Her Friend Mrs. Lathrop
Author of "A Woman's Will," etc.
BOSTON Little, Brown, and Company
Copyright, 1903, 1904, BY THE CENTURY COMPANY.
Copyright, 1904, BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
THE UNIVERSITY PRESS CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.
The first four chapters of "Susan Clegg and her Friend Mrs. Lathrop" appeared in "The Century Magazine" as separate stories during the past year. They have been revised and partly rewritten for book publication, and "The Minister's Vacation," never before printed, has been added.
Miss Clegg and her friend Mrs. Lathrop, as well as the other characters in the book, and the scenes in which they figure, are wholly imaginary.
Page I The Marrying of Susan Clegg 1
II Miss Clegg's Adopted 43
III Jathrop Lathrop's Cow 83
IV Susan Clegg's Cousin Marion 126
V The Minister's Vacation 166
And her Friend Mrs. Lathrop
THE MARRYING OF SUSAN CLEGG
Susan Clegg and Mrs. Lathrop were next-door neighbors and bosom friends. Their personalities were extremely congenial, and the theoretical relation which the younger woman bore to the elder was a further bond between them. Owing to the death of her mother some twenty years before, Susan had fallen into the position of a helpless and timid young girl whose only key to the problems of life in general had been the advice of her older and wiser neighbor. As a matter of fact Mrs. Lathrop was barely twelve years the senior, but she had married and as a consequence felt and was felt to be immeasurably the more ancient of the two.
Susan had never married, for her father—a bedridden paralytic—had occupied her time day and night for years. He was a great care and as she did her duty by him with a thoroughness which was praiseworthy in the extreme she naturally had very little leisure for society. Mrs. Lathrop had more, because her family consisted of but one son, and she was not given to that species of housekeeping which sweeps under the beds too often. It therefore came about that the one and only recreation which the friends could enjoy together to any great extent was visiting over the fence. Visiting over the fence is an occupation in which any woman may indulge without fear of unkind criticism. If she takes occasion to run in next door, she is of course leaving the house which she ought to be keeping, but she can lean on the fence all day without feeling derelict as to a single duty. Then, too, there is something about the situation which produces a species of agreeable subconsciousness that one is at once at home and abroad. It followed that Susan and Mrs. Lathrop each wore a path from her kitchen door to the trysting-spot, and that all summer long they met there early and late.
Mrs. Lathrop did the listening while she chewed clover. Just beyond her woodpile red clover grew luxuriantly, and when she started for the place of meeting it was her invariable custom to stop and pull a number of blossoms so that she might eat the tender petals while devoting her attention to the business in hand.
It must be confessed that the business in hand was nearly always Miss Clegg's business, but since Mrs. Lathrop, in her position of experienced adviser, was deeply interested in Susan's exposition of her own affairs, that trifling circumstance appeared of little moment.
One of the main topics of conversation was Mr. Clegg. As Mr. Clegg had not quitted his bed for over a score of years, it might seem that his novelty as a subject of discussion would have been long since exhausted. But not so. His daughter was the most devoted of daughters, and his name was ever rife on her lips. What he required done for him and what he required done to him were the main ends of her existence, and the demands of his comfort, daily or annual, resulted in numerous phrases of a startling but thoroughly intelligible order. Of such a sort was her usual Saturday morning greeting to Mrs. Lathrop, "I 'm sorry to cut you off so quick, but this 's father's day to be beat up and got into new pillow-slips," or her regular early-June remark, "Well, I thank Heaven 't father 's had his hair picked over 'n' 't he's got his new tick for this year!"
Mrs. Lathrop was always interested, always sympathetic, and rarely ever startled; yet one July evening when Susan said suddenly, "I 've finished my dress for father's funeral," she did betray a slight shock.
"You ought to see it," the younger woman continued, not noticing the other's start,—"it's jus' 's nice. I put it away in camphor balls, 'n' Lord knows I don't look forward to the gettin' it out to wear, f'r the whole carriage load 'll sneeze their heads off whenever I move in that dress."
"Did you put newspaper—" Mrs. Lathrop began, mastering her earlier emotions.
"In the sleeves? Yes, I did, 'n' I bought a pair o' black gloves 'n' two handkerchiefs 'n' slipped 'em into the pockets. Everythin' is all fixed, 'n' there 'll be nothin' to do when father dies but to shake it out 'n' lay it on the bed in his room. I say 'in his room,' 'cause o' course that day he 'll be havin' the guest-room. I was thinkin' of it all this afternoon when I sat there by him hemmin' the braid on the skirt, 'n' I could n't but think 't if I sit 'n' wait very much longer I sh'll suddenly find myself pretty far advanced in years afore I know it. This world's made f'r the young 's well's the old, 'n' you c'n believe me or not jus' 's you please, Mrs. Lathrop, but I 've always meant to get married 's soon 's father was off my hands. I was countin' up to-day, though, 'n' if he lives to be a hunderd, I 'll be nigh onto seventy 'n' no man ain't goin' to marry me at seventy. Not 'nless he was eighty, 'n' Lord knows I ain't intendin' to bury father jus' to begin on some one else, 'n' that's all it 'd be."
Mrs. Lathrop chewed her clover.
"I set there thinkin' f'r a good hour, 'n' when I was puttin' away the dress, I kep' on thinkin', 'n' the end was 't now that dress 's done I ain't got nothin' in especial to sew on 'n' so I may jus' 's well begin on my weddin' things. There's no time like the present, 'n' 'f I married this summer he 'd have to pay f'r half of next winter's coal. 'N' so my mind's made up, 'n' you c'n talk yourself blind, 'f you feel so inclined, Mrs. Lathrop, but you can't change hide or hair o' my way o' thinkin'. I 've made up my mind to get married, 'n' I 'm goin' to set right about it. Where there's a will there 's a way, 'n' I ain't goin' to leave a stone unturned. I went down town with the kerosene-can jus' afore tea, 'n' I bought me a new false front, 'n' I met Mrs. Brown's son, 'n' I told him 't I wanted him to come up to-morrow 'n' take a look at father."
"Was you thinkin' o' marryin' Mrs. Br——" Mrs. Lathrop gasped, taking her clover from her lips.
"Marryin' Mrs. Brown's son! Well, 'f your mind don't run queer ways! Whatever sh'd put such an idea into your head? I hope you 'll excuse my sayin' so, Mrs. Lathrop, but I don't believe anybody but you would ever 'a' asked such a question, when you know 's well 's everybody else does 't he's runnin' his legs off after Amelia Fitch. Any man who wants a little chit o' eighteen wouldn't suit my taste much, 'n' anyhow I never thought of him; I only asked him to come in in a friendly way 'n' tell me how long he thinks 't father may live. I don't see my way to makin' any sort o' plans with father so dreffle indefinite, 'n' a man who was fool enough to marry me, tied up like I am now, would n't have s'fficient brains to be worth lookin' over. Mrs. Brown's son 's learnin' docterin', 'n' he's been at it long enough so 's to be able to see through anythin' 's simple 's father, I sh'd think. 'T any rate, 'f he don't know nothin' yet, Heaven help Amelia Fitch 'n' me, f'r he'll take us both in."
"Who was you thinkin' o'—" Mrs. Lathrop asked, resuming her former occupation.
"The minister," replied Miss Clegg. "I did n't stop to consider very much, but it struck me 's polite to begin with him. I c'd marry him without waitin' for father, too, 'cause a minister could n't in reason find fault over another man's bein' always to home. O' course he would n't be still like father is, but I ain't never been one to look gift-horses in the mouth, 'n' I d'n' know 's I 'd ought to expect another man jus' like father in one life. Mother often said father's advantages was great, for you always knew where he was, 'n' 'f you drew down the shade you c'd tell him it was rainin' 'n' he could n't never contradick."
Mrs. Lathrop nodded acquiescently but made no comment.
Miss Clegg withdrew somewhat from her confidentially inclined attitude.
"I won't be out in the mornin'," she said. "I sh'll want to dust father 'n' turn him out o' the window afore Mrs. Brown's son comes. After he's gone I'll wave my dish-towel, 'n' then you come out 'n' I 'll tell you what he says."
They separated for the night, and Susan went to sleep with her own version of love's young dream.
Mrs. Brown's son arrived quite promptly the next morning. He drove up in Mr. Brown's buggy, and Amelia Fitch held the horse while he went inside to inspect Mr. Clegg. The visit did not consume more than ten minutes, and then he hurried out to the gate and was off.
The buggy was hardly out of sight up the road when Miss Clegg emerged from her kitchen door, her face bearing an imprint of deep and thorough disgust.
"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I don't think much o' that young man," she announced in a tone of unmitigated disapproval; "'peared to me like he was in a hurry to get done with father 's quick 's he could just so 's to be back beside Amelia Fitch. I 'd venture a guess that 'f you was to ask him this minute he 's forgot every word I said to him already. I asked him to set some sort of a figger on father, 'n' he would n't so much 's set down himself. Stood on one leg 'n' backed towards the door every other word, 'n' me, father's only child, standin' there at his mercy. Said 't last 's he might die to-morrow 'n' might live twenty years. I tell you my patience pretty near went at that. I don't call such a answer no answer a tall. I 've often thought both them things myself, 'n' me no doctor. Particularly about the twenty years. Father's lived seventy-five years—I must say 't to my order o' thinkin' he's pretty well set a-goin', 'n' that the life he leads ain't drainin' his vitality near 's much 's it's drainin' mine."
Miss Clegg stopped and shook her head impatiently.
