From A New England Nun and Other Stories (Harper & Brothers Publishers; New York: 1891)
“Jest wait a minute, Sary.” The old man made a sly backward motion of his hand; his voice was a cautious whisper.
Sarah Arnold stood back and waited. She was a large, fair young woman in a brown calico dress. She held a plate of tapioca pudding that she had brought for the old man's dinner, and she was impatient to give it to him and be off; but she said nothing. The old man stood in the shop door; he had in one hand a stick of red-and-white peppermint candy, and he held it out enticingly towards a little boy in a white frock. The little boy had a sweet, rosy face, and his glossy, fair hair was carefully curled. He stood out in the green yard, and there were dandelions blooming around his feet. It was May, and the air was sweet and warm; over on one side of the yard there was some linen laid out to bleach in the sun.
The little boy looked at the old man and frowned, yet he seemed fascinated.
The old man held out the stick of candy, and coaxed, in his soft, cracked voice. “Jest look a-here, Willy!” said he; “jest look a-here! See what gran'pa's got: a whole stick of candy! He bought it down to the store on purpose for Willy, an' he can have it if he'll jest come here an' give gran'pa a kiss. Does Willy want it, hey? — Willy want it?” The old man took a step forward.
But the child drew back, and shook his head violently, while the frown deepened. “No, no,” said he, with baby vehemence.
The old man stepped back and began again. It was as if he were enticing a bird. “Now, Willy,” said he, “jest look a-here! Don't Willy like candy?”
The child did not nod, but his blue, solemn eyes were riveted on the candy.
“Well,” the grandfather went on, “here's a whole stick of candy come from the store, real nice pep'mint candy, an' Willy shall have it if he'll jest come here an' give gran'pa a kiss.”
The child reached out a desperate hand. “Gimme!” he cried, imperatively.
“Yes, Willy shall have it jest as soon as he gives gran'pa a kiss.” The old man waved the stick of candy; his sunken mouth was curved in a sly smile. “Jest look at it! Willy, see it! Red-an'-white candy, real sweet an' nice, with pep'mint in it. An' it's all twisted! Willy want it?”
The child began to take almost imperceptible steps forward, his eyes still fixed on the candy. His grandfather stood motionless, while his smile deepened. Once he rolled his eyes delightedly around at Sarah. The child advanced with frequent halts.
Suddenly the old man made a spring forward. “Now I've got ye!” he cried. He threw his arms around the boy and hugged him tight.
The child struggled. “Lemme go! — lemme go!” he half sobbed.
“Yes, Willy shall go jest as soon as he gives gran'pa the kiss,” said the old man. “Give gran'pa the kiss, and then he shall have the candy an' go.”
The child put up his pretty rosy face and pursed his lips sulkily. The grandfather bent down and gave him an ecstatic kiss.
“There! Now Willy shall have the candy, 'cause he's kissed gran'pa. He's a good boy, an' gran'pa 'll let him have the candy right off. He sha'n't wait no longer.”
The child snatched the candy and fled across the yard.
The old man laughed, and his laugh was a shrill, rapturous cackle, like the high notes of an old parrot. He turned to the young woman. “I knowed I could toll him in,” he said; “I knowed I could. The little fellar likes candy, I tell ye.”
Sarah smiled sympathetically and extended the plate of pudding. “I brought you over a little of our pudding,” said she. “Mother thought you might relish it.”
The old man took it quite eagerly. “Brought a spoon in't, didn't ye?”
“Yes; I thought maybe you'd like to eat it out here.”
“Well, I guess I may jest as well eat it out here, an' not carry it into the house. Viny might kinder git the notion that it would clutter up some. I'll jest set down here an' eat this, an' then I won't want no dinner in the house. I guess they're goin' to have beef, an' I don't relish beef much lately. I'd ruther have soft victuals; but Viny she don't cook much soft victuals; the folks in the house don't care much about 'em.”
The old man held the plate of pudding, but did not at once begin to eat; his eyes still followed the little boy, who stood aloof under a blooming apple-tree and sucked his candy.
