Mary E. Wilkins
Author of "A Humble Romance,"
"A New England
"Pembroke," "The People of Our
Doubleday & McClure Company
Until that summer nobody in our village had ever taken boarders.
There had been no real necessity for it, and we had always been
rather proud of the fact. While we were certainly not
rich—there was not one positively rich family among us—we
were comfortably provided with all the necessities of life. We did
not need to open our houses, and our closets, and our bureau drawers,
and give the freedom of our domestic hearths, and, as it were, our
household gods for playthings, to strangers and their children.
Many of us had to work for our daily bread, but, we were thankful
to say, not in that way. We prided ourselves because there was no
summer hotel with a demoralizing bowling-alley, and one of those
dangerous chutes, in our village. We felt forbiddingly calm and
superior when now and then some strange city people from Grover, the
large summer resort six miles from us, travelled up and down our main
street seeking board in vain. We plumed ourselves upon our reputation
of not taking boarders for love or money.
Nobody had dreamed that there was to be a break at last in our
long-established custom, and nobody dreamed that the break was to be
made in such a quarter. One of the most well-to-do, if not the most
well-to-do, of us all, took the first boarders ever taken in
Linnville. When Amelia Powers heard of it she said, “Them that
On the afternoon of the first day of June, six years ago, I was
sewing at my sitting-room window. I was making a white muslin dress
for little Alice, my niece, to wear to the Seventeenth-of-June
picnic. I had been sitting there alone all the afternoon, and it was
almost four o'clock when I saw Amelia Powers, who lives opposite, and
who had been sewing at her window—I had noticed her arm moving
back and forth, disturbing the shadows of the horse-chestnut tree in
the yard—fling open her front door, run out on the piazza, and
stand peering around the corner post, with her neck so stretched that
it looked twice as long as before. Then her sister Candace, who has
poor health and seldom ventures out-of-doors, threw up the front
chamber window and leaned out as far as she was able, and stared with
her hand shading her eyes from the sun. I could just see her head
through an opening in the horse-chestnut branches.
Then I heard another door open, and Mrs. Peter Jones, who lives in
the house next below the Powers', came running out. She ran down the
walk to her front gate and leaned over, all twisted sideways, to
Then I heard voices, and there were Adeline Ketchum and her mother
coming down the street, all in a flutter of hurry. Adeline is slender
and nervous; her elbows jerked out, her chin jerked up, and her
skirts switched her thin ankles; Mrs. Ketchum is very stout, and she
walked with a kind of quivering flounce. Her face was blazing, and I
knew her bonnet was on hindside before—I was sure that the
sprig of purple flowers belonged on the front.
When Adeline and her mother reached Mrs. Peter Jones' gate they
stopped, and they all stood there together looking. Then I saw Tommy
Gregg racing along, and I felt positive that his mother had sent him
to see what the matter was. She is a good woman, but the most curious
person in our village. She never seems to have enough affairs of her
own to thoroughly amuse her. I never saw a boy run as fast as Tommy
did—as if his mother's curiosity and his own were a sort of
motor compelling him to his utmost speed. His legs seemed never to
come out of their running crooks, and his shock of hair was fairly
stiffened out behind with the wind.
Then I began to wonder if it were possible there was a fire
anywhere. I ran to my front door and called:
“Tommy! Tommy!” said I, “where is the
Tommy did not hear me, but all of a sudden the fire-bell began to
Then I ran across the street to Mrs. Peter Jones' gate, and Amelia
Powers came hurrying out of her yard.
“Where is it? Oh, where is it?” said she, and Candace
put her head out of the window and called out, “Where is it? Is
it near here?”
We all sniffed for smoke and strained our eyes for a red fire
glare on the horizon, but we could neither smell nor see anything
Pretty soon we heard the fire-engine coming, and Amelia Powers
cried out: “Oh, it's going to Mrs. Liscom's! It's her house!
It's Mrs. Liscom's house!”
Candace Powers put her head farther out of the window, and
screamed in a queer voice that echoed like a parrot's, “Oh,
'Melia! 'Melia! it's Mrs. Liscom's, it's Mrs. Liscom's, and the
wind's this way! Come, quick, and help me get out the best feather
bed, and the counterpane that mother knit! Quick! Quick!”
Amelia had to run in and quiet Candace, who was very apt to have a
bad spell when she was over-excited, and the rest of us started for
As we hurried down the street I asked Mrs. Jones how she had known
there was a fire in the first place, for I supposed that was why she
had run out to her front door and looked down the street. Then I
learned about the city boarders. She and Amelia, from the way they
faced at their sitting-room windows, had seen the Grover stage-coach
stop at Mrs. Liscom's, and had run out to see the boarders alight.
Mrs. Jones said there were five of them—the mother,
grandmother, two daughters, and a son.
I said that I did not know Mrs. Liscom was going to take boarders;
I was very much surprised.
“I suppose she thought she would earn some money and have
some extra things,” said Mrs. Jones.
“It must have been that,” said Mrs. Ketchum,
panting—she was almost out of breath—“for, of
course, the Liscoms don't need the money.”
I laughed and said I thought not. I felt a little pride about it,
because Mrs. Liscom was a second cousin of my husband, and he used to
think a great deal of her.
“They must own that nice place clear, if it ain't going to
burn to the ground, and have something in the bank besides,”
assented Mrs. Peter Jones.
Ever so many people were running down the street with us, and the
air seemed full of that brazen clang of the fire-bell; still we could
not see any fire, nor even smell any smoke, until we got to the head
of the lane where the Liscom house stands a few rods from the main
The lane was about choked up with the fire-engine, the hose-cart,
the fire department in their red shirts, and, I should think, half
the village. We climbed over the stone wall into Mrs. Liscom's
oat-field; it was hard work for Mrs. Ketchum, but Mrs. Jones and I
pushed and Adeline pulled, and then we ran along close to the wall
toward the house. We certainly began to smell smoke, though we still
could not see any fire. The firemen were racing in and out of the
house, bringing out the furniture, as were some of the village boys,
and the engine was playing upon the south end, where the kitchen
Mrs. Peter Jones, who is very small and alert, said suddenly that
it looked to her as if the smoke were coming out of the kitchen
chimney, but Mrs. Ketchum said of course it was on fire inside in the
woodwork. “Oh, only to think of Mrs. Liscom's nice house being
all burned up, and what a dreadful reception for those
boarders!” she groaned out.
I never saw such a hubbub, and apparently over nothing at all, as
there was. There was a steady yell of fire from a crowd of boys who
seemed to enjoy it; the water was swishing, the firemen's arms were
pumping in unison, and everybody generally running in aimless circles
like a swarm of ants. Then we saw the boarders coming out. “Oh,
the house must be all in a light blaze inside!” groaned Mrs.
There were five of the boarders. The mother, a large, fair woman
with a long, massive face, her reddish hair crinkling and curling
around it in a sort of ivy-tendril fashion, came first. Her two
daughters, in blue gowns, with pretty, agitated faces, followed; then
the young son, fairly teetering with excitement; then the
grandmother, a little, tremulous old lady in an auburn wig.
The woman at the head carried a bucket, and what should she do but
form her family into a line toward the well at the north side of the
house where we were!
Of course, the family did not nearly reach to the well, and she
beckoned to us imperatively. “Come immediately!” said
she; “if the men of this village have no head in an emergency
like this, let the women arise! Come immediately.”
So Mrs. Peter Jones, Mrs. Ketchum, Adeline, and I stepped into the
line, and the mother boarder filled the bucket at the well, and we
passed it back from hand to hand, and the boy at the end flung it
into Mrs. Liscom's front entry all over her nice carpet.
Then suddenly we saw Caroline Liscom appear. She snatched the
bucket out of the hands of the boy boarder and gave it a toss into
the lilac-bush beside the door; then she stood there, looking as I
had never seen her look before. Caroline Liscom has always had the
reputation of being a woman of a strong character; she is manifestly
the head of her family. It is always, “Mrs. Liscom's
house,” and “Mrs. Liscom's property,” instead of
It is always understood that, though Mr. Liscom is the nominal
voter in town matters, not a selectman goes into office with Mr.
Liscom's vote unless it is authorized by Mrs. Liscom. Mr. Liscom is,
so to speak, seldom taken without Mrs. Liscom's indorsement.
Of course, Mrs. Liscom being such a character has always more or
less authority in her bearing, but that day she displayed a real
majesty which I had never seen in her before. She stood there a
second, then she turned and made a backward and forward motion of her
arm as if she were sweeping, and directly red-shirted firemen and
boys began to fly out of the house as if impelled by it.
“You just get out of my house; every one of you!” said
Caroline in a loud but slow voice, as if she were so angry that she
was fairly reining herself in; and they got out. Then she called to
the firemen who were working the engine, and they heard her above all
“You stop drenching my house with water, and go home!”
Everybody began to hush and stare, but Tommy Gregg gave one
squeaking cry of fire as if in defiance.
“There is no fire,” said Caroline Liscom. “My
house is not on fire, and has not been on fire. I am getting tea, and
the kitchen chimney always smokes when the wind is west. I don't
thank you, any of you, for coming here and turning my house upside
down and drenching it with water, and lugging my furniture
out-of-doors. Now you can go home. I don't see what fool ever sent
The engine stopped playing, and you could hear the water dripping
off the south end of the house. The windows were streaming as if
there had been a shower. Everybody looked abashed, and the chief
engineer of the fire department—who is a little nervous man who
always works as if the river were on fire and he had started
it—asked meekly if they shouldn't bring the furniture back.
“No,” said Caroline Liscom, “I want you to go
home, and that is all I do want of you.”
Then the mother boarder spoke—she was evidently not easily
put down. “I refuse to return to the house or to allow my
family to do so unless I am officially notified by the fire
department that the fire is extinguished,” said she.
“Then you can stay out-of-doors,” said Caroline
Liscom, and we all gasped to hear her, though we secretly admired her
The boarder glared at her in a curious kind of way, like a
broadside of stoniness, but Caroline did not seem to mind it at all.
Then the boarder changed her tactics like a general on the verge of
defeat. She sidled up to Mr. Spear, the chief engineer, who was
giving orders to drag home the engine, and said in an unexpectedly
sweet voice, like a trickle of honey off the face of a rock:
“My good man, am I to understand that I need apprehend no
further danger from fire! I ask for the sake of my precious
Mr. Spear looked at her as if she had spoken to him in Choctaw,
and she was obliged to ask him over again. “My good man,”
said she, “is the fire out?”
Mr. Spear looked at her as if he were half daft then, but he
answered: “Yes, ma'am, yes, ma'am, certainly, ma'am, no danger
at all, ma'am.” Then he went on ordering the men: “A
leetle more to the right, boys! All together!”
“Thank you, my good man, your word is sufficient,”
said the boarder, though Mr. Spear did not seem to hear her.
Then she sailed into the house, and her son, her two daughters,
and the grandmother after her. Mrs. Peter Jones and Adeline and her
mother went home, but I ventured, since I was a sort of relation, to
go in and offer to help Caroline set things to rights. She thanked
me, and said that she did not want any help; when Jacob and Harry
came home they would set the furniture in out of the yard.
“I am sorry for you, Caroline,” said I.
“Look at my house, Sophia Lane,” said she, and that
was all she would say. She shut her mouth tight over that. That house
was enough to make a strong-minded woman like Caroline dumb, and send
a weak one into hysterics. It was dripping with water, and nearly all
the furniture out in the yard piled up pell-mell. I could not see how
she was going to get supper for the boarders: the kitchen fire was
out and the stove drenched, with a panful of biscuits in the
“What are you going to give them for supper,
Caroline?” said I, and she just shook her head. I knew that
those boarders would have to take what they could get, or go
When Caroline was in any difficulty there never was any help for
her, except from the working of circumstances to their own salvation.
I thought I might as well go home. I offered to give her some pie or
cake if hers were spoiled, but she only shook her head again, and I
knew she must have some stored away in the parlor china-closet, where
the water had not penetrated.
I went through the house to the front entry, thinking I would go
out the front door—the side one was dripping as if it were
under a waterfall. Just as I reached it I heard a die-away voice from
the front chamber say, “My good woman.”
I did not dream that I was addressed, never having been called by
that name, though always having hoped that I was a good woman.
So I kept right on. Then I heard a despairing sigh, and the voice
said, “You speak to her, Harriet.”
Then I heard another voice, very sweet and a little timid,
“Will you please step upstairs? Mamma wishes to speak to
I began to wonder if they were talking to me. I looked up, and
there discovered a pretty, innocent, rosy little face, peering over
the balustrade at the head of the stairs. “Will you please step
upstairs?” said she again, in the same sweet tones.
“Mamma wishes to speak to you.”
I have a little weakness of the heart, and do not like to climb
stairs more than I am positively obliged to; it always puts me so out
of breath. I sleep downstairs on that account. I looked at Caroline's
front stairs, which are rather steep, with some hesitation. I felt
shaken, too, on account of the alarm of fire. Then I heard the first
voice again with a sort of languishing authority: “My good
woman, will you be so kind as to step upstairs
I went upstairs. The girl who had spoken to me—I found
afterward that she was the elder of the daughters—motioned me
to go into the north chamber. I found them all there. The mother,
Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson, as I afterward knew her name to be, was
lying on the bed, her head propped high with pillows; the younger
daughter was fanning her, and she was panting softly as if she were
almost exhausted. The grandmother sat beside the north window, with a
paper-covered book on her knees. She was eating something from a
little white box on the window-sill. The boy was at another window,
also with a book in which he did not seem to be interested. He looked
up at me, as I entered, with a most peculiar expression of mingled
innocence and shyness which was almost terror. I could not see why
the boy should possibly be afraid of me, but I learned afterward that
it was either his natural attitude or natural expression. He was
either afraid of every mortal thing or else appeared to be. The
singular elevated arch of his eyebrows over his wide-open blue eyes,
and his mouth, which was always parted a little, no doubt served to
give this impression. He was a pretty boy, with a fair pink-and-white
complexion, and long hair curled like a girl's, which looked odd to
me, for he was quite large.
Mrs. Jameson beckoned me up to the bed with one languid finger, as
if she could not possibly do more. I began to think that perhaps she
had some trouble with her heart like myself, and the fire had
overcome her, and I felt very sympathetic.
“I am sorry you have had such an unpleasant
experience,” I began, but she cut me short.
“My good woman,” said she in little more than a
whisper, “do you know of any house in a sanitary location where
we can obtain board immediately? I am very particular about the
location. There must be no standing water near the house, there must
not be trees near on account of the dampness, the neighbors must not
keep hens—of course, the people of the house must not keep
hens—and the woman must have an even temper. I must
particularly insist upon an even temper. My nerves are exceedingly
weak; I cannot endure such a rasping manner as that which I have
When she stopped and looked at me for an answer I was so
astonished that I did not know what to say. There she was, just
arrived; had not eaten one meal in the house, and wanting to find
Finally I said, rather stupidly I suppose, that I doubted if she
could find another boarding-place in our village as good as the one
which she already had.
She gave another sigh, as if of the most determined patience.
“Have I not already told you, my good woman,” said she,
“that I cannot endure such a rasping manner and voice as that
of the woman of the house? It is most imperative that I have another
boarding-place at once.”
She said this in a manner which nettled me a little, as if I had
boarding-places, for which she had paid liberally and had a right to
demand, in my hand, and was withholding them from her. I replied that
I knew of no other boarding-place of any kind whatsoever in the
village. Then she looked at me in what I suppose was meant to be an
“My good woman,” said she, “you look very neat
and tidy yourself, and I don't doubt are a good plain cook; I am
willing to try your house if it is not surrounded by trees and there
is no standing water near; I do not object to running
In the midst of this speech the elder daughter had said in a
frightened way, “Oh, mamma!” but her mother had paid no
attention. As for myself, I was angry. The memory of my two years at
Wardville Young Ladies' Seminary in my youth and my frugally
independent life as wife and widow was strong upon me. I had read and
improved my mind. I was a prominent member of the Ladies' Literary
Society of our village: I wrote papers which were read at the
meetings; I felt, in reality, not one whit below Mrs. H. Boardman
Jameson, and, moreover, large sleeves were the fashion, and my
sleeves were every bit as large as hers, though she had just come
from the city. That added to my conviction of my own importance.
