At Sudleigh Fair
by Alice Brown
Tale of New England Life
Delilah Joyce was sitting on her front doorstone with a fine
disregard of the fact that her little clock had struck eight of the
morning, while her bed was still unmade. The Tiverton folk who
disapproved of her shiftlessness in letting the golden hours, run thus
to waste, did grudgingly commend her for airing well. Her bed might not
even be spread up till sundown, but the sheets were always hanging from
her little side window, in fine weather, flapping dazzlingly in the
sun; and sometimes her feather-bed lay, the whole day long, on the
green slope outside, called by Dilly her “spring,” only because the
snow melted first there on the freedom days of the year. The new editor
of the Sudleigh “Star,” seeing her slight, wiry figure struggling with
the bed like a very little ant under a caterpillar all too large, was
once on the point of drawing up his horse at her gate. He was a
chivalrous fellow, and he wanted to help; but Brad Freeman, hulking by
with his gun at the moment, stopped him.
“That's only Dilly wrastlin' with, her bed,” he called back, in the
act of stepping over the wall into the meadow. “'Twon't do no good to
take holt once, unless you're round here every mornin' 'bout the same
time. Dilly'll git the better on't. She al'ays does.” So the editor
laughed, put down another Tiverton custom in his mental notebook, and
Dilly was a very little woman, with abnormally long and sinewy arms.
Her small, rather delicate face had a healthy coat of tan, and her
iron-gray hair was braided with scrupulous care. She resembled her own
house to a striking degree; she was fastidiously neat, but not in the
least orderly. The Tiverton housekeepers could not appreciate this
attitude in reference to the conventional world. It was all very well
to keep the kitchen floor scrubbed, but they did believe, also, in
seeing the table properly set, and in finishing the washing by eight
o'clock on Monday morning. Now Dilly seldom felt inclined to set any
table at all. She was far more likely to take her bread and milk under
a tree; and as for washing, Thursday was as good a day as any, she was
wont to declare. Moreover, the tradition of hanging garments on the
line according to a severely classified system, did not in the least
appeal to her.
“I guess a petticoat'll dry jest as quick if it's hung 'side of a
nightgown,” she told her critics, drily. “An' when you come to hangin'
stockin's by the pair, better separate 'em, I say! Like man an' wife!
Give 'em a vacation, once in a while, an' love'll live the longer!”
Dilly was thinking, this morning, of all the possibilities of the
lovely, shining day. So many delights lay open to her! She could take
her luncheon in her pocket, and go threading through the woods behind
her house. She could walk over to Pine Hollow, to see how the cones
were coming on, and perchance scrape together a basket of pine needles,
to add to her winter's kindling; or she might, if the world and the
desires thereof assailed her, visit Sudleigh Fair. Better still, she
need account to nobody if she chose to sit there on the doorstone, and
let the hours go unregretted by. Presently, her happy musing was broken
by a ripple from the outer world. A girl came briskly round the corner
where the stone-wall lay hidden under a wilderness of cinnamon
rosebushes and blackberry vines,—Rosa Tolman, dressed in white
pique, with a great leghorn hat over her curls. The girl came
hurrying up the path, with a rustle of starched petticoats, and still
Dilly kept her trance-like posture.
“I know who 'tis!” she announced, presently, in a declamatory voice.
“It's Rosy Tolman, an' she's dressed in white, with red roses, all
complete, an' she's goin' to Sudleigh Cattle-Show.”
Rosa lost a shade of pink from her cheeks. Her round blue eyes
widened, in an unmistakable terror quite piteous to see.
“O Dilly!” she quavered, “how do you know such things? Why, you
'ain't looked at me!”
Dilly opened her eyes, and chuckled in keen enjoyment.
“Bless ye!” she said, “I can't help imposin' on ye, no more 'n a cat
could help ketchin' a mouse, if't made a nest down her throat. Why, I
see ye comin' round the corner! But when folks thinks you're a witch,
it ain't in human natur' not to fool 'em. I am a witch, ain't I,
dear? Now, ain't I?”
Rosa's color had faltered back, but she still stood visibly in awe
of her old neighbor.
“Well,” she owned, “Elvin Drew says you can see in the dark, but I
don't know's he means anything by it.”
Again Dilly broke into laughter, rocking back and forth, in happy
“I can!” she cried, gleefully. “You tell him I can! An' when I
can't, folks are so neighborly they strike a light for me to see by.
You tell him! Well, now, what is it? You've come to ask suthin'. Out
“Father told me to come over, and see if you can't tell something
about our cows. They're all drying up, and he don't see any reason
Dilly nodded her head sagely.
“You'd better ha' come sooner,” she announced. “You tell him he must
drive 'em to pastur' himself, an' go arter 'em, too.”
“An' you tell him to give Davie a Saturday, here an' there, to go
fishin' in, an' not let him do so many chores. Now, you hear! Your
father must drive the cows, an' he must give Davie time to play a
little, or there'll be dark days comin', an' he won't be prepared for
“My!” exclaimed Rosa, blankly. “My! Ain't it queer! It kind o'
scares me. But, Dilly,”—she turned about, so that only one flushed
cheek remained visible,—“Dilly, 'ain't you got something to say to me?
