E-text prepared by Al Haines
Frontispiece by Nana French Bickford
[Frontispiece: They came to her hand in hand and said not a word.]
Grosset & Dunlap Publishers ——— New York Copyright, 1919, by Little, Brown, and Company. All rights reserved
TO ALL THE LITTLE ONE-HORSE TOWNS WHERE LIFE IS SWEET AND ROOMY AND OLD-FASHIONED; WHERE THE DAYS ARE FULL OF SUNSHINE AND RAIN AND WORK; WHERE NEIGHBORS REALLY NEIGHBOR AND MEN AND WOMEN ARE LIFE-SIZE
This book was written to cure a heartache, to ease a very real and bad case of homesickness. I wrote it just for myself when I was very nearly ten thousand miles away from home and knew that I couldn't go back to the U. S. A. for two long years. It is a picture of a little Yankee town, the town I tried so hard to see over ten thousand miles of gray-green ocean.
When I was sailing from New York for South America that sunny June morning in 1913, about the last thing the last friend hurrying down the gangplank said was this:
"Of course you are going to be homesick. But it's worth it."
And I laughed.
But before that long stretch of gray-green ocean was plowed under I knew—oh, I knew—that I was going to be most woefully homesick for the U. S. A.
A certain tall Swede from New Jersey and I discovered that fact about the same minute Fourth of July morning. We were standing on the deck, staring miserably back over the awful miles to where somewhere in that lost north our town lay with flags fluttering, picnic baskets getting into trains and everybody out on their lawns and porches.
We didn't look at each other after that first glance—that Swede and I. And we said the sunlight hurt our eyes.
Three months later I was sitting under the velvet-soft, star-sown night sky of the Argentine cattle country. I had seen volcano-scarred Martinique and had watched the beautiful island of Barbados rising like a fairy dream out of a foamy sea.
I had marveled at the endless beauties of Rio lying so picturesquely in its immense harbor and at the foot of its great, shaggy, sun-splashed, smoke-wreathed mountains. I had tramped through unsanitary Santos and loved it because it looked like Chicago in spite of its mountains and banana trees. I had witnessed a wonderful fiesta in Buenos Aires and had churned two hundred miles up the La Plata when it was bubbling with rain. And I had had a tooth pulled in Paysandu, the second largest city in Uruguay.
All that in three months! And there were still a million wonders to see. I loved and shall always love these radiant, sun-drenched uncrowded lands. But my heart was heavy as lead. For I was homesick. My eyes were tired of alien starshine, of alien, unfamiliar things, and my heart cried out for the little home towns of my own country.
But I could not go back for many, many months. So I learned Spanish and hobnobbed with wonderfully wise and delightful Spanish grandmothers. I grew to love some darling Indian babies. I interviewed interesting South American cowboys and discussed war and socialism with an Argentine navy officer. I exchanged calls and true blue friendships with soft-voiced Englishwomen. And I took tea and dinner aboard the ships of Welsh sea captains from Cardiff.
I had a wonderful time. I filled my notebook, took pictures and collected souvenirs. I laughed and told stories. Folks down there said I was good company.
But oh! In the hush of a rain-splashed night, when the fire in the grate dozed and dreamed and a boat siren somewhere out on the inky La Plata wailed and moaned through the black night, my heart flew back over those gray-green waves to a little town that I knew in the U. S. A. And to ease my longing I wrote Green Valley.
I EAST AND WEST II SPRING IN GREEN VALLEY III THE LAST OF THE CHURCHILLS IV A RAINY DAY V CYNTHIA'S SON VI GOSSIP VII THE WEDDING VIII LILAC TIME IX GREEN VALLEY MEN X THE KNOLL XI GETTING ACQUAINTED XII THE PATH OF TRUE LOVE XIII AUTUMN IN GREEN VALLEY XIV THE CHARM XV INDIAN SUMMER XVI THE HOUSEWARMING XVII THE LITTLE SLIPPER XVIII THE MORNING AFTER XIX A GRAY DAY XX CHRISTMAS BELLS XXI FANNY'S HOUR XXII BEFORE THE DAWN XXIII FANNY COMES BACK XXIV HOME AGAIN
EAST AND WEST
"Joshua Churchill's dying in California and Nanny Ainslee's leaving to-night for Japan! And there's been a wreck between here and Spring Road!"
Fanny fairly gasped out the astounding news. Then she sank down into Grandma Wentworth's comfortable kitchen rocker and went into details.
"The two telegrams just came through. Uncle Tony's gone down to the wreck. I happened to be standing talking to him when Denny came running out of the station. Isn't it too bad Denny's so bow-legged? Though I don't know as it hinders him from running to any noticeable extent. I had an awful time trying to keep up so's to find out what had happened. I bet you Nan's packing right this minute and just loving it. My—ain't some people born lucky? Think of having the whole world to run around in!"
The telephone tinkled.
"Yes, Nan," Grandma smiled as she answered, "I know. Fanny's just this minute telling me. Yes, of course I can. I'll be over as soon as my bread's done baking. Yes—I'll bring along some of my lavender to pack in with your things."
"Land sakes, Grandma," exclaimed Fanny, "don't stop for the bread. I'll see to that. Just you git that lavender and go. And tell Nanny I'll be at the station to see her off."
Up-stairs in a big sunny room of the Ainslee house Grandma Wentworth looked reproachfully at a flushed, busy girl who was laughing and singing snatches of droll ditties the while she emptied closets and dresser drawers and tucked things into four trunks, two suitcases and a handbag.
"Nanny, are you never going to settle down and stay at home?" sighed Grandma.
"Yes, ma'am," Nanny's eyes danced, "some day when a man makes me fall in love with him and there are no more new places to go to. But so long as I am heartfree and footfree, and there's one alien shore calling, I'll have the wanderlust. I declare, Grandma, if that man doesn't turn up soon there will be no new places left for a honeymoon!"
Grandma smiled in spite of herself. There were things she wanted very much to say and other things she wanted very much to ask; but the trunks had to get down to the station and already the afternoon sun was low.
The two women worked feverishly and almost in silence so that when the packing was done they might get in the little visit both craved before the months of separation.
Nanny finally jumped on the trunks, snapped them shut, locked them and watched the expressman carry them down and out into his waiting dray. Then she sat down with a trembling little laugh.
"There—it's over and I'm really going! I have been to just about every country but Japan. I believe father would rather have skipped off alone this time. It seems to be some suddenly important international crisis that we are going over to settle. That's why we are going East the roundabout way. We must stop at Washington for instructions, then again at London and Paris."
"Nanny," mused Grandma, "there's a good many years difference in our ages but there's only one woman I ever loved as I love you. I think I might have loved your mother but she died the very first year your father brought her here. And she was ailing when she came. The other woman that meant so much to me used to go traveling too. I always helped her with her packing. Then one day she packed and went away, never to come back."
"Was that Cynthia Churchill?" Nan asked gently.
"Yes—Cynthia. She was dearer than a sister to me, and neither of us dreamed that a whole wide world would divide us."
"Why did she go, Grandma?"
"Because a Green Valley man well-nigh broke her heart."
"A Green Valley man did—that? Oh, dear! And here I have been hoping that some day I might marry a Green Valley man myself."
"Nanny, I expect I'm old and foolish but I've been hoping and hoping that you'd marry a home boy and fearing you'd meet up with some one on your travels who would take you away from us forever. It would be hard to see you go."
The last sunbeam had faded away and golden twilight filled the room. Outside little day noises were dying out.
"Grandma dear, don't you worry about me. I intend to marry a Green Valley man if possible. But even if I didn't I'd always come back to Green Valley."
"No, you wouldn't. You couldn't, any more than Cynthia could. Cynthia loved this town better even than you love it. Yet she is lying under strange stars in a foreign land, far from her old home. Her father, they say, is dying in California. I suppose the old Churchill place will go now unless Cynthia's son comes back to take it over. But that isn't likely."
"Why—did Cynthia Churchill leave a son?" wondered Nanny.
"Yes. He must be a few years older than you. He was born and raised in India. 'Tisn't likely he'd come to Green Valley now that he's a man grown. Still, if Joshua Churchill dies out there in California, that boy will come into all his grandfather's property."
"Well," Nanny stood up and walked to the window from which she could see the fine old home of the Churchills, "if any one willed me a lovely old place like that Churchill homestead I'd come from the moon to claim it, let alone India."
"Nanny, are you sure there's no boy now in Green Valley who could keep you from roaming? I thought maybe Max Longman or Ronny Deering—"
"No—no one yet, Grandma. I like them all—but love—no. Love, it seems to me, must be something very different."
"Yes, I know," sighed Grandma.
When Uncle Tony returned from viewing the wreck he assured his townsmen that it was a wreck of such beautiful magnitude that traffic on the Northwestern would be tied up for twenty-four hours. It was feared that Mr. Ainslee would not be able to get his train and would have to drive five miles to the other railroad.
However Uncle Tony was reckoning things from a Green Valley point of view. As a matter of fact the wreckage was sufficiently cleared away so that the eastbound trains were running on time. It was the westbound ones that were stalled. The Los Angeles Limited Pullmans stood right in the Green Valley station. They were still standing there when Nanny and her father came to take the 10:27 east.
Perhaps nothing could explain so well Nanny Ainslee's popularity as the gathering of folks who came to see her off.
Fanny had stopped at the drug store and bought some headache pills.
