A Town Mouse and a Country Mouse

“ WELL, Mis’ Phelps, I’m reelly a-goin’ to Glover to see Melindy at last. I be, pos’tive. Don’t seem as though it could be true, ’t is so long sence I sot eyes on her; and I’ve lotted on it so much, and tried so often and failed up on ‘t, that I can’t hardly believe in’t now it’s comin’ to pass. But I be a-goin’ now, sure as you live, Providence permittin’.”

The speaker was a small, thin old woman, alert and active as a chickadee, with a sharp twitter in her voice, reminding one still more of that small black and gray bird that cheers us with his gay defiance of winter, though he utter it from a fir bough bent to the ground with heavy snows. Her dark gray hair was drawn into a tight knot at the back of her head ; her tearworn eyes shone with a pathetic sort of lustre, as if joy were stranger to them than grief; her thin lips wore a doubtful smile, but still the traces of a former dimple, under that smiling influence, creased itself in one lined and sallow cheek. You saw at a glance that she had worked hard always; her small hands were knotted at the joints and callous in the palms ; her shoulders were slightly bent. And you saw, too, that poverty had enforced her labor, for her dress, though scrupulously neat, and shaped with a certain shy deference to the fashion of the day, was of poor material and scant draperies.

Amanda Hart was really a remarkable woman, but she did not know it. Her life had been one long struggle with poverty and illness in her family, to whom she was utterly devoted. She had earned her living in one way or another as long as she could remember. Her mother died when she was a mere child, and her father was always a “ shiftless,” miserable creature, in his later years the prey of a slow yet fatal disease, dying by inches, of torture that defied doctors and wrung poor Amanda’s heart with helpless sympathy.

All these years she not only nursed, but supported him; scrubbed, sewed, washed, — did anything that brought in a little money ; for there were doctors’ bills to pay, beside the very necessities of life to be obtained. Her one comfort was her sister Melinda, a child ten years younger than Amanda, a rosy, sturdy, stolid creature, on whom the elder sister lavished all the deep love of a heart that was to know no other maternity. At last death mercifully removed old Anson Hart to some other place, — he had long been useless here; but before that relief came, Melinda, by this time a young woman, had married a farmer in Glover, and Amanda had moved into Munson, and was there alone. She “ kinder scratched along,” as she phrased it, and earned her living, if no more, in the various ways Yankee ingenuity can discover in a large country town. She had friends who helped her to employment, and always made her welcome in their homes ; for her quaint shrewdness, her very original use, or misuse, of language, her humor, and her kind heart were all pleasant to have about.

Melinda’s marriage was a brief experience. She was left a widow at the end of two years, with a small house and an acre of land; and there she lived alone, on a lonely country road, three miles from the village of Glover, and with no other house in sight.

“ I guess it is as good as I can do,” she wrote to Amanda. “ I cant sell the house, and theres quite a piece of garden to it, besides some apple-trees and quince bushes. Garden sass always was the most of my living, and theres some tailoring to be did, so as that I can get a little cash. Then folks are glad to have somebody around killing times and sech like. Mary Ann Barker used to do that, but shes been providentially removed by death, so I can step right into her shoes. I guess, any way, Ill chance it for a spell, and see how it works.”

Melinda had “ faculty,” and her scheme “ worked” so well that she lived in the tiny red house for years, and in all that time Amanda had not seen her. It was a long journey, and money was hard to get. Perhaps Melinda might have gathered enough to take the journey, but she was by no means affectionate or sentimental. Life was a steady grind to her; none of its gentle amenities flourished in the red house. She had her " livin’ ” and was independent: that sufficed her. But Amanda was more eager every year to see her sister. She thought of her by day and dreamed of her by night; and after fifteen years her cracked teapot at last held coin enough for the expedition. Her joy was great, and the tremulous, sweet old face was pathetic in its constant smiling. She planned her journey as she sat at work, and poured her anticipations into all the neighbors’ ears till their sympathy was well worn out.

But at last the day came. Amanda’s two rooms were set in order, the windows closed, every fly chased out with the ferocity that inspires women against that intrusive insect, and the fire was raked down to its last spark the night before.

“ I don’t care for no breakfast,” she said to the good woman in whose house she lived. “ I should have to bile the kettle and have a cup and plate to wash up; and like enough the cloth’d get mildewy, if I left it damp. I ’ll jest take a dry bite in my clean han’k’chief. I’ve eet up all my victuals but two cookies and a mite of cheese that I saved a puppus.”

