Down the Road to the Emersons

Mary E. Wilkins, in Romance.

From Buffalo Courier November 30, 1893

“I'm afraid you won't get ready for meetin', father, more'n nothin'.”

Hiram Goodell was shaving around his mouth, and he could not speak. Not a muscle of his face moved, still he looked irascible. He stood before the kitchen glass, and shaved cautiously and slowly. He was always afraid of cutting himself when he shaved.

Hiram Goodell was a very cautious man. His wife stood by and held his vest ready for him to put on. Her hands twitched as she watched him wipe his razor painstakingly with a bit of paper and then hold it up to the light and squint at it to see if it were clean enough. She felt like snatching the razor and shaving him herself.

“For mercy sakes, father, don't be so long-winded!” said she. She was a sandy-haired woman, tall and broad-shouldered and lean. Her blue eyes were weak, and she narrowed them and wrinkled her brows when she talked. Hiram carefully scraped around his mouth and held his lips firmly pressed together. It was quite a time before he spoke, and then the words came out with the added impetus of repression. “I wish you'd lay down that vest, an' go 'long 'about your work, mother,” said he, “an' not stan' there watchin' me.”

“Stan' here watchin' you — I'd like to know if you'd ever get anywhere, father, if I didn't foller you up. I'd jest like to know what you would do.”

“The bell ain't tolled yet.”

“The bell ain't tolled! That's jest the way you talk, father. What if it ain't, you can't walk down there under twenty minutes, an' you know it. An' it's time for it to toll now. This clock's ten minutes fast. But there you stan' as deliberate as if you'd got a week before you.”

The old man muttered something. His wife laid the vest on the table and the buttons rattled.

“Well, you can swear if you want to,” said she, “a man as old as you be an' professin' what you do.”

She turned herself about with a majestic air.

“I wa'n't swearin'. You say pretty hard things, mother.” The old man's tone was suddenly humble and conciliatory.

“I know what I hear. I've got ears.”

“If it's got so anybody can't speak without bein' told they're swearin', I guess I might as well keep my mouth shut all the time. I think you go most too far mother.”

Hiram now went to the sink and washed his face long and thoroughly; his wife had turned the water into the tin basin for him. She eyed him sharply when he had dried his face on the roller-towel.

“Stan' round here, father!” said she.

She dipped a corner of the towel in water, and dabbed energetically at his ears. The old man stood still with his face screwed up, finally he made a break away from her:

“As fer standin' this, I ain't goin' to!” said he. “I dunno what you think I'm made of, mother.”

He glared at her resentfully.

She emptied the water from the tin basin, and put the soap back in the dish.

“I guess you ain't hurt very bad,” she returned. “I'd like to know what kind of a figure you'd cut to the folks that sit behind you, if I didn't look out for you a little. You don't have any more thought for your ears than as if they didn't belong to you. Now don't stan' round any longer, father, for mercy sakes! Your great-coat an' your hat are on the settin'-room lounge, an' I've brushed 'em. Seems to me the bell's tollin' now.”

But the bell had only just begun to toll when Hiram Goodell had left his own yard and was fairly out in the road. The long bell tones came sweet and clear through the frosty air. It was very cold for the season, and there was no snow on the ground. The road was frozen in great ridges. The rough ground hurt the old man's tender feet and he stepped gingerly and toed in to save them. He was large and lumbering, and could not walk easily. The church was half a mile away, and the Emersons' a quarter of a mile. Before he came to the Emersons' he passed the house where the Lord sisters lived. It was a square white house with four windows in front. Two belonged to the sitting-room and two to the parlor. At each of the sitting-room windows a head with a black lace cap and spectacles was visible. The heads were bent down in a peering attitude so as to clear the obstructions of the sashes; the spectacles themselves seemed to squint curiously.

The old man, passing close under the windows, looked up and bowed gravely and stiffly.

“Always a-peekin'!” he thought to himself with a slow masculine disapprobation of curious women. Hiram had never in his life looked out of a window to see who was passing, so far as he could remember.