We're going to be married next Tuesday, Elvin and me. It's all right,
Dilly bent forward, and peered masterfully into her face. She took
the girl's plump pink handy and drew her forward. Rosa, as if compelled
by some unseen force, turned about, and allowed her frightened gaze to
lie ensnared by the witch's great black eyes. Dilly began, in a deep
intense voice, with the rhythm of the Methodist exhorter, though on a
“Two years, that boy's been arter you. Two years, you trampled on
him as if he'd been the dust under your feet. He was poor an'
strugglin'. He was left with his mother to take care on, an' a mortgage
to work off. An' then his house burnt down, an' he got his insurance
money; an' that minute, you turned right round an' says, 'I'll have
you.' An' now, you say, 'Is it all right?' Is it right, Rosy
Tolman? You tell me!”
Rosa was sobbing hysterically.
“Oh, I wish you wouldn't scare me so!” she exclaimed, yet not for a
moment attempting to withdraw her hand, or turn aside her terrified
gaze. “I wish I never'd said one word!”
Dilly broke the spell as lightly as she had woven it. A smile passed
over her face, like a charm, dispelling all its prophetic fervor.
“There! there!” she said, dropping the girl's hand. “I thought I'd
scare ye! What's the use o' bein' a witch, if ye can't upset folks? Now
don't cry, an' git your cheeks all blotched up afore Elvin calls to
fetch ye, with that hired horse, an' take ye to the Cattle-Show! But
don't ye forgit what I say! You remember we ain't goin' to wait for the
Day o' Judgment, none on us. It comes every hour. If Gabriel was
tootin', should you turn fust to Elvin Drew, an' go up or down with
him, wherever he was 'lected? That's what you've got to think on; not
your new hat nor your white pique. (Didn't iron it under the
overskirt, did ye? How'd I know? Law! how's a witch know anything?)
Now, you 'ain't opened your bundle, dear, have ye? Raisin-cake in it,
Rosa bent suddenly forward, and placed the package in Dilly's lap.
In spite of the bright daylight all about her, she was frightened; if a
cloud had swept over, she must have screamed.
“I don't know how you found it out,” she whispered, “but 'tis
raisin-cake. Mother sent it. She knew I was going to ask you about the
cows. She said I was to tell you, too, there's some sickness over to
Sudleigh, and she thought you could go over there nussing, if you
“I 'ain't got time,” said Dilly, placidly. “I give up nussin', two
year ago. I 'ain't got any time at all! Well, here they come, don't
they? One for me, an' one for you!”
A light wagon, driven rapidly round the corner, drew up at the gate.
Elvin Drew jumped down, and helped out his companion, a short, rather
thickset girl, with smooth, dark hair, honest eyes, and a sensitive
mouth. She came quickly up the path, after an embarrassed word of
thanks to the young man.
“He took me in,” she began, almost apologetically to Rosa, who
surveyed her with some haughtiness. “I was comin' up here to see Dilly,
an' he offered me a ride.”
Rosa's color and spirits had returned, at the sight of her tangible
ally at the gate.
“Well, I guess I must be going,” she said, airily. “Elvin won't want
to wait. Good-by, Dilly! I'll tell father. Good-by, Molly Drew!”
But Dilly followed her down to the road, where Elvin stood waiting
with the reins in his hands. He was a very blond young man, with curly
hair, and eyes honest in contour and clear of glance. Perhaps his
coloring impressed one with the fact that he should have looked very
young; but his face shrunk now behind a subtile veil of keen anxiety,
of irritated emotion, which were evidently quite foreign to him. Even a
stranger, looking at him, could hardly help suspecting an alien trouble
grafted upon a healthy stem. He gave Dilly a pleasant little nod, in
the act of turning eagerly to help Rosa into the wagon. But when he
would have followed her, Dilly laid a light but imperative hand on his
“Don't you want your fortune told?” she asked, meaningly. “Here's
the witch all ready. Ain't it well for me I wa'n't born a hunderd year
ago? Shouldn't I ha' sizzled well? An' now, all there is to burn me is
God A'mighty's sunshine!”
Elvin laughed lightly.
“I guess I don't need any fortune,” he said. “Mine looks pretty fair
now. I don't feel as if anybody'd better meddle with it.” But he had
not withdrawn his arm, and his gaze still dwelt on hers.
“You know suthin' you don't mean to tell,” said Dilly, speaking so
rapidly that although Rosa bent forward to listen, she caught only a
word, here and there. “You think you won't have to tell, but you will.
God A'mighty'll make you. You'll be a stranger among your own folks,
an' a wanderer on the earth; till you tell. There! go along! Go an' see
the punkins an' crazy-quilts!”
She withdrew her hand, and turned away. Elvin, his face suddenly
blanched, looked after her, fascinated, while she went quickly up the
garden walk. An impatient word from Rosa recalled him to himself, and
he got heavily into the wagon and drove on again.
When Dilly reached the steps where her new guest had seated herself,
her manner had quite changed. It breathed an open frankness, a sweet
and homely warmth which were very engaging. Molly spoke first.
“How pleased he is with her!” she said, dreamily.
“Yes,” answered Dilly, “but to-day ain't tomorrer. They're both
light-complected. It's jest like patchwork. Put light an' dark
together, I say, or you won't git no figger. Here, le's have a mite o'
cake! Mis' Tolman's a proper good cook, if her childern have all
turned out ducks, an' took to the water. Every one on 'em's took back
as much as three generations for their noses an' tempers. Strange they
had to go so fur!”
She broke the rich brown loaf in the middle, and divided a piece
with Molly. Such were the habits calculated to irritate the
conventionalities of Tiverton against her. Who ever heard of breaking
cake when one could go into the house for a knife! They ate in silence,
and the delights of the summer day grew upon Molly as they never did
save when she felt the nearness of this queer little woman. Turn which
side of her personality she might toward you, Dilly could always bend
you to her own train of thought.
