Mother Emeritus by Octave Thanet
THE Louders lived on the second floor, at the head of the stairs, in the
Lossing Building. There is a restaurant to the right; and a new doctor,
every six months, who is every kind of a healer except "regular," keeps
the permanent boarders in gossip, to the left; two or three dressmakers, a
dentist, and a diamond merchant up-stairs, one flight; and half a dozen
families and a dozen single tenants higher—so you see the Louders
had plenty of neighbors. In fact, the multitude of the neighbors is one
cause of my story.
Tilly Louder came home from the Lossing factory (where she is a
typewriter) one February afternoon. As she turned the corner, she was face
to the river, which is not so full of shipping in winter that one cannot
see the steel-blue glint of the water. Back of her the brick paved street
climbed the hill, under a shapeless arch of trees. The remorseless pencil
of a railway has drawn black lines at the foot of the hill; and, all day
and all night, slender red bars rise and sink in their black sockets, to
the accompaniment of the outcry of tortured steam. All day, if not all
night, the crooked pole slips up and down the trolley wire, as the yellow
cars rattle, and flash, and clang a spiteful little bell, that sounds like
a soprano bark, over the crossings.
It is customary in the Lossing Building to say, "We are so handy to the
cars." The street is a handsome street, not free from dingy old brick
boxes of stores below the railway, but fast replacing them with fairer
structures. The Lossing Building has the wide arches, the recessed doors,
the balconies and the colonnades of modern business architecture. The
occupants are very proud of the balconies, in particular; and, summer
days, these will be a mass of greenery and bright tints. To-day, it was so
warm, February day though it was, that some of the potted plants were
sunning themselves outside the windows.
Tilly could see them if she craned her neck. There were some bouvardias
and fuchsias of her mother's among them.
"It IS a pretty building," said Tilly; and, for some reason, she frowned.
She was a young woman, but not a very young woman. Her figure was slim,
and she looked better in loose waists than in tightly fitted gowns. She
wore a dark green gown with a black jacket, and a scarlet shirt-waist
underneath. Her face was long, with square chin and high cheek-bones, and
thin, firm lips; yet she was comely, because of her lustrous black hair,
her clear, gray eyes, and her charming, fair skin. She had another gift:
everything about her was daintily neat; at first glance one said, "Here is
a person who has spent pains, if not money, on her toilet."
By this time Tilly was entering the Lossing Building. Half-way up the
stairway a hand plucked her skirts. The hand belonged to a tired-faced
woman in black, on whose breast glittered a little crowd of pins and
threaded needles, like the insignia of an Order of Toil.
"Please excuse me, Miss Tilly," said the woman, at the same time
presenting a flat package in brown paper, "but WILL you give this pattern
back to your mother. I am so very much obliged. I don't know how I WOULD
git along without your mother, Tilly."
"I'll give the pattern to her," said Tilly, and she pursued her way.
Not very far. A stout woman and a thin young man, with long, wavy, red
hair, awaited her on the landing. The woman held a plate of cake which she
thrust at Tilly the instant they were on the same level, saying: "The cake
was just splendid, tell your mother; it's a lovely recipe, and will you
tell her to take this, and see how well I succeeded?"
"And—ah—Miss Louder," said the man, as the stout woman rustled
away, "here are some Banner of Lights; I think she'd be interested
in some of the articles on the true principles of the inspirational faith——"
Tilly placed the bundle of newspapers at the base of her load—"and—and,
I wish you'd tell your dear mother that, under the angels, her mustard
plaster really saved my life."
"I'll tell her," said Tilly.
She had advanced a little space before a young girl in a bright blue silk
gown flung a radiant presence between her and the door. "Oh, Miss Tilly,"
she murmured, blushing, "will you just give your mother this?—it's—it's
Jim's photograph. You tell her it's ALL right; and SHE was exactly right,
and I was wrong. She'll understand."
Tilly, with a look of resignation, accepted a stiff package done up in
white tissue paper. She had now only three steps to take: she took two,
only two, for—"Miss Tilly, PLEASE!" a voice pealed around the
corner, while a flushed and breathless young woman, with a large baby
toppling over her lean shoulder, staggered into view. "My!" she panted,
"ain't it tiresome lugging a child! I missed the car, of course, coming
home from ma's. Oh, say, Tilly, your mother was so good, she said she'd
tend Blossom next time I went to the doctor's, and——"
"I'll take the baby," said Tilly. She hoisted the infant on to her own
shoulder with her right arm. "Perhaps you'll be so kind's to turn the
handle of the door," said she in a slightly caustic tone, "as I haven't
got any hands left. Please shut it, too."
