The old gray house stood in the midst of lavish greenery. There were great lilac bushes crowning the bank wall at the east, and on the west an orchard carried the eve through intimate reaches of gnarled wood and drooping branches. In front was the garden, a survival of ancient bloom, chiefly green now in its budding richness, but smelling of leaf-mould and the May. Zilpha Blake had no time to attend to it; but she did dig a little in a hasty fashion when her household would allow it, and ran out there for a momentary solace if circumstance harried her, to pluck a bit of sweet herb or a sprig of blue. Now, in the flush of the spring morning, she was following her nephew, her dead brother’s son, as he lingered along the road on his homeward way. Her sympathetic hand was on his arm, and she seemed to be detaining him, to coax out the full flood of his exasperated story. Zilpha was a slender, flaxenhaired woman, with eager blue eyes and a childish mouth. She was not pretty, simply capable, and adapted, through an acquired patience, to much “flying ’round.” Daniel stopped when he felt that he was taking her too far, and began to lash the roadside bushes with the switch he had cut to drive the cows. His brown face was suffused with color, and in spite of his stature, in spite of his commanding profile, he looked as if he were going to cry. Zilpha suddenly thought that.
“Don’t you feel bad, Dan’el,” she said indignantly, as if she were reproaching an absent enemy. “Now don’t you take on.”
“I ain’t takin’ on. You see, Aunt Zil, she’s such a little thing.”
“Yes, Dan’el, yes, I know it.” Her tone persuaded, as her hand detained him. He looked down at the wet grass of the pathway, and destroyed a cobweb or two with a wandering foot. Then his words came rushingly.
“Mother treated her well enough till I told her we meant to get married.”
“What she say then ? ”
“She turned right ag’inst her. Never said a word to her, but she says to me, ‘You remember, don’t you, where we got Annie Rowe? We took her right off the town farm, straight as she could come.”’
“Well!" said Zilpha deprecatingly.
“Yes, that’s what she said. An’ 1 says, “Mother, she’s been here five years, an’ you know her as well as you do me. You know there ain’t a lazy bone in her, nor an ugly thread.’ I said that to mother,” he added hastily, as if to excuse an economic argument, “because mother’s such a driver. I knew ’t would n’t cut no ice with her if I told her Annie suited me to a T, an’ I was goin’ to marry her whether or no.”
“So do, Dan’el, if you feel to, so do!”
“Well, I reckoned wrong. Nothin’ I could say done a mite o’ good. Mother she turned right ag’inst her. She’s put the heft o’ the work on her now, an’ she don’t give her a good word from mornin’ till night.”
A shrill, high-keyed voice came from the direction of the house. It seemed to fly over the orchard trees like an insect, its song piercing as it came.
“Zilpha! Zilpha ! where be you ?”
Zilpha heard, but she only cast a glance in its direction, and stepped nearer a shielding barberry bush.
“That Hetty Ann?” asked Daniel, accompanying her look with a frown of his own.
“Yes, it’s Hetty Ann. She expects me to come up, the minute she’s awake, an’ bring her a cup o’ hot water.”
“I’d bring her a cup o’cold p’ison,” said Daniel moodily.
“Law, no! hot water’s good for her. Keeps her still,anyways. Now, Dan’el,” again she touched him with a reminding hand, “you must n’t forgit your mother’s terrible obstinate.”
“I guess I know that. She won’t have anybody do more for folks than she does. If I got set ag’inst Annie, she’d cocker her up. Mother’s got to be on the wrong side o’ the fence anyways.”
“It’s a terrible hard place to be in!” She stood Wrinkling her brows in the face of the morning sun, considering, in the midst of that effulgence, the resources of her world. Suddenly her face cleared, with the brightening of her eyes. She laughed a little, in a shamefaced deprecation. “I dunno but you’ll think it’s pretty queer, Dan’el,” she said, “but I’ve a good mind to ask you suthin’.”
“Ask away, Aunt Zil,” he said, softening appreciably as the talk touched her. “There’s nothin’ I would n’t tell you.”
“Well” — She paused a moment, her gaze traveling over the rolling fields to the far horizon. Then it returned to him. “Well, Dan’el, it’s this: you want Annie terrible bad. Why don’t you kinder pray a little, an’ see if you can’t git her that way ?”
He laughed outright, and patted her shoulder with a gentle hand.
