From Watertown Times April 2, 1892
“Hush, Jorum, don't!”
“Where is she?”
“They'll hear you. She's in the sittin'-room. He's there.”
“Yes, Jorum, I'm dreadful afraid they'll hear you.”
“He ain't here again! He was here night before last, sitting up till 'leven o'clock an' keepin' everybody in the house awake. I think they'd better get married and have a house of their own, ruther than lodge in my sittin'-room the whole time.”
“Do hush, Jorum. It's Christmas, you know, an' I ruther guess he's brought her somethin'.”
“Brought her somethin'! What's he brought her?”
“I dunno, but I rather guess he's brought her somethin'. I heard her sing out, dreadful tickled, a little while ago.”
“I should think he'd better save his money. He'll never have nothin' ahead no more'n his father did. As for her, I think she'd better be out here tendin' to things.”
“Adelaide's been workin' real spry ever since breakfast, Jorum. She did up all the dishes, an' filled the lamps, an' fed the hens, an' I dunno how much more.”
“She could make that cake if she was here. You kind of got your hand out when you was sick; the last you made was a little heavy.”
“I thought 'twas pretty light, Jorum.”
“I guess this will be good. I've beat it a sight.”
Mrs. Lyon beat the yellow cake dough as she spoke. She grasped the great iron spoon tightly, the veins on her thin hand swelled up, her face all screwed in sympathy with her straining muscles.
“Now you're sloppin' on't all over!” said her husband.
Mrs. Lyon scraped a finger nervously along the rim of the mixing bowl and brought it to her mouth. “It wan't much,” said she.
“I should think 'twasn't consider'ble. Have you got the sugar in?”
Presently she set the bowl on the table, and went into the pantry.
“Jane, what you goin' for?”
“The salratus an' cream tartar.”
“Hadn't you ought to put 'em in before this?”
“No, it's all right, Jorum.”
“Don't Adelaide put 'em in first?”
“No, she don't, Jorum. Nobody never does.”
“What you puttin' in that milk?”
“What do you put it in milk for?”
“Why, it's the way, Joram.”
“I should think it would be better to stir it right in the bowl. I don't believe but what you've forgot how. I think Adelaide had better be out here seein' to things.”
“It's just the way she does it, Jorum.”
“I don't believe it. I don't believe Adelaide ever stirs the salratus into the milk. You've got your hand all out, bein' flat on your back for five years so. I dunno what's goin' to become of us when Adelaide gits married. There ain't no sense in her gittin' married anyway. She's well enough off where she is.”
“Now, Jorum, you ain't no objections to Adelaide's gettin' married if she's goin' to better herself, an' you know she does have a pretty hard time dressmakin' and doin' what she does here.”
“Hard time! Guess she won't have no easier time when she's married. Guess if she know'd Jim Byron as well as I do” —
“Jorum, you don't know nothin' agin him, do you? You ought to tell if you do.”
“Who said I knew anythin' agin him? Adelaide is a good deal better off where she is, that's all.”
Jorum Lyon sat by the south window. He was quite an old man, but his hair and beard were still black. His features were pronounced, but so elongated that they gave an impression of gloomy weakness. Out of doors there was a level of new snow and the sun shone on it. The room was full of double light. Jorum, in the full blaze of it, looked like an embodied cloud. He never took his eyes from his wife.
She made many little uncertain motions, partly because of those five years on her back, partly because he was watching her; her little head vibrated over the mixing bowl like a bird's.
“Why don't you keep still?” asked Jorum.
“I thought I did. I guess I'm kinder nervous. There, he's gone!”
A door in the front part of the house banged; presently Adelaide came into the kitchen. She was no larger than her sister, Mrs. Lyon, but many years younger. Her complexion had the pink-and-white gloss of a wax doll's; her light hair hung in smooth curls; she was full of motion like her sister, but every motion had an alert decision in it.
“See what I've got,” said she. She held out a little gold watch with a bright chain dangling from it.
