From Harper's Bazar Vol. XXIV No. 52 (December 26, 1891)
“Sylvy got a letter to-night,” said Sylvester Evarts. He was at the supper table with his wife Jane and his daughter Imogen.
“Who was it from?” asked his wife.
“I guess it was from Aunt Susan.”
“Did Sylvy say what was in it?”
“No, she didn't. She jest took it quick, an' slipped it into her pocket.”
“I'll warrant she did,” said Jane Evarts. She was a large woman with a handsome heavy face.
Sylvester was small, and as darkly sallow as a Spaniard. He leaned over his plate and ate fast, his brows contracted with a nervously anxious scowl. “I shouldn't wonder if we never knew what was in it,” he remarked.
His voice had inflections curiously like his wife's.
“I don't believe we ever shall either,” said Imogen; “but I don't care, for my part.”
“I do,” said her mother. “I've got jest as good a right to know about Aunt Susan as anybody. I think it would have looked full as well if she'd wrote to your father or me; an' anyhow I can't stan' folks bein' so close as Sylvy is. I'm goin' to find out what's in that letter, whether or no. I'm goin' in the other side after supper.”
And after supper Jane Evarts went in the other side, as she said. The house was a double cottage, connected only through the cellar. She went heavily down one flight of stairs, holding her lamp well before her, and up another. Sylvia's door at the head of the second flight was locked. Jane pounded on it with impatient vigor, and waited. Presently Sylvia opened the door.
“Oh, it's you,” she said; her voice was very small and thin. She looked much like her brother.
“I thought I'd run across a minute,” said Jane. “Imogen's washin' the dishes, an' Sylvester's gone down to the store.”
Jane settled herself in a rocking-chair near the stove. She had brought her sewing, and Sylvia sat opposite, with her hands in her lap. There was a look of restrained energy about her whole figure; her mouth was closed as if it held down a coil of springs.
Jane kept glancing unpleasantly at her. “I should think you'd die, settin' there with your hands folded,” said she, finally.
“I can't help it if I do. I can't see to do anything evenin's, anyhow.”
“I think you'd ought to have some older glasses, Sylvy.”
“It 'ain't nothin' to do with the glasses,” retorted Sylvia.
She was older than Jane, who never lost a chance of reminding her of it. Poor Sylvia's extra ten years of life upraised her on an eminence which exposed her to many shots that stung through her good sense.
“I guess you'd find out it was,” said Jane. “I don't believe your glasses are any older than mine.”
Sylvia made no further remark. She sat quite still, her eyes fixed upon the opposite wall. Jane sewed; now and then she glanced at the table, where a letter lay in full view, but she did not allude to it for some time.
Finally she spoke in quite a casual tone. “I see you've got a letter,” said she.
“Yes,” said Sylvia, in a dry voice. “Mebbe you'd like to read it with your glasses?”
“Now, Sylvy Evarts, I don't see anything for you to be touchy about.”
“I ain't touchy.”
“Well, you act touchy, if you ain't. I don't see anything for you to flare up about because I said you needed some older glasses. I jest said it for your own good. I do think if you had 'em you'd take a lot more comfort, an' I can't help it if you don't like it.”
Sylvia said nothing.
“I s'pose the letter's from Aunt Susan,” said Jane, presently, in a peremptory manner.
“I guess I'll take it home an' let Sylvester read it when I go. He's always interested in Aunt Susan's letters.”
Sylvia said nothing.
“Well, of course I won't take it home if you don't want me to,” said Jane. “I s'posed you wouldn't have any objections. I knew Aunt Susan was as much Sylvester's aunt as yours.”
Jane gathered up her work, and arose. She opened the door, and was on the top step of the stairs, when Sylvia spoke.
“You can take it if you want to,” said she.
“Oh, I'm sure I don't want to see your letter.”
“She's comin' here.”
“Who's she comin' to see?”