As the young mother opened the door, Tilly entered the parlor. For a
second she stood and stared grimly about her. The furniture of the room
was old-fashioned but in the best repair. There was a cabinet organ in one
corner. A crayon portrait of Tilly's father (killed in the civil war)
glared out of a florid gilt frame. Perhaps it was the fault of the
portrait, but he had a peevish frown. There were two other portraits of
him, large ghastly gray tintypes in oval frames of rosewood, obscurely
suggesting coffins. In these he looked distinctly sullen. He was
represented in uniform (being a lieutenant of volunteers), and the artist
had conscientiously gilded his buttons until, as Mrs. Louder was wont to
observe, "It most made you want to cut them off with the scissors." There
were other tintypes and a flock of photographs in the room. What Mrs.
Louder named "a throw" decorated each framed picture and each chair. The
largest arm-chair was drawn up to a table covered with books and
magazines: in the chair sat Mrs. Louder, reading.
At Tilly's entrance she started and turned her head, and then one could
see that the tears were streaming down her cheeks.
"Now, MOTHER!" exploded Tilly. Kicking the door open, she marched into the
bed-chamber. An indignant sweep of one arm sent the miscellany of gifts
into a rocking-chair; an indignant curve of the other landed the baby on
the bed. Tilly turned on her mother. "Now, mother, what did you promise—HUSH!
will you?" (The latter part of the sentence a fierce "ASIDE" to the infant
on the bed.) In a second Mrs. Louder's arms were encircling him, and she
was soothing him on her broad shoulder, where I know not how many babies
have found comfort.
Jane Louder was a tall woman—tall and portly. She had a massive
repose about her, a kind of soft dignity; and a stranger would not guess
how tender was her heart. Deprecatingly she looked up at her only child,
standing in judgment over her. Her eyes were fine still, though they had
sparkled and wept for more than half a century. They were not gray, like
Tilly's, but a deep violet, with black eyelashes and eyebrows. Black,
once, had been the hair under the widow's cap, now streaked with silver;
but Jane Louder's skin was fresh and daintily tinted like her daughter's,
for all its fine wrinkles. Her voice when she spoke was mellow and slow,
with a nervous vibration of apology. "Never mind, dear," she said, "I was
just reading 'bout the Russians."
"I KNEW it! You promised me you wouldn't cry about the Russians any more."
"I know, Tilly, but Alma Brown lent this to me, herself. There's a
beautiful article in it about 'The Horrors of Hunger.' It would make your
heart ache! I wish you would read it, Tilly."
"No, thank you. I don't care to have my heart ache. I'm not going to read
any more horrors about the Russians, or hear them either, if I can help
it. I have to write Mr. Lossing's letters about them, and that's enough.
I've given all I can afford, and you've given more than you can afford;
and I helped get up the subscription at the shops. I've done all I could;
and now I ain't going to have my feelings harrowed up any more, when it
won't do me nor the Russians a mite of good."
"But I cayn't HELP it, Tilly. I cayn't take any comfort in my meals,
thinking of that awful black bread the poor children starve rather than
eat; and, Tilly, they ain't so dirty as some folks think! I read in a
magazine how they have GOT to bathe twice a week by their religion; and
there's a bath-house in every village. Tilly, do you know how much money
they've raised here?"
"Over three thousand. This town is the greatest town for giving—give
to the cholera down South, give to Johnstown, give to Grinnell, give to
cyclones, give to fires. The Freeman always starts up a
subscription, and Mr. Bayard runs the thing, and Mr. Lossing always gives.
Mother, I tell you HE makes them hustle when he takes hold. He's the
chairman here, and he has township chairmen appointed for every township.
He's so popular they start in to oblige him, and then, someway, he makes
them all interested. I must tell you of a funny letter he had to-day from
a Captain Ferguson, out at Baxter. He's a rich farmer with lots of
influence and a great worker, Mr. Lossing says. But this is 'most word for
word what he wrote: 'Dear Sir: I am sorry for the Russians, but my wife is
down with the la grippe, and I can't get a hired girl; so I have to stay
with her. If you'll get me a hired girl, I'll get you a lot of money for
"Did he git a girl? I mean Mr. Lossing."
