A Plain Case by Mary E. Wilkins
Willy had his own little bag packed—indeed it had
been packed for three whole days—and now he stood
gripping it tightly in one hand, and a small yellow cane
which was the pride of his heart in the other. Willy had
a little harmless, childish dandyism about him which his
mother rather encouraged. "I'd rather he'd be this way
than the other," she said when people were inclined to
smile at his little fussy habits. "It won't hurt him any
to be nice and particular, if he doesn't get conceited."
Willy looked very dainty and sweet and gentle as he
stood in the door this morning. His straight fair hair
was brushed very smooth, his white straw hat with its
blue ribbon was set on exactly, there was not a speck on
his best blue suit.
"Willy looks as if he had just come out of the
band-box," Grandma had said. But she did not have time
to admire him long; she was not nearly ready herself.
Grandma was always in a hurry at the last moment. Now
she had to pack her big valise, brush Grandpa's hair,
put on his "dicky" and cravat, and adjust her own bonnet
Willy was privately afraid she would not be ready
when the village coach came, and so they would miss the
train, but he said nothing. He stood patiently in the
door and looked down the street whence the coach would
come, and listened to the bustle in Grandma's room.
There was not an impatient line in his face although he
had really a good deal at stake. He was going to Exeter
with his Grandpa and Grandma, to visit his aunt Annie,
and his new uncle Frank. Grandpa and Grandma had come
from Maine to visit their daughter Ellen who was Willy's
mother, and now they were going to see Annie. When Willy
found out that he was going too, he was delighted. He
had always been very fond of his aunt Annie, and had not
seen her for a long time. He had never seen his new
uncle Frank who had been married to Annie six months
before, and he looked forward to that. Uncles and aunts
seemed a very desirable acquisition to this little
Willy, who had always been a great pet among his
"He won't make you a bit of trouble, if you don't
mind taking him. He never teases nor frets, and he won't
be homesick," his mother had told his grandmother.
"I know all about that," Grandma Stockton had
replied. "I'd just as soon take him as a doll-baby."
WATCHING FOR THE COACH.
Willy Norton really was a very sweet boy. He proved
it this morning by standing there so patiently and never
singing out, "Ain't you most ready, Grandma?" although
it did seem to him she never would be.
His mother was helping her pack too; he could hear
them talking. "I guess I sha'n't put in father's best
coat," Grandma Stockton remarked, among other things.
"He won't be in Exeter over Sunday, and won't want it to
go to meetin', and it musses it up so to put it in a
"Well, I don't know as I would as long as you're
coming back here," said his mother.
After a while she remarked further, "If father should
want that coat, you can send for it, and I can put in
Willy's other shoes with it."
Willy noticed that, because he himself had rather
regretted not taking his other shoes. He had only his
best ones, and he thought he might want to go berrying
in Exeter and would spoil them tramping through the
bushes and briers, and he did not like to wear shabby
"Well, I can; but I guess he won't want it," said
At last the coach came in sight, and Grandma was all
ready excepting her bonnet and gloves, and Grandpa had
only to brush his hat very carefully and put it on; so
they did not miss the train.
Willy's mother hugged him tight and kissed him. There
were tears in her eyes. This was the first time he had
ever been away from home without her. "Be a good boy,"
"There isn't any need of tellin' him that," chuckled
Grandpa, getting into the coach. He thought Willy was
the most wonderful child in the world.
It was quite a long ride to Exeter. They did not get
there until tea-time, but that made it seem all the
pleasanter. Willy never forgot how peaceful and
beautiful that little, elm-shaded village looked with
the red light of the setting sun over it. There was aunt
Annie, too, in the prettiest blue-sprigged, white
cambric, standing in her door watching for them; and she
was so surprised and delighted to see Willy, and they
had tea right away, and there were berries and cream,
and cream-tartar biscuits and frosted cake.
Uncle Frank, Willy thought, was going to be the
nicest uncle he had. There was something about the tall,
curly-headed, pleasant-eyed young man which won his
boyish heart at once.
"Glad to see you, sir," uncle Frank said in his loud,
merry voice; then he gave Willy's little slim hand a big
shake, as if it were a man's.
He was further prepossessed in his favor when, after
tea, he begged to take him over to the store and show
him around before he went to bed. Grandma had suggested
his going directly to bed, as he must be fatigued with
the journey, but uncle Frank pleaded for fifteen
minutes' grace, so Willy went to view the store.
