From A New England Nun and Other Stories (Harper & Brothers Publishers; New York: 1891)
“Ain't that your sister goin' 'long the other side of the street, Mis' Ansel?”
Mrs. Ansel peered, scowling — the sun was in her face. “Yes, that's her.”
“She's got a basket. I guess she's been somewheres.”
“She's been somewheres after life-everlastin' blossoms. They keep forever, you know. She's goin' to make a pillow for old Oliver Weed's asthma; he's real bad off.”
“So I've heard. I declare it makes me all out of patience, folks that have got as much money as them Weeds have, not havin' a doctor an' havin' something done. I don't believe his wife amounts to much in sickness either.”
“I guess she don't either. I could tell a few things if it wa'n't for talkin' against my neighbors. I tell Luella if she's mind to be such a fool as to slave for folks that's got plenty to do for themselves with, she can. I want to know, now, Mis' Slate, if you think this bonnet is big enough for me. Does it set fur enough onto my head?”
“It sets jest as fur on as the fashion, Mis' Ansel, an' a good deal further on than some. I wish you could see some of 'em.”
“Well, I s'pose this ain't a circumstance to some, but it looks dreadful odd to me.”
“Of course it looks a little odd at first, you've wore your bonnets so much further forward. You might twist up your hair a little higher if you was a mind to; that would tip it forward a little; but it ain't a mite too fur back for the fashion.”
“Land! I can't do my hair any different from what I always do it, bonnet or no bonnet.”
“You might friz your hair a little more in front; the hair ought to be real fluffy an' careless with this kind of a bonnet. Let me fix it a little.”
Mrs. Ansel stood still before the glass while Mrs. Slate fixed her hair. She smiled a faint, foolish smile, and her homely face had the same expression as a pretty one on seeing itself in a new bonnet. Mrs. Ansel had never known that her face was homely. She was always pleased and satisfied with anything that was her own, and possession was to her the law of beauty.
Mrs. Slate, the milliner, was shorter than she. She stretched up, cocked her head, and twisted her mouth to one side with a superior air while she arranged her customer's thin front locks. Finally they lay tossed loosely over her flat, shiny forehead. “There,” said the milliner; “that looks a good deal better. You see what you think.”
Mrs. Ansel surveyed herself in the glass; her smile deepened. “Yes, it does look better, I guess.”
“It's what I call a real stylish bonnet. You wouldn't be ashamed to wear it to meetin' anywhere, I don't care if it was in Boston or New York. I tell you what 'tis, Mis' Ansel, your sister would look nice in this kind of a bonnet.” The milliner's prominent nose sloped her profile out sharply in the centre, like the beak of a bird; her little hands were skinny as claws, and restless; she always smiled, and her voice was subdued.
Mrs. Ansel still looked fondly at herself, but her tone changed; she sighed. “Yes, Luella would look good in it,” said she. “I don't know as it would be quite so becomin' to her as it is to me; she never looked so well with anything that set back; but I guess she'd look pretty good in it. But I don't know when Luella's had a new bonnet, Mis' Slate. Of course she don't need any, not goin' to meetin' or anything.”
“She don't ever go to meetin', does she?”
“No; she ain't been for twenty-five years. I feel bad 'nough about it. It seems to me sometimes if Luella would jest have a pretty new bonnet, an' go to meetin' Sabbath-days like other folks, I wouldn't ask for anything else.”
“It must be a dreadful trial to you, Mis' Ansel.”
“You don't know anything about it, Mis' Slate. You think there's bows enough on it, don't you?”
“Oh, plenty. I was speakin' to Jennie the other day about your sister —”
“An' the strings ain't too long?”
“Not a mite. You ain't never had a bonnet that become you any better than this does, Mis' Ansel. To tell the truth, I think you look a little better in it than you did in your summer one.”
Mrs. Ansel began taking off the new bonnet, untying the crisp ribbon strings tenderly. “Well, I don't know but it's all right,” said she.
“I'll get some paper an' do it up,” said the milliner. “I ain't 'fraid but what you'll like it when you get used to it. You've always got to get used to anything new.”
When Mrs. Ansel had gone down the street, delicately holding the new bonnet in its soft tissue wrapper, the milliner went into her little back room. There was one window in the room, and a grape-vine hung over it. A girl with fair hair and a delicately severe profile sat sewing by the window, with the grape-vine for a background.
