Found In The Snow

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Sunday Call San Fransico; December 17, 1899

Tommy and Loreny had been to the store to do some errands and were on their way back to the almshouse where they lived. The light was getting low, and the western sky was red. The two went in file down the country road. There had been a heavy fall of snow the day before, and it was not yet trodden down; there was only a narrow foot-track between the drifts. Loreny kept ahead. She was three years older than her brother Tommy, and quite a tall girl. Her thin, wiry figure skipped over the snow as lightly as a sparrow. She wore an old brown cotton dress, a dim plaid shawl and a faded worsted hood, and her arms were full of brown-paper bundles. Tommy tugged a molasses jug in one hand and a kerosene can in the other. He was short and sturdy, with a handsome little red face. He wore an old coat of Mr. Palmer's, the almshouse keeper's, which had been cut down for him, but the skirts still trailed in the snow.

The two went on silently; the bare branches overhead glistened redly in the setting sun. It was very still and cold. Suddenly Loreny stopped short and Tommy made a sudden halt at her heels.

“What's that?” she cried, in an excited voice.

Tommy set down the molasses jug and peered around her shoulder. A brown-paper package lay in the road before them.

“What do you s'pose it is?” asked Loreny.

“Pick it up,” returned Tommy.

Loreny eyed it a minute, then she laid her own bundles carefully down on the snow, picked it up and unrolled it.

“Oh!” she cried.

Tommy said nothing, but his mouth opened and his eyes grew big.

Loreny held a doll with a beautiful wax face and real flaxen hair. She looked at it, and the tears came into her eyes.

“What are you goin' to do with it?” gasped Tommy.

“I dunno,” answered Loreny, slowly.

She looked anxiously at her brother. “Somebody dropped her,” said she, “but I dunno who. Mrs. Palmer won't let me keep her.”

Tommy stared at his sister, then at the doll.

“Mrs. Palmer won't let me keep her,” Loreny repeated, and her lips quivered. Suddenly she wrapped her old shawl carefully around the doll, which was not dressed, and snuggled her close to her with a defiant air.

“What you goin' to do?” inquired Tommy.

“I'm agoin' to carry her home. Mrs. Palmer, she won't see her under my shawl.”

“She'll whip you when she finds it out.”

“I don't care if she does,” returned Loreny, holding the doll closer. She picked up the other parcels and went on. Tommy took up the molasses jug and followed.

They had gone only a few steps when Loreny stopped again. ”There's something else,” she said, in a awed whisper.

Tommy set the jug down. “You pick it up,” said Loreny. Tommy set down the kerosene can also and brushed past his sister. He picked up the parcel, which was a nice white one.

“Undo it,” said Loreny, trembling.

Tommy's clumsy fingers tugged at the pink string. It was two punds of Christmas candy. They looked at the beautiful red and white twists and were speechless. Then Loreny spoke in a quick, frightened way.

“You tie that right up again, Tommy Wood,” said she. “Don't you eat a mite of it; it don't belong to us.”

Tommy, with a last wistful gaze at the candy, tied it up. Then he looked at his sister. “Shall I lay it down again?” he asked.

Loreny hesitated. “I dunno, hardly. Somebody might step on it after dark.”

“I can put it in my pocket,” said Tommy, eagerly.

Tommy stowed away the candy in one of the pockets of Mr. Palmer's great coat.

“Mind you, don't eat a mite of it,” charged Loreny, sharply.

“No, I won't,” promised Tommy, gathering up the jug and can.

They went on, then suddenly Loreny stopped again.

“Tommy Wood,” she gasped, “there's another!”

Tommy set down the jug and can and sprang forward.



It was a large, flat package. Tommy opened it breathlessly. There were books in that — story books with handsome covers, and one beautiful picture book. Tommy turned the leaves and Loreny looked over his shoulder.

“Ain't they handsome?” she sighed.

“What shall I do with them?” asked Tommy, breathing hard.

“I dunno, unless you can put them in your pocket. It won't do to leave them laying under foot.”

