by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
JIM BENNET had never married. He had passed middle life, and possessed
considerable property. Susan Adkins kept house for him. She was a widow
and a very distant relative. Jim had two nieces, his brother's daughters.
One, Alma Beecher, was married; the other, Amanda, was not. The nieces had
naively grasping views concerning their uncle and his property. They
stated freely that they considered him unable to care for it; that a
guardian should be appointed and the property be theirs at once. They
consulted Lawyer Thomas Hopkinson with regard to it; they discoursed at
length upon what they claimed to be an idiosyncrasy of Jim's, denoting
failing mental powers.
"He keeps a perfect slew of cats, and has a coal fire for them in the
woodshed all winter," said Amanda.
"Why in thunder shouldn't he keep a fire in the woodshed if he wants to?"
demanded Hopkinson. "I know of no law against it. And there isn't a law in
the country regulating the number of cats a man can keep." Thomas
Hopkinson, who was an old friend of Jim's, gave his prominent chin an
upward jerk as he sat in his office arm-chair before his clients.
"There is something besides cats," said Alma
"He talks to himself."
"What in creation do you expect the poor man to do? He can't talk to Susan
Adkins about a blessed thing except tidies and pincushions. That woman
hasn't a thought in her mind outside her soul's salvation and fancy-work.
Jim has to talk once in a while to keep himself a man. What if he does
talk to himself? I talk to myself. Next thing you will want to be
appointed guardian over me, Amanda."
Hopkinson was a bachelor, and Amanda flushed angrily.
"He wasn't what I call even gentlemanly," she told Alma, when the two were
on their way home.
"I suppose Tom Hopkinson thought you were setting your cap at him,"
retorted Alma. She relished the dignity of her married state, and enjoyed
giving her spinster sister little claws when occasion called. However,
Amanda had a temper of her own, and she could claw back.
"YOU needn't talk," said she. "You only took Joe Beecher when you had
given up getting anybody better. You wanted Tom Hopkinson yourself. I
haven't forgotten that blue silk dress you got and wore to meeting. You
needn't talk. You know you got that dress just to make Tom look at you,
and he didn't. You needn't talk."
"I wouldn't have married Tom Hopkinson if he had been the only man on the
face of the earth," declared Alma with dignity; but she colored hotly.
Amanda sniffed. "Well, as near as I can find out Uncle Jim can go on
talking to himself and keeping cats, and we can't do anything," said she.
When the two women were home, they told Alma's husband, Joe Beecher, about
their lack of success. They were quite heated with their walk and
excitement. "I call it a shame," said Alma. "Anybody knows that poor Uncle
Jim would be better off with a guardian."
"Of course," said Amanda. "What man that had a grain of horse sense would
do such a crazy thing as to keep a coal fire in a woodshed?"
"For such a slew of cats, too," said Alma, nodding fiercely.
Alma's husband, Joe Beecher, spoke timidly and undecidedly in the defense.
"You know," he said, "that Mrs. Adkins wouldn't have those cats in the
house, and cats mostly like to sit round where it's warm."
His wife regarded him. Her nose wrinkled. "I suppose next thing YOU'LL be
wanting to have a cat round where it's warm, right under my feet, with all
I have to do," said she. Her voice had an actual acidity of sound.
Joe gasped. He was a large man with a constant expression of wondering
inquiry. It was the expression of his babyhood; he had never lost it, and
it was an expression which revealed truly the state of his mind. Always
had Joe Beecher wondered, first of all at finding himself in the world at
all, then at the various happenings of existence. He probably wondered
more about the fact of his marriage with Alma Bennet than anything else,
although he never betrayed his wonder. He was always painfully anxious to
please his wife, of whom he stood in awe. Now he hastened to reply: "Why,
no, Alma; of course I won't."
"Because," said Alma, "I haven't come to my time of life, through all the
trials I've had, to be taking any chances of breaking my bones over any
miserable, furry, four-footed animal that wouldn't catch a mouse if one
run right under her nose."
