The Guests of
Mrs. Timms by Sarah Orne Jewett
Mrs. Persis Flagg stood in her front doorway taking leave of Miss
Cynthia Pickett, who had been making a long call. They were not
intimate friends. Miss Pickett always came formally to the front door
and rang when she paid her visits, but, the week before, they had met
at the county conference, and happened to be sent to the same house for
entertainment, and so had deepened and renewed the pleasures of
It was an afternoon in early June; the syringa-bushes were tall and
green on each side of the stone doorsteps, and were covered with their
lovely white and golden flowers. Miss Pickett broke off the nearest
twig, and held it before her prim face as she talked. She had a pretty
childlike smile that came and went suddenly, but her face was not one
that bore the marks of many pleasures. Mrs. Flagg was a tall,
commanding sort of person, with an air of satisfaction and authority.
Oh, yes, gather all you want, she said stiffly, as Miss Pickett
took the syringa without having asked beforehand; but she had an
amiable expression, and just now her large countenance was lighted up
by pleasant anticipation.
We can tell early what sort of a day it's goin' to be, she said
eagerly. There ain't a cloud in the sky now. I'll stop for you as I
come along, or if there should be anything unforeseen to detain me,
I'll send you word. I don't expect you'd want to go if it wa'n't so
that I could?
Oh my sakes, no! answered Miss Pickett discreetly, with a timid
flush. You feel certain that Mis' Timms won't be put out? I shouldn't
feel free to go unless I went 'long o' you.
Why, nothin' could be plainer than her words, said Mrs. Flagg in a
tone of reproval. You saw how she urged me, an' had over all that talk
about how we used to see each other often when we both lived to
Longport, and told how she'd been thinkin' of writin', and askin' if it
wa'n't so I should be able to come over and stop three or four days as
soon as settled weather come, because she couldn't make no fire in her
best chamber on account of the chimbley smokin' if the wind wa'n't just
right. You see how she felt toward me, kissin' of me comin' and goin'?
Why, she even asked me who I employed to do over my bonnet, Miss
Pickett, just as interested as if she was a sister; an' she remarked
she should look for us any pleasant day after we all got home, an' were
settled after the conference.
Miss Pickett smiled, but did not speak, as if she expected more
An' she seemed just about as much gratified to meet with you again.
She seemed to desire to meet you again very particular, continued Mrs.
Flagg. She really urged us to come together an' have a real good day
talkin' over old timesthere, don't le' 's go all over it again! I've
always heard she'd made that old house of her aunt Bascoms' where she
lives look real handsome. I once heard her best parlor carpet described
as being an elegant carpet, different from any there was round here.
Why, nobody couldn't be more cordial, Miss Pickett; you ain't goin' to
give out just at the last?
Oh, no! answered the visitor hastily; no, 'm! I want to go full
as much as you do, Mis' Flagg, but you see I never was so well
acquainted with Mis' Cap'n Timms, an' I always seem to dread putting
myself for'ard. She certain was very urgent, an' she said plain enough
to come any day next week, an' here 'tis Wednesday, though of course
she wouldn't look for us either Monday or Tuesday. 'T will be a real
pleasant occasion, an' now we've been to the conference it don't seem
near so much effort to start.
Why, I don't think nothin' of it, said Mrs. Flagg proudly. We
shall have a grand good time, goin' together an' all, I feel sure.
Miss Pickett still played with her syringa flower, tapping her thin
cheek, and twirling the stem with her fingers. She looked as if she
were going to say something more, but after a moment's hesitation she
Good-afternoon, Mis' Flagg, she said formally, looking up with a
quick little smile; I enjoyed my call; I hope I ain't kep' you too
late; I don't know but what it's 'most tea-tune. Well, I shall look for
you in the mornin'.
Good-afternoon, Miss Pickett; I'm glad I was in when you came. Call
again, won't you? said Mrs. Flagg. Yes; you may expect me in good
season, and so they parted. Miss Pickett went out at the neat clicking
gate in the white fence, and Mrs. Flagg a moment later looked out of
her sitting-room window to see if the gate were latched, and felt the
least bit disappointed to find that it was. She sometimes went out
after the departure of a guest, and fastened the gate herself with a
loud, rebuking sound. Both of these Woodville women lived alone, and
were very precise in their way of doing things.