Tommy tied up the books carefully, and they just slipped into a pocket of Mr. Palmer's great coat. Then he took up the jug and can, and he and Loreny went on.

In a minute Loreny stopped again. “I'm scart most to pieces,” said she. “There's another!” She and Tommy looked at each other. Loreny was quite pale. “I s'pose you had better pick it up,” she said faintly.

Tommy picked up the parcel, and his hands shook when he unrolled it.

“Oh!” he cried.

It was a beautiful little concertina. He pulled it out gently, and there was a soft musical wheeze.

“Don't! Somebody will hear,” cried Loreny. “Put it up, quick!”

A stubborn expression came over Tommy's face. “You've got the doll,” said he, “I'm going to have this.”

“Put it up, quick!”

“Can't I have it?”

“Mrs. Palmer won't let us have any of 'em when she sees 'em.”

Tommy stowed the concertina into a pocket of Mr. Palmer's coat with a resolute air. “I can hid this jest as well as you can that doll,” said he.

Tommy picked up the molasses jug and the kerosene can again; but this time he did not set them down again until he had reached the almshouse. He and Loreny looked sharply, but there were no more mysterious packages strewn along the road.

The almshouse was simply a large, white farmhouse on a hill. There were not many paupers in Green River; in fact there were only five — three old women and two old men, besides Tommy and Loreny.

The children went up the hill on which the almshouse stood. The north wind blew in their faces and they were glad to get into the great warm kitchen where the five old people sat around the fire and Mrs. Palmer was preparing supper. Mr. Palmer was splitting kindling wood out in the shed; they could hear the ax strokes.

“Take off your coat, Tommy, and go out and bring in some of the kindlings. And you, Loreny, take off your hood and shawl and set the table,” said Mrs. Palmer.

Mrs. Palmer was a thin little woman and she looked tired. Her voice had a fretful ring. People said that she worked too hard. Her husband was not as energetic as she and most of the work came upon her.

It was fortunate that Tommy and Loreny were expected to leave their out-of-door garments in the passage. They shut the kitchen door and clattered upstairs in wild haste. Mrs. Palmer called after them, but they kept on. Tommy flew into his chamber and laid the concertina under his pillow and the candy and books behind the door, while Lorenyu tucked the precious doll between the sheets of her own little cotbed. When they went downstairs Mrs. Palmer did not question them, she was too busy. There was a mild excitement through the almshouse that night. The next day was Christmas, and there was to be a great dinner. Mrs. Deacon Alden's rich sister, a widow lady, who was visiting her, had sent in two large turkeys, two chickens and a quantity of raisins. The old men and women talked it over and chuckled delightedly. The fragrance of tea spread through the warm kitchen. Loreny set the table and Tommy brought in baskets of kindling. They, too, shared in the anticipation of the great dinner, but they had other things on their minds. They were full of guilty delight and tenderness over their treasures upstairs, and terror lest Mrs. Palmer should go up and find them.

After Loreny had washed the dishes, then she and Tommy pared apples and picked over raisins.

“Mind you don't eat more than you pick, now,” charged Mrs. Palmer. She was too worn out to consider what a few raisins on Christmas Eve might mean to a little girl and boy.

However, Tommy and Loreny did not think much about raisins, they were too anxious to get upstairs. THe old people went to bed early, but the children were up until 9 o'clock. There were a great many apples to be pared and pounds of raisins to be picked over.

At 9 o'clock they hurried up to their chambers, each had a little candle in a tin candlestick. Loreny's room was opposite Tommy's. She was just taking the doll out of the bed, when she heard a sweet wheeze from the concertina. She flew across the entry; “Tommy Wood,” she whispered, “you stop this minute! She'll be up here.”

Tommy himself looked frightened. “I won't do it again,” said he, “I couldn't help it.”

Finally Tommy went to sleep with the concertina in his arms and Loreny with the doll. Once in the night she awoke suddenly, for she heard the concertina. She listened in a panic, but she did not hear it again, and went to sleep.

