Mothers to Men - Zona Gale - ebook
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"Daddy!"The dark was so thick with hurrying rain that the child's voice was drowned. So he splashed forward a few steps in the mud and puddles of the highway and plucked at the coat of the man tramping before. The man took a hand from a pocket and stooped somewhat to listen, still plodding ahead.

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Mothers to Men

By

Zona Gale

MOTHERS TO MEN

"Daddy!"

The dark was so thick with hurrying rain that the child's voice was drowned. So he splashed forward a few steps in the mud and puddles of the highway and plucked at the coat of the man tramping before. The man took a hand from a pocket and stooped somewhat to listen, still plodding ahead.

"Daddy! It's the hole near my biggest toe. My biggest toe went right through that hole an' it chokes my toe awful."

The man suddenly squatted in the mud, presenting a broad, scarcely distinguishable back.

"Climb up," he commanded.

The boy wavered. His body ached with weariness, his feet were sore and cold, something in his head was numb. But in a moment he ran on, two steps or three, past the man.

"Nope," he said, "I'm seeing if I could walk all the way. I could—yet. I just told you 'bout my toe, daddy, 'cause I had to talk about it."

The man said nothing, but he rose and groped for the child's arm and got it about the armpit, and, now and then as they walked, he pulled the shoulder awkwardly upward, trying to help.

After a time of silence the rain subsided a little, so that the child's voice was less like a drowned butterfly.

"Daddy," he said, "what's velvet?"

"I dunno, sonny. Some kind of black cloth, I guess. Why?"

"It came in my head," the child explained. "I was tryin' to think of nice things. Velvet sounds like a king's clothes—but it sounds like a coffin too. I didn't know if it's a nice thing."

This, the man understood swiftly, was because her coffin had been black velvet—the coffin which he had had no money to buy for her, for his wife and the boy's mother, the coffin which had been bought with the poor fund of a church which he had never entered. "What other nice thing you been thinkin' of?" he asked abruptly.

"Circus. An' angels. An' ice-cream. An' a barrel o' marbles. An' bein' warm an' clean stockin's an' rocked...."

"My God!" said the man.

The child looked up expectantly.

"Did he say anything back?" he inquired eagerly.

"Not a word," said the man in his throat.

"Lemme try," said the child. "God—oh, God—God dear!" he called into the night.

From the top of the hill on the edge of the Pump pasture which in that minute they had reached, they suddenly saw, cheery and yellow and alive, the lamps of Friendship Village, shining in the valley; and away at one side, less in serene contemplation than in deliberate withdrawal, shone the lights of a house set alone on its hill.

"Oh, daddy, daddy—look at the lights!" the child cried. "God didn't say nothin' with words. Maybe he talks with lights instead of 'em."

The man quickened his steps until, to keep pace with him, the little boy broke into uneven running.

"Is those lights where we're goin', daddy?" he asked.

"That's where," said the man. He put his hand in his pocket and felt for the fifteen cents that lay there, wrapped in paper. The fancied odour and warmth of something to drink caught at him until he could hardly bear the longing.

But before he could get to the drink he must do something else. The man had been fighting away the thought of what he meant to do. But when they entered the village and were actually upon its main street, lonely in the rainy, eight o'clock summer dusk, what he meant to do had to be faced. So he began looking this way and that for a place to leave the child. There was a wagon shop. Old wagons stood under the open shed, their thills and tongues hanging, not expectant of journeys like those of new wagons, but idle, like the worn arms of beaten men. Some men, he thought, would leave the boy there, to sleep under a seat and be found in the morning; but he was no such father as that, he reflected complacently. He meant to leave the boy in a home, give him a fair start. There was a little house with a broken picket fence—someway she wouldn't have liked him to be there; she always liked things nice. He had never been able to give the boy much that was nice, but now, he said to himself, he would take nothing second rate. There was a grocery with a light above stairs where very likely the family lived, and there, too, was a dry stairway where the child could sit and wait until somebody came—no, not there either.... "The best ain't none too good for the little fellow," thought the man.

"Dad-ee!" cried the child suddenly.