"I d'n' know when I 've felt as put out 's this. 'N' me with so much faith in doctors too. It's a pretty sad thing, Mrs. Lathrop, when all the comfort you c'n get out of a man is the thinkin' 't perhaps God in his mercy has made him a fool. I had a good mind to tell that very thing to Mrs. Brown's son, but I thought maybe he'd learn better later. Anyway I 'm goin' right ahead with my marriage. It'll have to be the minister now, 'n' I can't see what I 've ever done 't I sh'd have two men around the house 't once like they 'll be, but that's all in the hands o' Fate, 'n' so I jus' took the first step 'n' told Billy when he brought the milk to tell his father 't if he 'd come up here to-night I 'd give him a quarter for the Mission fund. I know the quarter 'll bring him, 'n' I can't help kind o' hopin' 't to-morrow 'll find the whole thing settled 'n' off my mind."
The next morning Mrs. Lathrop laid in an unusually large supply of fodder and was very early at the fence. Her son—a placid little innocent of nine-and-twenty years—was still in bed and asleep. Susan was up and washing her breakfast dishes, but the instant that she spied her friend she abruptly abandoned her task and hastened to the rendezvous.
"Are you goin' t'—" Mrs. Lathrop called eagerly.
"No, I ain't," was the incisive reply.
Then they both adjusted their elbows comfortably on the top rail of the fence, and Miss Clegg began, her voice a trifle higher pitched than usual.
"Mrs. Lathrop, it's a awful thing for a Christian woman to feel forced to say, 'n' Lord knows I would n't say it to no one but you, but it's true 'n' beyond a question so, 'n' therefore I may 's well be frank 'n' open 'n' remark 't our minister ain't no good a tall.—'N I d'n' know but I'll tell any one 's asks me the same thing, f'r it certainly ain't nothin' f'r me to weep over, 'n' the blood be on his head from now on."
Miss Clegg paused briefly, and her eyes became particularly wide open. Mrs. Lathrop was all attention.
"Mrs. Lathrop, you ain't lived next to me 'n' known me in 'n' out 'n' hind 'n' front all these years not to know 't I 'm pretty sharp. I ain't been cheated mor' 'n twice 'n my life, 'n' one o' them times was n't my fault, for it was printed on the band 't it would wash. Such bein' the case, 'n' takin' the minister into consideration, I do consider 't no man would 'a' supposed 't he could get the better o' me. It's a sad thing to have to own to, 'n' if I was anybody else in kingdom come I 'd never own to it till I got there; but my way is to live open 'n' aboveboard, 'n' so to my shame be 't told 't the minister—with all 't he's got eight children 'n' I ain't even married—is certainly as sharp as me. Last night when I see him comin' up the walk I never 'd 'a' believed 's he c'd get away again so easy, but it just goes to show what a world o' deceit this is, 'n' seein' 's I have father to clean from his windows aroun' to-day, I 'll ask you to excuse me 'f I don't draw the subjeck out none, but jus' remark flat 'n' plain 't there ain't no chance o' my ever marryin' the minister. You may consider that a pretty strong statement, Mrs. Lathrop, 'n' I don't say myself but 't with any other man there might be a hereafter, but it was me 'n' not anybody else as see his face last night, 'n' seein' his face 'n' bein' a woman o' more brains 'n falls to the lot of yourself 'n' the majority, I may just as well say once for all that, 's far 's the minister's concerned, I sh'll never be married to him."
"What did he—" began Mrs. Lathrop.
"All 't was necessary 'n' more too. He did n't give me hardly time to state 't I was single afore he come out strong 't we 'd both better stay so. I spoke right out to his face then, 'n' told him 't my shingles was new last year 'n' it was a open question whether his 'd ever be, but he piped up f'r all the world like some o' the talkin' was his to do, 'n' said 't he had a cistern 'n' I 'd only got a sunk hogshead under the spout. I did n't see no way to denyin' that, but I went right on 'n' asked him 'f he could in his conscience deny 't them eight children stood in vital need of a good mother, 'n' he spoke up 's quick 's scat 'n' said 't no child stood in absolute vital need of a mother after it was born. 'N' then he branched out 'n' give me to understand 't he had a wife till them eight children all got themselves launched 'n' 't it was n't his fault her dyin' o' Rachel Rebecca. When he said 'dyin',' I broke in 'n' said 't it was Bible-true 's there was 's good fish in the sea 's ever was caught out of it, 'n' he was impolite enough to interrupt 'n' tell me to my face 'Yes, but when a man had been caught once he was n't easy caught again.' I will own 't I was more 'n put out 't that, for o' course when I said fish I meant his wife 'n' me, but when he pretended to think 't I meant him I begin to doubt 's it was worth while to tackle him further. One man can lead a horse to water, but a thousand can't get him to stick his nose in 'f he don't want to, 'n' I thank my stars 't I ain't got nothin' 'n me as craves to marry a man 's appears dead-set ag'in' the idea. I asked him 'f he did n't think 's comin' into property was always a agreeable feelin', 'n' he said, 'Yes, but not when with riches come a secret thorn in the flesh,' 'n' at that I clean give up, 'n' I hope it was n't to my discredit, for no one on the face of the earth could 'a' felt 't there 'd be any good in keepin' on. But it was no use, 'n' you know 's well as I do 't I never was give to wastin' my breath, so I out 'n' told him 't I was n't giv' to wastin' my time either, 'n' then I stood up 'n' he did too. 'N' then I got even with him, 'n' I c'n assure you 't I enjoyed it, f'r I out 'n' told him 't I 'd changed my mind about the quarter. So he had all that long walk for nothin', 'n' I can't in conscience deny 't I was more 'n rejoiced, for Lord knows I did n't consider 't he'd acted very obligin'."
Mrs. Lathrop ceased to chew and looked deeply sympathetic.
There was a brief silence, and then she asked, "Was you thinkin' o' tryin' any—"
Miss Clegg stared at her in amazement.
"Mrs. Lathrop! Do you think I'd give up now, 'n' let the minister see 't my marryin' depended on his say-so? Well, I guess not! I'm more dead-set 'n' ever, 'n' I vow 'n' declare 't I'll never draw breath till after I've stood up right in the face o' the minister 'n' the whole congregation 'n' had 'n' held some man, no matter who nor when nor where. Marryin' was goin' to have been a pleasure, now it's a business. I'm goin' to get a horse 'n' buggy this afternoon 'n' drive out to Farmer Sperrit's. I've thought it all over, 'n' I c'n tell father 't I'll be choppin' wood; then 'f he says afterwards 't he called 'n' called, I c'n say 't I was makin' so much noise 't I did n't hear him."
"You'll have to hire—" suggested Mrs. Lathrop.
"I know, but it won't cost but fifty cents, 'n' I saved a quarter on the minister, you know. I'd like to ask you to drive out with me, Mrs. Lathrop, but if Mr. Sperrit's got it in him to talk like the minister did, I'm free to confess 't, I'd rather be alone to listen. 'N' really, Mrs. Lathrop, I must go in now. I've got bread a-risin' 'n' dishes to do, 'n', as I told you before, this is father's day to be all but scraped 'n' varnished."
Mrs. Lathrop withdrew her support from the fence, and Miss Clegg did likewise. Each returned up her own path to her own domicile, and it was long after that day's tea-time before the cord of friendship got knotted up again.
"Did you go to the farm?" Mrs. Lathrop asked. "I was to the Sewin' So—"
"Yes, I went," said Miss Clegg, her air decidedly weary; "oh, yes, I went. I had a nice ride too, 'n' I do believe I saw the whole farm, from the pigs to the punkins."
There was a pause, and Mrs. Lathrop filled it to the brim with expectancy until she could wait no longer.
"Are you—" she finally asked.
"No," said her friend, sharply, "I ain't. He wasn't a bit spry to hop at the chance, 'n' Lord knows there wa'n't no great urgin' on my part. I asked him why he ain't never married, 'n' he laughed like it was a funny subjeck, 'n' said 's long 's he never did it 't that was the least o' his troubles. I didn't call that a very encouragin' beginnin', but my mind was made up not to let it be my fault 'f the horse was a dead waste o' fifty cents, 'n' so I said to him 't if he'd marry any woman with a little money he could easy buy the little Jones farm right next him, 'n' then 't 'd be 's clear 's day that it 'd be his own fault if he didn't soon stretch right from the brook to the road. He laughed some more 't that, 'n' said 't I didn't seem to be aware 't he owned a mortgage on the Jones farm 'n' got all 't it raised now 'n' would get the whole thing in less 'n two years."
Mrs. Lathrop stopped chewing.
"They was sayin' in the Sewin' Society 's he's goin' to marry Eliza Gr—" she said mildly.
Miss Clegg almost screamed.
"Eliza Gringer, as keeps house for him?"
Her friend nodded.
Miss Clegg drew in a sudden breath.
"Well! 'f I'd knowed that, I'd never 'a' paid fifty cents for that horse 'n' buggy! Eliza Gringer! why, she's older 'n' I am,—she was to 'Cat' when I was only to 'M.' 'N' he's goin' to marry her! Oh, well, I d'n' know 's it makes any difference to me. In my opinion a man as 'd be fool enough to be willin' to marry a woman 's ain't got nothin' but herself to give him, 's likelier to be happier bein' her fool 'n he ever would be bein' mine."
There was a pause.
"Your father's just the—" Mrs. Lathrop said at last.
"Same? Oh yes, he's just the same. Seems 't I can't remember when he wasn't just the same."
Then there was another pause.
"I ain't discouraged," Susan announced suddenly, almost aggressively,—"I ain't discouraged 'n' I won't give up. I'm goin' to see Mr. Weskin, the lawyer, to-morrow. They say—'n' I never see nothin' to lead me to doubt 'em—'t he's stingy 'n' mean for all he's forever makin' so merry at other folks' expense; but I believe 't there's good in everythin' 'f you're willin' to hunt for it 'n' Lord knows 't if this game keeps up much longer I 'll get so used to huntin' 't huntin' the good in Lawyer Weskin 'll jus' be child's play to me."
