From The Uncollected Stories of Mary Wilkins Freeman (University Press of Mississippi: 1992)
Originally published in Collier's 48 (18 Nov. 1911)
“It would,” said Mrs. J. M. Armstrong, “be enough sight worse to have your horn of plenty overflow than to have it half full. It is natural to be swamped in misery, but sort of monstrous to be swamped in the good things of life.”
Mrs. Armstrong's sister, Lucilla Childs, who had also a strain of philosophy, spoke. “A horn of plenty,” said she oracularly, “could not in the nature of things be lacking in anything. If it were, it would not be a horn of plenty.”
“That is true,” said Mrs. J. M. Armstrong, “I did not make myself clear. I ought to have said folks should get the exact size of their horns of plenty, then there would never be any complaining. We would always know when we had enough.”
“Some people,” stated Lucilla, “may not own horns of plenty.”
“Nobody was ever born without one in the soul,” answered Mrs. Armstrong.
“I see you are hitting me,” said Lucilla.
“Yes,” assented Mrs. Armstrong calmly; “hope I hit hard enough.”
“You don't hit hard enough to upset my horn of plenty,” returned Lucilla. She laughed, but her blue eyes remained strained and sad. Lucilla was Mrs. Armstrong's half-sister, and young enough to be her daughter. Her mother had been the second wife, a mere girl, who had died soon after Lucilla's birth. Lucilla was a beautiful girl, or young woman. She was a little past thirty. She was very fair, and her skin was wonderful. She wore a blue dress of soft wool, and the blue of her costume was like that of her eyes, only one was opaque, and the others were translucent with light like jewels. Lucilla stared at nothing as if it were something of tremendous interest, after a peculiar fashion of her own, and her eyes were very round and large, like a baby's when it first glimpses something which awakens its mind. Lucilla looked very young, so young as to be pathetic; she was a little anemic, and there was a frown of dissent, although of gentle dissent, between her eyes. She even stooped a bit as though under an invisible burden of grief, sitting with her slenderness hunched upon itself.
Her sister Abby was paring apples. Her hands were never idle, Lucilla's always were. Lucilla at that time of her life seemed pure emotion and mentality, her sister was more complex. “I am going to speak very plainly,” said Mrs. Armstrong. “You have been home six weeks now. You seemed to me not to have enjoyed your visit with Ada Green in New York.”
“I never said I did not.”
“If you would say things right out, it would be better for yourself, and everybody else,” returned Mrs. Armstrong.
“Well, I did not have such a very enjoyable visit,” said Lucilla with a passive agreement.
“Well, I don't know exactly.”
“Didn't Ada and her husband do everything they could to make you have a good time?”
“Oh, yes, everything, sister Abby.”
“Well, I suppose then that you thought your horn of plenty wasn't as full as theirs.”
Lucilla colored sweetly. “I would not have married Winslow Green if he had been the last man in the world,” said she, “and as for Ada's baby, it is a very large, squashy baby, and has always to wear an unpleasant bib, and cries all the time. Ada has a lovely home, though, and she does seem happier than almost anybody I know.”
“It is the whole of it, then, that you think of?”
Lucilla colored more vividly, but the blue light of her eyes was defiant and virginal. “Why not?” she demanded.
“I don't suppose there is any why not. I suppose it is only natural. But I do suppose that perhaps your horn of plenty can only hold just what you have without slopping over; do you suppose, for instance, that it would hold Armstrong?”
Lucilla paled a little and stared at her sister, for Armstrong, who had deserted his wife for another younger woman, and decamped for parts unknown, years before, had been a tabooed topic.
“I suppose,” said Abby Armstrong, “that you think my horn of plenty does not hold Armstrong — well, it does, and it is a pretty good load. You see, I was happy with Armstrong before — well, before that other woman came along, and I can tell you one thing, Lucilla — a happiness that is passed takes up a terrible amount of room in a horn of plenty; sometimes it crowds out happiness which hasn't passed. Well, you know Armstrong, when he went away, was six feet tall and weighed about two hundred, and then there were the two little girls who died. Do you think your horn of plenty would hold all that?”