"I don't want any cat," repeated Joe, miserably. His fear and awe of the
two women increased. When his sister-in-law turned upon him he fairly
"Cats!" said Amanda. Then she sniffed. The sniff was worse than speech.
Joe repeated in a mumble that he didn't want any cats, and went out,
closing the door softly after him, as he had been taught. However, he was
entirely sure, in the depths of his subjugated masculine mind, that his
wife and her sister had no legal authority whatever to interfere with
their uncle's right to keep a hundred coal fires in his woodshed, for a
thousand cats. He always had an inner sense of glee when he heard the two
women talk over the matter. Once Amanda had declared that she did not
believe that Tom Hopkinson knew much about law, anyway.
"He seems to stand pretty high," Joe ventured with the utmost mildness.
"Yes, he does," admitted Alma, grudgingly.
"It does not follow he knows law," persisted Amanda, "and it MAY follow
that he likes cats. There was that great Maltese tommy brushing round all
the time we were in his office, but I didn't dare shoo him off for fear it
might be against the law." Amanda laughed, a very disagreeable little
laugh. Joe said nothing, but inwardly he chuckled. It was the cause of man
with man. He realized a great, even affectionate, understanding of Jim.
The day after his nieces had visited the lawyer's office, Jim was
preparing to call on his friend Edward Hayward, the minister. Before
leaving he looked carefully after the fire in the woodshed. The stove was
large. Jim piled on the coal, regardless outwardly that the housekeeper,
Susan Adkins, had slammed the kitchen door to indicate her contempt.
Inwardly Jim felt hurt, but he had felt hurt so long from the same cause
that the sensation had become chronic, and was borne with a gentle
patience. Moreover, there was something which troubled him more and was
the reason for his contemplated call on his friend. He evened the coals on
the fire with great care, and replenished from the pail in the icebox the
cats' saucers. There was a circle of clean white saucers around the stove.
Jim owned many cats; counting the kittens, there were probably over
twenty. Mrs. Adkins counted them in the sixties. "Those sixty-seven cats,"
Jim often gave away cats when he was confident of securing good homes, but
supply exceeded the demand. Now and then tragedies took place in that
woodshed. Susan Adkins came bravely to the front upon these occasions.
Quite convinced was Susan Adkins that she had a good home, and it behooved
her to keep it, and she did not in the least object to drowning, now and
then, a few very young kittens. She did this with neatness and despatch
while Jim walked to the store on an errand and was supposed to know
nothing about it. There was simply not enough room in his woodshed for the
accumulation of cats, although his heart could have held all.
That day, as he poured out the milk, cats of all ages and sizes and colors
purred in a softly padding multitude around his feet, and he regarded them
with love. There were tiger cats, Maltese cats, black-and-white cats,
black cats and white cats, tommies and females, and his heart leaped to
meet the pleading mews of all. The saucers were surrounded. Little pink
tongues lapped. "Pretty pussy! pretty pussy!" cooed Jim, addressing them
in general. He put on his overcoat and hat, which he kept on a peg behind
the door. Jim had an arm-chair in the woodshed. He always sat there when
he smoked; Susan Adkins demurred at his smoking in the house, which she
kept so nice, and Jim did not dream of rebellion. He never questioned the
right of a woman to bar tobacco smoke from a house. Before leaving he
refilled some of the saucers. He was not sure that all of the cats were
there; some might be afield, hunting, and he wished them to find
refreshment when they returned. He stroked the splendid striped back of a
great tiger tommy which filled his armchair. This cat was his special pet.
He fastened the outer shed door with a bit of rope in order that it might
not blow entirely open, and yet allow his feline friends to pass, should
they choose. Then he went out.
The day was clear, with a sharp breath of frost. The fields gleamed with
frost, offering to the eye a fine shimmer as of diamond-dust under the
brilliant blue sky, overspread in places with a dapple of little white
"White frost and mackerel sky; going to be falling weather," Jim said,
aloud, as he went out of the yard, crunching the crisp grass under heel.
