From Harper's Bazar Vol. XXVII No. 4 (January 27, 1894)
One spring morning Alonzo Matherby was painting the north wall of John Rogers' house. He laid on the white paint with smooth, even strokes of his brush. The upper part of the wall was all painted, and his ladder lay on the ground, its rounds sunken in the thick spring grass. Alonzo's white overalls, strapped high over his shoulders, gave a curious uplifted look to his whole body. Moreover, he stretched himself up as he worked. He was not very tall.
The overalls showed every gradation of white, from deepest shadow to high light. Alonzo Matherby was the village painter, and bore mementos of all the white village houses on his working-clothes. He had taken off his hat. There was a silvery light on his thick fair hair; it looked almost as if it were gray. In the yard were three great cherry-trees in white flower, and they hummed with bees like full hives. Now and then the white branches flashed sidewise upon Alonzo's eyes, a gust of sweetness came in his face like a surprise, then he would start and look over his shoulder with a sudden conviction of a presence; but he could see no more there than he had always seen, and he would fall to work again.
There were no doors on that side of the Rogers house. Alonzo was painting near the pantry window. Occasionally a woman's gray head appeared in the window, and there was an intermittent murmur of voices from within.
Alonzo, as he worked, was slyly observant of the front yard and the road. The front path curved a little to the gate, and nobody could pass out without coming within his range of vision. About ten o'clock there was a sudden flutter of white skirts at the gate, and Anne Rogers stood there, looking down the road, apparently watching for some one.
Alonzo laid down his brush, and went a little way down the yard, softly and warily, as if he were afraid of scaring a bird. He stopped a few yards from Anne, and called. “Anne!” said he, in a great whisper. She turned around quickly, and the color flamed over her face. She smiled, then she cast down her eyes and looked frightened.
“Look at here, Anne,” said Alonzo. Then he stopped, and blushed too, and his tongue seemed to block his words.
Anne waited inquiringly, her eyes cast down, leaning away from him against the gate.
“Look at here,” said Alonzo again. He stopped, then he went on. “Won't you just come over there a minute?” he said, and he pointed to a place where his coat lay, under a windowless space in the north house wall.
“I expect Jennie every minute. I'm afraid I can't, 'Lonzo,” stammered the girl; and she raised her eyes, but looked quite away from him down the road.
“I won't keep you but just a minute,” pleaded Alonzo. He waited, his blue eyes fixed wistfully on the girl's averted face.
She began to move irresolutely toward him.
“I can't stay more'n a second, for I know Jennie will be here right off,” said she, half sulkily.
“All right; I won't keep you,” returned Alonzo, and he led the way back with alacrity. Anne followed at his heels. She had a slight limp, and her rustling white skirts dipped lower on one side when she stepped.
They both stopped at the place where Alonzo's coat lay. Nobody could see them there from the house. Alonzo took up the coat, and began fumbling in the pockets. Anne watched with abashed curiosity.
Presently Alonzo drew out a little square package and extended it toward Anne. “There!” he said, his face beaming, his voice trembling, his mouth smiling foolishly. “I thought maybe you'd like it.”
Anne did not take the package. She looked at it, and her color deepened.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Take it and see,” urged Alonzo.
Anne took the package, with a quick scared motion, and opened it with nervous fingers. There was a little white jeweller's box, and in it a small gold locket on a bed of pink cotton. Anne stood staring at it irresolutely.
“I thought it would look pretty on your gold chain,” said Alonzo.
Anne wore a white hook-muslin. Her girlish arms showed pink through the sleeves. There was a glimpse also of her thin neck above the low lining, and she wore a slender gold chain.
Anne put up one hand involuntarily to the chain. “I'm afraid — you hadn't ought to — give it to me,” she stammered, with her eyes upon the gold gleam of the locket.
“I wanted to,” said Alonzo. “I'd like to give you a good deal more than that, Anne. I'd like to give you all I had in the world, if you'd take it.”
“If you talk that way I shall put the locket right down on the ground and go away,” said Anne, in a trembling voice.
“Well, I won't. I won't say a word you don't want to hear. But just put the locket on the chain, and see if it don't look pretty.”
Anne reached a hand around slowly, unfastened the chain, and pulled it off her neck. Alonzo stood close at her side, laughing like a child to see her slip the shining locket on the chain with her uncertain little fingers. “Put it on your neck now,” said he. “Don't you want me to fasten it?”
