From Harper's Bazar Vol. XXXVII No. 12 (December, 1903)
“I'm ready for another basket, sister!” cried Araminta.
For the last six months, and more or less through the whole year since the preceding Christmas, Araminta and Sarah White had been preparing presents for the neighborhood and all their relatives. It was the day before Christmas now, and Araminta was distributing them, as was her annual wont. She was wrapped up warmly — it was very cold — and she carried a large empty basket. “Here, fill it up again, quick!” she cried, and pulled off her shawl to help herself. Araminta's older sister Sarah and the visiting cousin, Mrs. Martha Spear from Ohio, began gathering up small neat parcels in white paper, tied with red cord, from the table and sofa where they were piled.
“Land! what a lot of folks you do remember!” said the cousin, placing parcels gingerly in the basket.
“We don't leave out a single soul for half a mile each way,” said Sarah, proudly, “or, rather, Araminta don't. She does the most of it.”
“I don't do any more than you do, sister,” said Araminta. “I tell you those Lumkins children were tickled when they saw me coming, poor little things. Every head was in the window, noses flat as dabs of putty against the glasses, the whole six.”
“Six children?” said the cousin.
“Yes, six,” replied Sarah, “and the father no money, and the mother no strength, all six sickly.”
“And dirty,” added Araminta, happily.
“Dreadful!” said the cousin.
“I can't help feelin' so sometimes,” agreed Sarah, who was at times gently pessimistic.
But Araminta laughed with confidence. “Nonsense!” said she, placing another parcel. “You ought to have seen them just now. It is six times as much fun Christmas as one child could have, and who's going to say it isn't worth while? And I guess there's fun enough left over from this Christmas for their whole lives. You'd ought to have seen them, how they tickled and laughed, sickly, and dirty, and everything. Mother used to say she didn't want to have a cat put out of the world that took a mite of comfort in it, and I guess six children as happy as those this morning are more than cats. Their mother was pleased, too.”
“Araminta made a nice flannel wrapper for her — cut and made it herself,” said Sarah.
“She put it right on to see how it fitted, and she looked as pretty as a picture in it,” said Araminta. The basket was full again, and she replaced the shawl over her shoulders and pinned it tightly around her neck. She gathered up the basket on her arm, and stood in the doorway a second, smiling at the two women before starting.
“Jest look at her!” cried the cousin, with a mixture of admiration and wonder and amusement. “If she ain't the happiest-looking mortal I ever laid eyes on.”
Indeed, Araminta White, middle-aged, single, with the faded dulness of advancing life on her thin face, with sparse gray hair, merely a line showing under her hood above a lift of candid forehead, which was heavily lined, seemed to give out a glow of pure delight. She was wonderful. Her blue eyes shone with something better than the youth of the flesh. She smiled a smile which took hold of immortal bliss. She looked like an incarnate joy, and the women dimly sensed it. Then she turned and went out, laughing happily like a child, like a goddess who holds youth and childhood forever. “I am happy,” she called back. “My looks don't belie me! Nobody knows how I look forward to this all the year!”
“She gives right through the year, too,” Sarah said, when the door had shut and Araminta had passed the windows. “I never saw anybody take so much comfort giving presents as Araminta. She can't give much in one way, either, for we haven't money enough, but she's a wonderful manager. She don't stint at home for any comforts, and we both have enough to look respectable.”
“You both look real nice,” said the cousin.
“But somehow she manages to get enough to give away. She makes her clothes hang on to beat everything, and she fixes them over and over. That coat she wears she's had ten years. I told her she ought to have a new one this winter, but she took the money and divided it, and bought two little jackets for the Monroe girls, and I wish you could see Araminta's face when she sees those two girls going by in those jackets. If she saw herself as beautiful as an angel and dressed like a queen, in a looking-glass, she couldn't look any more pleased.”
The cousin sat swaying back and forth in the rocking-chair. She had not seen these relatives for years — not since her own girlhood, when she lived in the same village. Now her husband was dead, and she had returned middle-aged, stout, and rather opulent, to take up some of the old threads of her life. She had arrived the day before, and was to spend a number of weeks with Sarah and Araminta. “Araminta ain't changed very much in her looks,” said she, finally, with a reminiscent expression.