"This excitement and hurry and you not scarcely eating any supper is apt to give you a bad headache. They'll come handy. And here's some seasick tablets. Martin says they're the newest thing out. And oh, Nanny, when you're seeing all those new places and people just take an extra look for me, seeing as I'll never know the color of the ocean."
Uncle Tony was tending to Nanny's hand luggage and in his heart wishing he could go along, even though he knew that one week spent away from his beloved hardware store would be the death of him.
It was a neighborly crowd that waited for the 10:27. And as it waited Jim Tumley started singing "Auld Lang Syne." He began very softly but soon the melody swelled to a clear sweetness that hushed the laughing chatter and stilled the shuffling feet of the Pullman passengers who crowded the train vestibules or strolled in weary patience along the station platform.
Then the 10:27 swung around the curve and the good-bys began.
"So long, dear folks! I shall write. Don't you dare cry, Grandma. I'll be back next lilac time. Remember, oh, just remember, all you Green Valley folks, that I'll be back when the lilacs bloom again!"
Nanny's voice, husky with laughter and tears, rippled back to the cluster of old neighbors waving hats and handkerchiefs. They watched her standing in the golden light of the car doorway until the train vanished from their sight. Then they drifted away in twos and threes.
From the dimmest corner of the observation platform a man had witnessed the departure of Nanny Ainslee. He had heard Jim's song, had caught the girl's farewells. And now he was delightedly repeating to himself her promise—"I'll be back when the lilacs bloom again."
Then quite suddenly he stepped from the train and made his way to where the magenta-pink and violet lights of Martin's drugstore glowed in the night. He bought a soda and some magazines and asked the druggist an odd question.
"When," asked the stranger, smiling, "will the lilacs bloom again in this town?"
Martin, who for hours had been rushing madly about, waiting on the thirsty crowd of stalled visitors, stopped to stare. But he answered. Something in the mysteriously rich face of the big, brown boy made him eager to answer.
"From the middle of next May on into early June."
The stranger smiled his thanks in a way that made Martin look at his clerk with a mournful eye.
"Jee-rusalem! Now, Eddie, why can't you smile like that? Say, if I had that fellow behind this soda counter I'd be doing a rushing business every night."
When the Limited was again winging its way toward the Golden West and train life had settled down to its regular routine, one dining-car waiter was saying to another:
"Yes, sah—the gentleman in Number 7 is sure the mighty-nicest white man I eber did see. And he sure does like rice. Says he comes from India where everybody eats it all the time. I ain' sure but what that man ain' a sure-enough prince."
SPRING IN GREEN VALLEY
Traveling men have a poor opinion of it. Ministers of the gospel have been known to despair of it. Socially ambitious matrons move out of it, or, if that is not possible, despise it. Real estate men can not get rich in it. And humorless folk sometimes have a hard, sad time of it in Green Valley.
But Uncle Tony, the slowest man in town but the very first at every fire and accident, says that once, when the Limited was stalled at the Old Roads Corner, a crowd of swells gathered on the observation platform and sized up the town.
One official, who—Uncle Tony says—couldn't have been anything less than a Chicago alderman, said right out loud:
"Great Stars! What peace—and cabbages!"
And another said solemnly, said he, "This is the place to come to when you have lost your last friend." And there was no malice, only a hungry longing in his voice.
The stylish, white-haired woman who, Uncle Tony guessed, must have been the alderman's wife, said, "Oh—John! What healing, lovely gardens!"
There's always a silly little wind fooling around the Old Roads Corners and so you get all the sweet smells from Grandma Wentworth's herb garden and all the heavenly fragrance that the flower gardens of this end of town send out.
Standing there you can look into any number of pretty yards but especially Ella Higgins'. Of course Ella's yard and garden is a wonder. It's been handed down from one old maid relative to another till in Ella's time it does seem as if every wild and home flower that ever bloomed was fairly rooted and represented there. It's in Ella's garden that the first wild violets bloom; where the first spring beauty nods under the bushes of bridal wreath; where the last chrysanthemum glows.
Everybody in town got their lilies-of-the-valley roots and their yellow roses from Ella. Her peonies and roses, pansies and forget-me-nots are known clear over in Bloomingdale and bespoken by flower lovers in Spring Road. And as for her tulips, well—there are little flocks of them everywhere about, looking for all the world like crowds of gayly dressed babies toddling off to play.
The only time that poor Fanny Foster came near making trouble was when she said that of course Ella's place was all right but that it had no style or system, and that you couldn't have a proper garden without a gardener. Ella had scolded Fanny's children for carelessly stripping the lilacs.
Fanny Foster is as wonderful in her way as Ella's garden, though not so beautiful at first sight. Of course Green Valley loves Fanny Foster. Green Valley has reason to. Fanny did Green Valley folks a great service one still spring morning. But strangers just naturally misunderstand Fanny. They see only a tall, sharp-edged wisp of a woman with a mass of faded gold hair carelessly pinned up and two wide-open brown eyes fairly aching with curiosity. You have to know Fanny a long time before the poignant wistfulness of her clutches at your heart, before you can know the singular sweetness of her nature. And even when you come to love her you keep wishing that her collars were pinned on straight and that her skirts were hung evenly at the bottom. There are those who remember the time when Fanny was a beautiful girl, happy-go-lucky but always kind-hearted. Now she is famous for her marvelous instinct for news gathering and her great talent in weaving the odds and ends of commonplace daily living into an interesting, gossipy yarn. Green Valley without Fanny Foster would not be Green Valley, for she is a town institution.
However, before going any further into Green Valley's special characters and institutions it would be well to get a general feel of the town into one's mind. For it is only when you know how cozily Green Valley sets in its hollows, how quaintly its old tree-shaded roads dip and wander about over little sunny hills and through still, deep woods that you can guess the charm of it, can believe in the joyousness of it. For Green Valley is a joyous, sweetly human old town to those who love and understand it.
Take an early spring day when the winter's wreck and rust and deadness seem to be everywhere. Yet here in the Green Valley roads and streets little warm winds are straying, looking for tulip beds and spring borders. The sunshine that elsewhere looks thin and pale drops warmly here into back yards and ripples ever so brightly up and down Rabbit's Hill, where the hedges are turning green and David Allan is plowing.
The willows back of Dell Parsons' house are budding and all aquiver with the wildly glad, full-throated warblings of robins, bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds and bobolinks. While somewhere from the swaying tops of last year's reeds, up from the grassy slopes of Churchill's meadow, comes the sweet, clear call of meadow larks.
In the ditches the cushioning moss is green and through the brown tangled weeds along Silver Creek the new grass is peeping. The sunny clearing back of Petersen's woods will be full of mushrooms as the days deepen. And already there are big golden dandelions in Widow Green's orchard.
In these still, warm noons you can hear through the waiting, echoing air the laughing shouts of playing children and the low-dropping honk of the wild geese that in a scarcely quivering line are sailing northward across the reedy lowlands which the gentle spring rains will turn into soft, violet, misty marshes.
The last bit of frost has thawed out of the old Glen Road and in the young sunshine it seems to laugh goldenly as it climbs up, up to Jim Gray's squatty, weathered little farmhouse. The eastern windows of this little silver-gray house are gay with blossoming house plants and across the back dooryard, flapping gently in the spring breeze, is a line of gayly colored bed quilts. For Martha Gray has begun her house-cleaning.
The woodsy part of Grove Street, the part that was opened up only five years ago and is called Lovers' Lane because it curves and winds mysteriously through a lovely bit of woodland, is already shimmering with the life and beauty of spring.
Down on Fern Avenue, which is a wide, grassy road and no avenue at all, Uncle Roger Allan is carefully painting his chicken coops. Roger Allan is a tall, twinkling, smooth-shaven old man, and he lives in a house as twinkling and as tidy as himself. He is a bachelor, but years ago he took little David from the dead arms of an unhappy, wild young stepsister and has brought him up as his own. People used to know the reasons why Roger Allan had never married but few remember now. Here he is at any rate, painting his chicken coops and standing still every now and then to stare off at Rabbit's Hill where his boy, tall, sturdy David Allan, is plowing the warm, black fields.
Up in a narrow lane, at the side window of a blind-looking little house, sits Mrs. Rosenwinkle. She is German and badly paralyzed and she believes that the earth is flat and that if you walked far enough out beyond Petersen's pasture you would most certainly fall off. She also believes that only Lutherans like herself can go to heaven. But to-day, beside the open window, with a soft, wooing, eiderdown little breeze caressing her face, she is happy and unworried, her eyes busy with the tender world and the two chubby grandchildren tumbling gleefully about in the still lane.
In his little square shoe shop built out from his house Joe Baldwin is arranging his spring stock in his two modest show windows. Joe is a widower with two boys, a gentle voice, a gentle, wondering mind, and a remarkable wart in the very center of his left palm. His shop is a sunny, cheerful room with plenty of benches and chairs. The little shop has a soft gray awning for the hot days and a wide-eyed competent stove for cold ones. Nobody but Grandma Wentworth and such other folks like Roger Allan ever suspect the real reason for all those comfortable sitting-down places in Joe's shop. And Joe never tells a soul that it is just an idea of his for keeping his own two boys and the boys of other men under his eye. In Joe's gentle opinion the hotel and livery barn and blacksmith shop are not exactly the best places for young boys to frequent. But of course Joe never mentions such opinions out loud even to the boys. He just makes his shop as inviting and homelike as possible, keeps the daily papers handy on the counter and a basket of nuts or apples maybe under his workbench. He is never lonely nor does he miss a bit of news though he seldom goes anywhere but to the barber shop on Saturdays and to church on Sundays.