“Madam,” said I, “I do not take boarders. I have
never taken boarders, and I never shall take boarders.” Then I
turned and went out of the room, and downstairs, with, it seemed to
me, much dignity.
However, Mrs. Jameson was not impressed by it, for she called
after me: “My good woman, will you please tell Mrs. Liscom that
I must have some hot water to make my health food with immediately?
Tell her to send up a pitcher at once, very hot.”
I did not tell Caroline about the hot water. I left that for them
to manage themselves. I did not care to mention hot water with
Caroline's stove as wet as if it had been dipped in the pond, even if
I had not been too indignant at the persistent ignoring of my own
dignity. I went home and found Louisa Field, my brother's widow, and
her little daughter Alice, who live with me, already there. Louisa
keeps the district school, and with her salary, besides the little
which my brother left her, gets along very comfortably. I have a
small sum in bank, besides my house, and we have plenty to live on,
even if we don't have much to spare.
Louisa was full of excitement over the false alarm of fire, and
had heard a reason for it which we never fairly knew to be true,
though nearly all the village believed it. It seems that the little
Jameson boy, so the story ran, had peeped into the kitchen and had
seen it full of smoke from Caroline's smoky chimney when she was
kindling the fire; then had run out into the yard, and seeing the
smoke out there too, and being of such an exceedingly timid
temperament, had run out to the head of the lane calling fire, and
had there met Tommy Gregg, who had spread the alarm and been the
means of calling out the fire department.
Indeed, the story purported to come from Tommy Gregg, who declared
that the boy at Liscom's had “hollered” fire, and when he
was asked where it was had told him at Liscom's. However that may
have been, I looked around at our humble little home, at the lounge
which I had covered myself, at the threadbare carpet on the
sitting-room floor, at the wallpaper which was put on the year before
my husband died, at the vases on the shelf, which had belonged to my
mother, and I was very thankful that I did not care for “extra
things” or new furniture and carpets enough to take boarders
who made one feel as if one were simply a colonist of their superior
state, and the Republic was over and gone.
WE BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH THEM
It was certainly rather unfortunate, as far as the social standing
of the Jamesons among us was concerned, that they brought Grandma
Cobb with them.
Everybody spoke of her as Grandma Cobb before she had been a week
in the village. Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson always called her Madam
Cobb, but that made no difference. People in our village had not been
accustomed to address old ladies as madam, and they did not take
kindly to it. Grandma Cobb was of a very sociable disposition, and
she soon developed the habit of dropping into the village houses at
all hours of the day and evening. She was an early riser, and all the
rest of her family slept late, and she probably found it lonesome.
She often made a call as early as eight o'clock in the morning, and
she came as late as ten o'clock in the evening. When she came in the
morning she talked, and when she came in the evening she sat in her
chair and nodded. She often kept the whole family up, and it was less
exasperating when she came in the morning, though it was unfortunate
for the Jamesons.
If a bulletin devoted to the biography of the Jameson family had
been posted every week on the wall of the town house it could have
been no more explicit than was Grandma Cobb. Whether we would or not
we soon knew all about them; the knowledge was fairly forced upon us.
We knew that Mr. H. Boardman Jameson had been very wealthy, but had
lost most of his money the year before through the failure of a bank.
We knew that his wealth had all been inherited, and that he would
never have been, in Grandma Cobb's opinion, capable of earning it
himself. We knew that he had obtained, through the influence of
friends, a position in the custom-house, and we knew the precise
amount of his salary. We knew that the Jamesons had been obliged to
give up their palatial apartments in New York and take a humble flat
in a less fashionable part of the city. We knew that they had always
spent their summers at their own place at the seashore, and that this
was the first season of their sojourn in a little country village in
a plain house. We knew how hard a struggle it had been for them to
come here; we knew just how much they paid for their board, how Mrs.
Jameson never wanted anything for breakfast but an egg and a hygienic
biscuit, and had health food in the middle of the forenoon and
We also knew just how old they all were, and how the H. in Mr.
Jameson's name stood for Hiram. We knew that Mrs. Jameson had never
liked the name—might, in fact, have refused to marry on that
score had not Grandma Cobb reasoned with her and told her that he was
a worthy man with money, and she not as young as she had been; and
how she compromised by always using the abbreviation, both in writing
and speaking. “She always calls him H,” said Grandma
Cobb, “and I tell her sometimes it doesn't look quite
respectful to speak to her husband as if he were part of the
alphabet.” Grandma Cobb, if the truth had been told, was
always in a state of covert rebellion against her daughter.
Grandma Cobb was always dressed in a black silk gown which seemed
sumptuous to the women of our village. They could scarcely reconcile
it with the statement that the Jamesons had lost their money. Black
silk of a morning was stupendous to them, when they reflected how
they had, at the utmost, but one black silk, and that guarded as if
it were cloth of gold, worn only upon the grandest occasions, and
designed, as they knew in their secret hearts, though they did not
proclaim it, for their last garment of earth. Grandma Cobb always
wore a fine lace cap also, which should, according to the opinions of
the other old ladies of the village, have been kept sacred for other
women's weddings or her own funeral. She used her best gold-bowed
spectacles every day, and was always leaving them behind her in the
village houses, and little Tommy or Annie had to run after her with a
charge not to lose them, for nobody knew how much they cost.
Grandma Cobb always carried about with her a paper-covered novel
and a box of cream peppermints. She ate the peppermints and freely
bestowed them upon others; the novel she never read. She said quite
openly that she only carried it about to please her daughter, who had
literary tastes. “She belongs to a Shakespeare Club, and a
Browning Club, and a Current Literature Club,” said Grandma
We concluded that she had, feeling altogether incapable of even
carrying about Shakespeare and Browning, compromised with peppermints
and current literature.
“That book must be current literature,” said Mrs.
Ketchum one day, “but I looked into it when she was at our
house, and I should not want Adeline to read it.”
After a while people looked upon Grandma Cobb's book with
suspicion; but since she always carried it, thereby keeping it from
her grandchildren, and never read it, we agreed that it could not do
The very first time that I saw Grandma Cobb, at Caroline Liscom's,
she had that book. I knew it by the red cover and a baking-powder
advertisement on the back; and the next time also—that was at
the seventeenth-of-June picnic.
The whole Jameson family went to the picnic, rather to our
surprise. I think people had a fancy that Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson
would be above our little rural picnic. We had yet to understand Mrs.
Jameson, and learn that, however much she really held herself above
and aloof, she had not the slightest intention of letting us alone,
perhaps because she thoroughly believed in her own nonmixable
quality. Of course it would always be quite safe for oil to go to a
picnic with water, no matter how exclusive it might be.
The picnic was in Leonard's grove, and young and old were asked.
The seventeenth-of-June picnic is a regular institution in our
village. I went with Louisa, and little Alice in her new white muslin
dress; the child had been counting on it for weeks. We were nearly
all assembled when the Jamesons arrived. Half a dozen of us had begun
to lay the table for luncheon, though we were not to have it for an
hour or two. We always thought it a good plan to make all our
preparations in season. We were collecting the baskets and boxes, and
it did look as if we were to have an unusual feast that year. Those
which we peeped into appeared especially tempting. Mrs. Nathan
Butters had brought a great loaf of her rich fruit cake, a kind for
which she is famous in the village, and Mrs. Sim White had brought
two of her whipped-cream pies. Mrs. Ketchum had brought six mince
pies, which were a real rarity in June, and Flora Clark had brought a
six-quart pail full of those jumbles she makes, so rich that if you
drop one it crumbles to pieces. Then there were two great pinky hams
and a number of chickens. Louisa and I had brought a chicken; we had
one of ours killed, and I had roasted it the day before.
I remarked to Mrs. Ketchum that we should have an unusually nice
dinner; and so we should have had if it had not been for Mrs. H.
The Jamesons came driving into the grove in the Liscom carryall
and their buggy. Mr. Jacob Liscom was in charge of the carryall, and
the Jameson boy was on the front seat with him; on the back seat were
Grandma, or Madam Cobb, and the younger daughter. Harry Liscom drove
the bay horse in the buggy, and Mrs. Jameson and Harriet were with
him, he sitting between them, very uncomfortably, as it
appeared—his knees were touching the dasher, as he is a tall
Caroline Liscom did not come, and I did not wonder at it for one.
She must have thought it a good chance to rest one day from taking
boarders. We were surprised that Mrs. Jameson, since she is such a
stout woman, did not go in the carryall, and let either her younger
daughter or the boy go with Harry and Harriet in the buggy. We heard
afterward that she thought it necessary that she should go with them
as a chaperon. That seemed a little strange to us, since our village
girls were all so well conducted that we thought nothing of their
going buggy-riding with a good young man like Harry Liscom; he is a
church member and prominent in the Sunday-school, and this was in
broad daylight and the road full of other carriages. So people stared
and smiled a little to see Harry driving in with his knees braced
against the dasher, and the buggy canting to one side with the weight
of Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson. He looked rather shamefaced, I thought,
though he is a handsome, brave young fellow, and commonly carries
himself boldly enough. Harriet Jameson looked very pretty, though her
costume was not, to my way of thinking, quite appropriate. However, I
suppose that she was not to blame, poor child, and it may easily be
more embarrassing to have old fine clothes than old poor ones.
Really, Harriet Jameson would have looked better dressed that day in
an old calico gown than the old silk one which she wore. Her waist
was blue silk with some limp chiffon at the neck and sleeves, and her
skirt was old brown silk all frayed at the bottom and very shiny.
There were a good many spots on it, too, and some mud stains, though
it had not rained for two weeks.
However, the girl looked pretty, and her hair was done with a
stylish air, and she wore her old Leghorn hat, with its wreath of
faded French flowers, in a way which was really beyond our girls.
And as for Harry Liscom, it was plain enough to be seen that,
aside from his discomfiture at the close attendance of Mrs. H.
Boardman Jameson, he was blissfully satisfied and admiring. I was
rather sorry to see it on his account, though I had nothing against
the girl. I think, on general principles, that it is better usually
for a young man of our village to marry one of his own sort; that he
has a better chance of contentment and happiness. However, in this
case it seemed quite likely that there would be no chance of married
happiness at all. It did not look probable that Mrs. H. Boardman
Jameson would smile upon her eldest daughter's marriage with the son
of “a good woman,” and I was not quite sure as to what
Caroline Liscom would say.
Mr. Jacob Liscom is a pleasant-faced, mild-eyed man, very tall and
slender. He lifted out the Jameson boy, who did not jump out over the
wheel, as boys generally do when arriving at a picnic, and then he
tipped over the front seat and helped out Madam Cobb, and the younger
daughter, whose name was Sarah. We had not thought much of such
old-fashioned names as Harriet and Sarah for some years past in our
village, and it seemed rather odd taste in these city people. We
considered Hattie and Sadie much prettier. Generally the Harriets and
Sarahs endured only in the seclusion of the family Bible and the
baptismal records. Quite a number of the ladies had met Mrs. Jameson,
having either called at Mrs. Liscom's and seen her there, or having
spoken to her at church; and as for Grandma Cobb, she had had time to
visit nearly every house in the village, as I knew, though she had
not been to mine. Grandma Cobb got out, all smiling, and Jacob Liscom
handed her the box of peppermints and the paper-covered novel, and
then Harry Liscom helped out Harriet and her mother.
Mrs. Jameson walked straight up to us who were laying the table,
and Harry followed her with a curiously abashed expression, carrying
a great tin cracker-box in one hand and a large basket in the other.
We said good-morning as politely as we knew how to Mrs. Jameson, and
she returned it with a brisk air which rather took our breaths away,
it was so indicative of urgent and very pressing business. Then, to
our utter astonishment, up she marched to the nearest basket on the
table and deliberately took off the cover and began taking out the
contents. It happened to be Mrs. Nathan Butters' basket. Mrs. Jameson
lifted out the great loaf of fruit cake and set it on the table with
a contemptuous thud, as it seemed to us; then she took out a
cranberry pie and a frosted apple pie, and set them beside it. She
opened Mrs. Peter Jones' basket next, and Mrs. Jones stood there all
full of nervous twitches and saw her take out a pile of ham
sandwiches and a loaf of chocolate cake and a bottle of pickles. She
went on opening the baskets and boxes one after another, and we stood
watching her. Finally she came to the pail full of jumbles, and her
hand slipped and the most of them fell to the ground and were a mass
Then Mrs. Jameson spoke; she had not before said a word.
“These are enough to poison the whole village,” said she,
and she sniffed with a proud uplifting of her nose.
I am sure that a little sound, something between a groan and a
gasp, came from us, but no one spoke. I felt that it was fortunate,
and yet I was almost sorry that Flora Clark, who made those jumbles,
was not there; she had gone to pick wild flowers with her
Sunday-school class. Flora is very high-spirited and very proud of
her jumbles, and I knew that she would not have stood it for a minute
to hear them called poison. There would certainly have been words
then and there, for Flora is afraid of nobody. She is a smart,
handsome woman, and would have been married long ago if it had not
been for her temper.
Mrs. Jameson did not attempt to gather up the jumbles; she just
went on after that remark of hers, opening the rest of the things;
there were only one or two more. Then she took the cracker-box which
Harry had brought; he had stolen away to put up his horse, and it
looked to me very much as if Harriet had stolen away with him, for I
could not see her anywhere.
Mrs. Jameson lifted this cracker-box on to the table and opened
it. It was quite full of thick, hard-looking biscuits, or crackers.
She laid them in a pile beside the other things; then she took up the
basket and opened that. There was another kind of a cracker in that,
and two large papers of something. When everything was taken out she
pointed at the piles of eatables on the table, and addressed us:
“Ladies, attention!” rapping slightly with a spoon at the
same time. Her voice was very sweet, with a curious kind of forced
sweetness: “Ladies, attention! I wish you to carefully observe
the food upon the table before us. I wish you to consider it from the
standpoint of wives and mothers of families. There is the food which
you have brought, unwholesome, indigestible; there is mine, approved
of by the foremost physicians and men of science of the day. For ten
years I have had serious trouble with the alimentary canal, and this
food has kept me in strength and vigor. Had I attempted to live upon
your fresh biscuits, your frosted cakes, your rich pastry, I should
be in my grave. One of those biscuits which you see there before you
is equal in nourishment to six of your indigestible pies, or every
cake upon the table. The great cause of the insanity and dyspepsia so
prevalent among the rural classes is rich pie and cake. I feel it my
duty to warn you. I hope, ladies, that you will consider carefully
what I have said.”
With that, Mrs. Jameson withdrew herself a little way and sat down
under a tree on a cushion which had been brought in the carryall. We
looked at one another, but we did not say anything for a few
Finally, Mrs. White, who is very good-natured, remarked that she
supposed that she meant well, and she had better put her pies back in
the basket or they would dry up. We all began putting back the things
which Mrs. Jameson had taken out, except the broken jumbles, and were
very quiet. However, we could not help feeling astonished and
aggrieved at what Mrs. Jameson had said about the insanity and
dyspepsia in our village, since we could scarcely remember one case
of insanity, and very few of us had to be in the least careful as to
what we ate. Mrs. Peter Jones did say in a whisper that if Mrs.
Jameson had had dyspepsia ten years on those hard biscuits it was
more than any of us had had on our cake and pie. We left the
biscuits, and the two paper packages which Mrs. Jameson had brought,
in a heap on the table just where she had put them.
After we had replaced the baskets we all scattered about, trying
to enjoy ourselves in the sweet pine woods, but it was hard work, we
were so much disturbed by what had happened. We wondered uneasily,
too, what Flora Clark would say about her jumbles. We were all quiet,
peaceful people who dreaded altercation; it made our hearts beat too
fast. Taking it altogether, we felt very much as if some great,
overgrown bird of another species had gotten into our village nest,
and we were in the midst of an awful commotion of strange wings and
beak. Still we agreed that Mrs. Jameson had probably meant well.
Grandma Cobb seemed to be enjoying herself. She was moving about,
her novel under her arm and her peppermint box in her hand, holding
up her gown daintily in front. She spoke to everybody affably, and
told a number confidentially that her daughter was very delicate
about her eating, but she herself believed in eating what you liked.