Down the hill, and beyond the Lords' with no house between, was the Emersons'. That was a one-story house, large on the ground but very low. It had been painted white, but it was now gray, the roof was lurchy with loose shingles. In the wide side-yard were a straggling wood-pile and an old farm-wagon. Hiram did not look squarely, but he took it all in. As he passed, he held up his head quite high, and toed out firmly, in spite of the frozen ground. He did not appear to be looking, but he saw quite plainly a figure come to one of the front windows, then start back; he saw the front door open a little way, then close with a jerk.

“They saw me comin', an' went back,” he thought to himself.

When he was well past the house the door opened again, and an old man and a young woman appeared. They came out of the yard and proceeded down the street, behind Hiram, who clumped along with solemn deliberation. The bell had now nearly stopped tolling, and the Emersons felt in haste. They sat well toward the front of the church, and were abashed when they went in, if it were late. But they could not quicken their pace without overtaking Hiram, and they did not want to do that.

Foster Emerson had a weakly, nervous gait. He walked with alacrity, but when he swung himself forward, his knees appeared to weaken under him. It was almost like a slight lameness. His daughter Fanny walked like him. She had a lovely color on her cheeks, that deepened as she went on in the frosty air. Her stiff black beaver coat hung straight half-way to her knees; there were shiny lines around the seams, where she had tried to remodel it. She held her hands in a small old-fashioned fitch muff, and walked soberly on beside her father. Hiram in front of them never quickened his pace at all. The bell had quite stopped ringing when they reached the church, and there were no people in the vestibule; even the sexton had gone in.

Hiram opened the door and tiptoed up the aisle; his boots squeaked. The Emersons did not enter until he was fairly seated in his pew. Then he did not appear to watch them, but he saw them quite plainly. He even noted a little red feather on Fanny Emerson's black straw hat, and wondered how much it cost. It was so bright, he thought it must be expensive. The Emersons were now very straitened in their circumstances, and the Goodells watched them narrowly, and appraised jealously everything they had. There was a feud between the two families, a New England feud. There was no blood shed; there would never be any breaking of orthodox trammels, but the Goodells and the Emersons had hated each other stiffly and rigidly, after the true manner of their Puritan blood, for the last 10 years. There had been a piece of woodland, whose possession was disputed. The question had been carried to law, and Foster Emerson had won the suit, while Hiram Goodell had to pay the costs, as well as to lose his claim. He had considerable property, but he was close with it; it was an awful thing for him to pay his hard-earned dollars to the lawyers, in addition to giving up his own will. Hiram Goodell was a New Englander of New Englanders. He could not carry on a Southern vendetta, but he could walk hand-in-hand with hatred with an iron grip. To-day he seemed as bitter toward Foster Emerson as he had been 10 years ago. The one thing that could have served to ameliorate his wrath had apparently not yet done so; that was Emerson's ill-fortune. It almost seemed as if the law-suit had been decided unrighteously and so brought a curse with it. Poor Emerson had the disputed woodland, and bad luck seemed to fly out of it in his face like a bird. The wood was standing ready to be cut when it had come into his possession; the week after it had burned to the ground. In 10 years' time it had grown again, this winter he was to have cut it, but the summer before it had been burned for the second time. The Emersons had dark suspicions, but they never mentioned them. Indeed, they were not well founded. Hiram Goodell was not capable of setting fire to his enemy's wood. He would never think of such a thing.

However, the night when the wood had burned, he and his wife watched the red glare on the sky, and neither of them was sorry. His wife spoke with a certain stern triumph like the Psalmist. “I can't help thinkin',” said she, “that it's a judgment on him.” She and Hiram rather regarded all Emerson's misfortunes as judgments, and there had been a great many of them. His son, whom he had depended upon for the support of his old age, had died, his wife had been delicate, his stock had gone down with the cattle-evil, his crops had failed, and his house was heavily mortgaged. This year the strain to meet the interest money had been terrible. It had been whispered about town that Emerson would fail to do it, and lose his place. But it had been done, although nobody knew with what difficulty. The Goodells had speculated a good deal as to whether Emerson would pay it. One day Hiram came home with the news that he had.