Susan Adkins at a window saw his lips moving. His talking to himself made
her nervous, although it did not render her distrustful of his sanity. It
was fortunate that Susan had not told Jim that she disliked his habit. In
that case he would have deprived himself of that slight solace; he would
not have dreamed of opposing Susan's wishes. Jim had a great pity for the
nervous whims, as he regarded them, of women—a pity so intense and
tender that it verged on respect and veneration. He passed his nieces'
house on the way to the minister's, and both were looking out of windows
and saw his lips moving.
"There he goes, talking to himself like a crazy loon," said Amanda.
Jim went on, blissfully unconscious. He talked in a quiet monotone; only
now and then his voice rose; only now and then there were accompanying
gestures. Jim had a straight mile down the broad village street to walk
before he reached the church and the parsonage beside it.
Jim and the minister had been friends since boyhood. They were graduates
and classmates of the same college. Jim had had unusual educational
advantages for a man coming from a simple family. The front door of the
parsonage flew open when Jim entered the gate, and the minister stood
there smiling. He was a tall, thin man with a wide mouth, which either
smiled charmingly or was set with severity. He was as brown and dry as a
wayside weed which winter had subdued as to bloom but could not entirely
prostrate with all its icy storms and compelling blasts. Jim, advancing
eagerly toward the warm welcome in the door, was a small man, and bent at
that, but he had a handsome old face, with the rose of youth on the cheeks
and the light of youth in the blue eyes, and the quick changes of youth,
before emotions, about the mouth.
"Hullo, Jim!" cried Dr. Edward Hayward. Hayward, for a doctor of divinity,
was considered somewhat lacking in dignity at times; still, he was Dr.
Hayward, and the failing was condoned. Moreover, he was a Hayward, and the
Haywards had been, from the memory of the oldest inhabitant, the great
people of the village. Dr. Hayward's house was presided over by his
widowed cousin, a lady of enough dignity to make up for any lack of it in
the minister. There were three servants, besides the old butler who had
been Hayward's attendant when he had been a young man in college. Village
people were proud of their minister, with his degree and what they
considered an imposing household retinue.
Hayward led, and Jim followed, to the least pretentious room in the house—not
the study proper, which was lofty, book-lined, and leather-furnished,
curtained with broad sweeps of crimson damask, but a little shabby place
back of it, accessible by a narrow door. The little room was lined with
shelves; they held few books, but a collection of queer and dusty things—strange
weapons, minerals, odds and ends—which the minister loved and with
which his lady cousin never interfered.
"Louisa," Hayward had told his cousin when she entered upon her post, "do
as you like with the whole house, but let my little study alone. Let it
look as if it had been stirred up with a garden-rake—that little
room is my territory, and no disgrace to you, my dear, if the dust rises
in clouds at every step."
Jim was as fond of the little room as his friend. He entered, and sighed a
great sigh of satisfaction as he sank into the shabby, dusty hollow of a
large chair before the hearth fire. Immediately a black cat leaped into
his lap, gazed at him with greenjewel eyes, worked her paws, purred,
settled into a coil, and slept. Jim lit his pipe and threw the match
blissfully on the floor. Dr. Hayward set an electric coffee-urn at its
work, for the little room was a curious mixture of the comfortable old and
the comfortable modern.
"Sam shall serve our luncheon in here," he said, with a staid glee.
Jim nodded happily.
"Louisa will not mind," said Hayward. "She is precise, but she has a fine
regard for the rights of the individual, which is most commendable." He
seated himself in a companion chair to Jim's, lit his own pipe, and threw
the match on the floor. Occasionally, when the minister was out, Sam,
without orders so to do, cleared the floor of matches.
Hayward smoked and regarded his friend, who looked troubled despite his
comfort. "What is it, Jim?" asked the minister at last.
"I don't know how to do what is right for me to do," replied the little
man, and his face, turned toward his friend, had the puzzled earnestness
of a child.