“Well, I'm thankful that woman has gone,” said the milliner. “I never saw such a fuss.”
The girl said nothing. She nodded a little coldly, that was all.
“Are you puttin' in that linin' full enough?”
“It's all she brought.”
“Oh, well, you can't do any better, then, of course. P'rhaps I hadn't ought to speak so about Mis' Ansel; she's a real nice woman; all is, she's kind of tryin' sometimes when anybody feels nervous. It's as hard work to get a bonnet onto her head that suits her as it would be if she was a queen; but after she once gets it she's settled on it, that's one comfort. She's a real nice woman, and I shouldn't want you to repeat what I said, Clara.”
“I sha'n't say anything.” There was a kind of mild hauteur about the girl that made the milliner color and twitch embarrassingly. She took a bonnet off the table and fell to work; but soon some one entered the shop, and she arose again.
Presently she was whispering over the counter to the customer that she had Clara Vinton working for her now; that she was a nice girl, but she'd acted dreadful kind of stiff somehow ever since the minister had been going with her, and she wasn't much company for her; but she didn't want her to say anything about it, for she was a real nice girl.
“I see Mis' Ansel goin' home with her new bonnet,” remarked the customer.
“Yes; she jest went out with it.”
When she reached home she found her sister, Luella Norcross, sitting on the door-step.
Luella followed her sister into the house. It was quite a smart house. Mrs. Ansel loved to furbish it, and she had a little income of her own. There were no dull colors anywhere; the walls gleamed with gold paper, and the carpets were brilliant.
Luella sat in the sitting-room and waited, while her sister went for a sheet which she had promised her. The mantel-shelf was marble, and there were some tall gilded glass vases on it. The stove shone like a mirror; there was a bright rug before it, and over on the table stood a lamp, whose shade was decorated with roses.
Luella plunged her hand down into the mass of everlasting flowers in her basket; the soft, healing fragrance came up in her face. “They're packed pretty solid,” she muttered. “I guess there's enough.”
When Mrs. Ansel returned with the sheet she was frowning. “There,” said she, “I can't hunt no more to-night. I've had every identical thing out of that red chist, an' that's all I can seem to see. I don't know whether there's any more or not; if there is, you'll have to wait till I ain't jest home from down street, and can hunt better'n I can to-night.”
Luella unfolded the sheet and examined it. “Oh, well, this is pretty good; it 'll make three, I guess. I'll wait, and maybe you'll come across the others some time.”
“You'll have to wait if you have 'em. Did you see the new lamp?”
“Well, no, I didn't notice it, as I know of. That it?”
“You ain't been sittin' right here an' never seen that new lamp?”
“I guess I must have been lookin' at somethin' else.”
“I never see such a woman! Anything like that sittin' right there before your face an' eyes, an' you never pay any attention to it! I s'pose if I had Bunker Hill Monument posted up here in the middle of the sittin'-room, you'd set right down under it an' think, an' never notice there was anything uncommon.”
“It's a pretty lamp — ain't it?”
“It's real handsome.” Luella arose and gathered her shawl about her; she had laid the folded sheet over the top of her basket.
“Wait a minute,” said Mrs. Ansel; “you ain't seen my new bonnet.”
Luella rested her basket on the chair, and stood patiently while her sister took the bonnet out of the wrapper and adjusted it before the looking-glass.
“There!” said she, turning around, “what do you think of it?”
“I should think it was real pretty.”
“You don't think it sets too far back, do you?”
“I shouldn't think it did.”
“Shouldn't you rather have this changeable ribbon than plain?”
“Seems to me I should.” Luella's voice had unmistakably an abstracted drawl.
Her sister turned on her. “You don't act no more as if you cared anything about my new bonnet than you would if I was the pump with a new tin dipper on the top of it,” said she. “If I was you I'd act a little more like other folks, or I'd give up. It's bad enough for you to go 'round lookin' like a scarecrow yourself; you might take a little interest in what your own sister has to wear.”
Luella said nothing; she gathered up her basket of everlasting blossoms again.
