on the wings of flying birds; misty hills
and little valleys sloping down to the level of the fertile fields;
glory of midday and greater glory of sunset softening into the quiet,
star-lit evening skies.
What need of the painter's canvas and brush when the soul can thus
imprint on its records Beauty's every line and every color to be
recalled instantly from the shadows of time by Memory's magic art?
The thunder muttered fitfully, and presently the rain came, dashing
against the roof like a rattle of musketry, then quieting to a steady
downpour that promised to last all night. She lay still, listening
drowsily to the music of the storm and seeing through her closed
eyelids the flashes of lightning. She was not tired, only sleepy and
happy. The same calm that enveloped her in the forest was around her
now, and soon she was sleeping as deeply and sweetly as she had slept
in the afternoon. And while she slept, the man who had guarded her
forest slumber sat in the darkness, dreaming, and gazing at a picture
that would never fade from his brain: In the midst of the living forest
a dead tree, and at its foot a sleeping girl holding a bunch of
Ah, well! The perfect day was over and never again would come
another like it. To-morrow the sleeper and the dreamer would wake and
rise to the old, dull routine of daily toil and daily weariness, but
though the day was gone, its grace would abide forever, and life could
never be quite the same to the one who had met face to face with the
True Romance, and to the other who had lived, for a few charmed hours,
the life of the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field.