“It's so,” said he. “I got it from young Simmons, an' his brothers in the bank.” He half sighed unconsciously. He had an undefined feeling that this time the shaft of the Lord had missed his adversary.

“I s'pose it must be so then,” rejoined his wife.

She would not have realized her own sentiments on the subject if she had seen them. She was not a hard woman, but, like her husband, she had that grim clutch at a resentment that came from her blood. Then, too, she was fond of money, and she dwelt constantly upon their loss. She liked nice things in her house, and nice clothes, and she had stinted herself defiantly ever since the affair of the woodland. “I could have a new black silk dress every year, and a new parlor carpet, if we hadn't been cheated out of so much money,” she was wont to say. She expressed her mind quite freely upon the subject to the Lord sisters. They had a shrewd way of leading her on, and Mrs. Goodell, for all her decision, had at times an innocent unconsciousness that she was being led. The Lord sisters, one or the other, or both, ran over nearly every day, and sat down a few minutes for a little talk.

Thanksgiving morning, some half an hour after Hiram had gone to church, Jane Lord came over. She brought a white bowl. She wanted to borrow a little sugar; she feared they had not enough to sweeten the cranberry sauce.

“I'm ashamed to come borrowin' sugar Thanksgivin' mornin',” said she, “but we didn't neither of us know how to go to the store, and we didn't think of it's bein' quite so near out.”

“You can have it jist as well as not,” said Mrs. Goodell.

After the bowl was filled with sugar, Jane Lord sat holding it for quite a while. She had something on her mind that she wanted to say, and she led up to it delicately.

“I see Mr. Goodell goin' to meetin',” she remarked after a little.

“Yes, he went,” returned Mrs. Goodell.

“Well, there ain't many to go in this neighborhood, Thanksgivin' mornin'. You have to stay home to get the dinner, an' Rachel and me do. We ain't neither of us fit to get it alone. Then there's the Emersons — I dunno but Fanny an' her father go.”

“I dunno whether they go or not,” said Mrs. Goodell in a stately and indifferent manner. She was on her way to the oven with a spoon to baste the turkey.

Jane Lord sat holding the bowl of sugar, and pursing her lips softly. She was sallow-faced, and there was a sad droop to her features. Her voice was unexpectedly quick and strident.

“Speakin' of the Emersons,” said she, “I was down to Mis' Silas Grant's the other day, you know she's Mis' Emerson's cousin, an' she was tellin' me how dreadful bad off they was. They've had to rake an' scrape every cent they could lay their hands on to pay that interest-money, to keep a roof over their heads, an' —” Jane lowered her voice, she leaned forward confidentially — “Mis' Grant said — I don't s'pose she thought 'twas goin' any further, but I'm goin' to tell you — that — she didn't b'lieve they had enough to eat!”

Mrs. Goodell was down on her knees before the oven, basting the turkey; the savory odor steamed out into the room.

“Well, I wouldn't tell it if I was Mis' Grant,” said she, “her own cousin, an' Silas Grant's rich. Why don't he give 'em somethin' to eat?”

“Folks ain't always so fond of givin',” rejoined Jane with asperity. “An' there ain't no use in givin' to some folks. Foster Emerson's bound to lose every cent, an' always was. He ain't got no judgment.”

Mrs. Goodell went back to the table with the spoon. She had resumed her indifferent air.

“I guess they've got enough to eat,” she remarked; “you can't make me believe they ain't.”

“Mis' Grant says they ain't, an' what's more —” Jane paused a moment, “I know they ain't!” added she, impressively.

Mrs. Goodell stopped and looked at her. Jane continued with a sadly triumphant air. “I was in there myself a few days ago, an' I saw a few things.”