Out on her sunny cellar steps sits Mrs. Jerry Dustin, sorting onion sets and seed potatoes. She is a little, rounded old lady with silvery hair, the softest, smoothest, fairest of complexions, forget-me-not eyes and a smile that is as gladdening as a golden daffodil. Few people know that she has in her heart a longing to see the world, a longing so intense, a life-long wanderlust so great that had she been a man it would have swept her round the globe. But she has never crossed the State line. She has big sons and daughters who all somehow have inherited their father's stay-at-home nature. Her youngest boy, Peter, however, is only seventeen and on him she has built her last hopes. He, like herself, has a gipsy song in his heart and she often dreams of the places they will visit together.
And while she is waiting for Peter to grow up she travels about and around Green Valley. She wanders far up the Glen Road into the deep fairy woods between Green Valley and Spring Road. Here she strays alone for hours, searching for ferns and adventure.
Once a week she rides away to the city where she spends the morning in the gay and crowded stores and the afternoon in the Art Institute. She never wearies of seeing pictures. She never, if she can help it, misses an exhibition, and whenever the day's doings have not tired her too much this little old lady will steal off to the edge of the great lake and dream of what lies in the world beyond its rim. She often wishes she could paint the restless stretch of water but though she knows its every mood and though she is a wonderful judge of pictures she can not reproduce except in words the lovely nooks and beauty spots of her little world.
Perhaps it is this knowledge of her limitations that causes that little strain of wistful sadness to creep into her voice sometimes and that sends her very often out beyond the town, south along Park Lane to the little Green Valley cemetery.
She loves to read on the mossy stones the unchanging little histories, so brief but so eloquent, some of them. The stone that interests her most and that each time seems like a freshly new adventure is the simple shaft that bears no name, no date, just the tenderly sweet and pathetic little message:
"I miss Thee so."
Mrs. Jerry Dustin knows very well for whom that low green bed was made and who has had that little message of lonely love cut into stone. But she longs to know the rest of the story.
Sometimes she has a real adventure. It was here at the cemetery one day that she met Bernard Rollins, the artist. He was out sketching the fields that lie everywhere about, rounding and rolling off toward the horizon with the roofs of homesteads and barns just showing above the swells, with crows circling about the solitary clusters of trees, and men and horses plodding along the furrows.
No artist could have passed Mrs. Jerry Dustin by, for in her face and about her was the beauty that she had for years fed her soul. So Rollins spoke to her that summer day and they are friends now, great friends. She visits his studio frequently and he tells her all about France or Venice or wherever he has spent his busy summer. And she sits and listens happily.
Rollins bought out what used to be in Chicago's young days an old tavern and half-way house. It was a dilapidated old ruin, crumbling away in a shaggy old orchard full of gnarled and ancient apple trees, satin-skinned cherry trunks, some plums and peaches, and tangled shrubs of all kinds.
With the aid of his wife Elizabeth, some dollars and much work, Rollins transformed the old ruin into the sort of a country place that one reads about and imagines only millionaires may have. They say that when Old Skinflint Holden saw the transformation he stood stock-still, then tied his team to the artistic hitching post under the old elms and went in search of Rollins. He found him in the orchard in the laziest of hammocks literally worshipping the flowering trees all about him. Old Skinflint Holden was awed.
"Jehohasaphat! Bern, how did you do it?"
"Oh," smiled the artist, "we cleaned and patched it, put on a new bit here and there and sort of nursed it into shape. Doc Philipps gave us bulbs and seeds and loads of advice and then Elizabeth, I guess, sort of loved it into a home."
"Well—I guess," mused Skinflint Holden. "Must have cost you a pretty penny?"
"Why, no, it didn't. I'm telling you it wasn't a matter of dollars so much as love. If you use plenty of that you can economize on the money somewhat. Of course, it means work but love always means service, you know."
Old Skinflint Holden couldn't understand that sort of talk. It was said that love was one of the things he knew nothing about. His great star was money. He had had a chance to buy the old tavern but had seen no possibilities in it of any kind. So he had passed it up and now a man whose star was love and home had made a paradise of the hopeless ruin.
"And I'll be danged if he didn't have a whole small field of them there blue lilies that the children calls flags, over to one corner looking so darn pretty, like a chunk of sky had dropped there. I'd a never believed it if I hadn't saw it. I guess Doc Philipps didn't give him them."
Rollins is a great crony of Doc Philipps who almost any day of the year may be caught burrowing in the ground. For Doc Philipps is a tree maniac and father to every little green growing thing. He knows trees as a mother knows her children and he never sets foot outside his front gate without having tucked somewhere into the many pockets about his big person a stout trowel, some choice apple seeds, peach and cherry stones or seedlings of trees and shrubs. In every ramble, and he is a great walker, he searches for a spot where a tree seedling might grow to maturity and the minute he finds such a place off comes his coat, back goes his broad-rimmed hat and out comes the trowel and seed. Travelers driving along the road and catching sight of the big man on his knees say to each other, "There's Doc Philipps, planting another tree."
Up in the big, prim old Howe house sits Madam Howe. She is called Madam to distinguish her from her daughter-in-law, Mrs. George Howe. She is a regal old lady of eighty-three and spends most of her time in her room up-stairs where are gathered the wonderful heirlooms,—older, far older than she.
There is the mellow brown spinning wheel, and armchairs nearly two hundred years old and a walnut table that was mixed up in countless weddings and a beautifully carved old chest and a brocade-covered settee. There are old, old books and family portraits and there is the wonderful Madam herself, regal and silver-haired. If she likes you she will take you to her great room and tell you about the Revolutionary War as it happened in and to her family; and about her great ride westward in the prairie schooner; about the Indians and the babyhood of great cities, and the lovely wild flowers of the virgin prairie; about the wild animals, the snakes, the pioneer men and women of what is now only the Middle West.
She will take from out that age-darkened, beautiful chest dresses and bits of lace and samplers like the one that hangs framed above her writing desk and tells how it was stitched by one,
ABIGAIL WINSLOW PAGE, Age 13.
There is one thing you must always remember if you wish to stand in Madam's good graces. You must never sit down on the brocade-covered settee with the beautiful rose wreath hand-carved on its gracefully curving walnut back. Some day when she gets to know you very well she will tell you of the wonderful love stories that were enacted on that settee. She will begin away, away back with some great-great-grandmother or some great-grand-aunt and come gradually down to her own time and history; and as she tells of the young years of her life, her eyes will go dreaming off into the past and she will forget you entirely. And you will slip away from that great room and leave her sitting there, regal and silver haired, her face mellow and sweet with the golden memories of far, by-gone days.
You can wander in this happy, aimless fashion all about Green Valley, go in and out its deep-rooted old homes, stroll through its tree-guarded old streets, and at every turn taste romance and adventure, revel in beauty of some sort. Even the old, red-brick creamery, ugly in itself, is a thing of beauty when seen against a sunset sky.
The people who pass you on the streets all smile and nod, stranger though you are. And if you happen to be at the little undistinguished depot just as the 6:10 pulls in, you will see pouring joyously out of it the Green Valley men, those who every day go to the great city to work and every night come thankfully back to their little home town to live.
They hurry along in twos and threes, waving newspaper and hand greetings to the home folks and the store proprietors who stand in their doorways to watch them go by.
There is a fragrant smell of supper in the air and a slight feel of coming rain. Here and there a mother calls a belated child. Doors slam, dogs bark and a baby frets loudly somewhere. In somebody's chicken coop a frightened, dozing hen gargles its throat and then goes to sleep again. The frogs along Silver Creek and in Wimple's pond are going full blast, and in her fragrant herb garden stands Grandma Wentworth. She is looking at the gold-smudged western sky and watching the sweet, spring night sift softly down on Green Valley.
She stands there a long time sensing the great tide of new life that is flushing the world into a new, tingling beauty. She sees the lacy loveliness of the birches, the budding green glory of her garden. Then she smiles as she tells herself:
"It won't be long now till the lilacs bloom again. Nanny will be here soon now. And who knows! Cynthia's boy may come back to live in his mother's old home."
THE LAST OF THE CHURCHILLS
Even in beautiful Los Angeles days can be rainy and full of gnawing cold and gloom.
On such a day Joshua Churchill lay dying. He could have died days before had he cared to let himself do so. But he was holding on grimly to the life he no longer valued and held off as grimly the death he really craved. He was waiting for the coming of the boy who was so soon to be the last of the Churchills.
He meant, this grim old man, to live long enough to greet the boy whom he remembered first as a baby, then as a little chap of ten, and later as a shy boy of seventeen.
Joshua Churchill had been to India several times. But he had never stayed long. He said that no man who had spent the greater part of his life in Green Valley could ever be happy or feel at home anywhere else.
Joshua Churchill went to India to see his daughter and grandson; but mostly to coax that daughter's wonderful husband to give up his fanatically zealous work among the heathen of the Orient and come and live in peace and plenty in a little Yankee town where there was a drug store and a post office and a mossy gray old stone church with a mellow bell in its steeple.
The wonderful and big son-in-law always listened respectfully to his big Yankee father-in-law. Then he would smile and point to the little brown babies lying sick in their mothers' arms.
