A Sweet Grass Basket by Mary E. Wilkins
Nancy and Flora were going through the garden,
stepping between the squash and tomato
vines. Nancy's mother stood in the kitchen door
looking after them.
"Mind you don't hit your clothes on the tomatoes!"
she called out.
"No, we won't," they answered back. After
they had passed the last bean pole they walked
single file along the foot-path down the hill.
The tall timothy-grass rustled up almost to their
waists. Flora went first, with a light little tilt
of her starched skirts. Nancy trudged briskly
and sturdily after. Nancy's old buff calico dress,
which had been let down for her every spring
since she was seven years old, and marked its
age, like a tree, by rings of a brighter color where
the old tucks had been, did not look very well
beside Flora's pretty new blue cambric. Neither
did Nancy's old Shaker bonnet show to advantage
beside Flora's hat, with its beautiful bows
and streamers; but Nancy was not troubled
about that. She cared very little what she wore,
so long as she went somewhere. Flora always
had nicer things, but she never minded. Flora
was her cousin; she had come to live with her
when her mother died, ten years before, and her
father had considerable money. He lived in the
The two girls were nearly the same age, but
Nancy was much the larger; she looked clumsy
and overgrown following slender little Flora.
It was like a dandelion in the wake of a violet.
After they had reached the foot of the hill, they
crossed some low meadow-land. It was quite
wet, little dark pools glimmered between the
clumps of rank grasses. Some fine pink orchid
flowers were very thick, but they did not stop to
pick any. They were going to see the Indians.
Their eyes were fixed upon some white tents
ahead. They had been there once before with
Nancy's father, but the same sensations of curiosity
and exhilarating fear were upon them now.
"Nancy," whispered Flora, fearfully.
"Is that a—tomahawk in that tent door?"
"No; it's a hoe," returned Nancy, peering with
Several Indian women and children were moving
about; one Indian man was scraping some
birch bark at a tent door. They did not pay
any attention to the visitors.
Flora nudged Nancy. "Go along," said she.
"No, you," returned Nancy, pushing Flora.
"I don't dare to."
They stood hesitating. Finally Nancy gave
her head a jerk. "I don't care; I'm going, if
you ain't," said she, and forward she went. Flora
The tents were arranged like houses on a
street, with the open doors fronting each other.
In each tent was a counter loaded with baskets
and little birch-bark canoes, and an Indian woman
sat behind it to sell them.
The girls went from one tent to another and
stared about them. Besides the baskets and
canoes, there were sea-gulls' wings and little fur
slippers and pouches. They saw everything.
The Indian women offered to sell, but they shook
their heads shyly and soberly.
Finally they went into the tent where the
Princess kept store. She was a large stout woman
and a real Indian Princess. Under the
counter a little Indian baby, fast asleep, was
swinging in a tiny hammock. Nancy and Flora
nudged each other and eyed it with awe. But
it was on the Princess's counter that they saw
the sweet-grass basket. They both looked at it,
then at each other. It was made of sweet-grass,
it was oblong, and had a cover and long handles.
Finally Flora pointed one slim little finger at
it. "How much does that cost?" she asked the
"Fifty cent," replied the Princess.
Nancy had just eight cents at home. Flora
had nothing at all. Her father sent her money
every month, and the last instalment was all
spent. Neither of them could buy the basket,
and fifty cents sounded enormous, but their faces
were quite dignified and immovable. It might
have been the echo of their strange surroundings,
but they acted as if they had Indian blood
They turned about and went out of the tent;
they crossed the old road and climbed the stone-wall.
Flora spoke as she picked her way across
the meadow. "Guess I'll buy that basket when
my money comes next week," said she.
Nancy said nothing; she looked gloomy. She
stepped in an oozy place and wet one foot, but
she did not mind it. She thought of her eight
cents, and did an example in mental arithmetic.
"Eight from fifty leaves forty-two," she calculated.
For the first time she was envious of
Flora. Everybody finds some object to grudge
to another. Nancy had found hers—the sweet-grass
basket. If she had expressed her feelings,
she would have said, "Must she have all those
pretty dresses and hats and the sweet-grass
The girls went home silently; they were never
great talkers. Flora sat down in the sitting-room
with her aunt; Nancy went up-stairs to
the chamber where she slept with Flora, and got
her little purse out of the corner of her bureau
drawer. She counted the eight cents, and puzzled
over the problem how to increase it to fifty.
She puzzled over it all the rest of that day until
she went to sleep at nine o'clock. The next day
was Sunday; she puzzled over it as she sat in
the pew in church, but she could not arrive at
However, the next morning she had an inspiration.
