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Friendship Village
by Zona Gale
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I had learned that he was loath to oppose a suggestion and that he always preferred to agree, but I had not hoped for enthusiasm.

"That's the i-dea," said Timothy, heartily. "I do admire a surprise. But what I think is this," he added, "when'll we hev it?"

"To-night," I proposed boldly.

"Whew!" Timothy whistled. "Sudden for General—eh? Suits me—suits me. Better drive out home with me an' break it to Amanda," he cried.

I smiled as I sat beside him, noting that his enthusiasm was very like relief. For if any one was present, he well knew that his masterful Amanda would say nothing of his tardiness. And so it was, for as we entered the kitchen she entirely overlooked her husband in her amazement at seeing me.

"Forevermore!" that great Amanda said, turning from her stove of savoury skillets; "ain't you the stranger? Timothy says only to-day, speakin' o' you, 'She ain't ben here for a week,' s'e. 'Week!' s'I; 'it's goin' on two.' I'm a great hand to keep track. Throw off your things."

At that I began to feel her influence. Mis' Toplady is so huge and capable that her mere presence will modify my judgments; and instantly I fell wondering if I was not, after all, come on a fool's errand. She is like Athena. For I can think about Athena well enough, but if I were really to stand before her, I am certain that the project in which I implored her help would be sunk in my sudden sense of Olympus.

Not the less, I made my somewhat remarkable proposal with some show of assurance, and I should have counted on Mis' Toplady's sympathy, which ripens at less than a sigh. In Friendship you but mention a possible charity, visit, or new church carpet, and the enthusiasm will react on the possibility, and the thing be done. It is the spirit of the West, the pioneer blood in the veins of her children, expressing itself (since there are of late no forests to conquer) in terms of love of any initiative. We love a project as an older world would approve the civilizing reasons for that project. Mis' Amanda plunged into the processes of the party much as she would have felled a tree. It warmed my heart to hear her.

"We'd ought to hev a hot supper—what victuals'll we take?" she said. "Land, yes, oysters, o' course, an' we'll all chip in an' take plenty-enough crackers. We might as well carry dishes from here, so's to be sure an' hev what we want to use. At Mis' Doctor Helman's su'prise we run 'way short o' spoons, an' Elder Woodruff finally went out in the hall an' drank his broth, an' hid his bowl in the entry. Mis' Helman found it, an' knew it by the nick. That reminds me—who'll we ask?"

"Mrs. Holcomb-that-was-Mame-Bliss," said I, promptly, "and Abigail Arnold, and Doctor June, and Abel Halsey."

"An' the Proudfits," Mis' Amanda went on.

"Suppose," said I, with high courage, "that we do not ask the Proudfits at all?"

Mis' Amanda threw up her giant hands.

"Not ask the Proudfits?" she said. "Why, my land a' livin', the minister hardly has church in the church without the Proudfits get an invite."

"Calliope mends their fine lace for them," I reminded her, feeling guilty. "They wouldn't care to come, Mrs. Amanda, would they?"

But of course I was remembering Delia More's "But now—I know 'em. They worship goodness like a little god." And that night I was not minded to have them about, for it might befall that it would be necessary to understand other things as well.

"Miss Linda would 'a' cared to," said Mis' Amanda, thoughtfully, "but I donno, myself, about Mis' Proudfit an' Miss Clementina—for sure."

So bold an innovation as the Proudfits' omission, however, moved Timothy Toplady to doubt.

"They might not come," he said, frowning and looking sidewise, "but what I think is this, will they like bein' left out?"

His masterful Amanda instantly took the other side.

"Land, Timothy!" she said, "you be one!"

I have heard her say that to him again and again, and always in a tone so skilfully admiring that he looked almost gratified. And we mentioned the Proudfits no more.

So Calliope Marsh's surprise party came about. When supper was over, the table was "left setting," while pickles and cookies and "conserve" were packed in baskets; and presently the Topladys and I were stealing about the village inviting to festivity. I love to remember how swiftly Daphne Street took on an air of the untoward. Kitchens were left dark, unaccustomed lights flashed in upper chambers, some went scurrying for oysters before the post-office store should be closed, and some spread the news, eager to share in the holiday importance. I love to remember our certainty, so reasonably established, that they would all join us as infallibly as children will join in jollity. No one refused, no one hesitated; and when, at eight o'clock, the Topladys and I reached the rendezvous in the Engine-House entry, every one was there before us—save only, of course, the Proudfits.

"Where's the Proudfits? Ain't we goin' to wait for the Proudfits?" asked more than one; and some one had seen the Proudfit motor come flashing through the town from the Plank Road, empty. At all of which I kept a guilty silence; and I had by then not a little guilt to bear, since I was becoming every moment more doubtful of my undertaking. For at heart these people are the kindly of earth, and yet they are prone, as Delia More had said of the Proudfits, "to worship goodness like a little god," nor do they commonly broaden their allegiance without distinguished precedent. And how were we to secure this?

Every one was there—the little gray Doctor June, flitting about as quietly as a moth, and all those of whom Delia More had asked me: Mis' Holcomb-that-was-Mame-Bliss, wearing her cloak wine broadcloth side out to honour the occasion; Abigail Arnold, with a huge basket of gingerbread and jumbles from her home bakery; Photographer Jimmy Sturgis, and even Mis' Sturgis, in a faint aroma of caraway which she nibbled incessantly; Liddy Ember, and poor Ellen, wearing her magnificent hair like a coronet, and standing wistfully about, with her hand, palm outward, persistently covering her mouth; and Abel Halsey, who was to leave at midnight for a lonely cross-country ride into the hills. And as they stood, gossiping and eager, the women bird-observant of one another's toilettes, I own myself to have felt like an alien among them, remembering how I alone knew that Calliope Marsh was not even in the village.

Very softly we lifted the latch of Calliope's gate and trooped in her little dark yard.

"Blisterin' Benson!" Timothy Toplady whispered, "ef the house hain't pocket-dark, front and back. What ef she's went in the country?"

"Sh—h!" whispered his great Amanda, masterfully. "It's the shades down. I'm nervous as a witch. My land! if the front door ain't open a foot!"

Though there are no locked doors in Friendship, I had feared that Calliope's cottage door would now be barred, and that Delia More would answer no formal summons. At sight of the unguarded entrance I had a sick fear that she had in some way heard of our coming and fled away, leaving the door ajar in her haste. But when we had footed softly across the porch and peered in the dark passage, we saw at its farther end a crack of light.

"Might as well step ri' down to the dinin' room—that's where she sets," Mis' Amanda said in her whisper, which is gigantic too.

The passage smelled of the oilcloth on the floor and of a rubber waterproof which I brushed. And I shrank back beside the waterproof and let the others go on. For, after all, to that woman within I was a stranger, and these were her friends of old time. So it was Mis' Amanda who opened the dining-room door.

I could see that the room was cheery with a red-shaded hanging-lamp, and shelves of plants, and a glowing fire in the great range. A table was covered with red cotton and laid with dishes. Also, there was the fragrance of toast, so that one wished to enter. And in a rocking-chair sat Delia More. She stared up in a kind of terror at the open door, and then turned shrinkingly to some one who sat beside her. But at that one beside her I looked and looked again, for her rich fur cloak had fallen where she had let it fall; and there, sitting with Delia More's hand in hers, was that great Madame Proudfit of the Proudfit estate.

"For the land!" Mis' Amanda said. "For the land...."

But she was not looking at Madame Proudfit. And hardly seeing her, as I could guess, that great Mis' Amanda went forward, holding out her arms.

"Delia More!" she cried, "Delia More!"

I saw Abel Halsey's pale, luminous face as he pushed past Timothy and strode within and crossed to her; and I remember Abigail Arnold and Mis' Holcomb-that-was-Mame-Bliss, and how they followed Abel with little sharp cries which must have been a kind of music. And with them went Ellen Ember, as if, secretly, she were wiser than we knew. And while the others blocked the passage or crowded into the room, according to the nature which was theirs, some one came from the cellarway and paused, smiling, on the threshold. And it was Miss Clementina Proudfit, with eggs in her hands.

"Wait!" I heard Delia's sharp, piping voice then; "wait!"

She rose, one thin little hand pressed tensely along her cheek. But the other hand Madame Proudfit held in both her own as she, too, rose beside her. And with them Abel stood, facing the rest.

"O, Abel Halsey—Abel Halsey ..." Delia said, "an' Mame Bliss—nor you, Abigail, don't you, any of you, come in yet. I got somethin' to tell you."

"But shake hands first, Delia," cried Abel Halsey, and Delia looked up at him, in her face a sudden, incredulous thankfulness which flushed it, brow and cheek, and won it to a way of beauty. But she did not give him her hand. And before she could speak again Miss Clementina put down the eggs, and, with some little stir of silk, she took a step or two steps toward us.

"Ah," she said, "let us not wait for anything—it has been so long since we have met! Delia has just told mother and me all about these years—and you don't know how splendid we think she has been and how brave in great trouble. Come in, everybody, and let's make her welcome home!"

Madame Proudfit said nothing, but she nodded and smiled at Delia More, and it seemed to me that in the Proudfits' way with Delia, their beautiful Linda had won a kind of presence with them after all. And in the moment's hush the toast, propped on a fork before the coals in the range, suddenly blazed up in blue flame at the crust.

"Somebody save the toast!" cried Clementina and smiled very brightly.

They needed no more. Timothy Toplady sprang at the toast, and already Abel Halsey and Doctor June were shaking Delia's hand; and Mis' Amanda, throwing her shawl back over her shoulders from its pin at her throat, enveloped Delia in her giant arms. And the others came pushing forward, on their faces the smiles which, however they had faltered in the passage seeking a precedent, I make bold to guess bodied forth the gentle, hesitant spirit which informed them.

As for me, I waited without, even after the others had entered. And as I lingered, the outer door was pushed open to admit some late comer who whisked down the passage and stood in the dining-room doorway. It was Calliope.

"Delia More!" she cried; "didn't I tell you how it'd be if you'd only let 'em know? An' Mis' Proudfit, you here? I been worried to death on account o' forgettin' to take home your cream lace waist I mended."

Madame Proudfit's voice lowered the high key of the others talking in chorus.

"We drove over to get it, Calliope," she said. "And here we found our Delia More."

* * * * *

At eleven o'clock that night, as I sat writing a letter in which the spirit of what had come to pass must have breathed—as a spirit will breathe—Calliope Marsh tapped at my door; and she had a little basket.

"Here," she said, "I brought you this. It's some o' everything we hed. An'—I'm obliged for my s'prise," she added, squeezing my hand in the darkness. "I surmised first thing, most, when Delia described you. No; land, no!—Delia don't suspicion you got it up. She don't think of it bein' anybody but just God—an' I donno's 'twas. An' that's what Abel thinks—wa'n't Abel splendid? You know 'bout Abel—an' Delia? You know he use' to—he wanted to—that is, he was in—oh, well, no. Of course you wouldn't know. Well, Delia don't suspicion you—but she said I should tell you something. 'You tell her,' she says to me, 'you tell her I say I guess I take stock now,' she says; 'tell her that: I guess I take stock now.'"

