“He also belongs here,” I said.
And I watched him as he mounted the distant hill, until I could no longer hear the high clear cadences of his song. And it seemed to me that something human, in passing, had touched me.
AN OLD MAID
One of my neighbours whom I never have chanced to mention before in these writings is a certain Old Maid. She lives about two miles from my farm in a small white house set in the midst of a modest, neat garden with well-kept apple trees in the orchard behind it. She lives all alone save for a good-humoured, stupid nephew who does most of the work on the farm—and does it a little unwillingly. Harriet and I had not been here above a week when we first made the acquaintance of Miss Aiken, or rather she made our acquaintance. For she fills the place, most important in a country community, of a sensitive social tentacle—reaching out to touch with sympathy the stranger. Harriet was amused at first by what she considered an almost unwarrantable curiosity, but we soon formed a genuine liking for the little old lady, and since then we have often seen her in her home, and often she has come to ours.
She was here only last night. I considered her as she sat rocking in front of our fire; a picture of wholesome comfort. I have had much to say of contentment. She seems really to live it, although I have found that contentment is easier to discover in the lives of our neighbours than in our own. All her life long she has lived here in this community, a world of small things, one is tempted to say, with a sort of expected and predictable life. I thought last night, as I observed her gently stirring her rocking-chair, how her life must be made up of small, often-repeated events: pancakes, puddings, patchings, who knows what other orderly, habitual, minute affairs? Who knows? Who knows when he looks at you or at me that there is anything in us beyond the humdrummery of this day?
In front of her house are two long, boarded beds of old-fashioned flowers, mignonette and petunias chiefly, and over the small, very white door with its shiny knob, creeps a white clematis vine. Just inside the hall-door you will discover a bright, clean, oval rag rug, which prepares you, as small things lead to greater, for the larger, brighter, cleaner rug of the sitting-room. There on the centre-table you will discover “Snow Bound,” by John Greenleaf Whittier; Tupper’s Poems; a large embossed Bible; the family plush album; and a book, with a gilt ladder on the cover which leads upward to gilt stars, called the “Path of Life.” On the wall are two companion pictures of a rosy fat child, in faded gilt frames, one called “Wide Awake” the other “Fast Asleep.” Not far away, in a corner, on the top of the walnut whatnot, is a curious vase filled with pampas plumes; there are sea-shells and a piece of coral on the shelf below. And right in the midst of the room are three very large black rocking-chairs with cushions in every conceivable and available place—including cushions on the arms. Two of them are for you and me, if we should come in to call; the other is for the cat.