“No,” replied Sarah, “I don't see as she has. Of course living with anybody right along, it's harder to tell.” Sarah was perhaps ten years older than the visiting cousin, tall and slender, with an ineffaceable dignity of mien. She was fastening some little blue ribbon bows on the corners of a pin-cushion which Araminta was to take in the next basket, but she performed the trivial task with the same expression with which she would have signed documents of state. She had been a school-teacher for nearly forty years, and she was stiffened into her old attitude of life.
“I don't see as she has,” assented the cousin. “Of course she has aged in her looks — she was a real pretty girl — but that's something that can't last forever on this earth.” She sighed, and then smiled at an inward conviction that she herself had held her looks better than Araminta, although she was older.
“Of course,” replied Sarah, “I know Araminta don't look quite as she did when she was a girl, though I don't suppose I realize that as you would.”
“No, of course you wouldn't, but other ways she seems about the same, just as young, only, as near as I can remember, she used to be a little soberer, not quite so lively. She's got a real happy disposition, hasn't she?”
“Yes, she has,” replied Sarah, with fervor.
“I declare I never saw anybody any happier, and —”
“And what?” inquired Sarah, suspiciously.
“Nothing, only at first glance I shouldn't be able to see exactly what she had to make her so mighty happy as she seems to be. She ain't any younger, and she's lost her pretty looks, though she's really good-looking; still, you know —”
“Beauty don't amount to much for a woman; when she gets older she'd be silly to fret over that,” Sarah said, rather shortly. She had always been distinctly homely herself.
“That's very true,” the cousin replied, smiling again over the comfortable reflection concerning her own looks. Martha Spear had been a beauty, and she was, in a florid, middle-aged fashion, a beauty still, with sparkling black eyes, pink cheeks, and smooth crinkles of black hair. “She isn't any too well, either, is she?” she added.
“No, she isn't. She has the hay-fever every summer, and not a winter but she has more or less rheumatism. She was awake half last night with a pain in her shoulder.”
“I guess she's worked too steady over these Christmas things.”
“I shouldn't wonder, but there's no stopping her. She takes a sight of comfort over them.”
“She has a real happy disposition,” remarked the cousin again. “And I can't see —” She hesitated again a minute.
“You can't see as she's anything so wonderful to make her happier than other folks?” said Sarah.
“Well, no, to tell you the truth, Sarah, I can't.” The cousin laughed apologetically. “Of course she's got a good comfortable home here. She has all the comforts of life, and she has you to live with, but —”
“You mean she never got married,” said Sarah, bluntly, with a slight tone of defiance.
“I don't suppose she cared to get married, or she would have,” the cousin hastened to respond.
“No, she didn't care to get married,” Sarah said, with dignified emphasis, “or she would have. Araminta had a chance.”
“Of course I knew she must have,” said the cousin, eagerly. “Of course Araminta was so pretty-looking —”
“She didn't have but one chance, if she was pretty, but she did have one chance,” said Sarah, firmly.
“Oh, of course I knew she must have had.”
“And she gave up the chance, and she's seemed a good deal happier ever since,” said Sarah.
“Well, I never!” said the cousin, in some amazement. “Do you mind tellin' me who it was?” she asked, with thinly veiled eagerness.
“Well, no, I don't know as I do. He don't live here now, nor any of his folks. It happened after you got married and went away.”
“Yes, it must have. Araminta is younger than I. She hadn't quite grown up enough for a beau when I was married.”
“Well, she got one as soon as she was grown up enough; there wasn't any waiting,” said Sarah, with pride.
“Who was it? Anybody I know?”
“Well, I think you must have known him. It was Daniel Rodgers.”
“My, yes. Of course I used to know him. He was about my age. I went to school with him. Why, he was pretty smart, wasn't he? His father had money.”
“Yes, his father had a good deal of money, and Daniel was the only child. Araminta knew he was coming in for a good deal, but she didn't think of that a second. Some girls might have, but she didn't. He was real smart, too.”
“He studied law with Lawyer Clark, didn't he?”
