The Umbrella Man
by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
IT was an insolent day. There are days which, to imaginative minds, at
least, possess strangely human qualities. Their atmospheres predispose
people to crime or virtue, to the calm of good will, to sneaking vice, or
fierce, unprovoked aggression. The day was of the last description. A
beast, or a human being in whose veins coursed undisciplined blood, might,
as involuntarily as the boughs of trees lash before storms, perform wild
and wicked deeds after inhaling that hot air, evil with the sweat of
sinevoked toil, with nitrogen stored from festering sores of nature and
the loathsome emanations of suffering life.
It had not rained for weeks, but the humidity was great. The clouds of
dust which arose beneath the man's feet had a horrible damp stickiness.
His face and hands were grimy, as were his shoes, his cheap, ready-made
suit, and his straw hat. However, the man felt a pride in his clothes, for
they were at least the garb of freedom. He had come out of prison the day
before, and had scorned the suit proffered him by the officials. He had
given it away, and bought a new one with a goodly part of his small stock
of money. This suit was of a small-checked pattern. Nobody could tell from
it that the wearer had just left jail. He had been there for several years
for one of the minor offenses against the law. His term would probably
have been shorter, but the judge had been careless, and he had no friends.
Stebbins had never been the sort to make many friends, although he had
never cherished animosity toward any human being. Even some injustice in
his sentence had not caused him to feel any rancor.
During his stay in the prison he had not been really unhappy. He had
accepted the inevitable-the yoke of the strong for the weak—with a
patience which brought almost a sense of enjoyment. But, now that he was
free, he had suddenly become alert, watchful of chances for his
betterment. From being a mere kenneled creature he had become as a hound
on the scent, the keenest on earth—that of self-interest. He was
changed, while yet living, from a being outside the world to one with the
world before him. He felt young, although he was a middle-aged, almost
elderly man. He had in his pocket only a few dollars. He might have had
more had he not purchased the checked suit and had he not given much away.
There was another man whose term would be up in a week, and he had a
sickly wife and several children. Stebbins, partly from native kindness
and generosity, partly from a sentiment which almost amounted to
superstition, had given him of his slender store. He had been deprived of
his freedom because of money; he said to himself that his return to it
should be heralded by the music of it scattered abroad for the good of
Now and then as he walked Stebbins removed his new straw hat, wiped his
forehead with a stiff new handkerchief, looked with some concern at the
grime left upon it, then felt anxiously of his short crop of grizzled
hair. He would be glad when it grew only a little, for it was at present a
telltale to observant eyes. Also now and then he took from another pocket
a small mirror which he had just purchased, and scrutinized his face.
Every time he did so he rubbed his cheeks violently, then viewed with
satisfaction the hard glow which replaced the yellow prison pallor. Every
now and then, too, he remembered to throw his shoulders back, hold his
chin high, and swing out his right leg more freely. At such times he
almost swaggered, he became fairly insolent with his new sense of freedom.
He felt himself the equal if not the peer of all creation. Whenever a
carriage or a motor-car passed him on the country road he assumed, with
the skill of an actor, the air of a business man hastening to an important
engagement. However, always his mind was working over a hard problem. He
knew that his store of money was scanty, that it would not last long even
with the strictest economy; he had no friends; a prison record is sure to
leak out when a man seeks a job. He was facing the problem of bare
Although the day was so hot, it was late summer; soon would come the frost
and the winter. He wished to live to enjoy his freedom, and all he had for
assets was that freedom; which was paradoxical, for it did not signify the
ability to obtain work, which was the power of life. Outside the stone
wall of the prison he was now inclosed by a subtle, intangible, yet
infinitely more unyielding one—the prejudice of his kind against the
released prisoner. He was to all intents and purposes a prisoner still,
for all his spurts of swagger and the youthful leap of his pulses, and
while he did not admit that to himself, yet always, since he had the hard
sense of the land of his birth—New England—he pondered that
problem of existence. He felt instinctively that it would be a useless
proceeding for him to approach any human being for employment. He knew
that even the freedom, which he realized through all his senses like an
essential perfume, could not yet overpower the reek of the prison. As he
walked through the clogging dust he thought of one after another whom he
had known before he had gone out of the world of free men and had bent his
back under the hand of the law. There were, of course, people in his
little native village, people who had been friends and neighbors, but
there were none who had ever loved him sufficiently for him to conquer his
resolve to never ask aid of them. He had no relatives except cousins more
or less removed, and they would have nothing to do with him.
