The Green Door
Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman
Mary R. Bassett
Dodd, Mead & Company
Letitia lived in the same house where her grandmother and her
great-grandmother had lived and died. Her own parents died when she
was very young, and she had come there to live with her Great-aunt
Peggy. Her Great-aunt Peggy was her grandfather's sister, and was a
very old woman. However, she was very active and bright, and good
company for Letitia. That was fortunate, because there were no little
girls of Letitia's age nearer than a mile. The one maid-servant whom
Aunt Peggy kept was older than she, and had chronic rheumatism in the
right foot and left shoulder-blade, which affected her temper.
Letitia's Great-aunt Peggy used to play grace-hoops with her, and
dominoes and checkers, and even dolls. Sometimes it was hard for
Letitia to realize that she was not another little girl. Her Aunt
Peggy was very kind to her and fond of her, and took care of her as
well as her own mother could have done. Letitia had all the care and
comforts and pleasant society that she really needed, but she was not
a very contented little girl. She was naturally rather idle, and her
Aunt Peggy, who was a wise old woman and believed thoroughly in the
proverb about Satan and idle hands, would keep her always busy at
If she were not playing, she had to sew or study or dust, or read
a stent in a story-book. Letitia had very nice story-books, but she
was not particularly fond of reading. She liked best of anything to
sit quite idle, and plan what she would like to do if she could have
her wish—and that her Aunt Peggy would not allow.
Letitia was not satisfied with her dolls and little treasures. She
wanted new ones. She wanted fine clothes like one little girl, and
plenty of candy like another. When Letitia went to school she always
came home more dissatisfied. She wanted her room newly furnished, and
thought the furniture in the whole house very shabby. She disliked to
rise so early in the morning. She did not like to take a walk every
day, and besides everything else to make her discontented, there was
the little green door, which she must never open and pass
The house where Letitia lived was, of course, a very old one. It
had a roof, saggy and mossy, gray shingles in the walls, lilac bushes
half hiding the great windows, and a well-sweep in the yard. It was
quite a large house, and there were sheds and a great barn attached
to it, but they were all on the side. At the back of the house the
fields stretched away for acres, and there were no outbuildings. The
little green door was at the very back of the house, toward the
fields, in a room opening out of the kitchen. It was called the
cheese-room, because Letitia's grandmother, who had made cheeses, had
kept them there. She fancied she could smell cheese, though none had
been there for years, and it was used now only for a lumber-room. She
always sniffed hard for cheese, and then she eyed the little green
door with wonder and longing. It was a small green door, scarcely
higher than her head. A grown person could not have passed through
without stooping almost double. It was very narrow, too, and no one
who was not slender could have squeezed through it. In this door
there was a little black keyhole, with no key in it, but it was
always locked. Letitia knew that her Aunt Peggy kept the key in some
very safe place, but she would never show it to her, nor unlock the
“It is not best for you, my dear,” she always replied,
when Letitia teased her; and when Letitia begged only to know why she
could not go out of the door, she made the same reply, “It is
not best for you, my dear.”
Sometimes, when Aunt Peggy was not by, Letitia would tease the old
maid-servant about the little green door, but she always seemed both
cross and stupid, and gave her no satisfaction. She even seemed to
think there was no little green door there; but that was nonsense,
because Letitia knew there was. Her curiosity grew greater and
greater; she took every chance she could get to steal into the
cheese-room and shake the door softly, but it was always locked. She
even tried to look through the key-hole, but she could see nothing.
One thing puzzled her more than all, and that was that the little
green door was on the inside of the house only, and not on the
outside. When Letitia went out in the field behind the house, there
was nothing but the blank wall to be seen. There was no sign of a
door in it. But the cheese-room was certainly the last room in the
house, and the little green door was in the rear wall. When Letitia
asked her Great-aunt Peggy to explain that, she only got the same
“It is not best for you to know, my dear.”
Letitia studied the little green door more than she studied her
lesson-books, but she never got any nearer the solution of the
mystery, until one Sunday morning in January. It was a very cold day,
and she had begged hard to stay home from church. Her Aunt Peggy and
the maid-servant, old as they were, were going, but Letitia shivered
and coughed a little and pleaded, and finally had her own way.
“But you must sit down quietly,” charged Aunt Peggy,
“and you must learn your texts, to repeat to me when I get
After Aunt Peggy and the old servant, in their great cloaks and
bonnets and fur tippets, had gone out of the yard and down the road,
Letitia sat quiet for fifteen minutes or so, hunting in the Bible for
easy texts; then suddenly she thought of the little green door, and
wondered, as she had done so many times before, if it could possibly
be opened. She laid down her Bible and stole out through the kitchen
to the cheese-room and tried the door. It was locked just as usual.
“Oh, dear!” sighed Letitia, and was ready to cry. It
seemed to her that this little green door was the very worst of all
her trials; that she would rather open that and see what was beyond
than have all the nice things she wanted and had to do without.
Suddenly she thought of a little satin-wood box with a picture on
the lid which Aunt Peggy kept in her top bureau-drawer. Letitia had
often seen this box, but had never been allowed to open it.
“I wonder if the key can be in that box,” said
She did not wait a minute. She was so naughty that she dared not
wait for fear she should remember that she ought to be good. She ran
out of the cheese-room, through the kitchen and sitting-room, to her
aunt's bedroom, and opened the bureau drawer, and then the satin-wood
box. It contained some bits of old lace, an old brooch, a yellow
letter, some other things which she did not examine, and, sure
enough, a little black key on a green ribbon.