Harriet and Harry Liscom were still missing, and so were the younger
daughter, Sarah, and the boy. The boy's name, by the way, was Cobb,
his mother's maiden name. That seemed strange to us, but it possibly
would not have seemed so had it been a prettier name.
Just before lunch-time Cobb and his sister Sarah appeared, and
they were in great trouble. Jonas Green, who owns the farm next the
grove, was with them, and actually had Cobb by the hair, holding all
his gathered-up curls tight in his fist. He held Sarah by one arm,
too, and she was crying. Cobb was crying, too, for that matter, and
crying out loud like a baby.
Jonas Green is a very brusque man, and he did look as angry as I
had ever seen any one, and when I saw what those two were carrying I
did not much wonder. Their hands were full of squash blossoms and
potato blossoms, and Jonas Green's garden is the pride of his
Jonas Green marched straight up to Mrs. Jameson under her tree,
and said in a loud voice: “Ma'am, if this boy and girl are
yours I think it is about time you taught them better than to tramp
through folks' fields picking things that don't belong to them, and I
expect what I've lost in squashes and potatoes to be made good to
We all waited, breathless, and Mrs. Jameson put on her eyeglasses
and looked up. Then she spoke sweetly.
“My good man,” said she, “if, when you come to
dig your squashes, you find less than usual, and when you come to
pick your potatoes the bushes are not in as good condition as they
generally are, you may come to me and I will make it right with
Mrs. Jameson spoke with the greatest dignity and sweetness, and we
almost felt as if she were the injured party, in spite of all those
squash and potato blossoms. As for Jonas Green, he stared at her for
the space of a minute, then he gave a loud laugh, let go of the boy
and girl, and strode away. We heard him laughing to himself as he
went; all through his life the mention of potato bushes and digging
squashes was enough to send him into fits of laughter. It was the
joke of his lifetime, for Jonas Green had never been a merry man, and
it was probably worth more than the vegetables which he had lost. I
pitied Cobb and Sarah, they were so frightened, and got hold of them
myself and comforted them. Sarah was just such another little timid,
open-mouthed, wide-eyed sort of thing as her brother, and they were
merely picking flowers, as they supposed.
“I never saw such beautiful yellow flowers,” Sarah
said, sobbing and looking ruefully at her great bouquet of squash
blossoms. This little Sarah, who was only twelve, and very small and
childish for her age, said sooner and later many ignorant, and yet
quaintly innocent things about our country life, which were widely
repeated. It was Sarah who said, when she was offered some honey at a
village tea-drinking, “Oh, will you please tell me what time
you drive home your bees? and do they give honey twice a day like the
cows?” It was Sarah who, when her brother was very anxious to
see the pigs on Mr. White's farm, said, “Oh, be quiet, Cobb,
dear; it is too late tonight; the pigs must have gone into their
I think poor Cobb and Sarah might have had a pleasant time at the
picnic, after all—for my little Alice made friends with them,
and Mrs. Sim White's Charlie—had it not been for their mother's
obliging them to eat her hygienic biscuits for their luncheons. It
was really pitiful to see them looking so wistfully at the cake and
pie. I had a feeling of relief that all the rest of us were not
obliged to make our repast of hygienic bread. I had a fear lest Mrs.
Jameson might try to force us to do so. However, all she did was to
wait until we were fairly started upon our meal, and then send around
her children with her biscuits, following them herself with the most
tender entreaties that we would put aside that unwholesome food and
not risk our precious lives. She would not, however, allow us to
drink our own coffee—about that she was firm. She insisted upon
our making some hygienic coffee which she had brought from the city,
and we were obliged to yield, or appear in a very stubborn and
ungrateful light. The coffee was really very good, and we did not
mind. The other parcel which she had brought contained a health food,
to be made into a sort of porridge with hot water, and little cups of
that were passed around, Mrs. Jameson's face fairly beaming with
benevolence the while, and there was no doubt that she was entirely
Still, we were all so disturbed—that is, all of us elder
people—that I doubt if anybody enjoyed that luncheon unless it
was Grandma Cobb. She did not eat hygienic biscuits, but did eat cake
and pie in unlimited quantities. I was really afraid that she would
make herself ill with Mrs. Butter's fruit cake. One thing was a great
relief, to me at least: Flora Clark did not know the true story of
her jumbles until some time afterward. Mrs. White told her that the
pail had been upset and they were broken, and we were all so sorry;
and she did not suspect. We were glad to avoid a meeting between her
and Mrs. Jameson, for none of us felt as if we could endure it
I suppose the young folks enjoyed the picnic if we did not, and
that was the principal thing to be considered, after all. I know that
Harry Liscom and Harriet Jameson enjoyed it, and all the more that it
was a sort of stolen pleasure. Just before we went home I was
strolling off by myself near the brook, and all of a sudden saw the
two young things under a willow tree. I stood back softly, and they
never knew that I was there, but they were sitting side by side, and
Harry's arm was around the girl's waist, and her head was on his
shoulder, and they were looking at each other as if they saw angels,
and I thought to myself that, whether it was due to hygienic bread or
pie, they were in love—and what would Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson
and Caroline Liscom say?
MRS. JAMESON IMPROVES US
It was some time before we really understood that we were to be
improved. We might have suspected it from the episode of the hygienic
biscuits at the picnic, but we did not. We were not fairly aware of
it until the Ladies' Sewing Circle met one afternoon with Mrs. Sim
White, the president, the first week in July.
It was a very hot afternoon, and I doubt if we should have had the
meeting that day had it not been that we were anxious to get off a
barrel as soon as possible to a missionary in Minnesota. The
missionary had seven children, the youngest only six weeks old, and
they were really suffering. Flora Clark did say that if it were as
hot in Minnesota as it was in Linnville she would not thank anybody
to send her clothes; she would be thankful for the excuse of poverty
to go without them. But Mrs. Sim White would not hear to having the
meeting put off; she said that a cyclone might come up any minute in
Minnesota and cool the air, and then think of all those poor children
with nothing to cover them. Flora Clark had the audacity to say that
after the cyclone there might not be any children to cover, and a few
of the younger members tittered; but we never took Flora's speeches
seriously. She always came to the sewing meeting, no matter how much
she opposed it, and sewed faster than any of us. She came that
afternoon and made three flannel petticoats for three of the
children, though she did say that she thought the money would have
been better laid out in palm-leaf fans.
We were astonished to see Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson come that very
hot afternoon, for we knew that she considered herself delicate, and,
besides, we wondered that she should feel interested in our sewing
circle. Her daughter Harriet came with her; Madam Cobb, as I
afterward learned, went, instead, to Mrs. Ketchum's, and stayed all
the afternoon, and kept her from going to the meeting at all.
Caroline Liscom came with her boarders, and I knew, the minute I
saw her, that something was wrong. She had a look of desperation and
defiance which I had seen on her face before. Thinks I to myself:
“You are all upset over something, but you have made up your
mind to hide it, whether or no.”
Mrs. Jameson had a book in her hand, and when she first came in
she laid it on the table where we cut out our work. Mrs. Liscom went
around the room with her, introducing her to the ladies whom she had
not met before. I could see that she did not like to do it, and was
simply swallowing her objections with hard gulps every time she
Harriet walked behind her mother and Mrs. Liscom, and spoke very
prettily every time she was addressed.
Harriet Jameson was really an exceedingly pretty girl, with a kind
of apologetic sweetness and meekness of manner which won her friends.
Her dress that afternoon was pretty, too: a fine white lawn trimmed
with very handsome embroidery, and a white satin ribbon at the waist
and throat. I understood afterward that Mrs. Jameson did not allow
her daughters to wear their best clothes generally to our village
festivities, but kept them for occasions in the city, since their
fortunes were reduced, thinking that their old finery, though it
might be a little the worse for wear, was good enough for our
unsophisticated eyes. But that might not have been true; Harriet was
very well dressed that afternoon, at all events.
Mrs. Jameson seemed to be really very affable. She spoke cordially
to us all, and then asked to have some work given her; but, as it
happened, there was nothing cut out except a black dress for the
missionary's wife, and she did not like to strain her eyes working on
“Let me cut something out,” said she in her brisk
manner; “I have come here to be useful. What is there needing
to be cut out?”
It was Flora Clark who replied, and I always suspected her of a
motive in it, for she had heard about her jumbles by that time. She
said there was a little pair of gingham trousers needed for the
missionary's five-year-old boy, and Mrs. Jameson, without a quiver of
hesitation, asked for the gingham and scissors. I believe she would
have undertaken a suit for the missionary with the same alacrity.
Mrs. Jameson was given another little pair of trousers, a size
smaller than those required, for a pattern, a piece of blue and white
gingham and the shears, and she began. We all watched her furtively,
but she went slashing away with as much confidence as if she had
served an apprenticeship with a tailor in her youth. We began to
think that possibly she knew better how to cut out trousers than we
did. Mrs. White whispered to me that she had heard that many of those
rich city women learned how to do everything in case they lost their
money, and she thought it was so sensible.
When Mrs. Jameson had finished cutting out the trousers, which was
in a very short space of time, she asked for some thread and a
needle, and Flora Clark started to get some, and got thereby an
excuse to examine the trousers. She looked at them, and held them up
so we all could see, and then she spoke.
“Mrs. Jameson,” said she, “these are cut just
alike back and front, and they are large enough for a boy of
twelve.” She spoke very clearly and decisively. Flora Clark
never minces matters.
We fairly shivered with terror as to what would come next, and
poor Mrs. White clutched my arm hard. “Oh,” she
whispered, “I am so sorry she spoke so.”
But Mrs. Jameson was not so easily put down. She replied very
coolly and sweetly, and apparently without the slightest resentment,
that she had made them so on purpose, so that the boy would not
outgrow them, and she always thought it better to have the back and
front cut alike; the trousers could then be worn either way, and
would last much longer.
To our horror, Flora Clark spoke again. “I guess you are
right about their lasting,” said she; “I shouldn't think
those trousers would wear out any faster on a five-year-old boy than
they would on a pair of tongs. They certainly won't touch him
Mrs. Jameson only smiled in her calmly superior way at that, and
we concluded that she must be good-tempered. As for Flora, she said
nothing more, and we all felt much relieved.
Mrs. Jameson went to sewing on the trousers with the same
confidence with which she had cut them out; but I must say we had a
little more doubt about her skill. She sewed with incredible
swiftness; I did not time her exactly, but it did not seem to me that
she was more than an hour in making those trousers. I know the
meeting began at two o'clock, and it was not more than half-past
three when she announced that they were done.
Flora Clark rose, and Mrs. White clutched her skirt and held her
back while she whispered something. However, Flora went across the
room to the table, and held up the little trousers that we all might
see. Mrs. Jameson had done what many a novice in trousers-making
does: sewed one leg over the other and made a bag of them. They were
certainly a comical sight. I don't know whether Flora's sense of
humor got the better of her wrath, or whether Mrs. White's
expostulation influenced her, but she did not say one word, only
stood there holding the trousers, her mouth twitching. As for the
rest of us, it was all we could do to keep our faces straight. Mrs.
Jameson was looking at her book, and did not seem to notice anything;
and Harriet was sitting with her back to Flora, of which I was glad.
I should have been sorry to have had the child's feelings hurt.
Flora laid the trousers on the table and came back to her seat
without a word, and I know that Mrs. White sat up nearly all night
ripping them, and cutting them over, and sewing them together again,
in season to have them packed in the barrel the next day.
In the mean time, Mrs. Jameson was finding the place in her book;
and just as Mrs. Peter Jones had asked Mrs. Butters if it were true
that Dora Peckham was going to marry Thomas Wells and had bought her
wedding dress, and before Mrs. Butters had a chance to answer her
(she lives next door to the Peckhams), she rapped with the scissors
on the table.
“Ladies,” said she. “Ladies,
I suppose we all did stiffen up involuntarily; it was so obviously
not Mrs. Jameson's place to call us to order and attention. Of course
she should have been introduced by our President, who should herself
have done the rapping with the scissors. Flora Clark opened her mouth
to speak, but Mrs. White clutched her arm and looked at her so
beseechingly that she kept quiet.
Mrs. Jameson continued, utterly unconscious of having given any
offence. We supposed that she did not once think it possible that we
knew what the usages of ladies' societies were. “Ladies,”
said she, “I am sure that you will all prefer having your minds
improved and your spheres enlarged by the study and contemplation of
one of the greatest authors of any age, to indulging in narrow
village gossip. I will now read to you a selection from Robert
Mrs. Jameson said Robert Browning with such an impressive and
triumphantly introductory air that it was almost impossible for a
minute not to feel that Browning was actually there in our sewing
circle. She made a little pause, too, which seemed to indicate just
that. It was borne upon Mrs. White's mind that she ought to clap, and
she made a feeble motion with her two motherly hands which one or two
of us echoed.
Mrs. Jameson began to read the selection from Robert Browning.
Now, as I have said before, we have a literary society in our
village, but we have never attempted to read Browning at our
meetings. Some of us read him a little and strive to appreciate him,
but we have been quite sure that some other author would interest a
larger proportion of the ladies. I don't suppose that more than three
of us had ever read or even heard of the selection which Mrs. Jameson
read. It was, to my way of thinking, one of the most difficult of
them all to be understood by an untrained mind, but we listened
politely, and with a semblance, at least, of admiring interest.
I think Harriet Jameson was at first the only seriously disturbed
listener, to judge from her expression. The poor child looked so
anxious and distressed that I was sorry for her. I heard afterward
that she had begged her mother not to take the Browning book, saying
that she did not believe the ladies would like it; and Mrs. Jameson
had replied that she felt it to be her duty to teach them to like it,
and divert their minds from the petty gossip which she had always
heard was the distinguishing feature of rural sewing meetings.
Mrs. Jameson read and read; when she had finished the first
selection she read another. At half-past four o'clock, Mrs. White,
who had been casting distressed glances at me, rose and stole out on
I knew why she did so; Mrs. Bemis' hired girl next door was baking
her biscuits for her that she need not heat her house up, and she had
brought them in. I heard the kitchen door open.
Presently Mrs. White stole in again and tried to listen politely
to the reading, but her expression was so strained to maintain
interest that one could see the anxiety underneath. I knew what
worried her before she told me, as she did presently. “I have
rolled those biscuits up in a cloth,” she whispered, “but
I am dreadfully afraid that they will be spoiled.”
Mrs. Jameson began another selection, and I did pity Mrs. White.
She whispered to me again that her table was not set, and the
biscuits would certainly be spoiled.
The selection which Mrs. Jameson was then reading was a short one,
and I saw Mrs. White begin to brighten as she evidently drew near the
end. But her joy was of short duration, as Mrs. Jameson began another
However, Mrs. White laid an imploring hand on Flora Clark's arm
when she manifested symptoms of rising and interrupting the reading.
Flora was getting angry—I knew by the way her forehead was
knitted and by the jerky way she sewed. Poor Harriet Jameson looked
more and more distressed. I was sure she saw Mrs. White holding back
Flora, and knew just what it meant. Harriet was sitting quite idle
with her little hands in her lap; we had set her to hemming a ruffle
for the missionary's wife's dress, but her stitches were so
hopelessly uneven that I had quietly taken it from her and told her I
was out of work and would do it myself. The poor child had blushed
when she gave it up. She evidently knew her deficiencies.
Mrs. Jameson read selections from Robert Browning until six
o'clock, and by that time Mrs. White had attained to the calmness of
despair. At a quarter of six she whispered to me that the biscuits
were spoiled, and then her face settled into an expression of stony
peace. When Mrs. Jameson finally closed her book there was a murmur
which might have been considered expressive of relief or applause,
according to the amount of self-complacency of the reader. Mrs.
Jameson evidently considered it applause, for she bowed in a highly
gracious manner, and remarked: “I am very glad if I have given
you pleasure, ladies, and I shall be more than pleased at some future
time to read some other selections even superior to these which I
have given, and also to make some remarks upon them.”
There was another murmur, which might have been of pleasure at the
prospect of the future reading, or the respite from the present one;
I was puzzled to know which it did mean.
We always had our supper at our sewing meetings at precisely five
o'clock, and now it was an hour later. Mrs. White rose and went out
directly, and Flora Clark and I followed her to assist. We began
laying the table as fast as we could, while Mrs. White was cutting
the cake. The ladies of the society brought the cake and pie, and
Mrs. White furnished the bread and tea. However, that night it was so
very warm we had decided to have lemonade instead of tea. Mrs. White
had put it to vote among the ladies when they first came, and we had
all decided in favor of lemonade. There was another reason for Mrs.