“Jest look at him,” he said, admiringly. “I tell ye what 'tis, Sary, that little fellar does like candy. I can allers toll him in with a stick of candy. He's dreadful kind o' bashful. I s'pose Ellen she don't jest like to have him round in the shop here much. She dresses him up real nice an' clean in them little white frocks, an' she's afeard he'll get somethin' on 'em; so I guess she tells him he must keep away, an' it makes him kind of afeard. I s'pose she thinks I ain't none too clean nuther to be a-handlin' of him, an' I dun know as I be, but I allers wash my hands real pertickler afore I tech him. I've got my tin wash-dish there on the bench, an' I'm real pertickler 'bout it.”
The old man waved his hand towards a rusty tin wash-basin on the old shoemaker's bench under the window. There was a smoky curtain over the window; the plastered walls and the ceiling were dark with smoke; the place was full of brown lights. Sarah, in her brown dress, with her fair rosy face, stood waiting until the old man should finish talking.
“Well, I must go now,” said she. “I haven't been to dinner myself.”
“You jest wait a minute,” whispered the old man, with a mysterious air. In the little shop, beside the old shoemaker's bench, was a table that was brown and dark with age and dirt, and it was heaped with litter. There was a drawer in it, and this the old man opened with an effort; it stuck a little. “Look a-here,” he whispered — “look a-here, Sary.”
Sarah came close, and peered around his elbow.
The old man took a little parcel from the midst of the leather chips and waxed threads and pegs that half filled the drawer. He unrolled it carefully. “Look a-here,” he said again, with a chuckle. He held up a stick of pink candy. “There,” he went on, winking an old blue eye at Sarah, “I ain't goin' to give that to him till to-morrer. To-morrer I'll jest toll him in with that, don't ye see? Hey?”
“That's checkerberry, ain't it?”
“Yes, that's checkerberry, an' the tother was pep'mint. I got two sticks of candy down to the store this mornin', one checkerberry an' the tother pep'mint. Ye see, I put a patch on a shoe for the Briggs boy last week, an' he give me ten cents for't. I'd kinder calkilated to lay it out in terbacker — I ain't had none lately — but the more I thought 'bout it the more I thought I'd git a leetle candy. Ye never see sech a chap fer candy as he is; he'll hang off, an' hang off, but he can't stan' it to lose the candy nohow. I dun know but the Old Nick could toll him in with a stick of candy, he's in such a takin' for't; never see sech a fellar fer candy.” The old man raised his cackling laugh again, and Sarah laughed too, going out the back door of the shop. “I'm real obleeged to your mother, Sary; you tell her,” he called after her.
He replaced the candy in the drawer, still chuckling to himself; then he sat down to his pudding. He sat on his shoemaker's bench, well back from the door, and ate. He smacked his lips loudly; he liked this soft, sweet food.
Barney Swan was a small, frail old man; he stooped weakly, and did not look much larger than a child, sitting there on his bench. His face, too, was like a child's; his sunken mouth had an innocent, infantile expression, and his eyes had that blank, fixed gaze, with an occasional twinkle of shrewdness, that babies' eyes have. His thin white hair hung to his shoulders, and he had no beard. He owned only one decent coat, and that he kept for Sundays: he always went to meeting. On week-days he wore his brown calico shirt sleeves and his old sagging vest. His bagging, brownish black trousers were hauled high around his waist, and his ankles showed like a little boy's.
Old Barney Swan had sat upon that shoemaker's bench the greater part of his time for sixty years. His father before him had been a shoemaker and cobbler; he had learned the trade when a child, and been faithful to it all his life. Now not only his own powers had failed, but hand shoemaking and cobbling were at a discount. There were two thriving boot and shoe factories in the town, and the new boots and shoes were finer to see than the old coarsely cobbled ones. Old Barney was too old to go to work in the shoe factory, but it is doubtful if he would have done so in any case. He had always had a vein of childish obstinacy in spite of his mildness, and it had not decreased with age. “If folks want to wear them manufactured shoes, they can,” he would say, with a sudden stiffening of his bent back; “old shackly things! You'd orter seen them shoes the Briggs boy brought in here t'other day; they wa'n't wuth treein' up, an' they never had been.”
