Elizabeth's Child by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Ingelows, of Ingelow Grange, were not a marrying family. Only one
of them, Elizabeth, had married, and perhaps it was her "poor match"
that discouraged the others. At any rate, Ellen and Charlotte and
George Ingelow at the Grange were single, and so was Paul down at
It was seventeen years since Elizabeth had married James Sheldon in
the face of the most decided opposition on the part of her family.
Sheldon was a handsome, shiftless ne'er-do-well, without any violent
bad habits, but also "without any backbone," as the Ingelows declared.
"There is sometimes hope of a man who is actively bad," Charlotte
Ingelow had said sententiously, "but who ever heard of reforming a
Elizabeth and her husband had gone west and settled on a prairie farm
in Manitoba. She had never been home since. Perhaps her pride kept her
away, for she had the Ingelow share of that, and she soon discovered
that her family's estimate of James Sheldon had been the true one.
There was no active resentment on either side, and once in a long
while letters were exchanged. Still, ever since her marriage,
Elizabeth had been practically an outsider and an alien. As the years
came and went the Ingelows at home remembered only at long intervals
that they had a sister on the western prairies.
One of these remembrances came to Charlotte Ingelow on a spring
afternoon when the great orchards about the Grange were pink and white
with apple and cherry blossoms, and over every hill and field was a
delicate, flower-starred green. A soft breeze was blowing loose petals
from the August Sweeting through the open door of the wide hall when
Charlotte came through it. Ellen and George were standing on the steps
"This kind of a day always makes me think of Elizabeth," said
Charlotte dreamily. "It was in apple-blossom time she went away." The
Ingelows always spoke of Elizabeth's going away, never of her
"Seventeen years ago," said Ellen. "Why, Elizabeth's oldest child must
be quite a young woman now! I—I—" a sudden idea swept over and left
her a little breathless. "I would really like to see her."
"Then why don't you write and ask her to come east and visit us?"
asked George, who did not often speak, but who always spoke to some
purpose when he did.
Ellen and Charlotte looked at each other. "I would like to see
Elizabeth's child," repeated Ellen firmly.
"Do you think she would come?" asked Charlotte. "You know when James
Sheldon died five years ago, we wrote to Elizabeth and asked her to
come home and live with us, and she seemed almost resentful in the
letter she wrote back. I've never said so before, but I've often
"Yes, she did," said Ellen, who had often thought so too, but never
"Elizabeth was always very independent," remarked George. "Perhaps she
thought your letter savoured of charity or pity. No Ingelow would
"At any rate, you know she refused to come, even for a visit. She said
she could not leave the farm. She may refuse to let her child come."
"It won't do any harm to ask her," said George.
In the end, Charlotte wrote to Elizabeth and asked her to let her
daughter visit the old homestead. The letter was written and mailed in
much perplexity and distrust when once the glow of momentary
enthusiasm in the new idea had passed.
"What if Elizabeth's child is like her father?" queried Charlotte in a
"Let us hope she won't be!" cried Ellen fervently. Indeed, she felt
that a feminine edition of James Sheldon would be more than she could
"She may not like us, or our ways," sighed Charlotte. "We don't know
how she has been brought up. She will seem like a stranger after all.
I really long to see Elizabeth's child, but I can't help fearing we
have done a rash thing, Ellen."
"Perhaps she may not come," suggested Ellen, wondering whether she
hoped it or feared it.
But Worth Sheldon did come. Elizabeth wrote back a prompt acceptance,
with no trace of the proud bitterness that had permeated her answer to
the former invitation. The Ingelows at the Grange were thrown into a
flutter when the letter came. In another week Elizabeth's child would
be with them.
"If only she isn't like her father," said Charlotte with foreboding,
as she aired and swept the southeast spare room for their expected
guest. They had three spare rooms at the Grange, but the aunts had
selected the southeast one for their niece because it was done in
white, "and white seems the most appropriate for a young girl," Ellen
said, as she arranged a pitcher of wild roses on the table.
"I think everything is ready," announced Charlotte. "I put the very
finest sheets on the bed, they smell deliciously of lavender, and we
had very good luck doing up the muslin curtains. It is pleasant to be
expecting a guest, isn't it, Ellen? I have often thought, although I
have never said so before, that our lives were too self-centred. We
seemed to have no interests outside of ourselves. Even Elizabeth has
been really nothing to us, you know. She seemed to have become a
stranger. I hope her child will be the means of bringing us nearer
"If she has James Sheldon's round face and big blue eyes and curly
yellow hair I shall never really like her, no matter how Ingelowish
she may be inside," said Ellen decidedly.
When Worth Sheldon came, each of her aunts drew a long breath of
relief. Worth was not in the least like her father in appearance.
