Sister Mary's Story
IT happened to me, some years ago, to fall ill of a fever in a New England city where I was an entire stranger. I was traveling alone. Almost as soon as the fever set in, I became delirious, and the people of the hotel, not wishing to be burdened with the care of me, and not finding among my papers the address of any one whom they might summon to my assistance, had me removed to a hospital, and dismissed me from their minds, —taking care, however, to reimburse themselves most liberally from my purse for the few days I had spent under their roof.
When I came to my senses, I found myself lying in bed in a small room with bare white walls and a single window. By my side there sat an elderly woman, attired in the dress of the Sisters of Charity, with the exception of the. white bonnet. On her head she wore a cap more like the cap of a matron in the sect of Friends. Her hair, white as snow and very thin, was put back plainly above her ears, and the cap was drawn closely around her face and tied by a broad black ribbon under her chin. Her features were delicate; her eyes of a pale and faded gray; except for a look of great firmness about the mouth and chin, the face would have seemed a feeble one. She was sitting with her hands clasped tight in her lap and her eyes fixed on the window. So sad and yet so quiet a look I never saw on any other human countenance. As I made a slight movement in the bed, she turned her head, and seeing that I was conscious rose very qtiickly, poured a few drops from a vial into a spoon, and held it to my lips, saying in a low and pleasant voice, “ Don’t you say a word, now. You jest drink this. You’ve been pretty sick, an’ the doctor, he said you was n’t to speak a word when you fust waked up;” and she took a plantain leaf from a saucer on the stand and laid it on my forehead. The coolness of the leaf, the pressure of her hand, were indescribably grateful to me; the queer old New England vernacular, which I had known so well in my childhood, and had not heard for a quarter of a century, seemed to transport me at once back again into the land of delirious dreams from which I had but just roused. I fell asleep instantly, and did not awake again, Sister Mary told me afterwards, for eight hours.
” But the doctor, when he come, he said ’t was all right. I wa’n’t to wake ye up, if ye slept a hull day. But the look ye had on yer face jest that second ye looked at me kind o’ harnted me,” she continued. “ Ye looked at me so kind o’ wishful like, I kept a-wishin’ I’d let ye speak. I thought mebbe ye hed something ye wanted to say; an’ if ye did n’t never come out o’ the sleep again, — for the doctor, he’d thought more ’n oncet that ye’d go off in some o’ them long sleeps, — I’d ha’ reproached myself, most likely, if any o’ yer friends had ha’ come. There might ha’ been somebody whose heart ’ud ha’ half broke for want of a message from ye.”
There was a something in Sister Mary’s face, and still more in her voice, as she said these words which smote on my heart. It meant sorrow of no common sort. Yet the woman’s usual expression was shrewd, kindly, and not without humor. She never looked at me without a smile, and she spoke habitually in hearty, cheery tones. But I could not forget the look I had first seen on her face. I asked myself if it might not have been partly born of my delirious fancy, still not wholly cured; but the impression was too vivid, and hardly a day passed without my seeing on her face, at moments when she did not suppose I saw her, expressions of a similar sadness. They changed her whole face, as a dark cloud changes a clear sky. In a moment she seemed to grow many years older; and there was a certain hopelessness in the look which was piteous,— like the look one would wear who knew that his pain was to outlast eternity.
I grew better very slowly, and for weeks needed to be cared for about like a litlle child. Sister Mary’s patience and kindness were untiring. She attended upon me more like a mother than like a hired nurse. I said as much to the doctor, one day.
“ Yes,” he replied. “ I have never known such a nurse in all my practice. She is worth her weight in gold. I have offered her enormous wages, if she would go out as a private nurse. I could keep her employed all the time with my own patients. But nothing will tempt her to leave this hospital.”
“ I suppose it is her Roman Catholic faith which keeps her here,” I said.
The doctor laughed. “You did n’t suppose that shrewd Yankee woman was a Roman Catholic, did you? ” he replied. “ She is n’t any more a Roman Catholic than you are. She. wears the gown and lets them call her ‘ sister ’ so that she can be a nurse here; but she would n’t put on the bonnet of the order. She said ' she’d never wear that cocked-up sun-bunnet in the house, not for nobody; she’d go to another hospital fust; ’ and they were only too glad to let her stay on her own terms.”
“ Why was she so set upon being in this hospital? ” I asked.
“ Oh, did you not know this is entirely a charity hospital? ” asked the doctor. “ No patients are brought here except those who are too poor to pay anything, and in rare cases, like yours, strangers who happen to be helpless and unknown in the city. The poorer the patients are, the more Sister Mary seems to like to take care of them.”
“ She has seen some very great and peculiar sorrow, I think,” said I.
“ Sorrow ! Sister Mary had a sorrow!” the doctor shouted, shaking with laughter. “ Why, bless my heart, you must be still a little out of your head. She ’s the cheeriest soul in the building; got more fun in her in one month than all the rest of them in a year. That’s one reason she ’s such a good nurse. I ’ll have to give you some more valerian, if you get any more such notions in your head as that!”
“Sister Mary! Sister Mary! ” he cried, as at that moment she entered the door, “ What do you think this patient of yours says? We have n’t got her quite cured yet! She says she thinks you have some secret sorrow. Ha, ha!” and the jovial doctor laughed harder than ever, — laughed so hard that he did not see what I did, — a flush spread over Sister Mary’s face, and something like a spasm pass across her mouth. It was gone in a second, however, and she exclaimed, laughing as hard as the doctor, “ I guess she don’t see quite straight! It don’t seem to me I look to favor a person given over to melancholy very much. It did n’t ever run in our family to be that way,” and Sister Mary bustled about the little room with unusual energy, and continued to laugh softly to herself.
After the doctor had gone out, I said to her, —
“ Sister Mary, I did not say you were given over to melancholy. That was n’t at all what I meant.”
She looked at me affectionately, and said, “ Tut, tut! Now you jest stop spekerlatin’ about an old woman like me. I ain’t one o’ the pinin’ kind, I warrant ye. I’ve got my hands too full.”