It was almost directly opposite uncle Frank's house,
and uncle Frank and his father kept it. It was in a
large old building, half of which was a dwelling-house
where uncle Frank's parents lived, and where he had
lived himself before he was married. The store was a
large country one, and there was a post-office and an
express office connected with it. Uncle Frank and his
father were store-keepers and postmasters and
The jolly new uncle gave Willy some sticks of
peppermint and winter-green candy out of the glass jars,
in the store-window, and showed him all around. He
introduced him to his father, and took him into the
house to see his mother. They made much of him, as
strangers always did.
"They said I must call them Grandpa and Grandma
Perry," he told his own grandmother when he got home.
He told her, furthermore, privately, when she came
upstairs after he was in bed to see if everything was
all right, that he thought Annie had shown very good
taste in marrying uncle Frank. She told of it,
downstairs, and there was a great laugh. "I don't know
when I have taken such a fancy to a boy," uncle Frank
said warmly. "He is so good, and yet he's smart enough,
"Everybody takes to him," his grandmother said
In a day or two Willy wrote a letter to his mother,
and told her he was having the best time that he ever
had in his life.
Willy was only seven years old and had never written
many letters, but this was a very good one. His mother
away down in Ashbury thought so. She shed a few tears
over it. "It does seem as if I couldn't get along
another day without seeing him," she told Willy's
father; "but I'm glad if it is doing the dear child
good, and he is enjoying it."
One reason why Willy had been taken upon the trip was
his health. He had always been considered rather
delicate. It did seem as if he had every chance to grow
stronger in Exeter. The air was cool and bracing from
the mountains; aunt Annie had the best things in the
world to eat, and as he had said, he was really having a
splendid time. He rode about with uncle Frank in the
grocery wagon, he tended store, he fished, and went
berrying. There were only two drawbacks to his perfect
comfort. One came from his shoes. Grandpa Perry had
found an old pair in the store, and he wore them on his
fishing and berrying jaunts; but they were much too
large and they slipped and hurt his heels. However he
said nothing; he stumped along in them manfully, and
tried to ignore such a minor grievance. Willy had really
a stanch vein in him, in spite of his gentleness and
mildness. The other drawback lay in the fact that the
visit was to be of such short duration. It began Monday
and was expected to end Saturday. Willy counted the
hours; every night before he went to sleep he heaved a
regretful sigh over the day which had just gone. It had
been decided before leaving home that they were to
return on Saturday, and he had had no intimation of any
change of plan.
Friday morning he awoke with the thought, "this is
the last day." However, Willy was a child, and, in the
morning, a day still looked interminable to him,
especially when there were good times looming up in it.
To-day he expected to take a very long ride with uncle
Frank, who was going to Keene to buy a new horse.
"I want Willy to go with me, to help pick him out,"
he told Grandma Stockton, and Willy took it in serious
earnest. They were going to carry lunch and be gone all
day. This promised pleasure looked so big to the boy, as
he became wider awake, that he could see nothing at all
beyond it, not even the sad departure and end of this
delightful visit on the morrow. So he went down to
breakfast as happy as ever.
"That boy certainly looks better," Grandpa Stockton
remarked, as the coffee was being poured.
"We must have him weighed before he goes home,"
Grandma said, beaming at him.
"That's one thing I thought of, 'bout stayin' a week
longer," Grandpa went on. "It seems to be doin' Sonny,
here, so much good." Grandpa had a very slow, deliberate
way of speaking.
Willy laid down his spoon and stared at him, but he
"I don't see what you were thinking of not to plan to
stay longer in the first place," said aunt Annie. "I
don't like it much." She made believe to pout her pretty
"Well," said uncle Frank, "I'll send for that coat
right away this morning, so you'll be sure to get it
"Yes," said Grandpa, "I'd like to hev it to wear to
meetin'. Mother thinks my old one ain't just fit."
"No, it ain't," spoke up Grandma. "It does well
enough when you're at home, where folks know you, but
it's different among strangers. An' you've got to have
it next week, anyhow."
Willy looked up at his grandmother. "Grandma," said
he tremblingly, "ain't we going home to-morrow?"
"Why, bless the child!" said she. "I forgot he didn't
know. We talked about it last night after he'd gone to
Then she explained. They were going to stay another
week. Next week Wednesday, Grandpa and Grandma Perry had
been married twenty-five years, and they were going to
have a silver wedding. So they were going to remain and
be present at it, and Grandpa was going to send for his
best coat to wear.
