Miss Tom and Peepsie


I CANNOT remember a time when I did not know Miss Tom. Of my first introduction to Peepsie, and how it came about, I am now going to tell.

The shocks in Miss Thomasine Benton’s cornfield, on a certain autumn evening, some years ago, were far apart, and not very big; but sunset touched each serried top with orange-colored flame, and the crisp, light rustle-rustle of the west wind, as it passed flutteringly by over dry blades and tassels, was a pleasant sound to hear. The shadows stretched long and dark, with weed-tufted, trampled spaces of ground between shimmering faintly as through golden haze. By a pile of ears, new stripped, smooth shining, ivory white, stood our neighbor Miss Tom, as we called her, angular, erect, grim, and watchful ; the man’s felt hat on her gray head pulled well forward over frowning brows, her hands in the pockets of her Kentucky jeans sack coat, her indigo-blue cotton skirts tucked up to her knees, and the country-made shoes on her large homely feet rusty brown with the soil; while Uncle Pete, her former slave and latterday “ hand on the place,” heaped up his half-bushel basket in solemn, busy silence, and emptied it into the ox-cart waiting near. They were measuring the corn that had been that day shucked, when, pausing in a ramble across the field, I stopped there beside them.

Now, it befell on this particular evening that, while pleasantly loitering thus, — the usual short but friendly nod of greeting having been exchanged between Miss Tom and myself. — I perceived a faint chirping sound, very faint and muffled, coming from somewhere close at hand ; and, on the alert directly, I began spying around among the weeds and scattered fodder blades to see what it might be, when Miss Tom, noticing my look of inquiry, drew from her coat pocket a new-hatched chicken, and held it up to view in the hollow of her palm.

It was a tiny thing, plump and round and soft, its brownish-yellow down crumpled and damp from recent shut - in warmth, its bright little eyes blinking half sleepily, its feet like a new-born baby’s hands for clinging, crinkled helplessness. There was, too, that babyish mystery, that suggestively knowing yet secret air, about it which all very young animals seem to share in common. Nothing could have been in funnier contrast to Miss Tom herself — gaunt, stalwart, old-maid Miss Tom — than this creature; and as it gave two or three appealing “ peeps,” and stretched its wings with a shiver, she looked down at it with an expression flitting over her countenance that I had never seen there before.

“ Oh, Miss Tom ! ” I cried, with all the delighted enthusiasm of a fifteen-year-old girl devoted to pets, and particularly feathered ones. " The sweet, s-sweet thing ! Where did it come from, and how do you happen to have it ? ”

“ The thing’s been a-worryin’ my life out all this blessid livelong day,” said Miss Tom, making a vain attempt at her common dry severity of speech. " It beats any little toad of a creeter that ever I did see. ’T won’t be satisfied nowheres but right here in my pocket, or in my lap when I’m settin’ down, or under the tail o’ my frock. There ’s that gal May Lou, now, might take keer of it, but her head ’s always wool-getherin’, set on that place she come from, or mebbe on the notion o’ marryin’; an’ it don’t ’pear to fancy her, noway. It ’pears to like me ” (and just here came a certain curious note as of tender triumph into the speaker’s voice) “ better ’n anybody else. If I put it in a baskit by ’tself, it jest turns in an’ hollers its heart out. The sound ’s that pitiful it jest makes me—well, mad enough to kill the thing. I don’t want to tread on it, creepin’ under my feet, so here I am totin’ it round with me same ’s any human baby.” And here Miss Tom lifted one rugged knuckly finger and gave the object of her wrath a gentle, furtive stroke.

“ But where is its mother, Miss Tom,” said I, “ and why can’t she take care of it ? ”

Now, Miss Thomasine Benton was usually a taciturn old body, but the tale of this adoption which she proceeded to tell was too long to be repeated word for word. How a certain old “ dominicker,” the plague of her life, who killed most of the chickens she hatched by trampling on or smothering them, had stolen a nest in some waxberry bushes near the house, and, " unbeknown ” to anybody, hatched out this chick ; how Miss Tom had first chanced to hear it on the previous evening, " peepin’ in the grass,” and had finally found it, all alone, “ mighty nigh perished, with ev’ry pin feather on it wrong side out in the wind, wand’rin’ right away from the nest,” — all this I heard, and to call my interest breathless is not exaggeration.

