WE did n’t know grown-ups could cry until we heard Mother in the bedroom. Tiptoeing along the porch that ran beneath her window, I moved the shutter. It was dark inside her room. Mollie in the front hall with her eye to the keyhole said she could only see the peep of light I let in when I turned the shutter.
And then we went up to the nursery. Mrs. Clark, who always puts us to bed and things, was n’t in it any more. Her clothes did n’t bulge out the closet door in the next room any more. Mrs. Clark was gone, and so Mollie and I got up on my bed and we did n’t take our shoes off.
I said, ‘You don’t think she’s found out?’
‘Oh, no!’ Mollie always makes it seem so, when she says it like that. ‘Mother would n’t cry over kittens!'
You see, we borrowed a nest of kittens when their mother was some place, out of Dr. Whitford’s barn, and were growing them up — when we remembered to — in the old tool chest in the stable. Mother does n’t like kittens. Mollie said, ‘To make Mother cry it would have to be something as big as —’ I tried to think what is big enough to make grown-ups cry—‘as death!’ And Mollie held the word a long time in her mouth.
One time I asked Katie, out in the kitchen, ‘ What is death?’ Katie makes things that are good, with lots of sugar. I try and not forget to put the plate back on the cooky jar.
Katie was rolling pies when I asked, ‘What is death?’ She looked up from seeing the pie and shook her head and made a quick move with her hand. The quick move left flour powdered on her waist and there was a white spot on her forehead. She gave me a piece of dough and I made a pie on the corner of her board, and she put a spoonful of sugar in the middle of it.
Mollie and I slid down to dinner very quietly on the banisters. The table was squeezed up now, because Auntie Lou did n’t eat with us any more, nor Miss Lizzie who used to give us music lessons, nor Peter who made rabbits out of his fingers for Freddie when he was n’t at the flour mill with Father.
Mother and Father were there, but Father forgot to call Freddie ‘Chubbins.’ Katie came in and fixed Freddie’s potato and took a long time.
After dinner Mother went back into the bedroom and shut the door. Father sat in a rocker on the side porch and did n’t see Mollie and Freddie and me. We were on the top step.
In a long time Katie came out of the side door with her satchel and Father carried it to the front gate for her. Katie’s ma was waiting for her in a buggy. Katie picked Freddie up and put him down right quick and ran with fast steps down to the gate. Mollie and I moved close to Freddie because his face got red, like when he thinks he is going to cry. Once he called, ‘Katie! ’ but Katie was in the buggy and Katie’s ma whipped the horse with a stick and they weren’t there any more. Father walked slowly past the Methodist Church and did n’t turn around and come back. He did n’t hurry like he was going to our flour mill or to our implement store. It was like Sunday. But it was n’t. Sunday was yesterday.
Mother got supper and washed the dishes by herself. Father put us to bed and it was light outside. He put Mollie’s gown on me and my gown on Mollie, and we just let him. He fixed our pillows nice and got Freddie another drink and said, ‘Baby,’ when he kissed every one of us. Freddie even is n’t a baby any more; he’s four years old! And I’m going on seven and Mollie is more’n nine!
After Father went downstairs Mollie got out of bed and got a peach that was on a tree close to the nursery window. She told me, ‘You must n’t get up,’and I did n’t — neither did Freddie. ‘It’s a green peach!’ and she ate it all herself and picked the threads off the seed. Freddie and I sat up in bed and waited for her to get sick.
The next day Katie was n’t back — nor the next — nor ever at all. Mother worked in the kitchen. Sometimes I sat on a stool and watched her hands. Mother’s hands are always nice. Sometimes she lets them stay under the covers with us until we go to sleep. We turn her rings round and round. When she worked with the flour dough her hands were like lovely ladies bowing and turning. Once she made twisted ribbons out of flour dough and built a lattice window across the face of a pie.
Mother was very busy for lots of days. She never had t ime to snuggle us. We felt sorry for the kittens we were growing up and took them back to their mother and father. Men did n’t come any more and make Father not have time to eat his dessert; and Father did n’t have to go any more to the mill or to the store. Father helped Mother put things in boxes and wrap the Sunday dishes in paper. He said to us, ‘We are moving. Must n’t bother.’
