Her Neighbor's Landmark

by Annie Eliot Trumbull

THE sun had not quite disappeared behind the horizon, though the days no longer extended themselves into the long, murmurous twilight of summer; instead, the evening fell with a certain definiteness, precursor of the still later year.

On the step of the door that led directly into the living-room of his rambling house sat Reuben Granger, an old man, bent with laborious seasons, and not untouched by rheumatism. The wrinkles on his face were many and curiously intertwined; his weather-beaten straw hat seemed to supply any festal deficiency indicated by the shirt-sleeves; and his dim eyes blinked with shrewdness upon the dusty road, along which, at intervals, a belated wagon passed, clattering. His days of usefulness were not over, but he had reached the age when one is willing to spend more time looking on. He had always been tired at this hour of the day, but it was only of late that fatigue had had a certain numbing effect, which disinclined him to think of the tasks of tomorrow. He came to this period of repose rather earlier nowadays, and after less sturdy labor—somehow, a great deal of the sturdy labor got itself done without him; and there was an acquiescence in even this dispensation perceptible in the fall of his knotted hands and the tranquil gaze of his faded eyes.

About a dozen yards beyond him, on the doorstep leading directly into the living-room of a house which joined the other, midway between two windows (the union marked by a third doorway unused and boarded up, around whose stone was the growth of decades), sat Stephen Granger. His weather-beaten straw hat shaded eyes dim also, but still keen; and a network of curious wrinkles wandered over his tanned and sun-dried skin. Upon his features, too, dwelt that look of patient tolerance that is not indifference, that only the "wise years" can bring; and on his face as well as his brother's certain lines about the puckered mouth went far to contradict it. If one saw only one of the old men, there was nothing grim in the spectacle—that of a weary farmer looking out upon the highroad from the shelter of his own doorway; but the sight of them both together took on suddenly a forbidding air, a suggestion of sullenness, of dogged resolution; they were so precisely alike, and they sat so near one another on thresholds of the same long, low building, and they seemed so unconscious the one of the other. It was impossible not to believe the unconsciousness wilful and deliberate. A heavily freighted and loose-jointed wagon rattled noisily but slowly along the road.

"Howaryer?" called out one of its occupants.

"'Are yer?" returned Stephen Granger.

Reuben had opened his mouth to speak, but closed it in silence, while he gazed straight before him, unseeing, apparently, and unheeding. The leisurely driver checked his horse, which responded instantly to the welcome indication. Behind him in the wagon two calves looked somewhat perplexedly forth, their mild eyes, with but slightly accentuated curiosity, surveying the Grangers and the landscape from the durance of the cart.

"Been tradin'?" asked Stephen.

"Wal, yes, I have," answered the other, with that lingering intonation that seems to modify even the most unconditional assent.

"Got a good bargain?"

"Wal, so-so."

"Many folks down to the store this evenin'?"

"Wal, considerable."

"Ain't any news?"

"Not any as I know on."

Stephen nodded his acceptance of this state of things. The other nodded, too. There was a pause.

"G'long," said the trader, as if he would have said it before if he had thought of it. But the horse had taken but a few steps when another voice greeted him.

"Howaryer, Monroe?" said Reuben Granger.

"Whoa," said Monroe. "Howaryer?"

"Been down to the Centre?" asked Reuben.

"Yare."

"Got some calves in there, I see."

"Wal, yes; been doin' some tradin'."

Reuben nodded. "Ain't any news, I take it?"

"None in partickler." Another exchange of nods followed.

"G'long," said Monroe, after a short silence, during which the calves looked more bored than usual. But the shaky wheels had made but a few revolutions before the owner of the wagon reined in again.

"Say," he called back, twisting himself around and resting his hand on the bar that confined the calves. "They've took down the shed back of the meetin'-house. Said 'twas fallin' to pieces. Might 'a' come down on the heads of the hosses. Goin' to put up a new one." Then, as his steed recommenced its modest substitute for a trot, unseen of the Grangers he permitted himself an undemonstrative chuckle. "They can sorter divide that piece of news between 'em," he said to his companion, who had been the silent auditor of the conversation. A moment of indecision on the part of the Grangers had given him time to make this observation, but it was not concluded when Reuben's cracked voice sang out cheerfully, "Ye don't say!" A slight contraction passed over Stephen's face. Much as he would have liked to mark the bit of information for his own, now that it had been appropriated by another, he gave no further sign. The noise of the wagon died along the road, and still Reuben and Stephen Granger sat gazing straight before them at the hill which faced them from the other side of the way, at the foot of which the darkness was falling fast. By and by a lamp was lighted in one half of the house, and a moment later there was a flash through the window of the other, and slowly and stiffly the two old men rose and went inside, each closing his door behind him.