“Yes, and he had set up his office with him. Lawyer Clark was kind of out of health; he didn't live long afterward, and Daniel would have had a good practice if he'd stayed right along here. But as soon as his father died he moved away to the city and set up business there. I hear he's done very well. I think he's a judge.”
“He was good-looking, too, as I remember.”
“Good-looking! He was handsome — as handsome a fellow as I ever saw. There wasn't a young man in the village to compare with him in looks or appearance.”
“And Araminta didn't take a fancy to him?” inquired the cousin, with wonder.
“Yes, she took a fancy to him; at least she did at first. It wasn't that, poor child. No, I won't say poor child. She wasn't poor a mite about it after she'd given him up.”
“She gave him up?”
“Yes. See here, Martha. I don't know why I shouldn't tell you about it. It's all over and gone. I haven't ever spoken of it to a soul; nobody in this village has ever dreamed of it. I suppose they've always thought Araminta never had a chance. Let 'em think so. I don't care, and as for Araminta, she's never given it a thought. But I'd just as lief one of our folks knew how it really was — how Araminta never got married, but she had as good a chance and better than most girls here, and she would have been married if she hadn't been so good that she would have made a better wife than any other girl here.”
“Araminta would have made a man a beautiful wife,” assented the cousin.
“I guess she would, and Daniel Rodgers knew it, too. He had a pretty long head.”
“Yes, I always thought he had.”
“He had. Well, he begun coming to see Araminta when she wasn't over eighteen. She always seemed older, though. Araminta was real womanly. She didn't seem to have any of the silly ways of most young girls. She knew what she did know, and she knew what she didn't know, and she was real strong on that last knowledge. She was a good housekeeper, young as she was. She took right hold; you know I was school-teaching, and mother wasn't very well. It was three years after father died. You know we had just about enough to live on that he left us, and then my school-teaching money was extra. We never kept any help; Araminta did all the work, and she made all the clothes. She did dress tasty, too. She was as pretty as a picture, too, if I do say it. I've seen young men turn to look after her a good many times, though Daniel Rodgers was the only one that really went with her. Sometimes I used to think that Araminta was too pretty and too ladylike and too good, that she sort of scared them off. I think there is such a thing. Men want a girl more like themselves. Still, there weren't many young men here.”
“No, there weren't, especially young men,” assented the cousin.
“That may have been one reason,” said Sarah. “Anyhow, Daniel Rodgers was the only one. He begun calling here, and going home with her from meeting, and it was some time before I thought he meant anything, and I knew she didn't feel sure for a long time, and neither did mother. I know once she said, when I was joking her, ‘I tell you what it is, Sarah, a fellow has got to be pretty pointed in his attentions, before I think they are serious.’ Of course she knew she was pretty-looking, and mother and I did, but I think on that very account we felt a little more distrustful, for a young man is so often attracted by a pretty face for a little while, and then he gets over it as sudden as he begun. Of course there was a good deal more to Araminta than a pretty face, but the question was whether or not that was what made him take a notion to her.
“He called first one Wednesday evening, then the week after he walked home with her from Friday evening prayer-meeting. Then a week from the next Sunday he came and spent the evening, then after that he came pretty steady. ‘He really is going with you, isn't he?’ I said to Araminta, after it had been kept up about six weeks; and she sort of colored up and laughed, and I saw that she had begun to think so. Mother and I talked a good deal about it together, and finally we thought that he really did think a good deal of Araminta, and it wasn't merely a notion to a pretty face. We thought Daniel Rodgers was a young man who had an eye for something besides a pretty face, that he could see the true worth as well. And I really think now that he did, only — well, he had an eye for something else, too. He was like most men, after all. Once in a while you think you see a man who isn't like most men, and maybe once in a dog's age he isn't, but the rest of the time it turns out he is. Daniel Rodgers was. I guess it was Araminta's looks attracted him more than anything else. Well, he had been going with Araminta nearly a year, and it was coming Christmas, and we had begun to think of their being married in June. Araminta seemed just as happy. I don't think she has ever been happy in the same way since, but she has been as happy, and happier, I guess, in another way. I guess she was thinking more about herself then than she ever has since. There was talk about Daniel building a house, though Araminta would rather have planned to live with mother and me. She said she couldn't see how we were going to get along without her. We couldn't quite afford to keep help, and mother wasn't strong enough to do much, and I didn't have much time out of school, except in the summer vacation. She had planned a good deal; well, the plans didn't ever come to anything.”