“Both of us, I guess. She wrote the letter to both of us.”
“I should have thought you'd brought it in, then, instead of keepin' it here all to yourself.”
“I was goin' to,” replied Sylvia.
Her voice was quite subdued. She got the letter off the table, and handed it to her sister-in-law.
“When I'm goin' to have company, I like to know it,” said Jane. “When's she comin'?”
Jane gathered up her skirts, and went down the stairs. Her lamp gleamed out of the dusk below, and her voice floated back. “I should have 'most thought she'd wrote to me,” she said; “but I s'pose she thought you was the oldest, and would kind of feel it if she did.”
Mrs. Evarts was laughing when she opened the door at the head of her own stairs. “She had to give me the letter in spite of herself,” she announced to Imogen. “It was wrote to me too.”
Imogen looked up indifferently, almost sulkily, from some worsted-work in her lap.
“You don't act much interested,” said her mother. “You act 'most as touchy lately as Sylvy does. I don't see any use in bein' so ugly about it, if you are goin' to be an old maid. I dun'no' as it's my fault. If you'd had a little better disposition —”
“What about Aunt Susan?” asked Imogen, in a desperate voice.
“She's comin' here next week.”
“Which side is she going to visit?”
“I s'pose she's goin' to visit some of the time in the other side, an' some of the time in here, unless Sylvy manages to keep her there. I'll warrant she'll try to. She was jest as grouty as she could be about this letter. Want to see it?”
Imogen reached out a hand for it, and let the red wool cape she was crocheting fall in her lap. After she had read the letter, she took the cape up again, and bent her face abstractedly over it. Her cheeks were round and pink, but her handsome forehead scowled half miserably, half crossly, over her black eyes.
“It 'll be Christmas when she's here, an' you can give her that cape you're makin',” said her mother.
Imogen nodded. She thought to herself that she did not care who had the cape, and she did not care if she never lived to finish it. She had intended originally to give it to Isaac Bryce's mother for a Christmas present; but now she and Isaac had quarrelled, and that plan had to be changed, as well as others of more importance. Somehow to-night this little bright mass of worsted-work seemed to be the last weight that would quite break her heart. She wanted to bury her face in it and cry at the bare idea of giving it to anybody but Isaac's mother, but she only scowled. When she went to bed, she folded it carefully and put it away.
“It will make a nice present for Aunt Susan, as long as you ain't goin' to give it to his mother,” remarked Mrs. Evarts.
“Yes, 'twill,” said Imogen, shortly. She swallowed hard and would not cry when she was alone in her chamber. She looked at her handsome face in her glass, when she was brushing her hair, with a sarcastic and triumphant smile, as if she were defying Isaac Bryce in her own self.
A week from that day her great-aunt Susan Parks came — an old woman, with a withered prettiness and dim sweetness like an old flower about her, stepping waveringly out of the wagon at the door, and returning her relatives' greetings with a timorous stateliness like a child.
Susan Parks had never married, and had lived alone the greater part of her life. Solitude fosters the growth of the individual will, and also, in some cases, weakens it from sheer lack of exercise and opposition.
Poor Susan Parks coming into association with other people was quite helpless. The smallest suggestion from them rocked her that way like a strong current. She arose when they bade her, lay down when they bade her, and ate what they bade her. They all were fond of her in their own way, and were, moreover, actuated by a certain forcible hospitality. They looked out strenuously for her comfort according to their own wisdom and their own devices. The old woman had never in her old life lain down in the daytime, nor slept except at night. Now every afternoon she was conducted into her bedroom, and made to take off her cap and lie down for two hours on the feather-bed, covered carefully with a best quilt. She lay there staring mutely at the patterns of the calico blocks and the flowers on the wall-paper. She could not sleep to order, although she had a guilty feeling about it. But this break in her regular habits of life produced still another; she could not sleep much at night, and had to lie many an hour wide awake in the strange darkness of her bedroom. She had all her life had a certain childish fear of the dark, and especially in a strange place. Her old heart beat like a scared baby's in her withered side, and she lay listening. Her life had been so even and monotonous that she had no vital memories to distract her at such a time; she was all in the present, and alive to all its possibilities for a feeble old woman all alone in a spare bedroom in a strange house.