Sometimes Mother’s hands stood still and they looked sorry, like the pictures on the Golden Text of the virgins who forgot their lamps. They did n’t have rings on any more. The sparkles in Mother’s rings never could keep up with her hands, but hurried on after them. I wished Mother would put her rings on.
Mollie and Freddie and I played out in the stable lot with Old Jen and did n’t bother. Old Jen was Father’s horse when he was a little boy. We could all get on her at once and not have any halter rope. We used to play with her all morning, and sometimes after Jim put the heavy thing on top of her, that the lines go through, he would let us hitch her to our cart. Sometimes we got Old Jen hitched up just in time to bring Father home from the mill for dinner. But that was a long time ago, before we were moving.
Old Jen was just like an aunt. We told her everything and she never told. We always gave her the frosting off of our birthday cakes. And one time, when everybody was eating breakfast, Mollie got through quick and opened the two doors that stand together in front of the house and led Old Jen into the parlor to see the Christmas tree.
That was a long time ago, too, when Auntie Lou and Miss Lizzie and Peter lived with us. Katie did n’t think Mollie ought to have done it.
When we were playing with Old Jen one day and not bothering, some men we did n’t know came into the stable lot and felt Father’s horses all over. Sometimes they led one away at the back of a buggy. Another man always held the halter rope, and when they got on the town street Father’s horse began trotting. When lots of Father’s horses were n’t there any more, Mollie went to the stable and got a halter rope. She led Old Jen by the hair to the big gate and climbed up and put the halter rope on her. Then Mollie said, ‘Open!’ That meant, open the gate. Then she said, ‘Follow!’ Mollie says one word like that and Freddie and I do it.
Mollie led Old Jen across the railroad cut and to the edge of town, and then we boosted Freddie on top of her, and I held one of his legs, and Mollie led Old Jen to the lake. When we got to the lake, Mollie took all her clothes off and got hold of Old Jen’s halter rope and tried to drag her into the water, behind a lot of little trees. Freddie and I poked her with sticks and pretty soon Old Jen went in. Mollie hid her behind the trees until Freddie and I could n’t see her any more, and then she came out. Freddie and I watched for snakes. Mollie jumped up and down to dry herself off because there was n’t any towel. It was hard to pull her clothes on.
Mollie said, ‘It will be over my dead body if they get Old Jen!’ And she could only get one stocking on, and we started home, and Mollie said, ‘We’ll bring her oats to-morrow. It will take her a long time to drink up all this water.’ And I said yes and Freddie nodded his head.
And when we got home there were lots and lots of wagons and buggies tied around our picket fence, and so we crept under the cedars where it was almost dark and looked, and men were carrying out our chairs and things. I said, ‘Is this moving?’ and Mollie said, ‘No, movings all go into one wagon.’ And everyone was carrying something out of our house and putting it into his own buggy — and wagon, too. And Father was helping a man carry out Sister Osborne, the sofa that hugged us up to the fire in the living room. And he picked up the gate off of the fence and he laid it on the grass. He said, ‘Be careful!’ when Sister Osborne almost did n’t go through the place where the gate was n’t any more.
And then, when we saw a man bring out Brother Earnest, — that’s the armchair that holds our too many Christmas presents, — why, then we ran inside the house and held on to Deacon Hargrave, all filled with our storybooks, and Miss Hogan, the shiny, big, flat piano. But no one tried to take them, and right away there was no one there but Mother and Father, and they did n’t see us.
That night Mollie heard Father ask one of the stable men, ‘Where is Old Jen?’ And the stable man just shook his head. And then I heard Father tell Mother that Old Jen had been under the weather. I told Mollie after we were put to bed, and Freddie and I crawled under Mollie’s covers and we did n’t know what to do. And then Mollie said, ‘Let’s go now, and get Old Jen from under the weather.’ But Freddie and I don’t like nights when the light’s blown out, and Freddie started to cry, and Mollie lifted him into his own bed and covered him all over so Mother would n’t hear him.
