From Cinnamon Roses (Hodder and Stoughton; London: 1908)
“I s'pose you air goin' down to Hannah's to spend Thanksgivin', Mis' Muzzy?”
The old lady who asked the question was seated in Mrs. Muzzy's best hair-cloth rocking chair, which had been brought out of the parlour for the occasion. She had a mild, tiny-featured old face, wore a false front of auburn hair, and a black lace cap decorated with purple ribbons, and was knitting — putting new heels into some blue-yarn stockings.
The answer she got to her question, delivered in her prim, purring, company tone, made her jump nervously.
“No; I ain't goin' a step — not if I know what I'm about.”
The words shot out of Mrs. Muzzy's mouth as if each one had had a charge of powder in its rear, and the speaker went on jerking the stout thread viciously through the seam she was sewing.
She was a squarely-built woman, compactly fleshy. There was a bright red colour on each of her firm, round cheeks; there was not a vague line in her whole face; her mouth opened and shut unhesitatingly and fairly; and she looked out of her small brown eyes directly, with no circumlocution.
“Mebbe you air goin' up to your brother Andrew's then?” ventured the old lady, feebly.
“No, Mis' Field, I ain't a-goin' to Andrew's nuther. I ain't a-goin' nowheres.”
“But,” purred the old lady, “ain't you afeard you'll be awful lonesome? Lor', I don't know what I should do ef it warn't for Serrah an' her childern on a Thanksgivin' day. To be sure, you ain't got any childern an' grandchildern to go to, but thar's your sister Hannah an' hers, an' Andrew an' his, an' it kinder seems as if brothers and sisters come next.”
“Thar ain't no use talkin',” said Mrs. Muzzy, in a loud, clear-cut voice. “I ain't a-goin' to Hannah's to Thanksgivin', an' I ain't a-goin' to Andrew's to Thanksgivin', an' I ain't a-goin' to hev any Thanksgivin' to hum. I ain't got nothin' to give thanks fur, as I see on. I s'pose ef I could go to meetin' Thanksgivin' mornin', an' hear the sermon, an' then set down to turkey and plum puddin', an' be a-thankin' the Lord in my heart for lettin' my husband fall off the scaffold in the barn an' git killed last summer, an' for lettin' my daughter Charlotte die of a quick consumption last spring, an' my son John two year ago this fall, I might keep Thanksgivin' as well as other folks. But I can't, an' I ain't a-goin' to purtend I do. Thar's one thing about it — I ain't a hypocrite, an' never was.”
“What air you a-goin' to do, Mis' Muzzy?”
“Do!” Mrs. Muzzy sniffed. “Do! I'm a-goin' to stay to hum, an' — do my pig work.”
The old lady's small-featured countenance, from its very mechanism, was incapable of expressing any very strong emotion, but it took on now a look of gentle horror. She dropped her knitting work, and her dim blue eyes seemed to take up the whole of her spectacles.
“Lor' sakes, Mis' Muzzy! Pig work on Thanksgivin' day! I never heerd anything like it!”
“I don't keer. The pig work has got to be done, an' I might jest as well do it Thanksgivin' day as any other. I feel enough sight more like it than eating turkey an' plum puddin', with all I've been through.”
“Ain't you a-goin' to meetin'?”
The old lady fell to knitting again in a mild daze. Mrs. Muzzy would have been too much for her in her best days; now she almost reduced her to lunacy. Still, this old lady, who was a neighbour, living about a quarter of a mile distant, felt for her the attraction which weak natures often feel for the strong. She was very fond of dropping in of an afternoon with her knitting work. There was not so much difference in their ages as one might think at first, either, although Mrs. Muzzy was so much younger looking. Her daughter, who had died the spring before, had been a schoolmate of Mrs. Field's Sarah.
The old lady often accepted the invitation to stay and take a cup of tea, but to-day she shortened her call a little. The “pig work” on Thanksgiving day rankled in her mind, and she wanted to go home and tell her daughter Sarah.