"No, ma'am. He said he'd try if it was the city, but it was easier finding
gold-mines than girls that would go into the country. See here, I'm
forgetting your presents. Mother, you look real dragged and—queer!"
"It's nothing; jist a thought kinder struck me 'bout—'bout that
Tilly was sorting out the parcels and explaining them; at the end of her
task her mind harked back to an old grievance. "Mother," said she, "I've
been thinking for a long time, and I've made up my mind."
"Yes, dearie." Mrs. Louder's eyes grew troubled. She knew something of the
quality of Tilly's mind, which resembled her father's in a peculiar
immobility. Once let her decision run into any mould (be it whatsoever it
might), and let it stiffen, there was no chance, any more than with other
iron things, of its bending.
"Positively I could hardly get up the stairs today," said Tilly—she
was putting her jacket and hat away in her orderly fashion; of necessity
her back was to Mrs. Louder—"there was such a raft of people wanting
to send stuff and messages to you. You are just working yourself to death;
and, mother, I am convinced we have got to move!"
Mrs. Louder dropped into a chair and gasped. The baby, who had fallen
asleep, stirred uneasily. It was not a pretty child; its face was heavy,
its little cheeks were roughened by the wind, its lower lip sagged, its
chin creased into the semblance of a fat old man's. But Jane Louder gazed
down on it with infinite compassion. She stroked its head as she spoke.
"Tilly," said she, "I've been in this block, Mrs. Carleton and me, ever
since it was built; and, some way, between us we've managed to keep the
run of all the folks in it; at least when they were in any trouble. We've
worked together like sisters. She's 'Piscopal, and I guess I'm Unitarian;
but never a word between us. We tended the Willardses through diphtheria
and the Hopkinses through small-pox, and we steamed and fumigated the
rooms together. It was her first found out the Dillses were letting that
twelve-year-old child run the gasoline stove, and she threatened to tell
Mr. Lossing, and they begged off; and when it exploded we put it out
together, with flour out of her flour-barrel, for the poor, shiftless
things hadn't half a sack full of their own; and her and me, we took half
the care of that little neglected Ellis baby that was always sitting down
in the sticky fly-paper, poor innocent child. He's took the valedictory at
the High School, Tilly, now. No, Tilly, I couldn't bring myself to leave
this building, where I've married them, and buried them, and born them,
you may say, being with so many of their mothers; I feel like they was all
my children. Don't ASK me."
Tilly's head went upward and backward with a little dilatation of the
nostrils. "Now, mother," said she in a voice of determined gentleness,
"just listen to me. Would I ask you to do anything that wouldn't be for
your happiness? I have found a real pretty house up on Fifteenth Street;
and we'll keep house together, just as cosey; and have a woman come to
wash and iron and scrub, so it won't be a bit hard; and be right on the
street-cars; and you won't have to drudge helping Mrs. Carleton extra
times with her restaurant."
"But, Tilly," eagerly interrupted Mrs. Louder, "you know I dearly love to
cook, and she PAYS me. I couldn't feel right to take any of the pension
money, or the little property your father left me, away from the house
expenses; but what I earn myself, it is SUCH a comfort to give away out of
Tilly ran over and kissed the agitated face. "You dear, generous mother!"
cried she, "I'LL give you all the money you want to spend or give. I got
another rise in my salary of five a month. Don't you worry."
"You ain't thinking of doing anything right away, Tilly?"
"Don't you think it's best done and over with, after we've decided,
mother? You have worked so hard all your life I want to give you some ease
and peace now."
"But, Tilly, I love to work; I wouldn't be happy to do nothing, and I'd
get so fleshy!"
Tilly only laughed. She did not crave the show of authority. Let her but
have her own way, she would never flaunt her victories. She was imperious,
but she was not arrogant. For months she had been pondering how to give
her mother an easier life; and she set the table for supper, in a filial
glow of satisfaction, never dreaming that her mother, in the kitchen, was
keeping her head turned from the stove lest she should cry into the fried
ham and stewed potatoes. But, at a sudden thought, Jane Louder laid her
big spoon down to wipe her eyes.
"Here you are, Jane Louder"—thus she addressed herself—"mourning
and grieving to leave your friends and be laid aside for a useless old
woman, and jist be taken care of, and you clean forgetting the chance the
Lord gives you to help more'n you ever helped in your life! For shame!"
