A Second Spring by Sarah Orne Jewett

Story type: Literature


The Haydon farm was only a few miles from the sea, and the spring wind, which had been blowing from the south all day, had gone into the east. A chilly salt fog had begun to come in, creeping along where a brook wound among the lower fields, like a ghostly serpent that was making its way to shelter across the country.

The old Haydon house stood on high rising land, with two great walnut-trees at one side, and a tall, thin, black-looking spruce in front that had lost its mate. A comfortable row of round-headed old apple-trees led all the way up a long lane from the main road. This lane and the spacious side yard were scarred by wheel ruts, and the fresh turf was cut up by the stamping feet of many horses. It was the evening of a sad day,–the evening after Israel Haydon’s wife’s funeral. Many of the people who were present had far to go, and so the funeral feast had been served early.

The old place looked deserted. The dandelions, which had shone so bright in the grass that morning, were all shut up, and the syringa bushes in the front yard seemed to have taken back their rash buds, and to have grown as gray as winter again. The light was failing fast out of doors; there was a lamp lighted in the kitchen, and a figure kept passing between it and the window.

Israel Haydon lingered as long as he could over his barn-work. Somehow it seemed lonely in the barn, and as long as he could see or feel his way about, he kept himself busy over the old horse and cow, accepting their inexpressive companionship, and serving their suppers with unusual generosity. His sensations, even of grief, were not very distinct to him; there was only a vague sense of discomfort, of being disturbed in his quiet course. He had said to many of his friends that afternoon, “I do’ know why ‘t is, but I can’t realize nothing about it,” and spoken sincerely; but his face was marked with deep lines; he was suffering deeply from the great loss that had befallen him.

His wife had been a woman of uncommon social gifts and facilities, and he had missed her leadership in the great occasion that was just over. Everybody had come to him for directions, and expected from him the knowledge of practical arrangements that she had always shown in the forty years of their married life. He had forgotten already that it was a worn-out and suffering woman who had died; the remembrance of long weeks of illness faded from his mind. It appeared to him as if, in her most active and busy aspect, she had suddenly vanished out of the emergencies and close dependence of their every-day lives.

Mr. Haydon crossed the yard slowly, after he had locked the barn door and tried the fastening, and then gone back to try it again. He was glad to see the cheerfulness of the lighted kitchen, and to remember that his own sister and the sister of his wife were there in charge and ready to companion him. He could not help a feeling of distress at the thought of entering his lonely home; suddenly the fact of their being there made everything seem worse. Another man might have loitered on the step until he was chilly and miserable, but poor Mr. Haydon only dropped his hand for a moment by his side, and looked away down the lane; then, with bent head, he lifted the latch as he always did, and went in. It seemed as if he consciously shouldered the burden of his loneliness in that dreary moment, and never could stand upright again.

The season of his solitary life began with more cheer than could have been expected. The two women were waiting for him placidly, and did not seem to be curious how he might be bearing this great disaster. They had cleared away all signs of the great company, and the kitchen looked as it always did; it had not occurred to them to occupy the more formal sitting-room. The warmth of the fire was pleasant; a table was spread with supper. One of the women was bringing the teapot from the stove, and the other was placidly knitting a blue yarn stocking. It seemed as if Martha Haydon herself might at any moment come out of the pantry door or up the cellar stairs.

“We was just about ready for you, Isr’el,” said his sister-in-law Stevens, glancing at him eagerly. “We didn’t stop to take anything ourselves this afternoon, and we didn’t suppose ‘t was so you could; an’ we thought we’d just make a quiet cup o’ tea when we had everything put to rights, and could set down an’ enjoy it. Now you draw right up to the table; that’s clever; ‘t will do us all good.”

The good woman bore some likeness to her sister just departed; Israel had never noticed it so much before. She had a comfortable, motherly way, and his old face twitched in spite of himself as he bent over the brimming and smoking cup that she handed across the square table.

“I declare!” said his own sister, Mrs. Abby Martin. “We could reckon what a sight o’ folks there was here this afternoon by the times we had to make new tea, if there wa’n’t no other way. I don’t know’s I ever see a larger gathering on such an occasion. Mis’ Stevens an’ me was trying to count ’em. There was twenty-six wagons hitched in the yard an’ lane, so William said, besides all that come afoot; an’ a few had driven away before they made the count.”

“I’d no idea of there bein’ so many,” said Israel sadly. “Well, ‘t was natural for all who knew her to show respect. I felt much obliged to the folks, and for Elder Wall’s excellent remarks.”

“A number spoke their approval to him in my hearing. He seemed pleased that everything passed off well,” said sister Martin. “I expect he wanted to do the best he could. Everybody knows she was always a good friend to him. I never see anybody that set so by her minister. William was telling of me he’d been very attentive all through her sickness. Poor William! He does mourn, but he behaved very pretty, I thought. He wanted us to tell you that he’d be over to-morrow soon’s he could. He wanted dreadful to stop with ye overnight, but we all know what it is to run a milk farm.”

“I’d b’en glad if ‘t was so he could be here with us to-night, an’ his wife with him,” said the old man, pushing away his cup. The remnants of the afternoon feast, with which the table was spread, failed to tempt his appetite. He rose and took his old wooden armchair by the stove, and clasped his hands before him. The long brown fingers began to play mechanically upon each other. It was strange how these trivial, unconscious habits continued in spite of the great change which had shaken his life to its foundations.


