Dill by Mary E. Wilkins
Dame Clementina was in her dairy, churning, and her
little daughter Nan was out in the flower-garden. The
flower-garden was a little plot back of the cottage,
full of all the sweet, old-fashioned herbs. There were
sweet marjoram, sage, summersavory, lavender, and ever
so many others. Up in one corner, there was a little
green bed of dill.
Nan was a dainty, slim little maiden, with yellow,
flossy hair in short curls all over her head. Her eyes
were very sweet and round and blue, and she wore a
quaint little snuff-colored gown. It had a short full
waist, with low neck and puffed sleeves, and the skirt
was straight and narrow and down to her little heels.
She danced around the garden, picking a flower here
and there. She was making a nosegay for her mother. She
picked lavender and sweet-william and pinks, and bunched
them up together. Finally she pulled a little sprig of
dill, and ran, with that and the nosegay, to her mother
in the dairy.
"Mother dear," said she, "here is a little nosegay
for you; and what was it I overheard you telling Dame
Elizabeth about dill last night?"
Dame Clementina stopped churning and took the
nosegay. "Thank you, Sweetheart, it is lovely," said
she, "and, as for the dill—it is a charmed plant, you
know, like four-leaved clover."
"Do you put it over the door?" asked Nan.
"Yes. Nobody who is envious or ill-disposed can enter
into the house if there is a sprig of dill over the
door. Then I know another charm which makes it stronger.
If one just writes this verse:
'Alva, aden, winira mir,
Sanchta, wanchta, attazir,
Hor de mussen wingen,'
under the sprig of dill, every one envious, or
evil-disposed, who attempts to enter the house, will
have to stop short, just where they are, and stand
there; they cannot move."
"What does the verse mean?" asked Nan.
"That, I do not know. It is written in a foreign
language. But it is a powerful charm."
"O, mother! will you write it off for me, if I will
bring you a bit of paper and a pen?"
"Certainly," replied her mother, and wrote it off
when Nan brought pen and paper.
"Now," said she, "you must run off and play again,
and not hinder me any longer, or I shall not get my
butter made to-day."
So Nan danced away with the verse, and the sprig of
dill, and her mother went on churning.
She had a beautiful tall stone churn, with the sides
all carved with figures in relief. There were milkmaids
and cows as natural as life all around the churn. The
dairy was charming, too. The shelves were carved stone;
and the floor had a little silvery rill running right
through the middle of it, with green ferns at the sides.
All along the stone shelves were set pans full of yellow
cream, and the pans were all of solid silver, with a
chasing of buttercups and daisies around the brims.
It was not a common dairy, and Dame Clementina was
not a common dairy-woman. She was very tall and stately,
and wore her silver-white hair braided around her head
like a crown, with a high silver comb at the top. She
walked like a queen; indeed she was a noble count's
daughter. In her early youth, she had married a pretty
young dairyman, against her father's wishes; so she had
been disinherited. The dairyman had been so very poor
and low down in the world, that the count felt it his
duty to cast off his daughter, lest she should do
discredit to his noble line. There was a much
pleasanter, easier way out of the difficulty, which the
count did not see. Indeed, it was a peculiarity of all
his family, that they never could see a way out of a
difficulty, high and noble as they were. The count only
needed to have given the poor young dairyman a few acres
of his own land, and a few bags of his own gold, and
begged the king, with whom he had great influence, to
knight him, and all the obstacles would have been
removed; the dairyman would have been quite rich and
noble enough for his son-in-law. But he never thought of
that, and his daughter was disinherited. However, he
made all the amends to her that he could, and fitted her
out royally for her humble station in life. He caused
this beautiful dairy to be built for her, and gave her
the silver milk-pans, and the carved stone churn.
"My daughter shall not churn in a common wooden
churn, or skim the cream from wooden pans," he had said.
The dairyman had been dead a good many years now, and
Dame Clementina managed the dairy alone. She never saw
anything of her father, although he lived in his castle
not far off, on a neighboring height. When the sky was
clear, she could see its stone towers against it. She
had four beautiful white cows, and Nan drove them to
pasture; they were very gentle.
When Dame Clementina had finished churning, she went
into the cottage. As she stepped through the little door
with clumps of sweet peas on each side, she looked up.
There was the sprig of dill, and the magic verse she had
written under it.
Nan was sitting at the window inside, knitting her
stent on a blue stocking. "Ah, Sweetheart," said her
mother, laughing, "you have little cause to pin the dill
and the verse over our door. None is likely to envy us,
or to be ill-disposed toward us."