Letitia had not a doubt that it was the key of the little green
door. She trembled all over, she panted for breath, she was so
frightened, but she did not hesitate. She took the key and ran back
to the cheese-room. She did not stop to shut the satin-wood box or
the bureau drawer. She was so cold and her hands shook so that she
had some difficulty in fitting the key into the lock of the little
green door; but at last she succeeded, and turned it quite easily.
Then, for a second, she hesitated; she was almost afraid to open the
door; she put her hand on the latch and drew it back. It seemed to
her, too, that she heard strange, alarming sounds on the other side.
Finally, with a great effort of her will, she unlatched the little
green door, and flung it open and ran out.
Then she gave a scream of surprise and terror, and stood still
staring. She did not dare stir nor breathe. She was not in the open
fields which she had always seen behind the house. She was in the
midst of a gloomy forest of trees so tall that she could just see the
wintry sky through their tops. She was hemmed in, too, by a wide,
hooping undergrowth of bushes and brambles, all stiff with snow.
There was something dreadful and ghastly about this forest, which had
the breathless odor of a cellar. And suddenly Letitia heard again
those strange sounds she had heard before coming out, and she knew
that they were savage whoops of Indians, just as she had read about
them in her history-book, and she saw also dark forms skulking about
behind the trees, as she had read.
Then Letitia, wild with fright, turned to run back into the house
through the little green door, but there was no little green door,
and, more than that, there was no house. Nothing was to be seen but
the forest and a bridle-path leading through it.
Letitia gasped. She could not believe her eyes. She ran out into
the path and down it a little way, but there was no house. The
dreadful yells sounded nearer. She looked wildly at the undergrowth
beside the path, wondering if she could hide under that, when
suddenly she heard a gun-shot and the tramp of a horse's feet. She
sprang aside just as a great horse, with a woman and two little girls
on his back, came plunging down the bridle-path and passed her. Then
there was another gun-shot, and a man, with a wide cape flying back
like black wings, came rushing down the path. Letitia gave a little
cry, and he heard her.
“Who are you?” he cried breathlessly. Then, without
waiting for an answer, he caught her up and bore her along with him.
“Don't speak,” he panted in her ear. “The Indians
are upon us, but we're almost home!”
Then all at once a log-house appeared beside the path, and someone
was holding the door ajar, and a white face was peering out. The door
was flung open wide as they came up, the man rushed in, set Letitia
down, shut the door with a crash, and shot some heavy bolts at top
Letitia was so dazed that she scarcely knew what happened for the
next few minutes. She saw there a pale-faced woman and three girls,
one about her own age, two a little younger. She saw, to her great
amazement, the horse tied in the corner. She saw that the door was of
mighty thickness, and, moreover, hasped with iron and studded with
great iron nails, so that some rattling blows that were rained upon
it presently had no effect. She saw three guns set in loopholes in
the walls, and the man, the woman, and the girl of her own age firing
them, with great reports which made the house quake, while the
younger girls raced from one to the other with powder and bullets.
Still, she was not sure she saw right, it was all so strange. She
stood back in a corner, out of the way, and waited, trembling, and at
last the fierce yells outside died away, and the firing stopped.
“They have fled,” said the woman with a thankful
“Yes,” said the man, “we are delivered once more
out of the hands of the enemy.”
“We must not unbar the door or the shutters yet,” said
the woman anxiously. “I will get the supper by
Then Letitia realized what she had not done before, that all the
daylight was shut out of the house; that they had for light only one
tallow candle and a low hearth fire. It was very cold. Letitia began
to shiver with cold as well as fear.
Suddenly the woman turned to her with motherly kindness and
curiosity. “Who is this little damsel whom you rescued,
husband?” said she.
“She must speak for herself,” replied her husband,
smiling. “I thought at first she was neighbor Adams's
Phœbe, but I see she is not.”
“What is your name, little girl?” asked the woman,
while the three little girls looked wonderingly at the new-comer.
“Letitia Hopkins,” replied Letitia in a small, scared
“Letitia Hopkins, did you say?” asked the woman
They all stared at her, then at one another.
“It is very strange,” said the woman finally, with a
puzzled, half-alarmed look. “Letitia Hopkins is my
“And it is mine, too,” said the eldest girl.
Letitia gave a great jump. There was something very strange about
this. Letitia Hopkins was a family name. Her grandmother, her
father's mother, had been Letitia Hopkins, and she had always heard
that the name could be traced back in the same order for generations,
as the Hopkinses had intermarried. She looked up, trembling, at the
man who had saved her from the Indians.
“Will you please tell me your name, sir?” she
“John Hopkins,” replied the man, smiling kindly at
“Captain John Hopkins,” corrected his wife.
Letitia gasped. That settled it. Captain John Hopkins was her
great-great-great-grandfather. Great-aunt Peggy had often told her
about him. He had been a notable man in his day, among the first
settlers, and many a story concerning him had come down to his
descendants. A queer miniature of him, in a little gilt frame, hung
in the best parlor, and Letitia had often looked at it. She had
thought from the first that there was something familiar about the
man's face, and now she recognized the likeness to the miniature.
It seemed awful, and impossible, but the little green door led
into the past, and Letitia Hopkins was visiting her
great-great-great-grandfather and grandmother,
great-great-grandmother, and her great-great-aunts.