“ I did think at first,” concluded Miss Tom, “ that I ’d put it back under its mammy. I heered her, you see, a-cluckin’ an’ scoldin’ in the bushes, an’ soon come across her there, sittin’ on two mo’ eggs, both of ’em rotten. There ’s nothin’ like mother heat for sich baby tilings, you know. But when I started to put this here under that ole dominicker, she glared round at it so with them yellerred eyes, an’ she looked sich a no-sense, conceited fool, an’ the po little shakin’ mite, it seemed so afeard of her, that I jest took it ’long indo’s to the fire, an’ rubbed it warm myself.”

“ And did it sleep by the fire, in a basket, last night ? ” I asked.

Miss Tom did something quite new to my knowledge of her: she actually blushed all over her face, a warm, youthful red.

“ Well, n-no,” said she slowly, in a sort of shamefaced way. “ I fixed it in a baskit, with some soft ole rags for coverin’ ; but it peeped in sich a lonesome way, an’ made me so mad, that I jest wrapped it up in a ole handkerclier an’ took it in the bed with me. I ’most felt like wringin’ its neck. All it ’pears to want is cuddlin’ up to somebody, but ’specially me. I put it up close ag’inst my neck, an’ it slep’ sweet an’ quiet as any lamb all night long, jest twirlin’ to ’tself, contented like, now an’ then. This mornin’ it picked crumbs — (you Pete, take keer ! That measure ain’t full yet) — picked crumbs lively as any crickit. It’s a heap o’ botheration, an’ it’s goin’ to be mo’, but I ruther fancy it ’ll pay me back in eggs, some time ; so you see ’t ain’t only because I ‘ve took a fancy to it, or any sich foolishness as that. I ain’t never keered about pet things, an’ it’s ruther too late in the day. me past sixty years ole, to be a-takin’ ’em up now. But I think I ’ll raise this chicken.”

I had got the chicken in my own hands by this time, and was holding it up under my chin, enjoying to the full its fluffy softness, its thrilling, half-friglitened little movements. When it nestled up confidingly, at last, with a low quivering “ twir-r-r,” I thought I saw a spark of jealousy in Miss Tom’s eye. A while later, as we followed the loaded cart toward the barnyard, near the little gray wooden house, not far off, under its big old locust and walnut trees, — I almost running to keep up with my companion’s manlike strides, — the old woman’s charge was once more in her pocket, and a generous offer on my part to take it home with me, and keep it for her till past the troublesome age, met such a firm though not ungracious refusal as convinced me at once that it was no mere hope of new-laid eggs to come, nor a hen-wife’s care-taking instinct, which had prompted the same. Miss Tom had “took a fancy,” as sudden and violent as I might have taken, to this particular chick. It was pure love, and no other feeling, — pure love for something thus loving her in return “better ‘an anybody else,” — which drew her first and last to “ Peepsie.”


From this time on Peepsie was installed as a sharer of Miss Thomasine Benton’s fireside, her bed and board. Miss Tom’s pretended protests against it, her allusions to the arrangement as a bit of troublesome necessity, deceived nobody — nobody at all — in regard to this tender little chance flower of affection which had thus bloomed in her barren life out of that homely emblem of immortality, an egg. What made it more striking was the fact that my old friend had never before been known to pet anything. She openly and honestly hated cats. Captain, her big Newfoundland watchdog, though treated with all due respect and consideration, would have been rather astonished, I think, at any warmer caress than a very rare friendly pat or thump from his mistress. Both amusing and pathetic it was now to see the wistful, half-jealous curiosity with which he regarded this tiny but exacting interloper. In the soft black eyes of May Lou, also, the only other dweller under Miss Tom’s roof, I used to fancy sometimes some glimmers of the same feeling. Neither had she been thus dealt with, when she came, several years before, a little gypsy-faced, pensive creature (" a little black thing,” as Miss Tom contemptuously called her), from the county poorhouse, to find a home none too easy as humble companion and help in this household. Not thus had May Lou, for all her prettiness and her gentleness, found favor in those sharp eyes, which could not overlook the disgrace of such an early abode. To Miss Tom, in her pride and sturdy independence, it was a thing not to he forgotten or forgiven. How could she help being fond of May Lou ? I wondered now more than ever. I knew what May Lou was thinking; yet nevertheless her heart could not be, any more than mine, any more than Miss Tom’s own, long withheld from Peepsie.