Neither did she resemble her mother, who had been a sprightly,
black-haired and black-eyed girl. Worth was tall and straight, with a
long braid of thick, wavy brown hair, large, level-gazing grey eyes, a
square jaw, and an excellent chin with a dimple in it.
"She is the very image of Mother's sister, Aunt Alice, who died so
long ago," said Charlotte. "You don't remember her, Ellen, but I do
very well. She was the sweetest woman that ever drew breath. She was
Paul's favourite aunt, too," Charlotte added with a sigh. Paul's
antagonistic attitude was the only drawback to the joy of this
meeting. How delightful it would have been if he had not refused to be
there too, to welcome Elizabeth's child.
Worth came to hearts prepared to love her, but they must have loved
her in any case. In a day Aunt Charlotte and Aunt Ellen and shy,
quiet Uncle George had yielded wholly to her charm. She was girlishly
bright and merry, frankly delighted with the old homestead and the
quaint, old-fashioned, daintily kept rooms. Yet there was no
suggestion of gush about her; she did not go into raptures, but her
pleasure shone out in eyes and tones. There was so much to tell and
ask and remember the first day that it was not until the second
morning after her arrival that Worth asked the question her aunts had
been dreading. She asked it out in the orchard, in the emerald gloom
of a long arcade of stout old trees that Grandfather Ingelow had
planted fifty years ago.
"Aunt Charlotte, when is Uncle Paul coming up to see me? I long to see
him; Mother has talked so much to me about him. She was his favourite
sister, wasn't she?"
Charlotte and Ellen looked at each other. Ellen nodded slyly. It would
be better to tell Worth the whole truth at once. She would certainly
find it out soon.
"I do not think, my dear," said Aunt Charlotte quietly, "that your
Uncle Paul will be up to see you at all."
"Why not?" asked Worth, her serious grey eyes looking straight into
Aunt Charlotte's troubled dark ones. Aunt Charlotte understood that
Elizabeth had never told Worth anything about her family's resentment
of her marriage. It was not a pleasant thing to have to explain it all
to Elizabeth's child, but it must be done.
"I think, my dear," she said gently, "that I will have to tell you a
little bit of our family history that may not be very pleasant to hear
or tell. Perhaps you don't know that when your mother married
we—we—did not exactly approve of her marriage. Perhaps we were
mistaken; at any rate it was wrong and foolish to let it come between
us and her as we have done. But that is how it was. None of us
approved, as I have said, but none of us was so bitter as your Uncle
Paul. Your mother was his favourite sister, and he was very deeply
attached to her. She was only a year younger than he. When he bought
the Greenwood farm she went and kept house for him for three years
before her marriage. When she married, Paul was terribly angry. He was
always a strange man, very determined and unyielding. He said he would
never forgive her, and he never has. He has never married, and he has
lived so long alone at Greenwood with only deaf old Mrs. Bree to keep
house for him that he has grown odder than ever. One of us wanted to
go and keep house for him, but he would not let us. And—I must tell
you this although I hate to—he was very angry when he heard we had
invited you to visit us, and he said he would not come near the Grange
as long as you were here. Oh, you can't realize how bitter and
obstinate he is. We pleaded with him, but I think that only made him
worse. We have felt so bad over it, your Aunt Ellen and your Uncle
George and I, but we can do nothing at all."
Worth had listened gravely. The story was all new to her, but she had
long thought there must be a something at the root of her mother's
indifferent relations with her old home and friends. When Aunt
Charlotte, flushed and half-tearful, finished speaking, a little
glimmer of fun came into Worth's grey eyes, and her dimple was very
pronounced as she said,
"Then, if Uncle Paul will not come to see me, I must go to see him."
"My dear!" cried both her aunts together in dismay. Aunt Ellen got her
"Oh, my dear child, you must not think of such a thing," she cried
nervously. "It would never do. He would—I don't know what he would
do—order you off the premises, or say something dreadful. No! No!
Wait. Perhaps he will come after all—we will see. You must have
Worth shook her head and the smile in her eyes deepened.
"I don't think he will come," she said. "Mother has told me something
about the Ingelow stubbornness. She says I have it in full measure,
but I like to call it determination, it sounds so much better. No, the
mountain will not come to Mohammed, so Mohammed will go to the
mountain. I think I will walk down to Greenwood this afternoon. There,
dear aunties, don't look so troubled. Uncle Paul won't run at me with
a pitchfork, will he? He can't do worse than order me off his
premises, as you say."