The next morning dawned clear and bright, and Miss Pickett rose even
earlier than usual. She found it most difficult to decide which of her
dresses would be best to wear. Summer was still so young that the day
had all the freshness of spring, but when the two friends walked away
together along the shady street, with a chorus of golden robins singing
high overhead in the elms, Miss Pickett decided that she had made a
wise choice of her second-best black silk gown, which she had just
turned again and freshened. It was neither too warm for the season nor
too cool, nor did it look overdressed. She wore her large cameo pin,
and this, with a long watch-chain, gave an air of proper mural
decoration. She was a straight, flat little person, as if, when not in
use, she kept herself, silk dress and all, between the leaves of a
book. She carried a noticeable parasol with a fringe, and a small
shawl, with a pretty border, neatly folded over her left arm. Mrs.
Flagg always dressed in black cashmere, and looked, to hasty observers,
much the same one day as another; but her companion recognized the fact
that this was the best black cashmere of all, and for a moment quailed
at the thought that Mrs. Flagg was paying such extreme deference to
their prospective hostess. The visit turned for a moment into an
unexpectedly solemn formality, and pleasure seemed to wane before
Cynthia Pickett's eyes, yet with great courage she never slackened a
single step. Mrs. Flagg carried a somewhat worn black leather hand-bag,
which Miss Pickett regretted; it did not give the visit that casual and
unpremeditated air which she felt to be more elegant.
Sha'n't I carry your bag for you? she asked timidly. Mrs. Flagg
was the older and more important person.
Oh, dear me, no, answered Mrs. Flagg. My pocket's so remote, in
case I should desire to sneeze or anything, that I thought 't would be
convenient for carrying my handkerchief and pocket-book; an' then I
just tucked in a couple o' glasses o' my crab-apple jelly for Mis'
Timms. She used to be a great hand for preserves of every sort, an' I
thought 't would be a kind of an attention, an' give rise to
conversation. I know she used to make excellent drop-cakes when we was
both residin' to Longport; folks used to say she never would give the
right receipt, but if I get a real good chance, I mean to ask her. Or
why can't you, if I start talkin' about receiptswhy can't you say,
sort of innocent, that I have always spoken frequently of her
drop-cakes, an' ask for the rule? She would be very sensible to the
compliment, and could pass it off if she didn't feel to indulge us.
There, I do so wish you would!
Yes, 'm, said Miss Pickett doubtfully; I'll try to make the
opportunity. I'm very partial to drop-cakes. Was they flour or rye,
They was flour, dear, replied Mrs. Flagg approvingly; crisp an'
light as any you ever see.
I wish I had thought to carry somethin' to make it pleasant, said
Miss Pickett, after they had walked a little farther; but there, I
don't know's 't would look just right, this first visit, to offer
anything to such a person as Mis' Timms. In case I ever go over to
Baxter again I won't forget to make her some little present, as nice as
I've got. 'T was certain very polite of her to urge me to come with
you. I did feel very doubtful at first. I didn't know but she thought
it behooved her, because I was in your company at the conference, and
she wanted to save my feelin's, and yet expected I would decline. I
never was well acquainted with her; our folks wasn't well off when I
first knew her; 't was before uncle Cap'n Dyer passed away an'
remembered mother an' me in his will. We couldn't make no han'some
companies in them days, so we didn't go to none, an' kep' to ourselves;
but in my grandmother's time, mother always said, the families was very
friendly. I shouldn't feel like goin' over to pass the day with Mis'
Timms if I didn't mean to ask her to return the visit. Some don't think
o' these things, but mother was very set about not bein' done for when
she couldn't make no return.
'When it rains porridge hold up your dish,' said Mrs. Flagg; but
Miss Pickett made no response beyond a feeble Yes, 'm, which somehow
got caught in her pale-green bonnet-strings.
There, 't ain't no use to fuss too much over all them things,
proclaimed Mrs. Flagg, walking along at a good pace with a fine sway of
her skirts, and carrying her head high. Folks walks right by an'
forgits all about you; folks can't always be going through with just so
much. You'd had a good deal better time, you an' your ma, if you'd been
freer in your ways; now don't you s'pose you would? 'T ain't what you
give folks to eat so much as 't is makin' 'em feel welcome. Now,
there's Mis' Timms; when we was to Longport she was dreadful
methodical. She wouldn't let Cap'n Timms fetch nobody home to dinner
without lettin' of her know, same's other cap'ns' wives had to submit
to. I was thinkin', when she was so cordial over to Danby, how she'd
softened with time. Years do learn folks somethin'! She did seem very
pleasant an' desirous. There, I am so glad we got started; if she'd
gone an' got up a real good dinner to-day, an' then not had us come
till to-morrow, 't would have been real too bad. Where anybody lives
alone such a thing is very tryin'.