There had been a woman whom he had meant to marry, and he had been sure
that she would marry him; but after he had been a year in prison the news
had come to him in a roundabout fashion that she had married another
suitor. Even had she remained single he could not have approached her,
least of all for aid. Then, too, through all his term she had made no
sign, there had been no letter, no message; and he had received at first
letters and flowers and messages from sentimental women. There had been
nothing from her. He had accepted nothing, with the curious patience,
carrying an odd pleasure with it, which had come to him when the prison
door first closed upon him. He had not forgotten her, but he had not
consciously mourned her. His loss, his ruin, had been so tremendous that
she had been swallowed up in it. When one's whole system needs to be
steeled to trouble and pain, single pricks lose importance. He thought of
her that day without any sense of sadness. He imagined her in a pretty,
well-ordered home with her husband and children. Perhaps she had grown
stout. She had been a slender woman. He tried idly to imagine how she
would look stout, then by the sequence of self-preservation the
imagination of stoutness in another led to the problem of keeping the
covering of flesh and fatness upon his own bones. The question now was not
of the woman; she had passed out of his life. The question was of the
keeping that life itself, the life which involved everything else, in a
hard world, which would remorselessly as a steel trap grudge him life and
snap upon him, now he was become its prey.
He walked and walked, and it was high noon, and he was hungry. He had in
his pocket a small loaf of bread and two frankfurters, and he heard the
splashing ripple of a brook. At that juncture the road was bordered by
thick woodland. He followed, pushing his way through the trees and
undergrowth, the sound of the brook, and sat down in a cool, green
solitude with a sigh of relief. He bent over the clear run, made a cup of
his hand, and drank, then he fell to eating. Close beside him grew some
wintergreen, and when he had finished his bread and frankfurters he began
plucking the glossy, aromatic leaves and chewing them automatically. The
savor reached his palate, and his memory awakened before it as before a
pleasant tingling of a spur. As a boy how he had loved this little green
low-growing plant! It had been one of the luxuries of his youth. Now, as
he tasted it, joy and pathos stirred in his very soul. What a wonder youth
had been, what a splendor, what an immensity to be rejoiced over and
regretted! The man lounging beside the brook, chewing wintergreen leaves,
seemed to realize antipodes. He lived for the moment in the past, and the
immutable future, which might contain the past in the revolution of time.
He smiled, and his face fell into boyish, almost childish, contours. He
plucked another glossy leaf with his hard, veinous old hands. His hands
would not change to suit his mood, but his limbs relaxed like those of a
boy. He stared at the brook gurgling past in brown ripples, shot with dim
prismatic lights, showing here clear green water lines, here inky depths,
and he thought of the possibility of trout. He wished for fishing-tackle.
Then suddenly out of a mass of green looked two girls, with wide, startled
eyes, and rounded mouths of terror which gave vent to screams. There was a
scuttling, then silence. The man wondered why the girls were so silly, why
they ran. He did not dream of the possibility of their terror of him. He
ate another wintergreen leaf, and thought of the woman he had expected to
marry when he was arrested and imprisoned. She did not go back to his
childish memories. He had met her when first youth had passed, and yet,
somehow, the savor of the wintergreen leaves brought her face before him.