Hayward laughed. It was easily seen that his was the keener mind. In
natural endowments there had never been equality, although there was great
similarity of tastes. Jim, despite his education, often lapsed into the
homely vernacular of which he heard so much. An involuntarily imitative
man in externals was Jim, but essentially an original. Jim proceeded.
"You know, Edward, I have never been one to complain," he said, with an
almost boyish note of apology.
"Never complained half enough; that's the trouble," returned the other.
"Well, I overheard something Mis' Adkins said to Mis' Amos Trimmer the
other afternoon. Mis' Trimmer was calling on Mis' Adkins. I couldn't help
overhearing unless I went outdoors, and it was snowing and I had a cold. I
"Had a right to listen if you wanted to," declared Hayward, irascibly.
"Well, I couldn't help it unless I went outdoors. Mis' Adkins she was in
the kitchen making lightbread for supper, and Mis' Trimmer had sat right
down there with her. Mis' Adkins's kitchen is as clean as a parlor,
anyway. Mis' Adkins said to Mis' Trimmer, speaking of me—because
Mis' Trimmer had just asked where I was and Mis' Adkins had said I was out
in the woodshed sitting with the cats and smoking—Mis' Adkins said,
'He's just a doormat, that's what he is.' Then Mis' Trimmer says, 'The way
he lets folks ride over him beats me.' Then Mis' Adkins says again: 'He's
nothing but a door-mat. He lets everybody that wants to just trample on
him and grind their dust into him, and he acts real pleased and
Hayward's face flushed. "Did Mrs. Adkins mention that she was one of the
people who used you for a door-mat?" he demanded.
Jim threw back his head and laughed like a child, with the sweetest sense
of unresentful humor. "Lord bless my soul, Edward," replied Jim, "I don't
believe she ever thought of that."
"And at that very minute you, with a hard cold, were sitting out in that
draughty shed smoking because she wouldn't allow you to smoke in your own
"I don't mind that, Edward," said Jim, and laughed again.
"Could you see to read your paper out there, with only that little shed
window? And don't you like to read your paper while you smoke?"
"Oh yes," admitted Jim; "but my! I don't mind little things like that!
Mis' Adkins is only a poor widow woman, and keeping my house nice and not
having it smell of tobacco is all she's got. They can talk about women's
rights—I feel as if they ought to have them fast enough, if they
want them, poor things; a woman has a hard row to hoe, and will have, if
she gets all the rights in creation. But I guess the rights they'd find it
hardest to give up would be the rights to have men look after them just a
little more than they look after other men, just because they are women.
When I think of Annie Berry—the girl I was going to marry, you know,
if she hadn't died—I feel as if I couldn't do enough for another
woman. Lord! I'm glad to sit out in the woodshed and smoke. Mis' Adkins is
pretty good-natured to stand all the cats."
Then the coffee boiled, and Hayward poured out some for Jim and himself.
He had a little silver service at hand, and willow-ware cups and saucers.
Presently Sam appeared, and Hayward gave orders concerning luncheon.
"Tell Miss Louisa we are to have it served here," said he, "and mind, Sam,
the chops are to be thick and cooked the way we like them; and don't
forget the East India chutney, Sam."
"It does seem rather a pity that you cannot have chutney at home with your
chops, when you are so fond of it," remarked Hayward when Sam had gone.
"Mis' Adkins says it will give me liver trouble, and she isn't strong
enough to nurse."
"So you have to eat her ketchup?"
"Well, she doesn't put seasoning in it," admitted Jim. "But Mis' Adkins
doesn't like seasoning herself, and I don't mind."
"And I know the chops are never cut thick, the way we like them."
"Mis' Adkins likes her meat well done, and she can't get such thick chops
well done. I suppose our chops are rather thin, but I don't mind."
"Beefsteak and chops, both cut thin, and fried up like sole-leather. I
know!" said Dr. Hayward, and he stamped his foot with unregenerate force.
"I don't mind a bit, Edward."