Mrs. Lyon drew near. “Did he give it to you?”
Adelaide nodded. The delicate pink on her cheeks did not deepen, her china-blue eyes looked calmly and delightedly at the watch. “Ain't it handsome?” said she.
“Elegant. It must have cost a lot.”
Adelaide walked across the room to Jorum. “Jorum, see my gold watch,” said she.
Jorum reached out for it, examined it on all sides, squinting his eyes and pursing his lips; then handed it back to her without a word.
“Don't you think it's handsome?” she asked.
“Seems to me you act dreadful funny, Jorum; what's the matter?” Adelaide dangled the watch and surveyed him smilingly. She was so happy that his manner did not irritate her. It was as if she could scarcely see any darkness outside her own light.
Jorum looked out of the window at the radiant field of snow, then he turned his contracted eyes toward her and spoke slowly. “Well, to tell you the truth, Adelaide,” said he, “I hate to see you fling yourself away.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jest what I say.”
“What do you mean, Jorum Lyon?”
“Jorum did not answer for a minute. His wife and Adelaide stood waiting. Mrs. Lyon stopped beating the cake, but once the spoon in her trembling hand clicked loudly against the dish.
“Some time,” said Jorum, “when you happen to think on't, you ask Jim Byron where he was them three weeks he was away from Sunflower Ranch.”
Adelaide looked at him; hard lines came around her mouth. “What do you mean, Jorum Lyon?” said she again.
“Nothin'; you jest ask him sometime.”
“Well, where was he those three weeks? You tell.”
“You ask him.”
“I'd like to know what you mean. I suppose he was away for some good reason.”
“Well, mebbe he was. You ask him.”
“Look here, Jorum, if you're tryin' to cast any slurs on Jim Byron, I can tell you once for all, you'll take it out in tryin'. There ain't anybody goin' to make me believe he ain't steady.” Adelaide's eyes, fixed on Jorum, were fairly fierce. She handled the watch and chain like a stone and sling.
“Well,” said Jorum, getting up, “you jest ask him where he was them three weeks away from Sunflower Ranch; I ain't sayin' nothin' again' his bein' stiddy.”
“Look here,” began Adelaide; but Jorum shuffled quickly out of the room.
“I've got to shovel that snow out; and can't wait no longer,” said he.
When he shut the door, the two women looked at each other. “What did he mean, I'd like to know?” said Adelaide, sharply.
“I dunno. He was kinder hintin' somethin' before you come in. Oh, Adelaide, you don't want to have him if he ain't stiddy.”
“I don't believe he ain't, yet.”
“I'm dreadful afraid Jorum knows somethin' again' him from the way he spoke. Adelaide, you wouldn't have him if he'd really done anythin' out of the way, would you?”
“Course I wouldn't; but I don't believe he has, yet.”
“I s'pose you'd have to give him back the elegant watch,” said Mrs. Lyon, in a weak voice. “I declare I tremble so I can hardly stan' up.”
“You go an' sit down by the window an' take your knittin'-work, an' I'll finish that cake,” said Adelaide, peremptorily. She laid the watch carefully on the shelf, and took the mixing-bowl out of her sister's hands.
“I hate to have you,” said Mrs. Lyon, “but I dunno as we will taste on't if you don't finish it. He's got an idea that nobody can cook anythin' fit to eat but you, an' he always was dreadful fussy about his victuals. He's an idea that I've got my hand out, bein' flat on my back so long. Adelaide, what be you a-goin' to do about Jim Byron?”
“I'm goin' a-sleigh-riding with him this afternoon, an' I'm goin' to ask him. We won't talk any more about it now, Jane. You go an' sit down with your knittin'.”