He had run a few steps on and stood with his nose against the misty pane of Abagail Arnold's Home Bakery. Covered with pink mosquito-netting were a plate of sugar rolls, a fruit cake, a platter of cream puffs, and a tall, covered jar of shelled nuts.

"Hustle up—you!" said the man roughly, and took him by the arm again.

"I was comin'," said the little boy.

Why not leave the child at the bakery? No—a house. It must be a house, with a porch and a front stair and big upstairs rooms and a look of money-in-the-bank. He was giving care to the selection. It was as if he were exercising some natural paternal office, to be scrupulously discharged. Music issued from the wooden saloon building with the false two-story front and the coloured windows; from a protesting piano a dance tune was being furiously forced, and, as the door swung open, the tap and thud of feet, the swell of voices and laughter, the odour of the spirits caught at the cold and weary man. "Hurry along—hurry along!" he bade the boy roughly. That was where he would come back afterward, but first he must find the right place for the boy.

Vaguely he was seeking for that section of the village which it would call "the residence part," with that ugly and naked appropriation of the term which excludes all the humbler homes from residence-hood at all. But when he had turned aside from the main street he came upon the First Church, with lights streaming from the ground-glass windows of the prayer-meeting room, and he stood still, staring up at it.

She had cared a good deal about that sort of thing. Churches did good—it was a church that had buried her when he could not. Why not there? Why not leave the child there?

He turned aside and mounted the three wooden steps and sat down, drawing the boy beside him. Grateful for a chance to rest, the child turned sidewise and dropped his head heavily on his father's arm. There was light enough for the father to see the thick, wet hair on the babyish forehead.

"I did walked all the way, didn't I?" the child said triumphantly.

"You bet you did," said his father absently.

Since the boy's mother had died only three months had passed, but in that time had been crowded for the child a lifetime of physical misery. Before that time, too, there had been hunger and cold and the torture of the continual quarreling between that mother, sickly, half-fed, irritable, and this father, out of work and drunken. Then the mother had died, and the man had started out with the boy, seeking new work where they would not know his old vice. And in these three months, for the boy's sake, that old vice had been kept bound. For the boy's sake he had been sober and, if the chance had come, he would have been industrious. But, save for odd jobs, the chance never came; there seemed to be a kind of ineffectualness in the way he asked for work which forbade him a trial. Then one day, after almost three months of the struggle, he had waked to the old craving, to the need, the instant need, for liquor. He had faced the situation honestly. He knew, or thought he knew, his power of endurance. He knew that in a day or two he would be worsted, and that there would follow a period of which, afterward, he would remember nothing. Meanwhile, what of the boy? He had a fondness for the boy, and there remained to the man some shreds of decency and even of tradition. He would not turn him over to the "authorities." He would not cast him adrift in the city. He resolved to carry him to the country, to some near little town where, dimly it seemed to him, the people would be more likely to take him in. "They have more time—an' more room—an' more to eat," he sought to explain it to himself. So he had walked, and the child had walked, from the City to Friendship Village. He must find a place to leave him: why not leave him here on the church steps, "outside the meetin'?"

"Don't you go to sleep, kiddie," he said, and shook him lightly.

"I was jus' restin' my eye-flaps. Eye-things. What are they, daddy?"

"Eye-lids."

"Yes. Them. They're tired, too," said the child, and smiled—the sleepy smile which gave his face a baby winsomeness. Then he snuggled in the curve of arm, like a drowsy, nosing puppy.

The father sat looking down on him, and in his breast something pulled. In these three months he had first become really acquainted with the boy, had first performed for him little personal offices—sewed on a button or two, bought him shoes, bound up a hurt finger. In this time, too, he had first talked with him alone, tried to answer his questions. "Where is my mamma, an' will she rock somebody else?" "Are you going to be my daddy till you die, an' then who'll be?" "What is the biggest thing everybody knows? Can I know it too?"... Also, in these three months, at night he had gone to sleep, sometimes in a bed, oftener in a barn, now and again under the stars, with the child breathing within his reach, and had waked to keep him covered with his own coat. Now he was going to end all this.