Her sister paused and eyed her fiercely for a second; then she continued: “For my part, I'm ashamed,” said she — “mortified to death. It was only this afternoon that I heard somebody speakin' about it. Here you've been wearin' that old black bonnet, that you had when father died, all these years, an' never goin' to meetin'. If you'd only have a decent new bonnet — I don't know as you'd want one that sets quite so far back as this one — an' go to meetin' like other folks, there'd be some sense in it.”
Luella, her basket on her arm, started for the door. Although her shoulders were round, she carried her handsome head in a stately fashion. “We've talked this over times enough,” said she.
“Here you are roamin' the woods an' pastures Sabbath-days in that old bonnet, an' jest as likely as not to meet all the folks goin' to meetin'. What do you s'pose I care about havin' a new bonnet if I meet you gettin' along in that old thing — my own sister?”
Luella marched out of the house. When she was nearly out of the yard her sister ran to the door and called after her. “Luella,” said she.
The stately figure paused, but did not turn around. “What is it?”
“Look here a minute,” said Mrs. Ansel, mysteriously; “I want to tell you something.”
Luella stepped back, her sister bent forward — she still had on the new bonnet — “I went into Mis' Plum's on my way down street,” said she, “an' she said the minister wanted to marry the Vinton girl, but she won't have him, 'cause there ain't no parsonage, an' she don't think there's 'nough to live on. Mis' Plum says she thinks she shows her sense; he don't have but four hundred a year, an' there'd be a lot of children, the way there always is in poor minister's families, an' nothin' to keep 'em on. Mis' Plum says she heard he applied to the church to see if they wouldn't give him a parsonage; he didn't know but they'd hire that house of yours that's next to the meetin'-house; but they wouldn't; they say they can't afford it.”
“I shouldn't think four hundred dollars was much if preachin' was worth anything,” remarked Luella.
“Oh, well, it does very well for you to talk when you don't give anything for preachin'.”
Luella again went out of the yard. She was in the street when her sister called her again.
“Look 'round here a minute.”
“Do you think it sets too far back?”
“No, I don't think it does,” Luella answered, loudly, then she kept on down the road. She had not far to go. The house where she lived stood at the turn of the road, on a gentle rise of ground; next to it was the large unoccupied cottage which she owned; next to that was the church. Luella lived in the old Norcross homestead; her grandfather had built it. It was one of those old buildings which aped the New England mansion-houses without once approaching their solid state. It settled unevenly down into its place. Its sparse front yard was full of evergreens, lilac bushes, and phlox; its windows, gleaming with green lights, were awry, and all its white clapboards were out of plumb.
Luella went around to the side door: the front one was never used — indeed, it was swollen and would not open — and the front walk was green. The side door opened into a little square entry. On one side was the sitting-room, on the other the kitchen. Luella went into the kitchen, and an old woman rose up from a chair by the stove. She was small as a child, but her muscles were large, her flaxen hair was braided lightly, her round blue eyes were filmy, and she grinned constantly without speaking.
“Got the cleanin' done, 'Liza?” asked Luella. The old woman nodded, and her grin widened. She was called foolish; her humble capabilities could not diffuse themselves, but were strong in only one direction: she could wash and scrub, and in that she took delight. Luella harbored her, fed and clothed her, and let her practise her one little note of work.
After Luella had taken off her bonnet and shawl, she went to work preparing supper. The old woman was not smart enough to do that. She sat watching her. When Luella set the tea-pot on the stove and cut the bread, she fairly crowed like a baby.
“Maria offered me a piece of her new apple-pie an' a piece of sage-cheese,” remarked Luella, “but I wouldn't take it. If I'm a mind to stint myself and pay up Joe Perry's rent it's nobody's business, but I ain't goin' to be mean enough to live on other folks to do it.”
The old woman grinned as she ate. Luella had fallen into the habit of talking quite confidentially to her, unreciprocative as she was.
After supper Luella put away the tea-things — that was too fine work for the old woman — then she lighted her sitting-room lamp, and sat down there to make the case for the life-everlasting pillow. The old woman crept in after her, and sat by the stove in a little chair, holding her sodden hands in her lap.