“Didn't folks in the village know about it?” asked the cousin.
“Well, no, they didn't. And now you mention it, I will say that was the one thing mother and I didn't like about the way Daniel managed things. For some reason he didn't want anything said about his and Araminta's being engaged. He said he'd always thought it was better not to let anybody know till the wedding invitations were out, but of course that was no reason at all. Araminta thought it was all right — she hasn't a suspicious streak in her — but mother and I talked it over a good deal.”
“Folks must have talked,” said the cousin. “They knew he was going with Araminta, didn't they?”
“Yes, they did and they didn't. He used to come calling pretty late, after dark, and after the first he didn't go to prayer-meeting very often to go home with her. And it was very seldom he took her to a concert or lecture in the town hall. Mother and I used to think it was kind of funny that he didn't. Of course folks talked and said they were going together, but they couldn't really say that they knew anything. Then, too, Daniel was a young man who had always called round at different houses a good deal, and he did after he was going with Araminta. Of course he didn't call steady at any one place, so far as we knew, but we knew of his calling a good deal. He used to call on the Adams girls, and on Kate Slocum and her aunt. He used to tell us of it himself. Yes, folks talked and surmised, but they didn't really know anything, not even how much he came to see Araminta, and it was lucky afterward for her that they didn't. It made it a good deal easier for her. I don't know what she would have done if she'd thought folks pitied her, were looking and harking and pitying her. I guess that would have been too much even for Araminta.
“Well, the day before Christmas came a beautiful present from Daniel for Araminta. She had been working hard on one, or rather two, for him — a lovely pair of slippers with a letter D in a little wreath of roses on each toe, filled in with brown, and the handsomest crocheted scarf I ever laid my eyes on. You remember when men wore those great scarfs crocheted of worsted, years ago?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Well, that scarf was very long and wide, a pretty red color, and on each end was worked a stag's head and some green leaves. It was an elegant thing, and all the style then, and Araminta had worked real hard making it. His present for her came the day before Christmas, as I said. It was a most beautiful fan, white satin, all painted with roses, and spangled, with feathers on the edge, carved ivory sticks, and little looking-glasses on each end stick. I had never seen anything like it, and Araminta she was so pleased, she didn't know what to do. She kept opening the box and looking at it. ‘It seems as if it was too nice for me,’ says she, ‘and he was too extravagant,’ and she was all kind of smiling and trembling at the same time, and her cheeks were pink. I remember just how she looked gazing at that fan. She looked pretty enough to kiss. Well, she had just put the fan in the box for the dozenth time, and she had put it away in the chimney cupboard. ‘I am not going to waste any more time over that fan,’ says she, laughing just as happy. ‘I sha'n't get this tidy done if I do,’ says she. She was working a tidy for Daniel's aunt, Harriet Ackley, and had to finish it that day. The tidy was crocheted of red and white and green worsted, in stripes, then the stripes were sewed together and worked with flowers in cross-stitch. I remember just as well how that tidy looked. Harriet Ackley had it on a high rocking-chair in her parlor the last I knew. I guess it's there still. Araminta was working the last green stripe with some pink rosebuds, sitting by the south sitting-room window in the sun, just as happy, when we saw that girl come flying up the road.”
“What girl?” cried the visiting cousin, eagerly.
“Her name was Grace Ormsby; she came from Bondville. I don't know whether you ever knew her. She was a good deal younger. She wasn't quite so old as Araminta.”
“Wasn't she Silas Ormsby's daughter, and she had a sister Louisa?”
“Yes, that's the one.”
“Well, I didn't know her, but I remember seeing her sister quite a number of times; she was married before I was. They were quite well off.”
“Yes, Silas Ormsby was a rich man, and Grace wasn't pretty, but she was a real good girl and had real taking ways.