A smile of exaltation, of lofty resolution, erased the worry lines on her
face. "Why, it might be to save twenty lives," said she; but in the very
speaking of the words a sharp pain wrenched her heart again, and she
caught up the baby from the floor, where he sat in a wall of chairs, and
sobbed over him: "Oh, how can I go away when I got to go for good so soon?
I want every minnit!"
She never thought of disputing Tilly's wishes. "It's only fair," said
Jane. "She's lived here all these years to please me, and now I ought to
be willing to go to please her."
Neither did she for a moment hope to change Tilly's determination. "She
was the settest baby ever was," thought poor Jane, tossing on her pillow,
in the night watches, "and it's grown with every inch of her!"
But in the morning she surprised her daughter. "Tilly," said she at the
breakfast-table, "Tilly, I got something I must do, and I don't want you
to oppose me."
"Good gracious, ma!" said Tilly; "as if I ever opposed you!"
"You know how bad I have been feeling about the poor Russians———"
"And how I've wished and wished I could do something—something to
COUNT? I never could, Tilly, because I ain't got the money or the
intellect; but s'posing I could do it for somebody else, like this Captain
Ferguson who could do so much if he just could get a hired girl to take
care of his wife. Well, I do know how to cook and to keep a house neat and
to do for the sick——"
Tilly could restrain herself no longer; her voice rose to a shout of
dismay—"Mother Louder, you AIN'T thinking of going to be the
Ferguson's hired girl!"
"Not their hired girl, Tilly; just their help, so as he can work for those
poor starving creatures." Jane strangled a sob in her throat. Tilly, in a
kind of stupor of bewilderment, frowned at her plate. Then her clouded
face cleared. If Mrs. Louder had surprised her daughter, her daughter
repaid the surprise. "Well, if you feel that way, mother," said she, "I
won't say a word; and I'll ask Mr. Lossing to explain to the Fergusons and
fix everything. He will."
"You're real good, Tilly."
"And while you're gone I guess it will be a good plan to move and git
For some reason Tilly's throat felt dry, she lifted her cup. She did not
intend to look across the table, but her eyes escaped her. She set the
coffee down untasted. The clock was slow, she muttered; and she left the
Jane Louder remained in her place, with the same pale face, staring at the
"It don't seem like I COULD go, now," she thought dully to herself; "the
time's so awful short, I don't s'pose Maria Carleton can git up to see me
more'n once or twice a month, busy as she is! I got so to depend on seeing
her every day. A sister couldn't be kinder! I don't see how I am going to
bear it. And to go away, beforehand——"
For a long while she sat, her face hardly changing. At last, when she did
push her chair away, her lips were tightly closed. She spoke to the little
pile of books lying on the table in the corner. "I cayn't—these are
my own and you are strangers!" She walked across the room to take up the
same magazine which Tilly had found her reading the day before. When she
began reading she looked stern—poor Jane, she was steeling her heart—but
in a little while she was sniffing and blowing her nose. With a groan she
flung the book aside. "It's no use, I would feel like a murderer if I
don't go!" said she.
She did go. Harry Lossing made all the arrangements. Tilly was satisfied.
But, then, Tilly had not heard Harry's remark to his mother: "Alma says
Miss Louder is trying to make the old lady move against her will. I dare
say it would be better to give the young woman a chance to miss her mother
and take a little quiet think."
Tilly saw her mother off on the train to Baxter, the Fergusons' station.
Being a provident, far-sighted, and also inexperienced traveller, she had
allowed a full half-hour for preliminary passages at arms with the railway
officials; and, as the train happened to be an hour late, she found
herself with time to spare, even after she had exhausted the catalogue of
possible deceptions and catastrophes by rail. During the silence that
followed her last warning, she sat mentally keeping tally on her fingers.
"Confidence men"—Tilly began with the thumb—"Never give
anybody her check. Never lend anybody money. Never write her name to
anything. Don't get out till conductor tells her. In case of accident,
telegraph me, and keep in the middle of the car, off the trucks. Not take
care of anybody's baby while she goes off for a minute. Not take care of
babies at all. Or children. Not talk to strangers—good gracious!"