At this my heart leaped up so that I hardly know what I said in answer.

"Delia's out here now," Calliope called from the dark steps. "The Proudfits brought us. Delia's goin' home with 'em—to stay."

Thus I saw the eyes of the Proudfits' motor, with the threads of streaming light, about to go skimming from my gate. And in that kindly security was Delia More.

"Calliope," I cried after her because I could not help it, "tell Delia More I take stock, too!"



VII

THE BIG WIND

Of Abel Halsey, that young itinerant preacher, I learned more on a December day when Autumn seemed to have come back to find whether she had left anything. Calliope and I were resting from a racing walk up the hillside, where the squat brick Leading Church of Friendship overlooks the valley pastures and the village. Calliope walks like a girl, and with our haste and the keen air, her wrinkled cheeks were as rosy as youth.

"Don't it seem like some days don't belong to any month, but just whim along, doin' as they please?" Calliope said. "Months that might be snowin' an' blowin' the expression off our face hev days when they sort o' show summer hid inside, secret an' holy. That's the way with lots o' things, ain't it? That's the way," she added thoughtfully, "Abel feels about the Lord, I guess. Abel Halsey,—you know."

They had told me how Abel, long ordained a minister of God, had steadfastly refused to be installed a pastor of any church. He was a devout man, but the love of far places was upon him, and he lived what Friendship called "a-gypsyin'" off in the hills, now to visit a sick man, now to preach in a country schoolhouse, now to marry, or bury, or help with the threshing. These lonely rides among the hills and his custom of watching a train come in or rush by out of the distance were his ways of voyaging. Perhaps, too, his little skill at the organ gave him, now and then, an hour resembling a journey. But in his first youth he had meant to go away in earnest—far away, to the City or some other city. Also, though Calliope did not speak of it again, and I think that the others kept a loyal silence because of my strangerhood, I had known, since the home coming of Delia More, that Abel Halsey had once had another dream.

"You wasn't here when the new church was built," Calliope said, looking up at the building proudly. "That was the time I mean about Abel. You know, before it was built we'd hed church in the hall over the Gekerjeck's drug store; an' because it was his hall, Hiram Gekerjeck, he just about run the church,—picked out the wall paper, left the stair door open Sundays so's he could get the church heat, till the whole service smelt o' ether, an' finally hed church announcements printed as a gift, but with a line about a patent medicine o' his set fine along at the bottom. He said that was no differ'nt than advertisin' the printin'-offices that way, like they do. But it was that move made Abel Halsey—him an' Timothy Toplady and Eppleby Holcomb an' Postmaster Sykes, the three elders, set to to build a church. An' they done it too. An' to them four I declare it seemed like the buildin' was a body waitin' for its soul to be born. From the minute the sod was scraped off they watched every stick that went into it. An' by November it was all done an' plastered an' waitin' its pews—an' it was a-goin' to be dedicated with special doin's—music from off, an' strange ministers, an' Reverend Arthur Bliss from the City. I guess Abel an' the elders hed tacked printed invites to half the barns in the county.

"I rec'lect it was o' Wednesday, the one next before the dedication, an' windy-cold an' wintry. I'd been havin' a walk that day, an' 'long about five o'clock, right about where we are, I'd stood watchin' the sunset over the Pump pasture there, till I was chilled through. The smoke was rollin' out o' the church chimney because they was dryin' the plaster, an' I run in there to get my hands warm an' see how the plaster was doin'. An' inside was the three elders, walkin' 'round, layin' a finger on a sash or a post—the kind o' odd, knowledgeable way men has with new buildin's. The Ladies' Aid had got the floor broom-clean, an' the lamp-chandelier filled an' ready; an' the foreign pipe-organ that the Proudfits had sent from Europe was in an' in workin' order, little lookin'-glass over the keyboard an' all. It seemed rill home-like, with the two big stoves a-goin', an' the floor back of 'em piled up with the chunks Peleg Bemus had sawed for nothin'. Everything was all redded up, waitin' for the pews.

"Timothy Toplady was puttin' out his middle finger stiff here an' there on the plaster.

"'It's dry as a bone,' he says, 'but what I say is this, le's us leave a fire burn here all night, so's to be sure. I'd hate like death to hev the whole congregation catchin' cold an' takin' Hiram Gekerjeck's medicine.'

"I rec'lect Eppleby Holcomb looked up sort o' dreamy—Eppleby always goes round like he'd swallowed his last night's sleep.

"'The house o' God,' he says over; 'ain't that curious? Nothin' about it to indicate it's the house o' God but the shape—no more'n's if 'twas a buildin' where the Holy Spirit never come near. An' yet right here in this place we'll mebbe feel the big wind an' speak with Pentecostal tongues.'

"''T seems like,' says Postmaster Sykes, thoughtful, ''t seems like we'd ought to hev a little meetin' o' thanks here o' Sat'day night—little informal praise meetin' or somethin.'

"Timothy shakes his head decided.

"'Silas Sykes, what you talkin'?' he says. 'Why, the church ain't dedicated yet. A house o' God,' s'e, 'can't be used for no purpose whatsoever without it's been dedicated.'

"'So it can't—so it can't,' says the postmaster, apologetic, knowin' he was in politics an' that the brethren was watchin' him, cat to mouse, for slips.

"'I s'pose that's so,' says Eppleby, doubtful. But he's one o' them that sort o' ducks under situations to see if they're alike on both sides, an' if they ain't, he up an' questions 'em. Timothy, though, he was differ'nt. Timothy was always goin' on about constituted authority, an' to him the thing was the thing, even if it was another thing.

"'That's right,' he insists, his lips disappearin' with certainty. 'I s'pose we hadn't reely ought even to come in here an' stan' 'round, like we are.'

"He looks sidlin' over towards me, warmin' my hands rill secular by the church stove. An' I felt like I'd been spoke up for when somebody says from the door:—

"'You better just bar out the carpenters o' this world, friends, an' done with it!'

"It was Abel Halsey, standin' in the entry, lookin' as handsome as the law allows. An' I see he happened to be there because the Through was about due,—that's the one that don't stop here,—an' you can always get a good view of it from this slope. You know Abel never misses watchin' a fast train go 'long, if he can help himself.

"'What's the i-dea?' Abel says. 'How can you pray at all in closets an' places that ain't been dedicated? I shouldn't think they'd be holy enough, 's'e.'

"'That,' says the postmaster, sure o' support, 'ain't the question.'

"'I thought it couldn't be,' says Abel, amiable. 'Well, what is the question? Whether prayer is prayer, no matter where you're prayin'?'

"'Oh, no,' says Eppleby Holcomb, soothin', 'it ain't that.'

"'I thought it couldn't be that,' says Abel. 'Is it whether the Lord is in dedicated spots an' nowheres else?'

"'Abel Halsey,' Timothy tarts up, 'you needn't to be sacrilegious.'

"'But,' says Abel, 'the question is, whether you're sacrilegious to deny a prayer-meetin' or any other good use to the church or to any other place, dedicated or not. Well, Timothy, I think you are.'

"Timothy clears his throat an' dabs at the palm of his hand with his other front finger. But before he could lay down eternal law, we sort o' heard, almost before we knew we heard, folks hurryin' past out here on the frozen ground. An' they was shoutin', like questions, an' a-shoutin' further off. We looked out, an' I can remember how the whole slope up from the village there was black with folks.

"We run outside, an' I know I kep' close by Abel Halsey. An' I got hold o' what had happened when somebody yelled an answer to his askin'. You probably heard all about that part. It was the day the Through Express went off the track down there in the cut beyond the Pump pasture.

"We run with the rest of 'em, me keepin' close to Abel, I guess because he's got a way with him that makes you think he'd know what to do no matter what. But when he was two-thirds o' the way acrost the pasture, he stops short an' grabs at my sleeve.

"'Look here,' he says, 'you can't go down there. You mustn't do it. We donno what'll be. You stay here,' he says; 'you set there under the cottonwood.'

"You kind o' haf to mind Abel. It's sort o' grained in that man to hev folks disciple after him. I made him promise he'd motion from the fence if he see I could help any, an' then I se' down under that big tree down there. I was tremblin' some, I know. It always seems like wrecks are somethin' that happen in other states an' in the dark. But when one's on ground that you know like a book an' was brought up on,—when it's in the daylight, right by a pasture you've been acrost always an' where you've walked the ties,—well, I s'pose it's the same feelin' as when a man you know cuts up a state's prison caper; seem's like he can't of, because you knew him.

"Half the men o' Friendship run by me, seems though. The whole town'd been rousted up while we was in the church talkin' heresy. An' up on the high place on the road there I see Zittelhof's undertaking wagon, with the sunset showin' on its nickel rails. But not a woman run past me. Ain't it funny how it's men that go to danger of rail an' fire an' water—but when it's nothin' but birth an' dyin' natural, then it's for women to be there.

"When I'd got about ready to fly away, waitin' so, I see Abel at the fence. An' he didn't motion to me, but he swung over the top an' come acrost the stubble, an' I see he hed somethin' in his arms. I run to meet him, an' he run too, crooked, his feet turnin' over with him some in the hard ground. The sky made his face sort o' bright; an' I see he'd got a child in his arms.

"He didn't give her to me. He stood her down side o' me—a little thing of five years old, or six, with thick, straight hair an' big scairt eyes.

"'Is she hurt, Abel?' I says.

"'No, she ain't hurt none,' he answers me, 'an' they's about seventeen more of 'em, her age, an' they ain't hurt, either. Their coach was standin' up on its legs all right. But the man they was with, he's stone dead. Hit on the head, somehow. An',' Abel says, 'I'm goin' to throw 'em all over the fence to you.'

"The little girl jus' kep' still. An' when we took her by each hand, an' run back toward the fence with her, her feet hardly touchin' the ground, she kep' up without a word, like all to once she'd found out this is a world where the upside-down is consider'ble in use. An' I waited with her, over there this side the cut, hearin' 'em farther down rippin' off fence rails so's to let through what they hed to carry.

"Time after time Abel come scramblin' up the sand-bank, bringin' 'em two 't once—little girls they was, all about the age o' the first one, none of 'em with hats or cloaks on; an' I took 'em in my arms an' set 'em down, an' took 'em in my arms an' set 'em down, till I was fair movin' in a dream. They belonged, I see by their dress, to some kind of a home for the homeless, an' I judged the man was takin' 'em somewheres, him that Abel said'd been killed. Some'd reach out their arms to me over the fence—an' some was afraid an' hung back, but some'd just cling to me an' not want to be set down. I can remember them the best.