At noon the next day Israel Haydon and his son William came up across the field together. They had on their every-day clothes, and were talking about every-day matters as they walked along. Mr. Haydon himself had always looked somewhat unlike a farmer, even though there had been no more diligent and successful tiller of the soil in the town of Atfield. He never had bought himself a rougher suit of clothes or a coarse hat for haying, but his discarded Sunday best in various states of decadence served him for barn and field. It was proverbial that a silk hat lasted him five years for best and ten for common; but whatever he might be doing, Israel Haydon always preserved an air of unmistakable dignity. He was even a little ministerial in his look; there had been a minister in the family two or three generations back. Mr. Haydon and his wife had each inherited some money. They were by nature thrifty, and now their only son was well married, with a good farm of his own, to which Israel had added many acres of hay land and tillage, saying that he was getting old, and was going to take the rest of his life easily. In this way the old people had thrown many of their worldly cares upon their son’s broad shoulders. They had paid visits each summer to their kindred in surrounding towns, starting off in their Sunday chaise with sober pleasure, serene in their prosperity, and free from any dark anticipations, although they could not bring themselves to consent to any long absence, and the temptation of going to see friends in the West was never dangerous to their peace of mind. But the best of their lives was apparently still before them, when good Martha Haydon’s strength mysteriously failed; and one dark day the doctor, whom Israel Haydon had anxiously questioned behind the wood-pile, just out of sight from his wife’s window–the doctor had said that she never would be any better. The downfall of his happiness had been swift and piteous. William Haydon was a much larger and rosier man than his father had ever been; the old man looked shrunken as they crossed the field together. They had prolonged their talk about letting the great south field lie fallow, and about some new Hereford cattle that the young farmer had just bought, until nothing more was left to say on either side. Then there came a long pause, when each waited for the other to speak. William grew impatient at last.

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“Have you got any notion what it’s best to do, sir?” he began boldly; then, finding that his father did not answer, he turned to look at him, and found that the drawn face was set in silent despair.

“I’ve always been forehanded; I never was caught so unprepared before,” he faltered. “‘T has been my way, as you know, to think out things beforehand, but it come to the very last before I could give it up ’bout your mother’s gettin’ better; an’ when I did give up, ‘t wa’n’t so I could think o’ anything. An’ here’s your aunts got their families dependin’ on ’em, and wantin’ to git away soon as may be. I don’t know which way to look.”

“Marilla and I should be thankful if you’d come and stop ‘long of us this winter”–the younger man began, eagerly.

“No, no!” said his father sternly. “I ain’t goin’ to live in the chimbly-corner of another man’s house. I ain’t but a little past sixty-seven. I’ve got to stand in my lot an’ place. ‘T wouldn’t be neither your house nor mine, William,” he said, in a softer tone. “You’re a good son; your mother always said you was a good son.”

Israel Haydon’s voice broke, and William Haydon’s eyes filled with tears, and they plodded along together in the soft spring grass.

“I’ve gone over everything I wish I could forget–all the bothering tricks I played her, ‘way back when I was a boy,” said the young man, with great feeling. “I declare, I don’t know what to do, I miss her so.”

“You was an only child,” said the father solemnly; “we done the best we could by ye. She often said you was a good son, and she wa’n’t surprised to see ye prosper. An’ about Marilly, ‘long at the first, when you was courtin’ her, ‘t was only that poor mother thought nobody wa’n’t quite good enough for her boy. She come to set everything by Marilly.”

The only dark chapter in the family history was referred to for the last time, to be forgotten by father and son. The old people had, after all, gloried in their son’s bravery in keeping to his own way and choice. The two farms joined. Marilla and her mother were their next neighbors; the mother had since died.

“Father,” exclaimed William Haydon suddenly, as they neared the barn, “I do’ know now but I’ve thought o’ the very one!”

“What d’ye mean?” said the old man, startled a little by such vehemence.

“‘T ain’t nobody I feel sure of getting,” explained the son, his ardor suddenly cooling. “I had Maria Durrant in my mind–Marilla’s cousin. Don’t you know, she come and stopped with us six weeks that time Marilla was so dyin’ sick and we hadn’t been able to get proper help; and what a providence Maria Durrant was! Mother said one day that she never saw so capable a woman.”

“I don’t stand in need of nursin’,” said the old man, grumbling, and taking a defensive attitude of mind. “What’s the use, anyway, if you can’t get her? I’ll contrive to get along somehow. I always have.”

William flushed quickly, but made no answer, out of regard to the old man’s bereaved and wounded state. He always felt like a schoolboy in his father’s presence, though he had for many years been a leader in neighborhood matters, and was at that moment a selectman of the town of Atfield. If he had answered back and entered upon a lively argument it probably would have done the old man good; anything would have seemed better than the dull hunger in his heart, the impossibility of forming new habits of life, which made a wall about his very thoughts.

After a surly silence, when the son was needlessly repentant and the father’s face grew cloudy with disapproval, the two men parted. William had made arrangements to stay all the afternoon, but he now found an excuse for going to the village, and drove away down the lane. He had not turned into the highroad before he wished himself back again, while Israel Haydon looked after him reproachfully, more lonely than ever, in the sense that something had come between them, though he could not tell exactly what. The spring fields lay broad and green in the sunshine; there was a cheerful sound of frogs in the lower meadow.

“Poor mother! how she did love early weather like this!” he said, half aloud. “She’d been getting out to the door twenty times a day, just to have a look. An’ how she’d laugh to hear the frogs again! Oh, poor me! poor me!” For the first time he found himself in tears. The grim old man leaned on the fence, and tried to keep back the sobs that shook his bent shoulders. He was half afraid and half ashamed, but there he stood and cried. At last he dried his eyes, and went slowly into the house, as if in hope of comfort as well as shelter.

