The Other Mrs. Dill
MRS. DILL and her husband, Myron, grown middle-aged together, and yet, even through the attrition of the years, no more according in temperament than at the start, sat on opposite sides of the hearth and looked at each other, he with calmness, from his invincible authority, and she fluttering a little yet making no question but of a dutiful concurrence. She had bright blue eyes behind goldrimmed glasses, a thin face with a nose slightly aquiline, and reddish hair that was her cross, because it curled by nature and she constrained it. Sometimes, when it kinked unusually, either in moist weather or because she had forgotten to smooth it, and when the pupils of her eyes enlarged under cumulative excitement, she looked young and impetuously willful; but the times were rare, and perhaps her husband had never, since their courting days, noted any such exhilaration. He was a large, imperious-looking man, with a cascade of silvery beard which he affected to tolerate because the expenditure of time in shaving might be turned with profit into the channel of business or of worship; but his wife, noting how he stroked the beard at intervals of meditation, judged that he was moved by something like pride in its luxuriance. Then she chided herself for the thought.
It was balmy spring weather, but they had taken their places at the hearthstone from old habit when a matter of importance had to be considered. Their two chairs were the seats of authority in the domestic kingdom.
Mrs. Dill stooped, took up the turkeywing, and gave the clean hearth a perfunctory flick. Then she returned the wing to its place and leaned back in her chair, gazing absently at the shining andirons.
“ Well,” she said, “ Henrietta Parkman was in this mornin’, and she told me you’d bought the medder; but I did n’t hardly believe it.”
“ Yes,” said Myron. He spoke in rather a consequential voice, and cleared his throat frequently in the course of talking, as if to accord his organs a good working chance. “ The deeds were passed last week, and it’s bein’ recorded.”
“ What you goin’ to do with it ? ”
“ I bought it because it lays next to the Turnbull place, and when that come into my hands last fall, I knew ’t was only a matter o’ time till I got the medder, too.”
“ Well, what you goin’ to do with it ? ”
A tinge of anxiety was apparent in her voice, a wistful suggestiveness, as if she could conceive of uses that would be almost too fortunate to be hoped for. Myron hesitated. It often looked as if he judged it unwise to answer in any haste questions concerning the domestic polity, and Mrs. Dill was used to these periods of incubation. She had even thought once, in a moment of illuminative comparison, that her husband seemed to submit a bill before one branch of his mental legislature before carrying it on to the next.
“ I’m goin’ to pasture my cows in it,” he responded. “ I shall buy in some more stock this spring, and I expect to set up a milk route.”
“ How under the sun you goin’ to manage that ? ” She seldom questioned her lawful head, but the surprise of the moment spurred her into a query more expressive of her own mood than a probing of his. “ You can’t keep any more cows ’n you’ve got now. The barn ain’t big enough.”
“ The Turnbull barn is. I’ve seen the day when there was forty head o’ cattle tied up there from fall to spring.”
“ The Turnbull barn’s twenty minutes walk from here. You can’t go over there mornin’ and evenin’, milkin’ and feedin’ the critters. You’d be all the time on the road.”
“ Yes,” said Myron, “’t is a good stretch. So I’ve made up my mind we’d move over there.”
A significant note had come into his voice. It indicated a complexity of understanding: chiefly that she would by nature resist what he had to say, and then resume her customary acquiescence. But for a moment she forgot that he was Air. Dill, and that she had promised to obey him.
“ Why, Myron,” she said with a mild passion, warmed by her incredulity, “ we’ve lived on this place thirty year.”
“ Yes, yes,” said her husband. “ I know that. What’s the use o’ goin’ back over the ground, and tellin’ me things I know as well as you do ? What if ’t is thirty year? Time we got into better quarters.”
“ But they ain’t better. Only it’s more work.”
Myron got up and moved back bis chair.