Although now old Barney's revenue was derived from the Briggs boy and sundry other sturdy, stubbed urchins, whose shoe-leather demanded the cheapest and most thorough repairs to be had, he had accumulated quite a little property through his faithful toil on that leathern seat on the end of that old bench. But it had seemed easier for him to accumulate property than to care for it. His greatest talent was for patient, unremitting labor and economy; his financial conceptions were limited to them. Ten years before, he had made a misadventure and lost a few hundred dollars, and was so humbled and dejected over it that he had made his property over to his daughters on consideration of a life support. They had long been urging him to make such an arrangement. He had two daughters, Malvina and Ellen. His wife had died when they were about twenty. The wife had been a delicate, feeble woman, yet with a certain spirit of her own. In her day the daughters had struggled hard for the mastery of the little household, but with only partial success; after her death they were entirely victorious. Barney had always thought his daughters perfect; they had their own way in everything, with the exception of the money. He clung to that for a while. He was childishly fond of the few dollars he had earned all by himself and stowed away in his house and acres of green meadow-land and the village savings-bank. He was fond of the dollars for themselves; the sense of treasure pleased him. He did not care to spend for himself; there were few things that he wished for except a decent meeting-coat and a little tobacco. The tobacco was one point upon which he displayed his obstinacy; his daughters had never been able entirely to do away with that, although they waged constant war upon it. He would still occasionally have his little comforting pipe, and chew in spite of all berating and disgust. But the tobacco was sadly curtailed since the property had changed hands; he had only his little earnings with which to purchase it. The daughters gave him no money to spend. They argued that “father ain't fit to spend money.” So his most urgent necessities were doled out to him.
When the property was divided, Malvina, the elder daughter, had for her share the homestead and a part of the money in the bank; Ellen, the younger, had the larger portion of the bank money and some wooded property. Malvina stipulated to furnish a home and care for the old man as long as he lived, and Ellen was to pay her sister a certain sum towards his support. Both daughters were married at the time; Malvina had one daughter of her own. Malvina had remained at her old home after her marriage, but Ellen had removed to a town some twenty miles away. Her father had visited there several times, but he never liked to remain long. He would never have gone had not Malvina insisted upon it. She considered that her sister ought to share her burden, and sometimes give her a relief. So Barney would go, although with reluctance; in fact, his little shoeshop was to him his beloved home, his small solitary nest, where he could fold his old wings in peace. Nobody knew how regretfully he thought of it during his visits at Ellen's. While there he sat mostly in her kitchen, by the cooking-stove, and miserably pored over the almanac or the religious paper. Occasionally he would steal out behind the barn and smoke a pipe, but there was always a hard reckoning with Ellen afterwards, and it was a dearly purchased pleasure. Ellen was a small, fair woman; she was delicate, much as her mother had been, and her weakness and nervousness made her imperious will less evident but more potent. Old Barney stood more in awe of her than of Malvina. He was anxiously respectful towards her husband, who was a stout, silent man, covering his own projects and his own defeats with taciturnity. He was a steady grubber on a farm, and very close with old Barney's money, of which, however, his wife understood that she had full control. She had had out of it a set of red plush parlor furniture and a new silk dress. Once in a while old Barney, while on a visit, would stand on the parlor threshold and gaze admiringly in at the furniture; but did he venture to step over, his daughter would check him. “Now don't go in there, father,” she would cry out; “you'll track in somethin'.”
“No, I ain't a-goin' in, Ellen,” Barney would reply, and meekly shuffle back.
Old Barney was intensely loyal towards both of his daughters; not even to himself would he admit anything to their disadvantage. He always spoke admiringly of them, and would acknowledge no preference for one above the other. Still he undoubtedly preferred Malvina. She was a large, stout woman, but some people thought that she looked like her father. When the property was divided, Malvina had had every room in the house newly painted and papered; then she stood before them like a vigilant watch-dog. She had been neat before, but with her new paint and paper and a few new carpets her neatness became almost a monomania. She was fairly fierce, and her voice sounded like a bark sometimes when old Barney, with shoes heavy with loam and clothes stained with tobacco juice, shuffled into her spotless house. However, in a certain harsh way she did her duty by her simple old father. She saw to it that his clothes were comfortably warm and mended, and he had enough to eat, although his own individual tastes were never consulted. Still, he was scrupulously bidden to meals, and his plate was well filled. She did not like to have him in the house, and showed that she did not, but she had no compunctions upon that point, for he preferred the shop. She never gave him spending-money, for she did not consider that he was capable of spending money judiciously. She bought all that he had herself. She was a good financier, and made a little go a long way.