“You don’t get that bee out o’ your bunnit, do you, Aunt Zil? S’pose I should ask you how much you’d ever got yourself by prayin’, what’d you say then ?”
A look of fear flitted into her face, and her eyes grew big.
“Don’t you say one word, Dan’el,” she implored him. “ I don’t dast to pray.”
“ I dunno ’s I can tell ye, Dan’el. Yes,
I guess I can, too. It’s kinder dangerous. If I prayed for what I want, I’m afraid I ’d git it.”
He looked at her with the frown summoned to men’s brows by woman’s tortuous logic of the soul. She went swiftly on, not for his enlightenment, but concerned, suddenly and for the moment, with a rare interest in herself.
“ Dan’el, there’s suthin’ I’ve thought out, an’ I dunno’s I should dast to mention it, even to the minister. It ain’t in the Bible. Leastways I ain’t ever seen it there. But I know it’s true. Dan’el, did it ever come over you God ain’t got everything to do with, more’n we have? Did it ever come into your head He’s kind o’ poor, so’s He’s got to contrive an’ plan when He does anything out o’ the common, same’s the rest ?” She was looking at him in a bright and eager questioning, and Daniel shook his head. “You see,” she put the tips of her small fingers together in unconscious imitation of the minister when he was proving a point in meeting, “ He’s terrible indulgent. When we ask for anything, He wants to give it to us. But mebbe He can’t! The thing ain’t there. There ain’t such a thing, mebbe, in the whole world. S’pose Hetty Ann had prayed she might marry that good-for-nothin’ that flung her off. Why, God could n’t ha’ give her that, because there wa’n’t no such man as Hetty Ann thought he was, nor ever had be’n. All she could have was a kind of a play housekeepin’ here with me. Now, take me. What do you s’pose I want more’n anythin’ else under the sun?”
“You tell, Aunt Zil,” said the young man warmly.
“Law, Dan’el, you could n’t git it for me. I want a spare room — a spare chamber.”
“Why, you’ve got four chambers, now.”He read her face, creasing into its pucker of shrewd good-will. “ You don’t mean to tell me you want one o’ them chambers for yourself an’ yet you won’t turn out some o’ them old pirates and take it ?”
“Now, Dan’el, you consider. Uncle Timmie ’s got one chamber, an’ he’s bedrid, now ain’t he? An’ Hetty Ann ’s kinder touched in her head, an’ she’s as contented as a kitten if she can play she’s got a parlor an’ a bedroom. So she takes two. An’ there’s Aunt Joyce in the fourth. An’ she’s got to have it, Dan’el, she’s got to have it. There ain’t a soul on earth would board her for two dollars a week, an’ let her set by the winder muddlin’ over them law papers and thinkin’ she’s goin’ to win her case an’ git the heft o’ the state of Illinois. So that’s the reason I can’t pray for a spare room. My chambers are all took up.”
“Zilpha!” came the voice over the tree tops. “Zilpha! where be you?”
“I’ll scooch down here a minute,” said Zilpha, huddling up on a stone by the barberry bush. “Mebbe they’ll think I’ve gone to drive the cow.” She sat there like an elf,her arms folded, and her bright gaze challenging his. “You see,” she went on, reviewing her argument for the first time before another mind, “if I should pray for the spare chamber, I should git it. I make no doubt I’d git it. But mebbe somebody’d have to be swep’ away to give it to me. Or mebbe the Lord would harden my heart, an’ make me put Hetty Ann into one room an’ take t’other for myself.”
“What’s she want two rooms for, anyways? ” said Daniel, returning to an irrelevant issue.
Zilpha’s face grew quite eager in its wistful sympathy.
“Why, don’t you know, Dan’el ?” she asked, in the hushed voice of one who rehearses a solemn story. “You’d ought to know that. He was goin’ to marry her, an’ everything was all ready, even to her rollin’ pin, and then he wrote her he did n’t prize her no more, an’ he went off out West. So now she kinder plays house up there. She’ll do it by the hour, jest, like a child. She ain’t a mite o’ trouble, Dan’el, not a mite.” Her eyes were shining with the look of earnest care evoked by all maimed creatures as she saw them.
Again the voice came shrilling over the trees. There was a new, insistent note in it, and Zilpha got up quickly,
“Now I must be goin’ back,” she said, shaking out her dew-wet skirt. “But if I was you, Dan’el, I should kinder make it a subject o’ prayer about Annie. I should say, ' If I can have her without hurtin’ anybody;’ because you would n’t want to do that, now should you,Dan’el ?”