The two sisters were busy in an upper room. They had seen William Haydon drive away, and their sympathy had been much moved by the sight of his father’s grief. They stood at a window watching him from behind the curtain.

“He feels it much as anybody could,” said Mrs. Stevens, not without a certain satisfaction in this tribute to her own dear sister. “Somehow or ‘nother your brother is so methodical and contained, Mis’ Martin, that I shouldn’t have looked to see him give way like other men.”

“He never was one that could show his feelin’s,” answered Mrs. Martin. “I never saw him shed tears before as I know of, but many’s the time he hasn’t been able to control his voice to speak. I wonder what made William hurry off so? His back looked kind o’ provoked. They couldn’t have had no words; whatever it was, they couldn’t had no words so soon as this; an’ William ‘s always respectful.”

“‘T ain’t that either,” she added, a moment later. “I’ve seen sights o’ folks in trouble, and I don’t know what nor why it is, but they always have to get through with a fractious spell before they can get to work again. They’ll hold up an’ ‘pear splendid, and then something seems to let go, an’ everything goes wrong, an’ every word plagues ’em. Now Isr’el’s my own poor brother, an’ you know how I set by him, Mis’ Stevens; but I expect we’ll have to walk soft to get along with him for a week or two to come. Don’t you go an’ be too gentle, neither. Treat him just’s you would anyway, and he’ll fetch himself into line the quicker. He always did have days when he wouldn’t say nothing to nobody. It does seem’s if I ought to be the one to stop longer with him, an’ be the most help; but you know how I’m situated. And then ‘t is your sister’s things that’s to be looked over, and you and Marilla is the proper ones.”

“I wish ‘t was so you could stop,” Mrs. Stevens urged honestly. “I feel more acquainted with you than I do with Marilly. But I shall do my best, as I shall want those who come to do for my things when I’m past an’ gone. I shall get William to come an’ help us; he knows more about his mother’s possessions than anybody, I expect. She made a kind of girl of him, for company’s sake, when he was little; and he used to sew real pretty before his fingers got too big. Don’t you recall one winter when he was house-bound after a run o’ scarlet fever? He used to work worsted, and knit some, I believe he did; but he took to growin’ that spring, and I chanced to ask him to supply me with a couple o’ good holders, but I found I’d touched dignity. He was dreadful put out. I suppose he was mos’ too manly for me to refer to his needlework. Poor Marthy! how she laughed! I only said that about the holders for the sake o’ sayin’ somethin’, but he remembered it against me more than a year.”

The two aunts laughed together. “Boys is boys, ain’t they?” observed Mrs. Stevens, with great sagacity.

“Men is boys,” retorted Mrs. Martin. “The more you treat ’em like boys, the better they think you use ’em. They always want motherin’, an’ somebody to come to. I always tell folks I’ve got five child’n, counting Mr. Martin the youngest. The more bluster they have, the more boys they be. Now Marthy knew that about brother Isr’el, an’ she always ruled him by love an’ easin’ of him down from them high perches he was always settin’ upon. Everything was always right with her an’ all wrong with him when they was young, but she could always say the right word.”

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“She was a good-feelin’ woman; she did make him a good wife, if I say it that shouldn’t o’ my own sister,” sighed Mrs. Stevens. “She was the best o’ housekeepers, was Marthy. I never went over so neat a house. I ain’t got the gift myself. I can clear up, Mis’ Martin, but I can’t remain cleared up.”

The two sisters turned to their pathetic work of looking over the orderly closets and making solemn researches into the suspected shelters of moths. Much talk of the past was suggested by the folding of blankets; and as they set back the chairs, and brushed the floors that were made untidy by the funeral guests of the day before, they wondered afresh what would become of Israel Haydon, and what plan he would make for himself; for Mrs. Martin could only stay with him for a few days, and Mrs. Stevens was obliged to return as soon as possible to her busy household and an invalid daughter. As long as they could stay the house went on as usual, and Israel Haydon showed no apprehension of difficulties ahead. He took up the routine of his simple fashion of life, and when William asked if he should bring his team to plough, he received the surprised answer that all those things were settled when they talked about them earlier in the spring. Of course he should want potatoes, and it was high time they were planted. A boy arrived from the back country who had lived at the farm the summer before,–a willing, thick-headed young person in process of growth,–and Israel Haydon took great exception to his laziness and inordinate appetite, and threatened so often to send him back where he came from that only William’s insistence that they had entered into an engagement with poor Thomas, and the women’s efforts toward reconciliation, prevailed.

When sister Martin finally departed, bag and baggage, she felt as if she were leaving her brother to be the prey of disaster. He was sternly self-reliant, and watched her drive away down the lane with something like a sense of relief. The offending Thomas was standing by, expecting rebuke almost with an air of interest; but the old man only said to him, in an apologetic and friendly way, “There! we’ve got to get along a spell without any women folks, my son. I haven’t heard of any housekeeper to suit me, but we’ll get along together till I do.”

“There’s a great sight o’ things cooked up, sir,” said Thomas, with shining eyes.

“We’ll get along,” repeated the old man. “I won’t have you take no liberties, but if we save the time from other things, we can manage just as well as the women. I want you to sweep out good, night an’ morning, an’ fetch me the wood an’ water, an’ I’ll see to the housework.” There was no idea of appointing Thomas as keeper of the pantry keys, and a shadow of foreboding darkened the lad’s hopeful countenance as the master of the house walked away slowly up the yard.