"I was thinkin'—" began Mrs. Lathrop.
"It ain't no use if you are," said her neighbor; "the mosquitoes is gettin' too thick. We 'd better in."
And so they parted for the night.
* * * * *
The following evening was hot and breathless, the approach of Fourth of July appearing to hang heavily over all. Susan brought a palm-leaf fan with her to the fence and fanned vigorously.
"It ain't goin' to be the lawyer, either," she informed the expectant Mrs. Lathrop, "'n' I hav' n't no tears to shed over that. I went there the first thing after dinner, 'n' he give me a solid chair 'n' whirled aroun' in one 't twisted, 'n' I did n't fancy such manners under such circumstances a tall. I'd say suthin' real serious 'n' he'd brace himself ag'in his desk 'n' take a spin 's if I did n't count for sixpence. I could n't seem to bring him around to the seriousness of the thing nohow. 'N' I come right out square 'n' open in the very beginnin' too, for Lord knows I 'm dead sick o' beatin' around the bush o' men's natural shyness. He whirled himself clean around two times 'n' then said 's long 's I was so frank with him 't it 'd be nothin' but a joy for him to be equally frank with me 'n' jus' say 's he'd rather not. I told him he 'd ought to remember 's he 'd have a lot o' business when father died 'f he kept my good will, but he was lookin' over 'n' under himself to see how near to unscrewed he was 'n' if it was safe to keep on turnin' the same way any longer, 'n' upon my honor, Mrs. Lathrop, I was nigh to mad afore he got ready to remark 's father 'd left him a legacy on condition 't he did n't charge nothin' for probatin'."
Mrs. Lathrop chewed her clover.
"So I come away, 'n' I declare my patience is nigh to gin out. This gettin' married is harder 'n' house-paintin' in fly-time. I d'n' know when I 've felt so tired. Here's three nights 't I 've had to make my ideas all over new to suit a different husband each night. It made my very bones ache to think o' pilin' them eight children 'n' the minister on top o' father, 'n' then the next night it was a good jump out to that farm, f'r I never was one to know any species o' fellow-feelin' with pigs 'n' milkin'. 'N' last night!—well, you know I never liked Mr. Weskin anyhow. But I d'n' know who I can get now. There's Mrs. Healy's husband, o' course; but when a woman looks happier in her coffin 'n she ever looked out of it it's more'n a hint to them's stays behind to fight shy o' her husband. They say he used to throw dishes at her, 'n' I never could stand that—I'm too careful o' my china to risk any such goin's on."
Mrs. Lathrop started to speak, but got no further.
"There's a new clerk in the drug-store,—I see him through the window when I was comin' home to-day. He looked to be a nice kind o' man, but I can't help feelin' 't it 'd be kind o' awkward to go up to him 'n' have to begin by askin' him what my name 'd be 'f I married him. Maybe there's them 's could do such a thing, but I 've never had nothin' about me 's 'd lead me to throw myself at the head o' any man, 'n' it's too late in the day f'r me to start in now."
Mrs. Lathrop again attempted to get in a word and was again unsuccessful.
"I don't believe 't there's another free man in the town. I've thought 'n' thought 'n' I can't think o' one." She stopped and sighed.
"There's Jathrop!" said Mrs. Lathrop, with sudden and complete success. Jathrop was her son, so baptized through a fearful slip of the tongue at a critical moment. He was meant to have been John.
Miss Clegg gave such a start that she dropped her fan over the fence.
"Well, Heaven forgive me!" she cried,—"'n' me 't never thought of him once, 'n' him so handy right on the other side of the fence! Did I ever!"
"He ain't thir—" said Mrs. Lathrop, picking up the fan.
"I don't care. What's twelve years or so when it's the woman 's 'as got the property? Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I certainly am obliged to you for mentionin' him, for I don't believe he ever would 'a' occurred to me in kingdom come. 'N' here I've been worryin' my head off ever since supper-time 'n' all for suthin' 's close 's Jathrop Lathrop. But I had good cause to worry, 'n' now 't it's over I don't mind mentionin' the reason 'n' tellin' you frank 'n' plain 't I'd begun on my things. I cut out a pink nightgown last night, a real fussy one, 'n' I felt sick all over 't the thought 't perhaps I'd wasted all that cloth. There wasn't nothin' foolish about cuttin' out the nightgown, for I'd made up my mind 't if it looked too awful fancy on 't I'd just put it away for the oldest girl when she gets married, but o' course 'f I can't get a husband stands to reason there'll be no oldest girl, 'n' all that ten cent gingham 't Shores is sellin' off't five 'd be a dead waste o' good stuff."
Mrs. Lathrop chewed her clover.
"Do you suppose there'll be any trouble with Jathrop? Do you suppose it'll matter any to him which side o' the fence he lives on?"
Mrs. Lathrop shook her head slowly.
"I sh'd think he ought to be only too pleased to marry me 'f I want him to, all the days 't I tended him when he was a baby! My, but he was a cute little fellow! Everybody was lookin' for him to grow up a real credit to you then. Well, 's far 's that goes, it's a ill wind 't blows no good, 'n' no one c'n deny 't he's been easy for you to manage, 'n' what's sauce f'r the goose is sauce f'r the gander, so I sh'll look to be equally lucky."
Mrs. Lathrop looked proud and pleased.
"Why can't you ask him to-night 'n' let me know the first thing in the mornin'? That'll save me havin' to come 'way aroun' by the gate, you know."
Mrs. Lathrop assented to the obvious good sense of this proposition with one emphatic nod of her head.
"'N' I'll come out jus' 's quick 's I can in the mornin' 'n' hear what he said; I'll come 's soon 's ever I can get father 'n' the dishes washed up. I hope to Heaven father'll sleep more this night 'n he did last. He was awful restless last night. He kept callin' f'r things till finally I had to take a pillow and go down on the dinin'-room lounge to keep from bein' woke up any more."
"Do you think he's—"
"No, I don't think he's worse; not 'nless wakin' up 'n' askin' f'r things jus' to be aggravatin' is worse. If it is, then he is too. But, lor, there ain't no manner o' use in talkin' o' father! A watched pot never boils! Jathrop's more to the point right now."
Upon this hint Mrs. Lathrop de-fenced herself, so to speak, and the friendly chat ended for that time.
The morning after, Miss Clegg was slow to appear at the summons of her neighbor. When she did approach the spot where the other stood waiting, her whole face and figure bore a weary and fretful air.
"Father jus' about kept me up this whole blessed night," she began as soon as she was within easy hearing. "I d'n' know what I want to get married f'r, when I'm bound to be man-free in twenty-five years 'f I c'n jus' make out to live that long."
Mrs. Lathrop chewed and listened.
"If there was anythin' in the house 't father didn't ask f'r 'n' 't I didn't get him last night, it must 'a' been the cook-stove in the kitchen. I come nigh to losin' a toe in the rat-trap the third time I was down cellar, 'n' I clum that ladder to the garret so many times 't I do believe I dusted all overhead with my hair afore mornin'. My ears is full o' cobwebs too, 'n' you know 's well 's I do 't I never was one to fancy cobwebs about me. They say 't every cloud has a silver linin', but I can't see no silver linin' to a night like last night. When the rooster crowed f'r the first time this mornin', I had it in my heart to march right out there 'n' hack off his head. If it 'd 'a' been Saturday, I'd 'a' done 't too, 'n' relished him good at Sunday dinner!"
Miss Clegg paused and compressed her lips firmly for a few seconds; then she gave herself a little shake and descended to the main question of the day.
"Well, what did Jathrop say?"
Mrs. Lathrop looked very uncomfortable indeed, and in lieu of an answer swallowed her clover.
"You asked him, didn't you?"
"Well, what 'd he say?"
"He ain't very—"
"My soul 'n' body! What reason did he give?"
"He's afraid your father's livin' on a annu—"
"Well, he ain't." Susan's tone was more than a little displeased. "Whatever else father may 'a' done, he never played no annuity tricks. He 's livin' on his own property, 'n' I'll take it very kindly o' you, Mrs. Lathrop, to make that piece o' news clear to your son. My father's got bank-stock, 'n' he owns them two cottages across the bridge, 'n' the blacksmith-shop belongs to him too. There! I declare I never thought o' the blacksmith,—his wife died last winter."
"Jathrop asked me what I th—"
"Well, what 'd you tell him?"
"I said 't if your father was some older—"
Miss Clegg's eyebrows moved understandingly.
"How long is it since you've seen father?" she asked without waiting for the other to end her sentence.
"Not since your mother died, I guess; I was—"
"I wish you c'd come over 'n' take a look at him now 'n' tell me your opinion. Why can't you?"
Mrs. Lathrop reflected.
"I don't see why I can't. I'll go in 'n' take off—"
"All right, 'n' when you've got it off, come right over 'n' you'll find me in the kitchen waitin' for you."
Mrs. Lathrop returned to her own house to shed her apron and wash her hands, and then sallied over to view Mr. Clegg. The two friends mounted the stair together, and entered the old man's room.
It was a scrupulously clean and bright and orderly room, and the invalid in the big white bed bore evidence to the care and attention so dutifully lavished on him. He was a very wizened little old man, and his features had been crossed and recrossed by the finger of Time until their original characteristics were nearly obliterated. The expression upon his face resembled nothing so much as a sketch which has been done over so many times that its first design is altogether lost, and if there was any answer to the riddle, it was not the mental perception of Mrs. Lathrop that was about to seize upon it.