Letitia looked up in the faces, all staring wonderingly at her,
and all of them had that familiar look, though she had no miniature
of the others. Suddenly she knew that it was a likeness to her own
face which she recognized, and it was as if she saw herself in a
looking-glass. She felt as if her head was turning round and round,
and presently her feet began to follow the motion of her head, then
strong arms caught her, or she would have fallen.
When Letitia came to herself again, she was in a great feather
bed, in the unfinished loft of the log-house. The wind blew in her
face, a great star shone in her eyes. She thought at first she was
out of doors. Then she heard a kind but commanding voice repeating:
“Open your mouth,” and stared up wildly into her
great-great-great-grandmother's face, then around the strange little
garret, lighted with a wisp of rag in a pewter dish of tallow, and
the stars shining through the crack in the logs. Not a bit of
furniture was there in the room, besides the bed and an oak chest.
Some queer-looking garments hung about on pegs and swung in the
draughts of the wind. It must have been snowing outside, for little
piles of snow were scattered here and there about the room.
“Where—am—I?” Letitia asked feebly, but no
sooner had she opened her mouth than her
great-great-great-grandmother, Goodwife Hopkins, who had been
watching her chance, popped in the pewter spoon full of some horribly
black and bitter medicine.
Letitia nearly choked.
“Swallow it,” said Goodwife Hopkins. “You
swooned away, and it is good physic. It will soon make you
Goodwife Hopkins had a kind and motherly way, but a way from which
there was no appeal. Letitia swallowed the bitter dose.
“Now go to sleep,” ordered Goodwife Hopkins.
Letitia went to sleep. There might have been something quieting to
the nerves in the good physic. She was awakened a little later by her
great-great-grandmother and her two great-great-aunts coming to bed.
They were to sleep with her. There were only two beds in Captain John
Letitia had never slept four in a bed before. There was not much
room. She had to turn herself about crosswise, and then her toes
stuck into the icy air, unless she kept them well pulled up. But soon
she fell asleep again.
About midnight she was awakened by wild cries in the woods
outside, and lay a minute, numb with fright, before she remembered
where she was. Then she nudged her great-great-grandmother, Letitia,
who lay next her.
“What's that?” she whispered fearfully.
“Oh, it's nothing but a catamount. Go to sleep again,”
said her great-great-grandmother sleepily. Her great-great-aunt,
Phyllis, the youngest of them all, laughed on the other side.
“She's afraid of a catamount,” said she.
Letitia could not go to sleep for a long while, for the wild cries
continued, and she thought several times that the catamount was
scratching up the walls of the house. When she did fall asleep it was
not for long, for the fierce yells she had heard when she had first
opened her little green door sounded again in her ears.
This time she did not need to wake her great-great-grandmother,
who sat straight up in bed at the first sound.
“What's that?” whispered Letitia.
“Hush!” replied the other. “Injuns!”
Both the great-great-aunts were awake; they all listened, scarcely
breathing. The yells came again, but fainter; then again, and fainter
still. Letitia's great-great-grandmother settled back in bed
“Go to sleep now,” said she. “They've gone
But Letitia was weeping with fright. “I can't go to
sleep,” she sobbed. “I'm afraid they'll come
“Very likely they will,” replied the other Letitia
coolly. “They come 'most every night.”
The little great-great-aunt Phyllis laughed again. “She
can't go to sleep because she heard Injuns,” she tittered.
“Hush,” said her sister Letitia, “she'll get
accustomed to them in time.”
But poor Letitia slept no more till four o'clock. Then she had
just fallen into a sweet doze when she was pulled out of bed.
“Come, come,” said her great-great-great-grandmother,
Goodwife Hopkins, “we can have no lazy damsels here.”
Letitia found that her bedfellows were up and dressed and
downstairs. She heard a queer buzzing sound from below, as she stood
in her bare feet on the icy floor and gazed about her, dizzy with
“Hasten and dress yourself,” said Goodwife Hopkins.
“Here are some of Letitia's garments I have laid out for you.
Those which you wore here I have put away in the chest. They are too
gay, and do not befit a sober, God-fearing damsel.”
With that, Goodwife Hopkins descended to the room below, and
Letitia dressed herself. It did not take her long. There was not much
to put on beside a coarse wool petticoat and a straight little wool
gown, rough yarn stockings, and such shoes as she had never seen.
“I couldn't run from Injuns in these,” thought Letitia
miserably. When she got downstairs she discovered what the buzzing
noise was. Her great-great-grandmother was spinning. Her
great-great-aunt Candace was knitting, and little Phyllis was
scouring the hearth. Goodwife Hopkins was preparing breakfast.
“Go to the other wheel,” said she to Letitia,
“and spin until the porridge is done. We can have no idle hands
Letitia looked helplessly at a great spinning-wheel in the corner,
then at her great-great-great-grandmother.
“I don't know how,” she faltered.
Then all the great-grandmothers and the aunts cried out with
“She doesn't know how to spin!” they said to one
Letitia felt dreadfully ashamed.
“You must have been strangely brought up,” said
Goodwife Hopkins. “Well, take this stocking and round out the
toe. There will be just about time enough for that before
“I don't know how to knit,” stammered Letitia.
Then there was another cry of astonishment. Goodwife Hopkins cast
about her for another task for this ignorant guest.
“Explain the doctrine of predestination,” said she
Letitia jumped up and stared at her with scared eyes.
“Don't you know what predestination is?” demanded
“No, ma'am,” half sobbed Letitia.
Her great-great-grandmother and her great-great-aunts made shocked
exclamations, and her great-great-great-grandmother looked at her
with horror. “You have been brought up as one of the
heathen,” said she. Then she produced a small book, and Letitia
was bidden to seat herself upon a stool and learn the doctrine of
predestination before breakfast.
