The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Gentle Art of Cooking Wives

This ebook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and most other parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this ebook or online at If you are not located in the United States, you will have to check the laws of the country where you are located before using this eBook.

Title: The Gentle Art of Cooking Wives

Author: Elizabeth Strong Worthington

Release date: August 4, 2008 [eBook #26187]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Markus Brenner, Irma Spehar and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at (This
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)


“If a wife is allowed to boil at
all she will always boil over.”

The Gentle Art
Cooking Wives


Author of “How to
Cook Husbands,” etc.

Published at 150 Fifth Avenue, New York
by the Dodge Publishing Company

[The Gentle Art of Cooking Wives]




Girls, come to order!” shouted Hilda Bretherton in a somewhat disorderly tone.

“How can we come to order without a president?” queried a rosy-cheeked, roly-poly damsel answering to the name of Puddy Kennett.

“I elect Prue Shaftsbury!” screamed Hilda above the merry din of voices.

“You can't elect—you simply nominate,” said Prue.

“I second the motion,” said Nannie Branscome, and her remark was instantly followed by a storm of “ayes” before they were called for, and the president was declared elected and proceeded to take her seat.

“Young ladies,” said she, “we are met to consider a scandalous——”

“Scurrilous,” suggested Hilda.[10]

“——alarming article,” continued the president, “entitled 'How to Cook Wives.'”

“Here! here!” interrupted Hilda again, “we can't do anything until we've elected officers and appointed committees.”

“Out of a club of four members?” queried Prudence.

“Certainly. Mother said that yesterday at her club, out of eight women they elected twelve officers and appointed seven committees of three each. Why, you know two men can't meet on a street corner without immediately forming a secret society, electing president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer, and appointing a committee of five to get up a banquet.”

“But to return to the subject,” persisted the president—a long-faced girl with a solemn countenance, but a suspicious gleam in her eye. “'How to Cook Wives'—that is the question before the house.”

“'How to Cook Wives!' Well, if that isn't rich! It makes me think of the old[11] English nursery song—'Come, ducky, come and be killed.' Now it will be, 'Come, ducky, come and be cooked.' I move that Congress be urged to enact a law adopting that phrase as the only legal form of proposal. Then if any little goose accepts she knows what to expect, and is not caught up and fried without foreknowledge.”

“Young ladies,” said the president.

“Don't mow me down in my prime,” urged Hilda in an injured tone. “I'm making my maiden speech in the house.”

“Oh, girls, look, quick!” cried Puddy. “See Miss Leigh. Isn't that a fetching gown she has on?”

The entire club rushed to the window.

“Who's she with?” asked Hilda. “He's rather fetching, too.”

“I believe his name is Chance,” said Puddy Kennett. “He's not a society fellow.”

“Oh, he's the chum of that lovely man,” said Hilda.

“Which lovely man?” asked Prue. “There are so many of them.[12]

“Why—oh, you know his name. I can't think of it—Loveland—Steve Loveland. We met him at Constance Leigh's one evening.”

Here Nannie Branscome colored, but no one noticed her.

“Young ladies, come to order,” said the president.

“Or order will come to you,” said Hilda. “Prue has raised her parasol—gavel, I mean.”

“There goes Amy Frisbe,” remarked Puddy from her post by the window. “Do you know her engagement's off?”

“Well, I'll be jig——” Hilda began.

“Sh-h!” said the president.

“The president objects to slang, but I'll still be jiggered, as Lord Fauntleroy's friend remarked.”

“Sh-h!” said the president.

“Girls, that reminds me,” said Puddy. “I met a publisher from New York at the opera last night who objected to the slightest slang.”

“Oh, me!” exclaimed Hilda. “Why, where has Mother Nature been keeping the dear man all these years?[13]

“On Mr. Sheldon's editorial staff,” suggested Nannie Branscome.

“Oh, that's too bad, Nannie,” exclaimed Prudence. “My father—and he's not a religious man—said the Topeka Capital was a wonderful paper Sheldon's week.”

“I'm not denying that,” said Nannie. “I believe it was wonderful. I believe and tremble.”

“With other little——”

“Sh-h!” said the president, and Hilda subsided.

“Was Amy Frisbe at the opera last night?” asked Puddy rather irrelevantly.

“No,” said Hilda, “but Arthur Driscol was. He sat in a box with the Gorman party and was devoted to Mamie Moore all the evening. If I'd been Mrs. Gorman I'd dropped him over the railing.”

“You don't mean that Amy Frisbe has been jilted?” exclaimed the president.

“I do, and it's her third serious heart wound. Really, that girl is entitled to draw a pension.”

“Well, I'll be jig——” began Nannie.[14]

“Sh-h!” said the president, and then she added: “Young ladies, it is for you to decide how you'll be served up in future.”

Is it for us to decide?” asked Nannie Branscome.

She had a peculiar way of saying things of this sort. She would lower her head and look out from under her head frizzles in a non-committal fashion, but with a suggestion of something that made her piquant, bewitching face irresistible.

“Certainly,” said the president. “The style of cooking depends on the cook.”

“Well, let us first see what choice we have in the matter. What variety of dishes are named? Where's the article and where did it come from?” asked Hilda.

“George Daly had it last night and he read bits of it between the acts.”

“So that's what I missed by declining Mrs. Warren's box party invitation!” exclaimed Hilda. “Well, let's have the article.”

“I haven't got it,” said Puddy.[15] “George wouldn't give it to me. He said it belonged to Mr. Porter, but I copied some of it.”

“Oh, there's Evelyn Rogers. Let's call her in. Evelyn! Evelyn!”

Hilda was at the window gesticulating and calling.

“Young ladies,” said the president, “I'm surprised. Come to order. Good-morning, Evelyn. We are met to consider an important matter—'How to Cook Wives.'”

Evelyn laughed.

“Is that all you called me in for? I heard enough of that last night. It was George Daly's theme all the evening.”

“Were you at the box party?” asked Hilda.

“Yes, I was so silly as to go. Oh, these society people just wear me out. I'm more tired this morning than I should be if I'd worked at a churn all day yesterday. They're so stupid. They talk all night about nothing.”

“You ought to commend them for intellectual economy; they make a little go such a long way,” said Prudence.[16]

“Seriously, though, are you met to consider that piece?” asked Evelyn.

“No,” said Puddy. “We just happened to meet, and that came up for discussion.”

“Well, as I don't care——” began Evelyn, laughing.

“Sh-h!” said the president.

“The publisher from New York says slang is not used in the best circles,” said Hilda.

She recited this in a loud, stereotyped tone, giving the last word a strong upward inflection, suggestive of a final call to the dining-room.

“Yes, I know,” said Evelyn. “I met him at the box party last night, and he told me so.”

“What did you say?” inquired Puddy.

“I said it must be awful to be deaf from birth.”

“Did he hear that?” laughed Hilda.

“I presume he did, for he gave me one look and straightway became dumb as well as deaf.”

“Girls, I must be going!” exclaimed[17] Hilda suddenly. “Really, if any poor galley slave works harder than I do, I commend him to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Adults. I've already been out to a luncheon to-day, at Mrs. Pierce's, and Pachmann's matinée this afternoon, and I must go to Joe Harding's dinner to-night——”

“Are you going to that swell affair?” interrupted Puddy. “I envy you.”

“I don't,” said Evelyn scornfully. “Joe Harding's little better than an idiot, and he's notorious in many ways.”

“He can give swell dinners, though, and the best people are his guests.”

“No, they're not,” said Evelyn emphatically. “I'm not there and never will be.”

“Young ladies, come to order,” said Hilda in a severe tone, “and listen to my tale of woe. After the Harding dinner I go to the opera with the Harding party, and then, with my chaperone, that pink of propriety, Mrs. Warren, I attend the Pachmann reception at the Rutherfords. Now, if your scrubwoman can name a longer, harder, or—[18]—”

“More soul and brain enervating list,” continued Evelyn.

“I should be pleased—I mean pained to hear it,” concluded Hilda.

“And what does it all amount to?” asked Evelyn. “Will any one tell me what you are working for?”

“A settlement,” said Nannie promptly. “I'm the only niece of poor but impecunious relatives, and they expect me to do my best and marry well.”

“Goodness, child!” exclaimed Hilda, “I hope you don't tell the brutal, cold-blooded truth in society!”

“Why, no, that isn't it,” said Puddy. “We are going out to have a good time.”

“Oh, you slaves and bondwomen!” exclaimed Evelyn. “You don't know what a good time means. I must be off. Adieu, seneschals.” And with a pitying smile she left them.

She was a handsome, spirited-looking girl, with a queenly carriage. As she went out of the house Constance Leigh came by, and the two walked off together.[19]

“There's a pair of them,” Hilda remarked.

“Awfully nice girls,” said Nannie.

“Oh, yes, but they're rabid. Constance Leigh is as independent as a March hare, and Evelyn is perfectly fierce for reforms now.”

“What, a socialist?” asked Prudence.

“No, not exactly, but she gathers the most awful class of people about her, and fairly bristles with indignation if one ventures to criticise them.”

“What do you mean—criminals?” asked Prudence.

“You'd think so if you chanced to run into one of them. Why, last Sunday evening she had an inebriate up to tea with her; next Sunday she expects a wife-beater, or choker, or something of that sort, and the other day, when I was coming out from a call on her, I met a black-browed, desperately wicked-looking man—as big as a mountain. I know he was a murderer or something. I never was so frightened in my life. Why, I took to my heels and ran the length of the[20] street. I presume he was after me, but I didn't dare look behind.”

“You needn't have worried, Hilda,” said Prudence. “You know big men never run after you.”

It was a notorious fact that most of Hilda's admirers were about half her size.

“Oh, yes. That holds good in society, but I don't know what might obtain in criminal circles.”

“Hilda, did your villain carry a cane and wear glasses?”

“I was too frightened to notice, but I believe he flourished a stout stick of some sort, and I do remember a wicked gleam about his eyes—might have been spectacles.”

The girls burst out laughing.

“Why, it's Professor Thing-a-my-Bob, or Dry-as-Dust, or somebody or other, from Washington. He's her fiancé.”

“Well, I don't care if he is,” persisted Hilda. “He's a wicked-looking villain.”

“Oh!” screamed the girls, and then Prudence added, with mock solemnity:

“Any one who could talk slightingly of[21] a genuine college professor would speak disrespectfully of the equator or be sassy to the dictionary.”

“I'd just enjoy telling the poor old proff what Hilda——” began Nannie, but the persevering president interrupted her.

“Young ladies, you will now come to order and consider the subject in hand.”

“Which hand? Or in other words, where's that article? I should like to see it,” said Hilda.

“It appeared in the Tribune, but I didn't see it,” said Puddy, “but I can give you some little bits, here and there, that I jotted down as George Daly read them. Now listen.”

“Order,” said the president.

“'First catch your fish,'” Puddy read impressively, looking around for approval.

“First go a-fishing, I should say,” said Hilda.

“'Don't hang up your fish on a hook in the housekeeper's department and think your work is done.'[22]

“That's Hugh Millett,” murmured the president. “I don't think he's been home since he returned from his wedding trip.”

“'Start with a clear fire, not too hot. Don't pile on all the wood and coal at once, for if the fire burns down before your fish is done it will be quite spoiled.'”

“Well, Mrs. Munsey is a spoiled fish, then,” said Hilda. “Don't you remember, Prue, how Will Munsey heaped on the lovering at first? It was four inches deep—lovey this and dovey that till it fairly cloyed one. But the fire went out long ago. There's no spark or sparking on that hearth now.”

“'Don't think, after the cooking is well under way, that you can leave it to take care of itself.' I had something more,” said Puddy, fumbling in her reticule for another bit of paper. “Oh, here it is: 'Don't stuff your fish with dried crusts composed of the way your mother used to do this.' And here's another: 'Some husbands, after making it so hot in private that their poor wives are nearly reduced to a cinder, serve them up in public[23] with a cold shoulder. Others toss them carelessly into a kettle to simmer from morning till night over the nursery fire.'”

“I'm going,” said Nannie abruptly, and without further ceremony she departed, just as Evelyn Rogers came in again.

“Nannie Branscome is a perfect——” Hilda began.

“Sh-h!” said the president.

“Well, I trust she'll settle in a heavily wooded country, for the cooking she'll require before she's palatable would break a millionaire if fuel was dear.”

“Oh! she'll do well enough when she has her growth,” said Prudence in her dry way.

Nannie's growth was a subject of jest among her mates. At sixteen she suddenly thrust her foot forward into womanhood with saucy bravado, as it seemed. At seventeen she snatched it back—pettishly, some said, but there were those who looked deeper, and they discerned a certain vague terror in the movement—a dread of the unknown. Since[24] that time—almost a year now—Nannie had been hovering on the border line, something like a ghost that has ceased to be an inhabitant of this world and yet refuses to be well laid.

“Now listen to this, girls,” said Puddy, who was intent on reading her excerpts to the bitter end. “'If a wife is allowed to boil at all, she always boils over.'”

“It would require a high temperature to boil you, Hilda,” said Prudence with a laugh, for Hilda's good-nature had passed into proverb.

The girl looked down from her five feet nine inches of height with her easy, comfortable smile.

“Why? Because of my altitude?” she asked.

“'And you will be sure to scald your fingers and get the worst of it,'” Puddy went on relentlessly.

This struck Evelyn's fancy and she exclaimed:

“Girls, I can just see Nannie's husband sitting in the doorway of their cabin blowing his fingers and wincing.[25]

“Can you?” said a voice, and the girls started as they saw Nannie standing between the curtains of the folding doors.

Sometimes she resembled an elf in her weird beauty; just now she looked more like an imp.

Something disagreeable might have ensued, for Nannie's temper was uncertain and undisciplined, but Prudence said in a presidential tone:

“Young ladies, it is for you to decide how you will be served up in future. Will some one please make a motion?”

“Oh, let's decide how each other will be served,” said Hilda. “You know at church nobody applies any of the sermon to himself, but fits it all on to his neighbors.”

“Evelyn will be raked over the coals,” said Nannie in a low, intense voice.

Evelyn's handsome face flushed and her lips parted for a retort, but Hilda exclaimed:

“Puddy will be made into delicious round croquets,” and she smacked her lips with anticipatory relish.[26]

“Hilda'll be kept in a nice continual stew,” retorted Puddy.

“Nannie'll be parboiled, fried, fricasseed——” began Hilda, but Nannie exclaimed:

“No, I'll be roasted—you see if I'm not!”

“Prue will be baked in a genteel, modern way,” said Evelyn.

“Yes!” shouted Hilda, to get above the noise. “Girls, mark my words. Some day Mr. Smith, Brown, or Jones, whoever he is, will invite us all to a clambake, and when we arrive we'll find it's just dear old Prue served up.”

This hit at Prudence's usual silence struck the company forcibly, and after a little more from the recipe they broke up with noisy mirth.

On the doorstep Nannie paused and looked about her. Puddy's last extract from the article under discussion was wandering through her brain, something as a cat wanders through a strange house.

“Order a dressing as rich and as plentiful as you can afford.[27]

Nannie understood this well enough. She was wearing such a dressing at that very moment, but the next sentence puzzled her.

“If you can't afford the best, heap your fish with crumbs of comfort. Press some of these into pretty shapes, such as hearts, and roses, and true lovers' knots. If you have neither the patience nor the skill to follow these directions, take my advice and don't go a-fishing.”

Nannie had never received a caress at home in her life and very few abroad, for she was not one to form close friendships among the girls. Her parents had died before she could become acquainted with them, and the aunt who had reared her was a worldly woman who looked upon her merely as a valuable piece of social property. Nannie's lack of popularity was disappointing, but the aunt still hoped that her unusual beauty would atone for her brusqueness, crudity, and lack of tact, and she would form a rich alliance. Between her aunt and uncle there had never been, to Nannie's knowledge, the slightest[28] expression of affection, and so when one spoke of “hearts and roses” and “true lovers' knots” in a domestic connection, the words fell strangely upon the girl's ears.

The sun was streaming through the trees that lined the broad, handsome avenue as the merry group broke up. Happy children, their dear little bodies tastefully clothed and their dear little faces wreathed in smiles, flitted about here and there at play, like pretty elves. Now and then some one or more of them would run, with shouts of glee, to welcome a home-coming father.

In the heart of a more womanly, more happily trained girl, all this would have awakened tender yearnings. It awakened a feeling in Nannie's heart—just what it meant she could not have told—but this vague, unused something was soon swept one side by a more comical image. As she looked at the handsome dwellings she seemed to hear a voice calling:

“Wives for dinner! wives for dinner![29]

And from the household altars there rose the smoke of unique dishes—domestic fries, feminine roasts, conjugal stews, in highly colored family jars.

“Come, ducky, come and be cooked!” sounded in her ears.

“No, I thank you,” said Nannie audibly.

And she hurried down the avenue.


One evening a few weeks previous to the formation of the Young Woman's Club—for an infant society of that name dated from the burlesque meeting just described—Randolph Chance was seated in the room of his nearest friend and was talking over the events of the day. Ordinarily he was not free of speech, but with this man he could think aloud. There are folk whose very presence is enough to shut one up with a snap as the wrong touch closes the shell of a clam; there are others who act upon us as heaven's own sun and dew act upon the flowers.

For a time after Randolph had taken his accustomed seat—an old chair in an ingle-nook of the fireplace—he was silent, possibly through physical disability, for there was no elevator at night, and nine flights of stairs is not provocative of conversation; or he may have been awed into[31] silence, for he often told Steve that he was nearer heaven than he would ever be again in all probability. Be that as it may, he sat there enjoying his thoughts and the restful atmosphere of the room. Quite unlike a bachelor's apartment, this; as unlike as many another belonging to that particular branch of the genus homo—rooms in which we would probably receive a mild shock and be compelled to rebuild our entire structure of theories on the subject of the helplessness, uncomfortableness, and general miserableness of that specimen known as bachelor. To be sure, Steve Loveland was fortunate in the selection of his rookery, but that might be called an outcome of his genius—a genius with which bachelors are not supposed to be blessed. At first glance, one who had no such gift for situation would not have considered such a spot favorable for the construction of a home—if this word may, for a moment, be snatched from the wedded portion of the human race—but the artist in Steve recognized its possibilities.[32]

Carnot Fonnac, who originally reared and owned the building under discussion, was himself a wretched, reprehensible bachelor, but being also a Frenchman he possessed some taste; and intending to make his abode in the sky-parlor of his structure, he so planned it that there was a hint of grace and beauty in its arches and dimensions, as well as of expanse. An English friend suggested the fireplace, and he had the good sense to act upon this most sensible advice. After Fonnac's death his building went into retirement, so to speak; fashion minced off in another direction and left it to its grief, so now, at the remove of some fifteen years, Steve Loveland obtained the rental of the attic for a mere song, and here he cast his lot, for he was his own housekeeper. A few screens skillfully arranged reduced the apparent size of the apartment; some old-fashioned furniture his mother spared him made it homelike and comfortable; an air-tight stove on the one side (there were two chimneys) held Boreas at bay, while on the other a little[33] basket grate of coals, setting like a ruddy gem in the center of the ample fireplace, was at once an element of good cheer and a respecter of the law of economy.

On this particular evening the cronies sat in their accustomed places within the fireplace, one on either side; a little stand, on which were set a couple of plates of crackers and cheese, stood near by, and a pot of oysters, cheerily simmering, hung from the crane above the fire.

Randolph was silent; so was Steve—the latter never talked; in place of words he used the poker—not in any fiendish way; heaven forbid! but in a mild, unobtrusive manner, intelligible only to himself and Randolph. In this system of fireworks stenography, so to speak, a series of slow, deliberate pokes under the fire implied contemplation; poking down from above stood for disagreement; while thrusts of the poker between the ribs of the grate expressed sympathy or agitation.

“Steve,” said Randolph—his chair was tilted against the brick side wall of the[34] chimney, and he was leaning back, with his hands clasped behind his head—“I tell you she's a pretty nice girl; an awfully sensible girl; one of the kind that sets your brain to jogging. It's easy to talk to her, she's so suggestive, wide awake, and at the same time she's restful, too. She's none of your hoity-toity characters, one thing one day and another the next, so you never know where you stand with them. You can feel secure with her. I feel as if I had known her all my life; there's the most perfect understanding between us; we don't have to talk; I think she knows my thoughts, and I'm certain I know hers. Awfully nice girl; one of the nicest I ever knew.”

“Must be,” said Steve gently.

After this there was some talk of a desultory sort, some solicitous watching of the oysters that were singing softly preparatory to boiling, and then Randolph bethought him of a conversation he overheard on the train that day and repeated it to Loveland, who sat bending over toward the fire, his elbows resting[35] on his knees and poker in hand ready for action.

“I tell you, Steve, it sets one thinking to get at the woman's side of the matter,” said Randolph. “I've been idiot enough to suppose they thought just as we do on most subjects.”

Loveland smiled and poked the fire gently from above.

“You know we've always been taught that women were naturally dependent, and I supposed it was second nature for them to receive money from their husbands, and so they got enough they cared no more about it. Do you think many of them feel like that woman in the car?”

Loveland poked the fire from beneath and then sighed helplessly.

“Can't say, I'm sure,” he replied in his gentle, hesitant way. “They don't seem to go according to tradition in anything, so far as I've noticed. They're a peculiar race.”

“Oh, I don't know about that,” said Randolph in a practical tone. “It's pretty easy to understand, once your attention's[36] called to it. I'd never given the subject any thought, but if one chooses to observe he can very soon find out what's what. Some men are idiots and won't learn, so they get in a mess.

“It's natural for you to be mystified, Steve,” continued Randolph after a short pause, “but you see I have a sister and I know all about women. You can judge of the rest by any one of them. They're pretty much alike.”

Loveland gave the top of the fire a few little jabs.

“Yes, I know,” said Randolph. “You have mother and sister both, but you haven't lived with them for years. If you don't actually live in the same house with women you can't know them. Of course even then you may be in the dark on a point or two, as I was on the money question, but you can soon learn. All a woman wants is fair treatment. If a man drinks and makes a beast of himself or sulks around in place of telling her what he don't like and letting her change it, of course she isn't going to be happy.[37] It's easy as rolling off a log to manage a woman.”

Loveland rose and thrust the poker down through the top crust of the fire and left it standing there.

“As far as management goes,” Randolph went on unheedingly, “leaving morality, and expense, and all that out of the question, I'd just as soon turn Mormon and marry forty women.”

Here Loveland stabbed the fire clear through the body, bringing the poker out on the under side and against the hearth with a force that bent its glowing point.

“The stew's done,” he said. “We'll dish up now.”