Susan had always been, in a gentle inactive way, a very busy woman. Her thin old hands were never still. Now both Sylvia and Mrs. Evarts took her knitting-work from her at times, and condemned her to sit idle, for fear such constant industry would make her ill. She submitted to that as she submitted to everything, with timid docility. The question during her whole life, with Susan Parks, and more especially as she grew older, had been not her willingness to obey, but her ability. She was quite willing to be dealt with as her jealous relatives chose, but she could not sleep at their order; and in one other case she was at a loss — she could not be on both sides of the cottage at the same time, and she had a bewildered feeling that that was demanded of her.
No sooner was poor Susan Parks seated in the rocking-chair at one sitting-room stove than there would come a knock on the division wall. That signified that she was expected to go in the other side. “Well, I s'pose you'll have to go, or she'll be mad,” either Sylvia or Mrs. Evarts would say of each other. And the gentle old woman would lift her black draperies to her ankles, and trail weakly down and up the cellar stairs. Her old knees became leaner and weaker, but she never complained. She never knew in which side of the house her next meal was to be, nor in which she was to sleep. She was as subject to that imperative knock on the wall as any slave in an Eastern tale. Many a time when a meal was all prepared in the side where she was sojourning, and the aroma of some favorite dish was pleasing her old nostrils, and she gently anticipating some little grateful savor that material life still had for her, there would come that knock on the wall. “She wants you to come in there to dinner, Aunt Susan, an' I s'pose you'll have to go,” her hostess would say, wrathfully. These sisters-in-law had a curious fear of and respect for each other; both submitted, however indignantly. The worst of the struggle came upon poor Susan, who was in something of the position of a living and painfully conscious bone between two dogs.
Christmas day was just three weeks from the day on which she arrived, and then came the fiercest contention of all. She slept in Sylvia's side on Christmas eve, and ate breakfast there on Christmas morning. They had breakfast early, about seven o'clock. Sylvia worried a great deal as they sat eating in her little kitchen.
“I'm sure I dun'no' what to do about dinner,” said she. “Sometimes Jane she asks me in there Christmas, an' sometimes she don't. She 'ain't said a word about it to-day, an' I dun'no' what she expects. I've got a chicken, but ten chances to one, jest as soon as I get it on, she'll rap. I dun'no' what to do. She 'ain't said anything to you about it, has she?”
“No, she 'ain't,” replied Susan. She had lilac ribbon in her cap, and her delicate old face had tinges of pink and lilac. It was a cold morning, and Sylvia's kitchen was chilly. Susan sipped her cup of tea with meek amiability; now and then she clasped her cold unsteady little fingers around the cup to warm them.
“I'd like to had em all in here,” said Sylvia; “but land! Jane don't think she can eat a meal in here nohow. Sometimes Imogen will. She's more like her father's folks. She's got her mother's temper, though. I s'pose she's feelin' pretty down to the heel to-day, though you couldn't make her own it. She won't have nothin' from Isaac Bryce. Last year he give her about the handsomest breastpin I ever set my eyes on. I dun'no' whether she give it back to him or not. It had red stones in it, an' I s'pose they were real. I don't believe they were glass. The Bryces are pretty well off. There ain't nobody but Isaac an' his mother. Well, I dun'no' what to do. I dun'no' whether to put that chicken on or not.”
“Why don't you wait a spell an' see?” suggested Susan. “Mebbe she'll be in.”
“Well, I can wait till ten o'clock, but I can't no longer if we're goin' to have that chicken for dinner. It's a pretty good-sized one. I wish I knew if Jane was goin' to have a turkey. If she's got a turkey, she's goin' to have us in. She 'most always has a chicken when they're alone. I wish I knew.”