After she had gone, Mrs. Muzzy went from the warm sitting room into her cold, exquisitely neat kitchen, and kindled a fire in the cooking stove, and made herself a cup of tea. Though she was living alone, every meal was prepared and eaten with religious exactitude. She spread a white cloth over the table, put on some slices of bread, a little dish of quince sauce, and some custard pie. Then she sat down with a sort of defiant appetite.
She had finished her bread and sauce, and begun on her pie, when the kitchen door, which led directly outdoors, opened, and a girl of twenty or so walked in.
“How d'ye do, Lizzie?” said Mrs. Muzzy.
“Pretty well, Aunt Jane,” replied the girl, listlessly, and she sank down in the nearest chair.
She was a tall, slender girl, with dun-coloured hair. She had delicate features, and would have been pretty if it had not been for a pitiful droop at the corners of her mouth, the dullness of her eyes, and the dark rings under them.
“Hev some custard pie?”
“No, thank you; I am not hungry.”
“Hev you eat any supper?”
“I don't know — yes, I think so — some bread and butter.”
“I saw young Allen go by here 'bout three o'clock, ridin' with that Hammond girl,” remarked Mrs. Muzzy, eyeing her niece sharply.
She only looked at her aunt in the same way she had done before, with an expression of misery too helpless and settled to be augmented.
“Yes,” she replied; “I saw them.”
“She's a pretty-looking gal. Her cheeks air as red as roses, an' she had on a handsome bunnit.”
“It's quite a long time since he's been to see you.”
Never was such complete unresistance to a tormentor, if tormentor she meant to be.
“Well, I wouldn't mind anyhow, ef I was you,” said Mrs. Muzzy, looking at the girl's weary face, and changing her tone a little. “Let him go ef he wants to. Jest show him you don't keer.”
The girl woke up a little at that. “Show him I don't care!” she cried passionately. “He knows I care. It would be a disgrace to me if I didn't care, after I've been going with him for three years, and he leaving me for a new face. It's no use pretending I don't. I don't see why folks tell me to. My heart ought to be broken, and it is.”
“I'd hev more sperrit.”
“Would you? Well, I'm made different, I suppose,” said the girl; and her face took on its listless expression again.
Her aunt finished her second cup of tea, and began to clear away the table.
“Are you coming over to our house Thanksgiving, or Uncle Andrews?” asked Lizzie, after a little, with some faint appearance of interest.
“I ain't a-goin' nowheres; I'm a-goin' to stay to hum an' do my pig work.”
“Yes; I'm a-goin' to hev 'em killed Tuesday.”
Her surprise made Lizzie for a minute look like another girl. “But, Aunt Jane, why? I never heard of such a thing! Pig work on Thanksgiving day!”
Mrs. Muzzy braced herself up defiantly. “Look a-here, Lizzie Munroe,” quoth she; “you think you're down as fur as anybody kin be, because you've lost your beau. Well, I've lost my husband, that I'd lived with forty year, an' that was more than any beau, an' I've lost my daughter, both of 'em this year, an' two year ago this fall my son John, an' I don't see as I've got anything to be thankful for. I ain't a-goin' to keep Thanksgivin' day, an' eat turkey an' plum puddin'. I feel enough sight more like doin' pig work, an' I'm a-goin' to.”
The girl's dull eyes seemed to catch a gleam from her aunt's. For a minute she looked strangely like her. Mrs. Muzzy's passionate, defiant nature fired her niece's more unresisting, hopeless one.
“Well, Aunt Jane,” she said, in a tone like an echo of her aunt's, “I don't wonder you feel so. And — I don't care about eating turkey and plum pudding either — I'll come over and help you.”
Mrs. Muzzy looked startled for a minute. Perhaps her own spirit reflected in another looked differently to her.
“Well, Lizzie, jest as you like,” she said then. “I'll be glad of your help; it's consider'ble to do pig work all alone, an' I've never been used to it” — with a sigh.
“Well, I'll come, Aunt Jane.”