This little scene, or rather the conversation that seasoned the stew, soon faded from Randolph's memory, but it lingered in the mind of his companion. Men like the latter, little given to speech, are apt to turn and re-turn in thought what has been said to them, and therefore do not easily forget.

Several weeks after this the two men sat on the bachelor hearth once more;[38] Loveland in his usual quiet mood and Chance smarting from a recent wound. He had begun to feel that his position was almost secure with Miss Leigh, but that day, on the occasion of a picnic at which he had amused himself by trifling with a silly young girl, he was amazed, mortified, and hurt by receiving the cold shoulder when he proffered his company to Miss Leigh on the way home.

His friend's hospitable hearth had more than once proven a refuge and a solace. It was so to-night, and Randolph began to take heart again as he settled back in his comfortable chair in the ingle-nook and watched the hanging of the oyster stew upon the crane.

For a time the gentle simmering of the appetizing dish was the only sound to be heard. Randolph did not feel like talking or even listening, and his companion knew how to hold his peace.

Steve Loveland was one of those men whose intuitive sense is as fine as a woman's; of delicate physique, strong brain, and a sensitive temperament that might[39] have gone off on a morbid tangent but for the common sense, cheerfulness, and unselfishness that held it true to the course. The last man in the world to lead a lonely life, but there was an invalid mother and a delicate sister in a pretty little country town home some two hundred miles away, and that was why Steve had no home of his own. Loving nature as I think most men of fine, sensitive fiber do, yearning for wife, and children, and hearthstone, as every good man must, he had cheerfully and forever put one side all hope of fulfilling these holy dreams and had taken his place on the force of a daily paper, never thinking he was a hero. His comrades never thought of that, either; they only knew that he was always pleasant, always considerate, always every inch a man, and they loved him with one accord.

It was to such a friend as this that Randolph had given his heart, for although he did not fully understand him, he loved him, and the answering affection he received was one of the most beautiful of tributes to his own fine qualities.[40]

When Randolph was ready to talk he told the story of the day—its hope, its disappointment, and humiliation.

“It beats the Dutch, Steve. I can't think what was the matter. There wasn't a thing I did or a word I said to make her behave so.”

Steve was softly poking the fire from above. The night was quite cool for June.

“No, there was not,” Randolph reaffirmed. “I've gone over the whole day again and again. I didn't give her the least excuse. What do you suppose was the matter with her?”

Steve looked up with an almost startled air.

“Oh, I'm sure I can't say. They're quite beyond me.”

“They're beyond every one,” said Randolph in the tone of a Supreme Court judge. “I don't see what the Lord made them for.”

Steve looked up again and there was the least suspicion of a twinkle in his eye.

“How is it,” he asked in his gentle[41] way—“how many of them is it you are prepared to manage?”

Randolph brought his chair down on its four legs.

“Not a confounded one!” he said.


For a time Randolph Chance was fairly dazed by the suddenness with which his fortune changed. Yesterday it was down—deep down; to-day it had gone flying up. He had followed Constance Leigh when she walked to the lake in the afternoon; had helped her from a perilous place in the midst of rough winds and still rougher waves; and as he took her from the pier their eyes had met, and this was why, later on, he sat by his friend's fireside in a state of bewildered rapture.

An outsider, one of the world's common folk, would have made but little out of Randolph's brief, rough-hewn sentences. But Loveland was finely strung; he understood.

“I can't forget that look. It breaks me all up every time I think of it.[43]

Randolph spoke like a man who was talking to himself.

“It's so unreal—I may have dreamed it,” he went on slowly. “I tell you, Steve”—this with a sudden turn—“I don't dare to hope, but if——”

There was no perceptible tremor in his voice, but the sentence broke sharply.

“I know, old man, I know,” said Steve in his gentlest voice.

And he poked the fire softly between the ribs of the grate.

It seemed that Randolph's hope was not without foundation, for after he had been the toy of fate somewhat longer he came to Steve one night with great news, and yet no news to Steve, who had long discerned the signs of the times and had been dreading what he saw must come. Now, although he felt sharp pangs of grief on seeing his boon and sole companion snatched from him and about to be offered up upon the altar matrimonial, yet he rejoiced thereat with the full force of his unselfish nature.

On this especial night the two men sat[44] beside the fire, and also beside some of the last oysters that would ever be served up with the spicy sauce of this same good comradeship. As befitted so memorable an occasion, the oysters were big fellows and were frying gloriously.

Randolph, who was in great good spirits, leaned over and lifted them carefully with a fork he held in hand.

“Here we are!” he exclaimed. “Things are done brown now!”

Then the two men looked up at each other and burst out laughing.

There was one important ceremony which Randolph felt must precede the marriage service, and that was the introduction of his bosom friend to his fiancée.

“I've been puzzling my brains to think how I can bring this about,” he said to Constance one day. “I've already hinted at it to Steve, but he don't take. I know he wants to meet you, but he's such a retiring fellow—not really bashful, but like a clam in his shell.”

“Don't distress yourself, I beg of you,” said Constance with a mischievous smile.[45] “Mr. Loveland and I have already met and are now the best of friends.”

Randolph stared at her in open-mouthed amazement.

“Where?” he managed to ask.

“Right here in this parlor. I must tell you about it—it was most beautiful. His card took me by surprise, but I supposed you had brought him. When I came downstairs there he was, looking altogether different from your descriptions.”

“Well, I like that!” said Randolph. “Do you mean to impeach my statements?”

“Altogether better,” persisted Constance. “Yes, he is taller and has a most interesting face. He came forward to greet me without a particle of embarrassment, and there was something so manly and simple, and withal so high-bred in his every movement, that I was charmed. I know he must come of a fine family.”

“Oh, he does. He had a line of ancestors a mile long aboard the Mayflower. A cousin of his was telling me. He never said a word. He never talks.[46]

“Ah!” said Constance with an arch smile. “He talked that evening, I assure you, and to good effect. He had but a few moments to stay, but he made every moment tell. For one thing, he assured me, with a most winning smile, that he should feel constrained to rise in church and forbid the banns unless I promised to adopt him as a brother.”

Randolph's eyes and mouth opened again.

“Perhaps you'd better adopt him as something still nearer!” he said, with a pretense of anger.

“Now that you mention it,” Constance replied in a confidential tone, “I came very near doing so. The only reason I did not was that he forgot to ask me.”

Randolph broke into a laugh. Then he added in a puzzled tone:

“Well, it beats everything! In all the ten years I've known him I've never heard him say as much as that!”

“I can't repeat all he said——” Constance began again.

“What!” Randolph cried with another semblance of jealousy.[47]

“No, because it lay in his manner; that gentle, affectionate, yet manly manner—indescribable! perfectly indescribable!”

“It's the same to everybody,” said Randolph, “and everybody loves him. I never knew another such fellow. It's past belief the way he wins people. And he says nothing, too.”

“Ah, but he does!” repeated Constance. “Well, well, there's no telling it all. I continually think of the word delightful in recurring to it and him. I assured him that he would be a member of our family, and that our fireside and our crust—I really didn't dare to promise more than a crust, you know, Randolph—would be his as well as ours. When he left he said good-by in the same perfectly easy, natural way, calling me Constance——”

“What?” Randolph exclaimed.

“And then he said, 'I am a brother now, you know,' and he bent and kissed me.”

“The dickens!” cried Randolph.

And Constance finished the sentence.[48]

“He did. And really in the most delightful way,” she added naïvely.

Shortly after this cementing of new bonds there was a quiet wedding ceremony one morning at the little suburban church, and when this was over Randolph and Constance were ready for their walk through life.

This walk—sometimes quickened into a jog trot and even into a lope, sometimes slackened till it becomes a crawl—is variously diversified, according to the temper and general disposition of the parties. In the present instance there was reasonable hope of some harmony of gait, but life is life, whether within or without the wedded fold, and “human natur' is human natur';” and although David Harum may tell us that some folks have more of this commodity than others, yet we know that every one has a lump of it, at least, and usually, thank God! a lump of leaven as well.

The first agitating question upon marriage is that of residence. Happily Randolph and Constance were agreed upon[49] this point. Both were indifferent to the city; both were lovers of the country. Randolph had once read a certain sweet pastoral termed “Liberty and a Living,” and hardly a day had passed since the reading that he had not recalled it and speculated as to how he could adjust it to his own life.

The fact that the writer, like himself, was a journalist; that he broke loose from just such shackles as were wearing Randolph's pleasure in life, made it seem more possible to the latter, and now that he had joined hands with a woman of similar tastes, the experiment seemed really feasible.

“It's easy enough if we'll only think so,” said Randolph.

“It looks easy,” Constance replied more cautiously; “that's one reason why I am afraid of it. That proves to me that we don't know anything about it. If it were really so easy more people would try it. We're not the only ones who love the country.”

“I wonder more people don't try it,[50]” Randolph exclaimed. “When I look around me in the train and see the care-worn, harassed faces the men wear, I wonder they don't break loose from their drudgery and go to living. What's the use of existing if you have to drudge continually for your bread, and must eat even that in debt half the time?”

We may have to do without bread,” said Constance, smiling.

“Then we'll eat cake, as Marie Antoinette suggested,” Randolph responded promptly.

There really was some practical preparation for the proposed country life, although many of the plans seemed visionary enough. Randolph had long been considering an offer from a local magazine that would enable him to do most of his work at home, but the pay was smaller and less certain than he could wish. However, he at last decided to resign from the newspaper force with which he had for years been connected and to risk taking the other position.

Now, happily, he had done good, faithful[51] work in his present place and was highly esteemed. Consequently, as soon as the editor of the paper learned why he was going and what he wanted, he offered him the editorship of the literary department in the Saturday issue, at a smaller salary than he had been receiving, to be sure, but still a larger and more certain one than he could earn on the magazine, and this he accepted and went on his way with much rejoicing.

“I'll only have to go into the city once a week now,” he said to Constance, “and my literary work at home won't require over three hours a day. That's something like living!”

Constance was as delighted as he, but she was more cautious and said less. She once remarked in this connection that she intended to borrow a motto from Steve's coat of arms—“Mum's the Word.”

During the past few years Randolph's expenses had been small and his earnings considerable; consequently he had quite a goodly sum in bank. With a portion of this he and Constance bought a small[52] place in the country, happening on a genuine bargain, as one will if he has cash in hand. The house was little more than a cabin, and they decided to devote it to their servants—a married pair—while they built a cottage for their own use.

The latter deserves more than a passing word. Both Randolph and Constance had “Liberty and a Living” in mind when they planned it, and although it did not precisely repeat that charming little domicile, yet it was built in much the same style. The one big room—library, dining-room, and sometime kitchen combined—looked out from three sides. In the early morning it saw the clouds piled up in expectant glory over the way across the surging lake; toward evening its windows to the left blazed their farewell as day sailed into the west; while golden sunbeams played at hide-and-go-seek among its pretty furnishings throughout the midway hours. Even on cold, cloudy days there was still good cheer, for a big log fire crackled on the ample hearth beneath the oaken mantel, whereon a glowing[53] iron had etched Cowper's invitation (who could say it nay?):

“Nor stir the fire and close the shutters fast;
Let fall the curtains;
Wheel the sofa round;
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer, but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome cheerful evening in.”

The very furnishings of this library were intellectually and spiritually appetizing. A large desk, off one side, bespoke brain work; a solid center-table, strewn with books and magazines, made one long for the glow of the big lamp and the leisure of the evening, while Constance's grand piano seemed to stir the very air with a dream of harmony. The room was lined with low book-cases; above Shakespeare stood his bust; above the many volumes on musical themes, busts of Beethoven and Wagner; pictures—not costly paintings, but engravings, photo-gravures, and etchings, scenes from other lands, sweet spiritual faces, suggestions[54] of great lives—looked down from the walls; while over all, as a frieze to the oaken room, ran the words: “'Tis love that makes the world go round.”

To Steve Loveland this home seemed more like Paradise than mortal abode. He watched its building and making with as intense an interest as Randolph's and with far more of sentiment. Marriage to him meant Elysium—the inexpressible, the unattainable; more so than ever now. But whatever yearnings the sweet little nest awoke in the breast of this lonely outsider, his duty and purpose remained fixed.

In the fall of the year, when the grapes hung in luscious bunches on the slender vine; when country by-lanes were mellow with a wealth of sumach and maple coloring; when Nature was saying farewell in her own sweet way, at once so festive and so melancholy, then Constance and Randolph turned their backs on the din and confusion of the city, and seeking the happy woodlands, entered their own little home.[55]

On that very same day Steve received a summons to his sister, who lived with her mother in the little country town. There he was witness to a short, sharp contest with pneumonia; then came a defeat; and then a quiet burial in the village churchyard; next a sinking from hour to hour of the invalid mother whose prop and stay had been taken from beneath her; a second calling of friends to the stricken home; and ere two weeks of absence had been told, Steve found himself alone in the world, as far as any near of kin were concerned.

His grief was quiet, but very poignant. The old bachelor lodgings became unendurable. Randolph had gone to a home of his own, and Steve could not sit there alone, listening to the clods of earth as they fell on mother and Mary.

Both Randolph and Constance stretched out tender, sympathizing hands to the lonely man, and would have been glad had he consented to widen their fireside circle by his presence, but beyond an occasional visit Steve did not feel that he[56] could go to them. He had long been independent—he was over thirty now, and he was not ready to merge his life into the life of another household. Still less was he willing to intrude his continued presence upon a newly married couple. The life there was sacred to him, and although he felt himself next of kin, almost, to its inmates, he shrank from robbing them of their right to be alone.

Go somewhere he must, however, so he gathered a few of his effects and prepared for a flitting—where he hardly knew when he set out, but he chanced to alight in the domicile of some elderly friends, who were delighted to give him house and table room in their rather solitary home.

It chanced that Steve's new rookery (he was in the fourth story) was quite near Mrs. Lamont's handsome house, and Mrs. Lamont was the aunt of Nannie Branscome—bewitching, provoking, maddening Nannie Branscome; uncured, unbaked, indigestible little Nannie Branscome—and they met, to quote from Kate[57] Douglas Wiggin, “every once in so often.”

Careless, irresponsible Nannie Branscome! growing wild in the garden.

But the cook was near at hand and the fire was lighted.

What manner of cook? A chef or a stupid mixer of messes?

Who knows?


It was bleak and drear. A raw, angry wind came out of the north and went raging through the woods, tearing the pretty clothing of the trees to pieces and rudely hurling the dust of the street in one's face. The sun got behind the clouds and in grief and dismay hid his face while this dismal looting went on unrebuked and unrestrained. But Nature is fickle, possibly because she is feminine. At all events, she can change both mind and conduct, and in short order. So ere long she came out of her November rage and sat down in still, mellow sunshine, and gathering her children about her, whispered beautiful stories in their ears; warmed them with her love and brightness; soothed their care-lined brows and filled their hearts with a sense of the nearness of the Giver of all good.[59]

It was on one of these days of Indian summer that Steve cut loose from work and started off on a tramp. He worked in town; he rested in country.

He had put something like five miles of woodland and late fall meadow between himself and the distractions of city life, when looking adown a path that sloped gently to a brook he saw, sitting on a tree that lay athwart the stream and paddling her white feet in the sunny water, Nannie Branscome. His surprise robbed him of his reserve and he hastened to her.

“Are you lost, Miss Branscome?”

“Yes,” she answered calmly.

She still sat there, paddling her feet, with nothing of consternation or perplexity in her face or manner. All around her were the browns of a summer that had come and gone; heaps of dead leaves nestled close to the trees, mute witnesses of a lost beauty; while here and there an ox-eyed daisy glowed from out its somber company as a firefly shines through the dusk of twilight. In the midst of all this sat Nannie in her pretty suit trimmed[60] in scarlet, looking like a bird of paradise amid a flock of sparrows and other soberly clad creatures. Indeed, she reminded one of a bird, with her head cocked on one side and her air—not bold, but saucy.

Steve stood on the bank of the creek, perplexed for a moment. Then he asked with a slight smile:

“What are you going to do about it?”

The girl lowered her head a trifle and looked out at him from 'neath her curls, but she said nothing.

“Let us go home, Miss Branscome.”

She continued looking at him without a word, and he returned her gaze as he stood there with a gentle dignity that had its effect upon her.

“Barefooted?” she asked.

“No. I am going to explore this creek for a little distance, and you can get ready while I'm gone.”

“But suppose my shoes and stockings have floated down the stream? What then?”

Steve was dismayed, but he maintained his quiet air.[61]

“Suppose,” persisted Nannie.

Just then Steve caught a glimpse of a tiny shoe at the foot of a near tree.

“And suppose,” he said, “they have not, but are awaiting their owner over yonder?”

Nannie laughed and looked around and Steve walked on.

When he returned she was ready, and they set off together toward town.

“Were you really lost?” asked Steve.

“Yes. I've been wandering around for at least two hours.”

“How came you to go out there?” he asked.

“I was expected to go somewhere else,” she answered with one of her elfin looks.

Steve was silent. Mentally he was wondering if this was the mainspring of conduct in all women. He thought very likely it was. Mary often asked his advice and then always took her own way, and it was invariably opposite to the course he had indicated.

They had not gone much further,[62] when, happening to look around for something, Nannie caught a glimpse of her dress skirt and saw that it was creased and stained with mud.

“There now! I've just ruined my gown!” she exclaimed, and then burst into passionate tears.

“Miss Branscome! don't!” said Steve, who was fairly startled out of his usual quiet into something akin to excitement. “Don't! I beg of you. Nannie! don't cry, my dear!”

He failed to notice how he had spoken; so did she, apparently.

“We can make it all right, I know,” he continued, but for a time she refused to be comforted.

“You would cry too, I guess, if you were in my place and would get such an awful scolding at home.”

“No doubt I would,” assented Steve in deep distress.

“I wish I were dead and buried under a landslide,” sobbed Nannie.

In the depth of her sorrow she wanted to delve deep into mother earth.[63]

“Oh, no. Don't wish that! What should we do without you?” said Steve earnestly.

“Oh, you needn't to worry,” replied Nannie pettishly, the violence of her grief having spent itself. “Nothing so good as that is going to happen. I shall live to get home and have my head taken off, and stalk around as a torso ever afterward.”

“Now do let me see if I can't set things to rights,” said Steve. “You've no idea how handy I am in such matters.”

He proved the truth of his words by going to work upon the injured gown, and after patient effort bringing it out of its dilapidated condition in such shape that only a keen eye would detect any sign of mishap.

Nannie was delighted and, stimulated by the excitement attendant upon her rapid change of fortunes, became quite talkative.

“I wouldn't have minded it so much, but I have on one of my best gowns, and Aunt Frances makes such a fuss every[64] time she has to buy me anything. She says it's of no use to spend on me. It don't amount to a row of pins.”

Steve looked at her inquiringly. In actual time he was many years her senior, but Nannie had been in society for a season now, and even young girls age fast there—too fast, by far.

“She means I don't bid fair to get married off well. I'm not very popular, you know.”

Still Steve was silent. Nannie was speaking in a language of which he was ignorant.

“I dressed this morning to go to Joe Harding's breakfast, but I hate him, and I went walking instead. Now I've got to see some of the girls who went and make up a lot of stuff about it at home, or Aunt Frances'll be awfully mad.”

Steve looked into the beautiful face of the young girl who was talking in this repellent fashion. Then he took her gently by the hand and said in a firm, kindly tone:

“Nannie, you must come out of all this.[65]

“How can I?” she asked. “I have no mother or father—no one who really cares. I suppose I'll marry Joe Harding some day. He wants me, and Aunt Frances keeps at me about it eternally, but I hate him.”

“You must not marry him,” said Steve firmly. “He is not a good man.”

“And he's awfully ugly, too, but he's rich, and he's one of the swell set. Ugh! but I do hate him!”

“Why are you going to marry him?”

“Why?” she asked, looking at him with straight, frank surprise. “I've got to. Nobody else wants me.”

The pettish look had passed from her face; so also had the world-wise expression. There was something in her present naïve frankness that prevented it from seeming bold.

As he looked at her swift images of love and marriage flitted across his brain. Somehow his loneliness was borne in upon him, and with this realization there came as a sudden flash the consciousness that he could marry. Long ago he had[66] put all this one side, and in his grief over the loss of mother and sister it had never once occurred to him that he was free. The knowledge almost overwhelmed him now, and in his bewilderment for the moment he lost sight of his ideal. Like most reticent men, he cherished an ideal. Since meeting Constance Leigh, unconsciously to himself that ideal had grown very like her. But now he was sitting beside a fascinating young girl—for fascinating she was to Steve, even in her brusqueness and plainness of speech; a mere child, as it were, who was without home and without the protection of love and parental care, and as he looked into her eyes, still wet with tears, he felt his heart go out to her.

“Listen to me, Nannie,” he said, taking her hand once more. “I am a very lonely man. I need a wife——”

“Come, ducky, come and be killed,” flashed through Nannie's mind.

“I think you need me and I'm sure I need you.”

“How?” thought Nannie; “fricasseed or boiled?[67]

“If you would let me I would take you and try——”

“Fry, you mean,” said Nannie mentally as he hesitated.

Then with a sudden whirl, peculiar to her gusty temperament, she said to herself:

“He's proposing, and I needn't marry that hideous creature!”

She caught her breath and pressed her hands together.

“Oh, if only I could escape from Joe Harding!” she exclaimed.

Something very holy in Steve's nature came up then and changed the man. No longer shy, no longer reserved, he bent toward Nannie without touching her and said:

“My dear, marriage is a gate at once solemn and beautiful. When it is used as a door of escape it opens into a dark forest abounding with terrible wild beasts and hideous crawling things, but if one opens it with love's key, I can't tell you what it leads to, for I have never been there, but I believe it is the gateway to the[68] Elysium fields that lie just on the hither side of heaven.”

Nannie looked up into the grave eyes and saw something of tenderness, something of reverence there that was new to her. She had stepped into an unknown world and was awed. As she sat there all mockery and levity faded from her face, and in its place there crept a look of deep admiration and deep respect for this man, and something awoke in her soul.

She said not a word—she had no words for such as this—but by and by she put her hand into Steve's.

“For life, Nannie?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, and burst into tears.


A lover's ecstasy is ofttimes cut short by the reflection that he has yet to face that awful bugbear—the old folk. There is something terrible about age, it would seem, not only to its possessor, but even to those who must encounter it second hand, and Steve was not without his qualms. Although in his wooing he had not for one moment lost his gentle self-possession, he had entirely forgotten about the ordeal of an interview with Nannie's guardians until she reminded him by saying with an impish chuckle:

“Won't Aunt Frances be happy when she hears of this!”