"It ain't fair to the kid not to. It ain't fair to cart him around like this," he said over and over, defending himself before some dim dissenter.

The boy suddenly swung back from his father's arm and looked up in his face. "Will—will there be any supper till morning?" he asked.

You might have thought that the man did not hear, he sat so still looking down the wet road-ruts shining under the infrequent lamps. Hunger and cold, darkness and wet and ill-luck—why should he not keep the boy from these? It was not deserting his child; it was giving him into better hands. It did not occur to him that the village might not accept the charge. Anything would be better than what he himself had to give. Hunger and cold and darkness....

"You stay still here a minute, sonny," said the man.

"You goin' 'way?" the child demanded.

"A minute. You stay still here—right where you are," said the man, and went into the darkness.

The little boy sat still. He was wide awake now that he was alone; the walls of the dark seemed suddenly to recede, and instead of merely the church steps there was the whole black, listening world to take account of. He sat alert, trying to warm each hand on the cold wrist of its fellow. Where had his father gone? To find them a place to stay? Suppose he came back and said that he had found them a home; and they should go to it; and it would have a coal stove and a bedstead, and a pantry with cookies and brown sugar in the jars. And a lady would come and cook molasses candy for him....

All this time something was hurting him intolerably. It was the foot, and the biggest toe, and the hole that was "choking" him. He fumbled at his shoe laces, but they were wet and the shoes were wet and sodden, and he gave it up. Where had his father gone? How big the world seemed when he was gone, and how different the night was. And when the lady had the molasses candy cooked, like in a story, she would cool it at the window and they would cut it in squares....

As suddenly as he had gone, his father reappeared from the darkness.

"Here," he said roughly, and thrust in the child's hands a paper bag. And when he had opened it eagerly there were sugar rolls and cream puffs and a piece of fruit cake and some shelled nuts. Fifteen cents' worth of food, badly enough selected, in all conscience, but—fifteen cents' worth. The fifteen cents which the man had been carrying in his pocket, wrapped in paper.

"Now set there," said his father, "an' eat 'em up. An' listen, son. Set there till folks come out from in there. Set there till they come out. An' here's somethin' I'm puttin' in your coat pocket—see? It's a paper. Don't you look at it. But when the folks come out from in there—an' ask you anything—you show 'em that. Remember. Show 'em that."

In the prayer-meeting room the reed organ sent out some trembling, throaty chords, and the little group in there sang an old melody. It was strange to the man, as he listened—

"Break thou the bread of life

To me, to me—"

but, "That's it," he thought, "that's it. Break it to him—I can't. All I can give him is stuff in a paper bag, an' not always that. Now you break it to him—"

"Dad-ee!" cried the child. "You!"

Startled, the man looked down at him. It was almost like a counter charge. But the child was merely holding out to him half his store. The man shook his head and went down the steps to the sidewalk and turned to look back at the child munching happily from the paper sack. "Break it to him—break it to him—God!" the father muttered, as he might have used a charm.

Again the child looked out expectantly.

"Did he say anything back?" he asked eagerly.

"Not a word—not a word," said the man again. This time he laughed, nervously and foolishly. "But mebbe he will," he mumbled superstitiously. "I dunno. Now, you set there. An' then you give 'em the paper—an' go with anybody out o' the church that asks you. Dad may not get back for—quite a while...."

The man went. The child, deep in the delight of a cream puff, wondered and looked after him troublously, and was vaguely comforted by the murmur of voices beyond the doors.

"Why, God didn't answer back because he was to the church meeting," the child thought, when he heard the people moving about within.

I

"Inside the church that night," Calliope Marsh is wont to tell it, "the Friendship Married Ladies Cemetery Improvement Sodality was having one of our special meetings, with hot chocolate and ice lemonade and two kinds of wafers. There wasn't a very big attendance, account of the rain, and there was so much refreshments ready that us ladies was urgin' the men to have all they wanted.

"'Drink both kinds, Timothy,' Mis Toplady says to her husband, persuadin'; 'it'll have to be throwed away if somebody don't drink it up.'