Her mother sent her over to Aunt Lucretia's
on an errand. Flora was not allowed to
go; it was a very hot morning, and she was
rather delicate. Nancy on her way to Aunt
Lucretia's thought of a way to swell eight cents
to fifty. She trudged down the sunny road in a
cloud of dust, her face was scarlet with the heat,
but she ignored all little discomforts.
Aunt Lucretia lived in a nice square white
house with a green lattice-work porch over the
front door. She was an elderly lady and quite
rich. She had a Brussels carpet in the parlor
and kept a servant-maid.
"SHE WAS A REAL INDIAN PRINCESS"
Nancy went in the side door, and through the
sitting-room into the front entry. The parlor
door stood open. Aunt Lucretia and her servant,
Henrietta, were in there. Nancy stood looking
"Aunt Lucretia," said she.
Aunt Lucretia came forward, with Henrietta
"Well, Nancy, what do you want?" said Aunt
Lucretia. She was quite a majestic old lady,
very tall and large and short-waisted. She wore
her gray hair in two puffs each side of her face.
"Mother sent your Stanford paper back," replied
"Well, you can lay it on the sitting-room
table," said Aunt Lucretia. "Is your mother
well this morning?"
Nancy laid the Stanford paper on the sitting-room
table; then she followed on into the kitchen
after Aunt Lucretia and Henrietta.
"Is there anything else you want, Nancy?"
asked Aunt Lucretia.
"I wanted to know if—I didn't know but—you'd
like to have me pick some blackberries for
you, Aunt Lucretia."
Aunt Lucretia stared reflectively at Nancy.
"Do you suppose your mother would be willing?
The sun's pretty hot."
"Yes, ma'am. I know she wouldn't care."
"Well, I do want two quarts of blackberries
dreadfully, and there 'ain't a boy been along.
I'm going to have the minister and his wife to
tea to-night, and I want to have blackberry shortcake.
Do you suppose you could pick me two
quarts before four o'clock this afternoon?"
"Yes, ma'am. I know where they're real
"Well," said Aunt Lucretia, "you can go
home and ask your mother, and if she's willing,
you can go and pick them. Mind you keep
out of the sun all you can. I'll give you seven
cents a quart; that's a cent more than the boys
"Don't you want more'n two quarts, Aunt
Lucretia?" asked Nancy, timidly.
"I guess two quarts will be about all you'll
want to pick," returned Aunt Lucretia, grimly.
"No, ma'am; it won't."
"Well, we'll see how you hold out. I want
four quarts for jell the last of the week; but you
pick two quarts first, and see."
Nancy went home. She ran nearly all the
"You go right into the sitting-room, and sit
down with the palm-leaf fan, and cool off before
you do anything else," said her mother, when she
proposed the plan; "you'll have a sun-stroke."
So Nancy had to sit in the dark, cool sitting-room
and fan herself for full twenty minutes
before she was allowed to put on her old dress
and Shaker and start on her berrying excursion.
Flora wanted to go, too, but her aunt thought it
was too hot; she was apt to have headaches. She
sat on the back door-step shelling pease when
Nancy, bustling off with her two-quart tin pail,
glanced back at Flora's little yellow shaven head
bending patiently over the pan of pease in the
doorway. She felt guilty. Was she not going
off with the secret intention of earning money
enough to buy that sweet-grass basket before
Flora could? Flora would not have her money
until Saturday; this was Monday. If she could
only earn the forty-two cents in the mean time.
Nancy worked hard that week. Her hands
and arms got scratched; she had even a scratch
across her nose. The blackberry vines seemed
almost like tangible foes; but she pushed and
tussled with them until she had picked the six
On Monday Aunt Lucretia had the minister
and his wife to tea, and made blackberry shortcake;
on Friday she made blackberry jelly.
All Nancy's part of the contract was promptly
fulfilled, but Aunt Lucretia's was not. She had
not a cent of change in her purse when Nancy
brought in the last instalment of berries.
"You'll have to wait two or three days until
I can get this bill changed," said she. "You've
been real smart about picking 'em. You've
picked 'em clean, too. Here's a piece of sweet-cake
Nancy went home in the hot sun. Her red,
scratched face looked gloomy and discouraged in
the depths of the Shaker bonnet. She nibbled
at the sweet-cake as she went along, but she did
not care for it. Here it was Friday forenoon,
and she had to wait two or three days for her
forty-two cents. Flora's money would come,
and she would buy the sweet-grass basket. Nancy
felt quite desperate. That afternoon she
teased her mother to let her go over to Aunt
"No; you don't go a step," said her mother.
"She's making jell', and you've been over there
once to-day. You can sit down with your knitting-work
this afternoon, and be contented."
Nancy sat down with her knitting-work, but
she was not contented. It seemed to her that
she must have those forty-two cents. After tea
she begged again for permission to go to Aunt
Lucretia's. "It's real nice and cool out now,
mother," she pleaded.