It is strange how the excitement of one sense will sometimes act as
stimulant for the awakening of another. Now the sense of taste brought
into full activity that of sight. He saw the woman just as she had looked
when he had last seen her. She had not been pretty, but she was
exceedingly dainty, and possessed of a certain elegance of carriage which
attracted. He saw quite distinctly her small, irregular face and the
satin-smooth coils of dark hair around her head; he saw her slender, dusky
hands with the well-cared-for nails and the too prominent veins; he saw
the gleam of the diamond which he had given her. She had sent it to him
just after his arrest, and he had returned it. He wondered idly whether
she still owned it and wore it, and what her husband thought of it. He
speculated childishly-somehow imprisonment had encouraged the return of
childish speculations—as to whether the woman's husband had given
her a larger and costlier diamond than his, and he felt a pang of
jealousy. He refused to see another diamond than his own upon that
slender, dark hand. He saw her in a black silk gown which had been her
best. There had been some red about it, and a glitter of jet. He had
thought it a magnificent gown, and the woman in it like a princess. He
could see her leaning back, in her long slim grace, in a corner of a sofa,
and the soft dark folds starry with jet sweeping over her knees and just
allowing a glimpse of one little foot. Her feet had been charming, very
small and highly arched. Then he remembered that that evening they had
been to a concert in the town hall, and that afterward they had partaken
of an oyster stew in a little restaurant. Then back his mind traveled to
the problem of his own existence, his food and shelter and clothes. He
dismissed the woman from his thought. He was concerned now with the primal
conditions of life itself. How was he to eat when his little stock of
money was gone? He sat staring at the brook; he chewed wintergreen leaves
no longer. Instead he drew from his pocket an old pipe and a paper of
tobacco. He filled his pipe with care—tobacco was precious; then he
began to smoke, but his face now looked old and brooding through the rank
blue vapor. Winter was coming, and he had not a shelter. He had not money
enough to keep him long from starvation. He knew not how to obtain
employment. He thought vaguely of wood-piles, of cutting winter fuel for
people. His mind traveled in a trite strain of reasoning. Somehow
wood-piles seemed the only available tasks for men of his sort.
Presently he finished his filled pipe, and arose with an air of decision.
He went at a brisk pace out of the wood and was upon the road again. He
progressed like a man with definite business in view until he reached a
house. It was a large white farm-house with many outbuildings. It looked
most promising. He approached the side door, and a dog sprang from around
a corner and barked, but he spoke, and the dog's tail became eloquent. He
was patting the dog, when the door opened and a man stood looking at him.
Immediately the taint of the prison became evident. He had not cringed
before the dog, but he did cringe before the man who lived in that fine
white house, and who had never known what it was to be deprived of
liberty. He hung his head, he mumbled. The house-owner, who was older than
he, was slightly deaf. He looked him over curtly. The end of it was he was
ordered off the premises, and went; but the dog trailed, wagging at his
heels, and had to be roughly called back. The thought of the dog comforted
Stebbins as he went on his way. He had always liked animals. It was
something, now he was past a hand-shake, to have the friendly wag of a
The next house was an ornate little cottage with bay-windows, through
which could be seen the flower patterns of lace draperies; the Virginia
creeper which grew over the house walls was turning crimson in places.
Stebbins went around to the back door and knocked, but nobody came. He
waited a long time, for he had spied a great pile of uncut wood. Finally
he slunk around to the front door. As he went he suddenly reflected upon
his state of mind in days gone by; if he could have known that the time
would come when he, Joseph Stebbins, would feel culpable at approaching
any front door! He touched the electric bell and stood close to the door,
so that he might not be discovered from the windows. Presently the door
opened the length of a chain, and a fair girlish head appeared. She was
one of the girls who had been terrified by him in the woods, but that he
did not know. Now again her eyes dilated and her pretty mouth rounded! She
gave a little cry and slammed the door in his face, and he heard excited
voices. Then he saw two pale, pretty faces, the faces of the two girls who
had come upon him in the wood, peering at him around a corner of the lace
in the bay-window, and he understood what it meant—that he was an
object of terror to them. Directly he experienced such a sense of mortal
insult as he had never known, not even when the law had taken hold of him.
He held his head high and went away, his very soul boiling with a sort of
shamed rage. "Those two girls are afraid of me," he kept saying to
himself. His knees shook with the horror of it. This terror of him seemed
the hardest thing to bear in a hard life. He returned to his green nook
beside the brook and sat down again. He thought for the moment no more of
woodpiles, of his life. He thought about those two young girls who had
been afraid of him. He had never had an impulse to harm any living thing.
A curious hatred toward these living things who had accused him of such an
impulse came over him. He laughed sardonically. He wished that they would
again come and peer at him through the bushes; he would make a threatening
motion for the pleasure of seeing the silly things scuttle away.