Oh, so 't is! said Miss Pickett. There, I'd like to tell you what
I went through with year before last. They come an' asked me one
Saturday night to entertain the minister, that time we was having
I guess we'd better step along faster, said Mrs. Flagg suddenly.
Why, Miss Pickett, there's the stage comin' now! It's dreadful prompt,
seems to me. Quick! there's folks awaitin', an' I sha'n't get to Baxter
in no state to visit Mis' Cap'n Timms if I have to ride all the way
The stage was not full inside. The group before the store proved to
be made up of spectators, except one man, who climbed at once to a
vacant seat by the driver. Inside there was only one person, after two
passengers got out, and she preferred to sit with her back to the
horses, so that Mrs. Flagg and Miss Pickett settled themselves
comfortably in the coveted corners of the back seat. At first they took
no notice of their companion, and spoke to each other in low tones, but
presently something attracted the attention of all three and engaged
them in conversation.
I never was over this road before, said the stranger. I s'pose
you ladies are well acquainted all along.
We have often traveled it in past years. We was over this part of
it last week goin' and comin' from the county conference, said Mrs.
Flagg in a dignified manner.
What persuasion? inquired the fellow-traveler, with interest.
Orthodox, said Miss Pickett quickly, before Mrs. Flagg could
speak. It was a very interestin' occasion; this other lady an' me
stayed through all the meetin's.
I ain't Orthodox, announced the stranger, waiving any interest in
personalities. I was brought up amongst the Freewill Baptists.
We're well acquainted with several of that denomination in our
place, said Mrs. Flagg, not without an air of patronage.
They've never built 'em no church; there ain't but a scattered
They prevail where I come from, said the traveler. I'm goin' now
to visit with a Freewill lady. We was to a conference together once,
same's you an' your friend, but 't was a state conference. She asked me
to come some time an' make her a good visit, and I'm on my way now. I
didn't seem to have nothin' to keep me to home.
We're all goin' visitin' to-day, ain't we? said Mrs. Flagg
sociably; but no one carried on the conversation.
The day was growing very warm; there was dust in the sandy road, but
the fields of grass and young growing crops looked fresh and fair.
There was a light haze over the hills, and birds were thick in the air.
When the stage-horses stopped to walk, you could hear the crows caw,
and the bobolinks singing, in the meadows. All the farmers were busy in
It don't seem but little ways to Baxter, does it? said Miss
Pickett, after a while. I felt we should pass a good deal o' time on
the road, but we must be pretty near half-way there a'ready.
Why, more'n half! exclaimed Mrs. Flagg. Yes; there's Beckett's
Corner right ahead, an the old Beckett house. I haven't been on this
part of the road for so long that I feel kind of strange. I used to
visit over here when I was a girl. There's a nephew's widow owns the
place now. Old Miss Susan Beckett willed it to him, an' he died; but
she resides there an' carries on the farm, an unusual smart woman,
everybody says. Ain't it pleasant here, right out among the farms!
Mis' Beckett's place, did you observe? said the stranger, leaning
forward to listen to what her companions said. I expect that's where
I'm goin' Mis' Ezra Beckett's?
That's the one, said Miss Pickett and Mrs. Flagg together, and
they both looked out eagerly as the coach drew up to the front door of
a large old yellow house that stood close upon the green turf of the
The passenger looked pleased and eager, and made haste to leave the
stage with her many bundles and bags. While she stood impatiently
tapping at the brass knocker, the stage-driver landed a large trunk,
and dragged it toward the door across the grass. Just then a
busy-looking middle-aged woman made her appearance, with floury hands
and a look as if she were prepared to be somewhat on the defensive.
Why, how do you do, Mis' Beckett? exclaimed the guest. Well, here
I be at last. I didn't know's you thought I was ever comin'. Why, I do
declare, I believe you don't recognize me, Mis' Beckett.
I believe I don't, said the self-possessed hostess. Ain't you
made some mistake, ma'am?