White not having tea: she has no dining-room, but eats in her kitchen
summer and winter. It is a very large room, but of course in such
heat as there was that day even a little fire would have made it
unendurably warm. So she had planned to have her biscuits baked in
Mrs. Bemis' stove and have lemonade.
Our preparations were nearly completed, and we were placing the
last things on the table, when my sister-in-law, Louisa Field, came
out, and I knew that something was wrong.
“What is the matter?” said I.
Louisa looked at Flora as if she were almost afraid to speak, but
finally it came out: Mrs. Jameson must have some hot water to prepare
her health food, as she dared not eat our hurtful cake and pie,
especially in such heat.
Flora Clark's eyes snapped. She could not be repressed any longer,
so she turned on poor Louisa as if she were the offender. “Let
her go home, then!” said she. “She sha'n't have any hot
water in this house!”
Flora spoke very loud, and Mrs. White was in agony. “Oh,
Flora! don't, don't!” said she. But she looked at the cold
kitchen stove in dismay.
I suggested boiling the kettle on Mrs. Bemis' stove; but that
could not be done, for the hired girl had gone away buggy-riding with
her beau after she had brought in the biscuits, and Mrs. Bemis was
not at the sewing circle: her mother, in the next town, was ill, and
she had gone to see her. So the Bemis house was locked up, and the
fire no doubt out. Mrs. White lives on an outlying farm, and there
was not another neighbor within a quarter of a mile. If Mrs. Jameson
must have that hot water for her hygienic food there was really
nothing to do but to make up the fire in the kitchen stove, no matter
how uncomfortable we all might be in consequence.
Flora Clark said in a very loud voice, and Mrs. White could not
hush her, that she would see Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson in Gibraltar
first; and she was so indignant because Mrs. White began to put
kindlings into the stove that she stalked off into the other room.
Mrs. White begged me to follow her and try to keep her quiet, but I
was so indignant myself that I was almost tempted to wish she would
speak out her mind. I ran out and filled the tea-kettle, telling Mrs.
White that I guessed Flora wouldn't say anything, and we started the
It was a quarter of seven before the water was hot, and we asked
the ladies to walk out to supper. Luckily, the gentlemen were not
coming that night. It was haying-time, and we had decided, since we
held the meeting principally because of the extra work, that we would
not have them. We often think that the younger women don't do as much
work when the gentlemen are coming; they are upstairs so long curling
their hair and prinking.
I wondered if Flora Clark had said anything. I heard afterward
that she had not, but I saw at once that she was endeavoring to wreak
a little revenge upon Mrs. Jameson. By a series of very skilfull and
scarcely perceptible manœuvres she gently impelled Mrs.
Jameson, without her being aware of it, into the seat directly in
front of the stove. I knew it was not befitting my age and Christian
character, but I was glad to see her there. The heat that night was
something terrific, and the fire in the stove, although we had made
no more than we could help, had increased it decidedly. I thought
that Mrs. Jameson, between the stove at her back and the hot water in
her health food, would have her just deserts. It did seem as if she
must be some degrees warmer than any of the rest of us.
However, who thought to inflict just deserts upon her reckoned
without Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson. She began stirring the health food,
which she had brought, in her cup of hot water; but suddenly she
looked around, saw the stove at her back, and sweetly asked Mrs.
White if she could not have another seat, as the heat was very apt to
affect her head.
It was Harriet, after all, upon whom the punishment for her
mother's thoughtlessness fell. She jumped up at once, and eagerly
volunteered to change seats with her.
“Indeed, my place is quite cool, mamma,” she said. So
Mrs. Jameson and her daughter exchanged places; and I did not dare
look at Flora Clark.
Though the kitchen was so hot, I think we all felt that we had
reason to be thankful that Mrs. Jameson did not beseech us to eat
health food as she did at the picnic, and also that the reading was
over for that day.
Louisa, when we were going home that night, said she supposed that
Mrs. Jameson would try to improve our literary society also; and she
was proved to be right in her supposition at the very next meeting.
Mrs. Jameson came, and she not only read selections from Browning,
but she started us in that mad problem of Shakespeare and Bacon. Most
of the ladies in our society had not an intimate acquaintance with
either, having had, if the truth were told, their minds too fully
occupied with such humble domestic questions of identity as whether
Johnny or Tommy stole the sugar.
However, when we were once fairly started there was no end to our
interest; we all agonized over it, and poor Mrs. Sim White was so
exercised over the probable deception of either Bacon or Shakespeare,
in any case, that she told me privately that she was tempted to leave
the literary society and confine herself to her Bible.
There was actual animosity between some members of our society in
consequence. Mrs. Charles Root and Rebecca Snow did not speak to each
other for weeks because Mrs. Root believed that Shakespeare was
Bacon, and Rebecca believed he was himself. Rebecca even stayed away
from church and the society on that account.
Mrs. Jameson expressed herself as very much edified at our
interest, and said she considered it a proof that our spheres were
Louisa and I agreed that if we could only arrive at a satisfactory
conclusion in the matter we should feel that ours were wider; and
Flora Clark said it did not seem of much use to her, since
Shakespeare and Bacon were both dead and gone, and we were too much
concerned with those plays which were written anyhow, and no question
about it, to bother about anything else. It did not seem to her that
the opinion of our literary society would make much difference to
either of them, and that possibly we had better spend our time in
studying the plays.
At the second meeting of our society which Mrs. Jameson attended
she gave us a lecture, which she had written and delivered before her
Shakespeare club in the city. It was upon the modern drama, and we
thought it must be very instructive, only as few of us ever went to
the theatre, or even knew the name of a modern playwright, it was
almost like a lecture in an unknown tongue. Mrs. Ketchum went to
sleep and snored, and told me on the way home that she did not mean
to be ungrateful, but she could not help feeling that it would have
been as improving for her to stay at home and read a new
Sunday-school book that she was interested in.
Mrs. Jameson did not confine herself in her efforts for our
improvement to our diet and our literary tastes. After she had us
fairly started in our bewildering career on the tracks of Bacon and
Shakespeare—doing a sort of amateur detective work in the
tombs, as it were—and after she had induced the storekeeper to
lay in a supply of health food—which he finally fed to the
chickens—she turned her attention to our costumes. She begged
us to cut off our gowns at least three inches around the bottoms, for
wear when engaged in domestic pursuits, and she tried to induce
mothers to take off the shoes and stockings of their small children,
and let them run barefoot. Children of a larger growth in our village
quite generally go barefoot in the summer, but the little ones are
always, as a rule, well shod. Mrs. Jameson said that it was much
better for them also to go without shoes and stockings, and Louisa
and I were inclined to think she might be right—it does seem to
be the natural way of things. But people rather resented her catching
their children on the street and stripping off their shoes and
stockings, and sending the little things home with them in their
hands. However, their mothers put on the shoes and stockings, and
thought she must mean well. Very few of them said anything to her by
way of expostulation; but the children finally ran when they saw her
coming, so they would not have their shoes and stockings taken
All this time, while Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson was striving to
improve us, her daughter Harriet was seemingly devoting all her
energies to the improvement of Harry Liscom, or to the improvement of
her own ideal in his heart, whichever it may have been; and I think
she succeeded in each case.
Neither Mrs. Liscom nor Mrs. Jameson seemed aware of it, but
people began to say that Harry Liscom and the eldest Jameson girl
were going together.
I had no doubt of it after what I had seen in the grove; and one
evening during the last of July I had additional evidence. In the
cool of the day I strolled down the road a little way, and finally
stopped at the old Wray house. Nobody lived there then; it had been
shut up for many a year. I thought I would sit down on the old
doorstep and rest, and I had barely settled myself when I heard
voices. They came around the corner from the south piazza, and I
could not help hearing what they said, though I rose and went away as
soon as I had my wits about me and fairly knew that I was
“You are so far above me,” said a boy's voice which I
knew was Harry Liscom's.
Then came the voice of the girl in reply: “Oh, Harry, it is
you who are so far above me.” Then I was sure that they kissed
I reflected as I stole softly away, lest they should discover me
and be ashamed, that, after all, it was only love which could set
people upon immeasurable heights in each other's eyes, and stimulate
them to real improvement and to live up to each other's ideals.
THEY TAKE A FARM
I had wondered a little, after Mrs. Jameson's frantic appeal to me
to secure another boarding-place for her, that she seemed to settle
down so contentedly at Caroline Liscom's. She said nothing more about
her dissatisfaction, if she felt any. However, I fancy that Mrs.
Jameson is one to always conceal her distaste for the inevitable, and
she must have known that she could not have secured another
boarding-place in Linnville. As for Caroline Liscom, her mouth is
always closed upon her own affairs until they have become matters of
history. She never said a word to me about the Jamesons until they
had ceased to be her boarders, which was during the first week in
August. My sister-in-law, Louisa Field, came home one afternoon with
the news. She had been over to Mrs. Gregg's to get her receipt for
blackberry jam, and had heard it there. Mrs. Gregg always knew about
the happenings in our village before they fairly gathered form on the
horizon of reality.
“What do you think, Sophia?” said Louisa when she came
in—she did not wait to take off her hat before she
began—“the Jamesons are going to leave the Liscoms, and
they have rented the old Wray place, and are going to run the farm
and raise vegetables and eggs. Mr. Jameson is coming on Saturday
night, and they are going to move in next Monday.”
I was very much astonished; I had never dreamed that the Jamesons
had any taste for farming, and then, too, it was so late in the
“Old Jonas Martin is planting the garden now,” said
Louisa. “I saw him as I came past.”
“The garden,” said I; “why, it is the first of
“Mrs. Jameson thinks that she can raise late peas and corn,
and set hens so as to have spring chickens very early in the
season,” replied Louisa, laughing; “at least, that is
what Mrs. Gregg says. The Jamesons are going to stay here until the
last of October, and then Jonas Martin is going to take care of the
hens through the winter.”
I remembered with a bewildered feeling what Mrs. Jameson had said
about not wanting to board with people who kept hens, and here she
was going to keep them herself.
Louisa and I wondered what kind of a man Mr. H. Boardman Jameson
might be; he had never been to Linnville, being kept in the city by
his duties at the custom-house.
“I don't believe that he will have much to say about the
farm while Mrs. Jameson has a tongue in her head,” said Louisa;
and I agreed with her.
When we saw Mr. H. Boardman Jameson at church the next Sunday we
were confirmed in our opinion.
He was a small man, much smaller than his wife, with a certain air
of defunct style about him. He had quite a fierce bristle of
moustache, and a nervous briskness of carriage, yet there was
something that was unmistakably conciliatory and subservient in his
bearing toward Mrs. Jameson. He stood aside for her to enter the pew,
with the attitude of vassalage; he seemed to respond with an echo of
deference to every rustle of her silken skirts and every heave of her
wide shoulders. Mrs. Jameson was an Episcopalian, and our church is
Congregational. Mrs. Jameson did not attempt to kneel when she
entered, but bent her head forward upon the back of the pew in front
of her. Mr. Jameson waited until she was fairly in position, with
observant and anxious eyes upon her, before he did likewise.
This was really the first Sunday on which Mrs. Jameson herself had
appeared at church. Ever since she had been in our village the
Sundays had been exceptionally warm, or else rainy and disagreeable,
and of course Mrs. Jameson was in delicate health. The girls and Cobb
had attended faithfully, and always sat in the pew with the Liscoms.
To-day Harry and his father sat in the Jones pew to make room for the
two elder Jamesons.
There was an unusual number at meeting that morning, partly, no
doubt, because it had been reported that Mr. Jameson was to be there,
and that made a little mistake of his and his wife's more
conspicuous. The minister read that morning the twenty-third Psalm,
and after he had finished the first verse Mrs. Jameson promptly
responded with the second, as she would have done in her own church,
raising her solitary voice with great emphasis. It would not have
been so ludicrous had not poor Mr. Jameson, evidently seeing the
mistake, and his face blazing, yet afraid to desert his wife's
standard, followed her dutifully just a few words in the rear. While
Mrs. Jameson was beside the still waters, Mr. Jameson was in the
green pastures, and so on. I pitied the Jameson girls. Harriet looked
ready to cry with mortification, and Sarah looked so alarmed that I
did not know but she would run out of the church. As for Cobb, he
kept staring at his mother, and opening his mouth to speak, and
swallowing and never saying anything, until it seemed as if he might
go into convulsions. People tried not to laugh, but a little
repressed titter ran over the congregation, and the minister's voice
shook. Mrs. Jameson was the only one who did not appear in the least
disturbed; she did not seem to realize that she had done anything
Caroline Liscom was not at church—indeed, she had not been
much since the boarders arrived; she had to stay at home to get the
dinner. Louisa and I wondered whether she was relieved or disturbed
at losing her boarders, and whether we should ever know which. When
we passed the Wray house on our way home, and saw the blinds open,
and the fresh mould in the garden, and the new shingles shining on
the hen-house roof, we speculated about it.
“Caroline had them about nine weeks, and at fifteen dollars
a week she will have one hundred and thirty-five dollars,” said
Louisa. “That will buy her something extra.”
“I know that she has been wanting some portières for
her parlor, and a new set for her spare chamber, and maybe that is
what she will get,” said I. And I said furthermore that I hoped
she would feel paid for her hard work and the strain it must have
been on her mind.
Louisa and I are not very curious, but the next day we did
watch—though rather furtively—the Jamesons moving into
the old Wray house.
All day we saw loads of furniture passing, which must have been
bought in Grover. So many of the things were sewed up in burlap that
we could not tell much about them, which was rather unfortunate. It
was partly on this account that we did not discourage Tommy
Gregg—who had been hanging, presumably with his mother's
connivance, around the old Wray house all day—from reporting to
us as we were sitting on the front doorstep in the twilight. Mrs.
Peter Jones and Amelia Powers had run over, and were sitting there
with Louisa and me. Little Alice had gone to bed; we had refused to
allow her to go to see what was going on, and yet listened to Tommy
Gregg's report, which was not, I suppose, to our credit. I have often
thought that punctilious people will use cats'-paws to gratify
curiosity when they would scorn to use them for anything else. Still,
neither Louisa nor I would have actually beckoned Tommy Gregg up to
the door, as Mrs. Jones did, though I suppose we had as much cause to
be ashamed, for we certainly listened full as greedily as she.
It seemed to me that Tommy had seen all the furniture unpacked,
and much of it set up, by lurking around in the silent, shrinking,
bright-eyed fashion that he has. Tommy Gregg is so single-minded in
his investigations that I can easily imagine that he might seem as
impersonal as an observant ray of sunlight in the window. Anyway, he
had evidently seen everything, and nobody had tried to stop him.
“It ain't very handsome,” said Tommy Gregg with a kind
of disappointment and wonder. “There ain't no carpets in the
house except in Grandma Cobb's room, and that's jest straw mattin';
and there's some plain mats without no roses on 'em; and there ain't
no stove 'cept in the kitchen; just old andirons like mother keeps up
garret; and there ain't no stuffed furniture at all; and they was
eatin' supper without no table-cloth.”
Amelia Powers and Mrs. Jones thought that it was very singular
that the Jamesons had no stuffed furniture, but Louisa and I did not
feel so. We had often wished that we could afford to change the
haircloth furniture, which I had had when I was married, for some
pretty rattan or plain wood chairs. Louisa and I rather fancied the
Jamesons' style of house-furnishing when we call there. It was rather
odd, certainly, from our village standpoint, and we were not
accustomed to see bare floors if people could possibly buy a carpet;
the floors were pretty rough in the old house, too. It did look as if
some of the furniture was sliding down-hill, and it was quite a steep
descent from the windows to the chimney in all the rooms. Of course,
a carpet would have taken off something of that effect. Another thing
struck us as odd, and really scandalized the village at large: the
Jamesons had taken down every closet and cupboard door in the house.