"Them's the Granger twins," had said the owner of the calves in answer to his companion's question as soon as they were out of hearing. "Yes, they be sort of odd. Don't have nothin' to say to one another, and they've lived next door to each other ever since they haven't lived with each other. It's goin' on thirty years since they've spoke. Yes, they do look alike—I don't see no partickler difference myself, and it would make it kinder awk'ard if they expected folks to know which one he's talkin' to. But they don't. They're kinder sensible about that. They're real sensible 'bout some things," he added tolerantly. "Oh, they was powerful fond of each other at first—twins, y' know. They was always together, and when each of 'em set up housekeepin', nothin' would do for it but they should jine their houses and live side by side—they knew enough not to live together, seein' as how, though they was twins, their wives wasn't. So they took and added on to the old homestead, and each of 'em took an end. Wal, I dunno how it began—no, it wasn't their wives—it don't seem hardly human natur', but it wasn't their wives." The speaker sighed a little. He was commonly supposed to have gained more experience than felicity through matrimony. "I've heard it said that it was hoss-reddish that begun it. You see, they used to eat together, and Stephen he used to like a little hoss-reddish along with his victuals in the spring, and Reuben, he said 't was a pizen weed. But there! you can never tell; they're both of 'em just as sot as—as erysipelas; and when that's so, somethin' or other is sure to come. I know for a fact that Reuben always wanted a taste of molasses in his beans, and Stephen couldn't abide anythin' but vinegar. So, bymeby, they took to havin' their meals separate. You know it ain't in human natur' to see other folks puttin' things in their mouths that don't taste good to yours, and keep still about it."

His companion admitted the truth of this statement.

"Sometimes I think," went on Monroe, musingly, "that if they'd begun by eatin' separate they might have got along, 'cause it's only His saints that the Lord has made pleasant-tempered enough to stand bein' pestered with three meals a day, unless they're busy enough not to have time to think about anythin' but swallerin'. Hayin'-time most men is kinder pleasant 'bout their food—so long 's it's ready. Wal, however it was, after they eat separate there was other things. There was the weather. They always read the weather signs different. And each of 'em had that way of speakin' 'bout the weather as if it was a little contrivance of his own, and he was the only person who could give a hint how 'twas run, or had any natural means of findin' out if 'twas hot, or cold, or middlin', 'less he took hold and told 'em. It's a powerful tryin' sort of way, and finally it come so that, if Reuben said we was in for a wet spell, Stephen 'd start right off and begin to mow his medder grass, and if Stephen 'lowed there was a sharp thunder-shower comin' up, inside of ten minutes, Reuben'd go and git his waterin'-pot and water every blamed thing he had in his garden. I dunno when it was they stopped speakin', but that was about all there was to it—little things like that. They didn't either of 'em have any children; sometimes I've thought if they had, the kids might sort of brought 'em together—they couldn't have kep' 'em apart without they moved away, and of course they wouldn't either of 'em give in to the other enough to move away from the old farm. Then their wives died 'bout a year from each other. They kep' kind o' friendly to the last, but they couldn't stir their husbands no more'n if they was safes—it seems, sometimes, as if husbands and wives was sort o' too near one another, when it comes to movin', to git any kind of a purchase. When Reuben's wife died, folks said they'd have to git reconciled now; and when Stephen's died, there didn't seem anythin' else for 'em to do; but folks didn't know 'em. Stephen went up country where his wife come from and brought home a little gal, that was her niece, to keep house for him; and then what did Reuben do but go down to Zoar, where his wife come from, and git her half-sister—both of 'em young, scart little things, and no kin to one another—and they can't do nothin' even if they wanted to. Bad-tempered? Wal, no. I wouldn't say the Granger twins was bad-tempered;" and the biographer dexterously removed a fly from his horse's patient back. "They're sot, of course, but they ain't what they used to be—I guess it's been a sort of discipline to 'em—livin' next door and never takin' no kind of notice. They're pleasant folks to have dealin's with, and I've had both of 'em ask me if I cal'lated it was goin' to rain, when I've been goin' by—different times, o' course—but it 'most knocked the wind out of me when they done it, 'stead of givin' me p'inters. Yes, you never can speak to 'em both at once, 'cause the other one never hears if ye do; but there! it ain't much trouble to say a thing over twice—most of us say it more'n that 'fore we can git it 'tended to; and," he added, as he leaned forward and dropped the whip into its socket preparatory to turning into his own yard, "most of us hears it more'n once."