Instead, that kindly visitor stood lost in a species of helpless contemplation, until at last a motion of Susan's, directed towards the ordering of an unsightly fold in the wide smoothness of the counterpane, led to her bending herself to do a similar kindness upon her side of the bed. The action resulted in a slight change in her expression which Susan's watchfulness at once perceived.
"Was it a needle?" she asked quickly. "Sometimes I stick 'em in while I'm sewin'. You see, his havin' been paralyzed so many years has got me where I'm awful careless about leavin' needles in his bed."
"No," said Mrs. Lathrop; "it wasn't a—"
"Come on downstairs again," said the hostess; "we c'n talk there."
They went down into the kitchen, and there Mrs. Lathrop seated herself and coughed solemnly.
"What is it, anyhow?" the younger woman demanded.
Mrs. Lathrop coughed again.
"Susan, did I feel a feather—"
"Yes," said Susan, in great surprise; "he likes one."
"I sh'd think it was too hot this—"
"He don't never complain o' the heat, 'n' he hates the chill o' rainy days."
Mrs. Lathrop coughed again.
Miss Clegg's interest bordered on impatience.
"Now, Susan, I ain't sayin' as it's noways true, but I have heard as there's them 's can't die on—"
"On feathers?" cried the daughter.
"Yes; they say they hold the life right in 'n'—"
Miss Clegg's eyes opened widely.
"But I couldn't take it away from him, anyhow," she said, with a species of determined resignation in her voice. "I'd have to wait 'till he wanted it took."
Mrs. Lathrop was silent. Then she rose to go. Susan rose too. They went out the kitchen door together, and down the steps. There they paused to part.
"Do you believe 't it 'd be any use me thinkin' o' Jathrop any more?" the maiden asked the matron.
"I believe I'd try the blacksmith if I was you; he looks mighty nice Sundays."
Miss Clegg sighed heavily and turned to re-enter the house.
Mrs. Lathrop went "round by the gate" and became again an inmate of her own kitchen. There the thought occurred to her that it was an excellent morning to clean the high-shelf over the sink. For years past whenever she had had occasion to put anything up there, showers of dust and rolls of lint had come tumbling down upon her head. Under such circumstances it was but natural that a determination to some day clean the shelf should have slowly but surely been developed. Accordingly she climbed up on the edge of the sink and undertook the initiatory proceedings. The lowest stratum of dirt was found to rest upon a newspaper containing an account of one day of Guiteau's trial. Upon the discovery of the paper Mrs. Lathrop suddenly abandoned her original plan, got down from the sink, ensconced herself in her kitchen rocker, and plunged into bliss forthwith.
An hour passed pleasantly and placidly by. Bees buzzed outside the window, the kettle sizzled sweetly on the stove, the newspaper rustled less and less, Mrs. Lathrop's head sank sideways, and the calm of perfect peace reigned in her immediate vicinity.
This state of things endured not long.
Its gentle Paradise was suddenly broken in upon and rent apart by a succession of the most piercing shrieks that ever originated in the throat of a human being. Mrs. Lathrop came to herself with a violent start, sprang to her feet, ran to the door, and then stood still, completely dazed and at first unable to discern from which direction the ear-splitting screams proceeded. Then, in a second, her senses returned to her, and she ran as fast as she could to the fence. As she approached the boundary, she saw Susan standing in one of her upstairs windows and yelling at the top of her voice. Mrs. Lathrop paused for no conventionalities of civilization. She hoisted herself over the fence in a fashion worthy a man or a monkey, ran across the Clegg yard, entered the kitchen door, stumbled breathlessly up the dark back stairs, and gasped, grabbing Susan hard by the elbow,—
"What is it, for pity's—"
Susan was all colors and shaking as if with the ague.
"You never told me 's it 'd work so quick," she cried out.
"Lord have mercy, Susan, you don't mean—"
"Yes, I do."
"He ain't never—"
"Yes, he is."
Mrs. Lathrop stood stricken.
Susan wiped her eyes with her apron and choked.
After a while the older woman spoke feebly.
"What did hap—"
Miss Clegg cut the question off in its prime.
"I don't know as I c'n ever tell you; it's too awful even to think of."
"I know, 'n' I'm goin' to. But I tell you once for all, Mrs. Lathrop, 't this'll be a lesson to me forever after 's to takin' the say-so o' other folks unto myself. 'N' I didn't really consider 't I was doin' so this time, f'r if I had, Lord knows I'd 'a' landed three beds atop o' him afore I'd 'a' ever—" She stopped and shook convulsively.
"Go on," said Mrs. Lathrop, her curiosity getting the better of her sympathy, and her impatience ranking both.
Susan ceased sobbing, and essayed explanation.
"You see, after you was gone, he said 't he was pretty hot these last nights, 'n' 't that was maybe what kept him so awfully awake. I asked him if—if—maybe the feather-bed 'n'—well, Mrs. Lathrop, to put the whole in a nut-shell, we settled to move him, 'n' I moved him. I know I didn't hurt him one bit, for I'm 's handy with—at least, I was's handy with him 's I am with a broom. 'N' I laid him on the lounge, 'n' dumped that bed out into the back hall. I thought I 'd sun it 'n' put it away this afternoon, f'r you know 's I'm never no hand to leave nothin' lyin' aroun'. Well, I come back 'n' got out some fresh sheets, 'n' jus' 's I was—"
The speaker halted, and there was a dramatic pause.
"Where is—" Mrs. Lathrop asked at last.
"Back in the feathers. My heaven alive! When I see what I'd done, I was that upset 't I just run 's quick 's ever I could, 'n' got the bed, 'n' dumped it right atop of him!"
There was another dramatic silence, finally broken by Mrs. Lathrop's saying slowly and gravely,—
"Susan, 'f I was you I wouldn't never say—"
"I ain't goin' to. I made up my mind to never tell a livin' soul the very first thing. To think o' me doin' it! To think o' all these years 't I've tended father night 'n' day, 'n' then to accidentally go 'n' do a thing like that! I declare, it fairly makes me sick all over!"
"Well, Susan, you know what a good daughter you've—"
"I know, 'n' I 've been thinkin' of it. But somehow nothin' don't seem to comfort me none. Perhaps you'd better make me some tea, 'n' while I'm drinkin' it, Jathrop c'n go down town 'n'—"
"Yes," said Mrs. Lathrop, "'n' I'll go right 'n'—"
"That's right," said the bereaved, "'n' hurry."
It was a week later—a calm and lovely evening—and the two friends stood by the fence. The orphan girl was talking, while Mrs. Lathrop chewed her clover.
"It don't seem like only a week!—seems more like a month or even a year. Well, they say sometimes, folks live a long ways ahead in a very short time, 'n' I must say 't, as far 's my observation 's extended, comin' into property always leads to experience, so I couldn't in reason complain 't not bein' no exception. This 's been the liveliest week o' my life, 'n' I'm free to confess 't I haven't cried anywhere near 's much 's I looked to. My feelin's have been pretty agreeable, take it all in all, 'n' I'd be a born fool 'f I didn't take solid comfort sleepin' nights, 'n' I never was a fool—never was 'n' never will be. The havin' somebody to sleep in the house 's been hard, 'n' Mrs. Macy's fallin' through the cellar-flap giv' me a bad turn, but she's doin' nicely, 'n' the minister makes up f'r anythin'. I do wish 't you'd seen him that afternoon, Mrs. Lathrop; he did look so most awful sheepish, 'n' his clean collar give him dead away afore he ever opened his mouth. He set out by sayin' 't the consolations of religion was mine f'r the askin', but I didn't take the hint, 'n' so he had to jus' come out flat 'n' say 't he'd been thinkin' it over 'n' he'd changed his mind. I held my head good 'n' high 't that, I c'n assure you, 'n' it was a pretty sorry look he give me when I said 't I'd been thinkin' it over too, 'n' I'd changed my mind too. He could 'a' talked to me till doomsday about his bein' a consolation, I'd know it was nothin' 't changed him but me comin' into them government bonds. No man alive could help wantin' me after them bonds was found, 'n' I had the great pleasure o' learnin' that fact out o' Lawyer Weskin himself. All his species o' fun-makin' 't nobody but hisself ever sees any fun in, jus' died right out when we unlocked father's old desk 'n' come on that bundle o' papers. He give one look 'n' then all his gay spinniness oozed right out o' him, 'n' he told me 's serious 's a judge 't a woman 's rich 's I be needed a good lawyer to look out f'r her 'n' her property right straight along. Well, I was 's quick to reply 's he was to speak. 'N' I was to the point too. I jus' up 'n' said, Yes, I thought so myself, 'n' jus' 's soon 's I got things to rights I was goin' to the city 'n' get me one."
Miss Clegg paused to frown reminiscently; Mrs. Lathrop's eyes never quitted the other's face.
"There was Mr. Sperrit too. Come with a big basket o' fresh vegetables 't he said he thought 'd maybe tempt my appetite. I d'n' know 's I ever enjoyed rappin' no one over the knuckles more 'n I did him. I jus' stopped to take in plenty o' breath 'n' then I let myself out, 'n' I says to him flat 'n' plain, I says, 'Thank you kindly, but I guess no woman in these parts 's better able to tempt her own appetite 'n' I be now, 'n' you'll be doin' me the only kindness 't it's in you to do me now if you'll jus' take your garden stuff 'n' give it to some one 's is poor 'n' needin'.' He looked so crestfallen 't I made up my mind 't it was then or never to settle my whole score with him, so I up 'n' looked him right in the eye 'n' I says to him, I says, 'Mr. Sperrit, you didn't seem to jus' realize what it meant to me that day 't I took that horse 'n' buggy 'n' drove 'way out to your farm to see you; you didn't seem to think what it meant to me to take that trip: but I c'n tell you 't it costs suthin' for a woman to do a thing like that; it cost me a good deal—it cost me fifty cents.' He went away then, 'n' he can marry Eliza Gringer if he likes, 'n' I'll wish 'em both joy 'n' consider myself the luckiest o' the three."