Mrs. Lyon obeyed. She always obeyed her energetic younger sister. Adelaide had lived with her ever since her mother's death, ten years before, and had done the greater part of the housework. For five of the ten years she had everything to do, besides the care of her sister, who had been a helpless invalid. For the last two years Mrs. Lyon had been so far recovered that Adelaide could sometimes go out dressmaking by the day. She had no money of her own, and was anxious to earn some. She had been engaged to marry Jim Byron for two years, ever since he and Jorum Lyon had gone to Nebraska to start a cattle ranch. Had it proved successful, she and Mrs. Lyon, if she could have traveled so far, were to have joined them there. The ranch had been a failure, and the two men had returned six months before. Now Adelaide and Jim were to be married soon. He had gone to work again on his farm.
The morning of that Christmas day had been very pleasant, but the wind blew from the northeast in the afternoon and the sky drove with violet clouds.
At 3 o'clock Jim Byron came for Adelaide. Mrs. Lyon went to the door and spoke to him as he sat in the sleigh waiting. He had to keep a tight rein on his broad-backed mare. She was a farm horse, used to long days at the plow, but the frosty air woke some wild blood in her, and she kept starting with sharp flourishing of bells.
“Your horse is stiddy, I hope,” said Mrs. Lyon, her anxious eyes peering from a triangle of shawl with which she had covered her head and face.
“Oh, yes, she's steady as a clock,” answered Jim, pulling her up. “It's just the cold air, an' she hasn't been out before today.”
Mrs. Lyon surveyed him sharply. He was a handsome young man, and his voice had a soothing inflection for her feminine worry. She turned to go into the house and met Adelaide. “He looks real stiddy,” she whispered as she passed her.
Mrs. Lyon stood at the kitchen window to watch the young couple out of the yard. The mare leapt forward with a great plunge and the snow flew. “Oh, they'll be tipped over!” cried Mrs. Lyon. She hurried into the sitting-room, to the front window, to see if they went safely down the street.
When she returned Jorum had come in and was taking off his snowy boots. He had been down to the store.
“O Jorum, did you see that horse jump? Do you s'pose he's safe?” she panted.
“Safe enough for a pair of fools, I reckon,” returned Jorum.
“Jorum, what did you mean about Jim's being away from the ranch?”
“I ain't got nothin' to say about it. Let her ask him. Wasn't that cake you was makin' heavy?”
“No, it's real light. Adelaide she see to puttin' the flour in. Don't you want a little piece of it?”
“Well, I dunno but I might eat a little piece on't if it's light.”
Mrs. Lyon brought a large slice of cake out of the pantry and gave it to her husband. Then she sat down by the window with her knittin' work. Jorum, after he had finished the cake, read the religious paper which came every week.
The afternoon wore on. At 5 o'clock Adelaide and Jim rode into the yard in the cold twilight.
Mrs. Lyon got up and lighted the lamp. “They've got home,” she said.
She looked up inquiringly when Adelaide entered the kitchen. “Had a nice ride?” she asked.
“Wasn't you cold?”
Adelaide's pink cheeks showed violet tinges because of the cold wind. She stood unbuttoning her fur-trimmed coat and evaded her sister's eye.
Jorum got up and went out of the room.
Mrs. Lyon turned eagerly to her sister. “Did you ask him?” she whispered.
“Yes, I asked him — Look here, Jane, it's all over, and I don't want another word said about it.”
“Adelaide, you don't mean he was away from the ranch?”
“I don't know. He wouldn't own up to anything. I ain't goin' to marry any man that's been off three weeks courtin' other women. There. I ain't goin' to say any more about it.”
“Did you give him back the watch?”
“Of course I did.”
“Oh, Adelaide, what will he do with it? Do you s'pose they'll take it back at the store where he bought it?”
“He can give it to one of the other women.”
Adelaide gathered up her hat and coat and went out of the room with a rush. She was not gone long. When she returned her sister looked sharply at her, but her eyes were not red. She went about as usual getting supper; after supper she sat down with her sewing. Jorum read again in the paper, and Mrs. Lyon knitted. Nobody spoke. About 8 o'clock one of the neighbors came in. She had a parcel and broached her errand with an apologetic air. “I'm ashamed to come over here,” she said, “but I'm all witched up over this waist. I can't do anything with it. I thought mebbe you could jest look at it a minute. I know I hadn't ought to ask you when you're so drove with your own sewin'.”
