“That’s your present from me,” I said.
How can I forget how she held my arm against her with that loving, familiar, rocking motion of a woman who is soothing a baby at her breast and kissed my coat sleeve? She released my arm and, turning to the window, leaned her head upon its sill and shook with sobs. The dusk had thickened. As I returned to my seat by the stove I could dimly see her form against the light of the window. We sat in silence for a little while.
Aunt Deel broke it by singing in a low tone as she rocked:
“My days are passing
And I—a pilgrim stranger—
Would not detain them as they fly,
These days of toil and danger.”
Uncle Peabody rose and got a candle and lighted it at the hearth.
“Wal, Bart, we’ll do the chores, an’ then I warn ye that we’re goin’ to have some fun,” he said as he got his lantern. “There’s goin’ to be some Ol’ Sledge played here this evenin’ an’ I wouldn’t wonder if Kate could beat us all.”
I held the lantern while Uncle Peabody fed the sheep and the two cows and milked—a slight chore these winter days.
“There’s nothing so cold on earth as a fork stale on a winter night,” he remarked as he was pitching the hay. “Wish I’d brought my mittens.”
“You and I are to go off to bed purty early,” he said as we were going back to the house. “Yer Aunt Deel wants to see Kate alone and git her to talk if she can.”
Kate played with us, smiling now and then at my uncle’s merry ways and words, but never speaking. It was poor fun, for the cards seemed to take her away from us into other scenes so that she had to be reminded of her turn to play.
“I dunno but she’ll swing back into this world ag’in,” said Uncle Peabody when we had gone up to our little room. “I guess all she needs is to be treated like a human bein’. Yer Aunt Deel an’ I couldn’t git over thinkin’ o’ what she done for you that night in the ol’ barn. So I took some o’ yer aunt’s good clothes to her an’ a pair o’ boots an’ asked her to come to Chris’mas. She lives in a little room over the blacksmith shop down to Butterfield’s mill. I told her I’d come after her with the cutter but she shook her head. I knew she’d rather walk.”
He was yawning as he spoke and soon we were both asleep under the shingles.
THE THING AND OTHER THINGS
I returned to Mr. Hacket’s house late in the afternoon of New Year’s day. The schoolmaster was lying on a big lounge in a corner of their front room with the children about him. The dusk was falling.
“Welcome, my laddie buck!” he exclaimed as I entered. “We’re telling stories o’ the old year an’ you’re just in time for the last o’ them. Sit down, lad, and God give ye patience! It’ll soon be over.”
Little John led me into the group and the schoolmaster began:—Let us call this bit of a story: The Guide to Paradise.