It was the month of June; the trees were in full foliage; there was no longer any look of spring in the landscape, and the air and sky belonged to midsummer. Mrs. Israel Haydon had been dead nearly two months.

On a Sunday afternoon the father and son sat in two old splint-bottomed chairs just inside the wood-house, in the shade. The wide doors were always thrown back at that time of the year, and there was a fine view across the country. William Haydon could see his own farm spread out like a green map; he was scanning the boundaries of the orderly fences and fields and the stretches of woodland and pasture. He looked away at them from time to time, or else bent over and poked among the wood-house dust and fine chips with his walking-stick. “There’s an old buckle that I lost one day ever so many years ago,” he exclaimed suddenly, and reached down to pick it up. William was beginning to look stout and middle-aged. He held out the rusty buckle to his father, but Israel Haydon sat stiffly upright, and hardly gave a glance at the useless object.

“I thought Elder Wall preached an excellent discourse this morning.” William made further attempt to engage his father’s interest and attention, but without avail.

“I wish you’d tell me what’s the matter with you, sir,” said the troubled son, turning squarely, and with honest kindness in his look. “It hurts my feelings, father. If I’ve put you out, I want to make amends. Marilla’s worried to death for fear it’s on her account. We both set everything by you, but you hold us off; and I feel, when I try to be company for you, as if you thought I belonged in jail, and hadn’t no rights of any kind. Can’t you talk right out with me, sir? Ain’t you well?”

“There! don’t run on, boy,” said the old man sadly. “I do the best I can; you’ve got to give me time. I’m dreadful hard pushed losin’ of your mother. I’ve lost my home; you ain’t got the least idea what it is, William.”

His old face quivered, and William rose hastily and went a step or two forward, making believe that he was looking after his horse. “Stand still, there!” he shouted to the placid creature, and then came back and reached out his hand to his father.

Israel took hold of it, but looked up, a little puzzled. “You ain’t going yet?” he asked. “Why, you’ve only just come.”

“I want you to ride over with me to supper to-night. I want you to see how well that piece o’ late corn looks, after all your saying I might’s well lay it down to turnips. Come, father; the horse’s right here, and ‘t will make a change for you. Ain’t you about got through with them pies aunt Martin left you when she went away? Come; we’re goin’ to have a hearty supper, and I want ye.”

“I don’t know but I will,” said Israel Haydon slowly. “We’ve got on pretty well–no, we ain’t, neither. I ain’t comfortable, and I can’t make nothin’ o’ that poor shoat of a boy. I’m buying o’ the baker an’ frying a pan o’ pork the whole time, trying to fill him up. I never was so near out o’ pork this time o’ year, not since I went to housekeepin’.”

“I heard he’d been tellin’ round the neighborhood that he was about starved,” said William plainly. “Our folks always had the name o’ being good providers.”

“How’d your mother use to wash up the cups an’ things to make ’em look decent?” asked Mr. Haydon suddenly; there was the humility of broken pride in his tone. “I can’t seem to find nothin’ to do with, anywhere about the house. I s’posed I knew where everything was. I expect I’ve got out all poor mother’s best things, without knowin’ the difference. Except there ain’t nothin’ nowhere that looks right to me,” he added.

William stooped to pick something out of the chips. “You’ll have to ask Marilla,” he said. “It mortifies me to have you go on in such a way. Now, father, you wouldn’t hear to anybody that was named to you, but if you go on this way much longer you’ll find that any housekeeper’s better than none.”

“Why, I’ve only been waiting to hear of a proper person,” said Israel Haydon, turning an innocent and aggrieved countenance upon his son. “My house is in a terrible state, now I can tell you.”

William looked away and tried to keep his face steady.

“What do you find to laugh at?” asked the poor father, in the tone of a schoolmaster.

“Don’t you know I spoke of somebody to you? I believe ‘t was the very day after the funeral,” said William persuasively. “Her name is Maria Durrant.”

“I remember the person well; an excellent, sensible woman, no flummery, and did remarkable well in case of sickness at your house,” said Mr. Haydon, with enthusiasm, stepping briskly toward the wagon after he had shut and fastened the wood-house doors and put the padlock key in his pocket. “What of her? You said there was no chance of getting her, didn’t you?”

“I was afraid so; but she’s left her brother’s folks now, and come to stop a little while with Marilla. She’s at the house this minute; came last night. You know, Marilla’s very fond of having her cousins come to stop with her,” apologized the son, in fear lest his simple plot should be discovered and resented. “You can see if she’s such a person as you want. I have been thinking all day that she might do for a time, anyway.”

“Anybody’ll do,” said Mr. Haydon suddenly. “I tell ye, William, I’m drove to the wall. I feel to covet a good supper; an’ I’m ashamed to own it, a man o’ my property! I’ll observe this Miss Durrant, an’ speak with her after tea; perhaps she’d have the sense to come right over to-morrow. You an’ Marilla can tell her how I’ve been situated. I wa’n’t going to have no such persons in my house as were recommended,” he grumbled on cheerfully. “I don’t keep a town-farm for the incapable, nor do I want an old grenadier set over me like that old maid Smith. I ain’t going to be turned out of my own house.”

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They drove along the road slowly, and presently the ever-interesting subject of crops engaged their further attention. When they turned into William Haydon’s side yard a pleasant-faced, middle-aged woman, in a neat black dress and a big clean white apron, sat on the piazza with Marilla and the children. Israel Haydon’s heart felt lighter than it had for many a week. He went and shook hands with Maria Durrant, with more than interest and approval; there was even a touch of something like gallantry in his manner. William Haydon glanced at his wife and gave an unconscious sigh of relief.

