From A New England Nun and Other Stories (Harper & Brothers Publishers; New York: 1891)
Back of the kitchen proper in the Lee house there was another shed-kitchen, unplastered and unpainted, that was used for rough work like soap-boiling and washing. Each kitchen had its own door opening directly into the green yard on the north side of the house.
Abel Lee sat in the door of the back kitchen cleaning dandelion greens. His long limbs in stiff blue cotton overalls sprawled down over the low wooden step into the grass. His white head showed out against the dark unpainted interior at his back. He had a tin pan full of dandelions between his knees, and he was scraping them assiduously with an old shoe-knife, and throwing them into another pan on the step beside him.
That morning the narrow green yard that stretched along the north side of the house had been all thickly set with yellow dandelion disks; now there were very few left, for Abel had dug them up for dinner.
It was early in May, and the air was full of sudden sweet calls of birds and delicate rustles of flowering boughs. In Ephraim Cole's next-door yard, on the other side of the gray picket-fence, stood three blossoming peach-trees. They were young and symmetrical trees, they stood in a line, and were in full pink bloom. Every time they stirred in the wind they gave out a stronger almond fragrance.
Abel, as he cleaned his dandelions, breathed it in without noticing. He had been out there all the morning, and had become accustomed to it, as it seems one would to the air of paradise. Moreover, he had seen seventy-eight seasons of blooming peach-trees, and a spring had become like an old and familiar picture on his wall; it had no new meaning for him. And, too, he was harnessed, as it were, with his head down, to dandelions.
Always as he sat there he could hear a heavy creaking step in the forward kitchen. Back and forth it went, and there were also loud rattling and clinking noises of dishes and iron kettles.
Suddenly, as he worked on the dandelions, the step and the noises ceased, and a voice took their place. It was a naturally soft and weak voice that had been strained into hard shrillness. “You mind you clean them dandelions thorough, father.”
“I'm takin' all the pains I can with 'em,” replied the old man. He examined one which he held in hand at the moment with great solicitude. He could not see the woman, but her eyes were upon him through the crack in the blind. She was at the window nearest the door.
“Well, you mind you do,” she repeated. “How near done air they?”
The old man surveyed the pans with grave consideration. “'Bout half, I guess.”
“Half! Good land! An' you've been quiddlin' out there all the mornin'.”
“It's consider'ble work to dig 'em, mother.”
“Work — talk about work! You dun know what work is. If you'd made the pies that I have since I got up from the breakfast-table you might think you'd done somethin'. If them greens ain't done in half an hour I can't get 'em boiled for dinner.”
“I guess I can git 'em done in half an hour.”
“Guess — there ain't no guess about it! You've got to if I git 'em done for dinner, an' I've got to have somethin' to eat with all them boarders. I want you to git them done, an' then wash up the breakfast dishes. I ain't had a minute. Now don't, for the land's sake, putter so long over that one; it's clean 'nough.”
The voice ceased and the step began. Abel labored with diligence at his dandelion greens. After a while another old man came stiffly sauntering across the next-door yard, and took up a stand the other side of the picket-fence. He was small, with sharp features and a high forehead. He had very white hair and a long white beard, and he was smiling to himself. He stood between two of the blooming peach-trees, and looked smilingly at Abel, who toiled over his greens, and did not appear to see him.
“Well, Abel, how air ye?” said the old man finally. His smile deepened, his old blue eyes took on a hard twinkle, like blue beads, and stared straight into Abel's face.
“Well, I'm pooty fair, Ephraim. How air you?” Able had not started when the other spoke; he merely glanced up from his greens with a friendly air.
“Well, I'm 'bout as usual, Abel.” The old man paused for a second. When he spoke again it was more cautiously. He was near Abel, and also very near the kitchen window whence the sound of footsteps and dishes came. “Kitchen colonel this mornin', Abel?” he queried, in a soft and insinuating voice. His venerable white beard seemed to take quirks and curls like a satyr's; he gave a repressed chuckle.
“I dun' know what you call it,” replied Abel, with a patient gravity. He took another dandelion out of the pan and examined it minutely.
“Goin' to the meetin' this arternoon?”
“The town meetin': ain't ye heerd of it?”
“No, I ain't.”