“I hope to goodness this pillow will help him some,” said Luella. “They're real good for asthma. Mother used to use 'em.” She sewed with strong jerks. The old man for whom she was making the pillow was rich in the village sense, and miserly. Ill as he sometimes was, he and his wife would not call in a doctor on account of the expense; they scarcely kept warm and fed themselves. Public opinion was strong against them; very little pity was given to the feeble old man; but Luella viewed it all with a broad charity which was quite past the daily horizon of the village people. “I don't care if they are rich an' able to buy things themselves, we hadn't ought to let 'em suffer,” she argued. “Mebbe they can't help bein' close any more'n we can help somethin' we've got. It's a failin', and folks ought to help folks with failin's, I don't care what they are.” So Luella Norcross made broth and gruel, and carried them in to old Oliver Weed, and even gave him some of her dry cedar-wood; and people said she was as foolish as old Eliza. All the burly whining tramps, and beseeching pedlars of unsalable wares, who came to the village, flocked to her door, sure of a welcome.
On a summer's day the tramps sat on her door-step, and ate their free lunches, in winter they ate them comfortably by the kitchen fire. Many a time her barn and warm hay-mow harbored them over a cold stormy night.
“Might jest as well stick out a sign, ‘Tramps' Tavern,’ on the barn, an' done with it,” Mrs. Ansel said. “If you don't get set on fire some night by them miserable sneakin' tramps, I miss my guess.”
But she never did, and the tramp slouched peaceably out of her yard, late in the frosty morning, after she had given him a good breakfast in the warm kitchen.
There was an old pedlar of essences who came regularly, and she always bought of him, although his essences were poor, and her cake scantily flavored in consequence. Him she often lodged in her nice spare chamber, although she distrusted his cleanliness, and she and old Eliza had much scrubbing to do thereafter.
Luella even traded faithfully with a sly-eyed Italian woman, who went about, bent to one side by a great basket of vases and plaster images. “You'd ought to be ashamed of yourself encouragin' such folks,” Mrs. Ansel remonstrated, “she's jest as miserable an' low as she can be.”
“I don't care how low she is,” said Luella. “She's keepin' one commandment sellin' plaster images to get her livin', an' I'm a-goin' to help her.”
And Luella crowded the little plaster flower girls and fruit boys together on the sitting-room shelf, to make room for the new little shepherdess.
This very day she had been visited by an old broken-down minister, who often stood at her door, tall and tremulous in his shiny black broadcloth, with a heavy bag of undesirable books. There were some hanging shelves in Luella's sitting-room which were filled with these books, but to-day she had bought another.
“There ain't room on the shelves for another one, but I s'pose I can stow it away somewhere,” she told Eliza, after he had gone. “I've give away all I can seem to. The book ain't very interestin'.”
Luella usually lodged the book agent over night, when he came to the village, although he also had his failings. Many a night she was awakened by the creaking of the cellar-stairs, when the old minister crept down stealthily, a lamp balanced unsteadily in his shaking hand, to the cider-barrel. She would listen anxiously until she heard him return to his room, then get up and look about and sniff for fire.
There was not a woman in the village who had so many blessings, worth whatever they might be, offered to her. If she was not in full orthodox flavor among the respectable part of the town, her fame was bright among the poor and maybe lawless element, whom she befriended. They showed it by their shuffling footprints thick in her yard, and the frequency of their petitions at her door. It was the only way in which they could show it. The poor can show their love and gratitude only by the continual out-reaching of their hands.
This evening, while Luella sewed on her life-everlasting pillow, and the old woman sat grinning in the corner, there was a step in the yard. Luella laid down her work, and looked at Eliza, and listened. The step came steadily up the drive; the shoes squeaked. Luella took up her work again.
“I know who 'tis,” said she. “It's the book man; his shoes squeak just that way, an' I told him he'd better come back here to-night an' stay over. It saves him payin' for lodgin'.”
There came a sharp knock on the side door.
“You go let him in, 'Liza,” said Luella.
The old woman patted out of the room. Presently she looked in again, and her grin was a broad laugh. “It's the minister,” she chuckled.
Luella arose and went herself. There in the entry stood a young man, short and square-shouldered, with a pleasant boyish face. He looked bravely at Luella, and tried to speak with suave fluency, but his big hands twitched at the ends of his short coat sleeves.
“Good-evening, Miss Norcross, good-evening,” said he.
“Oh, it's you, Mr. Sands!” said Luella. “Good-evenin'. Walk in an' be seated.”
Luella herself was a little stiff. She pushed forward the big black-covered rocking-chair for the minister, then she sat down herself, and took up her sewing.