Now, whether that egg hatched out by the senseless old “ dominicker ” (I have always felt sure she never could have laid it) fell from eloudland, and gave life to a being of some other more ethereal sphere, temporarily disguised in feathers ; or whether Peepsie was only an exceptional creature of her kind, superior to that kind as never was barnyard fowl before ; or whether, after all, any chick, hatched out any day, so petted and noticed as was Peepsie, would prove equal to her, are questions which often have puzzled me. I had always a weakness for fairy tales, and, while watching this curious pair, — old woman and young chick, — I could not get rid of a haunting idea that Peepsie was something a great deal more than she outwardly seemed, and that she had been or would be, in far past or remote future, somehow mysteriously connected with Miss Tom. I found myself daily half expecting some transformation, — there was something so humanly knowing and affectionate about the fluffy, restless midget. It would not have surprised me the least bit if she had suddenly turned into a trim, quaint, brighteyed, brown-haired little girl, four or five years old (for I could not fancy her a whimpering, sprawling baby), with a brown stuff frock on, the smoothest of white pinafores and tuckers, and the daintiest of slippered feet. That Peepsie was a pullet nobody questioned. There were never, from the first, any of the usual doubts concerning this point. A dainty femininity showed itself in every gesture, in each peek and flutter and turn of the head. The heart-piercing sweetness of her happy little cooings and “ twir-r-r’s,” the irresistible appeal of her plaintive “ peeps,” coming back now, will sometimes bring the tears to my eyes. Compared with other chicks of her age, she was dwarfish and undersized, growing but slowly under these unnatural conditions, the tiny, soft, russet-brown feathers on her wings and tail late in coming out. To see her picking up crumbs on the wide stone hearth, — warming her toes occasionally, but, never once venturing into danger behind the andirons; to have her come creeping under the hem of one’s frock, or, standing just outside, with lifted gaze and ineffectual jumps say as plainly as any words could speak, “Take me up,” and then, perched securely on one’s knee, sing herself to sleep ; to see her pattering anxiously after Miss Tom, upstairs and down, or out in the yard or garden, or, on those delightful occasions when one stayed to tea, eating broiled ham and buttered biscuit, chopped fine, from the edge of Miss Tom’s plate, sipping tea from her saucer, and wiping her bill afterward, with a quaint flourish, on the tablecloth, — what endless amusement did all this afford !

“ Sassy creeter ! ” said Miss Tom. beholding this last exploit. “ Jest see that, now ! I declare, if ’t was n’t for the loss of a good layin’ pullet nex’ spring, I ’d ’most wring its neck, jest to git shut of it.”

But in spite of such speeches as this, grimly made with intent to deceive, any one could see how fond Miss Tom was of Peepsie, and also that with this small, softening influence a curious change had come over the old woman’s life. The lines about her mouth and between her eyebrows relaxed and became faint. The underlying kindness of her voice would persist in asserting itself, in growing sometimes positively tender. More than once, on coming in suddenly, I found her sitting by the tire, with Peepsie on her lap, twirring away, — the county paper and her knitting-work alike neglected, — gazing into the embers, and evidently musing of bygone days. Was she thinking, I wondered, of that early love affair, of which I had often heard from various neighborhood elders ? On the mantelshelf just opposite, looking down at her, was a daguerreotype, still unfaded, though old, in which Miss Tom appeared as a very good-looking, fresheomplexioned girl, with honest, resolute gray eyes hopefully wide open, brown curls (curled on a curling-stick, not one hair out of place), a girlish mouth with dimples where the deepest lines came afterward, and a plump white neck showing off a gold locket to the best possible advantage. In that locket (I had seen it) was a piece of light straight hair entwined with a brown tress cut from her own head. In those young and comely days Miss Tom had had her romance, and also a disappointment.

It was her only brother, Mr. Josiah Benton, storekeeper and man-of-all-business in our county town, who had broken off that match, folk said, and that by no fair means. I knew that Miss Tom, in those placid, pleasant moods, was not thinking of him. Were her thoughts of the lover who had gone West long before, been hurt in a mining accident, and died, piteously far away, in his broken, blighted youth ? Was she picturing the might-have-been that he and she had missed ? May Lou had a lover, too ; and it was Miss Tom, this time, who stood, in the way. There was nothing to be said against Ben Shirley, the young carpenter, who, after building a new corahouse for Miss Tom, some months before, had come back courting May Lou ; but Miss Tom had not minced words when she told them both to expect neither consent nor help from her. If anybody thought that she, Thomasine Benton, had “raised” a girl from the poorhouse, said Miss Tom, with the notion of either leaving her what she had, away from her own kith and kin, — her brother’s children, — or helping her out in any such foolishness as a marriage with a poor young man, why, he was mightily mistaken, and that was all. True, she was not overfond of the said kith and kin, but blood was thicker than water. May Lou might send her sweetheart packing, or else find a home, if he was not ready for her, elsewhere than in Miss Tom’s house. And Ben was not yet ready. Without being allowed to give even so much as a promise, May Lou had sent him away.