"O, mother!" said Nan, "I know it, but I thought it
would be so nice to feel sure. Oh, there is Dame Golding
coming after some milk. Do you suppose she will have to
"What nonsense!" said her mother. They both of them
watched Dame Golding coming. All of a sudden, she
stopped short, just outside. She could go no further.
She tried to lift her feet, but could not.
"O, mother!" cried Nan, "she has stopped!"
The poor woman began to scream. She was frightened
almost to death. Nan and her mother were not much less
frightened, but they did not know what to do. They ran
out, and tried to comfort her, and gave her some cream
to drink; but it did not amount to much. Dame Golding
had secretly envied Dame Clementina for her silver
milk-pans. Nan and her mother knew why their visitor was
so suddenly rooted to the spot, of course, but she did
not. She thought her feet were paralyzed, and she kept
begging them to send for her husband.
"Perhaps he can pull her away," said Nan, crying. How
she wished she had never pinned the dill and the verse
over the door! So she set off for Dame Golding's
husband. He came running in a great hurry; but when he
had nearly reached his wife, and had his arms reached
out to grasp her, he, too, stopped short. He had envied
Dame Clementina for her beautiful white cows, and there
he was fast, also.
He began to groan and scream too. Nan and her mother
ran into the house and shut the door. They could not
bear it. "What shall we do, if any one else comes?"
sobbed Nan. "O, mother! there is Dame Dorothy coming.
And—yes—Oh! she has stopped too." Poor Dame Dorothy had
envied Dame Clementina a little for her flower-garden,
which was finer than hers, so she had to join Dame
Golding and her husband.
Pretty soon another woman came, who had looked with
envious eyes at Dame Clementina, because she was a
count's daughter; and another, who had grudged her a
fine damask petticoat, which she had had before she was
disinherited, and still wore on holidays; and they both
had to stop.
Then came three rough-looking men in velvet jackets
and slouched hats, who brought up short at the gate with
a great jerk that nearly took their breath away. They
were robbers who were prowling about with a view to
stealing Dame Clementina's silver milk-pans some dark
A STRANGE SAD STATE OF THINGS.
All through the day the people kept coming and
stopping. It was wonderful how many things poor Dame
Clementina had to be envied by men and women, and even
children. They envied Nan for her yellow curls or her
blue eyes, or her pretty snuff-colored gown. When the
sun set, the yard in front of Dame Clementina's cottage
was full of people. Lastly, just before dark, the count
himself came ambling up on a coal-black horse. The count
was a majestic old man dressed in velvet, with stars on
his breast. His white hair fell in long curls on his
shoulders, and he had a pointed beard. As he came to the
gate, he caught a glimpse of Nan in the door.
"How I wish that little maiden was my child," said
he. And, straightway, he stopped. His horse pawed and
trembled when he lashed him with a jeweled whip to make
him go on; but he could not stir forward one step.
Neither could the count dismount from his saddle; he sat
there fuming with rage.
Meanwhile, poor Dame Clementina and little Nan were
overcome with distress. The sight of their yard full of
all these weeping people was dreadful. Neither of them
had any idea how to do away with the trouble, because of
their family inability to see their way out of a
When supper time came, Nan went for the cows, and her
mother milked them into her silver milk-pails, and
strained off the milk into her silver pans. Then they
kindled up a fire and cooked some beautiful milk
porridge for the poor people in the yard.
It was a beautiful warm moonlight night, and all the
winds were sweet with roses and pinks; so the people
could not suffer out of doors; but the next morning it
"O, mother!" said Nan, "it is raining, and what will
the poor people do?"
Dame Clementina would never have seen her way out of
this difficulty, had not Dame Golding cried out that her
bonnet was getting wet, and she wanted an umbrella.
"Why, you must go around to their houses, of course,
and get their umbrellas for them," said Dame Clementina;
"but first, give ours to that old man on horseback." She
did not know her father, so many years had passed since
she had seen him, and he had altered so.
So Nan carried out their great yellow umbrella to the
count, and went around to the others' houses for their
own umbrellas. It was pitiful enough to see them
standing all alone behind the doors. She could not find
three extra ones for the three robbers, and she felt
badly about that.
Somebody suggested, however, that milk-pans turned
over their heads would keep the rain off their slouched
hats, at least; so she got a silver milk-pan for an
umbrella for each. They made such frantic efforts to get
away then, that they looked like jumping-jacks; but it
was of no use.