"Monroe," called a voice from the porch, "did you bring them calves?"

"Yare," said Monroe.

"I told you if you stopped to bring 'em, you wouldn't be home till after dark."

"Wal?"

"I told you 't would be dark and you'd be late to supper."

"Wal?" and Monroe took down the end of the wagon, and persuaded out the calves.

The person who was Monroe's companion and the recipient of his confidences was a young woman who was an inmate of his house for the present month of September.

Confident and somewhat audacious in her conduct of life, Cynthia Gardner had felt that this September existence lacked a motive for energy before it brought her into contact with the Granger twins.

"They are so interesting," she said to Monroe, a day or two later.

"Wal, I guess they be," answered Monroe, amiably. The quality of being interesting did not assume to his vision the proportions it presented to Cynthia Gardner's, but he saw no reason to deny its existence. Cynthia cast a backward glance from the wagon as she spoke, and saw Reuben slowly and stiffly gathering up dry stalks in his garden, while Stephen propped up the declining side of a water-butt in his adjoining domain, one man's back carefully turned to the other.

She walked back from the Centre, and stopped to talk with the twins in a casual manner. But no careful inadvertence drew them, at this or any later time when their social relations had become firmly established, into a triangular conversation. They greeted her with cordiality, responded to her advances, talked to her with the tolerant and humorous shrewdness that lurked in their dim eyes, but it was always one at a time. If, with disarming naïveté, she appealed to Stephen, Reuben turned into a graven image; and if she chaffed with Reuben, Stephen became as one who having eyes seeth not, and having ears heareth not. But she persisted with a zeal which, if not according to knowledge, was the result of a firm belief in the possibility of a final adjustment of differences. She did not know, herself, what led her into such earnestness,—a caprice, or the lingering pathos of two lonely, barren lives.

Monroe watched her proceedings with tolerant kindliness. It was not his business to discourage her. He knew what it was to be discouraged, and he felt that there was quite enough discouragement going about in life without his adding to it.

"I tell you they would like to be reconciled, Mr. Monroe," said Cynthia. "They don't know they would like it, but they would."

"Wal, mebbe they would. They're gittin' to be old men. And when you git along as far as that, you don't, perhaps, worry so much about bein' reconciled, but neither does it seem as worth while not to. There's a good deal that's sort of instructive about gittin' old," he ruminated.

"It's very lonely for them both, I think;" and Cynthia's voice fell into the ready accents of youthful pity.

"Their quarrel's been kinder comp'ny for 'em," suggested Monroe.

"It's overstayed its time," asserted Cynthia.

"Mebbe," answered Monroe.

The crisis—for Cynthia had been looking for a crisis—came, after all, unexpectedly. She had been for the mail, and as she drove the amenable horse over the homeward road she strained her eyes to read the last page of an unusually absorbing letter, for it was again sundown, and the Granger twins again sat in their doorways. There was a decided chill in the air, this late afternoon. The old men, though they were sturdy still, had put on their coats, and from behind them the comfortable glow of two stove doors promised a later hour of warmth and comfort. Their aspect was more melancholy than usual, whether it were that the bleakness of winter seemed pressing close upon the bleakness of lonely age, or that there was an added weariness in the droop of the thin shoulders and the fixed eyes—it was certain that the picture had gained a shadow of depression.

For once, Cynthia was not thinking of them as she drew near. The reins were loose in her hand, and as she bent to catch the waning light, an open newspaper, which she had laid carelessly on the seat beside her, was lifted by a transient gust of wind and tossed almost over her horse's head. No horse, of whatever serenity, can be thus treated without resentment. He jerked the reins from her heedless hands, made a sharp turn to avoid the white, wavering, inconsequent thing at his feet, a wheel caught in a neighboring boulder, and Cynthia was spilled out just in front of the Granger house and midway between the twins. In a common impulse of fright the two old men started to their feet. For an instant they paused to judge of the situation, but it was no time for fine distinctions. The accident had, to all appearances, happened as near one as the other, and meanwhile a young and pretty woman lay unsuccored upon the ground. It became a point of honor to yield nothing to an ignored companion. As speedily as their years allowed, Stephen and Reuben marched to the rescue. The horse, meanwhile, had dragged the overturned wagon but a few yards, and had stopped of his own reasonable accord. As Cynthia raised herself rather confusedly and quite convinced that she was killed, her first impression was that the angels were older than she had fancied, and looked very much like the Granger twins. But in a few seconds her balance of mind was restored, she realized that while there was life there was hope, and that for the first time in her experience the eyes of Reuben and Stephen were fixed solicitously upon a common object, that each of them had stretched out to her a helping hand, and that two voices with precisely the same anxious intonation were saying,—

"Be ye hurt?"