"'Lord, Amandy,' says Timothy, testy, 'I do hate to be sicked on to my food like that. It takes away my appetite, same as poison would.'

"'They always do it,' says Jimmy Sturgis, morose. 'My wife'll say to me, "Jimmy, eat up them cold peas. They'll spoil if you don't," and, "Jimmy, can't you make 'way with them cold pancakes?" Till I wish't I could starve.'

"'Well, if you hadn't et up things,' says Mis' Sturgis, mild, 'we'd of been scrappin' in the poor-house by now. I dunno but I'd ruther scrap where I am.'

"'Sure!' says Postmaster Silas Sykes, that always pours oil on troubled waters except when the trouble is his own; and then he churns them.

"'I dunno what ailed me in business meeting to-night,' says Mis' Holcomb-that-was-Mame-Bliss. 'I declare, I was full as nervous as a witch. I couldn't keep my feet still anywheres.'

"'The fidgets,' comprehends Mis' Uppers, sympathetic. 'I get 'em in my feet 'long toward night sometimes. Turn an' twist an' shift—I know the feeling. Whenever my feet begin that, I always give right up an' take off my shoes an' get into my rubbers.'

"'Well, I wish't I had some rubbers now,' says Mis' Mayor Uppers. 'I wore my best shoes out to tea an' come right from tea here, like a maniac. An' now look at me, in my Three Dollar-and-a-half kids an' the streets runnin' rivers.'

"'You take my rubbers,' Mis' Timothy Toplady offered. 'I've set with 'em on all evening because I always get 'em mixed up at Sodality, an' I declare the water'll feel good to my poor feet.'

"'No, no, don't you trouble,' says Mis' Uppers. 'I'll just slip my shoes off an' track that one block in my stocking feet. Then I'll put 'em in good, hot water an' go to bed. I wouldn't of come out to-night at all if it hadn't of been for the professor.'

"'For goodness' sakes,' I says, 'don't call him that. You know how he hates it.'

"'But I do like to say it,' Mis' Uppers insists, wistful. 'He's the only professor I ever knew.'

"'Me either,' I says—and I knew how she felt.

"Just the same, we was getting to like Mr. Insley too much to call him that if he didn't want it, or even 'doctor' that was more common, though over to Indian Mound College, half way between us and the City, he is one or both, and I dunno but his name tapers off with capital letters, same as some.

"'I just came over here to work,' he told us when we first see him. 'I don't profess anything. And "doctor" means teacher, you know, and I'm just learning things. Must you have a formal title for me? Won't Mr. do?'

"Most of the College called him just 'Insley,' friendly and approving, and dating back to his foot-ball days, and except when we was speaking to him, we commonly got to calling him that too. A couple of months before he'd come over from the College with a letter of introduction from one of the faculty to Postmaster Silas Sykes, that is an alderman and our professional leading citizen. The letter from the College said that we could use Mr. Insley in any local civic work we happened to be doing.

"'Civic work?' Silas says to him, thoughtful. 'You mean shuttin' up saloons an' like that?'

"'Not necessarily,' he told him. 'Just work with folks, you know.'

"'Well-a, settin' out bushes?' Silas asks.

"'Whatever you're most interested in, Mr. Sykes,' says he. 'Isn't there some organization that's doing things here?'

"Silas wasn't interested in so very much of anything except Silas. But the word 'organization' helped him out.

"'There's the Friendship Married Ladies Cemetery Improvement Sodality,' says he. 'That must be the very kind of a thing you mean.'

"Insley laughed a little, but he let Mis' Sykes, that loves new things and new people, bring him to our next evening meeting in the church parlors, and he'd been back several times, not saying much, but just getting acquainted. And that rainy night, when the men met with us to talk over some money raising for Sodality, we'd asked him to come over too. We all liked him. He had a kind of a used-to-things way, and you felt like you'd always known him or, for the time you hadn't, that you'd both missed something out; and he had a nice look too, a look that seemed to be saying 'good morning' and to be beginning a fine, new day—the best day yet.