"I don't care how cool it is," said her mother,
"you can't go. I don't see what has got into
But the next morning Nancy was really sent
over to Aunt Lucretia's on an errand. She did
the errand, then she stood waiting.
"Did your mother want anything else?" asked
"Well, I guess you had better run home then.
It's baking day, and maybe you can help your
mother some. You'd ought to help her all you
can, you're getting to be a big girl. I used to do
a whole week's baking before I was your age."
"Have you—got that—bill—changed yet?"
"No, I haven't. You mustn't tease. I'm
going down to the store in a day or two, and
then you can have it."
So Nancy went home again without her forty-two
cents. She wept a little on the way. Here
it was Saturday, and Flora expecting her money
on the noon mail. But it did not come on the
noon mail. It did not come until six o'clock at
night, and Flora did not think of buying the
basket that day.
After tea that night, about half-past seven
o'clock, Nancy did something that she had never
done before in her life. She went over to her Aunt
Lucretia's without permission. Her mother had
gone to one of the neighbor's. Flora was in the
sitting-room reading a story-book. Nancy stole
out of the front door, and hurried down the road.
"What are you over here again for, child?"
Aunt Lucretia cried when she went in.
Aunt Lucretia and Henrietta were in the
kitchen, sticking papers over the jelly tumblers.
Nancy hesitated, and blushed.
"What is it?" asked Aunt Lucretia.
"I—didn't know but—what—you might have
got—that bill changed."
"Why, I never saw such an acting child!
Can't you wait a minute? Henrietta, have you
got any change?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Henrietta. And she got
her purse, and they counted out forty-two cents.
Twenty-two of them were in pennies.
"Now I hope you're satisfied," said Aunt Lucretia,
sharply. "Did your mother know you
came over here?"
"Well, you're a naughty girl. I'm surprised
at you. I sha'n't want to hire you to pick berries
again if this is the way you do. Go right
home, and mind you tell your mother you've
The forty-two cents, twenty-two of which were
pennies, jingled and weighed heavily in Nancy's
pocket. She was not happy going home. She
had meditated going to the Indian encampment
that night to buy the basket, but it looked so
dark over the fields that she was afraid to; so
she went straight home. Her mother had returned
from the neighbor's; there she stood in
the front door, watching for her.
"Nancy Mann, I want to know where you've
been," she cried out, as soon as Nancy opened
"Over to—Aunt Lucretia's."
"You went over there, after all the times I
told you not to?"
"I wanted my—forty-two cents."
"Forty-two cents! What do you suppose your
Aunt Lucretia thinks of you, dunning her up this
way? Now you come in and light your candle,
and go straight up-stairs to bed."
It was only half-past eight o'clock. Nancy
went to bed. Flora sat up and read her story-book,
and did not go up-stairs until after nine.
Nancy pretended to be asleep when she came in,
but she was not. She did not go to sleep for an
hour after that. She lay there and cried softly,
The next morning was very pleasant. It was
Sunday, and all the family went to church.
After church, Nancy and Flora went to Sunday-school.
Sunday-school was out about one
o'clock; then they walked homeward together.
Nancy lagged behind, and Flora kept waiting
"Go along; do," said Nancy. "I want to pick
Flora wondered innocently what Nancy wanted
to pick so many flowers for. The flowers
were mostly yarrow and arnica blossoms, and
Flora had always regarded them as the very commonest
kind of weeds.
They were quite near home, when Nancy
climbed swiftly over the stone-wall and lay down
behind it. Flora went on without turning her
head. Nancy had spoken so shortly to her that
her feelings were hurt. When she went into the
house her aunt asked where Nancy was.
"She's coming," said Flora. "She stopped to
But it was a half-hour before Nancy came.
Running as fast as she could over the meadows,
it took some time to reach the Indian encampment
and return. When she finally approached
the house, her mother stood in the doorway,
watching. She did not say a word until she
came close to her.
"Where have you been?" she inquired.
Nancy hung her head, and was still. She kept
one hand behind her.
"Answer me this minute."
"Down to—the Injuns."
"What for? What are you holding behind
Nancy did not answer.
"Bring your hand round!" commanded her
Nancy slowly swung around the hand holding
the sweet-grass basket.
"Did you go down to the Injuns to-day, and
spend that money you earned for that basket?"
asked her mother.
Her mother looked at her. The tears were
streaming over her hot cheeks and her scratched
nose; her best hat had slipped back, and the
brim was bent; there was a great green stain on
the front of her best dress, and a rent on the side.
"I can never get that green off your dress in
the world," said her mother. "You'll have to
wear it so. Going down to the Injuns to buy
baskets on Sunday, in your best dress and hat!