Sylvia cleared away the breakfast dishes, still worrying. Susan sat by the sitting-room stove knitting. There was a white drive of snow past the windows. It seemed too cold to snow, yet it had begun.
Sylvia came in, with the dish-towel in her hand. “Jane she's fixin' some kind of a fowl at her sink-room window,” she announced, “an' the feet look to me jest like turkey's feet. I wish you'd jest go to my sink-room window, Aunt Susan. Maybe you can see through them far-seein' glasses of yours.”
Susan laid down her knitting-work, put on her glasses, and went out in the unfinished sink-room, where the windows were furred blue with frost. She shivered so she could scarcely speak as she peered through a little clear space between the ridges of frost.
“What do you think it looks like?” demanded Sylvia.
“I'm 'fraid — I — can't make — out.” Her little plaid shawl was pulled tightly over her head; the small wedge of face between its folds was ghastly in the blue-white light.
“Well, I s'pose you'll catch your death out here; you'd better go back,” said Sylvia. “I didn't know but what you could see through your far-seein' glasses.”
“You — try — 'em,” shivered Susan.
“Land! they'd be too old for me,” said Sylvia, with resentful embarrassment in her voice. “You'd better go in. I'll wait till ten o'clock, an' then if she don't come in, I'll put that chicken on, whether or no.”
Jane did not come in, and Sylvia put the chicken on to boil at ten o'clock.
“I guess we'll have it stewed instead of baked. I like it full as well, don't you?”
“Yes, I do,” said Susan, happily. She had an innocent pleasure in certain dishes, and stewed chicken was one of them. She was inwardly delighted that she had not to go in the other side and eat turkey. Then, too, she much preferred a dinner with Sylvia; she was a little afraid of Jane, and also of Imogen.
At quarter of twelve the dinner was nearly done. The vegetables were boiling fast; there were onions, and that also pleased Susan.
“We'll have some onions, an' that's one thing you wouldn't have got if you'd gone in to Jane's to dinner,” remarked Sylvia. “She won't have an onion cooked in the other side; she's terrible scared of 'em.”
The snow continued. At twelve o'clock Sylvia put on her rubbers, and went out to the well for a pail of water. After she had pumped it, she stood for a second peering sharply at a pail beside the shed door of the other side. She gathered up her skirts and waded cautiously over toward it, and looked closer.
When she had set her water-pail in her own sink, and shaken the snow off her skirts, she went in to Susan. “Them was turkey feet,” she said.
Susan looked up apprehensively.
“They are out in the pail at the back door,” said Sylvia. “Well, there's one thing about it, if she raps on after I've got my dinner all ready, she can. I sha'n't go in a step. You can do jest as you've a mind to.”
Sylvia gave a vicious jerk of her shoulders, and went out in the kitchen. Susan heard the plates go on the table with sharp claps, and trembled. She hoped that Sylvia would get the table set, and they might be already at dinner if Jane should chance to rap on the wall. She thought that possibly in such a case she might not be expected to obey the summons and go in the other side, but might be justified in remaining where she was.
She knitted, and listened to Sylvia stepping briskly about and rattling the dishes. If only dinner could be fairly begun before a rap came on the wall!
“Can't I help you, Sylvy?” she called out, anxiously.
“No,” replied Sylvia. “It's jest about ready.”
Every time that Sylvia hit a dish, Susan started, thinking the rap on the wall had come. More than for any pleasure in her visit she cared for this snug solitary dinner with Sylvia; the chicken stew and the onions looked like sweet morsels of her childhood.
“Dinner's ready,” called Sylvia at last, and Susan laid down her knitting-work, and went out with trembling haste.
“Hadn't you better have your shawl on? It ain't quite so warm as 'tis in the sittin'-room?” said Sylvia.