I was silenced for the time, but my instinct was not diverted from its certainty. The next day I waked suddenly, from a long nap. Sister Mary was sitting by my bed. I did not open my eyes. I was almost, sure I heard a low sob; no, it was only a sigh, but it was one of the sighs which would be a sob if it dared. I opened my eyes. Sister Mary turned her head away quickly, and sprang to her feet, but not before I had seen tears on her face.
“ There ! you are crying ! ” I exclaimed, “you dear, kind, darling old nurse. I knew something troubled you ; and you need n’t try to hide it away all the time. Do tell me about it. What are you crying about? ”
She walked back to the bedside, blowing her nose vigorously, and rubbing her cheeks with a half-spiteful energy. “ Crying about something that happened goin’ on twenty years ago; an’ if that ain’t bein’ a fool, I don’t know what is, an’ I ’m ashamed yer caught me at it. But it’s part your fault. You kind o’ upset me yesterday, sayin’ what yer did. I ’ve nussed in this hospital fifteen years, day an’ night, an’ you ’re the fust person that’s ever seen any farther than skin-deep on my face; an’ it ’s kind o’ upset me,” and Sister Mary gave up at last, and cried hard. I was very near crying also.
“ Oh, do tell me about it,” I said. “ Can’t I help you? You’ve been so good to me, I’d like to help you.”
“ Did n’t I tell ye ’t all happened goin’ on twenty years ago?” she said, half sharply. “ Ef a woman can’t help herself from bein’ a fool over things’s dead ’n’ gone ’s that, I guess there can’t nobody help her. I’m ’shamed enough ye caught me cryin’.”
All I could say was, “ Oh, do tell me. I am so sorry for you, — so sorry, so sorry. It seems to me I could comfort you, if you’d only tell me.”
She shook her head. “ No, there ain’t any comfort,” she said, “ an’ there never was. But I don’t know,” speaking very slowly, as if reflecting, " but it might do me some good to tell ye all about it. Ye ’re the fust person that’s ever mistrusted that I’d got so much’s a heart about me for anythin’ but nussin. I don’t know but I ’ll tell ye. I ’ll think on’t,” and she stopped crying, and fixed her eyes on the window.
“ Oh, tell me now! ” I cried.
“ No,” she said. “ I ’ll sleep on’t. I ain’t goin’ to tell ye now; for I should only jest cry my eyes out, an’ I can’t afford to cry. It’s a sin to spend your strength that way; there’s nothin’ uses a woman up like a cryin’ fit. I ’ll tell ye the hull story to-morrow, unless I change my mind, a-sleepin’ on’t; ” and that was all I could make Sister Mary say that day.
I waited eagerly for the morrow. I had many misgivings that I should not hear the story ; but as soon as the old woman entered my room I knew that her mind was made up to tell me. There was a softened sadness in her countenance which I had never seen there before, and a new gentleness in her voice.
“ I don’t exactly make out why I feel like tellin’ ye,” she said, as she drew her chair up closer to my bed, and laid her strong, wrinkled old hand affectionately on mine for a second; “ but I do, an’ I’ve made up my mind to do it. I’ve always felt drawn to ye, ever since I fust began nussin ye. You was the most helpless thing ever I got hold of when they brought ye here. Now I expect it ’ll tire ye some to hear all I’ve got to tell. I guess I can’t make it very short; but if you ’re too tired, I can tell the rest on ’t to-morrow; or if I get to cryin’, I shall stop right off, an’ tell ye the rest some other time. I can’t afford to cry.”
“ I shall not be tired, Sister Mary,” I said. “ You need not fear that. And please don’t cry; for to see you cry would do me a great deal more harm than to be tired.”
“ That’s a fact,” she said, dryly, “ and I don’t calculate to cry, for both our sakes; but ye can’t always tell when you ’re goin’ to. AVell,” she continued, fixing her eyes on the window (and she never once withdrew them from the sky, during her narrative), “ I’ve been married. I’m a widow.”
“ Yes, I know that,” I replied. “ The doctor told me.”
“ How ’d he know, I wonder ! ” said she. “ I never told anybody here except old Father Hemsen; he knew.”
She remained silent for some minutes, thinking; then, saying once more, as if to herself, " I wonder how he knew,” she resumed her story.
“ We lived way down in Maine. I was born in Maine, too. Maine’s a nice State to one that’s reared there and used to ’t. It seems dreadful rugged to strangers. The town I was born in was right close to the sea, — a great place for shipping lumber; an’ my folks were all in the lumber business, but my husband was a farmer. He used to come down to our place with stock to sell; that’s where I got acquainted with him. I was n’t, but eighteen when we were married; I was eighteen, and John, he was twentyeight. He was pretty old, he thought. We’d been engaged two years, but he wanted to get the farm paid for first; he was always real cautious; a good business head John had. Well, we lived on the farm, and raised potatoes, and kept stock, and got on first rate. We were real well off, —that is, for those parts; not what ’ud be anythin’ for city folks, but we had all we wanted, an’ I don’t believe there were ever two people in this world any happier ’n John an’ I were, for years and years. We had one boy, the dearest little fellow that ever did live. I’ve got his picture now; if you 'd care to see it, I ’ll let ye some day; it’s all spotted; those old-fashioned daguerreotypes don’t keep good, like the kind they take nowadays. He ’d he thirty if he was alive now, Johnnie would; it don’t seem any way possible. I can’t think of him’s a grown man, do all I can; I always see him jest ’s he was that last winter he lived: he wa’n’t but six year old when he died. ’T was the winter that the scarlet fever was ragin’ all over the State; it jest went up and down, and mowed the children down like a man mowin’ a swath, clean through the State. There hain’t been anything like it since, an’ I hope there never will be. Well, Johnnie he got it, and he wa’n’t sick but three days, and he never knew anything after the first day. That was one mercy. John and I both felt that. For a little while after he died it seemed to me we ’d never be happy again, neither of us; an’ I don’t suppose we ever were quite ’s we used to be. But we got reconciled, an’ I was always a-thinkin’ that I’d have more children before long ; an’ I know I used to set at my sewin’, day after day, an’ try to make up my mind whether, if I had a boy, I should want to name it Johnnie after him, or not; an’ I could n’t ever get settled in my mind about it ; John could n’t either. Well, we ’d been married twelve years ; John 'd got real gray, and he was always a steady-goin’, sensible sort of man, that seemed older ’n he was. Ye’d ha’ took him for more ’n forty, a good deal, to see him goin’ along the road ; but when he laughed, his eyes twinkled so, he looked young’s anybody. He was forty that fall; in September his birthday came. I know the Tallman sweetings always begun to be ripe about that time, but that year they were earlier 'n common, an’ I had some real ripe ’n ready to bake for his birthday; ’n’ he had n't kept eye on the tree, ’n’ did n’t know they were ripe, so ’t was a surprise to him. An’ I had a comforter I’d knit for him, — a red yarn one, with white stripes, one of the handsomest patterns I ever saw; an’ that night he says to me,
' Moll,’ — he always called me Moll, — ‘Moll, we’re goin’ to have neighbors; Seth Barrett, don’t you recollect? —he that used to live down in the Hollow. He was lame, don’t you remember ? ’
“‘The shoe-maker?’ says I.