The kitchen was lighted only by one tallow candle and the
firelight, for it was still far from dawn. Letitia drew her little
stool close to the hearth, and bent anxiously over the fire-lit page.
She committed to memory easily, and repeated the text like a
frightened parrot when she was called upon.
“The child has good parts, though she is woefully
ignorant,” said Goodwife Hopkins aside to her husband.
“It shall be my care to instruct her.”
Letitia, having completed her task, was given her breakfast. It
was only a portion of corn-meal porridge in a pewter plate. She had
never had such a strange breakfast in her life, and she did not like
corn-meal. She sat with it untasted before her.
“Why don't you eat?” asked her
If possible, they were all more shocked by that than they had been
by her ignorance.
“She doesn't like the good porridge,” the little
great-great-aunts said to each other.
“Eat the porridge,” commanded Captain John Hopkins
sternly, when he had gotten over his surprise.
Letitia ate the porridge, every grain of it. After breakfast the
serious work of the day began. Letitia had never known anything like
it. She felt like a baby who had just come into a new world. She was
ignorant of everything that these strange relatives knew. It made no
difference that she knew some things which they did not, some
advanced things. She could, for instance, crochet, if she could not
knit. She could repeat the multiplication-table, if she did not know
the doctrine of predestination; she had also all the States of the
Union by heart. But advanced knowledge is not of as much value in the
past as past knowledge in the future. She could not crochet, because
there was no crochet needles; there were no States of the Union; and
it seemed doubtful if there was a multiplication-table, there was so
little to multiply.
So Letitia had set herself to acquiring the wisdom of her
ancestors. She learned to card, and hetchel, and spin and weave. She
learned to dye cloth, and make coarse garments, even for her
great-great-great-grandfather, Captain John Hopkins. She knitted yarn
stockings, she scoured brass and pewter, and, more than all, she
learned the entire catechism. Letitia had never really known what
work was. From long before dawn until long after dark, she toiled.
She was not allowed to spend one idle moment. She had no chance to
steal out and search for the little green door, even had she not been
so afraid of wild beasts and Indians.
She never went out of the house except on the Sabbath day. Then,
in fair or foul weather, they all went to meeting, ten miles through
the dense forest. Captain John Hopkins strode ahead, his gun over his
shoulder. Goodwife Hopkins rode the gray horse, and the girls rode by
turns, two at a time, clinging to the pillion at her back. Letitia
was never allowed to wear her own pretty plain dress, with the velvet
collar, even to meeting.
“It would create a scandal in the sanctuary,” said
Goodwife Hopkins. So Letitia went always in the queer little coarse
and scanty gown, which seemed to her more like a bag than anything
else; and for outside wraps she had—of all things—a
homespun blanket pinned over her head. Her great-great-grandmother
and her great-great-aunts were all fitted out in a similar fashion.
Goodwife Hopkins, however, had a great wadded hood and a fine red
There was never any fire in the meeting-house, and the services
lasted all day, with a short recess at noon, during which they went
into a neighboring house, sat round the fire, warmed their half
frozen feet, and ate cold corn-cakes and pan-cakes for luncheon.
There were no pews in the meeting-house, nothing but hard benches
without backs. If Letitia fidgetted, or fell asleep, the tithing-men
rapped her. Letitia would never have been allowed to stay away from
meeting, had she begged to do so, but she never did. She was afraid
to stay alone in the house because of Indians.
Quite often there was a rumor of hostile Indians in the
neighborhood, and twice there were attacks. Letitia learned to load
the guns and hand the powder and bullets.
She grew more and more homesick as the days went on. They were all
kind to her, and she became fond of them, especially of the
great-great-grandmother of her own age, and the little
great-great-aunts, but they seldom had any girlish sports together.
Goodwife Hopkins kept them too busily at work. Once in a while, as a
special treat, they were allowed to play bean-porridge-hot for
fifteen minutes. They were not allowed to talk after they went to
bed, and there was little opportunity for girlish confidences.
However, there came a day at last when Captain Hopkins and his
wife were called away to visit a sick neighbor, some twelve miles
distant, and the four girls were left in charge of the house. At
seven o'clock the two younger went to bed, and Letitia and her
great-great-grandmother remained up to wait for the return of their
elders, as they had been instructed. Then it was that the little
great-great-grandmother showed Letitia her treasures. She had only
two, and was not often allowed to look at them, lest they wean her
heart away from more serious things. They were kept in a secret
drawer of the great chest for safety, and were nothing but a little
silver snuff-box with a picture on the top, and a little flat glass
bottle, about an inch and a half long.
“The box belonged to my grandfather, and the bottle to his
mother. I have them because I am the eldest, but I must not set my
heart on them unduly,” said Letitia's
Letitia tried to count how many “greats” belonged to
the ancestors who had first owned these treasures, but it made her
dizzy. She had never told the story of the little green door to any
of them. She had been afraid to, knowing how shocked they would be at
her disobedience. Now, however, when the treasure was replaced, she
was moved in confidence, and told her great-great-grandmother the
“That is very strange,” said her
great-great-grandmother, when Letitia had finished. “We have a
little green door, too; only ours is on the outside of the house, in
the north wall. There's a spruce tree growing close up against it
that hides it, but it is there. Our parents have forbidden us to open
it, too, and we have never disobeyed.”
She said the last with something of an air of superior virtue.
Letitia felt terribly ashamed.