The next morning Miss Durrant helped with the early work, talking with William’s wife as she went to and fro busily in the large kitchen, and listening to all that could be said of the desperate state of affairs at the old farm. The two women so doubled their diligence by working together that it was still early in the day when Maria, blushing noticeably, said that she thought there was no use in waiting until afternoon, as old Mr. Haydon had directed. There must be plenty to do; and the sooner the house was put to rights and some cooking got under way the better. She had her old calico dress all on, and she deemed it best to go over and go right to work.

“There! I don’t know what to say, Maria,” said Marilla Haydon doubtfully. “Father Haydon’s such a set person.”

“So be I,” rejoined Maria. “And who knows how bad those rooms need airing! I’ve thought of twenty things that ought to be done right off, before night. Or I could work a spell in the gardin if he don’t seem to want me in the house. Now, wa’n’t it affectin’ to hear him let on that he’d gone an’ made poor Mis’ Haydon’s flower gardin same’s he’d always done? It showed real feelin’, didn’t it? I am goin’ to take holt over there as if ‘t was for her as well as for him. That time I was here so long, when you was so sick, I did just admire Mis’ Haydon. She was a beautiful-looking woman, and so pretty-behaved; quiet, but observin’. I never saw a man age as William’s father has; it made my heart ache when I first caught sight of him driving into the yard last night.”

“He revived up conversin’ with you an’ makin’ such a good hearty tea,” suggested Marilla, disappearing in the pantry. “I ain’t never felt free with father Haydon, but I do respect him,” she added presently. “Well, now, go right over, Maria, if you feel moved to. I don’t know but what you’re wise. P’r’aps William an’ I’ll walk over, after supper’s put away. I guess you’ve got a busy day before you.”

She stood at the open door and watched Maria Durrant go away, a few minutes later, with a plump bundle under one arm.

“I should think you were going to seek your fortune,” she called merrily, as the good woman turned into the road; but Maria wagged her head with a cheerful nod, and did not deign to look back. “I ought to have given her some bread to tuck under the other arm, like the picture of Benjamin Franklin. I dare say they do need bread; I ought to have thought of it,” said Marilla anxiously, as she returned to the pantry.

“But there! Father Haydon’s got as far along in housekeeping as stopping the baker; an’ he was put out because I sent things too soon, before aunt Martin’s provisions were gone. I’ll risk cousin Maria to get along.”

The new housekeeper trod the little footpath at the road edge with a firm step. She was as eager and delighted as if she were bent on a day’s pleasuring. A truly sympathetic, unselfish heart beat in her breast; she fairly longed to make the lonely, obstinate old man comfortable. Presently she found herself going up the long Haydon lane in the shade of the apple-trees. The great walnut-trees at the other side of the house were huge and heavy with leaves; there was a general floweriness and pleasantness over all growing things; but the tall thin spruce that towered before the front door looked black and solitary, and bore a likeness to old Mr. Haydon himself. Such was the force of this comparison that Miss Durrant stopped and looked at it with compassion.

Then her eyes fell upon the poor flower bed overgrown with weeds, through which the bachelor’s-buttons and London-pride were pushing their way into bloom. “I guess I’ll set a vine to grow up that tree; ‘t would get sun enough, an’ look real live and pretty,” she decided, surveying the situation; then she moved on, with perhaps less eagerness in her gait, and boldly entered the side door of the house. She could hear the sound of an axe in the shed, as if some one were chopping up kindlings. When she caught sight of the empty kitchen she dropped her bundle into the nearest chair, and held up her hands in what was no affectation of an appearance of despair.


One day in May, about a year from the time that Martha Haydon died, Maria Durrant was sitting by the western window of the kitchen, mending Mr. Haydon’s second-best black coat, when she looked down the lane and saw old Polly Norris approaching the house. Polly was an improvident mother of improvident children, not always quite sound in either wits or behavior, but she had always been gently dealt with by the Haydons, and, as it happened, was also an old acquaintance of Maria Durrant’s own. Maria gave a little groan at the sight of her: she did not feel just then like listening to long tales or responding to troublesome demands. She nodded kindly to the foolish old creature, who presently came wheezing and lamenting into the clean sunshiny kitchen, and dropped herself like an armful of old clothes into the nearest chair.

Maria rose and put by her work; she was half glad, after all, to have company; and Polly Norris was not without certain powers of good-fellowship and entertaining speech.

“I expect this may be the last time I can get so fur,” she announced. “‘T is just ’bout a year sence we was all to Mis’ Haydon’s funeral. I didn’t know but that was the last time. Well, I do’ know but it’s so I can accept that piece o’ pie. I’ve come fur, an’ my strength’s but small. How’s William’s folks?”

“They’re smart,” answered Maria, seating herself to her work again, after the expedition to the pantry.

“I tell ye this is beautiful pie,” said the guest, looking up, after a brief and busy silence; “a real comfortable help o’ pie, after such a walk, feeble as I be. I’ve failed a sight sence you see me before, now ain’t I?”

“I don’t know’s I see any change to speak of,” said Maria, bending over the coat.

“Lord bless you, an’ Heaven too! I ain’t eat no such pie as this sence I was a girl. Your rule, was it, or poor Mis’ Haydon’s?”

“I’ve always made my pies that same way,” said Maria soberly. “I’m pleased you should enjoy it.”