“No; I'm plenty warm enough,” said Susan. She pushed her plate forward a little.
“What part of the chicken do you like, dark or light?” asked Sylvia, standing over it with her knife and fork.
“I like the dark pretty well.”
Susan nodded, happily. Sylvia put just the piece that she loved into her plate.
“Onions?” said she.
Susan nodded again.
“Jane does act terrible silly about onions,” said Sylvia. “I wouldn't give a cent for a chicken dinner without 'em.”
“I wouldn't either,” said Susan, with unwonted assertion.
Sylvia passed over her laden plate. Susan raised her knife. Suddenly there came a rap on the wall. Susan laid down the knife, and looked at Sylvia with something like a gasp of despair.
Sylvia looked back at her. “Jest the way I knew it would be,” said she, grimly.
“What shall I do?”
“I dun'no'. I know what I shall do.”
“Ain't you goin' in the other side?”
“No; I ain't goin' a step. You can do jest as you've a mind to.”
Then came another rap on the wall.
“Do you think I'd ought to go, Sylvy?”
“I dun'no'. I ain't nothin' to say about other folks. I ain't goin'. I call it pretty work, for my part, waitin' till I get dinner all on the table, an' then knockin' over. It's jest like her.” Sylvia was cutting the meat from a chicken leg. She brandished it as if it were the bone of an enemy in a cannibal feast. “I ain't goin' to knuckle in to her one mite,” said she.
Susan looked pitifully at Sylvia. “Sylvy, do you think I'd ought to go?”
“You can do jest as you've a mind to.”
“Do you s'pose she won't like it if I don't?”
“I dun'no', an' I don't care.”
“It don't hardly seem as if she'd ought to be put out, when we've jest set down to dinner so,” ventured Susan, timidly.
“Put out? Of course she hadn't ought to be.”
Susan laid her little cold skinny hand on her knife again; she looked at the chicken on her plate. “Mebbe,” she began, but there was another rap, louder and more peremptory.
“I s'pose she will be madder'n hops if you don't go,” said Sylvia. “I know Imogen has been makin' something for you for Christmas, but it 'll jest serve her right.”
“Then you think I'd ought to go.”
“No, I don't! You can do jest as you've a mind to. I know she'll be put out with you, an' she'll be put out with me, but I don't care if she is. I ain't a-goin'. If you feel as if you didn't want to make her mad, you can go, that's all there is about it.”
“Sha'n't you be mad, Sylvy?”
“No, I sha'n't. I ain't one of the kind that gets mad. I can stan' everything, an' not say a word.”
Susan rose up slowly. She cast one last wistful glance at her plate. “Mebbe I'd better go,” said she.
“Well,” said Sylvia, in a sweetly baleful voice, “you'll have a better dinner. You'll have roast turkey — I know them was turkey feet — but you won't have no onions, I can tell you that.”
“I don't feel as if I had ought to put her out,” said Susan, pitifully.
She did not get her little shawl as she went through the sitting-room, she was so perturbed. She usually wore it on her journeys from one side to the other. She shivered violently as the cold earthy breath of the cellar came in her face when she stood at the head of the stairs. She grasped the stair rail convulsively, and went down a step at a time. Her knees bent under her. Nothing could exceed her caution, she was in such terror of falling. But the stairs were dark. Somehow she missed the last step, and sank in a little heap at the foot. There was a sharp twinge through her ankle. She gasped for breath two or three times; then she did not know any more about it.
Upstairs Sylvia Evans, in her side, ate her dinner, and her brother, his wife, and daughter, in their side, ate their dinner. The raps on the wall had been continued for some time. They came at last in an impatient volley. Sylvia had listened quite unmoved and grim. She thought that her Aunt Susan had reached the other side, and that now they were knocking solely for her benefit.
“Let 'em knock,” she said, aloud; and she helped herself to more chicken.
At last the people in the other side gave up knocking.