Malvina's husband was dead, and her daughter was now eighteen years old. Her name was Annie. She was a pretty girl, and had a lover. She was to be married soon. They had not told old Barney about it, but he found it out two weeks before the wedding. He stood in his shop door one morning and called cautiously to Sarah Arnold. (The Arnolds lived in the next house, and Sarah was out in the yard picking some roses.) “Sary, come here a minute,” he called. And Sarah came, with her roses in her hand. The old man beckoned her mysteriously into the shop. He drew well back from the door, after having peered sharply at the house windows. Then he began: “Ye heard on't, Sary,” whispered he — “what's goin' on in there? Hey?” He gave his hand a backward jerk towards the house.
Sarah laughed. “I suppose so,” said she.
“How long ye known it? Hey?”
“Well, I've heard 'twas coming off before long.”
“The weddin's goin' to be in two weeks. Did ye know that? Hey?”
“I heard so.”
“Well, it's the first I've heard on't. I knew that young fellar'd been shinin' round there consider'ble, an' I spos'd 'twas comin' off some time or other, but I didn't have no idee 'twas goin' to be so soon. Look a-here, Sary” — Sarah, placid and fair and pleasant, holding her roses, gazed attentively at him — “I'm — a-goin' to — give her somethin'!”
“What are you going to give her?”
“Ye'll see. I've got some money laid up, an' I know a way to raise a leetle more. Ye'll see when the time comes — ye'll see.” The old man raised his pleasant cackle, then he hushed it suddenly, with a wary glance towards the house. “You mind you don't say nothin' about it, Sary,” said he.
“No, I won't say a word about it,” returned Sarah. Then she went home with her roses and her own thoughts. She herself was to be married soon, but there would be no such commotion over her wedding as over Annie's. The Arnolds were very humble folk, according to the social status of the village, and were not on very intimate terms with their neighbors. Old Mr. Arnold took care of people's gardens and sawed wood for a living, and Mrs. Arnold and Sarah sewed, and even went out for extra work when some of the more prosperous village people had company. However, Sarah was going to marry a young man who had saved quite a sum of money. He was building a new house on a cross street at the foot of a meadow that lay behind Barney Swan's shop. Sarah had told Barney all about it, and he often strolled down the meadow and watched the workmen on the new house with a wise and interested air. He was very fond of Sarah. Sarah had her own opinion about Annie and the old man's daughters, but she was calm about expressing it even to her mother. She was a womanly young girl. However, once in a while her indignation grew warm.
“I think it's a shame,” she told her mother, when she carried her roses into the house, “that they haven't told Grandpa Swan about Annie's going to be married, and the poor old man's planning to give her a present.” The tears stood in Sarah's blue eyes. She crowded the roses into a tumbler.
It was only the next day that old Barney called her into the shop to display the present. He had been so eager about it that he was not able to wait. However, the idea that the gift must not be presented to his granddaughter until her wedding-day was firmly fixed in his mind. He had obtained in some way this notion of etiquette, and he was resolved to abide by it, no matter how impatient he might be. “I've got it here all ready, but I ain't a-goin' to give it to her till the day she's married, ye know,” he told Sarah while he was fumbling in the table-drawer (that was his poor little treasure-box). There he kept his surreptitious quids of tobacco and his pipe and his small hoards of pennies. His hands trembled as he drew out a little square parcel. He undid it with slow pains. “Look a-here!” In a little jeweller's box, on a bed of pink cotton, lay a gold-plated brooch with a red stone in the centre. The old man stood holding it, and looking at Sarah with a speechless appeal for admiration.