“ Why, Mandy Hart! you ’re all of a twitter! Set right down here and hev a cup o’ tea ’long o’ me. You’ve got heaps o’ time; now don’t ye get into a swivet! ”

“Well, Mis’ Phelps, I thank you kindly ; a drop of tea will taste proper good. I expect I be sort o’ nervy, what with takin’ a journey and the thought o’ seein’ Melindy. Now you tell: do I look good enough to go travelin’ ? I thought, first off, to wear the gown Mis’ Swift give me, — that Heneryette, I b’lieve she called it; but I’ve sponged and pressed it till it looks as good as new, and I sort o’ hate to set on ’t in the dust o’ them cars all day. I thought mabbe this stripid gown would do.” “ You look as slick as a pin,” Mrs. Phelps answered.

It was an odd pin, then ! The “ stripid ” dress was both short and scant even for Amanda’s little figure ; it did not conceal an ancient pair of prunella shoes that use had well fitted to her distorted feet, and her ankle-bones, enlarged with rheumatism, showed like doorknobs under her knit cotton stockings. Over her dress she wore a brown linen duster, shiny with much washing and ironing, and her queer little face beamed from under a wide black straw hat wreathed with a shabby band of feather trimming.

But she did not look amiss or vulgar, and the joy that shone in her eyes would have transfigured sackcloth, and turned ashes into diamond dust. She was going to see Melinda! The unsatisfied mother heart in her breast beat fast at the thought. Neither absence nor silence had cooled this one love of her life.

“ I expect I shall enjoy the country dretfully,” she said to Mrs. Phelps. “ It’s quite a spell sence I’ve been there. Mother, she set such store by green things, trees and sech, and cinnament roses, and fennel. My land ! she talked about ’em all through her last sickness, even when she was dangerous. I shall be proper glad to get out to Glover.”

Poor soul! all this meant Melinda.

So she trotted off to the station, with her lunch tied up in a handkerchief in one hand and her cotton umbrella in the other, a boy following with her old cowskin trunk on a wheelbarrow. He was a bad boy, for on the way he picked up an advertisement of a hair restorer and fastened it upon that bald trunk, chuckling fiendishly. But this was lost on Amanda ; she paid him his quarter with an ambient smile, and mounted the carsteps with sudden agility. The car was not full, so she sat down next a window, struggled with a pocketful of various things to find her ticket, thrust it inside her glove, to be ready, and resigned herself to the journey. Outside the window were broad fields green with new grass, budding forests, bright and tranquil rivers, distant mountains, skies of spring, blue to their depths, and flecked with white cloud-fleeces; but they were lost on Amanda. She had not inherited her mother’s tastes : she saw in all this glory only Melinda, the rosy girl who had left her so long ago ; to that presence she referred all nature, wondering if this quiet farmhouse were like that at Glover, if Melinda’s apple-trees had bloomed like those on the hillsides she passed, or if her sister could see those far-off hills from her windows. It was a long day. The “dry bite” was a prolonged meal to our traveler. Every crumb was eaten slowly, in order to pass the weary time. Nobody spoke to her; the busy conductor had short answers for her various questions. She was tired, dusty, and half homesick when at last that official put his head in at the door and yelled: “ Sha-drach ! Sha-drach ! Sha-drach ! Change for Medway, Racketts-Town, and Glover! ”

So Amanda grasped her handkerchief, and, helped by her sturdy umbrella, for she was stiff with long sitting, found her way to the door, and was, as she phrased it, “yanked ” off the steps upon the platform by an impatient brakeman. Why should he be civil to a poor old woman ? Fortunately for her, the stage for Glover stood just across the platform, and she saw the driver shoulder her bare brass-nailed trunk which was duly directed to Melinda and Glover. A long five miles lay before her. The driver was not talkative, she was the only passenger, and it seemed a journey in itself before the stage drew up at the gate in front of Mrs. Melinda Perkins’s farmhouse, and she came out of the door to meet her sister. A faint color rose to Amanda’s cheek, her lips trembled, her eyes glittered, but she only said, “ Well, here I be.” Melinda smiled grimly. She was not used to smiling ; there was no sensitive shyness about her. Tall and muscular, her heavy face, her primmed-up mouth, her hard eyes glooming under that deep fold on the lids that in moments of anger narrows the eye to a slit and gives it a snaky gleam, her flat, low forehead, from which the dull hair was strained back and tightly knotted behind, — all told of a narrow, severe nature, at once jealous and loveless, the very antithesis of Amanda’s. It is true, she stooped and kissed her sister, but the kiss was as frigid as the nip of a clamshell.