“It is a charming evening,” remarked the minister.
“I thought it seemed real pleasant when I looked out after supper,” said Luella.
She and the minister spoke about the conditions of several of the parish invalids, they spoke about a fire and a funeral which had taken place that week, and all the time there was a constraint in their manners. Finally there was a pause; then the minister burst out. A blush flamed out to the roots of his curly hair. He tried to make his voice casual, but it slipped into his benediction cadences.
“I don't see you at church very often, Miss Norcross,” said he.
“You don't see me at all,” returned Luella.
The minister tried to smile. “Well, maybe that is a little nearer the truth, Miss Norcross.”
Luella sewed a few stitches on her life-everlasting pillow; then she laid it down in her lap, straightened herself, and looked at the minister. Her deep-set blue eyes seemed to see every atom of him; her noble forehead even, from which the gray hair was pulled well back, and which was scarcely lined, seemed to front him with a kind of visual power of its own.
“I may just as well tell you the truth, Mr. Sands,” said she, “an' we may just as well come to the point at once. I know what you've come for; my sister told me you was comin' to see about my not going to meetin'. Well, I'll tell you once for all, I'm just as much obliged to you, but it won't do any good. I've made up my mind I ain't goin' to meetin', an' I've got good reasons.”
“Would you mind giving them, Miss Norcross?”
“I ain't going to argue.”
“But just giving me a few of your reasons wouldn't be arguing.” The young man had now acquired the tone which he wished. He smiled on Luella with an innocent patronage, and crossed his legs. Luella thought he looked very young.
“The fact is,” said she, “I'm not a believer, an' I won't be a hypocrite. That's all there is about it.”
The minister looked at her. It was the first time he had encountered an outspoken doubter, and it was for a minute to him as if he faced one of the veritable mediæval dragons of the church. This simple and untutored village agnostic filled him with amazement and terror. When he spoke it was not to take up the argument for the doctrine, but to turn its gold side, as it were, towards his opponent, in order to persuade belief. “Your soul's salvation — do you never think of that?” he queried, solemnly. “You know heaven and your soul's salvation depend upon it.”
“I ain't never worried much about my soul's salvation,” said Luella. “I've had too many other souls to think about. An' it seems to me I'd be dreadful piggish to make goin' to heaven any reason for believin' a thing that ain't reasonable.”
The minister made a rally; he remembered one of the things he had planned to say. “But you've read the New Testament, Miss Norcross,” said he, “and you must admit that ‘never man spake like this man.’ When you read the words of Christ you must see that there was never any man like him.”
“I know there wa'n't,” said Luella, “that's jest the reason why the whole story don't seem sensible.”
The minister gave a kind of a gasp. “But you believe in God, don't you, Miss Norcross?” said he.
“I ain't a fool,” replied Luella. She arose with a decided air. “Do you like apples, Mr. Sands?” said she.
The minister gasped again, and assented.
“I've got some real nice sweet ones and some Porters,” said Luella, in a cheerful tone, “an' I'm goin' to get you a plate of 'em, Mr. Sands.”
Luella went out and got the plate of apples, and the minister began eating them. He felt uneasily that it was his duty to reopen the argument. “If you believe in God —” he began.
But Luella shook her head at him as if she were his mother. “I'd rather not argue any more,” said she. “Try that big Porter; I guess it's meller.” And the minister ate his apples with enjoyment. Luella filled his pockets with some when he went home. “He seems like a real good young man,” she said to old Eliza after the minister had gone; “an' that Vinton girl would make him jest the kind of a wife he'd ought to have. She's real up an' comin', an' she'd prop him up firm on his feet. I s'pose if I let him have that house he'd be tickled 'most to death. I'd kind of 'lotted on the rent of it, but I s'pose I could get along.”
The old woman grinned feebly. She had been asleep in her corner, and her blue eyes looked dimmer than ever. She comprehended not a word; but that did not matter to Luella, who had fallen into the habit of utilizing her as a sort of spiritual lay-figure upon which to drape her own ideas.
The next morning, about nine o'clock, she carried the pillow, which she had finished and stuffed with the life-everlasting blossoms, to old Oliver Weed's. The house stood in a wide field, and there were no other houses very near. The grass was wet with dew, and all the field was sweet in the morning freshness. Luella, carrying her life-everlasting pillow before her, went over the fragrant path to the back door. She noticed as she went that the great barn doors were closed.