“ I don’t think o’ movin’ till long about the middle o’ May,” he rejoined. “You can kinder keep your mind on it and, when you get round to your spring cleanin’, pick up as you go. Some things you can fold right into chists, blankets and winter clo’es, and then you won’t have to handle ’em over twice. If Herman comes back from gettin’ the horse shod, you tell him to take an axe, and come down where I be in the long lot, fencin’. I want him.” He paused for a hearty draught from the dipper at the sink, pulled his hat on tightly, and went out through the shed to his forenoon’s work. Mrs. Dill rose from her seat, and stepped quickly to the window to watch him away. She often did it when he had most puzzled her and roused in her a resistance which was inevitable, she knew by long experience, but also, as her dutiful nature agreed, the result in her of an unconquerable old Adam which had never yet felt the transforming touch of grace. When his tall, powerful figure had disappeared beyond the rise at the end of the lot, she gave a great willful sigh, as if she depended on it to ease her heart, put her apron to her eyes, and held it there, pressing back the tears. Herman drove into the yard, and she did not hear him. She went to the fireplace now, and leaned her head against the corner of the mantel, looking down at the cold hearth with a bitter stolidity. Herman unharnessed, and now he came in, a tall brown-haired fellow with dark eyes full of softness, and a deep simplicity of feeling. As his foot struck the sill, his mother roused herself, and became at once animated by a commonplace activity. She did not face him, for fear he should find the tear-marks on her cheeks; but when he had thrown his cap into a chair, and gone to the sink to plunge his face in cold water, and come out dripping, she did steal a look at him, and at once softened into a smiling pleasure. He was her handsome son always, but to-day he looked brilliantly excited; eager, also, as if he had something to share with her, and was timid about approaching it.
“ Mother! ” said Herman. He was standing before her now, smiling invitingly, and she smiled back again and picked a bit of lint from his collar for the excuse of coming near him, and proving to herself her proud ownership. “ I’ve had a letter.”
“ From Annie?”
“ What’s she say?” asked his mother. But before he could answer, she threw in a caressing invitation. “ You want I should get you a piece o’ gingerbread and a glass o’ milk ? ”
“ No, I ain’t hungry. She says she’s kep’ school about long enough, and if I’m goin’ to farm it, she’ll farm it, too. I guess she’d be married the first o’ the summer, if we could fetch it.”
Mrs. Dill stepped over to the hearth and sank into her chair. It seemed as if there were to be another family council. Her silence stirred him.
“ I asked her,” he hastened to say. “ I coaxed her, mother. She ain’t as forward as I make it out, the way I’ve told it.”
“ No,” said his mother absently. She was resting her elbows on the chair-arm, and, with hands lightly clasped, gazing thoughtfully before it. Fine lines had sprung into her forehead, and now she took off her glasses and wiped them carefully on her apron, as if that would help her to an inner vision. “ No, I know that. Annie’s a nice girl. There’s nothin’ forward about Annie. But I was only wonderin’ where you could live. This house is terrible small.”
“You know what I thought,” Herman reminded her. He spoke impetuously as if begging her to remember, and therefore throw the weight of her expectation in with his. “ When father bought the Turnbull place I thought, as much as ever I did anything in my life, he meant to make it over to me.”
His mother’s eyes stayed persistently downcast. A little flush rose to her cheeks.
“ Well,” she temporized, “ you ain’t goin’ to count your chickens before they’re hatched. It’s a poor way. It never leads to anything but disappointment in the end.”
“Why, mother,” said Herman warmly, “ you thought so, too. We talked it over only night before last, and you said you guessed father’d put me on to that farm.”
“ I said I did n’t know what he’d bought it for, if’t wan’t for that,” she amended. “ Don’t you build on anything I said. Don’t you do it, Hermie.”
Her son stood there frowning in perplexity, his hands deep in his pockets and his feet apart.
“ But you said so yourself, mother,” he persisted. “ I told you how I ’d always helped father out, long past my majority, and never hinted for anything beyond my board and clothes. And when I got engaged to Annie, I went to him and said, ‘ Father, now’s the time to give me a start, or let me cut loose from here.’ And he never answered me a word; but a couple of weeks after that he bought the Turnbull place. And last week it was, he said to me, kind of quick, as if he’d made up his mind to somethin’, and wan’t quite ready to talk it over, ‘I’ve got a sort of a new scheme afoot.’ And then’t was I wrote to Annie and asked her how soon she could be ready to come, if I was ready to have her. You know all that, mother. What makes you act as if you did n’t? ”
The argument was too warm for Mrs. Dill. She got up from her chair and began putting up the table-leaf and setting out the necessary dishes for a batch of cake.
“ Your father wanted you should take an axe and go down where he is in the long lot,” she remarked. “ And I would n’t open your head to him about what we’ve been sayin’, Hermie. You talk it over with mother. That’s the best way.”