“ Come in,” she said, in an overbearing voice. “ Hiram Young, you fetch that trunk in right here into the bedroom.”

“ You ’ll hev to sleep ’long o’ me, Mandy,” announced Melinda, as she swung open her bedroom door, “ for the’ ain’t no other place to sleep.”

“ Why, I sha’n’t object, not a mite,” beamed Amanda. “ It ’ll seem like old times. But you’ve growed a sight, Melindy.”

“ I think likely, seein’ it’s quite a spell since you see me ; but I’ve growed crossways, I guess,” and Melinda gave a hard cackle.

“ How nice you ’re fixed up, too ! ” said admiring Amanda, as she looked about her in the twilight of green paper shades and spotless cotton curtains. The room was too neat for comfort; there was a fluffy, airless scent about it; the only brightness came from the glittering brasses of the bureau, that even in that half-dark shimmered in well-scoured splendor. Outside, the sweet June day was gently fading, full of fresh odors and young breezes ; but not a breath entered that apartment, for even a crack of open window might admit a fly !

Melinda introduced her guest to a tiny closet on one side of the chimney, and then went out to get tea, leaving Amanda to unpack her trunk. This was soon done, for even that small closet was more than roomy enough for her other dress, her duster, and her hat; so that she soon followed her sister, guided by savory odors of hot biscuit, " picked ” codfish, and wild strawberries. This was indeed a feast to the “ town mouse; ” such luxuries as raised biscuit and aromatic wild fruit were not to be indulged in at her own home, and she enjoyed them even more for the faint, delicious odor of old-fashioned white roses stealing in at the open door, the scent of vernal grass in the meadows, the rustle of new leaves on the great maple that shaded the house-corner, and the sharp chirp of two saucy robins hopping briskly about the yard.

It was all delightful to Amanda, but when night shutdown the silence settled on her like a pall ; she missed the click of feet on the pavement, the rattle of horse cars, the distant shriek of railway trains. There was literally not a sound ; the light wind had died away, and it was too early in the season for crickets or katydids, too late for the evening lovesongs of toads and frogs.

In vain did she try to sleep; she lay hour after hour “ listening to the silence,” and trying not to stir, lest she should wake Melinda. Had a mouse, her lifelong terror, squeaked or scratched in the wall, it would have relieved her; but in this dead stillness there was that peculiar horror of a sense suddenly made useless that affects the open eye in utter darkness, or the palsied lips that can make no sound,

Night seemed endless to the poor little woman ; but when at last birds began to awake and chirp to the gray dawn, she fell so soundly asleep that not even Melinda’s rising, or the clatter of her preparations for breakfast in the next room, aroused her. But her sister’s voice was effectual.

“ Be you a-goin’ to sleep all day ? ” said that incisive and peremptory tongue.

The question brought Amanda to her feet, quite ashamed of herself.

“ You see,” she explained to Melinda at breakfast, “ I did n’t get to sleep till nigh sun-risin’, ’t was so amazin’ still.”

“ Still! That had ought to have made ye sleep. Well, I never did! Now I can’t sleep ef there’s a mite o’ noise. I’d have kep’ chickens but for that. Deacon Parker wanted to give me some o’ his white Braymys, but I said : ‘ No ; I ‘ve got peace and quietness, and I ain’t goin’ to have it broke up by roosters.’ ”

“ I s’pose it’s accordin’ as we ’re used to ‘t,”meekly replied Amanda, with an odd sense of being in the wrong, but she said no more ; she was beginning to discover that it was not serene bliss to be with Melinda again. In their long separation she had forgotten her sister’s hard and abrupt ways, and indeed in Melinda’s solitary and very lonely life her angles had grown sharper and sharper ; nothing had worn them off. We can enjoy idealizing a friend, but the longer that ideal fills our hearts the harder does reality scourge us. Amanda could not have explained her heartsinking to herself. She laid it to the isolation of her sister’s house, and, while Melinda made bread, went out to walk a little way, to see if she could not enjoy the country. All about lay green fields, wooded hills, and blooming orchards; for spring was late here in Glover, and only the sheltered hillsides had cast all blossoms from the later trees. A deep sense of desolation clutched Amanda’s homesick heart; there was not a house to be seen, not even a curl of smoke to show that one might be hidden somewhere. Used all her days to the throng and bustle of a large town, she found this country peace unendurable. She went back to the house, took up her knitting, and tried to be conversational.