“Is there any key to your little green door?” she
For answer her great-great-grandmother opened the secret drawer of
the chest again, and pulled out a key with a green ribbon in it, the
very counterpart of the one in the satin-wood box.
Letitia looked at it wistfully.
“I should never think of disobeying my parents, and opening
the little green door,” remarked her great-great-grandmother,
as she put back the key in the drawer. “I should think
something dreadful would happen to me. I have heard it whispered that
the door opened into the future. It would be dreadful to be all alone
in the future, without one's kins-folk.”
“There may not be any Indians or catamounts there,”
“There might be something a great deal worse,”
returned her great-great-grandmother severely.
After that there was silence between the two, and possibly also a
little coldness. Letitia knitted and her great-great-grandmother
knitted. Letitia also thought shrewdly. She had very little doubt
that the key which she had just been shown might unlock another
little green door, and admit her to her past which was her ancestors'
future, but she realized that it was beyond her courage, even if she
had the opportunity, to take it, and use it provided she could find
the second little green door. She had been so frightfully punished
for disobedience, that she dared not risk a second attempt. Then too
how could she tell whether the second little green door would admit
her to her grandmother's cheese-room? She felt so dizzy over what had
happened, that she was not even sure that two and two made four, and
b-o-y spelt boy, although she had mastered such easy facts long ago.
Letitia had arrived at the point wherein she did not know what she
knew, and therefore, she resolved that she would not use that other
little key with the green ribbon, if she had a chance. She shivered
at the possibilities which it might involve. Suppose she were to open
the second little green door and be precipitated head first into a
future far from the one which had merged into the past, and be more
at a loss than now. She might find the conditions of life even more
impossible than in her great-great-great-grandfather's log cabin with
hostile Indians about. It might, as her great-great-grandmother
Letitia had said, be much worse. So she knitted soberly, and the
other Letitia knitted, and neither spoke, and there was not a sound
except the crackling of the hearth fire and bubbling of water in a
large iron pot which swung from the crane, until suddenly there was a
frantic pounding at the door, and a sound as if somebody were hurled
Both Letitias started to their feet. Letitia turned pale, but her
great-great-grandmother Letitia looked as usual. She approached the
door, and spoke quite coolly. “Who may be without?” said
She had taken a musket as she crossed the room, and stood with it
levelled. Letitia also took a musket and levelled it, but it shook
and it seemed as if her great-great-grandmother was in considerable
There came another pound on the door, and a boy's voice cried out
desperately. “It's me, let me in.”
“Who is me?” inquired Great-great-grandmother Letitia,
but she lowered her musket, and Letitia did the same, for it was
quite evident that this was no Indian and no catamount.
“It is Josephus Peabody,” answered the boy's voice,
and Letitia gasped, for she remembered seeing that very name on the
genealogical tree which hung in her great-aunt Peggy's front entry,
although she could not quite remember where it came in, whether it
was on a main branch or a twig.
“Are the Injuns after you?” inquired
“I don't know, but I heard branches crackling in the
wood,” replied the terrified boy-voice, “and I saw your
light through the shutters.”
“You rake the ashes over the fire, while I let him
in,” ordered the great-great-grandmother Letitia, peremptorily,
and Letitia obeyed.
She raked the ashes carefully over the fire, she hung blankets
over the shutters, so there might be no tell-tale gleam, and the
other Letitia drew bolts and bars, then slammed the door to again,
and the bolts and bars shot back into place.
When Letitia turned around she saw a little boy of about her own
age who looked strangely familiar to her. He was clad in homespun of
a bright copperas color, and his hair was red, cut in a perfectly
round rim over his forehead. He had big blue eyes, which were bulging
with terror. He drew a sigh of relief as he looked at the two
“If,” said he, “I had only had a musket I would
not have run, but Mr. Holbrook and Caleb and Benjamin went hunting
this morning, and they carried all the muskets, and I had nothing
except this knife.”
With that the boy brandished a wicked-looking knife.
“You might have done something with that,” remarked
Great-great-grandmother Letitia, and her voice was somewhat
“Yes, something,” agreed the boy. “It is a good
knife. My father killed a big Injun and took it only last week. It is
a scalping knife.”
“Do you mean to say,” asked the
great-great-grandmother Letitia, “that you don't know enough to
use that knife, great boy that you are?”
The boy straightened himself. He saw the other Letitia and his
blue eyes were full of admiration and bravery. “Of course I
know how,” said he. “Haven't I killed ten wolves and
aren't their heads nailed to the outside of the
Letitia was quite sure that the boy lied, but she knew that he
lied to please her, and she liked him for it.
Great-great-grandmother Letitia sniffed. “You are the
greatest braggart in the Precinct,” said she. “Nary a
wolf have you killed, and you ran because you heard a wild cat or a
bear. Where are the Injuns, pray?”
“I know there were Injuns after me,” said the boy
earnestly, “but perhaps I frightened them away. I brandished my
knife as I ran.”
Great-great-grandmother Letitia sniffed again, but she looked
anxious. “I hope,” said she, “that father and
mother will not be molested on their way home.”
“Give me a musket,” declared the boy bravely,
“and I will guard the path.”
“You!” returned Great-great-grandmother Letitia
scornfully. “You are naught but a child.”
“I can handle a musket as well as a man,” said
Josephus Peabody with such a straightening of his small back that it
seemed positively alarming, and another glance at Letitia, who
returned it. She thought him a very pretty boy, and quite brave,
offering to guard the path all alone, although he was so young, not
much older than she was.