"Abel, when he come with the last ones, he off with his coat like I with my ulster, an' as well as we could we wrapped four or five of 'em up—one that was sickly, an' one little delicate blonde, an' a little lame girl, an' the one—the others called her Mitsy—that'd come over the fence first. An' by then half of 'em was beginnin' to cry some. An' the wind was like so many knives.

"'Where shall we take 'em to, Abel?' I says, beside myself.

"'Take 'em?' he says. 'Take 'em into the church! Quick as you can. This wind is like death. Stay with 'em till I come.'

"Somehow or other I got 'em acrost that pasture. When I look at the Pump pasture now, in afternoon like this, or in Spring with vi'lets, or when a circus show's there, it don't seem to me it could 'a' been the same place. I kep' 'em together the best I could—some of 'em beggin' for 'Mr. Middie—Mr. Middie,' the man, I judged, that was dead. An' finally we got up here in the road, an' it was like the end o' pain to be able to fling open the church door an' marshal 'em through the entry into that great, big, warm room, with the two fires roarin'.

"I got 'em 'round the nearest stove an' rubbed their little hands an' tried not to scare 'em to death with wantin' to love 'em; an' all the while, bad as I felt for 'em, I was glad an' glad that it was me that could be there with 'em. They was twenty,—when I come to count 'em so's to keep track,—twenty little girls with short, thick hair, or soft, short curls, an' every one with something baby-like left to 'em. An' when we set on the floor round the stove, the coals shone through the big open draft into their faces, an' they looked over their shoulders to the dark creepin' up the room, an' they come closer 'round me—an' the closest-up ones snuggled.

"Well, o' course that was at first, when they was some dazed. But as fast as their blue little hands was warm an' pink again, one or two of 'em begun to whimper, natural an' human, an' up with their arm to their face, an' then begun to cry right out, an' some more joined in, an' the rest pipes up, askin' for Mr. Middie. An' I thought, 'Sp'osin' they all cried an' what if Abel Halsey stayed away hours.' I donno. I done my best too. Mebbe it's because I'm use' to children with my heart an' not with my ways. Anyhow, most of 'em was cryin' prime when Abel finally got there.

"When he come in, I see Abel's face was white an' dusty, an' he had his other coat off an' gone too, an' his shirt-sleeves was some tore. But he comes runnin' up to them cryin' children an' I wish't you could 'a' seen his smile—Abel's smile was always kind o' like his soul growin' out of his face, rill thrifty.

"'Why, you little kiddies!' s'e, 'cryin' when you're all nice an' warm! Le's see now,' he says grave. 'Anybody here know how to play Drop-the-handkerchief? If you do,' he tells 'em, 'stand up quick!'

"They scrambled 'round like they was beetles an' you'd took up the stone. They was all up in a minute, an' stopped cryin', too. With that he catches my handkerchief out o' my hand an' flutters it over his head an' runs to the middle o' the room.

"'Come on!' he says. 'Hold o' hands—every one o' you hold o' hands. I'm goin' to drop the handkerchief, an' you'd better hurry up.'

"That was talk they knew. They was after him in a secunt an' tears forgot,—them poor little things,—laughin' an' hold o' hands, an' dancin' in a chain, an' standin' in a ring. An' when he hed 'em like that, an' still, Abel begun runnin' 'round to drop the handkerchief; an' then he turns to me.

"'Only two killed, thank God,' he says as he run; 'the conductor an' M-i-d-d-l-e-t-o-n,' he spells it, an' motions to the children with the handkerchief so's I'd know who Middleton was. 'An' not a scrap o' paper on him,' he goes on, 'to tell what home he brought the children from or where he's goin' with 'em. Their mileage was punched to the City—but we don't know where they belong there, an' the conductor bein' gone too. The poor fellow that had 'em in charge never knew what hurt him. Hit from overhead, he was, an' his skull crushed....'

"It was so dark in the church by then we could hardly see, but the children could keep track o' the white handkerchief. He let it fall behind the little girl he'd brought me first,—Mitsy,—an' she catches it up an' sort o' squeaks with the fun an' runs after him. An' while he doubles an' turns,—

"'They've telegraphed ahead,' he says, 'to two or three places in the City. But even if we hear right off, we can't get 'em out o' Friendship to-night. They'll hev to stay here. The Commercial Travellers' Hotel an' the Depot House has both got all they can do for—some of 'em hurt pretty bad. They couldn't either hotel take 'em in....'

"Then he lets Mitsy catch him an' he ups with her on his shoulder an' run with her on his back, his face lookin' out o' her blue, striped skirts.

"'We'll hev to house 'em right here in the church,' he says.

"'Here?' says I; 'here in the church?'

"'You know Friendship,' he says, hoppin' along. 'Not half a dozen houses could take in more'n two extry, even if we hed the time to canvass. An' we ain't the time. They want their s-u-p-p-e-r right now,' he spells it out, an' lit out nimble when Mitsy dropped the handkerchief back o' the little blond girl. Then he let the little blond girl catch them, and he took her on his shoulders too, an' they was both shoutin' so 't he hed to make little circles out to get where I could hear him.

"'I've seen Zittelhof,' he told me. 'He was down there with his wagon. He'll bring up enough little canvas cots from the store. An' I thought mebbe you'd go down to the village an' pick up some stuff they'll need—bedding an' things. An' get the women here with some supper. Come on now,' he calls out to 'em; 'everybody in a procession an' sing!'

"He led 'em off with

"'King William was King James's son,'

an' he sings back to me, for the secunt line,

"'Go now, go quick, I bet they're starved!'

"So I got into my coat, tryin' to think where I should go to be sure o' not wastin' time talkin'. Lots o' folks in this world is willin', but mighty few can be quick.

"I knew right off, though, where I'd find somebody to help. The Friendship Married Ladies' Cemetery Improvement Sodality was meetin' that afternoon with Mis' Toplady, an' I could cut acrost their pasture—" Calliope nodded toward the little Toplady house and the big Toplady barn—"an' that's what I done. An' when I got near enough to the house to tell, I see by the light in the parlour that they was still there. An' I know when I got into the room, full as I was o' news o' them little children an' the wreck an' the two killed an' all them that was hurt—there was the Sodality settlin' whether the lamb's wool comforter for the bazaar should be tied with pink for daintiness or brown for durability.

"'Dainty!' says I, when I got my breath. 'They's sides to life makes me want to pinch that word right out o' the dictionary same as I would a bug,' I says.

"That was funny, too,"—Calliope added thoughtfully, "because I like that word, speakin' o' food an' ways to do things. But some folks get to livin' the word same's if it was the law.

"I guess they thought I was crazy," she went on, "but I wasn't long makin' 'em understand. An' I tell you, the way they took it made me love 'em all. If you want to love folks, just you get in some kind o' respectable trouble in Friendship, an' you'll see so much lovableness that the trouble'll kind o' spindle out an' leave nothin' but the love doin' business. My land, the Sodality went at the situation head first, like it was somethin' to get acrost before dark. An' so it was.

"I remember Mis' Photographer Sturgis: 'There!' she says, 'most cryin'. 'If ever I take only a pint o' milk, I'm sure as sure to want more before the day's out. None of us is on good terms with each other's milkman. Where we goin' to get the milk,' she says, 'for them poor little things?'

"'Where?' says Mis' Toplady—you know how big an' comfortable an' settled she is—'Where? Well, you needn't to think o' where. I expect the Jersey won't be milked till I go an' milk her,' she says, 'but she gives six quarts, nights, right along now, an' sometimes seven. Now about the bread.'

"Mis' Postmaster Sykes use' to set sponge twice a week, an' she offered five loaves out o' her six baked that day. Mis' Holcomb had two loaves o' brown bread an' a crock o' sour cream cookies. An' Libbie Liberty bursts out that they'd got up their courage an' killed an' boiled two o' their chickens the day before an' none o' the girls'd been able to touch a mouthful, bein' they'd raised the hens from egg to axe. Libbie said she'd bring the whole kettle along, an' it could be het on the church stove an' made soup of. So it went on, down to even Liddy Ember, that was my partner an' silly poor, an' in about four minutes everything was provided for, beddin' an' all.

"Mis' Toplady had flew upstairs, gettin' out the linen, an' she was comin' down the front stairs with her arms full o' sheets an' pillow slips when through the front door walks Timothy Toplady, come in all excited an' lookin' every which way. Seems he'd barked his elbow in the rescue work an' laid off for liniment.

"'Oh, Timothy,' says his wife, 'them poor little children. We've been plannin' it all out.'

"'Who's goin' to take 'em in?' says Timothy, tryin' to roll up his overcoat sleeve for fear the Sodality'd be put to the blush if he got to his elbow any other way.

"'They're all warm in the church,' Mis' Toplady says; 'we're goin' to leave 'em there. Zittelhof's goin' to take up canvas cots. We're gettin' the bedding together,' she told him.

"Timothy looked up, sort o' wild an' glazed.

"'Canvas cots,' s'e, 'in the house o' the Lord?'

"'Why, Timothy,' says his wife, helpless, 'it's all warm there now, an' we don't know what else. We thought we'd carry up their supper to 'em—'

"'Supper,' says Timothy, 'in the house o' the Lord?'

"Then Mis' Toplady spunks up some.

"'Why, yes,' she says; 'I'm goin' to milk the Jersey an' take up the two pails.'

"Timothy waves his barked arm in the air.

"'Never!' s'e. 'Never. We elders'll never consent to that, not in this world!'

"At that we all stood around sort o' pinned to the air. This hadn't occurred to nobody. But his wife was back at him, rill crispy.

"'Timothy Toplady,' s'she, 'they use churches for horspitals an' refuges,' she says.

"'They do,' says Timothy, solemn, 'they do, in necessity, an' war, an' siege. But here's the whole o' Friendship Village to take these children in, an' it's sacrilege to use the house o' God for any purpose whatever while it's waitin' its dedication. It's stealin', he says, 'from the Lord Most High.'

"I never see anybody more het up. We all tried to tell him. Nobody in Friendship has a warm spare room in winter, without it's the Proudfits, an' they was in Europe an' their house locked. Mebbe six of us, we counted up afterwards, could 'a' took in two children to sleep in a cold room, or one child to sleep with some one o' the family. But as Abel said, where was the time to canvass round? An' what could we do with the other little things? But Timothy wouldn't listen to nothin'.

"'Amanda,' s'e in a married voice, 'what I say is this, I forbid you to carry a drop o' Jersey milk or any other kind o' milk up to that church.'

"With that he was out the front door an' liniment forgot.

"Mis' Sykes spatted her hands.

"'He'll find Silas Sykes an' Eppleby,' she says to Mis' Holcomb. 'Quick. Le's us get our hands on my bread an' your cookies. Them poor little things—'way past their supper hour.'

"'An' none of 'em got mothers,' says Mis' Sturgis, 'just left 'round with lockets on, I sp'ose, an' wrecked an' hungry....'

"'An' one o' 'em lame,' Mame Holcomb puts in, down on her knees tryin' to sort out her overshoes. The Sodality never could tell its own overshoes.