Tilly felt a movement of impatience; there, after all her cautions, there
was her mother helping an old woman, an utterly strange old woman, to pile
a bird-cage on a bandbox surmounting a bag. The old woman was clad in a
black alpaca frock, made with the voluminous draperies of years ago, but
with the uncreased folds and the brilliant gloss of a new gown. She wore a
bonnet of a singular shape, unknown to fashion, but made out of good
velvet. Beneath the bonnet (which was large) appeared a little, round,
agitated old face, with bobbing white curls and white teeth set a little
apart in the mouth, a defect that brought a kind of palpitating frankness
into the expression.
"Now, who HAS mother picked up now?" thought Tilly. "Well, praise be, she
hasn't a baby, anyhow!"
She could hear the talk between the two; for the old woman being deaf,
Mrs. Louder elevated her voice, and the old woman, herself, spoke in a
high, thin pipe that somehow reminded Tilly of a lost lamb.
"That's just so," said Mrs. Louder, "a body cayn't help worrying over a
sick child, especially if they're away from you."
"Solon and Minnie wouldn't tell me," bleated the other woman, "they knew
I'd worry. Kinder hurt me they should keep things from me; but they hate
to have me upset. They are awful good children. But I suspicioned
something when Alonzo kept writing. Minnie, she wouldn't tell me, but I
pinned her down and it come out, Eliza had the grip bad. And, then,
nothing would do but I must go to her—why, Mrs. Louder, she's my
child! But they wouldn't hark to it. 'Fraid to have me travel alone——"
"I guess they take awful good care of you," said Mrs. Louder; and she
"Yes, ma'am, awful." She, too, sighed.
As she talked her eyes were darting about the room, eagerly fixed on every
"Are you expecting anyone, Mrs. Higbee?" said Jane. They seemed, at least,
to know each other by name, thought Tilly; it was amazing the number of
people mother did know!
"No," said Mrs. Higbee, "I—I—fact is, I'm kinder frightened. I—fact
is, Mrs. Louder, I guess I'll tell you, though I don't know you very well;
but I've known about you so long—I run away and didn't tell 'em. I
just couldn't stay way from Liza. And I took the bird—for the
children; and it's my bird, and I was 'fraid Minnie would forget to feed
it and it would be lonesome. My children are awful kind good children, but
they don't understand. And if Solon sees me he will want me to go back. I
know I'm dretful foolish; and Solon and Minnie will make me see I am.
There won't be no good reason for me to go, and I'll have to stay; and I
feel as if I should FLY—Oh, massy sakes! there's Solon coming down
She ran a few steps in half a dozen ways, then fluttered back to her bag
and her cage.
"Well," said Mrs. Louder, drawing herself up to her full height, "you
SHALL go if you want to."
"Solon will find me, he'll know the bird-cage! Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"
Then a most unexpected helper stepped upon the stage. What is the
mysterious instinct of rebellion to authority that, nine cases out of ten,
sends us to the aid of a fugitive? Tilly, the unconscious despot of her
own mother, promptly aided and abetted Solon's rebel mother in her flight.
"Not if I carry it," said she, snatching up the bird-cage; "run
inside that den where they sell refreshments; he'll see ME and go
It fell out precisely as she planned. They heard Solon demanding a lady
with a bird-cage of the agent; they heard the agent's reply, given with
official indifference, "There she is, inside." Directly, Solon, a small
man with an anxious mien, ran into the waiting-room, flung a glance of
disappointment at Tilly, and ran out again.
Tilly went to her client. "Did he look like he was anxious?" was the
mother's greeting. "Oh, I just know he and Minnie will be hunting me
everywhere. Maybe I had better go home, 'stead of to Baxter."
"No, you hadn't," said Tilly, with decision. "Mother's going to Baxter,
too, and if you like, minnit you're safely off, I'll go tell your folks."
"You're real kind, I'd be ever so much obliged. And you don't mind your ma
travelling alone? ain't that nice for her!" She seemed much cheered by the
prospect of company and warmed into confidences.