They had hung curtains before the clothes-closets, but the shelves of
the pantry which opened out of the dining-room, and the china-closet
in the parlor, were quite exposed, and furnished with, to us, a very
queer assortment of dishes. The Jamesons had not one complete set,
and very few pieces alike. They had simply ransacked the neighborhood
for forsaken bits of crockery-ware, the remnants of old wedding-sets
which had been long stored away on top shelves, or used for baking or
I remember Mrs. Gregg laughing, and saying that the Jamesons were
tickled to death to get some old blue cups which she had when she was
married and did not pay much for then, and had used for fifteen years
to put up her currant jelly in; and had paid her enough money for
them to make up the amount which she had been trying to earn, by
selling eggs, to buy a beautiful new tea-set of a brown-and-white
ware. I don't think the Jamesons paid much for any of the dishes
which they bought in our village; we are not very shrewd people, and
it did not seem right to ask large prices for articles which had been
put to such menial uses. I think many things were given them. I
myself gave Harriet Jameson an old blue plate and another brown one
which I had been using to bake extra pies in when my regular
pie-plates gave out. They were very discolored and cracked, but I
never saw anybody more pleased than Harriet was.
I suppose the special feature of the Jamesons' household
adornments which roused the most comment in the village was the
bean-pots. The Jamesons, who did not like baked beans and never
cooked them, had bought, or had given them, a number of old
bean-pots, and had them sitting about the floor and on the tables
with wild flowers in them. People could not believe that at first;
they thought they must be some strange kind of vase which they had
had sent from New York. They cast sidelong glances of sharpest
scrutiny at them when they called. When they discovered that they
were actually bean-pots, and not only that, but were sitting on the
floor, which had never been considered a proper place for bean-pots
in any capacity, they were really surprised. Flora Clark said that
for her part her bean-pot went into the oven with beans in it,
instead of into the corner with flowers in it, as long as she had her
reason. But I must say I did not quite agree with her. I have only
one bean-pot, and we eat beans, therefore mine has to be kept sacred
to its original mission; and I must say that I thought Mrs. Jameson's
with goldenrod in it really looked better than mine with beans. I
told Louisa that I could not see why the original states of inanimate
things ought to be remembered against them when they were elevated to
finer uses any more than those of people, and now that the bean-pot
had become a vase in a parlor why its past could not be forgotten.
Louisa agreed with me, but I don't doubt that many people never
looked at those pots full of goldenrod without seeing beans. It was
to my way of thinking more their misfortune than the Jamesons'
mistake; and they made enough mistakes which were not to be
questioned not to have the benefit of any doubt.
Soon the Jamesons, with their farm, were the standing joke in our
village. I had never known there was such a strong sense of humor
among us as their proceedings awakened. Mr. H. Boardman Jameson did
not remain in Fairville long, as he had to return to his duties at
the custom-house. Mrs. Jameson, who seemed to rouse herself suddenly
from the languid state which she had assumed at times, managed the
farm. She certainly had original ideas and the courage of her
She stopped at nothing; even Nature herself she had a try at, like
some mettlesome horse which does not like to be balked by anything in
the shape of a wall.
Old Jonas Martin was a talker, and he talked freely about the
people for whom he worked. “Old Deacon Sears had a cow once
that would jump everything. Wa'n't a wall could be built that was
high enough to stop her,” he would say. “'Tain't no ways
clear to my mind that she ain't the identical critter that jumped the
moon;—and I swan if Mis' Jameson ain't like her. There ain't
nothin' that's goin' to stop her; she ain't goin' to be hendered by
any sech little things as times an' seasons an' frost from raisin'
corn an' green peas an' flowers in her garden. ‘The frost'll be
a-nippin' of 'em, marm,’ says I, ‘as soon as they come
up, marm.’ ‘I wish you to leave that to me, my good
man,’ says she. Law, she ain't a-goin' to hev any frost
a-nippin' her garden unless she's ready for it. And as for the
chickens, I wouldn't like to be in their shoes unless they hatch when
Mis' Jameson she wants 'em to. They have to do everything else she
wants 'em to, and I dunno but they'll come to time on that. They're
the fust fowls I ever see that a woman could stop
With that, old Jonas Martin would pause for a long cackle of
mirth, and his auditor would usually join him, for Mrs. Jameson's
hens were enough to awaken merriment, and no mistake. Louisa and I
could never see them without laughing enough to cry; and as for
little Alice, who, like most gentle, delicate children, was not often
provoked to immoderate laughter, she almost went into hysterics. We
rather dreaded to have her catch sight of the Jameson hens. There
were twenty of them, great, fat Plymouth Rocks, and every one of them
in shoes, which were made of pieces of thick cloth sewed into little
bags and tied firmly around the legs of the fowls, and they were
effectually prevented thereby from scratching up the garden seeds.
The gingerly and hesitating way in which these hens stepped around
the Jameson premises was very funny. It was quite a task for old
Jonas Martin to keep the hens properly shod, for the cloth buskins
had to be often renewed; and distressed squawkings amid loud volleys
of aged laughter indicated to us every day what was going on.
The Jamesons kept two Jersey cows, and Mrs. Jameson caused their
horns to be wound with strips of cloth terminating in large, soft
balls of the same, to prevent their hooking. When the Jamesons first
began farming, their difficulty in suiting themselves with cows
occasioned much surprise. They had their pick of a number of fine
ones, but invariably took them on trial, and promptly returned them
with the message that they were not satisfactory. Old Jonas always
took back the cows, and it is a question whether or not he knew what
the trouble was, and was prolonging the situation for his own
At last it came out. Old Jonas came leading back two fine Jerseys
to Sim White's, and he said, with a great chuckle: “Want to
know what ails these ere critters, Sim? Well, I'll tell ye: they
ain't got no upper teeth. The Jamesons ain't goin' to git took in
with no cows without no teeth in their upper jaws, you
That went the rounds of the village. Mrs. White was so sorry for
the Jamesons in their dilemma of ignorance of our rural wisdom that
she begged Sim to go over and persuade them that cows were created
without teeth in their upper jaw, and that the cheating, if cheating
there were, was done by Nature, and all men alike were victimized. I
suppose Mr. White must have convinced her, for they bought the cows;
but it must have been a sore struggle for Mrs. Jameson at least to
swallow instruction, for she had the confidence of an old farmer in
all matters pertaining to a farm.
She, however, did listen readily to one singular piece of
information which brought much ridicule upon them. She chanced to say
to Wilson Gregg, who is something of a wag, and had just sold the
Jamesons a nice little white pig, that she thought that ham was very
nice in alternate streaks of fat and lean, though she never ate it
herself, and only bought the pig for the sake of her mother, who had
old-fashioned tastes in her eating and would have pork, and she
thought that home-raised would be so much healthier.
“Why, bless you, ma'am,” said he, “if you want
your ham streaky all you have to do is to feed the pig one day and
starve him the next.”
The Jamesons tried this ingenious plan; then, luckily for the pig,
old Jonas, who had chuckled over it for a while, revealed the fraud
and put him on regular rations.
I suppose the performance of the Jamesons which amused the village
the most was setting their hens on hard-boiled eggs for sanitary
reasons. That seemed incredible to me at first, but we had it on good
authority—that of Hannah Bell, a farmer's daughter from the
West Corners, who worked for the Jamesons. She declared that she told
Mrs. Jameson that hens could not set to any purpose on boiled eggs;
but Mrs. Jameson had said firmly that they must set upon them or none
at all; that she would not have eggs about the premises so long
otherwise; she did not consider it sanitary. Finally, when the eggs
would not hatch submitted to such treatment, even at her command, she
was forced to abandon her position, though even then with conditions
of her surrender to Nature. She caused the nests to be well soaked
The Jamesons shut the house up the last of October and went back
to the city, and I think most of us were sorry. I was, and Louisa
said that she missed them.
Mrs. Jameson had not been what we call neighborly through the
summer, when she lived in the next house. Indeed, I think she never
went into any of the village houses in quite a friendly and equal
way, as we visit one another. Generally she came either with a view
toward improving us—on an errand of mercy as it were, which
some resented—or else upon some matter of business. Still we
had, after all, a kindly feeling for her, and especially for Grandma
Cobb and the girls, and the little meek boy. Grandma Cobb had
certainly visited us, and none of us were clever enough to find out
whether it was with a patronizing spirit or not. The extreme freedom
which she took with our houses, almost seeming to consider them as
her own, living in them some days from dawn till late at night, might
have indicated either patronage or the utmost democracy. We missed
her auburn-wigged head appearing in our doorways at all hours, and
there was a feeling all over the village as if company had gone
I missed Harriet more than any of them. During the last of the
time she had stolen in to see me quite frequently when she was
released from her mother's guardianship for a minute. None of our
village girls were kept as close as the Jamesons. Louisa and I used
to wonder whether Mrs. Jameson kept any closer ward because of Harry
Liscom. He certainly never went to the Jameson house. We knew that
either Mrs. Jameson had prohibited it, or his own mother. We thought
it must be Mrs. Jameson, for Harry had a will of his own, as well as
his mother, and was hardly the man to yield to her in a matter of
this kind without a struggle.
Though Harry did not go to the Jameson house, I, for one, used to
see two suspicious-looking figures steal past the house in the summer
evenings; but I said nothing. There was a little grove on the north
side of our house, and there was a bench under the trees. Often I
used to see a white flutter out there of a moonlight evening, and I
knew that Harriet Jameson had a little white cloak. Louisa saw it
too, but we said nothing, though we more than suspected that Harriet
must steal out of the house after her mother had gone to her room,
which we knew was early. Hannah Bell must know if that were the case,
but she kept their secret.
Louisa and I speculated as to what was our duty if we were
witnessing clandestine meetings, but we could never bring our minds
to say anything.
The night before the Jamesons left it was moonlight and there was
a hard frost, and I saw those young things stealing down the road for
their last stolen meeting, and I pitied them. I was afraid, too, that
Harriet would take cold in the sharp air. I thought she had on a thin
cloak. Then I did something which I never quite knew whether to blame
myself for or not. It did seem to me that, if the girl were a
daughter of mine, and would in any case have a clandestine meeting
with her lover, I should prefer it to be in a warm house rather than
in a grove on a frosty night. So I caught a shawl from the table, and
ran out to the front door, and called.
“Harry!” said I, “is that you?” They
started, and I suppose poor Harriet was horribly frightened; but I
tried to speak naturally, and as if the two being there together were
quite a matter of course.
“I wonder if it will be too much for me to ask of
you,” said I, when Harry had responded quite boldly with a
“Good-evening, Aunt Sophia”—he used to call me Aunt
when he was a child, and still kept it up—“I wonder if it
will be too much to ask if you two will just step in here a minute
while I run down to Mrs. Jones'? I want to get a pattern to use the
first thing in the morning. Louisa has gone to meeting, and I don't
like to leave Alice alone.”
They said they would be glad to come in, though, of course, with
not as much joy as they felt later, when they saw that I meant to
leave them to themselves for a time.
I stayed at Mrs. Jones' until I knew that Louisa would be home if
I waited any longer, and I thought, besides, that the young people
had been alone long enough. Then I went home. I suppose that they
were sorry to see me so soon, but they looked up at me very
gratefully when I bade them good-night and thanked them. I said quite
meaningly that it was a cold night and there would be a frost, and
Harriet must be careful and not take cold. I thought that would be
enough for Harry Liscom, unless being in love had altered him and
made him selfish. I did not think he would keep his sweetheart out,
even if it were his last chance of seeing her alone for so long, if
he thought she would get any harm by it, especially after he had
visited her for a reasonable length of time.
I was right in my opinion. They did not turn about directly and go
home—I did not expect that, of course—but they walked
only to the turn of the road the other way; then I saw them pass the
house, and presently poor Harry returned alone.
I did pity Harry Liscom when I met him on the street a few days
after the Jamesons had left. I guessed at once that he was missing
his sweetheart sorely, and had not yet had a letter from her. He
looked pale and downcast, though he smiled as he lifted his hat to
me, but he colored a little as if he suspected that I might guess his
I met him the next day, and his face was completely changed, all
radiant and glowing with the veritable light of youthful hope upon
it. He bowed to me with such a flash of joy in his smile that I felt
quite warmed by it, though it was none of mine. I thought, though I
said nothing, “Harry Liscom, you have had a letter.”
THEIR SECOND SUMMER
The Jamesons returned to Linnville the first of June. For some
weeks we had seen indications of their coming. All through April and
May repairs and improvements had been going on in their house. Some
time during the winter the Jamesons had purchased the old Wray place,
and we felt that they were to be a permanent feature in our
The old Wray house had always been painted white, with green
blinds, as were most of our village houses; now it was painted red,
with blinds of a darker shade. When Louisa and I saw its bright walls
through the budding trees we were somewhat surprised, but thought it
might look rather pretty when we became accustomed to it. Very few of
the neighbors agreed with us, however; they had been so used to
seeing the walls of their dwellings white that this startled them
almost as much as a change of color in their own faces would have
“We might as well set up for red Injuns and done with
it,” said Mrs. Gregg one afternoon at the sewing circle.
“What anybody can want anything any prettier than a neat white
house with green blinds for, is beyond me.”
Every month during the winter a letter had come to our literary
society in care of the secretary, who was my sister-in-law, Louisa
Field. Louisa was always secretary because she was a school-teacher
and was thought to have her hand in at that sort of work. Mrs.
Jameson wrote a very kind, if it was a somewhat patronizing, sort of
letter. She extended to us her very best wishes for our improvement
and the widening of our spheres, and made numerous suggestions which
she judged calculated to advance us in those respects. She
recommended selections from Robert Browning to be read at our
meetings, and she sent us some copies of explanatory and critical
essays to be used in connection with them. She also in March sent us
a copy of another lecture about the modern drama which she had
herself written and delivered before her current literature club.
With that she sent us some works of Ibsen and the Belgian writer,
Maeterlinck, with the recommendation that we devote ourselves to the
study of them at once, they being eminently calculated for the
widening of our spheres.
Flora Clark, who is the president of the society; Mrs. Peter
Jones, who is the vice-president; Louisa, and I, who am the
treasurer, though there is nothing whatever to treasure, held a
council over the books. We all agreed that while we were interested
in them ourselves, though they were a strange savor to our mental
palates, yet we would not read Mrs. Jameson's letter concerning them
to the society, nor advise the study of them.
“I, for one, don't like to take the responsibility of giving
the women of this village such reading,” said Flora Clark.
“It may be improving and widening, and it certainly is
interesting, and there are fine things in it, but it does not seem to
me that it would be wise to take it into the society when I consider
some of the members. I would just as soon think of asking them to tea
and giving them nothing but olives and Russian caviare, which, I
understand, hardly anybody likes at first. I never tasted them
myself. We know what the favorite diet of this village is; and as
long as we can eat it ourselves it seems to me it is safer than to
try something which we may like and everybody else starve on, and I
guess we haven't exhausted some of the older, simpler things, and
that there is some nourishment to be gotten out of them yet for all
of us. It is better for us all to eat bread and butter and pie than
for two or three of us to eat the olives and caviare, and the rest to
have to sit gnawing their forks and spoons.”
Mrs. Peter Jones, who is sometimes thought of for the president
instead of Flora, bridled a little. “I suppose you think that
these books are above the ladies of this village,” said
“I don't know as I think they are so much above as too far
to one side,” said Flora. “Sometimes it's longitude, and
sometimes it's latitude that separates people. I don't know but we
are just as far from Ibsen and Maeterlinck as they are from
Louisa and I thought Flora might be right. At all events, we did
not wish to set ourselves up in opposition to her. We never carried
the books into the society, and we never read Mrs. Jameson's letter
about them, though we did feel somewhat guilty, especially as we
reflected that Flora had never forgotten the affair of the jumbles,
and might possibly have allowed her personal feelings to influence
“I should feel very sorry,” said Louisa to me,
“if we were preventing the women of this village from improving
“Well, we can wait until next summer, and let Mrs. Jameson
take the responsibility. I don't want to be the means of breaking up
the society, for one,” said I.
However, when Mrs. Jameson finally arrived in June, she seemed to
be on a slightly different tack, so to speak, of improvement. She was
not so active in our literary society and our sewing circle as she
had been the summer before, but now, her own sphere having possibly
enlarged, she had designs upon the village in the abstract.