"Well, they scattered so quick it made you think o' mulberry leaves, some years, in the first frost—an' I was left alone with Mis' Toplady.

"'Here,' she says to me then, all squintin' with firmness, 'you take along all the linen an' comfortables you can lug. Timothy didn't mention them. An' leave the rest to me.'

"I went over that in my mind while I stumbled along back to the church, loaded down. But I couldn't make much out of it. I knew Timothy Toplady: that he was meek till he turned an' then it was look out. An' I knew, too, that Timothy could run Silas Sykes, the postmaster's political strength, like you've noticed, makin' him kind o' wobbled in his own judgment of other things. I didn't know how Eppleby Holcomb'd be—it might turn out to be one o' the things he'd up an' question, civilized, but I wa'n't sure. Anyhow, the cream cookies an' the two loaves wasn't so vital as them five loaves o' bread.

"When I got back to the church, here it was all lit up. Abel had lit the chandelier on a secular scene! Bless 'em, it surely was secular, though, accordin' to my lights, it was some sacred too. Six or seven of the little things was buildin' a palace out o' the split wood, with the little lame girl for queen. The little blonde an' the one that was rill delicate lookin' had gone to sleep by the stove on Abel's overcoat. Mitsy, she run from somewheres an' grabbed my hand. An' Abel had the rest over by the other stove tellin' 'em stories. I heard him say dragon, an' blue velvet, an' golden hair.

"I hadn't more'n got inside the door before Zittelhof's wagon come with the cots. An' Mis' Zittelhof was with him, her arms full o' bedclothes she'd gathered up around from folks. I never said a word to Abel about the trouble with Timothy. I donno if Abel rilly heard us come in, he was so excited about his dragon. An' Mis' Zittelhof an' I began makin' up the cots. On the first one I laid the two babies that was asleep on the floor. They never woke up. Their little cheeks was warm an' pink, an' one of 'em had some tears on it. When I see that, I clear forgot the church wasn't dedicated, an' I thanked God they was there, safe an' by a good fire, with somebody 'tendin' to 'em.

"The bed-makin' an' the story-tellin' an' the palace-buildin' went on, an' I kep' gettin' exciteder every minute. When the door opened, I couldn't tell which was in my mouth, my heart or my tongue. But it was only Libbie Liberty with the big iron kettle o' chicken broth an' a basket o' cups an' spoons. She se' down the kettle on the stove an' stirred up the fire under it, an' it was no time before the whole church begun to smell savoury as a kitchen. An' then in walks Mis' Holcomb with her brown bread an' cream cookies. An' we fair jumped up an' down when Mis' Sykes come breathin' in the door with them five loaves o' wheat bread safe, an' butter to match.

"Still, we was without milk. There wasn't a sign o' Mis' Toplady. An' any minute Timothy might get there with Silas in tow. Mis' Sykes was nervous as a witch over it, an' it was her proposed we set the children up on the cots an' begin' feedin' 'em right away. I run down the room to tell Abel, an' then I hed to tell him why we'd best hurry.

"Abel laughs a little when he heard about it.

"'Dear old Timothy,' he says, 'servin' his God accordin' to the dictates of his own notions. Wait a minute till I release the princess.'

"When he said that, I was afraid he must be telling a worldly story with royalty in. An' I begun to get troubled myself. But I heard him end it: 'So the Princess found her kingdom because she learnt to love every living thing. She saved the lives of the hare an' the goldfinch. An' don't you ever let any living thing suffer one minute and maybe you'll find out some of the things the Princess knew.' An', royalty or not, I felt all right about Abel's story-telling after that.

"Then we all brisked round an' begun settin' the children up on the cots—two or three to a cot, with one of us to wait on 'em. An' both the little sleepy ones woke up, too. An' when we sliced an' spread the bread an' dished the hot chicken broth an' see how hungry they all seemed, I declare if one of us could feel wicked. The little things'd begun to talk some by then, an' they chatted soft an' looked up at us, an' that little Mitsy—she'd got so she'd kiss me every time I'd ask her. An' I was perfectly shameless. I donno's the poor little thing got enough to eat. But sometimes when things go blue—I like to think about that. I guess we was all the same. Our principal feelin' was how dear they was, an' to hurry up before Timothy Toplady got there, an' how we wish't we hed more milk.

"Then all of a sudden while we was flyin' round, I happened to go past the front door, an' I heard a noise in the entry. I thought o' Timothy an' Silas, comin' with sheriffs an' firearms an' I didn't know what—Silas havin' politics back of him, so; an' I rec'lect I planned, wild an' contradictory, first about callin' an instantaneous congregational meetin' to decide which was right, an' then about telegraphin' to the City for constituted authority to do as we was doin', an' then about Abel fightin' Timothy an' Silas both, if it come rilly necessary.

"I got hold o' Mis' Sykes an' Mame Holcomb, an' told 'em quiet. 'Somethin's the matter outside there,' I says to 'em, kind o' warnin', 'an' I thought you two'd ought to know it.' An' we all three come 'round by the entry door, careless, an listened. An' the noise kep' up, kind o' soft an' obstinate, an' we couldn't make it out.

"'We'd best go out there an' see,' says Mis' Sykes, low; 'the dear land knows what men will do.'

"So we watched our chance an' slipped out—an' I guess, for all our high ways, we was all three wonderin' inside, was we rilly doin' right. You know your doubts come thick when there's a noise in the entry. But Mis' Sykes acted as brave as two, an' it was her shut the door to behind us.

"An' there, right by that stone just outside the entry o' the church, set Mis' Timothy Toplady, milkin' her Jersey cow.

"We could just see her, dim, by the light o' the transom. She was on the secunt pail, an' that was two-thirds full. She hed her back toward us, an' she didn't hear us. She set all wrapped up in a shawl, a basket o' cups side of her, an' the Jersey standin' there, quiet an' demure. An' beyond, in the cut an' movin' acrost the Pump pasture, it was thick with lanterns.

"But before we three'd hed time to burst out like we wanted to, we sort o' scrooched back again. Because on the other side o' the cow we heard Timothy Toplady's voice. He'd just got there, some breathless, an' with him, we see, was Eppleby.

"'Amanda,' says Timothy, 'what in the Dominion o' Canady air you doin'?'

"'I shouldn't think you would know,' says Mis' Toplady, short. 'You don't do enough of it.'

"She hed him there. Timothy always will go down to the Dick Dasher an' shirk the chores.

"'Amanda,' says Timothy, 'you've disobeyed me flat-footed.'

"'No such thing,' s'she, milkin' away like mad for fear he'd use force; 'I ain't carried a drop o' milk here. I've drove it,' she says.

"Timothy groaned.

"'Milkin' in the church,' he says.

"'No, sir,' says Amanda, back at him; 'I'm outside on the sod, an' you know it.'

"An' then my hopes sort o' riz, because I thought I heard Eppleby Holcomb laugh soft—sort of a half-an'-half chuckle. Like he'd looked under the situation an' see it wasn't alike on both sides. An' 't the same time Mis' Toplady, she changed her way, an',—

"'Timothy,' s'she, 'you hungry?'

"'I'm nigh starved,' says Timothy. 'It must be eight o'clock,' s'e, 'but I ain't the heart to think o' that.'

"'No,' s'she, 'so you ain't. Not with them poor babies in there hungrier'n you be an' nowheres to go.'

"With that she got done milkin' an' stood up an' picked up her two pails—we could smell the sweet, warm milk from where we was.

"'Timothy,' s'she, 'the worst sacrilege that's done in this world is when folks turns their backs on any little bit of a chance that the Lord gives 'em to do good in, like He told 'em. Who was it, I'd like to know, said, "Suffer little children"? Who was it said, "Feed my lambs"? No "when" or "where" about that. Just do it. An' no occasion to hem an' haw about it, either. The least you can do for your share in this, as I see it, is to keep your silence and drive the cow back home. The oven's full o' bake' sweet potatoes an' they must be just nearin' done.'

"I see Timothy start to wave his arms an' I donno what he would 'a' said if it hadn't been settled for 'im. For then, like it was right out o' the sky, the church organ begun to play soft. For a minute we all looked up, like the Shepherds must of when the voices of the night told 'em the spirit o' God was in the world, born in a little child. It was Abel,—I knew right away it was Abel,—an' he was just gentlin' round soft on the keys, kind o' like he was askin' a blessin' an' rockin' a cradle an' doin' all the little nice things music can. An' with that Mis' Sykes, she throws open the church door.

"I'll never forget how it looked inside—all warm an' lamp-lit an' with them little things bein' fed an' chatterin' soft. An' up in the loft set Abel, playin' away on the foreign organ before it'd been dedicated. An' then he begun singin' low—an' there's somethin' about Abel 't you just haf to listen, whatever he says or does. Even Timothy hed to listen—though I think he was some struck dumb, too, an' that kep' him controlled for a minute—like it will. An' Abel sung:—

"'The Lord is my Shepherd—I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me—He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul....'

"An' at the first line, before we'd rilly sensed what it was he said, every one o' them little children in the midst o' their supper slips off the edge o' the cots an' kneeled down there on the bare floor, just like they'd been told to. Oh, wasn't it wonderful? An' yet it wasn't—it wasn't. We found out, when folks come for 'em the next mornin', it was the children's prayer that they sung every day o' their lives at their Good Shepherd's Orphans' Home—soft an' out o' tune an' with all their little hearts, just as they went ahead an' sung it with Abel, clear to the end. I guess they didn't know everybody don't kneel down all over the world when they hear the Twenty-third Psalm.

"Abel seen 'em in the little lookin'-glass over the keyboard. An' when he'd got done he set there perfectly still with his head down. An' Mis' Sykes an' Mis' Holcomb an' Eppleby an' I bowed our heads too, out there in the entry. An' so, after a minute, did Timothy. I couldn't help peekin' to see.

"An' then, when the children was all a-rustlin' up, Mis' Toplady she jus' hands her two pails o' milk over to Timothy.

"'You take 'em in,' she says to him, her eyes swimmin'. 'I've come off without my handkerchief.'

"Timothy looks round him, kind o' helpless, but Eppleby stood there an' pats him on the arm.

"'Go in—go in, brother,' Eppleby says gentle. 'I guess the church's been dedicated. I feel like we'd heard the big wind—an' I guess, mebbe, the Pentecostal tongues.'

"An' Timothy—he's an awful tender-hearted man in spite o' bein' so notional—Timothy just went on in with the milk, without sayin' anything. An' Eppleby side of him. An' we 'most shut the door on Silas Sykes, comin' tearin' up on account o' Timothy leavin' him urgent word to come, without explainin' why. An' when Silas see the inside o' the church, all lit up an' chicken supper for the children an' the other two elders there with the milk, he just rubs his hands an' beams like he see his secunt term. I donno's it'd ever enter Silas Sykes's head't there was anything wrong with anything, providin' somebody wasn't snappin' him up for it. I guess it's like that in politics.

