Story type: Literature
There was a bright, full moon in the clear sky, and the sunset was still shining faintly in the west. Dark woods stood all about the old Hilton farmhouse, save down the hill, westward, where lay the shadowy fields which John Hilton, and his father before him, had cleared and tilled with much toil—the small fields to which they had given the industry and even affection of their honest lives.
John Hilton was sitting on the doorstep of his house. As he moved his head in and out of the shadows, turning now and then to speak to his wife, who sat just within the doorway, one could see his good face, rough and somewhat unkempt, as if he were indeed a creature of the shady woods and brown earth, instead of the noisy town. It was late in the long spring evening, and he had just come from the lower field as cheerful as a boy, proud of having finished the planting of his potatoes.
“I had to do my last row mostly by feelin’,” he said to his wife. “I’m proper glad I pushed through, an’ went back an’ ended off after supper. ’Twould have taken me a good part o’ to-morrow mornin’, an’ broke my day. ”
“ ’Tain’t no use for ye to work yourself all to pieces, John,” answered the woman, quickly. “I declare it does seem harder than ever that we couldn’t have kep’ our boy; he’d been comin’ fourteen years old this fall, most a grown man, and he’d work right ’longside of ye now the whole time. ”
“ ’Twas hard to lose him; I-do seem to miss little John,” said the father, sadly. “I expect there was reasons why ’twas best. I feel able an’ smart to work; my father was a girt strong man, an’ a monstrous worker afore me. ’Tain’t that; but I was thinkin’ myself to-day what a sight o’ company the boy would ha’ been. You know, small’s he was, how I could trust him to leave anywheres with the team, and how he’d beseech to go with me wherever I was goin’; always right in my tracks I used to tell ’em. Poor little John, for all he was so young he had a great deal o’ judgment; he’d ha’ made a likely man. ”
The mother sighed heavily as she within the shadow.
“But then there’s the little girls, a sight o’ help an’ company,” urged the father, eagerly, as if it were wrong to dwell upon sorrow and loss. “Katy, she’s most as good as a boy, except that she ain’t very rugged. She’s a real little farmer, she’s helped me a sight this spring; an’ you’ve got Susan Ellen, that makes a complete little housekeeper for ye as far as she’s learnt. I don’t see but we’re better off than most folks, each on us having a workmate. ”
“That’s so, John,” acknowledged Mrs. Hilton, wistfully, beginning to rock steadily in her straight splint-bottom chair. It was always a good sign when she rocked.
“Where be the little girls so late?” asked their father. “’Tis gettin’ long past eight o’clock. I don’t know when we’ve all set up so late, but it’s so kind o’ summer-like an’ pleasant. Why, where be they gone?”
“I’ve told ye; only over to Becker’s folks,” answered the mother. “I don’t see myself what keeps ’em so late; they beseeched me after supper till I let ’em go. They’re all in a dazzle with the new teacher; she asked ’em to come over. They say she’s unusual smart with ’rethmetic, but she has a kind of gorpen look to me. She’s goin’ to give Katy some pieces for her doll, but I told Katy she ought to be ashamed wantin’ dolls’ pieces, big as she’s gittin’ to be. I don’t know’s she ought, though; she ain’t but nine this summer. ”
“Let her take her comfort,” said the kind-hearted man. “Them things draws her to the teacher, an’ makes them acquainted. Katy’s shy with new folks, more so’n Susan Ellen, who’s of the business kind. Katy’s shy-feelin’ and wishful. ”
“I don’t know but she is,” agreed the mother slowly. “Ain’t it sing’lar how well acquainted you be with that one, an’ I with Susan Ellen? ’Twas always so from the first. I’m doubtful sometimes our Katy ain’t one that’ll be like to get married—anyways not about here. She lives right with herself, but Susan Ellen ain’t nothin’ when she’s alone, she’s always after company; all the boys is waitin’ on her a’ready. I ain’t afraid but she’ll take her pick when the time comes. I expect to see Susan Ellen well settled—she feels grown up now—but Katy don’t care one mite ’bout none o’ them things. She wants to be rovin’ out o’ doors. I do believe she’d stand an’ hark to a bird the whole forenoon. ”
“Perhaps she’ll grow up to be a teacher,” suggested John Hilton. “She takes to her books more’n the other one. I should like one on ’em to be a teacher same’s my mother was. They’re good girls as anybody’s got. ”
“So they be,” said the mother, with unusual gentleness, and the creak of her rocking-chair was heard, regular as the ticking of a clock. The night breeze stirred in the great woods, and the sound of a brook that went falling down the hillside grew louder and louder. Now and then one could hear the plaintive chirp of a bird. The moon glittered with whiteness like a winter moon, and shone upon the low-roofed house until its small window-panes gleamed like silver, and one could almost see the colours of a blooming bush of lilac that grew in a sheltered angle by the kitchen door. There was an incessant sound of frogs in the lowlands.