“Well, we saw this girl running up the road as if she was possessed. Her coat wasn't fastened, and her hood (girls wore hoods that winter; she had a lovely red one) was half off her head, and she hadn't a thing on her hands; it was a bitter day, too. The sun was shining, and the wind blowing from the north, and the air was all full of driving snow that cut like diamond dust. It had snowed the day before, and the high wind swept it all up like a broom. Well, we saw this girl coming, plunging through the snow in the road (the sidewalk wasn't cleared) in a fierce weak kind of fashion. She had her head down, and she went on as if nothing could stop her, and yet she sort of staggered.
“‘Do look at this girl coming,’ says I to Araminta, and she looked.
“‘Who in the world is it?’ says she.
“‘I never set eyes on her before,’ says I. ‘She looks kind of queer. I wonder if anybody's sick and she's going for the doctor?’
“‘She can hardly walk, poor thing,’ says Araminta. Then she cries out, dreadful astonished. ‘Why,’ says she, ‘she's coming in here!’ And she was. That girl turned right in at our front gate. ‘It's lucky I swept the path out this morning,’ says Araminta, ‘or she couldn't have got in at all, but it's blown in a good deal since.’
“‘Who is it?’ says I, kind of bewildered, peeking around the edge of the window.
“‘I don't know,’ says Araminta, jumping up and going to open the door, ‘but she can hardly walk, poor thing, whoever she is. I'm sorry the snow has blown in on the path so. I don't know but I'd better get the broom and sweep it off again, so she can get in.’
“And Araminta did. The snow had blown in on the front walk pretty bad, and Araminta got the broom and ran out and swept away some, so the girl could get in without wading up to her knees. I went to the door, and stood there with a shawl over my head.
“‘Are you Miss Araminta White?’ I heard the girl kind of gasp out, while Araminta was swishing the broom in front of her. She stood as if she was going to melt right down like a snow image the next minute, and I could see that her face in the red hood was white as a sheet, and she had a kind of breathless look.
“‘Yes,’ says Araminta, sweeping away. ‘I'm real sorry the path isn't better. I swept it out this morning, but the wind blows so the snow flies right back about as fast as I can sweep it off.’ And it did, sure enough. Both those girls stood there in a kind of whirlpool of snow, all glittering and glistening like a rainbow. Araminta was laughing real pleasant, making her broom fly as fast as she could, and the girl stood as if she was just about sinking down. ‘There,’ says Araminta, in a minute. ‘Now I guess you can get in a little better,’ and she moves ahead with her broom, and the girl tries to follow. But the first thing I knew she staggered and Araminta had dropped the broom and was hanging on to her.
“‘What's the matter?’ I cried out. I was scared.
“‘I guess she's faint,’ says Araminta. ‘Suppose you get a glass of the blackberry wine, Sarah.’ Araminta was half dragging the girl up the walk. Her hood was on her neck by that time, and her head was lopping, and she did look ghastly.
“‘Can you get her up the steps?’ I sings out. And Araminta said she could, and she did; but I never knew how she managed, for the girl was as big as she was and 'most as heavy. I ran down cellar and got a bottle of blackberry wine. It was ten years old, and real strong. There's some left now. I'll give you some.”
“I love blackberry wine,” said the cousin. “Did the girl faint away?”
“No, not quite. When I got up-stairs Araminta had her hood and coat off and she was laying on the sofa. She kept trying to get up, though she didn't look as if she could sit up a second. She acted dreadful kind of nervous. Araminta was trying to keep her down. ‘Just lie still till you feel a little better,’ she was saying. ‘You are all tuckered out wading through the deep snow.’
“‘I want to get up,’ says the girl, kind of wild.
“I poured out a good swig of that blackberry wine in a tumbler, and I went up to her. ‘Here, drink this,’ says I, ‘and then you'll feel better and you can get up.’