“I come down to talk things over,” said Molly, at last, brushing the
crumbs of cake from her lap. “I've got a chance in the shoe-shop.”
“Do tell! Well, ain't that complete? Don't you say one word, now! I
know how 'tis. You think how you'll have to give up the birds' singin',
an' your goin' into the woods arter groundpine, an' stay cooped up in a
boardin'-house to Sudleigh. I know how 'tis! But don't you fret. You
come right here an' stay Sundays, an' we'll eat up the woods an' drink
up the sky! There! It's better for ye, dear. Some folks are made to
live in a holler tree, like me; some ain't. You'll be better on't among
Molly's eyes filled with tears.
“You've been real good to me,” she said, simply.
“I wish I'd begun it afore,” responded Dilly, with a quick upward
lift of her head, and her brightest smile. “You see I didn't know ye
very well, for all you'd lived with old Mis' Drew so many year. I
'ain't had much to do with folks. I knew ye hadn't got nobody except
her, but I knew, too, ye were contented there as a cricket. But when
she died, an' the house burnt down, I begun to wonder what was goin' to
become on ye.”
Molly sat looking over at the pine woods, her lips compressed, her
cheeks slowly reddening. Finally she burst passionately forth,—
“Dilly, I'd like to know why I couldn't have got some rooms an' kep'
house for Elvin? His mother's my own aunt!”
“She wa'n't his mother, ye know. She was His stepmother, for all
they set so much by one Another. Folks would ha' talked, an' I guess
Rosy wouldn't ha' stood that, even afore they were engaged. Rosy may
not like corn-fodder herself, any more 'n t'other dog did, but she
ain't goin' to see other noses put into't without snappin' at 'em.”
“Well, it's all over,” said Molly, drearily. “It 'ain't been hard
for me stayin' round as I've done, an' sewin' for my board; but it's
seemed pretty tough to think of Elvin livin' in that little shanty of
Caleb's an' doin' for himself. I never could see why he didn't board
“Wants to save his six hunderd dollars, to go out West an' start in
the furniture business,” said Dilly, succinctly. “Come, Molly, what say
to walkin' over to Sudleigh Cattle-Show?”
Molly threw aside her listless mood like a garment.
“Will you?” she cried. “Oh, I'd like to! You know I'm sewin' for
Mis' Eli Pike; an' they asked me to go, but I knew she'd fill up the
seat so I should crowd 'em out of house an' home. Will you, Dilly?”
“You wait till I git suthin' or other to put over my head,” said
Dilly, rising with cheerful decision. “Here, you gi' me that cake! I'll
tie it up in a nice clean piece o' table-cloth, an' then we'll take
along a few eggs, so 't we can trade 'em off for bread an' cheese. You
jest pull in my sheets, an' shet the winder, while I do it. Like as not
there'll be a shower this arternoon.”
When the little gate closed behind them, Molly felt eagerly excited,
as, if she were setting forth for a year's happy wandering. Dilly knew
the ways of the road as well as the wood. She was, as usual, in light
marching order, a handkerchief tied over her smooth braids; another,
slung on a stick over her shoulder, contained their luncheon and the
eggs for barter. All her movements were buoyant and free, like those of
a healthy animal let loose in pleasant pastures. She walked so lightly
that the eggs in the handkerchief were scarcely stirred.
“See that little swampy patch!” she said, stopping when they had
rounded the curve in the road. “A week or two ago, that was all alive
with redbud flowers. I dunno the right name on 'em, an' I don't care.
Redbirds, I call 'em. I went over there, one day, an' walked along
between the hummocks, spush! spush! You won't find a nicer feelin' than
that, wherever ye go. Take off your shoes an' stockin's, an' wade into
a swamp! Warm, coarse grass atop! Then warm, black mud, an' arter that,
a layer all nice an' cold that goes down to Chiny, fur's I know! That
was the day I meant to git some thoroughwort over there, to dry, but I
looked at the redbird flowers so long I didn't have time, an' I
never've been sence.”
Molly laughed out, with a pretty, free ripple in her voice.
“You're always sayin' that, Dilly! You never have time for anything
but doin' nothin'!”
A bright little sparkle came into Dilly's eyes, and she laughed,
“Why, that's what made me give' up nussin' two year ago,” she said,
happily. “I wa'n't havin' no time at all. I couldn't live my proper
life. I al'ays knew I should come to that, so I'd raked an' scraped,
an' put into the bank, till I thought I'd got enough to buy me a mite
o' flour while I lived, an' a pine coffin arter I died; an' then I jest
set up my Ebenezer I'd be as free's a bird. Freer, I guess I be, for
they have to scratch pretty hard, come cold weather, an' I bake me a
'tater, an' then go clippin' out over the crust, lookin' at the bare
twigs. Oh, it's complete! If I could live this way, I guess a thousand
years'd be a mighty small dose for me. Look at that goldenrod, over
there by the stump! That's the kind that's got the most smell.”
Molly broke one of the curving plumes.
“I don't see as it smells at all,” she said, still sniffing
“Le'me take it! Why, yes, it does, too! Everything smells some. Oftentimes it's so faint it's more like a feelin' than a smell. But
there! you ain't a witch, as I be!”
“I wish you wouldn't say that!” put in Molly, courageously. “You
make people think you are.”