Lucilla did not smile, and the miserable parallels of woe remained on her forehead between the lovely loose puffs of fair hair. Still, her pretty mouth dropped; still, her blue eyes gazed straight ahead as if at a landscape of terrible futures.
Abby Armstrong looked at her shrewdly. “I think,” said she, “that you need somebody with horse sense to translate your own situation in life into language that you can read. You are not the first girl whose life has been written, as far as she was concerned, in one of the unknown tongues. Now here you are a young, handsome woman.”
“I am over thirty,” said Lucilla.
Her sister sniffed. “Thirty! You are a baby. Lord! you speak as if the world had come to an end because you are thirty. I can tell you that you are a mighty young thing in a mighty old world. And you don't look a day over twenty, even when you scowl and pucker and do your best to make lines on a face that's like a rose and a lily, and that the Lord intended to last nice and smooth till you are a good deal older than you are now. Now you are going to hear some pretty plain language for the first time in your life. I know it's the first time. Your mother died when you were a baby, and our father died when you were pretty young, and anyway he sort of spoke in precepts, and didn't fire the truth at folks straight. He hit all creation, but not anybody in particular. I used to think it was a great pity that father hadn't lived in Bible times. He might have written a chapter in Ecclesiastes, or a psalm, though possibly I am wicked to think of such a thing. I know father wasn't inspired, although he was a very good man, with a good mind, and enough sight better than King David, or King Solomon in all his glory, as to his acts. They may have meant better than father, but they came short sometimes, if they did sing songs about it and lay down the laws. Now I am going to speak plain. You are a young woman and as pretty as a picture, and you have all your wits and plenty to live on, if you are careful. You can do about as you are a mind to — travel or stay at home — and if it is too quiet here for you, you can start up any time you want to and have a change to where it's livelier. There's nobody to say you shall or you shan't. You ought to be as happy as the day is long, and here you are eating nothing and looking glum, just because you think you haven't quite all that ought to come to you, when you don't exactly know what that is for the life of you. The first thing you know you will turn out exactly the way Rebecca Reddy did.”
“I don't know what you mean, sister.”
“Well, you just sit still and wait, and I'll tell you what I mean. You have so much to be thankful for that it is not safe to rebel because you haven't got more. Now I've got these apples pared, and I'm going to roll out my pie crust, and I'm going to tell you about Rebecca Reddy, and you can see what you think then. Another thing you've got to be thankful for is this nice kitchen to sit in, when it's snowing the way it is outside. There isn't such a kitchen in this village, if I do say so. It is the biggest for one thing, and I knew what I was about when I had the floor painted yellow. If the sun isn't shining it don't show.”
Abby Armstrong rose, and made preparations for her pastry, and her sister looked about with a listless and silent assent. The kitchen was lovely. Abby Armstrong, in spite of her provincialism, had kept up in many respects with her day and generation. Her kitchen was one evidence of it. It was large, with floor painted a clear pumpkin yellow. The walls were papered with yellow and covered with glass. The glass walls had almost caused a scandal in the village, and the man who had done the work had been in his inmost soul afraid of the woman who had instigated it. But the result was beautiful and sanitary. Tables covered with glass and holding pots of flowers stood in the two south windows. Abby's kitchen table was painted yellow and glass-covered. There were two rocking-chairs upholstered with yellow and white chintz, and the other chairs were yellow. She had a corner cupboard with glass doors, containing yellow and white ware, and cleats on the walls were hung with shining cooking utensils. There was even a yellow cat in a round coil of slumber in one of the rocking-chairs.