When Miss Tom said a thing, she prided herself on sticking to it; and yet, when she looked at May Lou now, since Peepsie’s spell had come over her, looked in a pondering, undecided way, was she questioning, by the light of old tender impulses revivified, whether she had been too hard ? Was it her own trouble that had made her so, and was she now, after all, going to relent ?

I wondered and guessed.


One chilly, blustering evening in early December, when Peepsie was about six weeks old, I ran over to Miss Tom’s, and, upon entering, found to my dismay that Miss Tom’s brother was making her a visit.

Mr. Josiah Benton was enough like his sister in a few general outlines to be thoroughly, provokingly distasteful to any one who could appreciate her immense superiority. There the resemblance ended. The difference which separates simple, genuine homeliness from pretentious vulgarity lay gulf deep and miles wide between them. Self-satisfied, penny-worldly wisdom and conceit, coarse, greedy hardness and selfishness, seemed to radiate from his full-fed person like dry, unwholesome heat from a red-hot stove, — from his light greenishgray eyes, his fat red cheeks, the fringe of grayish whiskers underneath, and the round bald spot on the top of his head. His ready-made clothes, of a " loud ” pattern, seemed to proclaim their price. They were good enough clothes of a certain sort, — taken in connection with him, offensively good ; and the very large shoes on his very large feet were shining to a marvel. They somehow caught my gaze, these last, and held it fascinated. I could hardly look away. Taking him altogether, one could readily believe the tales of his past conduct toward Miss Tom.

He was walking about the floor when I went in. his hands in his trousers pockets, and talking very loud, while Miss Tom, sitting bolt upright, listened with an air of dry, forced civility. May Lou, shrinking in a corner over some needlework, looked as if painfully conscious, in this important, opulent presence, of being nobody in particular, and having come from the poorhouse. Peepsie was in a basket by the hearth, covered with a bit of old rag carpeting, and faintly giving vent now and then to notes of discontent, like one not used to such imprisonment. The visitor paused in his talk long enough to shake hands blandly with me, and then went on again, as if concluding an interrupted speech.

“ Well, ole lady,” said he to Miss Tom, “ as I was a-sayin,’ you’d better take time to think the subjeck over, an’ ponder, an’ make up yo’ mind, befo’ givin’ a definable back-answer. My fam’ly circle’s open to you, if it suits you to close with the barg’in an’ let me cut off the piece. He-he ! ’T ain’t only the place you live at here, but the outlandish way you live, besides, that goes ag’inst my notions. To a person comin’ from town ” (the town where Mr. Benton lived contained about three hundred souls), " a person used to some style, an’ seein’ the new fashions as they come out, ‘t ain’t nothin’ short of outlandish, an’ that’s a fact. Rag kyarpet, now ” (he looked down, and swelled himself out with scornful magnificence), “ rag kyarpet! We’ve jest got a new parler Brussels, dollar ’n’ a half per yard, — red roses on a yaller-buff ground ; an’ there’s not a flo’ in the house that ain’t covered, corners an’ all, with some sort o’ sto’ kyarpetin’, — not to mention ilecloth at ev’ry do’ an’ afront of ev’ry stove. That’s the style now, an’ if folks want to live genteel they’ve got to keep up with it. As fur this ole fireplace, an’ these here split-bottom chairs, an’ them brass candlesticks up yonder with taller candles in ’em. — well, bein’ as you ’re used to ’em, I presume you can’t take in how it strikes me. Now, we’ve got a han’some set o’ stoves as any you’d find in town. The cheapest one cost nine dollars, an’ that after I’d jewed the price down some. When you come down, I ‘ll show you the new lamp I got last new-goods time. It’s nickel-plated, double burner, an’ painted shade, imitation hand-painted, with a Mount Vernon landskip on one side, includin’ both the house an’ the tomb, an’ the Capitol at Washin’ton on the yother. Blest if you could n’t see the light a good mile off ! Violy’s set her heart on a chandelare fur the weddin’; an’ I reckin we ’ll have to git one, bein’ as they ’re all the go. The gyirls is a-fixin’ up powerful now. with their new-fashioned fancy-work doin’s, paper artificials an’ crazy sofy-cushions. You know it ’s the first weddin’, an’ gyirls will be gyirls. Then it’s a firstrate match, too. His business ain’t worth a cent less ‘n ten thousan’ dollars. So I don’t begrudge ’em the outpay fur a little extry style. If you close with this offer fur the place, Tommy, an’ sell out Chris’mus, an’ move down, it’ll be a lively change fur you, what with the courtin’ an’ the trooser an’ all. Of co’se the gyirls would ixpect you to fix up some, an’ take on a few town ways. You ain’t so or’nary-lookin’ when you re fixed up. If you choose to help about the house a little, fillin’ Violy’s place while she’s entertainin’ her beau, an’ so fo’th an’ so fo’th, why, well an’ good. ’T ain’t what I’m askin’ you fur ; but you always liked to be doin’, an’ of co’se where a weddin’ ’s comin’ off there’s plenty to be done. I know these here ole maids git mighty set in their ways, an’, missin’ the right man, don’t ’pear to git along much with anybody ” (and here the wretch winked at me in facetious confidence) ; “ but if you ’ll come an’ try it, I reckin we won’t fight, anyhow. Monk’s been hankerin’ a long time after this farm ; an’ as fur his price, why, you ‘ll never git sich another.”