"Somebody," he would say gently, "must help and heal and neighbor with these people."
As there was no answer that could be made to this the Yankee father-in-law said nothing. But the very last time he was in India he looked sharply at his daughter and then said wearily and bitterly:
"Sinner and saint—we men are all alike. We each in our own way kill the women we love. Cynthia is dying for a sight of Green Valley and Green Valley folks."
At that Cynthia's husband cried out. But Joshua Churchill did not stay to argue. He went away and never came back. He wanted of course to go back to Green Valley. But he could not bear to live alone in the big house where he had once been so happy. So he went instead into exile. And now he was dying in California.
As for Cynthia's husband, he discovered when it was too late to do any good that while he had been saving the souls and the children of alien women and men he had let the woman who was dearer to him than life die slowly and unnoticed. Saints have always done that and they always will.
Joshua Churchill meant to stay alive long enough to explain the shortcomings of both saints and sinners to the boy who was the last of the Churchills. He had half a mind to exact a promise from the boy. He meant too to tell him a long and a rather strange story and implore him to beware of a number of things.
But when Cynthia's son,—tall, bronzed and serene, smiled down on the old man who even in death had the look of a master, the warnings, the bitterness melted away and Joshua Churchill smiled back and sighed gratefully.
"Well, son,—I don't know as that saint father of yours and your sinning granddad made such a mess of things after all. It's something to give the world a man. Go back home to Green Valley and marry a Green Valley girl."
And without bothering to say another word Joshua Churchill died.
Nanny came back to her valley town when the budded lilacs dripped with rain and the wooded hillsides were blurred with spring mists.
But Green Valley rain never bothered Nanny Ainslee. Those who were not out to greet her telephoned as soon as they heard she was back home again.
And just as she had gone to help pack, Grandma Wentworth came to help unpack. There were three trunks besides those Nanny had taken, from Green Valley. Nanny laughed and chuckled as she explained.
"The joke's on father. We met up with a nice American chap on our travels. He was so likable that father, who was pretty homesick by that time and would have loved anything American, fell in love with him. I can't quite understand why I didn't lose my head too. I came mighty near it once or twice. But the minute I'd think of that boy here in Green Valley I'd grow cool and calm. That's all that saved me, I believe. But father was quite taken with him and being a man he felt sure that I must be. He was so sure that my maiden days were over that he dared to be funny. One day he sent up these three brand new trunks to the hotel. Said I might as well get my trousseau while I was gadding about this time. Well—I was pretty mad for a minute. But I concluded that father wasn't the only one in our family who is fond of a joke. So I just blushed properly and went off shopping. And I tell you, Grandma, Green Valley will just grow cross-eyed looking at the pretties that I have in these treasure chests. I showed Dad every mortal thing I bought and asked his advice and was oh, so shy—and wondered if he just could let me spend so much; and Dad just laughed and said he guessed an only daughter could be a bit extravagant, and to just go ahead. So I smiled again shyly and demurely and went ahead. And when not so much as a bit of ribbon or a chiffon veil could be squeezed in anywhere I shut those trunks and sat on them and swung my feet and bet Dad that I wouldn't marry that boy after all. And he was so sure that he was rid of me at last and that he could start out on his next trip blissfully free and alone that he bet me Jim Gray's Gunshot that I'd be married in six months to the gentleman in question. Of course it was a disgraceful business, the two of us betting on a thing like that, but somehow we never thought of that, we were so busy teasing each other. Well, of course Dad lost. I refused that nice chap three times in one week. And here I am, heart-free still, with three trunks of booty and the finest, blackest, and swiftest little horse in the county—mine. This has certainly been a profitable trip! Poor Dad, he's so delightfully old-fashioned. He does so believe in early marriages and husbands and wedding veils. And he thinks that twenty-three is absolutely a grewsome age. Poor Dad! And he says too that for what I have done to him in this trunk deal I shall be duly punished. That the good Lord who looks after the fathers of willful, old-maidish daughters will see to that. Why, he has gone so far as to say that he wouldn't be surprised if I wound up by marrying some weird country minister. Fancy that! Why, that from father is almost a curse. And he's worried sick about my riding Gunshot. But I shall manage. So expect to see me dash up to your gate in great style any day now."
"Nanny," warned Grandma, "I don't trust that horse either. You'd better be mighty careful. That horse isn't mean but it's young and scary."
Nan however laughed at fear and rode all about and around Green Valley town. And then one evening when she was least watchful and tired from the long day's sport, a glaring red motor came honking unexpectedly around the corner. So sudden was its appearance, so startling its body in the sunset light, so shrill its screeching siren, that the young horse reared. And Nan, caught unprepared, was helpless.
From the various groups of people standing about figures detached themselves and shot across the square. But before any one could reach her or even see how it happened, a tall stranger was holding the daring girl close against his breast with one arm, and the quivering young horse with the other.
He was reassuring the frightened animal and looking quietly down at the girl's face against his breast. Under that quiet look Nan's blue-white lips flushed with life and she tried to smile gratefully. When he smiled back and said, "So you did get back by lilac time," Nan was well enough to wonder what he meant. And the little crowd of rescuers arrived only just in time to hear Nanny thanking him.
But when he asked her where in Green Valley town Mary Wentworth lived everybody stared and listened. Even Nan came near staring. But after the puzzled look her face broke into a smile.
"Oh—you mean Grandma Wentworth?"
He smiled too and said, "Perhaps. I am a stranger in Green Valley. But my mother was a Green Valley girl. She was Cynthia Churchill and Mary Wentworth was her dearest friend."
"Then you are—why, you must be—" stammered Nanny.
"I am Cynthia Churchill's son."
"From India?" questioned Nan.
"From India," he said quietly.
From out the group of Green Valley folks, now dim in the May twilight, a voice spoke.
"You may come from India but if you are Cynthia Churchill's son you are a Green Valley man and this is home. So I say—welcome home."
Roger Allan, straight and tall and speaking with a sweetness in his voice those listening had never heard before, stepped up to the young man with outstretched hand.
The young stranger looked for a moment at the dimming streets, into the kindly faces about him, and then shook hands gladly.
"It is good to be home," he said, "but I wish I had mother here with me."
A RAINY DAY
On a rainy day Green Valley is just as interesting as it is in the sunshine. Somehow though the big trees sag and drip and the wind sighs about the corners there is nothing mournful about the streets.
The children go to school just as joyously in raincoats and rubber boots. Their round glad faces, minus a tooth here and there, smile up at you from under big umbrellas. After the school bell rings the streets do get quiet but there is nothing depressing about that; for as you pass along you see at doors and windows the contented faces of busy women.
Old Mrs. Walley sits at her up-stairs front window sewing carpet rags. Grandma Dudley at her sitting room window is darning her grandchildren's stockings and carefully watching the street. Whenever anybody passes to whom she wants to talk she taps on the window with her thimble. She is a dear entertaining old soul but hard to get away from. Women with bread at home waiting to be put into pans and men hungry for their supper try not to let Grandma Dudley catch sight of them.
Bessie Williams always makes cinnamon buns or doughnuts on rainy days. She always leaves her kitchen door open while she is doing this because she says she likes to hear the rain while she is working—that it soothes her nerves.
So as you come up from around Bailey's strawberry patch and Tumley's hedge you get a whiff of such deliciousness as makes your mouth water. And more than likely Bessie sees you and comes running out with a few samples of her heavenly work. As you dispose of those cinnamon buns you forget that Bessie's voice is a trifle too high and too sweet, and that she is inclined to be at times a bit overly religious and too watchful of what she calls "vice" in people.
Over in front of the hotel Seth Curtis is standing up in his wagon and sawing his horses' mouths cruelly. Seth has been so viciously mistreated in his youth that he now abuses at times the very things that he loves. He has paid two hundred and fifty dollars apiece for those horses and is mighty proud of them. But Seth's temper is never good on a rainy day. Rain means no teaming and a money loss. Seth is a mite too conscious of money. At any rate, the loss of even a dollar makes him a sullen and at the least provocation an angry man. He isn't liked much except by his wife and children.
In his home Seth is gentle and kind. Maybe because here he finds the love and trust that all his life he has craved and been denied. Few of his neighbors know how he laughs and romps and sings with his children and what wonderful yarns he tells them, all made up out of his own head.
He is known to come from York State and has a Yankee shrewdness that some people say can at times be called something else. He is wide and square-shouldered though short, has a round stubborn head of reddish hair with a promising bald spot, close-set blue eyes and an annoying, almost an insulting habit of paying all his bills promptly and asking odds and favors of nobody.
To-day he was to have taken a load of stones, granite niggerheads of all sizes, up to Colonel Stratton's place. The Colonel is going to make a fern bed around his summer house.
Colonel Stratton is a real military colonel. He wears burnsides and they are very becoming. He has the most beautifully located residence in Green Valley and like Doc Philipps has some of the most beautiful trees in town. The great silver-leaf poplar guarding the wide front lawns and the magnificent hardwood maples are the pride of the colonel's heart.
The colonel has a cultivated garden that keeps his gardener pretty busy. But the wild-flower garden along the rambling old north fence the colonel tends himself. In June it is a hedge of lovely wild roses followed a little later by masses of purple phlox. Then come the meadow lilies and the painted cup and so on, until in late October you can not see the old fence for the goldenrod, asters and gentians.
Today the colonel hoped to work on his fern bed but the weather being what it is he takes instead from his well-filled book shelves "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" and settles down to a day of solid joy.