“Oh, I kept my eyes open, an' I see. It was supper time, an' Mis' Emerson, she wouldn't set about gettin' supper 'cause she hadn't nothin' to put on the table, an' she was ashamed, an' I wanted to borrow a spoonful of ginger, an' I followed her into the buttry. She didn't want me to, she kept sayin' she'd bring out the ginger, but I was bound I would, an' I did. Mis' Goodell, it's the livin' truth, that there wasn't enough in that buttry to feed a baby.”

“I guess she had some things put away.”

“No, she didn't. Mr. Emerson he called her out a minute, jest before I went home, an' I jest slipped in there again, and I peeked in two or three jars, an' the flour barrel — There wan't nothin'.”

“Well, it's awful thinkin' of anybody not havin' enough to eat,” said Mrs. Goodell.

She was frowning deeply as she went about her work again. Jane Lord continued to expatiate upon the sad case of the Emersons.

“An' that ain't all,” said she, eyeing Mrs. Goodell sharply. “They ain't got enough to wear to keep 'em warm this cold weather, 'cordin' to my belief. You ought to see the clothes they have out on the line. Of all the patched-up flannels, an' so thin you can see the light through 'em — an' the clothes they wear outside ain't hardly decent. Mr. Emerson's great-coat is all threadbare, an' it's a bright green across the shoulders, an' Mis' Emerson's looks as if it came over in the ark. An' Fanny ain't no better off. Mis' Grant says she had to take every cent of her school money to pay in toward that interest. I don't believe she nor her mother either has had a new dress for three year.”

Mrs. Goodell was still frowning. “Well, I dunno, I'm sure,” said she.

“Well, I dunno, neither; but it seems pretty hard lines to think of folks a-sufferin' right amongst us Thanksgivin'. I ain't no idea they've got a turkey nor a puddin'. Well, I dunno what folks can do. If men ain't got judgment, they ain't, an' I dunno whether it's the duty of them that has to support them that hasn't or not. I know I can't afford to. Well, I must be goin', or Rachel'll think I'm makin' sugar.”

After Jane Lord had gone, tripping shiveringly down the road with the sugar, John Goodell, Mrs. Goodell's son, came. He lived in a town some 50 miles away, the railroad connections were not very good, and he could not reach home much before Thanksgiving noon.

The young man entered the kitchen door, and a gust of fresh cold air came in with him. He sat his valise down on the floor, and shook hands with his mother. He did not kiss her. The Goodells were not demonstrative among themselves.

“Well, mother, how goes everything?” said he.

“Pretty well,” replied Mrs. Goodell, looking at him with a kind of repressed delight.

“Father gone to church?”


The son strongly resembled his mother, only he was better looking. A certain blonde harshness of feature, that did not set well upon her, was quite attractive in him. People called John Goodell a very good-looking young man. He took off his overcoat and hat, and sat down in the kitchen with his mother, and watched her work, and chatted with her. He had not seen her for some six months.

He inquired after the neighbors in a furtive fashion, as if he were stepping on debatable ground.

“How are all the neighbors getting along mother?” he asked. He picked up a raisin and put it into his mouth with a careless air, and chewed it absorbedly, but his face began to flush.

“Well, I guess they're gettin' along 'bout as usual,” his mother replied guardedly.

“How are the Lords?”

“Pretty well, I guess. Jane was in here this mornin'.”

“How are — the Emersons?”

“Well, I dunno.”

The young man tried to speak in a jocular way, but his face was very red.

“Well,” said he, “I guess I'll find out. I think I'll go down and call on Fanny some day while I'm here.”

His mother was stirring some butter into a dish of squash. She stopped short, and surveyed him.

“John, you ain't goin' down there, when you know how your father an' I feel about them Emersons?”

“I ain't been down there for quite a while because I knew how father and you felt, mother.”

“Ain't you goin' to keep on?”

“I don't know.”

“I don't see for my part what you can see in that Fanny Emerson, little, thin, peaked-nose thing. There's lots of girls I should pick out before I should her, if I was a young man.”