“ Why, course I shan’t speak of it till I have to.” He took up his cap, and then with an air of aggrieved dignity turned to the door. “ But the time’ll come when I’ve got to speak of it. Lot Collins was tellin’ me only this mornin’ over to the blacksmith’s, how his father’s took him into partnership, and Lot’s only twenty-one this spring. His father ain’t wasted a day.”
“ Well, that’s a real business, black - smithin’ is,” his mother hastened to reply.
“ So’s farmin’ a real business. And father’s treated me from the word ‘ go ’ like a hired man and nothin’ else. He’s bought and sold without openin’ his head to me. I wonder I’ve grown up at all. I wonder I ain’t in tyers, makin’ mudpies. If ’t wan’t for you and Annie, I should n’t think I was any kind of a man.”
His angry passion was terribly appealing to her. It made her heart ache, and she had much ado to keep from taking him to her arms, big as he was, and comforting him, as she used to, years ago, when he came in with frostbitten fingers or the dire array of cuts and bruises. But she judged it best, in the interest of domestic government, to quell emotion that could have, she knew, no hopeful issue, and she began breaking eggs into her mixing bowl and then beating them with a brisk hand.
“ Father never was one to talk over his business with anybody, even the nearest,” she rejoined. “ You know that, Hermie. We’ve got to take folks as we find ’em. Now you run along down to the long lot. He’ll be wonderin’ where you be.”
Herman strode away, after one incredulous look at her, a shaft she felt through her downcast lids. It demanded whether father and mother had equally forsaken him, and gave her a quick, sharp pang, and a blinding flash of tears. But. she went on mixing cake, and battling arguments as she worked, and when her tin was in the oven, washed her baking dishes methodically and then sat down by the window to read the weekly paper. But as she read, she glanced up, now and then, at the familiar walls of her kitchen, and through the window at the trees just shimmering into green and the skyey intervals over them. This was the pictured landscape she had looked on, framed by these wide, low windows, for all the years she had lived here, doing her wifely duties soberly, and her motherly ones with a hidden and ecstatic buoyancy.
The house, the bit of the world it gave upon, seemed a part of her life, the containing husk of all the fruitage born to her. It was incredible that she was to give it up and undertake not only a heavier load of work but a new scene for it, at a time when she longed to fold her hands and sit musing while young things filled the picture with beautiful dancing motions, and the loves and fears she remembered as a part of the warm reality of it, but not now so intimately her own. It was as if the heaped-up basket of earthly fruits had passed her by, to be given into other hands; but she had eaten and was content, if only she might see the banquet lamps and hear the happy laughter. She began to feel light-headed from the pain of it all, the pleasures and sadnesses of memory, the fear of anticipation, and turned again to her paper with the intent of giving her mind to safe and homely things. But something caught her eyes and held them. A window seemed to be opened before her. She looked through it into her tumultuous past. Or was this a weapon put into her hand for the exacting future ?
That night Myron Dill came into the sitting-room after his chores were done, and lay down on the lounge between the two front windows. He composed himself on his back with his hands placidly folded, and there his wife found him when she came in after her own completed list of deeds. He did not look up at her, and she was glad. She did not know how her eyes gleamed behind the glittering plane of their glasses, nor how deep the red was in her cheeks; but she was conscious of an inward tumult wdiich must, she knew, somehow betray itself. For an instant she stood and looked at her husband, in what might have been relenting or anticipation of the road she had to take. She knew so well what mantle of repose was over him; how he liked the peeping of the frogs through the open window, and what measure of satisfaction there was for him in the consciousness of full rest and the certainty that next day would usher in a crowding horde of duties he felt perfectly able to administer. Mrs. Dill was a feminine creature, charged to the full with the love of service and unerring intuition as to the manner of it, and she did love to “ see menfolks comfortable.”
“ Don’t you want I should pull your boots off?” This she said unwillingly, because she was about to break the current of his peace, and it seemed deceitful to offer him an alleviation that would do him no good after all.
“ No,” said Myron sleepily. “ Let ’em be as they are.”
Mrs. Dill drew up a chair and sat down in it at his side, as if she were the Watcher by a sick-bed or the partner in a cozy conversation.
“ Myron,” said she. Her voice frightened her. It sounded hoarse and strange, and yet there was very little of it, deserted by her failing breath.
“ What say?” he answered from his drowse.