Anne pulled away from him, with a little flirt of her head. “No, I can fasten it myself,” said she, and she snapped the clasp, and stood before him adorned, looking pleased, yet half afraid to be.
“It looks real pretty,” said Alonzo.
He looked at her with gratified and delighted eyes.
“I thought it would go nice on your chain,” he added. “Now you're all right to go to the picnic.”
“Ain't you going?”
“I wasn't asked,” replied Alonzo, and his voice had suddenly a bitter tone.
“Oh, I didn't think,” Anne stammered out, and the color flamed over her neck, under the gold chain and the locket.
Alonzo laughed. “It's just as well I wasn't asked,” said he. “I've got my work to 'tend to, and now I've seen how pretty you look, before anybody else has had a chance, I don't care.”
Alonzo looked down at her, taking in every detail half fearfully, yet like one who had a proud right. He saw the little finish of cambric edging around a little cotton sleeve under the sleeve of her dress; he saw the pink sharp elbow, the little hollows beside the collar-bones, over which the gold chain lay; he noted the spray of fine pink flowers in her white hat, the airy outward curve of her skirts from her pink waist ribbon. Anne was full of delicate angularities. She held her elbows nervously at sharp angles as she stood there; she bent her head until Alonzo could see only the pink point of her chin below her hat brim. “It's real pretty,” she said, tremulously. “I'm much obliged to you, 'Lonzo.”
Alonzo leaned over her quickly. “Anne!” he whispered.
Anne looked up, and they kissed each other. “Oh, you hadn't ought to,” she stammered.
“I'm afraid I'll get some paint on your dress if I touch you,” Alonzo said, tenderly, and he stood a little aloof. “You know, you can have some hair put in that locket if you want to, Anne.”
Anne glanced up at Alonzo's fair head. He leaned toward her again, when there was a shrill call from the road: “Anne! Anne Rogers! You ready?”
“It's Jennie,” cried Anne. “Yes, I'm coming; I'm coming!” she called back, and she darted away to the gate, where a girl in a gay blue dress stood. The girl's sharp blond face, drooped around with light curls, was full of meaning smiles. When they were out on the road she gave Anne a sharp nudge with a pointed elbow.
“You needn't worry; I sha'n't tell,” said she.
“Sha'n't tell what?” said Anne, blushing.
“Oh, I sha'n't tell. I guess you know I've got eyes in my head. I sha'n't tell, but I should think you'd be scared to death of 'Lonzo Matherby. I should be if I was in your place.”
“I don't see why,” said Anne. Her blushes faded away, and her face was quite pale and sober under her hat. The sidewalk narrowed into a foot-path, and they separated and walked in single file. The turf on either side of the path was quite blue with violets. Anne's friend went on ahead with a light tilting motion, her blue skirts fluttering over the violets.
“I should think you'd see why, when you've heard all those awful stories about him,” said she.
“Maybe they ain't true,” Anne returned, feebly.
The other girl faced around on her quickly, and walked along backwards. “Now, Anne Rogers,” said she, in her high treble, “you know there must be some truth in some of those stories. Everybody wouldn't tattle so about him if there wasn't some foundation for it. Mother says there always is some foundation for a story, if you look sharp enough, and she and Aunt Abby have seen some things themselves. Say, Anne, they went past 'Lonzo's one night last week; I 'ain't told a soul before. Look at here —” Both girls stopped in the path, and the flowered hats approached each other. “Mother and Aunt Abby went past 'Lonzo Matherby's last week, Wednesday night,” said the girl, “and there was the light in his garret, just as it always is, and they saw —” The girl whispered fast in Anne's ear.
Anne started back, coloring painfully. The tears stood in her eyes.
“I don't believe it,” she said, half sobbing.
“Don't you believe what mother and my aunt Abby saw with their own eyes?”
“They must have made some mistake.”
“No, they didn't. There was a bright light in the garret, and they saw him moving around with it. The woman had something queer on her head. She wasn't nobody 'round here. Mother said she looked like some outlandish folks; her hair was streaming down her back, and she had this queer thing on her head — Anne Rogers!”
“What?” said Anne. She took her nice little starched scalloped handkerchief with cologne on it out of her pocket and passed it over her eyes.