“If Aunt Susan an' Sylvy don't want to come in here, they needn't,” said Jane Evarts. “You'd better cut up the turkey, Sylvester. I guess I shouldn't have got a great turkey if I'd known; but I might have. I thought I smelt onions cookin'. Sylvy jest made up her mind she wouldn't come, an' that's all there is about it. Have some squash, Imogen?”
“No, I guess I won't.”
“Won't have any squash?”
“No; I don't want any.”
“Why, you've always been crazy for squash. What's got into you? Oh, I forgot. I forgot he was over here last Christmas. Well, if you wanted to get mad, an' quarrel with him, an' spoil your prospicts, I should think that was enough, without making everybody else miserable. Goin' without squash when anybody's taken pains to cook it! I think there's a little something due to your own folks.”
“Do give me a spoonful if you feel that way about it,” retorted Imogen, miserably. She held out her plate.
“You might see him an' make it up, if you had any sense,” said her mother, as she took up a spoonful of squash.
“We've talked about that all I want to,” said Imogen, coldly.
“Yes; I'll warrant you'd die first,” returned her mother. “I don't see where you got your temper, for my part. 'Twa'n't from my side of the family, I know that.”
Meanwhile that little unconscious heap lay at the foot of the cellar stairs. It was some time before Susan came to herself; then she tried to get up, but could not. She called, but her voice was weak; the people were at dinner in rooms under which the cellar did not extend, and nobody heard her.
It was a good hour before Sylvia, going to the head of her cellar stairs, heard a faint moan from the foot.
“Who's down there?” she called out, in a scared voice.
“Aunt Susan! What is it? What on earth's the matter? How came you there?” Sylvia went down as she talked.
“I fell,” said Susan.
“Fell! For the land's sake! Your bones ain't broke, be they?”
“I dun'no'. I guess I've hurt my ankle a little. I can't stan' up. I hadn't ought to have come alone.”
“I don't see what you was thinkin' of, to fall,” cried Sylvia. She grasped Susan's arm, but the old woman remonstrated with unwonted force.
“I ain't goin' to be teched,” said she. “I ain't goin' to be dragged up on that ankle. It's jest like knives.”
Sylvia rushed to the foot of the other stairs, and screamed, “Jane! Jane! come here, quick!”
The door at the head of the stairs opened.
“What you hollerin' for?” inquired a cold voice.
“Aunt Susan is dreadfully hurt. I dun'no' but she's killed. Come down here, quick! Call Sylvester.”
“Oh dear! Sylvester went down to the village right after dinner,” wailed Jane, rushing heavily down the stairs. “What is it, Sylvy? How did she do it?”
“She fell, an' she's been lyin' there all the time you was eatin' dinner. I call it a judgment on you for rappin' in, an' that's all I've got to say about it.”
Jane Evarts, strong-minded woman as she appeared ordinarily, always fled before an emergency, with her wits at loose ends. “Imogen! Imogen!” she screamed, “come down here, quick, quick! Bring the camphor an' the balm-Gilead bottle. Your aunt Susan's killed. Oh dear, I wish Sylvester was to home! Oh dear!” She and Sylvia bent over Susan, and in a minute Imogen was there.
Susan struck out at them wildly with her feeble hands. “I ain't goin' to be teched,” she protested in her trembling voice, that had a tone of strange fire in it.
“Let mother an' I carry you up stairs,” pleaded Imogen, and she spoke more softly than Susan had ever heard her. “Let us carry you up, Aunt Susan, and then we can find out where you're hurt.”
“I ain't goin' to be teched.”
“We'll be real careful; we won't hurt you a bit, Aunt Susan.”
“Oh dear, I'm afraid she's killed!” moaned Jane. “I wish Sylvester was to home.”
“Come, Aunt Susan,” said Imogen; and she put her arms under the old woman's shoulders.