"We took the milk around an', bake' sweet potatoes forgot, Timothy stood up by the stove, between Eppleby an' Silas, an' watched us—an' the Jersey must 'a' picked her way home alone. An' Abel, he just set there to the organ, gentlin' 'round soft on the keys so it made me think o' God movin' on the face o' the waters. An' movin' on the face of everything else too, dedicated or not. It was like we'd felt the big wind, same as Eppleby said. An' somethin' in it kind o' hid, secret an' holy."



VIII

THE GRANDMA LADIES

Two weeks before Christmas Friendship was thrown into a state of holiday delight. Mrs. Proudfit and her daughter, Miss Clementina, issued invitations to a reception to be given on Christmas Eve at Proudfit House, on Friendship Hill. The Proudfits, who had rarely entertained since Miss Linda went away, lived in Europe and New York and spent little time in the village, but, for all that, they remained citizens in absence, and Friendship always wrote out invitations for them whenever it gave "companies." The invitations the postmaster duly forwarded to some Manhattan bank, though I think the village had a secret conviction that these were never received—"sent out wild to a bank in the City, so." However, now that old courtesies were to be so magnificently returned, every one believed and felt a greater respect for the whole financial world.

The invitations enclosed the card of Mrs. Nita Ordway, and the name sounded for me a note of other days when, before my coming to Friendship Village, we two had, in the town, belonged to one happy circle of friends.

"I thought at first mebbe the card'd got shoved in the envelope by mistake," said Mis' Holcomb-that-was-Mame-Bliss. "I know once I got a Christmas book from a cousin o' mine in the City, an' a strange man's card fell out o' the leaves. I sent the card right straight back to her, an' Cousin Jane seemed rill cut up, so I made up my mind I'd lay low about this card. But I hear everybody's got 'em. I s'pose it's a sign that it's some Mis' Ordway's party too—only not enough hers to get her name on the invite. Mebbe she chipped in on the expenses. Give a third, like enough."

However that was, Friendship looked on the Christmas party as on some unexpected door about to open in its path, and it woke in the morning conscious of expectation before it could remember what to expect. Proudfit House! A Christmas party! It touched every one as might some giant Santa Claus, for grown-ups, with a pack of heart's-ease on his back.

When Mrs. Ordway arrived in the village, the excitement mounted. Mrs. Nita Ordway was the first exquisitely beautiful woman of the great world whom Friendship had ever seen—"beautiful like in the pictures of when noted folks was young," the village breathlessly summed her up. To be sure, when she and her little daughter, Viola, rode out in the Proudfits' motor, nobody in the street appeared to look at them. But Friendship knew when they rode, and when they walked, and what they wore, and when they returned.

It was a happiness to me to see Mrs. Ordway again, and I sat often with her in the music room at Proudfit House and listened to her glorious voice in just the songs that I love. Sometimes she would send for her little Viola, so that I might sit with the child in my arms, for she was one of those rare children who will let you love them.

"I like be made some 'tention to," Viola sometimes said shyly. She was not afraid, and she would stay with me hour-long, as if she loved to be loved. She was like a little come-a-purpose spirit, to let one pretend.

A day or two after the invitations had been received, I was in my guest room going over my Christmas list. Just before Christmas I delight in the look of a guest room, for then the bed is spread with a brave array of pretty things, and when one arranges and wraps them, the stitches of rose and blue on flowered fabrics, the flutter of crisp ribbons, and the breath of sachets make one glad. I was lingering at my task when I heard some one below, and I recognized her voice.

"Calliope!" I called gladly from the stairs, and bade her come up to me.

Calliope is one of the women in whose presence one can wrap one's Christmas gifts. She came into the room, bringing a breath of Winter, and she laid aside her tan ulster and her round straw hat, and straightway sat down on the rug by the open fire.

"Well said!" she cried contentedly, "a grate fire upstairs! It's one of the things that never seems real to me, like a tower on a house. I'd as soon think o' havin' a grate fire up a tree an' settin' there, as in my chamber. Anyway, when it comes Winter, upstairs in Friendship is just a place where you go after something in the bureau draw' an' come down again as quick as you can. I s'pose you got an invite to the party?"

"Yes," I said, "and you will go, Calliope?"

But instead of answering me:—

"My land!" she said, "think of it! A party like that, an' not a low-necked waist in town, nor a swallow-tail! An' only two weeks to do anything in, an' only Liddy Ember for dressmaker, an' it takes her two weeks to make a dress. I guess Mis' Postmaster Sykes has got her. They say she read her invite in the post-office with one hand an' snapped up that tobacco-brown net in the post-office store window with the other, an' out an' up to Liddy's an' hired her before she was up from the breakfast table. So she gets the town new dress. Mis' Sykes is terrible quick-moved."

"What will you wear, Calliope?" I asked.

"Me—I never wear anything but henriettas," she said. "I think the plainer-faced you are, the simpler you'd ought to be dressed. I use' to fix up terrible ruffled, but when I see I was reg'lar plain-faced I stuck to henriettas, mostly gray—"

"Calliope," I said resolutely, "you don't mean you're not going to the Proudfit party?"

She clasped her hands and held them, palms outward, over her mouth, and her eyes twinkled above them.

"No, sir," she said, "I can't go. You'll laugh at me!" she defended. "Don't you tell!" she warned. And finally she told me.

"Day before yesterday," she said, "I went into the City. An' I come out on the trolley. An' I donno what possessed me,—I ain't done it for months,—but when we crossed the start of the Plank Road, I got off an' went up an' visited the Old Ladies' Home. You know I've always thought," she broke off, "—well, you know I ain't a rill lot to do with, an' I always had an i-dee that mebbe sometime, when I got older, I might—"

I nodded, and she went on.

"Well, I walked around among 'em up there—canary birds an' plants an' footstools—an' the whole thing fixed up so cheerful that it's pitiful. Red wall-paper an' flowered curtains an' such, all fair yellin' at you, 'We're cheerful—cheerful—cheerful!' till I like to run. An' it come over me, bein' so near Christmas an' all, what would they do on Christmas? So I asked a woman in a navy-blue dress, seein' she flipped around like she was the flag o' the place.

"'The south corridor,' she answers,—them's the highest payin"—Calliope threw in, "'chipped in an' got up a tree, an' there's gifts for all,' s'she. 'The west corridor'—them's the local city ones—'all has friends to take 'em away for the day. The east corridor'—they're from farther away an' middlin' well-to-do—'all has boxes comin' to 'em from off. But the north corridor,' s'she, scowlin' some, 'is rather a trial to us.'

"An' I was waitin' for that. The north corridor is all charity old ladies, paid for out o' the fund; an' the president o' the home has just died, an' the secretary's in the old country on a pleasure trip, an' the board's in a row over the policy o' the home, an' the navy-blue matron dassent act, an' altogether it looked like the north corridor was goin' to get a regular mid-week Wednesday instead of a Christmas. An' I up an' ast' her to take me down to see 'em."

It was easy to see what Calliope had done, I thought: she had promised to spend Christmas Eve over there in the north corridor, reading aloud.

"They was nine of 'em," she went on, "nice old grandma ladies, with hands that looked like they'd ought to 'a' been tyin' little aprons an' cuttin' out cookies an' squeezin' somebody else's hand. There they set, with the wall-paper doin' its cheerfulest, loud as an insult,—one of 'em with lots o' white hair, one of 'em singin' a little, some of 'em tryin' to sew or knit some. My land!" said Calliope, "when we think of 'em sittin' up an' down the world—with their arms all empty—an' Christmas comin' on—ain't it a wonder—Well, I stayed 'round an' talked to 'em," she went on, "while the navy-blue lady whisked her starched skirts some. She seemed too busy 'tendin' to 'em to give 'em much attention. An' they looked rill pleased when I talked to 'em about their patchwork an' knittin', an' did they get the sun all day, an' didn't the canary sort o' shave somethin' off'n the human ear-drum, on his tiptop notes? An' when I said that, Grandma Holly—her with lots o' white hair—says:—

"'I donno but it does,' she says, 'but I don't mind; I'm so thankful to see somethin' around that's little an' young.'

"That sort o' landed in my heart. It's just what I'd been thinkin' about 'em.

"'Little, young things,' s'I, sort o' careless, 'make a lot o' racket, you know.'

"At that old Mis' Burney pipes up—her that brought up her daughter's children an' her son-in-law married again an' turned her out:—

"'I use' to think so,' she says quiet; 'the noise o' the children use' to bother me terrible. When they reely got to goin' I use' to think I couldn't stand it, my head hurt me so. But now,' s'she, 'I get to thinkin' sometimes I wouldn't mind a horse-fiddle if some of 'em played it.'

"'They're lots o' company, the little things,' says old Mis' Norris—she'd kep' mislayin' her teeth an' the navy-blue lady had took 'em away from her that day for to teach her, so I couldn't hardly understand what she said. 'Mine was named Ellen an' Nancy,' I made out.

"'Some o' you remember my Sam,'—Mis' Ailing speaks up then, an' she begun windin' up her yarn an' never noticed she was ravellin' out her mitten,—'he was an alderman,' she was goin' on, but old Mis' Winslow cuts in on her:—

"'It don't matter what he was when he was man-grown,' s'she. 'Man-grown can get along themselves. It's when they're little bits o' ones,' she says.

"'Little!' says Grandma Holly. 'Is it little you mean? Well, my Amy's two little feet use' to be swallowed up in my hand—so,' she says, shuttin' her hand over to show us.

"Well, so they went on. I give you my word I stood there sort o' grippin' up on my elbows. I'd always known it was so—like you do know things are so. But somehow when you come to feel they're so, that's another thing. And I was feelin' this in my throat 'bout as big as an orange. I'd thought their hands looked like they'd ought to be tyin' up little aprons, but I never thought o' the hands bein' rill lonesome to do the tyin', an' thinkin' about it, too. An' now I understood 'em like I see 'em for the first time, rill face to face. Somehow, we ain't any too apt to look at people that way," said Calliope. "You see how I mean it.

"Then comes the navy-blue woman an' says it's time for their hot milk, an' they all looked up, kind o' hopeful. An' I see that the navy-blue one had got 'em trained into the i-dee that hot milk was an event. She didn't like to hev 'em talk much about the past, she told me, when she see what we was speakin' of, because it gener'lly made some of 'em cry, an' the i-dee was to keep the spirit of the home bright an' cheerful. 'So I see,' s'I, dry. An' there was Christmas comin' on, an' nothin' to break the general cheerfulness but hot milk. "Well," Calliope said, "I s'pose you'll think I'm terrible foolish, but I couldn't help what I done—"

"I don't wonder at it," said I, warmly; "you promised to spend Christmas Eve with them and read aloud to them, didn't you, Calliope?"

"No!" Calliope cried; "I didn't do that. I should think they'd be sick to death o' bein' read aloud to. I should think they'd be sick to death bein' cheered up by their surroundin's. No—I invited the whole nine of 'em to come over an' spend Christmas Eve with me."