“It's a special town meetin' 'bout the water-works they're talkin' 'bout puttin' in. There's notices up on all the trees down street. I should ha' thought you'd seen 'em, if you'd had eyes.”
“Well, I ain't happened to somehow.”
Ephraim cast a glance at the kitchen window, and again cautiously lowered his voice. “Been too busy in the kitchen, ain't ye?”
“Well, I dun know 'bout that.”
“I s'pose a kitchen colonel wouldn't git shot if he run for't; but he might git the pots an' kittles throwed at him.” Ephraim doubled over the fence with merriment at his own humor.
Abel's face was imperturbable; he kept close at work on the greens.
“Well, I s'pose you'll go to the meetin',” continued Ephraim.
“I dun know.”
“I should think you'd want to go, if you was a man, an' have a leetle voice in things. Here they air talkin' 'bout puttin' in them water-works, an' raisin' our taxes four per cent. to pay for't. I've got a good well, an' so've you, an' we don't want no water-works.”
“There's some that ain't got wells,” observed Abel, shortly.
“Well, that ain't anything to us, is it? We've got 'em. Anyway, I should think you'd want to go to the meetin', an' see what was bein' done, if you was a man.”
Abel said nothing. He began to gather up himself and his pans stiffly. The dandelions were all picked over. Ephraim, still smiling, leaned on the fence and watched him.
“What ye goin' to do now, Abel?”
Abel did not seem to hear. When he stood up, one could see how tall he was, although there was a stoop in his gaunt square shoulders. His spare face was pale, and his sharp handsome features had a severe downward cast, although their principal effect was gentle patience. He looked like a Roman senator turned begging friar as he stood there in his overalls holding his dandelion pans.
“Got the dishes washed, Abel?”
“No, I ain't yet,” replied Abel, with a mixture of embarrassment and dignity in his tone. He turned on his heel, but Ephraim would not let him go.
“Stop a minute,” said he. “Where's Fanny?”
“She's gone to school.”
“Hm!” Ephraim, as he sniffed, cocked his head, and rolled his eyes towards the pink top of a peach-tree, as if in a spasm of contempt. “I rayther think if Fanny Lee was my granddaughter she'd quit school-teachin', an' stay to home an' help about the house-work, an' I'd quit bein' kitchen colonel; I rayther think I would.”
Ephraim raised his voice incautiously; a woman's head appeared in the window.
“What's that?” she inquired, sharply.
“Oh, nothin',” replied Ephraim. “I was jest talkin' to Abel, Mis' Lee.” Ephraim straightened himself from his lounge over the fence, and turned about with a deprecatory swiftness; but the woman's sharp old voice followed him up like a long-lashed whip.
“Well,” said she, “if you ain't got anything better to do than to stan' leanin' on the fence talkin' nothin' to my husband all the forenoon, you had better come in here an' help me. I'll give you somethin' to do.” Ephraim said nothing; he was in full retreat, and had passed the line of peach-trees. “You'd better go home an' help Mis' Coles carry in the water for her washin',” the woman's voice went on. “I see her carryin' in a pail jest now, an' she was bent over 'most double.” Seeing that she could get no response, she stood looking after Ephraim with a comical expression that savored of malice and amusement. She turned around when Abel with the dandelions shuffled into the room. “Now, father, what air you bringin' that pan that you've put the scrapin's of the greens in in here for? Don't you know no better? I should think you'd knowed enough to took 'em down to the hens, many times as I've told ye. They're shut up now, an' they like green things.”
“I'll take 'em down now.”
“Take 'em down now! It does seem sometimes, father, as if you didn't have no sense at all. If I set you to doin' a piece of work, you're always takin' hold on't wrong end first. Take them greens down to the hens! I should think you'd know better, father.”
Mrs. Lee was a small and frail-looking old woman, but she seemed always to have through her a strong quiver as of electric wires. It was as if she had an electric battery at the centre of her nervous system. Abel stood droopingly before her, his face full of mild dejection and bewilderment.
“Ain't I told you, father,” she went on, “that them dandelion greens wouldn't get done for dinner if they wa'n't on? an' ain't they got to be washed? You know you ain't washed 'em, an' they ain't ready to put in the kittle, an' here you air talkin' 'bout goin' to the hen-coop! I ruther guess the hens can wait.”
