“Sister Barsett!” exclaimed both the women. Mercy Crane sank down upon the doorstep, but Sarah Ellen stepped out upon the grass all of a tremble, and went toward the wagon. “They said this afternoon that Sister Barsett was gone,” she managed to say. “What did they mean?”
“Gone where?” asked the impatient neighbor. “I expect ’twas one of her spells. She’s come to; they say she wants somethin’ hearty for her tea. Nobody can’t take one step till you get there, neither.”
Sarah Ellen was still dazed; she returned to the doorway, where Mercy Crane sat shaking with laughter. “I don’t know but we might as well laugh as cry,” she said in an aimless sort of way. “I know you too well to think you’re going to repeat a single word. Well, I’ll get my bonnet an’ start; I expect I’ve got considerable to cope with, but I’m well rested. Good-night, Mis’ Crane, I certain did have a beautiful tea, whatever the future may have in store.”
She wore a solemn expression as she mounted into the wagon in haste and departed, but she was far out of sight when Mercy Crane stopped laughing and went into the house.
* * * * *
A week before the thirtieth of May, three friends—John Stover and Henry Merrill and Asa Brown—happened to meet on Saturday evening at Barton’s store at the Plains. They were ready to enjoy this idle hour after a busy week. After long easterly rains, the sun had at last come out bright and clear, and all the Barlow farmers had been planting. There was even a good deal of ploughing left to be done, the season was so backward.
The three middle-aged men were old friends. They had been school-fellows, and when they were hardly out of their boyhood the war came on, and they enlisted in the same company, on the same day, and happened to march away elbow to elbow. Then came the great experience of a great war, and the years that followed their return from the South had come to each almost alike. These men might have been members of the same rustic household, they knew each other’s history so well.
They were sitting on a low wooden bench at the left of the store door as you went in. People were coming and going on their Saturday night errands,—the post-office was in Barton’s store,—but the friends talked on eagerly, without being interrupted, except by an occasional nod of recognition. They appeared to take no notice at all of the neighbors whom they saw oftenest. It was a most beautiful evening; the two great elms were almost half in leaf over the blacksmith’s shop which stood across the wide road. Farther along were two small old-fashioned houses and the old white church, with its pretty belfry of four arched sides and a tiny dome at the top. The large cockerel on the vane was pointing a little south of west, and there was still light enough to