In the big, softly stained house that stands in the solemn shade of immense pines, just diagonally across from the colonel's house, lives and labors Joshua Stillman, a man with the most wonderful memory, the readiest tongue when there is real need of it, a little man brimful of the most varied information and the sharpest humor.
For forty years and more he has been Green Valley's self-appointed librarian. He draws no salary except the joy of doing what he loves to do and he squanders, as his friends truly suspect, much secret money of his own on it. The library is housed in the old church in a room so small and dark that it hides the big work of this little man.
Joshua Stillman must be old but nobody ever thinks of what his age might be, he is so very much alive. He goes to the city every day and comes back early every afternoon. As he so seldom talks about himself nobody knows exactly what he does except that it has to do with books and small print.
Like Madam Howe, Joshua Stillman comes from the Revolutionary War district and has great family traditions to uphold. He upholds them with great humor. Not only is he full of old war and family lore, but he has been mixed up with things literary. He has known men such as Lowell and tells yarns about Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes.
He too came West in a prairie schooner and remembers all its wildness, its uncouthness, its railroadless state. And he tells marvellous stories about snakes, Indians and the little Chicago town built out on the mudflats. He remembers very well indeed the steady stream of ox-teams toiling over the few crude state roads. And he has in his house rare volumes, valuable editions of famous works. He lets you examine these if he thinks you are trustworthy and have a gentle way with books.
There is another rare soul, the Reverend Alexander Campbell, who must be introduced this rainy spring day. He is a retired Green Valley minister and is full of humor and wisdom. He is an easily traced descendant of the Scottish Stuarts. On a rainy day you will always find him busy writing up the history of his family. Not that he himself cares a fig for his genealogy. He is writing the book because it gives him something to do and earns him a little peace from the women folks.
He is a man whom the Lord has seen fit to try with a host of female relatives, all family proud. He can fight the Devil and has done so quite gallantly in four or five volumes of really good old-fashioned sermons, "books," as he will tell you with a twinkle in his eye, "that nobody could or would read nowadays." But he can not fight the women of his family, so with a mournful chuckle he sits down every rainy day and labors mightily on this great "historical work."
On sunny days he goes about his grounds, petting his trees and his chickens, and working in his garden. He has several ingenious methods of fighting weeds and raises the earliest, best and latest sweet corn in Green Valley.
But men like the Colonel and Joshua Stillman and the Reverend Alexander Campbell are representatives of Green Valley's leisure class. They give Green Valley its high peace, its aristocratic flavor. But they are a little remote from the town's workday life, being given to dreams and memories and scholarly pursuits. They know little of the doings and talks that go on in Billy Evans' livery barn, or the hotel. They do, of course, go to the barber shop, the bank and the postoffice, and always when abroad give courteous greeting to every townsman. But they have never sat in the smoky, red-painted blacksmith shop or among the patriarchs and town wits who in summer keep open-air sessions on the wide, inviting platform in front of Uncle Tony's hardware store, and in winter hold profound meetings around the store's big, glowing stove.
Uncle Tony's is the most social spot in town and is from a news-gathering point of view most ideally situated. Sitting in one of the smooth-worn old armchairs that Uncle Tony always keeps handy, you can view the very heart of Green Valley's business life. Without turning your head scarcely you can keep an eye on Martin's drug store, keep tab on the comings and goings of the town's two doctors, and the hotel's arriving and departing guests. If a commotion of any kind occurs in front of Robert Hill's general store you see all the details without losing count of the various parties who go in and out of Green Valley's new bank.
Twice a day the active part of Green Valley dribbles into the post-office where friends instantly pair off and mere acquaintances stand idly by and discuss the weather. Besides its mail, Green Valley usually buys two cents' worth of yeast and a dozen of baker's buns and then goes down the street and orders its regular groceries at Jessup's.
Jessup's has been the one Green Valley grocery store ever since the flood or thereabout, so venerable an establishment is it. Green Valley would as soon think of changing its name as permitting a new grocer to open up a rival store. And nobody dreams of disloyalty when buying trifles at the post-office. In fact housewives are openly glad that Dick, the postmaster, has taken to keeping strictly fresh yeast for their leisure days and nice bakery things for times of stress and unexpected company.
Dick Richards is a small, smiling, curly-headed man who looks older than he should. This is because he wears a big man's mustache and is a self-made boy. His parents died when he was barely old enough to realize his loss and since then he has fought the world without a single weapon unless cheerfulness and a giant patience can be called weapons. Small, ungifted, he early learned to be content with little. But side by side with this cheerful content is always the giant hope of great things to come. And so though Green Valley buys only its yeast and buns over his little counter he is happy and wraps each purchase up carefully. And all the time he is thoughtfully, carefully setting out other handy things and aids to the harassed housewife. For with his giant patience Dick is waiting,—waiting and planning for a time that is coming, that he knows must come. He talks these matters over with no one except Joe Baldwin. He and Joe are great friends. Joe's little shop is such a restful, hopeful place and Joe himself a gentle rather than a loud and swearing man. One can talk things over joyfully with Joe and feel sure of having one's confidence understood and kept. Like Joe, Dick shrinks a little from the noisy, wholly earthy atmosphere of the livery barn and blacksmith shop. He and Joe often go together of a Saturday to the barber shop. They usually stay after closing hours for the barber is their mutual friend.
This barber, John Gans, is a talker, a somewhat fierce and vehement little man who lectures on many subjects but mostly on human rights and politics. Joe and Dick, both silent men, look with awe at John's great mental and discoursive powers. And because his views are theirs they listen with something like joyful gratitude to hear their own thoughts so clearly and fearlessly expressed.
The fiery little barber is thought by some to be a German anarchist and by others a Russian socialist. Joe and Dick have been repeatedly warned against him. But they are his loyal friends at all times. This three-cornered friendship is little understood by the town and ridiculed as a childish thing by the great minds that foregather at Uncle Tony's.
But Grandma Wentworth remarked one Saturday afternoon, right in the heart of town too, when Main Street was so crowded that everything that was said aloud would be told and retold at church the next moraine and repeated through the countryside the week following,—pointing to Joe, Dick and John who all three happened to be going to the bank for change,—"There go Green Valley's three good little men. And that makes me think. I have another letter from Nanny Ainslee from Italy enclosing foreign stamps for John."
Now until then nobody knew that John Gans was collecting stamps. But that's Grandma Wentworth. She always knows things about people that nobody else knows. And when any Green Valley folks go a-traveling they sooner or later write to Grandma Wentworth. Sooner or later they get homesick for Green Valley and they write for news to the one person who, they know, will not fail to answer.
Of course some of them, like Jamie Danby, get into trouble. Jamie ran away from home with a third-rate show. The show got stranded somewhere in the western desert and Jamie wanted to come home. He knew that his mother would be glad to see him but he wasn't at all sure of his father. So he wrote to Grandma Wentworth, begging her to fix things up. And she did.
And there was Tommy Dudley who went away home-steading somewhere out West and who writes regularly to Grandma Wentworth in this fashion:
". . . for heaven's sake send me your baking-powder biscuit recipe and how do you make buckwheat pancakes, and send me all kinds of vegetable seeds and what's good for chicken lice and a sore throat, and tell Carrie Bailey I ain't forgot her and that as soon as I've got things going half-way straight here I'll come back and get her. Just now the dog, the mules and chickens and a family of mice and I are all living peacefully together in the one room but we're awful healthy if a good appetite is any kind of a sign. I can't write to Carrie because her folks open all her letters and they'd nag her into marrying that old knock-kneed, squint-eyed, fat-necked son-of-a-gun of an Andrew Langly, if they thought she was having anything to do with a worthless heathen cuss like me. And say, Grandma, throw in some of your flower seeds, those right out of your own garden, you know, the tall ones along the fence and the little ones with the blue eyes and the still white ones that smell so sweet. You don't know how lonesome I get off here. I've got that picture of you in the sunbonnet right where it's handy, but how I wish I had a picture of you without the sunbonnet so's I could see your face, and say, Grandma, since I've been alone out here I've come to see the sense in praying now and then, and tell Freddy Williams I'll knock the stuffin's out of him when I hit town which will be in about two years at the latest. He knows what for. Is Hank Lolly still talking his way into three square meals a day and drinks, and is all the news still ground over at Uncle Tony's gossip factory and is Mert Hagley as big a tightwad as ever and is it true that Billy Evans married a red-headed girl from Bloomingdale and started a livery barn, and has Green Valley got a minister yet that's suitable to you and Uncle Roger Allan? I'll have to stop and run out to the mail box with this. The nearest one is twenty-five miles away but that's near in this country and now for pity's sake, Grandma, don't forget . . ."
She didn't forget a thing. The messages were all delivered, the seeds sent off and every question fully answered. Grandma did more than that. She had Nanny Ainslee take pictures of the various Green Valley institutions while going full blast. How Tommy laughed at the familiar faces in Uncle Tony's armchairs and at Hank Lolly leaning up against the livery barn, and how homesick he grew as he looked at the crowd getting off at the station, and the school children playing in the old school yard where he used to play. The picture of Grandma Wentworth and Carrie standing on Grandma's front porch hurt his throat and shook him strangely. That was Tommy Dudley.
