Mehitable Lamb by Mary E. Wilkins
Hannah Maria Green sat on the north door-step,
and sewed over and over a seam in a sheet.
She had just gotten into her teens, and she was
tall for her age, although very slim. She wore a
low-necked, and short-sleeved, brown delaine
dress. That style of dress was not becoming,
but it was the fashion that summer. Her neck
was very thin, and her collar-bones showed. Her
arms were very long and small and knobby.
Hannah Maria's brown hair was parted from her
forehead to the back of her neck, braided in two
tight braids, crossed in a flat mass at the back of
her head, and surmounted by a large green-ribbon
bow. Hannah Maria kept patting the bow
to be sure it was on.
It was very cool there on the north door-step.
Before it lay the wide north yard full
of tall waving grass, with some little cinnamon
rose-bushes sunken in it. Hardly anybody used
the north door, so there was no path leading
It was nearly four o'clock. Hannah Maria
bent her sober freckled face over the sheet, and
sewed and sewed. Her mother had gone to the
next town to do some shopping, and bidden her
to finish the seam before she returned. Hannah
Maria was naturally obedient; moreover,
her mother was a decided woman, so she had
been very diligent; in fact the seam was nearly
It was very still—that is, there were only the
sounds that seem to make a part of stillness.
The birds twittered, the locusts shrilled, and the
tall clock in the entry ticked. Hannah Maria
was not afraid, but she was lonesome. Once
in a while she looked around and sighed. She
placed a pin a little way in advance on the seam,
and made up her mind that when she had sewed
to that place she would go into the house and
get a slice of cake. Her mother had told her
that she might cut a slice from the one-egg cake
which had been made that morning. But before
she had sewed to the pin, little Mehitable Lamb
came down the road. She was in reality some
years younger than Hannah Maria, but not so
much younger as Hannah Maria considered her.
The girl on the door-step surveyed the one approaching
down the road with a friendly and
"Holloa!" she sang out, when Mehitable was
within hailing distance.
"Holloa!" answered back Mehitable's little,
sweet, deferential voice.
She came straight on, left the road, and struck
across the grassy north yard to Hannah Maria's
door-step. She was a round, fair little girl; her
auburn hair was curled in a row of neat, smooth
"water curls" around her head. She wore a
straw hat with a blue ribbon, and a blue-and-white
checked gingham dress; she also wore
white stockings and patent leather "ankle-ties."
Her dress was low-necked and short-sleeved, like
Hannah Maria's, but her neck and arms were
very fair and chubby.
Mehitable drew her big china doll in a doll's
carriage. Hannah Maria eyed her with seeming
disdain and secret longing. She herself had given
up playing with dolls, her mother thought her too
big; but they had still a fascination for her, and
the old love had not quite died out of her breast.
"Mother said I might come over and stay an
hour and a half," said Mehitable.
Hannah Maria smiled hospitably. "I'm keepin'
house," said she. "Mother's gone to Lawrence."
Mehitable took her doll out of the carriage
with a motherly air, and sat down on the door-step
with it in her lap.
"How much longer you goin' to play with
dolls?" inquired Hannah Maria.
"I don't know," replied Mehitable, with a little
shamed droop of her eyelids.
"You can't when you get a little bigger, anyhow.
Is that a new dress she's got on?"
"Yes; Aunt Susy made it out of a piece of
her blue silk."
"It's handsome, isn't it? Let me take her a
minute." Hannah Maria took the doll and cuddled
it up against her shoulder as she had used
to do with her own. She examined the blue
silk dress. "My doll had a real handsome plaid
silk one," said she, and she spoke as if the doll
were dead. She sighed.
"Have you given her away?" inquired Mehitable,
in a solemn tone.
"No; she's packed away. I'm too old to play
with her, you know. Mother said I had other
things to 'tend to. Dolls are well 'nough for
little girls like you. Here, you'd better take her;
I've got to finish my sewin'."
Hannah Maria handed back the doll with a
resolute air, but she handed her back tenderly;
then she sewed until she reached the pin. Mehitable
rocked her doll, and watched.
When Hannah Maria reached the pin she
jumped up. "I'm comin' back in a minute,"
said she, and disappeared in the house. Presently
Mehitable heard the dishes rattle.
"She's gone after a cooky," she thought.
Cookies were her usual luncheon.
But Hannah Maria came back with a long
slice of one-egg cake with blueberries in it. She
broke it into halves, and gave the larger one to
Mehitable. "There," said she, "I'd give you
more, but mother didn't tell me I could cut
more'n one slice."