“ I found a real interestin’ piece in the Monitor this morning. It was how some folks ain’t jest one person, as we think, but they’re two and sometimes three. And mebbe one of ’em’s good, and t’other two are bad, and when they’re bad they can’t help it. They can’t help it, Myron, the bad ones can’t, no matter how hard they try.”
“ Yes, I believe I come acrost it,” said Myron. “ Terrible foolish it was. That’s one o’ the things doctors get up to feather their own nest.”
“ No, Myron, it ain’t foolish,” said his wife. She moved her chair nearer, and her glasses glittered at him. ” It ain’t foolish, for I’m one o’ that same kind, and I know.”
His eyes came open, and he turned his head to look at her.
“ Ain’t you feelin’ well, Caddie ? ” he asked kindly.
“ Oh, yes, I’m well as common,” she answered. “ But it ain’t foolish, Myron, and you’ve got to hear me. ' Double Personality,’ that’s what they call it. Well, I’ve got it. I’ve got double personality.”
Myron Dill put his feet to the floor, and sat upright. He was regarding his wife anxiously, but he took pains to speak with a commonplace assurance.
“ We might as well be gettin’ off to bed early, I guess. I’m tired, and so be you.”
“ I’ve felt it for quite a long spell,” said his wife earnestly. “ I don’t know but I’ve always felt it — leastways, all through my married life. It’s somethin’ that makes me as mad as tophet when you start me out to do anything I don’t feel it’s no ways right to do, and it keeps whisperin’ to me I ’m a fool to do it. That’s what it says, Myron. ‘ You’re a fool to do it! ’ ”
Myron was touched at last, through his armor of esteem.
“ I ain’t asked you to do what ain’t right, Caddie,” he asseverated. “ What makes you tell me I have? ”
“ That’s what it says to me,” she repeated fixedly. “ ‘ You’re a fool to do it.’ That’s what it says. It’s my double personality.”
It seemed best to Myron to humor this inexplicable mood, until he could persuade her back into a normal one.
“ That wan’t the way I understood it,” he told her. “ when I read the piece. The folks that were afflicted seemed like different folks. Now, you ain’t any different, rain or shine. You’re as even as anybody I should wish to see. That’s what I’ve liked about ye, Caddie.”
The softness of the implication she swept aside, as if she hardly dared regard it lest it weaken her resolve.
“ Oh, I ain’t goin’ to be the same, day in, day out,” she declared eagerly. “ I feel I ain’t, Myron. It’s gettin’ the best of me, the other creatur’ that wants to have its own way. It’s been growin’ and growin’, same as a child grows up, and now it’s goin’ to take its course. Same’s Hermie’s growed up, you know. He’s old enough to have his way, and lead his life same’s we’ve led ours, and we’ve got to stand one side and let him do it.”
Her husband gave her a sharp, sudden glance, and then fell again to the contemplation of his knotted browm hands that seemed, like all his equipment, informed with specialized power.
“ Well,” he said at length, “ I guess you need a kind of a change. You’ll feel better when you get over to t’other house. There’s a different outlook over there, and you’ll have more to take up your mind.”
She answered instantly, in the haste that dares not wait upon reflection. Her eyes were brighter now, and her hands worked nervously.
“ Oh, I ain’t goin’ to move, Myron. I might as well tell you that now. I’m goin’ to stay right here where I be. I don’t feel able to help it. That’s my double personality. It won’t let me.”
Her husband was looking at her now in what seemed to her a very threatening way. His shaggy eyebrows were drawn together and his eyes had lightning in them. She continued staring at him, held by the fascination of her terror. In that instant she realized a great many things: chiefly that she had never seen her husband angry with her, because she had taken every path to avoid the possibility, and that it was even more sickening than she could have thought. But she knew also that the battle was on, and suddenly, for no reason she could formulate, she remembered one of her own fighting ancestors who was said to have died hard in the Revolution.
“ That was old Abner Kinsman,” she broke out; and when her husband asked, out of his amaze at her irrelevance, “ What’s that you said? ” she only answered confusedly, “ Nothin’, I guess.”
At that the storm seemed to Myron to be over, and his forehead cleared of anger He looked at her in much concern.
“I guess you better lay late to-morrer mornin’,” he said, rising to close the windows and wind the clock. “ I’ll ride over and get Sally Drew to come and stay a spell and help you.”