He turned heavily on his way.
“I guess I’ll leave the prayin’ to you, Aunt Zil,” he said. “As to hurtin’ anybody, I dunno whether I would or not. Anyway, I know this: if you need a spare chamber, I’d like mighty well to clear out the whole b’ilin of ’em in there, an’ fix you up the way you want. I will, too, some fine day, ’fore you know it.”
They smiled back at each other with the understanding of mates who have weathered other gales, and took their different ways. Daniel walked with head bent, still debating the problem of his love; but Zilpha sped on light-heartedly. Inside her own gate, she paused to give the garden a warm look. It was full of buds, and so many summers had she known it in its fullness that it seemed, to her impetuous mind, to be already in flower. It was her unconscious habit to dwell gratefully upon the inventory of the beautiful earth, and in spite of her fifty years and the trials they had brought her, she felt only good fortune as she ran into her kitchen and set back the neglected kettle, boiling on the stove. Then she stepped about the room singing in an underbreath and turning a hymn into a pæan, with its rich invitation to the Be loved, “Over the hills where spices grow.”
It was a part of her routine upstairs that she should be the maid and Hetty Ann the mistress. So she placed the cup of hot water on a tray, and ran up to the east chamber where Hetty Ann sat in bed, her yellow hair streaming about her like sunlight, and served her with the traditional manners of hired help. GreatUncle Timmie was not awake, but Aunt Joyce was already upon the stairs. Zilpha followed, her broad back covered by a wrapper with a palm leaf figure, and moderated her own Steps in time to the ponderous thud of large feet in carpet slippers. Aunt Joyce had the blackest of thin hair braided in little braids by her ears and looped back to the knob behind. Her eyes were black and sharp under broad splashes of brow, and her cheeks were of a hard red, veined by a network of redder hue, like an unskilled painting upon wood. At the bottom of the stairs, she spoke without turning: —
“That you, Zilpha? I guess I ’ll have a cup o’ tea this mornin’. Coffee kinder goes ag’inst me somehow.”
“Green tea or black?” asked Zilpha blithely, at the kitchen door. She was unreasonably pleased. The mere talk of satisfied wishes had given her a lilting sense of something wonderful quite near. Aunt Joyce turned and interrogated her with a judicial though not an unkindly eye.
“ You ain’t be’n an’ bought two kinds ?" she asked.
“No, I ain’t. I had black on hand. T’other’s the sample the grocery give out last week.”
Half an hour later, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea, and forgetting how Aunt Joyce’s girth shut out the lilacs and the sun, she listened with half a mind to the other woman’s meanderings in the old channel of the dragging law suit and the land. With the rest of her intelligence she was running about the earth, picking up pleasures here and there, trifles nobody wanted, and ranging them in order in her spare room.
“Zilpha, what you thinkin’ about?” inquired Aunt Joyce suddenly. “You ain’t heard a word I said.”
Zilpha guessed at random.
“You said if you could only come on that deed from Uncle Samwel to Aunt Mirandy, your title’d be complete.”
“Yes, that was what I said,” owned Aunt Joyce, mollified. “I thought you was dreamin’, that way you ’ve got.”
But Zilpha had heard the lamentation of the deed for many years, and her own mind responded to an echo.
“That deed wa’n’t ever recorded.” Aunt Joyce continued, pounding out her words with an irritating beat of emphasis. “The very day he died, Uncle Samwel set out to git it put on record, an’ he dropped down right in front o’ the courthouse, an’ nothin’s ever be’n heard o’ that paper from that day to this. An’ whether ’t was stole out o’ his pocket, or whether he lost it on the road”— But no one, save newcomers in the town, ever heard Aunt Joyce’s stories to the end.