It was a solemn moment, but Cynthia Gardner was of the stuff that recognizes opportunity. She laid a hand upon each rugged arm, and steadied herself between them; she perceived that they trembled under her touch, and she felt that the instant in which they stood side by side was dramatic.

"I declare, 'twas too bad," said Reuben.

"'Twas too bad," said Stephen.

"Is the horse all right?" asked Cynthia, feebly.

"Yes, Johnny Allen got him," said Stephen.

"Johnny Allen came along," said Reuben, as if Stephen had not spoken, "and he's got him."

"I can walk," she said, with not unconscious pathos, "if you will walk with me, but I must go in and rest a moment;" and the three moved slowly straight forward.

A few steps brought them to the point at which they must turn aside to reach either entrance. Before them rose the old boarded-up, dismal doorway, weather-beaten, stained, repellent as bitterness. There was another fateful pause. Cynthia felt the quiver that ran through the frames of the old men as for the first time in long years they stood side by side before the doorway about which as children they had played, and through which as boys they had rushed together. In Cynthia's drooping head plans were rapidly forming themselves, but she had time to be thankful that she did not know which was Reuben and which was Stephen—it saved her the anxiety of decision; instinctively she turned to the right, a small brown hand clutching impartially either rough and shabby sleeve.

The man on her right swerved in an impulse of desertion, but her grasp did not relax.

"Is the judgment of Solomon to be pronounced!" she said to herself, half hysterically, for her nerves were a little shaken.

"Oh, I hope I sha'n't faint!" she exclaimed aloud.

Beneath Reuben's rustic exterior beat the American heart that cannot desert an elegant female in distress. He followed the inclination of the other two to Stephen's door, and in another never-to-be-forgotten moment he stepped inside his brother's house.

Stephen's deceased wife's niece was so overcome by the spectacle that she retained barely enough presence of mind to drag forward a wooden chair upon which Cynthia sank in a condition evidently bordering upon syncope. It was a critical moment; she must not give the intruder an opportunity to escape. She knew the intruder by that impulse of desertion, and she clung the tighter to his arm when she murmured pitifully, "If you could get me some water, Mr. Granger."

Stephen hastened towards the kitchen pump—the sight of Reuben in his side of the house, after thirty years, set old chords vibrating with a suddenness that threatened to snap some disused string, and his perceptions were not as clear as usual. He seized the dipper, filled it, and looked about him.

"Where's the tumbler, Jenny?" he called impatiently.

"It's right there," answered the girl, with the explicitness of agitation.

"Whar?" he demanded with asperity.

"Settin' on the side—right back of the molasses jug."

"Molasses jug!" he exclaimed. "Nice place for the molasses jug!"

"We was goin' to have baked beans for supper," said the trembling Jenny, feeling that it was best to be tentative about even a trifling matter within the area of this convulsion, "and you always want it handy."

It was a simple statement, but it laid a finger upon the past and upon the future. Cynthia, through her half-closed eyes, saw one old man with disturbed features, standing with his hand upon her chair, while another old man shuffled toward her with a glass of water, which spilled a little in his shaking hand as he came across the humble kitchen. Most inadequate dramatic elements, yet they held the tragedy of nearly a lifetime, and the comedy, though more evident, was cast by it in the shade, and she neither laughed nor cried.

Within a few moments more she was on her homeward way, a trifling break in the harness tied up with twine, and Johnny Allen in the seat beside her as guard of honor.

The next evening the people, driving home from the Centre, were saved from some active demonstration only by the repression of the New England temperament. Some of them even, after driving past, invented an errand to drive back again, so as to make sure. For the Granger twins sat side by side in front of the disused doorway, and their straw hats were turned sociably towards one another, now and then, as they exchanged a syllable or two, and there was a mild luminousness of pleasure in the recesses of their pale-blue eyes. The evening darkened fast into night. The plaintive half-chirp, half-whistle of a tree-toad fell in monotonous repetition upon the ear.

"Hear them little fellers!" said Stephen, ruminantly. "I reckon they think it's goin' to rain."

"Yare," said Reuben. "And," he went on, pushing back his straw hat and looking up into the sky, "I wouldn't wonder if they was right."

"Mostly are," said Stephen.