“That locket you've got on,” said the girl pitilessly; “when did you get it? Ain't it new?”
“I 'ain't had it long,” faltered Anne.
“Anne Rogers, did 'Lonzo Matherby give that locket to you?”
“I don't see what makes you think he gave it to me,” said Anne, with futile evasion.
“I know he did by the way you act. Let me see it.” The girl bent close over Anne's neck and examined the locket.
“Well,” she said, “it's real handsome. It's something like the one Henry gave my sister Lottie before they were married, only hers had a bunch of flowers chased on it where yours has got a bird. Yours is full as handsome, though I should be kind of afraid to have the bird on it. They say they're awful unlucky. It's handsome, but I should think you'd be scared to take things from 'Lonzo Matherby and really get to going with him till you found out —”
“I 'ain't said I was going with him.”
“Well, I should think that looked like it. Young men don't give many such presents as that to girls unless they mean something by it; and I know what I saw with my own eyes when I stood at the gate.” The girl laughed, and there was a hard ring in the laugh. She turned and went on quite fast. “We sha'n't get to the picnic to-day at this rate,” she said, shortly. She had never had a lover herself. “I'm thankful I 'ain't got anybody, rather than have to take up with a fellow like 'Lonzo Matherby,” she told herself as she went on. But disparagement and self-congratulation could not do away with the involuntary envy which the sight of the locket and the love-kisses had aroused in her.
Just as they reached the lane which led to the picnic-ground she jerked her face over her shoulder. “I know what I'd do if I was you,” she said.
“I'd go past 'Lonzo Matherby's house this very night with my mother, and I'd see for myself what was going on.”
Before Anne could answer there was a sudden chorus of voices from the lane.
“Some of them are in there,” said the other girl.
Anne looked at her beseechingly.
“I sha'n't tell anybody,” said the girl. “It's the Wheeler girls and George Matthews. Hullo!”
Anne tucked the new locket out of sight under her dress before she entered the lane, which was bordered by bushes in pale mists of bloom, and white wreaths of blackberry vines hooping over stone walls. Nobody at the picnic saw it that day.
That night about nine o'clock Anne and her mother slunk softly down the road to Alonzo Matherby's house.
“Mother, I can't; let's go home,” Anne kept whispering out of the darkness at her mother's back.
“You come along,” returned her mother, in a hushed stern voice.
“Oh, mother, I don't want to see anything, if there is anything!”
Mrs. Rogers reached out her hand and grasped her daughter's little cold thin one firmly. “Come along,” said she. Then she pressed forward, with Anne dragging at her hand like a child, half sobbing out expostulations.
“We've got to go 'round in the field to see the garret windows,” said Mrs. Rogers, when they reached Alonzo Matherby's house.
“Oh, mother, I can't!” Anne moaned, miserably.
Her mother jerked her slight arm. “You come with me,” said she. “I'm going to have this settled once for all, now I've started. If there's any truth in those stories I'm going to know it.”
There were some bars up across the gap in the stone wall which separated the field from the road. Mrs. Rogers tugged at one, but it was heavy. “I guess we can crawl under,” she said.
“Don't make me go in there — don't, mother!” moaned Anne.
“You get down and crawl under there,” ordered her mother. Then Anne crept wretchedly between the bars, and her mother followed her. She was a spare woman. “Now you hold up your dress high; the grass is real wet,” she enjoined, and the two went on through the dewy spring grass, with their skirts kilted high above their slender ankles. Now and then Anne whimpered a little, and her mother hushed her peremptorily. They came opposite the gable end of Alonzo Matherby's house, then they paused. Mrs. Rogers stared up at the garret window, but Anne kept her eyes fixed upon the ground.
“It's all lit up,” murmured her mother, “but I don't see anything of him nor anybody else there.” They waited silently. Anne trembled so that her knees bent under her. At last her mother gave a gasp. “There!” she said — “there! Anne, look!”
Anne did not raise her eyes.
“Be you looking?” demanded her mother.
“Oh, mother, I can't! Don't make me!”
Then Anne raised her head, and the two stood there, the shaft of light from the garret window striking on their white upturned faces, and bringing them out of the darkness of the meadow.
“It's — all true, every word of it,” groaned Mrs. Rogers.
Anne suddenly sank down in a little heap on the grass, moaning and sobbing. Her mother took hold of her arm and dragged her up.