"Calliope!" I cried, "but how—"

"I know it," she exclaimed, "I know it. But they're all well an' hardy. The charity corridor ain't expected in the infirmary much. An' Jimmy Sturgis is goin' to bring 'em over free in the closed 'bus—I'll fill it with hot bricks an' hot flat-irons an' bed-quilts. An' my land! you'd ought to see 'em when I ask' 'em. I don't s'pose they'd had an invite out in years. The navy-blue lady looked like I'd nipped a mountain off'n her shoulders, too. An' now," said Calliope, "what on top o' this earth will I do with 'em when I get 'em here?"

What indeed? I left my task and sat by her on the rug before the fire, and we talked it over. But all the while we talked, I could see that she was keeping something back—some plan of which she was doubtful.

"I ain't no money to spend, you know," she said, "an' I won't let anybody else spend any for me, for this. Folks has plans enough o' their own without mine. But I kep' sayin' to myself, all the way home when my knees give down at the i-dee of what I was goin' to do: 'Calliope, the Lord says, "Give." An' He meant you to give, same's those that hev got. He didn't say, "Everybody give but Calliope, an' she ain't got much, so she'd ought to be let off." He said, "Give."' An' He didn't mention all nice things, same's I'd like to give, an' most everybody does give—" she nodded toward my bed, brave with its Christmas array. "He didn't mention givin' things at all. An' so," said Calliope, "I thought o' somethin' else."

She sat with brooding eyes on the fire, her hands clasped about her knees.

"The Lord Christ," said Calliope, "didn't hev nothin' of His own. An' yet He just give an' give an' give. An' somehow I got the i-dee," she finished, glancing up at me shyly, "that mebbe Christmas ain't really all in your stocking foot, after all. I ain't much to spend, and mebbe that sounds some like sour grapes. But it seems like a good many beautiful things is free to all, an' that they's ways to do. Well, I've thought of a way—"

"Calliope," I said, "tell me what you have really planned for the old-lady party. You have planned?"

"Well, yes," she said, "I hev. But mebbe you'll think it ain't anything. First I thought o' tea, an' thin bread-an'-butter sandwiches—it seems some like a party when you get your bread thin. An' I've got apples in the house we could roast, an' corn to pop over the kitchen fire. But then I come to a stop. For I ain't nothin' else, an' I've spent every cent I can spend a'ready. But yet I did want to show 'em somethin' lovely—an' differ'nt from what they see, so's it'd seem as if somebody cared, an' as if they'd been in Christmas, too. An' all of a sudden it come to me, why not invite in a few little children o' somebody's here in Friendship? So's them old grandma ladies—"

She shook her head and turned away.

"I expec'," she said, "you think I'm terrible foolish. But wouldn't that be givin', don't you think? Would that be anything?"

I have planned, as will fall to us all, many happy ways of keeping festival; but I think that never, even in days when I myself was happiest, have I so delighted in any event as in this of Calliope's proposing. And when at last she had gone, and the dusk had fallen and I lighted candles and went back to my pleasant task, some way the stitches of pink and blue on flowered fabrics, the flutter of crisp ribbons, and the breath of the sachets were not greatly in my thoughts; and that which made me glad was a certain shining in the room, but this was not of candle-light, or firelight, or winter starlight.

With the days the plans for the Proudfit party—or rather the plans of the Proudfit guests—went merrily forward. It was, they said, like "in the Oldmoxon days," when the house in which I was now living had been the Friendship fairyland. Some take their parties solemnly, some joyously, some feverishly; but Friendship takes them vitally, as it takes a project or the breath of being. Like the rest of the world, the village sank Christmas in festivity. It could not see Christmas for the Christmas plans.

Speculation was the delight of meetings, and every one conspired in terms of toilettes.

"Likely," said Mis' Holcomb-that-was-Mame-Bliss, "Mis' Banker Mason'll wear her black-an'-white foulard. Them foulards are wonderful durable—you can't muss 'em. She got hers when Gramma Mason first hurt her back, so's if anything happened she'd be part mournin', an' if anything didn't, she'd have a nice dress to wear out places. Ain't it real convenient,—white standin' for both companies an' the tomb, so?"

And "Mis' Photographer Sturgis has the best of it, bein' an invalid, till a party comes up," said Libbie Liberty. "She gets plenty enough food sent in, an' flowers, an' such things, an' she's got nails hung full o' what I call sympathy clo'es, to wear durin' sympathy calls. But when it comes to a real what you might say dress-up dress, I guess she'll hev to be took worse with her side an' stay in the house."

Abigail Arnold contributed:—

"Seems Mis' Doctor Helman had a whole wine silk dress put away with her dyin' things. She always thought it sounded terrible fine to hear about the dead havin' dress-pattern after dress-pattern laid away that hadn't never been made up. So she'd got together the one, but now she an' Elzabella are goin' to work an' make it up. I guess Mis' Helman thinks her stomach is so much better 't mebbe she'll be spared till after the holidays when the sales begin."

Even Liddy Ember had promised to go and to take Ellen, and Ellen went up and down the winter streets singing sane little songs about the party, save on days when she "come herself again," and then she planned, as wildly as anybody, what she meant to wear. And Liddy, whose dream had always been to do "reg'lar city dress-makin', with helpers an' plates an' furnish the findin's at the shop," and whose lot instead had been to cut and fit "just the durable kind," was blithely at work night and day on Mis' Postmaster Sykes's tobacco-brown net. We understood that there were to be brown velvet butterflies stitched down the skirt, and if her Lady Washington geranium flowered in time,—Mis' Sykes was said to lay bread and milk nightly about the roots to encourage it,—she was to wear the blossom in her hair. ("She'll be gettin' herself talked about, wearin' a wreath o' flowers on her head, so," said some.) But then, Mis' Sykes was recognized to be "one that picks her own steps."

"Mis' Sykes always dresses for company accordin' to the way she gets her invite," Calliope observed. "A telephone invite, she goes in somethin' she'd wear home afternoons. Word o' mouth at the front door, she wears what she wears on Sundays. Written invites, she rags out in her rill best dress, for parties. But engraved," Calliope mounted to her climax, "a bran' new dress an' a wreath in her hair is the least she'll stop at."

But I think that, in the wish to do honour to so distinguished an occasion, the temper of Mis' Sykes, and perhaps of Ellen Ember too, was the secret temper of all the village.



IX

"NOT AS THE WORLD GIVETH"

I daresay that excitement followed excitement when news of Calliope's party got abroad. But of this I knew little, for I spent those next days at the Proudfits' with Nita Ordway and little Viola, and though I thought often of Calliope, I chanced not to see her again until the holidays were almost upon us. In the late afternoon, two days before Christmas, I dropped in at her cottage to learn how pleasantly the plans for her party matured.

To my amazement I found her all dejection.

"Why, Calliope," I said, "can't the grandma ladies come, after all?"

Yes, they could come; they were coming.

"You are never sorry you asked them?" I pressed her.

No. Oh, no; she was glad she had asked them.

"Something is wrong, though," I said sadly—thinking what a blessed thing it is to be so joyous a spirit that one's dejections are bound to be taken seriously.

"Well," said Calliope, then, "it's the children. No it ain't, it's Friendship. The town's about as broad as a broom straw an' most as deep. Anything differ'nt scares 'em like something wore out'd ought to. Friendship's got an i-dee that Christmas begins in a stocking an' ends off in a candle. It thinks the rest o' the days are reg'lar, self-respecting days, but it looks on Christmas like an extry thing, thrown in to please 'em. It acts as if the rest o' the year was plain cake an' the holidays was the frostin' to be et, an' everybody grab the best themselves, give or take."

"Calliope!" I cried—for this was as if the moon had objected to the heavens.

"Oh, I know I'd ought not to," she said sadly; "but don't folks act as if time was give to 'em to run around wild with, as best suits 'em? Three hundred an' 'leven days a year to use for themselves, an' Sundays an' Christmas an' Thanksgivin' to give away looks to me a rill fair division. But, no. Some folks act like Sundays an' holidays was not only the frostin', but the nuts an' candy an' ice-cream o' things—their ice-cream, to eat an' pass to their own, an' scrape the freezer."

And then came the heart of the matter.

"'T seems," said Calliope, "there's that children's Christmas tree at the new minister's on Christmas Eve. But that ain't till ha'-past seven, an' I done my best to hev some o' the children stop in here on their way, for my little party. An' with one set o' lungs their mas says no, they'd get mussed for the tree if they do. I offered to hev 'em bring their white dresses pinned in papers, an' we'd dress 'em here—I think the grandma ladies'd like that. But their mas says no, pinned in papers'd take the starch out an' their hair'd get all over their heads. An' some o' the mothers says indignant: 'Old ladies from the poorhouse end o' the home—well, I should think not! Children is very easy to take things. If you'd hed young o' your own, you'd think more, Calliope,' they says witherin'."

Her little wrinkled hands were trembling at the enormity.

"I donno," she added, "but I was foolish to try it. But I did want to get a-hold o' somethin' beautiful for them old ladies to see. An', my mind, they ain't much so rilly lovely as little young children, together in a room."

"But, Calliope," I said in distress, "isn't there even one child you can get?"

"No, sir," she said. "Not a one. I been everywhere. You know they ain't any poor in Friendship. We're all comfortable enough off to be overparticular."

"But wouldn't you think," I said, "at Christmas time—"

"Yes, you would," Calliope said, "you would. You'd think Christmas'd make everything kind o' softened up an' differ'nt. Every time I look at the holly myself, I feel like I'd just shook hands with somebody cordial."

None the less—for Calliope had drunk deep of the wine of doing and she never gave up any project—at four o'clock on the day before Christmas I saw the closed 'bus driven by Jimmy Sturgis fare briskly past my house on its way to the "start of the Plank Road," to the Old Ladies' Home. Within, I knew, were quilts and hot stones of Calliope's providing; and Jimmy had hung the 'bus windows with cedar, and two little flags fluttered from the door. It all had a merry, holiday air as Jimmy shook the lines and drew on swiftly through the snow to those wistful nine guests, who at last were to be "in Christmas," too.

"If they can't do nothin' else," Calliope had said, "they can talk over old times, without hot milk interferin'. But I wish, an' I wish—seem's though there'd ought always to be a child around on Star o' Bethlehem night, don't it?"

I dined alone that Star of Bethlehem night, and to dine alone under Christmas candles is never a cheerful business. The Proudfit car was to come for me soon after eight, and at eight I stood waiting at the window of my little living room, saying to myself that if I were to drop from the air to a deserted country road, I should be certain that it was Christmas Eve. You can tell Christmas Eve anywhere, like a sugar-plum, with your eyes shut. It is not the lighted houses, or the close-curtained windows behind which Christmas trees are fruiting; nor yet, in Friendship, will it be the post-office store or the home bakery windows, gay with Christmas trappings. But there is in the world a subdued note of joyful preparation, as if some spirit whom one never may see face to face had on this night a gift of perceptible life. And in spite of my loneliness, my heart upleaped to the note of a distant sleigh-bell jingling an air of "Home, going Home, Christmas Eve and going Home."