“She looked up at me dreadful pitiful and sort of dazed, a real good little face she had, not pretty a bit, but good, with nice soft brown eyes and hair. She looked like a real sweet, obedient little girl, and sensible enough, if she didn't get to thinking too much of a man, and he didn't treat her fair, and that made a fool of her. She was white and forlorn-looking, poor child. I pitied her from the bottom of my heart, though I was out of patience with her, too. For my part, I have never seen how any woman could lose her pride enough to go on the way she did over a mortal man. I've never seen any man that was worth it. Daniel Rodgers wasn't, though he wasn't a bad young man, only too much like other men when it came to a pretty face.
“Well, just as soon as she had swallowed that blackberry wine up she jumped; Araminta couldn't keep her down a minute longer. She was up on her two little feet, thin shoes and no rubbers in all that snow! If she had had a mother I guess she would never have come out in that fashion, man or no man! Her mother was dead, and her aunt, her father's sister, had brought her up. She was kind of flighty, from all I've heard.”
“Yes, she was,” assented the cousin, with a nod.
“And her sister had just married and gone away to live, and her father was in the city on business. He never knew about it, I guess. I don't know what he would have done. I've always heard he was a pretty stern sort of man.”
“So have I.”
“I guess he never knew of it. I know Araminta and I never lisped a word about it, and I don't believe the girl did. I guess she had sense enough for that.”
“What did she do?”
“Well, she just stood up, and ran to the mantel-shelf where there was a picture of Daniel Rodgers in a shell frame. Araminta had made the frame herself out of some shells she'd picked up on Barr Beach the summer before. She spent a week there in August. It was a real pretty frame. The shells were stuck in putty. It's in the parlor now, with a picture of a Madonna that one of her Sunday-school scholars gave her in it. Well, that girl she made straight for that picture, and she stood looking at it dreadful wild and pitiful. ‘It's true, then,’ says she; then, all at once, in a voice so sharp it didn't seem as if it could come from such a mild little mouth. ‘I know it's true now,’ says she, and she shakes her head and she looks at Araminta.
“Araminta turned kind of pale, but she didn't lose her self-control. She spoke as calm and even as a clock. ‘What is it that you know is true?’ says she. And she moves close to the girl, and puts her hand on her shoulder. The girl sort of pulls away from her at first, for all the world like a sulky baby. Then all of a sudden her arms went round Araminta's neck, and her head was on her shoulder, and she was crying to break her heart, with her face hidden.
“Then Araminta she patted her head and spoke real soothing. ‘What is it, dear?’ says she. ‘What is the matter?’ But the girl just sobbed and sobbed. ‘What is it, dear?’ says Araminta again.
“Then the girl raised her head, and stood off a little way, and looked at Araminta with her poor little face all of a quiver, and the tears streaming, and her mouth all puckered up. ‘I had him first,’ says she, and the tears came again.
“‘Had who first?’ says Araminta.
“‘Daniel,’ sobs the girl, ‘Daniel.’
“‘Do you mean Daniel Rodgers was going with you before he went with me?’ says Araminta, and she spoke sterner than I had ever heard her.
“‘Yes,’ says the girl. ‘Yes, he was going with me a long time, ever since I was in long dresses. He used to see me home from places. Aunt Clara didn't tell father, and then he used to come to call real often.’
“‘When did he come to see you last?’ says Araminta.
“‘Not since last Christmas-time,’ says the girl, and I heard Araminta draw a long breath. I knew what she had been afraid of, and had suspected him of for a minute — that he had been to see both of them at the same time; but he wasn't so bad as that. I don't know as he had been so very bad, after all, only Araminta's pretty face had been a little too much for his faithfulness, because he was nothing but a man. He hadn't been very open, but I suppose he thought the least said soonest mended; and maybe he hadn't been actually engaged to Grace Ormsby, after all, though she thought so, and he must have given her a good deal of reason to think he was serious.
“Well, she began to cry again, and Araminta stood looking at her, and I must say she had a beautiful expression. She was smiling; I didn't see how she could fetch a smile, but she did. ‘You thought Daniel liked you?’ says she.