“Be you sound asleep, John?” asked the wife presently.
“I don’t know but what I was a’most,” said the tired man, starting a little. “I should laugh if I was to fall sound asleep right here on the step; ’tis the bright night, I expect, makes my eyes feel heavy, an’ ’tis so peaceful. I was up an’ dressed a little past four an’ out to work. Well, well!” and he laughed sleepily and rubbed his eyes. “Where’s the little girls? I’d better step along an’ meet ’em. ”
“I wouldn’t just yet; they’ll get home all right, but ’tis late for ’em certain. I don’t want ’em keepin’ Mis’ Becker’s folks up neither. There, le’s wait a few minutes,” urged Mrs. Hilton.
“I’ve be’n a-thinkin’ all day I’d like to give the child’n some kind of a treat,” said the father, wide awake now. “I hurried up my work ’cause I had it so in mind. They don’t have the opportunities some do, an’ I want ’em to know the world, an’ not stay right here on the farm like a couple o’ bushes. ”
“They’re a sight better off not to be so full o’ notions as some is,” protested the mother, suspiciously.
“Certain,” answered the farmer; “but they’re good, bright child’n, an’ commencin’ to take a sight o’ notice. I want ’em to have all we can give ’em. I want ’em to see how other folks does things. ”
“Why, so do I”—here the rocking-chair stopped ominously—“but so long’s they’re contented——”
“Contented ain’t all in this world; hopper-toads may have that quality an’ spend all their time a-blinkin’. I don’t know’s bein’ contented is all there is to look for in a child. Ambition’s somethin’ to me. ”
“Now you’ve got your mind on to some plot or o
ther. ” (The rocking-chair began to move again. ) “Why can’t you talk right out?”
“Tain’t nothin’ special,” answered the good man, a little ruffled; he was never prepared for his wife’s mysterious powers of divination. “Well there, you do find things out the master! I only thought perhaps I’d take ’em to-morrow, an’ go off somewhere if ’twas a good day. I’ve been promisin’ for a good while I’d take ’em to Topham Corners; they’ve never been there since they was very small. ”
“I believe you want a good time yourself. You ain’t never got over bein’ a boy. ” Mrs. Hilton seemed much amused. “There, go if you want to an’ take ’em; they’ve got their summer hats an’ new dresses. I don’t know o’ nothin’ that stands in the way. I should sense it better if there was a circus or anythin’ to go to. Why don’t you wait an’ let the girls pick ’em some strawberries or nice ros’berries, and then they could take an’ sell ’em to the stores?”
John Hilton reflected deeply. “I should like to get me some good yellow-turnip seed to plant late. I ain’t more’n satisfied with what I’ve been gettin’ o’ late years o’ Ira Speed. An’ I’m goin’ to provide me with a good hoe; mine’s gettin’ wore out an’ all shackly. I can’t seem to fix it good. ”
“Them’s excuses,” observed Mrs. Hilton, with friendly tolerance. “You just cover up the hoe with somethin’, if you get it—I would. Ira Speed’s so jealous he’ll remember it of you this twenty year, your goin’ an’ buyin’ a new hoe o’ anybody but him. ”
“I’ve always thought ’twas a free country,” said John Hilton, soberly. “I don’t want to vex Ira neither; he favours us all he can in trade. ’Tis difficult for him to spare a cent, but he’s as honest as daylight. ”
At this moment there was a sudden sound of young voices, and a pair of young figures came out from the shadow of the woods into the moonlighted open space. An old cock crowed loudly from his perch in the shed, as if he were a herald of royalty. The little girls were hand in hand, and a brisk young dog capered about them as they came.
“Wa’n’t it dark gittin’ home through the woods this time o’ night?” asked the mother, hastily, and not without reproach.