"He'd set there kind of broodin' the most of that evening, drinking whatever anybody brought him, but not putting his mind to it so very much; but it was a bright broodin', an' one that made you think of something that's going to open and not just of something that's shut up. You can brood both ways, but the effect is as different as a bud from a core.

"'Speakin' of money raisin' for Sodality,' says Silas Sykes, kind of pretend hearty and pretend casual, like he does, 'why don't Sodality make some money off'n the Fourth of July? Everybody else is.'

("Sodality always speaks of itself and of the Cemetery real intimate, without the the, an' everybody's got to doing it.)

"Us ladies all set still and kept still. The Fourth of July, that was less than a week off, was a sore point with us, being we'd wanted a celebration that would be a celebration, and not merely a money-raiser for the town.

"'Oh, I say canvass, house to house,' says Timothy. 'Folks would give you a dime to get you off'n the front porch that wouldn't come out to a dime entertainment, never.'

"'Why not ask them that's got Dead in their own families, to pay out for 'em, an' leave them alone that's got livin' mouths to feed?' says Threat Hubbelthwait, querulous. Threat ain't no relations but his wife, and he claims to have no Dead of his own. I always say they must be either living or dead, or else where's Threat come in? But he won't admit it.

"'What you raisin' money for anyhow?' asks Eppleby Holcomb, quiet. Eppleby always keeps still a long time, and then lets out something vital.

"As a matter of fact, Sodality didn't have no real work on hand, Cemetery lookin' real neat and tasty for Cemetery, and no immediate dead coming on as far as we could know; but we didn't have much of anything in the treasury, either. And when we didn't have any work on hand, we was in the habit of raising money, and when we'd got some money earnt, we was in the habit of devising some nice way to spend it. And so we kept Sodality real alive.

"'Well, there may not be any active dead just now,' Mis' Sykes explains it, 'but they are sure to die and need us. We had two country funerals to pay for last year. Or I might say, one an' a half, one corpse contributing half enough for his own support in Cemetery.'

"With that Insley spoke up, kind of firm and nice, with muscles in his tone, like he does:

"'What's the matter with doing something with these folks before they die?' he asks.

"I guess we all looked kind of blank—like when you get asked why Columbus discovered America and all you know how to answer is just the date he done so on.

"'Well-a,' says Mis' Sykes, 'do what?'

"'Mustn't there be something to do with them, living, if there's everything to be done for them, dead?' Insley asks.

"'Well-a' says Mis' Sykes, 'I don't know that I understand just how you mean that. Perhaps the Mission Band—'

"'No,' says Insley. 'You. Us.'

"I never knew a man to say so little and yet to get so much said.

"'Well-a,' says Mis' Sykes, 'of course Sodality was formed with the idee of caring for Cemetery. You see that lets in the Dead only.'

"'Gosh,' says Eppleby Holcomb, 'how exclusive.' But I don't know as anybody heard him but me.

"'I know,' says Insley, slow. 'Well, at any rate, perhaps there are things that all of us Living might do together—for the sake, say, of earning some money for the Dead. There'd be no objection to that, would there?'

"'Oh, no,' says Mis' Sykes. 'I'm sure nobody could take exception to that. Of course you always have to earn money out of the living.'

"Insley looked at us all kind of shy—at one and another and another of us, like he thought he might find some different answer in somebody's eyes. I smiled at him, and so did Mis' Toplady, and so did Eppleby; and Mis' Eleanor Emmons, the widow-lady, lately moved in, she nodded. But the rest set there like their faces was on wrong side out and didn't show no true pattern.

"'I mean,' he says, not quite knowing how to make us understand what he was driving at, 'I mean, let's get to know these folks while they are alive. Aren't we all more interested in folks, than we are in their graves?'

"'Folks,' Timothy Toplady says over, meditative, like he'd heard of members, customers, clients, murderers and the like, but never of folks.

"'I mean,' Insley says again, 'oh, any one of a dozen things. For instance, do something jolly that'll give your young people something to do evenings—get them to help earn the money for Cemetery, if you want to,' he adds, laughing a little.

"'There's goin' to be a Vigilance Committee to see after the young folks of Friendship Village, nights,' says Silas Sykes, grim.