Willy looked so radiant that they all laughed, and
uncle Frank said he was going to keep him always, and
let him help him in the store.
Before they started off to buy the horse, uncle Frank
telegraphed to Ashbury about the coat; he also mentioned
The two had a beautiful ride, and bought a handsome
black horse. Uncle Frank consulted Willy a great deal
about the purchase, and expatiated on his good judgment
in the matter after they got home. One of Willy's chief
charms was that he stood so much flattery of this kind,
without being disagreeably elated by it. His frank,
childish delight was always pretty to see.
The next afternoon he went berrying with a little boy
who lived next door. At five o'clock aunt Annie ran over
to the store to see if the coat had come.
"It has," she told her mother when she returned; "it
came at one o'clock, and Mother Perry gave it to Willy
to bring home."
"To Willy? Why, what did the child do with it?"
Grandma said wonderingly. "He didn't bring it home."
"Maybe he carried it over to Josie Allen's and left
it there." Josie Allen was the boy with whom Willy had
gone berrying. His house stood very near uncle Frank's,
and both were nearly across the road from the store.
"Well, maybe he did, he was in such a hurry to go
berrying," said Grandma assentingly.
About six o'clock, when the family were all at the
tea-table, Willy came clumping painfully in his big
shoes into the yard. There were blisters on his small,
delicate heels, but nobody knew it. His little fair face
was red and tired, but radiant. His pail was heaped and
rounded up with the most magnificent berries of the
"Just look here," said he, with his sweet voice all
quivering with delight.
He stood outside on the piazza, and lifted the pail
on to the window-sill. He could not wait until he came
in to show these berries. He would have to walk way
around through the kitchen in those irritating shoes.
They all exclaimed and admired them as much as he
could wish, then Grandma said suddenly: "But what did
you do with the coat, Willy?"
"The coat?" repeated Willy in a bewildered way.
"Yes; the coat. Did you take it over to Josie's an'
leave it? If you did, you must go right back and get it.
"Why, what did you do with it?"
"I didn't do anything with it."
"William Dexter Norton! what do you mean?"
'JUST LOOK HERE!' SAID WILLY'S SWEET VOICE.
Everybody had stopped eating, and was staring out at
Willy, who was staring in. His happy little red face had
suddenly turned sober.
"Come in, Sonny, an' we'll see what all the trouble's
about, an' straighten it out in a jiffy," spoke up
Grandpa. The contrast between Grandpa's slow tones and
the "jiffy" was very funny.
Willy crept slowly down the long piazza, through the
big kitchen into the dining-room.
"Now, Sonny, come right here," said his grandfather,
"an' we'll have it all fixed up nice."
The boy kept looking from one face to another in a
wondering frightened way. He went hesitatingly up to his
grandfather, and stood still, his poor little smarting
feet toeing in, after a fashion they had, when tired,
the pail full of berries dangling heavily on his slight
"Now, Sonny, look up here, an' tell us all about it.
What did you do with Grandpa's coat, boy?"
"I—didn't do anything with it."
"William," began his grandmother, but Grandpa
interrupted her. "Just wait a minute, mother," said he.
"Sonny an' I air goin' to settle this. Now, Sonny, don't
you get scared. You jest think a minute. Think real
hard, don't hurry—now, can't you tell what you did with
"I—didn't—do anything with it," said Willy.
"My sakes!" said his grandmother. "What has come to
the child?" She was very pale. Aunt Annie and uncle
Frank looked as if they did not know what to think.
Grandpa himself settled back in his chair, and stared
helplessly at Willy.
Finally aunt Annie tried her hand. "See here, Willy
dear," said she, "you are tired and hungry and want your
supper; just tell us what you did with the coat after
Grandma Perry gave it to you"—
"She didn't," said Willy.
That was dreadful. They all looked aghast at one
another. Was Willy lying—Willy!
"Didn't—give—it—to you—Sonny!" said Grandpa, feebly,
and more slowly than ever.
Grandma Stockton had been called quick-tempered when
she was a girl, and she gave proof of it sometimes, even
now in her gentle old age. She spoke very sternly and
quickly: "Willy, we have had all of this nonsense that
we want. Now you just speak right up an' tell the truth.
What did you do with your grandfather's coat?"
"I didn't do anything with it," faltered Willy again.
His lip was quivering.
"I—didn't"—began the child again, then his sobs
checked him. He crooked his little free arm, hid his
face in the welcome curve, and cried in good earnest.