The next morning there was a sort of feeble merriment about the almshouse. There were no Christmas presents, but the dinner, that meant a great deal. Mrs. Palmer even smiled wearily as she stirred the plum pudding. Tommy and Loreny were kept very busy all the morning, but after the grand dinner, when they had eaten the roast turkey and chicken and plum pudding and all the paupers had feasted, they had a little time to themselves.

Loreny stole upstairs to her own room. She got a pink calico apron in which her heart delighted out of her bureau drawer, and she dressed the doll in it. It was a cold Christmas and the window was thick with frost, but she stayed there with the doll all the afternoon. She got her best blue hair-ribbon and tied the pink apron round the doll's waist. She kissed its pretty face. “Ain't going to let you freeze this cold weather, dear child,” she whispered.

As for Tommy, he was out in the snowy pasture behind the almshouse, sitting on a rock which pierced a drift, playing his concertina in the freezing December wind. He actually picked out a little tune which he had heard sung in Sunday-school, and he was in a rapture. He did not feel the cold, but he was so numb that he could scarcely walk when he stowed away the concertina in the coat pocket and returned to the almshouse.

When he had hidden away his treasure he went down to the kitchen, where Loreny had just gone. She was warming her little blue hands over the stove.

“Serves you right for staying up there in the cold so long,” said Mrs. Palmer.

Presently Mr. Palmer came in, stamping his snowy feet. He had been down to the village and had some news.

“Deacon Alden's hired man lost a heap of things out of his cart yesterday afternoon,” said he. “Spilt them out of the back. The horse was kind of frisky, and he never knew till he got home. Then he went right back, but the things were gone. Somebody had picked 'em up.”

“It's just as bad as stealing,” said Mrs. Palmer, severely; “just as bad.”

Loreny turned white. Tommy sat with his eyes downcast. As soon as she could, Loreny pulled him out into the entry. “Tommy Wood,” she whispered, “we've got to carry 'em back. It's stealing.”

“When can we?”

“To-night. We must go down the back stairs real still, after they think we've gone to bed.”

It was half-past 9 o'clock when two small, dark figures ran down the almshouse hill. One was Tommy, with his coat pockets bulging, the other was Loreny, hugging the doll, which was still wrapped in her pink apron.

It was a mile to Deacon Alden's house. It was bitter cold; the full moon was up and the snow creaked under foot. They ran most of the way. When they reached Deacon Alden's house they stood hesitating at the gate.

“You go in,” said Loreny, giving Tommy a little push.

“No, you,” he whispered.

Loreny marched up to the door and rang the bell. Mrs. Deacon Alden opened the door and stood looking amazedly at them.

Loreny spoke: “We found these things in the road yesterday,” said she. She held out the doll and Tommy began removing the concertina from his pocket.

“Well, I never!” exclaimed Mrs. Deacon Alden. “Louisa, do come here this minute! No, you come in, you Tommy and Loreny; you are freezing out there.”

Tommy and Loreny were bewildered. They had to think it all over for a long time afterward in order to understand exactly what had happened. They were pulled gently into the warm sitting room, where there was a lamp with a pink shade and green plants at the window, and Mrs. Deacon Alden's sister, soft-voiced, gentle and sweet-faced, in a beautiful black silk, was telling them that all those presents — the doll, the concertina, the books and the candy — were meant for them, and had been lost out of the sleigh, and that they could carry them home.

Presently they were sitting by the fire, eating frosted cake and drinking chocolate. Then there was a jingle of bells outside and they were driven back to the almshouse, tucked warmly under fur robes, and had a Christmas sleigh ride,

Mrs. Deacon Alden went with them to explain matters to Mrs. Palmer, and her sister whispered to her just before they started: “I mean to take them, Sarah. I am going to see about it to-morow.”

But Tommy and Loreny did not know what that meant until afterward. That night it was enough for Loreny to go to sleep, with her own beautiful doll in her arms, and for Tommy to sit up in bed fearlessly and play softly on his concertina his little Sunday school tune, which happened to be the tune of a Christmas hymn.