“Is she anxious that you should marry?” asked Steve with some wonder.

Nannie looked at him with wide eyes for a moment. It seemed hardly possible that one could be so dull of comprehension,[70] and yet there was no doubting Steve's grave, earnest expression.

“Yes,” was her only reply, but inwardly she was convulsed with laughter as she looked ahead and in thought rapidly sketched a scene.

And so Steve walked up to his task with but a faint conception of its magnitude.

“I have called, Mrs. Lamont,” he said in his easy, gentlemanly way, “to ask for the hand of your niece. Nannie and I have had a little talk about it and understand each other, I think, and now we await your consent.”

“You surely don't expect my consent,” said Mrs. Lamont.

Steve's shyness and gentleness seemed to return to him.

“I really,” he said hesitatingly, “had not thought of any reason why we should not have it.”

“Mr. Loveland—well, this is intensely trying to me. You've no idea, I am sure, how I dislike to be so plain; but can you not understand that you are hardly a suitable[71] match for Nannie? You are very poor, I believe.”

“Why, no,” said Steve gently.

He had a good position on a daily paper and his mother's little property had been disposed of to advantage, so that he had several thousand in bank now. To him, with his small needs and quiet tastes, this seemed like wealth.

“Oh, why will you force me to such brutal plainness!” exclaimed Mrs. Lamont impatiently. “Really this interview will make me ill.”

“It may indeed,” said Steve.

He had no thought of sarcasm.

“Mr. Loveland, this is a business matter. We must understand each other. You have property, I suppose?”

“Not now; it was sold.”

“What do you own, may I ask? Oh, isn't it fearful to have to talk so! But I must lead you to see things clearly.”

“I have forty-five hundred dollars in bank and a good situation,” said Steve, with a feeling that he was turning his life inside out under a stranger's gaze, and[72] had returned to barbarism and was buying Nannie.

“Bringing you what, may I ask?”

“A hundred and twenty-five a month.”

Mrs. Lamont gave a short laugh.

“Why, my dear sir—excuse me, but that would not suffice to keep Nannie's carriage, let alone herself.”

“Must she have a carriage?” asked Steve with a lengthening face.

“As a matter of course! Would you expect her to walk?”

Several things flashed through Steve's bewildered brain. Until to-day he had always met Nannie in her own or some other parlor. She had walked to-day, it is true, but perhaps she ought not to have done so. He remembered that when he saw her feet as she was paddling in the brook he thought them wonderfully small. He also recalled the fact that Chinese women of rank have very small feet and cannot walk; possibly Nannie was in a similar predicament.

“Is she deformed?” he gasped.

And then Mrs. Lamont put her handkerchief[73] to her face and wept for vexation.

Meanwhile Steve sat there, bewildered and distressed. He had come to expect this sort of conduct from women in general, but it was harrowing. His poor invalid mother often wept; Mary had cried now and then, poor worn-out girl; and last week, when he was at her house, even Constance had burst into tears when Randolph tried to explain something to her; Nannie had cried that day, and now Mrs. Lamont was weeping. No doubt it was a sort of melancholy punctuation mark in vogue with the sex.

“Evidently we speak different languages, and it is an almost hopeless task to try to explain,” said the lady at length; “but Nannie's interests are at stake, and I must attempt it.”

She knew only too well how futile it would be to try to influence Nannie. If this affair were ended it must be by Steve.

“Can you not see,” she continued, emphasizing every word and speaking in a hard, metallic tone, “that Nannie's position[74] in society calls for certain expenditures which are far beyond your means? As a woman of fashion she will be obliged to keep a carriage and maintain a style of living which would eat up your monthly salary in half a day. She has a suitor of abundant means, a millionaire several times over—Mr. Harding. He is infatuated with her and he will give her everything she can desire.”

“But he is a very bad man,” said Steve simply.

“Oh, well—really, Mr. Loveland, please don't push me into a discussion of such matters. Few men are saints, and I think he'll make a good husband. He is very rich and he moves in the best circles.”

“Does Nannie love him?” asked Steve, and his voice and manner had changed. He spoke very firmly.

“Mr. Loveland, you exhaust me! Some of us who have reached maturity have the good sense to provide for material advantages and take the rest for granted.[75]

“If Nannie loves Mr. Harding and wishes me to withdraw in his favor, I will do so.”

“I don't!” said a curt voice, and looking around with a start, Mrs. Lamont beheld her dutiful niece between the portières.

For a moment nothing was said, but Nannie's appearance did not portend peace. Her eyes looked out wickedly from beneath her curls, and her impish mouth was pursed up in an expression already familiar to her aunt.

“Leave the room instantly!” cried Mrs. Lamont at last with rising anger.

“I won't!” said Nannie shortly.

“Then I will teach you that I also can be firm. I command you to break off this foolish, insane affair at once.”

“I won't!” said Nannie.

“Ungrateful minx!” cried Mrs. Lamont. “Here I have dressed you all these years and gone to no end of other expense, and this is how you repay me.”

“It is,” said Nannie.

Now, Mrs. Lamont was a shrewd, worldly woman, and she took in the situation[76] fully. She realized that Nannie would hold to her own course. She also realized that arguments such as hers were without weight with Steve. These two, then, would marry for all she could say or do, for Nannie was just come of age. Now she had already strained her means to provide for the fashionable necessities of Nannie's début and society life, and she dreaded her wedding. Had the child married well, however, all the monetary effort attendant upon the occasion could have been repaid afterward—all that and more; but now to have an outlay and no return—that was too much! She would avert it.

“I can do nothing with this saucy, impudent girl, this ungrateful creature, but I appeal to you,” she said to Steve, “to let her come to her senses.”

It was Mrs. Lamont, he thought, who was worse than mad to try to force a young girl into an odious marriage, and Nannie's rebellion seemed justifiable to him, unused though he himself was to defying any one.[77]

“Nannie and I have decided,” he said quietly. “I regret that you feel so.”

“You shall never be married from this house!” cried the aunt.

“We can go elsewhere,” said Steve, not realizing that he was walking into a net.

“And you may expect a bitter time after this conduct, miss,” she added.

“Mrs. Lamont,” said Steve, stepping forward and taking Nannie's little hand in his, “you will force us to an earlier marriage than we had contemplated.”

And now Steve was well in the toils of the net, and this was how it happened that Mrs. Lamont was spared further expense for her willful niece, and that Steve all but took Randolph's and Constance's breath away by inviting them to a very quiet wedding which was to take place at a church one morning about a week after this stormy scene, and society buzzed like a bee over the elopement, as it called it, and so forth, and so on, and all at once in the midst of the distractions Nannie caught her breath and cried out:

“Why, goodness me! I'm married![78]

And Steve received the news with almost equal dismay.

Really, if the Shah of Persia had presented this gentleman with a white elephant, with long flowing trunk and two tails—three or four tails, in fact—and this little gift had been brought up to his room on a silver salver (always supposing that were possible) he could not have felt much more nonplussed as to its proper disposal and care than he did when he suddenly came out of a dream to realize he had a wife on his hands.

“Where do you wish to live, my dear?” he asked in a tone that might imply that he had all Europe and America to draw from as a place of residence.

He was rather expecting Nannie to say that she wished to reside on Calumet Avenue and to have a coach and four purchased that very day.

But nothing could surprise him now, so he received her abrupt answer calmly.

“I want to live in the country, near Mrs. Chance.”

Happily this wish was not impossible[79] of fulfillment, so Steve at once consulted his friends, and after much walking about (Nannie could walk) and much discussion, the four agreed upon a small dovecote of a place about a mile from Randolph's and Constance's home—a dear little cottage with enough land about it to raise anything and everything.

Nannie was like a child with a new toy, and her delight lent her a hundred little airs and graces that would only have provoked Mrs. Lamont had she seen them. She always said that the child was rude and stupid in society where she should have done her best, and only fascinating with people who could be of no earthly use to her.

And now the little kitchen was set up, the fire was burning briskly, the cook was at hand, and the delectable, indigestible material was ready for the spit.


Why people born and bred for city life will take to the woods; why people shapen, as it were, for the plow will fly to town, and men built for a naval gait will attempt to sit in high places on shore, is one of those elusive problems that are forever defying solution. We only know that such things exist, and a few of us come up and have a crack at them, as it were, and fail to make the slightest impression on their thick skulls. And still the wonder grows. Now it is a naval hero come ashore from seas where he was master of the situation, laden with honors and refulgent with glory sufficient for the lifetime of ten reasonable men, who straightway begins to covet a chair of whose very shape and proportions he is ignorant, and in which he can only be conspicuous as a melancholy misfit. O Heroism![81] why failest them to reach the judgment? O Glory! why canst thou not touch up the common sense? Anon we have a yeoman who has struck oil and has been thrown up on high by its monetary power, forsaking the obscure nook for which nature shaped him and attempting to sit in our drawing-room, eat at our dinner-table, and obtrude his rich vulgarity upon gentler guests.

It was in accordance with this lamentable fashion of undertaking that for which they have no gift; this rushing in of certain folk where angels fear to tread, that Steve turned farmer. Not that he gave up his situation on the paper. Ah, no! He tried to be that which no man could be successfully without supernatural aid—journalist and farmer both. His work in the city had for some time been such that he could do much of it in his room if he chose; indeed, there were times—a day, occasionally—when it was not necessary to go near the office. Consequently when he repaired to the country with his unique wife, he thought his affairs were admirably adapted to a dual existence.[82]

It was in the merry month of April when they landed. I use the latter term advisedly, for they were indeed upon a foreign shore. All about them Nature was giving evidence of a present awakening from her long nap. With her quickening circulation there was increased warmth, and in this the snow speedily slipped away. A chorus of songsters came out to greet the newly wedded pair, and sang so sweetly of love that Steve's delicate, sensitive nature thrilled in response. Nannie listened and looked at them askance, but to her they spoke, like our opera singers, in a foreign tongue.

Now, this breaking Steve from off his natural tree and grafting him upon an alien bough occasioned some changes. From being cheerful, slow, and gentle he suddenly became anxious, hasty, and at times dictatorial.

“You must have a garden,” one of his neighbors said.

Steve went to work like a galley slave upon his spare days, and dug, and raked, and planted.[83]

“You must keep bees,” said another of the neighbors.

Steve bought two hives at once.

“You must keep chickens,” said another neighbor, a sort of two-edged woman, who dwelt over across the swamp and whose scolding voice could be heard for miles.

So Steve bought thirteen hens and a rooster.

“You must have a cow,” said a fourth neighbor, and he promptly sold Steve a cantankerous beast that wanted to rival him in authority, and indeed for a time ran the place.

“You must have a cat,” said an old woman who wanted to get rid of an unamiable Thomas, and Steve brought him home in a sack caterwauling all the way.

“You must get a dog,” said a man who had a bull terrier for sale.

“I've got one!” bawled Steve—the man was deaf.

“Bull terrier?”

“No, Scotch! and he's all I want!” and Steve closed the front door with needless vigor.[84]

“What did you buy those nasty hens for?” asked Nannie, who did not like chickens.

“Oh, they'll give us something good to eat. It will be so nice to go out every morning and bring in some new-laid eggs for breakfast. You'll like to do that, Nannie.”

“I guess you'd better,” she said with a peculiar look.

So the next morning Steve tiptoed out, through the wet grass, to the hen-house, in his dressing-gown and slippers, he was so eager to pluck this new fruit.

He came in empty-handed, but cheerful.

“We could hardly expect them to lay the first day; they have got to get their bearings.”

Every morning before breakfast Steve took this little walk. There was soon a well-beaten track between the back door and the hen-house. He always returned empty-handed, and Nannie watched with an impish smile from an upper window.

One morning she came upon him in the act of taking off a white door-knob.[85]

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

He looked guilty, but answered with a fair show of spirit:

“I'm going to put this in one of the nests. You see, they must think a hen has been there and laid it.”

Nannie burst into a laugh.

“Well, I wouldn't waste time eating the eggs of hens that would be such fools as to think any poor old chicken had laid that door-knob!”

But Steve put it in, nevertheless.

And still morning after morning, with lowered head and dragging footstep, he returned to the house alone—still alone; not so much as a single egg as companion.

Then it was that a pair of imp-like, black eyes danced 'neath the careless ringlets above them.

“How would you like your door-knob this morning—hard or soft?”

This raillery went on day after day until even Steve—gentle, patient Steve had enough.

He looked up at the window and said quietly, but firmly:[86]

“There, Nannie, drop it, if you please.”

“On toast?” she screamed, and Steve went into the house.

But his triumph was near at hand, for one morning, about four weeks after he had bought the chickens, he discovered something besides the door-knob in one of the nests, and forthwith came strutting toward the house, holding the egg on high that Nannie might see it from the window of her room.

Hearing no noise he looked up. Was she dead? Ah, no! There she sat, straining her eyes through a field-glass to see the yield of his first month.

“Mix well,” she called to him, “thirteen hens, one rooster, one door-knob, and one month, and you'll have a delicious egg.”

And again Steve got into the house.

He was obliged to come out again later on, for there were many things upon this miniature plantation which were clamoring for attention. Indeed, Steve was slowly coming to believe in communities, such associations meaning in his mind a body of men banded together to run a[87] small acre of ground; one man attending to the chickens, one to the fruit trees, one to the vegetable garden, one to the horse, several to the cow, and so on. It will be seen later on why, in this distribution of labor, Steve always assigned several men—able-bodied at that—to the cow. It has already been mentioned that he was persuaded early in his matrimonial career to buy a beast of this variety. This beautiful animal (for she was handsome, unless she be judged by the homely rule that regulates beauty by conduct) he immediately presented to Nannie. Whether she was originally vicious (and this her former owner vehemently denied) or was affected by the nature of her mistress, no one knows. Suffice it to say that upon Nannie's flying out of the house to gaze upon her new possession, the latter lowered her head, raised her tail like a flagstaff, and galloped to meet her, and it was only by the execution of a sort of double-barreled backward somersault that Nannie saved her life.

“Most extraordinary conduct,” said Steve. “Threatening from both ends.[88]

Nannie was in no wise dismayed, and either by reason of her fearlessness or because of a secret bond between their natures, she and Sarah Maria—for so she named her after a troublesome neighbor—became comrades after a fashion. Between Sarah Maria and Brownie, however, there was always war from horn to heel, and nothing could effect a reconciliation. The danger of this enmity was clearly demonstrated on a Sabbath morning, otherwise peaceful, when Nannie started out with Brownie (the former carrying a milk pail, for some reason best known to herself, since she knew nothing of milking) and went down to the pasture for Sarah Maria. The latter was awaiting them at the bars, and, as it appeared, was ready for the business of the day. No sooner was she liberated from the bondage of the pasture than she made a bold charge upon Brownie, who promptly took to cover behind his mistress, barking the while in a manner both rasping and aggravating to one of Sarah Maria's irritable nervous system. The bovine's attention[89] being now drawn to Nannie, it behooved the latter to clear the path, and in short order, and Steve, who came running to the scene, attracted by the din of battle, beheld with horror-stricken sight a confused medley consisting of wife, dog, Sarah Maria, milk pail—all going head over heels into the nearest ditch.

By some miracle no one was hurt, and an energetic use of the milk pail—a use unforeseen by the manufacturers—restored quiet to the agitated district.

It was soon after this escapade that Jacob, the man about the place thought himself called to some other profession than farming, and accordingly left. As Sarah Maria remained, it was necessary to secure a milker. This difficulty was happily surmounted about eleven o'clock the first morning, when a man selling rustic chairs appeared upon the scene and good-naturedly consented for the time to step within the breach made by Jacob's disappearance.

Later on it was borne in on Steve's consciousness that he was the man to whom[90] Sarah Maria must look for relief. The situation was a critical one, but Steve's was not a nature to shirk responsibilities or shun sacrifices. Accordingly, arming himself with a hatchet and a club, on the end of which latter instrument he suspended the milk pail, he set out, and in this new business worked with such gentle deliberation that at the end of an hour he could have shown a quart of milk for his pains had not Sarah Maria testified to her respect for the day of small things by lifting the aforementioned pail on high.

By the end of a week, however, Steve succeeded in bringing his milking lessons to a favorable conclusion, and was ready to take his place not among the best, it is true, but still among the milkers of the world. He must have prosecuted his education with remarkable ardor, for his overalls had given out in spots, and one industrious day Nannie took it into her head to patch them. Having no suitable material at hand—such is the misfortune of the newly wedded, with everything whole about them—she utilized some[91] Scotch plaid pieces left over from a tea gown. But hardly was the patch well set than she began to reflect that its rather conspicuous beauty would no doubt catch the eye of Sarah Maria, and might occasion nothing less than Steve's death if he were taken unawares when his back was turned. To extract the patch was not to be thought of for a moment, since it was a wonderful triumph of art for Nannie, nor could she consent, wicked though she was, to let Steve walk forth arrayed in all its glory. A bottle of shoe polish solved the problem and made a somewhat stiff but subdued foundation, upon which Steve rested with more or less insecurity.


One morning Nannie was out in the garden, not at work as she should have been (she left all that to Steve), but walking around in a sort of lordly way, after the fashion of many idlers in this world who without scruple appropriate the results of industry.

She had often noted an old codger whose place backed up on hers, but had never held any converse with him. This morning, however, he seemed inclined to break the ice, as it were, for as she strutted about he leaned on the fence and said cheerily:

“Good-morning, neighbor.”

Nannie gave one glance at his old broad-brimmed straw hat and rusty overalls, and then said with a certain winning sauciness all her own:

“Good-morning, old Hayseed.[93]

The man laughed. He had a rotund, jovial countenance, which even his smoked glasses could not plunge into gloom. His every feature had an upward turn, and there was something strong and good about the face that made one feel that his heart also curved upward.

“So ye're gard'nin', be yer?” he remarked by way of introduction.

“No, I ain't,” said Nannie curtly. “Steve gardens, and you know it. You've seen him bent like a bow over these beds ever since we came here.”

“Yes, that's so.”

“And I've held myself as straight as an arrow.”

“Now thet's so, too,” and the old man laughed. “Ye're cute, yer air.”

“I can see right ahead of me. I don't wear smoked glasses,” said Nannie with a pretty little grimace.

“There's a deal goes on ahind smoked glasses sometimes,” said the old fellow with a laugh.

“How do you keep house?” asked[94] Nannie with an abrupt change of subject. “You haven't any wife or daughter.”

“I don't keep it; jest trust it. Don't turn no key nor nothin' on it, an' I ain't never knowed it to stray outside ther yard. Ther's a heap in hevin' faith in things.”

Nannie's face grew thoughtful.

“Yer kin 'most b'lieve a man inter bein' honest, an' I reckon it acts ther same on wimmin, though they be a leetle different.”

Nannie looked up from under her curls with a glance half inquiring, half defiant.

“When wimmin's young they be like a colt—it's hard ter keep 'em stiddy. When they git older they be somethin' like a mule—it's hard ter start 'em up now an' agin.”

“I guess men are the same. They belong to the same stock—all the world's akin, you know,” said Nannie mischievously.

“All the world's akin, eh?” said the old man slowly, turning this thought over in his mind. “Well, now, mebbe thet's so,[95] but if it is ther's a deal of difference atween ther cousins.”

Again Nannie's face grew thoughtful. Then she raised her eyes and pointed, with a little laugh, to a passer-by.

“There goes one kind of a cousin, I suppose.”

“He's a coon,” said the old man. “Him an' his mother, they live off yonder nigh ther swamp. They used ter own this 'ere place ye're on, an' then it passed ter ther datter, an' then her husban' bought it. She's in ther insane asylum now, an' these rel'tives claim she ain't crazy, but thet she was put in by ther malice of her husban'. An' they claim he's got ther place wrongful, an' hadn't a right ter sell ter you folks.”

“That's why they're bothering us so?”

“Thet's why,” said old Hayseed.

“Well, they'll find we're two many for them.”

Then with a sudden burst of laughter she exclaimed:

“Oh, I'm going to egg Steve on to a fight! Wouldn't it be fun! I wonder if Steve could fight![96]

“Reckon he could,” said the old man with a gleam in his eye that seemed to pierce the darkness of his glasses. “He don't look it exact an' his manners don't promise it, but ther may be fight in him somewhere. Ther be men, yer know, can't talk even about ther weather without shakin' a fist in yer face. He ain't thet kind.”

“No. If he were he would have murdered Sarah Maria long ago.”

“He would thet, fer a fact. Then ther's others thet air so afeard—so skeart thet a two-year-old bootblack or ther shadder of publick derishion could put 'em ter flight. Be thet his kind?”

“I guess not!” blazed Nannie. “Steve's afraid of nothing, living or dead.”

“No, he ain't afeard. I kin see thet; but he's peaceable.”

Just at this moment Nannie glanced down the sloping sides of the ravine and saw Hilda Bretherton panting her way up toward the house. Now, these two had not met since Hilda married and started off on her wedding trip to France, shortly[97] before Nannie became engaged. True to the usual direction of her popularity, Hilda had married a small man, beside whom she looked the good-natured giantess she indeed was, but he was enormously rich, and in her particular set she was accounted one of fortune's favorites.

Since casting her lot in the country Nannie had been into town but little. For society as she had known it she cared nothing. Then, too, marriage had entered the magic circle of the Young Woman's Club and changed its membership, so that Nannie felt herself an alien. She was not consciously lonely in the country, but yet there was something so significant in the glad cry she uttered when she caught sight of Hilda, and the unusual warmth of her greeting, that old Hayseed looked on from his side of the fence with a meditative air.

“The colt's a-yearnin' fer somethin' without knowin' it,” he said to himself as Nannie dragged Hilda into the house.

“I ought not to sit down,” Hilda panted. “Oh, dear! Let me get my[98] breath! Do you see how awfully fat I am? and my husband don't weigh but a hundred and twenty—think of that! A sparrow for a protector! If ever I wanted to get behind him to escape a mouse or anything, what should I do?”

“Where is he?” asked Nannie.

“What—the mouse?” screamed Hilda.

“No,” said Nannie, “the husband;” and then the two fell a-laughing in the old foolish way.

“Husband! Oh, I thought you'd have something of that kind around, and one would be enough for to-day.”

“No, really! Where is he?”

“Over on the other side of the ravine. You see, we missed the road and got entangled in the forest. Ye gods! how literally you've taken to the woods, Nannie! Well, DeLancy didn't feel he was equal to a climb, so I came alone, presumably to find the road, but I couldn't go on without seeing you, so I've stolen a visit.”

“You'd better!” said Nannie. “If ever you pass me by I'll haunt you!”