"Stop crying and tell me the truth," said Grandma
Willy again gasped out his one reply; he shook so
that he could scarcely hold his berry pail. Aunt Annie
took it out of his hand and set it on the table. Uncle
Frank rose with a jerk. "I'll run over and get mother,"
said he, with an air that implied, "I'll soon settle
But the matter was very far from settled by Mrs.
Perry's testimony. She only repeated what she had
already told her daughter-in-law.
"The bundle came on the noon express," said she, "and
I told Mr. Perry to set it down in the kitchen, and I
would see that it got over to you. He didn't know how to
stop just then. It laid there on one of the
kitchen-chairs while I was clearing away the
dinner-dishes. Then about two o'clock I was changing my
dress, when I heard Willy whistling out in the yard, and
I ran into the kitchen and got the bundle, and called
him to take it. I opened the south door and gave it to
him, and told him to take it right home to his grandpa.
He said he guessed he'd open it and see if his shoes had
come, and I told him 'no,' he must go straight home with
That was Mrs. Perry's testimony. Willy heard in the
presence of all the family; then when the question as to
the whereabouts of the coat was put to him, he made the
same answer. He also repeated that Grandma Perry had not
given it to him.
"Don't you let me hear you tell that wicked lie
again," said his Grandma Stockton. She was nearly as
much agitated as the boy. She did not know what to do,
and nobody else did.
Grandpa Perry came over with three sticks of twisted
red and white peppermint candy, and three of barley. He
caught hold of Willy and swung him on to his knee. He
was a fleshy, jolly man.
"Now, sir," said he, "let's strike a bargain—I'll
give you these six whole sticks of candy for your
supper, and you tell me what you did with Grandpa's
"I—didn't do—any"—Willy commenced between his painful
sobs, but his grandmother interrupted—"Hush! don't you
ever say that again," said she. "You did do something
"I'll throw in a handful of raisins," said Mr. Perry.
But it was of no use.
"Well, if the little chap was mine," said Mrs. Perry
finally, "I should give him his supper and put him to
bed, and see how he would look at it in the morning."
"I think that would be the best way," chimed in aunt
Annie eagerly. "He's all tired out and hungry, and
doesn't know what he does know—do you, dear?"
So she poured out some milk, and cut off a big slice
of cake, but Willy did not want any supper. It was hard
work to induce him to swallow a little milk before he
went upstairs. His grandmother heaved a desperate sigh
after he was gone.
"If it was in the days of the Salem witches," said
she, "I'd know just what to think; as 'tis, I don't."
"That boy was never known to tell a lie before in his
whole life—his mother said so. He never pestered her the
way some children do, lyin'; an' as for stealin'—why,
I'd trusted him with every cent I've got in the world."
That was Grandpa Stockton.
During the next two or three days every inducement
was brought to bear upon Willy. He was scolded and
coaxed, he was promised a reward if he would tell the
truth, he was assured that he should not be punished.
Monday he was kept in his room all day, and was given
nothing but bread and milk to eat. Severer measures were
hinted at, but Grandpa Stockton put his foot down
peremptorily. "That boy has never been whipped in his
whole life," said he, "an' his own folks have got to
begin it, if anybody does."
All the premises were searched for the missing coat,
but no trace of it was found. The mystery thickened and
deepened. How could a boy lose a coat going across a
road in broad daylight? Why would he not confess that he
had lost it?
Finally it was decided to take him home. He was
becoming all worn out with excitement and distress. He
was too delicate a child to long endure such a strain.
They thought that once at home his mother might be able
to do what none of the rest had.
All the others were getting worn out also. A good
many tears had been shed by the older members of the
company. Poor Mrs. Perry took much blame to herself for
giving the coat to the boy, and so opening the way for
"Mr. Perry says he thinks I ought not to have given
the coat to him, he's nothing but a child, any way," she
said tearfully once.
It was Monday afternoon when Willy was shut up in his
room, and all the others were talking the matter over
Tears stood in aunt Annie's blue eyes. "He's nothing
but a baby," said she, "and if I had my way I'd call him
downstairs and give him a cookie and never speak of the
old coat again."
"You talk very silly, Annie," said Grandmother
Stockton. "I hope you don't want to have the child to
grow up a wicked, deceitful man."
Willy's grandparents gave up going to the silver
wedding. Grandpa had no good coat to wear, and indeed
neither of them had any heart to go.
So the morning of the wedding-day they started sadly
to return to Ashbury. Willy's face looked thin and
tear-stained. Somebody had packed his little bag for
him, but he forgot his little cane.