“I didn't know jest what you meant, mother.”
“You don't act as if you knew what anything meant sometimes. It does seem to me as if you might have a leetle more sconce, father, with all I've got to do.”
Abel set the pan of greens in the sink, and pumped water on them with vigor.
“Mind you git 'em clean,” charged his wife. She was baking pies, and she moved about with such quickness that her motions seemed full of vibrations, and as if one could hear a hum, as with a bird. If she had about her any of the rustiness and clumsiness of age, she propelled herself with such energy that no hitches nor squeaks were apparent. She stepped heavily for so small a woman; it seemed impossible that her bodily weight could account for such heavy footsteps, and as if her character must add its own gravity to them. Mrs. Lee was but two years younger than her husband; but her light hair had not turned gray — it had only faded — and she did not wear a cap. She had been a very pretty woman, and there was still a suggestion of the prettiness in her face. She had withered complete, as some flowers do on their stalks, keeping all their original shapes, and fading into themselves, not scattering any of their graces abroad.
Everybody called Mrs. Abel Lee a very smart woman, and a very wonderful woman for one of her age. The house in which she lived had been left to her by her father. Abel had mortgaged it heavily, and she had taken boarders and nearly cleared it. Abel Lee had been a very unfortunate and unsuccessful man through his whole life. He had worked hard, and failed in everything that he had undertaken. Now he was an old man of seventy-eight, and his wife was taking boarders to support the family and clear the mortgage, and he was helping her about the housework. It seemed to be all that he could do.
The Lees had had one son, who had apparently inherited his father's ill-fortune. He had a sad life, and died without a dollar, leaving his daughter Fanny to the care of his old parents. Fanny was about eighteen now, and she taught school. Her school-house was a mile away, and she did not come home to dinner. However, Mrs. Lee's boarders all came, punctually at twelve o'clock. The boarders were four women, not very young, who worked in the shoe factory. When they got home, dingy and dull-faced, they always found dinner on the table — plenty of good food. Mrs. Lee was a splendid cook, after the village model. She did the helping with alacrity, and Abel had his portion after the boarders. He had a small allowance of greens to-day; they were the first of the season, and the boarders were hungry for them. The four women could not grasp many of the pleasures of life, and had to make the most of those that hung low enough for them. They took a great deal of comfort in eating.
After dinner Abel hurried to clear off the table and wash the dishes. He was usually a long time about it, for he was hopelessly clumsy, although he was so faithful at such work. Abel at the dish-tub with one of his wife's aprons pinned around his waist was a piteous object. He bent to the task with a hopeless and dejected air, and mopped the plates with melancholy fussiness. But to-day he rattled the dishes quite like a woman. “Don't you rattle them plates round so; you'll nick 'em,” his wife remarked once, and Abel obediently tempered his movements. Still, the dinner dishes were washed much sooner than usual. After they were set away, Abel took up a stand at the pantry door; he leaned against it, and regarded his wife with a hesitating air. Once in a while he opened his mouth as if to speak, then seemed to change his mind. Finally Mrs. Lee turned sharply on him. “Why don't you git the broom an' sweep up the kitchen, father,” said she. “What air you standin' there for?”
Abel did not answer for a moment; he looked across the room at the broom on its nail, then at his wife — “I kinder thought — mebbe — I'd go to — that town meetin' this afternoon.”
His wife faced about on him with a spoon in her hand. “What town meetin'?”
“The one they've 'p'inted about the water-works. I thought mebbe I'd better go an' kinder look into it a leetle.”
“Look into it — a great difference it 'll make your lookin' into it! I should think you'd got about all the town meetin' you could attend to to home, without goin' traipsin' off there. Here's the churnin' to be done, an' I ain't got no time nor strength for't. I shouldn't think you'd talk 'bout town meetin's, father.”
“Well, I dun' know as I'd better go,” said Abel, and went across for the broom. However, he swept with more despatch than usual, and when he sat down to the churn it was with a forlorn hope that the butter might come in season for him to go to the town meeting. But the butter did not come until the meeting had been long dispersed, and not until Fanny came home from school. Abel was just lifting out the dasher when she appeared in the kitchen door with her dinner basket on her arm. “Well, grandpa, has the butter come?” said she.