After a while he put it all out of mind, and again returned to his
problem. He lay beside the brook and pondered, and finally fell asleep in
the hot air, which increased in venom, until the rattle of thunder awoke
him. It was very dark—a strange, livid darkness. "A thunder-storm,"
he muttered, and then he thought of his new clothes—what a
misfortune it would be to have them soaked. He arose and pushed through
the thicket around him into a cart path, and it was then that he saw the
thing which proved to be the stepping-stone toward his humble fortunes. It
was only a small silk umbrella with a handle tipped with pearl. He seized
upon it with joy, for it meant the salvation of his precious clothes. He
opened it and held it over his head, although the rain had not yet begun.
One rib of the umbrella was broken, but it was still serviceable. He
hastened along the cart path; he did not know why, only the need for
motion, to reach protection from the storm, was upon him; and yet what
protection could be ahead of him in that woodland path? Afterward he grew
to think of it as a blind instinct which led him on.
He had not gone far, not more than half a mile, when he saw something
unexpected—a small untenanted house. He gave vent to a little cry of
joy, which had in it something child-like and pathetic, and pushed open
the door and entered. It was nothing but a tiny, unfinished shack, with
one room and a small one opening from it. There was no ceiling; overhead
was the tent-like slant of the roof, but it was tight. The dusty floor was
quite dry. There was one rickety chair. Stebbins, after looking into the
other room to make sure that the place was empty, sat down, and a
wonderful wave of content and self-respect came over him. The poor human
snail had found his shell; he had a habitation, a roof of shelter. The
little dim place immediately assumed an aspect of home. The rain came down
in torrents, the thunder crashed, the place was filled with blinding blue
lights. Stebbins filled his pipe more lavishly this time, tilted his chair
against the wall, smoked, and gazed about him with pitiful content. It was
really so little, but to him it was so much. He nodded with satisfaction
at the discovery of a fireplace and a rusty cooking-stove.
He sat and smoked until the storm passed over. The rainfall had been very
heavy, there had been hail, but the poor little house had not failed of
perfect shelter. A fairly cold wind from the northwest blew through the
door. The hail had brought about a change of atmosphere. The burning heat
was gone. The night would be cool, even chilly.
Stebbins got up and examined the stove and the pipe. They were rusty, but
appeared trustworthy. He went out and presently returned with some fuel
which he had found unwet in a thick growth of wood. He laid a fire handily
and lit it. The little stove burned well, with no smoke. Stebbins looked
at it, and was perfectly happy. He had found other treasures outside—a
small vegetable-garden in which were potatoes and some corn. A man had
squatted in this little shack for years, and had raised his own
garden-truck. He had died only a few weeks ago, and his furniture had been
pre-empted with the exception of the stove, the chair, a tilting lounge in
the small room, and a few old iron pots and fryingpans. Stebbins gathered
corn, dug potatoes, and put them on the stove to cook, then he hurried out
to the village store and bought a few slices of bacon, half a dozen eggs,
a quarter of a pound of cheap tea, and some salt. When he re-entered the
house he looked as he had not for years. He was beaming. "Come, this is a
palace," he said to himself, and chuckled with pure joy. He had come out
of the awful empty spaces of homeless life into home. He was a man who had
naturally strong domestic instincts. If he had spent the best years of his
life in a home instead of a prison, the finest in him would have been
developed. As it was, this was not even now too late. When he had cooked
his bacon and eggs and brewed his tea, when the vegetables were done and
he was seated upon the rickety chair, with his supper spread before him on
an old board propped on sticks, he was supremely happy. He ate with a
relish which seemed to reach his soul. He was at home, and eating,
literally, at his own board. As he ate he glanced from time to time at the
two windows, with broken panes of glass and curtainless. He was not afraid—that
was nonsense; he had never been a cowardly man, but he felt the need of
curtains or something before his windows to shut out the broad vast face
of nature, or perhaps prying human eyes. Somebody might espy the light in
the house and wonder. He had a candle stuck in an old bottle by way of
illumination. Still, although he would have preferred to have curtains
before those windows full of the blank stare of night, he WAS supremely
After he had finished his supper he looked longingly at his pipe. He
hesitated for a second, for he realized the necessity of saving his