“ Have n’t got any neighbors at all, have ye, M’lindy ? ”

“ Nearest is Deacon Parker, ’n’ he lives three mild back behind Pond Hill.”

“ My sakes ! what if you should be took sick ? ”

“ But I ain’t never took sick,” snapped Melinda, looking like a sturdy oak-tree utterly incapable of ailments.

“ But you might be ; nobody knows when their time is comin’. Why, when I had the ammonia last year, I do’no but what I should ha’ died, — guess I should, — if it had n’t have been for the neighbors.”

“ Well, I sha’n’t go over no bridges till I come to ’em,” sharply replied Melinda, paring her potatoes with extra energy.

“ Glover is quite a ways from here, ain’t it ? ” queried Amanda.

“ Three mild.”

Evidently Melinda was not given to talking, but Amanda would not be discouraged.

“ Don’t have no county paper, do ye ? ”

“ No. I have n’t got no time to spend on them things. I can ’tend up to my own business, if other folks ’ll take care of theirn.”

Amanda gave an inaudible sigh, and tried no more conversation. After dinner Melinda did ask a few questions, in her turn, about old acquaintances, but her sister’s prattle was effectually cut short. Never in her life had Amanda found a day so dreary or a night so long, for she had it to dread beforehand. Even the sharp rattle and quick flash of a June thunderstorm was a relief to her, for it woke Melinda, and sent her about the house to shut a window here and fasten down a scuttle there, and for a brief space kept her awake ; but after that little space the capable woman slept like a log, —she did not even snore,— and the night resumed its deadly silence.

Oh, how Amanda longed for the living noises that she had so often scolded about in Munson ! The drunken cackle of men just out from the saloons, the rapid rush of a doctor’s carriage whirling by in the small hours, a cross baby next door that would yell its loudest just when she was sleepiest, — any, all of these would have been welcome in this ghastly stillness.

The next day was Sunday, and when the rigidly recurring Sunday breakfast of baked beans and codfish balls was over Amanda inquired timidly : —

“ Do you go to meetin’ on the Sabbath, M’lindy ? ”

“Well, I guess so! We ain’t clear heathen.”

“ I did n’t know but ’t was too fur to walk.”

“ ’T is, but Deacon Parker goes right a-past here, and stops for me. He’s got a two-seater, and there ‘ll be room for you, for he don’t take nobody but me and Widder Drake.”

“ Where ’s Mis’ Parker ? ” “ I do’no. She’s dead.”

Amanda’s eyes opened wide at this doubtful remark about the late Mrs. Parker, but she said nothing; she satisfied herself with watching Melinda dress. Her Sunday garments were a black alpaca gown, shiny with age, what she called a “mantilly” of poor black silk edged with emaciated fringe, and the crowning horror of a Leghorn bonnet, “ cut down ” from its ancient dimensions into a more modern scoop, but still a scoop. It was surmounted with important bows of yellow-green satin ribbon and a fat pink rose with two stout buds. Amanda felt a chill run over her at this amazing head - gear. She did not know that the rose was Melinda’s last protest against old age, her symbol of lingering youth, her “ no surrender ” flag.

“ Why don’t you wear a hat, Melindy ? ” she asked meekly, as she smoothed out the dejected band of her own. “ Bunnets is all gone out down to Munson.”

“ Well, they ain’t here, and I don’t think it’s seemly to wear them flats to meetin’; they’ll do to go a-huckleberryin’ or fetchin’ cows home from pastur’, but, to my mind, they ’re kinder childish for meetin’.”

Amanda said nothing, and just then the deacon drove up to the gate, — a spare old man, with long, scanty white hair and red-rimmed, watery eyes. Amanda was duly presented.

“ Make you ’quainted with my sister, Mandy Hart, down to Munson.”

“ Pleased to see ye,” bobbed Deacon Parker, with a toothless grin. “ I ’d get out to help ye in, but old Whitey don’t never stand good without tyin’ ; and gener’lly Mis’ Drake holds her, but she ’s gone to Shadrach this week back. She’s gardeen to a child over there, and there’s some court business about the prop’ty.”

“ Lawsy! we can get in good enough,” said Melinda, alertly climbing over the hind wheel, and helping Amanda to follow.

