A Stranger in the Village

Mary E. Wilkins

From The Pot Of Gold (D. Lothrop Company; Boston: 1892)

“Margary,” said her mother, “take the pitcher now, and fetch me some fresh, cool water from the well, and I will cook the porridge for supper.”

“Yes, mother,” said Margary. Then she put on her little white dimity hood, and got the pitcher, which was charmingly shaped, from the cupboard shelf. The cupboard was a three-cornered one beside the chimney. The cottage which Margary and her mother lived in, was very humble, to be sure, but it was very pretty. Vines grew all over it, and flowering bushes crowded close to the diamond-paned windows. There was a little garden at one side, with beds of pinks and violets in it, and a straw-covered beehive, and some raspberry bushes all yellow with fruit.

Inside the cottage, the floor was sanded with the whitest sand; lovely old straight-backed chairs stood about; there was an oaken table, and a spinning-wheel. A wicker cage, with a lark in it, hung in the window.

Margary with her pitcher, tripped along to the village well. On the way she met two of her little mates — Rosamond and Barbara. They were flying along, their cheeks very rosy and their eyes shining.

“O, Margary,” they cried, “come up to the tavern, quick, and see! The most beautiful coach-and-four is drawn up there. There are lackeys in green and gold, with cocked hats, and the coach hath a crest on the side — O, Margary!”

Margary's eyes grew large too, and she turned about with her empty pitcher and followed her friends. They had almost reached the tavern, and were in full sight of the coach-and-four, when some one coming toward them caused them to draw up on one side of the way and stare with new wonder. It was a most beautiful little boy. His golden curls hung to his shoulders, his sweet face had an expression at once gentle and noble, and his dress was of the richest material. He led a little flossy white dog by a ribbon.

After he had passed by, the three little girls looked at each other.

“Oh!” cried Rosamond, “did you see his hat and feather?”

“And his lace vandyke, and the fluffy white dog!” cried Barbara. But Margary said nothing. In her heart, she thought she had never seen any one so lovely.

Then she went on to the well with her pitcher, and Rosamond and Barbara went home, telling every one they met about the beautiful little stranger.

Margary, after she had filled her pitcher, went home also; and was beginning to talk about the stranger to her mother, when a shadow fell across the floor from the doorway. Margary looked up. “There he is now!” cried she in a joyful whisper.

The pretty boy stood there indeed, looking in modestly and wishfully. Margary's mother arose at once from her spinning-wheel, and came forward; she was a very courteous woman. “Wilt thou enter, and rest thyself,” said she, “and have a cup of our porridge, and a slice of our wheaten bread, and a bit of honeycomb?”

The little boy sniffed hungrily at the porridge which was just beginning to boil; he hesitated a moment, but finally thanked the good woman very softly and sweetly and entered.

Then Margary and her mother set a bottle of cowslip wine on the table, slices of wheaten bread, and a plate of honeycomb, a bowl of ripe raspberries, and a little jug of yellow cream, and another little bowl with a garland of roses around the rim, for the porridge. Just as soon as that was cooked, the stranger sat down, and ate a supper fit for a prince. Margary and her mother half supposed he was one; he had such a courtly, yet modest air.

When he had eaten his fill, and his little dog had been fed too, he offered his entertainers some gold out of a little silk purse, but they would not take it.

So he took hold of his dog's ribbon, and went away with many thanks. “We shall never see him again,” said Margary sorrowfully.

“The memory of a stranger one has fed, is a pleasant one,” said her mother.

“I am glad the lark sang so beautifully all the while he was eating,” said Margary.

While they were eating their own supper, the oldest woman in the village came in. She was one hundred and twenty years old, and, by reason of her great age, was considered very wise.

“Have you seen the stranger?” asked she in her piping voice, seating herself stiffly.

“Yes,” replied Margary's mother. “He hath supped with us.”

The oldest woman twinkled her eyes behind her iron-bowed spectacles. “Lawks!” said she. But she did not wish to appear surprised, so she went on to say she had met him on the way, and knew who he was.

“He's a Lindsay,” said the oldest woman, with a nod of her white-capped head. “I tried him wi' a buttercup. I held it under his chin, and he loves butter. So he's a Lindsay; all the Lindsays love butter. I know, for I was nurse in the family a hundred years ago.”

This, of course, was conclusive evidence. Margary and her mother had faith in the oldest woman's opinion; and so did all the other villagers. She told a good many people how the little stranger was a Lindsay, before she went to bed that night. And he really was a Lindsay, too; though it was singular how the oldest woman divined it with a buttercup.

The pretty child had straightway driven off in his coach-and-four as soon as he had left Margary's mother's cottage; he had only stopped to have some defect in the wheels remedied. But there had been time enough for a great excitement to be stirred up in the village.

All any one talked about the next day, was the stranger. Every one who had seen him, had some new and more marvelous item; till charming as the child really was, he became, in the popular estimation, a real fairy prince.

When Margary and the other children went to school, with their horn-books hanging at their sides, they found the schoolmaster greatly excited over it. He was a verse-maker, and though he had not seen the stranger himself, his imagination more than made amends for that. So the scholars were not under a very strict rule that day, for the master was busy composing a poem about the stranger. Every now and then a line of the poem got mixed in with the lessons.

The schoolmaster told in beautiful meters about the stranger's rich attire, and his flowing locks of real gold wire, his lips like rubies, and his eyes like diamonds. He furnished the little dog with hair of real floss silk, and called his ribbon a silver chain. Then the coach, as it rolled along, presented such a dazzling appearance, that several persons who inadvertently looked at it had been blinded. It was the schoolmaster's opinion, set forth in his poem, that this really was a prince. One could scarcely doubt it, on reading the poem. It is a pity it has not been preserved, but it was destroyed — how, will transpire further on.