“Why, ain't it handsome!” said she; “it's just as pretty as it can be!”
Old Barney still did not speak; he stood holding the box, as silent as a statue whose sole purpose is to pose for admiration.
“Where did you get it?” asked Sarah.
The old man ushered in his words with an exultant chuckle. “Down to Bixby's; an' 'twas jest about the pertiest thing he had in his hull store. It cost consider'ble; I ain't a-goin' to tell ye how much, but I didn't pay no ninepence for't, I can tell ye. But I had a leetle somethin' laid up, an' there was some truck I traded off. I was bound I'd git somethin' wuth somethin' whilst I was about it.”
As Barney spoke, Sarah noticed that his old silver watch-chain was gone, and a suspicion as to the “truck” seized her, but she did not speak of it. She admired the brooch to Barney's full content, and he stowed it away in the drawer with pride and triumph. He was true to his resolution not to mention the present to his granddaughter, but he could not help throwing out sundry sly hints to the effect that one was forthcoming. However, no one paid any attention to them; they knew too well the state of Barney's exchequer to have any great expectations, and all the family were in the habit of disregarding the old man's chatter. He always talked a great deal, and asked many questions; and they seemed to look upon him much in the light of a venerable cricket, constantly chirping upon their hearth, which for some obscure religious reasons they were bound to harbor.
The question of old Barney's appearance at the marriage was quite a serious one. The wedding was to be a brilliant affair for the village, and the old man was not to be considered in the light of an ornament. Still the idea of not allowing him to be present could not decently be entertained, and Malvina began training him to make the best appearance possible. She instructed him as to his deportment, and had even made a new black silk stock for him to wear at the wedding. He was so delighted that he wanted to take possession at once, and hide it away in his table-drawer, but she would not allow it. She had planned how he should be well shaven and thoroughly brushed, and his pockets searched for tobacco, on the wedding morning. “I should feel like goin' through the floor if your grandfather should come in lookin' the way he does sometimes,” she told her daughter Annie.
Annie concerned herself very little about it. She was a young girl of a sweet, docile temperament. She was somewhat delicate physically, and was indolent, partly from that, partly from her nature. Now her mother was making her work so hard over her wedding clothes that she was half ill; her little forefinger was all covered with needle-pricks, and there were hollows under her eyes. Malvina had always been a veritable queen mother to Annie.
Ellen and her little boy visited Malvina for several weeks before the wedding. Ellen assisted about the sewing; she was a fine sewer.
Old Barney did not dare stay much in the house, but he wandered about the yard, and absurdly peeped in at the doors and windows. Back in his second childhood, he had all the delighted excitement of a child over a great occasion. It was perhaps a poor and pitiful happiness, but he was as happy in his own way as Annie was over her coming marriage, and, after all, happiness is only one's own heartful.
But three days before the wedding old Barney was attacked with a severe cold, and all his anticipations came to naught. The cold grew worse, and his daughters promptly decided that he could not be present at the wedding. “There ain't no use talkin' 'bout it, father,” said Malvina; “you can't go. You'd jest cough an' sneeze right through it, an' we can't have such work.”
The old man pleaded, even with tears, but with no avail; on the wedding day he was almost forcibly exiled to his little shop in the yard. The excitement in the house reached a wild height, and he was not allowed to enter after breakfast; his dinner of bread and butter and tea was brought down to the shop. He sat in the door and watched the house and the hurrying people. He called Sarah Arnold over many times; he was in a panic over his present. “How am I goin' to give her that breastpin, if they don't let me go to the weddin'?” he queried, with sharp anxiety. “There sha'n't nobody else give her that pin nohow.”
“I guess you'll have a chance,” Sarah said, comfortingly.
When it was time for the people to come to the wedding, Ellen, in her silk dress, with her hair finely crimped, came rustling out to the shop, and ordered old Barney away from the door.
“Do keep away from the door, father,” said she, “for mercy sakes. Such a spectacle as you are, an' the folks beginnin' to come! I should think you'd know better.” Ellen's forehead was all corrugated with anxious lines; she was nervous and fretful. She even pushed her father away from the door with one long, veiny hand; then she shut the door with a clash.