“You'll spoil your dress in that wet grass,” she whispered, “and they'll hear you if you don't look out, too.”
“Oh, let me go home, mother, let me go home!” wailed Anne, loudly and shrilly, like a child.
Her mother shook her. “They'll hear you if you don't stop making such a noise. I'm willing enough to go home. I've seen all I want to. I don't know what it means, and I don't want to, but I know there's something wrong about 'Lonzo Matherby, and he ain't going to have the child that I've always set my life by, if I know it.”
Then the two went back across the meadow, through the bars, and down the road to their house. Anne stumbled along weakly behind her mother, sobbing convulsively, and her mother could not make her stop.
“Before I'd go along the street crying out loud like a baby, and rousing the town —” she said, in an angry whisper, but her own heart ached as sorely as Anne's. When they were home at last, and had all gone to bed, and the lights were out, Anne was no more wretched than her mother, who lay awake all night beside her sleeping husband. He had been asleep when she came home, and she had not awakened him to tell him about Alonzo. He was quite an old man, much older than she, and she was the head of the household.
The next day was Wednesday. When evening came, Alonzo Matherby shaved, brushed his fair hair long and carefully, and dressed himself in his Sunday clothes. Then he went up the road to the Rogers house to see Anne. He had not seen her all day, for he had finished painting the house the afternoon before. A silvery mist lay thickly over the meadows. It undulated in the distance, and the meadows looked almost like lakes. The waning moon shone through a watery vapor, and the stars were dim.
A bird was calling his mate somewhere in this white ghostly dusk; there was a gust of perfume from some blooming tree hidden within it. The young man on his way to see his sweetheart had his own individuality so quickened and intensified within him that he could see nothing fairly outside. That white mist over the meadows was to him the fair mist over his own future, the bird's love-call and the flower-breath the love and the joy hidden within it for him.
When Alonzo reached the front door of the Rogers house he rang the bell, and stood waiting happily. His heart leaped when he heard a step and the knob rattled. The door opened, and instead of the girl's sweet scared face, there was her mother's. Mrs. Rogers held a lamp, and the light flared upon her thin tightly closed lips and her stern eyes.
Alonzo started. “Good-evening, Mrs. Rogers,” he stammered.
“You can't see Anne to-night,” said Mrs. Rogers.
Alonzo turned pale. “Ain't — she feeling well to-night?”
“She's feeling as well as common.” Mrs. Rogers extended a little package toward him. “She wants you to take this back,” said she.
Alonzo gave a despairing glance at his little locket-box. Then he squared his shoulders a little. “I think I've got a right to ask what this means,” said he.
“I've got nothing to say,” replied Mrs. Rogers.
“Do you mean she don't want me to come to see her again at all?”
“That's just what I do mean.” Mrs. Rogers turned, and her lamp flared up in the draught.
“I think the least you can do is to tell me the reason why I'm turned out of the house in this fashion,” demanded Alonzo, angrily.
“I've got nothing to say,” repeated Mrs. Rogers, and she shut the door in his face.
“What have I done?” Alonzo shouted, but he got no response. He stood a moment irresolute, then he went out of the yard and down the road home.
Soon the watchful neighbors saw the light from his garret window stream out over the misty meadow.
Alonzo's sister lived with him, and kept his house. She was older than he, and unmarried. She never went anywhere; hardly anybody except her brother saw her face from one month's end to another. People said Sarah Matherby was odd. Indeed, a reputation for oddity, for a strain which was alien to the rigidly flowing New England blood of their neighbors, had clung to the whole Matherby family. Alonzo's father, from whom he had learned his trade, had been saturnine and unapproachable. He had neglected his work and gone on solitary fishing excursions, bending for days over dark trout pools in lonely wild places, when he should have been tidily covering the village house walls with white paint, according to his contract. The elder Matherby's word to his fellow-townsmen was never reliable; he seemed to have many prior promises to himself, to keep which he held more sacred. Nobody dared reproach him openly for his broken engagements. He would have taken up his line and pole and returned to his trout pool, and the house would never have been painted by him, and he was the only man of his craft in the village. But they talked among themselves, and a disagreeable effigy of him was set up in the local mind, as if it were in the village market-place, but he never saw it. He died young, of painter's poisoning, and Alonzo's mother did not survive him long. She had been a shy woman, rarely seen outside the house, except in her flower-garden. She had been very fond of flowers, and the crowds of her hollyhocks and larkspurs and sweet-pease never daunted her like people. The village women said Mrs. Matherby spent so much time in her flower-garden that her house-work was never done, and that might have been true. Moreover, she wore her hair short, and never went to meeting. The above stigmas settled her standing in the minds of the village women, with their spotless houses, and tight screws of back hair, and faithful seventh-day bias toward the meeting-house and the preached word.