“I expect my walk give me an extry appetite. I can walk like a bird, now, I tell ye; last summer I went eleven miles, an’ ag’in nine miles. You just ought to see me on the road, an’ here I be, goin’ on seventy-seven year old. There ain’t so many places to go to as there used to be. I’ve known a sight o’ nice kind folks that’s all gone. It’s re’lly sad how folks is goin’. There’s all Mis’ Nash’s folks passed away; the old doctor, an’ the little grandgirl, an’ Mis’ Nash that was like a mother to me, an’ always had some thin’ to give me; an’ down to Glover’s Corner they’re all gone”–

“Yes, anybody feels such changes,” replied Maria compassionately. “You’ve seen trouble, ain’t you?”

“I’ve seen all kinds of trouble,” said the withered little creature, mournfully.

“How is your daughter to South Atfield gettin’ along?” asked the hostess kindly, after a pause, while Polly worked away at the pie.

“Lord bless you! this pie is so heartenin’, somehow or ‘nother, after such a walk. Susan Louisa is doin’ pretty well; she’s a sight improved from what she was. Folks is very considerate to Susan Louisa. She goes to the Orthodox church, an’ sence she was sick there’s been a committee to see to her. They met, fifteen in number. One on ’em give her two quarts o’ milk a day. Mr. Dean, Susan Louisa’s husband, died the eighth day o’ last March.”

“Yes, I heard he was gone, rather sudden,” said Maria, showing more interest.

“Yes, but he was ‘twixt eighty an’ ninety year old. Susan Louisa was but fifty-one in February last.”

“He’d have done better for you, wouldn’t he, Mis’ Norris?” suggested Maria, by way of pleasantry, but there was a long and doubtful pause.

“I had rather be excused,” said Polly at last, with great emphasis. “Miss Maria Durrant, ain’t you got a calico dress you could spare, or an apron, or a pair o’ rubbers, anyways? I be extra needy, now, I tell you! There; I ain’t inquired for William’s folks; how be they?”

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“All smart,” said Maria, for the second time; but she happened to look up just in time to catch a strange gleam in her visitor’s eyes.

“Mis’ William don’t come here, I expect?” she asked mysteriously.

“She never was no great of a visitor. Yes, she comes sometimes,” answered Maria Durrant.

“I understood William had forbid her till you’d got away, if she was your own cousin.”

“We’re havin’ no trouble together. What do you mean?” Maria demanded.

“Well, my hearing ain’t good.” Polly tried to get herself into safe shelter of generalities. “Old folks kind o’ dreams things; you must excuse me, Maria. But I certain have heard a sight o’ talk about your stoppin’ here so long with Mr. Haydon, and that William thought you was overdoin’, an’ would have spoke, only you was his wife’s cousin. There’s plenty stands up for you; I should always be one of ’em my self; you needn’t think but I’m a friend, Maria. I heard somebody a-remarking that you was goin’ to stay till you got him; an’ others said Mr. Israel Haydon was one to know his own mind, and he never would want to put nobody in his wife’s place, they set so by one another. An’ I spoke a good word for ye. I says, ‘Now look here! ‘t ain’t ‘s if Mari’ Durrant was a girl o’ twenty-five; she’s a smart capable creatur’,’ says I, ‘an””–

“I guess I’ve got an old dress I can let you have.”

Maria Durrant, with crimson cheeks and a beating heart, rose suddenly and escaped to the back stairway. She left old Polly sitting in the kitchen so long that she fell into a comfortable drowse, from which she was recalled by Maria’s reappearance with a bundle of discarded garments, but there was something stern and inhospitable in these last moments of the visit, and Polly soon shuffled off down the lane, mumbling and muttering and hugging the bundle with great delight. She always enjoyed her visits to the Haydon farm. But she had left Miss Durrant crying by the western window; the bitter tears were falling on Israel Haydon’s old black coat. It seemed very hard that a woman who had spent all her life working for others should be treated as the enemy of kindred and acquaintance; this was almost the first time in all her history that she had managed to gather and hold a little peace and happiness. There was nothing to do now but to go back to her brother’s noisy shiftless house; to work against wind and tide of laziness and improvidence. She must slave for the three boarders, so that her brother’s wife could go to New York State to waste her time with a sister just as worthless, though not so penniless, as herself. And there was young Johnny, her nephew, working with Mr. Haydon on the farm, and doing so well, he must go back too, and be put into the factory. Maria looked out of the window; through the tears that stood in her eyes the smooth green fields were magnified and transfigured.

The door opened, and Mr. Haydon entered with deliberate step and a pleasant reassuring look. He almost never smiled, but he happened to be smiling then. “I observed you had company just now; I saw old Polly Norris going down the lane when I was coming up from the field,” he said, and then stopped suddenly, and took a step nearer to Maria; he had never seen his cheerful housemate in tears. He did not ask the reason; they both felt embarrassed, and yet each was glad of the other’s presence. Mr. Haydon did not speak, but Maria brushed her tears away, and tried to go on sewing. She was mending the lining of the second-best black coat with most touching care.

“I expect I shall have to take that co’t for every day now, an’ get me a new one for best,” he announced at last, because somebody had to say something. “I’ve about finished with this. Spring work is hard on an old co’t.”