And there was Susie Melton. Grandma saved and remade Susie that time she went to New York to see the world. Susie had taught a country school for twenty years, ever since she was sixteen, and that trip to New York was her first vacation. Susie was an innocent soul and the very second day in the great city some heartless thief took everything out of her purse but a two-cent stamp. Susie was panic-stricken and the only thing she could think of was Grandma Wentworth's face. So she took that stamp and sent a letter to Green Valley and it was Grandma Wentworth who really managed that vacation though to this day nobody but she herself knows how and she won't tell. Susie came back so rejuvenated, with such color in her cheeks, such brightness in her eyes, and so much snap and spunk in her system that Jake Tuttle up and married her two months after she came home. And he's been happy ever since for in spite of her school-teaching handicap Susie has turned out to be a born cook and housewife. And as if to make up to her those twenty colorless years Providence sent Susie twin boys at the end of her first year and twin girls at the end of the third.
This blossoming out of little drab Susie Melton was a shock to Green Valley. But Grandma Wentworth wasn't a mite surprised and said she knew that Susie would come into her own some day. As for Jake, he is so in love with his rosy little wife and his four good-looking children that he just goes on raising bumper crops without hardly knowing how he does it. And he says he doesn't hanker much after heaven; that home is plenty good enough for him. And when he goes to town Jake takes care to tie his team in front of Billy Evans' place instead of the hotel.
"Not that I can't take a drink or two and stop," he explained to Billy, "but I have good cider and buttermilk and Susie's grape juice to home and the smartest of us ain't any too wise while we stand beside a bar. And I'd ruther go home dead than go back to Susie and the children the least bit silly with liquor. When the Almighty sends a man like me a family like mine He's got something in His mind and I ain't agoing to spoil things just for a drink or two of slops."
So on rainy days Billy's office is the gathering place for such men as find the atmosphere in the hotel and blacksmith shop a little too fragrantly spirited for their eventual domestic happiness.
Not that Billy is a teetotaler. No, indeed. He has his drink whenever he wants it. And he good-naturedly permits such staggering wretches as the hotel refuses to accommodate to sleep it off in his barns. And he is the only man in Green Valley who ever seriously hired Hank Lolly and kept him sober twelve hours at a stretch. The other business men make considerable fun of Billy's hired help; the trifling boys he hires, boys that everybody else has tried and sent packing. Billy says nothing though he did explain fully to Grandma Wentworth once.
"You see it's like this, Grandma. I ain't fixed to pay fancy wages just yet and those kids that everybody runs down ought to be off the streets doing something. Of course some of them are trifling. But I ain't such a stickler for sharp-edged goodness myself nor in any way at all virtuous. I'm terrible easy-going myself and I know just how kids like Charlie Pinley feel working for a man, a careful, exact man like Mr. James D. Austin. By gosh! if I had to work a whole week for Mr. Austin I'd kill myself. Never could stand too much neatness and worrying about time being money and human nature too full of meanness. No, sir,—I can't live like that. I guess maybe it's because I'm kind of no-account myself that I understand these kids and they understand me. They all like horses same as me and I pay them all I can afford and will do more for them when things pick up and grow.
"Now there's people as laugh about me hiring Hank Lolly. I guess it's the first time Hank has ever held a job longer than a week. But I tell you, Grandma, I like Hank and I understand him. And I don't ever think I'm fit enough myself to be forever preaching at him about reforming. I figure that what a man eats and drinks is none of my business in a way. But I did explain to Hank that if he would come and work for me I'd furnish him with so many drinks every day and meals and a comfortable place to sleep. I showed him that it was better to be sure of a few drinks every day than to get blind drunk on a week's wages and then go weeks maybe without a decent spree, without decent meals, maybe without underwear and an overcoat. And Hank saw the sense of that. He gets his meals up at the house. My old woman (Billy's wife was a pretty girl of twenty-three and still a bride) sides in with what I'm doing and she sets Hank down every day to three square meals. And a man just can't hold so much liquor on a comfortably filled stomach. Anyhow, Hank is doing fine and I'm putting a few dollars in the bank unbeknownst for him. I can't trust him just yet with any noticeable amount of cash. But I'm never down on him for his drinking. No, sir! Every time he feels that he must get drunk or die why he just comes up and tells me and I get him whatever he thinks he needs for his jag and let him get full right here where I can watch him. Why—Grandma, Hank has an easier life than I have. He doesn't need to worry about anything and he knows it. And I'll be goshed if I don't think he's improving. He don't need a jag near so often as he used to and I can trust him now with any kind of work. Why, only last week I gave him a moving job, a big one, and sent him off twenty miles with my two best teams. And he brought those loads of furniture back O. K., dry and without a scratch, though I couldn't sleep all night listening to the buckets of rain dashing against the house and thinking of Hank drunk out there in it with the furniture and wagons in splinters and the horses dead maybe. And honest, when I saw him pull up into the barns, I just hauled him off that seat and—well—I just said things, told him what I thought of him and how I appreciated what he'd done. 'And now, Hank,' I says, 'you can have the greatest old jag you've ever planned on for this.'
"And I'm goshed if he didn't laugh out kind of funny and says he, 'Billy, I'm so goldarned wet right now that I couldn't stand another drop of wetness anywhere. But all these five hours that the rain was a-sloshing me I kept thinking of them there apple dumplings with cream that Mrs. Evans makes (Hank always calls the old woman Mrs. Evans). So, Billy, if it's all the same to you and I could get full on them there apple dumplings, why, them's my choice.'
"Well—say, I just jumped to the telephone and I guess the old woman was making apple dumplings before I got through talking. Anyway, Hank filled up so that he said he felt like a flour barrel with an apple tree a-sprouting out of it. And Doc Philipps says it's a good sign, Hank liking sweet things that way, because a man soaked in alcohol can't abide sweets.
"And so that's Hank. Now this week I hired that little spindle-legged Barney boy. I hired him to keep this dumbed office clean so's my old woman wouldn't raise such hell every time she steps in here. I'm goshed if this here stove don't get fuller of ashes quicker than any other stove in Green Valley. And you know the boys who come in here do spit about careless like and that dumbed screen door is always open and the calendars do get specked up considerable. And the old woman is just where I don't want her being upset about anything.
"Well, I hired that Barney boy to keep the place clean. You know that So-and-So (we won't mention any names) fired him because he said the kid stole money. Well, now—Grandma, you know that's a hard thing to start out a boy in life with in a town of this size, especially a little spindle-legged one at that. I felt real sorry for the young one so I calls him in here day before yisterday and I says:
"'Look here, Barney, could you keep this place clean?'
"'Sure,' he says.
"'All right, then sail in now. The broom's right behind the door somewheres and scarcely used and there's sawdust and rags somewheres in the barn. Ask Hank about them. And Barney,' I says, 'here's the money in this right-hand drawer. Sometimes people come in when everybody's out and you might have to make change.'
"The boy kind of flushed but I didn't let on I noticed. I only said, 'You know, Barney, I'm just beginning this business and I'm poor so you keep a sharp eye on the change and help me get this business going lickety-split so's we'll all be rich together. For when the profits go up here the wages are going up. It isn't just my livery barn, Barney, but yours, too, so just you go to it and if ever you want anything or make a mistake just you come and tell me and it'll be all right.'
"Now, Grandma, that's all I said to that young one and I'll be goshed if I don't think that kid's turning out to be the best bet I've made. But, of course, I always think that about every one of them. But, honestly, Grandma, Barney has brought in five new customers and last week he kept chinning and holding on to a sixth man that come in here until I came in and made the deal. Never let go of him a minute and just entertained him to kill time and give me a chance to get here. And I'm going to buy some books to learn myself and Barney bookkeeping. We can't none of us keep books here and that dumbed account book is lost every time you want it and I've got the poorest memory. Of course, now and then a party comes in and tries to get out of paying but the boys usually settle him and so I don't lose much that way. But the old woman wants me to do this slick and proper and her word goes. So Barney and I are going to study.
"I'm telling you all this, Grandma, because you always did understand my crazy way of doing things ever since that time when you sent me to the store for that can of molasses and I give the money to the tramp instead. Remember?"
Billy laughed heartily at the memory and Grandma Wentworth laughed, too, laughed so hard that she had to wipe her eyes. And she smiled all the way home.
"Some day," said Grandma Wentworth to her old friend and neighbor, Roger Allan, "I'll ask some minister to preach a sermon on 'God's Humor.' I suppose that the Almighty gets so tired running things just so and listening to petitions for sunshine and petitions for rain and to prayers for automobiles and diamonds and interest on mortgages and silk stockings, death and babies that some days he just gets tired of being a serious God and shuffles things up for a joke. And, mark me, Roger, that boy, Billy Evans, is just one of God's tender jokes. If only people would see that and laugh.
"Now, Billy has no money sense, no business ability. That's what the real business men like George Hoskins and all the old blessed Solomons at Uncle Tony's say. Yet Billy is making money. His business is growing just because without knowing it Billy has got hold of the biggest force in the world to run his business. He's just using love,—plain, old-fashioned love,—and love is making money for Billy. He's picked out of the very gutters all the human waste and rubbish that the others, the wise business men, threw there and with the town's worst drunkard and half a dozen mistreated, misborn, misunderstood boys he's playing the business game and winning. He's got the knack of making his help feel like partners and he's so square and sensible in his dealings with them that they are all ready to die for him. Now if that isn't the greatest kind of a business gift I want to know.