"You ought to mind, when it is your own house, and you buy the food and
pay your housekeeper. It is an outrage!"
"I don't mind, really, Edward."
Dr. Hayward regarded Jim with a curious expression compounded of love,
anger, and contempt. "Any more talk of legal proceedings?" he asked,
Jim flushed. "Tom ought not to tell of that."
"Yes, he ought; he ought to tell it all over town. He doesn't, but he
ought. It is an outrage! Here you have been all these years supporting
your nieces, and they are working away like field-mice, burrowing under
your generosity, trying to get a chance to take action and appropriate
your property and have you put under a guardian."
"I don't mind a bit," said Jim; "but—"
The other man looked inquiringly at him, and, seeing a pitiful working of
his friend's face, he jumped up and got a little jar from a shelf. "We
will drop the whole thing until we have had our chops and chutney," said
he. "You are right; it is not worth minding. Here is a new brand of
tobacco I want you to try. I don't half like it, myself, but you may."
Jim, with a pleased smile, reached out for the tobacco, and the two men
smoked until Sam brought the luncheon. It was well cooked and well served
on an antique table. Jim was thoroughly happy. It was not until the
luncheon was over and another pipe smoked that the troubled, perplexed
expression returned to his face.
"Now," said Hayward, "out with it!"
"It is only the old affair about Alma and Amanda, but now it has taken on
a sort of new aspect."
"What do you mean by a new aspect?"
"It seems," said Jim, slowly, "as if they were making it so I couldn't do
Hayward stamped his foot. "That does sound new," he said, dryly. "I never
thought Alma Beecher or Amanda Bennet ever objected to have you do for
"Well," said Jim, "perhaps they don't now, but they want me to do it in
their own way. They don't want to feel as if I was giving and they taking;
they want it to seem the other way round. You see, if I were to deed over
my property to them, and then they allowance me, they would feel as if
they were doing the giving."
"Jim, you wouldn't be such a fool as that?"
"No, I wouldn't," replied Jim, simply. "They wouldn't know how to take
care of it, and Mis' Adkins would be left to shift for herself. Joe
Beecher is real good-hearted, but he always lost every dollar he touched.
No, there wouldn't be any sense in that. I don't mean to give in, but I do
feel pretty well worked up over it."
"What have they said to you?"
"Out with it, now. One thing you may be sure of: nothing that you can tell
me will alter my opinion of your two nieces for the worse. As for poor Joe
Beecher, there is no opinion, one way or the other. What did they say?"
Jim regarded his friend with a curiously sweet, far-off expression.
"Edward," he said, "sometimes I believe that the greatest thing a man's
friends can do for him is to drive him into a corner with God; to be so
unjust to him that they make him understand that God is all that mortal
man is meant to have, and that is why he finds out that most people,
especially the ones he does for, don't care for him."
Hayward looked solemnly and tenderly at the other's almost rapt face. "You
are right, I suppose, old man," said he; "but what did they do?"
"They called me in there about a week ago and gave me an awful talking
Jim looked at his friend with dignity. "They were two women talking, and
they went into little matters not worth repeating," said he. "All is-they
seemed to blame me for everything I had ever done for them, and for
everything I had ever done, anyway. They seemed to blame me for being born
and living, and, most of all, for doing anything for them."
"It is an outrage!" declared Hayward. "Can't you see it?"
"I can't seem to see anything plain about it," returned Jim, in a
bewildered way. "I always supposed a man had to do something bad to be
given a talking to; but it isn't so much that, and I don't bear any malice
against them. They are only two women, and they are nervous. What worries
me is, they do need things, and they can't get on and be comfortable
unless I do for them; but if they are going to feel that way about it, it
seems to cut me off from doing, and that does worry me, Edward."
The other man stamped. "Jim Bennet," he said, "they have talked, and now I
am going to."