Why, don't you recollect we was together that time to the state
conference, an' you said you should be pleased to have me come an' make
you a visit some time, an' I said I would certain. There, I expect I
look more natural to you now.
Mrs. Beckett appeared to be making the best possible effort, and
gave a bewildered glance, first at her unexpected visitor, and then at
the trunk. The stage-driver, who watched this encounter with evident
delight, turned away with reluctance. I can't wait all day to see how
they settle it, he said, and mounted briskly to the box, and the stage
He might have waited just a minute to see, said Miss Pickett
indignantly, but Mrs. Flagg's head and shoulders were already far out
of the stage windowthe house was on her side. She ain't got in yet,
she told Miss Pickett triumphantly. I could see 'em quite a spell.
With that trunk, too! I do declare, how inconsiderate some folks is!
'T was pushin' an acquaintance most too far, wa'n't it? agreed
Miss Pickett. There, 't will be somethin' laughable to tell Mis'
Timms. I never see anything more divertin'. I shall kind of pity that
woman if we have to stop an' git her as we go back this afternoon.
Oh, don't let's forgit to watch for her, exclaimed Mrs. Flagg,
beginning to brush off the dust of travel. There, I feel an excellent
appetite, don't you? And we ain't got more 'n three or four miles to
go, if we have that. I wonder what Mis' Timms is likely to give us for
dinner; she spoke of makin' a good many chicken-pies, an' I happened to
remark how partial I was to 'em. She felt above most of the things we
had provided for us over to the conference. I know she was always
counted the best o' cooks when I knew her so well to Longport. Now,
don't you forget, if there's a suitable opportunity, to inquire about
the drop-cakes; and Miss Pickett, a little less doubtful than before,
renewed her promise.
My gracious, won't Mis' Timms be pleased to see us! It 's just
exactly the day to have company. And ain't Baxter a sweet pretty
place? said Mrs. Flagg, as they walked up the main street. Cynthy
Pickett, now ain't you proper glad you come? I felt sort o' calm about
it part o' the time yesterday, but I ain't felt so like a girl for a
good while. I do believe I'm goin' to have a splendid time.
Miss Pickett glowed with equal pleasure as she paced along. She was
less expansive and enthusiastic than her companion, but now that they
were fairly in Baxter, she lent herself generously to the occasion. The
social distinction of going away to spend a day in company with Mrs.
Flagg was by no means small. She arranged the folds of her shawl more
carefully over her arm so as to show the pretty palm-leaf border, and
then looked up with great approval to the row of great maples that
shaded the broad sidewalk. I wonder if we can't contrive to make time
to go an' see old Miss Nancy Fell? she ventured to ask Mrs. Flagg.
There ain't a great deal o' time before the stage goes at four
o'clock; 't will pass quickly, but I should hate to have her feel hurt.
If she was one we had visited often at home, I shouldn't care so much,
but such folks feel any little slight. She was a member of our church;
I think a good deal of that.
Well, I hardly know what to say, faltered Mrs. Flagg coldly. We
might just look in a minute; I shouldn't want her to feel hurt.
She was one that always did her part, too, said Miss Pickett, more
boldly. Mr. Cronin used to say that she was more generous with her
little than many was with their much. If she hadn't lived in a poor
part of the town, and so been occupied with a different kind of people
from us, 't would have made a difference. They say she's got a
comfortable little home over here, an' keeps house for a nephew. You
know she was to our meeting one Sunday last winter, and 'peared
dreadful glad to get back; folks seemed glad to see her, too. I don't
know as you were out.
She always wore a friendly look, said Mrs. Flagg indulgently.
There, now, there's Mis' Timms's residence; it's handsome, ain't it,
with them big spruce-trees. I expect she may be at the window now, an
see us as we come along. Is my bonnet on straight, an' everything? The
blinds looks open in the room this way; I guess she's to home fast
The friends quickened their steps, and with shining eyes and beating
hearts hastened forward. The slightest mists of uncertainty were now
cleared away; they gazed at the house with deepest pleasure; the visit
was about to begin.
They opened the front gate and went up the short walk, noticing the
pretty herring-bone pattern of the bricks, and as they stood on the
high steps Cynthia Pickett wondered whether she ought not to have worn
her best dress, even though there was lace at the neck and sleeves, and
she usually kept it for the most formal of tea-parties and exceptional
parish festivals. In her heart she commended Mrs. Flagg for that
familiarity with the ways of a wider social world which had led her to
wear the very best among her black cashmeres.