Great-great-grandmother Letitia took up a musket decidedly.
“Very well,” said she, “if you can handle a musket
like a man, here be the chance. Take this musket, and I will take
one, and Letitia will take one, and we will leave the door ajar, so
we can dash in if hard-pressed, and we will keep watch lest father
and mother be attacked unawares at the threshold.”
Letitia was horribly afraid, but she had learned in the Spartan
household of her ancestors, to be more afraid of fear than of
anything else, so she pulled a blanket over her head and shouldered a
musket, and, after the elder Letitia had unbarred and unbolted the
door, they all stepped out into the night, armed and ready to guard
“Candace can handle a musket and so can little Phyllis at a
pinch,” said the elder Letitia thoughtfully, “but I for
one am thinking that your Injuns are catamounts, Josephus
“They are Injuns,” said the boy stoutly, peering out
into the gloom.
They were in perfect darkness, for it was a cloudy night, and not
a ray came from the house-door.
“For what reason were you abroad to-night?” inquired
the elder in what Letitia considered a disagreeably patronizing tone
as addressed to such a pretty brave little boy.
“I went to visit my rabbit traps,” replied the boy,
but his voice was slightly hesitant.
“In this darkness?”
“I had a pine knot, but I flung it away when I heard the
“A pine knot, and Injuns around, and you with naught but a
scalping knife? 'Tis not bravery but tomfoolery,” said the
elder Letitia. “I'll warrant you stole out without the
knowledge of Goodman Cephas Holbrook and Mistress Holbrook, and they
having taken you in as they did and given you food and shelter, with
nine of their own to care for, and not knowing of a certainty who you
Letitia felt sure that the boy hung his head in the darkness. He
mumbled something incoherent.
“It was out of the window in the lean-to you got, and ran
away,” declared the elder Letitia severely. “You are not
a boy to be trusted. You can remain here with Letitia, and I will
stand guard a little way down the path; and do not speak above a
whisper, although I be sure there be none but catamounts to
With that, Great-great-grandmother Letitia, musket over shoulder,
moved down the path and stood quite concealed as if by a vast cloak
of night, an alert vigilant young figure with the hot blood of her
time leaping in her veins, and the shrewd brain of her time alive to
everything which might stir that darkness with sound or light.
“Who are you?” whispered Letitia to the boy.
“I am Josephus Peabody, but I was always called Joe till I
came here,” the boy whispered back.
Letitia pondered. The name sounded very familiar to her, just as
the boy's face had looked. Then suddenly she remembered. “When
I was a little girl,” she whispered, “not more than
seven—I am going on ten now—I knew a little boy named Joe
Peabody, and he was visiting his grandmother, Mrs. Joe Peabody. She
lives about half a mile from my Aunt Peggy's around the corner of the
road. It is a big white house next to the graveyard.”
“That was me,” said the boy. “At least,”
he added in rather a dazed and hopeless tone, “I suppose it
was, and I guess I remember you too. You had curls, and we went
coasting down that long hill near Grandmother's together.”
“Seems to me we did,” said Letitia, and her own tone
was dazed and hopeless.
“Since I have been here,” whispered the boy, “I
haven't been exactly sure who I was and that is the truth. The folks
where I am staying are real good. They go to meeting all day Sunday
and they don't work Saturday nights, but I can't understand it. We
have to make all the things I have seen already made, for one
Letitia nodded in the dark.
“That is the way here,” said she.
“And Mr. Cephas Holbrook has just the name that my
great-great-great-uncle on my mother's side had,” said the boy,
in a whisper so puzzled that it was fairly agonized.
“Grandmother has told me about him. He had a battle with six
Injuns and killed them all himself, and this Mr. Cephas Holbrook has
done just that same thing. And he killed ten wolves and nailed their
heads to the meeting-house. Say,” the boy continued
confidentially, “those were the heads I meant, you
“Of course I know,” whispered Letitia. “I
wouldn't speak to you if you had done such awful things.”
“I didn't, honestly,” said Josephus Peabody.
“Where did you come from to-night?” asked Letitia.
“Why, I came from Mr. Cephas Holbrook's. It's about ten
miles away on that side.” The boy pointed in the dark.
“You came all that way?”
“I had to if I came at all. I don't get any time to see my
traps day-times. I have to work. I have to chop wood, and make wooden
pegs. I never saw wooden pegs, till—till I came here. I have to
work all day. Eliphalet Holbrook, he's a boy about my size, got out
of the window one night, when it was moonlight, and we set traps, and
we haven't either of us had a chance to look at them and see if we've
caught anything; but to-night, I had a cold and they sent me to bed
early and I whispered to Eliphalet, that I'd see those traps; and I
had a pine knot, and I run and run, but I couldn't find the
“You didn't run ten miles?”
“No, the traps were set only about three miles from where we
live and I rather think I lost my way. Then I heard the
Injuns—say, I used to call them Indians.”
“So did I,” said Letitia.
“They say Injuns here. Then I heard them, and I run the rest
of the way, and then I saw your light. Are you one of Captain John
“I don't know. I don't think I am,” replied Letitia
“What is your name?”
“Then you must be.”
“I don't believe I am.”
Suddenly Letitia felt a hard little boy-hand clutch hers in the
dark. The boy's voice whispered forcibly in her ear.
“Say,” said the voice, “did you—did you get
here, I wonder, in some queer way just as I did?”
Letitia whispered forcibly, “Through a little green door in
my Great-aunt Peggy's cheese-room.”