Miss Tom was looking at him curiously, with a sort of dry half-smile ; contempt, dislike, and amusement equally mingled on her countenance, and hardly at all disguised. I had heard of the offer in question. Mr. Monk was a neighboring farmer, who had long been hankering, as Mr. Benton said, and vainly, after Miss Tom’s ninety - three acres, which it seemed her brother was now so very anxious for her to sell.

“I s’pose,” said she, when the other paused, “ a big price is all you’d wish for. I s’pose the place bein’ settled by great-gran’father, befo’ Gin’ral Washin’ton’s time, right in the howlin’ wilderness, an belongin’ to us ever since, as well as its bein’ the place where father an’ mother an’ all our folks is buried, would n’t make any diff’rence to you.”

Mr. Josiah Benton gave Miss Tom a sharp, hard glance, but kept on persistently smirking.

“ When a person’s gittin’ up in the world, Tommy,” said he, with another humorous wink, “ he ’d ruther furgit what a po’ set he sprung from ’an have it evermo’ stuck befo’ his eyes. If the place was anything fur show, ’t would he another thing. Now, as fur the graveyard, I’m fur reservin’ that, an’ puttin’ up a monnyment besides. We might go shares in it, if you ’re agreeable. Them ole headstones is clean behind the times. A real stylish monnyment, one o’ these here new-fashioned ones, with a weepin’ figger on top, an’ the fam’ly names all set down han’some, would give a kind of fixed-up look to the ole buryin’-ground. ’T ain’t likely you could afford yo’ share — pretty nigh a hundred dollars, I reckin — ’less you sell the place. Anyway, I’ve made you a brotherly offer, an’ one some ole maids would jump at: low boa’d, one o’ the best back rooms, — mostly to yo’self, — ev’ry accommerdation fur one person” (he glanced at May Lou as he emphasized these two words) ; “ an’ a lively home in town where a weddin’ ’s comin’ off would be likely to pearten ” —

His speech broke off suddenly, for It was just here that a dreadful thing — the most dreadful, most pitiful thing that ever I saw — came to pass.

Peepsie, unnoticed by anybody, had wriggled out from under the cover and over the edge of her basket, after the way of such restless, saucy, petted creatures. With a loud, triumphant chirp she set off running across the floor. Miss Tom, May Lou, and I all saw the danger, and started up. Too late. The man had talked himself into more than his usual vainglory and self-satisfaction. Swelling like a turkey cock, his chin in the air, he was fairly spurning the despised rag carpet with high-lifted feet. We saw one of those horrible shiny shoes come down with a “ scrunch ” on the little shrinking form, and then heard a cry, very small and sharp, and only one. The next moment Mr. Josiah Benton stumbled backward, with a muttered oath, and there lay all that was left us of Peepsie.

She did not even struggle, save once, very feebly. I think her little heart had broken under that cruel weight. The blood was trickling out of her mouth. The bright eyes were fixed and glazing. We could see that she was dead.