All that day Zilpha went about her work to the rhythm of an invocation made to suit her needs. It was that Dan’el should be given his Annie, if it could be managed “without hurtin’ anybody.” And then, in a guilty whisper, as if other than beneficent powers might hear, she added, with the same qualifying phrase, “I wisht I could have a spare room.” The habit of petition became pleasant to her, and at the end of a week the spare room seemed quite near. This was one of her hard weeks. Hetty Ann took down her curtains, with a housewifely impulse, and tried to wash them in a bowl. Uncle Timmie, who had the quietude of a gentle animal trained to habit, owned that he was “kinder tired o’ layin’ still,” and Aunt Joyce, according to the family phrase dedicated to her since she was a girl, “reigned supreme.” In the early morning she was at Zilpha’s door, propounding new hypotheses touching the stolen deed; and one afternoon, when Zilpha had betaken herself to the sittingroom lounge to rest her tired feet, she felt a presence through her closed eyelids, and opened them, with a snap, to find Aunt Joyce looming before her like a cloud. She wore her black alpaca and her bonnet trimmed with ancient crape. She had thrown back the bonnet strings, and stood fanning her face with the county paper.
“I be’n to the post-office,” she volunteered. “I walked all that two mile, hopin’ to ketch a ride, an’ then I walked back ag’in. Zilpha, I got a letter from the lawyer. What you s’pose he said ?”
“I dunno,” returned Zilpha wearily.
“He said if I ’s to find that deed, it would clinch the whole thing.”
“What deed ?" asked Zilpha, from her dream.
“My soul an’ body! ain’t you heard a word I said ? That deed Uncle Samwel gi’n Aunt Mirandy. Zilpha, you wake up! Ain’t you got no seem to ye?”
Zilpha rose to her feet. She felt called by another than Aunt Joyce. Something within her raised an imperious note and bade her save her soul alive. She stood still for a moment rubbing her dazed eyes, and then in the full flood of Aunt Joyce’s adjurations, she turned about and sped out of the room, through the kitchen, and into the shed. There she paused, her eyes fixed upon the distance, an old phrase starting up in her memory.
it sang itself, and her lips formed the words aloud,—
“ I wisht I could run off! ”
But at that instant Hetty Ann, at a window above, raised her thin voice in a crooning song, as it might have been to a child, At the first note Zilpha straightened, and she turned about soberly, all the myriad calls of other souls in unison against her. At the kitchen door she paused again, remembering the bright world without, and it was then that her eyes fell upon the rough stairs in the corner of the shed.
“My soul!” cried Zilpha. “O my soul! ”
She ran up the stairs and into the brownraftered room packed with the litter of old years, and known and forgotten as the “shed chamber.” She stood for a moment in the one vacant floor space, and looked about her at the broken chairs, the chests and tables of a bygone lime. The wormeaten walls were low , but there was a window opening through grapevine leaves and tendrils to the east. The place exhaled an atmosphere of calm. No human moods had left their invisible arras upon its walls. No one had slept there, nor talked out the trials of the day. From time to time through the year some one had come, with unrecognizing glance, to east a broken bit of household goods into the corner and go again. The room had lived its life alone, accumulating no memories. It had been a sleeping possibility, and Zilpha, with a catch in her throat, knew it had waked for her. She drew out an old flag-bottomed rocking chair, and placed it by the window. There she sat down, and looked, in measureless content, through the grape leaves at the sky. She had her spare chamber. All that afternoon she sat in a dream, not of any conscious well-being, but of rest. It seemed as if all the loads of life were floating to some unknown shore upon a tide of peace, and when she met Aunt Joyce at the supper table, her old cheerfulness had come back, throbbing with a fuller note out of her certainty that now there was something to justify it.
“ You be’n asleep ? ” asked Aunt Joyce, noting her pink flush and dewy eyes.
“No, I guess not,” said Zilpha vaguely.
“Where you be’n all the arternoon ?”
“Oh, ’round! ”
The next day Zilpha finished her housework in haste, and set about cleaning the shed chamber. She moved softly lest Aunt Joyce should hear, and every nerve and muscle trembled with the excitement of dragging down the litter of furniture to pile it in a corner of the shed. In due time the chamber was sweet, and clean; it smelled of soap instead of its own delicious mustiness, and Zilpha felt in it a double charm, responsive to her hand. She had with infinite pains set up an old bedstead, and laid on it an extra husk bed from her own room. There was the chair by the window, and a table near the stairs. Looking about, she could not see that it might have been bettered for her purposes. She could lie down upon the bed, she could rest in the chair, and she could set a glass of water on the table. It was enough. Thereafter, for a week or more she gave her charges a zealous tendance all the forenoon, to slip away from them with a clear mind at two o’clock, and spend an hour in her retreat. But one day she caught herself back out of her dream, and sat there, still with fear. Aunt Joyce’s heavy step had entered the shed. She was looking about in one of her familiar missions of inquiry, and presently Zilpha heard her overhauling the pile of furniture. There was a rattle and a pause while Aunt Joyce pondered over what she had found. Then her voice arose commandingly through its veiling huskiness.