Abby wore an indigo blue dress and apron, and her hair, still yellow, shone compactly like a little gold ball at the top of her head. She had been pretty, and now was charming like a dried yellow flower which had kept its shape, and lost nothing except the summer juices at the advent of frost. When she had her pastry under way she continued talking to her sister, telling her story in a whimsical, tender fashion. “Rebecca, she was old Squire Reddy's daughter, and she lived in the big white house on the hill where Doctor Lane and his son Sammy live now. I don't know that Squire Reddy would be called rolling in riches nowadays, but he was a rich man when Rebecca was a girl. She was a grown-up young lady when I was a little girl going to school past her house every day, dressed in my long-sleeved apron and sunbonnet. Old Squire Reddy was looked up to as the richest man in the town, and coming from the best of families, all college-educated men. And his house was built in the fear of the Lord, with nails that were driven in to hold, and plaster put on to stay. In those days, too, it didn't cost all creation to live, and live well. Rebecca certainly did live well in her father's time. I used to see her sitting on her front porch in her beautiful organdie muslins, with her long curls falling over her shoulders, and she was as smooth and handsome as a cat that has always been stroked the right way. She was a beauty, and the young men knew it. I used to see them sitting on the porch looking at her as if she were an angel with a harp and crown. There was one young man always there. His name was Thomas Dean. He was as good as gold, though he was very small, and he had a handsome face. He was well-to-do, too. He was a lawyer. He didn't have much practice, but he didn't need it. His father had left him plenty to be comfortable. Thomas set his eyes by Rebecca. He never made any secret of it, and folks used to sort of laugh. Sometimes I have wondered if that was the reason why Rebecca didn't seem to care more for him. He was so within her reach always, and she knew it, and she knew that everybody else knew it, that he didn't look worth so much to her. Anyway, he used to sit on her porch whether the young men were there or not, and he was always ready to fetch and carry for her, if nobody else was handy; but time went on, and Rebecca didn't get married to him or anybody else. There was some talk about her falling in love with a grand young gentleman once when she visited in Boston, and his not fancying her, handsome as she was, but nobody ever really knew. It was all surmise. I always thought that it was just because she set such store by her own self, and thought more of her own self than anybody else, until her father died, and she got old. I say old. She wasn't exactly old, but it was as if she had stood still and let youth run past her. She began to have an old-fashioned look, and she seemed older than the women of her own age who had married, even though they were all dragged down by hard work and children. I suppose people make so much allowance for hard work and children in a girl's looks that they do a queer kind of example in subtraction, and think of her as being just as young and pretty as she ever was without them. Finally she didn't have any beaux left. Thomas Dean always kept up visiting her, but folks stopped thinking of him as being her beau. He just worshiped the ground she trod on, and seemed something like it, I guess, to her — that is, for a long while. The time comes once in a while when folks who have been trampling the ground all their lives look down and see flowers worth more than the stars in the sky to them. I guess it was that way with Rebecca, but I am getting ahead of my story.
“Rebecca was a good deal older than I was. You can't remember her at all I know. I wish you could. It seems like you're missing a beautiful picture that I have hanging right before my eyes. I wish you could remember her the way she used to look, coming up the church aisle on Sabbath days, dressed in the sweetest organdies and the prettiest bonnets with wreaths of roses in the summers, and winters in beautiful rich silks and mantillas edged with fur. Rebecca had very handsome clothes as long as her father lived. Then they found out that he had bought a lot of land that wasn't worth anything and sold good securities to pay for it. I suppose as he grew older he was childish, and played with his dollars as if they had been blocks — built up things just to see them tumble down. When everything was settled, there wasn't much left for poor Rebecca, although there was enough.
“She had the house and a little money at interest, enough to pay taxes and just keep her going. There wasn't anything over for new clothes, so it was lucky she had such a store of them. It would have been luckier, though, if she had had sense enough to wear them the way they were, or had any knack at fixing them over. She didn't have a mite. Every time the fashion changed, Rebecca would try to make her clothes over, and they were always sights. It was all anybody could do not to laugh right out in meeting when Rebecca walked up the aisle after she had been fixing over her dresses. If she had only let them alone. Such beautiful things as she had — India shawls and lace shawls, and everything — but she made over one India shawl into a coat, and it was enough to make a cat laugh. But Rebecca Reddy wasn't satisfied with what a higher Providence had lotted out to her, and she reached up beyond her height for more, and pulled things all to pieces, and lost her own balance.