Then, when the big Proudfit car came flashing to my door, I had a sweet surprise. For from it, through the snowy dark, came running a little fairy thing, and Viola Ordway danced to my door with her mother, muffled in furs.

"We've been close in the house all day," Mrs. Ordway cried, "and now we've run away to get you. Come!"

As for me, I took Viola in my arms and lifted her to my hall table and caught off her cloak and hood. I can never resist doing this to a child. I love to see the little warm, plump body in its fine white linen emerge rose-wise, from the calyx cloak; and I love that shy first gesture, whatever it may be, of a child so emerging. The turning about, the freeing of soft hair from the neck, the smoothing down of the frock, the half-abashed upward look. Viola did more. She laid one hand on my cheek and held it so, looking at me quite gravely, as if that were some secret sign of brotherhood in the unknown, which she remembered and I, alas! had forgotten. But I perfectly remembered how to kiss her. If only, I thought, all the empty arms could know a Viola. If only all the empty arms, up and down the world, could know a Viola even just at Christmas time. If only—

Over the top of Viola's head I looked across at Nita Ordway, and a sudden joyous purpose lighted all the air about me—as a joyous purpose will. Oh, if only—And then I heard myself pouring out a marvellous jumble of sound and senselessness.

"Nita!" I cried, "you are not a Friendship Village mother! You are not afraid. Viola is not going to the new minister's Christmas tree. Oh, don't you see? It's still early—surely we have time! The grandma ladies must see Viola!"

I remember how Nita Ordway laughed, and her answer made me love her the more—as is the way of some answers.

"I don't catch it—I don't," she said, "but it sounds delicious. All courage, and old ladies, and ample time for everything! If I said, 'Of course,' would that do?"

Already I was tying Viola's hood, and next to taking off a child's hood I love putting one on—surely every one will have noticed how their mouths bud up for kissing. While we sped along the Plank Road toward Calliope's cottage, I poured out the story of who were at her house that night, and why, and all that had befallen. In a moment the great car, devouring its own path of light, set us down at Calliope's gate, and Calliope herself, trim in her gray henrietta, her wrinkled face flushed and shining, came at our summons. And I pushed Viola in before us—little fairy thing in a fluff of white wraps and white furs.

"Look, Calliope!" I cried.

Calliope looked down at her, and I think she can hardly have seen Mrs. Ordway and me at all. She smote her hands softly together.

"Oh," she said, "if it isn't! Oh—a child for Star o' Bethlehem night, after all!"

She dropped to her knees before Viola, touching the little girl's hand almost shyly. There was in Calliope's face when she looked at any child a kind of nakedness of the woman's soul; and she, who was so deft, was curiously awkward in such a presence.

"They're out there in the dinin' room," she whispered, "settin' round the cook stove. I saw they felt some better out there. Le's us leave her go out alone by herself, just the way she is."

And that was what we did. We said something to Viola softly about "the poor grandma ladies, with no little girl to love," and then Calliope opened the door and let her through.

We peeped for a moment at the lamp-lit crack. The dining room was warm and bright, its table covered with red cotton and set with tea-cups, shelves of plants blooming across the windows, cedar green on the walls. The odour of pop-corn was in the air, and above an open griddle hole apples bobbed on strings tied to the stove-pipe wing. And there about the cooking range, with its cheery opened hearth, Calliope's Christmas guests were gathered.

They were exquisitely neat and trim, in black and brown cloth dresses, with a brooch, or a white apron, or a geranium from a window plant worn for festival. I recognized Grandma Holly, with her soft white hair, and I thought I could tell which were Mis' Ailing and Mis' Burney and Mis' Norris. And the faces of them all, the gentle, the grief-marked, even the querulous, were grown kindly with the knowledge that somebody had cared about their Christmas.

The child went toward them as simply as if they had been friends. They looked at her with some murmuring of surprise, and at one another questioningly. Viola went straight to the knee of Grandma Holly, who was nearest.

"'At lady tied my hood too tight," she referred unflatteringly to me, "p'eas do it off."

Grandma Holly looked down over her spectacles, and up at the other grandma ladies, and back to Viola. The others gathered nearer, hitching forward rocking-chairs, rising to peer over shoulders—breathlessly, with a manner of fearing to touch her. But because of the little uplifted face, waiting, Grandma Holly must needs untie the white hood and reveal all the shining of the child's hair.

"Nen do my toat off," Viola gravely directed.

At that Grandma Holly crooned some single indistinguishable syllable in her throat, and then off came the cloak. The little warm, plump body in its fine linen emerged, rose-wise, and Viola smoothed down her frock, and freed her hair from her neck, and glanced up shyly. By the stir and flutter among them I understood that they were feeling just as I feel when a little hood and cloak come off.

Viola stood still for a minute.

"I like be made some 'tention to," she suggested gently.

Ah—and they understood. How they understood! Grandma Holly swept the little girl in her arms, and I know how the others closed about them with smiles and vague unimportant words. Viola sat quietly and happily, like a little come-a-purpose spirit to let them pretend. And it was with them all as if something long pent up went free.

Calliope left the door and turned toward us.

"Seems like my throat couldn't stand it," she said, ... and it seemed to me, as we three sat together in the dim little parlor, that Nita Ordway must cherish Viola for us all—for the grandma ladies and Calliope and me.

Half an hour later we three went out to the dining room. Viola ran to her mother when she entered. Nita took her in her arms and sat beside the stove, her cloak slipping from her shoulders, the soft peach tints of her gown shot through with shining lines and the light caught in her collar of gems. "I did want to get a-hold o' somethin' beautiful for them old ladies to see," Calliope had said.

"Oh," said Grandma Holly, and she laid her brown hand on Viola's hand, "ain't she dear an' little an' young?"

"I wish't she'd talk some," begged old Mis' Norris.

"Ain't she good, though, the little thing?" Mis' Ailing said. "Look at how still she sets. Not wigglin' 'round same as some. It was just that way with Sam when he was small—he'd set by the hour an' leave me hold him—"

A little bent creature, whose name I never learned, sat patting Viola's skirt.

"Seems like I'd gone back years," we heard her say.

Grandma Holly held up one half-closed hand.

"Like that," she told them, "my Amy's feet was so little I could hold 'em like that, an' I see hers is the same way. She's wonderful like Amy was, her age."

I cannot recall half the sweet, trivial things that they said. But I remember how they told us stories of their own babies, and we laughed with them over treasured sayings of long-ago lips, or grieved with them over silences, or rejoiced at glad things that had been. Regardless of the Proudfit party, we let them talk as they would, and remember. Then of her own accord Nita Ordway hummed some haunting air, and sang one of the songs that we all loved—the grandma ladies and Calliope and I. It was a sleepy song, whose words I have forgotten, but it was in a kind of universal tongue which I think that no one can possibly mistake. And out of the lullaby came all the little spirits, freed in babyhood or "man-grown," and stood at the knees of the grandma ladies, so that I was afraid that they could not bear it.

When the song was done, Viola suddenly sat up very straight.

"I got a litty box," she announced, "an' I had a parasol. An' once a boy div me a new nail. An' once I didn' feel berry well, but now I am. An' once—"

Their laughter was like a caress. Before it was done, we heard a stamping without, and there was Jimmy Sturgis, with a spray of holly in his old felt hat and the closed 'bus at the door.

We helped Calliope to get their wraps and to fill the 'bus with hot stones from the oven and with many quilts, and we made ready a basket of pop-corn and apples and of the cedar hung around the little room. They stood about us to say good-by, or to tell us some last bit of the news of their long-past youth—dear, wrinkled faces framed in broad lines of bonnet or hood, and smiling, every one.

"This gray shawl I got on me is the very one I used to wrap Amy in to carry her through the cold hall," said Grandma Holly. "My land-a-livin'! seems's if I'd been with her to-night, over again!"

Their way of thanks lay among stumbling words and vague repetitions, but there was a kind of glory in their grateful faces, and one always remembers that.

"Merry Prismas, gramma ladies!" Viola cried shrilly at the 'bus door, and within they laughed like mothers as they answered. And Jimmy Sturgis cracked his whip, and the sleigh-bells jingled.

Nita Ordway and Viola and I stood for a moment with Calliope at her gate.

"Come!" we begged her, "now go with us. We are all late together. There is no reason why you should not go with us to the Christmas party."

But Calliope shook her head.

"I'm ever so much obliged to you," she said, "but oh, I couldn't. I've hed too rilly a Christmas to come down to a party anywheres."

* * * * *

When Nita and Viola and I reached Proudfit House, the guests were all assembled, but we knew that Mrs. Proudfit and Miss Clementina would be the first to forgive us when they understood.

The big colonial home was bright with scarlet-shaded candles and holly-hung walls; there was mistletoe on the sconces, and in the great hall there were tuneful strings. On the landing of the stairs stood Mrs. Proudfit and Miss Clementina, charmingly pretty in their delicate frocks, and wholly gay and gracious. ("They seem lively like in pictures where folks don't make a loud sound a-talkin'," said Friendship. "I s'pose it's somethin' you learn in the City.") And Friendship wore its loyalty like a mantle. Twelve years had passed, and yet one and another said under breath and sighed, "If only Miss Linda could 'a' been here, too."

All Friendship Village was there, save Abel Halsey, who was at the Good Shepherd's Home Christmas tree in the City, and, perhaps one would say, Delia More, who had begged to be allowed to help in the kitchen "an' be there that way." Even Peleg Bemus was in his place in the orchestra, sitting with closed eyes, playing his flute, and keeping audible time with his wooden leg,—quite as he did when he played his flute at night, on Friendship streets. And there was Mis' Postmaster Sykes, in the tobacco-brown net, with butterflies stitched down the skirt and the Lady Washington geranium in her hair—and forever near her went little Miss Liddy Ember with an almost passionate creative pride in the gown of her hand, so that she would murmur her patron an occasional warning: "Mis' Sykes, throw back your shoulders, you hev to, to bring out the real set o' the basque;" or, "Don't forget you want to give a little hitch to the back when you stand up, Mis' Sykes." And to one and another Liddy said proudly, "I declare if I didn't get that skirt with the butterflies just like a magazine cover." And there, too, was Ellen Ember, wearing a white book muslin and a rosy "nubia" that had been her mother's; and Ellen's face was uplifted, and of pale distinction under the bronze glory of her hair, but all that evening she smiled and sang and wondered, in utter absence of the spirit. ("Oh," poor Miss Liddy said, "I do so want Ellen to come herself before supper. She won't remember a thing she eats, an' she don't have much that's tasty an' good. It'll be just like she missed the whole thing, in spite of all the chore o' comin'.") And there were Mis' Doctor Helman in her new wine silk; Mis' Banker Mason in the black-and-white foulard designed to grace a festival or to respect a tomb; Mis' Sturgis, in a put-away dress that was a surprise to every one; Mis' Holcomb-that-was-Mame-Bliss, and Eppleby, and the "Other" Holcombs; Abigail Arnold, the Gekerjecks, Mis' Toplady and Timothy, even Mis' Mayor Uppers—no one was forgotten. And—save poor Ellen—every one was aglow with the sweet satisfaction of having sent abroad a brave array of pretty things, with stitches of rose and blue on flowered fabrics, with the flutter of ribbons, and the breath of sachets, and with many a gift of substance to those less generously endowed. To them all the delight of the season was in the gifts of their hands and in the night's merry-making, and in the joy of keeping holiday. Here, as Calliope had said, Christmas, begun in a stocking, was ending in a candle.