“I know that. I always was afraid of[99] you. I always said you were a little——”

“Sh-h!” said Nannie, imitating Prudence Shaftsbury's air and manner.

“Dear old Prue!” said Hilda. “I saw her the other day. I believe she's really happy. She don't say much, but she looks it. She's awfully swell, too. Why, you hear Mrs. Ralph Porter on all sides. She leads everything. That girl has more tact and diplomacy than any one I ever saw. Awfully nice girl, too. Here I am, always putting my foot in it. DeLancy says I fling a rope around my neck so surely as I open my mouth, and with each succeeding word I give it a jerk. Oh, dear me! I ought to be going. He'll be wild! Why, you don't look any too well. What's the matter with you, Nan? Aren't you happy, child?”

“Yes. Mind your business!” said Nannie in the old defiant way.

“Bless me! bless me! You haven't changed a mite! I thought marriage would improve you. Oh, do you know[100] Evelyn Rogers was married the other day?”

“No,” said Nannie with quickened interest.

“Yes—not at her home. She was visiting her aunt in New York, and there she married her villainous-looking professor, and would you believe it? I heard they went right off to the slums on a wedding trip, taking a thief, and an anarchist, and a murderer with them, as chaperons, I suppose. Oh, I ought to be going!”

“To the slums?” asked Nannie.

“No, no. I ought to get out of here. DeLancy is insane by this time, I know! I must run!”

“Hilda, you sit still and cool off! You've just been in a stew ever since you came.”

“I'm in one all the time. Do you remember what some of you girls said of me at that first meeting of the club—I'd be kept in a continual stew? Never were truer words spoken. Oh!” and she groaned loudly.

“Why don't you get done—with it?” asked Nannie.[101]

“I can't,” said Hilda coolly. “I'm in for it now and must go on to the bitter end. It's too late to chew the cud of reflection.”

“Don't count on the end,” laughed Nannie, looking at her friend's rotund figure. “There's no end to you, Hilda. You're an all-round woman.”

“Indeed I am! If you could only see the number of offices I fill. I'm nurse, doctor, valet, messenger, and on cross days general vent for the humors.”

“Is he really ill?”

“Oh, I don't know. He has dyspepsia. I guess he don't feel any too well, and nothing pleases him. He took a notion that a sea voyage would cure him, and it didn't. He snarled and snapped all the way, and oh, I was so sick—ugh! and I had to drag myself around after him. Then next he tried the German baths. He's tried everything, and now—oh, now,” she continued with a groan, putting her handkerchief to her face, “he says that society is injurious to him. And what do you suppose he has done?” she asked,[102] raising her voice and peering from above the handkerchief which she had pressed to her face. “He's rented a lonely cabin in the Adirondacks for a year—a year! and there I'm to live! Imagine me, my dear! I shall grow so rusty that when I return to civilization I shall only be able to hang on the back door and creak while others are talking. Mercy upon us! there's DeLancy! He'll find me visiting! I'll never hear the last of this as long as I live! Where can I go? What can I get under? Oh, there's nothing big enough in all the world to cover me! Woe is me! I must always remain in the open!”

“Lie down there,” said Nannie authoritatively. “I'll cover you.”

“You!” screamed Hilda. “You! Oh, you elf! you brownie! you mite—you widow's mite! What could you cover?”

“Lie down! Be quick! The enemy approaches!” cried Nannie, convulsed with laughter.

Hilda gave one glance from out the window and then fell flat on the divan.[103]

“I am lost!” she groaned.

“I'll defend you,” said Nannie bravely.

“You! Oh, you atom! you molecule! you microbe! What can you do?”

“Be quiet. You are dead—do you hear? You're dead—dead as a doornail; dead as a mummy—the mummy that walked the streets of Thebes when Moses was a young man.”


But Nannie did not hear, for she was running to meet the enemy, a bit of a man who looked like a woodland sprite as he walked along the edge of the ravine. In contrast with the big figure that lay prone upon the divan, his size was really ridiculous. Had his pettiness been merely external, that would not have mattered. Small men have been known to tower as giants before us. Luther was called the little monk, and the Corsican who altered the world's map was of still smaller proportions.

This little creature, however, was the reverse of Julia Ward Howe's youthful daughter, who announced to an offending[104] visitor that she was “big inside,” inasmuch as he was made on a small pattern, within as well as without.

His petty face was all puckered up when Nannie encountered him, and his rasping voice was at its most irritating pitch.

The moment he was within hailing distance he began his complaint, heedless even of the courtesy of a greeting. He declared he was too exhausted to take another step; that he had lost his wife, and he asked if Nannie had seen her.

“Oh, Mr. Seymour! Hilda—Hilda—is—at my house—dead.”

“Dead!” he fairly screamed.

“No, dying.”

He started toward the house with the speed of the wind, but Nannie stopped him.

“Don't!” she exclaimed. “Wait! Oh, I'm so excited I'm all mixed up! She's had an awful spell, but she's better now; but you mustn't startle her. Something's the matter with her heart. It was beating like a sledge-hammer—an awful spell.[105]

“Oh, if she dies, who'll take care of me? What shall I do?”

And he wrung his weak little hands.

“She won't die, I guess, if we take good care of her. Oh, it's awful to have anything of this kind happen when you're out in the country miles from a doctor.”

“And I have been crazy enough to rent a cottage in the Adirondacks!”

Nannie looked at him solemnly and said:


“I'll let it stand idle! Hilda might die up there! I never thought of such a thing, she looks so well. And I might be taken worse,” he gasped as one who suddenly realized a still more awful possibility. “It would never do for us to go up there.”

Nannie looked still more solemn and said:

“Oh, no.”

By this time they had reached the house, and Mr. Seymour was tiptoeing about, getting out one remedy after another for his prostrate wife, who feebly[106] assured him she was better. By the time he had given her smelling salts, a little port, a whiff of ammonia, some soda and water, a smell of camphor, and had bathed her forehead in Florida water, alcohol, witch-hazel, and rubbed it with camphor ice and a menthol pencil, the case began to look really serious, and Hilda was honestly ill.

She lay on the divan, perspiring and uncomfortable, uneasy in conscience and timorous as to results, until near evening, when her husband, with many a misgiving, took her away in a carriage—not to the Adirondacks.

Nannie watched until they were out of sight, and when she turned she saw Steve coming, and in her swift way contrasted him with DeLancy Seymour.

That evening after dinner, without a word of explanation to her husband, Nannie walked off to the house of her cousin, Mr. Misfit. Now, Steve was by this time somewhat accustomed to her eccentric ways and seldom questioned them, nor did he realize that they were eccentric.[107] He had grown up knowing very little of women and regarding them as a peculiar class, which no doubt they are. Indeed, his rural experiences, not only with his wife, but also with the hens and with Sarah Maria, had tended toward the inclusion of the entire sex under the head incomprehensible, and he was inclined to treat them like difficult words, which we point at from a distance without attempting to grapple.

He might have maintained this let-alone attitude indefinitely but for a growing sense of the total depravity of vegetable sins and a realization of his miserable insufficiency as a combatant. Naturally, in looking about him for assistance he thought of her who should be his help-meet, and mentally began to question her continual absence from home. This evening he was feeling a little more tired than usual, and an ill-selected luncheon in town had depressed him. When he found that the weeds were likely to overpower him he arose and decided that Nannie must be called upon. She was not at[108] home, but he could fetch her. To be sure that might not be easy, but Steve was now fully roused. Prolonged warfare had developed in his nature a trace of pugilism hitherto unsuspected by his nearest friend. Every man has more or less of the warrior within him. It may be asleep, but it is there, and Steve was no exception.

A short walk brought him to the house of Nannie's cousin, and there he found the lady for whom he was seeking.

“Are you going home now, Nannie?” he asked in his usual gentle way.

Nannie looked into his face and saw something new, and it roused her opposition.

“No,” she said.

Now, Steve had read Ian Maclaren's story of the wretched beadle who, newly inflated, but not profited, by his lonely wedding journey to a Presbyterian synod, resolved to experiment in the exercise of authority upon his bride. But, alas! he had read to his destruction. He remembered with what majesty the beadle said:[109]

“Rebecca, close the door.”

But he did not remember what Rebecca did, and hence had no better sense than to say this evening, with a quiet firmness new to his domestic use:

“I should like to have you go home now, Nannie. There are matters that need your attention.”

Nannie rose at once and walked home without a word, Steve accompanying her. By the time they got there a young moon was sinking in the west, and with the curiosity common to extreme youth it strained its eyes to see through the trees what Nannie would do.

“The radishes and lettuce need weeding,” said Steve when they reached the garden, and Nannie walked directly to these beds and went to work, while Steve occupied himself at a little distance.

Before long old Hayseed came up and leaned upon the fence.

“Well, neighbor,” he said, “what are ye doin' by moonlight?”

Nannie stood erect and looked at him. Her black eyes fairly scintillated and her[110] lips were compressed. All around her were scattered the uprooted weeds, and the lettuce and radishes lay with them.

“What crop air ye raisin' now?” he asked.

“I'm raising Cain!” she said.


Spite is a whip that cracks at both ends, and the rear lash inflicts by far the sharper sting. Nannie felt its full force when she arose early the next morning after the sowing of her peculiar crop, and looking from the window saw the sad traces of her work lying upon the ground. The evening before she had walked into the house tingling with ignoble triumph, but this morning she felt nothing but shame as she speculated on Steve's attitude. Possibly—this flashed across her mind—Steve had not seen her work, and she might plant those wretched things again before he wakened. But this poor solace was denied her, for on peeping into Steve's room she saw that he was already up. Where was he? Not working in the garden as usual; off—somewhere.

In her ignorance of character such as his and in the newness of her emotions,[112] for Nannie was not used to contribution, she exaggerated matters and fancied that Steve, thoroughly disgusted with her conduct (as well he might be), had walked off and left her. The sharpness of her terror as she conceived such a possibility took even herself by surprise. Until this moment it had never entered her mind that she might love her husband. Even now she did not fully comprehend the meaning of her unusual emotion. She only knew that she felt shame-stricken over what she had done and terrified before possible consequences.

Her fears, however, were without substantial foundation. Steve had not as yet seen the uprooted garden, and consequently was still ignorant of her ill-humor. Long confinement to a work for which he was unfitted had worn upon him, and he felt the need of rest and change. As of old, in his weariness he looked to the woods and streams for refreshment, for although poorly adapted to the wringing of his daily bread from the soil, he was nevertheless exquisitely[113] keyed to the harmonies of Nature, and her touch upon his soul was life.

It had been long since he had taken an early morning tramp. In the city his midnight retirement forbade the snapping of his hours of rest at dawn, but now that his life was ordered somewhat differently, he could afford himself the luxury of a sunrise.

With this plan in mind he retired early after setting the hand of his clock at the hour of four.

The alarm went off with a furious bur-r-r that brought him on his feet through sheer astonishment. He had not been wakened in such summary fashion since his last hunting trip, years and years ago. After staring at the still whirring clock for a moment as he sat on the edge of his bed stupid with astonishment, he collected himself and began a hasty toilet. He experienced something of a boy's glee as he donned his clothes, and when he crept softly downstairs and unbarred the house door, he seemed to be reviving some of his boyish escapades.[114]

It was not difficult to reach the woods, for the little suburb was embraced by these primitive arms, and it was like a child's running to a waiting mother to go out to them. He took no road or given path for a time, merely tramping through the underbrush that tangled the woodland; along the edges of ravines; down into their shadowy depths; up again; now breaking through the bramble out into the open on the edge of the bluff that skirts the lake; then bounding back again, like a rabbit running to covert. He inhaled with delight the dampness that rose from the ground and from the vegetation about him. In the spring, and in the early summer there is something so hopeful, so suggestive of awakening life in that fragrant moisture, that it seems to call forth an answering energy. Steve felt its significance in full force, and fairly thrilled with delight as it permeated his being.

Now he was out again, following the sweep of the bluff and looking eastward over the big waters. Some days the sun[115] appeared there in regal splendor, but on this particular morning there was a delicacy about the picture suggestive of the careful work on one of Turner's loveliest. There was no gorgeous red, no blazing gold, but tints as exquisite as those seen in the heart of an abalone shell—still lakes of sea-green feathered about by a fleecy white just touched with the yellow of the daisy; lambent wings of gray, kissed into a roseate hue as they spread outward and upward toward the zenith; and the expectant waters on the lake trembling 'neath their answering pink.

Steve stood and faced it all, hat in hand. His locks were stirred by the slight fresh breeze that came over the lake, and something else was stirred within him. There was a fine look on his face. The physical had disappeared. He no longer felt that strong animal buoyancy akin to the strength of the wild horse as he courses the prairies, but his soul was answering “Here” to the call from the skies.

He turned by-and-by and walked onward[116] in a still mood—the receptive mood into which God sows rare seed. He was walking away from the sunrise now out toward the Skokie, that great bog, but he could see the west flushing with delight—could see the windows of a cottage far ahead blazing with reflected glory.

He reached the cottage ere long. There were no signs of life about it as yet.

“I'm the first man up,” Steve thought, smiling as he went on.

The little home put the finishing touch to the picture, and Steve looked at it so long and so intently that he might have been accused of rudeness had the occupants seen him. His thoughts, however, were anything but rude, for a home had always been sacred to him. Had he acted at the bidding of his fine instinct, he would have raised his hat and stood uncovered in its presence. Since his marriage a home had taken on a deeper meaning. Without losing a jot of its sacredness, it had come to stand for something of pain. On his walk that morning he [117]had noted many things with new eyes—the flowers gladdening the face of nature; the trees rearing their proud heads and standing each in his own place—each doing his own work; the birds trilling their songs of praise and stirring in the soul those holy aspirations whose feet scarce touch the earth and whose face is set toward heaven—all these doing the Father's work and answering with the quick response of perfect obedience, perfect sympathy to the divine will. Viewing them now with a soul made receptive by the tender sadness of real life, Steve asked himself over and over again, Am I fulfilling the divine mission?

When he reached home his face wore a thoughtful look, and the question of the morning lay deep within his eyes as he walked into the garden and came upon Nannie's work. For a long time he stood there gazing at it. An ordinary man would have been intensely angry, and whatever good he might have felt or purposed during his walk would have taken wings.

But it did not occur to Steve just then[118] to be angry. Up to this time, like most another really thoughtful person, he had done very little actual thinking, but now he was entered upon a life which is God's own school for the development of character, and in the mental and spiritual awakening of which he was only dimly conscious he began to see that many things which he had hitherto accepted as a matter of course were in reality the result of causes which could and should be removed. Passion blurs the vision, and Steve was straining his eyes to see just then, so it was necessary above all things that he should hold himself in hand.

“What makes Nannie act so?”

This was the question he was asking as he stood by his despoiled garden, and the answer began to come to him in a shadowy sort of way. It was not just what he imagined it would be—not just what he would have wished it to be. Few answers take on the shape we anticipate or desire, but it was undeniably an answer, and he turned, possibly in obedience, to a cool, shady nook near by, and plucking[119] a few late violets which were growing there, went into the house where Nannie sat alone at breakfast, and laying these gently on the table beside her, without a word went on his way to the station and took his usual train.

For a long time after he had left the house Nannie sat there, her breakfast untasted, her elbows resting on the table, her hands clasped under her chin. She was not looking at the violets, but their subtle fragrance permeated her thought as it were. Never in all her life before had she been treated in this way; never before had she known of anything of this kind outside the covers of a book. She was not conscious of shame, sorrow, or even regret; she was simply stupid with wonder.

She got up by-and-by and walked toward the parlor, but looking back to the table she saw the violets still lying beside her plate. She hesitated a moment, then took them up and carried them to a vase in the next room, but in the midst of arranging them there she impulsively[120] turned to a magazine near at hand, slipped them into this, and then tucked the book away, coloring the while like a girl detected with her first love letter.

“It wasn't so dreadful what I did,” she muttered, to reinstate herself. “It didn't matter about the radishes, anyhow. They were so old it would have been disrespectful to eat them.”

But she felt badly, nevertheless, as she caught up her hat, which lay upon the sofa just where she had thrown it the night before, and started off to Constance Chance's.

Something was stirred within her, and she felt uneasy with a restlessness that inclined her to seek a friend.

A friend! She had not one in the world. Of all the women she knew, Constance Chance claimed the most of her respect and admiration, but Constance was wholly unaware of this feeling, and moreover, did not like Nannie. In old days she tolerated her and was even attracted by her beauty, but she had [121]warmly resented her marriage to Steve—whom she regarded as deserving a wife far superior to Nannie. She had, as is the custom of women in such cases, leaped to the conclusion that either Nannie had made advances to Steve—which he was too delicate and kind-hearted to repel—or that she had in some way excited his pity, and he had married her in order to protect and care for her, and she held it as a grudge against her. That a man like Steve could be attracted by such a girl as Nannie was inconceivable to Constance, although Randolph regarded the matter differently.

When she found that the marriage really was to take place she resolved to make the best of it, but it was not long before she decided that Steve was unhappy, and then her smouldering dissatisfaction broke into such a lively flame that Randolph was obliged to interpose to prevent her from taking Nannie in hand.

“There, there, sweetheart,” he said. “Don't get wrought up about it. I'm afraid you'd only make matters worse. Better let them rest as they are. We're[122] not certain that it's so. Steve's a queer fellow.”

“I know he's unhappy!” Constance exclaimed. “It's not necessary for him to speak. There is a silence that is eloquent; then his looks have changed. There's something so pathetic about his whole bearing.”

“Yes, I've noticed that. Poor old man! Well, we can't help it. These aren't matters for outsiders, my sweetheart—you know that even better than I do.”

“Yes, I know, but I'm so angry with that little minx! See how she has estranged him from us. He hardly ever comes here now.”

“Oh, well, I don't think that we ought to put all the blame of that on Nannie. A man isn't apt to run around after he's married. Look at me—you can hardly get me out at all, and I used to be a great gad-about.”

“I dare say, sir, I dare say,” said Constance, nodding her head as one who knows.

Randolph laughed.

“I certainly was over at your house[123] often enough,” he said, “but now that I've run the race and won the prize, I can stay at home and enjoy it.”

“Well, I wish poor Steve had a home to enjoy,” murmured Constance as a last word.

As a matter of course this conversation and the reflections which followed it did not prepare Constance to give Nannie a very cordial greeting when she came over that day. Had she known Nannie's state of mind; had she guessed that the child-wife looked up to her and was so ready to be influenced by her, the older woman, she would have done altogether differently. It is the lack of this very knowledge that makes much of life a mere blundering about in the dark.

She received her coolly, and Nannie was sensitive enough to feel this so deeply that Randolph's hearty welcome could but partially heal the hurt. This pain, however, was not without its resultant benefit, although the lesson for which it opened the way might have come more gently. Stung to the quick, aching with loneliness, and with a yearning which she[124] did not understand, the young wife was roused as never before and her eyes opened to things heretofore unseen. She noticed the orderliness of the home she was in, its air of thrift and good management, and its artistic beauty. Nor was this all, for the best of a home is that which is too elusive, too subtile to remain under any of these heads, and this indefinite something attracted and touched Nannie to-day. Fog and mist, cloud and rain had softened the soil into which these seeds fell. Pain is a strong note in the prelude to life.

It was characteristic of Nannie's crude resentful type of pride that she prolonged her stay at Constance's, even though she realized she was unwelcome. She would not allow any one the satisfaction of seeing that she felt hurt.

As far as possible, Randolph tried to atone for his wife's lack of cordiality, and in pursuance of this aim he made an essential point of taking Nannie around the little place and showing her the latest arrivals in the vegetable line. He had[125] considerable to show, for his tiny plantation was a model of thrift and comeliness. Many varieties of vegetables were holding out their succulent wares, all ready for table use, and many more were absorbing sunshine and balmy air in preparation for future calls. Near the house cheery and fragrant flowers gladdened the pretty beds in which no weed was allowed to rear its vicious crest. There was, it is true, one ugly, uncivilized portion of the place, in which the primitive, the barbaric reigned supreme. As yet Randolph had not found time to attack this spot and bring it within the pale of garden orthodoxy. Secretly he had for a time been hoping that Constance would take it in hand, although he would have been ashamed to let her know he dreamed of this. Certainly he would have been shocked at the idea of setting her at any such task, but he would as certainly have winked at her own voluntary performance of it. To be entirely frank, he had a little scene all ready in his imagination, in which this unsightly corner was found[126] clothed and in its right mind—the noxious weeds having been cast out by Constance's gentle hands. In this delightful scene Constance always stood by smiling in a deprecatory way, and he was always gently upbraiding her—“Now, Constance! Why, this is shameful! The idea of your doing such a thing! It wasn't right of you! You must promise me you will never, never do anything of this sort again!” and so forth, and so on.

But alas! this scene, like many another, remained in the author's possession, Constance giving no occasion to act it out, but going circumspectly and quietly on her way, ignorant of this delightful little fancy of her husband's. Just now she was busy, very busy, and very happy indoors. She sat sewing in the cool, beautiful library, and the house door was open.

When Randolph excused himself from Nannie by-and-by to talk with a man who called on business, the latter started toward the house. On the gallery she paused, for she heard Constance's voice within, and she did not care to go to her.[127] There was a hammock, shaded by a vine, near at hand, and she crept into this, and lying there the waves of Constance's low, sweet voice, mingled with the perfume of the honeysuckle, stole out to her and stirred new longings. Nannie leaned forward and caught a glimpse of Constance, who was at work, doing some of that fine sewing which gentlewomen love to put upon things of sweet value. Nannie could not discern what it was, but as Constance shifted the contents of her work basket a little article came in sight, and all at once Nannie felt, as it were, an imprisoned soul within her fluttering against the bars of its cage.

Dickens tells of a character whose unworthy life had apparently extinguished the divine spark, and yet, down deep within her, at the end of a tortuous passage, there was a door, and over this door was the word womanhood. Nannie had such a door, and at sight of that tiny article of clothing it opened. The girl's heart—the woman's heart was crying out now, and her eyes were dim with tears she did not understand.[128]

All unconscious of the pathos of the scene, Constance plied her dainty needle, and in a sweet low voice talked with a young girl (Gertrude Earnest) who sat at her feet.

“A story?”

“Yes, please, Mrs. Chance.”

Constance, you must know, was a story teller—not of a reprehensible sort, but a legitimate, orthodox one, and locally she was not without honor on this account.

“Well, then, long, long ago,” she began, “in the dim dawn of creation, the gods looked down upon man whom they had made, and realized that he was but a poor piece of work.

“'He needs other gifts,' said one.

“'Yea, verily,' murmured another, 'but they are fraught with such peril!'