“Law, then, let 'em!” said Dilly, with a kindly indulgence. “It
don't do them no hurt, an' it gives me more fun'n the county newspaper.
They'd ruther I'd say I was a witch'n tell 'em I've got four eyes an'
eight ears where they 'ain't but two. I tell ye, there's a good deal
missed when ye stay to home makin' pies, an' a good deal ye can learn
if ye live out-door. Why, there's Tolman's cows! He dunno why they dry
up; but I do. He, sends that little Davie with 'em, that don't have no
proper playtime; an' Davie gallops 'em all the way to pastur', so't he
can have a minute to fish in the brook. An' then he gallops 'em home
ag'in, because he's stole a piece out o' the arternoon. I ketched him
down there by the brook, one day, workin' away with a bent pin, an' the
next mornin' I laid a fish-hook on the rock, an' hid in the woods to
see what he'd say. My! I 'guess Jonah wa'n't more tickled when he set
foot on dry land. Here comes the wagons! There's the Poorhouse team
fust, an' Sally Flint settin' up straighter 'n a ramrod. An' there's
Heman an' Roxy! She don't look a day older'n twenty-five. Proper nice
folks, all on 'em, but they make me kind o' homesick jest because they
be folks. They do look so sort o' common in their bunnits an'
veils, an' I keep thinkin' o' little four-legged creatur's, all fur!”
The Tiverton folk saluted them, always cordially, yet each after his
kind. They liked Dilly as a product all their own, but one to be
partaken of sparingly, like some wild, intoxicating root.
They loved her better at home, too, than at Sudleigh Fair. It was
like a betrayal of their fireside secrets, to see her there in her
accustomed garb; so slight a concession to propriety would have lain in
her putting on a bonnet and shawl!
As they neared Sudleigh town, the road grew populous with carriages
and farm-wagons, “step and step,” not all from Tiverton way, but
gathered in from the roads converging here. Men were walking up and
down the market street, crying their whips, their toy balloons, and a
multitude of cheaper gimcracks.
“Forty miles from home! forty miles from home!” called one, more
imaginative than the rest. “And no place to lay my head! That's why I'm
selling these little whips here to-day, a stranger in a strange land.
Buy one! buy one! and the poor pilgrim'll have a supper and a bed! Keep
your money in your pocket, and he's a wanderer on the face of the
Dilly, the fearless in her chosen wilds, took a fold of Molly's
dress, and held it tight.
“You s'pose that's so?” she whispered. “Oh, dear! I 'ain't got a
mite o' money, on'y these six eggs. Oh, why didn't he stay to home, if
he's so possessed to sleep under cover? What does anybody leave their
home for, if they've got one?”
But Molly put up her head, and walked sturdily on.
“Don't you worry,” she counselled, in an undertone. “It don't mean
any more 'n it does when folks say they're sellin' at a sacrifice. I
guess they expect to make enough, take it all together.”
Dilly walked on, quite bewildered. She had lost her fine, joyous
carriage; her shoulders were bent, and her feet shuffled, in a
discouraged fashion, over the unlovely bricks. Molly kept the lead,
with unconscious superiority.
“Le's go into the store now,” she said, “an' swap off the eggs.
You'll be joggled in this crowd, an' break 'em all to smash. Here, you
le' me have your handkerchief! I'll see to it all.” She kept the
handkerchief in her hand, after their slight “tradin'“ had been
accomplished; and Dilly, too dispirited to offer a word, walked meekly
about after her.
The Fair was held, according to ancient custom, in the town-hall, of
which the upper story had long been given over to Sudleigh Academy.
Behind the hall lay an enormous field, roped in now, and provided with
pens and stalls, where a great assemblage of live-stock lowed, and
grunted, and patiently chewed the cud.
“Le's go in there fust,” whispered Dilly. “I sha'n't feel so strange
there as I do with folks. I guess if the four-footed creatur's can
stan' it, I can. Pretty darlin'!” she added, stopping before a heifer
who had ceased eating and was looking about her with a mild and
dignified gaze. Dilly eagerly sought out a stick, and began to scratch
the delicate head. “Pretty creatur'! Smell o' her breath, Molly! See
her nose, all wet, like pastur' grass afore day! Now, if I didn't want
to live by myself, I'd like to curl me up in a stall, 'side o' her.”
“'Mandy, you an' Kelup come here!” called Aunt Melissa Adams. She
loomed very prosperous, over the way, in her new poplin and her
lace-trimmed cape. “Jest look at these roosters! They've got spurs on
their legs as long's my darnin'-needle. What under the sun makes 'em
grow so! An' ain't they the nippin'est little creatur's you ever see?”
“They're fightin'-cocks,” answered Caleb, tolerantly.
“Fightin'-cocks? You don't mean to tell me they're trained up for
“Yes, I do!”
“Well, I never heard o' such a thing in a Christian land! never!
Whose be they? I'll give him a piece o' my mind, if I live another
“You better let other folks alone,” said Caleb, stolidly.
“'Mandy,” returned Aunt Melissa, in a portentous undertone, “be you
goin' to stan' by an' see your own aunt spoke to as if she was the dirt
under your feet?”
Amanda had once in her life asserted herself at a crucial moment,
and she had never seen cause to regret it. Now she “spoke out” again.
She made her slender neck very straight and stiff, and her lips set
themselves firmly over the words,—
“I guess Caleb won't do you no hurt, Aunt Melissa. He don't want you
should make yourself a laughin'-stock, nor I don't either. There's
Uncle Hiram, over lookin' at the pigs. I guess he don't see you. Caleb,
le's we move on!”