"I am kinder lonesome, sometimes, that's a fact," said she, "and I kinder
wish I lived in a block or a flat like your ma. You see, Minnie teaches in
the public school and she's away all day, and she don't like to have me
make company of the hired girl, though she's a real nice girl. And there
ain't nothing for me to do, and I feel like I wasn't no use any more in
the world. I remember that's what our old minister in Ohio said once. He
was a real nice old man; and they HAD thought everything of him in the
parish; but he got old and his sermons were long; and so they got a young
man for assistant; and they made HIM a pastor americus, they called
it—some sort of Latin. Folks did say the young feller was stuck up
and snubbed the old man; anyhow, he never preached after young Lisbon
come; and only made the first prayers. But when the old folks would ask
him to preach some of the old sermons they had liked, he only would say,
'No, friends, I know more about my sermons, now.' He didn't live very
long, and I always kinder fancied being a AMERICUS killed him. And some
days I git to feeling like I was a kinder AMERICUS myself."
"That ain't fair to your children," said Tilly; "you ought to let them
know how you feel. Then they'd act different."
"Oh, I don't know, I don't know. You see, miss, they're so sure they know
better'n me. Say, Mrs. Louder, be you going to visit relatives in Baxter?"
"No, ma'am, I'm going to take care of a sick lady," said Jane, "it's
kinder queer. Her name's Ferguson, her——"
"For the land's sake!" screamed Mrs. Higbee, "why, that's my 'Liza!" She
was in a flutter of surprise and delight, and so absorbed was Tilly in
getting her and her unwieldy luggage into the car, that Jane's daughter
forgot to kiss her mother good-by.
"Put your arm in QUICK," she yelled, as Jane essayed to kiss her hand
through the window; "don't EVER put your arm or your head out of a train!"—the
train moved away—"I do hope she'll remember what I told her, and not
lend anybody money, or come home lugging somebody else's baby!"
With such reflections, and an ugly sensation of loneliness creeping over
her, Tilly went to assure Miss Minnie Higbee of her mother's safety. She
described her reception to Harry Lossing and Alma, later. "She really
seemed kinder mad at me," says Tilly, "seemed to think I was interfering
somehow. And she hadn't any business to feel that way, for SHE didn't know
how I'd fooled her brother with that bird-cage. I guess the poor old lady
daren't call her soul her own. I'd hate to have my mother that way—so
'fraid of me. MY mother shall go where she pleases, and stay where she
pleases, and DO as she pleases."
"That makes me think," says Alma, "I heard you were going to move."
"Yes, we are. Mother is working too hard. She knows everybody in the
building, and they call on her all the time; and I think the easiest way
out is just to move."
Alma and Mr. Lossing exchanged glances. There is an Arabian legend of an
angel whose trade it is to decipher the language of faces. This angel must
have perceived that Alma's eyes said, with the courage of a second in a
duel, "Go on, now is the time!" and that Harry's answered, with masculine
pusillanimity, "I don't like to!"
But he spoke. "Very likely your mother does sometimes work too hard," said
he. "But don't you think it would be harder for her not to work? Why, she
must have been in the building ever since my father bought it; and she's
been a janitor and a fire inspector and a doctor and a ministering angel
combined! That is why we never raised the rent to you when we improved the
building, and raised it on the others. My father told me your mother was
the best paying tenant he ever had. And don't you remember how, when I
used to come with him, when I was a little boy, she used to take me in her
room while he went the rounds? She was always doing good to everybody, the
same way. She has a heart as big as the Mississippi, and I assure you,
Miss Louder, you won't make her happy, but miserable, if you try to dam up
its channel. She has often told me that she loved the building and all the
people in it. They all love her. I HOPE, Miss Louder, you'll think of
those things before you decide. She is so unselfish that she would go in a
minute if she thought it would make you happier." The angel aforesaid,
during this speech (which Harry delivered with great energy and feeling),
must have had all his wits busy on Tilly's impassive features; but he
could read ardent approval, succeeded by indignation, on Alma's
countenance, at his first glance. The indignation came when Tilly spoke.
She said: "Thank you, Mr. Lossing, you're very kind, I'm sure"—Harry
softly kicked the wastebasket under the desk—"but I guess it's best
for us to go. I've been thinking about it for six months, and I know it
will be a hard struggle for mother to go; but in a little while she will
be glad she went. It's only for her sake I am doing it; it ain't an easy
or a pleasant thing for me to do, either——" As Tilly stopped
her voice was unsteady, and the rare tears shone in her eyes.
"What's best for her is the only question, of course," said Alma, helping
Harry off the field.