John straightened back his shoulders. “That hasn't got anything to do with it, than I can see, mother.” said he; “I don't see why she doesn't look as well as the other girls. But we won't talk any more about it now. It's Thanksgiving Day, and I've come home to have a good time; we don't want to get to arguing over anything or anybody. Ain't the turkey most done?”

“You ain't goin' down there to see her, John?”

“I tell you, mother, I won't talk any more about it. Here's father coming.”

Mrs. Goodell dropped the subject then. When it came to an argument with John, she never wished for any assistance from her husband. She had always punished him herself when he was a little boy, and she had felt fierce at the bare idea of any one else touching him.

Hiram Goodell had a sober air when he entered; even the meeting with his son could not dispel it. He had walked home from church with a neighbor, and the two men had stood talking together for quite a little while at Goodell's gate.

Presently, when John left the room for a minute, Hiram turned to his wife. “I come up the road with Abel Bemis,” said he, “an' he says the Emersons are in a pretty bad box this time, an' no mistake.”

“Jane Lord's been in here talkin' about it,” returned Mrs. Goodell.

“What did she say?”

“She thinks they ain't got enough to eat an' keep 'em warm. I dunno, but it does seem as if a man might contrive to get along, an' have enough to eat, if he had any judgment at all.”

“He ain't got any — Foster Emerson never had a mite of judgment. Well, I dunno. When you goin' to have dinner?”

“Jest as soon as I can get it on the table. I want you to go out to the well an' draw me a pail of water before you take your boots off.”

The Goodells generally dispatched their meals quickly. They were thrifty with time as with everything else, but to-day they were a good hour at the table. There was plenty to eat; all the homely richness of a country Thanksgiving feast was spread out on the table. The turkey was very large and brown.

After dinner, Mrs. Goodell cleared away the table, and washed the dishes; then the family sat down together in the sitting-room. Hiram had his religious paper, John a city one, that he had brought with him. Mrs. Goodell sat quite idle. She never sewed on Thanksgiving Day. Her conscience seemed to grow abnormal excrescences in some directions, and this was one of them. From her childhood she had held the firm belief that it was wicked to sew on Thanksgiving Day. She did not talk much; the two read, and she sat thinking. The sitting-room was scrupulous clean; there was not a speck of dust anywhere. There was a fine gilt paper on the walls, and the woodwork was very white and glossy. The fire in the air-tight stove crackled, the air was soft and warm.

About 4 o'clock John got up and left the room.

Pretty soon he passed the window.

“I wonder where John's goin',” said his mother. Hiram sat near the window and he looked out.

“He's turned up the road,” said he. “I guess he's goin' up to see the Bemis boy.”

“I shouldn't think he'd go off Thanksgivin' Day.”

The Bemis house, low and red-painted with a smoking chimney, was visible up the road across a wide stretch of field. Hiram turned again to his paper; his wife rocked, with her feet close to the stove. Presently Hiram also arose, and prepared to leave the room.

“Where you goin', father?” asked Mrs. Goodell.

“I ain't goin' far.”

But he didn't return speedily. Mrs. Goodell went to the window, and saw a figure that looked like his plodding up the road.

“For the land sake, he ain't goin' up to the Bemises. Thanksgiving Day!” said she, “I should think they was all struck on the Bemises.”

She looked vexed and frowning. She sat down again. Presently the fire got low, and she went out for more wood. On her way, she stepped into the buttery and looked around.

“There's that other chicken pie,” said she, “and I could cut a plateful off that turkey, an' nobody'd know it, an' there's 20 mince pies, an' 10 apple, an' eight squash — no there ain't — why I don't see through it. I knew there was 20 mince, an' I can't count but 19, an' there ain't but nine apple, an' seven squash. For the land sake!”

She counted over and over again, but she could make no more of them. She could not account for three pies.

“Well, there's enough, anyhow,” said she. “I could carry 'em three or four, an' a piece of my plum-puddin', an' not miss it, I s'pose. I dunno. I dunno how they'd take it.”