Mrs. Lathrop chewed her clover.
"'N' then there's Jathrop!" continued the speaker, suddenly transfixing her friend with a piercing glance,—"there's even Jathrop! under my feet night 'n' day. I declare to you 't upon my honor I ain't turned around four times out o' five this week without almost fallin' over Jathrop wantin' me to give him a chance to explain his feelin's, I don't wish to hurt your feelin's, Mrs. Lathrop, 'n' it's natural 't, seein' you can't help yourself, you look upon him 's better 'n' nothin', but still I will remark 't Jathrop's the last straw on top o' my hump, 'n' this mornin' when I throwed out the dish-water 'n' hit him by accident jus' comin' in, my patience clean gin out. I didn't feel no manner o' sympathy over his soapy wetness, 'n' I spoke my mind right then 'n' there. 'Jathrop Lathrop,' I says to him, all forgettin' how big he'd got 'n' only rememberin' what a bother he's always been, 'Jathrop Lathrop, you let that soakin' be a lesson to you 'n' march right straight home this instant, 'n' 'f you want to think of me, think 't if I hear any more about your feelin's the feelin' you'll have best cause to talk about 'll be the feelin' o' gettin' spanked.'"
Mrs. Lathrop sighed slightly.
Miss Clegg echoed the sigh.
"There never was a truer sayin' 'n' the one 't things goes by contraries," she continued presently. "Here I've been figgerin' on bein' so happy married, 'n' instid o' that I find myself missin' father every few minutes. There was lots o' good about father, particular when he was asleep. I'd got so used to his stayin' where I put him 't I don't know 's I c'd ever get used to a man 's could get about. 'F I wanted to talk, father was always there to listen, 'n' 'f he wanted to talk I c'd always go downstairs. He didn't never have but one button to keep sewed on 'n' no stockings to darn a tall. 'N' all the time there was all them nice gover'ment bonds savin' up for me in his desk! No, I sha'n't consider no more as to gettin' married. While it looked discouragin' I hung on 'n' never give up hope, but I sh'd be showin' very little o' my natural share o' brains 'f I didn't know 's plain 's the moon above 't 'f I get to be eighty 'n' the fancy takes me I c'n easy get a husband any day with those bonds. While I couldn't seem to lay hands on no man I was wild to have one—now 't I know I c'n have any man 't I fancy, I don't want no man a tall. It'll always be a pleasure to look back on my love-makin', 'n' I wouldn't be no woman 'f down in the bottom of my heart I wasn't some pleased over havin' 's good 's had four offers inside o' the same week. But I might o' married, Mrs. Lathrop, 'n' Heaven might o' seen fit to give me such a son 's he give you, 'n' 'f I hadn't no other reason for remainin' single that alone 'd be s'fficient. After all, the Lord said 'It is not good for man to be alone,' but He left a woman free to use her common sense 'n' I sh'll use mine right now. I've folded up the pink nightgown, 'n' I'm thinkin' very seriously o' givin' it to Amelia Fitch, 'n' I'll speak out frank 'n' open 'n' tell her 'n' everybody else 't I don't envy no woman—not now 'n' not never."
Mrs. Lathrop chewed her clover.
MISS CLEGG'S ADOPTED
It was an evening in early October,—one of those first frosty nights when a bright wood fire is so agreeable to contemplate and so more than agreeable to sit in front of. Susan Clegg sat in front of hers, and doubtless thoroughly appreciated its cheerful warmth, but it cannot be said that she took any time to contemplate it, for her gaze was altogether riveted upon the stocking which she was knitting, and which appeared—for the time being—to absorb completely that persevering energy which was the dominant note of her character.
But still the beauty and brilliancy of the leaping flames were not altogether lost upon an unseeing world, for there was another present beside Susan, and that other was full to overflowing with the power of silent admiration. Her little black beady eyes stared at the dancing lights that leapt from each burning log in a species of rapt absorption, and it was only semi-occasionally that she turned them back upon the work which lay upon her lap. Mrs. Lathrop (for of course it was Mrs. Lathrop) was matching scraps for a "crazy" sofa-pillow, and there was something as touchingly characteristic in the calmness and deliberation of her matching as there was in the wild whirl which Susan's stocking received whenever that lady felt the moment had come to alter her needles. For Susan, when she knit, knit fast and furiously, whereas Mrs. Lathrop's main joy in relation to labor lay in the sensation that she was preparing to undertake it. The sofa-pillow had been conceived—some eighteen months before—as a crazy-quilt, but all of us who have entertained such friends unawares know that the size of their quilts depended wholly upon the wealth of our scrap-bags, and in the case of Mrs. Lathrop's friends their silk and satin resources had soon forced the reduction of her quilt into a sofa-pillow, and indeed the poor lady had during the first weeks felt a direful dread that the final result would be only a pin-cushion. She had begun the task with the idea of keeping it for "pick-up" work, and during the eighteen months since its beginning she had picked it up so rarely that after a year and a half of "matching" it was not yet matched. It goes without saying that Miss Clegg had very little sympathy with her friend's fancy-work and despised the slowness of its progress, but her contempt had no effect whatever upon Mrs. Lathrop, whose friendship was of that quality the basis of which knows not the sensation of being shaken.
So the older woman sat before the fire, and sometimes stared long upon its glow, and sometimes thoughtfully drew two bits of silk from her bag and disposed them side by side to the end that she might calmly and dispassionately judge the advisability of joining them together forever, while the younger woman knit madly away without an instant's loss or a second's pause.
Mrs. Lathrop was thinking very seriously of pinning a green stripe to a yellow polka-dotted weave which had once formed part of Mrs. Macy's mother's christening-robe, when Susan opened her lips and addressed her. The attack was so sudden that the proprietor of the crazy-work started violently and dropped the piece of the christening-robe; but the slight accident had no effect upon her friend.
"It does beat me, Mrs. Lathrop," she began, "how you can potter over that quilt year in and year out. I sh'd think you'd be so dead-sick o' the sight o' them pieces 't you'd be glad to dump the whole in the fire. I don't say but the idea is a nice one, an' you know 's well as I do that when they're too frayed to wear every one's nothin' but glad to save you their bonnet-strings, but all the same my own feelin' in the matter is 't a thing that ain't come to sewin' in two years ain't never goin' to come to bindin' in my lifetime, an' naturally that 'd leave you to finish your quilt some years after you was dead. I don't see how you're goin' to get a quilt out o' them pieces anyhow. This town ain't give to choppin' up their silk in a way that's likely to leave you many scraps, 'n' I know 's far 's I'm concerned 't if I had any good silk I sh'd certainly save it to mend with, 'n' I'm a rich woman too."
"I ain't tryin' for a quilt," said Mrs. Lathrop mildly, "I'm only—"
"Mrs. Lathrop"—Susan's tone was emphatically outraged—"Mrs. Lathrop, do you mean to say that after all this givin' you ain't goin' to do your share? 'N' me lettin' you have the inside of the top of father's hat, 'n' Mrs. Fisher savin' you all her corners jus' on your simple askin'. You said a quilt, 'n' we give for a quilt, 'n' if you've changed your mind I must say I want the inside o' the hat again to polish my parlor lookin'-glass with."
"I ain't got enough for the quilt," said Mrs. Lathrop; "it's a sofa-pillow I'm—"
"Oh," said Susan, much relieved, "well—I'm glad to hear it. I couldn't hardly believe it of you, Mrs. Lathrop, 'n' yet if you can't believe what a person says of themselves who can you believe when it comes to talkin' about anybody? I'm glad to know the truth, though, Mrs. Lathrop, for I was more upset 'n I showed at the notion o' losin' faith in you. You know what I think of you, 'n' I called you over to-night to ask your advice about suthin' as has been roamin' my head for a long time, 'n' you can mebbe understand 's it didn't over-please me to have your first remark one as I couldn't in reason approve of. A woman as 'll begin a quilt 'n' trade hen's eggs 'n' all but go aroun' town on her bended knees to get the old ties of other women's lawful husbands, jus' to give up in the end has got no advisin' stuff for me inside o' her. I wouldn't like to hurt your feelin's, Mrs. Lathrop, 'n' as long as you say it's a sofa-pillow o' course there's no harm done, but still it was a shock 'n' I can't deny it."
Mrs. Lathrop appeared most regretful, withdrew her gaze from the fire and the yellow polka-dots and directed its entire volume at Susan.
The latter altered her needles with a fierce fling, and then continued:
"However, now 's all is made clear I will go on 'n' tell you what's on my mind. I'd be a fool not to tell you, havin' got you over here just for the purpose o' bein' told, 'n' yet I've sat here a good hour—'n' you know I ain't over-give to sittin', Mrs. Lathrop—tryin' to decide whether after all I would tell you or not. You see this subjeck isn't nowise new to me, but it'll be new to you, 'n' bein' new to you I can't see how anythin' 's goin' to be got out o' askin' you f'r advice. It ain't likely 't any one first go-off c'n think of things 't I ain't thought of already, 'n' you know yourself, Mrs. Lathrop, how little you ever have to say to me compared to what I say to you. Besides, 's far's my observation 's extended no one don't ask f'r advice 'nless they've pretty well made up their mind not to take it, if so be 's it suits 'em better untook, 'n' when I make up my mind I'm goin' to do a thing anyhow so there ain't much use in me askin' you 'r anybody else what they think about it. A woman 's rich 's I be don't need to take no one else's say-so nohow—not 'nless she feels so inclined, 'n' the older I get the less I incline."