Something tightened through her tense body, and she answered instantly in a clear, loud note, —
“ I ain’t goin’ to have Sally Drew. Last time I had her she washed up the hearth with the dish-cloth. If I want me a girl, I’ll get one; but mebbe I shan’t want one till Hermie brings Annie into the neighborhood to live.”
She stood still in her place for a moment, trembling all over and wondering what would happen when Myron had wound the clock and closed the windows and turned the wooden button of the door. He did not look at her, nor did he speak again, and when she heard his deep, regular breathing from the bedroom she slipped in softly, made ready for bed, and lay down beside him.
She slept very little that night. He seemed to be a stranger, because there had been outward division between them; and yet, curiously, she felt nearer to him because she might have hurt him, and the jealous partisanship within her kept prompting her to a more tumultuous good will, a warmer service.
Next morning, when Hermie had left them at the breakfast-table, and gone silently to his tasks, his mother leaned across the table as if, for some reason, she had to attract her husband’s attention before speaking to him. He was just taking the last swallow of coffee, and now he set down his cup with decision, and moved away his plate. She knew what the next step would be. He would push back his chair, clear his throat, and then he would be gone.
“ Myron! ” she said. She spoke as something within Myron remembered the school-teacher speaking, when she called him to the board. The something within him responded to it, and without knowing why, he straightened and looked attentive. “ You noticed Hermie, did n’t you ? ” she adjured him. “ You noticed he did n’t have a word to say for himself, and he would n’t look neither of us in the face ? ”
“ What’s he been up to ? ” Myron queried, with his ready frown. “ He done somethin’ out o’ the way ? ”
“ No, he ain’t. I should think you’d be ashamed to hint such a thing, Myron Dill, your own boy, too! All he’s done is to stay here, and work his fingers to the bone, and no thanks for it, and he’s right down discouraged. I know how the boy feels. Myron, I want you should do somethin’. I want you should do it now.”
Myron gave his chair the expected push, but he still sat there.
“ Well,” he said, “ what is it? I’ve got to be off down to the medderlands.”
“ I want you should make over the Turnbull place to Hermie, and have him fetch Annie there as soon as ever she’ll come, and let him farm it without if or but from you and me.”
Myron was on his feet. He looked portentously large and masterful.
“ You better not think o’ packin’ the chiny,” he said, in his ordinary tone of generalship. “ We can set it into baskets with a mite o’ hay, and it’ll get as fur as that without any breakages.”
His wife slipped out of her chair, and went round the table to him. She laid a hand on his arm. Myron wanted, in the irritation of the moment, to shake it off, but he was a man of dignity, and forbore. His wife was speaking in a very gentle tone, but somehow different from the one he was used to noting.
“ Myron, ain’t you goin’ to hear me ? ”
“I ain’t goin’ to listen to any tomfoolery, and I ain’t goin’ to have anybody dictatin’ to me about my own business.”
“ It ain’t your business, Myron, any more ’n ’t is mine. Hermie’s much my son as he is your’n, and what you bought that place with is as much mine as ’t is your’n. I helped you earn it. Myron, it’s comin’ up in me. I can feel it.”
“ What is ? ”
In spite of all his old dull certainties, he felt the shock of wonder. He looked at her, her scarlet cheeks and widening eyes. Even her pretty hair seemed to have acquired a nervous life, and stood out in a quivering aureole. Myron was much bound to his Caddie in his way of being attached to his own life and breath. A change in her was horrible to him, like the disturbance of illness in an ordered house.
“What is it?” he inquired again. “ What is it you feel ? ”
“ It’s that,” she said, with an added vehemence. " It’s my double personality.”
Myron Dill could have wept from the surprise of it all, the assault upon his ordered nerves.
“ You spread up the bed in the bedroom, Caddie,” he bade her, “ and go lay down a spell.”
“ No,” said his wife, “ I shan’t lay down, and I shan’t give up to you. It’s riz up in me, the one that’s goin’ to beat, no matter what conies of it, same as old Abner Kinsman stood up a’ginst the British. Mebbe it’ll die fightin’, same’s he did, and I never’ll hear no more from it, — and a good riddance. But Myron, it’s goin’ to beat.”
Her husband was frowning, not harshly now, but from the extremity of his distress. He spoke in a tone of well-considered adjuration.
“ Caddie, you know what you’re doin’ of? You’re settin’ up your will in place o’ mine.”
