by Mary Austin
Emma Jossylin had been dead and buried three days. The sister who
had come to the funeral had taken Emma's child away with her, and the
house was swept and aired; then, when it seemed there was least
occasion for it, Emma came back. The neighbor woman who had nursed her
was the first to know it. It was about seven of the evening, in a
mellow gloom: the neighbor woman was sitting on her own stoop with her
arms wrapped in her apron, and all at once she found herself going
along the street under an urgent sense that Emma needed her. She was
half-way down the block before she recollected that this was
impossible, for Mrs. Jossylin was dead and buried, but as soon as she
came opposite the house she was aware of what had happened. It was all
open to the summer air; except that it was a little neater, not
otherwise than the rest of the street. It was quite dark; but the
presence of Emma Jossylin streamed from it and betrayed it more than a
candle. It streamed out steadily across the garden, and even as it
reached her, mixed with the smell of the damp mignonette, the neighbor
woman owned to herself that she had always known Emma would come back.
"A sight stranger if she wouldn't," thought the woman who had
nursed her. "She wasn't ever one to throw off things easily."
Emma Jossylin had taken death, as she had taken everything in life,
hard. She had met it with the same hard, bright, surface competency
that she had presented to the squalor of the encompassing desertness,
to the insuperable commonness of Sim Jossylin, to the affliction of her
crippled child; and the intensity of her wordless struggle against it
had caught the attention of the townspeople and held it in a shocked,
curious awe. She was so long a-dying, lying there in the little low
house, hearing the abhorred footsteps going about her house and the
vulgar procedure of the community encroach upon her like the advances
of the sand wastes on an unwatered field.
For Emma had always wanted things different, wanted them with a
fury of intentness that implied offensiveness in things as they were.
And the townspeople had taken offence, the more so because she was not
to be surprised in any inaptitude for their own kind of success. Do
what you could, you could never catch Emma Jossylin in a wrapper after
three o'clock in the afternoon. And she would never talk about the
child—in a country where so little ever happened that even trouble
was a godsend if it gave you something to talk about. It was reported
that she did not even talk to Sim. But there the common resentment got
back at her. If she had thought to effect anything with Sim Jossylin
against the benumbing spirit of the place, the evasive hopefulness,
the large sense of leisure that ungirt the loins, if she still hoped
somehow to get away with him to some place for which by her dress, by
her manner, she seemed forever and unassailably fit, it was foregone
that nothing would come of it. They knew Sim Jossylin better than
that. Yet so vivid had been the force of her wordless dissatisfaction
that when the fever took her and she went down like a pasteboard
figure in the damp, the wonder was that nothing toppled with her. And
as if she too had felt herself indispensable, Emma Jossylin had come
The neighbor woman crossed the street, and as she passed the far
corner of the gate, Jossylin spoke to her. He had been standing, she
did not know how long a time, behind the syringa bush, and moved even
with her along the fence until they came to the gate. She could see in
the dusk that before speaking he wet his lips with his tongue.
"She's in there," he said at last.
He nodded. "I been sleeping at the store since—but I thought I'd
be more comfortable—as soon as I opened the door, there she was."
"Did you see her?"
"How do you know, then?"
"Don't you know?"
The neighbor felt there was nothing to say to that.
"Come in," he whispered, huskily. They slipped by the rose tree and
the wistaria and sat down on the porch at the side. A door swung
inward behind them. They felt the Presence in the dusk beating like a
"What do you think she wants?" said Jossylin. "Do you reckon it's
"He's better off with his aunt. There was no one here to take care
of him, like his mother wanted." He raised his voice unconsciously
with a note of justification, addressing the room behind.
"I am sending fifty dollars a month," he said; "he can go with the
best of them." He went on at length to explain all the advantage that
was to come to the boy from living at Pasadena, and the neighbor woman
bore him out in it.
"He was glad to go," urged Jossylin to the room. "He said it was
what his mother would have wanted."
They were silent then a long time, while the Presence seemed to
swell upon them and encroached upon the garden. Finally, "I gave
Zeigler the order for the monument yesterday,"
Jossylin threw out, appeasingly. "It's to cost three hundred and
fifty." The Presence stirred. The neighbor thought she could fairly
see the controlled tolerance with which Emma Jossylin threw off the
evidence of Sim's ineptitude.
They sat on helplessly without talking after that, until the
woman's husband came to the fence and called her.
"Don't go," begged Jossylin.
"Hush!" she said. "Do you want all the town to know? You had naught
but good from Emma living, and no call to expect harm from her now.
It's natural she should come back—if—if she was lonesome
like—in—the place where she's gone to."
"Emma wouldn't come back to this place," Jossylin protested,
"without she wanted something."
"Well, then, you've got to find out," said the neighbor woman.
All the next day she saw, whenever she passed the house, that Emma
was still there. It was shut and barred, but the Presence lurked
behind the folded blinds and fumbled at the doors. When it was night
and the moths began in the columbine under the window, It went out and
walked in the garden.
Jossylin was waiting at the gate when the neighbor woman came. He
sweated with helplessness in the warm dusk, and the Presence brooded
upon them like an apprehension that grows by being entertained.
"She wants something," he appealed, "but I can't make out what.
Emma knows she is welcome to everything I've got. Everybody knows I've
been a good provider."