She's a good while coming to the door, whispered Mrs. Flagg
presently. Either she didn't see us, or else she's slipped upstairs to
make some change, an' is just goin' to let us ring again. I've done it
myself sometimes. I'm glad we come right over after her urgin' us so;
it seems more cordial than to keep her expectin' us. I expect she'll
urge us terribly to remain with her over-night.
Oh, I ain't prepared, began Miss Pickett, but she looked pleased.
At that moment there was a slow withdrawal of the bolt inside, and a
key was turned, the front door opened, and Mrs. Timms stood before them
with a smile. Nobody stopped to think at that moment what kind of smile
Why, if it ain't Mis' Flagg, she exclaimed politely, an' Miss
Pickett too! I am surprised!
The front entry behind her looked well furnished, but not exactly
hospitable; the stairs with their brass rods looked so clean and bright
that it did not seem as if anybody had ever gone up or come down. A cat
came purring out, but Mrs. Timms pushed her back with a determined
foot, and hastily closed the sitting-room door. Then Miss Pickett let
Mrs. Flagg precede her, as was becoming, and they went into a darkened
parlor, and found their way to some chairs, and seated themselves
'Tis a beautiful day, ain't it? said Mrs. Flagg, speaking first.
I don't know's I ever enjoyed the ride more. We've been having a good
deal of rain since we saw you at the conference, and the country looks
Did you leave Woodville this morning? I thought I hadn't heard you
was in town, replied Mrs. Timms formally. She was seated just a little
too far away to make things seem exactly pleasant. The darkness of the
best room seemed to retreat somewhat, and Miss Pickett looked over by
the door, where there was a pale gleam from the side-lights in the
hall, to try to see the pattern of the carpet; but her effort failed.
Yes, 'm, replied Mrs. Flagg to the question. We left Woodville
about half past eight, but it is quite a ways from where we live to
where you take the stage. The stage does come slow, but you don't seem
to mind it such a beautiful day.
Why, you must have come right to see me first! said Mrs. Timms,
warming a little as the visit went on. I hope you're going to make
some stop in town. I'm sure it was very polite of you to come right an'
see me; well, it's very pleasant, I declare. I wish you'd been in
Baxter last Sabbath; our minister did give us an elegant sermon on
faith an' works. He spoke of the conference, and gave his views on some
o' the questions that came up, at Friday evenin' meetin'; but I felt
tired after getting home, an' so I wasn't out. We feel very much
favored to have such a man amon'st us. He's building up the parish very
considerable. I understand the pew-rents come to thirty-six dollars
more this quarter than they did last.
We also feel grateful in Woodville for our pastor's efforts, said
Miss Pickett; but Mrs. Timms turned her head away sharply, as if the
speech had been untimely, and trembling Miss Pickett had interrupted.
They're thinking here of raisin' Mr. Barlow's salary another year,
the hostess added; a good many of the old parishioners have died off,
but every one feels to do what they can. Is there much interest among
the young people in Woodville, Mis' Flagg?
Considerable at this time, ma'am, answered Mrs. Flagg, without
enthusiasm, and she listened with unusual silence to the subsequent
fluent remarks of Mrs. Timms.
The parlor seemed to be undergoing the slow processes of a winter
dawn. After a while the three women could begin to see one another's
faces, which aided them somewhat in carrying on a serious and
impersonal conversation. There were a good many subjects to be touched
upon, and Mrs. Timms said everything that she should have said, except
to invite her visitors to walk upstairs and take off their bonnets.
Mrs. Flagg sat her parlor-chair as if it were a throne, and carried her
banner of self-possession as high as she knew how, but toward the end
of the call even she began to feel hurried.
Won't you ladies take a glass of wine an' a piece of cake after
your ride? inquired Mrs. Timms, with an air of hospitality that almost
concealed the fact that neither cake nor wine was anywhere to be seen;
but the ladies bowed and declined with particular elegance. Altogether
it was a visit of extreme propriety on both sides, and Mrs. Timms was
very pressing in her invitation that her guests should stay longer.