Aunt Melissa stood looking after them, a mass of quivering wrath.
“Well, I must say!” she retorted to the empty air. “If I live, I
Dilly took her placid companion by the arm, and hurried her on.
Human jangling wore sadly upon her; under such maddening onslaught she
was not incapable of developing “nerves.” They stopped before a stall
where another heifer stood, chewing her cud, and looking away into
“Oh, see!” said Molly, “'Price $500'! Do you b'lieve it?”
“Well, well!” came Mrs. Eli Pike's ruminant voice from the crowd.
“I'm glad I don't own that creatur'! I shouldn't sleep nights if I had
five hunderd dollars in cow.”
“Tain't five hunderd dollars,” said Hiram Cole, elbowing his way to
the front. “'Tain't p'inted right, that's all. P'int off two ciphers—”
“Five dollars!” snickered a Crane boy, diving through the crowd, and
proceeding to stand on his head in a cleared space beyond. “That's wuth
less'n Miss Lucindy's hoss!”
Hiram Cole considered again, one lean hand stroking his cheek.
“Five—fifty—” he announced. “Well, I guess 'tis five hunderd,
arter all! Anybody must want to invest, though, to put all their income
into perishable cow-flesh!”
“You look real tired,” whispered Molly. “Le's come inside, an'
perhaps we can set down.”
The old hall seemed to have donned strange carnival clothes, for a
mystic Saturnalia. It was literally swaddled in bedquilts,—
tumbler-quilts, rising-suns, Jacob's-ladders, log-cabins, and the more
modern and altogether terrible crazy-quilt. There were square yards of
tidies, on wall and table, and furlongs of home-knit lace. Dilly looked
at this product of the patient art of woman with a dispirited gaze.
“Seems a kind of a waste of time, don't it?” she said, dreamily,
“when things are blowin' outside? I wisht I could see suthin' made once
to look as handsome as green buds an' branches. Law, dear, now jest
turn your eyes away from them walls, an' see the tables full of apples!
an' them piles o' carrots, an' cabbages an' squashes over there! Well,
'tain't so bad if you can look at things the sun's ever shone on, no
matter if they be under cover.” She wandered up and down the tables,
caressing the rounded outlines of the fruit with her loving gaze. The
apples, rich and fragrant, were a glory and a joy. There were great
pound sweetings, full of the pride of mere bigness; long purple
gilly-flowers, craftily hiding their mealy joys under a sad-colored
skin; and the Hubbardston, a portly creature quite unspoiled by the
prosperity of growth, and holding its lovely scent and flavor like an
individual charm. There was the Bald'in, stand-by old and good as
bread; and there were all the rest. We know them, we who have courted
Pomona in her fair New England orchards.
Near the fancy-work table sat Mrs. Blair, of the Old Ladies' Home,
on a stool she had wrenched from an unwilling boy, who declared it
belonged up in the Academy, whence he had brought it “to stan' on"
while he drove a nail. And though he besought her to rise and let him
return it, since he alone must be responsible, the old lady continued
sitting in silence. At length she spoke,—
“Here I be, an' here I'm goin' to set till the premiums is tacked
on. Them pinballs my neighbor, Mis' Dyer, made with her own hands, an'
she's bent double o' rheumatiz. An' I said I'd bring 'em for her, an'
I'd set by an' see things done fair an' square.”
“There, Mrs. Blair, don't you worry,” said Mrs. Mitchell, a director
of the Home, putting a hand on the martial and belligerent shoulder,
“Don't you mind if she doesn't get a premium. I'll buy the pinballs,
and that will do almost as well.”
“My! if there ain't goin' to be trouble between Mary Lamson an'
Sereno's Hattie, I'll miss my guess!” said a matron, with an
appreciative wag of her purple-bonneted head. “They've either on 'em
canned up more preserves 'n Tiverton an' Sudleigh put together, an'
Mary's got I dunno what all among 'em!—squash, an' dandelion, an'
punkin with lemon in't. That's steppin' acrost the bounds, I
say! If she gits a premium for puttin' up gardin-sass, I'll warrant
there'll be a to-do. An' Hattie'll make it!”
“I guess there won't be no set-to about such small potaters,” said
Mrs. Pike, with dignity. Her broad back had been unrecognized by the
herald, careless in her haste. “Hattie's ready an' willin' to divide
the premium, if't comes to her, an' I guess Mary'd be, put her in the
“My soul an' body!” exclaimed another, trudging up and waving a
large palmleaf fan. “Well, there, Rosanna Pike! Is that you? Excuse me
all, if I don't stop to speak round the circle, I'm so put to't with
Passon True's carryin's on. You know he's been as mad as hops over
Sudleigh Cattle-Show, reg'lar as the year come round, because there's a
raffle for a quilt, or suthin'. An' now he's come an' set up a sort of
a stall over t'other side the room, an' folks thinks he's tryin' to git
up a revival. I dunno when I've seen John so stirred. He says we hadn't
ought to be made a laughin'-stock to Sudleigh, Passon or no Passon. An'
old Square Lamb says—”
But the fickle crowd waited to hear no more. With one impulse, it
surged over to the other side of the hall, where Parson True, standing
behind a table brought down from the Academy, was saying solemnly,—
“Let us engage in prayer!”