“‘Yes,’ sobs the girl, ‘he did. He used to like me better than anybody till — till he saw you.’ Then she sobs out loud. ‘Oh, oh, it's 'most Christmas,’ says she, ‘and I can't bear it; I can't, can't! I won't have any present from him, and — last Christmas he — gave me such a beautiful box of candy and a gold pin. Now I sha'n't have any present from him this year. Oh, I wouldn't have come if it hadn't been Christmas. I couldn't bear it. The thinking of last Christmas, how happy I was, and this — I sha'n't have any present from him.’
“‘Perhaps you will,’ says Araminta.
“‘No, I sha'n't,’ sobs the girl. ‘He'll — he'll give you the present this year!’
“Thinks I, ‘What would she say if she were to see that fan?’
“I knew Araminta was thinking about it. Then Araminta kind of started back, as if she couldn't help it, for all of a sudden the girl ran to her again, and snuggled up to her, and cried on her shoulder.
“‘Oh, you wouldn't have taken him away if you had known how much I loved him, and how I had him first, would you?’ says she, for all the world like a child.
“‘No,’ says Araminta, ‘I wouldn't.’
“‘I don't see why he left me for you,’ says the girl. ‘You are better-looking, but I didn't think that was what Daniel looked at more than anything else. I didn't think he was that kind of man, and he isn't, either; and you couldn't possibly love him any better than I do; and I am a pretty good housekeeper, and I was trying very hard to improve. Are you a very good scholar?’
“‘Not so very,’ says Araminta, and she actually laughed a little.
“‘I thought maybe you were and that was the reason he liked you,’ says the girl. ‘Daniel is such a scholar. I guess you must be more capable than I am, though I have tried very hard to be capable since Daniel began going with me. Are you so very capable?’
“‘No, I guess not very,’ says Araminta, but she spoke as if she wasn't thinking of what she was saying.
“Then I speaks up for the first time. ‘Yes, you are capable, too,’ says I; ‘you know you are capable.’
“‘Then that is the reason,’ says the girl, and she sobs and sobs, and clings to Araminta.
“I was getting out of patience. It seemed to me I had never seen such goings-on. ‘Why don't you and she sit down, Araminta?’ says I. ‘You will be all tired out.’
“Araminta looks over the girl's head and smiles, and shakes her head at me that I must not interfere. So I didn't say anything more, though I wanted to.
“‘You don't know, you don't know,’ says the girl, sort of moaning — it was dreadful painful — ‘how terrible it has all been. I've watched and watched for him to come, and I wondered and wondered if he was going with any other girl, and I couldn't find out; I didn't know anybody from here besides Daniel. Once I walked 'way over here one moonlight evening. Father and Aunt Clara thought I had gone to meeting. I went to the house where he lives. I hid behind the hedge till he came out, and then I crept out and was going to follow him, but I was so afraid he would turn round and see me, that I didn't dare. I went back behind the hedge till he was gone. Then I went home. I ran 'most all the way. I was afraid.’
“‘It is five miles to Bondville,’ says Araminta, in the kindest voice.
“‘Yes,’ says the girl. ‘I walked ten miles that night. Then I cried till morning. I didn't sleep any. Father and Aunt Clara say they don't see why I have grown so thin.’ She was thin, sure enough, poor child. Her little hands were like claws.
“‘You walked 'way over here to-day?’ says Araminta.
“‘Yes,’ says the girl, ‘but I don't know why I did.’ Then she cries out, real hysterical: ‘Oh, why did I come? Why did I come? How shall I ever get home?’
“‘I am going to take you home,’ says Araminta. ‘The stage goes over at eleven o'clock, and I will go with you. Nobody need know. I shall not get out of the stage.’
“‘Oh, will you?’ says the girl, and she clung to her tighter than ever. She was a queer kind of a creature. I don't believe many girls would have taken it the way she did.
“Then Araminta spoke real firm. ‘Now,’ says she, ‘I want you to sit down here in the chair beside the stove. And I am going to make a good hot cup of tea, and cook you an egg and make you some toast. Have you eaten any breakfast?’
“‘No, I haven't,’ says the girl. ‘I couldn't. Aunt Clara wanted to know why, but I wouldn't tell her. I guess she suspected.’
“Well, she did just as Araminta told her to. She sat down by the stove, and Araminta got a good hot breakfast for her, and she ate it, too. She was just about worn out. I made her take off her soaking-wet shoes and stockings, and got some slippers of Araminta's for her while they dried. It was nearly an hour before the stage went.