None of the Matherbys ever went to meeting. This at once added to their doubtful reputation, and prevented its being too strictly inquired into. Had Alonzo or his sister belonged to the church, that mysterious phenomenon of the lighted garret window would have been investigated, especially after Alonzo had been forbidden to pay his addresses to Anne Rogers. The gossip swelled higher and higher after that. Anne was sent out of town to her aunt's on a long visit, her mother was reticent, and her old father had only a dim idea of what it was all about; but all the village women knew the story, and the men talked it over in the store or leaning against each other's fences of an evening.
Alonzo and his sister heard nothing of it. Sarah never saw anybody, and the talk was hushed when Alonzo went into the store or passed the leaning row on the fence. He went on his way as usual, he grew thinner and paler, but he said nothing to anybody about Anne, not even to his sister. Once after she came home from her aunt's he met her on the street and tried to speak to her. “See here, Anne, won't you tell me what this all means?” he pleaded, hoarsely, and he reached for her hand. But she shrank away, with her eyes like a scared wild bird's.
“Oh, Anne, you ain't afraid of me!” he cried out. “What have I done?”
Anne moved on without a word. Alonzo took a stride after her, and put a heavy hand on her thin shoulder. “Look here! there's one thing you've got to tell me,” said he, in a fierce voice. “Is this your mother's work or yours? Is it your mother or you I'm dealing with?”
Anne rolled her eyes over her shoulder at Alonzo's white face. “It's me,” she gasped out. “Let me go, 'Lonzo. I can't — bear — the sight of you!” Then she broke away and sped out of sight, a little spare fluttering figure down the road, and Alonzo went home. He went in, and straight up to his garret haunt without a word to his sister, and staid there all the afternoon. He never tried to speak to Anne again. He could not bear to meet for the second time that look that he had seen in her eyes. There was no doubt that the girl stood in actual terror of him. She had always been delicate and timid. Life alone seemed to have set her into a tremor at the start, and she would flutter feebly under the hand of Love itself. There was an element of dark mystery in this affair which stimulated the imagination and unbalanced her sensitive nerves. It was doubtful if Anne knew exactly what she had seen that night in her lover's lighted garret window. There was a curious diversity of opinion with regard to the matter with everybody. There were tales of a strange ghastly little figure of a woman in some monstrous head-gear, but even these varied. Even two women standing out in the field together, staring at poor Alonzo's fatal window, would not see exactly the same spectacle, and not report it alike. In the mornings women with shawls over their heads ran across yards to each other's back doors, their very thoughts sibilant with gossip, to compare notes. “See that light burning in 'Lonzo Matherby's garret window again last night?” they would whisper, nodding in each other's faces. One had always seen more than another, since her imagination had served her as a strange magnifying-glass, and her story was the one which was repeated.
It was difficult to tell exactly what the village people suspected the mystery of Alonzo Matherby's garret to be, but the tendency of all mystery is to take on a sinister aspect to the mind balked in its curiosity. Poor Alonzo Matherby never knew it, but he was accused of all the dark practices in his garret which that New England imagination which has in its day encompassed witches could concoct.
The very children on their way to school gathered in a body for greater security before they reached it, then ran fast past the Matherby house, with their faces gaping fearfully over their shoulders toward that garret window.
Night after night women stood below that window, dragging their skirts in the dew of the field, prying and spying at Alonzo and his secret, but he never dreamed of it. After a time the interest dulled a little. Even a mystery yet unsolved can lose its savor, and curiosity yet unsatisfied flag. There had been talk of the Select-men's making formal inquiry into the matter, but they were old and easy-going, and not easily excited, and it was never done. After a time the women no longer spied so much in the field, and the men in the store talked of something else. Alonzo had become the Don Juan of his native village, and, like all established facts, did not excite so much attention. He was only held in standing disrepute and ill favor. He still painted the village houses, because there was no one else to do it. He never seemed to notice that people shunned him otherwise. It was doubtful if he knew it, since he shunned them himself in greater measure, and might well have mistaken their action for his own.