precious tobacco; then he became reckless: such enormous good fortune as a
home must mean more to follow; it must be the first of a series of happy
things. He filled his pipe and smoked. Then he went to bed on the old
couch in the other room, and slept like a child until the sun shone
through the trees in flickering lines. Then he rose, went out to the brook
which ran near the house, splashed himself with water, returned to the
house, cooked the remnant of the eggs and bacon, and ate his breakfast
with the same exultant peace with which he had eaten his supper the night
before. Then he sat down in the doorway upon the sunken sill and fell
again to considering his main problem. He did not smoke. His tobacco was
nearly exhausted and he was no longer reckless. His head was not turned
now by the feeling that he was at home. He considered soberly as to the
probable owner of the house and whether he would be allowed to remain its
tenant. Very soon, however, his doubt concerning that was set at rest. He
saw a disturbance of the shadows cast by the thick boughs over the cart
path by a long outreach of darker shadow which he knew at once for that of
a man. He sat upright, and his face at first assumed a defiant, then a
pleading expression, like that of a child who desires to retain possession
of some dear thing. His heart beat hard as he watched the advance of the
shadow. It was slow, as if cast by an old man. The man was old and very
stout, supporting one lopping side by a stick, who presently followed the
herald of his shadow. He looked like a farmer. Stebbins rose as he
approached; the two men stood staring at each other.
"Who be you, neighbor?" inquired the newcomer.
The voice essayed a roughness, but only achieved a tentative friendliness.
Stebbins hesitated for a second; a suspicious look came into the farmer's
misty blue eyes. Then Stebbins, mindful of his prison record and fiercely
covetous of his new home, gave another name. The name of his maternal
grandfather seemed suddenly to loom up in printed characters before his
eyes, and he gave it glibly. "David Anderson," he said, and he did not
realize a lie. Suddenly the name seemed his own. Surely old David
Anderson, who had been a good man, would not grudge the gift of his
unstained name to replace the stained one of his grandson. "David
Anderson," he replied, and looked the other man in the face unflinchingly.
"Where do ye hail from?" inquired the farmer; and the new David Anderson
gave unhesitatingly the name of the old David Anderson's birth and life
and death place—that of a little village in New Hampshire.
"What do you do for your living?" was the next question, and the new David
Anderson had an inspiration. His eyes had lit upon the umbrella which he
had found the night before.
"Umbrellas," he replied, laconically, and the other man nodded. Men with
sheaves of umbrellas, mended or in need of mending, had always been
familiar features for him.
Then David assumed the initiative; possessed of an honorable business as
well as home, he grew bold. "Any objection to my staying here?" he asked.
The other man eyed him sharply. "Smoke much?" he inquired.
"Smoke a pipe sometimes."
"Careful with your matches?"
"That's all I think about," said the farmer. "These woods is apt to catch
fire jest when I'm about ready to cut. The man that squatted here before—he
died about a month ago—didn't smoke. He was careful, he was."
"I'll be real careful," said David, humbly and anxiously.
"I dun'no' as I have any objections to your staying, then," said the
farmer. "Somebody has always squat here. A man built this shack about
twenty year ago, and he lived here till he died. Then t'other feller he
came along. Reckon he must have had a little money; didn't work at
nothin'! Raised some garden-truck and kept a few chickens. I took them
home after he died. You can have them now if you want to take care of
them. He rigged up that little chicken-coop back there."
"I'll take care of them," answered David, fervently.
"Well, you can come over by and by and get 'em. There's nine hens and a
rooster. They lay pretty well. I ain't no use for 'em. I've got all the
hens of my own I want to bother with."
"All right," said David. He looked blissful.
The farmer stared past him into the house. He spied the solitary umbrella.
He grew facetious. "Guess the umbrellas was all mended up where you come
from if you've got down to one," said he.
David nodded. It was tragically true, that guess.
"Well, our umbrella got turned last week," said the farmer. "I'll give you
a job to start on. You can stay here as long as you want if you're careful
about your matches." Again he looked into the house. "Guess some boys have
been helpin' themselves to the furniture, most of it," he observed. "Guess
my wife can spare ye another chair, and there's an old table out in the
corn-house better than that one you've rigged up, and I guess she'll give
ye some old bedding so you can be comfortable.