“I don’t love to have you gone so late; mother an’ me was timid about ye, and you’ve kep’ Mis’ Becker’s folks up, I expect,” said their father, regretfully. “I don’t want to have it said that my little girls ain’t got good manners. ”
“The teacher had a party,” chirped Susan Ellen, the elder of the two children. “Goin’ home from school she asked the Grover boys, an’ Mary an’ Sarah Speed. An’ Mis’ Becker was real pleasant to us: she passed round some cake, an’ handed us sap sugar on one of her best plates, an’ we played games an’ sung some pieces too. Mis’ Becker thought we did real well. I can pick out most of a tune on the cabinet organ; teacher says she’ll give me lessons. ”
“I want to know, dear!” exclaimed John Hilton.
“Yes, an’ we played Copenhagen, an’ took sides spellin’, an’ Katy beat everybody spellin’ there was there. ”
Katy had not spoken, she was not so strong as her sister, and while Susan Ellen stood a step or two away addressing her eager little audience, Katy had seated herself close to her father on the doorstep. He put his arm around her shoulder, and drew her close to his side, where she stayed.
“Ain’t you got nothin’ to tell, daughter?” he asked, looking down fondly, and Katy gave a pleased little sigh for answer.
“Tell ’em what’s goin’ to be the last day o’ school, and about our trimmin’ the schoolhouse,” she said, and Susan Ellen gave the programme in most spirited fashion.
“’Twill be a great time,” said the mother, when she had finished. “I don’t see why folks want to go trapesin’ off to strange places when such things is happenin’ right about ’em. ” But the children did not observe her mysterious air. “Come, you must step yourselves right to bed. ”
They all went into the dark, warm house, the bright moon shone upon it steadily all night, and the lilac flowers were shaken by no breath of wind until the early dawn.
The Hiltons always waked early. So did their neighbours, the crows and song-sparrows and robins, the light-footed foxes and squirrels in the woods. When John Hilton waked, before five o’clock, an hour later than usual because he had sat up so late, he opened the house door and came out into the yard, crossing the short green turf hurriedly as if the day were too far spent for any loitering. The magnitude of the plan for taking a whole day of pleasure confronted him seriously, but the weather was fair, and his wife, whose disapproval could not have been set aside, had accepted and even smiled upon the great project. It was inevitable now that he and the children should go to Topham Corners. Mrs. Hilton had the pleasure of waking them, and telling the news.
In a few minutes they came frisking out to talk over the great plans. The cattle were already fed, and their father was milking. The only sign of high festivity was the wagon pulled out into the yard, with both seats put in as if it were Sunday; but Mr. Hilton still wore his everyday clothes, and Susan Ellen suffered instantly from disappointment.
“Ain’t we goin’, father?” she asked, complainingly, but he nodded and smiled at her, even though the cow, impatient to get to pasture, kept whisking her rough tail across his face. He held his head down and spoke cheerfully, in spite of this vexation.
“Yes, sister, we’re goin’ certain, an’ goin’ to have a great time, too. ” Susan Ellen thought that he seemed like a boy at that delightful moment, and felt new sympathy and pleasure at once. “You go an’ help mother about breakfast an’ them things; we want to get off quick’s we can. You coax mother now, both on ye, an’ see if she won’t go with us. ”
“She said she wouldn’t be hired to,” responded Susan Ellen. “She says it’s goin’ to be hot, an’ she’s laid out to go over an’ see how her aunt Tamsen Brooks is this afternoon. ”
The father gave a little sigh; then he took heart again. The truth was that his wife made light of the contemplated pleasure, and, much as he usually valued her companionship and approval, it was sure that they should have a better time without her. It was impossible, however, not to feel guilty of disloyalty at the thought. Even though she might be completely unconscious of his best ideals, he only loved her and the ideals the more, and bent his energies to satisfying her indefinite expectations. His wife still kept much of that youthful beauty which Susan Ellen seemed likely to reproduce.