Susan jerked herself away. “I ain't goin' to be dragged up stairs by women folks,” she said. “If there ain't a man to carry me up, I'll stay where I be. I've been hauled about from pillar to post ever since I've been here, an' now I ain't goin' to be killed to cap the climax. I 'ain't set or laid half an hour in one place before somebody has rapped on to go into another. I'm all wore out, an' I can't stan' it.”
“Poor thing!” sobbed Jane. “You'd ought to be ashamed of yourself, Sylvy. I know she 'ain't had a minute's peace.”
“I guess I've given her as much peace as you have,” retorted Sylvia. “Here she 'ain't had a mite of dinner to-day because she's rapped on, an' she's fell, an' hurt herself too.”
“If you'd come with her, she wouldn't have fell,” said Jane.
“I wa'n't a-comin' a step after I'd worked an' got my own dinner ready, an' had jest set down to it. You might have told me beforehand.”
“I s'posed, of course, you expected to come in my side to dinner,” returned Jane. “Oh dear! I dun'no' what's goin' to be done. I expect Aunt Susan has come here to be killed. Oh dear!”
“Something has got to be done,” said Imogen, firmly, “or she will die down here. She'll catch her death of cold, if she don't do anything else. Now come, Aunt Susan; you sha'n't be hurt a mite. I'm real strong.”
“Go 'way,” said Susan, with feeble snappishness, like a sick dog. “I tell you I won't have nobody but a man tech me to carry me up stairs. Women folks ain't strong enough. I ain't goin' to be dropped from top to bottom an' killed. I've got enough to suffer as 'tis.”
“Well, I've got to get somebody, then,” said Imogen.
“There ain't a man nearer than him for a mile, an' it's this drivin' storm,” said her mother. “Be you goin' for him?”
Imogen set her mouth hard. “I've got to get somebody,” she repeated. “Aunt Sylvy, you'd better get something to cover her up with till I get back.”
“I'll get a quilt,” replied Sylvia, eagerly. “Don't you be any longer than you can help, for mercy sakes, Imogen.”
Sylvia hurried up one flight of stairs for the quilt; Imogen ran up the other. She threw a shawl over her head, and opened the outer door. The snow came in her face; she looked across the yard to a white peak of roof and a house whose outlines showed dim and gray through the storm. Isaac Bryce and his mother lived there, and it was the only house within a mile.
Imogen hesitated. Then she nodded imperiously, as if her own double stood before her. “I've got to, anyhow,” said she. She gathered up her skirts, and went plunging across the yard. The snow was quite deep. She knocked at the side door of the Bryce house, and Mrs. Bryce opened it. She started when she saw Imogen.
“Good-afternoon. Won't you come in?” she said, in a stiff, shy way.
“Where's Isaac?” asked Imogen, boldly. Then she blushed redly all over her face and neck.
Isaac's mother blushed too, as if by reflection, and drooped her meek-lidded eyes. “He's in the sittin'-room,” said she.
“Do you suppose he'd be willing to come over to our house a minute?” said Imogen. “Aunt Susan has fallen down the cellar stairs, an' we can't get her up. Father's gone down to the village.”
“Is she hurt much?”
“I don't know; I guess her ankle's sprained. We can't tell till we get her up.”
“I guess Isaac would be willing to come,” said Mrs. Bryce, in a calm voice that was almost monotonous; but she trembled and looked up at Imogen in a scared way; she was much smaller than the girl.
“Will you ask him?” said Imogen.
“Yes, I'll ask him. You step in.”
Imogen stepped into the kitchen, and stood, whitely powdered with snow, by the door.
Mrs. Bryce went into the next room. In a minute she returned. She was quite pale. “He says he won't go unless you ask him,” she reported, in a whisper. “Don't you mind. He's terrible set. She'd ought to be got up. You'd better jest step in there and ask him. He's been feelin' dreadful bad all day. He didn't eat scarcely any dinner. You'd better.”