Well, two days after this dainty stranger with his coach-and-four came to the village, a little wretched beggar-boy, leading by a dirty string a forlorn muddy little dog, appeared on the street. He went to the tavern first, but the host pushed him out of the door, throwing a pewter porringer after him, which hit the poor little dog and made it yelp. Then he spoke pitifully to the people he met, and knocked at the cottage doors; but every one drove him away. He met the oldest woman, but she gathered her skirts closely around her and hobbled by, her pointed nose up in the air, and her cap-strings flying straight out behind.

“I prithee, granny,” he called after her, “try me with the buttercup again, and see if I be not a Lindsay.”

“Thou a Lindsay,” quoth the oldest woman contemptuously; but she was very curious, so she turned around and held a buttercup underneath the boy's dirty chin.

“Bah,” said the oldest woman, “a Lindsay indeed! Butter hath no charm for thee, and the Lindsays all loved it. I know, for I was nurse in the family a hundred year ago.”

Then she hobbled away faster than ever, and the poor boy kept on. Then he met the schoolmaster, who had his new poem in a great roll in his hand. “What little vagabond is this?” muttered he, gazing at him with disgust. “He hath driven a fine metaphor out of my head.”

When the boy reached the cottage where Margary and her mother lived, the dame was sitting in the door spinning, and the little girl was picking roses from a bush under the window, to fill a tall china mug which they kept on a shelf.

When Margary heard the gate click, and turning, saw the boy, she started so that she let her pinafore full of roses slip, and the flowers all fell out on the ground. Then she dropped an humble curtesy; and her mother rose and curtesied also, though she had not recognized her guest as soon as Margary.

The poor little stranger fairly wept for joy. “Ah, you remember me,” he said betwixt smiles and tears.

Then he entered the cottage, and while Margary and her mother got some refreshment ready for him, he told his pitiful story.

His father was a Lindsay, and a very rich and noble gentleman. Some little time before, he and his little son had journeyed to London, with their coach-and-four. Business having detained him longer than he had anticipated, and fearing his lady might be uneasy, he had sent his son home in advance, in the coach, with his lackeys and attendants. Everything had gone safely till after leaving this village. Some miles beyond, they had been attacked by highwaymen and robbed. The servants had either been taken prisoners or fled. The thieves had driven off with the coach-and-four, and the poor little boy had crawled back to the village.

Margary and her mother did all they could to comfort him. They prepared some hot broth for him, and opened a bottle of cowslip wine. Margary's mother gave him some clean clothes, which had belonged to her son who had died. The little gentleman looked funny in the little rustic's blue smock, but he was very comfortable. They fed the forlorn little dog too, and washed him till his white hair looked fluffy and silky again.

When the London mail stopped in the village, the next day, they sent a message to Lord Lindsay, and in a week's time, he came after his son. He was a very grand gentleman; his dress was all velvet and satin, and blazing with jewels. How the villagers stared. They had flatly refused to believe that this last little stranger was the first one, and had made great fun of Margary and her mother for being so credulous. But they had not minded. They had given their guest a little pallet stuffed with down, and a pillow stuffed with rose-leaves to sleep on, and fed him with the best they had. His father, in his gratitude, offered Margary's mother rich rewards; but she would take nothing. The little boy cried on parting with his kind friends, and Margary cried too.

“I prithee, pretty Margary, do not forget me,” said he.

And she promised she never would, and gave him a sprig of rosemary out of her garden to wear for a breastknot.

The villagers were greatly mortified when they discovered the mistake they had made. However, the oldest woman always maintained that her not having her spectacles on, when she met the stranger the second time, was the reason of her not seeing that he loved butter; and the schoolmaster gave his poetical abstraction for an excuse. Mine host of the “Boar's Head” fairly tore his hair, and flung the pewter porringer, which he had thrown after the stranger and his dog, into the well. After that he was very careful how he turned away strangers because of their appearance. Generally he sent for the oldest woman to put her spectacles on, and try the buttercup test. Then, if she said they loved butter and were Lindsays, they were taken in and entertained royally. She generally did say they loved butter — she was so afraid of making a mistake the second time, herself; so the village-inn got to be a regular refuge for beggars, and they called it amongst themselves the “Beggars' Rest,” instead of the “Boar's Head.”

As for Margary, she grew up to be the pride of the village; and in time, Lord Lindsay's son, who had always kept the sprig of rosemary, came and married her. They had a beautiful wedding; all of the villagers were invited; the bridegroom did not cherish any resentment. They danced on the green, and the Lindsay pipers played for them. The bride wore a white damask petticoat worked with pink roses, her pink satin shortgown was looped up with garlands of them, and she wore a wreath of roses on her head.

The oldest woman came to the wedding, and hobbled up to the bridegroom with a buttercup. “Thou beest a Lindsay,” said she. “Thou lovest butter, and the Lindsays all did. I know, for I was nurse in the family a hundred year ago.”

As for the schoolmaster, he was distressed. His wife had taken his poem on the stranger for papers to curl her hair on for the wedding, and he had just discovered it. He had calculated on making a present of it to the young couple.

However, he wrote another on the wedding, of which one verse is still extant, and we will give it:

“When Lindsay wedded Margary,
Merrily piped the pipers all.
The bride, the village-pride was she,
The groom, a gay gallant was he.
Merrily piped the pipers all,
When Lindsay wedded Margary.”