“Well, I never knew how Araminta managed it, or just what she said, but she got the girl all quieted down, and she went off with her real calm.
“Araminta was gone about an hour and a half. She just went over in the stage and turned round and came back again. I don't think anybody ever knew anything about it. She said there weren't any other passengers over to Bondville that morning. There were two coming back.
“When Araminta came into the room I couldn't bear to look at her at first. I could hear her moving about taking off her things. ‘Dinner is all ready when you are,’ says I. I didn't look at her when I said it. I had been getting dinner while she was gone.
“But she spoke just as natural. ‘I'm all ready now,’ says she, ‘and I am hungry, too. I smelled the beefsteak the minute I came into the yard.’
“Then I looked at her, and she was just as usual. I didn't know what to say. We went out in the other room, and I took the beefsteak out of the oven, and she took up the potatoes.
“‘Well, what are you going to do?’ says I when we sat down, and I could hear my voice shake.
“‘I am going to make a Christmas present,’ says Araminta, and she laughed just as pleasant.
“‘To that girl?’ says I.
“‘Yes,’ says she.
“‘What?’ says I.
“‘A man and a fan,’ says Araminta, and then she laughed again.”
“She didn't?” said the cousin.
“Yes, she did,” replied Sarah, “in spite of all I could say; and I did say a good deal, when it came right down to it. There I was not married, and — Well, I've always thought it was the right way for a woman to be married, if she could, and I wanted her to be happy. But she wouldn't listen to anything I said. She just laughed, and said she was bound to be happy anyway. She would always have a good deal to be thankful for, and she knew she would be happy. I told her maybe she'd never have another chance, and she said if she did she'd never take it; but she never did have one.”
“Well, marriage ain't everything,” said the cousin.
“No,” said Sarah; “it isn't so much as giving it up and behaving yourself, if the Lord shows he hasn't planned to have you married.”
“That's what Araminta did?”
“Yes, that's what Araminta did.”
“But,” said the cousin, “I don't see how she managed to give away Daniel and the fan to the other girl.”
“That was easy enough,” said Sarah. “She did up that fan and sent it to Grace Ormsby. She didn't send any card or anything; she knew the girl would jump at thinking he had sent it. Then she sends a note to Daniel, saying she won't be home Christmas, and off she goes and spends Christmas with her cousin Alice in Fayetteville. She'd told Grace to send him a little note, asking him to call on her Christmas evening, and he went. Araminta thought she could count on it. She reasoned it out that he would be real huffy because she had gone off without a word to him, and when he heard from Grace he would be glad enough to go, and when he saw her, the old feeling would come over him again — that is, if it had ever been worth anything; and she was right. And I suppose when he saw Grace Ormsby with the fan he had sent to Araminta, he gave Araminta up on the spot.”
“I wonder if Grace Ormsby ever knew about the fan,” said the cousin.
“I rather guess not,” said Sarah. “Sometimes Araminta has felt kind of uneasy about her course with that fan, as if maybe she was sort of underhanded; but it turned out all right, and she really felt as if the other girl was the one to have it. Anyway, it settled him as far as Araminta was concerned. Pretty soon we heard he was going with Grace Ormsby, then pretty soon they got married and went away to live. I hear she has made him a very good wife. Once Araminta said to me that unless she had been quite sure that she would, she should have hesitated more than she did. She said it seemed to her that Grace Ormsby would make him very happy.”
“I think Araminta seems happy enough herself without him,” said the cousin.
“Yes, I guess she did just as well to let him go,” replied Sarah. “He was a smart man, but she's been just as well off in a good many ways. Here she is now.” Then Araminta entered, and again stood in the doorway with her basket, empty of presents. “Look at her,” said her sister, with a sort of tender pride. “Don't she look happy, Martha?”
“I never saw anybody take so much comfort in giving Christmas presents in all my life,” said the cousin.
Araminta laughed. “Sometimes it seems to me as if I was emptying all the baskets into my own heart, and didn't really give anything,” said she.