"Yes, I am. It is entirely true what those two women, Susan Adkins and
Mrs. Trimmer, said about you. You ARE a door-mat, and you ought to be
ashamed of yourself for it. A man should be a man, and not a door-mat. It
is the worst thing in the world for people to walk over him and trample
him. It does them much more harm than it does him. In the end the trampler
is much worse off than the trampled upon. Jim Bennet, your being a doormat
may cost other people their souls' salvation. You are selfish in the grain
to be a door-mat."
Jim turned pale. His child-like face looked suddenly old with his mental
effort to grasp the other's meaning. In fact, he was a child—one of
the little ones of the world—although he had lived the span of a
man's life. Now one of the hardest problems of the elders of the world was
presented to him. "You mean—" he said, faintly.
"I mean, Jim, that for the sake of other people, if not for your own sake,
you ought to stop being a door-mat and be a man in this world of men."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to go straight to those nieces of yours and tell them the
truth. You know what your wrongs are as well as I do. You know what those
two women are as well as I do. They keep the letter of the Ten
Commandments—that is right. They attend my church—that is
right. They scour the outside of the platter until it is bright enough to
blind those people who don't understand them; but inwardly they are petty,
ravening wolves of greed and ingratitude. Go and tell them; they don't
know themselves. Show them what they are. It is your Christian duty."
"You don't mean for me to stop doing for them?"
"I certainly do mean just that—for a while, anyway."
"They can't possibly get along, Edward; they will suffer."
"They have a little money, haven't they?"
"Only a little in savings-bank. The interest pays their taxes."
"And you gave them that?"
"Very well, their taxes are paid for this year; let them use that money.
They will not suffer, except in their feelings, and that is where they
ought to suffer. Man, you would spoil all the work of the Lord by your
selfish tenderness toward sinners!"
"They aren't sinners."
"Yes, they are—spiritual sinners, the worst kind in the world. Now—"
"You don't mean for me to go now?"
"Yes, I do—now. If you don't go now you never will. Then, afterward,
I want you to go home and sit in your best parlor and smoke, and have all
your cats in there, too."
Jim gasped. "But, Edward! Mis' Adkins—"
"I don't care about Mrs. Adkins. She isn't as bad as the rest, but she
needs her little lesson, too."
"Edward, the way that poor woman works to keep the house nice—and
she don't like the smell of tobacco smoke."
"Never mind whether she likes it or not. You smoke."
"And she don't like cats."
"Never mind. Now you go."
Jim stood up. There was a curious change in his rosy, child-like face.
There was a species of quickening. He looked at once older and more alert.
His friend's words had charged him as with electricity. When he went down
the street he looked taller.
Amanda Bennet and Alma Beecher, sitting sewing at their street windows,
made this mistake.
"That isn't Uncle Jim," said Amanda. "That man is a head taller, but he
looks a little like him."
"It can't be Uncle Jim," agreed Alma. Then both started.
"It is Uncle Jim, and he is coming here," said Amanda.
Jim entered. Nobody except himself, his nieces, and Joe Beecher ever knew
exactly what happened, what was the aspect of the door-mat erected to
human life, of the worm turned to menace. It must have savored of horror,
as do all meek and downtrodden things when they gain, driven to bay, the
strength to do battle. It must have savored of the god-like, when the man
who had borne with patience, dignity, and sorrow for them the stings of
lesser things because they were lesser things, at last arose and revealed
himself superior, with a great height of the spirit, with the power to
When Jim stopped talking and went home, two pale, shocked faces of women
gazed after him from the windows. Joe Beecher was sobbing like a child.
Finally his wife turned her frightened face upon him, glad to have still
some one to intimidate.
"For goodness' sake, Joe Beecher, stop crying like a baby," said she, but
she spoke in a queer whisper, for her lips were stiff.
Joe stood up and made for the door.
"Where are you going?" asked his wife.
"Going to get a job somewhere," replied Joe, and went. Soon the women saw
him driving a neighbor's cart up the street.
"He's going to cart gravel for John Leach's new sidewalk!" gasped Alma.
"Why don't you stop him?" cried her sister. "You can't have your husband
driving a tip-cart for John Leach. Stop him, Alma!"