Mrs. Lathrop sighed slightly, but did not alter her position by a hair. Susan whirled her stocking, took a fresh breath, and went on:
"It's a subjeck 't I've been lookin' straight in the face, 's well 's upside down 'n' hind end to, f'r a good long time. I 'xpeck 't it'll mebbe come in the nature of a surprise to the c'mmunity in general, 'n' yet, to tell you the truth, Mrs. Lathrop, I was thinkin' o' this very thing away back las' spring when Mrs. Shores eloped. I was even thinkin' of it that very minute, f'r I was one o' them 's was in the square when Johnny come runnin' from the station with the telegram. Everybody 's see Johnny's face thought 's two trains had smashed on his a'count somewhere, 'n' I recolleck Mr. Kimball's sayin' 's he couldn't 'a' looked more miserable 'f he'd been the man 's had run away with her. It was too bad you wasn't there, Mrs. Lathrop,—Mrs. Macy always says 't she'll regret to her dyin' day 's she thought o' comin' to town that mornin' to get the right time f'r her clock 'n' then decided to wait 'n' set it by the whistle. Gran'ma Mullins was there—she was almost in front o' Mr. Shores' store. I've heard her say a hunderd times 't, give her three seconds more, 'n' she'd 'a' been right in front; but she was takin' her time, 'n' so she jus' missed seein' Johnny hand in the telegram. I was standin' back to the band-stand, tellin' Mrs. Allen my receipt for cabbage pickle, so I never felt to blame myself none f'r not gettin' nearer quicker. The first thing I recolleck was I says, ''N' then boil the vinegar again,' 'n' Mrs. Allen give a scream 'n' run. Then I turned 'n' see every one runnin', 'n' Mr. Shores in the lead. They do say 's he was so crazy 't first 't he seemed to think he c'd catch the Knoxville Express by tearin' across the square. But he give out afore he reached Judge Fitch's, 'n' Johnny 'n' Hiram Mullins had to carry him home. Well, it was a bad business at first, 'n' when she kidnapped the baby 't was worse. I was down in the square the day 't Johnny come with that telegram too. I remember Mrs. Macy 'n' me was the only ones there 'cause it was Monday. I wasn't goin' to wash 'cause I only had a nightgown 'n' two aprons, 'n' the currants was ripe 'n' I'd gone down to get my sugar, 'n' Johnny come kitin' up fr'm the station, 'n' Mrs. Macy 'n' me didn't put on no airs but just kited right after him. Mrs. Macy always says she learned to see the sense in Bible miracles that day, f'r she had n't run in years then, 'n' she's walked with a stick ever since, but she run that day, 'n' Johnny bein' tired 'n' Mrs. Macy 'n' me fresh—she was a little fresher 'n me f'r I 'd been talkin'—we all three come in on Mr. Shores together. Seems like I c'n see him now. He sort of shivered all over 'n' says, 'Ah—a telegram!' 'n' Johnny says, 'Jus' come,' 'n' then we all waited. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I guess I've told you before how he jus' sort o' went right up in the air!—it said, 'We have took the child,' 'n' he bounced all over like a rat that ain't good caught 'n' then he out 'n' away 'n' we right after him. He kept hollerin', 'It's a lie—it's a lie,' but when he got home he found out 't Mrs. Shores had kep' her word 's usual. Mrs. Macy put cold water to his head 'n' I mixed mustard plasters 'n' put 'em on anywhere 't he was still enough, but all the same they had to lace him to the ironin' board that night. I hear lots o' folks says 's he's never really knowed which end up he was walkin' since, but I guess there's more reasons f'r that 'n her takin' the baby. My own view o' the matter is 't he misses his clerk full 's much 's he misses his family, f'r he's got to tend both sides of the store at once 'n' he don't begin to be as spry 's that young feller was. He can't hop back 'n' forth over the counter like he used to; he's got to go way back through the calicoes every time or else climb up in the window-seat over that squirrel 't he keeps there in a cage advertisin' fur-lined mitts 'n' winter nuts. Mr. Kimball 's forever makin' one o' them famous jokes of his over him, 'n' sayin' 't he never looks across the square without he sees Shores tryin' to rise above his troubles 'n' his squirrel together, but I don't see nothin' funny in any of it myself. I think it's no more 'n' what he might of 'xpected. He got the squirrel himself 'n' his wife too, 'n' she never did suit him. He was all put out at first over her takin' it so to heart 't he wore a wig, 'n' then he was clean disgusted over the baby 'cause he wanted a boy 't he could name after himself. They said he all but cried, 'n' she cried dreadful, f'r she didn't know nothin' about babies 'n' thought it was goin' to be bald always, jus' like him. But what did he marry for if he did n't want trouble?—That was what I said to the minister's wife. She come to call right in the first of it, 'n' I must say 't if she hadn't come mebbe a good many things might o' been different, for my mind was about made up then, an' I was thinkin' very serious o' mebbe sayin' suthin' to you that very night. But she put me at outs with the whole thing—not as I won't admit 't there ain't a difference between one 'n' nine, f'r any one c'n work that out on their fingers fast enough."
Mrs. Lathrop assented to this statement by moving her head in a slow acquiescent rhythm as she rocked.
"But her talk was certainly awful discouragin'. She was tryin' to speak o' Mr. Shores, but she kep' trailin' back to herself, 'n' when she said 't she'd never had time to crimp her hair since her weddin' day she jus' broke right down. I cheered her up all I could. I told her she couldn't with a clear conscience blame any one but herself 'n' she'd ought to say her prayers of gratitude 't she hadn't got eight herself, same 's him. She sort o' choked 'n' said she couldn't have eight 'cause she had n't been married but one year. 'Well,' I says, 'I don't see no great sense in that; he had eight the day he was married 's far 's that goes, did n't he?' She jus' rocked back 'n' forth 'n' said 't no one in the whole wide world had any notion how many eight children was till they turned aroun' from the altar 'n' see 'em strung out in the pew 's is saved for the family. I told her 't as far 's my observation 'd 'xtended quite a number o' things looked different comin' down from the altar, 'n' it was in my heart to tell her 't if I'd let any man get so much the better o' me 's to marry me, my self-respeck would certainly shut my mouth up tight afterwards. As long 's a woman 's single she's top-dog in the fight 'n' can say what she pleases, but after she's married a man she'll keep still 'f she's wise, 'n' the wiser she is the stiller she'll keep, for there's no sense in ever lettin'folks know how badly you've been fooled.—But I didn't say all that to the minister's wife, for she didn't look like she had strength to listen, 'n' so I made her some tea instead.—'N' then it come out 't after all what she come for was to borrow my clo'es-wringer! Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I certainly didn't have no blame f'r myself at feelin' some tempered under them circumstances,—me so sympathetic—'n' the tea—'n' all."
Mrs. Lathrop shook her head in calm and appreciative understanding.
"Did you lend—" she asked.
"—'N' there are folks just like that in this world too," Susan continued, "'n' it beats me what the Lord makes 'em so for, for they'll talk 'n' talk 'n' wander all over every subjeck in Creation to come 'n' never even begin to get around to the point till you're clean gi'n out with listenin'. 'F the minister's wife hadn't come that day 'n' hadn't talked as she did, I might 'a' been left less wore out and, as a consequence, have told you that night what I ain't never told you yet, for it was strong in my mind then 'n' it's strong in my mind now, 'n' bein' one o' them 's wastes no words, I'll state to you at once, Mrs. Lathrop, 't before Mrs. Shores run away—'n' after she run away too, f'r that matter—I was thinkin' very seriously o' adoptin' a baby."
"A—" said Mrs. Lathrop, opening her eyes somewhat.
"A baby," repeated Susan. "I feel you ought to be the first one to know it because, 's much 's I'm out, you'll naturally have the care of it the most of the time."
Mrs. Lathrop clawed feebly among her pieces and seemed somewhat bewildered as she clawed.
"Mrs. Shores' ba—" she queried.
"Mrs. Lathrop!"—she stopped knitting so that she might concentrate her entire strength into the extreme astonishment which she desired to render manifest in those two words—"Mrs. Lathrop!—Me!—adopt Mrs. Shores' baby! Adopt the baby of a woman as 'd gone off 'n' left it!"
Mrs. Lathrop looked deeply apologetic.
"I didn't know—" she ventured.
"Well, you'd ought to of," said Susan, "'n' if you didn't I'd never own to it. Such a idea never entered my head, 'n' I can't conceive when nor how it entered yours. Only I'm free to confess to one thing, Mrs. Lathrop, 'n' that is 't 'f I was give to havin' ideas 's senseless 's yours often are, I'd certainly keep my mouth shut 'n' let people 's knows more do the talkin'."
Mrs. Lathrop swallowed the rebuke and remained passively overcome by the after-clap of her astonishment.
Susan began to knit again.
"I wasn't thinkin' o' Mrs. Shores' baby 'n' I wasn't thinkin' o' no baby in particular. I never said I was thinkin' of any baby—I said I was thinkin' of a baby. I sh'd think you could 'a' seen the difference, but even if you can't see it there is a difference just the same. My sakes alive! it's a serious enough matter decidin' to adopt some one for good 'n' all without hurryin' the doin' of it any. If you was 's rich 's I be, Mrs. Lathrop, you'd understand that better. 'N' if you was 's rich 's I be, you might not be in no more of a hurry 'n I am. I ain't in a hurry a tall. I ain't in a hurry 'n' I don't mean to be in a hurry. I'm only jus' a-gettin' on towards makin' up my mind."