The whispering ceased; the titters of embarrassment were stilled,
and mothers tightened their grasp on little hands, to emphasize the
change of scene from light to graver hue. Some of the men looked
lowering; one or two strode out of doors. They loved Parson True, but
the Cattle-Show was all their own, and they resented even a ministerial
innovation. The parson was a slender, wiry man, with keen blue eyes, a
serious mouth, and an overtopping forehead, from which the hair was
always brushed straight back. He called upon the Lord, with passionate
fervor, to “bless this people in all their outgoings and comings-in,
and to keep their feet from paths where His blessing could not attend
“Is that the raffle, mother?” whispered the smallest Crane boy; and
his mother promptly administered a shake, for the correction of
Then Parson True opened his eyes on his somewhat shamefaced flock
and their neighbor townsmen, and began to preach. It was good to be
there, he told them, only as it was good to be anywhere else, in the
spirit of God. Judgment might overtake them there, as it might at home,
in house or field. Were they prepared? He bent forward over the table,
his slim form trembling with the intensity of gathering passion. He
appealed to each one personally with that vibratory quality of address
peculiar to him, wherein it seemed that not only his lips but his very
soul challenged the souls before him. One after another joined the
outer circle, and faces bent forward over the shoulders in front, with
that strange, arrested expression inevitably born when, on the flood of
sunny weather, we are reminded how deep the darkness is within the
“Let every man say to himself, 'Thou, God, seest me!'“ reiterated
the parson. “Thou seest into the dark corners of my heart. What dost
Thou see, O God? What dost Thou see?”
Elvin and Rosa had drawn near with the others. She smiled a little,
and the hard bloom on her cheeks had not wavered. No one looked at
them, for every eye dwelt on the preacher; and though Elvin's face
changed from the healthy certainty of life and hope to a green pallor
of self-recognition, no one noticed. Consequently, the general surprise
culminated in a shock when he cried out, in a loud voice, “God be
merciful! God be merciful! I ain't fit to be with decent folks! I'd
ought to be in jail!” and pushed his way through the crowd until he
stood before the parson, facing him with bowed head, as if he found in
the little minister the vicegerent of God. He had kept Rosa's hand in a
convulsive grasp, and he drew her with him into the eye of the world.
She shrank back, whimpering feebly; but no one took note of her. The
parson knew exactly what, to do when the soul travailed and cried
aloud. He stretched forth his hands, and put them on the young man's
“Come, poor sinner, come!” he urged, in a voice of wonderful melting
quality. “Come! Here is the throne of grace! Bring your burden, and
cast it down.”
The words roused Elvin, or possibly the restraining touch. He
“I can't!” he cried out, stridently. “I can't yet! I can't! I
Still leading Rosa, who was crying now in good earnest, he turned,
and pushed his way out of the crowd. But once outside that warm human
circuit, Rosa broke loose from him. She tried to speak for his ear
alone, but her voice strove petulantly through her sobs:
“Elvin Drew, I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself! You've
made me ridiculous before the whole town, and I never'll speak to you
again as long as I live. If I hadn't stayed with you every minute, I
should think you'd been drinking, and I believe to my soul you have!”
She buried her face in her handkerchief, and stumbled over to a table
where Laura Pettis was standing, open-eyed with amazement, and the two
clasped each other, while Rosa cried on. Elvin only looked about him,
in a bewildered fashion, when the warm hand was wrenched away; then,
realizing that he was quite alone, his head bent under a deeper
dejection. He seemed unable to move from the spot, and stood there
quite stupidly, until murmurs of “What's the matter of him?” came from
the waiting crowd, and Parson True himself advanced, with hands again
outstretched. But Dilly Joyce forestalled the parson. She, too came
forward, in her quick way, and took Elvin firmly by the arm.
“Here, dear,” she said, caressingly, “you come along out-doors with
Elvin turned, still hanging his head, and the three (for little
Molly had come up on the other side, trying to stand very tall to show
her championship) walked out of the hall together. Dilly had ever a
quick eye for green, growing things, and she remembered a little corner
of the enclosure, where one lone elm-tree stood above a bank. Thither
she led him, with an assured step; and when they had reached the
shadow, she drew him forward, and said, still tenderly,—
“There, dear, you set right down here an' think it over. We'll stay
with ye. We'll never forsake ye, will we, Molly?”
Molly, who did not know what it was all about, had no need to know.
“Never!” she said, stanchly.
The three sat down there; and first the slow minutes, and then the
hours, went by. It had not been long before some one found out where
they were, and curious groups began to wander past, always in silence,
but eying them intently. Elvin sat with his head bent, looking fixedly
at a root of plantain; but Molly confronted the alien faces with a
haughty challenging stare, while her cheeks painted themselves ever a
deeper red. Dilly leaned happily back against the elm trunk, and dwelt
upon the fleece-hung sky; and her black eyes grew still calmer and more
content. She looked as if she had learned what things are lovely and of
good repute. When the town-clock struck noon, she brought forth their
little luncheon, and pressed it upon the others, with a nice
hospitality. Elvin shook his head, but Molly ate a trifle, for pride's
“You go an' git him a mite o' water,” whispered Dilly, when they had
finished. “I would, but I dunno the ways o' this place. It'll taste
good to him.”
Molly nodded, and hurried away; presently she came back, bearing a
tin cup, and Elvin drank, though he did not thank her.
In the early afternoon, Ebenezer Tolman came striding down between
the pens in ostentatious indignation. He was a tall, red-faced man,
with a large, loose mouth, and blond-gray whiskers, always parted and
blowing in the wind. He wore, with manifest pride, the reputation of
being a dangerous animal when roused. He had bought a toy whip, at
little Davie's earnest solicitation, and, lashing it suggestively
against his boot, he began speaking long before he reached the little
group. The lagging crowd of listeners paused, breathless, to lose no
“Look here, you! don't ye darken my doors ag'in, an' don't ye dast
to open your head to one o' my folks! We're done with ye! Do you hear?