Mrs. Goodell stood deliberating. Then she put a stick of hard wood in the sitting-room stove, packed a basket full of provisions, put on her thick shawl and hood and started. When she got to her own gate, she stopped and looked up the road cautiously; she had put on her spectacles, but she could see nothing of her husband or son. Then she braced the basket against her hip, and went down the road to the Emersons. The Lord Sisters were at the windows; she saw them with a quick side-flash of her eyes, but she did not look up. She went straight on at a good pace; the basket was heavy, but she was muscular. When she reached the Emersons, she set the basket under a lilac-bush at the corner of the house, then she kept on to the side door. She stood before it and knocked. She heard a step inside, then Mrs. Emerson opened the door. She was a stout woman, with a pretty, childlike face. She flushed when she saw Mrs. Goodell, then she became quite pale.

Mrs. Goodell herself was pale, and she looked scared, but she spoke first.

“Good afternoon,” said she.

“Good afternoon,” returned the other woman with a kind of stiff timidity; then she added, “Won't you come in?”

Mrs. Goodell stepped in. Mrs. Emerson led the way to the kitchen.

“I'll have to take you in this way,” she said feebly, “there ain't any fire in the settin'-room. Fanny's in there now. Somebody came to the front door, I dunno who; I'm afraid they'll catch cold.”

“I'd jest as soon go into the kitchen,” returned Mrs. Goodell, with anxious affability.

The two women sat down in the large kitchen.

Mrs. Goodell noticed that there was no odor of Thanksgiving cooking in it, when she entered. Mrs. Emerson did not ask her to lay aside her hood and shawl. Both women were afraid to speak, and they hardly looked at each other. Still Mrs. Goodell had a distinct purpose in view, and that gave her more self-possession.

“It's a pretty cold day, ain't it?” said she.

“Yes; it's been pretty cold,” Mrs. Emerson admitted shyly.

Mrs. Goodell turned her eyes on the other's face. Mrs. Emerson's hair was quite curly over her temples; she used to wear her hair in long curls to her waist when she was a little girl. Suddenly Mrs. Goodell remembered them and how pretty she had thought them. They had been schoolmates when they were girls.

“Seems to me you look kind of pale, Nancy,” said she.

Mrs. Emerson looked at her — then she put her hands up to her face.

“Oh, Lois!” she sobbed, “you dunno what I've ben through lately!”

Mrs. Goodell sat immovable in her chair, but her eyes suddenly became red.

“Don't take on so, Nancy. Mebbe the worst of it's over,” said she.

“I dunno how the worst of it's over. Foster ain't got a thing to do this winter, an' we ain't got a cent of money. Fanny's had to put in all her poor little money toward the interest. Oh, Lois, it's been dreadful!”

Mrs. Goodell had out her handkerchief. “Look here, Nancy, there's somethin' I want to say — I s'pose you've been feelin' hard 'cause I ain't been in, an' I know I've had hard feelin's myself — an' I'm willin' to let it all go now, an' go back an' forth jist as we used to, if you are.”

Mrs. Emerson sobbed so that she could hardly speak. “I guess I'm willin'!” she said. “Oh, Lois, you dunno how it's worried me, when we used to be so intimate! It's been a dreadful trial to me. I've told Foster, time an' time again, that the woodland weren't worth it. An' I wish Mr. Goodell had it this minute; we've jist had it to pay taxes on this 10 year, an' that's all it's 'mounted to. I wish the lawyers had decided the other way 'round.”

“There ain't any use talkin' about that,” said Mrs. Goodell. “We'd better let that all go. There's somethin' I'm goin' to ask you, Nancy, an' you mustn't be offended. How are you off for things?”

Mrs. Emerson's tears seemed to suddenly stop flowing, her pretty face grew very red. “Lois,” said she with a certain dignity, “we're dreadful poor. It's much as ever we've got enough to eat an' wear.”

“You wait a minute,” said Mrs. Goodell. She hurried out of the kitchen, and presently returned with the basket. She set it down on the kitchen table, and turned toward Mrs. Emerson.