“Your best one is gettin’ a little mite threadbare in the back,” said Maria, but it was hard for her to control her voice. “I’ll put all your clothes in as good repair as I can before I go, sir. I’ve come to the conclusion that I ought to go back to my brother’s folks, his wife wants to go off on a visit”–

“Don’t you, Maria,” exclaimed the distressed old man. “Don’t talk that way; it’s onreasonable. William has informed me about your brother’s folks; what else may affect you I don’t know, but I’ve made up my mind. I don’t know why ‘t was, but I was just comin’ to speak about it. I may say ‘t was for your interest as well as mine, an’ with William’s approval. I never thought to change my situation till lately. Such a loss as I’ve met ain’t to be forgotten, an’ it ain’t forgotten. I’m gettin’ along in years, an’ I never was a great talker. I expect you know what I want to say, Miss Durrant. I’ll provide well for you, an’ make such a settlement as you an’ William approve. He’s well off, an’ he spoke to me about us; that we was comfortable together, an’ he never wanted to see me left alone, as I was last year. How do you feel yourself? You feel that ‘t would be good judgment, now don’t ye?”

Maria never had heard Mr. Israel Haydon say so much at any one time. There he stood, a man of sixty-eight, without pretense of having fallen in love, but kind and just, and almost ministerial in his respectability. She had always followed a faint but steady star of romance, which shone still for her in the lowering sky of her life; it seemed to shine before her eyes now; it dazzled her through fresh tears. Yet, after all, she felt that this was really her home, and with a sudden great beat of her heart, she knew that she should say “Yes” to Mr. Haydon. The sharp sting in the thought of going away had been that she must leave him to the ignorant devotion or neglect of somebody else–some other woman was going to have the dear delight of making him comfortable.

So she looked up full in his face, unmindful of the bleakness of his love-making, and was touched to see that he bore the aspect of a truly anxious and even affectionate man. Without further words they both knew that the great question was settled. The star of romance presently turned itself into the bright kitchen lamp that stood between them as Maria sewed her long winter seam and looked up contentedly to see Mr. Haydon sitting opposite with his weekly newspaper.


Mr. Haydon owned one of the last old-fashioned two-wheeled chaises, a select few of which still survived in the retired region of Atfield. It would not have suited him to go to church in a wagon like his neighbors, any more than he could have bought a rough working-suit of new clothes for every day. The chaise-top had always framed the faces of Mr. Haydon and Martha, his first wife, in a fitting manner not unlike a Friend’s plain bonnet on a larger scale; it had belonged to their placid appearance of old-time respectability. Now that Maria, the second wife, had taken the vacant seat by the driver’s side, her fresher color and eager enjoyment of the comfort and dignity of the situation were remarked with pleasure. She had not been forward about keeping Mr. Haydon company before their marriage; for some reason she was not a constant church-goer, and usually had some excuse for staying at home, both on Sundays and when there was any expedition on business to one of the neighboring towns. But after the wedding these invitations were accepted as a matter of course.

One Sunday afternoon they were bobbing home from meeting in their usual sedate and placid fashion. There had been a very good sermon, and two or three strangers in the congregation, old acquaintances who had left Atfield for the West, stopped to speak with their friends after the service was over. It was a lovely day, and there was the peacefulness of Sunday over the landscape, the wide untenanted fields, the woods near and far, and the distant hills. The old pacing horse jogged steadily along.

“I was thinking how your wife would have enjoyed seeing the folks; wouldn’t she?” said Maria, with gentle sympathy.

“The thought was just dwelling in my mind,” said the old man, turning toward her, a little surprised.

“I was sorry I was stand in’ right there; they didn’t feel so free to speak, you know,” said Maria, who had accepted her place as substitute with a touching self-forgetfulness and devotion, following as best she could the humblest by-paths of the first Mrs. Haydon’s career.

“Marthy and Mis’ Chellis that you saw to-day was always the best of friends; they was girls together,” said Mr. Haydon, swaying his whip-lash. “They was second cousins on the father’s side.”

“Don’t you expect Mis’ Chellis’d like to come an’ take tea with you some afternoon? I always feel as if ‘t would be sad for you, such an occasion, but I’ll have everything real nice. Folks seem to be paying her a good deal of attention,” suggested Maria.

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“And when anybody has been away a good while, they like to go all round and see all the places that’s familiar, if they do feel the changes.”

“Yes, I guess we’d better invite her to spend the afternoon,” said the old man, and they jogged on together in silence.

“Have you got everything you want to do with?”, asked Mr. Haydon kindly.

“Certain,” answered Maria, with satisfaction. “I never was acquainted with such a good provider as you be in all the houses I’ve ever stopped in; I can say that. You’ve remembered a number o’ things this past week that I should have forgot myself. I’ve seen what other women folks has to go through with, being obliged to screw every way an’ make up things out o’ nothing, afraid to say the flour’s gone or the sugar’s out. Them very husbands is the ones that’ll find most fault if their tables ain’t spread with what they want. I know now what made your wife always look so pleased an’ contented.”

“She was very saving an’ judicious by natur’,” said Mr. Haydon, as if he did not wish to take so much praise entirely to himself. “I call you a very saving woman too, Maria,” he added, looking away over the fields, as if he had made some remark about the grass.

The bright color rushed to Maria’s face, but she could not say anything. There was something very pleasant in the air; the fields appeared new to her and most beautiful; it was a moment of great happiness.

“I tell you I felt it dreadfully when I was alone all that time. I enjoy having somebody to speak with now about poor Martha,” said the old man, with great feeling.

“It was dreadful lonely for you, wa’n’t it?” said Maria, in her sensible, pleasant, compassionate tone.