"'You might have town parties, have the parties in schools and in the town hall,' Insley goes on, 'and talk over the Cemetery that belongs to you all, and talk over the other things besides the Cemetery that belong to you all. Maybe I could help,' he adds, 'though I own up to you now I'm really more fond of folks—speaking by and large—than I am of tombstones.'

"He said a little more to us, about how folks was doing in the world outside the village, and he was so humorous about it that they never knew how something inside him was hopping with hope, like I betted it was, with his young, divine enthusiasm. And when he'd got done he waited, all grave and eager, for somebody to peep up. And it was, as it would be, Silas Sykes who spoke first.

"'It's all right, it's all right,' says he, 'so long as Sodality don't go meddling in the village affairs—petitionin' the council and protestin' an' so on. That gets any community all upset.'

"'That's so,' says Timothy, nodding. 'Meetin', singin' songs, servin' lemonade an' plantin' things in the ground is all right enough. It helps on the fellow feelin' amazin'. But pitchin' in for reforms and things—' Timothy shook his head.

"'As to reforms,' says Insley, 'give me the fellowship, and the reforms will take care of themselves.'

"'Things is quite handy about takin' their course, though,' says Silas, 'so be we don't yank open the cocoons an' buds an' others.'

"'Well,' says Mis' Uppers, 'I can't do much more, Professor. I'm drove to death, as it is. I don't even get time to do my own improvin' round the place.' Mis' Uppers always makes that her final argument. 'Sew for the poor?' I've heard her say. 'Why, I can't even get my own fall sewing done.'

"'Me, too,' and, 'Me, either,' went round the circle. And, 'I can't do a great deal myself,' says Mis' Sykes, 'not till after my niece goes away.'

"I thought, 'I shouldn't think you could tend to much of anything else, not with Miss Beryl Sessions in the house.' That was the Sykes's niece, till then unknown to them, that we'd all of us heard nothing but, since long before she come. But of course I kept still, part because I was expecting an unknown niece of my own in a week or so, and your unknown relatives is quite likely to be glass houses.

"'Another thing,' says Mis' Hubbelthwait, 'don't let's us hold any doin's in this church, kicking up the new cork that the Ladies' Aid has just put down on the floor. It'll all be tracked up in no time, letting in Tom, Dick, and Harry.'

"'Don't let's get the church mixed up in anything outside, for pity's sakes,' says Silas. 'The trustees'll object to our meeting here, if we quit working for a dignified object and go to making things mutual, promiscuous. Churches has got to be church-like.'

"'Well, Silas,' says Eppleby Holcomb, that hadn't been saying anything, 'I donno as some of us could bring ourselves to think of Christ as real Christ-like, if he come back the way he use' to be.'

"Insley sat looking round on them all, still with his way of saying good morning on a good day. I wondered if he wasn't wishing that they'd hang on that way to something worth hanging to. For I've always thought, and I think now, that they's a-plenty of stick-to-itiveness in the world; but the trouble is, it's stuck to the wrong thing.

"The talk broke up after that, like somebody had said something in bad taste; and we conversed around in groups, and done our best to make 'way with the refreshments. And Insley set talking to Mis' Eleanor Emmons, the new widow, lately moved in.

"About Mis' Emmons the social judgment of Friendship Village was for the present hanging loose. This was partly because we didn't understand her name.

"'My land, was her husband a felon or a thief or what that she don't use his name?' everybody asked everybody. 'What's she stick her own name in front of his last name like that for? Sneaked out of usin' his Christian name as soon as his back was turned, I call it,' said some. 'My land, I'd use my dead husband's forename if it was Nebuchadnezzar. My opinion, we'd best go slow till she explains herself.'

"But I guess Insley had more confidence.

"'You'll help, I know?' I heard him say to Mis' Emmons.

"'My friend,' she says back, 'whatever I can do I'll do. It's a big job you're talking about, you know.'

"'It's the big job,' says Insley, quiet.

"Pretty soon Mis' Toplady got up on her feet, drawing her shawl up her back.