“‘No,’ says John, laughing, ‘not your old beau; his brother, — the oldest one. I guess you ’ve forgotten him. He was a good deal older than I; he must be a man well on fifty now. Well, he ’s got a notion the sea don’t suit him, an’ he ’s bought this very next farm to ours. I told ye, ye know, it was up for sale. I did always mean to have that land, or the best part of it myself; but if I could n’t have it, I’d rather’t would be Seth Barrett than anybody I know. I liked both when I was a boy. An’ they say he’s married the smartest girl on the river. They ’re coming next week; an’ I thought we’d better write an’ ask ’em to come right here ’n’ stay with us till they get their house fixed. What d’ ye say ? ’
“‘Yes, indeed,’ says I; for I was jest as pleased ’s I could be at the notion of havin’ neighbors so near. ’T was more ’n a mile to the nearest house that anybody lived in; an’ I’d often 'n’ often looked at this old Plummer house, an’ thought how nice ’t would be if some real nice folks ’ud buy the farm an’ move in. Well, I flew round, ’n’ I made a lot o’ pies, an’ cleaned up the spare room; ’n’ the woodbine was jest a turnin’ red, I remember, ’n’ I put a lot of it in a pitcher ’n’ set it on the bureau, ’n’ the room looked as pretty s a picture. Ye see there was things happened afterwards that made me remember lots of little things ye would n’t think I’d recollect so long afterwards. But I hain’t forgot one minute of all that time, an' I don't suppose I ever shall, not if t live to be a hundred. I can see Nelly Barrett, this minute, jest the way she looked when she fust come in at our door, that day. She wa'n't exactly what ye ’d call pretty; but she had a kind o’ laughin’, winnin', honest face, with great big blue eyes, and real pretty brown hair that curled all over her head ’n' down on her shoulders. It did n’t seem jest the way for a married woman to wear her hair, — ’specially a woman that had got such an old-lookin’ husband ’s Seth was; but he was jest that proud on her, and sort o’ foolish fond, he would n’t have her wear it any other way. He used to call her ‘Baby,’ always; an’ there was something like a baby in her face, an’ yet she was as smart a little housekeeper’s ever ye see. There was nothin' she could n’t do, 'n’ she was always a-flyin’ round, from mornin’ till night, ’s busy ’s a bee; there was n’t a lazy bone ’n her whole body, not one, ’n’ she was always ’s’ cheery’s a lark, a-singin’ ’n' makin' fun. I never took such a likin’ to any girl in my life, ’n’ we got to be great friends in no time at all; we jest took to each other, for all I was so much older 'n she; it didn’t seem to make a mite o’ difference. John, he liked her too, though he did n’t like her at first so much ’s I did. He said she was a giddy thing, and had lots o’ nonsense in her; an’ I used to stand up for her to him, ’n’ tell him to see how she worked, ’n’ it wa’n’t any more 'n natural that she should like to play, too; such a kitten ’s she was, ’n’ all the young fellows jest as fond of takin’ her out, at the bees ’n' things, ’s if she wa’n’t married at all. But John, lie always said she 'd got a very weak side to her, ’n' sometimes I had to own up she had, too. I used to get awful vexed with her sometimes, the way she 'd train; but I was jest fond of her, ‘n' I could n’t help it, she was so bright an’ droll, an’ was always makin' ye laugh when ye didn’t expect it; an’ I always did like a good laugh better ’n anything in the world, an’ John, he was kind o’ grave by nature. He was always a-studyin' over things, ’n’ would n’t speak, sometimes, half a dozen words from the time he got up till he went to bed, he ’d be so busy thinkin', thinkin'; that was his way.