“ Oh, no, I ain’t, Myron,” she responded eagerly, with an earnest motion toward him, as if she besought him to put faith in her. “ It ain’t me that’s doin’ it.”
“ It ain’t you ? Who is it, then ? ”
“ Why, it’s my double personality. Ain’t I just told you so?”
Myron stood gazing at her in the futility of comprehension he had felt years ago, when Caddie, who had been “ a great reader,” as the neighbors said, before the avalanche of household cares had overwhelmed her, propounded to him, while he was drawing off his boots for an hour of twilight somnolence before going to bed, problems that, he knew, no man could answer. Neither were they to be illumined by Holy Writ, for he had offered that loophole of exit, and Caddie had shaken her head at him disconsolately, and implied that the prophets would not do. But when she had seemed to forget that interrogative attitude toward life, he had settled down to unquestioning content in knowing he had the best housekeeper in the neighborhood. Now here it was again, the spectre of her queerness rising to distress him.
She looked at him with wide, affrighted eyes.
“ You set here with me a spell,” she adjured him. “ I ’ll lay down on the sofy, and you take the big rocker. If you see it comin’ up in me, you kinder say somethin’, and maybe it’ll go away.”
Myron, though in extreme unwillingness, did as he was bidden. He wanted to bundle the whole troop of her imaginings out of doors, and plod off, like a sane man, to his fencing; but somehow her earnestness itself forbade. When they were established, she on the sofa, with her bright eyes piercing him, and he seated at an angle where a nurse might easiest wait upon a patient’s needs, the absurdity of it all swept over him. The clock was ticking irritatingly behind him. He looked at his watch, and the vision of the flying day gave him assurance.
“ Now, Caddie,” said he, in that specious soothing we accord to children, “ you lay right still, and I ’ll go out a spell and do a few chores, and then mebbe I’ll come in and see how you be.”
Caddie put out a hand, and fastened it upon his in an inexorable clasp.
“ No, Myron,” said she, “ you ain’t goin’. If I should be left here to myself, and it come up in me, I dunno what I might do.”
Myron felt himself yielding again, and clutched at confidence as the spent swimmer reaches for a plank.
“ What do you think you’d do, Caddie?” he demanded. “That’s what I want to know.”
“ I can’t tell, Myron,” she returned solemnly. “ True as I’m a livin’ woman, I can’t tell you. Mebbe I’d go over to the Turnbull house and set it a-fire, so ’l I should n’t ever live in it. Mebbe I’d take my bank-book, and go up to the Street, and draw out that money Aunt Susan left me, and give it to Hermie, so’s he could run away, and take Annie with him. If that other one come up in me, I dunno what I’d do.”
Myron gazed at her, aghast.
“ Why, Caddie,” said he, “ you can’t go round settin’ houses a-fire. That’s arson.”
“ Is it ? ” she inquired. “ Well, I dunno what it’s called, but if that other one gets the better o’ me, mebbe that’s what I shall do.”
Myron held her hand now with an involuntary fervor of his own, not so much because she bade him, but with the purpose of restraining her. An hour passed, and her blue eyes were fixed upon him with the same imploring force. He fidgeted, and at last longed childishly to see them wink.
“ Don’t you want to see the doctor ? ” he ventured.
“ No,” said Caddie, in the same tone of wild asseveration. “ Doctors won’t do me a mite o’ good. Besides, doctors know all about it, and they’d see what was to pay, and they ’d send me off to some kind of a hospital, and there’d be a pretty bill o’ costs.”
“ I don’t believe a word of it,” Myron ventured, with a grasp at mental liberty. He essayed, at the same time, to draw away his hand, but Caddie seemed to fix him with a sharper eye-gleam, and he forbore.
“ There’s Hermie,” she said. “ I hear him in the shed, rattlin’ round amongst the tools. You call him in here, and when he’s here, you tell him he’s goin’ to have the Turnbull place, and have it now. Myron, you tell him.”
Myron made a slight involuntary movement in his chair, as if he were about to rise and carry out her mandate; but he settled back again, and Herman, having selected the tool he wanted, went off through the shed and, as they both knew, down the garden-path.
The forenoon went on in a strange silence, save for the sound of the birds, and an occasional voice of neighbors calling to Herman as they passed. Myron had still that sickening sense of illness in the house. The breakfast dishes were, he knew, untouched upon the table. The cat came in, looked incidentally at the sofa as if she were accustomed to occupy it at that particular hour, and walked out again. Myron drew out his watch, and looked at it with a stealthiness he could not explain.