"And every time I think of smiling, untidy Billy Evans with a pretty wife as neat as wax, living in a house that she has made as sweet and pretty as a picture—well—I just laugh. Nobody but God could have arranged things and balanced them up like that. Talk about any of us improving things in this world! If we'd only learn to mind our own business as well as God minds His."
But very few besides Grandma Wentworth understood Billy and his livery barn. Even Joe Baldwin failed to see just what Billy was doing in his droll, unconscious, warm-hearted way. Still Joe liked Billy. In fact, everybody liked Billy. And he was welcomed everywhere and nowhere more than in George Hoskins' blacksmith shop.
Next to the bank building George Hoskins was considered the most solid thing in town. He was the brawny blacksmith and people said a very rich man. He was big in every way. Big in body, big in temper, big in his friendships, big in his drinks. He was indeed so big a man that he did not know how to be mean or little in any way. He did not know his own great strength nor think much of the weakness of his fellows. His grand proportions and great simplicity were what attracted men to him. Women did not know and so could not like him.
To them George Hoskins was a great, grimy ogre. George, big in all things, was big in his love for the tiny woman who was his wife. Other women George did not see though he spoke to them on the street. He had pleaded on bended knees for the love of his tiny woman and when he got her all other women became just strange shadows. So only his wife and Doc Philipps knew how tender a heart was his.
Green Valley housewives caught glimpses of this man's great figure towering above the roaring forge and saw the crowd of lesser men, their husbands, gathered about him. They went home and told each other that George Hoskins was a big, rude brute, that he drank like a fish and would bring the town to ruin, for he was the village president.
And while they were saying these things about George Hoskins he was perhaps throwing out of his shop some smug traveling man who had stepped into it to get in out of the rain and had mistakenly tried to make himself at home there by telling a filthy yarn that sullied all womanhood.
These then are a few of the many human attractions of Green Valley. They are listed here to give the right sort of setting and the proper feel to this story of Green Valley life.
So Cynthia's son came home and Green Valley took him to its heart and loved him as it had loved his mother long ago. Everywhere he was spoken of as Cynthia's boy and no one seemed to remember that he was born in heathen India instead of in the old porticoed house on the Churchill farm.
Green Valley knew that very first week, of course, that Cynthia's son was very nearly twenty-eight years old and that his full name was John Roger Churchill Knight. But what it did not know for some weeks was that among other interesting things Cynthia's son was a minister, a duly certified preacher of the gospel. It was remembered in a general way that Cynthia's husband had been some sort of a wonderful foreign missionary or something; but a man who was Joshua Churchill's only grandchild and heir needed no other ancestor. So Green Valley was astounded one Sunday morning, when the Reverend Campbell was unexpectedly ill, and the Reverend Courtney off somewhere answering a new call, and Green Valley without a pastor, to have Cynthia's boy quietly offer to take charge of the services.
If Green Valley was astounded to hear that Cynthia's son was a minister it was too awed to speak in anything but an amazed whisper of that first sermon that the tall young man from India talked off so quietly from the pulpit of the old gray stone church.
To this day they tell how without a scrap of paper to look at, without raising his voice in the slightest, this boy made Green Valley listen as it had never listened before. For an hour he talked and for that length of time Green Valley neighbored with India, saw it as plainly as if it was looking over an unmended, sagging old fence right into India's back yard.
With the simplicity of a child this boy with Cynthia Churchill's eyes and smile and voice told of Indian women and children and Indian homes. The colors, the smells, the mystic beauty and the dark tragedy of it he painted and then very gently and easily he told of his trip back to his mother's home town and so without a jar he landed his listeners, wide-eyed, breathless and prayerfully thankful for their manifold blessings back in their own sunlit and tree-guarded streets.
For no reason at all seemingly Green Valley began to wipe its eyes and come out of its trance. Neighbor looked at neighbor and strange things were seen to have happened.
Old man Wiley, the aged and chronically sleepy janitor was actually sitting wide awake. Old Mrs. Vingie, who for years annoyed every Green Valley parson by holding her hand to her right ear and pretending to be deafer than she really was, was sitting bolt upright, both ears and hands forgotten. For once Dolly Beatty forgot to fuss with her hat or admire her hands in the new lavender gloves two sizes too small. The choir even forgot to flirt and yawn and never once looked bored or superior.
Jimmy Rand, after having carefully inserted in his hymn book a copy of Diamond Dick's latest exploits, forgot to read it. And the row of little boys whose mothers always made them sit in the very first pew never so much as thought of kicking each other's shins or passing a hard pinch down the line or even quietly swapping lucky stones and fish hooks for a snake skin or a choice piece of colored glass.
Why, it was even reported that Mert Hagley so far forgot himself as to absent-mindedly drop a bill into the basket when it came by. Some said, of course, that Mert was after the repair work on the old Churchill homestead but those nearest Mert swore that this could not be, that Mert had looked as surprised as those around him when he saw what he had done. Green Valley laughed and said a miracle had happened. And even Seth Curtis got curious and remarked that he had half a mind to go and hear the boy himself, that anybody who could peel a bill off of Mert Hagley's roll was surely a curiosity.
Cynthia's son had walked with Roger Allan through the twilight of his first real day in Green Valley to Grandma Wentworth's cottage and the three had sat talking until the small hours. Then Grandma had taken Cynthia's tall son up-stairs into the large airy guest room. She came down a little later to find Roger gazing at a framed photograph of a long gone day.
She came and looked too at the group of young faces. At herself, then a girl of eighteen; at the boy beside her who later became her husband; and at Cynthia, lovely Cynthia Churchill, laughing out at life in her sweet yet serious way.
"Well, Roger," Grandma spoke softly with a hint of tears in her voice, "we have waited years, you and I, for a message from her, a heart message. And now it has come—it has come. She has sent us her boy."
"Yes," breathed Roger Allan, "she has sent us the message—she has sent me her son."
They knew, these two, why he had come. It may be that even the tall young man whose father and mother were sleeping the long sleep in far-off India may have guessed why in the end the frail but still lovely mother had begged him to go back to Green Valley, to its sweet old homes and warm-hearted folk. To bring comfort and find it—that had been the little mother's plan.
He believed he would find it. The loneliness that had tired him so ever since his mother slipped away was no longer a sharp, never silent pain, a great emptiness, but rather a sweet sorrow that was almost a friend.
He slept in the big airy room with its patchwork quilt of blue and white, its rugs and curtains to match, and looked at pictures of his mother. From the windows he watched the sun rise and shine on the merry little hills and the yellow road that wound up to his mother's old home. As he breathed in the wine of the spring mornings he comprehended the great hunger, the wild longing, that at times must have overwhelmed the little mother in those last days in India. And he thought he understood those last words of hers.
"Son, you must stay with your father as long as he needs you. But when that duty is over you must go back to the little green town on the other side of the world. Your father and I brought a message to India. You must take one back to my people. Oh, you will love it—you will love it—the little dear town full of friends and everywhere the fragrance of home. Oh, there are many there who will love you for my sake and who will make up to you for—me."
Her hand caressed his hair and her voice trailed off into a sigh for she knew what he didn't, wouldn't believe—that she was never to see that little green town across the gray-green ocean waves.
At the very last she had whispered:
"Oh, Boy of Mine, when you go home greet them all for me. And if ever you go to rummaging about in the attic remember you must never open the square trunk with the brass nail heads unless Mary Wentworth is there to explain. Tell Mary I love her and that I am not sorry. She will understand."
So as he looked out of Grandma Wentworth's upstairs windows he remembered those last talks and understood that yearning for home. When he had been in Green Valley only a few weeks the old life began to grow vague and unreal. The mother was real and near. But the splendid figure of his father was fading into a strange memory. He was a father to be proud of, that strong, cool, selfless man who had asked nothing of life but to take what it would of him.
He had seemed so towering, so enduring, that preacher father. Yet when the frail mother went the strong man followed within a year. So then there was nothing to do but go home to Green Valley. He went. And the spirit of the vivid little mother seemed to have come with him. Every day that he spent in the town that had reared her seemed to bring her nearer. He could picture her going about the sunny roads and friendly streets and stopping to chat and neighbor with Green Valley folks.
So he too roamed over the town and chatted and neighbored as he felt she would have done. That was how he came to know every nook and cranny, every turn of the happily straying roads and all the lame, odd, damaged and droll characters that make a town home just as the broken-nosed pitcher, the cracked old mirror in an up-stairs bedroom, and the sagging old armchair in the shadowy corner of the sitting room make home.
Not only did he come to know these people but he understood them. For his was the quick eye and interpreting heart willed him by a great father and an equally great mother. And because he came into Green Valley with a fresh mind and a keen appetite for life nothing escaped him, not even old Mrs. Rosenwinkle sitting in paralyzed patience beside the open window of her little blind house.
He was strolling one day up the little grassy lane, thinking that it led into the cool, thick grove back of the little house that stared so blindly out into the green world. He had been following a new bird and it had darted into the grove. So he came upon the little house and the still grim old soul who sat at the open window as if to guard that little end of the world.
It was a snug, still spot, that little green lane, and was so carpeted with thick grasses and screened with verdure that the harsh noises of a chattering, working world could not ruffle its peace and serenity. Cynthia's son filled it and the still, lonely old woman was fascinated with his bigness, his merry gladness, but most of all with his understanding friendliness. She told him all her story, her past trials and present griefs. And he told her strange things about people he had seen in other parts of the world, blind people living in foul alleys instead of sunny lanes, crippled ones with neither home nor kin of any kind. He told her much but made no effort to convince her that the earth was round, and when he went he left with her the very fine pair of field glasses with which he had been tracking the wonderful song bird that had escaped him. He showed her how to use them and for the first time in fifteen years old Mrs. Rosenwinkle forgot that she was paralyzed.