Adelaide laid down her needlework, arose and took the parcel. “I ain't drove,” said she calmly. “I ain't goin' to be married.”
The neighbor caught her breath. “It's — put off a little while,” ventured Mrs. Lyon in a trembling voice.
“It's put off for good an' all,” said Adelaide.
She unrolled the parcel with steady hands. Jorum bent his head over his paper. There was a grotesque look on his face.
Adelaide turned to him; “Jorum, I guess you'll have to go in the sittin'-room,” said she.
Jorum obeyed. “Now, Mrs. Paine,” said Adelaide, “if you'll put this waist on I'll see what ails it.”
Adelaide fitted the dress carefully. Mrs. Paine looked at herself in the kitchen glass.
“It don't fit nohow,” said she, “but I guess you can fix it. Ain't it rather sudden?” Her voice quavered doubtfully on the last words.
“Yes, it is, rather,” replied Adelaide. “The shoulder-seams are crooked in this waist.”
Mrs. Paine sighed. “I know it; it looks every which way,” said she. She looked at Adelaide's fair curls against her breast and felt fairly faint with surprise and curiosity, but she dared not ask another question.
Before Mrs. Paine left, Adelaide engaged to go to her house that week and cut another dress for her.
When the two sisters were alone, Mrs. Lyon looked at Adelaide a moment; then she began to weep. “Oh, Adelaide, you ain't goin' right out to work agin,” she sobbed.
“Of course I am.”
“I can't — bear to — think on't. There, I thought you was so well provided for, an' wouldn't have to slave — all — your life.”
“I ain't worried about the slavin',” said Adelaide. “I like it. I'd enough sight rather slave for women whose shoulder seams are crooked than for men whose principles are. Don't you go to frettin', Jane. It's time you went to bed.”
Her voice took on a caressing tone. She took a heated brick from the stove and rolled it up in a woolen cloth for her sister's feet. Jorum came in rubbing his hands together and hunching his shoulders. “It's pretty chilly there in the sittin'-room without any fire,” said he.
“I hope you ain't took cold, Jorum,” said his wife anxiously.
Adelaide compressed her lips as if she wished he had. Presently she lighted her candle and went off up stairs to her own chamber. As soon as the door was shut behind her Mrs. Lyon looked at Jorum, and the tears came into her eyes. “Oh, Jorum, she ain't goin' to have him, an' I'm afraid you've done a dreadful wicked thing breakin' on't off,” she wailed.
Jorum sat down and began to pull off his boots deliberately. “No, I ain't,” said he. “Any woman is a good deal better off not married.”
“Of course she don't want him if he ain't stiddy, but you'd ought to told just what the matter was. Jorum — why can't you tell me an' let me tell her?”
“I ain't goin' to say nothing' more about it.”
“She'll lay awake cryin' all night,” Mrs. Lyon said. She cried herself, weakly as she sat by the stove taking the pins out of her thin hair.
Pretty soon the house was quiet, and all the windows were dark. The wind blew hard at night. If Adelaide lay awake listening to it, and weeping, feeling the house and her own soul rock with the under forces of nature, nobody knew.
She was up as usual next morning to make the fire and get breakfast. When her sister came out of her bed-room she looked at her cheerfully. “Did you have a good night, Jane?” she asked.
“Toler'ble. Could you sleep any?”
“Don't I always sleep?” Adelaide's curls shone in the morning sun, her blue eyes were bright and steady. She set her light biscuit on the table with her usual brisk air.
“She don't take much to heart,” Mrs. Lyon thought, watching her.
Adelaide worked about the house all the morning; in the afternoon she put on her best bonnet and made some calls. When people alluded to her approaching marriage she said smilingly that she was not to be married at all. Many had already heard the news from Mrs. Paine and greeted her wonderingly. One woman stood at the door looking at her with blank surprise, before she invited her in and asked her bluntly what the trouble was. Adelaide laughed. “You must ask him!” said she.