Mehitable ate her cake appreciatively; once in
a while she slyly fed her doll with a bit.
Hannah Maria took bites of hers between the
stitches; she had almost finished the over-and-over
Presently she rose and shook out the sheet with
a triumphant air. "There," said she, "it's done."
"Did you sew all that this afternoon?" asked
Mehitable, in an awed tone.
"My! yes. It isn't so very much to do."
Hannah Maria laid the sheet down in a heap
on the entry floor; then she looked at Mehitable.
"Now, I've nothin' more to do," said she.
"S'pose we go to walk a little ways?"
"I don't know as my mother'd like to have
me do that."
"Oh yes, she would; she won't care. Come
along! I'll get my hat."
Hannah Maria dashed over the sheet into the
entry and got her hat off the peg; then she and
Mehitable started. They strolled up the country
road. Mehitable trundled her doll-carriage carefully;
once in a while she looked in to see if the
doll was all right.
"Isn't that carriage kind of heavy for you to
drag all alone?" inquired Hannah Maria.
"No; it isn't very heavy."
"I had just as lief help you drag it as not."
Hannah Maria reached down and took hold
by one side of the handle of the doll-carriage,
and the two girls trundled it together.
There were no houses for a long way. The
road stretched between pasture-lands and apple-orchards.
There was one very fine orchard on
both sides of the street a quarter of a mile below
Hannah Maria's house. The trees were
so heavily loaded with green apples that the
branches hung low over the stone walls. Now
and then there was among them a tree full of
ripe yellow apples.
"Don't you like early apples?" asked Hannah
"They don't grow in your field, do they?"
Mehitable shook her head. "Mother makes
pies with our apples, but they're not mellow
'nough to eat now," she replied.
"Well," said Hannah Maria, "we haven't got
any. All our apples are baldwins and greenin's.
I havn't had an early apple this summer."
The two went on, trundling the doll-carriage.
Suddenly Hannah Maria stopped.
"Look here," said she; "my aunt Jenny and
my uncle Timothy have got lots of early apples.
You just go along this road a little farther, and
you get to the road that leads to their house.
S'pose we go."
"How far is it?"
"Oh, not very far. Father walks over sometimes."
"I don't believe my mother would like it."
"Oh yes, she would! Come along."
But all Hannah Maria's entreaties could not
stir Mehitable Lamb. When they reached the
road that led to Uncle Timothy's house she stood
"My mother won't like it," said she.
"Yes, she will."
Mehitable stood as if she and the doll-carriage
were anchored to the road.
"I think you're real mean, Mehitable Lamb,"
said Hannah Maria. "You're a terrible 'fraid
cat. I'm goin', anyhow, and I won't bring you
a single apple; so there!"
"Don't want any," returned Mehitable, with
some spirit. She turned the doll-carriage around.
Hannah Maria walked up the road a few steps.
Suddenly she faced about. Mehitable had already
"Mehitable Lamb!" said she.
Mehitable looked around.
"I s'pose you'll go right straight home and tell
my mother just as quick as you can get there."
Mehitable said nothing.
"You'll be an awful telltale if you do."
"Sha'n't tell," said Mehitable, in a sulky voice.
"Will you promise—'Honest and true. Black
and blue. Lay me down and cut me in two'—that
you won't tell?"
"Say it over then."
Mehitable repeated the formula. It sounded
like inaudible gibberish.
"I shall tell her myself when I get home,"
said Hannah Maria. "I shall be back pretty
soon, anyway, but I don't want her sending father
after me. You're sure you're not goin' to tell,
now, Mehitable Lamb? Say it over again."
Mehitable said it again.
"Well, you'll be an awful telltale if you do
tell after that!" said Hannah Maria.
She went on up one road towards her uncle
Timothy Dunn's, and Mehitable trundled her
doll-carriage homeward down the other. She
went straight on past Hannah Maria's house.
Hannah Maria's mother, Mrs. Green, had come
home. She saw the white horse and buggy out
in the south yard. She heard Mrs. Green's voice
calling, "Hannah Maria, Hannah Maria!" and
she scudded by like a rabbit.
Mehitable's own house was up the hill, not far
beyond. She lived there with her mother and
grandmother and her two aunts; her father was
dead. The smoke was coming out of the kitchen
chimney; her aunt Susy was getting supper.
Aunt Susy was the younger and prettier of the
aunts. Mehitable thought her perfection. She
came to the kitchen door when Mehitable entered
the yard, and stood there smiling at her.
"Well," said she, "did you have a nice time at
"What makes you look so sober?"
Mehitable said nothing.