“I guess you've brought it; it's been all the afternoon gittin' here.” Abel surveyed her with adoration. Fanny was a pretty young girl. She looked at her grandparents and smiled radiantly, but evidently the smiles were about something that they did not understand.
“What air you lookin' so awful tickled about?” asked Mrs. Lee.
“Oh, nothing. Did you have any pudding left from dinner? I'm most starved.”
“There's a saucer under the yellow bowl on the pantry shelf.”
Fanny was still smiling when she sat down at the kitchen table with the pudding. “What does ail you?” Mrs. Lee asked again. She was at the other end of the table rolling out biscuits for tea.
“Oh, nothing, grandma. What makes you think there's anything?” Fanny ate her pudding with apparent unconcern, but all the time her eyes danced, and the corners of her mouth curved upward. “I didn't have to walk home to-night,” she remarked, finally.
“Didn't have to walk home? Why not?”
“Well, Charly Page came along just about the time school was out, and — he brought me home in his buggy.”
“Well, I never!” Mrs. Lee's sharp old face softened; she surveyed her granddaughter with admiring smiles. “That's the second time within a week, ain't it.”
Fanny nodded, and bent lower over the pudding. She was blushing pink, and she could not keep the smiles back. Abel, who was starting the fire, stood stock-still, and stared with delighted wonder at her and his wife. “That young Page is one of the smartest fellars in town,” he volunteered; “an' his father's wuth a good deal of property.”
Abel was so pleased that he paid little attention when, on carrying his basket around to the shed door for more light wood, Ephraim again hailed him from the fence. “Hullo, Abel!” he called; “I didn't see you to the town meetin'.”
“No; I wa'n't there.”
“Kitchen colonel again?”
Abel picked up wood vigorously. Ephraim surveyed him with a dissatisfied expression. “Who was that I see your Fanny a-ridin' home with?” he asked.
Abel straightened himself, and looked over at Ephraim. “That was the young Page fellar,” he said, proudly.
“John Page's son?”
In a moment Ephraim turned about and walked off. He had a daughter of his own who was about Fanny's age, and she was very plain-looking and unattractive, and was not liked by the young men.
Fanny was much sought for, she was so pretty, and she had such pleasant ways. She dressed nicely too; her grandmother encouraged her to spend her school money for clothes. Her grandparents had always petted her, and exacted very little from her. She did not help much about the house. To-night, after tea, she stood looking irresolutely at her pretty gray dress and her grandparents. “Don't you want me to take off my dress and help about the dishes?” said she.
“Land, no!” answered her grandmother. “Go 'long; it ain't wuth while to change your dress for this little passel of dishes. Father's goin' to wash 'em while I'm mixin' up the bread.”
“Yes, you go right along an' set down in the parlor an' git rested, Fanny,” chimed in Abel. “I ain't got a thing to do but the dishes, an' they ain't wuth talkin' about.” Abel shuffled cheerfully around, gathering up the dishes from the tea-table.
Fanny went into the parlor as she was bidden; she had about her a sweet docility, and she would have changed her dress and washed the dishes just as readily. Fanny would always perform all the duties that she was told to, but probably not so very many others. She had little original directive power in the matter of duties, although she had a perfect willingness and sweetness in their execution.
She sat down at a parlor window with some fancy-work, and rocked to and fro comfortably. She could look out on the front yard full of green grass, with a blossoming cherry-tree, and a yellow-flowering bush down near the gate. The four women boarders were in the sitting-room, but she did not think of joining them, nor they her. Fanny's grandmother always insinuated her into the parlor when the boarders were in the sitting-room. In her heart she did not consider that these four dingy-handed shop-girls were fit associates for her granddaughter.
Fanny herself had no such feeling in the matter; she would have gone into the sitting-room and fraternized with the boarders, had her grandmother wished her to do so. But they rather repulsed her, and held themselves aloof with an awkward dignity, and Fanny was timid and easily rebuffed. They were quite acute enough to understand that Mrs. Lee did not consider them proper company for her granddaughter, and they felt injured and covertly resentful. They were also righteously indignant because Fanny was so petted by her grandparents, and did not help them more. To-night the four women in the sitting-room whispered together about Fanny; how she was sitting all dressed up in the parlor while her poor old grandparents were working in the kitchen. They thought that she ought to give up her school and stay at home and help. She was not earning much anyway, and it all went on to her back; she need not dress so fine.