“There she had a beautiful old house to live in, and enough money at interest to pay the taxes and keep it in repair, and she had to pity herself, and complain, and get herself and everybody else stirred up. People used to drop in to see her a good deal, and she used to neighbor a lot as she grew older, and all she talked about was her deprivations and her hardships. I suppose she was honest enough about it. She had been such a beauty and a darling that she felt puzzled and injured because she didn't have what she knew she wanted and didn't know she wanted. Anyway, she got the whole town up in arms over her hard lot. Everybody was pitying her and thinking she had an awful time. She never lost a pretty little way she had, and she coaxed everybody round to her way of thinking until we were all about as mad as she was herself that she couldn't go dressed in the top notch of style and take trips round the world and live on roast swans. It was about a week before Thanksgiving, a good many years ago, that Aurelia Ames came to see me about Rebecca, and she shed tears. Aurelia was one of the sweetest women that ever lived, and most of her tears were for the troubles of other folks. When one came to think of it fair and square, Aurelia hadn't had any too fine a time in this world herself. Her husband had got the old-fashioned consumption before her two little girls were grown up, and she had had to dressmake. Then just when her husband had finally died, and she could draw a long breath, because, though she had thought a lot of him, he had been an awful care, and cross as a bear all the time, one of her girls got married to a worthless sort of chap, and had a baby and died, and her husband skipped, and Aurelia had to take the child. Then the other girl, who was a real help to her mother, got consumption, the quick kind, and died, and Aurelia wasn't very strong herself, and working hard to support the baby, and the baby wasn't a pretty child, and sick a good deal, and when it was well chock full of mischief, but Aurelia never seemed to think she was an object of pity, not even for herself. So in she comes and shed tears over Rebecca Reddy. ‘Poor soul,’ says she. ‘There she was born Squire Reddy's daughter, and used to have everything, and she can't even have a turkey for her Thanksgiving dinner.’ All Aurelia was going to have was a roast of pork, but she didn't seem to think of that, and all I was going to have was a chicken, but I must say I didn't think of that myself. I remember that I felt about as much wrought up as Aurelia did over Rebecca. I don't think I shed any tears. I never was easy to cry, but I was wrought up. ‘It is dreadful,’ says I. You see, I called to mind that beautiful girl sitting all dressed up with her beaux around her on her front porch when I was going by to school, and I remembered how grand the great dining room in the squire's house was, with its Turkey carpet, and mahogany furniture, and great sideboard, and solid silver service, and willow ware, and pictures with wide gold frames, and the dinners Rebecca must have been used to, and it did seem rather dreadful to think of her sitting down on Thanksgiving Day to eat a hen that she had raised herself, or most likely it would have been a rooster. She would have kept the hens, of course. But Aurelia, she put it hen. It did sound more pitiful. She just sat and wept in a soft, quiet way that made me feel about as sorry for her as for Rebecca. ‘To think of that poor soul, brought up as she was, not having even a turkey — nothing but a he-n,’ says Aurelia, in that lovely trembling voice of hers. Then I sat up straight. ‘If you don't think she will be offended she shall have the very best turkey that I can buy at Peters's,’ says I.
“‘She needn't know it — that is, she needn't know who sent it,’ says Aurelia. ‘I thought I would send her a couple of my mince pies, with just a line saying they came from a constant old friend and admirer, not because she needed them, but just because she lived alone, and might not be making mince pies just for herself. I haven't got it worded just right yet.’
“I said I thought it was a good plan, and I would send the turkey, and would write something after Aurelia's plan to go with it. Aurelia went home a little comforted, but I could see her wipe her eyes now and then as she went down the street. If everybody were as tender-hearted as Aurelia Ames was, one-half of creation would drown out the other half with tears of pity for its troubles. As I look back I think Aurelia was almost too tender-hearted. I wasn't so much so, but I think sometimes such things are sort of catching. There really was no more hardship for Rebecca to have a chicken for her Thanksgiving dinner than for me, but it looked so then, and I couldn't seem to see it any other way.