"Did you play dolls?"
"Hannah Maria's too big."
"Stuff!" cried Aunt Susy. Then her shortcake
was burning, and she had to run in to see to it.
Mehitable took her china doll out of the carriage,
set her carefully on the step, and then
lugged the carriage laboriously to a corner of the
piazza, where she always kept it. It was a very
nice large carriage, and rather awkward to be
kept in the house. Then she took her doll and
went in through the kitchen to the sitting-room.
Her mother and grandmother and other aunt
were in there, and they were all glad to see her,
and inquired if she had had a nice time at Hannah
Maria's. But Mehitable was very sober.
She did not seem like herself. Her mother asked
whether she did not feel well, and, in spite of her
saying that she did, would not let her eat any of
her aunt Susy's shortcake for supper. She had
to eat some stale bread, and shortly after supper
she had to go to bed. Her mother went up-stairs
with her, and tucked her in.
"She's all tired out," she said to the others,
when she came down; "it's quite a little walk over
to the Greens', and I s'pose she played hard. I
don't really like to have her play with a girl so
much older as Hannah Maria. She isn't big
enough to run and race."
"She didn't seem like herself when she came
into the yard," said Aunt Susy.
"I should have given her a good bowl of
thoroughwort tea, when she went to bed," said
"The kitchen fire isn't out yet; I can steep
some thoroughwort now," said Aunt Susy, and
she forthwith started. She brewed a great bowl
of thoroughwort tea and carried it up to Mehitable.
Mehitable's wistful innocent blue eyes
stared up out of the pillows at Aunt Susy and
"What is it?" she inquired.
"A bowl of nice hot thoroughwort tea. You
sit up and drink it right down, like a good little
"I'm not sick, Aunt Susy," Mehitable pleaded,
faintly. She hated thoroughwort tea.
"Well, never mind if you're not. Sit right up.
It'll do you good."
Aunt Susy's face was full of loving determination.
So Mehitable sat up. She drank the
thoroughwort tea with convulsive gulps. Once
in a while she paused and rolled her eyes piteously
over the edge of the bowl.
"Drink it right down," said Aunt Susy.
And she drank it down. There never was a
more obedient little girl than Mehitable Lamb.
Then she lay back, and Aunt Susy tucked her
up, and went down with the empty bowl.
"Did she drink it all?" inquired her grandmother.
"Well, she'll be all right in the morning, I
guess. There isn't anything better than a bowl
of good, hot, thoroughwort tea."
The twilight was deepening. The Lamb family
were all in the sitting-room. They had not
lighted the lamp, the summer dusk was so pleasant.
The windows were open. All at once a
dark shadow appeared at one of them. The
women started—all but Grandmother Lamb. She
was asleep in her chair.
"Who's there?" Aunt Susy asked, in a grave
"Have you seen anything of Hannah Maria?"
said a hoarse voice. Then they knew it was Mr.
Mrs. Lamb and the aunts pressed close to the
"No, we haven't," replied Mrs. Lamb. "Why,
what's the matter?"
"We can't find her anywheres. Mother went
over to Lawrence this afternoon, and I was down
in the east field hayin'. Mother, she got home
first, and Hannah Maria wasn't anywhere about
the house, an' she'd kind of an idea she'd gone
over to the Bennets'; she'd been talkin' about
goin' there to get a tidy-pattern of the Bennet
girl, so she waited till I got home. I jest put
the horse in again, an' drove over there, but she's
not been there. I don't know where she is.
Mother's most crazy."
"Where is she?" they cried, all altogether.
"Sittin' out in the road, in the buggy."
Mrs. Lamb and the aunts hurried out. They
and Mr. Green stood beside the buggy, and Mrs.
Green thrust her anxious face out.
"Oh, where do you suppose she is?" she
"Now, do keep calm, Mrs. Green," said Mrs.
Lamb, in an agitated voice. "We've got something
to tell you. Mehitable was over there this
"Oh, she wasn't, was she?"
"Yes, she was. She went about four o'clock,
and she stayed an hour and a half. Hannah Maria
was all right then. Now, I tell you what
we'll do, Mrs. Green: you just get right out of
the buggy, and Mr. Green will hitch the horse,
and we'll go in and ask Mehitable just how she
left Hannah Maria. Don't you worry. You keep
calm, and we'll find her."
Mrs. Green stepped tremblingly from the buggy.
She could scarcely stand. Mrs. Lamb took
one arm and Aunt Susy the other. Mr. Green
hitched the horse, and they all went into the
house, and up-stairs to Mehitable's room. Mehitable
was not asleep. She stared at them in a
frightened way as they all filed into the room.