While they whispered, Fanny, small and dainty, putting pretty stitches in her fancy-work, sat at the parlor window. When it was too dark for her to sew, she leaned her head against the window-casing and looked out. The yellow bush in the yard still showed out brightly in the dusk; the cherry-tree looked like a mist. Over in the east, beyond everything else, was a soft rise of shadow; that was Eagle Mountain.
It grew darker. After a while her grandmother came into the room, feeling her way. “Don't you want me to light a lamp, grandma?” asked Fanny, in a soft, absent voice.
“No; I don't want none. I'd jest as soon set down in the dark a few minutes; then I'm goin' to bed. Father's gone.” The old woman fumbled into a chair at the other window. “Have you seen anything about your hat yet?” she asked Fanny, after they both had sat still a little while.
“Yes; I went into Miss Loring's on my way to school this morning.”
“What you goin' to have?”
“That brown straw I've been talking about. I'm going to have it trimmed with some brown velvet and yellow daisies.”
“It 'll be real handsome. When you goin' to have it?”
“Next week — Friday. I've got to have it then, for I haven't a thing to wear if we go up the mountain Saturday.”
The old woman's face was invisible in the dusk, but her voice took on a pleased and significant tone, and she laughed softly. “I s'pose that Page fellar will be goin', won't he?”
“I don't know. He was invited.” Fanny also laughed with pleased confusion. She had been climbing the mountain with young Page for the last hour in a dream, and she had worn the brown straw hat with the brown velvet and yellow daisies.
“Well, I guess he'll go, fast enough. I see his father down to the store the other day, an' he stopped an' shook hands an' asked how I was, and looked dreadful smilin' an' knowin'. I guess he's heerd how his son's been carryin' you home from school. Well, I guess he's a good, likely young fellar, an' that's wuth more'n his father's money.” The old woman spoke the last words of her remark in a lagging and drowsy voice. The two were silent again. Presently there came a long heavy breath from the grandmother's corner.
“Grandma!” called Fanny.
“What?” the old woman responded, faintly.
“Wake up; you're goin' to sleep.”
“Well, I dun know but I be. I guess I'd better rouse up an' go to bed. I wouldn't set up much longer if I was you, Fanny.”
“I ain't going to.” But Fanny sat there and dreamed quite a while after her grandmother had fumbled out of the room.
That was on Thursday. It was the next day but one, Saturday, when old Ephraim Coles came to the fence and hailed Abel as he was paring potatoes at the kitchen door. “Hullo, Abel! how air ye?”
“'Bout as usual,” answered Abel.
“Kitchen colonel this mornin'?”
“I dun know what you call it.” Abel was cutting the specks from the potatoes with clumsy pains. He sat on the door-step with the pan between his knees. Ephraim stood watching him. He had an important look, and his smile was different from his usual one.
Presently he leaned over the fence. “Abel!” said he, in a confidential whisper.
“Come here a minute. Want to tell ye somethin'.”
Abel hesitated; he peered uneasily around at the kitchen window. Then he set down the potatoes, arose, and slowly shuffled over to the fence. Ephraim reached over and caught him by the sleeve when he came near enough. “You know Maria an' me own two share in the railroad, don't ye?” he whispered. Abel nodded. “Well,” continued Ephraim, “next Saturday there's a stockholder meetin' to Boston, an' Maria she don't care nothin' 'bout goin', 'cause she's goin' to have company, an' Abby she don't want to, an' so if you want to go on Maria's stock you can.”
Abel stared at him in gentle bewilderment. “Go to Boston?”
“Of course — go to Boston for nothin'; 'twon't cost ye a cent. An' I'll stan' the dinner. We'll go in somewhere an' git somethin' to eat. An' we'll go round an' see the sights. What d'ye say to't?”
Ephraim looked at Abel with the air of an emperor tendering a royal bounty. He drew himself up, put his hands in his pockets, and smiled.
Abel looked pleased and eager. “Thank ye,” said he — “thank ye, Ephraim. I'd like to go fust-rate if — there ain't nothin' to hender.”