Hannah Bell came over from the West Corners to open the house for
them, and at five o'clock we saw the Grover stage rattle past with
their trunks on top, and Grandma Cobb and the girls and Cobb looking
out of the windows. Mrs. Jameson, being delicate, was, of course,
leaning back, exhausted with her journey. Jonas Martin, who had been
planting the garden, was out at the gate of the Wray house to help
the driver carry in the trunks, and Hannah Bell was there too.
Louisa and I had said that it seemed almost too bad not to have
some one of the village women go there and welcome them, but we did
not know how Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson might take it, and nobody dared
go. Mrs. White said that she would have been glad to make some of her
cream biscuits and send them over, but she knew that Mrs. Jameson
would not eat them, of course, and she did not know whether she would
like any of the others to, and might think it a liberty.
So nobody did anything but watch. It was not an hour after the
stage coach arrived before we saw Grandma Cobb coming up the road. We
did not know whether she was going to Amelia Powers', or Mrs. Jones',
or to our house; but she turned in at our gate.
We went to the door to meet her, and I must say she did seem glad
to see us, and we were glad to see her. In a very short time we knew
all that had happened in the Jameson family since they had left
Linnville, and with no urging, and with even some reluctance on our
part. It did not seem quite right for us to know how much Mrs.
Jameson had paid her dressmaker for making her purple satin, and
still less so for us to know that she had not paid for the making of
her black lace net and the girls' organdy muslins, though she had
been dunned three times. The knowledge was also forced upon us that
all these fine new clothes were left in New York, since the shabby
old ones must be worn out in the country, and that Harriet had cried
because she could not bring some of her pretty gowns with her.
“Her mother does not think that there is any chance of her
making a match here, and she had better save them up till next
winter. Dress does make so much difference in a girl's prospects, you
know,” said Grandma Cobb shrewdly.
I thought of poor Harry Liscom, and how sorry his little
sweetheart must have felt not to be able to show herself in her
pretty dresses to him. However, I was exceedingly glad to hear that
she had cried, because it argued well for Harry, and looked as if she
had not found another lover more to her mind in New York.
Indeed, Grandma Cobb informed us presently as to that.
“Harriet does not seem to find anybody,” said she.
“I suppose it is because H. Boardman lost his money; young men
are so careful nowadays.”
Grandma Cobb stayed to tea with us that night; our supper hour
came, and of course we asked her.
Grandma Cobb owned with the greatest frankness that she should
like to stay. “There isn't a thing to eat at our house but
hygienic biscuits and eggs,” said she. “My daughter wrote
Hannah not to cook anything until we came; Hannah would have made
some cake and pie, otherwise. I tell my daughter I have got so far
along in life without living on hygienic food, and I am not going to
begin. I want to get a little comfort out of the taste of my
victuals, and my digestion is as good as hers, in spite of all her
fussing. For my part,” continued Grandma Cobb, who had at times
an almost coarsely humorous method of expressing herself, “I
believe in not having your mind on your inwards any more than you can
possibly help. I believe the best way to get along with them is to
act as if they weren't there.”
After Grandma Cobb went home, as late as nine o'clock, I saw a
clinging, shadowy couple stroll past our house, and knew it was
Harriet Jameson and Harry, as did Louisa, and our consciences began
to trouble us again.
“I feel like a traitor to Caroline and to Mrs. Jameson
sometimes,” said I.
“Well, maybe that is better than to be traitor to true
love,” said Louisa, which did sound rather sentimental.
The next morning about eleven o'clock Mrs. Jameson came in, and we
knew at once that she was, so to speak, fairly rampant in the field
of improvement for our good, or rather the good of the village, for,
as I said before, she was now resolved upon the welfare of the
village at large, and not that of individuals or even societies.
“I consider that my own sphere has been widened this
winter,” said Mrs. Jameson, and Louisa and I regarded her with
something like terror. Flora Clark said, when she heard that remark
of Mrs. Jameson's, that she felt, for her part, as if a kicking horse
had got out of the pasture, and there was no knowing where he would
We supposed that it must be an evidence of Mrs. Jameson's own
advance in improvement that she had adopted such a singular costume,
according to our ideas. She was dressed no longer in the rich fabrics
which had always aroused our admiration, but, instead, wore a gown of
brown cloth cut short enough to expose her ankles, which were,
however, covered with brown gaiters made of cloth like her dress. She
wore a shirt-waist of brown silk, and a little cutaway jacket. Mrs.
Jameson looked as if she were attired for riding the wheel, but that
was a form of exercise to which she was by no means partial either
for herself or for her daughters. I could never understand just why
she was not partial to wheeling. Wheels were not as fashionable then
as now, but Mrs. Jameson was always quite up with, if not in advance
of, her age.
Neither of us admired her in this costume. Mrs. Jameson was very
stout, and the short skirt was not, to our way of thinking,
“Don't you think that I have adopted a very sensible and
becoming dress for country wear?” said she, and Louisa and I
did not know what to say. We did not wish to be untruthful and we
disliked to be impolite. Finally, Louisa said faintly that she
thought it must be very convenient for wear in muddy weather, and I
“Of course, you don't have to hold it up at all,” said
“It is the only costume for wear in the country,” said
Mrs. Jameson, “and I hope to have all the women in Linnville
wearing it before the summer is over.”
Louisa and I glanced at each other in dismay. I think that we both
had mental pictures of some of the women whom we knew in that
costume. Some of our good, motherly, village faces, with their
expressions of homely dignity and Christian decorousness, looking at
us from under that jaunty English walking-hat, in lieu of their sober
bonnets, presented themselves to our imaginations, and filled us with
amusement and consternation.
“Only think how Mrs. Sim White would look,” Louisa
said after Mrs. Jameson had gone, and we both saw Mrs. White going
down the street in that costume indicative of youthful tramps over
long stretches of road, and mad spins on wheels, instead of her nice,
softly falling black cashmere skirts covering decently her snowy
stockings and her cloth congress boots; and we shuddered.
“Of course, she would have to wear gaiters like Mrs.
Jameson,” said Louisa, “but it would be
“Well, there's one comfort,” said I; “Mrs. White
will never wear it.”
“Nor anybody else,” said Louisa.
Still we did feel a little nervous about it; there is never any
estimating the influence of a reformer. However, we were sure of
ourselves. Louisa and I agreed that we never would be seen out in any
such costume. Not very many in the village were. There were a few
women, who were under the influence of Mrs. Jameson, who did cut off
some of their old dresses and make themselves some leggings with hers
for a pattern. After their housework was done they started off for
long tramps with strides of independence and defiance, but they did
not keep it up very long; none of them after Mrs. Jameson went away.
To tell the truth, most of the women in our village had so much work
to do, since they kept no servants, that they could not take many
ten-mile walks, no matter what length skirts they wore. However, many
wore the short ones while doing housework, which was very
During that morning call, Mrs. Jameson, besides the reformed
costume, advocated another innovation which fairly took our breaths
away. She was going to beautify the village. We had always considered
the village beautiful as it was, and we bridled a little at that.
“There is scarcely a house in this village which is
overgrown with vines,” said she. “I am going to introduce
Louisa ventured to say that she thought vines very pretty, but she
knew some people objected to them on the score of spiders, and also
thought that they were bad for the paint. We poor, frugal village
folk have always to consider whether beauty will trespass on utility,
and consequently dollars and cents. There are many innocent slaves to
Mammon in our midst.
Mrs. Jameson sniffed in her intensely scornful way. “Spiders
and paint!” said she. “I am going to have the houses of
this village vine-clad. It is time that the people were educated in
“People won't like it if she does go to planting vines
around their houses without their permission, even if she does mean
well,” said Louisa after she had gone.
“She never will dare to without their permission,”
said I; but I wondered while I spoke, and Louisa laughed.
“Don't you be too sure of that,” said she—and
she was right.
Permission in a few cases Mrs. Jameson asked, and in the rest she
assumed. Old Jonas Martin ransacked the woods for
vines—clematis and woodbine—then he, with Mrs. Jameson to
superintend, set them out around our village houses. The calm
insolence of benevolence with which Mrs. Jameson did this was
inimitable. People actually did not know whether to be furious or
amused at this liberty taken with their property. They saw with
wonder Mrs. Jameson, with old Jonas following laden with vines and
shovel, also the girls and Cobb, who had been pressed, however
unwillingly, into service, tagging behind trailing with woodbine and
clematis; they stood by and saw their house-banks dug up and the
vines set, and in most cases said never a word. If they did
expostulate, Mrs. Jameson only directed Jonas where to put the next
vine, and assured the bewildered owner of the premises that he would
in time thank her.
However, old Jonas often took the irate individual aside for a
consolatory word. “Lord a-massy, don't ye worry,” old
Jonas would say, with a sly grin; “ye know well enough that
there won't a blamed one of the things take root without no sun an'
manure; might as well humor her long as she's sot on 't.”
Then old Jonas would wink slowly with a wink of ineffable humor.
There was no mistaking the fact that old Jonas was getting a deal of
solid enjoyment out of the situation. He had had a steady, hard grind
of existence, and was for the first time seeing the point of some of
those jokes of life for which his natural temperament had given him a
relish. He acquired in those days a quizzical cock to his right
eyebrow, and a comically confidential quirk to his mouth, which were
in themselves enough to provoke a laugh.
Mrs. Jameson, however, did not confine herself, in her efforts for
the wholesale decoration of our village, to the planting of vines
around our house-walls; and there were, in one or two cases, serious
When, thinking that corn-cockles and ox-eyed daisies would be a
charming combination at the sides of the country road, she caused
them to be sowed, and thereby introduced them into Jonas Green's
wheat-field, he expostulated in forcible terms, and threatened a suit
for damages; and when she caused a small grove of promising young
hemlocks to be removed from Eben Betts' woodland and set out in the
sandy lot in which the schoolhouse stands, without leave or license,
it was generally conceded that she had exceeded her privileges as a
I said at once there would be trouble, when Louisa came home and
told me about it.
“The school house looks as if it were set in a shady
grove,” said she, “and is ever so pretty. The worst of it
is, of course, the trees won't grow in that sand-hill.”
“The worst of it is, if she has taken those trees without
leave or license, as I suspect, Eben Betts will not take it as a
joke,” said I; and I was right.
Mr. H. Boardman Jameson had to pay a goodly sum to Eben Betts to
hush the matter up; and the trees soon withered, and were cut up for
firewood for the schoolhouse. People blamed old Jonas Martin somewhat
for his share of this transaction, arguing that he ought not to have
yielded to Mrs. Jameson in such a dishonest transaction, even in the
name of philanthropy; but he defended himself, saying: “It's
easy 'nough to talk, but I'd like to see any of ye stand up agin that
woman. When she gits headed, it's either git out from under foot or
git knocked over.”
Mrs. Jameson not only strove to establish improvements in our
midst, but she attacked some of our time-honored institutions, one
against which she directed all the force of her benevolent will being
our front doors. Louisa and I had always made free with our front
door, as had some others; but, generally speaking, people in our
village used their front doors only for weddings, funerals, and
parties. The side doors were thought to be good enough for ordinary
occasions, and we never dreamed, when dropping in for a neighborly
call, of approaching any other. Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson resolved to
do away with this state of things, and also with our sacred estimate
of the best parlors, which were scarcely opened from one year's end
to the other, and seemed redolent of past grief and joy, with no
dilution by the every-day occurrences of life. Mrs. Jameson
completely ignored the side door, marched boldly upon the front one,
and compelled the mistress to open it to her resolute knocks. Once
inside, she advanced straight upon the sacred precincts of the best
parlor, and seated herself in the chilly, best rocking-chair with the
air of one who usurps a throne, asking with her manner of sweet
authority if the blinds could not be opened and the sun let in, as it
felt damp to her, and she was very susceptible to dampness. It was
told, on good authority, that in some cases she even threw open the
blinds and windows herself while the person who admitted her was
calling other members of the family.
It was also reported that she had on several occasions marched
straight up to a house which she had no design of entering, thrown
open the parlor blinds, and admitted the sunlight, with its fading
influence, on the best carpet, and then proceeded down the street
with the bearing of triumphant virtue. It was related that in a
number of instances the indignant housewife, on entering her best
parlor, found that the sun had been streaming in there all day, right
on the carpet.
Mrs. Jameson also waged fierce war on another custom dear to the
average village heart, and held sacred, as everything should be which
is innocently dear to one's kind, by all who did not exactly approve
In many of our village parlors, sometimes in the guest-chambers,
when there had been many deaths in the family, hung the framed
coffin-plates and faded funeral wreaths of departed dear ones. Now
and then there was a wreath of wool flowers, a triumph of domestic
art, which encircled the coffin-plate instead of the original funeral
garland. Mrs. Jameson set herself to work to abolish this grimly
pathetic New England custom with all her might. She did everything
but actually tear them from our walls. That, even in her fiery zeal
of improvement, she did not quite dare attempt. She made them a
constant theme of conversation at sewing circle and during her
neighborly calls. She spoke of the custom quite openly as grewsome
and barbarous, but I must say without much effect. Mrs. Jameson found
certain strongholds of long-established customs among us which were
impregnable to open rancor or ridicule—and that was one of
them. The coffin-plates and the funeral wreaths continued to hang in
the parlors and chambers.
Once Flora Clark told Mrs. Jameson to her face, in the sewing
circle, when she had been talking for a good hour about the
coffin-plates, declaring them to be grewsome and shocking, that, for
her part, she did not care for them, did not have one in her
house—though every one of her relations were dead, and she
might have her walls covered with them—but she believed in
respecting those who did; and it seemed to her that, however much
anybody felt called upon to interfere with the ways of the living,
the relics of the dead should be left alone. Flora concluded by
saying that it seemed to her that if the Linnville folks let Mrs.
Jameson's bean-pots alone, she might keep her hands off their
Mrs. Jameson was quite unmoved even by that. She said that Miss
Clark did not realize, as she would do were her sphere wider, the
incalculable harm that such a false standard of art might do in a
community: that it might even pervert the morals.
“I guess if we don't have anything to hurt our morals any
worse than our coffin-plates, we shall do,” returned Flora. She
said afterward that she felt just like digging up some of her own
coffin-plates, and having them framed and hung up, and asking Mrs.
Jameson to tea.
All through June and a part of July Louisa and I had seen the
clandestine courtship between Harry Liscom and Harriet Jameson going
on. We could scarcely help it. We kept wondering why neither Caroline
Liscom nor Mrs. Jameson seemed aware of it. Of course, Mrs. Jameson
was so occupied with the village welfare that it might account for it
in her case, but we were surprised that Caroline was so blinded. We
both of us thought that she would be very much averse to the match,
from her well-known opinion of the Jamesons; and it proved that she
was. Everybody talked so much about Harry and his courtship of
Harriet that it seemed incredible that Caroline should not hear of
it, even if she did not see anything herself to awaken suspicion. We
did not take into consideration the fact that a strong-minded woman
like Caroline Liscom has difficulty in believing anything which she
does not wish to be true, and that her will stands in her own
However, on Wednesday of the second week of July both she and Mrs.
Jameson had their eyes opened perforce. It was a beautiful moonlight
evening, and Louisa and I were sitting at the windows looking out and
chatting peacefully. Little Alice had gone to bed, and we had not lit
the lamp, it was so pleasant in the moonlight. Presently, about
half-past eight o'clock, two figures strolled by, and we knew who
“It is strange to me that Grandma Cobb does not find it out,
if Mrs. Jameson is too wrapped up in her own affairs and with
grafting ours into them,” said Louisa thoughtfully.
I remarked that I should not be surprised if she did know; and it
turned out afterward that it was so. Grandma Cobb had known all the
time, and Harriet had gone through her room to get to the back
stairs, down which she stole to meet Harry.
The young couple had not been long past when a stout, tall figure
went hurriedly by with an angry flirt of skirts—short ones.
“Oh, dear, that is Mrs. Jameson!” cried Louisa.
We waited breathless. Harry and Harriet could have gone no farther
than the grove, for in a very short time back they all came, Mrs.
Jameson leading—almost pulling—along her daughter, and
Harry pressing close at her side, with his arm half extended as if to
protect his sweetheart. Mrs. Jameson kept turning and addressing him;
we could hear the angry clearness of her voice, though we could not
distinguish many words; and finally, when they were almost past we
saw poor Harriet also turn to him, and we judged that she, as well as
her mother, was begging him to go, for he directly caught her hand,
gave it a kiss, said something which we almost caught, to the effect
that she must not be afraid—he would take care that all came
out right—and was gone.
