Suddenly Lois opened her eyes wide and sat up. “What are you standing there looking at me so for, mother?” she said, in her weak, peevish voice.
“I ain’t lookin’ at you, child. I’ve jest come home from meetin’. I guess you’ve been asleep.”
“I haven’t been asleep a minute. I heard you open the outside door.”
Mrs. Field’s hand verged toward the letter in her pocket. Then she began untying her bonnet.
Lois arose, and lighted another lamp. “Well, I guess I’ll go to bed,” said she.
“Wait a minute,” her mother returned.
Lois paused inquiringly.
“Never mind,” her mother said, hastily. “You needn’t stop. I can tell you jest as well to-morrow.”
“What was it?”
“Nothin’ of any account. Run along.”
The next morning Lois had gone to her school and her mother had not yet shown the letter to her. She went about as usual, doing her housework slowly and vigorously. Mrs. Field’s cleanliness was proverbial in this cleanly New England neighborhood. It almost amounted to asceticism; her rooms, when her work was finished, had the bareness and purity of a nun’s cell. There was never any bloom of dust on Mrs. Field’s furniture; there was only the hard, dull glitter of the wood. Her few chairs and tables looked as if waxed; the paint was polished in places from her doors and window-casings; her window-glass gave out green lights like jewels; and all this she did with infinite pains and slowness, as there was hardly a natural movement left in her rheumatic hands. But there was in her nature an element of stern activity that must have its outcome in some direction, and it took the one that it could find. Jane had used to take in sewing before her hands were diseased. In her youth she had learned the trade of a tailoress; when ready-made clothing, even for children, came into use, she made dresses. Her dresses had been long-waisted and stiffly boned, with high, straight biases, seemingly fitted to her own nature instead of her customers’ forms; but they had been strongly and faithfully sewed, and her stitches held fast as the rivets on a coat of mail. Now she could not sew. She could knit, and that was all, besides her housework, that she could do.
This morning, while dusting a little triangular what-not that stood in a corner of her sitting-room, she came across a small box that held some old photographs. The box was made of a kind of stucco-work—shells held in place by a bed of putty. Amanda Pratt had made it and given it to her. Mrs. Field took up this box and dusted it carefully; then she opened it, and took out the photographs one by one.
After a while she stopped; she did not take out any more, but she looked intently at one; then she replaced all but that one, got painfully up from the low foot-stool where she had been sitting, and went out of her room across the entry to Amanda’s, with the photograph in her hand.