"Got any money?"
"I don't want any pay for things, and my wife won't; didn't mean that; was
wonderin' whether ye had anything to buy vittles with."
"Reckon I can manage till I get some work," replied David, a trifle
stiffly. He was a man who had never lived at another than the state's
"Don't want ye to be too short, that's all," said the other, a little
"I shall be all right. There are corn and potatoes in the garden, anyway."
"So there be, and one of them hens had better be eat. She don't lay.
She'll need a good deal of b'ilin'. You can have all the wood you want to
pick up, but I don't want any cut. You mind that or there'll be trouble."
"I won't cut a stick."
"Mind ye don't. Folks call me an easy mark, and I guess myself I am easy
up to a certain point, and cuttin' my wood is one of them points. Roof
didn't leak in that shower last night, did it?"
"Not a bit."
"Didn't s'pose it would. The other feller was handy, and he kept tinkerin'
all the time. Well, I'll be goin'; you can stay here and welcome if you're
careful about matches and don't cut my wood. Come over for them hens any
time you want to. I'll let my hired man drive you back in the wagon."
"Much obliged," said David, with an inflection that was almost tearful.
"You're welcome," said the other, and ambled away.
The new David Anderson, the good old grandfather revived in his
unfortunate, perhaps graceless grandson, reseated himself on the door-step
and watched the bulky, receding figure of his visitor through a pleasant
blur of tears, which made the broad, rounded shoulders and the halting
columns of legs dance. This David Anderson had almost forgotten that there
was unpaid kindness in the whole world, and it seemed to him as if he had
seen angels walking up and down. He sat for a while doing nothing except
realizing happiness of the present and of the future. He gazed at the
green spread of forest boughs, and saw in pleased anticipation their red
and gold tints of autumn; also in pleased anticipation their snowy and icy
mail of winter, and himself, the unmailed, defenseless human creature,
housed and sheltered, sitting before his own fire. This last happy outlook
aroused him. If all this was to be, he must be up and doing. He got up,
entered the house, and examined the broken umbrella which was his sole
stock in trade. David was a handy man. He at once knew that he was capable
of putting it in perfect repair. Strangely enough, for his sense of right
and wrong was not blunted, he had no compunction whatever in keeping this
umbrella, although he was reasonably certain that it belonged to one of
the two young girls who had been so terrified by him. He had a conviction
that this monstrous terror of theirs, which had hurt him more than many
apparently crueler things, made them quits.
After he had washed his dishes in the brook, and left them in the sun to
dry, he went to the village store and purchased a few simple things
necessary for umbrella-mending. Both on his way to the store and back he
kept his eyes open. He realized that his capital depended largely upon
chance and good luck. He considered that he had extraordinary good luck
when he returned with three more umbrellas. He had discovered one propped
against the counter of the store, turned inside out. He had inquired to
whom it belonged, and had been answered to anybody who wanted it. David
had seized upon it with secret glee. Then, unheard-of good fortune, he had
found two more umbrellas on his way home; one was in an ash-can, the other
blowing along like a belated bat beside the trolley track. It began to
seem to David as if the earth might be strewn with abandoned umbrellas.
Before he began his work he went to the farmer's and returned in triumph,
driven in the farm-wagon, with his cackling hens and quite a load of
household furniture, besides some bread and pies. The farmer's wife was
one of those who are able to give, and make receiving greater than giving.
She had looked at David, who was older than she, with the eyes of a
mother, and his pride had melted away, and he had held out his hands for
her benefits, like a child who has no compunctions about receiving gifts
because he knows that they are his right of childhood.