There was a long silence; then the girl took her sad face out of the door, and her aunt, having set away the last of her tea things, went back into her warm sitting room; the kitchen fire was going out, and it was growing cold.
Thanksgiving morning, a week later, was grey and cloudy, and the air felt like snow. Mrs. Muzzy's kitchen was full of steaming, glowing heat. She had two immense iron kettles on her stove, and was busily cutting pork into small square bits to try out.
Lizzie was there helping, too. She had come over early. Her sad young face looked sadder this morning. The cold, grey light brought out all the pitiful, drooping lines more plainly. She had probably been weeping instead of sleeping the night before. Her dun-coloured hair was put back plainly and neatly; grief did not with her manifest itself in untidiness, though she never crimped her hair now. Lizzie looked like another girl with her hair crimped. Her dark print fitted over her slender shoulders trimly, and she wore a little white ruffle in the neck. She was cutting pork too; her wrists, though small, were muscular, and she worked steadily and effectively, though with a pathetic indifference. Mrs. Muzzy's firmly-set face betrayed little of it, but she really eyed her niece from time to time with furtive uneasiness.
She had an inner consciousness, ever present to herself, that her state of mind was highly culpable, but she undertook the responsibility for herself with sullen defiance. It was another thing, however, to be responsible for a similar state in another. Lizzie, standing there, with her dull, hopeless face, indefatigably cutting pork, seemed to her like the visible fruit of her own rebellious nature.
“Hev you seen Jenny Bostwick lately?” asked she, with a desperate determination to alter her niece's expression.
“No,” replied Lizzie, slowly. “Joe hasn't left her. They're always together. I can't bear to go there.”
“I know,” said Mrs. Muzzy, with quick, sympathetic recognition of the feeling. “I felt that way after John died. I couldn't bear to go into Mis' Mann's, because there was her Edward — she'd had him spared, an' my boy'd been taken.”
There was something startling in the frankness, almost shamelessness, of the girl's avowal of envious misery, and her aunt's instantaneous sympathy with it. It was as if their two natures were growing more and more into an evil accord.
About ten o'clock the front-door bell rang. “You go to the door, Lizzie,” said Mrs. Muzzy; “you look better'n I.”
Lizzy took off her apron, and went obediently. Time was when the tinkle of a door bell could make her tremble all over, but she was calm enough now. It was six months since George Allen had been to see her, and she had given up all hope of his ever coming again.
Mrs. Muzzy heard the doors open and shut, then a murmur of voices in the sitting room. One of the voices was unquestionably a man's, low pitched and earnest. Lizzie's seemed to break into sobs now and then, and once she laughed. Mrs. Muzzy started when she heard that; she had almost forgotten how Lizzie's laugh sounded.
“Who on earth has Lizzie got in there?” she muttered to herself; but she was a woman who could keep her curiosity in check. She went steadily on with her work till the sitting-room door opened and Lizzie came out.
But was it Lizzie? — the girl with those pink cheeks and radiant eyes, and that dimpling mouth? Mrs. Muzzy laid her knife down and stared at her.
“It's George! George!” said Lizzie, in a happy, trembling whisper that seemed almost ready to break out into a scream of joy. “He's come to — to take me up to his house to dinner. I'm going home to change my dress and get ready.” She was trembling so she could hardly move, but she began pinning on her shawl in joyful haste.
“Lizzie Munroe,” said her aunt, sternly, “you don't mean to say you're goin' on with that fellow after all that's happened?”
“Yes, I am; he's come for me.” Great tears of pure delight rolled down her cheeks. She had her hood on now, and turned impatiently towards the sitting-room door.
“Come for you! I s'pose ef he'd got married to that Hammond girl an' come for you, you'd gone jest the same!” cried her aunt, with coarse sarcasm.
“Yes, I would!” cried Lizzie, recklessly, her hand on the door knob.
“I don't b'lieve but what that Hammond girl's given him the mitten, else he wouldn't 'a come. I wouldn't play second fiddle for any feller.”
“I would for him!” cried Lizzie, as shameless in her happiness as she had been in her misery. She opened the door a crack and peeped in; then she turned to her aunt, her eyes like stars, her cheeks fairly ablaze.