“ Spry, ain’t she ? ” said the deacon to Amanda, with another void and formless smile. “ Huddup, Whitey! We don’t want to be late to the sanctooary.”

The drive was beautiful, and gave poor Amanda a gentler opinion of the country. It wound by little silver brooks, under the fragrant gloom of pine woods, and the sweet breath of the fields filled her weak lungs with new life. But alas ! the meeting-house was a square barn with a sharp steeple, and as she sat down on the bare seat of a corner pew, and choked with the dead odors of “ meetin’-seed,” the musty chill of the past week, the camphor that exhaled from Sunday clothes but recently taken from their wintry repose, and the smell of boots that had brought their scent of stable and barnyard, she longed to be back in the handsome, well-ventilated church at Munson, with the soft rustle of a well-dressed, perfumy congregation about her, and the sound of a fine organ and well-trained choir in her ears, offended now by the tuneless squalls and growls of these country singers. Poor town mouse ! She was ready to exclaim with the mouse of Horace : —

“ But, Lord, my friend, this savage scene ! ” That very night she told Melinda that she must leave her on Tuesday, on account of promised work, and accordingly Tuesday saw her safely back again in dear Munson. Her tiny rooms seemed like a refuge to her, as she opened the blinds and let in the warm air. Her natural vivacity, subdued by Melinda and the solitude of the country, returned.

“ Goodness gracious, Mis’ Phelps! ” Amanda exclaimed to her landlady, “ I would n’t no more live in the country than nothin’. Why, ’t was as still as a ear-trumpet out there. I’d ha’ give all my old shoes to ha’ heard a street car or a coal wagon a-rumblin’ by. And lonesome ! There was n’t so much as a rooster a-predicatin’ by in the road. I thought I should die for want of knowin’ I was alive; and the nighttime shuts down onto ye like a pot-lid. You know you can’t go marvelin’ round in other folks’ houses. I jest had to set and knit daytimes, and sense the lonesomeness. I know I should have shockanum palsy if I had to stay there. Melindy is comin’ to see me for a spell early in July, about the Fourth, when it’s kinder lively, and I guess ‘t’ll wake her up some.”

“I expect you had good country victuals and plenty o’ flowers, though ? ” asked Mrs. Phelps, in the indirect Yankee fashion.

“ Well, I did. Melindy’s a-most an excellent cook, and the’ was a patch of wild strawberries growed to the south side of her old barn that was ripe a’ready; they have got taste into ’em, I tell ye ! But, land ! victuals and drink ain’t the chief o’ my diet. I’m real folksy ; grasshoppers ain’t no neighbors to me. I want to be amongst them that’ll talk back to me; not dumb things that won’t never say nothing if you should merang ’em all day.”

“ Why, how you talk ! How does Mis’ Perkins stan’ it ? ”

“I do’no. I expect she’s hardened to it, as you may say. J’d jest as lives set down on a slab in the sempitery all my days as to stay out to Melindy’s. I do’no but I ’d ruther; for there’d be funerals, and mourners, and folks comin’ to desecrate the graves with flowers, and sech, intervenin’ ’most every day there. ’T would be real lively in caparison with M’lindy’s house.”

Now Amanda set herself to adorn her little rooms and keep them in spotless order till her sister should come; and when that happy day arrived she met her at the station, her smiling old face as pleasant as a hollyhock blossom.

“ If I ain’t tickled, now ! ” she beamed on Melinda. “I ve reelly got you here.”

“ I said I ’d come, did n’t I ? ” answered Melinda, with a laborious smile. “I have n’t fetched no great of clothes, for I can’t stay long; fruit is comin’ in, and I’ve got to make preserves for quite a few folks down to Glover.”

She secretly blessed herself for making this announcement early, when she reached Amanda’s little tenement: two rooms over a grocer’s store, redolent with smells of kerosene, cloves, pepper, and the like, added to the fumes of bad tobacco from customers’ pipes.

Not only smells, but dust and the heat of a blazing July day added to her discomfort, though she had the grace not to complain ; and when Amanda had laid aside that wonderful " bunnet,” and set Melinda by the north window with a fan, the country mouse felt a little more comfortable. The tea daunted her ; she could not eat the sliced " Bolony,” as Amanda called it; the baker’s bread was dust and ashes to her taste; the orange marmalade found no favor, though it was a delicacy Amanda had kept for this special purpose, the gift of a friend. Poor Melinda gave afterward a graphic description of this dainty meal to Deacon Parker.