“'Nevertheless he must have at least one more. He must not continue unconscious even of what is taking place around him—the acts of which he himself is a part.'

“And so they sent a spirit whose eyes[129] were large and somber, and mankind received her with open arms, not knowing that her name was Realization. Endowed with this immortal gift, they no longer groveled, for they knew what was passing around them—knew what part they were playing in the great drama, Life. And when she turned her happy face toward them they waxed merry, but when they saw her sterner visage they wept.

“Still they lacked painfully, living as they did wholly in the present, sending never a backward glance along the echoing corridors of the past—never a swift shaft of sight along the dim shadowy vistas of the future. And the gods noted this lack.

“'It must be remedied,' said one.

“'Nay! nay!' pleaded another. 'Let them be as they are. They are spared so much of grief.'

“'They are also denied so much of joy,' said the first with gentle firmness. 'They must receive their gift and must pay its price.'

“'Ah the price! So heavy!' still pleaded the other.[130]

“'The end is worth the pain,' was the reply.

“And so another spirit was sent to earth, and she too had a double aspect. One face was lighted by a happy, dreamy smile; the other was lined with sharpest pain, for her name was Memory.

“'One more gift and the trio is complete,' the gods decreed.

“'Let them alone; in mercy let them alone!' pleaded the pitying spirit. 'They have enough to bear—enough of joy; enough of grief.'

“'Nay, nay. They are but imperfectly endowed. They look about them at the waves that lap the beach on which they stand, and look backward o'er the sands of Time, but send never a glance forward over the great misty ocean of the Future.'

“Then down from the other world there shot a gleam of golden light that rested on a shadow, and willy-nilly—not knowing, not caring, possibly resisting had they fully comprehended—mankind[131] was endowed with another gift, and its name was Anticipation. One face was dazzling in its radiance—that they called Hope; the other was deep with gloom, and that was Dread. With the coming of this gift the veil that hung athwart the future was pierced, and mankind saw as the gods see, not only what was, not alone what had been, but what was to be as well.

“And on a day when all went fair they clung to these three gifts—Realization, Memory, and Anticipation—and thanked the gracious gods, but on another day, when Life pressed hard, they tried to fling them off and cried in bitter reproach: 'Why didst thou burden us with double-faced, tormenting creatures? Why wore they not a single face, and that a happy one?'

“Then down through the immeasurable quivering ether that veils eternity came the answering murmur, tender and pitiful as a strain of music upon a broken heart:

“'Thou canst not know—not yet—some day; for “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.”'[132]

And when the story was told Nannie was weeping, for all at once she knew where she stood—all at once looked backward and saw what she had done; looked forward and saw what was to come.

But betwixt herself and Constance there was a high stone wall, called Misunderstanding, and Constance did not scale this wall, and so lost one of the sweetest pleasures known to mortals—helping a fellow-being out of the dark into the light.

And Nannie hungered and went home unfed.


It is a well-known fact that many a poor wretch has gone up to the very gate of Paradise, only to bound back again, as if either he himself or that bar to bliss were made of India rubber. Nothing could be more tantalizing or discouraging to the spirit, unless, indeed, it were the experience of many a despairing and hoping convalescent who is bandied about by the hand of fate with a shuttlecock movement betwixt sickness and health.

Many of us feel good for an hour at a time, several hours occasionally, but to be good overnight—to waken in the morning with one's resolutions and aspirations as crisp and fresh as they were the evening before—is proof positive of regeneration.

Once in a while it occurs to the rebellious that things might have been made a[134] trifle easier. For instance, if only one had to walk miles to meet the tempter, or if only he had the decency and dignity to demand that we meet him half way, instead of coming all the way himself and invading the privacy of our very homes. If only he would wear his horns and tail all the time, that we might know him on sight and realize what we are about when we go under, instead of slinking in clothed as an angel of light. Not that the Andersonvilles, as Nannie called the mother and son Anderson, looked like angels of light. On the contrary, they were as ugly as the evil one, but they were without horns or tails, and so not easily recognizable as that particular and very reprehensible person. And Nannie was lured by them to let loose her spirit of mischief.

We have mentioned neighbors once or twice before. Now, the biblical definition of neighbor covers a wide field, and all experience will bear me out in an assertion, that apart from numbers the word stands for all sizes, shapes, and varieties[135] of human being. Nowadays most of us whisper the term crazy, realizing that we ourselves are liable to be caught up and incarcerated under that head. Nevertheless within ourselves we know that some of those about us—and we could point them out if we were asked—are trying to pass off cracked brains for sound ones.

Before Steve and Nannie had been domiciled more than a fortnight in their new abode, where they had fancied that their living was to be of the best, a fly appeared in the ointment, a fly which directly proved to be out of its mind—in other words, they discovered that they had crazy neighbors. Let no one understand me to signify by this the kind of crazy person who seizes you by the hair and brandishes his fist in your face, declaring that your hour has come. That is one variety, to be sure, an unpleasant variety, too; but there are others. If it came to a matter of weeding out all those whose brains were slightly out of gear, most of us could appear in court with a[136] batch of crazy neighbors, thereby depriving a city of some of its principal men and society of some of its chief ornaments.

No one would like to do this, but when the crack in a neighbor's brains widens so as to seriously upset his notions of other people's rights, then he is bound to become not dangerous necessarily, but certainly troublesome, and some step must be taken in self-defense.

As Steve learned too late, he stood upon contested ground. The former owner being now in the insane asylum, and having, before she became unbalanced, deeded the property to her husband (who had subsequently sold it to Steve), she was temporarily out of the way, but it seemed that by some oversight she had left outside a mother and a brother, whom she should have taken in with her.

These relatives, as far as Steve was able to learn, never claimed that the transfer of property to the husband was invalid because the owner was at that[137] time insane. Their claim was that she had not gone insane at all, and that she had, in a manner, been forced into deeding her property away, and consequently the transaction was null and void and she still owned it. A written document to this effect was posted on one of the largest trees near the house soon after the newly wedded pair moved out there, but Steve found upon investigation that this was but one of many threads forming a cobweb of prodigious size within the brains of these peculiar folk whose relative had outrun them to the asylum. Consequently he was disposed to dismiss the whole matter from his mind. Not so the crazy neighbors, for they continued to post the contested place with notices, and Nannie became habituated to plucking several of these legal billets-doux from the trees every morning before breakfast.

All this was great sport for Nannie, but the trouble soon took a more serious turn. The outcome of this latter was an anonymous notification to Steve that if[138] he failed to take down an obstruction which he had put across one of the roads on his place to prevent its being used as a public thoroughfare, he would be mobbed by a crowd of men and boys.

“This is a most extraordinary condition of affairs,” said Steve one day in talking the matter over with Randolph Chance, “to be racing around with dogs and cutlasses when you're supposed to be cooling your brow under your vine and fig-tree.”

As if to add insult to injury, the Andersons, mother and son, made a passageway of the place they claimed (in the name of their daughter and sister) and persisted in using this, in spite of remonstrance and even warning.

Now, for some time past Nannie had, by means best known to women, been contriving to fire Steve's usually placid temper, and the morning after her visit to Constance's an opportunity presented itself for the fanning of the flames she had kindled. On opening her door just after breakfast she saw mother Anderson[139] and her son William land at the little private pier Steve had built, and then walk with a bold and rugged step up toward the house en route to the station, some half mile to the rear.

Now was Nannie's chance!

Such fun to see Steve fight!

“Steve!” she screamed, running into the house, “here are those dreadful people again! They frighten me to death! I shall never dare to stay here alone if you don't make an end of their coming!” Frightened! Ah, Nannie! with that bright color and those dancing eyes!

Steve ran out, his mind aflame at last as he thought of poor little Nannie's terrors and the offensive note he had received.

“See here, Anderson,” he began, “you have been asked to keep away from this place. It has——”

But just here William, who had no regard for social amenities, cut his remarks short by a resounding slap in the face.

Steve had never fought in his life. He was rather ashamed of this (had never[140] confessed it), and the time seemed ripe now to break his peace record. Drawing back, to give himself a greater spring, he landed a heavy blow somewhere in mid-air. Said locality surviving the attack, he withdrew to prepare a fresh onslaught.

Meanwhile he began to notice that he was being smartly thumped by the enemy, and he aimed a supreme effort in that direction.

His blow was not the “immortal passado” mentioned by Mercutio, but rather the “punto reverso,” for it landed him in the dust, while the enemy remained on high.

Just at this juncture mother Anderson put in her oar, literally as well as figuratively, for happening to have that instrument of navigation in her hand, she proceeded to belabor the prostrate Steve.

“Stop that!” screamed Nannie. “Oh, you bad, fiendish woman! Sick her, Brownie!”

And away went Brownie and attached himself firmly to Madam Anderson's train, and beginning a swift rotary movement,[141] so bewildered the old lady that she lost both oar and enemy, and looked more like a pirouette dancer than a decorous upholder of the cause of individual freedom and public highways.

By this time Steve had regained his perpendicular, and tingling with mortification, started in and really did some inspired work. Taking the foe by the collar, he shook him as a cat would shake a rat.

“You little puppy! Get out of here!” he roared in a most unnatural voice.

Then with the oar (which mother Anderson had abandoned when she took to dancing) in one hand and the dangling enemy in the other, he proceeded down the slope, out upon the little pier, and after sousing the refractory William in the lake, dropped him into his boat.

“Now you follow him, and be off—both of you!” he said sternly to madam, who stood upon the pier, squawking like an old hen on the eve of decapitation.

She lost no time in obeying him, albeit she continued to work nature's bellows[142] with great vigor as Steve threw in the oar he held and gave the boat an energetic thrust.

“Steve, you're a trump!” cried Nannie.

Steve looked at her aghast.

Was this the timid little creature he had been protecting? Evidently he was as much at sea on the feminine question as before marriage.

He walked slowly up to the house and managed to recover his breath before he was called for the next scene in this rural drama. Truth to tell he was disgusted, not because of the disgrace of a quarrel, but—alas for mankind in even his gentlest aspect!—because he had failed to get a crack at the enemy.

That evening near dinner-time the plot was thickened by the arrival of the sheriff, who bore a warrant for the entire Loveland family—dog included.

“If it hedn't been a new jestice she cudn't hev got it out,” he said apologetically. “She's arrested everybody in sight agin and agin, includin' her own fam'ly. You hev yer meal now an' then come 'roun' over ter the jestice's office.[143]

Accordingly, after dinner Steve and Nannie walked over to the village, and after diligent search found the justice, who informed them that he “did hev a place fer ther trial, but they tuk it from him fer a show an' he was a-huntin' fer another.”

This other being finally discovered, the criminals—Steve, Nannie and Brownie—were brought in, and William Anderson, being duly sworn, was perched up in an aged arm-chair and encouraged to unfold his tale of woe to a crowded house, for the room was full, and even the doors and windows were blocked by the heads of on-lookers.

“It was about eight o'clock in the morning,” William began in a high, cracked voice—possibly his neck was still dislocated. “My mother and myself were on our way to meet some friends whom we expected on the next train. Landing at the pier, we proceeded up toward the cottage now fraudulently occupied by these people.” (Here he pointed impressively at the wicked ones, whereupon[144] Brownie, who resented this, barked fiercely and was promptly smothered by the Court.) “Rounding a corner we encountered this man” (another indication with that powerful index finger), “who immediately fell upon me with great fe-roc-i-ty. First he struck me mightily here—then he gave me a terrific blow here—then one of unparalleled strength here.”

By this time Steve was bridling up and looking like a conquering hero. He really had hit the man! It was the first time he or any one else had known it.

“He then struck me——” William continued, but the Court interrupted him.

“Here, here. You've already had enough to kill ten men.”

“That's what I was about to say, your honor, and I will not harrow your honor's feelings by telling more of his awful assault. Seeing that I was suffering in this manner, my mother approached with an oar, when she—her” (indicating Nannie by pointing fixedly and by a stony glare) “rushed upon her fiercely and[145] caused her dog also to charge upon her, which he did so savagely as to decompose her raiment. In some way the oar flew out of her hand, and she was most disrespectfully whirled around and around, so that she is yet dizzy-headed.”

Here madam put her hand to her brow in confirmation.

“I was then taken by the scruff of the neck down to the pier, and whether I fell in the lake or not I cannot say, but I was wet!”

Here the on-lookers shouted with laughter.

“My mother was then disrespectfully helped in and we were sent adrift.”

He ended in a high-toned, pitiful whine suggestive of a dog's song on a moonlight night, but this plaint was drowned in the roars of laughter raised by the audience.

Madam Anderson confirmed and embellished this tale, but Steve's and Nannie's narrative, giving the circumstances of the case, their purchase of the place, the annoyances to which these people had[146] subjected them, the warning that had been sounded to keep them at arm's length, and the continued disregard of all this, sufficed, in the opinion of the Court, to acquit them and fix the burden of the expenses entailed by the suit upon the Anderson shoulders.

One would have supposed that this episode would have satisfied Nannie for awhile, but she was tireless, and must needs start out to sit hens soon after the Andersons were laid low. Now, of all unreasoning, stupid, obstinate, contrary beasts, a sitting hen is well qualified to carry off the first prize. Nannie had been told that when a hen began to puff up her feathers until she was swollen to about three times her natural size, and make a noise that sounded as if she had tried to say something and the word caught on a hook in her throat, she was ready to sit. Having three feathered animals in this condition, and having coaxed Steve into buying some Plymouth Rock eggs at the trivial sum of three dollars a sitting, Nannie proceeded to capture the[147] hens and put them upon nests of her own placing, wholly ignorant of the fact that if there is one thing above all others in which a hen must have her say, it was in the choice of residence during this vexatious period. From the moment that Nannie put the hens upon the eggs she led a life of unexampled activity. No sooner would she turn her back than the various madams would rise, and with distended feathers and gurgling clucks dismount from the nests and begin to stalk around the yard, in defiance of directions to the contrary. The number of times that Steve was pushed under one side of the house in pursuit of the escaped—lunatic, I had almost said, and told to remain there while Nannie ran around and crawled under the other side to head her off, would pass belief. As a matter of course she was never caught by this double-barreled attack, but always stalked out from some unexpected crevice and promenaded the yard as if she owned the premises. The next move on Steve's and Nannie's part would be to drive her[148] nestward. The result of this was always to land her in some place precisely opposite; for the moment she was headed properly she would tilt her wings and break into a fat, wheezy little run in the direction just contrary to the one indicated by common sense and lawful authority.

One day, after an hour of this sport, Nannie lost patience, and picking up stones, pelted the feathered truant until she fled out of sight—in the wrong direction.

“Let her eggs cool!” she exclaimed with a burst of passionate tears. “I don't care if they get as cold as an iceberg! I wish they'd freeze her stiff the next time she sits on them!”

Steve began a mild protest, but Nannie turned to walk into the house, when she caught sight of Madam Hen No. 2 off her nest and stalking around with the same offensive strut as that of No. 1.

This was too much for her own nervous system, and she rushed upon the offending hen, and kept up this pace with[149] such vigor that at the end of ten minutes she had run her down, taken her literally in hand, borne her squawking into the barn, jammed her down on the nest, and roofed it with boards, which she nailed on with rocks. This done, she returned to the house in a state of savage quiet (if I may be allowed a contradictory term), feeling herself fiercely secure of at least one sitting.

She was not, however, for madam spared no effort till she burst her bonds, brought the rocks down upon the heads of herself and her prospective family, and they all died the death together.

“There's some satisfaction in that,” said Nannie. “The stupid, nasty, mean old thing went with the eggs!”

The third sitting materialized, and a lovelier brood of chicks was never seen. Steve was surprised and even touched as he stood watching Nannie in her delight. There was something really womanly in the way in which the girl coddled the pretty creatures, holding them close to her face and calling them all the sweet,[150] tender little names in which a woman's heart goes out to the infantile and the helpless.

Looking and thinking, several things came into Steve's mind, and one evening he essayed to bring about a better understanding betwixt his erratic little wife and himself. But alas! though possessed of an unusually tender heart and of unusually fine intuitions, yet occasionally Steve was a man, pure and simple, and this was one of the occasions. Just as Nannie was sitting down to dinner he said:

“Nannie, I've been wondering what is it that makes you act so?”

“I don't act!” stormed Nannie, who was ablaze in a minute. “It's you who act! You treat me as if I were a two-year-old child!” Then, in a gust of changed emotion, she took a step nearer to him and cried out:

“I don't want to be bad, but”—she turned now toward the door, and as she went out looked backward over her shoulder and added impishly—“I am, and I'm 'fraid I'm going to be.[151]

And off she went—off to the barn, and the next moment there was a lonely, yearning child-wife sobbing her heart out on Sarah Maria's neck.

Evidently there was a bond between these two, for Nannie was neither hooked nor kicked, and when Sarah Maria behaved peacefully at both ends it was manifest that her heart was touched.


Steve returned from town the evening following Nannie's outburst with a mind heavy laden. That had been his mental condition, indeed, much of the time since he turned farmer, and I may add that his thoughts occasionally ran in a sarcastic vein—a course ordinarily foreign to him. Shortly before that crucial point in his career, his marriage to Nannie, Randolph Chance had loaned him a beautiful idyl, termed “Liberty and a Living.” Randolph himself had read this as a thirsty man reads of cool, rock-paved brooks; Steve read it as a poet, a dreamer, but it would no doubt have had a marked effect upon his character had he not closely followed it up with Charles Dudley Warner's “Summer in a Garden,” much as one would chase a poison with its antidote, only in this case the order was reversed, the latter resembling the poison,[153] since it awoke in his mind gloomy forebodings and inspired satirical reflections upon the universal mother.

Tuned to this key, he was no doubt ill-prepared, while turning the clod, to receive into his soul the sweet influences of rural life, and by reason of their elevating beauty, to be fortified against those drawbacks and trials with which all paths abound.

Truth to tell, Steve was discouraged. He had begun to realize that he had on his hands not only a small farm, for the tillage of which he was ill-contrived, but a large child as well, whose rearing and developing—— Just here he came to a sudden halt in his thought, and an odd word leaped in:


Then the name of that newspaper clipping of which Randolph once told him—

“How to Cook Wives.”

“Well, how in thunder?” he asked himself, and walked homeward from the station.

Ere he arrived he saw Nannie at the[154] door. She was screaming something which, on his approach, he found to be—

“Sarah Maria is lost!”

Had Steve said “thank Heaven!” he would merely have been speaking out of the fullness of his heart. Instead of that, he wheeled like an automaton and retraced his steps. He knew where to look for her.

There she was, as usual, down near the track, and as Steve approached she stepped squarely on, and with a set gaze awaited the speedy coming of the city-bound train. Of course she knew it would kill her, but like Samson of old she would have the satisfaction of taking a few acquaintances with her.

Steve dragged her off and managed to get her home, and thus for the present prevented the sin of self-destruction.

That very evening, after Nannie, like the cow, was corralled (and we may use this term without reproach, since she had been rampant all day), a small figure slipped from out the house and hastened to the garden. His little face, frowsy as is the[155] manner of his breed, was uplifted, and his saucy little eyes gleamed with fire. He had probably observed that the peas were flourishing and that they were the one living result of Steve's heroic labors, unless perhaps we except the corn, which was still several miles distant from fruitage. No doubt all this was clear to Brownie, and that was why he took such fiendish delight in his work of demolition. The naughty little eyes twinkled; the naughty little mouth opened to emit his short-breathed pants; and the naughty little tongue hung out as he pranced and leaped, rolled and gamboled over the cast-down and dejected peas. Finally he chewed and tore the fragments that remained, and then gave himself a shake—by no means so severe as he deserved—and strutted into the house with a “They're-done-for!” air, quite exasperating to witness when one considered how the poor peas were lying out there prone upon their faces in the dust, crushed to earth, unlike truth, to rise no more.

The next morning, all unconscious of[156] the ruin of his crop, Steve was deliberately making his toilet, when he was startled by roars of fright. Looking from the window, he perceived a neighbor flying down the road, with Sarah Maria in his wake. The latter had lowered her head—not in shame, I grieve to say, but with malicious intent, as was abundantly evidenced by the height of her tail.

Happily Nannie had seen this procession of two as it passed the house, and giving chase with swift steps, had caught Sarah Maria's long rope and wound it several times around a large tree, thus checking her mad career and saving a worthy citizen for the republic.

The excitement attendant upon all this was very great, especially as the neighbor was for a time firmly resolved to bring action, not being satisfied with the action Sarah Maria had brought, but by dint of much persuasion, both from Steve and also from Randolph Chance, who came to the rescue, he was at length called off, and Steve was so relieved that he was[157] able to note the destruction of his peas with scarce a ripple of emotion.

The calm of the succeeding twenty-four hours was but that which precedes the storm, and the glassy placidity of Steve's life for that one day proved to be the deceitful stillness of deep waters. Upon his return from the city he was again greeted with the welcome intelligence that Sarah Maria had raised her head, adjusted her hind legs, whose hinges, owing to much kicking, had been reversed of late, and betaken herself to parts unknown. Worn out as he was with the events of the past week, Steve was unequal to a discreet concealment of his feelings, and the satisfaction he evinced in Nannie's news was stoutly resented by that singular young person. Indeed, she became so wrought up—crying, upbraiding, and lamenting—that Steve was obliged to console her by promising to advertise the errant beast if she were not found at her usual trysting-place—the railroad track. This he did, repeating the dose daily for a week, at the end of which time he received[158] word that Sarah Maria had temporarily located herself on a farm some forty miles inland. Not being well disposed to a walk of that length, enlivened by Sarah Maria's society, Steve sent word to forward the lady by freight.

Owing to some mistake her car was switched off about ten miles from the proper station, and thinking that he could bridge that distance, Steve set out on a train early the next evening, and soon found himself in reach of the missing member of his household. She was looking out of the freight car when he arrived, and he noted with a secret qualm that she shook her head disapprovingly when she saw him.

Steve stood and gazed at her for so long that the man in charge there finally asked him what he was waiting for. Steve replied that she looked so happy it seemed a pity to disturb her. The man said that he didn't regard her as particularly happy, inasmuch as she had all but kicked out one side of the car. Upon hearing which, Steve hastened to assure[159] him that that was merely a playful way of hers when her spirits were at the highest, but the man said that her spirits were several feet too high for him, and he insisted upon lowering them to terra firma. He was so firm and so disagreeable about this that Steve was obliged to advance and join him in the difficult undertaking.

It might seem reasonable to expect that as long as Sarah Maria had testified vigorously to her disapproval of the freight car she would be glad to issue from it, and no doubt that would have been the case had Steve and the station master urged her to remain. The moment, however, that she saw with her eagle eye that they were making preparations for her ejectment, her mind was made up, and she spread her four feet in a manner suggestive of rocks that refuse to fly.