“Had she told you never to open it?”
“Yes, but she and Hannah left me alone when they went to
meeting and I found the key in a little box, and the key had a green
ribbon and it unlocked the door, and I was in the woods around here,
and Aunt Peggy's house was gone and everything.”
“How long have you been here?”
“I don't know. It must have been a long time, for I have
done so much work, and learned to do so much that I had started with
“It is just the same with me,” whispered the boy.
Letitia shivered, half with joy, half with horror. “Did you
come through a little green door?”
“No, I came through a book.”
Letitia jumped. “A book!” she repeated feebly.
“Yes, it was a book. I didn't know it at first. I thought it
was just a wooden box up in Grandmother Peabody's garret, and it was
always locked, and Grandmother Peabody said I was never to ask any
questions about it, and never to try to open it. I expect she was
afraid I might try to pick the lock. Then I began to suspect that it
was a book, and then I found the key. I stayed at home from meeting
just like you, and I had a cold. My father had died, and I had come
to live with Grandmother Peabody.”
“I remember now Aunt Peggy told Hannah about it,”
whispered Letitia with sudden remembrance.
“I don't know how long ago it was, for I have done so much
work making wooden nails, when all the nails I had ever seen were
bought at a shop, and such things, that it seems an awful long time;
but I was left alone just the way you were, and I found the key to
that book that looked like a wooden box. It was in a little drawer of
“Did it have a green ribbon on it?” whispered Letitia
“Yes, it did, honest, a green ribbon, and I went up in the
garret and I unlocked that book, and first thing I knew I was in the
woods around the house where I live now, and a wolf was chasing me,
and Mr. Cephas Holbrook shot him, and took me home.”
Letitia sighed. “Do you like it here?” she
“I think it is awful, don't you?”
“Yes, I do, but I don't dare say so.”
“I do,” said Josephus Peabody. “I ain't afraid
of anything that ain't bigger and stronger than I am, honest, and I
have killed one wolf my own self. That is true, but I didn't kill the
others. I told that because that other girl was turning up her nose
so at me. But I don't like to live here at all. I used to complain
when I was Joe instead of Josephus, and had to learn lessons, and do
errands. But this is worse than anything I ever dreamed about when I
had the nightmare.”
“That is the way I feel,” said Letitia soberly.
“I used to complain, but I wouldn't now. I've been living back
of complaints too long.”
“So have I,” said Josephus. Then he added, “Say,
I'm awful glad I got scared, and ran here, and found you.”
“So am I.”
“There's something I want to tell you that's very
queer,” whispered Josephus. “There is a wooden book just
like the one in Mr. Holbrook's house under the eaves in the lean-to,
and I know where the key is. It is in the chest in the kitchen, in
the till hidden under a lot of linen night-caps.”
“Has it a green ribbon on it?” whispered Letitia
“Yes, it has. Say, don't you ever think you'd like to run
away from here?”
“Yes, but I'm afraid I might get into something
“That's the way I feel. Otherwise we might both watch our
chance and go through that wooden book in our lean-to, but we might
find ourselves in Grandmother Peabody's garret where I came from, and
we might find ourselves in a place full of worse wild animals than
there are here, and things worse than Injuns. And we might have to
learn more than we've learned here, and work harder, and I don't feel
as if I could stand that.”
“I don't either.” Then Letitia whispered very
violently, “There is a little green door here, and I know where
the key is, with a green ribbon, but I am afraid.”
“That's very funny—just like me,” said
“Well, I may make up my mind to take the chance anyhow, and
if I do you had better. Say, if you hear I've gone, you just go
through your little green door, will you?”
“Maybe,” whispered Letitia doubtfully, and then her
Great-great-grandmother Letitia came back. “There isn't a sign
of an Injun here,” said she, “and I am 'most froze. I'm
going to start the fire, and you boy, you had better come too. You
can sleep on the floor by the fire to-night and go home in the
morning. Father and mother are coming. I heard their horses. Mother's
is a little lame, and favors one foot, and I know. They're right
here, and they'll be cold, and I've got to start up the
“I'll help,” cried Josephus.
“You'd better,” said the elder Letitia; “if I
had a brother as big as you, he'd have to work instead of hunting
Josephus flew about the kitchen dragging heavy logs, and poking
the fire, and Letitia quite admired him, but her
great-great-grandmother simply scolded. “You are a most unhandy
boy,” said she. “You can have had little training in
making hearth fires.”
However, the flames leaped high into the great chimney mouth, when
Captain John Hopkins and his wife entered.
“How pleasant it is, and how thankful we ought to be to have
a good warm room to enter,” said Great-great-great-grandmother
Letitia Hopkins, although she looked very grave. The sick neighbor
was very sick unto death, it was feared, and she was a good woman and
a good neighbor.
Josephus Peabody stayed all night and slept wrapped up in a
homespun blanket beside the fire, but the next morning it was hardly
daylight before Goodman Cephas Holbrook came for him. Cephas Holbrook
was a very stern man, and he believed in the rod. Before Josephus
left he had just one chance and he improved it. It was while Mr.
Holbrook was partaking of a glass of something warm and spicy which
Great-great-great-grandmother Letitia Hopkins mixed for him. It was a
cordial of her own compounding and a good thing for the stomach on a
bitter morning, and this morning was very bitter.
Josephus whispered to Letitia: “He will give me an awful
licking when we get home, and I am not afraid, honest. But if I can
get hold of that key, I mean to go into that book this very
Letitia looked frightened.