“So I went to Peters's market. We always called it Peters, but Sam Rumson kept it. Peters had moved out West long before. I didn't get to the market till two days before Thanksgiving. I had a bad cold, and when I did go I was a little afraid I might be careless. But I kept thinking of poor Rebecca Reddy with nothing for her Thanksgiving dinner but a hen, and I bundled up and I went, though it was a raw day. When I got to the market, Rumson had just two turkeys left, one was big enough for a hotel, weighed somewhere around eighteen pounds, and the other wasn't worth looking at, not much bigger than a good-sized chicken, with a long, thin neck, and all bristling with pin feathers, as miserable-looking a turkey as any I ever set eyes on. ‘Seems to me you have pretty well sold out your turkeys,’ says I to Sam Rumson, and he grinned. ‘Well, it's near time to,’ says he.
“‘Haven't you got any except these two?’ says I, looking at the big one and the little skinny one.
“‘These are all I have left,’ says Rumson. Then he looks at the big one. ‘That's the finest bird I've had brought in this year,’ says he. ‘That is a prize bird for a State fair, that is.’
“‘But I don't want a prize bird for a State fair,’ says I. ‘I only want a turkey for one woman, and I should think she could never live long enough to dispose of that, even if he kept.’
“‘Keep all right,’ says Rumson. He was a sharp one. ‘It's cold enough now to keep anything.’
“‘That's so,’ says I, ‘but I never heard of buying a turkey that size for one woman.’
“‘I've seen women that eat as hearty as men,’ says Rumson, ‘and this bird will make mighty good eating.’
“Well, the outcome of it was I was goose enough to buy that turkey. He was big enough to send to the President, weighed over eighteen pounds, and I sent with it, written real nice on gilt-edged paper, a note. I can remember every word of it. I made it up when I was housed with my cold. This was what I wrote: ‘Miss Rebecca Reddy, Dear Madam — Please accept from an old friend this slight token of a lifelong admiration and respect, and may it conduce to a happier Thanksgiving than you would otherwise have had.’ I wasn't quite satisfied with what I wrote. I did wish I had your father to word it for me, and I must say I felt kind of tickled when I thought of calling that monstrous turkey a ‘slight’ token. It struck me, whatever else he was, he wasn't slight. When I told Rumson to have the turkey sent to Miss Rebecca Reddy, I noticed his face change a little. He looked as if he'd started to laugh, then choked it back, and acted as solemn as a deacon. I paid him for that turkey, and went home as fast as I could, because it was getting late, and I was afraid of catching more cold. I stopped in the drug store and got some horehound drops and went right home. I had my little Thanksgiving work about done, a few pies made, and the chicken was all ready to stuff next day. After I had had my supper, I sat down and read the night paper, then I got to thinking hard about that big turkey, and Rebecca Reddy, and then I felt sort of dizzy with it all. I began to wonder what I had to be thankful for myself. I had enough to live on and a little over, but not much, and I was all alone, and I had influenza. I began to feel sort of complaining myself. Then all of a sudden I gave it all up. Says I to myself: ‘It's just right and as it should be that you have what you have. It's your slice of the good things of life. Take it and hold your tongue, or you'll get something worse.’
“After I had finished the paper, I read a while in a real interesting storybook I had from the village library, and sucked my horehound drops, and toasted my feet. Then I went to bed and had a good night's rest, and when I waked up next morning my cold was about gone, and I went to work stuffing my chicken and making a little pudding, and was as happy as could be, though every now and then the queer, puzzled feeling about Rebecca Reddy and that whopping turkey I had sent her would come over me. I remembered how Aurelia had shed tears, and how the whole village was harrowed up over Rebecca, and I could not just understand it all.
“Well, Thanksgiving morning came. It was a beautiful day. I thought I would go to meeting. I knew I could leave the stove so the chicken wouldn't burn, and I had just got it in the oven, and was going upstairs to get dressed, when in come Aurelia as pale as a sheet and all of a-tremble. ‘Oh,’ says she, ‘do come over to that poor soul's just as quick as you can! Get the camphor bottle and come. I've got a bottle of my blackberry wine. I don't know as it will do a mite of good.’
“‘What are you talking about?’ says I.
“‘Oh,’ says she, and sort of sobs: ‘Poor Rebecca!’
“‘What about her?’ says I.