“ Well, ’t was in the fall they came, 'n’ they stayed with us a week, till they got all fixed in their borne; 'n' after that there wa’n’t, hardly a day we did n’t see each other. We used to be back an’ forth from one bouse to the other, 'n’ we used to ride to meetin’ together every Sunday, — we all went to the Methodist church; ’n’ I really think I got fonder ’n’ fonder of Nelly every day, ’n' she did of me. She was ’s fond of me ’s if I’d been her own sister, — I know she was. There did n’t ever come a time when I misdoubted that. She was always fond of me, an’ I of her always, till the last, ’n’ she never knew anything different, never. Well, John, he got to be fond of her, too, — that is, not exactly fond, but real familiar like; an’ she used to kind o’ coax round him, ’n’ flatter him a good deal 'n one way ’n’ another. I think she knew he did n’t like her quite so well’s I did, 'n’ it kind o’ pestered her to see it; she was used to havin’ all the men sort o’ make love to her, ’n’ be polite, ’n’ John he was jest as like ’s not to say a rude thing to her, if he felt like it. He was an awful plain-spoken man, John was, to everybody; 'n’ he saw her little flirtin’ ways with all the men that came round, 'n’ he did n’t like it; ’n' besides he always had a great feelin’ for Seth. Seth was lame, and could n’t go round’s she did; ’n’ he’d set ’n’ look at her a-playin’ games at the sociables, 'n' laughin’ ’n’ cany in’ on, ’n' every now 'n' then runnin’ up to him to speak to him 'n' ask if he was having a good time; 'n' John used to say, ' She’d better be sefctin' quiet at home, ’n’ not draggin’ Seth everywhere, to all these fandangoes. He don’t enjoy ’em.’ But I think he did. He liked anything that she liked; he was so bound up in her. Well, by degrees she 'n' John got to be better friends; she used to talk ’n’ talk, an’ tell him all sorts o’ things about herself 'n’ her folks, ’n’ he used to like to listen to her. She had a real confidin’ way o’ tellin’ you the least little thing that wa'n’t o’ any consequence at all; but she seemed to like to tell things jest like a child. After a while, John, he ’d say to me sometimes, ‘ Well, Moll, you ’re right; she ’s got a lot o’ sense, that little body, if she is such a fly-about.’ An’ I ’d say to him, ' Did n’t I say so? I thought you’d come round. She’s a most uncommon girl, Nelly Barrett is; I don’t know anybody that’s jest like her. She ’ll settle down ’n’ be a splendid woman one o’ these days.’
“ And we all jest got thicker 'n' thicker all the time, so that they did n't do anything without us, nor we without them; 'n' I jest took real comfort in scein’ how John was comin’ to think jest ’s I did about Nelly. I suppose if I had n’t been so sure about John’s lovin’ me, an’ so full o’ the greatest kind o’ love for him, perhaps I should n’t have liked to have him go so much with a girl like Nelly. I know I’ve seen plenty of women jealous as cats that did n’t have half as much to show for it ’s I should have had, he ’d got to bein’ so familiar with her, an’ so fond of goin’ where she was, an’ always settin’ by her an’ lookin’ at her, an’ callin’ her sort o’ droll names; but it did n’t once enter into my head, such a thing. I could n’t any more have been jealous of John than I could — well, of the stars up in God’s sky; I should have jest as soon tbought of their tumbling out of their places. Do ye know what I mean? I mean that John’s lovin’ me seemed to me jest as fixed an’ firm, so that there could n’t anybody alter it, ’s the stars did in their places in the sky. Ye see, I had n’t ever had a thought in my life, since I first set eyes on John, that wa’n’t all for him, and he hadn’t seemed to that wa’n’t for me. That was the way it always was between us. An’ we had n’t ever got into the way o’ havin’ words, ’s most married folks do; not but what John was hasty sometimes, like all men; he had a good sharp temper of his own, an’ got vexed at things sometimes, but we never had anything to call a quarrel. I jest loved him so that if he was vexed it did n’t seem a bit hard to me jest to go right up 'n' kiss him; ’n’ he was real good-hearted, ’n’ would get over things right away, if he wa’n’t contradicted an’ answered back. So there wa'n’t, ever anything between us that wa’n’t over in one minute, jest’s soon ’s I kissed him; ’n’ I know there don’t many married folks live so close t’ each other ’s we did, year in an’ year out; ’n’ I don’t think but what if an angel from heaven had ha’ come ’n’ told me I 'dever be jealous o’ John, I should ha’ laughed in his face. That’s the way I felt about John. I know once he said to me,— I remembered it afterwards; I did n’t think anything of if at the time. I used to be afraid sometimes that people would talk about him an’ Nelly if he was quite so free with her before folks ’s he was when we was alone, an’ I’d said to him that I guessed he ’d better be a little careful how he called her droll names, an’ not joke so much. An’ says he, ‘ Moll, you ’re jealous! ’ An’ I remembered afterwards that he said it kind o’ spunky like; but I jest laughed at him, an’ said I, ‘ Jealous! If you think I’m jealous o’ Nelly Barrett, you ’re awfully mistaken. It looks like it, don’t it, — always tryin’ to bring you together’s I am, an’ plannin’ for you to go here ’n’ there with her. I don’t want folks to think you ’re foolin’ round her, though, ’s those other fellows do ; 'n' I know too that the child’s got a vain side to her, an’ she’s in danger of thinkin’ there is n’t, a man livin’ but what 'ud make love to her if he got a chance, —that’s all. There ain’t a woman livin’ that could make me jealous o’ you, John, ’s long ’s I love you the way I do.’ That’s the way I felt about John. Well, it got to be along towards summer; ’t was real early spring, jest as it had been an early fall. Everything seemed to be a-kurryin’; an’ so ’t was for me, too, only I did n’t know it ; things were hurryin’ on for me that it would ha’ killed me to know was comin’.
“John, he ’d got a nice lot o’ yearlins he wanted to take down ’n’ ship, ’n’ Seth, he wanted to go ’n’ buy some leather; 'n' we’d been talkin’ all winter how we’d all go down in the spring, ’n’ have a real little kind o’ play spell of ’s much’s a week. I had n’t ever been home since two years after I was married. My folks was all dead or moved away, an’ I didn’t care much to go, though always in the spring I did get a dreadful hankerin’ after the salt water. Along in May, towards the last generally, it used to seem to me that I’d give any money for jest one good smell of the salt water, an’ some of it on my face. It’s always so, I guess, with folks that’s born ’n’ raised by the sea.