The next day she went out dressmaking at Mrs. Paine's. She took up her old life, before her happy flurry of wedding preparations had begun, and nobody saw any change in her. There was much talk over the affair in the village. Some blamed Adelaide, some Jim. There was a rumor that Jim's past life in Nebraska had not been blameless. Some believed it, some not. In the course of the next year he left town and went no one knew where. He had no near relations living. His mother had died since his return from the west. That was one reason why the marriage was to have been hastened, that Adelaide might keep his house for him.
After a while the talk in the village died away. Adelaide went from house to house with her little dressmaker's kit, her scissors and pins and dressmaking tape, and nobody looked curiously at her. Gradually the girls of her own age married, and she became looked upon as quite an old maid. Her features grew a little sharper; otherwise she did not alter. She still wore her hair in curls, although some women thought she ought not. Once Mrs. Lyon, much wrought upon and distressed by a neighbor's remark upon them, ventured to hint to Adelaide that some thought she was getting a little too old to wear curls.
Adelaide turned quite pale. “You can tell them to mind their own business,” said she. She rushed out of the room and went up stairs to her own chamber, threw herself on the bed and cried. Somehow the proposal to put away her girlish curls seemed like one to turn her back forever upon her youth and happiness. “I don't care what folks say. I won't do it,” she sobbed; and she continued to wear her hair as she had been used.
Jim Byron had been gone five years, when Jorum had an attack of paralysis from which he died. For weeks before his death he could not speak or move a muscle. Adelaide gave up her dressmaking and nursed him faithfully. Since the breaking of her engagment there had been a certain coldness between her and Jorum, but now she forgot it. When she entered the room he looked at her as piteously and helplessly as a baby, and she could not withstand it. Adelaide and her sister kept thinking that Jorum would be better. They expected every day he would move or speak on the next, but the day before he died Adelaide called the doctor aside and asked him to tell her the truth.
When he had, she stood looking at him for a moment, as if she, too, were struck with paralysis. “Do you mean he'll never speak again?” she said.
The doctor shook his head solemnly. Adelaide went out without a word. That night she watched with Jorum. The neighbors had taken turns in watching lately, but that night Mr. Paine, who was expected, was unable to come, so Adelaide took his place. There was nothing to do but to sit quietly beside the motionless old man on his bed.
The night lamp stood on the bureau. There were strange shadows on the window curtains; once in a while a team went past; that was the only sound. Adelaide sat there until 2 o'clock. Then she arose suddenly and stood over Jorum. “Jorum,” said she in a voice which seemed to smite her own ears like a bell, “I want you to tell me if — Jim Byron went away from the ranch those three weeks.”
Jorum lay motionless and silent before her.
She snatched the lamp off the bureau and held it before his face. “Jorum Lyon,” said she, “you speak, and you tell the truth about it.”
Jorum's eyes had a look of intelligence, that was all.
“Jorum,” said she; “look here. If Jim Byron did not go away from Sunflower Ranch, you shut your eyes.” All the movements of which Jorum had been capable had been opening and shutting the eyes. Now they remained wide open and staring, but tears stood in them. One trickled down his old face.
Adelaide set the lamp back on the bureau. Then she sat down by Jorum and smoothed his forehead. “Never mind, Jorum,” she said in a tender voice. The next day he died. After the funeral Adelaide and her sister settled down again into their old ways. Mrs. Lyon wept and grieved for Jorum, but she was too weak physically for strong emotions, which require ground, like graveyard weeds. Presently she sat, as formerly, at her window and knitted in a kind of gentle apathy and content.
Jorum had been dead two years, when, one evening, Mrs. Paine came in to tell Adelaide and her sister that Jim Byron had come home. “Mr. Paine has seen him,” said she, “an' he ain't changed a mite. I wonder if he'll keep that man an' his wife that's been takin' care of his place, or do alone. Mr. Paine says he'll come to stay, he thinks.”