“Queer the barn ain't open,” she thought to herself. “I wonder what John Gleason's about, late as this in the mornin'?”
John Gleason was old Oliver Weed's hired man. He had been a tramp. Luella herself had fed him, and let him sleep off a drunken debauch in her barn once. People had wondered at Oliver Weed's hiring him, but he had to pay him much less than the regular price for farm hands.
Luella heard the cows low in the barn as she opened the kitchen door. “Where — did all that — blood come from?” said she.
She began to breathe in quick gasps; she stood clutching her pillow, and looking. Then she called: “Mr. Weed! Mr. Weed! Where be you? Mis' Weed! Is anything the matter? Mis' Weed!” The silence seemed to beat against her ears. She went across the kitchen to the bedroom. Here and there she held back her dress. She reached the bedroom door, and looked in.
Luella pressed back across the kitchen into the yard. She went out into the road, and turned towards the village. She still carried the life-everlasting pillow, but she carried it as if her arms and that were all stone. She met a woman whom she knew, and the woman spoke; but Luella did not notice her; she kept on. The woman stopped and looked after her.
Luella went to the house where the sheriff lived, and knocked. The sheriff himself opened the door. He was a large, pleasant man. He began saying something facetious about her being out calling early, but Luella stopped him.
“You'd — better go up to the — Weed house,” said she, in a dry voice. “There's some — trouble.”
The sheriff started. “Why, what do you mean, Luella?”
“The old man an' his wife are — both killed. I went in there to carry this, an' — I saw them.”
“My God!” said the sheriff. He caught up his hat, and started on a run to the barn for his horse.
The sheriff's wife and daughter pressed forward and plied Luella with horrified questions; they urged her to come in and rest, she looked so pale; but she said little, and turned towards home. Flying teams passed her on the road; men rushed up behind her and questioned her. When she reached the Weed house the field seemed black with people. When she got to her own house she went into the sitting-room and sat down. She felt faint. She did not think of lying down; she never did in the daytime. She leaned her head back in her chair and turned her face towards the yard. Everything out there, the trees, the grass, the crowding ranks of daisies, the next house, looked strange, as if another light than that of the sun was on them. But she somehow noticed even then how a blind on the second floor of the house was shut that had been open. “I wonder how that come shut?” she muttered, feebly.
Pretty soon her sister, Mrs. Ansel, came hurrying in. She was wringing her hands. “Oh, ain't it awful? ain't it awful?” she cried. “Good land, Luella, how you look! You'll faint away. I'm goin' to mix you up some peppermint before I do another thing.”
Mrs. Ansel made a cup of hot peppermint tea for her, and she drank it.
“Now tell me all about it,” said Mrs. Ansel. “What did you see first? What was you goin' in there for?”
“To carry the pillow,” said Luella, pointing to it. “I can't talk about it, Maria.”
Mrs. Ansel went over to the lounge and took up the pillow. “Mercy sakes! what's that on it?” she cried, in horror.
“I — s'pose I — hit it against the wall somehow,” replied Luella. “I can't talk about it, Maria.”
Mrs. Ansel could not learn much from her sister. Presently she left, and lingered slowly past the Weed house, to which her curiosity attracted her, but which her terror and horror would not let her approach closely.
The peppermint revived Luella a little. After a while she got up and put on the potatoes for dinner. Old Eliza was scrubbing the floor. When dinner was ready she ate all the potatoes, and Luella sat back and looked at her.
All the afternoon people kept coming to the house and questioning her, and exclaiming with horror. It seemed to Luella that her own horror was beyond exclamations. There was no doubt in the public mind that the murderer was the hired man, John Gleason. He was nowhere to be found; the constables and detectives were searching fiercely for him.
That night when Luella went to bed she stood at her chamber window a minute, looking out. It was bright moonlight. Her window faced the unoccupied house, and she noticed again how the blind was shut.
“It's queer,” she thought, “for that blind wouldn't stay shut; the fastenin' wa'n't good.” As she looked, the blind swung slowly open. “The wind is jest swingin' it back and forth,” she thought. Then she saw distinctly the chamber window open, a dark arm thrust out, and the blind closed again.