“ ’T was a real nice day when we set out. I remember it jest like yesterday, — kind o’ warm an’ kind o’ cool , more like fall weather than like spring; an’ the mud was pretty well dried out, except in spots. John, he rode on the old black mare, a-drivin’ the cattle; ’n’ Seth ’n’ Nelly ’n’ me, we rode in the wagon. We had to go real slow, but we did n’t mind; the longer the better, we thought, ’t was so splendid to be out-doors an’ all ridin’ together; an’ we went on plannin’ an’ plannin’ all day what we’d do when we got there. The thing Seth had set his heart on most, was showin’ Nelly a place he used to go to when he was a boy. He an’ his brothers used to be always goin’ there. ’T was a great place, too, for excursions; people used to come from all the towns round to see it; but it wa’n’t a place I ever liked. I could n’t remember when I did n’t hate the sight of it when I was a girl; but I was always going, because when the parties went I hated to stay behind. But ’t was always a fearful, scary kind o’ place to me; I couldn’t ever imagine what made folks like it. ’T was called the Devil’s Run, an’ I think they could n’t have named it any better if they ’d tried. It was jest a great cut, right down through the cliffs, and then through a kind o’ mountain behind them; way back into the hills it reached, an' there was a river came down through it that they used to float the logs down on. Sometimes the river would be all choked up with the logs in among the rocks, an’ then the lumbermen ’d have to come down an’ start ’em an’ get ’em loose, an’ set ’em goin’ again. ’T was awful dangerous doin’ this; lots o’ lumbermen got drowned doin’ it. When the river was high, it just rushed an’ tore round the points o’ the rocks, as if the very devil the place was named for was drivin’ it. But the walls were so high that when you stood up on top and looked down you could n’t see that the river was rushin’ at all; it jest looked white where it was foamy, an’ green where it was smooth, but it all looked as still as if it was painted; an’ as for the great logs, they did n’t look any bigger ’n little young saplings. Well, ’s I said, everybody I ever heard of in the world but me thought ’t was splendid to go out there ’n’ scramble all along the rocks at the top, ’n’ look down into this place, an’ nothin’ would do Seth now but that he must take Nelly there; an’he ’d told her so much about it she was jest wild to see it. So ’t was settled that we should do that the very first day after we got there; ’n’ the next day we were goin’ after May flowers on a hill I knew, up river a piece, where I used to go with John the spring before we were married. It was real late when we got into town; we’d been two days on the road; the cattle had acted like fury some of the time, ’n’ John, he was pretty well beat out a-ridin’ hither ’n’ thither, keepin’ ’em in the road. We went to a little tavern down near the water, where the drovers always went; it had good yards for the cattle. Nelly and I was awful tired, too; we wa’n’t used to ridin’ so much; ’n’ the springs to our wagon wa’n’t very strong, so we got jolted considerable. Jest as we was gettin’ out, Nelly says to me, ‘ Oh, goodness me! I 'm as stiff as if I was a hundred.’
“ ‘ So’m I,’ says I, ‘as stiff’s if I was a thousand.’ Ye see I recollect every word ’n’ everything. So I was quite surprised when I heard her say to John, at supper, —
“ ‘ John, can’t you take me out to buy a pair of gloves? The fingers of mine have all come through, a-holdin’ on to the seat these two days.’
“ ' Oh, yes,’ said John. ' I ’ll take you right after supper. ’
“ It crossed my mind then that it was queer she did n’t ask Seth, — he knew the town as well as John did; but I jest thought she wanted a little run with John, ’n’ I knew it would n’t take ten minutes. Afterwards I recollected that John did n’t ask me to go, an’ I wondered I did n’t think of it at the time, for John never started off anywhere without saying, ‘ Come, Moll, — come along.’ He didn’t ask me this time; but I never once thought anything, an’ I went right up to my room an’ laid down on the bed.
I was awful tired. Pretty soon John came in an’ sat down in a chair, an’ says he, ' I declare, Moll, I 'm about played out. This ridin’ after cattle two days is hard work. I don’t know when I ’ve felt so used up,’ an’ he jest sat’s if he could n’t stir. But presently he got up an’ went out again, an’ I heard them all talkin’ in the hall; an’ then they went out, an’ I thought they’d all gone together for the gloves. I was lookin’ at a newspaper I found in the room, an’ pretty soon I dozed off asleep, an’ when I waked up the town clock was strikin’ nine. I started up, an’ I could n't think where I was for a minute, an’ then I began to wonder where they all were. In a few minutes I heard steps comin’ up; an’ then I heard Nelly’s voice at the door, an’ she spoke real low, and says she ” — Here Sister Mary stopped, and her voice choked. “There isn’t any need of my repeatin’ what she said; it wasn’t till afterwards that I put this an’ that together, an’ made out what it meant. Then she went right on to her room, an’ John, he went away. In a minute more I heard her speakin’ to Seth in her room, which was close to ours, so I knew Seth had n’t gone with ’em, after all; but I did n’t think anything then,— not till a few minutes after, when she came down the hall, and I heard her stop and go back a step, and then come on, and give a little knock at my door. And when I said, ‘ Come in,’ she came in an’ sat down on the bed, an’ showed me her gloves, ’n’ began to tell me about the store where she bought ’em, ’n’ she acted so queer! She never once looked in my face, an’ she seemed nervous like, an’ I wondered to myself what in the world was the matter with her; but even then I never thought about John. He
came in presently, 'n' sat down, ’n’ pretty soon she got up and went off to bed. Then I asked John where in the world they went, to be so long; an’ then he told me where they’d been, an’ it wa’n’t but a few minutes’ walk. I don’t know what ’t was, I could n’t ever tell, but there was something in his way o’ speakin’ that did n’t sound natural, — not a mite. You know you feel things, sometimes ; well, I jest felt something that you couldn’t put into any words, an’ it all came over me in a minute how queer it was, when John was so tired he could n’t drag one foot after the other, for him to go walking up ’n’ down with her for more than an hour. 'T was only a little after seven when we came up from tea, an’ now it was after nine. I never said a single word, but I jest lay thinkin’, thinkin’ it over, I don’t know how long, — ten minutes may be, — when all of a sudden, John, he came up and kissed me, oh, such a kiss! Well, I don’t suppose I could make ye understand, if I was to try, what it was about that kiss. I don’t know how to tell ye the difference, unless ye know it yourself. John had n’t kissed me that way for years, — not for years an’ years ; it was the way he used to kiss me at the very fust, — when we were fust married. A man don’t kiss ye jest the same after he’s used to bein’ with ye all the time; it’s their nature, I suppose, an’ a woman’s got to be real sensible not to mind it when it fust begins to be different; but if she is sensible she won’t mind it; the love’s there all the same, and as like’s not better when it’s all quiet like, and nothin’ wild or hasty about it. Jest as soon as John set his lips on to mine that way, I gave a little scream; I could n’t help i., He jest laughed, and turned away, an’ I did n’t say a word; but if there ’d been a blaze o’ lightnin’ in the room that minute, an’ the words written on the wall, I should n’t ha’ read it any plainer what that kiss meant. I knew he ’d been kissin’ Nelly; an’ that was the reason she’d acted so queer, an’ that was the reason they 'd stayed out a-wanderin’ round in the dark all that time. I never spoke a word, an’ when John spoke to me I pretended to be sound asleep; an’ then I laid there all that night, with my eyes wide open, thinkin’ what’d become of me, an’ wishin’ myself dead. Now I suppose there’s plenty o’folks that don’t think there’s any great harm done if a married man does kiss a pretty girl; an’ I don't go to say myself that it’s any sin. I don’t suppose it can be, or the Lord would n’t ha’ made so many real good, honest sort o’ men, with such natures that they can’t help doin’ it when the notion seizes ’em. But this is what I do say: that while a man loves one woman with his whole heart an’ soul, he don’t ever want to kiss any other woman; more ’n that, it would go against him to; he could n’t. An’ that’s the way I’d always loved John, an’ that ’s the way I ’d always thought he loved me; an’ he did, too, I know he did, till that night.