The unhappy men now united their efforts at pulling, but her roots had evidently gone down to China without stopping; next they endeavored to pry her up, but she was manifestly stuck by some glue of unparalleled strength.[160]

By this time the honest sweat was dripping from the brows of both men; Sarah Maria alone was calm. Various devices were used to dislodge her, and at the end of an hour she had moved a trifle further than a glacier does in a similar length of time, and was fully as cold and calm as this natural phenomenon. As she was quite near the opening of the car when she took her stand, in a physical as well as in a moral sense, even the very slight advantage gained by her enemies sufficed to put her in position to make her final exit when, like Sairy Gamp, she was “so dispodged.”

“Now,” said the station master, who by this time had not so much as a dry thread on him, “if you'll pull I'll twist her tail so's to divert her attention, and I guess we'll make a go of it.”

Steve looked into the threatening eye of Sarah Maria, and foreseeing his doom if he stood in front of her, told the station master that as Sarah, for some reason, seemed disinclined to love him, she might be unwilling to go in his direction,[161] and for that reason he would better keep out of sight.

“So,” he continued, “if you will kindly pull I will kindly twist.”

Steve was always polite, and never more so than when excited.

The suggestion appealed to the innocent station master, who saw no hidden intent in Steve's retreat, and the change of position having been effected, the two men went to work.

For a time Steve twisted gently, but firmly, while the station master tugged and jerked, but still none of these things moved her.

All at once there was a transformation scene, and it came about as suddenly as a flash of lightning from out a clear sky. The participants never could give a clear and harmonious account of what happened, and all that an idle on-looker could tell was that while he was gazing he suddenly heard something strike the roof of the car; in another instant he had, after the occasional custom of nations, recognized the belligerency of Sarah[162] Maria. When the din of battle had subsided he beheld Steve arising from the earth somewhere in the rear of the car, while the station master, on all fours, was in the act of picking himself up from a spot just in front of where Sarah had lately made her heroic stand.

Steve was in no wise perturbed or even surprised. He realized that the bovine belonged to the gentle sex, and anything was to be expected. As long as Sarah Maria and his wife spared his life, he felt that he had no just cause for complaint; both ladies were erratic, and he must simply look for whatever happened.

Unfortunately, as Steve regarded it, Sarah Maria had not taken her departure, her long rope having caught around a tree and detained her. She was well out of the car, however, and the station master washed his hands of her.

It was by this time nearing dusk, and Steve set out on his long walk toward home with many misgivings. Under happy circumstances a walk in the country along the brookside, through meadows[163] and woods in the evening is quieting, but Steve found it the reverse of this to-night. Not that he had no still moments, in which the brain might work and memory hold sway; there were such, indeed, at first, for Sarah Maria set out with him so gently and quietly that the station master concluded she must be one of those feminines who wax irritable when their way of life is disturbed, and that once relieved of the box-car she would proceed as a domestic animal should.

Even Steve began to entertain hopes of her reformation, but these were soon dashed to the ground, and he went with them. He arose (he had by this time become an expert at arising), and again there was a truce, which he gratefully accepted, for he was ready enough to enjoy peace while it lasted.

Walking by a brook which skirted a little farm, his mind was busy with reflections. Heretofore he had looked at these places and seen them in the gross, as it were; now no detail escaped him.[164] He saw to-night that the weeds were rampant among the peas and that in the next bed the onions were drooping, evidently having been trampled upon.

“Why is it,” he argued gently to himself, “vicious things flourish in the face of every discouragement, while it requires so much coaxing and care to keep good and useful articles above ground? One might jump up and down on a weed continuously every day for a month, and the moment his back was turned it would be up again, whereas once stepping on a young blade of corn or the first shoots of an onion is the end of it.”

Then he looked at Sarah Maria and bethought him how she never had a sick day since they owned her, while a tractable, useful cow would have died half a dozen times over in this period, of pneumonia or consumption.

“Why is it?” he asked.

He might have answered this question and thus solved a problem that has been perplexing humanity ever since Adam and Eve were told to go, but Sarah Maria[165] preferred her own movements to those of the intellect, and realizing that it was growing late, she set off on a hard run for home.

Now Steve had never in his college days, ranked as an athlete, but as he flew over the ground that night, with the long rope that bridged the difference betwixt himself and Sarah Maria quite taut, he had an injured feeling, as of one to whom injustice had been done. Not even the champion runner had ever made such time.

The violence of his gait would have proved exhaustive had it been too long continued, but Sarah Maria was merciful, and ere long Steve came upon her standing in her box-car attitude. She loosened up by-and-by and again started toward home with the speed of a race-horse, but this time Steve was in front, and could his friends have seen how well he kept in front they would have covered him with adulation.

Before long the rope was taut once more, and Steve's sense of security was in such[166] marked and delightful contrast to his feelings when it slackened that he told Sarah Maria repeatedly to take her time—he was in no hurry whatever. Neither was Sarah, apparently, for between balking and running, and capering about in a truly extraordinary manner she passed the better portion of the night. Finally, in despair, Steve laid the case before her and asked if she would look at the matter dispassionately and consider the lateness of the hour and their distance from the domestic roof—would she, he urged, keep this great central truth in sight?

She said that she would not, and she said it so rudely that Steve felt hurt. When he had gotten up and given himself a good rubbing, he found that Sarah Maria, like some little angel, had gone before, and he hobbled after her as fast as his bruises would permit.

They reached home at last, and a late moon glowered down at them with calm severity. Truth to tell, both Steve and Sarah looked as if they had been on a spree, and both were callous as to appearances.[167] Their one idea was to part company as soon as possible.

Out of respect to the Society for the Prevention, and so forth, Steve decided to give his interesting companion a drink; then he would have done with her forever. Having secured her to a near tree, he approached the pump, pail in hand.

But Sarah Maria was watching him narrowly, and as she looked there rankled in her seemingly quiet breast the memory of her wrongs. There was still a twist in her tail, left over from the box-car, and several kinks in her temper, and influenced by these she approached Steve just as he bent to lift the pail, and slipping her horns under him, dexterously lifted him from the ground and sent him crashing through the nearest window, which chanced to be that of his chamber.

“For the love of mercy!” screamed Nannie, starting up from her sleep in the next room, “what is happening now?”

“I'm coming to bed,” said Steve.


Steve was so used up by his rural experiences that he could scarcely get out of bed the next day. And that was not the worst of it: his temper was bruised as well as his body, as was manifest by the way he behaved. Not that he stormed or sulked; Steve was above anything of this kind; but he did speak very decidedly, for him, as he rose from his late breakfast.

“Nannie,” he said, “you may do as you wish about the cow. I think it might be well to sell her for beef—she is in good condition. But do as you wish about that—she is yours; but I really cannot undertake to have anything more to do with her.”

For some time after Steve left the house Nannie sat staring in the direction in which he had disappeared. She was as much amazed as she had been the day[169] he fought the Andersonvilles, but less elated.

“Well,” she said to herself at last, “the upshot of it all is, he's given Sarah Maria notice. I wonder if he will give me notice next?”

She walked slowly into the kitchen, where a stout, red-faced woman was at work.

“Bridget,” she said, “can you milk?”

“Shure I kin; an' why?”

“Because Mr. Loveland won't milk Sarah Maria any more.”

“No more wud I, an' he's stud it so long. Shure he's been loike a lamb beside her, an' she hookin' him full o' holes till his poor body cud be used for a sieve.”

“Oh, what shall I do!” cried Nannie pettishly. “You're all of you as mean as you can be! I won't sell her for beef! I just won't!”

“No more you needn't, me darlint! There, now, don't take on so. Shure it's mesilf'll manage it wid yez somehow, though it's loike the both of us will nade the praste an' extrame unction before we're t'rough wid her.[170]

Nothing daunted Nannie sallied forth, followed by Bridget, who grumbled all the way.

“Faith, in ould Oireland it's mesilf milked twinty cows at wan sittin', an' they standin' forninst me widout a word loike lambs till I was ready fer the nixt wan.”

“Well, now, that's great!” interrupted Nannie. “Steve has left her right out here. I wonder why he did that?”

Mrs. Maria stared fixedly at her, once in awhile tossing her horns. There was a glare in her eye, by the light of which one might read her thoughts.

“Just here,” she was saying to herself, “Steve and I fought to a finish, and I saw the last of him as he flew through yonder window.”

“Set a pail of food forninst her now, Miss Nannie, an' she'll run to the cow-yard,” called Bridget.

This ruse proved successful. As soon as she saw the food the delighted Sarah kicked up her heels and, flourishing her head in such a manner that it seemed to[171] comprehend everything in its wide swath, ran into the cow-yard, where Nannie skillfully lassoed her and tied her to the fence just as she plunged her nose into the pail.

Meanwhile Bridget, terrified by these lively humors, had started toward the house, and her desire for speed exceeding her physical ability, she soon measured her length upon the ground, where she lay, roaring lustily, under the impression that the enemy was upon her.

“What are you howling for, you old goose?” shouted Nannie.

“It's the cow!” screamed Bridget. “Take her off! Oh, howly Mither! I'm kilt entirely.”

“The cow is half a mile from you!” laughed Nannie. “She didn't even look toward you.”

“Shure I felt her horns go into me back, an' as the saints live in glory, I see thim come out at me brist.”

“Well, I wish I could see you come out at the cow-yard with that milk pail.”

Bridget picked up her pieces, put herself[172] together, and discontentedly ambled toward the cow-yard, averring that in spite of all Nannie might say, she knew she had a hole an inch wide in her left lung; she could feel the wind whistle through it.

“There's nothing the matter with your lungs,” said Nannie, “as all the neighborhood knows by this time.”

With a long, solemn countenance and a tear in each eye, Bridget approached Sarah Maria, who was breakfasting in a hasty, unhygienic manner.

“It's me life I take in me hand,” murmured Bridget.

“Drop your life and take your pail instead, or are you going to milk into your apron?” said Nannie imperiously.

“Oh, me pail! Shure the head of me is turned intirely, bad cess to that cow! or I believe there's a hole through it, loike there is in me lung.”

“Your head turned!” said Nannie scornfully. “I should say it was—turned inside out and emptied entirely.”

But Bridget was wooing Mrs. Maria now.[173]

“Aisy, now! Aisy, I say!” she muttered as she cautiously lowered herself onto the milking stool.

But by some mysterious law of opposites, as she went down the pail went up. Sarah Maria never ceased munching for a moment, but Nannie, who was fixedly regarding her and trying to calculate how much longer her breakfast would last, heard the crash, and looking around saw the pail on its way upward.

“Now may the saints forgive me if I imperil me life anny longer!” cried Bridget from a safe distance.

“And may Sarah Maria forgive you for sitting down on the wrong side of her, you old goose!” screamed Nannie in her rude way.

“Howly Mither defind us! Did I do that now? Shure the twinty cows I milked in ould Oireland preferred that side, an' they were very particular about it, ivery last wan of thim.”

“Now, don't crawl along that way,” said Nannie impatiently as Bridget crept up to her, “and take hold as if you weren't afraid.[174]

“Shure if I had a shillalah wid a sucker on the ind of it, it's milk her I wud, widout anny loss of me color, though she thritened me wid twinty horns an' as manny hind legs.”

“Oh, you've got several bees in your bonnet, that's what's the matter with you!” exclaimed Nannie.

“Is it bees, ye say? Air they loose too?” screamed Bridget, jerking off her sunbonnet and tearing down her hair. “Is it bees as well as cows in me hid, an' ye standin' laffin loike ter kill yersilf at the very idee of me bein' murdered in cold blud!”

By this time her hair was distraught and her face flaming with excitement and exertion, and altogether she so closely resembled some avenging spirit that even Sarah Maria began to tremble before her.

As soon as Nannie could control herself she informed her that the terrifying words she used were merely a figure of speech.

“Clothed or not clothed——” Nannie began, but Bridget burst forth:

“An' I wuldn't hev belaved that anny[175] young leddy wid a dacent raisin' wud use figgers of spache, widout clothes at that. It's Bridget O'Flannigan'll see if——”

But here Nannie's screams of laughter interrupted her.

“I believe you've a brick in your bonnet as well as a bee,” she exclaimed.

This time Bridget understood, and clapping her sunbonnet (upside down) onto her disrumpled head, she wabbled toward the house.

This would never do, so Nannie ran and planted herself in front of her.

“Come, now, Bridget—dear Bridget, don't be mad with me,” she said coaxingly.

Bridget had come to Mrs. Lamont's when Nannie was little more than eight years of age, and through the succeeding years of childhood and girlhood had been her stanch friend and her confidante in many a time of trouble.

“What shall I do with my cow? You surely will help me out!”

The fire faded from Bridget's flaming countenance, and she paused, irresolute as to her course.[176]

“You won't desert me, Bridget, I know!” pleaded Nannie softly.

“Sure it's not Bridget O'Flannigan will desart an orphin child; but I make it distinct, an' ye hear me now, that I'm a respictable woman, not given to takin' a dhrop too much or too little, an' I won't stan' an' be insulted, an' me twilve years over from ould Oireland come Saint Patrick's Day. An' even if I am doin' disrespictful work now, milkin' an ould cow in which the divil has taken up his risidince, I want yez still ter handle me character wid care.”

No doubt Sarah Maria was awed by this address, or else the very uncomplimentary manner in which she herself was alluded to startled her into a realization of the steep down which she was rushing and toward what pit her path inclined. Be that as it may, she contentedly munched the second pail of food which Nannie brought her, and granted the trembling Bridget peace and quiet in which to extract the cream and invoke the saints.


Soon after the milking ordeal was at an end Nannie started over to the house of her cousins, the Misfits. It chanced that she happened upon this ill-mated couple in the nick of time.

“Glad to see you, Nan,” exclaimed Mr. Misfit. “I have a day off, and Mrs. Misfit wants to take the boat trip. You must go with us.”

“Yes, we've never been, and I told Henry we really ought to go! I am tired of being asked if I don't think it's pleasant, and having to say I don't know anything about it.”

“You'll have to fly around and get ready, then, for we must take the next train in if we want to catch that boat. You'll go,” he added as his wife slipped away to dress, “won't you, Nannie?[178]

Nannie stood regarding him with one of her elfin looks.

“You need me, don't you?” she said.

He laughed rather awkwardly. He always felt uncomfortable when Nannie looked at him that way.

“Why, yes, of course. We shall be glad of your company.”

“I know why you wanted me to-day,” said Nannie later on, when she was sitting out on the deck of the boat with him while Mrs. Misfit was taking a nap in the saloon.

He turned and looked at her, and saw it would be of no use to try to evade.

“There's something uncanny about this girl,” he said to himself.

“You wanted me—you and Lillie both wanted me to stand between you. You couldn't endure each other's company for a day. It would bore you to death.”

“You are right,” he said simply. “It would bore me. I don't know about Lillie.”

“Well, I can tell you,” said Nannie, speaking in no uncertain tone. “You[179] are just as uninteresting to her as she is to you.”

He caught his breath.

“You are complimentary, I must say.”

“I know all about it. It's something like this with Steve and me. We don't bore each other, but we don't know what to say.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

Nannie sat silent for a moment. Evidently she was revolving matters mentally. Finally she turned to her companion, and with a roguish smile, which shone like a sunbeam out from overhanging curls, said:

“I suppose I'll have to 'perk up' a little.”

“I don't speak Hindoostanee,” he replied.

“Well, Steve's above me, you know.”

He nodded, but Nannie took no offense. He was thinking. “That's our trouble. I'm above Lillie.”

“And I must try to reach him somehow.[180]

“If Lillie would do that——” he began, but Nannie cut him short.

“It's not Lillie, it's you! Lillie is above you!”

Again he caught his breath, this time with a gasp, but he was forced to be silent. It would be a strange man indeed who could enter into an argument to prove his wife inferior to himself. He might be thoroughly convinced of this; might even have taken it for granted that others realized the fact, but he could hardly have the face to bring his voluminous arguments on this point to the attention of an outsider.

“I know what you're thinking,” said Nannie, and she looked uncanny again. “I can't say these things as well as some people could, but you think because you know books you're better than Lillie. The books can't be the first things, because there must always be men before there can be books; and there must always be some real things, true things, before there can be men. These were there first. The books don't make them, but[181] just refer to them, and the people that have the real things are higher than the books. That's what makes Lillie higher than you.”

The man sat thinking for a few moments, then he tried to laugh.

“Really, Nannie,” he said, “if one were ill with that horrid disease called Conceit, a quiet half hour with you on the deck of a boat would restore him to health.”

Nannie gazed at him defiantly, but said nothing.

“No, I'll tell you, little one, how it all came about,” he said rather patronizingly. “Lillie and I married when we were boy and girl. She was seventeen and I was twenty. Lillie was very pretty and that attracted me, and I—well, I don't know just what she saw in me!”

“I've often wondered,” said Nannie.

He gave one look of blank amazement and then dropped his hands in dismay.

“Well, I suppose you were more interesting then than you are now,” Nannie went on comfortingly.

“I hope so,” he said humbly, “but we[182] neither of us knew the other. Our tastes were not formed; our characters were not matured. I grew one way, she grew another; now we care for entirely different things, and as a result we are walking through life together and each is utterly alone.”

He was looking off over the big lake now. He had forgotten the annoyances and unpleasant surprises of their conversation. He no longer saw Nannie. A dreary never-ending waste was all that held his mental vision.

Nannie's voice recalled him.

“That's no excuse,” she insisted.

He started like a man rudely awakened.

“Who thought of making excuses?” he said rather gruffly.

But down in his heart lay the testimony that convicted him. By this it was proven that he had for thirteen years been excusing himself.

“If you would take an interest you could do something for Lillie and she could do something for you.”

He did not jest this away. He was[183] taking an interest now and doing some humiliating thinking, and as a result of all this he stood before himself in a clear, new light, in which it could readily be seen that he was less in need of sympathy than of pardon.

On her way home that afternoon Nannie called at Mrs. Earnest's house, and was boisterously welcomed by the two little ones of the family, Mamie and Jim.

“A story! A story!” they shouted.

“Oh, I can't,” said Nannie. “I haven't any in my head.”

“Yes, you must! You promised!” urged Jim in an extremely moral tone (he himself was a shocking transgressor in the matter of promises). “You promised! You know you did! You've got to!”

“Well, what shall it be about?”

“Indians!” screamed Jim, “and let them do a lot of killing!”

“No. I want a kitty story,” said Mamie.

“I won't have a kitty story—I want a bloody Indian story!” said Jim stoutly.[184]

“I don't know any bloody Indian story, and I wouldn't tell one if I did,” said Nannie in her abrupt, decisive way.

“I won't listen, then,” pouted Jim.

“Very well. You may go to Kamchatka if you like. Mamie and I are going to have a kitty story.”

Mamie cuddled up to Nannie, while Master Jim stalked out of the room. It was observed, however, that he was not above taking up a squatter's claim in the hall and listening through the crack of the door.

“Once upon a time,” Nannie began in the old way so fascinating to children—“once upon a time there lived a dear little kitty.”

Just at this point the front door opened and Mr. Earnest walked in. Now, Nannie had never fancied this gentleman, and to-night, as she noted his glowering look, she felt a savage desire to annoy him.

“Hello, chick,” he said, brusquely In answer to little Mamie's greeting. “Good-evening, Nannie,” he added, taking out his paper and seating himself.[185]

As he did so Mrs. Earnest came into the room. She always seemed ill at ease in her husband's presence, though she strove to appear the contrary.

“Why, good-evening, dear,” she began. “Are you home?”

“No, I'm not,” he said roughly. “Can't you see?”

“I thought I recognized you,” she replied, forcing a little laugh.

He made no reply.

“Did you bring the sugar, dear?” she asked presently.

“No, I didn't.”

She was depending on this for preserving, and she wanted to ask why he failed, but did not quite dare.

“Can you bring it to-morrow?” she inquired after an awkward pause.

“I don't know,” he said gruffly.

Again she hesitated. She was very gentle and naturally timid, and his treatment had increased the latter tendency. At last she mustered strength to say:

“I need it very much.”

There was no reply, and directly she left the room.[186]

Now, not one iota of this domestic scene was lost upon Nannie. From the day she had listened to that story told by Constance Chance to her young friend (Mrs. Earnest's oldest child) she had been looking about her sharply. The first direction of eyes newly opened is outward. We see our neighbors—see that instead of performing their part like men they are skulking through life—men as churls, snarling, or it may be stalking, automaton fashion; men as sticks, walking, and we hasten to correct their errors. Our own correction comes afterward, if at all, for as the poet has told us, it were easier to tell twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to do it.

Nannie fastened her eyes upon Mr. Earnest, but as he was now absorbed in his paper he lost the benefit of her fierce glances.

“Why don't you tell?” urged Mamie, who did not relish this interruption to her story.

“Well, once there lived a horrid pig.”

“Why, that's not it,” said the child pettishly. “It's a kitty.[187]

“No, it's a pig,” reiterated Nannie with emphasis. “A horrid, selfish pig!”

“I don't like that,” pouted Mamie. “You begin about a kitty, and just as I'm getting interested in her you go off on a pig.”

“Well, then, once there was a big, horrid cat.”

“You said a dear little kitty,” cried Mamie.

“He was a dear little kitty once, I suppose, but he grew up to be a big selfish, glowering, tortoise-shell tomcat.”

“Was there any mama kitty?” asked Mamie, who yearned for a gentle element in the story.

“Yes, and she was lovely, so unselfish and kind, but the big, ugly one bullied her all the time till she was afraid to call her soul her own.”

“Did they have any teeny weeny kitties?” asked Mamie.

“Yes, three of them. The oldest was very sweet and the next was rather good sometimes, but showed signs of being horrid like the big one when he grew up,[188] and the littlest of all was very cunning and good.”

“Did they have a little house?”

“Yes, but it was awfully hard to keep it, because when Mrs. Kitty wanted anything she was afraid to ask old Mr. Cat for it, and when he forgot things, instead of begging her pardon, as he should have done, he would glare at her until she was afraid of her life. Oh, he was an odious old thing! He thought he was very big and handsome, but he was horrid-looking, and everybody hated him and he made everybody wretched. Well, one day Mrs. Kitty was going to give a birthday party for the weeniest kitty. They none of them wanted old Mr. Cat to come, because nobody could have a good time when he was around, but they didn't know how to get rid of him without making him angry—he was always angry at somebody or something.