“He's in there,” said Luella. She had put out her lamp. She went down-stairs in the dark, and made sure that all the doors and windows were securely fastened. She even put chairs and tables against them. Then she went back to her chamber, dressed herself, and watched the next house. She did not stir until morning. The next day there was a cold rain. The search for John Gleason continued, the whole village was out, and strange officials were driving through the streets. Everybody thought that the murderer had escaped to Canada, taking with him the money which he had stolen from the poor old man's strong-box under his bed.
All the day long Luella watched the next house through the gray drive of the rain. About sunset she packed a basket with food, stole across to the house, and set it in the corner of the door. She got back before a soul passed on the road. She had set Eliza at a task away from the windows.
The moon rose early. After supper Luella sat again in her chamber without any lamp and watched. About nine o'clock she saw the door of the next house swing open a little, and the basket was drawn in.
“He's in there,” said Luella. She went down and fastened up the house as she had done the night before. Old Eliza went peacefully to bed, and she watched again. She put a coverlid over her shoulders, and sat, all huddled up, peering out. The rain had stopped; the wall of the next house shone like silver in the moonlight. She watched until the moon went down and until daylight came; then she went to bed, and slept an hour.
After breakfast that morning she set old Eliza at a task, and went up to her chamber again. She sank down on her knees beside the bed. “O God,” said she, “have I got to give him up — have I? Have I got to give him up to be hung? What's goin' to become of him then? Where'll he go to when he's been so awful wicked? Oh, what shall I do? Here he is a-takin' my vittles, an' comin' to my house, an' a-trustin' me!” Luella lifted her arms; her face was all distorted. She seemed to see the whole crew of her pitiful dependents crowding around her, and pleading for the poor man who had thrown himself upon her mercy. She saw the old drunken essence man, the miserable china women, all the wretched and vicious tramps and drunkards whom she had befriended, pressing up to her, and pleading her to keep faith with their poor brother.
The thought that John Gleason had trusted her, had taken that food when he knew that she might in consequence betray him to the gallows, filled her with a pity that was almost tenderness, and appealed strongly to her loyalty and honor.
On the other hand, she remembered what she had seen in the Weed house. The poor old man and woman seemed calling to her for help. She reflected upon what she had heard the day before: that the detectives were after John Gleason for another murder; this was not the first. She called to mind the danger that other helpless people would be in if this murderer were at large. Would not their blood be upon her hands? She called to mind the horrible details of what she had seen, the useless cruelty, and the horror of it.
Once she arose with a jerk, and got her bonnet out of the closet. Then she put it back, and threw herself down by the bed again. “Oh!” she groaned, “I don't know what to do!”
Luella shut herself in her own room nearly all day. She went down and got the meals, then returned. The sodden old woman did not notice anything unusual. At dusk she watched her chance, and carried over more food, and she watched and saw it taken in again.
This night she did not lock the house. All she fastened was old Eliza's bedroom door; that she locked securely, and hid the key. All the other doors and windows were unfastened, and when she went up-stairs she set the side door partly open. She set her lamp on the bureau, and looked at her face in the glass. It was white and drawn, and there was a desperate look in her deep-set eyes. “Mebbe it's the last time I shall ever see my face,” said she. “I don't know but I'm awful wicked to give him the chance to do another murder, but I can't give him up. If he comes in an' kills me, I sha'n't have to, an' maybe he'll jest take the money an' go, an' then I sha'n't have to.”
Luella had two or three hundred dollars in an old wallet between her feather-bed and the mattress. She took it out and opened it, spreading the bills. Then she laid it on the bureau. She took a gold ring off her finger, and unfastened her ear-rings and laid them beside it, and a silver watch that had belonged to her father. Down-stairs she had arranged the teaspoons and a little silver cream-jug in full sight on the kitchen table.
After the preparations were all made she blew out her lamp, folded back the bed-spread, lay down in her clothes, and pulled it over her smoothly. She folded her hands and lay there. There was not a bolt or a bar between her and the murderer next door. She closed her eyes and lay still. Every now and then she thought she heard him down-stairs; but the night wore on, and he did not come. At daylight Luella arose. She was so numb and weak that she could scarcely stand. She put away the money and the jewelry, then she went down-stairs and kindled the kitchen fire and got breakfast. The silver was on the table just as she had left it, the door half open, and the cold morning wind coming in. Luella gave one great sob when she shut the door. “He must have seen it,” she said, “but he wouldn't do nothin' to hurt me, an' I've got to give him up.”