“ Well, in the morning I waited for John to speak fust; soon ’s I answered him I expect he knew by my voice what I was thinkin’ of. I don’t doubt he knew I knew all about it. We ’d often talked about such things, an’ I’d always told him that I should think any woman would know in one second if anybody ’d come between her an’ her husband. He did n’t say much ; when he did speak, he seemed to be kind o’ tryin’ to say cheerful and natural things; an’ every time I answered him, my voice seemed to me to get fainter ’n’ fainter; it seemed to me I was jest dyin’ all over. I could see he was a-thinkin’ an’ thinkin’. I’m almost sure he had a notion to tell me himself jest what he’d done; an’ I’ve often thought if I’d gone up an’ put my arms round him, an’ burst out cryin’, the way I felt like doin’, he would ha’ told me, an’ everything would have been different. But I expect he did n’t dare to; a man can’t tell how a woman ’ll take things; and then it would n’t ha’ been fair to Nelly, either. I was combin’ my hair, before the glass, when he got all dressed, an’ he came up behind me and put his two hands on my neck. ' Oh, don’t! ' said I; ' your hands are cold.’ He never said a word, but went right out o’ tlie room. The tears jest rolled down my face soon ’s he ’d shut the door. I knew now, clearer ’n ever, jest how it all was; an’ what I was to do I could n’t see. It seemed to me I could n’t go down to breakfast, an’ look Nelly Barrett in the face, without burstin’ out cryin’. I did n’t feel no ways angry with her, an’ I wondered I did n’t; but I’d always been so fond of her, I could n’t. And I did n’t feel a bit mad with John either; all the jealous women I’d ever seen had acted real mad, but I did n’t feel so. I only jest felt ’s if the heart had died right out o’ me, and if I could jest get right away out of everybody’s sight, that was all I’d ask. But I was proud, too, an’ I did n’t want anybody to see I felt bad, especially Nelly. I determined that she should n’t know a thing; so I went down to breakfast, and I spoke to Nelly jest the same as ever. I saw her a-lookin’ at me, but I did n’t take any notice. John did n’t come in till after we’d all set down at the table; he came right along, as if he was goin’ to set down by me, an’ then, all of a sudden, he went the other side of the table, an’ set down by her, right opposite me. Now that wa’n’t but a very little thing, but there’s times when the least thing ’ll seem as if it ’ud kill ye; an’ when he went round the other side the table, an’ sat down by side o’ Nelly, I could have screamed right out, it hurt me so ; but I jest went right on talkin’ to Seth, an’ did n’t seem to notice. It’s a mercy our thoughts ain’t written on our faces; there would n’t be any livin’ in this world if they were.
“ Well, we started right after breakfast. We 'd got a beautiful lunch put up in a basket; and oh my! but the sun did shine that day. They all said ’t was the prettiest kind of a spring day ; an’ I expect it was, but to me it seemed as if it was jest blindin’ with light. I wanted to shut my eyes all the time. I sat on the back seat with Nelly, an’ John an’ Seth, they sat for’ard. I expected John ’ud ask her to ride with him, but he did n’t. He felt real sorry for me in his heart, — I know he did. I shall always think that; I always have.
“ It was pretty near noon when we got to the top o’ the Run. The horses went slow; they were tired, comin’ off such a long journey; it seemed to me they jest crawled an’ crawled. I wanted to get there, an’ get out, an’ get off alone by myself an’ think. When we got out o’ the wagon, Nelly says, ‘ Now, I 'm goin’ down to the bottom of the Run. Won’t you take me, John? ’
“ ' Oh, don’t!’ said I. ‘It’s awful dangerous goin’ down there. Sometimes the rocks fall, and if one was to slip under your feet ye’d roll to the bottom. I’ve heard of the narrowest escapes.’
“ ‘ I don’t care,’ says Nelly. ‘ I’m goin’ down if I have to go alone. I ’m goin’ to see the whole on ’t.’
“ John was busy unhitchin’ the horses, an’ did n’t hear her; but when he came up, I found they ’d talked it all over before, an’ she’d told him she meant to go down. It seemed to me I should go crazy while they stood talkin’. At last I says, ‘ Well, I’m jest goin’ to sit down up here, while you go scramblin’ about. I’ve been all round here lots o’ times; it’s no new sight to me. I ’ll stay where I am. ’
“ I thought John ’ud urge me to go along, at least part,way. But he did n’t. He never said one word. My heart turned sort o’ faint in me, ’s I saw he didn’t speak; of course I saw then, plain enough, he’d rather go alone with her; Seth could n’t go far with ’em, he was so lame. Jest as they were startin’, Seth, he turns to me, an’ says he, jest as unsuspicious as could be, an’ laughin’, ‘ I guess I can’t keep up with them long. I’ll roam round by myself.’