Henceforth David prospered—in a humble way, it is true, still he
prospered. He journeyed about the country, umbrellas over his shoulder,
little bag of tools in hand, and reaped an income more than sufficient for
his simple wants. His hair had grown, and also his beard. Nobody suspected
his history. He met the young girls whom he had terrified on the road
often, and they did not know him. He did not, during the winter, travel
very far afield. Night always found him at home, warm, well fed, content,
and at peace. Sometimes the old farmer on whose land he lived dropped in
of an evening and they had a game of checkers. The old man was a checker
expert. He played with unusual skill, but David made for himself a little
code of honor. He would never beat the old man, even if he were able,
oftener than once out of three evenings. He made coffee on these convivial
occasions. He made very good coffee, and they sipped as they moved the men
and kings, and the old man chuckled, and David beamed with peaceful
But the next spring, when he began to realize that he had mended for a
while all the umbrellas in the vicinity and that his trade was flagging,
he set his precious little home in order, barricaded door and windows, and
set forth for farther fields. He was lucky, as he had been from the start.
He found plenty of employment, and slept comfortably enough in barns, and
now and then in the open. He had traveled by slow stages for several weeks
before he entered a village whose familiar look gave him a shock. It was
not his native village, but near it. In his younger life he had often
journeyed there. It was a little shopping emporium, almost a city. He
recognized building after building. Now and then he thought he saw a face
which he had once known, and he was thankful that there was hardly any
possibility of any one recognizing him. He had grown gaunt and thin since
those far-off days; he wore a beard, grizzled, as was his hair. In those
days he had not been an umbrella man. Sometimes the humor of the situation
struck him. What would he have said, he the spruce, plump, head-in-the-air
young man, if anybody had told him that it would come to pass that he
would be an umbrella man lurking humbly in search of a job around the back
doors of houses? He would laugh softly to himself as he trudged along, and
the laugh would be without the slightest bitterness. His lot had been so
infinitely worse, and he had such a happy nature, yielding sweetly to the
inevitable, that he saw now only cause for amusement.
He had been in that vicinity about three weeks when one day he met the
woman. He knew her at once, although she was greatly changed. She had
grown stout, although, poor soul! it seemed as if there had been no reason
for it. She was not unwieldy, but she was stout, and all the contours of
earlier life had disappeared beneath layers of flesh. Her hair was not
gray, but the bright brown had faded, and she wore it tightly strained
back from her seamed forehead, although it was thin. One had only to look
at her hair to realize that she was a woman who had given up, who no
longer cared. She was humbly clad in a blue-cotton wrapper, she wore a
dingy black hat, and she carried a tin pail half full of raspberries. When
the man and woman met they stopped with a sort of shock, and each changed
face grew like the other in its pallor. She recognized him and he her, but
along with that recognition was awakened a fierce desire to keep it
secret. His prison record loomed up before the man, the woman's past
loomed up before her. She had possibly not been guilty of much, but her
life was nothing to waken pride in her. She felt shamed before this man
whom she had loved, and who felt shamed before her. However, after a
second the silence was broken. The man recovered his self-possession
He spoke casually.
"Nice day," said he.
The woman nodded.
"Been berrying?" inquired David. The woman nodded again.
David looked scrutinizingly at her pail. "I saw better berries real thick
a piece back," said he.
The woman murmured something. In spite of herself, a tear trickled over
her fat, weather-beaten cheek. David saw the tear, and something warm and
glorious like sunlight seemed to waken within him. He felt such tenderness
and pity for this poor feminine thing who had not the strength to keep the
tears back, and was so pitiably shorn of youth and grace, that he himself
expanded. He had heard in the town something of her history. She had made
a dreadful marriage, tragedy and suspicion had entered her life, and the
direst poverty. However, he had not known that she was in the vicinity.
Somebody had told him she was out West.
"Living here?" he inquired.
"Working for my board at a house back there," she muttered. She did not
tell him that she had come as a female "hobo" in a freight-car from the
Western town where she had been finally stranded. "Mrs. White sent me out
for berries," she added. "She keeps boarders, and there were no berries in
the market this morning."
"Come back with me and I will show you where I saw the berries real
thick," said David.
He turned himself about, and she followed a little behind, the female
failure in the dust cast by the male. Neither spoke until David stopped
and pointed to some bushes where the fruit hung thick on bending, slender
"Here," said David. Both fell to work. David picked handfuls of berries
and cast them gaily into the pail. "What is your name?" he asked, in an
"Jane Waters," she replied, readily. Her husband's name had been Waters,
or the man who had called himself her husband, and her own middle name was
Jane. The first was Sara. David remembered at once. "She is taking her own
middle name and the name of the man she married," he thought. Then he
asked, plucking berries, with his eyes averted:
"No," said the woman, flushing deeply.