An hour later the best wagon was ready, and the great expedition set forth. The little dog sat apart, and barked as if it fell entirely upon him to voice the general excitement. Both seats were in the wagon, but the empty place testified to Mrs. Hilton’s unyielding disposition. She had wondered why one broad seat would not do, but John Hilton meekly suggested that the wagon looked better. The little girls sat on the back seat dressed alike in their Sunday hats of straw with blue ribbons, and their little plaid shawls pinned neatly about their small shoulders. They wore grey thread gloves, and sat very straight. Susan Ellen was half a head
the taller, but otherwise, from behind, they looked much alike. As for their father, he was in his Sunday best—a plain black coat, and a winter hat of felt, which was heavy and rusty-looking for that warm early-summer day. He had it in mind to buy a new straw hat at Topham, so that this with the turnip-seed and the hoe made three important reasons for going.
“Remember an’ lay off your shawls when you get there, an’ carry them over your arms,” said the mother, clucking like an excited hen to her chickens. “They’ll do to keep the dust off your new dresses goin’ and comin’. An’ when you eat your dinners don’t get spots on you, an’ don’t point at folks as you ride by, an’ stare, or they’ll know you came from the country. An’ John, you call into Cousin Ad’line Marlow’s an’ see how they all be, an’ tell her I expect her over certain to stop a while before hayin’. It always eases her phthisic to git up here on the highland, an’ I’ve got a new notion about doin’ over her best-room carpet sence I see her that’ll save rippin’ one breadth. An’ don’t come home all wore out; an’, John, don’t you go an’ buy me no kickshaws to fetch home. I ain’t a child, an’ you ain’t got no money to waste. I expect you’ll go, like’s not, an’ buy you some kind of a foolish boy’s hat; do look an’ see if it’s reasonable good straw, an’ won’t splinter all off round the edge. An’ you mind, John—”
“Yes, yes, hold on!” cried John, impatiently; then he cast a last affectionate, reassuring look at her face, flushed with the hurry and responsibility of starting them off in proper shape. “I wish you was goin’ too,” he said, smiling. “I do so!” Then the old horse started, and they went out at the bars, and began the careful long descent of the hill. The young dog, tethered to the lilac bush, was frantic with piteous appeals; the little girls piped their eager good-byes again and again, and their father turned many times to look back and wave his hand. As for their mother, she stood alone and watched them out of sight.
There was one place far out on the high road where she could catch a last glimpse of the wagon, and she waited what seemed a very long time until it appeared and then was lost to sight again behind a low hill. “They’re nothin’ but a pack o’ child’n together,” she said aloud, and then felt lonelier than she expected. She even stooped and patted the unresigned little dog as she passed him, going into the house.
The occasion was so much more important than anyone had foreseen that both the little girls were speechless. It seemed at first like going to church in new clothes, or to a funeral; they hardly knew how to behave at the beginning of a whole day of pleasure. They made grave bows at such persons of their acquaintance as happened to be straying in the road. Once or twice they stopped before a farmhouse, while their father talked an inconsiderately long time with someone about the crops and the weather and even dwelt upon town business and the doings of the selectmen, which might be talked of at any time. The explanations that he gave of their excursion seemed quite unnecessary. It was made entirely clear that he had a little business to do at Topham Corners, and thought he had better give the little girls a ride; they had been very steady at school, and he had finished planting, and could take the day as well as not. Soon, however, they all felt as if such an excursion were an everyday affair, and Susan Ellen began to ask eager questions, while Katy silently sat apart enjoying herself as she never had done before. She liked to see the strange houses, and the children who belonged to them; it was delightful to find flowers that she knew growing all along the road, no matter how far she went from home. Each small homestead looked its best and pleasantest, and shared the exquisite beauty that early summer made, shared the luxury of greenness and floweriness that decked the rural world. There was an early peony or a late lilac in almost every dooryard.
It was seventeen miles to Topham. After a while they seemed very far from home, having left the hills far behind, and descended to a great level country with fewer tracts of woodland, and wider fields where the crops were much more forward. The houses were all painted, and the roads were smoother and wider. It had been so pleasant driving along that Katy dreaded going into the strange town when she first caught sight of it, though Susan Ellen kept asking with bold fretfulness if they were not almost there. They counted the steeples of four churches, and their father presently showed them the Topham Academy, where their grandmother once went to school, and told them that perhaps some day they would go there too. Katy’s heart gave a strange leap; it was such a tremendous thing to think of, but instantly the suggestion was transformed for her into one of the certainties of life. She looked with solemn awe at the tall belfry, and the long rows of windows in the front of the academy, there where it stood high and white among the clustering trees. She hoped that they were going to drive by, but something forbade her taking the responsibility of saying so.