Mrs. Lyon looked at Adelaide. “Ain't he married?” she asked, feebly.
“No, he ain't. Mebbe he an' Adelaide will strike up a bargain again.”
“My marryin' days are over,” said Adelaide, shortly. She was quite pale.
After Mrs. Paine had gone, Adelaide looked at the clock; it was quite early. Then she stole up to her chamber and smoothed her curls a little with trembling fingers, and put her best pin in her collar.
Mrs. Lyon went to bed soon after she came down stairs. She staid up until 10 o'clock, then she put out the lamp and locked the house.
The next day Adelaide did not go out to work. It was Christmas. In the afternoon she put on her best blue cashmere dress. “Why, where are you goin'?” Mrs. Lyon asked, when she came down stairs.
“Why, what are you dressed up for, then?”
“I took a notion to put this dress on,” said Adelaide, turning from her sister's wondering gaze, and getting her sewing.
“Do you remember how he brought you that watch seven years ago today?” asked Mrs. Lyon presently, in a timid voice.
“I wonder what he ever did with it — if he carried it back,” Mrs. Lyon said meditatively.
“I'm sure I don't know,” returned Adelaide. Presently she got up and went to the door and stood looking down the road. She did so several times in the course of the afternoon; the pink of her cheeks became a burning red.
“Why, what does ail you, Adelaide? What do you keep runnin' to the door for?” Mrs. Lyon asked.
“I wanted to see if it looked like snow.”
“Why, I guess it ain't goin' to snow. It's real clear, an' it snowed day before yesterday. I guess it's good sleighin'. Seven years ago today you went, do you remember?”
Adelaide nodded. About 8:30 o'clock when it was quite dark, she arose and lighted the lamp — the two women had been sitting idly since the light had failed — and got her old hood and shawl off the peg in the entry. She put them on and stole out, but her sister saw her and pounded on the window. “Why, where are you goin'?” she called.
“I'm goin' to run out a little ways.”
“Why, it's supper time.”
“I'll be right back.”
Mrs. Lyon pounded again, but Adelaide sped on. She fairly ran down the road. She met several people, who turned and looked after her, but she did not care. It was a quarter of a mile straight down the road to Jim Byron's house. When she reached it she stopped and hesitated a minute. There was a light in the kitchen window and a dusky one in the barn; she went straight forward to the barn and entered. Jim Byron was crossing the floor with an armful of hay for the cows. He stopped and looked at her. The light was very dim, from a lantern on the floor.
“Don't you know me?” she asked in a trembling voice.
“It is you?” He dropped the hay and came forward, then stopped. There was a jingle of tin, and the man who took care of the farm stood in the door with the milking-pails. He was a round-faced young fellow, and looked in at them with a wondering grin.
“I'd rather have the cows milked after supper,” Jim called out. “I've just fed 'em.”
The man hesitated, then he went off with a backward stare.
“Jim,” said Adelaide, “I've come to tell you that I believe you didn't go away from the ranch that time, and if you did it wasn't for any harm.”
She spoke very fast. There was a pause.
“I told you I hadn't any answer to make to any such nonsense,” said Jim, in a slow, stiff way, “an' that if you suspected me enough to ask me” —
“I don't ask you, Jim. I don't suspect you! I know you wasn't away from Sunflower Ranch. I know you — are — good.”
Jim went close up to Adelaide and put his arm round her. “You shall have that watch again for a Christmas present,” said he.
He looked down in her face. “We ain't seen each other for seven years,” said he. “Do I look very bad?”
“No, Jim. Do I ?”
“You?” He untied her hood and pulled it off. “The curls are just the same,” said he. “Oh, Adelaide, I never saw any other girl like you!”
They stood there together. The cows looked at them through the stanchions with their great mild eyes. Before them, through the wide doorway, could be seen the dark sky all full of stars.