David's next question betrayed him. "Husband dead?"
"I haven't any husband," she replied, like the Samaritan woman.
She had married a man already provided with another wife, although she had
not known it. The man was not dead, but she spoke the entire miserable
truth when she replied as she did. David assumed that he was dead. He felt
a throb of relief, of which he was ashamed, but he could not down it. He
did not know what it was that was so alive and triumphant within him:
love, or pity, or the natural instinct of the decent male to shelter and
protect. Whatever it was, it was dominant.
"Do you have to work hard?" he asked.
"Pretty hard, I guess. I expect to."
"And you don't get any pay?"
"That's all right; I don't expect to get any," said she, and there was
bitterness in her voice.
In spite of her stoutness she was not as strong as the man. She was not at
all strong, and, moreover, the constant presence of a sense of injury at
the hands of life filled her very soul with a subtle poison, to her
weakening vitality. She was a child hurt and worried and bewildered,
although she was to the average eye a stout, able-bodied, middle-aged
woman; but David had not the average eye, and he saw her as she really
was, not as she seemed. There had always been about her a little weakness
and dependency which had appealed to him. Now they seemed fairly to cry
out to him like the despairing voices of the children whom he had never
had, and he knew he loved her as he had never loved her before, with a
love which had budded and flowered and fruited and survived absence and
starvation. He spoke abruptly.
"I've about got my business done in these parts," said he. "I've got quite
a little money, and I've got a little house, not much, but mighty snug,
back where I come from. There's a garden. It's in the woods. Not much
passing nor going on."
The woman was looking at him with incredulous, pitiful eyes like a dog's.
"I hate much goin' on," she whispered.
"Suppose," said David, "you take those berries home and pack up your
things. Got much?"
"All I've got will go in my bag."
"Well, pack up; tell the madam where you live that you're sorry, but
you're worn out—"
"God knows I am," cried the woman, with sudden force, "worn out!"
"Well, you tell her that, and say you've got another chance, and—"
"What do you mean?" cried the woman, and she hung upon his words like a
"Mean? Why, what I mean is this. You pack your bag and come to the
parson's back there, that white house."
"In the mean time I'll see about getting a license, and—"
Suddenly the woman set her pail down and clutched him by both hands. "Say
you are not married," she demanded; "say it, swear it!"
"Yes, I do swear it," said David. "You are the only woman I ever asked to
marry me. I can support you. We sha'n't be rolling in riches, but we can
be comfortable, and—I rather guess I can make you happy."
"You didn't say what your name was," said the woman.
The woman looked at him with a strange expression, the expression of one
who loves and respects, even reveres, the isolation and secrecy of another
soul. She understood, down to the depths of her being she understood. She
had lived a hard life, she had her faults, but she was fine enough to
comprehend and hold sacred another personality. She was very pale, but she
smiled. Then she turned to go.
"How long will it take you?" asked David.
"About an hour."
"All right. I will meet you in front of the parson's house in an hour. We
will go back by train. I have money enough."
"I'd just as soon walk." The woman spoke with the utmost humility of love
and trust. She had not even asked where the man lived. All her life she
had followed him with her soul, and it would go hard if her poor feet
could not keep pace with her soul.
"No, it is too far; we will take the train. One goes at half past four."
At half past four the couple, made man and wife, were on the train
speeding toward the little home in the woods. The woman had frizzled her
thin hair pathetically and ridiculously over her temples; on her left hand
gleamed a white diamond. She had kept it hidden; she had almost starved
rather than part with it. She gazed out of the window at the flying
landscape, and her thin lips were curved in a charming smile. The man sat
beside her, staring straight ahead as if at happy visions.
They lived together afterward in the little house in the woods, and were
happy with a strange crystallized happiness at which they would have
mocked in their youth, but which they now recognized as the essential of
all happiness upon earth. And always the woman knew what she knew about
her husband, and the man knew about his wife, and each recognized the
other as old lover and sweetheart come together at last, but always each
kept the knowledge from the other with an infinite tenderness of delicacy
which was as a perfumed garment veiling the innermost sacredness of love.