Next morning when I came downstairs and ran outdoors, Father and Mollie were driving up to the front gate. I screamed out loud, ‘Where you been?’ and ran to them. Mollie was white like when she eats three dishes of ice cream, and I tagged her up the walk.
Mollie said, ‘She’s at the doctor’s,’ and I knew she meant Old Jen. And I said, ‘Was she under the weather?’ and Mollie would n’t answer, and ran up to the empty nursery and locked the door.
Mollie and Freddie and I went over to Mr. and Mrs. Walker’s and ate our dinner, and after we had dessert we went riding with Mr. Walker. He had a cow tied behind his buggy. We rode and rode. The cow would n’t trot. We stopped at a white house that was tall and thin. Mr. Walker said, ‘This is your new home.’ And the windows looked like eyes! We didn’t want to get out of the buggy. There was n’t any front gate and there were n’t any flowers. Freddie’s face started to get red; and then the door opened out of the house and Mother was there.
Mot her had on a white dress and she looked tall like the pictures of Jehovah in the big Bible on rainy Sundays. She held her arms out, and we got out of the buggy fast and ran to her.
Father came around the house. He had on blue calico clothes like the stable men’s. We stayed with Mother.
Mother opened the screen door to the house and we went inside a nearly dark place with a stairs going up. I touched the banister and it waved. We went into a room, and it was tight, like our pantry at home. Miss Hogan and Deacon Hargrave were there, and nothing else was there but our parlor carpet all crumpled up, and it looked like pansies that hadn’t been put in water.
Mr. Walker came in and took the carpet to his buggy. He tied the cow to a tree. Mollie and Freddie and I came out of the little room and outdoors and went through two gates to the stable. Neither Blackie, nor Midnight, nor the Sunday carriage was there. A man was nailing the stable. Mollie asked the man, ‘Where are the horses?’ The man said, ‘Gone with the rest of your fine things to pay the note your pa signed.’ His mouth was full of nails. We did n’t like him and we did n’t stay in the stable.
We ran around the stable and there stood — Old Jen! Her head was hanging down on the top of a board fence. Freddie crawled through the fence and Mollie and I climbed up it. And then we petted Old Jen, but she did n’t open her eyes. Freddie pointed to Old Jen’s back leg.
Mollie said, ‘That’s what it did to her — the water. It warped her!’ And her face did n’t smile.
Freddie touched Old Jen’s leg. ‘Will it walk?’
And Mollie said, ‘It sags her, but it will come down again when it gets dried out.’ Her voice sounded away off, like she was in the haymow.
We combed Old Jen’s hair with our fingers. Mollie turned so she could n’t see the pulled-up leg. She told Old Jen, ‘Father’s signed a note, and that’s why we are n’t home any more.’
Father came out of the house, and he went to the stable and he looked at the ground all the time. The next morning we found Old Jen lying on the grass in the front yard. Someone had not shut the gates. She was all stretched out. Mollie had Freddie and me take turns holding a parasol over Old Jen’s head when the sunshine came through the trees. And Mollie put a wet cloth over Old Jen’s eyes, like Mother does to Father when he is sick.
Old Jen lay there all day and did n’t move and would n’t cat any grass. And then after supper Mother and Father came out and petted her and Fat her called her name in her car.
We straightened the hair on Old Jen’s forehead. Freddie let his hand ride up and down on her side when she breathed. It was only a very little bit that Freddie’s hand went up and down. Mother and Father went to sit on the little steps that came out the front door. Father took one of Mother’s hands and put it over his eyes and then he held it over his lips. Mollie got to Mother first and got her other hand. I leaned against Mother’s knees. I wanted Mother’s hand that Father was holding.
Freddie came running through the almost darkness and he said, ’Her stomach is n’t moving any more.’ He got up into Father’s lap. After a while Mother went into the house. Father carried Freddie in and he was asleep.
Mollie pulled up grass and put it under Old Jen’s head. It looked like a long shadow. Mollie reached up and unbuttoned her pinafore and wrapped it around the hurt leg.
Mother called. ‘Children!’ and we went inside. Mollie closed the screen door, softly.