Soon the children found themselves among the crowded village houses. Their father turned to look at them with affectionate solicitude.
“Now sit up straight and appear pretty,” he whispered to them. “We’re among the best people now, an’ I want folks to think well of you. ”
“I guess we’re just as good as they be,” remarked Susan Ellen, looking at some innocent passers-by with dark suspicion, but Katy tried indeed to sit straight, and folded her hands prettily in her lap, and wished with all her heart to be pleasing for her father’s sake. Just then an elderly woman saw the wagon and the sedate party it carried, and smiled so kindly that it seemed to Katy as if Topham Corners had welcomed and received them. She smiled back again as if this hospitable person were an old friend, and entirely forgot that the eyes of all Topham had been upon her.
“There, now we’re coming to an elegant house that I want you to see; you’ll never forget it,” said John Hilton. “It’s where Judge Masterson lives, the great lawyer; the handsomest house in the county, everybody says. ”
“Do you know him, father?” asked Susan Ellen.
“I do,” answered John Hilton, proudly. “Him and my mother went to school together in their young days, and were always called the two best scholars of their time. The judge called to see her once; he stopped to our house to see her when I was a boy. An’ then, some years ago—you’ve heard me tell how I was on the jury, an’ when he heard my name spoken he looked at me sharp, and asked if I wa’n’t the son of Catharine Winn, an’ spoke most beautiful of your grandmother, an’ how well he remembered their young days together. ”
“I like to hear about that,” said Katy.
“She had it pretty hard, I’m afraid, up on the old farm. She was keepin’ school in our district when father married her—that’s the main reason I backed ’em down when they wanted to tear the old schoolhouse all to pieces,” confided John Hilton, turning eagerly. “They all say she lived longer up here on the hill than she could anywhere, but she never had her health. I wa’n’t but a boy when she died. Father an’ me lived alone afterward till the time your mother come; ’twas a good while, too; I wa’n’t married so young as some. ’T was lonesome, I tell you; father was plumb discouraged losin’ of his wife, an’ her long sickness an’ all set him back, an’ we’d work all day o
n the land an’ never say a word. I s’pose ’tis bein’ so lonesome early in life that makes me so pleased to have some nice girls growin’ up around me now. ”
There was a tone in her father’s voice that drew Katy’s heart toward him with new affection. She dimly understood, but Susan Ellen was less interested. They had often heard this story before, but to one child it was always new and to the other old. Susan Ellen was apt to think it tiresome to hear about her grandmother, who, being dead, was hardly worth talking about.
“There’s Judge Masterson’s place,” said their father in an everyday manner, as they turned a corner, and came into full view of the beautiful old white house standing behind its green trees and terraces and lawns. The children had never imagined anything so stately and fine, and even Susan Ellen exclaimed with pleasure. At that moment they saw an old gentleman, who carried himself with great dignity, coming slowly down the wide, box-bordered path toward the gate.
“There he is now, there’s the judge!” whispered John Hilton, excitedly, reining his horse quickly to the green roadside. “He’s goin’ downtown to his office; we can wait right here an’ see him. I can’t expect him to remember me; it’s been a good many years. Now you are goin’ to see the great Judge Masterson!”
There was a quiver of expectation in their hearts. The judge stopped at his gate, hesitating a moment before he lifted the latch, and glanced up the street at the country wagon with its two prim little girls on the back seat, and the eager man who drove. They seemed to be waiting for something; the old horse was nibbling at the fresh roadside grass. The judge was used to being looked at with interest, and responded now with a smile as he came out to the sidewalk, and unexpectedly turned their way. Then he suddenly lifted his hat with grave politeness, and came directly toward them.
“Good morning, Mr. Hilton,” he said. “I am very glad to see you, sir,” and Mr. Hilton, the little girls’ own father, took off his hat with equal courtesy, and bent forward to shake hands.
Susan Ellen cowered and wished herself away, but little Katy sat straighter than ever, with joy in her father’s pride and pleasure shining in her pale, flower-like little face.