Aunt Charlotte shook her head. She understood that no argument would
turn the girl from her purpose if she had the Ingelow will, so she
said nothing more. In the afternoon Worth set out for Greenwood, a
"Oh, what will Paul say?" exclaimed the aunts, with dismal
Worth met her Uncle Paul at the garden gate. He was standing there
when she came up the slope of the long lane, a tall, massive figure of
a man, with deep-set black eyes, a long, prematurely white beard, and
a hooked nose. Handsome and stubborn enough Paul Ingelow looked. It
was not without reason that his neighbours called him the oddest
Ingelow of them all.
Behind him was a fine old farmhouse in beautiful grounds. Worth felt
almost as much interested in Greenwood as in the Grange. It had been
her mother's home for three years, and Elizabeth Ingelow had loved it
and talked much to her daughter of it.
Paul Ingelow did not move or speak, although he probably guessed who
his visitor was. Worth held out her hand. "How do you do, Uncle Paul?"
Paul ignored the outstretched hand. "Who are you?" he asked gruffly.
"I am Worth Sheldon, your sister Elizabeth's daughter," she answered.
"Won't you shake hands with me, Uncle Paul?"
"I have no sister Elizabeth," he answered unbendingly.
Worth folded her hands on the gatepost and met his frowning gaze
unshrinkingly. "Oh, yes, you have," she said calmly. "You can't do
away with natural ties by simply ignoring them, Uncle Paul. They go on
existing. I never knew until this morning that you were at enmity with
my mother. She never told me. But she has talked a great deal of you
to me. She has told me often how much you and she loved each other and
how good you always were to her. She sent her love to you."
"Years ago I had a sister Elizabeth," said Paul Ingelow harshly. "I
loved her very tenderly, but she married against my will a shiftless
Worth lifted her hand slightly. "He was my father, Uncle Paul, and he
was always kind to me; whatever his faults may have been I cannot
listen to a word against him."
"You shouldn't have come here, then," he said, but he said it less
harshly. There was even a certain reluctant approval of this composed,
independent niece in his eyes. "Didn't they tell you at the Grange
that I didn't want to see you?"
"Yes, they told me this morning, but I wanted to see you, so I came.
Why cannot we be friends, Uncle Paul, not because we are uncle and
niece, but simply because you are you and I am I? Let us leave my
father and mother out of the question and start fair on our own
For a moment Uncle Paul looked at her. She met his gaze frankly and
firmly, with a merry smile lurking in her eyes. Then he threw back his
head and laughed a hearty laugh that was good to hear. "Very well," he
said. "It is a bargain."
He put his hand over the gate and shook hers. Then he opened the gate
and invited her into the house. Worth stayed to tea, and Uncle Paul
showed her all over Greenwood.
"You are to come here as often as you like," he told her. "When a
young lady and I make a compact of friendship I am going to live up to
it. But you are not to talk to me about your mother. Remember, we are
friends because I am I and you are you, and there is no question of
The Grange Ingelows were amazed to see Paul bringing Worth home in his
buggy that evening. When Worth had gone into the house Charlotte told
him that she was glad to see that he had relented towards Elizabeth's
"I have not," he made stern answer. "I don't know whom you mean by
Elizabeth's child. That young woman and I have taken a liking for each
other which we mean to cultivate on our own account. Don't call her
Elizabeth's child to me again."
As the days and weeks went by Worth grew dearer and dearer to the
Grange folk. The aunts often wondered to themselves how they had
existed before Worth came and, oftener yet, how they could do without
her when the time came for her to go home. Meanwhile, the odd
friendship between her and Uncle Paul deepened and grew. They read and
drove and walked together. Worth spent half her time at Greenwood.
Once Uncle Paul said to her, as if speaking half to himself,
"To think that James Sheldon could have a daughter like you!"
Up went Worth's head. Worth's grey eyes flashed. "I thought we were
not to speak of my parents?" she said. "You ought not to have been the
first to break the compact, Uncle Paul."
"I accept the rebuke and beg your pardon," he said. He liked her all
the better for those little flashes of spirit across her girlish
One day in September they were together in the garden at Greenwood.
Worth, looking lovingly and regretfully down the sun-flecked avenue of
box, said with a sigh, "Next month I must go home. How sorry I shall
be to leave the Grange and Greenwood. I have had such a delightful
summer, and I have learned to love all the old nooks and corners as
well as if I had lived here all my life."
"Stay here!" said Uncle Paul abruptly. "Stay here with me. I want you,
Worth. Let Greenwood be your home henceforth and adopt your crusty old
bachelor uncle for a father."
"Oh, Uncle Paul," cried Worth, "I don't know—I don't think—oh, you
"I surprise myself, perhaps. But I mean it, Worth. I am a rich, lonely
old man and I want to keep this new interest you have brought into my
life. Stay with me. I will try to give you a very happy life, my
child, and all I have shall be yours."
