Mary E. Wilkins

From Harper's Bazar Vol. XXVIII No. 21 (May 25, 1895)

Miranda's house stood near the sea-shore. The sweet-williams in her little front yard had to struggle against the sand, and were sorely buffeted by the mighty salt winds. It was well that they belonged to the race of flowers which wither upon their stalks, and were in no danger of having their pretty painted petals torn away. As it was, they were sometimes lashed about and beaten flat in their green ranks, while Miranda pressed her sallow cheek against her window-pane and watched them sadly. When the calm came she would scrape away the drifted sand from their roots and straighten them, but the wind she could not stay.

Miranda had a belief, which she told to nobody, and scarcely faced herself, although it was founded upon Scripture, in the Prince of the Powers of the Air. She had felt, with a bending and curving away of her whole soul, a presence in the wind; she had conceived a dark energy of intelligence in the blast that smote her window.

Miranda was a church member, and she said her daily prayer, and “Thy will be done” awakened no struggle in her soul. She felt an inmost certainty that the will of the Lord toward her had been only for good and pleasant things. She believed that all the woes of her life had come from that dark Potentate who fared abroad in the night and the storm. Her stress of life had been such, and her manner of mind was such, that she had either to lose belief-in the mercy of God or believe in the devil. She believed in the devil.

Miranda's peculiar views might have been attributable to some inherent melancholy strain, or to an unusual power of gloomy imagination. She never confided them to others. Often, with neighbors around her, she listened to what she alone heard, and made no sign.

Miranda, with no doubt in her soul of the loving-kindness of the Lord toward her, adored him like a saint. She prayed and read her Bible, she worked hard, and ministered with all her strength to those who had need of her. Although she believed that she had been hardly buffeted by Satan during her life, she also believed that the Lord had walked with her through her valleys of shadows.

Miranda had had a sad time in the world. When she was a child her father had been lost at sea; she had been obliged to toil for her bread almost from her cradle. When she was a girl grown, with a lover, her mother had gone melancholy mad, and wandered off and died in the salt-marshes. Then her sailor lover had seen a fairer face in another port, and wedded there, and the news had come to her as she sewed her wedding-gown.

Miranda had an elder sister, and a younger brother who had his fair wits clouded from his birth. The elder sister died, and Miranda had her foolish brother to care for and both their livings to earn. She took cold, going out in all weathers for all sorts of rough toil, and contracted an affection of the hip joint and a grotesque lameness. She had been a pretty girl, but her beauty was all gone before she was middle-aged. She looked in her glass only to smooth her hair. She had never forgotten her faithless lover, and she had also forgiven him. Once she waxed fairly fierce when a neighbor repeated to her a rumor that he was a scoundrel, dissipated, and worthless. She denied it with the authority of love, not caring what was thought of her.

She still loved her old lover, and she still tended his flowers in her garden. Her lover's name was William, and he had brought her, years ago, when going away to sea, the roots of the sweet-williams, and bade her plant his namesakes in her garden, and tend them faithfully, for love of him, until he came home. He had a merry spirit, and she had loved that well.

Miranda proved her faithful love, for year after year, in the season of them, her little front yard was gay and sweet with her lover's flowers. They were a thicket of mottled crimson bloom. Strangers stopped to look at them. There are sadder things in life for souls of a certain guild than keeping green the memories of loved ones gone forever. Miranda had a certain peace and happiness while tending her flowers.

Miranda's foolish brother lived until she was past fifty. Then he died, and that same year a little property came to her, and she needed to work hard no longer. The summer of that year her sweet-williams were more beautiful than ever, she had so much leisure to tend them; and that summer the one who had given them to her came back.

One night there was a terrible storm, and the sweet-williams were beaten down before the wind. Early in the evening, before the storm had fairly broken, Miranda had gone out in her garden, but her gray locks and her cotton garments had lashed about her like whips, her breath had failed, and she had felt the wind bearing down upon her like a solid body of wrath. Her old terror had returned; she had fled into her little house, pulled down her curtains, and bolted her doors.

The storm waxed harder and harder. The rain, with the force of the gale in it, pelted the windows like bullets; the house rocked. Miranda did not go to bed. She sat with her Bible in her lap, and read and prayed. She prayed for all those who go down to the sea in ships, and she mentioned her old lover by his name to the Lord. She reflected that he might be on the water that awful night.

A little after midnight she heard the boom of a gun, and knew a ship was in distress not far away. Her heart failed her at the thought. “William may be aboard that ship.” She heard the halloos of men going by to the rescue. She prayed more fervently, and shuddered when the evil wail of the wind rose higher.

She heard the guns again and again; she heard the fierce rattle of the rain on the window-panes; she heard the mighty command of the wind; and she heard a knock on her house door.

A great horror came over Miranda. She stared at the door with wild eyes. The knock came again. Miranda, calling upon the Lord for aid, went to the door and flung it open. A great gust of strong wind met her, and a man's dark face was in the midst of it.

Her old lover stood there, but she did not know him. A blindness of horror was upon her. He told her who he was, and pleaded with her to let him in out of the storm, and give him food; but she would not. “The town is only a few rods away, and I am a lone woman,” she repeated, quavering and repellent.

“Don't you know me, Miranda?” pleaded the man.

But she shook her head. Not a look of her old lover could she see in his aged, vice-furrowed face; not one old note could she hear in his thick voice. She turned him away from her door with desperate fear and loathing that awakened a strange terror in the man himself. It was almost as if he also for a moment saw the image of horror he had become to this woman who had once loved him.

She shut the door; he heard the bolt slip, and he panted away through the storm to the tavern. There he drank and drank, until the guns ceased to boom, and the ship went down, and the rescuers returned baffled, and the morning light broke in the wild sky.

He found old mates, and he talked much as he drank. His wife was dead. He had never forgotten Miranda. He would wed her now and make amends for the past, but she had turned him away from her door. “'Tis the constancy of women,” said William; and he swore a great oath.

But when the wind had gone down, and the sun was bright, and he lay in a drunken sleep, Miranda came out in her garden, and tied up tenderly her sweet-williams that had been beaten down by the storm.