“These are your daughters, I am sure,” said the old gentleman, kindly, taking Susan Ellen’s limp and reluctant hand; but when he looked at Katy, his face brightened. “How she recalls your mother!” he said with great feeling. “I am glad to see this dear child. You must come to see me with your father, my dear,” he added, still looking at her. “Bring both little girls, and let them run about the old garden; the cherries will soon be getting ripe,” said Judge Masterson, hospitably. “Perhaps you will have time to stop this afternoon as you go home?”
“I should call it a great pleasure if you would come and see us again some time. You may be driving our way, sir,” said John Hilton.
“Not very often in these days,” answered the old judge. “I thank you for the kind invitation. I should like to see the fine view again from your hill westward. Can I serve you in any way while you are in town? Good-bye, my little friends!”
Then they parted, but not before Katy, the shy Katy, whose hand the judge still held unconsciously while he spoke, had reached forward as he said good-bye, and lifted her face to kiss him. She could not have told why, except that she felt drawn to something in the serious, worn face. For the first time in her life the child had felt the charm of manners; perhaps she owned a kinship between that which made him what he was, and the spark of nobleness and purity in her own simple soul. She turned again and again to look back at him as they drove away.
“Now you have seen one of the first gentlemen in the country,” said their father. “It was worth comin’ twice as far——” But he did not say any more, nor turn as usual to look in the children’s faces.
In the chief business street of Topham a great many country wagons like the Hiltons’ were fastened to the posts, and there seemed to our holiday-makers to be a great deal of noise and excitement.
“Now I’ve got to do my errands, and we can let the horse rest and feed,” said John Hilton. “I’ll slip his headstall right off, an’ put on his halter. I’m goin’ to buy him a real good treat o’ oats. First we’ll go an’ buy me my straw hat; I feel as if this one looked a little past to wear in Topham. We’ll buy the things we want, an’ then we’ll walk all along the street, so you can look in the windows an’ see the han’some things, same’s your mother likes to. What was it mother told you about your shawls?”
“To take ’em off an’ carry ’em over our arms,” piped Susan Ellen, without comment, but in the interest of alighting and finding themselves afoot upon the pavement the shawls were forgotten. The children stood at the doorway of a shop while their father went inside, and they tried to see what the Topham shapes of bonnets were like, as their mother had advised them; but everything was exciting and confusing, and they could arrive at no decision. When Mr. Hilton came out with a hat in his hand to be seen in a better light, Katy whispered that she wished he would buy a shiny one like Judge Masterson’s; but her father only smiled and shook his head, and said that they were plain folks, he and Katy. There were dry-goods for sale in the same shop, and a young clerk who was measuring linen kindly pulled off some pretty labels with gilded edges and gay pictures, and gave them to the little girls, to their exceeding joy. He may have had small sisters at home, this friendly lad, for he took pains to find two pretty blue boxes besides, and was rewarded by their beaming gratitude.
It was a famous day; they even became used to seeing so many people pass. The village was full of its morning activity, and Susan Ellen gained a new respect for her father, and an increased sense of her own consequence, because even in Topham several persons knew him and called him familiarly by name. The meeting with an old man who had once been a neighbour seemed to give Mr. Hilton the greatest pleasure. The old man called to them from a house doorway as they were passing, and they all went in. The children seated themselves wearily on the wooden step, but their father shook his old friend eagerly by the hand, and declared that he was delighted to see him so well and enjoying the fine weather.
“Oh, yes,” said the old man, in a feeble, quavering voice, “I’m astonishin’ well for my age. I don’t complain, John, I don’t complain. ”
They talked long together of people whom they had known in the past, and Katy, being a little tired, was glad to rest, and sat still with her hands folded, looking about the front yard. There were some kinds of flowers that she never had seen before.
“This is the one that looks like my mother,” her father said, and touched Katy’s shoulder to remind her to stand up and let herself be seen. “Judge Masterson saw the resemblance; we met him at his gate this morning. ”
“Yes, she certain does look like your mother, John,” said the old man, looking pleasantly at Katy, who found that she liked him better than at first. “She does, certain; the best of young folks is, they remind us of the old ones. ’Tis nateral to cling to life, folks say, but for me, I git impatient at times. Most everybody’s gone now, an’ I want to be goin’. ’Tis somethin’ before me, an’ I want to have it over with. I want to be there ’long o’ the rest o’ the fol
ks. I expect to last quite a while though; I may see ye couple o’ times more, John. ”
John Hilton responded cheerfully, and the children were urged to pick some flowers. The old man awed them with his impatience to be gone. There was such a townful of people about him and he seemed as lonely as if he were the last survivor of a former world. Until that moment they had felt as if everything was just beginning.