“I never see sech victuals in my life! No wonder Mandy’s lean. Cake and bread jest like sawdust, and, if you ’ll believe it, raw sassages, actooally raw, sliced up on a dish! I never could eat raw meat, much less pork. And the preserves was as bitter as boneset! I went hungry to bed, you ’d better believe.”

Yet worse was in store for the country mouse. Amanda had given up her bed to her visitor, and lain down on the sitting-room lounge; and though it was a breathless night, at first Melinda slept, she was so tired, in spite of the noisy horse cars, rattling wagons, and click of feet.

It was the night of the third of July, and as a neighboring church clock struck twelve the first giant cracker exploded right under the bedroom window. Roused by the crash, that was followed fast by another and another, Melinda started up in all the terror of darkness and din, screaming: —

“ Mandy ! Mandy ! where be ye ? What on earth’s the matter ? ”

Smiling superior, though but half awake, Amanda answered : —

“ ’T ain’t nothin’; it’s the Fourth, and them boys is a-settin’ off crackers. Pesky little sarpents ! I s’pose there is a puppus in boys, but I ‘ve wished frequent that men growed out o’ somethin’ more pleasant. You turn over an’ go to sleep, sister; the’ won’t nothin’ do ye no harm.”

“ Oh-h ! ” shrieked Melinda again, as a cannon roared from the green close by, and then the whole pandemonium set in.

The cat Civilization, with the ribbon of simulated patriotism round its neck, set upon our country mouse now with feline fury. Every noise that could be made by gunpowder, horns, or bells, as well as yelling boys, crashed upon this poor woman’s head till she was all but crazy. How she longed for the sweet quiet of her own home, and longed in vain, for she could not get away ! Stern and silent as she seemed to be, she was but a woman, and a real feminine panic ensued.

Amanda had her hands full for the rest of the night. Her panacea of “red lavender” was useless, and this was no case for her favorite salve that cured everything. She fanned Melinda, soothed her as she best knew how, and tried with all her heart to comfort and compose the frightened woman, steadied herself by a shy sense of superiority and courage to which Melinda could not attain. But not until sunrise dispersed the crowd of celebrators, and a sort of silence replaced the clamor, could Melinda close her eyes and snatch a nap before breakfast.

Coffee, steak, and stewed potato she could eat when that breakfast came; and later on, when Amanda said timidly, " Would you like to walk out a ways? ’T is n’t quite so hot, and we can get a good place to see the percession,” Melinda did not refuse. She was glad to get out-of-doors, but nothing could induce her to ride in the horse cars ; so Amanda guided her about the pretty town, showed her the public buildings, the fine houses of summer residents, the various churches, and the gay shop-windows, till, worn out, they sat down on one of the hard benches set here and there on the green, to wait for the event of the day.

“ Who goes into the pr’cession ? ” inquired Melinda.

“ Oh, fire comp’nies, an’ temperance s’cieties, the perlice, and th’ elect men. Bands, too, — brass bands with insterments.”

Melinda stared her fill at the mélange that soon wheeled by.

“Say, Mandy, what be them fellers with muffs on their heads, a-throwin’ up sticks and ketchin’ of ’em ? ”

“ They call ’em drum majors, I b’lieve, though I don’t see no drums. I do lot on seein’ ’em always, they ’re so pompious, and yet so spry. Look ! d’ ye see that one catch his batten an’ twirl it ? ”

Melinda nodded her great bonnet, which had all day attracted nearly as much attention as she bestowed on the drum majors, but she was tired enough to go home now and enjoy a cold dinner.

Perhaps she thought the terrors of the day were over, but they were not. For years before her marriage they had all lived in the deep country, so that the most common sights of the town were unknown to her ; and when Amanda insisted on her going out to see the fireworks that wound up that holiday, Melinda’s nerves received another shock. The star-dropping rockets, the spitting pinwheels, the soft roar of Roman candles, the blare of “ set ” pieces, neither pleased nor interested her ; she was in terror lest those irresponsible fire-flakes should light on her Sunday bonnet, and every fierce rush of a rocket made her jump with fresh fear.