She said no more after that; she was quite calm getting breakfast. After the meal was finished and the dishes cleared away she told old Eliza to put on her other dress and her bonnet and shawl. She had made up her mind to take the old creature with her; she was afraid to leave her alone in the house, with the murderer next door to spy out her own departure.
When the two women were ready they went out of the yard, and Luella felt the eyes of John Gleason upon her. They went down the road to the village, old Eliza keeping a little behind her mistress. Luella aimed straight for the sheriff's house. He drove into the yard as she entered; he had been out all night on a false scent. He stopped when he saw Luella, and she came up to him. “John Gleason is in that vacant house of mine,” said she. He caught at the reins, but she stopped him. “You've got to wait long enough to give me time to get home, so I sha'n't be right in the midst of it, if you've got any mercy,” said she, in a loud, strained voice. Then she turned and ran. She stopped only long enough to tell old Eliza to follow her straight home and go at once into the house. She ran through the village street like a girl. People came to the windows and stared after her. Every minute she fancied she heard wheels behind her; but the sheriff did not come until after she had been in the house fifteen minutes, and old Eliza also was at home.
Luella was crouching at her chamber window, peering around the curtain, when the sheriff and six men came into the yard and surrounded the next house. She had a wild hope that John Gleason might not be there, that he might have escaped during the night. She watched. The men entered, there was the sound of a scuffle and loud voices, and then she saw John Gleason dragged out.
Presently Luella went down-stairs; she had to keep hold of the banister. Old Eliza was gaping at the kitchen window. “Come away from that window, 'Liza,” said Luella, “and wash up the floor right away.” Then Luella began cleaning potatoes and beets for dinner.
The next Sunday Luella went to church for the first time in twenty-five years. Old Eliza also went shuffling smilingly up the aisle behind her mistress. Everybody stared. Luella paused at her sister's pew, and her brother-in-law sat a little while looking at her before he arose to let her in.
Mrs. Ansel was quite flushed. She pulled her new bonnet farther on her head; she glanced with agitated hauteur across her sister at old Eliza; then her eyes rolled towards her sister's bonnet.
Presently she touched Luella. “What possessed you to bring her, an' come out lookin' so?” she whispered. “Why didn't you get a new bonnet before you came to meetin'?”
Luella looked at her in a bewildered fashion for a minute, then she set her face towards the pulpit. She listened to the sermon; it had in it some innocent youthful conceits, and also considerable honest belief and ardent feeling. The minister saw Luella, and thought with a flush of pride that his arguments had convinced her. The night before, he had received a note from her tendering him the use of her vacant house. After the service he pressed forward to speak to her. He thanked her for her note, said that he was glad to see her out to meeting, and shook her hand vehemently. Then he joined Clara Vinton quite openly, and the two walked on together. There was quite a little procession passing up the street. The way led between pleasant cottages with the front yards full of autumn flowers — asters and pansies and prince's-feathers. Presently they passed a wide stretch of pasture-land where life-everlasting flowers grew. Luella walked with an old woman with a long, saintly face; old Eliza followed after.
Luella's face looked haggard and composed under her flimsy black crape frillings. She kept her eyes, with a satisfied expression, upon the young minister and the tall girl who walked beside him with a grave, stately air.
“I hear they're goin' to be married,” whispered the old woman.
“I guess they are,” replied Luella.
Just then Clara turned her face, and her fine, stern profile showed.
“She'll make him a good wife, I guess,” said the old woman. She turned to Luella, and her voice had an indescribably shy and caressing tone. “I was real glad to see you to meetin' to-day,” she whispered. “I knew you'd feel like comin' some time; I always said you would.” She flushed all over her soft old face as she spoke.
Luella also flushed a little, but her voice was resolute. “I ain't got much to say about it, Mis' Alden,” said she, “but I'm goin' to say this much — it ain't no more'n right I should, though I don't believe in a lot of palaver about things like this — I've made up my mind that I'm goin' to believe in Jesus Christ. I ain't never, but I'm goin' to now, for” — Luella's voice turned shrill with passion — “I don't see any other way out of it for John Gleason!”