“‘She's got a bad spell,’ says Aurelia. ‘Do come quick as you can! I didn't fetch my camphor bottle. Maria Liscom just run in and told me. Her little girl had been over to carry some celery, and she found that poor soul in a spell, and she run all the way home to tell her ma. Maria has gone right over there.’
“‘How about the doctor?’ says I, getting my shawl and knit hood out of the sitting-room closet.
“‘Maria sent her Lilly for the doctor,’ says Aurelia. ‘Have you got the camphor bottle?’
“I had a good-sized camphor bottle, and I hugged it up under my shawl and we started on a run for the Reddy house. On the way the doctor passed with his old horse at a gallop. ‘Oh, dear; oh, dear!’ says Aurelia. ‘There goes Doctor Simson, but I know it's too late. Poor Rebecca!’
“‘She isn't dead yet,’ says I, all out of breath.
“‘You don't know. Oh, you don't know,’ says Aurelia.
“I certainly didn't know, but I remember feeling thankful that she couldn't have had time to even cook that big turkey, let alone eat him, so if she was dead, I hadn't killed her. Then we went on till we come in sight of Squire Reddy's, and there was a whole crowd of folks standing around the front door and going in, and horses and buggies were hitched outside the fence beside the doctor's.
“When Aurelia and I got to the door we heard what everybody standing there was listening to. It was a queer noise. It wasn't crying and it wasn't laughing, and it wasn't groaning, and it wasn't talking — at least not then, but it was something betwixt them all.
“‘She must be dreadful sick,’ says Clara Todd. Clara was a pretty young girl, and she had run without her hat, and her yellow hair was ruffling all over her head, and her cheeks were pale and her blue eyes big.
“‘It is a dreadful spell,’ gasps Aurelia. ‘She never will get over it.’
“Then Aurelia and I went through the crowd into the house. As soon as I went in I smelled celery and cake and spice. The whole house smelled rich and sweet. Folks were standing peeking into the dining room, and Aurelia and I headed for there. There lay Rebecca on the floor, with the doctor down on his knees feeling her pulse, and she was keeping right on making those awful noises, but in spite of my feeling so scared about her, I couldn't help fairly jumping at the sight that room was, and the sight the sitting room was — the door stood open — and the sight the hall was. It did look for all the world like a county fair, or a great grocery establishment. Chickens and turkeys and roasts of pork and hams were lying all around. The air seemed fairly bristling with those stiff fowls' legs. And there were bunches of celery everywhere and stacks of pies and cakes and puddings, and nice little glass dishes of jelly, and bowls full of nuts and raisins, and vegetables. There were bushels of onions and turnips and potatoes and beets. There were hubbard squashes and pumpkins. There were baskets of apples and oranges and eggs, and paper bags full of goodness knew what. I never had seen anything like it. I felt as if I might have a spell myself. ‘What in creation does it all mean?’ says I to Aurelia. Then she gives me a nudge and sort of pointed with her chin, and I looked, and there was poor Thomas Dean. He had an enormous paper bag under his arm, and the paper had broken and some nuts and candy were tumbling out. There Thomas Dean stood looking at that woman he had worshiped ever since he knew what worship meant having a spell, and the tears were rolling right down over his cheeks. Thomas Dean had kept his looks better than Rebecca had done. He was a real handsome little man, and he was so good and so worried over his precious Rebecca.
“Aurelia looked at him, then at me, and the tears ran down her own cheeks. ‘She must have had all this sent in,’ says Aurelia, sort of choking, ‘and it must have been too much for her.’
“That was exactly what had happened. Rebecca had had her piece of pie, that Providence thought suited to her, lotted out to her, and she had rebelled, and this was the outcome. Doctor Simson looks round finally and sees me, and I guess he knew I was to be depended on, for he calls out real rough — he was a pretty rough-spoken old man — ‘Mrs. Armstrong, for God's sake, come here and shut the doors and keep all the rest of the fools out.’