“Goodbye, Aunt Jane,” she said. “I'm sorry to leave you alone with the pig work. You'd better change your mind an' go over to mother's to dinner.”
Mrs. Muzzy vouchsafed no reply, and Lizzie went into the sitting room and shut the door.
Pretty soon her aunt watched her and her truant sweetheart walking down the street. Lizzie was actually hanging on to his arm, in broad daylight.
“I don't see where she took such a disposition,” muttered Mrs. Muzzy. “Not from my side. I'd never have made such a fool of myself over a feller.”
Then she went on with her pig work, righteous indignation and scorn against Lizzie mingling in her bosom with rebellion against the will of the Lord.
It had always been her boast that she wasn't one of the kind of women who are for ever dropping things, and getting burned and scalded, and cutting their fingers. She thought there was no kind of need of it, if anybody had her wits about her, and didn't fly about like a hen with her head cut off.
She was to prove, however, to-day that her boasting, for one occasion at least, was vain.
She had lifted the first kettle of boiling lard off the stove in safety, and deposited it in the sink. The second — how she did it she never knew, whether the sudden weakening of a muscle or the slipping of a finger occasioned it — she dropped bodily as she was lifting it from the fire.
None of the hot fat went on the stove, or there would have been a worse complication of disasters. It landed on the floor and Mrs. Muzzy's right foot. She lost none of her resolute coolness, with the sudden shock and agony. The kettle was scorching the floor; you could smell the burning paint. She lifted it on to the stove hearth, and cast a distrustful and indignant glance at the molten grease spreading over the floor.
Then she had luckily a pair of scissors within reach. She sat down and cut off, with convulsive shivers of pain, but grim determination, her shoe and stocking. The foot was shockingly burned. She set her lips hard when she saw it.
“A half-winter's job,” said she. “Well!”
She dragged herself in her chair with one foot, hitching herself along, into the buttery, to the flour barrel. She powdered the wounded foot thickly with flour, and hitched back.
“There,” said she, “that's all I can do. There ought to be oil and bandages and things; but I've got to set still. I wish somebody would come.”
Then she sat there in silent endurance, in the midst of the grease, which had cooled, and formed a white coating over the kitchen floor. Her foot was a mass of torture. She did not have long to wait for help, however; she had not been sitting there half an hour when she heard quick steps on the frozen ground outside.
“Open the door, Jane,” called the voice of her sister Hannah, Lizzie's mother. “I've got my hands full.”
“I can't,” responded Mrs. Muzzy, “you'll hev to do it yourself.”
The door opened after a second. The caller, who had a large plate in each hand, stopped short in utter dismay as she took in the aspect of things — her sister, with her floury foot and pale face, and the lard on the floor.
“Why, what hev you done, Jane?” she cried.
Mrs. Muzzy looked up, and actually smiled, the first time her sister had seen her for many a day. “What hev you got thar, Hannah?” asked she.
“Why, I brought you over some Thanksgivin' dinner; but I guess you won't feel like eatin' any now.”
“Yes, I do. Bring it here.”
“But you want somethin' done more for your foot. Did you tip the hot lard right on to it? Don't it ache? Hadn't you better wait an' eat your dinner after the foot's been seen to?”
“No, Hannah; I want it now. I want to eat some turkey an' plum puddin' afore I'm an hour older, an' keep Thanksgivin'. I said I wouldn't, but the Lord got ahead of me, an' I'm glad He has. Bring it here an' I'll eat my dinner, an' then, mebbe, I kin hev somethin' more done for my foot.”
Her sister gave in then, and Mrs. Muzzy, her forehead wrinkled with pain, sat there and ate her Thanksgiving dinner to the very last mouthful.
“Lizzie's feelin' happier,” she remarked once.
“Yes; George came to take her to his folks' to dinner.”
“Well, I'm glad of it, ef she's goin' to feel any better.”
“You would be, ef you was her mother,” said her sister, simply.