We're done with ye! Rosy'll ride home with me to-night, an' she'll ride
with you no more!”
Elvin said nothing, though his brow contracted suddenly at Rosa's
name. Ebenezer was about to speak again; but the little parson came
striding swiftly up, his long coat flying behind him, and Tolman, who
was a church-member, in good and regular standing, moved on. But the
parson was routed, in his turn. Dilly rose, and, as some one afterwards
said, “clipped it right up to him.”
“Don't you come now, dear,” she advised him, in that persuasive
voice of hers. “No, don't you come now. He ain't ready. You go away,
an' let him set an' think it out.” And the parson, why he knew not,
turned about, and went humbly back to his preaching in the hall.
The afternoon wore on, and it began to seem as if Elvin would never
break from his trance, and never speak. Finally, after watching him a
moment with her keen eyes, Dilly touched him lightly on the arm.
“The Tolmans have drove home,” she said, quietly. “All on 'em. What
if you should git your horse, an' take Molly an' me along?”
Elvin came to his feet with a lurch. He straightened himself.
“I've got to talk to the parson,” said he.
“So I thought,” answered Dilly, with composure, “but 'tain't no
place here. You ask him to ride, an' let Miss Dorcas drive home alone.
We four'll stop at my house, an' then you can talk it over.”
Elvin obeyed, like a child tired of his own way. When they packed
themselves into the wagon,—where Dilly insisted on sitting behind, to
make room,—the Tiverton and Sudleigh people stood about in groups, to
watch them. Hiram Cole came forward, just as Elvin took up the reins.
“Elvin,” said he, in a cautious whisper, with his accustomed gesture
of scraping his cheek, “I've got suthin' to say to ye. Don't ye put no
money into Dan Forbes's hands. I've had a letter from brother 'Lisha,
out in Illinois, an' he says that business Dan wrote to you
about—well, there never was none! There ain't a stick o' furniture
made there! An' Dan's been cuttin' a dash lately with money he got
som'er's or other, an' he's gambled, an' I dunno what all, an' been
took up. An' now he's in jail. So don't you send him nothin'. I thought
Elvin looked at him a moment, with a strange little smile dawning
about his mouth.
“That's all right,” he said, quickly, and drove away.
To Molly, the road home was like a dark passage full of formless
fears. She did not even know what had befallen the dear being she loved
best; but something dire and tragic had stricken him, and therefore
her. The parson was acutely moved for the anguish he had not probed.
Only Dilly remained cheerful. When they reached her gate, it was she
who took the halter from Elvin's hand, and tied the horse. Then she
walked up the path, and flung open her front door.
“Come right into the settin'-room,” she said. “I'll git ye some
water right out o' the well. My throat's all choked up o' dust.”
The cheerful clang of the bucket against the stones, the rumble of
the windlass, and then Dilly came in with a brimming bright tin dipper.
She offered it first to the parson, and though she refilled it
scrupulously for each pair of lips, it seemed a holy loving-cup. They
sat there in the darkening room, and Dilly “stepped round” and began to
get supper. Molly nervously joined her, and addressed her, once or
twice, in a whisper. But Dilly spoke out clearly in, answer, as if
“Le's have a real good time,” she said, when she had drawn the table
forward and set forth her bread, and apples, and tea. “Passon, draw up!
You drink tea, don't ye? I don't, myself. I never could bear to spile
good water. But I keep it on hand for them that likes it. Elvin, here!
You take this good big apple. It's man's size more 'n woman's, I
Elvin pushed back his chair.
“I ain't goin' to put a mouthful of victuals to my lips till I make
up my mind whether I can speak or not,” he said, loudly.
“All right,” answered Dilly, placidly. “Bless ye! the teapot'll be
goin' all night, if ye say so.”
Only Dilly and the parson made a meal; and when it was over, Parson
True rose, as if his part of the strange drama must at last begin, and
fell on his knees.
“Let us pray!”
Molly, too, knelt, and Elvin threw his arms upon the table, and laid
his head upon them. But Dilly stood erect. From time to time, she
glanced curiously from the parson to the lovely darkened world outside
her little square of window, and smiled slightly, tenderly, as if out
there she saw the visible God. The parson prayed for “this sick soul,
our brother,” over and over, in many phrases, and with true and
passionate desire. And when the prayer was done, he put his hand on the
young man's shoulder, and said, with a yearning persuasiveness,—
“Tell it now, my brother! Jesus is here.”
Elvin raised his head, with a sudden fierce gesture toward Dilly.
“She knows,” he said. “She can see the past. She'll tell you what
“I 'ain't got nothin' to tell, dear,” answered Dilly, peacefully.
“Everything you've done's between you an' God A'mighty. I 'ain't got
nothin' to tell!”
Then she went out, and, deftly unharnessing the horse, put him in
her little shed, and gave him a feed of oats. The hens had gone to bed
without their supper.
“No matter, biddies,” she said, conversationally, as she passed
their roost. “I'll make it up to you in the mornin'!”
When she entered the house again, Elvin still sat there, staring
stolidly into the dusk. The parson was praying, and Molly, by the
window, was holding the sill tightly clasped by both hands, as if
threatening herself into calm. When the parson rose, he turned to
Elvin, less like the pastor than the familiar friend. One forgot his
gray hairs in the loving simplicity of his tone.