“I'd like to know what there is to hender! I guess you can quit bein' kitchen colonel for one day. The meetin' comes a week from to-day, an' that's Saturday, an' Fanny she'll be home to help Mis' Lee.”
“Yes, she will,” assented Abel, thoughtfully. “Well, I must go an' finish them pertaters now, an' I'll see what mother says to it, an' let yer know.”
Abel pared the potatoes with greater pains than ever; he washed them faithfully, and carried them into the kitchen, and tremblingly broached the subject of the Boston trip to his wife. To his great delight it was favorably received. Mrs. Lee said she did not see any reason why he could not go. She had entirely forgotten about Fanny's mountain party.
All the next week old Abel was in a tremor of delight. He had long conferences with Ephraim over the fence; delightful additions to the regular programme were planned; every day some new scheme was talked over. Abel had not had an outing for many years; he was like a child over this one. Still he did not neglect his household tasks; he worked with anxious zeal, he was so afraid that his wife might see so much to be done that she would veto the plan at the last moment. He was so anxious and nervous over it that he did not say much about it at home, for fear of having some damper cast upon him. Abel had not much shrewdness, but he had learned that a casual acceptance of a situation was much more likely than an eager one to make it lasting when his wife was concerned. Friday night at sunset both of the old men stood out in the yard with uplifted faces and scrutinized the heavens.
“It ain't goin' to be foul weather to-morrow,” said Ephraim, judicially; “not if I know anything about signs.”
“Ain't you afraid the wind ain't in jest the right quarter?” Abel asked, anxiously.
“H'm! I don't care nothin' about the wind. Everything p'ints square to fair weather, 'cordin' to my reck'nin'.”
Ephraim was right. The next day was beautiful. Abel looked out of the window in the morning, and his face was like a boy's. Directly after breakfast he shaved himself at the kitchen glass and blacked his boots. Then he went into his bedroom to put on his Sunday clothes.
He was nearly ready — clean collar and best stock and all — when he heard Fanny's voice and Ephraim's daughter Abby's out in the yard. He did not pay much attention at first; then he stood still and listened with a lengthening face. “No, I can't go any way in the world,” Fanny was saying. Her voice was perfectly sweet and uncomplaining, but there was a sad inflection in it. “Grandma forgot all about it, and she says poor grandpa has been counting on going to Boston with your father for a whole week, and it would be real cruel to keep him at home; and it's baking-day, and she's got the sitting-room carpet to put down, and she can't get along alone. Of course I'm kind of sorry about it. I'd been counting on going; but I wouldn't keep grandpa at home for anything, and there isn't anything else for me to do but to stay myself.”
“Well, I hope that pretty Rogers girl that's visiting up to Rhoda Emerson's won't cut you out with Charley Page. I saw him talking to her in the post-office last night,” Abby said. Her voice was like her father's.
Abel unwound his stock, and painfully unbuttoned his stiff collar. Presently he appeared in the kitchen, and he had on his old clothes. His wife faced around on him. “For mercy's sakes, father, ain't you changed your clothes yet?”
“I ain't goin', after all, I guess.”
“Ain't goin'! why not?”
Fanny was standing at the sink washing dishes, and she stopped and stared.
“Well,” said Abel, “I've been thinkin' on't over, an' I've made up my mind I'd better not go, on several 'counts.”
“I'd like to know what.”
“Well, one thing is, it's kinder cheatin'. I've got to go as Maria Coles, an' I ain't Maria Coles. That's what it says in the stiffikit. I've got to show the conductor ‘Maria Coles.’ An' it ain't jest square, 'cordin' to my notions. I ain't thought 'twas all the time.”
“Well, I think you air dreadful silly, father.”
“Well, I don't think 'twould amount to much goin' anyhow, to tell the truth.”
“I would go, grandpa,” said Fanny.
But Abel stood fast in his position. His wife, and Fanny, who was anxious to acquit herself honorably in the matter, pleaded with him to no purpose. He was proof against even Ephraim's reproaches and sarcasms. “Well, stay to home, an' be a kitchen colonel all your life, if you want to,” shouted Ephraim, as he strode out of the yard; “it's all you're fit for, 'cordin' to my way of thinkin'.”
Abel went into the house and pushed Fanny away from the sink. “If there's anything else you want to do, Fanny,” said he, “you'd better go an' do it. I ain't got another thing to set my hand to now.”