Mrs. Green rushed to the bed.
"Oh, Mehitable," she cried, "when did you
last see my Hannah Maria?"
Mehitable looked at her and said nothing.
"Tell Mrs. Green when you last saw Hannah
Maria," said Mrs. Lamb.
"I guess 'twas 'bout five o'clock," replied Mehitable,
in a quavering voice.
"She got home at half-past five," interposed
"Did she look all right?" asked Mrs. Green.
"Nobody came to the house when you were
there, did there?" asked Mr. Green.
Aunt Susy came forward. "Now look here,
Mehitable," said she. "Do you know anything
about what has become of Hannah Maria?
Answer me, yes or no."
Mehitable's eyes were like pale moons; her
little face was as white as the pillow.
"Well, what has become of her?"
Mehitable was silent.
"Why, Mehitable Lamb!" repeated Aunt Susy,
"tell us this minute what has become of Hannah
Mehitable was silent.
"Oh," sobbed Mrs. Green, "you must tell me.
Mehitable, you'll tell Hannah Maria's mother
what has become of her, won't you?"
Mehitable's mother bent over her and whispered,
but Mehitable lay there like a little stone
"Oh, do make her tell!" pleaded Mrs. Green.
"Come, now, tell, and I'll buy you a whole
pound of candy," said Mr. Green.
"Mehitable, you must tell," said Aunt Susy.
Suddenly Mehitable began to cry. She sobbed
and sobbed; her little body shook convulsively.
They all urged her to tell, but she only shook her
head between the sobs.
Grandmother Lamb came into the room. She
had awakened from her nap.
"What's the matter?" she inquired. "What
ails Mehitable? Is she sick?"
"Hannah Maria is lost, and Mehitable knows
what has become of her, and she won't tell," explained
"Massy sakes!" Grandmother Lamb went up
to the bed. "Tell grandmother," she whispered,
"an' she'll give you a pep'mint."
But Mehitable shook her head and sobbed.
They all pleaded and argued and commanded,
but they got no reply but that shake of the head
"The child will be sick if she keeps on this
way," said Grandmother Lamb.
"She deserves to be sick!" said Hannah Maria's
mother, in a desperate voice; and Mehitable's
mother forgave her.
"We may as well go down," said Mr. Green,
with a groan. "I can't waste any more time
here; I've got to do something."
"Oh, here 'tis night coming on, and my poor
child lost!" wailed Hannah Maria's mother.
Mehitable sobbed so that it was pitiful in spite
of her obstinacy.
"If that child don't have somethin' to take,
she'll be sick," said her grandmother. "I dunno
as there's any need of her bein' sick if Hannah
Maria is lost." And she forthwith went stiffly
down-stairs. The rest followed—all except Mrs.
Lamb. She lingered to plead longer with Mehitable.
"You're mother's own little girl," said she,
"and nobody shall scold you whatever happens.
Now, tell mother what has become of Hannah
But it was of no use. Finally, Mrs. Lamb
tucked the clothes over Mehitable with a jerk,
and went down-stairs herself. They were having
a consultation there in the sitting-room. It was
decided that Mr. Green should drive to Mr. Pitkin's,
about a quarter of a mile away, and see if
they knew anything of Hannah Maria, and get
Mr. Pitkin to aid in the search.
"I wouldn't go over to Timothy's to-night, if I
were you," said Mrs. Green. "Jenny's dreadful
nervous, and it would use her all up; she thought
so much of Hannah Maria."
Mrs. Green's voice broke with a sob.
"No, I'm not going there," returned Mr. Green.
"It isn't any use. It isn't likely they know anything
about her. It's a good five mile off."
Mr. Green got into his buggy and drove away.
Mrs. Green went home, and Aunt Susy and the
other aunt with her. Nobody slept in the Lamb
or the Green house that night, except Grandmother
Lamb. She dozed in her chair, although
they could not induce her to go to bed. But
first she started the kitchen fire, and made another
bowl of thoroughwort tea for Mehitable.
"She'll be sick jest as sure as the world, if she
doesn't drink it," said she. And Mehitable lifted
her swollen, teary face from the pillow and drank
it. "She don't know any more where that Green
girl has gone to than I do," said Grandmother
Lamb, when she went down with the bowl.
"There isn't any use in pesterin' the child so."
Mrs. Lamb watched for Mr. Green to return
from Mr. Pitkin's, and ran out to the road. He had
with him Mr. Pitkin's hired man and eldest boy.