But Zilpha did not move.
The rummaging and clattering went on, and by and by Aunt Joyce took her heavy progress toward the sitting-room, calling Zilpha as she went. Then the little guest of the upper chamber slipped downstairs and into the kitchen, and there Aunt Joyce, returning, met her.
“Where you be’n?” queried Aunt Joyce, though in an absent questioning.
“Oh, ’round!” said Zilpha, with the ease of one who has found a phrase to serve. Aunt Joyce hardly heeded. Her black eyes were piercing with the wonder of discovery.
“Zilpha,” said she, “I never set eyes afore on that old truck in the corner o’ the shed.”
“Didn’t you?” asked Zilpha, trembling.
“Never, long as I’ve be’n in an’ out. Did n’t there use to be a pile o’ wood there ?”
“I guess so,” said Zilpha, in a faltering voice.
“Was the wood piled in front on’t?”
“I guess not.”
“Zilpha, don’t you be so numb. Do you know what’s out there in that pile ? There’s Aunt Mirandy’s hair chist with a lot o’ her things in it. There’s Uncle Samwel’s leg boots, the ones he had on when he died. I know, for they had to cut the legs to git ’em off. I’ve stood ’em up thereon the hair trunk. You go look at ’em.”
Zilpha hurried into the shed, but not to interrogate Uncle Samwel’s boots. She went to the shed door, and stood there gazing at the sky, blurred now by her rebellious tears. Her citadel was in danger. Aunt Joyce had begun exploration, and, fired by the treasures before her, she would keep on. One sight of the shed chamber stairs, and she would go toiling up in search of unknown stores above. For a moment Zilpha stood there rigid with intensity of thought, and then a purpose leaped into her brain and straightened her to meet the fray. Five o’clock struck, and she turned soberly about to get supper, and listen to Aunt Joyce in her excited monologue wherein Uncle Samwel’s boots came like a recurring beat.
Aunt Joyce was in high feather that evening. She sat in the kitchen in the dusk, and, inspired by her afternoon’s feast upon the relics of the past, told interminable stories of the family, all feuds and warfare. Zilpha hardly answered her. She sat there, looking straight in front of her, with eyes that seemed to pierce the dark.
“You ’sleep, Zilpha?” Aunt Joyce asked suddenly, breaking her stream of reminiscence.
Zilpha did not answer.
“You ’sleep? My soul! You ain’t a mite o’ company. I’ll go to bed.”
She stalked grumbling up the stairs, and Zilpha listened. The heavy steps moved intermittently about the room above, and then they ceased. There was a creaking of the bed. Aunt Joyce was set in bounds for one night more. Zilpha rose, and, lightfooted as an intruder moved to some guilty task, stole out into the shed, and began to pile cord-wood sticks in front of the shed chamber stairs. For an hour she worked passionately, like some fierce little animal barricading its home. Then she stopped and wiped her forehead with one trembling hand. Triumph was in her heart.
“Zilpha!” came a soft voice from the door. “Zilpha, you here?”
“That you, Annie ? What is it ? Anybody sick ?” She hurried to the door and laid her hand on the shoulder of the young girl standing there. It was moonlight, and Annie’s face looked pure and pale in the beguiling beams. She began to sob, with sudden violence.
“Oh my, Zilpha!" she kept repeating. “Oh my!”
“There, there, don’t you take on!” urged Zilpha, in alarm. “Ain’t anything happened to Dan’el, has there? Annie, you speak. You scare me ’most to death.”
“It ain’t Dan’el. He’s gone off to buy some cattle. He’s goin’ to be gone four or five days. She’s been awful to me. She begun soon as he was off.”
“Yes, I don’t blame her. She can’t bear me, because she wants him to look higher, an’ to-night she got mad an’ did n’t know what she was sayin’, an* she twitted me about the poor farm, an’ I pretended to go upstairs to my chamber ; but I’ve run away, Zilpha, I’ve run away.”
“There, there, dear,” said Zilpha crooningly, in the tone she had for hushing Hetty Ann. “Don’t you take on. You ’re goin’ to stay right here with me.”