NAN RETURNS WITH THE UMBRELLAS.
Poor Dame Clementina and Nan after they had given the
milk porridge to the people, and done all they could for
their comfort, stood staring disconsolately out of the
window at them under their dripping umbrellas. The yard
was fairly green and black and blue and yellow with
umbrellas. They wept at the sight, but they could not
think of any way out of the difficulty. The people
themselves might have suggested one, had they known the
real cause; but they did not dare to tell them how they
were responsible for all the trouble; they seemed so
About noon Nan spied their most particular friend,
Dame Elizabeth, coming. She lived a little way out of
the village. Nan saw her approaching the gate through
the rain and mist, with her great blue umbrella and her
long blue double cape and her poke bonnet; and she cried
out in the greatest dismay: "O, mother, mother! there is
our dear Dame Elizabeth coming; she will have to stop
Then they watched her with beating hearts. Dame
Elizabeth stared with astonishment at the people, and
stopped to ask them questions. But she passed quite
through their midst, and entered the cottage under the
sprig of dill, and the verse. She did not envy Dame
Clementina or Nan, anything.
SUCH FRANTIC EFFORTS TO GET AWAY.
"Tell me what this means," said she. "Why are all
these people standing in your yard in the rain with
Then Dame Clementina and Nan told her. "And oh! what
shall we do?" said they. "Will these people have to
stand in our yard forever and ever?"
Dame Elizabeth stared at them. The way out of the
difficulty was so plain to her, that she could not
credit its not being plain to them.
"Why," said she, "don't you take down the sprig of
dill and the verse?"
"Why, sure enough!" said they in amazement. "Why
didn't we think of that before?"
So Dame Clementina ran out quickly, and pulled down
the sprig of dill and the verse.
Then the way the people hurried out of the yard! They
fairly danced and flourished their heels, old folks and
all. They were so delighted to be able to move, and they
wanted to be sure they could move. The robbers tried to
get away unseen with their silver milk-pans, but some of
the people stopped them, and set the pans safely inside
the dairy. All the people, except the count, were so
eager to get away, that they did not stop to inquire
into the cause of the trouble then.
Afterward, when they did, they were too much ashamed
to say anything about it.
It was a good lesson to them; they were not quite so
envious after that. Always, on entering any cottage,
they would glance at the door, to see if, perchance,
there might be a sprig of dill over it. And if there was
not, they were reminded to put away any envious feeling
they might have toward the inmates out of their hearts.
DAME ELIZABETH STARED WITH ASTONISHMENT.
As for the count, he had not been so much alarmed as
the others, since he had been to the wars and was
braver. Moreover, he felt that his dignity as a noble
had been insulted. So he at once dismounted and fastened
his horse to the gate, and strode up to the door with
his sword clanking and the plumes on his hat nodding.
"What," he begun; then he stopped short. He had
recognized his daughter in Dame Clementina. She
recognized him at the same moment. "O, my dear
daughter!" said he. "O, my dear father!" said she.
"And this is my little grandchild?" said the count;
and he took Nan upon his knee, and covered her with
Then the story of the dill and the verse was told.
"Yes," said the count, "I truly was envious of you,
Clementina, when I saw Nan."
After a little, he looked at his daughter
sorrowfully. "I should dearly love to take you up to the
castle with me, Clementina," said he, "and let you live
there always, and make you and the little child my
heirs. But how can I? You are disinherited, you know."
"I don't see any way," assented Dame Clementina,
Dame Elizabeth was still there, and she spoke up to
the count with a curtesy.
"Noble sir," said she, "why don't you make another
"Why, sure enough," cried the count with great
delight, "why don't I? I'll have my lawyer up to the
THE COUNT THINKS HIMSELF INSULTED.
He did immediately alter his will, and his daughter
was no longer disinherited. She and Nan went to live at
the castle, and were very rich and happy. Nan learned to
play on the harp, and wore snuff-colored satin gowns.
She was called Lady Nan, and she lived a long time, and
everybody loved her. But never, so long as she lived,
did she pin the sprig of dill and the verse over the
door again. She kept them at the very bottom of a little
satin-wood box—the faded sprig of dill wrapped round
with the bit of paper on which was written the
"Alva, aden, winira
Sanchta, wanchta, attazir,
Hor de mussen wingen."
THEY FAIRLY DANCED AND FLOURISHED THEIR HEELS.