He shunned Anne Rogers more than any one else. He walked out of his way rather than pass her house when there was a chance of seeing her. Once there was a rumor that a young man of the village was courting her, but he married somebody else. Anne lived on with her father and mother, and went to the village festivities as usual. She did not seem unhappy.
After a while it began to be rumored that Alonzo Matherby's health was failing, that he was going like his father. Indeed, the poison of lead had gotten hold of him before he knew it. He had a severe attack, and was out again at his work. Then he had another. He worked between the attacks with feverish energy. The light in the garret window streamed over the field until midnight, but at last he gave up. Then there came a night when it was whispered through the village that Alonzo Matherby was very low, and could not last until morning.
The next morning the bell tolled very early. Anne Rogers listened, and counted the strokes with her head thrust out of her chamber window. Then she sat down and cried.
Anne did not go to the funeral, but nearly everybody else did. They filled the Matherby house, and stood a solemnly curious crowd in the yard. They wondered what the minister would say in his remarks about the character of the deceased, but he made no remarks at all. He only read a long selection, and made a lengthy prayer, which included foreign missions and the commonwealth, and touched lightly upon poor Alonzo.
A few days after the funeral there was a new excitement in the village. It was reported that Alonzo had left a will whereby he bequeathed property to the town. One day people saw the Select-men proceeding in a body down the street to the Matherby house. Mrs. Rogers and Anne were waiting timidly at the door, and Anne's eyes were red. She had been mentioned in Alonzo's will, and had been bidden to see her bequest. They all stood before the door, and the chairman of the Select-men knocked. (The Select-men were all old.) The other two, one of which was Anne's father, stood close behind the chairman. The door was opened at once, and Sarah Matherby stood there. The chairman cleared his throat. “Won't you walk in?” said Sarah, with a stiff abashedness, before he had time to speak. And they all walked in.
“Won't you come this way?” said Sarah, and they all filed up stairs after her. Suddenly and mysteriously the party had been augmented by several women. The chairman started when he saw them, but he said nothing. They colored red when they met his eyes, but they looked defiant.
They all paused at the head of the stairs. Sarah passed them and moved on, then they followed again. Sarah led the way straight to the garret stairs.
The women nudged each other violently. Their matronly faces sharpened out like ferrets, yet they looked half scared. Anne clung to her mother's hand. She was pale and trembling. “Mother, I can't.” she whispered.
“Hush! you've got to,” whispered her mother in her ear.
Finally they all emerged in the great unfinished space of the attic and looked about them. All around the eaves stood canvases covered with paintings. In the middle of the rattling garret floor, against the chimney, leaned a great painting representing a snow scene. Near it was an old table covered with paints and brushes. The garret was clean, but there was a strange litter in the corners, and nondescript articles hung from the rafters.
The people stood and stared. Great surfaces of green and white and untempered blue on the canvases caught the afternoon light streaming in at the uncurtained windows.
Suddenly Sarah stepped forward, and raised one hand with a desperate air, and addressed them all, speaking in a strained, trembling voice.
“He painted all of them,” she proclaimed, “his own self, without anybody to show him how. He painted up here nights, after his work was done. He was dreadful kind of private about it; he didn't want anybody to know. I guess he was afraid folks would laugh at him, and think he was silly and wasting his time. I used to tell him they wouldn't when they see the pictures, but he wouldn't hear to it. He made me promise never to say anything to a living soul about it, and I never did till now. Sometimes I used to dress up and sit for him, and he'd paint me with another face on. I've been the Queen of Sheba for him, and Jepetra's daughter, and Pharwah's daughter. He painted a good many Scripture pieces. I made that great doll there for Moses in the bulrushes. He had to have something to look at, just to get a start.”
The women nudged each other. Their faces were red. Some of them were crying.
“That's what we see,” Anne's mother whispered, trembling, but Anne made no response. She grew paler and paler, her piteous eyes fastened upon Alonzo's sister.