"'Well,' she says, 'whatever you decide, count on me—I'll always do for chinkin' in. I've got to get home now and set my bread or it won't be up till day after to-morrow. Ready, Timothy? Good night all.'

"She went towards the door, Timothy following. But before they got to it, it opened, and somebody come in, at the sight of who Mis' Toplady stopped short and the talk of the rest of us fell away. No stranger, much, comes to Friendship Village without our knowing it, and to have a stranger walk unbeknownst into the very lecture-room of the First Church was a thing we never heard of, without he was a book agent or a travelling man.

"Here, though, was a stranger—and such a stranger. She was so unexpected and so dazzling that it shot through my head she was like a star, taking refuge from all the roughness and the rain outside—a star, so it come in my head, using up its leisure on a cloudy night with peepin' in here and there to give out brightness anyway. The rough, dark cheviot that the girl wore was sort of like a piece of storm-cloud clinging about that brightness—a brightness of wind-rosy face and blowy hair, all uncovered. She stood on the threshold, holding her wet umbrella at arm's length out in the entry.

"'I beg your pardon. Are you ready, Aunt Eleanor?' she asked.

"Mis' Eleanor Emmons turned and looked at her.

"'Robin!' she says. 'Why, you must be wet through.'

"'I'm pretty wet,' says the girl, serene, 'I'm so messy I won't come in. I'll just stop out here on the steps. Don't hurry.'

"'Wait a minute,' Mis' Emmons says. 'Stay where you are then, please, Robin, and meet these people.'

"The girl threw the door wide, and she stepped back into the vestibule, where her umbrella had been trailing little puddles; and she stood there against the big, black background of the night and the village, while Mis' Emmons presented her.

"'This is my niece, Miss Sidney,' she told us. 'She has just come to me to-day—for as long as I can keep her. Will you all come to see her?'

"It wasn't much the way Mis' Sykes had done, singing praises of Miss Beryl Sessions for weeks on end before she'd got there; nor the way I was doing, wondering secret about my unknown niece, and what she'd be like. Mis' Emmons introduced her niece like she'd always been one of us. She said our names over, and we went towards her; and Miss Sidney leaned a little inside the frame of the doorway and put out her hand to us all, a hand that didn't have any glove on and that in spite of the rain, was warm.

"'I'm so sorry,' she says, 'I'm afraid I'm disgracing Aunt Eleanor. But I couldn't help it. I love to walk in the rain.'

"'That's what rain is for,' Insley says to her; and I see the two change smiles before Mis' Hubbelthwait's 'Well, I do hope you've got some good high rubbers on your feet' made the girl grave again—a sweet grave, not a stiff grave. You can be grave both ways, and they're as different from each other as soup from hot water.

"'I have, thank you,' she says, 'big storm boots. Did you know,' she adds, 'that somebody else is waiting out here? Somebody's little bit of a beau? And I'm afraid he's gone to sleep.'

"We looked at one another, wondering. Who was waiting for any of us? 'Not me,' one after another says, positive. 'We've all raced home alone from this church since we was born,' Mis' Uppers adds, true enough.

"We was curious, with that curiosity that it's kind of fun to have, and we all crowded forward into the entry. And a little to one side of the shining lamp path was setting a child—a little boy, with a paper bag in his arms.

II

"Who on earth was he, we wondered to ourselves, and we all jostled forward, trying to see down to him, us women lifting up our skirts from the entry wet. He was like a little wad of clothes, bunched up on the top step, but inside them the little fellow was all curled up, sleeping. And we knew he hadn't come for any of us, and he didn't look like he was waiting for anybody in particular.

"Silas fixed up an explanation, ready-done:—

"'He must belong down on the flats,' says Silas. 'The idear of his sleepin' here. I said we'd oughter hev a gate acrost the vestibule.'

"'Roust him up an' start him home,' says Timothy Toplady, adviceful.

"'I will,' says Silas, that always thinks it's his share to do any unclaimed managing; and he brought down his hand towards the child's shoulder. But his hand didn't get that far.

"'Let me wake him up,' says Robin Sidney.