“ I watched them as they set off, Nelly goin’ ahead like a deer, an’ I could n’t stand it. I called out ' John! ’
“ ‘ What is it? ’ he said, an’ turned round, but never came a step back.
“ ‘ Come here a minute,’ I said. He came and stood close to me, but he did n’t look right square into my eyes. I guess he mistrusted what I was goin’ to say.
“ ' Oh, John,’ said I, an’ I know my eyes filled up with tears, ‘ won’t you jest go slow, and rest between whiles, so Seth can keep with ye? He said he could n't keep up with you, an’ he’d have to go alone. And, John, please don’t go down into the Run; I’d feel so much easier if ye would n’t. I shall jest sit here and worry every minute, if I think ye ’re goin’ down there. It’s awful dangerous. Do promise me ye won’t do it, John.’
“ ‘ Well, I don’t want to go, myself,’ said John, ‘ but Nelly, she’s so set to. But I guess there won’t be time, anyhow,’an’ he pulled out his watch and looked at it. ‘No,’ he said, ‘ we could n’t do it possibly, and get back here in two hours.’
“ I felt real grateful then, and I said, ‘Oh, if you only won’t! I’d feel so much easier.’
“ ‘ Well, we ’ll report to you,’ he said, and hurried off to overtake Nelly, and never looked back at me once; an’ those were the last words I ever heard John speak, an’ that was the last time I ever set eyes on his face.
“ I can’t tell ye much about the time I sat there alone on those rocks. It seemed to me ’t was a thousand years. I got a shady place, under an old cedar-tree, where I could look way down into the Run an’ off to sea. You could see the line o’ the river, way out to the harbor, where the great booms were that held the logs. There were ships comin' an’ goin’, I remember; an’ I watched ’em’s far as I could; an’ there were lots o’ little ants crawlin’ round on the ground, — ants ’n’ flies ’n’ several kinds o’ little insects with shining wings, — all goin’, goin’, an’ never once stoppin’ to rest; an’ I looked at ’em all with a kind o’ pitiful wonder what God made such a world full o’ creatures for, an’ if there was any livin’ thing that did n’t have to suffer. I remember an eagle flew across the Run once, an’ a lark sung out; an’ when that lark sung, I jest burst out eryin’, I did n’t see how anything could be so glad as that bird’s voice sounded. I felt’s if I’d like to kill it for singin’ so close to me. The more I thought, the more I felt sure that John would go down the wall o’ the river, after all; for as I thought over what he said, I saw he had n’t made any promise. He only said there wouldn’t be time, he guessed; and I made up my mind that he’d all along meant to do it, if Nelly was set to go. I got up, an’ walked round an’ round. One minute I thought I 'd go after ’em, an’ see if I could n’t keep him from goin’ ; but I knew I could n’t ever find ’em in that wild place. There’s more ’n five hundred thousand rocks, all piled up one top of another, an’ in an’ out, an’ every which way, along the top o’ that Run. Oh, but it’s well named for the devil; it’s named true.
“ At last, I took John’s coat, — he’d taken it off an’thrown it on the ground, jest as he started; he said he’d be too warm,—I took that an’ folded it up, and laid down on the ground an’ put my head on it; an’ ’s soon ’s I touched it, I jest burst out cryin’ again. I jest hugged that old coat, ’n’ I kissed it, ’n’ I cried till, if you ’ll believe me, I went to sleep. Now, was n’t that a queer thing, too, that when I was a-feelin’ so wretched I could ha’ slept ? But I was jest worn out with lyin’ awake the night before, an’ keepin’ such a strain on myself not to show anything; an’ I must have slept a good two hours, for when I waked up the sun was shinin’ on my head, and it had come a good piece to do that. I jumped up an’ looked round; the horses were whinnyin’ like mad, and I knew by that it must be real late. They were used to bein’ fed about noon. At first I thought I 'd go an’ see if I could n’t find John an’ the rest; but I knew that would n’t be any use; so I sat down again, an’ waited. I jest looked off to sea, an’ never turned my eyes any other way. I did n’t dare to look down into the Run. It seemed to me, if I did, I should throw myself in, sure. So I sat still 'n' looked off at that ocean and sky, till ’t seemed ’s if I could see right through the sky. All of a sudden I heard steps comin’, and great pantin’ breaths, ’n’ I got up, 'n’ ran up the bank. I was a little ways down on a big ledge, in the shade; an’ as soon ’s I got to the top, there I saw Nelly, runnin’, a-holdin’ on to both her sides. She could n't. hardly get one foot before the other, she was pantin’ so, ’n’ the tears streamin’ down her face, ’n’ she gaspin’ out, — “ ' Oh, — oh, Moll! John’s — fallen — in; Seth — he’s tryin’ — to — get — down — to him; — he — says — we — must harness — right — up — ’n’ drive — back — ’n’ get — men — to go — up — in a boat. Perhaps — they — can — find—him — better — that — way.’
“ It seemed ’s if I did n’t hear a thing after the first word. I kept interruptin’ her. ‘ I’m goin’ down to him myself,’ I said, an’ I started to run the way she’d come. But she grabbed hold o’ me like iron.
“ ‘ Moll, Moll! ’ she said, ‘ there could n’t no mortal woman go down there; it’s a straight precipice where he went over Seth’s workin’ down higher up, an' if he is on the rocks he ’ll get to him after a while. But Seth said I was to tell you that he said for you to go; you’d help best by gettin’ men up the other way with a boat.’
“ ‘ Where was you? ’ said I, ’s I was gettin’ the harness on to old Kate. My hands trembled so I could n’t hardly do anything; but Nelly, she was workin’ ’s if she wa’n’t any mortal woman. She had Dick all harnessed before I ’d got the headstall on to Kate. ‘ Where was you when he fell over? How’d he come to fall? ’
“ ‘ Oh, we were half-way down the wall,’ said she, ' an’ we came to a narrow ledge he thought we could walk on; ’n’ he jest stepped on to it, ’n’ held out his hand to me, and says, Come on, Nelly, give me your hand. I’ll lead you across!” An’ I was jest liftin’ my foot to step on, an’ the words wa’n’t out o’ his mouth, when the whole ledge fell, 'n' he went right out of my sight, and the whole rock where I was standing shook so that I fell down flat. As soon ’s I could I crept out an’ looked over, but I could n’t see anything; it was a straight wall right down to the river. But Seth says there are lots o’ ledges; he may have caught on one.’