“Now the family who owned these kitties had some rabbits, and lately something had been killing the rabbits, and they wanted to find out what it was, so[189] they set a trap. Well, on the birthday Mrs. Kitty prepared a nice little dinner; she had some new milk, and a little meat and a bit of cheese, and six little mice. The table was so pretty, and everybody sat down, and there was no end of the fun going on, until suddenly they all stopped talking and laughing, for they saw hateful Mr. Cat. He came sulking and glowering along, as if somebody outside had whipped him and he wanted to take it out of his family. Mrs. Kitty begged him to sit down, and the little kitty told him it was her birthday party.

“'What can I help you to?' asked Mrs. Kitty in her pretty voice, trying not to look frightened.

“'None of this stuff,' he growled. 'Haven't you anything decent to eat?'

“'I'm afraid we haven't anything but this,' said Mrs. Kitty, her teeth chattering with dread for fear he'd pounce on the table and break the dishes. 'Do please take something,' she begged.

“But he only made a great hateful ts-s! and turned away as mad as he could be,[190] and then down he hopped right into the rabbit trap, which happened to be near.

“Out came one of the boys of the family, hallooing and shouting to the others that he had heard the trap go off and knew they'd caught the thief, and the poor little kitties ran away as fast as their small legs would carry them, not stopping to see that horrid old Mr. Cat was held fast.”

“What became of Mr. Cat?” asked Mamie.

“He came to a bad end, as all such creatures do,” said Nannie in a terrible voice.

At this point Jim's interest outran his pride, and he swung open the door so that he could hear better.

“What became of him?” persisted Mamie.

“He received a sound trouncing,” said Nannie.

Just at this juncture of affairs she caught sight of Mr. Earnest's eyes peering at her above his paper. Had they been filled with tears or dark with remorse[191] she might have relented, but, shocking to relate, they were fairly twinkling with merriment, and Nannie perceived that she was amusing her auditor hugely, instead of reading him a terrible lesson, and in her anger she all but lost control of herself.

“Wasn't anything else done to him?” asked Jim in a rather disappointed tone.

“Yes,” said Nannie, glaring at Mr. Earnest in a fierce, defiant manner.

“Oh, that's enough to do to him,” pleaded little Mamie.

“No, it isn't,” said Jim. “He ate up the rabbits.”

“Maybe he didn't eat the rabbits,” urged tender-hearted Mamie.

“No, he didn't eat the rabbits. A weasel did that,” said Nannie, her awful gaze still fixed on Mr. Earnest's laughing eyes. “But he had been ugly to his family, and that's the worst, the meanest thing a man—a cat can do, and Providence caught him in a trap to punish him.”

“What else was done to him?” persisted Jim.[192]

“He was hung,” said Nannie, and she almost smacked her lips with savage relish.

“Oh!” said Jim, and he condescended to enter the parlor and plant himself in front of Nannie. “Then what else was done with him?” reiterated this young avenging fury.

“I don't like this story,” said Mamie.

“I do!” said Jim. “It's most bester than Indians.”

Nannie was going to say that was all, but just then she caught sight of those mocking eyes again, and in a sudden fury she added:

“He was drawn and quartered.”

“Oh!” gasped Jim, while Mamie began to weep.

Just then a roar of laughter ensued from behind the newspaper, and Nannie, whose every nerve was taut, leaped from her chair.

The newspaper fell, and the two chief actors in this drama confronted one another, one of them convulsed with laughter and the other with flashing, defiant eyes and tightly pursed mouth.[193]

“And after that—” urged Jim. “Go on, Miss Nannie. Oh, this is a bully story! It's bestest than Indians!”

“After that,” said Nannie, turning squarely on Mr. Earnest, “after that he was sent to the penitentiary for life, and everybody said 'Good enough!' 'Served him right, nasty, mean, horrid old thing!'” and away she went, slamming the front door behind her.

The bang of the door, and still more the unusual sound of Mr. Earnest's laughter, brought the little wife to the spot.

“We had a bully story!” Master Jim explained. “There wasn't any fighting in it, but a big old cat got caught in a trap, and he was hung and quartered up.”

“Jim!” said his mother. “Do stop! I don't like such stories. What could Nannie have been thinking of?”

If she had dared she would have added: “I don't see how anybody could have laughed over that.”

But perhaps she was checked by a look on Mr. Earnest's face. He was not[194] laughing now; neither was he scowling; he looked very grave.

“Jennie,” he said, “come here, dear,” and with a quick, unaccustomed flutter of her heart she went to him. “I've been a brute—a cowardly brute, but I'm sorry, and I want to do better. Will you forgive me? And if I behave like a man in future do you think you can go back to the old love, dear?”

The children had run out to see if Nannie had left them, and the room was very still; no sound but the ticking of the clock, and once in awhile a deep sob that would not be crushed back.

Great events turn on small pivots ofttimes, and so it happened that there were some changes in that little house after this.

Curiously enough, not long after Nannie's story a great tortoise-shell tomcat appeared in the Earnest home. No one thought of asking Mrs. Earnest if she had brought him there, and the others knew nothing about him. More curiously still, when Mr. Earnest began to grow[195] sulky or ugly, Sir Tortoise Shell would often walk into the room and glare at him with his big, ugly eyes.

“Jennie, I believe I'll shoot that cat!” he exclaimed one day. “I can't bear him!”

“Oh, no, I couldn't let you hurt him, Gerald,” said Mrs. Earnest, who had become quite a spirited little woman in the new and happy atmosphere she breathed now. “I'm so fond of him.”

She looked demure enough as she stooped to pet the cat, but really her eyes were sparkling with mischief, for truth to tell, she had heard Nannie's story and was ready to adopt a big yellow cat as her coat of arms.

Mr. Earnest strolled out on to the gallery. He too was thinking of that story.

“I could have stood the trouncing,” he said to himself, “and the hanging, and even the drawing and quartering; but when it came to sending all four quarters to the penitentiary for life, what could a poor devil do but cave in?”


A week had passed since Steve refused to burden himself longer with Sarah Maria's care and education. As a matter of course he saw that the irascible lady was still retained about the place, but he felt that to be no concern of his so long as their orbits did not cross, and so far Sarah Maria seemed to appreciate his indifference and to thrive upon it.

A change of base was effected, however, on the morning of the eighth day, and it came about in this wise. On going down to his little corn-field one morning to see how matters were progressing, Steve found—but perhaps we should first tell how he had, with melancholy eyes, seen most of the results of his summer's hard work come to naught; one vegetable after another had gone the way of the flesh—not a legitimate way, as it should[197] have gone, on the family table, but by the path of some violence that had cut off its usefulness and ended its life prematurely.

The corn was about the only article that had escaped such wreckage; it really had flourished and now bade fair to grace the table before long. Once in a while, when his spirits needed propping, Steve allowed himself the comfort of gazing upon the vigorous cornstalks, with their budding tassels, and this was his intent upon this particular day. Alas! the sight he beheld was hardly calculated to raise the spiritual thermometer, so to speak, for Sarah Maria was contentedly munching what corn she had not already trampled under foot. Now, this was more than even Steve could endure, and for once his gentleness and quiet gave way to something resembling a wild storm.

Breaking a stout switch from a tree, he proceeded to use it with such energy that Sarah started for the barn at a sprinting gait. She did not mind being[198] sent home—that she expected as a matter of course; but she hotly resented the manner in which it was done. Reaching the barn and finding the door closed, she suddenly turned and charged Steve with such malice and vigor that she was upon him before he had time to think of escaping or of defending himself. With one blow she knocked him down, but happily, instead of demolishing him at once, she stood over him glaring and otherwise torturing him mentally before she could decide upon the best method by which to blot him out of existence.

While Steve was thus being rolled as a sweet morsel of revenge under the tongue of the vicious Sarah, Brownie came running from the house. Possibly he beheld his master's predicament and wished to succor him; possibly he was animated by the spirit of mischief which seemed to possess him most of the time. However that may be, he collided with a hive of bees as he ran and upset it. Then swift as a flash he fled to a large tree growing nearby and stood upon his little hind[199] feet close to its trunk, in such a manner that he was completely hidden from view.

The bees, raging out of their house and looking about them for the enemy who had knocked so rudely at their back door as to overturn the entire building, beheld Sarah Maria standing rampant over the prostrate Steve. The latter looked meek enough, but the former was evidently equal to anything vicious. Accepting this circumstantial evidence without investigation, the bees sallied forth in a body and proceeded to punish the wicked cow, and in about one minute Mrs. Maria was dancing a fisher's hornpipe of the most extravagant character. With tail tilted at a disrespectful angle, she careened in such fashion as to bring her flying heels close to Steve's terrified nose. Meanwhile he lay still, watching proceedings with gentle amazement.

“Most extraordinary conduct,” he said.

By-and-by, thinking the time ripe for escape, he attempted to rise and slip away, but the eagle eye of the festive bovine caught his first movement, and she[200] pounced upon him so viciously that nothing but his feigning to be dead saved his life. Just at this junction the kitchen door opened, and Bridget, who had observed these high proceedings from the window, put out her head and screamed “Murther!” on hearing which Sarah dashed toward the house, but was back again upon Steve before he had a chance to rise.

“Upset another hive, me dear!” screamed Bridget. “Sure a big dose of bees will be good fer her.”

Sarah Maria again galloped toward the kitchen, and Bridget hastily withdrew her counsel.

“Shure it's the divil himsilf broke loose!” shouted Bridget again, opening the door a crack. “I'd know his horns an' tail anywheres, bad cess to him! Howly Mither! how shall I get yez into the house? It's a state of siege I'm in here, or I'd be out a-dhraggin' yez inside. Don't raise yer hid, Mr. Loveland—don't now, me dear, as ye love yer life, or fust ye know she'll go a-bowlin' of it 'roun'[201] that yard as if it was a billiard bawl. She's got no more heart in her brist than that. Och! bad luck ter her! Shure——”

But again Sarah Maria started to interview the cook, and again Bridget had a pressing engagement indoors.

“Och! what shall we do now? Shure it's quakin' I am fer fear ivery minute. I'll see your gory head bouncin' 'roun' the potaty patch an' her afther it. May the saints defind yez from sich a horrible fate. Och! look at that, now!” she shrieked as Sarah made another lurch in Steve's direction. “Perlice! perlice!” she screamed, so loud that she might have been heard in the city. “Shure I hope I may live ter see that ould divil hangin' ter the apple tree an' the crows fasteing off her wicked ould body. There, now, come, Mr. Loveland—she's off! Och! good luck ter thim bees! Git up now, me darlint! There, rin! rin fer yer life! Och! she's comin' agin!”

But Steve reached the kitchen door first, and Bridget reached forth a welcoming hand and snatched him inside,[202] his coat being rent in twain by the violence of his salvation.

“Shure, now, that's a cow fer a respictable middle-aged woman twilve years over from Oireland ter sit down an' milk when she's not yit ready ter die—is it, now? An' a respictable family ter drink the milk of an' not expect ter be cuttin' up shines an' capers an' all sorts of wicked things in consequence—is it, I say? Luck at that, now! Haven't I told yez that cow hasn't the manners ov a leddy, at all, at all!”

Mrs. Maria was at that moment clearing the fence and dancing down the road, pursued by a hive of bees.

“May the divil claim his own an' sit her up next ter him down where the both ov thim belongs!” was Bridget's pious wish as she disappeared.

Steve had hardly more than had time to change his clothes, which fortunately had received all the damage in the recent scrimmage, when he saw Nannie hurrying down the road. She was half running, half walking, and her face was so[203] radiantly happy that Steve went out to learn the good tidings she evidently bore. So eager was she to impart her news that she called out before he reached her:

“It's happened! It's happened! It's all over! and it's so little—and the dearest—oh, Steve——”

She could say no more, for her words were cut short just here and her excitement found vent in a happy sob.

“Why, my dear,” said Steve, taking her gently by the arm and leading her toward the house.

But Nannie resisted:

“No, no,” she cried. “I'm going right back, I only came home for you. You must go right over. Randolph is wild. Oh, it's so dear and sweet! Just like a rose! I could smother it with kisses!”

She would hardly let him go for his hat, and all the way over she dragged him along, insisting upon greater speed and chattering in an excited, happy way that was perfectly new and perfectly delightful to Steve.

Randolph was on the lookout for[204] them, and his excitement was no less than Nannie's.

“You must see the pretty little baby, old man,” he said after an impetuous hand-shaking.

“Why, yes, do let me see it.”

“Don't say it,” exclaimed Nannie. “It's a little girl.”

“Well, my dear—really—you forgot to mention which it was.”

Just then Randolph entered with a bundle of shawls, which he reverently and delightedly opened.

All at once his face changed and a look of blank dismay effaced his happy, expectant expression.

“W—why, where is she?” he stammered.

“Randolph Chance!” blazed Nannie, snatching the bundle from him, “I could slap you! You've got her upside down!”

“Oh!” groaned Randolph. “Will it kill her?”

“It may!” said Nannie fiercely. “You've no business with her! Holding her heels up! Poor little thing.[205]

And she laid her face on the tiny human doll and cooed to it, and soothed it, while the father stood there—big, helpless, remorseful, solicitous, and tender.

“Let me take her,” said Steve quietly, holding out his hands.

Nannie's first impulse was to say “No” and to press the baby closer to her, but something in Steve's face arrested the word she would have spoken, and she placed the precious little charge in his arms.

“I declare, old man, one would think you had had a dozen at least!” said Randolph, looking on admiringly.

“It's the first very young child I ever held,” said Steve.

Nannie was still. She and Randolph were looking at Steve, and Steve was looking into the little face that lay upon his arm. For a moment no one spoke; then Nannie said abruptly:

“I want to see Constance.”

“I'm afraid I can't let you, Nannie,” said Randolph. “She doesn't seem quite as well as she did awhile ago.[206]

“Then I must see her,” said Nannie emphatically.

“Why, my dear,” Steve began gently, “perhaps to-morrow——”

“No, I must see her now. I've something to tell her. It will make her well. I must see her.”

She was so determined that Randolph reluctantly consented, and she passed into Constance's room, leaving the baby with Steve.

“Constance,” said Nannie, stepping up to the bedside, “you are going to get well, aren't you?”

“Why, yes, of course,” said Constance.

“I want to tell you, you must. I think it would be wicked to leave the little baby in the world without a mother. No one would ever love her and no one would teach her to do things and how to be good, and she would be so lonely, and she wouldn't know how to come near people and say anything, no matter if her heart was bursting.”

And Nannie sank by the bed and wept as a woman does sometimes when her[207] sobs break their way out and she can't stop them.

A flood seemed to pour upon Constance, and in it she saw the lonely, yearning, ignorant child-wife as she really was. She also saw how unjust she herself had been, and pity and remorse laid hold upon her.

“Nannie! dear Nannie—you poor little thing! Come here. I want to tell you that I love you. I never knew you before and Steve loves you if only you would let him.”

But Nannie was on her feet again. Her words had been spoken, and all the crudity that had been swept aside for a moment returned in full force and awkwardness. Without even a glance at Constance she abruptly left the room, and in a few moments she and Steve were walking homeward.


Sarah Maria was gone and baby Chance was thriving. There was bliss enough for any reasonable man, and Steve waxed almost light of heart. All this had come about with time, and other things might come, too, if time were not interfered with. The news of Sarah's rapid transit had hardly cost Nannie the lifting of an eyebrow. She was so absorbed in the baby that she could well afford to spare her amiable bovine.

Although it was quite late in the fall, Steve was actually contemplating the planting of another crop. Now that the main enemy had withdrawn her horns and heels from the garden, winter seemed a mere bagatelle in the way of opposition—an obstacle too small for reckoning.

But, as poets and prose writers have abundantly proven, Ill Fortune has an[209] ugly habit of coming around a corner with a sudden demoniac swish when least expected and she certainly did this time. Steve was out in his garden drinking in the mellow stillness of an Indian summer twilight, and feeling not really happy perhaps—a man who has a home only in name can hardly be that—but rested and at peace at that particular moment, which is much more than could be asserted of his condition the next, for as he looked down the road he beheld Sarah Maria gamboling along, having in tow at the end of a rope a well-spent, perspiring darky.

“Dis yere yo' cow, massa?” asked the weary African as he came up.

Steve hesitated; he was sorely tempted to repudiate madam.

“Ain't yo's Massa Lubland?”

Steve nodded in a gloomy manner.

“Den I reckon dis yere b'longs to yo',” he said confidently, and he tugged and pulled the unruly beast within the boundary of the cow-yard, with no further damage to the place than the trampling of[210] several choice plants and the breaking of a young apple tree.

“How much do I owe you?” asked Steve in a tone of subdued melancholy.

“Now, massa, I's gwine tell yo' my story, an' den I lebes it to yo' to do de right ting by me. Yo' see, dis yere cow come to me jes' 'bout tree months ago, an' my wife she 'lowed it was a giff, but I sez, 'No, sah, no giffs come a-droppin' out de sky dat a-way. Dis yere b'longs to some ob de quality folk, an' dey's a-gwine to want her some day, so we mus' keep her up right smart, an' dey'll pay us fer all our trubble.' So we fed her ob de fat ob de lan', but 'peared like she were de kin' dat keeps lean anyways; dat's why she look so kin' o' pulin' now.

“She was so contrairy to manage dat I got kin' o' skeered ob her, an' one day she tuk me in de pit ob de stomach an' h'isted me ober de fence, an' I hed mis'ry in de stomach an' mis'ry in de back, an' my wife 'lowed I was gwine ter die. It tuk de doctor an' a powerful lot o' medicine ter sot me up agin, an' I was kin' o'[211] porely fer a long time. Bimeby we heerd de cow b'longed ter Massa Lubland, an' yo' libed out heah, an' jes' den a neighbor come 'long wid a load o' furn'ture an' I ax him:

“'Could yo' take de cow?'

“'Ef she'll hitch on I could,' he say. 'Is she peaceable or is she ornery?'

“'She's ornery heah,' I say, 'but she's gwine ter wawk 'long lak a lady when she's gwine home, 'case she's homesick.'

“Well, massa, he done tuk her, but when he come back from de city he tole me she jes' sot herself agin goin', an' she sot so hard de hosses couldn't pull nohow, an' when he got down to loose her she rared till she fetched some o' de furn'ture down on her haid, an' dar was a nice table broke ter kindlin' wood, an' I hed ter pay him five dollars fer it. An' jes' as I put de pocket book up agin—an' it was plum' empty—roun' de corner come de cow, wid her eyes on fire, an' she jes' strewed us bofe ober de groun' like we was dead chickens afore she runned inter de shed. An' massa, sho's yo's bawn, she hooked[212] an' tossed me like a rubber bawl all de way up heah, till I hain't got a whole bone anywhares in my body. Lordy! but she's a turrible critter!”

“Do I owe you ten dollars?” asked Steve with grim resignation.

“I takes whatever yo' gives, massa, an' I doan complain; but I knows yo's hon'rable, an' yo's gwine ter 'member I was laid up from work a week an' hed ter pay de doctor an' de med'cines, an' I's fed her plum' full fer tree months.”

“Do I owe you fifteen dollars?” asked Steve.

The darky looked mournful.

“Do I owe you twenty?” asked Steve in a somewhat severe tone.

“Reckon yo' hain't gwine ter fergit I paid five fer de table,” murmured this meek son of Africa.

“Take twenty-five, then, and make an end of it,” said Steve.

“Tank yo', tank yo', massa. I hain't nebber gwine ter fergit yo' ner de cow. Gawd bress yo' bofe, massa.”

And grinning and bowing he disappeared,[213] leaving Steve minus a fifth of his monthly salary and plus the beautiful Sarah Maria.

It was part of the procession of events that the butcher should heave in sight at that moment, and that Steve should hail him and take him in to look at the returned prodigal.

“She's so lean she wouldn't be good for much,” said the man. “If you'd fatten her up I'd——”

“No, I think not. I'd rather you'd take her now.”

“I couldn't give you but ten dollars for her this way.”

“Take her,” said Steve.

And the bargain was concluded. Shortly after this Bridget was ill with cramps for a few days.

“What has upset you?” asked Nannie.

“I couldn't tell at fust,” groaned Bridget, “but I mind now—it's thet Sarah Meriah.”

“Why, she's gone! What can she have to do with you now?”

“Shure she was in that last beefsteak[214] I ate. I recognized her the minnit she passed me lips. 'Are ye back agin?' sez I, 'bad cess ter yez!' 'Thrue fer yez,' sez she, 'an' I'll be ther upsettin' of yez yit.' An' faith she is, fer it's feel her I do this blissed minnit, hookin' me in'ards an' kickin' me vitals, an' behavin' in a most disgraceful and unleddylike fashion throughout.”

Possibly Nannie found herself more at leisure, now her bovine charge was off her hands, and wanted occupation, or—and this is more likely—the beauty and comfort of Randolph's and Constance's home had stolen to her heart and stirred new impulses there. Other influences had been at work on this neglected region as well, but to these Nannie did not as yet yield their meed of credit. It is a sad but well-known fact that the home agencies for regeneration are the last to receive recognition and gratitude. So it was that while Nannie was dimly conscious that she owed something to Constance's womanliness, she refused to dwell upon the beauty and tenderness of[215] Steve's conduct toward her. His uniform courtesy, gentleness, and forbearance, though the most powerful factors in her dissatisfaction with self and embryonic yearnings toward a more conscientious, nobler life, were as yet utterly ignored by her in actual thought, and had her attention been called to them, she would probably have denied that she owed aught of good to their influence. This was discouraging, to be sure, but one must wait long and patiently for full results. It was enough, perhaps, for the present that Nannie went about her home trying, in a blundering way, to bring to pass some changes for the better. With a deeper insight than she recognized she looked to her table, first of all. Bridget was not a first-class cook, and her limited repertory rendered the bill of fare wearisome and monotonous.

Several dishes that Nannie had seen on Constance's table had caught her eye. A tempting salad was one, and having learned how to make it, she gave her own table the benefit of this knowledge one evening.[216]

Steve's face lighted with surprise and pleasure the moment the new and very attractive dish was brought on. He knew it was none of Bridget's making.

“This must be yours, my dear,” he said with a gentle, winning smile.

Now, poor Nannie was terribly awkward about anything that involved a show of feeling, so instead of taking this as she should have done, she merely said brusquely:

“I made it.”

Then she colored violently, then immediately looked defiant.

But her color and her defiance were both of them so pretty and engaging that Steve was moved by a rare impulse to go round to her and kiss her.

Shocking as it may seem, Nannie caught him by the nose with a sudden fierce motion and held on with grim, unrelenting grasp.

The whole scene occurred in a flash, as it were, and Steve was utterly unprepared for his own act, and still more so for its consequence. Impulsiveness with[217] him, however, was unusual and short-lived, and even under these untoward circumstances he soon recovered his gentle gravity.