Thank you, but we ought to be going, answered Mrs. Flagg, with a
little show of ostentation, and looking over her shoulder to be sure
that Miss Pickett had risen too. We've got some little ways to go,
she added with dignity. We should be pleased to have you call an' see
us in case you have occasion to come to Woodville, and Miss Pickett
faintly seconded the invitation. It was in her heart to add, Come any
day next week, but her courage did not rise so high as to make the
words audible. She looked as if she were ready to cry; her usual smile
had burnt itself out into gray ashes; there was a white, appealing look
about her mouth. As they emerged from the dim parlor and stood at the
open front door, the bright June day, the golden-green trees, almost
blinded their eyes. Mrs. Timms was more smiling and cordial than ever.
There, I ought to have thought to offer you fans; I am afraid you
was warm after walking, she exclaimed, as if to leave no stone of
courtesy unturned. I have so enjoyed meeting you again, I wish it was
so you could stop longer. Why, Mis' Flagg, we haven't said one word
about old times when we lived to Longport. I've had news from there,
too, since I saw you; my brother's daughter-in-law was here to pass the
Sabbath after I returned.
Mrs. Flagg did not turn back to ask any questions as she stepped
stiffly away down the brick walk. Miss Pickett followed her, raising
the fringed parasol; they both made ceremonious little bows as they
shut the high white gate behind them. Good-by, said Mrs. Timms
finally, as she stood in the door with her set smile; and as they
departed she came out and began to fasten up a rose-bush that climbed a
narrow white ladder by the steps.
Oh, my goodness alive! exclaimed Mrs. Flagg, after they had gone
some distance in aggrieved silence, if I haven't gone and forgotten my
bag! I ain't goin' back, whatever happens. I expect she'll trip over it
in that dark room and break her neck!
I brought it; I noticed you'd forgotten it, said Miss Pickett
timidly, as if she hated to deprive her companion of even that slight
There, I'll tell you what we'd better do, said Mrs. Flagg
gallantly; we'll go right over an' see poor old Miss Nancy Fell; 't
will please her about to death. We can say we felt like goin' somewhere
to-day, an' 't was a good many years since either one of us had seen
Baxter, so we come just for the ride, an' to make a few calls. She'll
like to hear all about the conference; Miss Fell was always one that
took a real interest in religious matters.
Miss Pickett brightened, and they quickened their step. It was
nearly twelve o'clock, they had breakfasted early, and now felt as if
they had eaten nothing since they were grown up. An awful feeling of
tiredness and uncertainty settled down upon their once buoyant spirits.
I can forgive a person, said Mrs. Flagg, once, as if she were
speaking to herself; I can forgive a person, but when I'm done with
'em, I'm done.
I do declare, 't was like a scene in Scriptur' to see that poor
good-hearted Nancy Fell run down her walk to open the gate for us!
said Mrs. Persis Flagg later that afternoon, when she and Miss Pickett
were going home in the stage. Miss Pickett nodded her head approvingly.
I had a good sight better time with her than I should have had at
the other place, she said with fearless honesty. If I'd been Mis'
Cap'n Timms, I'd made some apology or just passed us the compliment. If
it wa'n't convenient, why couldn't she just tell us so after all her
urgin' and say in' how she should expect us?
I thought then she'd altered from what she used to be, said Mrs.
Flagg. She seemed real sincere an' open away from home. If she wa'n't
prepared to-day, 't was easy enough to say so; we was reasonable folks,
an' should have gone away with none but friendly feelin's. We did have
a grand good time with Nancy. She was as happy to see us as if we'd
'T was a real nice little dinner, said Miss Pickett gratefully. I
thought I was goin' to faint away just before we got to the house, and
I didn't know how I should hold out if she undertook to do anything
extra, and keep us a-waitin'; but there, she just made us welcome,
simple-hearted, to what she had. I never tasted such dandelion greens;
an' that nice little piece o' pork and new biscuit, why, they was just
splendid. She must have an excellent good cellar, if 't is such a small
house. Her potatoes was truly remarkable for this time o' year. I
myself don't deem it necessary to cook potatoes when I'm goin' to have
dandelion greens. Now, didn't it put you in mind of that verse in the
Bible that says, 'Better is a dinner of herbs where love is'? An' how
desirous she'd been to see somebody that could tell her some
particulars about the conference!
She'll enjoy tellin' folks about our comin' over to see her. Yes,
I'm glad we went; 't will be of advantage every way, an' our bein' of
the same church an' all, to Woodville. If Mis' Timms hears of our bein'
there, she'll see we had reason, an' knew of a place to go. Well, I
needn't have brought this old bag!