“When I came to think of it afterward, it didn't sound so very complimentary to me — sounded as if he classed me in with the rest, but I did just as he told me to. I faced round on the others, and I says: ‘You all hear what the doctor says,’ and with that the folks seemed to scurry out like a parcel of hens, and I locked the doors. When I turned round, though, there was Thomas Dean left. He had sort of huddled into a corner, and there he stood, staring with his pitiful brown eyes, holding his paper bag, with the things all dropping out of it. Doctor Simson saw him, and he sort of laughed. ‘You are the biggest fool of all, Thomas,’ says he, ‘but you can stay. Now, Abby Armstrong, get me a tumbler half full of water.’
“I had to slip out into the kitchen for that, and the folks were all out in the entry staring, and the kitchen was heaped up with things worse than the other rooms. There was a turkey half stuffed on the table, and my big turkey was on the floor, and Rebecca's cat was smelling it, and I drove her away. I got the water, and went back, and locked the door after me, and the doctor dropped some medicine into the tumbler. Then he lifted poor Rebecca's head, and it actually waggled, and he fairly yelled at her: ‘Here, you, stop this confounded noise and drink this,’ and Thomas Dean gave a sort of leap forward, and Doctor Simson shouted at him: ‘Keep away, man. It is the only way to treat her.’ Then the doctor yelled at Rebecca again: ‘Here, you, drink this or —’ and poor Rebecca, she stopped and swallowed the medicine as meek as a lamb. But in a second, after she had got her wind, she talked connectedly. ‘Oh,’ says she, in that high, screeching, cackling voice, that sounded like a parrot's. ‘Oh, oh! Twenty-seven turkeys, fourteen chickens, seven roasts of pork, sixteen hams, eighteen cakes, fifty-three pies. Oh, twenty-two!’ Then the doctor shook her, though Thomas Dean made as if he would knock him down for it. ‘You let me alone, Thomas,’ says Doctor Simson. ‘I know what I am about.’ Then he shook her again, and she stared at him like a helpless baby. ‘You just stop,’ says he, and she did stop.
“‘Now,’ says he to me, ‘you do seem to have a few wits left. Thomas and I will help her upstairs, and you can undress this woman and get her to bed.’
“It was lucky that there was a staircase running out of that room beside the one in the front entry. Doctor Simson and Thomas Dean — Thomas had set his paper bag down on the floor, and it was slowly collapsing, while nuts and raisins and oranges and all sorts of things gathered round it — helped Rebecca upstairs, and I got her undressed and put her to bed. I don't know what Doctor Simson had given her — he had the name of giving real strong medicine — but her head hadn't more than touched the pillow before she was quiet, and she sunk right off to sleep, like a baby. I heard afterward that the doctor said he had never seen a worse case of hysterics, and she had a weak heart and it might have been dangerous.
“When I got back downstairs, Doctor Simson was talking to the folks. ‘Now,’ says he, ‘all of you take what you have brought, or sent here, and get it home. I have been as big a fool as anybody else, and pretty near killed a woman I've known since she was knee-high and always thought a good deal of. I knew Rebecca had enough to get along with, and that she was only amusing herself nursing her grievances instead of a baby, and didn't want to part with them, and I sent her a turkey, when she would enough sight rather have had one of her own chickens, and thought while she ate it that she was a blessed martyr. My turkey is the one she was fixing to cook. I'll leave that, but the rest of you sort out what you have sent her and get it out of this house, or I won't answer for the consequences.’
“Well, they just hustled around, and it was like a moving grocery establishment. Thomas Dean left his paper bag and went home, walking sort of slow, with his head bent, but everybody else took away their contributions. Aurelia and I stayed and finished dressing the turkey and getting the rest of the dinner started. Then Aurelia took hold of the neck of my big turkey, and I took hold of the feet, and we carried him out in the woodshed. ‘I will get Sammy Joyce to come with his express wagon and get him by and by,’ says I; ‘then you and your grandchild come over Sunday and help eat him. He'll keep.’
“We finished getting Rebecca's dinner, and by that time Susan Jones, the nurse, had come. Doctor Simson had sent her. She said as soon as Rebecca waked up, she would see that she ate her dinner, and she had seen a great many cases of hysterics and she knew just what to do. Then Aurelia and I went home.”
Lucilla had been listening interestedly. “Is that all?” said she.