“People meant well enough with their advice, but I was set so cross-wise that it all seemed like interference. I’d got to wait till the right thing came round–an’ it come at last,” announced Mr. Haydon handsomely. “I feel to be very grateful. Yes, I want to have Mis’ Chellis come an’ take tea, just as she used to. We’ll look over what’s left o’ poor Marthy’s little things, an’ select something to give her for a remembrance. ‘T ain’t very likely she’ll come ‘way East again at her time o’ life. She’s havin’ a grand time; it acts to me just like a last visit.”

“I’ll make some nice pound-cake to-morrow, and we’ll ask her next day,” said Maria cheerfully, as they turned into the lane.

Maria Haydon’s life had been spent in trying to make other people comfortable, and so she succeeded, oftener than she knew, in making them happy. Every day she seemed to forget herself, and to think of others more; and so, though old Mrs. Chellis missed her friend when she came to tea the next day but one, she soon forgot the sadness of the first few minutes, and began to enjoy the kind welcome of Mr. Haydon and his present companion.

A little later Mr. Haydon was coming back from one of his fields to look after some men whom he and his son had set to work at ditching. Most of the talk that afternoon had naturally been connected with his first wife, but now everything along his path reminded him of Maria. Her prosperous flock of young turkeys were heading northward at a little distance out across the high grass land; and below, along the brook, went the geese and goslings in a sedate procession. The young pear-trees which she had urged him to set out looked thrifty and strong as he passed, and there were some lengths of linen bleaching on a knoll, that she had found yellowing in one of the garret chests. She took care of everything, and, best of all, she took great care of him. He had left the good creature devoting herself to their guest as if she were an old friend instead of a stranger–just for his sake and his wife’s sake. Maria always said “your wife” when she spoke of her predecessor.

“Marthy always said that Maria Durrant was as kind and capable a woman as she ever set eyes on, an’ poor Marthy was one that knew,” said Mr. Haydon to himself as he went along, and his heart grew very tender. He was not exactly satisfied with himself, but he could not have told why. As he came near, the house looked cheerful and pleasant; the front door was wide open, and the best-room blinds. The little garden was in full bloom, and there was a sound of friendly voices. Conversation was flowing on with a deep and steady current. Somehow the old man felt young again in the midst of his sober satisfaction and renewed prosperity. He lingered near the door, and looked back over his fields as if he were facing life with a sense of great security; but presently his ears caught at something that the two women were saying in the house.

Maria was speaking to Mrs. Chellis, who was a little deaf.

“Yes’m, he does look well,” she said. “I think his health’s a good sight better than it was a year ago. I don’t know’s you ever saw anybody so pitiful as he was for a good while after he lost his wife. He took it harder than some o’ those do that make more talk. Yes, she certain was a lovely woman, and one that knew how to take the lead for him just where a man don’t want to be bothered–about house matters and little things. He’s a dear, good, kind man, Mr. Haydon is. I feel very grateful for all his kindness. I’ve got a lovely home, Mis’ Chellis,” said Maria impulsively; “an’ I try to do everything I can, the way he an’ Mis’ Haydon always had it.”

“I guess you do,” agreed the guest. “I never see him look better since he was a young man. I hope he knows how well off he is!”

They both laughed a little, and Mr. Haydon could not help smiling in sympathy.

“There, I do enjoy spending with him,” said the younger woman wistfully; “but I can’t help wishin’ sometimes that I could have been the one to help him save. I envy Mis’ Haydon all that part of it, and I can’t help it.”

“Why, you must set a sight by him!” exclaimed Mrs. Chellis, with mild surprise. “I didn’t know but what marryin’ for love had all gone out of fashion in Atfield.”

“You can tell ’em it ain’t,” said Maria. At that moment Israel Haydon turned and walked away slowly up the yard. His thin black figure straightened itself gallantly, and he wore the look of a younger man.

Later that evening, when the guests were gone, after a most cheerful and hospitable occasion, and the company tea things were all put away, Maria was sitting in the kitchen for a few minutes to rest, and Mr. Haydon had taken his own old chair near the stove, and sat there tapping his finger-ends together. They had congratulated each other handsomely, because everything had gone off so well; but suddenly they both felt as if there were a third person present; their feeling toward one another seemed to change. Something seemed to prompt them to new confidence and affection, to speak the affectionate thoughts that were in their hearts; it was no rebuking, injured presence, for a sense of great contentment filled their minds. Israel Haydon tapped his fingers less regularly than usual, and Maria found herself unable to meet his eyes.

The silence between them grew more and more embarrassing, and at last Mr. Haydon remembered that he had not locked the barn, and rose at once, crossing the kitchen with quicker steps than usual. Maria looked up at him as he passed.

“Yes, everything went off beautifully,” she repeated. “Mis’ Chellis is real good company. I enjoyed hearing her talk about old times. She set everything by Mis’ Haydon, didn’t she? You had a good wife, Mr. Haydon, certain,” said Maria, wistfully, as he hesitated a moment at the door.

Israel Haydon did not answer a word, but went his way and shut the door behind him. It was a cool evening after the pleasant day; the air felt a little chilly. He did not go beyond the doorsteps, for something seemed to draw him back, so he lifted the clinking latch and stepped bravely into the kitchen again, and stood there a moment in the bright light.

Maria Haydon turned toward him as she stood at the cupboard with a little lamp in her hand. “Why Mr. Haydon! what’s the matter?” She looked startled at first, but her face began to shine. “Now don’t you go and be foolish, Isr’el!” she said.

“Maria,” said he, “I want to say to you that I feel to be very thankful. I’ve got a good wife now.”

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