Mrs. Lathrop slowly and meditatively drew a piece of sky-blue farmer's satin from her bag and looked at it absent-mindedly. Susan twirled her stocking and went on.
"'S long 's I've begun I may 's well make a clean breast of the whole now. O' course you don't know nothin', Mrs. Lathrop, but, to put the whole thing in a shell, this adoptin' of a child 's a good deal to consider. When a woman 's married, it's the Lord's will 'n' out o' the Bible 'n' to be took without no murmurin' 's to your own feelin's in the matter. Every one 's sorry for married people, no matter how their children turn out, because, good or bad, like enough they done their best, 'n' if they didn't it was always the other one's fault; but there ain't no one goin' to lay themselves out to try 'n' smooth my child's thorns into a bed o' roses for me. Every one 's jus' goin' to up 'n' blame me right 'n' left, 'n' if it has a pug-nose or turns out bad I can't shoulder none of it onto the Lord, I'll jus' have the whole c'mmunity sayin' I've got myself 'n' no one else to thank. Now, when you know f'r sure 't you can't blame nobody else but jus' yourself, you go pretty slow, 'n' for that very reason I'm thinkin' this subjeck well over afore I decide. There's a good many questions to consider,—my mind 's got to be made up whether boy or girl 'n' age 'n' so forth afore I shall open my lips to a livin' soul."
Mrs. Lathrop appeared to be slowly recovering from the effects of her surprise.
"Would you take a small—" she asked, perhaps with some mental reference to the remark that dowered her with the occasional charge of the future adopted Clegg.
"Well, I d'n' know. That's a very hard thing that comes up first of all every time 't I begin thinkin'. When most folks set out to adopt a baby, the main idea seems to be to try 'n' get 'em so young 't they can't never say for sure's you ain't their mother."
Mrs. Lathrop nodded approval, mute but emphatic, of the wisdom of her friend's views.
"But I ain't got none o' that foolish sort o' notions in me. I wouldn't be its mother, 'n' 'f there was n't no one else to tell it so Mr. Kimball 'd rejoice to the first time I sent it down town alone. It's nigh to impossible to keep nothin' in the town with Mr. Kimball. A man f'rever talkin' like that 's bound to tell everythin' sooner or later, 'n' I never was one to set any great store o' faith on a talker. When I don't want the whole town to know 't I'm layin' in rat-poison I buy of Shores, 'n' when I get a new dress I buy o' Kimball. I don't want my rats talked about 'n' I don't mind my dress. For which same reason I sh'll make no try 't foolin' my baby. I'll be content if it cooes. I remember Mrs. Macy's sayin' once 't a baby was sweetest when it cooes, 'n' I don't want to miss nothin', 'n' we ain't never kep' doves for me to be dead-sick o' the noise, so I want the cooin' age. I think it'll be pleasant comin' home days to hear the baby cooin', 'n' 'f it cooes too loud when I'm away you c'n always come over 'n' see if it's rolled anywhere. I c'n see that, generally speaking, it's a wise thing that folks jus' have to take 'em as they come, because when it's all for you to choose you want so much 't like 's not I can't be suited after all. It's goin' to be pretty hard decidin', 'n' when I've done decidin' it's goin' to be pretty hard findin' a baby that's all 't I've decided; 'n' then, if I find it,—then comes the raisin' of it, 'n' I espect that 'll be suthin' jus' awful."
"How was you goin' to find—" Mrs. Lathrop asked.
"Well, I've got to go to town to look at winter coats, 'n' I thought 't when I'd found what I wanted I'd jus' glance through two or three orphan asylums afore comin' home."
Mrs. Lathrop pinned the purple to the yellow and shut one eye so as to judge of the combination from the single standpoint of the other. She seemed to be gradually regaining her normal state of abnormal calmness.
"I thought 't your coat was pretty good," she said mildly, as Susan altered her needles. The stocking started violently.
"Pretty good! It's most new. My heavens alive, Mrs. Lathrop, don't you know 's well 's I do 't I ain't had my new coat but four years 'n' then only to church!"
"You said 't you was goin' to get—" Mrs. Lathrop remarked, unpinning the purple as she spoke and replacing it in the bag.
"Mrs. Lathrop! 'f you don't beat anythin' 't I ever saw for puttin' words 't I never even dreamed of into other folks's mouths! 'S if I should ever think o' buyin' a new coat 'n' the price-tag not even dirty on the inside o' mine yet! I never said 't I was goin' to buy a coat,—I never thought o' goin' to buy a coat,—what I did say was 't I was goin' to look at coats, an' the reason 't I'm goin' to look at coats is because I'm goin' to cut over the sleeves o' mine. I thought all last winter 't it was pretty queer for a woman 's rich 's I be to wear old-fashioned sleeves—more particularly so where I c'n easy cut a new sleeve crossways out o' the puffs o' the old ones. 'N' that's why I want to look at coats, Mrs. Lathrop, for I ain't in the habit o' settin' my shears in where I can't see my way out."
Mrs. Lathrop fingered a piece of rusty black silk and made no comment.
"When I get done lookin' at coats, lookin' 't orphans 'll be jus' a nice change. If I see any 't I think might suit I'll take their numbers 'n' come home 'n' see about decidin', 'n' if I don't see any 't I like I'll come home jus' the same."
The clock struck nine. Mrs. Lathrop rose and gathered up her bag of pieces.
"I mus' be goin' home," she said.
"I was thinkin' that very same thing," said Susan, rising also. "It's our thinkin' so much the same't keeps us friends, I guess."
Mrs. Lathrop sought her shawl and departed.
* * * * *
It was about a week later that the trip to town took place. The day was chosen to suit the opening of a most unprecedented Fire-Sale. Miss Clegg thought that the latest styles in coat-sleeves were likely to bloom broadcast on so auspicious an occasion, and Mrs. Lathrop herself was sufficiently infected by the advertising in the papers to dare to intrust her friend with the whole of a two-dollar bill to be judiciously invested if bargains should really run as wildly rife as was predicted.
Susan departed very early and did not get back till very late—so late in fact that her next-door neighbor had the time to become more than a little anxious as to the possibilities of some mischance having befallen her two-dollar bill.
But towards eight o'clock signs of life next door appeared to the anxious watcher in the Lathrop kitchen window, and one minute later she was on her way across. She found the front door, which was commonly open, to be uncommonly shut, and was forced to rap loudly and wait lengthily ere the survivor of the Fire-Sale came to let her in.
Then when the door did open the figure which appeared in the opening was such as to startle even the phlegmatically disposed chewer of clover.
"My heavens alive, Susan, whatever is the matter with—"
Susan backed faintly into the hall so as to allow the other to enter.
"I'm worn to a frazzle—that's all!" she said weakly and wearily.
They turned into the parlor, where the lamp was burning, and Mrs. Lathrop gave a little frightened scream:
"Susan! why, you look half—"
Miss Clegg collapsed at once heavily upon the haircloth-covered sofa.
"I guess you'd better make me some tea," she suggested, and shut her eyes.
Mrs. Lathrop had no doubt whatever on the subject. Hurrying out to the kitchen, she brewed a cup of the strongest possible tea in the fewest possible moments, and brought it in to the traveller. The latter drank with satisfaction, then leaned back with a sigh.
"It was a auction!" she said in tones that gasped.
Mrs. Lathrop could restrain her anxiety no longer.
"Did you get anything with my—" she asked.
"Yes; it's out in the hall with my shawl."
"It's a parrot," said Susan.
"A parrot!" cried Mrs. Lathrop, betraying as much feeling as it was in her to feel.
"Without any head," Susan added wearily.
"Without any head!"
Then Miss Clegg straightened up in her seat and opened her eyes.
"There ain't no need o' bein' so surprised," she said in that peculiar tone with which one who has spent another's money always defends his purchase,—"it's a stuffed parrot without any head."
"A stuffed parrot without any head!" Mrs. Lathrop repeated limply, and her tone was numb and indescribable.
"How much did it—" she asked after a minute.
"I bid it in for one dollar 'n' ninety-seven cents,—I was awful scared f'r fear it would go over your two dollars, an' it wasn't nothin' that I'd ever want, so I couldn't 'a' taken it off your hands if it had gone over your money."
"I wonder what I can do with it," her neighbor said feebly.
"You must hang it in the window so high 't the head don't show."
"I thought you said it didn't have no head."
Miss Clegg quitted the sofa abruptly and came over to her own chair; the tea appeared to be beginning to take effect.
"It hasn't got no head! If it had a head, where would be the sense in hangin' it high a tall? It's your good luck, Mrs. Lathrop, 't it hasn't got no head, for the man said 't if it had a head it would 'a' brought four or five dollars easy."
Mrs. Lathrop got up and went out into the hall to seek her parrot. When she brought it in and examined it by the light of the lamp, her expression became more than dubious.
"What did you get for your—" she asked at last.
"I didn't get nothin'. I didn't see nothin' 't I wanted, 'n' I learned long ago 't an auction 's generally a good place f'r buyin' things 't you don't want after you've bought 'em. Now take that parrot o' yours!—I wouldn't have him 'f you was to offer him to me for a gift; not to speak o' his not havin' no head, he looks to me like he had moths in him,—you look at him by daylight to-morrow 'n' see if it don't strike you so too."
Mrs. Lathrop was silent for a long time. Finally she said:
"Did you go to the Orphan Asylum?"
"Well—no—I did n't. I would 'a' gone only I got on the wrong car 'n' ended in a cemetery instead. I had a nice time there, though, walkin' roun' 'n' readin' ages, an' jus' as I was goin' out I met a monument man 't had a place right outside the gate, 'n' he took me to look at his things, 'n' then I remembered father—two years dead 'n' not a stone on him yet!"