May Lou cried out, “ Oh ! ” and covered her eyes with her hand. I sprang forward impulsively, and then shrank back again at sight of Miss Tom’s countenance. Miss Tom stood still. Her face looked gray and hard as stone. Her eyes glittered strangely. It was something more than a mere unlucky accident, to be apologized for, regretted, and forgotten. It was the last unbearable straw added to a burden of small spites, crossings, and actual wrongs, growing for many years. Every one felt that instinctively, and silence for an instant fell upon us all.

I think the man was sorry; he was certainly embarrassed; but he made the mistake of trying to pass it off lightly.

“ Humph ! ” said he, with a nervous snigger. “ It ’pears like I ‘d set my foot in it here, — or better say on it. If you’ve turned the ole shanty into a hen’ouse, Tom, it’s about time to sell out.”

“ You fool! ” said Miss Tom. speaking lower than her wont, but with bitter distinctness. “You po’empty-headed, lowminded, no-hearted fool, that ain’t even got sense enough to keep from tramplin’ on ev’rything that’s worth bein’ kep’ alive, even when you don’t mean it. You was n’t satisfied, was you, with sp’ilin’ all my young-day happiness, helpin’ to stomp it out an’ trample it down in the ground with yo’ lies on him an’ yo’ tale-bearin’ tricks, but you had to keep on tryin’ to walk over ev’rything else I keer for, ev’ry little notion an’ feelin’ an’ fancy, a-measurin’ ‘em all by yo’ quarter-yard rule. An’ now you come here, even this late in the day, a-settin’ yo’ fool foot on the only live creeter I ’ve been to say fond of an’ took a fancy to for years an’ years. You kin go home an’ tell it an’ laugh, if you wanter, but I was fond of it, an’ it was fond o’ me. It’s been eatin’ out o’ my plate an’ sleepin’ with me o’ nights, an’ you ‘ve gone an’ mashed the life outen it befo’ my very eyes. Git out o’ this house, an’ don’t you darken its do’s ag’in whilst I’m a livin’ woman. Thank the Lord, it’s mine to have an’ to hold! ’T ain’t sold for money yet, nor likely to be. An’ thank the Lord ag’in, I ain’t in yo’ house, a-livin’ under you, an’ helpin’ to wait on yo’ stuck-up, no-sense wife an’ yo’ stuck-up, imitation - lady daughters! You got the brazen face to come invitin’ me to a weddin’, after what’s been an’ gone ? You think the sweetheartin’ an’ talkin’ it over would be lively for me an’ pearten me up, after all what you know has been an’ gone ? You po’ fool, pieced out o’ dry goods an’ stuffed with cheap groc’ries, with yo’ veins like as not a-runnin’ coal ile! You think God made me after any sicli pattern ? Lord knows I’ve strove to treat you civil, you an’ yo’s, all this time. I ’ve got my pride, for all ‘t ain’t like yo’s, thank goodness! I did think I ’d stand by my kin, an’ leave this ole place, when I went under the ground, to one o’ my blood an’ name. I see now it’s long enough I’ve helt on to any sich notion. The house is mine, an’ the ole fields is mine, an’ the graveyard too, — left me by them that’s dead an’ gone. Go build yo’ monnyments an’ ape yo’ betters, well as you know how, somewheres else, — anywheres, so it ’s out o’ my sight. Whatever becomes of ev’rything here when I ’m cold in my grave, an’ whoever it goes to ” (she glanced at May Lou), “’t won’t be youall’s to turn into fool finery, an’ you jest better leave me in peace for the rest o’ my days! ”

For once in his life, at least, was Mr. Josiah Benton utterly abashed and stricken dumb. His face was purple, his eyes glared greenly; but, without another word, he put on his hat, opened the door, backed out, closed it after him, and went his way. Miss Tom had said her say at last, and had said it most effectually.

When his footsteps had died away. Miss Tom stooped down, and, with hands by this time sorely a-tremble, picked up the dead chicken; then, seating herself in the nearest chair, she laid it on her knees, covered it with her apron, and fell to weeping aloud.