“Now I want to buy somethin’ pretty for your mother,” said Mr. Hilton as they went soberly away down the street, the children keeping fast hold of his hands. “By now the old horse will have eat his dinner and had a good rest, so pretty soon we can jog along home. I’m goin’ to take you round by the academy, and the old North meeting-house where Dr. Barstow used to preach. Can’t you think o’ somethin’ that your mother ’d want?” he asked suddenly, confronted by a man’s difficulty of choice.
“She was talkin’ about wantin’ a new pepper-box, one day; the top o’ the old one won’t stay on,” suggested Susan Ellen, with delightful readiness. “Can’t we have some candy, father?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said John Hilton, smiling and swinging her hand to and fro as they walked. “I feel as if some would be good myself. What’s all this?” They were passing a photographer’s doorway with its enticing array of portraits. “I do declare!” he exclaimed, excitedly, “I’m goin’ to have our pictures taken; ’twill please your mother more’n a little. ”
This was, perhaps, the greatest triumph of the day, except the delightful meeting with the judge; they sat in a row, with the father in the middle, and there was no doubt as to the excellence of the likeness. The best hats had to be taken off because they cast a shadow, but they were not missed, as their owners had feared. Both Susan Ellen and Katy looked their brightest and best; their eager young faces would forever shine there; the joy of the holiday was mirrored in the little picture. They did not know why their father was so pleased with it; they would not know until age had dowered them with the riches of association and remembrance.
Just at nightfall the Hiltons reached home again, tired out and happy. Katy had climbed over into the front seat beside her father, because that was always her place when they went to church on Sundays. It was a cool evening, there was a fresh sea wind that brought a light mist with it, and the sky was fast growing cloudy. Somehow the children looked different; it seemed to their mother as if they had grown older and taller since they went away in the morning, and as if they belonged to the town now as much as to the country. The greatness of their day’s experience had left her far behind, the day had been silent and lonely without them, and she had had their supper ready, and been watching anxiously, ever since five o’clock. As for the children themselves they had little to say at first—they had eaten their luncheon early on the way to Topham. Susan Ellen was childishly cross, but Katy was pathetic and wan. They could hardly wait to show the picture, and their mother was as much pleased as everybody had expected.
“There, what did make you wear your shawls?” she exclaimed a moment afterward, reproachfully. “You ain’t been an’ wore ’em all day long? I wanted folks to see how pretty your new dresses was, if I did make ’em. Well, well! I wish more’n ever now I’d gone an’ seen to ye!”
“An’ here’s the pepper-box!” said Katy, in a pleased, unconscious tone.
“That really is what I call beautiful,” said Mrs. Hilton, after a long and doubtful look. “Our other one was only tin. I never did look so high as a chiny one with flowers, but I can get us another any time for every day. That’s a proper hat, as good as you could have got, John. Where’s your new hoe?” she asked, as he came toward her from the barn, smiling with satisfaction.
“I declare to Moses if I didn’t forget all about it,” meekly acknowledged the leader of the great excursion. “That an’ my yellow-turnip seed, too; they went clean out o’ my head, there was so many other things to think of. But ’tain’t no sort o’ matter; I can get a hoe just as well to Ira Speed’s. ”
His wife could not help laughing. “You an’ the little girls have had a great time. They was full o’ wonder to me about everythin’, and I expect they’ll talk about it for a week. I guess we was right about havin’ ’em see somethin’ more o’ the world. ”
“Yes,” answered John Hilton, with humility, “yes, we did have a beautiful day. I didn’t expect so much. They looked as nice as anybody, and appeared so modest an’ pretty. The little girls will remember it perhaps by an’ by. I guess they won’t never forget this day they had ’long o’ father. ”
It was evening again, the frogs were piping in the lower meadows, and in the woods, higher up the great hill, a little owl began to hoot. The sea air, salt and heavy, was blowing in over the country at the end of the hot, bright day. A lamp was lighted in the house, the happy children were chatting together, and supper was waiting. The father and mother lingered for a moment outside and looked down over the shadowy fields; then they went in, without speaking. The great day was over, and they shut the door.