Then Barney stood at the window and watched. He held the little jewelry-box tightly clutched in his hand. The window-panes were all clouded and cobwebbed; it was hard for his dim old eyes to see through them, but he held back the stained curtain and peered as sharply as he could.
He saw the neighbors come to the wedding. Several covered wagons were hitched out in the yard. When the minister came into the yard he could scarcely keep himself from rushing to the door.
“There he is!” he said out loud to himself. “There he is! He's come to marry 'em!”
The hubbub of voices in the house reached old Barney's ears. A little after the minister arrived there was a hush. “He's marryin' of 'em!” ejaculated Barney. He danced up and down before the window.
After the hush the voices swelled out louder than before. Barney kept his eyes riveted upon the house. It was some two hours before people began to issue from the doors.
“The weddin's over!” shouted Barney. He looked quite wild; he gave himself a little shake, and opened the shop door and took up his stand there. Everybody could see him in his brown calico shirt-sleeves, and his slouching, untidy vest and trousers. His white locks straggled over his shoulders; his face was not very clean. Suddenly Ellen, standing and smirking in the house door, spied him. Presently she came across the yard, swaying her rattling skirts with a genteel air. She smiled all the way, and old Barney innocently smiled back at her when she reached him. But he jumped, her voice was so fierce.
“You go right in there this minute, father, an' keep that door shut,” she said between her smiling lips.
She shut the door upon Barney, but she had no sooner reached the house than he opened it again and stood there. He still held the box.
The bridal pair were to set up housekeeping in a village ten miles away. They were to drive over that night. When at last the bridegroom and the bride appeared in the door, old Barney leaned forward, breathless. The bridegroom's glossy buggy and bay horse stood in the yard; the horse was restive, and a young man was holding him by the bridle.
Old Barney did not venture to step outside his shop door. Malvina and Ellen were both in the yard, but it was as if his soul were feeling for ways to approach the young couple. He leaned forward, his eyes were intent and prominent, the hand that held the jewelry-box shook with long, rigid motions.
The bride, at her husband's side, stepped across the green yard to the buggy. This was a simple country wedding, and Annie rode in her wedding dress to her new home. The wedding dress was white muslin, full of delicate frills and loops of ribbons that the wind caught. Annie, coming across the yard, was blown to one side like a white flower. Her slender neck and arms showed pink through the muslin, and she wore her wedding bonnet, which was all white, with bows of ribbon and plumes. Her cheeks were very red.
Old Barney opened his mouth wide. “Good Lord!” said he, with one great gasp of admiration. He laughed in a kind of rapture; he forgot for a minute his wedding present. “Look at 'em! — jest look at 'em!” he repeated. Suddenly he called out, “Annie! Annie! jest look a-here! See what gran'pa's got for ye.”
Annie stopped and looked. She hesitated, and seemed about to approach Barney, when the horse started; the young man had hard work to hold him. The bridegroom lifted the bride into the carriage as soon as the horse was quiet enough, sprang in after her, and they flew out of the yard, with everybody shouting merrily after them. Old Barney's piteous cry of “Annie! Annie! jest come here a minute!” was quite lost.
The old man went into the shop and closed the door of his own accord. Then he replaced the little box in the table-drawer. Then he settled down on his old shoe-bench, and dropped his head on his hands. Soon he had a severe coughing-spell. Nobody came near him until it was quite dark; then Malvina came and asked him, in a hard, absent way, if he were not coming into the house to have any supper that night.
Old Barney arose and shuffled after her into the house; he ate the supper that she gave him; then he went to bed. He never took Annie's gold brooch out of the drawer again. He never spoke of it to Sarah Arnold nor any one else. He had the grieved dignity that pertains to the donor of a scorned gift. As the weeks went on, his cold grew no better; he coughed harder and harder. Once Malvina bought some cough medicine for him, but it did no good. The old man grew thinner and weaker, but she did not realize that; the cough arrested her attention; it tired her to hear it so constantly. She told him that there was no need of his coughing so much.