“ ' Was Seth there, too? ’ said I. I spoke very slow. I seemed to be all turnin’ to stone, somehow, now I found that ’t was in goin’ down that wall I’d begged him so not to go down that he ’d met his death; for I knew he was dead,— knew it jest’s well the fust minute she said, ‘John’s fallen in!’ ’s I know it now. ‘ Was Seth there when he fell in ? ’ said I, slower ’n’ louder. She had n’t seemed to hear me.
“ ' Oh, no,’ she said. ' Seth hadn’t been with us at all. He said he’d take it easy. I found him on the top. He wa’n’t very far off from the place where we went down.’
“ I did n’t say anything. I jest lashed those horses; I wonder we did n't break our necks, for ’t was an awful road. At last my hands got so cold, for all ’t was a warm day, I couldn’t drive, ’n’ I put the reins into Nelly’s hands, ’n’ says I, ‘ You must drive; I can’t; ’ an’ that was the last thing I knew till I come to in a bed. They told me about it afterwards. They said I went into a dead faint ’s soon’s I handed the reins to Nelly, an’ if a man had n’t come along jest that minute, a-ridin’ horseback, she never could have kept me in that wagon an’ driven the horses; but the man, he fastened his horse behind, and got in an’ drove, and Nelly, she held me up; an’ I never knew no more when they lifted me out than if I had been stone dead.”
Here Sister Mary paused, drew a long sigh, clasped her hands tighter, and shut her eyes. I waited a long time for her to speak. Then I said, in a quivering voice, —
“Oh, tell me the rest! Do let me know it all! ”
She opened her eyes very slowly, and looked at me with the gaze of one just awakening from a trance. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and her voice for the first time trembled, as she replied, —
“ There is n’t any more to tell.”
“ Didn’t they ever find his body?” I ventured to ask.
“ Yes,” she said, with a sob. “ They found his body; but it was a week, first. It worked down with the logs; the river was awful high. They found it in one o’ the booms; but I never saw it. They said I’d better not.”
“Did you go home with Nelly an’ Seth? ” I asked.
A deep red mounted instantly to her cheek. “You don’t suppose I could ever ha’ looked into that girl’s face again, do you?” said she. “ Not that I blamed her a mite, — no, not a mite; but I could n’t ever see her again, — that’s all. I think I should have dropped dead to look at her. Her face wa’n’t ever from before my eyes, any more ’n John’s was; it seemed as if I could n’t eyen be let to think of him, even in his grave, without seein’ her face along-side. I don’t know how it was, but that was the way my mind worked, an’ I couldn’t do anything with myself. I guess I wa’n’t quite right in my head for a spell. I was at Parson Quimby’s. They took me in; they ’d always been good friends of ours. Seth and Nelly, they stayed down’s long ’s they could; an’ they’d come a dozen times a day, an’ beg to see me; but I couldn’t. Nelly, she came up to the door o’ my room once, and stood there cryin’, an’ callin’ through to me, —
“ ‘ Oh, Moll, do jest let me kiss ye for good-by;’ an’ she cried so ye could hear her all over the house. Mrs. Quimby, she was sittin’ with me at the time, and says she, —
“ ‘ Oh, do let that poor child in, can’t ye? She’s breakin’ her heart; she thinks you feel to think on her’s if she was to blame for all that ’ s happened. ’
“ But I could n’t see her, I told Mrs. Quimby; an’ I charged her to say it ’s strong ’s she could that I had n’t any hard feclin’ towards her, — not the least mite. I did n’t hold her no ways accountable for John’s bein’ gone. An’ that I ’d always loved her, an’ she might count on it I always should; but, the Lord willin’, I’d never set my eyes on her,—not in this world. I could n’t.”
“No,” said I, “ you could n’t. I don’t wonder you felt so. But I don’t see how you could say you loved her.”
“ Well, I did,” replied Sister Mary, “ an’ it was true. I always did love the girl. She did n’t live long, poor little thing; and one o’ the last things she said to Seth before she died was, ‘ Do, oh, do send my last love to poor Moll.’ He wrote it to me in a letter. I never saw him again, either. I did n’t want ever to see anything or anybody to bring back those times. I sent a man up to sell out the farm and all the things. They did n’t bring much; things never do when you have to sell ’em that way. I put all the money in the bank, an’ I hain’t never touched it sence, —only jest the interest. I worked round there a spell; but I was n’t easy till I got away, ’n came down here nussin. It ’s the only thing does me any good. It’s goin’ on sixteen years now I’ve been nussin in this hospital.”
“Now,” she added, “ I don’t know whether I’m goin’ to feel wuss or better for rakin’ all my troubles open this way. I hain’t ever told a livin’ soul but you since I came away from home; but I felt drawn to tell you, somehow. It seemed to me you had more sympathy than common.”
For answer, I took Sister Mary’s wrinkled hand in mine and kissed it; my eyes were full of tears, and I had no voice to speak.
“Wasn’t what I said true?” she added. “ There ain’t any comfort for such a trouble’s that; an’ there never was, an’ there never will be, not even in heaven, supposin’ I 'm so lucky’s to get there, an’ we know our friends when we see ’em, which I’ve never been clear about in my own mind, notwithstandin’
I was Methodist raised an’ a member there thirty years, — no, there ain’t any, comfort. ”
“No,” said I, “ you spoke the truth. There is n’t any comfort.”
“Yes,” said she, “ that’s jest what I’ve always felt; it’s the way I’ve always looked at it. But it ain’t the way o’ our family to pine, or mope round much, — not so long’s there ’s anything to be done.”
(Author of Massy Sprague’s Daughter.)