“My son,” he said, tenderly, “tell it all! God is merciful.”
But again Dilly put in her voice.
“Don't you push him, Passon! Let him speak or not, jest as he's a
mind to. Let God A'mighty do it His way! Don't you do it!”
Darkness settled in the room, and the heavenly hunter's-moon rose
and dispelled it.
“O God! can I?” broke forth the young man. “O God! if I tell, I'll
go through with it. I will, so help me!”
The moving patterns of the vine at the window began to etch
themselves waveringly on the floor. Dilly bent, and traced the outline
of a leaf with her finger.
“I'll tell!” cried Elvin, in a voice exultant over the prospect of
freedom. “I'll tell it all. I wanted money. The girl I meant to have
was goin' with somebody else, an' I'd got to scrape together some
money, quick. I burnt down my house an' barn. I got the insurance
money. I sent some of it out West, to put into that furniture business,
an' Dan Forbes has made way with it. I only kept enough to take Rosa
an' me out there. I'll give up that, an' go to jail; an' if the Lord
spares my life, when I come out I'll pay it back, principal an'
Molly gave one little moan, and buried her face in her hands. The
parson and Dilly rose, by one impulse, and went forward to Elvin, who
sat upright, trembling from excitement past. Dilly reached him first.
She put both her hands on his forehead, and smoothed back his hair.
“Dear heart,” she said, in a voice thrilled through by music,—“dear
heart! I was abroad that night, watchin' the stars, an' I see it all. I
see ye do it. You done it real clever, an' I come nigh hollerin' out to
ye, I was so pleased, when I see you was determined to save the
livestock. An' that barn-cat, dear, that old black Tom that's ketched
my chickens so long!—you 'most broke your neck to save him. But I
never should ha' told, dear, never! 'specially sence you got out the
“And 'in Christ shall all be made alive!'“ said the parson, wiping
his eyes, and then beginning to pat Elvin's hand with both his own.
“Now, what shall we do? What shall we do? Why not come home with me,
and stay over night? My dear wife will be glad to see you. And the
morning will bring counsel.”
Elvin had regained a fine freedom of carriage, and a decision of
tone long lost to him. He was dignified by the exaltation of the
“I've got it all fixed,” he said, like a man. “I thought it all out
under that elm-tree, today. You drive me over to Sheriff Holmes's, an'
he'll tell me what's right to do,—whether I'm to go to the insurance
people, or whether I'm to be clapped into jail. He'll know. It's out o'
my hands. I'll go an' harness now.”
Parson True drew Molly forward from her corner, and held her hand,
while he took Elvin's, and motioned Dilly to complete the circle.
“Jesus Christ be with us!” he said, solemnly. “God, our Father, help
us to love one another more and more tenderly because of our sins!”
While Elvin was harnessing, a dark figure came swiftly through the
“Elvin,” whispered Molly, sharply. “O Elvin, I can't bear it! You
take what money you've got, an' go as fur as you can. Then you work,
an' I'll work, an' we'll pay 'em back. What good will it do, for you to
go to jail? Oh, what good will it do!”
“Poor little Molly!” said he. “You do care about me, don't you? I
sha'n't forget that, wherever I am.”
Molly came forward, and threw her arms about him passionately.
“Go! go!” she whispered, fiercely. “Go now! I'll drive you some'er's
an' bring the horse back. Don't wait! I don't want a hat.”
Elvin smoothed her hair.
“No,” said he, gravely, “you'll see it different, come mornin'. The
things of this world ain't everything. Even freedom ain't everything.
There's somethin' better. Good-by, Molly. I don't know how long a
sentence they give; but when they let me out, I shall come an' tell you
what I think of you for standin' by. Parson True!”
The parson came out, and Dilly followed. When the two men were
seated in the wagon, she bent forward, and laid her hand on Elvin's, as
it held the reins.
“Don't you be afraid,” she said, lovingly. “If they shet ye up, you
remember there ain't nothin' to be afraid of but wrong-doin', an'
that's only a kind of a sickness we al'ays git well of. An' God
A'mighty's watchin' over us all the time. An' if you've sp'iled your
chance in this life, don't you mind. There's time enough. Plenty o'
time, you says to yourself, plenty!”
She drew back, and they drove on. Molly, in heart-sick sobbing,
threw herself forward into the little woman's arms, and Dilly held her
with an unwearied cherishing.
“There, there, dear!” she said, tenderly. “Ain't it joyful to think
he's got his soul out o' prison, where he shet it up? He's all free
now. It's jest as if he was born into a new world, to begin all over.”
“But, Dilly, I love him so! An' I can't do anything! not a thing! O
Dilly, yes! yes! Oh, it's little enough, but I could! I could save my
shoe-shop money, an' help him pay his debt, when he's out o' jail.”
“Yes,” said Dilly, joyously. “An' there's more'n that you can do.
You can keep him in your mind, all day long, an' all night long, an'
your sperit'll go right through the stone walls, if they put him there,
an' cheer him up.
“He won't know how, but so it'll be, dear, so it'll be. Folks don't
know why they're uplifted sometimes, when there ain't no cause; but
I say it's other folks's love. Now you come in, dear, an' we'll
make the bed—it's all aired complete—an' then we'll go to sleep, an'
see if we can't dream us a nice, pleasant dream,—all about green
gardins, an' the folks we love walking in the midst of 'em!”