In a few days Tilly received a long letter from her mother. Mr. Ferguson
was doing wonders for the Russians; the family were all very kind to her
and "nice folks" and easily pleased. ("Of COURSE they're pleased with
mother's cooking; what would they be made of if they weren't!" cried
Tilly.) It was wonderful how much help Mrs. Higbee was about the house,
and how happy it made her. Mrs. Ferguson had seemed real glad to see her,
and that made her happy. And then, maybe it helped a little, her (Jane
Louder's) telling Mrs. Ferguson ("accidental like") how Tilly treated her,
never trying to boss her, and letting her travel alone. Perhaps, if Mrs.
Ferguson kept on improving, they might let her come home next week. And
the letter ended:
"I will be so glad if they do, for I want to see you so bad, dear
daughter, and I want to see the old home once more before we leave. I
guess the house you tell me about will be very nice and convenient. I do
thank you, dear daughter, for being so nice and considerate about the
Russians. Give my love to Mrs. Carleton and all of them; and if little
Bobby Green hasn't missed school since I left, give him a nickel, please;
and please give that medical student on the fifth floor—I forget his
name—the stockings I mended. They are in the first drawer of the
walnut bureau. Good-by, my dear, good daughter.
"MOTHER, JANE M. LOUDER."
When Tilly read the letter she was surrounded by wall-paper and carpet
samples. Her eyes grew moist before she laid it down; but she set her
mouth more firmly.
"It is an awful short time, but I've just got to hurry and have it over
before she comes," said she.
Next week Jane returned. She was on the train, waiting in her seat in the
car, when Captain Ferguson handed her Tilly's last letter, which had lain
in the post-office for three days.
It was very short:
"DEAR MOTHER: I shall be very glad indeed to see you. I have a surprise
which I hope will be pleasant for you; anyhow, I truly have meant it for
"Your affectionate daughter,
"M. E. LOUDER."
There must have been, despite her shrewd sense, an obtuse streak in Tilly,
else she would never have written that letter. Jane read it twice. The
paper rattled in her hands. "Tilly has moved while I was gone," she said;
"I never shall live in the block again." She dropped her veil over her
face. She sat very quietly in her seat; but the conductor who came for her
ticket watched her sharply, she seemed so dazed by his demand and was so
long in finding the ticket.
The train rumbled and hissed through darkening cornfields, into scattered
yellow lights of low houses, into angles of white light of street-arcs and
shop-windows, into the red and blue lights dancing before the engines in
"Mother!" cried Tilly's voice.
Jane let her and Harry Lossing take all her bundles and lift her out of
the car. Whether she spoke a word she could not tell. She did rouse a
little at the vision of the Lossing carriage glittering at the street
corner; but she had not the sense to thank Harry Lossing, who placed her
in the carriage and lifted his hat in farewell.
"What's he doing all that for, Tilly?" cried she; "there ain't—there
ain't nobody dead—Maria Carleton———" She stared at
Tilly was oddly moved, though she tried to speak lightly. "No, no, there
ain't nothing wrong, at all. It's because you've done so much for the
Russians—and other folks! Now, ma, I'm going to be mysterious. You
must shut your eyes and shut your mouth until I tell you. That's a dear
It was vaguely comforting to have Tilly so affectionate. "I'm a wicked,
ungrateful woman to be so wretched," thought Jane; "I'll never let Tilly
know how I felt."
In a surprisingly short time the carriage stopped. "Now, ma," said Tilly.
A great blaze of light seemed all about Jane Louder. There were the dear
familiar windows of the Lossing block.
"Come up-stairs, ma," said Tilly.
She followed like one in a dream; and like one in a dream she was pushed
into her own old parlor. The old parlor, but not quite the old parlor;
hung with new wall-paper, shining with new paint, soft under her feet with
a new carpet, it looked to Jane Louder like fairyland.
"Oh, Tilly," she gasped; "oh, Tilly, ain't you moved?"
"No, nor we ain't going to move, ma—that's the surprise! I took the
money I'd saved for moving, for the new carpet and new dishes; and the
Lossings they papered and painted. I was SO 'fraid we couldn't get done in
time. Alma and all the boarders are coming in pretty soon to welcome you,
and they've all chipped in for a little banquet at Mrs. Carleton's—why,
mother, you're crying! Mother, you didn't really think I'd move when it
made you feel so bad? I know I'm set and stubborn, and I didn't take it
well when Mr. Lossing talked to me; but the more I thought it over, the
more I seemed to myself like that hateful Minnie. Oh, mother, I ain't, am
I? You shall do just exactly as you like all the days of your life!"