Imogen looked at the sitting-room door reflectively. “Well,” said she, “if he wants to stand out when a poor old woman is dying, he can. I'll go.”
She threw her shawl back, and went into the sitting-room. Isaac sat in a rocking-chair, reading the newspaper. He arose slowly, and said, “Good-afternoon.”
“Aunt Susan has fallen down the cellar stairs. Can you come over an' get her up?” asked Imogen, shortly.
“Yes; I'll come,” answered Isaac, and his tone was as short as hers.
He got his hat without another word, and they started across the yard. Imogen followed in Isaac's tracks, and Mrs. Bryce watched them from her kitchen window.
Neither Isaac nor Imogen spoke a word. She conducted him into the house, and down the cellar stairs.
“Oh, Isaac, I'm so thankful you've come!” sobbed Mrs. Evarts. “Now do take her up careful. I dun'no' but she's killed.”
Isaac Bryce was a strong man, and now Susan made no resistance. He carried her up stairs easily, and laid her on the bed in the bedroom out of the sitting-room in Sylvia's side.
“Now you'd better see how much she's hurt, an' if you want me to go for the doctor,” said he. Then he went out in the sitting-room, and waited. Presently Imogen came to him.
“I guess there ain't any need of a doctor,” said she, in a stately tone. Then she looked up at him, and in spite of herself all her old love for him showed in her face, and his answered back. The two handsome faces flashed light and love at each other like two stars.
Imogen's mother came out of the bedroom. “I guess she ain't hurt very bad,” said she. “Her ankle's swelled some, and I guess she won't be able to step on it for a few days, but that's all. Now I'm goin' to get her some dinner. Sylvy's goin' to warm up some onions, an' I wish you'd go in the other side, Imogen, an' get a nice slice of turkey. She's goin' to have some stewed chicken, but I think mebbe she'll relish some of the turkey. An'” — her voice sank to a whisper — “why don't you bring her that cape, an' let her have it over her shoulders. I guess 'twould please her.”
“You know I made that for Mrs. Bryce,” said Imogen. Then she colored and looked away.
Her mother cast a sharp glance at her and Isaac. “Well, you can make one for Mis' Bryce for New-Year's,” said she. “Can't she, Isaac? Aunt Susan hed ought to have this one, poor thing! I know it 'll please her.”
Imogen went down and up the cellar stairs to the other side, and Isaac followed. He stood looking out of the sitting-room window, while she got the turkey and the cape.
“I'll be back in a minute,” she said, when she started to go in the other side again. She would not ask him to stay in any more direct way than that.
Her mother made her carry the cape in to Susan, and she put it over her shoulders for her.
“It's just as pretty as it can be, an' real becomin',” said Mrs. Evarts. “Now I guess she'll get well. She's goin' to lay here jest as long as she wants to, too. An' she ain't goin' to get rapped back an' forth from one side to the other, is she, Sylvy?”
“No, she ain't,” answered Sylvia. “I think we'd better make up our minds to have a door cut through at the head of the stairs, an' save so much runnin' up an' down, anyway.”
“Well, I dun'no' but we hed,” returned Mrs. Evarts. And nobody would have dreamed that this prospective door had been a subject of contention for years.
“She's goin' to visit here as long as she want's to,” continued Sylvia; “an' then you shall have her, Jane. She sha'n't be pestered another mite.”
Sylvia laid her hand on the old woman's gray head with a tender touch, and she and Jane looked amiably at each other over her.
In a moment Imogen stole away and went home. She wondered if Isaac had gone. Her heart beat loudly as she opened the door at the head of the stairs. But Isaac was there, still standing by the window. He turned as she entered.
“How is she?” he asked.
“I guess she's better.”
“Well, I guess I must be going, if there's nothing else I can do,” he said, hesitatingly, after a pause.
They looked in each other's faces again; then suddenly they moved closer, and kissed each other.