“No,” said her sister. “Rebecca Reddy, she got married to Thomas Dean the next June, and came out bride the first Sunday in a beautiful old organdie that she hadn't made over. It had a sort of running pattern of roses over it, and the skirt was full and just showed the little pointed tips of her feet when she stepped up the church aisle with Thomas, and she wore a narrow green ribbon round her waist, and a big hat trimmed with lilacs, and a fall of white lace over the brim, and she looked beautiful, like a rose that had been freshened up in some queer kind of water of the spirit. As for Thomas Dean, he looked as if he had reached the goal that he had been looking forward to all his life. Then they lived together in the old Squire Reddy house, and were as happy as could be, and they both died within a week of each other, and are buried in the Reddy lot with myrtle all over their graves, and I for one don't doubt that they are happy together in heaven. Rebecca must have liked Thomas all the time, only she was looking too high, and missed the flower at her feet for the sake of straining after the star in the sky that maybe wasn't worth while if she had got it.”
Lucilla looked at her sister, and smiled with a charming little shamed blush. “Maybe I am like Rebecca Reddy,” said she.
Her sister looked puzzled. “I don't know what you mean, I guess, Lucilla.”
“Maybe I have been staring at stars, which I wouldn't have any use for if I got them, and not taking the flower at my feet that I really need to round out my horn of plenty,” said Lucilla, “for my horn of plenty has not been quite complete after all, sister.”
“I don't know what you mean now.”
Lucilla's blush deepened. “I mean Sammy Lane,” said she.
Abby laughed. “You mean Sammy Lane is the flower?”
Lucilla laughed, too, a little nervously. “I suspect he always has been,” said she, “but you see, Abby, I got accustomed to thinking he was just Sammy, and he has always been at my feet, and when I went to New York I saw men who were not just Sammy, and had not always been at my feet, and though I didn't really want them, I got more unsettled, but now I think I may as well make up my mind that a flower which will always be at its best for me is about all I need, though Sammy is a funny kind of flower.” Lucilla laughed again, and Abby also.
“Sammy is rather a good-sized flower,” said she. “You might as well call him a tree.”
“But that does away with your lovely horn-of-plenty idea,” said Lucilla. “No, Sammy is a flower, and I'll look no higher than Sammy for the rest of my life.”
“You will have a good home and a good husband,” said Abby with a little sigh, “and you will never have to fill your horn of plenty with lost happiness, as some do, unless you lose to find, and that is not really losing.”
“I saw Sammy last night at Lizzie's,” said Lucilla, “and he asked me again coming home, and I told him I would give him his answer to-day.”
“That is why you put on your blue dress?”
“When do you expect him?”
“Any time now. He had to make some calls over in Amity this afternoon, and he said he would stop on his way home.”
“I hope he won't get the medicines mixed wrong, because he doesn't know exactly what you will say.”
“Sammy will never get the medicines mixed wrong, no matter what I say,” returned Lucilla rather proudly. “I think possibly that is what makes Sammy a flower.” Lucilla had all the time been stealthily peering out of the window through the drifting veil of the northeast snowstorm to the obliterated road. Now she saw a shadowy movement through the gray blue of the storm. “I think he is coming now,” said she.
“Take him into the parlor,” said Abby Armstrong, “and ask him to dinner to-morrow.”
Lucilla ran out with a flutter of blue skirts, and Abby Armstrong continued her homely tasks, which are as the accompaniment to the melody of love in life. “To think she was just fretting because she didn't know what she really wanted was hers all the time,” she thought.
Abby Armstrong listened to the hum of tender voices from the parlor, and commenced beating eggs in a yellow bowl.
She had a restrained but poetical soul. She seemed to see her young sister holding in her two fair hands a gilded metaphorical horn of plenty, crowned with young Sammy Lane's handsome face set about with flower petals.
And she saw in the rapturous grasp of her own heart her happy past days and others happy beyond belief waiting for her.
“Everybody has all they really need for the good of their own souls if they count up the past and future as well as the present,” Abby Armstrong said quite aloud, and in her voice was a true chord of thanksgiving.