“Before he died he talked it over with me,” continued Sarah, her voice straining harder, “and he said he'd like to have the town have his pictures. He'd never done much of anything for his native place, and never had much to do with the folks in it, in some ways, especially of late years, and now he'd like to do something to show his good-will. He didn't know how much the pictures were worth, he said, but he'd done the best he knew how without lessons. So he left those six Scripture paintings over there — they're all marked — to me, and that big picture on the easel to Anne Rogers, and all the rest to the town.”
“Oh, mother!” Anne wailed — “oh, mother! Poor 'Lonzo! Oh, mother!”
The other women began to cry. Anne's mother put her arm around her and urged her toward the stairs, and the other women followed them. Anne's father looked after them with wondering dismay. Then the three moved slowly around the garret and surveyed Alonzo's pictures. They were no art critics. They could not see that in these crude attempts were occasional lines and touches which gave evidence of a power limited and clogged in its outward channels, still beyond anything in their lives. In those faithfully white clouds, in the faithfully blue skies, were occasionally seen the free sweep of the wind. Now and then there was growth in a green tree, and action in a decorous figure. In nearly all of them was a curious grotesqueness, which removed them far from the commonplace. It was the natural result of an imagination like Alonzo's, wholly untrained and undisciplined — almost primeval. The select-men did not perceive that, however; they never smiled as they looked at the pictures. They privately thought that they did not wonder Alonzo Matherby died of painter's poisoning, and that he had better have spent his time on his own work, that would have brought him in money. Still, they thought many of the pictures looked natural, and felt grateful to Alonzo for his bequest to the town. The chairman so expressed himself to Sarah, in the husky formal tone with which he presided over town meetings.
A few days afterward Alonzo's paintings were carried in wagon-loads to the Town-hall, and hung around the walls, where people who attended the lyceums and temperance lectures could view them at will.
After a while a certain local pride in them arose. An artist who visited the town was reported to have said that “'Lonzo Matherby ought to have taken lessons.”
Now and then a fiery local orator would allude “to our talented departed townsman, who has decorated the walls of this building with work which shall survive after he has long been dust,” and endeavor from such a simile to arouse the ambition of the younger generation to abstain from ardent spirits, or vote a certain political ticket. Then people would turn their faces toward the pictures on the wall, with loyal convictions that they must be worth more than they looked. Whether Alonzo Matherby knew it or not, he got for a time his little meed of fame.
A little while after the other pictures had been taken away, Anne and her father came for her picture. Even Sarah's six had been carried down stairs and hung in her parlor. Anne's great picture hung in solitary state against the chimney in the centre of the garret.
Sarah went up to the garret with them. She and Anne took hold of one side of the picture, and Anne's father of the other. They carried it over to the stairs and went slowly down with it. But it could not be taken through the door at the foot. They tilted it this way and that, but it was no use. It was much too large.
Anne's father rested his end on the stairs, and wiped his forehead. “You can't never get it through, Anne, there ain't no use trying, unless you pare it down a little,” said he.
“I can't do that, father,” said Anne. Her mouth drooped pitifully at the corners, but her eyes were dry. They carried the picture back and leaned it against the chimney again. Anne's old father measured the windows and the picture, but it was much too large to go through them. “It ain't no use talkin', Anne, it can't be done, unless you pare it down a little,” he said again.
“Then it will have to stay here forever,” said Anne; and her voice faltered, but she did not cry.
“I'm real sorry,” Sarah Matherby said, but inwardly she felt a little guilty joy over just deserts. She had always suspected Anne of not treating her brother well. Anne and her father went down stairs. Sarah asked them to wait a minute, and returned with a little package, which she slipped into her hand. “He wanted me to tell you that maybe you would like to have this now,” said she, and her tone was rather severe.
“Thank you,” said Anne. She knew at once that it was the locket, and she knew there was a lock of Alonzo's fair hair in it.
“What is it?” asked her father.
“Something he left me,” replied Anne.
As the years went on, the great picture designated in Alonzo Matherby's will as “The Snow-Storm” still leaned against the chimney in the garret. Alonzo had always considered this his masterpiece, and it was. He had nearly set himself free when he painted that great white blur of storm.
Many a time Anne Rogers, changed very little in her face, only grown prim and staid, wearing always the gold locket at her throat, would enter Sarah Matherby's sitting-room, sit and talk with her a few minutes, then arise, steal out, and up the garret stairs.
Then she would sit down on an old chair before the picture, and remain there a long time, studying, as it were, the face of her rival.