Fanny looked at her grandmother.
“If he ain't goin', you might jest as well go an' get ready,” said Mrs. Lee.
In a few minutes Abel heard Fanny's voice calling over to Abby: “Abby, Abby, wait for me! I'm goin', after all. It won't take me but a minute to get ready.” And Fanny's voice sounded sweeter than a bird's to her grandfather at the kitchen sink.
Abel had a hard day of it. Putting down the sitting-room carpet was painful work for his old joints, and then there was churning to be done. When Fanny came home he sat in the old rocking-chair in the kitchen, with his head back, fast asleep. Presently his wife came out and aroused him. “Wake up, father,” said she; “I want to tell you somethin'.” Abel looked heavily up at her. “I — ruther guess Fanny an' that Page fellar have settled it betwixt 'em,” whispered Mrs. Lee.
Abel's head was up in a minute, and he was looking at her, all alert. “You don't say so, mother!” Suddenly the old man put his hand up to his eyes and sobbed.
“Why, how silly you are, father!” said his wife. Then she went over to a window with a brisk step and stood there as if looking out. When she turned around her eyes were red. “I think you'd better go to bed, father, an' not set there dozin' in that chair any longer,” said she, sharply; “you're all tuckered out.”
The next day, when Abel had to stand a running fire relative to the Boston trip from Ephraim, he gave one counter-shot — the announcement of Fanny's engagement. He listened while Ephraim related the pleasures of his excursion and berated him; then he turned on him with an artfulness born of patience. “S'pose you've heard the news?” said he.
“Well, I s'pose our Fanny an' John Page's son have 'bout concluded to make a match on't.”
“H'm!” Ephraim stood looking at him. “When they goin' to git married?”
“Well, I dun know. Mother was saying she thought mebbe some time in the fall.”
“H'm! Well, there's slips. Mebbe she won't git him, arter all. It's best not to be too sure 'bout it.”
But Ephraim turned on his heel and went home across the yard, and left Abel to his Sunday peace.
Abel had to work harder than usual that summer. It was Fanny's vacation time, and she had been accustomed to assist some about the house-work, so Abel's labors had been lightened a little during hot weather. But this summer Fanny was sewing, getting ready to be married in the fall, and she could not do much else, so her grandfather got no respite in his kitchen work through the long hot days. He grew thinner and older, but he never complained even to himself. He was radiant over Fanny. She was going to make a match that would lift her out of all his own struggles and hardships. Poor old Abel, in the midst of his hard, pitiful little whirlpool, watched Fanny joyously making her way out of it, and no longer thought of himself.
Fanny was married in October. There was quite a large evening wedding, and Mrs. Lee had wedding-cake and pound-cake and tea and coffee passed around for refreshments. Fanny and her bridegroom were standing before the minister, who had already begun the ceremony. Fanny, all in white, bent her head delicately under her veil; her cheeks showed through it like roses. The bridegroom kept his handsome boyish face upon the minister with a brave and resolute air. Abel and his wife stood near with solemn and tearful faces. The four boarders stood together in a corner. The rooms were crowded with people in creaking silks and Sunday coats, and the air was heavy with cake and coffee and flowers.
Suddenly, in the midst of the ceremony, Mrs. Lee nudged Abel. “The milk is burnin', father,” she whispered; “go out quick an' lift it off.”
Abel looked at her. “Be quick,” she whispered again; “the milk for the coffee is burnin'. Don't stan' there lookin', for mercy's sake!”
Abel tiptoed out solemnly, with his best boots creaking.
When he returned, Fanny was married, and the people were crowding around her. He felt a heavy poke in his side, and there was Ephraim. “Had to go out an' be kitchen colonel, didn't ye, Abel?” said he, quite loud.
The bridal couple drove away, and the guests dispersed gradually. Mrs. Lee had to stay in the parlor until the last of them disappeared; but as soon as Fanny and her husband had gone, Abel changed his clothes and went into the kitchen. Things needed to be set to rights a little before morning.
The happy bridal pair rode away through the October night, the wedding guests chattered merrily in the parlor and flocked gayly down the street, and the kitchen colonel fought faithfully in his humble field, where maybe he would some day win a homely glory all his own.