“Oh, no, I ain’t! Your house is all took up. Dan’el said you had n’t a place to lay your head but what somebody could walk in an’ rout you out like a dog.”
“Yes, I have, dear, yes, I have!” said Zilpha excitedly, in a rush of ardent thought. “ I got a spare chamber. Annie, you wait a minute. You stan’ right there, an’ don’t you stir.”
She brushed past the girl and ran with eager footsteps to the barn. In a moment she was back, staggering breathless under a short ladder.
“ You help me a mite,” she whispered. “There. We’ll set it here, so-fashion. Never mind the vine. There’s enough on’t, if we do break it. Now you go up. Step right into the winder. I’ll be up there in a minute.”
Annie was used to acting under orders. She climbed deftly, and when Zilpha followed her, a little later, with bedclothes and a candle, the girl was standing in the middle of the room, in lax and patient wonderment. She looked about her when Zilpha had lighted the candle and its gleam brought straggling shadows into life.
“Why, Zilpha,” she said. “I did n’t know you had this room.”
“Nobody knew it,” said Zilpha hilariously, intoxicated by the drama. “I did n’t hardly know it myself. I dunno’s ’t was here till t’other day. I guess ’t was kinder created an’ give to me. But it’s my spare room. Now you go round on t’other side there, an’ we’ll put on some sheets.”
When Annie was in bed, quieted and almost content, Zilpha straightened the coverlet, in a cozy way she had, and turned to go. But Annie caught her skirt with a detaining hand.
“O Zilpha,” she said, “you’re real good! I only come to leave word how ’t was. so you could tell Dan’el; an’ I hadn’t a spot to call my own, an’ now here I am.”
“You’re goin’ to stay,” whispered Zilpha, in a tone of ardent confidence. “ I’ve piled the stairs up so’s Aunt Joyce won’t think o’ mountin’ ’em; but I can move some o’ the sticks an’ kinder pick my way. I’ll bring ye your breakfast all complete, an’ don’t you show your head to the winder.”
“O Zilpha,” breathed the girl again, “you’re dretful good.”
That night Zilpha could hardly sleep for the excitement of the time, and at six o’clock site was at the shed chamber door with Annie’s breakfast, hot corncake, coffee, and an egg. The girl was sitting up in bed, eager as a child and as innocently fair. Her curling locks were all about her, and she was rubbing her eyes awake. She laughed, and the dimples sprang about her mouth.
“You pretty creatur’!” cried Zilpha, in the delight she always had in a beauty never hers, and so as mysterious to her as the dawn. “I never knew you was so well-favored, seein’ ye round the kitchen in that old choc’late print.”
“ I can’t have you waitin’on me, Zilpha. I truly can’t.”
“We’ll see. You keep still a day or two, till Dan’el gits home. You can come down into the shod, an’ mebbe you could slip into the kitchen when Aunt Joyce ain’t round. Tell ye what ! ’ll do. When the coast is clear, I’ll sing,
I’ll sing it real loud.”
So for three days the idyl went on, and on the morning of the fourth Zilpha, holding a bowl of beaten egg, was standing at the foot of the shed chamber stairs, singing
and beating as she sang. She was making custard, and she wanted to ask Annie whether to put nutmeg on the top. She heard a sound above and Annie’s foot, she knew, was on the sill, and then, like a ghost in carpet slippers, Aunt Joyce appeared, standing in the kitchen door. Zilpha screamed, and the hinges overhead creaked in shutting.
“What under the sun ’s the matter?” demanded Aunt Joyce, testily. “You ’re as nervous as a witch.”
“I guess anybody’d be nervous to see you pokin’ over them old things in the corner there,” said Zilpha, with a new asperity, summoned to hide her nest. “For mercy sake, Aunt Joyce, you let me burn up that old truck” —
Something clattered in the room above. Aunt Joyce cocked her head.
“What’s that ?” she demanded. “Did n’t you hear suthin’ overhead?”
“As for them old boots, they’d ought to gone into the fire long ago.”
Still Aunt Joyce was listening, and Zilpha, in a wild defense, caught up the boots.
“ I ’ll burn ’em up this minute,” she avowed.
“Zilpha,” cried Aunt Joyce, “don’t you do no such a thing. Them were Uncle Samwel’s boots. He died in ’em. You leave them boots to me.”