"I can't stop him," moaned Alma. "I don't feel as if I could stop
Her sister gazed at her, and the same expression was on both faces, making
them more than sisters of the flesh. Both saw before them a stern boundary
wall against which they might press in vain for the rest of their lives,
and both saw the same sins of their hearts.
Meantime Jim Bennet was seated in his best parlor and Susan Adkins was
whispering to Mrs. Trimmer out in the kitchen.
"I don't know whether he's gone stark, staring mad or not," whispered
Susan, "but he's in the parlor smoking his worst old pipe, and that big
tiger tommy is sitting in his lap, and he's let in all the other cats, and
they're nosing round, and I don't dare drive 'em out. I took up the broom,
then I put it away again. I never knew Mr. Bennet to act so. I can't think
what's got into him."
"Did he say anything?"
"No, he didn't say much of anything, but he said it in a way that made my
flesh fairly creep. Says he, 'As long as this is my house and my furniture
and my cats, Mis' Adkins, I think I'll sit down in the parlor, where I can
see to read my paper and smoke at the same time.' Then he holds the
kitchen door open, and he calls, 'Kitty, kitty, kitty!' and that great
tiger tommy comes in with his tail up, rubbing round his legs, and all the
other cats followed after. I shut the door before these last ones got into
the parlor." Susan Adkins regarded malevolently the three tortoise-shell
cats of three generations and various stages of growth, one Maltese
settled in a purring round of comfort with four kittens, and one perfectly
black cat, which sat glaring at her with beryl-colored eyes.
"That black cat looks evil," said Mrs. Trimmer.
"Yes, he does. I don't know why I didn't drown him when he was a kitten."
"Why didn't you drown all those Malty kittens?"
"The old cat hid them away until they were too big. Then he wouldn't let
me. What do you suppose has come to him? Just smell that awful pipe!"
"Men do take queer streaks every now and then," said Mrs. Trimmer. "My
husband used to, and he was as good as they make 'em, poor man. He would
eat sugar on his beefsteak, for one thing. The first time I saw him do it
I was scared. I thought he was plum crazy, but afterward I found out it
was just because he was a man, and his ma hadn't wanted him to eat sugar
when he was a boy. Mr. Bennet will get over it."
"He don't act as if he would."
"Oh yes, he will. Jim Bennet never stuck to anything but being Jim Bennet
for very long in his life, and this ain't being Jim Bennet."
"He is a very good man," said Susan with a somewhat apologetic tone.
"He's too good."
"He's too good to cats."
"Seems to me he's too good to 'most everybody. Think what he has done for
Amanda and Alma, and how they act!"
"Yes, they are ungrateful and real mean to him; and I feel sometimes as if
I would like to tell them just what I think of them," said Susan Adkins.
"Poor man, there he is, studying all the time what he can do for people,
and he don't get very much himself."
Mrs. Trimmer arose to take leave. She had a long, sallow face, capable of
a sarcastic smile. "Then," said she, "if I were you I wouldn't begrudge
him a chair in the parlor and a chance to read and smoke and hold a
"Who said I was begrudging it? I can air out the parlor when he's got over
"Well, he will, so you needn't worry," said Mrs. Trimmer. As she went down
the street she could see Jim's profile beside the parlor window, and she
smiled her sarcastic smile, which was not altogether unpleasant. "He's
stopped smoking, and he ain't reading," she told herself. "It won't be
very long before he's Jim Bennet again."
But it was longer than she anticipated, for Jim's will was propped by
Edward Hayward's. Edward kept Jim to his standpoint for weeks, until a few
days before Christmas. Then came self-assertion, that self-assertion of
negation which was all that Jim possessed in such a crisis. He called upon
Dr. Hayward; the two were together in the little study for nearly an hour,
and talk ran high, then Jim prevailed.