Mrs. Lathrop laid the parrot aside with a heavy sigh and concentrated all her attention upon her friend's recital.
"The man was about 's pleasant a man 's ever I met. When I told him about father, he told me he took a interest in every word, whether I bought a monument of him or not. He said he'd show me all he had 'n' welcome 'n' it was no trouble but a joy. Then he took me all through his shop 'n' the shed behind, 'n' really I never had a nicer time. I see a lamb lyin' down first, 'n' I thought 't that would be nice f'r a little, but the further back we went the finer they got. The man wanted me to take a eagle grippin' a pen 'n' writin' father's name on a book 't he's sittin' on to hold open while he writes. I told him 'f I bought any such monument I cert'nly would want the name somewhere else than up where no one but the eagle could read it. He said 't I could have the name below 'n' let the eagle be writin' 'Repose in Peace,' but I told him 't father died of paralysis after bein' in bed for twenty years 'n' that his idea o' Heaven wasn't reposin' in peace,—he always looked forward to walkin' about 'n.' bein' pretty lively there. Then the man said 't maybe suthin' simple would be more to my taste, 'n' he took me to where there was a pillow with a wreath of roses on it, but—my gracious, I'd never be so mean 's to put a pillow anywhere near father after all them years in bed, 'n' as to the roses they'd be jus' 's bad or worse, for you know yourself how they give him hay-fever so 's we had to dig up all the bushes years ago.
"But I'll tell you, Mrs. Lathrop, what I did see that nobody on the wide earth c'd help wishin' was on top o' their grave the minute they laid eyes on it. It's a lion—a weepin' lion—kind o' tryin' to wipe his eyes with one paw. I tell you I never saw nothin' one quarter so handsome over no one yet, 'n' if I wasn't thinkin' o' adoptin' a child I'd never rest until I'd set that lion on top of father. But o' course, as it is, I can't even think how it might look there; the livin' has rights over the dead, 'n' my child can't go without the necessaries of life while my father gets a weepin' lion 't when you come right square down to it he ain't got no more use for 'n' a cat has for two tails. No, I'm a rich woman, but all incomes has their outside fence. 'F a man 's got a million a year, he can't spend two million, 'n' I can't start in child raisin' 'n' tombstone father all in the same year. Father 'll have to wait, 'n' he got so used to it while he was alive 't he ought not to mind it much now he's dead. But I give the man my address, 'n' he give me one o' his cards, 'n' when I go to the Orphan Asylum I may go back 'n' see him, an' maybe if I tell him about the baby he'll reduce the lion some. The lion is awful high—strikes me. He's three hunderd dollars, but the man says that 's because his tail 's out o' the same block. I asked him if he couldn't take the tail off, but he said 't that would hurt his reputation. He said 'f I'd go up the ladder to his second floor 'n' look down on the lion I'd never talk about sawin' off his tail, 'n' he said 't anyhow cuttin' it off would only make it cost more because it was cut on in the first place. I saw the sense o' that, 'n' I remembered, too, 't even 'f folks in the cemetery never can see the tail, father 'll have to look at it from higher up 'n the ladder to the monument man's shed, 'n' I don't want him to think 't I economized on the tail of his tombstone. I tell you what, Mrs. Lathrop, I cert'nly do want that lion, but I can't have it, so I've decided not to think of it again. The man c'd see I wanted it, 'n' I c'd see 't he really wanted me to have it. He felt so kind o' sorry for me 't he said he'd do me a weepin' fox for one hunderd 'n' fifty, if I wanted it, but I didn't want no fox. Father didn't have nothin' like a fox—his nose was broad 'n' kind o' flat. He hadn't nothin' like a lion, neither, but I'd like to have the only lion in the cemetery ours."
Mrs. Lathrop nodded her head sympathetically.
Miss Clegg sighed and looked pensive for a moment, but it was soon over.
"'N' I've decided about my child too," she continued briskly,—"I've decided to have a boy. I decided goin' in on the train to-day. I'd been sorter thinkin' that I'd leave it to chance, but ordinary folks can't do no more 'n' that, 'n' where 's the good o' me bein' so open 'n' above-board 'f I dunno whether it'll be a boy or girl, after all? I might 's well 's married the minister, 'n' Lord knows Mrs. Shores's troubles ought to be warnin' enough to no woman in this community not to marry no man, f'r one while, at any rate. If Mrs. Shores hadn't married Mr. Shores, she c'd easy 'a' married his clerk when she fell in love with him. No woman that 's goin' to fall in love ever ought to begin by marryin' another man first. It mixes everythin' all up. But Mrs. Shores was a fool or she never would 'a' married him to begin with. I told him that the first time 't I see him after she was gone. I thought 't if it was any comfort to him to know that there was one person in the c'mmunity 't looked on his wife as a fool he was welcome to the knowin'. So I told him, 'n' I used those very self-same words too,—'n' I cert'nly did ache to tell him that he was jus' 's big a fool himself to 'a' ever married her, but I didn't think 't that would be jus' polite.
"But all that was right in the first of it—before she took the baby. I'm free to confess 't I think he c'd 'a' stood anythin' 'f she hadn't took the baby. It was the baby as used him all up. 'N' that seems kind o' queer too, for seems to me, 'f my wife run away, I'd be glad to make a clean sweep o' her 'n' hers 'n' begin all afresh; I'd never have no injunctions 'n' detectives drawin' wages for chasin' no wife 'n' baby 't left o' their own accord. But that's jus' like a man, 'n' I must say 't I'm dead glad 't no man ain't goin' to have no right to interfere with my child. I c'n take it 'n' go anywhere 't I please 'n' never be afraid o' any subpenny comin' down on me. 'S far 's I'm concerned, I only wish 't she'd send back 'n' abduct him too, 'n' then the community 'd have some peace on the Shores subjeck. There ain't nothin' left to say, 'n' every one keeps sayin' it over 'n' over from dawn to dark. I must say, Mrs. Lathrop, 't when I c'nsider how much folks still find to say o' Mrs. Shores 'n' it all, I'm more 'n proud that I ain't never been one to say nothin' a tall."
Mrs. Lathrop did not speak for some time. Then she took up her parrot again and looked thoughtfully at its feet.
"What made you decide on a b—" she asked at last.
"I didn't decide. I c'u'd n't decide, 'n' so I shook a nickel for heads 'n' tails."
"'N' it came a boy."
"No, it came a girl, 'n' the minute 't I see 't it was a girl I knew 't I'd wanted a boy all along, so, 's the good o' me bein' free to act 's I please is 't I do act 's I please, I decided then 'n' there on a boy."
Mrs. Lathrop turned the parrot over.
'F you was so set on a boy, why did you—"
"What do folks ever toss up for? To decide. Tossin' up always shows you jus' how much you didn't want what you get. Only, as a general thing, there's some one else who does want it, an' they grab it 'n' you go empty-handed. The good o' me tossin' is I c'n always take either side o' the nickel after I've tossed. I ain't nobody's fool—'n' I never was—'n' I never will be. But I guess I've got to ask you to go home now, Mrs. Lathrop. I've had a hard day 'n' I'm 'most too tired to pay attention to what you say any longer. I want to get to bed 'n' to sleep, 'n' then to-morrow maybe I'll feel like talkin' myself."
* * * * *
The third morning after Miss Clegg's trip to town she astonished her neighbor by tapping on the latter's kitchen window at the early hour of seven in the morning. Mrs. Lathrop was getting breakfast, and her surprise caused her to jump unduly.
"Well, Susan!" she said, opening the door, "what ever is the—"
"Matter! Nothin' ain't the matter, only I've had a letter from the monument man. It come last night, 'n' the minister took it out o' the post-office 'n' sent it over by little 'Liza Em'ly when she come with the milk this mornin'. I dunno whether to thank the minister for bein' so kind or whether to ask him to mind his own business. It's got 'Important' on the corner, 'n' sometimes I don't go to the post-office for two days at a time, but jus' the same it strikes me 't I ain't altogether in favor o' the minister's carryin' my mail home with him any time he feels so inclined. If I'd 'a' married him, I never 'd 'a' allowed him to interfere with my affairs, 'n' 's long 's I didn't marry him I don't see no good reason for his doin' so now."
Susan paused and looked at the letter which she held in her hand. Mrs. Lathrop slid one of the kitchen chairs up behind her, and she sat down, still looking at the letter.
"It's from the monument man," she said again, "'n' I don't know what ever I shall do about it, I'm sure."
Mrs. Lathrop was all attention.
"It's about the lion. He says 't he's been 'n' took some black chalk 'n' marked around under him 'Sacred to the memory of Blank Clegg,' 'n' he says 't it looks so noble 't he's had an offer for the monument 'n' he wants me to come in 'n' see it afore he sells it to—to some one else."
There was a short silence, broken at last by Mrs. Lathrop.
"Your father's name wa'n't 'Blank,'" she said; "it was 'Henry.'"
Susan knit her brows.
"I know, 'n' that's one thing 't 's been troublin' me. It's written out in good plain letters—'Blank Clegg'—'n' I've been tryin' 'n' tryin' to think what I could 'a' said to 'a' made him suppose 't it could 'a' been 'Blank.' That 'd be the last name in the wide world for anybody to name anybody else, I sh'd suppose, 'n' I can't see for the life o' me why that monument man sh'd 'a' hit on it for father. I'm cert'nly mighty glad that he's only marked it on in black chalk 'n' not chopped it out o' the bottom o' the lion. O' course 'f he 'd chopped it out I'd 'a' had to 'a' taken it an' it'd jus' made me the laughin'-stock o' the whole community. I know lots o' folks 't are plenty mean enough 's to say 't that lion was weepin' because I didn't know my own father's name."