I do not think Miss Tom could ever have cried before, in all her long life, as she cried then ; not even when her hardest troubles came upon her ; not even when she parted with her first and only love, nor when the news came afterward that he would return no more. She might have shed a good many tears, bitterly, chokingly, and under a grim selfprotest, in the dark, after bedtime, or even In daylight, when not a soul was by. No doubt she grieved enough, in her way. But to a nature like Miss Tom’s not more than one such utter breakingdown as this, of pride and reserve and daily commonplace custom, one such outgush of tears unstayed, with such long and open sobs, such shaking of the body from head to foot, can come in a lifetime. It was not only for Peepsie, as both her hearers knew. If we had thought that, there might have been a touch of the absurdity which ever dances mockingly behind overstrained disproportion. Child as I was, I seemed to understand somehow (as I am sure did May Lou, also) that Peepsie had been only a sort of reëmbodiment, the love which she inspired only an echo, of something even dearer, some possibility loved and lost and yearned for many a long year in the depths of this jealously hidden yet still ardent and tender old soul. But for the chance meeting with the tiny frightened waif upon that windy evening, Miss Tom might have gone down into silence wearing her stoical mask. And yet who can say where chance ends and eternal fate begins? It was but a small and silly voice, and that not even a human one, which had cried at the door, but the innermost chamber was wide open now, and we knew Miss Tom at last.

We stood there and listened, May Lou and I, looking at each other or out of the window, anywhere but at Miss Tom, in sorrow and sympathy, and that uneasy half-shame which very young people feel while witnessing such an outburst from an elder. May Lou only cried softly, herself, offering never a word. I, more impulsive and less tactful, said lamely once or twice, “ Don’t cry, Miss Tom ! Don’t cry ! It was all so quick. She did n’t know what hurt her.” But I knew as I spoke how poor was the attempt. However, in due time the old woman ceased to weep ; seemed by degrees, like a tearrelieved child, to subside into quiet. There was silence for a while, — the spent silence after a storm. When I turned, in the midst of this, to take leave, she said to me, “ Come back in the mornin’, child, an’ help me to bury her. She sha’n’t be throwed away like any common dead thing, an’ ‘pears like I can’t put her out o’ my sight any sooner ’an that. Come, if you wanter.”And I told her I would.


Well, we buried Peepsie the next day, out under a big old pear-tree that stood in the midst of the apple orchard. Her shroud was a fine worked cambric handkerchief; her pillow, some faded longdried flowers ; her coffin, a little carved walnut-wood box, which I remembered having seen once in Miss Tom’s chest of drawers, with reason to think it contained some sacredly cherished valuable. Though Miss Tom had never mentioned her lover to me before, I knew very well who was meant when she said that he gave her these things. “ I thought I’d keep ’em always,” muttered the old woman huskily, “ to he put in my coffin with me. But the box ’peared to suit for Peepsie better ’an anything else did, so I jest took the locket out, an’ put her in.” Here was one more proof of her fondness for Peepsie, who seemed to lie softly and safe.

In along talk out under the trees, that bright December morning, Miss Tom told me many things, and among them her new-formed resolution to be a friend to May Lou,

“ I been thinkin’ it over a heap,” said she, “ since Peepsie come, an’ now my mind ’s made up. I’m goin’ to leave her this place, too, when I die. I b’lieve she ’ll set mo’ sto’ by it ’an any of them others, an’ I b’lieve she keers mo’ for me, if she did come from that po’house. She kin marry the man she wants to, an’ be happy her own way. The notion used to rile me up, but somehow it don’t now. an’ I’m glad to think o’ her bein’ happy, even if I missed it my own self. Last night we ‘peared to draw right close together, somehow. I think she set a heap o’ sto’ by Peepsie.”

One thing more that Miss Tom said then I must give in her own words.