And you went so Flora shouldn't get it. I can
see right through you. Now, Nancy Mann, you
just march straight back with that basket. You
ain't going to do any trading on the Sabbath
day while you belong to me."
"Oh, mother!" sobbed Nancy; but she had to
go. Her forlorn little figure disappeared lingeringly
between the garden vines and bean poles.
"Hold your dress back," called her mother.
"Don't you spoil it any more than you've done
To Nancy, looking through a mist of tears, the
green-clad bean poles seemed dancing forward
and the tomato vines creeping to meet her.
Crossing the meadow she wet her feet in her best
shoes. But all this was nothing. That stout
Indian Princess displayed suddenly a sense of
humor and a witty shrewdness which seemed abnormal.
Her stolid eyes twinkled under their
heavy brows when Nancy explained, tremblingly,
how she had brought the basket back; her
mother would not let her buy it on Sunday.
"Me no buy basket Sunday," said the Princess,
and she looked loftily away from the sweet-grass
basket shaking in Nancy's shaking hand. She
was not in the least moved by Nancy's horrified,
distressed face. Perhaps something of the ancient
cruelty of her race possessed her; perhaps
it was only the contagion of Yankee shrewdness.
Nancy dared not go home with the basket; she
went home without it or her fifty cents.
All that afternoon Nancy stayed up in her
chamber and wept, while her best dress was soaking
to remove the green stain, if it was Sunday.
She felt as if her heart were broken. She had
lost her self-respect, the sweet-grass basket, and
her fifty cents, besides getting a great green stain
on her best dress. Flora tried to comfort her.
"Don't cry," said she. "It's too bad! The
Princess is real mean." And then Nancy sobbed
When her mother was getting supper, her
father followed into the pantry.
"I declare I feel sorry for the child," said he.
"She's worked real hard to get that money, and
she'ain't ever had so much as Flora. If it wasn't
Sunday I'd go down there this minute, and get
back the money or the basket from those Injuns."
"You'd look pretty going, and you a deacon
of the church, after the way the Princess put it,"
returned Nancy's mother. "I'm sorry enough
for Nancy, but she ought to have a little lesson.
You can go over there to-morrow morning and
get the basket back."
There was a beautiful custard pudding for supper,
but Nancy did not want any.
"Sit up and eat your supper," said her mother.
"Your father's going down to the Injuns in the
morning, and see what he can do about it."
However, Nancy still did not care for the custard
pudding; everything tasted of tears.
The next morning, before Nancy's father had
a chance to go to the Indians, the Princess herself
came to the back door. Whether she came from
honesty or policy nobody could tell; but she
came, and she brought the sweet-grass basket.
She rapped on the door, and Nancy opened it.
The Princess extended the basket without a
word. Nancy wiped her hands, which were
damp from washing the breakfast dishes, on her
apron, then she took the basket. Then the
Princess struck off across the garden.
Nancy carried the basket into the kitchen.
She had a shamefaced and resolute expression.
Flora was in there, and her father and
She went straight to Flora, and held out the
basket. Flora drew back, and looked at her.
"Take it," said Nancy. "It's for you."
Flora looked at her aunt.
"Take it, if she wants you to," said Mrs.
Flora took it. "Thank you," said she. She
went soberly out of the room with the basket.
Nancy returned to her dish-washing at the sink,
her father stared out of the window, her mother
came and shoved her aside, and took the dish-cloth
out of her hands.
"There, I'll wash this heavy spider," said she.
"You can go and put on your other dress. I
want you to go down to the store for me, and
I'm going to let you buy a couple of yards of
that pretty pink calico for a new apron."
Nancy had admired that pink calico. As she
went out of the kitchen her father caught her
by the shoulders and gave her a little shake;
then he patted her head.
"Don't run too fast, and get all tired out,"
Nancy put on her buff calico, and went to the
store. It was an errand to take about an hour.
She had been gone about a half-hour when the
Indian Princess again came through the bean
poles and tomato vines. This time she was all
strung about with baskets. She stood at the
kitchen door, and parleyed with Mrs. Mann and
Flora. When she went away she had a fifty-cent
piece in one brown fist, and she was eating
a molasses cooky.
Nancy came home with the pink calico, and
half a pound of cream of tartar; her mother and
Flora were in the sitting-room, and they laughed
when she entered.
Nancy looked soberly at them. "Here's the
calico, and the cream tartar," said she.
"See what Flora has got for you," said her
Nancy stared around. There on the table
stood two sweet-grass baskets exactly alike.
"The Princess came again, and she had another
basket. I got it for you," said Flora.
"Thank you," said Nancy, in a sober voice,
but the dark depths of the Shaker bonnet seemed
fairly illumined with smiles.