“ Why,” said he, with a simulated wonder, “ it’s nigh half after eleven. Had n’t you better see about gettin’ dinner ? ”
“ I ain’t agoin’ to get any dinner,” his wife responded. “ I don’t know as I shall ever get dinners any more. Myron, it’s comin’ up in me. I feel it.” She dropped his hand and rose to a sitting posture, and for a moment, yielding to the physical relief of the broken clasp, he leaned back in his chair and drew a hearty breath.
“ Myron,” said his wife. There was something mandatory in her voice, and he came upright again. “ Now I’m goin’ to do it. I don’t know what ’t is, but it’s got the better o’ me and I’m goin’ to do what it says. But ’fore I give way to it, I’m goin’ to tell you this. You’ve got as good a home and as good a son and as good a wife, if I do say it, as any man in the state o’ New Hampshire. And you can keep ’em, Myron, jest as they be, jest as good as they always have been, if you’ll only hear to reason and give other folks a chance. You’ve got to give me a chance, and you’ve got to give Herman a chance. I guess maybe I’d sell all my chances for the sake of turnin’ ’em in with Hermie’s. But you’ve got to do it, and you’ve got to do it now. And if you don’t, somethin’s goin’ to happen. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know no more’n the dead, for this is the first time I ever really knew I had that terrible creatur’ inside of me that’s goin’ to beat. But I do know it, and you’ve got to stand from under.”
She turned about and walked to the side window, looking on the garden. She was a slight woman, but Myron, watching her in the fascination of his dread, had momentary remembrance of her father, who had been a man of majestic presence and unflinching will.
“ Herman,” his wife was calling from the window. “ Herman, you come here.” That new mysterious note in her voice evidently affected the young man also. He came, hurrying, and when he had entered stayed upon the threshold, warmhued with work and bringing with him the odor of the soil. His brown eyes went from one of them to the other, and questioned them.
” What is it ? ” he inquired. “ What’s happened ? ”
Myron got upon his feet. He had a dazed feeling that the two were against him, and he could face them better so. He hated the situation, the abasement that came from a secret self within him which was almost terribly moved by some of the things his wife had spoken out of her long silence. He was a proud man, and it seemed to him dreadful that he should in any way have won such harsh appeal.
“ Herman,” his wife was beginning, “ your father’s got somethin’ to say to you.”
Herman waited, but his father could not speak. Myron was really seeing, as in a homely vision, the peace of the garden where he might at this moment have been expecting the call to dinner if he had not been summoned to the bar of judgment.
“ I guess he’s goin’ to let me say it,” his wife continued. “ Father’s goin’ to give you a deed o’ the Turnbull place. It’s goin’ to be yours, same as if you’d bought it, and you and Annie are goin’ to live there all your days, same’s we’re goin’ to live here.”
Herman turned impetuously upon his father. There was a great rush of life to his face, and his father saw it and understood, in the amazement of it, things he had never stopped to consider about the boy who had miraculously grown to be a man. But Herman was finding something in his father’s jaded mien. It stopped him on the tide of happiness, and he spoke impetuously.
“ She’s dragged it out o’ you! Mother’s been tellin’ you! I don’t want it that way, father, not unless it’s your own free will, I won’t have it no other way.”
It was a man’s word to a man. Myron straightened himself to his former bearing. In a flash of memory he remembered the day when his father, an oldfashioned man, had given him his freedom suit and shaken hands with him and wished him well. Involuntarily he put out his hand.
“ It’s my own will, Hermie,” he said, in a tone they had not heard from him since the day, eighteen years behind them, when the boy Hermie was rescued from the “ old swimmin’-hole.” “ We’ll have the deeds drawed up to-morrer.”
They stood an instant, hands gripped, regarding each other in the allegiance not of blood alone. The clasp broke, and they remembered the woman and turned to her. There she stood, trembling a little, but apparently removed from all affairs too large for her. She had taken a cover from the stove, and was obviously reflecting on the next step in her domestic progress.
“ I guess you better bring me in a handful o’ that fine kindlin’, Hermie,” she remarked, in her wonted tone of brisk suggestion, “ so’s ’t I can brash up the fire. I shan’t have dinner on the stroke — not ’fore half-past one.”