“When are you going to release my nose, Nannie?” he said in his accustomed quiet tone.

“Goodness knows!” she replied brusquely—possibly without intent to pun—but she let go.

Steve retreated a step or two and seemed undecided as to what course to pursue. A certain air of dignity and reserve enveloped him at all times, and up to the present moment this had never failed to be respected by those with whom he had come in contact. It was hardly possible, then, to pass by so flagrant an outrage as this in silence.

“I hardly think,” he said gently, “you mean all the things you do.”

“I mean every one!” snapped Nannie, whose resentment was stirred, all the more so because she was ashamed of herself.

“If that is the case,” Steve replied, and[218] as he spoke, quietly and without anger, he was conscious of a dull dread of her reply—“if that is the case, it can't be that you feel either love or respect for me.”

“I guess I don't, then,” said Nannie rudely, and she rose from the table and went out into the garden.

Steve stood irresolute for a time; then he took his hat and left the house. Never in all his life before had he felt as miserable and as helpless. At that moment the beauty died not only out of his own life, but out of nature as well. There was no longer a balm in Gilead. He walked on, instinctively taking one of his old paths, from which he had heretofore received so much of comfort and inspiration, but which to-night gave him absolutely nothing of either. It would seem that nature had shared the blow he had received and had been deadened by it. Poor Mother Nature, she was just the same, but her child was out of gear and she could do nothing but wait. By-and-by a change came, not in the way of happiness, perhaps, but in a lightening of that deadness which is of[219] necessity the most hopeless of all conditions.

Awaking from his torpor to a certain extent, Steve found himself engaged in some practical thoughts. He had lately been balancing his books, and the result was not encouraging. He was now reviewing this with a certain grim despondency and also a certain grim humor.

“We've spent eighteen hundred dollars in one year. I earn fifteen hundred a year and there's six hundred in the bank. We've just one year and two months to live. We'd better begin to repent,” he said to himself.

Then presently he began to wonder what the use of it all was. He had given Nannie shelter and protection—that was all there was to it. They were no more to each other than strangers. He had done his utmost, and she was as far away from him as ever; that made an end of hope; he might as well give it up. At that moment there was nothing he would have liked better. What with the care and perplexity he had endured over[220] women, cows, and hens, he was more than ready to wash his hands of the entire lot.

But Steve was unaccustomed to following inclination when duty pointed in another direction, so although he was apparently doing that now, yet he had no other thought than of returning to his post by-and-by.

He walked on in an aimless sort of fashion, merely because he did not know what else to do just then, and soon found himself near the cottage whose glorified windows attracted him on his tramp some time ago. It was dull enough now, for the departing sunlight streamed in another direction, leaving the little house in shadow. Steve would have passed it without a thought had not a woman's cry caught his ear—a bitter, wailing cry, on which came words as bitter:

“Oh, I'm sick of it all! Would God that I were dead!”

Without meaning to intrude on private grief, Steve stood stock-still. There was something so horrible in the contrast between a cry of such lawless despair[221] and the idea of the contentment and happiness for which that little house should stand that it fairly paralyzed the man's steps, just as the motion of the heart is arrested by a shock.

The cottage stood on the edge of the woods. Just now these were bare and gaunt, and the steep-sided ravine to the left seemed to-day a barren crack in a gloomy landscape.

It was all of it unbearable, unendurable. Anything was better than this, and Steve turned with relief in the direction of a familiar train whistle, hurried to the station, and soon was speeding toward his former bachelor quarters.

How desolate the old building looked when he reached it! The sun had sunk below the tall chimney tops, and the narrow street lay in gloomy shadow. Nothing daunted, however, Steve entered, and forgetful of the custom of the building, he stepped to the elevator shaft. It was dark, but looking far up he thought he could discern a faint glimmer of the sunset. Some lines he once read came to him:[222]

“The emptying tide of life has drained the iron channel dry;
Strange winds from the forgotten day
Draw down, and dream, and sigh:”

They were passing and repassing him—these winds. A sigh, a certain coolness, a faint whisper—that was all as they entered the shaft and sped upward like ghosts of a busy world.

Steve turned and ran rapidly up the stairs. He could hardly fit his key, he was in such haste to escape from that lonesome hallway. Day was passing out by the western gate when he entered his room, and it would seem that heaven, in all its untold beauty, had come forth to greet her. Such a sky! It fairly overwhelmed him, and he turned to the east, as one seeks shelter in the shadow from a too brilliant light. Even the east was whispering the story, but gently and in cadences fit for weak human senses, just as winds in the tall tree-tops faintly repeat the harmonies of heaven.

To and fro Steve walked in the spacious lonesome apartments. Was his present[223] solitude an earnest of his future? Was he forever to be denied the warm human clasp of another's hand? Was he doomed evermore to see the oncoming of the night from out some deserted room?

The west was fading now. Day had passed and carried light and sunshine with her. The clouds were moving hither and yonder restlessly, and in their ghostly passage they took on weird shapes.

Steve watched them with a strange interest—an interest just tinged with superstition, half rejecting, half receiving their import, something as one watches the shifting of cards in the hands of a wizard.

He looked out over the waters of the lake, but the east was leaden now; her lips were sealed; she had passed silently into the night. Even in the west there was but a fitful glowing, and the clouds came and went.

The room had grown black—insupportable! Steve could not endure it—he must light it in some way. A lamp would not do. It was a warm evening, wonderfully[224] warm for that season, but he must have firelight.

He looked about him and soon found kindling and fuel, for he had as yet disturbed none of the room's furnishings. His lease was not spent; he could use the place for storage for quite a time yet.

The warmth of the cheery flame was welcome to him, for despite the heat of the evening he felt a chilliness which he did not know meant fever. It was not among possibilities that a man of Steve's fine sensitive fiber could do violence to his idea of right without disaster to his physical being. He had fled from his post of duty, he felt himself to be a deserter, and this deflection was necessarily accompanied by physical disturbance.

As he sat beside the bright blaze he heard Randolph telling of his successful wooing and saw him tilted back in his chair against the opposite wall of the chimney. Then he stepped from out the ingle-nook and stood in a little old cemetery. They were putting mother and Mary into the same grave, and he thought the gravediggers cruel because they[225] hurled the clods of earth so heavily upon them.

The cemetery was growing colder now, and he wakened, oppressed with the dreariness of it all. He replenished his failing fire and then sat down to dream again, but this time he was not alone, for Nannie sat by the cheery little blaze—not across the way, but close by his side. She had all her brilliant beauty, all her tantalizing, bewitching ways, but he no longer feared to touch her; no longer feared to smooth back the tangled curls and kiss the dear, piquant face, for the drawbridge was down, the gates were flung open, and Castle Delight was his at last.

It was a great moment for Steve. Now he had life and had it abundantly; now he had wife and hearthstone.

He wakened again in a cold, dark room, and he saw gleaming through the blackness a tearful, wistful face which he knew was Nannie's. She was in trouble—she wanted something, she was calling him in weird, spirit fashion, and he must go!


When Nannie went out into the garden she saw old Hayseed leaning over the fence contemplating some of the ruins of Steve's vegetables. Glad of any diversion, she opened a conversation on the subject of Mr. Seymour, of whose death she had heard that day. In far-away times, old Hayseed had known Mr. Seymour's father.

“I didn't think he could die,” said Nannie. “He was always trying to, but I didn't think he was really sick enough.”

“He hed ter die ter vindercate hisself,” said Hayseed. “Some folks, yer know, hez ter live ter set 'emselves right, but this one 'bleeged ter die. He was allers goin' on erbout his bein' out o' health, an' nobody believed him, so he was 'bleeged ter die. Mrs. Seymour's young woman was tellin' me she tho't[227] he died to spite folks that wouldn't 'low he was sick. She said he was mean enough to do anything.”

“He was; mean as he could be!” exclaimed Nannie. “He was so little and so narrow-minded, and he had no excuse for it either, for he had a good education and he'd been all over the world.”

“Well, now, once in awhile ye see a prune that won't swell. Ye put 'em all in water alike, an' most on 'em gits fat an' smooth, but this one stays small an' shriveled up. There's no accountin' fer ther difference.”

Nannie turned and walked toward the house. She was restless and felt at a loss to know what to do with herself. Since her caper in the garden Steve had left her absolutely to her own way, and she had found, as folks will soon or late, that nothing could be more dreary. She finally started over to see her cousins, the Misfits, but on her way thither she had occasion to pass the house of some plain folk by the name of Meader, and she suddenly decided to go in there. It was the[228] same house from which Steve had heard that anguished wail, and when Nannie entered, shortly after Steve had passed on, she found Mrs. Meader weeping bitterly. The woman was so far gone in misery that she did not resent Nannie's entrance or her question.

“What is the matter?”

“Oh, I can't stand it no longer. He don't give me nothin' to git anything with, an' we can't live on nothin'. Whenever he gits mad he plagues me by keepin' everything out o' my han's, an' he won't answer when I ask him fer anything. I'd like to know if a woman an' five children kin live without money! Before I was married I used to earn some. I had enough to live on, but now, what with the cookin', an' washin' an' nussin' all these babies, I ain't no time ter earn a livin'!”

“I should say you were earning it! You earn more than he does!” exclaimed Nannie hotly.

“He don't look at it that way,” sobbed the woman. “He's ferever makin' me feel so beholten ter him fer every penny[229] an' ter-day when I needed some money awful fer tea an' I went ter his pocket an' got it, he went on so afore ther children it seems like I can't never look them in ther face agin. He said—he said”—she stammered amid her sobs—“thet I was a thief—a low-down common thief—that's what he said, and the children heard him.”

Nannie rose from her chair with clinched hands and a flaming face.

“Where is he?” she asked under her breath.

“He's gone ter ther grocery. He ain't working ter-day. He said he'd 'tend ter the spendin' of the money. I couldn't be trusted with it. He said thet, he did, afore the children.”

And she broke down again.

Just then the man himself came walking in.

“What's up now?” he asked when he saw Nannie's face.

“You are!” she blazed, “and you're a contemptible brute!”

His face flushed. He looked both[230] ashamed and angry, but a man in his position is at a loss to know what to do when attacked by a woman outside his family. He had enough pride to shrink from this invasion of his affairs, but he did not know just how to resent it.

“It ain't no matter fer discussion,” he said, “but she's been into my pockets, an' thet's what I can't stand.”

“What do you steal her money for, then?” demanded Nannie.

He stared at her in stupid astonishment.

“It's you who steal!” continued Nannie in ringing tones. “There she is, earning more than you do, and——”

“I don't know how you make that out,” said the man in a sulky tone.

“Try to hire some one to take her place, and you'll learn. She could hire your work done fast enough, but there never has been and there never will be money enough in all your horrid pockets put together to hire what she does for you and the children; and then you are so nasty, and mean, and dishonest as to[231] clutch the money and pretend you have the right to dole out what belongs to her. I wonder you aren't ashamed to be alive!”

He certainly did look ashamed now. He had probably never before viewed matters from this point.

“Well, I don't suppose I done just the right thing. I'm not going ter deny it, but money comes hard, anyhow.”

“And her life is hard enough, anyhow, without your making it harder by tyrannizing over her.”

Here one of the five little ones began to cry, and the mother started forward to take it, but Nannie intercepted her.

“You go and get your dinner,” she said. “I'll look after the children.”

And taking the two youngest in her arms she coaxed the others along, and they all went out into the warm, pleasant sunlight, and there Nannie sang to them, told them stories, washed their dirty little faces, and mothered them generally until their own poor mother could recover herself and their father had time to see the error of his way and repent.[232]

The sun was setting when Nannie wended her way homeward. She dreaded to see Steve, but found relief in the thought that he would probably appear as usual. When she learned that he had not returned she felt surprised, but decided not to wait dinner, and so ate alone.

She spent the evening at her cousin's house. She did not quite dare to go to Constance's, for she instinctively felt that Constance would heartily disapprove of her leaving home in that way at a time when her husband was likely to be alone.

Returning, she found the house dark. Steve had probably retired, and she remembered she had given Bridget permission to go to the city for the night to look after a sick cousin. Something impelled her to do an unusual thing—open Steve's door a crack and peep in. He was not there.

The shock of this discovery was so great that for a moment Nannie was almost too bewildered to know what she did, and was half frightened when she found herself at the front door calling “Steve! Steve![233]

The leaves rustling on the trees in the soft night wind was her only answer, and she closed the door with a feeling of desolate misery new to her experience.

At no time was she afraid. The fact of her being alone in the house merely served to emphasize her realization of her loss, for she had no doubt that Steve had left her. There was no resentment in her attitude now; she felt that she deserved her fate. None the less she also felt that she could not endure it—could not live without Steve. And yet she had told him that very day that she had neither love nor respect for him. How could he stay with her after that?

The night passed somehow, and morning found Nannie with a white face, save where the shadows rested 'neath her large eyes.

Bridget had not yet come home, and she could not endure to stay alone any longer, so she wrapped a little parcel and started over to Constance's. The parcel was one of a set of articles she was learning to make. Some weeks before this she[234] had appeared at Constance's one day, and unrolling a large bundle she carried, had spread upon the latter's bed a quantity of tiny clothing, cut and made in most original fashion.

“Why, Nannie!” exclaimed Constance, who had no other idea than that they were meant for little baby Chance. “How lovely of you! Thank you ever so much!”

“They're not for you,” said Nannie in her crude way. “They're mine.”

The chagrin and embarrassment Constance might have felt over her mistake was swallowed up now in her amazement and delight.

“Yours! Oh, Nannie, I'm so glad.”

“I haven't any use for them,” said Nannie, bluntly, “but”—and here there was a hardly perceptible quiver of her lips—“I just wanted them around.”

“I declare, that's really pathetic,” said Randolph afterward when Constance told him. “Why don't you teach her, sweetheart—teach her to make the pretty little things?”

And Constance did, and as a result of[235] all the ripping and cutting over Nannie had made some exquisite little garments, two of which she presented to Constance, and the rest kept in a little chiffonier in her room, to gaze at and kiss many times a day.

Returning from her sewing lesson rather earlier than usual, for she longed and dreaded to go back to her house, she found Steve awaiting her.

He was sitting in the little parlor, and his face was flushed and his eyes strangely bright.

Nannie stood stock-still on the threshold when she saw him.

“Steve,” she asked at length, “have you come back to live with me?”

“Yes,” he said, and then something impelled him to hold out his arms to her.

She hesitated, wavered for a moment like some beautiful wild bird that had strayed from the forest; then she ran to him in headlong fashion.

“Steve!” she fairly cried, “I can't make the words, but you know! you know![236]

Steve folded her in his arms and—the dream came true. In the rapture of that moment he knew indeed—knew that this strange, untutored child was the one woman in all the world to satisfy him.


Time has run on. It is just three years from the morning Steve came home. He was quite ill for awhile after that, and from his feverish talk Nannie learned several things. In his convalescence they became acquainted, and Steve felt that his wife's handy, pretty nursing was the sweetest experience he had ever known.

Shortly after he was on his feet again Nannie returned from Constance's, whither she had run of an errand one morning, with a great distress working on her face.

She entered the study, where Steve sat at his desk writing, and tried to speak, but words failed her, and she sobbed instead.

Steve went to her quickly, and his gentle face and manner were eloquent with concern and sympathy.[238]

“Why, my dear, what has happened?”

“It's the little baby! She's been so ill all night! She can't live!”

“Oh, my dear! Oh, that is too sad!” and Steve's face flushed and quivered.

“You must come right back with me, Steve; they are in such grief.”

They went in without pausing to ring and tiptoed their way to Constance's room. The house was very still.

In response to their soft tap Randolph opened the door. When he saw Steve he broke into a great sob and laid his head on the shoulder of the dear friend of olden days.

“Oh, is she gone?” cried Nannie, entering the room.

Constance nodded and turned away, but Nannie burst into uncontrollable grief as she saw the little white-faced figure lying in the crib.

“I never want a child!” cried Nannie passionately. “If God can be so cruel as to take her, I never want one!”

It was Constance who was forced to comfort.[239]

“Don't say that, dear,” she urged gently. “I don't understand why we couldn't keep her, but I know that God is good. And we'd rather have her this way than never to have held our own little baby——”

But here she broke down and wept convulsively over the tiny crib.

And Steve and Nannie wept as they went homeward together hand in hand.

There is another baby there now—a jolly, roystering little fellow, just one year old to-day, on his mother's birthday, and a very precious little man he is; but the dear little girl who just alighted in their arms long enough to lay hold upon their heartstrings and then flew away with the other angels is not forgotten.

Randolph stepped over to Steve's desk this morning to ask if he and Nannie would be sure to come in the evening to celebrate the double birthday.

“If it's at all clear we will, old man, and gladly,” said Steve, “but it looks to me as if a big storm were brewing.”

“Well, I hope you can come. We[240] think a deal of these anniversaries. Each one of 'em marks off a happy year, I tell you, old man.”

“No doubt,” said Steve gently.

“And the years have been successful, too,” continued Randolph. “On the whole—to speak between friends—I've managed pretty well, I think.”

“Pretty well with one,” said Steve, and there was a slight gleam in his eye as he recalled Randolph's bachelor boast that he could manage forty women. “Now for the thirty-nine.”

“Steve,” said Randolph, “you're a good fellow, but you'll have to let up on that forty. I had sense enough, after all, to marry only one of them, and occasionally I have my doubts—looks a little as if even that one managed me. Just you drop the thirty-nine. You're using the poker too freely.”

And then they fell to talking about how warm it was on this same day three years ago.

Steve was right, for that afternoon it began to snow and it forgot to stop. He[241] had hard work to get home and still harder to get out and attend to the little stock. The chickens, he found, had had the sense to go to roost before time; both Brownie and the cat were safe indoor; they could look out for themselves, but the gentle, fawn-like Jersey (quite a different animal from the wild-eyed beast of three years agone) had expectations, and she must needs receive especial care.

After Steve had fed her and seen that she was comfortable for the night, he made his way into the house with a feeling that only a very happy man can understand.

Nannie was busy upstairs and called to him not to come up, as she had a surprise in store. He was to stir the fire and set her chair, which she would fill directly, and Steve had done all this and now was walking about the room, which was bright and pretty in the firelight, handling the books and magazines, trying a chord or two on the piano, and looking occasionally from the windows out into the night.

That was wild enough, what with[242] wind, and ice, and snow. Every now and then the little house shuddered in the blast, which was shrieking in the chimneys. The window glass was bearded with snow, which melted here and there and ran for a little space; then, lest one should fancy the weather were shedding repentant tears, it stiffened into ice straightway. Down at the foot of the bluff the lake was booming; there was something to make the blood run cold about its mighty passion. One thought of the boats at its mercy that night and whispered, God help them!

There, in the center of it all, 'neath the trees that were clashing arms with one another in the storm, stood the snug little home, with the study, over whose pictured walls the cheery, flickering light played at glow and shadow. And there, close to the merry blaze, poker in hand, sat Steve, as happy, as well content a man as you'd find, though you looked far and wide. Brownie occupied the other chair, and it appeared that he had much to say. Nannie was singing—singing to the baby upstairs—and[243] Steve and Brownie hearkened to the pretty notes.

“You hear that, sir?” asked Brownie, with his head slightly tilted and cocked on one side.

Steve poked assent at the fire.

“You didn't think much of her at one time, did you?”

Steve was gravely shocked and promptly poked remonstrance into the glowing coals.

“Well, you were rather discouraged about her—you know that,” persisted Brownie.

Steve looked ashamed, but he was honest enough to nod slightly.

“And now you see there isn't a less wearisome, a nicer, brighter——”

Here Steve interrupted by stabbing the fire's front in a manner betokening the heartiest concurrence.

Just at this point the subject of these thrusts entered the room.

“No, you don't, Steve—no, sir. You shan't even have a squint till I get to the fire.[244]

And carefully covering Miss Baby from view, Nannie sidled along to her chair.

“Now! Ask daddy what he thinks of Miss Loveland!” she exclaimed, dropping all disguises suddenly and holding the pretty little creature up in the firelight.

“Oh, Nannie! short clothes!” said Steve with an admiring gasp.

“Yes,” said Nannie. “Look at the darling little shoes! See her kick them! Oh, she's so glad to be rid of those long dresses.”

Steve's poker was greatly agitated.

“Nannie,” he said, in his quiet way, “I hardly think I can wait much longer.”

“Then you shall have her. Now! Here she goes, daddy!” and Nannie tossed the baby, all laughter and dimples, into the delighted father's arms.

True to her sex, she proceeded to grasp all he had—the poker. Steve held on for safety, but Miss Baby wielded it, and straightway the fire sent forth a shower of sparks that went frolicking up the chimney in pure glee.[245]

“Steve,” said Nannie, pointing to them, “look! See how prone to sin you are.”

But Steve had no time for his derelictions; he was busy studying the wonderful baby.

“Nannie,” he said, “this marks an epoch; and it's Constance's birthday.”

“It's your birthday, too, you dear old stupid!” laughed Nannie.

“Why, so it is. I never realized before that we were twins.”

“He never realizes anything about himself, does he, baby?”

The baby gave a great assenting dab at the fire, necessitating a prompt examination of all her gear to see if she had caught anywhere.

“He's always thinking of other people and forgetting himself, isn't he, baby?”

Another dab still bigger and another overlooking.

“Oh, my dear!” stammered Steve.

“Just you hush,” said Nannie imperiously. “And he's too foolish and forgetful of himself to dream that there's a birthday dinner almost ready in the[246] dining-room and some be-au-ti-ful things under somebody's plate.”

Here Steve was helplessly and hopelessly embarrassed, but Nannie snatched the baby and went on:

“And he's a regular stupid old know-nothing, isn't he, baby?”

And she made the baby give the poker such a thrust of sympathy that it stuck fast in the fire.

“Whew!” she exclaimed, jerking it out. “How hot that fire is! I'm fairly cooked!”

There was a peculiar expression on Steve's face, and all at once Nannie remembered a newspaper clipping that had dropped from one of his note-books that day when she cleared his desk. A sudden thought struck her and caused her to pause with the poker in mid air.

“Have you been cooking me, sir?” she asked in awful tones, taking her seat as a judge might take his bench.

Steve's color started and a strange smile dawned upon his face. His very looks convicted him.[247]

Now it was Nannie who was flushing, and so prettily, pursing up her bewitching mouth in the old way.

“Am I done?” she asked presently in a lower tone.

“To a turn!” he replied.

“Then I think I'll get off the spit, by your leave, sir,” she said with saucy bravado.

And she arose to move back from the fire.

“Steve!” she cried, “you are devouring me!”