“ I’m a-goin’ to put it in writin’,” said she, “but I want you to keep it in mind, too, ’g’inst the time comes that I think’s a-comin’ soon. I don’t feel like I ’d live much longer. It’s hard on ole people to be fetched up short to the p’int where they see they’ve got to break off with their Highest kin. I ’m ole an’ I ‘m tired, an’ it ’s come over me now that I ‘ll soon be gone. When I die, I wanter be buried right here un’neath this tree. You hear ? Don’t let ’em put me in that there graveyard. I reck’n Josiah Benton will fix on some stylisher place to be buried in ; but he might take a notion to set up that monnyment, an’ I don’t want any o’ his weepin’ figgers over me. Don’t shake yo’ head at me, child. Don’t talk ’bout forgiveness. There’s some people don’t know how to take forgiveness. It don’t do ’em any good. If the Lord kin forgive Jo Benton all he’s done to me, I hain’t any objection, but it’s mo’ ’an I kin. Hows’ever, leavin’ out that reason, I picked out this place long ago. I always liked to come out here with my knittin’ an’ my quilt-piecin’ from the time I was little. One day I was settin’ here, on this very root, heelin’ father’s sock, when he come through the orchard unbeknown to anybody. We got to talkin’, an’ — well, ’t was then I found out, you know, first time for certain, that he keered for me. I ain’t never forgot the time nor stopped bein’ fond o’ the place, an’ I want ’em to lay me here, right close to this grave I ’ve dug for Peepsie. I don’t know what sort of a place he ’s buried in. It ’s mo’ ’an a thousand miles away, an’ there was n’t anybody I knew to write to about it, not even to put him up a tombstone. When I’m laid here, I jest want a real nice one, the kind that ’ll last, with both our names on it, his’n as well as mine. They need n’t put ‘ here lies ’ on it, ’cause ’t would n’t be true, you know, concernin’ him, nor noways needful anyhow. It don’t make much diff’rence ’bout what’s crumblin’ under the ground, but ev’rybody wants somethin’ set up somewheres to be remembered by. They kin jest say ‘ in mem’ry of,’ an’ that ’ll be enough. I want my name an’ his’n ; an’ I want Peepsie’s, too, underneath of ’em. You hear ? They need n’t say she was a chicken. I don’t want fools to have anything to laugh at, if they happen to come along; an’ then — well, you see we re’ly don’t know whether she was a chicken or not. My heart was a-gittin’ mighty hard an’ olelike befo’ she come, an’ mebbe, if I’d gone on an’ died that-a-way, he would n’t ha’ been glad to see me up yonder. He never got ole, you see. There’s no tellin’ who sent that little creeter, nor what she truly was, nor where’bouts she come from. I missed her last night, with her little peepin’ voice an’ her cute ways, a-nestlin’ up so close to me. There was n’t anybody else she took to like she took to me. She done good, an’ not harm, all her life, an’ that’s mo’ ’an most humans kin brag of; an’ what reason there is for thinkin’ that some people has got souls, while some dumb creeters has n’t, I don’t know, nor neither kin find it in Scripcher. I ’m a-goin’ to leave it in writin’, that about the tombstone ; but I want you to promise me now that if folks think I was crazy, an’ raise any word ag’inst it, you ’ll stand up for havin’ it done.”

And I promised.

A little while later, as Miss Tom and I were going towards the house, after Peepsie’s small grave had been filled in, and a heavy flat stone laid upon it, we met face to face a broad-shouldered, brown-handed, pleasant-eyed young man stepping across the yard to where May Lou was awaiting us by the garden gate. I had never seen him before, but from May Lou’s flush, her half-frightened start, and her appealing glance at Miss Tom, I knew who it must be.

The young man also flushed and looked at Miss Tom, though in a sort of defiant way, as he lifted his hat and said goodmorning.

“ I ‘m sorry to bother you, ma’am,” said he, “ but it’s best to be fair an’ square. I want to speak a few words to Miss May Lou, I’ve just come into some good luck in the line of steady work, and I’ve got something to say to her just between our two selves. That’s what I’ve come for.”

The tears sprang into May Lou’s eyes. Her hands began to tremble. But of the wrath which she evidently feared Miss Tom’s countenance gave no sign. Her glance from one to the other was simply grave and kind.

“ Well, walk in the house,” said she, “an’ settle it between you. I’ve nothin’ mo’ to say ag’inst it. You’ve been a good gyirl, May Lou, an’ I want you to be happy. I think you both better wait awhile, an’ save a little somethin’, — that’s all I say. I ‘ll help you much as I kin, if it ‘ll make you happy right fashion. I’m a-goin’ to walk round the place some now with this young lady. Ask him in, May Lou. You ’re both very welcome.”

When Miss Thomasine Benton fell sick and died, a year or so after this, she was buried under the pear-tree, according to her wish. Ben Shirley, the husband of May Lou (who, by the bye, still lives at the same place, a happy wife and mother), attended to the setting-up of the headstone, the inscription upon it being one left by Miss Tom herself in a characteristic stiff up-and-down handwriting. And together with her own name and her long-dead lover’s was carven that of Peepsie, who, whatever her true place in the scale of being, did good, and not harm, all the days of that little life which came to so sudden and pitiful a close.

A. M. Ewell.