Sarah Arnold was married in August. She and her husband went to live in their new house across the meadow from old Barney's shop.
Sarah had been married a few weeks when one night old Barney came toddling down the meadow to her house. He was so weak that he tottered, but he almost ran. The short growth of golden-rod brushing his ankles seemed enough to throw him over. He waded through it as through a golden sea that would soon throw him from his footing and roll over him, but he never slackened his pace until he reached Sarah's door. She had seen him coming, and ran to meet him.
“Why, what is the matter?” she cried. Old Barney's face was pale and wild. He looked at her and gasped. She caught him by the arm and dragged him into the house, and set him in a chair. “What is the matter?” she asked again. She looked white and frightened herself.
Old Barney did not reply for a minute; he seemed to be collecting breath. Then he burst out in a great sobbing cry: “My shop! my shop! She's goin' to have my shop tore down! They're goin' to begin to-morrer. They're movin' my bench. Oh! oh!”
Sarah stood close to him and patted his head. “Who's goin' to have it torn down?”
“When did she say so?”
“Jest — now — come out an' told me. Says the — old — thing looks dreadful bad out — in the yard, an' she wants it — tore down. She's goin' to have me — go to Ellen's an' stay — all winter. Puttin' my bench up — in the garret. I ain't — a-goin' to have the — bench to set on — no longer, I ain't. Oh, hum!”
Sarah's pleasant mouth was set hard. She made old Barney lie down on her sitting-room lounge, and got him a cup of tea. It was evident that the old man was completely exhausted; he could not have walked home had he tried. Sarah sat down beside him and heard his complaint, and tried to comfort him. When her husband came home to tea she told him the story, and he went up across the meadow to the shop before he took off his coat.
“It's so,” he growled, when he returned. “They're lugging the things out. It's a blasted shame. Poor old man!”
Sarah's husband had a brown boyish face and a set chin; he took off his coat and began washing his hands at the kitchen sink with such energy that the leather stains might have been the ingratitude of the world.
“Did you say anything about his being down here?” asked Sarah.
“No, I didn't. Let 'em hunt.”
About nine o'clock that evening Malvina, holding her skirts up well, came striding over the meadow. She had missed her father, and traced him to Sarah's. Sarah and her husband had put him to bed in their pretty little spare chamber when Malvina came in. It was evident that the old man was very ill; he was wandering a little, and he had terrible paroxysms of coughing; his breath was labored. Malvina stood looking at him; Sarah's husband kept opening his mouth to speak, and his wife kept nudging him to be silent. Finally he spoke —
“He's all upset because his shop's going to be torn down,” said he; but his voice was not as bold as his intentions.
“'Tain't that,” replied Malvina. “He's dretful careless; he's been goin' round in his stockin'-feet, an' he's got more cold. I dun know what's goin' to be done. I don't see how I can get him home to-night.”
“He can stay here just as well as not,” said Sarah, nudging her husband again.
“Well, I'll come over an' git him home in the mornin',” Malvina said.
But she could not get him home when she came over in the morning. Old Barney never went home again. He died the second day after he came to Sarah's. Both of his daughters came to see him, and did what they could, but he did not seem to notice them much. An hour before he died he called Sarah. She ran into the room. Just then there was nobody else in the house. Old Barney sat up in bed, and he was pointing out of the window over the meadow. His pointing forefinger shook, his face was ghastly, but there was a strange, childish delight in it.
“Look a-there, Sary — jest look a-there,” said old Barney. “Over in the meader — look. There's Ellen a-comin', an' Viny, an' they look jest as they did when they was young; an' Ellen she's a-bringin' me some tea, an' Viny she's a-bringin' me some custard puddin'. An' there's Willy a-dancin' along. Jest see the leetle fellar a-comin' to see gran'pa all of his own accord. An' there's Annie all in her white dress, jest as pretty as a pictur', a-comin' arter her breastpin. Jest see 'em, Sary.” The old man laughed. Out of his ghastly, death-stricken features shone the expression of a happy child. “Jest look at 'em, Sary,” he repeated.
Sarah looked, and she saw only the meadow covered with a short waving crop of golden-rod, and over it the September sky.