The neighbor woman remembered suddenly the only time she had ever
drawn close to Emma Jossylin touching the child. They had sat up with
it together all one night in some childish.ailment, and she had
ventured a question: "What does his father think?" And Emma had turned
her a white, hard face of surpassing dreariness. "I don't know," she
admitted; "he never says."
"There's more than providing," suggested the neighbor woman.
"Yes. There's feeling . . . but she had enough to do to put up with
me. I had no call to be troubling her with such." He left off to mop
his forehead, and began again.
"Feelings," he said; "there's times a man gets so wore out with
feelings, he doesn't have them any more."
He talked, and presently it grew clear to the woman that he was
voiding all the stuff of his life, as if he had sickened on it and was
now done. It was a little soul knowing itself and not good to see.
What was singular was that the Presence left off walking in the garden,
came and caught like a gossamer on the ivy tree, swayed by the breath
of his broken sentences. He talked, and the neighbor woman saw him for
once as he saw himself and Emma, snared and floundering in an
inexplicable unhappiness. He had been disappointed too. She had never
relished the man he was, and it made him ashamed. That was why he had
never gone away, lest he should make her ashamed among her own kind.
He was her husband; he could not help that, though he was sorry for
it. But he could keep the offence where least was made of it. And there
was a child—she had wanted a child, but even then he had
blundered—begotten a cripple upon her. He blamed himself utterly,
searched out the roots of his youth for the answer to that, until the
neighbor woman flinched to hear him. But the Presence stayed.
He had never talked to his wife about the child. How should he?
There was the fact—the advertisement of his incompetence. And she had
never talked to him. That was the one blessed and unassailable memory,
that she had spread silence like a balm over his hurt. In return for it
he had never gone away. He had resisted her that he might save her
from showing among her own kind how poor a man he was. With every word
of this ran the fact of his love for her—as he had loved her with all
the stripes of clean and uncleanness. He bared himself as a child
without knowing; and the Presence stayed. The talk trailed off at last
to the commonplaces of consolation between the retchings of his
spirit. The Presence lessened and streamed toward them on the wind of
the garden. When it touched them like the warm air of noon that lies
sometimes in hollow places after nightfall, the neighbor woman rose
and went away.
The next night she did not wait for him. When a rod outside the
town—it was a very little one—the burrowing owls whoowhooed, she
hung up her apron and went to talk with Emma Jossylin. The Presence
was there, drawn in, lying close. She found the key between the
wistaria and the first pillar of the porch; but as soon as she opened
the door she felt the chill that might be expected by one intruding on
Emma Jossylin in her own house.
" 'The Lord is my shepherd!' " said the neighbor woman; it was the
first religious phrase that occurred to her; then she said the whole
of the psalm, and after that a hymn. She had come in through the door,
and stood with her back to it and her hand upon the knob. Everything
was just as Mrs. Jossylin had left it, with the waiting air of a room
kept for company.
"Em," she said, boldly, when the chill had abated a little before
the sacred words—"Em Jossylin, I've got something to say to you. And
you've got to hear," she added with firmness as the white curtains
stirred duskily at the window. "You wouldn't be talked to about your
troubles when . . . you were here before, and we humored you. But now
there is Sim to be thought of. I guess you heard what you came for
last night, and got good of it. Maybe it would have been better if Sim
had said things all along instead of hoarding them in his heart, but,
anyway, he has said them now. And what I want to say is, if you was
staying on with the hope of hearing it again, you'd be making a
mistake. You was an uncommon woman, Emma Jossylin, and there.didn't
none of us understand you very well, nor do you justice, maybe; but Sim
is only a common man, and I understand him because I'm that way
myself. And if you think he'll be opening his heart to you every
night, or be any different from what he's always been on account of
what's happened, that's a mistake, too . . . and in a little while, if
you stay, it will be as bad as it always was . . . men are like that .
. . you'd better go now while there's understanding between you." She
stood staring into the darkling room that seemed suddenly full of
turbulence and denial. It seemed to beat upon her and take her breath,
but she held on.
"You've got to go . . . Em . . . and I'm going to stay until you
do," she said with finality; and then began again:
" 'The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart,' " and
repeated the passage to the end.
Then, as the Presence sank before it, "You better go, Emma,"
persuasively: and again, after an interval:
" 'He shall deliver thee in six troubles.
" 'Yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.' " The Presence
gathered itself and was still; she could make out that it stood over
against the opposite corner by the gilt easel with the crayon portrait
of the child.
" 'For thou shalt forget thy misery. Thou shalt remember it as
waters that are past,' " concluded the neighbor woman, as she heard
Jossylin on the gravel outside. What the Presence had wrought upon him
in the night was visible in his altered mien. He looked, more than
anything else, to be in need of sleep. He had eaten his sorrow, and
that was the end of it—as it is with men.
"I came to see if there was anything I could do for you," said the
woman, neighborly, with her hand upon the door.
"I don't know as there is," said he. "I'm much obliged, but I don't
know as there is."
"You see," whispered the woman, over her shoulder, "not even to
me." She felt the tug of her heart as the Presence swept past her. The
neighbor went out after that and walked in the ragged street, past the
schoolhouse, across the creek below the town, out by the fields, over
the headgate, and back by the town again. It was full nine of the
clock when she passed the Jossylin house. It looked, except for being
a little neater, not other than the rest of the street. The door was
open and the lamp was lit; she saw Jossylin black against it. He sat
reading in a book like a man at ease in his own house.