“Oh, dear,” sighed Louisa, and I echoed her. I did
pity the poor young things.
To our surprise, and also to our dismay, it was not long before we
saw Mrs. Jameson hurrying back, and she turned in at our gate.
Louisa jumped and lighted the lamp, and I set the rocking-chair
for Mrs. Jameson.
“No, I can't sit down,” said she, waving her hand.
“I am too much disturbed to sit down,” but even as she
said that she did drop into the rocking-chair. Louisa said afterward
that Mrs. Jameson was one who always would sit down during all the
vicissitudes of life, no matter how hard she took them.
Mrs. Jameson was very much disturbed; we had never seen her calm
superiority so shaken; it actually seemed as if she realized for once
that she was not quite the peer of circumstances, as Louisa said.
“I wish to inquire if you have known long of this shameful
clandestine love affair of my daughter's?” said she, and Louisa
and I were nonplussed. We did not know what to say. Luckily, Mrs.
Jameson did not wait for an answer; she went on to pour her grievance
into our ears, without even stopping to be sure whether they were
sympathizing ones or not.
“My daughter cannot marry into one of these village
families,” said she, without apparently the slightest
consideration of the fact that we were a village family. “My
daughter has been very differently brought up. I have other views for
her; it is impossible; it must be understood at once that I will not
Mrs. Jameson was still talking, and Louisa and I listening with
more of dismay than sympathy, when who should walk in but Caroline
She did not knock—she never does; she opened the door with
no warning whatsoever, and stood there.
Louisa turned pale, and I know I must have. I could not command my
voice, though I tried hard to keep calm.
I said “Good-morning,” when it should have been
“Good-evening,” and placed Alice's little chair, in which
she could not by any possibility sit, for Caroline.
“No, I don't want to sit down,” said Caroline, and she
kept her word better than Mrs. Jameson. She turned directly to the
latter. “I have just been over to your house,” said she,
“and they told me that you had come over here. I want to say
something to you, and that is, I don't want my son to marry your
daughter, and I will never give my consent to it, never,
Mrs. Jameson's face was a study. For a minute she had not a
word to say; she only gasped. Finally she spoke. “You can be no
more unwilling to have your son marry my daughter than I am to have
my daughter marry your son,” said she.
Then Caroline said something unexpected. “I would like to
know what you have against my son, as fine a young man as there is
anywhere about, I don't care who he is,” said she.
And Mrs. Jameson said something unexpected. “I should like
to inquire what you have against my daughter?” said she.
“Well, I'll tell you one thing,” returned Caroline;
“she doesn't know enough to keep a doll-baby's house, and she
Mrs. Jameson choked; it did not seem as if she could reply in her
usual manner to such a plain statement of objections. She and
Caroline glared at each other a minute; then to our great relief, for
no one wants her house turned into the seat of war, Caroline simply
repeated, “I shall never give my consent to have my son marry
your daughter,” and went out.
Mrs. Jameson did not stay long after that. She rose, saying that
her nerves were very much shaken, and that she felt it sad that all
her efforts for the welfare and improvement of the village should
have ended in this, and bade us a mournful good-evening and left.
Louisa and I had an impression that she held us in some way
responsible, and we could not see why, though I did reflect guiltily
how I had asked the lovers into my house that October night. Louisa
and I agreed that, take it altogether, we had never seen so much
mutual love and mutual scorn in two families.
The older one grows, the less one wonders at the sudden,
inconsequent turns which an apparently reasonable person will make in
a line of conduct. Still I must say that I was not prepared for what
Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson did in about a week after she had declared
that her daughter should never marry Harry Liscom: capitulated
entirely, and gave her consent.
It was Grandma Cobb who brought us the news, coming in one morning
before we had our breakfast dishes washed.
“My daughter told Harriet last night that she had written to
her father and he had no objections, and that she would withdraw hers
on further consideration,” said Grandma Cobb, with a curious,
unconscious imitation of Mrs. Jameson's calm state of manner. Then
she at once relapsed into her own. “My daughter says that she
is convinced that the young man is worthy, though he is not socially
quite what she might desire, and she does not feel it right to part
them if they have a true affection for each other,” said
Grandma Cobb. Then she added, with a shake of her head and a gleam of
malicious truth in her blue eyes: “That is not the whole of it;
Robert Browning was the means of bringing it about.”
“Robert Browning!” I repeated. I was bewildered, and
Louisa stared at me in a frightened way. She said afterward that she
thought for a minute that Grandma Cobb was out of her head.
But Grandma Cobb went on to explain. “Yes, my daughter seems
to look upon Robert Browning as if everything he said was written on
tables of stone,” said she; “and last night she had a
letter from Mrs. Addison Sears, who feels just the same way. My
daughter had written her about Harriet's love affair, and this was in
answer. Mrs. Sears dwelt a good deal upon Mr. Browning's own happy
marriage; and then she quoted passages; and my daughter became
convinced that Robert Browning would have been in favor of the
match,—and that settled it. My daughter proves things by
Browning almost the same way as people do by Scripture, it seems to
me sometimes. I am thankful that it has turned out so,” Grandma
Cobb went on to say, “for I like the young man myself; and as
for Harriet, her mind is set on him, and she's something like me:
once get her mind set on anybody, that's the end of it. My daughter
has got the same trait, but it works the contrary way: when she once
gets her mind set against anybody, that's the end of it unless Robert
Browning steps in to turn her.”
Louisa and I were heartily glad to hear of Mr. Browning's
unconscious intercession and its effect upon Mrs. Jameson, but we
wondered what Caroline Liscom would say.
“It will take more than passages of poetry to move
her,” said Louisa when Grandma Cobb had gone.
All we could do was to wait for developments concerning Caroline.
Then one day she came in and completely opened her heart to us with
that almost alarming frankness which a reserved woman often displays
if she does lose her self-restraint.
“I can't have it anyhow,” said Caroline Liscom; and I
must say I did pity her, though I had a weakness for little Harriet.
“I feel as if it would kill me if Harry marries that
girl—and I am afraid he will; but it shall never be with my
consent, and he shall never bring her to my house while I am in
Then Caroline went on to make revelations about Harriet which were
actually dire accusations from a New England housewife like her.
“It was perfectly awful the way her room looked while she
was at my house,” said Caroline; “and she doesn't know
how to do one thing about a house. She can't make a loaf of bread to
save her life, and she has no more idea how to sweep a room and dust
it than a baby. I had it straight from Hannah Bell that she dusted
her room and swept it afterward. Think of my boy, brought up the way
he has been, everything as neat as wax, if I do say it, and his
victuals always cooked nice, and ready when he wanted them, marrying
a girl like that. I can't and I won't have it. It's all very well
now, he's captivated by a pretty face; but wait a little, and he'll
find out there's something else. He'll find out there's comfort to be
considered as well as love. And she don't even know how to do plain
sewing. Only look at the bottoms of her dresses, with the braid
hanging; and I know she never mends her stockings—I had it from
the woman who washes them. Only think of my son, who has always had
his stockings mended as smooth as satin, either going with holes in
them, or else having them gathered up in hard bunches and getting
corns. I can't and I won't have it!”
Caroline finished all her remarks with that, setting her mouth
hard. It was evident that she was firm in her decision. I suggested
mildly that the girl had never been taught, and had always had so
much money that she was excusable for not knowing how to do all these
little things which the Linnville girls had been forced to do.
“I know all that,” said Caroline; “I am not
blaming her so much as I am her mother. She had better have stopped
reading Browning and improving her own mind and the village, and
improved her own daughter, so she could walk in the way Providence
has set for a woman without disgracing herself. But I am looking at
her as she is, without any question of blame, for the sake of my son.
He shall not marry a girl who don't know how to make his home
comfortable any better than she does—not if his mother can save
him from it.”
Louisa asked timidly—we were both of us rather timid,
Caroline was so fierce—if she did not think she could teach
“I don't know whether I can or not!” said Caroline.
“Anyway, I am not going to try. What kind of a plan would it be
for me to have her in the house teaching her, where Harry could see
her every day, and perhaps after all find out that it would not
amount to anything. I'd rather try to cure drink than make a good
housewife of a girl who hasn't been brought up to it. How do I know
it's in her? And there I would have her right under Harry's nose. She
shall never marry him; I can't and I won't have it.”
Louisa and I speculated as to whether Caroline would be able to
help it, when she had taken her leave after what seemed to us must
have been a most unsatisfactory call, with not enough sympathy from
us to cheer her.
“Harry Liscom has a will, as well as his mother, and he is a
man grown, and running the woollen factory on shares with his father,
and able to support a wife. I don't believe he is going to stop, now
the girl's mother has consented, because his mother tells him
to,” said Louisa; and I thought she was right.
That very evening Harry went past to the Jamesons, in his best
suit, carrying a cane, which he swung with the assured air of a young
man going courting where he is plainly welcome.
“I am glad for one thing,” said I, “and that is
there is no more secret strolling in my grove, but open sitting up in
her mother's parlor.”
Louisa looked at me a little uncertainly, and I saw that there was
something which she wanted to say and did not quite dare.
“What is it?” said I.
“Well,” said Louisa, hesitatingly, “I was
thinking that I supposed—I don't know that it would work at
all—maybe her mother wouldn't be willing, and maybe she
wouldn't be willing herself—but I was thinking that you were as
good a housekeeper as Caroline Liscom, and—you might have the
girl in here once in a while and teach her.”
“I will do it,” said I at once,—“if I can,
I found out that I could. The poor child was only too glad to come
to my house and take a few lessons in housekeeping. I waylaid her
when she was going past one day, and broached the subject delicately.
I said it was a good idea for a young girl to learn as much as she
could about keeping a house nice before she had one of her own, and
Harriet blushed as red as a rose and thanked me, and arranged to come
for her first lesson the very next morning. I got a large gingham
apron for her, and we began. I gave her a lesson in bread-making that
very day, and found her an apt pupil. I told her that she would make
a very good housekeeper—I should not wonder if as good as Mrs.
Liscom, who was, I considered, the best in the village; and she
blushed again and kissed me.
Louisa and I had been a little worried as to what Mrs. Jameson
would say; but we need not have been. Mrs. Jameson was strenuously
engaged in uprooting poison-ivy vines, which grew thickly along the
walls everywhere in the village. I must say it seemed Scriptural to
me, and made me think better in one way of Mrs. Jameson, since it did
require considerable heroism.
Luckily, old Martin was one of the few who are exempt from the
noxious influence of poison-ivy, and he pulled up the roots with
impunity, but I must say without the best success. Poison-ivy is a
staunch and persistent thing, and more than a match for Mrs. Jameson.
She suffered herself somewhat in the conflict, and went about for
some time with her face and hands done up in castor-oil, which we
consider a sovereign remedy for poison-ivy. Cobb, too, was more or
less a victim to his mother's zeal for uprooting noxious weeds.
It was directly after the poison-ivy that Mrs. Jameson made what
may be considered her grand attempt of the season. All at once she
discovered what none of the rest of us had thought of—I suppose
we must have been lacking in public feeling not to have done
so—that our village had been settled exactly one hundred years
ago that very August.
Mrs. Jameson came into our house with the news on the
twenty-seventh day of July. She had just found it out in an old book
which had been left behind and forgotten in the garret of the Wray
“We must have a centennial, of course,” said she
Louisa and I stared at her. “A centennial!” said I
feebly. I think visions of Philadelphia, and exhibits of the products
of the whole world in our fields and cow-pastures, floated through my
mind. Centennial had a stupendous sound to me, and Louisa said
afterward it had to her.
“How would you make it?” asked Louisa vaguely of Mrs.
Jameson, as if a centennial were a loaf of gingerbread.
Mrs. Jameson had formed her plans with the rapidity of a great
general on the eve of a forced battle. “We will take the oldest
house in town,” said she promptly. “I think that it is
nearly as old as the village, and we will fit it up as nearly as
possible like a house of one hundred years ago, and we will hold our
“Let me see, the oldest house is the Shaw house,” said
“Why, Emily Shaw is living there,” said Louisa in
“We shall make arrangements with her,” returned Mrs.
Jameson, with confidence. She looked around our sitting-room, and
eyed our old-fashioned highboy, of which we are very proud, and an
old-fashioned table which becomes a chair when properly manipulated.
“Those will be just the things to go in one of the
rooms,” said she, without so much as asking our leave.
“Emily Shaw's furniture will have to be put somewhere if so
many other things are to be moved in,” suggested Louisa
timidly; but Mrs. Jameson dismissed that consideration with merely a
wave of her hand.
“I think that Mrs. Simeon White has a swell-front bureau and
an old looking-glass which will do very well for one of the
chambers,” she went on to say, “and Miss Clark has a
mahogany table.” Mrs. Jameson went on calmly enumerating
articles of old-fashioned furniture which she had seen in our village
houses which she considered suitable to be used in the Shaw house for
“I don't see how Emily Shaw is going to live there while all
this is going on,” remarked Louisa in her usual deprecatory
tone when addressing Mrs. Jameson.
“I think we may be able to leave her one room,” said
Mrs. Jameson; and Louisa and I fairly gasped when we reflected that
Emily Shaw had not yet heard a word of the plan.
“I don't know but Emily Shaw will put up with it, for she is
pretty meek,” said Louisa when Mrs. Jameson had gone hurrying
down the street to impart her scheme to others; “but it is
lucky for Mrs. Jameson that Flora Clark hasn't the oldest house in
I said I doubted if Flora would even consent to let her furniture
be displayed in the centennial; but she did. Everybody consented to
everything. I don't know whether Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson had really
any hypnotic influence over us, or whether we had a desire for the
celebration, but the whole village marshalled and marched to her
orders with the greatest docility. All our cherished pieces of old
furniture were loaded into carts and conveyed to the old Shaw
The centennial was to be held the tenth day of August, and there
was necessarily quick work. The whole village was in an uproar; none
of us who had old-fashioned possessions fairly knew where we were
living, so many of them were in the Shaw house; we were short of
dishes and bureau drawers, and counterpanes and curtains. Mrs.
Jameson never asked for any of these things; she simply took them as
by right of war, and nobody gainsaid her, not even Flora Clark.
However, poor Emily Shaw was the one who displayed the greatest
meekness under provocation. The whole affair must have seemed
revolutionary to her. She was a quiet, delicate little woman, no
longer young. She did not go out much, not even to the sewing circle
or the literary society, and seemed as fond of her home as an animal
of its shell—as if it were a part of her. Old as her house was,
she had it fitted up in a modern, and, to our village ideas, a very
pretty fashion. Emily was quite well-to-do. There were nice tapestry
carpets on all the downstairs floors, lace curtains at the windows,
and furniture covered with red velvet in the parlor. She had also had
the old fireplaces covered up and marble slabs set. There was
handsome carved black walnut furniture in the chambers; and taken
altogether, the old Shaw house was regarded as one of the best
furnished in the village. Mrs. Sim White said she didn't know as she
wondered that Emily didn't like to go away from such nice things.
Now every one of these nice things was hustled out of sight to
make room for the pieces of old-fashioned furniture. The tapestry
carpets were taken up and stowed away in the garrets, the lace
curtains were pulled down. In their stead were the old sanded bare
floors and curtains of homespun linen trimmed with hand-knitted lace.
Emily's nice Marseilles counterpanes were laid aside for the old
blue-and-white ones which our grandmothers spun and wove, and her
fine oil paintings gave way to old engravings of Webster death-bed
scenes and portraits of the Presidents, and samplers. Emily was left
one room to herself—a little back chamber over the
kitchen—and she took her meals at Flora Clark's, next door. She
was obliged to do that, for her kitchen range had been taken down,
and there was only the old fireplace furnished with kettles and crane
to cook in.
“I suppose my forefathers used to get all their meals
there,” said poor Emily Shaw, who has at all times a gentle,
sad way of speaking, and then seemed on the verge of uncomplaining
tears, “but I don't quite feel competent to undertake it now.
It looks to me as if the kettles might be hard to lift.” Emily
glanced at her hands and wrists as she spoke. Emily's hands and arms
are very small and bony, as she is in her general construction,
though she is tall.