“ Don’t say no more, Mandy! ” she declared the next day, when her sister tried to have her stay longer. “ I’ve got to go. I could n’t stan’ it another minute. I’m real obleeged to ye for what ye’ve did to make it pleasant for me, but I can’t stan’ a town. I’m all broke up a’ready, and I ‘m as homesick as a cat to get back. I’d rather have a hovel out in the lots than a big house here. There’s too many other folks here for me. I wish’t you’d come out to Glover and make it home ’long o’ me.”

“ Land, Melindy! I could n’t live there an hour. I should die of clear lonesomeness, — I know I should. Why, when I had the neurology in my diagram, last winter, and there come a dretful snow, so as that the neighbors could n’t none of ’em happen in, I thought ’t would finish me up. What should I do if I was took sick to your house? No doctor, no folks around ! It makes me catterpiller to think on ’t. But I ’m jest as obleeged, and I hope you ’ll come to Munson some time when ’t ain’t the Fourth.”

So Melinda went back to her solitude, and Amanda settled down again to her town life, yet with a vague sense of trouble. She could not have defined it, but it really was the consciousness that, having obtained her heart’s desire, it had not satisfied her. We all come to it sooner or later. “ I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness,” says David. Is not the phrase a tacit confession that nothing on earth had ever satisfied him, king and poet as he was ?

A month or two after Melinda went back to Glover, Amanda received a more positive, an appreciable shock in the following letter : —

DEAR MANDY, — I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am usually well and hope you enjoy the same blessing. I have been busy continual sence I come back, finding quite a little to do about the house and gardin.

I supose I had better speak wright out, though you will be some surprised I expect to hear that I am intending for to change my condishun soon. Fact is Deacon Parker and I calculate to be joined in the bans of Matrimony Monday next, twas quite onexpected to me when he spoke, but after a thinking of it over it looked as though the was a Providence into it for I called to mind what you said about my being took sick here all alone, and though I am not fur along in years, nor sickly, still the is sech a thing as accidents to be pervided against at all times. I have heered folks say that they would n’t be no man’s fourth but law ! what.’s the difference ? The others is all dead, and buried.

We shant make no weddin, but he and me will be pleased to see you when you can make it convenient to come out to Glover for a spell. Mabbe you wouldnt be so lonesome now for he keeps quite a few chickens; hes a master hand for eggs.

So no more at present from Yourn truly


“ Oh Lordy ! ” shrieked Amanda, as Mrs. Phelps opened the door and she dropped her letter. “ Oh ! I never did ! What upon airth is she a-thinkin’ of ? Heavens to Betsey ! that miser’ble old stick! ”

“ Why, Mandy Hart, what’s befell you ?

“Befell me? ‘T ain’t me. I ain’t nobody’s fool. Mis’ Phelps, Melindy is a-goin’ to marry a old feller out to Glover as white-headed an’ red-eyed as a albinia rabbit, and as toothless as a punkin lantern. Pos’tive ! I don’t no more know how she can! Moreover, she sort of twits me with sayin’ that I should n’t know how to be took sick in her house, ’t was so lonesome, and no doctor within five mild, and no way of gettin’ to one at that. Says that put it into her head ! ”

“ Well off, ain’t he ? ” asked Mrs. Phelps, with the crisp acerbity of a woman who knows her world.

“ She says he’s got means and she ‘ll hev a home. A home, with that little ferret a-hoverin’ around the hull endurin’ time! I ’d rather grind a handorgan round Munson streets ! I didn’t think Melindy could.”

Two irrepressible tears trickled down the grieved old face from eyes that were sadder than the tears. But Amanda had made her moan. She did not answer Melinda’s letter ; she went on her tedious way with more patience but less cheer than ever, and the next thing she heard of her sister was the following spring, when a note from Deacon Parker arrived, running thus : —

MISS AMANDY HART,—This is to inform you that your sister is real sick with a fever ; the doctor thinks shes dangerous. Shes kep a-askin for you for a week back, but I didnt pay no attention tot, thought she was kind of flighty and twould only be a bill of expense to send for ye. But now Doctor Fenn says shes got to hev a nuss any way, so I bethought me to send for you. I expect to pay your way so I put in a five dollar bill. If youll come a Wednesday I shall be pleased to see ye.

Yours to command


Amanda was alert immediately; she had short notice to set her house in order and buy a few little delicacies for her sister. A born nurse, she knew just what to get and what to take, and was ready to set off on the early train next day. The journey seemed longer than before, the stage road was heavy, and it was much further to the deacon’s house than to her sister’s. She found Melinda very ill indeed.