“You had better—” began Josephus, and he nodded
Letitia knew what he meant, but she had no chance to reply, for
Mr. Holbrook had finished his cordial and had Josephus by the hand,
and was jerking him rather forcibly out of the door.
“A froward child, I fear,” remarked Captain John
Hopkins when they had gone.
“Yes,” assented his wife.
“He is afraid of Injuns when there are none, too,”
said Great-great-grandmother Letitia.
“That is an evil thing, too,” said her father.
“It is distrusting the Almighty to fear where is nothing to
fear. A froward child, and I trust that Goodman Holbrook will not
spare the rod.”
Letitia was very sure that he would not, and she pitied poor
Josephus Peabody with all her heart. She also pitied herself more
than usual that day, for the cold was stinging, and she was put to
hard tasks, and she felt forlorn at the thought that her little
brother in the hardships of the Past might that very night strive to
make his escape. Gradually her own resolve grew. She was horribly
afraid, but she was also horribly homesick, and homesickness will
urge to desperate deeds.
That night, also, Captain John Hopkins and his wife went to visit
the sick neighbor, and, after the younger sisters were in bed,
Letitia was left alone with her great-great-grandmother, who was
sleepy. Letitia did not talk; she knitted, with a shrewd eye upon the
elder Letitia, who presently fell fast asleep. Then Letitia rose
softly, and laid down her knitting work. It might be her chance for
nobody knew how long, and Josephus might even now be entering his
book. She pulled off her shoes, tiptoed in her thick yarn stockings
up to the loft, got her own clothes out of the chest, and put them
on. The little great-great-aunts did not stir. Letitia blew a kiss to
them. Then she tiptoed down, got the key out of the secret drawer,
blew another farewell kiss to her sleeping great-great-grandmother
and was out of the house.
It was broad moonlight outside. She ran around to the north side
of the house, and there was the little green door hidden under the
low branches of the spruce tree. Letitia gave a sob of fear and
thankfulness. She fitted the key in the lock, turned it, opened the
door, and there she was back in her great-aunt's cheese-room.
She shut the door hard, locked it, and carried the key back to its
place in the satin-wood box. Then she looked out of the window, and
there was her great-aunt Peggy, and the old maid-servant just coming
home from meeting.
Letitia confessed what she had done, and her aunt listened
gravely. Letitia did not say anything about Josephus Peabody.
She was not sure that he had made his escape, and if he had his
grandmother might punish him, and she considered that he had probably
suffered enough at the hands of Goodman Cephas Holbrook.
Letitia's aunt listened gravely. “You were
disobedient,” said she when Letitia had finished, “but I
think your disobediance has brought its own punishment, and I hope
now that you will be more contented.”
“Oh, Aunt Peggy,” sobbed Letitia, “everything
I've got is so beautiful, and I love to study and crochet and go to
“Well, it was a hard lesson to learn, and I hoped to spare
you from it, but perhaps it was for the best,” said her
“I was there a whole winter,” said Letitia, “but
when I got back you were just coming home from church.”
“It doesn't take as long to visit the past as it did to live
in it,” replied her aunt. Then she sent Letitia to her room for
the satin-wood box, and, when she had brought it, took out of it a
little parcel, neatly folded in white paper, tied with a green
ribbon. “Open it,” said she.
Letitia untied the green ribbon and unfolded the paper, and there
was the little silver snuff-box which had been the treasure of the
great-great-grandmother, Letitia Hopkins. She raised the lid, and
there was also the little glass bottle.
They had a very nice dinner that day, and afterward had settled
down for a quiet afternoon, Letitia feeling very happy, when there
was a jingle of sleigh bells, and Aunt Peggy cried out. “Why, I
declare,” said she, “if there isn't Mrs. Joe Peabody with
her little grandson driving over this cold day. She is a very smart
Then Aunt Peggy hurried out to tell Hannah, the maid servant, to
have some tea, and hot biscuits, and quince preserves, and pound
cakes served before the guests left, and Hannah with a shawl over her
head, went out and backed the old lady's horse into the barn, and
Mrs. Joe Peabody and her grandson entered.
Mrs. Joe Peabody was a very pretty old lady when she was unwrapped
from her black cloak and two shawls and fitch tippet and pumpkin
hood, and seated in the big chair by the fire. Her white hair hung on
either side of her face in rows of beautiful curls, and her eyes were
blue as turquoises. Her grandson stood by her side, and she had a
loving arm around him. “You remember my grandson Joe, don't
you, dear?” she said to Letitia. “Two years ago you used
to go coasting together.”
“Yes'm,” said Letitia. She and Joe glanced at each
other, and their eyes were very big, and their cheeks very red.
Later on when the tea and biscuits and preserves and pound cake
were served, Joe and Letitia got a chance for a word. “You got
back alright through the little green door,” whispered Joe.
“And I came right through that book into grandma's
garret,” whispered Joe, “and I told grandma all about it,
and she only laughed and hugged me and said some laws were made to be
broken for the good of the breakers. But I am glad to be back here,
“Oh,” gasped Letitia fervently, and she took a bite of
“This would have been corn meal mush there,” said
“And I should have got another whipping after I got out of
the book like the one I had before I got in,” said Joe.
They both ate pound cake and looked happily at each other.
“I think,” said Joe presently, “that it would be
better not to tell the other boys and girls about all this.
Grandmother thinks so.”
“Aunt Peggy does, too,” said Letitia. “They
might think we made it all up, it is so queer. No, we will never tell
anybody as long as we live.”