The little chamber which she inhabited during the preparation for
the centennial was very hot in those midsummer days, and her face was
always suffused with a damp pink when she came out of it; but she
uttered no word of complaint, not even when they took down her marble
slabs and exposed the yawning mouths of the old fireplaces again. All
she said was once in a deprecatory whisper to me, to the effect that
she was a little sorry to have strangers see her house looking so,
but she supposed it was interesting.
We expected a number of strangers. Mrs. Sim White's brother, who
had gone to Boston when he was a young man and turned out so smart,
being the head of a large dry-goods firm, was coming, and was to make
a speech; and Mr. Elijah M. Mills, whose mother's people came from
Linnville, was to be there, as having a hereditary interest in the
village. Of course, everybody knows Elijah M. Mills. He was to make a
speech. Mrs. Lucy Beers Wright, whose aunt on her father's side, Miss
Jane Beers, used to live in Linnville before she died, was to come
and read some selections from her own works. Mrs. Lucy Beers Wright
writes quite celebrated stories, and reads them almost better than
she writes them. She has enormous prices, too, but she promised to
come to the centennial and read for nothing; she used to visit her
aunt in Linnville when she was a girl, and wrote that she had a
sincere love for the dear old place. Mrs. Jameson said that we were
very fortunate to get her.
Mrs. Jameson did not stop, however, at celebrities of local
traditions; she flew higher still. She wrote the Governor of the
State, inviting him to be present, and some of us were never quite
certain that she did not invite the President of the United States.
However, if she had done so, it seemed incredible that since he was
bidden by Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson he neither came nor wrote a
letter. The Governor of the State did not come, but he wrote a very
handsome letter, expressing the most heartfelt disappointment that he
was unable to be present on such an occasion; and we all felt very
sorry for him when we heard it read. Mrs. Sim White said that a
governor's life must be a hard one, he must have to deny himself many
pleasures. Our minister, the Rev. Henry P. Jacobs, wrote a long poem
to be read on the occasion; it was in blank verse like Young's
“Night Thoughts,” and some thought he had imitated it;
but it was generally considered very fine, though we had not the
pleasure of hearing it at the centennial—why, I will explain
There was to be a grand procession, of course, illustrative of the
arts, trades, and professions in our village a hundred years ago and
at the present time, and Mrs. Jameson engineered that. I never saw a
woman work as she did. Louisa and I agreed that she could not be so
very delicate after all. She had a finger in everything except the
cooking; that she left mostly to the rest of us, though she did break
over in one instance to our sorrow. We made pound-cake, and cupcake,
and Indian puddings, and pies, and we baked beans enough for a
standing army. Of course, the dinner was to be after the fashion of
one of a hundred years ago. The old oven in the Shaw kitchen was to
be heated, and Indian puddings and pies baked in it; but that would
not hold enough for such a multitude as we expected, so we all baked
at home—that is, all except Caroline Liscom. She would not bake
a thing because Mrs. Jameson got up the centennial, and she declared
that she would not go. However, she changed her mind, which was
fortunate enough as matters afterward transpired.
The tenth of August, which was the one hundredth anniversary of
the settlement of our village, dawned bright and clear, for which we
were thankful, though it was very hot. The exercises were to begin at
eleven o'clock in the morning with the procession. We were to
assemble at the old Shaw house at half-past twelve; the dinner was to
be at half-past one, after an hour of social intercourse which would
afford people an opportunity of viewing the house, and a few of us an
opportunity of preparing the dinner. After dinner were to be the
speeches and readings, which must be concluded in season for the
out-of-town celebrities to take the Grover stage-coach to connect
with the railroad train.
By eight o'clock people began to arrive from other villages, and
to gather on the street corners to view the procession. It was the
very first procession ever organized in our village, and we were very
proud of it. For the first time Mrs. Jameson began to be regarded
with real gratitude and veneration as a local benefactress. We told
all the visitors that Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson got up the centennial,
and we were proud that she was one of us when we saw her driving past
in the procession. We thought it exceedingly appropriate that the
Jamesons—Mr. Jameson had come on from New York for the
occasion—should ride in the procession with the minister and
the lawyer in a barouche from Grover. Barouches seemed that day to be
illustrative of extremest progress in carriages, in contrast with the
old Linnville and Wardville stage-coaches, and the old chaise and
doctor's sulky, all of which had needed to be repaired with infinite
care, and were driven with gingerly foresight, lest they fall to
pieces on the line of march. We really pitied the village doctor in
the aged sulky, for it seemed as if he might have to set a bone for
himself by reason of the sudden and total collapse of his vehicle.
Mrs. Jameson had decreed that he should ride in it, however, and
there was no evading her mandate.
Mrs. Jameson looked very imposing in her barouche, and we were
glad that she wore one of her handsome black silks instead of her
sensible short costume. There was a good deal of jet about the waist,
and her bonnet was all made of jet, with a beautiful tuft of pink
roses on the front, and she glittered resplendently as she rode past,
sitting up very straight, as befitted the dignity of the
“That is Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson,” said we, and we
mentioned incidentally that the gentleman beside her was Mr. Jameson.
We were not as proud of him, since all that he had done which we knew
of was to lose all his money and have his friends get him a place in
the custom-house; he was merely a satellite of his wife, who had
gotten up our centennial.
Words could not express the admiration which we all felt for the
procession. It was really accomplished in a masterly manner,
especially taking into consideration the shortness of the time for
preparation; but that paled beside the wonders of the old Shaw house.
I was obliged to be in the kitchen all during that hour of inspection
and social intercourse, but I could hear the loud bursts of
admiration. The house seemed full of exclamation-points. Flora Clark
said for her part she could not see why folks could not look at a
thing and think it was pretty without screaming; but she was tired,
and probably a little vexed at herself for working so hard when Mrs.
Jameson had gotten up the centennial. It was very warm in the
kitchen, too, for Mrs. Jameson had herself started the hearth fire in
order to exemplify to the utmost the old custom. The kettles on the
crane were all steaming. Flora Clark said it was nonsense to have a
hearth-fire on such a hot day because our grandmothers were obliged
to, but she was in the minority. Most of the ladies were inclined to
follow Mrs. Jameson's lead unquestionably on that occasion. They even
exclaimed admiringly over two chicken pies which she brought, and
which I must say had a singular appearance. The pastry looked very
hard and of a curious leaden color. Mrs. Jameson said that she made
them herself out of whole wheat, without shortening, and she
evidently regarded them as triumphs of wholesomeness and culinary
skill. She furthermore stated that she had remained up all night to
bake them, which we did not doubt, as Hannah Bell, her help, had been
employed steadily in the old Shaw house. Mrs. Jameson had cut the
pies before bringing them, which Flora Clark whispered was necessary.
“I know that she had to cut them with a hatchet and a
hammer,” whispered she; and really when we came to try them
later it did not seem so unlikely. I never saw such pastry, anything
like the toughness and cohesiveness of it; the chicken was not
seasoned well, either. We could eat very little; with a few
exceptions, we could do no more than taste of it, which was
I may as well mention here that the few greedy individuals, who I
fancy frequent all social functions with an undercurrent of
gastronomical desire for their chief incentive, came to grief by
reason of Mrs. Jameson's chicken pies. She baked them without that
opening in the upper crust which, as every good housewife knows, is
essential, and there were dire reports of sufferings in consequence.
The village doctor, after his precarious drive in the ancient sulky,
had a night of toil. Caleb—commonly called Kellup—Bates,
and his son Thomas, were the principal sufferers, they being
notorious eaters and the terrors of sewing-circle suppers. Flora
Clark confessed to me that she was relieved when she saw them out
again, since she had passed the pies to them three times, thinking
that such devourers would stop at nothing and she might as well save
the delicacies for the more temperate.
We were so thankful that none of the out-of-town celebrities ate
Mrs. Jameson's chicken pies, since they had a rather unfortunate
experience as it was. The dinner was a very great success, and Flora
Clark said to me that if people a hundred years ago ate those hearty,
nourishing victuals as these people did, she didn't wonder that the
men had strength to found a Republic, but she did wonder how the
women folks who had to cook for them had time and strength to
After dinner the speechifying began. The Rev. Henry P. Jacobs made
the opening address; we had agreed that he should be invited to do
so, since he was the minister. He asked the blessing before we began
to eat, and made the opening address afterward. Mr. Jacobs is
considered a fine speaker, and he is never at a loss for ideas. We
all felt proud of him as he stood up and began to speak of the state
of the Linnville church a hundred years ago, and contrasted those
days of fireless meeting-houses with the comforts of the sanctuary at
the present time. He also had a long list of statistics. I began at
last to feel a little uneasy lest he might read his poem, and so rob
the guests who were to speak of their quotas of time. Louisa said she
thought he was intending to, but she saw Mrs. Jameson whisper to her
husband, who immediately tiptoed around to him with a scared and
important look, and said something in a low voice. Then the minister,
with a somewhat crestfallen air, curtailed his remarks, saying
something about his hoping to read a poem a little later on that
auspicious occasion, but that he would now introduce Mrs. H. Boardman
Jameson, to whom they were all so much indebted.
Mrs. Jameson arose and bowed to the company, and adjusted her
eyeglasses. Her jets glittered, her eyes shone with a commanding
brightness, and she really looked very imposing. After a few words,
which even Flora Clark acknowledged were very well chosen, she read
the Governor's letter with great impressiveness. Then she went on to
read other letters from people who were noteworthy in some way and
had some association with the village. Flora Clark said that she
believed that Mrs. Jameson had written to every celebrity whose
grandfather ever drove through Linnville. She did have a great many
letters from people who we were surprised to hear had ever heard of
us, and they were very interesting. Still it did take time to read
them; and after she had finished them all, Mrs. Jameson commenced to
speak on her own account. She had some notes which she consulted
unobtrusively from time to time. She dwelt mainly upon the vast
improvement for the better in our condition during the last hundred
years. She mentioned in this connection Robert Browning, the benefit
of whose teaching was denied our ancestors of a hundred years ago.
She also mentioned hygienic bread as a contrast to the heavy,
indigestible masses of corn-meal concoctions and the hurtful richness
of pound-cake. Mrs. Jameson galloped with mild state all her little
hobbies for our delectation, and the time went on. We had sat very
long at dinner; it was later than we had planned when the
speechifying began. Mrs. Jameson did not seem to be in the least
aware of the flight of time as she peacefully proceeded; nor did she
see how we were all fidgeting. Still, nobody spoke to her; nobody
quite dared, and then we thought every sentence would be her
The upshot of it was that the Grover stage-coach arrived, and Mrs.
Sim White's brother, Elijah M. Mills, and Mrs. Lucy Beers Wright,
besides a number of others of lesser fame, were obliged to leave
without raising their voices, or lose their trains, which for such
busy people was not to be thought of. There was much subdued
indignation and discomfiture among us, and I dare say among the
guests themselves. Mrs. Lucy Beers Wright was particularly haughty,
even to Mrs. Sim White, who did her best to express her regret
without blaming Mrs. Jameson. As for Elijah M. Mills, Louisa said she
heard him say something which she would not repeat, when he was
putting on his hat. He is a fine speaker, and noted for the witty
stories which he tells; we felt that we had missed a great deal. I
must say, to do her justice, that Mrs. Jameson seemed somewhat
perturbed, and disposed to be conciliating when she bade the guests
good-by; she was even apologetic in her calmly superior way.
However, the guests had not been gone long before something
happened to put it all out of our minds for the time. The Rev. Henry
P. Jacobs had just stood up again, with a somewhat crestfallen air,
to read his poem—I suppose he was disappointed to lose the more
important part of his audience—when there was a little scream,
and poor Harriet Jameson was all in a blaze. She wore a white muslin
dress, and somehow it had caught—I suppose from a spark; she
had been sitting near the hearth, though we had thought the fire was
out. Harry Liscom made one spring for her when he saw what had
happened; but he had not been very near her, and a woman was before
him. She caught up the braided rug from the floor, and in a second
Harriet was borne down under it, and then Harry was there with his
coat, and Sim White, and the fire was out. Poor Harriet was not much
hurt, only a few trifling burns; but if it had not been for the woman
she might easily have gotten her death, and our centennial ended in a
It had all been done so quickly that we had not fairly seen who
the woman who snatched up the rug was, but when the fire was out we
knew: Caroline Liscom. She was somewhat burned herself, too, but she
did not seem to mind that at all. She was, to our utter
surprise—for we all knew how she had felt about Harry's
marrying Harriet—cuddling the girl in her motherly arms, the
sleeves of her best black grenadine being all scorched, too, and
telling her that she must not be frightened, the fire was all out,
and calling her my dear child, and kissing her. I, for one, never
knew that Caroline Liscom could display so much warmth of love and
pity, and that toward a girl whom she was determined her son should
not marry, and before so many. I suppose when she saw the poor child
all in a blaze, and thought she would be burned to death, her heart
smote her, and she felt that she would do anything in the world if
she only lived.
Harry Liscom was as white as a sheet. Once or twice he tried to
push his mother away, as if he wished to do the comforting and
cuddling himself; but she would not have it. “Poor child! poor
child!” she kept repeating; “it's all over, don't be
frightened,” as if Harriet had been a baby.
Then Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson came close to Caroline Liscom, and
tears were running down her cheeks quite openly. She did not even
have out her handkerchief, and she threw her arms right around the
other woman who had saved her daughter. “God bless you! Oh, God
bless you!” she said; then her voice broke and she sobbed out
loud. I think a good many of us joined her. As for Caroline Liscom,
she sort of pushed Harriet toward her son, and then she threw her
poor, scorched arms around Mrs. H. Boardman Jameson and kissed her.
“Oh, let us both thank God!” sobbed Caroline.
As soon as we got calm enough we took Harriet upstairs; her pretty
muslin was fluttering around her in yellow rags, and the slight burns
needed attention; she was also exhausted with the nervous shock, and
was trembling like a leaf, her cheeks white and her eyes big with
terror. Caroline Liscom and her mother came too, and Caroline
concealed her burns until Harriet's were dressed. Luckily, the doctor
was there. Then Harriet was induced to lie down on the north chamber
bed on the old blue-and-white counterpane that Mrs. Sim White's
mother spun and wove.
Rev. Henry P. Jacobs did not read his poem; we were too much
perturbed to listen to it, and nobody mentioned it to him. Flora
Clark whispered to me that if he began she should go home; for her
part, she felt as if she had gone through enough that day without
poetry. The poem was delivered by special request at our next sewing
circle, but I think the minister was always disappointed, though he
strove to bear it with Christian grace. However, within three months
he had to console him a larger wedding fee than often falls to a
minister in Linnville.
The centennial dissolved soon after the burning accident. There
was nothing more to do but to put the Shaw house to rights again and
restore the various articles to their owners, which, of course, could
not be done that day, nor for many days to come. I think I never
worked harder in my life than I did setting things to rights after
our centennial; but I had one consolation through it, and that was
the happiness of the two young things, who had had indirectly their
love tangle smoothed out by it.
Caroline Liscom and Mrs. Jameson were on the very best of terms,
and Harriet was running over to Caroline's house to take lessons in
housekeeping, instead of to mine, before the week was out.
There was a beautiful wedding the last of October, and young Mrs.
Harry Liscom has lived in our midst ever since, being considered one
of the most notable housekeepers in the village for her age. She and
her husband live with Caroline Liscom, and Louisa says sometimes that
she believes Caroline loves the girl better than she does her own
son, and that she fairly took her into her heart when she saved her
“Some women can't love anybody except their own very much
unless they can do something for them,” says Louisa; and I
don't know but she is right.
The Jamesons are still with us every summer—even Grandma
Cobb, who does not seem to grow feeble at all. Sarah is growing to be
quite a pretty girl, and there is a rumor that Charlie White is
attentive to her, though they are both almost too young to think of
such things. Cobb is a very nice boy, and people say they had as soon
have him come in and sit a while and talk, as a girl. As for Mrs.
Jameson, she still tries to improve us at times, not always with our
full concurrence, and her ways are still not altogether our ways,
provoking mirth, or calling for charity. Yet I must say we have
nowadays a better understanding of her good motives, having had
possibly our spheres enlarged a little by her, after all, and having
gained broader views from the points of view of people outside our
narrow lives. I think we most of us are really fond of Mrs. H.
Boardman Jameson, and are very glad that the Jamesons came to our