“ You poor dear soul ! ” Amanda said, as she bent over her sister, with her heart in her kind eyes. “ I wish ‘t you ’d sent for me before. I wish I had ye down to Munson in the Home Hospittle ; you ’d be so much better off.”

A flash of hot color surged up into the sick woman’s sallow, listless face ; she lifted herself, with the sudden force of will, higher on her pillow ; a weak, hoarse voice issued from her blackened lips.

“ I would n’t go ! Don’t ye speak on ’t! None o’ them institootions for me. I ain’t so low down as that,— not yet!” It was the last protest of sturdy independence ; she sank down again, and began muttering to herself.

Amanda looked about her to see what could be done. The room was small and dark, opening out of the kitchen. The one window faced the north ; not a ray of sun ever visited it, and its outlook was on a rough lane leading to the near barnyard. On the other side of the lane was a swamp, where the first grass was just greening the tussocks, and folded cones of skunk cabbage were slowly growing up out of the black stagnant water. The window could not be opened ; evidently no one had tried to open it since it was paint-stuck, years ago. She could do nothing there, so she set the door wide into the kitchen and opened the outer door. Fumes of boiling cabbage and frying pork came into the bedroom in clouds, but there was fresh air mingled with them. Melinda lay in the hollow of a feather bed, burning with typhoid fever, and Amanda could not lift her without help ; the deacon was milking, and old Moll Thunder, the temporary “ help,” was half drunk. Amanda thought with a pang of the clean rooms and easy beds of the Cottage Hospital at Munson, the white-capped nurses, the skillful doctors, and her heart sank, though she knew, from long experience of sickness, that no human power could save Melinda now ; but it might have been otherwise, and she was her only sister, the last tie of kindred blood. She did what she could to make the poor woman comfortable, but it was too late. Melinda did not utter a rational word again : a few broken whispers, — “To home,” “ What a green medder ! ” “ Tell Mandy,” — and then stupor overpowered all her faculties. There were a few hours of sonorous breathing; the stern features settled into the pinched masque of death. Melinda had gone beyond her sister’s help.

“ Yes,” said Amanda, the week after, to Mrs. Phelps, who had come in to sympathize with her, “ she was dretful sick when I got there; reelly you may say she was struck with death. And now the last one I’d got lies a-buried in the sand an’ stuns in that lonesome graveyard, full o’ hardhacks, and mulleins. ’T wa’n’t much of a funeral, but I had ’em sing Jordan, for you know it tells about ‘ sweet fields beyond the swellin’ flood ; " and she favored the country so, it seemed sort o’ considerate so to do. Oh, dear ! she was all the sister I ’d got, Mis’ Phelps, and ’t is a real ‘fliction. Deacon Parker was a mind to have me stay ’long o’ him, for company ; he was, pos’tive ! But mercy ! I should ha’ gone crazy a-lookin’ at him, if I had ! ”

Now Amanda was alone indeed: she had been so for years, but there had always been an aim and object to her life ; Melinda was in her mind and on her heart. The pleasant expectations, the frail hopes, that had been so dear to her tried in vain to live : they had no resting-point; they recoiled on her with a dull sense of want and solitude. She grew listless, feeble, and sad: yet when a friend or neighbor came in to see her she brightened up, and was so cheery that it was a surprise to them all when she took to her bed and had a doctor. He could find nothing that seemed to warrant her weakness; ordered nourishment, as doctors do, gave her some harmless pills, and went away smiling.

“ He do’no nothin’ what ails me,” Amanda said in a half whisper to Mrs. Phelps. “ I guess I’ve got through. I’ve always looked forrard to Melindy’s comin’ finally to live with me ; an’ fust she went an’ married that old Parker, an’ then she up an’ died. I wish’t I’d ha’ stayed with her longer ; mabbe she would n’t have died. She was n’t old ; not nigh so old as I be. I feel as though there was n’t nothin’ to live for; but I s’pose if’t is the Lord’s will I shall live, only I guess ’t ain’t. I feel a goneness that I never had ketch hold o’ me before. Well, I sha’n’t be lonesome, any way ; there’s many mansions, and they tell about the holy city; and all my folks is there—or somewhere.”

A vague look clouded her eyes for an instant, but she was too weak to speculate. Once more she spoke, very softly:

“ I hope M’lindy likes it. ‘ Sweet fields,’ — that’s what the hymn tells about.”

She turned her head on the pillow, sighed — and was gone.

Rose Terry Cooke.