Seeing her troubled face, he added, "There, I don't ask you to decide
right here. I suppose you have other claims to adjust. Take time to
think it over."
"Thank you," said Worth. She went back to the Grange as one in a
dream and shut herself up in the white southeast room to think. She
knew that she wanted to accept this unexpected offer of Uncle Paul's.
Worth's loyal tongue had never betrayed, even to the loving aunts, any
discontent in the prairie farm life that had always been hers. But it
had been a hard life for the girl, narrow and poverty-bounded. She
longed to put forth her hand and take this other life which opened so
temptingly before her. She knew, too, that her mother, ambitious for
her child, would not be likely to interpose any objections. She had
only to go to Uncle Paul and all that she longed for would be given
her, together with the faithful, protecting fatherly love and care
that in all its strength and sweetness had never been hers.
She must decide for herself. Not even of Aunt Charlotte or Aunt Ellen
could she ask advice. She knew they would entreat her to accept, and
she needed no such incentive to her own wishes. Far on into the night
Worth sat at the white-curtained dormer window, looking at the stars
over the apple trees, and fighting her battle between inclination and
duty. It was a hard and stubbornly contested battle, but with that
square chin and those unfaltering grey eyes it could end in only one
way. Next day Worth went down to Greenwood.
"Well, what is it to be?" said Uncle Paul without preface, as he met
her in the garden.
"I cannot come, Uncle Paul," said Worth steadily. "I cannot give up my
"I don't ask you to give her up," he said gruffly. "You can write to
her and visit her. I don't want to come between parent and child."
"That isn't the point exactly, Uncle Paul. I hope you will not be
angry with me for not accepting your offer. I wanted to—you don't
know how much I wanted to—but I cannot. Mother and I are so much to
each other, Uncle Paul, more, I am sure, than even most mothers and
daughters. You have never let me speak of her, but I must tell you
this. Mother has often told me that when I came to her things were
going very hard with her and that I was heaven's own gift to comfort
and encourage her. Then, in the ten years that followed, the three
other babies that came to her all died before they were two years old.
And with each loss Mother said I grew dearer to her. Don't you see,
Uncle Paul, I'm not merely just one child to her but I'm all those
children? Six years ago the twins were born, and they are dear, bright
little lads, but they are very small yet, so Mother has really nobody
but me. I know she would consent to let me stay here, because she
would think it best for me, but it wouldn't be really best for me; it
couldn't be best for a girl to do what wasn't right. I love you, Uncle
Paul, and I love Greenwood, and I want to stay so much, but I cannot.
I have thought it all over and I must go back to Mother."
Uncle Paul did not say one word. He turned his back on Worth and
walked the full length of the box alley twice. Worth watched him
wistfully. Was he very angry? Would he forgive her?
"You are an Ingelow, Worth," he said when he came back. That was all,
but Worth understood that her decision was not to cause any
estrangement between them.
A month later Worth's last day at the Grange came. She was to leave
for the West the next morning. They were all out in Grandfather
Ingelow's arcade, Uncle George and Aunt Charlotte and Aunt Ellen and
Worth, enjoying the ripe mellow sunshine of the October day, when Paul
Ingelow came up the slope. Worth went to meet him with outstretched
hands. He took them both in his and looked at her very gravely.
"I have not come to say goodbye, Worth. I will not say it. You are
coming back to me."
Worth shook her brown head sadly. "Oh, I cannot, Uncle Paul. You
know—I told you—"
"Yes, I know," he interrupted. "I have been thinking it all over every
day since. You know yourself what the Ingelow determination is. It's a
good thing in a good cause but a bad thing in a bad one. And it is no
easy thing to conquer when you've let it rule you for years as I have
done. But I have conquered it, or you have conquered it for me. Child,
here is a letter. It is to your mother—my sister Elizabeth. In it I
have asked her to forgive me, and to forget our long estrangement. I
have asked her to come back to me with you and her boys. I want you
all—all—at Greenwood and I will do the best I can for you all."
"Oh, Uncle Paul," cried Worth, her face aglow and quivering with
smiles and tears and sunshine.
"Do you think she will forgive me and come?"
"I know she will," cried Worth. "I know how she has longed for you and
home. Oh, I am so happy, Uncle Paul!"
He smiled at her and put his arm over her shoulder. Together they
walked up the golden arcade to tell the others. That night Charlotte
and Ellen cried with happiness as they talked it over in the twilight.
"How beautiful!" murmured Charlotte softly. "We shall not lose Worth
after all. Ellen, I could not have borne it to see that girl go
utterly out of our lives again."
"I always hoped and believed that Elizabeth's child would somehow
bring us all together again," said Ellen happily.