"It's no use, Edward," he said; "a man can't be made over when he's cut
and dried in one fashion, the way I am. Maybe I'm doing wrong, but to me
it looks like doing right, and there's something in the Bible about every
man having his own right and wrong. If what you say is true, and I am
hindering the Lord Almighty in His work, then it is for Him to stop me. He
can do it. But meantime I've got to go on doing the way I always have. Joe
has been trying to drive that tip-cart, and the horse ran away with him
twice. Then he let the cart fall on his foot and mash one of his toes, and
he can hardly get round, and Amanda and Alma don't dare touch that money
in the bank for fear of not having enough to pay the taxes next year in
case I don't help them. They only had a little money on hand when I gave
them that talking to, and Christmas is 'most here, and they haven't got
things they really need. Amanda's coat that she wore to meeting last
Sunday didn't look very warm to me, and poor Alma had her furs chewed up
by the Leach dog, and she's going without any. They need lots of things.
And poor Mis' Adkins is 'most sick with tobacco smoke. I can see it,
though she doesn't say anything, and the nice parlor curtains are full of
it, and cat hairs are all over things. I can't hold out any longer,
Edward. Maybe I am a door-mat; and if I am, and it is wicked, may the Lord
forgive me, for I've got to keep right on being a door-mat."
Hayward sighed and lighted his pipe. However, he had given up and connived
On Christmas eve the two men were in hiding behind a clump of cedars in
the front yard of Jim's nieces' house. They watched the expressman deliver
a great load of boxes and packages. Jim drew a breath of joyous relief.
"They are taking them in," he whispered—"they are taking them in,
Hayward looked down at the dim face of the man beside him, and something
akin to fear entered his heart. He saw the face of a lifelong friend, but
he saw something in it which he had never recognized before. He saw the
face of one of the children of heaven, giving only for the sake of the
need of others, and glorifying the gifts with the love and pity of an
"I was afraid they wouldn't take them!" whispered Jim, and his watching
face was beautiful, although it was only the face of a little, old man of
a little village, with no great gift of intellect. There was a full moon
riding high; the ground was covered with a glistening snow-level, over
which wavered wonderful shadows, as of wings. One great star prevailed
despite the silver might of the moon. To Hayward Jim's face seemed to
prevail, as that star, among all the faces of humanity.
Jim crept noiselessly toward a window, Hayward at his heels. The two could
see the lighted interior plainly.
"See poor Alma trying on her furs," whispered Jim, in a rapture. "See
Amanda with her coat. They have found the money. See Joe heft the turkey."
Suddenly he caught Hayward's arm, and the two crept away. Out on the road,
Jim fairly sobbed with pure delight. "Oh, Edward," he said, "I am so
thankful they took the things! I was so afraid they wouldn't, and they
needed them! Oh, Edward, I am so thankful!" Edward pressed his friend's
When they reached Jim's house a great tiger-cat leaped to Jim's shoulder
with the silence and swiftness of a shadow. "He's always watching for me,"
said Jim, proudly. "Pussy! Pussy!" The cat began to purr loudly, and
rubbed his splendid head against the man's cheek.
"I suppose," said Hayward, with something of awe in his tone, "that you
won't smoke in the parlor to-night?"
"Edward, I really can't. Poor woman, she's got it all aired and
beautifully cleaned, and she's so happy over it. There's a good fire in
the shed, and I will sit there with the pussy-cats until I go to bed. Oh,
Edward, I am so thankful that they took the things!"
"Good night, Jim."
"Good night. You don't blame me, Edward?"
"Who am I to blame you, Jim? Good night."
Hayward watched the little man pass along the path to the shed door. Jim's
back was slightly bent, but to his friend it seemed bent beneath a holy
burden of love and pity for all humanity, and the inheritance of the meek
seemed to crown that drooping old head. The door-mat, again spread freely
for the trampling feet of all who got comfort thereby, became a blessed
thing. The humble creature, despised and held in contempt like One greater
than he, giving for the sake of the needs of others, went along the narrow
foot-path through the snow. The minister took off his hat and stood
watching until the door was opened and closed and the little window
gleamed with golden light.