She laid a hand upon one, and Zilpha, with a nervous passion that, seemed to her like madness, tossed the other out of the shed door. Something within detached itself, and fell with it. Then Aunt Joyce began screaming in a hoarse volume of sound, uncouth and dreadful, and the door above creaked open.
“Zilpha Blake, I’ve got my deed! 1 ‘ve got my deed!” She plunged out through the doorway, and opened the paper with a quivering hand. “ My deed! my deed! ” she cried, in the same ungoverned voice, and Zilpha sat down on the step of the shed door and laughed and sobbed. When she came to a sense of the outer world, Aunt Joyce, on one side, was shaking her and calling, “Zilpha Blake, you git up here, an’ help me pack my things. 1 ’ve got my deed, an’ I’m goin’ to Illinois this arternoon ; ” and Dan’el had a hand upon her other shoulder. He was saying heavily, at intervals, like a machine made to work that way, —
“Aunt Zilpha, where’s Annie? Aunt Zilpha, where’s Annie?” Then, as Zilpha turned a mirthful face from one to the other, he took his hand from her shoulder and laid it on Aunt Joyce’s wrist.
“If you’re goin’ to Illinois,” said Dan’el plainly, “you march in an’ pack up your things, an’ I’ll take ye to the Junction.”
He turned her about, and Aunt Joyce, her face streaked with the wonder of the event, went in to pack her trunk.
“Aunt Zilpha,” said Dan’el gently, “where’s Annie?”
Zilpha rose to her feet. Until this moment, one thought had moved her: Aunt Joyce was going away. Now she laid hold of Dan’el’s coat, and gripped it with both trembling hands. She was quite aware that a woman stood behind him like a fate, his mother, hot-blooded, warm-hearted, jealous, and above all, obstinate, and bearing in her seamed face and piercing eyes traces of emotions that had fought in her for seventy years. That morning she had told him Annie was gone, and met his anger with hot words. Yet she had followed him, afraid that he, too, might disappear or rashly do himself some harm. All this Zilpha, seeing her, seemed to know by old experience; but she could not stop to weigh the outcome of it. One thought possessed her, and she was holding Dan’el’s coat that she might tell him.
“Dan’el, Dan’el,” she urged brokenly, “don’t you see how it’s come out ? Aunt Joyce’s goin’ to Illinois. Her chamber ’ll be empty, an’ you an’ Annie can get married an’ come right here. You can carry on your farm work jest the same. Annie ’n’ I can get along complete. You come, Dan’el, you come.”
“Zilpha Blake,” said Dan’el’s mother, in the voice of one who, from an untouched height, is dealing out calm justice to the world, “I should be obliged to you if you would keep your hands off’n Dan’el long enough for me to have a few words with him. He’s be’n off some days, an’ when I do git a chance to speak, I should like to say Annie’s be’n called away, but she’ll be home all right. If she ain’t, we shall look her up, Dan’el an’ me. I’ll tell you, Zilpha, though I ain’t spoke of it to anybody else, Dan’el’s thinkin’ of gettin’ married in a few weeks, an’ he ’ll move into t’other part o’ the house.”
“Aunt Zilpha,” said Dan’el, giving her shoulder a little shake, “where’s Annie ? ”
“O Dan’el, here I am,” came a voice from the window above. There was the young face, framed in quivering vine leaves.
Zilpha felt something mounting in her throat, and Dan’el involuntarily held out both hands. His mother spoke, and her voice shook a little.
“You be home to dinner, both on ye. There’s tongues an’ sounds. Annie, you be sure to come.”
“O mother!” said Dan’el, in quick compunction, starting after her.
“You come home, Dan’el,” she counseled him, in a persuasive voice. “You take half the house, Dan’el, you take half the house. ’T ain’t fittin’ for young folks to live with old folks, anyways. But don’t you go to snappin’ up offers from folks that don’t concern ye. Don’t ye do it. You come home, an’ bring Annie.”
Zilpha was not listening. She had heard Aunt Joyce above, dragging about a trunk, and sped to help her. Annie, radiant in her youth and the bloom of joy, was coming out of the shed chamber, and Zilpha, seeing how these days of rest and calm had changed her, reflected that no one had ever seen her as she was to be, shielded and secure.
“You shet the door, Annie,” she called happily, waving a hand to her. “You go with Dan’el. Leave the room as ’t is, an’ this arternoon I’ll slip up an’ put it all to rights.”