When he was seated in the cars beside his
grandmother, he began to cry. She looked at him a
moment, then she put her arm around him, and drew his
head down on her black cashmere shoulder.
"Tell Grandma, can't you," she whispered, "what you
did with Grandpa's coat?"
"Hush," said she, "don't you say that again, Willy!"
But she kept her arm around him.
Willy's mother came running to the door to meet them
when they arrived. She had heard nothing of the trouble.
She had only had a hurried message that they were coming
She threw her arms around Willy, then she held him
back and looked at him. "Why, what is the matter with my
precious boy!" she cried.
"O, mamma, mamma, I didn't, I didn't do anything with
it!" he sobbed, and clung to her so frantically that she
"What does he mean, mother?" she asked.
Her mother motioned her to be quiet. "Oh! it isn't
anything," said she. "You'd better give him his supper,
and get him to bed; he's all tired out. I'll tell you by
and by," she motioned with her lips.
So Willy's mother soothed him all she could. "Of
course you didn't, dear," said she. "Mamma knows you
didn't. Don't you worry any more about it."
It was early, but she got some supper for him, and
put him to bed, and sat beside him until he went to
sleep. She told him over and over that she knew he
"didn't," in reply to his piteous assertions, and all
the time she had not the least idea what it was all
After he had fallen asleep she went downstairs, and
Grandma Stockton told her. Willy's father had come, and
he also heard the story.
"There's some mistake about it," said he. "I'll make
Willy tell me about it, to-morrow. Nothing is going to
make me believe that he is persisting in a deliberate
lie in this way."
Willy's mother was crying herself, now. "He
never—told me a lie in his whole dear little life," she
sobbed, "and I don't believe he has now. Nothing will
ever—make me believe so."
"Don't cry, Ellen," said her husband. "There's
something about this that we don't understand."
It was all talked over and over that night, but they
were no nearer understanding the case.
"I'll see what I can do with Willy in the morning,"
his father said again, when the discussion was ended for
Willy was not awake at the breakfast hour next
morning, so the family sat down without him. They were
not half through the meal when there were some quick
steps on the path outside; the door was jerked open, and
there was aunt Annie and uncle Frank.
She had Willy's little yellow cane in her hand, and
she looked as if she did not know whether to laugh or
"It's found!" she cried out, "it's found! Oh! where
is he? He left his cane, poor little boy!"
Then she really sank into a chair and began to cry.
There were exclamations and questions and finally they
arrived at the solution of the mystery.
Poor little Willy had not done anything with
Grandpa's coat. Mrs. Perry had not given it to him. She
had—given it to another boy.
"Last night about seven o'clock," said uncle Frank.
"Mr. Gilbert Hammond brought it into the store. It seems
he sent his boy, who is just about Willy's age, and
really looks some like him, for a bundle he expected to
come by express. The boy was to have some shoes in it.
"I suppose mother caught a glimpse of him, and very
likely she didn't have on her glasses, and can't see
very well without them, and she thought he was Willy.
She was changing her dress, too, and I dare say only
opened the door a little way. Then the Hammond boy's got
a grandfather, and the shoes and the whole thing hung
"Mr. Hammond said he meant to have brought the bundle
back before, but they had company come the next day, and
it was overlooked.
"Father and mother both came running over the minute
they heard of it, and nothing would suit Annie but we
should start right off on the night train, and come down
here and explain. And, to tell the truth, I wanted to
come myself—I felt as if we owed it to the poor little
Uncle Frank's own voice sounded husky. The thought of
all the suffering that poor little innocent boy had
borne was not a pleasant one.
Everything that could be done to atone to Willy was
done. He was loved and praised and petted, as he had
never been before; in a little while he seemed as well
and happy as ever.
The next Christmas Grandpa Perry sent a beautiful
little gold watch to him, and he was so delighted with
it that his father said, "He doesn't worry a bit now
about the trouble he had in Exeter. That watch doesn't
seem to bring it to mind at all. How quickly children
get over things. He has forgotten all about it."
But Willy Norton had not forgotten all about it. He
was just as happy as ever. He had entirely forgiven
Grandma Perry for her mistake. Next summer he was going
to Exeter again and have a beautiful time; but a good
many years would pass, and whenever he looked at that
little gold watch, he would see double. It would have
for him a background of his grandfather's best coat.
Innocence and truth can feel the shadow of unjust
suspicion when others can no longer see it.