“It kinder makes me think of the times when we was little girls an' used to have some of each other's dinner, to school,” said she.

Mrs. Emerson looked at her and the basket. The tears were streaming over her cheeks again. Suddenly she took a step forward, and the two women had their arms around each other, and were crying on each other's shoulders. After a little they drew apart with a shamefaced air. Mrs. Goodell turned toward the basket, and began taking out the articles it contained. She had them all spread out on the table, when the door opened and Foster Emerson and Hiram Goodell came in. They had been out in the barn talking. Hiram had a parcel under his arm. When he and his wife saw each other, both looked frightened, but they said nothing. She greeted Foster, and he spoke to Mrs. Emerson, as if it were an every-day call. Then he cast a comprehensive glance at the table. He recognized their basket. He begun unloading the bundle he carried.

“I thought I'd bring you over a little Thanksgivin',” he said in an abashed but sturdy manner. He looked defiantly at his wife, and slowly unrolled the newspaper that he had wrapped around the bundle. Then he held it up. There were three pies, one set in another. Mrs. Goodell made a spring forward.

“For the land sake, father!” she cried, “if you ain't set the apple an' the mince pies right into the squash!”

Hiram stood still and eyed the pies dubiously. “I declare I never thought about that,” said he.

“It's jist as much as a man knows,” said his wife.

She helped Mrs. Emerson set the pies to rights. The two men stood by and watched Foster Emerson's nervous face, gray-bearded and delicate-colored as a girl's was radiant. His deep-set blue eyes were full of delighted excitement; now and then the muscles around them twitched. All at once he heard a murmur of voices in the sitting-room, and opened the door. Then he made an exclamation. The others all looked. There stood Fanny Emerson and John Goodell in the middle of the floor. John had gone to the Emersons in the same way that his father did. They had both gone up the road past the Bemis house, then turned into a lane, and struck off across lots behind their own, emerging from another lane, just above the Lord house, into the high road.

Fanny and John were both blushing. When John saw his father and mother, he looked abashed for a minute, then he stepped forward boldly.

“Hullo! you here?” said he. “I've been making a little call on Fanny.”

He surveyed the table and the array of food swiftly, then he placed some chairs near the stove for himself and Fanny, and they sat down. Presently the others did also; it seemed like an ordinary neighborly visit. By-an-by it was growing dusky, and Mrs. Emerson brought out the teapot. Mrs. Goodell helped her spread the table, and the two families had supper together.

It was bright moonlight when the Goodells went home. John walked on ahead whistling, and his father and mother followed more slowly. Now they were alone together, both felt somewhat stiff and embarrassed. It was not until they were past the Lord house that Hiram spoke.

“I ain't told you what I told him I'd do, have I?” he queried.

“No, you ain't.”

“Well, I told him I'd give him a job cuttin' wood for me all winter, if he wanted it, an' — I've 'bout made up my mind I'll buy that woodland of him. He can part pay up his mortgage if I do. The wood won't be ready to cut on it for another 10 year, an' there's the taxes, but I dunno but I'd better.”

Hiram's old face in the moonlight had at once a rueful and a heroic expression.

“Well, mebbe you'd better,” said his wife, with a sigh.

It was quite late when they reached home, but late as it was, Jane Lord came over again. She had a cup and she wanted to borrow some yeast. She did not sit down, but she stood hesitating at the door, after the cup was filled.

“I want to know,” said she, “if I see you all goin' down the road to the Emerson's this afternoon.”

Mrs. Goodell drew herself up. She looked quite frigid and stately. “Yes,” she replied, “what of it?”

“Oh, nothin'.” Jane Lord looked injured and crestfallen. “I jist wondered if I did see you.”

John put on his coat again, and walked home with Jane and carried the yeast. She did not allude to the Emersons again. When he returned, he paused at his own gate, and stood for a minute looking down the road. It was like a broad track of silver in the moonlight. It seemed to him as if all the Thanksgivings of his life would lie down the road to the Emersons.