Miss Pickett gave her companion a quick resentful glance, which was
followed by one of triumph directed at the dust that was collecting on
the shoulders of the best black cashmere; then she looked at the bag on
the front seat, and suddenly felt illuminated with the suspicion that
Mrs. Flagg had secretly made preparations to pass the night in Baxter.
The bag looked plump, as if it held much more than the pocket-book and
Mrs. Flagg looked up with unusual humility. I did think about that
jelly, she said, as if Miss Pickett had openly reproached her. I was
afraid it might look as if I was tryin' to pay Nancy for her kindness.
Well, I don't know, said Cynthia; I guess she'd been pleased.
She'd thought you just brought her over a little present: but I do'
know as 't would been any good to her after all; she'd thought so much
of it, comin' from you, that she'd kep' it till 't was all candied.
But Mrs. Flagg didn't look exactly pleased by this unexpected
compliment, and her fellow-traveler colored with confusion and a sudden
feeling that she had shown undue forwardness.
Presently they remembered the Beckett house, to their great relief,
and, as they approached, Mrs. Flagg reached over and moved her hand-bag
from the front seat to make room for another passenger. But nobody came
out to stop the stage, and they saw the unexpected guest sitting by one
of the front windows comfortably swaying a palm-leaf fan, and rocking
to and fro in calm content. They shrank back into their corners, and
tried not to be seen. Mrs. Flagg's face grew very red.
She got in, didn't she? said Miss Pickett, snipping her words
angrily, as if her lips were scissors. Then she heard a call, and bent
forward to see Mrs. Beckett herself appear in the front doorway, very
smiling and eager to stop the stage.
The driver was only too ready to stop his horses. Got a passenger
for me to carry back, ain't ye? said he facetiously. Them 's the kind
I like; carry both ways, make somethin' on a double trip, and he gave
Mrs. Flagg and Miss Pickett a friendly wink as he stepped down over the
wheel. Then he hurried toward the house, evidently in a hurry to put
the baggage on; but the expected passenger still sat rocking and
fanning at the window.
No, sir; I ain't got any passengers, exclaimed Mrs. Beckett,
advancing a step or two to meet him, and speaking very loud in her
pleasant excitement. This lady that come this morning wants her large
trunk with her summer things that she left to the depot in Woodville.
She's very desirous to git into it, so don't you go an' forgit; ain't
you got a book or somethin', Mr. Ma'sh? Don't you forgit to make a note
of it; here's her check, an' we've kep' the number in case you should
mislay it or anything. There's things in the trunk she needs; you know
how you overlooked stoppin' to the milliner's for my bunnit last week.
Other folks disremembers things as well's me, grumbled Mr. Marsh.
He turned to give the passengers another wink more familiar than the
first, but they wore an offended air, and were looking the other way.
The horses had backed a few steps, and the guest at the front window
had ceased the steady motion of her fan to make them a handsome bow,
and been puzzled at the lofty manner of their acknowledgment.
Go 'long with your foolish jokes, John Ma'sh! Mrs. Beckett said
cheerfully, as she turned away. She was a comfortable, hearty person,
whose appearance adjusted the beauties of hospitality. The driver
climbed to his seat, chuckling, and drove away with the dust flying
after the wheels.
Now, she's a friendly sort of a woman, that Mis' Beckett, said
Mrs. Flagg unexpectedly, after a few moments of silence, when she and
her friend had been unable to look at each other. I really ought to
call over an' see her some o' these days, knowing her husband's folks
as well as I used to, an' visitin' of 'em when I was a girl. But Miss
Pickett made no answer.
I expect it was all for the best, that woman's comin', suggested
Mrs. Flagg again hopefully. She looked like a willing person who would
take right hold. I guess Mis' Beckett knows what she's about, and must
have had her reasons. Perhaps she thought she'd chance it for a couple
o' weeks anyway, after the lady'd come so fur, an' bein' one o' her own
denomination. Hayin'-time'll be here before we know it. I think myself,
gen'rally speakin', 't is just as well to let anybody know you're
Them seemed to be Mis' Cap'n Timms's views, said Miss Pickett in a
low tone; but the stage rattled a good deal, and Mrs. Flagg looked up
inquiringly, as if she had not heard.