"Pitkin's harnessed up and gone the other
way, over to the village, and we're goin' to look
round the place thorough, an'—look in the well,"
he said, in a husky voice.
"If she would only tell," groaned Mrs. Lamb.
"I've done all I can. I can't make her speak."
Mr. Green groaned in response, and drove on.
Mrs. Lamb went in, and stood at her sitting-room
window and watched the lights over at the Green
house. They flitted from one room to another
all night. At dawn Aunt Susy ran over with
her shawl over her head. She was wan and
"They haven't found a sign of her," said she.
"They've looked everywhere. The Pitkin boy's
been down the well. Mr. Pitkin has just come
over from the village, and a lot of men are going
out to hunt for her as soon as it's light. If Mehitable
only would tell!"
"I can't make her," said Mrs. Lamb, despairingly.
"I know what I think you'd ought to do," said
Aunt Susy, in a desperate voice.
"Oh, Susy, I can't! I never whipped her in
"Well, I don't care. I should." Aunt Susy
had the tragic and resolute expression of an inquisitor.
She might have been proposing the
rack. "I think it is your duty," she added.
Mrs. Lamb sank into the rocking-chair and
wept; but within an hour's time Mehitable stood
shivering and sobbing in her night-gown, and
held out her pretty little hands while her mother
switched them with a small stick. Aunt Susy
was crying down in the sitting-room. "Did she
tell?" she inquired, when her sister, quite pale
and trembling, came in with the stick.
"No," replied Mrs. Lamb. "I never will whip
that dear child again, come what will." And
she broke the stick in two and threw it out of
As the day advanced teams began to pass the
house. Now and then one heard a signal horn.
The search for Hannah Maria was being organized.
Mrs. Lamb and the aunts cooked a hot
breakfast, and carried it over to Mr. and Mrs.
Green. They felt as if they must do something
to prove their regret and sympathy. Mehitable
was up and dressed, but her poor little auburn
locks were not curled, and the pink roundness
seemed gone from her face. She sat quietly in
her little chair in the sitting-room and held her
doll. Her mother had punished her very tenderly,
but there were some red marks on her
little hands. She had not eaten any breakfast,
but her grandmother had kindly made her
some thoroughwort tea. The bitterness of life
seemed actually tasted to poor little Mehitable
It was about nine o'clock, and Mrs. Lamb and
the aunts had just carried the hot breakfast over
to the Green's, and were arranging it on the
table, when another team drove into the yard.
It was a white horse and a covered wagon. On
the front seat sat Hannah Maria's aunt, Jenny
Dunn, and a young lady, one of Hannah Maria's
cousins. Mrs. Green ran to the door. "Oh,
Jenny, have you heard?" she gasped. Then she
screamed, for Hannah Maria was peeking out of
the rear of the covered wagon. She was in there
with another young lady cousin, and a great
basket of yellow apples.
"Hannah Maria Green, where have you been?"
cried her mother.
"Why, what do you think! That child walked
'way over to our house last night," Aunt Jenny
said, volubly; "and Timothy was gone with the
horse, and there wasn't anything to do but to
keep her. I knew you wouldn't be worried about
her, for she said the little Lamb girl knew where
she'd gone, and—"
Mrs. Green jerked the wagon door open and
pulled Hannah Maria out. "Go right into the
house!" she said, in a stern voice. "Here she
wouldn't tell where you'd gone. And the whole
town hunting! Go in."
Hannah Maria's face changed from uneasy and
deprecating smiles to the certainty of grief. "Oh,
I made her promise not to tell, but I s'posed she
would," she sobbed. "I didn't know 'twas going
to be so far. Oh, mother, I'm sorry!"
"Go right in," said her mother.
And Hannah Maria went in. Aunt Susy and
Mrs. Lamb pushed past her as she entered. They
were flying home to make amends to Mehitable,
with kind words and kisses, and to take away the
taste of the thoroughwort tea with sponge-cake
and some of the best strawberry jam.
Later in the forenoon Mehitable, with the row
of smooth water-curls round her head, dressed in
her clean pink calico, sat on the door-step with
her doll. Her face was as smiling as the china
one. Hannah Maria came slowly into the yard.
She carried a basket of early apples. Her eyes
were red. "Here are some apples for you," she
said. "And I'm sorry I made you so much
trouble. I'm not going to eat any."
"Thank you," said Mehitable. "Did your
mother scold?" she inquired, timidly.
"She did first. I'm dreadful sorry. I won't
ever do so again. I—kind of thought you'd tell."
"I'm not a telltale," said Mehitable.
"No, you're not," said Hannah Maria.