When he came in to his supper that evening Cynthia's son wanted to know why old Mrs. Rosenwinkle couldn't have a wheel-chair, one of those that she could work with her hands. He said that he thought she must be pretty tired sitting beside that window even if it was open. And why couldn't she have a window on each of the other sides of her room?
"My stars—boy! There's no reason that I know of why that old body can't have a wheel chair or more windows. Only Green Valley hasn't ever thought of it. She's always been so set in her notions and so out of the way of things that I expect we have forgotten her."
The third time that Cynthia's son brought little Jim Tumley home because the little man's wandering feet could not find their way to shelter, he wanted to know why little Jim was not in the choir. So Grandma told him, and it was his turn to be puzzled.
"But I don't understand. The church is for the weak, the needy, the blind, maimed and foolish who don't know how to seek happiness wisely. The happy, strong, sensible people don't, as a matter of fact, need looking after," said Cynthia's son.
"My!" laughed Grandma, "I believe I've heard that or read that somewhere. Do they really practice that kind of religion in aged India? In these parts the churches are still built by the good for the good and the unfit have to shift for themselves."
But when he asked why Jim Tumley didn't have a piano to take up his spare time and keep him out of harm's way, Grandma was a bit scandalized.
"Why, people in Jim Tumley's circumstances don't own pianos. It wouldn't be proper. A second-hand organ is all they have any right to be ambitious for. Why, Mary Tumley would no more think of touching her savings, of buying a piano, than I would think of buying a second black silk or a diamond ring. So much style would be wicked."
"But if it would help to save the little man—if—"
"Well," smiled Grandma, "I'll mention it to Mary the very next time I see her."
"Do. And while you are about it you might ask Jim to sing a solo for us both Sunday morning and evening. If little Jim Tumley doesn't sing I won't talk," said the Reverend John Roger Churchill Knight.
So Joshua Churchill's rich grandson, Cynthia's son, traveled the high roads and low roads and had all manner of experiences and adventures and he discovered many stray, odd facts which later came in mighty handy.
He rode out into the country districts with Hank Lolly, sitting beside that worthy on the high wagon seat and listening most carefully to the description of every farm, its inmates, the barn dimensions and contents, the depth of the well, cost of the silo, number of pigs, sheep, the amount of tiling, and the make of the family graphophone.
Sometimes busy farm wives came hurrying out from the back or side doors, wiping their hands on their aprons, to ask Hank to take a mess of peas or beans to a less fortunate neighbor or to carry a basket of dishes over to the next farm where the thrashers were going to be for supper; and "Hank, just bring me a setting of turkey eggs from Emily Elby's. I've 'phoned and she has them all ready."
Mrs. Tooley, up the Elmwood road, entrusted the obliging Hank with the following message:
"Tell Doc Mitchell that if he don't get my new set of teeth ready for the thrashing I'll hev the law on him for breaking up my happy home. Two of my old beaux're coming to the thrashing and if they was to see me without my teeth they'd jest naturally make Jim miserable and me a divorcee."
Mrs. Bodin was sending her daughter, Stella, some little overalls made over for the twins from their grandpa's and a bottle of home made cough medicine "and one of my first squash pies for Al. And here's a pie for your trouble, Hank, and a few of these cookies you said you like."
Hank stowed everything carefully away, with no show of nervous haste, and when they were well started remarked to John Churchill Knight:
"You know the best part of staying sober is that you get taken in on so many things and almost you might say into so many families. People tell you things and ask your help and advice and by gum after awhile you get to feeling that maybe you're somebody too instead of jest a mess of miserableness. Why, I've got friends jest about everywhere, I guess.
"There's them as asks me sarcastic like if I don't find this kind of work dry and lonesome but I jest ask them to come along and see. Why, do you see that there house yonder? Those folks are relatives of Billy Evans' and as soon as ever I turn this corner, Mollie, that's the youngest girl, will start the graphophone going with my favorite piece. The last time I come by I found a box of candy on the mail box for me. That was from Winnie, the oldest, for bringing home her new dress from the dressmaker's.
"Yes, sir, it's jest wonderful how human and pleasant everybody is. Why, if I jest keep on a-being sober and associating with folks like this—why—I'm jest naturally bound to be kind of decent myself. And when you think of what I was—well—there's no use in talking—I was low—jest low. Ask anybody but Billy Evans and they'll tell you fast enough. Of course Billy's naturally prejudiced and his word ain't hardly to be credited.
"And here I am on a nice summer morning riding with the minister and with the whole country acting as if I'd always been decent."
Maybe it was Hank who first called him the minister. It may of course have been that old Mrs. Rosenwinkle, who, not knowing his name for some time, explained him to her daughter as "the new preacher of the lost."
At any rate, when Fanny Foster came to make her periodical report it was found that to the lonely, the outcast and the generally unfit Cynthia's son was "the new minister." And his influence was already felt by those who as yet regarded him as just a Green Valley boy who was helping out. Fanny Foster voiced this sentiment in Joe Baldwin's shop when she was paying for the four patches Joe had just put on her second best pair of shoes.
"Well—I shouldn't wonder if Green Valley hadn't got a minister to its taste at last. He hasn't been regularly appointed and I guess he don't realize himself that he's it but I'm pretty sure that the minute Parson Courtney steps out that's just what's going to happen. Of course there's them that says it can't. Mr. Austin says it would be a terrible mistake, that he's too young; and Seth Curtis says no rich man would be fool enough to pester himself with a dinky country church. But I guess people like Seth and Mr. Austin ain't the kind of people that have much to say. He's doing regular minister's work, comforting the sick and picking up the fallen and pacifying the quarrelsome, and it's work like that that'll elect him.
"And he's getting mighty popular, let me tell you, even with them that no other minister could please or get near. There's old Mrs. Rosenwinkle. She loves him just because he never tried to tell her that the earth was round. Why, she says he's as good as any Lutheran. And Hank Lolly said that maybe when that new suit Billy's ordered him out of the new mail-order catalogue gets here, he'll go hear him preach. It seems the minister's been driving around with Hank all over creation and Hank says he can get along with him as easy as he does with Billy.
"And did you hear what he did for Jim Tumley? It seems the minister told Grandma Wentworth what a fine voice Jim had and what an ear for music. And he was most surprised that Jim never even had a second-hand organ of his own in the house but had to go over to his sister's, Mrs. Hoskins, for to play a little tune when the fancy took him. He said it was an awful pity that a man who wanted music so badly and was always so obliging at weddings and funerals and entertainments should be without a proper instrument. And Grandma just said, 'My land, nobody's ever thought of that but I'll speak of it.'
"Well, she did and the consequence is that Mary Tumley is so nervous she can't sleep. She says if she takes the savings out of the bank there won't be enough money for a Keeley cure, or a respectable funeral for Jim in case he dies. She's struggled and struggled but come to the conclusion that it wouldn't be right and would set an awful example to the Luttins next door, who are extravagant enough as it is.
"But it's my notion that Jim Tumley will get his organ and maybe a piano. I saw him going in with Frank Burton on that early morning train and it means something. Besides, Grandma told me that Frank fairly hates himself for not thinking of it before and waiting like a born idiot for a boy to come all the way from India and tell him what to do for his best friend.
"Agnes Tomlins says she's got a good mind to go and see the minister about Hen. She says that if Hen don't quit abusing her and tormenting her she's going to leave him; that her sister Mary over in Aberdeen has a big up-stairs bedroom all aired and waiting for her. It seems that Hen's more than contrarily stubborn lately. He's contradicted Agnes publicly time and again and gone against her in private till Agnes says there's no living with him.
"But she says she would overlook everything except Hen's keeping a secret drawer in his chiffonier. It seems Hen has gone and locked that bottom drawer and Agnes can't either buy or borry a key that will open it. And she can't find where Hen has hid his, try as she may. And when she mentions that drawer to Hen, saying she wants to red up, he lets on like he don't know what she's talking about but he does, because he told Doc Philipps, when he went to see about his liver, that if he couldn't wear a soft collar or a soft hat like other men and keep a dog and smoke in the house, and eat strawberries or whistle or go to ball games on Sundays and prize fights on the sly, why, there was one thing he could do and would have and that was a drawer, a whole chiffonier drawer, all to himself. And that he bet there weren't many men in Green Valley that could say as much. Hen just swore that he intends to have something all his own and that nobody'll open that drawer except over his dead body.
"Dolly Beatty was sitting in the waiting room and heard him. Of course, she's a great friend of Bessie Williams and told her and Bessie told Laura Enbry and of course it got to Agnes. So she's going to speak to the minister and maybe get a divorce, which will be the first divorce scandal in Green Valley.
"Now that's the sort of thing that goes on in Green Valley. And if the new minister is supposed to calm these troubled waters he's got my sympathy. Joe, I think you're charging me ten cents too much for these patches. They're not as big as the ones you put on the other pair and those were fifty cents."
So without a conscious move on anybody's part Cynthia's son became Green Valley's minister. All the necessary rites gone through, Green Valley accepted him as it accepted the sunshine and rain, the larks and wild roses, and all the other gifts that heaven chose to send.