And yet it was Star of Bethlehem night, the night of Him who "didn't mention givin' things at all."



X

LONESOME.—I

Calliope and I were talking over the Proudfit party, as I had grown to like to talk over most things with her, when I said something of two of the guests whom I did not remember before to have seen: a little man of shy gravity and an extremely pretty girl who, if she looked at any one but him, did so quite undetected.

"That's Eb Goodnight," Calliope replied, "him of the new-born spine. Wasn't it like the Proudfits to ask them?"

And, at my question:

"Some folks," Calliope said, "has got spines and some folks hasn't. But what I say is, nobody can tell which is which. Because now and then the soft-spine' kind just hardens up all in a minute same as steel. So when I meet a stranger that sort o' sops along through life, limp and floppy, I never judge him. I just say, 'You look some like a loose shutter, but mebbe you can fair bang the house down, if you rilly get to blowin'.' It was that way with Eb Goodnight.

"I donno how it is other places. But I've noticed with us here in Friendship—an' I've grown to the town from short dresses to bein'-careful-what-I-eat—I've often noticed't when folks seems not to have any backbone to speak of, or even when they go 'round sort o' crazy—they's usually some other reason, like enough. Sensitive or sick or lonesome, or like that. It was so with Eb—an' it was so with Elspie. Elspie, though, was interestin' on account o' bein' not only a little crazy, but rill pretty besides. But Eb, he was the kind that a sign-board is more interestin' than. An' yet—"

With that she paused, looking down some way of her own thought. I knew Calliope's "an' yet." It splendidly conceded the entire converse of her argument.

"Eb come here to Friendship," she went on, "less public than Elspie did. Elspie come official, as an inmate o' the county house. Eb, he sort o' crep' in town, like he crep' everywhere else. He introduced himself to me through sellin' needles. He walked in on me an' a two-weeks ironin' one mornin' with, 'Lemme present myself as Ebenezer Goodnight, sewin' needles, knittin' needles, crochet hooks an' shuttles an' anything o' that,' an' down he set an' never opened his mouth about his needles again. Eb was real delicate, for an agent. He just talked all the time about Friendship an' himself. 'The whol' blame' town's kin,' s'e; 'I never see such a place. Everybody's kin, only just me. Air you,' he ask' me wistful, 'cousin' of 'em all, too?'

"'Mis' Sprague that's dead was connected up with me by marriage an' Mis' Sykes is my mother's secunt cousin,' I owned up.'

"'That's it again,' s'e, sighin'. 'I'm the odd number, dum it,' he says sorrowful.

"Well, an' he hed sort of an odd-number way about him, too. He went along the street like he didn't belong. I donno if you know what I mean, but he was always takin' in the tops o' buildin's an' lookin' at the roads an' behavin' like he noticed—the way you don't when you live in a town. Yes, Ebenezer Goodnight went around like he see things for the first time. An' somehow he never could join in. When he walked up to a flock o' men, he stood side of 'em, an' not with 'em. An' he shook hands sort o' loose an' temporary like he meant somethin' else. An' he just couldn't bear not to agree with you. If he let out't the sky was blue an' you said, No, pink, he'd work around till he'd dyed his sky pink, too. That man would agree to things he never heard of. Let Peleg Bemus be tellin' one o' his eastern janitor adventures, an' Eb'd set an' agree with him, past noddin' an' up to words, all about elevators an' Ferris boats an' Eyetalians an' things he'd never laid look to. He seemed to hev a spine made mostly o' molasses. An' sometimes I think your spine's your soul.

"Eb hed been lonelyin' 'round the village a month or so when Sum Merriman, that run the big rival business to the post-office store, an' was fire chief besides, took him an' his peddler's pack into the dry goods end—an' Eb was tickled. He went down first mornin' in his best clo'es, a-wearin' both collar an' cuffs. But when somebody remarked on the clo'es, he didn't hev backbone enough to keep on wearin' 'em—he slimpsed right back to his peddler duds an' done his best to please. An' he did please—he made a rill first-rate merchant clear up till June o' the year. An' then Sum Merriman, his employer, he went to work an' died.

"Sum died a Tuesday, an', bein' it never rains but it pours, an' piles peelin's on ashes, or whatever it is they say, it was the Tuesday that the poorhouse burnt down—just like it knew the fire chief was gone. The poorhouse use' to be across the track, beyond the cemetery an' quite near my house. An' the night it burnt I was settin' on the side stoop without anything over my head, just smellin' in the air, when I see a little pinky look on the sky beyond the track. It wasn't moon-time, an' they wa'n't nothin' to bonfire that time o' year, an' I set still, pretendin' it was rose-bushes makin' a ladder an' buildin' a way of escape by night. It was such a nice evenin' you couldn't imagine anything rilly happenin' bad. But all at once I heard the fire-engine bell poundin' away like all possessed—an' then runnin' feet, like when they's an accident. I got to the gate just as somebody come rushin' past, an' I piped up what was the matter. 'Poorhouse's afire,' s'e. 'Poorhouse,' s'I. 'My land!' An' I out the gate an' run alongside of him, an' he sort o' slowed down for me, courteous.

"Then I noticed it was Eb Goodnight—lonelier'n ever now that his employer hed died that day. I'd never see Eb hustle that much before, an' the thought went through my head, kind o' wonderin', that he was runnin' as if the fire was a real relation o' his an' he was sent for. 'Know anything else about it?' I ask' him, keepin' up. 'Not much,' s'e, 'but I guess it's got such a head-start the whol' thing'll go like a shell.' An' when we got to the top o' the bank on the other side o' the track, we see it was that way—the poorhouse'd got such a head-start burnin' that nothin' could save it, though Timothy Toplady, that was town marshal an' chairman o' the county board, an' Silas Sykes an' Eppleby Holcomb, that was managers o' the poorhouse, an' some more, went puffin' past us, yellin', 'Put it out—run fer water—why don't you do suthin'?'—an' like that, most beside theirselves.

"'Them poor critturs,' says I, 'oh, my, them poor critturs in the home'—for there must 'a' ben twenty o' the county charges all quartered in the buildin'. An' when we come to the foot o' the poorhouse hill, land, land, I never see such Bedlam.

"The fire had started so soon after dusk that the inmates was all up yet. An' they was half of 'em huddled in a bunch by the side-yard stile an' half of 'em runnin' 'round wild as anything. The whol' place looked like when you hev a bad dream. It made me weak in my knees, an' I was winded anyway with runnin', an' I stopped an' leant up against a tree, an' Eb, he stopped too, takin' bearin's. An' there I was, plump against Elspie, standin' holdin' her arms 'round the tree trunk an' shiverin' some.

"'Elspie,' s'I, 'why, you poor child.'

"'No need to rub that in,' s'she, tart. It's the one word the county charges gets sensitive about—an' Eb, he seemed to sense that, an' he ask' her, hasty, how the fire started. He called her 'Miss,' too, an' I judged that 'Miss' was one o' them poultice words to her.

"'I donno,' s'she, 'but don't it look cheerful? The yard's all lit up nice, like fer comp'ny,' she says, rill pleased.

"It sort o' uncovered my nerves to hear her so unconcerned. I never hed understood her—none of us hed. She was from outside the state, but her uncle, Job Ore, was on our county board an' he got her into our poorhouse—like you can when you're in politics. Then he up an' died an' went home to be buried, an' there she was on our hands. She wa'n't rill crazy—we understood't she hadn't ben crazy at all up to the time her mother died. Then she hadn't no one to go to an' she got queer, an' the poorhouse uncle stepped in; an' when he died, he died in debt, so his death wa'n't no use to her. She was thirty odd, but awful little an' slim an' scairt-lookin', an' quite pretty, I allus thought; an' I never see a thing wrong with her till she was so unconcerned about the fire.

"'Elspie,' s'I, stern, 'ain't you no feelin',' s'I, 'for the loss o' the only home you've got to your back?'

"'Oh, I donno,' s'she, an' I could see her smilin' in that bright light, 'oh, I donno. It'll be some place to come to, afterwards. When I go out walkin',' s'she, 'I ain't no place to head for. I sort o' circle 'round an' come back. I ain't even a grave to visit,' s'she, 'an' it'll be kind o' cosey to come up here on the hill an' set down by the ashes—like they belonged.'

"I know I heard Eb Goodnight laugh, kind o' cracked an' enjoyable, an' I took some shame to him for makin' fun o' the poor girl.

"'She's goin' clear out o' her head,' thinks I, 'an' you'd better get her home with you, short off.' So I put my arm around her, persuadish, an' I says: 'Elspie,' I says, 'you come on to my house now for a spell,' I says. But Eb, he steps in, prompter'n I ever knew him—I'd never heard him do a thing decisive an' sudden excep' sneeze, an' them he always done his best to swallow. 'I'll take her to your house,' he says to me; 'you go on up there to them women. I won't be no use up there,' he says. An' that was reasonable enough, on account o' Eb not bein' the decisive kind, for fires an' such.

"So Eb he went off, takin' Elspie to my house, an' I went on up the hill, where Timothy Toplady and Silas Sykes an' Eppleby was rushin' round, wild an' sudden, herdin' the inmates here an' there, vague an' energetic. I didn't do much better, an' I done worse too, because I burned my left wrist, long an' deep. When I got home with it, Eb was settin' on the front stoop with Elspie, an' when he heard about the wrist, he come in an' done the lightin' up. An' Elspie, she fair su'prised me.

"'Where do you keep your rags?' s'she, brisk.

"'In that flour chest I don't use,' I says, 'in the shed.'

"My land! she was back in a minute with a soft piece o' linen an' the black oil off the clock shelf that I hadn't told her where it was, an' she bound up my wrist like she'd created that burn an' understood it up an' down.

"'Now you get into the bed,' she says, 'without workin' the rag off. I'm all right,' s'she. 'I can lock up. I like hevin' it to do,' she told me.

"But Eb puts in, kind o' eager:—

"'Lemme lock up the shed—it's dark as a hat out there an' you might sprain over your ankle,' he says awkward. An' so he done the lockin' up, an' it come over me he liked hevin' that little householdy thing to do. An' then he went off home—that is, to where he stopped an' hated it so.

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